(Set after Mandatory Refusal...)
by Marie


        As he stood there, splendid in black, Michael hoarsely said the words, "I can't let you become my weakness," He waited for her to respond in some type of Nikita-ire, but hoped that she would not. His mind and heart were full of torment, that he not been able to suppress, yet. Part of him felt betrayed by Operations, but part of him understood, because he would have done the same for Nikita. Therein lay the crux of his dilemma. Yet here she was, a vision in white, wearing very little makeup, blonde hair simply brushed, to remind him of his recent dinner invitation. He had given her no answer except his response about not letting her be his weakness.
        The hurt was visible in her face and eyes, but she reached out and touched him gently on the shoulder, and said simply and a little wryly, "Of course not, Michael." There was no spiteful response, no toss of her hair, no twisted half smile. She just walked away, and that sight affected Michael more than any angry demonstration could have. He steeled himself to remain where he was, to let her go. Once again he won the battle to keep his feelings for Nikita separate, or had he in truth lost. Michael never really knew for sure.

        Michael turned and went in the opposite direction to his office. He closed the blinds at the window, unbuttoned his coat, and sat down. He booted up his computer to review the new intel that he had just received from Birkhoff for the next day's briefing. Michael suddenly realized the words and graphics were meaningless gibberish and that he was staring at the wall. A quiet moan of frustration escaped his lips as he ran his hands through his hair. His elbows rested on the desk, and he stared unseeing at the keyboard. There was a soft knock at the door. At least someone knows how to knock around here, he thought. We must have been breached. Michael sighed as he stood up to open the door. "Madeline," he said, giving her name the French pronunciation with the accent on the last syllable.

        She was moving slowly. "Why didn't you call me to you. You didn't have to come all the way over here." Michael was concerned. In spite of her makeup and coiffure being their usual immaculate state, she was pale, very pale. He pulled out a chair for her.

        "I'll be fine," she said in what had to be the most ubiquitous phrase used in Section One. "I wanted to see how you are. You must have some mixed feelings about being nearly cancelled, because I was being held hostage. I thought we could talk about it, if you want to." Madeline's voice was soft and soothing--even reassuring.

        "I'm fine. I suffered no injuries. I had a job . I did it. We are both still alive. There's nothing to talk about," Michael said quietly and emotionlessly.
        "Oh, I think there is, Michael. We are both still alive because of Nikita, and while she again acted on her instincts and against rules, we are both the beneficiaries of her strength and determination. You can't ignore what she has done, Michael, anymore than you can ignore what you feel for her." Madeline's brown eyes stared into his green ones. He tried to turn his eyes away, but Madeline's gaze held his and would not let him.

        Uncharacteristically, Michael flushed, and his eyes grew suspiciously shiny.

        Michael swallowed and took a deep breath before he answered hoarsely, "I have to." Madeline realized this was a tremendous admission for Michael. He had never admitted to anyone that he had feelings for Nikita. This was almost a breakthrough, in Michael terms anyway. Madeline smiled at Michael.
        "Nikita brought the light back into your soul, Michael. She absorbed the darkness that filled and dominated your life after you lost Simone--"
        Michael interrupted, "I can't let her be my weakness like--"
        "Like I am Operations's? Is that what you were going to say, Michael? We all try to have some kind of life, and it's not easy considering who we are and what we do here. Normal relationships are discouraged outside of Section, and no relationship inside can be considered remotely normal. We use and manipulate each other to get the job done, and sometimes we form bonds in spite of ourselves. I suggest you think about your decision to remove Nikita from your life. If after careful consideration, you decide that is still what you want to do, then you will have to decide who is reassigned. Will you go, or will Nikita? I don't think you will be able function if you both remain here. Madeline smiled, rose slowly and left Michael alone in the slowly darkening office.

        Michael knew he wouldn't get anymore work done that night. The review of intel would have to wait. Madeline was the devil in a dress. How could he make this decision. Section One had been his home for 14 years, but it really wasn't a home, and Section wasn't his family. He had nothing, and he cared for nothing, or at least he wouldn't once he freed his mind of Nikita. Nikita, on the other hand, had friends in Section, Walter, Birkhoff and others. She lightened the atmosphere by simply walking off the elevator. Section was a better place because of Nikita. First, Walter would be flirting with her. Next, Birkhoff would be trying to show her his newest gadget in between bites of Oreos, while she advised him on his fledgling love life. Michael smiled at these thoughts of Nikita. He knew the answer to his dilemma. He would take reassignment. It didn't matter where he was, because he could do the job anywhere.
        Michael called it a night, and walked out quickly. He drove to his apartment, and opened the door. The darkness called to him, but he banished it by turning on a Tiffany lamp. The dragonfly design threw shadows of light and color on the gray walls. It was the only object in the room that had color. Michael had bought it on a whim one day while prowling through an antique store down the street. He knew it was a real Louis Comfort Tiffany designed lamp, and he spent 2 years of bonuses on it within five minutes of seeing it. So much for haggling, Michael had fallen in love with it.

        In the hot steamy shower, Michael thought of the lines from "South Pacific." I'm gonna wash that (wo)-man right outta my hair. He even hummed it. I wish it were that easy, he thought. I have made the right decision about leaving HQ, and I will tell Madeline the first thing in the morning. No sense in prolonging the obvious

        Sleep never came easily for Michael. His mind was a torrent of images and scenes, both past and present. The feelings he seemingly hid behind his "blank stare" raged. The brief peace he had found in the shower, had evaporated along with the steam. Simone had finally been put to rest, but Nikita was still striding across his psyche with combat boots. He had to put his feelings aside, and he had to forget her, if he was to stay alive. He must never let his emotions run riot and endanger the whole of Section like Operations had. He stared at the dark ceiling, but he could see Nikita in his mind's eye. If I take reassignment, I will not have to see her every day. I will not run the risk of having to go on assignment with her. I will get over her. These thoughts became a mantra in his mind, and finally sleep conquered him.
        Nikita stood on his balcony. She watched him come out of the shower and throw himself on the bed. She watched as he tossed and turned for two hours. She watched as he slept fitfully, sometimes crying out. She never saw anyone so tormented in sleep. They hadn't slept the night they had spent together in Lyons, and she smiled at that . Apparently, that was going to be the only memory of their lovemaking. Nikita was beginning to understand Michael the man, not Michael her trainer or mentor, but the man. He was not an easy man to know or love, and Nikita didn't know if they would ever be able to express their feelings. Certainly, she was uncertain of Michael's feelings. It was always 1 step forward and 2 steps backward with them. Nikita fell asleep on the balcony.


        Daylight flooded Michael's bedroom, and he awoke with a start. 8AM! "Merde! I'm late. What happened to the damned alarm!" Michael was ready to jump out of the bed, when he heard a noise and a familiar voice.
        "I shut it off." Nikita shrugged, "So sue me!" She was sitting on floor in his bed room staring at his nude body with no apparent interest, chewing her gum with great enthusiasm. "You only had 4 hours of sleep as it is, Michael. And you spent most of that tossing and turning.
        Michael was sputtering. Normally of few but choice words, he was incoherent with rage, and his body was shaking with the effort it took not to choke her.

        "Take a deep breath, Michael. It'll help," she offered. "Make that three deep breaths." She smiled saucily.

        Finally, Michael could speak. "What are you doing here, spying on me. Get out of here now." Michael was back in control, sort of . His voice was hoarse with emotions he could barely acknowledge to himself.

        "It was an assignment, Michael. Madeline called me, and told me to spend the night in surveillance on you. You know, Madeline, she never explains anything. I can't say I was all that comfortable out on the tiny balcony of yours, Michael. I'm sure I would have been much more comfortable in here with you--well, at least on your sofa."

        "Are you going to get dressed, Michael, or are you going to just stand there and continue to tempt me with your devastating masculinity. We do have a briefing you know." Nikita was actually enjoying herself. Well, obviously, she was enjoying the sight, but she liked being the one in control for a change. Nikita put a bored-to-death look on her face to show him, he had nothing to fear from her--certainly not with everyone waiting for them at the briefing.
        Michael had to give it to Nikita, she certainly had .....something inexpressible in his mind at the moment. He strode to the bathroom. "Is your surveillance ended, or do you want to come in here with me?"

        "Oh, that's all right, Michael. Surveillance ovah!" Michael slammed the bathroom door. Nikita giggled and wiped the perspiration from her forehead.

        The briefing was over, with a lot of nudge, nudge, wink, wink from Walter, and some puzzled looks from Birkhoff. He was still trying to figure out this Michael and Nikita thing. Madeline had been as inscrutable as ever. Operations kept looking back and forth from Michael to Nikita. Michael was extremely uncomfortable and distracted throughout the whole thing. Nikta just sat there, turquoise blue eyes wide open and totally focused on the mission that Operations described.

        Michael followed Madeline down the hall to her new office. She keyed in the code, and they entered. "Well, Michael?" she said as she sat down at her desk.

        "I've come to a decision, or at least I had before I went to sleep last night."
        "Yes, Michael, and now..."
        She was going to make him say it. "Nikita, should stay here, and I..- I I can't leave her. I have to be where she is, on what ever terms, no matter what I have to to do." These last words were barely a whisper.
        "Even if she's your weakness, Michael?" Madeline looked at him questioningly
        "Yes, I know, but she's my light--and my strength, too." Michael's voice always grew hoarse when his emotions were struggling to be expressed.
        "All right, Michael. We'll see how it goes. That'll be all, Michael." Madeline's eyes grew pensive.

        Michael turned and left Madeline's office. A small smile flashed across his face as he thought, a Tiffany lamp and Nikita--all the darkness could be banished--for now, his mind added.

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