Here There Be Dragons

Here There Be Dragons

by Sandra

(Thanks to D.L. Witherspoon for letting me borrow Angela.)

Part 1

Nikita closed her eyes as she opened her apartment door. Each morning for the last four days, someone -- she had to believe it was Michael -- had left a single white rose outside her door. She didn't know how he was doing it since he was under as much surveillance as she was, but Michael could do it if anyone could. Last night, though, she knew he had been sent out on a retrieval mission to London. She wasn't sure if she wanted the rose to be there or not, but she slowly opened her eyes. The rose was there.

She locked her apartment door and looked closer at the rose. Somehow it seemed different from the others. She bent down to examine it, and discovered that there was a small folded slip of paper inserted in the petals. "Missing you," it said. Now she was really confused.

** Four-and-a-half days ago **

Michael knew he was being shadowed as he drove home. Mowen was being fairly blatant about it -- he didn't like being ordered to follow Michael anymore than Michael liked being followed. Michael understood Mowen's intent: as long as Michael didn't try to avoid the surveillance or do anything too overt, Mowen would file a pro forma report, and not inquire too deeply into any specific action of Michael's.

Three blocks from Section, Michael pulled into the parking lot of one of the local shopping centers. Wandering around the shops for a few moments, he soon spotted his quarry. He walked over to the food court where a group of teenagers was hanging out. As he approached them, one of the older kids spotted him and walked over to meet him.

"Hey, Michael! Haven't seen you in a while! What's up?"

"Hello, Reece. I've been out of town. Do you have anything for me?"

"Naw, man. Everything's been quiet."

"I have a small job for you. Will you be available every morning at 7am for the next week?"

"I can be. What's the job?"

"There's an old flower seller at 57th and Lexington. I'd like for you to go to her each morning and buy a white rose. Take the rose and leave it outside the door at this address," Michael handed him a slip of paper with Nikita's address and a small note. "I'll arrange to come by here every day at around this time. If for some reason, you don't see me, leave this note tucked inside the next day's rose."

"A rose??"

"Yes. It might be better if you set up some kind of rotation so that the same person is not always delivering the rose. That address is under surveillance."

"Oh. This is some sort of secret message thing -- I get it."

Michael handed him seven $20 bills. "This job is important to me. Be sure the rose is in place by 7am each morning, and also be sure no one sees you actually delivering it."

"Sure, Michael. You can count on us."

As Michael got back in his car and drove home, he could hear Mowen and his team discussing his actions on the receiver he'd "borrowed" from Walter earlier. One of Moen's team wanted to pick Reece up and ask him what Michael had talked to him about. Mowen squelched that.

"I've seen Michael talk to that kid before; he's one of Michael's local contacts. You screw that up, and Michael will pin your butt to the wall so hard, they'll be playing 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey' in the other room! Leave it alone."

Michael knew Mowen had never seen Reece before, but he appreciated Mowen's covering for him -- it would also make it easier to meet with Reece each day.

Part 2

It had been seven days. They had been difficult ones for Nikita. To see Michael, but treat him casually, had required acting abilities she hadn't known she possessed. Michael, of course, seemed to have no trouble acting coldly toward her. The roses gave her hope, though, that despite his current behavior, things were not just back to the old status quo. She was determined that this time, she would "be patient." She had a feeling that the seven-day period was not only about fooling Operations and Madeline, but a test by Michael as well. She sensed that Michael needed to know if he could trust her to keep secret whatever relationship that developed between them.

It had been seven days. Last night, she had come home "unescorted" for the first time since they had come back from Australia. Once again, Michael had called things correctly. Opening her front door, Nikita looked to see if her rose was there. She was surprised to see, not another white rose, but a dark red one. Tucked in the rich petals was another note. "Meet me at 8:00 by the elevators." Like the other note, it was unsigned, but when Nikita turned it over, she noticed a small "M" written in the corner.

When Nikita got to Section, she managed to stay away from Michael's office. Wanting to kill some time, she changed into her exercise clothes and headed for the weight room. When she got there, she was surprised to see Michael warming up. She noticed he extended his warmup to finish with her own -- slightly rushed -- warmup. They began with leg presses, not noticing when they fell into a familiar rhythm. There was no signal from one or the other, but each movement was done in synch, to a beat only they could hear. It followed them from one piece of equipment to another. When they finished, Nikita felt as if she were coming out of a trance; Michael seemed slightly off-balance as well. As she headed for the women's shower, she looked back at him. Michael raised his eyebrows slightly in a question; Nikita gave him a small nod in answer.

Part 3

Based on the red rose, Nikita guessed Michael had something formal in mind, so after her workout she went shopping. Since most of her evening wear came via Madeline, she really didn't have many things to choose from, and also, she wanted something new as a sort of symbol of this new phase of their relationship. After looking at a number of dresses in a number of shops, all she had accomplished was confirming that she was no longer being followed. Finally, though, she found *it*. Nikita was glad the price wasn't *too* exorbitant, because there was no way she leaving that dress behind.

The most striking thing about it was the color -- a deep, dark blue that sparkled slightly in the light. It reminded her of the sky after the sun had just set. The halter neckline left her shoulders and a good part of her back bare; the dress fit closely along her body down to her hips then flared out to a "swirly" skirt that ended just above her knees. Bringing it home, she got her hair washed and dried, her makeup on, and put the dress on to make some final choices. She finally decided to keep everything simple -- plain gold earrings, a narrow gold armband, and gold sandals. She tried several different hairstyles before settling on leaving it down, but with a slight curl. Hurrying slightly as she noticed the time, she got her purse, grabbed her coat and left the apartment.

Trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach, Nikita walked toward the elevator. She noticed someone standing in the shadows -- it was Michael. As she got closer, he moved out of the shadows to meet her. Her breath caught in her throat as he approached. While he was wearing the ubiquitous black jacket and pants, she was slightly shocked to see him wearing a dark green shirt. It had a banded collar, so he was not wearing a tie, but the whole effect was one of unconscious elegance.

Michael's eyes lit, and a small smile lifted the corner of his mouth as he walked toward Nikita. She was so beautiful, he thought. She had seemed a little uncertain as she walked toward the elevator, but when she saw him, he was touched to see her eyes start to sparkle as her mouth curved in a smile. It seemed the most natural thing in the world for him to pull her in his arms and kiss her.

The kiss went on, and on, and suddenly Michael came to himself as he realized he had Nikita pressed against a wall, his hand caressing her breast, and someone could come along at any moment and see them. His brain finally convinced the rest of his body to back away slightly. As Nikita looked up at him, her eyes half-closed, he brushed his hand along the hair framing her face. Nikita turned to plant little kisses in his palm. He couldn't help bending forward again to kiss along her shoulder and neck, but finally managed to stop long enough to whisper, "You go to my head, Nikita, but we need to leave now."

Nikita started. She had also forgotten where they were. She looked up at him, rather amazed to observe the effect she had on him -- the darkening of his eyes, his rapid breathing, as well as his arousal pressed up against her. She pressed a gentle kiss on his lips. "All right."

Michael helped her into her coat, and hand-in-hand, they entered the elevator.

Part 4

When they left her apartment building, Nikita looked around for Michael's car. Instead she saw one of the horse-drawn carriages that took people for rides around the downtown area. She glanced over at Michael with a question in her eyes, and was happy to see his slight smile in response.

Just before they reached the carriage, Michael stopped her. "I want you to meet someone."

Nikita noticed a tall, dark-haired young man approaching them rather tentatively. Michael motioned him over, and he broke into jog. "Nikita, this is Reece. He is the main person responsible for your 'messages' each morning. Reece, this is Nikita."

Reece ducked his head, suddenly shy about meeting the person he'd badgered Michael about the last few days. He'd rapidly figured out that this was not a regular mission, and he had finally confronted Michael two days ago. He told Michael he had no objections to playing Cupid, but in addition to his payment, he would like to meet the woman who caused Michael to go to such lengths. At first, Michael would not even consider the idea, and just gave Reece one of his cold stares.

Yesterday, though, Michael had come by, and told him to buy two red roses. The first was to be put in place as usual, but with the note. The second, Michael told him with a slight smile, he could bring that evening, and Michael would let him deliver it personally. Now he was here, and he couldn't think of anything to say. She was beautiful, of course, but there was a brightness about her that seemed to overshadow her physical beauty. He looked at Michael in understanding -- this woman was worth it. He brought out the rose he had been carrying. He knew what he wanted to say.

"Nikita, Michael let me deliver this rose personally because I wanted to meet the woman who had 'caught' him. Seeing you, I know now that he didn't have a chance. He could no more resist you than the night could the morning sun." He looked a little abashed at speaking such 'corny' words, but held out the rose to the beautiful woman in front of him. She took the flower, but before he could flee, she held his face between her hands and gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.

"Thank you, Reece. And, thank you for the flowers. I will never think of Cupid quite the same way again." She gave him a smile -- enough to show him she truly meant her thanks, not so broad, that he would think she was making fun of him. Reece ducked his head again, shook Michael's hand, and disappeared back into the darkness.

Part 5

"Where did you meet Reece, Michael? He doesn't fit in the usual category of contacts or informers," Nikita asked as Michael handed her up into the carriage. He got in and put his arm around her. He had brought a quilt to cover her legs to keep out the night chill. The carriage started off, and they proceeded at a brisk trot. Nikita looked around her in pleasure at this novel means of transportation.

"I actually met him about three years ago, as he and his gang were trying to steal my car. I managed to convince them that was a very bad idea, and we got to talking. They seemed to be smart kids, but they had no real direction. They had dropped out of school, and their families didn't seem to care what happened to them. I didn't want just to let them go, so I finally thought of something that might work. You know how much of a hotbed this city is, and good information sources are hard to find. I convinced Reece to work for me. Teenagers, while not exactly invisible, can be easily overlooked."

Nikita drew back from him, slightly horrified. "You were recruiting *teenagers* to work in Section?!"

He pulled her close again. "No! I was trying to insure that they would *not* be recruited."

Nikita began to understand. "You wanted to give them some sort of direction, to keep them from getting into the kind of trouble that would bring them to Section's attention."

"That's right. This way, even if Section found out about them, the fact that they were my contacts, my *material*, would protect them. Once we started working together, I discovered they were genuinely useful. Reece is a very good leader with a good grasp of tactics. Gradually, I managed to persuade them that education could help them do their jobs better." Michael ducked *his* head a bit at confessing something altruistic, "In fact, a couple of times I manufactured missions that would involve research to get them used to the idea. I think Reece may have caught on to my plan, but he did get the concept. On his own, he motivated them to go to the library and study. He didn't actually assign them homework or anything, but he pointed out the advantages of knowing more about things that interested them. Just for kicks one day, they all took the GED test and passed. When Reece told me about that, I ..." Michael's voice cracked a bit.

"You felt that you had made a difference," Nikita finished for him. She understood what he meant. It was one thing to stop terrorists, keep madmen from blowing up people, etc., but that was more of an intellectual notion that some people had been saved. The people involved were generally faceless, and Section's means were not always of the "feel good" variety. For Michael, to see on an individual level, the effect he could have on someone's life, must have been an incredible experience.

"Yes. When I wanted some way of delivering a message to you, I thought of them, both for practical, *and* emotional reasons. Both of you have made such an impact on my life, I wanted you to meet each other. I had a feeling Reece would figure out what I was up to and want to meet you."

Michael fell silent, and Nikita put her hand on his knee. He reached over with his other hand and clasped it. In silence, they enjoyed the peace of the night, the quiet only broken by the rhythmic "clop-clop" of the horse and the occasional passing car. After about ten more minutes, they pulled up in front of the same restaurant Michael had taken Nikita to on her first mission. Michael felt her tense slightly.

"I wanted to make it up to you," he said quietly. "I wanted us to start fresh."

Nikita relaxed as the carriage pulled to a stop. The valet parking attendants weren't quite sure what to do about a horse-drawn carriage, so they stood back as Michael got out and assisted Nikita down as easily as if he had been doing it all his life. Michael spoke to the driver, who nodded, and drove off to park his carriage down the street. Hand-in-hand once more, they entered the restaurant.

Part 6

Nikita was becoming convinced she must be dreaming. The evening had been one unadulterated pleasure: the "greeting" from Michael, the carriage ride, and now an exceptional dinner spent just enjoying each other's company. Michael was more relaxed and open with her than she had ever seen -- he would never be a naturally outgoing person, but his changeable eyes would light with silent laughter at her occasional silliness, and his mouth often quirked up in a smile just for her.

As they were finishing their dinner, Michael reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small box. He placed it in front of Nikita.

"Well, at least I know it isn't a gun, this time," Nikita laughed nervously as she opened the box. It was a ring. The ring was gold with a black stone set flush in the center; two small diamonds winked out of scrollwork that started around the center and continued around the band. "Oh, Michael, ..." Nikita picked it up. She started to put it on when he gently took it from her and slowly slid the ring into place on her left hand.

"Nikita, we both know you can't wear this openly in Section," Michael was almost whispering. "But while we are alone together, I would like you to wear this in the hope that one day you *could* wear it openly." He raised her hand to his lips and kissed the back of her hand and then the ring. "I know I told you there was no such thing as hope in Section, and my head is still convinced of that, but my heart ...," Michael paused for a moment. "My heart wants to believe."

"Michael ..." Nikita's voice broke. She tried again. "Michael, ever since we met, I have been drawn to you. At first, I tried to convince myself it was for the rather obvious physical reasons. I tried distracting myself with other men; I decided you were a cruel, heartless robot that Section wound up to do its bidding. But no matter how hard I tried, there were two memories I couldn't escape: your tenderness with Simone, and our kiss during the explosion at Bauer's." Michael looked at her with a question in his eyes. "Jurgen tried to convince me you had never loved Simone, but I saw you with her; I saw your heart break when she died again. The sight of that would always come to my mind whenever I would think of you as heartless or unfeeling."

Nikita paused, and gave Michael a smile. "At Bauer's, when you had sent Walter's little gadget on its way, you picked me up and carried me over to the bed." Her smile slowly became a smirk as she saw Michael also remembering the event. "I know you were 'using' me to distract Bauer, but two things stand out in my mind: you weren't just pretending you wanted me, and you were so careful to protect my ears during the explosion. That combination of desire and tenderness stayed with me. I know things will never be easy for us, but I want to try."

Part 7

After riding in the carriage to a local nightclub for some dancing, Nikita assumed Michael was taking her back home. When they pulled to a stop in front of a large hotel, she looked up at him in some confusion.

"Just follow me in." Michael handed her out carefully, and turned to the driver and wished him good night. Nikita waved to the man as well, and arm-in-arm, they walked into the hotel.

They managed to get an elevator all to themselves as they rode up. Michael decided to start answering the questions that were shouting out of Nikita's eyes. "Yes, I have a room here. Yes, I would like to spend the night here with you. No, Section does not know where we are. No, Section cannot trace where we are." He paused. "Does that about cover it?"

"Except for 'How?'"

"I'll show you as soon as we get to our room."

"'Our room.' I like the sound of that." Nikita pressed herself against Michael's side. He drew her closer to him, and began kissing her, but the elevator chimed their destination.

Michael led them to the room he had "acquired" earlier in the day. Taking out his keycard, he opened the door.

"Hey, that's one of our electonic pass-keys!"

"It's a slightly modified version I put together a few months ago, and keep with me. It can be rather handy."

"I guess so." Nikita stared around the luxurious room. It seemed an alien environment to her until she spotted a familiar object -- Michael's PDA. "Ah hah! I get it! You hacked into the hotel's computer and created reservations for us!"

"Actually, I created an entire history for us. As far as their computer is concerned, we have been staying here for two days, and we have reservations through day after tomorrow. Their billing department is convinced a non-existent credit card is paying for all of this, and housekeeping's computer doesn't know no one was in this room before yesterday."

"I just love computerized systems!"

"They certainly do make something like this easier." Michael didn't feel much guilt about stealing a night's stay in this hotel after seeing the prices they were charging paying customers.

He began lightly stroking Nikita's arms as she stood in front of him. She, in turn, started running her hands up and down the long muscles of his back. Soon, nothing else existed in their world but the two of them; clothes were just impediments to be eliminated. Michael carried Nikita over to the huge bed, and soon, his caresses drove her almost mad with passion. As their bodies joined, Nikita felt almost as if their very souls were being joined as well. She looked up at Michael to see him looking down at her with an almost reverent expression on his face.

Part 8

"Michael, what are we going to do?" The hotel room was still and quiet; Nikita was snuggled up against Michael's side as he lay on his back with his arm around her. "I know we can't have an open relationship at Section, but I also know we can't keep sneaking around to hotels all the time. Do you have some kind of long-range plan?"

"I'm not sure. I couldn't think of anything specific, but I did come up with a few general ideas to make things easier, although you may not like to hear them." He wasn't sure how she would react to his plan, but putting off telling her wasn't going to help. "The main reason I have as much autonomy in Section as I do is because I'm valuable to them; therefore, it seems to me, we need to make 'us' more valuable to them as well. The job we did in Australia was a good start, but I intend to be on the lookout for more missions that can 'show off' our ability to work together -- make Operations, and especially Madeline, realize something I discovered some time back: we are more effective together than we are separately."

"You really think you work better with me than without me?" Nikita was rather astonished. Michael had never given any indication that he was pleased with her performance. She had gradually come to the conclusion that the only reason he kept selecting her for his team was to keep her out of trouble.

Michael was also startled as the implication of Nikita's question struck him. As he thought back, he realized the only time he had *ever* complimented her was when she had asked him how he evaluated her when she was on probation. *He* knew Operations and Madeline were pleased with her work since she had come back, but she could have no idea of that.

"Nikita, you are a gifted operative in your own right. I'm sorry I never thought to tell you before. One of the reasons I keep selecting you for my team is because our abilities balance each other so well. Another is the rapport we share -- even when we aren't speaking to each other." They shared a smile at some of their more memorable clashes. "I think Madeline is aware of this, but I want her to be convinced. I'm not asking you to make any kind of fundamental change, but ..."

"But what? Become more of a Section drone?" Nikita was getting a little suspicious.

"Not a drone," Michael smiled a bit at her imagery. "Perhaps less of an ... enemy prisoner-of-war. Even if you think Section is lying to you, accept the intel you are given. Allow them to think you are willing to be a member of the organization."

"Will you keep to our earlier agreement of telling me the truth? Or at least as much truth as you are given?"

"Yes." Michael looked at her and reaffirmed his promise from Australia, "I promise to give you as accurate a briefing as I am given as regards your part of the mission."

"That last sounds a bit like a caveat."

"Nikita, there are still going to be some things either you shouldn't know for security reasons, or I don't want you to know for personal reasons. There are still going to be some missions that I am going to have to send people into suicidal positions, and I would really prefer not to have you know beforehand because there's nothing you can do. If you guess this and ask me, I will answer you truthfully, but that won't change the mission profile and can only hurt both of us."

Nikita lay quietly as she thought through what Michael had just said. It brought to mind one of the things she most hated about Section -- its cavalier attitude towards its own. As she lay there though, she realized that, knowing Michael as she did now, he certainly did not enjoy sending operatives out to their deaths. While she wouldn't give up her convictions about suicide missions just because she was in love with Michael, she decided that punishing him because Operations had him in an untenable position wasn't fair either.

"All right, Michael. I'll trust you."

Nikita's words went through Michael like a sword. He thought about other people who had trusted him: his sister, Rene, Simone. He'd failed all of them. He held Nikita tightly against him as he made a vow to himself of not failing Nikita's trust. That she could even *consider* trusting him after everything they had been through was a miracle.

Part 9

The next few weeks were ... interesting ... for Nikita. She and Michael were maintaining their "calm but connected" behavior at Section. The first time Nikita tried to initiate anything more between them in private had made Michael so visibly uncomfortable, Nikita desisted. She had been a little upset at his rejection, but she came to realize they had entered uncharted waters as far as Michael was concerned. No matter how willing he was, she couldn't just wave a magic wand and make all of their unresolved issues disappear. There were still the personal issues of two people with vastly different natures trying to forge some sort of understanding, as well as the "occupational" issues of carrying on a love affair in a very hostile environment.

Michael had managed to arrange several missions to "show off" his and Nikita's value as a team. While not making any overt changes in the mission profiles, he and Nikita worked hard to make their parts come off perfectly. On their last mission, the situation Michael had feared had arisen -- Operations had declared the noncombatants at their target to be "acceptable collateral". Since he had agreed not to keep these decisions secret from Nikita, he told her, fearing the worst. She had surprised him, however. By the time they had arrived on site, she had thought of a possible extraction plan for the noncombatants that he was able to work into the basic profile. Both plans had worked -- the mission had come off without a hitch, and the innocents had been removed without any possible Section exposure. Madeline had even been rather complimentary. Operations, though, had just stared coldly at Nikita, and ordered her to report to his office after the debriefing. They were up there now, and Michael was getting nervous.

Unbeknownst to Michael, Nikita had developed a plan of her own to aid their cause. Its first stage was "Know Thy Enemy", in this case, Operations. Ever since her discussion with his son, Stephen, she had been intrigued with the man now known as Operations. Before her "leave of absence", she had even begun some research into his background based on the information Stephen had given her; now she stepped up her efforts. Obviously, she couldn't access his military records -- that would probably set off fireworks, but she was able to track down men who had been imprisoned with him. Posing as a reporter, or a family member, she persuaded these men to tell her about their senior officer.

The picture of the man that emerged from these interviews was both similar and vastly different from the man she now knew as Operations. The former POWs described a man who could be harsh if the situation required it, but somehow, through the force of his personality, commanded their loyalty and obedience. Several mentioned the torture sessions that had been inflicted on their commander because of their disobedience, and his willingness to endure pain for their sake, thus giving them an example to follow. Others talked about his uncanny analysis of the enemies' personalities. He wasn't perfect: a number of men told her stories of his losing his temper, and his impatience; that sometimes even he had given up hope until one or another of the men would encourage him as he had encouraged them.

Nikita knew she had the pieces, now if she could just assemble the puzzle.

Part 10

When Nikita met Operations in his office, she decided to take the offensive. "When did you lose faith in what we are doing?"

Operations stared at her. She kept attacking.

"At what point did you get so wrapped up in the mission objectives that you forgot the reason behind the mission? When did it become *inconvenient* to consider saving the innocent lives who 'got in the way'?"

"Actually, Nikita, I got lost some time ago." Operations was able to break in as she took a breath. As he looked at her, Nikita was struck by the pain in his eyes. "In fact, I asked you up here to discuss this very thing. During your debrief, I know you expected me to ream you out about saving those people's lives. I was even about to, when it hit me what was going on. You're right, I had considered them inconvenient; they weren't even pawns on the board: pawns have some value. They were just obstacles to be cleared. Stopping terrorists has become an end in itself, not because of what they do, but because they are the opponent."

He had been pacing about the room; now he stopped and faced Nikita again. "I wanted to thank you, Nikita, for doing the job Madeline and I should have done. You shouldn't have had to fix our mission profile. When I saw your extraction plan, I knew we had royally screwed up. I'm sorry."

"I'm glad you're sorry, but I want you to think about something: I was the only one who considered saving those people. Unfortunately, you have infected most of the operatives here with that whole 'inconvenient innocents' attitude. Michael went along with my plan because he realized it would work, but even he hadn't considered going against your orders and coming up with a plan to save those people until I mentioned it."

"You're right, but I'm not sure how to address the problem. Most of the operatives here showed no concern for others before they came here; I don't see how we can teach them that, or even if we should."

"I realize the quality of your 'material' has got to be different from when you were in a POW camp, but aren't there some lessons that could be carried over?"

Operations was startled. "What do you know about my being in a POW camp?"

"I listened to Stephen talk about you, remember? Afterwards, I did some research."

"What kind of research?"

"It took some digging, but I talked to some of your men. They still think you're dead or in VietNam, but they told me some great stories about you." Nikita paused. "It was talking to them that got me to thinking about why you run Section the way you do."

"What do you mean?" This whole conversation was making him nervous; he was supposed to be *doing* the analysis, not being analyzed himself. He turned his back to her.

"Here's my theory, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think in the beginning, you tried to run Section like the military. You soon found out you couldn't treat hardened criminals the same way you treated soldiers under your command, but I think the real blow was when you had to send them out knowing they would be killed. You had kept your men together through everything the North Vietnamese had thrown at you, but now you had lost men under your command -- worse, *at* your command. I can't know just how deeply that hurt you, but I would bet that was the point at which operatives became 'material', and failures became 'cancelled'. How'm I doing?"

"You're pretty close." Operations responded, huskily, his back still to Nikita.

"Now, I'm certainly not arguing that Section should be run like the military, but I do wonder if you started treating operatives like people, if you tried motivating us through loyalty instead of fear," Nikita was almost pleading now. "I think there are a lot of operatives who would respond to this. I know this won't work for everyone -- I'm not that idealistic. I would just like you to think about how your attitude toward operatives has carried over to the very people you say you want to protect."

"I don't know if I can do this anymore. I don't know if I *want* to do this anymore. I do things of my own free will that an earlier me couldn't have been tortured to do."

Nikita heard the hopelessness in his voice and knew she couldn't leave him this way. It was time for Stage Two. "Maybe I can help."

Part 11

Operations stared at Nikita. "How could you possibly help me? For that matter, *why* would you help me?"

"Give me a couple of hours on the 'how' part -- I need to make some arrangements. As to the 'why', if nothing else, I think helping you regain your faith in what we are doing here can only help me later on."

"All right." He took a deep breath. "Give it your best shot."

"First of all, I've got some files for you on the system." Nikita went over to his terminal. "Here, take a look a these while I make some calls."

As she turned to leave, he called out to her, "Wait! Are these messages really from Stephen?"

"Yep. I tracked him down at one point and asked if he would keep in touch with me; I gave him one of my personal e-mail addresses, and he gave me his. We send messages to each other about once a month or so. His messages aren't the only thing there however. I've also included most of the transcripts of the men I talked to about you."

"Thank you, Nikita."

"You're welcome. Do you have any plans for this afternoon?"

"I don't think so. Why?"

"Well, if my arrangements come through, I may want you to take a bit of a field trip with me."

"I think I could manage that."

"All right. It shouldn't take me more than an hour to make my calls. I'll let you know." Nikita left his office, leaving a perplexed Operations behind.

The first thing Nikita did after leaving Operations' office was to let Michael know she was still in one piece, figuratively and literally.

"It's okay, Michael. Operations wasn't mad at me, he was mad at himself."


"Yeah. Look, it's a long story, and I've got some things I need to do. Would you be interested in hearing an explanation over dinner tonight?"

Michael favored her with one of his small smiles, "I'd love to. Shall I pick you up at 8:00?"

"That would be great. Could we ride in the carriage again?"

"I think that could be arranged. What kind of restaurant were you in the mood for?"

"I think someplace nice, but maybe not as formal as last time. Other than that, I'm not picky."

"All right. I think I know just the place. I'll see you at 8:00."

Part 12

The first call Nikita made was to her "adopted daughter" Angela at the special Section-run academy. Nikita didn't like disrupting Angela's studies as a rule, but she figured this one time wouldn't hurt. Once Angela got to the phone, and they got past their initial greetings, Nikita broached the subject of her call.

"I remember you told me about a new kid there that wasn't doing very well -- Danny, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, Mom. He was brought in a couple of weeks ago, but he's still in the infirmary here."

"Is he sick?"

"No. His mom beat him up. Section had heard about him *and* about his mom, and decided to 'recruit' him and punish her at the same time. They were able to fake his death, *and* frame her for the murder. I think her case comes to trial next week. But anyway, the docs think he's healing, but he doesn't show any signs of wanting to get better."

"Does he actually miss his mother?"

"I think he's just given up."

"Okay. That's what I thought the situation was; I just wanted your confirmation. I think I may have a solution to Danny's problem, as well as one of my own. Do you have any important classes this afternoon?"

"Just one of my independent study periods. I've already finished the assignment, so I was just planning on working on a new video game I've been designing."

"Oh, that reminds me. Birkoff really liked the last one you sent over, and wanted me to thank you. Well, if you don't have anything important going on, I'd like you to help me. I'll call you later when I know a more definite time. Love you, Angel."

"I love you, too, Mom. Tell Papa I said, 'Hi!'"

"I sure will. 'Bye." Nikita hung up, and made her second call. When that was completed, she went back up to Operations' office.

"Okay! Let's head out. I need you to be untraceable by Section for the next ... oh ... four hours. You can still carry your cell phone, I just don't want you to be carrying any trackers. Can you do that?"

"Um ... all right." Operations was a little hesitant now, not knowing what he had let himself in for.

"It's okay. I just want you to meet some people, and I don't want Section to know where they are. Let's go." Nikita grabbed his hand, and practically dragged him out of Section.

Part 13

Once in her car and speeding away from Section, Nikita ran through the usual set of manuevers to ensure she was not being followed.

"I can assure you, I did not instruct anyone to follow me from Section." Operations was a little annoyed at this blatant distrust.

"One, just because you didn't instruct anyone doesn't mean Madeline wouldn't have you followed as a matter of course, and two, I'm not just checking for Section tails."

"Where are we GOING?" He had about had enough of this nonsense. Nikita needed to be reminded who was boss.

"Just keep your shirt on. I'll fill you in when I'm done checking for surveillance." After a few minutes more, Nikita decided she really wasn't being followed and turned her attention to her increasingly hostile passenger. "Look, I'm not forcing you to go anywhere, remember? I offered to help you, and you accepted. Let's just get that straight before we go any farther. I have some people I want you to meet, but their safety is more important to me than your convenience. Now, do you want me to keep going, or do you want to back to Section?"

"Do you really think some *civilians* can help me?"

"Yes, I do. Are you in?"

"All right," Operations replied grudgingly, but honestly. His depression and despair had become harder and harder to bury beneath his everyday routine. While Nikita seemed an unlikely source of relief, he couldn't help but think that since she was so different from the usual run of operative, maybe that difference was what he needed.

"Okay. Do you remember that mission in Germany a few months ago where we ended up freeing some prisoners that had been held by an old East German faction?"

"I remember. We finally decided the prisoners could be relocated here with minimal risk of exposure."

"That's right. I'm taking you to meet two of them, Frederich and Helga Weber. I hope you're hungry, because we are joining them for tea, and Aunt Helga's teas could easily be mistaken for eight-course meals."

"Aunt Helga??"

"Well, I tried calling her Frau Weber, but she insisted that was too formal. There was no way I was calling a 70-something little old lady by her first name, so we settled on 'Aunt'."

"If you care so much for them, aren't you worried about letting them meet me?" He had no illusions about how he was thought of by most operatives in general, and Nikita in particular. In all honesty, he tended to agree with that assessment.

"I think after you meet them, you'll see why I'm not worried. If you were Madeline, on the other hand, ..." Nikita and Operations shared a rueful look, for once in agreement on something.

Soon, Nikita had taken them to a nice, quiet neighborhood -- not too fancy, consisting mainly of small, older homes. She pulled into the driveway of a typical-looking house whose main distinction was its colorful pocket garden in the front yard. Nikita left the engine running, got out, and jogged up to the front door. Operations could see her exchanging greetings with an elderly man who turned and walked back inside. Nikita came jogging back to the car.

"I park my car in their garage whenever I visit -- it's less conspicuous." Sure enough, the garage door began to lift, and Nikita drove her car inside.

Once inside the house, Operations was introduced to the elderly couple. He had the feeling he had been transported back in time to when he was a young boy going for a visit to his grandmother's house. Frau Weber -- "Aunt Helga" as she became in about two minutes, was the prototypical grandmother. She gave Nikita a huge hug, exclaiming over and over how happy she was to see them, and wasn't Nikita looking especially lovely, and was she eating properly, and how *nice* it was that Nikita brought someone else to see them. Nothing would do but that she give Operations a huge hug as well. All in all, it was a rather overwhelming experience.

Aunt Helga herded them all into her small parlor -- you couldn't really call it a living room -- for tea. She then drafted Operations to help her bring in the tea things, "Because it's so nice to have a strong young man to come help me. I hate to say it, but my hands aren't as steady as they used to be, and it would be terrible if I broke any of the nice tea service Nikita gave me." Meekly, Operations followed her into the kitchen.

Nikita had been right about the tea -- Operations was stuffed. As he successfully fended off another offer of "oh, won't you have just *one* more macaroon?", he wondered whether Madeline had ever considered forced feeding as a form of torture. He was shocked out of his contemplation, when Nikita broached the reason for their coming.

"I brought Marcus here because I thought you might be able to help him. I think he's given up hope in the work that we do, and I wanted him to meet some actual people who were helped by his decisions and actions. Too often, he only sees facts and figures, and so he forgets there are really flesh-and-blood people behind them. Is there anything you can tell him from your own experiences that could help him?"

Herr Weber, "Uncle Fritz", as he insisted on being called, spoke up, "Marcus, I'm not sure how much you know about history, but are you familiar with a piece of equipment called the Joan-Eleanor?"

Operations was shocked. "Yes. That was used by the OSS in Germany for communication between ..." He started to get the picture. "You worked for the OSS during World War II?"

"We weren't regular agents, but one of my cousins was. He had been missing for months, then suddenly appeared in Berlin with a 'friend'. He told us he was working for the Americans. We all helped them as much as we could."

Operations listened in fascination. He had always been intrigued by the enormous task that the OSS had accomplished in penetrating Nazi Germany, and now he had a chance to talk with an actual participant.

Uncle Fritz continued, "When the war was over, however, we were trapped in Berlin by the Soviets. We were under constant suspicion because it was known we had worked for the Americans. We narrowly avoided being sent to work camps. In 1958, I received a letter from a little-known cousin who lived on the West side of Berlin. Naturally, the censors had been over it thoroughly, but they had found nothing, and so let it through. I noticed, however, that in the upper right corner of the letter was a symbol we used to use for our correspondence. It indicated an additional message was embedded between the lines of the written one. It took some doing, but Helga and I were able to reveal the hidden message."

He paused to reach into his jacket and pull out an old envelope. Opening it, he looked at Operations, "It was a letter to us from the son of an operative we had briefly sheltered. He thanked us for saving his father's life. Let me read you the closing sentences, 'Because of your actions, not only do I have my father back, but I now have a younger sister -- she was born ten months after my father's return! I know your situation is difficult, and I don't even know if you will get this message, but I wanted you to know that at least someone out there directly benefited from the work you did. I wanted you to know that there is someone who is praying for you and for your welfare.'" He carefully folded the letter back up and put it away.

Aunt Helga now spoke up, "That letter kept us going when it would have been so easy to give up. Fritz and I had written a letter similar to this when we first got here. We want to give it to you now, since Nikita tells us it was your decision that was responsible for our being here." She pulled a letter out of her sweater pocket. "It says much of what Fritz just covered, plus a few other things. It also says what we want to reiterate, that '... there is someone who directly benefited from your work, and there is someone who is continually praying for you and your welfare.'" She handed the letter to Operations. "We know the work you do isn't easy. But please remember us when you doubt whether it is worthwhile."

Part 14

After leaving the Weber's house, Nikita and Operations rode in silence for several miles. Finally, he turned to her and asked, "Did you know about the OSS connection?"

"No. It was a complete surprise to me. I just knew they had asked me several times if they could thank the person responsible for getting them out of Germany."

"I'm glad you brought me here. You were right on both counts -- they did help me, and I would never hurt them. Are we going back to Section now?"

"No. I have one more stop to make. We're going by the Academy."

"Oh. Going to visit your 'daughter'?"

Nikita began to feel panicky, "Oh, you still remember that old fantasy of Angela's?"

"No, I remember your correspondence with Angela in which she refers to herself as your 'daughter', and your and Michael's acknowledgement of that."

"I guess I'll assume, since I'm still here talking to you, and Angela is still at the Academy, that Section doesn't have a big problem with our relationship?"

"Well, to be more specific, *Madeline* doesn't have a big problem with your relationship; I'm a little more ambivalent, but I don't think about it much one way or another. Mainly, I find it annoying because it cost me a bet with Madeline." Operations scowled in remembrance.

"Cost you a bet?"

"When Angela and her classmates were kidnapped awhile back, I assumed they had been taken, and probably killed. Madeline was convinced Michael wouldn't let that happen to Angela. She bet me that the children would be returned to Section in an hour. She won the bet. That was a *very* expensive dinner."

Nikita snickered. "I can't exactly say I'm sorry. Anyway, it's time for one of my security reviews, and I wanted you to meet some of the children who will probably be working in Section someday."

"I thought you were against this whole notion of raising children for Section."

"I'm still not real wild about the idea, but when I realized that all of the children in the Academy were essentially orphans, I figured it was probably as good an orphanage as anywhere else. At least at the Academy, they're being recognized for their talents, and not stifled for being 'different'. Ah, here's the main gate."

Nikita drove up to the gatehouse that was perched on the entrance to the Academy grounds. The guard came out to meet them. Operations noted that he relaxed a bit when he recognized Nikita until he noticed she wasn't alone. The guard cautiously walked over to Nikita.

"Hi, Jerry! Just came by to see how things are going."

"Hi, Nikita. I'm afraid I'm going to need some identification for your friend there before I can let you through."

Nikita glanced over at Operations, who extended his ID to the guard. When the guard realized just who Nikita's 'friend' was, he blanched, and immediately waved them through.

They passed with equal ease through the two additional checkpoints before reaching the school buildings proper. As Nikita and Operations walked up to the main building, a small, blond torpedo launched itself from the door straight into Nikita's arms.

"Mom! You're here! It's so good to see you!"

"Hello, Angel Heart! I'm glad to see you too." Nikita gave the girl another hug before setting her down. "Now I want you to meet someone you may remember seeing in Section a few months ago. Angela, this is Operations. Operations, I'm sure you remember Angela."

"Hello, Angela."

Angela paled as she realized what she had done. She had thought with her heart and not with her head -- this man now knew about Nikita's being her Mom. And not just any man, the head of Section itself! How could she be so stupid! Papa would never forgive her if Nikita got hurt.

"It's okay, Angela, Operations knows about us." Nikita saw the thoughts racing through her chosen daughter's head and wanted to reassure her.

"Oh." As she calmed down, Angela started to make connections. Her mom obviously thought Operations could help Danny. She also thought having Operations help Danny would help with some other problem; thus, Operations must be convinced to *want* to help Danny. Therefore, Operations must be charmed. She looked up at Operations and gave him her highest-wattage smile as she extended her hand to him, "Hello, sir. Welcome to the Academy."

Part 15

Nikita watched in secret amusement as Operations quickly fell under Angela's spell. Admittedly, most men would have had trouble resisting a nine-year-old, blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl who looked admiringly up at them. Nikita knew Michael wasn't Angela's genetic father, but she couldn't help wondering if he had secretly been giving Angela lessons in seduction -- of the proper sort of course.

They had toured most of the grounds and were now making their way to their real destination -- the infirmary. Once inside, Angela artfully commented on "poor Danny. He's been in here since he came to the Academy. His mom beat him, you know."

Operations had not become the leader of "the most covert anti-terrorist group on the planet" by being dense. He glanced over at Nikita. "So this is the young boy you want me to meet?"

Nikita acknowledged the hit. "Yes. I think you could help Danny accept a life here in the Academy, and I think it would be good for you to reach out to a little boy in need."

He looked over to see a small figure huddled in a large bed. "Do you have his file?" Nikita handed it to him. "I would like some privacy, please." Nikita nodded and took Angela with her out of the room. He quickly read the summary of the situation, and walked over to the little boy. He was truly a pathetic sight -- his dark skin was criss-crossed with burns and welts, one of his arms was in a cast, and he looked to be slowly recovering from malnutrition. He looked up to see someone approaching him, but then turned his head back to the wall.

"Hello, Daniel. I'm not a doctor, and I'm not a psychologist. I'm not here to poke you or to pry inside your head." Operations noticed the boy perk up a little at this revelation. It confirmed his hunch that had formed when he first saw him. "In fact, I'm here to answer *your* questions. Do you have any?"

No response. He tried again. "Any question at all -- what day is it? where am I? where's my mother?" There! Danny -- no, *Daniel* -- couldn't help flinching when his mother was mentioned. "I bet no one has even told you about your mother. Would you like to know?"

Silence. Then, "Am I going to have to go back to her?"

"No. In fact, you will never have to see your mother again. Is that all right?"

"That's what they said before, but she still got me back. Why should I believe you?"

"Well, Daniel, we took a slightly different method of getting you away from your mother. We actually faked your death. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, Danny Maxwell died two weeks ago. We also arranged for your mother to be the logical suspect for the murder. It was pretty simple, really. She already had the history of abuse with you; it just took finding a suitable body, and doctoring some evidence."

"How did you get the body?" Being a small boy, Danny was interested the grisly aspects of the story.

"Well, unfortunately, when we decided on the procedure we were going to follow in getting you here, there weren't exactly a shortage of small boys' bodies to choose from. I actually wish it had been a little harder."

Daniel was getting the hang of this question thing. Here was an adult who actually seemed to *want* to talk to him, not just ask him silly questions. "Why did you bring me here?"

"Do you know where here is?"

"I guess it's some sort of school -- I've seen a lot of kids running around."

"Yes, it's a special school. That fancy test you took a few months ago let us know you were a very smart young man; we are always on the lookout for smart young men here. You'll learn things here that most schools wouldn't be able to teach you, and in a few years -- if you want to -- you will help us fight what might best be termed as 'the bad guys'."

"Oh. Like the X-Men?"

Operations paused a minute trying to make the connection. Then he remembered. "Well, I can't exactly read minds or anything, but yes, this is like a 'School for Gifted Youngsters'. Do you like comic books?"

"When I could get them. Mostly I watched the TV show."

"I didn't know there was a cartoon." Operations decided this had to qualify as the *strangest* conversation he had had with anyone in years. "I'll tell you a secret, though. You have to promise not to tell anyone about it."

"What?" Daniel loved secrets.

"I actually bought X-Men #1 when it first came out back in 1963."

"Really! You own an X-Men #1!"

Operations knew he was "in" now. "Well, I passed it on to my son when he was born. I'm not sure whether he still has it or not. But I bought every issue for about three years."

"Wow!" Daniel brought himself back to the task at hand. "I don't have any super powers though. What would I actually *do* here?"

"Well Daniel, right now, I want you to concentrate on getting well and strong. After that, we'll find out more about your interests and talents. We'd like to see you doing something that you like to do, and that you do well. That should keep you occupied for at least the next few years or so. After that," he shrugged, "we'll see."

"I guess I can't call you Professor X, can I?" Danny amused himself for a moment trying to picture the tall, spare man in front of him without any hair and in a wheelchair.

"No. You can call me 'Operations'. That's my title. Now do you think you can do this? I think you'll be happy here."

"What's gonna happen to my mom?" Daniel wanted to be sure that obstacle was out of the way before he allowed himself to commit fully to this whole scheme.

"I assure you, one way or another, she will never bother you again."

The rather menacing look on Operations' face should have frightened Daniel, but he realized it was directed toward his mother. It actually comforted him -- this was not a guy to be messed with. Maybe, he was safe now. "Okay." He glanced over Operations' shoulder as he saw someone coming in the room.

Operations looked over and saw Nikita and Angela coming toward him. "I thought I asked you to give us some privacy." He scowled at them for appearances' sake.

"Sorry, but if we want to get back before the four hours are up, we need to leave soon. Besides, it seemed like you were finishing up."

He hmmphed at her on general principle; she flashed him a smirk in return. They had definitely made strides in understanding each other on this "field trip." "Daniel, I want you to meet one of your fellow students: Angela, this is Daniel."

Angela immediately grasped the name change and noticed the boy's approval of it. "Hi, Daniel. As soon as they let you out of here, I'll show you around and introduce you to everybody. There are only fifteen of us, so it'll be nice to have someone new around." She caught Nikita's hand signal that they needed to leave. "Hey, I'll be back to talk to you as soon as I say good-bye to the grown-ups." She danced out into the hallway to give Operations his very own hug. "You were great! I'm so glad Mom brought you here! Will you be coming back sometime?"

Operations couldn't remember the last time he had gotten hugs from an elderly woman and a young girl on the same day. He assured Angela he would come back to visit Daniel as often as he could. Then he and Nikita took their leave and drove out of the Academy grounds.

Part 16

Operations noticed Nikita was *still* not heading back toward Section. "I thought that was our last stop?"

"I have a confession to make -- I did eavesdrop a little on your conversation with Daniel. I heard about the X-Men #1, and so I looked up the location of the nearest comic book shop so we could get him one of his own. Is that okay?"

"That would be fine. I was planning on doing it when we got back, but this is probably better -- less chance of interuption."

"That's what I thought. Here we are." Nikita pulled into a slightly dingy-looking shop that was distinguished from the others around it by the brightly-colored posters displayed in the windows.

They went inside, and while Operations haggled a little with the clerk about the price for an X-Men #1 -- he was shocked at the idea of paying $400 for a comic that had cost him 12c in 1963 -- Nikita wandered around the shop. She managed to find the most recent issues of the X-Men titles and brought them up to the counter as well.

"Is there some way we could get some sort of subscription to these titles?" Nikita was determined to keep Daniel supplied with his X-Men.

"Oh, sure," the young man, whose nametag read 'Kevin' replied, "We do that sort of thing all the time. We pull the stuff each week and set it aside for you."

"Do you do any kind of mail order?" This was beginning to sound promising.

"Yeah, we can do that. Here, why don't you fill out this form. All I need is a credit card number to keep on file, and we'll send out the books how ever often you want."

Nikita looked at the form in front of her, a little lost at the myriad of titles listed there. "Look, all we want is for a young boy we know to get X-Men comics. What does that entail?"

Kevin realized he was addressing the uninitiated. He must educate them. "Oh, well in addition to the two basic monthly titles, there's X-Factor (although it may be cancelled soon), and X-Force, plus Wolverine, Generation X (which consists of the younger members), Excalibur (which is the British team), and ..."

"Young man!" Operations broke in before Kevin could go on, "Just the two monthly titles. That will be sufficient."

Deciding discretion was the better part of valor, Kevin quickly filled out the paperwork, took the credit card information, and rang up the sale for the three comic books. Operations and Nikita exited the store, each with the impression that if Section sometimes seemed like another world, Kevin and his ilk were off in another *galaxy* somewhere.

"Well, Nikita, you have certainly given me an entertaining afternoon. I am pleased to see Section does accomplish some good things; I am not as depressed as I was this morning. I can't help wondering, though, what exactly do you hope to accomplish with all this?"

Part 17

Nikita drove in silence for several minutes, marshalling her thoughts. This was a critical point in the early stages of her Plan. Everything had to be just right.

"I guess, my first goal was to 'wake you up'. You've gotten so wrapped up in the whole facts and figures, chess game, acceptable collateral thing that I wanted to convince you not to lose sight of your original purpose. Having done that, I then wanted to get you to re-examine the way Section does things.

"After talking with your fellow POWs, the thing that struck me over and over was the respect in their voices when they spoke of you. I think if you're honest, you would admit that most operatives fear you, but probably don't respect you." Nikita glanced over at him to see him give her an answering nod. She went on, "I'm not entirely blaming you, by the way. I bet the Agency no sooner got you out of VietNam than they plopped you down in this job -- from the fire into the furnace. Is that chronology about right?" Again he nodded. "You probably got to recuperate on the job. Lovely." She paused to concentrate on a particularly nasty stretch of highway.

"Anyway, as I said earlier, you then got to find out you weren't invincible; you couldn't save everyone. So you threw the baby out with the bathwater and stopped trying to save *anyone*. That's where I think you should consider changing philosophies."

"What makes you so sure I could do it now? I'll just face the same problems I faced then."

"I think the factor that did you in the first time was the disillusionment -- you didn't think it could happen to you, you didn't really believe you'd lose anyone. Now that you know it can, maybe that won't be such a big deal." She paused. "Look, I realize that you're still going to have to make hard choices. I know what I'm talking about is in fact going to make those hard choices even harder. I'm asking that Section stop treating operatives like high-priced ammunition. Maybe Section could consider returning loyalty for loyalty."

"You mean Michael." Operations thought he knew where this conversation was now going.

"Not just Michael -- a year ago, you were ready to cancel Birkoff because he had been sent into the field unprepared. That's not loyalty. I really wonder why we don't have more double agents like Ackerman than we do; there's certainly no real incentive not to turn."

"So why didn't you give in to Red Cell before Michael was sent in?"

"I'm sure Madeline has already told you: I'm loyal to my friends -- Walter, Birkoff, ... and yes, Michael. I was protecting them, *not* Section."

"And you think you could be loyal to Section if we gave you the right incentive?"

"I think I could be loyal to the man those former POWs described. I think he would be a leader worth following. I might not always agree with his decisions, but I would have faith in them."

"Didn't you hear -- poor guy died in VietNam." Operations was getting fed up with this continued extolling of his younger self. Nikita had to face facts. He couldn't be that man again.

"Maybe he did die. Maybe it was just convenience that caused you to save the Webers. Maybe it was boredom that made you join them today for tea. Maybe it was the desire to shape a new tool for Section that caused you to talk to a young boy about comic books. But maybe, ... maybe that poor guy's been off licking his wounds and is now trying to make himself heard. Maybe he thinks it's about time Section started thinking about compassion and not just expediency."

"Compassion, huh?"

"How many times have we labeled an innocent person as 'acceptable collateral' for expediency's sake? Maybe, just maybe, we could come up with some better solution. Saving people's lives shouldn't just be left up to convenience!" Nikita decided to stop before she got into a full-blown rant -- that probably wouldn't help her cause.

She let Operations sit silently for several minutes before continuing, "Look, I know I don't have all the answers. Maybe you really have tried everything before, and the current situation is the best you could come up with. But isn't a change at least worth *thinking* about? You certainly don't seem happy with the current situation."

"I am definitely *not* happy by any stretch of the imagination. All right, I will *think* about it. That's all I'll commit to right now."

Nikita smiled at him. "That's all I'm asking right now."

Part 18

Once she had dropped off Operations back at Section, Nikita seriously debated going home and hiding under the covers -- the idea of running into Madeline right now was *not* something she wanted to contemplate. However, she wanted to check in with Michael to see if their dinner date was still on, so ...

Slinking through the hallways, Nikita managed to make it to Michael's office unobserved. She knocked and crept inside. "Safe!" she thought to herself.

Michael looked up. Most people would not have detected any softening in his expression as he looked at her, but Nikita was gradually learning to interpret the minute clues Michael gave her. He quickly activated his surveillance jamming unit and gave her a more welcoming smile. "Hi. Did you just get back?"

"Yes. Should I continue to try to avoid Madeline?"

"Madeline was ... not pleased to learn from Birkoff that you had taken Operations somewhere unknown for four hours, and we were not to track him. Yes, I think avoidance is a good strategy."

"Did you tell her about the tracker you have on me?"

"No, I didn't think that would be ..." Michael paused in mid-thought. "How did you know I had a tracker on you?"

"Michael! I may not know you as well as I'd like to, but I do know you *that* well!" She held up her right hand. "I assume the tracker is located in my ring?"

Michael was slightly dumbfounded. "You knew about the tracker, but you still wore the ring. Why?"

"One, you gave it to me. Two, I didn't mind your knowing where we were going. Is it a location-only tracker or a listening device also?"

"Oh, it's location-only. I really couldn't justify a listening device even to myself." He was so relieved she wasn't angry at him, he began babbling a little. "I really didn't follow your trip all that much. It's only a short-range transmitter. I just wanted something so I could ..." he stopped as he realized what he was about to say.

"So you could keep tabs on me everywhere I went?" Nikita wasn't really upset, but Michael deserved at least a little bit of teasing for doing this.

"No! I just wanted ..." he stopped. Then he started again, almost whispering, "I just wanted some way to know that you were all right -- as long as the ring detects a heartbeat, it keeps sending. I wanted something just in case ..." He stopped again.

Nikita took pity on him, came around his desk, and plopped herself in his lap. "You worry about me when you're not with me. Is that about right?"

His arms went around her, and he gave her a fierce hug. "Yes. So you're not mad at me?"

"I wore the ring didn't I? Of course, I'm not mad at you! I do have one other question for you, though."

"What is it?"

"How do you know your jamming equipment really works? What if they improve their equipment?"

"Actually, Birkoff and I have an arrangement: he tells me when they change the equipment, and I pass along my jamming solutions to R&D. It's become a bit of a contest really."

"Cool! Do Ops and Maddie know about this little gentlemen's agreement?"

"We've ... never discussed it."

"Well then, I'll try to avoid giving you reasons to turn it on so much. She gave him a quick but thorough kiss, and hopped off his lap. "Are we still on for tonight?"

"Unless something comes up, yes."

"Great! I'll see you at 8:00. Bye, Michael!" She waved goodbye, and crept out of his office ... just as Madeline turned the corner into the hallway.

"Nikita! Please come to my office. Now."

Part 19

By the time they had reached Madeline's office, Nikita had passed from nervousness into full-fledged anger. Having learned a few things from Michael, however, Nikita managed to present a calm, collected expression to her inquisitor.

"Well, Nikita," Madeline began in her most pleasant interrogation voice, "why don't you fill me in on your little outing today."

"No, Madeline."

Madeline was a little taken aback. "I'm afraid 'No' is not one of the acceptable responses, Nikita. Don't make things worse for yourself."

"Madeline, it's not my place to tell you what Operations and I did this afternoon. I'm sure if he wants you to know, he'll tell you. Until he does, ..." Nikita shrugged her shoulders in apparent helplessness.

"Nikita, I'm *ordering* you to tell me where you went! This is *not* a request!"

"I told you: it's none of your business! In case you haven't noticed, Operations is my boss ... and yours as well. This afternoon's activities are on a 'need to know' basis -- and you don't need to know." (First the lure, ...)

"You cannot convince me this was some sort of mission, Nikita."

"So, you think we were on some sort of private outing?" (Now the hook, ...)

"Yes, I do."

"Then I'm sure Operations will be thrilled to know you don't want to let him out of your sight for four hours, but *really* Madeline ... couldn't you be a *little* more subtle when pursuing a man?" (Gotcha!)

Madeline's face went stark white, then flushed red -- not in embarassment, Nikita knew, but in anger. Nikita jumped in before she could speak, "Or maybe, you're just ticked off because you think the head of Section One shouldn't be allowed to just leave anytime he wants without checking with you first. I'm sure that would be equally thrilling to Operations. I suppose I should have asked him if his mommy would let him come out and play?"

Madeline suddenly realized that underneath Nikita's rather calm exterior, she was even more furious than Madeline was. Interesting. She had seen Nikita in screaming rages before, but never a quiet one. Her own anger began to diminish as a new puzzle presented itself. Nikita saw the calculation replace the rage in Madeline's expression, and knew she had successfully diverted Madeline's attention. Now could she keep Madeline off-balance long enough to escape unscathed?

"I personally think most of your anger at our 'disappearance' was not from some imagined hazard he might be facing without backup, but rather that you were not in control -- you were out of the loop. Operations was actually irrelevant to the whole thing. Maybe you ought to think about that for awhile instead of where we were. Goodbye, Madeline." Nikita left the room -- neither slinking, nor stalking, but at a nice, normal pace. She made it all the way back out to her car, got in, and let out a *huge* sigh of relief. School was over; now it was time to play!

Part 20

Not knowing what Michael had in mind for "nice, but not as formal", Nikita decided to wear a comfortable, flowered-print dress that evening. It wasn't fancy, but it had a pretty neckline and a full skirt. Nikita had remembered the carriage and decided not to try to climb into it wearing a narrow skirt. The meeting with Madeline had taken longer than she thought, but she was able to meet Michael in front on the elevators only a few minutes late.

Already breathless from hurrying, she lost even more of her breath when she saw Michael. He was wearing his usual black jacket, although with black jeans instead of dress pants. He was also wearing what she thought of as "the shirt" -- the blue shirt from their first mission together as husband and wife. Oh my.

Michael took Nikita's hands in his own as she kissed him. He was pleased to see his ring in its proper place on her left hand. It had become something of a daily ritual, whenever he saw her for the first time each day, to see which finger had the ring. It amused him to watch her flaunt the symbol of their relationship under Section's very nose, but he was terrified that one day she would forget, and wear it as she was wearing it now.

"I won't forget, you know." Nikita was getting very good at reading Michael's expressions, such as they were.

"I still worry." Taking her hand in his, he led her outside.

Nikita was a little disappointed when she saw there was no carriage. She became perplexed when she also saw no car. Looking up at Michael, she caught a slightly mischievous look in his eyes.

"I didn't promise *when* we would ride the carriage, chere. First, we are taking a short walk to Antonio's."

"Oh, I love that restaurant! Yes, let's go!" Hand-in-hand, they walked down the street until they came to the small, out-of-the-way restaurant.

Inside the dark, but cozy dining room, Nikita couldn't help blushing a little as Michael stared rather hungrily into her eyes. It was definitely not a blank stare by any means. Before he could bring up her activities of the afternoon, she brought out her diversion.

"I know it might be a little harder for you to wear something like this publicly, but I wanted you to have this." She pulled a small box out of her purse and gave it to Michael. His expression solemn, he opened it to discover a ring similar to Nikita's, but different enough that it could be worn without arousing too much suspicion. Where her ring was made of gold; his was of silver. Her ring had a black stone with two small diamond on either side; his had a pale stone -- a fire opal, perhaps -- with a small diamond off to one side. Placed together, the rings were definitely related. Separated, they were simply nice rings.

Picking the ring up, he noticed some engraving on the inside: "Whatever it takes." Now he smiled, yes, that was truly a motto for their relationship. He held it out for Nikita to put on his finger, and was slightly surprised to find his hands were trembling. How strange. Just because this woman, whom he had betrayed, manipulated, lied to, and beaten up was giving him what was essentially a wedding ring as a pledge of her love.

As he had done when giving her ring to her, Nikita kissed the ring once it was on Michael's hand. She then turned his hand over and kissed his palm. They sat there staring at each other until the waiter, who really couldn't delay their dinner any longer, brought out their order.

Part 21

From the look in Michael's eyes, Nikita knew she couldn't put off telling him about Operations any longer. So as they ate, she told him the bare facts of the trip to the Webers, leaving out most of the discussions between Operations and her. When she told him about going to the Academy, and that Operations and Madeline knew Angela was their daughter, she could tell Michael was very startled.

"Operations seemed fairly resigned to the whole thing. He was mainly upset that Angela had been part of his losing a bet to Madeline." She went on to tell him about the bet and Danny, now Daniel. She could tell Michael was amused to picture Operations as Professor X and about their trip to the comic book store. He grew serious again as she told him about her confrontation with Madeline.

"I'm not sure whether going on the offensive was the best strategy with Madeline, but I wasn't really sure what else to do, and I *was* mad about the whole thing."

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, Michael asked the question he'd been thinking all afternoon, "You've told me what you did with Operations today, but you've managed to avoid telling me the most important thing -- *why* did you take Operations to these places?"

"I can't tell you everything -- some of it involves a promise I made to Operations some time ago. First I need to know how much you know about Operations before he came to Section. Do you know anything about what happened to him in VietNam?"

"I didn't even know he was *in* VietNam."

"Okay. He spent several years in a POW camp there. When I found this out, I got curious about what he was like before he became Operations. I found out a few things that intrigued me, but I then went on 'hiatus.' When I got back, other things were more important, and I didn't pursue it any further. After you outlined your plan to allow us to be together, I got to thinking about ways I could contribute. That's when I remembered my 'project.' During some downtime a couple of weeks ago, I did some more detailed research, and I think I've put together a plan that may help us."

Part 22

"What is your plan?" Michael was getting nervous.

"Don't panic. I'm not talking about doing anything really outrageous. Your plan for us, as I understand it, has the goal of convincing Section to allow us to be together because they *need* us together. I want to facilitate that by convincing at least Operations to *want* to allow us to be together."

"How do you think you can do that?" Michael was still nervous.

"By reminding him of the man he was before Section. Sometime, I'll show you an edited version of the conversations I had with some of his fellow POWs." She paused while the waiter began serving their desserts. "I've actually been a little worried about him lately. I think that his being shot and then betrayed by Petrosian shook him up more than he let on. Then Madeline was kidnapped, and on and on. The situation from yesterday was the final straw. He actually apologized to me for making me have to come up with an extraction plan for the innocents. I could really hear the despair in his voice. So, I needed to remind him of what you taught me -- Section does do good work. That's why I took him to the Webers."

"And you took him to meet Daniel because that give him a focus outside of himself or Section. I see. Did you tell him why you were doing this?"

"Just the secondary reasons. There are a couple of other factors in this that I can't tell you about that should help things, but that's the main overview."

"What about Madeline? Do you have some similar plan for her?"

Nikita shrugged. "Madeline and I are so different, I'm not sure I'll ever figure out a way to connect with her. At the moment, my long-term strategy consists of getting Operations' support, and then siccing *him* on Madeline. I figure he has a better shot than either of us at convincing her, assuming your plan doesn't accomplish that first."

Michael paid the check, and went around to assist Nikita out of her chair. "I'll admit, Nikita, I'm a little concerned that your plan involves direct interaction with Operations. But I do think, even with the little you have told me, you have a good chance of succeeding -- I think you have a some grasp of how his mind works. I'll try to give you the same support you are giving me, and trust your judgment."

"Thank you, Michael! Believe me, I know this is a very tricky idea, but I think I can pull it off, especially combined with your plan to make us 'invaluable.'"

Hand-in-hand again, they left the restaurant. Michael led them farther down the street until Nikita could see a horse and carriage waiting for them. She wasn't sure, but it looked to be the same one they had ridden before. They walked up to the driver, but this time, Nikita was surprised to have Michael hand her up into the front seat of the carriage. He got in the driver's seat, took up the reins, and with a nod to the regular driver, drove off.

Part 23

Nikita had thought riding in a horse-drawn carriage was romantic before, but this was even more so. For some reason, just sitting next to Michael as he drove, watching the interraction between him and the horse -- somehow she wasn't surprised to find he could drive horses -- she felt she had been transported to an earlier, simpler time. There were no world-threatening terrorists, no Section, just the two of them driving -- home, perhaps, to their quiet life together with their children. In her fantasy, she wasn't sure how Michael made his living, but she was sure he did it well.

A horn from a passing car interrupted her reverie, and she started. Michael turned and looked at her in amusement. He could tell from the dreamy look in her eyes where her thoughts had been heading. It was easy, because that fantasy beckoned him also. Just a simple life with him, his wife, and their children. He shifted the reins to his left hand, and drew Nikita close to him. Pressing a kiss against her temple, he whispered in her ear, "We will find a way to be together, my heart. Even if right now, it is only in our dreams, someday, you and I will share a life together."

She rested her hand on his knee. She wasn't surprised he followed her thoughts so closely. At times like this, she almost thought their hearts must be beating in unison, they were so connected.

Riding together in silence, they eventually left the tall buildings of the city behind them, and were soon in the sort of "no man's land" that existed between the downtown area and the surrounding suburbs. There were some open fields and even some still-wooded areas, as well as warehouses and storage yards. There was a half-moon overhead, and the stars sparkled in the clear night sky.

Michael eventually steered the horse off the main street they had taken out of the city onto a small dirt road that led through one of the open fields. After following the road for a short while, Michael drew the horse to a stop in front of a large building. In the moon-lit darkness, Nikita couldn't make out any features, but she thought it was some kind of barn. After Michael helped her down, she walked up to it and discovered it *was* a barn, with a paddock attached, in fact.

She followed as Michael opened the barn doors, and led the horse inside. It was empty of any other inhabitants. Once inside, Nikita noticed a faint light coming from a small battery-powered lantern at one end of the barn.

"There should be a couple more lanterns down there. Could you get them while I unharness Victor here?"

Nikita nodded and fetched the other lanterns. Turning them on, there was enough light for Michael to see to unharness the horse and remove his tack. He found the brushes he had placed there earlier in the day. "Nikita, there should also be a bucket back there. Could you find it and fill it with water?"

While Nikita was taking care of the water, Michael finished brushing down the horse. He then led the horse out of the barn and into the paddock. Nikita followed with the water. Having taken care of their transportation, Michael and Nikita went back into the barn.

Holding one of the lanterns, Michael led Nikita up the ladder into the small loft. Once there, she was pleased, but somehow not surprised, to see Michael had created a little hideaway for them.

"I know it's not as fancy as the hotel we stayed at before, and if you don't like it, we can go back, ...."

"Michael it's perfect!" Nikita put her fingers on his lips to shush him. "As long as I've got you, ..." She replaced her fingers with her lips in a hungry kiss. The kisses spiraled in intensity until, their interfering clothing removed, he carried her over to the sleeping bags he had layered over the bales of hay.

Part 24

Later that night (or morning, rather), Nikita awoke with a sense of uneasiness. She could still feel Michael's body beneath hers, but she sensed he was awake and worrying about something. Lifting up her head, she looked into his troubled eyes.

"What's wrong, love?"

"I should have asked this much earlier, but the time never seemed quite right: you *are* using some form of contraceptive aren't you?"

"Actually, I'm not." Nikita felt Michael tense. Before he could begin to panic, she continued, "Don't worry. It's taken care of." Michael continued to look worried. "Just before I joined Section, Madeline stopped giving female cold op recruits a choice on contraception. We all get our tubes tied after probation." Michael still didn't seem to get it. "Sterilization. I *can't* get pregnant."

Now Michael was in shock. "Ever?"

"Well, the doctor who did my operation claimed he had developed a reversible procedure. Just in case. Obviously, I have no way of proving that one way or another."

"But what about ..."

"Like I said, this was about four years ago, and just for recruits. Madeline made it voluntary for older operatives, but with the understanding if they did get pregnant, they were in *big* trouble."

"You don't seem very upset about it." Michael was still in shock. He couldn't believe that as fond of children as Nikita was, she could just calmly lie there and tell him she would never be able to have children.

"Oh, I was at first. It was just added to the whole rebellious mixture. After I thought about it for awhile, though, it didn't bother me as much. I'm no longer as terrified of Section's getting ahold of a child of mine -- after all, they 'gave' me Angela -- but it's still not my idea of an ideal child-raising environment. Sterilization also makes my job a lot simpler: there's one less thing I have to worry about. The only thing I regret is ..." she struggled to control her voice, "I wanted to feel *your* child inside me." Her voice broke again, "I wanted to hold *your* child in my arms, and know that something of us would go on."

She looked at him to see matching tears running down his face. "As much as I love Angela, Michael, I wanted to give you a child of your own." He wrapped his arms tightly around her as they shared their sorrow as they had earlier shared their joy.

He slowly released her to kiss the tears from her eyes and cheeks and then allowed her to do the same for him. "You are my light and my life, Nikita. As much as I would also want to hold your child, it has terrified me that doing so might mean losing you. If Angela is all we are to be allowed, I will rejoice in her as my daughter. You are more than sufficient for me." He hugged her again, and gradually the caresses turned from comforting to passionate once again.

Part 25

As Nikita walked into the briefing room the next day, she had a clear premonition of trouble. When the briefing started, she was sure of it: Maddie's Revenge had begun.

"The objective of this mission is to obtain information about this man's contacts." Operations brought up the picture of a heavy-set, balding man in his late forties. "James Cahill is a mid-level supervisor for the White Brigade, a white-supremicist group. As such, he is closely guarded and watched, making him a difficult target. Nikita, you will be the one to get close to him."

Madeline spoke up, "He likes to pick up prostitutes. Blondes, preferably." She spoke with just the faintest hint of satisfaction in her voice. She then looked a little disappointed as Nikita failed to react.

"Nikita, your job will be to plant the tracker on him without being detected. How you do it is your decision, but Cahill must not suspect that you are anything but a girl he picked up off the street. Michael, once the tracker is in place, I want you to set up an around-the-clock monitoring of Cahill. We need a location of the Brigade and its leaders in preparation for an assault. Be ready for transport at 1500."

At his dismissal, Nikita, Michael, and their backup team left the briefing room. Michael desperately wanted to know what was going through Nikita's head, but he knew it would be a bad idea to meet in his office, even with the scramblers. Operations and Madeline did not *officially* know about his surveillance-jamming system, and he would like to keep it that way. He walked beside Nikita until they came up to another group of operatives who were talking. Leaning close to her, he murmured, "7B, five minutes," and walked away, feeling her agreement as he left.

7B was a little-used corridor they had found earlier and had previously used as a meeting point. Michael had made some "adjustments" in the corridor surveillance leaving them a small area out of the cameras' range. He left an audio scrambler permanently in place, but out of sight. Once the scrambler was activated, they were safe from Section's eyes and ears.

When he got to 7B, Michael came up behind Nikita. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her back against him, giving her what comfort he could. "For what it's worth, I think Madeline's little revenge scheme is going to backfire on her."

"You think so?"

Michael could hear the underlying tension in her voice, just as he could feel it in her body. "Yes, I do. First of all, Operations is not going along with it, not completely anyway."

"He's not?"

Now he had her attention. He began running his hands along her arms and along the sides of her body. Slowly, Nikita began to relax. "Madeline clearly wanted the mission profile to *require* you to have sex with Cahill; Operations very specifically left the means up to you. Madeline wasn't happy about that."

"What else?" Nikita began moving her body against Michael's in counterpoint to his caresses. She could hear Michael's breathing change in response.

"Uh ... also, you did a very good job of not reacting to her. She was expecting you to protest. Now she will be slightly off-balance." It was getting harder to concentrate ... it was getting harder, period. "She will probably come to me next, and try to pump me for information."

"What will you tell her?" Nikita's breathing was becoming more rapid as well.

"A portion of the truth: we are conducting an experiment, you and I."

"And if she asks the nature of the experiment?"

"I'll inform her that giving her any information in advance could jeopardize the results. She'll find out if we decide the experiment is a success." Michael began placing small kisses along Nikita's neck and shoulder, inhaling the spicy scent that was Nikita.

"But what if I can't avoid having sex with Cahill?" Nikita's body tensed up again, remembering the loathsome looks of the man.

Michael went back to soothing. "I know it will be difficult for you. I want to protect you from that sort of thing all I can, but know this: nothing you do with this man affects my feelings for you -- I will not think less of you. Any information you get will help us prevent a rash of church bombings that the White Brigade has been gearing up for." He felt her begin to relax again. "Madeline wants to punish you. I want us to use this as an opportunity to reinforce with Operations how good an operative you are -- and thus, how good *we* are." He paused for a moment as an idea came to him.

"Michael?" She turned to face him.

"I think I may have a solution." He gave her a brief, but thorough kiss. "Come with me." With Nikita following him, he went to MedLab's research department.

Part 26

Once in MedLab, Michael went straight to one of the researchers who was busy studying a computer readout. "Elizabeth, do you have a moment?"

"Michael! Yes, what can I do for you?" Elizabeth looked up from her computer and smiled a greeting to them both.

"Weren't you telling me a few months ago about a new drug that would create a post-hypnotic state in a subject?"

"Yes. We gave it to Interrogation to be used in some trials."

"How did it work out?"

"Not as well as we'd hoped. We could make the subject 'remember' things that hadn't happened, but we didn't have as much luck making him forget things that had -- the brain's 'hard drive' is a bit more permanent than we had suspected. Why?"

"What do you think, Nikita?" Michael asked.

"Yes, I think I could work with that." Nikita turned to Elizabeth, "I have a mission coming up as a prostitute, and I'd really rather not actually have sex with the slime. Could I use this drug to make him *think* we'd had sex?"

"Mmmm, yes, I think it would do for that."

"Would it knock him out?" Michael knew their time schedule didn't allow their subject to be out of range of his guards for very long. They couldn't afford the time needed for him to regain consciousness.

"No. As long as Nikita's behavior up to the time the drug takes effect is consistent with her 'suggestions', he shouldn't be able to detect where reality ends and her scenario begins. He will leave her convinced he had the time of his life doing whatever it was she said they did."

"Can you get me some? And show me how to administer it?"

"Sure, Nikita! Just a minute." Elizabeth hurried to the storeroom. Soon she came back with a small vial of liquid. "This is it. The dosage is about the same as our basic knockout drops, so you should be able to use one of Walter's rings. Once you've administered the drug, it takes about a minute to start taking effect. He'll start acting a little groggy and soon, he'll be in a light trance. Once that happens, just talk him through your scenario -- as much as possible, let him supply the details of what he *wants* to happen -- and then bring him out with the standard hypnotic command, you know, 'On the count of three you will wake up,' etc."

"Thanks, Elizabeth! I hope this works!"

"You're welcome, Nikita. I hope it does, too."

Michael and Nikita turned for the door when Michael remembered an important point. "Oh, Elizabeth? Could you *not* mention to Madeline we are using this drug on this mission?"

Elizabeth felt a chill go up her spine. Coming between Michael and TPTB at Section was *not* her idea of a good career move.

Michael saw her apprehension. "We will be sure to mention it in our debrief, and it *is* within the mission parameters Operations gave Nikita. We just don't want you to volunteer this to Madeline."

"Oh. Well, I don't talk with Madeline much, anyway. I guess I can keep this from coming up in conversation. Besides," she brightened as the thought struck her, "we've never tested this application of the drug before. This is almost like a field test -- I generally don't divulge the results of those to Madeline until the field test is over, anyway."

Michael and Nikita left MedLab and went inside his office. At Nikita's request, he went ahead and activated the jammers. She pulled him into the corner and gave him a very enthusiastic kiss. When he could come up for air, he managed to string together enough coherent thoughts to ask, "What was that for?"

"That was a thank you! Thank you for remembering that drug, and talking Elizabeth into letting me have it! You are *wonderful*!" And Nikita gave him another toe-curling kiss. Before Michael could get too caught up in being thanked, Nikita, remembering her promise to keep Michael's surveillance-jamming to a minimum, released him, and with a wave good-bye, left to go check with Walter for a knock-out ring.

Michael, with some difficulty, remembered to turn the jamming equipment off and collapsed into his chair.

Part 27

The mission went off without a hitch. Cahill was successfully tagged, and had led them to his superiors. When Operations later reviewed the missions tapes, he was especially impressed with the precision with which Michael and Nikita ran their respective assault teams. Each seemed to know instinctively when to speed up or hold back to stay in synch with the other. Because of that coordination, the White Brigade's leaders had been captured with only one Section casualty -- and that because the fool hadn't been paying attention to Nikita's signals. Operations was very pleased.

Madeline was not pleased. During the debrief, she confronted Nikita about not following the mission parameters by using an untested drug instead of "simply" having sex with the target. Nikita responded that Operations had said the means were up to her. If the drug hadn't worked, she would have followed through with actually having sex with Cahill. Madeline then criticized Nikita for losing a member of her team. Eventually though, she had to let them out of debrief. Not without a parting shot, however.

"Michael, Nikita, there is a briefing scheduled for 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. Michael, the situation paper is on your terminal." She gave them her best Mona Lisa smile and let them leave.

Michael and Nikita knew Maddie's Revenge #2 was imminent.

Part 28

Maddie's Revenge #2 was a doozie. When Michael saw the proposed profile, he saw Madeline's delicate touch everywhere. He debated going to Nikita's apartment at least to warn her what was in store, but decided that could be just what Madeline was trying to accomplish. Nikita should have had enough warning just from the situation to control her reactions. He would have to trust her as she was trusting him.

At the 8:00 a.m. briefing, Nikita managed to saunter in as if she weren't aware that Section's second-in-command was out to get her. She took her usual place around the table, briefly met Michael's eyes in greeting, and settled back in her chair.

Since Madeline was conducting most of the briefing, Operations decided to amuse himself by watching Madeline try to get a rise out of Nikita. He also watched Michael watch Nikita -- always an entertaining experience. Madeline described the mission: their mark liked to watch other men (in this case Michael) have sex with his wife. While he was engrossed in watching Michael, Nikita would be going through his files. Of course, she would have to be in constant contact with Michael, so she would hear everything that went on.

Nikita remained perfectly calm. Operations caught one glance between her and Michael that seemed to satisfy any further need for communication between them because both relaxed. Madeline seemed to realize she still wasn't going to get a rise out of either of them, because she finally let them go with instructions to report for departure in an hour.

Again, the mission went off without a hitch. Both Michael's and Nikita's performances were everything Section could want in their operatives. In frustration, Madeline asked Michael to report to her office as soon as they came out of debrief.

"Nikita certainly seems to have settled into her role here, lately." Madeline knew that Michael knew why she had asked him to see her, but still, forms must be observed. "Do you know what might have prompted this change?"

"Nikita has always been a capable operative." Blank stare.

"Yes, but I have noticed that she seems less ... rebellious ... lately. It seemed to point to a specific event."

Michael knew he could keep this "conversation" going several more rounds, but he was tired, and he wanted to go home. "Actually, I'm conducting a bit of an experiment with Nikita." There, perhaps that sounded cold-blooded enough.

"An experiment? What kind of experiment?"

"It relates to her mission performance and field mechanics. So far, it seems to be working, but it may be too soon to tell."

"What exactly are you doing?" Madeline was getting impatient.

"Your knowing the details could influence the results of the experiment, so I think it would be best if I didn't tell you. If I judge the experiment to be a success, naturally, I will inform you."

Madeline knew how stubborn Michael could be and knew she wouldn't get any further information out of him. "All right. Just so you *do* inform me."

Part 29

Michael was exhausted (in more ways than one), but he was determined to talk to Nikita before she left. Before Madeline had called him in to her office, he had asked Nikita to meet him at 7B again. He hoped she would wait for him. When he got there, he was disappointed not to see her. He had turned to leave when he saw Nikita hurrying toward him.

"Have you been waiting long? I got tied up with Birkoff -- he needed some clarification of that data."

"No, I just got here. I was afraid you'd had to leave." Michael gathered her in his arms as she got close to him. He sighed slightly in relief as her arms went around his back to hold him close to her. It gave him the strength to say, "I was afraid you might not want to wait."

She hugged him harder. "Michael, I know you didn't have any choice about what happened. I just wish I could have found a solution for you as you found one for me." She gave him a gentle kiss. "As you told me earlier, nothing you did with that woman affects my feelings for you. I love you, Michael. That won't change."

He held her close again, then pushed her back enough to look into her eyes. They were filled with her trust and her love. His kiss started out in tenderness and gratitude and rapidly gained heat. He pressed her back against the wall as his hands roamed along her front, from her breasts to her hips and back to her breasts again. The only thing that kept him from unzipping his pants and burying himself in her right there was the knowledge that even though they were in a "little-used" corridor of Section, it was still Section. It was too much of a chance to take with her safety.

Gradually, they were able just to stand and hold each other. Nikita, knowing in *intimate* detail just how draining their last mission had been on Michael, managed to persuade him to go home. He finally agreed -- with the condition that she meet him there for dinner. She agreed, and they took their separate paths out of Section. At Michael's house, they quickly consumed the pizza Nikita had brought with her. Seeing Michael was almost falling asleep as he sat across from her, Nikita offered to go home and let him get some sleep.

"Stay with me, tonight."

"You need to *rest*, Michael. Are you sure that's all we'll be doing?"

"For the time being, anyway. I just want to hold you."

The idea of going to sleep being held by Michael being too irresistable to refuse, Nikita agreed. Michael led her into his bedroom, and they undressed and got into his big bed. After a long kiss goodnight, he pulled her back against him, and they drifted off to sleep.

When Michael awoke the next morning, he was slightly disconcerted to be in his own bed, but holding Nikita. It seemed too much like one of his favorite fantasies. Slowly he remembered the events of the previous night. He pressed soft kisses against her hair wishing that he could wake up every morning with this woman. Maybe, someday. Nikita began to stir in his arms as she also had to remember where she was. She turned to face him and with a slightly sleepy smile, kissed him good morning. Just as things were beginning to get interesting, Michael's phone rang.


"Michael, please report for a mission assignment as soon as possible." Click.

Michael turned to Nikita with a look of exasperated apprehension. "That was Madeline. Looks like we're in for the next round."

"This is getting ridiculous!"

"It may be, but she wants me in now. You'll probably be called in later." He gave her a kiss as he got out of bed.

Nikita made a decision. After this mission, she was going to have a talk with Operations.

Part 30

Maddie's Revenge #3 was ... actually rather pathetic.

Henry Longsworth and Peter MacDonald were research scientists. They had developed a computer chip that was going to be on every terrorist's wish list, if news of it ever got out. With the vast resources available to Section, Madeline had decided the best way to prevent these two mild-mannered researchers from selling their technology was for Michael and Nikita to seduce them -- as Longsworth was bisexual and MacDonald was homosexual.

Michael and Nikita just agreed to everything Madeline said (Operations was mysteriously missing from this briefing), and then once they were in the field, completely changed the scenario. Disguising themselves as FBI agents, they were able to convince the two researchers to turn over all of their research material as well as the prototypes. They also convinced them that continued research in this area would be a *bad* idea. Mission accomplished.

Once back at Section, Michael skipped debrief entirely, while Nikita went straight up to Operations' office.

"May I come in?"

"Yes, Nikita. What do you want? Weren't you on a mission earlier?"

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Would you *please* tell Madeline something about where we went the other day? She's going to drive me crazy!"

"Is that what this is about? I thought it was just because you insisted I be out of contact."

"Madeline tried to grill me about what we did. Thinking it was none of her business, I told her she would need to ask you for any information."

"Why didn't you tell her anything?"

Nikita stared at him in shock. "Because a) it *was* none of her business what we did, and b) if you did want her to know anything, it wasn't my place to tell her! It would be a pretty poor job for me to ask you to consider treating operatives in a more humane fashion and then betray your confidences to someone else."

"You're right, and I do appreciate it. I was just curious about your reasoning. Very well, I'll talk to her."

"There was also one other thing I wanted to talk to you about." Reaching into her pocket, Nikita activated one of Michael's scramblers. She didn't want to take any chances that this conversation was being monitored. "I never really got around to asking, but I've always assumed that our original deal about Stephen was still active -- since you weren't able to get me out."

"Yes, I still consider myself to be in your debt. Did you finally think of something you wanted?" Operations was rather surprised; he had thought Nikita had completely given up on their deal. What could have changed her mind?

"Actually, it's something I thought of awhile back, but I needed to do some preparation. Before I ask, I need to know, can this conversation be completely confidential -- no repercussions no matter what I ask for?"

Operations thought for a moment. "You mean you would actually trust me?"

"I could always tattle on you to Aunt Helga. Yes, I trust you if you give me your word -- this time. Do you promise?"

"Yes, you have my word."

"Okay. First, do you find my current work satisfactory?"

"Yes, I do. I was especially impressed with the coordination you and Michael displayed on the White Brigade assault."

"Ah, that leads to my second question: do you think Michael and I make a good team?"

Operations was beginning to see where this was going. "Yes, I do. What do you want, Nikita?"

"As you might be guessing, I want Michael."

Part 31

"Nikita, you know Section policy ..."

"I know Section policy is what *you* say it is. Look, all I'm asking is that you turn a blind eye to a relationship between Michael and me. I don't plan to trip him and beat him to the floor of the briefing room, for heaven's sake; I just want to know that you won't sabotage anything that develops."

"We have that policy for a reason, Nikita. We don't want personal relationships to affect operatives' behavior."

"You just told me you were pleased with our performance."

"Yes, and I don't want anything to disrupt that."

Nikita decided to take the plunge. "One reason behind our improved performance is that we are lovers now. We aren't fighting against ourselves or against each other."

"How long has this been going on?" Operations felt as if he'd been hit with a baseball bat. *How* had Michael managed to pull this off?

"If you have to ask, doesn't that kind of prove my point -- it hasn't made a negative impact on our ability to function in Section. Also, think of the missions we've had to pull off lately; that would also argue that our having a relationship wouldn't interfere with our work."

Operations sat at his desk in thought. He certainly couldn't deny that Nikita and Michael seemed to be functioning more smoothly together. Section had always found a use for the attraction that existed between the two even as it tried to destroy it.

Nikita broke in on his thoughts. "There's also this: in the past, while the attraction between Michael and me has been useful to you, it has often been something like a time bomb. We couldn't keep repeating the same pattern over and over -- Michael seduces me for the mission, I believe him, Michael says 'Never mind, it was just a trick.' That was getting really old."

"Does Michael know you're here?"

"He knows I was going to talk to you about Madeline. Since I gave my word to you, I've never told him about Stephen."

"If I agree to this, what do you expect from me?"

"Mainly, that we won't be killed if we get found out. As I said, neither of us is likely to advertise our relationship," Nikita paused, and then continued with a grin, "For one thing, most of the women in Section would kill me."

"Anything else?"

"Well, if you can put a stop on the monitoring of my apartment without its sounding too suspicious, that would be great."

"So, you think you and Michael can live happily ever after together?"

"Probably not. But I do know we are desperately unhappy without each other. When I'm with Michael, I feel...whole."

"All right, Nikita. You have my permission to pursue a relationship with Michael outside of Section as long as you are discreet. I'll run what interference I can, but at some point, we will have to let Madeline in on this."

"I know, but I'm hoping to put it off as long as possible. I'd also like to wait to see if we can make her a little happier with Michael's and my performance as a team."

"Well, we'll see. Anything's possible."

"Thanks. I'll see you later."

"Wait, I was curious, what exactly *was* your mission about?"

And Nikita told him.

Part 32

After Nikita had told him about their last mission (he decided to turn it into a formal debrief so she wouldn't have to do it again with Madeline), he called Madeline into his office in a cold fury.

"You sent Michael and Nikita against Longsworth and MacDonald? An abeyance team could have handled them without thinking, and you send one of our best teams out with the stupidest excuse for a profile I've seen in years! What on earth were you thinking?"

"The Longsworth/MacDonald mission was an important..."

"Don't give me that crap, Madeline! You were looking for a mission to humiliate Nikita and couldn't find one, so you made one up. That is completely unacceptable behavior." He started pacing around the room. "I was checking on Michael and Nikita's current status when I saw you had sent them out on a mission while I was in conference with George and the others. Nikita told me about the profile you set up for them ..."

"You've talked to Nikita? I've been trying to locate her for debrief."

"Yes. *I* conducted her debrief. She also told me *why* you've conceived this vendetta against her. I'll confess Madeline, I thought this kind of behavior was beneath you, and I'm disappointed in you."

"Nikita refused to tell me where she went. That was unacceptable..."

"She refused to tell you because it was none of your business what we did. My being with her should have been sufficient reason for you to stop interrogating her." He continued, his voice dripping sarcasm, "If you have to have some record of my every movement, we went to see an old couple who wanted to thank me for getting them out of Germany, and we went to the Academy to visit a young boy Nikita thought I could help. Does that satisfy you?"

Madeline's expression had become more and more frozen. In a slightly shaky voice, she finally asked, "But *why* did you go with Nikita? What brought this trip about?"

Operations stopped pacing and looked at her. "There are issues I have been wrestling with for a while now, and Nikita offered to help me resolve them. She gave me some concrete assistance when I needed it, and I am *furious* that she has been repaid this way."

"Why couldn't you talk to me about these things? That's supposed to be one of my functions here." Madeline was beginning to feel as if everything was slipping away from her.

"For one thing, you weren't really interested in talking to me. Also, I'm not sure you would have understood my problems. Nikita was and did." He finally sighed and walked over to her and took one of her hands. Playing with her fingers a bit, he continued, "Around a year ago, you visited Nikita because you were troubled. I've never held that against you *or* Nikita."

"You had me followed?" Her fingers tensed in his grasp.

"I knew you were upset by Kessler, Madeline. I was worried about you. When I saw you with Nikita on the surveillance cameras, and that you were talking to her about non-Section topics, I respected your privacy so I had them turn the surveillance off. I don't know what you spoke about, and I don't care. It was enough for me that Nikita seemed to help you. I would hope you would grant me the same courtesy and leave Nikita *alone*."

"*Did* talking with Nikita help you?" Madeline gently removed her hand from his grasp and turned toward the door.

"I think so. If nothing else, she gave me something to think about."

"I'm glad. And I'm sorry I was so childish. It won't happen again."

"That will be all, Madeline."

Part 33

In some bemusement, Operations managed to track down Nikita before she left. He found her having just finished up from a workout. At his signal, she joined him in a vacant corridor.

"I just spoke with Madeline," he began when Nikita made a motion for him to stop. He smiled as she pulled a scrambler out of her bag and activated it. "Do you always carry one of those to your workouts?"

"I had it from my session in your office. It seemed wisest."

He nodded. "As I was saying, I just spoke with Madeline. I don't think she will be pulling any more stunts like that last mission on you." He paused in some embarassment.

Nikita noticed this and asked, "What's wrong?"

"Well, I'm not sure, but in defending you to Madeline, I may have left her with the idea that something of a more ... personal nature took place between us. It occurred to me after she left, that although I tried to couch everything in simple terms of your helping me when I needed it, she may have gotten the wrong impression. I'm sorry."

"Will this cause a problem for you?"

"Why would you ask that?"

"Don't try that prickly act with me. I'm the one who was trying to keep you from killing Michael to save your precious Madeline."

He ducked his head a bit, and looked away from Nikita. "I'll admit, we do have a ... history between us. And that sometimes I wish ... things might have been different."

"Well, maybe this will work out for the best then. Lord knows, she wouldn't be the first woman to regain an interest in a man because she thought someone else might take him away." Suddenly she gave him a naughty grin. "Maybe I should turn off the scrambler and give you a mad, passionate kiss before walking off. You think?"

Operations shuddered. "No, I don't think that would help matters."

"A small kiss?"

"No. I also wanted to make sure you understood that the 'arrangement' we made earlier," even with the scrambler on, Operations wanted to be careful, "is still contingent upon your performance in the field. If your ability to function is impaired, the deal is off."

"That's the same deal I have with Michael, so I don't think it should be a problem."

"I should have known."

"Oh yes. Michael insisting on testing me before he moved any further. We both knew that what we have can't interfere with our jobs. If nothing else, Madeline's little missions reinforced our belief that we *can* do this."

"I also wanted you to know that I have made some changes after our talk the other day. I'll be taking things slowly, but one that I have started is not automatically cancelling operatives whose only mistake is being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"I noticed that Janson was still around and wondered if that might be the case. I also noticed the rescue mission for Sanderson."

"Yes. I'm still working out some of the parameters, but my first goal is to try to 'normalize' personnel management -- not just keep throwing people away. We'll see." He turned to leave.

"You sure about that kiss, huh?" She gave him a cheeky grin.


As Operations walked away, Nikita turned off the scrambler, and started heading for home. She had almost made her escape, when her beeper went off with the message to report to Madeline's office. Oh well.

Part 34

In Madeline's office, Nikita decided she would practice her Michael impersonation -- show no emotion, no matter what. That resolve was tested by Madeline's first words.

"I'm sorry, Nikita."

Nikita responded with raised eyebrows and silence.

"My behavior was childish and completely unacceptable. You were right, what you did with Operations *was* none of my business. I should not have put you in that position."

"I'll accept your apology, Madeline, but I'm curious: *why* did you go off the deep end like that? It just seemed so ... out of character."

"I've been thinking about that ever since Operations talked to me about this whole situation. I guess my pride was hurt -- first that you wouldn't tell me, then that I couldn't get a reaction out of you. It just seemed to snowball from there. Maybe also, ..." she drifted off.


"There are some other things going on that I may not have handled as well as I could have." Madeline fiddled a bit with her pen. Nikita was shocked to see the tension in Madeline's normal calmness.

"Would you like to talk about it?"

"I doubt you could help."

"Maybe not, but talking is a good first step, and I doubt you have anyone else who will offer."

Madeline winced at this bit of brutal honesty. "You're probably right. About both things." She took a deep breath. "My mother died a few weeks ago. I thought I had worked out some sort of closure, but the whole childish nature of my recent behavior seems to indicate otherwise." Madeline went on to describe her recent experience of talking to her dying mother. "I've been looking back on the events and decisions that made me who I am, and wondering what I might have done differently."

"I'm sure you already know what I'm about to say, but I'll say it anyway -- let it go, Madeline. Stop looking at the past; it's not something you can do anything about. You can get so tied up in regrets and what-might-have-beens that you forget where you are right now. I know, because I've been there."

"You have?"

"When I came to you during the Shays mission, I was basically suicidal. I kept thinking over and over, 'Why did I have to go down that alley right then? Why am I here?' It was tearing me apart. When I decided to live, I made the decision to stop agonizing over my past mistakes. I let go of the hatred I felt toward my mother for throwing me out; I even let go of a lot of the anger I felt toward Section for putting me in this position."

"So what do you do now?" Madeline was intrigued. She hadn't thought Nikita had this sort of depth to her character.

"I mainly live each day as it comes -- working in Section doesn't exactly encourage long-range planning, but I have a few dreams. Mainly, I've stopped tearing myself up over things that can't be changed. The past is one of those things."

"So you think it is pointless for me to try to figure out whether my mother still loved me?"

"I'm saying you need to pick a position and accept it. If you think she loved you, then honor her memory as well as you can. If you think she didn't love you, forgive her and move on. Whichever you decide, you can only change the person you are now." Nikita stood up. "I need to go now. Was there anything else you needed to tell me?"

"No, I think that's everything. Thank you for listening, Nikita."

Nikita decided to stop by Michael's office on the way out. When she walked in, Michael motioned for her to close the door, and he activated his scrambler.

"Are you sure you want to do that? I just came from Madeline's office. She might be tracking me."

"It's only for a minute. First, will you have dinner with me tonight?"

"I'd love to. Today has been ... interesting."

"Also, may I make some modifications to your ring? I had an idea for a short-range transmitter that I'd like to try."

"Are you going to make the same changes to your ring? Fair's fair."

"Yes. If you give it to me now, I should be able to return it to you at dinner."

Nikita took off her ring and handed it to him. "All right. What time?"

"I thought I would cook dinner for you. How about coming to my place at 7:30?"

Nikita smiled at him. "That would be great. I'll see you then."

Part 35

Nikita showed up at Michael's door promptly at 7:30 wearing a simple blue-green sheath dress. Michael's eyes lit with appreciation when he opened the door. Giving her a quick kiss, he let her inside as he went to the kitchen to finish a few things before dinner. Nikita watched in appreciation as he competently brought all of the varied components of their meal together. She told him about her talk with Operations about Madeline, "... then he yelled at Maddie. Then Madeline apologized to me. All-in-all, it's been a bizarre day."

"Yes, I can see that. Did he tell you what he said to Madeline? Could she still make trouble?"

"I don't think so. Madeline gave me what seemed a very sincere apology. Did you know her mother recently died?"

"I think I heard that from Birkoff. I thought she hated her mother."

"Apparently, she doesn't know *what* she feels toward her mother. That sort of exacerbated this whole thing. I think everything should be all right now." When she went to the table, she was startled to see three places set. "Michael, who else are you expecting?"

"I'll explain in just a minute, Nikita." Michael finished getting everything set up, and then turned to her. "I have a friend coming over that I'd like you to meet. But before you meet him, I'd like to ask you something." He took her in his arms and stared into her eyes. "Nikita, will you marry me?"

Nikita was suddenly very glad Michael was holding her because she wasn't sure she could keep standing on her own. She had schooled herself for so long that they would never be able to marry -- because of Section, and because of Simone -- that Michael's question floored her. She didn't know how he thought they could carry this off, and right then, she didn't care. She didn't have any hesitation about answering though. "Yes!"

Michael gave her a very tender, very ardent kiss. He raised his head again to look in her eyes. "I love you, Nikita. I decided your love was worth taking a chance for. I don't know quite yet how we will work everything out, but I wanted to try." As he bent to kiss her again, the doorbell rang. "That's my other guest. I'll be right back."

Opening the door, Michael greeted a tall, rather thin man in his early fourties. "Stephen! It is good to see you! Please come in." Michael led him to the dining room. "Nikita, this is the Reverend Stephen Winter. Stephen, this is Nikita."

Nikita shook hands with Stephen, managing to keep her jaw from dropping open after a great deal of effort. What on earth was going on?

Part 36

Michael had them sit at the table as he brought out the first course. Stephen said grace, and they began eating. After several minutes of silence, Michael began talking before Nikita exploded. "I met Stephen, several years ago. He actually works for the CIA."

"You work for the CIA?!" Nikita was starting to feel very shell-shocked.

"Yes, I do. I wasn't a minister when I started -- I mainly worked as a reader and analyst. About twelve years ago, however, I felt a call from the Lord to go into ministry. I quit the CIA and attended seminary. I pastored a small, non-denominational church and was pretty happy with things. Then I got a call from a friend who was still with the Company. He needed to talk to someone about some things that were bothering him, and he didn't know who else to turn to. I was able to help him, and at that point, I felt the Lord showing me what He needed me to do. I went to the director and presented myself as a counselor."

"Don't they already have counselors at the CIA?"

"Yeah, they have psych guys all over the place there, but no one for people to talk to without worrying about its showing up on their evaluations. With my security clearance, agents could tell me troubles that they wouldn't be able to reveal to an ordinary minister or counselor. As you know, this is a very stressful line of work; I fill an odd niche between the headshrinkers who want to pick apart everything for hidden meanings, and the supervisors and directors who sometimes seem just to want intelligent robots."

"Does it seem to work?"

"I sometimes wonder. But then, I'll help keep an agent from committing suicide because of something he's seen on a mission, or give an outlet to another agent who has become tempted to let alcohol solve all his problems, and it becomes worthwhile."

"How did you meet Michael?"

"It was a really odd situation. I had been sent to one of our substations to help interrogate a young man who was convinced the Lord was returning in two weeks, and it was up to him to kill all of the Arabs in Jerusalem before that time. A very disturbed young man. Anyway, I was sent as someone who could 'speak the lingo' as the supervisor put it. While I was there, some of the young man's fellow fanatics attempted a rescue. They almost succeeded. I ended up being taken prisoner and was being removed from the compound when a one-man army took over and rescued *me*. That was Michael."

"We talked a little before I returned him to the CIA. I was intrigued by the idea of a man of God working in a very godless environment. After that, we've kept in touch." He turned to Stephen. "She said, 'Yes,' by the way."

"Oh that's great! I so seldom get to perform marriages!"

"Stephen can marry us, Michael?" Maybe this would work, after all.

Michael began gathering up their plates. Nikita and Stephen got up to help. "As I understand it, yes. In a sense, we will have a religious, but not a civil ceremony, is that correct, Stephen?"

"According to the laws of the United States, you will not be married -- but since you are both 'dead' anyway, it's probably a moot point." He pulled out his Bible from his coat pocket. "I'll be marrying you according to the authority in *this* book, which is a different thing altogether."

Once the dishes had been cleared and loaded into the dishwasher, Michael and Nikita stood in front of Stephen in the living room. There, Michael and Nikita exchanged their vows. Michael had finished his changes to their rings, and soon the rings were in their proper place. When Stephen told Michael, "You may kiss the bride," Nikita thought her heart would burst.

Afterwards, they exchanged sheepish laughs as all three had tears in their eyes. Stephen claimed the privilege of kissing the bride. He then shook Michael's hand and pulled him into a bear hug. Admonishing them to "be good to each other," he said good-bye and left.

As they stood in the middle of the room, arms about each other, Nikita told Michael about the other part of her talk with Operations. "I can't go into the details of why he owes me a favor, but nonetheless, he does. I finally called it in today."

"What exactly did you ask for?"

"You. Or more specifically, to have a relationship with you. I told him we would keep everything discreet, but that I wanted some kind of reassurance that if he found out, we wouldn't be cancelled, and that he would stop trying to sabotage us. He agreed."

"He agreed?"

"Yes, subject to the same conditions you gave me earlier: as long as it doesn't affect our work. It's kind of funny that the day I pick to talk to him is the day you pick for our wedding."

"It actually gives me some hope we can make this work." Michael went over to his stereo and started a CD playing. He went back to Nikita, and held her as the music played.

(In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel)

love I get so lost, sometimes

days pass and this emptiness fills my heart

when I want to run away

I drive off in my car

but whichever way I go

I come back to the place you are

all my instincts they return

and the grand facade, so soon will burn

without a noise, without my pride

I reach out from the inside

in your eyes

the light, the heat

in your eyes

I am complete

in your eyes

I see the doorway to a thousand churches

in your eyes

the resolution of all the fruitless searches

in your eyes

I see the light and the heat

in your eyes

oh, I want to be that complete

I want to touch the light,

the heat I see in your eyes

love, I don't like to see so much pain

so much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away

I get so tired of working so hard for our survival

I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive

and all my instincts, they return

and the grand facade, so soon will burn

without a noise, without my pride

I reach out from the inside

in your eyes

the light, the heat

in your eyes

I am complete

in your eyes

I see the doorway to a thousand churches

in your eyes

the resolution of all the fruitless searches

oh I see the light and the heat

in your eyes

oh, I want to be that complete

in your eyes

I want to touch the light,

the heat I see in your eyes

in your eyes