Jenny sat on the step with her head bowed and her hair falling forward every time she pushed it back.
“You enjoyed that, didn’t you?” she said with not a little bitterness. She sounded tired and slightly out of breath.
“It was alright,” I said. “I’m not really into petty revenge.”
“Lucky me,” said Jenny.
I certainly had my grievances against Jenny, but she had more than proved herself when it came down to the main question of our relationship, which was, of course, why the fuck are you with me?
Any reasonably self-aware person knows themselves well enough to be wary of anyone who shows them the slightest bit of interest. It usually means they’re either retarded or mental.
But Jenny’s interest in me, mental or not, was at least genuine. She had even saved my life at the cost of half her face. It would be churlish of me to doubt her good intentions towards me at this point.
Unfortunately, good intentions are worth fuck all in the general scheme of things. In many cases, they’re a liability.
So, what could I do? Remove her right to have a say in my life? That doesn’t really work when your lives are intertwined. We were connected, if only by a very thin thread, and I wasn’t looking to change that. The thing about having a mad girlfriend is that it’s not all bad. Sure, occasionally you have surprise rabbit stew for dinner, but she’s always glad to see you.
Jenny looked up at me with a pained expression. “Do you really believe Claire’s been controlling me all this time?”
“I don’t know if it’s been total control, but I think she’s been influencing your decisions. Then again, maybe I just want to believe that because it would make it easier to accept all the dumb shit you’ve done recently.”
Equality in a relationship is a myth. You can’t both be at the same level, the whole thing would collapse. What you can do is take turns being the self-righteous prick. It tends to work out best if you both fuck up a lot. That way, one person gets to act like they’re justified in talking down to the other person, and the other person feels like they deserve it. And then you switch.
Jenny sighed. “And she tried to control you through me? Why didn’t it work?”
“Are you gathering information for the next attempt?”
Jenny put her chin in the palm of her hand and thought about it. “I’m not sure. I think I’m curious. You don’t have to tell me if you think I’ll use it against you. Not that you’ll ever trust me again.”
“I trust you,” I said. “The reason I tend not to follow your advice isn’t because of trust issues, it’s because it’s usually bad advice.”
Jenny sat up a little straighter, a little more offended. “Then why are you with me?”
This is what it always comes down to. What am I supposed to say? That it wasn’t her advice I was attracted to?
“Claire couldn’t get me to do what she wanted because Claire thinks like a girl.”
Jenny frowned. “What does that mean?”
“She treated me the same way she would treat a girl she wanted to bully. But I don’t think like a girl. That doesn’t mean I’m any smarter or better at crosswords, it just means I don’t care what other people think.”
“And girls do?”
“That’s all you fucking care about,” I said.
“That’s not true,” said Jenny.
“No, it’s not true. But it sounds better when I exaggerate.”
Exaggeration is the key to any long- lasting relationship. It’s lying when the other person knows that’s what you’re doing. And if you both know you’re lying, it is no longer a form of deceit, it becomes something else. It becomes a way to express things that are hard to say.
If you ask me if I want to go with you to the shops and I say I want to go a million percent, it is both nonsensical and means more than a simple yes. People need that kind of reassurance dropped casually into their lives. It is far more important than roses on Valentine’s Day.
Most people don’t see it. They’re too distracted by the messages that get shoved in their faces about how to live and love and what they should own as a couple to impress other couples.
“How am I supposed to keep Claire out of my head?” asked Jenny. She still wasn’t completely convinced she was under Claire’s thrall, but she had come to the decision that she might as well assume that was the case and take the appropriate steps to curtail it. Couldn’t hurt to be cautious.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Probably best not to worry about it too much. Just doubt every thought that comes into your head and only take action when you absolutely have to. Seems to work for me.”
Jenny stood up and straightened her clothes. “Alright, I’m ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I was exaggerating.” She began walking up the stairs. “What’s the plan?”
“We don’t have one.”
We reached the top of the stairs, Jenny leading the way (how anyone can say I’m not a feminist, I have no idea).
The room at the top of the spire was like all the others, except the lights were on. Peter was standing next to a console that was gently glowing — he had a power source working here, but apparently not enough to give him full access to the spires abilities.
Claire was sitting on the floor, her head in her hands. The feedback from Jenny getting upset had obviously affected her, but the effect hadn’t knocked her out. If I could find a way to get Jenny really upset, perhaps that would give Claire a more permanent jolt.
“Ah,” said Peter, warm and friendly. “There you are. I was beginning to think I’d have to send out a search party.”
“Hold on,” I said and I slipped out of my body.
In the adjacent world, things were much the same, except all the vines I had cut off Peter and Claire were back. This was something I had sort of expected, although I had no idea how it had happened.
Peter had some kind of instant regrowing ability, it seemed. And it was able to affect Claire, too.
If that was true, it would explain why my attempts at cutting him off from the people he controlled had failed, but it was a complete mystery as to how he was able to do it.
I returned to my body.
“Sorry about that,” I said in an equally friendly manner. “Just checking something.” I looked around the room. “Where’s your power source?”
“I’m sorry,” said Peter, also looking around. “What do you mean?”
“You’ve got one of Gideon’s crew nailed to a wall somewhere, haven’t you?”
“She’s in the basement,” muttered Claire.
“Hello, Claire. Got a headache?”
She looked up at me with bloodshot eyes. “You won’t win. He’s too powerful.”
“I hardly think that’ll make a difference,” I said.
It’s a common mistake people make. They think the extremes are where you find the best answers. Strongest, fastest, richest, smartest. These are what our society tells us to aim for, and what we should consider most admirable.
It’s bullshit. A way to keep people distracted.
If you have a one person who has a degree in mathematics and another who has a maths PhD, and both apply for a job to teach maths to five year olds, which is the better candidate?
Both know the basics well enough to be able to teach young Timmy that if he has two apples and then two more, he now has way more apples than he can possibly eat.
Shouldn’t the better mathematician be the better maths teacher? Anyone who’s ever been to school will know there’s no correlation. Excess knowledge that isn’t necessary doesn’t help when you have a specific task to achieve
Dr Maths might be better at getting through to kids or he might not, his thesis on the colour of imaginary numbers (four years well spent) won’t have any bearing on the matter.
How suited someone is to a particular job is based on doing the job, not on how much irrelevant shit you happen to know. Trivia isn’t that useful outside of a pub quiz, although for some reason that’s what the job interview will focus on.
Power that isn’t relevant isn’t power at all.
“Colin, I always knew you’d be the one to crack it,” said Peter. “You found a way to power the spires.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m not sure where I’m drawing the power from, but I seem to be able to keep the spires online.”
“That’s great. This is what I’ve been waiting for all these years.” He was talking like this was all part of the plan and we were in it together.
“I’m not sure why you think this helps you,” I said. “I’m not going to share my ability with you.”
“I understand,” said Peter. “I do. But this isn’t about choice, it’s about necessity. As much as you might not approve of how I’ve gone about things, you have to understand that there are worse alternatives than joining forces with me.”
I was already not liking where this was going. Mainly because it had the ring of truth about it. The one reason I would work with Peter, despite how I felt about him, was to prevent an even bigger arsehole from taking over. And there’s always a bigger arsehole.
“And who is it that you think is even worse than you?” I asked.
Peter turned around and pressed a few buttons on the console behind him. He seemed to have a much better idea of what things did, his fingers tapping away like a touch typist.
The screen on the wall flickered and showed Gorgoth from above. The camera swung around to the ocean, and zoomed in on a fleet of ships. But they weren’t in the water, they had wings and were floating in the air.
“You inspired the Council and the fairies to combine forces. Now they come.”
I counted at least eight ships, each with giant fairy wings. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, but I should have trademarked my design and charged them a licensing fee. Nothing’s more sincere than cash money.
I only had Peter’s word for who was coming in the ships, but it did seem a like a plausible pairing. One had the ships, the other had the wings. It might be a friendly visit, of course.
We were just passing and we thought we’d drop in for a cup of tea and a slice of conquest.
As I was watching the screen, trying to decide how best to deal with this new development (Run? Having something to eat, then run?), a movement in the corner of my eye attracted me. I turned my head just in time to see Claire come at me with what looked like a spike.
Et tu, spikey?
It wasn’t like I couldn’t have defended myself, but before I had a chance to move, Jenny had stepped between us. She had a dagger in her hand and easily blocked Claire, then followed up with a punch that instantly floored Claire.
It was only a left-handed punch, but it was a thing of beauty. Form and grace, wrapped in a crunching thump.
I should point out that Jenny obviously had the dagger earlier and hadn’t used it against me when I had my sword drawn. If you want a true example of equality, that’s it. Not equal power, but unequal power that isn’t used.
For equality to exist, you don’t make the weaker person stronger, the stronger person has to give up their advantage voluntarily. That’s why you see it so little.
But why can’t the weaker person go to the gym, get all buff, and demand equality? Well, because the stronger person owns the gym and won’t let anyone else use it. The whole point of having power is to use it to control access to more power. That way you ensure you can’t be beaten.
Jenny hadn’t used her advantage against me because she didn’t want anything between us to be due to an imbalance. It was good of her to not use her left hook when I upset her. That’s the sort of gracious behaviour that allows a couple to feel valued by their partner.
I walked to where Claire was lying and picked up her spike. Should have trademarked that, too.
There was no point in Claire stabbing me, not if she needed me to do stuff. If my death was really what she wanted, she could have tried for it before now. I didn’t think it was me she had been aiming for.
“You know, if Claire was really going to stab me, I’m pretty sure she’d do it from the front so I could see her face as she plunged the blade into my heart. She’s a frightful pain, but she has her standards. I think she was going for you, Peter.” I looked back at Claire. “Yeah, the angle she was coming in at, definitely you.” I turned to Jenny. “And you should have enough training — more than me, for sure — to have known that. Which means you were saving him, not me.”
Jenny looked confused. She dropped the dagger and shook her head.
“It’s alright. I’m sure it’s a hypnotic suggestion or something like that, you can’t really be blamed.”
“If I may,” said Peter, all unctuous smiles.
“No you may not, fuck face,” I said. “You’re the least important person here.”
“But the ships…” He pointed at the screen.
“I care about them even less.” I turned back to Jenny. “ But, what this is, is a really good opportunity to put a lot of questions to rest. I don’t doubt you love me, Jen, but the question is, if I stab Peter in the neck, what are you going to do? Put him first?”
“I… If I’m under a spell.”
“If you’re under a spell or not, I have expectations. Unfair ones. But at least we’ll know, right?” I raised the spike and aimed it at Peter. There was a certain amount of apprehension on my part, but how often does an opportunity like this present itself? Certainty is a very rare and precious thing.
“Ready? I, 2..”
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