Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Vampire Hunter D belong to their perspective owners. I am not one of them. I'm just borrowing them for entertainment purposes and no money shall be made from this entertainment.

A Hunter's Tale or How Did We Get from Here to There

Chapter 7

What we need is a little distraction. You got an atomic bomb? ~Captain H. M. "'Howlin' Mad" Murdock, A-Team, TV Series

"So, just how gone is the hand, anyway?" Xander asked his own hand as he walked to school the next morning.

"Ya sure you want to know?"

"No, but tell me anyway."

"Humph, well, if I spit it back up right now there might be enough left to work a connection, as long as it didn't mind missing a few fingers. Hate to admit it, but that Angel guy is right, this bird is tough. It will probably take a few months before it's completely gone."

"A few months?" Xander asked, sounding very distressed.

"Yeah, don't worry about it though, it's mostly because I'm doing it slow, to avoid another overload. In fact I'll be more careful about that in general. Usually we only share power when we're doing something difficult or one of us needs to take in something to increase our energy."

"Like you with the four elements and me with…" Xander trailed off.

"Blood kid, get use to it. For you it's as normal a thing to take in as bacon and eggs is for anyone else. Well it will be, once you hit your full potential."

Xander grimaced; having a sudden vision of blood covered scrambled eggs. Tasty.

"Anyway, unless the situation calls for it, I'm going to use what I can and shunt everything else into a reserve. Besides, overloading you like that just means we're wasting the power."

Xander grimaced. "I thought it was happening because I couldn't handle that much of it at once."

"Well, yeah, but you're improving and so is our connection. It's letting me do a little more stuff than I was able to at first. Still, we might need to bleed off energy from time to time, to keep me from getting too full. If you step up your physical training we probably won't have to do it very often."

"Nag, nag, nag. What is it with you and the training?"

"Just want to be prepared kid, just want to be prepared."

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Approaching the school, Xander noticed Willow off talking with that Oz guy she'd… he could barely stand to think about it and he wasn't sure why… had a date with. Still, the musician had taken the trip to the Twilight Zone with the mellow aplomb of a Zen master. Willow gave Xander a wave when she saw him and Oz nodded a hello. Xander waved back and headed over to them.

"Any word on what's up?" He asked.

Willow shook her head. "We just got here and I haven't seen Buffy or Giles yet."

"Guess we'd better check the library before class." Xander hesitated a moment. "You want in on this?" He asked, turning to Oz. If the musician was going to hang around Willow, then he'd probably end up involved in their weirdness from time to time. Better to find out now how he'd deal with it, rather than later when the Hellmouth decided to hit the fan.

Oz looked between the two of them. "Yeah, I'm in."

"In on what?" They turned to see Buffy standing behind them.

"In on a trip to the library." Oz replied.

Buffy seemed as if she were about to argue otherwise for Oz, before clamping her mouth shut. She'd been the one pushing Willow towards the musician and if he could handle their stuff, then so much the better.

She nodded. "Let's go then.

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Overnight, Giles had pulled together a boatload of information on the Judge. So much that they didn't have time for it before class. On the planning end of things, Buffy suggested that she and Angel check out the factory Spike and Drusilla had been using, to see if any of the pieces were being stored there. Everyone else would stake out the most likely places a package might find its way into town, with the hope that not all the pieces had arrived yet.

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Xander looked around the bus station, wondering how he'd lucked out on such a glamorous assignment. Yes, that was sarcasm.

He'd already dodged the four hundred pound wino who'd offered to wash his hair… he still didn't get that, but he'd dodged it. Now he was looking over the arrival and departure board for something like the fifty-seventh time that night and it still wasn't getting any more interesting. Thankfully, the night was drawing to a close, with only two more buses due in and one more going out.

When people started coming in for the out going bus, Xander gave a sigh and sat down on one of the cracked plastic benches scattered around the depot. It was less likely that the vamps would come in now, as any packages would be on one of the incoming buses. Still, he kept an eye out, as a vamp might slip in with the commuters to wait for the arrivals.

Even though he didn't shift out of his slumped position, the first person who came in without any kind of luggage (or as was the case for a lot of the people lining up for the bus; boxes, duffle bags or black plastic garbage bags), caught his full attention.

When another three men, who were equally unencumbered entered, Xander felt the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. They were not vampires, that much he could tell, but that didn't mean they weren't dangerous.

"Cut one of them out of the pack." A quiet, if gravelly voice said from his left hand. Xander stood, stretched and then moved off towards the bathroom.

He was washing his hands and giving his only half there reflection in the mirror above the sink a questioning look when the first guy he'd spotted came into the room. Xander shook the water from his hands and went over the dryers, waiting for the guy to make his move.

He didn't disappoint.

The guy was attempting to use the noise of the hand dryer to cover the sound of his approach and it would have worked with most anyone. Even expecting the move, Xander was having trouble separating out the man's footsteps from the jet engine sound of the hand blower.

However, he became hard to miss when he stopped close enough to breathe down Xander's neck.

The guy's right hand made a move and the teen shifted slightly to one side and then kicked back with his left foot. He winced when it connected; realizing that he'd just used a manoeuvre similar to the one that had dislocated Cordelia's knee. He didn't let the thought distract him though. Turning, he found the man down on the ground, clutching his left knee. A broken syringe and needle lay next to him, its unknown contents leaking out onto the grimy concrete flooring.

Xander went down on one knee beside the man and slapped his right hand over the guy's screaming mouth just as the dryer finished its cycle and stopped howling.

Glaring at his attacker, Xander appeared frightening enough that the man stopped yelling into the teen's hand.

"Want to tell me what the hell is going on?" Xander asked him through gritted teeth.

The guy made a negative sound and attempted to bite the hand covering his mouth.

Xander sighed, slumping slightly. "Fine." He said, raising his already chortling left hand to slap it to the very startled forehead of his attacker.

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"Rodger that." Mr. Packard replied to the report that they had a man down and the subject had disappeared from the scene. "Leave one man on site with the casualty and await medical help. You and your partner should reconnoitre the buildings perimeter. Do not separate to do so. I repeat, do not separate, over.

"Copy that, over." The small voice on the radio said before signing off.

"Still think this was a good idea?" Mr. Green asked from the front seat of the van they were stationed in outside the bus depot.

Mr. Packard shrugged. "We need more than just our impressions of him to…"

Thud, thud, thud, thud.

Mr. Green and Mr. Packard looked at each other. The hiss of all four of their tires losing air at the same time had both of them going for their guns. Carefully, Mr. Green opened the driver's side door while Mr. Packard went out the sliding door on the passenger side.

A trip around the van netted them nothing, other than the knowledge that someone had punctured their tires with four wooden needles. The feat that was somewhat surprising, as the little stakes were slim, rough and the wood didn't look to be anything special. Despite that, they had still punched through some very tough rubber without splintering.

They returned to the van, checking the interior before getting in and locking the doors. Mr. Green pulled out a cell phone and called for a tow truck while Mr. Packard contacted the teams once more.

"Mobile base to team two, situation update requested, over."

"Mobile base, partner is still unconscious, depot staff have called for an ambulance. ETA seven minutes, over."

"Rodger that, over. Mobile base to team one, report, over."

Mr. Green frowned as he finished his phone call and looked over at his partner, who was listening to dead air.

"Mobile base to team one, come in please, over."

More dead air.

Only just refraining from rolling their, eyes both men pulled their weapons. Getting out of the van, they made sure to lock it down before heading over to the bus station. Following the same orders they'd given to team one, they ran their search together.

They found their men, apparently asleep and sitting against the wall of the closed shipping office. A nudge caused them to slide sideways and fall over, still dead to the world. A quick check of their pockets proved that they had the syringes they'd been issued with and neither of them had been used.

"Maybe you two will tell me what's going on."

The two men started and aimed their guns upward. Their subject was on the roof, although they were unable to see him as they were too close to the building.

"Mr. Packard, Mr. Green, I would like to say that it's nice to see you again, but given the circumstances, I would be lying."

The two men backed up, keeping their aim on the rooftop. When they'd moved far enough to see over the roof's edge, they found it empty.

"Mr. Harris," Mr. Green said, looking around carefully. "I apologize for the theatrics." He looked at his partner, who nodded and they both holstered their guns. "Our company is interested in you, but we needed more than just a standardised test and our own impressions to go on. Especially as we're offering to put out a fair bit of money on you before we expect to see any back."

Xander sighed and stepped out from the shadows at the side of the building, his arms crossed over his chest and his expression wary. "I neither like, nor do I have time for games like these." Not only was he displeased, the echoes of D's memories were very…annoyed. It seemed neither of them liked to be played with. "Given that, I find it unlikely that I will be working with you anytime in the future."

Mr. Green shivered slightly and was a little surprised when he looked down to see that the cement had a patina of frost creeping across it. He didn't think it got that cold in this part of California, even if it was winter.

Mr. Packard answered the teen. "We hope you'll reconsider, in time." He held up a hand to forestall whatever it was that Xander would have said, which would have been rude as well as pithy. "We won't try to force a reconsideration; it's just that we hope you will. If you do, an offer for a full College scholarship is on the table, along with the understanding that you may not be available for jobs due to previous commitments or conflict of interest."

Xander narrowed his eyes at the last.

Mr. Green took over from his partner. "We have been checking you out. We know you're involved with some sort of paramilitary group here in Sunnydale. We don't know what the groups objectives are, but from what we have seen we think they're trying to do the right thing."

"Would we be right in thinking that you would not be willing to walk away from them, even after high school?" Mr. Packard asked.

"You would." Xander pondered for a moment. "I'll consider it. Ask me again a little closer to graduation, in a year or so and I'll see what I think." He turned to go and then stopped. "Oh, right, I almost forgot. Try something like this again and you won't be trying something like this again."

Mr. Packard just had to push it. "Do you really think that you could take on our entire organization?"

Xander quirked a half a smile and shrugged. "Don't know, but I'd be willing to try. I doubt you're any worse than the Tarakans.

Between one breath and the next, he disappeared and the two men stood there, frozen, with their mouths open in shock. Both of them stared at the space where Xander had been standing for some time after.

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Xander kept an eye on the bus station while the last two buses for the day came in, but there was no vamp activity. For a change the human activity and been far more dangerous and annoying.

"A little pretentious of you, don't you think?" His hand asked him. "I mean, the Tarakan thing."

Xander skimmed the memories, D's memories, which he'd used to deal with the nights comedy of errors. He couldn't say for sure that allowing them to direct his movements had been all that smart, but… "I know I'm not all that much like D, which given his life is probably a good thing, but if the Tarakan's had kept coming after Buffy…"

"Huh, yeah, you're right. Even they'd have run out of members eventually. And kid, you may be more laid back than D ever could have been, but you also have some of the steel that ran up his spine. Just try to avoid the stick up the…erk."

Xander opened the fist he had just made with his left hand. "Sorry, don't know what came over me."

"Humph, likely story."

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The next morning check in at the library brought negative reports from everyone. Apparently, even the old factory had been empty; although it appeared that somebody was 'living' there. No sign of the other pieces of the Judge, which brought on the worry that they'd been able to resurrect the demon without the hand.

They were all contemplating that unpleasant scenario when the library doors swung open.

"Delivery for Sunnydale High Library."

"More books?" Xander asked as the driver got Giles to sign for his package. He remembered the last box of 'books' Giles had come in with and he hoped this one wasn't as slithery as the box of hatchlings had been.

Giles thanked the driver and hefted the box over to the reading table as the man left.

"Actually, I'm not sure. I don't remember having a delivery pending and the jobber the school orders their books from uses a different delivery company."

Giles pulled a knife seemingly out of nowhere and started to cut through the tape bindings. Xander blinked and shook his head. Sometimes he forgot that the librarian was a dangerous man in his own right.

Giles opened the box, pulled out the newspaper stuffing and looked inside.

"Oh, dear."

That got everyone to their feet.

Buffy carefully peered into the box. "That… Is not good."

Giles broke the cardboard box down, revealing a familiar carved iron box. Everyone in the room took up a variety of arms or hid behind something, or both. "Everyone ready? The Watcher asked.

As one, they nodded.

Giles worked the latch, opening the box.

"It's a foot." Cordelia said, stating the obvious.

"Yes." Giles said, agreeing. The foot chose that moment to twitch its toes and Giles slammed the lid of the box shut and backed away. "A foot that would no doubt be trying to kill us much the way the hand tried to kill Buffy. Luckily, I don't think it can get the leverage to attack the way the hand could."

Willow circled the chest warily before reaching over to pull part of the cardboard box out from under the iron container. She ripped off the piece with the shipping label on it and took it back to her laptop.

"I'll see if I can find out who sent it." She glanced back at the chest. "And if we can expect any more of them."

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Joyce Summers made a small lady like sound that a less charitable person might have called a grunt as the delivery driver handed a package over to her. She thanked him and hip checked the door closed. Hefting the package carefully, she carried it over to a preparation area she used for unpacking artwork.

She set it down, backing off a step to look it over. She didn't remember this order. A double check of the shipping label showed that it was addressed to her gallery, but she had never heard of the company that had sent it. She shrugged, it had happened before.

Choosing a box cutter, she began slicing through the tape keeping the box closed.

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"I guess when they lost a piece of this guy and couldn't pull him together, they decided to spread him out and share the badness," Xander said, looking at the chest contemplatively.

"So it would appear," Giles replied. He gave Xander a calculating glance. "While I am uncomfortable with a replay of the other night I have to ask, would you be able to dispose of this piece the same way you did the other?

"Uh, that would be, no way."

"Gotta go with the kid on this one," Left Hand added in. "That thing was too tough. When I ate it, I filled every power reservoir we had and as you may have noticed, there was still lots left over. We wouldn't be able to take in another one so soon without a seriously nasty overload."

"Overload?"

"Yeah, basically the tantrum the kid had the other night, only much worse."

"Hey! I am not two years old."

Left Hand snorted.

Oz spoke up then. "When you say worse, just what level of worse are you talking about?"

"Destruction in the mid-sized office building range. If you're okay with that, we could probably take on another piece. Maybe even a third, if it wasn't too big and you didn't mind losing a city block. Any more than that and I suspect the kid, I, and everyone else in a one-mile radius of us wouldn't survive the tantrum.

"And again, hey!"

"Ah," Oz said, nodding as he took in Left Hand's answer. "Let's not do that then."

"Second that," Cordelia chimed in.

They all turned back to look at the iron chest. "Maybe we should do that other thing," Buffy said.

"Other thing?" Giles asked.

"Yeah that, the sink it in the ocean thing."

Giles looked at the chest, his expression thoughtful. "Yes, I think that might work, for this piece at least. With any luck we'll be able to track down the rest of them and we'll need a variety of places to secret them. I'm afraid that Angel may still be making that trip to Nepal."

Buffy frowned at him, but the phone ringing interrupted her reply.

Giles answered it. "Sunnydale High Library. Rupert Giles speaking. Oh, Joyce, did you want to talk to Buffy? Oh, I see. A head. A head in a box." Giles looked around to see that everyone was focused on the phone call. "A blue head in a box," he said, nodding.

"A blue head in a box that opened its eyes when you opened the box." He looked to his Slayer and saw her system crank over from concern to panic mode. "You have closed it again, haven't you? Ah, good. Someone will be by to collect it shortly. Until then…put something heavy on the lid and stay away from it."

Buffy was already at the doors to the library when Giles hung up the phone.

"Buffy, wait," Giles called after her. She turned back to him, her expression both annoyed and extremely worried.

"Let me grab my keys and I'll drive you over. It will be faster and it would be better if there were two of us together when dealing with this part.

Buffy let out a relieved breath and nodded.

"We'll see what we can come up with to sink this thing while you guys are gone. Xander indicated himself and Cordelia as the 'we'. Cordelia looked unhappy about the assignment, but resolved to helping.

Willow spoke up from her laptop. "I'm still trying to hack the delivery company to see if there are any more packages." She looked over at Oz. "I may need some help with this."

"Doubt it," Oz told her. "But I'd be glad to."

Buffy was starting to vibrate by then, so Giles indicated she should precede him and they left for her mother's gallery.

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Joyce put the closed sign out, shut the shop's blinds and was now pacing back and forward in the front area of the shop, which as far away from whatever was in that chest as she could possibly get and remain in the store.

The somewhat distinct sound of Giles' ancient Citroen arriving had her peeking out at the street from along the side of one of the blinds. She quickly unlocked the door when she saw her daughter and the Watcher climb out of the car and waved them inside.

Once inside she turned a frown on her daughter. "Aren't you supposed to be in school?"

"I think my mom getting a demon head delivery trumps English class."

"Hmm." She'd have liked to argue that, but there was blue head in a box with a fire extinguisher on top of it to keep the lid closed. She didn't have much wiggle room for arguing school vs. slaying, especially since she'd been the one that had called for help.

She showed them into the back room and all three of them stared at the grooved, head sized iron chest.

"Do you want to look at it?" She asked them.

Giles sighed. "I suppose we must."

"Mom, maybe you should…"

"Stay right here." She smiled slightly at her daughter's mutinous look. "I won't get in the way."

Buffy went over to the box, pulled the fire extinguisher off the top of it and then because it was handy she readied it for use as a weapon. Giles moved to the side of the chest and opened it.

Inside, a blue demonic head look up at them, its eyes murderous and an expression on its face that would have caused a gargoyle to fall from its perch. The thing's lips were moving, but without the rest of its body, it was unable to make any sound. However, a lip reader could have told you that none of it was complimentary.

Giles slammed the lid shut again and Buffy slightly relaxed her stance with the fire extinguisher.

"So, do you know what it is?" Her mom asked.

"Unfortunately, yes," Giles said as he took off his glasses and polished them. "We've come across a couple of his other pieces over the last day or so."

"So you know how to take care of it?"

Giles put his glasses back on. "That, I'm afraid, is something we're still working on. For now, we'll get it out of here and take it someplace more secure."

Joyce scowled. "Do you really consider a school library to be more secure?"

"Yes, well, it's not the best place, but the book cage has been reinforced to handle a vampire's strength and all of my research materials are there, as is anything I would need to ward the thing magically."

Joyce's head spun for a moment at the 'magically' part, but she shook it off, deciding to save the headache causing ramifications of that statement for later in the day. "Okay, let's get it out of here."

"Mom."

"Hey, I just got a demon head in a box. I think that trumps the loss of business for one day."

Her daughter gave her a frowny, pouty look and Joyce had to smile. Mom one, Buffy… well she'd gotten one as well, but at least this made them even, so far… today.

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Xander came over to help them with the demon head as they carried it in through the back entrance to the library. "Hey Giles, Buffy… Mrs. Summers."

Joyce nodded at him. "Xander." She still wasn't sure how to deal with this young man. Even knowing that Ted had been a psychotic, serial killer robot, the memory of watching this teen decapitate her boyfriend with an axe could still disturb her. She knew it didn't make any sense, not when you considered the fact that she herself had driven a crowbar through Ted's skull when it turned out that the beheading hadn't been enough to 'kill' him.

Xander had noticed her discomfort as well and didn't seem to know how to deal with her either. The boy her daughter had originally introduced her too had been somewhat goofy. Now, with her at least, he tended towards polite and distant.

Giles and Xander carried the chest over to the book cage and locked it in; placing it as far as they could from the other piece they'd already stored. Xander frowned as he looked from box to box. "I don't think we should pile too many of these things in here. In fact, we should make sure not to have more than two of them in the same place or we may be doing the vamps work for them.

Giles had to agree. Spike and Drusilla's former minions might be expecting the Scoobies to collect the pieces together with the missing hand. It was unlikely that they knew that part's fate. There was also the possibility that the Judge could still be put together even with one of his pieces missing. The loss of the hand might make him less powerful, but he would still be capable of mass mayhem and destruction if the joining were to work.

"Well, it may take some time to track down the other pieces." He stopped when he saw Willow waving at them from her place at the table.

"It shouldn't take that long." She said, smiling at the wild haired young man beside her. "Oz and I managed to track the packages."

"Ah, you have a list."

"Yeah." Willow looked around as everyone gathered around the table, becoming slightly nervous at being the focus of attention. Oz gave her hand a little squeeze and she looked at him, her body relaxing as he smiled at her.

"They've sent the things all over town. Besides the library and Buffy's mom, they were also delivered to the Sunnydale Museum, the Bronze, the Sunnydale Zoo, Dragon's Cove… It's a magic shop just off the main strip," she explained, as most of the room didn't seem to know the place. "The library at the university," She paused for a moment to make a frowny face. "And Calax Research and Development, which is being retooled for reopening, so there might have been someone there to take a package."

"They are sending us on a merry chase, aren't they?"

Everyone nodded and made agreeing noises.

"What are you going to do with the pieces once you find them?" Joyce asked the room at large.

"Sadly they are, for the most part, indestructible." He cast a glance at Xander and then looked away. "We were able to destroy one of the pieces," he continued, his voice quieter in case it might carry to the head they had stored in the book cage. It was unlikely that it could hear through the case it was in, but that was no reason not to exercise some caution. "Sadly the feat isn't repeatable."

"I can get hold of a boat for an afternoon." Xander told him. "My uncle has a friend that will let me borrow it as long as I pay for the gas. A steel drum, a lot of cement and we can have one of these puppies on the bottom of the ocean by this time tomorrow. The only thing I'm not sure about is any magical protection you might want to put on the thing. "

"Hmmm." Giles picked up one of the scattered books and started to flip through it. There had to be something they could do that would make the thing more secure.

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"Well, even if we don't bring them all back to the library, we still need to collect the other pieces before someone starts messing with them." Xander threw the statement out into the air and waited for someone to catch it.

They glanced at each other but no one had any bright ideas for storing demon parts. Buffy sighed. "Maybe Angel will have a thought or two for long term storage, but for now we need those pieces, even if we have to store them all over the school once we've gotten them."

Giles looked up from the latest book on wards he'd been flipping through. "Everyone who goes out should be with a partner. I can deal with the museum and University deliveries. I have some contacts at both of those places. Cordelia, since you're still not very mobile you could stay here and help with the research."

"I could go with Xander."

Xander himself gave a small moan of protest, but didn't say anything.

"Yes, well, while knowing you're out there torturing Xander is admittedly funny…"

"And again, hey! What is with the teaming up against me thing?"

Giles gave a little smile, but didn't answer him. "The chance of you being hurt further should there be any danger is too great. If it seems safe enough you can help me at the museum and library, otherwise, you'll be here."

"Oh right, here. Alone in the library, with two demon pieces and possible attack by vampires while I'm on crutches."

"She's got ya there Giles." Xander said, glad to get some of his own back, even if it might mean he'd be fetching and carrying for Cordelia on this trip.

"Then she will accompany me to the museum and library. It should be fairly safe as both places are very public." He turned to Buffy's mom. "Would you be willing to accompany us as well?"

She nodded.

"I could go with Oz." Willow volunteered before anyone could suggest another pairing.

Giles hesitated; he had been planning to split the teams up so that someone with supernatural strength or magical knowledge would be in each team.

Willow pressed on. "He's got a van, so the transporting part is easy."

"I can also store anything we pick up in my garage for a couple of days. It's only being used for band practice and that won't be till next week." Oz added.

"Perhaps you and Willow could liberate the piece that was sent to the Bronze." Giles said thoughtfully.

Oz nodded. "If they were as vague about the contents for the shipment to the Bronze as they were for the one they sent here, then I can probably convince the owner that it's a prop we had sent to the club that came too late to use on our last gig."

"Good. Could you tackle the magic shop after that? I'm not sure what you might do to convince them to give the parcel up…"

"We'll think of something." Willow said. "Even if we can't get it, we can at least confirm that it's there."

"Very well. Buffy, Xander, could the two of you take the zoo and Calax Research and Development?"

Xander winced at the mention of the zoo, but nodded, as did Buffy.

Giles turned his attention back to Willow and Oz. "Do you need directions to the magic shop, Dragon's Cove? I believe I was in there a couple of weeks ago. Bought a paper weight."

Willow shook her head. "No, I know where it is."

Giles nodded and went over to the phone to start his part by calling someone he knew at the museum. He looked back at the assorted teens, all of whom were still sitting there. "Well, you all know what you're supposed to be doing… Ah, yes Charles," He said into the phone. "It's Rupert, I was wondering if I could have a few moments of your time."

As he talked, everyone except Cordelia and Mrs. Summers collected their things and headed out.

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Several hours later, everyone trudged back in.

Willow and Oz had actually finished first and stored the two items. The Bronze had gone the way Oz had hoped and the magic shop couldn't give them the thing fast enough. The guy hadn't known exactly what he had, he just knew it was bad and he didn't want anything to do with it. After they came back, Giles had them go out again and buy several bags of cement so that at least one of the pieces could be put somewhere safer.

Giles and Joyce, with Cordelia limping behind, managed to convince the UC Sunnydale librarian that the package she'd received from a company she'd never heard of was meant for the Sunnydale High library, rather than the University library.

Even knowing someone at the Museum, Giles had expected difficulties getting the piece from them, but Joyce proved to have skills at entrancing a man, or at least she certainly entranced Charles. In less than ten minutes she had him convinced that the unknown shipment he'd gotten was actually a pop art piece meant for her gallery that the sender had misaddressed.

She also had a date with Charles for that weekend, something neither Giles nor Joyce intended to tell Buffy about, not after what had happened with Ted. It didn't hurt that Giles was certain that Charles was human and not evil. Otherwise, he might have told Buffy himself.

They stored their pieces under the school's auditorium. There was a room for storage that ran under the stage and the theatre seating. They hid the boxes behind a stack of stage flats, confident that they would be safe as there were no upcoming productions. Besides, Giles had stolen all of the extra sets of keys, so only he; the cleaning staff who avoided the place and possibly the drama teacher could get down there.

Buffy and Xander hadn't had as much luck. They'd used a variation on the same idea Oz had for the Bronze and managed to convince the zoo that they had a prop for a school theatre project.

Calax Research and Development had been another matter. They wouldn't even let the two teens onto the property, much less talk to them about a lost package. Buffy would have to see if Angel could help her quietly lift the package later that night.

The package they did collect ended up in Xander's basement. He said it should be safe there as long as they didn't hide it to close to the beer fridge or the washer and dryer, as those were usually the only two things anyone went down there to use.

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Xander and Willow both called home to tell their parents that they would be studying at the school library that night with some other students and the librarian. Since both of them had established the existence of these study nights with their parents long ago, there was no problem with staying. For a change, Buffy didn't have to call, as her mother was now part of the study group. Joyce and Giles left briefly to do a food run, bringing back chicken in a bucket with all the fixings and everyone ate while they tried to come up with places to stick demon parts and the best ways to ward them against discovery.

"How about this one?" Cordelia asked. Giles looked over at the page she was reading and shook his head. "No, that's a spell for creating a fruit cake that people will actually eat." Cordelia looked at the page again. "Oh, that explains the amount of alcohol." She tossed the book onto the table and picked up another one.

Xander turned a page in the book he was looking at and sat up straighter as he read the new page. "A SEP field. They actually have those?"

"More or less." Giles said. He stopped and pondered. "That might work for casual situations, but not for anyone who was seriously looking for the Judge."

"What if we painted the containers pink, with orange dogs in tutus playing poker on top of a nuclear bomb, using pickles for playing chips?"

Giles just looked at Xander, who shrugged. "Maybe the pieces wouldn't always be someone else's problem, but what we hide them in could be."

Giles nodded. "That might just work… though I'm not really sure if a paint job will function well for an item that we'll be sinking in the ocean, however, we can probably come up with something."

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Angel arrived shortly after sundown. Joyce looked him over with some interest, as she only vaguely remembered him as someone who was tutoring her daughter. If she remembered correctly, that had been around the time she'd fainted and fell onto a barbeque fork. Her eyes went wide at the thought. She'd never owned such a fork and now she knew about something that would have been much more likely to have done that to her. No, surely Buffy would not have kept it from her if a vampire had actually… What was she thinking? Of course she would have. It was becoming more and more obvious that she was going to have to sit down with Buffy and dig into the bits that she still didn't know about.

However, that would have to wait until after they dealt with this bit.

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Jenny couldn't believe she was doing this, but she had yet to come up with a good way to separate Buffy from Angel. Therefore, she was going to be traditional and ask the opinion of an elder.

She knocked at the door of a hotel room. "Uncle Enyos?"

The door opened and the man that Xander and Willow had seen leaving Miss Calendar's classroom a few days ago stood back and gestured her in.

He indicated a chair and she took off her coat, laying it over the chair before sitting down nervously. He sat down across from her and waited for what she would say.

"Uncle, I have attempted to separate the Slayer and Angel, but my efforts were blocked. I have not been able to come up with another way to keep them apart and I am not sure that I should try to. There are terrible things happening here, in this town, which we cannot control.

"We do not control Janna, we are not wizards. We merely play our part."

"Angel could be a help to us. He has the potential to stop so much evil."

Her uncle shook his head. "Soon it will be too late for that. I had come here hoping to stop it, but now I believe that it was arranged to be so. "

"I don't understand."

"The curse. Angel is meant to suffer, not to live as human. One moment of true happiness, of contentment, one moment where the soul that we restored no longer plagues his thoughts and that soul is taken from him."

"But if that happens…" Jenny trailed off, horrified. "So many people would die at his hands and Buffy… She loves him."

"And yet she will kill him once it comes to pass, it is her duty. I suspect it may even be her destiny."

"And what if he kills her first? There would be so much death, it's insane."

"Yes. It is not justice we serve. It is vengeance."

Jenny blew out a breath, stood and grabbed her coat. "You are a fool. We're all fools." She slammed out of the hotel room with only one thought running through her mind.

'Am I in time to stop this?'

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While Angel and Buffy were off liberating the last piece, Xander dragged a steel drum up from the basement. He'd remembered seeing some of them down there during the egg incident. It turned out surprisingly enough that Oz had some experience with mixing cement. It seemed his father was big on DIY. Xander also dragged up some short bits of rebar he'd found down in the basement. He suspected it was left over from fixing the holes made in the school when everyone had been digging the mother bezoar up. He added the bars in a spiral, double-checked that the foot was still in the case, and then wrapped in in chain and dumped it into the drum, jamming it into the centre of the bars. Then came the semi-quick dry cement. Xander and Oz carefully used a longer piece of rebar to poke the stuff down as it poured, so it wouldn't have any air pockets.

Mrs. Summers provided the artwork on the barrel. Blue sheep with rifles hunted wolves in red hoods across an alien planet of limp noodles and deflated beach balls. That, coupled with a few danger, contents are radioactive labels they'd slapped on it should have anyone wanting it to be somebody else's problem.

Giles cast a preservative spell on the drum, so that the painting and the labels would hold, even in the water, for the next century or two. Then he cast the 'somebody else's problem' spell. They could still all see the steel drum, because even painted up like it was it was still their problem, but when the janitor came through a little later, it was obvious that he didn't notice it at all.

Buffy and Angel were just returning with the last piece of the demon puzzle when a courier arrived. Giles introduced him as someone with whom the Watcher's council had regular dealings. He handed him the Judge's head, which the librarian had chained and boxed up while the drum was being painted.

Angel frowned as he watched him go. "Are you sure that's safe?"

"Better than using a delivery company as our original senders did. He will get it to the council. I feel its best that they have at least one of the pieces and they are more than capable of keeping it safe.

"What about the other bits?" Buffy asked as she looked quizzically at the painting adorning the cement-filled barrel.

"There's a coven in England that is willing to take charge of one of them. I'll be sending that piece tomorrow. Don't ask how, it's complicated, but secure. That leaves four more pieces to get rid of, after the ocean trip. We should have time to choose their new locations. I doubt the Judge could do much even if those four pieces were brought together."

Everyone briefly considered what that would look like, shuddered and then let it go.

The doors to the library opened then and they all turned to see Miss Calendar. She looked terrible, as if she'd been mentally wrestling with the mother of all problems and had only come out victorious by clawing her way out over top of it.

She looked at Buffy. "I'm sorry."

Buffy could swear she felt the dream knife cut into her back. Her eyes went wide as she realized that the worst of that nightmare was about to come true.

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Joyce moved wearily into the kitchen of her house. She could hear her daughter crying upstairs. It wasn't a quiet cry, more like a soul deep scream that just couldn't come out right. She hadn't known her daughter was involved with anyone and she doubted she'd have approved, but to watch, as her child found out she could never be with the one she loved because it could essentially destroy him and leave a psychotic killer in his place was harsh beyond all measure. If she ever found out who ordered this life for her daughter she was going to gut them and feed their remains to some of the things that went bump in Sunnydale's night.

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Uncle Enyos thought things had gone very well. True, Janna had proved to be a traitor to her tribe, but he wasn't exactly surprised. The vampire also now knew the extent of his curse, which was annoying, but couldn't be helped. What mattered was that the curse still held and Angel…

He most definitely was suffering.