Exiles of Eden
Even a life-long prosperity is but one cup of sake; A life of forty-nine years is passed in a dream; I know not what life is, nor death. Year in year out all but a dream.
Both Heaven and Hell are left behind; I stand in the moonlit dawn, Free from clouds of attachment.
The river began high above, born in the Cascade peaks and fed by small runnels and rivulets until it became a strong, swift, ice-defying torrent. The cold, clear water flowed along boulders and gravel beds, through stream cuts striated with the record of geological eons long past, over sandy shallows and down swift, deep channels. It meandered in its path past abandoned mines and long dead mills, certain only of its ultimate destination, ever downward to the ocean far away. It ran its course with primeval purpose, indifferent to the lonely body, wrapped in plastic and duct tape, that bobbed in its chill waters with an almost tranquil laziness.
The body had snagged on a limb of a toppled pine. Rhythmically, the current would carry it forward until the tension in the branch overcame the force of the water, then the tree would reclaim its dead charge to begin the morbid contest anew.
Two miles north of the small town of Pine Crest, Oregon, Buffy Summers stood on the summit of the steep river bank, watching the grim cycle and contemplating destiny. Why had the universe set her, thirty-two years ago, upon the dark and winding path that led here to this distant, lonely place? And why had it, sixteen years later, taken another woman and charted her a course that ended below in the cold embrace of a fallen tree?
Where was the sense in any of it? Buffy Summers, who had cheated Death so often that it had become a normal part of her existence, still walked and laughed and loved. And yet this lost and unfortunate girl, who had no part in the fortunes of Buffys war, had ended her brief time in the world as the object of a Dark Slayers sad and bitter meditations.
It wasnt fair. None of it had ever been fair.
But the universe was what it was, and Buffy had resigned herself to fighting it on its own, soulless terms. Funny. Shed seen things in her life that most people never even dreamed existed, glimpsed truths hidden from all but a very select few. Shed experienced horror and beauty, love and hate, despair and redemption on a cosmic scale. Yet for all that, for all the wonders and miracles, she had less faith now than when it had all begun those many years ago in a high school in California.
She drew a slim cellular phone from her coat pocket and extended the antenna with her teeth. She stripped off one glove and dialed a number.
Its me, Willow. I found her. Ill call the Sheriff and head back to town. Do me a favor and see if you can get in touch with Agent Hancock, let him know where I am. And put the Dark Angels on twenty-four hour standby. Id like you and Giles out here, too. Yes, I think this is where its going to happen. I dont know. Call it a hunch. Bye.
Buffy turned away from the river and started back the way shed come.
Nope. Fair never even entered into the picture.
* * *
The man hidden in the shadows of the dark parking garage took a long drag on his cigarette. The tobacco flared crimson, momentarily illuminating a weathered, singularly sad face in its ruddy glow.
Glad you could make it, said the man. His voice sounded dead, despite an oddly familiar, lilting accent. Not monotonous, not droning just dead, as if the speakers last joy in life was a thing long past and gone from memory.
Angel squinted into the shadows. No more seeing in the dark, not since becoming human again. But it was a small price to pay.
All right. Im here. Who are you and whats this about? asked the former vampire.
The man laughed softly, but there was no humor in it. Who am I? Thats funny. You help take away the most important thing in my life, and you dont even know who the hell I am.
Angel hesitated, then said, Ive taken a lot of things from a lot of people. The really sad part of it is, most of them I dont even remember. I dont know you. Im sorry. Maybe I should.
You remember Kendra, though. Even you couldnt be so casual about death that youd forget setting up a Slayer to be killed by that bitch Drusilla.
Angel let several moments pass, unable to say anything. He felt a sudden bleakness inside.
Maybe its expecting too much of you, to remember a single death among so many, said the man.
I remember, said Angel. This is about revenge, then?
No, not revenge. Its not my job to kill people, just demons.
Angels eyes widened. You were her Watcher. Youre Zabuto.
The cigarette glowed again, then the man said, Thats me.
The Watcher made a dismissive gesture. I dont want to hear it from you. This isnt about you and me. Summers killed the only part of you I despised.
So, if its not about revenge, what is it?
Its about an old and lonely Watcher who lost the only thing that gave his life meaning. And its about how I cant let Giles go through the hell Ive been through. Im here to help you save Buffy Summers life.