CHAPTER THREE

"I'll be right there, Xander," Willow yelled at the front door as she bounced down the steps. Xander had called her, wanting a little comfort. The first birthday without his best friend was hitting him hard. Willow knew he needed someone to talk to and while he might still like Buffy, he knew he was no competition for Angel. Besides, Buffy hadn't really known Jesse. She couldn't feel Xander's pain like Willow did. However, when she pulled open the door it wasn't Xander standing there. She didn't know the petite dark-haired woman.

"Willow Rosenberg?" she asked, her hand shifting in her pocket.

Willow backed up a step warily. "Yes."

The stranger smiled coldly. "Thought so."

Willow didn't have time to move before the woman's hand came up with a taser in it. The young lady never knew what hit her as her body tensed and jerked, her eyes rolling up. She hit ground hard. She never heard the 'well, that was easy.'

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Buffy knew she should probably feel guilty about spending half of patrol making out with Angel but she didn't. Heck, kissing like any couple out for an evening stroll seemed to make the things that went bump in the night think they were easy prey. They didn't have to go looking for the bad things. Looking oblivious made the bad things find them. Of course some irate Goths making out in the cemetery had yelled nasty things about the cheerleaders of the world trying to take over everything and one gave her the finger.

Her cell phone rang incessantly. After contemplating letting it ring, Buffy took a step back from Angel with an apologetic look. "Hi, hey Xander...what do you mean Willow's not home. She told me she was going to be home alone...no, stay right where you are. That doesn't sound good. Angel and I are on our way." Buffy clicked off and started jogging towards the Rosenberg residence.

"What is it Buffy?" Angel kept pace with her.

"Xander stopped by Willow's. The front door was wide open but no Willow," Buffy shot back and she was grateful Angel didn't offer some silly platitude about how things would be okay. This was Sunnydale after dark. They both knew better.

"This was a great idea," Jenny said, lifting her mug of beer to her lips.

"No one was more surprised to find an 'English' pub in Sunnydale than me," Giles said, a wistful look in his blue eyes. The Bull and Whistle wasn't really all that English but it tried. It had a dart board, albeit an electronic one so no one got punctured and sued. It also had Newcastle Brown ale and Boddington's on tap. Giles had opted for the Newcastle. Giles knew he was probably the only true Englishman in the pub and there were usually ladies around who would talk to him just to hear his accent. He was rather hoping none of them showed up tonight. The fawning might be embarrassing.

"However, I think you're letting me win," Jenny accused tapping his nose. She turned and winged a dart toward the board.

She was using his set of darts with their glittering Union Jack flights. He was playing with the warped tipped bar darts. He had even agreed to play 301, which was infinitely easier than cricket just so Jenny wouldn't feel hopelessly outmatched. "The devil you say. You're doing quite well."

Jenny took a sip of beer. "You're not a very good liar, Rupert. Come on. It's no fun if you let me win."

Giles sighed. "Very well." He looked at the board. He only needed 73 points to go out and win. He tossed and hit the three, just toying with Jenny. Then he pegged the twenty and the bull's eye in two rapid tosses and the game bleeped and blinked in electronic joy. He flashed her a cheeky grin.

Jenny's painted lips pursed, her nose wrinkling. "Go back to letting me win."

Giles laughed. "Sorry."

Jenny put her arms around his neck, pulling him in for a kiss. "Why didn't you ever tell me you had hidden talents?"

"An occasional surprise is a good thing," he replied, luxuriating in her embrace. "Shall we give it another go?"

"I should know better than to say yes to a man who has his own darts," Jenny said, going to retrieve the darts and reset the game.

Just then the sounds of Pink Floyd danced in the air. Giles pulled out his cell phone, looking at it as if he had never seen it before. "Bloody hell, the thing actually works."

"I can't see you with a cell phone. It's so not you," Jenny said, searching her purse for quarters for the game.

"Buffy insisted, in case there was an emergency," Giles replied and Jenny stopped her search. He didn't have to tell her that pretty much only Buffy had this number and that it was bound to be an emergency. He closed off one ear to all the bar noise with a cupped hand as he answered the call. "Hello, Buffy?...what? No, I'll meet you there immediately. Don't go running off yet."

Jenny touched his arm. "What is it, Rupert?"

"Xander and Buffy are at Willow's house. It's empty and the door was open. They think someone's abducted her. I'll take you home and go there straight away."

"Nonsense. I'm going with you," Jenny said and Giles saw the look in her eyes. She felt as protective of Willow as he did Buffy.

Giles just nodded and let her take his hand as they headed for his car.

"Why would anyone take Willow?" Xander paced the Rosenberg's living room. No one took him to task about assuming facts not in evidence. Willow wouldn't just leave the door standing open if she left on her own power.

"My question is why would she open a door to a stranger at night in Sunnydale?" Buffy's anger free floated with no easy target to hit.

"She didn't." Xander sagged onto the couch. "Well, she did. I had just called her and said I was coming over so we could talk about Jesse. She thought it was me at the door," he concluded miserably.

"It might help if we reconstruct the evening, see if we can figure out a time line. It might give us a clue as to who did this or at least where to start," Giles said, feeling a nervous tickle in his stomach. If they didn't figure out who might be behind this and quickly, Willow could be in dire trouble and they had no clues at all.

"Willow and I went shopping all afternoon. We had dinner at five and then I started on patrol to walk off the pizza," Buffy said.

"I joined Buffy after sun fall," Angel jumped in. "We started patrolling near the gallery to see if we could pick up the trail to the key because I didn't like the rumbling I heard in the underground."

"I called Will at six-thirty and told her I'd be here by seven," Xander cut in before Giles could ask about those rumbling. "By the time I got here, she was gone and she didn't answer her cell phone. The door was open just a little and I knew immediately something was wrong."

"But why Willow?" Frustration laced Jenny's tone. "If it was in retaliation for something Buffy has done to the demon world, we'd already have someone claiming credit."

No one added 'not if they were working up a spectacular display.'

"The only thing I'm even investigating is that dumb key. It's been kinda quiet, knock on wood," Buffy protested, rapping her knuckles on the coffee table.

"But who would know that?" Xander asked. "I didn't even know about the key until you got here, Buffy, and told me researching the key was what Willow was going to spend her evening doing."

"Just Giles and Jenny and Angel," Buffy said. "But we know it was none of us."

"Yeah, it was barely dark by the time I got here." Xander shot Angel a heated look, as if the vampire might have decided Willow was an appetizer. "But if you only talked about it at Giles' today, how could anyone know?"

Buffy tugged at a lock of her hair. "Lots of people saw the rapture that key put everyone but me into last night...and Willow and I talked about it at the Espresso Pump today. I mean, it hardly seemed like it was super secret. I guess anyone could have overheard us."

Giles nodded. "Entirely possible, especially if they recognized you from the night before."

"But how would they know I'm the Slayer and I should be followed and spied on?" Buffy asked, pulling on her ponytail nervously.

"They probably don't," Jenny said. "But you were with your mom, last night, Buffy. They might think as her daughter you know something about that piece of art and the key."

Giles turned to Angel. "What have you been hearing about the key, Angel? It obviously disturbed you."

Angel shoved his big hands into his pockets, his claddagh catching a glint of silvery light as his hand moved. "That someone was looking for it ever since they heard it was coming to Sunnydale. No one knows who exactly is searching for the key but it's important to whoever it is. If the rumors are true, the key doesn't open anything physical. Bosch's work, its theme hints at the purpose."

"Religion," Buffy piped up. "That was what Willow was thinking."

Giles felt a bit pale. "You're not suggesting the knowledge this key represents is..."

"The key to the gates of heaven," Angel replied grimly. "Metaphorically speaking. It might not be the pearly gates kind of heaven but the amount of mystical power this key would let someone access is enormous. And if some of the scholars on the subject are right, this key would also open the gates of hell and unlock death."

They all fell silent for a moment considering the enormity of something that could unleash heaven or hell or maybe even stop death. Maybe, they'd get lucky and all it was, was a metaphor but Giles wasn't that hopeful.

"Then Willow is in a whole lot of trouble," Jenny said softly.

Xander popped off the couch. "Then what are we waiting for? We need to save Willow!"

"We don't know where to look," Buffy reminded him. "And I don't understand this, why kidnap Willow? She doesn't have the key and she doesn't know what it does. And why steal the key in the first place? I mean, the artwork was for sale. Why not just buy it and no one would ever know the key was important?"

"That would be the logical thing to do, Buffy, with a few important problems. The piece of artwork may have been more expensive than the person could afford," Giles said, taking off his glasses for a cleaning. "And it's possible the person who took it and the person Angel is referring to are not the same person. If the person who took it is just an intermediary, they might not know the full value of the key."

"And took Willow to explain it to them," Angel said. "If the buyer is too eager for the key, the person who has it might be wondering if it's worth far more than the going price."

"So how does this help us?" Xander kicked his foot impatiently against the doorframe.

"I'm not sure it does," Jenny said, honestly, "But it's a place to start. Maybe Angel could follow up with the demon underground and see if he can shake anything loose."

"I tried to track Willow but lost her scent in the driveway. Whoever it was had a car...and lilac perfume." Angel's brow furrowed.

"A woman?" Giles eyes widened in surprise. "I wasn't expecting that...which is perhaps short sighted of me. Jenny and I could continue to see if we can find out how to use the key which might give us a clue as to who would want it. If this person has Willow, they'll probably take her to whoever wants the key."

"I just can't sit around doing nothing," Xander snapped.

"We won't. Come on, Xand, you and me, we'll go talk to mom and Annabel. They'll be closing up the gallery at this point. We can ask about anyone with a big interest in the art work. They might have a name, hoping to sell it to whoever it is. Mom might buy you and me playing Nancy Drew to help her out and then, if we get a name, we go knock down doors," Buffy said viciously.

"As plans go, that's not bad," Giles said, nodding approvingly. "Let's get to it."

Willow's whole body tingled and burned like ants crawling on a sunburn. When she woke up, she had no idea where she was or why. Her arms were tied behind her around the back of a chair by what felt like scarves. As her vision clear, she saw a tie-dyed scarf wrapped around her ankles, as if her kidnapper was a total amateur and a clueless one at that; except for the taser thing. The dark-haired woman sat at the kitchen table, her eyes going from Willow to the key and back again in lazy drifts.

"It's about time you woke up," she said like it was Willow's fault that she was unconscious.

Willow shook her head to clear it. "Who are you? Why did you bring me here?"

"Never mind who I am or where you are," she said. "I need you to tell me about this."
She waved the key in front of Willow's face.

Willow tried not to look at it. She knew now what Buffy was talking about, how Giles and the others had been so entranced by the key. Willow could feel its power, could imagine she heard it whispering to her. "It's an old key."

The woman's face darkened. "Don't toy with me. I heard you talking about it. You know exactly what it is and what it does."

Willow's heart thudded harder. She didn't know this woman or what she could do. She could only conclude she was in a lot of trouble. "I don't even know who you are. Why should I tell you anything?"

"Because I'll hurt you if you don't," she replied then sighed. "I'm Cyndi, if it makes you happy. Now, tell me what does this key open?"

"I don't know," Willow said, "And that's the truth."

"You know something. You have to. You wouldn't have been talking about it otherwise," Cyndi snapped, her eyes hardening.

"We were talking about it because it was Buffy's mom's gallery that got robbed," Willow said then her eyes widened. She shouldn't have given up Buffy's name. "We were just talking about the robbery."

Cyndi's face fell, a look of disappointment weighing it down. "It sounded like more to me. I think you know what this key does."

"You mean you don't?" Willow asked. "Why take it if you don't know what it's for?"

"Never you mind what I want with the key." Cyndi caressed it. "I think I'll keep you here a little while longer until you tell me what you know. I know you have to know more than you're telling me."

Willow licked her lips, wiggling her arms. The tie-down gave a little. "I know that it looks like the key in a Bosch painting but that's about it. That's all I know." A shiver coursed through Willow. She really didn't know much more and something told her Cyndi wasn't about to buy that.

Cyndi wagged her head, pursing her lips. She got up leaning on the kitchen counter near the knife block as if saying 'see what I have.' "You keep saying that and each time there's a little more. I think you know plenty more. It looks like you're going to make me dig hard for it."

Willow tried to move her feet up and down. Clumsy at this or not, she didn't think Cyndi would hesitate to hurt her. Before Willow could protest that was all she knew one more time, the phone rang. Cyndi snatched it off the counter.

"Hello, oh Allan. Yes, I have it...hang on." Cyndi shot Willow a hot look as if she were to blame for eavesdropping.

Slipping the key into her pocket, she went into the other room and Willow started thrashing hard against the scarves that tied her down. She bit her lip against the pain of 'rug' burning skin but she got her hands free. With numb fingers, she untied her feet. Thankful her captor, who was now arguing on the phone about the key, was obviously bad at this, Willow went out the kitchen door. She didn't even entertain the idea of trying to overpower the woman for the key. Leave that to Buffy or even the police.

Ignoring the pins and needles in her hands and feet, Willow forced herself to run. She couldn't take the chance that Cyndi would follow her with that taser again. She wasn't quite sure where she was until she got a few blocks. She was far from home, close to the 'bad side' of town. However, there was a refuge near Sunnydale's seedier side; The Bronze. Willow made her way there, reasoning she would be safe in a crowd. Bumming a cell phone from someone, she let herself relax and hoped Buffy would pick up fast.

"Way to go, Willow, not needing a white knight." Xander captured her in a hug. "Are you all right?"

"My wrists are a little sore and I still feel kinda tingly from the taser but I'll be okay," Willow said, holding Xander tight.

"We were trying hard to find you," Buffy assured her as Giles and Jenny threaded their way to Willow's table in the Bronze. They looked very out of place in the young crowd.

"Willow, thank god, you're all right," Giles said, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"We were worried," Jenny added, a warm expression on her face.

Willow smiled at them. "Thanks. Giles, this Cyndi person has the key. She wanted me to tell her what it did but I didn't know." Willow's face sobered. "All I know is that I wanted that key bad. I would have beaten her up for it if I hadn't been tied down."

Giles nodded. "That appears to be the effect on some people."

"I heard her talking to someone. They want the key tonight," Willow said. "I escaped while she was on the phone.

"We can't allow that to happen," Buffy said, shooting a nervous look at Giles. "Willow, can you get us back there?"

Willow bobbed her head. "I think so."

"Then what are we waiting for," Xander said, getting up from the table.

"To ask first how Willow was captured so we might go into this knowing what weapons the enemy has," Giles said, pushing up his glasses.

"She tasered me. It was one of those little purse protector kinds," Willow said, rubbing the spot on her chest where the taser hit her. "She was really clumsy about the whole tying me up and keeping me captive. She's more like a soccer mom than a kidnapper."

"Well, we all know how dangerous soccer moms can be," Buffy said wryly.

"Where's Angel?" Willow asked. "He'd be good back up."

"Can't reach him. He's not very...cell phone proficient," Buffy said with an embarrassed look on her face.

"Those wacky vampires," Xander snorted. "Defeated by Alexander Bell."

Buffy rolled her eyes at him, heading for the door. "We'd better get walking. You know, Giles, if you just bought a grown up car we wouldn't have to jog through town," she added as they got outside.

He just eyed her grimly as Willow looked around to get her bearings.

Jenny leaned close to him. "I like your car, Rupert. It's cosy."

"Oh ewww, that's making with the mental images. Stop it," Buffy ordered.

"It wasn't like she mentioned the back seat, Buffy," Giles said and all three teens picked up their pace amidst a chorus of ewwws, leaving a cushion of space for the adults to be alone in. Giles grinned over at Jenny. She laughed softly.

Willow took point, trying to recall just how she had gotten to the Bronze on her mad run. Giles could see she wasn't quite as certain she could get back to the house as she wanted to pretend. After a few blocks towards the down town area, Willow paused, her arm shooting up. She wiggled it frantically at a purplish-brown Honda Civic. "That's her car!"

"Are you sure?" Buffy asked dubiously. It wasn't a bad guy kind of car.

"Can you mistake that color?" Willow asked. "There she is heading for the Mayor's office."

"Why? No one's there at night," Xander said.

"Makes it a good place to pawn off illegally gotten goods," Buffy reasoned then took off towards the woman.

The Slayer moved faster than anyone else could but they tried their best to keep up. The thunder of sneakers on asphalt was enough to alert Cyndi. She whirled, stumbling back. She yanked a gun out of her purse and everyone skidded to a stop.

"Keep away from me!" Her gun arm waggled with inexperience. "I knew if she got away I'd need more than a taser."

"Well, when you kidnap people and they escape, they do tend to go to the cops," Buffy said, shifting nervously, wishing for Angel. At least he didn't have to worry about taking a bullet.

Cyndi smiled at her, a certain absence of reason in her eyes. "I don't think you called the cops. You want the key as much as I do. As much as...he does." Her gaze flicked at the mayor's office.

When her eyes were off Buffy, the Slayer moved with liquidity and speed. Her foot slammed into the woman's arm and she dropped the gun. Cyndi screamed and lunged at Buffy with the next weapon to hand, the key itself. She surprised Buffy by scoring a hit on her cheek. The Slayer jumped back, raising a hand to her bloody face. She backhanded Cyndi who landed on her butt. The key clattered on the sidewalk.

Cyndi scrambled for the gun but Xander beat her to it, kicking it away. She went after him swinging her fists wildly until Buffy and Willow pulled her off. Giles picked up the key. Cyndi shrieked seeing it in his hand. Losing her prize freed the animal within her. Cyndi's elbow found Buffy's face and she surged forward knocking Willow down. She kicked Xander between the legs as he was picking up the gun. He fell down with a high-pitched wheeze.

Cyndi grabbed up the gun and whipped back around. This time she kept a wise distance between her and Buffy. The Slayer edged closer to Giles while Willow crab-crawled toward the hedges. Jenny was hunkered down behind the purplish-brown Honda, her cell phone in hand. "I want that key back."

Giles didn't even lift his eyes up from the key he held in his hand, as if the woman with the gun was of no consequence. "You can't have it. Do you have any idea what you could do with this?"

"I'm leaving that to people who are better equipped to handle it." Her eyes flicked back to the building again. "I'll be well rewarded." She sighed, thinking of Richard.

"I'm not giving it up," Giles said, stroking the key with one finger. "I could..."

Buffy looked at her Watcher as if she had never seen him before. She had never seen such a covetous look in his eye. A sick feeling told her he wasn't going to let it go. "Giles, the nice lady with the gun wants her rusty old key back."

"She can't have it," Giles snarled, his hand closing over the key.

"Give it to me." Cyndi cocked the gun.

"Never," Giles argued.

"I will shoot you," Cyndi said, sighting down the barrel.

"You're not getting this back. The knowledge this key has...it's not for you," Giles argued.

Cyndi's finger tapped the trigger lightly, meaningfully. "I'll do it."

"Damn it, Giles!" Buffy tore the key away from him. He grunted as the teeth tore his palm. "You want it, lady? Come get in." Buffy twirled the key over her fingers like a baton then caught it between them, snapping it in two.

Giles and Cyndi cried out in dismay as the key crumbled into dust. Buffy felt something move through her, a sense of loss. She knew she had destroyed something important but it just seemed safer that way. The gun dangled from Cyndi's fingers and she didn't even notice the blue and red lights coming their way until the cop was out of the car demanding for her to drop her gun. She did it nervelessly and let them cuff her and put her in the car without a word.

Willow picked the stricken Xander up off the sidewalk while Giles and Jenny explained to the police how Willow had been kidnapped by Cyndi and how she escaped. They made it seem like they had just came to Willow's aid and were taking her to the police station to make a report when they came across the woman again and she held them at gun point. No mention was made of the key and no one noticed the observer in the window inside the mayor's office. In the end, Willow went to the police station to make the report with Giles and Jenny for support while Buffy helped Xander limp home. She couldn't quite get the feeling of sacrifice out of her heart nor the look on Giles face when the key broke out of her mind.

EPILOGUE

"Thank you, Mayor Wilkins, for posting my bail," Cyndi said, wishing she could call him Richard, but they weren't alone and even if they were she would never be so informal. He smiled at her. Oh, she loved that smile. She ignored everyone in the room but him. Allan was easily forgettable and the other two men she didn't know. "I'm sorry that I couldn't get that key to you. I almost...I can't believe they broke it." Cyndi couldn't believe how badly she screwed up. She not only didn't get Richard the key, it was now lost forever.

"Who were they?" Wilkins asked, leaning back in his chair.

She shrugged her shoulders. "The one who broke the key is a Summers, I guess. Her mom owned the gallery. It was her friend who knew everything about the key though."

Wilkins got up, his happy expression never wavering. "It's a pity. That key was important."

Cyndi took his hand. She had to make Richard understand everything she did was for him. "I tried, I really did."

Wilkins eased away from her. "I know you did."

She sighed. "I'm glad you aren't mad at me. I'm glad about the bail, too, or did I say that already?"

Wilkins bobbed his head. "You sure did. And I didn't pay it. It was done by one of my friends here." He waved a hand at the men next to Allan, who was already in motion getting Wilkins a moist towelette. Wilkins scrubbed his hand. "Boys, take Ms Kilchner out. You know what to do with her."

Their eyes glowed yellow as their faces morphed. Wilkins shuddered when Cyndi's screams finally stopped then he looked over at Allan. "It really is a pity that the Key of Knowledge was lost."

"What will you do now, sir?" Allan asked earnestly.

Wilkins shrugged. "Go home and have a nice hot fudge sundae. That always perks me up and helps me think. Without the key, I guess I move on to plan B. It's always good to have back up plans."

Allan gave him his best sycophantic smile without understanding anything. Wilkins just sighed and headed for home.

Jenny curled up with Giles on his couch. "Are you okay?"

"Luckily a smart woman called in the cops so I didn't get shot." Giles smiled at her.

She rested her head on his chest. "You're welcome and that's not what I meant and you know it."

Giles stroked her dark hair, thinking on it. "I know Buffy did the right thing. The key was too powerful in the hands of someone who knew how to use it. I think perhaps Bosch had the key in his possession but was far too afraid to use it. It made its way into his art. Maybe the key had keepers who knew what it was and kept it safe. And somehow people forgot about it, as they're wont to do and eventually it ended up in a piece of artwork." Giles paused as an uneasy feeling overtook him. It was an ugly realization. "I would have given in to the key. I would have tried to use it."

Jenny's dark eyes canted up at him as she nestled in closer. "I guess we're just lucky a lot of people were immune to the effects or else it might be a very different world we live in."

Giles nodded. "I miss it still and I only held it for a few minutes." He lifted his hand, looking at the ragged cut in his palm. "No, Buffy did the right thing. Things like that aren't meant for human hands. It was a real beginning of wisdom for her."

Jenny nodded her agreement. "I don't want to talk about it any more. I'm content with Willow being okay and her kidnapper in jail...for at least as long as it takes for her to bond out."

"Willow will be staying with Buffy for a few nights, just to be sure she's safe," Giles said, his hand moving up and down Jenny's back.

She curved up into his caress like a cat. "Good. No more business talk."

He leaned in to kiss her. "No need for talking at all."

Her lips curled into a smile under his. "That's probably a first for you."

He laughed, wrapping her up in his arms, and he showed her the other things he knew how to do with his mouth.

Author's Note - If you'd like to see Bosch's work head here http/ Requirements - Characters/Pairings: Giles/Jenny
Other characters: Willow, Buffy
Wants: Giles warring with a computer, some angst, a key
Don't want: making light of Giles' sexuality
Rating: as high as you'd like or the story demands