Birkoff was scared, plain and simple he knew that he had let Michael down when it slipped that Davenport was now with him. How to cover this up he pondered as he paced impatiently below the observation deck well out of sight of Operations who was wearing his own path on the carpet of the room above.

"Birkoff what's wrong?" Walter noticed his friend pacing like a caged tiger.

"Shhh Walter" he motioned the older man to move closer to the wall so that they couldn't be seen talking. "I screwed up Walter, I slipped about Davenport being with Michael," his color was paste white and he looked nauseous.

"What exactly did you say?" Walter kept an eye out for any prying ears.

"He said he wanted Davenport on point with the Balkan mission and I said he couldn't because he was with Michael on the Madeline mission," he held a hand to his mouth to keep the bile from spilling forth. "I'm gonna get killed by either Operations or Michael" he paced and looked more tortured by the minute.

"Listen Amigo, you simply tell him that Davenport ordered a meet with Michael to bring him up to date on the Intel they are gathering on Madeline and since Michael isn't fully recovered yet" he was trying to come up with something plausible.

"But I told him that there would be no way for Davenport to get here in an hour which would put them someplace other than the farmhouse" he was panicking badly.

"You tell him that Michael didn't feel secure at the farmhouse and decided to pick someplace safer" he reached out to touch the younger man's shoulder.

"But why wouldn't I know exactly where he was?" Birkoff wanted all points covered.

"You tell him that Michael ordered you to place him on Mandatory Refusal along with Davenport and Nikita" he rubbed his chin and hoped that Operations would by the excuse.

"I gotta go Walter, thanks" and with that, still holding his hand to his mouth, he headed to the observation deck like a lamb to slaughter.

"You wanted to see me?" he quietly stepped inside the room unaware that Walter had positioned himself within the vestibule leading up to the room within easy earshot of what was transpiring.

"Would you care to tell me why exactly Davenport is with Michael?" he starred at the young operative before him hoping to catch something that would tell him that Birkoff was lying to him but the younger man held himself in check.

"Davenport apparently felt that Michael needed to be brought up to date on where they stood with the Madeline mission," he gauged his words carefully.

"So why aren't they at the farmhouse?" he paced trying to throw Birkoff off his guard.

"Michael said he noticed someone or something out of place nearby and decided it wasn't a secure location." Birkoff was thinking on his feet. "Besides he knows that Madeline knew about the location of the farmhouse" he kept a straight face while keeping eye contact with Operations. Inside he was dying. "He requested that he, Davenport and Nikita be placed on Mandatory Refusal until they wrapped up this mission."

Operations stopped directly in front of him, hands on his hips and daring him to slip up. So far, Birkoff was holding his own. "Why wasn't I informed of this before today?" his demeanor was threatening.

"You were busy with the Balkan mission and your meeting with George and there wasn't time to contact you," he hoped he was buying this.

"Any time frame on this Birkoff?" he thought about what he was hearing and realized that this was how Michael usually chose to work when he was certain that he would better get the job done without supervision.

"No sir and I won't hear anything unless Michael chooses to break M.R." he figured he would use his version of Mandatory Refusal.

"Fine, if you hear from him I want you to contact me Mr. Birkoff, is that clear?" he seldom called Birkoff that anymore unless he was upset about something. He seemed to accept what he was told and with a wave of the hand dismissed Birkoff.

He and Walter nearly collided in the hallway and Walter was grinning from ear to ear that their beloved leader had fallen for this hook line and sinker. "Thanks Walter" Birkoff leaned against a wall far away from the vestibule of the observation deck and sucked in huge breaths of air. "I thought he would know I was lying" he bent over trying to keep himself from passing out.

"Relax, he bought it and now you have to contact Michael and fill him in" he knew that Michael might be upset about the slip but under the circumstance, he would have to give Birkoff credit for covering their tracks as well as he did.

"Michael is going to have my head for this" he knew why the sickening feeling refused to leave him. He dreaded telling Michael that he almost gave everything away more than he did the confrontation that just took place with Operations. "Tell him the truth and tell him that you took care of it, with Nikita missing I doubt he will have time to really think about it." Walter patted his friend on the back then left him to try and catch his breath.



Birkoff sat at his computer mulling over the best way to not only contact Michael but then to tell him about his goof. With his hands pulled into the sleeves of his sweatshirt, he sat kinda scrunched over the monitor slowly rubbing his eyes with the balled up material in each of his fists. "He's going to kill me I just know it," he didn't realize he was speaking out loud.

An operative monitoring other schematics happened to hear him and looked up to see whom Birkoff might have been referring to. "Hey, Birky," he whispered, "Who ya talking to?"

Birkoff's head shot up as he suddenly realized that it wasn't a private thought but something that once again just slipped out. "Just thinking out loud I guess" he took off his glasses and pretended to be intent on cleaning them. "Long hours will do that to you" he hoped that it

would end the questions but he wasn't so lucky.

"So, who's gonna kill you?" the operative rolled his chair around from his spot and closer to Birkoff's area.

"No one, just get back to work," he wiped away at a spot that was no longer there.

"Come on Birkoff, nothing exciting ever happens to me, who's gonna kill you?" he wouldn't leave Birkoff alone and would have continued pestering him had Operations not come down from the observation deck and strolled over.

"Birkoff?" he stood above the two operatives. "Mr. Decker, I believe that you have your own work to be done," it wasn't a question just a statement that made the young man quickly wheel back to his position. "Birkoff, I have another meeting with George this afternoon, if anything comes up on the matter we discussed I'm sure you'll be the first to let me know." another statement and Birkoff hoped Ops didn't see him swallow as hard as he did.

"Yes, sir, if he contacts us, I will contact you personally," he stood up and knocked over a cup of coffee that had been sitting untouched for the better part of the day. "Damn!" he cursed as he tried unsuccessfully to keep papers and files from being stained by the liquid.

"Birkoff are you okay?" Operations was taken back by the outburst and suddenly noticed that Birkoff didn't look quite like himself. "How long have you been at that terminal?" Birkoff couldn't hide the surprised look at the sudden concern from Operations.

"About fourteen hours sir" he didn't feel like lying, he was tired. He was tired of having to cover for everyone at the risk of being canceled himself. He was tired of Section running his life. He didn't have much of a life since he hadn't left Section since the last time Nikita took him out to some nightclub and he missed her. He couldn't show how worried he was about her because he wasn't supposed to know. He couldn't tell Michael how he really felt since he knew that Michael would need all the help he could get to beat Madeline at her own game. His only true friend seemed to lie in Walter who really required nothing of him but his friendship in return.

"Birkoff, maybe you need some down time," another statement.

"I'm fine," he lied and he knew that Operations knew he had.

"When was your last physical Mr. Birkoff?" he stood before him, hand tucked into his pants pockets.

"A month ago, they said I was fine." he handed him a copy that each operative was to keep available on request. "Passed with flying colors" he smiled but it was a weary smile that went unnoticed by Operations. "I want you to take a couple days downtime anyway," he checked his watch. "Have your messages forwarded to your palm panel and anything else you need but I don't want to see you here when I get back." he smiled and walked away? Birkoff was confused. Operations never normally took an interest in how long operatives worked his worry had always been about the bottom line.

Birkoff ran off anything and everything that he had been keeping on the mission Michael was running parallel to the one Operations was running. He didn't want to risk anything being discovered so after he secured his material, he erased any and all evidence that would link him to anything not on the up and up. He doubted anyone would be able to crack the codes he had carefully set up but with all that was going on under Operations's nose he certainly wasn't willing to take that chance. Afterwards he went to say good-bye to Walter knowing that if he showed up in Section after being ordered to take downtime, it would only lead to suspicions on Operation's part.

"Hey, what's up Amigo?" Walter was his normal chipper self. Under that friendly exterior only his closest friends knew that Walter was a ticking time bomb. Ever since Operations had ordered Belinda from Abeyance and caused her cancellation Walter had been waiting for the opportunity to get back at Operations. He was hoping beyond hope that Michael would successfully get to Madeline before Operations and with any luck cancel her right before his very eyes. He was well aware of the history between the two and relished the thought of seeing Operations try and 'get over it' like he had been instructed. Like Michael had been instructed after losing Elena and Adam. He would like nothing better than the see this leader broken and bent crying over the dying form of the woman he loved and to look up for sympathy only to be told to "get over it."



The limo dropped Operations and two of his top operatives in front of the drab gray building where he was to meet with George. From the conversation he had on the phone earlier, George seemed upset about the time lapse in covering the Balkan mission and Operations decided that the safest way to defuse the situation was to have a face to face with the head of Oversight.

After instructing the two men to watch the entrance, he took an elevator that could have easily come from an old black and white movie to the top floor of the nondescript building. The old dilapidated elevator stopped and Operations pulled open the welded metal grates. He slid up the wooden paneled door it became apparent that to the outside world that what appeared as a building darn near ready to be torn down was actually a cover for one of the most lavishly decorated high tech offices Operations had ever been in. He often wondered why George had picked this place when to him it would have been much simpler to have Oversight at an underground substation such as Section One.

"Operations," he was greeted by the older gentleman who's smile belied the great turmoil he was experiencing inside. "Won't you join me in my office?" he extended his hand and Operations took a moment to admire the beautifully tailored pin stripe suit. The navy suit jacket was fitted to perfection with its silver stripes ever so slim and straight. The white shirt he wore, underneath was accented by the silver and burgundy stripped tie and gold tie tack. Operations envied him his taste in apparel.

"George good to see you again," his smile covered the fact that he was now among one of the most hated and loathed men on Operation's list.

He followed him into the walnut paneled room that George referred to as his office but its appearance was more of a country club sitting room. Overstuffed burgundy leather winged back chairs sat facing the natural fieldstone inlayed fireplace. The mantle was hand carved quarry marble of a deep hunter green hue that beautifully accented the hunter green walls that were divided above the hand rubbed walnut paneling by intricately carved chair railing. The bar was honed mahogany that was lacquered to a deep rich shine and was well stocked with various expensive liquors and faceted crystal glasses.

George closed the heavy wooden door behind them and Operations heard him take a deep breath. "George, I know that Section hasn't been on top of the Balkan situation..." he started to explain as he turned to face the older gentleman. What he saw in his face scared the hell out of him.

"Paul, I didn't summon you hear to talk about the Balkans." he directed Operations to a chair in front of his desk instead of the ones that seemed more inviting by the roaring fire. "First off just where the hell is Madeline?" he seethed with a deep rage that Operations could feel emanating from him.

"She's been away." he tried to make light of the situation yet he knew that George was not going to accept his simple explanation.

"I'm aware she's been away Paul, I am not an idiot." he hissed as he slowly sat himself down behind the desk.

From his seat in front of the huge wooden desk, Operations felt like he was on trial and he guessed in a way he was. "She's outside of Section parameters I will admit George but we are aware of her location and are monitoring the situation," he knew that this was only the beginning of his interrogation.

"You are monitoring? Is that what you call it?" he banged his fist on the desk. "If this were any other operative Paul, would you be simply monitoring them?" he sat back in his chair looking rather disgusted with the man he had hand chosen as his possible successor. "I think not," he waited for the younger man to gather his thoughts. George saw the inner struggle to protect the woman he knew that Operations loved. Hadn't he felt the exact same way about Adrian?

"I have to handle this carefully George, more than just her life is on the line here" he sat back hands crossed under his chin as he studied the man he one day hoped to replace.

"How so Paul?" he wanted answers. Operatives were simply not allowed the freedom to come and go from Section. No one was immune to being canceled as Paul had once so eloquently stated.

"You do remember Nikita?" he decided that partial truth was warranted here.

"Yes, very attractive young woman as I seem to remember" he smiled but quickly returned to the stone face that had covered his features a moment ago.

"Madeline performed a procedure on her that erased part of her memory and only Madeline can undo it," he gauged his words carefully.

"Is this Nikita worth the trouble of keeping Madeline alive?" he wanted Paul to admit a more personal reason and decided to bait the truth from him.

"Yes, she's on par with Michael in every way, or at least she was before this was done to her," he sighed.

"Ah, Michael yes he's one of your best operatives as I remember?"

Operations nodded his head "A better operative than you or I could have ever hoped to be" he admitted "but with a fixation on Nikita."

George rose from behind his desk and headed to the wet bar. "Care for a drink Paul?" he smiled. He knew that each operative had his own cross to bear. His had been Adrian, Paul's was obviously Madeline and now to confirm what he had always suspected, Michael had a weak spot for Nikita. "You know, when I last visited Section, I thought as much about Nikita and Michael," he poured each of them a healthy sloshing of brandy and handed Operations a snifter of the auburn liquid. "Something about the way Michael hung on her every word, studied each of her movements, oh yes, young love." he smiled once again then took a seat near the fireplace. "Come join me Paul" he motioned to the other chair.

Operations started to relax a move that George was counting on by keeping the subject on the two operatives until the appropriate time. "Why did Madeline do this to Nikita?" he studied Paul's face for any trace of a lie.

"She," he slipped "We," he corrected, "We decided to put an end to the relationship that Michael and Nikita continued even after they were ordered to put an end to it."

George caught the slip and would use it to his advantage later. "By?" he wanted details.

"Madeline and I tried to use Michael's desire to succeed me by stripping him of his operative Level 5 status."

George took a drink "And I gather that it wasn't the success you had planned?" he saw the sadness written all over Paul's face.

"No, they assured us they did as ordered but we found out later that they lied," he tried to keep track of all he had told so far.

"Not surprising is it?" he turned to face Operations.

"Excuse me?" Paul sat more upright in the overstuffed chair.

"Tell me Paul, wouldn't you do anything to protect Madeline?" he leaned in closer to the other man.

"I don't understand the question." Operations stalled for time.

"What is there to understand?" the older man stood up. "You would do anything to protect her Paul, you and I both know that Madeline means more to you than simply a coworker" he decided to play his hand.

"George I think you are out of line," he felt the ire growing inside. Had he been that obvious?

"Paul, I too had my weakness in Adrian but now that she's gone," he thought he saw Paul wince at the mention of her name. He had seen it, or thought he had the first time he mentioned her name but this time he was sure of it. "Now that she's gone, I will never allow something to be my weakness again," he smiled an evil vile grimace. "You would do well to do the same," it came as a warning and that was how it was meant to be.

"I will handle Section the way I see fit!" the words came out in more of a yell than a controlled level and George knew he had hit pay dirt.

"You will handle Section they way I tell you to" he turned and stood directly before Operations. "Rectify the situation immediately Paul" he hissed. "Or I will gladly do it for you."