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"Hold position, Nikita."

Nikita crouched in the long grass, evaluating her surroundings. Mostly empty farmland - a few scattered farms in the distance, a brook two hundred meters to her left, and the quiet dirt road five hundred meters to her right.

Her breath hung in the air. The temperature was well below freezing; she was thankful for the extra protective gear Walter had given her before they left Section.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"New winter clothes, Sugar," he had told her as she checked her equipment. Comm badge, two guns, surveillance gear.

"The official Section snowsuit, Walter?" she had asked.

"Just try it on!" He grinned as she put the streamlined black gear on over her requisite black pants and turtleneck.

"How does it look?" She bent and moved around, trying to make sure that the snug fit would allow a full range of motion.

Birkoff coughed behind her as he tried to restrain a laugh, "Umm...robust and formidable!"

"Gee, thanks Birkoff." Nikita pretended to smack him upside the head, and smiled as she exited Munitions. "Watch out, or I'll take back the Oreos!"

"We'll have some hot grog waiting for you when you get back, Sugar," Walter called after her.

"I already bought you coal, Walter!" she had laughingly responded over her shoulder, and disappeared into van access.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So now, here she was, in another cold field, on another dark night. The team was concealed, four members spread out over a wide area in the valley, and three closer to the road to set the charges. She quietly stretched, and returned to her crouched position.

The voices from her Comm were silent. Operations hadn't been overly worried about tactical on this mission.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She had sat down at the table next to Michael and Birkoff as Operations began the briefing.

"This is Benjamin Stephens," he said as he flicked the picture up in front of them. "He is a low level middleman, who, our intel indicates, has recently begun brokering a deal between a Crimson Shadow splinter group and Dion Aramao."

A picture of a heavy, mustached man appeared. "Aramao is a multimillionaire who enjoys spending his money supporting various terrorist groups. Stephens is our best chance to get at him." He had glared across the table and changed the picture to one of a dirt road. "You will apprehend him on his way to visit the farm where he grew up. He is not aware of our interest in him, and resistance should be minimal, particularly given the season. This should be a routine mission. He is priority - bring him in, unharmed. Stay safe. That's all, people."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She concentrated on her surroundings once more, struck by the silence of the quiet valley. Water flowed in the brook where the current ran too strong for ice to form. The sound was soothing. She tried to stay alert for the sounds of wheels on the dirt road. All was clear.

The stars were bright. Removed from the city lights, with a chance to actually appreciate them, she was grateful for the clear sky. She automatically took stock of her position and then dismissed the astronomical training from her mind. Section couldn't diminish the enjoyment of something so simple as starlight.

A movement from the alder bushes by the stream caught her attention, and she pivoted, gun ready. She remained on alert as Michael appeared by her side, and waited for him to speak. "Ten minutes. They have left the highway."

She nodded in confirmation, expecting him to return to his previous position. She was surprised when he crouched beside her. She glanced at him, but did not allow herself to ask questions; the few questions she had about the mission parameters were greatly outnumbered by the questions about and for Michael that plagued her everyday. Instead she looked again at the sky.

Michael remained, hunched low beside her, their shoulders almost touching. The stars were intensely bright, as could only be appreciated on the cold, clear nights of winter.

Nikita's breath caught softly as she saw something to the north. Looking for the target's vehicle, she saw instead blue and pink lights dancing through the sky, long moving strands of light. She breathed in awe, "Michael, look!"

The lights reflected in her eyes as she turned to look at him, her face radiant. "Aren't they amazing?"

He responded with a slight smile and a quiet "Yes."

She felt no shift in his position, but suddenly his gloved hand was in hers. They shared the moment together, staring at the sky, the lights advancing and retreating between and around the stars. Only their gloved hands linked them, but each could feel the immediate presence of the other.

She glanced at him, smiled, and then said, "Merry Christmas, Michael."

The cough of a vehicle moving in the distance ended the peaceful interlude.

As they tensed to begin the advance to first mark, Michael momentarily tightened his grip on Nikita's hand.

"Merry Christmas, Nikita."