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Michael heard the voice cutting through the darkness long before his vision cleared. "I see you found him. Very good. How much did it cost us?"

Then another voice, "Five. He got Roberts. "

The first voice sounded mildly surprised, "Roberts? Well, well! I am impressed" Before him, Michael could make out gray shapes emerging from the dark. A pair of black boots made themselves visible just before a hand grasped his chin and forced his head up. Michael lifted his eyes to where the man's face should be, trying to see his features. "Michael," the man said and Michael could just make out a smile on the other man's lips, "Welcome to our game. I am afraid you won't find it as much fun as we will, but I'm sure you can appreciate my desire for a challenge. " Dropping Michael's head, the man turned and barked an order, "Chain him! To the wall, my dear fellows, to the wall!" and he began to laugh.

************

"Hey, Walter," Nikita smiled as she leaned against the wall, hands in the front pockets of her white jeans.

Walter smiled and looked up from the comm unit he was working over, "Hi, sugar. Come to take me up on my latest offer?"

Nikita laughed, looking down and shaking her head. Her smile faded as she raised her eyes. "Walter, have you seen Michael?"

Walter looked surprised. "Not today, I haven't. Why? You think he can give you something I can't?" Nikita pushed herself away from the wall and sauntered over to Walter's table.

"Now why would I think that?" She propped her chin on her hands as she rested her elbows on the table. Walter eyed the way Nikita's hips thrust out behind her, the jeans conforming tautly to her backside. He looked into her wide blue eyes to find her laughing at him, and smiled again.

"I have no idea. You .' Walter stopped abruptly as Birkhoff bounced into the room.

"Nikita, Madeline wants to see you in her office", he said quickly. Then he turned and was gone. Nikita had no doubt he was in a hurry. He was always in a hurry just before a mission. Sighing, Nikita stood and turned, throwing one last smile over her shoulder as she left Walter to his work. As she made her way to Madeline, she passed by Michael's office. The door was open but the room was empty. Nikita stopped briefly at the window, looking for any trace that he had been there recently. She found none. Continuing on, she let her thoughts wander to Michael. Maybe he had a new recruit, or maybe he was working out himself. She frowned. Those were not things he normally did right before a briefing, but she could never tell what Michael was thinking or why he was doing something. She paused before punching her code into Madeline's security keypad, taking a few deep breaths and clearing Michael from her thoughts. Dealing with Michael was one thing, but Madeline! Madeline was another story requiring a different sort of energy and she wanted to be alert.

Madeline looked up from the computer screen as Nikita stepped through the door. She smiled. "Hello Nikita. Please come in and have a seat." Madeline turned and gestured to indicate one of the two chairs across from her desk. She watched, unsmiling, as the blonde operative warily made her way down the steps and over to the chairs. Madeline turned back to the computer and keyed a sequence as Nikita sprawled herself into a chair. Fitting, Madeline thought and then, Good. She is learning to hide her unease. Madeline turned back to Nikita, studying the younger woman intently. "I wanted to speak with you about this mission. It will be very difficult for you. You can't let your guard down for an instant."

"Well, so far it sounds like every other mission I've been on.", Nikita insolently tossed out the words as she twisted a strand of long blonde hair.

Madeline inclined her head slightly toward the other woman. Well done, she thought, allowing a half smile. Then she carefully blanked her face for the next revelation. "You will be meeting with a man named Morgan. He specializes in extracting information. You may or may not be required to help him do so."

Nikita sat up straight, letting her hair fall from her fingers. "Extracting information. You want me to torture someone? Who?" Nikita narrowed her eyes, trying to read something from Madeline.

"Who, does not matter", Madeline said as she turned the computer monitor around for Nikita to see. "Morgan has something we want. He has agreed to sell this information to a woman named Josey Callahan, or JC, as she is known." Nikita could see JC on the screen. She was in the White Room, sitting very still in the lone chair. Madeline continued, turning back to study Nikita. "The price exchange involved JC's area of expertise, which is information retrieval. He is expecting her to offer suggestions. As you can see, you look a lot like JC."

"Won't Morgan know I'm not JC?" Nikita was very uneasy.

"No. They have never spoken, although Morgan does have a general description of JC. Tall, blonde, and athletic. The deal was set up through a third party who is no longer viable." Madeline's voice was even and business like as she watched Nikita's face form into a frown. She paused for a moment, choosing her next words carefully. "You will have to be creative, Nikita. I know this is not something you will enjoy, but it's necessary as well as unavoidable. " Madeline turned the screen away from Nikita. "You will have to be strong, Nikita."

"I will have to be you!", Nikita spat out the words, hating the fact that they were true.

Madeline stared at Nikita, unblinking. "The mission briefing will be in ten minutes. That will be all." Madeline turned back to the computer, clearly dismissing the younger woman.

Nikita stared at Madeline in disbelief. That will be all? Taking a breath to steady herself, Nikita said, "I don't know how to be creative when it comes to torture. I can't do this, Madeline. And you know it."

Madeline spoke without turning her gaze from the screen. "Use your emotions, Nikita. The rest will fall into place." She turned her head, dark eyes piercing into Nikita, "You will do this and you will do it well. You are dismissed." Madeline didn't raise her voice, but Nikita could feel the steel in the words. Knowing better than to argue at this point, she stood angrily and marched out of the office.

Madeline watched her go. This was going to be an extremely interesting mission.

************

As Nikita took a place at the briefing table, Madeline's words played themselves over in her mind. Use her emotions? I didn't think I was supposed to even have emotions, she thought. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Use her emotions! Don't let my guard down but use my emotions. This should be fun. Nikita looked over the where the older woman was taking her place at the table, trying to come up with any clue as to what she had meant by those words. Madeline gave nothing away. Nikita's thoughts continued to race as Operations stalked into the room.

Nikita sat up, her eyes following Operations jerky pacing as he began his speech. "I'll make this short and sweet. Nikita will meet with Morgan." Suddenly Operations stopped moving and stood studying the table. There was an empty chair. "Where the hell is Michael!" His annoyance was evident as he turned to Birkhoff. "You DID tell him to be here?"

Birkhoff looked at the older man. "Well, yeah. I gave him the folder last night, just before he left."

"Has he reported in today?" Operations directed the question to Walter.

Walter glanced over to Nikita before answering. "No. He gave me the inventory last night."

Nikita looked to Madeline. She sat coolly, hands folded on the table as she stared thoughtfully at the vacant chair.

Operations placed both hands on the table, leaning over it to make his anger felt. "This cannot be tolerated." His voice was clipped. "I want Michael found. Now." He looked to an operative standing against the wall as he spat out the last few words. "Do it." The operative silently left.

There was a moment of stunned silence. Nobody even seemed to breathe. Nikita took a breath, ready to defend Michael's absence somehow, when Madeline's smooth voice settled her into silence.

"I think that we shouldn't wait." She waited to continue until she had the full attention of Operations, then turned to meet his cold blue eyes with her own dark pair. "I'll coordinate this mission. It won't interfere with my other duties and we can continue uninterrupted."

Operations stared into Madeline's unflinching stare. "Good. Then we can get this over with. Nikita will meet with Morgan in two hours ."

Nikita listened as Operations outlined the rest of the mission, but she didn't really hear anything he said. Her eyes moved from Madeline to Operations, trying to understand what had just happened. Michael was missing and they were just going to go on?

She didn't realize the meeting was over until Madeline stopped by her chair. "Get moving, Nikita. You need to be wired or you'll be late."

Nikita looked up at Madeline. "Where is he, Madeline."

Madeline studied the young operative for a moment before answering. "I don't know, but he will be found. There are more urgent matters for you to focus on right now, Nikita. Remember that." She turned, then, and was gone.

************

Cold water poured down, running over his naked back and splashing at his feet. Michael clenched his sore muscles, trying to keep himself from shivering for even a moment. The salt in the water stung the deep welts crisscrossing his back. He raised his head, looking up at his shackled hands. They were encased in heavy manacles and chained, keeping his toes barely touching the ground. His fingers were numb. He strained, trying to move his fingers in a pattern to get the blood flowing but it was no use. Suddenly, his body gave in to the cold and he trembled violently. Dropping his head again, Michael began to count, first in French to a hundred, then English, then Chinese. He continued this way, switching from easy languages to the more difficult, eventually coming back to French. He was still cold, but he wasn't shivering so much now.

"Michael. How are you?" The voice was dripping with sarcasm. Michael raised his head again, opening bloodshot eyes to study his captor. "Do you like the sea? I always have. Salt water is so cleansing." Michael tried to turn his head, to follow the voice that was moving around behind him. "My, my. Your back is a mess, dear boy." He flinched as a hand began to trace one of the deep grooves the whip had opened. "Hmmm. Yes, this one is quite deep." The hand moved down a bit, a finger pulling at the sore. "At least the water washes the blood away. And the cold should help numb the pain some. Although all this salt could cause dehydration. Maybe a little bit of hypothermia." The voice was close to his ear now, the hand moving up and down his back, opening the welts and causing warm blood to mix with the water. "What do you think, Michael? Hmmm? Thirsty?" Michael clenched his teeth, fighting to keep his breathing normal, and the shivering at a minimum. Then the hand dropped away as the man stepped around from behind him. Meeting his eyes, Michael studied the face behind the voice. "Water, water everywhere and all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Very fitting. Don't you agree, Michael? Water, water everywhere? But you can't drink it, because it's sea water. What a shame. I'm sure you are very thirsty too. It's been, what? At least 2 days? Maybe 4? Or has it only been hours?" The man smiled again. "I have water for you, Michael. All you have to do is tell me your name. That's not so bad, is it? After all, I already know it. I just want to hear you say it and then you can have some water to wash that metallic, blood taste from your mouth. Maybe soothe your throat a little?" Michael stared unwavering, watching as the smile melted away and the face became as hard as stone. "No. I didn't think so." The man turned and signaled to the darkness. Two men stepped forward from the shadows. "You have your time. Just don't kill him or break his jaw. He must be able to speak. Understood?" The silent men nodded. "Good. Tell me when you're done." The man walked crisply away without looking back. Michael began to count again, backwards this time, as the two men stepped forward.

************

"Any word on Michael's location?" Operations was standing in the observation room looking down on a new recruit. Madeline turned to look at the same recruit before answering.

"There were signs of a struggle at his home. I think it's safe to assume that his location was compromised and he has been taken."

This caused Ops to quickly look at Madeline. "Then you don't think he's out there on his own." Madeline moved her gaze to the blonde operative who had just walked into view.

"No. Michael's loyalty shouldn't be questioned at this point." She turned to face Ops. "He has no reason to attempt liberation at this time. We should concentrate on why he was taken. And by whom."

There was a moment of silence as Operations contemplated her last remark before responding. "And how did the meeting with Morgan go?"

Madeline smiled at his question. "It went very well. Nikita had no problem convincing him that she was a legitimate buyer and they have another meeting set up for tomorrow."

Ops met her gaze. " I don't like not knowing where Michael is. Let's get that loose end tied up. Quickly."

The seriousness of his voice made Madeline pause. "Is there a particular course of action you want me to follow?", she asked, careful to keep her voice even.

"Not yet. The timing of this is just wrong. He can't be allowed to jeopardize anything."

Madeline turned back to the window and found Nikita watching them. "They haven't had time to break him. Let's not be hasty." She turned back to face Operations. "Let me find him first."

Ops looked down from the window to where Nikita was standing with Birkhoff. "Fine. Just handle it", the words were tense.

Madeline turned back to the window, "Consider it done."

************

The first incision was cold, the stainless steel of the scalpel gliding down his ribs. As streams of warm blood began to make a path down his side, Michael jerked, trying to move away from the pain. His arms strained against the binding chains as he struggled to free his legs. It was no use. He was chained firmly, wrists together above his head, legs spread and ankles manacled to the floor. Not that he could actually touch the floor now. Not after the last beating, when he had killed one of the two men abusing him. The other he had merely damaged. He almost laughed, thinking about it. They had looked so shocked when he had lashed out at them, totally unprepared for a man who been beaten as badly as he had to even be able to move. It hadn't done him any good, though. That's when they had stretched him up further and chained him more securely. It was also when they had brought their "Doctor" in to see him.

The scalpel slid along the same line as the first cut, separating muscles this time instead of mere skin. Every muscle in Michael's body flexed and he clenched his teeth tighter, not quite managing to keep a groan of pain inside. It was the first sound he had made, the first sign of weakness and he knew it. He closed his eyes tightly, fighting the blackness and waves of nausea that threatened to overtake him. When he opened them a few seconds later, his breathing somewhat normal, the pain controlled, he met the smiling eyes of his captor. "He really is a very good Doctor, Michael. You'll see." Michael looked down at his left side, where the short little man was working. The incision was about six inches long and blood was welling out of the cut with every breath he took. Sucking air between his teeth, he began to count again. It wasn't working anymore. He lost the thought as the Doctor peeled skin and muscle away to expose the gleaming bones of his ribcage. This time, he didn't even try to stay conscious.

************

"Birkhoff, I'm in." Nikita spoke in a low voice. She was alone in the elevator, going down to meet Morgan for the final information exchange.

"Good, Nikita. I've got your location. Everything is under control." Birkhoff keyed a sequence into the computer, making minor adjustments to the frequency level Nikita was using. "We may get a little fuzzy if he takes you real deep, but we shouldn't lose contact."

"I hope not. I am not looking forward to this" , Nikita tried to keep the anxiety she was feeling from her voice. Where is Michael's smooth confidence when I need it most, she thought to herself.

"You're doing fine, Nikita." This time it was Madeline's voice she heard. It just didn't give her the same feeling of security as Michael's voice.

"Here we go", Nikita whispered as the elevator stopped and she stood up straightening her business suit as the doors swooshed open. Cautiously, she moved out into the hall.

"Hello, JC. I see you made it. And right on time, too." Morgan greeted her as she stepped forward. "We have already gotten started. I do hope you don't mind, but this one well this one is quite special." Morgan smiled at Nikita's raised eyebrows. "Step this way and I'll give you the file", Morgan placed one hand on the small of Nikita's back as he indicated the direction with his other.

Nikita allowed the contact, even though she was repulsed by Morgan and his little games. She had been through three days of these silly meetings and she was ready to get it over with once and for all. Careful to keep her face neutral, Nikita let the door be opened for her.

"After you, my dear", Morgan drawled.

Nikita stepped into the room. It was furnished simply with a desk, computer and two chairs. She paused at the desk before asking, "The file is here?"

Morgan smiled as he punched buttons on the keyboard. "Here you go. Please, have a seat as you read it." He pulled out one of the chairs and held it for Nikita.

Nikita smiled as she put down her bag and took the chair, turning to the screen. "Well, let's see what you've got here." She began to read the medical file. It was very clean and well documented. It was also obvious that Morgan was not going to leave her alone to read the file. She turned to him and smiled again. "It's not very long. I take it you haven't had this one for very long?"

"No, my dear. I think of it as a challenge to break them in as little time as possible. This one has been here longer than most." Morgan was looking at Nikita closely.

"Be careful Nikita", Madeline warned.

Nikita met Morgan's gaze unflinching. "Of course", she replied, answering both Madeline and Morgan at the same time. Then she turned back and began to read off the main points of the file, saying them under her breath so Madeline could hear, but in such a way that Morgan thought she was engrossed in the file.

After a few moments, Morgan stood, placing a hand on Nikita's shoulder. Startled, she looked up to find him smiling down at her. "I'm going to go check on our guest. I'll be back in a moment and we can discuss your suggestions. You don't mind?"

"Certainly not", Nikita smiled back at Morgan. "Take your time. This looks very interesting." She breathed a small sigh of relief as the door closed. "OK, Madeline", she muttered, "Here we go."

************

Michael was in Nikita's apartment. He could feel her presence surround him: it was in everything he touched. In a moment, he knew he would have to leave. They would be there to clean it out. To them, Nikita was dead, killed by him on the last abeyance mission. He stood, breathing her scent one last time. He had set her free, one way or the other. He only hoped she had gotten out in time. Odd, he didn't remember her sink dripping constantly like that. He cocked his head, listening. From somewhere far away came a high, whining sound. It reminded him of a dentists drill. He opened his eyes then, not realizing they had been closed. He turned to the sound, wondering why Nikita had a drill here, trying to make it fit into place as it came close to his side. Suddenly, there was a blinding white flash and he was in Section. There she was, training with Birkhoff and trading innuendoes with Walter. He stood off to one side, watching her light Section with her special glow. Her blonde hair flipped over her shoulder as her blue eyes met his. She had smiled at him. Nikita. Images came more quickly then, of Nikita training. Sleeping. Killing. He saw her learning and he saw her crying from behind iron bars. There she was smiling. Mostly, though, he saw her strength, her ability to survive whatever was thrown her way. It was the reason he had brought her into Section. She not only survived, she triumphed! He grabbed at that part of her and held on. Focus, he thought through waves of agony, remember every detail. Nikita.

************

"Nikita, I can't break the code at this terminal. It isn't connected to the rest of the system. You'll have to get to the main computer, or access a terminal that's hooked into the system." Birkhoff's revelation did not improve Nikita's mood. She had hoped he would be able to get the information from this location, thus preventing her from further contact with Morgan. She frowned in dismay. That was probably why Morgan had left her alone in the first place. He knew this terminal was isolated. Damn.

"Nikita, get back to your original screen. There is movement in the hall." Madeline's cool voice ordered her into action.

Quickly punching a few keys, the computer cleared, finishing just as the door opened behind her. Nikita stood and smiled at Morgan. "Everything all right?" she asked, keeping her voice even as she smoothed her skirt.

Morgan's eyes followed Nikita's hands as they brushed down the front of her thighs. He smiled. "Splendid, my dear, splendid! Shall we?" he asked, holding the door open for her.

Nikita picked up her bag and looked demurely at him. "Certainly" she murmured throatily as she swayed past him.

"We have made a little progress since that file was last updated. I think you'll be surprised. I hope you will be, at least." Morgan smiled again as he stopped at a door. "I would consider it an honor if I could surprise the great JC."

Nikita studied Morgan. "I'm sure you will," she replied after a moment. "I just love surprises." And she sashayed through the door.

************

Nikita stood still, breathing evenly and counting. On the other side of this door, she thought, is some poor soul who has had the misfortune of crossing paths with all the wrong people. Or maybe, she reflected, they really do deserve this sort of thing. She could think of at least three people who might deserve this. Now was not the time for those thoughts. She counted to ten and then to ten again. From her comm unit she could hear the crackle of static. Birkhoff's voice was coming through, but it was faint. I can do this, she thought. I must do this. Use my emotions to do what?!? She almost panicked. Breathe in, she blanked her mind breathe out she had her emotions breathe in, she felt nothing breathe out .

The heavy metal door swung open, revealing a dank dark room. Nikita stepped in and came to stand beside Morgan. Off to her left, she could see the prisoner Morgan had chained from the ceiling. She ignored him for now. "What .progress have you made?" Nikita was pleased that her voice sounded cool and collected.

Morgan let a smile touch his lips. He cupped Nikita's elbow with his hand and turned her toward the prisoner. Leaning close, he whispered, "Let me show you, my dear. You'll like this." Nikita let Morgan lead her to the circle of light where the prisoner was being held. A short little man in surgical scrubs was working on some kind of drill. He looked up when they approached. "JC, this is our Doctor. I think you will find his work rather extraordinary. Doctor? Will you show our guest your latest innovation?"

The little man looked at Nikita with squinty eyes before moving to the prisoner. Nikita followed him with her gaze. She took a breath when the doctor pointed out the cut he had made. She could see thick streaks of blood running down the prisoner's bare side and soaking into his black pants. Nikita felt her stomach clench. Her gaze was riveted to the blood. She forced herself to breathe. This is not happening, she thought, this is not happening. The doctor was speaking to her, something about the drill he had been working with. Nikita stared at the gaping wound in the man's side as the doctor pulled the flesh apart to let her see the holes he had been drilling into the ribcage. Breathe, Nikita thought, I have to breathe. She felt her eyes going wide as they traveled to the bent head of the prisoner. He was moving, moaning softly as the doctor prodded the incision. I have to breathe, she thought, I just have to breathe. Nikita began to tremble.

************

"How is she doing, Birkhoff?" Madeline asked from behind his chair.

Birkhoff swallowed the licorice he had been chewing before he answered her. "They're down pretty deep, but I have the signal. It's not real strong, but it's there. I'm working on boosting the power as we speak."

Madeline listened intently to her comm unit. "I didn't catch all the information on the drill. Will you run it back for me as soon as you can?"

"No problem. Here you go." Birkhoff rolled his chair to another terminal, punched a few keys, then rolled back.

Madeline began to smile. "Thank you."

************

Michael raised his head, opening his scratchy eyes and trying to focus them, vaguely thinking that if he could just see, the pain might be less. As his eyes adjusted he became aware of a new person standing just behind the Doctor. At first, he thought he was hallucinating but when his eyes reached Nikita's shocked stare the mission profile burst through his pain. He struggled to breathe, every movement causing his side to scream in agony as his green eyes met her blue ones. From the horror evident on her face it was clear that she knew him. Morgan was slightly in front of Nikita and couldn't see her face yet. Michael let his head drop, afraid that his recognition of Nikita would give her away. God, he thought, she'll die if he sees her now! Got to help her somehow .Michael began to speak in a sing-song voice, the words coming mostly in French because he just couldn't think of how to say it in English.

************

Nikita fought to keep herself still. She looked at Michael as he hung before her, his face ashen and bloody and his eyes full of pain. He had seen her and during that brief moment of eye contact, she could see how close he was to the edge. She didn't know what to do or say. Her mind was blank, stunned into silence by the sight before her. It's Michael, she thought over and over. It's MICHAEL! Then she heard a dry voice sing-song its way into her mind. It was Michael and he was talking. Her startled gaze flitted to Morgan as he stepped forward to listen to this new development. She heard Birkhoff ask through fuzzy static what was happening. Nikita latched on to Michael' voice. He was talking in French with only a few English words here and there. One word jumped out at her and she grabbed at it, pulling it into herself and letting it fill her. Focus, he said through all of his pain. Focus, woven again and again through a maze of nonsense. Nikita took a breath, letting herself feel her emotions in that one moment. Then she took them and forced them into a tight ball and pushed them aside. Stepping forward, she focused.

************

Birkhoff repeated his question to Nikita, almost panicked by her lack of response, "Nikita, what's happening? Can you hear me?" He looked over his shoulder at Madeline as she stood calmly behind him. "I've got the signal, why isn't she responding?" he asked her. Madeline didn't answer.

Then, out of the fuzzy silence, they heard Nikita ask, "What is he saying?" Madeline smiled, pleased that Nikita's voice was steady.

"Find out who he's holding, Nikita. It could be helpful". Madeline let her smile remain as she heard Nikita's question through her headset. The answer Morgan gave, however, was too fuzzy for her to make out.

"Repeat that Nikita. We couldn't get the name", Birkhoff spoke Madeline's thought.

Madeline's smile abruptly disappeared at Nikita's one word response. She looked down into Birkhoff's pale face before turning to where Operations was standing above them. "Mr. Birkhoff", she said in a too calm voice, "Please inform Operations that we have a situation that may require his attention. Now." Madeline turned back to computer console.

************

"Michael." Nikita said his name, repeating it after Morgan so that Madeline and Birkhoff could hear. She looked at Morgan. "Is that French he's speaking? What's he saying?" Nikita kept her voice detached and seemingly curious as she waited for Morgan to respond.

"I do believe he's asking for water", the delight was obvious in Morgan's voice. He grasped Michael by his chin, raising his head to meet his eyes. "Michael. You know the rules. First you must tell me your name and then you can have water. Come, dear boy. Just say it." Michael struggled to keep his eyes open, looking past Morgan to Nikita. Morgan noticed where his gaze went. "Yes, yes, this is CJ, Michael. She will be assisting me. Would you rather speak to her?"

Nikita stepped forward, pushing Morgan away and taking Michael's face between her own hands. She looked deep into his eyes, trying to give him the same reassurance he had given her. She leaned in close, her breathe on his cheek as she whispered to him, certain Morgan couldn't hear. "Tell him your name, Michael. Madeline said it was OK for you to tell him that much. Since he knows it already. Tell it to me." Nikita straightened, still supporting Michael's head as she glanced at Morgan. "Ask him nicely and see what happens," she said lightly to Morgan. She turned back to Michael and smiled sweetly. "What is your name?" The question was soft but firm.

Michael studied Nikita, trying to see what sort of game she was playing. Madeline said it was OK, he thought, it's an order. So easy. Just say it. Michael. Water. He didn't realize he had even spoken out loud until Morgan laughed.

Nikita looked to Morgan, pleasure written clearly on his face as he turned to the Doctor. They exchanged a few brief words before the little man stepped away out of the light. Nikita gently lowered Michael's head before releasing him. She casually walked to Morgan and met his delighted face with her seeming disinterest. "That wasn't so bad. Is that all you wanted from him?" Amazing, she thought as she waited for Morgan to respond. I feel calm and in control. She had never quite been like this before. Nikita pushed the thought aside to listen attentively to Morgan.

"Now, my dear, I want him to tell me where his beloved Section headquarters' are located," Morgan had a small smile once again playing about his lips.

Nikita nodded slowly. "Oh", she drawled. "I see. A location." Nikita turned to study Michael. She let her emotions rise to the surface while her face was turned away form Morgan. Then she reached in and plucked the cold anger that tied the bundle together. Letting it wash over her, she faced Morgan once again. " This man has nearly died rather then tell you his name. A name you already knew. And even knowing this, he has chosen death." Nikita let the anger show in her eyes. "I can't help you if you aren't honest with me about this man. That file you let me read was only physical statistics. I need more if you want my help. Tell me what you know about him."

Morgan's smile faltered for the first time as he read the anger emanating from his guest. "Of course, of course!" , he stammered, taking Nikita's arm and pulling her farther away from the prisoner. "He is from an agency called Section One. They are the bane of many terrorist groups, you know. He has been well trained, rather exceptionally, don't you think? "

Nikita could tell Morgan was pleased to have all this knowledge about Section. She kept her head turned away from him as he rattled on, making sure that Birkhoff and Madeline could hear clearly through the wire she wore. When he stopped after a few minutes, Nikita turned to look at him. "And how did you find this particular agent? Do you have a copy of their Directory or did you get it from other sources", Nikita locked her eyes to Morgan's, her body rigid in anticipation of his response.

"No, my dear. Unfortunately, a copy of their Directory was not made available to me. I had another source. A friend, you might even say, who was part of Section. He gave me the information on this agent as part of a deal, so to speak." Morgan sounded disappointed that he didn't have more to offer to her.

"Really." So there was a mole in Section, Nikita thought. "And just who was this source?"

"Ah. It doesn't matter now, my dear. Come, shall we? The Doctor is back with our next level." Nikita studied Morgan before turning and stalking back to the circle of light that held Michael. She could only hope that Madeline and Birkhoff were working to uncover the mole.

Looking at Michael's still form, she barely repressed a shudder as the little Doctor turned on his drill and stepped over to him. She concentrated on breathing as the sound shrilled higher, boring into the exposed bones.

************

Madeline and Operations looked at each other for a moment, listening to Morgan spill information about Section to Nikita.

"A mole.", Ops said thoughtfully. Madeline only blinked at him.

"Morgan may know more about us than he's telling Nikita", she said finally. "How do you wish to proceed?"

Operations looked at Birkhoff's screen before making his decision. "Let Nikita get the disk. Then send in a team to clean him out. I don't like leaks." He stood, turning to go. Madeline's cool voice stopped him for a moment.

"And Michael?" she asked.

Ops looked back, meeting her gaze. "If he talks cancel him." Then he turned and was gone, leaving Madeline in charge.

************

Nikita couldn't stand the high whining noise of the drill any longer, couldn't stand to see it drill into Michael one more time. Taking a deep breath, she turned to Morgan and demanded "Water! Give him water. Now." Morgan turned to her in surprise. Nikita lowered her voice and relaxed her stance as she spoke. "He has told you his name. And asked for water. You promised he could have it if he did that. " She swayed her hips as she sauntered closer to Morgan, almost laughing at the way his eyes followed her. "He won't break if you don't keep your promises. You have to make him trust you. Give. Him. Water." She trailed a finger down one side of his face. Morgan raised his eyes to hers before telling the Doctor to get a bowl.

Michael raised his head at the sound of Nikita demanding water. Water, his mind chanted. Water! He watched as Nikita took the bowl from the Doctor and turned to him. Shaking, he tried to keep himself from whimpering in anticipation. His eyes locked onto the bowl as Nikita came closer. He tore them away to meet her gaze as she lifted the bowl to his dry lips. The first sip coursed through him. The second made him gag. He could taste the bitterness of whatever drug they had laced through the water. By the time the bowl was empty, he knew he was in serious trouble, fighting down waves of nausea as his body sought to expel the liquid. It was a battle against nature and he knew somewhere deep inside that he wasn't going to win. He looked into Nikita's startled eyes as he fought to keep from vomiting. She didn't know, then. Good. Through the rising nausea he managed a whisper. Then he gave in and retched, vomiting the drink she had insisted he take. His side exploded in agony as his stomach clenched again and again, helpless to stop it. This time, he prayed for the darkness.

Nikita heard him whisper to her. Two words: Drugged and then Focus. She stepped back as he began to retch, turning away so she wouldn't have to see his agony. She grabbed her anger and held it, like a white hot sun it flamed inside of her burning all else to cinders. As she stepped towards Morgan, she heard Michael vomiting. Then, she heard a sharp crack, followed by another on the next spasm. My God, she thought. His ribs! Her eyes flew to the little Doctor, landing on his face as he smiled his pleasure. Michael's ribs had shattered under the force of his retching .

************

"Nikita, back-up is on it's way." Birkhoff's voice broke through Nikita's comm unit. She was in a bathroom, thankfully alone, as she spoke softly to Birkhoff.

"Did you get all of that? What are we going to do about Michael? How am I supposed to get the disk now?" Nikita let emotion color her voice for a moment. She sat down on the counter, leaning her head back against the mirror, as she waited for his answer.

It was Madeline's voice she heard next, though. "Cancel him if he breaks, then get out. Back-up will sweep up after you."

Nikita sat up, suddenly tense. "And if he doesn't break, Madeline? How do I get him out?" There was an ominous silence over the comm unit before Nikita whispered again, "You know he won't crack, Madeline. You know it." A sharp knock brought Nikita to her feet.

"Be smart, Nikita" Madeline responded finally as Nikita went to the door.

Opening it, she found Morgan waiting for her. "Sorry. Just freshening up a bit." She stepped out, hands smoothing her hair over her shoulder, letting them move down to the collar of her shirt. Morgan's eyes followed her hands as they played with the top buttons of the blouse. Nikita smiled, moving her hips slightly as she unbuttoned the top two fastens. Dropping her hands to her side, she looked intently at Morgan. "Let's talk payment. I've helped you, now you help me." Morgan swallowed hard as she moved to him.

************

"Back-up team is in position. Hold your mark.", Birkhoff looked to Madeline before continuing. "Get ready on count "

Madeline put her hand on his shoulder, "Have them stand down, a moment, Mr. Birkhoff. I think Nikita has this under control." Birkhoff looked up, startled. Then he relayed the orders.

***********

Nikita was leaning against the desk as Morgan keyed a few words into the computer. "So. Tell me. Who was your contact for Section." She smiled when Morgan looked at her legs before meeting her eyes.

"Why?" he asked, pausing in his typing to try to read her face.

She sifted slightly, knowing that her shirt gaped open just a bit as she did so. "I'm in the business of information, too, Morgan." She purred. "It could be useful to have a friend in such a position."

Morgan smiled sadly. "He's dead. That was part of the deal we had made. I didn't get the Section operative to play with until my contact was dead. Then the information would be relayed to me only after several weeks had passed." Morgan looked back to the screen. "There. All done, my dear. No need to worry any longer." Nikita leaned forward to take the disk Morgan held out for her. He pulled it back just as she reached out for it. "Not so fast, JC." Morgan tucked the disk in his pocket. "We have a task to finish first." He stood, and Nikita took the hand he offered to her.

"Of course", she said as she straightened from the desk.

They began to walk back to Michael. Halfway there, Nikita abruptly stopped, turning to face Morgan. "Tell me, Morgan. Did this contact know Michael personally?"

Morgan didn't answer her. Realizing that he was trying to figure out why she was pressing this issue, Nikita said, "I'm not trying to be nosy, Morgan. It just could be helpful to know if it was a friend who turned him over to you, or someone else. Agreed?"

Morgan shifted on his feet, debating her argument for a moment before smiling at her. "Yes, of course, my dear, of course." Taking her elbow as they began to walk once again, he leaned close, almost whispering, "He was a rival, so to speak. His name was Jurgen. " It was all Nikita could do to keep from stumbling.

************

Madeline listened with great interest to this exchange. Suddenly thoughtful, she didn't immediately respond to the question Birkhoff had asked. When he turned to look at her, she nodded to him. "Go." She said, then went back to listening.

************

Nikita heard Birkhoff give the go ahead for the back-up team to move in. Knowing the time for action was near, she steadied herself by counting. It was a trick Michael had taught her, early in her training. She glanced over to where he was hanging, head down, breath coming in rattling gasps. Focus Michael, she silently pleaded to him, not much longer now. She looked to Morgan. He had his back to her, talking to the that damn Doctor. Casually, Nikita went to Michael, leaning close so he could hear her. "We're almost there, Michael. Hold on". He didn't look good and Nikita wondered at the amount of blood he had lost. She counted again, pushing her worry down and letting only anger rise to the surface. "Good work ", she heard Michael rasp the words out between cracked lips. Fortified, she went to Morgan, standing close. Very close. He seemed to sense something had changed in her demeanor as he stiffened and started to turn to her. Nikita's hand tightening on his neck stopped him. The gun she pulled out from her stocking made his eyes widen. Smiling, she shot the two guards moving toward them. Then she knocked Morgan unconscious with her fist before turning on the squinty eyed Doctor. Grabbing him by one arm and twisting it behind his back, she demanded, "Key! Unchain him! Now!" God, she thought, this felt good! She went to Morgan, searching his pockets for the disk as the terrified Doctor stammered at her that he didn't have the key. Searching further, Nikita found it in one of Morgan's pockets. She stood, hearing guards running and gunfire in the distance, before whirling around and kicking the Doctor in the head. He fell, silently. Quickly now, she moved to Michael, freeing his feet first, then standing on tip-toe to reach his manacled wrists.

Michael watched Nikita move through a gray fog. His thoughts were formless, now. Not even counting helped him block all the pain. He saw her retrieve the disk first and almost smiled, pleased that she remembered the mission first before she kicked the Doctor. That did make him smile. His next awareness was of Nikita fumbling with locks at his wrists. He felt one dead hand fall free and tried to prepare himself for the moment when the other would follow suit. It didn't work. As soon as Nikita freed his left hand, he fell, trying desperately not to land on top of her. She tried to turn him, he could tell, but the impact of hitting the ground sent agony through his side, broken ribs rubbing, crunching together like gravel. It was a few moments before he could breathe again. He opened his eyes to find himself on his back, Nikita bent over him, yelling at him to get up, they had to get out. He looked into her wide blue eyes and saw her strength shining through her fear. He grabbed at it. Taking a painful breath, he sat up. Then he allowed Nikita to help him to his feet. Focusing inward, he looked at her for a long moment. His eyes flickered. Then he said, "Go", and they began to move. Michael counted each jarring step he took.

************

Madeline spoke through the comm unit, directing teams in various directions. She received word that Nikita was clear and she had Michael with her. Nodding, more to herself than to Birkhoff, she switched channels again, ordering another team to change positions. This had been interesting, she thought. Very interesting indeed. Then she smiled.

************

Epilogue

Michael sat gingerly at his computer. Wincing slightly as he raised his left hand. The wound had been left partially open to prevent infection, and his ribs still hurt constantly. But he was out of Med. Lab and that was all he cared about for now. He didn't think he could have stood one more day in there. He despised being ill or injured. The doctors knew that and so had been lenient, letting him leave after three days had passed and he could walk on his own. Confined to Section was a lot better than being confined to Med. Lab. Sighing, he carefully reached out and turned his computer on.

Nikita stood staring out at the city. Madeline, she believed, had wanted her to cancel Michael. She shook her head. She had always thought of Michael as the golden boy, the one who could do no wrong. She had never seriously considered that Operations or Madeline would have him canceled. She moved back inside, idly touching things around her as she moved. He had been damaged, far worse than she had ever seen him. How he had managed to hold on to consciousness and make it back to the van, she would probably never know. It had been an inhuman effort on his part. Yet, she saw him differently, now. She paused, trying to put a word to it. Somehow he seemed vulnerable now. The thought almost startled her. If he was vulnerable, then he was human. She sat down, thinking about that for a long time.

Madeline opened the door and stepped into the white room, letting it close heavily behind her. Morgan sat in chair, waiting for his fate to be revealed to him. They had kept him waiting for three days as they probed his computer network. The long days of waiting and wondering had already made him malleable. Madeline smiled at him before beginning. "Mr. Morgan", she walked around behind him. "I think you'll find our methods quite different from those you are used to implementing." She paused in front of him again, the smile falling from her face. "They will be just as effective, but a little less primitive." She smiled again, reading clearly the fear on Morgan's face.

"What do you want to know?", Morgan stammered.

Madeline tilted her head to one side, letting the silence stretch as she considered him. "Tell me everything you know about a man named Jurgen and the information he passed along to you " Madeline was pleased. This was going to be fun.

Operations watched Madeline on the screen. He enjoyed watching her work. He looked down as Michael walked beneath him on his way to his office. Still a bit tentative, he thought, but he'll recover soon enough. Nikita had saved him, just as he had thought she would. And, he thought, she had learned a valuable lesson. He smiled.