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Author's Note: Some of the dialogue was taken from the original episode, and modifications have been made due to the main plot of the season. I have made this a rewrite of Band Candy, which although I enjoyed, I never managed to fit into my Season 3. For a long time I didn't think the plot would work; I was stuck finding justification for the source and the reason why, but now I have both. With regards to Giles' brief demonic turn, I also enjoyed that part of A New Man, but I knew it wouldn't work here, as he's married, so Jenny would realise immediately, cutting out the rest of the plot. I have changed things around, putting Buffy's birthday party second, because the episode flowed better that way. Enjoy.

Bronze Candy.

"So, the Slayer," Professor Walsh remarked.

Buffy chose a nervous expression, while Giles pretended to shift uneasily behind her. "Yeah. That's me," she replied. In reality she was carefully studying the Professor's every look, along with her tone and how she dealt with the news. Her psychology lessons were paying dividends in a way she had never realised they could.

Professor Walsh sat in the chair behind the desk in her office on the campus, regarding the visitors with a surprised, albeit serious gaze. Riley stood behind her, conveying a solemn but proud face, the latter emotion due to the fact that he had discovered the slayer before his superior could. "We thought you were a myth."

"Well, you were myth-taken," Buffy tried to joke.

It fell flat. "And to think all that time you were sitting in my class," Walsh mused. "Well, most of those times. I always knew you could do better than a B minus. Now I understand your energies were directed in the same places as ours, in fact. It's only our methods that differ. We use the latest in scientific technology and state-of-the-art weaponry and you, if I understand correctly, poke them with a sharp stick."

Buffy shrugged, trying not display her offence at the somewhat patronising description of her weaponry. And you, she mused, poke them with lasers, needles and microchips, then place them behind bars. "Well, it's more effective than it sounds."

"Oh, I'm quite sure of that," Walsh continued, her tone belying the truth of her words. "As I'm just as sure that we can learn much from each other. I'm working on getting you clearance to come into the Initiative. I think you'll find the results of our operation most impressive. Agent Finn here, alone, has killed or captured... how many is it?"

"Seventeen," Riley replied proudly. "Eleven vampires, six demons."

"Oh . . . Wow," Buffy said, trying to sound impressed, while Giles held back a humorous smile. A part of her wondered how she would handle viewing the demonic prisoners. It was one thing having Xander describe the conditions, she imagined that it would be quite another actually seeing them in the flesh. "I mean, that's . . . seventeen."

"What about you?" Professor Walsh asked.

"Me?" Buffy countered.

"How many hostiles would you say you've slain?" Walsh asked, obviously expecting the answer to be less than her protégé.

Buffy glanced back and forth between Giles and Walsh, silently trying to decide if she should tell the true total, or a reasonable sounding educated lie. "Altogether, or on a daily to weekly basis?"

"Both figures, if you can," Walsh decided.

Buffy turned her head, and saw Giles nodding his approval, then she turned back and named two figures which were of a large amount to set both the professor and Riley in shock.

"That's pretty impressive," Walsh remarked eventually.

"I'll say," Riley muttered, still stunned.

"And how long have you been in action?" Walsh asked.

"Since I was fifteen," Buffy replied, eliciting another round of shocked reactions.

"Okay," Professor Walsh said eventually, leaning back in her seat. She turned her gaze on the man behind the slayer. "And how do you fit into this, Professor Giles?"

Giles placed his hands on the back of Buffy's chair as he replied, conveying a certain dangerous possessiveness. "I'm her Watcher. Have you heard of us?"

Walsh shook her head.

"I'm not surprised," Giles remarked, allowing a not of superiority to enter his tone. "We're usually very much in the background, providing the slayers in our charge with the information they need. Vampires and demons rarely get to hear about us."

"Just the older ones," Buffy added.

"Us," Walsh echoed. "So there's more than one of you?"

"Yes, there's a Council based in England," Giles replied. "And several around the world, keeping an eye on any potential demonic problems."

"It seems your methods are a lot more successful than ours," Walsh commented.

"Well, I'm sure we have a lot to learn from each other," Buffy remarked, wondering why her instincts were silently telling her that there was something to worry about in the Professor's tone.

Walsh nodded. "An exchange of information? I would be very interested in that."

A page beeped at that moment, signalling a timely end to the meeting. Giles lifted the to his gaze, then reattached it to his belt. "It's time for Mythology class."

Buffy rose from her seat. "Perhaps we'll discuss more in our next meeting."

They walked out of the office and into the corridor. When they were some distance away, Giles turned to her. "Well, that went as expected."

"It did," Buffy agreed with relief. "I was afraid Riley would ask about Angel."

"I would advise you to patrol alone for a while, just put any suspicions he might have to rest," Giles said.

Buffy nodded. "He has assignment marking to do anyway." She paused as they came to a halt outside Room 112. "I don't know if I'm being paranoid, but there was something in her tone which made think our suspicions regarding Room 314 and the slayer were more well founded than we thought."

Giles nodded speculatively. "She did seem to be concealing something. However, until Xander manages to get inside, we have no way of confirming or disproving that concern."

"So, what's next?" Buffy asked.

"As she said; an exchange of information," Giles replied. "Just not as much they think."

The slayer inclined her head in acknowledgement and they walked into class.

Riley took a solo patrol that night through the graveyards, his objective not to find vampires or demons, but the girl who slew them. He wanted to know more about her, this young woman who had beaten not only his kill ratio but the rest of the Initiative's combined and then some. He hadn't seen a scratch on her after that encounter with the Hostiles which caused them laryngitis, or the day after she informed him that she had prevented another apocalypse. He was also surprised at how calmly she appeared to deal with whatever she encountered, causing him to wonder if Professor Giles or Professor O'Connor were counsellors as well, for to deal with those demons from the age of fifteen required a great strength of character not usually known to exist in your average teenager. The Initiative provided Psych consults on staff, along with making the subject required college course while they served, but despite all this he found it difficult dealing with the demons day after day.

A cry followed by a growl caused him to drop to a crouch and slow his pace to the next gravestone, which provided suitable cover to watch the slayer at work. She was fighting a vampire, who loomed over her, yet was at a disadvantage, as she calmly fought fiercely to slay him. Riley watched Buffy as she countered kicks and punches, dodged strikes, before reaching for the weapon which Walsh had termed a sharp stick and thrusting in the demon's chest. He slowly transformed from decomposing flesh to bones then to fine dust, startling Riley, who had never seen a vampire killed before.

He stood up, just as Buffy turned round to catch sight of him, her arm poised to throw the stake. She put the weapon when as she recognised him, then stood still, waiting for him to come to her.

"I take you have more questions?" She astutely surmised.

"A lot, actually," Riley replied. "My main one is how do you deal with this night after night, ever since you were fifteen?"

"I used to rebel against it," Buffy admitted, deciding the boy deserved some truths, after all he was a soldier like herself, probably unaware of the Initiative's agendas. "When I came here, I wanted to forget that I was the slayer. But then I ran into Giles at the Library, and then the vampires killed students. It made realise that I was born with this destiny to fulfil, that I couldn't fight who I was, without going insane. So I took another look it. I realised that I was helping people, helping the world, making a difference. Few people do that nowadays. Now, I've accepted it, though I do still occasionally gripe about it." She turned to him. "How did you get involved?"

"I was recruited out of High School," Riley replied. "They looked at the grades of all students who performed well in Science and athletics, and gave them college scholarships for Sunnydale. At first it was quite terrifying, but I like to think I'm getting a handle on things now."

"Trust me, just when you think you've seen the most horrible demons to haunt the earth, something worse makes it's existence known," Buffy remarked. "Well, if you're going to ask more questions, you better come with me. I've got a lot more graveyards to check out."

Riley fell into pace with her. "So do you do this every night?"

Buffy shrugged. "Mostly."

"Don't you ever get tired?" Riley asked her.

"Sometimes. But slayers are built for this, genetically speaking. I have a higher pain, energy, injury, you name it threshold than your average teenager."

"Were there others before you?" Riley inquired.

Buffy nodded. "Yeah. One in every generation. Most are lucky to see out their eighteenth birthday, let alone their nineteenth."

"How come?" Riley queried.

"We're only as good as we fight. All it takes is one demon or vampire stronger than you, and that's it. For vampires it's something of an honour to kill slayer. I knew at least two who had that claim to fame."

Riley shook his head in amazement at her. "How do you live day to day knowing that you could die?"

"You can't think like that," Buffy replied. "Once you do, you are dead. Speaking of which," she turned and retrieved her stake again. "Vampires, dead ahead."

She rushed forward, bending her head to take one down by a strike to his midsection. Riley only hesitated for a moment before joining her in the assault, taking on the second vampire. It was an opportunity for the slayer to watch him, as soon as she had taken care of her prey, who was so surprised by her form of attack that his dusting took merely minutes. As his ashes floated to the grass, Buffy turned to watch Riley fight. She found herself comparing him to Angel; twenty-first century military combat verses eighteenth century gentleman duellist style. Where her soulmate had the grace, Riley relied on his brawn to withstand the onslaught. She watched him counter punches and kicks until it was clear that he had an advantage over the vampire. Then she threw him her weapon.

Riley grabbed the undead beast by the scruff of its neck as he caught the stake and turned to her curiously.

"Just aim for the heart," Buffy ordered, observing his reaction to the undead corpse transforming from flesh to bones to ashes. Seventeen captures, she realised, wondering how much he knew about the Initiative testing.

"Thanks," Riley said, returning her weapon.

"Come on," Buffy replied. "We have more to see."

She returned to the Mansion via the back door through the night garden, after Riley had seen her home. Despite her general dislike of the boy, he had proved his worth tonight in the ability to slay, but Buffy wasn't ready to accept his alliance entirely. She closed the door behind her and shrugged off her leather jacket, the one which Angel had given her four years ago, hanging the coat on the rack beside the door.

"Happy Birthday."

In a remarkable symmetry to this day one year before, a piece of cool metal came to rest around the chosen one's neck after she turned round, before she could walk out of the kitchen, followed by two arms wrapping themselves around her waist, the sensations sending waves of warmth and desire through her figure.

Buffy smiled as she leaned back into the embrace of her soulmate, then glanced down at the present around her neck. It was a silver necklace with a delicate chain, upon which hung a small silver cross, and a small round silver square in which the shape of that cross had been cut out.

"Angel, its beautiful, thank you," she uttered before turning her head so she could kiss his lips in gratitude.

Angel returned the kiss with a willingness which promised that gesture and infinitely more, causing the slayer to reverse herself in his arms so she was facing him. The kiss intensified, then continued, as he backed them out of the kitchen and into the double height living room of the Mansion on Crawford Street.

Whereupon he gently broke from her to stand a little apart as the lights came on and everyone else in the room shouted one word in unison.


Buffy gasped as she saw that the entire room had been decked out in banners, balloons, streamers and all manner of nineteen themed decorations, from floor to ceiling, some in seeming impossible places to reach.

"You guys," she said, her eyes coming to rest on all the members of the Scooby gang standing before her. "How did you manage to get this done?"

Willow came up to hand over a present and hug her best friend. "A little decoration slash celebration spell," she answered sheepishly. "Which kinda takes the magic away when you explain it."

"Well, I'm very grateful, thank you," Buffy assured her.

Wesley handed her a drink. "Here's to a second curse free birthday," he added, holding his own glass in salute.

"And here's hoping that hasn't tempted fate," Buffy added.

"You did have that Cruciamentum test last year," Giles pointed out to his fellow ex-watcher, who shuddered as he silently recalled the conditions placed on a slayer involved in just such a trial.

"Yeah, but I got into that of my own choosing," Buffy replied. "Unlike the prophecy gig and Angel's curse."

"Bright side; we've already had the apocalypse," Cordelia added. "At least you can rule that one out for the rest of the year."

"Unless that's the Initiative's secret main agenda," Buffy remarked.

"Somehow I don't think that the end of world would be an aim of theirs," Giles murmured. "Too unpatriotic."

"Let's debate on the Initiative tomorrow," Oz proposed. "Now is the time for a hootenanny."

"Here, here," Xander agreed, picking up a plate from the food table, which he placed before his best friend. "Try these."

Buffy tentatively picked up a square of the chocolate bar. "Candy?" she queried.

"Not just any candy," Xander replied. "This is Bronze Candy. It's a new thing I'm trying out for the club. I got a deal with a contractor, who offered to put them in stores, increase publicity. Go ahead, try some."

Buffy obliged, popping the square into her mouth. She chewed the item slowly, grimacing at the bitter taste. "Hmm, how much coca does it use?"

"Quite a lot, apparently," Xander replied, offering the plate to everyone else, who each took a square.

"Mmm, this is quite tasty," Wesley mused.

"Yes, this is very nice," Joyce added.

"Alittle strong, but otherwise okay," Willow allowed.

"Well, there's plenty more," Xander replied, setting plate down. "Come on, lets get down to the hootenanny."

And with that, the party got underway. Slayerettes placed their presents on the large coffee table between the seats, then collected together in the large space to do some dancing. The adults mostly sat and talked, sampling more and more of the Bronze Candy.

The slayer took the opportunity to relax in her soulmate's arms, swaying along to the music. Ever since the 'official discovery' of the Initiative, when Buffy faced Riley down with a crossbow to his taser, inside the abandoned clock tower as they saved Sunnydale from the Gentleman, the slayerettes had been working overtime preparing themselves for the next stage of Operation 314.

From the moment in which they had first realised the dangers behind such a secret government controlled military group, they realised that it would not be enough to have someone on the inside of the Initiative, trying discover what they could. That would not give them access to all their secrets. Nor would it be wise letting them know everything about the slayer. The ultimate goal was not just to achieve full knowledge and access, but put them in a position where they could just walk into the base, open the door on their most secret project, and put an end to it, before any of them even realised she was there.

But for now, they could relax, and enjoy Buffy's nineteenth birthday.

Angel wrapped his arms around his slayer, and seeing her distracted thoughts upon her face, leaned forward and kissed her again, wiping away her thoughts of tomorrow. When he drew back to let her breathe, he smiled as saw her return to the present. Then he leaned forward and whispered in her ear. "I have more presents for you."

"Angel, you don't have to shower me with gifts," Buffy said to him as they danced, "though everything you give me is very precious."

"I like showering you with gifts," he said softly, smiling at her.

"Then far be it from me to stop you," Buffy decided, returning the expression.

Dancing continued for a few minutes more, then the gang migrated into the sofa area, and Buffy sat down to receive the rest of her presents from her friends.

Xander gave her a weapons chest which he had carved himself, while Anya with her usual lack of regard for tact gave her a ancient edition of the Karma Sutra. Cordelia and Doyle gave her an aromatherapy kit which she had been eyeing appreciatively in the shop on Sunnydale's high street. Willow and Oz gave her a new elaborately bound diary, while Tara gave her a collection of slayer tales from her ancestors, which she had gathered together in a leather bound volume with the help of Spike, who added a carved knife to her armoury as did Wesley. Joyce gave her daughter a first edition of her favourite book, while Giles and Jenny gave her a collective edition of all the slayer diaries, as well as the news that she would be a godparent to their future child.

Angel gave her one gift while they were all assembled, saving the rest till later that night. It was an antique book filled with sketches of her, him, the Scoobies, and various special moments in their life, drawn from memory, which occupied the gang for the rest of the evening, as they gazed at the pictures and indulged in nostalgia.

Later, when the slayerettes had departed, the soulmates sought the privacy of their bedroom. This time it was difficult to forget the meeting with the Initiative which took place earlier today, and the possible consequences which could arise. Buffy recalled the time when it was arranged, the morning after they prevented the apocalypse by the Vahrall demons a week ago. Riley had met her as she and Angel well walking through the campus, asking her if she found anymore of the demons they had encountered two nights before, when he chose to call for backup, instead of running after it. She had replied with the truth, that the demons were here to bring about the end of the world, and she had prevented them from doing so.

To her surprise Riley admitted that he believed her, along with the fact that even when he asked his colleagues, he was still none the wiser as to what a slayer was. He then proposed a meeting between her and his boss, adding that he wouldn't tell Professor Walsh who she was if Buffy refused. He had no idea that was the opportunity which they slayerettes had been waiting for. For a slayer asking questions was a excellent smoke screen for their inside man to access areas he had not been able to previously without risking his discovery.

After pretending to give it some thought, Buffy agreed to the meeting the next day after class, whereupon Riley went to talk with Walsh. A further day spent in waiting had brought them to this meeting today, which she and Giles attended. The fewer people that Riley and Walsh knew who knew her secret the better, particularly where Xander was concerned, and Spike, for they were harbouring a Hostile fugitive now too. Since the meeting was arranged, they had spent most of the time in which they were not slaying demons or attending college in preparation for this meeting, but despite all their caution, Buffy was still concerned that they had not anticipated everything Walsh might decide to do now.

Angel wrapped his arms around her as she stood before the window in their master suite, her gaze surveying the night sky, though in reality, he knew her mind was focused on the meeting tomorrow. Tenderly he rubbed the silk of her night-gown between her skin and his fingers, before pressing a kiss to the scar she still carried on her neck.

"It's out of our hands now," he commented softly.

"I know," Buffy replied. "And that's what terrifies me."

"You know if anything happens that I and the others will rescue you," he added.

"I do," she replied with a sigh. "I'm sorry, I spoiled your surprise."

"No you didn't," he assured her. "I'm just glad you made it to this birthday. You're one of the privileged few who have."

"The only time I feel that, is when I'm with Giles," Buffy confessed. "And you," she added, "though for entirely different reasons."

"I hope so," he uttered, making her laugh despite herself. "Now, time for more presents," he decided.

Buffy stood still as he slipped another chain around her neck, this time made of platinum, attached to which was a Amethyst and Garnet cross. Then he took her left hand in his and placed another claddagh ring above the silver one he had given her twice, first two years ago, then again this time last year. This ring differed in metal and adornment; platinum, with a garnet heart.

Softly, he turned her round in his arms, catching her lips with his own. His hands caressed her back through the silk of her night-gown, teasing her until she cried out with need, whereupon he slipped the straps off her shoulders. Buffy moved her hands from his back, letting the straps fall off her arms, causing the garment to pool around her feet. She moved her hands to his waist, removing the pyjama pants he wore, to allow her sex to press against his equally aroused one.

Together they stepped out of their clothes, Angel moving backwards to sit down on the bed, lifting his head so he could continue to kiss her. Buffy bent her legs either side of him, kneeling before him, whilst her hands pushed him gently until he was seated in the middle of the bed. His hands slid down to her butt, holding her as she straightened her legs, placing them around his waist, then he lowered her into the space between his own.

Breaking for air, they met each other's heated gaze as he entered her, the speed causing her to gasp and stretch to accommodate his size. His hands rose to clasp the side of her chest, his thumbs teasing her nipples as they began the ancient and once holy dance. Carefully he watched her, waiting until she reached ecstasy before he let himself do so, a warm glance of love in his dark soulful eyes as he saw her lean head back, close her eyes and silently let loose his name from her lips. This was the moment when he was in awe of her, when he felt honoured to be the one whom she allowed this joy, this love to be found. When he wanted time to slow down, so he could savour their love for eternity.

Later, as she lay in his arms in their bed, Buffy realised that her angel had given her one final gift; making love to her so powerfully, as to cause her to forget her fears about what might lie ahead, now that Walsh knew the identity of the slayer.

The first thing which alerted the slayer that something was weird in Sunnydale, was her professor being absent for her first class the next morning. After a quick patrol in the college, she established that Giles, Jenny and Doyle were missing too, along with a lot of other teachers.

Concerned, she borrowed Angel's car keys and drove to Oakpark Street. Parking the car, she got out and entered Giles' courtyard, walking towards the window which looked on to the front room. To her surprise, she found Giles and Jenny examining record collections which were scattered about the floor.

"Giles, what are you doing?" Buffy asked as she opened the front door and walked in.

"Oh, Jenny has a ultrasound in half an hour," Giles replied. "I don't have classes till this afternoon, remember?"

"Oh yeah," Buffy replied. "It's not just you though. Almost the entire faculty is absent or late. I wondered if you had heard anything."

"Er, no," Giles replied. "But I'll do some checking. In the mean time you go back to college, keep an eye on things till I get there."

"Sure," Buffy replied as she let herself be guided back to the door, then outside into the courtyard. She glanced one time at the window, then walked back to Angel's car, determined to investigate further.

Inside the apartment Jenny turned to her husband. "Do you think she noticed anything?"

Giles lit the cigarette dangling from his mouth. "No way," he replied, before leaning back to take a long drag, his hand going to the record player and switching the device back on.

"Here are your keys," Buffy opened with as she greeted Angel during the break between classes.

"Thanks," he replied. "Giles and Jenny okay?"

"I'm not sure," Buffy admitted. "He said they had a sonogram, but they had records scattered across the floor, and now I come to think of it I'm sure I could smell nicotine."

"That's weird," Angel agreed. "What do you think happened?"

"I don't know," Buffy replied. "That's the problem."

"Er, Buffy," Riley called out, making them turn round as the young Initiative member entered the lecture hall. "You got a minute?"

"Come in and speak freely," Buffy replied. "Angel knows all my darkest secrets," she added, with a secret smile reserved only for him. "What's up?"

"It's Professor Walsh," Riley replied, walking towards them. "She's acting kind of weird. Almost as if she's high or something. And most of the faculty is absent or tardy."

"Yeah, we've noticed that," Buffy agreed. "Giles has been acting weird too. Any of you guys determined a cause?"

"No, all the tests we ran came back negative," Riley replied.

"Okay, let's narrow down a time frame," Buffy decided, beginning to pace. "Let's see, Giles and Jenny were fine last night....." she trailed off into a pause as she realised. "The Bronze Candy."

"Bronze Candy?" Riley echoed. "That's odd, she had a wrapper of that in her coat."

"It must be cursed," Buffy guessed. "We better call the club, get them to cancel the subscription."

"I can do that," Riley replied. "The owner's an member."

"Oh," Buffy uttered, pretending surprise where there was none. "In that case we better go to the source."

"Demand's high," a voice mused, as they strolled down one of the alleyways between the aisles of chocolate boxes which lined the warehouse of the Bronze Candy factory.

"I thought it might be," the man walking beside them replied.

"That's the reason I love this country," the voice added. "You make a good product, and the people will come to you. "We're getting close. Keep it flowing. It's almost feeding time."

Outside, Angel brought his car to a stop before the crowd which had gathered at the warehouse's loading dock. On a platform two men held cases of chocolate, throwing bars to people within the crowd, who lapped them up as if they were bottles of water and the surroundings were a desert.

Buffy, Angel, and Riley climbed out of the vehicle, the former's gaze settling on the kissing couple which was Jenny and Giles, who seemed to be making out on a police car which was parked at an odd angle in the alleyway. Nearby stood her mother, who was happily munching on another bar.

"Mom? Jenny? Giles?" Buffy cried.

"Go away," Giles remarked. "We're busy."

"Mom!" Buffy cried as she pulled the candy bar out of her hand. "Where did you get that coat? Never mind. Listen..."

Giles grabbed her from behind. "Back off!"

Buffy turned round calmly. "Giles, think about this. You wanna fight me, or you wanna let me talk to my mother?"

Her watcher backed down, taking a cigarette lodged above his year and placing it in his mouth. Before he had a chance to light up, Buffy snatched the article from his lips.

"Don't, it's bad for the baby," she lectured before turning to her mother. "Mom, look at me. Do you know who I am?"

Joyce smiled. "Of course. You're Buffy. Hey, look. They're, giving away candy. You want some candy?"

"No, I don't!" Buffy replied. "And you don't need any more, either."

"I'm fine," her mom replied, annoyed. "I can have more if I want."

"You are not fine," Buffy replied. "You need to go home."

"Screw you. I want candy!" Joyce yelled.

"Mom!" Buffy cried. She sighed and turned to Riley and Angel. "Come on, let's get inside this warehouse."

They advanced through the crowd minefield, pushing people aside until they reached the platform. Buffy jumped up and set about despatching the met into the crowd; one with a kick to the back of his knee, the other with a punch to the midsection then to his back. When the boxes and the men were amongst the crowd, she turned round and opened the loading dock door. Giles, Jenny, Joyce, Riley and Angel followed her inside.

Navigating the aisles of candy bars, they came to a conveyor belt where there was a man standing with his back to them, listening the mobile placed by his ear.

"Yeah, I've been out there," he replied. "Town's wide open. You guys can go anytime."

Even though it had been over two years, Buffy recognised that voice. "Ethan Rayne."

The man turned round and caught sight of the slayer, followed by Angel, Riley and Giles. "Might wanna hurry," he added nervously into the phone before ending the call.

"Ethan," Giles greeted dangerously.

"Ripper," Ethan returned, before breaking into a mad dash for the exit.

Buffy, Giles, Angel and Riley gave chase, following him through aisle upon aisle until the turns became too quick for them.

Giles stopped to catch his breath. "Where... Bloody Hell!"

"That's what smoking will do to you," Buffy returned. "Now be quiet."

"Well... Where'd the bastard go?" Giles asked.

"Shh!" Buffy ordered, listening carefully the apparent silence.

"What?" Giles asked as she stopped.

Buffy executed a half-spinning hook kick into a crate, yanking away a piece of wood, before reaching in and pulling Ethan's head out. "Look. A box full of farm-fresh chicken. So, Ethan, what are we playing? We're pretty much in a talk-or- bleed situation. Your call."

"Hit him," Giles urged, causing Buffy to glare at her watcher.

"I-I'd just like to point out that this wasn't my idea," Ethan replied.

"Meaning...?" Buffy pushed.

"I'm subcontracting. I'm just helping someone collect a tribute... for a demon."

"He's lying. Hit him!" Giles urged.

Buffy sighed. "I don't think he is, and shut up."

"You're my Slayer, go knock his teeth down his throat."

"Giles!" Buffy cried. "What demon?"

"I don't remember," Ethan replied.

Buffy punched his nose, sending him stumbling back against the broken crate, causing Giles to air punch with satisfaction.

"Lurconis," Ethan replied. "Demon named Lurconis. They wanted a way to get the tribute away from people."

"So you're just Diversion Guy?" Buffy sought to confirm.

"More than a diversion," Ethan admitted. "Well, they said the tribute was big, so big that people would never let them take it. That people had to be out- of-it. And later on, when the candy wore off, they'd blame themselves."

"Hence, land of the irresponsible," Buffy sighed. "So, who's behind this?"

"I don't know exactly," Ethan replied.

"Hit him again," Giles urged.

Ethan raised a hand to ward off another strike. "No! I-I-I really don't know. Anonymous call, half the cash up front, the rest after the tribute was delivered."

"Which brings us to the bonus question, and believe me when I say a wrong answer will cost you all your points," Buffy remarked sarcastically. "What's the tribute?"

"I swear on all that's unholy, I don't know," Ethan replied.

"Right," Buffy took out her mobile and pressed a number on her speed dial. "Will, it's me. We're looking for a demon called Lurconis. See if it says anything about a tribute."

Behind her Ethan picked up a crowbar. He raised the weapon, ready to strike, when Giles pressed a gun to his head.

"I wouldn't," Giles uttered dangerously.

Ethan stopped cold. Angel motioned to Riley, who grabbed him, then turned to Giles. "Give me the gun."

Giles entered a brief staring contest with the half-human souled vampire, resulting in an easy victory for Angel, who calmly put the gun in his leather jacket.

"Okay, Oz just found it," Willow replied in Buffy's ear. "The tribute to Lurconis is made every thirty years. It's a ritual feeding. And this one's late, so it's probably, you know, a big meal. And... Oh. Lurconis eats babies."

"Thanks Will," Buffy replied, before ending the call. "Come on."

"Well, what about that man?" Joyce asked.

"By the authority of the US military, you're being taken into custody pending a determination of your status," Riley declared. "I'll hand him over to military police, who'll take Mr. Rayne to a secret detention facility in the Nevada desert. I'm sure he'll be rehabilitated in no time."

"Thanks," Buffy replied. "We'll go to the hospital."

"'Lurconis dwells beneath the city, filth to filth,'" Giles quoted.

"What?" Buffy queried.

"Ooo! I know this. Uh... I knew this. Lurconis means... glutton. And we'll find it, um... in the sewers."

"The sewers? The babies must be so scared," Joyce murmured.

"Right, we're going to the sewers," the slayer decided.

A few minutes later, Buffy, followed by Angel and Giles, descended into the depth of the hellmouth's sewage tunnels. A group of vampires rushed towards them, and Buffy and Angel launched themselves into the fight, delivering roundhouse kicks, dodging return strikes, kicks and punches. Buffy punched one in the face, and dealt another a strike to the gut, while Angel grabbed one by the neck and snapped the vertebrate, dropping him to shove a stake into his chest then moving on to the neck. Buffy staked her victim, then moved on to the next, while Giles went to retrieve the babies.

Suddenly a rumbling sound echoed through the tunnel, causing the fights to stop, as the combatants turned in the direction of the source. Out of an entrance an enormous snake like demon emerged, engulfed the nearest vampire, then retreated back into the tunnel.

"What the hell's that?" Giles asked.

"Lurconis, I'm thinking," Buffy replied. She glanced around for a weapon to use.

"Buffy, the gas pipe," Angel directed.

She leapt up to grab the item in question, wrench a section from the wall, angling towards one of the lit torches which aligned the place. When the gas was ignited, she aimed it towards the entrance, causing the demon to come out and receive fatal burns.

"Thanks," Buffy remarked to Riley as they met up back at the campus after she, Giles and Angel returned from the sewers, returning the babies to the hospital on their way.

"I told you I'd help," Riley replied.

"You did," Buffy added. "I don't know what I would have done with Ethan. I can't kill him, part of the slayer ethics."

"You'd found another way," Riley said. "You're really strong; Spider-Man strong. You're in charge, you make the plan, execute it, no one giving you orders."

"The advantages of independence," Buffy shrugged. "I just wish we'd managed to find out who was responsible for all this."

"Who ever it is has likely just gone out of town," Riley concluded. "Beyond our reach. But I'll do some checking, see if I can find out anything."

"Thanks," Buffy added. "So, you have to go and report now, eh?"

"Yeah, Walsh is back to normal," Riley nodded. "Just one thing, who exactly is Professor O'Connor?"

"My boyfriend," Buffy replied.

"Aside from that," Riley pressed.

Buffy smiled. "My soulmate," she replied, before walking away.

"So she walks in and the rules just suddenly break?" Professor Walsh guessed.

"Umm . . . pretty much." Riley admitted.

They were walking down the corridors of the Initiative complex.

"Be careful with her," Walsh warned. "She reacts on instinct. There's no discipline there. Her loyalties are uncertain."

"You won't be disappointed in her," Riley assured her. "She's good at what she does. She is the truest soul I've ever known."

Walsh groaned. "Oh no. Spontaneous poetic exclamations. Lord, spare me college boys in love."

"I'm just saying she'll work out," Riley protested. "You'll be proud of her. She has a boyfriend anyway."

"You want to know what I think?" Walsh remarked. "I think you're probably right."

Riley nodded, then walked away, leaving his boss outside a white door. Professor Walsh watched him go, then took a card out of her pocket and slid it through the access panel beside the door. She entered a code into the keypad, then slid the card through again.

The door opened, and she stepped inside. It closed behind her.

Xander emerged from the shadows, dressed in his army attire. Checking that no one was in sight, he took his walk-talkie out of his pocket. "Sleeper to base. W has gone into Room 314."

He held the device to his ear to listen for the reply, then walked away from the room, and out into the night.

The End.
To Be Continued In