A/N: This is my first Nikita fic. It was written before I watched 2.23, so forgive the minor liberties I've taken with canon. Enjoy.
The first time he saw her, she was wearing a red prison jumpsuit and a sardonic smirk. He'd come to find her—to lay eyes on the prospective recruit Percy had told him about—but naturally, she saw him first.
"Hey, new kid." She came to the door of her cell and leaned against it. In her restless hands she held a rubber ball—the kind kids get out of vending machines and arcades. Slipping her arms through the bars, she tossed it from hand to hand as she looked him up and down.
Michael glanced down at his prison guard uniform, self-conscious and then embarrassed by his self-consciousness. He met her gaze. "'New kid'?"
The corner of her mouth quirked up. "I've been in this trap for three years. You think I don't notice when a new guard comes through?" She let her gaze drop again, smirking outright. "Especially when they're young and hot."
He arched an eyebrow. "Should I be flattered?"
Her eyes danced. "Oh, I was talking about Leibovich, but I'm sure you're very nice too."
Michael tried to kill a smile and didn't quite succeed. Her eyes glinted in triumph. After a moment, though, the amusement faded and she looked down at the toy in her hands. "I'm Nikita. But, then, you knew that, didn't you? Star attraction and all."
Michael said nothing.
She looked up again, the flirtatious mask once again firmly in place. "What, no number? I don't even get a name?"
He opened his mouth, then stopped himself. All the pieces were in place, but the extraction hadn't been green-lighted. Until he got the go-ahead, he had to maintain operational security. He slowly shook his head. "I'm a friend."
Her face convulsed ever so slightly, but then the smirk was back. "Whatever you say, new kid." She stepped back and turned partially away from Michael, bouncing the ball idly against the concrete floor of her cell. "Gotta say, though, your timing is impeccable. You made it just in time for my fifteen minutes of fame."
"Fame, huh?" Michael folded his arms. He'd told Percy he wasn't so sure about this one. There was a fine line, after all, between a killer and a psychopath. "Is that what this is?"
She bounced the ball with a particularly hard flick of her wrist, letting it careen up to the ceiling before snatching it out of the air. "Well, yeah, where've you been?" A few strands of lank hair fell in front of her face as she looked down at her hands again. "'Femme fatale to die for officer's murder,' 'No appeal for woman in police killing,' 'Stay of execution denied for teen killer.' I made the seven o'clock news. I'm kind of a big deal." Her mock-serious tone faded, overwhelmed by bitterness. "If they only knew, huh?"
He took a step towards her, almost against his will. "What do you want them to know?"
All at once, the bitterness was gone from her face along with the restless energy. She sprawled back on her narrow bunk and stared up at the ceiling, her face a little sad. "Not much to know, I guess." She shrugged one shoulder. "It doesn't make for much of a story. Just one more junkie with a pretty face, this one so fucked up she could kill a man and not even remember." She met Michael's gaze as if she'd just remembered he was there. Her lips quirked. "But here I go, confessing all my deep dark sins to you. You got a clerical collar under that uniform? I told them I didn't want a priest."
He shook his head slowly, his hand coming up to grasp the bars. When had he stepped so close? "I'm not here about your sins. I'm all about the future."
She met his gaze quizzically, confusion pulling her out of her reverie. "You're in the wrong place, then, bud. This is pretty much the definition of dead end. It's night-night, Nikita, thanks for playing."
"What if it wasn't?" This was crazy—he was breaching security—but Michael couldn't seem to stop himself. "If I told you you had a second chance, right now, what would you do with it?"
She looked away, her face pensive once more. "Okay, I'll play." She stared at her hands, turning the ball over and over as if it had the answer. "I'd want to make things right, I guess. Except I can't. So all I could do is try to do some good. Maybe balance things out somehow." She looked up at the large clock above Michael's head. "'Course, none of that matters, since my curtain call is in about ten hours. Actions have consequences, like they say on the after school specials."
Michael breathed out, slowly. He had to call Percy, to tell him yes, he was sure about this one. They'd move forward with the extraction. Everything they needed was already arranged. But, he knew how ugly this extraction would get. There was no help for it. "What if I told you it wasn't?"
She met his gaze, and for just an instant there was something desperate in her eyes. Then, the mask fell down and the smirk returned. "When I need you to lie to me, new kid, you'll know it." She sank down into the mattress and pulled a sheet over herself. "Now, if you don't mind, I need my beauty sleep. Gotta look my best for closing night." Reluctantly, Michael turned away. He was about to leave to make his phone call when her voice stopped him. "New kid." He turned. She tossed the rubber ball at him. He caught it automatically in his right hand. "A super ball. I bequeath it to you. A girl ought to have something to bequeath."
The next time he saw her, everything was going according to plan. All the usual guards had found reasons to take the night off, and Michael had his own people in their places. The medical examiner's cooperation had been obtained. The paralytic and the lethal potassium chloride had both been replaced with saline, the barbiturate with a longer-acting sedative. The van was ready to go in the underground garage—it would be child's play to slip out amid the crush of departing news vans. A handful of witnesses—mostly reporters—had gathered in the observation room. The victim's widow had not made an appearance, much to Michael's relief.
And then, there was Nikita.
When they came for her, she was freshly showered and composed, a slight smile still playing across her features. "Lots of new kids come to see the big show." Her lively eyes took in Michael and his three men. "You boys part of a special squad? They only let you out for nights like this?"
Michael's jaw clenched. He pitched his voice low. "Give me your hands."
She held Michael's gaze steadily as she stepped close and offered her hands, palms up, through a slot in the bars. Her hands didn't shake, nor did they pull away when he closed the steel cuffs around her wrists. Michael broke her gaze with some effort. He managed a short nod, signaling the others to enter the cell with the rest of the restraints—leg chains and a belt to hold it all.
Despite it all, Nikita managed almost a swagger as they led her down the halls of the prison. Michael stayed a half step behind her, one hand resting lightly on her elbow. The death chamber was straight ahead, the elevator to the basement just off to the left. He could still spare her this, he knew. All he had to do was take her down that elevator, right now. They could make some excuse for the witnesses—tell them she'd committed suicide or that a stay had been granted. All he had to do was take her down that elevator . . .
His hand tightened, imperceptibly, on her arm. He had to let this play out. They walked straight, without breaking stride, into the death chamber.
The room was antiseptically white, lit by an overabundance of fluorescent bulbs. The vinyl covering the gurney was pink—incongruously cheerful and almost ridiculous, but Nikita wasn't smiling now. Michael slowly unlocked her chains and removed them one by one. He didn't miss the moment when her hands tightened infinitesimally and a panicked look flashed across her face. Her eyes darted around the blank room, and damnit if she wasn't casing the place—calculating angles of attack.
Michael was half-tempted to let her explode—let her try to tear the room apart, if only to see what they'd gotten themselves into and how much work they'd have to do. But, as quickly as the idea came, he dismissed it. In the half-second it took him to decide, she coiled her muscles and froze, midway through her own decision.
He took her wrist gently. "Consequences, Nikita," he breathed. She met his gaze, her eyes just a little brighter than before. He watched her, steadily.
And, that was all it took. Her muscles relaxed, acquiescing as the other guards pressed her back onto the gurney. It was thickly padded, as if for the condemned's comfort—just one more lie that people told themselves. Forcing the slight tremble out of his hands, Michael took a leather strap and buckled it around her wrist as one of his men stepped close with the IV line.
At the first sting of the needle, her face convulsed and her fingers clenched at air. Without thinking, Michael caught her hand and squeezed. Her eyes met his, desperate now. Self-conscious, he stepped close and pressed his other hand against her forearm, on the pretense of holding it still for the IV. Her arm was so thin he almost expected the needle to go right through her. He stared at the faint scars of track marks while her fingers clenched his with surprising strength. "Lie to me, new kid," she whispered hoarsely. A tiny bead of moisture trickled from the corner of her eye.
He ran his thumb gently over the back of her hand. "It's going to be alright, Nikita."
But, then the spectacle was in motion and Michael had to step back with the others as the indictment was read and the spectators—sorry, witnesses—had their fill. Michael's own heart nearly stopped when he saw the plungers depress and Nikita's eyes fluttered closed. He reminded himself that he had double and triple-checked that injection apparatus. There was no way anything could go wrong. Even so, it was a very long ten minutes before the medical examiner stepped close, listened to her steady heartbeat, and pronounced her dead.
The witnesses were already filing out of the observation room when the curtain closed, blocking them off. Michael let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. He touched his comm. "Extraction is on schedule."
He was there when she woke up.
Like most of them, she came to in stages, first moving her arms, then grimacing with her eyes still closed, and finally opening her eyes and blinking away the sedative-induced haze. Unlike most, she sat up slowly and drew her knees fluidly to her chest, apparently calm and unsurprised to see him leaning against the wall.
"Are you the devil?"
His eyebrows shot up. "That's a new one."
She glanced around pointedly at the pitted concrete walls and flickering lights. "Well, this clearly isn't the other place."
"My name is Michael."
"Like the archangel? Cute."
"I didn't know you were so religious."
"Yeah, I'm full of surprises." She blinked slowly, like she was pulling her thoughts together. "You, on the other hand, are a figment of my dying brain. So, if you're done fucking with me, I think I have somewhere to be."
Michael swallowed. This wasn't how this usually went. "You're not dying, Nikita." He pulled a file from behind his back and dropped it into her lap. "You are, in fact, dead. Time of death 12:06 AM, remains cremated two hours later and currently on route to this location." He pointed to an enlarged photo. "The governor is saying justice was served and the bleeding-heart activists are already on to their next cause."
With trembling hands, Nikita lifted a newspaper clipping. The headline proclaimed Femme fatale put to death for police killing.
"Who are you?" Her voice was suddenly dangerously quiet.
He kept his own even. "My name is Michael, and I'm a friend."
"What is this? I said WHAT IS THIS?!"
He was prepared for her to throw the file in his face, sending papers scattering everywhere. He was less prepared for her to launch herself after it, fists clenched, but for all her fury she was still only ninety pounds of killer, untrained and flailing. He caught a punch on his cheekbone, but shrugged it off in time to trap her arm and wrench it behind her back, twisting to press her against the wall. "This is the second chance you couldn't bring yourself to ask for!" He released her and she jerked away. "You blew all your chances out there. This is the last one you're going to get."
"You planned this whole thing? You put me through all that . . . what, for the TV cameras? All to sell the story?"
"It was necessary."
"It was sick!"
As he'd hoped, his frank honesty left her briefly at a loss for words. He held her gaze, silently willing her to get a grip. Some anger now was a good thing—it meant that the dying woman they'd snatched from prison was coming back to life. Too much could get her killed for real. "I'm not going to apologize for how we saved your life. It was necessary—to sell the story and to get you to understand something."
She glared daggers at him. "And what's that?"
"Consequences." He snapped the word. "Get used to them, because there'll be a lot of them in your life from here on out. We didn't put you on death row—you got there yourself. Now, we're offering you a second chance, but that's all it is—a chance. The rest is up to you."
She stared at him, her gaze stricken. "I'm dead."
"As far as anyone knows. Was it true, what you said about wanting to do some good? Or were you talking out your ass?"
Her face hardened. "You know I wasn't."
"Then you can do that here. We can teach you how."
"All you need to know right now is that we serve the government and we do things others can't."
"What do you want me to do?" She was suddenly composed again—cold except for the fire in her eyes.
He gave her an evaluative glance. "I want you to serve your country. Think you can do that?"
The smirk she'd left in prison was suddenly back. "You want to find out?"
He really did.