(53)

Operations was enjoying himself tonight, the company of Carolyn the desk clerk, dinner at Nick's Fish market and now an evening of Blues music as the two of them got further aquatinted.

"Dinner was wonderful Paul," she smiled as she slowly raised the crystal wineglass to her slightly parted full ruby red lips. "I especially liked the Halibut steak broiled just perfectly with the new potatoes," she was making idle conversation wondering where the evening would lead them next.

"Glad you enjoyed yourself Carolyn," he sipped the Cognac from the snifter balanced delicately between his thumb and forefinger. He stared into the pool of amber colored liquid as his thoughts wandered to another place and time. Dinner was the setting and it was just he and Madeline. It was the first time he had set out to seduce her. As was his habit, Operations wasn't one to let an attractive new operative go untried. He didn't get very far that first night; she had managed to side step his every attempt at getting her into bed. The biggest surprise was when she had stood up after a sumptuous feast of Blackened Chicken over angel hair pasta with a creamy garlic sauce. Funny he could remember every minute detail of the food and the scenario as she eluded is seductive attempts.

"When I want you in my bed Paul," she turned placing her coat over her shoulders and reaching for her purse, "It will be my decision, not yours." She leaned in placed a light delicate kiss on his lips. "And it will cost you much more than this dinner," she motioned to the table, slung the purse onto her shoulder and turned her back quickly walking away. He was unable to follow her; it had taken ten full minutes for him to realize that he had actually failed with what he had originally taken as an easy mark. He had decided then and there that Madeline was not someone to take to lightly.

"Paul? Paul I asked you what brings you to town?" she looked a bit impatient as he shook his head and brought himself to the present.

"I'm sorry, a million miles away I guess" he smiled eyes twinkling. "What was the question?" he took another sip of the Cognac and reached across the table to place his hand on hers. "Not much company am I?" he apologized. "I hope you were thinking about business?" her well-manicured fingers drew loops down his wrist as her trimmed eyebrows raised in question. "Business, of course" he smiled. "Now where were we?" he gave his full attention.

"I asked what brought you to town? I assume you are from out of state? That's what your drivers license said," she shrugged her shoulders in a slightly seductive way. "I'm here looking for an old friend." he lightly ran a finger down her forearm. "An old friend?" the raised eyebrows gave away a hint of jealousy.

"Yes, someone that I lost contact with a while back," his smile told her that he was indeed interested and she decided to see where things might lead.

"Did you find him?" the volleyball game of question for question continued. "No, not yet but I did just get into town," he countered. "And when you do?" she smiled glad that she had taken the course on seduction she had graduated with honors and she would have to remember to thank her teacher. "When I do, I will have to put them out of business," the undertone in his voice only gave her the slightest of clues that his business was more than a little personal so she decided to back off.

"Hey, how about a ride down Michigan Avenue in a carriage?" she suggested and he was quite happy to change the subject. "Sure why not?" was the reply as he motioned the waiter over and handed him his credit card.

************

(54)

They simply stared at each other. Both looked down at the weapon now discarded and blood covered lying by their side. They looked at their hands knowing one or both were responsible for the predicament that they now found themselves in. The tears in both sets of eyes as they locked onto one another flowed in rivulets as they dropped in a cascade down both fronts of their jackets. Both tried to rise from the floor of the van steadying themselves against the table. The wetness and slipperiness of the blood made it hard to get a handhold and while Nikita finally got to her feet, Michael collapsed in a pool of pain and misery. He hadn't even cried out simply called her name and looked deep into her eyes before he doubled over and curled into a fetal position to staunch the flow of blood. "Oh my God Michael, it's you that got shot," she shouted as she realized the pain she had been feeling was from the other weapon a knife hidden in her waistband.

Michael couldn't answer, his eyes were rolling wildly about as he writhed in pain and tried to breath. He was sure that the wound was bleeding profusely as he felt the blood running down his hands. "I have to get you to a hospital" she tried to step over him unwilling to check the wound for fear that she would find something beyond repair.

"No!" he commanded struggling for each breath. "Too many questions," he wheezed out each word.

"I have to risk it Michael I can't let you die." she knelt down beside him and moved his hands to finally examine their handiwork. "Geeze Michael, there's so much blood and I can't stop it" she removed the jacket she was wearing and tore off the sweater leaving her in a tank top with her sports bra exposed. Pressing it against his abdomen she was in tears with the realization of where they were now. "Please Michael, I don't want to lose you please let me take you to a hospital?" she begged, inches from his face as he struggled for breath.

"No, have to get me back to Section" he grabbed at the front of her shirt "Promise me Nikita, no hospitals" he clenched his fist tightly around the material. "Promise!" he was losing blood and consciousness quickly.

"Michael please?" she continued to beg as she applied pressure to the wound. "No hospital do you understand me?" he gasped for air. "Okay" she relented, pulling his belt loose before shoving the sweater tighter to his abdomen and refastening the belt to hold it into place. Taking her jacket she gently lifted his head and placed it under his neck then raised his legs onto the seat under the table to keep the blood to his upper extremities. "Hang on Michael" she quickly slid into the drivers seat, noticed the blood on her hands and hastily wiped what she could into the sides of her field pants. Picking up a communications device she looped it over her ear and put the van into drive.

"Birkoff? Birkoff Dammit answer me now!" she screamed into the device as she accelerated onto Lake Shore Drive and made her way to the expressway that would take her to the airport. "Birkoff!" she continued to yell into the device.

"Nikita what the hell are you screaming about?" his voice came over loudly and a bit confused.

"Michael was shot and he's losing blood, he refused to go to the hospital. He needs to get back to Section" she worked her way in and out of traffic careful not to exceed the speed limit by too much and draw the attention of a Highway patrol officer. She doubted she could explain the blood on her hands or the wounded man in the back of the van.

"How was he shot? Did you find Madeline?" Birkoff was busy on the other end making arrangements to have the plane ready and waiting at the gate he instructed her to drive to. "They'll take it from there" he continued giving her instructions.

"I am coming in with him," she shouted as she heard Michael's moans of pain and agony increase in their intensity.

"You have to find Madeline, that is why you were sent to Chicago that is why you asked to go" was the reply. Nikita knew he was right but that no longer seemed to matter.

"I have to be with Michael Birkoff I was the one that shot him, I think" she wasn't sure of anything except that she didn't want to lose him.

"You think? What the hell happened?" the younger operative tried to keep her communicating to gauge the seriousness of the situation. "We were struggling over a gun and it went off, both of us had our hand on it but I think I shot him" she started crying at the realization that she might have killed the one person that suddenly meant the world to her. "Birkoff help me," she cried more passionately than ever before.

"Please help me?" it broke his heart hearing her sobs. Michael heard it too, through the pain that robbed him of the ability to move he caught every sob, saw every heave of her shoulders as she balance a burden of guilt that wasn't rightly hers. He knew they both had their hands on the gun. He knew that it could have gone either way and he might be the one in the driverís seat speeding off into the night. He knew he loved her more than ever. Mostly he knew he was losing this battle to survive. The blood still hadn't stopped and the room spun just as he heard her announce that they had made it to the plane. He didn't hear her tell him how much she loved him...that she remembered she always had. He knew that they had started moving him, the pain had increased as he made a futile attempt to remain in the fetal position that relieve him of some of the agony but after that there was blackness.

Nikita wouldn't be persuaded to stay behind. She clung to the gurney as they quickly shifted him from the van onto the plane. She remained at his side as the medic that Section had somehow provided began his assessment of the situation. "Michael please, please hear me?" she whispered, her lips steadily pressing against he ear "Please, I know now" she continued between sobs. "I know I love you, I always have" she kissed him again as she caressed his hair between her bloodstained fingers. "Come back to me Michael, you have to hang on" she commanded not sure if he could hear her or not. She only knew she had to try. "Please Michael, you were right. Screw Madeline, screw finding her, I know the truth and the truth is I love you, I always loved you and finding her isn't important...anymore!"

And with that the heart monitor screamed an eerie noise as Nikita looked up and saw the thin flat line coursing over the monitor. "Michael!" she screamed.

************

(55)

Madeline slipped out of her warm bed shrugging off the down blankets and stretched her still tired limbs out. She hadn't slept as well as she had hoped visions of Section and all the operatives kept creeping into her dreams. She had even dreamt that Michael had found her at the office and had waited for her until everyone else had left the building. Somehow he had managed to stop all the elevators and she was forced into the stairwells. She clearly heard the clicking of her heels as she made a run for the lower levels stopping only momentarily to check each door only to find them locked as promised by the signs posted near the door. It became apparent that she would have to run the entire set of stairs before she might be free. Behind her she heard him coming. The steady thud of mission boots hitting the concrete step, not hurrying but definitely following her. She wanted to scream, to stop and face him but she also knew that having done what she had to Nikita, Michael would gladly kill her given the chance.

She rubbed her arms briskly at the memories, turned and remade her bed before heading into the kitchen to start up the coffee maker. Having done that she grabbed the necessary items and headed into the shower. As she lathered her hair, she thought about her real reasons for adjusting Nikita. She knew that Paul would have easily allowed the relationship to 'flourish' until he saw what benefit it would be to Section. She on the other hand couldn't allow such luxury. Her own relationships had been dashed at every turn when it became apparent that Paul intended to keep her freed up for him. She cursed him for making her is very own prostitute and herself for allowing it.

At first she thought he cared but later when she realized that he was still 'testing' any and all operatives that he selected, she knew the truth that it was only the sex that he was interested in and not a true relationship. No matter how she scrubbed and how hot the water, the stains of guilt and shame would not be washed off and with that realization came the truth that she had adjusted Nikita out of sheer jealousy. She had brought Michael to Section many years ago, had watched his relationship with Simone develop and even tolerated them being married. She remembered the day that they supposedly lost her as well and it brought a smile to her face. Then there was the mission with Elena. That had been even harder, since not only had Operations instructed Michael to marry her, but also to get her pregnant as well. That had been the straw that broke the camel's back. She had seethed with anger at the very thought of actually having to sit back and watch the two of them playing house. When the mission ended, again it brought her joy. Seeing Michael pay for his role in being a 'loving and attentive husband' she actually smiled at the painful appearance that had cloaked his face for the longest time. It served him right for not being loyal to her.

Then the relationship with Nikita had suddenly taken a turn with Elena no longer in the picture, she knew that she hadn't had much choice but to separate them permanently. They hadn't taken the threats for her and Operations serious enough and had actually continued meeting behind their back. Someone had to pay and Nikita had been the chosen one. Again Michael hadn't shown any loyalties. Instead he was now hunting her down like a wild animal and apparently with Operations assistance and blessings. She didn't like it and would soon have to figure out how to handle this as well.

************

(56)

The steady drone of the monitor as it screamed out the lack of life drove Nikita to depths of despair. "Do something!" she screamed at the two technicians as they worked frantically over the still form of Michael now fully stretched on the gurney. One ripped his shirt open and proceeded to cut through his pants as the other prepared the defibrillator slathering the paddles with gel and waiting for the charge to approach the desired setting. "Stand back!" he ordered and Nikita was forced to release his hand as the paddles were brought down against Michael's naked chest. "Clear." he shouted. At the same time he pressed the buttons on each paddle releasing the electrical charge into his chest. "300 jewls" he gave the instruction after watching a slight blip then nothing on the monitor. "Clear" was shouted as he shocked Michael once again. Still nothing. "Bring it to 400 jewls" he waited again then rubbing the paddles again to coat the gel evenly shocked him once again. Still nothing. Nikita was beside herself, she wanted to touch him yet knew she couldn't. She wanted him to know that she loved him and always had yet she didn't know if he would even hear her. "500 jewls" he attempted once more and this time was rewarded by a heartbeat. "His blood pressure is coming back" the second technician finished with the cuff wrapped securely around his left arm.

"Tell the pilot he has to hurry, we aren't going to get as lucky if he crashes again" he looked at Nikita and knew instantly that she was literally dying inside. "You can talk to him, he might hear you" he continued working on the wound, trying valiantly to stem the flow of blood that had once again started as Michael's pressure rose. "Tell him what you need to now, you might not get the chance later" he smiled trying to reassure her but knowing that the operative on the gurney might be too far gone by the time they landed.

Nikita sat down near the gurney and brought her mouth against Michael's ear. "I love you do you know that?" She watched his face to see if there was any response, but continued even when there wasn't a sign he had heard. "You can't leave me here alone." She felt the tears that had been welling up in her eyes, cascade down her cheeks and fall into the wave of hair bunched around Michael's head like a halo. "I can't make it without you Michael, I know that it has been you that has kept me alive" she kissed his ear "You are the only thing that keeps a spark of life in me" she continued caressing his face as she nuzzled in closer. "I can't live without you, please don't make me" she pleaded and thought she felt some response. Backing her head away, she saw his eyes flicker for the briefest of moments then turning his head ever so slightly, she heard him mouth the words that made her heart break. "You have to live for both of us" and with that the monitor returned to a flat line as Nikita heard herself screaming once again.

The two technicians started working to revive him once more. Shocking his heart, filling a syringe with Epinephrine to stimulate the heart then plunging the huge needled into its mark, each effort was followed by three of them holding their breath and silently praying. Nothing seemed to be working and the two men knew that the likelihood of bringing him back grew slimmer as each second ticked off the clock. "You can't give up!" she screamed at them. "You have to save him don't you understand?" She continued holding his hand with one of her own she brought her fist down full force into his chest all the while screaming. "Damn you Michael, you brought me here, don't leave me." Blow after blow met their mark as she alternately pummeled his chest and checked the monitor. But still nothing seemed to be working.


Next...