One-Sided Correspondence

He had been torn about how to respond to Oz's letter. All day, he thought about how to respond. Really, whether to respond. Sure, Oz said to not write back, but Xander still felt odd about obeying that instruction.

But he spent so much time debating that he missed his chance. Oz's latest batch of pictures had been packaged and sent back before he even realized that the film had arrived.

And then another letter arrived. A short letter, but still a letter.

Thanks. For not writing back. Still sounds weird, I know, but it was important. It is important. And since I haven't been the target of a search-and-rescue mission, I'm guessing that you've kept this to yourself.

Things are still quiet up here, but it's different now. Calm. I mean, since I wrote that letter to you, I haven't felt surrounded like I did when I wrote it. I'm not sure why. Was it because I finally decided to contact someone? Because I decided to contact you? Just because I wrote things down? I don't know. And I'm not sure it really matters right now. And I don't think I really care.

Anyway, now I know the trick. I have my sanity back.

He glanced at the back of the envelope. He was only slightly surprised to see tiny letters.

Falettinme be mice elf agin.

Once again finding the star on the back of the envelope, he carefully removed the stamp. Two simple words.

Thank you.


"So, Xander, how well did you know the werewolf guy?" Oh, great. Now Erick was going to remember the comment about high school.

"Uh, he dated a friend for a while." Nice and vague. And not entirely a lie. "They broke up senior year." Skating closer to lies of omission. He decided to stop there.

"Ah." The older man turned his attention back to the schedule. "So you want more overtime? We got another one of his boxes today."

Xander shrugged, attempting to act cool and unaffected by the thought of more pictures from Oz. "Sure."


This time, the pictures included shots of Oz's living space. Xander was prepared to feel horrified at the conditions, but instead, he realized he was jealous. No dilapidated squalor for the man with the van. A plain, spartan cabin with solar panels and a basic bed. No washing machine next to his bed, and Xander was fairly certain that no one was going to shout down the stairs about hanging the rayon up to dry, interrupting whatever leisure activity he was engaging in at the time. That thought was something he had to work at pushing aside. Other features of the cabin included a fireplace, a ceramic bowl on a metal stand that Xander realized was an old-fashioned washbasin, an electric teakettle, a low bookcase filled with books under a window, and a boombox with a pile of cassette tapes next to it. He smiled at this last item before frowning at the object propped against the wall next to it.

Oz's guitar. With a broken string.


The letter came exactly one week later.

So you saw it. I can't believe it. I mean, I can believe that you saw it. I just can't believe that you did something about it. That sounds wrong. It wasn't a hint. I just... I don't know. I actually hadn't noticed that the string was broken when I took that picture. To be honest, it had been a few days since I had played, and I didn't pick up the thing again until after I got the pictures back. I couldn't figure out why you had sent those things until I went through the pictures.

Here's something else I don't want you to take the wrong way. You sent the wrong guitar strings. Well, they're not the wrong ones, but they're not my favorite. And that's important.

Why? Seriously, Xander, it is important -- in a good way -- that you sent the wrong strings. Willow would know the right ones. But you obviously didn't ask her to find out.

And that means that you've kept this to yourself. That means more than I can put into words. I know she'll freak when she finds out I've been writing to you and not her. More secrets? We all know what happened last time I kept a secret from her. I wouldn't be here if that hadn't happened. But that was something I kept from everybody, and this is something I'm sharing with you. It's weird to think of it that way -- sharing this isolation. But I think you understand what I mean. You're kind of isolated there even though you're there with everyone around you. The fact that you're not going to school separates you from them. And now I'm not going to school either. So you and I have something in common. Something that makes us different from the others. It makes me feel closer to you. If I had really paid attention at that frat when we were setting up the sound system, I think things might have turned out a little differently. "He looks so normal." That could be either of us, couldn't it? Or both. Maybe if I hadn't been so set on trying to fix everything by myself, I wouldn't be here.

Too late for maybes, though. It doesn't do any good to wish things were different.

Did you understand the envelope this time? Okay, so I'm assuming that you noticed, but you're a smart guy. I have faith in you. I tried to figure out what to say, but all I could think of was that song from the '60s. It was probably a bad choice, but I was drawing a blank. If you don't get it, just ask Giles. I'm pretty sure he has the album.

So. What else can I tell you? Not much is going on up here. I've been thinking. I've been talking to the walls and the animals up here. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in a Disney movie. Or that I'm Dr. Doolittle. If I concentrate long enough, I can convince myself that the animals are talking back. It's not that I feel like I'm going insane. I just feel like I've been here with them for so long that I'm finally understanding what their mannerisms mean. Maybe I should do whatever what's-her-name did in "Gorillas in the Mist". Except I would prefer to not be killed by poachers. Hmm. Maybe that's not such a good idea after all. One close call is enough.

Speaking of poachers, I need to go check the traps now. It sounds horrible and disgusting, I know, but there are no grocery stores or butchers up here, so I have to fend for myself. And I think I'm doing a pretty good job of it. I'm not sure what's going on, but I haven't torn my place apart during those nights. You know what I mean.

Once again, Xander examined the envelope. Once again, he expected another secret message, and Oz did not disappoint. On the back of the envelope, he found a single sentence.

I was happy by myself.

And once again, the star on the back prompted him to peel off the stamp.

This wasn't supposed to happen.

Confused, he folded the letter and envelope in half and tucked it in his pocket. Oz would eventually explain.

He hoped.