disclaimer in part 1

Yes it's true that I believe
I'm weaker than I used to be
I wear my heart out on my sleeve
and I forget the rest of me

Yes there's times I've been afraid
and there's no harm in that I pray
cuz I'm more frightened everyday
someone will take the hope I have away

-matchbox 20

Three Doors
by: Rebecca Carefoot

Part Fourteen

Angel sat in Giles' living room and watched Oz pace in front of him. The younger man's steps traced the same impatient pattern on the floor over and over, wearing a memory of dread into the tiles. Angel's own creeping fear only exhausted him, leaving his sore body drained and hopeless. Giles brought out a tray of full tea cups and set it on the table. No one took a cup. Giles hadn't expected them to, but making tea was a way to keep busy.

They looked up as Buffy entered the room, her knuckles red with blood, a nasty, feverish, near mad gleam in her eyes. She walked over to Giles and rocked on her heels, her hands clenched.

"So?" she said. Angel eased off the couch and joined them, standing behind Buffy, just far enough from her not to touch. Oz stood by Giles, unable to focus his eyes on anything immediate, his mind elsewhere. Xander stood in the doorway to the kitchen, shredding a piece of leftover pizza onto a paper plate.

"I have a very good lead," Giles answered. "Two Frackren demons were hired yesterday, the rumor is, by Angel. My source wasn't sure, but did say with some certainty that it was a vampire who hired them."

"Do we know where Angel is?" Buffy asked.

"No," Giles said, frowning. "But we do know where the demons are nesting." He handed her a small piece of folded paper. She opened it to read the address. "And they may know where Angel is."

"The clock is ticking," Buffy said, her teeth clicking in frustration. "I've already wasted time coming back here." Oz's gaze turned momentarily sharp, and she took a deliberate breath. "Thank you, Giles." She said, once she'd clutched a tenuous calm. "Anything else?"

Giles nodded, "The easiest way to kill these particular demons is beheading, if possible. Their arms and legs grow back if severed."

She shook the weapons bag. "Ax enclosed," she said grimly. "I'll go right away." She headed for the door. Angel got there first and held it closed with one hand.

"I'm coming with you this time," he said.

"Don't challenge me," she warned, pulling the door open despite his leaning with all his weight against it. "This is not about you," she said. "It's about Willow, and I can't waste any more time." Angel grabbed the crossbow propped behind the door and hurried out after her.

"What are you doing?" she asked, not stopping.

"I'm coming with you," he said.

"Damn it," she swore. "Why can't you just--"

"Be a good dog, and obey?" Angel finished.

"Stay inside where it's safer," Buffy said.

"If you'd stayed five seconds until Giles was done, you'd know these demons don't speak English," Angel said. "I know some Frackren, so unless you want to wander around until you find another translator..." He trailed off.

"Fine," she said. "But you'll stay out of the fighting."

"Giles said there were two," Angel said. "I can kill one with the crossbow."

"I need them alive."

"I can incapacitate it then."

"You mean enrage it."

"There are two of us, and two of them, aren't those better odds than fighting them both alone?" Angel asked.

"No hand to hand," Buffy said. "Crossbow only."

"Hand to hand only if necessary," Angel said.

"What is this? A negotiation?" Buffy asked.

"Apparently," Angel answered.

"Well, remind me not to get involved in the next hostage crisis." Buffy smiled grimly. "Just follow my lead. Nonnegotiable."

Angel shouldered the crossbow, and hurried along beside the Slayer. He wished for some way to reach her, to force her to see him as more than another body to protect, to drag her back a little from the violence that was seeping out of her with the blood on her knuckles. He didn't raise the issue. She wasn't willing to open up to him, to let him in, to lean on him. And he wasn't ready to push her.


Angelus looked around curiously as he was shown into the Mayor's office. The Mayor sat at his desk, his head bowed over some sort of paperwork. He looked up as Angel entered, his expression bland, pleasant. He stood and motioned toward the seat across from him. Angel sat uneasily, not quite meeting the Mayor's eyes. There was something wrong, something a little bit off in those eyes.

He deliberately leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the Mayor's desk, exuding arrogance. The Mayor leaned against his desk and looked pointedly at the feet.

"I just don't understand you young people," the Mayor said. "Didn't anyone bother to teach you any manners?" Angel dropped his feet from the desk to the floor with a heavy thump. He folded his hands over his abdomen, and waited. "You're probably wondering why I asked you here," the Mayor said with a smile. Angel inclined his head.

"No point in beating around the bush," the Mayor said. "I'd like you to work for me, be my right hand man. My go-to guy."

"Not interested," Angel said, keeping his tone carefully bored.

"I'm not phrasing it as a request," the Mayor said, his voice lowering to a mild threat.

"I don't work for anyone," Angel said.

"You've been working for the Slayer," the Mayor said.

"I never worked for her. I never worked for anyone," Angel said, anger creeping into the bland tone he'd tried to maintain.

"Regardless," the mayor said. "You don't have a choice in the matter. So be a good boy, and do as I say." He motioned to a plate at the edge of the desk. "Have a cookie."

"Are you really stupid enough to think you can force me to be your slave?" Angel asked.

"Name-calling never got anyone anywhere," the Mayor said. "And I think you would rather work for me than die, yes."

"You think you can kill me?"

"I know I can," the Mayor said. "But right now I need you."

Angel swooped out of his chair, grabbed an expensive looking burgundy pen off the Mayor's desk, and stabbed it deep into the man's eye with all the strength he had. "Ouch," the Mayor said indignantly. "Now what did you go do that for?" Angel watched in morbid fascination as the Mayor reached up for the pen and tried to get a grip on the end, slippery with a gush of ocular fluid. Finally his fingers gained purchase, and he drew the pen out, grimacing in Angel's direction. The shrunken, punctured, weeping cavity of his eye socket closed and swelled, reconstructing an intact, untouched eyeball. Angel sat back down in his chair.

"I'm what we like to call invulnerable," the Mayor said, as if nothing unusual had happened.

"Interesting," Angel said, as if he'd never moved from his seat.

"I thought you'd be intrigued," the Mayor agreed with a nod. He tossed Angel the sticky pen. "Though I wasn't expecting you to go for the eye. Quick thinking; that's why I want you on my team."

"What exactly do you want me to do?" Angel asked.

"Kill the people I tell you to kill, protect me, make sure the Ascension goes smoothly."

"Doesn't look like you need me to protect you," Angel said. He twirled the pen between his forefinger and thumb. "What's the Ascension?"

"All in good time, my boy," the Mayor said.

"If I do this," Angel started speculatively. "I can do what I want on my own time."

The Mayor laughed. "I don't care what you do, as long as the Ascension stays on track for Graduation."

"Why me?" Angel asked.

"Faith got this job by killing the person who held it before her."

"She meant nothing to you?" The Mayor remained in his seat, his body lounging in a relaxed posture, but his eyes narrowed the tiniest bit, and his mouth hardened.

"Just like you," he said calmly. "You're a tool to be used."

"And when you're done with me?"

"You're free to go," the Mayor said with a smile. Angel smiled back, recognizing the lie, hating the idea of serving this man, but unable to free himself. Knowing he couldn't kill this man almost scared him. It put the mayor out of his reach, his control, his power. At least for now. "Are you sure you wouldn't like a cookie?" the Mayor asked, and Angel pulled one off the plate, biting into the crunchy circle and thinking, searching for a way out. There was still time, and much as it galled him, running the Mayor's errands shouldn't interfere too much with his own plans. He wouldn't let it.


Buffy kicked the door of the mausoleum in. The two demons in the corner of the crypt looked up from the pile of bones they had been chewing. With a growl, the larger demon charged her, while the smaller hurled a skull at her head. She ducked the missile, and straightened up in time to sink her fist in the demon's gut. Angel slid past the doorway, careful not to get in her way, and aimed the crossbow at the smaller demon. Buffy blocked a punch from the larger, but he gained a grip on her arm and swung her off balance. She stumbled into Angel's line of vision, and he hesitated, looking up from the crossbow. She regained her balance and kicked the demon in the middle of its face.

A leg bone clattered against the crossbow, and Angel staggered with the impact. Concentrating again, he loosed the first bolt, and it sank into the smaller demon's neck. With a roar, the demon grabbed the wooden shaft and pulled it out. He snapped the arrow, his breathing ragged, and advanced on Angel with the broken fragment in his hand. Angel shot again, and the bolt flew wide, missing the demon by a few inches.

Buffy kicked the bigger demon, and he reeled against a stone tomb. She noticed the demon advancing on Angel and jumped on top of the tomb. With a sweeping upward kick, she pounded her foot into the big demon's head, sending him sprawling to the floor. She hurled herself off the tomb, executing a tight flip that ended with her feet planted on the smaller demon's back. It was driven to the ground by her weight and momentum just as it reached Angel. The splintered crossbow bolt fell from its grasp and rolled across the ground as Buffy smashed it in the head with the heel of her hand. The demon shook its head groggily, and she grabbed it by the ears, knocking its skull against the ground with a loud crack. Then she slammed it down again, and again, and again, the sharp sound turning soft as dark blackish blood began to spread beneath the demon's head. Hands pulled at her, and she turned with her fists raised. She dropped them quickly when she saw Angel crouching behind her.

"I thought you wanted them alive," he said. She took a deep breath, and forced the haze that had lowered over her vision to retreat.

"They are," she answered. He handed her a length of rope from her bag, and she quickly hog-tied the demon, lashing its hands and feet together with cutting tightness. She turned to the other demon and saw it was waking up. She motioned for Angel to bring her bag and approached the demon. She swung one leg over its body and squatted, crouching over it.

"Ax," she said, and held her hand out, palm up. Angel slapped the ax handle into her hand. The demon started to move, to throw her off its body, and she bared her teeth. It stopped moving. "Ask it where Angel is?" she said. Angel said something she couldn't understand, the guttural sounds vibrating deep in his throat. The demon said nothing. Buffy stood up, and put her foot on the demon's chest. She looked down at the body as if measuring it, calculating angles and distances. She brought the ax up, then fell to a crouch while swinging the ax down with stunning force. It sank into the demon's shoulder, sheering past the resistance of scales and muscles. It scraped against the bone and then bit into the floor with a metallic clank. The demon screamed, harsh voice turned piteous with anguish, and threw her away with the wild flailing of its remaining arm. Gouts of blood gushed from the severed arteries, spraying outward in a wide radius of spatters. Angel stood frozen while it ran for the door. The blood dripped down the walls, off the sides of the tomb, off the faces of grey statues, and the sight of it left him hollow. Where was the exhilaration? The adrenaline? He'd tortured hundreds if not thousands of people, demons, things, and it had never felt this empty.

Buffy pursued, catching the demon before it reached the sunlight outside the crypt's exit. She tripped it up and put her boot on the back of its neck, exerting pressure. Angel winced as the demon's face contorted with pain.

"Tell it not to move," she said. "Or the head comes off." Angel tried to speak, but the words seemed caught in his throat. The pain was too thick in the air, and he was choking on it. He swallowed hard, and this time the sounds were audible. The demon stilled. "Rope," she said. Angel stared transfixed at the bloody stump where the demon's arm had been. He could see the bone. It was white underneath the blood, and the ends were smooth where the ax had sliced through. He had severed limbs before, just like she had, one easy motion and he had laughed at the screams. His chest hurt, his ribs too tight around his heart. "Rope," Buffy said again. Angel looked at her, his face blank. Then he started, as if just hearing her. He reached into the bag and pulled out another length of rope. He let out the breath he hadn't noticed he held in his lungs, and told himself this was nothing. Nothing he hadn't seen before. He tossed her the rope. But he had never felt this heavy pain behind his eyes, this dry-mouthed horror that crept up his throat. It had never felt like this before. She quickly tied the demon's feet, then pulled it up by its remaining arm into a sitting position.

"Tell it, if it moves its arm, I'll cut it off," Buffy said. She returned her attention to the demon as Angel relayed the message. "Ask it again about Angel." She waited as Angel spoke, then listened to the demon's short, gruff answer.

"Says it doesn't know," Angel said. Buffy shook her head, and lifted her gory ax. Angel saw it coming this time, but it was too late to look away. She paced behind the sitting demon, then with a sudden movement, she sank the ax into its other shoulder, stopping when she reached the resistance of bone. The demon screamed again, its scaly face twisted with agony. Angel turned his back, and looked carefully at the stone floor. A trickle of thick black blood dribbled into his line of sight, and he gagged. Wide-eyed he grabbed his throat, feeling betrayed by his own his body. He swallowed past the bile rising in his throat, trying to ease his gag reflex. He took a deep breath through his mouth, but the stench of blood was so thick even he could taste it with his human tongue. It tasted like pain, and it was bitter, dirty. He gagged again.

"Angel," Buffy said. "Ask it again." He tried to find a safe place to rest his eyes, somewhere not spattered with blood. His eye caught on the motionless arm, lying alone and bodiless in a pool of blood. His knees buckled, and he barely kept his balance. "You can throw up later," Buffy said. "We need the information now."

"I can't-" Angel started weakly. "Have to get fresh air." He stumbled backwards a step, then turned to rush for the door. He just needed a second, a moment to clear his head. Buffy stepped in front of him, blocking his way.

"Ask it," she said. Angel squeezed his eyes shut and spat out a few words in Frackren, pressure growing behind his eyelids, weighing against his brain until he wanted to scream. The demon muttered something in return.

"Still says it doesn't know," he said through clenched teeth. Buffy looked up at Angel, his eyes still closed, his face pale beneath his slight sunburn. He shuddered.

"Go outside," she said. He didn't argue, only opening his eyes long enough to aim for the door. He stumbled a few feet away from the crypt before his knees buckled. He retched and heaved against the ground, his body reacting violently against the torture, protesting the trapped, helpless pain of the victim, of all his victims. The demon screamed again, and he winced. He sucked in deep breaths of air, air that smelled of dirt and crushed grass stems and only very faintly of blood. He took another breath, and rose to his feet, slightly more steady.

He stood in the doorway of the crypt, sunlight warming his back, and pointedly did not look at the second severed arm. He asked the demon again for information and relayed the non-answer to Buffy.

"Tell it if Willow dies, I'll keep it chained up where no one will ever find it," she said. "And I'll wait for its arms and legs to grow back, and I'll keep cutting them off and letting them grow until it dies of old age." Angel shivered and repeated the words in the guttural demon language. The demon paused, and tilted its head. Its beady eyes met Buffy's cold stare, the almost eager spark in her eyes that said yes I'm capable of doing this, and it stammered an answer after a long hesitation.

"It says he's in a house," Angel translated. "It's the white house with the blue door three blocks east of the stone Church. I think he means the Presbyterian one on Pine Tree."

"This better not be a lie," Buffy said. Angel looked at the demon, the blood flow from its empty shoulders now a slow, but constant stream, its eyes on the floor.

"I think it's more scared of you right now than Angelus or anyone else," Angel said.

"Good," she said. "We'll leave them both here, just in case." She looked at Angel. "Tell it I keep my promises." Angel nodded dully, and translated the statement. "Now go back to the apartment," she said.

"What?" he said. She tightened her grip on the dripping ax, and picked up her weapons bag with her other hand. "What are you talking about?" he said. She brushed past him, walking with hurried steps into the sun. He sped after her, playing catch-up again. "I'm coming with you," he insisted.

She spoke without turning around, heading in the direction of the Church at something close to a run, her voice hard and unemotional. "This isn't about you; it's about Willow. She matters more than your pride."

"It's not about pride," Angel snapped. She half turned her head at the anger in his voice. "You're going to run into a nest, by yourself." She ignored him. "He won't be the only vampire there," he said. "How will you getting killed help Willow?"

"How will you getting killed help me?" she snapped back.

"You need back-up," Angel insisted. He caught up and grabbed her arm, trying to turn her toward him. She pulled against his grip, and stopped for a brief moment, meeting his eyes with her own.

"Maybe I do," she said. "But you can't give it to me." Angel dropped her arm, stung. She stood frozen a moment, then turned away to continue her rushed pace. He watched her, his eyes wide, his hands twitching nervously at his sides. His mouth hardened, and he pushed himself to a run. He pulled even with her, and adjusted his stride to hers.

"That was unfair," he said.

"Was it?" she asked coolly.

"Yes," he said. "Just because I'm human now doesn't mean I'm useless to--"

"I didn't say you were useless," she said. "I said you can't offer me reliable back up when I go into that nest."

"Same difference," Angel said bitterly. His chest was beginning to heave with the exertion of talking and maintaining her pace. She turned her head, meeting his eyes again, and he flinched.

"What happened back there?" she asked. He only looked at her. "You've tortured people before," she said.

"This was different," Angel said. "I felt," he stopped. "It always felt good," he said bluntly. "Before. And now that I'm human, all I could see was pain."

"I needed you. Willow needed you. That information was crucial, and you had to take a break," Buffy said. "You let me, us, down."

"I know that," Angel snapped. "Do you think I did it on purpose? That I wasn't trying to deal with it? It hit me...the smell...and I couldn't... I've only been human for a couple days, okay? I'm doing my best."

"I understand that," Buffy said. "But that back there is who I am. That is what my life is about, and you couldn't handle it."

"That isn't all your life is about," Angel argued.

"You can't separate me from that," Buffy said. "That is who I am."

"I just need to get used to--" Angel started.

"Fine," Buffy interrupted. "And you're right, you need time to adjust. I'm not blaming you for that. But this is *now.* Willow needs me now. I can't wait."

"How can you even compare?" Angel said. "I'm talking about backing you up in a fight, not watching you cut something's arms off for the purpose of creating as much pain as possible." Buffy blinked against the stab of hurt that sped the beating of her heart.

"I did what I had to," she said.

"I know," Angel said, hating himself for the guilt he'd saw in her eyes. "But this fight is different."

"You can't help," Buffy said with heavy finality.

"You're wrong," Angel said, gripping her arm again. He spoke through gasps for breath. "I'm not useless. I'm not as strong as I was, but that doesn't mean you can dismiss me."

"It's not about you," Buffy said again. She pulled at her arm, her own breath coming hard from her lungs.

"It is," Angel said. "It's about us. It's not the same between us as it was. You don't trust me anymore. You don't respect me. You don't treat me like I'm you're equal."

"You're not my equal," Buffy said, her voice more crushing because it lacked anger or blame. It was stripped of everything but the truth, and that was more than enough to widen both their eyes. Buffy looked up into Angel's face, and wanted to cry. She bit her lower lip, and firmed her jaw. Angel released her, his eyes dark with loss. She ran now, sprinting, her feet moving with blurring speed as she pulled away from him, leaving him behind.

He dragged a bewildered hand through his hair, and stared at the concrete, then at her rapidly receding back. He pulled the hand from his hair and looked at it. The sun's brilliant light surrounded his fingers, fingers that shook with tremors. He closed his hand, curling the fingers in to form a fist. The fist did not waver or shake. He began to walk in the direction of the church, then to run.


Angelus ran his hand through Willow's hair, nuzzling at her ear with his lips. She winced away from the touch, and his hand tightened on her arm, fingers biting into the soft flesh. She clenched her jaw, trying not to whimper.

"It's okay to cry," he whispered into her ear. "No one will think any less of you." She looked away, her green eyes clouded with unshed tears that clung damp to her eyelashes. He blew gently against her neck. "You'll feel better," he urged, still whispering. "If you just let it out."

He ran his fingertips over the puckered edges of the stab wound on her shoulder. He lowered his mouth to the blood that oozed down her arm to her elbow. He ran his tongue over her quaking, goose-pimpled flesh, up her arm. He rested his mouth over the slash on her shoulder and suckled gently at the wound, savoring the gorgeous mouthful of crimson he drew from her like milk.

"Have I ever mentioned, how good fear tastes?" he asked. She stared blankly straight ahead, pretending none of this was happening. Her eyes were dull; she was almost past feeling. She was shutting down. But he could bring her back. He rose to his feet and moved into her line of sight. He stood between her knees and dropped to a crouch, his hands resting on her thighs. "I wonder how Oz's fear would taste?" he said quietly, and noticed the flicker in her eyes. "I'll bet he's dripping with it right now. Sweating fear for your sake." He dug his fingers into her leg until he felt the vessels break, the bruises begin to color. She was looking at him now, nerve endings, emotions, waking and raw. He met her eyes. "What about Xander? What does he taste like? I wouldn't want to feed off him myself," he said with an exaggerated grimace of distaste. "But you..." he trailed off. "He could be your first kill. Imagine how that would feel singing down your throat. Betrayal, love, fear, surprise; which one is more delicious?" Willow was shivering. She blinked and a tear ran down her cheek. He leaned closer, pressing tight against her thighs, and wiped the tear away. Slowly, he licked the tear from his finger, and smiled. "There are the tears," he said softly. "Doesn't it feel better?"

He looked up as one of the other vampires brought him a pair of tongs and a potholder with a small metal cross resting on top of it. The vampire left both items on the floor and backed away. Some of the others were sneaking glances at their leader and his victim, but most were careful to avert their eyes if he looked at them. He picked up the cross with the tongs and showed Willow the smoking metal.

"I had them heat it in the stove," he said. He felt the fear run through her like adrenaline. "I've always thought burns are the most painful wounds." He heard her heart speed up, thudding hard and heavy in her chest. She shook her head the tiniest bit, unconsciously pleading, begging, not realizing she did so. "Now are you going to tell me how the human Angel got here?" Willow stared transfixed at the cross.

"We don't know," she whispered. He smiled at the first words she'd said since he'd captured her. His lips slowly stretched into a self-satisfied grin.

"You and Giles and all your books and brains and you don't know?" he said with a chuckle. "I find that hard to believe." He brought the cross closer.

"We don't," Willow said. "There may be a demon involved. Really powerful."

"Specifics," Angel snapped.

"We don't know," Willow said, cringing as he brought the cross close enough to her face that she could feel the heat. "We don't," she said in an almost squeal. Angel tilted his head, and nodded.

"Fine," he said, seeing her muscles relax a fraction. His mouth hardened and without warning he pressed the metal to her chest and held it against her smoking skin, charring skin, as she tried to struggle, then screamed, the sound high-pitched and filled with shocked pain. He dropped the tongs to the floor, revealing an angry red and black cross shaped burn in the middle of her chest. He touched her cheek, smearing the tears spilling from her eyes with his forefinger. "Beautiful," he said. He touched the burn, pressing against the seared flesh, and Willow whimpered. He leaned closer.

The door swung open with a bang, cracking against the wall. A vampire near the door scrambled out of the sunlight. Angelus looked into the light in surprise, at the small silhouette outlined against the glare. Then a smirk lifted his lips as Buffy entered the room, stake in one hand, ax in the other.