At Least

by Sandra

"Michael! What are you doing here?" Nikita asked as she opened her door. "I didn't know you were back yet."

Michael walked into Nikita's apartment, his eyes flitting over everything -- everything except her. Nikita was shocked at his haggard appearance. His eyes were red-rimmed, and he looked as if he had been ... crying.

"What is it, Michael? What's wrong?"

"I haven't been back to Section yet," he stated woodenly. "They still think I'm en route. I ... needed to talk to you before I went in."

Nikita was growing more and more worried. What could have upset Michael so much? "Please, Michael. Tell me."

He paced around awhile longer, then sat/collapsed on the sofa. He sat there for a moment, and then buried his face in his hands. "I don't know if I can do this any more, Nikita," he whispered.

"What happened?" she was becoming frantic.

"The mission went off smoothly -- no problems, no anomalies," he began after a long pause. "My team had already egressed, and I was on my way to the pickup point after sanitizing the area. Suddenly, a young woman came running up to me and grabbed me." He stopped as the tears started to threaten again. He cleared his throat and continued, "She was very pregnant, and asked me for my help -- her husband had been shot (probably in all of the fighting), and she didn't know what to do. I knew I had some leeway in my rendezvous schedule, so I went with her to see if I could help."

Nikita brought him some coffee she had made. He held the cup and looked at it as if he'd never seen it before. She sat on the sofa next to him, trying to let him know she was there, whatever happened.

"When we reached her husband, there was nothing I could do, he was already dead. When she saw him, she started crying and trying to revive him. All of a sudden, she clutched at her stomach and almost collapsed. She had gone into labor. She grabbed my hand and begged me to help her. It was her first baby, and she didn't know what to do. I tried ..." his voice broke.

"Section," Michael started, but his voice wouldn't work. He cleared his throat, and tried again. "Section has taught me all about killing people. Over the years, I've learned a little about keeping people alive. But no one," his voice stopped again, but he forced himself to continue, "No one ever told me anything about delivering a baby."

"There was so much blood!" he stared off into space again. "She managed to push the baby out, but the bleeding wouldn't stop! I tried to stop it, but nothing worked. While I was trying to save the woman, I heard the baby give a little moaning sound, and it ... she had stopped breathing." He paused again, as Nikita reached over and took his hand. That seemed to give him the strength to finish the story. "They're dead, Nikita."

"Oh, Michael. I'm so sorry."

"I'm not sure why it hit me so hard. You'd think, after all I've done and seen that two more deaths wouldn't matter. But for some reason, I can't get them out of my mind."

"Of course it bothers you Michael! Whether you want to believe it or not, you are human. I think something like that would even bother Operations! Now, Madeline, on the other hand ..." her voice trailed off teasingly. She was rewarded with a slight, almost microscopic quirking of his lips.

"Michael, at least she didn't die alone. You were there trying to help. Sometimes that's all we can do."

"Thanks for the coffee. I'd best be getting back now." Michael stood, his usual mask starting to fall back into place.

"You're welcome." Nikita walked him to the door. Before he could leave, though, she reached out to him and pulled him into her arms. For several minutes, they just stood there. Finally, Michael pulled away. He held her face in his hands, and pressed a light kiss on her forehead.

"Thank you." He turned and walked out the door.