Part XII

        The Hotel de Paris was housecleaned quite efficiently.  The twelve deceased terrorists were removed  with a minimal amount of fuss and bother.  The six terrorists who were ‘lucky' enough to be left alive were hustled away in the dark gray vans, along with their shaken leader Jorge and his second-in-command.  Whether any of the six would consider themselves lucky to be alive remained to be seen.  Their next gig would be the White Room, and while Madeline would most likely not be needed for their interviews, she would perform an evaluation.  Would they be Section One material or not?  One thing was certain, Jorge and Bruno would be interrogated thoroughly before disposal.

        While the local authorities remained behind at the Place du Casino, to interview the hostages, it was as if Section One had never been on the scene.  The hundreds of onlookers, both the media and others, saw a highly regimented assault team, and never realized they had witnessed an operation by the most covert anti-terrorist agency on the planet.
        The hotel management, instead of being thankful for Michael and Nikita's intervention, made certain that the ‘authorities' knew that Monsieur and Madame Therrien would no longer be welcome as guests at the Hotel de Paris.  Paradoxically, they blamed the rescuers for being necessary.

        Whether M.Therrien would live long enough to be a guest anywhere else again was still in question.  Nikita had bent over Michael's still form pressing her hands against his sucking chest wounds.  "Don't you dare die on me.  Don't you dare," she'd yelled at him.  Blood had marked the entrance and exit wounds in his right upper flank.  "Nothing.  Not so much as a damn handkerchief when I need one. Nothing." she'd muttered as she attempted to staunch the flow of blood from both wounds.  Afraid to the release the pressure long enough to check for a pulse, she'd prayed that Medical would come quickly.

        They did.  "Out of the way, Nikita," Doc Marie's voice said urgently, but kindly.   "We don't have any time to waste here."  The Section-seasoned trauma surgeon ripped open Michael's shirt and made a quick assessment of his wounds.  Sterile bandages found their way into her hands and became pressure dressings in the twinkling of an eye. Other hands started two IV's, and another pair of hands slapped a non-rebreather mask over his mouth and nose and a pulse oximeter monitor on his right forefinger.  Telemetry leads were positioned in the appropriate areas, and a rapid rhythm could be seen on the battery-powered monitor.  "He's in sinus tach, volume loss.  Bolus him with a liter of normal saline.  Blood replacement will have to wait till we get him on the plane.   Let's get a tube in his chest."

        Again the skilled hands of her team provided the surgeon with exactly what she needed.  "That's it.  Twenty cms of suction."  Once Doc was satisfied that everything they could do had been done, she ordered, "Let's get him out of here and on that plane."  Instantly, her team sprang into action and Michael was on the move, albeit unaware of it all.

        Brad, one of the medics, had held Nikita in his arms, as much to keep her from interfering as to reassure her, while the surgeon performed her magic.  "Come on, Nikita."

        Nikita looked at the surgeon, her wide blue eyes full of tears.  "Marie?  May I stay with him?"

        "Of course.  Wouldn't have it any other way," Marie responded.

        The flight had been torturous.  Michael had not regained consciousness.  Frankly, the surgeon had sedated him heavily to prevent any inadvertent struggles.  Michael was known for the number of times the medics had failed to keep him in Medical.  With heavy sedation, Doc was able to keep Michael well-oxygenated and stable.  The last thing she wanted to do was operate en flight.  Michael's hemorrhaging had nearly stopped which led her to believe that no major arteries had been damaged by the bullet's passage through his thoracic wall.  He was still critical, but given his excellent state of physical conditioning and his will to live, he was certainly salvageable.

        Doc glanced from her patient long enough to place a hand on Nikita's shoulder.  "He's going to be all right, Nikita.  You know Michael.  He'll make it."

        Nikita looked at Marie with a tear-stained face.  "Thanks, Doc.  I owe you a big one,"  she sniffed.

        "You owe me more than one, but who's counting," Doc replied with a quirked smile, then turned back to her patient.

        Nikita paced the hall outside Medical's surgery suite.  Thankfully, Operations had not insisted on an immediate debrief, as he was often wont to do.  Madeline had deigned to speak with Doc while Michael was being prepped for surgery, but Doc had little time to say more than, "Don't worry.  He'll be back killing terrorists for you in no time," before being gowned and gloved by a waiting nurse.

        Nikita remembered the enigmatic look cast her way as Madeline left.  Madeline blamed her for Michael's injury.  Nikita had bitten her tongue to keep from responding to Madeline's cold look, but since Nikita blamed herself as well, there wasn't much to say.

        It was supposed to be downtime for Michael and her... the first time for them to be together by choice.  In the beginning, it had been heaven.  The unending passion they'd shared.  It had been a conflagration of desire.  She'd already lost count of the times they'd made love or the various ways they'd made love.  And it had been love...  consuming...  exhilarating...  love.

        It had been the way she had always known it would be.  It had been ‘more' than she could ever have imagined.  For instance, she never could have imagined that Michael possessed such a romantic nature.  Sensuality to last a lifetime, yes, but the private plane with champagne and strawberries, Monte Carlo, and the beautiful gowns and jewelry.  The list was endless.  He'd spent a small fortune, she was sure, on their trip, and she'd lost another small fortune at the roulette table.

        More than all money he'd spent on her, and more important in Nikita's mind, was that he'd given her so much of himself in their all-too-short day together.  His hand at her waist, the look in his eyes, his rampant arousal whenever she was near, all told her of his love and desire.  He might not have been able to say the words, but Nikita knew she was loved...  and she had let him down.  She had failed to watch his back, and now his life lay in Doc's skilled hands.

        Nikita heard footsteps behind her.  She turned.   "Walter, hi."  Nikita thrust her arms around the grizzled old warrior's neck and hugged him for all he was worth.

        "I hear you and Michael finally had some downtime together.  I guess from his injuries you were just too much woman for him, Sugar," he said with a practiced leer.

        Walter's tone was flip, and it brought a half-smile to her strained face, but his concern was there, too.  "Is he gonna be okay?"

        Nikita nodded.  "It's my fault, Walter.  If-- if hadn't been for me, this would never have happened.  I let him down.  I dropped my guard, Walter."  Nikita buried her face in his shoulder.  Walter was like the father or uncle she'd never known.  She'd never had to hide her emotions from him, and she hadn't had to worry about his manipulating her for missions.  He was her friend in a place that didn't encourage friendships.

        "No, no, Sugar.  You can't blame yourself.  This was something Michael wanted to do for you, and he did it up big.  You took out the guy that shot'im, didn't you?"

        Walter kept his arms around her, and she was grateful.  The adrenaline rush had long faded, and she was at the point of exhaustion.  "Not soon enough.  I've never seen him like this before.  It's never been so bad."

        "Michael's strong, Sugar.  He still has a lot to live for, you know?"

        "I hope so, Walter.  I sure hope so."

        Michael could feel sensation of pain before he could move.  He could hear Nikita's soft voice before he could open his eyes to see her.  He could feel Nikita's touch at his wrist.  He struggled to open his eyes.  He wanted to know that she was really there, and that he was not dreaming or hallucinating.

        "Michael, can you hear me?  I'm here.  You're in Medical.  You've had surgery.  Please don't pull out any of the tubes.  There's one in your chest.  It has to stay there to re-expand your lung.  Doc says you'll be ‘fine.'"  Nikita hated to use Section-speak, but fine meant life to all of them.

        Michael moved his hand a fraction of an inch, but enough to let Nikita know he heard her, that he understood.  A chest tube, not much he could do about that. He sighed and again tried to open his eyes.  A flicker brought overwhelming light.  He gave up and surrendered to the drugs he felt coursing through his system.

        Tears streamed down Nikita's face.  She knew that Michael had been with her very briefly, but the effort had tired him.  Doc had assured her that the sedation would affect him that way.  He would need less and less as time passed, but he could not be allowed to pull one of his usual numbers and leave before Doc deemed him fit to leave.  Actually, he wouldn't physically be able to do anything like that for a few days.  He was already breathing on his own... a good sign, very good.

        Nikita looked up as Operations and Madeline entered the MedLab CCU.  Madeline spoke first, "How is he?"  Operations gave a weak smile, but his eyes scowled.  He blamed her for the severe injuries to his top Class Five operative.

        "He drifts in and out.  I think the last time he understood that I was here, but the drugs are pretty strong.  Doc says he'll recover.  His pulmonary artery wasn't damaged, and the tissue damage was minimal compared to what it could have been.  He was very lucky," Nikita answered.

        "He was lucky you were there, Nikita," Madeline said softly.

        "He would have been luckier, if I'd seen the shooter a second sooner," Nikita admitted.  She still blamed herself, and she would have given anything to have been the one who was shot.  She knew the painful rehab after a lung injury.  It wasn't a lot of fun, but she also knew Michael would be a man possessed until he returned to full efficiency.

        Doc came bustling into the cubicle.  "Well, Blondie, how's our spyboy doing?  Is he trying to remove any vital tubes yet?

        Nikita shook her head.

        Doc grinned.  "I didn't think he would be quite up to that... yet."  She turned her attention to her silent patient, leaning close to his ear.  "Michael," she said softly with a touch of humor in her voice.  "Don't be messing up my hard work now.  Take advantage of the good drugs we're giving you, and maybe you'll be able to have some rest and ‘relaxation' time later."  Doc gave a big wink at Nikita, who promptly turned red from her neck to scalp.

        Operations coughed, as if choking on a fur ball.  "Well, I think we'll leave Michael to your tender mercies, Doctor.   Nikita."  He nodded and with Madeline at his side, left the MedLab CCU.

        Once the pair had safely exited the CCU, Doc turned to Nikita and said, "You know, if they get any stiffer, we'll have to have them embalmed."

        It was Nikita's turn to choke, from suppressed laughter, not a fur ball.

        Hours passed, and Michael's flirtations with consciousness lasted longer each time.   His throat was dry from the oxygen, and he was finally able to stand the light, perhaps because someone had the forethought to dim it.  He opened his eyes.  Yes, his angel was there sleeping, sitting in a chair with her upper body thrown across the foot of his bed.  His chest burned as he breathed in and out.  He wanted to touch her.
        "Ni-ki-ta," he was finally able to say.  In spite of the pain that it took for him to speak and breathe, it felt good to be able to say her name.  He knew that she had been with him every time he had drifted in and out.  She had saved him.  She was his guardian angel.  "Ni-ki-ta," he tried again with great effort.

        Nikita's raised her head and looked at him with bleary eyes that told of many hours without sleep.  "Michael?" she said in disbelief, as she reached for his hand.  "I'm sorry, so sorry.  It's all my fault.  I let my guard down."  Tears of gratitude streamed down her face.

        "S'all right, Ki-ta."  Michael blinked his eyes, swallowed, and  asked, "How long?"

        "Since you were shot?" Nikita asked.  Michael managed a tiny nod.

        "Twelve hours."

        Doc breezed into the room assessed the situation and smiled.  "So I see our favorite hunk is able to talk now. Good."  She listened to his lungs and heart then examined her fine handiwork.  "Michael, you have the constitution of an ox.  Lucky for you, since you're in the business you are.  I can keep the mighty-fine drugs coming, and you can sleep through the next few days, or I can reduce them a bit, if you promise to stay right where you are and leave all the tubes intact.  The choice is up to you."
        "Reduce," Michael said hoarsely.

        Doc looked at Nikita with a wry grin.  "Somehow I knew that would be his choice.  Okay, cutie pie, that's what I'll do."  Doc patted Michael's thigh and reached to adjust the pump.

        No one but Doc would dare to talk to him like that, but Michael didn't mind.

        "Well, fella, I hope you two managed to have a little fun before all the ca-ca hit the fan."  Doc looked from Nikita to Michael.  "Hmm.  From the look on your faces, I would say you did.  Good!  But try not to dislodge that chest tube, Nikita, or I'll be after your butt myself.  See ya later."  Doc breezed from the CCU as quickly as she had entered.

        Nikita's shoulders shook with laughter, and Michael was relieved.  Doc had a way about her that lightened the situation, any situation.  "We were supposed to be on the beach, Kita.  Topless beach, too," he said.

        Nikita rolled her eyes.  "How can you think about that at a time like this?"

        "You're here, Kita.  That's all it takes.  Let's finish our downtime, okay?"

        "Well, sometime, we will, Michael.  We'll have more time, and we'll--"

        "No, now, Kita.  Tell me what we would be doing on the beach."  Every word was an effort, but he wanted to keep her mind off her guilt.

        The light glimmered in her aquamarine eyes, as she realized what he was asking her to do.   She pulled her chair close to the head of his bed and leaned closer to him and began to speak softly for him.  "First of all, I'm wearing the bottom of a micro-kini.  No top.  You've just rubbed sun screen all over me, and you're very aroused.  Very tantalizing you are too in your black thong, Michael."

        "I--I'm wearing a thong?"

        "Not for long.  Now the sun is very hot, and we seek shelter in the cabana...."

        Nikita's soft voice wove a sensual fantasy for the two of them, as Michael's body took refuge in sleep, but his fantasy with Nikita continued long after she stopped speaking.

        Nikita watched him sleep for a few minutes, kissed his cheek, then his lips.  "I love you, Michael."

        In his dream he heard her and smiled.  Je t'aime, Nikita.  Je t'aime.

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