Riley didn’t have the slightest clue why Xander was answering Angel’s phone. Considering how much Xander hated Angel and how often he spoke of the number of ways and times Angel had made Xander’s life suck beyond the telling of it, it was a surprise. Or maybe not. Given what he’d seen on the satellite images and the rumors he’d heard about what had happened in Los Angeles over the previous month, maybe the fact of Xander working with Angel wasn’t necessarily the surprise it once would have been.
In any event, it didn’t matter, so Riley tabled the question for the time being to focus on the reason he was calling. It wasn’t a phone call he’d wanted to make, because no matter what Xander said, Riley was still going to feel like he’d been punched in the gut. He took a deep breath and asked, “Did Buffy die again?”
“Buffy didn’t. Other people did,” he said, his words short and accusation clear in his voice.
Great. Xander was in full-on asshole mode, and apparently, Riley was to blame, though God only knew for what. Maybe that he hadn’t been around for whatever had gone down in Sunnydale, which would be pretty typical for Xander. He tended to get tunnel vision when it came to Buffy and the rest of the Scoobies, so he never seemed to consider the fact that there might be more going on in the world than what was happening in Sunnydale, or even Los Angeles, for that matter.
Again, though, Riley had bigger issues to deal with, so he chose not to react to Xander’s tone of voice and responded as neutrally as he could. There was no sense in antagonizing him. “I’m glad Buffy’s still around, but I’m sorry to hear that others have died. Was Faith one of them?”
“Nope, she’s still kicking. So are Giles and Willow. Anya didn’t make it, but thanks for asking.”
Riley didn’t say that the last he’d heard, Anya had gone demon-side again and that she and Xander weren’t talking any more. Clearly, he’d been out of touch for too long, so maybe he deserved whatever Xander decided to dish out.
“I’m sorry about Anya, Xander. Really, I am.”
Which, yes, was probably not the best thing he could say under the circumstances, because it made him sound like he was a lying asshole who didn’t actually give a shit. Which, again, was pretty much the case right then, but eventually, Riley would care, and he would see what he could do to make up for his lapse. Still all of that was irrelevant, especially in the face of Xander’s grief.
After a long pause, Xander managed to ask in a more reasonable tone of voice, "What’s this about?”
“It’s —” My wife, he thought, she’s not the same. Something happened. Something bad, and she’s acting like — like — “It’s probably nothing.”
“Yeah, right. Nothing is a good reason to call and check on the health of the two Slayers you know about, especially right after apocalypse season. Spill it, already. I’ve got too much going on here to hang around on the phone.”
Riley almost hung up at that point, but — “The two Slayers I know about?”
“Seriously, you have no idea what I need to take care of, and that’s just before lunch. I don’t even want to look at the spreadsheet Willow made up for this afternoon, because I’ll probably curl up in a little ball and cry, so would you ask already?”
"It’s just —” Riley swallowed hard before continuing. “Is there any chance you have an explanation for why Sam was able to kick me into a wall twelve feet away?"
Colonel Franklin came in and stood next to Riley at the observation window. While Riley generally got along well with his commanding officer, he really wished the man would go away and leave him in peace.
“Were you able to reach one of your Sunnydale contacts?”
“Yes, sir. I was.”
Riley didn’t volunteer additional information, assuming that Franklin would read between the lines to the unspoken message of Leave me the fuck alone.
Franklin wasn’t stupid, so he must have read Riley’s tone, but he asked anyway. “Were they able to give you any answers?”
At that point, Sam glared at both men from the other side of the window. It was a one-way mirror, and if she’d still been the woman Riley had married, she never would have been able to look each of them in the eye through the glass, and she certainly wouldn’t have been able to answer, “It was that witch. She did this to me. She did this. Made me a freak. Made me a goddamn target. I’m going to kill her, Finn. As soon as I get out of this place, I’m hunting the bitch down, and I’m taking her out.”
Franklin was good at keeping a poker face, but Riley still saw the slight shudder that ran through his body at Sam’s words. “That’s — remarkable,” he said finally.
“No, Colonel,” Sam said. “That’s downright bizarre.”
Riley looked at his feet for a moment to compose himself, then said, “Perhaps we could talk in the conference room, sir?”
In the detention cell, Sam sneered, then pulled the table off the floor, snapping each of the bolts that held it in place, one by one. She started to pound on the mirror, and as he left with Franklin, Riley could only hope that the glass was as strong as the shaman claimed it was.
Two floors down, Franklin pulled two bottles of water out of the conference room’s small refrigerator and handed one of the bottles to Riley. Neither man said anything for a moment, and then Riley started speaking.
“She isn’t wrong, sir. Subject Rosenberg is, in fact, responsible for what happened to Sam.”
Franklin’s jaw tensed up. His disapproval of magic was well known, even though he had a shaman, a witch and two psychics under his command. He asked Riley, “Was it a planned attack, then?”
“No, sir. Not in the sense you’re thinking. The situation at Ground Zero Sunnydale was very close to the absolute end game. Subject Summers required as much assistance as she could gather in a short period of time. Given the number of potential Slayers she had nearby, it only made sense for Subject Rosenberg to awaken that potential.”
“And Lieutenant Finn? How does she play into this?”
“The spell that Subject Rosenberg used was extremely powerful. Directing and containing it — well. It wasn’t even a possibility. Every potential Slayer in the world was awakened.” Riley felt his jaw clench and made an effort to loosen it before adding, “Including Sam.”
“Were you aware that your wife was a potential?”
Riley knew perfectly well it was a valid question, but he didn’t like it. The question made it seem like Riley had been hiding information again, that he hadn’t spent the last two and a half years proving that he was stable and a team player. It implied lies and half-truths, and it made it seem like Sam hadn’t been completely honest in her motivations.
Still, Riley had spent the last two and a half years rehabilitating himself in the eyes of his superior officers, and he wasn’t about to let an ill-considered question derail him at this point.
“No, sir,” he answered firmly.
“Do you think she was?”
“Honestly? I doubt it. The first Sam had heard of Slayers was when I debriefed her before the Sunnydale mission.”
“Hm.” Franklin pursed his lips at that, then asked, “Do you think that’s the reason she’s so hostile to the idea of being a Slayer now?”
That was the real question, the one that Sam wouldn’t answer, though Riley was sure she could. He hadn’t seen any real hostility on Sam’s part when she met Buffy, and he didn’t believe she would have hidden it from him if she’d felt it. Sam was, if nothing else, honest in her intentions, and it had drawn Riley like a moth to a flame.
In his more honest moments of self-reflection, he acknowledged that the reason was likely rooted in the lies and omissions he’d had to deal with in Sunnydale, both from Buffy and the Initiative. In his less honest moments, he pretended there wasn’t a deeper meaning. Sam probably knew the truth of it, but she’d never asked, and he’d never told. Instead, they both pretended they had a fresh start and a blank slate with each other. Mostly, it worked for them, but now? Now he needed answers, and Sam wasn’t giving them.
“I’m not sure what’s going on with her. She’s never expressed anything negative about Buffy and — about the Sunnydale subjects before now.” Riley took a small drink of water. As tight as his throat was, he wasn’t entirely certain he’d be able to wash it down.
“Did your contacts say anything about adverse affects in the affected individuals?”
“No, sir, but they also said nothing like this has been done before, so there’s no way of knowing.” Riley took a deep breath and added, “I spoke with Subject Giles as well, sir. He believes that Sam is a danger to everyone, and that she needs to be contained.”
“We can do the containing, Finn.”
“Sir, I’m not sure you —”
Riley snapped his jaw shut and only just managed not to grind his teeth, because he recognized the gleam in Franklin’s eye. It was the gleam of a man who’d just been given exactly what he thought he wanted and never mind that it was actually broken. It was the gleam of a man who had decided the broken thing could be fixed with a little superglue and paint, and then it would be just fine. It was the gleam of a man who thought he’d just found redemption with his own superiors.
In short, it was an ambition Riley couldn’t fight, not with his own redemption on rocky ground. After a moment, he relaxed, because at this point, his own redemption was no longer on rocky ground; it had just been tossed into Mount Doom, and there was no way he was getting it back. Not now, not with Franklin making bad decisions on the basis of a presumed tactical advantage rather than of fact.
Riley lifted his chin and said, “Sir.”
“You’ve worked with a Slayer in the past. You know their strengths, their weaknesses.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, giving away nothing but the appearance of cooperation. He would need that advantage later on.
“I know Lieutenant Finn is a little off balance right now, but I’m sure that will pass with your help.”
Franklin smiled. “You’re a good man, Finn. I’m sure that unfortunate blemish on your record will be polished away in no time.”
“Good man, indeed,” Franklin said, his smile growing wider as he slapped Riley on the shoulder. “Just let me know what you need, and we’ll get it for you.”
Franklin didn’t bother waiting for Riley’s reply. He left the room quickly, presumably to call his superiors and let them know about the Army’s newest weapon. It was fine, though, because it really didn’t matter what Franklin did or didn’t do at this point. Riley had his own call to make, and with any luck, it wouldn’t take Giles long to make the necessary arrangements.
Sam hadn’t liked what she’d heard about the Watchers’ Council, not by a long shot, but he doubted she’d be any happier with Franklin’s plans for her.