The waited, and waited and waited some more. Nikita sat chewing a was of gum and Michael silently cursed her for the constant bubbles she would blow then pop quite loudly only to draw the sticky mass back into her mouth and snap and pop it before beginning the next bubble. He watched her mouth and couldn't help feeling a warm sensual feeling for the full soft lips that he knew so well. He only hoped that he would once again have the chance to feel their burning heat against his own. He shook his head to clear the thought of her that invaded his brain.

Several of the operatives had joined them in the comm room to await Madeline's phone call. Some sat on chairs, the floor, some of them even stretching out on one of the two tables that sat in the middle of the room. Michael was glad to see that they considered themselves part of the team and didn't seem to mind the wait although he could tell from the way Davenport was grinding his teeth that he was walking a think line of patience.

They all sat there staring at the phone. Michael, Nikita, Elena, Davenport and the operatives all hoping the darn thing would ring, the loop would work and the trap could be set. All wanted this mission to end and most wanted the same outcome. They all pretty much figured at this point that Michael would be using Madeline as some sort of trade, they only hoped they were to be included. One even chose the moment to confirm this.

"Eh..ummm, Michael?" he began as he rubbed the close cropped hair he had only recently began sporting. Michael turned in his direction and locked his eyes on the operative's but still hadn't said anything. "I was wondering, since you gave the order that Madeline was to be taken alive?" He waited for some response from Michael but continued on when he realized that Michael was simply waiting to hear him out. "Well, I...a couple of us" he corrected himself as all eyes turned to him "We were wondering since some of us came from Abeyance if...." but he didn't know how to ask what he needed to know, thankfully Nikita stepped in.

"You want to know if bringing Madeline in alive will be a guarantee of your survival?" he nodded. "Michael?" she didn't feel comfortable enough to speak for him lest he had other plans.

"I honestly don't know," he sighed. "I would like to believe it and you all probably know that it's my intention to trade her lives for ours. I don't know if Operations will go for it," he was sure that Operations still cared about Madeline and he clearly understood the operatives looking for any way they might have to be removed from Abeyance. "To tell you the truth, there's some stuff going on back at Section right now as we speak. Until we get back there or at least get some word from Walter, I don't know what we'll even be walking into," there, he'd said what had been bothering him since he received the first message from Walter. Nikita knew it took a lot out of him just to admit that for the first time in a long time, he didn't know what someone wanted to hear.

Davenport smiled to himself. He knew Michael as well as Nikita and knew that in the back of his mind, Michael had every intention of trading Madeline for all of their lives, at least the ones that survived the mission ahead. He knew that it was not Michael's way to use people and discard them no matter what he'd been forced to do by Section, this time he was working on his own agenda and Davenport knew he'd do whatever it took to guarantee they all survived. He only hoped Walter and Birkoff had that same guarantee.

Just then...while everyone was silent and deep in thought, the phone rang causing most of the occupants of the room to jump.



The doctors were waiting as the Medical team carried Birkoff's unconscious body into Medlab. "He was in the White room" one of the medics began explaining as the doctor brought up the light to check his pupils. "And he's still alive?" The Doctor sounded thoroughly amazed "Obviously he wasn't with Madeline?" The medic shook his head, "Operations," he looked at the still form of Birkoff and studied the swelling under his one eye.

"They didn't get far those masochistic fools," the doctor gently probed the area then asked his assistant for the various things he would need to clean and bandage the area. "So how is it that Birkoff managed to survive the White room AND Operations in one day and what was he there for in the first place?" the doctor swabbed the area with a betadine solution that dyed the skin a brownish red.

"Walter's in there right now and get this, he shot Operations," the doctor dropped the tweezers and was momentarily too stunned to notice as they clattered to the floor.

"Walter? Shot Operations? Why?" Like he didn't know that anyone in their right mind with Section wouldn't love to take the fatal shot at that man.

"I don't know honestly, Birkoff came back from Oversight and immediately got dragged to the White room by Operation's orders" he whispered so no one within earshot could blame him for telling tales. "I think he's getting paranoid since Madeline escaped" he moved in closer to share that bit of info.

"Getting?" the doctor chuckled as he took a second pair of tweezers. "Well, at least Birkoff is still alive" he checked his vitals. "But I wouldn't count on Operations being done with him," he finished cleaning and dressing the cut under his eye. "I'll let him sleep for now" he motioned the nurses to put Birkoff in a private area "Don't disturb him, he's obviously been through hell" and he turned slipping the latex gloves from his hand and disposed them in the trash. "Now about Operations?"

The operative shrugged his shoulders "Walter let us take Birkoff then told us to leave," he wasn't eager to head back anytime soon. "We can't just leave him in there" the doctor sat at his desk jotting notes to later be entered into Birkoff's health files.

"Hey, Operations' is a big boy" he threw his hands up in resignation. "Not Operations, I'm worried about Walter, obviously he's had some sort of breakdown" he rubbed his temples. "Or something," he feared for Walter's safety since both of them had come into Section at about the same time.

"He seemed perfectly sane to me" the Operative sat down beside the desk. "Besides, Operations' has pushed him so much lately. Did you know he was married to that Belinda chick?" the doctor nodded.

"Operation's knew they had just gotten married and he sent her on a mission," he felt so sorry for Walter when he'd heard this. "She was in abeyance you know?' the operative nodded but it didn't make any difference to him. "That didn't matter, Operations could have left them be happy," the doctor smiled. "When have you ever known Operations or Madeline for that fact let anyone be happy? Hell, they're not happy and they make the rules," he chuckled. "But we have to do everything we can to make sure that Walter survives this," the operative nodded in agreement.

"Dr." the nurse interrupted their conversation. "Birkoff is starting to come to" she simply informed him then turned and left the two men alone once again.

Birkoff could make out the bright white lights overhead and they hurt his eyes. He thought for sure that he was dead and had hoped at the very least Heaven would have allowed for perfect vision. Apparently not since he was having the most difficult of time focusing his eyes. He didn't think that God would be so cruel as to send him to Hell after his years of 'faithful' service with Section. He slowly reached up when he realized that he was unable to feel part of his face and when his fingers came into contact with the taped gauze pad he winced as he put a bit too much pressure on the wound.

"Dam this hurts" he closed his eyes then opened them. "If I can feel, I must be alive?" he brought his hand to where his eyes could just make them out. "I'm alive? How?" he slowly looked around then realized he was laying on a gurney in the Medlab.

"Evening Mr. Birkoff" the doctor came closer and smiled. "How do you feel?" he waited for the young man's response. "I'm alive?" the doctor nodded "Very much so," he checked the young man's pulse "How?" he tried in vain to sit up but whatever had happened made him feel much to weak to support himself.

"There, there just relax, you're in no shape to be getting up and moving right now." He just seemed to notice the red burn marks on Birkoff's temples. "Apparently they used electrodes?" Birkoff nodded best that he could. "My head hurts" he whined. "I would imagine that even that is more tolerable then death" the doctor smiled. Birkoff turned his head and saw the operative standing nearby. "Am I being guarded?" he couldn't understand how he'd survived a trip to the White room.

"No, I brought you here, me and Philips" he motioned to another operative who was sitting in the corner catching a quick nap. "How?" he motioned to the doctor that he needed a drink of water. "Walter got you out" Birkoff's eyes shot open. "Walter? How?" The operative moved in closer. "He shot Operations!"



They sat around waiting, some studied the others in the room. Some sat deep in their own thoughts, most wondered if after this mission they would be back in abeyance, back to active status or worst, dead but no one voiced their opinions in the open. Nikita sat chewing her gum while Elena sawed away at the cuticles of her hands. "Nikita, you really need to take care of your hands, they're so dry and your nails are awful" Nikita pulled her hand back to examine it, popped another bubble then shrugged "Why?" she didn't date, she didn't really do anything that would warrant beautifully manicured nails so why bother.

"Because you're a woman, women should have beautiful hands not," she held up the hand for everyone to see "hands like a man." She wrinkled her nose. "Women should wear beautiful clothes, have their hair and makeup done" she closed her eyes imagining what Nikita would look like dressed to the nines. "We should put some makeup on you," she rose but Nikita's grip on her wrist stopped her.

"No, no makeup. Isn't it enough that I let you hack at my nails?" she smiled still gnawing away at the wad of gum in her mouth. Michael and Davenport exchanged knowing glances then resumed the game of chess they were playing. "Women," Davenport whispered under his breath and Michael just snickered.

They had all been sitting around for nearly an hour when the phone finally rang. "I hope this works," Nikita waited for the trace to begin before motioning Elena to answer. "Hello?" her soft delicate voice played its part. "Just a minute Madeline, can I put you on hold?" she listened intently. "I'm sorry, he was here waiting but Adam needed him, you know little boys," she smiled to everyone around her then shrugged when she realized that although Madeline might know men, she certainly didn't know children. She hoped she hadn't screwed up her part. "Can I put you on hold just for a minute and I'll go get him myself?" she nodded that apparently Madeline had agreed.

After putting the phone on the receiver she paused while the computer tech started the loop. "Here goes everything," he whistled.

J: Madeline, sorry I had something Adam needed me to do.

M: I told Elena to have you waiting for my call.

J: Since you didn't give an exact time, it's kind of hard with a little boy.

M: How was the movie?

J: Madeline, how would a kiddy cartoon be? (A recorded chuckle added to the authenticity)

M: Might be a welcomed change as of late.

J: Madeline what's the purpose for your call? (Always like Jurgen to cut to the chase.

M: I need your help. (Her voice whispered out, as if it took all the power she had to admit that.

J: Doing what? For what?

M: Is this a secure line?

J: (Another chuckle) Madeline, where Section is concerned, how can any of us be sure what's secure or not?"

Michael liked the way this was playing. Apparently the technician had managed to catch the little things about Jurgen that Madeline might notice if they weren't in place.

M: Then we need to meet.

J: I'm sure we do.

M: I'll call you with a time and place.

J: No, you can call with a time, but we meet here. (his voice raised slightly).

M: I don't like that Jurgen, you'll do as....

The tape cut her off just like Jurgen might have.

J: Madeline, I'm no longer playing by your rules. You need my help am I correct in that understanding?

M: (after a lengthy pause) Yes, I need your help.

J: Then you pick the time and you can meet me here, besides, we have everything here that we could possibly need.

M: You're stocked?

J: Much better than Walter might ever assume.

M: Or Paul?

The operatives looked at each other. Madeline would never have called Operations Paul to another operative and this caused momentary tension in the room.

J: Paul? (The tape managed to have just the right amount of confusion)

M: Operations... his name is Paul. (She sounded thoroughly irritated)

J: He's Operations to me, Paul sounds too human (chuckle) we both know that's an improbability.

M: Perhaps. I'll call you with the time.

J: Don't make me wait to long.

The phone went dead and the technician motioned that he had indeed been able to trace where the call had been placed. No one had noticed that several of the operatives had left the room.

"Where is everyone?" Michael looked at Nikita.

"I sent a shadow team as soon as the address was confirmed. They're only there to monitor, they won't get caught," she smiled trying to reassure the men.

"Good work" Michael decided that Nikita knew what she was doing.

"Thanks" she smiled while leaning against the door.

"Michael?" Elena looked up from where she had been sitting and listening to the entire conversation. "What will happen to me and Adam?" she wanted to know, needed to know that if they couldn't be together that at least she and her son would be safe from people like Michael worked for.

"If we can take her alive," he sat beside her and lightly touched her hands. "I can guarantee that nothing will ever happen to you again." he smiled. "But we won't be together? Like a family?" he heard the hope in her voice but saw the sadness that clearly said she already knew his answer. "Elena, you and Adam can be free, I can't, Nikita can't," he lifted her hand to his mouth and placed a feather soft kiss on it.

"Why?" She wanted them all to be together. "Why not give her back to the people who want her then leave?" but he shook his head.

"It doesn't work like that" he rubbed her palms and Nikita thought back to the times that Michael caressed her hands and arms. "We can never be free, not as long as Section exists," he looked into her eyes. "I will always know where you are, that I promise and if you need me I will know it but we can't live like a normal family Section would use that against all of us." She nodded. Michael stood up, took a deep breath then walked out of the room motioning Nikita to follow.

When they got out into the privacy of the hall, Michael moved against her and planted a kiss on her lips. "What's that for?" she pulled back surprising him. "Because I want you to know that it's you I want," he looked into her eyes as his fingers played with the blonde tendrils that escaped her ponytail.

"I know that Michael," she pressed her forehead against his. "I've never doubted it for a minute." He looked into her eyes once again. "Don't ever," and he walked away. Nikita watched until he had turned a corner and the corridor was empty. "Oh Michael, this had got to be killing you," she sighed as she leaned against the door for support...