ACADEMY

by

D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 01-31-98)

PART I

"They will probably take the news better coming from you."

"I have no doubt of that," Madeline said as she stared at the information on her datapad. "But I'm not sure of what the news is."

"There are only two possibilities," Operations pointed out. "Either the child has been taken or the child has been taken and killed."

"She may have gotten away."

"The school was overrun by an elite team. All our personnel were wiped out. What are the chances that a little girl managed to slip away from such an assault?"

"She is not an ordinary child. Her parents would have taught her--"

"Damn it! They are not her parents! I don't know why I let this farce persist. Let me tell you, if their performance falters because of this, you'll take the blame!"

"You underestimate the child. Remember Angela is a prodigy; she is very advanced. You also underestimate the connection she has with Michael and Nikita. And finally, which I find highly disturbing, you underestimate Michael. He has already lost one child. Surely he would make preparations to protect this one."

"She isn't Michael's child and advanced or not, she was taken just like the other children. Just because you couldn't connect with the girl when she first came here and you had to get Nikita to help you, doesn't mean the child isn't a child. It just means she has lousy taste in people," he said somewhat jokingly.

Madeline turned off her datapad and looked directly at Operations. "I predict Angela will be found safe."

"Found or rescued?"

"Found within an hour of Michael's and Nikita's return."

Operations held out his hand. "The usual wager?"

Madeline solemnly took the bet, then with a knowing glint in her eye, sauntered out of her office to await the arrival of the van.

*****

Nikita shifted to relieve a small kink in her back. The van was silent, as it usually was on the way back to the Section. The mission had been a successful one, even in her opinion. To Section and especially Operations, successful meant completing the mission profile. To Nikita success meant the van's first stop wasn't Medlab.

When she first saw Madeline standing in the hall watching them, she wasn't concerned. Madeline was always eager for debriefings and in the beginning Nikita wondered if her mentor wasn't a "danger groupie". Now, however, she realized Madeline reveled in being with people she could dissect. Must be nice when your work coincided with your fantasies.

As Nikita drew closer, however, she became anxious. Over the years she had managed to decipher some of Madeline's patented bland looks and this one said something was wrong. At quick glance to her side showed that Michael had figured it out as well. Together they walked to the waiting woman.

"How was your mission?" Madeline asked pleasantly.

"Fine," Michael replied typically.

"We've had some disturbing news," Madeline began when she realized Nikita wasn't going to say anything. It was nice to see she was learning patience. "Two years ago you had a case involving a young child named Angela."

Nikita felt her heart racing. Had the Section found out their secret, that she and Michael had "adopted" Angela? That they had been in contact with her throughout the years? She felt Michael stiffen slightly beside her, the only sign that the conversation affected him.

"There's been an incident at the academy where you took her."

Michael's hand settled lightly on her back, giving Nikita much needed support. "What kind of incident, Madeline?" he asked calmly.

"Security was breached. Our personnel were killed. The computers wiped clean."

"And the... the children?" Nikita asked hesitantly.

Madeline's eyes were almost warm when they met hers. "We don't know. When back-up arrived, there was no sign of them. We assume they were taken away; whether as hostages or material, we don't know."

Michael and Nikita shared a glance. "Excuse me," Michael said quickly and hurried to his office.

"Nikita?"

Nikita shook her head. "I don't have time, Madeline." She ran down to where the operatives from the earlier mission were turning in their weapons to Walter. "Rearm," she ordered. "Walter, I need transport for fifteen and personnel."

"I'm on it, sugar." Walter noticed Madeline slink in behind Nikita and wondered if she were going to interfere with the younger woman's assumption of power. But instead, she merely stood there watching with an inscrutable look. Like she had any other.

"Michael?" Nikita asked when she saw him returning. He nodded. "Okay, team, listen up," Nikita called. "We are to retrieve fifteen children from their present location. Hostiles might be in the area so be on alert. You will get the specs on the way. Let's go."

Everyone ran to the waiting vans. Madeline touched Nikita's arm to stop her. "Good luck," she said softly. Nikita nodded and followed Michael.

She was silent as Michael explained to both vans, via commlink, that the children were in a warehouse on the docks. It was the place where the three of them had rendezvoused when the situation had gotten volatile the first time they were together. Two years ago she had been called to the Section to befriend an orphaned seven-year-old girl who was a prodigy, a mental wonder that everyone wanted to control-- including Section One. Because she understood the child's fear, they had become fast friends and she had discovered that what the child wanted most was to go shopping with a mother and a father. So she and Michael had played the roles. But a traitor in the Section had caused the shopping trip to go awry, ending up with the mall exploding and Nikita with a gunshot to her hand.

After meeting at the docks, the three of them had gone to a safe house because of the mole in the Section. Michael and Angela had done their best to repair the damage to Nikita and the three of them had bonded. Angela somehow convinced the two operatives to "adopt" her in their hearts, making them a real family. After finding the traitor and placing Angela in a Section-run academy for dangerously brilliant children, the "family" ties remained despite the watchful eyes of their commanders.

"Angela is a resourceful child," Michael said to Nikita, seeing her sad expression.

Nikita gave a small smile. "I wonder where she gets that from?"

"Her parents," he replied softly. "Both of them."

"She's following the mission profile?"

"Yes." Michael had been adamant about Angela memorizing an escape plan in event of an emergency. He never wanted a "daughter", didn't know why he had agreed to such nonsense in the first place, and felt regret (after the satisfaction) each time Angela made contact with them. However, he was determined to protect her any way he could and that meant preparing for trouble even if it came from within the Section.

He hated the lack of control this protective streak cost him. But he was helpless against it for three reasons: 1) the Section had already taken one child away from him and despite his loyalty to the cause, despite the fact that he would gladly give his life for it, he damn well wasn't going to sacrifice another one of his children; 2) Nikita would die if something happened to Angela, maybe not in body but definitely in soul, and he could not allow that to happen-- he had already discovered how much he needed her in his life; and 3) somehow the little girl had squirmed her way into his chest and found what was left of his shriveled up heart. He had thought it long gone, not even a cell remaining. But every so often Angela would say something, laugh, smile and a spark would beat in his chest.

It was Angela herself who demanded he include the other students in the escape profile. She was a natural leader and considered her fellow students her "team" and therefore wouldn't abandon them in an emergency. Michael had sighed when he read that note on his computer screen. Handling one humanitarian operative was bad enough, but two of them was a nightmare-- one he gladly embraced, however. Besides, he had time to maybe talk Angela out of such behavior by the time she was old enough to be a real agent. Surely Nikita wasn't that strong of an influence...

He glanced at the tall blonde sitting next to him and laughed at himself. Who was he kidding? After the loss of Simone and his son, he thought it would take the force of a hurricane to make him feel again. Nikita had stirred something in him on sight. So if Angela followed in her mother's footsteps, he was just going to have to protect both of them.

With a sigh, he noticed Nikita had started shredding a fingernail, an old habit from the days when she was unsure of herself. "Angela is okay," he said, reaching out to halt her destruction.

She looked down at the hand he covered. "Do you think she will notice?"

"Notice what?"

"The changes in me... us? We are not who we used to be, Michael. The separation, the coming together, and... what happened afterwards. We are not the parents she left behind."

"And she is not the same young child. We are all different. There doesn't have to be a reason. She will not ask questions."

"The promises we made to each other..." Nikita worried.

"Still apply. No matter what has occurred. Surely you know that."

"Do I, Michael?"

He looked at her for a long moment before turning away. "You should," he accused softly. The van slowed. "Perimeter Team, find your places."

A minute later. "Perimeter secure."

"Team One to the front door. Team Two, monitor transport."

Nikita slid out of the van behind him, all the operatives blending into the dark in what Nikita dryly called their "missionwear", black, skin-hugging suits with matching flak jackets. The rest of the team stopped at the door, but Nikita and Michael entered the cavernous warehouse.

"Angela?" Nikita called softly.

"Mommy?" a voice called out tremulously. Suddenly a small figure flew into Nikita, nearly knocking her to the ground. "Mom!" Angela yelled happily.

Nikita quickly holstered her weapon and threw her arms around her daughter, burying her face in the long blond wisps of hair. "Oh, my angel, are you okay?"

"I was scared, but now you're here. Hello, Papa," Angela said.

"Hello, Angela," Michael said softly. Nikita pulled her gun and he carefully put his away then reached out hesitantly. The child grinned and threw her arms around his neck. "You've been a very good girl," he praised. "Are the others here?"

She nodded. "I'll get them." She ran to the back corner of the warehouse and whistled. Her fourteen friends slowly appeared.

"Come on, team. I want you to meet my parents, Michael and Nikita."

"Hell, Angela, you weren't lying," a boy of about fourteen or fifteen years old said in awe as he took in Michael and Nikita's dress and armament. "Your folks really are spies. Cool."

Angela rolled her eyes. "I wouldn't waste a lie on you, Chuck." She turned to her parents. "Chuck's a technical genius, but a skeptic."

"Actually the name is Charles."

"Ignoring him is such pleasure," Angela said. "Can we go now?"

Michael consulted with his commlink. "There are vans waiting outside. Come."

Angela tugged on his hand. "Mary Marie will need your help, Papa."

Michael frowned, his eyes going over the motley crew before him. That was when he noticed a very small child in a wheelchair. "Is the chair of particular importance?" he asked.

"No, sir. We had to leave my customized chair at the academy when we escaped. Angela took this from the bus station."

"Housekeeping will take care of it," he said with a sigh, taking the tiny girl into his arms. She was older than she appeared because of her arrested growth, maybe three or four years older than Angela. But he could see eager intelligence shining through her eyes. "And what is it that you do?" he asked as they made their way to the door.

"Anything Angela tells me to do, sir."

Michael looked at Nikita and laughed. He couldn't help it. They were going to have their hands full with their child. She was much more confident and precocious than she was when they first met.

Angela tapped her friend on the leg. "You weren't supposed to say that."

"Precisely why I said it, Angela," she said saucily, her brunette curls bouncing as Michael carried her.

"I guess she told you, Angela," Charles said with glee.

"Quiet," Michael commanded as they approached the door. "Perimeter report."

"Perimeter clear."

"Everyone follow Nikita in a single file," Michael ordered. "And do not make a sound."

Surprisingly obedient, they did as told, Nikita leading half of them to one of the vans and the rest to the other. Angela, Michael, and Mary Marie brought up the rear. "Go," Michael commanded softly and the vans headed back to Section One.

Madeline once again met the vans. "All accounted for?"

"Yes," Michael said, still carrying Mary Marie. "We are in need of transportation for this young lady."

"Take her to Walter." Michael nodded and walked away. Madeline looked at the children and smiled. "Hi, my name is Madeline and I'm very glad to see that you are all safe." The children shifted out of their straight line to huddle nearer to Nikita. Madeline sighed and tried again. Had she become so expert on adults that she could no longer reach the younger generation? If so, then she had a flaw which needed immediate correction. "We have rooms set up for you. If you would follow me..." They stood still. She made a silent appeal to Nikita.

"Come along, children. It's been a long, exciting day for you. It's time you were in bed."

When the children began to follow, Madeline handed the datapad with the room assignments to Nikita. "This area was not previously in use. I thought it best to put them in a separate environment. Also, I thought it would be easier on them if they kept their previous roommates." Nikita nodded in agreement. Madeline spied a certain figure lurking in the shadows above them and smiled. "They seem more comfortable with you, so I will leave you to this task. If you wish to speak later, I will be in my office."

The children were delighted to find their belongings already in place and Nikita made sure they were all tucked in before leading Angela to the room she would share with Mary Marie. "Would you like for me to stay with you until Mary Marie gets here?" Nikita asked.

Angela eyed the ceiling. "Are we being monitored?"

"This is the Section," Nikita said softly. "You will always be monitored. But there are ways around it. For instance, if you snuggle up close to me," she sat on the bed and urged the child to climb up beside her, "we can talk about all sorts of things and they can't hear us."

"But won't they be suspicious when we're so close?" Angela worried. She really didn't want to get her parents in trouble.

"We're old friends, Angela. They already know that," Nikita pointed out. "So if we want to talk there's nothing wrong with that. Okay?"

"Okay. But do we have to talk or can I just be with you for a while?"

Nikita draped her arm around the small shoulders and pulled her close. "We can do whatever you want, sweetheart."

Both mother and daughter were nearly sleep when Mary Marie came breezing through the door in a modified hovercraft of some type. Leave it to Walter to find the child something unorthodox, Nikita thought, as Mary Marie showed off her new vehicle to her roommate.

"Your papa says I remind him of Professor X," Mary Marie said happily.

"Professor X?" Nikita repeated.

"Professor Charles Xavier," Michael said from where he stood in the doorway. "Founder of the X-Men."

Nikita rolled her eyes. "I know who he is. I'm just surprised that you do, Michael."

"I was once a little boy, Nikita."

"I suppose you were," she replied, not sounding too convinced. He started to turn away. "Aren't you going to tell the girls goodnight?" Nikita said quickly, when she saw he wasn't going to say anything.

Angela turned her bright blue eyes toward him and he realized she would have been hurt if he had left. He gave Nikita a silent thank you and wished Mary Marie goodnight before leaning over Angela. "Happy dreams, petit."

"Same to you, Michael." She lifted her arms and put them around his neck. "Mom says we can talk if we're very close together. I am very glad to be here, Papa. Thank you for coming for me."

"I told you I would, didn't I?" Angela nodded. "Then you should not have doubted," he chided gently.

"I'm sorry, Papa. It won't happen again."

Michael shook his head. "I'm sorry, Angela, but you must be punished for this infraction. Go to bed, young lady!" he said louder as he squirmed out of her grasp.

Angela giggled. "I'm already in bed."

"What an obedient child," Michael praised and planted a kiss on her forehead. "Goodnight, ladies."

"Michael, I'll be out in a minute," Nikita said and saw that the girls were tucked in before joining him in the hall. "Do we have any more information?"

"No. I'm on my way to see Birkoff now. I want to know who tried to take these children and why. I do not want it happening again."

Nikita heard the determination in his voice and felt relief. Michael would get to the bottom of this and Angela would be safe once again. But for now... "I have to go see Madeline about arrangements for the children." He looked at her, openly curious. "These are very bright young people, Michael. They need structure, discipline, and a schedule or there will be chaos like the Section has never seen."

"Just keep them out of Operations' way. I'm not sure what his opinion of children is."

"He probably thinks they're tasty with a bit of ketchup." She caught Michael's look of shock and laughed. It wasn't often she caught him offguard and it felt pretty good.

Knocking on the door to Madeline's office, she managed to wipe the smile off her face but found it creeping back when she saw Operations was with Madeline. "Sorry to disturb you," she said, barely holding back a giggle.

"I was just leaving," Operations said. Madeline cleared her throat. "Oh, you did an excellent job tonight, Nikita. Keep up the good work," he said and stepped around her. Madeline looked pleased.

Nikita was taken aback by the compliment but knowing she had only the slightest chance in hell of figuring what went on in Operations' mind, she focused on more pressing issues. "I have a plan, Madeline, and I'm going to need your help."

PART II

"What the hell is going on, Madeline?" Operations demanded as he ran into his second-in-command in the hallway.

"You'll have to be more precise," she said patiently.

"Why are there these little people everywhere I turn? There are three or four with Walter and Birkoff was surrounded by them. You gave them quarters. Why aren't they there?"

"Children are not pets, Operations," Nikita said, coming up behind him. "They can't just be fenced in and ignored."

"Why the hell not?" he asked. "I should have known you had something to do with this, Nikita. Why is your material running around unmanaged?"

My material? When did that happen? "They are not running around. They are attending classes."

"I wasn't aware this was a school."

"It was your inadequate security arrangements that allowed hostiles to enter their academy which forced them to come here. Continuing their education seems to be the least we can do."

As much as he wanted to argue with her, he couldn't. The lapse in security had indeed been his responsibility. "This cannot interfere with the working environment of the Section."

"This is a training facility," Nikita pointed out stubbornly. "Besides, the teachers are all volunteers and I've made arrangements for the times someone is involved in a mission. Now, if you will excuse me, I left my class in the sims chamber. Gotta run."

Madeline smiled at the bewildered Operations. He never quite understood when he lost arguments with Nikita. "Is there anything else you needed? I have an appointment in a few minutes."

He looked at her curiously. "What kind of appointment? Interrogation is empty."

Her brown eyes met his blue ones. "I have a class."

"Et tu, Madeline?"

She shrugged and walked away. Maybe when he was in a better mood, she would explain that she was doing this to better herself, to hone her skills with children. Then again, maybe she wouldn't explain at all.

*****

Nikita heard the giggling long before she spotted the two girls in front of the computer terminal. What mischief was her daughter and Mary Marie up to now? "Girls, shouldn't you be heading to the cafeteria?" she asked, putting on her best parental face.

"We're finishing our homework," Angela explained.

"I don't think I ever giggled through homework," Nikita said.

"It's a mission profile for Papa's class."

Leave it to Michael to have them write up mission profiles. She shuddered to think what kind of mission. "What's your objective?"

"To steal Birkoff's Oreos," Mary Marie said and both girls giggled again.

Nikita relaxed. She had underestimated Michael, something she thought she would never do again. His heart was difficult for her to find, but when it came to Angela, it was always in the right place. "I guess you find your Papa's class interesting."

"Always," Angela said eagerly. "He treats us like real agents. He even debriefed us about the night the academy was overrun. Chuck says he saw someone and now Papa is making him look through the files."

Nikita herded the girls to the cafeteria because she always liked her charges to eat before the Section recruits who were criminals and likely to be a bad influence. Besides, she didn't want any of them complaining to Operations. It was bad enough she had spied him watching her self-defense classes. If she didn't know any better, she would think he was interested. Probably he just wanted to make sure her material wasn't getting in the way.

After dinner, Nikita sat in the sims lab preparing a program for her class. Instinct told her she was not alone and she looked up to find Michael in the doorway dressed in missionwear. "You're going out?"

"Yes. We've had a lead on the group responsible for the attack on the academy."

She nodded. "Charles." He looked at her, curiosity in his eyes. "Angela knows all," she said with a smile.

"Because of her own brilliance, our daughter will spend most of her life looking over her shoulder. I had hoped she would have a few years of respite."

"Remove this threat and give them to her," Nikita said firmly. She often wondered if she would have survived what was to come if she hadn't had a few good memories of her childhood to sustain her.

He saw the thoughts cloud her face and knew was remembering her own past. At least in the dark recesses which were his own past, he had fought back. She had merely been a victim. "I will do my best," he promised solemnly and left as silently as he had arrived.

"You always do, Michael," she said softly to herself and went back to her task, feeling a little more assured about Angela's future.

PART III

"Thanks to Michael and his team, it is safe to move the children to a new facility," Operations said to his audience of Madeline, Nikita, and Michael. "The property has been chosen and will be ready for the children within the week."

"Security?" Nikita questioned.

"Glad you asked, Nikita," Operations commented with a smile. "Madeline and I both concur, you will be in charge of that endeavor. You will be temporarily reassigned to the Academy as liaison until such time we here at the Section are assured it can operate adequately on its own."

Nikita was stunned and as she glanced quickly to Michael she knew he was hearing this for the first time as well. They were being separated again. Why? Since her return she had been the model operative, obeying commands without question. Did they still suspect that Michael had let her escape? That she had been outside the Section for six months? No, because then she would be facing cancellation not reassignment. This was just one of their typical tests. She sensed, rather than saw, when Michael drew the same conclusion.

With mixed feelings, she accepted the datadisk of her new assignment. Not being in the day-to-day business of operative work suited her, but she had recently realized the Section was her home. She was comfortable there. She had a routine and friends. Now she was going to be thrust into a situation with new people and new responsibilities. With her daughter... Suddenly Nikita realized she was so used to punishment, she had been blinded to reward. Her blue eyes sought Madeline and she found her answer.

*****

"Do you think Papa feels as if we've deserted him?" Angela asked as she swung her legs from the foot of Nikita's bed. Every night for the three weeks they had been at the new academy, she'd spent the hour before bedtime with Nikita. Since the children thought they were family and the staff didn't ask questions because they knew she was Section One, Nikita didn't see anything wrong with the routine.

"Your father understands separation." Better than any human ought to. "You and he have been separated before."

"Yes, but then he had you. You think he's okay without either of us?"

Nikita sighed. She'd heard rumors of how Michael had been when she'd had the six months outside the Section-- dangerous, reckless, uncaring of his own survival. Was he going through that now or was he handling it because this time he knew she was alive? "He's not without us, angel. Didn't you just contact him yesterday via the secure computer connection?"

The girl nodded. "He wanted to know if you had put together an escape plan for us, although he is sure your security protocols are perfectly adequate."

Adequate, huh? Had he forgotten who had taught her such things? "What did you tell him?"

"That my mom was the greatest and he shouldn't worry."

Nikita threw her arms around the child. "That's right, my angel. We women have to stick together. Now it's time for bed." She slipped on her shoes and held out her hand.

"You don't have to walk me 'home', you know," Angela pointed out as she obediently placed her hand in Nikita's.

"Just consider it part of my nightly security check, alright? You can mention it to your father the next time he asks you about the adequate security around here."

Angela giggled. "I warned Papa you wouldn't appreciate him checking up on you."

Nikita shrugged. "I suppose it means he cares."

Angela's hand tightened. "He does, Mom. Even when he can't say it."

"I know, baby. I know." And in the weird connection she had with him, she did know. It was just that for once, make that twice, she wanted to hear him say it or even act upon it.

Twenty minutes later, her daughter tucked firmly in bed, Nikita strolled the quiet halls of the academy. Unlike the Section that was likely to be bustling at any hour, the school had periods of silence, giving her mind time to roam. She found she didn't like that activity much and often wished she was back at the Section where personal thinking was frowned upon and most of the time, there was a mission to concentrate on or friends to distract her. She had no adult friends here. The faculty and staff were afraid of her. That was probably due to the fact that in her first week there she had walked up to a member of the security team who was talking to one of the instructors and pulled her gun. Disgusted at how easily she had taken him, she sent him back to the Section and he was placed in abeyance. By now he might have even been canceled. But she didn't feel guilty over it; Angela's security was far too important.

The funny thing was that even though the adults gave her brief, wary smiles, the children adored her. Because she was mother to one, they all tended to see her as such. They teased her, confided in her, went to her when they felt in need of hugs and comfort. Without them, she probably would have been crawling the walls and begging Madeline for reassignment back to the Section. As it was she was content, but knew something was missing.

With a sigh, she entered her quarters and went to bed. Two hours later, the phone rang.

"Josephine?"

PART IV

Nikita looked down at the sleeping child and wondered would it be best if she just left a note. Then she thought how she would feel if someone did it to her and so she reached out to gently shake the small shoulder. "Angela, wake up. I need to talk with you."

The child's eyes opened slowly. "Mommy? What's wrong?"

Nikita reached out to smooth back a blond tendril drooping near Angela's eye. "It's your papa. Michael went on a mission. Something went wrong and now he's lost."

Angela sat up quickly. "You're going to find him?"

"Yes. I just wanted you to know why I wouldn't be here when you woke up. Being here with you these past weeks have been the best times of my life. I never thought I would have the chance to really be your mother and I will cherish this time forever."

"But when you find Papa and bring him home, you won't be coming back here, will you?"

She should have known her brilliant child would know. "No, my angel. My life isn't here. No matter how much I want to be with you..."

"You belong in the Section with Papa. I understand, Mom. Don't worry about me. I have my friends. I have my computer. Papa only has you."

Nikita bent over and kissed Angela's forehead. "I am going to miss you, my daughter. Behave yourself and gives Charles a break every once in a while, just for morale's sake, okay?"

Angela laughed and put her arms around Nikita's neck. "And when you find Papa tell him I said if he wanted you back, all he had to do was ask. I love you, Mommy. And Papa too."

"We love you, Angela. We'll be together again soon. I promise. Goodbye, my angel. I'll contact you when your daddy is safe."

Nikita tucked her child back into bed for the last time and headed back to where she belonged-- Section One.

*****

Nikita let her head bounce gently against the van wall as they sped toward the place where Michael was being held. With more understanding that she had hoped to get from him, Operations had let her coordinate Michael's rescue. The last time she'd gone to save Michael, Operations had had an ulterior motive, extracting Petrosian from his undercover assignment. This time, Nikita thought, she was getting to rescue Michael for Michael's sake. Did that mean Michael was more valuable now than he was before? And if he was, why were they trusting her to save him?

The van slowed to a stop and Nikita put the troubling thoughts out of her mind. "You all have your assignments. Let's go."

She paused as a team blew the locks to the abandoned prison which was now the headquarters for ACT, a run-of-the-mill terrorist organization that had just happened to stumble upon Michael's last mission and screw it up. Fate. No matter how much the Section trained its operatives, the world just sometimes didn't play fair.

While two teams led an all-out assault on ACT, Nikita and her team searched the old cells for Michael. "Nikita, we have him."

She shot the lock off the rusting metal bars and bent down beside the still figure huddled in the corner. "Michael," she said softly. "It's me, Nikita." She touched his face, shivering at its coldness. "I am not about to tell our daughter I let you die. Do you understand me, Michael?"

"Is that why you're here?" he asked, his voice so hoarse she barely heard him. "Because Angela sent you?"

Nikita reached for his wrist, scared to touch the rest of him because she knew he'd been tortured and was in a great deal of pain. Been there, done that, she thought with a sad smile. "No. I'm here because I told you once I would always come for you."

"I didn't... didn't know that still applied," he said, gaining strength just from her presence. He tried to stand.

"You should have," she accused, mimicking his response to her the night they found Angela and her friends. Then she motioned for the others to help him up and when they were out safely, she signaled for the place to be blown. After that, she held onto Michael until they reached Medlab.

Epilogue

"Do you miss the academy?" Michael asked as he and Nikita headed to the van access area, another mission looming before them.

"Do I miss Angela and the other children? Sure. And it's really nice that Madeline allows me to go check security there every six weeks. But that's not where I am supposed to be, Michael."

"So you are sure this is your life?" He indicated the area with his hands.

"Yes." He looked at her, surprised not to hear any doubt in her voice. "I thought I had changed, we had changed, Michael. But there are constants in the universe that cannot be altered and we humans can either fight a futile war against these constants or learn to co-exist. My experience with the academy has taught me to co-exist, Michael. Care to join me?" she asked with a smile.

He thought about it for a moment, then nodded his head once. "It sounds intriguing."

She laughed, not caring who heard. "It will be, Michael. Oh, it will be."

*****

"I take it from your look of satisfaction that all is to your liking," Operations said as he joined Madeline as she looked down on the departing team.

"Everything is as it should be. I thought for a while, we had destroyed our future by believing too much in our own power. Thankfully there is a higher power which corrects our mistakes."

"The Agency?" he asked, glad when he made her smile. "You believe in them, don't you? In Michael, Nikita, and Angela? You believe the survival of the Section rests in their hands. Why are you so certain?"

"Because sometimes, Marcus, I see what others can't. And it scares me, even as it gives me strength to go on. Their day will come... and ours will fall away. It is how things are done." She smiled back at him as his arms came around her.

"But when we fall, we fall together?"

"Always, Marcus."

"Then we have nothing to fear." He glared when a passing pair of operatives stared too long in their direction. They quickly hurried away. He grinned. He and Madeline may be falling, but not today.

No, not today.

THE END


Comments? D.L. Witherspoon

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