Nikita finally learned the art of being still. It hadn't come easily. In fact, it was probably the most difficult lesson she had had to master since her recruitment. But she had done it, and she used it now to her full advantage.

Of course, her brand of being still was different from that of Michael's - as well it should be - seeing how opposite they were in personality. Michael adhered to the stone-wall, "I'm-not-really-here", school of blank stares while Nikita was a graduate of the sultry "Come-hither-and-find-out ---- if you dare" academy. Although it didn't, technically, qualify as being still, it concealed her thoughts just as effectively. She had tried to learn Michael's method, but in the end, both mentor and student realized that it just wouldn't work for her. She was too volatile to ever hope of pulling off one of Michael's vacuous expressions.

Nikita had always been antsy, always curious - flitting here and there. Maybe it could be attributed to the fact that she had spent so much of her early life trapped in that gray, lifeless apartment that had been her home. As a child, whenever she was allowed out, it was like stepping through some magical window in time, and the world became her playground. She was always late in returning from errands because she would take her time wandering through the streets in a perpetual daze at all the colors, sights and sounds of the real world.

This was life.

She could feel life's energy pulsating in the streets. Smelled it in the freshly baked bread from the corner bakery, or in the sweet smelling perfume on a passer-by, in the enticing aroma of cinnamon rolls and freshly ground coffee... and her personal favorite - pizza. She heard its voice in the honking of cars, the clicking of shoes against the pavement, the laughter of people having lunch at a sidewalk cafe. She saw its colors in the bright posters and signs on shop windows, in the yellow cabs that wove noisily through the streets; in the white pigeons that swooped down to grab a neglected crumb before taking flight once more. . .

"Nikita."

The images faded from view as Nikita deliberately took her time lifting her lashes. She gazed at the dark haired woman seated on the other side of the desk before her. Madeline was the epitome of still-life form, Nikita thought - smiling on the inside. Outside she continued to stare at her superior with a calm, who-gives-a-sht look.

"Try to pay attention, Nikita," Madeline admonished dryly, like a long-suffering mother would to an impatient child.

Nikita lowered her lashes, fluttering them on purpose, as she smiled sweetly. "Yes, ma'am."

The smile faded then just as quickly as it had appeared and she became all business; posture sliding into alignment, chin raised and eyes carefully void, but alert. "Is there anything else?" she asked.

Madeline watched the transformation with approval, her own body not having moved an inch during their whole briefing. "No, Nikita. That's all - for now."

Nikita sat a moment longer, appearing to be in no apparent rush to leave. She uncrossed her long legs and rose gracefully up to her full height before shifting her gaze over to the corner. Operations stared back at her with a thinly disguised scowl of disapproval as Nikita's left brow quirked up in perfect timing with the corner of her sensual mouth.

"Sir..." She dragged out the consonants, a hint of laughter in her blue eyes, then pivoted neatly and strolled from the room.

As soon as the door closed behind her Operations was up on his feet and pacing. "I swear she grows more insolent everyday," he gritted out. Spinning, he gripped the edge of Madeline's desk and leaned forward, his eyes digging into hers. "She's not worth the trouble of keeping alive, Madeline."

Madeline slanted her head in a forty-five degree angle and returned his piercing stare with one of patience. Bringing her hands together, she sat in repose for several seconds before speaking. "Its not wise to get rid of her yet," she stated calmly. "Besides which, we may need her for Michael."

Operations pushed off of the desk and glared at her. She was right, of course. Madeline was always right. It was one of the things he both, hated and admired in her.

Section was short staffed as it was and recruitment was slow. It would be foolish to cancel a skilled operative solely because he didn't like her. Then there was the debacle with George and Adrian. Oversight would probe even deeper into Section business if yet another operative was killed in action - and this one a Level Two operative.

"Fine," he conceded in a low voice. "I'll leave this up to you, but I will not tolerate any more insubordination from her."

A small smile formed on Madeline's lips as she acquiesced with a single confident nod. "Of course."