D.L. Witherspoon

Author's Notes:

Synopsis: Jim and Blair die in a car accident. But Jim is "reborn" in
Section One. Can he survive without his Guide? Or does he have to?
(Before I'm flamed, please note that I do NOT believe in the death of
fictional main characters. They aren't mine to destroy.)

This may be considered an AU since 1) it takes place in the near future
and 2) Section One is about as alternative a universe as one can

*for offending any viewers of either show. I'm sure someone's favorite
character was shortchanged in the creation of this work;

*and finally for the ending. What can I say? The Christmas Spirit just
took over and I had no control. Special apology for fans of Dr. Seuss.

                        D.L. Witherspoon
                        (Posted 12-17-97)

      I. Transition- a passing from one condition to another

Chelan County Medical Center

They were both supposed to die.

There were eyewitnesses, a couple returning from their honeymoon ski
trip. They hadn't really noticed the metallic blue Jeep until after the black
sedan had zigged around them to get behind it. Then they had watched
in horrified fascination as the car edged closer and closer to the Jeep,
bumping bumpers on the narrow, curving road. When the car moved
around the Jeep and tried to nudge it completely off the side, they
gasped and realized the deadliness of the situation. The bride spotted
the ubiquitous sign of a public phone and her husband stopped and
made the quick call to 911. Thinking that maybe they could help, they
continued along the road looking for some sign of the trouble they had

The broken guard rail was the first clue they spotted. Then they saw
what they hoped was a pile of old clothes someone had carelessly
tossed out, but it ended up being the taller of the two men they had
seen in the Jeep. Tire tracks which led to the edge of a 400 foot rocky
drop to the Columbia River filled in the blanks. With grim diligence, the
couple stayed with the gravely injured man until help arrived.

Surprising the medical staff, the injured man had awakened briefly in
the emergency room, calling desperately for someone. A nurse was
sent to the waiting area to ask about the person. It was explained to
her the requested soul was his companion in the Jeep, that they were
two police officers who had transferred a prisoner to Spokane and were
on their way back when their vehicle was forced off the road. One had
been thrown out but the other had plunged down the cliff inside the
Jeep, which had disintegrated upon the rocks before being swallowed
up by the river.

But mere walls hadn't stopped the injured man from hearing what was
said and by the time the nurse returned to the cubicle, he had given up
and let death take the pain away. The nurse went back to the waiting
room and sadly passed on the news.

And for the second time that night, Simon Banks cried.

      II. Conversion- a change from one doctrine to another

Section One: Medlab

Jim woke up and wondered why. He'd heard the woman talking to
Simon, heard his captain's replay of Blair's death. As he listened he
realized there was no reason to live, so he gave in to the encroaching
darkness. Yet, here he was, awake and in too much pain to even hope
he was dead.

Instinctively, he turned down the mental dial that controlled his sense
of touch and the pain dimmed to only merely annoying. Well, that
answered one very important question. Early on in his life as a Sentinel,
a person with genetically enhanced senses, traumatic events sent his
special gifts offline. Then his Guide, a friend who helped control his
"powers", would come up with some sleight of hand and voila, he would
be online and ready to save his city of Cascade, Washington.
Apparently after seven years with his Guide, he'd learned some things
for himself. Which was good, because he didn't have a Guide anymore.
Or a best friend. Or a brother whom he had loved dearly.

He forced his eyes to look around the room, refusing to go where his
mind wanted. Sandburg was dead, he was alive, and he had to start to
dealing with that. With a burning sensation in his stomach, he realized
that not only wasn't he dead, but he had been placed in a particular hell
he'd been envisioning every since he became aware of his hyper
abilities. Despite the IV running into his arm and the conventional
monitors sitting disconnected near his bed, he knew this was not a
regular medical facility. This one reeked, literally, of a high tech
experimental design. This was a government laboratory and he was the
new pet mouse.

But if he was rodentia du jour, why wasn't he hardwired with sensor
probes? Why weren't they monitoring every function his body was
capable of? He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. His
head swam from the suddenness of the new position, but eventually he
recovered his balance and took stock of his condition. His chest was
bare except for the swath of bandages protecting his broken ribs. The
rest of him was covered by a pair of loose white pants. Better than the
standard hospital gown by a mile, he thought with a humorless chuckle.

He felt his head, noting a new buzz cut and stitches. Good. The short
hair took him back to a time before--before his senses shot off the
scale, before he knew a man named Blair Sandburg, before he knew
how capable he was of caring. Those had been barren years, spent
alone except for his brief marriage to Carolyn and even briefer
partnership with Jack. But even that was too recent. No, he would go
further back, back to his first days of being a government owned and
operated animal. To the days of his military career where he did what he
was told without question, without thought. It had been a hard life and
more than one man in his command had commented that he was the
coldest son of a bitch he'd met in the army, which was truly saying

Surely he could become that person again for the short while he would
be here. Whoever had been in charge of retrieving him had perpetuated
the usual governmental snafu-situation normal; all fucked up. A
Sentinel without a Guide was like getting a robot without the reset
button; it did what you wanted it to for a while, but eventually the
wiring would cross and you ended up with something that would
destroy itself, if not you as well. Blair had called these glitches zone
outs, periods of time when Jim focused so intensely on one sense that
he was oblivious to any outside stimuli and only his Guide could rouse
him. The milder zones mimicked daydreaming and a simple touch or
sound would bring him around. Medium ones left him as aware as a
statue. Whether in the middle of the street and about to be flattened
by a truck or in the middle of a shoot out with criminals, if he zoned he
was completely helpless. The major zones inevitably led to
hospitalization because he would go so deep into his own senses that
he would forget to breathe. And that was all with a Guide. 

Oh yeah. One hell of a snafu.

Section One: Madeline's Office

"He's awake."

Michael tried to hide the fact he was startled. Just yesterday, Medlab
had told him it would be days, perhaps weeks before their newest
recruit would regain consciousness. "His condition?"

"Mobile," Madeline said as astonished as Michael. The profiler, strategist,
and very effective interrogator only knew one other operative who
recuperated so fast, and he was standing before her.


"No, but there are two men outside his door. However, I don't think
escape is uppermost in his mind. I've been watching closely and he has
ignored the door. I think he is merely getting used to not being dead."

"When he was brought in, there was some concern he may be suicidal
when he awakened. You are no longer concerned?" he asked, knowing
Madeline did everything with a purpose in mind. If she had thought it
necessary, there would have been two guards and restraints.

"He's shown no such tendency. Perhaps his friends did not know him as
well as they thought. Just in case, however, I think it is time you told
him about his new purpose in life."

Michael nodded. "Any special orders?"

Madeline smiled. Michael knew her so well. "His background is uniquely
compatible. I don't think he will need the standard two years of

"As you wish."

She watched Michael leave, then turned toward the screen. She had
learned to trust her instincts in this business and they were telling her
that Michael had discovered something very special with this recruit.
Michael and Nikita. Never taking her eyes off the screen, she dialed a
familiar number.

Section One: Medlab

Just as he was starting to calculate how long he would last before
self-destructing, Jim heard someone approaching the room. It was
about time. He knew they were aware he was awake and moving
around. He'd heard the hum of the surveillance equipment, had known
when guards had taken their places outside the door.

The man who entered the room was unexpected. Instead of wearing a
white lab coat and a patented smile of comfort, he was dressed in black
and smiled not in the least. He was lithe but muscular, with light brown
curls draping his neck. He looked less like a scientist and more like a
mercenary-- not the grungy kind that killed for money, but the really
intelligent ones that killed because they could. Jim started to rethink his
earlier assessment of where he was.

"James Ellison is dead," the man said without false greetings. "His
funeral was well attended and it was heard to be said by several of the
mourners that it was best the detective had died, that without his
friend and partner, he had nothing to live for."

Jim wanted to look away as the words reached a part of him he no
longer wanted to admit existed. But the man had come closer and Jim
found himself fascinated by his eyes. They revealed nothing and
thereby showed all. He was intrigued and watched the man's languid

"Perhaps that was true of Detective Ellison, but not you. You have a
reason to live and that reason is Section One. We have resurrected
you. You will serve us. If you fail, you will be canceled and this time,
death will be permanent. Do you understand?"

"No." Jim's voice was rusty from disuse and he was pretty sure the
throbbing in the left side of his face meant a jaw had been broken, but
was healing. How long had it been since... No, that was the past and it
had ceased to exist."Why didn't I die the first time?"

"The Section saw purpose in keeping you alive. We are a covert
anti-terrorist group. You have usable skills. We will train you. We will
give you a new identity."

"I have no say in the matter?" Jim questioned, knowing the answer, but
wanting it clarified in his mind. There had been whispers of the
existence of a covert organization such as the man was describing,
rumors he hadn't really believed until one evening in a warehouse in

Michael decided to test Madeline's observations. If the man was suicidal,
it was best to get it out in the open. "There is no free will in Section
One. You have one choice: life or death. Decide now."

Jim started to answer when he felt another presence join the two
outside the door. But this one wasn't content to wait outside. The door
opened and he sensed the man beside him tense as the person
approached. "Hello, Jim."

The tall blonde was in civilian clothes and not a field suit, her long hair
hanging loose, but he recognized her instantly as the woman in the
warehouse. "Nikita," he acknowledged. The man in black made an
indiscernible sound and Jim turned to him, surprised to find something
in those eyes after all. "So this is your outfit, huh?"

She nodded. "You saved my life once. Let me save yours now."

"You arranged this?"

Nikita flicked her eyes to the other man, before turning her cool blue
gaze back to Jim. "No. But our brief encounter called attention to your
existence. If at some point you wish to hate me for that, I will

"Your Section One is not what it seems?" What was she hinting at?
That the group wasn't anti-terrorist?

"The Section is exactly as it seems, an organization dedicated to ridding
the world of terrorists-- by any means necessary. It is not for the ...
humanitarian." The word seemed to mean something painful to her.

Jim shrugged. At least this way he wouldn't end his days as a lab rat.
Now he had the chance to at least take out a couple of bad guys before
death raised its dark head again. Which it would, because a Sentinel
without a Guide was mere fodder for the Grim Reaper. "I'm not feeling
much like a humanitarian these days. Where do I sign up?"

"That has already been done for you," the man replied. "My name is
Michael. I will be your trainer."

"Whatever." Jim closed his eyes and wondered if he had summoned this
hell by committing virtual suicide, by giving up. No matter. One hell was
just as bad as another and living his old life without Sandburg probably
would have been worse. A hand brushed against his and he opened his

"When you're ready, we'll talk," Nikita said softly.

The blue of her eyes reminded him of another. He nodded and watched
the two leave.

Section One: Michael's Office

"You lied to me," Michael said softly.

Nikita wasn't fooled by the tone. "I never lied."

"You said you didn't talk to him."

"I didn't."

"Then how did he know your name?"

She shook her head in frustration. "I don't know, Michael. You were the
only one who said it."

His eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"

"The only time my name was mentioned was when you said, 'Nikita,

"He couldn't have heard me from the comset. It is not possible."

"Then you come up with an explanation, Michael."

"Don't worry, Nikita. I will."

Section One: Hallway

Jim, dressed in a gray sweater over jeans, aimlessly roamed the halls of
Section One, a late evening activity that was quickly becoming routine
since his release from Medlab. Nikita had instigated the habit; she came
to visit him every day except for the times she was away on mission
and to keep her from probing too deeply, Jim had suggested walking.
The Medlab doctors had agreed it would be good exercise so Nikita had
led him around the underground facility showing him the various
aspects of Section life, the levels of training he would go through and
other things he could expect. She'd also taken the opportunity to
introduce him to her friends. One of them was Walter who was in
charge of the Weapons Division. He was a little quirky, but what did one
expect from a person who willingly worked with explosives?

Jim frowned as the thought led him to remember Joel Taggert who
headed the Bomb Squad in Cascade. Joel had been a good friend and
slightly quirky too. Hell, all the guys on the force had been friends and
he missed them. But not enough to go back, even if he could. Too
many memories, ones that would now be painful, lurked in the shadows
of Cascade.

And quite frankly he was tired of battling shadows. He'd been out of
Medlab for a week now and in that time he'd maybe had a total of ten
hours of sleep. If he tried sleeping without being totally exhausted, he
was haunted--or maybe he should say taunted--by a recurring dream
and he awakened panicked and frustrated.

He's in the jungles of Peru--a fitting place because this is where he
received and accepted the gifts of a Sentinel. It is a peaceful place, the
familiar scents and sounds comforting. Then his spirit guide joins him,
appearing in the form of a wise old man. "Sentinel, why have you left
your Guide alone?" the man asks curiously.

"My Guide has crossed over to where I cannot go." 

He shakes his head as if he doesn't understand. "He is lost. He weeps
for you. Go to him."

"Blair is dead, damn it!"

"He needs you, Sentinel. He is alone." The old man is pleading now.

"I know he is! I tried to follow. I wanted to follow. But it was not to

"Go to him!" This is an order, the cajoling tone disappearing.

"I can't! I would give anything if I could. Why won't you understand?
Why do you keep torturing me with this!"

The old man morphs into the panther, the spirit's usual form. The
animal growls, its blue eyes so like Blair's, and full of tears...


He turned, startled to see Nikita at his side. Not a real zone, but close.
He was going to have to be careful. "Mission over?" he questioned
lightly, noting she was still in black field uniform.

Nikita dismissed his question; she wouldn't be back at the Section if the
mission wasn't complete. "What's wrong, Jim? Usually it seems like you
hear me coming a mile away. Just now, you weren't aware of me
standing next to you until I called your name."

Jim shrugged. "It's called being lost in thought," he said flippantly.

"Thoughts of...?" She knew she was prying but her new friend worried
her. He had closed off a part of himself she knew existed. She'd heard
it in his voice that day when he'd stumbled into a Section mission. He'd
been concerned for her and for his friend, a friend who was now dead.
But Jim never spoke of his past and she'd never seen him grieve for
that friend. If she thought he had done so in the privacy of the
quarters given him by Section, she might feel better. But she had an
uncanny suspicion that he was just as closed off alone as he was with
her--maybe even more so.

"Michael tells me I'm scheduled to meet with Madeline tomorrow. That
should be interesting," he said and Nikita sighed, knowing she had once
again failed to reach him. Maybe Madeline would have better luck.

"Madeline is an enigma I hope I never figure out," Nikita admitted.
"Because if I do, it will mean I have become her."

"And that's a bad thing?" Jim already had an opinion of the woman he'd
heard about but never met. His opinion came from Michael, Michael who
seemed rather pleased to tell Jim about his appointment with the
Section's second-in-command. And Jim knew if Michael was pleased, it
didn't bode well for him. His trainer didn't like him and Jim knew the
reason for that dislike was standing beside him right now. "You don't
like Madeline?" he asked when she shrugged her answer.

Nikita smiled ruefully. "The odd thing is that I do."

Jim shook his head at her contradictory statements. "I guess I'll just
have to figure the lady out for myself."

"That's the best way I think," Nikita agreed. "But, Jim, when you're with
her, be on your guard."

"I always am, Nikita. I always am."

Section One: Madeline's Office

Madeline activated the switch that opened the automatic doors to her
medieval-motifed office and watched the newest member of Section One
enter. She was immediately impressed by his straight stature and
confident walk. Some of the recruits actually cowered when they came
in for their initial interviews. Those were quickly tagged.

But she didn't think this one had ever cowered in his life. Even after
nearly dying just a couple of weeks ago, he appeared virile and very
capable. She had watched him on the Medlab monitor since the night
he'd been brought in. Something about him intrigued her. Maybe it was
the fact that Michael was so interested in him. He had had Jim's files
flagged years ago. So when the hospital keyed in his name, Section had
been notified and Michael had arranged the recruitment.

She had asked Michael why he was so determined this man be recruited
but Michael, being Michael, merely shrugged and said if Section didn't
want him, it was fine with him. Which made Madeline even more curious.
And there was Nikita's involvement, which wasn't unexpected,
considering she loved making Michael's business hers. But Jim had
called her by name before introductions were made.

"Hello, Jim, I'm Madeline."

Jim smiled as he stopped in front of the desk. "It's nice to meet you,
Madeline," he said politely.

"Please, have a seat," she said when it appeared he would remain
standing. Could it be that Section had finally recruited a gentleman?
"Michael reports that you have agreed to join our family."

"If you will have me."

She steepled her fingers and sat back in the chair. "Your background is
most impressive. You've done work like this before. Why did you

He shrugged. "It was time."

"Did it have anything to do with the eighteen months you spent in

Everything had to do with the time spent in Peru. Especially my
decision to get out of covert ops. "I found I had a talent for working
with people. If you look in my file, I'm sure you'll see the words, 'he
works well with others'," he said with a smile.

Madeline smiled too. "Do you? Work well with others?"

His eyes twinkled mischievously. "Define 'well'."

Madeline surprised herself by laughing. He was actually flirting with her
and some part of her was reacting to it. That hadn't happened for a
while. "I think I'll take your file with a grain of salt because nowhere in it
were you described as charming." And he definitely was. From his
background, she had assumed he would be assigned to sniper duty or
support crew. But now that she'd met him, he had first team member
written all over him. 

Yes, she thought as she stared at him and made up her mind. He would
make a fine addition to what she called her chameleons, her corps of
undercover agents used to charm, seduce, and subvert the target.
Different targets fell for different types and Jim and Michael were
opposite enough to cover the whole realm. Michael was Cary Grant, the
suave European that ladies swooned over. Jim would be John Wayne,
the tall stalwart American whose whole demeanor said, "Trust me. I will
protect you." And those blue eyes...

"Have I dribbled something on my shirt or are you just sizing me up for
conquest?" Jim asked with amusement.

"Can you be conquered, Jim?"

"Depends on the challenger and what she's after."

Oh, yes. He was good. That remark hadn't even sounded cocky or
arrogant. Now, maybe Michael wouldn't have to be in the field as much.
It was time he took his rightful place as her second. "What's your
opinion of seduction?" she asked.

"Same answer as before."

"Sometimes getting the answers we need requires more than just
gunplay and threats. Some operatives are uncomfortable with that."

"I was a cop. I've been undercover before. You will find, Madeline, that I
am dedicated to achieving whatever goal is set before me, no matter

Madeline had to stop herself from shouting in glee. This man had to be
the best thing that had happened to Section in a long time, certainly
since that unfortunate war with Red Cell when their ranks had been
depleted. Maybe Section should change its recruitment strategy;
prisons really didn't have the quality inmates they used to. The military
might make better grazing grounds.

She flashed her eyes over to the rows of clothes she had in her office.
None of them seemed right for the specimen before her. Well, that was
a problem easily solved. "Come on, Jim. You get to take me to lunch."

He glanced at his watch. "It's only 9:15 in the morning."

"I guess we'll just have to find some way to kill the time," Madeline said,
grabbing his arm possessively.

Section One: Hallway

Birkoff, a twenty-something computer genius, was mildly amused as he
watched his friend Nikita pace the length of hallway outside the control
room. He knew she was worried about her friend Jim who had gone off
with Madeline early in the morning and now it was after 5 P.M. and they
had yet to return. He didn't know why she was so concerned. A
cancellation wouldn't have take so long. Probably Madeline had gotten
into one of her shopping moods and needed a packhorse. And tall,
muscular Jim fit the bill. Of course he fit the bill for something else too.
He shuddered as an image came to mind.

By the time Birkoff got rid of the disturbing thought, Michael had joined
Nikita and the pacing had stopped. Good. Now he could concentrate on
what he was supposed to be doing. Or he could try to eavesdrop.

"I don't know why you're worried. So far Jim has settled into the
Section quite adequately," Michael said, ignoring the jealousy he could
feel seething beneath his usual facade. He just couldn't understand
Nikita's fascination with the man. Just what had occurred in those few
minutes in the warehouse? Or was it something more? Had Nikita and
Jim met more than once?

"That's what scares me, Michael," Nikita explained. "He's settled in too
quickly. I--" She stopped as she heard a strange sound. She turned
her head quickly toward the source. Surely that wasn't Madeline

But it was. She appeared in the corridor from the parking area, her
hand wrapped around Jim's arm, and she was laughing as he said
something in her ear. They slowed to a stop when they saw the
welcoming committee.

"Michael, Nikita," Madeline acknowledged, not releasing her firm grip on
Jim. "You're both here late on your day off."

"Michael was just keeping me company because I thought I had been
stood up for dinner," Nikita replied, staring meaningfully at Jim.

Jim's eyes narrowed. He didn't remember any plans with Nikita save
their usual walk. Apparently this was her way of saying she wanted to
talk. "I'm sorry, Nikita, I guess we just lost track of time." He turned to
Madeline and raised her hand to his lips. "Thank you for lunch, milady. It
was interesting."

Madeline smiled and for a moment Nikita thought she saw a faint blush
on the older woman's cheek. "No. Thank you, Jim. It's been a while
since I've had such a stimulating afternoon. But you should have told
me you had plans with Nikita. We could have come back hours ago."

"And where would the fun have been in that?" he teased. He truly liked
the striking, elegant, auburn-haired woman. She reminded him of a
feminine Simon. Tough on the outside; marginally gooey on the
inside--if you dug deep enough. Her profession didn't scare him. Years
of working covert ops, under the guise of the Army rangers, had
acclimated him to her way of thinking. He didn't totally agree with it, but
it wasn't enough for him to scuttle a relationship with her.

Madeline grinned and reluctantly let go of his arm. "By the way, Michael,
Jim's training starts tomorrow and I've decided he'll be on first team."

Michael merely nodded, although it was unusual for a recruit to be
designated to a team before he even began training. What was it with
this man and Section's women? "As you wish, Madeline."

Madeline disappeared into one hallway and Michael into another, leaving
Nikita and Jim alone. "First team, huh?" Nikita said bitterly. "You must
really be good."

Jim's steely blue eyes captured hers. "It sounds as if you're asking a
question, Nikita, and if you are, I want you to remember I promised
never to lie to you. So before you ask the question, be sure you want
to hear the answer," he warned.

She sighed. He was right; she didn't want to know what he and
Madeline had done all day. "You're still recovering and if I know Michael,
he's going to work you hard tomorrow. So forget the dinner invitation,
okay? I think your rest is more important."

He nodded in agreement. He was tired and Michael was going to push
him to the limit in training. Especially since Nikita had obviously been
worried about him. "Walk me to my quarters?"

"Of course." They walked together in silence, a slight distance between
them until a group of recruits passed them in the hallway. She felt Jim
tense and she looked up to see the recruits give him a very hostile
stare before going on their way. "What was that about?" Nikita asked

"I'm not too popular among the lower echelon here in the Section."

"Why?" She'd never seen Jim be deliberately non-friendly to anyone. 

Jim laughed at her naivete. "Where were those recruits heading?"

"To dinner," she answered without hesitation.

"And how did you know that?"

"Because recruits are only allowed out of their quarters to eat and

"And what am I classified as?"

"A recruit." Nikita understood now. So far, Jim had never followed the
same rules as the others. He roamed the halls freely, had left the
compound with Nikita on several occasions, and now had spent the
whole day out with Madeline. "Teacher's pet, huh?"

"Something like that. It's bad enough that I'm older than they are and
didn't come from prison. Worse, I was a cop. People like me put them in
a place where Section could get to them."

"Does everyone treat you this way?"

"No. I get along quite well with the seasoned operatives. They know
there's no such thing as a teacher's pet in Section One. Everyone is

"Let me know if the situation gets worse," she said defensively.

Jim laughed. "Back down, tiger. I can handle it."

She even laughed at herself. "I know you can, Jim." She sombered. "I
know you think you can handle everything."

"We're back to Madeline, aren't we?" He sighed. "I wasn't manipulated,

This time she was the one who rolled her eyes at his naivete. He just
didn't know Madeline like she did and he was going to have to find out
for himself. "Just be careful, okay? Games are as natural as breathing
here in Section. I don't want you blind-sided like I was."

"One of these days, we're going to sit down somewhere outside of
Section and you're going to explain these cryptic remarks, okay?" he
told her, seeing the glimmer of tears in her eyes. "I won't be hurt,
Nikita. I can't be. Not anymore."

As Nikita walked back toward the exit she wondered if all the men in
Section were as incredibly stupid as the ones she cared about, or was it
something in her that was attracted to such foolishness. Both Michael
and Jim were convinced they could shun emotion, turn on and off their
feelings at the push of a button. Yet in the eyes of each, she saw
enough pain to cry for them. 

"Going home, Nikita?"

She realized she'd almost crashed into Michael. "Yes, I'm going home.
And I'm going to wallow in my outrageous, useless, futile, emotions.
And you know what, Michael? It's going to make me happy!"

Michael stared nonplused at the long blond hair as she stomped off and
wondered why she thought she waiting until she got home.

        III. Modification- a slight or partial change in form

Section One: Gym

Nikita watched as Jim did the last of his rotations with the weights. If he
had been physically fit before, now he could be considered a poster boy
for Muscles magazine. Michael had put him through some punishing
workouts and only because she knew Michael put himself through the
same punishment, she didn't protest his treatment of Jim.

She knew Michael's feelings (oops, that's right, he didn't have any)
toward Jim were directly related to her feelings toward Jim. But what
Michael didn't know, and should have, was that her feelings for Jim
weren't anywhere similar to her feelings for him. Jim was her confidant,
her best friend, and any sexual tendencies they may have felt for each
other in the beginning had turned into sibling affection. In fact, Jim
knew more about the relationship between her and Michael than anyone
else. That was why he promised never to lie to her.

"Magnificent, isn't he?"

Nikita nodded, barely acknowledging Madeline. Hypocrite, she called to
herself. Here she was bashing Michael for feeling jealous of Jim when
the same thing could be said about her attitude toward Madeline. Jim's
and Madeline's relationship had continued and although both seemed
happy, the whole thing bothered Nikita. She had concluded it was
because despite his toughness and his former background in covert
activities, Jim's soul was still pure. She wished she knew how he
managed to pull off such a feat, how he had worked with corrupt
government officials, captured criminals, delved into the dregs of human
evilness, and yet left his soul untouched, untainted.

Nikita figured if she had one gift, it was insight into the soul. Michael's
was tortured, by things that had happened before he came to Section
and by the myriad of "crimes" he'd committed in the name of the covert
organization. Madeline's was dark. She knew the names of so many
evils that they had been incorporated into her and although she
wouldn't classify Madeline as being totally morally corrupt, the essence
existed in her. Speaking of evil, where was the head devil?

"I haven't seen Operations around lately," Nikita said to Madeline.
Operations was the head of Section One. He and Nikita thoroughly
disliked each other.

"There was some minor trouble at a substation."

Aha. That explained why Madeline felt so comfortable flaunting Jim as
her boy toy, Nikita thought sullenly. "Needed hands-on management,
huh?" Madeline nodded. "I'm surprised you weren't sent in. Hands-on
management seems to be your forte."

Madeline smiled sympathetically. "Jim doesn't blame you for his
involvement in the Section. Isn't it about time you forgave yourself and
let him go? Your guilt is unnecessary."

Nikita laughed. "You think Jim and I are about guilt?"

"It explains why you are so protective of him."

Nikita took a deep breath and counted to ten, a technique Jim had
taught her. There was no way she was going to let Madeline goad her
into a catfight in the middle of Section. "I'm protective of him because
he is my friend. You see, that's the way friendship works among my

"We must work on your attitude, Nikita. Come by my off--" Just then a
recruit walked by Jim and deliberately bumped his arm. The heavy
barbell barely missed landing on his foot. Nikita started toward him, but
Madeline held her back.

The recruit, Eddie, Nikita recalled, stood there defiantly waiting for Jim's
reaction. But Jim merely picked up the weight and put it in its place on
the stand. Then he picked up a towel to wipe the sweat from his face.
Eddie mouthed something and turned away. It was then that he
realized Jim's towel was wrapped firmly around his throat. Just as
quickly as he was caught, he was let go and Jim slowly walked toward
the women, never looking back at the man he could have so easily

"Hello, ladies. Checking out the meat market today, are we?" he inquired

"Wanted to see what was on the dinner menu," Madeline quipped, her
eyes watching him closely.

"Sorry, but Nikita got to me first. We're going to mark the occasion of
my first mission tomorrow. Let me shower and I'll be with you in a
minute, Nikita."

The women watched him walk away. "What was that about?" Madeline
asked, knowing Nikita wasn't nearly as shocked as she should have

"He's had some trouble with the recruits that were already here when
he came. They don't like it that Jim has more freedom than they do."

"I was not aware their likes and dislikes were of any importance,"
Madeline said coldly. "This is a serious breach in discipline. Have that
recruit report to my office as soon as he showers."

"Jim's not going to like you interfering," Nikita pointed out.

"This is not about Jim, Nikita. This is about discipline and respect."

"Whatever you say, Madeline." 

A Public Park

"So what's on your mind, Jim?" Nikita asked as they walked along a
dimly lit path. For most citizens, it would have been foolish to take such
chances at night. But these were Section operatives; the only fools
would be those who attempted to attack them. "Are you nervous about
tomorrow's mission?"

"Not really. At least I know about it." Which was better than Nikita had
had it. She had thought she was merely having dinner with Michael
when suddenly her trainer had given her a gun and quick, and
deliberately inaccurate, instructions.

"Then why are we out here away from the mechanical probings of

Jim didn't know how to begin because he didn't want to have the
discussion at all. But despite all his attempts to become the military
drone version of Jim Ellison, some aspects of the kinder, gentler form
still survived. And that part of him recognized and accepted Nikita as a
friend-- a friend who needed to know at least a partial truth about him
for her own safety.

"Something will happen when we work together, Nikita," he began
slowly. "It may not happen tomorrow, or the next mission, or even the
next, but it will happen."

She stopped walking and tugged on his arm until he looked at her.
"What are you talking about, Jim?" His tone was scaring her.

"I have a... problem. At times, usually at the worst possible moment
actually, I... space out." That sounded better than "zoning", didn't it?

"Define 'space out'," she demanded in a panic.

"Here in body, gone in mind."

Nikita looked at him in confusion. Was he telling her he had some form
of epilepsy? No, Medlab would have spotted that from the beginning
and he would have been canceled immediately. Flashbacks from drug
use? Not Jim. He didn't even pop the pills he should have been taking.
That thought connected with another. "Does this have something to do
with your reaction in the sims chamber?" Advanced training was
performed in a simulation room with holographic enemies and a sensor
badge which let you know every time the bad guys got in a good shot.
The first time Jim tried a sim, he passed out. The second time, he
lasted two minutes before a migraine sent him to his knees in agony.
There hadn't been a third time. For once Nikita had been glad Jim was
sleeping with Madeline.

"Yes." Nikita was a quick thinker. The holograms and his enhanced
eyesight seemed to operate on opposing frequencies which fried his

"I take it from your matter-of-fact outlook that you've had these
episodes before?"


She struggled with the urge to slap him. "Damn it, Jim. Stop it with the
yeses and tell me what's going on! How the hell did you survive the
army and the police department with a problem like this? And how the
hell are we going to get you out of Section without them canceling

With a sigh, he filled her in on his history. How the senses hadn't kicked
in until his period of isolation in Peru which was at the end of his military
career. How an anthropology student, Blair Sandburg, had come up
with the Sentinel theory and had become his Guide and police partner.
The only thing he left out was the small fact that all five of his senses
were heightened. He admitted only to having enhanced hearing
because, whether she was aware of it or not, Nikita already had
evidence of it.

"So that's how you knew my name," she said wonderingly.

"I heard Michael the same way I heard the shots even thought you and
the targets were using silencers."

"And when I joked about you hearing me coming from a mile away..."

He shrugged. "It wasn't a joke."

Nikita slumped onto a bench. "This is incredible. Why did you keep this
from the Section?"

"Because they would want to exploit it and I'm too unstable without my

"But couldn't someone else learn to be your Guide?"

"A guide, with a little 'g', yes. My captain assumed the role on a couple
of occasions. He was effective during some milder episodes, but if I was
drawn in too deep, only Sandburg--my capital 'G' Guide, could reach

Her forehead creased as she tried to understand. "But you've made it
this far with no guide."

"Because I've been extremely careful and I've only been in controlled
situations. Out in the field anything could happen. That's the reason
behind this confession, Nikita. I want you to know if it happens, when it
happens, there's no need for you to feel guilty. Just protect yourself
and get out."

"Leaving you behind?" She shook her head. "Couldn't you give me a
crash course in being a guide? Maybe with you trying and me doing
what little I can do, we can keep you from 'spacing out'."

"Actually, the term is 'zoning out' or just 'zoning'. And all I can do is tell
you some of the triggers and the signs that I'm in a zone. If you
suspect it, you should talk to me or shake me."

"Any way to prevent you for getting in that state in the first place?"

"This is going to sound odd, but I need to be kept from concentrating.
It's when I key in on one thing that I'm most susceptible. Talking,
touching, whatever breaks my focus is a help."

She took his hand as if practicing. "Are you in pain when this happens,
like in the sims chamber?"

Unconsciously, he stroked the hand in his. "That was slightly different. I
was overwhelmed by input in the chamber and that caused the pain. If I
had been subjected to it much longer, I would have either sunk into a
deep zone to protect myself or gone insane."

Nikita leaned against his strong shoulder. "I knew you were a
complicated man the moment I saw you."

"High maintenance is my middle name," Jim said with a trace of

She laced their fingers and pulled him to his feet. "Maybe so. But you're
worth it."

He followed her back to the car. "About this code name business. Who
came up with the idea of naming me Atlas, Josephine?" he asking, using
her code name.

"Jim, with shoulders like yours, what else would we call you?" she
replied with a grin, that turned into a laugh as the interior car lights
revealed his blush.

Anderson Estate

Nikita kept her hand firmly on Jim's back as the deal was being made. In
the past two months, she'd gotten good at finding excuses to touch
Jim. This mission was easy; she was posing as his girlfriend in crime so
keeping hands on her man didn't need explaining.

Jim smiled at Nikita, aware of what she was doing. She was dedicated to
being his guide and he grew dizzy trying to name all the ways she
managed to distract him without alerting Section (mainly Michael) that
her movements were deliberate. He hadn't even come close to zoning,
partially because of her efforts and partially because a Section mission
was so carefully planned he hadn't had to use his Sentinel senses
beyond normal usage.

Like hearing Michael from Nikita's comset. With his short hair it was
hard to hide a comset and the ones embedded in the handles of
glasses irritated his hearing (he only admitted that to Nikita), so Section
had granted him the ability to choose when he wanted to wear one.
Nikita had smirked when she heard that. Since Jim's arrival, Section had
been allowing more and more choice and to everyone's great
astonishment... Section still survived! In fact, according to Birkoff's
statistics, mission-related injuries were down significantly. Nikita knew
that was because the operatives went out into the field with a less
pessimistic view.

Of course all that would probably change as soon as Operations
returned. He would have a fit over the changes Madeline had
implemented. And the things she let Jim get away with... Operations
was not going to be a happy man. She smiled at the thought.

"Nikita, there's a prob--" Before Michael could finish, the comlink died in
her ear. She looked quickly to Jim to see if he'd heard.

He had... and something else as well. "Tyrell, who else did you try to sell
this disk to?" he asked the thinner of the two men in front of him.

"You were the first," Tyrell Anderson said.

"But we weren't the last," Jim supplied. He could hear the rapid pulse of
a liar. He'd had his doubts about Anderson since the beginning of the
deal. The man was too desperate for cash. He had blown his entire
inheritance and was now selling company secrets just to support a very
nasty, and expensive, cocaine habit. Back in his cop days, he would
have busted Anderson for using. However, Anderson was of little
importance to the Section and had the deal played out, he would have
walked away without repercussion. However, it wasn't going to end that
neatly now.

"The other buyers have just arrived. Give me the disk."

Anderson reached into his pocket and pulled out the requested item. "I
don't know what you're talking about, man."

"I do." The man beside Anderson pulled out a gun. Percy Thompson
was the vice president of Anderson's Electronics and was supposedly
the owner's best friend. Jim added the supposedly when Thompson
shot Anderson without a blink of his eye. "Sorry, my friends, but
someone bid higher."

Jim held up his hands to back away. At the beginning of the deal,
Thompson had made him shed his coat and frisked him for weapons.
He'd started to do Nikita next but Jim had stopped him by saying he
didn't allow her with guns. "If you saw how she handled kitchen
utensils, you would know why I don't let her carry a gun," he had
explained with a grin. "But, hey, you don't keep a woman like her
because she can cook anyway."

Nikita had been offended, but it had kept her from being searched.
Suddenly she doubled over in pain, startling Thompson. When she
unclutched her stomach, she was pulling the trigger. Thompson
crumpled to the floor beside his "friend". "Let's go," she called to Jim.
He didn't move and she reached out to grab his arm with a silent

"I'm still here, Nikita," he told her, hearing her heartbeat race. "We can't
go out the way we came in. They're already in the foyer."

They had both memorized the schematics of the house. "Through the
back?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Follow me." He started out the door of the library,
then turned around and hurried back to where the two bodies lay.
"Have to get my jacket," he told her. "It's Madeline's favorite."

Only the sound of nearby gunfire kept Nikita from making a nasty
comment. She gave a slight protest, however, when Jim headed for the
stairs. "We can't get out this way," she whispered.

"The windows are only sealed on the first two floors."

"Yeah, which means we'd have to jump out of the third floor."

He grinned and pulled her along. "Sounds like a challenge."

She looked at the long drop to the ground outside the bedroom they'd
chosen and shook her head. "Jim, didn't Michael ever tell you never run
'up' from trouble? Because that just takes you further away from

"We can do this, Nikita. Trust me."

She did, but... "Can't we just hide out until the Section gets control?"

Jim shook his head. "Section's outnumbered. If we don't get out of
here on our own, we'll be left behind."

"How can you tell we're outnumbered?" She knew this wasn't the time
for curiosity, but she had to know. Besides, this was the first time
she'd actually seen him deliberately use his hearing.

"Our people are wearing soft-soled boots. The enemy are in
hard-bottomed ones. They make a different sound."


He climbed onto the window sill. "I did higher jumps in the military," he
said to reassure her.

"I was never in the military."

"Okay," he said, seeing she was really worried. "I'm going to jump and
when I'm set, you follow me. But I'm going to fall feet first. I want you
to just drop." Her eyes really widened at that. "Don't worry. I'll break
your fall."

"Trust you, right?" she asked wryly.

"Trust me." With those words, he jumped. When he hit the ground he
rolled, absorbing most of the impact. Damn, he thought as he rose to
his feet. It had been a lot less painful when he was younger. With
practiced ease, he turned down his pain receptors and waved to Nikita.
She jumped.

Using his enhanced vision, he followed the rapid flight of her body and
captured her before she hit the ground. The impact sent them both
rolling across the grass. He looked up from where her body pinned him.
"Was it good for you?"

She grinned, winded but unhurt. "I think I now know why Madeline
keeps you around." With belated modesty, she pulled down her short
dress and helped him to his feet. "Where to now, Sentinel?"

That gave him a moment's pause. It had been a while since anyone had
called him that. "Let's go find our ride home."

Jim sensed the relief Michael felt at seeing the two of them, but the
younger man never let it show. He merely called in the team and they
proceeded back to the Section. "How did you get out? We were trying
to clear the entrances for you."

"Jim took us on the scenic route." Michael looked at her curiously. "We
jumped out a third floor window at the back of the house."

"A little extreme."

Jim shook his head at Michael. The poor guy had been in the Section
much too long. "Shooting our way out would have been extreme."

Nikita just realized what Jim had done. "I only had to kill one person,"
she said bluntly. Daringly, she reached over and pecked Jim on the

"Who?" Michael demanded to know.

"Thompson," Jim said. "After he killed Anderson."

"What happened to communications, Michael?" Nikita asked.

"Something shut us down. Birkoff and I are going to have a late night."

Minutes later, the driver signaled their return to Section. Jim knew
immediately that something was wrong. Madeline had taken to greeting
them after a mission, but it wasn't her he sensed outside the van; it
was Birkoff.

As soon as Michael stepped out, the computer expert was whispering in
his ear. "Jim, Nikita, with me," Michael ordered tensely.

"Jim?" Nikita questioned softly as they moved to catch up with their
mutual mentor/trainer.

"It seems your friend has returned."

She frowned. Friend? She stopped in the middle of a step. "Operations
is back?" she nearly shouted.

"Nikita!" Michael chided sharply, but he too wasn't anxious to see his
boss. Especially since he reappeared on the night a mission had been
blown, the only one without closure Michael had been involved in during
the leader's absence. "Remember who and what you are."

Nikita nodded, reluctantly continuing to the briefing room. Whenever
Operations wanted her in on a debriefing, he usually wanted to shout at
her and/or point out her incompetence as an operative. She had
learned to accept it, but the respite had been so soothing.

Jim took one look at the blue-eyed, silver-haired man and knew he was
looking at someone who had sold his soul. Flashing back to what he
knew of his mysterious boss's background, he concluded the sale must
have been the price of his freedom from a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war
camp. Being a soldier himself, Jim felt empathy for the man.

"What the hell happened tonight, Michael!" Operations demanded, his
eyes grazing across Nikita and ignoring Jim altogether.

"Anderson had another buyer who didn't appreciate being outbid."

"Not Anderson, Thompson," Jim clarified.

That got Operations' attention. "Who the hell are you?" he asked, fixing
his icy stare on the impudent stranger.

"Jim. I was recruited while you were away."

Operations turned swiftly to Michael. "I've only been gone six months.
What is this man doing on a mission?"

"Jim is a special circumstance," Michael replied softly. "I will bring up his
background for you." He moved toward a control panel.

Operations cut off Michael's movement with an impatient slash of his
hand. "Not only has he skipped the mandatory two years of training,
but am I to assume he worked with you on first team tonight?"

Michael set his shoulders defiantly. "Jim and Nikita were in play. I was
merely the observer."

Jim was impressed by how tightly Operations controlled his rage. "And
here I am trying to figure out what went wrong tonight... What the hell
were you thinking, Michael? We have rules in the Section for a
reason--so we don't have situations like this!"

"Jim wasn't at fault!" Nikita shouted angrily. "And neither was Michael."

"Speak when you are spoken to, woman!" Operations ordered.

"Like hell!"

Jim saw the situation was rapidly getting out of hand and moved to
calm everyone down. Still a cop, aren't you, buddy? "I don't see what
the problem is," he interjected reasonably.

Operations stared at him. "You don't see the problem? The problem,
Jim, is that some other organization has the information we needed, an
organization we haven't identified yet!"

Jim reached into his jacket and pulled out the disk. "You mean this

Nikita was astonished. In her panic at losing communication with Michael
and trying to get out, she'd forgotten the disk. Then she remembered
Jim going back for his jacket. Madeline's favorite? Right, Jim. And that
led to another question as Michael examined the disk. "Where is

Operations was watching Michael and didn't see Jim's interest in his
answer. "I sent her to her office. She was acting peculiar about the
debriefing. I guess I know why now. She approved all this, didn't she?"

"Her reasons were valid," Michael said and Jim heard approval in his
mentor's voice as he handed the disk to Operations. "The intelligence
has been verified. Jim, Nikita, good work."

One gift of a good leader was to know when to push and when to back
away. Operations decided to let the issue of Jim drop for now, but
eventually he would get to the bottom of this serious breach of Section
One doctrine. "Michael, get with Birkoff and find out what happened to
our communications net. Nikita, I want to know who these 'competitors'

Since he hadn't been mentioned, Jim left with Nikita. "I'll help you with
the search," he said.

She smiled gratefully at him. "It's just a simple matter of going through
the tapes of the mission, isolating whatever clean shots we can of the
enemy, feeding them into the system, and hopefully finding a match in
the database. Shouldn't take us more than six or eight hours, if we're
lucky," she added dryly.

"Consider yourself very lucky," he said with conviction. With his vision,
he could easily identify the faces straight off the videotape. Then he
would visually run through the criminals on file. Sandburg had taught
him how to do so with amazing speed and accuracy, saving many hours
of investigation. 

Besides, he owed Nikita for making her jump out the window.

Section One: Madeline's Office

Jim was getting ready to turn a page in the book he was reading when
he heard her approaching. He liked the way Madeline walked; no
hesitation, only supreme confidence in each step. He rose to his feet
slowly, his bones mildly protesting from the double impact they'd had.

"Jim," she said as she saw him standing at her desk. She was startled
but covered well.

"Hello, Madeline. Hope you don't mind that I borrowed some light
reading material." He held up the book, An Intimate Journey Into The
Psychotic Mind.

"Whatever is mine, is yours, Jim," she said exhaustedly. Operations had
been a bear for the last four hours. It was a good thing she was used
to working with unreasonable people.

"Is that still the case?" he asked softly. "I haven't been siting here for
two hours because of this fascinating book, Madeline. I wanted to know
if you were going to hand me my walking papers."

She deliberately misunderstood. He could tell by the change in her
pulse. "You can't walk away from the Section."

"It's not the Section I'm concerned about leaving." She was silent.
"Operations were exceptionally clear on his opinion of me. Will I be

"No," she declared adamantly. "I have spent the last four hours
justifying my actions, all my actions, to Operations. He will abide by my
decisions. That has no bearing on the future, however."

"I understand that, Madeline. No one is above cancellation. Not even
you. I don't want our relationship to hurt you."

Madeline smiled grimly, thinking she understood where he was leading.
"You want to drop me for my own good. If that is a salve to your
conscience, you have my permission, Jim."

He let his senses flow out and discovered this time she really didn't
understand. Women. "Damn it, Madeline! I'm not deliberately looking
for an out. I don't want to give you up. But I will, if being with me gets
you into trouble with Operations."

Madeline moved close to him, putting her hand to his jaw and forcing
him to look her in the eye. "You actually care for me?"

He kissed her roughly, possessively. "After all these weeks, months,
you have to ask me that? Hell, woman, why else would I be sleeping
with you?"

Her penetrating brown eyes watched him closely. "You said you would
do anything to achieve your goal. I thought you considered the goal
was to satisfy me. It was a logical assumption for you to make. After
all, I asked you about seduction, then proceeded to seduce you."

"So are you saying this was a training exercise? That you have been
screwing me for weeks to teach me the art of seduction?" Jim asked

"You didn't need teaching," she admitted.

"So was it to hone your own skills?" She shook her head. "Then what
was it about, Maddie?"

She stared at him blankly. "I don't know."

He took pity on the bewildered profiler. She had spent so many years
analyzing everyone else, she'd neglected herself. "I know I make you
happy." He couldn't explain to her that he was sure of this because of
her body's reactions to him; the speeding of her heartbeat, the
widening of her pupils, the spray of pheromones that she released
when he was near. "I think maybe you've forgotten what happiness is.
Let me help you find it again."

"I don't understand what's happening to me."

Even in her confusion, she didn't lower her head. His proud, regal
Maddie. "I know you don't, sweetheart. But I do, I'll help you if you let
me." He wrapped his arms around her, feeling the fine trembling
coursing through her.

"Okay, Jim," she murmured against his shoulder. "Teach me to be
happy. Teach me to care."


Jim shifted Madeline's head to a pillow and rose from the sofa as he
heard footsteps outside the office. He and Madeline had just snuggled
together in an attempt to teach her about simple comforting. It must
have worked because all the tension had left her and she'd fallen asleep
in his arms.

Without glancing at her monitors, he listened to the precise cadence of
the approaching person and concluded it was Michael. He pushed the
controls to the doors. Michael was startled to find him there and even
more shaken to see Madeline lying on the sofa, covered with an afghan.
She looked far too human that way.

"She's sleeping," Jim said softly. "Operations ran her hard tonight. You
as well, apparently."

Michael held out a data disk. "I came by to drop off an update of my
report. You and Nikita are to be commended for your quick identification
of the competition."

"I told Nikita not to tell you of my involvement."

Michael gave a small smile. "When have you ever known her to simply

Jim gave a soft laugh as he headed to a cabinet. "Brandy?" he asked,
holding up two snifters. Michael paused, then nodded. Jim figured he
wasn't keeping Michael away from his bed; if his instincts were any
good, Michael didn't sleep any better than he did. They were similar in
other ways too. "Do you know why you're here, Michael?"

"To drop off my report," he answered, watching the light of the single
lamp play in the liquor.

Jim shook his head. "No, you're here for the same reason I am. You
were worried about Madeline. You checked your internal spy network
and found she was still here and you were concerned." Michael started
to deny it, but Jim wouldn't let him. "I know care is a four-letter word,
Michael, but it is not profane. Profound, maybe, but never profane. You
care for Madeline. You care for Nikita. It's nothing to be ashamed of."

"I am not ashamed."

"Then why do you deny it?"

Michael took a sip of the brandy and savored its smoothness. "Never
give hostages to fortune."

"Your denial doesn't make them any less of a hostage for you. How
many times has Nikita been used against you?"

Michael sat the snifter down before his tight grip caused it to snap. "As
many times as I have been used against her."

"Yet, does she deny what she feels for you?"

"It is not the same," Michael argued. "Besides, she never mentions her
feelings anymore."

"But you know they exist."

Michael nodded. Over the years Nikita had learned how to hide what she
was feeling, but never from him. "They wanted me to cancel her," he
said softly. "I couldn't."

"They almost destroyed you." Jim knew Madeline was included in the
"they" and he was saddened by that. Section One was a cruel master to
please and its servants often lost themselves in obedience.

Michael shook his head. "There was nothing left to destroy."

"I think Nikita would disagree with that."

"Nikita is... different."

"Nikita is special."

Michael bowed his head, then looked up. "Yes, Nikita is special," he
agreed and with those words, he made peace with his jealousy... and

Adaptations, Part II


D.L. Witherspoon

   IV. Fluctuation- a state of continual change or variation in an
                          irregular way

Nikita's Apartment

To say Nikita was surprised to find Madeline at her door was an
understatement. Since Operations' return, Michael and Jim seemed to
have come to some understanding, but she and Madeline had yet to get
back to the comfortable place they used to be. Jim claimed women were
just more stubborn than men, more inclined to carry a grudge. Jim
knew a lot about many things; women just didn't happen to be one of

"May I come in, Nikita?"

Nikita politely offered her something to drink. "What does the Section
want with me on my day off?" she asked as she heated water for tea.

Madeline cleared her throat. "I'm not here on Section business, Nikita. I
have a personal favor to ask of you." Nikita eyebrows climbed to her
hairline. "I know we have had our differences this past year and the
center of those differences is why I'm here."

Nikita looked up quickly. "You're here about Jim? What's the matter?"

"Today is the anniversary of his death."

"Which means it is also the anniversary of Blair Sandburg's death,"
Nikita completed, understanding the significance immediately.

"Jim is very good at hiding the things that matter the most to him.
Sometimes, however, I catch him offguard and there is such a look of
sadness in his eyes." Nikita nodded. She knew the look Madeline was
describing. "Help him through this day, Nikita. He confides in you."

"Not nearly as much as you think he does," she muttered.

"Any would be more than he does with me." Madeline turned to the tall
blonde with a pleading look. "I don't care what it takes, what you have
to do. Seduce him, sleep with him, it doesn't matter to me, Nikita. Just
make sure he's alive at the end of this day. Please."

"Madeline?" Nikita walked over to the woman and put her hand on her
shoulder. "You actually care for him, don't you?"

Madeline nodded. "Shocks you, doesn't it? It was a surprise to me as
well. I'm still not quite comfortable with the concept. Jim vows to help
me come to terms with it. But in order to do that, he needs to survive
the day."

"I'll do whatever I can, Madeline. But that won't include sleeping with
him. Surely you know he wouldn't betray you like that?" Actually I
wouldn't betray you like that. It was then Nikita realized she and
Madeline had remained friends all along.

Madeline shrugged. "Ah, that's a matter of faith and I'm still shaky with
that one too. I've studied it in others, have used it against them
successfully. However, I've gained new insight from this end of the

"I'm proud of you, Madeline." Before the older woman could move away,
Nikita drew her into a hug.

Section One: Jim's Quarters

Without knocking, Nikita stood in front of Jim's door and waited for
admittance. She knew he knew she was there. He always knew.

As she patiently waited for him to figure out she wasn't going to leave,
she looked around the narrow halls. Jim could have had his own
apartment months ago when he was granted Operative status, but he
had decided to stay at Section. Nikita knew it had something to do with
his past, but he wouldn't talk about it. Today, however, he wouldn't
have a choice.

"Come in, Nikita." She walked in, hating the starkness of the room.
Birkoff, who also stayed at Section, had decorated his room to match
his personality--high-tech toys, framed animation cels, etc. Jim had
apparently decided minimalism would be his guiding force. There was
the bed, a leather recliner, and bookshelves covering each wall. Aside
from the desk and drawers built into the area, that was it. If it wasn't
for the books, one would think the room was waiting for a renter.
"What brings you to the Section today?" he asked from his position on
the side of the bed.

"You do." He didn't comment. "Did you really expect me to leave when
you didn't invite me in?"

"No," he said softly. "Why are you here? Or do I already know? By the
way, who did you bribe to turn off the surveillance in here?"

She wasn't sure Madeline had done as she'd asked or not. The older
woman cared for Jim, but she was still Section. "How do you know we're
not being monitored?"

"The equipment hums. It stopped five minutes before you came to my
door. The quiet is quite soothing. I could have been sleeping, you

"You don't sleep, remember?" The first mission they had gone on as
husband and wife had lasted three days. The first night she thought he
was being vigilant, the second night she knew something was wrong.
So he had reluctantly told her of the dreams and his avoidance of sleep.
"Tell me about him, Jim. Tell me about Blair Sandburg."

"Why?" he asked tiredly.

"Because I want to know. Because today, you need to tell someone."
She settled into the recliner and waited.

So he told her the story from its beginning. Blair Sandburg had been an
anthropology grad student doing his dissertation on people with
heightened senses. A nurse friend had contacted him when Jim showed
up at the hospital complaining of hearing things (this was slightly
abridged since Nikita wasn't aware of his other heightened senses).
Their initial meetings hadn't gone very well, but when Blair had helped
him capture a bomber, things started to click. A few weeks later, Blair's
apartment had blown up and he moved into Jim's spare room. From
there a friendship had been born. "He was a brother to me, Nikita.
Troublesome and trouble-prone, but always there for me when I
needed him."

"It seems you make a habit of collecting siblings," she said with a sad

"I guess I do, sis. But not before Sandburg came into my life. I was a
loner back then. One of the reasons my wife divorced me, I guess."

"She was a fool."

He liked the quick way she defended him. "No. I wasn't a whole person
when I was with her. She was right to go find someone who was."

"What happened that last day, Jim? What happened a year ago?"

Jim leapt nervously from the bed. "I don't know. We had extradited a
prisoner to Spokane and were on our way back to Cascade. Blair had
wanted to visit an Indian reservation to pick up something for a
colleague of his at the university. We got off the main road and headed
into the mountains. Suddenly we were being followed. The car knocked
us off the road. The Jeep flipped and apparently I fell out. Blair didn't.
He was pinned in the Jeep when it went over the cliff and fell into the

"Did they ever discover who killed him?"

Jim threw up his hands. "I don't know. I never checked. Blair was dead.
My life, that life, was over."

"Was his body recovered?"

"Damn it, Nikita! I told you I never checked anything. I didn't want to
know the details. I still don't want them. As a good Section operative,
I'm supposed to forget my past. That's what I've done!"

She left the recliner and stood in front of him, taking his hands into
hers. "If you had forgotten, you'd be able to sleep."

Nikita shivered as she looked into his blue eyes. They seemed even
more haunted than usual. "Did I tell you the dreams have changed? I
guess the Spirit Guide gave up. It's Blair himself who calls for me now. I
know his voice. You would think that after a year, I would start to
forget things like that... the sound of his voice, the smell of his
shampoo, the expressiveness of his hands... But it's all there in the
dreams, Nikita. He accuses me of leaving him, of abandoning him like so
many others have in his life. I yell at him, tell him that it's all beyond my
control. But he doesn't understand. He never understands."

Jim looked at their joined hands. "Why does it haunt me so, Nikita?
Why isn't my friend at rest, at peace? How did I fail him?" Tears wet the
backs of their hands and he realized they were his own. That only made
more fall.

She wrapped her arms around him, gently rocking him as he finally let
go of the grief. After a long while, he gave a final shudder and moved
away. Unable to face her, he reached for the box of tissues beside his
bed, but she beat him to it and with a small smile she mopped his face
for him.

Snatching a tissue, he did the same for her. "What good has come of
this, Nikita? Now instead of one sad person, there are two."

"Which means it is now your duty to cheer me up," she said, examining
her eyes in the mirror. "Good thing I always have a pair of sunglasses
handy. Grab yourself a pair and let's go."

"Where?" he asked warily, opening a drawer for a pair of shades.

"We'll know when we get there."

Momar's Midway Carnival

The promise of a 100-horse carousel caught Nikita's eye. Jim went
along because she gave him no choice. So he turned all his senses to
their minimum levels and "happily" paid for hand stamps which gave
them all-day rides.

"You didn't tell me you were a carnival junkie," Jim muttered as they
exited the House of Terrors. Apparently they had never seen Birkoff
when the computers went down. Now that was a terror.

"I didn't know I was," Nikita admitted, leading him to the Tilt-A-Whirl
line. "This is the first one I've ever been to."

"How did you make it through adolescence without going to one?"

She shrugged. "Mama would never give the money to go. She said
there were better things to spend it on. Which meant that either her
latest boyfriend had hit her up for a loan or had just plain stolen from

Jim threw his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close.
Sometimes, looking at the confident, intelligent woman she was now, it
was easy to forget Nikita's background. Eventually, her mother had
chosen her latest boyfriend over her daughter and kicked her out into
the streets. Jim could still remember his anger when she told him that
Michael had shown her the photo of her funeral and her mother hadn't
even attended.

Five rides later, Jim had had enough. His stomach was feeling queasy
and there was the stirring of a headache behind his left ear. Not
wanting to disappoint her too much, he decided he would win her a
stuffed animal-- at least the ground would be stable beneath him. The
baseball throwing game was of course rigged, but nothing a Sentinel
couldn't compensate for. With a minimum number of tosses, Nikita was
the proud owner of a five-foot tall purple teddy bear.

"I think I'm in love, Jim," she said as he hefted the monstrosity into her

"I can't wait until Michael sees his replacement, sis," he replied with a
grin. The grin quickly faded, however, as an odd-pitched whine
assaulted his ears.

"Jim?" Nikita questioned in concern as he grew pale. A hand went to his
stomach and she reached out to him. He shook her off, then put both
hands over his ears. Just as she realized he must be hearing something
she couldn't, the carnival plunged into darkness, the rides grinding to a
halt. For about fifteen seconds there was a complete and eerie silence
as the crowd hushed in startlement and fear. Then panic set in and the
noise escalated to match. Thankfully, at the same time power was
restored and a stampede averted.

Nikita saw that in the darkness Jim had been driven to his knees by the
pain. Prying his hands away from his ears, she replaced them with a pair
of industrial strength earplugs. Then she kneeled beside him, gently
shaking his shoulders as she tried to convince him it was safe to inhabit
the world again. She breathed a sigh of relief when his eyes opened.

"Jim, can you hear me?" she asked frantically as he just stared blankly
at her. Then she remembered the earplugs and reached to remove

"No," he said. "I can hear you with them in." That proved to her the
power of his hearing more than anything else. She had tried the
earplugs herself when she bought them a few days after he had agreed
to let her be his guide. She hadn't been able to hear a thing. "Get me
out of here," he pleaded.

She nodded and pulled him to his feet. He looked slightly green and she
knew the garish lighting wasn't totally to blame. As she took his hand,
she noticed his skin was slightly clammy and his breathing ragged.
Whatever had happened, it had knocked him for one large loop. "Hang
on, Jim. We're not far from the exit."

"Don't forget your bear."

She rolled her eyes, but obediently crammed the thing awkwardly
beneath one arm and kept her other wrapped supportively around Jim's
waist. Only when she had both her passengers tucked safely in the car,
did she dare relax. "Are you still in pain?" she asked worriedly.

"It's fading."

Which meant yes. "Do you need medical assistance?"


"Then I'll take you back to my place until you recover. Madeline would
have my head if I took you back in this condition."

"Are we talking conspiracy here?" he questioned as he sat back in the
seat. He found he managed the pain better if he didn't have to listen to
his own head rattle. So he would keep Nikita talking for a while. Besides,
he was curious about her and Madeline.

"She appeared at my apartment this morning, asking me to help you
through this day. She really cares for you, you know."

"I know. You and her are the only ones who have trouble with the

"Well, I finally got it through my thick head today. She's still a little
doubtful, though."

"Not surprising. The people who've been in Section One for a long time
are an odd lot." She looked at him as if to say, You're just now figuring
that out? "Put them in a building and yell, 'bomb,' and they won't blink
an eye. Yell the word 'care' and they'll trip over each other as they try
to escape. Is that the way we're going to end up?"

"Scared of our own hearts? I hope not. I've worked hard, perhaps too
hard at times, to convince certain ones that there's a better way.
However, it's been much easier since help arrived. Thanks, Jim." She
stole a glance at him as she waited for a light to change. He tried to
smile, but it came out as a grimace. "You're hurting," she stated. "Tell
me what to do."

"Listening to you helps," he said.

"Then I'll talk, but not you."

She kept a soft running monologue going as she helped him into her
apartment and ordered him to bed. He protested saying the sofa was
good enough for him, but she knew it was too short for her and he
definitely would not be comfortable. Finally, she showed him what kind
of brat his "sister" could be and he ended up in the bed after downing
three aspirin.

Making him as comfortable as possible, she spent the next three hours
as quiet as she was in mission mode. In fact she'd taken the silence so
close to heart that she literally jumped when someone knocked on the
door. After a quick look through the peephole, she hustled Michael
through the door and motioned for him to be quiet.

"Jim has a headache," she whispered in reply to his questioning
eyebrows. Michael looked around the apartment. "He's in the bedroom.
With a cold compress on his forehead," she added when she saw what
conclusion he'd jumped to. A matter of faith was what Madeline had
called it. Michael had apparently taken after his mentor.

"A migraine?" He had also witnessed the sims chamber mishaps. "We
have a briefing. Do you think he is able?"

She shrugged. "Why didn't you call?"

"I tried. Both your cell phones and the one here."

Nikita frowned. "I unplugged the one here so Jim wouldn't be disturbed.
But both of us checked our cell phones earlier." She reached into the
jacket she had worn to the carnival and pulled out the phone. To her
dismay and confusion, it was off. "I don't understand."

"That's not all," Jim said as he walked slowly into the room. "Check your
watch, Nikita. Hello, Michael. I will be attending the briefing."

"My watch has stopped," Nikita said sharply, then apologized as Jim
winced. "This is the time that the incident occurred at the carnival, isn't

"What incident?" Michael asked quickly.

They explained the blackout. "The place was dead for maybe fifteen
seconds, then all power came back online," Nikita concluded. "Except for
our watches and more than likely, our cell phones."

"The Section just received intel that a terrorist group has gotten its
hands on a device that can blackout a large urban area. Back-up
systems are no protection. All computers will be affected. Birkoff
assures us that in fifteen seconds, billions of dollars can be transferred
to specific accounts and it would take years to track it down. Loss of
security systems is also a concern. Theft of nuclear materials, infiltration
of Level I facilities, the planting of explosive devices are also
possibilities. A source claimed a test of this nullifying device was run

Jim looked at his watch. "Sounds as if your source knows what he's
talking about."

Michael nodded. "We need to get to Section."

Section One: Briefing Room

"Michael is not the Section's errand boy," Operations declared as the
three of them entered and took seats around the floating projection
screen where all pertinent information was downloaded for visual
assimulation. "His valuable time was wasted tracking down the two of

"I did not have to track them. They were at Nikita's apartment."

Operations glanced at Madeline, then Nikita, and finally Jim. "You
certainly get around," he commented with a smirk.

"The loss of communications was not their fault," Michael continued.
"We feel it is directly related to the suspected test of the nullifying

Operations quickly reverted to all business. "Report."

When Jim and Nikita finished, Operations pointed to the screen. "This
appears to be the sector hit. We are monitoring all frequencies for any
reports of erratic electrical behavior as well as computer failures. If we
add in your carnival..." he keyed in a few instructions, "then the area
almost doubles. We have yet to identify the nature of the device--"

"It emits an ultrasonic sound wave," Jim stated. "Probably originating
somewhere here in the northwestern corner of the outlined sector," he
added, pointing to the area highlighted on the screen.

"Are you always so certain of things you know nothing about?"
Operations snarled, dismissing Jim's "knowledge". Damn, he was
getting tired of the man. Sure, he was a hell of an operative, but quite
frankly, he was too good. Intuition told him that the Section's beloved
Jim was hiding something and he was the only one not too charmed to
see it. Jim was nearly at Michael's level, but Michael's training had been
specialized and overseen by Operations himself. And look at the way
both Madeline and Nikita fawned over him. Even Michael seemed less
reticent around him.

But maybe, he thought with satisfaction, Jim had overplayed his hand
this time. This premature identification of the properties of the device
had to be a blunder, the first the man had ever made. Just as
Operations was deciding how to push Jim further, Birkoff raced in.

"Preliminary testing concludes the disabling agent is a high-frequency
sound wave," Birkoff said excitedly, not noticing the instant reactions of
the others. "If that's the case, then its origin is approximately here." He
pointed to the same spot Jim had.

Operations exploded. "'If'? 'Approximately'? Get out, Birkoff! And don't
come back until you have facts!" The computer expert was stunned,
but obediently obeyed his superior.

"That was uncalled for," Madeline chided.

"What's uncalled for is your unnatural trust of loverboy here!"
Operations yelled. "The Madeline of old would already have him in
interrogation, demanding that he tell her how the hell he knows so
much about an unknown device!"

Madeline turned to Jim. "I'm sure he has a viable explanation." Her eyes
challenged him not to make a liar out of her.

"I heard it," he said simply.

"You mean you had prior intel?" Madeline questioned.

"No. I mean I heard the wave."

Operations laughed. "Did you forget what ultrasonic means, Jim?
Beyond human capacity for hearing."

"Normal human hearing," Jim clarified calmly.

Operations snorted derisively. "You trying to tell us you have bionic
hearing, Jim boy? We all have access to the Sci-fi Channel, you know."

"There's nothing mechanical about my hearing."

Operations looked toward Madeline for support, certain he would see
pained disbelief on her face. Instead, he saw a look of intense analyzing.
Surely she wasn't buying into this load of crap, was she? God, the man
must be one talented stud.

Madeline's first reaction had been sadness. Jim didn't lie except when he
was on a mission, but he should have been able to come up with a
better one than super hearing. Then she had caught the look of panic
on Nikita's face and suddenly, the idea didn't seem so contrived.
"Nikita?" she questioned softly.

The blonde looked at Jim. He smiled and nodded. "It's okay, Nikita. We
knew we couldn't keep silent forever."

Nikita fidgeted uncomfortably. Jim didn't know how ruthless Section
could be. They would use him, destroy him, then find a new toy without
batting a lash. But in this, Jim was her boss and she had to obey. "Jim
is a Sentinel, which means he was genetically predisposed to have one
or more of his senses enhanced. In him, it is his hearing."

Operations started to comment, but Madeline quieted him with a raise
of her hand. "How do you know this, Nikita?"

The younger woman sighed. "Because I've been helping him."

Madeline nodded, then looked at Michael. "And you?"

"I was not informed," Michael said. "But I have had suspicions. In
training and in field work, there have been discrepancies which this
information seems to clear up."

She didn't like being in the dark. "Why wasn't the Section informed of
your ability, Jim?"

Madeline said the Section, but Jim knew she was hurt she hadn't been
told. "Section would have wanted to exploit my ability without taking
into consideration the danger involved."


Nikita answered. "Jim's heightened sense needs two people to control
it. Blair Sandburg, his police partner who was killed with Jim was also his
Guide. He gave Jim focus."

"I don't understand," Michael said.

"Jim concentrates to hear. If he concentrates too hard, he falls into a
trancelike state and cannot respond to outside stimuli. For instance, he
will not react to people shooting at him or any other danger. The
guide's job is to keep him from the trance, help him direct his hearing,
and protect his back."

"You said you'd been helping him?" Madeline questioned.

Nikita shrugged. "I'm his new guide. But I'm not too good at it."

"Is your failure the reason he looked like death warmed over when he
arrived here tonight?"

"Nikita took good care of me today, Maddie," Jim hastened to explain
when he saw the look of guilt in Nikita's eyes. "What happened is not
her fault. The intense wave fried my circuits. The overload would have
occurred with or without a guide. In fact, the results would have been
worse if she hadn't been there."

Operations couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Am I the only sane
one here? What kind of contamination occurred at the Section while I
was away? Something has apparently eaten at your brains if you're
buying this superman shit."

"Why would he tell such an obvious, and easily proven, lie?" Madeline
asked logically.

"How the hell should I know? Maybe he's delusional."

Jim had had enough. "So how do you want to do this, sir? Who's going
to leave? Me or you?" he asked.


"Do you want me to leave and then tell you what you were saying or
would you like to be the one to leave, go somewhere far enough away
that I couldn't possibly hear you?"

Operations thought about it. "Madeline and I will leave. Nikita and
Michael will stay with you. Keep an eye on him, Michael. Also, check him
for listening devices." Operations grabbed Madeline's arm and dragged
her away.

Jim stood and raised his arms. "Search away, Michael."

"Unnecessary. I know you heard me through Nikita's comset at the
warehouse that day. You also heard what was happening at the
Anderson Estate. It stands to reason you heard the device."

Jim smiled. "See, sis? Sometimes you just have to trust in your

"Sis?" Michael asked sharply.

"Yeah. Jim and I sort of adopted each other. Can you hear them, Jim?"
she asked as she stood behind him and placed her hands on his


Suddenly she felt the muscles knot under her hands. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head, but she noticed his jaw tense up, signaling anger.
"What's happening?" she questioned again.

He refused to answer. "They're on their way back," he said a short while

Madeline entered first and looked at the three for confirmation. Jim
ignored her as Operations came in. In a move that startled them all,
especially Nikita who up to a second ago had been resting her hands on
his shoulders, Jim came out of his chair and pinned Operations against
the wall. Stunned or maybe merely curious, no one moved to interfere.

"I heard every word of your conversation, you son of a bitch," Jim
growled angrily. "And because I'm not only a gentleman, but a decent
human being as well, I won't repeat what you said. But if I ever hear
you talk to Maddie or any other woman like that again, it will be the last
thing you ever say. Because you can have me canceled but I'll damn well
make sure you get to hell first. Understand?" He released the man and
took his seat.

Operations adjusted his jacket and moved to the control panel. After
that display he had no doubt that Jim had heard every word he'd said.
Now it was time to move on. "Since we know what the device does, how
do we stop it?" he asked as if there hadn't been an interruption in the

"First order of business is to locate it," Michael said.

"I think I may be able to help with that," Jim volunteered. "If the device
is used again, I should be able to lead you to it before the wave
becomes catastrophic."

"What do you mean, Jim?" Madeline asked. She was still debating
whether to chastise him for manhandling Operations or kiss him for
defending her honor. Her honor. She hadn't even realized she still had
any. Until Jim.

"The generation of the wave is a long process. I think my body was
aware of it before the blackout. Depending on how soon I'm aware of it
happening, we should be able to go mobile and track the source."

"How much time are we talking?"

Jim shrugged. "Nikita, I'm going to need your help. I need to go back in
time to the carnival."

"How far back?" Nikita asked, dimming the lights of the briefing room.

"You're going to administer hypnosis, Nikita?" Madeline asked worriedly.
She had no doubt the operative could master the technique with
training, but it was dangerous in the hands of a novice.

"Not really, Madeline. I'm just going to send Jim into a light trance to
help his memory. Where do you want to start, Jim?"

"I was already feeling unsettled when we exited the Galaxy ride, so we
need to start before then." He tried to remember the order of events
but Nikita had been determined to ride everything. He remembered
laughing on the Zipper, so it had to be afterwards. "Maybe the Tunnel
of Love?" he guessed, so focused on his own thoughts that he failed to
notice the reactions of the others in the room. Operations groaned,
wondering how Jim managed to juggle two such demanding women.
Madeline focused on Jim being alive. She herself had told Nikita to do
whatever was necessary to achieve that result. Michael felt a sharp
twinge of jealousy then remembered they considered themselves
siblings. The jealousy faded but he still had to admit to himself that he
had felt it.

Nikita relaxed Jim until he could determine when the wave first affected
him. When they discovered that point, it was calculated that he'd felt
the touch of the device at least an hour before the real destruction

"According to the intel, the city is the target," Michael said. "We'll
station teams in all sectors and we'll move on Jim's orders."

"I think we're forgetting something here," Nikita pointed out uneasily.

"And that is?" Michael questioned.

"Jim could die." No one made a sound. "You didn't see the pain he was
in when that thing struck and it was centered miles away from the
carnival. Now you expect him to guide you until he's on top of it. It will
kill him."

"We will do our best to protect him, Nikita," Madeline said. "Starting by
assigning you to stay at his side until this is over."

"That's not good enough," she started to protest as she rose to her


Everyone stared when Nikita sat meekly in her chair as soon as Jim said
her name. Rather than make a nasty remark, after all he had been
warned, Operations dismissed the briefing and everyone went off to
make plans. Nikita left Jim in discussion with Michael and went to see
Madeline in her office.

"I made you a promise today that I would save him. I can't make that
promise in this case," Nikita said as she sat in the leather chair facing
Madeline's desk.

"I would never ask that of you, Nikita," Madeline said gently. "Chances
are taken with each mission. You know that and so does Jim. He may
not have chosen this life, but his past was his own and even then, he
took chances everyday." Nikita nodded. Jim was a man of action;
Section life had changed nothing for him. "I am curious though,"
Madeline continued. "We've all grown quite used to your soliloquies on
the heartlessness of the Section. Why did you stop your discussion of
us putting Jim in danger?"

Nikita gnawed at a fingernail, until she noticed Madeline's glare. "There's
more to this Sentinel and guide stuff than just hearing, Madeline. Ever
since I've been working with Jim I've noticed that he can say something
in a certain way and I am bound to obey him. No question. No
hesitation. He orders and I do whatever as soon as possible."

"You think it can be bottled?" Madeline teased.

"I don't know but I have noticed he doesn't seem to get any backtalk
from the team when we're on a mission. And he's not even the mission

"Does he usurp your control?"

"No, never. But he's a natural authority figure and everyone reacts to
that. I think that's one of the reasons he does so well undercover. With
Michael, you are instantly aware he is not a person to mess with. He
oozes danger and strangely enough, that attracts instead of repels."
She was talking from personal experience. "With Jim, it's a power thing.
You see him and you know he is in charge. Before you did your magic,
Madeline, he came off as a cop. Now his appearance says boss, not

"I'm proud of you, Nikita. Your observation skills are getting stronger
every day. When this is over, I have some literature for you to read."

"When this is over... I don't know what Jim's death will do to me,
Madeline. I know that with Michael's death, I will not be the same
person," she admitted and Madeline nodded, because Nikita had actually
admitted to nothing. A sign of a good operative. "I have not known Jim
as long, but he has become the older brother I never had, my ally here
in the Section, my partner in the field, and as I mentioned before, my
Sentinel. I will react to his death."

"Then make sure he doesn't die." Madeline reached into her desk drawer
and drew out a slender case, handing it to Nikita. The younger woman
opened it to reveal a syringe. "It will knock him out instantly. Use it if it
will save his life."

"And if the mission isn't complete?"

"That's your call, Nikita. And his."

Section One

After all the worries, the mission was anticlimatic. Two days after he had
revealed his secret to the Section, Jim felt the beginning of the nullifying
wave. Although he was in considerable pain, he provided coordinates to
Michael until they were practically on top of the device. And he refused
to let Nikita medicate him. It was only after the device had been
stopped and it and the team were on their way back to Section that he
allowed her to give him a half dose.

Groggily he made it through debriefing and headed to his quarters.
Nikita, having been on edge for the past two days decided to stay at
her quarters at Section too. As she settled into the room she'd had
since recruit days, she said a silent thank you to whoever looked out
for sentinels and guides.

Her gratitude was premature.

Just as she debated whether to waste energy undressing or just fall
atop the bed, there came a sound like gunfire. With no hesitation, she
picked up her weapon and headed into the hall. Every other operative
was there as well, with guns ready. "Michael, what's going on?" she
asked as he came down the hallway flanked by a security team.

"We don't know. Go back to your rooms!" he ordered. Everyone
obeyed except Nikita.

"Where is the origin of the disturbance?" she asked, joining him and his

For a moment she was afraid he wasn't going to answer, merely send
her back to her room. Then he looked at her, allowing her to see what
was in his eyes. "No," she said softly. The sounds had come from Jim's
quarters. And Michael thought he'd committed suicide. "You're wrong,
Michael." She hurried to the familiar quarters, entering ahead of him.

Jim lay on the floor, gun in hand, and she ran over to him. It was then
that she saw no blood and knew she was right. She also noticed
something else.

"Firecrackers," Michael said, examining the evidence that had caught his
eye immediately upon entering. "Jim set off firecrackers?"

"Call Medlab now, Michael! Jim's not breathing!"

Section One: Medlab

An hour later, Michael and Madeline stood in the doorway of the stark
Medlab room and watched as the respirator breathed for Jim. Nikita sat
at his side, holding his hand, and keeping up a steady stream of
encouraging words. But Jim didn't react.

"Report," Madeline commanded.

"He was in a weakened condition. The loudness of the firecrackers at
such close quarters apparently caused an overload. The Medlab
physicians can't find anything medically wrong, but he is unresponsive."

She nodded. "Nikita and Jim both warned us this could happen. But
what I want to know is why? Where did the fireworks come from? It is
against Section policy to possess, much less set off, an explosive
device within Section property."

"Surveillance revealed a recruit named Jeremy is responsible. He
sneaked into Jim's quarters and wired the fireworks to go off when Jim
went to bed. When questioned, he responded that he was getting back
at Jim because of the cancellation of the recruit Eddie. He thought only
to frighten Jim, show him how vulnerable he was."

"Where is Jeremy now?"

"He is being detained."

"His first mission is scheduled for the end of the week?"


"See that he makes it. And, Michael, he will not survive."

Michael nodded.

Section One: Birkoff's Quarters

"Birkoff, it's me, Nikita."

He immediately opened the door, hastily donning his glasses, revealing
that he'd been asleep. "Hi, Nikita. I heard about Jim. I'm sorry. Is there
anything I can do to help?"

She threw her arms around his bony shoulders. "I knew I was right
coming to you."

He awkwardly returned the hug. "What do you want me to do?"

"Help me find a dead man."

  V. Deviation- a noticeable or marked departure from the norm

Orrin Hatch University-- Utah

Anthony Simmons saw a familiar figure weaving along the sidewalk and
pulled up to the curb. Professor Blake Scott was an alcoholic, but a nice
one. He was never loud or aggressive and he didn't smell. His full beard
and the ponytail that stretched to past the middle of his back were
always neat and clean. He was phenomenal in the classroom, blitzed or
not, and his students had taken it upon themselves to look out for
their teacher, since it was obvious he couldn't, or wouldn't, do it

"Need a lift home, Professor Scott?"

The man stopped and peered at him with bloodshot blue eyes. "You
already have an 'A' in anthropology, Tony. No need for brownie points."

That was something else about the professor; he knew everyone in
class by name, despite his condition. Faith, Tony's psych major
girlfriend, said that the professor had to be a new drunk because his
health was still good. The professor had been the topic of discussion at
her last study group and they'd concluded he was depressed due to
some recent catastrophic event in his life-- a loss of major proportions,
perhaps the death of a family member or loved one. Tony had asked if
it were merely a depression, why hadn't some shrink prescribed him
some Prozac and cured him. With a disdainful look, Faith had informed
him that sometimes even chemicals couldn't help.

"Hop on in, prof. I pass your building anyway." Everyone knew where he
lived and a select few even had keys to his apartment since he was
losing his all the time.

Blake Scott climbed out of the car and waved to the friendly student
who waited until he saw the professor had his keys before driving off.
Well, it seemed Blake Scott's students just adored him, he thought as
he searched the kitchen for whatever bottle he had stashed there.
Lucky Blake Scott.

God, he was starting to hate that name. If he had it all to do over
again, he'd request a different one. Hell, it he had it all to do over again,
he'd rather drop dead. This slow dying crap sucked. First he'd tried
cocaine, figuring that was the best method of non-intentional suicide,
but years of living with, and living as, a cop wasn't as easily dismissed
as his old life. So he'd gone the legal drug route--good old alcohol.
However, death was considerably long in coming and he was just about
ready to go in for the psychiatric exam the college had been threatening
him with. The doctor would prescribe medication and he'd overdose. A
nice, non-messy ending.

And the doctor would prescribe something because while Blake Scott
was merely an alcoholic, Blair Sandburg was stark raving mad. That was
evidenced by his agreement to go along with this Blake Scott bullshit.
But when he had awakened in the Department of Defense facility and
was told Jim Ellison was dead, nothing else had been real to him.
According to Colonel Dennis McAfee, they had tried to save Jim too but
his injuries were too severe. When Blair had asked why, the colonel had
admitted that they knew about Jim's sentinel abilities and were hoping
the two of them would agree to help them with their own sentinel
project in return for the medical care they had received.

Now Blair had worked with government entities before with mixed
results and he'd heard some stories from Jim that had made his skin
crawl. So he read between the lines, and the lies, and concluded that
the DOD had set the whole thing up and something had gone wrong.
Right then and there, if he had been sane, he would have gotten the
hell out. But no, he decided to buy their little scenario, and let the
people in Cascade think he'd died with Jim. Cascade held too many
memories for him and besides, if the government did have their hands
on some sentinels, he owed it to Jim to help them.

What he had come to find out, though, was that the government
wasn't finding sentinels, they were making them. And the guinea pigs
were the students of Orrin Hatch. The mandatory psych courses had
mandatory labs and what went on in those labs was brainwashing of
the highest order. Although a few students achieved some degree of
enhancement of their senses, it was nothing in relation to that of a
genetic sentinel.

He poured himself a finger of whiskey, then increased it threefold
because he had missed breakfast and lunch, and dinner was only an
hour away. Nothing like three squares a day, he thought bitterly.

Moving a stack of papers from some ugly green chair, he plopped down
and sipped the only regular sustenance he had. He'd found being an
alcoholic was easy. All you had to do was drink. No meeting in a back
alley to score. No keeping it hidden. No wondering if what he'd bought
was good quality. The ABC store was just a block down the street and
the only question asked was cash or charge. And wasn't it nice that
alcohol had a board which kept a close eye on quality. Who could ask
for a better addiction?

Except for the fact he didn't think he was addicted. His body had yet to
crave the stuff. He drunk because it was convenient, because it held the
memories and the nightmares at bay. Man, he was pathetic. Millions of
people attended AA meetings everyday, yet he couldn't even manage to
get that right.

Maybe he needed to cultivate some ne'er-do-well friends. Those always
seemed to drive a person to ruin. But then that would mean he would
have to make friends and he just didn't have the desire. When he was
traveling with his mom, a quintessential flower child, he'd made friends
right and left, as he went from town to town and country to country.
But then he'd met Jim Ellison and well, he never looked at friendship
quite the same again. Comparing Jim to his former friends was like
comparing a kite to a plane: both flew but the kite only in fair weather;
the plane could soar above the storm. Somewhere along the way, he'd
lost his taste for kites.

Blair heard a sound at the door but didn't bother to look around. More
than likely it was one of his, no, make that Blake Scott's students,
checking up on him. For all he knew, the doorbell could have been
pealing for a while. He didn't pay any attention to it. No one was coming
to the door that he wanted to see.

A woman stood before him and for a moment he thought he had
succeeded, that a blond angel had come to bear him away. Then he
remembered he probably wouldn't be going the way of angels.
However, he knew she wasn't one of his students. She was more
mature and a lot better looking. "If you're a thief, take what you want.
If you're a murderer, go on and get it over with. If you're just a figment
of my imagination, I'm going to write down the name of what I'm
drinking and buy stock in it," he said as she continued to stare.

"Blair Sandburg?"

Definitely a figment of his imagination. "He died with Jim Ellison."

"Jim Ellison didn't die."

"I drink to keep you phantoms away. Be a dear and get with the
program," he sneered as he lifted his glass.

Before his lips could touch it, she wrested it from his hand. "I am not a
phantom," she said quietly. "I'm a friend of Jim's and he needs your

"I don't believe you," he said simply.

"'Trust me, Chief.' Isn't that what he always asked of you?"

"Go away!" Blair sobbed, putting his hands over his eyes. "Please, leave
me alone."

She pried his hands away. "No! Jim needs you too much. Look at me,
Blair!" He stared into her blue eyes and could have sworn she was real.
She easily read his thoughts. "Yes, I'm real. Which means what I say
could be true."

"Jim's alive?" he asked hesitantly.

"Yes. For a while anyway. But he needs his Guide."

That convinced him more than anything. Who else but Jim could have
told this woman about his Guide; the DOD certainly wouldn't spread the
news around. How had this miracle occurred? Never mind. He could find
out the details later. She said Jim needed his Guide. That could mean
only one thing. "What happened? A big zone out?"

Nikita gave a sigh of relief. Finally, she was reaching him. For a while she
wondered if she and Birkoff had made a mistake in their research.
Keying in on the word "sentinel", they had backtraced every request for
information on the internet. And that had been the easy part. "Yes. I'm
afraid he will die if he doesn't come out of it soon."

Blair stood. "Well, what are you waiting for? Take me to him."

"It's not that easy. For one thing, when you leave here you can never
come back."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Tell me something that means a damn to me."

Nikita tried again. It wouldn't be fair not to give him a clear picture...
and a choice. That was why she hadn't been very forthcoming with the
Section. For all they knew, she was in her apartment, recuperating from
hours of sitting by Jim's bed. "Jim has become a... member of a covert

"Cool. I'm sure he does the job well." Why was she stalling when Jim's
life was on the line?

"If I take you to him, you will become a member as well. You will obey
their rules, live your life as they see fit. You will lose all choice, all free

"But I'll be with Jim?"

She nodded. If this man could save Jim then Nikita was sure Madeline
would move heaven and, much more likely, hell to see they stayed
together. "Yes, you'll be with Jim."

"Then the rest doesn't matter. Let's go."

Nikita indicated the glass she'd taken from his hand. "These people
aren't tolerant when it comes to excess."

Blair shrugged. "Not a problem." If he was wrong and he was addicted,
he'd just have to get over it. Jim would help.

Nikita gave up. "Isn't there anything you want to pack?"

Blair smacked himself in the head and hurried to the bedroom. He
returned a moment later with an armful of notebooks. "My sentinel
notes," he explained as he dumped the contents of Blake Scott's
leather satchel and filled the bag with something that mattered. The
case felt unnatural in his hand; as soon as he had a chance, he'd buy
himself a backpack. He started for the door.

"Is that all you're taking?" Nikita asked patiently. The sad old drunk
whom she knew was just slightly older than she was, was now an
overeager teen who needed to be reminded to grab his lunch on the
way out. If this was his reaction, what would Jim's be? She couldn't wait
to find out.

Bright blue eyes met hers. "You have everything else I need."

With that statement she understood just how close Jim and this man
had been. Her pathetic attempts at taking his place must have made Jim
cringe. "I'm sorry to ask you to do this, but I need you to scribble a
brief suicide note. I'll take care of the details."

He grinned. "Killing Blake Scott will be a pleasure. By the way, will I get a
new name at this place?"

"You get to keep one of your names. So which will it be--Blair or

"Will I be yelled at a lot?"

"Quite possibly," she said, thinking of Operations.

"Then you better make it Sandburg. Yelling it seems to give people a lot
of pleasure," he said with an impish grin. 

After dashing off the suicide note, he followed Nikita out of the building
and never looked back.

      VI. Reformation- the state of being made better by the
                   correction of faults or evils

Section One: Medlab

Sandburg stood in the doorway of Jim's room and zoned. He saw the
familiar form lying in the bed and everything else just faded from his
reality. Jim was alive. Nothing else had meaning. Nothing else was worth
noting. Not the ventilator, nor the heart monitor, nor the woman who
had been holding Jim's hand until they entered. Jim was alive, Jim was
alive, Jim was alive... The joyous refrain sang over and over again in his
head... and his heart.


He looked at the woman who had wrought this miracle, who had
brought him together again with his Sentinel, and tears spilled from his
eyes. "You weren't lying," he said brokenly.

Nikita was taken aback. Listening to the man as they traveled to the
Section, she had worried he was too open, too expressive to survive in
the dark, closed world she inhabited. He'd been overly friendly and the
only thing he'd asked of her was a razor, a pair of scissors, and a
particular brand of shampoo. She hadn't once suspected he thought
she may be lying, that he was terrified she was lying. Apparently he
didn't have to be coached in hiding his real feelings; he was already a
master. "No, I wasn't lying," she said gently. "Go to him."

He passed the woman, barely noting the auburn of her hair, as he sat
on the corner of the bed. He winced as he heard the noise of the
machinery. It had to be driving Jim literally out of his mind. "This stuff
has to go," he said, reaching for Jim's hand. It was warm, the nails
short and even. Just the way Jim always kept them. How often he had
pictured these hands, hands that had meant safety, security, and love.
"Jim," he whispered. "I'm here. Alive, well, and with you. Believe in what
your senses are telling you, man."

"What stuff, Sandburg?" Nikita asked, drawing nearer with Madeline at
her side.

He waved his free hand. "The equipment. The monitors, the ventilator,
all of it has to go."

"It's keeping him alive," Madeline pointed out.

"It's keeping him in the state he's in," Sandburg argued, stroking the
hand he held. "Jim, this machine is making you lazy and you know
that's against house rules. You can breathe on your own, can't you?"
Fingers twitched against his. He smiled. "Remove it now."

"Nikita, what is going on?" Madeline asked, curious about the strange
man who had the audacity to give her orders.

"This is the late Dr. Blair Sandburg, Jim's Guide. Listen to him, Madeline.
He's the only one who can help Jim now."

"I wondered what was so important that you would leave the Section
while Jim was so ill," Madeline said, looking earnestly at the man who
could, and probably would, take Jim away from her. But then, Jim had
already been taken away, hadn't he? She went to the door and called
out a request.

A team of technicians entered the room. One of the doctors had the
nerve to question Madeline but she quickly put him in his place. "We're
ready to take out the tube," a woman announced.

Sandburg nodded and gripped Jim's hand. "Listen to me, Jim. They're
going to be removing that tube stuck in your throat and you're going
to feel like you're choking, but you're not. I wouldn't let that happen to
you. If you start to panic, just listen to my heartbeat. Know that I am
here with you. Breathe in with me and hold it."

The tube was removed, the airway suctioned, and Jim breathed on his
own. "You're doing fine, big guy," Sandburg said with relief, raising the
head of the bed to help Jim breathe easier. "Nikita, you and your friend
can dim the lights on your way out." 

Madeline started to protest, but gave in to Nikita's urging. She knew
she could monitor the situation from her office. However, Nikita said Jim
could hear the surveillance equipment. If his Guide thought it best to
remove noise from his surroundings... As she left and turned off
surveillance, she realized she was learning to trust. Damn. She better
not let Operations know.

Sandburg felt the tension easing in Jim, but still he did not regain
consciousness. "Ah, Jim. I know the feeling. You don't want to wake up
because you suspect this is all a wonderful dream. But I'm real and you
know it. Feel the warmth coming from my body, smell my shampoo,
listen to the heartbeat you know as well as you know your own. I'm
real, Jim, and whole for the first time in over a year." He closed his eyes,
giving Jim time to realize the truth of his words.

When he opened his eyes again, they stared into deeply focused blue
ones. He smiled as Jim reached out tentatively, brushing his hand
against his Guide's face. "Chief?" he said hesitantly.

"Yeah, it's me, Jim." He was glad he'd took the time to get rid of the
beard and trim his hair. Jim would have known him despite any disguise,
but the visual cues made acceptance easier.

" did you find me?"

"I didn't. Your friend, Nikita, found me. She said she had planned to tell
you she had suspicions about my death, but a mission came up and
then you wound up here."

Jim tried to fill in the dark spots in his mind. He'd successfully fought off
the effects of the nullifying device, hadn't he? Or had he had a delayed
reaction? "I zoned?" he asked, looking around the room.

"Yeah. Nearly a week ago. Some idiot set off firecrackers near your bed.
I said I'd kill him, but she said that had already been taken care of."

Jim nodded. The recruits had gotten their revenge after all. Well, he
wasn't going to feel a bit guilty over the cancellation. Cancellation? He
gripped his friend's forearms tightly. "You're in the Section now, Chief.
Do you know what that means?"

Sandburg took no notice of the bruises Jim was causing. "Nikita made
sure I knew before she brought me here. Do you really think it matters
to me, Jim? Do you really think that once I knew you were alive, that
anything would keep me from going to you?"

Jim searched the blue eyes for any trace of bitterness toward him. Of
course there was none."I'm sorry I let you down, Chief. I should have
been the one to find you. If I had any idea that you were alive, I would
have come for you. I would have searched the entire planet. But I heard
Simon. He said--"

The pain in Jim's eyes was unbearable to see. "Don't relive it now, Jim.
Simon was lied to the same way I was lied to. I was told you were dead.
There's no reason to apologize for not coming after a dead man."

"I should have known. The Spirit Guide kept telling me..."

"Don't beat yourself up over this, Jim. I believed you were dead too
until Nikita told me otherwise. It was a plan devised by very calculating
people and executed by some very sloppy ones. They are the ones to

Jim's jaw clenched angrily. "Who? Who did this to us, Chief?"

"You're hurting my arms, Jim." He said it not because of the pain, but
because he needed to calm his friend down. Even without Sentinel
abilities, he could tell Jim's pulse was racing.

Instantly, Jim relaxed his grip and gently massaged the red spots. The
anger faded. "Sorry, Chief. You'll give me the details later?"

"As much as I know. Nikita probably has a better grasp of the matter.
She said she and some guy named Birkoff uncovered the whole plan."

Jim was sure they had; the Section had made them experts in exposing
conspiracies. The Section... "Chief, this organization does a lot of good,
but not always in the nicest way. They will make you do things you
abhor, will make you betray, will make you kill. I don't know if you can
handle it."

"It's okay, Jim. I know how weak I am."

"That's not what I meant, Chief."

"But it's what I meant. Man, we both believe the other's dead, and what
happens to you? You take on the evils of the world and from what I've
heard, have been winning the fight. What happens to me? I become the
town drunk."

"Chief?" Sandburg nodded, turning his face away from Jim in shame.
"Look at me," The Sentinel commanded and the Guide obeyed. "We can
handle anything together. Understand?"

"I know we can, Jim. Even Section One."

"Even Section One." He looked at their joined hands. "You weren't
weak. You were lost. That's what the Spirit Guide kept telling me, but I
wouldn't listen. I didn't want to hear it."

"Why do you think I drank?" Sandburg searched for something else to
talk about. He noted the corded muscles in Jim's bare arms. "So what
have they been doing to you around this place? You have this kind of
muscle tone and you've been in bed for a week?"

"It's called training, Chief. You'll find out soon enough."

"Nikita said something about that. Said Birkoff might be my trainer,
since I'm obviously going to be brains, not brawn."

"No. I want Michael to train you. I want to know, I have to know, that
you can take care of yourself."

"Whatever you say, Jim. Who's Michael?"

As if he heard his name, the man and Nikita entered the room. "Jim, I'm
glad to see you're awake."

"Glad to be that way, Michael." Jim emphasized the name, laughing
silently as Sandburg's eyes bulged. Michael looked dangerous, was
dangerous, but his students had the best survival rate.

"Madeline wishes to see you in her office, Sandburg. I'll take you there,"
Michael said.

"Madeline? That's the woman who was here earlier?" Sandburg asked

Nikita nodded. "She's second-in-command here at Section One."

"And she was sitting with Jim? These people can't be as cold as you led
me to believe then."

Nikita looked at Jim, wondering if he was going to explain. He leaned
over and whispered something in his Guide's ear. Sandburg's eyes
widened dramatically. "You're kidding, right, Jim?"

"No, Chief."

"But isn't she, like, out of your league?" He didn't mean any disrespect
but the thought of Jim sleeping with his C.O. seemed a little

"Yeah, but you know stranger things have happened. I knew a cop
once, a bad ass dude, if I remember correctly. Chose a ponytailed
anthropologist as his partner and best friend. People thought that was
odd too," Jim pointed out.

Sandburg smiled. Jim did have a way of making bizarre personal
connections. "So she'll be nice to me, huh?"

Jim frowned. "Madeline's not into linear thinking, Chief. Oh, she'll quote
logic when it suits her purpose, but never assume one thing will lead to
another with her. The human mind is her playing field and she'll use
whatever she finds against you."

"And this is the lady you want in your life?" his partner asked in

Jim laughed. "Ain't love a bitch?"

Uh oh. Jim had used the "L" word. He'd definitely have to stay on
Madeline's good side. Not that he thought Jim would choose her over
him, but because he didn't want his friend to have to make a choice at
all. Besides, this Madeline must have some redeeming qualities.
Otherwise, Jim would have nothing to do with her. "And what about the
person in charge? Is there a relationship between you, too?"

Sandburg sort of hated he'd asked the question when he saw the icy
look forming in Jim's eyes. "What the two of us have is an

The Guide didn't have to wonder what that meant; the hostility was
obvious. "Well, it seems this is an interesting little club here. Michael?"
The man looked at him, never blinking. This was one serious dude,
Sandburg thought, and apparently Jim considered him a friend. He was
pretty sure he didn't want to meet his enemies. "Let's go and get this
over with. I'm sure tardiness won't make a good impression."

Jim grabbed his arm. "Give us a second," he requested and Michael and
Nikita left. "Listen, Chief, the Section knows I'm a Sentinel but I only
told them about my enhanced hearing. And that was only last week."

"You mean you weren't recruited because of your Sentinel abilities? I
just assumed that because Nikita told me she had worked as your

"Nikita and I work together a lot. I had to tell her for her own protection
and she volunteered to help me. But even she only knows about the
hearing. Section One is about getting the job done. Risk and safety are
way down on its list of priorities. As an operative I'm used as effectively
as possible. The reason for the training they provide is twofold; one is
so you can complete the mission, and two is that you have the
opportunity to save yourself after the mission is over. As a Sentinel,
the Section would expect the same. But as much as these abilities
strengthen me, they also make me vulnerable. As much as I may be in
need of rescuing, the Section would not be there for me."

"I hear you, man. So I'm to keep my mouth shut?"

Jim shook his head. "No, Chief. I want you to go up there and sell them
the whole damn Sentinel package. Make them an offer they can't

Sandburg frowned. "Are you sure about this? I mean, it sounds as if
these people will hang you out to dry."

"They would if they could. But now I've got you to watch my back. I'm
in balance again, Chief."

He nodded, knowing the feeling well. "We'll do it your way, big guy, but
believe me, this is not going to be a one-sided deal. Your Section One
may be tough, but it is no match for a Guide protecting his Sentinel."

Jim nodded, knowing the Section was going to be in for a rude
awakening. Sandburg could be downright cunning when pushed into a
corner. Surprising himself, as well as Sandburg, he pulled his partner
into an embrace. "It's good to have you back in my life."

The Guide wrapped his arms around his Sentinel. "It's good to be back
where I belong."

Section One: Madeline's Office

As Sandburg was escorted through the cavernous, futuristic setting
that was Section One, he mumbled to himself, and to Jim whom he was
sure was listening, that they certainly weren't in Kansas anymore. As
the doors to Madeline's office swung open he was also pretty sure a
bucket of water wasn't going to help this time.

"Nikita says you wish to be called Sandburg," Madeline said, gesturing
him and Michael inside. "I hear that Jim is awake and responsive. Thank
you, Sandburg."

"No thanks needed. Protecting Jim is the main purpose of my life."
There. He'd decided that if she wanted to play mindgames, he wouldn't
give her much to work with. Strategists expected lies; honesty just
confused them.

"Protecting Jim seems to be everyone's purpose," someone said dryly,
entering the office behind them.

"You've decided to sit in on the interview, Operations?" Madeline asked

"If you have no objections?" His eyebrows lifted mockingly. If he hadn't
had his own private network, he would have never known any of this
was happening. Somewhere, somehow, he was losing control of the
Section. Or least certain people thought so.

"None at all," Madeline said with a smile. "Sandburg, this is Operations,
head of Section One. Operations, our newest recruit, Sandburg."

He looked at the silver-haired man who was eyeing him distastefully and
knew why Jim didn't like him. Jim, for all his bulk and brute strength,
didn't like bullies and that was exactly what Operations was. It was a
wonder they had reached an "understanding" at all. "How's it going?" he
asked the man nicely.

"Cancel him," Operations said, turning to leave.

"Why?" Michael asked.

If looks could kill Michael would be a greasy spot, Sandburg thought, as
Operations glared at him for daring to question his order. No, wait.
Maybe Operations would be the spot, considering Madeline's evil stare.
No, wait. Make that a smoking greasy spot--if Michael's heated gaze
didn't start a fire, nothing would.

"He is substandard. He does not fit the profile of a recruit. Who
brought him in?"


Operations muttered a curse. "I should have known. Cancel them both."

"Do you really want to go there again?" Madeline asked softly. The last
time Nikita was supposed to have been canceled, they had nearly lost
Michael, Walter, and Birkoff in the process. Everyone in Section was
expendable, but not all at the same time.

Sandburg startled them all by bursting out in laughter. "The man is
obviously insane," Operations pointed out.

"No, I'm not," Sandburg said, plopping onto the sofa. "But you are if
you let this opportunity slip through your hands because of what?
Petty jealousy, a stupid powerplay, what?"

"What opportunity?" Madeline asked because Operations refused to.

"You people have at your disposal the ultimate weapon and instead of
taking advantage of it, you're playing games."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Operations demanded. "What
weapon?" The man did have the odd look of an inventor. Maybe he was
hiding something from them.


Operations looked disgusted. "You mean because he's a sentinel or
some such nonsense? Big deal. A parabolic microphone can make us all

"A parabolic mike can see a mile away? Can detect whose been in a
room by simply sniffing the air? Can rub a sheet of paper and tell you
what was written twenty sheets earlier? Can taste just the smallest
amount of a compound and tell you its components?" Sandburg shook
his head. "That's one hell of a microphone."

"Explain," Michael demanded.

"Jim is a full-fledged Sentinel. All five of his senses are enhanced. When
we first started with his training, his skills were limited but over the
years, his talents have increased. There is no limit on how far we can
push them. Especially with the facilities you have here." He looked at
Operations, expecting him to demand some kind of test. If fact, he had
already devised some simple, but impressive, parlor tricks for Jim to

But Operations had already learned the error of questioning Jim's
abilities. Madeline had been correct the first time; only fools would
concoct easily proven lies. "When will Jim be ready to go out in the
field?" he asked.

"Jim and me," Sandburg corrected.

"Jim and you?" Operations repeated with a sigh.

"One month." Operations looked like he was going to protest. "We
haven't worked together in over a year. We have to regain what we've
lost. Besides, Jim wants Michael to start my training."

The older man smiled at the thought of Michael pummeling the
long-haired hippie. "Okay, one month. Both of you."

Sandburg grinned and looked at the foreboding members of Section
One. "Now that the ground rules have been established, it's time for
the serious negotiations to begin."

Section One: Gym

Nikita walked over to where Sandburg watched Jim sparring in the ring.
"Shouldn't you be in there?" she teased, tugging on his ponytail. She
had gotten rather fond of Jim's Guide over the past few weeks. He
knew a little bit about everything and she was fascinated by how much
he could talk without revealing anything about himself.

"Don't I suffer enough during my workouts with Michael?" he asked with
a sad puppy dog expression. Actually, Michael was taking it easy on
him. Not that he wasn't learning anything, but neither was he covered
from head to toe in bruises. Jim didn't understand it, but he did. In the
first session he had with Michael, he had let it "slip" that any sister of
Jim's was his sister too. Michael had been a lot less threatening after

He watched Jim move fluidly around the ring, sensing how much he was
holding back in order not to hurt his sparring partner. "When I called
him the ultimate weapon, I had no idea of what you people had done to
him. He is one lethal Sentinel."

Nikita nodded. "I watched his last sims session. Even Operations was

Sandburg had tinkered with the sims programs, slightly adjusting some
key harmonics until they didn't bother Jim. "Jim admitted to me he can
hear the computer making adjustments and so he knows where the
bad guys are going to appear."

She looked at the man beside her and noted he wasn't a bit unnerved
by what Jim had told him. In fact she could sense the pride he felt each
time there was a new accomplishment to be jotted down in his
ever-present notebook. She, on the other hand, was always shocked
senseless when Jim revealed another talent. The difference between a
Guide and a guide, she supposed. "It's a wonder I didn't get him killed
before I could find you," she murmured.

Sandburg's animated eyes searched hers. "What do you mean? Jim told
me what a good job you did with him. And we are both grateful to you
for not only bringing us together again but for keeping Jim alive in the
meantime. I thought we had made that clear to you."

"I thought you were merely being kind."

Sandburg smiled. "We're Section One. Kind is not in our vocabulary."

She smiled too. "I'm just glad he's your responsibility now."

He looked back at the ring. "He's still our responsibility, Nikita."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm mostly going to be an observer, tracking the missions from the
van. You're going to be in play with Jim. You'll still have to be his

"But you're here now," she argued. "It doesn't matter whether you're in
the van or at his side; he'll hear you."

"Jim says you were the one that gave him the code name: Atlas. It's
more fitting than you realized. Before, the Indians in Peru called Jim the
Sentinel of the Great City. Now in Section One, Jim can be considered
Sentinel of the World. That responsibility rests on his shoulders and it
is up to his guides to ease that burden. He needs us both, Nikita."

Before she could reply, Jim touched gloves with the other guy in the
ring, then leapt to the floor beside them. "Hi, Nikita. You coming with

"Where?" she asked, looking at the matching sparkles in their eyes.

"To check out our new loft. You can give us some decorating tips. Let
me shower and change, then we can go. Don't let her back out on us,

"I won't, Jim," Sandburg vowed. Jim disappeared into the locker room.
"You heard the man, Nikita. You can't back out on us now. You're a

"But he was talking about..." She suddenly realized Jim had heard the
entire conversation. What a gift. What a burden. "I'll do what I can."

"Good. Because there will be times when I have to be in play and Jim will
be the observer." He really wasn't looking forward to playing Section's
little games but someday he would be the perfect operative for the job
and he would be sent in. "Jim will freak when that happens and you will
be his only control. You'll have to keep him safe from himself."

Nikita looked at him as if he was insane. "How am I supposed to control
Jim? You yourself just said he's lethal."

Sandburg linked his arm in hers and patted her hand. "Don't worry,
Nikita. We guides always stick together. I have a whole bag of tricks on
how to soothe a disgruntled Sentinel. I'll give you my notebooks to
read through in the next few days and when Jim and I get back, we'll
start some real guide training."

"Back from where?" she asked as they walked out of the gym.

"From Utah. We have some unfinished business there."

     VII. Restoration- a return to an unimpaired or improved

The Loft

"How's the turkey coming, Jim?"

"Should be ready in time for our guests, Chief. You finished playing with
the gifts under the tree?" he teased.

"Man, when it comes to Christmas, visual effects are everything,"
Sandburg explained as he took a seat at the bar and started
rearranging the cookies Jim must have just dumped onto the platter. "I
can't believe we're all going to be here for Christmas. Where were we
last year?"

"One of those 'istans," Jim said as he finished making the eggnog.

"Isbekistan, man. Good thing one your Christmas gifts is a geography

"Why do I need to know where I am, Chief? As long as I know what
language to speak."

Jim's ability to listen to a language tape and instantly be fluent in it had
been stumbled upon two years ago. Operations had barely reacted
when he had learned of Jim's new skill. He'd long ago given up being
surprised by what the man had up his sleeve. Of course that didn't
mean he didn't get on their cases every chance he got.

Sandburg looked at the twelve-foot tree and smiled. This loft was tons
bigger than their old one and that meant they had to have a bigger
tree. At least that was what he'd told Jim when his roommate
complained as he went up and down the ladder decorating it. "Madeline
wasn't too mad when you had to come home early last night to help me
with the tree, was she?"

"Nah. I've learned if you give her a present, she's usually very

"Especially if the present came from Victoria's Secret. I swear, man, you
are such a dichotomy. On one hand, you fly all over the world,
pretending to be like a hundred different people on any given day. You
are suave, sophisticated, and oh so worldly. Yet, put you in a mall and
you actually blush in a lingerie store." Sandburg was laughing so hard
he had to rearrange the cookies again.

"Well, at least I was buying for only one lady. You had the store send
packages to nearly every continent on the planet. Aren't you getting a
little old for that kind of behavior, Sandburg?"

"The ladies think otherwise, man," he said with a grin which quickly
faded as the phone rang. "That better not be someone calling for Atlas
or Mercury."

"Well, if it is, Quick Silver, this is a warning. If you say one more time,
'to the Bat Cave, Jim', I'm going to have to hurt you." Jim wiped his
hand on a towel and answered the phone. "Hi, Maddie." He turned away
so Sandburg couldn't hear the rest of the conversation.

His partner looked up anxiously as he hung up. "Well, is dinner still on?"

"Sure is, Chief. They were getting ready to leave the Section and
wanted to know if we needed them to pick up anything."

Sandburg frowned. "Good thing we didn't. It's Christmas Day, man.
Everything is like so closed."

"To Section One's finest?"

"Oh, good point. They're all coming together?"

"Yeah. Someone told them my eggnog is wicked. They figured it would
be safer to call for a van when they left."

Sandburg sniffed at the punchbowl. "You are a little heavy-handed with
the Christmas cheer, Jim. By the way, you think Operations will like
what we got him?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "It wasn't my idea to get him anything in the first

"Yeah, but we have gifts for everyone else. It wouldn't have been fair to
him. Besides, I'm hoping he's like the Winter Warlock."

"The who?"

Sandburg's jaw sagged. "Man, your childhood was so deprived. Don't
tell me you never saw Santa Claus Is Coming To Town?" Jim shook his
head. "There was this bitter old Winter Warlock who tried to stop Kris
Kringle, right? But good ol' Santa pulled a toy out of his bag for W.W.
and like instantly, he thawed and became a good guy."

"And you think this is going to work on Operations?"

Sandburg shrugged. "It's Christmas, the season of miracles." Granted,
he knew his Jewish heritage should have precluded him from celebrating
the inherently Christian holiday, but he was an equal opportunity
celebrator. "You think anybody's mad because I just wanted it to be a
'family' dinner?"

"Nah. It'll be nice to be away from the Section and not have to watch
what we say. Besides, I think we're all still recuperating from Michael's
New Year's Eve bash last year."

"Who knew Michael could be such a party animal? He and Madeline
certainly surprised everybody when they climbed onto the dining room
table to demonstrate an Irish jig."

Jim laughed in remembrance. "Nikita and I were just coming in from a
mission and instead of going to the Section for debriefing, we went
directly to Michael's house. Talk about zoning... We both did."

"Yeah, and then you climbed on the table with them."

"It was nearing midnight. How else were we going to get our kisses?"

Sandburg snickered and wondered if he could talk Jim into having the
New Year's party at the loft next year. He looked around the place and
remembered the old one. "You know it's times like these when I miss
Cascade the most. I wonder about Simon and the gang. And Daryl. He
was supposed to graduate college the year we 'died'."

Jim heard the sadness in his voice and understood. Sandburg and
Simon's son had been especially close. "I know you miss your mom too.
And I miss my brother Stephen. But things change, Chief, and we just
have to roll with them." He reached over and plucked a piece of tinsel
from the curly locks.

Sandburg touched Jim's arm before he could withdraw it."I know, Jim.
I'm just grateful for the things that don't."

Jim placed his hand over the one on his arm."Me too, Chief."

There was a knock at the door. "They're here, Jim," Sandburg called
unnecessarily as he took a final, proud glance around the room.

Jim smiled as he saw the loft reflected in his friend's dancing eyes. He'd
been so afraid that Section One would break his partner's spirit,
dampen the infectious enthusiasm he had for life. But Sandburg was
stronger than either of them knew; not only was he unbowed, but he
was determined to bring light into the Section. A daunting task but as
he'd said, it was indeed the season of miracles. "Well, are you going to
let them in, Chief? They're going to think we aren't home."

"Oh, but we are, Jim," he said meaningfully as he turned toward the
door. "We are."