Part Eight

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.

*Hospital.*

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.