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Title: Black Magic White Lies
Chapter 17 - Dollhouse Much?
Timeline: BtVS, alternate season 5
Genre: drama, mystery, action
Characters, pairing: general, Xander/Faith
Rating: R (for intense situations).
Summary: Xander thinks he has a little secret. He doesn't know that his little secret is a part of a big fat conspiracy.
Disclaimer: They all belong to Joss. He said I could play with'em, so there.
Author's notes: Much thanks to my wonderful betas [personal profile] lusciousxander and [personal profile] deird1 who encourage me, help me with character voices, fix my bad grammar and style. All mistakes are mine. This is my first plotty multi-character fic, so concrit is very welcome.



The story starts here

"You're good guys. We're also good guys. We must be able to find a solution without killing anybody."

Xander tries not to sound like he is cornered, but it's obvious. Buffy's talking like she has already made her decision. Of course she doesn't think about it as killing. She's thinking about destroying a threat and avoiding the apocalypse. And, of course, Spike is on her side. And Giles is silent. And Willow is unconscious. And Faith's contractions are coming closer and becoming more intense and painful; she grows weaker with every bout, she can't protect herself and their baby anymore.

So it's up to him now.

"What's your name?" he asks the prisoner.

"Gregor."

"You're not just a regular soldier."

"General."

"Okay, General Gregor. You're a clever man. You know the compromise is the best way to deal with extreme situations. We keep you alive - you let us go. You let us go - we find a way to destroy the Beast. We destroy the Beast..."

Giles winces. "Stop clowning around." He turns to Gregor. "I know about magic and I know that a ritual usually includes many crucial ingredients necessary to perform it."

Gregor gives Giles a once-over and, apparently, acknowledges him as a leader. "This is not the case, alas. At a certain day and hour the Key's blood will become active. If it's not contained by the Key's shell, it will transform the matter and open gates to other worlds."

Xander's heart leaps. A certain day and hour?

"How long does the Key stay active?" he asks.

"Several hours." The general still doesn't look at him. "The Beast needs only a second or two to bleed the baby. If Glorificus gets her, we are all doomed." He stares at Giles. "Time to decide. Are you ready to bear the responsibility of impending apocalypse?"

They lock eyes in a brief, silent contest and, after a few moments, something changes in Giles' face.

"What do you suggest?" Giles asks slowly.

"My broadsword - it's somewhere on the floor, in the back room. As soon as the child arrives..."

Faith struggles to get up but another violent contraction tears through her and she howls in pain. "Screw you!" she shrieks, writhing in Xander's arms. "You hurt her - I'll find you no matter where you hide and make you eat your dick!" Once the contraction is over, she sags against Xander's chest and sobs helplessly. "I... told you," she murmurs. "I knew they'd kill us..."

"No, Faith!" He looks around desperately. "You'll be okay, you'll see!"

"Liar." She sniffles. "Why does it hurt so much?... Xander... I can't see you..."

Panic sweeps over him. What if she can't deliver the baby naturally? What if Buffy damaged something inside when she stabbed her - something that wasn't dangerous until the childbirth?

What if Buffy's erstwhile attack is killing Faith now?

"She needs a doctor!"

"Yes, good idea," Giles says wryly.

"Actually, the phone in the back room is working," Spike says. "I'd call the police. As much as I hate cops..."

"No, Spike," Buffy interrupts quickly. "The police can't be involved."

Spike eager to call the police and Buffy forbidding him? This is so not good.

Faith looks between them, wild-eyed. "What will you do, B?"

"I'll call a friend of mine. A doctor who works at Sunnydale hospital."

"Total wanker," Spike puts in.

Buffy ignores him. "Ben treated Mom. He's a good doctor. And he told me I could call him in case of emergency. He will help you."

Faith is about to say something but another contraction hits her and she wails and clings to Xander. He vaguely hears Buffy talking into the phone. "Painkillers," he barks. "Tell him to bring painkillers!"

When Buffy returns from the back room, she brings Gregor's broadsword with her. Giles reaches out a hand for the weapon but Buffy pointedly ignores his gesture. "The doctor will be here soon," she says to Xander matter-of-factly. "He'll bring painkillers."

"Um, guys? Maybe I could help?"

Willow's voice is music to Xander's ears. Willow looks pale and exhausted, but she assures them she's okay and, of course, she could help Faith. Grateful, he helps Faith to make herself comfortable, her head on Willow's lap. Faith slowly relaxes - but Willow visibly tenses as Xander quickly recounts the events she missed. When he finishes filling Willow in, he notices that Faith has gone limp, her eyes glazed over.

"I switched her off," Willow says off his look. "It will be better for her if she doesn't feel anything."

"Wake her up, Will - now!"

"Willow is right," Giles says coldly. "We have to make a decision. A very hard decision. We can't get distracted by sentiment."

He feels betrayed. "You've already made the decision, haven't you?"

"Chill out, Xander," Buffy says calmly. At least she sounds calm. "We'll save Faith. I swear."

Their eyes meet.

"And then you'll kill our baby."

Buffy gives him a long unblinking stare. He's never seen her like this before.

"I'll do what I have to do," she says softly.

"You don't want to do that, Buff. You don't want to do it!"

She nods, pale and resolute. "I don't. But I'm the Slayer."

"Oh, sure. What if it was your kid? Or your mother? What if somebody said that your mother's murder was necessary to save the world?"

"Stop it, Xander!" Giles barks. "Don't make it harder than it has to be. Get real. After all, what you are feeling is not real. They programmed you to feel this way."

"Programmed? We're all programmed! You wear tweed but you don't wear jeans. Buffy wears jeans and high heels because glossy magazines and TV ads brainwash her 24/7, and she patrols in high heels instead of gym-shoes, and risks her life, and..."

"Stop the demagogy, Xander," Giles says grimly. "Fashion and morality are different things."

"The hell they are. Morality is programming too. The Council brainwashes Watchers and they, in turn, brainwash their slayers. About evil vampires. Except that one of them is covering your sorry ass right now! Tell me you didn't know that vampires and humans can cooperate. Tell me you don't know about vampire brothels!"

"Vampire brothels?" Buffy asks, incredulous.

Spike grunts. "You really don't want to know, Slayer."

"Xander, stop it," Giles warns.

But he can't. All he sees is the big shiny broadsword in Buffy's hands. If playing devil's advocate can tip the scales, he will play. "They programmed you to kill vampires, Buff. And you killed them until you fell in love with Angel..."

"Because he has a soul..."

"Spike doesn't. Yet he follows you around, like your dog, doing nothing but what you ask him to…"

Spike lets out a low threatening growl.

"For some odd reason, he seems to like you a lot. He doesn't even have a soul."

"Spike has a chip!" Buffy shouts.

"Yes, exactly. Jesse could have had a chip too. And lived with it! But I dusted him. I dusted my best friend because I was told that vampires are evil, period. If I hadn't believed it, Jesse'd be here with us."

"You're cheating, Xander, and you know it," Buffy says bitterly. "This is not what Giles was talking about. He means that your love isn't real. They raped your mind. They made you believe that you love her. Because otherwise you would never have any feelings for her..."

He looks at unconscious Faith, and a wave of tenderness sweeps over him. He loves her so much - loves this exhausted face, stained with tears and grime, this rumpled hair, these small strong hands with abrasions and broken nails, this defiantly protruding belly - a beginning of a new life, a pledge of the future...

Buffy's lips tremble. "I can't believe we're having a fight over something that's not even real."

"Are your feelings for Spike real? Don't answer, I can see they are. But - you know what? - they're programmed too. Because after the spell I remember the real thing. Do you know what really happened that night when you thought Spike was helping you to track Faith? We met him and he mocked us. He wanted to side with Faith to see her killing you. He was our enemy. They changed him and turned him into your lover. Your situation with Spike is exactly like mine with Faith."

He has hit a sore spot. No wonder that Buffy is furious. "You know what's real?" she hisses. "That she's manipulating you to protect her spawn. Do you really think she will be able to fall in love with you when you earn enough points in your "let's-save-poor-Faith-from-evil-Buffy" game? Newsflash, Xan - she doesn't give a damn about you and never will. In any reality!"

Something snaps in him. Suddenly he is beyond anger and hurt. Strange calmness descends upon him.

"Maybe. Maybe she doesn't. But I do."

Out of arguments, Buffy hesitates, anger and confusion on her face.

"Time to prove that you're the Slayer," Gregor says encouragingly. "You falter and unimaginable legions will perish, including everyone here. You can stop this. You can save all
their lives... by ending one. The Key. Destroy it, and the will of the Beast will be broken. She will fade, a distant memory... and this madness will end. Untie me and I will help you..."

"Shut up," Buffy barks. She looks at Xander guiltily.

"I'm really very sorry, Xander," she whispers.

Her hands clasp the hilt of her broadsword tightly. That's it. He hoped to avoid it, till the last moment - but, apparently, no such luck.

"No, Buff. Not yet. You will be sorry when you kill me."

Buffy smiles a wretched smile. "What?"

"You want to kill my daughter? You have to kill me first."

"You're bluffing." Buffy's voice is tinged with shock and denial.

"Try me."

Suddenly everything around him seems smaller. Things and people are distant and unreal. An invisible bubble separates him from the rest of the world. Inside it, only two people exist. Him and Buffy.

Her lips quiver. "Why are you doing this to me?"

"I don't want to, Buffy. But you leave me no choice. I can't protect my kid in a fair fight. All I can do is to gamble my life and hope that you can't bring yourself to kill me."

Next: Chapter 18 - In Which "The" Lie Is Finally Set To Rest
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