disclaimer in part 1

It's a question of trust
It's a question of not letting
What we've built up
Crumble to dust
It's all of these things and more
That keep us together

A Question of Lust
- Depeche Mode

Three Doors
by: Rebecca Carefoot

Part Ten

Giles opened the door to his apartment; Buffy's short call from Willy's, with the news that Faith was dead, weighed heavy behind his eyes. He reached out a hand toward his Slayer, but she brushed past it; and he withdrew the appendage with a worried frown. He exchanged a look with Angel, seeing some of what he felt reflected in the other man's eyes. Buffy entered Giles' living room, and Willow looked up from her laptop computer silently, her eyes slightly red. Even the usually boisterous Xander looked subdued, studying his hands where they lay in his lap. Buffy flinched slightly, but her steps did not falter. She stood next to the couch where Willow sat, and the other girl looked at her, stricken.

"Will?" Buffy started.

"I- I didn't like her," Willow said. "But I didn't want her dead. I-" The hacker's voice cracked, and she broke off, blinking.

"None of us wanted this," Buffy said. Angel moved closer to the Slayer, touching her shoulder hesitantly. She took a step away from his hand, and he tilted his head, hiding the pain that flickered in his eyes. "But the important thing now is that I have to stop him before it happens again."

"Don't you mean we?" Xander asked, as Angel sank down on the couch next to Willow. "We have to stop him?"

"I take it he was not at the address Willy gave you?" Giles said cautiously. Buffy shook her head.

"He must have taken them out through the sewers. But no clues. I have no idea where." She turned to Xander. "And of course I want your help, but more than that I want you all alive. There's nothing more you can do today and nightfall is coming soon." She looked at Willow, then at Xander. "I want you to go home. Go to school tomorrow. Try to keep from ruining your lives."

"Buffy-" Willow started to protest.

"Don't invite anyone in tonight," Buffy interrupted. "We can't know for sure, but we have to assume Faith told him about the fact that there's a human version of him walking around. Even if she didn't, he'll find out sooner or later. He'll use it against us if he can. Be sure it's our Angel before you do or say anything." Angel nodded agreement.

"What about-" Xander started.

"And I mean don't invite _anyone_. Not just Angel, anyone. He's got minions now."

"Buffy," Xander said. "We're here to help. You can't just shove us around and ignore what we want." Buffy sighed, her face suddenly old, tired.

"I'm not," she said. "I just have to get through this. I have to make sure we all get through this."

"It wasn't your fault," Xander said. "It's a horrible thing, and I don't think any of us are really dealing yet. But you can't blame yourself." Buffy snorted, and shook her head, closing her eyes against the tears that prickled in her eyes.

"Xander is right," Giles said. "Faith's death is a tragedy. But she was a Slayer, more than anyone else she was herself aware the risks."

"So because she was forced by her destiny to fight the monsters, it's not that bad when the monsters kill her?" Buffy snapped. "What he did to her, no one should have to go through that."

"Do you-" Willow hesitated. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No," Buffy said shortly. "It's beside the point. We'll deal with it later."

"What about the body?" Angel said quietly, his eyes on the ground. "What if someone finds it? They'll think you killed her."

"Because of the stake," Buffy finished. Willow, Xander and Giles exchanged a look of sudden understanding. "You're right. It'd take too long for us to bury her in the graveyard. We can't spend the whole night digging a grave with Angelus roaming around."

"We could put her in one of the tombs in a mausoleum," Xander suggested. Buffy's eyes flickered, her hands clenching by her side. She quickly crossed her arms over her chest.

"No. We can't just stuff her in with another body," Buffy said.

"Cremation," Giles stated. Buffy twitched, then forced herself to nod.

"Fine. Angel and I can take her to the funeral home tonight. His car's at the mansion, and I know where the cremation thing is since I used it on my so-called date with Owen." Xander nodded, the ghost of a smile touching his lips. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."

"We all need a little time," Giles agreed. "But we can't pretend this didn't happen. Whatever problems she was dealing with, Faith deserves more." Buffy nodded silently, bowing her head.

"I know." She looked up. "Now, please go home. There's only a little daylight left." Willow sat still a moment, looking at the hard mask Buffy wore. She glanced at Xander who was staring at Angel, his brow furrowed. Then she picked up her backpack and put her laptop in it.

"I'll check the net to see if I can get any hints on where Angel might take the others. Abandoned buildings and that kind of thing." Buffy smiled through tight lips.

"Thanks, Will." She stood up as Willow rose to her feet. "I want to walk you home. It's close to sunset, and I don't want to take any chances."

"I'm staying here," Xander said.

"Xander," Buffy started. "You've been-"

"No," he said, raising his hand. "I told you before. You can't tell me what to do. My parents aren't going to miss me, and if I want to go to school I can just as easily go from here." His glance drifted back to Angel. The other man sat on the couch, his back stiff, his heavy head propped in his hands. "I'm staying."

"Okay," Buffy said with a sigh. "I'll be back in a few minutes." Angel roused himself as the others began to move, and stood up with a grunt of pain to walk with Buffy to the door. "Someone should make sure Wesley is heading home."

"I'll do that," Giles said.

"I'll come along," Angel said.

"No, you won't," Buffy answered. Angel stared at her silently, then bowed his head. "Just rest," she said more gently. "Please." He nodded his head and held the door open as the two girls walked outside.

"Be careful," he called before closing the door. He turned around, and saw Xander quickly shift his gaze to the floor. He shook his head slightly, then returned to the couch, sagging into the cushions. He watched as Giles entered the kitchen and called the library's phone number. When he turned his head away from the Watcher he caught Xander staring a second time.

"What?" he asked, exasperation creeping into his tired voice.

"What what?" Xander said quickly. "There's no what."

"Xander," Angel warned.

"What?" the boy answered.

"Just stop staring," Angel sighed, and closed his eyes. Xander looked over at Giles, then back at Angel.

"I guess it's just that I've never seen you really hurt before." Angel opened his eyes, and studied Xander, his forehead wrinkling as he considered whether to ignore the comment or take it seriously. Xander's solemn face convinced him to answer sincerely.

"You saw me after Spike did that ritual. I couldn't even walk." Xander nodded, his eyes narrowed as he remembered Buffy and Kendra pulling Angel through a wall of fire.

"True," he said. "But even though you were hurt, you seemed like you were in less pain. And you healed so fast. The next time I saw you, you were pretty much fine. Now. I don't know. It's not just that you're hurt. You look ragged. Tired." He shrugged his shoulders.

"Thanks," Angel said wryly.

"For once I didn't actually mean to insult you," Xander said. He hesitated, not liking the feeling of opening himself up to the person beside him, a person he'd distrusted, even hated. But when he looked at Angel he saw only an exhausted man, a worried man, a man he could almost relate to. "It's..." Xander said. "I never thought of you as human before. And now it's like you're more human than--" he broke off, ashamed and confused.

"Buffy," Angel whispered, and saw Xander nod tightly, then avert his eyes.

Xander hurried to cover the silence, sheering away from a topic too painful to handle. "It's just weird, you know? It's throwing me a little."

"It's weird for me too," Angel agreed. "I'd forgotten how it feels to be human. Everything seems brighter, and harsher. The pain is more real."

"Is it better being a vampire?" Xander asked. "To be stronger and the healing, all that..."

"No," Angel said, with a smile. "I'll take the bruises and the mortality any day." Xander shook his head, looking Angel full in the face.

"I don't get it," he said. "I mean if you're the same person, only without the superpowers then what's so great about that."

"But I'm not," Angel said, and Xander saw wonder light his features. "I'm not the same person. Before it was always a struggle, the soul and demon, the vampire nature that ran in my blood. Now," Angel smiled, almost laughing. "Now I'm free."

Xander shook his head again as Giles came toward them from the kitchen. "Hey Giles, you want to get in on this? We're talking the nature of the beast and stuff. It's right up your alley." Giles sat down, and Xander turned back to Angel. "I still...It's too complicated for me. I can't separate you out like that. I can't define what part of you is missing. I can't think of you as parts."

"But Angelus is a separate part now," Angel said. "Literally."

"Yeah, but saying he's a separate part implies that even though he's separate he's still part of you," Xander said. "Like you can take the twinkie filling out of the twinkie, but it's still a part of the twinkie. Or is it?" Angel chuckled despite himself.

"It's difficult to draw a line. The difference between human beings capable of evil and demons isn't a clear one," Giles pointed out.

"True," Angel agreed. "But believe me. I can feel a difference. It's there, even if it can't be defined." The three men sat thoughtfully for a moment.

"I guess I can see the difference," Xander said. "Not just the physical. I mean, you're all silent and never say more than you have to, and then you're sitting here getting into discussions. It's..."

"Disconcerting," Giles suggested.

"Yeah," Xander agreed, then hurried to continue. "Not that I don't like the change. And I'm happy for you and all. But it's an adjustment."

"You have no idea," Angel said with a sigh.

"But you just got done saying how you wouldn't trade it," Xander said.

"I barely dared to dream of this I wanted it so badly," Angel said. "That doesn't mean it's easy."

"If it were easy, it wouldn't be human," Xander said. "Or something like that." Angel smiled, and Xander returned the smile. He looked away, suddenly uncomfortable, uncertain of how he felt, how he should feel. He darted a glance back at Angel looking for the person who'd killed Miss Calendar, a thing like the one that had killed Jesse. He looked for evil, into the face of a murderer. But all he was was a person, confused, fallible, human, a person he could almost bring himself to trust.

* * * * * * * *

Mayor Richard Wilkins III glared disapprovingly at a speck of dirt on his desk before scrubbing at the offensive spot with an immaculate white handkerchief. He looked up from his desk to the three vampires standing in his office. One of the vampires stood sandwiched between two of the mayor's henchmen. He shifted uneasily under the mayor's gaze, absently touching the bruise that lingered on his cheek from the brawl with Angelus. The Mayor sat down in his large desk chair, and tilted his head slightly to the side.

"Now what is it you want, son?" he said. "Thomas, is it? You're showing initiative coming to me. I like that. But my time is valuable," he giggled, "although I do seem to have an unlimited amount of it."

"It's about Faith," Thomas answered. The mayor went very still, and the vampire fidgeted under his gaze. Swallowing, he continued, "I think she's dead." He flinched when the mayor's gaze skewered him, then rushed to finish. "Angel came and took over our nest. The bastard was bragging about it to us."

"Did you see a body?" the mayor asked. "Any proof?"

"No," the vampire said. "But he seemed really sure of himself."

"That means nothing," the mayor said standing, and leaning with his fists against his desk. "Faith is a good girl. She can handle herself in a fight."

"I-I know," the vampire stuttered. "I thought-"

"Do you know where Angel is now?" the mayor interrupted.

"No," Thomas admitted. "I escaped while he was taking us from our old hideout."

"Then I don't suppose you have any more to tell us," the mayor said nodding. One of the two vampires standing silently beside Thomas grabbed the smaller vampire. "Don't do it here," the mayor said. "Dust you know." The vampire nodded, dragging a struggling Thomas outside, deaf to his pleas and threats. The Mayor turned to the other vampire, who stood at attention.

"You find out whether this is true," he said, his face hot, his eyes feverishly bright. "You find her. You find my Faith, you find her and bring her back here or you'll all die." The vampire inclined his head and backed out of the room cautiously, afraid to take his eyes off his employer, though he desperately wanted to look away. He exhaled a sigh of relief as the door closed behind him, and hurried to escape the sounds of things shattering against the wall of the office.

* * * * * * *

Angelus dropped the drained body of the well-dressed young woman who'd been stupid enough to invite him into her home. Janet and a blond vampire named Steven looked up from the woman's husband, their lips red with blood. A third and fourth vampire came down the stairs carrying two small children's limp bodies in their arms. They tossed the unconscious children onto the couch, and Angelus smiled slowly.

"Tomorrow," he said, and when he laughed the children on the couch whimpered though they were lost in the depths of unconsciousness.