TRIPTYCH Part 2 The Essence of Cool by Kirayoshi

Disclaimers; I own Sandra Ogawa, and Mr. Beltaine, and wish I owned the rest. I don't, Joss does. Grr, Arrgh. No money is being made here. My conscience is clean.
Author's note; This is the second part of my three-part "Triptych", an interlude between parts 1 and 2 of "Somewhere I Have Never Travelled". A triptych, in case you were wondering, is a three-piece hinged tablet or portrait, usually of a religious nature. Loosely, it can be applied to a work in three parts. Buffy and Willow aren't in this story, but it is important to read this if you're following my main story arc. A major plot change is in the offing for one of my favorite supporting couples, and a new player enters the field. As Buffy would say, "Can you vague that up for me?" Oh, and I lifted the "Buffysexual" line from Pat Kelly's "Woes of Myth and Language", a dynamite read. He had Buffy call herself a "Willbian", and I kinda ran with the concept.
Archives; If you have "Somewhere I Have Never Travelled" you may as well take this one as well. Just let me know.
Feedback; Yes, please. Jim_D_Means@prodigy.net
Summary; Xander and Cordy reflect on their past, present and future. But who or what is lurking in the shadows (hey, it's Sunnydale! There's always something lurking in the shadows!) Told from Xander's POV

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TRIPTYCH:
Part two
The Essence of Cool
Written by Kirayoshi

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To paraphrase the line from the movie "The Yellow Submarine", Sunnydale can be a lonely place on a Saturday night. And it was only Wednesday morning.

Actually, that was a technicality. It had been Wednesday morning for a grand total of twenty minutes. I had just finished my evening beat, Wetherly Park, and had just finished my paperwork at the precinct house, and was on my way home.

I lived in a studio apartment just over the Bronze, and I could feel the vibrations of the music and dance below me whenever I went to sleep. I had a salary that couldn't afford much more in a place, and a job that, by the latest studies, easily contributed to high blood pressure, ulcers and gunshot wounds.

Life was good, actually.

Two nights ago, I had helped save the life of the bravest, most caring, most heroic person I had ever known. Buffy Summers was still in the hospital, under observation, but she was coming home tomorrow. Willow had already cleared out half of her closet for Buffy, and was excited about having her in her digs, and in her bed. I think the old me would have made a joke about her not having gotten any for a year, then she would scowl at me, then I'd shrink a bit, then we'd laugh and move on. Now, I only felt happiness for her. I know I may have had a problem with homosexuality once upon a more chauvinistic time, but one look at Buffy and Willow together would convince even Dr. Laura that they belong together.

Besides, as Willow once explained to me, shortly after they finally got that party started, "I'm not a homosexual, I'm a Buffysexual! I can only do it with Buffy!" She punctuated that remark with the grin of a cat that had swallowed an entire aviary, so I had no room to argue with her. Of course, being Xander Harris, I had to ask if that made Buffy a 'Willowsexual', to which Willow looked at me slyly, and said, "I sure as hell hope so!", dissolving into giggles at the statement.

Hey, all that mattered to me now was that Buffy was back, Willow had an epidemic case of the happies, and life was good. Oh, and Cordy was back in my life.

Ah, Cordelia Chase. I hadn't asked her how her quest for fame and fortune amid the bright lights of Los Angeles went. I assumed that she hadn't yet set the world on fire, or landed her oft-fantasized love scene with Leonardo DiCaprio. I didn't pry, and she didn't volunteer any information, but we did talk about everything else. She was startled first, amazed second, and finally proud of my joining the Sunnydale's Finest, the SPD. She wistfully said something to the effect of "at least one of us has their life in order," which make me worry about her. I didn't say anything, just quietly let her know that if she needed me, I was there.

As I headed back home, I passed through Whetherly Park, once the popular hunting ground of Sunnydaleís vamps, but more recently rather quiet. As they say in the movies, Ďtoo quietí. Angel and Cordy had said that something big was happening. I didnít understand these new psychic powers Cordy had developed(she said she got them from an old boyfriend before he died), but I trusted her. She may have been the town rich-bitch, but she was still my friend.

More than my friend, really.

When did that happen, anyway? In high school, we had what could only be called a Ďvolatileí relationship, which ended badly when she caught me lip-locking Willow in the factory after a run-in with Spike. Nope, the Queen C didnít take it well at all. Now she was back in my life, and she seemed to want me back. I was thrilled, I was surprised, and now I was waiting for the other overpriced size six pump to drop.

A sudden snap of a branch caught my attention; my years as a member of the Scooby Gang increased my hearing big time. I spun around, and noticed two young women walking under the street lamps. I recognized them instantly; "Tara, Sandra. Howya doiní?"

"Hey, Officer Harris," Sandra Ogawa greeted me. I held up my hand, and said, "Please, the nameís Xander." She blushed prettily. I was pleased that the new Slayer was so polite, but after she had helped anchor us when we dove into the Hellmouth to rescue Buffy, she earned my respect and my friendship. "So, you two out on patrol?"

"Yes, Xander," Tara said. "I wanted to show Sandra around, and maybe show her some defensive spells Iíve been working on, but it looks like a dead night."

"Yeah, things have been rather quiet lately," I admitted. "I kinda like it that way, myself. Makes for less stress and fewer ulcers. I like it boring."

"Not at all like the old Chinese Curse," Sandra commented. " ĎMay you live in interesting timesí."

"Good call, Sandra. You two take care, now." I waved goodbye as the two young Scoobs resumed their vigil.

The new Scoobs. I felt like I was passing a torch to the younger set. Slayerettes; The Next Generation. It felt good. It was great to know that Sunnydale was in good hands.

I couldnít help but notice that they were holding hands. I started to wonder--then decided to head out to my rendezvous

I had promised Cordy that I would meet her at the Espresso Pump before calling it a night. I wasnít sure that sheíd wait up past midnight for me; I had warned her that the paperwork might take me a while. I headed for the Pump, and there she was. No longer wearing designer fashions, but a simple off-the-rack blouse and skirt combo. I entered the coffee house and waved at her. She smiled at me, her smile natural and happy.

"Hey, Cordy, howís life?" I asked as I kissed her forehead. At least I aimed for the forehead, to be polite. But she lifted her head at the right time, and I caught her lips. We lingered there for a second, before I backed away. "Sorry about that," I started.

"Why," she gave me a Cheshire Cat grin, "Iím not." Yep, she still liked to keep me guessing. I sat down next to her, and noticed her drink. "Chai tea, decaf" she said. "Sort of an east Indian tea, served latte style."

"Sounds good," I answered. "Iíll do that." I ordered a chai tea, and sipped at it. Sweet, but not too sweet, creamy, generously spiced. I liked it at once. "Youíve still got good taste," I commented. I noticed the newspaper on the table in front of her. "Whatcha looking at?"

"Apartment listings," she said casually.

I stopped sipping at my tea and turned to her. "Sunnydale apartment listings?"

"No, Paris," she said with sweet sarcasm. Yea, thatís the Queen C I know and lo--did I say that? "I thought Iíd do the Ďbum around Europe and try to find myselfí routine."

I considered my next statement carefully. Sometimes talking to Cordy was the conversational equivalent of slow dancing with a porcupine. She cut me off before I started; "Before you ask, Xander," she said, a little weariness in her voice, "Iíve given up my quest for super- stardom. Iíve enrolled in U.C. Sunnydale, majoring in education, minoring in dramatic arts, I applied for a college grant and I think Iím in, and I just landed a late-night job here at the Espresso Pump. I start tomorrow on cash-register."

"Hey," I said, "congratulations." She nodded at me, and smiled a little. "Hey, if youíre looking for a place to crash, there are a couple of vacant units where I live."

"You mean, over the Bronze?" she wrinkled her nose distastefully.

"Hey, itís not that loud at night. Besides youíre working nights too, you wonít notice. Plus, youíve got a cop living next door."

"Aha, so the ulterior motive rears its ugly head," she grinned at me again, and we both found ourselves laughing briefly. "I missed you, Xand."

"Why do I find that hard to believe?" Donít get me wrong, I was glad to have her back too, I just wanted to know why she wanted me in her life again.

"Youíre not like the jerks I met in L.A. The only real guy there was Angel, and, you know, happiness clause. Youíre real. Youíre basic."

"Hey, hey, hey," I stopped her. "You just quoted Ione Skye in ĎSay Anythingí."

"Hey, I liked that movie," she defended herself. "I used to fantasize about John Cusack standing outside my bedroom window, hoisting a boombox over his head, playing ĎIn Your Eyesí by Peter Gabriel--"

"Would you settle for ĎPlanet Claireí by the B-52s?" She dimpled at my words. I then serioused up, saying, "Of course, I figured I got more out of our old relationship than you did. I mean, here I was, going out with Cordelia Chase, while you were stuck with Xander Harris. Hardly bragging rights there."

"Stop that now, Xander," she suddenly placed her hand on mine. "Youíre still the nicest guy I ever met. Braver than most guys, I mean, youíve joined the police force, not to mention going to Hell to save Buffy. Youíve done some good, youíve made something of yourself. Thatís what I want. It wasnít working with the acting, I figured out that I wasnít going to be accepting an Oscar any time soon, and I sure as hell wasnít going to drop my pants for some made-for-video sexfest. You know, my last five offers were for soft-core parodies of ĎThe Blair Witch Projectí? Thatís when I knew I had to get out of there."

"Hey," I gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "Iím sorry it didnít pan out."

"Iím not," she said ruefully. "Iím just glad I got out with my sanity intact. Thatís why Iím back her in Sunnydale. After Daddy got arrested for tax evasion--another point I have in common with Ione Skye from ĎSay Anythingí--I thought I needed to get away, to redeem myself on my own. But being here, with my friends--not Harmony and the other sheep that followed me in high school but my real friends, Willow, Buffy," she dropped her eyes slightly and added shyly, "you, it jelled for me. I was trying to live my life by what everyone thought of me, not what I thought of myself. Now, I got a chance. Iíd like to teach, maybe drama, maybe something else. And hey, if I can land a few roles in some local community theater, just enough to feed my ego, I can be happy with that."

"Okay," I grinned, "who are you and what have you done with Cordelia Chase?" We both laughed at that. "Seriously, Cordy," I added, "I know what youíre going through. I spent the first year out of high school in a void, just hanging out in my parentsí basement, drifting from job to job, having Anya screw my brains out--" I stopped her before she could say it, "I know, no challenge. Yíknow, I donít think I even noticed when she finally walked out on me. But once I realized that she was gone, it was like a splash of cold water. It woke me up. Thatís when I started to turn it around, to get my life back on track. Thatís when I decided to become a cop. Maybe itís wish-fulfillment, but itís something that matters to me. Besides, itís about time at least one cop in Sunnydale wasnít clueless."

Cordy regarded me thoughtfully for a few seconds, and said, "Looks like you finally found it."

"It? What Ďití?" I asked.

Cordy sighed lightly as she explained it to me. "That night I called you the team Zeppo, you had asked me what it was that decided who was cool and who was not. Youíre exact words were, ĎWhat is the essence of cool?í. I never quite understood it myself until recently. Self-confidence. Thatís the essence of cool. If you have that, then no matter who you are, what you do, how you dress--" she appraised me up and down, "yeah, even your God-awful Hawaiian shirts, youíre cool."

I glanced at my watch. "Lessee, twelve-forty-three a.m., June 28, 2001. Cordelia Chase called Alexander LaVelle Harris cool." I stood up and announced to the otherwise empty espresso bar, "Let this be recorded for all posterity, she who used to decide all matters of coolness at Sunnydale High has declared me to be cool!" Cordy whooped with laughter as I continued my rave.

"Sit down, Xander," she admonished me. "I always thought that you were cool. I was just too afraid that Iíd be uncool if word got out. That brings me back to that self-confidence thing. You think Iíd hang out with Harmony and those others if I had any self-confidence? I needed them to boost my ego, not because I liked them." She patted my hand, and added, "And for what itís worth, I never thought of you as Zeppo. You may not be the Slayer, or a Witch or anything like that, but you kept us together as much as anyone else. I always envied your ability to take what the Hellmouth threw at you and still crack a bad joke about it. And I always admired that. And loved that about you." She touched my cheek with her hand, and said, "I love you, Zeppo. It took me two years in Lala Land to figure it out, but I do." She leaned forward and kissed me on the lips.

I had not expected her confession, the depth of emotion she demonstrated, but as her lips met mine, I knew it was right. I, Xander Harris, knew that she wasnít holding anything back, she wasnít hiding behind the mask of Queen C, that Queen C was as dead as the Zeppo. And it felt good.

As our lips parted, I could feel the silence build between us. I needed to say something, either a trademark wisecrack or my own confession of my feelings for Cordy. I had to say something, just so that something was said.

"Marry me."

Cordy looked at me, dazed. "What?"

I realized what I had said, and blushed. "I said that out loud, didnít I?" Cordy glanced away from me, and lowered her head. I had to regroup fast. "Look, Cordy, I love you too, and yeah, I do want us to be together. But before we go any further, I need to warn you. Iím a cop now. Thatís dangerous work, and not the best paying job on the planet. Iíd hardly be able to afford the lifestyle you were used to with your dad."

"Neither could he," she observed. "Thatís why heís in Club Fed."

"Okay, good point. But the thing is, Iím saving what I can, and Iím sure Iíll get paid more as I advance in the department. Besides, you just got back in town, and we should take this slow. Not dead stop, just slow. So hereís what I propose; we go out, we date, and the earlier marriage proposal is still there. Itís on the table, it still stands. If after a while you decide that itís what you want, then fine. If not, then, not fine, but at least we tried, okay?"

She looked at me as though I had grown a second head. "Are you finished channeling Willow?" she asked. She then took my head in her hands and pulled it toward hers for another kiss, more urgent than the last one. She pulled me away again and said, "Yes, Xander Harris, I will marry you!"

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I stared at Cordy for a full five seconds before I said anything. "You said yes. Right?"

She nodded enthusiastically.

"You do understand the idea of going slow, right?"

"Yes," she nodded again. "I also know when something is right, and when to go for it. We, Xander Harris, are right. I know we wonít be able to get married right away, but I do want to share my life with you. You got a problem with that?"

I felt the blood rush to my brain and started feeling a little light headed. I managed to say something like, "Uh, yeah, no, no prob, problem not here, you marry, I will, I--" At least thatís probably what emerged from my lips; I had planned something eloquent and romantic, but the interface between my brain and my mouth tends to get disengaged in situations of extreme stress. Like when Iím caught in the shower belting out James Brown in my underwear. Or when my girlfriend catches me kissing my best friend in the library.

Or when the girl of my dreams says that she wants to be mine forever.

I managed to stop stammering like an idiot long enough to kiss her again, and that seemed to say everything that I wanted to. We held each other and kissed repeatedly, just happy to have found each other again. I was able to look at her for a few moments, and say, "I know I didnít say it well before, but I do love you, Cordelia Chase-Harris-to-be."

"I love you too, Xander Harris," she whispered to me. We noticed the night manager of the Espresso Pump looking at us, and we tried to compose ourselves, but still had this compulsion to hold hands constantly. I made motions to pay for our chai lattes, but the manager stopped me; "Hey, itís on the house tonight. Congratulations you two."

As we left the Pump, we chatted aimlessly about everything and nothing. We didnít decide anything major beyond the actual fact of our engagement, but it didnít matter. Cordy asked me if I wanted to start on wedding plans right away, but I was happy to just live with the idea for a while. Besides, there was one thing I had to do before anything else. "The first thing I do once I have the money scraped together," I announced, "is get you an engagement ring. A nice fancy one."

"Hey," she smiled at me, "you donít have to go too far there. Just a nice simple gold band, solitaire, five carats."

"Hoo-boy," I breathed, "I think I can afford five carrots right now, if youíre wild about produce--"

"Kidding," Cordy laughed. "Tell you what, once you and I both scrape together enough, weíll go to the jewelerís together and pick out something nice. Believe me, two years working for Angel has taught me to economize, and shouldnít you be listening to your fiancee now?"

"Shh," I motioned to her. "I thought I heard something." I stepped forward, hoping it was just Sandra and Tara wrapping up their patrol. Cordy and I stood quietly for a few seconds, until I heard the rustling of leaves behind us.

We turned and saw a man standing behind us. My first thought was "Barnabus Collins". Tall, gaunt, sunken cheeks, but he still held his form high, and his eyes gleamed with intelligence, with determined fire. Wavy brown hair crowned his head, and he leaned stiffly against a brass tipped cane. He regarded me with obsidian eyes, and said to me, "Alexander LaVelle Harris. Greetings. And you," he bowed formally at the dark-haired girl who clamped down on my arm, "must be Cordelia Chase." He tipped his hat toward her.

"Hello," I said to the stranger, as I started to reach for the crucifix I kept in my pocket. "Do we know you?"

"Not at this time, Mr. Harris," he said civilly, "but you will soon enough. And yes, I am a vampire, but you have no reason to fear me."Cordy gasped beside me, and I echoed her sentiment. "I, like your associate Angel, am possessed of a soul. I do not regard you as my enemy. Whether you regard me as your enemy is up to you."

I had managed to grab the crucifix, and held it in front of the stranger. He stepped back at the sight of the cross, but still didnít leave yet. "I didnít expect to win your trust this night," he said, and I could hear a hint of sadness in his voice. "But I do need you to warn your friend the Slayer that there is a power afoot. Inform your Watcher, Rupert Giles I believe, that Mister Beltaine must speak to him. I will contact him in time. Good evening, and congratulations on your engagement." He tipped his hat to us again, turned and started to walk away. "May you live long enough to see your wedding day."

I started to chase after him as he walked away, but I was stopped by a sudden mist that arose out of nowhere. When I blinked, the mist disappeared, taking Mr. Beltaine with him.

Cordy rushed up to me, as I looked around for this strange vampire. "What was that about?" she asked, clearly shaken.

"I donít know, Cordy," I answered. I was as shaken as she was, but more than that, I was angry. This Beltaine person ruined a perfect evening, and took the luster off of my engagement to Cordy. But seeing her, looking at me with her worried eyes, put things in a little more perspective. She was looking to me to make her less scared, and I think hoped to make me less scared as well. We both held and calmed each other, as we wondered what we were going to do about Mr. Beltaine.

We agreed to speak to Giles tomorrow. We figured that he was asleep by now, and besides, there was nothing we could do about it tonight. At any rate, I wanted to spend a little more time alone with the woman I was going to marry. We were still happy just to be together, but the sense of dread that this new vampire left behind still wouldnít let us go.

So, where do I stand now? I lived in a studio apartment just over the Bronze, and I could feel the vibrations of the music and dance below me whenever I went to sleep. I had a salary that couldn't afford much more in a place, and a job that, by the latest studies, easily contributed to high blood pressure, ulcers and gunshot wounds. I had met someone who could be as great a threat as Acaltha, Adam or the Master was. And Cordy and I were at this time the only people who were aware of this new development.

And an angel named Cordelia Chase had agreed to share her life with me.

Yeah, life was good.

Continue to Triptych Part 3
Who Watches the Watchers?

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