Written August 2001
Synopsis: Trapped in the Perch, Operations and Nikita share personal stories and a pack of cigarettes.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. No infringement is intended.
An hour had passed, yet they still hadn’t spoken to each other. Birkoff would occasionally interrupt the silence with a progress report and they would reply, but no other words were said. If circumstances had been favorable prior to their entrapment, things might have been different. But Operations had been angrily describing Nikita’s latest display of humanity, and Nikita had been heatedly defending herself, when the bio containment doors of the Perch had closed. There had been no emergency to make the doors shut; now, the emergency was getting them opened again.
Operations watched the activities below, as he had done for the previous hour, arms folded across his chest. On any other day, with any other operative, this might have been bearable. As with much of his life the past few weeks, Fate was not smiling upon him.
Nikita sat on the floor, slumped against the wall, staring at the back of her superior. If you’re not the head elephant, the view never changes, she mused. He seemed to think staring down on Comm would make things go faster. So far, it hadn’t worked. Bored, she tapped her hands on the carpet soundlessly.
She lifted her head. “What?”
“You can hear that?”
“I can feel it.”
She wrapped her arms around her knees, taking in her surroundings as if for the first time. “Why don’t you have a desk?”
“A desk?” he grumbled.
“Yeah, for work. And some chairs. It would make things more comfortable.”
“It’s not meant to be comfortable. It’s a perch–literally. Do birds have chairs in their perches?”
“Ah, so you’re a bird.” She chuckled slightly. “An eagle…maybe a hawk…or maybe a vulture.”
He finally turned, glaring at her in annoyance. “Your point?”
“I don’t have one.”
She laughed again, shaking her head.
“What’s so funny?”
“You.” She stared up at him, growing serious. “We’re going to be here a while; we might as well call a truce. No more hostility.”
“Fine,” he agreed harshly. “For now.” As he turned away, she noticed a slight relaxation in his posture, and she smiled.
“Tell me about the Section.”
Operations leaned on the ledge along the windows, arms folded across his chest in an effort to get comfortable. “What about the Section?”
“You must know a lot about it; you’ve been here a long time.”
He chuckled slightly. “I’ve been here since before you were born, Nikita.”
She tilted her head, interested in hearing the stories. “How did you get here?”
“The same way as everyone else: recruitment.”
“And what terrible crime did you commit?”
“Not everyone is here because of a crime.”
“Ah, so you possessed some special skill?”
He nodded. “Military leadership, strong resistance to torture, and fierce loyalty to my government.”
“The model Section op,” she said gently.
“Section was my dream. I helped build it. So did Walter, so did Madeline.”
“What crimes did they commit?”
“The recruitment of criminals was a program I implemented ten years ago, after Adrian’s retirement. Anyone brought in before that possessed a special talent or skill set necessary to Section’s survival. Back then, we were all working toward one goal that we all believed in.”
“Saving the world.”
He shook his head in sad recollection, unable–or unwilling–to say anything further. He fumbled in his pockets until he found a crumpled package of cigarettes and a half-empty lighter. He lit one of the slender sticks, giving Nikita a quick glance. “You want one?”
She shook her head politely. “I’m trying to quit.”
“Yeah, well–” He grunted, taking a long drag. “I’ve been trying to quit for years.” He blew the smoke into the air, watching it billow and fade away.
“Paul, can you hear me?”
Smiling, Operations tapped the communications device, turning to look for Madeline on the level below. “I’m here. What’s the story?”
“We have an idea, but it’s going to take some time. We need to get into the central ducts and manually override the security lock.”
“Will that work?”
“We’re not certain, but we haven’t had luck with anything else.”
There was a slight pause. “Michael and I will be going together for safety reasons. If all goes according to plan, you’ll be out of there in an hour.” She ended the audio conference, and Operations watched her walk across the common area with Michael, her eyes never once drifting toward the Perch. His face clouded over.
Nikita raised her eyebrows in amusement. “Uh oh.”
“What?” When she didn’t answer, he faced her and snapped, “What is that supposed to mean?”
She laughed. “You don’t need to be jealous of Michael.”
“You think I’m jealous?” He chuckled, “That’s ridiculous,” and turned away again.
She smiled at his back. “Whatever you say.”
“Why do you hate this place?”
Nikita drew back on the cigarette and glanced at Operations, who sat beside her. “Section?”
He nodded, head against the wall. “A woman like you, with so much humanity, surely must want world peace.”
“Of course I do…but I also want freedom.”
“No one is truly free in this world.”
She sighed, resting her arm on her knee, cigarette poised between her fingers. “Well, why do you love this place?”
“What’s not to love?” She rolled her eyes, prompting him to continue, and he sighed. “I believe in what we’re doing, that it’s helping the world. I believe it’s right, and I believe it’s just.”
“And what about your methods? You love the ends, but what about the means?”
His voice grew quiet. “We do what we have to do, Nikita.”
“It’s been an hour and a half; why haven’t we heard from Michael and Madeline?”
Operations opened his eyes. “Perhaps things didn’t go as planned.”
Nikita sighed, walking around absently, tapping her chin with her fingertips.
“Don’t worry. Michael is in good hands.”
She stopped and looked at him. He was smiling. “You have a lot of faith in Madeline.”
“She hasn’t given me a reason to doubt her.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
He grinned slightly. “You think she’s cold and heartless.”
“And calculating and manipulative.” Nikita folded her arms across her chest. “I’m surprised she hasn’t tried to overthrow you.”
This time, he laughed. “I’m sure she would, if she thought it would be beneficial.”
“There must be some fabulous perks for the second-in-command.” She knelt beside him. “Sometimes, I think I understand her, and other times…”
“She frustrates you so much you want to scream?”
She chuckled. “Yeah.” She regarded him curiously. “How long have you know her?”
He took a breath. “Fourteen years.”
“How did you meet?”
“On a mission in the Ukraine.” He smiled in recollection, giving a small chuckle. “She had been in Section for almost as long as me, although she was a psych op, not a cold op, so we had never met before. Things were different back then; all of the Sections were combined as one. Established teams usually went together, giving you few chances to meet new people. Anyway… Madeline was trained in nearly every aspect of Section work, but she hadn’t had much field experience, so she joined my team.” He paused, drawing from his cigarette. “We ended up on a lot of missions together after that–turns out she made a fabulous field operative. I’m not sure she liked me too much though; I was a lot like you.”
He nodded slowly, his expression soft. “I let my humanity get in the way from time to time. Most of those times, it was regarding Madeline.” Nikita smiled at that. “She saved my life once…but she would never let me save hers, no matter how hard I tried.”
His smooth shift in meaning did not go unnoticed. “Section destroyed her?”
“She destroyed herself.” He stared at an invisible spot on the wall. “You’ve heard about her sister, the guilt she carries regarding that incident?”
“Yes. She was very young.”
“She shut herself off after that, isolated herself from most human contact. Wouldn’t let herself feel anything. And she’s been that way ever since. On rare occasions, her emotions have become apparent, but she usually keeps them tightly controlled. Most people think of her as indifferent and unfeeling, but they don’t know her like I do.”
A small, warm smile spread across her face, and she quietly said, “You love her.”
He opened his mouth to say something, his eyes blinking tightly. “No, I…” He paused to collect himself, shaking his head. He looked at her, the truth clear on his face but not in his voice. “No.”
There was a loud clunk and hiss, and the doors slid up to their normal positions. Operations and Nikita stood up, looking around in slight disbelief. They exchanged indiscernible glances before heading downstairs.
Birkoff smiled at them. “Welcome back.”
“Where’s Madeline and Michael?” Operations asked.
“They’re in the infirmary. They had some problems with their equipment. We almost lost Madeline.”
Nikita noticed Operations pale slightly, and his voice nearly cracked when he asked, “What happened?”
“A faulty hook. She was a few feet ahead of Michael in a vertical shaft when it broke. She started to fall, and he grabbed her arm. The force of it dislocated her shoulder. If they hadn’t gone together…” He couldn’t finish the sentence, turning back to his computer screen.
Operations started toward Medical, and Nikita followed him silently. His muscles were tense, his knuckles white from clenching his fists, his pace swift and determined. Operatives they passed quickly stepped out of his way.
Madeline was sitting on a bed, legs dangling over the edge. Michael stood beside her, hands clasped behind his back. They were dressed like ninjas, all in black with ponytails holding their hair. Except for the sling on Madeline’s arm, they were hard to tell apart.
Operations immediately relaxed when he realized she was all right, but he was still concerned. He walked over to them, Nikita close behind. She stood next to Michael, observing the exchange between their superiors.
“Are you all right?” he asked, clearly worried. He touched the side of her face briefly, as if he was giving her a check-up of his own.
“I’m fine. I see the manual override worked.”
“Birkoff told me what happened,” he continued. “We’ll cancel the people who manufactured the faulty hook.”
Both women chuckled, and Madeline looked up at the blonde. “Hello, Nikita.”
“I’m glad you’re all right, Madeline.”
“Yes, thanks to Michael. I’m glad we decided to go together.” She slid off the edge of the bed, and Operations immediately tried to assist her. She gave him a look, but he ignored it. She lowered her voice. “The doctors say it’ll take a few weeks to heal. I’ll be fine.”
“At least let me help you to your office.”
“I don’t need any help. It’s just my shoulder.”
“I’ll help you,” Nikita offered. “You’ll need to change out of those clothes.”
Her eyes remained on Operations for a brief moment before she turned to Nikita. “Thank you.” She smiled at both of the men as they left the infirmary.
Operations heard Nikita walk into the Perch, but he continued to stare out the windows. “Are you sure you want to be in here?”
“At least we know how to get out now.”
“Next time, we’ll just shoot our way out.” He turned slightly. “How’s Madeline?”
“She’s good. She’s showered and changed. Just like new.” She handed him a small package. “Here.” He looked at it. It was a pack of cigarettes, his preferred brand. “To replace the pack we smoked while we were stuck in here…although you really should quit.”
“There are a lot of things I should do,” he said, putting his gift in his inner coat pocket. “Doesn’t mean I’ll do them.” He looked at her again. “Thank you.”
She smiled. It was really the first time he had thanked her for anything. “You’re welcome.” She started to walk away.
She turned around slowly. “Yes?”
“Your compassion is a very admirable thing.” She started to smile again. “But not in Section. It interferes with missions and could endanger lives of both operatives and innocents. Discipline yourself to get the job done.”
She sighed inwardly. He was finishing the conversation they had had earlier, as if the entire Perch imprisonment had never occurred. “Yes, sir.” She pivoted around again and walked out.
The truce was over but not forgotten.