Chapter 2

Xander Harris stood nervously in front of Willow's apartment door, willing himself to ring the doorbell. "Come on Xandman," he murmured under his breath. "It's just your oldest, bestest friend in the world. It's not like she hasn't spoken to you for nearly four years; that would be Buffy, queen of hurt feelings. Willow was upset, but we pretty much buried the hatchet when I joined the Army." Xander paced a little in front of Willow's door before continuing his pep-talk. "OK, I can't believe I survived high school, vampires, demons, a grudge match with the *Slayer* and *boot camp* only to be standing here psyching myself up to talk to Willow. Just ring the bell Harris!" Xander pushed the buzzer in the door, and shifted his weight uncomfortably while waiting for Willow to answer the door.

"Yeah?" It was Oz that opened the door, casting a harried glance back into the apartment. When Xander didn't reply, Oz tuned back to face him, stopping short when he recognized his friend. "Xander, what a surprise," Oz commented, actually going so far as to raise an eyebrow and smiling a little. "Enter if you're able."

Xander nodded in acknowledgement of the greeting Giles and Buffy had drilled into everyone's head, smiling a little at the memory as he stepped past Oz into the apartment. What he saw surprised him. While Willow wasn't a complete neat freak, she was generally well organized, and Oz had always followed Willow's lead. Yet the living room that Xander entered was a wreck. Papers were strewn across the coffee table, and a computer and printer had been set up on a card table near the TV. Boxes of what looked like invitations were stacked next to an easy chair, apparently waiting for stamps, and gifts were stacked against the wall under the window. "Good to see you... Look I thought you guys weren't getting married for two months still. What's with the hurricane?"

Oz ran a hand through his close cropped hair in a rare exhibition on frustration. "A... A friend is in the process of moving here, and needs some help taking care of things. Willow and I agreed to help, and figured we had two months to get things taken care of on this end. Only we got a call couple of hours ago, and..."

Oz was interrupted by a screech coming from down the hall, and Xander's shock at what amounted to a speech from the usually taciturn musician, was replaced by shock at the tone in Willow's voice. The redhead could now be clearly heard exclaiming, "What do you *mean* two weeks, three at the most!" Willow came stalking down the hall, cordless phone and a clipboard in hand. She was waving the clipboard around for emphasis as she built up steam. "I know I can do a lot and when I get on a roll I can run right over objections, but we're talking about *contractors* here. You know those people that say they'll get it done in a month, and you're lucky if you see them for the next six weeks? I don't think its possible to get all the work you want done in that amount of time."

Oz tried to bring Willow's attention to Xander's presence at the lull in the conversation, but she waved him off as shock spread across her face. Concerned by the expression and the dazed look in Willow's eyes, Xander grabbed the folding chair from in front of the computer and placed it behind her as Oz guided her to sit down. "Bu... bu..." Willow stammered, unable to get anything out.

Oz took the phone from her gently, and brought it to his ear. "Hey?" he questioned, listening for a few moments. "Wow. That just may work. Where on earth did you get...? Never mind. Just let me get a pen." Oz reached for Willow's clipboard and started searching for a pen in the chaos around them. Xander silently handed him one he'd found behind Willow's ear, and watched as Oz scribbled on one of the sheets. "OK, we'll start calling around for help. Let you know what's going on next time you call." Oz listened for a few minutes more, a smile crossing his face as he gazed at Willow. "Sure, she'll be fine. You just threw her for a loop. I'll have her drop you a line. Bye."

Xander and Oz stood next to each other, contemplating the shell shocked Willow. Xander was about to suggest a drink of water when she snapped out of it, her green eyes snapping. "How are we supposed to do this Oz? I mean, it's not as though we don't have a business to run, or a wedding to plan, or...or *lives*."

"Now you're going pretty heavy on the sarcasm there Wills," Xander cracked, once again shifting nervously. "If you need help, I can pitch in a bit."

"Xander!" Willow shrieked and threw herself into his arms. "Why didn't you tell us you were coming!" Xander opened his mouth to try to reply, but Willow turned to Oz went on before he could get a word out. "Oz! Xander!" Xander smothered a laugh as relief swept through him. Willow would always be Willow.

"That's right Will, it's Xander," Oz managed before Willow could get any more out. The red headed computer expert made a frustrated little noise before dragging in a deep breath and letting loose.

"Oz! It's perfect! We can get Xander to do some of the chores, like...the invitations, finding places for people to stay, beating up Willie the snitch to find out what's going on..." Willow turned to Xander, without pausing. "You can help right Xander? I mean, I know you're probably on leave, but surely you have a *little* time you can spare to help us right? A...and you'd probably want to familiarize yourself with the current happenings anyway, and since the Slayer's dead, again, you might even decide to help out a little. Plus..." Willow turned back to Oz with a frown of concern. "Oh, Oz, b..." Willow cast a quick guilty glance in Xander's direction before continuing, "..because Giles said he wants all of us here when the new Slayer comes. And I don't think Cordelia will want to come if I send her an invitation; she wanted to put all this behind her when she moved away, and we've never been the best of friends. Don't you think it'd be OK for...?"

A sharp whistle cut through Willow's words, making her freeze. She took one look and Oz's bemused expression and Xander's confused and concerned one and frowned at her fiance. "I told you to stop me when I do that," she muttered as she flushed, referring to her tendency to babble.

"It's still cute," Oz whispered back, pressing a kiss to her forehead before turning to Xander, who was getting more and more impatient.

"What do you mean *new Slayer*," Xander demanded accusingly. "Buffy's OK right? I mean someone would have told me if she was killed?"

"Oh, yeah, Xander I'm sorry," Willow quickly reassured him. "Buffy's fine. The *other* Slayer has been stationed here or in LA since Buffy left town. After Faith died, the first one lasted about 2 years, but since then, it's gotten pretty bad." A shudder ran through the redhead, prompting Oz to wrap an arm around her shoulder. "The third Slayer in the last two years was killed last week."

Xander frowned, long forgotten anger rising to the surface. "It sounds like it's time for Buffy to come back. *If* she even cares anymore." Willow and Oz frowned at the anger in Xander's voice, but said nothing. The tension between him and Buffy before she'd been attacked had been uncomfortable, but Xander had been sure they'd iron things out eventually, and hadn't pressed the issue. But, when Buffy had disappeared again, taking Giles and his books, and leaving only notes and promises to call, Xander had felt anger over take him. He felt betrayed when one of his closest friends disappeared without clearing the air, without saying goodbye, and without letting him help. Xander had thought that time, distance, and the letters she'd written, explaining a little of what she'd been feeling had helped, but suddenly the anger was back with a vengeance. Because Buffy hadn't just abandoned them, she'd abandoned them on a Hellmouth.

"Xander..." Willow's voice trailed off, reluctant to continue. She knew that, promises made or not, if one of her friends really pressed her for information she'd still cave pretty easily. Willow didn't want to betray Buffy's confidence, but she also hated seeing Xander feeling like this. She darted a glance at Oz, and then started carefully, weighing each word. "I don't know everything, and I can't tell you some of what I've been told. But I *do* know this." Willow was relieved when Xander stopped pacing and turned to look at her, really listening to what she was saying. "Buffy was going through a lot when she left, and most of her reasons for leaving had nothing to do with any of us. I talked to her a while back, and she says she realizes she made some bad choices back then, or at least didn't handle leaving in the right way. But don't ever think she doesn't care about what happens here. Spike still has to pitch in here, and when things get really hairy Angel comes in from Los Angeles."

"That's all well and good Will, and I know I've got residual anger issues going here, but that's not the point right now. The point is that she's been going all over taking care of hot spots and leaving Sunnydale in the hands of the second Slayer. Only it seems like Sunnydale is the hot spot now. So why isn't she here?"

"I think..." Willow turned to Oz in surprise. He was very unlikely to crack under pressure, except from her, and he and Xander were friends now, but not as close as she often wished. So why was he offering information now? Oz shook his head slightly at Willow, taking her hands in his to reassure her. "I think maybe she's considering it," he continued turning back to Xander. "I mean, Giles is asking us to gather some information, and he wants to get the Scooby Gang back together when the new Slayer comes. I think he's trying to get some information together before a final decision is made."


"No buts, Xander," Willow said firmly, wearing her resolve face. "Things are usually pretty slow after a big crisis, even when the Slayer dies. You know that. We'll be OK for a while, and we all know to be careful. And they *are* taking this seriously; Giles just asked us to get things done in half the time. I think Buffy's been having dreams..." Willow's voice trailed of in concern. Buffy's dreams usually meant bad things were about to happen.

"Besides," Oz added. "Look at the way you just reacted when you found out what's been going on. Maybe Buffy's a little nervous about coming back. She'll have to face what ever the Hellmouth is currently brewing up, all the memories - good and bad - that this place has, and all those unresolved feelings, and issues she left behind. If she's already feeling guilty for handling things badly..."

"Yeah, yeah, I get the picture," Xander sighed, allowing himself to relax. "If I jump down her throat it'll take forever to clear the air, because she'll be reluctant to open up." All three breathed sighs of relief as the tension left the air, one of the first hurdles handled. "Well, I'm ready to help. Let's start with the most important..."

"Oh, Oh! Trying to get the renovations done on time!" Willow exclaimed, only to frown a moment later. "Only, we need to get the invitations out soon. Or is it going to be starting to figure out what's going on?"

"No, no, no Will! We go for food!" Xander said, herding them towards the door. "*Then* we figure out what's first." Willow frowned, but allowed herself to be pushed gently out the door. "Don't frown Willow. I think we can take care of it all," Xander assured her. "Even dragging Cordy back into the fold."

"That's easy for you to say. *You* haven't seen the list."