|Joss Whedon owns Buffy, I don't. Dammit. Sinead
O'Connor wrote "The Emperor's New Clothes," which appears in heavily rewritten
form in this story. Thanks to the Watcher's Council . . .
This is a sequel of sorts to "Shut up and Kiss Me." It's set some time after Xander betrayed Cordy . . .
Xander, Willow, Buffy and Oz congregated around a table in the Bronze. Giles --and by default, the increasingly ineffectual Wesley -- had given the Slayer a conditional night off, and Angel was handling the task of guarding the Sunnydale night.
"I won't be there," the vampire had said with a grin. "That's your birthday present from me."
Loud music was playing from a band called the Lilith Ferrets, which by coincidence had been playing exactly a year ago on this day. Thank goodness, they'd avoided playing one song in particular.
A small cake sat on the table in front of them with eighteen candles on it. Xander took a deep breath and blew all of them out.
"Yay! You got your wish!" Buffy chirped. "What was it?"
"Come on, Buffy -- you know he can't tell . . . 'cause then it wouldn't come true."
"It doesn't matter," Xander said, making a big show of looking around the Bronze's dance floor. "I don't see Neve Campbell in a gold metal bikini and tight leather pants anywhere . . ."
After that, the conversation was awkward -- except Oz's, which was surprisingly animated. "Eighteen. Congratulations, man." Well, animated for Oz, anyway.
"Thanks. Do you know how many times I didn't think I'd make it to this birthday?"
"No. How many?" Willow said mischievously.
Taken a bit by surprise, Xander finally said, lamely, "I . . . can't really count that high."
"Oh, really?" Came a snide, sarcastic, and familiar voice from behind Xander. "Must be some number above five, then."
"Gee, Cordy, isn't there a Tin Woodsman you should be terrorizing somewhere?"
"Maybe you should be the one visiting the Wizard, Xander -- you need brains, courage, AND a heart."
Buffy cut off Xander's next retort. "Um -- not that I don't appreciate your joint interpretation of Married with Children, but we ARE celebrating Xander's birthday here, Cordelia."
Bitterly, Cordy said, "Oh, I know. Believe me, I know."
"Well, then," Xander said, making a reference to the song Cordy'd sung him on his last birthday, "Shut up and kiss off."
Saying nothing else -- miracle of miracles -- Cordy stalked off towards the stage.
"What's happened here?" Buffy said. "I mean, the two of you never got along, but right now you're about a half second away from mutual homicide."
"That long?" wolfboy said.
Xander knew this had been a bad idea, coming here on his birthday. They should have held it somewhere, anywhere else -- anywhere they wouldn't run into the queen bitch of the universe, that is. He turned his head to say something to Buffy -- and noticed Cordelia standing near a table where Harmony and others sat. As the table broke out into derisive laughter, Cordy moved away . . .
and stepped onto the stage.
He tried to get up, but couldn't.
All eyes turned towards the stage as Cordelia moved to the microphone and the band stopped playing. Move, feet! He told himself. Move, butt! Get up! Get out!
His body wasn't doing anything he wanted it to. Maybe he should trade it in and get a new one.
Oz said, "What's going on?" Right, wolfboy wouldn't know.
Buffy clued him in. "I think we're about to see some payback . . ." and then spent ten seconds explaining how last year Cordy had rented out the Bronze for a private party, gotten up on stage, and in full view of everyone sung "Shut up and Kiss Me" before publicly declaring her love.
This was all playing out like some twisted parody of the previous year. Cordy gestured to the Lilith Ferrets' keyboardist, who nodded and began playing a heavy drumbeat.
And it seemed raw emotion made Cordy's voice powerful.
"It seems like months since you all betrayed me
(Cordelia looked first at Harmony, and then directly at Xander, as she sang the last three lines. Her voice almost broke, and her eyes began to well up with tears.)
If I treated you mean
There are plenty of clothes that I like
Maybe I was mean
Everyone can see what's going on
Not because what I said was wrong"
(Again she glared at Harmony and Xander.)
"Whatever it may bring
Maybe it sounds mean
Through your own words
Her voice raw, she choked out the last line. Good god, when you pissed Cordy off she could give Alanis Morrissette angry lessons. She stood on stage breathing heavily.
There was stunned silence in the room . . . and then, slowly, applause began. Light at first, it soon broke into a powerful wave until Xander thought he'd go deaf from the noise.
They were clapping? He was just viciously insulted in public, and people were clapping? Of everyone in the room, only he, Buffy, Willow --and Harmony and her flock -- weren't applauding. Even Oz started, though one look at the rest of the table and he stopped.
After a few seconds, Cordy suddenly yelled out, "STOP IT! Stop clapping, all of you!"
The applause broke off, and people began muttering. Leave it to Cordy to ruin a moment like this.
She continued, "Applause . . . is like insults. It's only any good when it comes from people you respect. And of all of you out there -- of all of you out there --"
Xander stood up and, slowly, slowly, began to applaud. At first stunned, Buffy, Willow and Oz joined him. In the crowd, eyes flicked from them, to Cordy, and back again.
Cordy nodded her head. "NOW you get it. I hope. The four of you . . . with clothes. Thank you . . . and goodnight." Then she walked offstage, towards the back exit, quickly. Then she paused, and retook the microphone, her voice quiet, like she'd just been drained of all her energy. "One more thing: Happy birthday, Xander Harris."
The Lilith Ferrets -- after a few seconds of collecting their own thoughts -- broke into their next song, and a semblance of normalcy settled over the club as Buffy and the Slayerettes sat down.
"Could someone run that by me again . . . without all the emotional baggage?" Oz asked.
"Cordy . . . respects us. That's why she's been like this for the last five months. She put her trust in us. She gave up her life and her old identity . . . and we betrayed her for it. So she strikes back by insulting us viciously."
Maybe, maybe, Xander thought, but that doesn't mean that he and Cordy wouldn't be back at it the next time they met.
But if their insults affected her because she respected them . . .
what did it mean that her insults bothered him the same way?