Time To Think

"Hey, guys, it's werewolf day!"

Xander's head snapped up at the announcement. "What?"

"Oh, right, the new guy." His supervisor at QuikFoto -- Erick, Xander reminded himself -- quickly explained. "There's this guy -- we think it's a guy -- who lives somewhere in the mountains up north. Once a week, he sends us this package of film. He's apparently some sort of special effects artist or something. All of his pictures are of werewolves and the wilderness. We get them, develop them, and FedEx them back up to Washington."

"Werewolves?" Wait, maybe that's not the best part of the explanation to focus on. "He lives in the mountains? In Washington? So why does he send his film here?"

Erick shrugged. "I don't know, and I don't really care. It keeps us busy during slow times, and he's a good customer. Just sends us the film and payment and never, ever complains, even if it takes us a week or two to get them all processed. The pictures are cool, too. We all have to check them because there are way too many for just one or two people to do them by themselves, though. If you want some overtime, just say so, and you can work on a bigger chunk of his stuff."

"Sounds good."


One of the more interesting aspects of Xander's QuikFoto job was checking the finished photographs. Quality control. He sometimes felt like a voyeur, looking at these little bits of other people's lives, but in a good way. He was seeing the pieces that they wanted recorded for future reference. Birthday parties, new puppies, vacations -- happy stuff. Yeah, there were the not-so-infrequent home porn shots (and every time he saw them, he vowed to never pose for a camera that wasn't a Polaroid), but he preferred the family stuff.

And now he was back at work, hours before they opened for the day, putting in overtime so they could get the newest batch of pictures sent out to their mysterious customer in the mountains. "Okay, just remember this is fake." Xander nodded and accepted his seat at the table. "When you're done, just put them in this box." Erick pointed at a rather sizable box. Apparently, there were dozens of packets of photographs to be returned. "We'll send it out this afternoon."

And so they began going through the photographs. Xander got as far as his first before making a shocked noise.

"Are you okay? Remember, werewolves aren't real."

Xander shook his head and pointed at the photo that had caused his reaction. He had expected it, but, somehow, the confirmation came as a surprise. "I know this guy."

"Really. Uh, Xander, how can you tell? Does he have distinctive fur?"

Recalling that the existence of werewolves wasn't exactly common knowledge around town, Xander shrugged. "I went to high school with him. He's, uh, been into werewolf costumes for years. I recognize this one."

"Huh." Erick paused to take a piece of pizza, shouting in pain when his teeth clamped down on a piece of something hard in the sausage. "Crap! I think I just broke a tooth." Gingerly, he moved his fingertip to the tooth in question." "Damn. Time for another crown. There goes another seven hundred bucks." He glanced at the clock. "I'm going to the dentist. He's just a couple of blocks away. Will you be okay?" Xander nodded. "If you have to leave, just lock up." And he was gone.

Xander turned back to the photographs, examining the first set for developing problems, but also examining the photographs themselves. So this is what Oz had been up to during his self-imposed exile. The first packet of pictures showed a lonely werewolf pacing. Xander was amazed at the emotion in the eyes of the creature, but, then again, this was Oz. He was always surprising Xander for one reason or another.

He turned his attention to the address label on the box. A generic, anonymous mail pick-up place. Then he noticed the name on the label. "Unfinished Business." He blinked and rubbed his eyes, sure he couldn't be seeing what he thought he was seeing. The letters did not change. Before he could change his mind, he grabbed one of the "Quality checked by" cards (the ones that no one used), scribbled his name on it, and dropped it in the photo packet he placed in the box.


That was the last he thought of the photographs until he arrived at work a week later. There was little point in telling anyone else on Team Slayer about them since there was nothing anyone could do except write to the address on the box, and Xander was feeling strangely protective of Oz. There was a reason he just used that fake business name on the packages, after all. And since there wasn't anything he could do about the situation, he just kept quiet.

But a week after he discovered Oz's latest secret, he was handed an envelope almost as soon as he walked through the door at work. "So our werewolf friend has finally decided to say something." Xander looked at Erick's outstretched hand. "What did you do to his pictures, Harris?"

Xander frowned and accepted the envelope. "I just put one of those quality-checked slips in one of the packets."

The tense expression on Erick's face faded. "Ah. So you just happened to be the only one who put one of those in. No one else uses those unless they're trying tp pick up chick. That explains it. He just wrote to the only name he had."

Now Xander shrugged. Somehow Erick was overlooking Xander's comment about knowing Oz in high school. "I guess?"

To Xander's relief, Erick did not hear the questioning tone in his voice. "Well, then, that's okay. As long as he's not mad about something. He's good business." And the older man walked away.

Xander turned his attention to the envelope in his hands. He closed his eyes and held his breath, hoping that the words inside were good.

Xander --

Finally. I was wondering when you would get around to working at QuikFoto. I've been sending this stuff since I left, waiting to see your reaction. To me singling you out for this, that is. I'm not sure what I thought it would be, but I didn't expect this. Just a slip of paper with your name on it. I've been thinking about why that's all you sent, but I think I understand. You just wanted to let me know that you knew that this was me, and you didn't want me to freak that you knew, and if I wanted to say anything else, you would listen, but you wouldn't push. At least I hope that's what you meant. That's what I would have meant if I had done that.

So you're probably wondering what my point is. That's nice. Really, I have no idea. I''m just babbling at this point.

It's quiet up here. Really quiet. Sometimes I think I'm just going to go insane, Xander. No voices -- no Willow, no you. I'm not sure who I miss more. I could listen to either of you just chatter on all day. And instead, I'm in the middle of nowhere, by myself, with only the local flora and fauna to keep me company. Willow was wrong. She told me that people are everywhere -- that there's nowhere you can go to get away from them. She was wrong. Wanna hear something weird? I feel even more surrounded by people here than I did in Sunnydale. It's like being away from everyone just emphasizes how surrounded I was before. When people were around all of the time, I didn't spend all of my time thinking about them like I do now. Not thinking. Obsessing.

This is going to sound weird, but don't write back, okay? If anyone other than Xander is reading this, plase send this back to the return address. And just mark "return to sender" on any future stuff I should happen to send. So I know Xander's not there. But, Xander, if you're there, please, don't write back. I just need to say some stuff, and I have this strange feeling that I need you to hear it without responding. If I don't get anything sent back, I'm going to cross my fingers and assume that you're getting this stuff and want to get more, okay? If not, you can pretend that you didn't get any of this and just send it back.

Gotta go now. Time to think.

Remember, unfinished business.

No signature, but there was no need for one. As he refolded the letter to place it back in the envelope, he noticed writing -- in very, very small letters -- along the very top of the back of the envelope. I'm jealous. Of him.

And a tiny star. He turned the envelope over and examined the front. It appeared perfectly normal -- his name, the QuikFoto address, Oz's return address, a postage stamp. A postage stamp commemorating Irish immigration. He flipped it over once again. The star was positioned opposite the stamp. Carefully, he peeled the stamp off, revealing more tiny letters. I know about Angel. I could smell him all over you.

He stared at the words for several minutes, finally realizing that the words on the back of the envelope were supposed to follow those under the stamp, before Erick finally jolted him out of his daze. "Hey, time's up. Adam needs your help at the counter."

Xander nodded and tucked the letter in his pocket. Time to go to work. To go on autopilot and perform his job like a robot.

Time to think.