disclaimer in part 1

Here in the valley of indecision
I don't know what to do
I feel you slipping away
I feel you slipping away
I'm losing you

I'm Losing You
-John Lennon

Three Doors
by: Rebecca Carefoot

Part Sixteen

Small shards of rock pressed into the side of Buffy's face and the palms of her hands. Pain began to invade through the haze of the fall and the shock of the landing. She blinked against the grit in her eyes, and wondered why death hurt so much this time. She tried to shift her head, and her cheek scraped rock. With a groan, she sat up. Her head pounded hard between her eyes, and she felt like her brain was being squeezed through a juicer. She winced and brushed imbedded pebbles from her face. Her shoulder burned. She touched Angelus' bite, her fingers coming away bloody.

The lights were bright. Too bright. She looked up, trying to find the sun, but it was too far away. Its light didn't reach this far below the surface. She looked for torches, or glowing algae, or something, but there wasn't any. Both Angels lay sprawled on the ground. She crawled to the human Angel, recognizing him because he wore Giles' sweatpants. She poked at his arm, then shook him slightly. His arm was stiff. She touched her fingertips to his neck and waited for the pulse to pound against his skin. It didn't. She waited a moment longer. She sat back on her heels, her eyes blank and uncomprehending. She swallowed, and blinked, her eyelids dropping slowly, rough against her dry eyes. Then her hand clutched at her crumpling mouth, and her eyes widened with tears.

**He is not dead,** a voice said. **Not yet.** Buffy clapped her hands uselessly to her ears, unable to stop the familiar melodious voice that echoed against the inside of her skull until her teeth clattered. She darted her head from side to side, as if the Dagnu were there in the small tunnel of rock they were trapped at the bottom of. As if she'd somehow missed its ten foot tall form. There was no one.

"But, he doesn't have a pulse," she said to the empty air, her chest tight with fear and painful hope.

**I have suspended them both,** the Dagnu said. **They are frozen.** Buffy clutched at her head again, pressing tight, trying to hold her brain in place and keep her skull from splitting.

"Why?" she said through gritted teeth.

**Because you are the one who has to make the choice.**

Buffy stared at the two identically motionless bodies in front of her. She touched her fingertip to Angel's stiff hand, then gripped the appendage in tightly closed fingers.

"What are you talking about?" she asked. Angel's eyes were closed; a half-formed bruise spread from his temple, red and deep purple feelers of color. "We already went through this."

**That was the beginning,** the Dagnu thundered. **This is the end.** Buffy lifted her lip in a sneer.

"Great, that really convinces me of your wisdom," she said. "You don't have to be cryptic just to impress me." She wrapped her other hand around her grip on Angel's hand, squeezing courage from the unresponsive skin.

**I am unconcerned with what you think of me,** the Dagnu said. **My only concern is that you make the choice.**

"Why should I?" Buffy said angrily, the pain in her head a dull throb now, fading under the heat of her rage. "I did what you said the last time and look where I am."

**That was not a true choice,** the Dagnu said. **It was a device to set the game in motion. It was necessary to bring you to this point with a full understanding of the choice you must make here. This time you will determine the outcome.**

"It's not a game to us," Buffy muttered. "Wait. Does that mean that none of the past two days really happened?" Her knuckles whitened as her grip tightened reflexively.

**It was all real.**

"Then Faith, Willow..." Buffy started.

**Nothing can undo what has been done.**

"You can't just go around pulling us in and out of our lives," Buffy said, choking slightly on disappointment.

**I can,** the Dagnu said, unperturbed.

"Well, you can't make me play your game," Buffy countered. "What if I say I won't choose anything? Not that you've even told me what this stupid choice is in the first place."

**You must choose,** the Dagnu said.

"No," Buffy said with an annoyed snort.

**Then they will both die,** the Dagnu said. Buffy gently stroked Angel's forehead. The sweat and blood that grimed his skin were frozen like the rest of him, unmoving under the motion of her hand, as if they were part of his skin.

"I'll choose on one condition," Buffy said. "You promise never to do anything to us again, not me, not anyone I know, not anyone in Sunnydale."

**I make no promises.**

"Then I make no choices."

**I agree to your condition,** the Dagnu said.

"Then let's get this over with," Buffy said. She blinked and when her eyes opened she was in the cave where the first choice had been made, the familiar curves of the three identical wooden doors surrounding her like enemies. And both Angel and Angelus were gone.

"Not fair!" she yelled. "How am I supposed to choose anything? I don't even know the rules!"

**You will know,** the Dagnu said.

The rock walls somehow formed several feet behind the doors. She cocked her head at the unsupported arches of wood, standing in empty space. She walked to one of them and pushed against the door. It resisted the touch as if it were still embedded in a wall of solid stone. She leaned over, poked her head past the door and saw Angel. She approached him cautiously and placed her hand on his chest. His body was as immobile as the doors. And his eyes were still closed. She circled behind him, and moved to the next door. When she reached it, she glanced backward, then furrowed her brow in confusion. Angel again. Or was it?

They were wearing the same clothes. Giles' sweatpants and a t-shirt. She reached up to lightly brush the colors of his bruised temple with her fingers. She studied the marks of bites on his arms, the blood that was frozen mid-trickle from a cut on his eyebrow. She walked back to the other Angel. Same bruise. Same bites. Same blood. How was she supposed to choose anything if they were the same? She ran to the third door, her heart sinking when she saw the identical outfit. But when she reached up to touch his face the bruise was missing. Instead crusted blood dried in a cut on his cheek. She remembered landing a kick to Angelus' cheek, her boot splitting the flesh.

And she knew. This time she knew exactly what was behind each of the doors, understood the choice. It was Angel. Vampire, human, vampire with a soul. And the door she chose was the Angel that would be returned to her. The other two would be gone forever.

"Let me get this straight," Buffy said to the air, her fingers absently drifting again over the bite on her shoulder. "The two Angels I don't choose will be gone? As in dead? What does that mean? How can one of them live and the other two die when they're the same person?"

**Your Angel has existed in three incarnations,** the Dagnu said. **I have separated those three incarnations and made them flesh. The Angel you choose will never be able to return to either of the other incarnations. In that way, yes, they will die.**

"So then," Buffy said thoughtfully. "If I choose the vampire with a soul Angel, he can't ever turn into Angelus again?" She approached Angel, the vampire with a soul, the Angel she'd first met, first fallen in love with. She touched his face, her fingers pressing against his cheek, his nose, his lips. Her fingernails caught on his lip as her hand dropped to his chin then away from his face.

**He would not be able to lose his soul again,** the Dagnu said. **But the evil would exist inside him for eternity. And I cannot tell whether he would be able to control it as long.** Buffy fit her hand to his, wishing his fingers would curl and wrap around her own. The Dagnu paused. **And in kind, just as he could not return to his soulless incarnation, he would never return to his human condition.**

"Is this some kind of trick?" she said.

**No trick.**

"What do you get out of it though?" she asked.

**My curiosity is fulfilled.**

"Why didn't you just ask then and leave it at that?"

**If the outcome were not real, your answer would mean nothing.**

"Why can't they give the big, endless powers to somebody who actually wants to help me," Buffy muttered. She lifted her gaze from Angel's hand to the human Angel's door. "So you're saying I can pick the human Angel if I want, and he'll permanently be human, and the vampire will be dead forever?"


"And you're saying I can pick the vampire with a soul Angel and the curse loophole won't matter anymore?"


"There has to be a trick," Buffy said. "It's too easy."

**The trick is not in the choice,** the Dagnu said. **It is in the choosing.**

"More riddles," Buffy muttered.

**What you choose will be what you are given,** the Dagnu said. **There is no trick in that. But if you believe the choice is an easy one, you have not understood the gambit fully.**

"Wait," Buffy said. She moved to the human Angel, and clutched at the wounds on his arms, the blood on his shirt. "The injuries from the fight. It looks like Angel lost a lot of blood. If I make him human, is it going to turn out he dies five seconds afterwards?"

**I cannot foretell the future,** the Dagnu said.

"How serious are his injuries?" Buffy asked.

**He is hurt, weakened,** the Dagnu said. **But not mortally wounded. This time.** Buffy cautiously touched one of the bite marks, running her fingers over the edges of the torn flesh. She pressed her hand to his heart, but the heartbeat was silent. This is what he'll look like when he dies, she thought. And he will die. Her gaze darted to the vampire with the soul.

"He'll remember everything?" she asked, her voice heavy. "Everything Angelus did while he was separate."

**Everything but what happens now,** the Dagnu said. **None of them are conscious or aware.**

"He'll remember that he was human," Buffy said. "And that I took it from him."

**He will only know it was your choice if you tell him.**

"How can I not?" Buffy asked. "How could I lie to him about that?" The Dagnu was silent. "He'd never forgive me." She looked at the human Angel's face. The same beautiful face she loved. The same muscled body. The normal man, the normal boyfriend she'd always wanted. The normal boyfriend who wouldn't survive her not-normal life. Her lip trembled, and her chest hitched once. Her fingers twisted against his shirt, pulling a handful of it closer. He could share the sunlight with her. He could warm her with his body. He could grow old... He would if he left her. They would never grow old together. But he could have it all if he left.

She bit her lip. If she made him human she would lose him. She already was. There would be another danger she couldn't let him face. Another battle she couldn't trust him to fight. The distance between them, distance already growing, would spread.

And he wasn't the man she loved.

She turned her face to the vampire with a soul, and untangled her hand from the human Angel's shirt. Slowly, she walked to him, her feet scuffing against the rocky ground in a reluctant rhythm. She stood in front of him and wrapped her arms around his body, resting her head against his chest.

She knew what her choice would mean. The vampire, the demon, would be inside him forever. He could never again see the sunlight. The memory of his taste of humanity, his dearest dream, would taunt him. And the others... The trust that was developing between him and Xander. The memory of torturing Willow. Killing Faith. The burden of guilt. All of it would be forced on him by her hand. And she could lose him. Not to death but to hatred, resentment, betrayal.

She rested her cheek against his shirt, and looked at the human Angel. If she made him human she would lose him anyway. They were not the same. And she loved him with the vampire inside him. She believed she could love him as a human, but he would never be Angel again. Not her Angel.

She squeezed her eyes shut.

"I can't do it," she whispered. "You can't ask me to do this."

**The choice must be made,** the Dagnu said. She looked up at Angel's face, studying the angles and curves, the set of his chin, the slope of his nose. She wished his eyes were open, wished she could see them one more time, filled with love so she could remember it when his eyes turned cold. She buried her face in his chest again, her tears soaking into the stained fabric. She shook against him, her hands clutching at the back of his shirt, at the flesh underneath. She tangled her fingers in his hair.

"I've already chosen," she said.

His eyes opened, confused. A drop of blood dripped from his eyebrow and landed on her head, caught in a mesh of blonde hair. His arms wrapped around her, tight and reassuring. His hand stroked her back. "What happened?" he said. And he took a dead breath he no longer needed. Blood surrounded him, the scent rich and textured against his tongue, filling his nose. "The fall. I'm not human anymore." Buffy shook her head silently against him. His hand ran up her back, and she sighed, relaxing into the touch. She lifted her tear-streaked face, and he looked down at her, unanswered questions in his eyes.

She pushed against his head, guiding his lips to hers. She kissed him as if it were the last time, deep and tinged with hard desperation. She tasted him with her teeth and tongue, drawing him closer, and his hands ran rough up the length of her back, tucked underneath her shirt, gliding skin to skin. She pulled back, and he touched the tears that slicked her cheeks.

"What's happened?" he asked.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm so sorry."

"I don't understand."

"The Dagnu brought us down here."

"And it reversed what it did before?" Angel asked. She shook her head, and bit her lip to stop it from quivering. He rolled a lock of her hair between his finger and his thumb, his other hand cupping her cheek. "You can tell me," he said.

"I.." She stopped and dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand. "It was my choice."

"What was?"

"The Dagnu offered me three choices, and I chose this."

"To make me a vampire?"

"With a soul," she said. "You can't ever lose it again."

"One of the choices was humanity?" Angel asked, his hand dropping away from her face. She nodded, her eyes filling with tears. "But why-"

"I-" Her voice broke. She turned away. "I'm sorry." The three doors, the other Angels were gone. She stumbled for the tunnel that was the one exit from the cave. Angel watched her for a moment in stunned silence. She disappeared into the shadow of the tunnel. He followed her at a run.