Part III
Therese turned in a circle and peered at her prison cell, for in spite of the
comfortable decor, that's all it was and would ever be to her.  That bitch, that bitch, ran through Therese's mind like a mantra.  "Nikita, is there any chance that they have hurt my family.  Is there any way to know?"  Suddenly, Therese sat in an exhausted heap on a flowered ottoman.  The adrenaline high generated by her erstwhile kidnapping was ebbing quickly, and her legs felt as if they would no longer support her.

Nikita shook her head.  "I doubt that they've harmed anyone in your family, but I
'can' check on that for you.  You know you're too prominent to be missing without someone noting it."  Nikita reached to touch Therese on the shoulder, but Therese jumped.

Nikita remembered her traumatic early days in Section One.  It had been two years before she had seen the outside world again.   She said gently, "I know I've said it before, but I really am sorry.  Being recruited into Section One is a terrifying experience.  For me, I guess it was better than spending my life locked away in prison, but I 'was' innocent, so  I do know how you feel.  I've been given a life that is better than the one I had on the streets, but I'll never truly free.  The sooner you accept that fact for yourself, the easier it will be for you."

Therese looked into Nikita's face.  "They're never going to let 'me' out of here.  I
pose too great a threat.  I'll never see the light of day again.  Will I, Nikita?"

Nikita sat on the ottoman beside Therese and placed an arm around her.  "After
what you said to Madeline just now, I doubt it."

Therese buried her face in her hands.  "I have such an awful temper.  I don't lose it often, but when I do....  But damn!  She made me so mad.  She pretended to be a colleague.  Nikita, I went to lunch with her.  I ‘treated' her for God's sake."  Therese began to laugh.  "What a fool I've  been.  Michael warned me, you know.  Well, of course you know.  You were his messenger.  I was pretty full of bravado--sort of  what ever will be will be.  I suppose I didn't really believe any covert agency had the power to pull what Section One has."

Nikita patted Therese's shoulder in a gesture of commiseration.  "No one would
believe the things I've seen in the four years I've been here.  No one would want to believe them either."  Nikita ran her hand through her long blonde hair.  "I'm going to do a computer search on your disappearance--as soon as you've been missing long enough for anyone to notice, that is."

Therese looked at Nikita in gratitude.  "Merci, Cheri.  I would be most grateful.
By the way, Michael needs you now, more than ever.   Don't allow him to keep you at a distance.  Be there for him.  I say this because, I don't know that I will be of any assistance to him in my state of mind.  Nikita, I don't think I can do this Section thing.  The walls are closing on me, and ...."

"You have to, Therese, if you want to live."

Finally, Therese found her voice.  "That's just it, Nikita.  I'm not sure I do.
Severed from my family?  I do know what Michael's experiencing, Nikita.  I can't help him, if I can't help myself."  At this last remark, Therese dissolved into bitter, angry tears.  Nikita cradled her for hours until Therese's fury and misery began to abate.

"This is what you have to do for Michael, Nikita.  Do what you do best.  Give him
your love and your strength.  He needs to know how much you love him, in spite of everything that Section has made him do."

A tears began to streak down Nikita's face.  "I'll try, Therese.  I'll try.


Nikita knocked on Michael's door, but entered without  waiting for a response.
Michael sat staring at a small framed photograph of Adam.  His thumb caressed the wood frame, as he ignored her entrance.
"Michael, I need your help with Therese's training program."

Michael looked at her with eyes full of pain.  "You can do it.  I'll okay it."

"No, Michael, I need your input.  I know I can handle the physical conditioning
aspect, but she's about one hair from wigging out.  We have to handle the psychological part too.  She's claustrophobic, Michael, and she's been ripped from her family, too.  I mean, I thought maybe--," Nikita paused.

"The blind could lead the blind, Nikita?  How about physician, heal thyself?"

"Michael, if you don't help me, then Madeline is going to put her fine hand in the
program.  Who knows what--"

Michael sighed.  "You're not going to stop, are you?  Why can't you leave me
alone, Nikita.  Surely, there's been enough pain already."

"Because you're not going to make it, if I leave you alone."

"And your point is?" he asked in a weary voice.

Nikita didn't know what to say.  Oh, she knew what she wanted to say.  Michael, I
wouldn't want to live without you in my world.  Michael, I love you.  She didn't want to push him further away. She knew he wasn't ready to face his feelings for her. "I-- I." Nikita took a breath.  "I care, Michael.  You've been through so much.  I can't stand to see you give up now.  I know how much you loved Adam--and Elena.  I was there in your house.  I know the love that was there."  Tears began to form in Nikita's eyes.  "I'm so sorry that you've lost it all.  Sorrier than I can ever express."  Nikita turned in a rush to leave.
 "Nikita, wait."

Nikita stopped and turned. Michael stood there with  tears streaming silently down his face.  "Thank you," he said softly.

Nikita put her arms around him, as a gesture of comfort, and he returned the
gesture.  Together, with tears of communion, a man with a broken heart began the first step of a long journey away from pain, and a woman with a heart that encompassed his darkness began to have hope.


Therese paced her 'suite' of rooms.  They were actually quite nice.  She'd been in smaller hotel suites.  She'd even lived in a smaller apartment while in medical school, but then she'd had windows and could leave anytime her work schedule permitted.  She remembered her med schools days fondly.  That had been where she had met Pierre.

Pierre DuPre had been one of her professors in Biochemistry, and he had been
single at the ripe old age of thirty-seven.  She had been tiny then, only 96 pounds at 5-1.  Many times in the intervening years they had laughed over his mistaking her for one of his colleagues' children.  She had gently corrected his misconception, but he had still asked her to produce her authorized schedule of classes to prove to him that she was his student and not a visitor.

In her youth she had always thought it a curse to look so young, but at the age of fifty-five, it wasn't so bad to look like she was ten years younger, not bad at all.  Unfortunately, she was no longer a tiny 96 pounds.  Time, two children, a sedentary disposition,  as well as a sedentary profession had added more avoirdupois than was strictly healthy.    Well, it makes no difference now, she thought.  I might as well be dead.

A knock sounded, and Therese stopped pacing.  Her door opened, and Nikita
entered.  "Sorry, there's not a lot of privacy here, Therese, especially when you are a recruit.  More than likely you are under video surveillance as well.  I thought I would warn you."

"Surveillance?  Like someone is going to be watching every move I make?  Is there no privacy?  The bathroom?"  Therese was aghast.  The more she learned about how Section One treated its people, the worse her isolation became.

Nikita laughed.  "No, I believe you do have some privacy in the bathroom, but
that's about it.  As a recruit you will be evaluated for mental toughness as well as physical."

"Physical?  I'm here to do what I did on the outside.  Why do I have to be
physically tough?"

"Michael and I are devising a training program for you.  You're at least fifty
pounds overweight, Therese, so we'll start out with the treadmill, some Tai Chi for general strengthening, and in a bit add, some weight training.  You're not expected to be developed to the standards of a cold operative, but you will be expected to become fit."  Nikita paused before she delivered the coup de grace.  "There will be some weapons training as well.  At some point, given some unusual circumstance, you might be required to defend yourself.  Everyone in Section One came from a prison cell, Therese, and there are very few Boy Scouts here," Nikita finished with a rush.

"What a lovely picture you paint of this place, Nikita.  I'm surrounded by
murderers, no offense dear, and I can't even lock my door."

Nikita hesitated,  "Uh, you will be locked in, Therese, and only Madeline, Michael
or I will have  the access code to your suite."

"Locked in.  Like an animal." Therese shivered.  "I need a cigarette!  Don't tell me
they're not allowed."

Nikita couldn't escape showing her surprise.  "I didn't know you smoked."

"I haven't in years, but I might as well, if I'm going to be locked away like this.
Besides," she added with look of rebellion, "there's quite a lot you probably don't know about me."

Nikita wisely made no response, but a nod.


Birkoff was busy.  Of course, he was always busy.  Section One couldn't run
without him, and he knew it.  Operations depended on him to keep him up to date on any developing windows of opportunity on all future operations.  He looked around and saw that all the techs were occupied and working independently.  Yes, all was right in his computer-techno world.  There even seemed to be time for an Oreo or two.  He was in the process of reaching for his hidden stash, when he heard the unmistakable clicking sound of stiletto heels against the tile.  Nikita....

Birkoff took a deep breath.  He couldn't help himself.  She was one hot babe,
strong enough to shove him around a bit and not think twice about it, without ever  mussing her hair.  It was too bad that she only saw him as a friend or little brother.  It was also too bad that Michael would kill him, if the older operative ever knew about the kind of thoughts he had about Nikita in the middle of the night, or the middle of the day, for that matter.

Birkoff had never been able to quite figure out what the deal was between
Michael and Nikita.  He'd certainly blundered into some emotionally charged scenes in Michael's office more than once.  Talk about feeling like an unwanted step-child at the family reunion.  That pair had more electricity arcing between them than all of Section's circuit breakers, but most of the time they acted oblivious to each other's presence.   Go figure.  He'd certainly seen more than he'd wanted to see of the Armel surveillance tape, but that had been a mission.  More significant than the sex was that before he died, Dechy had told him he'd seen Michael kiss Nikita in the middle of the briefing area after Nikita had been brought in handcuffed.  That had to be a first.

Then weeks later, he had learned that Michael was married with a child.  The wife and child hadn't kept Michael from rushing to Nikita's aid, when Operations and Madeline had been so determined to eliminate her.  What a complicated mess.  Maybe it was better to be Nikita's little brother figure instead.

 Seymour turned around slowly to enjoy the view.  He was busy, but not that busy.  He wasn't disappointed either.  Nikita was  attired in a long black sleeveless number that had a slit to just above her knee on one side.  Major gorgeous legs.  Only the screwed up pony tail ruined the effect of one classy baby.  He would have loved to take her hair down and let it fall across her shoulders....

"Birkoff?" Nikita asked in irritation at his glazed look.  It was one with which she
was familiar.  "I need a favor."

"You always need a favor.  I'm busy, Nikita.  What do you think I do here?"
Nikita ignored his token response.  It was a part of their routine. She gave him a
secretive smile.  After all, feminine wiles were weapons made to be used. "Come on, Seymour," she wheedled.  "I need you to do a search for me on how Dr. DuPre's disappearance is being handled.  I'd do it myself,  but I'm going to be holding her hand most of the time.  She's going to be very high maintenance for a while."

Birkoff knew that Dr. DuPre was the shrink they had 'recruited' to assist in
Michael's recovery.  Besides, Nikita's smile turned him to jelly every time.  "Okay, that's pretty simple to do.  I'll initiate a program to download any mention of her in all forms of the media to a sink file, then have it download to your laptop."

"Thanks, Birkoff,"  Nikita said as she ran her hand across his buzzed hair.  Then
she left without a backward glance.

Birkoff shivered at Nikita's touch.  If she only knew....  Damn!  It was a good thing
she didn't.  She already had a habit of bending him to her will.


After Nikita had left his office, Michael tried unsuccessfully to put his feelings for
her from his mind.  He was no closer to committing to her, now that the deep cover mission had been completed.  He needed more time to mourn his loss of Adam and Elena.  It did not seem respectful to the lives he had shared with them, to make any significant change in the half life he had left.  Having Nikita in his home had inextricably woven her into his other life.  The clean separation of the two lives that he had managed for so long, albeit at great emotional expense, was a ragged mess.

He had been as faithful to Elena as humanly possible under the circumstances of his indenture to Section One.  He and Simone had had an agreement.  Anything required of them in the line of a mission was just that, a mission.  They had agreed never to discuss the relationships they were forced to form for the sake of Section One.  It was the only way their marriage had been able to continue.

He and Simone had been young, passionate and very much in love, but Simone had been the more logical of the two.  That was not to say she had not been hurt by her knowledge of his deep cover mission, but she had kept to their bargain.  Michael doubted that she had been unable to make the same bargain with Operations.  In fact, Michael was certain that preservation of the deep cover mission was the reason for Simone's capture and eventual loss.  Operations would consider that Simone made Michael less effective in his role of suitor and husband; therefore, Simone had been deemed expendable for the greater good.

Michael knew that Operations would never have considered how splitting
Michael's life in half  would effect him, nor would Operations have cared how difficult it would be for Michael to lose Simone and not be able to mourn her completely as she had deserved.  No, he had to assume his new persona when with Elena, and could only mourn Simone when in Section.

The arrival of Nikita had changed  his Section life, but he had continued to live
two entirely separate lives that were both incomplete and in eternal conflict one with the other.  How Michael had retained his sanity, and there might be some argument about that issue, with continual conflicting goals and desires leaching away his strength, he did not know.

He didn't want to hurt Nikita anymore.  He knew she loved him.  He didn't know
why, after all he had done to her.  He didn't deserve her love.  On the other hand, he knew that being with her shook him to his very soul.  It was an emotional recognition on an physical level that she was his mate in every sense of the word.  She always had been.  She always would be.  Life without her would be empty and lonely--the same as life without Adam.

Michael wondered what Therese thought of all this.  He was horrified to see her in Section, and the true horror lay in that he was responsible for ruining her life and the life of her family.  He had always known that he would have to pay for all the pain he had caused.  Payday had arrived at last.

Part 4