Donald Lydecker reminds him of Graham, of Forest. Not in looks but demeanor. Straight backed and military. Riley Finn takes comfort in that. He doesn't know if he could have stomached anything else, not after the Initiative. Not after Adam.
"You come very highly recommended," Lydecker says. "Your commanding officer tells me you have a particular talent for… unusual situations."
"My unit was tasked with eliminating demonic activity both domestic and foreign."
"And yet you spent almost a year in Cleveland."
"There's a Hellmouth in Cleveland. Only active one after Sunnydale. They've sent a team of slayers, they don't need me. Besides," he hesitates, "I need a change of scenery."
"Yes, I heard about Samantha Finn. You have my condolences. I lost my wife too a few years back. Murdered. They never found her killer."
"I killed the demon who took her." The wound was still fresh. "It didn't help."
"No, I don't suppose it would. You're probably wondering why you even got this call. We're not a military venture, not officially."
"You're here, Mr. Finn because you still remember." He settles back behind his desk. 'I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Maggie Walsh when she was a younger woman. Her ideas, her vision was one of the most innovative of an entire generation."
Riley still has nightmares about the aftermath of Walsh's vision. About tearing a chip from his chest, Professor Walsh, eyes vacant and skin rotting, Forest, his best friend trying to kill his girl. "Things ended... poorly."
"A disaster," Lydecker agrees. "Dr. Walsh thought she could change the very nature of a demon. Thought she could cobble together a monster and have it function. Thought she could make a set of supers-soldiers out of weak flesh. In fact, the only success I can even see out of the entire venture is the behavioral modification chip in the vampire hostile seventeen who escaped. We can safely classify much of his resulting development as an exception rather than the rule."
"With all due respects, Col. Lydecker, the initiative nearly killed me. The drugs they used, the strain on my heart. I lost nearly everything to that project. I've spent years trying to get my life--"
"You do understand you're the only one left."
Riley looked up sharply.
"Don't be so surprised. You are not an unintelligent man. Surely you've noticed that your former colleagues have been systematically burned. Some of them outright, other, like yourself transferred into high risk ventures. You're the last link to the Initiative."
Riley's gun is on his hip, where it always was, even back in Sunnydale when Buffy tried to train him out of it, replace his gadgets with wooden stakes. He carries the stakes now too, though he's always been more partial to crossbows. He's not unarmed, but by Lydecker's quiet confidence, he suspects that he doesn't have a prayer if this interview is an ultimatum. "Am I to understand I'm being burned?"
"No. Not at all. Your experience with the Initiative is invaluable. See, Maggie Walsh, brilliant though she was made a mistake. You can't change the nature of a demon. You can't create the perfect soldier after they've had years to form unsavory habits."
"You can't create a soldier," Riley says, fist clenched against his pants to keep the tension from his face. "The most you can do is give one a calling."
"A calling," Lydecker circles the desk to sit down on the edge. "And what is your calling, Riley Finn? You were a member of the Initiative, you fought alongside the slayer. You traveled the world and watched friends die, watch your wife die at the hands of unspeakable evil. Where do you go from here?"
And that's the whole point. Riley would have never entertained a call from something that was so obviously black ops if it wasn't like that. He doesn't know how to do anything but fight. He's never felt at home anywhere except the military.
"What we're looking for is a trainer. Someone who's faced impossible odds and stayed stand. But why it's you here. Why it's not someone else is because you've seen the dangers, you would know the warning signs."
"What is this place?"
"Our goal is simple. One Maggie Walsh would appreciate, one you will appreciate. We are hoping to create the perfect soldier. Someone who can stand up to not only the perils of warfare, but also the demons, the monsters."
"There are slayers for that."
"You know as well as I do that the slayers won't last. There have been deaths without replacements. In a matter of years the world will be back to having a chosen one. And what do we do then? When the demons kept at bay for years surge up to swallow the world whole."
"We fight," Riley says. "We keep the world turning."
"Son, this program is going to continue no matter your involvement. There are kids here, soldiers, and like it or not, they're going to be plunged into the same fight you joined. They're going to see the same darkness. You can help them."
"And what if I say no? Do I get to walk out of here or is there someone waiting to sever the last link to the Initiative?"
"You can take that chance, leave now. " Lydecker crosses his arms. "Or you can stay and find all about Project Manticore. What's it going to be, Agent Finn?"
He wants to stay. Wants to put his faith in the government again, wants to see a better soldier, wants to be a better soldier.
But he can't be part of something like this. Not again. He stands up. "I'm not interest. But when your soldiers turn on you, feel free to call me. I can gather some friends who will be more than willing to assist with the cleanup."
"If my soldiers turn on me," Lydecker corrects.
"No, sir," Riley says. He's seen this all before. "When."
The door swings softly shut behind him.