Objects in the Mirror
by Aadler
Copyright January 2002
(previously titled None So Blind)

Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.

Season: Fifth (Buffy)
Spoiler(s): "Blood Ties" (S5-13)

Part I

I'm not jealous. I'm not.

I could be, of course. I wouldn't even be here if he hadn't already demonstrated the typical male propensity for fecklessness and infidelity, and even though things are going reasonably well between us right now, I'm quite aware that I'm a tenuous addition to the social grouping that commands his first allegiance. (They think that talking the way I do means I don't understand human society. Please; could I have infiltrated Harmony Kendall's carnivorous little clique if I didn't know how to mimic conventional behavior? I just don't like acting all the time.) No, I believe he truly does care for me, and not just as a sexual convenience, but I know how big a mistake it would be to try and make him choose. I can be part of his life along with them, but never instead of them. That's just a fact, and maybe his being like that is why I feel all gooey around him even when I've already met my day's orgasm quota. So it's not envy or insecurity speaking here, I'm just being realistic.

He's a man. All men — all humans, for that matter — live and act within certain limits. If I'm going to link myself to a man, I'd better be clear on what the limits are and where things stand at any given time.

I know his history. I know how, more than most, his brain can be nullified by his gonads. And it's impossible not to notice the weird affinity he has for mystical females (which does, of course, include Cordelia; the others may have missed the signs, but not me). He's grown a lot in the last couple of years, I really don't think he's looked at any woman except me since that awful, lonely summer after they blew up the school. Three things shine bright in Xander: humor, and courage, and loyalty. His loyalty is to me, now, at least as far as copulatory pair-bonding is concerned; he'll never deliberately set out to betray me, so I only have to see to it that he isn't led by his penis into a change of feelings.

So I watch. Every single moment, I watch. The rest of them, and even Xander himself a lot of the time, think I'm oblivious to anything except sexual gratification and the systematic gathering of wealth. They'd never credit how much I pay attention to what's going on around me, or how thoroughly I analyze it all. I learned from what happened with Willow, and later with Faith: the most serious danger will come from inside the group. No matter how fluttery he can make me go with that goofy grin, I never forget that he's a man, which means he could march straight off a cliff-edge still telling himself, I can handle it. He might let one of them slip inside his guard without noticing what was happening, but nothing will get past me.

I spent more than a thousand years bringing down vengeance on faithless men. Evil, they called it. Hard justice, I called it. Either way, it didn't accustom me to blind trust.

Willow poses the most obvious danger, and I'll never underestimate her. She's too many things at once, most of them contradictory: nice Jewish girl and enthusiastic pagan, hacker and witch, lifelong pal and guilty temptation. When Oz left, the first time, it took all the self-control I had to keep from driving Xander away with fears and suspicions, knowing she could take him from me any time she wanted. Sometimes I thought my head would explode (no exaggeration: I've made it happen to others, I know the symptoms), but I managed to hold it all in, and then she and Tara got together, and with every day I've been able to relax just a teeny bit more. I won't really be safe as long as she's breathing, but for now I'm reasonably secure where she's concerned.

Tara, naturally, doesn't worry me at all. I keep an eye on her, of course — she's female, she has supernatural abilities, she lives in the same hemisphere as Xander, need I say more? — but all told she's about as harmless as I could ask for. Whatever may be going in Willow's head, Tara is the real deal: she likes men (some men) but there's no physical appeal there for her, she loves Willow and can't imagine wanting anyone else; all told, she's about as threatening as Giles.

Nor does Dawn really register on the worry-meter. Oh, I'm conscious that I should be wary of her … and I might be, if she were a year or two older, or if she weren't Buffy's sister. Xander has the big brother routine polished to perfection, but he knows as well as the rest of us just what kind of crush she has on him, even if he acts as if the idea never crossed his mind; and, witless as he can be, I really can't see him snarling up his life by getting involved with the Slayer's sister, especially while she's still solidly on the "jail" side of jailbait. I'll keep an eye on the possibility, but it doesn't bother me.

So, Willow stays at the top of the list. In fact, she is the list. Whatever she's going through right now, she could come out of it just as unexpectedly, and if she does I'll be ready. Maybe I'd feel easier if I understood the whole thing with Tara, but that just doesn't make sense to me. I do know a few things about human nature — even if my field was restricted to women betrayed by men, a thousand years of dealing with personal relationships still gave me some insights — and this just doesn't match anything I've ever seen. I wouldn't dream of objecting, Willow switching orientations was the luckiest break I've gotten since arriving in Sunnydale. But I don't understand.

I also wonder about her on a professional level. It took me a long time to admit the fact, even after I learned about D'Hoffryn offering her my old job, but she's well beyond the point I had reached when I was elevated from vengeance-seeking demi-sorceress to vengeance-dispensing quasi-demon. She still has a lot to learn about control, but the raw power is impossible to ignore. And there's a cruel streak in her, if you know where to look for it. It's like those macabre cartoons Xander cackles over: on the surface, the red-nosed spluttering tomcat and the technologically inept coyote are the villains, but the two birds — the freakishly fast purple one, and the small retarded yellow one with the bulbous head — are cheerful sadists of the kind that never called on me for help, they were perfectly capable of wreaking any vengeance they might desire. To compare them to Willow is an exaggeration, but an educational one, because she has the same kind of capacity, even if she won't let herself recognize it.

No question, Willow is the biggest threat. But then, the thing that bothers me most right now isn't a threat at all. In some ways, it bothers me because it's not a threat. Which is stupid, and self-torturing, and pathetic, and all the proof I could ever need that I really am mortal now.

This body has practically no innate capacity for magic, and such skills as I once possessed are far out of date, so the few attempts I've made haven't gone well. Even minor enchantments, harmless beginner's tricks, tend to operate erratically. I worked one in, though, a makeshift hybrid scribe/monitor spell, that I've managed to keep running for the last several weeks. Nothing fancy, I can barely make it work at all, but the bond between me and Xander helps, and I've tied it as closely as I can to his emotional state. Whenever he's away from me (I switch it off when we're together, no sense in letting what little mystical capacity I can muster go to waste), any emotional spikes will trigger a kind of invisible personal in-flight recorder, and when he sleeps I can take a peek at what's come in while we were apart.

I'm not spying on him. This is just an early warning system. And I have to know. What I didn't anticipate, though, was that the thing might actually tap into a memory, if that memory were vivid enough.

The night he came home and told me how much I meant to him, that gave me more joy than I had experienced in the previous eleven centuries. It wasn't until later that I stopped to think that this new closeness meant I had more to lose, and began putting together the monitor spell. I never really got much out of it, most of the intense things Xander goes through happen while I'm around. And I can't say just what it was that made the spell link back to his memory of that very night, or what made it lie there for so long, or what brought it back when I least expected it …

I really was sorry for Buffy when Riley left, but I can remember being a little smug that Xander had made his commitment about the time Riley was abandoning his. I didn't know that they had happened at the same time, or how they were connected. I had no idea until last week, when it bobbed up during a routine evening reading (the male postcoital drowsiness has its uses, after all). In some ways, I wish I still didn't know. In most ways, I wish it hadn't affected me the way it did.

As I said, my little spell attempts usually don't go too well, and this one was about the same. Mostly I get flashes and fragments, with only the occasional spot of clear and complete reception. Xander's memory of that night came through perfectly, though: watching Buffy wipe out the bloodwhore gang, then castigating her over how she had been treating Riley, and finally sending her after him. It was all sounds and images, the scribe is activated by emotions but it doesn't record them, so the only index I have is the quality of the playback. I got this in full Dolby sensurround DVD quadraphonic, or whatever they call it, and it didn't take much to figure out what that meant.

He loves her. He never stopped loving her. Any other man, especially one with Xander's turbocharged hormones, would have seen that situation as an opportunity, but all he could think of was her happiness. He read her the riot act, and sent her chasing after a man who didn't appreciate her, and he watched as she raced down the night street, watched until no last glimpse of her could still be seen. He never blinked. Not once.

I know now that he came to me that same night, but weeks passed before I saw the prefacing scene. It upset me badly, and I couldn't figure out why. I lay awake for a long time. In the morning, I pretended to still be asleep when he got up to get ready for work, even though it meant skipping our morning quickie. When he was gone, I sat in the apartment, turning it over and over in my mind, stewing and talking to myself, getting more and more angry. What finally stopped me was when I realized why I was so worked up.

Is she insane?

Any woman can have rotten luck with men. They're fickle, treacherous, self-involved, no stability or trustworthiness to them. I thought Riley was better than that, but I wasn't really surprised when the truth came out, it's the nature of the breed. So I don't sneer at Buffy over the wreckage of her personal life, not even secretly to myself. The odds are stacked against her, so a bad run is almost to be expected.

No, what really gets me is how she can keep sinking her teeth into one lemon after another, and never see what's standing beside her. How many times has he saved her life now? How many times has he charged into fights he couldn't win, because she was depending on him? How many times has he told her truths she didn't want to hear, because she needed to face them? How many times has he played the clown, played the gofer, played the man-shaped girlfriend, all for her sake?

I don't blame her for Angel: soulful, tortured, forbidden love, it's a rare woman who can resist something like that. I don't blame her for Riley: earnest, and solid, and dependable (at least until the dark parts showed through, but none of us had a clue about that), it's easy to see how she could have hoped for something stable after all the turmoil she'd been through. I didn't even think less of her when I found out about Parker Abrams, he seems to have been extremely talented in the seduction-and-betrayal process that provided me with so much business during my demon years. (Wonder how he liked the impotence rumors I planted in the campus mating-pits? Nothing to preen about on the demonic scale, but I'm working with a handicap here.)

But — and it was mortifying to realize it, and even more mortifying when it didn't go away after I realized it — what I can't forgive is the way she's ignored Xander all this time.

How can she be so blind? How can she be so idiotic? How can she remember to breathe, with a brain that works so poorly? I'd like to say I can't understand it, but I do, I've seen the syndrome too many times. Here's a man who'll stand beside her through anything, who'll put her happiness ahead of his own masculine ego and possessiveness and lust, who's proven over and over in every way imaginable that he's exactly what she needs … and not only does she never notice, she waves it off when it's pointed out, because she doesn't feel that way about him. There's a spark that just isn't there between them.

Right. Absolutely. That "spark" has certainly been a big help to her, hasn't it? I actually feel a little sympathy for Angel, but none at all for Riley, and I hope she burned everything she was wearing when she let Parker touch her. That's oh-for-three for the magic spark. But does anyone really believe she'll learn from that?

He'd die for her. He'd do anything for her. He urged her to follow a man who was leaving her, and watched her run, and prayed she'd be fast enough. And he'd do it again without even thinking about it.

He loves her, and she doesn't care, and I don't know which one makes me hate her more. He means more to me than anything else in this stupid mortal world, and he's not good enough for her.

Could I do what he did? Could I send him to her, if it was what he wanted, what would make him happy? No chance. I would — I will — hold him to me with everything I have. If he left me for her, I'd kill him. Or her. Or myself. Or all three. Or try to. Or at least want to.

He never hesitated, never blinked.

He loves her more than he loves me, and probably doesn't even know it. Worse, he loves her more than I love him. And it means nothing to her.

I'm not jealous. I wish I were. That would be easier.