Nikita awoke from a nap that she hadn't planned on taking. But after checking in and watching Operations going through his pick up routine she finally arrived at her room and didn't know if it was the wine from earlier or the combination of the wine and any residual effect of whatever she had been injected with. But she had no choice but to sit down and take a break. Unfortunately, she had slept through most of the afternoon and the early part of the evening.

Walking out of the bedroom, she noticed a table set up near a luxurious black leather sofa and a simple note resting against a fruit plate and a soup tureen. "Didn't know what to order, thought this might be okay, take the evening and enjoy yourself, tomorrow comes early O." So he had gone out. She still wasn't sure what to make of his sudden attentiveness to her and it made her ability to gauge his actions that much more difficult.

Lifting a wonderfully ripe scarlet red Strawberry to her lips, she stopped and dipped it into the waiting bowl of sugar before pressing it to her lips, slowly sucking the sweet juice from it and finally biting deeply into the soft flesh. 'Not bad' she thought to herself as she reached for another. Looking further around the table she noticed a warmer holding a small ceramic container filled with melted chocolate.

Dipping the next strawberry into it, she had to lift and circle her hand to keep the oozing confectionery from running down her hand. After nibbling to contentment, she decided to don some winter clothes and take a walk along the Magnificent Mile and take in the sights of Christmas. As a child, Christmas was not something they celebrated, unless you could call watching your mother and her various johns drinking themselves silly and then beating each other to bloody pulps before passing out wherever they fell being too drunk to notice the damage each inflicted on the other.

No, Christmas was not full of warm homey memories that made one gaze in wonderment at the lights and trees and shiny decorations at least not in Nikita's world.

Pulling on a warm pair of black woolen slacks and a ski sweater of pale pastels, she pulled the fox fur trimmed hat down around her mane of silky blond hair. Slipped into the warm ski parka that Walter had advised her to take with her and yanked on a pair of black leather fur lined gloves. Time to see what all this merriment was about.



Michael wrapped the scarf tightly around his neck more thankful with each passing moment that he had remembered to not only pack it but also to wear it tonight. Although the blue/black sky with its twinkling starlight gave promise of a clear crisp evening, the wind whipping off the lake was cold enough to take your breath away and Michael huddled his face deeper into the soft navy blue wrap. About him people rushed from place to place, arms loaded with packages of every shape and color imaginable.

Shiny wrapping paper with huge metallic bows adorned many of the packages that Michael was sure were store wrapped. How easily people slipped from taking time to wrap to simply paying someone else to make these exquisite packages. He thought back to the Christmas when Adam was about three years old. He had finally learned that unwrapping the presents was only the beginning of a fun filled evening complete with so many gifts and toys that he didn't know which to play with first. Michael and Elena had taken the time to not only wrap the presents, but using magazines and pictures that they knew their son would like, they had pasted and glued a montage of pictures together until they formed sheets of wrapping paper. The only concession was the store bought bow that neither seemed to be able to duplicate.

Parents doing last minute 'Santa' duty, made their way into FAO Schwartz for the last minute ideas that children seemed to only think of when time was running short to purchase such luxuries. In the window huge stuffed animals with coal black eyes peered out at the maddening crowds as they rushed around in their haste to get the best deals and the most desired gifts. Across the street, Michael spied a young couple, arm and arm, making their way into a jewelry store. From the look on both their faces, he was sure that this was to pick out a possible engagement ring and again he thought of his past life.

The ring he had chosen for Elena was a simple princess cut stone, nothing too ostentatious since it would have looked out of place on her long slender fingers. He had picked it himself and she had tears in her eyes as he knelt in front of her and asked for her hand in marriage. But that was a lifetime ago and Michael forced himself to shake the images from his head. How he now wished that the young couple was he and Nikita. What their children would look like, if they were allowed to actually have a life would have been a wonderful surprise.

Again he was forced to stop his daydreaming. He simply wanted the contentment of having her remember that she had indeed been in love with him. Continuing up the street, he saw various specialty stores and wondered what all the customers immerging from each store might have in their bags. He didn't understand why he kept dreaming of what could obviously never be but since he only had one free night, he decided that fighting it was worthless and simply walked and dreamed...



Nikita stepped out of the hotel and was immediately greeted by a blast if ice cold Lake Michigan kissed arctic air. The swift intake of breath left her throat dry and her chest hurting as she attempted to catch her breath and resume a normal breathing pattern. At first she considered skipping her walk down Michigan Avenue, but the twinkling lights in the trees and on the building beckoning was too much to fight. She simply zipped up her fur-lined hood and with only her eyes peering out from the powder blue parka; she headed into the crowds.

Walking north on Michigan Avenue, she saw specialty stores that she remembered reading about but never had the chance to visit. Tonight would be that chance and she decided that her best course of action would be to work her way up the Magnificent Mile in a zigzag pattern although crossing the busy street was a formidable task at best. Couples walked arm in arm, snuggling closely against the biting winds. Nikita wished it was she instead but for some reason, the face of her 'male' companion remained elusive.

Something in her mind kept tossing in pictures of Michael but she doubted that he would be interested in snuggling while shopping this scenic route. (Little did she know)? She enjoyed studying the faces of all the various shoppers as they passed her by. Some had a look of panic as they attempted to balance the myriad of packages they struggled with as they walked quickly down the street. Others walked more sedately down the street taking a few moments to gaze into the different displays in each store window.

Nikita felt a longing for things that never were. Section obviously didn't celebrate the holidays. Christmas was a time of reflecting on the birth of Christ not plotting missions where innocent lives might be taken after all the calculations were made. As a child, Nikita could remember Christmas spent like any other day. Her mother would get loaded along with any of the many male companions that graced their lives. Christmas trees were not a part of her life then or now and it confused her as to why she suddenly felt like she needed to be celebrating this holiday.

She wondered what Operations would do if she put of a fully decorated tree smack dab in the middle of Communications. Laughing to herself she could actually picture multicolored Christmas lights strung along the observation deck. She even chuckled when she pictured mistletoe hung from the doorways. Wouldn't that be a reason for Madeline and Operations to share a kiss? But then she remembered why she was in Chicago and knew that the only possible kiss shared between Madeline and Operations was more than likely going to be a good-bye kiss.

Up ahead Nikita noticed a dark haired woman that bore an amazingly similar appearance to Madeline, her blood suddenly ran cold. Bringing herself tightly to the buildings, she steadily closed the distance between her and the female walking about 100 feet ahead, it was then that she noticed the man following the woman. She wasn't quite sure who it was but he had the outward signs of definitely being from Section.

Intent on following her subject, she was unaware that she too was secretly being followed. Had she looked behind her, she might have seen the dark emerald green eyes peering intently over the blue scarf wrapped tightly about his face? For his part, he had also noticed a quickening in the steps of the female form in the powder blue parka that had suddenly begun pursuing his target but he was unaware of who she was or what her purpose for doing so was. Quietly he continued to follow as each person in the line of people quickly mimicked the movements of the person in front of them.



Nikita had the sudden feeling that she was being pursued and decided to break off following the two people directly ahead of her. Instead, she quickly cut left across the busy street racing in and out of the cars and taxicabs that merged into a near parking lot atmosphere. As soon as she made her way safety across the busy street, she ducked into the nearest store and peered out the revolving door. It was then that she noticed the man glancing quickly up and down the Avenue unsure of exactly where she had disappeared.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize from his stance and then the way he moved that the person across the street was none other than Michael. She watched as he gave a once over to the entire street before resuming his pursuit of the two people ahead of him. This convinced her more and more that the woman she had seen and thought looked like Madeline was indeed here.

Before anyone could come to see why she was standing just within the entranceway. She swiftly pushed the revolving door and made her way back out onto the street. She decided to take up a safe pursuit from across the street keeping the distance that they were now separated by a constant thing.

Michael was more than a little angry at himself. It was unlike him to lose sight of someone he was pursuing and he wanted to know who this female was following not only his Operative but also Madeline. Their mission tonight was simply to keep tabs on her comings and goings and now it became very clear that someone else was pursuing Madeline as well. Reaching a gloved hand up to the communication device planted over his left ear he quickly switched it on. "Birkoff it's Michael are you there?" he waited for the young man's confirmation. "Yes, Michael I am here" was the simple reply. "Birkoff, are you aware of any other operatives on this mission?" he had a hard time walking and talking without being noticed by some of the less preoccupied shoppers.

"Not to my knowledge, do you want me to check with Operations?" Michael couldn't know that both he and Nikita were now in Chicago per orders directly from Operations.

"No, I was just wondering" he continued on turning right on Superior Street.

"Michael is something going on that Operations needs to know about?" Michael waited mulling it over whether to mention the female or not, he chose the latter "No Birkoff, nothing yet," with that he flipped off the device and resumed his pursuit.

Michael was now the one unaware of being followed. If he had, he would have surely recognized the long blond hair blowing around as if in celebration of escaping the warmth of the furry hood. Nikita quietly closed the gap between them and finally crossed over so she would be directly behind him. Touching a hand to her side, she gave it a reassuring pat that the gun she had placed there earlier was indeed still nestled within the waistband of her slacks. She would use it only if needed and hoped that when she found Madeline, Michael wouldn't interfere.

Up ahead, Madeline ducked into Gino's East Pizza Parlor and the Operative following her broke off the pursuit. He took up a position just across the street from the restaurant and contacted one of the mission vans to come and pick him up. Looking up and down the street he realized it would be taking a chance to park the van so near the restaurant without Madeline becoming suspicious upon leaving but with the temperatures taking an obvious dip, he also didn't plan on staying outside unprotected and freezing to death over her. Michael took up a place farther back against the wrought iron fence of a beautiful two story Brownstone and crossing his arms leaned against the cold hard metal and settled in for what could be a lengthy stay.

Closing steadily in was Nikita about 10 yards behind weapon at the ready. She wasn't taking any chances, tonight she would not be denied taking Madeline down and if Michael tried to stop her, she would handle him if need be. Slowly she silently closed in and Michael didn't seem to notice as he stood shivering against the black iron fence. Two feet from her target she drew her weapon and chambered a round. "Hello Michael" she was pleased when he spun around with a look of momentary shock written across his face.

"Nikita?" he pulled the scarf from around his face, his eyes never leaving the gun leveled at his heart.

"Surprised to see me?" she sneered.

"Yes, yes I am and very disappointed that you didn't take my advice." he quickly tried to disarm her but she had foreseen the movement, slowed by his chilled temperature and managed to side step before he made contact.

"Don't make me shoot you" she brought the gun up "All I want is Madeline." she whispered.

"Then we both want the same thing Nikita" he brought his hands up in a mark of surrender.

"No, Michael, I want her dead, you want her alive. I would say that qualifies as a difference of opinion." she smiled a half smile that made Michael's blood run cold.

"I want her alive only until she reverses whatever she has done to you" he pleaded with her "then you can do what you wish" he turned to check that his operative remained on guard of Madeline. "I promise you Nikita, but if you kill her before she tell us, you will never be fixed is that what you want?" he laid the cards on the table before her.

"No, I guess not but no more tricks from you...is that clear?" she replaced the gun inside her waistband.

"No more tricks," he smiled. He had to give her credit, apparently he had taught her better than he had thought. It had been impossible for any other operative to sneak up on him and Nikita had managed. "I have to say I am impressed. Not only did you succeed in losing me back there, but you did what no one had been able to do for a very long time." his eyes crinkled in the corners as he smiled before pulling the scarf back up over his mouth and nose.

"Yeah, what's that?" she rubbed her now freezing hand quickly together for warmth.

"I didn't even hear you coming." he turned and leaned against the fence once more.

"You're getting lax Michael Samuelle," she laughed as she joined him in is vigil.

"Well, there is no sense in either of us freezing to death," he snickered before reactivating the COM unit. "It's Michael, pick us up on Superior." he whispered before clicking it off again.