disclaimer in part 1

I will try not to burden you.
I can hold these inside. I will hold my breath
until all these shivers subside,
just look in my eyes.

I will try not to worry you.
I have seen things that you will never see.
Leave it to memory me. I shudder to breathe.

Try Not to Breathe

Three Doors
by: Rebecca Carefoot

Part Eleven

Buffy looked away from her book when Xander and Angel's muted conversation grew loud enough to break her concentration. She almost smiled, shaking her head in disbelief. She never would have thought they'd have anything in common, anything to talk about. But there they were. Holding a book between them, but not really looking at it. Talking. She shook her head again, and her gaze shifted to the clock on Giles' desk. Almost midnight. Her hand clenched, snapping the pencil she had been tapping absently against her palm. It was time to get Faith's body. She caught Angel's gaze when he and Xander looked up at the crack of wood splintering, and tapped her wrist with her fingertip. He nodded and stood up.

"I could come too," Xander said, his voice almost hopeful. "It's just burial detail, right?" Buffy shook her head.

"I don't want any of you out at night. Period."

"What about him?"

"It's different," Buffy said, rubbing an impatient hand against the side of her leg.

"He's just as human as I am now," he said, and Angel smiled despite himself.

"Maybe so," Buffy agreed. "But I only need one person to help me carry the body to Angel's car. And he's still bigger and more experienced in a fight."

"Great," Xander pouted. "Pull the logic card on me. What a crock." Buffy rolled her eyes, and motioned again for Angel. He followed her to the door, and waited while she pulled on her light coat. Then she held it open as he passed through. He wiggled his fingers in a small wave as Xander and Giles watched them go. She shut the door, pretending she hadn't seen the worried glance they'd exchanged. She'd make sure there was nothing to worry about. She and Angel would get rid of Faith's body, and then they could focus on the real problem. If they all stayed careful, vigilant, then there was nothing Angelus could do. The others were safe as long as she kept them out of the night. It was only a matter of time before she found him, and in the meantime there was nothing he could do. Nothing to worry about. Right.


Buffy took a deep breath of the cool night air, expanding her lungs to their fullest capacity, taking in air until her chest ached. Then she expelled it with a sigh, and turned her gaze to the street, watching her feet land on the rough black surface of the pavement. She absently chewed on her lower lip, wondering where he was right now, whether he was hiding in some dripping corner of the sewer, or in an abandoned factory, or prowling the street, drawing some innocent to their death. She clenched her jaw, fighting the hopelessness that rolled up from her belly. Angel's hand rested on her back, drawing her from her tumbling thoughts, and she turned her head to see him fall into step beside her.

"Buffy," he said tentatively. She nodded in answer, and he continued hesitantly. "I've noticed you...pulling away." She stepped away from the touch of his hand on her back and crossed her arms over her chest, continuing her brisk walking pace.

"What do you mean?" she said. "I have to focus-"

"No, I know that," Angel interrupted. "I understand that. But you're doing more than focusing. You're shutting us out."

"Shutting you out, you mean."

"No, well yes, me too, but not just me," Angel started. He stopped walking, helplessly staring at his hands folded in front of his body. Buffy took a few steps, then realized Angel wasn't following. She turned to face him, and took a step closer.

"Hey," she said. "Angel, look...I'm not trying to shut you or anyone else out. It's not personal. It's just that this is really difficult."

"I know that," Angel said. "But I've seen you face more powerful demons, and I've seen the others help you do it. I don't think I've ever seen you like this."

"Like what," Buffy said, her voice flat. Angel lowered his eyes from hers, then returned his gaze to her face, reaching toward her slightly with one curved hand as if he would pull her by some invisible cord.

"I don't know. We've patrolled together so many times, and sometimes we'd talk about things, important stuff or just what stupid homework assignment you had that night. And other times we wouldn't talk at all. But even then I felt like we were doing things together." He curled his hand into a fist. "Why is this so different?"

"You of all people should know." Angel's mouth twisted slightly, and he stumbled back a step. "You must remember. How it was last year. How I didn't stop you...him." Buffy half raised her hand, noticed the tips of her fingers shaking slightly, and dropped it back down to her side. "Maybe I am pushing you all away, but I'm doing it to keep you safe. I'm scared," Buffy said, choking on the words. "I'm scared. And the reason this is different is because it's you. Or a part of you. You of all people should-" She broke off, gathering her composure. Angel took a cautious step closer, then he closed the remaining distance between them and pulled her into his arms. Her back stiffened, then her muscles twitched as she relaxed slightly in his arms and eased her arm around his waist.

"Please, Angel," she said, turning her head up to meet his eyes.

"I do understand," Angel said. "I do. But this is more than just Angelus. I feel like there's something changed between us. I feel..."

"It's just the situation," Buffy said. "If we had the time to spend together. If we were free." She stopped, thinking suddenly that if it weren't for her Angel's humanity would have set him free of the nightmare she lived in. "If I were free." Angel looked into the beautiful blue eyes of the woman he loved and tried to believe what she said was true because he was too afraid to push her any further, too unsure of his place beside her. He held her body in his arms, digging his fingers slightly into the hardness of her ribs, and told himself he was wrong.

"I just want you to know you don't have to do this by yourself," he said. "I need you to feel like you can come to me, or to the others for help. You can tell me-"

"Thank you," she said, but she was too cautious to tighten her hold on his body, too conscious of the pain she could cause him, too aware of his mortality. She listened to his heartbeat, the dull, regular thud both beautiful and frightening. Frightening because it meant one more person she was responsible for, one more person it was her duty to protect, one more person she could lose. She shuddered and pulled away from his embrace.

"We'll talk," she promised. "Later." He nodded, his brow still furrowed. She reached up to touch his forehead. "Don't worry." The corner of his lip turned up in a half smile.

"Nothing to worry about." She smiled back, but they both knew her smile was as empty as his statement.

They completed the rest of the walk to the mansion in silence, though Buffy did not pull away when Angel reached for her hand, and wrapped it in his own. She smiled at him, and tried not to think about death or blood or guilt or where Angelus was. She tried to think of sunlight and how she and Angel would spend full days just lying on the beach when this was over. Even in her mind, the sunlight would turn dark, and Angel's lips would smirk, and he would hold out Faith's body, and she would force her feet to keep moving along the sidewalk. When she turned to Angel she kept smiling and pretended she wasn't about to scream.

When they reached the mansion, she let Angel enter the house with her, but motioned for him to stay a step or two behind, just in case. And she turned to him for answers he didn't have when they stared helpless and appalled at the empty space where Faith's body had lain, at the drops of dried blood on the grimy floor that were the only evidence they hadn't imagined seeing her there a few hours earlier.

"Why would he take her?" Buffy mumbled, and Angel shook his head.

"Maybe someone else found her and called the police," he said.

"What does this mean?" The words were thick and slow in her mouth, and she hoped it hid the panic that bubbled in her blood, fizzing against the back of her nose and eyes, like claustrophobia.

"We can't know yet," Angel said. "Either someone plans to use the body against us, or it's just a coincidence."

"What about the Dagnu, all powerful thing?" she said, blinking as she forced the words to something resembling a normal pace. "Would it have taken her?"

"If it did, then maybe that's a good thing," Angel said. "We wanted her body hidden." She shook her head, squeezing her eyes closed as if she looked into a painfully bright light.

"We have to assume it's going to be used against us," she said. "We have to get back to Giles. Maybe there's a spell or something we can do to find out who did this." Angel nodded, and tried to guess what to do. He reached for her hand again, and she touched his cheek lightly. "We should hurry." She touched her lips to the hand that held her, pulled free, and sped out of the building.


The personal items that usually rested on the Mayor's desk, his nameplate, his calendar and pens, were all stacked neatly to the side of his desk. Faith's body lay across the cleared wooden surface, her closed eyes turned toward the center of the room. The Mayor stood beside the desk, staring down at her. He reached out a tentative hand and gently stroked her hair. His fingers touched the butt of the stake that protruded from her chest.

"Are you going to turn it over to the police?" the leader of his vampire minions asked. The mayor shivered and looked up from the body.

"No." He returned his gaze to Faith's pale face.

"But the Slayer," the vampire said carefully.

"An autopsy would reveal that the stake wasn't the cause of the death. I'm sure it happened hours later." He pointed to the marks on Faith's neck. "She died from massive blood loss. The Slayer just made sure she stayed dead."

"But the police could still charge her with something, right?"

"Perhaps," the Mayor said. "But I think my little girl has suffered enough indignity. I won't have an autopsy done to prove what I already know." He turned on his heel to face the leader of his vampire minions, his voice unnaturally calm when he spoke.

"You'll have someone take that thing out," he said, pointing to the stake. "Clean her up..." He stopped, then continued. "Put her in that pink dress I bought her last week. She didn't want to wear it when she... Said it wasn't her style. That's just silly you know. Pretty girl like her, nice things are her style. And we're going to give her a nice burial. A nice... She was..." The vampire nodded.

"I can do it personally," he said.

"No," the mayor answered. "I have something else for you to take care of. I want Angel found and brought to me. I want to kill him here. Take as many as you need, but don't fail me. You know how I hate it when we don't work up to our potential."

The vampire nodded. "Sir," he said, and left the Mayor at his desk.