Out of habit, Michael surveyed the room, looking for any hidden surveillance cameras. He did not dare assume that because he saw none, that there were none. The furnishings were elegant and understated, a mixture of period and Japanese black lacquered pieces. While there were no windows five hundred feet below ground, an enviable attempt had been made to give the appearance of windows. Frosted glass had been back-lit and luxurious window treatments adorned these ‘windows.' The lighting system was a very sophisticated one and set to a timer, so that the various colored lights would mimic the coming of the dawn and the setting of the sun. The system was also able mimic the length of daylight, so that the changes of the seasons were reflected in the subterranean world of Section One.
Michael marveled at the pains Madeline had taken to make her quarters comfortable and a reflection of herself. The lighting system was symptomatic of her need for control, and he did not doubt that she could also command rain and lightening at her whim. For now, the lighting system was set for a colorful sunset. Michael turned and smiled at his ‘hostess.'
"You like my new toy, Michael?" she asked. She had changed into an ivory kimono with bronze embroidery that was tied loosely at the waist. Her soft auburn hair waved in a loose fall to her shoulders. She held her hand toward him and led him toward the sofa. She settled comfortably on the sofa, but Michael seemed reluctant to be led.
"Yes. It's remarkable," he replied with genuine admiration. His eyes continued to search for surveillance equipment.
Madeline caught his eye movements and gave a soft laugh, as she tossed her head back showing an elegant, swan-like neck.. "No cameras. No critique, Michael."
Michael's lip quirked in his characteristic half smile. "Can you blame me?" he asked softly, as he remembered the less than salutary training experience of years before. She had been merciless in her review of his skills as a lover. He had suffered from a terrible infatuation, and she had crushed his ego without a qualm, or so it had seemed to him at the time.
Madeline gave him her tried and true Mona Lisa smile. "That was different. It was a necessary part of your training, and," she gave a brief pause for emphasis, "it was difficult for me as well."
Michael returned her open gaze with one of his own. "It seemed to me that you enjoyed it."
Madeline restrained a giggle, "Did you make a joke just now, Michael? I'm never really sure with you. Yes, I did enjoy your love-making. Of course, it would have been inappropriate and detrimental to the training process at the time to have told you so."
Michael looked at the floor before responding, "It wasn't a joke then. You broke my heart," he said softly as he let his eyes enjoy the sensual woman before him.
"Well, I'm not in any danger of doing that now, am I?" she asked in a soft throaty voice that said she desired him on whatever terms.
"No," he responded, as he joined her on the sofa and began to caress her
neck and shoulders. As he began to lose himself in sensation, he
was remained unsure why he had allowed himself to come to her this evening.
Perhaps, it was gratitude or a simple need for the comfort she seemed to
be offering. It was certainly less than love.
Nikita strode into Munitions and slapped her ammunition belt and holster on the work table. She was still dressed in mission gear, but she had taken the time to loosen her long blonde hair. Walter took the 9mm from her. "So, I heard the Moroccan mission went well."
Nikita shrugged, "Yeah, it went well. We achieved our target, and did it quickly. I might actually have some downtime coming."
The troubled look that had been in Nikita's eyes for months was still there, and it prompted Walter to ask, "So, when are you going to quit moping over Michael and get a life?"
The idea that Walter thought she was ‘moping' over Michael disturbed her. She covered by giving Walter a wink and a smile, "What makes you think I haven't? Maybe I'm waiting for you to grow up, Walter."
"That's my sassy, Sugar. That's the girl I've been missing."
Nikita assumed a haughty posture and said with the most solemn expression she could manage, "Walter, you really are behind on the women's movement, aren't you? I'm a woman, Walter, not a girl."
Walter chuckled at Nikita's pretense. "Yeah, that's right! What a woman."
Nikita gave Walter a small conspiratorial smile and leaned toward him,
"Can you keep a secret, Walter? I have a date tonight."
"No! And the lucky bastard is?"
Nikita put her forefinger to her mouth and shushed him, "That is the real secret, Walter," as she proceeded to whisper the answer in his ear.
"'Bout time! But do you think he's cuter than I am, Sugar?"
"Nah, he just has more hair." With this gay riposte, Nikita smiled
and sashayed from Munitions, leaving Walter once again to shake his head.
He hoped like hell she was going to be all right, and he hoped that Michael
would rot in hell for breaking his Sugar's heart one time too many.
The coupling that occurred between Michael and Madeline was more of a well-choreographed pas-de-deux between two well-trained dancers than the mating of two finely honed athletes. Time seemed to slow for both of them, and sensation began to take hold of them. Soon the dance became one reminiscent of Stravinsky's Firebird.
Memories and complications of the past evaporated as the two luxuriated in their passion, extending each touch, prolonging each kiss, savoring each new taste. The exact mechanics of transfer from the living room sofa to Madeline's bedroom would forever remain a mystery to them. It must have been magic that transported them from one to the other. Michael remembered kissing Madeline's neck while they were sitting on the sofa, making love on some higher plane of sensation, and then awoke to find Madeline lying next to him in her bed. He'd had nothing to drink and decided that after several months absence of sexual relations, the sex act itself could be a drug--and not a bad one at that.
Madeline lay near him, neat and composed in sleep, as she had not been in passion. She was not sprawled over him like he had always found Nikita after their too few encounters of love-making. He and Nikita had made love, while he and Madeline had made something, but he wasn't sure what. He stirred in the bed, and he felt Madeline awaken. "Sorry, I didn't mean to waken you," he said softly.
"What time is it?" she asked as she gave a tiny yawn and scooted closer to his side.
Madeline gave him a knowing glance. "Post-coital angst, Michael?"
Michael returned her look, "No."
"It's certainly understandable. You've been through a lot this last year. Did you have it when you were with Nikita?"
"Is this an interview, Madeline? Am I being graded after all?"
Madeline smiled at him and said, "No. I was curious. From certain surveillance tapes, I noticed that invariably you appear to suffer remorse after intimate relations. I wondered if it were different with Nikita, since it has been obvious to me that you have been in love with her."
"I don't want to talk about Nikita. That's over--whatever it was."
"Why are you here, Michael?"
Michael thought for a moment and knew his answer might not please her, but it would be the truth. "I needed to be close to someone. Not someone new, someone familiar. It seemed like you sensed it, too. And I was grateful that you allowed me to see my son. After seeing him and not being able to touch him, I needed to touch someone and be touched, not just physically but on an emotional level."
Madeline nodded, "Why not Nikita?"
Michael shook his head. He would not speak of her in another woman's bed, and he would not dishonor what he felt for her.
Madeline seemed to understand and put her arms around Michael's neck. "Come to me," she said as she began stroking him into a fevered response, that startled the two of them with its intensity. A primal mating of male and female, straining and sweating until an explosive climax drained them.
At five AM, Michael had showered and dressed. Madeline lay still asleep, dark shadows beneath her eyes and lips swollen and tender from their ecstasy. Michael closed the door to her quarters behind him and started to return to his own. As he turned the corner, he met Operations.
"Michael?" Operations said. He was startled to see the younger operative in this particular hallway at this time of morning.
"Yes?" Michael responded with a blank stare.
The reality of seeing Michael obviously leaving Madeline's quarters was bitter. "Nothing. There's a briefing at eight. Will you be prepared?" Operations attempted his own version of the blank stare. Gray-blue eyes met crystal green ones, and neither blinked.
"Of course. Is there anything else?" Michael asked.
"No. That will be all." Operations watched Michael continue
his confident stride down the hall. Madeline was sleeping with Michael,
and he wondered for how long and how he could have been so blind.
Nikita shook her long blonde hair to her shoulders, and sighed. This was the fourth style she'd tried in the last hour, and it was going to have to do. She was running out of time. Her ‘date' would be here any minute. God, the thought of having a real date was radical, not since Jurgen.... Better not to go there she thought, as a troubled frown crossed her face. Tonight is not about the past, it's about the future, or tonight at the very least.
She was determined to put Michael out of her mind and life. Well, realistically, he had taken himself out of her life, but that still left her mind where only with great effort had she been able to push him to a recessed corner. Thoughts of him only crossed her mind when she was at Section, went on missions, saw him, heard his name, ate Chinese food or breathed.
Her date had pursued her steadily, but with reserve. He was aware of her history with Michael and had tried to be her friend, when she would let him. They'd had coffee a few times, and he'd listened. He knew about her life on the streets, her mother and her mother's boyfriends, and her early days in Section. He'd listened to her talk about Michael, too. She had not been able to say much about the silent and dark operative, because the pain was still too sharp; but he had listened with a sympathetic ear.
Finally, she had accepted his invitation to dinner, and she was in that insane process of trying to decide what to wear. Her hair and makeup were done, if she could only pick out a ‘look' for the evening. Actually, she simply wanted to look like a normal woman going to dinner with a normal man, although neither of them were exactly normal. Normal people don't work five-hundred feet below ground and fight terrorists planet-wide.
Once again, Nikita surveyed her wardrobe and wished she'd had time to go shopping for something new, that didn't remind her of Michael. No black, that's for sure, she thought. Nothing like a little black number to remind me of him. She pushed hangers aside and found exactly what she'd been seeking. She had bought it at a vintage dress shop weeks before and had forgotten about it. She had never worn it, and more importantly, she had never worn it with Michael.
She carried the white dress over to the mirror and held it in front of her. Yes, it was exactly right. Nikita smiled at her image in the mirror. Nikita removed her bathrobe and shimmied into the dress. Shimmy was the right word for the 1920's flapper dress with dropped waistline. The length barely skimmed her knees. It was fun, and it was perfect for tonight.
The doorbell rang, and Nikita took one last look in the mirror. Okay, she thought, I look pretty okay. She ran happily for the door and opened it. A tall blond man with a square chin, blue eyes and dimples stood there holding a bottle of wine. "Hi, Tip. Come in."
He grinned at the lovely woman in front of him. "Nik, you look beautiful." He was awe-struck. She was so beautiful it hurt him. It hurt him to see the sweetness that Section had not been able to eradicate from her soul. He handed her the bottle of wine and could not resist placing a kiss on her forehead.
"Uh, I guess I'd better chill this," she responded, suddenly not sure if she were really ready for a date, after all.
"Yeah, that would probably be best," he grinned.
"Am I going to need a coat?" she asked, playing for time.
"It's turning a little cool," he responded. He could see that she was suddenly nervous and wondered if it were a simple case of first date jitters or something more.
Nikita flashed him a quick, nervous smile and handed her light wool coat to him. He took it and placed it on her shoulders being careful not to caress her as he did. He didn't want to rush her. That she was still too vulnerable was painfully obvious to him.
"Let's go. Our reservations are at eight," he said hoarsely.
Nikita nodded. Together they walked down the hall--to dinner and what else? Neither of them knew, but for the moment dinner was a first step.