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Escape

Author:   AthenaDreamer


Spoilers:   Pretender---Third Season Premiere
                    La Femme Nikita---Most of Season Two

Disclaimer:   I do not own Jarod, Miss Parker, Mr. Lyle, Mr. Parker, Sidney, Broots, Mr.
Raines, Operations, Madeline, Walter, Birkoff, Michael, or Nikita.  The Pretender and all
of its characters are property of NBC.  La Femme Nikita and all of its characters are
property of USA Network.  I'm just playing in their respective sand boxes.  I'll put
everybody back when I'm done with them. :)



      "Thank you, Jarod.   I hope you find what you're looking for.  There's no man alive
that deserves happiness more than you," Sarah Powell said as the handsome man in front
of her shook her hand.

     "Thank you.  That means a lot.  And I especially want to thank you for introducing
me to Warheads.  They might just come in handy with a certain lady I know," Jarod smiled
mischievously thinking of the package of sour candy he had sent Miss Parker earlier in the
day, "And I know that your family is all together now.  That's more than enough thanks
for me."

     Jarod felt the pain clinch at his heart.  It was difficult finding other people's family
members when he had no idea where his own family was. Each day he woke up hoping for
just one more clue to his true identity.

     He sighed, placed his sunglasses on his nose, and picked up his knapsack and the
briefcase containing the DSAs from the Centre.  It was off to another city to help a family
find the missing remains of their son.

     Usually, the article would not have intrigued him.  However, the family had
expressed their doubts about their son's "death."  They repeatedly claimed that their son
would never commit suicide, prison or not.

     The man in question was named Nicholas Brennan.  He had been convicted of a
murder he committed while under the influence of crack cocaine.  According to the
newspaper article, he killed himself while in prison.  The family adamantly stated their
doubts about his "suicide."  Now, the body was missing.  Nicholas's parents desperately
wanted to give their son a funeral service and burial.  The services were now indefinitely
on hold, until the remains of their son were found.

     Jarod took a deep breath and decided to get started on his long trip.
 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

     Nikita rubbed her aching neck.  Gees, she was tired.  All she wanted was one full
night of sleep.  It did not seem like she would ever get that night.  The Section had been
keeping everyone on close quarters standby for two weeks with simulation after
simulation being sprung on the exhausted operatives.

     Just when Nikita thought things could not possibly get worse, they had.  She and
Micheal had been asked to stay together, isolated from all outside sources for a week.
They had been placed in a room, provided with food at regular intervals, but mostly left
alone.  Being in a room with him for a week was difficult at best, but knowing that
Madeline and Ops were probably waiting and watching for any show of emotion made
being in the room a living hell.

     She had come back to the Section in the hopes that someday she and Micheal
would be able to have a relationship.  Those hopes were now dead.  The experiences with
Jurgen and finding out that she was not the only woman who had formed an attachment to
Micheal had made Nikita reevaluate her situation.  She would have been better off if she
had stayed outside Section One.

     But that was the past.  The only thing that mattered now was living through one
day to see the next.  She had learned to cope with the Section, but coping with the Section
was killing the real Nikita.  She was losing that part of herself that was hers and hers
alone.  She knew that if things did not change soon she would kill herself or become as
cold and emotionless as Micheal.  Neither choice appealed to her.

     "Nikita," Madeline's voice called across the corridor.

     "Yes, Madeline," Nikita answered automatically, too tired to utter the words
without sounding like a machine.

     "You can go home now.  All the simulations are complete.  Get some rest.  There's
a briefing tomorrow morning at eight," Madeline said as she continued across the Section
lobby and disappeared down the hall.

     "Finally," Nikita whispered to herself before a familiar if unpleasant figure
appeared in front of her.

     "Would you like to join me for a cup of coffee?" Micheal asked in his usual
subdued manner.

     Nikita sighed inwardly.  There was a time she would have crawled dying to a cup
of coffee with Micheal, but now she was more interested in going to bed alone, "No.
Maybe another time."

     "Where are you going?"

     "Home."

     "Alone?"

     "Very alone," She replied firmly before walking past him and out of Section One.

     Nikita did not remember getting home and definitely did not remember how she
got up to her apartment.  It was as she was standing in front of her apartment door when
she felt her legs give way and the world start to spin into darkness.  Thankfully, there was
a pair of strong arms there to catch her.

     As darkness started to close in around her, she heard the smooth masculine voice
ask her what her name was.  She pushed, "Nikita," past her lips.

     "Nice to meet you, Nikita.  My name's Jarod."

     Nikita caught sight of his very handsome face before she completely passed out.
 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
 

     Nikita woke from a deep sleep and was greeted with the most wonderful aroma.  She took a moment to find her bearings before she realized that she was in her own bed.  It felt so good to be home, but where was that enticing aroma emanating from?

     She sat up, and it was only then that she heard another person in her apartment.
Section training took over, and she ran her right hand under the pillows to clasp firmly
around her nine millimeter handgun.  She stood slowly and walked to the entrance to the
bedroom.

     She saw the man in the kitchen and remembered him from the hallway.  How
utterly embarrassing, caught by a complete if handsome stranger while on the brink of
total exhaustion.  She placed the gun on a small table near the door of her bedroom.

     "Well, I'm glad you're finally awake.  You scared me for a second," The man spoke
as he noticed her in the doorway, "You really should sit down though and eat something.
From the looks of things, you're exhausted and well on the way to dehydration."

     Nikita smiled, "Jarod?" She said hoping that she remembered the right name.
There had been so many names she had learned only for those people to become another
Section cancellation.

     She was encouraged when he nodded, "How did we get in here?"

     "You had your keys in your hand when you passed out in the hall.  I brought you
inside and checked to make sure you didn't need to be taken to the hospital."

     "What are you, a doctor or something?" Nikita asked as he held out a mug.

     "Or something," Jarod smiled as she took the mug.

     "What exactly is this?" She asked as the sweet smell of the warm liquid filled her
nostrils.

     "It's an herbal tea.  It's got Siberian ginseng, gotu kola, guarana, and cayenne in it.
It'll help you get your energy back.  You shouldn't push yourself so hard."

     Nikita smiled at the irony of his advice, "I really don't have a choice, Jarod."

     "There are always choices, Nikita.  What do you do for a living?  Is that why
you're so exhausted?"

     "I'm between jobs."

     "Then, why are you so tired?" He asked leaning on the bar just opposite of her.

     "I push myself too hard in everything I do.  I'm trying to get into shape, and I've
just overdone it."

     "You don't appear to be out of shape," He said looking at her.  She really was a
beautiful woman.  Her hair was the color of sunlight at noon, and her eyes were the most
amazing shade of blue.  She was wearing a light blue blouse and a pair of black slacks.  By
the fit of her clothes, she definitely did not seem to be out of shape.

     Nikita smiled at his honest admission of his thoughts.  If only Micheal could do
that . . . Nikita abruptly shut out that thought.  Any hope of a relationship with Micheal
had been vanquished.  She looked back at Jarod and smiled.  He had a very open persona.
She could see a trace of pain beneath the surface, but mostly he had an innocence about
him.  It was an innocence she was envious of.  She liked to think that if she had never been
introduced to Section One she might have retained that innocence.  Now, she would never
know innocence again.  The Section had robbed her of that.

     "Thank you.  It's been a long time since anyone has paid me a compliment and
really meant it," She actually thought she was blushing.  She had not felt like that since
Micheal had taken her to dinner for the first time.

     "You should go back to bed after you drink that tea.  You need the rest," Jarod
warned as he started for the door.

     "Why were you in the hall?  Do you always have a gift for being in the right place
at the right time?" She asked following him to the door.

     "I moved into the apartment next door, and yes, usually I do happen to be in the
right place at the right time," He said with a grin, "I hope to see you around, Nikita."

     Nikita sighed as he walked out the door.  Maybe this new neighbor of hers would
not be so bad.
 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
 

     At seven-thirty the next morning, there was a knock at the door.  Nikita walked to
the door and opened it.  She found that she was quite pleased to find Jarod standing
before her.

     "Did I wake you?" He asked with genuine feeling in his voice.

     "No," She smiled.  She had been awake since five.  It was a routine she had been in
since arriving at Section, "Would you like to come in?"

     "Yes, thank you," He said as he entered her apartment.

     She got a chance to really look at him for the first time as he walked by her.  He
had dark brown hair and sexy brown eyes.  He was slightly taller than her and fit.  He had
a brilliant smile and the most honest expression Nikita had ever seen.  He was incredibly
sexy in black slacks and a light blue dress shirt.

     Jarod turned around to greet Nikita with a smile, "I was wondering if you'd like to
have breakfast with me."

     "I'd love to," Nikita answered, "Do you have any particular place in mind?"

     "Yes, actually, there's a coffee shop across town that I'd like to try."

     "What's the place called?"

     Jarod smiled, "It's called The Coffee Shop."

     "How original," Nikita said as they stepped out the door.

     It didn't take long for the duo to arrive at The Coffee Shop.  They found a booth in
the back of the restaurant.  Jarod wanted the booth in case the Centre had caught up with
him, and Nikita wanted the booth because she had been trained by the Section to never sit
with her back to the door.  Neither disclosed their reasons to the other, but they found that
sharing that habit made them both a little more comfortable asking for the back booth.

     Nikita knew the waiter was thinking that they were lovers who were reluctant to
part for the day which made her feel oddly proud.  It had been a long time since Nikita had
been out with someone from outside the Section.  She held back the twinge of pain that
thought caused and decided to devote the time this morning to having fun and getting to
know something about the very sexy man who sat across the table from her.

     The waiter handed them some menus and gave them a few moments to decide
while he got them something to drink.  Nikita had orange juice while Jarod elected to have
an herbal tea.  When the waiter returned, Jarod ordered a stack of pancakes with maple
syrup while Nikita ordered fruit salad and a muffin.  While they waited for their food,
Nikita decided to try to find something out about her companion.

     "So, Jarod, what do you do for a living?"

     He gazed into his mug, "I guess you'd say I'm between jobs."

     "What have you done for a living?" She asked.

     "It's a better question to ask me what haven't I done," He smiled at the truthful
irony behind the statement.

     "I take it that you're a jack-of-all-trades."

     "You could say that.  What have you done?"

     Nikita thought carefully about how she should answer, "I've been just about
everything at one time or another."

     "How do you support yourself?"

     "Good planning," She lied, "I saved quite a bit while I was working.  You never
know when you're going to have a rainy day.  And you?"

     "I was fortunate enough to come into a windfall."

     "So, why are you living in an apartment?"

     "I don't stay in the same city for long, and I prefer not to stay in hotels.  I like to
feel like I'm at home in each town.  It's hard to feel that way in a hotel."

     "Yes, I guess it is," She responded as she thought about living on the streets.

     "So, what about you?  Do have any family?"

     "No, and you?"

     "No," Jarod answered sadly, "I never knew my parents."

     "I'm sorry," Nikita said turning her eyes away.

     "It's okay.  I haven't given up hope of finding them yet."

     Hope.  That was a word that Nikita was not familiar with anymore.  She smiled
just as their food arrived.  They ate in silence only occasionally asking a question of the
other and receiving a quick, yet vague answer.

     As they finished their breakfast, their respective cellular phones rang.  Nikita knew
who was on the other end of hers and found herself wondering who was calling Jarod.
She hoped that it was someone discussing business and not a lover.  She chastised herself
for the thought because there could never be a relationship between them.  She would
hope that anyone who had the chance for happiness would take it.

     They each answered their phones, had short conversations, and hung up.  They
smiled across the table at one another before Jarod asked for the check.  Nikita gave a
brief argument over who should pay.  Jarod paid the check despite her objections, and
they left the restaurant.

     "I hate to eat and run, but I've got business to attend to," Nikita said as they
stepped outside into the crisp autumn air.

     "Funny, I was about to say the same thing.  I hope we can do this again
sometime," Jarod said with a smile playing across his face.

     "I'll look forward to it."

 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
 

     Nikita walked into Section very happy for a change.  It was not often that she felt
this strange peace that had settled around her.

     She walked directly to Walter who was at his work bench trying to determine what
was making the 9mm he was holding jam.

     "Hey there, sugar," Walter said glancing up, "What or who has put you on cloud
nine?"

     Nikita shook her head and smiled.  It was strange how Walter could read her so
well, "Honestly, I don't know."

     "Well, when you figure it out, tell me how it happened.  I could use some cheer
every now and then."

     "Walter, you always seem cheerful enough to me."

     "I'm a good actor, sugar.  I could have made it big in Hollywood."

     "You never cease to amaze me," She said as she pecked him on the cheek and
walked to the table where Micheal and Birkoff were already seated.

     As she took her seat, two other operatives joined them as did Operations.
Operations switched on the holoscreen and began the briefing.

     "Two days ago, a bomb scare caused the evacuation of a FBI office in Miami,
Florida.  Since that time, ten other offices across the United States have had to be
evacuated due to suspicious packages that have been delivered."

     "What does this have to do with us?" Micheal asked.

     "Just twenty four hours before the package was found in Miami, an envelope was
delivered to the director of the FBI warning him that very soon his agents would start
dying.  The letter suggested that once the agents began dying so would innocent civilians."

     "How is that possible?"

     "The person who delivered the message was detained and interrogated.  He's a
recent recruit of Red Cell.  It appears they have a developed a bacteria.  They plan to
release it into the ventilation system of a FBI office, infecting everyone in the building.
They expect the FBI agents to transmit the bacteria where ever they go, causing the
civilian population to also become infected."

     "What type of bacteria are we dealing with?"

     "Highly contagious, one hundred percent fatal," Operations paused to let his
statement impact his operatives, "We were able to learn who developed the bacteria.  It
was genetically engineered in Germany by one Hans Devereaux.  We sent a team to
retrieve him, and he's given us intel about the virus.  It's thorough but, just in case, we're
sending a micro-biologist with you," Operations said as he pointed across the table to
where Madeline was standing.

     Nikita turned around, and her breath caught in her throat.

     Operations introduced the man as he and Madeline approached the table, "This is
the micro-biologist.  You are to call him Jarod."
 
    Nikita felt her heart sink.  She had really started to like Jarod, and then, she found
out he was working with the Section.

     "Jarod, if you will, brief them about the bacteria," Madeline suggested as she took
a seat at the table.

     "The bacteria we're dealing with is actually a bacterial compound.  We call it
Symmetry.  It causes massive hemorrhaging as well as thick clotting.  In laymen's terms,
it's a super-charged Ebola.  Fortunately, there's a difference between Symmetry and Ebola.
Ebola is a virus, and we're really not sure how to cure it.  Symmetry, on the other hand, is
a bacteria.  We can kill it with the proper antibiotics.  We'd rather avoid treating anyone if
at all possible," Jarod concluded.

     "So if we come across the bomb, how will we know that it contains the bacteria?"
Nikita asked, overcoming her shock.

     "In order to breed enough bacteria to infest an entire FBI office, the detonation
would have to be done in one of two ways.  Symmetry thrives in warm temperatures.  It
would have to be released into a heating system or stored in several heated packets
throughout the building."

     Operations broke in, "Jarod will go with you, but remain in the van until the
package is found.  He will then proceed to that location and begin containment
procedures.  We have intel that their main target will be the New York office.  Micheal,
put together the mission profile and select your team.  You leave tonight."

     The team began dispersing from the briefing area.  Nikita followed Jarod into a
corridor and pulled him aside.

     "Was this suppose to be a game Section was playing with me?  Are you a test?"
She accused.

     "Nikita," Jarod answered in a soothing tone, "It was as much a shock to me that
you were a Section operative as it was for you to learn that I work for the Agency.  When
I met you yesterday, I had no idea we'd be working together."

     Nikita heard it.  That single sound seemed so alien as it resonated in the Section
halls.  Honesty, a foreign concept to any operative in the Section.

     "I believe you," Nikita answered, "I'm sorry that I jumped to conclusions."

     Jarod grinned, "I take it that things in the Section are never quite what they appear
to be."

     "That's an understatement."

     Micheal interrupted the conversation, "Nikita, Madeline wants to see you."

     "Thanks," She nodded toward Micheal, "Well, Jarod, I guess I'll see you tonight."

      "Until tonight," He smiled at her as she turned and walked away.

     Micheal walked up to Jarod, "Do you two know each other?"

     "We bumped into each other yesterday.  I'd call it a strange twist of fate."

     "What were you two just discussing?" Micheal asked in a cool voice.

     "Twists of fate," Jarod replied with the same icy calm that Micheal exhibited.

     Micheal looked at Jarod silently for a moment before turning from him and
walking away.
 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
 
     Nikita stepped into Madeline's office quietly.  Madeline was pruning one of her
bonsai trees and seemed to be deeply involved in the process.  Madeline spoke without
diverting her attention from the bonsai tree before her.

     "You wanted to see me?" Nikita asked watching the other woman across the
room.

     "Have you become acquainted with Jarod, yet?"

     "Yes," Nikita answered suspiciously.

     "Do you like him?"

     "So far."

     "Good, I have a project for you."

     "Project?"

     "Yes, we want you to get close to him."

     "Why?" Nikita asked with suspicion evident in her voice.

     "Jarod hasn't been with the Agency long.  They don't completely trust him and
neither do we.  We want you to entice him to form an attachment to you.  Find out as
much as you can about him, and report back to Operations."

     "An attachment?  You want me to sleep with him?"

     "Whatever it takes to gain his trust, Nikita."

     "Why me?"

     "New people tend to warm to you.  Besides you never know when a project is a
test and a test is more than it appears to be."

     Nikita stood silently in the doorway for a moment as she thought about her
'project.'  She hoped for both her sake and Jarod's that he was no more and no less than he
appeared to be.

     "Is that all?" She asked, sensing the meeting was over.

     "Yes.  Good luck tonight, Nikita."

     "Thanks," She said as she turned and exited the room.
 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
 

     The van parked in front of the FBI office in downtown Manhattan.  Nikita and two
other operatives were assigned to the north half of the building while Michael and another
pair of operatives took the south half.  Jarod and Birkoff watched the teams' progress
from the van.

     Nikita shot the two guards at the northern most entrance with tranquilizer darts
before proceeding to the ventilation access panel in the basement of the building.  She
quickly found the panel and pulled a chair to the panel so that she could reach it.  She
removed the panel and illuminated the inside with her flashlight before proceeding into the
shaft.

     "Birkoff, I'm inside the ventilation system."

     "Nikita," Jarod answered her, "you're looking for an explosive package.  It'll
probably have the detonation device separate from the bacterial canisters."

     "How large will it be?"

     "It should be relatively small.  The detonation device should be smaller than six
inches by six inches.  The canisters should be larger, maybe one to two foot in length."

     Nikita crawled through the passages slowly, searching for any sign of the device.

     "Birkoff," Michael's voice cut through the anxious silence, "why is there debris in
the ventilation system on the south side?"

     "The ventilation system is being upgraded.  Construction has been ongoing for
weeks.  It's what made this office the perfect target."

     "I've found something," Michael announced.

     Jarod immediately responded, "Describe it."

     "It's a small silver case.  It has one small canister connected to it by a six inch strip
of plastic tubing."

     "Can you open the case?"

     Michael opened the box slowly, "There are no wires.  No explosive material.  It's a
fake."

     "Continue the search," Jarod instructed.

     Nikita crawled through the tunnel and made a left turn at the end.  She shined the
flashlight down the tunnel.  A box shined from the light, and Nikita could see two small
green canisters positioned slightly away from the box.

     "I've found something."

     "Describe it," Jarod repeated the command.

     Nikita spoke as she crawled toward the device, "It's a metal box, silver in color.  It
has two green foot long canisters positioned within a foot of the box.  It's connected by
plastic tubing, and there are several wires leading to what appears to be a small fan
connected to the canisters by more tubing."

     "Can you open the box?"

     "Yes," She said as she used her electric screw driver to remove the front panel,
"This one is hot."

     "What do you see?" Jarod asked as he looked over to Birkoff who appeared to be
nervous.

     "There is a small package of plastic explosive, a running timer, and several wires."

     "Nikita, stay put.  I'm on my way.  All teams evacuate the building," Jarod said as
he switched com units, picked up his gear, and made his way to the building.

     He quickly found Nikita who was seated in front of the device.  She shifted her
position to allow Jarod access to the bomb.  He moved into the vacant spot and studied
the device.

     "What are you going to do?" Nikita asked.

     "Well, there are six wires.  Half of them are green, and the other half are blue.
That makes it difficult to tell which one of these needs to be cut," He explained as he
pointed to the wires."

     Nikita watched the timer, "We have six hours to figure it out."

     Jarod carefully moved the wires aside so that he could get a clear look at the
detonator.  He saw two blue wires leading to the plastic explosive from the detonator and
pointed to them with his needle-nosed pliers, "Well, I've got it narrowed down to two, but
there's a mercury switch behind it.  We can diffuse the bomb, but we won't be able to
move the box."

     "Can we at least get the bacteria out of here?" She asked frustrated.

     "Yes.  Let me diffuse this primary detonator," He said leaning forward.

     "Do you know which wire to cut?"

     "Would you be disappointed if I told you no?"

     "You don't know?" Nikita raised an eyebrow.

     Jarod grinned, "Not with any certainty, but I have a good idea."

     Nikita watched as Jarod leaned toward the box and lowered the wire cutters
toward the detonator, "Which one are you going to cut?"

     "This one," He nudged the wire with the tool in his hand.

     Jarod looked at Nikita for her approval.  She gave him a nervous grin and gently
nodded.  He positioned the blue wire between the teeth of his cutters and squeezed the
grips.  The wire fell in two parts.

     "Did that do the job?" He asked setting back.

     "Hmm, not hardly.  The timer has accelerated.  It has dropped to ninety seconds,"
Nikita answered.

     Jarod eyed the timer, "That was the wrong wire."

     Michael's voice permeated the moment, "Evacuate the ventilation system.  Get
clear."

     "No, there's only one other wire leading to the detonator.  It has to be the trigger
wire," Jarod responded.

     Nikita watched Jarod with fascinated eyes.  No one dared to defy Michael's
authority, except for her.  Jarod had outright told Michael no.  She could hardly believe
that the man in front of her was more concerned for others who would be affected by the
bacteria than for his own safety.  She watched Jarod as he positioned the second wire for
cutting.

     "Nikita, exit now," Michael ordered.

     "Michael, there's no time.  Jarod's going to cut the second wire now," She
answered before discarding her com unit.

     Jarod eyed her with awe for a second before snipping the second wire.  Nikita
breathed a sigh of relief as she saw the clock stop.  Jarod leaned back and saw that the
timer face read "00:00:10."  He looked up at Nikita and exhaled sharply.

     "Timer has been stopped.  Have two operatives meet us at the basement access
panel to retrieve these bacterial canisters," Jarod instructed before discarding his com unit
as well.

     He breathed a sigh of relief for Nikita's benefit.  He had placed the bomb in the
ventilation shaft and had planned for the bomb scare to be a close call.  Occasionally, he
surprised even himself with his genius.

     He watched her as she pushed her blond hair from her face.  She did not give the
same aura as other operatives in Section One.  She seemed to carefully plan each move
she made and her focus seemed more on the overall threat to others than to the constant
threat of cancellation from Section.

     Jarod had thoroughly studied Section One before following through with his plan
to extract Nicholas Brennan.  It had taken him a week just to find mention of Section One,
and it had come to little surprise to Jarod that the Centre had an entire directory in their
file system dedicated to Section One.

     He had learned from the Centre files that Section operatives rarely thought for
themselves.  They were taught strict obedience and that the consequence for disobedience
was death which the Section referred to as cancellation.

     Jarod, truthfully, had not known about Nikita's involvement with Section, but he
had researched her files immediately after discovering her position.  He was surprised to
know that she had refused the orders of Operations which directed her to kill in cold blood
and had been scheduled for cancellation.  However, Nikita was still alive.  She had
survived the Section's attempt to kill her.

     He smiled as he imagined the face of Operations upon learning that Nikita was
alive.  He would have given good money to have seen Operations react to that
information.  Operations was a powerful man with friends in high places, including the
Centre.

     He knew that a person would have to be insane or courageous to defy a man of
that stature.  Jarod decided that Nikita was courageous.  He would have to make a more
thorough study on her before leaving Section One.

     Jarod realized that by involving himself in Section business he was placing himself
in great danger.  With Section One's connections to the Centre, it was only a matter of
time before Operations alerted Mr. Parker of his whereabouts.

     Nikita interrupted Jarod's train of thought, "Do we move the canisters now?"

     "Yes," He responded as he pulled two bags out of his knapsack.  He pulled a cord
on each of the bags, and the bags expanded with air.

     Nikita looked up at him with curiosity in her eyes.  Jarod noticed and explained,
"These are insulation bags.  We slips the canisters inside the bags.  The bags will protect
the canisters from punctures or any other damage for the travel out of here.  We've come
too far to become infected now."

     Nikita helped Jarod place the canisters inside the bags.  Jarod placed them in the
direction they would take to exit the tunnel.  He then turned back to Nikita who had a
worried look on her face.

     "What's wrong?" He asked as he watched her.

     "How do we get the box out of here without causing an explosion?"

     Jarod frowned as he stared at the box, "I almost forgot about the mercury switch.
Hmm."

     He smiled at Nikita's observance.  He had not counted on her attention being so
acute.  He had built the bomb and knew that, in fact, there was no mercury switch in the
box.  However, he had placed a combination of silver paint and water into a vile and
positioned it inside the box to appear as a mercury switch in order to prevent anyone else
who might find the box from tampering with it.  Jarod pulled a spray can of liquid
hydrogen from his pack and sprayed the fake switch.  He then gently disconnected the
switch from the rest of the package and placed it into a metal box.

     Nikita watched him while he worked and realized that Jarod was much more than
he appeared to be.  She was not sure how proficient he was in micro-biology, but he was
definitely an explosives expert, "Where'd you learn how to do that?"

     "I worked for the bomb squad, once," He answered and quickly changed the
subject, "Do you want to take the lead with the canisters or do you want to transport the
box?"

     Nikita smiled, "I'll take the box.  Explosives I'm used to.  That's not quite true of
deadly bacteria."

     "I see," Jarod smiled as he took the lead and gently moved the canisters ahead of
him through the tunnel.

     The team quickly moved the bacteria to the van and cleared any sign of their
presence from the office.  They traveled silently back to the Section.
 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
 

     Upon arriving at Section, each operative debriefed.  Nikita watched as Jarod met
with both Operations and Madeline.  She wondered why they were questioning him so
closely.  If they had only been concerned with trust, her current assignment regarding
Jarod would be the only action necessary.  However, Nikita was afraid that there was
much more to this situation than Madeline or Operations was going to tell her.
 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
 

     Jarod smiled at Madeline's obvious interest, "Yes, my experience with Section
One, thus far, has been a pleasant one."

     Operations nodded, "Good.  How would you like to work for us on a permanent
basis?"

     "Permanent?" Jarod asked wondering why he was chosen and afraid that he
already knew the answer.

     "Your work was exceptional.  There aren't many operatives that dare to prove
Michael wrong," Madeline admitted, "You have potential, and we'd like to help you reach
it."

     Jarod watched the two strategists standing before him.  He knew what they were
aiming for and knew that his schedule would have to be expedited.

     "Won't George have a problem with that?" Jarod asked, hoping against hope that
he could trip them up.

     "No," Operations gave a quick grin, "in fact, all the paperwork has been taken care
of.  You're officially Section material now."

     Jarod repressed a sigh, "Then, I hope we have a long successful relationship."

     "As do we, Jarod," Madeline said with a smile dancing across her features, "That'll
be all."

     Madeline looked at Operations who darkened the observation glass and turned
toward the holoscreen, "Birkoff, have you secured the link I requested?"

     "Yes, I'm patching it through now," Birkoff answered.

     The image of an older gentleman appeared on the screen.  He was balding and
what little hair he had was white including his mustache.

     "Parker here."

     "Long time, no see," Operations greeted the man.

     "Paul, what can I do for you?"

     "I have something that belongs to you."

     "And what could that be?" Mr. Parker asked as he crossed his arms.

     "Your Pretender, Jarod."

     Mr. Parker looked shocked at the mention of Jarod's name.  He leaned forward,
and his voice conveyed the importance he placed on Jarod, "Jarod?"

     "Yes," Madeline answered, "He attempted to infiltrate Section One."

     "Well, Madeline, it's been a long time."

     Madeline smiled at Mr. Parker's acknowledgment.

     Mr. Parker refocused on the purpose of the communication, "Watch Jarod closely.
He has a reason for everything he does."

     "We can hold our own, Parker," Operations affirmed his presence, "What are you
going to do?"

     "I'll send our top Sweeper.  The team will be there tomorrow."

     "We'd like you to reconsider that," Madeline interrupted.

     "Why?" Mr. Parker said, his curiosity piqued.

     "He'll be very useful to us in a mission that's going out tomorrow night.  After that,
your team can have him.  Have them come in late tomorrow night."

     "I will, but don't lose him," Parker reminded them before terminating his
communication.

     Operations smiled at Parker's arrogance.  Admittedly, they shared equivalent
powers in each of their organizations, but Parker tended to overstep his boundaries.  He
pushed the thought aside as he looked at Madeline, "You spoke with Nikita?"

     "Yes, she'll do it."

     "What makes you so sure?"

     "She's attracted to him.  I don't think she'll have any problem forming an
attachment to him."

     "Good," Operations said, "Have Michael keep a close eye on them.  I don't want
Jarod to slip through our fingers."

     Madeline nodded to him before exiting the room.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
 
    Jarod offered to drive Nikita home, and she accepted.  Jarod stopped the car at the
red light and glanced into the rearview mirror.  He saw that one car had been behind them
for many blocks even though they had made several turns.  As the light turned green,
Jarod got a clear view of the driver of their shadow car.

     "Does Michael live near you?" Jarod asked although he was sure that the answer
was no.

     "No, he doesn't.  Actually, I'm not sure where Michael lives.  It's a mystery to me,"
Nikita said looking out her window at people on the sidewalk.  She saw a little blond girl
that reminded her of herself at that age:  cold, alone, and afraid.

     "Then, I have another question," Jarod said making a left turn, "Does he always
follow you home?"

     "What?" She asked confused and turning in her seat.

     "Three cars back on the right."

     Nikita turned in her seat and saw the car with Michael behind the steering wheel.
She took a deep breath and realized that Madeline's little test involved more people than
she had originally been told.  She suddenly realized that she may have taken an assignment
that would prove to be more dangerous than she could imagine.

     "What is he doing here?" Nikita asked watching Michael follow them.

     "He's doing a very good job of keeping up with us, for one thing.  As for the
reason, I'm not even going to guess," Jarod said as he parked the car in a parking deck
near a night club.

     "Why are we stopping here?" She asked, puzzled.

     Jarod unfastened his seat belt and opened the door, "I don't like to be followed.
So, I'm going to lead him on a good chase.  I should at least make it worth his while."

     Nikita could not suppress the smile Jarod had prodded from her, "Okay, are we
going dancing?"

     Jarod grinned, "Maybe."

     He walked around the car and opened Nikita's door for her.  He extended a hand
and helped her from the vehicle.  She smiled at him as he offered her his arm.

     "Are you looking to get into trouble?" She inquired as she spotted Michael's car
parking in a vacant space across the deck.

     Jarod smiled at her, "If you relate having some fun with trouble, sure, I'm planning
on getting into some."

     Nikita looked a little shocked by his reply.  She knew that Michael would interpret
her presence with Jarod as significant progress with her assignment.  She also found
herself wondering if Michael would be jealous.  She mentally nudged herself back into
reality.  Michael did not feel anything.

     Jarod noticed Nikita's body stiffen as she looked back towards Michael's car,
"What's wrong?"

     "Nothing," She gave her usual answer to any question that involved her feelings.

     "You and Michael, are you two more than friends?" Jarod asked already knowing
the answer having read her file.  He guessed that her reactions were related to Michael
watching them.  Her body was stiff and her breath uneven.  She could not decide if she
wanted to look at the car or to watch where she was going.  When she made eye contact
with Jarod, he immediately saw the restrained panic within her blue eyes.

     "Not anymore," Nikita shifted uncomfortably, "There was something there.
Once."

     "He hurt you," Jarod noted as she looked up at him in surprise of his careful
observation, "It's difficult to hide a wound that deep."

     As the words escaped his lips, Jarod felt the knife turn in his own emotional
wound.  The Centre had stolen everything from him that most people took for granted.
He had no family, no friends, no home, no childhood.  He inhaled deeply as if the wound
affected him physically.  He knew that the wound could never be healed, but he hoped that
with time, it would become a dull ache instead of a sharp pain. He shoved his own pain
aside, focusing on Nikita.

     "A relationship just isn't possible inside Section."

     "Nikita, that's an excuse, not a reason.  You don't have to hide from anyone, not
me and not Section One."

     Nikita gave him a nervous smile, "I don't know how not to hide, Jarod."

     "I can help you.  We need somewhere private to talk."

     She gave a half-hearted laugh, "That's not likely.  The Section can follow us
anywhere, and they'll listen to every word we say."

     Jarod smiled his sly best, "I think I know of a place."

     Jarod led Nikita into the night club.  The building was dark and reeked of alcohol,
cigarette smoke, and sweat.  The lights moved with the beat of the music as did the
gyrating and writhing bodies on the dance floor.

     Jarod looked around the night club until he found who he was looking for.  He led
Nikita to the bar where he pushed three inebriated men further down the bar so that they
could have access to the burly man at the right end of the structure.

     Jarod offered to buy Nikita a drink which she accepted.  Nikita had a chance to
survey the man that Jarod was standing next to.  He was taller than Jarod and appeared
bulky.  He had thick white hair with one or two black streaks lingering in the mass.  He
wore an extremely well-tailored three piece suit and equally expensive leather shoes.

     As their drinks arrived, Jarod tapped the large man on the shoulder.  The man spun
around and met with a glass of Vodka in Jarod's hand.

     "Greetings, Comrade," Jarod spoke as the large man took the drink.

     The large man took the glass from Jarod's hand and swallowed the liquid in one
gulp.  He placed the glass on the bar with a thud as he turned back to Jarod with a surly
look upon his face.

     "Didn't I tell you not to come back without bringing me the finest Vodka money
can buy?" The large man spoke with a less than welcome disposition in a Russian accent.

     "That wasn't the finest Vodka?" Jarod asked in a less than surprised tone.

     "No, it's mostly water.  How dare you bring that cheap excuse to me?"

     "I bought it from that bartender," He said as he pointed across the bar at the
bartender who now appeared frightened out of his wits.

     "Well, you should know better than to buy Vodka from this place."

     "It's your club."

     "Of course, that's why you never buy anything to drink here.  It's all watered
down," The large man laughed, "How have you been, Jarod?"

     "Good,  Vasya, good.  I could use some help though."

     "You've come to me for help?" Vasya raised his eyebrows with a proud smile,
"That's different."

     "My friend and I," Jarod explained as he introduced Nikita into the conversation,
"have a shadow that we'd like to shake off."

     "My, my, Jarod," Vasya spoke as he placed himself between Jarod and Nikita,
"Your taste in women is excellent.  My name is Vasya Malenkov.  And you are?"

     "My name is Nikita."

     "Nikita?  A proud Russian name.  Might I ask you a question?"

     Nikita looked at Vasya with a cautious curiosity, "Nothing too personal, I hope."

     "Of course not.  However, I would like to know one thing."

     "What's that?" She said as she spotted Michael at the entrance of the club.

     "How did a beautiful woman like yourself become acquainted with rabble like
Jarod here, hmm?"

     Jarod interrupted, "If I'm rabble, what does that make you?"

     Vasya guffawed, "The leader of the rabble."

     Jarod returned the laugh as he moved back to Nikita's side, "Vasya, seriously, we
could use your help."

     "Why is this . . shadow . . so interested in the two of you?" Vasya asked as he led
them to a set of stairs leading to the second floor.

     Jarod looked at Nikita as if to tell her to play along, "I'm afraid that's a subject I'd
rather not get into."

     "I want to know who I'm trying to keep away from you.  If it's the police, I'd rather
stay away from them as well."

     "He's my husband," Nikita improvised.

     Vasya stopped on the stairs and looked at Jarod with approval in his eyes, "You
finally shook that moral certitude, and you couldn't have picked a finer way of doing it.
So, which patron of my illustrious establishment would this husband be?"

     Jarod looked into the crowd and spotted Michael, "The man wearing black from
head to toe."

     Vasya looked toward Michael and then returned his gaze to Nikita, "My dear, I'm
glad you found Jarod.  This husband of yours looks like a problematic personality."

     Nikita smiled at the irony of his statement, "You have no idea."

     Vasya motioned for two of his bodyguards to join the conversation.  He pointed
Michael out to them before asking, "How permanent an arrangement would you like this
shadow removal to be?"

     Jarod raised an eyebrow at the question, "Vasya, we don't want him dead.  Just
distract him long enough for us to drive your car from here."

     "My car?" Vasya asked, "And how am I suppose to leave from here?"

     "You and I both know that you leave a car here to avoid the authorities when you
have important business to be taken care of.  You always use the limousine otherwise."

     Vasya smiled, "You are an observant man.  You may take the car," Vasya said as
he fished the keys out of his pocket and handed them to Jarod, "Where are you taking my
car?"

     "Someplace where we can be alone with no interruptions," Jarod replied
suggestively, knowing that Vasya would do his best to keep it a secret.

     "I see," Vasya smiled, "You should go to the townhouse.  It's recently become
vacant, and the feds don't know that I own it yet.  You can be safe there."

     "Thank you, Vasya," Jarod said as he placed the keys into his own pocket, "I'll
owe you one."

     Nikita kissed Vasya on the cheek, "Thank you, Vasya."

     Vasya's smile grew in intensity, "I'll keep your shadow occupied.  You two have a
good night, eh?"

     "That's not going to be a problem," Nikita said as she took Jarod's hand and
followed him down the stairs.  When they were far enough out of Vasya's hearing range,
she inquired, "Who is Vasya and how do you know him?"

     "I'll explain everything when we get to the car," Jarod answered as he saw four of
Vasya's henchmen heading for Michael, "Here, through this door."

     Nikita stepped through the door and entered a hallway with several other doors
along the right.  Jarod closed the door behind him and led her down the hallway to the last
door on the right.  The door opened into an office where yet another door led into Vasya's
private parking deck.  Jarod led Nikita into the parking deck and to a black BMW Z3
Roadster.

     "Vasya drives this?" Nikita asked, having difficulty picturing the burly Russian
driving the car.

     "Hard to imagine, isn't it?" Jarod asked while unlocking the car.

     "Yes, it is," Nikita said as she got into the car, "What'll they do to Michael?"

     "They'll probably harass him.  He'll probably pull his gun on them.  Vasya will
probably get angry.  One of the guys will probably try to hit him in the back of the head.
They'll fight.  The club will start watching.  Vasya's men will stop fighting him.  Michael
will walk out the front to see my car still parked in the garage."

     "How do you know this guy?" Nikita asked as Jarod started the car and backed
out of the space.

     Jarod drove out of the parking deck as he began to explain, "Vasya Malenkov is a
Russian mobster.  He is the equivalent of a godfather in the Italian Mafia.  I met him one
time while investigating the murder of his daughter."

     "You're not a micro-biologist," Nikita stated.

     "No, I'm not.  And I don't work for the Agency."

     That last statement caught Nikita's undivided attention.
 

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