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Author's Note: Dialogue was taken from the original episode, which this follows the plot of, with necessary changes to keep with my canon of the series. I have included Faith in this episode rather than absenting her, eliminated MOO and Joyce's animosity with her daughter, and turned the Mayor's involvement into another, darker angle. Enjoy.

Gingerbread.

Faith fell backwards, inwardly grateful that for once her landing was cushioned and softened by the sand pit behind her in the children's playground. The vampire gave her the unusually generous courtesy of waiting for her to regain her feet before resuming his attack. Leaping up, she used the small incident of her body becoming airborne to aim a kick at his lower rib muscles, then another at his legs as soon as she landed.

As he lost his footing and faced his turn with the ground, the impact all the more harder due to the asphalt, Faith reached behind her and slid her stake out of where she had stored it before going on patrol; the waistband of her jeans, held in place by the belt loop. A kick to the vampire's and man's most vulnerable area as soon as he gained his feet, and then her stake was in his chest, and he transformed in dust.

She was alone on patrol tonight. Pryce and Giles decided that with two slayers both operating in the same hellmouth, alternate night shifts would make the best sense for patrolling, giving B or herself the advantage of a full night's sleep when the other was out protecting the town. Faith was grateful for the solitude, it gave her time to think. And also time after from the Mayor.

Wilkins had been everything that was charming and friendly, but just beneath the surface lay the kind of deadliest one found far more terrifying than your average bad guy used to having his own way. Despite the bribe of the slick apartment and his silence on the subject of killing Buffy since his one and only airing of such an intention, Faith still doubted her wisdom in choosing to side with him.

At the time she had been convinced that she had no choice in the matter, just as he said, but since then she could not help looking back on the day when he had walked into her motel room, confronting her about Kakistos and offering her this alleged fait accompli. Wondering if it would have made a difference had she pretended to play along, then told Buffy and Giles the moment she had the opportunity to do so.

But the old uncertainties were still at war with her desire for confession; would they believe her? The story sounded incredible to her, and she was involved in it. The truth was, she would never know unless she told them, and right now, her position with the mayor was too precarious to risk letting Buffy or any one else of her friends in the know. They had welcomed her with open arms, but Faith still felt very much the outsider, even during the Christmas celebrations at the Crawford Mansion.

Anxious now to bring this patrol and hopefully her troubled thoughts to an end, Faith turned round, her dark pupils raking a cursory glance over the deserted playground for any more vampires who might be lurking in the shadows. But the swings and roundabouts were still empty. Then something caught her gaze by the carrousel and she made her way over to where it stood on the other side of the playground.

Night was well past its ascendency, and dawn was nearing, time for vampires and other primal ancient beasts which tried to rule the hellmouth to be seeking secret sanctuaries from what was considered normal and rightful to live upon this earth. But what Faith saw as she gently crouched down by the carrousel was far from natural. As a slayer she was by no means immune to death in all its aspects, and the sight before her now was one of the ugliest she ever had the unfortunate privilege to encounter. Just like the Mayor, there was an outward appearance of innocence, yet the very presence of them was enough to convey to her the underlying taint of evil.

"Oh, my god," Faith murmured as she knelt before the two dead bodies, of children, killed before their time, in place which was supposed to be their haven.


"I am shocked," Mayor Wilkins uttered as he sought the comfort of his office chair after Faith told him of her discovery. Whatever misgivings she held about her alliance with him, she still choose his offices as her first port of call before either watcher or Buffy. "Deeply shocked. Who thought such violence could happen to children as young as that." He reached out and signalled her into one of the visitors chairs. "Was it vampires, could you see?"

"No," Faith replied, rather relieved at how normally he seemed to be taking the news. "There were no bites as far as I could see." She paused considering how best to phrase her question. Should I tell the others?" She asked cautiously.

"You mean Miss Summers and your watchers?" The Mayor confirmed. "Yes, but in the morning. This incident must be dealt with in the proper way." he reached across the desk to his phone and picked up the receiver. "I'll call the police, and then you must show me where you found them."


Buffy woke with her alarm the morning after in her bedroom at 1630 Revello Drive, taking care to keep her slayer reflexes from breaking the clock as she shut off the noise. Wiping the sleep from her eyes, she rose from her bed and went to the wardrobe to select her clothes for the day.

It was not until she came downstairs that she noticed something was amiss from the usual routine of a school morning. Mildly concerned, she entered the living room, concentrating on sounds coming from the television.

"Mom?" She asked, causing Joyce to turn round from her position on the sofa. "What's going on?" She asked.

"Oh the Mayor discovered the bodies of two murdered children last night," Joyce replied, saddened and shocked. "I heard the news on the radio."

"I better swing by the crime scene and take a look on my way to school," Buffy remarked as she stared at the footage of the crime scene, watching officers taking photos, collecting evidence.

"You think a demon could do this?" Joyce asked her daughter.

"That's one of my words for them," Buffy replied grimly. "Whatever they turn out to be." She watched as the reporters turned to the Mayor, throwing out questions in the hope of an impromptu press conference. "Their parents' must be devastated," she murmured. "Do we know who they are?"

"The police are keeping the details quiet for now out of respect for the family," Joyce replied. "I can't say I blame them, they need all the time to grieve in privacy while they can, before this comes a symbol of the community."

Buffy nodded, before turning to grab her book bag. "I'll see you after school, Mom," she said in farewell. "Hopefully by then I'll know more," she added, before making her way out of the house.


"Take it easy, B, calm down."

Buffy rounded on Faith. "Don't tell me to calm down! They were kids, Faith. Little kids! You don't know what it was like to see them there."

I do, Faith longed to say, but she couldn't, because the Mayor had taken the matter out of her hands.

"Do we know how?" Giles asked her. "If it was a vampire?"

Buffy shook her head. "No. There were no marks," she uttered, before remembering. "Wait. I mean, there, there was a mark, um, a symbol." She paused to grab a pen, and sat down at the table, poised to draw.

Giles snatched the parchment away before the ink could do any damage. "Oh, uh, 12th century, Papal Encyclical. Write on this." He produced a spiral bound notebook.

Buffy carefully drew the symbol she had seen during her discreet swing by of the crime scene. "It was on their hands. The cops are keeping it quiet, but I got a good look at it." She turned the notebook round and slid it over for Giles and Faith to see. "There. Find us the thing that uses this symbol and point us at it."

"Hmm," Giles murmured as he studied the drawing.

"Hmm, what?" Buffy uttered impatiently. "Giles, speak."

"What? Oh, sorry. Um, no, it..." he trailed off as he picked up the notebook. "I just wonder if we're looking for a thing. The use of a symbol on a victim like this suggests a ritual murder and a cult sacrifice by a group."

"A group of... human beings?" Buffy queried. "Someone with a soul did this?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so," Giles replied as he moved to the bookshelves.

"Okay. Then while you're looking for the meaning of that symbol thingy, could you also find a loophole in that 'Slayers don't kill people' rule?" Buffy asked, causing Faith to glance at her in surprise.

And she was not the only one. "Buffy, this is a dreadful crime, I know," Giles began, "and you have every right to be upset, but, I wonder if you're not letting yourself get a shade more personal because it's happened in your town."

"Oh, it's completely personal," Buffy replied. "Giles, find me the people that did this. Please."

"I agree," Faith added, rising from her seat. "This has to be stopped, before we lose sight of what's demonic and what's not."


In the cafeteria, Willow looked up from her meal to call her boyfriend over to the table. "Hi, Oz," she greeted.

"Hey," he replied as he sat down. "I haven't seen you all day. What have been doing?"

"Oh working on something for Buffy's birthday," Willow replied. "Xander. Hi Cordy."

"Hey, Amy," Oz welcomed the other guest at the table.

"Hi, guys," Amy replied as she sat down.

"Hey, Amy. I like your new hair," Xander complimented.

"So, Buffy's birthday is next week," Oz recalled.

"Ooh! Yeah. Good. I've been pondering gift options," Xander remarked.

"Yeah, do you think we all have to get one, or can couples go joint?" Cordelia asked.

"Shh," Willow motioned before raising her voice. "Hi, Buffy."

"Buffy! What's up?" Xander asked.

"You guys didn't hear?" Buffy asked as she sat down at the table.

"Hear what?" Cordelia inquired.

"A murder," the slayer replied. "Somebody killed two little kids."

"Oh, no," Willow uttered shocked.

"They were, like, seven or eight years old," Buffy added.

"Oh, my God," Amy uttered.

"Kids?" Oz queried.

"Who would do something like that?" Cordelia wondered.

"A demon," Xander uttered confidently, "we are talking about a demon, right?"

"Giles isn't so sure," Buffy replied. "He thinks it might be something ritual, a cult. There was a symbol drawn on their hands, you see."

"You think know the level of violence in a town," Oz remarked. "You really don't have any idea until it shows itself."

"Hey," Faith uttered as she joined them, inwardly touched when they automatically moved aside to give her room at the table.

"Hey," Buffy returned. "How's the research going?"

"Giles and Wesley are still checking volumes," Faith replied. "I turned on the television in the homeroom to see if there was an update. Check this, the Mayor's holding a vigil tonight at City Hall."

"He finds two dead bodies and suddenly he's pillar of the community?" Cordelia remarked incredulously. "A vigil is hardly gonna help Sunnydale's finest catch whoever or whatever did this."

"And if whatever did this," Buffy added, "it really helps involving the whole town."

"I hear ya," Faith agreed, inwardly wondering what the Mayor's true motive was.


"This is great," Buffy remarked to her best friend and boyfriend as the three of them walked into the conference room of the city hall, taking in the large prominent placards with the phrase 'Never Again' in big font, above images of the two dead kids some photojournalist had managed to take at the crime scene. The room was almost filled to the brim with citizens of the hellmouth. "Maybe we could all go patrolling together later," she added.

"Your Mom's here too," Angel informed her, pointing out where Mrs Summers was standing, causing the trio to make their way over. "Evening, Mrs Summers."

"Angel," Joyce turned to him. "Glad to see you joined the rest of the professors in coming. How is the university taking it?"

"Same as the rest of the town," Angel replied.

"Can't believe how many people turned up," Buffy uttered to her best friend.

"At least your Mom's making an effort," Willow remarked. "My Mom's probably... " she trailed off as she suddenly caught sight of her. "Standing right in front of me right this second. Mom?"

"Willow, I didn't know you were going to be here," Shelia Rosenberg remarked as she joined them. "Oh, hi, Bunny," she uttered absently.

Buffy grimaced at the nickname. For some reason Mrs Rosenberg constantly forgot how to address her on the rare occasions they met. "Hi."

"Mom, what are you doing here?" Willow asked her.

"Oh, well, I read about it in the paper, and what with your dad out of town..." Shelia paused as she looked at her daughter. "Willow, you cut off your hair! Huh. That's a new look."

"Yeah, it's just a sudden whim I had..." Willow replied. "In August."

Shelia smiled, oblivious to the sarcasm. "I like it."

"There you are," Giles remarked as he joined them, with Jenny. "I almost didn't find you in this crush. Quite a turnout here."

"There's a rumour going around, Mr. Giles," Shelia remarked. "About witches. People calling themselves witches are responsible for this brutal crime."

"Indeed?" Giles queried. "How strange."

Willow laughed nervously. "Yes! Strange! Witches."

"Well, actually, not that strange," Mrs Rosenberg replied. "I recently coauthored a paper about the rise of mysticism among adolescents, and I was shocked at the statistical..." she broke off as the microphone coughed, signalling the Mayor's speech. "Oh. Are we starting?"

"Hello, everybody," Mayor Wilkins began. "I wanna thank you all for coming in the aftermath of such a tragic crime. Seeing you all here proves what a caring community Sunnydale is. Now, sure, we've had our share of misfortunes, but we're a good town with good people, and I know that none of us will rest easy until this horrible murder is solved. With that in mind..." he paused to pick up a placard, "I make these words my pledge to you. 'Never again!'" He paused for the applause of agreement which ensued. "Now, I know people would like to believe that this a rare occurrence in Sunnydale. But unfortunately these are not the times of innocence. How many of us have, have lost someone who, who just disappeared? Or, or got skinned? Or suffered neck rupture? And how many of us have been too afraid to speak out? I was supposed to lead us in a moment of silence, but... silence is this town's disease. For too long we've been plagued by unnatural evils. This isn't our town anymore. It belongs to the monsters and the witches and the Slayers."

In the crowd, Buffy looked at the Mayor in shock, along with Angel, Willow, Joyce, Jenny and Giles.

"I say it's time for the grown ups to take Sunnydale back," the Mayor continued. "I say we start by finding the people who did this and making them pay."

Buffy and her friends stood silent as the crowd broke into applause once more. She was struck by the mayor's choice of words on who he thought responsible. How did he know about slayers?

 


"Are you sure he knew what he was talking about?" Oz asked her as they walked down the corridors of the high school the next day.

"Why else would he have said it?" Buffy countered in reply. "You don't use that word in everyday conversation. I'm pretty sure he meant something by it. I just don't know what."

A loud noise interrupted their conversation, causing them to cast their gaze ahead, in time to notice a boy being slammed against some lockers.

"Hey, what is your problem?" Amy asked as Buffy and Oz neared the group.

The boy holding his victim against the lockers turned and spoke. "Everyone knows he's into that voodoo witchcraft. I heard about those kids. People like him...." he slammed the boy against the lockers again, "gotta learn a lesson."

"And what about people like me?" Amy asked.

"Get in my face and you'll find out," the boy countered.

Buffy stopped behind Amy, and smiled at the group. Her reputation caused the boy to let lose of his victim.

"No problem here," he declared. "We're walking."

Buffy watched the group walk away out of sight, then turned to the victim and Amy. "Michael, Amy. You guys okay?" She asked.

"Yeah," Michael replied. "We're fine," he added walking off.

Amy smiled. "Thanks, Buffy," she uttered before following him.

"You'll be one busy little Slayer, baby-sitting them," Cordelia remarked as she joined them in the corridor.

"I doubt they'll have any more trouble," Buffy remarked.

"I doubt your doubt," Cordelia countered. "Everyone knows that witches killed those kids, and Amy is a witch. And Michael is whatever the boy of witch is, plus being the poster child for yuck."

"It's warlock," Oz informed her. "Besides, witches didn't do it."

"Actually," Giles uttered in a low voice as he joined them, "I think they may have. My research keeps bringing me back to European Wiccan covens."

"You found the meaning of the symbol?" Buffy asked.

"I'm pretty sure, yes. There's a piece of information I need that's in a book that Willow borrowed. Can you find it?"

"Sure," Buffy replied, before turning in the direction of the student lounge. Seeing Xander sitting on one of the couches, they walked over.

"Hey guys," Xander greeted them.

"Hey. Is Willow around?" Buffy asked.

"Yeah. She's in the bathroom," Xander replied.

"Are those her books?" Buffy asked. "Giles needs one of the volumes he leant her."

"Yeah," Xander replied.

Buffy began sorting through the pile until she found the book in question. Removing it she discovered a spiral bound notebook underneath, with a symbol of a curled line above a triangle drawn on the visible page.

"Hey, Buff," Willow uttered as she joined them. "What cha looking for? You wanna borrow something?"

"What is this?" Buffy asked, showing her the symbol.

"A doodle," Willow replied. "I do doodle. You, too. You do doodle, too."

"This is a witch symbol," Buffy uttered.

"Okay, yeah, it is," Willow confirmed.

"Willow..." Buffy sighed, wondering how to begin.

"What?" Her best friend prompted.

"That symbol was on the murdered children," Buffy uttered.

Suddenly they heard the sound of lockers being slammed shut, causing them to look up as a police officer came into view.

"Please step back. Stay away from the lockers. This is police business."

Exchanging concerned looks, the slayerettes headed into the corridor to witness the police conducting a search of the lockets.

"Hand them over, please," an officer said to a student. "The books."

Buffy cautiously slipped the volume she carrying into the waistband of her jeans under the cover of her jacket.

"Aw, man, it's Nazi Germany, and I've got Playboys in my locker!" Xander complained, earning a glare from his girlfriend.

Principal Snyder was smug in his moment of glory. "This is a glorious day for principals everywhere. No pathetic whining about students' rights. Just a long row of lockers and a man with a key."

"They just took three kids away," Doyle remarked to the group as he joined them.

"What are they looking for?" Buffy asked.

"Witch stuff." Amy replied.

"What?" Willow uttered in concern.

"They got my spells," Amy informed them. "I'm supposed to report to Snyder's office," she added grimly.

"Oh, my God," Willow murmured.

"Okay, Amy," a police officer addressed her. "You'll have to come with me."

Willow turned to the group. "I have stuff in my locker," she confessed. "Henbane, hellebore, mandrake root."

"Excuse me," Xander interrupted. "Playboys. Can we turn the sympathy this way?"

One of the officers took out a hair spray from a locker.

"Hey!" Cordelia shouted indignantly. "Get your grubby custodial hands off that."

"Miss, you have to stay back," the officer instructed. "Miss, stay back."

"That hair spray costs $45, and it's imported!" Cordelia cried.

"Oh, God, my locker's next," Willow uttered. "Buffy, I didn't do anything wrong. The symbol is harmless. I used it to make a protection spell for you, for your birthday. With Michael and Amy. Only, now it's broken, because you know about it, so happy birthday, and please, you have to believe me!"

Snyder walked towards them carrying the items Willow was worried about. "Ms. Rosenberg. My office."

Oz placed an arm around his girlfriend in support and walked with her. Buffy glanced at the others and silently gestured for them to follow her to the library.

By the time the Scoobies reached said room, their usual sanctuary of knowledge, they encountered a police officer carrying a box full of books out.

"Giles," Buffy uttered as she entered, seeing her watcher stand helplessly watching as other officers raided the library shelves.

"They're confiscating my books," he uttered, stunned.

"Giles, we need those books," Buffy remarked.

"Believe me, I tried to tell that to the nice man with the big gun," Giles replied to her, causing Jenny to place her hand on his arm in comfort.

"There's something about the symbol that we're missing," Buffy said softly to them both. "Willow said she used it in a protection spell. It's harmless. Not a big bad. So then why would it turn up in a ritual sacrifice?"

"I don't know," Giles replied. "Ordinarily, I would say let's widen our research."

"Using what?" Buffy asked. "A dictionary and 'My Friend Flicka?'"

Giles sighed in barely suppressed annoyance. "This is intolerable. Snyder's interfered before, but I won't take this from that twisted little homunculus."

"I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning," Snyder deliberately parodied as he announced his presence in the library.

"You get out!" Giles shouted. "And take your marauders with you."

For once, Snyder was unmoved. "Oh, my. So fierce. I suppose I should hear you out. Just how is, um..." he snatched a volume from a nearby officer. "'Blood Rites and Sacrifices' appropriate material for a public school library? Chess club branching out?"

"This is not over," Giles threatened quietly.

"Oh, I should say it's just beginning," Snyder remarked. "Fight it if you want. Just remember, lift a finger against me, and you'll have to answer to MOO."

"Answer to MOO?" Buffy repeated. "Did that sentence just make some sense that I'm not in on?"

"Mayors Opposed to the Occult.'" Snyder translated. "A powerful new group."

"And who came up with that lame name?" Buffy asked.

"That would be the founder; Mayor Wilkins," Snyder replied before walking away.

"I can't believe this," Buffy murmured as she watched the officers leave. Suddenly a thought occurred to her. "Do you think they've gone to the university?"

Jenny took a permission slip out from her pocket. "Go. Now, while this chaos is still going on. I'll see if I can research on the internet."

Giles kissed her in thanks and followed his slayer out the door.


"They confiscated the books?" Angel queried. "Okay, this is bordering on fascism."

"I just don't get it," Buffy remarked as they walked hand in hand down the corridors of the university to the campus library. "All this fuss over two kids? At this point they're rendering my fight with evil fruitless."

"You can still make a difference," Angel argued. "I know it's important to keep fighting." He glanced at her, marvelling once more at how much he loved her. "I learned that from you."

Buffy sighed. "But we never..."

Angel nodded, finishing her sentence. "We never win."

"Not completely," Buffy added. "Sometimes not even remotely."

"We never will," Angel replied. "That's not why we fight. We do it 'cause there's things worth fighting for. Those kids. Their parents."

"Their parents," Buffy murmured, realising something.

"What is it?" Angel asked her.

"Their parents," Buffy repeated with certainty, turning to Giles. "Come on, we have to get back to the library."

Before they could ask her why, she was running for the nearest exit, leaving them no choice but to follow.


Willow returned home to find her mother on the sofa waiting for her, with things from her room laid out on the coffee table.

"Oh, sit down, honey," Shelia began.

"Principal Snyder talk to you?" Willow queried.

"Yes. He's quite concerned," Shelia replied.

Willow tried to pre-empt the fight. "Mom, I know what this looks like, and I can totally..."

Her mother interrupted her. "Oh, you don't have to explain, honey. This isn't exactly a surprise."

Willow looked at her confused. "Why not?"

"Oh, well, identification with mythical icons is perfectly typical of your age group. It's a, a classic adolescent response to the pressures of incipient adulthood."

Willow sighed as she realised that she had reached another impasse with her mother. "Oh. Is that what it is?"

Mrs Rosenberg picked up a bag of herbs. "Of course, I wish you could've identified with something a little less icky, but developmentally speaking..."

"Mom, I'm not an age group," Willow said. "I'm me. Willow group."

"Oh, honey..." Shelia rose from the sofa and went join her daughter. "I understand."

"No, you don't," Willow replied, wondering if she could make her understand, as Buffy had done with her mother. "Mom, this may be hard for you to accept, but I can do stuff. Nothing bad or dangerous, but I can do spells."

"You think you can, and that's what concerns me," Shelia remarked. "The delusions."

"Mom, how would you know what I can do?" Willow countered. "I mean, the last time we had a conversation over three minutes, it was about the patriarchal bias of the Mr. Rogers Show."

"Well, with King Friday lording it over all the lesser puppets..." Mrs Rosenberg began.

"Mom, you're not paying attention," Willow replied.

"And this is your way of trying to get it. Now, I have consulted with some of my colleagues, and they agree that this is a cry for discipline. You're grounded."

Willow was surprised. "Grounded? This is the first time ever I've done something you don't like and I'm grounded? I'm supposed to mess up. I'm a teenager, remember?"

"You're upset, I hear you," Shelia remarked.

"No, Mom, hear this! I'm a rebel! I'm having a rebellion!"

Her mother smiled at her. "Willow, honey, you don't need to act out like this to prove your specialness."

"Mom, I'm not acting out. I'm a witch! I can make pencils float. And I can summon the four elements. Okay, two, but four soon. And I'm dating a musician."

Now her mother was shocked. "Oh, Willow!"

"I worship Beelzebub," Willow continued sarcastically. "I do his bidding. Do you see any goats around? No, because I sacrificed them."

"Willow, please!" Shelia urged.

"All bow before Satan!" Willow cried.

"I'm not listening to this," Mrs Rosenberg walked out of the living room.

Willow followed her. "Prince of Night, I summon you. Come fill me with your black, naughty evil."

Suddenly her Mom rounded on her. "That's enough! Is that clear? Now, you will go to your room and stay there until I say otherwise. And we're gonna make some changes. I don't want you hanging out with those friends of yours. It's clear where this little obsession came from. You will not speak to Bunny Summers again."


"Any news?" Jenny asked as two of the Scoobies returned to the unofficial and raided headquarters of Slayer Inc.

"Take heart. We found the books," Oz informed them.

"Really?" Giles asked as he entered, followed by Buffy and Angel.

"You can put the heart back," Xander added. "We can't get at them. They're locked up in City Hall."

"What about you?" Giles asked his girlfriend. "Did you find anything out?"

"No luck on that symbol," Jenny replied. "What about you?"

"I think I have something," Buffy began. "What do we know about these kids?"

"What do you mean?" Doyle asked.

"Facts," Buffy stated. "Details."

"Well, they were found in the park," Xander replied.

The slayer shook her head. "No. Where did they go to school? Who were their parents? What are their names? We know everything about their deaths, but we don't even know their names."

"Well, sure we do," Xander remarked. "Um, it's on the tip of my tongue."

"That never came up," Oz realised. "Ever."

"And if no one knows who they are," Buffy continued solemnly, "where did these pictures come from?"

"I just assumed someone had the details," Giles sighed. "I never really... Well, that is strange."

The slayer nodded. "We need to get some information."

"I can look around," Oz offered, taking up Jenny's seat by the computer, "but Willow would really know the sites we need."

"That's great," Buffy sighed. "She can't even come to the phone. The wrath of MOO."

"Well, we don't need a phone," Oz pointed out before signing online. After a few tapping of keys, he added, "alright, we're linked. If anybody's ID'd the kids, she'll pull it up and feed it here."

Soon an article appeared before them. "Oh. 'Two Children Found Dead. Mysterious Mark...'" Giles trailed off as he read further. "No. No. These children were found near Omaha in 1949."

"Yeah, they ain't ours," Xander agreed. "Keep going."

"Wait," Buffy said, pointing to the photo which finished downloading on to the page. "Those are the same kids."

"Fifty years ago," Giles murmured.

Oz tapped the keys for the next article. "1899. Utah... Two Children... Rural Community Torn Apart by Suspicion."

"A hundred years ago?" Doyle queried. "How is this possible?"

"There's no mention of who they were," Oz commented.

"They've never been seen alive, just dead," Buffy realised. "A lot."

"Ah," Oz uttered as he read the instant messenger form from Willow. "There were more articles. Every fifty years. All the same."

"From as far back as 1649," Giles murmured. "Can I see that?"

Oz rose from his seat and let the watcher sit down. "Written by a cleric from a village near the Black Forest. He... found the bodies himself. Two children... Greta Strauss, age six. Hans Strauss, eight."

"So they have names," Cordelia commented. "That's new."

 


"Willow," Shelia Rosenberg remarked as she entered her daughter's bedroom to find her online at the computer. "I thought I made myself clear. You're not minding me."

"Mom..." Willow pleaded.

"I see what you're doing. You're challenging me. But I will not have you communicating with your cyber-coven or what have you."

"Coven?" Willow echoed. "What happened to me being delusional and acting out?"

"Well, that was before I talked in depth with the Mayor and his associates. It seems I've been rather close-minded."

"So, you believe me?" Willow asked.

Her mother sighed. "I believe you, dear. Now all I can do is let you go with love."

"Let me go?" Willow echoed, concerned. "What does that mean?"

Her mother said nothing. Instead she turned and left the bedroom, locking the door from the hall, leaving Willow concerned, alone and without the means of calling for help.


"Uh, wait, wait a minute," Giles took off his glasses and began cleaning as he paced the floor of the library. "Uh... Uh, there is a fringe theory held by a few folklorists that some regional stories have actual, um, very literal antecedents."

"And in some language that's English?" Buffy asked.

"Fairy tales are real," Angel replied.

"Hans and Gre.... Hansel and Gretel?" Buffy sought to confirm.

"Wait." Xander said. "Hansel and Gretel? Breadcrumbs, ovens, gingerbread house?"

"Of course!" Giles cried. "Well, it makes sense now."

"Yeah, it's all falling into place," Buffy remarked. "Of course that place is nowhere near this place."

Giles came to sit on the table by them. "Some demons thrive by fostering hatred and, and, persecution amongst the mortal animals. Not by destroying men, but by watching men destroy each other. Now, they feed us our darkest fear and turn peaceful communities into vigilantes."

Buffy nodded in understanding. "Hansel and Gretel run home to tell everyone about the mean old witch."

Giles inclined his head in agreement. "And then she and probably dozens of others are persecuted by a righteous mob. It's happened all throughout history. It happened in Salem, not surprisingly."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Xander said. "I'm still spinning on this whole fairy tales are real thing."

"So what do we do?" Oz asked.

"Giles, we need to talk to the Mayor," Buffy decided. "Get him to stop this before the whole town takes a trip to Salem."

The library doors burst open and Michael stumbled in, black and blue, bruised and sporting one large black eye which was not caused by makeup.

"What happened?" Buffy asked.

"I was attacked!" Michael replied.

"By whom?" Buffy inquired.

"My dad," Michael replied. "His friends. They're taking people out of their homes. They're talking about a trial down at City Hall. They got Amy."

"Michael, stay here and hide," Buffy commanded. "Giles, Angel, we need to unmask this demon now."

"We need to stop by my apartment, first," Giles replied. "I'll need some ingredients."

"Willow!" Oz cried and ran out of the library, Xander following.

"Tell Willow to get out of her house!" Michael called out.

"Stay in my office," Giles ordered, then turned to Jenny. "You too," he added to her, before kissing her goodbye.

"Be careful," Jenny warned them before they obeyed him.

 


Willow looked up as she heard her bedroom door being unlocked. "Mom, we really have to talk," she uttered, before catching sight of the large crowd behind her mother.

"It's time to go," Shelia remarked. "Oh, and get your coat. It's chilly out."

"Go? Go where?" Willow asked.

"I said get your coat, witch!" Shelia cried.

Hurriedly Willow slammed the door, and searched for something to move against it, so she could escape via the french doors.


"Sir, this is getting out of hand," Faith remarked as she entered the offices of the Mayor. "Even the vamps are getting restless, and usually they're the first ones to enjoy a riot like this."

"Faith, you worry too much for a girl your age," Mayor Wilkins remarked as he rose from his chair to place an arm around her. "You should learn to watch your stress levels. Now where would Buffy be at a time like this?"

"Either with Giles or in the heart of the action," Faith replied. "Why?"

"Because I think this is an opportunity which is too good not to make use of," the Mayor replied, in that tone Faith had learned to fear. "Now, you stay here, have something soothing to eat and drink, and I'll put in a call to Mr Trick and his associates. I'll send them to Mr Giles' place of residence, make sure he and your 'sister' are safe."

Faith watched the expression on his face, her thoughts a whirlwind, wondering once more what she had let herself in for by agreeing to his alliance.


At Oakpark Street, Cordelia and Doyle almost fell to floor as they burst through the unexpectedly unlocked front door of Giles' apartment.

Regaining their balance, they took in the smashed bits of glass, overturned sofas and coffee table, scattered remains of china, obvious signs that a struggle had taken place in the room, and the two prone figures lying on the floor of the living area.

Cordelia rushed to the watcher's side. "Wake up!" She cried. Slapping his face until he reached out and grabbed her wrist.

"Cordelia?" Giles opened his eyes.

"Took you long enough to wake up," Cordelia commented. "My hand hurts."

Angel rose to sit beside him.

"Pity," Giles murmured without any real sympathy. "Oh... Why are you here?"

"Things are way out of control, Giles. First the thing at school, and then my mom confiscates all of my black clothes and scented candles. I came over here to tell Buffy to stop this craziness and found you all unconscious... again. How many times have you been knocked out, anyway? I swear, one of these times, you're gonna wake up in a coma."

"Wake up in a..." Giles shook his head. "Oh, never mind," he decided, rising to his feet, followed by Angel. "We need to save Buffy from Hansel and Gretel."

"Now, let's be clear," Cordelia uttered in their wake as she Doyle followed them out of the apartment. "The brain damage happened before I hit you."


"Buffy!" Willow cried, as her friend woke from the chloroform induced unconscious to discover herself restrained against a pole, nestled in the middle of the confiscated books. Around them crowds stood, fire lit torches in hand, with placards of the children. She glanced down to find some of the books around them already alight.

"Alright," Amy remarked, causing Willow and Buffy to turn to her. "You wanna fry a witch? I'll give you a witch! Goddess Hecate, work thy will!"

"Uh-oh," Buffy murmured as she realised what was about to happen.

"Before thee let the unclean thing crawl!" Amy finished, as a wave of dark energy surrounded her, causing her to disappear in a sudden burst of flame. Then the fire died, and a small black rat scurried through the books to freedom.

"She couldn't do us first?" Buffy wondered as she struggled against her bonds.

"You've seen what we can do!" Willow cried, wondering if she could prevent their deaths by scaring them. "Another step and you will all feel my power!"

"What are you gonna do, float a pencil at them?" Buffy murmured quietly.

"It's a really big power!" Willow continued. "Yes! You will all be turned into vermin. And some of you will be fish! Yeah, you in the back will be fish!"

"Maybe we should go," a man in the back decided.

Then the children suddenly appeared.

"But you promised," Hansel reminded them.

"You have to kill the bad girls," Greta added.


"I can't believe you had this stuff in your apartment," Cordelia commented as she surveyed the ingredients the watcher shoved into her lap. "It smells foul."

"Shred the wolfsbane," Giles instructed. "That's the, leafy stuff. And then you can crush the satyrion root." He murmured, trying to recall the incantation. "Luften sie den something. Schlumer? Schluter?"

In front of them Angel put his foot down and shifted up another gear, as he drove his convertible down the streets to city hall.

"What are you muttering about?" Cordelia asked.

"It's a part of an incantation," Giles explained. "It's in German, and without my book..."

"What does it mean?" Cordelia asked.

"It's about lifting a veil. It should, make the demons appear in their true form, which with any luck, will, uh, negate their influence. And, drop a toadstone into the mixture."

Cordelia took a guess and picked up the ingredient. "This? It doesn't look like a toad."

"No reason it should," Giles replied. "It's from inside the toad."

Cordelia rapidly dropped it in. "I hate you."


After breaking several traffic laws, they reached the city hall. Parking the car with a screech on the brakes, Angel, Doyle, Cordelia and Giles leapt from the vehicle to rush inside, heading for the conference room.

Reaching the doors, they wrestled with the knobs only to find them locked.

Giles turned, studied Cordelia's hair, and removed a pin, before kneeling down before the keyhole to get to work.

"Ouch!" Cordelia snapped indignantly. "You got hair with that!" She paused as she watched him deftly pick the lock. "God, you really were the little youthful offender, weren't you? You must just look back on that and cringe."

"Shh!" Giles ordered as he continued to work. There was a tense moment of silence, then the mechanism clicked, and he withdrew the pin in satisfaction before turning the knob and opening the doors. He pointed Cordelia in the direction of the fire hose, while Angel and Doyle silently negotiated their way through the crowd to the sacrificial victims.

"Buffy, I'm on fire!" Willow cried.

Her best friend struggled harder with the rope which bound her to the pole. "Cordelia, put out the fire!" She cried. "Angel, Doyle hurry!"

Cordelia turned her water vengeance away from the enthralled people of Sunnydale and on to the bonfires, dousing the flames almost immediately.

Giles threw the potion on to the floor, letting it smash and recited the incantation. "Ihr Goetter, ruft Euch an! Verbergt Euch nicht hinter falschen Gesichtern!"

Hansel and Greta Strauss transformed into one large Wagnerian like demon, which towered over them.

"Okay, I think I liked the two little ones more than the one big one," Cordelia said.

"Protect us! Kill the bad girls!" The demon ordered the now terrified populous.

"You know what?" Buffy remarked, causing it to turn and face her. "Not as convincing in that outfit."

The demon roared, and strode to confront her. Buffy abandoned struggling with the rope and opted to break the stake instead, bending until one end impaled the demon.

"Did I get it?" She asked.

"You got it," Angel replied as he reached over to untie the rope. Carefully he helped her from the stake, causing it to fall, taking the demon with it.


"Your mom doesn't mind us doing this in the house?" Buffy asked her best friend the next evening as they mixed ingredients in her bedroom.

"She doesn't know," Willow replied.

"Business as usual?" Buffy queried knowingly.

Willow nodded. "Hmm, sort of. She's doing that selective memory thing your mom used to be so good at."

"She forgot everything?" Buffy asked.

Her best friend shook her head. "No. She remembered the part where I said I was dating a musician. Oz has to come for dinner next week. So, that's sort of like taking an interest."

"Okay, should we try this again?" Buffy asked.

"Let's do it," Willow agreed. "I think we got the mix of herbs right this time."

"Okay. Ready?" Buffy lit a match and set it to the potion on the plate before them.

"Diana, Hecate, I hereby license thee to depart," Willow enchanted. "Goddess of creatures great and small, I conjure thee to withdraw."

Amy the rat merely sniffed the air appreciatively then went back to rustling around in her new little cage.

"Maybe we should get her one of those wheel thingies," Buffy suggested.


"So, that was a regrettable conclusion to this campaign," Mayor Wilkins remarked to his associates as they gathered in his office at the end of the day.

"There's always next time, sir," Mr. Trick pointed out.

"Yes, very true. I have plenty of campaign promises still to honour."

"Campaign promises?" Faith echoed. "You mean this was a sting from the very beginning? You let me find those kids?"

"Well, I did want Miss Summers to find them," the Mayor replied. "But I didn't know your patrol night would take you to the playground and not her. Still, these things happen. You cannot plan for every detail."

"I can't believe you played me!" Faith cried.

"Now, Faith," the Mayor's tone changed to his familiarly chilling one. "I told you before, this level of stress is not good for a good of your age. Now why don't you sit down, take some of this soothing drink here and relax. I've got everything under control."

Faith saw the unspoken threat in his and Trick's eyes, and wisely sat down as once again she remembered the dangers of her new alliance.

The End.
To Be Continued In......

Helpless.