Title: Close Encounters 2

Author: BuffyAngel68

Rating: G

Summary: Our second pair is set to take their turn in the crucible. Let's see how they get along....
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Leaning protectively over the elaborate computer console before him, the
gruff-looking older man swept one hand through a thick head of graying hair (for which his job was entirely to blame in his opinion) then dropped that hand down to the headset he wore, pressing slightly on the single earpiece as if he were having a little trouble hearing the woman on the other end.

"Zone one is clear. Moving to zone two."

"Right. No unaccounted for heat signatures, but they're supposed to have supressive equipment, so stay sharp."

"Acknowledged. I've reached zone two. Nothing yet. Still looks clear. I don't like this."

"Hey. No hostiles means no bullets whpping past your head. Just stay cool, sugar."

"Always am; you know that. Nearing zone three. Still noone. First floor appears clear. What have you got?"

"Confirmed. Looks empty."

"This isn't what the intel showed. What's going on?" she mused, suddenly deciding a check on the rest of the group was warranted. "Team two. Confirm status. I repeat; team two confirm your.... what the.... oh my God...."

Before he could ask what had happened, the older mans' ear piece assaulted him with a few seconds of static mixed with heavy metal music, then went dead. Tearing off the offending device, he quickly gazed around and realized the others connected to the com system had also heard the burst. He then looked to his superior standing only a few feet away and knew that "I have absloutely no idea" wasn't going to cut it.
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Tightly hugging his knees to his chest, the striking young man pressed himself deeper into a dim corner of the high school locker rooms back wall, shaking as if he were about to fly apart. Stretching his arms further around his legs, as if he could physically wrap the darkness around his trembling form, he prayed silently that the small group searching for him would pass by the locker room entirely, even though he knew they were far too thorough to simply skip such an obvious hiding place.

Tears threatening, he mentally berated himself for making the wrong turn that had backed him into the corner in which he now cowered. When he heard the doorknob rattle and someone from the outside began to push against the mass of laundry carts and benches he'd hastily piled in front of the door, his eyes slid closed and an invented prayer from his childhood popped back into his head.

"If they can't see me, they can't find me.
Make me invisible, take me away.
If they can't find me, they can't hurt me.
Make me invisible, just for today."

A strange sensation of floating abruptly seized his body. When he looked at his hands, which seemed to be slowly vanishing, the shock tripped the breaker on his already overloaded emotional circuits and he fainted. Moments later, a portable halogen light played on the corner where he'd been hiding picked out nothing.
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"Time to wake up, pretty. If you ever want to wake up again, that is."

Slowly emerging from his unconscious state, the young man cracked open one eye and discovered a cool black pistol laid along his cheek, held by a stunning blond whose expression clearly stated that her dictionary contained neither the word "nonsense" nor any synonyms of that word. "Better. Your name."

"Jarod. Jarod Russell."

"Where are we, Jarod?"

"I don't know. The last thing I remember is hiding in the changing room of a high school. I was lightheaded... feeling strange. I hallucinated that my hands were disappearing and I passed out. The rest.... you know."

"Yeah. I suppose I do. Mind telling me what you were hiding from?"

Now feeling aware enough to protect his interests, Jarod lied smoothly.

"Not what; who. The police aren't too pleased with me at the moment." he told her, smiling warmly, hoping to make a small crack in the ice dam he saw in her eyes.

After a moment the blond returned the smile, but it was thin and shallow and didn't go beyond her lips.

"Don't think so. Try again."

"I told you the truth. Can I sit up now?"

The smile vanishing, the woman lifted the pistol, swiftly, and loudly, chambered a bullet and laid it back against Jarods' face.

"Half the truth's as good as a lie. You can get up when I hear all of it."

Finally realizing that, as beautiful as the woman might be, she represented a genuine threat to his life, Jarod gave up as much as he thought was safe for both of them.

"I was being chased.... just not by the police. I can't tell you any more."

"Why not?"

"The people coming after me are dangerous, not just to me but to anyone around me when they show up. They have no problem mowing down innocent bystanders to get to me. That's all you need to know. Anything more wouldn't be.... healthy."

Finally hearing truth in his words and seeing it in the way he held his eyes, Jarods' inquizitor kept her promise and backed off, taking her weapon with her and allowing Jarod to rise to a sitting position. "Do I get to know your name? Excuse me lovely blonde female person might be accurate but it isn't very polite."

"Nikita." she responded, stowing her pistol in her waistband and extending a hand to help Jarod off the floor.

"Thanks." he acknowledged, turning away, as she now had, to examine every aspect of the room for some way out. "I don't see anything. No doors, no windows. Not even a crack.

"Seems that way."

Abandoning the search, Jarod turned at gazed thoughtfully at Nikitas' back.

"It needs to be cut. Your hair, I mean.You shouldn't have let it grow out. It would look better the other way."

"Really." she replied drily. "How do you know it wasn't always this length?"

"I just do. You made a major change recently, I think. You felt like the old style belonged to who you were and this is more who you are now."

"And you're implying it didn't work."

"I'm not saying that. If you think it worked.... it worked. I just don't see you as being somebody who hides from anyone or anything, especially a fight. Why choose a hair-style you can hide behind unless you're running or there's something you don't want to see?"

Her curiosity overriding her initial instict to kill Jarod for his boldness, Nikita withdrew her weapon again, but only to lay it on the floor and walk away from it and toward him.

"Who the hell are you, Jarod Russell?"

"I'm not sure what you mean."

Circling him, she studied her fellow prisoner from every angle.

"You look human. Noone could have known..... Are you Section One?"

"I've never heard of it before."

"For some weird reason I believe that. Huh. You can't be Center then."

The moment the final two words of the sentence dropped from her tongue, Nikita watched intense, overwhelming fear engulf Jarods expression. His eyes flickered from her hands, to the gun she'd left on the other side of the room and back to her face, all in the space of second or two, before he began to back away from her.

"What did I say?"

"I should have known. Only they could have developed something like this. You show me the way out of here, and do it now, or you won't be using that gun hand for at least six months and I'll work up from there."

"If I knew that I wouldn't still be here. Look. The guns' over there. I won't hurt you. Just tell me what spooked you all of a sudden."

"Please. I know you people aren't on my level of intelligence, but that little "slip" about the Centre wasn't even up to your usual level of worn out stunts. Change the play-book. You can't screw with my head anymore. I thought I force fed you that lesson a long time ago."

"Hang on. Wait a minute. *The* Centre? I think we're on different frequencies here, Jarod. Give me a minute to explain? I won't come any closer, I swear."

"Go on."

"Center is the top rung of the organization I work for. Sounds like they have some of the same hobbies as yours.... but they aren't the same. Are you hearing me? Am I getting through?"


"If you're lying to me, I end up in the tenth level of hell again. Why should I believe you?"

"Don't trust easy do you?"

"That's why I'm still alive."

"What do you know? Me too."

Slowly, Jarod began to identify mannerisms in Nikita that he recognized from his own daily glances in the mirror; constant movement of the eyes in case someone should try to sneak up behind her, a tenseness in her stance as if she were always expecting attack. His instinct murmured softly in his head, telling him she had gone through horrors of her own, perhaps even some comparable to his, and he began to drop his defensive barriers.

"I'm sorry. When you said..... that word has connotations for me you can't possibly imagine."

"Don't go there?"

"I'd appreciate it." Jarod responded, moving back in Nikitas' direction at a snails' pace. "You've been running too. I can see it in your eyes."

"Only for a short while. I was ..... I had to go back."

"That too, but that's not what I meant. You run every day. You find little ways to not be where you are; the perfume and the clothes you choose. They're acceptable, safe ways to escape."

"Again. What the hell are you and how do you do that?"

"I am what they made me. I have to be because I don't know, anymore, who I was."

Studying him more closely now, Nikita began to circle Jarod again. This time he countered, moving the other direction so that he always faced her, a martial arts move she immediately recognized.

"You know how to fight."

"Some. I'd rather not. The conversation was just getting.... interesting."

"Yeah. What did you mean by 'I am what they made me.' ?"

"I was stolen from my parents as a very young child. I grew up using my mind for the benefit of an evil, corrupt place full of evil, corrupt people. When I escaped, I turned my... gift to a higher purpose, but when you're shaped by a place like that...."

"I know." Nikita said, moving another step or two, then stopping.

"I think you do." Jarod replied, following her example and slowing to a halt.

"I wasn't thrown into Section One until I was a teenager, but the cumulative effect is the same. They held my funeral, told the world I was dead. If I'd refused them, I really would have been. They left me no place to turn.... so I became what they wanted me to be."

"You knew your parents then."

"Just my mother, but I haven't seen her in almost ten years."

"But you had her.... for your whole childhood."

"Yeah. Have you had any luck finding your family since you've been free?"

"Not much. The Centre thwarts every attempt they find out about. Despite that, I found my father and my sister.... she was almost killed.... by them, so he had to take her away. They're in hiding now. I saw my mother once.....We never got close enough to speak. They showed up and she had to run again."

"How long have you been free?"

"Five years, almost."

"Alone most of the time, I imagine."

"Yes. I've gotten to like it.... kind of."

Striding toward him, Nikita patted his cheek as she passed.

"That's only the second lie you've told, pretty. I'm impressed. You've done well to get this far letting go of so much truth."

"It isn't a lie."

"Yes, it is. Noone gets used to being alone. You accept it, you learn to use the way it can twist your mind..... but you can't co-exist with it. It'll win and you'll go straight down the rabbit hole. How have you avoided capture all this time?"

"A two hundred I.Q. and twenty five years of computer training. I've cracked their database so many times it isn't even any fun anymore. Every time they change the parameters and codes I figure it out. The balance might shift if they ever stop putting everything in the computer that they don't want known."

"So you're expecting to be caught?"

"No. If they ever got close enough to even touch me again, they know..... No more questions. You're making me..... edgy."

"Sorry. Force of habit. Comes of watching too many people strapped to a chair being threatened with excruciating torture followed by a slow, painful death if they don't give up what we want to know. All apologies."

"It gets worse than that. Trust me."

"I've seen the worst kind of torture, pretty. You can't shock me."

"They strapped me down..... and injected me with an experimental cardiac drug. They loaded me into a hyperbaric chamber and left me in there, screaming.... until my heart stopped. It almost took too long to start it again. The burns from the defibrolator paddles took four months to heal. Ever seen that?"

Forcing back tears, Nikita smoothed out the grimace she could feel her face wanting to twist into and responded quietly.

"Okay. I take it back. Shock acknowledged. Mine's not quite so ghastly, but if you want to hear it....."

Settling his own nervous system back down, Jarod walked to within a few feet of her and spoke.

"I do. Go ahead."

"My superiors discovered that another operative and I had developed a very close relationship. We were deeply in love.... something they discourage with extreme prejudice. They isolated me on a mission, sedated me, shoved me into a machine..... and brainwashed me. No. It was more than that. They dug into my head and tried to kill my emotions. After that and weeks on their maintenance drugs and visual reinforcement, all I had left was the desire to kill... and to do exactly as I was told. I didn't hate..... couldn't love. I just was."

"This machine.... what did it look like?"

"Nothing much. A tube with darkened glass... electronics on the inside walls, speakers.... Why?"

"But you're alright now?"

"Yeah. My lover found out what they'd done, got me off the maintenance. I came out of it eventually.... what's wrong, Jarod?"

"Nothing. As long as there were no lasting effects...." Jarod murmured, turning half away from Nikita, then forcing himself to face her again. "You have to understand.... I'm so sorry... Dear God, I never thought.... it wasn't supposed to be...."

"Take a breath. I don't understand what you're trying to tell me."

"I developed that machine.... the process, it's my design. I intended it to be used in psychiatric hospitals and clinics to treat the most severely affected psychotics and schizophrenics. It was supposed to be an alternative to invasive brain surgery.... to give them at least something like a normal life and prevent them from hurting themselves or anyone else. The.... bastards at the Centre perverted it the same way they did all my research." Jarod raged, hands fisted at his sides. Moving away quickly when he knew he could no longer contain his tears of frustration and anguish, he began to pace the length of one wall, seeing not the surface in front of him but his fertile imaginations' torturous images of what the woman behind him must have suffered.

Nikita, accurately guessing his reasoning, declined to follow or try to stop him for the moment.

"Jarod. Jarod. Jarod!"

"I'm only fifteen feet away. Screaming at me only makes me more reluctant to answer."

"Then answer the first time. According to the records I found, that process was developed by Dr. Stephen Gelman."

"He must have worked for the Centre. They had to give someone the credit. They weren't about to tell the whole world about me."

"True. Good point. It seems we have a few things in common neither of us knew about."

"Yes. It does, doesn't it?"

"One last question?"

"I suppose so."

"Can you stop that? My tolerance level is pretty thin right now and you're about to drive me crazy. Jarod. Stand still."

"I can't. This is how I think. Let me be for another few minutes."

"You're still looking for a way out of here aren't you?"

"Maybe."

"Well, there isn't one and you're becoming irritating. Come... over here."

"No."

Hearing the slightest of a quaver in Jarods' previously ultra-confident tone, Nikita walked to him and forced him to stop.

"Quit, Jarod. You're alright. I swear no more....."

Realizing that the skin and fabric at the open neck of his shirt was soaked, Nikita raised a hand and swept some of the salt-laden moisture from his face. "It's not your fault, pretty. I never should have said anything. It's on me. The exit isn't in our hands, so you might as well come and..."

Gently moving her hand away, Jarod smiled grimly, moved around her and continued to walk.

"I can't afford to believe the way out isn't here somewhere. If they find a way to reach me before...."

"Lord. Trust issues doesn't even half cover what you've piled on your shoulders, does it?"

"I'll die before I let them take me back again. I don't trust unless I'm positive.... and even then, I've been wrong."

"I understand. The trust gets ripped away, leaving this hole weeping red down your skin......and it never quite heals."

Finally giving in to his fatigue, Jarod made his own decision to stop pacing and settled into a deep crouch, allowing his chin to fall to his chest.

"No. Never quite, and there's no substitute. They couldn't even leave me...."

Quashing the urge to go to Jarod, lay a hand on his back and try to comfort him, Nikita settled for verbal encouragement.

"Go on. Leave you what?"

"How long did it take you to rebound after.... after you killed the first time?"

"They didn't allow me any time to dwell on it. I suspect they knew I'd withdraw and be totally useless to them for at least a day or two, probably longer."


"They were right. That's just what I did for two weeks; withdraw. I didn't sleep, I barely ate. It didn't matter that the man I shot was a Centre assassin. It didn't matter that if I hadn't fired, one man would have died before my eyes, then millions more would have died at the hands of that.... murderer. All I could see was the last shred of my innocence being burned at the stake. I had to grieve that loss."

"Funny that. They got me into Section by trumping up charges for a murder I *didn't* commit then offering me a way to save my life. They trained me how to kill without thought or hesitation. Now... it's instinct; reflex. Fire the weapon, set the explosive, move on to the next."

Standing slowly, Jarod turned to look at her.

"Emotions are useless and unnecessary. They only interfere with the work to be done. If they interfere too often, you'll be punished until you learn to do what's required without morality or guilt getting in the way."

"Exactly. Directly or indirectly, I've been responsible for so many deaths that if I let myself think about it..... The fact that the ones I kill are murderers themselves doesn't make them less human. Maybe someday....."

"No. For you... I think it would be different. If you start to grieve, you might not stop until....."

"Hmm. Don't think *that* hasn't entered my mind more than once. Just step out into the open and let the bullet do its job."

"I'm not sure you could.You seem too strong. Besides, you have your great love to live for."

"Yes. I have Micheal. Yours as caught in the dark side of the force as mine is?"

Jarod smiled as he dropped to sit on the floor, shifting easily into lotus position.

"One is, one isn't." Jarod replied cryptically, gesturing vaugely to the spot just in front of him, which she settled into, eyes locked onto his.

"There's Melissa. She's part of the team assigned to capture me. We've known each other since we were children. I suppose, in a way, I do love her. I love the child she was. I love the heart and soul I keep hoping I can rescue before she destroys them. The other is Zoe. I only met her a year or so ago. She's sweet, loving, generous, supportive, unbelievably courageous..... I don't get to see her very often. Her cancer's well in remission, so I don't worry as much as I did at first.... that if I can't get to where she is.... I'll be too late... I wish it were safer for us to be together more often. They've already tried to hurt her once, used her as bait for me."

"Not much to keep heart and soul together is it?"

"It's enough. Even if I lose them both.... it's enough to have had real, solid love.... just once. And I have hope."

"Hope that you'll find your mum?"

"That and hope for people in general. I'm learning they aren't all like the ones in the Centre. Good people with good hearts still exist. What about your father? Are you looking?"

"Always. Every chance I have. I'm just not sure anymore I'm going to like what I find when I get to the end of the maze."

"Afraid the cheese will be moldy?"

"Something like that. My gut tells me he's wrapped up with Center or Section somehow."

"And you don't like the idea."

"If he is.... it's more than likely he was responsible for the fake murder charge.... all of it."

Flushing crimson with anger, Jarod reached out and grasped Nikitas' hands.

"You suspect.... or you know in your heart he did?"

"I don't know absloutely..... but it's more than suspicion. It's just...."

"Something you feel?"

"Yeah."

"Do you plan to keep on searching, in spite of your suspicion?"

"I have to. I need to know the truth. I deserve it."

"Truth. I've been looking for my own truth since I escaped. Like you, the more I learn and the closer I get.... the worse it smells."

"But you keep digging."

"I keep digging, and whatever I find at the end.... I'll accept. I'll have to."

"Not an easy thing to do. I suppose I'd better start preparing myself to do some accepting as well."

"Yes. I...."

Feeling the light-headedness sweep down on him again, Jarod gripped Nikitas' hands tighter, even as he watched his own begin to vanish. "Oh.... here we go again."

"Seems so. Good to meet you, Jarod. It's good to know I'm not the only one looking for answers."

His normally infallible instinct whispering a question to him, Jarod threw it out to Nikita, hoping she'd answer before they both melted away.

"The feeling's mutual. Nikita. Are there any twins working in Section?"

"How... never mind. There are actually. I should say were. One died. They're the only ones I ever knew of."

As the room, and Nikita, faded into a thick mist, Jarod corrected her, praying she could still hear him.

"Search the records. I think you'll be surprised....."
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"Nikita! Respond! Damnit, sugar, talk to me!"

Nikita opened her eyes slowly to find herself resting on one knee, gripping her weapon so tightly that the knuckles of both hands throbbed fiercely and she had to struggle to straighten her fingers and release the gun. Confused, she rose slowly, in deference to a pair of stiff knees, and gazed around her, shocked, for the first moment or two, to be back in the abandoned warehouse where her strange adventure had begun.

Memories from the hour or so she'd spent with the amazing, tormented young man named Jarod flooded her mind, filling her with a sense of peace she'd never known. Reluctantly, she pushed the thoughts aside to reply to the voice screaming his worry and fear into her ear.

"Walter! Calm down! I'm right here and I'm fine. Returning to base."

"Wait a minute...."

"No. I'm on my way back now."

"You're really okay? Not shot, not cut up...."

"No. Well. One little hole that was weeping a bit, but I think it might start healing over now."

"What?!"

"I'm kidding. See you at home. Nikita out."
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For a long while after realizing he was once again in the high school locker room, Jarod remained huddled in the corner, staring at the mess that the sweeper team, now obviously gone, had made while searching for him.

He ran the previous hour over and over in his head, trying to make sense of what had happened, but finding the events, and the singular feeling of calm and joy swelling his heart, beyond analysis.

Realizing, finally, how vulnerable he'd left himself, Jarod shunted aside the new emotions for later examination, rose and left the school, aware with every step whether or not he was being watched and awash in renewed hope for his future.

END ENCOUNTER 2