Part III

       Michael continued his walk down the hall. He turned with automatic precision to return to his office, then thought better of it. His office would be part of the investigation now, he knew. He felt powerless, even helpless, and these were unusual feelings for him
and ones that were uncomfortable to the extreme.

        As Michael continued his journey to him quarters, he saw Nikita coming towards him. He saw her smile as she saw him, and he knew he had to warn her away from him.  She would hear the news soon enough.

        Nikita's heart raced at the sight of him. The memory of their lovemaking was fresh in her mind and body, as she reached for him.

        "I'm busy," he said as he brushed past her and continued on his way. He had to protect her now and explain later.

        Nikita's sharp intake of air told Michael, he had probably wiped away all the progress they had made the night before. His heart ached and his feet wanted to turn around so that he could  pologize.

        Nikita watched Michael as he strode down the hall without giving her a backward glance. I will never understand him, she thought, if I live a thousand years. What the hell is going through his head now? This was a dance they had danced one too many times.
Her angry stride down the hall in the opposite direction mirrored his.


        Birkoff saw Nikita taking long brisk strides past Systems.  "Nikita!"  He motioned for her to come near.  Birkoff was anxious to tell her about Carrey's apparent suicide.  His movements were animated as he switched his weight from one foot to the other.

         With another rebuff from Michael fresh in her mind, the last thing Nikita wanted to do was talk to anyone, but Birkoff was one of the two exceptions that she would consider making.  In her present churlish mood, Nikita still managed a smile for him.  "What is it, Birkoff?  I'm in a bit of a rush."  Actually, Nikita had no where to be, but she had simply  wanted to be where Michael was, but his lack of action in the hallway had taken all the joy from last nights encounter and trashed it quite effectively.

         "Harikari, committed suicide sometime last night or early this morning," Birkoff said, using Terrence Carrey's nickname.  "But Operations and Madeline have been questioning Michael about it.  Something's fishy."

         "Carrey's dead?  They're questioning Michael.  Why?"  Nikita was leaning very close to Birkoff as she asked.  "Why would they suspect Michael, if Carrey committed  suicide?"

         "Michael found him, and something about his accessing Carrey's file  recently.  I don't know, but I don't like it.  They're acting like they suspect him of something more.  They've had me remove his security codes and access from the entire system, and they're having me download all the files on his laptop to theirs."  Birkoff shook his head in disbelief.   "Nothing like this has ever happened here before."

         Nikita said in a quiet measured tone, "I'm sure it's all a misunderstanding.  As soon as they do a little investigating, they'll see that it was a suicide attempt all along."   There was no need for Birkoff to be so agitated.  They would both have to keep clear heads, if anything else should be revealed by the investigation.  "Where's Michael?"

         "I dunno.  In his quarters, I guess."  Birkoff turned back to his task at hand.  Many  of Michael's files were encrypted, and he would be hours trying to break that sophisticated code.

         As Nikita walked toward Michael's stand-by quarters, she understood Michael's previous behavior.  He had been attempting to protect her yet ‘again.'  The one thing she knew was that Michael had a ‘need' to protect her.  Whether that need was because he loved her or because she represented something else indefinable to him, Nikita didn't now.  She also knew that he had not killed Carrey.   She knew Michael would kill ruthlessly on a mission without a millisecond pause, and she knew he would kill to protect her, but to kill another operative and attempt to make it look like suicide didn't seem like something he would have done.

         Nikita could not eliminate from her mind the haunting specter of both Michael's in her bed.  Last night it had seemed as if there were layers and dimensions to Michael's lovemaking  that she had never experienced in the two other encounters they had shared. Their night in Lyon, France aboard the deserted ship, had been full of long-denied passion and the desperation of two lost souls, his and hers, merging and struggling for completion.  They had joined like elemental beasts in a forest primeval, and it had been a life-altering experience for Nikita, who had accepted that Michael was her master, at least in passion.   The knowledge that they would soon have to part had filled that night with intense highs and crashing lows that had only been surmounted by ascending the heights again.
        Their second night together had not been so private.  Nikita shook her head as she walked.  She still couldn't believe that she and Michael had made love while under surveillance for the Armel mission.  For five agonizing nights she had lain in the same bed with Michael, barely touching.  For five tortuous nights they had kissed good night like a sweet little married couple and gone to sleep on opposite  sides of the bed.  More than one morning she had awakened to find herself on Michael's half of the bed and Michael in the shower or having coffee--anywhere but near her.

        She had surmised from the first night that he had no desire to make love to her.  His perfunctory excuse for the cameras about an injured back, had taken the pressure off their need to ‘perform,' but Nikita's very skin had cried to be caressed by his hands.   It had seemed on the fifth night that Michael's hands had been a little more adventurous and seemed as if they had wanted to linger beneath the duvet, but Nikita used the injured back excuse against him that time.

        The sixth night, well-recorded on videotape for the whole fu**ing Section to see, had been encouraged by Madeline.  "Studies show that young married couples who have been married under five years have intimate relations at least twice a week."   Well, talk about encouraging a thief to steal.  Okay, Maddy, she had thought as she walked with composure out of her office.  You want to see some intimate relations.  You're going to see some intimate relations!

        Michael had been cautiously reluctant, but had responded nicely to her need to relax.   Once he had started touching and kissing her, she had forgotten the surveillance cameras in her  desire to join with him again.  It had been months since Lyon, and it might be months again.  There had been no semblance desperation to color that encounter, but there had been plenty of passion, hunger and even laughter that night.

        Nikita stopped and leaned her back against a wall.  She could almost feel his hands on her now.  She took a deep breath to try and regain her composure before seeing him again.  He didn't need her to be acting like a love-starved nymphomaniac.  He needed her help now, not her body.

        Ken Stiles walked by and saw Nikita leaning against the wall with her eyes closed and fanning her face with her hand.  "Are you all right, Nikita?"

        Nikita's eyes jerked open with surprise.  "Yes, of course.  Thanks."  Nikita swallowed and resumed her trek to see Michael.  Through the twisted corridors of Section, Nikita finally found herself at the door to his quarters.  She took a deep breath and knocked.


Michael paced his quarters, back and forth.  He had never noticed how small they were before.  They had always been a convenience, and now they seemed a prison.  He was not locked in, but he still felt like a caged animal.  He had been locked out of the computer  system, and he had no way  of accessing his files.  There was nothing for him to do but pace, and Michael had difficulty  in withstanding the inaction.  He had always been a creature of action either physical or mental.  His quarters contained no TV, but many books; however,  he was too restless to concentrate on the printed word.

        Michael could barely admit to himself that he was offended as well.  He felt he had served Section One well, and he had suffered unimaginable losses in that time.  He felt he deserved the benefit of a doubt.  It seemed to him to be the perfect irony that they were treating him like the criminal he was.  He wondered if his quarters were under surveillance and assumed they were.  He blamed himself for being unprepared for ‘any' eventuality.  He had no scrambling devices to secure the room.  He supposed that someone in surveillance was having the dubious honor of watching him as he paced. Michael's frustrations continued to mount as he contemplated the unrelenting powerlessness of his situation once more.

        A sharp rap a the door diverted his attention.  "Michael, it's me,"

        As much as Michael desired Nikita and felt a driving need to see her, he didn't want her involved.  "I'm resting.  Go away, Nikita," he said with abrupt measured tones, all the while, his heart cried, ‘don't go.'

        Nikita kicked the door in exasperation, "Open the damn door, Michael!" she shouted.  "You can't do this by yourself--and you don't have to.  Let me in."

        Michael knew she wouldn't go  away, and he was  relieved.  He knew he needed her help, but he hated admitting even to himself.

        "Are you --" was the start of another demand for Michael to open the door, but it opened slowly.  Michael stood there, dressed in his usual black attire.  His eyes were suspiciously shiny, but nothing else in his quiet demeanor disclosed his inner turmoil.  Nikita walked into his quarters and flopped into the white molded chair.  "Well, this is another fine mess you've gotten us into, Michael," was her insolent challenge as she looked at him with blazing blue eyes.

        "Us?" he replied.  "You're not involved in this at all.  You need to stay away from me is what you need to do."  He looked at the ceiling at the obvious surveillance cameras.

        Nikita could not believe her ears.  She hissed, "You were with me most of the night.  I'm your alibi, whether you like it or not, Michael."

        Michael used his eyes to deter her from any more declarations, but it had no effect on Nikita.  "They have to know you--"

        Michael stopped her words by grabbing her and kissing her.  As he nuzzled her neck, his whisper was terse, "Shut up.  I'm only trying to protect you.  They don't need to know where I was.  They've already heard too much," he said with a hoarse plea in his voice.

        "Tough," was her reply as she bit him on the ear.  "I'm going to see Madeline now, and there's not a thing you can do to stop me.  I mean, you can't even shoot me in the leg, ‘cause I'll bet they took away your gun," she said as she gave him her million watt saucy smile.

        Nikita's sarcastic reminder of one of his  threats on a prior mission was another sarcastic jab--irritating, but without any real sting.  "Fine.  Do as you wish."  Michael said as he folded his hands in front of him and looked away from the face that figured in his dreams.

    Nikita rose and looked over her glasses at him.  "I will," she said as she walked out the door.


        The sun shone in a dappled pattern through the ecru lace curtains that adorned her boudoir, and Judith La Fontaine luxuriated in the tactile sensuality of satin sheets.  Only minutes before she had bade her married lover farewell.  As a C5 operative of Section One, she was quite circumspect with whom she shared her body, and she was careful never to target anyone who would make demands on her limited time.  At the slightest sign of an imminent emotional entanglement, Judith terminated the relationship.

         Her current lover was typical--professional, handsome, and married.  Lovers fitting that profile made the fewest demands.  The current man was so self-absorbed in his career, he had never bothered to ask about hers.  Judith had only made one mistake in her years in Section One, and she was lucky to have survived it.  She had been young and foolish, for she had coveted Operations at a time when he and Madeline were going through their difficult patch over Michael.  At the point when Operations had appeared to be most receptive and even agreeable to her pursuit, Madeline had appeared at her door in the middle of the night.  Madeline had brusquely warned her of all the incidents that could befall a cold op.  Judith, who was no shrinking violet, had felt the chill of Madeline's words deep into the marrow of her spine.  Madeline's eyes had been flat and her voice robotic as she discouraged Judith from getting involved with ‘any' colleague.  Madeline had turned on her heel and left as quickly as she had come.  Judith remembered locking the door and leaning against it as her heart pounded.  She had known the threat was not idle or empty, moreover, it had sounded more like a promise that Madeline would delight in keeping.

        Judith's chilly reverie was interrupted by a knock.  Martin coming back for more, she wondered.  She quickly pulled on a long ivory satin robe and tied the sash loosely.  The reflection in the mirror pleased her still, even at 40.  Auburn hair hung smoothly to her shoulders, smooth ivory skin, clear blue eyes and a body that had retained its tone by the lifestyle requirements of Section One.

        With movements slow and languorous, she shuffled her way to the door and opened it wide.  Only her eyes had time to react, and they opened in surprise at the sight in front of her.  The shotgun blast into her mid-chest blew her ten feet back into her apartment, which had been a monochromatic study in ivory.

        The pale ivory contrasted with the spreading crimson pool that flowed from her massive chest wound, and the shooter nodded in satisfaction, dropped the gun beside her and left with silent measured movements.

Contine to Part IV