Pain was the only measure of time for her. All other methods had been lost years ago. Kept buried in the earth--no hint of sky or light, she had held on to measurements for a while: about a day, around a week, maybe a month--a year. After that, though, all that really mattered was whether the pain was being inflicted now, and even that had become relative long ago. Sparks's tortures had had to become increasingly ingenious to ensure that she noticed them. Simone's body was so broken and scarred that much of it no longer responded like the tender flesh of years ago.
It didn't matter, though; Sparks had an inventive mind. Simone lay in her cage now, face on the floor, body still aching from Sparks's latest atrocity. She had wished for death so many times, had cursed her body for its strength--for refusing to die. She barely even thought in language anymore; her life had become bestial--an example of survival against odds or desire. She had had no hope in years. She no longer even had the will to kill herself; the effort was insurmountable. The image--the love of Michael still came to her, of course, but she could no longer put her faith in him. Simone had realized how desperate her situation was only a few hours after the ambush, when she had regained consciousness. Sparks had seen to it that her wounds were tended to enough to keep her alive but never enough to keep her out of pain; her caretakers seemed to have studied at the Josef Mengele School of Medicine. When she awoke after the attack, she found herself bound hand and foot; Sparks had propped her up in front of a com screen to see a terrifyingly familiar face:
"How are you feeling, Simone?" Operations had asked.
Simone had been dumbfounded. She had tried, before, never to ponder too deeply the depths of depravity in Operations's soul, for fear of what she would find, but this was beyond all her expectations. "What's going on? What have you done with Michael?"
Operations had smiled unpleasantly. "He gave you up." He gave her a second to let this sink in. "We gave him a choice: you or him; you lost."
Simone had shaken her head, focusing intensely on Operations's cold, reptilian eyes. "I don't believe you."
She had heard a sigh over the link, and then Madeline had moved into the frame. "It's true, I'm afraid." Her eyes were sad but had a certain determination in them.
"No," Simone had shaken her head again. "If it's true, then why isn't he there to tell me himself?"
Madeline had looked at her deeply. "He doesn't want anything to do with you."
"You're lying," Simone had said sharply.
Madeline and Operations exchanged looks. Then, Madeline had looked back at her. "It doesn't matter whether you believe us. You'll never see Michael again."
Operations smiled unpleasantly once more. "You belong to Sparks now. Do be good to him."
The comlink ended.
"See, darlin'," Sparks had looked back at her. "You're all mine." With some help, he had retied her hands and feet to the cot. Then, he had taken her by the throat, as he started to lean down. "You're all mine."
Simone closed her eyes and pressed her face further onto the floor, trying to forget. It had been the first in an endless pattern. She had been abused and degraded by every method possible.
Simone had tried to hold onto her belief in Michael. She had never lost her love for him, but her faith was tested every day. During the most brutal of assaults, they would taunt her: "Michael did this to you!" "He gave you up!" "He never cared!" Every blow, every degradation was accompanied by the same, brutalizing words. After a while, after more pain and inner death than either her life in Section or her brutalized life before it had ever prepared her for, she had started to doubt; she had lost the strength to resist her fears. She had lost herself.
Every day was the same. Sparks would send someone to hurt her, if he was too busy; they never left her alone for long. Today, she thought, was no different. She heard a woman's voice near her: "Simone?" Nothing new--the women were just as brutal as the men.
"I work for the Section," the voice went on. "I'm gonna get you out of here. . . . I have to get some help. Do you understand?"
Simone raised her head slightly. This was a new technique. Why would anyone working for Sparks say that Section would help her? They should know better. She began to rub her neck.
The woman's voice was soft--gentle; Simone hadn't heard a gentle voice in years. "Michael's here. . . . He still loves you, Simone."
Simone began to raise her head a bit more. God, she wanted to believe --to see him again.
Then, however, the woman heard a noise and left.
A guard came by and looked in on her before walking off.
With the sort of pain she had grown accustomed to, Simone sat up slowly. She didn't know whether to believe; perhaps she was hallucinating. Maybe the voice was just telling her what she wanted to hear--the words her subconscious had given it.
Looking around at her cell, Simone had another thought: "Maybe I am dead." Maybe the voice was just a torture--a punishment for her crimes in life--in Section. She could certainly believe this was Hell.
Simone crossed her legs and propped her face in her hand, looking toward the wall--wondering, hoping--doubting. She stayed like that for almost 10 minutes before someone else came by her cell. She didn't notice; visitors were frequent.
"Simone?" she heard a man's voice say softly--a voice that sounded like Michael's. She didn't believe, though; she had hallucinated his voice too many times.
The man shot at the cell door. Simone grunted, trying desperately to get to her feet, staggering toward the wall--her back to it. Her voice hadn't sounded a human syllable in almost 2 years. She saw a hooded man, dressed in a black battle outfit, coming toward her--rifle in hand. She looked down at the floor and held her hands out in front of her, with no real hope of protection. The man's outfit was much like those Section used; perhaps, they had come to kill her. The man took off his mask while she was looking away.
"It's me, Simone," the voice said gently, in tones she remembered so well. She began to cry. "Don't you remember me?" he continued.
It was impossible to believe. She couldn't look up for fear of seeing through her illusion.
"You're okay now," the voice she knew was Michael's went on softly. "You're safe now."
All of Simone's strength failed her. She began sliding down the wall, crying. She fell into Michael's arms, his words of comfort still washing over her warmly--soothing her.
She leaned against him, her head on his shoulder, his arms around her, his hands touching her softly. He had always been gentle with her--the only man she had ever known who had been, but now he seemed terrified that she might shatter into a million, fragile pieces.
Michael put his hand softly on the back of her head. "If I had known, I'd have never stopped looking for you," he whispered to her. "I've never stopped loving you."
Simone closed her eyes and cried, her cheek resting on his shoulder.
He put his hand delicately onto her back. "My God," he whispered.
Simone no longer wondered. He had never known, had been told she was dead. All doubts slipped away.
Simone looked up to see a woman standing outside the cell, half turned away from her--probably the woman who had spoken to her earlier. The woman looked back at her; she seemed to feel that the scene wasn't really hers to watch.
Suddenly, though, all of Simone's fears returned. She saw one of Sparks's men approaching the woman with a gun. She was too terrified to speak, but the look in her eyes told the woman all she needed to know; Sparks's man died.
The shock, though, was too much for Simone. She pulled away from Michael's embrace, throwing herself against the wall again, still unable to form words. Michael had his rifle in his hands now, his back to her. He seemed to be exchanging a look with the woman.
Simone had a horrible realization in that second. She and Michael had always communicated as much in unspoken ways as in spoken ones, and she could sense that, for that one second, Michael wasn't with her; he was with the woman. Simone had been gone for years, and Michael had moved on--had formed new bonds. When Michael turned back to reach for her, she pulled away. "We've got to get out of here," he begged, but Simone refused to be a duty Michael felt he had to perform. She covered her face, unable to look at him.
"Come back to me, Simone," Michael pleaded, reaching for her, wanting desperately to shelter her. "Come back to me, Simone. Come back."
Simone refused to move.
"I can't find Sparks," the woman outside the cage said.
Simone started to look up.
"I'm here," Michael whispered to her. "It's okay."
Simone's plan formed suddenly. She couldn't return to Section; they were the ones who put her here. Michael would try to protect her, but, she knew--in the end, it would get them both killed--and possibly the woman, as well. Michael wouldn't leave her, if he wasn't forced, however. She decided to do the only thing she felt she could.
Simone spoke her first words in years: "I know where he is." She looked back at Michael, who gazed at her with deep concern.
"Okay," he agreed.
Michael helped her out into the hallway. She had trouble walking, but she made it seem more difficult than it was to throw off his suspicion. She pointed him in the wrong direction and then backed away under the stairs.
Michael exchanged a few words with the woman, trusting Simone completely. The woman went up the stairs to wait for him.
Simone looked at Michael and realized that, whatever was between the woman and him, it didn't affect his love for her. She gazed at him as much as she could. She knew it would be one of the last times. He kissed her very delicately, terrified of hurting her. She only returned it mildly, too horrified by what she was about to do, too traumatized from years of abuse. While he was distracted, as well, she stole the gun from his leg holster. She watched him, until he was out of sight, drinking in the vision--feeling the love in his eyes for the last time.
Once he had gone, she snuck away, found Sparks, tied him up, and locked herself into the room with him. She had to make sure there was no way for Michael to get to her, or he would never willingly let her die. She just hoped that the woman with him could convince him to get out. She couldn't have tried this manuever without her; Michael would never leave on his own.
Sparks's yelling brought Michael and the woman to them. She missed Michael's look of horror; she couldn't stand to see it.
Sparks, like every abuser, thought that if he could just yell enough, just scare her enough, she would let him go; he had had the power in the relationship for so long, he couldn't fully comprehend this change. Her first husband had thought the same thing, even after years of his abuse; it didn't work for either of them.
Simone wanted to live--to be with Michael, but she knew it was impossible. She could sense Michael's horror, even without seeing him. "Go! Get out of here!" she yelled, looking at him briefly. If she looked at him for too long, her resolve might crumble. She knew, if it did, though, Michael would die; Section would kill him--sooner or later --if he brought her back.
Her death was inevitable; his wasn't. She was determined to have some say in how she would go.
This was her choice. She silenced Sparks and then said: "It's too late, Michael. I'm dead already." He had to go--to live.
Simone turned on the valves, setting the inevitable in motion.
"No, Simone," Michael said softly.
She couldn't look at him. "I'm sorry, Michael."
"Simone, please don't do that," he begged desperately.
Oh, God, she wanted to go with him, but it simply wasn't a possibility.
"It's the only way it can be." She opened the fuse box to get to the final lever, starting the countdown; the room was filling with steam. She finally looked at him through it. "I love you, Michael."
She knew that she was lost to his view after that, but she continued to stare out at him, as he screamed and pleaded, trying to shoot through or beat down the door, ignoring that there were only 30 seconds left. She was terrified for several seconds that he wouldn't leave, that her desperate measures to save him would be in vain. Then, however--to her relief, she heard the woman screaming at him, cajoling him, forcing him to leave. Simone walked closer to the door, still blocked from view by the steam, and watched. Michael was leaning against the wall, trying to stay close to her, trying to die with her. Fortunately, however, the woman didn't allow it, finally whispering something to him which, combined with her physical efforts, got him to move--to leave. Simone stood closer to the door, watching them run, Michael following the woman out.
Simone closed her eyes and breathed again. "Thank God." Michael would live. She opened her s again and watched the woman and Michael disappear. "Take care of him," she told the woman's receding figure quietly, before leaning back against the wall.
The clock made its way slowly down: "4 . . . 3 . . ."
Simone closed her eyes. "Goodbye, Michael," she whispered.
Later on, back at the Section, Nikita was stopped by Michael; they talked briefly. Michael was trying to keep from blaming Section One, to be thankful for the pain he had been caused. Nikita tried to convince him to place blame where it was due, but Michael's habits were too ingrained.
Nikita was about to leave for the day, to let him sort out his feelings on his own, when she felt overcome with the need to look after him. She turned back to him. "Do you wanna have a cup of coffee?" she asked, trying to make her offer of friendship as nonthreatening as possible.
Michael looked up at her to see the one person he did have left. "I'd love to," he agreed.
"Good," Nikita smiled and led him away.
Simone would have been pleased. Wherever her spirit lay, besides in Michael's heart, her final, unheard request was being fulfilled.