The dark coffee shop, which only 2 years before had been the scene of their only other outing for coffee, was now bright and trendy. People bustled around and ordered more and more exotic versions of the once simple drink, coffee. Michael shrugged. "Do you still want to have coffee?"
"Yes." Nikita looked around, as if expecting someone to be watching. "We could go back to my place. I have coffee." Nikita smiled as she remembered another visit for ‘coffee.'
Michael hesitated, knowing what going back to ‘her place' could mean. It would be nearly impossible for him to leave. His desire and passion had not diminished over time. It had only increased, making his self-control tenuous at best.
Nikita saw Michael's hesitation, and the words slipped out before she could stop them. "It's all right, Michael. Forget it." She turned away so that he could not see the emotions that she knew were too apparent in her face.
"Nikita," he said as he touched her shoulder gently. "Your place will be fine."
Nikita turned to him. "Are you sure?"
Michael knew Nikita had asked about more than coffee. His answer
was conflicted, "No, but let's go anyway."
All the way to Nikita's apartment, Michael remembered the healing peace of being joined with Nikita, and he remembered the agony of separation. The thought that each time might be their last haunted him--plagued him unmercifully. Being with her on missions and not touching her was exquisite torture.
David Fanning's rude question had touched a raw nerve. ‘When you and Nikita are on missions, how often do you have sex?' The hit man hadn't had a clue to the difficult dynamics of Nikita's and his relationship. Almost everyone in Section assumed they were having an affair, when the reality was the opposite.
Nikita's thoughts were as tortured as Michael's. She gave herself a pep talk. Just because he's coming back to your apartment for coffee, do not assume or expect anymore than that. Don't act seductive. It'll drive him away. Make the coffee, drink it, and let him go if that's what he wants. Oooooh, what does he want? Does he even know? Do I even know?
Michael knew what he ‘wanted.' He wanted a different life, and he wanted Nikita in that life; however, Michael was a realist. Section One was the life he had been given, and Nikita had been given to him as his material, but she could hardly be considered his material now. She was a team leader in her own right, and he wondered how much longer he would be able to have any influence over her often impulsive actions. She was independent, but she always had been. Her strength and her goodness pulled him from the dark path he had chosen, and her emotional fragility touched him in a place he had thought scarred and closed forever.
Nikita thought that she wanted to be able to be with Michael ‘sometimes.' She relished her independence and knew that a full-blown relationship in or out of Section One seemed impossible. She thought about how cold he was to her on missions. A look or a touch that acknowledged what they had shared--would that be so difficult to manage, she asked herself.
Michael thought about the recent mission to Glasgow, Scotland. He and Nikita had spent an entire night alone doing ‘surveillance,' while Section One had been invaded by an anthrax variant. Their colleagues were sickening and dying, and all he could think about was sweeping the equipment off the table and taking Nikita right there. He had tried to sleep while Nikita monitored the intel coming from Section, but it had been useless. He had closed his eyes, but even more vivid images of Nikita had taken the place of the living breathing woman in front of him.
412, the numbers on the door loomed at them. Nikita unlocked the
door, and they walked into her apartment. Michael suppressed a shiver
as he crossed the threshold. Had he danced with Nikita here, recently?
The image was fleeting, but vivid none the less.
Nikita turned on the light in the kitchen area, then went about lighting the many vanilla scented candles that were positioned everywhere in the apartment. Michael, for want of something to do, wandered into the kitchen. "Want me to start the coffee?" he asked.
Nikita looked up in surprise. She'd already forgotten they were supposed to be having coffee. The memories from Michael's last visit to her apartment kept intruding into her conscious mind. She could not forget how he had asked her to dance and how she had barely maintained a semblance of self control with a tender and gentle Michael in her arms. Two sides of the coin--unable to be separated without destroying the value of the whole. She had wanted that tender Michael to make love to her that day, but she wanted the Michael, in front of her now, that day even more.
Michael had been a tender lover, but the angst he seemed to endure afterwards
always tinged their partings with a bittersweet flavor that haunted Nikita's
thoughts and dreams.
She watched as Michael busied himself with the coffee preparation. "Would you rather have tea?" he asked as he watched her restless movements around the room.
"No, coffee will be fine." Nikita perched on the edge of the couch.
Michael poured two cups of steaming coffee and carried them on a tray to where Nikita sat. He remembered that when Nikita drank coffee, she drank it sweet and light--like her nature.
Nikita took the cup of coffee with hands that could not conceal the tremor her whole body felt.
"I was here recently, wasn't I? When I lost my memory, I mean," he asked her softly as he sipped his coffee.
"Yes. I brought you here to keep Section from knowing your memory had been altered. You were very tired, and needed to rest."
"In your bed. I had a dream about being in your bed, alone."
Nikita swallowed, "Yes, that's right."
"Tell me. Show me. My mind and memory are so confused about that time. I think it would help, if you did."
Nikita found it difficult to meet Michael's gaze. The last thing she wanted to do was verbalize the circumstances and emotions of his last visit. She swallowed a sip of coffee.
Michael saw her hesitation and took the cup of coffee from her hand. "Show me," he said.
Nikita took his hand and led him up the stairs to her bedroom. "I brought you back here, and you slept for several hours. When you awakened, you asked if we shouldn't notify you family. When I explained the reality of Section to you, you were confused and upset. You kept asking me questions about yourself. There were things I didn't know. You asked me how long I'd known you. When I told you three years, you wanted to know why I didn't know you better, I told you it was hard to understand. That's when you said you must be a real jerk.
"What did you say to that?"
Nikita looked at the floor. "I said, ‘Actually, I was quite fond of you.' Really, Michael, I don't see the point of all this rehashing. Either your memory comes back or it doesn't. It won't make any difference in the long run."
"We didn't make love, did we? I think I would remember that, but I remember you brushing my hair from my eyes."
Nikita took a deep breath and answered, "No, we didn't make love.
You were in no condition to be making love or anything else. You'd
been tortured and drugged. I'm not that desperate for your touch,
Michael." She decided to continue with telling him what had been
said. Maybe it would keep him quiet. She couldn't stand many
more of his soft probing questions. "You asked me what would happen
if you didn't get your memory back, and I told you they would kill
you. That's when I brushed your hair back. You were upset and
compared yourself to a caged animal. You said you couldn't live like
that. I told you that you had no choice."
"After that I drew a blood sample to have analyzed for what type of agents they had used on you. Then you were called in for the mission in Luchenwald where you were shot. The rest you pretty much know. I injected you with the reversing agent, and you came back with your memory." Nikita glossed over what she couldn't bear to repeat.
"No, there's something else. Did we dance? I remember dancing with you there in the living room," he protested.
Nikita's blue eyes were shiny with unshed tears. "We danced for a moment, then your cell phone rang."
"Show me," he said as he led her down the stairs to the living room.
Nikita sighed, "Michael, this is too much. I can't."
Michael put his arms around Nikita as he had before. "I need to do this, Nikita. I need to put the dreams to rest," he said as he pulled her closer to his chest. He could feel her heart racing, as he knew she must be able to feel his. He lay his head on her shoulder. It felt right and familiar. Nikita clung to him as the tears started to course down her cheeks. This time the dance was not interrupted by a ringing cell phone.
"I didn't want to take advantage. That Michael wasn't really you. It didn't seem right." Nikita shook her head, unable to express anymore of the emotions that overwhelmed her.
Michael kissed the side of her face, where he remembered trying to kiss her before, and tasted the salt of her tears. "Nikita, I can't make you any promises. I can't say there will ever be more than what we have already had. I wish I could, but I can't."
"I know, Michael, but we can have tonight--if you want, that is." Nikita wasn't sure if she could take his rejection again, and she was uncertain what his response would be.
Michael took Nikita's face in his hands and gave her a tender kiss. "Nikita, I want tonight even more than you do," he whispered. He wanted to cleanse images of Lisa and Andrea from his mind. While having sex with them had been necessary, two such episodes so close together had awakened his sleeping, sensual nature. Since Simone's death, he had lived in sexual denial much of the time, except for his two times with Nikita. He had regretted having to seduce Lisa Fanning a second time, but he would have seduced Operations, if necessary, to save Nikita from David Fanning.
Seducing Andrea had been even more problematic, but it had been his assignment, and he had no choice. There may have been some truth to Nikita's accusations that Andrea might have been all right, if he hadn't seduced her. He would never know. Andrea had attempted to kill him after he rebuffed her, and she had been canceled.
But he had a choice tonight, because Nikita had given him one, and she would always be ‘his' choice. Michael lifted Nikita and carried her to the bedroom. Nikita wrapped her legs around his waist as she captured his lips with her own.
Michael want to throw Nikita on the bed and claim her once again as he own, but he restrained this wild impulse. He lay her on the bed with tenderness, kissed her again and began to remove her sweater with slow, languorous movements. He kissed each inch of ivory skin as it was revealed.
Nikita's turquoise eyes locked with his green ones. She reached to remove his long black jacket, which Michael shrugged off with ease. With his left hand he removed the black tee shirt, while with his right he unbuttoned the waist band of her red trousers. Nikita giggled, "I guess there are advantages to being ambidextrous, aren't there, Michael?"
"Uh hmmm," was his only reply because he had begun to devote himself to kissing her round breasts. Her skin was soft and smooth under his hands. Her body firm, resilient and inviting had cast its spell over him long ago, but it was her inner goodness had kept him bewitched and bedeviled since their first meeting. Making love to her was an exalting experience, no matter the circumstances.
As Michael's attentions to her body intensified, Nikita's mind disconnected, and she became a creature of sensation and emotion. When Michael made love to her, she knew it was love and not mere sexual gratification. She might have doubts in the cold gray halls of Section One, but never when she was in bed with him.
Control and technique fled as the intensity of their passion mounted. Michael and Nikita climaxed swiftly, for their need for each other was great. Michael was sweaty and trembling as he collapsed and cried Nikita's name again and again. His wavy hair clung to the side of his face, and Nikita brushed it back with a loving touch as she gasped for air and moaned, "Michael."
Eventually, they were able to breathe again, and Michael started to speak, but Nikita shushed him. "No, you don't have to say anything. No expectations, no disappointments, Michael. We have this night. I won't ruin it by asking for what you can't give."
Michael rose on his elbows to look into Nikita's face. "Nikita, I
would give my soul to give you what you want, to give you what I ‘need'
to give you. I just don't know when, or if I ever can."
Nikita knew this to be the only truth that he could give her. "I know, Michael. I know."
At 4AM, with great deliberation Michael eased out of Nikita's bed. He was accustomed to awakening at that time every day, but he saw no pressing need for Nikita to have to keep such early hours. He stood and watched her as she slept. He was always entranced by her beauty, and it never mattered to him what kind of ‘get-up' she wore. Michael thought that she had never looked any lovelier than she did at that exact moment. Her blonde hair spilled over the pillow, and a slight smile was still on her lips. He wanted to caress her face and even made the motion to do so, but stopped himself. Let her sleep, he thought. Let her dream the way I wish I could.
Even in her somnolent state, Nikita noticed Michael's absence almost immediately. When she opened her eyes, she saw him watching her. She also saw the emotions in his eyes, and her heart was touched and warmed by them. "Michael, are you leaving? It's early yet," she murmured, as she reached for his hand and gave it a soft kiss.
Michael was unable to restrain a second time his earlier impulse to caress her face. "Sorry, I didn't want to disturb you, but I always go in at this time. Go back to sleep. You won't be needed there for hours."
Although he knew it would make it much more difficult to leave, Michael sat on the bed as Nikita cuddled closer to him for a moment. "I have to go. Uh, there were some files I intended to read last night," Michael said as he stumbled and hesitated, uncertain of what to say and afraid of hurting her feelings.
Nikita, however, still basked in the glow of the love-making. "I have your number, Michael. Go on, go to work. I'll see ‘you' later," she promised him with more than a suggestive hint. She rolled to her back and began a languorous stretch that she hoped would entice Michael, especially since she was nude. Nikita could see that her gambit was successful. After all, Michael hadn't bothered to dress yet. Nikita giggled, as she turned her back to him and pretended to go to sleep.
Michael could feel that his body had betrayed his feelings again and gave her a pat on the derrière. "Nikita, you don't play fair."
With the sweetest expression imaginable on her innocent face, she turned to him and said, "I know," and pulled up the sheet. "Now go. I'll see you later, and I promise to be on my good behavior. I won't compromise you with Operations and Madeline, and I won't accost you in the darkened back corridors, unless you want to be accosted, of course-."
Michael interrupted her silliness with a kiss and a soft, "Nikita. Hush." He turned to leave, and Nikita stopped him.
"Michael, you really ought to put on some clothes before you leave," was her insolent parting thrust. Michael's look of chagrin delighted Nikita, as much as his lovemaking had--almost.
Nikita's giggles followed him as he hurriedly dressed and left. The sound of her giggles made his heart lighter and gave his step an indefinable spring. As he closed the door to her apartment, he stopped and said, "Merci," with a breathless sigh to whomever might be listening.
At precisely 4:45AM, Michael walked down the steel gray halls of Section One and into his office. One of the reasons he preferred an early start to his day was the silence. It enabled him to think without distraction or interruption. It was usually like this, unless there was a major mission on tap. With fewer people to get in his way, Michael could accomplish mountains of paper work. Walter, another early riser, would not be here before 5:30 or 6:00.
Michael's fingers flew as he keyed his security code into the system. He had a flashing email. That meant a priority message from Operations or Madeline or another Class 5 operative. Michael opened it at once. Oddly, it was not from Operations or Madeline, but from Terrence Carrey. C5 ops. normally operated autonomously--not from Section, but from each other. Given the responsibilities that C5 ops. had, there was little time for socializing. They all knew each other, and some had even been on missions together in earlier days, but at that level there was little interaction.
"Please see me when you arrive. It is urgent. Tell no one. Carrey," was the cryptic message. Michael accessed the file he had on Carrey. 41 years old, previous field experience with CIA until felt too ‘difficult' to control. Recruited in 1983. Many successful missions. Fluent in five languages. Damn! Michael thought, there is very little intel in these files. He had known that much about Carrey without accessing the file. Well, best to see what he wants. What better way to assess my competition.
Michael walked with brisk strides to Terrence Carrey's office and gave a tap on the door. When there was no response, Michael opened the door. Whatever Michael expected to see, it was not Carrey with his arms flung wide and his brains splattered over the wall behind the desk. There was no point in checking for signs of life. Michael took note of the 9mm lying on the floor where it had been dropped. Michael had never figured Carrey for a suicide. Michael, being careful not to touch anything, used his cell phone to call Operations emergency number
Michael spoke with urgency. "Come to Carrey's office. He's dead. Looks like a suicide."
Michael shut the door to Carrey's office and stood to secure the room, while waiting for Operations. Two C5 ops. lost in two days. Michael wasn't certain that he believed in coincidences. Time would tell if they were related.
Six minutes later Operations came puffing around the corner. "What the hell's going on here Michael? Are you sure he's dead?"
"Of course," said Michael, answering the second question first. I found a priority email from him when I arrived this morning. I went to see him as requested and found him like this."
"Did you touch anything?" Operations demanded as if Michael were an incompetent rookie cop.
"Of course not." Michael chose not to be offended by Operations' heavy-handed manner. He knew that Operations was more than surprised by Carrey's suicide.
Madeline chose this moment to make her elegant entrance. Every hair was in place, and no wrinkle dared show its face in her apparel. "Michael, is it true?" she asked.
"Yes." Michael had learned self-restraint at Madeline's behest, and he used it against her now. He had resented her mission profile to test Andrea Karsov. Anyone could have accessed Andrea's private files. It didn't have to be him, but the test had been for him as well. Madeline had wanted to see if he would let his feelings for Nikita interfere with the mission. Madeline should have known better. If fact, he was certain that she did. She had tried to drive a wedge between Nikita and him by having him seduce Andrea. This after allowing him to spend six torturous nights with Nikita during the Armel mission.
"I'll call housekeeping, but have them do the routine investigation first. We should follow procedure, no matter how obvious it looks. This is only the second suicide we've had on the premises in all these years. Isn't that amazing?" Madeline asked, not expecting an answer.
"Yes, it is," Michael said.
"We'll debrief you, Michael, in 30 minutes," Madeline added as she left for her office and her well-secured psych files.
"Of course," was Michael's standard reply as he turned to leave.
Operations paced back and forth before the door of Carrey's office.
Something bothered him about the circumstances. Carrey had not seemed
the type to take his own life. There had been no warning signs.
He looked speculatively at Michael's back as he walked down the hall.
Surely not, he thought. Surely not.
For half an hour, Operations had paced back and forth in the hall outside
Terrence Carrey's office, as Hector from Housekeeping collected evidence.
His need to smoke acigarette was almost unbearable, and he toyed with the
slim brown weed that he usually
carried. Luckily, he carried no matches. "How much longer is this going to take, Hector?' he asked as he stood in the open door.
Hector in his paper gown and rubber gloves gave Operations a look of distaste.
"The physical gathering of evidence will take another hour or two. Med
lab will remove the body for autopsy. I assume there is ‘someone' here
qualified to do one." Hector's
voice dripped with sarcasm. He knew that Section One had its ‘resources,' but he had always felt ‘above' the petty professionals brought in under blindfold to do a one-time job. His special skills, honed as a member of the police force of a small suburban hamlet, had brought him to the attention of Section One, when he had been arrested for systematically ridding the town of its worst problems.
"Let me know when the body has been moved to the morgue and all the evidence
collected. I have to attend a debriefing." Operations spun on his heel
and headed to Madeline's office. Hector had always given him the creeps.
He was a necessary evil in
Section One, but Operations didn't have to like him.
Madeline nodded as Operations entered. Her brown eyes were troubled, as she asked, "Do you think Michael had anything to do with Carrey's death?"
Trust Madeline to come straight to the point, Operations thought. "It doesn't seem like something Michael would do. What do you think? ‘You' know him better than I do."
Madeline's face showed that she was giving great thought to her answer.
"Given Michael's sudden interest in access the C5 ops. files, I am puzzled
by the coincidence. Your recent exchange with Michael about him being
one of the front-runners to take your
place may have been the impetus for his accessing the files, but we need to carefully consider and weigh the consequences of having a rogue operative in our midst."
Operations laughed aloud, "Hell, I've told them all that at one time or another. It keeps them on their toes, thinking they might be the one."
Madeline smiled her mysterious smile. "Did it work with Michael? Did it keep him in line?"
Operations, as he remembered Michael's challenge, had to admit, "No, it didn't."
Madeline smiled again. "My point exactly." She took a deep breath and continued,
"If Michael is set on eliminating all his competition, you might be on
his list as well. We've already been through one coup attempt,
and I would hate to see us surprised
by another so soon."
Operations was stunned at Madeline's bald statement of fact. "We can confine himquite well here. Yes, that might be the best way to go."
Madeline shook her head. "I think we need a little more intel before we
do anything that rash." Madeline had purposefully needled him about making
emotional decisions since her kidnapping. What she had said to Nikita about
Operations mistake had been true. "Let's debrief him first."
Michael stood waiting until Madeline and Operations were ready to see him. His senses were acute and focused on his upcoming debriefing. It was a simple thing he had done--finding Carrey's body. He had carefully not touched anything. All the same he would be glad when the session was over.
Finally, Madeline's door opened with its usual silent efficiency. Michael walked in with his usual graceful stride and said, "You wanted to see me?" He stood with his hands folded in front of him and waited for their onslaught of questions.
Madeline looked at Michael with her flat brown eyes. She had trained him
well. He stood before her as evidence of that training. His perfect
posture, his composure, and the folded hands were all hers. His blank
stare was his own, refined and polished by pain.
Its purpose was to never to let anyone know his real feelings. If Michael only knew how expressive his eyes could be, he would have to walk around with a blindfold. "Michael, tell us in your own words how you came to find Carrey's body. Don't omit anything."
"I came in at 4:45AM to go over some files. I found a priority email from
Carrey on my laptop. He asked that I see him immediately. I went to his
office and found him. I called you. I didn't touch anything. I remained
there until you arrived some five or six
minutes later. That's all."
Michael's debriefs were always the epitome of clarity of speech and simplicity of delivery. Madeline was impressed and gratified, for she had taught Michael that the most convincing lies were those that contained an element of truth.
"You came from your standby quarters or your apartment?" she queried.
"Neither," Michael responded, who was determined not to volunteer anything he considered unnecessary.
Madeline raised an eyebrow at his cryptic answer. "Would you mind telling me where you were last night?"
"Yes, I would. It was personal and had nothing to do with Section One." The last thing that Michael wanted the pair to know was where he had been and with whom he hadbeen. He didn't want Nikita tarnished by his brush with coincidence.
Madeline blinked. "Well, we can let that go for now, but we may need to
revisit the question at a later time." She looked at Operations, who had
been extraordinarily quiet through her whole interview. He nodded his head,
for her to continue, indicating
with his silence that he would remain an observer.
"You didn't touch the body?" she probed.
"Nothing in the office?"
"How long were you in his office before you called Operations?"
"Thirty seconds at most."
"Tell me again your reason for going to his office."
"I had a priority email from him requesting me to see him urgently. It should still be filed in lap top."
"Well, Michael. It isn't, and there is no record of an email being sent from Carrey's computer either. You do see my problem, don't you Michael?" Madeline asked with her enigmatic smile which chilled more than it warmed.
"What? I never deleted it. Even if I had, it could still be recovered." Michael was concerned, and while he understood that Madeline had to be thorough, he didn't appreciate being the focus of her scrutiny.
Operations spoke for the first time. "Michael, consider yourself on close quarters stand by until otherwise notified. I will accept your word of honor that you will remain away from the scene of the investigation and that you will not interfere in anyway."
Michael was incredulous that they were confining him to quarters. Apparently, they suspected him of responsibility for Carrey's death, and they had no other viable suspect.
A sudden dryness caught the words in his throat, as he answered, "Of course."
"That'll be all, Michael." Madeline noted his difficulty in speaking and
was pleased that she had been able to rattle Michael.
Michael pivoted and strode from the room.
Operations turned to Madeline, "Well, what do you think?"
"I haven't decided yet. It's too soon."
to Part III