Thine Own Self

by Mediancat

The curse of the Devil Moon has struck Giles, Willow, Buffy and Xander. It's Cordelia to the rescue . . . um, Cordelia?

Part One

Introduction: I make no apologies. I LIKE the Xander/Cordelia relationship. One of the things that's intrigued me is how she could have changed so much since the first time we saw her. This is my attempt to provide an answer.

This story is set approximately one week after "Halloween."

* * * * *

Cordelia Chase walked down the school hallway towards the library. This being after school on a Friday night, the mob of wannabees was nowhere in sight. "Thank God," she thought. "Sure, it's my destiny to be surrounded by a group of people like me, only less, but every once in a while their constant chatter gets even on my nerves. And right now I'm down to my last one." Normally, Cordelia Chaase wouldn't have been caught dead in the school on Friday night, but she had to attend some stupid remedial course on how to use the library. Taught by, of all people, perennial K-Mart shopper *but nice* Willow Rosenberg.

It had been a trying week. First, she'd had to save everyone on Halloween when they'd become their costumes. "That'll teach them to buy their clothes at a discount outlet," she thought. *Though Xander looked sort of cute in that army uniform.* She stopped. "What am I thinking?" Pushing that thought down into the distant recesses of her brain, she kept reminiscing. Then there'd been a series of pop quizzes, each more unfair than the last. How was anyone supposed to memorize lines from Shakespeare when there were parties to attend and guys to entrance? "And vampires around every corner," she thought. Every once in a while she mused on whether or not that Hellmouth thingie had been put in Sunnydale just to screw up her life. *That's so unfair -- Xander lost his best friend and Buffy died, and you're concerned with your SOCIAL life?*

"What is wrong with me today?" she thought. She tried to keep her conscience firmly under wraps; it cut into the shopping time. For some reason today she was having less success than usual.

As she was about to walk into the library she noticed Buffy staggering down the hall. Cordelia noticed and was about to make sure she was okay when suddenly Buffy reached forward and hugged her.

She thought, "Okay, now, what doesn't belong in this picture?" but didn't pull her off. *Something's wrong. You help friends in trouble.* "Since when is Buffy a friend of mine?" she thought. Five seconds later she tried to pull the still clinging Buffy off. Her blouse was just NOT made to handle tearstains.

Then Buffy tearfully looked up at Cordelia and said, "Please don't, Cordy." My god -- she was terrified!


Part Two

Anything that wigged Buffy out so badly was NOT something Cordelia could deal with. This was a case for the extremely weird librarian. "I can't remember if I've EVER seen Buffy so frightened she was crying. It's SO unflattering."

She opened the door. Half a dozen students, all losers, none of whom was even worth an insult. *Then why do I spend so much time insulting Buffy, Xander and Willow?* "I don't want to answer that one right now," she thought firmly. "Great, I'm talking to myself. Hanging around Buffy and her league of monsterhunters has made me as crazy as they are."

Arm around Buffy, she threaded her way through the pathetic brigade and knocked on the librarian's door. Getting no answer, she pounded. She could feel the losers' eyes on her, but she didn't care.

Carefully she opened the door and poked her head in. "Giles, I -- my God, what happened?" It looked as though a small and very localized earthquake had hit Giles' office. Willow pounded away on a computer keyboard determinedly, not even looking up. Giles was surrounded by disorganized piles of books. Not stacks -- piles. He blearily looked at Cordelia. "Oh, Good Lord, it's affected her too,"he said, not rising.

She finally got the weeping Buffy to let her go and cling to Giles, then backed off and said, "What's affecting her? Some other supernatural force that's going to ruin my day?" *What did I think it was, a case of the measles?* Giles scowled halfheartedly, but before he could say anything she spoke again. "No, I'm sorry, that was uncalled-for." She paused. "What is going on?"

He took a deep breath, gritted his teeth, and said,"The Devil Moon. According to legend, back in the days the demons still roamed the Earth's surface, once a century they had one of their nights of grand sacrifice. This was the Festival of the Devil Moon. During this festival, living creatures with mystical abilities or associations, who could have caused a great amount of trouble, found certain qualities in themselves -- exaggerated, so they would pose no threat."

He suddenly stopped and looked at Cordelia. *Obviously he's expecting me to say one of my typical lines like, 'Excuse me? This is relevant to me how?'* "And how is this relevant to me?" *Because my friends are hurting.* "My friends?" *YES.* She shook her head and invited Giles to continue.

Instead, he said. "No. I need to do more research." With a look of great effort, he said. "Me -- thoroughness. Willow -- shyness. Buffy her sense of responsibility. This is paralyzing all of us."

"And Xander?" She asked nervously. "Nervously? I CARE about that troglodyte?" *Yes, I do. In fact, why don't YOU go away for a while?* "It's not fair, I . . . " *Good, she's gone.*

"What about Xander?" came a voice from behind her. She turned. It was Xander, and he seemed okay. *Thank God*. "Cordy, are you making . . ." He stopped and stared at Cordelia with open appreciation. As his eyes repeatedly travelled the lengths of her body she came to a realization.

*Figures. With Xander it's hormones. Wait -- I thought he liked Buffy more--* She shook that thought from her head. There was work to be done. She grabbed his hand. "Xander, list --"

That was exactly the wrong thing to do. He pulled her to his face and kissed her. For a few seconds she just enjoyed the kiss, but shaking her head regained her composure and did the only thing she could think of. *Forgive me.* She slapped Xander across the face as hard as she could, staggering him.

Buffy screamed from where she was clinging to Giles, "Don't hurt . . . don't hurt . . . oh God . . ." and sank back against Giles' leg. Giles continued his intent study of the book, and Willow kept typing away as though her life depended on it. Maybe it did.

He looked up with that wounded puppy face she liked so much *Even if normally I wouldn't dream of admitting that* and said, "Cordy, what did I just do? I'm so . . . so . . ." She noticed him watching the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. *Of all the days to wear a shimmering blouse!* Xander's eyes glazed over and as he started towards her again she raised her hand. He edged around the corner of the table and sank into a chair. His eyes drifted from Cordelia to Buffy to Willow. *Damn, am I going to have to slap him all night?*

This couldn't last. She couldn't watch them alone all night. Nervously keeping an eye on Xander, to make sure he didn't decide to jump them, she called Giles repeatedly. He kept studying. She reached over the table, grabbed him by the lapels, and shook him until he was forced to acknowledge her.

"Cordelia, I-- I--"

"All I need to know is how to contact Angel."

With a tremendous effort of will he said, "Wallet. Address book. Under 'Los Angeles.'" then he ripped back out of her grip and kept reading.

She walked around the table, found the number in his black *So Giles has a little black book!* address book and dialed the number she found inside.


Part Three

Angel's voice on the other end of the phone was groggy. Apparently she'd just woken him up, and he was not in a good mood. His mood darkened further when he realized exactly who was calling him.

"Cordelia, I don't know how you got my number, but if the Hellmouth isn't reopening -- or you called to hit on me-- you are about to have a very bad night."

What had Giles called it? "The Devil Moon!" She blurted out. "Buffy's over here at the library crying, Giles can't stop studying, Willow hasn't looked up from the computer once, not even when I slapped Xander, who right now is looking at all three women in this room like he's starving and we're steaks." *And he usually looks at me like he's starving and I'm an empty plate.*

Unexpectedly, Angel chuckled. "I'd have loved to have seen that slap." Then his voice got serious again. "It can't be the night of the Devil Moon. That doesn't happen until --"

"What, you think I'm lying to get your attention? That's so not my style." He laughed at the other end, a brief snort. "Okay, maybe it is, but not tonight. Giles said the Devil Moon was causing these wigout effects, and I don't know any better. Anyway, you'd better get over here before I have to knock Xander over the head with one of Giles' icky twenty-pound books of prophecy."

"I wouldn't want to miss THAT," he said. "And they are behaving oddly. I'll be over as soon as I can." Well, he wasn't taking her entirely seriously, but at least he was coming.

A sudden knock on the door revealed itself as one of the half-dozen students who'd clustered in the library. "Ummm, Mr. Giles? Willow? I --" She rushed to the door and shoved the student back into the library's main room. "Excuse me," she said, "But Willow and Mr. Giles have taken ill. The remedial course is cancelled, but, um, will be rescheduled for next week."

They bought it. *Much as I hate having to lie to them* She watched them leave and quickly went back to the office. As she'd feared, Xander's hormones had completely overridden his common sense and he was busy nibbling on Willow's ear. *I wish it were me* The hacker, who Cordelia knew *how?* under other circumstances would be melting into a puddle, was completely oblivious. She yanked Xander off his friend and glared at him.

"Am I going to have to sit on you?" She asked. He only grinned at that, obviously picturing the scene in his mind. She groaned in frustration and forced him back into a chair.

Twenty minutes later, she heard a soft knock at the library's main doors. *Thank God, Angel's finally here* She rushed to open them.

A blond Billy Idol lookalike -- *wait, I saw him on Halloween night, he was the leader of that group of demons!* shoved his way into the room, knocking Cordelia back against the counter.

"Hello, little girl," he said. "Can the Slayer come out and play?"


Part Four

Cordelia backed up rapidly to the tables and nervously grabbed a chair. The Billy-Idol wannabe advanced on her slowly, a grim smile on his face.

"I said, can the Slayer come out and play?"

"I-I don't know," *Stall! I've got to stall!* "Do you have an appointment?"

He chuckled humorlessly. *I took that self-defense course, why can't I remember any of it?* So far, the only thing that she could recall was what to do if she were on fire.

He was almost on her. *Now or never.* She raised the chair and faked an expression of gibbering terror *not entirely faked* and started to swing at his head. With an easy, sneering grace he moved his left arm to block the chair and his right towards . . .

Where her throat HAD been. *Stop, drop, and roll.* She dropped the chair, fell to the ground and rolled towards him. HARD. He'd been expecting the attack at his head, not his feet, so while his arm blocked the now-holderless chair, senting it clattering to the floor, his legs were cut out from under him as Cordelia sent him sprawling. She bounced to her feet and ran behind the counter.

He was on his feet almost as fast, cursing to himself in some obscure English dialect. *Probably something about overconfidence. He won't make that mistake again.* She had gained maybe three seconds extra of life.

She frantically looked under the counter. Stakes, holy water, garlic, a can of RAID -- kills vamps dead, anything. *Aha!*

She pulled out a cross and the vampire abruptly stopped in his tracks. "Okay, um. Back. I've got a cross. This means you have to do what I say, right?"

"You must be new," he sneered. "It means I can't approach YOU, fool." Saying this, he went over to Giles' office door *Oh, no*, opened it and . . .

Smashed his face into an invisible barrier. "Damn. It is private." He spoke loudly to the four in the room. "Well, where are your manners, people, isn't anyone going to invite me in?" All four ignored him. Cordelia didn't even know if they could HEAR him. *I'm going to have to protect them.*

After thirty seconds of frustrated waiting, he turned to Cordelia. "It looks like I made a mistake. I guess I'll have to settle for you." He grimaced. "Pretty big comedown. Still, the death of one of her friends should devastate her."

She held up the cross again. "She doesn't really like me that much." He backed off and went over to the shelves, where he grabbed a handful of books.

Cordelia spent the next five minutes dodging his thrown books. *Who knew cheerleading would be more than a way to meet the guys on the football team?* Exhausted, finally, she didn't get out of the way quickly enough and a book smashed into the cross, knocking it to the floor. She scrambled for it but it was too late; the vampire was already on her, his face demonlike *Forgive me Buffy, Willow, Giles, and especially Xander. I'll never . . .*

Suddenly he flew upwards and went sailing backwards across the room. *What . . .?* Then Angel was pulling her to her feet. He looked over her to make sure she hadn't been bitten, then ran over to the other vampire.

"You're not getting them tonight, Spike." Angel reached for Spike and threw him across the library to land on one of the tables. Seeing he odds turned against him, Spike rolled off and dashed for the door, too annoyed to make any threats as he crashed through it and ran off into the night.

Then Angel came over and checked her over, more thoroughly. She hugged him. "Thank God . . ."


Part Five

Soon Cordelia had explained to Angel exactly what had happened. He stood there in amazement.

"You held off Spike for five minutes with just a cross?"

"What choice did I have?"

"None. I'm just -- shocked." He turned to walk into the office and, unlike Spike, had no trouble entering. *He's been here before.*

He walked over to the book Giles was reading and tore it from his grip. Giles reached for it and Angel shoved the librarian back into his chair. He grabbed another book from the mess on the table and started reading furiously, breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Xander, meanwhile, was concentrating on Willow again, this time kissing her neck fiercely. Cordelia sighed.

"Angel . . ." he turned his head and saw Xander.

"This is going to be a pleasure," he said and smiled grimly.

Ten seconds later Xander was locked in the rare books cage by the library's front door. "He didn't struggle," Angel complained mildly. This time it was Cordelia's turn to snort. Angel continued, "I was right. The Devil Moon isn't scheduled for another 45 years. This book," holding up the book Giles had been studying, "is cursed. Any one of Spike's minions could have planted it. Any living being who reads the book receives the curse of exaggeration, and then passes it to anyone he mentions it to."

"So why didn't it affect me?"

*It did* "It did, Cordelia. Haven't you noticed anything odd about yourself tonight?"

She thought hard. *I'm not normally the one in control. I don't normally admit my attraction to Xander, or Angel's real nature. I don't usually admit that I CARE for these people.* "So what did it exaggerate?"

"I'm not sure. But you have to admit you wouldn't normally act like this." Cordelia bristled, and Angel held up a hand. "You'd TRY to help, somehow. But you'd make a big production out of it."

"That makes sense." Suddenly, unexpectedly she began sobbing. "I don't want it to go away, Angel. I like caring. I like being the person I am now." She sniffed. "THOSE are my friends. In there. Not those twits who have nothing better to do than follow me around." She paused. "Do we HAVE to break the curse?" *Yes.*

"You know the answer."

She sighed. "Yes, I do." Angel reached behind the counter and pulled out a pack of matches. Very carefully he burned the book, dumping part of the ashes into a nearby trashcan and putting the rest in his pocket. "I'll dispose of these later."

"Finally," she thought. "Now I can go home, change my clothes, and start hanging around with people of my own social class." *You're going to take over again, aren't you?* "You got it."

She spoke to Angel. "I'd better get going. I'm not the first thing they're going to want to see when they wake up." Besides, I so have to get out of these clothes it's not funny. And I need to locate my real friends. I can't spend all night guarding these losers from refugees from the early 1980s." She headed for the library's double doors.

Angel said, "Cordelia, wait."

She turned. "What?"

He smiled. "'This above all. To thine own self be true.'"

Wordlessly she walked out of the library, muttering,"Shakespeare again?" *You know why he said it.* "I know why he said it. Can we just go home and change? I'll never get these tearstains out." *Yes. But I'm not going away any more.*

* * * * *


Cordelia walked down the school hallway, her flock of followers trailing at a respectful distance, when she saw the trio of monsterhunters standing by a locker in front of her. They gestured at her. "What do THEY want?" one of her devotees asked.

"Probably tips on how to get a life. Well, I should talk to them. I've always believed in being kind to my inferiors. Wait here."

She approached them. They were actually nervous. "Oh, I'm going to enjoy this . . ." she thought.

Buffy spoke first. "Angel told us what happened,Cordy, and, well . . ."

"Thanks." Xander said firmly. Willow and Buffy echoed the thanks. They extended their hands.

Loudly, she said, "You think I want to touch your loser hands? Keep your psychoviruses to yourself!"*Cordelia . . . * "Wait," she thought.

They looked hurt. Willow said, "Just TRY to give her a compliment," and turned around.

"Guys," Cordelia said quickly, "Now that my fans are happy, I just have one thing to say. You're welcome. I was really glad I could help."

They looked stunned again, though for a different reason. Cordelia smiled a smile of triumph and continued down the hall. *You're learning . . . now what about Xander?* "One thing at a time, dammit."

Soon she was laughing.

* * * * * Afterword -- Well, what'd you all think? All constructive criticism cheerfully accepted.