nell65: (by roulade)
[personal profile] nell65
*****

Quinn looked up at Mick, who was hovering restlessly around the edges of the dinning room. “They’ve found the guards.”



Mick raised his brows. “Alive?”

“No.” Quinn shook her head. “No sign of Margaret or Baron.”

“Damn.”

“Michael says to brief the girls. They’re going to spend some time at the site and then follow the most obvious exit route to the edge of our communications range.”

Mick gaped in shock. “Brief the girls?” He gestured at Michael and Nikita’s remaining daughters with his head. “These girls?”

“Yes.” Quinn held his eyes until he raised his hands in surrender.

Mick turned to face Isabella, Katherine, Sophie and Gabrielle, who had gathered into a tight knot in the middle of the room when Quinn gave the update.

“Okay.” He rubbed his hands together, coughed uncomfortably and began. “Your Uncle Mick has some bad news for you.”

“Uncle?” Gabrielle frowned. “You aren’t our uncle.”

“Honorary uncle, then.”

Kate snorted derisively and her expression suggested that she regarded Mick like something nasty stuck on her shoe. Her tone dripped with adolescent challenge as she explained in tiny words, “You don’t decide that. Mom and dad choose who our extra uncles are – and I bet neither one of them would do you with a ten-foot pole. Tell us about Margaret.”

For a time-stopping moment, Quinn saw in Kate the brash insolence that had carried Nikita through the streets at an age not so very much older than Kate was now. If the situation hadn’t been so dire, she might have actually damaged herself laughing at Mick’s expression of horrified recognition. As it was, her slightly hysterical giggles erupted in a choked kind of sniggering.

“Excuse me,” Mick said to the girls, then he spun on Quinn, grabbed her by the upper arm and hauled her from her chair and into the hall. “What the hell?”

Quinn got herself under control. “I’m the only ‘honorary aunt’ in their lives right now. Or uncle, for that matter.”

Mick could only manage a strangled sound.

“They do have real aunts you know, and an uncle by marriage and cousins and everything.”

Mick made the same sound.

Quinn took a little pity on him. “Nikita’s pretty hostile to secrets. And I pre-date all of them anyway.”

Mick shook his whole body, like he was trying to shake off ants. “I’m just still coming to terms with all this.” He shot her a skeptical look. “Michael just never seemed your type.”

“God you’re dimwitted. Michael isn’t ‘my type.’ He’s the price of admission.”

“Oh.” Mick blinked a few times. “Oh. I see.”

“Do you?”

“Ah. No.” Mick shook his head sharply. “Michael was always a possessive, jealous son-of-a-bitch where Nikita was concerned.”

“Yes. Quite. Still true.” Quinn sighed. “But, Nikita explained to him what she wanted, and he accepted that.”

“Why?”

“He doesn’t like to say ‘no’ to her.”

“He used to say ‘no’ to her all the damned time!”

“Those were not the good years Mick.”

“Ah. He learned then.”

“Example number five million and one why he’s a smarter man than you will ever be.” Quinn pointed to the dining room. “Briefing Mick. Now.”

Mick didn’t move. Instead, he thrust his hands into his pockets and tilted his head in confusion. “Why do you put up with the arrangement?”

“Why, after almost twenty years, did you risk having your brain melted out your nose to tip them off about the Section?”

Mick opened his mouth to reply, and then closed it again. He considered her quietly for a moment, then he said, “Heroes and sidekicks, yeah?”

Despite herself, Quinn smiled back at him, suddenly understanding why neither Michael nor Nikita had killed him yet, despite endless provocation. “Yeah.”

Walking back into the other room, they discovered that Sophie and Gabrielle were now sitting at the center table, with Katherine and Isabella standing over their shoulders, eyes watchful and expressions grim.

Isabella, always the spokesperson for the group, said, “Okay, ‘Uncle’ Mick,” raising her brows and not quite sneering as she flung the title back in his face, “Someone took Margaret. Who and why?”

Mick shot another agonized look at Quinn, and then turned to face his interrogator. “Okay. Yes. You figured that out correctly. Margaret has been taken by a man your mother, your parents, knew years ago when they had different jobs.”

Katherine let out an exasperated sniff. “If you mean the Section, say so.” Her glare could have frozen blood, “ ‘Uncle’ Mick.”

“Look, obviously, I’m not ‘that kind’ of uncle.”

Isabella said, “No. You aren’t any kind of uncle. Not to us.”

“And how do they know about the Section, anyway?” Mick rolled frantic eyes at Quinn.

Quinn made an incredulous face at him and said, “Nikita. Hostile to secrets. Past, present and future. Remember?”

Mick held her stare for a long beat, then turned to face the girls again. “Some twenty years ago, your parents crossed paths with a ten year old boy named Jerome. He was a Section project in telepathy and telekinesis, bred and trained, essentially, to be a human blood hound, tracing thoughts, not scents.”

“What’s telekinesis?” Sophie asked.

Katherine touched her shoulder and said, “I’ll explain later.”

Mick went on, “Your parents were the only two people to ever treat him, even for just a short time, like a normal child rather than a freak of nature. It helped him see other possibilities for himself. After the Sections closed he was able to live a fairly normal life, with the aid and support of his,” Mick hesitated a second, “girlfriend.” He shook his head, and continued, “Sadly, she died of cancer five years ago. After he lost her, Jerome remembered your parents. He has been working to recreate the Sections ever since, so they could all go home, him, Nikita and Michael.”

Isabella frowned. “So, why would he take Margaret?”

“We don’t know, unfortunately.”

Katherine examined Mick thoughtfully, and then said, “He’s jealous of us, isn’t he.”

Mick’s shoulders sagged. “We think so. Yes.”

“Will he hurt Margaret?” Isabella asked.

Mick met her gaze head on. “We don’t know.”

“So what now?” she asked.

Quinn answered. “While we wait for the team to get back, let’s get everything re-packed. My hunch is that we will be moving on shortly. And Sophie and Gabrielle need to get out of their pajamas and into some clothes.”

They had just finished sorting out the bags when sounds from the lobby alerted them to the return of Michael, Nikita, Adam and their team, which was much larger now as they seemed to have picked up Section operatives along the way, and a second MSF squad.

When they reached the ground floor, Michael was already issuing orders to Mick, requesting in his polite ‘not a request but actually a demand’ way that Mick turn over to them copies of every file they had on Jerome. Mick assured him that the files were already being sent. Then he looked at his remaining daughters, and at some unspoken signal they launched themselves into his arms. Quinn and Nikita had wondered for years how he managed to not fall over under the onslaught, but all the practice continued to pay off. Katherine broke off from the mass hug first and turned to wrap her arms around Nikita, burying her face in her mother’s shoulder. In another moment Michael emerged from the scrum with Gabrielle in his arms, and he headed for the dining room.

Once they had all reassembled, Nikita said, “Mick. How badly compromised is our apartment?”

Mick scrunched up his face. “Badly. I wouldn’t have needed to ask you any embarrassing questions earlier if you’d gone straight home.”

Nikita closed her eyes for a moment, in rage and despair both Quinn was sure. Then she looked at Mick. “Even the bathrooms?”

Mick shrugged. “I’m not in charge of that, but probably.”

Quinn burst out, “Fucking perverts.”

Mick shrugged again. “Yeah.”

Michael said, “Quinn? How much can be disabled?”

“With the right tools? Most of it, probably.”

“Can we at least get privacy back in the bathrooms?” Nikita asked.

“I think so. With professional help.”

Mick started, “I can call-“

Four people interrupted him all at once, as Michael, Nikita, Quinn and Adam all said, “No!”

Michael said, “We will call our own contacts.”

Nikita sighed, “Okay. Girls – it’s up to you. We can stay here at this hotel, or we can go home, knowing that in our apartment we will be under surveillance, all the time, even possibly in your bedrooms.”

Quinn was not surprised when the vote came in at unanimous for going home.

*****

A crew dispatched from French Military Intelligence arrived at their apartment not long after they did. Nikita stood with her shoulder brushing Michael’s, watching together as the technicians overloaded the circuits throughout the old building, frying everything tied directly into the building’s main current. Tiny bursts of light and smoke and small popping noises erupted throughout the rooms she could see. While electricians worked to restore the fried circuitry, other technicians came through with detectors and sensors, collecting almost two dozen small, stand alone bugs before they finished. After that, another crew installed dampeners in the bathrooms and bedrooms.

While the technicians worked on disabling as much of the surveillance as they could, not that Nikita believed they’d ever get it all, she and the girls unpacked and put away everything they had brought home. Michael, Adam and J.B., along with their team, re-established their networks and equipment in Michael’s office. Quinn sat in the living room combing through the data on Jerome sent by Mick.

Knowing that all was being done that could be done, Nikita concentrated on being fully present with her children. Once they unpacked, she sat down on the floor with Sophie and Gabrielle to help them re-organize their toys according to their current schemes and stories.

Eventually they lost themselves in their games, and Nikita went in search of Kate and Izzy. She found them on the balcony, sitting with Michael on the glider, one of them on each side of him, his arms around their shoulders. They weren’t talking; they were just rocking gently as they watched the Paris skyline together, gleaming and smoking in the bright mid-winter sun.

Rather than disturb them, she collected Adam from the office and they headed out to get enough groceries to hold everyone together for the next day or so. After they unloaded everything in the kitchen, Adam caught her arm. “Mom. We’ll get her back.”

Nikita smiled against the wetness in her eyes. “I know.”

“You got me back. We can get her back.”

“Oh Adam.” Her voice caught on a sob. “When did you get so grown up?”

“I’m not all that grown up yet.”

Adam’s voice was soothing and his arms were strong and solid as he pulled her close, but she felt the wetness on his unshaven cheeks and she remembered the terrified six year old he had been, just yesterday and so very long ago.

“Thank you.” She kissed his forehead, then leaned back as she brushed away his tears with her hands. “You’re right. We’ll get her home again.”

The hours slipped away as they waited for Jerome to reach out to them. Quinn’s work with Section’s files resulted in teams being dispatched to all of Jerome’s known places of residence, to his university, the hospital where Josephine had been treated, and where she had died, and the cemetery that held her ashes. Everything was clean except for his current apartment, which showed every sign of having been abandoned in haste, but with no clues for where he might have gone.

Quinn shook her head dispiritedly. “Psych profiles aren’t my strength, especially when working with someone as far outside of the curve as Jerome, but everything suggests that he is going to contact you. It’s you he wants, not Margaret. I also don’t think he will hurt her, because he wants you to come take care of him. I think he is rational enough to recognize a counterproductive strategy when he sees one.”

“So why did he take her?”

“Opportunity, I think. For information. For a point of contact. To touch you, but at a safe distance. To make sure you won’t refuse to see him.”

By the time evening began to fall, they had all drifted into the large, comfortable living room. Sophie and Gabrielle were curled up on the big sofa next to Michael as he read aloud to them. Nikita sat on one of the smaller couches with her arm around Isabella, who rested her head on Nikita’s shoulder. Katherine sat on the ground next to them, leaning up against Nikita’s knee as Nikita combed her hair with her fingers, all of them listening to Michael’s voice. Adam sat at a nearby table, working quietly on a laptop. Quinn was at the table in the dining room.

The quiet was broken when J.B. rushed in. “He’s transmitting now.”

They quickly gathered in Michael’s office, all of them staring at the large screen set up in the middle of the room. Nikita opened the connection and said, “Jerome?”

The screen was still dark, but a man’s voice replied, “Nikita? You know it’s me?”

“Yes. People from the Section have been telling us a lot about you today.”

“I’m sure they have.”

“How is Margaret?”

“She’s fine.”

“Will you let her come home?”

“Her home, here in Paris?”

“Yes. Our apartment here in Paris, with her family.”

“And if I wanted to be part of your family?”

“Then you should be here too.”

“How could you forget me, Nikita? I thought you cared about me.”

“I never forgot you, Jerome. I did care about you. I’d like to know you today, learn who you’ve grown up to be.”

“Michael?”

“Yes. I’m here Jerome.”

“Is Adam with you tonight?”

“Yes.”

“You got him back, when he was a child.”

“Yes. I did.”

“You left me in Section.”

“The last time we saw you, Jerome, you were with Josephine. You were happy to be going with her.”

“She left me.”

Nikita said, “I’m sure she didn’t want too, Jerome.”

“No. But what she wanted didn’t matter. What I wanted didn’t matter.”

“Jerome. Can I speak to Margaret, please? I’m sure she is frightened.”

“Yes. She is.”

Margaret’s strained face appeared on the monitor.

“Hi Mom.”

“How are you doing, sweetheart?”

“I’m rolling with things.”

“You are such a brave girl. I love you and I am so proud of you.”

Margaret flashed a quick, tremulous smile, then said. “Dad?”

“Yes, Margaret?”

“Jerome says for you, all of you, the whole family, to meet us at the Palais Bercy in two hours. The Section is to make sure it is secured and cordoned off. You all have to come. Jerome wants to see everyone in the family, all together.”

“We will be there. Can I bring anything for you, or for Baron?”

Margaret smiled nervously. “Can you bring Baron some food? Jerome didn’t realize how much a big dog eats.”

“Okay. And for you?”

“My coat and some dry shoes. I’m cold, dad.”

The monitor went dark.

*****

They arrived at the big stadium twenty minutes ahead of time. The Section had managed to close off all the surrounding streets, mostly, as far as Nikita could tell, by calling in French military police.

Using Margaret’s hint, they had determined that Jerome had never really left the vicinity of river. They must have spent the day in the vast tunnel system under the city, making their way from the Left Bank to the stadium they were in now.

In the stadium parking lot a man dressed in black stepped out of a dark van and introduced himself as Cassius, level five operative. He explained the profile. A perimeter team would go first, ten operatives lining the field. Next, their family would enter the stadium; each of their remaining children flanked by two armed guards, along with Quinn and Mick, each with one guard, and herself and Michael, also with a personal guard each.

“No.” Michael said. “Guards on our children, but not on us.”

“Numbers overwhelm him.”

Nikita said, “So, send the extra team in with the first group. Same number overall.”

Cassius shrugged. “Okay.”

“Are they here already?” she asked.

“We think so. Our scans show multiple heat signatures, but Jerome has demonstrated an ability to confuse electronic sensors in the past, and we aren’t sure which ones are real and which ones are ghosts.”

Fifteen minutes later they filed into the field according to the profile.

Two hours exactly after Jerome’s transmission, Nikita called, “Jerome?”

A shadow detached itself from a darkened entrance on the far side of the field. As they moved into the light, Nikita could see it was Margaret, with Baron padding next to her on his leash, and on her other side, a man who must be Jerome.

They stopped about six meters away from Michael and Nikita, well inside the circle cast by the stadium lights. Margaret was pale but seemed calm. Her face and hands were clean, but her jeans and sweatshirt were damp and muddy, especially at the knees and elbows. She nodded once at Nikita, then shifted her gaze back to Jerome, obviously unwilling to move further without his permission.

Nikita looked at Jerome as well, trying to find a point of resemblance to the child she barely remembered, and failing. He had grown up to be a slim man, just over medium height with non-descript brown hair in need of a cut, a prominent nose and soft brown eyes. She would have passed him on the street without a second glance. “Hi Jerome.”

“Hi Nikita.”

“Will you let Margaret come to us?”

“Not yet.”

“Okay. What shall we do instead?”

“First, we need to get rid of all the extra people. They aren’t part of this. They don’t belong here.”

“They’re here just to make sure that we all get home safely.”

“I don’t want them here.”

“Jerome….” Nikita trailed off as she watched all the operatives in the stadium begin to go glassy eyed and start to waver, and then blood began to trickle out their noses. “Jerome!” she cried, starting forward. Michael’s hand on her shoulder stopped her. “Jerome! No! Please don’t hurt them!”

Jerome just stared into the middle distance, not really watching anything or anyone as the men and women from the Section, from MSF and from the French army began to topple over and begin thrashing on the ground. When they saw what was happening, both Sophie and Gabrielle started to scream in high, thin voices. Sophie was too frightened to do anything but stand frozen between her thrashing guards and wail, but Gabrielle broke and started to run for Nikita. Adam stopped her, scooping her up in his arms and holding her tightly as she buried her face in his neck and whimpered in fear.

Once all the operatives were still, Jerome refocused on Nikita and Michael. “That’s better,” he said. He said, “Tell me why you don’t want to come back to the Section. Tell me why you don’t want to come home. I don’t understand.”

“I hated it there, Jerome. Surely you knew that about me, even back then.”

“Yes. But it will be different now. I promise.” His expression turned eager and excited. “I’ll make sure everyone does exactly what you tell them, with none of the bad stuff you hated so. I can do that for you. I can make it happen. We could be an amazing team.”

“I was able to leave the Section a long time ago, Jerome, at the same time you did. Just like you and Josephine, I built a life outside, one that I love very much, and don’t want to give up.”

Jerome looked petulant. “With your family.”

“Yes. With my family.”

“With Michael. And his son. And your daughters.”

“Yes. With Michael. And Adam. And our daughters.”

He raised his chin, and said, with some satisfaction, “You fear me.”

“Yes.” Nikita nodded. “And for you. The world isn’t kind to people like you Jerome. Let us help you.”

“Make me part of your family?”

“Make you a friend, to start with.”

“Not good enough.”

“Jerome. I don’t want to promise you something that might not work out.”

“Why wouldn’t it work out?”

“Well, you might not like being part of a big family.”

“Then, let’s make it smaller.” Jerome looked straight at Michael. “One son is enough, don’t you think?”

Jerome turned his gaze to Adam, saying, “Don’t move, Michael. Adam, you’d better put Gabrielle down, so you don’t drop her when you fall.”

Adam’s eyes started to loose focus and less than a full second later a thin trickle of blood started to seep out of his nose. He let Gabrielle, already screaming again, slip gently to the ground to stand at his feet.

Nikita yelled, “Jerome! Stop it!” at the same instant that Margaret turned, stomped on his foot and then elbowed him hard in the stomach, breaking his concentration. As Jerome sagged, Margaret started to run for Michael and Nikita. Confused by the screaming and by Margaret’s sudden movement, Baron broke away from her and launched himself at Jerome, a howling growl bursting from him as he flew through the air. Jerome spun toward the seventy kilos of flying dog and, a look of terror on his face, flung out his hand, sending Baron hurtling in the opposite direction. Baron landed with an audibly bone-crunching thump, and lay still.

Margaret, seeing her dog fall, changed course, veering towards Baron’s body.

Looking horrified, Jerome cried, “Margaret, no! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt him. Come back here!”

Michael caught Adam as he buckled to the ground. He yelled, “Jerome. Let them go.”

Margaret reached Baron’s side, falling to her knees as she shook him roughly, calling his name.

In an instant she was back on her feet, racing toward Jerome, screaming as she ran. “You killed him! You killed my dog! You killed all these people! You promised me no one would get hurt if I did what you said! You promised me! And now you’re killing my brother! You fucking liar!”

Nikita started to run too, calling, “Margaret, No! Leave him be. Stop! Now!”

Jerome turned to face Margaret, his face full of dismayed shock even as he raised his arms to ward her off, launching her into the air as effortlessly as he had Baron.

Nikita pivoted and raced toward her daughter’s airborne body, her arms stretching to catch her before she hit the ground, knowing already she would be too late, when she heard shots ring out; two, four, six. She saw the bullets enter Jerome’s chest, blood flying in the bright stadium lights, his torso jerking from the impact.

Margaret’s body crumpled to the ground just two strides in front of her, and she turned and looked behind her to see who had fired even as she slid to her knees beside Margaret, reaching to feel for her heartbeat.

Isabella and Katherine were two meters behind Michael, Adam, and Gabrielle. They stood close together, feet planted shoulders’ width apart in the stance she and Michael had taught them, each holding a two-handed, straight-armed grip on the guns they must have taken from the bodies of their fallen guards. As Nikita stared in shock, they each fired one last round into Jerome’s corpse. Then they slowly relaxed their stances, dropping their hands and looking at each other and nodding, some message passing between them that only they could see.

Nikita sought Michael’s eyes even as he turned his face toward her. She held his gaze as she shook her head. Margaret was dead.

*****

For Quinn the crucial events that night in the stadium would always be a series of unrelated sounds and still images, images that she could never quite get to run together in her head even though all of it had been caught by the Section’s cameras, and from several angles. She was also not sure how many of the images were from her own eyes, or from the videos. It seemed like she remembered more than she really could have seen from her position behind Nikita, Michael and their children, where she had been rooted to the ground until it was all over. It had all happened in less than five minutes, counting from the time they walked into the stadium.

Sophie and Gabrielle screaming. Adam catching Gabrielle mid-stride. Adam slumping to the ground in his father’s arms, eyes closed and blood trickling over his lips and down his chin. Margaret elbowing a shocked Jerome in the gut. Margaret running for Nikita. Baron howling in mid air. Margaret yelling at Jerome. Nikita falling to her knees beside Margaret, her face already ravaged with grief to come. Isabella and Katherine with guns in their hands and death in their eyes.

After that Quinn could remember movement, though it was all hazy, like a bad dream sequence in a cheap movie. She had gone to Katherine and Isabella, taking the guns from their unresisting fingers, their expressions slack with shock; deeper, darker emotions swimming at the backs of their light eyes. Mick had gone to Michael and helped him lift Adam to his feet, weakened and wobbling, but otherwise without permanent damage from Jerome’s assault. Michael hurried to Nikita’s side, where she was curled over Margaret, whispering to her and stroking her hair back from her face. He fell to his knees beside Nikita and carefully pulled her away from their fallen child. Then he examined Margaret for himself. Only after he carefully gathered her up and cradled her in his arms, tears already falling down his cheeks as he cried without making a sound, did Quinn realize that Margaret had not survived her fall.

It was about then that Quinn had realized that Sophie was still frozen in place and screaming, a high-pitched wail of terrified hysteria. Nikita must have realized it just a heartbeat or two sooner, for she was already pushing herself to her feet and making her way to Sophie’s side.

Then Cassius strode onto the field, more operatives called from somewhere at his heels, and took charge of cleaning everything up.

They pushed everyone into ambulances, calming the sudden flare of resistance by assuring them, truthfully, that these were real ambulances, headed for a real world hospital. J.B. and a group of operatives and doctors from MSF met them at the emergency room. The MSF people quickly claimed their own, firmly brushing aside any and all efforts of the regular hospital staff to interfere. No one other than Margaret and Adam had taken any physical hurt at all, but they were all numb and frozen with shock and grief, even Quinn. Only Mick escaped and he was surprisingly soothing and efficient as he and J.B. worked with the doctors and nurses of MSF to warm them up while pressing liquids and calories on anyone passing by.

There was another awful moment when Michael wouldn’t, or couldn’t, relinquish Margaret’s body to the doctors. He stood, straight-backed and pale under his tan, holding Margaret cradled against his chest, her head loose on his shoulder, flaxen hair gleaming against the dark brown of his sweater, and he could not let go. Not until Nikita arrived at his side and put her head close to his, saying things no one but he could hear as she stroked his shoulders and his arms. At last she put her hands on his, and with their gazes locked, together they laid their daughter down.

There was a terrifying, fleeting second when Quinn thought Michael might step back, turn on his heel and leave them all there, but then Nikita murmured something else to him. He nodded and went to Katherine and Isabella, folding them both into his arms and pressing their heads against his shoulders. That was when they both finally collapsed, shaking as they sobbed against his neck.

Somehow the MSF teams got everyone back to Nikita and Michael’s apartment and put them all to bed, using every trick they had at their disposal to get them to sleep. In Michael’s case, she was pretty sure it was intravenous drugs. She herself went the traditional route, sitting silently in the kitchen with J.B. and Mick, downing shot after shot of vodka. They matched her, glass for glass.

*****

Jason arrived from New Orleans and Jasmine from Los Angeles within fifteen hours of Margaret’s death. They took charge of planning her funeral and all the related events, rudely brushing aside the efforts of Nikita’s many woman friends from her MSF and public health circles. Nikita knew she would eventually have to soothe her friends’ hurt feelings, but she also knew any funeral they planned by committee would be un-endurable for Michael.

Nikita gave Jason, Jasmine and Quinn instructions to organize an event that closely echoed Walter’s funeral four years earlier, using the same chapel, the same reception hall, the same simple, vaguely neo-pagan service. She also asked them to respect Margaret’s passionate desire for everything to be normal, regular, and conventional.

Nikita’s sister-in-law Genevieve, her husband and their three grown children drove in from Marseilles the next day. They took rooms in a hotel close to the apartment, and her brother-in-law commandeered her kitchen. He made sure that there was an ocean of food and drink constantly available to the swarms of people that were flowing through; family, friends, security teams, medical staff, counselors. Nikita lost track of the names, and after a while she quit worrying about it. She trusted Quinn and J.B. to make sure that no one got in who didn’t belong.

Nikita had always been a little mystified by Adam’s generally private and yet omnivorous sex life, and so she didn’t know whether it was horrifying or hilarious or both that within thirty-six hours at least a half dozen current and former partners were in Paris, swirling around him in a vortex of near-smothering, intensely prickly and jealous concern.

Most of Nikita’s time and energy was taken by Michael, fighting to keep him anchored in the present and to hold him together long enough to get through the very public events of the week. She ruthlessly turned their daughters into her agents and collaborators. She pushed them on him, urging them all to hug him and kiss him as often as possible, knowing he wouldn’t thrust them away and it would keep him from burrowing in on himself so far he couldn’t get out again. She even violated the longest standing, most ironclad parenting rule she and Michael had ever had, and invited the girls to sleep the full night their bed if they wished. It was both reassuring and extremely worrisome that Michael didn’t object. They slept in a twisted pile, badly for the most part, but together.

During the second night she realized Sophie was creeping away to sleep in Margaret’s bed. So, the third night, she left Michael to Katherine and Gabrielle and she dozed while curled around Sophie, who whimpered in her sleep almost all night long.

Nikita also stayed at his side during all the meetings and debriefings they faced. Everyone who had been even tangentially involved in the final days of Jerome’s life wanted to hear directly from them about their impressions and experiences. They were particularly interested in Jerome’s newly demonstrated ability to take out some two-dozen operatives without, apparently, needing any recovery time before attacking again. At least a few people suggested that they should have stopped Isabella and Katherine from killing him, even that it betrayed a lack of true parental sensibility that their pretty, pretty daughters had known what to do with a gun. They also would have liked to speak with the girls, but Michael and Nikita absolutely forbade it, the wild fierceness in Michael’s eyes convincing even the most determined to respect their wishes.

Others – officers, politicians, officials – wanted to personally express condolences and sympathy, and offer, sincerely or not, to help in any way in the weeks to come. And, of course, there was the Agency, and the Section. Now that they all knew that they all knew, the current Agency directors offered her and Michael both positions in the re-booted Section One. Michael laughed wildly in their faces, and then pulled his own gun on them. Mick hustled the Agency directors out one door while she talked Michael down and out the other.

Theirs was not the only loss, and not the only funeral of the week. Section operatives were disposed of anonymously, of course, and most of the MSF operatives and French soldiers killed by Jerome were not from Paris, and their bodies were sent home to their families. But there were still a half dozen funerals or memorial services held for those with family in the city. Nikita felt that she and Michael would create too great a commotion if they tried to attend, but she was reluctant to ignore them altogether. It was, after all, her fault they had died. So she turned to Adam, Isabella and Katherine. Katherine declined in a dramatic fit of weeping and wailing about being asked to do something so ghoulish. Isabella watched it all in silence, then said Katherine could stay home with the children if she preferred. Isabella and Adam attended each one, growing still graver and quieter as the week passed.

Margaret’s funeral was Thursday. Jason, good Louisiana boy that he was, suggested an open casket. Nikita vetoed the idea immediately, knowing there was no way Michael would make it through something like that. Jason also suggested preparing a video of Margaret to show at the reception afterward, but Nikita knew that would destroy her, so she said no again.

A few times Quinn or Jasmine pressed her to talk to them about how she was feeling, but the only answer she had for them was ‘numb’ and so they let her be.

The small, non-denominational church was packed nearly to the rafters for the brief service. Their family included Michael’s sister Genevieve, her husband and their children who sat with them, along with Quinn and several of Adam’s friends. Nikita’s sister Michele put in a brief appearance, but she did not sit with the family and left without speaking to anyone almost the second the ceremony was over. MSF workers and other long time family friends formed the bulk of the crowd. There were also a startlingly large number of old Section people in attendance. Many of them found a moment to speak to Nikita and it surprised her how glad she was to see most of them. It was the result, she gathered, of one phone call to another, stretching around the globe and back again in a web that was thicker and denser than most of them had realized.

They buried Margaret in a little cemetery not far from their apartment. It was one they had walked in often the last time they had lived in Paris, inventing elaborate histories for all the grave-stone statuary as they strolled down the paths.

Afterwards they returned to the reception already in full swing. Despite, or perhaps because of, Jason’s efforts it reminded Nikita of a macabre Hollywood facsimile of a Mafia Don’s wake. She and Michael sat at a table near the head of the room and accepted tribute after tribute to Michael or herself from people who wouldn’t have known Margaret on the street. After Michael downed his fifth scotch in less than an hour and a manic glint appeared in his eye, she packed him and the little girls up and took them home.

*****

An hour or so after Nikita had taken Michael away, Quinn surveyed the crowd and realized that the majority of the eighty or so people remaining were former Section operatives or current MSF ones. Buoyed by the river of free booze Jason had provided, the brotherhood of blood and death was obviously rousing itself for an evening of debauchery and memory. At the center of a loose circle of MSF operatives she spotted Adam, Isabella and Katherine. Many of the men and women there had watched the three of them grow up, all over the world, and had always treated them with rough kindness, but mostly ignored them when they were little kids. Adam had long since been welcomed into their ranks, and now, after their own first kills, they were reaching out to Isabella and Katherine, too. The girls were flushed from emotion, and praise, and, Quinn realized watching someone refill the glass in Kate’s hand, alcohol.

Isabella was already five feet ten inches tall, and Kate would catch her soon, and both were still drenched with the dewy glow of youth and nearly luminous in their maturing bodies, but they were kids and it was definitely time to get them out of there. Death was tied much too closely to sex, and not only were the girls still very young this was not the time or the way for them. Especially not while surrounded by thirty or so well armed, and rapidly inebriating, self-appointed older chaperones, some of whom weren’t really all that much older than the girls and who were casting newly appraising looks their way. Or their actual brother, who was himself an excellent marksman and a useful man to have on your side in a bar fight, if stories she had heard were to be believed.

She was just about to dive into the crowd to go after them herself, when she realized that Adam was pulling them free. He turned them over to their aunt and uncle, who swept them out of the room. She caught Adam’s eye and raised her glass to toast him. She saw him laugh in acknowledgement, and then she let the current take her.

Mick soon commanded a center of attention, launched to importance by his status as ‘person who has known Michael and Nikita the longest’ and his ability to tell side-splittingly funny versions of stories from their earliest days together in the Section. Quinn knew she was as red-faced with laughter as any of them, wiping away tears as she gasped for breath as Mick acted out a one-man performance of “Super Michael Man of Steel saving Robo-Nikita from the evil clutches of Paul and Madeline and the Gellman process” even though she knew damn well that none of it had been funny while it was happening, and all of it had been terribly painful for the principals.

Not to be outdone by the old Section hands, J.B. jumped in to tell the story of the first, and last, time someone hijacked a shipment of MSF supplies in northern Afghanistan after Michael arrived. Michael tracked down the gang leader and wannabe warlord and opened negotiations by hitting him in the face and then jamming his gun into the man’s crotch. He told him, in Persian, he’d blow off his dick unless he turned over the cargo. When the man laughed, Michael shot him in the balls, then holding his gun to the man’s head, asked who the new leader of the group was. Another man stood up and said he thought they could find some working arrangement, and Michael executed the now superfluous former gang leader on the spot. He retrieved the MSF cargo, but at the expense of outraged horror within the MSF world.

In his own way, J.B. was as good a story teller as Mick, building up the danger and the risk in those early days, the suspense of not knowing who was who, the furious hostility within MSF to Michael’s methods. Under cover of the approving shouts and applause for Michael’s big dick, both real and metaphorical, Quinn rolled her eyes, grimaced, leaned over to Jasmine, and sneered, “He forgot to add that Michael and the new gang leader scripted that entire little show of manly dick waving and shooting beforehand. The deal was assassination in exchange for the goods.”

From there, “Michael and Nikita” stories poured out from all sides, but after a while, after it was clear that all the best stories had been told, people remembered that they were all together, now, because Michael and Nikita hadn’t won. Not this time. That’s when the drinking got really serious and the small knots of old and current friends broke off to tell other stories, more personal and less intelligible to outsiders.

Quinn settled in at a table with Jason and Jasmine and Mintz, just as Jasmine was saying, “I feel bad that I laughed so hard at Mick’s story. I mean, it must have been horrible at the time, but worse is that she’s never fully recovered.”

Quinn shrugged. “No. She recovered. But there have been consequences.”

“What does that mean?”

Quinn opened her mouth to reply, but caught herself before she launched into a story that wasn’t hers to tell. Nikita’s health was her own concern, and it was up to her to share information about it, or not, as she chose. After a moment, and prompted by Jasmine’s worried gaze, she said, “The Gellman Process was an untested combination of micro surgeries, engineered viruses, cortical stimulation and drug therapy. How could there possibly not be life-long consequences?” Quinn winked at Jasmine. “And don’t feel bad. I laughed so hard I nearly pissed myself. I didn’t know either of them then, but I can so totally imagine it happening like that!” She dropped her voice, and in a bad imitation of Michael, or Mick, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, she was too drunk to know which, said, “I’m baaaack.” Then collapsed laughing, along with everyone else at the table.

Their conversation soon drifted away from the past and on to their more current lives, which was fine by Quinn. For one thing, there really wasn’t an easy answer. No one knew if Nikita’s recurrent bouts with vicious migraines were related to the Gellman Process or not, though Nikita absolutely believed that they were. As for the virus that was part of the Gellman Process – and that Nikita and Walter thought they had beaten years earlier – that turned out to be more like meningitis or malaria than smallpox or the measles, going into remission rather than being eliminated. It had flared up again not long after Walter’s death. Michael and Nikita had taken some pains to keep Nikita’s hospitalization for it quiet, and Quinn didn’t need to be the one to drunkenly spill the beans.

Later on, Adam wandered by, trailed by his posse of frustrated lovers, which made everyone at Quinn’s table giggle inanely.

Days afterward, Quinn wondered what sort of blood bath might have erupted had any of the myriad terrorist and/or criminal organizations of Paris had realized what sort of gathering it was, given that nearly everyone there was undoubtedly carrying weapons, legal and illegal both. Eventually she learned that, fearing the same thing, at least three different security agencies had posted discreet perimeter guards.

Jerome had no funeral, but Nikita and Michael took his ashes to be scattered with Josephine’s. No one understood that, not even Quinn. But, after brief arguments they all gave up and acknowledged that Nikita and Michael would do exactly what they thought best and nothing else, just as they always had.

*****

On Saturday, more or less fully recovered from Thursday’s drunken wake, Quinn helped Nikita and Adam load up two big SUVs, preparatory to heading for their cabin in Belgium.

“Are you sure leaving is the best thing to do right now?” she asked.

“Yes.” Nikita answered, huffing her hair off her forehead as she shoved another duffle into the back. “If we stay here, no one will leave us alone. At the cabin, we’ll have time and space to deal with this in our own way.”

“You really shouldn’t be alone out there – that cabin is kilometers and kilometers away from everything. What if something happens?”

Nikita slammed the back window closed and turned to stare at Quinn. “Like what?”

It was on the tip of Quinn’s tongue to say, ‘like, for example, Michael decides it’s a brilliant idea to eat his gun,’ but one look at the tension around Nikita’s eyes and she said instead, “I don’t know, somebody breaks a leg? Gets sick? Gets lost on the woods?”

“Um hm.” Nikita held her stare for a beat, and Quinn was certain she had somehow heard her thought and not her words, then Nikita turned and headed back inside and Quinn trailed after her.

“A grief counselor is scheduled to come once a week, and so is a family therapist.” Nikita gave the elevator call button a vicious punch. “I don’t want either, but agreeing was the only way to get out of town.” Stepping into the elevator, she went on, “and Michael’s sister and her two girls are coming to stay for a while in a few weeks, and in the meantime Adam and a friend will be there with me.” She grimaced and rolled her eyes at Quinn. “It isn’t, exactly, the ‘alone with Michael and the kids’ that I’d prefer, but it’s the best I’m going to be able to get away with.”

“Adam and ‘a’ friend? How did he choose just one?”

“I have no idea. They must have drawn lots or something.”

“Jason was going on and on about how poly must be catching.”

Nikita snorted. “Adam isn’t poly. He’s twenty-five years old. He takes whatever he’s offered that catches his fancy, and charms the pants off the ones who don’t offer first. And deals with the fallout later.”

“Is he going to be okay?”

“With the fact that his eleven year old sister saved his life, and then died defending him?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know.” The doors slid open and Nikita walked into the apartment without looking back.

Mick showed up just as they were all leaving. In fact Adam was already pulling away from the curb with his friend Marco, Isabella and Gabrielle in one of the two SUVs, when Mick hopped out of a taxi.

“So,” he said to Quinn, “You’re not going too?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I have a life, Mick. I have a job, friends, a house, and, believe it or not, dogs of my own I need to get back too.”

Mick just looked confused.

Quinn shook her head and cast her eyes heavenward, hoping for the strength not to slap him. “Heroes and sidekicks, remember? They’re the heroes, and I’m very happy to be a minor character. Now more than ever.”

Nikita came out the front door of their building, followed by Katherine and Sophie, who was leading her father by the hand. Michael was clean but obviously hadn’t shaved since before Margaret’s funeral, and he walked like he was stoned to the gills, though Quinn was pretty sure he wasn’t. Much, anyway.

Michael managed to smile and say hello to them, though his attention kept wandering and he stood in the street next to them like he had already forgotten why he was there. They half shoved, half poured him into the back seat. One he was inside, Sophie crawled in next to him, put her hands on his face, looked into his eyes and said, “Where are we going, Daddy?”

He frowned at her. “To the cabin in Belgium. Don’t you remember?”

Sophie sighed and leaned her forehead against his. “Yes. I do.”

Michael took her head in his hands, and kissed her brow. “Good. Get into your seat and fasten your seatbelt.” He turned and looked out the still open door, more alert than she’d seen him in days. “Thank you Quinn. For everything. I owe you.”

“No. You don’t. Not this time.”

Michael nodded at her, then held out his hand. “Thanks Mick.”

Mick took Michael’s hand between his and clasped it firmly. “No, old man, please don’t. It wasn’t enough. And maybe it was the wrong call.”

Michael shook his head. “No. It wasn’t. Alive, inside the Section, is the same as dead.”

To that there was nothing to say, so Quinn stepped back and gently closed the door.

“Quinn?”

She turned. “Yes, Nikita?”

Nikita’s eyes got glassy for a moment, and then she shook her head sharply. “Can I come, when I need a break?”

Quinn pulled her into a hard tight hug, “Of course.” She stepped back. “Drive safe, and call me when you get there, yeah?”

She and Mick waved them off from the curb, and then she turned to stare at him. “What are you doing here, little man?”

Mick was still staring down the street, watching Nikita drive away. “I’m an informant. I collect information, and I inform.”

Quinn scowled.

Mick went on, “Quite the pillar of strength, our Nikita.”

“Yes.”

“When she stumbles, as she inevitably will, will he wake up enough to catch her?”

“That was always the plan.”

“The plan?” Mick looked at her. “There was a plan?”

Quinn stared incredulously at him for a long moment, and then she rolled her eyes, turned on her heel and left him without saying another word.

*****

Profile

nell65: (Default)
nell65

April 2017

S M T W T F S
      1
23 45678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30      

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 27th, 2017 12:50 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios