by Tara O'Shea
The phone wasn't going to ring.
She walked up to the edge and, leaning forward, peered into the night, letting the cool air blow her hair around her cheeks, slip between the voluminous folds of the make-shift robe. She was free.
The last three years had melted away like a dream, leaving her blinking in the bright light of reality. She had called it a nightmare, but now... Thinking back on who she had been before Section, she had to wonder. Wonder where she would be today if things had been different. Still eating out of dumpsters and sleeping beneath bridges? Hooking? Dead? Or would she have pulled it together somehow, kept away from the pushers and the pimps long enough to find her way off the streets and out of the dead end life she'd had ever since...
...for as long as she could remember.
When she'd had the muzzle of her gun cold against her forehead, she'd believed in that moment that she was in hell. But Section, after prison and the surety that she was going to die like a rat caught in a trap, had seemed like heaven. A clean bed--for that matter, clean clothes, food. People who looked at her and actually saw her. She could still remember what it was like to be looked through, people simply pretending she didn't exist just so they wouldn't have to fish through their suit pockets for loose change, feel the flush of embarrassment when their fingers encountered crisp folded money and immediately froze, their naked thoughts flashing across their faces before they shrugged and hurried on their way from jobs to homes, from families to careers, while she squatted in the snow wearing all the clothes she owned in layers against the cold and to keep them from being stolen while she slept.
She remembered what it was like to feel like she hadn't any right to exist. She'd wanted to scream, to claw at their soft, surprised faces, to shred the expensive suits with her grimy nails and force them to see and instead she had smiled benignly and held out her hand, begging for spare change.
That time had seemed like the nightmare when Michael had told her the flat was hers, and given her the keys. She smiled at the memory of that first night. The giddiness at having a home overshadowed the dim memory of the restaurant, the terror at the thought of being left behind, the fury at Michael sitting calmly in the limousine, his still pale eyes reflecting the light of the streetlamps like a cat's. She'd sworn then that'd she would never again smile and beg for anything.
Even now, the memory of that first day was stronger than the memory of the smoke and fire and rain. She'd gone out and bought curtains like a normal person. The saleswoman at the store had smiled brightly at her and offered to help, rather than flagging down the rent a cop and having him tail her through the store. She'd gone to a coffee shop and ordered half the menu, remembering how she's used to nurse one cup of coffee all night until the waitress kicked her out, or the local beat cops rousted her. She'd eaten cheeseburgers and french silk pie and stared dumbly down at the brightly coloured paper shopping bags clustered at her feet and she'd wanted to dance on the tabletops. Then she'd gone home and ripped the abstract paintings off the walls and she'd made coffee in her own kitchen, drinking it out of a clown mug that she'd seen and liked and bought--just like that.
She closed her eyes against the sudden tears that pricked her eyes.
Had it simply been a gilded cage? There had been black moments of despair, but suddenly those seemed few and far between. What right did a street rat have claiming the moral high ground when there had been times she would have killed for a pair of boots? What right did she really have?
Free. Free to starve, when the money ran out. Free to die--if she tried to contact Walter, Carla, or Gray--or worse, condemn to death at the hands of the Section anyone who might have cared about her. Except Michael.
She could see Michael in her mind's eye. She didn't have to imagine what he'd say; she could hear him as clearly as if he were standing behind her.
"Lie to them. Lie to me. But don't lie to yourself."
After that first message on the train, he hadn't tried again. She wondered if he'd thought about it. She wondered if he knew she'd thought about it.
Free. Free to actually miss Walter, with his lewd banter and huge heart, and Birkoff playing computer games while he was supposed to be monitoring global communications. And Madeliene... she had been more like a mother than Nikita's own mother had ever been, though that probably wasn't saying much. Still, there had been those rare unguarded moments when Nikita had felt like a part of something that almost made it worth it. Almost made her forget the anger and fear and hurt.
Her own mother had thrown her out into the street because her boyfriend of the week had gotten drunk and crawled into bed with her fifteen year old daughter.
Madeleine had smiled, and patted her hand, and then ordered her execution.
Heaven. Hell. And now she was in a purgatory of her own making, taunted by doubts and confusion.
The wind lifted her hair, made the trees in the courtyard rustle. The stars were impossibly bright above her, the moon slipping behind a cloud, dropping everything into shadow. She heard him shift in bed, the sheets rustling. She slipped back inside the room, the snick of the latch masked by the sound of fabric hitting the floor as she dropped the coverlet and crawled under the blanket, snuggling up to him, allowing him to tuck an arm around her waist and burrow his face into her neck.
"Your feet are like ice," he said sleepily, and she chuckled. "What were you doing?"
"It doesn't matter," she murmured, closing her eyes.