Secure Yourself To Heaven

Author: Lori Bush <lwbush[at]>

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, etc. own Buffy. You know the routine. The Indigo Girls own and perform "Secure Yourself" beautifully.

Continuity: Go to "Checkpoint" and then take a sharp left turn. Kristine Sutherland doesn't want to leave *my* story and go live in France, so Joyce is still alive. Spike is still only mildly creepy and not all Stalker-like yet.

Pairing: B/X and G/W, possible Anya/T

Author's notes: This is a long, complicated and slightly offbeat story. It resembles several others I've read, at least one of which I've written, but it's also quite different from the others. As of this posting (3/20), it is still in progress. The song was an inspiration, and appears only here at the beginning.

Dedicated: To Shawn (Ozmandayus), who encouraged me in this, and seems to think I can write this stuff. And because he sold me on B/X the best, first. Unbeta'd.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

Secure yourself

As Performed by The Indigo Girls

secure yourself to heaven
hold on tight, the night has come
fasten up your earthly burdens
you have just begun

in the ink of an eye i saw you bleed
through the thunder i could hear you scream
solid to the air i breathe
open-eyed and fast asleep
falling softly as the rain
no footsteps ringing in your ears
ragged down worn to the skin
warrior raging, have no fear

secure yourself to heaven
hold on tight, the night has come
fasten up your earthly burdens
you have just begun

i'm kneeling down with broken prayers
hearts and bones from days of youth
restless with an angel's wing
i dig a grave to bury you
no feet to fall
you need no ground
allowed to glide right through the sun
released from circles guarded tight
now we all are chosen ones

secure yourself to heaven
hold on tight, the night has come
fasten up your earthly burdens
you have just begun

secure yourself to heaven
hold on tight, the night has come
fasten up your earthly burdens
you have just begun

in the ink of an eye i saw you bleed
through the thunder i could hear you scream
solid to the air i breathe
open-eyed and fast asleep
falling softly as the rain
no footsteps ringing in your ears
ragged down worn to the skin
warrior raging, have no fear

secure yourself to heaven
hold on tight, the night has come
fasten up your earthly burdens
you have just begun

secure yourself to heaven
(in the ink of an eye i saw you bleed)
hold on tight, the night has come
(through the thunder i could hear you scream)
fasten up your earthly burdens
(solid to the air i breathe)
you have just begun
(open-eyed and fast asleep)
secure yourself to heaven
(no feet to fall, you need no ground)
hold on tight, the night has come
(allowed to glide right through the sun)
fasten up your earthly burdens
(released from circles guarded tight)
you have just begun
(now we all are chosen ones)
now we all are chosen ones
(secure yourself to heaven)
allowed to glide right through the sun
(hold on tight the night has come)
released from circles guarded tight
(fasten up your earthly burdens)
now we all are chosen ones

words and music amy ray
copyright 1988 godhap music (bmi)


"So the Big Wigs came back. So now what?" Xander's question echoed the thoughts of the entire group sitting in the Magic Box. He was personally still smarting about being referred to as "the boy" last time. Geez - he was a fully grown man with a job, a girlfriend and an apartment - at least he could get that much credit, even if he had no special powers to speak of. Anya squeezed his hand reassuringly, sensing his attitude.

"We wait, " Giles answered, simply. The Watcher wasn't entirely happy, either. He'd never cared for Travers, even less so after the Cruciamentum debacle. Having him in charge of whatever this latest dog and pony show was, was less than reassuring. He'd thought it was all over when they left before.

"They'd better have come up with a way to protect Dawn," Buffy muttered, threateningly. "Or else I might give them a chance to see a bit more of exactly what a pissed off Slayer is really capable of." She resumed pacing, an activity she'd commenced soon after the Council had once again set up shop, with a smaller group this time, in the Magic Box. At least this time, they waited until after closing time to commandeer the establishment.

"I found them rather amusing," Spike offered, having just returned from a cigarette break outside, the smell of smoke hanging on him. "Made me feel almost scary again," the vampire said somewhat wistfully, "I liked that." He leaned against the doorframe. "So, do we all have to hang around here all night waiting for whatever it is we're waiting for from them?"

Xander glared up at the neutered vampire. "Trust me, Fangless, none of us will miss you if you feel the urge to leave. You're only here because they wanted you to be, not us. We weren't aware your schedule was so pressing." The bleached blonde snorted and opened his mouth a few times, obviously trying and discarding several smart retorts, before finally letting the comment slide with a frown. The whole group settled back into tense silence.


"I'm just saying, I don't think we should use the boy. He's too mortal - nowhere near as strong as the others." Quentin Travers was growing tired of having to repeat his argument. But eventually they'd all see he was right.

A strange voice chimed in from behind him. "But how long can the body last without its heart?" At a growl from the team leader, the oddly dressed little man asked, "Going to introduce me to yer friends, Travers?"

"What the hell are *you* doing here?" the Watcher demanded.

The other man shrugged. "My job." He grinned mirthlessly at the rest of the group. "He gets so cranky when he has to share authority."

"I don't like you, Whistler. I've never met a demon I did like."

The demon's face darkened. "Ya don't have to like me. Ya *do* have to work with me, and I'm not telling ya anything ya don't already know." Rather than admit defeat, Travers simply turned away angrily. Whistler addressed the remaining members of the Council. "I work for the Home Team - The Powers That Be. My job is to keep things even, so to speak. They ain't too happy about how things are going with Glory, and they know what's needed to stop her, just like yous guys do. But Hot Shot here wants to leave out an important part of the equation."

"The boy is too fragile. He'd be the weak link," Travers growled, his back still turned. "Another would be better in his place."

"Who? The ex-demon? She's only still learning about love - and I'll remind ya, everything she has learned about it, she learned from him. The blonde witch? She has almost no connection with the other two, and she appears to be all but scared of her own shadow. The *vampire*? Be real!" Whistler spun the Watcher around and bored his gaze into the other man's eyes. "He's already done it once. He IS the Heart. There's no one else. Only he can complete the Unity. Unless ya really don't *want* the good guys to win this one." Off Travers' snarl, Whistler raised his hands. "Hey! It was a legitimate question."

The bespectacled female Watcher rose, looking at the others. "I think the choice is clear." She turned to their nominal leader. "Why don't you summon them?"


Every eye was on the door when Quentin Travers emerged. He stood uncomfortably before them, eyes on the floor. "We need to see the Slayer, the Watcher, the redheaded Witch, and," he looked up into Xander's eyes, "you."

The other three rose quickly, but Xander bent over Anya's shoulder. "At least he didn't call me 'boy' again," he murmured into her ear.

Travers looked back. "You coming, boy?" The young man growled and followed.


"Whistler," Buffy said in surprise, seeing the demon standing to the side.

"Heya, kiddo. Big things happening here - ya know how I hate to miss the fun." She gave him a nervous grin, and he returned a thumbs-up. Then Quentin Travers began to speak, and she focused her attention on him.

"You are all aware of the danger of the being known as Glory, and what could happen if she gets her hands on the Key. A prophecy has been found, and there appears to be only one way to defeat a being of such power."

"And we must defeat her or the world will end - we know this part, we've heard it bunches of times. Could you cut to the chase?" Buffy had saved the world before, but never from a god, and never in order to protect her little sister - a sister she only recently realized she'd never *had* to protect before. It didn't matter to her anymore how Dawn had come into her life - she loved her, and wasn't going to let anything happen to her. She still hadn't forgotten the treatment this group had handed to her on their last, far too recent, visit.

Since Quentin appeared to be perfectly happy to stand and scowl at the girl, the female Watcher picked up where he left off. "The prophecy tells of a being known as 'Unity' that can defeat this threat. Unity has great strength - physical, intellectual, spiritual and emotional. The Unity can stand where all others would surely fall."

"Great!" Xander smiled nervously. "So how do we call this 'all-powerful' critter?"

"Unity already exists," the woman answered with a small smile. "The Unity has been evoked before, and is ready to be called up again."

"These people took clarity lessons from Angel," Buffy complained. She addressed the Council. "He exists, and needs to be called. He's done this kind of thing before. Does anyone but me wonder why we're standing here discussing this instead of ringing this guy's cell phone?"

Travers scowled more deeply. "They are children, and not appropriate for the task. I thought only the mere mortal would be a problem, but now I doubt the wisdom of this whole idea."

Xander protested. "Mere mortal? I think, I think - there's something about that that smacks of an insult, and when I figure out exactly what it is, I'm going to be really offended!" Willow patted him comfortingly.

"The Unity," Giles mused, as if something had just surfaced in his overcrowded brain. "There are references to the Unity in the apocryphal tales of the Great Flood, and some during the French Revolution and World War II."

"The Unity's only invoked in times of great crisis, when humankind could possibly be wiped out," Whistler offered helpfully. "The Big Guy has a soft spot for the human race, it seems. He was the first to invoke the Unity, but of course, He would be. He sorta created it."

"And it consists of a gathering of angels, according to some sources," Giles went on.

"As a rule," the balance demon added.

"The Big Guy? He?" Willow stammered, shaken to the core.

"Don't worry, sweetie - He's not offended by the whole gender thing. Ya can go on calling Him Goddess - He's cool with it."

"Whistler," Travers bit out, "Shut up."

One of the previously silent male Watchers stood and went to the group. "Join hands," he ordered. About to protest, Giles looked into the dark serious eyes, and nodded instead. The Watcher and the three young people gathered in a small circle, holding onto each other. "Close you eyes," the man instructed, and they did. The Watcher spoke an incantation, which sounded somewhat to Giles like Latin, although certainly not Latin as he'd learned it, and a little like Hebrew, but again, not as it was found in any book.

He felt Buffy scream soundlessly. Buffy buried the other three alive, as they smiled and encouraged her to do it. Xander looked in a mirror, and he was small, blonde and female. An enormous being of light touched Willow, and she burned with the pain, but it was a hollow pain. Colors spun and changed. Thunder roared. Warmth. Blood. Together. All alone. Sudden darkness.

As one, the four sets of eyes flew open, and they all gasped.

"Was that a vision, or a nightmare?" Willow asked no one in particular.

"There was good stuff in there, I'm thinking, but it wasn't easy to find" Xander offered.

"Did we all see the same thing?" Buffy asked the man who had chanted.

"If you did not, you saw nothing at all, and do not belong," he replied solemnly.

"The Unity," Giles said hesitantly, breaking the silence that followed, "it's, it's."

"Like the joining spell," the female council member explained. "The Intellect, the Spirit, the Heart and the Body are as one. And you are they."

"Explain the whole 'as one' thing, because I'm not flowing on that one," Buffy demanded. "In the joining spell, the others were unconscious while I fought Adam with their essences helping. We were sort of all one - but we were sort of all me. It was freaky, but I could handle that again - how 'bout you guys?"

Her Watcher and her friends nodded in agreement. "As long as the First Slayer and the Cheese Guy aren't part of the package, I'd be in," Xander replied. "So why the big hoopla and the committee and all? We've been this way before - no biggie."

"The Unity is like the joining spell, but much different. You would change - all of you. Yourselves, but not always, and not only. Beyond yourselves."

Buffy stomped her foot. "Do they teach 'Cryptic' as an required course in Watcher School?" she demanded of Giles. "'Cos this isn't like any explanation that actually *explains* anything that I've ever heard."

"What the Watcher Dame is trying to tell ya," Whistler broke in, "Is that yous guys would all be one soul, in four bodies. Until, of course, the Unity is called, and there'd only be *one* body 'til it was done."

"So, some of us would just *disappear*?" Willow asked. "And come back, or not? I mean, I've gotten kinda attached to this body, and I'd hate to lose it this far along. So, would this be 'disappear' in a 'never to return' kinda way, or just in a 'can't see you right now, but you're still alive' kinda way?" She looked at the three others. "Is it just me, or isn't this a factor in any decision to the rest of you?"

"Willow, I find it hard to believe the Council would want any of us to cease to exist as individuals," Giles said with assurance.

Whistler stared at him in disbelief. "I betcha still leave cookies out for Santa and think the tooth fairy's real, huh?" Giles looked offended. "Haven't ya figured yet that the Council only cares about what achieves their goals?" the demon continued. "You as an individual mean exactly squat to them." Giles nodded slowly, absorbing and acknowledging the truth in this.

Before the little man could go on, Buffy broke in. "Then we don't do it. As the Slayer, my life isn't my own, but my friends aren't going to cease to be people in order to defeat Glory. I'll do it myself."

Whistler shook his head. "No can do, cutie. Ya can't win without them. But they'll still be people - most of the time."

"And we'd be, like, what the rest of the time? Undead?" Xander wasn't sure he liked the sound of this.

"Greater than the sum of yer parts," Whistler replied.

"Isn't anyone in this room capable of straight answers?" the Slayer fumed.

Even Whistler's usual good humor seemed to be flagging. "Fine," he responded somewhat snappishly, "I'll give ya the Easy Reader version. Ya know Glory is a god, although slightly unstable due to the pressures of holding her human form. She wants the Key so she can open the demon dimensions, and with the power she unleashes, wrestle this world away from the Big Guy. He needs a champion to stop her - the Unity. The four of ya will be combined as one - a single being with the best features of each of ya. However, this being will only exist when needed - the rest of the time, yous'll still just be the four of ya. With a few minor differences," he added, almost as an afterthought.

"So the Unity isn't a group of angelic beings, after all?" Giles mused aloud.

"What 'minor differences'?" Willow worried.

"It always has been in the past," the female Watcher explained. "Angels, I mean. There have never been four humans with the proper characteristics at once before. The body needed above average strength, the spirit great contact with the ethereal, and so on. Only angels possessed all the needed qualities."

"Until now," Whistler said softly.

"Yes, until now."

Chapter 2

They'd gone, except for Rupert, who was puttering in another room. They had to think about it - mostly at Giles' insistence. Honestly, Quentin thought these children never thought about anything. They just *did* things. It was both their problem and their saving grace.

"Why does he bother you so much?" Andrea's voice was soft, and he didn't have to ask about whom she was talking.

Travers stared unseeing out the window. "The rest are special. The witch is strong - I've read Rupert's reports. Rupert may be headstrong and self-righteous sometimes - and before you say it, I know that I'm one to talk - but he's Watcher born and bred. And the Slayer - well, she's the Chosen One."

"You can't deny the Sanhedrin Vision, Quentin. We interviewed them all - they all saw it. Now they *all* are Chosen Ones."

"But he's nothing special," the Watcher protested helplessly.

"If he can complete the Unity, he is indeed special. We just didn't know how until now." The woman's hand rested on her friend's shoulder a while, then she silently walked away.

The older Watcher just gazed unseeing at the night sky.

He heard the murmured voices of Andrea and the other two Watchers, bidding Rupert goodnight, and Giles response, then the tinkle of the door, and after a few minutes, the clinking of glasses behind him, which made him turn.

"Scotch?" the younger man offered, and Travers nodded and took the glass.

"Why didn't you leave with the rest?" Rupert Giles was perched on the edge of the table. Travers knew there was no love lost between them, but he had a grudging respect for this man - he had fought the good fight, and so far, stayed ahead. Or at least alive.

"There are things you need to know, especially since you are the Intellect. You must understand, because if you don't, they won't either. The reason we haven't explained it well is twofold. First, it's very hard to understand. And secondly, humans have never done this before. No matter how smart or strong or special the humans, they aren't angels, and there may be risks we can't foresee."

Giles slid off the table and sat in the chair across from the elder Watcher. "If we agree to do it, we'll be willing take on the risks. But I need to know what exactly you *do* know."


Meanwhile at Xander's apartment.

"Sorry, guys," Xander apologized, after escorting Anya to the door and dead bolting it behind her. "She forgets sometimes she has her own apartment."

"I dunno," Buffy teased, "I thought it was kind of cute how she kept explaining how understanding and non-possessive she is about us being here while she kept a death-grip on your arm."

"A very possessive death-grip," Willow chimed in.

Xander sighed and dropped into the overstuffed chair. "She's been like this ever since that troll incident. Anya never does much halfway, I'll give her that. She says she doesn't want to be jealous anymore, so she announces everywhere we go how not jealous she's being. Occasionally, she even makes me believe it. But usually, I think she's trying to convince herself."

"I'm glad Tara doesn't cling like that," Willow responded.

Before Xander could reply and begin what would be a long argument about the relative merits of their significant others, in which Buffy would feel significantly left out, the Slayer interrupted. "So, what do you guys think about this whole 'Unity' deal?"

"I'd still like to know what happens to us as individuals while we're Unity," Willow said.

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "I mean, are we walking around like 'Night of the Living Dead,' all zombie-like, or what?"

Willow pulled a notebook out of her bag. "I think we should make a list of questions, and then we can decide which ones are the most important to ask."

"I know one," Xander said, bouncing lightly in his seat, his eyes bright. "Do we get super powers? I've always wanted to have super powers."

"Uh, probably sorta," Buffy answered automatically. "I mean, I already have Slayer strength, so."

"Yeah, but like flying, or web-spinning, or the cool things the comic book superheroes can do."

"Xan, they're not going to have us bitten by a radioactive spider," Willow chided.

"I'm gonna hold out for at least a cape and a Batmobile." The Wiccan rolled her eyes, but wrote it down anyway.

"I wonder how long it will last," Buffy mused. "Will we become the Unity, and then be stuck like that forever, or will it disappear in the middle of a fight because it expired and we have to put in another couple of quarters?" Willow was scribbling furiously.

"And what happens after we defeat Glory?" The girls both looked at Xander. "That is the whole point of this Unity thing, isn't it? To take her down?" The others nodded slowly. "So will there be any need for Unity after that? Will we be on call or something?"

"And what if we can't defeat her?" Buffy asked softly. The three sat in silence, considering that possible outcome.


Xander woke suddenly, disoriented. He wasn't sure where he was, or what he was doing asleep in a chair. He looked around, and realized it was his own living room, and Buffy and Willow were asleep on the couch across from him - Buffy curled into a little ball on one end, and Willow stretched out, her head on the other armrest and her stocking feet almost in the Slayer's gut. Looking at his watch, he became aware that they only had about four hours before they were due back at the Magic Box, and they should all probably get some decent rest before that time. He carefully picked up his lifelong friend and carried her into the bedroom, managing to pull down the covers with his foot and tuck Willow in without waking her. After first turning down the other side of the bed, he returned to the couch and picked up Buffy, doing the same with her. Then he pulled a blanket and pillow out of the closet, kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the couch himself. Before he drifted back off, he wondered how his non-possessive girlfriend would react if he announced he'd had two women in his bed tonight? Too bad they were there without him.


He was moving, but he wasn't walking. He had no feet. He had no body. He couldn't think, couldn't analyze this, all he could do was feel. Not touch, taste kind of feel. Fear, love, anger kind of feel. He felt Giles' protective concern, and Willow's insecurity. Buffy's fierce love for her sister, for Willow and Giles and even himself. His own need for loving acceptance. He didn't just feel these things - he *was* all these things. Gradually, others became apparent. *I know where to look to find that information about Glory,* a voice not unlike Giles' spoke in him. *The goddess grants the knowledge and serenity. I can see her guiding us, and hear her wisdom,* Willow chanted quietly. *We can take her,* Buffy's voice stated confidently, *I'm so much stronger now.* *Love can overcome the anger she uses,* Xander heard his own voice add, and he wondered why, of all of them, he sounded the most unlike himself.

*You've hidden from your true nature too long,* Willow informed him. *You think your emotions are weak, but they're your greatest strength.* *You've become a fine young man, Xander,* the inner Giles-voice told him. *The facts show that you are an adult, with skills and responsibilities all your own.* Willow had spoken to his spirit, Giles to his intellect. *Buffy?* he called out, both eager for and afraid of her assessment. *Xander,* her voice purred breathlessly. *You're a man now. You've become strong, and you could probably even keep up with me. I'd like to. Xander? Xander!*

"Xander!" His eyes flew open, and he saw the Slayer shaking him awake, Willow watching over her shoulder.

"Couldn't you have waited a few minutes longer, Buff? I wanted to hear what y." He shook himself awake, for once managing not to embarrass himself. "Uhhhm. What time is it?"

"Nine," she replied, "and we're supposed to be back at the shop at nine-thirty. And you have no food."

"That's not true," he defended himself, standing and finger combing his hair. "I have," he threw open a cabinet and looked inside, "A box of Captain Crunch." He shook it gently, then opened it and peered in. "An empty box of Captain Crunch." He gazed into the refrigerator. "And beer. One. Wanna share?"

"Ewww." The Slayer grabbed him and pulled him out of the 'frige. "Doughnuts. Now. Let's go."

"Can I change my shirt first?" he asked pitifully.

"NO!" both girls answered in unison, as they pushed him out the front door.


They entered the Magic Box giggling and licking powdered sugar off their fingers. The disapproving glare from Quentin Travers wiped the smiles off of their faces, although they did see an indulgent smirk briefly grace Giles' expression. Anya and Tara were there, too, both giving the evil eye to the trio. Although Tara's expression when jealous was usually more hurt than angry, it appeared that Anya had been bending her ear and had managed to upset her before their arrival.

"So, what did you three do last night?" the blonde witch asked, too casually.

"We talked until we fell asleep," Willow answered, her mind more on the decision they were there to make than her lover. Pulling the pad out of her bag, she faced the assembled Watchers. "We have a few questions," she began, but Travers held up his hand.

"Rupert, this is why we talked last night. Tell them what you know, and we'll handle anything you and I haven't covered." Giles ushered the three into the back room, and the other two girls moved to follow. "No," Travers stopped them, "they have to be able to focus in order to make this decision." Noticing them both pouting, the older man sighed. "You'd better get used to this - if they decide to become the Unity, you will soon find you have less in common with them than you ever did before. I wouldn't count on your relationships with any of them ever being the same again."


"What do you mean, 'relationships will be difficult?' Isn't that a fact of life?" Xander was staring at the former librarian as if he'd just stated the most obvious thing ever.

"I mean, you will find it very difficult to maintain the level of, umm, intimacy, with Anya, for example, that you currently have."

"What, parts of me are going to fall off?" The young man paled slightly. After what appeared to be a fairly vivid mental picture of what Xander might be imagining, Giles grew a bit pasty too.

"No, no," the Watcher reassured him, "You'll still be intact. But you don't seem to understand what the mental link entails. We will literally live inside one another's minds. There will be no such thing as privacy. Your every thought will be shared. As will Buffy's, Willow's and my own. Most partners would find it difficult to share their most intimate moments with three other people, particularly of mixed gender."

"Most partners aren't Anya," Willow pointed out, almost kindly. "She'll gladly share detailed statistics of her and Xander's experiences without being asked. With crowds of any size." She looked over at her childhood friend, who was studying the floor intently, his face a bit flushed. The witch became introspective. "But Tara might not like it much." She looked again at her best friend, and suddenly slugged him in the arm, hard.


"I didn't have to be inside your head to see what you were thinking, buster," Willow huffed. "In your dreams."

He rubbed the sore spot. "Well, yeah." At the glares from the other three, he just shrugged, but wisely remained silent.

Giles slogged on in spite of the less than dignified turn the conversation had taken. "Jobs will be difficult to maintain, simply because we can't time when and where the Unity will be needed. We will be able to maintain the bookstore with some outside help, but Xander would be best working as an independent contractor, and I'm not sure if we could work around college or not. We managed well with the slaying in high school, but this is a bit less under our control."

"I personally never felt a whole lot of the slaying stuff was under my control, either, Giles. So what else would be new?" Buffy finally spoke up. She had the least to lose, it seemed. She was used to her life not being her own, and she had no serious relationship she could mess up. Really, she thought it would be kind of nice to be assured never to be alone again, no matter what. But her friends would be giving up any hope of ever living a normal life again. And Giles - to be permanently connected with three people half his age would probably drive him buggy. "How do you feel about it?" she asked the older man seriously.

He took off his glasses, a distant look in his eyes. "I've not really been close to anyone outside of you three since Jenny died. Olivia and I didn't have that kind of depth to our relationship," he acknowledged sadly. Putting his spectacles back on, he brightened some. "And there is the prospect of saving humanity. I know we've done it before, but it still has a certain charm." The laughter in his Slayer's eyes, and the grins on the other two faces assured him his humor was appreciated. "I'm game, myself." The levity was gone again, and silence reigned for a few minutes.

"Hell, I say we do it. Let's save the world again," Xander said, breaking the thoughtful quiet. He stuck out his hand, balled in a fist. "Unity."

Willow gave a crooked grin. "Why not?" she mused, covering his fist with her hand. "Unity."

They both looked to Buffy, but it was Giles who moved next, capturing the other two hands in his own. "Unity."

The Slayer's tiny hand couldn't wrap around the other three, but she rested it atop theirs, sure in her heart that there were no three people on earth she would rather be a part of. "Unity."

Then cold fire rained down from the ceiling, and electricity sparked, lighting the room with a blinding flash. An inhuman shriek tore through the air. They all gasped, and then stopped breathing. And they were gone.


"What was *that*?" Anya jumped up, Tara at her heels.

"Perhaps you hadn't ought to go in there." Travers' voice trailed off, aware they weren't listening. The two girls both tried to go through the door at once, getting caught in the narrow opening. The Watcher followed resignedly.

The three stood just inside the door, speechless. Finally, unsurprisingly, the ex-demon found her tongue first. "Who are *you*?"

The person sitting on the floor had apparently been thrown down by whatever had caused the uproar. She stood, her body petite and yet strong, her facial features similar to Buffy's, but her hair was dark red and her eyes, chocolate brown. Standing and smoothing the black leather jumpsuit she wore, she looked at the people before her with affection in her expression, in spite of her serious and driven air. When she spoke, her voice was deep for a female, and had a British accent. "We are Unity," she introduced herself.

Chapter 3

"We're not going anywhere, Quentin," the female voice that was still somehow that of Rupert Giles assured the older Watcher. Travers had called the hotel, summoning the rest of the team immediately. Unity sat calmly at the table, sipping tea and appearing unflappable.

Anya had been studying the other girl nervously. Finally, she blurted out, "Is Xander in there?"

Unity reached across the table and patted the girl's hand in a familiar way. "It's okay, An," she reassured the ex-demon. "Xander's fine. He's not just 'in here'; he's all of me, just as Buffy, Willow and Giles are. Xander's the heart - he's the feelings. But he's much more than that, as well."

"But where *is* he?" she asked plaintively. "He's *gone.*"

Travers snorted. After all, the Being - Unity - had just explained to the stupid girl that her boyfriend was now a part of something larger than himself, and she didn't seem to understand. Before he could dismiss her question as hopelessly thick, however, Unity spoke again. "He'll be back soon, An."

The girl's voice was barely above a whisper. "Only Xander calls me 'An.'"

Unity's brown eyes sparkled, and the crooked grin was as familiar to Anya as the face she was used to waking up beside. "That's right, An." And the woman sat back, still frightened, but comforted.

"Ya made it already," a nasally familiar voice said. "Ya was quicker than I thought ya'd be."

"Whistler," Unity said, genuinely pleased to see the demon. "Do we have work to do already? We thought we were only here to get comfortable with ourself."

"Y'are. The Powers That Be want me to be yer rep for them, since ya sort of evolved from my previous assignment. There are details to be worked out, stuff youse have to do, like that. How do ya feel?"


"The Watcher Brood's gonna want ya to prove yerself. Feeling *that* capable?"

Humor danced in the brown eyes. "They'll want us to prove our strength in magic and battle, and our knowledge of the arcane and metaphysical. Would you do us a favor?" The entity leaned over to whisper in Whistler's ear. The demon looked puzzled, but agreeable, taking the proffered key and excusing himself.

Travers frowned at the retreating back of the demon's figure, then turned to Unity. "There are details to be worked out as well, you know."

"Why, Mr. Travers, you actually believe we'll succeed when tested," the entity said with one eyebrow raised and a bemused tone.

"I've learned that with this Slayer, failure is rare and unique. Besides, the fact that you exist at all is proof enough to me that you're fit for the task, but I'll have to take a report back to the Council, nonetheless."

"We'll try to keep you entertained," Unity said wryly. "You mentioned details?"

"You'll need to make arrangements to cover the shop while Giles is 'indisposed,' and the other three need to have plans, as well."

"We have planned for Xander to work as an independent contractor, small jobs with flexible schedules. We have plans for help with the shop as well, but we won't be able to share some of those until later. We haven't made firm decisions on college as yet."

"When did you make these decisions? Last night, when Giles was absent? Because I'd think he would."

"He's right here. We don't have to talk out loud to confer amongst ourselves now. Although these things were discussed whilst we were still divided."

"Oh, right." The Watcher was embarrassed. He was focusing on Unity as a separate member of the team, and he'd forgotten that they were all in there, intimately connected with one another. They weren't AS one, they WERE one. Further such contemplation was delayed by the ringing of the bell on the door, signaling the entry of the remaining Council members. Behind them followed Whistler, with a covered bundle of something, and Tara.

The blonde witch addressed Anya, unaware of any of the others present. "He took."

Unity interrupted. "It's okay, hon. You'll see, soon."

"Willow?" the other girl wondered, recognizing the hair and the tone, but not the speaker.

"We're in here, honey. We all are." The inflection no longer British, but soothing and somewhat higher in pitch, comforted and reassured the nervous girl.

"She's. who?" Tara pointed and stared, again addressing the ex-demon.

"She's Unity. I've seen Xander and that looked and sounded like Willow. She usually sounds mostly like Mr. Giles, and looks mostly like Buffy, but they all seem to be gone otherwise, so I'm gonna say they're all her, or she's all them," the girl waved her hands uncertainly, "or something." Anya seemed a bit overwhelmed - after all, she'd lived more than 1100 years in the realm of the supernatural, but only human emotion seemed as much a mystery to her as this being was. The witch and the former demon moved closer together, both seeking protection, but unsure of what from.


The dark man clicked his stopwatch. "That's quite enough," the Watcher assured the entity. Unity had changed from her black jumpsuit to white knit shorts and a tank top, and had been run through inhumanly vigorous tests by the Council Representatives. She'd passed stunningly, and barely broken a sweat. She'd done the same with the verbal and written tests of her knowledge of demons, supernatural beings and other arcane lore previously. All that remained were the magic tests.

The leather jumpsuit was back, although no one in the room could remember Unity leaving to change. She stood in the center of the group as they observed, and produced a levitation spell, a binding spell, and a fantastic glamour of Oprah Winfrey, causing Anya to ask her for book recommendations. "Satisfied?" the being grinned, the expression making it look again mostly like a feminine Xander.

The murmurs of approval rose from the Watchers. "We have one more thing to finish up with," Unity informed the visitors. "Whistler?"

The nearly forgotten demon came forward, pulling the covering off a small cage.

"See?" Tara whispered loudly to Anya. "He took Amy!"

Unity spoke a few words of some unknown language over the rat, which she had first removed from the cage and placed on the store counter. Mist swirled and something sparkled, and when the air cleared, a very naked and attractive young woman sat where the rat had been.

"Hell - O!" Whistler said admiringly. The assembled Watchers were all proper and British, becoming stuttering fools or turning crimson.

Unity distinctly leered at the lovely girl before announcing, "See? Counter help. She really helps that counter."

Amy Madison's satisfied grin turned to an expression of sad confusion. "Would somebody here get me a blanket, and then tell me what's going on?"


"So let me see if I get it," Amy exclaimed, clutching the blanket around her with one hand, and her cup of tea with the other. "I already know I've been a rat for the past couple of years. And Willow's turned me back once or twice, but it never held." She saw a look of surprise on Unity's face. "You really never knew you succeeded, huh Wills? You came so close. And, you are in there, right?" Unity nodded patiently - that had fast become the most common question asked, whenever someone spoke directly to one of her Parts. "And now, you," Amy continued, motioning to Unity, "are what Willow's become. And Buffy, and Xander and Mr. Giles." The entity nodded again.

"But they - we - aren't gone. We'll only be in this form part of the time."

The two women were sitting in the back room, alone. The Council members were conferring at the table in the front room, while Whistler had simply vanished, as he often did. Anya and Tara had gone for doughnuts.

"Well, thank the Willow in there," Amy said seriously. "I know how long she's been working at de-ratting me."

"Yeah," Unity grinned wickedly, "but it was Xander's idea to do it in front of all the Council members and freak them out. He knew you'd come out naked. Actually, we're not sure which one of us knew that, but it was fun to watch their faces." The being slipped into Willow's chatty manner. "Being Unity has increased all our powers - the Body is stronger, the Intellect sharper, the Heart - the emotions - truer. We knew what we wanted to do with the increased magical powers." She grew more serious, although still Willow-y. "You know your Dad moved away. He kind of pegged you for one of Sunnydale's many shady statistics."

"Well, he never really approved of my witchcraft, anyway. He probably figured out sort of what I did - that I wiped myself out, magically."

Unity was suddenly all Giles-like. "Your first decision should be whether you choose to follow him. You'll want to at least let him know you're alive." Amy nodded. "If you would like to stay here in Sunnydale, we feel somewhat responsible for your being unable to finish your education. We'd like to offer you a job, caring for the magic shop and taking calls for Xander's new business, if you'd be interested."

"I think I would, really. I do need to talk to dad, but I'm old enough, I'd probably be on my own by now anyway."

"With you and Anya handling the store, we'd be free to go where and when we're needed."

"Have I met Anya?" Amy asked. "I only have brief and hazy memories of things that happened while I was a rat."

"Trust us," that Willow grin again, "if you'd met her, you'd remember."


The various parties had all regrouped, with doughnuts. Tara had brought back clothes, and Amy was dressed in the other witches' skirt and t-shirt. Unity looked around. "We presume we met with expectations? May we divide now?" She looked at Whistler specifically. "Unless we are needed further?"

"Naw," the demon said, grinning, "I think you've done your part so far."

The female form shimmered, and melted away. Four figures stood in her place.

"That was." Buffy began.

"Cool." Xander finished.

"A bit." Giles pondered.

"Scary," Willow went on. Her face screwed up. "Is this."

"Normal?" Xander stared at her, then his bewildered gaze traveled to the others. "Are we always."

"Gonna finish each other's sentences?" Buffy completed.

Giles face was thoughtful. "I believe it's simply."

"The newness of the bond." Willow agreed. "We haven't."

"Completely separated." Buffy finished with relief. "Maybe we should."

"Shut up now." In spite of himself, Xander grinned as he spoke. After a moment, his brows drew together in contemplation. "What do we."

"Do next?" Giles offered. They turned as one and looked at Whistler. Anya was clearly a bit freaked by the apparent choreography.

The demon smiled. "I think youse guys need to spend a night together, since it'll be kinda hard to finish thoughts across town. The whole thing'll fade soon, anyway, but communicating with others without all four of ya there'll be too much otherwise. I'm thinkin' the Council could find room in their travel stipend for a hotel suite, huh?" He shot a nasty grin at Travers, who glared back.

"Why don't the PTB equip their demons with expense accounts?" the older Watcher asked no one in particular.


"So, we get one of bedrooms, and." Anya was whispering to her lover, sure no one else could hear, when she was cut off.

"Xander, I don't." Buffy cut in.

"Think that's such a good idea tonight," Giles finished for her. They were wearing twin expressions of concern.

"But we were apart last night, and."

"I really miss her." Willow walked up to finish Xander's thought, holding Tara firmly by the hand.

Whistler joined the group. "At least while you're all still partially joined, I don't think any hanky panky with partners would be such a good idea."


"That?" Willow and Xander asked seamlessly.

Instead of answering, the demon took Buffy by the hand, and led her outside, away from the others. "Trust me?" he asked, and the Slayer nodded silently. "Okay," he confirmed, then took her in his arms and kissed her. In an instant, there were three people surrounding them.

"What the.." Giles fumed.

"Hell are you doing." Xander growled.

"You little pervert!" Willow screeched.

The demon released the somewhat stunned Slayer and grinned at her companions. "You knew everything the instant it happened, didn't you?" They all nodded in angry unison. "Okay, imagine one of you having sex while you're still that connected, and."

"Never mind," Willow gulped.

"We get the picture," Xander finished.

Giles turned to Anya and Tara, who had followed them fairly quickly. "Sorry, honey," he began. "Oops."

"We were." Xander glared.

"Supposed to say that," Willow went on sadly.

"We're still having." Buffy interjected.

"Trouble sorting out." Giles continued.

"Who begins and ends where," Xander sighed.

"This is too damned annoying," Anya pouted, stomping her foot for emphasis.

"The thing is, Toots, it'll get better. The bond is gonna be easier to break once they're more used to it. But right now, they need to cope on their own, and dealing with you two is just gonna confuse them." The demon escorted the girls back to the door; gently propelling them back inside before turning to the Slayer. "By the way, I've always wanted to do that, just out of curiosity. I see now why Angel thought ya was worth his soul." He grinned cheekily and went in the door.

"Thanks," Buffy said weakly.

"I think," Willow followed softly.

Tara was silent, but also was the only one who noticed how the four who were Unity kept touching each other unconsciously. They all went back in the store, and she followed uncomfortably behind.

Chapter 4

For obvious reasons, there was rarely a shortage of empty hotel rooms in Sunnydale. A suitable two-bedroom suite was located, and Quentin Travers' credit card had been accessed, much to his disgust. Anya, Tara and Amy had accompanied the quartet to help them settle in, but Anya was the first to leave, returning to her apartment when she realized her boyfriend had more interest, at this point, in the other three parts of Unity than in her. They seemed to be communicating telepathically, or something, and she was a little creeped by it all. Tara and Amy left soon after, with plans to use a locator spell and find Amy's father, so she could call him. The former rat was staying at Tara's, for now.

The four sat silently for a few minutes. Finally, Xander spoke first. "Are any of the rest of you."

"Having trouble telling whose thoughts are whose?" Buffy finished. "I think it may be easier..."

"To speak out loud. Quite right." Giles looked around the circle of young people. He was already feeling the effects of sharing a life essence of some sort with them. He sat up straighter, his eyes were brighter. He was tired, but exhilarated.

Xander was simply tired. Feeling for all four of them was a lot of work, and while the weight of the other's emotions had lightened when they'd divided, the shadows were still present. Giles was even more protective of them all than he'd ever imagined. Willow's lust for Tara was distracting, although there was an unidentifiable undertone there he couldn't quite touch. Buffy was confused, but determined. And his own feelings had grown almost out of proportion the first few minutes, though he had quickly mastered them. He had the most practice with mastering his own feelings.

"Xander," Buffy chided him, "Stop."

"Thinking so loud," Willow agreed. They could hear everything going on inside each other's heads, and it was strange. They could even access each other's memories, although they had enough overload to manage at this point - they didn't need to seek out more.

Quite unaware of their own actions, they were all lined up on the couch, pressed tightly together. They'd lost all concept of 'personal space,' at least with one another. It was as if the four bodies were somehow still determined to be one person. Without discussion, Buffy picked up the remote and turned on the TV. Flipping past the late night Cinemax skinflick as Giles glared at Xander and said, "No," and past something duller than dirt on the History channel, while Willow eyed the Watcher and announced, "Not a chance." There was a brief pause at an interesting movie, at which Xander informed her, "You don't want to see that *again* do you?" Finally, sensing agreement, she settled on Leno, and silence fell among them once more.

They watched the monologue, and caught the announcement of upcoming guests. When her hand shot out to snag the remote, Xander's was already there. "Too tired," the young man announced.

"Time to go to bed." Buffy yawned as he hit the power button. The girls shuffled silently into one bedroom, while Xander and Giles headed for the other.


He lay wide-awake, staring at the ceiling. Xander Harris had slept alone all his life, except for when Willow would come over during their childhood, and more recently, with Anya. But even the nights Anya wasn't there, he'd never felt so alone in his life. Not only that, but because of the lingering bond and his Part of the Unity, he could feel the overwhelming loneliness as it attacked his three friends, too.

He read an article once about people who'd lost limbs - the missing arm or leg, or whatever, would hurt. "Phantom pain," it was called. Xander was suffering phantom pain due to his separation from the Unity. They all were. He could hear Giles tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable place that didn't exist in a big queen sized bed alone. He could feel Willow close to tears, and Buffy fidgeting. Suddenly, he was aware that the Slayer had risen from her bed, and joined the witch in hers. Some of the emotional turmoil calmed inside him as they both drifted off, hands clasped. Xander did as he'd done many times when his parent's drunken madness rang through his home - he turned on his side, pretended nothing was wrong, and forced himself to sleep.

An hour later, by the clock in the room, he was awake again. He could tell Giles was asleep, but it was shallow and fitful. The girls were still peaceful. "Oh, hell," he muttered, and grabbing his pillow, he climbed into the bed where the Watcher lay, and arranged himself carefully so they just barely touched. His soul calmed, and just before he drifted to dreamland, he heard a sleepy "thank you" from the other man.


The phone was ringing. He could ignore that. Pillow over his head, someone else would answer it, soon, or the machine would pick up. There. Now to drift back off to.

"Xander! It's for you."

He stumbled out, too sleepy to realize there was a phone by his bedside. "Wills, you are entirely too cheerful for," he squinted at the clock, "Ten o'clock in the morning." The redhead grinned at him and handed him the receiver.

Giles peered over his teacup at him. "For heaven's sake, the day's half gone," he chided the younger man. Xander chose to ignore him.

"'Lo? Oh, hey An. Yeah, I can talk for myself again. Huh? No, I don't think I'm going to have to spend the night away from you very often. Well, no, I can't promise that, either. We just don't know yet. We."

*Shaddup, will ya? Some of us are trying to sleep.* The voice inside his head startled him.

"Buffy?" He held the receiver away from his ear for a few seconds, and when the screaming stopped, gingerly placed it back to his head. "No, An, I know who you are. I thought I heard her calling me, that's all. Listen, I gotta go. I just woke up, and I need to shower and everything. I'll call you - yeah, at the store. I may even come by. Yeah, love you, too. Bye."

"You really do think too loud, Xan," Willow grinned, handing him the cup of coffee she'd prepared while he was talking. "Although I must say some of your dreams were highly entertaining this morning."

"So that part of the bond isn't broken yet?"

"I believe it may be permanent," Giles said thoughtfully. "We should have better control over tuning each other out at some point, but we have to be able to communicate instantly in order to come together as one when needed. I feel that this is the means for that end."

"Well, if some of us weren't so damn LOUD," Buffy complained, stumbling from the girl's bedroom, her hair mussed. She glared at Xander. "And yes, I did do this once before. It almost drove me crazy that time, remember?"

"Oops. No more private thoughts, huh? I was just thinking that 'cos at least you'd had practice - it's all new to the rest of us."

"And at least it's only three other people, not all of Sunnydale," Willow posited hopefully. After a pause, she went on, "Well, he might."

"I resent that - my thoughts alone would NOT be enough to drive anyone nuts!" Xander was defensive, until he saw the other three grinning at his discomfort. "Huh," he sniffed. "I'll be in the shower."

"Uhm," Giles called after him uncomfortably, "You might want to close your eyes as you wash."

"Oh, wonderful."


Xander admired his new cell phone. He was now officially self-employed. His boss hadn't been very happy to loose his best crew chief, but when he'd explained that his sister's illness would require him to be absent more often, and he felt he couldn't give one hundred percent under those conditions, Fred understood. He still hated lying, but the man would never accept the truth. Some days, Xander almost didn't. And when Fred found out that Xander was doing piecework independently, he promised to send him some business, too.

Two weeks had passed, and the Watchers had gone home to England, Amy had informed her dad of her plans to stay in Sunnydale, Buffy had decided to quit college, although Willow was going to try to pull it off. Whistler had seemingly been reabsorbed into the ether. The members of Unity were more in control of the telepathy now, and able to deliberately block one another except in times of high emotion or stress. Xander had sent several mental messages when he knew things would be 'stressful' with Anya, letting the others know to block him, and so far, that seemed to be working on the privacy front.

He had to admit, this no-need-for-phones thing could be pretty useful sometimes. When he was filling out the application for his business license, he was able to get Giles to check a phone number for him without a great deal of fuss. Movie nights were now a cinch to set up. Anya still seemed uneasy with the other three, though, and it confused him. They'd all been friends before - not that much had changed.

Well, except for the fact that they now walked around with a 24/7 connection to each other, and he, particularly, could feel almost anything the others felt. And they touched - a lot. Anytime the Unity members were together, they would immediately reach for one another. It really pissed Anya off, and Tara wasn't too much happier about it. Xander was pretty sure they'd been, except for Giles, a fairly physical group before, but now the Outsiders had started to pay more attention.

*I think of them that way, too, sometimes,* Willow's voice sounded in his head. *It's kind of sad, isn't it? They are our lovers, after all.*

*But they just can't understand. I probably couldn't if it weren't me, either,* Xander answered mentally. *You out of class?*

*No, but this lecture needs to be bottled and sold as a sleep aid,* Willow replied.

*Let me guess,* Buffy joined in, *Professor Callahan, right?*


*Well, before he left, Riley did give me all the notes for that course, and I haven't thrown them away. He said that old Cal never changes his lectures, so feel free to ignore him for the rest of the semester, if you wish,* Buffy offered.

*How's today's assignment?* Xander asked the Slayer. Since quitting school, Buffy had signed on with a temp agency, that being the only job with the flexibility required by both her current and her new responsibilities.

*I'm getting lots of reading done,* she answered wryly. *This place only gets a call every couple of hours.*

*I do hope you're doing the reading on the Glorificus myth I gave you,* Giles broke in sharply.

*If I hadn't been, you'd have called already. You know full well I have to sound out some of these Greek and Latin words in my head, and you've heard me doing it.* Xander alone could feel Giles' embarrassment at hassling her, combined with his stubborn conviction that none of them would take anything seriously if he didn't.

*Yo, G-man. Anything new on the disasters-requiring-Unity front?* Xander asked, more to pass the time than out of any real curiosity. He knew full well he'd know pretty much the minute the Watcher did.

*Glory seems to have vanished for a bit,* the other man said regretfully. *Perhaps she's aware that her match has come along.*

*That type never gives up, Giles, you know that. We'll be hearing from her again, soon. I'm sure of it. Ooops - phone.* Buffy answered the call, and the rest tuned her out.

*Bell,* Willow announced, and the two men broke off with her, too.

*I'd better go buy the supplies for that job I have tomorrow,* Xander admitted. *Later?*

*Of course,* Giles responded, and they let the connection go in their minds.


It had been a long, slow day. Outside of buying supplies for the upcoming job, Xander had nothing to do, so finally he called Fred, and got the go ahead to start working right away. It was a small project, and he was all but done with it already. The newly hatched contractor wondered what he'd do to fill tomorrow's empty hours, since he'd already done tomorrow's work today. He sighed. It'd be great if he could advertise, but Giles had reminded him that drawing in work he might not be able to do would do little for his business reputation. As it was, they'd set up a deal with Amy (to act as his "sister"), that she would contact whomever he was working with should Unity be summoned in the midst of a job.

Dinner had been nice - Anya had made something out of a box with hamburger, which Willow had teased him about. He pointed out that at least he had a girlfriend who cooked for him. The other two learned early on to tune out this, what Giles referred to as 'sibling banter.' Although Buffy couldn't resist the occasional cheap shot, usually at Xander's expense.

Xander knew Anya could tell when he was mentally elsewhere, because she'd get all quiet and pouty. Willow said that Tara did it, too. But the other Parts were his life - he could no more ignore them there in his head than his own thoughts. Still, he sent out the announcement that he'd probably be under some 'stress' tonight. He needed to make things up to Anya, again.

*Stress relief, don't you mean?* Willow taunted.

*Hey, with you chattering inside my head all the time, I need some,* he shot back.

*Really? As often as you two go at it, you ought to be the most relaxed man on the planet.* Xander almost snorted, remembering a day when the idea that people she actually knew were having sex would be enough to send Willow into near speechlessness for a week. Now she teased him about it. How much they'd changed.

*Well, maybe that's your problem, Wills. You're not getting enough.*

*Excuse me,* the Slayer chimed in, *but I resemble that remark, and don't appreciate being reminded.*

*Yeah, Buffy. Xander's just mean.* Willow sent him a mental picture of her sticking her tongue out at him.

*Don't stick it out unless your going to use it,* Xander countered, at which he could feel his childhood friend color. He still knew how to make her blush, no matter how much she'd changed.

*Real mature, Harris,* Buffy replied, and then he felt them put up the block.

He looked over at his girlfriend. "You're back," she said, somewhat questioningly.

"Just needed to put up the blinds for tonight," he said in a sexy voice.

"Took long enough," she pouted, and he could sense a familiar discussion coming on. Xander sat down hard on the bed and ran his fingers through his hair in frustration.

"Anya, could we skip the argument tonight? I can't help what I've become. We've talked about this constantly. I just want to be with you right now."

"And you are?" He could see her wrestling with herself and finally letting it go for now. He lay back on the bed and opened his arms.

"All yours. Come and get it."


He was wrapped in Anya's warmth, losing himself in the feelings. Lightheaded, his brain buzzing.

No - calling. *Xander!*

*This is so not the time, Wills.* He moaned in frustration, hoping Anya would mistake it for passion.

*Trust me, the minute we dropped the block that became crystal clear,* his friend replied miserably. *But we're being summoned. If you were a little less distracted, you'd have felt it.* He stilled, and realized the buzzing hadn't been Willow calling at all, but a buildup of energy he'd felt only once before. *Glory must be back on the move.*

*I don't guess it would do much good to complain about her sense of timing, huh?*

The buzz grew louder, filling his entire body, and the room started to slip away. *Oh, God, this is really gonna piss Anya off,* Xander thought, just before everything went black.


Anya could sense that Xander was mentally elsewhere, but tried moving beneath him to refocus his attention. He'd done this a lot over the last couple of weeks, but never during sex - he'd always been all hers during this time. He moaned, and she thought she'd been successful. Then she realized he'd stopped moving entirely, and her anger bubbled up. "Xander?" she demanded.

He was looking at her, but he wasn't seeing her at all. His eyes were unfocused. Suddenly, he collapsed on top of her. "Xander?" she yelled, angrier by the minute.

Then he stopped breathing, and her anger distilled into a tiny pinprick of ice-cold fear. "Oh my God, Xander. Xander!" She was screaming hysterically now.

When his body turned to mist and completely disappeared, she passed out.

Chapter 5

Joyce Summers wasn't sure she could take anymore. She'd known for a while that her older daughter was the Slayer. For somewhat less time, she'd been aware that her younger daughter was created and given to her because she was some mysterious energy known as "The Key," and it was Buffy's job to protect her. Normal didn't begin to describe her family life.

It was bad enough when she'd come home and found Dawn missing, and a ransom note addressed to Buffy from the rogue god named Glory. She'd been about to call Buffy when the girl breezed in the door with Chinese carryout for dinner. But after her mother's quick, ragged explanation of the situation, Buffy had turned inside herself, and seemed to be carrying on a mental conversation, to judge by the expressions parading across her face. Apparently finished, she looked up at her mother, her eyes narrow.

"Mom, I need to warn you about something. There've been some new developments in the Slaying business. You know I quit school to be more available for a new challenge that has to do with Glory. What you don't know is."

Buffy stopped talking, and her eyes grew vague and unfocused. In an instant, she seemed to cease breathing, and collapsed in a heap on the ground. Before Joyce could even shake herself out of her shock to go check on her daughter's condition, Buffy's body shimmered and faded away, reappearing a moment later in an altered state.

The body was her daughter's, but the face wasn't, quite. When she spoke, the accented alto voice was both vaguely familiar, and not one she'd ever heard before. "You need to call Amy Madison at the Magic Box for the full story. We have to go."

Joyce grabbed the girl's leather-clad arm as she rushed by. "Who *are* you?"

Pulling away, she threw the answer over her shoulder as she ran out the door. "We are Unity."

Joyce sat down on her couch, resting her head in her hands. "I really only saw one girl," she said to no one.


Unity was mumbling a locator spell as she ran, certain it would be useless. To her surprise, the trail was clearly marked with Dawn's essence. *A trap?* the Spirit asked Knowledge. *No,* the other Part replied, *overconfidence.*

*Or,* her Emotions worried, *a message.*

"The car," she said aloud to herself, as she neared the spot it waited. The keys appeared in her hand, and she jumped into the driver's seat, squealing the tires as the red BMW left the curbside. Following Dawn's unique marker, she raced through the early evening.


Tara didn't know where else to go when Willow disappeared. She stumbled into the magic shop, finding Joyce Summers there, talking to Amy. "No, really. I never got to apologize properly for that whole MOO thing," Buffy's mom was insisting.

"Amy," Tara gasped. "Were they called?"

"If what Mrs. Summers just told me is any indication, I'd guess so. Mr. Rupert wasn't here, so I didn't see it." She started shuffling through an appointment book. "Okay, there's the number for Xander's job for tomorrow. I'll make his excuses."

"Let me call Anya first," Tara insisted. "Make sure she's all right." Just then, the aforementioned woman burst through the door.

"That's *it*!" she screamed. "I will *not* stay with a man who evaporates during sex."

"Um, Anya. Too much information?" Tara tossed her head in Joyce's direction.

"It's all right, dear," the older woman soothed. "Although I will have to revise my mental picture of Xander as an eager little puppy-dog kind of boy, now. I sort of knew it was outdated." She thought a moment, and looked generally around the room. "I don't want any more redecorations to my mental landscape tonight, however."

"He usually is pretty eager, though," Anya said helpfully. Joyce pretended not to hear.

The former demon turned to the two witches. "It was the Unity thing, right? I mean, Xander didn't just die on me or anything, did he? 'Cause I was really scared, then I got mad, and I need to know if I should be scared again." She wrung her hands anxiously.

Tara put a comforting hand on her arm. "It's Unity. I saw Willow disappear, too, although under different circumstances." She didn't add that had it been a bit later, she might have had the same circumstances. "Glory has Dawn."

"Oh," Anya gulped, turning to Joyce. "I'm supposed to say I'm sorry, right? Because I am - sorry. She's cute. Xander really liked her."

"Anya. Try to avoid referring to the living in the past tense, even if there may be doubt about the 'living' part," Tara whispered to her. "Correction - *especially* if there's doubt about the 'living' part." Joyce's pleasant expression had faded back to stunned and overwhelmed. She wandered aimlessly away.

"I'll make coffee," Amy said as brightly as she could. "It looks like it might be a long night."


"Once we divide, one of us is going to start a petition drive to get these old warehouses torn down," Unity grumbled. "They're hazardous." She was creeping along the side of the one at the end of Dawn's trail, towards the door. She talked to herself, which was less redundant in this case than it was for most people. "I really hope Dawnie's okay. She has to be." A brief moment of decision at the locked door. "Break in or magic in? Yeah - magic. Quieter."

Focusing on the door, she mumbled some words in Latin, and the knob glowed and turned, the door swinging in. "Much quieter," she mumbled, slinking silently inside.

She could hear the mad god chattering cheerfully in a back room. "You could make this easy, you know. We do the whole sleepover thing - I fix your hair, you paint my nails, you tell me where your sister put my damned KEY!" Glory's voice had risen to a shriek, but when she spoke again, was almost normal. "I forgot - you're tied up. You might have trouble with the nail polish part." Unity crept to where she could see through the open door, although neither the captive Dawn nor Glory were looking towards her at this point. "I hope your sister has my message by now. I tried to make things as clear as possible, but she might not be a very good map reader."

*Trap,* the Intellect conceded. *But decidedly overconfident, as well.* The Body took control, and stepped inside the doorway. "Let her go," Unity demanded.

Glory whirled towards the door. "You're not the Slayer," she pouted. "A pretty good resemblance, though." Dawn was bug-eyed, overwhelmed by dealing with her insane captor and her shock at this Buffy-like rescuer. "I do like the leather thing," Glory continued conversationally. "It looks pretty hot on you." Suddenly, she moved toward Unity and threw roundhouse kick at her, which the other woman easily blocked, countering with a punch of her own, which Glory ducked. "Not the Slayer, but you fight like her. Interesting." She tossed a wave of magic at Unity, who warded it off with ease. "Slayer can't do that, though." Glory frowned. "If you aren't the Slayer, you don't have what I want." Pointing a finger at the chair Dawn was tied to, she gestured, and the girl convulsed in pain. "I could kill her, but this should get the point across. Next time, tell the Slayer to answer her own messages." Another hand gesture, and Dawn screamed, blood running from the corner of her mouth. "It's been fun. Ciao!" The mad god vanished, and Unity ran to the girl, calling out a healing spell as she went.

She untied the girl, who crumpled to the ground before Unity could catch her. Dawn's breathing was labored, and there was a slight rattle with each inhalation. "Her larynx is damaged," Part of Unity assessed, "and there are heavy internal injuries." The girl groaned, and coughing weakly, spit out more blood. "We need to get her to the hospital. Spells can only do so much. And if we wait for the ambulance, we might loose her." She gathered the child in her arms and moved her quickly but carefully to the car. After arranging Dawn on the back seat, the entity jumped into the driver's seat and tore through the quiet streets of town.

Unity was more than the sum of her parts. She was stronger, more intelligent, more magical than any human could ever be. Unfortunately, this also meant her emotions were stronger. Keeping them all in check while she delivered Dawn, filled out the papers and called Joyce was difficult but doable. That completed, she went outside to a secluded spot, dropped to her knees on the ground, and howled her anguish to the sky. And there, some time later, Whistler found her.


"Ya might need to back off for a while," Whistler said to Unity. He'd led her inside, settled her in a chair and gotten a cup of coffee from the machine. "The bond is still too new, and ya ain't used to working together - this much together - yet. And she is strong, real strong."

"No stronger than we are," the entity insisted. "She ran for that reason. She attacked Dawn instead of us for that reason." The tears once again began to flow from the soft brown eyes.

"Youse all love her like family, don't ya? Glory picked her 'cause she was the Slayer's sis, but couldn't have known she'd chosen the perfect target to get to the Unity. The one *all* of ya want to protect." Whistler scratched his head.

"At least Glory didn't know she had what she wanted in her hands," Unity said quietly. And with more determination, she continued, "And she didn't know who she was up against, either. It's even more personal, now."

"I think youse oughtta take some time, get more comfortable with the bond," Whistler reiterated.

"No," the red-haired figure said vehemently, and her contact saw something dark flash in the chocolate eyes, "We'll find her, and get rid of her. She's gone too far this time."

She saw Joyce coming in the door, and rushed over to her, leaving the demon to shake his head. "Houston, we got a problem," he murmured to himself.


Anya and Tara followed Buffy's mother into the waiting area, spying Unity heading their way. She skidded to a stop in front of the three other women, and there was an awkward silence.

Joyce spoke first. "I know we need to talk, but first, have you seen Dawn since she got here?"

Unity wore the reserved manner of her Intellect. "They have her in surgery right now. There was a lot of internal damage to be repaired - it could be a while. They were very encouraging, though. Joyce." seeing the look of distress on the older woman's face at this choice of addresses, Unity seemed to morph into an even more Buffy-like appearance. "Mom," she said in the lighter voice, "We can take her, the one who did this. We're as strong as she is; she just had the element of surprise on her side this time. She won't be so lucky next time. And she won't get her hands on Dawn again, trust me."

Buffy's mother shook her head. "You really are all in there, aren't you? You, and Xander, and Willow." her voice trailed off in confusion. "And Rupert?" Unity nodded. "Oh." The overwhelmed expression was back. "We'll talk," she muttered, wandering away to the chairs.

"We tried to explain it," Tara volunteered, "but it's tough to get a grasp on."

Anya's eyes were flashing. "I need to talk to Xander. Like NOW."

Unity drew up, disgust drawn on her pretty face. "Listen, ." Before she could finish, something changed in her demeanor, and her accent grew more pronounced. "I think Joyce needs to see her real daughter now, too. The one that isn't hurt." Turning to Whistler, who had approached them from behind, the redhead asked, "Can you find us a room that's vacant? I don't think the waiting room is ready for witnessing our division." The demon nodded, heading off to find a good place to deconstruct the quartet.


Anya, Tara and Whistler waited outside the previously unoccupied family room. It was for small group private visits, with a couch, a couple of chairs, an attached bathroom and a locking door, and had been ideal for their needs. Willow, Buffy and Giles emerged. Willow forced a grin. "We're."

"Back," Buffy finished. "There's a small."

"Problem," Giles went on. "Xander dematerialized."

"Naked," Anya finished for him. The whole group looked at her bug-eyed, and she shrugged. "I was there, so I knew what they were gonna say. So I take it he reappeared the same way?"

Giles giggled inappropriately, then glared at the blonde Slayer who the sound should have come from. He gathered his dignity. "Yes, so would you."

"Go to the apartment and get." Willow went on.

"Him something to wear?" Buffy completed.

Anya headed out the door right away.

Without warning, the trio winced together, as if in pain. ".hurts," Willow moaned, as if finishing a sentence they hadn't heard the beginning of. Her eyes teary, she said, "Sorry."

"Of course."

"It does," Buffy went on for Giles. "One of us."

"Will be right there. I'll." Willow started eagerly.

"Go." Buffy headed for the door as she spoke.

"No." Giles stopped the blonde before she went far. "Your mother."

"Needs you now," Willow said. "Willow."

"Should go to him," Giles ended the thought, not at all bothered by the witch referring to herself in the third person. The redhead turned and headed for the closed door, her girlfriend moving behind her.

"Wait," Tara called. "I'll come along."

Willow whipped around, her green eyes flashing, but it was Buffy's angry voice that rang out. "No! He doesn't need."

"You," Tara's love finished seamlessly. "He'd only."

"Be embarrassed," Giles explained. Then he nodded, and the witch went into the room. Reaching out, the Watcher took Buffy's hand. "That."

"Helps," she agreed. "Let's go see."

"Mom." Giles smiled while Buffy grinned from ear to ear.

Seeing Tara's lost expression, the two turned to her. "We didn't mean to be." Giles began gently.

"Mean," Buffy went on. "It's just that."

"As long as we're touching another."

"One of us afterwards, we're."

"All right." Giles' eyes grew a bit misty. "If not, it can."

"Physically hurt," Buffy finished. "He was hurting and."

"Naked, and Willow was afraid."

"If you went in, he'd."

"Do what he felt was right and."

"Not let her touch him." Buffy blew out a breath, and Tara felt a bit dizzy. It was the longest exchange she'd ever witnessed while the group was in this condition. But they weren't quite through.

"Two of us," Giles pressed on.

"Together like this," Buffy held up their joined hands.

"Can keep it between us."

"But being totally alone."

"Right after the division."

"Makes you feel."

"Like you want to die," Giles said sadly. Then he smiled slightly. "After all,"

"You can't even," Buffy grinned too.

"Finish your own sentences." They both laughed together, and even Tara smiled a little.


"Xan, I'm."

"Here," the young man moaned from the couch. He was pale and shivering, and the room wasn't cold. True, all he was wearing was a small white hospital towel tastefully draped over his lap, but his face was drawn with pain, indicating the cause of the shaking. The petite redhead ran to him, throwing herself almost on top of him. "Thank."

"You," she finished for him. "Better?" He simply nodded, wrapping his arms tightly around her as she rested her head on his bare chest. He sighed, the tension flowing from him in waves, and the pained look disappeared.

"Buffy and Giles." he began somewhat questioningly.

"Are talking to Joyce," she answered. "Let's not."

"Talk out loud right now," he agreed with her. *This is less work,* his mind spoke to hers.

*Yeah, and easier to tell who's who, since we're touching and all.* She shifted so that she rested beside him on the couch, his arm draped over her shoulder. Somewhere over the last couple of weeks they'd discovered that any two of them, touching, could carry on a private conversation mentally, without the others interrupting. Buffy and Willow used that loophole a lot, to giggle and girl talk. Xander didn't feel quite comfortable sharing with Giles in that fashion, though. *Anya mad?* he asked, already knowing the answer.

*Ballistic,* Willow assured him. She frowned. *Tara seems a bit unhappy, too.*

*Think about it, Wills. You're sitting in a locked room with a naked man draped all over you. A naked man you spent at least twelve years in love with, who's kissed you, and recently shared a body with you, not to mention nearly your every thought. Your lover is supposed to do what? Go "La-di-da, no biggie?"*

Willow pouted. *I'm gay.*

*I share your mind, remember? You aren't as gay as you like to think you are, and I'm pretty sure Tara can tell. I've noticed a couple of guys catch your eye, as well as a couple of other girls. You're looking, Wills, and not in a way that somebody in a committed relationship ought to be. You aren't just admiring, you're shopping.*

*Okay, I admit the bloom is off the rose. I still love her, but I'm not in love with her the way I was at first. I still don't want to hurt her.* She ran her fingers suggestively over Xander's chest. *And I admit to being with one of the few guys who could convince me to go back to the other team, right now.* She grinned at him cheekily, taking some of the sensuality out of her gesture.

Xander caught her hand, bringing it to his lips and kissing it lightly. *Remember, I'm still 'in love' with my girlfriend.*

*And Buffy,* the witch teased. He nodded in acknowledgement. Willow's face grew serious, and her gaze was sad. *But you're still losing her,* she sympathized.

His deflated figure sunk back into the couch. *Probably.*

Chapter 6

Joyce saw her daughter approaching, wearing the proper hair and eye color, holding Rupert's hand. The level of shock she would have normally registered at that last sight didn't stand a chance against all the other shocks she had already suffered that night, so she let it slide. "Buffy," she sighed.

"Yeah, Mom," she answered.

"I'm back," the man finished for her. This, Joyce had to question.

"Watcher duty now includes talking for her?"

Giles sighed. He should have expected this. "It's an aftereffect..."

"Of the Unity bond," Buffy explained. "We don't."

"Separate completely right away."

There was so much Joyce Summers couldn't control. She couldn't control that her husband had left her. She couldn't control that her eldest child had been called to a life-threatening occupation before she was even old enough to drive. She couldn't help that her youngest daughter wasn't even the child of her loins, yet she loved her like life itself. And she couldn't control the fact that that same child was now in an operating room hovering between life and death. Right this moment, she also couldn't control her anger at all these things, and more.

"Are there any other side effects of this little game?" she spit out icily, staring at Rupert Giles. "Like maybe something that makes you prey upon females *half your age?*" She was screaming - people were staring. She didn't care.

She saw the horror, identical on the two faces before her. She saw self-loathing, and an echo of the fear she herself felt. She realized that she had just deeply hurt a man who loved both her daughters, insinuated something nasty about him. In fact, if she understood Amy and the other girls correctly, what he was doing would require great sacrifice on his part, and he was only doing it to help save Dawn. And she could see that by hurting him, she'd hurt Buffy as well. Joyce crumpled back into the chair, and the hysterical sobbing she had fought so hard to keep back finally made it to the surface.

Rupert sat beside her, gathering her into his arms. "Go ahead," he soothed.

"Cry," Buffy cooed from the other side. "Let it all out. We're."

"Here," the Watcher finished, as his arm and Buffy's stayed in contact across the woman's back.




"Is it?" came the two voices from within the room.

"Willow Rosenberg? Are you in there with *my* boyfriend? My *naked* boyfriend?"

Anya heard the click of the door unlocking. "Yup." The redhead plucked the clothes from the other woman's hand and the door swung closed, and the lock clicked again.

"D'Hoffryn!" The former demon wailed. When no answer came, she growled, "I am SO going to kill her. I should have done that instead of what Cordelia wanted in the first place. She even has a history of this - with HIM! I knew that whole 'gay' thing was an act." She paced in tight circles in front of the door, until it opened again and her now dressed boyfriend emerged, the witch clutching his arm.

"Hey, babe, did you."

"Bring shoes?" the hated one finished for him.

The blonde woman exploded in fury. "YOU!" she screamed nearly incoherently at the other woman. "You lying, cheating, scheming," every word punctuated by a finger stabbed to Willow's chest, "BITCH!"

Willow backpedaled, and Xander stepped in, pulling his girlfriend away from his best friend. "I thought you two."

"Settled this after the troll almost killed me," Willow went on in a shaky voice.

"She was in the room with you - naked," Anya howled. "Well, you were naked, she was in the room. whatever. The point is, what the HELL was going on?"

"I needed someone."

"With me. Being alone."

"Hurts," Xander and Willow explained.

"He was."

"Wearing a towel." Xander held up the small scrap of terrycloth he'd been clutching in his hand. Anya stared at in incredulously.

"That red Speedo you own that I can't get you to wear to the beach covers more. Besides, if you couldn't be alone, why didn't she go get the clothes, and I could comfort you?" For once, Anya was too upset to even play the obvious sexual innuendo in that statement.

"It had to be one."

"Of us - the Unity."

It would take a blind person not to read Anya's obvious disgust with the Unity. It was written clearly on her face.

"Willow," Xander said, and it was apparent he was struggling to pull free of the bond prematurely. "I," he dragged his hand away from his friend, "have to," he gasped slightly, unwilling to let her take the rest of the thought from him, "talk to her." He stopped, forcing the words again. "Alone."

Concern painted the witch's face. "But, Xan, it'll."

He wanted so badly to finish it for her, to say, "hurt." But that might upset Anya further, and she didn't need that. This was hard enough for her. "I know." He frowned again in concentration. "I. have. to." He grimaced, keeping his face away from Anya's line of sight. "Go." he couldn't articulate the whole sentence quite yet, "Buffy." Another labored breath, "Giles." He took his girlfriend's hand, and went into the room, closing, but not locking, the door behind them.


"Yo, Watcher Guy."

The voice pulled Quentin Travers from an interesting dream, the details of which were slipping away as he opened his eyes. There was just enough light from the streetlamp outside his window to illuminate the uninvited guest. "Whistler?" The Watcher glanced at his clock. "What the bloody hell do you want at *five o'clock in the damned morning?*"

The demon shrugged, unperturbed. "It's nine p.m. in California. We gotta talk."

"About your disregard for time zone differences?" the British gentleman growled, climbing out of bed to get his dressing coat and his slippers.

"About Unity. One of the problems in usin' humans may have just surfaced."

Travers' blood ran cold. They had tried to discuss every possible difficulty amongst the Council, but none seemed insurmountable. He doubted the demon would be here, though, if the problem were small. "Come into the kitchen. I'll make us some tea."

"That drink is the English answer to everything, ain't it?"


"Ya sure you don't have no beer?" Whistler asked, studying the amber liquid before him. Travers just scowled at him, and the demon raised his hands in surrender. "Okay. Don't getcher knickers in a wad. Geez."

"Are you going to tell me what the problem is with Unity, or sit here making lame attempts at American humor?" The Brit sipped at his tea.

The demon's forehead creased in thought. At last, he looked up and began. "Well, the thing is, angels don't have no darkness in 'em, right? Or else they wouldn't be angels. Seems to me fallen angels have a different name. The good guys fight 'em." He looked down into his cup, stirring the liquid with his finger. "People got dark sides, Quent. These people maybe more'n most."

The Watcher stiffened. "Explain."

"Well, youse already know about Ripper, don'tcha?" When the other man nodded, Whistler went on. "An' I know ya knows what kinda darkness a Slayer carries - it's, like, in the job description. Remember Faith."

"But the other two are innocents, mostly. Aren't they?" Honestly, the Council hadn't spent a lot of time going over the background of any of the people they'd interviewed in Sunnydale. They knew a lot about William the Bloody, but everything else about everyone except for the Slayer and her Watcher had been gleaned from Rupert's sometimes less than descriptive reports.

"Betcha didn't know the witch was offered a job as a vengeance demon by D'Hoffryn himself?" The look of horror on the other man's face answered the question. "She turned 'im down, a'course, but she coulda done it, let me tell ya. And the kid ya wanna call "boy?" He was possessed by a Hyena Spirit - almost raped the Slayer. It was a while ago. Then he stood down a pack of zombies plannin' ta blow the high school ta smithereens, with everybody that matters to youse guys in it. Takes a dark soul ta be able to run a whole night with zombies while you're still alive, then be willing to die to stop them. Oh, and there was the soldier thing at Halloween."

"So you're saying the Heart of Unity is a heart of darkness?"

"If ya wanna go all Conrad on it, sure. He's just a human, though, mostly, with a lotta Hellmouth experience thrown in. They're all just human, at the end. And most, naw, I'd bet all, humans have a dark side. Some can control it, and others just hide it good."

The Watcher stared into space. Finally, he looked at the demon. "We are so screwed."


Joyce had calmed, partly due to the nurse who'd emerged, telling her Dawn was out of the operating room and the doctor would be along shortly with news. She wanted to know exactly what the situation was, and couldn't grasp it unless her head was clear.

Buffy had released her hold on her Watcher long enough to go get her mom coffee, and they'd managed to communicate with the frazzled woman without words whenever possible. She still seemed a bit unable to handle the tag team statements they made, so they made as few as they could get away with. They'd been carrying on a vigorous mental conversation, however.

*Well, you did sleep with her. She has reason to think the worst of you,* Buffy was protesting, defending her mother's earlier attack on Giles.

*I really do wish you'd stop throwing that up at me, Buffy,* the man sighed mentally. *I was under the influence at the time.*

*So, you'd never have slept with my mom if you hadn't been under a spell. What's wrong with her?*

*There is no possible way for me to come out of this without looking vile, is there?* Giles mused. He was aware from his place inside her mind that Buffy had forgiven him at last for that humiliating experience, and he was actually enjoying the banter - enjoying everything more these days. It was as if he was back under the spell of those candy bars, but without the embarrassing lack of self-control He had his current intelligence and maturity, but he felt younger, somehow. Being connected with the young people was good for him, it seemed.

It would surprise him to know Joyce was having similar thoughts. She couldn't help but notice that Rupert, a man she was sure had a few years on her, moved and acted more like a man close to her daughter's age. His skin seemed smoother, and the little wrinkles she'd noticed before around his eyes (he was good looking man, after all - she did notice little things like that about him) seemed fewer. There was less grey in his hair. His eyes themselves were clear and bright, and there was a spring in his step in spite of the solemnity of the current situation.

She also noticed that, although they weren't clinging to each other's hands like a lifeline anymore, Buffy and Giles would reach out, every few moments, and casually touch each other. Her hand on his arm, he softly brushing hair from her face - it was as if they were young lovers, unable to keep their hands off each other. Yet there was no lust in the touches - just a deep intimacy based on love of another kind.

He had always been like a father to her daughter - to both the girls. And in spite of their brief - she didn't even want to dignify what had happened that night with the band candy by calling it a fling - encounter, he'd never pressed with her, although he was probably lonely, so far from his home and with only children as close associates. She deeply admired that man, and then and there she decided that whatever was going on with him and Buffy (and Willow and Xander, as well, she supposed), would have her full support.

Movement from the couple she'd been contemplating drew her eye, and she looked over, seeing them wincing and back to clutching at each other. They both spoke at the same time. "Xander." Then they leapt up and tore away down the hall.


*Focus, man,* Xander Harris berated himself. Anya had been crying, and he'd just held her for a while. It helped keep the discomfort at bay. He decided if he didn't call it pain, it might not hurt as much.

He couldn't keep Willow out of his head, but he was doing his best to ignore her. He knew she was worried about him, but this was something he had to do. "An?" he said gently, brushing the hair away from his girlfriend's flushed and swollen face.

She looked at him, and he was struck again by the fact that this beautiful woman loved him. But the sadness in her eyes cut him deeply. "We can't go on like this, Xander," she said, looking down.

"I know." He'd found if he kept his statements short, he could fight the desire to let his other Parts finish them for him. "Love you," he said, comfortingly.

Tears welled up in Anya's eyes again. "I know you do, and that's what makes this so much harder. I love you, too, but you aren't all you anymore. Or maybe you're *more* than you anymore. You're Buffy and Willow and Giles, too. And although I like them all well enough, I love you. Just you. But there isn't a 'just you' these days."

He knew, but he had to ask. Taking her face in both of his hands, he smoothed the new tears away with his thumbs. "Leaving?"

She nodded against his palms. "I have to. Being without you may make me nuts, but not as nuts as being with you has, lately."

He let his eyes flesh out the question he couldn't. "Sunnydale?" he asked.

Anya reached up and pulled his hands down, holding them in both of hers. "No, I'm gonna stay here. I've got my apartment, my job, school, even friends. You'll still be my friend right?" He nodded.

Then he couldn't fight the pain anymore. He groaned, a spasm slamming him back into the couch. The colors swirled and danced, and the darkness refused to come and release him. He wasn't even aware as his fingernails tore a hole in the vinyl sofa. He wasn't aware of anything but the overwhelming pain. He didn't even hear Anya scream his name.


Willow was angry and upset. Tara was trying to help, hovering around, making worried noises. She knew she should go to Buffy and Giles, but she couldn't leave Xander when she knew he'd need her soon. He needed her now, but was fighting it with all his strength.

She also knew, without knowing why she knew, that she needed to calm her emotions. He was the Emotions, the feelings, the Heart, and if her emotions were in an uproar, it would put him under more strain. She knew what was happening in there - she was focused on him, and he was under stress, so she was reading him loud and clear. And the wound he was suffering went all the way through his emotions to tear his spirit, and that was her territory, so she was suffering with him in that area.

It was for the best, she kept trying to make him hear. This is for the best. She looked at Tara, sweet and worried and concerned, and realized that the fallout from their Unity wasn't going to be over after this, either. Moving to her lover, she slid into her embrace. "Gonna.need you," she forced out, since Xander wasn't going to be helping her voice her thoughts right now. Tara's smile was warm and loving, and Willow felt badly that she couldn't explain herself well in this situation. She tossed her head towards the closed door. "Anya.will."

The hurt danced across Tara's face like a wisp of cloud - barely visible. Then she smiled again, and squeezed Willow tightly. "I'll be there. She's become a good friend."

His agony hit her like a ton of bricks, and her knees buckled. Tara caught her, or Willow would have hit the ground. The minute she was sure her legs would support her, she flew to the door and into the room.

He was writhing on the sofa, clawing at the vinyl. Anya was whimpering his name, obviously at a loss. Willow grabbed him, clutching his hand in one of hers while she worked at the buttons on his shirt, trying to establish the maximum contact between them.

The spasms stopped, but he was still in pain. Fortunately, Buffy and Giles burst through the door, and the Slayer simply ripped the front of Xander's shirt open, laying her cheek on his chest. Giles sat beside him, both his hands on Xander's face, as Willow wrapped both her small hands around the one large one she'd claimed earlier. "Xander," the Watcher called.

"Come back." Willow begged.

"To us," Buffy wept.

His breathing slowed, and his tight face relaxed. Tara watched from the doorway, where Anya had spotted her and launched herself at her as soon as the witch entered. Holding her friend in her arms while the other woman cried, Tara noticed that the four were all breathing in sync.

Willow began to gently chastise him. "You tried."

"To break the bond."

"Too soon," Giles agreed with the other two. "You couldn't."

"Deal with."

"The extra emotion."

"On top of that." When Buffy finished the last bit, Xander nodded weakly.

"Sorry," he hissed, straining.

"Shhhh," the other three soothed together.


Whistler had ceased pretending he was interested in the tea. Quentin Travers wore a dazed look, probably a combination of being awakened in the early morning hours, and the shock of the information the demon had wakened him to share.

"What happened?" the Watcher finally asked, after a long minutes of uncomfortable silence. ".That made you realize this would affect Unity? What happened?"

"Glory scored big without realizing she had. She hurt the Slayer's little sis. They all love the kid in their own way. Big time. Almost as much as they love each other." He seemed to gather his thoughts, and went on after a moment. "I tried to do my job - advise 'em, let 'em know how ta deal - and they wouldn't listen. The Emotion kid's got a real temper, and every one of 'em's stubborn as the day is long. They're gonna go off if Glory tries anything else like this. And she will, fer sure."

"What makes you so certain?" Travers asked, genuinely curious. While TPTB knew limited things about the future, he was reasonably sure that one of the reasons they were so concerned about Glorificus was her unpredictability.

"We hadn't told you everything. Unity knows, but we was hiding the information for good reason." The demon had the good grace to look guilty. "The kid - Dawn? She's the Key."

Chapter 7

"Anything new about Dawn yet?"

Joyce looked up, surprised at hearing the entire question in Buffy's own voice. Gazing at the group, her eyebrow lifted, the only indication of her further amazement at the arrangements.

Giles now had hold of Willow's hand, and Xander was being supported by Buffy. The young man looked worn, his shirtfront torn and tucked haphazardly into his pants and his eyes a bit glazed. Anya and Tara were orbiting like satellites, flitting around the edges but never really connecting with the group.

Giles answered the only question he read in Joyce's expression. "Xander tried to break the bond prematurely, so we're all disconnecting a bit sooner than we expected." Buffy eased the tall figure onto the seat beside her mother, and tucked herself under his arm again.

"Xander hurt himself trying to do too much too soon," she explained to her mom from a cozy-looking position, her head resting in the hollow of his chest.

"Trying to break the bond before it happens naturally is like ripping an arm or a leg off of yourself," Willow elaborated. "It causes physical pain. Then, with Xander being the Heart, and more susceptible to emotional turmoil, he did the emotional equivalent of pouring salt in the wound by having a." The witch paused, sensing Xander's unwillingness to cast Anya in a bad light in front of Joyce and Tara, especially.

"We broke up," Anya announced without emotion. "He needed them more." She looked Tara straight in the eye, and the blonde witch got the message. But she'd deal with it later.

"Yeah," Willow mumbled, not missing the silent exchange. "Anyway, we need to stay connected with him so he can recover." She pulled Giles gently to the row of seats, and took the one on the other side of Xander, pushing up against him and taking his free hand. The Watcher draped his arm over the back of Willow's chair, casually resting his fingers on the other man's neck.

Like a battery recharging, Xander visibly perked up. His eyes cleared and his posture straightened. The arm around Buffy was now more holding than draped. It was gradual, but it was clear that there really was something to all the physical contact, and that it could help heal an injured Part of the Unity. "Doctor," the young man said, suddenly.

"But you seem so much better," Joyce said with surprise. She'd been watching the process, fascinated.

"No." Xander shook his head and pointed. "Dawn's doctor."

The whole group turned and pinned their eyes on the man in the green scrubs heading towards them.


Quentin Travers managed to wait until seven a.m. before calling the emergency meeting of the Watcher's Council. Whistler had gone wherever it was Whistler went, and the older man was just as happy to be rid of him. He was having enough trouble dealing with the idea of a dark Unity, and dealing with the annoying little demon on top of that was beyond the limits of his patience. The war council was in full swing before he reappeared.

".have to send someone back to America to monitor the situation," one of the older Watchers was saying when Whistler arrived.

"And whatcha gonna have 'em do if she goes atomic on ya?" Whistler asked, seeming to materialize out of thin air. "Send a telegram? Throw a committee at her? 'Cos I've seen all the tact and charm youse guys have with yer Slayers, and I'm guessin' that if ya use that style with this girlie if she freaks, yer gonna haveta be scrapin' bits of yer 'monitor' off the sidewalk."

"And what do you suggest?" Travers asked icily. "Pretend it's not a problem? You wouldn't have come to me if you thought as much."

"Ya keep this stuff up, I'm gonna regret talkin' to ya more'n I already do. Look, as much as I really do want the good guys to ride off into the sunset on this one, I still work for Balance. I let youse know 'cos I'm s'posed ta. Not 'cos I think there's anything youse guys could do ta control her. She's already stronger than yer best Slayer, since she's the basic model here, and Unity's the upgrade. She's smarter than all of ya put together, although I don't think that'd take much, myself. But she also feels way more than most folks, and her feelin's could send her over the edge." He stared down every Watcher at the conference table, one at a time, as he continued. "I think ya oughtta leave her be. They're all basically good people, at heart. The Slayer does her job 'cos she has ta, but the other two kids are just along 'cos they *care.* Ole' Rupert stayed in the game even when youse people gave him the shaft, 'cos he cares, too. I'm sayin' she might get angry, and she might go wacko for a while, but she's on the good side, in the end. And if youse guys are even thinkin' about killin' her if she goes bad, think again. She's too much for ya. Let it go."

None of the Council members would meet his eyes. They hung their heads, and if Whistler didn't know the group better, he'd think they were ashamed. He knew them well, however, and looked around at them in disgust. "Sometimes I really hate this damned job," he muttered, and stormed out.

Uncomfortable silence hung heavy in the room for several long minutes. Finally the older Watcher who'd spoken before cleared his throat. "So, whom should we send to the States?" he asked, as if the interruption hadn't occurred. "Quentin, you're the most familiar."


Buffy jumped up swiftly from her cocoon in Xander's grasp, while Joyce rose slowly beside her. The three remaining members of Unity formed in a semi-circle behind, giving the personification of their Body both physical and emotional support. Anya and Tara moved in as well.

"Mrs. Summers?" the middle-aged man asked, looking at Joyce. With her nod, he proceeded. "You daughter had some pretty bad injuries. There was head trauma. Her larynx will be several weeks in healing, and she'll be unable to talk during that time. She had a couple of broken ribs, and we had to remove her spleen. I've never seen such widespread damage done by an attacker before - if I didn't know it was improbable, I'd say whoever did this to her did just what they had to do to cause the maximum suffering without killing her. There was neither rhyme nor reason to the injuries, no pattern like we normally see in an attack. There were internal injuries where the skin covering them wasn't even bruised. We see some strange things in this hospital, but I think your child now tops my list."

"But she'll live, right?" Joyce asked, her voice shaky. He nodded, and she looked around at the people who cared for Dawn who surrounded her. "Can we see her?"

"She's still out right now, but you can go in a couple at a time. Once she wakes up, she'll be groggy for quite a while, since the only way we can guarantee she won't try to talk is to keep her sedated. Still, she'll know you, and once we decrease the dose, she'll be able to write notes."

Joyce looked over at the quartet who had rescued her child. "Can five of us go in at once?" she asked. "We won't be boisterous or anything, but I think it's important." She saw him eyeing the group curiously. "They're family," she explained.

He shrugged. "Just be quiet. Rest is the healer she needs most right now."


Quentin Travers sat uncomfortably on the wide-bodied jet with Andrea at his side. He'd never told the Council how much he feared flying - admitting his own weaknesses would have left him vulnerable, and in his position of authority, he couldn't afford that. Andrea knew, though.

She'd been chosen for this trip because she had medical training, and the Council decided that Unity needed to be examined, both together and separately, to see if there were weaknesses they could exploit if need be. Of course, the story would be of a far more innocuous purpose for the checkup. But Andrea would do as she was ordered, just as they all always did. The only thing she'd ever done to subvert the Council had been aiding Quentin with his fear of flying without letting the others know his secret.

She helped him because they'd been close - very close - once. She was considerably younger than he, and when she first joined the Council, she'd looked up to him - after all, he was the Rising Young Chieftain, the Golden Boy. He was being groomed by those in charge to be one of them. Little did she - or he, for that matter - know that the job he so coveted consisted mostly of making difficult decisions and taking unwanted assignments like this one. And often, covering the Council's collective butt. All they both saw at the time was the potential for glory and power.

So she had been blinded by the stars in her eyes, and he had seen her willingness to do whatever he wanted as another path to power. No one was more surprised than young Travers when, after a few months of the relationship, it was Andrea, and not he, who held the reins. He had begun to care about her, far more than was safe.

They slept together, but were never truly lovers. He managed to pull away from the relationship before allowing himself to fall that way. For his was a world where love was a greater weakness than airsickness. It could get him killed, or worse, her.

And the most amazing thing was that she understood. By this time, she'd spent enough time with the Council to understand the dynamic, the danger of any weakness. She let him go, willingly, although not very happily. Still, they remained close, although even the honorific "friend" was a dangerous label to carry in their line of work.

Sometimes he envied the simple Watchers. Those who merely reported to the Council, and were trained by them, but who never dealt with the actual body in more than a formal way. They had lives - they didn't fear that all their enemies were sitting beside them every day, seeking ways to move their own agenda forward, caring not who was in charge as long as they really wielded the power. They had their Slayers, or Slayers in Training. Some even had wives or husbands, and managed to produce new generations of Watchers. Some, like Rupert Giles, even developed backbones and stood up to the Council, finding a better way to exist. The American ones had always been the toughest to keep up with.

The warm drowsiness he associated with the pills Andrea had given him started to wash over his mind. They'd go to America - again. They'd find a way to take down Unity, if indeed she lost control. It was all about the end - the means were immaterial. He spent a lot of years selling himself on the idea that to save mankind, some human decency had to be sacrificed. Sometimes, even humans themselves had to be sacrificed. It was the price that must be paid. He was now thoroughly convinced. He yawned, and turned towards the woman beside him, taking her hand before he drifted off to sleep. He didn't see the shock, and then the warm smile, that graced her face.


The group of five that stood by the teenager's bedside was solemn, but hopeful. The respirator hissed and the monitors hummed and chirped, an almost musical accompaniment to the silent thoughts of the onlookers. Bandages were wrapped around Dawn's head, and above the top of the hospital gown they could see the beginning of the ugly red incision that almost certainly trailed the rest of the way down her torso.

*We'll never have to doubt her humanity again,* Unity thought sadly. *So easily broken.*

The quartet stood clumped together, and they were thinking as one, which hadn't happened before when they were divided. It seemed that only the bond could handle the pain, the guilt they all felt. It was too strong for any one person to manage alone. Joyce sniffled softly, and they all looked up at once.

"Dawn, honey," she said, bending down to the comatose girl. "We're all here. Me, and Buffy and Xander and Giles and Willow. We all want you to get better, real soon. We'll get you ice cream, and Xander said he'd play Monopoly with you as long as you wanted. Buffy's already said you could have that blue sweater of hers you like, and Willow wants to watch "She's All That" with you again. And Mr. Giles promised he wouldn't roll his eyes the next time you want to talk about boys. But only once." She hiccupped a little laugh, looked up and smiled tearfully, and the four smiled back at her. "But first you've gotta get well. We'll be here as much as we can. You won't be able to talk at first, but we'll talk to you, okay? Whatever you need, we'll take care of it. But you have to get well." She was beginning to break down again, and finally Buffy pulled away from the others and tugged her mother back to her feet. Joyce tugged loose from her grasp, bending back over and kissing Dawn gently on the cheek. "We love you, baby," she whispered, and then her older daughter escorted her out of the room.

As they left, the machinery sang its never ending rhythmic but emotionless song.


"I convinced her to go home," Buffy sighed, joining the rest of the Unity in the room Xander and Willow had occupied earlier. The other three were sitting pressed together on the couch, as had become usual. "The doctor gave her a prescription to help her sleep, and I thought I'd get one of you to come along while I went to the pharmacy to get it filled." Willow nodded and got up from her place between the two men, taking the Slayer's hand when she reached her side. "Thanks," Buffy sighed in relief. "This has been kinda stressful." She looked over at the men, trying to casually touch without losing their macho veneer, and couldn't help a small grin. "Anyway, Anya and Tara offered to take the first shift, and once mom knew someone would be here with her and that Dawn probably wouldn't wake up until at least tomorrow, she agreed to leave and go get some rest. We'll be back as soon as we get her going." The girls left, hand in hand, and Xander and Giles sat in silence for a few moments staring at the walls.

Then Giles shifted, laying his hand over Xander's openly, to secure the lines of communication. *She knows, you know.* The younger man didn't answer, but raised a questioning eyebrow. *About you, and how you feel about her. She knows. Has for quite a while, I believe.*

*It's not like I've made it the world's best-kept secret. If she finally does know, she's like the last person alive who managed to figure it out. Willow's been riding me about it for ages. Hell, even Angel knew. I bet Amy knows, and she's only been out of the Habitrail for a couple of weeks.* The young man sighed, and for a moment seemed about to pull his hand away. Instead, he relaxed in resignation. *She doesn't care.* He stared at the wall again. *I lost Anya because of the Unity, but I'da lost her soon enough, anyway. Just like with Cordelia, eventually my feelings for Buffy would have driven her away, too.*

*Cordelia left you because you were exchanging saliva with Willow,* Giles reminded him wryly.

*Just a symptom of the deeper disease,* Xander answered in a similar tone. *I loved Willow, too, and I had to see if I loved her more than Buffy. I didn't, but I still loved her. I still do.*

*She is an amazing young woman, isn't she?* Giles said, and Xander gave him a probing look, hearing the tone in the other man's mental voice. The Watcher colored and looked away. *Anyway,* Giles changed the subject back again, *I don't believe Buffy finds you personally repugnant in any way. Actually, I believe just the opposite is true. She finds you attractive, but her experiences with men she's been attracted to have been less than stellar, so she ignores or submerges those feelings. Living in close proximity as we do now, I can't help but believe she'll have to deal with the subject sooner or later.*

*Like you will, with Willow?* Xander asked seriously.

A few moments of awkward silence passed. *So,* Giles redirected heartily, *where should we all stay tonight?*

*Coward,* Xander shot back. The two men grinned crookedly at each other, and fell silent again.


Joyce was gone, Amy set up to meet her at the house and stay there in case she needed anything else during the night. Buffy's constant apologies for not being able to stay at home finally earned her a loving "shut up" from her mother. Joyce assured her daughter that she understood that the Unity needed to be together, and there just wasn't room enough at the Summers' house.

The Parts of Unity were bone tired as they traipsed wearily into the hotel nearest the hospital, coincidentally the same one they'd stayed at when the Watcher's Council had been paying. It was well after midnight, and they had reached their limit. Giles stepped up to the desk and asked the price of a suite. When he was told, his eyes flew wide. "Bloody hell! I'm not paying that. How about one room, two big beds?" The deskman's expression was unreadable, but apparently the question amused the older gentleman. Shown the price, the Watcher muttered, "That's better," and pulled out his credit card.

As the quartet boarded the elevator, the deskman, who had been on duty their last visit, noticed they once again were without luggage. His knowing grin broadened. "What are you smirking at?" the bellboy asked, coming out from the back.

"Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice just checked in again," the older man chortled. "I'd love to be a fly on their wall tonight."

The bellboy, all of eighteen, missed the cultural reference. After all, his parents probably were children in 1969 when the Elliot Gould picture about wife swapping had first come out. "Friends of yours?"

The deskman snorted. "Forget it, Mr. Wet-behind-the-ears." Then he imagined once more what must go on in that room, and his wicked grin was with him until his shift ended that night.


Once in the room, the four prepared for sleep. Modesty had sort of gotten lost in the shuffle. Due to their connection, and the fact that not everyone remembered to shower with their eyes closed or not look at themselves in the mirror when naked, they'd all pretty much seen everybody else's everything. Not that they ran around au natural together, but they had to get over the whole embarrassment thing, or they'd have died from it. Xander and Giles stripped down to their boxers, while Willow pulled off her long skirt, wearing just the oversized sweater she had on to bed. Buffy grabbed Giles' shirt (after all, Xander's wouldn't button anymore) and went into the bathroom to change, since her own skimpy tank wasn't going to be comfortable enough for sleeping. Giles had on an undershirt; Xander didn't.

By the time Buffy emerged from the bathroom, the guys were already settled in on one bed, while Willow had claimed her side of the other. "Goodnights" were mumbled all around, and in the course of no more than five minutes, two people were snoring, and the other two weren't awake to complain about them.

The deskman would have been sorely disappointed had he actually achieved fly-dom.


"Why does Buffy always get to pick where we have breakfast?" Xander was complaining as they entered the Magic Box. They'd called the hospital to check on Dawn, gone to eat, then to their separate residences to shower and dress. They met up outside the store without planning, but probably due to their shared rhythms.

"Because she eats even more than you do," Willow explained, "So it's easier to go with her choices, so she won't complain." Before the Slayer could defend herself, Amy interrupted.

"Uhm, guys? You have visitors." Looking up together, they saw Quentin Travers and Andrea waiting.

"Geez, I'm glad I didn't pencil a good day into my daytimer yet," Xander growled. "I hate erasures."

"Travers," Giles said in a similar tone of voice. "I'd like to say I'm happy to see you, but even you aren't stupid enough to believe me. What are you doing here?"

"There are some medical tests the council would like to have done on you four, as well as on Unity. Dr. Fairhope here has been authorized to run them. We'll try to be out of your way as quickly as possible."

"Now would be quick enough," Buffy said brightly. Looking around at her companions and then frowning at the visitors, she asked, "Suppose we don't want to do your little poke and prod game?"

"We already have someone on staff at the hospital here, with medical access to your sister. I don't think you'll turn down our request." Horror at the very idea ran through each member of the Unity. Defeated by the threat, they turned together and went towards the back room, led by Andrea Fairhope. Before he followed, Xander turned and stared with hatred into the older Watcher's eyes.

"I just want you to know how deeply and sincerely you people *suck,*" he spat, before following the rest.

Chapter 8

Xander plopped down beside Buffy and Willow on the bench. "Couldn't they have tested Amy? At least she has some practice in the 'rat' part of this whole lab rat ordeal."

The Watcher's Council was many things, but less than thorough wasn't one of them. The Unity members had been bundled off to a fully equipped testing facility somewhere in the University (they were transported in the back of a panel van, so they weren't too sure where) and provided with identical grey workout shorts and tank tops in their respective sizes. Blood had been drawn from each of them, they'd had a complete physical, then they'd been put on treadmills, had EEG's, EKG's, X-rays, and a variety of other combinations of the alphabet. They'd each had to pee in a cup, to which Willow had objected strenuously, but to no avail. Xander and Giles refused to talk about what *they'd* had to do. They were all pretty sure there wasn't a part of them, inside or out, that the Council didn't now know in intimate detail.

They were now going through the psychological interviews, and if the physical examination hadn't been disturbing enough, the mental one was proving perfectly horrifying. Xander had been grilled about his relationship with his parents (abysmal), whether he'd ever had any pets (there'd been a cockroach in the basement he'd named and tossed crumbs at for a while, but actually, no), even his first sexual thought (that Katie Macmillan had pretty lace-trimmed pink panties - playground, second grade). Some of the questions they'd asked covered subjects he'd never wanted to think about again. Some of them seemed nonsensical to him. He'd looked at blobs and associated words. He'd been both bored spitless and scared shitless in rapid succession. And he never wanted to do any of this again.

But due to his "gift" in the Unity, he was going through all of it again, with each other member of the group, at least emotionally. He felt Willow's righteous indignation, Buffy's boredom and Giles' embarrassment. And he refused to tell the Watchers, but he was starting to see things.

Not visions, like poor Cordelia. More like auras. Only they didn't surround people, they ran like lines between different individuals. The Watcher lady doctor had one that ran to Quentin Travers that was bright white, while there was another from him to her that was white with bits of purple twined around it. He wasn't sure how he knew where each line originated and ended, but he did. The lines between the members of Unity and the members of the Council were angry red, both directions. Although there were twirls of purple in those, too. Xander had to really focus to see the connections, but they were there, and he didn't understand what they were. He'd purposely not tried to see the ones between the members of Unity, because he wanted to figure out what was going on with them, first. But he'd be damned if he'd tell these other people, even if he had understood what it was. He knew instinctively that it was something special he wasn't going to share.

"All right," Dr. Fairhope announced, coming out of the examination room with a red-faced Giles in tow, "we need one more blood sample from each of you, and then we need to see Unity."

Xander glared at the woman. "I thought you were supposed to fight vampires, not act like them." Ignoring him, she tied the tubing around his upper arm and began thumbing the vein.

"Be glad they haven't asked for their pound of flesh," Giles muttered angrily.

"Ooops! Almost forgot," Andrea said lightly, although she was the only one who smiled.


The hospital was nice at four in the morning.

Okay, not nice. There wasn't that much nice about a place mortals came to suffer and die. Quiet. The hospital was quiet at four a.m. Now that Anya was mortal and had visited the hospital with an injury of her own, she couldn't summon up any defensible reason to call it nice. Besides, it smelled funny.

It was a good place to think, however. She had a lot to think about.

Xander. The former demon looked at the woman asleep in the chair beside her. Xander, and Tara.

Not together. Eww - icky mental picture there. She already dealt with mental pictures of him with Willow, or his precious Buffy. She knew how he'd always felt about both of them. He'd given her no reason to add Tara to that list.

Lucky Tara. She was asleep. Anya was exhausted after all she'd been through this evening - Xander disappearing, trying to comfort Joyce when the hospital called about Dawn (okay, Tara did most of that - Anya still had to deal with driving the woman's car, and she wasn't all that confident about driving while the person who might get worked up about body damage was sitting nearby), the whole breakup thing. But she couldn't sleep.

She didn't want to break up with Xander. She told the truth - she loved him. It was kind of amazing, since when she first met him, she really didn't know what the word meant. She did now - it meant Xander. And she knew he loved her. But it wasn't enough, anymore.

She recalled a discussion they'd had when she'd first started hanging with the Scooby Gang, about how sad it was that Buffy couldn't live a normal life or have simple relationships because she was "special." Anya had told Xander that she didn't think Buffy was all that great or anything, and he explained that what he meant by "special" in this case was "different." She had to agree that if one word in the whole English language applied to Buffy Summers, it would be "Different." And not in a good way. Xander had poked her for that one.

But now her Xander was "Special." Both ways. And if anyone deserved to be special, Anya was sure it was Xander Harris. But now she also understood why, in his eyes, Buffy being special had been so sad. Because knowing Xander was now special was making Anya sad.

She looked over at Tara - maybe not "lucky Tara," after all. Because Willow was "special" now, too. And Tara loved Willow the way Anya loved Xander. So her new status was sure to make Tara sad, too. Soon. And Anya was sure that she needed to talk to the witch about it, also soon. Because they were special, too. They were people who had loved and, though no fault of their own, lost Parts of the Unity.

Tentatively, Anya settled in beside the sleeping witch. Tara sighed, smiling in her sleep, and turned towards the other woman, almost resting her head on Anya's shoulder. Anya slid down a little in the chair, and moved a bit closer to Tara, her eyes growing heavy. Maybe they could be special together, she thought, before letting sleep carry her away.


Unity had undergone all the same tests as her Parts, and come up as an unsurprising mix of the best qualities of the other four, squared. Her body was stronger than Buffy's and seemingly impervious to most damage. Her memory was phenomenal, and her emotional health strong. She was spiritually well grounded, and had incredible talent for the supernatural. The Watchers had pretty much established all this the first time they'd tested her, however.

There were still surprises. "Quentin," Andrea called, going through the results after the group had been dismissed. "Take a look at this." She was laying strips of paper on the table, in two columns. She pointed to the first group, "This is the baseline EKG," the to the other, "And this is the stress test."

The older Watcher knew quite a bit about medicine and electrocardiograms himself. "It is fairly unusual for four readings from one individual to be identical like that, but we've pretty much established that Unity is unusual."

"Quentin," the doctor said quietly, "These are from four *different* people, not four tests on Unity herself."

Travers stroked his chin. "Interesting. Any other oddities?"

"Most of the results," Andrea responded grimly. "Their blood work and urinalysis results are identical. Even their psych profiles are close. I caught Xander one time answering a question with Buffy's memories - happened to be an incident we have documented from her time in L.A. I don't think they're even aware of how tightly they're intertwined." She pointed to a date on the medical records they'd "obtained" surreptitiously, and asked, "Are you certain this date is correct?"

The gentleman studied it. "Absolutely. I remember Rupert telling me his age when he first came for training, and that would be right."

She pulled out some lab reports. "He tests as a thirty year old man, Quentin. In every way. That's a big discrepancy. How about these dates?" She pointed again.

"Eighty, eighty-one - yes. I'm sure they're correct, also."

"Not anymore. The change was smaller with the younger people, but they're biologically around twenty-five or so, now. All three of them." She shuffled the papers and stacked them neatly, finally finishing and looking him in the eye. "Unity tests as a twenty-eight year old woman - give or take a bit. The changes seem to be an attempt to establish equilibrium among her Parts."

"And how is this advantageous for us to know?"

Andrea Fairhope knew her job. She knew that this was exactly what she'd been sent here to find out. But in the course of testing and interviewing the members of Unity, she'd discovered she liked them all. They were bright, engaging, intelligent and entertaining. Yes, they had some personal psychological issues that could swing them to a dark and dangerous place - she had a feeling that if the Watcher's Council were interested, they could provide the kind of support that would head that difficulty off. But the Watchers had never been about support, in spite of what they told the Slayers. Watchers were about control. And there was a surefire way to control Unity.

"I believe we wouldn't have to take Unity herself on, if she became dangerous. It appears that in order to stop her, we'd just have to eliminate one of her Parts."

"What would happen to the rest?" Travers asked, not really caring all that much.

"They'd die, too."


The quartet had been out of pocket all day, and when they emerged from the panel van back at the Magic Box, they had but one thought between them.


Without a word, not even more than a wave to Amy and Anya, they piled into the BMW and made tracks. They had just arrived at Dawn's door when it opened and Joyce emerged. "She's waking up," Buffy's mother announced in a hushed tone. "Come on in."

The nurse frowned with disapproval at the additional four people in her patient's room, but they were quiet, so she withheld comment. The group huddled around Joyce, offering her their support they way they did one another - they were all touching her. She found it comforting.

A soft moan came from the bed, and eyelids fluttered, revealing a set of unfocused brown eyes. "Dawn, sweetie?" Joyce stepped forward, "It's me - mom." A small smile was her answer, as the girl began to open her mouth. "You shouldn't talk, or even try, right now. Your voice needs rest. We'll get a pad to write us notes, soon, okay?" An almost imperceptible nod in response. "Your sister's here, honey, and all her friends, too. They've all been worried about you."

A delicate hand lifted from the bed, motioning them closer. "Hey, kiddo. I've known you to go to some drastic measures to get me to take on your chores, but this is extreme, even for you." Buffy tried to keep the tears in her eyes from making it to her voice, and almost succeeded.

Xander stepped closer still. "Hey, Dawnie. I really miss having you around to hassle me." He bent down, looking right in her eyes. "I love you, you know. You rest, so you can get better quick." He kissed her on the forehead, and her smile widened. As he moved away again, she grabbed his hand and weakly squeezed it, his response a blissful grin.

*Do you think she'll remember that when she's more awake?* he asked Buffy mentally as he moved back to the group.

*She'd better not,* the Slayer replied, *or you'll be adding another bead to the 'Xander Harris necklace o' broken hearts.'* As soon as she'd expressed the thought, she felt bad, feeling through the link that she'd reminded him of his sorrow over his recent break-up with Anya.

But he could feel her regret, and she knew just as quickly that she was forgiven for her thoughtless comment. They linked hands, looking over at Dawn. The girl's eyelids were fluttering again, and the nurse turned, shooing them all out. "She needs her rest. You can come back later. Now go, all of you." The five people shuffled obediently out of the room.

Once in the hall, Joyce turned to the group. "Where have you been all day?" She realized with a start that she was addressing all four collectively as if they were all her eldest child. In a way, she supposed, they were.

"Bloody Watcher's Council wanted to test us nearly out of existence," Giles grumbled.

"Aren't you one of them?" Joyce asked, curious at his apparent rancor.

"Well, outside of the fact I've been fired and rehired and all, I'd like to think I was *never* one of *them,*" he replied candidly.

"Yeah, Mom," Buffy contributed. "Even though that lady today seemed okay, the Council members sort of have this general creepazoid factor going. No way Giles has that - although he was a bit weird when I first met him," she teased.

"I did have a tendency to be - intense," he admitted, smiling.

Willow stepped in, again demonstrating how their minds worked so closely together. "Giles was just a Watcher. Council members are more tightly screened and more carefully chosen than even Watchers."

"And more schizoid," Xander added, spinning his finger at his temple.

"I take it you don't care for them," Joyce surmised.

Xander snorted. "Ya think?"


When she found out the four of them hadn't even eaten or been home since leaving the testing facility, Joyce shooed them out of the hospital, assuring them she'd call if Dawn woke again.

They returned first to the Magic Box, where they found Amy was off duty, and Anya was running the shop. Conversation was somewhat strained, but mostly friendly, and they left her to close up for the evening.

Xander was quiet on the way to dinner, and they all could feel that he had something on his mind, but he was doing a good job of masking it from them with mental flotsam and jetsam. *He really is smarter than we give him credit for,* Giles though with some pride. Finally, over a large plate of pasta at Mama Mia's, he spilled.

"Uhm, Willow, would you, uh, oh geez, this is tough." He took a gulp of his drink, and played with his food a few minutes more before looking up again. "I need someone to stay the night with me tonight. Anya will be gone, and I had a rough time earlier, and I just don't want to sleep alone. Not *that* way, you know, just, uh."

Buffy put her hand over his. "We understand, Xan. I'm beginning to think that none of us should be sleeping alone - it's too long out of contact with another Part, and I'm not sure it's good for us." She looked imploringly at Giles.

"I agree completely. Perhaps, however, you should spend the night at my apartment, Xander, and Buffy and Willow should stay at yours. Tomorrow, we can give some thought to a permanent living arrangement for the four of us, which I think is quickly becoming inevitable."

Xander grinned weakly. "G-man, I didn't know you cared."

An answering wicked grin slid across the Englishman's face. "You're like another part of me, Xander."

After the day they'd had, it felt good to laugh again.

Chapter 9

Weeks passed. They had a funny way of doing that, when you weren't paying attention. Glory had been quiet, at least as far as her quest for the Key was concerned. The Key herself was healing nicely, able now to converse through scribbled notes, although still bound to the hospital by doctor's orders.

Tara was no longer Willow's Significant Other. They'd never really discussed it, but both knew it, and that was sufficient. Things were even more awkward between them than they were between Anya and Xander, and when the four exes were all together in one place, the air had a kind of substance to it, it was so thick with discomfort.

The Watchers had disappeared - they hadn't mentioned leaving, but the Unity members hadn't seen them since they'd gone over the test results, and didn't really care to, either. They were aware of their "new" ages, and had been provided with paperwork supporting that, to head off questions. Xander still had to think when someone asked his birthdate, though - 1975 just sounded weird. They also found out that they all possessed a modicum of "Slayer strength," and a few other medical details. There was no question in their minds that they hadn't been told everything. After all, this was the Council.

There had been a two-bedroom apartment in Xander's building come open, and the Unity snapped it up. They'd really have preferred three, just for the extra space, but they'd make do. The Rosenberg's were a bit disturbed by the idea of their daughter moving off campus, but since there was no additional cost (actually, it was cheaper), and she would be with Xander and 'Bunny,' they finally accepted it. Not that they paid all that much attention, but certain things did get their notice. Willow was sure this would be the last she'd ever hear about it. Joyce was completely in support - she almost felt like she understood the Unity better than she had the whole Slayer business. She just found it reassuring that Buffy was a part of a group of people who loved her so much, and there was strength in numbers. And while the other three had apparently always helped Buffy, this new arrangement made them far more effective. Besides, Amy had moved in with her, and she felt like she had a third daughter now. It made releasing Buffy to this new existence a tiny bit easier.

Buffy still patrolled, and the Scoobies still helped. Sometimes, just for a change of pace, Unity would patrol. They'd become better at slipping in and out of the bond, although they still had a disconcerting habit of finishing sentences for one another right after dividing. Still, they were basically themselves, and life had fallen into a routine of work (for Xander, Buffy and Giles) and school (for Willow), with nights at the Bronze or on patrol for the whole gang.

But the idea of a normal life, or as normal as life can be for one soul sharing four bodies, was antithetical to everything the Hellmouth stood for, so it was bound not to last.


Xander could hear Amy's voice as he walked into the shop. ".Yeah, sometimes I really miss my wheel, but Joyce has a treadmill, and that helps some. I did get thrown out of Chuck E. Cheese's, though. They said grownups couldn't crawl through the tubes. I couldn't help it, though - they looked so much like home."

A rough and vaguely familiar voice answered her. "Gotcha. I can't even go in pet shops anymore. They smell like prisons to me."

Xander rounded the corner, and saw his guess was on target. "Oz," he greeted the wolfman pleasantly.

"Xander," the shorter man nodded. "Willow?"

"School," Xander responded in understanding, then turned within. "She'll be done in about ten minutes, then she'll walk over here," he went on after a short silent pause. At the questioning look on Oz's face, he assured him, "Don't worry, it'll be a surprise. I didn't tell her, and I'm blocking her now." A raised eyebrow joined the puzzled expression. "We have a new - connection," Xander explained. "Her, me, Buffy and Giles sort of have built-in cellular service these days."

"Odd," the werewolf offered.

Xander cracked up. "I really have missed your acerbic monosyllabic wit, Oz-man."

"You," Oz commented, "have been spending way too much time with Giles."

The taller man grinned crookedly. "You have no idea."

*Speak of the devil,* Xander thought, as Giles breezed in the door with a box load of books he'd found at a local antique shop.

"I would prefer you find non-demonic forms of address for me in the future, Xander," Giles responded good-naturedly to the mental comment. The younger man crossed to his friend, throwing a brotherly arm around his shoulder.

"Why don't I take that, G-man? We've got company." He pulled the box from Giles' grasp, tossing his head in Oz's direction and scooting back into the storeroom.

"Oh, my," Giles breathed. "Oz. What a surprise."

*In answer to your unasked questions, yes, he wants to see Willow - she's on her way here. No- I don't think she's still interested, but if you'd stake your bloody claim, you wouldn't have to be worrying about that, now, would you?* Xander communicated from his position in the back room.

The Watcher never responded.

"Hey, Giles," Oz replied laconically. Looking the older gentleman over critically, he raised a brow. "You must be eating your Wheaties, man. Looking decent."

"And the surprises are gonna just keep on coming," Xander offered, emerging from the back. Giles shot him an angry glare.

The younger male member of Unity was concerned about Giles. He hadn't had a guy friend in a long time - not since Jesse, really, although he and Oz had almost kinda sorta - and he hadn't thought of Giles that way in the past. But now, with the connection, the discovery they had a lot in common, and the fact they were suddenly nearly the same age, he considered Giles his best friend. Stuff he could never really share with Willow and Buffy, he and Giles would spend hours arguing over, dissecting and reconstructing. Important stuff - like if going back to college would help him if he wanted to continue in construction, eventually owning his own company. Silly stuff - like whether or not bologna could actually be called "meat." Guy stuff - like wondering if Pamela Anderson was a natural blonde or not (and about the naturalness of other parts, as well). And of course, they talked about "their" girls.

He still teased Willow and flirted with her, but she was Giles' to take the shot with, as far as Xander was concerned. And he knew that G-man had only fatherly feelings for the Slayer, no matter what their respective ages. But none of that changed the fact that they were both afraid, for different reasons, to mention anything about their feelings to the objects thereof.

Giles was sure that Willow still thought of him as the "stuffy older guy," in spite of the change. After all, Buffy had all but said *she* did - even if it had been in a teasing way. And then there was the whole sexual orientation difficulty - what if Willow had a crush on Buffy or something? *That* thought had given Xander major wiggins for *days.*

And Xander had been going through the "love Buffy, can't talk to her about it" thing for so long, he wasn't sure he knew how to handle it any differently. Sometimes he picked up stray thoughts that indicated she might possibly feel similarly, but for some reason, she had a major block going there, just as Giles had with Willow. It struck him as strange he could read many other emotions off the group, but some simply acted as conductors, not signals. But he was pretty sure he knew why.

He'd finally permitted himself to look at the color strands that ran between the members of Unity. He'd noticed the green that ran from Buffy to her mother also ran from Buffy to Giles, and back to the Slayer from both. It also ran between Joyce and Dawn. He'd decided it indicated a parental relationship, emotionally. From Buffy to Willow, and back, he saw blue. The same color ran between Buffy and Dawn, and himself and Willow, Dawn, and Giles. He did notice that the strands from both Willow and Dawn to himself were streaked heavily with white, and the one from him to Willow was also, although not as much so. Blue, he was fairly certain, was a sibling-type emotion.

Red sort of frightened him. He'd not seen anyone yet with a pure red strand running from him or her to another person, but he'd seen some rather nasty actions from people with even a little red between them. It was nearly always mixed with purple, and often other colors as well. Xander was pretty sure red indicated either anger or hatred. He hadn't quite gotten a handle on purple yet. And there was a nice soft gold that seemed to mean friendship - not quite as close as a sibling, but warmly connected. Those strands ran from Amy to Joyce and all of the Unity members, for example.

It was white that made him a little nervous. He was seeing a lot of it in their little group, and he wasn't totally sure what it meant, but neither of the meanings he could come up with were easy to handle. Pure white ran from Giles to Willow, as well as from Xander to Buffy. The return strand from Willow to Giles was tinged with green, although he'd noticed it fading in the past few weeks to become whiter each day. And there was a white strand that ran from Buffy to himself.

See, Xander knew how he felt about Buffy, and pretty much how Giles felt about Willow. So white had to mean either romantic love or simple sexual attraction. Since Buffy had never given any intimation of feelings of a squishy nature for her Xander-shaped friend, he had to go with the sex one. After all, she'd been single for some time, and lived in the same apartment with him. Relationships outside the group had so far crashed and burned. He seriously couldn't envision Buffy as a monk, and she saw Giles like a father, so she probably saw Xander as the only outlet for those kinds of needs. Although he was reasonably sure she would never act on that view, nonetheless. Monk Buffy it was.

Besides if white meant anything romantic, he'd been seriously wasting his time, and she was an awesome actress. Nope - had to be sex.

Which of course meant that Willow had the hots for Giles. He grinned at that thought, as one of the subjects of it walked in the door.

"Hey, Xand," Willow greeted him, kissing him quickly on the cheek. She and Buffy had started that recently, with both Xander and Giles. The Unity members had, since the beginning, touched when they met, but now the girls had taken it the next logical step. He thought it was kind of nice, and kissed her back. "Rupe," Willow continued, interrupting Xander's thoughts. He watched Oz's reaction as Willow bussed the other man on the cheek, throwing in a brief hug. The wolfman nearly showed emotion for a second, and focusing on the colors, Xander saw a small and swiftly extinguished flash of purple and red aimed at both Giles and himself. The other colors he saw from Oz were white, towards Willow, and after the flash, gold, towards himself. Good, Oz had really forgiven him for the mess back in high school. But the werewolf was still in love - lust? - with Wills. Not necessarily good.

He didn't have to read Willow's colors when she saw Oz. He could hear her thoughts if he wanted to, yes, but he knew her expressions well enough. Surprise, joy, confusion, fear and a little anger all danced rapidly across her face. "Oz," she breathed so softly he wondered if he was hearing her mind instead of her voice. Without trying, he could clearly see the purple strand running from Giles to Oz, and it came to him with stunning clarity. Fear. Purple stood for fear.


Joyce was where she usually was - sitting in Dawn's hospital room. She'd been going over some of her younger daughter's homework after the tutor had left for the day. That new principal - Mrs. Anderson - was far more reasonable and helpful that that horrible Snyder man had ever been, and as a result, Dawn had kept up with her high school class work with little difficulty.

The young intern who was handling Dawn's case was talking to her, explaining some of the things that would be happening in the next few days, when Dawn finally returned home. She would still be medicated, but the dose would be continually reduced, and she would be coming back to the hospital almost daily for a while, for both speech and physical therapy, and to see him as well. Joyce was mentally trying to work out a schedule where she could keep up her duties at the gallery as well as shuttle Dawn around, and she finally decided, albeit reluctantly, that the Unity members would need to help her out.

"Mrs. Summers?" the young man said, in a way that indicated it hadn't been the first time he'd called her.

"Sorry," Joyce responded, flustered. "What?"

"Can I put you down for a standing appointment at 10 a.m.?"

The time was no better and no worse than any other, and she shrugged. "Sure. Is it okay if her sister or some of her sister's friends bring her sometimes?"

"Perfectly fine," he agreed, scribbling on the chart. She rose as he turned to go.

"Thank you, Doctor.?" She must have been distracted - Joyce couldn't remember the young man's name. She held out her hand to shake his.

Taking her hand with confidence, he answered. "Ben. Just call me Ben."


Buffy was bored. Bored Buffy. Boo-hoo, Buffy bored. Bah! She shook her head. This was getting her nowhere, fast.

She'd finished the work that was supposed to take all day in no time flat, and had made coffee for the rest of the office staff, sharpened everyone's pencils, even emptied the pencil sharpener. She was now trying to find another way to kill time.

Think about friends - always a good time-filler. After a quick listen in to check that everyone else's mind was too busy to eavesdrop on hers, she thought about things as they now were.

She and Willow shared a room, a bed even, and though this might have made her uncomfortable before Unity with Willow's sexual preference and all, now it just made her privy to the witches' dreams occasionally. They were interesting and confusing, and Buffy wished she'd listened better in Freshman Psych when the symbolism of dreaming had been discussed. She did know that guys featured in Willow's nightlife fantasies as often, if not more often, than girls. And recently, one formerly middle-aged, now looking buff and youthful, former librarian had been a frequent subject. She was amused at the thought that her Watcher might be the dream guy for her best friend, but she wasn't blind enough to wonder why. He looked great these days, and dressed appropriately for his new age. He and Wills had always had a lot in common, and Buffy only hoped that Giles wouldn't be as blind as Xander had been to the redheaded witch for so long.

Xander - now there was a horse of another color, as her grandmother used to say. Buffy checked - the others were still preoccupied. She hadn't just recently noticed that Xander was hot. The idea had been stored in the half-price bin in the dusty back corners of her brain since that whole swim team thing in high school. She just refused to take it out, clean it up and put it on the shelves for a lot of reasons. But lately, for the first time since she'd known him, there it was, at the top of the heap, begging for display case status. And even more thought provoking was the fact that she was about ready to buy into the whole Xander package - lock, stock and barrel. She was reasonably sure he'd been interested in her before Anya came along, and quite possibly still was. They just had to come to an agreement. One that could be sealed with a kiss, perhaps?

Ooops - Buffy caught some dissonance on her mental radio - K-Friends was playing disturbing relationship thoughts from the rest of her little group. It might be worth listening in, after all.


Willow was free-falling. She felt as if she couldn't get her feet on solid ground. Her life, already complicated enough by all the changes lately, just took another hairpin curve into a place she never thought she'd be again. The old "who might I want to be with" dilemma. Although she had to wonder if the Unity was going to limit her choices.

Tara - she and Tara weren't exactly broken up, they just weren't *anything* anymore. Tara seemed to be handling it well enough - they still saw each other around school, and she'd sometimes come by the Magic Box to talk to Anya, who had indeed become a very good friend of the blonde witch. Things were strained at first, but they seemed to be easing slightly now.

Then there was Xander. The old flame hadn't ever really gone out, although it certainly didn't burn the way it did before. Even if he wouldn't admit it, she knew that his feelings for Buffy would never let him give himself properly to any other girl. She knew he loved her, and he always had, but not really in that way. Finally, in her time with Tara, she'd discovered that was enough. She still wouldn't kick him out of her bed. She nearly gasped aloud at her own audacity with that thought.

Which turned her thoughts to Buffy. She'd actually wondered if there could be anything beyond friendship with her, but she just couldn't visualize it. Buffy had never shown any leanings toward even bi-sexuality, although there was some kind of spark between her and Faith, Willow always thought it was mostly on Faith's part. She'd already nearly lost one good old friend to the intricacies of sexual tension, and she wasn't going to go there again. No - decidedly not Buffy.

Willow was almost afraid to think about Rupert Giles. She'd had a crush on him in high school for a while - he seemed to appreciate her in a way none of the others did. He saw her intelligence as strength, not just as a helpful tool. He even needed her sometimes. True, it was just to surf the net and hack into other computers, but still, she liked being needed. Then she began exploring Wicca, and he could relate to that pursuit, although he often worried too much about her involvement in it. Still, he had always been way too much older, and not the sort of older man, she was certain, to get involved with a high school student for any reason. Then there was Jenny, and his period of mourning after she was killed. Then Olivia. And of course, Willow was gay.

Okay, Xander was right. Not so gay, after all. Bi, probably. And Rupe, as she had started calling him, was no longer so much older, or she some innocent high school student. And he looked good, even when older, so the fact he looked good, younger, wasn't too surprising. For the first time since they'd know each other, the planets were all in alignment, and she'd been thinking, since neither was involved with anyone anymore, that maybe they could give it a try. She hadn't worked up her nerve to mention it yet, though.

Then in walks Oz, from somewhere beyond. Oz, who she'd cheated on, and who had cheated on her. Oz, who she'd turned away because of Tara. Oz, who'd been her first. How dare he come back just as she was settling down, sort of? Just to make her life more complicated.

"Willow?" Oz's voice broke through. "You still in there?"

The witch blushed, realizing she'd been not only mentally babbling again, but frozen to the spot where she'd stood since she first saw her ex-boyfriend in the store. She shook her head to clear it. "Here. Yeah. Uhm, hi?" She grinned weakly. "You passing through?"

"Naw. Back - staying." She nearly laughed - he still was able to distill most things to a couple of words. She had loved that about him, especially since she herself was so incapable of such simplicity. "Devon's new bass player is gone. I wasn't committed elsewhere. Hence - back." He looked around, sensing every eye and ear in the room was focused on the two of them. "Wanna go someplace? Talk?"

Willow looked around, too. *Well?* she asked her bond-mates mentally. *Advice?*

*I'd go,* Buffy responded first from where she was, physically. She'd obviously been listening in. *Talking isn't a commitment.*

*Talking isn't even an event with Oz,* Xander said sardonically. *Ten words out of him, you two'll be done.* Buffy scowled at him mentally, and he shrugged. *Yeah, you should go talk. You owe it to him, probably. And you can have the fun of explaining Unity to him.*

*Unity won't bother him,* Willow said assuredly. *Very little does.*

"Will?" Oz asked somewhat hesitantly.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, talk. Let's talk." She spun on her heel, breezing out of the door with Oz following her obediently. Xander was fairly certain none of the others had noticed Giles' miserable silence.


"I wonder what the Slayer is doing? I thought for sure after I broke her little sister, she'd come around looking for me. What is it with these humans - can't they figure anything out properly?" Glory was admiring herself in the mirror, talking to her own reflection, although one of her fawning acolytes was standing nearby.

"Humans seem to want to spend large amounts of time with the injured during recovery, Glorious one. Perhaps she is tending to her sister. She is only one person, after all."

"Which is exactly what is so infuriating," the rogue god whined. "I should have crushed her by now, only one person like she is. If she doesn't fork over my key real soon, I may *have* to kill her, and then tear down this town and start sifting through the pieces to find it. And that's so messy - it always ruins my nails. I'd really rather not."

"It does have a certain elegant simplicity to it, as plans go, however."

She flicked her fingers at the minion. "Perhaps, but Ben gets so upset when I do things like that. I wonder how my Benny is doing? I hate that I can't see him while we're here. We can't even talk." Glory pouted at herself in the glass. "Even if he is soft, he's still family. I wonder how he likes this little dump? Probably more'n I do, no doubt."

"I could take him a message for you," the acolyte offered.

"No need, right now." She looked down at the UPS woman lying on the floor, giggling senselessly. "Right now, I just need you to clean up after dinner."


Quentin Travers turned away from the TV monitor as Andrea entered the room. The two Watchers had found a lovely place where they could keep close tabs on Unity - ironically enough, Xander's old apartment, just a couple of doors away from the quartet's new home. He was reasonably sure the group thought them gone - and certainly would never suspect that they were really, thanks to a glamour Travers had found in one of his simpler magical texts, the two old biddies down the hall. He and Andrea were traveling Sunnydale these days as the Benton sisters - elderly, dotty and totally harmless. If approached by anyone, they immediately started fluttering and fussing, and even the hardiest souls were run off in a heartbeat. Particularly in this town, where life tended to be nasty, brutish and short, old people were nearly invisible anyway. It had proven to be the perfect disguise.

"Anything new?" Andrea asked as she set the grocery bag down on the counter. They had planted surveillance cameras in most of the locations the Unity members frequented - the Magic Box, the college, that Bronze place. They'd tried to get one into the other apartment, but the little witch had some serious bans up, and they hadn't been able to get through. Probably wise, in a town like Sunnydale, but frustrating to the two Watchers.

"Yes. There appears to be a new planet in the Unity's little solar system - a young man they've only referred to as 'Oz.' Why don't you fire up the computer and find out what you can about him." A printer to his left chugged out a page. "Here's a shot of him from the camera in the shop. Have a go." The Council was adamant that every person who had more than casual contact with the Unity should be catalogued, since they rarely made the same mistakes twice. Quentin and Andrea sent the tapes to the Council once a week, which some junior grade Watcher would go over with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, but they kept an eye on the monitor as much as possible in order to catch things quickly.

"Fine," Andrea sighed. "Put the groceries away, would you?" She found much of the Watcher's Council business distasteful - being a voyeur was only one unpleasant thing in a list of many she'd already done. She wondered if she could ever just turn off the caring, the way Quentin seemed to have done. A small part of her hoped not.

Chapter 10

Willow and Oz had sat for at least ten minutes in the coffee shop in near silence. They stirred their coffee, looked around, Willow even got in some quality fidgeting. Oz seemed indifferent to the quiet, but Oz seemed indifferent to most things, on the surface. Still water truly did run deep with this one, however.

"So, Devon needed a new bass player, huh?" Willow finally ventured.

"He did once he heard I was coming back," Oz explained. He could tell the redhead didn't like the sound of that. "I got a letter from your girlfriend, Tara."

"Not my girlfriend anymore," Willow muttered darkly.

"Got that letter, too."

"So you decided to come back and catch me on the rebound, is that it?" Her previous nervousness was segueing into burning anger.

Oz's sincere gaze poured water on the flames. "She was worried about you. If she was worried enough about you to write your ex about it, I thought I should come." He took her hand. "What's going on, Will? Tara wrote something screwy about you not being all you anymore. That you had some weird bond with Xander and Buffy and the old librarian. What I saw with Xander sort of confirms that, too."

"Rupe is not old," she cried defensively.

"And what's with this 'Rupe' business? Mrs. Calendar was dead for almost a year before you'd call her 'Jenny' in conversation. Cute nicknames for men old enough to about be your dad aren't your style."

She pulled her hand from his grasp, hugging herself defensively. "He's not old enough to be my dad anymore. Maybe my older brother, or something." She looked down at the table, wondering if, even for a werewolf on the Hellmouth, the Unity story was going to be hard for anyone who hadn't seen her to swallow. "We've changed. All of us. Some are obvious ways - Rupe is a whole lot younger, Buffy and Xander and me are older. Some aren't so obvious - my classes are much easier now that I can tap into Rupe's knowledge, and we can all talk to each other no matter how far away we are, just by thinking it. We're all a lot stronger. But Unity - Unity is so much more. She's like Supergirl, without the spandex and cape. And I don't she can fly, either." She looked up, not totally surprised by the lack of comprehension on the young man's face. Sighing, she sipped her cooling coffee. "Why don't I start from the beginning?"


After a long and serious pep talk with Giles, Xander was a bit tired, even though it was only mid afternoon. He'd just done the punch out on a fairly large job for Fred, and he'd actually gone by the Magic Box to see if Giles wanted to go get lunch, an idea Oz's appearance had totally overridden. He swung by McDonalds, picked up a chocolate shake, and headed home instead.

Imagine his surprise when he entered the apartment to find Buffy curled up on the couch, watching "Oprah." She gazed over at him fondly. "Hey." Pressing the remote, she switched the TV off. "Funny how those people on talk shows never have problems as complicated as we do, here in Real Life."

"Yeah, well, they don't live in Sunnydale. I thought you were working today."

"I could say the same for you," she grinned.

"Finished my job this morning." He wandered into the kitchen to throw away his empty cup, Buffy following him. "You?"

"They decided that since I'd opened all their mail and filed it within the first hour, they didn't have anything else for me to do, and sent me home, so I'm free. Free Buffy." She stood smiling, her arms wide.

Xander grew a tad unfocused at the sight. *What an invitation,* he thought.

"It could be," she said huskily, her eyes narrowing as she looked at him.

"I didn't say that out loud, did I?" he asked nervously. She shook her head. He strode to the couch, turning to look at her intently before he sat down. "We need to talk about stuff."

She sat beside him. "We do," she conceded.

"I've given the idea of you and me together some thought," Xander began. *Way to understate it, Xand,* he told himself. Her eyebrow shot up, and he realized they were touching slightly, and the whole internal conversation was on 'broadcast mode' as far as Buffy was concerned, too. He thought about moving away, but as her hearing his mental comment earlier had shown, his emotions were turning up the volume of his thoughts as well, and while he figured Willow and Giles were probably wrapped up enough in their own current situations, at least if he and Buffy touched, he could guarantee she would be the *only* one who heard him embarrass himself. She smiled at that thought.

"I've thought about you some, too," she told him. "I mean, it's not like we aren't just about living in each other's laps these days."

"I really like the way you word things, Buff," he grinned.

Ignoring him, she continued. "Your deal with Anya might not have proved anything, but then with Willow and Tara breaking up, too, it probably means none of us will be able to hang onto partners outside of Unity. Not that I've been able to, anyway."

"Self-pity warning. Let's just say, even on that score, and go on."

She grinned. "See? You know me really well, and you always think about how I feel - even if it means a joke at your own expense."

"Hey, you know me - no expense spared!"

She swatted him. "Stop interrupting, or we'll never get to the part where I say we should give you and me a try."

He clapped his hand over his mouth, but couldn't stopper up his thoughts. *Did she say give me a try? Give *her* and *me* a try? Oh, God, now I'm hearing things. No, I'm dreaming.*

"Yes, I did, no, you aren't, and no, you aren't. Now *hush* and listen - in your mind too. Now, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted." He looked contrite - and so cute. He heard that thought, and grinned. She rolled her eyes - she was never going to get through this. "I don't think any of us are going to be able to have relationships with Others - not close, serious ones. But besides the fact that you're no hardship to look at, you're sweet and considerate, and caring, and I find myself wondering why I never saw you as boyfriend material in the past."

He had promised to stay quiet, but his mind was a traitor. *Because you've never been in a position where I was the equivalent of 'the last man on earth' before,* he thought glumly, forgetting for the moment she could hear.

"Aww, Xan," she said softly, taking his free hand and stroking it. "It's not that. I can't think of anyone I'd rather be sharing a mind with. I'd started to care for you a lot even before Unity came up, but you belonged to Anya, and I was happy to see you happy. Now, for the first time since I've known you, nobody I care about would get hurt by me liking you, and neither of us are even involved with anyone else - unless you and Willow are interested again?"

Lifting an eyebrow for permission to speak, he took his hand away from his mouth when she nodded. "Giles. Willow and Giles," he said quickly.

Buffy squealed. "I thought so! Yesss!" After a few moments of triumphant couch bouncing, she regained her control. She looked over at him after finishing her outburst. " Why do I get the feeling you still aren't convinced I could feel anything beyond friendship for you?"

"Well, there is the fact you told me so to my face."

"That was a long time ago," she protested, defensively. "Things change - people change. You've changed." Teasingly she pinched his cheek. "My little Xander's all grown up." He smiled feebly and she frowned back. "Seriously, if you had been the man you are now, then, I could in no way have ignored you. Of course, you'd have also been twenty-five to my sixteen, which could have been an issue."

"I seem to remember you liking older men back then - one that was a good deal more than twenty-five."

Her head dropped. "We all make mistakes."

"You're admitting Angel was a mistake?"

She looked up, defiance in her eyes. "Yeah. But I made it, and I learned something, and I wouldn't be who I am without it - without him."

"Whoa, whoa! Put down the gun and back away, cowboy. I was just surprised to hear that I was actually right about something back then."

She sighed, the defiance gone. "You were right more than we gave you credit for. And if I'd seen what was right in front of me in you, maybe Mrs. Calendar would still be alive, among other things. You always had the potential to be what you are now, I just was too wrapped up in my own life to notice."

"Just like I was with Willow," Xander admitted.

"At least you honestly didn't know how Willow felt about you. I knew how you felt, and chose to ignore it for my own selfish reasons. I even used it against you some. And I'm sorry."

"Ya know, I think we're losing the mood we were starting to establish here. Could we close out the history portion of today's lesson?" He grinned that lopsided but sexy grin, and her stomach did a small flip. "I was thinking we might move onto anatomy."

She grinned back - he could flirt with the best of them, and she was finally appreciative of his remarks. "We still need to figure out what we can do to help Willow and Giles first."

"Well, I know for a fact he'd like a chance with her. I'm pretty sure she wouldn't object if he made a move, although with Oz back, I don't know what she's planning right now. But I think they're both stuck in that place I've lived with you for years - afraid to do anything and ruin what they *do* have." A part of him couldn't believe he'd finally admitted that to Buffy.

Her voice, when she spoke again, was a tad lower in pitch. "All the more reason for you and me, Xand. If we wait, they'll both be too worried about what's proper for either of them to make the first move."

"So you aren't worried about what's proper with us?" he asked, a bit breathless.

"It depends on whose definition of proper you're using," she answered, moving a little closer to him.

"Would it be proper by your definition if I kissed you now?" he asked, very softly.

"I think so," she breathed equally softly onto his lips as they descended to hers.


"So that's everything, or almost everything. Life before around Sunnydale was freaky, but now it's me that's freaky as well," Willow finished.

"Freakier than a werewolf?" Oz asked.

"Maybe a little," she grinned at him.

"Did you explain it all to Tara? 'Cos her letter sounded pretty confused."

Willow swallowed the last of the cookie Oz had bought her to go with her second coffee. "It's still pretty confusing, but it was probably worse when she wrote you. One of our first times as Unity, Xander disappeared at a rather unfortunate time, and Anya pretty much unloaded everything on Tara, since they'd become friends. We didn't have a whole lot of control after we divided, like I told you, and that was hard for them to deal with, too. Even Joyce was bothered by it at first. It was sort of overwhelming - for everyone involved."

"Have you considered getting back together with her, now that you have more control? I mean, it sounds a lot like my werewolf deal."

"Oh yeah, it sort of is. Is the meditation and stuff still working for you?"


She thought for a moment. "The thing is, I was drifting away from Tara before this. Now, I'm not too sure I can manage a relationship outside of Unity anymore." Willow looked down in a shy way.

"Xander?" the wolfman asked, reading her discomfort almost correctly. When she shook her head, still looking down, even Oz couldn't keep all the surprise out of his voice. "Giles?"

She looked pleadingly into his eyes. "We're practically the same age now, and he's smart - as smart as you are, Oz. He's great fun, now that he's loosened up some, and he knows almost as much about Wicca as Tara did, and." She stopped her babbling, almost in tears.

"It means a lot to you that I support you in this, doesn't it? 'Cos I didn't do it so good last time, did I?"

This time, the incipient tear made its hard-won escape down her cheek, although Willow managed a wobbly smile. "You are getting better with practice. And I don't even know if he cares at all, really. That way, anyway. But I do know that I couldn't put you through what Tara went through, or what Anya did, especially on a maybe. I have to try first and see if Rupe and I could work."

"And see, I'm not all wolfing because of it, either," he grinned a bit feebly. "I made sure I was better prepared this time. With what Tara said in her letter, I wasn't sure what to expect, so I did a lot of visualization before I came. I gotta say, though, I didn't quite visualize this."

"I don't think Stephen King on a bad day could have visualized all this." She wiped her face with the napkin and stood, Oz jumping up as well. "I'd really like you to stay around, though. You're still special to me, you know."

"Sure," he shrugged. "Devon'd kill me if he fired his bass player for nothing."


It was a beautiful kiss, romantic in every way. He held her face in his hands, and tasted her lips like they were the finest delicacy. Xander had practiced this in his mind hundreds of times, and it was better than any one of them had ever been.

"Mmm," Buffy moaned as he pulled away. "Sweet." Her eyes opened, sparkling with promise, still only inches away from him. "Are there any other flavors? I like spicy."

Grinning, Xander stood up, hanging onto her hand. He pulled her to her feet, then against his chest, and without warning, swooped down to capture her lips again, this kiss hard and passionate. *Oh, yeah,* he heard her think. *Four alarm spicy. I like.* Their tongues began a fierce erotic duel.

*Oh, just wait,* Xander answered in her mind. *If you like the appetizer, you're gonna love the main course.* Without breaking the kiss, he swept her off her feet and carried her into his bedroom, kicking the door closed behind him.

He laid Buffy gently on the king-sized bed, reluctantly pulling away from her mouth as he did. She took a breath to speak, but he laid his finger on her lips, silencing her for a moment. Quickly, he removed the sandals from her feet, and kicked off his own shoes. Crawling back up beside her, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her again, and she lost the breath she'd just managed to fully regain. God - if she'd known Xander was so good at this, she'd have done it long ago.

*No. I'm kind of glad you didn't.*

She pulled away from him this time. "Why? Here I thought you'd lusted after me for a while."

"Forever. But think of how interesting things will feel with our mental link, now." He grinned evilly, and she just had to kiss that grin away.

Her mouth occupied, she spoke to him mentally again. *I think you're right. I can feel how excited this is getting you.*

He pulled away, in surprise, since he wasn't feeling her arousal yet. Was he doing something wrong? "Through the link?"

"No, through your jeans. We could get them out of the way." She couldn't finish, since he had tackled her again, kissing her and running his hands all over her body. Little else needed to be discussed for a while, out loud or otherwise.


Willow considered going back to finish her classes until she looked at her watch and realized she'd missed all but a half hour of her afternoon schedule already. She'd been good; Unity hadn't been called lately, so she supposed she could afford it. And it had been good to talk to Oz. It had steeled her own resolve to explore her options with Rupe. He and Xander were close - maybe she should talk to Xand about it.

Arriving back at the apartment, she noticed Xander's truck in the lot. The Watcher was staying at the shop until closing tonight, if she remembered correctly, so this might be a good time. The front door was open, and she made a mental note to remind Xander to lock it, even when he was home. After all, demons and thieves didn't need invitations in, even if vampires did.

She went back to the bedroom she and Buffy shared, dumping her backpack and kicking off her shoes. It looked like the Slayer had been home, and maybe left again, although Willow wasn't totally sure - there were just a few things out of place. As she headed toward the kitchen to see if Xander was there, she heard a noise from the guys' bedroom, and stopped for a moment before bursting in. When she realized what the sound was, she almost ran the other direction.

There was a low murmur, almost certainly Xander's voice, although she couldn't make out the words. But then she heard Buffy, and she was decidedly moaning. "Oh, yes," she heard the Slayer call out, "Yeah! Oh, do that again." Xander's low murmur again, then Buffy. "I will so not beg." A moment's quiet, then, "Oooooooh. Begging, seriously begging. Please?" Willow moved away, not wanting more detail. This would not, she realized with some black humor, be a good time to talk to Xander.

When Giles arrived home several hours later, Willow was on the couch with the TV turned up loud. "Willow?" he shouted, getting no answer. He moved in, touching her on the shoulder from behind. "Willow?"

She jumped, and then saw who it was. "Just a minute, Rupe. I can't hear you over the TV." She hit the mute on the remote, and looked over to the hall, sighing in relief, "Good, it's quiet now."

Giles rubbed at his ear. "I would say so. If you didn't like it, why didn't you just turn it down?"

"It wasn't the TV that was too loud," she answered.

"It was indeed," the Watcher told her in no uncertain terms. "Now," he went on, heading towards his room, "just let me change, and perhaps you can tell me how things went with Oz today." Rupert was quite proud of himself - he didn't flinch when saying the werewolf's name or anything. He had his hand on the doorknob, his mind on how mature he was going to be about Willow going back to her ex-boyfriend, and he didn't hear the witch's worried voice.

"I don't think."

He was through the door and back out in the speed of light. " should go in there right now," Willow finished lamely.

The Englishman was quite nearly incoherent. "Bed," he pointed behind him. "Buffy." He saw Willow nodding in understanding. "Xander?" His face awash in comprehension, "Too loud?"

"Yup," Willow agreed. "They asleep now? They damn well *should* be, after all that." Giles nodded and plopped down bonelessly on the sofa beside the redhead. "So," Willow asked cheerily, "You want to sleep out here tonight, or should I?"

Chapter 11

Willow was surprised when Buffy wandered out to the kitchen while she was bustling around fixing her breakfast. Okay, she was just toasting a Pop-tart and brewing coffee, nothing fancy here, but the point being, it was far earlier than she'd expected either of her friends to emerge from what Rupe had laughingly referred to this morning as 'the den of sin.' "You're up early," she commented to the rumpled Slayer, who was swallowed up in one of Xander's shirts, worn with the jeans she'd probably had on earlier yesterday.

Buffy yawned. "Had to call in unavailable to the temp office today," and off Willow's withering look, "What?" She thought for a moment. "I know you've figured out what happened between me and Xander, and."

"It isn't the knowledge that's disturbing, it was the guided mental tour thorough his exploration of your body that was unnerving."

All the sleepiness left Buffy's expression. "Huh? I thought when we were touching, two people could block the other two out. Maybe we were touching too much, maybe it doesn't include."

Willow interrupted again. "I couldn't hear your thoughts." Buffy lifted an eyebrow, and Willow turned her attention back to the toaster. "Never figured you for a screamer, Buff."

"Oh," came the humbled reply. "Sorry. Giles?"

"Missed the sound effects, but got the visual. You should also learn to lock the door, hon." Willow figured she'd probably exacted sufficient guilt from the situation, and turned to her best friend with a smile on her face. "So, tell me about it," she grinned, pulling out a chair and motioning across the table for Buffy to sit, reaching for her hand as she did.


Xander stumbled out of the bathroom and directly into someone. "Ooops, s'cuse me," he looked up, "G-man." His roommate was giving him a grim glare, and he answered it with a lopsided grin. "Sorry about last night. You arrange things so you could sleep in the girls' room with Wills?"

"Sofa," the Englishman bit out. "Xander."

"I know, I know. Painfully inconsiderate of me, should have warned you, should have."

"Locked the door?"

The younger man's eyes were wide. "You didn't. Oh, man, you did. Did you come in when, uh, see, uh, were we."

"Only the aftermath, thank God. Still, that is my room, too, you know. My bed, as well as yours, damn it, Xander." Giles was glowering, and Xander knew if he studied the other man's colors right now, there would be lots of visible red. "I need to shave, now, if you'd just excuse me." He tried to push by, but Xander grabbed his arm, and the tension flowed off of Rupert Giles in waves, washing away. The two eyed each other in surprise.

"Good God, Giles. I didn't realize - you went all night without the physical recharge. No wonder you were so wound up."

Far more relaxed now, Giles nodded. "I suppose you're right. Sorry - I didn't know. But Willow - I spoke with her briefly this morning, and she seemed her usually cheery self - why wasn't she?"

"She and Buffy see each other a lot more during the day, most of the time. She's more likely to hug or touch you or me easily. You tend to pull away more. She had a backlog, you didn't."

"Oh, my. I knew it was important we keep in contact, but I hadn't realized what not doing so could cause." He frowned at Xander, although not so angrily this time. "You realize that this merely makes your little indiscretion with Buffy more awkward?"

"G-man, this was no 'little indiscretion,' by any means. This was a major commitment, hopefully for the rest of my life, if I can talk her into it. I never intended a one-night stand."

"Well, could we work out sign, like the fellows in the dorms at Oxford? When one roommate planned to have a girl in the room, he'd place a necktie on the doorknob."

They were still holding onto one another. Xander raised an eyebrow. "First off, I don't own a tie that doesn't clip on. But I can solve that - just paint one on the damn door, 'cause I don't intend to let her go, ever again."


Xander led Giles into the kitchen, the older man complaining all the way. "You didn't need to stay in the bathroom with me while I shaved, for heaven's sake."

"No deal, G-man. You were in trouble, and I was there to help."

Buffy jumped up from the table, managing to hug Giles in a friendly way and Xander in an intimate way, both at the same time. "Hey - what's wrong?"

"The G-man here was suffering from tactile deprivation. In other words, our evening activities left him with no one to touch overnight, and he was spazzing over it this morning." Xander gave Willow a probing look.

"I was not, as you so elegantly put it, spazzing, Xander. I was a bit tense, that's all."

"Well, unless you manage to get enough touching in with the rest of us during the day, you're gonna need to sleep with one of us at night. I don't like the way you do tense. Now, I don't know about Buffy, but threesomes do nothing for me. So I was thinking, Will, would you mind swapping roommates with me?"

Buffy, tucked under Xander's free arm, lit up happily. "Yeah, for the good of the Unity."

"Excuse me," Giles asked with some irritation, "Do we have anything to say about this?"

"Nope," Buffy and Xander answered together.

"Well, since you asked so nicely," Willow said wryly. Turning to the older man, she offered, "I don't snore, and I promise I won't paw at you any more than Xander did. And I won't embarrass you by telling anyone where you spend the night, and I will *never* say we're 'sleeping together.'" Inside, she felt like she'd just signed the death warrant for any hope of a relationship with Rupe, but she didn't want to see him uncomfortable, so stealing a page from Xander's book, she poked fun at the deal.

"W-w-well," Giles stuttered, something he rarely did anymore, "I don't want to inconvenience you." He pulled away from the couple, sitting down at the table beside the other girl and touching her arm. "Perhaps we could work something else out."

Willow shook her head. "I felt a little funny this morning, myself, after spending the night alone. Let's face it, we're forced into co-dependency by Unity, and they aren't going to be much help anymore." She nodded toward the other couple, who were wrapped around each other, staring into one another's eyes and probably carrying on a mental conversation at the moment.

*You know,* he said inside her head, *It's just like the Body and the Heart to act on impulse. It's like the left brain/right brain dichotomy. Spirit and Intellect are more measured, more cautious and thoughtful.*

*So maybe we're thinking?* she asked, only half joking.

*Or maybe we should be,* he responded seriously.

For some reason, even the hint that he might feel the same way about her overwhelmed her, and Willow jumped up from the table, pulling away. "I'm gonna be late for class," she babbled, racing out of the room.

Giles looked after her, disappointment written clearly on his face.

Xander, usually the first to pick up on such things, was obviously focusing on something else, as he started back to the bedroom after Buffy. "Hey, G-man," he called back, "Ask Amy to tell anyone who calls for me that I'm gonna be indisposed today. I'll come by the shop later to get my messages."

*Sure,* the Watcher thought. *I'm glad to see things are working out for one of us, anyway.*


"Two of them seem to be staying home today," Travers informed Andrea, sipping his tea. "Can they be sick?"

He could see his associate riffling through her mental files. "I don't think they can," she answered thoughtfully. "Although, if they went without the contact long enough, all bets are off." At his confused look, She explained. "We've gone over this before, haven't we? Unity is like a home base, or a petrol station. They draw their strength from her - from each other, basically. They have to stay interconnected, or it's like a car running out of petrol - they have no fuel to go on."

"Would taking just one away weaken all the others?"

"Not as individuals, no. Not as long as the others are still touching regularly. They couldn't form Unity if one died; the others probably wouldn't continue to live at all. But distance doesn't affect Unity coming together, and once they did, the one who'd gone without contact would be refreshed again. The one separated would be the only one affected by simply taking away a single Part, however."

"Oh. I was rather hoping it might be an alternative to killing one of them. Oh, well." He took another sip. "If they were kept apart long enough, would the separated one die?"

"That's one of the things I can't predict. Possibly. But they might join as Unity before that happened anyway, negating the entire exercise." Andrea couldn't believe she was taking people's lives so casually, but she was well trained.

Quentin could have been discussing the weather, for all he seemed to care. "We'll just have to wait and see, I suppose. She's been quiet lately. Maybe we won't have to worry."

*We can only hope,* Andrea prayed fervently


"You do realize that eventually, one or both of us will have to go back to work?" Xander was leaning back on the headboard against his propped up pillow, Buffy's head resting on his chest.

"You mean, you don't think Giles will support us while we boff like bunnies on a daily basis?" She grinned saucily, and he kissed her nose.

"What a lovely phrase - 'boff like bunnies.' Not crude enough to be erotic, not subtle enough to use in public without shocking people. I do like the mental picture though - except for all the little bunnies it invokes."

"We can't have little bunnies, remember?" Her sad face made him sorry he'd mentioned it.

"Nope, wrong species," he declared.

She pulled away a little. "You know what I mean. Dr. Fairhope told us we were all sterile." It had been another adjustment Unity had apparently made to her Parts, like the age thing. Since two parts were male and two female, the reproductive system was simply neutralized to prevent difficulties. Besides, as Buffy and Willow had discussed afterwards, what would happen to the baby when they joined? If one of them were pregnant going into it, when they divided, would the other one be? She knew it was one of those sacrifices that had to be made. She had to admit she hadn't missed her menstrual cycle in the least, however.

Xander pulled her closer, wrapping his arms tightly around her. "Maybe if we practice enough, we'll get so good at it, we could prove her wrong."

As she kissed him long and deeply, her spirits lifted. Pulling away, she smiled again. "I think we're already awfully good at it." Her face grew thoughtful. "Did it seem - different? Better this last time, and I don't just mean because we've worked out how to use the interlocking parts to our best advantage?"

"Yeah," he agreed. "There was something beyond anything I've ever felt before. Almost like I was feeling double."

"Feeling double." Buffy's voice drifted off, then her eyes grew wide. She pulled away further.

"Ouch," Xander complained, rubbing his thigh. "What'd I do? What'd I say? Why'd you pinch me?"

Buffy's answer took his breath away. "I didn't pinch you, I pinched me."

Chapter 12

Giles hadn't precisely moped around the shop that morning. He didn't mope - it wasn't terribly productive. He had been quiet, however, and Amy could think what she wanted. Oz had come by, because, he admitted, he couldn't start back at the university for three more weeks, he had no job, and he needed something to do. And although Willow had indicated there was nothing more going on between her and her ex, his presence wasn't doing anything for Rupert's frame of mind.

Then Buffy and Xander stumbled in, making his day complete. Certainly, he loved the younger man like a brother - he was the best friend the Watcher had had in years. But coming on the heels of the apparent brush-off Willow had delivered this morning, Xander's 'just-slept-with-the-girl-of-my-dreams-and-couldn't-be-happier' attitude might be too much to take.

"G-man, something weird's goin' on!" Xander announced breathlessly.

"You know, in cultures outside of Sunnydale, the normal greeting is 'hello,'" Oz deadpanned to Amy. Dropping his voice further, the wolfman explained to the witch, "They smell like each other. Not just all over each other - exactly alike. I'm betting sex is involved somehow."

"Sex," Xander panted out. Oz raised a brow at Amy and nodded significantly. She stifled a giggle. "Changes things. We're - more bonded. It's." Obviously at a loss for words, he turned helplessly to Buffy. Without a word, she lifted her arm and pinched the tender part, on the inside just below the elbow. "Owww!" Xander yelped, grabbing his arm and glaring at her. "I still have a bruise on my leg from the first time you did that. Thanks."

Buffy smiled apologetically. "Sorry, honey. It's clear, quick and direct." Turning back to her Watcher, she explained, "I'm buying him an electric razor. I really don't want to find out first hand about the whole, 'if you cut one, the other bleeds' thing. But I can't block his thoughts anymore, or he mine. They're just there, all the time."

Xander nodded. "I thought we were close before, but this is like being together as Unity all the time, just with four feet instead of two." Buffy moved her back against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her waist. "And although I really don't want to stop touching her," she tilted her head up and smiled at that, "I get the same kind of charge all the time, now. It's like we're touching, even when we're across the room." Buffy nodded in confirmation.

"We've definitely moved into a whole new dimension."


Andrea was watching the monitor and listening with rapt fascination. This was more than she'd ever expected of the Unity. She honestly hadn't considered any of them having intimate relations, and how that might change the dynamic entirely. Silly of her, really. They were four healthy young humans, with normal needs in spite of their unusual physiology. Two male, two female. She giggled quietly, thinking of the Ark. Two by two.

And apparently, more than the dynamic had changed. The actual chemistry of the two involved was probably altered. The scientist in her desperately wanted to get her hands on them, test them again, and see what had occurred.

But the human being in her wanted to keep this a secret from Quentin, to pull this tape out of the machine and destroy it, and to never allow anyone in the Council to know. She knew it was impossible - every minute of the surveillance tape was logged for accuracy by the nameless, faceless young Council Wannabe that monitored the monitors. She'd be caught, and what little chance she had to affect the policy on Unity would be stripped from her. Sighing in resignation, she leaned back in her chair. "Quentin," she called to the other room. "There's been a new development."


Joyce looked at the memo on her desk for the third time, silently willing the time of her appointment tomorrow to be different. But, no - it was still at ten o'clock. And the hospital had called to say they were releasing Dawn at 10:15. As far as she knew, she could only be on one of the two places tomorrow, and as much she wanted it to be at the hospital, she'd waited a long time to meet with this buyer, and couldn't very well blow him off. She picked up the phone to call Buffy, then changed her mind. Her fingers punched in the number of the Magic Box.

"Amy? Joyce. Can I talk to Rupert?"


Rupert Giles was a responsible man. Joyce had made him responsible for picking Dawn up at 10:15, and he was at the hospital at 10:05.

The only problem was that he wanted to be there by 9:45, but he couldn't pry Buffy away from Xander until after that time. She'd found out he was retrieving her sister, and had been adamant that she needed to come along. Of course, the hospital staff was running late, and they were sitting in the waiting area, his arm around Buffy's shoulders, waiting. For anyone to even acknowledge they were there would be enough, but in spite of the fact he announced both their presence and their purpose at the desk, it seemed they had now become totally invisible.

*So, tell me about last night,* Buffy asked eagerly.

*We slept. End of story,* Giles responded a bit harshly.

*In the same bed,* Buffy pointed out.

*At least we got some rest. It's more than I can say for you two.*

*We did rest. Afterwards.* Giles was bothered by the fact that although he was in what should have been a one-on-one situation with Buffy, Xander was privy to the entire conversation, and even responding to him.

*I was talking to Buffy,* the Watcher snapped.

He could hear the grin in his friend's voice. *Now you get us both for the price of one,* the younger man responded.

*Wonderful.* Really, the Watcher wasn't sure why he was so snappish right now. It could have something to do with the nearly uncomfortable silence between himself and Willow after spending the night touching each other. Or the fact that his Slayer now seemed joined at the hip with his best friend, and in spite of their promise to try to be quieter in their nightly "activities," it had still been extremely awkward to lay there in bed beside a woman he was attracted to, touching her, smelling her perfume and shampoo, and listen to the muffled sounds of passion coming from the next bedroom. Or maybe it was just because the entire hospital seemed to be coordinating a mass effort to ignore him for as long as possible, allowing Buffy to question him about something he still wasn't able to think straight about. Sometimes, he really missed being the "old guy" who wasn't involved in this kind of thing.

"Miss Summers?" A nice looking young man was standing before them in hospital scrubs, looking solicitous. "My name is Ben, and I'm ready to go over the paperwork for your sister's checkout."

*About damned time,* Rupert fumed, earning a squeeze to his hand from Buffy, and a tender smile.

"If you and your boyfriend would come with me."

She laughed. "Giles is just a close friend, not my boyfriend."

Ben's eyes sparkled. "So, you don't *have* a boyfriend?" he asked with interest.

Rupert was still touching Buffy, and as a result he winced when Xander's mental voice hollered in his mind. *She does too, you pervert! Touch her and DIE!* Buffy just giggled. "My boyfriend's at work today. I'm sure he'll come with me sometime to bring Dawn back for therapy, and you can meet him." The intern's face fell, but he recovered quickly. *That's better,* Xander huffed.

"Well, it never hurts to ask," the young man shrugged. "Right this way."

Inside her mind, Buffy could hear said boyfriend. *I'm not actually thinking this guy is attractive, right? That's just you, the part of me that's you, right? Buffy? Stop being amused - I'm not. Buffy?*

Rupert smiled. Perhaps it wasn't going to be such a bad day after all.


*I'm such an ass.* Willow was replaying one variation of this theme, which had been running through her mind all morning. Actually, since yesterday morning. Perhaps this was the reason relationships never worked out - she deliberately seemed to sabotage them. Okay, so the whole Unity thing with Tara wasn't deliberate or in any way her fault - it just headed off the inevitable. She had lost her interest in Tara as a lover before that.

And after all, if she'd made her feelings clear to Xander, it might be her today moaning in the other bedroom. On the other hand, she and he might have gotten together back when she was still head over heels with him, and by now, they wouldn't even be speaking to each other.

Then there was Oz - she certainly picked a lousy time to get proactive with Xander about her feelings, but hey - par for the course. They did manage to rebuild after that, though, until her Relationship Curse struck again. She wasn't sure how the Veruca thing had been her fault, but it would stand to reason, considering her track record, that it was somehow.

And now Rupe. He actually seemed to like her. He seemed willing to ignore the fact that she had a silly schoolgirl crush on him, in spite of her being well beyond the age for such immaturity. He seemed interested in a genuine, mature relationship. Okay, maybe she was reading a lot into the few words he'd said that indicated he was thinking about her that way. The fact remained that he *was* thinking about her that way. That seemed rather clear. And she got up and ran.

She looked up, surprised. She was standing in front of the old Theatre Arts Complex, soon to be renovated into the UC Sunnydale Recreation Complex, including a small movie theatre, a bowling alley and a hamburger stand. Being renovated by one Alexander Harris, among other people. Willow felt an urge to talk with one of her best friends, right now. She pressed through the dirty glass doors, feeling him nearby through the magic of the Unity, grateful that she still knew one thing, about one person, for certain. Xander Harris was her best friend, and he would accept and understand her, no matter what.


"All right, then. If we have to kill one, it would have to be the witch or the Watcher, right?" Andrea nodded, then stood angrily.

"Damn it, Quentin, you talk like you're looking *forward* to killing one of the Unity. What is *wrong* with you?"

"I take my job seriously, Andrea, and my job is to be ready if the need be. That's all." The senior Watcher looked unperturbed by her accusation, his fingers templed in a contemplative gesture before him.

The doctor sighed and sat back down. "Without further tests I can't say for absolute certain, but I believe that the Heart and the Body now, joined as they are, would both have to be attacked at the same time for either of them to die. In other words, to kill either, we'd have to kill both. It would be harder to accomplish."

"The Body is already the strongest, physically, so she probably wouldn't have been my first choice anyway. But I was leaning towards the Heart. Pity."

"You never have liked him, have you?" she murmured, uncertain if he heard her or not. If anything, he had been her favorite, and she was glad he might be spared. Not that she could easily choose one of the others. Rupert was another *Watcher* for God's sake, and the witch was sweet and harmless, in Andrea's opinion. "There has been little to fear from Unity, it appears," she reminded him.

"Preparation is essential. If we are not ready for the worst, it is more likely to happen."

Wondering how she could have ever once loved this man so much, Andrea Fairhope prepared for the worst. However, the worst in her view was a far sight from what Quentin Travers was contemplating.


Xander had stopped his little mental revolving door with Buffy, since he actually did have work to do, and she was going over the paperwork for Dawn's release with Ben. Rupert was listening in, touching Buffy every once in a while to make mental comment or remind her of questions she should be asking.

".and we have let her talk a little, but we'd prefer she only do so with the therapist present for a little while longer. A couple of words are okay, but we don't want her reciting Hamlet or anything for a while, okay?" Ben finished up just after Dawn was wheeled out, Giles suspected, as much for her benefit as his and Buffy's.

Buffy grinned at the young man. "We'll enjoy the quiet as long as it lasts. She'll be back to her mouthy self soon enough, I suspect." Dawn took the chalkboard she carried everywhere and swung with it, smacking her sister on the thigh. *Oww,* Buffy heard Xander complain through the link. The Slayer smirked, but the expression fell quickly. Reaching out for her Watcher's hand, she asked Giles desperately, *What do I tell Dawn about Xander? She's been in love with him since she was like, ten. How do I tell her we're sleeping together - and in love? She'll freak!*

*She doesn't even know we're living in the same apartment yet, does she?* Xander asked, concerned.

*Mom told her that already,* Buffy replied. *But she thinks, well, what my mom still thinks. Me, Willow, and you and Giles. I don't even want to think about telling Mom.* She could feel Xander pouting. *And no, you aren't that bad. It's just, you know, telling my Mom I'm sleeping with *anyone* wins an awkward moment award in my book.* Buffy was interrupted by a poke at her abdomen, and she looked down to see the aforementioned chalkboard prodding her. Taking it from her sister's hand, she read, <Holding hands with Giles? Ewww.> Buffy stuck out her tongue, and stayed attached to her Watcher's hand, causing Dawn to make a face. *Of course, if I make her think Giles and I have a thing, she'll be so relieved it isn't him, she'll forgive me for it being Xander.*

Rupert sighed. *It's so nice to be useful. What's so horrifying about you and me having a 'thing'? Wait, don't answer that. I actually feel the same way as Dawn about it. How frightening.*

The male attendant began to push Dawn down the hall, Buffy and Giles following obediently. He was still clinging to her hand, connected with both her and Xander, when he heard a familiar voice in his head. It took him a moment to understand that not only did Buffy and Xander feel what the other felt, they could see what the other saw and hear with the other heard. And Xander was hearing.

"Xan? I need to talk to you about Rupe. You know I." The conversation seemed to end abruptly, as Buffy pulled her hand away from his.

"No way, mister. I know what you were listening to, and it wouldn't be fair. Anything worth having is worth working for, and I'm not letting you find out how Willow feels without her knowing you're listening. If you can't talk to her about it, that's your problem."

"I - I - I," Giles stuttered, unable to honestly say he *could* talk to Willow about his feelings at this point.

Neither noticed the thoughtful look on Dawn's face. People often forget that those who cannot talk can still hear.


Chapter 13

"Xan, I need to talk to you about Rupe. You know I really like him, but I don't think you have any idea how much." Xander was listening, but only with half an ear as he realized what was going on with his literal other half and her Watcher. Good - he hadn't heard it all. He agreed with Buffy on this one, anyway. On most things, these days.

"Tell me," he hedged, trying to catch whatever he'd missed.

Willow was too caught up in her own dilemma to notice his distraction. "I've always kinda liked him, but things were just, well, Fantasyland, y'know. It was even more impossible than you were - at least I wasn't half your age. It was about as likely as me buying one lottery ticket my whole life, and winning the jackpot. But all of the sudden, I get the feeling I may have gotten one of the small number of tickets that exist, and my odds have improved and I could strike it rich. Only I'm afraid of the money now, or don't know how to invest it, and, oh God, I've lost control of this metaphor, haven't I?" The new, confidant Willow that had been emerging was now a babbling idiot, wringing her hands and close to tears. "I really want to be with him - until I am. Then I get all funny and I run away. He was so warm and nice there next to me last night, and I stayed awake more than half the night because I was afraid if I drifted off, I'd roll over and wake up in his arms, and he'd be horrified. He couldn't possibly want me." *But he does want you, he as much as said so yesterday,* the voice in her mind that she tried to ignore was telling her.

Xander, however, was resting his hand on her arm, and heard the traitorous voice. "What'd he say yesterday, Wills?"

"He said that you and Buffy were impulsive, and he and I would be the type to think about it. Then he said we should *be* thinking about it." She sniffled, and then wailed, "And then I ran away."

"Willow, with your luck, and mine, for that matter, with relationships, I can't blame you for being scared. How do you think G-man feels? There's still a part of his brain that thinks he's taking advantage of a much younger woman if he moves in on you, even though that's no longer true. You have all these people who'd love to love you - Tara, Oz, even me, if Buffy weren't around." She smiled weakly at that. "But you are, I know." Willow was confused momentarily, then realized he must be responding to something Buffy was saying in his head. He turned to smile apologetically at his best friend. "I'm supposed to tell you it'll be a cold day in hell when you get the chance to find out what would happen if Buffy wasn't around, and that she loves you anyway." The witch's smile grew a bit stronger at that. "From the male perspective, which I'm not always complete sure the G-man understands, I say if you keep sleeping with him, let your guard down and be yourself, before long you'll be sleeping with him - really."

Willow rolled her eyes. "Is everything about sex with you, Xander?"

He shrugged. "Only the really good stuff."


The Summers girls were home. Dawn felt as if she'd been gone forever, and in fact, it had been quite a while since the last time she'd slept in her own little bed. She was a bit tired, the trip more taxing than she'd expected it to be, but there were things she still needed to know. She might be fourteen (well, almost fifteen), but she wasn't a stupid *child*. She could see, even if she couldn't talk. She could hear.

Something weird was going on, and her sister was smack dab in the middle of it. Buffy's Watcher looked different - younger. He dressed different. For all the times he'd visited her during her hospital stay, she couldn't remember tweed being there once. If she understood what she'd heard Buffy say to him in the hospital, apparently there was something happening between him and Willow, of all people. Tara hadn't visited her once with Willow, although she and Anya had come by a time or two, in spite of Anya's loudly proclaimed distaste for hospitals. Maybe they'd broken up. She wasn't sure, but it seemed Xander and Anya had broken up, too. Every time he'd come by to see her, he'd been alone.

And in spite of the pain and the drugs, Dawn hadn't forgotten the oddly familiar stranger who'd come to rescue her the night of her injury.

And now Buffy was sitting across from her, doing her best feigned casual, but actually looking like she was struggling to find the words to let Dawn know her dog had died while she was gone.

Fortunately, they didn't have a dog.

The teenager picked up her chalk and scribbled furiously for just a second, then held the board up to her sister's gaze. One word, in big letters:



Xander could never curse his connection with Buffy, not really. After years of wondering what she was thinking, where she was, what she was doing (usually *without* him), he knew. All the time. But geez, he had work to do. Willow had just left, and now Buffy was freaking out about what to tell Dawn about their relationship.

He sort of stepped into Buffy's mind, even more so. In his lover's voice, he asked Dawn, "Where should I start?" *This way,* he explained to the Buffy mind in there with his, *we know what she thinks she knows.*

Dawn erased and scribbled. <Willow. Tara? Giles?>

"Willow and Tara broke up," the Buffy in Buffy took back over and explained. "It was sort of coming for a while," the Xander part pitched in. "Now she and Giles kind of like each other, but haven't quite figured out what to do about it." That had been Buffy again.

Erase and the squeak of chalk again. <Why does Giles look like he found the Fountain of Youth?>

Buffy sighed, and Xander's consciousness shrugged. *How do we explain this one?* Neither was sure whose question that had been. "Uhm, this is a bit complicated." Taking turns without Dawn's knowledge, Buffy and Xander explained Unity in sketchy terms. The girl's eyes grew wider, but her mind was obviously going sixty miles a minute, processing the information.

Squeak. <Unity was the girl who saved me when I was hurt?> Buffy nodded. Erase. Squeak. <She's all four of you, but looks kinda like you?> Another affirmative nod. *I was thinking it was freaky when Buff moved in with Willow and Giles and Xander, but this explains a lot.* Dawn frowned, scribbling frantically. <Since W and G, what about you and X?>

Buffy had dreaded this question, but in spite of the way she acted, she knew her sister wasn't stupid, and could put two and two together, and get the complications of the four people that made up the Unity. She hung her head. "We're, well, together now." The couple in one collectively held their breaths. Finally, they looked up, to see Dawn grinning ear to ear. "You're happy?" Xander asked in Buffy's voice. He was a little hurt - maybe she hadn't liked him all that much after all.

The girl nodded enthusiastically and began to write. <I'd have been better for him, but you beat Anya by a mile. With a big ugly stick, even.> After a moments shock, the couple began to laugh in relief.

*Whew, thank God that's settled,* Xander told Buffy. *Can I go back to work now?*


Willow left the construction site and began to wander. Somewhere deep inside, she was chiding herself for blowing off classes yet again. Too much Xander and Buffy in her system, probably. But she hated living in limbo, and going to class wasn't going to help her find her way out, so class was currently optional.

She had to talk to him. Talk. To Rupe. Only the impossible was needed. But how many times had they done the impossible, the four of them together, and saved the world? All that was at stake right now was Willow's peace of mind. Still, doing the impossible was easier when it wasn't quite so personal.

She looked up, realizing her feet had once again done the thinking for her. "The Magic Box," she read out loud. Sighing, she went inside.

"Willow?" Of course, the one time she wanted him to be back in his office doing paperwork, he was at the register when she walked in the door.

She looked up, and the encouraging half-smile on his face gave her hope. "We need to talk," she said softly.

"Indeed we do. Amy went to buy a drink, but she'll be back any minute. Want to wait in my office?"

Wide-eyed, she shook her head. "I'd rather pace off my nervous energy pretending I don't know everything in this shop like the back of my hand, if that's okay with you."

The half smile grew to a whole one. "I completely understand. Feel free."


".So we talked, and decided that we both were interested, but didn't want to rush things. We've got lots of time, after all. I think Unity is permanent, no matter what happens with Glory." Willow popped the last of her pizza crust into her mouth, and looked at the pleased faces of her two best friends.

"That reminds me," Buffy exclaimed from her cozy perch on Xander's lap. "Xander and I spent some time today explaining Unity to Dawn, and she wants us - as Unity - to take her to her therapy session tomorrow at 10:30."

"She has therapy on Saturday?" Willow asked, surprised.

"Six days a week for at least the first month," Buffy confirmed. "Only Sundays off."

Willow shrugged. "Fine with me. I've missed enough classes, but I don't have any on Saturday, so that won't matter. Did you ask Rupe?"

The familiar distant look graced both their faces, and Xander spoke first. "Fine with him, and he said to save him some pizza." He looked at the box guiltily. "Did we?"

The witch snatched up the box with the remaining three pieces in it. "For once, you're safe, bottomless one. You slowed down before eating everything except the cardboard."

Xander toyed with the hem of Buffy's shirt. "I was distracted."

"Oh, yeah, Rupe and I agreed that if and when we do end up as a couple, we would never be as sappy and disgusting as you two already are."

The couch cushion was a direct hit in the face. "I know you, Willow Rosenberg," she heard as she caught her breath, "and you can't help being couple-y cute. It's your middle name. Just watch."

"My middle name is Sharon," she protested, but they weren't listening. Again.


The doorbell rang at precisely ten a.m. Joyce let the still moderately unfamiliar girl in. "Dawn asked us to take her to her appointment today," Unity explained in her accented velvet voice.

"She told me. Come on in. She's almost ready." They went into the living room, and Joyce sat uncomfortably on the edge of the chair, while Unity sank gracefully onto the couch. "Have you considered how to introduce yourself?" Joyce asked the entity. "Unity is a fairly unusual name."

The girl smiled, a hint of Willow in the expression. "We're Dawn's cousin, Yunni. It was her idea - sort of the feminine of Yanni." She pronounced it "Uni."

Joyce smiled back in spite of herself. "With your coloring, you look exotic enough to pull that name off." She noticed her younger daughter coming down the stairs, chalkboard in hand, and she hopped up. "There you are. All ready?" Dawn nodded. "Then you'd better be going."

The dark-eyed girl, who looked almost like Buffy, but not at all like her at the same time, opened the door and led Dawn to the small red car. She opened the car door to let her in the passenger side, and Dawn found herself thinking that Unity was a gentleman, and giggling softly. The redhead got in the other side, and placing a hand on Dawn, mumbled a few words in a strange language.

"What was that?" Dawn heard, in her own voice, although she had only thought it.

"A spell, to allow your thoughts to have sound. It will only work with us, and only here in the car, for now," Unity replied. "So be careful what you think about," she went on, Xander's laughter in her voice.

"Why?" Dawn thought out loud.

"We knew you had a lot of questions. They'd be hard to write, and harder yet for us to read while driving. We knew that was why you wanted us to take you to this appointment, and hated to see you frustrated."

"She's nice," Dawn thought, and then corrected herself. "You're nice."

Unity's thanks came in a friendly smile. "What would you like to know?"

"What's it like, all of you in there?"

"We're really one person. We all think the same things, although the inspiration might be more Giles, or Buffy, the actual thought is had by all of us. We feel together. If Unity is hurt, we all feel it. If Unity wants, we all want."

"So she's a new person, sort of?"

Her head nodded in agreement. "We are an individual, a person in our own right."

"Who speaks of herself in the plural," Dawn observed with amusement.

"Some things we can't help," Unity shrugged.

"And when you separate?"

"Divide," Unity corrected her. "We are never really separate anymore. We all retain the memories, and we are a part of each other all the time. We can hear each other's thoughts, and always know where the other Parts can be found. Two can hide from the others, if they want, although only their thoughts."

"I'm confused," Dawn complained. "Two can hide?"

"Except when they are one, and they can no longer hide from each other."

"I assume this makes sense to you?"

"It is hard to understand, harder still to explain. Trust us that we are still your friends and your sister, and we all love you, very much. We're here at the hospital, and your thoughts will once more be silent." Unity spoke the odd language again, and thinking (to herself again) that it was too soon, Dawn gripped her chalkboard and climbed out of the car.


The teenager was pleased. They'd allowed her to say a whole sentence today, and although her throat was raw and sore now, the experience of talking again had been gratifying. Not as much fun as hearing her thoughts aloud in the car had been, but she also wouldn't want that to happen on a regular basis - some of the things she thought should never be heard by the world.

Ben had been encouraging, too, telling her how the therapist bragged about her in the staff meetings about her case, and making her feel like she'd leapt a tall building in a single bound, instead of just said, "My name is Dawn Summers." He had shown up halfway through her session, and followed her progress avidly for the rest of the time. Walking out with him, she let herself pretend he was her boyfriend, since Buffy apparently had her claws in the one she'd wanted to have all along.

He was chattering, filling the holes her enforced silence left with even more chatter, trying to keep her comfortable. Then he was struck dumb by something, and Dawn stared at him, following his gaze to see what had so affected him. An ironic grin twisted her face as she saw his slack jawed response to his first glimpse of Unity.

The entity stood upon seeing Dawn, and approached the pair. "You know her?" Ben asked the silent girl at his side. She scribbled on her chalkboard, <My cousin>. "No wonder she looks like your sister," he said absently, and Dawn realized that Buffy had claimed another victim as well.

The leather-clad redhead walked to them, and smiled at Dawn, paying little attention to the intern. "Was it good?" she asked the younger girl. Dawn nodded, and erased and scribbled, <I was able to say a whole sentence.> Holding up the board, she saw the chocolate brown eyes shine with genuine joy that was pure Xander. "That's wonderful," she said, in her softly clipped tones. Dawn head bent over her board again, and when she held it up, it bore an arrow, and the words <This is Ben>.

Unity looked up, noticing the handsome young man for the first time. "Hi," she said shyly.

"Hello," he said, obviously taken by the beautiful girl. After a few moments quiet, he stuttered, "You have a lovely accent. British?"

She smiled and nodded in response, and Dawn noticed with some surprise that she seemed charmed by the intern. "We're."

"Cousins," he finished for her. "Dawn told me." The two stared enrapt at each other for a few moments more, before Dawn elbowed her 'cousin,' tossing her head towards the door.

"Oh, yes. We do need to go. Very nice to meet you," Unity stammered.

Ben grabbed her arm as she turned to go. "I never got your name."

Blushing (*Blushing?* Dawn thought, *What the hell is going on here?*), the woman responded, "Yunni."

"Beautiful. Different. It suits you," Ben breathed, and with some difficulty, the two parted.

*Oh, man. This could be really interesting,* Dawn thought, as she left the hospital with the apparently smitten superbeing. *Or really awkward. Or both.*

Chapter 14

"I am so not a part of having a crush on another *guy,*" Xander fumed, pacing the apartment living room for at least the tenth time that night.

"Honey," Buffy tried to soothe him, "It's like Unity told Dawn, she's her own person. Just because she's made up of the four of us, doesn't mean she can't have feelings that don't originate with us."

He whirled on Willow. "This is all your fault. Your confused sexuality has crept into my consciousness, and now I don't know what I am. But I do know what I am. Straight. In love with girls. One girl. Buffy, let's go to bed. I need to know I'm still functioning properly."

"Xander, it's only 6:30. We haven't even had dinner yet. We were going to go out for Mexican," his girlfriend reminded him gently.

"Fine. I'll buy you dinner. We can even go to a movie. Then we'll come home, and I'll screw your brains out. All guy things - guys that like girls things - to do. Let's go." He walked to the closet and grabbed his jacket, standing impatiently at the door.

"As long as there's not hitting over the head with clubs and dragging by the hair involved, I'm okay with it," Buffy called to him. Whispering to Giles, she asked, "He will get over this, won't he?"

"It was a bit disconcerting, even for me. But I believe Xander's reaction, while a tad overblown, is not that surprising. He'll calm down with time. I think part of the problem is him being the emotions, and lust is an emotion. It just hit him a bit hard, especially coming so soon on the heels of the situation with you. He's probably afraid you might question his devotion to your relationship, which I can say unconditionally you should never do."

"I won't," she responded confidently. Striding to the man at the front door, she took his arm. "Come on, you great big hunk of testosterone, you. Let's go prove your manhood. I hear buying diamonds works well to demonstrate one's macho quotient." Their voices faded down the hall.

"That *was* a bit weird, wasn't it Rupe?" Willow asked after the couple left.

"I was quite surprised by the amount of independence Unity has claimed from our roots," the Watcher admitted, his arm resting on the redhead's shoulders, "Still, we are but Parts of her - she is in control when she manifests."

"But she's us, isn't she?"

"Just as we are more than we once were because of her, she is more than the sum of her Parts, and growing every time we combine. I actually think, although I'd never admit this to Xander, that his new arrangement with Buffy could be part of what has made Unity more independent of us."

She sighed, leaning back on his shoulder. "I can see why Dawn was confused. I'm in the middle of it, and I still don't understand it all."

The Watcher smiled and deftly changed the subject. "I found some absolutely beautiful steaks at the store tonight. What do you say we cook them out?"

"It's kind of cool out," Willow said doubtfully.

"We'll see what we can do to stay warm," he responded, as innocently as he could manage.


"The Key is here," Glory complained. "I just know it. Ben is being no help whatsoever, and I'm getting tired of it."

"Glorious beauty," her sycophantic follower cooed, "Your brother seems to think he has no need for this Key. Perhaps there is a good reason?"

"You're questioning ME?" the blonde god screamed. "He's always been a fool! He likes these weak human creatures. He pities them. He'd be content to stay here forever, never again to rule as we were intended." Her voice dropped from its high register. "He'll come back with me, and we'll take back our rightful place, if I have to force him. I want you to go to him and tell him the time is near, and to be ready."

Bowing and scraping as he left, the minion nodded and backed out carefully, wishing to avoid any further outbursts from his mistress.


Buffy polished off the last burrito and dug back into the basket of chips. It had been a fairly quiet dinner, as if by ignoring the problem, Xander could make it go away. "You better yet?" she asked him finally.

"I guess. I overreacted a little, huh?" His beer gone, he grabbed hers and finished it.

"I know a lot of guys are kind of bugged by the gay thing, but geez, Xan, like Giles said, it's Unity herself, not us."

"But I *felt* it, Buffy. I was all sweaty and goo-goo over that *guy.* I know what a good looking guy looks like, and I know he was, but still."

"Trust me, I, of all people, know how much you like girls." Buffy grinned at him suggestively, and he smiled weakly back. "And if you're worried 'cos Unity looks like me, and you think I might be hot for him, he's the same one I turned down the other day, remember? Nobody but you for this girl." Seeing that raised a more genuine smile, she went on. "Did you get a load of his colors, though? I've never seen anybody like that before." Buffy loved the whole "emotional aura" skill that Xander was now sharing with her, and she'd even found a few colors he hadn't noticed previously, and identified the feelings associated with them.

"Yeah - it was weird. He seemed to have two strands of blue, and white, and they wrapped around him. Same with red and purple, mixed. It was odd. He's either really self-involved, or there's some other mental imbalance going there. But I liked that he had gold going with Dawn, and she did back, too. He really seems to genuinely like her." Xander's smile dropped again.

"Don't worry about the little strand of white he had going with Yunni," Buffy scolded, knowing as soon as his expression changed the thought behind it. "It was barely a thread."

"Yeah, but she had one back, too. And I could feel it - she seemed to feel she'd found some kind of soul mate or something. I just don't like it, Buffy."

"We form her, but we don't control her. The more she exists, the less she'll be *us*, and the more of her will be just her."

"What if one day she decides she doesn't want to divide - she just wants to be her all the time?" Xander left money for the check and headed out of the restaurant, Buffy on his heels. "We just cease to exist?"

"You do the feelings, Xan. Do you think she's that kind of person? I think she knows and loves us, too, and wouldn't do anything to hurt us. Without us, she wouldn't have ever come into being." They had decided to patrol tonight before going back to the apartment, and were heading towards the cemetery.

He shook his head. "No, I guess not. She's decent. Even when she's been angry, I think it's been more my anger than hers. She wouldn't hurt a flea if they didn't deserve it." He sighed in resignation. "I used to want to understand girls better - I really never thought I'd end up being one. Even part-time."

"Trust me, in my book, you're all man." Looking helpless and girly, batting her eyes dramatically, Buffy asked, "You do still plan to prove it tonight, don't you?"

Xander struck a body-builder type pose, speaking in an unnaturally deep voice. "We real men always keep our promises, and I remember promising to make love to you until you passed out, or something of that sort."

She laughed, and took his arm as he relaxed again. "The wording's a little off, but I'm still holding you to it. But first -"

"Vampires," he finished for her, and they headed into the shadows together.


It was late when they got home, and Willow and Giles had already retired for the evening. "They're home," Willow whispered unnecessarily in the dark.

"Buffy must have patrolled this evening - good. She's been a bit slack about that, lately." There were assorted thumps and thuds from the adjoining room.

"In her defense, she's been distracted," Willow offered, moving closer, as Rupert automatically put out his arm and she settled in his embrace, resting her head on the curve of his shoulder.

A loud thud, like the sound of someone falling or being tossed heavily onto the bed sounded, and then a vaguely animalistic roar, followed by giggling and a loud "Shhhhh!"

"As we can only assume she will be tonight, once again," Giles responded dryly.

They weren't ready for that yet, Willow knew, but she couldn't help teasing. "Jealous?"

The Watcher's arm tightened around her affectionately. "Of who he's doing, no. Of what they're doing? A little. Our day will come."

Her smile at that faded somewhat when she heard Xander's voice from the next room cry out, "Buff - FY!" followed by a strangled moan.

Rupert relaxed his hug and snorted. "We live with a builder. Don't you suppose he could soundproof these rooms?"


The following day, Giles took Dawn to her appointment, and Willow and Buffy met for lunch. In the face of the inevitable teasing back and forth, Willow admitted that she and Rupe had embraced the truth, but were moving slowly. Buffy was happy for the two, and said as much.

"But how can you sleep there, all cuddled up together, and not want more?" she had to ask the witch.

"I want more, trust me. But we're still at the kinda, sorta, probably someday stage, and it's just too soon."

"Well, I hope you two don't think this whole thing to death," Buffy said, laughter in her voice. "I'd hate to see you still considering the possibilities when you're both on Social Security."

"Look, I know once you and Xander decided how you felt, you wasted no time in acting on it, but it's not our way," Willow said defensively. Still, the wheels in her brain were turning, as she spoke. In her way, Buffy was right. Or was it Xander? She wasn't always sure which of the two she was talking to at any given time, anymore.

Whichever of her friends it had been, she knew they were to blame as she stood outside the door to the Magic Box the next day, deli bag in her hand and her heart in her throat. She and Rupe had talked, and decided that sex should wait until they knew they were ready. But she had decided to push the next step herself. Today she would have lunch with the man she was sure she'd fallen in love with, and kiss him in a kinda, sorta, probably someday way.

He was sitting behind the cash register, reading something musty smelling and probably written in an obscure language. His sandy hair was messy, as if he'd been running his hands through it as he read. He almost never wore his glasses anymore, but this must have been a book with fairly small print, because they were perched on the end of his nose. He peered up just after she entered, and smiled to see her.

Willow held up the bags. "Lunch," she explained. Turning, she locked the door, and put up the "Back at:" sign up, after setting the clock for 12:30. An hour should be enough for lunch and a few serious smoochies, she was sure. Turning back, she saw his quizzical gaze. "Lunch break," she grinned, grabbing his hand and dragging him back to his office.

"We could sit at the table," he protested feebly as she set the sandwiches out on his desk.

"I like it in here."

"Why today?" he asked around bites of ham and Swiss - his favorite, she knew. "Amy's gone to take Dawn to her appointment, Anya's at class, and there's no one to watch the store."

"That," she reached over and wiped a bit of mustard from the corner of his mouth with her finger, and then licked it off, "was the whole idea." She smiled evilly, and his eyes grew wide, before he gulped down the rest of his sandwich in a single bite.


Willow felt wild and free. She reached up and touched her kiss-swollen lips, and giggled. She knew she must look like a wanton hussy - her hair in disarray and her clothing rumpled. She grinned with the realization that she'd left Rupe looking about the same. But she hadn't felt this good in a long time. Her mind raced and her body tingled.

Then she saw a familiar looking figure on the sidewalk across the street, wearing blue jeans and a hospital scrub shirt. Wasn't that Ben?

Her train of thought came to a grinding halt, switched tracks and began running in another state. Ben looked as if he were heading home. Unity would want to know where he lived. Willow would follow Ben home.

She almost called out to him, but remembered he hadn't officially ever met her. She'd been in the room a couple times when he'd come in to check on Dawn during her hospital stay, but she'd never been introduced. She couldn't very well say she'd met him while being a Part of the Unity, could she? So she simply followed him, staying far enough behind not to be noticeable, but close enough not to lose him.

He turned into a large, 1920's style building near the bad section of town, and she waited a few seconds and followed him in, since it appeared to be apartments and not a single-family residence. Relieved that she found herself in a hallway with numbered doors, she accessed her Slayer-enhanced hearing, and could tell he was about halfway up the stairs. She followed as quietly as she could, and got to the top of the stairs just as he entered one of the doors and closed it behind him.

She moved into the hallway to make note of the apartment number. After all, they didn't even know Ben's last name, and she could search the Internet and find out for Unity. It was the least she could do for - herself? No, she wasn't interested in Dr. Ben personally, Unity was. Willow was quite content with Rupe, thank you very much. For a part of herself? No - she was a Part of Unity, not the other way around. For her friend? That description still seemed lacking something, not quite what she was looking for, but would have to do until the right word was created, she supposed.

While she was mulling the semantics, strange noises began to emanate from the apartment, and she thought she heard Ben cry out. Then a bright light flashed inside, and she could see it shining around the edges of the door. Only a few minutes later, the door flew open, and Willow threw herself back into a shadowy corner. Her eyes were wide as saucers when she saw the confident blonde figure stride down the hallway, right past her and down the stairs.

She went into mental broadcast mode. *Guys? I think we may have trouble. I'm afraid Glory has Ben, and we'd better call Unity.*


Amy returned from taking Dawn to her therapy session and grabbing herself some lunch to find her boss so radiant, she would bet he'd shine in the dark.

"You must have had a good lunch," she said with some amusement. "Looks like it agreed with you."

"Wha? Oh, yes, lunch. It was lovely." His smile broadened, which the witch wouldn't have considered possible.

"What did you have?" she asked, making conversation.

"Something new," he responded quickly. "I think it's going to quickly become a favorite."

Amy was going to press - after all, if it was that good, she'd like to try it. But his face clouded over, and the whole atmosphere in the shop changed. He turned suddenly to her, and explained. "Unity's being called. Take care of phoning Xander and Buffy's jobs - sudden illness in the family, like we've discussed. Let Anya know when she comes in, in case she tries to reach me. I'll call when it's over." The last words were barely out of his mouth when his body crumpled to the floor, grew misty and vanished.


Buffy barely had time to get into the ladies' room at the factory where she'd been packing boxes before she felt the buzzing in her head reach critical. Her last thought before she vanished was that the doubling of *this* feeling wasn't one of the more pleasant side effects of her link with Xander.

In her head at the same time, she could hear her boyfriend complaining, *Ben? Oh, joy.*


The slender redhead in black leather stepped from the shadows in the hallway, poised and ready for action. "We should check on Ben first," she said to herself, the spell to let her in the door the next words out of her mouth. She moved through the apartment quickly and thoroughly, but there was no sign of the handsome young intern. "What the hell did she do with him?" she cursed.

Taking a few extra minutes, she examined the contents of the one-bedroom luxury apartment more carefully. There were few masculine touches, instead the apartment was decorated with expensive Art Deco furniture, fresh flowers, and a great deal of mauve. Riffling through the closet, she found men's pants hung interspersed with sexy dresses, and both delicate four-inch heels and men's Bluchers on the floor.

"He lives with her," she realized sadly. "Ben and Glory are involved. He's one of the bad guys after all." Thinking out loud, she went on. "But there was a shout, and the light. Perhaps he was breaking up with her, and she did something to him. We still have to find Glory."

She raced down the stairs, and tapping Willow's memory of watching the rogue god though the hall window as she left, ran down the street in the direction Glory had last headed.

Chapter 15

Unity had Slayer strength and speed. She had the heart of a lion, and was a spiritual giant. Her intelligence was immeasurable by human standards. It still took her over an hour to track down Glory. The woman was a god, after all. She finally found the blonde woman in an abandoned warehouse not far from her and Ben's apartment.

The god had just dismissed her minions, once again to search for the elusive Key. She knew she could wait only a little longer before things got out of control.

"Glory," Unity said without emotion, stepping into her line of sight. "What have you done with Ben?"

The look of surprise on the god's face was almost comical. "Ben?" She began to laugh hysterically. "Ben?" Her laughter finally died down, and anger danced across her features. "First you get in my way when I want the Slayer, then you come looking for my wimpy brother. Who the hell are you?"

"We are Unity."

Glory was incredulous. "Unity? You're a myth. You don't exist. There are stories, but Unity hasn't been seen in hundreds of years - more - even if they are true."

"Ben is your brother?"

"Hello. For a mythical creature, you're a little dense, aren't you? Yeah - I'm stuck with him. I hope you haven't grown attached to him, though. We're gonna be leaving as soon as the Slayer gives me my Key."

The Xander Part of Unity spoke up within. *Look at her colors. What do they look like - or who?* Glory was wrapped in two strands of blue and white, as well as two of purple and red. Unity stepped forward. "Ben."

"Do I look like Ben?" the god sneered.

"Yes," Unity insisted, "You do. Ben? I need to talk to you. Ben?"

The blonde woman winced, and her face crumpled - literally. It folded and twisted, and when it stopped, Ben stood before them.

"Ben," Unity said softly. Then a bit of Xander escaped. "Like the dress."

He looked down at the blue lycra tank mini and shrugged. "It happens. Yunni? What are you doing here - what am *I* doing here?"

"We followed Glory here. We could see you in her, and we called you."

The young man looked stunned. "No one's ever been able to see one of us in the other before. What are you?"

She smiled gently, giving her standard answer. "We are Unity. What are you?"

"Unity? Really? That would explain a lot." He didn't elaborate, instead answering her question with another. "What did Glory tell you about me?"

"Simply that you were her brother. Do you not share memories, even though you share a body?"

He shook his head no. "We don't really share the body, although in a way, we do. We are gods." Unity nodded in a "we knew that" sort of way. "Actually, we are *a* god. Gods aren't as uncommon where we come from as they seem to be here, although they aren't as strong there as they are here, either. We were, uh, I was sort of cocky. Planning to take over the place, visions of glory, all that. That's kind of how she got her name. To teach me a lesson, I was split into two - the reasonable and rational part that knew the real job of a god, and the power-hungry part."

"That would be Glory?" Unity asked.

Ben nodded. "We were sent here because this dimension read as high in the energy that we needed to survive with our powers intact. Unfortunately, they didn't check on the source of that energy, which in our dimension comes from a non-sentient form of mold." Ben stopped for a minute. "No matter how many times I rerun that in my head, it never sounds any more appealing. Anyway, the source here was human brain waves." He ran a hand through his hair, thinking about the wording he would use. "We were sent with a Key, which was entrusted to a group of monks or something. We had to prove ourselves worthy by finding the Key, and whichever of us got it first would get to be the aspect that dominated. However, in order to get the Key, it was necessary that we cooperate, which was where the lesson was to come in. As long as we could work together to get home, they figured we'd be able to work together once we got back there." The young man in the blue dress wandered over to a crate and plopped down on it.

"We're guessing Glory didn't want to cooperate?"

Ben rolled his eyes. "For the first hundred years or so, she was determined she'd rule this dimension. She wasn't afraid to take the energy she needed from the human brains, leaving them mad. I refused, and so grew weaker with time. But soon she discovered that we weren't designed to exist in this dimension, and because of that the energy she was consuming was tainted, and causing her to destabilize. I, on the other hand, was growing more human, and was managing to emerge more often and to handle my life here much better. She became obsessed with the Key, and tore up heaven and earth to find it. But the monks hid it well, and even when she thought she had the last of them cornered, they kept it away from her. Now, though, she's starting to come unglued, and I have no control over her. I need the Key to hold my form, although I don't intend to use it to go back, like she does. I'm purely human now - even with the god energy I'd get from reincorporating with Glory, I have no place there anymore."

"If you do not share your memories, how do you know her story?"

"You seem to have the brains to be Unity, as well as the physical beauty," Ben said with admiration. "Glory and I have a love/hate thing going. She wanted me to know how wonderful she was, and how she was going to win, so she made sure to keep me up on her doings. She wrote a journal for a long time. Now she just sends her minions around once in a while to let me know what she's been up to. She doesn't much care what I do, and I don't much care to tell her." He looked appraisingly at the redheaded woman. "You know my story now. What are you? Besides the mythological 'Unity'?"

"Your sister, too, knew of us. Why?"

"You're a legend in the demon dimensions, and ours is closely associated with many of them. You are said to be powerful, wise, beautiful and deadly. I've already seen evidence that some of that is true. Tell me your story."

"You are one person, but two, correct?" Ben nodded. "We are four, which are one." His expression clearly asked for elaboration. "The Unity is historically a single entity formed by the merging of four angels, called to do the most difficult of jobs. The current Parts are the first humans to make up the Unity, and have made us far stronger, in many ways, than even angels could have been. We were made for *this* job, although we will continue to exist beyond it. Because we are from humans, we understand your desire to remain human, and can judge its sincerity. No angel would be so suited." She hung her head, seemingly ashamed. "As you are now, you are the one suitable mate for the Unity, since you are one but many, and we are many in one. But in order to fulfill our calling, you must be made unsuitable." He moved towards her, touched by the sorrow on her face.

"If there were a way to do it and not endanger mankind, I'd stay like this, just for you." Ben lifted her head, and kissed her gently on the mouth.

She smiled and rallied, given hope not by the kiss, but by a thought inside her. "My Parts, however, have partnered, and will fulfill the desire to mate. As much as our calling, they give our lives meaning." She touched Ben's face. "You have chosen well, and are well suited for humanity. It's a puzzling species, but there is a wonder there, a glory your sister would never understand, due to its quiet simplicity." She smiled, and something new stiffened her spine in pride. "I am different, but I am, at my heart, human."

Another voice joined the conversation. "I sees ya finally came inta yer own, dollface. Yer finally as much Unity as ya are the others. Nice." Whistler turned and motioned to someone in the shadows. "I was told ya needed this." Dawn emerged, clutching her chalkboard nervously.

Ben smiled in genuine affection. "Dawn."

Unity went to the girl, and put her hands on the slender shoulders. "You care for him, don't you?" Dawn nodded. "Are you willing to help him? I can't promise it won't hurt." Dawn nodded again, a bit less surely. The redheaded woman turned, placing her arm around the younger girl's waist. "Ben, I present to you the Key."

Unity could hear her Parts at war inside her. Her Emotions were screaming that she didn't know Ben enough to trust him. Her Body stiffened at the sight of her little sister so vulnerable. Her Intellect understood her desire to help, but wanted more information first. Only her Spirit was at peace with the choice to offer Dawn to the potential god. Unity had indeed made her first decision against a majority of her Parts. She hoped she had made the right one.

Looking up at the young man who could easily be a part of her life if circumstances were different, Unity realized she had just made her first truly human mistake. The features of Ben were morphing, and once again, Glory stood before her. "The Key," Glory hissed. "I could hear the Key mentioned. I know it's here."

Dawn was cowering behind the Balance Demon, and even Whistler looked surprised at the new turn of events. "I thought youse couldn't hear Benny's thoughts," the small man said.

"My goodness, you give tacky a whole new dimension, now don't you?" Glory said dismissively. "And I can't hear what he thinks, but he'd let his guard down, and I was on my way back, and I heard something about the Key." She took the little man more seriously, stalking towards him menacingly. "Do you have it?" Staring over his shoulder, she noticed Dawn for the first time. "You again," she sneered. Then her face lit up with understanding. "You, again. It's you, isn't it?"

Dawn shook her head violently, afraid to speak. She wasn't completely certain if it was her fear of harming her voice again by screaming, which her whole body told her it wanted to do, or if it was fear of Glory that had struck her speechless. It didn't much matter, now, did it? For some reason, she thought of her favorite cartoon character, and she could hear Johnny Bravo in her head, complaining that this probably wouldn't end well.

"No!" Unity screamed, flying at the other woman as if rocket-propelled. Taken by surprise, Glory grunted and went down in the redhead's tackle.

"You little," Glory slugged the attacking entity hard in the jaw, throwing her back, "Bitch!"

Unity was back on her feet in a heartbeat. "Run!" she tossed over her shoulder to the demon and the Key behind her.

Never one to ignore good advice, Whistler turned to grab the teenager and go, but found himself stuck in place. Glory smiled evilly at them. "Leaving so soon? I don't think so."

Unity could feel the effects of the magical increase in gravity, but was able to counteract it with her own spells. Unfortunately, it was all she could do to remain mobile herself, and she couldn't free the others at all. Even with her own magic acting counter to Glory's, the entity felt as if she were moving through a room full of molasses, while the god seemed completely unaffected. The blonde moved like greased lightning, and when she saw the manicured nails coming for her throat, Unity attempted to duck. Unfortunately, she wasn't fast enough, and the other woman picked her up by the neck and held her above the ground like a rag doll.

"You're really starting to piss me off," Glory complained, and with a flick of her wrist, tossed Unity across the room and into a wall, leaving cracks in the paint after her impact. The redheaded being's eyes crossed, and she stood slowly, regaining control gradually as her head stopped spinning. Thank God for the healing factor that was a part of her makeup. Focusing on Glory, she saw the god approaching Dawn like a panther slinking after prey.

"They hid you here, in the Slayer's little sister. Maybe *as* the Slayer's little sister." A wicked smile graced her face, and she moved fluidly, having the girl in her grasp before even Unity could move to stop her. The redhead moved to react, but the blonde stared her down. "I don't know if the ritual needs her alive or not, or if it'll kill her, but I don't really care right now. I could as easily kill her now, if you try anything. There's still the chance I can get the Key out of her corpse." She shrugged, her face a mask of innocence. "Your choice."

The powerful entity held herself motionless, only her face betraying the price she was paying to stand still. Tears were pouring down her cheeks, and she was biting her bottom lip so hard it should have bled. Her Heart, large to begin with, was now sized to fit three people - Xander, his bond mate, and Unity herself. It broke enormously as well. When the other woman began to chant the final ritual, the words that would bring forth the Key, give her aspect power to rule Ben's, and take her back to the dimension from which she'd been banished, Unity's pain almost shut down her body.

"I call forth the Key, and its powers to give the one who found it their claim over the True Form. When the Form is granted, the gateway will open, and I can return to whence I came, forever to rule as a god in the place of honor!"

A bright light, so brilliant that even Unity and Whistler closed their eyes, burst from Dawn's chest, and the girl went limp. Glory dropped the now useless body to the ground as the light enveloped her entirely. Unity sent a prayer to the One who had created her for this job, asking forgiveness for her failure. Then the light faded, and she was shocked at what it revealed.


Quentin Travers exploded out of the room with the monitor in it. "Something's going down," he called to Andrea. "Rupert Giles just dissolved from the magic store, which means they're combining. This could be the bad one - we need to be prepared to neutralize Unity if needed."

Andrea checked over the kit Quentin had demanded she assemble - magical artifacts and herbs, medical equipment and several powerful drugs. The older Watcher had his own kit, filled with hardware and weapons for every possible job. She still wasn't sure when he had gone from knowing Unity *could* be swayed to evil to the surety that she *would*, but that seemed to be the assumption under which he now operated. As team leader, he was the one to call the shots, but the doctor wondered if she could stop him if he went from what appeared to be paranoid over the line into homicidal.

"We go to the appointed places. Are your radio batteries fresh?" Trying not to roll her eyes, Andrea nodded. She felt like a stand-in for Emma Peel in the Avengers. Thank goodness she didn't have to wear the black catsuit, she though irrelevantly. "Remember, we lie in wait for the witch or the Watcher, the other two won't be of any use."

"Shouldn't we verify that Unity's lost control first, Quentin?"

He stared at her blankly, then shook all over. "Of course - that goes without saying. Now go - radio me if you sight one first."

Dr. Fairhope trudged obediently out the door, assuring that her glamour was in place first. Her former lover was clearly obsessed, and she only hoped he was still able to think straight about the powerful being known as Unity. He'd quizzed her constantly about medical possibilities, and had typed out the extensive plan they were now following. If Unity began to show her dark side, they were to immediately corral one of her uncoupled Parts, and find a way to incapacitate them. As of now, the only way they could do that would be to kill them, but Andrea still held out hope that there would be another option, which she was sure she could find if allowed hands on testing. He'd promised she could give it a shot first. She still doubted that Unity would wander over that edge, anyway, but Quentin insisted they be ready anytime she was called.

Her position was outside Rupert Giles' magic store, in a small coffee shop across the street. She had a sedative, and would be able to swiftly knock the Watcher out with it and call for Travers if the occasion required. Quentin was located near the apartment building they shared with the quartet, since they'd determined that would be the most likely place for the witch to return after division. She had provided him with the same medicine, but he was not particularly adept at giving shots to a moving target, so she was concerned about the drug's usefulness in his hands. Knowing the other Watcher, he probably had several backup plans already arranged.

There were holes in this plan large enough to fly a Concorde through, and Andrea knew it. Suppose they all went back to the apartment together afterward? What if Unity didn't divide today, but went on for a day or even two? And of course, the chance that she would do nothing wrong in her combined form still remained, which was the option Andrea was rooting for. But Travers was in charge, she kept reminding herself. That would be his problem.

So the elderly woman who didn't appear to be Andrea Fairhope ordered a latte and settled in for a period of watching for a Watcher. It could be a long afternoon.


"Ben?" the redheaded entity exclaimed.

The dark-haired man in the blue dress smiled. "Hey, Yunni. Yeah, it's me. You might want to move for a minute." Even as he spoke, the fabric of reality began to shimmer and stretch just behind her, and Unity scooted quickly over to the side. A portal opened, and Ben stepped towards it.

"Are you going back after all?" she asked, sorry to see him change his mind so swiftly about remaining human. "And why are *you* still here, anyway?"

A man-shaped being ringed in light stepped to the other side of the opening, and Ben held up his hand, signaling to Unity to be patient. He spoke in a strange tongue to the creature, and the head of the other nodded. The man stretched out his hand in Ben's direction, and the light flashed again, although far less brilliantly. And then the portal closed.

"Had to lose the dress," Ben explained, coming away in khakis and a short-sleeved shirt. His casual smile fell away when he saw the crumpled body of the teenager that lay discarded on the ground. "Dawn!" Unity moved with him, and the two knelt down on either side of the girl. Ben touched her neck. "She's still alive, amazingly enough." Looking at the concerned brown eyes across from him, he noted, "Although she was created by benevolent monks. I don't think they'd have made her to die simply because she had served her purpose."

The girl's eyes fluttered open. "Ben?" she croaked out. "I thought I was dead and Glory took over the world."

The young man helped Dawn sit up. "I think we all thought so. Save your voice."

She shook her head, brown hair cascading around as she did. "It doesn't hurt anymore. The energy thingy leaving must have healed me." Gazing into his eyes, she frowned. "Why are you still here?"

Unity grinned, touching the teenager's face affectionately. "I asked that very same question, and he hasn't answered me."

"I think I got that one, kiddo," Whistler pitched in from the sidelines, reminding them all he was still there. "The ritual gave the True Form to the one who found the Key." He looked down at Ben.

The intern smiled. "Thanks to your friend here," he jerked his thumb towards Whistler, "that was me - by a nose." He reached out and tweaked Dawn's nose, and she giggled. "Now, how am I going to explain your miraculous healing to the therapy staff?"

Unity shrugged. "This is Sunnydale. Just tell them it happened and they'll make up their own explanation." Her face again grew serious. "So what was the light show? Aren't you going back?"

"Nope," he answered with assurance. "I have a bit of Glory's fading powers, but they won't last long. All human - completely normal," he smiled broadly, until Unity spoke.

"Which I really am, but am not. I'm human, but far from normal." She gazed off at nothing. "I have seen and felt the difficulties my Parts have had in the way of relationships, and they are much like one another. We aren't." She looked at him more cheerfully. "I will always remember you fondly, though."

"After all you've done for me, I could hardly ask for more," Ben said, smiling bravely. "Thank you."

Dawn tugged at his hand. "I'm human now, I think. All human, just like you."

His amusement was clear in his voice. "But you are still a creature as dangerous as any rogue god." His grin widened at her puzzled expression. "Jail bait," he cracked, and she slugged him on the arm and pouted.


What a strange day it had been, Willow mused as she strolled down the street in the warmth of the late afternoon. Good, mostly, but odd. Rupe, Glory, Ben - all too much for just one day to hold, honestly.

After dividing, the Parts all took off in different directions. Xander wanted to let Fred know his 'sister' was better again. Buffy took Dawn home, and Rupe had gone back to the shop to check on things, since he'd left rather suddenly earlier. They were all to rendezvous at the store in about a half an hour for dinner. She had decided to go home and change her clothes before they met. But the day was so lovely, she'd become caught up in the stroll, and she might not even have the time to change, once she finally reached the apartment. She might just need to change direction and head right for the store.

She heard a rustle in the alley as she passed, but the sun was still out, so she wrote it off as rats, not vampires. But just after she walked by the opening, she felt a strong hand grab her and pull her back into the shadows. She began to struggle, feeling certain her enhanced strength due to her connection with Buffy would save her, but she wasn't prepared for the impact to her skull. "Ouch," she complained, "That's giving me a headache." Then whatever it was hit her again, twice, and the now unbearable pain flared, and then faded into the darkness.

Chapter 16

Giles was - well, he didn't like pissed. Ripper got pissed, Rupert Giles got irritated. But he was irritated in a really pissed off kind of way right now. First Buffy had asked him to drive her and Dawn home. When he turned around, Xander was there, too, and wanted a ride to the construction trailer to talk to Fred. Willow had decided to walk home and change, leaving the only one he really wanted to be with right now out of the car. Of course, being Mr. Nice Guy, he agreed to wait for Xander and take him back to the shop with him, rather than going to pick up his truck, so they wouldn't have two vehicles after dinner. But as soon as he got in the car, Xander's insta-Buffy connection informed him that the Slayer was ready to go, and could they stop by and pick her up?

His original plan had been to go by the store, check on Anya, and hurry over to the apartment to spend a little time alone with Willow before they had to meet with the others. Maybe even go to the apartment first, had he been able to convince Willow to take the ride he'd offered, and check by the shop later. Anya could handle it, after all.

Instead, here he was, pulling away from the Summers home, feeling as if he should be pulling the meter handle. He'd spent the whole time playing taxi driver, and he didn't even expect a tip. Buffy and Xander were having a spirited discussion about where to have dinner, which they must have meant to include him in, since they were having it aloud. Lately, they'd carried on a lot of conversation through their link, and the only clue he or Willow would have would be the rapidly shifting expressions on both of their faces. They might as well have been covering this subject silently, though, since they were so involved in the good-natured argument, Giles probably couldn't have gotten a word in edgewise if he'd been interested. Which he wasn't.

He was interested in seeing Willow, which these sods (okay, beloved sods, but still) had interfered in. He was driving in an extremely un-Gilesian way back to the Magic Box just to get another look at her face. Dear God, he had it bad.

He squealed to a graceless stop, hopping out of the car before the engine had completely stopped revving. Racing inside as casually as he could manage, he noticed in his peripheral vision one of the batty old ladies that now occupied Xander's old apartment, standing in the "Prophecy" section, staring at him rather than the book she was holding. His distracted thoughts didn't really register the obvious question of what she was doing there. "Anya?"

The ex-demon looked up from counting the money, something she'd mentioned in the past that she did for fun when business was slow. "Huh?"

"Where's Willow?"

She frowned that thinking frown of hers. "Is this a game? 'Cos I'd like to know the rules before I play. Xander taught me it's easier to win that way." Just then, the aforementioned ex came in the door, his arm wrapped around Buffy's shoulders. Anya knew about the two, but had managed to elevate her denial to a new art form. "Hey, Xander," she said warmly. "Buffy," she nodded, far less warmly.

"Hey, An. G-man, where's the fire?"

The Watcher visibly deflated. "I thought Willow would be waiting," he said in disappointment.

"Someone's got a cru - ush," Buffy chanted, teasingly. But all lightheartedness disappeared when the Watcher winced in pain, suddenly doubling over, clutching at his head.

"Giles!" Buffy cried, running to catch him before he fell.

Xander moved, as he often did, in unison with her. "Oh, dear," he heard someone mutter, and looking beside him, he saw one of the old Benton biddies from down the hall.

"My head," the shopkeeper moaned. Then, straightening up, he gasped, "Willow! She's in trouble."

"Shit!" the old woman cursed, managing to get a startled look from all three of the Unity members, even the pained Giles. With a piercing gaze at the Watcher, she said, "I think I know what happened."

Xander was worried, and with a quick mental confirmation from Buffy, went into Slayerette/Unity stealth mode. "It's okay, Ms. Benton. He has these spells. He'll be okay in a while." He took the woman by the arm, attempting to escort her to the door. "We'll need to settle him down. If you want to see the store, why don't you come back a little later, and we'll be glad to show you around."

She shook him off with amazing strength for such a frail woman of her age. "Stop treating me like a helpless old woman," she fumed, then realized. "Oh, forgot, I am." Mumbling a few words in a language Xander wouldn't even pretend to recognize, although he knew he could tap Unity's knowledge of it if he needed to, the little old lady turned her back, and her image wavered. When she turned back, she stood taller and wore different clothing and a familiar face.

"Dr. Fairhope?" Buffy exclaimed, at the same time as Giles growled, "Andrea. You want to tell me what's going on? And what's happened to Willow?"

"She's in trouble, big trouble. But something tells me she'll be okay in the end. I hope so, anyway," the doctor replied uncertainly. Turning to Giles, she said, "I think I can take you to her, but I need to use your phone first. Okay?"

Still angry, the Watcher answered, "Take us to Willow, and everything will be okay. But hurry." The woman nodded briskly, and moved to the counter, punching in the number hard enough to break the keypad. When whatever was on the other end answered, she mumbled off a string of letters and numbers, and hung up.

"C'mon," she told them, "Let's go."


Willow awakened to find herself tied to a chair. She sighed. It had been a while since anyone had tied her up for any reason, and she wasn't eager to repeat the experience again. She saw a solid male figure in the corner, speaking into what appeared to be a radio handset. "Andrea? Andrea," the vaguely familiar voice kept repeating. "Damn," he fumed, "she must not be paying attention." When he turned to face her, she squeaked.

"Ah, you're awake," Travers said, an odd gleam in his eye. "I was hoping Andrea would get back and we could do this before you came to. Pity."

*Do what?* Willow wondered, realizing her mouth was taped shut and she couldn't ask aloud.

He was mumbling to himself. "Magical shield up. I'll have to give her something - don't want to cause pain here." The Watcher scurried away, furtively preparing what Willow finally saw as a large syringe. Turning back to her with a comforting smile, he held it up. "This will keep you from getting hurt - I mean, you won't feel it. Otherwise, it *would* hurt."

The witch was having trouble processing his words, due perhaps to the maniacal expression he wore, and the fact that Quentin Travers, Mr. Tweed-From-The-Watcher's-Council himself, was babbling. The man usually made the old Giles look hyperactive (although she was glad to say her Rupe was much more lively). In spite of herself, the thought of her - what were they, exactly? Anyway, the thought of Rupe made her smile slightly. Taking it as consent, Travers smiled in return, jabbing her quickly with the needle.

"Owww!" Willow complained, although the sound was highly muffled by the gag. The older gentleman wandered back to the counter, discarding the syringe after neatly snipping off the needle into a small jar. Then he retrieved something laid out of Willow's sight, and turned back around again. The redhead was starting to see the world through a slightly fuzzy lens, but could clearly recognize the jewel-encrusted knife. Her eyebrows rose in question.

"I decided to use an enchanted weapon, since I'm not sure that the changes Unity makes to your physiology will be surmountable otherwise. I promise, I'll wait until you're out to kill you - you won't feel a thing." Willow's eyes kept growing wider as he spoke, and panic crossed her face. "It's really the only way, you know," he went on conversationally. "The others will die, too, eventually, once you're gone. Andrea didn't tell me that, but I'm pretty sure they will. Doesn't matter, anyhow. Without you, there'll be no more Unity, and that's the whole point." He seemed entranced by the sound of his own voice, his madness only otherwise evident by the light in his eyes. "See, with Glory gone now, the Council wants me to set up a way to control Unity. But since the Heart and Body bonded, she's going to be too hard to control. She's already becoming an individual, from what I've seen on the tapes. They might be a little upset, at first, but they'll see, soon enough, that killing her was the best plan of action. She's got the darkness inside her. There's a reason it's never been done with humans before. And after all, she did what she was made for - she's not needed anymore." He was kneeling down beside the chair by this point, his left hand resting affectionately on her cheek. "I'm quite sorry that this is the only way. I'm certain Rupert will be perturbed."

Abruptly, the door to the apartment burst open, and four bodies tumbled in. "Quentin!" Andrea called, while Buffy and Xander both cried, "Willow!" together. Rupert just charged toward the captive woman, only to be repelled by an invisible shield.

"You don't have to do this, Quentin," Andrea continued soothingly.

"Bloody magical barrier," Giles growled. "Try calling Unity," he suggested to Buffy.

Closing her eyes and holding Xander's hand, she concentrated. After a few moments, her eyes flew open. "Can't," she answered him helplessly. Waving her hand, she said, "The shield?"

"Probably," the Watcher agreed, then spat out a word that rather surprised her, coming from him.

"They shouldn't have done that," Travers explained sadly to Willow, whose expression was dazed, at the very least. "I didn't want this to hurt. And I so hate breaking a promise." With those words, he raised the blade, bringing it down into the witch's chest. Her eyes flew wide open, but there was no sound that emerged from behind the gag.

"Wills!" Xander screamed, tears running down his face. Buffy clutched his hand, but only emitted a strangled yelp. Giles howled in pain, and fell to his knees before collapsing completely. The doctor was babbling in a magical language, and as soon as she stopped, she raced forward and grabbed the older Watcher's arm.

"Let me take that," she said soothingly, carefully removing the knife from the dazed man's hand. She handed it to Buffy, who stared at it with horrified fascination, watching her best friend's blood as it dripped from the razor sharp blade. "I need to get him out before it happens," she murmured to the Slayer, who had no idea what was supposed to happen, when, where and to whom. She nodded anyway, trying not to notice the slim body, slumped over in the chair and being held only by the ropes that bound it. Red hair hung over Willow's face, and her startled expression, formed in death, was mercifully hidden from the most important people in her life. Blood was pooling on the floor. In spite of her total numbness, Buffy could feel anger building within her, although she was pretty sure she would never feel anything, ever again. Then she recognized the spark that burned with white-hot fever as belonging to her other half, to Xander. His temper, often close to the surface, had emerged and gone momentarily berserk. She watched him storm into the next room, where the doctor had led the killer, stepping over Giles, who was still crumpled on the floor, without a second glance.

His voice was dangerously low, and only her Slayer- and Unity-enhanced abilities allowed her to hear the words he growled. "Just get away from him, or I'll kill you, too." She could see inside her lover's mind, and knew he was planning to tear apart the man who had brutally stabbed his oldest and dearest friend with his own bare hands. And Buffy didn't doubt he could do it, either. She was too numb to be startled by this killer that suddenly occupied her beloved's body.

"Xander, you don't want to kill him. He's gone mad. He didn't know what he was doing." The doctor was using the same soothing voice she'd been crooning in since they'd come in the door. Buffy followed her bondmate mechanically, and saw that Andrea was seated on the bed beside the now docile older man, pouring tea down his throat. "The Council will be sending someone soon, to take him away. He'll get help."

When the younger man spoke again, his voice was an agonizing mixture of fury and pain. "Who'll help Willow? It's too late. He's gotta pay," he moaned. "How will we survive without her?" His tone turned to pleading. "You have to let me kill him." The Slayer got a mental picture of a dangerous animal trying to appear tame to fool his prey.

"No, Xander," came Giles' voice from behind him. "You'd be no better than he, then."

"And you *are* so much better," added a voice the young man thought he'd never hear again on this earth. The animal retreated.

"WILLOW!" he and Buffy screamed in unison, running to their friend. She was leaning on Rupert, and they thought together of tearing her away for their own hug before they realized the other couple was more or less holding one another up. "Wha." Buffy managed to burble out, speaking for both of them.

"I thought this would happen," Andrea said with satisfaction. "It proves what I thought about the bond. You can't kill one alone, you have to take both at the same time."

Xander started, and fear crashed through Buffy as she felt his thought that Travers would hear this, come and try to finish what he'd started. They turned as one, and saw the Watcher sleeping peacefully on the sofa. Seeing their gazes, the doctor said, "I laced the tea with some of the sedatives I give him when he flies. Knocks him out every time."

Buffy was the first to put two and two together, which meant Xander had the same insight instantaneously. "Bonded?" she asked.

Her lover's face was incredulous. "When? You," he pointed to the reddening Willow, "told Buffy this morning you hadn't," he made a crude motion with his hands, causing Willow to blush even more deeply in spite of her weary, happy smile, "yet. You said it was 'too soon.'"

"It was, this morning." The redhead looked up at Rupert, who had a funny half smile on his own face, silently begging for him to rescue her.

"So, when?" Xander was like a bulldog with his teeth in - he wasn't letting this go.

"Lunchtime," Andrea answered for them, drawing startled looks from the four. She motioned to the monitors. "I couldn't see all the way into the office when you two went in there, but you were there quite a while. When Rupert felt Willow's pain and knew when she was in trouble, I managed to extrapolate from that."

"Your office? At the shop? The only place would be." Buffy stopped, in awed silence.

Giles was trying not to grin. "On the desk. Yes."

"My God, G-man, that's like, the ultimate male fantasy. That and the airplane bathroom." Xander was obviously impressed.

"Trust me, those bathrooms are overrated, they're far too small for." The mild Englishman in the male animal reared his meek head, and Rupert trailed off in embarrassment.

"I sooo don't want to know," Willow moaned, followed by a quick intake of breath. "Oh, no. I DO know!" Her eyes were saucer-like.

"I was young, and foolish," the Watcher defended himself weakly.

Willow's childhood friend snickered, and looked at her and her equally perturbed lover. "Welcome to the world of no privacy. Every thought you have is now fair game. Every stupid reflex. Every humiliating memory. Every."

Buffy put her hand on her lover's arm. "I think they get the picture Xan. We just got both of them back from near death. Could we let them live a bit before we kill them with embarrassment?" The other couple shot her grateful looks.

The crew that burst through the door interrupted any further examination of the couple's new status. "Where is he?" the leader exclaimed, taken aback when directed to the quietly sleeping older man. "That code was to be used only in life-threatening situations!" he fumed, unsure of who had misled him.

"It was quite that," Andrea insisted, stepping forward. She motioned to the now stronger redhead and her bondmate. "Willow here would be dead, but this man saved her life." The team leader tried to ignore the slightly younger man, giggling behind his hand. Soon, he noticed the blonde girl trying to hold in her own laughter. The Watcher woman glared at them both, and went on. "I've sedated him, but he's quite mad. You should arrange to have him taken back to the Council - they'll know what to do about him. Make sure he's kept either sedated or restrained, however. He's rather tricky."


In England, a silent elderly man studied the video monitor in his office. He had trusted Travers to do what was needed. But he couldn't keep his head long enough. Unity couldn't be allowed to continue, but more study was needed, and he seemed to have lost his expert, Andrea Fairhope, to sentiment. He would personally take over Quentin Travers' case, however. He knew enough to spearhead the next effort. He just had to be - fixed.

Then Unity could be finished off, before the dark animal that lived in her Heart and her Intellect was able to infect the rest of the body. As an evil creature, she would be unstoppable. The danger would always be there.


"So," Willow said as she fished the last piece of Mongolian Beef from the bottom of the carryout container with her chopsticks, "What was so funny about Rupe having saved my life?"

They were seated in the living room of their apartment; all four armed with Oriental utensils and nearly empty cardboard containers. Andrea had debriefed them on the past weeks, and how she had contacted the Watcher's Council as soon as she realized how far her former lover teetered over the edge where Unity was concerned. They were relieved to hear that neither the doctor nor the Council seemed to share the older Watcher's need to control their power. She let them know how significant she felt the bond each couple shared really was, and they agreed to submit themselves to further testing before she returned to England. After a quick call to the Magic Box to assure anyone who might care that all was well, the members of Unity retreated to their own home, and much Chinese food was ordered and consumed.

Buffy began to giggle again at the witch's question, so Xander deigned to answer. "I just was wishing I'd tried your way to save Buffy's life back in high school - maybe after the CPR was over." His girlfriend's giggle developed into full-blown laughter. "And I told him, he'd be the one dead now if he had," she howled. The other two joined them in laughter.

"Well, dying, or almost dying, can be tiring," Rupert said pointedly a few minutes later.

After a quick flash of alarm, Willow's smile widened, and then she yawned with dramatic exaggeration. "I do feel a bit - sleepy. Perhaps we should go to bed."

Xander and Buffy had had enough silent conversations to know one when they saw it. Giles quickly wiped the wicked expression off his face, and stood, pulling Willow up from her seat. "You two will clean up, won't you?" he asked, not even waiting long enough for them to answer before disappearing into their room behind the redhead.

"I guess it's only fair - they have been through hell today," the Slayer waxed philosophically as she began gathering trash.

*I do believe they have heaven planned for tonight,* Xander responded slyly in her mind. *A plan I personally couldn't argue with,* he continued suggestively.

His love grinned back at him. *After I watch the Leno monologue, we'll see.*

The trash was rapidly gathered, and there was little else that needed cleaning. The couple settled on the couch in front of the TV, but the sounds from the bedroom were distracting, forcing them to turn up the set. They weren't sure if they were raising the volume to hear the monologue, or to not hear the moans and cries.

Finally, Xander punched the power button in frustration, turning off the TV. "We were never that loud, were we? Maybe I could soundproof these bedrooms."

Buffy stood, taking his hand and pulling him towards their own room. "Or we could just try to drown them out," she grinned.

Xander grinned right back. "I like the way you think," he purred.

"You thought it, I just said it," she smirked, and he chased her into their room and closed the door behind them.

The End