Michael was still reeling from Nikita's kiss... her shy, hurried kiss.  He'd wanted it to last longer, needed it to last longer.  It was not to be.  Quicksilver, she had retreated, leaving him with a taste of her lips, a tiny hint of what could be his, if he dared to take the risk.  The risk to them both was great, greater than it had ever been.

        It had become nearly impossible to hide his feelings for Nikita.   Everyone seemed to take their relationship for granted.  It took all his control to keep it from escalating.  Operations and Madeline knew there was a bond between them, and never failed to use it to control and manipulate him.  "Section's errand boy" Nikita had once called him... right before she administered a tremendous and deserved slap.

        Their relationship, though currently in stasis, had the potential to be volatile.  It seemed to Michael that at any moment emotions between them could erupt in one hellacious fireball... from repression to combustion in one quantum leap.

        Michael watched Nikita through the mini-blinds.  He saw her face soften, her lids dropped shyly, then a small near-smile touched her lips.  What had she seen in his face?  Had his blank stare failed?  Had she read his thoughts again with her eerie feminine intuition?  Probably.

        He was glad he had been able to give Nikita the moment with her mother.  It freed the two women to love and understand each other.  That Nikita had been able to forgive her mother for a lifetime of neglect and near abuse only emphasized Nikita's compassion.  Would that she could forgive him the same way.  Maybe.  He could never forgive himself.  His compassion was only for her.  His light.  His Nikita.  While he knew he could never truly possess her, to the very depth of his being, she dwelt in his heart.  Tragically, he could see hope in her face as she stood there watching him.  Heaven help them both, for love was a terrible burden to bear in Section One.

        The Krakow Mission had been a success.  Granted it had been grueling and costly in abeyance operatives, but a success still.  Nikita had finished her debrief and was looking forward to a shower and her bed.  She flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder and trudged to the elevator.  She had  a couple days of downtime coming, and she was going to use it to recover from the physical stress of the mission and the emotional stress of seeing her mother.

        Steps, quiet and measured, stopped behind her.  Nikita turned.  "Michael," she said acknowledging his presence.  They'd had their usual method of intuitive communication during the mission.  They'd been there to support one another, to watch the each others back.

        "Nikita.  Are you leaving now?' he asked softly, in the way he had of turning every syllable into a caress.

        "Yeah," Nikita nodded.  She'd been crazy to kiss him in his office, but it had been calculated to unsettle him, as well as show her appreciation.  She had not mistaken the intense look of longing on his face.  He'd wanted more.  That was good.

        "You're down for the next two days," he offered.

        "Yeah."  She wondered, would he ask to spend the day with her again, after her rejection before.  Was he a glutton for punishment?   At least he wouldn't take her by surprise this time.  Nikita looked into his crystal green eyes.  The question was there.  Would he ask her?  Oh, hell.  She guessed she'd have to help him.
         What about you?  Are you down, too?"  Hey fella, I'm trying to help you here.  Don't drop the ball.

        "Yes."  Michael hit the button that would take them to the surface, to the real world, where real people lived and loved, and ghosts like the two of them attempted a pale imitation of it.  Together they stepped into the elevator, and it began its long journey upward.
        Nikita paused before blurting,  "Want to spend some time together, Michael?  Either you do or you don't.  Spit it out!"

        "Yes."  The corner of his mouth twitched, and she knew he'd manipulated her into asking him, but that was okay.  By nature, she knew she was impulsive and impatient.  He knew it, too, and counted on it.
        "Tomorrow? Say ten at the coffee shop?" she asked.
        "That will be fine."
        "Yes, it will be."  Nikita gave him her wide smile and brazenly invaded his personal space.  She reached and tucked a waving strand of hair behind his ear and felt him shudder in response.  He blinked, then gave a tiny shake of his head.

        "You don't play fair," he said, seemingly powerless to take his eyes from hers.

        "I had a good teacher,"  Nikita replied archly, as the elevator door opened.  They were at the surface.  "See you tomorrow," she said glancing at him over her shoulder.
        "Tomorrow," Michael agreed with a half smile.

        Michael's smile broadened as he watched Nikita stride to her little black Porsche.  Her loose, loping, sometimes graceful, walk always brought a flicker of warmth to his being.  He'd seen the exhaustion written in her face.  The Krakow mission had been grueling, and he was exhausted as well.   But he was better at hiding it than the blonde who took a piece of his heart with her, wherever she went.

        Michael sat in his car, reliving the bloodier aspects of the mission, something he never used to do.  He found it difficult to banish the scenes that rampaged through his head.  Four abeyance operatives had been lost, as coldly planned in the mission profile.  The use of human beings as cannon fodder was nothing new.  Armies had sent enlisted men to battle for thousands of years.   Section's perverse twist on that ancient scenario was to plan beforehand to eliminate those who were not measuring up to Section  standards.  It was necessary, but cold-blooded..

        It was better to think about abeyance operatives lost, than to think about ... Adam  or Elena.  He thought less about Elena, although her suffering was probably greater than Adam's, and would last longer.  Children healed and ... forgot.  Didn't they?

        Adam would be better off when he forgot his father. There was an unwavering pain that made his heart clench in his chest.   Michael knew he would never forget Adam.   Spending downtime with Nikita was not an attempt to forget Adam.  It was...  hell, he didn't know.  It was something he had to do.  Section One, without Nikita and without Adam, would have no hold on him, but Nikita had her own hold.

        He'd tried to eradicate Nikita from his psyche and soul, but never, never had he been able to accomplish it.  She remained a flicker, sometimes a flame of desire that burned within him always.  It was possible he was obsessed with her, had been, since the first moment he'd  seen her.  Protecting her, covering her ass with Operations had been nearly a full time occupation in the Section half of his life.  Now, the Section was all he had... and Nikita.  Again, he was prepared to split his life into halves in order to have a life at all.  He feared the cost to them both, but Nikita's brief kiss had put the wheels into motion, and life at any cost could not be denied.

        Tomorrow would be a first, Nikita thought.  Spending the day with Michael would be a milestone--if the cell phone didn't ring.  Nikita smiled ruefully as she drove swiftly toward her apartment.  Section One did have a way of interrupting her life.

        What would they talk about?  Was Michael capable of having an conversation or even small talk?  Small talk.... that's what he practiced every minute of his life.  Michael was a master at monosyllabic communication.  Nikita smiled as she thought of the scene in the elevator.  He had been in rare form.  His beautiful eyes asking and wanting to say so much.  The stern mouth, parted, wanting to be kissed.   The rigid stance that only proved how exhausted he was to her practiced eye.

        What would he have done if she had jumped him in the elevator?

        She would have to watch impulses like that.  Tomorrow, she would not push him... well, not very much, anyway.  He needed tiny nudges to do what he really wanted to do, and if she were careful, that's all he would need.  In truth, she didn't want to overwhelm him and be rejected outright.  Michael was still fragile over losing Adam.  Since then, the relationship between the two of them had been in a dynamic state of flux.  Sometimes closer, on the verge of understanding, sometimes farther apart.  Their closeness  had been exploited more than once since the deep cover Vacek mission had ended.  Sometimes, Nikita felt as if she were one of Pavlov's dogs, trained to respond at the sound of a bell.

        Enough of this shit, she thought.  Shower, bed, and tomorrow...  a day with Michael.

Part II