Objects in the Mirror
(previously titled None So Blind)
Copyright January 2002
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
Im not jealous. Im not.
I could be, of course. I wouldnt even be here if he hadnt already demonstrated the typical male propensity for fecklessness and infidelity, and even though things are going reasonably well between us right now, Im quite aware that Im a tenuous addition to the social grouping that commands his first allegiance. (They think that talking the way I do means I dont understand human society. Please; could I have infiltrated Harmony Kendalls carnivorous little clique if I didnt know how to mimic conventional behavior? I just dont 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. Thats just a fact, and maybe his being like that is why I feel all gooey around him even when Ive already met my days orgasm quota. So its not envy or insecurity speaking here, Im just being realistic.
Hes a man. All men all humans, for that matter live and act within certain limits. If Im going to link myself to a man, Id 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 its impossible not to notice the weird affinity he has for mystical females (which does, of course, include Cordelia; she may have fooled the others, but not me). Hes grown a lot in the last couple of years, I really dont think hes 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; hell never deliberately set out to betray me, so I only have to see to it that he isnt 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 Im oblivious to anything except sexual gratification and the systematic gathering of wealth. Theyd never credit how much I pay attention to whats 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 hes 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 didnt accustom me to blind trust.
Willow poses the most obvious danger, and Ill never underestimate her. Shes 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: Ive done it, I know the symptoms), but I managed to hold it all in, and then she and Tara got together, and with every day Ive been able to relax just a teeny bit more. I wont really be safe as long as shes breathing, but for now Im reasonably secure where shes concerned.
Tara, naturally, doesnt worry me at all. I keep an eye on her, of course shes female, she has supernatural abilities, she lives in the same hemisphere as Xander, need I say more? but all told shes about as harmless as I could ask for. Whatever may be going in Willows head, Tara is the real deal: she likes men (some men) but theres no physical appeal there for her, she loves Willow and cant imagine wanting anyone else; all told, shes about as threatening as Giles.
Nor does Dawn really register on the worry-meter. Oh, Im conscious that I should be wary of her and I might be, if she were a year or two older, or if she werent Buffys 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 cant see him snarling up his life by getting involved with the Slayers sister, especially while shes still solidly on the jail side of jailbait. Ill keep an eye on the possibility, but it doesnt bother me.
So, Willow stays at the top of the list. In fact, she is the list. Whatever shes going through right now, she could come out of it just as unexpectedly, and if she does Ill be ready. Maybe Id feel easier if I understood the whole thing with Tara, but that just doesnt 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 doesnt match anything Ive ever seen. I wouldnt dream of objecting, Willow switching orientations was the luckiest break Ive gotten since arriving in Sunnydale. But I dont 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 DHoffryn offering her my old job, but shes 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 theres a cruel streak in her, if you know where to look for it. Its 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 wont let herself recognize it.
No question, Willow is the biggest threat. But then, the thing that bothers me most right now isnt a threat at all. In some ways, it bothers me because its 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 Ive made havent gone well. Even minor enchantments, harmless beginners tricks, tend to operate erratically. I worked one in, though, a makeshift hybrid scribe/ monitor spell, that Ive 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 Ive tied it as closely as I can to his emotional state. Whenever hes away from me (I switch it off when were 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 whats come in while we were apart.
Im not spying on him. This is just an early warning system. And I have to know. What I didnt 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 wasnt 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 Im around. And I cant 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 didnt 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 didnt know. In most ways, I wish it hadnt affected me the way it did.
As I said, my little spell attempts usually dont 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. Xanders 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 doesnt 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 didnt take much to figure out what that meant.
He loves her. He never stopped loving her. Any other man, especially one with Xanders 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 didnt 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 couldnt 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. Theyre fickle, treacherous, self-involved, no stability or trustworthiness to them. I thought Riley was better than that, but I wasnt really surprised when the truth came out, its the nature of the breed. So I dont 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 whats standing beside her. How many times has he saved her life now? How many times has he charged into fights he couldnt win, because she was depending on him? How many times has he told her truths she didnt 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 dont blame her for Angel: soulful, tortured, forbidden love, its a rare woman who can resist something like that. I dont 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), its easy to see how she could have hoped for something stable after all the turmoil shed been through. I didnt 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 Im working with a handicap here.)
But and it was mortifying to realize it, and even more mortifying when it didnt go away after I realized it what I cant forgive is the way shes 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? Id like to say I cant understand it, but I do, Ive seen the syndrome too many times. Heres a man wholl stand beside her through anything, wholl put her happiness ahead of his own masculine ego and possessiveness and lust, whos proven over and over in every way imaginable that hes exactly what she needs and not only does she never notice, she waves it off when its pointed out, because she doesnt feel that way about him. Theres a spark that just isnt there between them.
Right. Absolutely. That spark has certainly been a big help to her, hasnt 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.Thats oh-for-three for the magic spark. But does anyone really believe shell learn from that?
Hed die for her. Hed do anything for her. He urged her to follow a man who was leaving her, and watched her run, and prayed shed be fast enough. And hed do it again without even thinking about it.
He loves her, and she doesnt care, and I dont know which one makes me hate her more. He means more to me than anything else in this stupid mortal world, and hes 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, Id 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 doesnt even know it. Worse, he loves her more than I love him. And it means nothing to her.
Im not jealous. I wish I were. That would be easier.
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