Part II

        Tomorrow became today, and it dawned clear and crisp.  A rime of  frost covered the window panes and the balcony beyond.  Nikita exhaled on the window and watched as the warmth of her breath revealed the bright sun and azure sky.  Omens, good ones, for the day ahead. She smiled.  It was time.

        She'd slept soundly without dreaming, for exhaustion was a wonderful sedative.  This momentous morning, she felt refreshed and hopeful.  She tried not to feel that way.  Heaven knew the two of them had maintained a torturous relationship, never being quite able to reveal their deepest feelings.  Well, one night they had....  Their one night away from Section One's intrusive presence, and Michael had lost control.  She had been the recipient of his need and desire and passion.  He had taken her anger and fear upon himself and left her with an incomparable longing to never join with anyone but him.   He'd awakened desires she'd never known before.
        That one night, she had been his, and he had been hers to command.
        It seemed so long ago.  In truth, it had been over a year, but she could still elicit  the rough-textured feel of his hands as they performed their magic on her body and summoned the wildness from within that she'd never experienced.  The honeyed taste of his lips, lips she'd nibbled and bit, she could taste them still.  His body, muscular and demanding, claimed hers for all time.

        "Damn!  If I keep this train of thought going, I'll attack him the minute I see him."  Nikita tossed back her head and laughed.  She could envision the faces of the coffee shop devotees as she cleared a table and had her way with Michael.  Geez, she could see Michael's face too.  Oh, well, it's only a thought.

        Forty-five minutes later, Nikita stood in front of the coffee shop.  It was five minutes after ten.  She was late.  She looked through the window but Michael was not there.  She began to feel uneasy.  Was he going to stand her up?  She looked up and down the street and saw only a man in a tan leather jacket and jeans.  Oh my god, it is Michael.  He isn't wearing black.  She wasn't sure why the idea of Michael in something besides black delighted her so.  She'd seen him in civvies before, but he'd never worn them for her.  His manipulation of her to stay in Section didn't count either, and his stylish black suits were as much a uniform to her eye as mission wear.

        Nikita began to walk toward him, mesmerized by his unexpected appearance.  A gust of wind lifted a short lock of his chestnut hair, thus adding to his look of studied casual elegance.  No matter what he wore, Michael was elegant.  No movement was wasted.  Yet for all his grace, Michael was not effeminate.  Male was written all over him, that and power and maybe danger.

        "Good morning," she said, her voice huskier than usual.  She was surprised she could speak at all.

        "Good morning," he replied, his emerald eyes never leaving her aquamarine ones.  He placed a possessive arm around her waist, as she looked at him, first in surprise, then with a mystifying feminine wisdom, as she lowered her gaze assured in her knowledge.  The man wanted her.  Her breath caught in her throat.  It was becoming difficult to breathe under his intense scrutiny.

        Michael smiled.  "It's cold.  Don't you want to go inside and get warm?"

        Nikita managed to nod in the affirmative.  Inside... warm... Yes!   Nikita allowed Michael to lead her inside the coffee shop.  It was late morning, and there were only a few customers, who barely acknowledged their entrance.  Nikita was trying to regain control of her breathing.  The hell with her heartbeat.  It had escalated to an anaerobic range at the first sight of Michael.  If she could only manage not to fall on her face in front of the stranger by her side, she would have accomplished something.  Some mysterious genie had turned her knees into twin bowls of jello, not exactly what she had planned.  Nikita sat gratefully in the rear booth where Michael had guided her.  He slid into the booth beside her.  He covered her right hand with his left and stroked the top of it with his thumb.

        Shoulder to shoulder, they sat looking for all the world like a young couple in love.

        "Y'all want some coffee, or are y'all gonna sit there all day makin' goo goo eyes at each other?"  The soft foreign accent shocked them from their reverie.  It was English, but an often unheard southern dialect.  Its owner was short, plump and wore an already tired pink uniform, in addition to the teasing smile on her face.

        Michael, no surprise, reacted first.  "Yes, two coffees please, croissant?" he asked with perfect pronunciation, looking at Nikita.  She nodded.  Her faculty of speech had yet to resurface.

        "Okey, dokey.  That's two coffees and two crawsants.  Be rite back, now."  Edie walked away from the two lovers, but not before favoring them with one of her genuine smiles.

        Nikita began to giggle.

        "Why are you laughing?" Michael asked, knowing he could never quite understand Nikita's gift for appreciating the ridiculous.

        "Her southern accent is thicker than my down under one.  She was so cute.  I loved the way she mangled croissant."  Nikita shook her head.  She was glad she could speak again, but if the owner of those emerald eyes didn't stop looking like he was having her for breakfast, she might lose it again.

        "What accent, Nikita.  You don't have an accent," Michael said with a tiny frown.

        "Like you don't have one either?"  It was then that Nikita noticed that the emerald eyes were twinkling, and the corner of his luscious mouth was twitching.  "No, of course, you don't Michael.  After all, they do speak your language here, not mine.  I wonder how she knew," Nikita mused.

        "You don't look French, Nikita."

        "I don't?  How do I look, Michael?

        Apparently, this question gave Michael pause.  He'd never been one to hand out facile compliments, not in real life, and certainly not to her.

        "Heaven," Michael said hoarsely and so softly that Nikita could barely hear him.

        "Wh--, what?"

        Michael smiled again, his hand continuing to stroke the back of hers.  "Heaven.  When I was a child, I used to dream about angels. You look exactly the way I imagined an angel would look."  Michael broke his intense gaze, looked at the cup of coffee that had appeared from somewhere and took a sip of its steaming dark contents.

        Nikita could not stop the tears that formed and threatened to spill down her cheeks.  Her aquamarine eyes glistened  as she stuttered, "An angel?  I still look like an angel to you, after all the people I've killed."  She shook her head, unwilling to believe he thought of her in this way.

        Michael turned  and looked at her with eyes that flashed. His voice came soft, but intense.  "You are my angel."

        "You are ‘my' angel."  Nikita gulped, unable to believe her ears.  Four precious words.  Music to her ears.  How could four words mean so much?  To one who had hungered for love all her short life.  The simple heartfelt statement fed her hunger.  It was only  lately that she had learned that her mother had loved her, and now, Michael thought of her as his angel.  The tears that had threatened to spill down her face only minutes before, now  trickled down her cheeks unabashed.
        Michael's eyes grew shiny as he reached to wipe hers away.  "Don't cry," he said softly, as all the old guilt began to consume him.  The beauty before him did not deserve the pain he'd caused her in the last four years.  He did not deserve her love, much less her compassion.  Yet here she sat with him, ready to risk more.

        Nikita sensed the change in him.  A minuscule drooping of his broad shoulders, the blank look trying to reassert itself.... something told her that he was again assuming all the blame for the life she'd had to lead in Section One.   "Then you'd better stop being so damn wonderful," she added with a smile that took all her courage to give.

        "Drink your coffee," he said gruffly, taking another sip of his.

        "Yes, sir," she managed as a small degree of her naturally saucy manner returned.  She reached for a croissant, tore off a piece of the flaky pastry, dipped it in jam and popped it into her mouth before taking  a sip of coffee.  Strawberry jam started to drip from the corner of her mouth.  Nikita flicked her tongue to catch to the errant red ooze.  She was rewarded by a sigh from Michael, who could not seem to take his eyes from her.  Nikita cast her eyes down shyly and suggested, "You should try some."

        "I plan to," he said playfully, his mouth quirking on one side, always the left.  He took another sip of coffee, but his eyes never left her face.

        Nikita felt her heart begin another marathoner's raging rhythm, and the tell-tale flush spread from her neck to her face.  She had a sneaking suspicion he wasn't referring to the croissant with jam.

        "Y'all need more coffee or just a room?"   Edie stood, smiling at them, her head tilted to the side, one hand on her hip and a coffee pot in the other.

        "Coffee will be fine," Nikita had the presence of mind to say.  Michael was clearly unable to respond in a manner he thought appropriate.  His handsome face had flushed at the waitress's brazen remark.

        "Ah, don't mind me.  Ah'm a nosy old broad from Tennessee, but Ah know what Ah see."  She poured their refills and shuffled  away, leaving them alone.

        Nikita started to giggle.  She saw Michael's mouth twitch.  "I think she's one of those hopeless romantics, Michael.  She sees lovers wherever she goes."

        Michael reached for her hand again.  "She might have a point.  Let's go."  He rose from the booth, pulling her along with him.


         "Where?  What do you mean 'now'?"  Surely, he wasn't going to look for a room, not really, not like that.  Michael was never that impulsive.

        "You'll see.  Be patient," he teased, escorting her from the coffee shop with a firm arm around her waist.

        "I think I've heard that line before, and I think I've been more than patient."  Her smile challenged him.
        "Really?" he asked, arching an eyebrow.

        "Really, Michael."  Nikita inhaled the still crisp morning air.  The ambient temperature was in the low twenties, and as she exhaled, the vapor  from her warm breath floated in the air.

        "Definitions differ," Michael said, returning her challenge, but caressing her arm with his hand as he did.
        "Yeah."  She and Michael had never been together like this.  They might have imitated it on missions, but this feeling of closeness was vastly different.  There were no targets to identify, no bullets to dodge, and no one to listen from comm.  She accepted his proprietary arm about her waist, his caress on her arm.  She luxuriated in the way his touch made her feel... precious... protected... warm.   It seemed trite to even think it, but it was a dream come true.  Their day together really was off to a good start, so far.
        Nikita had no difficulty matching Michael's increased pace and long strides.  For the moment, she was willing to allow him the lead.  Michael's playful air intrigued her.  It was a side to him that she'd not seen before, at least not with her.  She'd seen him play and tease with Adam, of course.  Nikita decided she liked it.   Aquamarine eyes locked with emerald ones as they walked briskly down the street.

Part III