Operations had spent the evening riding up and down Michigan Avenue in the back of an intricately designed snow-white carriage. A beautiful gray Percheron mare pulled it with red velvet ribbons woven into her braided mane and a huge red bow somehow held onto the top of her carefully braided tail. The steady clopping noise of her rock hard hooves rhythmically hitting the pavement had somehow lulled him into a deep sense of relaxation. Carolyn had snuggled under the cashmere throw that had been provided for cold nights just like this one and she didn't hesitate to rest her head against his shoulder and move in closer for added warmth.
After stopping in front of Water Tower Place, Operations paid the fare and assisted her in dismounting from the carriage. She wasn't to eager to release his hand as her dainty foot make contact with the curb. "Where to now Paul?" she also wasn't eager to let the evening end. It had been quite a while since anyone had treated her to such luxuries and she knew a good thing when she saw it. Or did she? Paul had to chuckle to himself with the idea of introducing Carolyn to Madeline. While Madeline might think she would make an excellent Valentine Operative, she certainly wouldn't stand for any type of normal relationship.
"I have certainly enjoyed this entire evening," he started as they walked back toward the direction of the hotel. "But I have some very important business to attend to in the morning and I really should get some rest." He held her hand as they strolled along.
"Oh Paul, can't you skip a day?" she pleaded as she caressed the back of his hand with her free one. "Just one day?" she batted her lovely eyes.
"Carolyn, I would love to spend more time with you, but tomorrow is out of the question it simply cannot be put off," his voice took on a more commanding tone and she simply assumed that it was his normal work mode.
"Well, there's always tonight?" she stated pure and simple. She felt him stiffen as if fighting an inner demon. "Carolyn..." he drew in his breath. "Paul, we're good together, we could be better." she nudged him hoping that she might get some response instead he pulled his hand free from hers.
"Carolyn, tonight was wonderful, but I am in town for only a short while and I have important business to attend to, I can't get involved in a relationship" he tried to explain as bluntly as he could. She pouted knowing that if she pushed further there was a good chance she would never hear from him again.
"Will you at least call me?" she softly pleaded. "I'll try" was all he could promise. He walked her to her door, gave her a chaste kiss goodnight, got into a cab and headed to the hotel.
He entered his room and checked his phone log for messages. There was only one and it was from Birkoff. Checking his watch he dialed up his private phone and listened to it ring about ten times before he answered. "Yes?" was the reply on the other end. "Birkoff you called me?" he slipped the cufflinks out of the slots on his sleeve and loosened his tie as he balanced the phone on his shoulder.
"Yes, sir I did, there has been an incident," he heard Birkoff take in a huge breath.
"What is it Birkoff?" he was getting impatient.
"Michael is on his way in on the plane, along with Nikita." Birkoff heard Operations mutter a multitude of curse words. "What the hell for?" he shouted then looked around as if someone might have heard him.
"Sir, Michael's been shot."
Michael felt free. He could have sworn he was flying, yet when he looked down, he was clearly walking but he hadn't a clue where. All about him things looked familiar but then they didn't. He heard birds chirping from the tops of blossoming trees that lined a street he was sure he knew, but then again he wasn't. The confusion that filled his head grew as he made his way around and suddenly realized that this looked exactly like the neighborhood that he had grown up in. The house at the end of the block looked like his boyhood home and he wondered why, after all this time, he might be thinking about it.
In front of the simple clapboard home, he saw a bike balance precariously against the red and white wrought iron banister and toys scattered in the yard. Looking up he heard the slam of a screen door just as a little curly red headed boy came bounding down the front steps to jump on his bike and ride away. As he positioned himself on the pedals, he looked up for the briefest of moments and their eyes locked. The little boy smiled and waved before turning the handlebars and peddling away. Michael realized that the boy was himself.
As he continued down the street, the scenes changed and he saw things that he remembered from his teens. He couldn't understand what was happening, only that he felt like a patron watching a movie of his life unrolling before his very eyes. He saw the neighborhood pool hall that he hung out in with a band of his high school buddies. He walked inside and saw them, all young again playing pool and drinking beers like they were going out of style. He saw the prom queen sitting on her hip against the bar, lazily waiting for her boyfriend to take notice of her. Michael walked up to her to say hello but she didn't seem to hear him. His attention turned to the boy leaning over the table racking up the balls for the next game. Suddenly the young man looked up; their eyes locked and again Michael recognized him as himself.
Further down the street he saw the home he had lived in before fighting with his Mom and Dad and stalking out as he vowed too never return. He never had, shortly afterwards, he had a run in with the law and that is when Madeline, Operations and Section became his new family. He hurried down the street trying to avoid this part of his life. He felt a great sadness as he moved from street to street.
Next he saw a dark hair woman, sitting alone in a park under the shade of a beautiful weeping willow tree. Something about her looked vaguely familiar and as he moved closer, he stopped in sudden shock. As the woman looked up, he felt the tightening in his chest that he had hoped to never again feel for before him stood his beautiful Simone. He moved in closer, sure that she would not seem him just like the prom queen, but as he drew up in front of her, the smile of recognition was unmistakable.
"Michael?" she smiled as she leapt from the bench and wrapped her arms around him. "I've waited so long, I thought you would never come." she kissed his face over and over. Michael drew away from her
"Simone? How? How is this possible? I saw you die," he grew frightened but glued to the spot.
"It's possible Michael, here anything is possible," she smiled as she tried to embrace him once again. "No, you died I saw you... I grieved for you." he backed away shaking his head. "This is not real. You are dead how can this be?" he still didn't understand.
"It's possible Michael because you are dead too." she smiled her biggest toothiest grin. "Now we can be together for all eternity." she hugged him close.
Operations was pacing like an irate tiger in a zoo. The cellphone was pressed against his ear as is finger tapped impatiently against it. "What the hell do you mean Birkoff? Michael was shot by whom?" he knew he was half shouting but because of the seeming lack of Intel, he was quite steamed. "When? How?" He kept shooting out questions that Birkoff was ill equipped to answer.
Meanwhile, Birkoff was not only in communication with Operations but was trying to maintain a clear line to the plane while making arrangements for Medlab to meet them at the airstrip. He was sweating profusely now. In the entire time he had been in Section, Birkoff had never had to juggle this many decisions and it was starting to wear on him as was apparent by his next comment. "If you need to know get your ass back to section" it slipped out before he could silence himself.
"Excuse me?" was the reply from Operations
"Look, I can't keep you up to date while trying to get the plane in and met by Medlab. Everyone wants directions and answers and right now you know as much as I do" he couldn't help himself and as he looked up, he was greeted by the stunned look of Walter's face staring back at him. "Now what?" his temper flared.
Operations told him to handle the situation and then send the plane back for him. He wasn't in the mood to wait at a public airport and then find himself seated next to a gabby middle-aged woman wanting to share her family history and show him all the pictures of her granddads. After hanging up the phone, he quickly packed all of his things into the two bags he had brought with him. Scanning the room, he made sure he left nothing behind. He placed a call to the front desk and was greatly relieve to find the Carolyn had not been on duty until morning. He didn't want to explain his sudden need to leave not that he owed her an explanation but he had enjoyed her company and given different circumstances he would have liked to get to know her better.
A limo was dispatched and a porter came to carry his luggage to the waiting vehicle. As he stood at the front desk, he scanned the area more out of habit of surveying his surroundings than actually looking for someone. After finishing his checkout and making his good-byes and thank you he hurried into the limo and instructed the driver where to go. He wasn't comfortable walking into a situation blindly but he knew that Birkoff would have contacted him directly if he had anymore information regarding Michael. It was then that he remembered Nikita. Flipping open the phone, he quickly dialed Section and asked for Birkoff.
"Birkoff have you heard anything from Nikita?" he checked his watch wondering when the last time was that she checked in.
"Sir, I believe that she is with Michael," was the simple statement.
"With Michael?" he shouted. He was more than sure that Michael wasn't even aware of their having been in Chicago. What the hell was going on? "Birkoff, I want a linkup with Nikita now!" he drummed his fingers impatiently against the leather clad armrest.
"Sir, I don't think that is possible given the situation."
"What situation Birkoff has she been shot too?" he was growing more and more angry by the moment. One of his best operatives was shot and he didn't know how bad or by whom. The other who was supposed to be working with him and was supposedly unaware of Michael being in Chicago was suddenly with him and now he was being told that he couldn't communicate with either of them." "I want answers Birkoff," he shouted glad that the partition between he and the driver had been in place.
"Sir, all I know is that Nikita called in to say that Michael had been shot the last I heard they were struggling to keep him alive." It truly was all he knew.
"Just how bad is he Birkoff?" Walter saw the face of the operative and caught bits and pieces of the conversation. He gathered from the grim look on Birkoff’s face that Michael was in grave danger. "They lost him once sir.'' Birkoff answered as honestly as he could while shaking his head at Walter. He truly didn't think Michael would be coming back alive this time.
Michael pulled back from Simone shaking his head. "I don't want to be here," he said sadly, realizing that he could easily give in and remain with Simone but he knew now that this was not where he wanted to be. "But Michael, I have waited so long, we belong together. Don't you love me anymore?" the sadness emanating from her being gave Michael an overwhelming feeling of despair. "I loved you Simone, believe me I did but now only in my memories" they started walking down the street together. "Is there someone else?" she reached out and took his hand. Her skin was soft but cold not at all warm like he would have suspected.
"There have been others." He answered her not know why he was willing to be so honest when it would obviously be painful for her.
"There is someone you love now?" she continued, gently tugging on his hand as if it would hurry the answer along. Michael took a deep breath, smiled slightly and nodded. "There is another woman." He looked deep into the liquid brown pools before him. "Someone I love very much." He tried to release his hand from hers but she wasn't ready to let him go.
As they continued down the street, the houses changed once again and farther down the road he saw a house that looked amazingly like the one he had shared with Elena. "How? She is not dead nor is my son" he looked at her again. "No, but she might as well be. After your 'death' she found it very difficult to go on. She is not the lively girl you were once married to" she gave a slight chuckle as if amused by the pain this was causing him. "I had no choice," he stopped directly in front of the house and waited but for what he didn't know. Elena appeared at the front door and slowly opened the screen peering out as if afraid of her own shadow.
"Adam, Adam where are you?" she called refusing to step foot out the door. "Adam come in right now," she called again. The dark hair child rounded the corner of the house apparently coming from the backyard. "Coming Momma," he called as he wiped his small hands against the legs of his jeans trying to remove as much of the dirt as possible. "Adam come in now, it is getting dark," she opened the door only enough to allow him access. Once he was inside, Michael heard her slam the door and slide bolts and chains into place. This was totally unlike Elena, she had always wanted doors and windows opened to the fresh summer breezes. It was then that Michael noticed that it was not winter here.
"Tell me Simone is it always like this?" he grabbed her upper arm and spun her around so she would be facing him. "Always like what Michael?" she smiled noticing how uncomfortable he was. "Like standing and watching a movie of your life not really being a part of it but watching things happen and not being able to change them?" she started laughing. "You can be a part of them well, you can be a part of the lives of the ones who have gone on like me but you have to embrace death and willing give up life" she waited for some reaction.
"I don't want to be here. My life is not done yet." he frowned. She hated when he frowned. She was much happier when his emerald green eyes danced with excitement. "Then you have to want to live. You must find the one thing that will give you back the life you want, reach for it Michael. Call for it. Believe," and with that she began to fade away.
Nikita continued to pound on his chest unaware of the bruises she was causing over the already irritated burns from the defibrillator paddles. "Michael please?" she cried, feeling more and more angry that she might actually be losing this battle. "Michael I love you." She hollered inches from his face.
"Ni-ki-ta," she heard a breath expelled from his lungs. The technicians who had already given up at this point turned in amazement as the monitor showed an increasingly steady beating heart. How this was possible they didn't know and couldn't possibly explain. The only thing they were sure of was that somehow or another, this woman now straddling his chest had single-handedly brought him back from the brink of death and they were not about to lose him again.
"Nikita, we'll take over from here." One reached to help her off the gurney. Surprisingly she allowed his strong hands to lift her as if she were no more than a mere child and deposit her alongside the gurney. She was grateful he hadn't tried to remove her from the room. "Let's get some fluids and another unit of blood going." he instructed the second tech who was already hanging the soft plastic units from the IV pole. "His blood pressure is rising." He removed the cuff once more. Each action was done with a deliberate slow and carefulness as they stabilized him while exchanging glances of amazement at what could only be deemed a miracle.