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Previous Chapter: Contemplation
Next Chapter: 16.5 Interim

It was a stupid agreement. Now he had some magic prawn monster crawling around in his brain, waiting for the cue to kill or release, and the outcome was all on Riley’s shoulders. If Buffy died, he died. If she didn’t escape, he might still die. If he didn’t do everything he could to help her, he died. But at least he wasn’t being tortured by that absolute psycho anymore. Small luxuries.

He was nowhere near recovered from his injuries. The burns and the broken ribs and the bruises. Every step he took caused pain. Every breath. He’d be on the mend for weeks, if not longer. And now he had a mission to lead. One that could be his undoing, if anybody realized what was happening. He’d be labelled as a traitor, thrown in the stockade, and charged with treason. 

And his fellow operatives probably wouldn’t think twice about it. They were friends, sure, but… They believed in the work they were doing far more than he did. If they knew he’d been the one to compromise it… It wouldn’t matter if the thing in his head killed him or not. He wasn’t getting out of there.

Even without the little death creature, he still would have done whatever he could to get Buffy out alive. It was his fault she was in there to begin with, because he’d been so stupid. He could have just asked her what she was. To explain it. Instead, his loyalties had led him to telling Walsh. He could have listened to that little voice in the back of his head that said it was a bad idea. He could have listened to it right before he’d hit her with the second taser. She probably could have recovered, fought back, and got away if he hadn’t… 

And now she was all cozy with a vampire, for whatever reason. Maybe it was a side effect of the drugs they’d been giving her. He knew sedatives could do strange things to a person when used for an extended amount of time, but that had never been his concern. He’d walked blithely by while Walsh and her scientists had done their experiments. What was a little bit of drugging? Demons weren’t people, so who gave a damn about the side effects? 

But they could cause a euphoric like state. Hallucinations. Confusion. So it was entirely possible that had contributed to her attachment to the vampire. The way they’d been acting together, specifically the way Seventeen had been…

He wasn’t being sedated like she was, but he’d been treating her like she was something precious, something to be protected at all costs. When everything in the books said he should be trying to kill her, even with the chip in his head. Even before they’d been put into the cell together, he’d put himself in harm’s way to keep her safe. And then, he’d been… doing whatever it had been. Feeding on her, in that way. That was the only way Riley could describe it. He didn’t want to think about the other thing it could have been. Didn’t want to think about Buffy doing that with a monster.

Because what did that make her?

He shook the thought from his head. She wasn’t one of them. He knew that now, even if it was too late to change things. Ripper had made sure he knew exactly what she was. She was the Slayer. Destined to die at the hands of demons. To fight day in and day out, never any rest, to protect mankind and keep the demons from overrunning the earth. She saved the world. Multiple times already, in fact. And she had been trying desperately to have some kind of a normal life, a future, and Riley had…

He’d screwed up. 

But he could do this. He could help her escape, and hope that she might forgive him. Even if she didn’t, at least… At least she’d be alright, eventually. And the Initiative had to be stopped. He knew that now. And as much as it pained him to betray his unit, and Maggie, it had to be done for their own good. None of them were the same anymore. At some point, things had changed.

When he’d joined the Initiative, it had been a normal operation. Kill the demons, bring them back for an autopsy. Simple. Clean. Merciful, in a way. Then Engleman came on board, with all his fancy degrees in behavior modification and everything else, and… filled Maggie’s head with all these ideas and applications and started making prototypes. 

That’s when the experiments had started. Really started. 

The modification chips. Whatever went on in the secure labs. They started the live capture program, and he’d been okay with that, for a while. Even with using plastic wood grain stakes to go after the vampires. It was just training, right? Harmless. Then Walsh ramped up their operations. Instead of nuisance demons, the ones who were actively out causing trouble, it was any and every demon they could find. And that had been alright with him, too. Demons were inherently evil, after all. And most of them did die, eventually. 

But after a while, it had just grown… mundane. He missed the days when they just hunted them. Everything was so much easier then.

And from what he’d experienced in the last few days, it wasn’t. Nothing was simple now. There were humans who were more evil than some of the demons he’d encountered. And he’d started to think, maybe he might be one of them. 

It’s no different from torturing a puppy, if you think about it. If a dog is rabid, you put it down, as a mercy. You don’t put a chip in its head that causes pain when it attacks, in the hopes it will eventually stop attacking. 

His thoughts drifted back to Ripper. To the things the man had done to him. Evil things….If a man was evil for trying to help somebody he loved, how evil was it to take pleasure in causing harm to demons?

He didn’t want to think too hard about that. 

He made his way through the tunnel entrance, making sure they’d see him on camera as he approached. No doubt there’d be a team on the way to meet him by now, check his status, make sure he wasn’t one of the undead now. It had been enough days. He was close now. He checked his watch, making sure there was still plenty of time before the plan was put in motion. They were tracking his movements anyway, right? They’d know when to get started on their end.

“Agent Finn!”

“Riley, stop where you are. Protocols, man. We gotta do a scan.”

Graham and Forrest stood in the way. Doing their jobs like good little soldiers. 

“Man, am I glad to see you guys,” he half lied, “You wouldn’t believe my weekend.” He held his arms up as they did their thermal scan, and sighed his relief that whatever was in his head seemed to pass. 

“Good to see you, commander. Come on, let’s get you to medical and we can debrief.”

 

***

 

She took in Riley’s condition. She’d been told it was bad, but she’d never expected this. Her poor boy. Stripped down to his boxers and on display on a hospital bed. His perfect physique would be forever scarred from the ordeal he’d been through. The burns would heal the worst. They’d begun to fester, and even with the proper mixture of medications, there was little that could be done for them. He deserved better. She’d make sure he received only the best medical care available. The wounds would eventually heal, for the most part.

What concerned her more was how long he’d been gone without his enhancement cocktail. He’d be having withdrawals by now, and that could cause far more damage than what had already been done to him. After the many months of supplements, stopping so suddenly, even if it were only a few days time, could prove catastrophic. His system would begin to break down without being tapered off slowly, and she had no intention of doing that. He’d come too far under her guidance to just end it without reason. She could see the signs already. The tremble in his muscles, the clammy look. Much longer, and he’d have been completely unable to move.

She had to get him a boosted dose as soon as she was able. He’d need pain medications. She’d never administered it intravenously, but… first time for everything. She wasn’t exactly thrilled about this being the time to test it.

“So. We have an active nest outside of town. Their numbers are unknown, but you said at least a dozen. Strong enough to subdue my best soldier. What would be the best course of action here? Is live capture an option for this?”

Riley nodded, sucking in sharply when balm was applied to the burn on his well-toned thigh. “We need to take care of them, before they get out of control. I don’t mean in a few days. We gotta do this tonight.”

“Riley… You need your rest,” Walsh laid a hand on his left pec, pushing him down to the bed so she could get better access to his torso. He groaned in pain, muscles rippling and tensing under her hand as he resisted her. “Let the others take care of this. You’ve been through enough. Please.”

The monsters who did this to her boy would pay, a hundred fold, for the pain they’d caused him. Riley was… special. Her pet project, in a way. His potential far exceeded that of his peers, and she’d known it from the moment she’d laid eyes on him. And now he was scarred. Damaged. By the world she’d brought him into. A perfect Adonis marred, his purity of form damaged on Hephestus’s forge, though at least he hadn’t become twisted and deformed like the mythical blacksmith of the gods.

She couldn’t help but feel partially responsible for what had happened. She’d always saw it as her job to keep him safe, without coddling him. Though admittedly, she’d failed in both aspects. She’d rendered him too soft and too brittle to endure the forging he’d be put through. But she’d fix it. Give him an extra dose of the enhancement cocktail and try again..

“I don’t need rest, Walsh. I need to do my job. I need to lead my team. If anything happens to them… That’s on me. Please.”

She applied a numbing cream to his bruised ribs. They were most likely cracked, if not broken. She’d order an x-ray in the morning so they could be certain. “Riley. You’ve sustained significant injuries. I can’t clear you for duty, you know that.”

“Maggie,” his hand grasped hers, and he looked up at her with those big blue eyes. “I need to do this. Please.

She felt her resolve wavering. She hated the idea of letting him out of her sight again so soon, to go right back to the place that caused him so much pain in the first place. But, he was an adult, and as level headed as they came. He wouldn’t jeopardize the safety of his men by being a hindrance. If he thought he could handle it, then he probably could. 

“I’m going to give you some medication for the pain,” which included his enhancers, and would help with the withdrawal symptoms, “and you’re not to take the front, do you understand? Technically, I should have you in a secure room, making sure you don’t go running off on a suicide mission. But, I trust your judgement, Riley.” She’d taught him that, too.

He sighed with relief. “Thank you. I won’t let you down.”

She helped him sit up, almost second guessing herself when the simple act made him emit a guttural groan. “I know you won’t. Pain meds, now. Hold still.”

The last thing she needed was for her best operative to be off his game and unable to perform. Once they got back, she would place him on medical leave. He’d need at least a week, likely more, but she hoped that by the time he was cleared for active duty, the situation with Forty-Nine and Seventeen would be resolved. 

“We need to get the men mobilized, ma’am. The longer we wait, the less chance we’ve got of catching the demons unaware.” 

“Right you are. Alright. I’ll make the call. You get dressed and ready for mission briefing.”

 

***

 

As the teams departed, she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d made the correct choices. Allowing Riley to go on a mission with injuries was… ill advised, at best. But he’d been insistent, and she knew how stubborn he was. He’d have found a way to go, whether she approved it or not. She knew there was no better man to lead the teams, injured or not. And he’d managed to come back to her in one piece, all on his own. He had twenty men at his disposal this time. Riley would be just fine, she reassured herself once again.

She had other matters to deal with before he returned. Despite her efforts to emotionally disconnect him from Forty-Nine, he still had an obvious soft spot. He’d broken protocols, and brought her food. Unapproved supplies. Even after seeing her giving blood willingly to the vampire, he hadn’t managed to accept that she was a monster. No better than the rest of them. It was Riley’s single downfall; his heart was just too big for his own good. She’d decided it was in his best interest… if the Slayer had an unfortunate accident during a routine test.

Although, how unfortunate would it really be if Project Adam could be revived as… Project Eve? She was already a nearly perfect soldier. The preliminary testing showed that she even exceeded Riley’s impressive capabilities, by a large margin. All that needed to be done was to enhance, and to control. The first step would be eliminating Seventeen. For somebody claiming to be human, Buffy had proven herself to have a fixation on the vampire. And he, with her. They’d been nigh inseparable, and Walsh blamed herself for that. 

When she’d put them in the cell together, she was expecting them to fight, to argue, to test the limits of the behavioral control chip. She never expected that they would form some kind of codependent bond. Vampires had no souls. They weren’t supposed to show human emotion. Seventeen was unique in that way. He appeared to genuinely care about Buffy, which had come as quite a surprise. The way he doted on her constantly, caring for her, going out of his way to provide her some sense of comfort and security. Walsh had never seen anything like it. Even if he weren’t genuine, his ability to mimic emotions…

It was a pity she had no further use for him.

Walsh sighed heavily as she made her way to the testing chambers to prepare. It was a shame Seventeen had such a strong spirit. Strength and abilities such as his were a rare find in his species. Rarely did they live long enough to develop them. Still, she knew when to quit while she was ahead. The behavior modification chip functioned as intended, and that was all they’d needed to know. 

She could give Engleman the go ahead to produce a more perfect version, and it would be used on Forty-Nine. Whether it modified the behavior itself was yet to be seen. Results for that had so many variables, many dependent on the individual. She doubted that Seventeen would ever really stop killing, simply because he was so old. Like a dog trying to learn new tricks.

“Have a contingency of men collect my favorite subjects. Today will be their final test.”

Engleman looked up as she approached him, surprise on his face. “At this hour, ma’am?”

“I don’t believe I stuttered, and your hearing is in perfect condition. It’s time.”

“Of course,” he nodded, remembering his place. “Sedated?”

“No. I want them both as close to full strength as possible.”

Adam might be gone, but the knowledge they’d acquired wasn’t. And Buffy could be controlled, Walsh was sure of it. It was just a matter of figuring out what made her tick. Perhaps… If both refused, they could be used as leverage in that way. Do as I say, lest your lover face the consequences. She doubted it would come to that. What would the most likely outcomes be..? 

Seventeen attacking in a blood rage and killing Forty-Nine. He’d then need to be sedated and his chip turned back on. Then he could go to long-term holding. Forty-Nine would kill Seventeen and have a mental break, causing her to be far more docile. A chip would be installed, and she could be trained to obey. They’d kill each other, and Forty-Nine would be like Adam had been, part human and part machine.

The least likely… Both would go against their natures and refuse to cause harm to the other. In that case, there were some different options. First, she wanted to talk to Buffy. Maybe if she offered an out, a simple choice, Buffy would make the right choice. 

The phone on the desk rang sharply, jolting her from her thoughts. The only person who knew the extension was Engleman, which meant… something had gone wrong. Somehow. In the matter of just a few minutes. Leave it to less than experienced troops to screw something so simple up. She snatched it off the hook, already frustrated.

“What is it?”

“Seventeen. Ma’am- he’s- you need to deactivate the chip. Now.”


End Note: Ass Face coming into the initiative, still all fucked up from Giles putting the hurt on him. 

 


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Previous Chapter: Contemplation
Next Chapter: 16.5 Interim

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