Seconds

 

An alternate ending to "I Will Remember You"

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"I like time.  There's so little and so much of it." ~Oracle

Buffy clung to him in desperation, tears running down her face.  She was clinging to more than her lover, his breath stirring her hair, his tears mingling with hers, his heart beating audibly in his chest.  She was clinging to new hope, new life.  She was clinging to love rekindled, love rediscovered.

She was clinging to memory.

"I'll never forget.  I'll never forget.  I'll never forget."

Maybe if she said it enough, it would be true.  One minute, Angel had said.  One minute until the oracles reset time, erasing the last 24 hours like they had never happened.  Not even the dream would remain.

Less than 5 seconds now.  Though she didn't want to, a small logical part of her understood Angel's reasoning.  She remembered how helpless she had felt when her strength was stolen from her on her eighteenth birthday.  But to just give up on his humanity . . . on their day of happiness . . ..  It hurt.  Oh, it hurt.

And so she clung to him, and he clung to her in return.  Never had she so dreaded the passing of time.  Only seconds remained.  Seconds, and then only Angel would remember their happiness . . . a happiness he would no longer be allowed to have.  If she did not remember, she knew Angel would not tell her, but suffer the memories alone.  Her heart broke for the both of them.

I'll never forget.  I'll never forget.  I'll never forget.

Angel stiffened in her arms.  What's the time? Buffy thought in a panic.  "Angel?" she whispered, looking up into his face.

His tears had stilled, his face showing confusion instead of despair.  He was not looking at her, but at the clock on the opposite wall.

Buffy turned to look at it as well.  The second hand had passed the 12 and was continuing around again . . . . . 5 . . . 6 . . . 7 . . ..

"Maybe your clock is fast?" Buffy whispered, hoping that it wasn't true.

Angel shook his head, speechless.  He stared at the clock, the seconds passing.

Neither of them said a word.  Despair had stilled; the room held its breath.  Any second, it could be over.  Afraid that if she moved, if she pulled away, this new fragile hope of a future would disappear, Buffy willed Angel to look down at her again.  She raised a trembling hand to his face, waiting for a response . . . anything more than the passing of seconds.

She got a response finally, though not one she wanted, when her hand brushed one of the growing bruises on his forehead.  Angel flinched from her touch, but his eyes locked with hers and did not pull away.  Neither of them said a word, seeking their answers in each other's eyes.

A minute passed.  Maybe two.

"What do we do now?" Buffy asked finally.  "We can't stand here forever, waiting . . .."

Angel shook his head, bewildered.  "We're still here.  If nothing's happened yet, it's not going to."  He looked at the clock again.  "But they said . . ." his voice trailed off.

Resting her hand on his damp cheek, Buffy brought his eyes back to look in hers again.  "Were you really ready to give this up?" she asked.

"I'd never be ready," Angel replied honestly.  He brought his lips to hers, and they kissed passionately, no longer borne of desperation but of relief.

When they pulled away to breath, they were both smiling again.  "You need to get some rest," Buffy said softly.  She was grinning.  "Neither of us got much sleep last night."  She pulled out of his embrace reluctantly.

"Where will you be?" he asked when it was clear she was not staying with him.

"I have some things to do," she replied evasively.  "I'll be back."  And we'll find out what happened . . . why nothing's changed.

 

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Buffy had almost forgotten it was morning until she stepped into the bright rooms of the upper floor.  The wall clock said 9:30, and with every second the chances that this reality would disappear were fewer and fewer.  Sniffling, her tears dry, and smiling at memories not forgotten, Buffy made her way into the outer office.

Doyle and Cordelia's looks of shock were enough to remind Buffy that her tears had surely left her looking a mess.

"Oh my god!" Cordelia exclaimed as she saw Buffy.  "What happened?"

Buffy knew her tear-streaked face was at odds with her cheerful expression.  "Nothing.  Nothing happened."

Doyle looked at her in alarm as well.  "Are you alright?  Is Angel alright?"

Buffy nodded.  "We're good now.  Angel's resting."  She turned to Cordelia a touch sheepishly.  "Do you have a mirror?" she asked, knowing that while Angel may have bought ice cream during his first day as a human, he wouldn't have thought of buying a mirror."

Quickly, Cordelia rooted through a drawer and pulled out a good-sized mirror.  Taking a tissue, Buffy wiped the last of her makeup.  Both Cordelia and Doyle watched her in concern but said nothing as she cleaned herself up.

"You're sure everything is okay?" Doyle asked finally.

"Everything's alright now," Buffy said.  "What matters is whether or not it's going to stay this way."  She looked at Doyle seriously.  "You brought Angel to speak to the oracles.  Can you do the same for me?"

Doyle looked flustered.  "Speaking to the oracles is tricky.  They may not allow you to speak to them."

"But will you take me to them?  I want to try."  At Doyle's continued reluctance, she pleaded, "If not for me, than for Angel.  For the both of us."

 

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The brilliant light was disorienting, and Buffy stumbled into the room.  Two figures regarded her silently, male and female with strangely blue marked skin.

The woman stepped forward.  "What have you brought?"

Buffy was glad Doyle had prepared her for this.  She held out a small gold bracelet her father had given her years before.  It flew from her hand to the oracle's outstretched one.

The woman looked at it.  "A token of love.  As it is love that brings you here."

Buffy blinking, and swallowed the automatic smart-mouthed retort.  "Yes," she said, "I came for Angel."

The man seemed vaguely surprised.  "As it was love for you that brought him here again."

"It did?" Buffy blurted.

"To slow down the arrival of that which comes to all mortals, he would have sacrificed his mortality and become a demon once again," the woman explained.

"Then what . . . why didn't he . . . why didn't you . . . do what you said you were going to?" Buffy asked, her tongue tripping over her words.

The male oracle answered her question with another question.  "Is it better to have a miserable warrior or a happy man?"

"So, what'll become of him now?"

"He faces the choices all mortals must make, and the battles all warriors must fight," the woman replied.

Buffy listened to the cryptic phrases and jumped to a sudden conclusion.  "He's both?"

"What better than a happy warrior, one who not only fights for duty, but for love?"

Buffy was flabbergasted, and lost her train of thought.  "How?"

"His willingness to sacrifice has been noted.  His strength has been returned to him, nothing more."  The man and woman walked away, and a flash of light engulfed Buffy once again.

When it cleared, Buffy was again standing in the underground room with Doyle.  "How long was I . . .?"

"Only seconds," he replied.  "You get what you were hoping for?"

Buffy said nothing, only smiled.

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Continued in Sands