"So... how do we open it?"
They were standing over the large sea-chest bearing the letters "A. Black" on the lid that now sitting in the kitchen of their house. The hardwood smelled healthy, even now after collecting dust for over half a century. Xander studied the locking mechanism on the chest's seam.
"Well we could just chop it open, Wills. But that doesn't really feel right." He kneeled down to examine the device more closely. A slit in the gold plating of the lock could be the trigger, thought Xander, although the thin hole was too tall for any key Xander had ever seen. Except...
"Willow, where's the glass piece?" The redhead pulled the artifact from her purse, handed it over.
"Because this lock looks about as tall as it was. There," Xander held the disc up to the side for comparison. "It must go in." Xander carefully slid the ornate piece inside, stopping when he felt the resistance of the metal. The lock clicked. "Bingo."
He pulled the disc from inside and lifted the chest's lid. Both peered curiously inside, examining the contents. The chest hadn't felt heavy as they carried it (by way of Giles' truck) to their own home, and Xander had suspected that it might just be empty. Seeing the full contents, though, confused him even more.
The chest was nearly full of various odds and ends, some junk and some possibly quite invaluable. That was always the way it went with archeology. Trash from millennia ago could provide the most important clues about it's owners, and it was impossible to guess at something's value from a simple glance.
The contents of the chest painted an interesting portrait of the man's life. This was the part Xander excelled at. The creativity needed to formulate multiple guesses at an item's use—and, often, the reasons for its disuse—was a rare gift among the analytical minds of his colleagues. He treated his grandfather's trinkets, therefore, no differently from his handling of the excavation of a Royal Burial Chamber.
There were quite a few items inside: books, journals, folders with maps and notes scribbled in an illegible handwriting similar to his own, very-old looking artifacts and, to Xander's immediate interest, a black fedora bearing an eagle's feather in the brim. On impulse Xander put the thing to his head. Not a bad fit, really, if just a little big. He set it aside gently and continued his cursory glance through the possessions.
Besides the other items and the fedora, it seemed that Xander's grandfather had taken great care of his tools, most of which Xander found in an old-fashioned leather satchel. Brushes, chisels, a hammer, sextant, even what looked like a lock-picking device. Xander reached further inside the bag and pulled out... weapons. A combat knife and pistol, specifically. Was his grandfather a scientist or a simple highway robber?
His eyes drifted back to the hat beside him What manner of man had worn that hat? Xander hoped the diaries could shed some light on the character of his ancestor.
A piece of paper stuck out from the pages of one weather-beaten journal. Xander opened the book and pulled it out. It was a black-and-white photograph featuring a tall man who looked strikingly like his own father, Jack. The resemblance to his son was uncanny, although his smile seemed to be stolen from his only grandson. And although the picture was limited to the technology of it's time, Xander felt relatively certain that they had the same eyes.
Willow looked over his shoulder at the picture. "He's kinda hot."
Xander raised an amused eyebrow. "He's my grandfather. Was there really any doubt?"
Willow giggled. "Well, no," she said coyly "but proof is always nice. You have the same smile."
"Yeah, but he looks kinda angry in this picture. Is that really a good thing?"
"Who are they?" Willow indicated the half-a-dozen or so younger people around him. "Friends?"
"Grandma's letter mentioned 'apprentices,'" Xander thought out loud. "They must be them."
Willow's eyes widened. "Hey, Xander, is that..."
Xander followed her gaze. "Renneaux! What the hell is he doing..."
Xander thought back to the letter. "I believe in coincidences," it had said. "But I have never trusted them." Renneaux was a good man, of that Xander was 99% certain. But it was odd that he would have worked with two generations of men from the same family—all the while not knowing that they were family.
Xander shrugged. "Nah. He was probably taught in Sunnydale... why else would he live here?"
Willow shook her head. "That's very, very strange Xander."
"Maybe I should casually ask him about Black."
"Maybe you should. Casually," she added thoughtfully. "When's our flight?"
"It's a good one. 12:00."
"Is that noon or..."
"No, it's midnight. Almost has to be, living in a town where going out after dark is suicidal." He shook his head. "Renneaux, you are a cheap bastard."
"Maybe you can be on time for once?" Willow smiled sarcastically and awaited her friend's indignant response.
"Me? Oh, no Willow. You're the one who set the clock an hour late."
"How did you know..."
Xander leaned in close to the redhead's surprised face. "My flight wasn't late the last time," he whispered quietly as his friend's face turned a shade matching her hair.
she was telling herself, silently, over and over again. It wasn't helping her acrophobia at all.
The sound of her friend's reassuring voice jolted her from her inner pleading. That was typical of Xander—able to remove her out of her own problems with just a concerned sound. She turned to face him, trying with all her might to look brave.
"Yes, Xander?" Her voice was clipped and not slightly cold. That was a habit she'd been trying to break for years, but for some reason mortal terror seemed to give her more control over the grammar facilities of her mind.
"You're shivering." Between the expression in his eyes, the sound of his voice and the way she intimately understood him, Willow knew that he was sincere. The light in his dark eyes gave away nearly every emotion he ever needed to express—a major weakness she had, on more than one occasion, chosen to exploit.
"You noticed." His genuine concern still wasn't enough to jolt her from the frigid mental shield she'd erected in a mostly successful attempt to keep her from screaming. Xander laughed.
"Believe me, I wouldn't have except that... well, your coffee's all over my forearm." Xander held out the injured arm woefully.
Concern immediately broke through her facade. "Oh, God... Xander, I am so, soo... and it's really hot, I think I just seared your arm... you'll be a... a... a cripple for life now!" Her voice had reached a pitch that forced the few other passengers on board to look her way in amused interest.
A thought occurred to her. "Xander?"
He was wiping the liquid from his arm. "Yes, Wills?"
Her face contorted into a thoughtful scowl. "I'm not drinking coffee."
"You're not drinking coffee," he agreed.
"So why is your coffee on your arm?"
"My coffee's on my arm?" He widened his eyes in shock. "I never even suspected... my coffee must not like me!" He shook his finger at the offensive Styrofoam container. "Bad coffee... if there wasn't a lady present I'd... I'd...well, I'd probably drink you anyway" he shrugged. "Oh, I can't stay mad at you. Come here." Xander lifted the cup to his mouth and sipped the steaming beverage. "You know, Willow, it's true. Making up's the best part."
Throughout his performance the redhead had been suppressing giggles behind a hastily-erected "resolve face" of angry eyes and a very stiff upper lip. As he hugged the container lovingly, though, Willow couldn't help but let loose a burst of almost maniacal laughter at his antics. She quickly covered it up with the previous expression and scowled at her dark-haired friend.
"That wasn't nice."
"Yeah, I know. But it still worked."
"Yes. It did," Willow lovingly leaned her head against his shoulder, allowing a contented expression to rest on her face. "You smell like coffee."
"I've been maimed, Willow. It's not something you just get over." He caressed her hair fondly. "Now go to sleep."
"Mmm... as you wish," the redhead muttered sleepily. Xander sighed regretfully as she finally dozed off against his arm.
"Great. Now I've got a Willow on my arm and I can't move." He looked down at her longingly. "Things could definitely be worse."
"Xander?" He barely heard her yell over the whirring of the helicopter's blades.
"Yeah, Wills?" It was amazing how he managed to convey concern even while screaming.
"I don't like helicopters all that much."
He smiled and led her away from the landing pad. "Between you and me," he said evenly "I don't either." Xander wrapped an arm around her quivering shoulders, gave her a squeeze. She looked so pale, he thought, so afraid. Field work wasn't Willow's thing. It never had been.
he chided himself. If only he could comfort her in his own special way... but no, Xander thought. The time had come for work, not hypothetical romances.
"Thanks," she said gratefully. Even though Xander wasn't afraid of helicopters (or much else, she thought, for that matter), hearing the words lent her a reassurance that maybe, just maybe, there was someone out there who understood her.
she congratulated herself. Once on solid ground again, standing beside her best friend, Willow felt alright. Which was also a first in her flying history—in the past, Willow had always passed out before or shortly after landing.
"This way, doctor." A younger Caucasian male, probably nearing the end of grad school, Willow thought, ushered them to a waiting jeep. "It's all ready for you, sir."
"Thanks, Ben," Xander nodded to his friend. Benjamin Gladstone was one of Renneaux's more promising finds in recent years. The kid showed promise, thought Xander, or at least more than he had at that age. The difference between them was that Ben was a natural subordinate—a born lackey—while Xander tended to take charge of a situation and produce results.
Ben anxiously stepped away from the jeep as Xander loaded their bags into the back. "Nice hat, sir," he said.
Xander rolled his eyes upwards to his grandfather's fedora and grinned. "A little more Harrison Ford than I'd like, but hey. A relic's a relic." He finished loading the bags and opened the door for Willow. "Wanna come, Ben? We're just going to Renneaux's tent."
The younger man's eyes bulged out slightly at the offer, although whether it was due to his intense respect for Renneaux or his even more intense dread of riding with his friend, Xander wasn't sure. Over the course of his work with Renneaux, Xander had acquired the unfortunate (if very accurate) reputation of being a crazy driver. "Lady aboard, Ben. I've gotta play nice."
The other looked slightly relieved but shook his head. "We're trying to translate the pictographs in A-41. Tell the Professor" Xander noted the reverent tone in his voice "that I said hello."
"Later, Ben." Xander smiled and climbed in the other side. "What?"
He'd felt Willow's raised eyebrow fall upon him without looking at her. "You never have to play nice when I'm around, Alexander Harris. I've driven with you, and it doesn't scare me."
Xander chuckled in amusement. "Really? Cause I've driven with me too. It's a terrifying thing. Maybe you can see the show sometime." He winked roguishly at the incensed redhead.
"Hey, I'm ready for the shooooww, slow down!" Her eyes had bugged out in a mix of terror and awe as Xander gracelessly pulled away from the helicopter pad. "You'll wreck something!"
"No I won't. I'm good at this. Watch." He slammed on the breaks, twisting the wheel and moving the shifter to avoid tipping. The jeep turned a full 360 in the ancient dust before Xander smoothly engaged the clutch. "See?"
Willow had covered her eyes.
As the jeep slid up to the large tent occupied by the expedition's head, Willow slowly removed her hands from her eyes, blinked at the harsh daylight, and looked at Xander.
"I surrender." The point had gone to him; Willow was woman enough to admit that. Still, she couldn't let it go to his head. "You'll get yours, Xander. Soon."
The triumphant grin slipped off his face. "If you're angry at me for that, I already have."
Willow blinked at the hurt expression spread across his features. "I'm not. You know I've gotta find some way to check your ego." A mischievous glint came into her eyes. "Maybe some type of public nudity would be..."
"And we're off the forgiveness track." Xander had quickly—almost too quickly, thought Willow—jumped from the vehicle to the ground, and was circling around to her side. "How about I open your door."
"You may not be a good driver or humble," Willow commented thoughtfully as he helped her down. "But at least you're a gentleman."
He bowed low, offering an arm to the delighted redhead. "Come, milady. The king want's a word with your not so humble escort."
"I want these chambers photographed. Yes, yes, I said photographed. No! Doctor, we must have these pictures. The success of this expedition depends on them, in short," he breathed "without proof of the sophistication, no one will believe that they're still un-tampered with."
He waited patiently. "Yes... yes. Thank you, doctor." He hung up. "Some people. Alexander," he breathed again. "Thank the gods you've returned, my expedition is saved and I cannot tell you just how important you are... my, who is this?"
Willow studied the short, balding scientist keenly, taking in his unnatural thinness as well as the deep green tint of his eyes. Renneaux was a funny man in many ways. Originally from some region of Europe (his accent could have been English, French or Germanic, or all of the above), the short, nearly-bald man had immigrated to the New World sometime near the beginning of the second World-War. Vichy, he'd explained, had been rather hostile to any Jewish sympathizers. As his wife was Jewish, Renneaux had gotten the hint that they'd better get out of Dodge.
After abandoning his Old World dreams (he, like Giles, had been deeply interested in the profession of grocery), Renneaux had employed his considerable mental assets towards what had merely been a hobby—archeology. Unlike Xander, the short European had exhibited a tremendous savvy for book learning. He truly was a prodigy when it came to committing important facts (or, for that matter, entire textbooks) to memory.
Renneaux's biggest and possibly only fault was his terrible luck—luck he half-jokingly attributed to a Gypsy curse placed upon his family line. Wherever opportunity lurked, Renneaux was nowhere to be found. His various houses had burned to the ground no less than seven times across the country. His cars, even to the present day, had shown tremendous capacity for malfunction. His family had gradually been stricken, one by one, until only the eccentric scientist remained.
If not for the work, Xander was certain his friend would have hung himself years ago. He interrupted Renneaux in mid compliment.
Xander looked at the redhead as if thinking. "The best person I know."
Renneaux smiled warmly and extended a rough hand. "You seem to know many people, Alexander. And many of them seem to be beautiful women. But I do not believe I have ever heard that particular description" he sucked in a quick breath "before. A pleasure Ms...?"
"Rosenburg. Willow Rosenburg."
Renneaux blinked sharply as if attempting remove tears that did not exist yet. "A pleasure."
"We've talked on the phone before."
"Ah yes. Alexander's house mate." He leaned close to Xander conspiratorially. "You're a lucky man, my friend."
"What problem do you need me to solve?"
"Ah, yes, straight to the point, that is so like you. Well, my spiritual son, there is this cave..."
Willow smiled at the interaction between the two. Renneaux had made Xander, had recognized something akin to himself in the very, very different person of her friend. Maybe he'd witnessed the nearly workaholic tendencies her friend had shown in college; maybe he saw the same love of the very remote past he himself harbored; or, most likely, he'd just seen another good man down on his luck and had stepped in where Fate hadn't.
Not that he'd given Xander an easy ride; that wasn't Renneaux's style at all. Quite the contrary, he'd pushed the aspiring scholar harder than any other student, had (academically) beaten the sometimes uninspired learner into a thing of beauty. Xander had responded just as Renneaux knew he would: in defiance of what he perceived to be an unfair teacher, Xander had bitten back with all the determination of a... well, a very determined person.
More than anything else, Renneaux was proud of his protege. Xander, more than any discovery, expedition, or teaching career, was Renneaux's greatest accomplishment. Renneaux believed in the younger man when no one else (himself included) had. When the old man did pass away, he felt extremely confident that the gifted young archeologist would be seen as his masterpiece—more than that, as a kind of adopted son.
"I'll figure it out."
"Of that, there was never any doubt. I must file a report to my benefactors but if you need me," he inhaled loudly "I will be here. Good luck, although you will not need it."
Xander smiled and shook his hand. Willow did the same
"It was great to finally meet you, Doctor."
"And you, Miss Rosenburg." The same sad/wistful expression fell across his face. "Au revoir, for now."
The expression of sad longing plastered across Renneaux's face haunted Willow as she followed Xander to the jeep. She could only remember seeing that expression on the features of her now-deceased grandmother. What if...?
Willow shook off the questions as Xander gripped the wheel. "No, no no," she clucked. "I drive."
Her friend considered it for a moment. "You don't know where you're going."
She pointed. "Big pyramid? Middle of the city? Pretty good idea."
Xander bowed graciously. "By all means..."
As they switched places, Willow wondered briefly at the interesting questions and coincidences surrounding Xander's mentor. Maybe she could answer them someday. "You didn't ask about Black."
"He wouldn't have answered it."
Xander shook his head. "Renneaux is a genius, but he tends to think in a one-way pattern. Something as exciting as this cave..." he trailed off. "Willow, pull over."
The redhead obeyed. "What? What is it?"
Xander jumped from the idling jeeps side. "I remembered where I've seen the disc before."
Willow followed him across the broad path to a tiny pyramid. "What?"
"Look at this." Xander gestured to the stone steps below him. "It's the skull."
"The skull from the disc. I'm sure of it."
"You said it looked Toltec."
"Toltecs didn't build this city, Wills. Maybe their ancestors, but not them."
"Hadn't been born yet." He traced the circle around it. "These depressions look like the gems on the artifact. And the point," he pointed. "It's there too."
"So what does that mean?"
"At the very least? That my grandfather was here before. And that he took something he shouldn't have."
"Possession is 9/10s of the law, Xander."
"Hmmp," he snorted incredulously. "Right now, our team has the artifacts. They legally belong to the Mexican government. It is our duty to protect them until they can be housed somewhere else."
"Your grandfather wasn't a petty thief. Whatever he took..."
"And it looked like a lot of things."
"Must have been important. Especially since he built a lock around it."
"Hmm," he agreed, deep in thought.
"The ancient Maya believed that in the existence of thirteen crystal skulls."
"I'd never heard that."
Xander looked at her in a very academic way. "It was the central piece of their apocalypse stories. Supposedly, when all 13 came together, the human race would gain immense knowledge and power..."
"Sounds good, for an apocalypse."
"...which, if we weren't ready for it, would destroy us all," he finished. "If Black thought this piece had something to do with them, he was probably right to take it."
"What are you thinking?"
"That maybe this little glass disc opens more than a sea-chest."
"Well, duh!" The redhead laughed musically. "I seems to have 'key' written all over it."
"Always puttin' down the Xand-man. As if he can't go any lower." Xander wiped an imaginary tear from his cheek. "I'll just be in the jeep," he finished hoarsely.
Willow rolled her eyes at his antics, trying with an unnatural concentration not to laugh. When Xander began crawling along in the dust to the pickup, Willow lost it.
"Okay, okay. So you knew that. Jeez, be a little more sensitive, will ya?"
He was on his feet by the end of the sentence. "Say no more, I shall endeavor to become more sensitive. Maybe I should remake your office in some nice pastels..."
"Sorry. Getting in." Again taking shotgun, Xander studied the stone step from the jeep. "We need that piece."
"Well maybe you should have brought it."
"Oh, not me."
"You're gonna send for it?"
"The best way I know how."
They looked each other in the eyes. "Dawn," finished Xander as Willow guessed "Me."
"So much for great minds thinking alike, Wills. No, Dawn's been bugging me to come out here for awhile."
"Ends in two days. We can wait that long. It'll give me time to get the scoop on Black."
"Where to now?"
"The Pyramid of the Sun. Go The Way of The Gods."
"Is that a religion?" she asked curiously.
"No, it's the street that ends at the Pyramid. Aztecs believed their gods were buried beneath, so..."
"Alright, alright," Willow grumbled. "Just be mister Hi-I-know-more-about-ancient-Mesoamerican-civilizations-than-you-do-Willow."
"Too long a name."
"Clear away that rubble. Joe, sift it for artifact-related debris. Henry, bring the water truck over here... Jack.."
"That'll be Derek," Xander whispered quietly to the redhead. "Watch out for him... he's not that talented and wants to be the boss."
"But Renneaux's the boss."
"No one told Derek that. He's been living in the Professor's shadow for almost half a century. And he doesn't like me."
Willow appraised the tall, shaven-headed man curiously. The bulging muscles gave him the appearance of a strong and young man, although Willow noticed the definite wrinkles around his forehead, cheeks and jaw line. He reminded her of someone, now who was it?
"He looks like Jesse Ventura," Xander said slowly. "Although he's about half as bright. He really likes giving orders, Willow."
"I'll be careful," the petite redhead promised.
"Dr. Perry! Good to see you."
The tall man turned a scornful eye on Xander. "Harris," he said contemptuously. "I thought you were gone."
"Well, I'm back. And I even brought a friend. Willow Rosenburg... Derek Perry."
She extended a tiny hand, a hand easily engulfed in his massive paw. He squeezed hard and Willow tried not to wince. "A pleasure," he rumbled.
She nodded politely, making a note to avoid shaking his hand in the future. He didn't extend a hand to Xander, his colleague, who didn't seem to care. "Renneaux says there's a puzzle in the cave."
Perry grunted an affirmative. "But we can handle it Harris. Wouldn't want to get your pretty clothes dusty, no would ya?" He eyed the fedora. "Nice hat."
"Thanks. I'll take a look anyway."
Xander ducked inside the shallow, well lit opening. Gladstone, the man from their arrival, was inside with two others. "Alright, lads, pull."
Xander quickly added up the situation. "Don't."
Gladstone turned around. "Dr. Harris! Thank the gods! This little bugger," he indicated a recently exposed doorway "is giving us a bit of trouble."
The younger man stepped away enthusiastically as Xander examined the door. It could have been obsidian, Willow thought, except that it looked much more metallic than the volcanic glass ever could. Some weird black metal. "Wonder what's inside?"
"Something of importance." He gestured the redhead closer. "Look at this."
Her green eyes widened in surprise. "It's..."
"The same skull. This looks like a lock." Xander indicated a circular indentation in the metal, carved with the notch in the top and a rod sticking out. "Round peg," he said, thinking back to the shallow indentation on the disc "round hole."
Xander stood up. "I know how to open it. But I'll need the key."
"Key? What key?"Gladstone was confused.
"A key I have. It'll open this right up."
"But... but... how?" Gladstone's awe of the dark-haired man went up another few notches.
"I need to get it, though. It's back home."
"In... in Sunnydale, yes?" Gladstone pulled the town name from a card-game memory.
"Yes. I'll send for it, Ben. No worries." Xander patted the younger man on the back as he walked from the cave.
"No," murmured Gladstone reverently. "None at all."
"Seriously?" The younger woman's squeal across the line briefly contorted Xander's face in a pained wince. He couldn't help but smile at her enthusiasm, though, and laughed happily into the cell phone's receiver.
"Semester ends, you come visit. That's the offer."
Dawn snapped the offer up. "I'd be crazy to say no! I just need to..."
"I had Willow book you a ticket." He shook his head. "I don't know why she can't ever get us good flight times, but yours is alright."
"Xander you have noooo idea how much I... wait." She sounded suspicious. "What's the catch?"
Xander adopted a hurt voice. "Dawnie! I'm shocked, shocked to find you such a cynic. Can't a loving older-brother figure dote on his younger-sister figure?"
"No. What's the catch?"
"There's a key we need," he sighed. She was perceptive if nothing else (and she was many other things). "Black glass disc, skull on the back. Its in my desk's top drawer—below the junk."
"It sounds like junk to me." She sounded amused. mused Xander.
Xander smiled at the memory of the then-15year old wearing an oversized pith helmet and trying mightily not to scream at the sheer amount of insects around her. They'd been working in Belize on another Renneaux dig, this time searching the old Mayan ruins. It had been his maiden voyage as well—the first real expedition the sophomore had been on.
Due to an allergic reaction to certain types of wildlife, Joyce had forbidden her daughter from accompanying Xander on any more digs. Still, Dawn had never relinquished the hope that she might enjoy another journey someday—as long as she didn't die from the bug bites.
"It's not, Dawnie. I actually think it's sort of important." Xander laughed lightly. "It's not like I'd risk the Fury of Your Mother for something trivial."
"Ya know, I could almost hear the capital letters there," the college girl giggled. "Count me in."
A sudden thought occurred to her. "Damn you, Xander."
Although she couldn't see the puzzlement in his eyes, it was all too evident in his voice. "Huh?"
"Now I'm too excited to study for finals!"
He smiled. "Ah, the age old excuse: 'Mom,'" he adopted a higher caricature of her voice "'I was invited to an archeology dig and I sorta failed all my finals. Gotta run, love ya!'"
She laughed across the line. "In my day, Dawnie, a normal excuse ran along the lines of 'Mom, I tapped the keg. Then I failed my finals.'"
"'In my day?' You're not old enough to use that expression yet. You're not even old."
"Nor do I ever plan to be. Your plane leaves Sunday afternoon at 3:30. Wills and I'll meet you at the airport. Then you can fly in my chopper."
"They gave you a helicopter?" She sounded impressed.
"No... but it sounds better when I say it's mine." She giggled again.
"I'll bring your stupid disc," she sighed in a long-suffering tone.
"I'd bring a change of clothes as well. Two weeks in any one outfit and the EPA will quarantine you."
"I was serious."
"You're never serious."
"Yes I am."
"No, you're not."
"Xander, get off the phone!"
"Okay, Wills!" He smiled. "Sorry, Dawnie, but the Wrath of Willow is fierce. See you in a few days."
"Thanks Xander... bye."
An eyebrow raised subconsciously as he pressed the end button. Unless he missed his guess (and he rarely did when it came to these things), that last "bye" had been pronounced in a flirting tone.
The excited redhead beside him demanded more attention. "Hey, Xander!"
He turned to face a literally bouncing Willow, smiling. "What's got you so happy?"
She smiled. "This place is sooo incredible."
"Say it." His grin was broad and self-satisfied now.
"Say what?" she asked innocently?
"Say I was right."
Her face fell. "I knew that was coming." She sighed, gestured that he move his head closer and winked. Xander obeyed, moving his ear inches away from her lips.
"Xander," the redhead said sotto voce "you were right."
He jumped backwards, clutching a hand over his heart. "What? I was?"
She couldn't help but smile. "For once."
"Wow. Stop the presses, this girl's got a story!" He smiled. "Specifically, what brought you hopping in here?"
"Since when does a guy ask questions when a hot girl bounds into his tent?"
Xander waited for the blush. It never came. "Alright, moving on," he added nonchalantly. "Thinking is always nice... especially when speaking."
"What... did I..." He nodded. "Damn."
"So many innuendos, so little time. Maybe you could answer the question?"
She was blushing in earnest now. "Uh... yeah... well... uh... ahem..."
"Were you planning on using words at some point?"
Her eyes narrowed slightly as she fought to reclaim her thoughts. "Err... oh. Renneaux wanted to see you."
His face remained passive. "That's it? That's the catalyst?"
She shrugged helplessly. "It's just... with all the mysteries and secrets and hidden treasue... I just feel like some sort of detective. And my instinct is screaming 'major clue.'"
"You think... what's a mystery?"
"Duh! The whole thing!"
"No it's not."
"Yes, it totally is."
"Look, keys, although rare, have been found here before. Nothing so elaborate, but still..."
"Miccaotli," she repeated. "Street of the Dead."
"The Way of the Gods," he answered, still not comprehending. "What are you getting at?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. But it still sounds like a mystery."
"Huh?" Her features contorted in puzzlement
"The Street of the Dead " he mused. "Aztecs thought it was gods buried beneath... but what if it wasn't?"
"You lost me, Xander. What do you mean?"
He looked her in the eye. "The cave/shrine where we found the door extends several meters directly beneath the Sun Pyramid. A place where sacrifices... and burials would have taken place."
She got it. "You think they buried a king below Miccaotli."
"Not just kings... dynasties of kings. A king was a god to these people... but kings plural would have formed a pantheon of invincible deities."
"And what's better than having a god or two backing you up?"
He nodded, frowning. "What?" she asked.
"If the key opens it—and it will—and Black hid the key..." he scratched his stubble-covered chin. "Maybe he didn't want to open that door."
Xander shrugged. "If he was here in the 40's, Black probably didn't want to risk the treasures being destroyed. Or stolen," he sighed. "It happens."
"But if he thought whatever was behind the door was dangerous," Willow cautiously added.
"He'd have destroyed the key outright."
"But we can't get in until Dawn arrives."
"In that case," he ran a hand through his shaggy dark hair. "I believe I have an appointment with Renneaux." He winked. "You're welcome to come..."
"No, I'm not. He wanted alone time with the apprentice."
"Just my luck. Probably wants to pick my brain about some obscure French metaphysicist."
"In that case, maybe you can pick his about some obscure American archeologist."
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