My only faith is in the blood and bruises I display.
He leaves Division in the dead of night. He says no goodbyes, he lets no one know that anything might be amiss. He knows it won't last long, but any advantage is worth its weight in gold when dealing with his former employer, especially when you know how to exploit it like he does.
Michael takes the first flight to Hawaii, travelling under an alias, with impeccable fake identification and a new haircut to match the photos. Again, it won't fool them for long, once they realise he's missing. But it'll stall them for a bit. Most likely they'll assume he's gone to ground somewhere on the mainland.
And all right- He should've. Air travel is risky. Ever since 9/11, there are too many cameras around, too much security, he can't hide from all of it, and it'll be harder to escape under the nose of all these guards and police and, shit, the military guards who're no doubt hiding behind the scenes.
But he arrives at the house. It's not the same one that he picked out all those years ago; he finds out later that that one was demolished and replaced with some timeshare condos. It doesn't really matter though. The salty sea-breeze that whistles through the two bedroom hut he hires for cash is enough. He sees his daughter sleeping soundly in the smaller of the rooms. He sees his wife curled up in the rocking chair on the small wooden deck.
He sees the future he could've had. He sees the future that Kasim and Percy and Division took away from him.
He knows what he has to do.
He has to take down Division.
Nikita doesn't think she's ever seen Division this disorganised. Michael is gone. It took them two days to realise he has dropped off the face of the earth and disappeared. Birkhoff can't find him. Amanda doesn't know anything and is on a rampage because Percy clearly doesknow something, but isn't letting the rest of them in on whatever it is. Instead, he has just barked short commands to find Michael "yesterday" and retreats to his locked office to scheme or plot or whatever it is he does.
Nikita is lost.
She flits between the departments, helping where she can. Birkhoff is tracking the past, where Michael went, what Michael did, but he's good at disappearing. They know he spent a day in Hawaii, but went off the grid shortly after, with a good chunk of cash in his pocket.
Amanda has mocked up a psych profile and is trying to predict where he'll go next. Theories are produced and she speculates on his motivations, but they are lacking in any solid answers for the same reason Birkhoff's traces go nowhere... they don't know why Michael ran.
On day three, Percy calls a meeting. High level management only, but Nikita finds herself invited along as well.
Percy stands at the front of the room and explains everything: "Six years ago, we had a Division agent in deep cover with Al Qaida defect, his name is Kasim Tariq. He cemented his position within the group by targeting a naval base in Yemen. Michael was assigned there before he joined us and his wife and daughter were killed in the car bomb that Tariq set off."
Percy pauses in his story to display a recent picture of Tariq on the electronic display behind him, along with the standard bio specs Division provids for any target.
"Division disavowed any ties to Tariq immediately, and soon after Michael was recruited into our ranks, though considering his psychological state at the time and the, uh, embarrassing nature of Tariq's defection, we decided to keep Tariq's previous Division ties from Michael in order to keep the peace.
"It seems that Michael has discovered this fact and has misconstrued events. I believe he's under the impression that Division was behind the death of his family, thus his rather hasty exodus from us. It's imperative we find him and debrief him as soon as possible. Nikita, I am putting you in charge of the manhunt. Birkhoff and Amanda will assist you from communications, but you will be the leader on the ground."
"Yes sir." Nikita nods obediently.
"The sooner we find him, the better. Dismissed."
He settles for a while in a hunting cabin in North Dakota. Off the grid in every way, no internet connection, no telephone line. He needs to travel along unsealed roads 30 miles to the south before he gets to the closest town and a single bar of cell phone reception.
The cabin itself is bare bones, and clearly hasn't been used in a few decades before Michael moved in. He spends the first few weeks performing necessary repairs as quickly as possible so that he'll be able to live here throughout the coming winter. It's hard work, but he relishes it. Patching the roof and floors, repairing the cracked plumbing pipes and the ancient gas-powered water heater; every night he collapses into bed exhausted from the work, so exhausted he doesn't even dream.
So it takes a few months, well into the hard winter before the nightmares come, and by that stage he's snowed in, and trapped with nothing but his bitter memories to torment him and the ghost of his family to haunt him.
He hears Hayley's infectious laugh in the next room, smells Elizabeth's perfume on his pillow when he wakes in the morning. He goes entire days without being able to shake the feeling that they're just behind him, watching him, judging him, hating him, for not discovering the truth sooner, for not doing anything about it now he knows. It takes everything he can to keep from storming back into Division, guns a-blazing, fully prepared to take down every single person who gets in between him and killing Percy. But he knows that he has to wait. Taking down Percy is a bigger task than simply killing the man- if he goes, someone else, some other unknown potentially worse entity will fill the void, and more innocent people will die.
No. This is the long-haul.
So when Hayley whispers in his ear asking him to read her a bedtime story, he drowns her out by picking at the holes in Division's armour, and when Elizabeth caresses his cheek after he shaves, he takes comfort in imagining how he'll push the knife between Division's ribs.
When the snow begins to thaw, and the trees begin to show signs of life again, he packs up his cabin. He has a war to start.
When she reads the new assignment Percy gives her, she's surprised to say the least. It's a cushy one, a long-term undercover op, recon, no wet work, working at an IT company that has contracts with the defence department, and she'll even have support for the technical stuff- Birkhoff will be doing the bulk of the work once she hard-wires them into the system, but when he plugs the holes and uncovers the moles she'll be the one that takes the credit.
It's not exactly a job they give an operative who's botched the only important mission she's ever been in charge of.
She leaves her shiny new apartment, which has been styled perfectly by Division with that 'lived-in' look, with half-full bottles of toiletries and a moth trap in the closet (complete with long-deceased moths) to get a breath of fresh air and to give herself a bit of time to decompress away from Division's eye- for all Amanda's talk about independence on this mission, Nikita knows the apartment will be tapped.
Nikita walks a few blocks, hands shoved deep into the pockets of her new persona's grey winter coat and when she sees a cozy looking cocktail bar she slips inside, partially to get out of the cold, but mostly because she needs a stiff drink. She hates the feeling of complete uselessness not finding Michael has left her with and although she knows that drinking away her sorrows is a bad idea, she needs to take the edge off before she cracks.
The bar is called Canvas and is dimly lit, and has a charming rustic aesthetic to it, but it doesn't seem to be a particularly busy night. A few couples are scattered at little tables and benches near the front, but Nikita chooses a seat at the bar.
She peruses the cocktail menu for a little bit, before settling on one simple glass of Merlot, which she lets mull for a moment before she takes a sip. It isn't ketamine, but it does warm her throat as it goes down- better than nothing.
"Penny for your thoughts?" A man asks her kindly from his seat, a few bar stools down from her own.
"They're hardly worth that much." She says with a sad smile, sending a glance his way. He's handsome, dark hair, cleanly shaven, and has bright, happy eyes.
"Now, don't sell yourself short." He says, "I'm sure there's something in there worth a penny or two."
She takes another sip of her wine. "Well that's nice of you to say,"
He smiles, picks up his beer and shifts across two seats until he's on the bar stool directly next to her. "I hope you don't mind, but can I ask you something?"
Nikita looks him up and down, but can't bring herself to be suspicious. She's so tired, and there is nothing about this man that is setting off any warnings, and even if she is wrong, she can look after herself. "Sure." She says.
"Are you all right?" He asks, and it startles her. He must notice, because a tiny frown appears between his eyebrows, and he says: "I don't mean anything by it. It's just you look sad, or tired, but in that world-weary way. Sometimes it's good to talk to someone about your problems who has no preconceptions about you... or your problems."
"Are you offering to be my shrink for the night?" She laughs a little, because it is definitely not the pickup line she expected.
"Only if you want. I promise there's no catch." He holds his hands up in surrender. "But if you want to talk, I'll pay for that drink, and we can talk about whatever you want."
She swills her glass around and takes a sip. "What the hell, sure. Though to protect the innocent-" (the guilty) "- I'll just explain it hypothetically, is that fine?"
"I'm starting a new job soon that I don't think I'm qualified for. In fact, my last job ended badly, I wasn't fired, but it led to a big loss for my company and instead of being fired they've transferred me... I'm just drowning my doubts in over-priced wine." She holds up her glass.
The man nods, "It sounds like you've been given a second chance, though, with this new job."
"It's hard, though. I feel like my mistakes are hovering over me like a cloud I can't escape from."
"Yeah, it sucks. Self-doubt." He gently nudges her shoulder, it's innocent, with a tiny hint of flirty, but just enough to spark something warm and tingly in her belly that isn't from the wine. "You need to figure out what your umbrella is, then, to help protect yourself from them."
"I like how you ran with my metaphor there."
He chuckles, "Yeah, I thought it was pretty clever."
"So what's my umbrella?" She asks.
"Well I don't know you, so I can't help you there, but I'm sure you have something on your side, or else you'd still be looking for work."
"I'll have to have a think about that." Nikita says and glances at the thin watch on her wrist. The time has definitely gotten away from her, and she does have an early start tomorrow morning. She finishes off the last of the Merlot.
"I have to go, but you were right, it is good to get it off my chest." She says, and holds her hand out, "Nice to meet you, I'm Nikita."
He shakes it, it's a nice firm grip, sold and reassuring. "I'm Daniel, and hey, if you ever want to talk about anything..."
He reaches across the bar and grabs a napkin from a neatly stacked pile, and with a pen from his shirt pocket he jots down a cell phone number.
"Give me a call."
He is fighting a ghost, he realises that now, and it is hard not to be frustrated at his lack of progress. He uses his knowledge of procedures and protocol and the personnel to profile probable missions. News reports of innocuous deaths, some important, some not, become his bread and butter. He reads the obituaries and compares the details found there to the ones found in the official death reports, and then he investigates those. It's a lot of dead ends for a lot of boring work, and by the time he finds a lead on something Division is doing, they are long gone, and the trail has gone cold.
Picking up patterns was never his strong suit, that was something better left to Birkhoff or NIkita, both of whom had more natural talent in that area. So after a few months, when his first idea of following the breadcrumbs that Division leaves behind fails, he decides to try a different tack.
He starts picking out potential Division targets, particularly the ones that Percy was becoming more and more fond of- the work for hire jobs. They vary in their flavour, sometimes it's straight-forward assassination work, sometimes it's corporate espionage. The only thing they have in common is that Percy has had great success lining his pockets with the spoils of their work.
Michael sets up his base camp in an abandoned building, mansion, really, right in the centre of Manhattan. It has at least five escape routes, it's private, and after greasing the palms of a few out-of-work techies he found milling around the local Apple store, it has a solid optic fibre security system and triple-firewalled internet connection that would at least make Birkhoff pause for a few seconds before plowing on through.
It doesn't really matter though, he sets up a few programs to run searches daily looking for any new story or article or anything that fits the parameters he sets up. If anything blips, he can follow the trail from there. He knows he'll still miss more than he hits, but it feels good to have something logical on his side, something impartial and mathematical.
The rest of the time he spends cultivating his contacts- stocking up on weapons, acquiring his funds, setting up aliases and other safe houses so that if Division catches up to him (He isn't naive enough to think they would've stopped looking for him unless they had his body on a slab in the morgue, so he's taking no chances) he'll have somewhere to bug out to.
He has his arsenal at the ready and a few allies up his sleeve when he finally gets a viable lead- a few suspicious leaks come from a big security contractor and one of them is noticed by his tracer programs. He packs his bags with the supplies he thinks he'll need, and books a ticket to Washington DC, after months and months of waiting, it all happens so quickly, he doesn't really have a chance to process anything until he's in the car and on the road.
It's an irrational feeling to have, but after months of dead ends and failed leads, something feels good about this one.
"Describe your feelings," Amanda says, pouring out a fresh pot of green tea into her dainty china cups. "Being back here, it's been two months."
"Has it been that long?" Nikita asks, taking the cup with a smile. She takes a small sip from the side then places it back down on the table in front of her.
"Well, extended cover has been treating you well, you look lovely!"
Nikita blushes a little, still uncomfortable receiving comments on her appearance, especially from Amanda, who is always so well put together, "Thanks." She says, sitting straight in her chair. "Can't say I miss the pyjamas though,"
There is a long pause as Amanda smiles at the joke and takes a sip of her own tea. Suddenly Nikita feels nervous, though she is careful not to let it show on her face. She knows this evaluation is a tricky one, that she'll be asked about her relationship with Daniel, which has begun to blossom from a friendship into a tentative romance. It's the first time in a long while she's had something to herself, outside of Division, and she wants to keep it that way as much as she can.
"Tell me about him." Amanda says, but Nikita is prepared.
"He's nobody, he's just a guy." She says, a little dismissively.
"What's his name?"
"Daniel. Daniel Munroe."
"And he's your lover?" Amanda says it with such a straight face that Nikita cannot help the smile that creeps upon her. It's such a perfunctory, ridiculous phrase, especially coming from Amanda.
"My lover? Is this the 30s?"
Amanda smiles as well, and amends her phrasing: "Your boyfriend?"
"Amanda, he's... " She pauses a little, and searches for a way to explain it in a way that will be acceptable to Division. It's not as if she's doing anything wrong by forming a relationship with an outsider, but she doesn't want to give them an excuse to pry any further. "Look, I know what you're getting at, boyfriend, or whatever you want to call it. It's just part of the cover. Nobody would believe the girl we created is single, and what you need to understand is that everything I do is in service to Division."
She can see from the look on Amanda's face that she's said the right thing, and that she has satisfied the older woman with her explanation, so she takes another sip of her tea. The bitter liquid rolls down the back of her throat and warms her on the way down.
"Well, it seems you have everything under control there, Nikita." Amanda says, "You know that if you ever have any need to talk about anything, I'm here and our chats are completely confidential."
"So let's talk about Michael."
The cup wobbles a little in her hand at the sudden shift in topics, but Nikita does her best to cover it by bringing her other hand up to hold the other side, as though trying to warm her fingers against the ceramic. She has spent so long pushing Michael and that failure to the back of her mind, that it completely slipped her mind that Amanda would probably bring it up in this evaluation. Nikita mentally berates herself, but maintains a neutral face and does drop eye contact with Amanda.
"What about him?" Nikita asks evenly.
"Well, it's been over a year since he left us, and our efforts to find him notwithstanding, you two were quite close. I'm sure you have some unresolved feelings on the issue."
"No, not really." She lies, and knows immediately by the skeptical expression on Amanda's face that it was not convincing enough.
"Nikita," Amanda says quietly. "I'm not here to pass judgement, you know that."
Nikita doesn't believe that for a second, but knows that she will need to give more ground, now that she has been caught out. "I feel angry at myself, that I couldn't find him." Nikita says, and it is the truth, even if her reasons for being angry are less at failing Percy's orders and more about failing her friend when he no doubt needed one.
"Go on," Amanda says.
"I was... hurt, I suppose, that he didn't say goodbye before he left. I know why he didn't- if I truly believed Division was responsible for killing my family, I wouldn't stick around to say goodbye either, but I trusted him so much, I thought it went both ways."
"You think you valued his friendship more than he valued yours?"
"No." She shakes her head. "No, more that I misjudged it. I've thought about it a lot. He was my mentor, my teacher. There was always going to be that space between us... And I think I want to help him more as a thank you for all the help he gave me."
"That's very noble of you. Though I think you do yourself an injustice. I've worked along side Michael for a long time, and I've never seen him take as much interest in a recruit as he did with you."
Nikita isn't sure what to make of that, so she finishes her tea instead of responding.
The security system in the apartment is easily bypassed and the locks picked with his skeleton key. He's here purely for reconnaissance, he's been watching this man for weeks now, convinced that Division has him under watch, though Michael still isn't sure why. He's a nobody, a moderately successful graphic designer named Daniel Munroe. His company has never done work for anyone who might have secrets to sell, instead they mostly work for non-profit charities, conquering cancer, homelessness, the like.
And yet despite all that, he finds a Division issued bug hidden under a Moroccan lamp in the living room. He's not worried about Division finding him here- he has a signal jammer in his pocket, but his curiosity is definitely piqued.
He rustles through the mail on the hallstand, looking for something, anything that'd clue him in on why this guy is of interest to Division, but all he finds are bills and a week old subscription issue of Newsweek. There is a box of tampons in the bathroom cupboard and some racy women's underwear in a drawer in his closet, but no photos of the girl in question. There is a postcard of ducks swimming in the lake in central park affixed to the fridge which is signed with a heart and the letter 'N'. In his weeks watching over this guy he hasn't seen the girlfriend once, though he overheard Daniel mentioning to a colleague that "Nic is out of town on business", but he does find it strange that there isn't more evidence of her here.
"What do they want with you?" He says to the man standing with his parents in a graduation gown, garishly blue in that 90s sort of way, as if asking it out loud will give him the answers he needs.
He's after leverage, and this guy seems like a bit of a dead end. Sure, he might be a target, but there is nothing here that makes Michael think 'Division', so he has to assume that this guy is a means to an end, or is under surveillance for another reason. Maybe they're setting him up to be a patsy for something and are readying to plant the evidence. Maybe he's an expert on something Division needs. Maybe he's in witness relocation and he was an arms dealer in a past life. Whatever it is, Michael has no idea.
But he does hear the soft click of the front door opening, and shit, he thought Daniel was working late. He silently pushes back into the open closet, burying himself amongst the suits and polo shirts hanging neatly pressed. His mind whirls through his options at a rapid pace, he could fight the man, pretend to be a simple burglar who got caught in the act and panic, he could take the man out, and ruin Division's chances of using him for whatever evil purpose they intend. Or he could step out and under the protection of his signal jammer, explain everything to him, help him get out from Division's net, maybe get to him to his girlfriend and out of the country where they can have a better life together. Something that he never had the chance to do with Elizabeth...
Michael hears the man moving about the living room, switching on the light and the television, and he hears an episode of The Simpsonshas just started. He's still hidden, but not for long, and if he's going to help this guy out he needs to step out now and reveal himself.
He steps out of the closet, gun out but safety on, ready to confront Daniel, but a tell-tale 'click' of a gun being cocked has his him reacting on pure instinct, jumping behind the bed just as a blond man dressed in black starts shooting.
The man definitely isn't Daniel Munroe, Michael recognises him as Owen, a Cleaner, and he flinches as the mattress beside him explodes in springs and fluff and feathers as another bullet barely misses his shoulder. Michael switches the safety off and fires a few shots back at the Cleaner, enough so that he has to duck out of the room and take cover behind the door-way, giving Michael a few more seconds to assess the situation.
He identifies his assets (he has his gun, and a spare clip, his cell phone, his signal jammer-though clearly it's faulty- and a knife in his boot) and his exit points (through Owen to the front door, through the window in the bedroom, with a four floor drop to the ground, or the window in the living room out onto the fire exit), he chooses his route and acts before Owen has a chance to counter him.
Michael fires off two more shots, then vaults over the bed to the bedroom door. When Owen points his gun around the door frame Michael quickly disarms him, snatching the gun from Owen's grip with a twist of his wrist and once it's in his hands he fires a quick two shots back at the cleaner, winging him in the shoulder.
The Cleaner barely flinches at the pain, but Michael now has both the guns and the upper hand, and he's only a few steps away from the front door. Owen aims a punch at his jaw with his good hand, but Michael blocks it smoothly before aiming a sharp jab to the wound on the cleaner's side, followed quickly by a kick to the solar plexus. Owen curls into himself, winded and in pain, and Michael takes his chance, pushing the Cleaner over the couch to their side, and bolting for the front door. He knows he should finish the cleaner off before he leaves- but there is nothing right about this situation and he knows it's best to get out of here as quickly as possible.
He doesn't stop running until he's three blocks away and is sure no one is following him. He dumps the cell phone and the signal jammer into a dumpster, and pulls both the guns apart, dropping the individual pieces down storm-water drains, sewers, trash cans, before shoving his hands into his pockets before bugging out to one of his safe houses, well away from DC, Owen, Daniel Munroe and anything Division could use to track him down.
A few days later, another report appears in the paper: A local DC man has been found dead in his apartment, an alleged victim of a burglary gone wrong. Police report that Daniel Munroe, a graphic designer, was found by his fiance dead on Tuesday morning, of a gunshot wound to the head.
"Nikki." Birkhoff says quietly, a gentle hand on her shoulder, pulling her back into reluctant wakefulness. "Nikki, wake up. We have news."
She blinks a few times, and feels completely disoriented, and more than a little woozy. With each blink, the room becomes a little clearer, and the concerned expression on Seymour's face swims into focus.
She tries to push herself back into a sitting position, but she sways a bit, and it's only Seymour's hand that grabs her shoulder and holds her steady. A scratchy wool blanket falls off her lap to the floor. How did she get like this? She pushes through the fog in her brain to remember.
And then it all comes back to her.
Daniel. Finding him dead. So much blood. Panicking. Someone had pushed a needle into her arm, and then it'd all gone dark.
"Why did you drug me?" She says accusingly, hating the all-too-familiar lethargy of sedatives, hating that these people, who tried so hard to get her off them had put them straight back in her system.
"You were having a panic attack." Birkhoff says, almost whispering. They're in his private study, and she's on his couch. She's napped here many a time, when she needed a few minutes shut eye and didn't want to use an old recruit's quarters. "Amanda did it for your own good."
The woman in question appears behind him, though she hasn't spoken a word, choosing simply to observe the two of them.
"We have some news." Birkhoff repeats, "About Daniel."
Nikita searches his eyes for what it is, and he passes her a tablet. "Percy told me to find the guy who did this, so I hacked the building's security cameras, to see if we could track the guy down, maybe use facial recognition or something, and well..."
He touches the screen and grainy black and white security footage begins to play. The timestamp in the corner tells her it's from about 10pm last night, and figure dressed in black walks down the first hallway and into the elevator, face hidden from the camera. The camera angle switches to the elevator footage, and the man glances up and gives her a good view of his face.
"What is this?" She asks dumbly, positive that she's still confused and fighting off the drugs from her system.
"About 20 minutes later, Daniel comes home. And then ten minutes after that-" Birkhoff swipes at the screen with a finger, and the footage changes to Michael running through the hallway, gun clearly held in his hand, and an unmistakable splatter of blood on his cheek "- we found this."
"Our forensic unit also found his DNA at the scene." Amanda adds.
"Are you saying Michael did this?" She asks.
"Michael killed Daniel?"
Amanda nods, and Birkhoff looks grim. "Yes."
She shoves the tablet back at Birkhoff and pushes herself unsteadily up on her feet. She wobbles, but bats his hand away when he reaches out to hold her.
"I'm going to be sick."