"Good night, Michael!"

        Michael watched the tall blonde as she walked away. The words Nikita had cast at him in accusation were harsh to his ear, but the feeling of mistrust behind them were etched in his heart with acid.  As much as her mistrust hurt him, he knew he deserved it.  Too much had been kept from Nikita. No, that wasn't accurate.  He'd kept too much from Nikita.  He hadn't trusted her maturity as an operative or the depth of their relationship.   He had known Nikita would see the similarities between Kruger's recruitment and her own. He should have taken the time... and effort to tell her what he knew or thought he knew about her recruitment into Section One.  Barring something far more devious than even he could comprehend, Michael feared that Nikita had been recruited into Section in order to occupy him during his grief over Simone.

        Outside Section, assuming the role of loving husband and father with Elena and Adam only absorbed part of his energies.  The time he spent in Section, he had been robotic, consumed by grief and guilt over Simone.  Nikita was meant to be busy work for him.  First, the emotionally labile Vizcano had been thrown at him in an attempt to engage his interest, but attractive as the young operative had been, her air of desperation had not appealed to him on any level.

        Enter Nikita. Michael could imagine Madeline's thought processes. An innocent would bring a entirely different dynamic to the training sessions. The fact that her inner beauty had not been as evident as her outer beauty only complicated the issues, but Madeline had kept a close watch over Nikita's and, yes... his progress, carefully gauging their reactions to each other and to the situations in which they were placed.  Madeline had even suggested he examine his feelings for Nikita, and he was certain that she had done the same with Nikita. Contstantly, putting them together and manipulating to keep them apart and off balance with each other had been Madeline's master stroke of genius.

        Michael wasn't sure when he first realized that Nikita was innocent.  Her first mission to take down Van Vactor had been a complete failure because that she'd been unable to pull the trigger on someone she considered an innocent. Not exactly the actions of a beautiful woman who could kill in cold blood. Her first kill had been to save him.  Michael often wished she had shot him instead of the man behind him. The look of devastation on her face as she had dropped her gun had told him more than all her protestations of innocence.

        Now, once again Nikita believed the worst of him, and who could blame her? In spite of their increasing openness with one another, they had not yet resumed a more intimate physical relationship. If Nikita had made the first move, he would have responded, but he knew she respected his grief and his need for time and space. She would not rush him, and now perhaps, he had waited too long. Once again, he had lost her trust. Surely, she knew by now that he would never betray her.... unless he thought hat betrayal would keep her alive.

        Michael knew he would do almost anything to keep Nikita from being canceled, even take her wrath upon himself. Nikita was naive, if she thought her incursions into the Section data base could go undetected. Section had safeguards and flags built into their system, and more of them existed since Adrian's attempt to bring down Section through Nikita's intrusions into secured areas.

        Michael knew it was too late to go to Nikita and explain. He was the last person she would want to see. She would never listen to any of his explanations without wondering if she were being manipulated.... again. Conversely, she was the only person in Section he trusted. Only a month ago, she had cared enough about him to stand watch and guard him, when he had not cared if he lived or died.. If his agony over Adam had not been so great, he would have demanded she go home; but his soul had been enveloped in a cloud of misery and lethargy that had not been exorcised until Nikita herself had been in danger.

        Once full of passion... now, he was passive and empty. Again the inner darkness emerged and came to claim him. The only reprieve could be an angel of light. His dark angel craved her touch and the light of her soul. Nikita made him know that he was still human and not a soulless machine. Unfortunately, he could see her changing, becoming more like him, and it tortured him more than her words ever had or could. He needed her warmth in the dark cold recesses of his heart, mind and... body.

        One question remained... did Nikita need him? He feared the answer as much as he dreaded his certain future without her.


        "Good night, "Michael!"
        Back straight, head held high, and face set with rigid control, Nikita fled Section as calmly as she could.  She was barely able to contain her rage.   Once again, Michael had lied....  No, he had betrayed her trust... for the last time.  She had asked him not to interfere in her quest to discover the reason she was recruited into Section One, and he had agreed.  Now, because of Michael's unwavering need to be in control, a fellow operative had been canceled... .  She was tired of being 'protected.'  She was tired of his interference and his lies.

        Until Kruger's frameup, Nikita had never seriously considered that Section was aware of her innocence.  They had taken a kid and molded her into a killer.  She supposed the simple street kid had been considered one of the dregs of society and of no obvious value except to use for the greater good of Section.  She had been a disposable person, innocent of any crime, but expedient.  She hadn't been a 'woman with your looks, who can kill in cold blood."  They had no idea if she would be able to survive two years of rigorous training.  She'd been a thing to them--Operations and Madeline... just like she'd been to her mother.  One had kicked her out, and the others would never let her go.

        Every minute of the last five years had been a lie.  What could have been so important that they had ruined her life without blinking.  Considering that she had been close to cancellation at least three times in the last three years, she was at a loss to understand what change she had effected by being recruited.  Her skills were better than most, she knew that for a fact.  She was an excellent operative, if somewhat 'original' in her approach.  Why had ‘she' been recruited?  It gnawed at her.

        Then in a sickening rush, words came back to her, tugging at her memory.  What was it that Walter had said?  "Michael had shut down, until you came along, Sugar."  Michael!  After Simone had been lost on a mission, Michael....  The enormity... the obscenity... the deception they had practiced on her made her physically ill.  Her stomach churned and was at the point of rejecting its contents.  Nikita leaned against the side of her car and took two deep cleansing breaths before she was able to regain control.

        Five minutes later, she sat behind the wheel.  Her white-knuckled hands clenched around the steering wheel, unable to drive... unable to do anything.  The desire to scream her rage to the heavens was unbearable as was the desire to destroy Section along with Operations and Madeline... and Michael.  It seethed like a living, dancing flame behind her eyes of clearest blue.

        Tears began to stream down her face as she crumpled against the steering wheel.  Great sobs wracked her entire body.  She thought she had mourned her loss of innocence long ago, but this was the ultimate realization of that loss.  There was no one in Section that she could really trust.  Not Walter--he'd known about Michael's deep cover, wife and child all along.  Not Birkoff--because...just because.  Certainly not Michael, for his repeated demonstration of perfidy hurt her more than any of the others.  She'd been his friend, his twice time lover, his guardian, and he had betrayed her again... after all she done for him.

        Logically, she knew he was a victim of Section as well, but logic wasn't very important to her right now.  She wanted to hurt him, physically, to show him how much he had hurt her emotionally.   She wanted him to suffer as she suffered.  In her mind's eye, an image of Michael waiting in limousine as she emerged from the restaurant shoot out vied with the image of a devastated Michael playing the cello.  He had suffered.  She knew it.  She'd seen it.

        How could she hate and love the same man with equal ferocity?  How could he betray her so vilely and completely after saying he would not interfere?  How could she go back to Section, smiling and pretending to be Nikita again.  She didn't know who she was, but she was no longer the Nikita, who prized compassion above the mission.   She felt like she was Abby, empty of everything that declared to all who she really was.  Who was she?  This was the lesson she'd learned that very day in Section One. She was no one.

        Nikita looked around her apartment, and wondered if she could ever erase the memories she had of Michael there.  The first night he had brought her to the never before seen apartment and had given her the key.  In her naiveté, she had thought she was in heaven.  She'd never had her own place before.  It was certainly an improvement on the streets, or on the crowded dirty apartments where she'd lived with her mother.  She'd been unable to believe the space was really 'hers.'  Then after lies and manipulations, Michael would knock on her door with an apology...  or seduction in mind.  She'd never forget dancing with him, kissing him, never mind that it hadn't been real.  It had certainly seemed real at the time.  She'd felt his body respond to hers.  She'd certainly felt hers respond to his.
        Any time Michael had been concerned about her, he'd come to the apartment.  He'd let himself in with a key.  Once he'd kicked the door open and found her suffering withdrawal symptoms from the phasing shell.  He'd saved her that time.  She had saved him too.  The time he'd lost his memory, she had protected him, and he'd slept in her bed...alone.  Heaven knew she'd wanted to crawl in the bed with him, but she hadn't; nor had she taken advantage of his unfathomable desire to dance with her and to kiss her.  She'd never taken advantage of him, not the way he had her.

        No, that wasn't 'exactly' true, she had to admit.  She 'had' used Michael.  She had used him to alert Section One that an impostor had assumed her identity.  She had watched Michael make love to Abby ...  in her own bed.  She had steeled her responses as she watched the vaguely disturbing, erotic scene before her.  It amused her that it certainly wasn't anything like the two times Michael had made love to her.

        The first time on the boat had been frenzied and passionate beyond belief or expectation.  At the time neither of them had known if they would ever see each other again.   Their second encounter had none of the desperation, but had been no less passionate, but again neither knew when ... or if the opportunity would come again.  Nikita guessed she had used him that night as well, but he hadn't seem to mind.  Nikita could not keep a tiny smile from flashing across her face.  No, Michael hadn't minded.  In fact, he'd needed very little encouragement.  At the time she'd thought his hesitation had been rooted in an awareness of her feelings, as well as an awareness of the cameras that documented every sigh and kiss.  Later when she had learned of his wife Elena and the feelings Michael exhibited to her, Nikita had known only confusion and a wistful comprehension that his hesitation had not been all about ‘her.'

        Four soft raps sounded on Nikita's door.  No, not now.  Not tonight of all nights.  Don't let it be him, she prayed.  Nikita threw her black leather coat on a chair.  She hadn't taken the time to remove it since coming home.  She walked to the door, checked the security screen.  It was Michael.  She took a deep breath.  Maybe he would go away, if she said nothing.

        The muscles in her face tense and set, Nikita opened the door, but left the chain engaged.  "What do you want, Michael?"
       "May I come in?"


        "To talk," he said in his usual succinct manner.

        "It won't change how I feel, Michael."

        "I'll take that chance," was his soft reply.

        Nikita shrugged and removed the chain and stood away from the door, allowing Michael to enter.  Nikita walked across the room, turned, crossed her arms in front of her chest.  "So talk."

        Michael walked about the room, unable to omit the routine surveillance of his surroundings.  As he passed the glass topped kitchen island, he ran his hand across the edge, seemingly in a declaration of his presence.

        Nikita grew impatient.  "I'm listening."  Michael's green eyes seemed to penetrate her soul.  He still wore an air of vulnerability that had never completely left him since the end of the Vacek mission.  She could see... or imagined that she could see a plea for understanding.  In spite of her anger, she felt her throat close with emotion.  Tears would soon be in her eyes, if she didn't regain control of her emotions.

        Michael sighed and attempted to begin.  He swallowed.  "I don't know why you were recruited into Section, Nikita.  I can only make an educated guess."

        The bitterness rose in Nikita's throat.  "All right, Michael.  Make me an 'educated' guess.  Frankly, I can't see Operations and Madeline keeping the reason from you... unless 'you' were the reason."

        Michael slumped into a chair, unable to look Nikita in the face.  "I may have been.  I don't know for sure, Nikita....  I have known you were an innocent since the Van Vactor mission."

        "You really expect me to believe that, Michael?"  Nikita leaned against the wall, arms still crossed protectively.

        "Believe what you must, but I didn't."
        "That doesn't alter the fact that you lied to me again, Michael.  You said you wouldn't interfere, and you did."
        "I didn't."  His reply was so soft as to be barely audible.

        "Then how did the one operative, who could help me find the real reason I was recruited get canceled--just like that!"  Nikita snapped her fingers.

        Irritation flashed across Michael's face.  "You can't access secure systems without leaving a trail, Nikita.  You should know that by now."

        Nikita knew Michael spoke the truth.  She had led Section to the canceled operative.  It was much her fault as anyone's.  The truth was bitter to hear, much less, acknowledge.  Nikita looked away.  She could not bear to face him.  Her shoulders began to shake as tears once again began to flow.

        Michael stood and walked to her side.  He hesitated, as if he wanted  to touch her... to comfort her, but feared her reaction.  Nikita whirled and began to beat his chest with her  fists.  Michael stood firm and allowed the blows to fall where they might.

        "It's not fair!  I was a kid, and Section took my life as surely as if they'd knifed  ‘me' in that alley," she sobbed, still flailing at Michael, who made no attempt to stop her.

        "I want to know why.  Why?  If not for you, Michael, then why?"  Nikita's rage began to ebb as she collapsed in Michael's arms.

        Michael held her, stroked her silken blonde hair.  Voice roughened with emotion, he replied, "I don't know.  I don't want to know.  I don't want to feel anymore responsible for your life than I already do, Nikita."

        Anger blazed with a brief flare in Nikita's eyes.  "You're not responsible for me, Michael.  I told you once before, I choose my own path."
        "As much as Section will allow, Nikita," he chided her.

        Nikita's aquamarine eyes darkened into deep azure.  "Section will not tell me how to live my life, or who to...."  She stopped, suddenly aware of what she'd almost said.

        "What, Ni-ki-ta?"
        She paused. A familiar look of determination passed across her visage, as she  placed her hands on each side of Michael's face and looked into his eyes. Her response came soft as a whisper. "Section won't tell me who to love, Michael."

        Michael closed his eyes and moaned, "Ni-ki-ta. Don't love me. I will only hurt you." He circled her wrists with his hands, hands that were shaking. His dark green eyes  danced with desire for one woman, Nikita.

        She could see he wanted her. She could feel his body once again responding to hers. "Shut up, Michael. Don't you think I know that. Do you think at this moment that I care what happens tomorrow."

        "I don't think, at this moment, that you are thinking at all." He tried to control his  response to her, tried to think logically, and failed.

        Nikita plastered her body against his, crushed her lips to his in a bruising no-prisoners-taken-alive kiss, and felt his heart pounding against her breast, as it escalated into a rhythm that defied measure. Subtlety had never been her strong point, passion was.  Passion for this one man. Only this man.

        Michael moaned as he surrendered to her kiss and deepened it. Nikita felt all the strength ebb from her body, as Michael encircled her with his arms. Suddenly, her back was against the wall.  There was no escape from his punishing kisses and searching tongue. She didn't want to escape.  This moment had been too long denied.

        Michael paused, cradled her face in his hands and looked into her wide azure eyes.  She could see the question in his eyes, the question he still had the forethought to ask.  "Are you sure?"

      "Yes, Michael," she answered. "God, yes."

       Michael began to kiss her.... her lips, her eyes, and down her neck. He kissed her as if she were the last... or the only woman in the world. Mind, heart, and body, they melded, sweeping away past hurts and lies in a torrent of passion and emotion.

        "Here....there...", Nikita directed his lips.

        Michael complied with her every demand, his hands removing her garments,  unveiling her beauty for his eyes, his eyes alone. She stood before him, his ivory-skinned goddess of love. His! Nikita was his to adore with his body. His manhood ached to join  with her, then he remembered another.... He'd had that one here too.  It seemed a  sacrilege both then and now. "No, not here," he rasped.

        Nikita knew.  She sensed, with a lover's knowledge of the man, why he hesitated. "Yes," she insisted.

      "Nikita, no." He wanted to cry as he thrust her from him. He didn't want to defile her with his touch.

      "Yes, Michael. It's the only way." Nikita wrapped her arms around his neck and  told him. "You have to forget the other one. I can make you forget her. I can wipe every memory of her from your mind and body.... If you'll let me."

        Michael answered by sweeping Nikita into his arms and carrying her up the stairs  to her bed. Finally, Nikita's bed would have a memory of Michael and Nikita entwined in  a frenzy of passion and madness, beyond any imagining.

        Nikita ripped Michael's shirt, buttons flew. A belt unbuckled, the pants were shed.  Miraculously, he stood, male, erect and perfect. He was hers to command as he joined her on the down-soft bed.

        Michael began to discover her body anew, as if never before seen or experienced.   No ivory or rose-tipped part of her body would be neglected by his hands or lips. That was his silent vow.

        Incoherent cries escaped her lips. Michael had taken control. Every part of her body, no, her being, thrilled with the attentions he lavished upon them. Her hands, her fingers, he began kissing them, then sucking them with the slow sensual laving of his tongue. Nikita threw her head back and moaned aloud in pleasure. Forsaking her hands  he nibbled at her neck, caressed her breasts. His hands and tongue were everywhere at once, and all the time she could feel the heat his pulsating manhood along her thigh and belly. His green eyes darkened with desire. They glittered with it.

        Michael was desperate to consummate his passion, but still he delayed his pleasure in order to increase hers. His lips crushed her beautiful mouth, as he once again kissed  and nipped her each perfect-rose tipped nipple. While his lips trailed to the sweet hollow  of her neck between her classic jaw line and perfect shoulder, his hand found the cleft between her thighs. Nikita was ready for him. Slowly he parted her thighs and sank into her trembling core. He was home. He was a lion claiming his mate, a lioness who  wrapped her long legs around his waist and clawed at his back, shouting her pleasure, while he thrust again and again.

        "Yes. Yes. YES!" Nikita's voice rose to a shriek that echoed throughout the dry desert savanna of her bedroom.

        Nikita's cries and frenzied thrusting, pushed Michael over the edge into his own  explosive release. "Oui. Oh, oui. OH!"

        Together they clung, soaked with perspiration as evidence of their efforts, unable to do more than gasp in shallow ragged breaths. Replete, complete at last.

        Sleep, a brief, but profound, respite found Michael and Nikita gently and
inextricably entwined; however, the peace they had sought and found was interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone, Michael’s.  He reached for it with a weary grappling movement.  Nikita opened eyelids that were still heavy with sleep and watched with dismay as Michael answered.

         “Yes,” Michael managed to utter again.
         “Come in.  Assemble your team.”
         “How soon.”

         “Briefing in one hour.”

         “All right.”  Michael snapped the phone shut, and turned to Nikita.  “We have to go in.”  With the snap of the phone, Nikita could see Michael’s mental shields snapping into place as well.  The warrior had returned and had usurped the place of the lover...much too quickly.

        “No.” Nikita groaned.  “How soon?”  Warrior or no, Nikita’s hand had a mind of its own, as she allowed it to finger through his passion mussed hair.  She could sense the lover as he battled with the warrior for dominance.  There was a slight muscle relaxation in his scalp as she touched him, but the warrior was in control.

        “Briefing in an hour.”  Michael turned to her, his hand involuntarily stroking her shoulder and arm, his eyes regretful that their time had been cut short.

        Nikita gave Michael a lazy smile.  “Well, that gives us approximately....”

        “Not enough time,” he said with a tiny half smile.

        Nikita nodded.  She knew he spoke the truth.
         “And the future?” she asked.  Nikita watched as he methodically began to dress and knew she should do the same.

        “The future?” he responded, genuinely puzzled.

        “Us?  Is this a turning point for us, or is it going to be business as usual, Michael?”

        Michael paused in dressing long enough to take Nikita in his arms.  He held her, clung to her, as if he would never willingly allow her to leave him.  Gently he placed a kiss on her forehead.  “For now.... Business as usual.”

        Nikita sighed in resignation.  “That’s what I was afraid of. Business as usual.  Well, let’s get this show on the road.  Section awaits.”


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