disclaimer in part 1

I came to cut you up
I came to knock you down
I came around to tear your little world apart
I came to shut you up
I came to drag you down
I came around to tear your little world apart and break your soul apart

- Garbage

Three Doors
by: Rebecca Carefoot

Part Twelve

Angel walked behind Buffy, lagging with his head bowed in thought. He was useless, helpless. He should have been able to figure out where Angelus was. He should have guessed his next move. He remembered Xander's confusion about what was a part of him and what wasn't, and he felt the same confusion. He had over 400 years of memories. He knew Angelus better than anyone. He was. He had been. He gritted his teeth. Why couldn't he figure this out? He lifted his eyes from the road to Buffy and watched the back of her golden head, the tight set of her shoulders, the slight swing of her arms. He glared at the sky and wished for something to hit.

She turned suddenly, tilting her head, her hair brushing the side of her neck. He started to smile despite himself, but stopped, reminding himself of the gravity of the situation. She almost nodded, and he was sure she knew, understood, accepted. She reached out a hand to touch his stomach with her fingertips.

"You don't have to hide it," she said. And he nodded, smiling slightly simply because he could. "If you can't smile or laugh, you'll go insane." But he noticed she didn't smile herself. He placed his hand over hers, capturing it against his chest. She curled her hand inside his, and he squeezed gently before letting go. "I think-" Pain burst behind his eyes with the impact of a crushing blow to the back of his head and Angel reeled, stumbling, half falling. "Angel!" Buffy said, her voice sharp with fear. She stopped his fall with steady arms and set him back on his feet.

He turned toward his attacker, but he was sluggish, and she had already passed him, putting herself between him and the vampire. Arms grabbed him from behind, and he cursed under his breath, struggling against the grip on his torso. He broke the hold, and used his leg to trip the vampire up, then used the moment of breathless hesitation to take stock of the fight. There were five vampires surrounding them. Buffy fought two at a time, her limbs moving like machinery, smooth and merciless, sending one to his knees with a sweeping kick, and punching the other in the face. The third was lunging toward Angel from the ground where he'd fallen when Angel tripped him, and the other two were hurrying down the street toward the melee. Angel stomped on the vampire's hand, and caught his chin with the toe of his boot, stunning him.

But the adrenaline rushing in his ears didn't move his body fast enough to evade the grasp of the two latecomers. One of them held him, while the other punched him in the face. His head snapped back and the dull thudding of his head exploded. Blood dripped into his eye, thick and metallic. He blinked it away as best he could, and saw the next punch coming. He lunged to the side, pulling the vamp that held him slightly off balance. The punch still grazed his temple with enough force to cloud his vision with floating white sparks and green dots. He kicked out at his attacker, but the vampire shrugged the blow aside like an impertinent gnat and closed in again.

Buffy's hands clamped down on the vampire's shoulder, and she jerked him toward her, slamming her stake through his back before he'd fully realized she was there. The vampire holding Angel tightened his hold, pressing the human shield Angel provided closer to his body.

"I'll kill him," the vampire said.

"Bad idea," Buffy answered, her eyes flickering with a mixture of hate, fear and the heaving excitement of the hunt. The vampire Angel had stunned got to his feet and closed in from the side, but Buffy stopped his approach with a spinning kick. The vampire holding Angel used the distraction to pull Angel back with him several yards. Angel dragged his feet against the pavement, and the vampire put his hands on Angel's throat.

"You come with me or you die," he said, squeezing warningly.

"I'm already dead," Angel said, pulling forward suddenly in an attempt to break the vampire's hold. Buffy crouched beside the fourth vampire and staked him neatly through the heart, pulling the stake back as the dust fell. She turned on the balls of her feet, and rose out of her crouch, changing the grip on her stake.

"Then why can I hear your heartbeat?" the vampire hissed, yanking Angel back another foot. "It sounds human. Weak. I don't know how you killed Faith." Angel stopped struggling briefly, his head cocked as an inkling of understanding blossomed.

"Who sent you?"

"You'll see soon enough," the vampire muttered. Angel lunged again, and the vampire's arms jerked with the movement, but his grip held. Buffy advanced slowly, her stake in hand. "Don't come any closer." The vampire lowered his teeth to the side of Angel's throat, just barely splitting the skin with his teeth. Angel shivered and stiffened at the needle of pain and the promise of death.

"You're bluffing," Buffy said. The vampire closed his mouth slightly, flicking his tongue across the shallow cut on Angel's neck. Angel's eyes rolled back, trying to see what the vampire was doing. Buffy feinted to the right, and leapt at the two of them. The vampire shoved Angel to the ground behind him and caught the brunt of Buffy's attack with his hands. Angel sprawled on the ground, small beads of hardened tar imbedding themselves in his hands, while the vampire countered a series of punches Buffy threw at his torso. She slipped under his guard with an elbow to the chin. His head cracked backwards with the blow, and he stumbled closer to Angel, who moved to grab him from behind. Buffy jammed her stake past the vampire's upthrust arms, and Angel watched dust sift through his reaching hands.

Buffy turned her head from side to side, panting slightly with exertion. Satisfied that they were alone, she turned her gaze to Angel. She offered him her hand, and when he grasped it, pulled him to his unsteady feet. He rubbed his hand absently against the small cut on his neck, pulling away fingertips tinged with blood.

"Are you hurt?" she said. He touched the cut over his eyebrow, and shook his head ruefully at the sting.

"Just my pride." He shrugged. "What about you?"

"I'm fine," she said, the words clipped short. She looked up, met his eyes, and shuddered, launching herself into his arms. He enclosed her in a tight embrace that she returned with enough force to make him catch his breath. "I thought I was going to lose you." She buried her face in the folds on his shirt, and her voice was infused with fear that made her body seem small and fragile in his arms. "When he hit you-" she took a deep, trembling breath and lifted herself onto her tip toes, her face upturned. Angel lowered his lips to hers and she kissed him hungrily, her lips seeking and finding some reassurance that she had not lost him. He pulled away slowly.

"I'm all right," he said, running his hand up and down her back. "We got through it." She pulled back enough to meet his eyes.

"But how long can our luck last?"

"It wasn't luck-" Angel started.

"Don't tell me that," Buffy interrupted. "If I had made just one mistake. Gotten there just one second later."

"They weren't going to kill me," Angel said.

"What are you talking about?" Buffy said, pulled free from his embrace. "The only reason you're not dead is that vamp decided to do the hostage thing." Angel shook his head.

"They were going to take me somewhere."

"Where?" Buffy said. "Why?"

"I don't know. They guy wouldn't say who sent him."

"Angelus," she said.

"I don't think so," Angel said.

"Who else could it be?" she asked. "For all we know, you're target number one for him. I can't imagine him liking the idea of someone sharing his face."

"Or sharing you," Angel said, and she smiled uncomfortably. "But if it's him then why didn't he come after me himself," Angel said. "And the vamp was talking about Faith, if Angelus sent him he'd know I wasn't the one who killed her."

"No," Buffy said, and Angel could see her close her mind to any other explanation but the tattered one she clung to, like a security blanket designed to feed her anger and obsession. "It's him."

"You're letting him cloud your judgment," he said, and she skewered him with a look of betrayed anger.

"I'm not letting him do anything," she snapped. "If anything's clouding my judgment it's you." Angel opened his mouth, wanting to express his hurt. "When you're in danger I...I can't think straight." She stopped. "I could have lost that fight tonight because I couldn't focus on anything but you."

"You handled yourself fine," Angel said. "You ran through those guys like they were nothing."

"Luck." She turned on her heel and began the walk back to Giles' apartment.

"Wait," Angel said. "We're not finished."

"We're not going to stand around here waiting for someone to come kill you or kidnap you or whatever you think they were doing." She kept walking, and after a moment, Angel turned and followed her.

"Wait," he said again, but she didn't hear or didn't listen. He wasn't sure which. He wasn't sure of much.


Xander slumped against the couch, resting the back of his head against the top of the cushions, and covering his eyes with the crook of his crossed arms. He had just fallen asleep when Buffy and Angel had burst into the apartment, one after the other, and turned on the lights. Giles had come down the stairs in his bathrobe, and Buffy had explained that Faith's body was gone, that they'd been attacked.

She was sure Angelus was behind it. She was the only one. He exerted some pressure on his closed eyelids with his arms and watched pink dots and lines appear. He didn't understand it. Giles and Angel had been hammering at her for almost an hour, pointing out over and over again that there had to be some connection between the two things. The attack was obviously about Faith. She didn't see why that meant it wasn't Angelus. Who else could it be? He bit his lip thoughtfully, remembering Giles' similar refusal to believe the ghost at the school was anyone other than Jenny. He wasn't sure who was right here, as far as he was concerned Angelus could be responsible. But the fact that Buffy was blind to anything else worried him. He tried to concentrate on the conversation despite the fact that it was going circles. The occasional raised voice helped him to stay awake. It was sort of surreal hearing the hostility and tension Buffy and Angel directed at each other. He was ashamed to remember a time when he would have cheered any disagreement between them. Vaguely, he wondered whether they were sitting at the table, or standing squared off against each other. He half wanted to open his eyes, but the light was bright, and he was half asleep again. Giles repeated some sort of calming words he'd said fifteen minutes earlier, and Xander sighed. He settled his head more comfortably against the pillows and hoped that by the time he woke up they'd have settled the matter.


Willow ran a brush through the red strands of her hair. She cradled the phone with one hand, while brushing with the other, and peered at herself in the mirror.

"I know," she said into the phone. "But you weren't really involved the last time, Oz." She shook her head slightly, and put down the brush. "And you didn't really know the people who got hurt." She sighed, and pulled a beaded bracelet onto her wrist. "Okay, I meant killed more than I meant hurt." She smiled slightly. "Point taken." She smiled again, then glanced at her clunky plastic watch. "I have to go get breakfast. Yeah it's the non-pulpy kind." She smiled more widely. "Yeah, me too. I'll see you at school." She turned the phone off and set it on her dresser, then pulled on a yellow sweater over her shirt.

A few minutes later she sat at the table, spreading jam on her toast. She ate quickly, and gulped down a small glass of orange juice, then strapped on her backpack and headed out the door. She looked nervously at the sky as she started down the street, but only the barest wisps of clouds marred the bright blue of the atmosphere and the sun beat down with reassuring yellow heat. She laughed at herself a little, chiding herself for her paranoia, then turned her attention to remembering all the study questions for the upcoming history test.

When rough, scaly hands grabbed her arms tight enough to draw blood through her shirt with pointed claws, she was too surprised to scream. And by the time she'd realized it would be a good idea, she had been dragged several feet back, and lifted up into the air. Her cry for help came weak and useless as the hands stuffed her into the back of a van that idled in the middle of the road.

When she turned her head away from the scaly snouts of the demons that held her, she looked into Angel's smiling face and her fear rose to panic. Her second scream was interrupted when Angelus reached out to gently stroke her cheek with a cold finger. She whipped her head to the side and clamped her teeth on the finger, drawing blood. He shook his head at her, clucking in disapproval. She fought the urge to shrink back from him, deeper into the demon hands that held her. When he slapped her with his bleeding hand, she swung with the force of the blow, then slumped unconscious when one of the demon's fists came down on top of her head.

Angel licked the dripping blood from his finger, and bared his teeth at Willow. He took a piece of rope from the floor of the empty van, and tied her hands behind her back tight enough to rub her wrists raw and turn her hands purple. Tight enough to hurt, the kind of constant pain that would tug at the back of her mind even after he'd made her scream in agony. It'd be that nagging pain, throbbing, then numb as her circulation died, that would break her. All the sharp pain, the blood he'd draw, all the cuts and bruises and exquisite, complex tortures would be multiplied by the constant chaffing and rubbing and burning and aching that would start so small and build, sink, until it settled in her bones. And she would tell him anything he wanted her to; she'd tell him how to do her silly spells, or that the Pope was her father, or if he wanted, that Buffy loved him. She'd tell him about the human self Faith had said existed.

The very idea disgusted him, filled his mouth with rust and dirt. He hated thinking about a lesser being with his face, his hands, touching Buffy. Taking what was his. And to talk about it would only feed his anger and disgust. He knelt beside Willow's prone body on the floor of the van and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. He could taste the sweetness of her pain in the salt of her skin, and it drove out the taste of his hatred of the other. She would tell him what he wanted to know, and her pain would taste all the sweeter when she begged for mercy that could come only in the form of death.

The van entered the garage of Angelus' stolen home and stopped with a jerk. The demons moved to pick Willow up, but he motioned them away. He lifted her limp form, cradling her in his arms, and carried her into the house. The red strands of her hair clung to his chest in fragile wisps, and her lax hands dragged, brushing against his legs. He listened to the gentle throb of her heartbeat, the rush of blood through her veins with each beat, and thought of how the Slayer's heart would pound faster, harder, how she'd sink and sway, lightheaded, stricken when she found the mutilated body. He smiled to himself as he carried her inside to the dining room, almost smelling the tears that would fall from their eyes, Willow's, Buffy's, almost tasting the salt. And when his tongue remembered the taste of Buffy's sweat, the salt tang of her body, he only sank his hand in Willow's hair and smiled again. Her tears would pay the price for the memories of human emotion; her blood would wash him clean. Her life was forfeit to the game.


When Willow woke she wondered for a moment why her head hurt, and why she was sleeping in such an uncomfortable position. Then she raised her drooping head and remembered. Tied to a dining room chair, she watched Angel hand two crying children no older than three or four to the demons who'd grabbed her.

"Payment as promised," Angel said with a smile. The demons grunted something she couldn't understand, but Angel nodded his head as if he could. They grabbed the children, and she squeezed her eyes shut, but she couldn't shut her ears against the pitiful screams that stopped abruptly, or the sickening smell of blood that rushed up her nose. A hand grabbed her chin, and shook her head until her teeth rattled in her head. Her eyes popped open, and she gagged, her body jerking against the ropes that held her. She closed her eyes again, but the image of the little boy's head stayed right behind her eyelids. His eyes stared back at her though the demon had bitten into his head like an apple. She bit her lip and swallowed the vomit that rose in her throat.

She concentrated on breathing through her mouth, but the smell of the blood was heavy on her tongue. And her ears refused to stop hearing sounds. She wished for deafness, blindness, numbness. The soft drip of blood against the tile. And a louder plop. She shuddered, wondering, wanting to open her eyes, and hating herself for it. A hand settled on the top of her head, twining in her hair until it hurt. A sharp tug and her eyes popped open again, filled with tears. She stared blankly at the small severed hand on the floor, at the smears of blood and pretended it was all a dream, or a TV show, not real. Angelus' hand ran from her hair to the back of her neck, and paused there, cupping the column of her throat in a large, cold hand.

"Keep your eyes open," he whispered. She immediately closed them, an act of defiance. He gave her hair another tug and she fought not to whimper as a hank of the strands were jerked out of her scalp.

She opened her eyes, and stared straight ahead. She pretended it was only a game. It was their Angel, and he was going to untie her. Buffy was going to burst through the door any minute. She watched one of the demons scoop the hand off the floor and pop it in his mouth, like licking a plate clean. She didn't blink. She pretended it would be over soon.