Title: "To the Everlasting Bonfire"
Author: Mala
Spoilers: Season 4 finale of "LFN"--"Four Light Years Ahead"
Rating/Classification: PG-13, angst. Ops/Maddy, character deaths.
Summary: As Paul says good-bye, he realizes he truly can't live without Madeline.

Madeline was dead.



He couldn't believe it.

Her cold lips had tasted faintly of almond when he kissed them. Now he wished that the lethal chemical had brushed off...had given him a kiss in return.

After overseeing Michael's abeyance mission, he had come straight to the morgue. The black body bag lay unzipped on an examining table. He'd halted the order for incineration. She still looked as beautiful as she had the day she'd walked into Section One. So white. Her face unlined and youthful. She seemed to be simply asleep, resting. Hours had passed and rigor mortis had yet to set in. It didn't dare.

She still had control. To the very last.

And he had nothing.

All the years...everything they had worked for...and he had nothing.

He scooted the metal chair forward, lowering his head into his hands. "Madeline..." he murmured from between his fingers. "Madeline, why did you leave me?"

She didn't answer, of course. And her dark eyes were closed, withholding the triumphant "I told you so" they would've held if she had lived.

The tears came to his eyes and stopped there, unable to flow down his cheeks. He could hear the laughter of children...voices raised in joy and excitement. He could hear a voice saying the word "compassion" and just the thought of it made the gorge rise in his throat. Compassion? Where was Nikita's precious compassion now? With the bits and pieces that remained of her lover's body? Even after everything...after the jealousy, the betrayals, and all the struggles to get to Oversight...he had never been able to carry out an order of death for Madeline. Never. But Nikita had done it with cold precision. Had sent Michael to die.

How could one have compassion for anything if they didn't have it for the only person they loved? How could one have compassion when that one person was dead? No more would he be breaking glass to get to her. No more would he be ordering the deaths of operatives who got in the way of her safety. Section One would be at status quo again. Nothing would get in the way of the business of saving other people's lives. Oversight had left him in a beautifully precarious position, the ultimate Catch-22. Their hypocrisy was a lesson he would never forget. A lesson Section One would never forget.

Paul reached out...touched her cool cheek. Was it his imagination or was her skin beginning to stiffen just a little? He shuddered, choking down bile. Madeline. Focused, brilliant, heartless, Madeline. His partner. His soulmate. His sanity.

She must have known. She had to have known.

This was her private victory. Showing him, at last, how indispensable she truly was. He could imagine her mocking smile...the gentle lift of both her eyebrows as she toasted him with a glass of Christopher's best champagne.

To us, Paul.

The dry air inside the lab seemed to smell entirely of almonds. The blessing of cyanide. Swift death and a sweet scent.

The pill dissolving on his tongue tasted bitter.

As bitter as the compassion he would never learn.

As bitter as the seven-year evaluation that would never come.

He hoped Nikita would find his shoes comfortable when she stepped into them. He hoped she would walk a mile in them and understand.

He was glad to finally be barefoot.

It was a relief.

"To us, Madeline."

This time when he kissed her, he could swear he felt her smile.

And he smiled, too.

She had won.

He did need her. He did love her.

And he was following her to Hell.

The burn...the burn would be welcome.

It was the only certainty he had left.

--The End--

August 2000.

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