Disclaimer: Nikita is so not my property. As a matter of fact, none of these characters are. I just take them out to play once in awhile and put them back where I found them.

Spoilers: 'Looking for Michael' and beyond

Archiving: Sure, just let me know. Nikitangel@hotmail.com

Feedback: Any and all, even the bad stuff, but keep it constructive, would you? Please review - I always return the favor if you have fic on a series that I know.

Notes: This is set mid-to-late third season (summer/fall 1999)

"All teams, hold your positions. We have incoming intel."

Nikita slowed her progress down the sidewalk and casually took a seat in a nearby bus shelter. "Holding position," she murmured amongst the confirmations of the other operatives.

There was silence on the line for a few minutes before she heard Michael's voice again in her ear. "Possible anomaly. Teams One and Two, check the interior, Teams Three and Four, perimeter. Make sure the surrounding businesses are clean."

Nikita cased the street, then started south after receiving her assignment. She finished quickly - not many of the small town businesses were open on Sunday anyway. She rather liked this little community, and thought she might visit it again sometime, on her own time. It was rather near her apartment too, which made it ten times more attractive. It was never a good idea to roam too far from Section. She bent to retie her shoe and smiled. It was nice to be wearing normal clothes on a mission for once. Working undercover had its good points.

She knew from the exchanges on her receiver that she was the first one finished. She was looking around for her bus shelter again when her eyes lit upon a small building, tucked away between a grocery and a tailor shop. She squinted, then made out the words across the door. It was a library.

Nikita pursed her lips, and glanced up and down the street. She had some time, and no one would see her. It had been so long ... she crossed the street and entered the building.

A slow smile drifted over her face as she glanced over the racks, not really seeing them at all. Her mind was lost in the images of a library much different than this one, a library of long ago, 'in a land far, far away' she thought ruefully.

She could still remember the heavy scent of old texts that greeted her at the door of that library. Usually she paused right there, at that moment, inhaling the musty odor and anticipating the coming pleasure of the next few hours. Then she would carefully let the giant door close behind her with a soft click - at ten years old, she was ever mindful of the silence permeating the building, as well as the dire, though unknown, consequences in store for those who violated it.

It had always been a comforting haven for Nikita, this building. Its stillness had never been frightening for her - it was not a warning of an unconscious mother, passed out on the cracked tiled of the bathroom floor. There was always light, there was always heat - they never forgot to pay the bills.

But it was more than that to her. Nikita had been very young when she first caught sight of the nondescript structure. A small, weather-beaten sign dangled off the edge of the low-hanging roof, the words "Public Library" stenciled across it with care. She had paused at the entrance, her mother's slurred speech echoing in her mind.

"A library card? What the hell are you talking about? What makes you think I'd want a bunch of books and shit lying around to trip over?"

Nikita had raised her chin a notch, and pushed open the door. Her mother would never find out that she was here anyway.

Since that day, Nikita had spent as much time as possible in the little library. Most of the time she spent poring over the books, but occasionally she would seek out an unobtrusive position behind some stack. There she would sit, observing the people and families that strolled along the aisles. She watched the mothers who made sure their children's coats were buttoned securely before venturing outside again. She watched the little girls who would settle down in their fathers' laps, turning the pages and exclaiming over the pictures.

But most days, she couldn't handle those scenes and the feelings they evoked. The books would come to her rescue then. There was always something new to devour, yet Nikita also relished the comfort of reading a book for the fifteenth, twentieth, twenty-fifth time - knowing what's going to happen before she even turned the page; the excitement of reading the first few lines of a book she could practically recite by heart.

Nikita's favorite book was always Water Babies. The story was intrinsically appealing to her. It was impossible not to nurture some secret hope that one day, the fairies would come for her and she would go away to live with them and be eternally happy.

Nikita's mother never did give in about the library card, and as sympathetic as the librarians were, they couldn't give her one without an adult's signature. Nikita set about working around this snag.

She started hiding Water Babies every time she left the library. She couldn't bear the thought of someone checking it out, tearing it, losing it! She needed it to be there when she came for it. She carefully chose a new spot every time, and the well-used volume was always waiting for her where she had left it.

It never occurred to her that the librarians knew exactly what she had been doing. More than once they had stumbled upon her 'stash', smiled somewhat sadly to themselves, and carefully replaced the book in its hiding place.

Periodically Nikita would come upon different editions of the book, but they never lived up to 'her' treasure. She knew every illustration, every indentation on the cover, every inch of the scrolling script it was printed in. She had yet to find any other version that could rival it.

Nikita's ruminations were interrupted by the crackle of static in her ear, and her mind leapt back to the present.

"Teams One and Two, Jerabek's ETA has been modified. Profile's been reconfigured. Check your panels."

Nikita sighed and slipped behind some shelving, smoothly drawing the electronic device from her bag. Flicking a cursory glance about the mostly empty library, Nikita quickly inspected the updated file. A smile crept over her face as she realized the delay would allow her at least a little more time in the library.

A rustling behind her caught her attention and she whirled to face her opponent. A small-statured elderly woman jumped back in surprise, throwing her hands up in defense.

"Relax! I'm just doing some shelving," she smiled, a little nervously. Nikita ducked her head.

"I'm, uh -- " she swiftly switched to French, "I'm sorry, I'm just a little -- " she managed to stammer out as she slid her panel out of sight.

A/N: following conversation is in French

"Fine, fine, dear, don't worry about it," clucked the woman as she reached up on her tiptoes to place a book just so on the highest shelf. "Can I help you?"

"No, no, I - I'm okay."

Nikita remained standing there, shifting her weight. The librarian glanced at her a few times over her shoulder, then continued in her work, smiling to herself.

"There are those who come here just for the solitude, a little peace and quiet in the world. I try to leave them be, but every so often I have to butt in, so to speak."

Nikita nodded, unsure of what to say.

"You're not from around here, I know, and I won't ask, since you don't seem to be very big on talking, but you do look a bit lost." Nikita knew she wasn't talking about physical whereabouts anymore. "I saw you, you know, when you were daydreaming a minute ago. I've seen that look before." The woman watched Nikita out of the corner of her eye. "You sure there's nothing I can help you with?"

Nikita's mind raced with all the possible scenarios running through her head. There was no way she was going to do anything here that Section wouldn't find out about. She'd never be able to check anything out unnoticed, and she definitely didn't want Madeline stumbling upon Water Babies in her file. God only knew what kind of psych session that would provoke. That didn't mean she couldn't read it while she waiting, though ...

She took a deep breath. "Do you have Water Babies?"

The librarian looked taken aback for a moment. "Pardon?"

"Water Babies. The book. It's in English. The 1932 edition. It's illustrated." Her words came out flustered and stilted.

The woman frowned. "Well, let's see, Water Babies. Probably in Juvenile. Let's take a look, shall we?"

Nikita nodded and followed her down a cramped staircase to an equally cramped basement.

"The humidity's a real nuisance down here. Books get all damp, it's horrible," she called out absent-mindedly over her shoulder. "Mostly foreign languages down here, anyway. Not many people care."

Nikita tried to follow along with the woman's constant flow of comments, but was soon distracted by the sudden activity on the comm link behind her ear.

"Team One, what is your status?" Michael's softly accented voice carried through.

She listened to the flurry of replies, and formulated her own careful response.

"Hold status. In the library."

The librarian turned. "What was that, dear?"

"Ah, I wondered if maybe the book is on hold. Here. In the library."

Her brows furrowed. "No, no, I believe the only current hold is in Adult Paperbacks. That new Julie Garwood, you know." Nikita nodded her agreement, and the woman returned to her search. "We have such a wonderful collection of foreign books here. Shame no one takes advantage."

"I'll, uh, I'll just check over here," Nikita called as she moved herself out of hearing distance. "Michael?" she whispered.

"What are you still doing in the library?"

She paused. "Nothing."

"Nikita."

"Michael, really, it's not important, I'll be ready for Jerabek." She peeked over the shelving, keeping an eye on the busy woman "Look, I have to go. I'll keep my receiver on, it'll be fine. Bye," she added as an afterthought, and hurriedly hit the switch to cut her transmission as the librarian approached.

"Ah, here we are, should be right around here somewhere."

Nikita's heart leapt. "Really? The 1932 edition?" The two scrutinized the shelf closely for several minutes.

The woman finally gave up with a sigh. "I'm sorry, but I just don't see it. We have the latest printing, however, will that do?" She pulled a volume from the shelf and offered it to Nikita.

Nikita felt her shoulders droop in disappointment. "No, I'm sorry. That's just not - it's not the same."

The librarian sighed and replaced the book. "I know what you mean. There's something comforting about the old editions, isn't there? A scent, a feel to the pages."

Nikita smiled, a faraway look in her eyes. "My - the one I used to read, it had wonderful illustrations. Big, scrawling pictures. Even before I understood all the words, I was in love with those pictures. And the cover -- " Nikita shook her head.

Her companion smiled knowingly. "They don't make them like that anymore." She gazed at the puzzling young woman before her. "This book meant a lot to you."

Nikita looked away. "Yes," was all she answered.

"I remember this story. The little boy was abused, wasn't he? Ran away to the stream to cry. And the fairies - they accepted him into their world." The woman fixed her eyes on Nikita shrewdly. "It was a story of escape - of hope."

Nikita met her gaze. "Yes." Unspoken communication continued between them, and the librarian's eyes grew somewhat sad. She cleared her throat.

"I'm so sorry ... that we don't have it here. I wish I could help."

Nikita gave her a small smile, and shrugged her shoulders. "It was a long time ago ... that I read it, I mean. Please don't concern yourself."

The woman only nodded, and turned away from the shelf. Nikita swallowed her disappointment and made her way over to the dank stairwell. "Thank you, anyway, for trying."

"Well, wait, wait, why don't you leave your address? I could let you know if I come across it. What's your name?"

Nikita paused in the doorway, deliberating. "It's Tessa. Tessa Montagne." She grabbed a pencil from the nearby desk and scribbled her address. It was a risk, she knew, but the woman would probably never find the book anyway. It couldn't hurt.

Nikita turned to smile one last time at the woman. She climbed the stairs and was gone.

The librarian watched the doorway for a second or two, then resumed her work, but her mind remained on the mysterious young woman.

******************

Michael sat back in his seat and rubbed a finger across his chin distractedly, reflecting on the conversation he had just overheard. It wasn't the first time Nikita had neglected to fully sever her comm link -- she wasn't used to the new switches yet. Yet it was the first time Michael had overheard something so truly private. He was glad he had switched her to B channel before the others could hear. He knew that this was something Nikita would never discuss with him, yet she had managed to connect with a complete stranger. There was more to the silences than what he had heard.

A memory occurred to him unbidden, and he instinctively pushed it away. Inhaling deeply through is nose, he forced himself to accept it, and an idea slowly evolved. Michael sat in indecision for several minutes, weighing it in his mind.

It wasn't until that night that he came to a final conclusion.

************

Nikita heaved an exhausted sigh as she shoved open the door to her apartment, juggling her bag, coffee mug, and the package she had found lying at the base of her door. Stale, musty air greeted her, and she wrinkled her nose at it. Tossing her belongings on the counter, she wandered to the fridge, fervently hoping there would be something still edible inside it.

Her debrief had lasted much longer than the others', due to an anomaly that had appeared on-site after Jerabek had been obtained. Unfortunately, the anomaly had appeared in Nikita's sector, and her subsequent dealings with him had had to be carefully documented for Operations' precious records. She scowled at the thought of him, and sniffed the contents of a small Tupperware container. It sometimes made her smile to think that she owned Tupperware - she, the drunk's kid, the street punk, the .45-wielding secret agent. The incongruity of it all hit her sometimes.

She yawned, and automatically glanced at the clock on the wall. 3:00 am. Maybe they'd let her sleep in tomorrow. Not likely. She groaned and emptied the Tupperware into the trash. It wasn't until she was turning to head upstairs to bed that she remembered the slim package on her counter. She eyed it suspiciously with a glance in the direction of Mick's apartment. He had mentioned something about his latest wonder product - something about self-help tapes? Actualizing Your Potential? She shook her head, and debated leaving it until the morning.

The handwriting gave her pause, however. It didn't look like Mick's usual scrawl. Nikita shrugged and began unwrapping the object.

Her breath caught in her throat as the brown paper fell away. The corner of her mouth turned up as she gazed at the book before her. Slowly, lovingly, she trailed her fingertips across the binding. A 1932 edition of Water Babies.

Nikita expelled a long, shuddering breath and collapsed on the stool beside her, her legs suddenly feeling weak. It had been such a long time. Memories washed over her as she opened the cover to her treasure, and a small sob rose within her. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. A torrent of emotions coursed through her, and a tear slid down her cheek before she could stop it. She tilted her head as she gazed down at the ornate leaf of the book. It was in wonderful condition - better even than the one from her childhood. No folds in the yellowed pages, no water stain in the upper right corner.

It wasn't until she attempted to turn the page that Nikita discovered the book's only flaw. The title page was entirely missing. She frowned, puzzled at the unusual imperfection. She leaned in closer and saw that the page had at one time been present - it had been neatly cut away so that only a precise sliver of paper remained attached to the binding.

Nikita sat back, wondering. It didn't matter anyway, really. She couldn't believe the librarian had found the book at all, much less one in mint condition. She had quickly realized this was no library book - somehow the woman had found it in a secondhand bookstore, or something. It was obviously well cared for - someone must have loved it as much as Nikita had loved hers.

She was surprised the woman had unearthed the book so quickly, and that she had come all this way just to give it to her. She gave silent thanks in her heart, and promised herself she would return to the town someday to thank her benefactor. A familiar scent arose from the pages as she flipped through them, and she savored the read ahead of her. She carefully took the book in her arms and headed up to bed. Surrounded by candles and tissues and blankets, Nikita slowly opened to the first page and began to read.

************

Michael sat silently in his sparsely furnished apartment, staring into the darkness outside his window. Beside him lay a yellowed piece of paper, an elegant script inked into the upper corner of it.

For my son on his fifth birthday, April 28,1999. All my love, Daddy.