Four Light Years Different
Written September 2001
Synopsis: A different version of “Four Light Years Farther,” where it isn’t Michael and Nikita who run away…
Spoilers: one scene from “Up the Rabbit Hole”
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. No infringement is intended.
Nikita sat on the bench in Committee, holding her head in her hands. Mr. Jones… Why would he be coming here? If it was just to confront Paul and Madeline, why did she and Michael need to be there? Her heart was pounding with so much force, she felt physically ill.
The door opened, and she stood up. It was Michael and Paul. The older man looked worn and exhausted, and seeing Nikita angered him. She ignored him, turning to Michael. “Is he here?”
“He’s on site,” he replied softly, facing the doorway. “Where’s Madeline?”
“Walter is bringing her.” She put her hands by her sides, then in her pocket, then clasped them behind her back. “Where are they?”
Once again, the door swung open, and Walter walked in, followed by an all-business Madeline. Paul’s heart lurched when he saw her, relieved that she was still alive.
Nikita sighed in relief. “Walter, what took you so long? Mr. Jones is on his way!”
He stopped in front of her, a peculiar smile on his face. “Mister Jones is already here.”
She frowned at him, tilting her head to the side. “Mister…” she whispered quietly, puzzled about the deliberate emphasis on the word. She glanced at Michael and Paul, but their attention was focused on Madeline. Slowly, she turned her head and saw the proud, defiant look reflected in the woman’s dark eyes. She gasped, realization slapping her across the face. “Madeline… You’re Mr. Jones?”
Paul’s lids dropped painfully. Betrayal clenched his heart and gave it a sharp twist. How, after all this time, could he not know? Why didn’t she tell him? And all of her words, were they lies? Careful deceptions to keep him under her watchful eye? To what end?
Stunned, Michael found enough strength to utter, “Why?”
“Out of all the Sections, One is the most important. I was already established here when I came into power. In order to ensure success, I stayed.”
“And when did you come into power?” Nikita wondered.
“When Adrian was forcibly retired and Paul became Operations.”
“When was that?”
Madeline was about to answer when Paul’s hollow voice stopped her. “Twelve.” Hurt, angry eyes bore into hers. “Twelve years.”
“Yes,” she agreed, returning his gaze with a regretful one. They held the look for a while, until she turned back to Michael and Nikita. “Section One is about to undergo some changes. We’ll meet in my office in fifteen minutes to discuss them.” She pivoted on her heel and walked away, Walter close behind.
Nikita stood outside Madeline’s office, waiting for Michael. They were supposed to come together, a request which she found puzzling. Did the changes in Section somehow involve her and Michael? If so, what was to become of Paul? After Madeline walked out of Committee, the man had collapsed on the bench, his shoulders hunched and his head bowed. He must not have known the truth. Nikita shook her head sadly.
“Are you ready?”
Nikita jumped at the sound of Michael’s voice. She turned to him, dread visible on her face. “What’s going to happen to us?”
“I don’t know.” He reached out, taking her hand in his, and stood in the way of the sensors. The door slid open, and they stepped inside.
Madeline was watering her bonsai trees but acknowledged their arrival. “You could have taken care of them for me,” she said, referring to the plants.
“We didn’t think you’d be back,” Nikita replied, her voice tinted with hostility. Michael squeezed her hand in warning before letting go and taking one of the empty seats.
“I don’t blame you for feeling deceived,” Madeline said, putting the atomizer away and moving behind her desk. “I can understand your frustration.”
“Frustration? Deceived? Tell that to Paul,” she snapped sharply.
“Nikita–” Michael gazed at her with reproach. “She’s still your superior.”
She settled into her chair, glaring at Madeline. “If you’re going to cancel us, why don’t you skip the pleasantries and get right to it.”
“You’re not going to be cancelled. I have bigger plans for the two of you.” She steepled her fingers and leaned forward. “Together, you will lead Section One.”
Astonishment lit up Michael’s eyes, but he quickly regained his composure. “What about Operations?”
“Paul,” she clarified. “I’ll deal with Paul later.”
“Are you going to kill him?” Nikita asked quietly. “He loves you, Madeline, how could you?”
Madeline chuckled softly. “I’m not going to kill anyone, Nikita. Quite the contrary. Everything has turned out exactly the way I planned it.”
“You planned it?” she repeated.
“Everything that has happened over the past twelve years, from Paul’s rise to power to your recruitment to this very moment, has all been carefully crafted and planned.”
“My recruitment?” Nikita sat up suddenly, her curiosity piqued. “You brought me into Section? Why?”
“For Michael.” It was his turn to straighten. Madeline smiled slightly. “Perhaps I’d better start at the beginning.” She relaxed back in her chair, looking at both of them as they waited. “Center was looking for new leadership, someone else to play the role of Mr. Jones, but they also wanted someone who was already in a position of power. I was originally slated to become Operations, and Paul was to be my second-in-command. He and I worked well together, and they knew that. A few months before Adrian was removed, they informed me of their decision to make me Mr. Jones. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, really. So Paul became Operations, I took second-in-command, and things fell into place.”
“You did work for both Center and Section?” Michael asked.
“In a manner of speaking. As I told you before, the real power lies in Section One. I advised Paul when it was necessary to guide him in the right direction, but for most of the time, I stayed in the background, doing the same things I do now. When Michael was recruited, I began to plan for the future.” She turned toward him, a soft expression of sincerity on her face. “Michael, you were my prized pupil. Of all the operatives I helped train, you turned out to be the best. You had the skill set and the leadership ability I was looking for. Efficient, honorable, manipulative, objective. Willing to follow orders, unafraid to die for the principles that define this organization. You were everything a Section operative should be…until I introduced a weakness.”
“Nikita,” he said, the pieces of Madeline’s puzzle slowly falling into place.
“Yes.” She looked at the other woman. “I recruited you because you were strong, like Michael, but in different ways. I saw a bit of Paul and a bit of me in each of you. And if the two of you could be even half as effective as we were…” She took a breath, smiling in recollection before continuing. “The chemistry between you was evident right away, so I didn’t have to push you together like I had anticipated. Paul was adamant about separating you, and I had to appear to be helping him. Therefore, I asked Walter to act as your intermediary, to help you arrange secret trysts and, most importantly, to convince you that the end result would be worth the risks you took.” She eyed both of them. “I see that it worked.”
“Why did you choose to reveal yourself now?” Nikita asked.
“A short time ago, we assassinated George, leaving Oversight without leadership. The situation has to be rectified. As for the two of you, the past two months have been somewhat of a test. You passed. I believe you’re ready to run Section as a team. And since you were promoted after Paul and I disappeared, there’s only one thing left for me to say.” She stood gracefully, folding her hands behind her back. “Congratulations.”
Walter slowly walked into Committee, hands in his jacket pockets. He looked around quickly, spotting Paul on the bench, head in his hands. “Madeline is ready for you.”
He looked up and nodded gloomily. “How long have you been working with her?”
“Since she decided to recruit Nikita,” he replied lightly. “When she told me who she was, I knew I had two options: do as I was told or be killed.” He lowered himself next to him, sighing. “It wasn’t easy, for either of us. These kinds of deep cover assignments never are.” He glanced at him. “She didn’t enjoy deceiving you.”
Paul laughed callously. “But she did it so well.” He stood. “I believed every word she said.”
“Well, that’s Madeline for you.” Walter smiled, hoping to ease the tension, but Paul’s dark expression didn’t falter. “Come on, she’s waiting.”
He stepped into her office hesitantly. She sat at her desk, looking up at him with a smile. “Hello, Paul.”
“Madeline,” he greeted cautiously. “Or do you prefer Mr. Jones?”
“Madeline is fine.” She gestured to the vacant chair. “Have a seat.” He followed her request but remained tense. She figured he would. “I hope you understand why I did what I did.”
“No, I have no idea.”
“I wanted to tell you the truth, but I couldn’t. It would have put your life in danger.”
“I trusted you,” he said in a low tone and, as an afterthought, added, “I even loved you.”
Madeline gazed at him tenderly. “I know. Thank you.” He said nothing, looking away sadly. “I have promoted Michael to Operations, and Nikita will become second-in-command.”
He lifted his head. “A few months ago, when Mr. Jones called to express his displeasure in our cancellation of George, you suggested that we run away to avoid separation. I, of course, went with you…which was an unforgivable breach in protocol.” He smiled in spite of himself. “You created the ‘let’s escape’ scenario to get me out of the picture and put them into power.”
“Yes, but not in the way that you think.” She met his eyes. “You’re being promoted to head of Oversight, effective immediately.”
He stared at her, complete surprise on his face. He opened his mouth to say something, but it merely hung there, unable to produce any sound.
Madeline rose from her chair, reaching for his hand to shake it. “Congratulations, Paul. You’ve earned it.” She started to walk toward the exit, but he grabbed her arm as she passed.
“Madeline, you…” He also stood. “You’ve planned this all along, haven’t you? Everything that you’ve done…it was all to achieve this purpose.”
“Yes.” She smiled, pleased that he finally understood–and accepted–her scheme. “I had to find someone comparable to your style of leadership. When Michael came to Section, I knew he was the one, but he needed a companion, someone to stand by his side and help him through the hard times. I chose Nikita. Her compassion will change things, but, in the end, I think it will increase the performance and efficiency of Section One.”
“Nikita is to Michael as…you were to me.” Her grin infected him, and he gazed at her appreciatively. She was never trying to subvert his leadership; she was trying to help him. The advice and support she had provided through the years had been a way to shape him into what she thought was an effective leader, one who could conceivably hold Oversight’s top position. Her secret countermines had not been harmful after all.
“We need to go,” she announced, interrupting his thoughts. “Our respective agencies are waiting for us.”
“Wait.” He looked back at her. “I have broken policy upon policy for you. I should be cancelled, yet you’re promoting me. Why?”
She smiled slightly. “Over the years I’ve learned there are only two things that matter to you, two things you are truly passionate about.”
“My job…and you.”
“Yes, and because of our positions within Section, they have always been intertwined. However, in order for me to gauge Michael and Nikita’s leadership abilities, I needed you to make a choice. Your job or me. And in order for you to choose me, I had to give you a reason.”
“The call from Mr. Jones.” He chuckled. “Either we run away or we face separation or cancellation.”
“I knew you wouldn’t want to live without me, so I was fairly confident you’d agree.”
“Still, I chose love over duty, you over Section. I–”
“You did exactly what was expected of you. Exactly what I wanted you to do. No one will question my decision because it was mine to make. I choose the heads of all the departments, including Oversight, and I choose you.”
She began to walk away, and he followed her out of the office. By now, most of the operatives knew what had happened, and they were increasingly respectful as Madeline passed. Some of them looked surprised to see Paul, probably thinking he had been cancelled. He couldn’t stop smiling. Head of Oversight. He had been after the position since he first learned of it twenty-five years ago. And now…now it was his.
As they walked past the briefing table, he looked up at the empty Perch fondly. He had had a good run as Operations. Michael was a good choice to follow him, but he was still uncertain about Nikita. He had never liked her; she was too emotional. Emotions had no place in Section. However, Michael and Nikita as a team were unbeatable. Perhaps his beliefs were unfounded.
Michael, Nikita, and Walter were waiting outside of Van Access. Madeline approached her long-time assistant, taking his hands. “Will you be staying in Section?”
Walter nodded. “There’s no place for me at Center, unless you need a munitions expert.”
She shook her head. “Thank you for everything.” She leaned forward and kissed him on both cheeks, then looked at Michael and Nikita. “I’ll be watching you…” She smiled. “But I’m sure you’ll do fine.” She walked to the elevator.
Nikita tilted her head respectfully toward Paul. “Congratulations on your promotion.”
“And you,” he replied. He turned to the new Operations. “Take good care of Section, Michael.”
“I will.” He held out his hand, capturing Paul’s with a firm grasp. “Bonne chance.”
Paul nodded and, with one last look at Section, stepped through the large silver doorway and disappeared from sight.
Paul spent the three-hour flight drifting in and out of consciousness. He hadn’t slept in thirty-six hours, and exhaustion settled in when he finally had a chance to relax on the plane. He had wanted to talk to Madeline, to hear more about her schemes over the past twelve years, but she spent much of the time on the phone with Center. Eventually, he couldn’t keep his eyes open, and sleep claimed him.
He opened his eyes. Madeline was looking over him, and for a moment he forgot where he was. “Hi.”
“The limousine is waiting to take you to Oversight.”
“To take me? What about you?”
“I’ll be riding with you, but I won’t be staying. I have some business to tend to before I return to Center.”
He nodded and began collecting his things. Suddenly, it struck him: Center and Oversight were on different continents. After today, he and Madeline would rarely see each other. His heart stopped beating at the thought of being without her. His initial feeling of betrayal had passed once she had explained her reasoning; everything made sense in retrospect. They had always worked side by side. But now they really would be separated–and he didn’t like the idea.
“Madeline,” he called out as they walked across the tarmac to the car. He quickened his pace to walk beside her. “Will–”
Her cellular rang, and she reached for it. “Yes?”
Paul sighed as her conversation dragged on. He sat next to her in the back of the limo, watching the buildings pass by. He started to recognize the scenery; they were close to Oversight. He sighed inwardly.
Madeline snapped the phone shut and leaned back. “We just averted a political coup in one of our strongholds. Update your people when you get settled.”
“We’ll never see each other again, will we?” he blurted out, unconcerned with anything but her.
Startled, she gazed at him. “Of course we will.”
“But we’ll live thousands of miles apart.”
“When you own the world, distance is inconsequential.”
“It matters to me.” He looked into his lap, where his fingers were unconsciously twisting together. “But I guess the question is…does it matter to you?”
She reached for his hand and held it. “I’ve always been honest about my feelings for you.” She paused, a flicker of apprehension rushing through her. “Always.”
He let out a shaky breath. Just a few hours ago, she had professed her love for him, and afterwards he was left wondering if her words had been part of her scheme. Now he knew…and it frightened him more than if she had said she lied.
Madeline turned his cheek toward her and lightly kissed him, smiling. She pulled away, only to be brought into a passionate embrace. She welcomed it, let it consume her, intent on making up for all the times she had to keep her feelings in check.
The car door clicked open, and Paul tentatively broke their kiss. He had to leave, but he wasn’t ready. There was never enough time. He sighed, sliding along the seat and into the cool evening air. The chauffeur shut the door and returned to the driver’s seat.
Madeline rolled down the window. “Paul.”
He looked at her. “Yes?”
“Although my office is at Center,” she began, a glint of humor in her eyes, “my business can be conducted from anywhere in the world.” Slowly, he began to smile, and she returned the gaze. “I’ll be back.”
Paul’s grin deepened into laughter as he watched the car drive out of sight. It certainly wasn’t the ending he had expected…but it was much better than the alternative. Still smiling, he opened the door of the building and stepped inside to his new life.