by Stephanie

         Michael  stared out the window of his loft, not really seeing the blood red sun as it slowly sliced across the sky. He was home for the first time in 6 weeks, this home anyway. He had failed! What a bitter thought, because with that failure came the deaths of two innocents, the ambassador's wife and eight year old daughter.

      He had failed to find them in time and now all he could see was their bodies lying on the steps, broken, bloodied and dead! Section had used all its vast resources and come up as empty as he had. Michael couldn't remember being so tired and worn. The last weeks had been one living nightmare after another with no end in sight. At least Nikita had not been canceled but, wasn't there always something else, with the increase of her missions it was only a matter of time before she took a fatal bullet.

      The microwave beeped in the background and he turned from the window to get the soup he had heated for dinner. Food was the last thing he wanted and sleep was what he needed. But sleep tonight would be filled with nightmares and even the wine would not be of help.

      Michael dragged himself into bed and, as he lay there watching the moon rise, shining its feeble light into the darkness that was his soul, he thought of Nikita and fell into a restless  sleep. Then the dreams began...


      The nightmares that came to all cold ops. filled his mind. This was not unusual and Michael just flowed with the pain, fear and all the violence that was his everyday life. He felt again the deep sense of despair at his personal failures to protect the ones he cared about, and the ones who made his life bearable in an ugly world. Then the dream changed.

      He was aware that he was dreaming! He was walking along a forest path in the night. It was very dark under the huge trees, but there was soft silvery light illuminating his way. The glow intensified as he stepped forward into sight of a clearing. The sight froze him in his tracks as the images before him took shape in his exhausted mind.

      The moon was a round silver ball hung in the clearing, and it's light was reflected in a small pond. Standing in front of the pond, with the moon as a back drop, was a woman dressed in white buckskin dress, boots, and with a long feather on the left side  floating in her hair . She was facing out and away from him but in profile enough to see the long dark hair that floated in the wind he could not yet feel. Then she looked skyward and he heard a blood chilling scream rip the air above her head. She raised her arm high and something very large dove from the sky and with a rush of wings settled on the Indian maidens arm. That was not all for at her feet what appeared to be a rock moved and stood up to be the largest silver wolf Michael had ever seen. That's when he felt it.There was something behind him, something evil and he could not turn to look or to move. The hawk screamed again and launched itself straight at him while at the same time the wolf  beared its fangs in a silent snarl and leaped at his throat. Michael woke up in a cold sweat with his heart pounding in his chest! Was it a dream or was it something else? And what was that evil he could not face?


        Michael entered Section and, instead of heading for his office, went to med-lab to see how Nikita was doing. She was still asleep and he took the time to admire the only brightness in his dark world. She looked tired even in sleep, and the strain of the last few weeks were taking its toll on both of them. At least with her arm wounded she would get a few days rest before they sent her out again. Was she his weakness or strength, he could no longer tell. But life without her would not be worth living and he knew if she died so would he.

        Marie, the nurse taking care of Nikita, came up to Michael and quietly said "Operations would like to see you,"Michael nodded and left the room, wondering what was so urgent that Operations wanted to see him this early.

         "You wanted to see me?" Michael quietly asked.

         "Yes, there has been a major development in a Red Cell account that Mr. Birkoff has had under surveillance. A large amount of money has been moved and was tracked to a casino. Not just any casino, but the Cha La Gi Native American one that's been open for one year now."

         "Are they laundering money for Red Cell?" Michael asked.

        "We don't know that at this time and I want you to find out. Get with Birkoff and your profiler and get me that intel," Operations turned and Michael took the dismissal to head for his office, and some much need coffee.
         Michael reported to Madeline's office with his findings.

        "Apparently Red Cell has been trying, for the past year, to take over the casino and use it to launder money as well as use it as a needed source of income. There has been opposition from the counsel members and from others involved at the reservation," Madeline just smiled and waited for Michael to continue, she had a scenario in mind that had worked well before and wanted to use to infiltrate the casino resort.

         "We need to get to the resort and work on the money transfer at the casino and to stop any more," Michael finished not liking the smile on Madeline's face.

        "Very well Michael, I think you should use the married couple routine and spend some time, maybe a week, at the resort to gather the intel needed to stop Red Cell from taking over the casino. You will not have the corporation of the Indian counsel so please be convincing."

         Michael wasn't sure if he heard her correctly. She wanted him to go in as a married man! He closed his eyes showing just how tired he was and how much his emotions were barely under control.  Madeline watched this unusual display and wondered, yet again, if she could help Michael deal with his feelings, not a weakness to exploit but to strengthen him. She waited patiently for him to get back his iron control before telling him what she hoped would be good news.

         "Michael, you will be paired with Nikita and go in tomorrow. There is a special ceremony planed for later in the week and we feel this is when Red Cell will make their move to take control of the casino."

         Michael had his blank stare back in place and asked, "What is this ceremony?"  "It's loaded on your PDA, look it over and if you would bring Nikita her's too?" Michael took the dismissal and the two PDA's, and left for  med-lab wondering what else could happen?


        Michael and Nikita arrived at the resort casino after an uneventful, and very quiet, flight. Nikita had not spoken to him at all after her briefing with Madeline. She was withdrawn and would not even look at him, and had kept up the cold silent treatment the whole time. It wasn't until she stepped out of the car and put on a false smile that she looked at him at all. This was what he deserved for betraying her trust in him and for all the lies and manipulations. He didn't deserve anything but her contempt, but that was not going to help get the mission done.

         A young Indian boy came out to take their bags and escorted them into the main lobby.

         "O si yo, that means hello and my name is Running Deer, if you need anything the front desk will send for me so just ask and I will be here for you."

         Michael just smiled, nodded and went to sign them in, asking if Running Deer would take them to their room. He took Nikita by the arm and followed the boy to their room. It was on the ground floor overlooking a garden courtyard with an ancient rowan tree in the center. There was a sound of water flowing near by but out of his line of sight, he would need to know the layout of this area if he was going to be able to come and go without being noticed by others.

        Nikita saw the garden and tree in a whole different light. She saw a place of beauty, peace and of something else she couldn't put a name to, just a feeling she had of the wholeness and rightness of this place. She sighed and turned to Michael.

        "I guess we should split up and explore the resort before we get something to eat?" Michael looked at his watch and said, "Why don't we look around together for an hour then get something to eat?" He didn't want to waste time on eating but Nikita was right they would need the energy for later. He also didn't like the idea of exploring separately, it didn't fit the profile of them as a married couple on vacation.

         "Nikita, we need to stay together and at least appear to be a couple. Are you so upset with me you can't even pretend to be with me?" Michael couldn't believe he had said that! But her coldness was getting to him and he needed to know if she could do the job.

        Nikita stared at him not believing what he had just dared to say to her. All the lies and deceits and manipulations crowded her mind and she to scream at him.

        "How dare you ask me if I can do the job? I can handle any crap you send my way and do it with a smile, Michael so lets get this farce started and then eat? OK?"

        With that parting shot Nikita went out into the courtyard and started to explore the grounds with a very quiet Michael close behind.

        They were in an area off the casino but still in sight of the hotel when Michael heard the bone chilling cry from his dream. He looked skyward and saw a large bird circling over them. Nikita also looked up at the cry and shivered at the sound.

        "What is that?" She looked at Michael for an answer and was shocked to see him so pale and trembling! Was he afraid ? Nikita touched his arm to get his attention, he was so far away from her it scared her.

        "Michael what is it? What are you afraid of?" He shook himself and tried to get his pounding heart to slow before turning to Nikita with that blank stare back in place.

        "It's nothing to worry about but lets go back to the room." As they walked back neither of them were aware of two more sets of eyes following their progress, one set yellow gold the other green gold and human.

        When Michael and Nikita returned to their room Running Deer was waiting for them.

         "O si yo, I have a special invitation for you from our chief, Standing Bear, to attend a party tonight. Here is your invitation and a reply isn't necessary," with that done he rushed off.  Nikita was the first to comment, "Well we needed something to get us into the inner council and now we get to meet the chief himself!"

        Michael handed her the invitation and said "Iit's formal, do you have a gown that will cover your arm?"

        Now it was Nikitas turn to give a blank stare, "Of course I have a gown that will cover the wound. You don't think Madeleine would let me be unprepared?" With that she went to the phone and dialed room service.

         "What are you doing?" Michael asked.

         Nikita snorted and said "I'm ordering lunch and going to have a shower and rest before we have to go to this cocktail party! Any more questions?"

        Instead of rising to her anger, he asked if she would order him something to and he walked out of the room back toward the courtyard.

        Michael headed for the sound of water and as he hoped out of sight of their room. He needed some time to get his emotions settled and to regain a sense of balance. Nikita was going to make this very difficult and for once,  he wasn't sure how to handle the distance between them.

        He came to a small spring like fountain with the water flowing over a rock carved basin into the ground. He sat on the ground and leaned back against the tree. He needed to get past the pain he and Section had inflicted on Nikita, and he needed to get past his own pain.

        He closed his eyes and let all the feelings he had held inside flood over him. He hadn't felt this tired and alone in awhile, not since Simone's death. That brought on a grief he thought was long buried in the darkness of his shattered heart! And now, the only other one who could bring him any hope, any reason to do more then just exist, was lost to him to. The tears that formed under his closed eyes threatened to spill down his face, like the falling of the water beside him.

        He was so wrapped up in his pain he didn't hear the approach of steps until a soft whine caused him to open his. Lying at his feet was a very large grey colored wolf, staring at him with golden eyes and his tongue hanging out over large white teeth. Michael wasn't sure what to do. If he moved the wolf could be on him without anything to stop it. Then the problem was compounded, Nikita was heading around the tree. Now she had to come find him?

        "Michael, where are you?" Nikita started to say when she stopped and saw the wolf. All thoughts of the problems this mission were out of her mind as she realized this could be death staring Michael in the face. They looked at each other and saw the unspoken agreement that they would try to work together, not against, once they got out of this predicament. A sharp whistle sounded and the wolf let out a bark.

        Around the tree came a woman, an Indian woman with long dark hair.

Part II