A/N: I apologize for the delay in getting this chapter out. I've found La Femme Nikita to be a uniquely difficult show to write for. So updates may be a little slow. But it's only because I'm banging my head against the keyboard, trying to write Michael feeling something without actually showing him feeling anything! Or because I'm buried under research for the novel I'm attempting to write. In any case, I'm very grateful for those of you out there reading this story. And I'm going to do my damndest to make it worth your while to stick through to the end! :)
Chapter 3: Family
"Hello, George," Operations said, putting the other man on speaker phone. "What can I do for you?"
"Giesela Almasy," George replied. "I just got a briefing that says she might still be alive."
"Yes. We sent out a team to investigate this morning."
"And?" George barked.
He sounded on edge, Madeline thought. Almasy was a personal case for him — one of her bombings had left shrapnel embedded in his hip. The wound still caused him pain, a constant reminder of the woman and how close she'd come to killing him. That was the reason Madeline had selected Almasy in the first place. She was sure that even the slightest shimmer of the woman's ghost would set George hunting.
"We were able to pinpoint several members of Rising Sun working at the same college, all in contact with one another, but nothing to indicate Almasy is leading the group," Operations replied.
"Rising Sun doesn't exist without Giesela Almasy," George insisted sharply.
The corner of Operations' mouth twitched upward. "Apparently it does."
"I want you moving on this."
"There's nothing to move on," Operations said.
"You have names. Find these people and detain them. Do whatever you have to and find out if Almasy is alive."
Operations picked up a panel and navigated through several screens with his finger. "I'm afraid we just don't have the available manpower to chase intel this vague. I've got a team in Tunisia, two more in the Balkans, and we're setting up to intercept a major Red Cell operation in the Black Sea."
"Don't give me that bureaucratic nonsense," George said, his tone even but threatening. "Find the time and get it done."
"I'm sorry, George. You'll have to outsource it to another Section," Operations replied, shaking his head. "We're not taking this one."
"Give me one legitimate reason why not."
Operations paused just long enough to seem hesitant, then he said, "Michael. His sister is one of those implicated. We can't bring her in here and risk compromising one of our best operatives right now."
George blew out a big breath. "Fine. Forward the intel to me. I'll take care of this myself."
"Consider it done."
George hung up without saying anything else and Operations turned to face Madeline with a grin on his face.
"I think that went well. Don't you?"
"Exactly as planned," she agreed.
The files they'd uploaded via Nikita's data thief onto Sophie's computer were just enough to ensure that she would be picked up by and interrogated by George's men. That she had nothing to tell them would only serve to waste even more of George's time so that they could figure out what he was looking for and find it first. Plus, the damage sure to be done to Sophie when she claimed to know nothing about Rising Sun would certainly keep Michael from defecting to Oversight. The only drawback was that Sophie's predicament might occupy too much of his time when they needed him in the field.
From the perch, Madeline watched Michael walk through comm on his way to his office. The mission she had assigned him to had just completed and, true to his usual routine, he was now sitting down to complete his report. With as volatile as he'd become recently, she knew his efficiency and dedication to his job would remain unchanged. It was something that she'd been counting on. Soon, he would check on Nikita's mission and discover what had happened — the trap was set, the pieces moving.
"Nothing left to do now but let it play out," Operations said. "Monitor the situation with Michael. I've got another team leaving for Alsace-Lorraine in an hour."
"I'll handle anything that might come up," Madeline replied.
As she walked back to her office, she wondered if Michael would approach her once he found out about Sophie, whether he would trust her to intervene on his behalf. She wouldn't, of course. But it would be an interesting test of his loyalties all the same.
0 0 0
As usual, Michael finished his report with time to spare. The blinds were drawn and he had the lights half off, so his office was comfortable and calm. The extra minutes he'd been able to scrounge here and there to sit alone and in silence like this had done a lot to get him through the years — especially after losing Simone, and Adam, and briefly Nikita. While he'd been living with Elena, these had been the only moments he'd had where he was free to be himself sans any disguise or barrier. This time was precious to him.
But right now he couldn't afford to relax.
He closed his report and logged onto Section's internal network, tier eight, where all the mission profiles were stored.
The surveillance currently being leveled at one small corner of France was extensive and he knew it would be difficult to break through undetected. But he also knew that there were periods of satellite blackout. And Operations' eyes and ears on the ground could only be in one place at a time. He had the advantage; he knew exactly where Adrian was. If he could pinpoint a moment between satellite orbits when Section would be looking elsewhere, he could fetch her without being noticed.
Opening a program that would sweep up behind him, removing traces of what he'd been looking for, he launched a search and gave it the criteria he was looking for. For several long moments, the computer ground away. And then, a simple text field gave him a date and a time: two days from now just after three in the morning.
That settled, he dropped back into the usual routine and navigated to Nikita's active and recent missions.
She was still scheduled to oversee Gabriel Janco's return to Romania. And she'd recently returned from a mission to…Michael paused. A mission to St. Catherine's College? Frowning, he opened the mission profile. Rising Sun wasn't a group he was familiar with. They had been active early in his career at Section and had been too high profile for a new recruit like him to get involved with. But he did know that George held a certain personal grudge against the old Rising Sun leader, Giesela Almasy. The intel was flagged to be forwarded on to Oversight. It wasn't much. Just a short list of names.
One name solidified the flutter of fear he'd felt at seeing St. Catherine's mentioned in a Section document.
He was up and out of his chair before his computer even finished logging off. Buttoning his jacket with one hand, he walked quickly through comm to Walter's work station.
"Hey, Michael." Walter smiled. "What can I do for you?"
"Have you seen Nikita?"
"Uh…yeah. About half an hour ago when she dropped off her equipment."
Glancing quickly to the side to be sure they wouldn't be overheard, Michael asked, "Have you reprogrammed her data thief?"
"Not yet. Why?"
"I need it."
Walter's expression fell.
"Operations has been cracking down on this kind of thing, you know," he said as he turned around and pulled open one of his drawers. "You know I'd do anything to help out you and Nikita, but my ass is really on the line here." He slid the small device across the table to Michael. "So try to get it back to me as soon as you can. All right?"
It wouldn't take long.
Back in his office, Michael broke through the file encryption in only a few minutes and took apart the programming. It was a simple, lightweight device and once he was inside, it was obvious what Operations and Madeline had done. They'd used Nikita to plant false information and now were placing Sophie right in George's crosshairs.
Did they know about Adrian? Perhaps this was something designed to keep him too occupied to interfere.
Operations was alone in the perch, his back turned, when Michael returned the data thief to Walter who was intensely relieved to get it back before it was missed. He didn't ask any questions and immediately set to work wiping its memory.
Working his way through all of her usual haunts, it didn't take Michael long to find Nikita. She was with Fredericks who was talking at length while she listened — probably to some sort of heart wrenching personal confession. She had a way of drawing those out of people.
"Nikita," Michael interrupted. He didn't need to say anything else; Fredericks quickly excused himself. "I need to talk to you."
"Okay." With an indulgent smile, Nikita turned toward him. "What's up?"
"Not here. Meet me in ten minutes."
Without any indication that something was wrong, she nodded and walked away. Over the past few years, she'd gotten a lot better at subduing her feelings. Early on, he'd spent many nights wishing she would learn to put herself aside and just do the job. But now, after struggling to bring her back and after learning to live for her, her ability to be a cold Section agent troubled him.
Ten minutes later, he found her deep under comm in the unmonitored area of Section One that had become their de-facto meeting place. She was leaning against the wall but straightened when she spotted him.
"What's going on?" she asked. "Is it Adrian?"
"The mission you went on today to St. Catherine's College," he began. "I want to know more about it."
She crossed her arms. "It was nothing. Just a cold op, gathering intel on an old terrorist group — Rising Sun."
"You were given a data thief," he said. "Who was the target?"
"A woman named Juliane Almasy."
A chill washed over him. "She's dead," he said.
"How do you know?"
"Because Simone killed her."
He remembered the mission because it wasn't long after he'd met Simone, and she'd been injured in the course of it — hit by a stray bullet that had come mere inches from severing a major artery. Nikita's face was as pale now as Simone's was then, drawn with horror she wasn't bothering to suppress.
"Then who was the real target?" she asked.
Confident now, he replied, "My sister."
She drew in a breath. "Sophie. Oh my God, Michael. I saw her when I was leaving. I thought she was a student."
"They used the thief to load falsified records onto her computer," he explained. "She will appear now to be connected to Rising Sun. And the intel has been forwarded to Oversight."
"Well, we can't just let them pick her up. You know what they'll do to her." Nikita pushed off the wall, ready to go. "We have to go get her before anyone else gets there."
He grabbed her arm to hold her back. "Sophie thinks I'm dead. If she finds out about Section, she'll never be safe."
"Well…" She started to protest, but understood as well as he did the danger of drawing friends and family into the world they lived in now. "Okay. I'll do it, then. I'll make sure she's safe."
There weren't a lot of people he'd ever trusted with Sophie's safety. But Nikita easily made the cut.
"Thank you," he said, his throat tight.
0 0 0
Anything she could have gotten from Walter would have been traced too easily back to Section. So Nikita went back to her apartment and retrieved her own gun. It wasn't as accurate and didn't have the range of even the old P6's they'd once used, but she was hoping she would be able to find Sophie quickly enough that she wouldn't face any resistance.
Michael had told her what he knew about his sister, enough for her to work out what she thought was a good plan to get Sophie off the St. Catherine's campus and away from George. After Michael had been arrested and had supposedly died in jail, she'd been watched over by René Dian, Michael's compatriot in L'Heure Sanguine. She'd married a chef, had one young son, and lived just outside the city. At the college, she worked as a counselor.
St. Catherine's campus wasn't as busy when Nikita arrived there as it had been earlier in the day. Only a few students were outside, though the lights were still on in all of the buildings and through the windows she could see that the library was still crowded. Sophie's building was nearly abandoned. On the main floor, a maintenance closet was open and a cart of cleaning supplies was sitting outside a classroom. The janitor smiled at her as she passed by — an elderly, overweight man who was definitely not Section material. Satisfied he was no threat, she climbed the stairs toward Sophie's office.
She usually worked late, Michael had said. And he was right. The light in her office was still on, though all those around her were dark. Her door was open and piano music was playing. Debussy.
"Excuse me." Nikita knocked on the doorframe. "Sorry. I don't mean to interrupt."
Sophie looked up from her work, surprised. "Oh. No. You're not interrupting. Come on in."
Nikita stepped inside but didn't sit down in either of the comfortable chairs across Sophie's desk.
"You were here earlier today," she said, recognition flashing across her face. It was evident now that she and Michael were related. They had the same slightly wavy dark hair, and the same clear green eyes. But more than that, there was something similar in the way she carried herself, full of confidence and strength and intelligence.
"Yeah. I was."
Sophie smiled. "It's a little late. But I'm glad you decided to come back. What can I help you with?"
"I don't usually do this," Nikita admitted.
"That's okay," Sophie replied quickly. "Please…sit down. Tell me what's on your mind."
"Oh, that's okay. I was actually thinking—" Nikita stopped mid-sentence, the sound of footsteps interrupting her. Someone was coming up the stairs. More than one person, she realized after a moment. Turning around, Nikita quietly closed and locked Sophie's office door. Whoever had been sent to pick her up would want to keep the procedure surgical. They wouldn't want to alert Rising Sun by breaking in, guns blazing.
Sophie sat back in her chair and regarded Nikita with patient indulgence. "Is something the matter?"
"I don't suppose you have a fire escape?" Nikita asked.
"There's one at the end of the hall."
The window was open, letting in a cool night breeze. As Nikita walked around the desk and popped the screen out of the window frame, concern finally washed over Sophie's features. Someone knocked on the door then — three sharp raps. Nikita clamped her hand down over Sophie's mouth, squeezing off the breath that she'd taken to call out to whoever was on the other side. With bruising force, Nikita pulled Sophie back into her chair and pinned her there.
"Listen." She leaned down so that she could whisper in Sophie's ear. "There's men out there and when they come in here, they're going to hurt you."
A second knock sounded against the door, more staccato and impatient.
"So get up. Don't say anything. And come with me right now. You have to trust me, I'm a friend," Nikita finished, biting her lip and hoping to God that Sophie wouldn't do anything stupid as she slowly released her grip on the other woman. Sophie didn't react immediately, just sat in her chair for a second, until a crack like thunder rattled the door. They were kicking it in.
With a gasp, Sophie was up on her feet.
"Come on," Nikita said. "Out the window. We'll crawl around the building to the fire escape."
"Crawl around the…?" Sophie leaned out the window for a second, then pulled her head back in. "What? How?"
One more kick, and the door was going to give way, Nikita thought. They didn't have time to stand and talk about the problem, and she didn't want any of George's men to see and identify her. With Adrian in their pocket or not, there'd be severe consequences to pay if she and Michael were caught interfering with one of George's operations.
"There's a ledge. Go," Nikita said and fairly pushed Sophie up and out the window. It wasn't a big ledge, and Sophie's high heeled shoes barely found purchase enough to stand on it. She was clutching the brick face of the building so hard her fingertips were white. Nikita climbed out beside her and urged her forward toward the next window, aware of the sound of splintering wood in the office behind them.
"I'm going to fall," Sophie said desperately as she inched along.
"No you won't. It's just a little further," Nikita replied.
The fire escape was only one office over from Sophie's, attached to the side of the building. They only had a few feet to traverse before they could grab onto it and climb down the stairs to the ground below.
Behind them, the office door finally gave way and hit the wall with a bang. Men came flooding into the room, the cock of their weapons playing a familiar rhythm against the pounding of their feet. Nikita swung around, pulling her gun, and trained it on the window as she continued to urge Sophie to the fire escape. She'd grabbed onto the metal bars and was dropping onto the landing below when the first man's head popped out the window, searching for them.
Nikita fired off a wild shot that embedded itself in the window frame above him, grazing his scalp as it passed. She didn't want to kill him — he was a comrade, maybe even someone she knew or had worked with before. And he was just doing his job. He yelped and ducked back inside, and Nikita fired off several more rounds, laying down a cover long enough to reach back with one hand, grab the fire escape, and swing down next to Sophie.
"Let's go," she said, grabbing Sophie's hand.
She felt a flash of guilt that there wasn't more time to explain or reassure the frightened woman that she'd made the right choice. It probably felt a lot like an abduction as Nikita dragged her down the rest of the fire escape and into the damp evening grass. And that's what it was, Nikita realized as they ran across the campus.
Sophie's life would never be normal again.
But it was better than the alternative.