Author's Note: "Janick" is a Breton name, or so I'm told. I knew a man once with that name, and it seemed to fit. It's pronounced pretty much as it's spelt, with the stress on the second syllable.
Acknowledgments: Thanks go to Leslie, for letting me talk her ear off, and reading the in progress version and making encouraging noises :)
by Tara O'Shea
"Papa! Papa!" the child's voice is shrill with giddy laughter, and the boy throws himself at his father's knees, to be lifted up, high off the ground. He screams his laughter as they spin around and then land in a tangle in the sweet grass.
"Why do you go, papa?"
"I am not going."
"Maman said you go--why do you go?"
"But I am not going, Janick."
"I want you to stay. Oui, papa? Reste-ici avec moi--reste-ici, papa." Small, soft child's hands pat his cheeks, smooth his hair, light green eyes wide with innocence inches from his own.
"Oui," he buries his face in the boy's dark hair--black as a raven's wing, and soft. So soft. ""Oui, si tu le desires, mignon. Si tu le desires. Je veux..."
"Qu'est-ce que tu veux, papa?"
"Je veux rester..."
"Mais--tu es parti. Et donc je suis mort, papa."
And then he woke.
Madeleine looked up as the heavy wooden doors swung open and Michael stepped inside. She came down the stairs, watching him, and waited. "Madeleine..." he began, and then stopped, as if unsure where to begin.
"What is it, Michael?" she asked, her tone carefully neutral. She could read a calendar as well as anyone, but she didn't push. As it turned out, she didn't have to.
"He would have been four years old," Michael said suddenly, and then immediately regretted it. But no shadow of that regret passed over his face, which was carefully carved as if from a single piece of marble. Cold and perfect.
She digested this without a flicker. It explained the dark smudges beneath his eyes, the tension in his stance. "Are you still having the dreams?"
"No," he lied, wondering suddenly why he had come. But it was still dark outside, the sky lightening in the east as dawn approached. He could think of nowhere else to go.
"I thought perhaps, with Simone..."
"Have you talked to Nikita about it?"
"You two are close--perhaps she can help."
"Nikita." He carefully avoided her eye, focusing instead on a rack of jackets, brushing imaginary lint from the shoulder of the closest one. "Perhaps once. But not now. She doesn't trust me."
"Ah." She hid her smile. "If you don't think you can work together, I can assign--"
"No," he said quickly. "No. Our professional relationship is... professional."
"But your personal relationship has... suffered?"
"You know it has."
"Do I detect an edge of accusation?"
"And if you did?"
"You're very good at turning away a question with a question," she said innocently, and waited.
"Madeleine, Section is my life. If you can call this living."
"As a matter of fact, I do. The work we do is very important, Michael. More important than any single one of us."
She watched his face for a reaction, but he simply nodded absently.
"Why don't you talk to Nikita?" she suggested gently.
"What would I say?" he asked, and she had no answer for him.
Nikita yawned, lifting the steaming cup of coffee to her lips, the Sunday paper spread out before her on the carpet. She wasn't expecting the door.
She peered through the spyhole, and then, frowning, opened the door as far as the chain would allow. Throught the four inch gap, she could see Michael, razor stubble darkening his cheeks, his green eyes almost grey beneath a tangle of windblown dark curls. "What do you want?"
"Madeleine suggested..." he began, and then stopped. "I wanted to talk."
"Just... talk." He shrugged.
She stepped aside, still wary, and he stepped inside, hands deep in his pockets.
She padded over to the sink, snagging a cup from the drying rack. "Coffee?"
She frowned as she poured him a cup. Michael was a cipher--she was never sure if the expression he wore was sincere or just another mask to be discarded. She watched him out of the corner of her eye as he roamed around the living room.
"What happened to the cat?" he asked as she handed him the mug.
"It was a distraction, remember?"
He nodded, distracted, and she stepped around the paper and plunked down in one of the chairs, waiting for him to do the same. Instead, he took his cup to the window, pushing aside the gauze curtain and staring out at the morning.
"I wanted to apologise," he said softly.
"I know that after Morocco... I wanted to explain--"
"What's to explain?" she cut him off with a false smile and a shrug. "You were just following orders, right?"
"Operations didn't order me to tell you the location of the substation." He waited for his words to sink in, but she showed no outward sign of understanding, just continued to sip her coffee and turn the pages of the newspaper. "When you were grabbed, I told him. I had to. I thought... He decided to turn it into a tactical advantage--"
"It doesn't matter."
"No it doesn't ." She snapped, getting to her feet and dumping the coffee down the sink, rinsing out the mug to give herself something to do. She could hear him come up behind her, and flinched away from his hand on her shoulder.
"It matters to me," he said softly. His green eyes bore into hers, and she was the one to look away.
"Do we have to become the people we fight against?" she blurted out, her cheeks growing hot as anger twisted her insides, and the coffee cup rattled in her hand as she slammed it down on the counter. "I mean--what's the bloody point, if Section's little better than the monsters we fight--I look at Operations and Madeleine, and all I can think is, that's us thirty years down the line. That's our future Michael, and I'll be damned if I let myself become like them.
"Look at our lives --we traffic in death, and who are we to decide who lives and who dies? A bunch of killers, tin plated gods with the power of life and death who skulk behind closed doors.
"And you--sometimes I wonder if you're even human. Do you feel anything? Or is it all an act? All just a facade, an empty face behind the last mask?"
"You know that's not true."
"Do I? Name one time--once--when you haven't hidden anything from me. When I've seen the real Michael..."
His mouth went dry, and he turned away. "I can name half a dozen. But you would have to take me at my word."
"How can I believe anything you tell me? After all you've said, and all you've done--after all the lies. How?"
"I never wanted to hurt you, Nikita."
"Then why did you?"
"I didn't have a choice."
"That's bullshit. You just didn't make that choice. It's easier for you to just blindly follow orders because that absolves you of any responsibility. It's not your fault if you're just Section's pawn--"
"What would you have me do, Nikita?"
"Stop being such a coward!"
"Everything's so simple for you. Black and white, good and evil. Right and wrong, and never the twain shall meet--"
"Stop it!" She snapped, blue eyes hard as glass. "Stop trying to make me sound hopelessly naive, belittling what I believe, what I know is right. Just because I made a choice to not hurt people if it can be avoided--when you don't even try ."
"The difference between us is that you still believe you have that choice," he said softly.
"And what makes you think you don't?"
"I know I don't."
"How, Michael? Come on--brass tacks. What is so terrible about hope, that you feel its your duty to annihilate it wherever you find it?"
"Hope destroys more than it saves."
"What happened to you, to make you so damned cynical?"
"I lost my freedom. I lost my son." He met her eyes. "I lost you."
"You never had me to lose," Nikita said softly, without venom. A simple statement of fact. He looked away, a rueful smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
"I think you should leave."
"I used to just blame the Section. But it was one lie too many. They may have used you--but you let them use you. You let them."
His gaze slid from hers, and he didn't even attempt to contradict her.
Michael cut across the field with long, purposeful strides. He knew exactly where he was going. Nikita focused the minibinocs with one finger, losing him for a second behind a cement angel, grey wings outstretched, picking him up again as he cleared the monument and came to a stop.
Clutched in his hands were two bouquets of roses--one white, and the other sweetheart roses, their pale peach petals stained with red along the edges. He knelt down, brushing the grave markers with cold fingers, tracing the bronze letters with outstretched fingertips.
He reverently laid the flowers down and then sat, not seeming to care that the dew was soaking his jeans and the skirt of the long dark coat. He rested his forearms on his knees, and clasped one wrist loosely, dark hair blowing in his eyes.
It was too far to make what he was saying. Nikita was glad for that. She wasn't sure why.
After he left her flat that morning, she had been completely unable to concentrate. So she'd pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweater, dragged a brush through her hair, and spent a few hours with Walter, brushing up on her small weapons training. After decimating the eighth paper target in an hour, Walter had finally asked her who she was aiming for.
She had blinked in surprise, and then eyed him warily. "Nobody."
"Yeah, sure, sugar," Walter had chuckled, peering at her through the large hole where the paper man's heart would have been.
"Walter, You said that after Simone's death, Michael just shut down..."
"That's right, sugar."
"Why didn't you tell me that he'd had a son?"
"Who told you that?" he asked sharply.
"I don't know if I should be talking about it." He'd tried to hedge, but the determined look on her face broke through his resolve. "Yeah. They did. A sweet little boy."
"Look, maybe you should talk to Michael about this--"
"I can't," she said, a little too quickly, and Walter had fit the pieces together as best he could from the look on her face.
"Look, sugar--I know you've got it in your head that our Michael is some kind of--like he's got no soul or something. But I've been around here a long time, long enough to see him go from one screwed up kid to... well, none of us are saints--Section's no place for saints. But shit's happened to him that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. So maybe I cut him more slack than you do."
She had digested this, nodding and rocking back on her heels. "Okay." Then she looked up at him through her bangs. "What was she like--before?"
"Aren't you the curious kitten."
"You don't have to tell me," she had informed him with a smile, cracking her gum.
"Simone was a little spitfire," Walter had chuckled at the memory as he cleaned her weapon and set it in its case. He'd looked past her then, as if seeing into a world that existed just to the left and above her shoulder, and only for him. "She used to yell at me all the time. French, Vietnamese, Russian--always in a hurry, always two steps ahead, beating the clock, beating the odds. . She grew up eating out of dumpsters, stealing and selling anything and everything--everything but herself. Her mother died a whore in Saigon, and Simone never forgot that. She used to have hair down to here," then Walter had leaned over his desk and tapped the back of Nikita's thigh, and then grinned up at her as she brushed his hand away. "She loved that little boy--damn near killed her when he died."
"And Michael," he'd said, but didn't elaborate. Nikita had accepted the fact that this was all she was going to get, and bussed the old man's cheek with a kiss.
Then she'd followed Michael.
After a time, he rose, brushing grass from the back of his coat absently, and stared down at the markers, hands once again shoved deep in the pockets of the overcoat. His hair fell forward, hiding his expression. Then he turned and began to make his way back.
Nikita rose from the window booth of the coffee shop, heading towards the ladies room on the off chance that he might look up and recognise her, even from this distance.
Satisfied that her little foray into recreational espionage (as opposed to professional ) had gone unnoticed by her quarry, she paid her cheque, and waited until Michael had rounded the corner, disappearing into late afternoon traffic. Waiting another ten minutes, ostensibly scanning the same edition of the paper that she'd left scattered across her living room floor, she slipped out the door and jogged across the street .
There was a memorial service being held near the entrance of the cemetery, a long line of black figures circling a new grave. Nikita ducked her head and kept trudging to the spot Michael had vacated. A cool, almost cold breeze kicked up--certainly not unusual for September, but it made her hunch her shoulders beneath the large, man's sweater she wore, and walk a little faster.
She reached her destination with delicately flushed cheeks, and glancing around to make certain she was alone, she crouched down on her haunches and brushed aside the flowers, scanning the small plaques lying side by side.
July 11, 1992 - September 7, 1993
"From a world more full of weeping than he can understand."
November 21, 1968 - February 17, 1994
"Fear no more the heat o'the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou they worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages..."
She let out a breath. Chevalier She wondered if it was really his name, or just the one he'd chosen. She decided on the latter, and made a not to look it up when she got back to her flat. She reached out to trace Simone's name, the flash of memory making her frown. Simone had chosen death, chosen to leave the man who loved her, chosen revenge and an empty grave next to their son. She wondered fleetingly if he had had Simone's remains moved, but the grass seemed undisturbed.
"Oh, Michael," she murmured, and reached out to stroke a white rose with one fingertip.
When she finally reached her apartment complex, it was getting dark. As she rounded the corner, fishing in her pocket for her keys, she stopped at the sight of Michael, sitting on a bench, gazing up at her balcony.
"I'm not home," she said, loud enough for him to hear, and he glanced up. He didn't look guilty, and she sat down next to him, sweater sleeves pulled over her hands against the chill.
She reached out, took his hand in hers and dropped a single white rose petal in his outstretched fingers. His eyes widened, and then he blinked rapidly.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked.
"I don't want your pity, Nikita."
"I'm not offering it. Michael, whatever's happened between us, it doesn't have anything to do with this."
"Sudden Infant Death Syndrome." Michael said quietly. "That's what they put on the death certificate. He was fourteen months old. He was walking. He had nine milk teeth, with another coming in. Fourteen month old healthy children don't die in their sleep with their parents in the next room. They don't." It was hard to breathe, as if lead bands encircled his chest, a tightness that squeezed fiercely. "They don't," he whispered.
But theirs had. And it hurt. It hurt so much , and it would never stop. Tears began to course down his cheeks; silent tears that burned.
Nikita felt tears smart her own eyes. "Michael, I'm so sorry." She reached out tentatively to touch his shoulder. He covered her fingers with his, letting the tears fall unchecked. She pulled him into an awkward embrace.
"Parent's aren't meant to outlive their children," he said into her shoulder, and she stroked his hair, murmuring Shhhh, shhhh, as he cried.
If she had ever wondered if he had a heart, it was clear it was breaking now. He held her tightly, as if he was afraid to let go. Perhaps he was.