While Madeline had never shown any outward signs of self-doubt, she still had many regarding Nikita that she acknowledged only to herself. She knew she had underestimated Michael’s desperation and had badly miscalculated the profound effect the beautiful blonde would have on him. She had thought to give him a partner on more than one level, and in fact, she had, but her real mistake had come when she had accepted the jury’s verdict as truth. Nikita had been found guilty of murdering a policeman, but in reality Madeline had come to realize, Nikita had been innocent of the crime.
Michael had become ‘attached’ to his material, and now four years later the fruits of that attachment were visible to all. For a full ten minutes, Nikita had held Section hostage to her ideals and compassion in a bravura performance that would have ended with her cancellation had Operations had his way. On certain levels Madeline felt a tremendous pride in Nikita, for what had been an untutored street waif was now a dynamic and powerful woman--one for whom Madeline would have to be ‘ready.’ Nikita was determined to remodel Section One in her own image, much like Adrian had done during its inception.
Madeline refused to think about Adrian. That cancellation had yet to take place. Madeline knew the longer she put it off, the more difficult it would be come, but first she had to take care of matters with Michael. Madeline reviewed the tape of the audiofeed Nikita had still worn after Michael and Nikita had been left alone. She heard Michael once again offer to help Nikita escape. She heard his voice hoarse and raw with emotion as he said, “They will cancel you,” when Nikita refused to run. Then she reviewed the video of the same scene. She saw Michael’s body seem to lose its dynamic tension, as if a puppet had been deserted by the puppeteer. He leaned to kiss Nikita on the cheek and the two clung together for a brief moment. Michael then seemed to regain his strength and balance as he walked away. Madeline knew Michael would follow Nikita in death if she were canceled--this time there was no underestimation of Michael’s emotional status in his last desperate embrace with Nikita.
Madeline’s door opened and Michael entered. “You wanted to see me?”
Madeline knew the emotional cost to Michael, for him to stand there as if she had merely called him to her office on a technical matter. To any other eye but hers, Michael was in his normal mode, but Madeline noted the circles under his eyes and the redness. She was sure he had been crying, probably for the first time in years. While he stood there with his hands folded in front of him, his right thumb twitched. He seemed to be aware of it, but unable to control it.
“Yes, sit down, Michael, we need to have a long talk.” Madeline flashed her Mona Lisa smile, the one that never failed to chill him.
“About what?” Michael’s taciturn response was guided by his propensity to hold his breath. He knew Madeline was going to go over a complete resume of his misdeeds and weaknesses regarding Nikita. He might be here for hours.
“About your future here, your relationship with Nikita, and how things will have to change in order for you both to survive. Operations wants to cancel Nikita outright.”
Michael took a quick breath and closed his eyes. When he could manage to open them again, he said, “I thought you said Nikita would not be canceled.” The nightmare was not over, he thought.
“I convinced Operations to allow her to live and instead increase her mission frequency, so that eventually the matter would take care of itself. This is not my true intention, Michael. I know that Nikita is necessary for your existence, and I know it only too well.”
Michael knew it was useless to deny her words, for he had long ago accepted them as truth. He bowed his head for a moment, then met her gaze again. “What do you want me to do?” he asked.
Madeline drew an irritated breath. “I want you to sit here and listen, and then I will tell you what I want you to do. For two years you have been going outside mission parameters for Nikita to protect her. Your interventions have to stop. ‘Together’ you and I will increase her mission frequency enough so that Operations is satisfied, but we will have to work together to make certain that the difficulty of the missions is alternated, so that the inevitable does ‘not’ happen. In the mean time, if Nikita can manage to keep her crusading nature at bay, she may in time again prove her worthiness to Operations.”
“He will remain suspicious of any contact you have with her, and will no doubt continue to test you as he did in this last mission regarding Adrian. He was very proud of your turning in Nikita, by the way. Neither of us believed you would, but I suppose you thought you could still help her to run away like you did the time before with the Freedom League.” Madeline keyed up the video and let it play. “You certainly gave her every opportunity this time as well.” She gave Michael time to absorb the bomb she had dropped. She had to give him credit, for other than a blink, Michael made no response.
Internally, Michael writhed. He had always thought that Madeline suspected him, but as long as her suspicions were never voiced, he attributed it to his Section brand of paranoia. It was another matter entirely to hear her say aloud that he had allowed Nikita to escape Section and death in the Freedom League conflagration.
“Since Nikita has been an operative, you have done everything in your power to protect her. As long as the end result was positive, I decided to keep these instances to myself, but I want you to know Michael that there are things that I was not able to keep from Operations.”
“For instance?” Michael’s semblance of control was fading, for he could not keep from asking the question.
“We know that Nikita has protected you on occasion as well. Your ordeal at the hands of Orlando Perez--Michael, we ‘know’ that limbic suppressers were used. We also ‘know’ that for three days Nikita literally carried you, and that your performance was bizarre to say the least. How she managed to reverse the effects of the limbic suppressers, we are not certain, but she obviously had help from someone in Section, and it’s not difficult to figure who.”
“Madeline,” he said giving her name the French pronunciation. “What else?”
“Michael, I could keep you here all day reciting instances where you have protected each other, instead of thinking about the whole picture, but I will tell you now. You have to give her up. Operations has already taken her away from you as material. He must not know that you are involved in any of my decisions regarding Nikita’s mission frequency. You must appear to have an involvement elsewhere. It would be best if there were a true involvement. It would also allow Nikita the freedom to seek her own involvement which would be less dangerous than one with you.
“An involvement. You’re ordering me to start seeing someone?” Shades of Andrea, he thought incredulously. Then he remembered his frantic promise of only a short time before, ‘Anything, anything, he could do anything as long as Nikita’s unwavering light still burned in the dark heart of Section One.’ “All right, who?” he asked softly.
“Is there no one who attracts you? There are several quite attractive operatives, and we could even bring in someone from another Section, if necessary,” she offered.
Michael thought for a moment. “No, no one,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders.
“I know you’re not trying to be difficult, but it is necessary.” Madeline walked closer to him and around him. Her intensity of gaze changed--it softened as she began to massage his shoulders. “You’re very tense. It’s been a long time since the Armel mission, hasn’t it Michael? Tell me, have you had intimate relations with anyone since then?” Her hands were strong and she used them to good advantage as she attempted to loosen the muscle spasms in Michael’s back.
“Is that something you really need to know, Madeline?”
“Self-denial is unhealthy, Michael. It could even weaken your ability to perform on a mission. Be at my quarters tonight at 7PM.”
“Is that an order?” Michael knew an ultimatum when he heard it, and he knew what he would have to do. Anything, he told himself. Anything to keep Nikita alive.
“Yes. Yes, it is. I have to determine if you can still function.” Madeline smiled again. “That will be all, until tonight.”
On her balcony, Nikita breathed in the air of life. The breeze from the west seemed to clear her mind and free her senses. Once again she had escaped cancellation, but at what cost she still did not know. She was bound to be downgraded, but doubted that she would be given to Michael again as his material. Still, she was alive and still had a chance at having a life. Whether that life would ever include Michael, she didn’t know. She had been stunned that he kissed her in the middle of Section. Michael didn’t lose control very often, but she had felt his body trembling as they had clung together for what might have been be their last time.
After that brief moment, Michael had seemed to gather his resolve enough to walk away. He didn’t look back, nor did she. Her only fear at that moment had been if she were canceled, Michael would follow her. He had been so close to allowing his old friend Rene’ to kill him once, that it had both frightened and warned her. She knew that Michael had deep feelings for her, and that for some reason only he understood, they couldn’t be together now. Nikita shut her eyes and let the breeze kiss her face with its gentle touch.
Brrrrrr. Nikita heard her cellular phone ring and rushed for it. “Josephine.”
“Michael! There’s a mission?” she asked, confused because he was no longer her mentor. Operations had begun calling her himself during the deep-cover mission with Adrian.
“No, we need to talk. I don’t have much time. Will you meet me at the small park on Sherbrook, by the carousel?”
“As soon as you can.”
“Yes, of course, but....”
Michael had already disconnected. Well, Michael was never one to waste words, she thought as she grabbed her gray jacket. The evening was turning cool, and heaven only knew what was on Michael’s mind. She dared not hope....
Nikita entered the park as the sun neared the horizon. The shadows were long as she walked past the children’s carousel. It was an old one with ornate carved and gilded horses, resembling a jeweled toy more than a real functioning apparatus. Nikita looked but did not see Michael, however she felt his presence, and like the ghost he was, he was standing in front of her before she actually saw him. He was a vision in black and blended perfectly with the lengthening shadows of twilight.
“If I were an enemy,--” he started to say.
“Yeah, I’d be dead now. I know,” said in her vivacious breezy manner, as if she had not faced cancellation only hours before. Although the light was fading quickly, she could still see that his face was lined with fatigue and tension. She suspected the past hours had been difficult for him as well, and her heart gave an extra surge as she thought of how much she really loved him. She sighed. She had known when he asked for a meeting on neutral ground that it was not to open up their relationship. She waited. He would tell her in his own time.
Michael glanced at his watch. Six-fifteen. So little time to explain so much, and no way to do it without hurting her or making her angry. They walked along in silence, until Michael took a deep breath and said, “Madeline talked with me this afternoon, after they made their decision. You and I can have nothing together. She knows everything about your escape from the Freedom League down to your protection of me when I lost my memory. Operations doesn’t know all of it, but some. Operations wanted you canceled, but Madeline convinced him to take a more subtle route--increasing your mission frequency and letting it be resolved that way.”
“Leave it to Madeline to think of a more subtle route,” Nikita said bitterly. “Did she sleep with you too, Michael? Was what Adrian said true?” Nikita’s face became sullen, at the thought of Michael and Madeline together, even if it were years ago.
“I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but with me, yes.” Michael shuddered as he admitted, but he knew it wasn’t the worst he had to say.
“I knew it. She’s always had that air about her, like she owned you, and that you were her prize pupil.” Nikita’s insecurities rushed to the fore, and she desired nothing more than anything to scratch Madeline’s brown eyes, as illogical as she knew it to be.
“Nikita, you have to listen. I have more to say, and I have little time. Madeline doesn’t intend for you to die, Nikita. Together, we will balance your missions, so that while the frequency may be increased, the intensity of your involvement will be adjusted to allow you time to recover, without Operations suspecting.”
“You and Madeline working together to keep me alive. I think that’s really scary, Michael. Why? Why bother?” she asked as tears threatened to consume her.
“Because,” he could barely bring himself to say it, but he did, “because I don’t want to live without you, and Madeline knows that.”
“What else, Michael? There’s more. I can tell. What else?” she demanded in anger.
“I am to seek a another relationship, and it would be best if you did the same.”
Each word pierced Nikita’s heart as if ignited arrows had been launched with the express purpose of wounding, causing immense pain, then killing her. “I see you have to be somewhere soon, so you must already have your candidate waiting. Go on, Michael, I don’t want to keep you.”
Nikita turned on Michael with angry passion and attempted to strike him, to hurt him as he had hurt her. Michael grabbed her by the shoulders and held her close to him. “Listen to me. I don’t want this, but it is the price I must pay.”
Nikita looked into his eyes, and said, “No, Michael, it’s the price ‘we’ have to pay. Pay for what Michael? To keep me alive? Have you bartered your body for my life? There’s only one person who could offer that bargain, Michael. Madeline! You’re going to her, aren’t you?” Nikita struggled in his grasp, but could not free herself from his strong grip.
“So it would seem.” Michael pulled her to him and said softly, “Listen to me, Nikita, my body is very little to give in return for your life, when I would gladly give my life.” His voice was hoarse and tears threatened to spill down Michael’s cheeks as he held her.
Nikita looked into his jade green eyes. “Michael, are we ever going to be together?” Her blue eyes were filled with tears as well.
“I don’t know, Nikita. I don’t know.” With this Michael kissed Nikita on the cheek, then Nikita grabbed him by the head and pulled his mouth to hers. Their senses and bodies reeled with the passion they had not been able to express for months. Their hunger grew, as Nikita’s hands began exploring his back and pulling the shirt from his pants. He gasped as her nails lightly raked across the bare skin of his back. Dizzily, he looked for shelter. There was none. Never had he wanted her so much, never had there been a worse place or time.
‘Nikita, we have to stop. There’s no place. We can’t.”
Nikita groaned, as she pulled away from him. “That’s how you planned it, isn’t it, Michael. It’s either not the right time or not the right place.” She looked away from him and shut her eyes to regain control. “Go on, do what you have to do, Michael. You always do.” With this bitter words, Nikita turned and ran blindly from the park
Michael stood there and watched her run. “Je t’aime, Nikita.
Je t’aime.” He looked at his watch again. It was time to go.
After Michael made his retreat, Madeline sat in her office and began to prepare her mind for the confrontation to come. Operations had insisted that she handle Adrian’s cancellation herself. At least he had not decreed what weapon she should use. She would not, no, she could not execute the English gentlewoman with a gun. A pharmacological termination would be more humane and easier on the two of them.
Adrian’s remarks had destroyed Madeline’s psychological barriers for a time. ‘Killing mommy’ had been particularly cruel, but then Adrian had always known how to get under her skin, Madeline thought. Madeline also thought about her early choices, the ones that had lead her here to Section One. After Madeline had killed her sister Sarah, by pushing her down a flight of stairs during a struggle for a favored doll, Madeline had been evaluated, poked and prodded by physicians of all kinds. They had pronounced her sane, and said what a terrible accident it all was, but when Madeline looked into her mother’s dark, hooded eyes, she knew that she would always be guilty there.
So, she made choices--bad ones. Drugs, bad friends and finally a wilding episode that left a young couple, who had been jogging for the health benefits, dead--these choices had brought her to the attention of the legal system. Her five friends had all been convicted and sentenced to death, but because she was only sixteen, she had been sent to a juvenile institution. The case was nationally known because of its ferocity, and Section One had recruited her for her beauty, her ability to kill and her native intelligence.
She had been trembling as she was brought to Adrian. Sober and clean for the first time in three years, Madeline was terrified as she met the ‘Mother of Section One.’
“Sit down child,” Adrian had said kindly. “You are being given another chance, and I want you to know that I am taking a personal interest in you. This is not something I normally do, but I see something in your eyes that tells me you are not one of our ordinary recruits, and I want to develop it. Your file is an interesting one. I see there was an unfortunate accident in your past. We won’t dwell on that here, dear. You start off with a new slate. Would you like that?”
“Ye-es, Ma’am,” the young Madeline had stammered.
Adrian continued as she smiled at the teenager. “You have a very high IQ, and in addition to the normal training our recruits undertake, you will continue your studies. It will seem very rigorous at times, but I think you are strong enough to succeed. Now go back to Paul, and he will give you your schedule. Don’t disappoint me, Madeline. I hate to be disappointed. Do you understand, dear?”
Madeline had gulped and shown the first sign of spirit. “Yes, perfectly.”
Madeline didn’t like to think of the younger, vulnerable Madeline, but she was still a part of the gestalt. Time to do what I have to do, she said to herself. She had already ordered Adrian taken from her detention cell, and taken to the white room. She knew that the injection was waiting per her instructions, and that all she had to do was go there and give the injection and leave. Somehow, she knew it would not be that simple.
Madeline opened the door to the white room and was faced with a smiling Adrian, restrained, of course, but determined to take control of even this situation. “Hello, dear. So it has come to this. I never quite expected to see the white room from this viewpoint. I supposed I might have designed it with a thought or two for creature comfort if I had. Are you all right, Madeline? Are you going to be able to do this after all? Operations shouldn’t have insisted you do it. You really don’t want to do it, do you?”
“No, of course, I don’t. You know me well enough to know that, but I will do it. You know that too. Surely, you realized that this was a possibility when you undertook to destroy Section One.” Madeline pulled a chair beside Adrian and sat by her old mentor as if they were old friends who had met at a dinner party.
“Yes, of course, but I never ‘really’ considered that I would fail, you
Madeline smiled ruefully, “No, I don’t suppose you did.”
“I said some cruel things to you out there.”
“Yes, you did.”
“I’m afraid I was still upset enough to want to diminish you in front of the others, but I do regret the words, Madeline. I truly do.”
“I’m ready whenever you are, Madeline. The line is already in place. All you have to do is inject the drug.”
Madeline had never had a prisoner take control of her own execution before, but then Madeline had never had anyone of Adrian’s caliber in the white room. She wasn’t sure she could. Yes, of course, she could. Madeline picked up the syringe and looked at the numbers on the side as if she’d never seen them before.
“Madeline, dear, I can see how difficult this is for you. If you don’t mind, I’ll save you the trouble.” With these words, the EKG tracing on the heart monitor started to demonstrate an erratic baseline. After a thirty second run of V-fib, the tracing became a flat line.
An alarm sounded. Madeline looked at her watch. Six-thirty. Madeline pressed the switch that stopped the high-pitched alarm from sounding, and observed her mentor one last time. To the pale, still form she said, “You win again, Adrian. You win again.”
Michael looked at his watch. Six-fifty-five. He paused as he looked at the security panel in front of him, his hand hesitating before finally entering the code that would allow him admission to Madeline’s quarters. This is a mission, he told himself. The same type of mission he had when he last made love to Lisa Fanning--that of keeping Nikita alive. Mon Dieu, but it was getting old. He knew that Madeline enjoyed forcing him into this role. It made her control of him complete. It had been a long time since he had enjoyed being ordered to make love on demand, but he could still do it. The inner conflict came because he didn’t ‘want’ to make love to Madeline or anyone else but Nikita.
Madeline’s door opened with silent precision, and Michael walked slowly into the living room. “You’re right on time. Good,” was Madeline’s greeting, as she waved him toward the bar. “Have a drink. Get comfortable. This doesn’t have to be painful.”
Michael thought her smile seemed brittle, and if he had been looking at
any other woman, he would have been certain that she was on the verge of
tears. He walked over to the tall, lacquered chest that served as
her bar and poured himself a glass of wine. At this point,
he didn’t care about the vintage or whether the harvest had enough rain
that year. It had been years since he was in her quarters, but nothing
had changed, except Madeline herself had grown a little older and
He sipped his wine and sat in the leather armchair he had favored during his visits in the past, as he watched her closely. Her movements were erratic and without her usual grace. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Madeline gave him a surprised look of her own. “Nothing. Why do you ask?”
Michael returned her gaze with sultry stare, as he took another sip of wine and licked the last drop off his upper lip, before he spoke. “You look nervous or upset about something. Have you canceled Adrian yet?”
His voice was soft as it caressed her ear. Damn him, she thought. He was trying to take control. Too many people were trying to take control of her today, and she didn’t like it. Michael had found her vulnerable and was already in seduction mode. She had taught him too well, and he was too good at this. She watch him rise and walk toward her. He held his open palms toward her, offering himself.
“You’re right, Madeline. This doesn’t have to be painful. We can have pleasure, just as we did before.” Michael pulled Madeline from the sofa and ran his hand down the back of her upper arm. He noted the rise of goose-flesh as he touched her again. He could feel true hesitation as she tried to remain aloof to his advances. He decided to push her farther, faster than he would have with anyone he really wanted to seduce.
“Yes, Madeline, you still arouse me. You know that don’t you?” he said softly as he took her hand and placed it where she could feel his body’s natural response. “You know I never recovered from how you rejected me. See how ready I am for you now.” Michael started to sweep her into his arms.
“No! Michael. It has been a long time, and this is too fast.” Madeline pushed him away from her. “You’ve lost your finesse, Michael,” was the only disparaging thing she could think to say. His effect on her senses had been more powerful than she had expected. She had to get him out of here, rather than lose control again.
“No! Again! You treat me like the child I was ten years ago and reject me again.” That might have been a little over the top, he thought.
Madeline gave him a sharp look and appeared to be her old self once again. “Don’t overplay it, Michael. You’re free to go, but nothing else has changed in regard to Nikita.”
“You really don’t want me to stay?” he asked in his most appealing little boy manner.
All Michael received was a look of disgust as Madeline whirled from the room and slammed the door to her bedroom. “I guess that means I can go,” he said softly to his reflection in the mirror as he turned to leave.
A room away, Madeline was slowly beating her head into the wall.
“Why, Why does he have to be my weakness?” she asked herself over and over.
Michael walked slowly to his quarters. The sense of relief
and elation that he had experienced on leaving Madeline’s quarters had
quickly faded, leaving him with one of depression instead. True,
fortune had been with him this night, and he had not had intimate relations
with Madeline. Nikita, now she was another matter. He was torn,
because he knew he had to let her go. She was already angry with
him, and he should let her remain that way, but he couldn’t. He wanted
to feel her skin against his skin. He craved her lips on his.
Nikita was like an addiction, a sweet addiction that was as necessary to
him as air was to breathe.
He took the cellular phone in his hand and started to punch the numbers that would allow him to hear her voice, but again he was torn between what he should do and what he wanted to do. What had happened to the operative with no heart? Where had he gone? Michael knew that Nikita was the answer to those questions, and he begged for an clear answer to his dilemma--an answer that would not endanger the one he treasured most. Michael replaced the phone on his desk and sighed.
Twenty minutes away, Nikita sat and sipped on her third glass of wine. The fragrant candles lent a soft ambiance to her apartment, and she tried not to see the visions that continued to pass before her eyes. Visions of Michael making love to Madeline in all the ways that he had made love to her, using the techniques Madeline had taught him, no doubt, plagued her thoughts. That he did it out of some sense honor to repay Madeline for allowing her to live. Live? Was this a life? Would it ever be?
Nikita closed her eyes and let the sounds of Morcheeba’s latest CD wash over her ears as she tried to banish the memory of Michael’s touch, so delicate, but strong. His lips on hers, she tried not to remember them. She knew if she only tried, she could still feel the sturdy muscles in his back as he arched and thrust over her too willing body.
Michael remembered the sweetness of making love to Nikita, while Section and Armel had watched. Once he realized she desired it as much as he did, his reservations had vanished. Their love-making had gone from sweet to feral that night and back to sweet again. Nikita could change from kitten to jungle cat at a touch. He remembered exactly where and how to touch her to bring about that change. Nikita freely gave as much as she took. He could remember the feel of her tongue and the light grazing of her teeth that always threatened to make him lose control when he needed it the most.
Nikita remembered the feel of him as he entered her, and how she could never have enough of him. She remembered the sensations caused by his tongue as he lapped at her core and threatened to bring her to the brink before they were ready. She remembered how he would cuddle her after they climaxed, how reverently he would stroke her. The tears squeezed between her closed lids. My God, Michael, I love you.
Michael remembered how Nikita would cry his name, when he pushed her over the edge, and afterwards how she would cling to him, again the kitten craving only his touch. He didn’t know if he could keep himself from her. She was a dream, his only dream. Mon Dieu, Je t’aime, Nikita.
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