A/N: I do not own anything lfn
The Swordsman and the Wizard
Michael ran his fingers through his long hair, stretching his back muscles as much as he could in the refining chair. Wearily, he shut his laptop and stood up.
He paced the length of his office a few times. There was no use going home. He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep, as much as his body may beg for it. It had just been one of those days that led to a night of tossing and turning.
His boots landed soundlessly on the floor with each step he took. He went out in the hallway, shutting his office door behind him.
The place looked deserted. The middle of the night, most operatives were fast asleep, either in their homes or on a lower level. The lights were dimmed, allowing thick and heavy shadows to linger against the walls.
He continued walking until he came to the center. Looking up at Operation's perch, he saw that it too, was dimmed to darkness.
A high pitched sound caught his ear. A 'twee twee twee twee' kept rhythmically sounding over and over. A lower sound, like a bomb blowing sounded after. In the corner of his eye, he noted that there was a light that shown in Systems.
He went over to see who could be awake besides him at such an ungodly hour on this level.
There, he found a pasty faced Birkoff, looking like he was ready to keel over while his hands kept active on the game's joystick and keyboard. Dark circles that matched Michael's hung below his eyes. His glasses were slipping down his nose. He looked like he was barely holding on - so why was he?
Michael made his presence known by stepping in to the room and waiting, staring at the teenager that lived in this strange place.
Birkoff's gaze flicked up to him, then back to his computer before taking a second look.
"M-Michael. What are you d-doing here?" He asked, trying to find the button to pause his game. He looked worried and almost frantic. Most likely expecting a threat on his life if he didn't do something the older man commanded.
Michael advanced on him, moving as soundless as a tiger hunting his prey. It made Birkoff nervous, fidgeting around even more.
"What are you doing?" Michael's whispery soft voice asked, peering at the computer screen. Even in the dead silence, his voice was minimal.
"Uh...just...just playing a game."
A bomb exploded on the screen, followed by a big red x with the words 'Game Over' across it.
Birkoff muttered an angry retort to the message and clicked it off.
"I didn't think a game like that would suit you." Michael spoke, sliding in to the chair beside Birkoff, when he saw a case full of games on the counter.
Birkoff looked shamefaced as he popped out the disc. "What can I say? Section gets to you sometimes. Shooting and blowing things up seems like a natural thing to do. Second nature, really."
Michael nodded, his fingertips landing on a game that made his eyebrows arch in interest. "Is this second nature too?"
The cover had wizards and swordsmen in medieval dress, looking angry.
Birkoff's face turned red. "What are you doing here? You have a mission in the morning. No offense, but..."
Michael nodded. "I can't sleep."
"Nikita?" Birkoff asked, for the first time, meeting the level five operative's eyes.
Michael opened his mouth, then closed it again. He looked away before nodding.
Birkoff understood. "Operations gave you the red light on her?"
"A warning." His voice was softer than usual. It almost seemed drenched with worry. "She's not doing as well as he'd like."
Surprised that he had admitted anything, Birkoff tried to keep it going. "I can't say I blame him much. The rebellious brat. She could at least act a little nicer to her trainers. Or pay attention to a computer profile that could one day save her life." He said sourly.
The corners of Michael's mouth turned upward, nearly reaching a smile. "Still sore on her threatening tactics?"
Birkoff's eyes flicked to the pencil she had pressed against his throat earlier in the week. "I'm just saying...if she wants to live, she better get with the program."
"It's an adjustment." Michael admitted. "It takes some people a bit longer to accept their fate. It's not easy. I don't blame her for rebelling."
Birkoff looked downcast. "What you're saying is I'd have no idea about what it's like, right?" he nodded at his own question, then turned his gaze upon the screen, popping the wizard disk in to the computer.
He hadn't expected a reply from Michael to his admission. He didn't get one. Any show of an emotional question shut down the quiet man's speech. Or perhaps he hadn't even heard the computer geek. His thoughts were obviously still firmly attached to Nikita's fate. Though Michael tended to seem like a heartless, cold operative, a few people knew better. Birkoff had observed the older man for a long time. Most people hadn't seen him falling in love. Hearing the joy that he'd be a father. Dealing with the death of his loves. His slow acceptance. The death of emotion. Birkoff had seen some, Walter had seen more. He wasn't heartless, though he was cold. For the first time since the death of his wife and child, it seemed as if that coldness, that unfeeling part of him was flaking away.
What would happen if Nikita was cancelled? It was obvious he had formed attachments with his material. Would he get worse? Was that possible?
Birkoff was too tired to observe anymore. He pushed a joystick over to Michael's unmoving hand, and took out an extra one for him.
High pitched game music started to flow in to Section's silent rooms. It seemed funny somehow. During the day, this place was strict. No nonsense. What would others think if they knew at night, it became computer game central?
Michael accepted the game piece. Before Birkoff had a chance, Michael swiped a strong, sword toting character. It was Birkoff's favorite, one he always chose. But there would be no arguing with the superior man. A flick of his eyes showed he was almost daring Birkoff to argue against his move. But the computer tech did what was smart and chose a wise wizard instead. After all, he knew every power. Every spell. He could still win. And how fun and joyous would it be to beat Section's top op in a game of fantasy?
Both characters chosen were placed in a settling that looked like some cage or jail. The words that typed at the bottom of the screen talked about a beautiful princess that needed saving. Only one could save her. Only one could win.
Michael's grip on the controller grew tight as the countdown to battle began. His whole body seemed to change position, as if readying himself like he was there, in the game itself. On the battlefield.
Birkoff controlled his nerves as the numbers flashes. Three, two, one. Go!
Michael stabbed forward, swiping high, then low. Birkoff's wizard stepped back after getting stabbed and pointed his staff at the opponent.
He never was able to finish his spell sequence. The swordsman stabbed, punched, kicked, and sent the wizard sprawling on the floor.
A low curse came from Birkoff's surprise. His eyes were wide in amazement. He had played his game countless time, yet a man who had never seen it before had beaten him before the round had hardly begun.
Their characters disappeared. Instead, a princess with long blonde hair in a light blue gown filled the screen. Her distress was shown in the words running across the bottom of the screen.
Birkoff knew the sequence. Instead of reading, he looked over at his partner.
Michael was leaning forward, zoned in on the princess.
And suddenly, the teenager realized the game was over. Somewhere, in the dangerous operative's mind, he related that princess in distress to the material he was training. The blonde dressed in blue was not really a princess. She wasn't really trapped in a castle. It was actually Nikita. Trapped in abeyance. And the only thing in his way to rescuing her was the wizard. The poor, unlucky wizard.
Birkoff's brain started to whirl. He could still have a chance. Sure, all odds were suddenly against him. But he had powers. It wasn't hard.
But which to use? Which to cast? He'd most likely only have one chance. The spell would only last for a few moments. But it would get him ahead. The next level was for them to fight. The first to reach the castle would get to be the first to reach the princess. And then game was over.
The swordman and the wizard appeared again. This time, they were on a pathway. The castle was in the distance. The characters were facing each other in challenge.
Deep breath, then a typed sequence. The wizard's staff lit up and pointed at the man with a poised sword, who turned in to a small, unmoving gnome.
Michael sat back, making an aghast look for just a moment. Then he leaned forward again, his face hardening in determination.
The wizard ran as fast as he could to the castle. But even with the spell, even with the head start, he'd never have a chance to reach that castle first. Somewhere in the back of Birkoff's mind, he knew. He finally accepted the fate he had tried to fight off.
And there he was. The spell had worn off, and the swordsman was back, running and cutting through the air with his weapon. He was gaining on the wizard. The door was only a little further away.
The wizard was struck. He went down. The man made sure he wouldn't be getting up anytime soon, then ran in to the castle. Up the stairs, and to the bedroom where the lady in distress was awaiting to throw her arms around him.
The screen was bathed in green.
Player One Wins!
Michael released the controller. Relaxed against the back of the chair. A satisfied look was in his eyes, if not on his lips.
Birkoff tried to conceal his look of disgust. How could his skills be so little? How could he have lost so easy?
He put the extra joystick away in his locked box below the desk, then turned to the man in silence.
"Well, from what I can see, Nikita's in safe hands. I see no reason to start planning a funeral for her just yet."
Something deep in Michael's green grey eyes sparked. Could it possibly be hope?
Birkoff was taken aback that something he said could have had an impact on the cold op. But it was evident that it did.
Michael's hand swiftly collided with the tech's back. "Thank you." He said, barely above a whisper, before walking out of Systems to be swallowed in shadow.
Though he was impressed that he had some skill in something, Birkoff was busy trying to regain his breath. When the man slapped your shoulder, he did it akin to how he worked. Hard.
The insomniac computer whiz started the game over again. Should this encounter ever happen again, he'd be ready. He'd prove himself against even the finest operative. And next time wouldn't be about letting that operative win just for a little ray of hope to shine within.
Birkoff smiled. Sure, that was what happened. He had subconsciously allowed Michael to win to make him feel better. His skills were just fine.