Something was not right. Operations knew it but couldn't put his finger on what exactly didn't seem right about everything as of late. None of his operatives were reporting anything new lately and he was getting tired and a little irritated that they seemed unable to decide how and when to bring in Madeline. "Birkoff," he shouted into the COM unit.

"Yes, sir," he answered through the portable unit he had on as he sat in Munitions. "Quiet, it's Operations," he whispered to Nikita and Walter. "What is it sir?" he tried to slow his breathing which had increased dramatically when he heard that voice.

"Why am I not getting any debriefs from this mission?" his voice boomed loudly over the speaker causing Birkoff to pull the earpiece from his ear.

"Mission sir? Which mission are you talking about?" he was trying to buy time as he quickly returned to his workstation. "The Madeline Mission," he screamed at the young operative. "Is there another mission that we are working on Birkoff?" he screamed.

Birkoff swallowed hard realizing that he might have accidentally tipped his hand. "No sir, just working on some SIMMs for the upcoming Balkan mission." he shuffled some papers to see what upcoming missions were requiring his utmost attention. Thankfully he had baled himself out of it this time. He promised to be more cautious. "I wasn't aware that you hadn't heard from our operatives sir, do you want me to find out what the problem is?" he tried to pacify Operations while he secretly contacted Davenport on another channel.

"What is it Birkoff?" he heard an impatient reply from the Operative in charge of the Madeline mission.

"Operations wants to know about debriefs from the mission?" he watched the older man pacing back and forth in the overhead observation deck. "He is really upset right now," he whispered. He didn't dare get caught going behind Operation's back right now.

"I will send him something to satisfy him Birkoff, and thanks." he knew what a risk the younger man was taking.

"See if you can get Davenport on the COM Unit." he instructed.

"Okay just give me a sec," he disconnected from Operations and waited for what might be an appropriate amount of time before putting Davenport through to Operations.

"Yes, sir, I understand there seems to be a problem?" he rolled his eyes as he tried to sound uninformed.

"That is an understatement Davenport, what the hell is going on?" he screamed and paced faster.

"Sir?" Davenport knew that he had to be extremely careful how he handled this situation.

"Where are the debriefs? I specifically asked for continuous debriefs on this matter Davenport." he hollered.

"Sir, nothing new has happened so far and I thought..." but his words were cut short.

"You? You thought? I am not paying you to think!" he screamed into the unit as he ripped the tie from around his neck.

Davenport rolled his eyes as he mouthed to the other operatives "We're being paid? Why didn't someone tell me?" he knew if Operations had heard him that his life would have ended rather quickly. "Sir, your instructions were to contact you with any updates..." but again he was cut off.

"I know what the hell my instructions were damn you!" he felt like he was dealing with another Michael clone.

"I'll have a report on your desk in the morning if that is acceptable." his words came out more as a statement than a request.

"Fine!" and with that he was cut off.

"Birkoff you there?" Davenport hoped that the younger man had monitored the situation.

"Yes, I'm here and I'm getting the debrief together as we speak but your going to have to encode it yourself." he knew that the older operative would cover his end.

"Thanks Birkoff." and with that the COM unit was disconnected.



Nikita gathered all of the available Intel in regard to the Madeline mission. It hadn't been easy but in the end she had somehow managed to convince not only Birkoff but Walter as well that without her help, Michael stood little or no chance of successfully pulling this off. "If he asks, I'll just tell him that I figured it out all by myself," she smiled, leaned over kissed both Walter and Birkoff, picked up the paperwork and headed out of Section.

"Nikita?" she froze in her path, thankful that she had taken the extra moment to safely tuck all the papers deep within the black leather shoulder bag she often carried.

"Operations" she smiled but tried to avoid steady eye contact.

"I must say I'm a little surprised at seeing you here." he studied her face but could read nothing from her blank expression. She would have to thank Michael and Madeline for her expertise at using the Mission Mode face.

"I need some extra medication and ummmm some bandages and such to change his dressings," she quickly thought to add.

"How is Michael?" he wanted them both back up to par. It didn't sit well with him that two of his best operatives were down for any length of time. It left him feeling vulnerable.

"Recovering, not the best patient in the world, but he's starting to work on getting back in shape, it's difficult," she smiled totally disarming him.

"Is he here with you?" he looked past her toward Munitions then back to her.

"No, no he decided to try some hiking, you know to build stamina and such," she covered and hoped he wouldn't press this much further.

"Ah yes, well, tell him I'm looking forward to talking to him when he is up to it" that didn't sound like Operations and she knew that he was up to something or worse, on to something.

"I'll do that" she motioned toward the exit tunnel "I'd better be going, Michael will be wondering what took so long," she smiled and didn't wait to be dismissed, instead she turned, shook her long blond mane and quickly left. Operations watched her walk away then turned and walked across Communications toward the stairway that led to the Observation deck.

It took her another hour to return to the farmhouse and when she did, she was a little surprised and concerned that both Michael and his car were both missing. She looked around the entire building for signs that Michael may have left her a note or that anything might be out of place but couldn't seem to find anything. "Well, Nikita ya blew that one," she now knew that his excuse to remain behind had been to cover up for something that he was working on and she was more than a little miffed that once again he had excluded her. She decided to teach him a little lesson about worrying. As she walked from room to room, she tipped lamps, knocked over a chair and table and scattered papers here and there. The last thing she did was to drop her keys in the snow outside and leave the door to her vehicle wide open. Knowing that no one would disturb the car, she felt safe in leaving the farmhouse door ajar and then took off for a long walk in the woods careful not to leave tracks that he could follow.

Michael returned a short time later. As he pulled up behind Nikita's car, he immediately went on alert, the open car door caused his stomach to tense and he carefully went over the vehicle, inspecting the ground around it, he was a little surprised at not finding signs of a struggle. Perhaps Nikita knew whoever took her, it they did. He continued to the farmhouse and found the door open. Unholstering his weapon, he chambered a round and slowly crept into the building careful to sweep the first floor and all of its possible hiding places before moving cat like up the wooden stairs. Stepping lightly, he was thankful that he knew where to gently place a foot to avoid the creaking and groaning of the old timbers as he made his way to the second floor. After another careful search, he returned to the first floor and inspected the mess laid out before him. Nothing seemed to be missing but everything seemed to have been rifled through. It didn't make sense to him as he went outside and surveyed the entire area. He couldn't find footprints leading anywhere other than outside near the car and the ones he had made previously as he walked around earlier in the day. Something wasn't right and Michael was clearly upset as he stalked around both outside and in then back out again trying to piece this all together.

Nikita sat up on the ridge high above the farmhouse watching him through binoculars that she had remembered to take with her. She laughed to herself as she realized that this was probably the most puzzling thing that had happened to him in a while. When she saw him exit the farmhouse for what had to be the fifteenth time she struggled to contain herself but then her amusement turned to horror as she watched him collapse to the ground holding his stomach. She dropped the binoculars, picked up the leather bag and stumbled through the broken and dead trees that littered the landscape. She was totally out of breath by the time that she got to his writhing form and was beside herself with a panic and fear she hadn't felt in a long time.

"Michael, Michael are you okay?" she turned him over and saw the blank stare as if he didn't recognize her. "Michael what is it?" she saw his lips move and brought her head closer to his mouth to hear the words he seemed to be struggling to say. "Michael please, I'm here, I'm okay it was all a joke, I'm soooo sorry." she kissed him, checked him over the best she could and put her ear back to his mouth. "What? I'm sorry Michael, I can barely hear you" she cried out.

"Nikita, you should have been more careful" he whispered in a barely audible voice.

"More careful?" she asked in confusion "More careful of what?" she was terribly panicked now. "Michael what are you talking about?" she tried to roll him onto his back. "Michael talk to me" she pleaded.

"More careful about the sun's reflection on the binoculars, I thought I taught you better," his voice grew stronger as he sat up as quickly as his wounds allowed. He laughed, patted her knee and rose up leaving her sitting in a heap on the ground. "If you are going to play games Nikita, learn the rules," and with that he left her outside and returned to the warmth of the farmhouse....



She was angry with him, more at herself since it was her silliness that had put her in the position to be taught a lesson. Michael had returned to the warmth of the farmhouse and stretched his chilled form on the rug in front of the fireplace. He hadn't talked to her since she followed him inside, in fact he acted as if she were not even there. She had asked him how his day went and all she got for her efforts was something between a grunt and a groan. She offered to make dinner but he shook her off and started reading some files he pulled out of his jacket. She sat behind him at the kitchen table and was treated to the back of his head and silence.

He knew that she was mad. He also knew that she had scared the hell out of him and he wasn't at all happy that she took his feelings so lightly. He knew she hated it when he ignored her but he had little to say that wouldn't cause him to show her the vulnerable side of him and he didn't want her to know that she had gotten to him. His first thought when he had driven up to the farmhouse and spotted the car left open and unattended, keys dropped in the snow and the door ajar had been that Madeline had once again succeeded in finding them and grabbing Nikita. He couldn't handle that thought as he moved from room to room searching in vain for a sign of the only woman he wanted in his life.

When he had caught a glimpse of sunlight bouncing off the ridge, he had found a second set of binoculars and returned to the window to see who was watching. When he saw her laughing he had become hurt and irate. That was when he decided to teach her a lesson. He hoped that he had gotten his point across about causing him to worry unnecessarily but he doubted it. So there he sat, not really reading the notes and files scattered across his lap but trying to decide when to break the silent treatment he was giving her.

She heard him sigh and thought he was about to say something. She didn't want to hear it right now so she picked up a magazine and sat down alone at the table thumbing through the pages but not really seeing anything of interest to her. She was hurt thinking that he didn't care if he had scared the hell out of her. When she saw him collapse, a part of her heart seemed to crack. She realized how close she had come to losing him before and she was mad that it was because of her stupid game that he had been lying out on the cold ground apparently writhing in great pain. When she heard him finally laugh, it cut through her like a knife that he would scare her so. She never thought to consider just what her idea of a game might have caused him.

So there they sat, him on the sofa, not really reading the files and her, staring at the back of his head wishing he would break the silence but seething at herself for allowing this all to happen. She had started this and it would obviously take her making the first move to put things right.

"I'm sorry Michael," she whispered so that he would have to turn to hear her. At first he didn't move although she did see him place the files down beside him and clench and unclench his hands. "It was a stupid childish prank and I'm really sorry if I scared you." she continued. He didn't acknowledge her for a full minute or two. "Please Michael, can't we talk about this?" her tone was soft and full of remorse.

He turned completely around and crossed his arms resting his chin on them as he studied her face. "Do you know what I though when I came home and found everything like that?" She saw the tenderness and the tears welling in his emerald green eyes. "I thought I had lost you again, I thought that I had somehow failed you once again" his lashes darkened as the tears began to flow. Her heart broke as she finally realized just how much anguish she had caused him.

"I'm sorry Michael really I am." she got up and came to kneel directly in front of him. She placed her hands on both sides of his face. "You have never failed me Michael." she stared into his eyes as she said this.

"But I did Nikita" he sobbed and it cut her to the core.

"How? How do you think you failed me?" she wanted to understand.

"I let Madeline get to you, I should have protected you and I didn't." he looked at her and she knew then and there just how much he had sacrificed all these years just for her.

"You couldn't have stopped her Michael, neither of us knew what she was capable of" she wanted to wrap her arms around him and hold him tightly for the rest of their lives.

"I knew that she wanted us apart, I should have known but..." he continued with soft sniffles and sobs between the words.

"Michael stop, it was done to both of us, not just me and both of us have to undo it, do you hear me? Both of us, as in together," she kissed him gently on the cheek as she got up and came around to his side of the sofa. "No more working alone, no more hiding things from me. We have to work together, it's the only way this will work." she sat down and he slowly came to rest his head on her lap as he lay on his back looking up and studying her.

"I know." was his simple answer as he closed his eyes and gave a great big sigh.

"Promise me Michael, no more keeping things from me?" she pleaded.

"I promise Nikita," he looked into her eyes and knew more than ever that he could never live without her...