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Our Fire Is Extinguished

La Femme Nikita

"Michael, we're playing with fire. . ."

"I know. . ."

Nikita and Michael

* ~ * ~ *

Author's Note: Some of the following dialogue is taken straight from Season 3's Playing With Fire as written by Peter M. Lenkov but I have also taken the liberty of what was said and done in that episode. This is my take on the episode showing what would have happened if Birkoff had made a different decision than he had in the aired version of the episode. Please enjoy and PLEASE send feedback!!!

* ~ * ~ *

Chapter 1

"What is this? Whoa!" Birkoff muttered as he looked over the panel he'd just collected from Nikita in Medlab. Only hours before Madeline had instructed him to sweep the team's panels when they returned from the mission. When she told him what to look for, he had hoped, prayed even that it wasn't Michael and Nikita who she suspected of subcontact because if they were involved, then it stood to reason Walter had been the one to help them.

Shaking his head he pulled out the panel from the drive and he walked over to Munitions, holding up the panel for Walter. For a spilt second Walter was relived and he made a grab for condemning piece of technology. Birkoff moved it just out of his reach.

"What were you thinking?" Birkoff muttered, getting right to the point when Walter shot him an irritated look.

"What?" he asked.

"Madeline had me sweep the panels for non mission related communication between the members on Michael's team. I was really hoping she suspected someone else besides Michael and Nikita. Why, Walter?" he asked.

Walter shrugged. "I was helping two friends. Is that a crime?"

"It is when Section says no," Birkoff snapped.

"When's Madeline expecting you to report what you found?" Walter asked, reaching out to clean a nearby gun.

"Three o'clock."

"Do me a favor and DON'T report this to her until then. Give me a chance to figure something out," Walter said.

"Figure what out? Walter, I don't have a choice in the end. I've got to tell Madeline what I found." Birkoff said.

"I know." Walter replied and then he looked up at Birkoff. "You could always lie you know. After all we are talking about Michael and Nikita here."

"And you! Walter, I can't lie! If Madeline sends this down to Crypto-Analysis, they'd spot it in a second. I've got to tell her the truth!" Birkoff said, by now he was pacing the front of Munitions.

"But it's Michael and Nikita we're talking about here!" Walter snapped at him.

Birkoff stopped pacing and looked at him. "I won't cover for you guys. I am not going to be brought down along with you!" He turned and left before Walter could say another word. Walter walked to the edge of Munitions to see Birkoff sit down at his station in Comm and then when he saw Walter watching him, he purposely turned his back on him.

Walter shook his head. "How did I get so involved with these kids?"

* ~ * ~ *

Birkoff squirmed as he looked at a clock. It was 2:58 and he'd have to report to Madeline in two minutes. He pulled the panel out of his drive one last time and stopped by Munitions on his way out.

"It's almost three o'clock," he warned.

"Yeah, I know. Do what you have to do." Walter said.

Birkoff nodded and left quickly, not wanting to look the older man in the eye. He possibly carried the death warrant of Michael, Nikita, and Walter in his hand and he was sick to his stomach as he entered the numbers to open Madeline's door.

"Yes, Birkoff?" she said, looking up from her computer terminal. He held the panel out to her. "Did you find anything?"

"No." he said.

Madeline glanced the panel over and looked up at him. "Are you certain, Mr. Birkoff?" she asked again, watching him carefully.

"Very. I swept it several times. There is no subcontact to be found anywhere on any of the panels from Michael's team." Birkoff replied. Madeline held his gaze for a few more minutes before she nodded.

"You may go, Birkoff. Thank you." Birkoff nodded and left her office. After the door closed, she pressed a button on her panel. "Antonia?"

"Yes?"

"I need a full analysis on the person who was just in my office. Did you get a clear reading?" Madeline asked.

"Yes, of course. What do you need to know?" Antonia asked.

"Was he lying to me?" Madeline asked.

Antonia didn't reply for a few moments and Madeline knew she was analyzing the data sent to her. Madeline knew Birkoff had just lied to her, but she wanted Antonia to confirm it with her instruments.

A beep. "Madeline?"

"Yes, Antonia?"

"Your visitor did not lie."

"Run the analysis again, please." Madeline said. Birkoff was not that good of a liar and if negative results came again, Madeline would order a diagnostic on the faulty equipment.

"It’s still showing a negative result." Antonia replied.

"Send the data back to me, Antonia, and then have someone from Comm run a full diagnostic on your equipment," Madeline said.

"Data sent." Antonia said and she ended the communication.

Madeline ran the analysis herself and she got the same results. She ran it several more times and she got the same results. Finally, Madeline switched off her terminal and got up to leave her office. She needed to talk to Operations because she was certain that Birkoff had lied to her about the subcontact.

Michael and Nikita. . .

Walter and Birkoff. . .

They now had a much larger issue to deal with. . .

Chapter 2

"Well?" Operations asked as Madeline entered the Perch.

"Michael and Nikita are having outside contact." she replied, handing the panel to him.

"How?" he asked.

"I can't say for certain but I believe that Walter is involved somehow."

"Why aren't you certain on this?" Operations asked.

"Because Birkoff lied to me when he made his report regarding what he found on the panel. I had Crypto-Analysis examine this panel before coming here, and they told me that there was a secondary message on the panel, a message that was erased before I got it, and since Birkoff was the last person to handle this panel before myself, we should assume he is the one who erased the encrypted message." Madeline finished.

Operations shook his head. "That doesn't sound like Birkoff. He's always had a rather strong sense of self-preservation and if he's gotten involved with helping the three musketeers in their attempt to deceive us, then wouldn't you say he's gone against his nature?" Operations asked.

Madeline considered what he said for a moment. "Normally I would say, yes he has gone against his nature but the he has a strong connection to Nikita, Walter, and in some ways, with Michael as well. They are the only family he's ever had as well as his only friends inside of Section."

"Then it appears that three musketeers have had a fourth to join their number," he mused.

"What would you like done about this?" Madeline asked.

"Let's give the four musketeers enough rope to hang themselves. Let Birkoff believe that he deceived us about the panel and we'll let things play out for a few days. Increase Michael and Nikita's missions-- I want to know HOW they're escaping our surveillance. When you know how, then it'll be time for them all to pay the piper," Operations replied.

Chapter 3

Several days later, Nikita nearly stumbled into her apartment she was so tired that night. No it was day, she noticed when she finally managed to get her door opened. She walked into her apartment and she would have sworn to closing and locking the door behind herself. . .

"Luv? Popsicle, are you all right?"

Mick cautiously crept in, concerned that something had happened to Nikita when he found her door slightly ajar. He found her slumped over at her kitchen's island, her head laying on top of her folded arms as they had become her pillow. Mick shook his head, trying to decide whether or not he should risk moving her to her bed. She'd be more comfortable. . .

"Nikita?" he said gently, trying to wake her up only slightly.

Nikita opened her eyes. "Mick, go away. I'm too tired to deal with your crap right now." she mumbled.

"Let's get you tucked in bed, Popsicle, and then I'll leave." he promised, throwing one arm over his shoulders as he pulled her to her feet. "What's going on in Section?"

"The same old thing, only they're trying to kill both me and Michael this time by increasing our missions. Sometimes together, sometimes separately. I think they're doing this so that we get so tired that maybe we'll both screw up and the scum we're after will get lucky and blow our heads off." Nikita was barely coherent as Mick managed to get her to bed.

"Well, get some rest. I'll lock your door on my way out." Mick said after he covered her with a blanket.

"Thanks, Mick," Nikita mumbled as she fell into the bliss of oblivion.

Mick turned to leave when Nikita's cell phone started to ring. He looked at it and then at her and saw that she wasn't moving from the bed to answer it. He shook his head and picked it up.

"Yes?" he said into the receiver.

"Josephine." Michael's voice replied.

"Sorry, mate, but she's passed out in her bed. I'm willing to take a message though," Mick said.

Click.

"Nice talking to you to, Michael." he muttered as he closed and laid the phone on the counter. He left Nikita's apartment a few seconds later, knowing but somehow hoping that Section and more specifically Michael wasn't on his way over to Nikita's.

But somehow he doubted it. . .

Seriously. . .

Chapter 4

Birkoff had been waiting for the axe to fall ever since he'd lied to Madeline about what he'd found on Nikita's panel. The first two days after she'd had him to do the sweep, he was constantly looking up and watching, expecting to find two operatives coming to take him to the White Room.

He spent a lot of time wondering why he'd actually taken the risk in lying to Madeline. He had always up until then had never taken such a big risk, or at least that's what he thought until he remembered a few times he'd helped his friends. He'd taken Belinda out of abeyance one time and unfortunately Operations had caught him too. He'd also lied to Operations while covering for Michael when David Fanning kidnapped Nikita.

Why had he always covered for or helped them? Why had he done it this last time? If they caught Michael and Nikita seeing each other when they were told to break off the relationship, he knew they'd know he and Walter were somehow involved in the entire thing. They'd become like the Four Musketeers of Section but when it all boiled down, Birkoff knew he had lied to Madeline because as he'd so recently told Walter he didn't have many friends and he didn't want anything to happen to the possibly only 3 friends he had. . .

But they were also his family. The only family he'd ever really known. Walter had always been like a father to him, was certainly his best friend, and had been someone Birkoff had always looked up to. He also hoped he'd turned to as half as good as him. Michael was like an older brother to him, someone he'd always looked up to and respected, admired, and had occasionally asked advice of.

Nikita he had only come to see as a sister when he realized that is how she did and would always view him. Yes, they were friends and yes he knew she cared a lot about him but finally he had to accept the fact that their relationship would always be as it was ever since she came into Section. They were as brother and sister and that would NEVER change. . .

"You're working very late, Mr. Birkoff."

Birkoff looked up from his screen to see Madeline standing there, hands clasped in front of her as she watched him with those deep chocolate brown eyes of hers. Birkoff would swear that sometimes she could read people's minds just by locking her eyes on them. It made him wonder all the more whether or not she knew he'd lied to her. . .

"Oh, I couldn't sleep so I thought I'd get an early start on the Katmandu mission." he replied, turning his gaze back to the computer.

"I commend your diligence, but you should get at least a few hours of sleep before the beginning of the mission," Madeline replied. "Now, Mr. Birkoff." She said when he didn't make any movements to get up from his computer.

Birkoff nodded and locked down his computer, getting up with a stretch. Madeline didn't move to walk off and Birkoff, not knowing what she was going to do next, started off in the direction of his quarters. When he glanced back over his shoulder, he saw that Madeline was following him.

"Is there a problem?" he asked.

"No. Tell me is this the first night that you've had trouble sleeping?" she asked.

Birkoff shrugged, bearly slowing his pace. "I've had some trouble sleeping for about two nights now. No big deal."

"What do you think is keeping you from sleeping at night, Mr. Birkoff?" she asked.

"I don't know. I think I may just have a little case of insomnia." he answered. "Aren't you going home tonight?"

"Insomnia? If it continues tomorrow night, Birkoff, I want you to go to Medical and have the doctors give you something to help you sleep because it may start effecting your work if it's not corrected soon. We can't have that, not with several critical missions coming up. Understood?" Madeline said.

"Understood."

"Good. I'll see you in the morning."

Birkoff watched her turn on her heel and start walking in the other direction, no doubt heading for her own quarters in Section. He shook his head and quickly walked the rest of the way towards his room, stopping only long enough to punch in the code to gain entrance.

"Oh no. . ."

Chapter 5a

"It was the strangest thing. It felt like someone had been in my room but they left no hard evidence," Birkoff told Walter the next morning after the Katmandu mission was finished.

"Nothing was missing?" Walter asked.

Birkoff shook his head no and shrugged. "Maybe I 'm being paranoid or something." He sat down on Walter's work bench, rubbing his hand through buzz cut hair and folding his arms in front of him.

"Or maybe Madeline is just playing mind games with you." Walter replied.

"Or Section."

"Same difference. Amigo, is there a chance she knew you lied about. . .well you know?"

Birkoff shrugged. "I don't see how she would know."

"No offense, Birkoff, but you're not the best liar in here. Most people in here can read you like a cheap novel." Walter said. Birkoff glared at him for a minute but didn't speak for well over a minute.

"If Madeline knows I was lying then why hasn't she or Operations done something about it then?" Birkoff mused, rubbing his head again.

Walter shrugged. "Who knows how those two think."

"You should have SOME clue. You've known them longer than anyone else in this place," Birkoff replied.

"Yeah I've known Operations so long that I knew him when he was just a recruit but Madeline is a different story all together. She didn't come to here until after she had finished the two year training all the field operatives go through."

"I thought Adrian trained her in Psych Ops."

"Oh she did but that was only by accident they discovered that Madeline had a talent in it."

"How long have her and Operations been, well you know, together?" Birkoff was really interested in hearing the early history of Section One now. So interested that neither him or Walter saw Madeline enter Munitions. Walter was about to open his mouth to answer when he saw Madeline.

"Birkoff, you have a mission about to reach engagement. I suggest you return to Comm immediately." she said, her voice betraying some sort of dissatisfaction.

"Of course," Birkoff said and left.

Madeline locked her gaze on Walter, staring at hi until he was finally forced to stare right back at her.

"Is there a problem?" he asked.

"Yes. I overheard part of what you were telling young Seymour and I must say that I am surprised that you'd tell him information that may very well prove hazardous to his health in the long run." she replied.

"A little history never hurt anyone. Besides those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it- or something like that." Walter retorted.

Madeline smiled her maddening Mona Lisa smile and replied, "Yes, but what Mr. Santayana didn't know or realize is that some history itself has the power to doom those who have knowledge of it when they shouldn’t. There's a reason we don't tell operatives about what happened in Section before when Adrian was here."

"Because you're afraid the same might happen here for you and Paul." Walter replied.

"Besides that reason being irrelevant, we don't want the operatives in here thinking about activities that are clearly treasonous and would ultimately distract them from their jobs. Either end bringing about abeyance or cancellation for those who are foolish enough to allow it to distract them into action." she replied.

"Is there a point to this already, Madeline?" Walter asked, finally growing tired of her game of cat and mouse.

"Yes, be careful what you tell Mr. Birkoff. It may cause him to get too distracted and that would be a pity," Madeline replied, finally leaving. . .

Chapter 5b

When Michael arrived, he had found Nikita just as Mick had said. She was in a quite a deep sleep in her bed, not waking even when he kissed her lightly on the forehead or when he stroked her hair.

He did nothing that would awaken her even though they had been both called into Section that night. But he knew the reason that they had both been called in for was for something that they wouldn't be able to do in the morning when final preparations would begin for the Katmandu mission. For once, Section would wait because she was exhausted and if he only admitted the truth to himself, he was as equally as tired as she.

After watching her for a few more minutes, he got up to go sleep on her couch, too tired to go back home himself. Section had ran them both ragged over the last several days. It was as though they were trying to cancel them both in a way that wouldn't attract Oversight's attention and more specifically, George's attention in some unwanted way. If that were the case, the missions would increase in frequency and difficulty until they had succeeded in what they wanted: his and Nikita's certain death. . .

As much as the problem concerned him, Michael was asleep within moments of laying down on the couch. . .

Nikita woke up startled and looked around. She vaguely remembered Mick helping her to bed but she didn't remember much after that. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was getting rather late in the evening. She was still very tired but she needed something to drink desperately before going back to sleep.

When she got up, she discovered that she was still in her clothes from earlier that day and so before she went to the kitchen, she decided to pull on an overlarge T-shirt she often slept in, and she pulled her pants off, leaving them on the floor where they fell. With a yawn she started for the kitchen, and that's when she saw Michael sleeping on her couch.

What was he doing here in her apartment? She thought for a moment, and then she remembered the phone ringing and she seemed to remember Mick answering it. She knew it had to have been Michael who called but she'd been too tired to care. When he couldn't reach her, he must have come over here and found her asleep.

Forgetting her drink, she went over to the couch and knelt beside it, watching Michael sleep. For once his face was peaceful but he didn't look comfortable as his neck was wrongly positioned on the couch's arm and he hadn't even bothered taking off his shoes.

She thought about moving him, taking off his shoes, and laying a blanket on top of him, but then she thought better of it.

She gently touched his arm.

"Michael?" she murmured.

He jumped awake, clearly disoriented as he stared at her. He didn't remember where he was. Finally, she saw the light of remembrance come on his eyes and she smiled, brushing a stray hair out of his face.

"Come to bed with me," she said.

He stared at her. "Kita, are you sure?" he asked. "I shouldn't even be here." he added when she nodded.

"Well you are so why don't you come to bed and get more restful sleep than this couch can give you. I know you're just as tired as me so no arguments." she said. When Michael finally nodded, Nikita stood up and extended her hand to him. Michael took it and together they walked to her bedroom.

After Michael discarded a few articles of clothing that would make him uncomfortable, he joined Nikita underneath the covers, the softness of the bed feeling quite welcoming. He closed his eyes and when he felt Nikita snuggle close to him, he wrapped his arm around her, allowing her to lay her head on his chest. . .

Chapter 6

Nikita woke up slowly the next morning, cracking one eye open and then the other one. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was a little after 7 AM. She had been asleep for about 14 hours, counting the time she'd wakened up to get something to drink only to find Michael sleeping on her couch.

She sat up suddenly as she remembered inviting Michael to share the bed with her, she remembered that he came, and she even remembered snuggling into his arms to fall asleep like that. But now she didn't see a sign that he was still there or had ever been there.

And that's when she smelled something cooking. . .

She pushed the blanket back and got out of the bed, stretching before she pulled on a pair of comfortable sweat pants. Still yawning she headed out into the main part of her apartment to find Michael laying out a simple breakfast of bacon and toast.

She smiled. "Good morning."

"Good morning. Would you like some coffee?" Michael asked as she walked towards her stereo.

"Yes, thank you." Nikita leaned over to push a button and immediately music started playing. She turned it up rather loud, clearing a way for her and Michael to talk freely should Section somehow be listening in on their conversation. She put the remote control in her pocket and walked over to join Michael for breakfast at the counter.

Your heart is not open so I must go
The spell has been broken, I loved you so
Freedom comes when you learn to let go
Creation comes when you learn to say no

"I never did ask you why you called last night," Nikita asked before taking a sip of her coffee.

"We have a mission today to Katmandu. Operations requested that I begin getting my team ready last night." Michael answered.

"So why didn't you wake me up last night so that we could go in?" she asked.

"You were tired."

You were my lesson I had to learn
I was your fortress you had to burn
Pain is a warning that something's wrong
I pray to God that it won't be long
Do ya wanna go higher?

"Michael, I've been tired before and that's never made a difference with the Section." <I>Or with you</I>, she thought but didn't say.

"Last night was different. We had both been pushed to our limits. If we hadn't gotten some rest soon, we would have eventually started to make mistakes on the mission. Mistakes are not an option." Michael replied and he touched Nikita's hand. "That's the reason Operations will hear from me today when he asks why we didn't come in last night. But the truth is I was concerned about you."

Nikita stared at him but didn't say anything at this. For a few moments they ate in silence before she spoke up again.

There's nothing left to try
There's no place left to hide
There's no greater power
Than the power of good-bye

"What are we going to do about Operations and Madeline? Birkoff won't answer, neither will Walter but I am almost sure that they know we were having subcontact before the Lazio mission. The question is: Why haven't they've done anything about it yet?" Nikita asked.

"Maybe they don't know anything." Michael said.

Your heart is not open so I must go
The spell has been broken, I loved you so
You were my lesson I had to learn
I was your fortress

"Michael, you know Birkoff is not the best liar in Section. He had to have told Madeline the truth about what was on my panel." She stood up, taking her coffee with her, she walked around the island. "Well whatever is going on, I think we should find some time to ask Walter and Birkoff what they both know. They've kept us so busy over the last week that I haven't had any time to talk to either of them for any length of time."

"All right. I'll arrange a meeting for the four of us outside of Section. Will you be all right if I set the meeting for tonight after the Katmandu mission?" he asked.

There's nothing left to lose
There's no more heart to bruise
There's no greater power
Than the power of good-bye

"I'll be fine. We need to know what's going on, Michael," he nodded. "Before they succeed in killing us both."

Learn to say good-bye
I yearn to say good-bye

Author's Note: The song used above was "The Power of Goodbye" by Madonna. No copyright infringement was intended by its use in this story. . .

Chapter 7

After a long shift in Comm, Birkoff headed back to his room to grab a jacket before he headed out of Section for the city. Michael had asked him to meet with him in a dance club that was on the other side of the city, far from Section.

As he made his way to where the club was, Birkoff thought about what had been happening today. The Katmandu mission went better than expected and Operations was clearly please with the results. Michael and Nikita had been given downtime for the next few days, and Birkoff had also been scheduled for downtime after his shift in Comm ended. There were no missions for the next two days. . .

That was true right up until an hour before Birkoff had started to leave Section. Oversight had called right before he left. He knew the priority of at least a half a dozen missions would be upgraded before George ended his conversation with Operations.

Twenty minutes later, Birkoff finally entered the club and almost immediately spotted Michael-- along with Nikita and Walter. He hurried to join them.

"I'm here. What's going on?" he asked, taking the seat beside Walter and across from Nikita.

"First of all, thanks for coming," Nikita said.

Birkoff nodded. "Now will someone please tell me what is going on?"

"Are you in a hurry or something?" Walter asked him.

"You could say that. Just before I left Section, Operations got a call from Oversight. George was calling to have him upgrade the priority of at least half a dozen missions. They're going to be calling me back any time now." Birkoff said.

"All right then, let's get down to business." Nikita said. "We asked you both to come here because we needed to talk without Section's ears monitoring our conversation."

"Why?"

"Something is up."

"No kidding."

Nikita shot Birkoff an irritated look for his sarcasm before she looked to Michael to take over the conversation.

"Birkoff, tell us about your meeting with Madeline regarding the sweep she wanted you to do of Nikita's panel," he said.

"Which one? I met her twice-"

"The second one, genius," Walter cut in, rolling his eyes.

Birkoff shrugged. "You mean after my conservation with you, Walter?" Walter nodded. "There's not much to tell. I went to report to her what I found, and I lied to her about finding the subcontact between you and Nikita."

"You lied to Madeline?" Nikita asked, staring at him.

"Yeah I lied to her."

"Why?"

Birkoff shrugged again. "I haven't yet figured out why I did that."

"Birkoff, surely Madeline had Crypto-Analysis examine the panel and they had to have found the contact. What-" Nikita asked.

"He erased the messages, Sugar." Walter replied before Birkoff could.

Nikita stared at Birkoff. "Why?"

He shrugged again. "You're the only friends I have in Section, not to mention the only family I have left now. Why shouldn't I have?"

"Because you're now involved in this with us, Birkoff." Michael said.

"So! If I had reported what I found, Operations might have had cancelled the three of you or worse." Birkoff replied, wishing he had a drink right about then.

"Birkoff, as touched as I am that you tried to protect us like this, I wish you hadn't gotten yourself involved. If they found out now what's going on, they'll cancel all of us." Nikita said.

"This conversation is still theoretical, Nikita. We don't know what they know if they know anything at all." Michael reminded her.

Nikita nodded. "I still don't like it. I feel like they're trying to kill us with all these increased missions they're giving us."

"I don't like it either, Sugar. I feel like they're playing a game of cat and mouse with not only you and Michael but with me and Birkoff too. Madeline is up to something," Walter agreed. He told recounted his conversation with Madeline in Munitions the other day, including her not so veiled threat.

"I almost feel like they're trying to give us enough rope to hang ourselves with," Walter finished.

They were all silent for a moment. . .

"It's time to take the advantage back from them," Michael said.

"But how?" Nikita asked.

"I've got an idea," Walter said, looking to Birkoff. "We'll need to play that ace now, amigo, and I mean really play it."

Birkoff nodded. "Just let me know when we'll need it."

Walter nodded.

"Now, Walter, care to tell us what you're talking about?" Nikita asked.

Walter motioned for them to pull in closer together.

"Okay, here's the plan. . ."

Chapter 8

Without any warning, Madeline looked up to see Operations enter her office, a look of pure frustration on his face. She was seated at her desk, looking at footage from several missions that Michael and Nikita had recently participated in.

"I've been over the tapes a dozen times. Nothing." he said, pulling off his glasses. He sat in a seat across from her and waited as she finished. She looked at him.

"Not surprising since Michael knows the system as well as we do." she said.

"He knows it better apparently."

"Still, we know what's happening. We're under no obligation to prove it. Michael and Nikita have defied the order to cease their personal relationship and they've enlisted Walter and Birkoff to help them to defy the order. But I think our priority should be to stop them before their efficiency levels are permanently harmed." Madeline said.

Operations nodded. "And if that's not possible, then we'll have to consider stronger actions."

Madeline pressed a few keys on her keyboard, calling up a file from a shadow team mission. "You should see this as well." she said and he came around to stand behind her.

The footage she showed him was from the dance club.

"When was this taken?" he asked.

"Last night, I had a shadow team follow Mr. Birkoff since he would be the most likely of the four not to detect their presence. The team leader reported that Michael, Nikita, Walter and Birkoff were all inside in a meeting. The team tried to perform surveillance and something on site was preventing them from getting a clear signal."

"A jamming device?" Operations asked.

"It's possible. I would that either Michael or Walter would carry one but I doubt either of them would use it unless-"

"They were discussing something illicit."

Madeline nodded in agreement. "Should I have them detained for questioning?"

"No, not yet. Let’s wait until they've given themselves a little more rope."

* ~ * ~ *

"Six months ago, during a bioengineering convention in Prague, the chemical breakdown for Gandium four, a grade one bio-weapon, was stolen. Three months later, the hard product was used during an attack in Cyprus. Genefex is a pharmaceutical lab and a producer of over the counter drugs. Two days ago we monitored a wire transfer to an account held by a company which fronts for Red Cell." Operations nodded to Birkoff.

"Satellite surveillance confirms increased productivity in the last three months, but distribution of their key product remains the same. They’re making something under the table." Birkoff said, looking at the members of the team.

"Michael, you and Nikita will penetrate, find out who besides Red Cell they’re selling to. Then you will destroy the lab. The details are in your panels. That’s all." Operations ended the briefing. Birkoff shot a look to Michael and Nikita before he got up to head back to Comm. Nikita watched him leave, and then she turned back to Michael.

"It's starting. Be careful." Michael warned and left her standing alone.

Chapter 9a

Michael and Nikita entered the Genefex plant, both wearing white lab coats since they were posing as the annual safety inspectors. Michael even wore glasses upon Madeline's request because thought it made him look more the part as the senior inspector.

" We’ll work separately; avoid establishing a predictable pattern." Michael said as they waited for the plant manager to meet with them.

" The functional overlay had several gaps." Nikita replied.

"We can compensate." Michael replied and stopped speaking as a man approached them.

"I'm Damon Aral, plant manager. Sorry to keep you waiting," the man said. He was older than both of them. He extended his hand.

"ID's?" he asked and looked over the cards they handed him. "You're both new. What happened to McRae?"

"He got promoted. He's handling the southern region." Nikita said.

"Well, good for him." he gave them their ID's back. "Well, everything seems to be in order. Welcome to Genefex."

"Thank you."

They walked a little bit before Aral turned to them to speak.

"Just so you know, in 20 years of inspections, we’ve never been hit with a single citation." Aral said, obviously glowing with pride.

Nikita smiled. "Good for you."

"Well here it is. This is R&D, best place to start, really. If you need me, I’ll be in my office." Aral said and with a nod he left them alone.

"You make the environmental check. I’ll examine safety procedures. We’ll meet back here in an hour."

* ~ * ~ *

"Sir?"

"Yes, Birkoff?"

"They're in."

"Good. Keep me posted."

"Yes, sir."

* ~ * ~ *

Michael began the search for the Gandium 4 while Nikita really started what was the safety inspection. Michael tried a few rooms, but when none of them seemed to have any of the specifications they'd need to hide the gandium with a false wall. He finally came to Room 11.

A technician passed Michael in the hallway outside of Room 11, bumping into him as they passed. The man looked up at him very apologetic. "I didn't hear you coming. Sorry, sir."

"No problem." Michael replied and watched the man leave. Something odd about him. . .

Shaking the encounter off, Michael entered Room 11 and picked up a notebook. "Birkoff, Room 11. Loop the cameras."

"Okay, Michael, I'm tapping in now." Birkoff said. "Flip the page." He watched as Michael did so and then he looked quickly to the footage Plant Security was seeing. "Okay, Michael, you've got 60 seconds."

Michael put the notebook down and opened a briefcase he'd been carrying. He took out a scanning device that was programmed to find the Gandium 4 as well as detect any other bio-hazards they may be hiding.

"Okay, Michael, 40 seconds."

He scanned the room's walls and then the device indicated a wall.

"South wall."

"Small room, bypassed in a renovation two years ago. That must be where they've stored the gandium. You need to retrieve it before we take out the lab." Birkoff said.

"I'll need 10 hours."

"Why so long? I can work up a profile for 8."

After putting away the scanner, Michael picked up the notebook and resumed the spot he'd been standing in when the loop began.

"I'll handle the profile. I need 10." he replied.

"Whatever you say. Loop is over."

Michael put the notebook down and after picking up the briefcase, he went to meet with Nikita.

Author's Note: Just wanted to give credit where credit is due. For the most part I have used the dialogue that Peter M. Lenkov wrote for the episode of On Borrowed Time in this chapter. Thanks to him for writing such a GREAT episode and no kind of infringement is intended by use of the episode's events or dialogue.

Chapter 9b

After Michael located the gandium and Nikita retrieved the buyer's list from Aral's office, they were recalled to Section to plan the next phase of the mission. Because of a technical glitch Michael was unable to retrieve the gandium right then and it was determined that a full team would best be able to handle the retrieval. They were placed on close quarters standby while Birkoff went over the data Nikita had retrieved.

Nikita went to get a little sleep in the ready room, while Michael had chosen to go to his office to work. She thought about what was going on between Michael and her as well as them and Section One. When Birkoff had discovered the subcontact going on between them during missions, Nikita had insisted that she and Michael back off for awhile.

Getting caught so red-handed had scared her and she worried for a long time about not what they'd do to her, but about what would happen to Michael and to Walter for defying the direct orders of Section.

Walter. . .Why had she agreed to allow him to help her and Michael? Why? While it was true that Michael was the man she loved, Nikita knew that her world would be all that much more darker if anything were to EVER happen to Walter. She loved him as a surrogate uncle or even as the father she'd never known in her life. If he died or if they were to hurt him in some way, Nikita had no idea what she'd do or how she'd cope with it.

And now to make matters worse, Birkoff had also involved himself in the ordeal by lying to Madeline about what he had found and by destroying the evidence. Birkoff was a part of the circle between her, Michael, and Walter but even though more often than not he was a reluctant partner whenever they'd made a move to defy Operations in some small way. Out of all 4 of them, Birkoff was the most afraid to die and he was also the youngest.

A little brother to her of sorts. . .

With a sigh, she turned onto her side, placing her back to the opening of the bed trying, seeking to fall asleep. But her troubled thoughts denied her any sort of rest. . .

* ~ * ~ *

A few hours later, Birkoff had finally sifted through all the data from Aral's office. He took his findings to Operations and immediately a mission briefing was called in Systems.

Operations nodded. "Birkoff."

Birkoff activated a hologram as Operations began speaking, "This is Ramon Khasa. He plays middleman to a dozen terrorist groups in the southern hemisphere. He's the reason we've delayed destruction of the Genefax plant."

"The buyers’ list Nikita retrieved from the Genefax mainframe also listed a near-term transaction. Khasa will be making a pickup in twenty four hours. It’s the weekend, so collateral damage will be minimal," Birkoff added.

"We’ll take Khasa alive; then destroy the plant as originally planned. The new profiles will be on your panels. You'll leave as soon as the team is assembled. Good luck," Operations finished and left, motioning for Birkoff to follow him.

As soon as they were gone, Nikita stepped closer to Michael. "I don't like this," she said quietly. Michael didn't say anything in reply but instead gave her one of his blank stares and left. No, she didn't like it. . .

Not one bit at all. . .

* ~ * ~ *

Madeline entered the Perch a few moments later.

"Davenport's shadow teams are ready and are already on site." she said.

"Good. Now all that needs to be done is to send Michael and Nikita there. Does Davenport understand that if they resist, he's authorized to use deadly force if necessary to prevent their escape?" Operations asked.

"Yes, and I made it clear that they're only to be killed as a last resort and if it's anything less than necessary, he'll be cancelled on site," Madeline answered.

"Good."

Chapter 9c

The strands in your eyes that color them wonderful
Stop me and steal my breath
Emeralds from mountains thrust toward the sky
Never revealing their depth

"Red Team, your comm has been restricted to Channel B," Birkoff said, glancing at the various monitors. "Michael and Nikita, you're cleared to proceed to first mark."

Tell me that we belong together
Dress it up with the trappings of love
I'll be captivated
I'll hang from your lips
Instead of the gallows of heartache that hang from above

After opening a door on the lower levels with a small charge, Michael slipped in without a sound, Nikita close behind him, watching his back as well as her own. Something still didn't sit right with her, something about this entire mission wasn't right. . .

They came to a set of stairs and below, Nikita could hear Aral talking to someone. . .

"Birkoff, Khasa is here," Michael stated.

"Confirmed."

"How many bodyguards are there, Birkoff?" Nikita asked.

"I'm only reading two in the immediate vicinity but there are at least 4 more out in the corridor," Birkoff replied.

"Graham," Michael said.

"Graham, here. I’m at second mark."

"How many guards are on the outside?" Nikita asked.

"At least 10 more," Graham replied.

Nikita looked at Michael. "We're not prepared for this kind of man power, Michael. If we attack Khasa now, we'll lose over half of the team."

"It doesn't matter."

"But-"

"Michael, Operations confirms the original profile. Khasa is to be taken and brought in at any cost," Birkoff cut in.

"Understood. Graham, attack," Michael ordered.

Before Nikita could protest, she heard gunfire and saw Michael was already in motion. Nikita followed him as he quickly dispatched the two guards present while she took out Aral, and secured Khasa. When the other two guards appeared, Michael quickly shot both of them down.

"Target is secured," Nikita announced.

Birkoff didn't answer her. . .

"I repeat, the target is secured," she said, "Birkoff?"

Aral stood up from where he laid on the floor, as did the four dead bodyguards, and team of a dozen operatives came into the room. Aral pulled at the skin of his neck and pulled off a face of latex to reveal Davenport. He pulled out his gun, throwing the latex down.

I'll be your crying shoulder
I'll be love suicide
I'll be better when I'm older
I'll be the greatest fan of your life
Rain falls angry on the tin roof
As we lie awake in my bed
You're my survival, you're my living proof
My love is alive not dead
Tell me that we belong together
Dress it up with the trappings of love
I'll be captivated I'll hang from your lips
Instead of the gallows of heartache, that hang from above...

"Weapons down," he ordered, not enjoying the situation at all. "Michael, Nikita, please do it. We have orders to use deadly force if you refuse to cooperate," Davenport said.

Nikita looked to Michael, shock written all over her face as he nodded for her to do as Davenport ordered. Davenport watched them lay their weapons on the floor and then he signaled to the four "dead" operatives. The four divided themselves equally into the task of cuffing Michael and Nikita.

"Sir, we've secured the targets," Davenport said.

"Bring them in Davenport."

"Yes sir."

Author's Note: The song used above was "I'll Be" by Edwin McCain. No copyright infringement was intended by its use in this story. . .

Chapter 10a

"Nikita? Michael? Red Team? Anyone who can hear me answer," Birkoff counted 5 seconds before he pressed the button for the intercom to the Perch. "Sir?"

"What is it, Birkoff?"

"I've lost contact with Michael, Nikita, and Red Team," Birkoff answered. He waited for Operations to reply, but when he didn't Birkoff suddenly noticed that all activity in Comm had ceased. He then looked up to see that Operations' gaze was locked on the space just behind him. Birkoff had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach as he turned to see two operatives standing behind him.

"You're to come with us," One of them said.

Birkoff looked across to Munitions and saw that two operatives were also there with Walter. Birkoff gulped, glanced up at Operations, and then after removing his earphone, he stood up. As soon as they cleared Comm, the others placed a firm grip on Birkoff's arms as the operatives left behind in Comm stood watching. . .

"Back to work people," Operations snapped after a moment. Immediately everyone was in motion again, and so Operations darkened the window and turned to Madeline. "Who did you have in mind to replace Birkoff and Walter?"

Madeline produced a panel with the picture and profile of a young woman named Kate Quinn. "She'll be a very adequate replacement for Birkoff. She's been training to take over Comm for quite some time now." She switched the screen. "This is Dennis Giles. He's been training for the last 5 years to take over at Munitions in the event we either lost Walter somehow or in the event that he was finally cancelled."

"Excellent. Have you finished questioning Khasa yet?" Operations asked, apparently very pleased with this turn of events.

"Yes. With Mr. Khasa's help, I believe we'll soon be able to plan strategic moves against half of the terrorist groups he was responsible for. Eight at most," Madeline answered.

"Why so few?"

"Mr. Khasa died before we could finish questioning him. Apparently he had an acute heart condition that was not in our files for him," Madeline said.

"Sounds like a disciplinary action might be in order for whoever was responsible for providing you with that information. Check with Quinn to find out who was responsible and deal with it appropriately," Operations said.

"Very well. How would you like Michael and Nikita handled when they arrive?" she asked.

"Have them taken to the White Room. I trust everything has been arranged for their arrival?" he asked.

"Yes."

"No actions are to be taken where they're concerned until I've seen them. The same order applies to Walter and Birkoff."

Chapter 10 b

As they traveled back to Section, Davenport watched the two prisoners carefully. When they'd reached the van he'd had Nikita seated on one end and Michael seated on the other. He'd had them within the sight of each other but he did not want them talking while they were being transported back to what would most likely be their deaths.

Michael sat composed as ever, his face devoid of any and all emotions and Davenport wonder how he could be so composed even when he knew what would happen once they reached Section. Even now, he had to admire the man's composure.

As for Nikita, she wasn't quite as successful as Michael at hiding what she was feeling, although she was more composed than Davenport had ever remembered seeing her in recent times. He shook his head, noticing that more than half of the operatives in the van were watching them as well. They all knew when they saw a dead man walking. . .

Chapter 11a

"Walter?" Birkoff said, nervousness evident in his voice. They sat together in one of the white rooms, both restrained in the metal chairs usually reserved for the terrorists they dealt with, and they were faced away from each other.

"What?" Walter replied.

"Are you afraid to die?" Birkoff asked. If Walter could see his friend right now, he would see Birkoff wide eyed with bullets of sweat falling off his face.

"Birkoff, I've been in this place so long that the thought of death stopped scaring me a LONG time ago," Walter replied.

"What scares you then?" Birkoff asked as sweat trickled into his eyes.

Walter hesitated, wondering should he let them hear what scared him the most. He sighed and said, "You know what scares the life out of me, Birkoff? What scares me the most in here isn't the thought of what they can do to me but what they can do to everyone else in here that I care about. It's the one thing that scares me and since I lost Belinda, it's just gotten worse," Walter answered.

"Oh," Birkoff said.

"Now you know."

"Do you have any regrets?" Birkoff asked.

"Birkoff, I don't think there is anyone who doesn't have regrets and after living in this place, I've accumulated quite a bit," Walter said, sighing.

"I think the only thing I regret is dying young," Birkoff said.

"Really? You don't regret helping Michael and Nikita?" Walter asked.

"And you. And no, I don't regret it. I just hate it that I am going to die."

Chapter 11a

When they reached Section, Operations was waiting for them at Van Access and Nikita could tell that he was most pleased with what had happened.

"Thank you," was the only thing he said and Nikita knew that he meant for the help they'd given him in hanging themselves. "Take them to the White Room."

"Michael?" Nikita spoke as soon as the four operatives left the room. "What do you think happened to Walter and Birkoff?"

"I don't know."

"Oh, God, I'll never forgive myself if they've hurt either of them," Nikita said, tears escaping her eyes. Only a few tears escaped before she was able to quell the flow of them. "What do you think they'll do to us," Nikita said after a moment, knowing the answer.

"Cancel us once Oversight has cleared it," Michael replied.

* ~ * ~ *

Madeline stood with Operations, each of them watching the screens that were monitoring the four prisoners contained in the two separate rooms. They were waiting for the call from Oversight to come through before the order to cancel all four would be given. Finally, Operations turned to enter the room where Walter and Birkoff were being kept.

"Have the team standing by. By the time Oversight calls, I want them all cancelled," he said.

Madeline nodded in agreement.

Chapter 12a

Operations entered the room from the side where Walter would be able to see him first, before Birkoff. Walter frowned when he saw him and he glared piercingly.

"Come to gloat one last time?" Walter sneered.

Operations shook his head. "You know I am very disappointed in both of you."

"Like we care," Walter snapped.

"Really, Walter, I thought with all the time you've been here and the loss of Belinda," Operations paused, noting the hatred in Walter's eyes when he spoke the name of the other's dead wife, "You would have learned not to form emotional attachments to those around you."

Walter wanted nothing more than to get his hands around Operations' throat at that moment but the restraints on the chair held him firm. Instead, he just settled for spitting in Paul's face when he got too close. "I'll see you in Hell."

Paul didn't wipe his face but just smirked instead as he passed out of Walter's range of vision. He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face before entering Birkoff's vision range.

Birkoff's eyes were wide with the fear he was obviously feeling but other than that, he was as visibly composed as Operations had ever remembered seeing him.

"You shouldn't have listened with your heart, Seymour. I warned you about the consequences," Operations said.

Birkoff gulped. "Sir-"

"Quiet, Birkoff, don't give him the satisfaction!" Walter snapped. Birkoff shut his mouth and he looked defiantly up at Operations.

Operations laughed and nodded. The door opened again on Walter's side and what the older operative saw didn't scare him. The two interrogation specialists walked into the room and waited for Operations to give them instructions.

"Cancel them," he ordered and left the room.

"I'll take this one," the male said, stopping at Walter.

"I'll take care of the other one," the female replied, walking towards Birkoff. . .

Chapter 12b

Nikita looked up as the door opened and Operations entered. He didn't speak right away but instead just circled her and Michael. He'd come here to gloat, to enjoy this entire situation one last time before he had them cancelled and Nikita HATED him for it.

"I think it's time I told you what I think of you. Really think of you," she said and he stopped in front of her.

"I'm all ears, Nikita."

"Nikita, don't," Michael warned.

"Why not, Michael? We're going to die anyway. I might as well say what I've wanted to say to him from the first day we met," Nikita replied. She looked at Operations again and with an amused smile, he waited for her to begin.

"When we first met my impression of you was that you were egotistical, overbearing, have delusions of godhood. Since then I've come to realize that you're also such a slime a snail wouldn't touch. Also you are pompous, arrogant, treacherous, lecherous, and you're as coldblooded as a tadpole but not nearly as pretty as one. . ."

* ~ * ~ *

In Comm, several operatives had gathered around a monitor where one of the technicians had tapped into the surveillance camera of the room where Michael and Nikita were being held. Many of the operatives eyes went wide as they witnessed Nikita fulfilling a dream they had all had for a very long time: She was telling Operations off in style.

"You're also one of the most infuriating, self righteous men I have ever met in my life, the anti-saint, first cousin to a pollywog! You're also mad as the lovechild of the March Hare and Ophelia, not to mention power-hungry, tyrannical, callous, and brutal. And I wouldn't trust you as I would an adder fanged," Nikita paused to take a breath before she got down and heavy.

"Whoa, boy IS she telling him!"

"Loved that 'delusions of godhood'!"

"And how about that 'You're also mad as the lovechild of the March Hare and Ophelia' bit? That's hilarious! I swear I'll never look at him again without thinking of that one!"

Davenport entered Comm and immediately noticed the gathering around the monitor. He almost told them to break it up but then he heard Nikita's voice say a choice name. He wondered who she was speaking to since he knew that she and Michael were marked for cancellation. Just as curious as everyone else, he peeked over a technician's shoulder.

Nikita wasn't going to be running out of breath anytime soon and the operatives broke out in applause. They cheered for Nikita as she seemed to be nailing Operations more with each thing she said to him. Davenport held back his own applause but inside he was cheering just as loudly as everyone else watching this.

"Go, Nikita!" one operative yelled.

"You tell him, girl!" another said.

"Now if only you could tell Madeline off like this!" a third said and everyone agreed with that.

"What IS going on here?!!" a voice asked from the back of the room. Davenport wanted to laugh when he and a dozen others jumped at the voice. They were like children who had just gotten caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Thankfully, it wasn't Madeline who had caught them. Davenport then noticed that the technician responsible for their entertainment had quickly returned the monitor back to its normal activities.

"What is going on?" Quinn repeated.

"Uh?" one of her staff said nervously.

"Yes, Mr. Li?" she asked impatiently.

"I asked Mr. Li to check the football score for me. Relax would you?"

Quinn turned her gaze at the person who had spoken. "Mr. Sawyer, that IS not an acceptable activity for our systems to be used for. Your mentor will be receiving a report for this and as for you Mr. Li, I will be placing a formal reprimand in your record for this. Now everyone back to work."

Davenport knew she was being harsh and he tried to slip away before she noticed he'd been there too.

"Davenport!"

Davenport rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. This really wasn't his day so far. "Yes, Quinn?" he asked, turning to face the young woman.

"I'm very surprised that you were allowing what was obviously a great waste of time to transpire," she said.

"I had just walked up about the same time you did. I didn’t know what was going on," he lied.

Quinn didn't reply as she turned to walk back to her station. Davenport exhaled and turned to leave. He wanted out of Section just then because he didn't want to hear the news that Michael, Nikita, Walter, and Birkoff were all dead.

Not yet anyway. . .

He was passing Van Access just as the door opened and in walked. . .

"George!" he exclaimed. "Sir? Can I help you?"

"Yes, where are Operations and Madeline?"

Author's Note: I would like to thank Michelle for helping me with Nikita's telling off of Operations. . .

Chapter 13

Nikita had finally said everything that she had wanted to say to Operations. He had in turn told her everything he hadn't liked about her from her first day in Section. After their mutual "love" fest, the Torture Twins entered the room.

"Well?" Operations asked.

"The prisoners have been terminated," the female answered.

"Who?" Nikita asked.

"I want them cancelled as well," he answered.

"Understood," the male replied and then each settled on one prisoner a piece. Once Operations left the room, Nikita found she couldn't control her tears.

"Who did you cancel?" she asked the female.

The woman ignored her as she took out a syringe of a clear liquid and began checking the dosage. She finally walked over to Nikita and began searching for a vein to inject the drug.

"Please tell me who was cancelled. What does it matter? I am going to be dead anyway," Nikita said.

After looking to her partner, the woman spoke, "We cancelled Walter and Birkoff before coming to this room. They're dead."

Nikita closed her eyes, the pain hitting her hard as she thought about her two friends who were now dead. . .

"Nikita," Michael breathed as she felt the needle in her arm.

"Yes, Michael?"

"Je t'aime."

"I love you too, Michael."

"Stop!"

Chapter 14

The female looked up from what she was doing and her hand froze. An operative entered the room, waving a gun at her and her partner. He motioned for them to move away from Michael and Nikita.

"On who's authority?" the male asked.

"Mine." George entered the room and immediately they ceased. Nikita felt the needle being pulled out of her arm and she opened her eyes as George towered over her.

"Please, sir," she said, unable to stop the tears, "Send medical to resuscitate Walter and Birkoff. They've already cancelled them."

George turned on the female. "Get medical."

She nodded. "Sir there isn't much of a chance they can be saved. We used a very lethal dose of-"

"For your sake I hope you're wrong. Now move!" George growled. "Release them."

* ~ * ~ *

Nikita emerged from the White Room several minutes later, leaning heavily on Michael as the tears she had been crying for Walter and Birkoff refused to cease their flowing. What if neither of them made it out of that room alive? Could she live with that?

"I've got a heart beat!" one of the medics shouted.

Nikita looked to Michael and he nodded. She left his arms and went to see who they'd brought back. "Mr. Birkoff, you need to stop fighting us." she heard someone say. She saw them lift him onto a gurney and they began to roll him out of the White Room.

The medic saw Nikita and nodded for them to stop for a moment. She laid a hand on Birkoff's shoulder. "Birkoff, it's okay. They're not going to hurt you. You're safe," she said, finally seeing the light of understanding come into his eyes.

"Walter?" he asked hoarsely.

"Get better, Birkoff," she said and nodded to the medic. They began to roll him away again as the medic slipped an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose.

Nikita returned to the door. "Oh God, please don't take Walter."

Chapter 15

His head swam from the tide of drugs. . .

He'd been prepared to fight this as long as he was able but by mentioning, her name, his will to fight had been diminished somewhat to where he just wanted to accept what was happening. As he accepted what was happening, and as he did his mind began to wonder into the past. . .

* ~ * ~ *

"Look at me, Mom!" the young boy waved at his mother from high up in an oak tree.

His mother breathed in deeply as she mopped her brow in worry. "Walter Angus Mackenzie, you climb down from that tree. . .Now!" she called out.

"Mom, I'm okay!" he called back, not wanting to give in just yet.

"I said right NOW, young man, and I meant it!"

"Ah, Mom!"

* ~ * ~ *

Sarah Fieldman. . .

With long golden hair that hung like a cascading waterfall down to the middle of her back and with eyes that were as blue as a clear Summer's day. She also had light freckles that he found endearing. . .

Sarah had always been a good friend and when he'd began to start feeling other things for her besides friendship, and had asked her to be his girl, she'd said yes. . .

Ah, why was the memory of your first love always the most special and also the most painful?

Their relationship ended before it really began when a new boy moved into town and she took notice of him almost immediately.

Sarah Fieldman, his first love. . .

* ~ * ~ *

Vietnam. . .

It claimed so many lives and it "claimed" his life too during his second tour of duty. His platoon was ambushed and slaughtered. He'd managed to survive only to become a prisoner of war.

But it had only gotten worse after that. . .

After 3 months as a guest of the North Vietnamese, he went to sleep one night to find himself in a completely white room and an older woman smiling back at him from where he laid on the table. She told him that the life he'd known before was gone and that he was in a place called Section One, an anti-terrorist organization. . .

Adrian told him that they wanted to train him as a operative and that his only choice was to become an operative or die. . .

He hadn't wanted to die just then so he accepted. . .

* ~ * ~ *

The years passed inside of Section and he had soon reached Level 4 Operative status. He was a team leader and he had found two other men he'd trust with his life to be on his team. They were best friends and no other team in Section was as closely knit as they were. . .

David Douglas and John McAlester went in with him on a routine reconnaissance intel mission into the Balkans. A new group called Eastern Destiny was forming there and Adrian wanted to get a head start on them. So their 3 man team was sent into to Eastern Destiny's base camp. . .

They laid out a standard perimeter of defense before he went into gather the intel Adrian wanted but before he could return, David was shot to death while John was taken for interrogation. Five hours later, he was pulled out of the mountains by a Section helicopter but by that time, John was also dead.

He did some investigating and he discovered that a motion detector had failed, costing the lives of two of the finest men he had known or would ever know inside of Section. . .

He swore to prevent that from happening again if at all possible. . .

A year later, Adrian appointed him to head up Munitions. . .

* ~ * ~ *

The years in Section seemed to have passed in one big blur when he looked back on them. He didn't really start taking note of anything until the arrival of Michael. When Michael came, he'd already had a working comfortable relationship with Birkoff and their friendship was also beginning to develop.

And then Nikita came. . .

She had a way of changing everything and everyone. It was only after she had arrived did he realize how dark a place it really was. She valued living life to its fullest even in the hell they were all condemned to.

And then came Belinda. . .

Belinda was an older field operative he'd been working with for quite a number of years but had never really thought of pursuing in any romantical sense. She had made it clear that she wasn't interested right up until the day she'd actually flirted back with him or so he'd swear to it later on.

They'd fallen for each other pretty hard and he finally decided to ask her to marry him. Belinda accepted and they decided not to do any waiting, that they would get married as soon as possible.

They day they got married was on of the happiest of his life. . .

It was also the saddest as Belinda hadn't come home from the mission they'd sent her out on. It was only then that he'd learned she was an abeyance operative. But it still hadn't lessen the grief of losing her nor would ever help him recover from her loss.

He never had either. . .

The only thing that kept him even trying was the three young kids he had started to call his friends and family along time ago. He had indeed spoken the truth when he told Birkoff that losing them scared him more than

dying. . .

Death didn't scare him at all. . .

Speaking of which, he no longer felt like he was alive in the Earthly sense of the word. He felt different. A little younger perhaps and he felt peaceful. No he wasn't inside of Section any more. . .

He had never believed in an afterlife all that much, but he suppose he had when he was a kid. Instead of totally ceasing to exist as he had expected, he found that he was very conscious and heading towards a place of light and brightness, the total opposite of Section One.

All around him, he felt the presence of people he'd lost along the way: His parents, siblings, David, and John. . .and there was someone else there too.

"Belinda?"

* ~ * ~ *

"Doctor, he's still in cardiac arrest."

"Doctor, do anything you have to do to resuscitate him."

Chapter 16

As she stood outside of the white room, Nikita wondered if the risk had been worth the price they were about to pay. They'd gotten Birkoff back but Walter was slipping away. The medics had resuscitated him one time but his heart had stopped again, causing the medics to scramble and curse as they worked to save him.

"I should have got here sooner," she heard George say. Just then Operations arrived followed closely by Madeline.

"George, what are you doing here?" he asked. "And why have you rescinded the cancellation orders for Michael and Nikita?"

"I'm here, Paul, because of some very interesting information that crossed my desk 14 hours ago. I am here on behalf of Center to remove you as head of Section One," George replied.

"What information, George?" Madeline asked.

"Information regarding Adrian, for starters. New information that I didn't have before. Also if Mr. Jones hadn't received a copy, you two would be dead where you stand but as it is I am here to arrest you both and take you to Center," George said. "Arrest them."

When Operations looked like he was reaching for a concealed weapon, one of George's bodyguards pointed his gun at Madeline's head.

"If you truly have no regards for her life, Paul, go ahead, take out your weapon and kill me," George said.

Operations stood undecided for a moment.

"Paul, don't," Madeline said. "Don't give in to him."

Operations held out his hands. "I have no choice."

George nodded to his guards. "Take them into custody and prepare them for transport to the Center."

As they were taken away, the medics suddenly rushed through with Walter. Nikita followed them for a little ways.

"How is he?"

"We've got a pulse but it's weak. He's got a fight ahead of him."

Chapter 17

A few hours later, the doctors had Walter as stable as they could get him and Birkoff was conscious again, asking about Walter. Since Nikita didn't know herself, she couldn't get him a definite answer.

"Just tell me, Nikita, is he even alive?" he asked.

"He is alive Birkoff but the doctors had a hard time resuscitating him. They got you back within a minute but with Walter they got him back and then he crashed again," Nikita asked.

"Where is he now?"

"In the ICU. They won't let me see him yet. Only George is being allowed anywhere near him," she answered.

"George? He's here?" Birkoff asked.

"Yes, he is."

"We got through then. Walter's plan worked." Birkoff breathed out in relief.

"Yes, it did but now I wonder if it was really worth it. We almost lost you and may still lose Walter." Nikita fought back her tears.

Birkoff touched her hand. "Walter will make it, Nikita. He's a fighter, a survivor."

"I know, Birkoff. It just scares me to think that we may lose him. God, this place is horrible enough without losing him too!" she sobbed, a flood of tears finally released. Birkoff held her hand, not really sure what to say to her. He was relieved when Michael appeared and took Nikita in his arms.

"Get some rest, Birkoff," Michael said and gently led her away.

* ~ * ~ *

"Doctor, how is he?"

The doctor gulped visibly as he came face to face with the irate head of Oversight. "He's slipped into a coma, sir."

"A coma? How serious?" George asked.

"The coma is serious but the good news is he is breathing on his own. The bad news is I can't say when or if he'll ever regain consciousness. Whatever those two sadists of Madeline's gave him stopped his heart-"

"I was there doctor! Get to the point please!" George interrupted.

"The bottom line here is that Walter may have brain damage from the time his heart was stopped and his brain wasn't getting any oxygen," the doctor replied.

"How serious is it?" George asked.

"He could have very little where only his everyday life would be effected or the damage maybe heavy to where he'd basically be an invalid."

"How soon will you know if he has any brain damage?" George asked.

"I can do some preliminary tests but I won't be able to determine if he has any or how bad the damage is until after he wakes up from the coma," the doctor said.

For both their sakes, George really hoped that Walter wouldn't have any brain damage because that would be a death sentence for him once Center was made aware of it.

George looked over to where Birkoff was sleeping. "Why isn't Mr. Birkoff effected in the same way as Walter?"

"Well aside from being in different physical conditions, Mr. Birkoff has one thing on his side that Walter doesn't I'm afraid. His youth, sir. Mr. Birkoff hasn't yet reached the age of 25 and his body has not started the aging process yet. Being young has it's advantages," the doctor answered. "In fact, I believe Mr. Birkoff will be ready to return to active status after another day of observation."

George nodded. "Doctor, I want to be updated on Walter's and Birkoff's progress at regular intervals."

"Yes, sir."

Chapter 18

Michael took Nikita to his office to allow her a few moments to compose herself. George wanted to meet with both of them and she needed to be as clear headed as she could for whatever he was going to say. When they reached his office, Nikita sat down as Michael handed her a warm, wet towel for her to wipe her face with.

Wiping her face, she allowed the warmth of the towel to soothe her. When she finished, she took a moment to blow her nose. Afterwards, Michael held out his hand to her and she took it to stand up. As she stood her knees gave away on her and Michael had to catch her before she fell. He eased her back into the chair and knelt beside her.

"Nikita, what's wrong?" he asked, touching her face.

"The realization that we almost died today just hit me hard. I know we face death every day out in the field but somehow almost being cancelled today and not being able to see you one last time. Oh, Michael, that was the most horrible feeling of helplessness and sadness I've ever felt. And then to have them coldly telling us that Walter and Birkoff were dead just added to it."

"Michael?" Kate Quinn's voice said over the intercom.

"Yes?"

"George would like to see you and Nikita in the Perch. Immediately."

"Of course," Michael replied.

"What does he want to see us about?" Nikita asked.

"With the arrest of Operations and Madeline, there is no one left in command of Section. He may want to meet with us to install us as the new heads of the Section. Nikita, can you handle a meeting with him?" Michael asked.

Nikita nodded. "Yes, of course."

Michael held out his hand to her again and taking it she stood up. "Let's go."

Chapter 19

Michael released Nikita's hand just as they were entering the Perch. George stood with his back to them watching the activities below. The operatives went about their work as though the head of Oversight wasn't present.

"Come in, Michael, Nikita," George said, finally turning to face them.

"I am waiting for a call from Center to confirm my decision but I would like to name you both to succeed Paul and Madeline as the heads of Section One. Congratulations," George said.

"Thank you. When will the change of command take place?" Michael asked.

"As soon as Mr. Jones calls to confirm the decision," George answered. "I am confident that he will but that's isn't what I wanted to say to either of you. I wanted to speak to you because I wanted to inform you both that Oversight will be breathing heavily down the neck of Section for a long time to come. We are tired of all the intrigue between us and Section, so much so that it will not be tolerated any longer. If either of you try to plot anything against us, you will be taken out of play and cancelled immediately."

"Understood." Michael said.

"Good," George said.

His cell phone rung at that moment and he answered it. Nikita looked at Michael for those brief moments George was talking with the Center. After the constant war they'd just had with Paul and Madeline, Nikita doubted seriously that either her or Michael would want to start a war with Oversight anytime soon. She looked back to George as he hung up,

"Mr. Jones confirms the decision. Come with me for the transfer of Command of Section One."

Chapter 20

The formal change of command took place in the common area of Section One where all the operatives present were witnesses. Davenport had stayed in Section after George's arrival, wondering what was going on and therefore he was also among those present to witness the change of command.

After handing over command to Michael, George was preparing to leave to when Nikita asked to see him in private. When George agreed to allow her 5 minutes of private conversation, Nikita led him to Michael's old office.

"Yes?" George asked.

"I have a personal request to make," she said.

"What would that be?"

"The doctors have told me that Walter's condition is serious, that he's in a coma and may never wake up. They've also told me that his chance of dying is at 45% right now. What I wanted to ask you is if he dies and it's decided that Operations. . .uh Paul and Madeline are to be cancelled, that I'll be the one to do it," Nikita finished.

George could see the anger and the pain in her eyes. "The final decision is not up to me, Nikita, but if Walter dies and if Center decides to cancel Paul and Madeline, you have my word that you will be the one to kill them both."

"Thank you."

Chapter 21

The first day they spent as the new heads of Section One seemed unreal to Nikita. After that first day she realized that was a lot they both had to learn, and not even her time as Petrosian's second in command had helped her to prepare for all the responsibilities that went along with overseeing things.

Still they'd survived that first day, being brought up to speed on several missions that were currently in different stages of development. Quinn proved to be adequate in her role as temporary head of Comm but Nikita knew everyone would welcome Birkoff's return as she was a little too strict with how the operatives did their jobs.

Nikita finished reviewing one last profile before she decided that she would go to the Medlab to check up on Birkoff. He was supposed to be leaving today if the doctors didn't find any medical reasons to keep him for observation.

"When am I going to get out of here?" she heard Birkoff's voice ask just before she turned the last corner.

"Be patient. Mr. Birkoff. We just want to make sure everything is all right with you before we release you," the doctor replied.

"I'm sure they'll have you out of here in no time, Birkoff," Nikita said as she entered. "Right, doctor?" The doctor nodded and after writing down a few more notes, he closed the chart.

"There we go. I believe that you're ready for release," he said.

"Thank you!" Birkoff said and pushed the covers back. He was however embarrassed when he realized that he had very little that a hospital gown covering him. He snatched the blanket back up. He started to ask for his clothes when he saw the doctor was gone.

"Nikita, could you please have someone get my clothes? I am NOT going to walk through Section in this thing," he said.

Nikita laughed. "Hold on and I'll see what I can do." She went to talk to a nurse and soon the young woman left the room to locate some clothes for Birkoff.

"So, what's going on outside of Medlab? I've been asking but the doctors and nurses won't tell me much beyond that George did some housecleaning in Section before returning to Oversight. Want to tell me what's going on? Who's in charge of Comm?" Birkoff asked.

Nikita pulled up a chair close to his bed. "George removed Operations from power here in Section. Madeline as well. They're both been taken to Center where George says their fates will be decided."

"So who did he leave in charge?" he asked.

"Who do you think?" she replied.

"Michael?"

"Yes and he appointed me as Michael's second in command."

"Wow! Congratulations!"

"Thanks."

"So who's running Comm while I've been laid up in here?" Birkoff asked.

"Well-"

"Oh please don't tell me it's Hillinger! That is the LAST person I need to see right now!" Birkoff said.

Nikita smiled. "Relax, Birkoff, Hillinger isn't back in Section. In fact it's a woman by the name of Kate Quinn who has been running Comm while you've been here. She quite capable."

"Quite capable, huh?"

"Very. But don't worry about not getting your post back. She's capable but the truth is I think everyone misses you in Comm and they want you back," Nikita said. At that moment the nurse reappeared carrying a neatly folded assorted pile of Birkoff's clothes. She handed him the clothes and left. Birkoff started to get out of bed again and stopped.

"Something wrong, Birkoff?" Nikita asked.

"Yeah. Would you mind turning around so I can get dressed without an audience?" he replied. Nikita laughed and turned her back to him. "No peeking!" he said and finally got out of bed. He quickly pulled on his pants, grateful to discard the gown they'd had him dressed in. "Nikita, how's Walter?"

He saw her shoulder slump visibly at his question. "He's not doing too good, Birkoff. He slipped into a coma within the last 36 hours and the doctors aren't sure he'll ever wake up."

"Oh." Birkoff pulled on his sweater over his head and then sat on the bed to put on his shoes. "You can turn around again, Nikita."

Nikita turned back around. "Would you like to go see him, Birkoff?" she asked.

"Yeah, I would." He finished with his shoes and stood up.

"Here, you might want these," Nikita said. She pulled out his glasses from her pocket and Birkoff was happy to have them back.

"There that's better," he said, adjusting them.

"Come on then and let's go visit Walter."

Chapter 22a

Nikita and Birkoff came to Walter's room off the ICU unit in Section's Medlab to find complete chaos. There were at least 3 doctors in the room with twice as many nurses following any of the orders being shouted by the doctors. Glancing briefly at Birkoff, Nikita grabbed the arm of a passing nurse.

"What's going on?" she asked.

The nurse pulled her arm free. "I can't talk now. You shouldn't be in here right now?"

"Hathaway, where's that intubation tray? I need it now. Stat!" one of the doctors shouted and the nurse who had been talking to Nikita hurried to fulfill the order.

Nikita wanted to know what was going on but Birkoff pulled her back to the doorway. "We need to let the doctors work. They'll let us know what's wrong whenever they can," he said. Nikita nodded and they stepped back into the hallway, listening to the doctors work.

Chapter 22b

Several minutes later, after listening to more chaos, the activity in Walter's room suddenly ceased and all that could be heard was the sound of a heart monitor and something that sounded like respirator. Nikita had been pacing the hall as Birkoff stood with his back to the wall, leaning against it watching her. Neither one of them spoke as they listened to the doctors work. Finally they saw a doctor exit the room.

"Doctor?" Nikita called, stopping to stand beside Birkoff. She recognized him as the doctor who initially treated Walter in the White Room. He came over to them.

"How's Walter?" Birkoff asked.

The doctor shook his head. "Not good. A few moments ago he began to have respiratory distress. The distress continued, and despite using other methods to help his breathing return to normal, we were forced to intubate him. He's been placed on a respirator," the doctor said.

"Doctor, what are his chances of recovery?" Nikita asked.

The doctor shook his head. "Not good. But from what little I know of Walter, he is a fighter. He has to be to have survived as many years as he has in a place like this," he replied. "His chances of recovery will be better if he has the will to live. Meanwhile, we'll continue to do everything we can he help him."

"Is there anything we can do to help him, doctor?" Birkoff asked after seeing Nikita was fighting back tears again.

The doctor nodded. "Talking to him would help. He needs to hear familiar voices. Perhaps everyone can take turns staying with him?"

Chapter 23

Nikita entered Medlab, tired but willing to complete her two hour shift of staying with Walter until Birkoff would be free from the mission he was working on at the moment. It had been a little over a week since the doctor suggested them taking turns staying with Walter, talking to him.

He showed little improvement and Nikita was afraid they were going to lose him. On the same day the doctor had placed Walter on the respirator he had given the same report he'd given to Nikita to Michael and George.

George had called Michael to remind him of Section policy operatives on life support. Walter would be allowed to remain on the respirator for 3 weeks at most and then he'd be taken off it. When Nikita asked if he could survive without it, the doctor had told her that he would most likely die without it.

If it came to that, another good man would die because of Section's inability to show some tolerance and compassion.

She HATED Section. . .

As she entered the room, Davenport stood up and after he handed her the book he'd been reading aloud, he stretched.

"Has Birkoff made any progress on the mission?" he asked.

She nodded. "It'll still be a few more hours before the mission will go out though."

"I assume that my team is still on Close Quarters Standby until we go out?" he asked.

She nodded. "Why don't you go get some rest in the ready room until the briefing?"

"Good idea. See you later," Davenport said and left.

Nikita settled into the chair. She opened the book that had been passed back and forth between her and anyone who came to sit with Walter. The doctor had said that hearing familiar voices might help Walter in some small way and so when everyone had run out of things to talk about while staying with him, Nikita had suggested that they all take turns reading to him. There had been some debate over which book to read and so Nikita decided to access Madeline's file on Walter, searching for a clue as to what they could read.

She had found it and now she opened a copy of Homer's The Odyssey as a note in Madeline's file indicated that it had been a favorite of Walter's when he was a boy. She cleared her throat and began to read softly.

""Nausicaa, what can your mother have been about, to have such a lazy daughter? Here are your clothes all lying in disorder, yet you are going to be married almost immediately, and should not only be well dressed yourself, but should find good clothes for those who attend you. This is the way to get yourself a good name, and to make your father and mother proud of you. Suppose, then, that we make tomorrow a washing day, and start at daybreak. I will come and help you so that you may have everything ready as soon as possible, for all the best young men among your own people are courting you, and you are not going to remain a maid much longer. Ask your father, therefore, to have a wagon and mules ready for us at daybreak, to take the rugs, robes, and girdles; and you can ride, too, which will be much pleasanter for you than walking, for the washing-cisterns are some way from the town.

When she had said this Minerva went away to Olympus, which they say is the everlasting home of the gods. Here no wind beats roughly, and neither rain nor snow can fall; but it abides in everlasting sunshine and in a great

peacefulness of light, wherein the blessed gods are illumined for ever and ever. This was the place to which the goddess went when she had given instructions to the girl."" Nikita paused.

"Oh, Walter, you have got to wake up soon. These names are killing me!" Nikita joked. When he didn't stir, she held the book up to continue. 'By and by morning came and woke Nausicaa, who began wondering-'" Walter began to moan and immediately Nikita placed the book in her chair.

"Walter?" she said, touching his hand. He didn't open his eyes but he did moan a few more times before becoming still again. Nikita hurried to the door. "Nurse, get Dr. Roberts. I think Walter is starting to wake up."

Author's Note: Nikita is reading from Book 6 of Homer's The Odyssey. . .

Chapter 24

Nearly an hour later, Walter was fully awake and his initial disorientation had passed. Now he was waiting for the doctor and a nurse to come removed the breathing tube. Carefully Dr. Roberts removed the tape that had held the tube in place.

"All right, Walter, when I tell you to I want you to blow out as hard as you can so I can remove the tube from your throat," he said and Walter nodded. "All right. Blow hard."

Nikita watched at the tube was removed from Walter's throat. After it came out, Walter coughed, gagged, and eventually threw up. The nurse was ready however with a pan and with her help, he was kept clean. She helped him to rinse out his mouth and then she left.

"Can I see him, doctor?" Nikita asked, from where she watched by the door.

"Yes, but don't stay too long. I want him to rest up some," he said.

"All right."

"And don't let him talk. His throat is going to sore from the breathing tube and I want it to have a chance to heal," he said. Nikita nodded and he left.

"How long?" Walter breathed. He spoke so softly that Nikita had to read his lips to understand him.

"9 days. You really had us scared, Walter," she said.

"Nine-"

"Shhhhhh, don't try to talk. I'll try to tell you everything but you can't talk and I can't stay too long," she said. He nodded and she began to tell him about everything that had happened since they were all about to be cancelled. "Well, I'll let you rest now." She said when she saw his eyes starting to close. Walter grabbed her hand to stop her however and she turned around to face her again.

"How's Birkoff?" he said, a little louder this time.

She smiled. "He's fine, Walter. He's in Comm right now, working on a mission or I'd call him down here to see you. He's been very worried about you. Get some rest." He nodded and closed his eyes. With a smile, Nikita left Medlab, hurrying to tell Michael and Birkoff that Walter was going to be okay.

Chapter 25/END

A month had passed since the transition of power inside of Section One and things were relatively back to normal. Michael and Nikita were still learning but doing their jobs well and Oversight was pleased. Birkoff and Quinn were both still in Comm, trying to find a way to work together without have an argument with each other everyday. And Walter was finally working back in Munitions with Giles staying on to work with him as an assistant, something he had been wishing for along time. Walter had just sent Giles to retrieve something on Level 4 when he saw Nikita walking by.

"Hey, Sugar," he said.

She turned to face him. "Hi Walter." Nikita walked into Munitions and sat down across from him.

"What's wrong, Sugar? You look like you just lost your best friend," he said.

"Not quite, Walter," she replied.

"Then who died?" he asked.

"We just received a communiqué from Oversight. They cancelled Operations," she said.

"What? Paul's dead?" Walter said. She nodded. "Can't say I'm sorry to hear he's dead. Speaking of which, I'm surprised that you are."

"I'm just shocked that's all, Walter. I mean there was never any love lost between either of us but-" Nikita's voice trailed off.

Walter chuckled. "Yeah I heard from several folks how you told Paul off in the White Room."

"Yeah well I only said to him everything I'd been wanting to say since the day we met. All of it was true and he in turn told me what he thought of me," Nikita said. At that moment, Birkoff walked into Munitions.

"Sorry to interrupt but Nikita Michael wants to see you his office right away." he said.

"Okay. Thanks, Birkoff. I'll see you later, Walter."

"Did Nikita tell you about Operations?"

"You mean Paul, don't you?" Walter said.

"Whatever."

"Yeah she told me."

"What do you think about it?" Birkoff asked.

Walter shrugged. "He got what he deserved. I'm just sorry I wasn't there to see it happen."

* ~ * ~ *

Nikita entered the Perch and Michael handed her an additional communiqué. Nikita read it and stared at him.

"Tell me this isn't true," she said.

"It is. She arrives within the hour. Would you see to it that everything is prepared?" Michael said.

Nikita nodded. "Of course." She turned to leave, trying to get over this last bit of shocking news she had just received.

Madeline was on her way back to Section. . .

The End