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."
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.