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Chapter 1

Everyone sat in the conference room and waited for Operations to open the small, intricately carved mahogany box in front of him. No one knew what to expect, and no one really wanted to be there. After all it had been only two days since they had lost Michael and many of those present had considered themselves his friends; one had considered herself more...

Nikita sat at her usual spot at the conference table, flanked by Walter and Madeline to her right and Birkoff to her left. Her eyes were red and swollen and as she sat, she fought back her tears and reigned in her anger at the situation. She barely heard the hum of Section around her. Her mind was focused on one thing alone - the empty chair where Michael usually sat. She could almost imagine him there; could feel his presence; could smell the hint of his soap that always permeated her nostrils when he was near, even though she was sure no one else ever smelled it. Realistically, at this gathering, his chair could have been occupied but none of the others were willing to violate Michael's space - not so soon after his loss.

Birkoff sat to the left of Nikita and was glad that his tinted glasses hid his bloodshot eyes. He hadn't slept in two days. He kept going over and over the mission tapes, trying to find out what went wrong, where the profile had been flawed. In the back of his mind he knew that he would never find the answer but another part knew that he needed to focus on something, anything, to keep himself sane. The tint of his glasses also hid the tears he couldn't keep from forming in his eyes when he looked around the table and thought of all they had lost. Though, as he met Nikita's empty gaze he knew he would never let anyone see them flow - especially her.

Walter sat to Nikita's right, and his gaze shifted worriedly between Nikita and Birkoff. This wasn't the first time Walter had lost a friend. Hell, it wasn't even the tenth. Each time, though it tore him up inside, it also became a little easier to deal with. Or so he liked to think. But he had lost control when Belinda died. Looking now at Nikita and Birkoff, he could see in them an open wound that was likely to fester if something wasn't done. Neither of them had lost anyone as close to them as Michael had been and Walter hoped they were both strong enough to handle the pain and move on. Walter sighed as his mind shifted back to images of Michael. He missed him too. Oh sure, Michael had never really been a touchy-feely guy but Walter had always felt they had shared something, if only a love for Sugar. He shook his head and wiped a few stray tears from his eyes as his gaze turned back to Operations.

Madeline sat on the other side of Walter, alert as always to everything that was going on around her. One part of her mind however, was occupied with other matters. One part of her mind was occupied with memories of Michael. As she looked from operative to operative seated at the conference table she could see how each of them was feeling and envied them their clear grasp of emotion, even though they tried to hide it. As Madeline's mind focused in on Michael, his loss, and the last few days she still had no idea how she felt about his loss. She simply knew facts. Michael was gone. His loss would affect Section. It would have an effect on the performance of the operatives present as well as those who had worked on his team for almost six years. She knew these things to be true, and she knew that she and Paul would be dealing with the effects of his death for months. But she did not know how she felt about his loss, nor how his loss would impact her. She could read other people like a book, but was a mystery to herself.

Each, in the back of his or her mind, in the part that had not yet accepted Michael's death, kept expecting Michael to enter the room and take his seat next to Nikita. The sound of footfalls in the surrounding areas of Section, the sudden thud of a door closing nearby; each of these made them look toward the door, and then, sadly, look away as they realised the folly of what they had done.

Chapter 2

Tension filled the room and was emanating from Operations. Like those who watched him impatiently, he did not want to be there. There were things he could be doing. Things that would keep his mind occupied and away from his feelings of guilt, anxiety, and yes, even sadness and fear.

But instead he, like all the others, was here to answer a summons. A summons from beyond the grave.

A summons from Michael.

Operations knew no more then them what the box contained. All he knew was that it had been in the perch this morning when he had arrived. The instructions accompanying the box were simple and straightforward, written in Michael's flowing script.

Please open in the presence of:
Birkoff, Walter, Madeline, Operations and Nikita.
Merci, Michael

And so, here they were, as instructed, and Operations knew that it was time.

*****

"Ok people. This is how it stands. I know you don't want to be here, I don't want to be here either. But something has come up that demands our attention. I have received a note, and this box...from Michael."

Michael's name brought Operations distracted audience to full attention and when he saw this reaction he smiled and continued. "I know you all miss Michael. His loss will be felt in Section for years to come. But I did not call you here to talk about Michael's loss, at least not directly. Apparently, sometime before his death Michael arranged to have this box delivered to me. I don't know what it contains, only that it was to be opened in your presence. And that's what I plan to do now."

Everyone was silent as Ops opened the box that lay in front of him, their eyes shifting from him to the box itself and back again.

Operations brow crinkled as he saw what was inside. He reached in and pulled out five white envelopes, labelled with the names of those present. Not knowing where to go from this point and feeling a sudden twinge of an unfamiliar emotion, he handed out the letters, turned, and walked out of the conference room and towards his office...his own letter clenched in his fist.

Chapter 3

Four sets of eyes watched Operations leave the room. When he was gone they looked at each other in confusion. Each, like Operations himself, not knowing what to do next.

One by one they left the room. Madeline held her letter in front of her, as if it was a bomb waiting to explode in her grasp; Walter had stuffed his in his pocket like a list of things to be done; and Nikita grasped hers in her hands like a lifeline to her tortured soul. As Birkoff watched everyone leave he fingered the envelope containing his letter. From the feel of the envelope it seemed to be several pages in length but he wondered what Michael could possibly have had to say to him.

Birkoff took off his glasses, rubbed his bloodshot eyes and sighed. There was only one way to find out. Taking a deep breath, Birkoff opened his letter, and was met with Michael's even script.

Chapter 4

Birkoff,

I can only imagine your thoughts as you read this letter. I'm sure they contain a great deal of surprise that I would have anything at all to say to you. I know that over the years I have given you the impression that I don't care; that your existence merely made my job easier and nothing more. I hope that the following letter rids you of that impression, and helps you to realise that I cared more than you could ever know.

In several ways you remind me of me when I was your age. Not completely: I never had your passion for computers, nor the inclination to develop one. When I was your age I had a lot of questions; about myself and about my place in the world. And I believe you have similar questions, complicated by the nature of our world - Section One. Section must be a lonely place for someone your age.

As a young man I used to think it would be nice to have an older brother to guide me, to teach me and to look up to. Looking back, I have realised that I could have been an older brother to you, and I'm sorry I was not. I have tried to be helpful where I could but I know now that I only succeeded in pushing you away, as I have everyone in my life. Perhaps I can shed some light on events that may have seemed harsh but were, in my mind, for your own good.

Several days ago you approached me for help regarding Felix and his threat against your life. You told me that he was upset that you had put him in abeyance, on Operations' orders. You asked me what you should do and I told you not to let him kill you and simply walked away. Cruel? Perhaps. But hopefully my reasons will make sense. Birkoff, in Section it is important to be self-sufficient and I knew that you could handle yourself well enough to take care of the situation on your own. It is not feasible in Section to rely on any one person too much. It makes you vulnerable. There is only one person you can rely on and that is yourself. That is what I was trying to accomplish the other day. To make you self-sufficient, to make you handle this situation, and thus know how to handle others that are thrown in your direction.

I'm sure that you resented me for my actions at the time but if you think about it, wouldn't the situation have been made worse by my intervention? Wouldn't you have felt worse if you had been unable to confront the situation on your own? I hope that these things are true but if not, and if you can't forgive me for my actions, know this one thing: I knew the dangers of your situation, I believed in your ability to get a handle on it, but if the situation had become beyond what I thought you could handle, I would have been there in an instant.

I know that you are capable of great things Birkoff. You have grown up a great deal in the last few years. Anyone can attest to that. I know you are capable of surviving Section and all its trials. All you need to do is apply yourself, believe in yourself and don't let people push you around. Know your own heart, and know your own importance.

You know where this is going don't you Birkoff? You can see why I'm telling you this? I've made many mistakes in my life. But the one I regret most is pushing Nikita away. As I write this letter, I am still pushing. Hoping she will stay away so I will no longer hurt her as I've hurt others. And yet, I also realise that she is the best thing in my life and that I have to stop pushing her away and hold her close.

You may find this unbelievable Birkoff, but at this point in my life, when everything has been stripped away, I realise my mistakes and hope that you, being young, will learn from my errors and grow to be the man I wasn't. You are already becoming that man. Where I am closed and hollow you are open and full of life. Don't let my death close you off Birkoff - remain open to new relationships and cherish each day with those you love.

One last thing Birkoff: take care of Nikita for me. I don't know why I feel I need to ask. I know you will. I know you love her as much I do and I know you'll do better by her then I ever did.

I'm not asking you to be her lover, though if that is what the two of you choose you have my blessing. I am asking you to be her friend, to take care of her like I never could and to treat her as she should be treated. I'm asking you to be to Nikita what I never could be. A friend. A shoulder to cry on and cry with, a source of comfort and friendship that is so hard to find in Section.

The road may be tough ahead, but you can handle it.

Michael

Chapter 5

Birkoff wiped several tears from his eyes with the back of his hand and let out a deep sigh. Not only had Michael felt that he was capable of surviving Section, but he felt him worthy to take care of Nikita, the one thing that everyone knew Michael held most dear.

Birkoff had always wondered where he stood with Michael. He had often tried to approach him, to be his friend. But Michael was difficult to get to know, and even more difficult to read. Birkoff never would have guessed that Michael held him in such high regard.

He smiled as he remembered the incident with Felix. Michael was right. It had worked out better with him handling the situation himself. True, he hadn't handled it very well initially. After all, it had taken quite a bit of explaining to convince Ops that he wasn't crazy after he had jumped out at him pointing a gun. But it had worked out better in the end. And Birkoff had been better for it, just as Michael said. He knew his limits now and he knew better what he could handle and what he couldn't.

Birkoff let out another deep sigh as he looked around the room. He could see Operations pacing in his perch and as he met his eyes Birkoff was forced to turn away by a new flow of tears that he did not want Operations to see. After wiping his eyes on his sleeve, he turned his attention to the remainder of the room. He could hear the tapping of keys coming from his position in Com and he could hear the grunts of operatives working out several doors down. He knew that things wouldn't change much in Section. Someone else would rise to Michael's position and things would be done the same way they always had been. Life would continue. But with one major change: there would be no Michael and that would take some getting used to.

However, Birkoff knew, just as Michael had known before him, that he would survive.

Chapter 6

As soon as Operations left the conference room, he swore silently to himself. What the hell was Michael up to? As he walked, he gazed back down at the letter in his fist. He didn't like surprises, and this one had come at the worst possible time. In public. He hated being surprised in front of the people he most needed to keep cool around - it put dents in his armour, and his ego.

About half way to the perch he decided it was too late to worry about the impression he had made on the others. He unclenched his fist to reveal Michael's letter just as the door slid open. Upon entering the room he immediately locked the door behind him, leaned against it and took a deep breath.

Still holding the letter tightly in his hands, he paced the perch alternating between almost opening the letter, and running his fingers through his short-cropped hair. Courage Paul. What could he have to say that you haven't heard a hundreds times before. Why does Michael's opinion matter?!

That was a question that Operations couldn't answer. All he knew at that moment, was that it was time to find out exactly what Michael had to say.

As he grasped the letter in one hand and started to open it Operations realised that he wasn't completely alone. Feeling eyes upon him, he turned to look out the window and down upon the conference table. He was met with the eyes of Birkoff, staring at him from below. Apparently he wasn't outside of prying eyes just yet.

He glared down at Birkoff for invading his privacy and immediately regretted it when he saw the young man turn away for a moment and surreptitiously wipe his eyes on his sleeve. Although he doubted Birkoff could make out his expression from that distance he felt a twinge of guilt at seeing him turn away and seeing the young man's own letter spread in front of him. Hoping that shutting him out would shut out his guilt, Operations quickly tinted the windows of the perch, and turned away.

Taking one final deep breath, he ripped open the envelope and began to read.

Chapter 7

Operations,

This is perhaps the hardest letter of all those I have written in the past few days, because as I have worked to put my day to day relationships on paper I have frequently found ours buried in confusion and anger. As the hours pass and I continue to stare at this empty sheet of paper I am beginning to understand why.

I have struggled for many years to reign in forms of emotion that would seem like weakness. It has been almost a decade since I have admitted openly how I think or feel about a given situation or person. I am not quite sure what my reasoning for this is, although I believe it is connected with my life in Section One, and my observations of you over the past nine years.

When I arrived at Section One nine years ago I was an arrogant, young recruit. Although fully trained by Jurgen, I lacked the discipline that I have now. I found you a greater influence on my development then he ever was. From my early days at Section One I watched you. I watched with utter fascination the way you interacted with the operatives, with Walter and with Madeline. I analysed the way in which you managed to maintained your exterior calm when all hell was breaking loose around you, and yet ruled with a iron fist when things were not going as ordered.

As the days and months stretched into years, I found myself learning and understanding more what it took to be a man in your position. I began to see the wisdom in your early reprimands of my performance and brash attitude. I started to not only respect your decisions but also understand and anticipate them. I obeyed orders not only to survive but also because I began to understand what those decisions meant to future missions and the future of Section.

For years I sought your respect, if not your praise, in everything I did. After all, I had always felt I had to work for the respect of those around me. I raised my sister out of respect for my parents and the love they taught us. I became involved with Rene for the fearful respect our demonstrations gained from those we terrorised. I thrived on it. You were, and still are, a man deserving of respect and a man who receives it from those around you. So it is not surprising that I sought yours. The respect of a respected man. My leader. My distant mentor.

As I observe you now, my eyes clear of the mists of youth, I have realised other things. I see that you are merely a man and not a god as I had once thought. I see that like the rest of the men and women in Section you have strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams; but that you strive to keep your weaknesses checked and your hopes logical so that you can perform your function as leader. You are a man of action and those actions come at a cost: the cost of life. Therefore, you never act without purpose and you rarely act without sufficient forethought. When you do, it is due to one specific weakness that neither one of us can keep in check. The love of a beautiful woman. For me that women is Nikita, and for you, Madeline.

In spite of our similar weakness however, you still find my relationship with Nikita difficult to accept. You have never openly admitted your unhappiness with it, but remember I spent years watching you, and I can see the displeasure in your eyes when Nikita and I are together. That is why our relationship is fraught with anger. I know that you and Madeline have done everything in your power to keep Nikita and me apart. And yet, seeing those words on paper, I know that that is not quite true: you and Madeline have made me keep Nikita at arms length. Close enough to be kept in control by my 'charms', yet far enough away that neither of us get too 'attached'. Far enough away that I continue to hurt her. You're not completely to blame; I'm not going to fool myself. I've caused her nothing but pain, and it's our world, Section One, that is the main cause of that.

Although my anger stems from that, it is not the only cause. The major cause comes from inside of myself. It's the fact that after fourteen years in Section I understand your wisdom in keeping Nikita and I apart. In fact, if our positions were reversed, I would be causing you and Madeline the same pain. I know that Nikita is my weakness. I know that for a person in my position, in any position in Section, having a weakness is a dangerous thing. But I also know, and this is a recent discovery, that my life is incomplete without her.

I can't walk away from Nikita. I have tried many times. As much as I want to rid myself of weakness, I need her. I just need to find a way to keep her in my life, without her being a weakness, but instead a strength. I'm going to work on that, I just hope its not too late.

One final thing. You and I both know that life in Section is hard. We both have the will to survive it. But not everyone is as jaded as we are. There are those around you who may not survive so easily if they are not given support. Some of the younger operatives, like Nikita and especially Birkoff, cannot survive alone. I'm not expecting you to coddle them, but let them have each other, let them have Walter to talk with, to learn from. And maybe, every once in a while, when the stress is too much for even you, join them and learn from them.

Michael

Chapter 8

Suddenly exhausted, Operations leaned heavily on the ledge and looked out through the dimmed glass at the people below. Life was continuing in Section as though there had been no loss of life. To an extent that was true. After all, operatives were lost everyday and sometimes level five operatives and team leaders were among the dead. But to Operations and the major players in Section One, a great deal had changed.

Since his arrival in Section, Operations had been watching Michael as much as he had been watched by him. He'd seen in the young man the potential for great things, and as such had started grooming him as a replacement as soon as his training was complete. The rebukes that Michael remembered from his early days in Section had been caused as much by Operations' desire to create a future leader as they had by Michael's initial unruly behaviour.

As the years passed, the older man became increasing proud of the younger's abilities and how he continued to surpass his expectations. He was increasingly impressed at how Michael was able to anticipate his orders and how he followed them without question. As he watched him grow and learn he did find one disturbing feature. He saw in Michael a stubbornness that he knew would eventually cause trouble. However, that stubbornness and ambition were also dangerous. They endangered Operations position as leader of Section, and thus had to be kept in check through methods that even Operations didn't like.

Cruel methods. Heartless methods.

That was where Simone had come in, the mission with Elena, the decision made by Operations and Madeline to make the marriage appear more "real" by having Michael father a child with her, and finally bringing Nikita into Section One. All of those things, all of those people, were brought into Michael's life as a method of control, to keep his ambition in check, and his mind focused elsewhere. Each addition to his world, and each cruel removal of that addition once he got attached was another chip away at Michael's armour and was another slap on the hand when Michael's ambition brought him too close to Operations' position.

What Operations hadn't counted on was Michael's reaction to Nikita. It had started out innocently enough as all the other's had. But recently it seemed that Nikita inspired Michael as none of the other people had. Instead of being a method of control, Nikita seemed to be helping Michael become out of control. And it seemed, if this letter was any indication, that Michael's recent defiance stemmed from his desire to keep Nikita in his life as a strength.

Brave young man, thought Operations ruefully,had I known what he was thinking, I would have wished him well, but advised him against it...I've spent years attempting that very thing with Madeline, but when I get too close, I get burned. I lose control, and can't function as I should. It's dangerous...I wonder if Michael could have done it...

As he thought hard on it, he decided that if anyone could have achieved it, it would have been Michael. Michael had a way of getting what he wanted, no matter what it was. That's what made him so dangerous, and why Madeline and Operations had to work so hard to keep him in his place.

It's a shame I'll never know whether he could do it. It would have been a true case of the student surpassing his teacher...

Sighing heavily Operations reread the final paragraph of Michael's letter. Not everyone is as jaded as we are...Nikita...especially Birkoff, cannot survive alone... LEARN from them...

What could I possibly learn from Nikita and Birkoff?

Looking out the window towards Com, to where Birkoff hunched over his computer, rolling lightly back and forth on the wheels of his chair, Operations thought carefully about Michael's final words: learn from them he had said. Not knowing how he could do it, or, in truth, what he could possibly learn from them, the older man looked down one final time at the younger, sighed and left the perch.

Those looking for him later found him hovering behind Birkoff's station, watching the young man intently.

Chapter 9

As Walter walked away from the conference table with his letter tucked away in the pocket of his faded jeans, his first thoughts were of Nikita and Birkoff.

Poor kids, the older man thought. I hope they hold it together - at least for the cameras.

As he approached his station he yanked his letter out of his pocket and sighed when he saw its crumpled state. Placing it on his desk, he attempted, and failed, to flatten it into a presentable specimen. Sighing again, the ageing operative sat down at his work station and looked at the letter sitting in the corner of his desk .

Reaching for it, he wondered what it contained. He and Michael had little in common. They only shared a love for Nikita and sometimes Walter was unsure they even shared that. From what Walter had seen, Michael seemed to be incapable of reaching out to her and building a relationship with her.

What is wrong with young men today? Walter grumbled to himself. No one knows how to treat a lady anymore. If I were younger, I would give Michael a run for his money. Maybe then he'd realise how important Sugar is... Well, I'm NOT younger, but I could still show Michael a thing or two.

Silently hmphing to himself, he turned the letter over in his hands and was met with the real reason for his anger. There it was, his name written carefully on the front of the envelope. Written by a man whose presence had been a constant in Walter's life for over fourteen years. A man who, in spite of his distant attitude, Walter cared for. A man who Walter would never see again.

Unconsciously chewing the inside of his lower lip, Walter looked around his work area and wondered what life would be like now with Michael gone. Hoping to find some comfort in Michael's letter he ripped open the mangled envelope and retrieved several pages of crumpled paper. Through the creases he could still clearly make out Michael's handwriting.

Chapter 10

Walter,

I will begin my telling you that you have always been an enigma to me. You have achieved something which never ceases to amaze me. You have lived in Section for more than thirty-five years and you have not become jaded or lost emotionally like many have. Like I have.

No matter what time of the day or night we come in to prepare for a mission you are in good spirits. You laugh and joke with the younger operatives to ease the tension; you flirt with Nikita and the other female operatives for the same reason; and you are there quietly ensuring that are lives are safe, with unswerving devotion. Nikita has frequently said that you, out of all those around us, have maintained your soul. I think she called it the "5% club" and said that you were a charter member.

I marvel at your ability to continue your life as though nothing is different from the outside world. I am frequently floored by your ability to take an operative who is distraught or depressed and lift their spirits. I have often wondered how it is that you continue your job day to day without the slightest hint of anger or bitterness. I have never been able to achieve those things. The vices which you have avoided over the years, the anger, the bitterness, the emotionless façade; all of them have captured and made me what I am today. I'm drowning Walter, but recent events have made me see that their might be hope. And that hope is Nikita.

Since her arrival in Section my mind and my heart have been warring with each other. My heart has been telling me that she is the lifeline to the soul that I thought was lost, my one hope of survival in a cruel world. It sees her soul and her innocence and wants to protect them, and her. But my mind is telling me that she a weakness that must be extricated from my system. It sees her innocence as something to be destroyed, not protected. It sees my survival and hers as incidental to the survival of Section.

But, in the past few weeks of revelation I have discovered a truth that I had kept hidden. And you, Walter, are the only man that I think will understand it. You understand happiness, you understand life, you understand the thrill that a realisation such as this can entail. What I've realised is this: the source of the war that has been waging in my heart and mind for almost five years has changed me irrevocably. Nikita has changed me.

From the moment she entered my life, the world grew brighter. My black and white existence started to develop shades of grey, and then eventually, colours. The monotony of my day to day life ebbed as she became a constant presence in my life. I see now, that even as I tried to deny my feelings, even as I pushed her away, she was burrowing her way deep into my psyche and grappling for a hold on my heart. And there she remains.

I only wish that I had the freedom to give into my heart and ignore my mind.

I am trying.

Recently I have struggled with the mess that Section has made of my life and have come to realise that I have taken many things for granted. One of those is Nikita. And so, I have made a decision. For once in my life, I am going to follow my heart and to give in to my desires. I want Nikita to be part of my life and I'm going to fight to keep her there. I only hope its not too late.

Walter, I know how you feel about Nikita. I have watched the two of you together. I have seen the ecstatic happiness in your eyes when she comes back from a mission in one piece, and the concern furrowed on your brow when she is hurt physically or emotionally. I know you want her happiness but I know that you aren't entirely convinced that I fit into that equation. Perhaps I'm asking your blessing. It seems silly, especially considering that this letter will be read only after I'm gone. I hope, that knowing what you know now, seeing it on paper, you will feel better about whatever relationship I manage to achieve with Nikita and will see that I tried to do right by her.

One more thing. I made vow after losing my wife and son. I promised myself that they would always be protected. I had counted on being around for many years to ensure that they would remain so. Clearly, that is not possible and so I'm asking you to do it for me. Although any reason for Section's involvement in their lives dies with me, I fear that they will find some way to use the two of them, and I can't let that happen. Protect them for me. Keep them safe. I know that I can count on you to do what I can't.

Michael

Chapter 11

Walter took a deep breath and put down the letter that he was holding in his grasp. It had not been what Walter had expected but nothing ever was with Michael. Unlike most of the operatives that came into this place, Michael was unreadable. When it came to other recruits the older man was able to tell what they wanted, how they felt and whether they would survive just by looking in their eyes. He'd never been able to do that with Michael. And this letter had revealed much of what Walter had never been able to see.

It showed Walter something that he had long believed but had never been able to prove. Michael was still human.

Walter had held a respect for the young man that had grown year by year. After all, it took a certain type of person to survive in Section and an even greater one to rise to the position that Michael held. But, as he thought deeply about it, Walter realised that Michael's position also inspired a variety of feelings beyond respect.

The greatest of those was pity.

Walter had been in Section long enough to know what Michael had sacrificed to achieve his position. He had watched lesser men than Michael crumble under the pressure and he had watched greater men slowly die inside. Inch by inch, piece by piece Walter had watched Section One cut away Michael's soul and had watched him drift into an emotionless oblivion that few ever came back from. Slowly, Michael had become less and less human.

But recently, Walter had seen a glint returning to the young operative's eye and had begun to have hope that Michael might be able to escape what had captured and destroyed so many before him. Nikita was the source of Walter's hope for Michael. And the letter before him proved that he had been right - Nikita was helping Michael come back from the abyss.

And even though Michael thought Walter didn't approve of their relationship, that had never been true. Walter had always hoped they would find their way to each other. He had thought that Nikita would be good for Michael and vice versa. He had worried about Michael's fading humanity but he had also worried about Nikita's fragile innocence. Early on he had seen that the two would complete each other. Nikita would draw Michael back towards his humanity; Michael would tame Nikita's spirit into something that would survive in Section and protect her innocence.

Walter was just glad that the two of them had finally realised what he had always known. They were meant for each other. It saddened him though, to know that Michael's decision to pursue something more than a flirtation had come too late. They had had only a few precious months together before the mission that had taken his life only two short days ago.

Shaking his head in frustration, Walter lifted up the letter again and reread the final paragraph, the one that had surprised him most of all. Michael wanted him to protect his son. He trusted him to look after his family.

Walter knew how important Adam and Elena had been in Michael's life. He also knew how devastated Michael had been when the Vacek mission had ended and he had had to leave that life behind. For weeks they had wondered whether Michael would survive the loss of his family. He had, but he had never been quite the same.

To know that Michael trusted him enough to charge him with their care was quite a revelation. There was never any doubt in Walter's mind that he would take on the duty. He would use whatever influence he had to ensure that Adam and Elena lived a life in comfort and seclusion. He would defend Michael's son with his life and do what ever it took to ensure that Section would never harm the boy or touch his life in any way.

Michael had written that Walter protected the lives of the operatives in Section with unswerving devotion. As Walter folded the letter carefully and placed it in his desk, he vowed that from now on his devotion would extend to Adam and Elena.

Chapter 12

Madeline walked to her office as if in a trance, strangely unaware of the people and activities going on around her. The silence that developed at her approach did not penetrate the reeling thoughts and feelings she was struggling to keep to herself. Her usually focused mind was warring within itself. One side fighting to keep her emotions in check, the other struggling to release feelings pent up over years. However, one thought kept the rest of these at bay for the few minutes it took her to get to her office. I must not let them see me lose it.

As she closed her office door behind her, Madeline took a deep breath and casually lay Michael's letter on her desk. She then ensured that any surveillance equipment that could reveal her fragile state to Section, or god forbid to Paul, was conveniently scrambled.

Pacing her office, Madeline tried to clear her thoughts. Michael's letter had caught her unprepared, that was all. Taking another deep breath, and trying to keep her gaze away from the letter that sat on the edge of her desk Madeline attempted to focus her mind on other tasks.

Michael's death has caused a lot of problems. We have to reorganise the teams, find a new leader for Michael's team, and ensure that there is no decrease in efficiency due to his loss.

Sitting down in front of her computer Madeline called up the stats on the missions of the last two days and was sorely disappointed with the results. Efficiency was suffering already and it would only get worse when word spread further about Michael's death. He was level five, and the loss of an operative at his level could do an awful lot of damage if something wasn't done to boost morale.

As quickly as her mind had regained its focus, it lost it again when it was drawn to a reflection in the corner of her computer screen. It was a reflection of the letter sitting on her desk, with her name written across the envelope in Michael's elegant handwriting.

Focus Madeline, her mind screamed. And yet, as hard as she tried she could not bring herself back into focus. Finally she gave in and reached for the letter on her desk. She turned her chair to face her collection of Bonsai trees, leaned back, opened the envelope, and began to read.

Chapter 13

Madeline,

How does one put a relationship such as ours on paper? Our positions place us at odds constantly and yet I feel nothing for you other than admiration, respect and love.

My respect for you is perhaps the easiest to explain, after all your position in Section demands it and therefore you receive it. Also, over the years I have spent observing you and your role there is one thing I have noticed consistently: no matter what is going on in your personal life and no matter how much you have struggled you never to show overt emotion. You reveal nothing that could be perceived as weakness. Deep inside yourself, where no one can see, you hold whatever emotions you have under lock and key.

This power of yours demands my admiration. It is something I have struggled to create within myself, following your example. And I have had excellent success. However, my will is still over powered by my heart - especially recently.

I knew what I was getting into when I was assigned the Vacek mission. You warned me that it was necessary for me to keep my distance and I knew you were right. I have always trusted your judgement. But I was positive that I could keep myself closed off enough not to be hurt when the mission finally came to fruition.

I was wrong.

I have experienced this feeling only once before in my life, when I was separated from my sister all those years ago and brought into Section. It's a feeling beyond simple loss, it's a feeling of helplessness, a knowledge that although I am alive in the world I can never touch their lives again. It's a hollowness that I am not sure I will ever be able to fill.

Many years ago, you helped me fill that hollow place in my soul. You touched my life when I thought no other could. This Madeline, is where respect and admiration turn to love.

As I have said, our relationship is a difficult one to define. It began as an insatiable lust, at least on my part. In the beginning, I looked at you with the roving eye of a young man eager for a taste of power and for the talents an older woman in our world must possess. I watched you walk down the corridors of Section and marvelled at the way all eyes turned towards you. I sought to memorise your smile and to learn to read the glint in your eyes. Your presence tortured my soul.

But I was drawn to you for reasons beyond lust. Reasons we discovered that night in Tokyo. We are kindred spirits you and I. More alike than either of us ever thought. Both of us have developed a façade that we show to the world. We hide away any thoughts or feelings that might be perceived as weakness. We appear emotionless to outsiders and almost everyone is an outsider. Those few who get close enough to touch see that we, like them, are vulnerable. And to us, that is unacceptable.

In Tokyo we let ourselves get close enough to touch and to learn. For that one single night we were vulnerable. We allowed each other to see what we had shown no one else before nor anyone since. That night bred mutual respect and love. It bound us, soul to soul, in understanding.

That night meant a great deal to me then, Madeline, and it still does now. We both decided that our relationship would go no further than that one night. We both moved on long ago and today, I think, we have both found someone that completes are fragile souls.

Operations loves you Madeline. And despite your attempts to keep him at arms length, I can see your defences weakening, just as mine weaken when I am around Nikita. Don't let him become a weakness but let him become part of your life. That is what I have decided to do with Nikita, and I think its possible for you as well. I think that they can become strengths in our lives.

I am beginning to learn that it is not a weakness to feel. I am passing on this knowledge to you in the hopes that it is not too late - for either of us.

Michael

Chapter 14

Madeline sighed deeply and rubbed her bloodshot eyes as she absorbed Michael's advice. Of course, Michael was right. Paul did love her and she him. But their relationship would never work out for one simple reason: the two of them would kill each other. She and Paul had discovered that it hurt them more to be together than apart. Part of this was due to Paul's need to be in control, and her own unwillingness to give in.

We decided years ago that we were better on our own...though sometimes I wonder, if we'd tried harder could we have worked it out?

Shaking her head in frustration at her drifting thoughts, Madeline sought to clear her mind once again. And again, she failed miserably because her focus kept returning to Michael.

She vividly recalled the first moment she had seen him come into Section One. He had been one of many new operatives to arrive that day but as she watched him from the bridgework above Van Access she had been immediately struck by his presence. The way he carried himself, the way he seemed to strut through the corridors as though he had lived there forever and the way his lithe form had filled out his blue jeans. And there had been something more...

The memory sent shivers up her spine.

They had spent almost two years dancing around each other before that fateful night in Tokyo. He had used every opportunity to bestow his intense gaze upon her; and she had returned that gaze with touches that would have brought a lesser man to his knees.

How they had resisted so long she would never know. Eventually, they had sought each other out and allowed their lusts to guide them. But what the two of them had discovered that night caused Madeline more fear than she had ever experienced before; and the fact that she had felt safe enough to let that fear show frightened her all the more.

What they had discovered was just how much alike they really were. Their souls revealed the same darkness and the same glimmer of light that they tried so desperately to hide. For one brief moment in time, someone was there who understand their desires, their hopes and their fears.

Sighing deeply, Madeline got up from her desk and began pacing her office, walking towards her display of Bonsai at the far side. One of them attracted her attention as her mind attempted to pull itself back to the present It was a small, delicate one and the oldest of her collection. A gift from Michael after their return from Tokyo.

Madeline had found few people that she could truly trust with her soul. She wondered if she would ever find a kinship again like the one she found with Michael. Without saying a word she knew he understood her. Without being close, they had been each other's strength...

Sighing to herself Madeline wondered how she would go on. But she knew, deep down inside, that Michael would have wanted her to.

Chapter 15

Nikita did not know where to go once she left the conference table. She wanted to go home and read Michael's letter. Home to her own private space, the space she sometimes shared with him. But that was impossible. Upset as she was, she would never make it home in one piece. Besides, it was a long way and she didn't want to wait.

Looking down at the envelope held firmly in her grasp, she pondered her choices and could think of only one place in the compound that felt like home. But as she approached the door she wasn't sure that it had been such a good idea after all.

Stopping just short of the door to Michael's office, Nikita rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand and fought back the tears that threatened to flow. You can do this, she willed herself. You have to do this.

She took one last deep breath and turned the knob, letting the door fall open to reveal the emptiness within. It was strange to see the room so dark and devoid of life. For five years she had been able to look into the room and see Michael's shining eyes gaze back from behind his desk. But now, his chair sat empty.

Stepping tentatively over the threshold and closing the door, Nikita leaned against it and allowed her eyes to adjust to the darkness. Slowly, the shadows around her began to take on familiar forms and as they did her mind stumbled over a surprising revelation.

It's as if he was never here...

Sighing deeply, Nikita moved away from the door and as she did she felt something brush against her shoulder. Hanging on a hook behind the closed door was a black leather jacket. Michael's jacket.

Tucking her letter temporarily into the pocket of her jeans, she gently took the jacket from the back of the door and shrugged into it, favouring her injured right shoulder as she did so. It was a barrier against the darkness; against the loneliness that threatened to overwhelm her. His essence was in every grain of the leather, and as Nikita circled the desk she inhaled deeply, cherishing the closeness she now felt.

Seated behind Michael's desk, she retrieved the letter from her pocket. This was all that remained: a black leather jacket and a letter. Nikita turned away from the letter in front of her, distracting herself by turning on the lamp. Feeling a sharp pain shoot through her right shoulder as she reached for the lamp, she swore to herself and waited for the pain to subside. As she did so, she could feel tears beginning to fall.

Michael was gone.

And it was her fault.

Burying her face in her hands Nikita tried to drive away the thoughts that came reeling to the forefront of her mind. It shouldn't have happened. He should be alive now. Madeline and Operations had told her that the mission profile and its intel had been flawed. They said that the team had been lucky to get out at all. Still, Nikita couldn't help thinking that her actions could have changed something...

Nikita's frantic thoughts couldn't be turned away and as she sat behind the desk, her mind recalled the final moments in which she had seen Michael alive...

Chapter 16

It had begun like any other mission.

The team was transported to their location - in this case a warehouse containing stolen arms. They were to infiltrate the warehouse through a series of tunnels that ran underneath the building. The entrance was a sewer with a straight six foot drop to the floor below that would have to be accessed by rope.

It seemed as though they had walked for hours through the dark tunnels before they finally stepped out onto the main floor. Michael immediately sensed something was amiss and caught Nikita's eye. Leaving the remainder of the team behind at the entrance to the tunnels, they proceeded further out to investigate.

That was when things began to go horribly wrong.

"Everyone fall back. We have an anomaly. Birkoff abort the mission." Michael ordered, as the gunfire started bombarding them from the catwalks above.

As they ran back towards the entrance to the tunnels Nikita stumbled as she felt one of the bullets that had been raining down on them penetrate her shoulder. Recovering quickly, she continued her run, the sounds of gunfire continuing behind her. When they finally reached the tunnels she leaned heavily against the wall and took several deep breaths as she examined her shoulder. Fighting back dizziness, she looked up to see Michael standing before her, his eyes silently asking her if she was alright.

Nodding silently, she allowed him to pull her from the wall, and side by side they ran back towards the entrance. When they got there they found that the other members had already climbed out. They were the only two remaining inside the tunnel - and the hostiles were closing behind them.

Looking in her eyes and knowing that Nikita couldn't possibly pull herself up the rope with an injured shoulder, Michael had given her a small smile and signalled to Snow. Between the two of them they managed to get her out of the tunnel just before several hostiles streamed around the corner.

Finding herself a position in which she could watch Michael from above, Nikita leaned over the sewer grate. She was able to kill two hostiles as gunfire erupted in the tunnel below. As he turned to face the danger behind him, Michael met her gaze for a moment and in his eyes should could see anger, futility and love.

The dust created by the scuffle below obscured her vision and all she could do was watch anxiously for some indication of his survival. When the dust cleared for a moment, a flash of red against a pale, white face caught her eye. As suddenly as she had seen it, it vanished and as she struggled for a closer look she felt rough hands pull her from the entrance. As they pulled, she heard a gasp of pain. She wasn't sure whether it came from her or Michael.

We can't leave him, her mind screamed, but she couldn't get the words to form on her lips. What were they thinking? We have to go back.

As she was dragged back in the direction of the van, she heard a muffled explosion and felt the ground shake under her feet. Struggling against her comrades in an attempt to get back to Michael, she never felt the needle inserted into her arm.

The next thing she remembered was awakening in Section screaming his name...

********

Wiping at her eyes in an attempt to ebb the flow of tears that fell from her eyes Nikita took several deep breaths before she was finally able to face the letter.

Leaning back against Michael's chair and snuggling deeper into his jacket, she opened her letter and began to read...

Chapter 17

My love,

Where do I begin? How do I put into words a love that has guided my heart and soul for over five years? Is it possible for me to put on paper the words I have never been able to say aloud? I don't know. But I feel I must try. I cannot let you live your life not knowing how I feel about you.

I have spent the better part of five years pushing you away in an attempt to protect you from what I thought would hurt you. I told myself that we would both be safer apart. I led myself to believe that you would be better off without me in your life; that my presence would only cause you more pain. I was selfish. I wanted to ensure that you did not become a weakness. I wanted to keep myself from being hurt as I had been in the past.

I knew that we would be hurt. But in the long run I believed that it would be better for both of us if we remained apart. Together, we would provide Operations and Oversight with ammunition against us. Together, we would be weakened by our need to protect each other while in the field. Apart, our minds would be focused and our lives safe.

And yet, the pain I've seen in your eyes over the years has increased mine exponentially. Although I knew my motives, I could never reveal them to you. As much as I knew it would hurt me, I had always hoped that you would give up on me and move on. But you never gave up. I was foolish to think you could. How could I expect you to do something I was never capable of? I have tried to stay away. But now I know that's impossible.

I built a wall around my heart many years ago, one that few ever got through. But you, Nikita, cause that wall to come crashing down each time I see your face. There is never a moment in your presence in which my heart does not careen against my rib cage fighting to break free.

You invaded my heart at a time when I thought I would never love again and you have remained buried deep within it ever since. You have helped me survive like no other ever has. After I lost Adam and Elena, you brought me back from the brink of the abyss and gave me the will to continue on. You believed in me when I could not. I discovered then, for certain, what my heart already knew.

You are the completion of my heart and soul.

You are the answer to all my prayers, Nikita, and my only regret is that it took me so long to realise it. I wish that I had taken advantage of every moment we had together. That I had allowed myself the pleasure of your touch more often. I fear that now it's too late. I'm afraid that I have pushed you too far.

I hope that someday you will forgive me for all that I have done. I cannot imagine life without you by my side.

I love you, Nikita. I know I have never said those words aloud, but each time I see you they echo in my heart and soul as though they are the answer to a question I never thought to ask.

I am forever yours,

Michael

Chapter 18

Tears began to flow freely from Nikita's eyes again, obscuring her vision and forming fresh streams down her face. She left them to trace rivers down her cheeks and wiped at them only when they threatened to fall on the letter that she held in her shaking hands.

I love you too, Michael, she whispered through her tears. And I forgive you.

Sighing deeply and placing the letter on the desk, Nikita allowed her thoughts to drift to recent events. In the past couple of weeks, she'd seen more of Michael outside of Section than she had in all the years she had known him. He had told her that he missed her. He had looked at her with a tenderness she rarely saw in his eyes. And yet, she had been unwilling to trust him with her heart again. After all, how many times had he used similar words and looks against her?

But Michael's letter made his recent actions clearer. He hadn't been trying to hurt her this time. He loved her. He wanted her in his life. It was for real this time. A smile formed on Nikita's lips at the thought. But that same smile was dashed moments later when she realised that none of it mattered anymore. They had almost achieved what she had always dreamed of, but their revelation came too late.

Nikita took a deep breath and wiped at her eyes with a shaking hand. As she sat, her mind drifted over the last five years and all that had happened between her and Michael.

Those years had been full of pleasure and of pain. But no matter what had happened between them, Nikita had always felt protected somehow, even when Michael had been fighting to stay away. It helped her to know that he had been hurting as well, that he had been trying to keep them safe.

Smiling softly through her tears, she recalled every moment they had spent together in passion. Feeling his touch on her skin had been like fire. His eyes seemed to gaze into her very soul. The man drove her wild!!

She loved him desperately. The thought of no longer being able to feel the warmth of his body next to hers made her body cry out in torment. Living without Michael would be very difficult.

But one thing plagued her mind.

She would no longer feel safe.

Nikita knew she was a good operative. She wouldn't have survived this long, even with Michael's help if she wasn't. But one thing that Michael had always done was help her keep her temper in check - something that at one time had continually gotten her into trouble with Operations and Madeline. One look from Michael let Nikita know when she had gone too far. He ensured that she never stepped over the line.

As much as Nikita tried to pretend that she could survive in Section on her own, she knew that much of her confidence came from her knowledge that Michael would always be there to protect her. She wondered now whether she would be able to survive the rigors of Section, and the temper of Operations, without him around to defend her.

Pushing her worries to the back of her mind, Nikita made a decision. She knew that Michael had spent the last five years fighting to protect her from Operations, and from herself. She would not let all his hard work go to waste.

She would survive. For Michael. For his love.