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Being At Home with Michael

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Wait for me to come home… --Ed Sheeran “Photograph”

 

Nikita stepped into the foyer of the mid-century style split level and looked around a moment. The house was already furnished and decorated in a style that gave no real sense of the people that would live there for the next few weeks. With its generic style paintings and strategically placed sculptures, the house might as well have been pulled directly from a catalog rather than decorated by two people madly in love with one another. There were no wedding photos, or pictures of family, only miscellaneous art and curiously ambiguous style sculptures placed on side tables. For all of its numbing uniformity, there was a kind of coziness that could be extracted from the muted tones and overstuffed cushions that made up the living area. A quaint kitchen connected to the living space complete with a breakfast bar and dining nook hosting a small round table and four chairs beneath a hanging chandelier lamp. A formal dining room was located on the other side of the kitchen. A set of stairs lead to where the bedrooms and office were along with a fairly large master bathroom and closet. Had it not been a house that Section chose and rigged with cameras throughout the whole of the house, she would have loved to call it home. For the next few weeks, she would have to consider it home, at least until the mission was complete.

Nikita breathed out another long sigh. Behind her, Michael shuffled in with his own bags. He pushed past her and wrestled his things up the staircase. The brisk weather outside followed him sending a chill up Nikita’s spine. She looked to see that the door was indeed closed. The cold wind that followed after Michael seemed fitting. She wondered how it would be living with him and playing the kept housewife. At the moment, he was busy upstairs putting away his belongings. They had barely spoken a word to one another on the way over to the house. He seemed completely drawn within his own thoughts to venture towards any conversation. There were questions that Nikita wanted to ask, but could not find the right words to articulate them. Instead, she sat on the passenger side of the sedan, staring out the window watching rows upon rows of homes file past them before they finally came to their own abode.

“Do you have anything else in the car?” Michael asked from atop the stairs.

Nikita looked at her own cases still sitting in the foyer. She thought about his question, wondering if there was more that she packed. The mission had called them to pack about three weeks' worth of clothing being quite specific about what they should and should not carry with them. Nikita was told to not pack anything too fancy, only a few dresses, but mainly loungewear, jeans, sweaters, and comfortable clothing. She was a housewife and a retired psychic that used to use her skills to aid in police investigations, but now, due to some unnamed health concerns, she no longer practiced the act. She would mainly be about the house, running normal errands, cleaning, and being a goodly housewife. Michael, on the other hand, was told to bring suits to feign working in a corporate office, sweaters, and jeans for when he wasn’t coming from work and a few lounge outfits for the days when he would be off work. It was never explicitly stated what sort of job that Michael was pretending to have, and Nikita was told not to think too much about it. She was simply to follow along with whatever story Michael came up with as far as his work was concerned and to remain more or less vague. On the car ride over, Michael did not mention at all what type of backstory they needed to portray as far as their marriage. She hoped that he would not wing it as they did as Sage and Peter. Michael seemed to stall a little when they were asked to come up with the story of how they first met. She was almost certain he was about to spew out some half baked answer that likely would have her falling madly in love with him at first sight. She was not about to let him get away with making her out to be some lovesick puppy chasing after him. Instead, she raced forward, spinning a tale that seemed much more likely in line with the people that Sage and Peter seemed to be, having them meet during Mardi Gras in a drunken intersection with neither of them knowing exactly who the other was that they were sleeping with. It seemed fitting for both the characters they were portraying and the people that they were in real life. Even though it would not be the first time she found herself in bed with Michael, it would be the first she would have to do it in front of watching eyes, and for much longer than a night.

Michael descended the steps quickly, his footsteps drumming down the wood stairs. He bent down and grabbed the two large suitcases she had labored inside the door and into the foyer. With somewhat surprising strength he hefted them both and carried them up the steps to put inside the bedroom. Nikita watched him, noticing the subdued strain that passed only vaguely across his face. He seemed determined to have everything set up before the evening came and they had to begin acting like married people. For now, her only instruction had been to settle in and get acquainted with the layout of the house. She figured by the week’s end, she would be very well acquainted with the walls and floors, its corners and cracks as she would be spending a good majority of her time cleaning them.

“Kita,” called Michael from upstairs.

Nikita only partially registered that Michael was calling for her attention. Her mind was still trying to settle on the fact that she was in such a beautiful home. He called her again, this time gaining her attention fully.

“Yes?”

“What do you want to eat, or would you rather call for take-out?”

It sounded so unnatural to hear Michael talking to her about food. Even his tone was something she would have to try and get used to. Instead of making her feel less anxious, it made her even more aware that this was part of an act. This was not truly who Michael was at all.

“I think take out would be fine. I’m a bit worn out from the drive,” said Nikita.

Michael appeared over the banister, hanging over the edge. He wore a dark grey sweater and a pair of black slacks, something she was sure had come from a catalog somewhere. His casual stance looked oddly fitting despite his usual rigid posture. Nikita smiled up at him. He returned the same grin.

“Pizza?” Nikita offered.

“Whatever you want,” he said.

Nikita nodded and went into the kitchen to find the phone. After a quick phone call to local delivery, Nikita decided to settle into the soft cushions of the large sectional in the living room. She closed her eyes and leaned back, enjoying the quiet. Above her, she could hear Michael’s footsteps, moving back and forth no doubt putting away the clothes. She could already see within just a few minutes in the house what being around Michael was going to be like. He seemed constantly in motion, only settling down to either check something with his phone, or to read something. Yet, even in all of his activity, he remained stealthily quiet with just the slightest of creaks in the floorboards giving him away. If she were not already listening for it, she would not have noticed it at all. After a few moments, the creaks stopped and the house was once more plunged into silence. Before she even realized it, Nikita was fast asleep on the couch.

Nikita awoke to the smell of pepperoni and cheese wafting from somewhere in the house. The scent had been lingering there a while, creating odd images in her dreams before she finally crawled out from underneath the haze of her dream world. A dark blue blanket had been thrown over top her, adding to the coziness she already felt lying among such comfortable cushions. The fireplace had been stoked and left breathing out warm waves to battle against the crowding cold of the outside. The snow was beginning to fall softly and blanket the driveway.

Nikita rose up to a sitting position and stretched. In the kitchen, she could hear someone moving about, putting a dish into the sink and washing it. Nikita noticed than not only had Michael put a blanket over the top of her, he had also removed her boots and set them on the side of the couch. She wondered when he had come down from upstairs to take care of her while she slept. It seemed endearing, and even a little sweet. She wished she had been awake to see him pull off her boots and tuck her feet beneath the blanket.

“You’re awake.”

Michael came into the living room holding a plate with two slices of pizza on it. He handed the plate to Nikita along with a paper napkin. Nikita thanked him and took the plate.

“What would you like to drink?”

“Just water is fine,” said Nikita.

Michael turned and went back into the kitchen. Nikita looked at the pizza. Even though she was hungry, she wasn’t sure she could eat it. Her mind was already turning cartwheels trying to make peace with what was going on. She kept reminding herself that it was a mission, that they were acting for the cameras placed all about the house watching their every move. Michael’s actions were not guided by his own motives, but were instead, motivated by the guise he had to keep up for them to appear authentic. He was playing the part of a married man, a devoted husband, and possibly a would-be father. The care that he took towards her demonstrated his dedication and protection over her, which would undoubtedly come into question later. He returned with a glass of ice water and gave it to her before sitting down in the armchair next to the couch. He reached and grabbed the remote to the television and cut it on, leaving the volume down low. Nikita quietly ate her slice of pizza and feigned being interested in the news report on the television. She could tell that Michael was doing the same.

“The pizza is good,” Nikita said, attempting to establish more contact other than the occasional glance.

“It was okay,” Michael responded.

“I’m sure we’ve had better.”

Michael cut a glance her way and offered a half-grin. “It's pizza. I’m sure they did the best that they could manage.”

“Still, it is pretty good.”

“I guess.”

Nikita finished her slices. Before she could make a move, Michael was already up and grabbing for her plate. Once again, he was in motion, eager to do something with himself other than sitting about. Nikita followed him into the kitchen and watched as he washed the dish thoughtfully, rinse it, then set it neatly on the drying rack next to the sink. He wiped his hands and folded the towel neatly beside the sink basin. Seeing him completely domestic was both a little jarring and curiously adorable. In the soft fluorescence of the kitchen lamps, the light blue of his eyes against the deep brown of his locks made for a very interesting picture. She studied the angle of his face, taking in the hard cut of his jaw and the point of his chin leading up to small, cupid’s bow lips that up until now, always appeared pressed together into a narrow line. Standing at the sink, his lips were relaxed and appeared plump and pink. In a quick second, she could see the innocence that lived behind the soft peacefulness of his eyes before Section came to steal it away from him. He was truly beautiful at the moment he was not fully aware of her eyes on him. He returned to his hardened self a split second later, realizing he was being watched by more than just the cameras surrounding them.

“What are you looking at?”

“You,” said Nikita, slowly pulling herself into the kitchen. She walked over to the island and leaned over the countertop. “Doing dishes.”

“Why?” Michael dried his hands. “Did you think I wouldn’t do them?”

“No, I didn’t think that,” said Nikita airly. She looked down and toyed with a line of water left along the edge of the sink. “It’s just a little odd, you know, seeing you this way.”

To her surprise, Michael leaned in close to her, propping himself on his folded arms on the counter. Their foreheads nearly touched. Nikita could not help the feeling of her heart suddenly begin to speed up.

“I figured it’s the least that I could do. You do so much here at home, I figured you could use a break. Besides,” Michael lifted slightly and brushed a lock of hair aside from her face. His fingers lingered a little at her chin. “You looked so tired from the trip. You needed to rest.”

Nikita nuzzled into his hand, kissing his palm and then his wrist. It was the first real gesture of intimacy she made the entire day and it had come as natural as breathing to her. She had not even thought about what it was that she was doing before she kissed him. She looked into his eyes and saw only kindness waiting for her. His lips parted slightly as if waiting for something more. Instead, Nikita pulled back, not willing to commit to that just yet. She knew once she did kiss him, she might not be able to have the will to stop.

“I should probably get ready for bed,” said Michael, righting himself. “I have an early morning meeting tomorrow.”

He rounded the island and began cutting off lights in the kitchen. Nikita came up next to him and slipped her arm around his waist. He did the same and the two walked hip to hip into the living room.

“You coming up?” he asked.

“I think in a few,” said Nikita, not really feeling tired after having taken a nap. “I’mma camp down here a while in front of the tellie.”

Michael pulled in fast and kissed the top of her forehead.

“Don’t stay down too long.”

He kissed her forehead again before pulling away. She watched as he disappeared around the corner, heading up the stairs. Nikita sat down heavily on the couch. She could still feel the light press of his lips on her forehead and consider his words. They would have been words that any husband would say to a wife he wanted to come to bed. They were words that Michael was saying to her, which would have been fine if it weren’t for the fact that she was left wondering if he meant to say them because he truly wanted her to come to bed with him, or was he only acting the part? Or maybe it was because he did not want to have to get up and come all the way down the stairs to throw another blanket over the top of her and tuck her feet in again. Michael was never one to waste words. It was likely the later reason behind what he said.

She sat for a moment, surfing through channels, not really interested in watching anything. Instead, her thoughts wandered towards what was happening upstairs with Michael getting ready for bed. She cut off the television and shut off the lights downstairs, making sure to check the locks on the doors. Once the lower level was secure, she went upstairs.

Michael was still in the shower when she made it to the bedroom. He had been busy while she was asleep, putting away all the clothes into the closets and drawers. It was then that she noticed Michael had even handled her undergarments, placing them neatly in the topmost drawer of the dresser. All of her clothing had also been neatly hung up in the closet and folded in the drawers.

She sat down on the edge of the bed. In the bathroom, Michael finished his shower. A few moments more, she heard a hairdryer hum. By now, in her own apartment, she would have had music playing and the television roaring in competition with the music. She never liked too much silence. It always made her anxious, like waiting for something to happen to make a noise. Silence always made her think of her mother whenever she came home from one of her dates. The house would be quiet as she half slept, half waited for her to return only to hear her keys jingling in the door. Finally, the sound of her mother stumbling into their small apartment, drunk, and sputtering as she attempted to guide in yet another date. She tried to be quiet, but Nikita always heard her and hated the noises that came shortly after. It was because of this she figured she liked to have noise and light. It was the only thing that kept her safe from what lurked in the silent darkness.

The door to the bathroom opened and Michael stepped out. He was dressed in a white A t-shirt and teal blue silk pajama pants. She could see now that his hair was actually very curly and was almost in a poof on top of his head. He brushed it back with his fingers, taming the curls a little before he ventured to the other side of the bed. He set his watch and the clock on the end table to wake him in the morning. He pulled back the sheets and slid under the covers. He remained sitting up and reached for a book kept in the nightstand. Nikita rose up and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. Aside from the heavy steam still lingering from the shower, there was hardly a trace of Michael’s presence in the bathroom.

Nikita cut on the shower, enjoying the hissing noise of the water spraying out from the showerhead. It had been the quietest day she had ever experienced, and frankly, it was getting on her nerves. As she washed in the shower, taking time to shampoo her hair and blow it dry, she settled within herself that the following night would not be so quiet. She saw how Michael preferred to live his life, trapped in the confines of his mind. The next day, he would get a taste of how she lived her life. She could guarantee it would not be nearly as silent as this night.

 

______________________________________________________________________

 

Nikita awoke first reaching for where Michael’s warm body should have been lying next to her. Instead, there was only the now cooled empty space. Sunlight flooded through the window illuminating the bedroom in a warm, comforting glow. Nikita raised up to her elbows. There was a faint aroma of coffee in the air. She could tell Michael was already gone for the day, leaving her to go about her housewife duties as scripted in their initial mission briefing. She was to establish a pattern of activities that could be repeated over several hours giving her a baseline of movements to record and splice together for when they needed to be outside of the house without anyone knowing. Nikita pulled herself out of bed and started what would soon become her morning routine.

She found the radio and quickly cut on a station that played the kind of music she liked. She cranked up the volume and danced a little, twirling through the bedroom before settling to make up the bed. The rest of the morning was spent moving from room to room dusting, vacuuming, and wiping down surfaces. By the time noon came, she was just about done with the cleaning. The phone rang.

"Hello?" Nikita answered.

"Go to the kitchen."

Nikita straightened quickly hearing Michael's voice on the other end sounding very much like himself. She went obediently.

"Yes?" Said Nikita in a hushed voice.

"Turn to the window."

Nikita turned.

"Uh-huh."

"See the man walking the dog outside?"

"Yes. I see him."

Across the street, a man walked a chocolate Labrador retriever. He looked down the street checking for traffic before crossing to the other side of the road.

"He will drop a package at the driveway. Get it. But wait until he leaves the front of the house before going out."

"What is the package?" Nikita asked as she searched for a pair of shoes to slip on to go outside.

"Another Comm unit. Bring it inside."

"And then what?" Nikita pulled on a pair of tennis shoes.

She went back into the kitchen and looked out the window. The man with the dog was gone.

"Put it in the vanity in the bathroom. The house is being watched so be careful."

Michael was gone before she could ask any further questions. Nikita replaced the phone receiver and went to the door. A blanket of snow covered the front lawn. She could make out Michael's footprints from earlier that morning. She went down the walkway and out towards the street where she figured the man with the dog had passed by the house. She checked the mailbox and looked around the area. In the bright snow, everything looked the same. She looked down the street and saw a couple walking together. At first glance, they looked normal, but it was something about the way they lingered that made Nikita very aware of them. She looked around the mailbox again and saw a small white envelope hiding among the bushes. She went down to pick it up feigning like she had become enamored with a tiny bloom on the bush. She stuffed the envelope into her shirt and plucked the flower. After considering the flower, she tucked it behind her ear and went back into the house.

Once inside, Nikita went upstairs to the bedroom. She went into the bathroom and put the envelope in the vanity drawer. She washed her hands and brushed out her hair a little. She sighed. She looked at her watch and noted it was barely one in the afternoon. It would be a few hours before Michael was expected home from work. She looked around at the emptiness of the house. It had been a while since she found herself with absolutely nothing to do but stare at the four walls. She went into the living room and cut on the television.

At four o'clock, Nikita got up from the couch and went into the kitchen. She figured as a housewife she would be expected to have dinner ready by the time her husband got home. There was a cookbook in one of the drawers. She pulled it out and began sifting through the recipes. She was never much of a cook. The most she had ever really done was boil rice and make hamburgers. She figured Michael probably would not like being fed hamburgers and rice for dinner every night. She flipped through the book searching for a dish that would not be too complicated to make.

By the time Michael's car pulled into the garage, Nikita finished what she hoped was a good attempt at a chicken and rice casserole. She had followed the instructions word for word and by her own quick taste figured it was at the very least edible. She paired the dish with toasted garlic bread. She found some candles and managed even to locate a nice jazz station on the radio to play. By the time Michael's key jingled in the door, she was ready with a smile and a glass of wine waiting for him.

"Welcome home," said Nikita once Michael walked through the door.

His expression was of true surprise as he looked about at the ambiance created from the candlelight. Nikita handed him his glass as she took his briefcase from him. He drank a sip, relaxing a bit.

"Looks great in here," he said.

"Thank you. Worked all day on it. But enough about my day, how was yours?"

Michael began to loosen his tie when Nikita stopped him. She took hold of his tie and began to undo it for him. He looked into her blue eyes revealing a little of himself. They stared a moment into each other. Nikita could feel a zip of electricity travel through her to which she swallowed it hard down her throat. He seemed to also swallow the same feeling. He looked as though he wanted to draw in for a kiss but stopped himself. Nikita pulled the tie loose from around his neck and handed it to him.

"Go get cleaned up for dinner,” Nikita said as she took the wine from him.

Michael nodded and headed upstairs. He stopped feeling a quick swat on his butt just as he took the first step. He looked back at Nikita who playfully grinned. She could almost see him blush as he went the rest of the way up the staircase. Nikita smiled to herself as she carried the glass into the kitchen and placed it down at the table. She hummed, enjoying the music quietly playing over the stereo system in the living room. She prepared her own plate before fixing Michael's. She was setting down the plates just as Michael entered the kitchen.

He was out of his business suit and changed into a pair of jeans and a green long sleeve shirt. He sniffed the air and made an approving sound. He took his seat at the table in front of his plate. Nikita sat down opposite him, watching his every move.

"Looks fantastic," he said and smiled. He took another sip of his wine.

"Might need a little salt. I didn't put much in it," said Nikita hoping that was not all she neglected to put in the dish.

"I'm sure it's fine," said Michael with genuine sincerity.

Quietly the two began eating. The dish did need salt but Michael ate his portion without complaint. He refilled her glass of wine before his own. When dinner was finished, he thanked her. Nikita smiled. There was strange happiness in knowing that she had successfully fed Michael to satisfaction. She collected the plates and started to prep them for washing. Michael stood up from the table and circled around to where she stood at the sink. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her away from the sink.

"The cook never does the dishes."

"Is that so," Nikita said, turning around to face him. She locked her wrists behind his head. "So you're going to do the dishes again tonight?"

Michael half danced her away from the sink. He nodded and smiled.

"Why not?"

"Just thought maybe you'd want to relax after such a hard day at work."

"It's the least I could do for you."

"The least?” Nikita grinned devilishly. “In that case, I'd like a massage, too."

"You want me to do the dishes and give you a massage?"

"Uh-huh," said Nikita.

Nikita could not help the indulgent grin that played on her face. He had danced her into the living room where the music was the loudest. Memories of dancing with him before came back to her. His hands stayed at her waist a while before venturing slightly up her back. His gaze continued to hold her in thoughtful consideration as their feet shuffled in a circle. Nikita let out a long sigh, enjoying the moment. She knew this time there would be no convenient phone call pulling him away, or a recall from Command to end their little dance. They could have the entire night together if they wanted, and dance the night the whole way through. Even though the idea was something she sometimes fantasized about, somehow, it still did not feel quite the way she imagined it. She had expected to feel swept away like in a fairytale. Yet, instead of feeling blissful and serene, she only felt anxious.

"How about you go upstairs and get ready for bed and when I'm done, I'll come up," Michael said, breaking the silence between them.

"Pinky swear?"

Nikita nearly laughed at herself for saying the words, but she could not resist being ultra-cute with Michael and seeing how he would navigate it. She held up her pinky in invitation. Michael looked at her waving digit before taking the finger and lightly kissing it. He let her go, smiled, then turned to go into the kitchen. Nikita stood for a moment in the living room. The feeling of his arms around her lingered and seemed to put her previous apprehensions at ease. She had spent more than enough time around Michael to not be so nervous being near him, yet, in this setting, she felt like she did on her very first mission. Granted, she had not known it would be her first mission. Michael had set the whole thing up as though it were some kind of graduation date, and she had fallen for the ruse hook, line, and sinker. Still, in those first moments, she was more than captivated by him, enchanted by his soulful eyes, and drawn in by the quiet curve of his supple lips. Tonight, there were no secrets between them, no hidden agendas, or false pretenses to cover. They were just a man and wife, enjoying an evening alone together after a long day of work. They were newly married, still, head over heels in love with the idea of one another, and willing to do anything for the other.

Would he be willing to do anything, Nikita thought as she prepared to take a shower.

It was barely eight o’clock in the evening. She felt it odd to be getting ready for bed so early. She was not certain she was even tired. Even though she knew she was on a mission, she oddly did not feel like it was. She felt like she was in a dream. Sitting across from Michael, feeling his arms around her, holding her close, and even laughing a little with her, all felt surreal. She washed the soap off her arms and wondered if she was truly there at all, or would she in another moment awake back inside her apartment staring up at the ceiling. She cut the water and stepped out of the shower. On the vanity sat a small black bag with an electric shaver inside. Beside it was shaving lotion.

Nikita considered the shaving kit and lotion, knowing it belonged to Michael. It was something that he used, not just a prop staged in the bathroom. It was only her second night with him and she already felt closer to him than she had in years training with him. Certainly, there were still things that she did not know about Michael, but, she hoped that she would learn more as they went along in the assignment. For the moment, she wondered how far he would take being the doting, loving husband?

Nikita finished in the bathroom and dressed in a slinky soft petal pink negligee. She brushed out her hair and went into the bedroom to await Michael. She lay across the bed, somewhat forgetful of the cameras for the moment. She could not hear the music playing anymore downstairs. It did not surprise her that Michael turned it off. A few minutes later, she heard him coming up the steps. She tried to hide her smile, knowing that the image of her lying across the bed dressed in the somewhat skimpy nightie would make him pause. She knew that she was courting danger by displaying herself in such a way that might invite actions she was not entirely sure she would go through with, but she could not resist teasing Michael. It was fast becoming wildly intoxicating.

Michael appeared in the doorway, pausing only a moment to assess the scene. Nikita gave a slight grin, allowing her eyes to give playful meaning to her demeanor. She pretended to not know he was there, or care much that he was even in the room. He crossed the floor and went directly into the bathroom, closing the door. Nikita frowned. She did not expect Michael’s attention to simply sweep over her impassively without any reaction at all. She had expected maybe for him to stare, possibly even falter a little and reveal a chink in his nearly impervious armor. She wanted to see him display some kind of vulnerability the same way he had back on the barge. He was utterly weakened before her then, pleading with his eyes for her to rescue him. She had done so with mindless pleasure, pulling him down into her depths and swallowing him whole.

She sighed.

That time seemed so far away, there was hardly any use in remembering it, yet she could never forget it. She pulled herself under the sheets, consigning to going to bed, albeit very early. She lay on her stomach, turned away from the bathroom door, and listened to the quiet spray of water. She hated the silence again. She could almost hear buzzing in her own head as her mind attempted to fill the quiet with some type of noise.

The shower cut off with three squeaky turns. Then the sound of the shower door opening. Nikita imagined Michael stepping out, his body wet from the water, and dripping down into the bath rug under his feet. Even though he was only steps beyond the door, she could not stop herself from imagining him the way that she always did whenever she had spent a little bit too much time in his presence. When he wasn’t maddeningly blunt, or being obnoxiously cruel, he was interesting and seductive.

When she first met him, before she knew a whole lot about him, she found each thing that he did captivating. She was constantly aware of him, studying his every gesture, thinking long of every shift of his light eyes, and waiting breathlessly for any word to fall from his soft lips. Over time, she learned to guard herself against him, to keep back her thoughts and not show how vulnerable she was towards him. She became aware of his eyes shifting, indicating he was analyzing her words. She knew his gestures, which were almost always some form of sleight of hand hiding something from her immediate view. She was most aware of his words, taking care to read the often double meaning in them. He had become so proficient in lying that even his honest truth had to be taken with a grain of salt. She had been warned that most veteran operatives at Section were skilled liars if nothing else. The worst ones were the Valentine Operatives. They were specifically trained in subterfuge and could not be trusted for anything. Even though she was classified as a Valentine Operative, she did not consider herself one. She knew it was what Michael was as well, but he did not seem to always act in the presumed behavior. At least not with her. She had been told of Michael's exploits from others inside Section, but she had only seen him in his role as such one time. Even then, it seemed he was genuine at first, showing the woman kindness and encouraging her to follow her own pursuits instead of submitting to the rule of her controlling husband. At the end of it, he was not cold or brutal with her but handled the inevitable discovery with care and compassion, something that was seldom attributed to Valentines at Section.

The bathroom door opened. Michael emerged the same as he had the night before, brushing back his hair with his fingers and heading almost mechanically to his side of the bed. He pulled back the sheets on his side and sat down heavily. She could hear him plug in his phone to the charger, take off his watch, pull out his book, adjust his pillow, and lean back against the headboard. Nikita smirked and rolled her eyes.

“Goodnight,” she said in a breath.

She felt hands begin to rub gingerly at her back. For a moment, Nikita froze, unsure of what was actually happening. The hands continued to knead into her muscles, creating waves of pleasurable pressure along with the places where the hands pressed.

“Hmmm,” Nikita moaned, enjoying the feeling.

The hands continued to move over her shoulders and down the length of her spine. Despite the fabric of the negligee, his hands maneuvered along her back pushing expertly at the muscles there and along her shoulders. The feeling pulled out more moans. She turned her head to see Michael, his expression calm and thoughtful as he ran his hands over her body. She smiled up at him. His lips curved back slightly. He was dressed as before, in a t-shirt and teal blue pajama pants. She was beginning to like him this way, smelling light of soap and illuminated in the soft warm lights of the table lamps.

“You didn’t tell me about your day,” said Nikita.

“It was fine.”

“Anything new you’re working on?” Nikita remembered to keep work questions vague yet believable.

“Just a new account,” Michael offered. “I may be working on it for a little while.”

“I’m sure you’ll get it,” Nikita encouraged with a smile. “You’re very good at getting what you want.”

Michael’s eyes shifted slightly. Nikita cocked a grin in response.

“Sometimes,” he said. His hands moved down towards her thighs, pressing in at the muscles down her legs.

“I would say you’re one of the firm’s best. If not the best. After you get this account, they will have to acknowledge that.”

Michael pulled in a large sigh. His hands worked steadily at her calf muscles before moving back up to her thighs again. A tingling sensation teased at her midsection and groin as his fingers came dangerously close to her buttocks. His thumb cruised down her inner thigh. Nikita turned away from Michael, trying to hide her guilty pleasure at his touch.

“It’s a team effort,” Michael was saying airly.

“Still, without you, I don’t think that the project would be as successful.”

She could only hear Michael huff in response. His hands went back to her shoulders. She could feel him shift in the bed, then felt his body up close to her. His fingers continued to play at her neck, venturing into her hair then back at her shoulders.

“You think so?” Michael’s question came at her in part of a whisper, much too low for any microphone to pick up.

“Of course,” said Nikita. “Why wouldn’t I?”

He kissed her neck softly. His hand rubbed over her shoulder then down the side of her back. He planted another kiss at her shoulder while his hand rested on her hip. Nikita slowly began to feel her own body heating up. She drew in a steadying breath, noticing Michael’s own heat from behind her. He kissed her again on her shoulder then back at the side of her neck. Nikita closed her eyes, relishing the feeling of his lips on her skin. She turned slightly and met his lips with her own, drawing him into a passionate kiss. He was hesitant at first, pulling back a little before fully committing. He wrapped his arm around her and held her close to him. Nikita became lost for a moment within his scent, as she buried her hands into the damp curls of his hair. She continued to move into him. A slight moan escaped him as she played in his hair. One hand moved down from her back and ventured lower. It was then that she was reminded of the cameras in the room. She pulled away from his lips.

“What’s wrong?” Michael asked breathily.

“I, uh, I’m just...um…” Nikita could not quite explain the reason she had pulled away. She looked at Michael, hoping that her eyes would tell him exactly the reason.

“It’s fine,” he said quickly, brushing her hair out of her face almost lovingly. He quickly kissed her lips. “It’s fine. We don’t have to, tonight.”

“I just have a...terrible headache,” Nikita could not believe the words coming from her lips.

“You should get some rest.”

Nikita nodded. She turned over and pulled the sheets up over her shoulders. Michael repositioned himself back on his side of the bed and opened his book. Nikita pretended to fall asleep, listening to the sound of Michael turning the pages. He read for another hour before turning out his own lamp and settling down into the bed.

Nikita frowned again. She knew what was about to happen, knew that he would have kept going had she not stopped. He might have even wanted to keep going, but she had to stop. She had not thought about the cameras until she felt his hands start to cup around the bottom of her butt. He was kissing her just as passionately as she was kissing him. She could even feel his heart beating a little faster as he pressed in towards her. For a brief moment, she was reminded of their moment on the barge. He was uninhibited then, unrestricted, and unscripted. She had felt overwhelmed by his very apparent passion. It came at her like a tidal wave, crashing over her and threatening to drown her. It was the first time she had ever seen him completely out of control, relinquishing much of it to her. She had found it maddeningly addictive and over much too quickly. By morning he was returned to his usual self with no trace of the wild and emotional man she had been with only hours before.

The kiss felt oddly familiar to that moment and was the real reason she stopped. Certainly, she did not enjoy the idea of being watched during that moment, but what she didn't want to happen was to somehow see the moment he returned to being Section Michael. After only the second day of being around him, she was beginning to like the man that he pretended to be.

Pretended.

Nikita looked at Michael as he slept. His chest rose and fell in rhythm. It was amazing how he managed to spend his entire day living a lie and sleep so soundly without one moment of regret, Nikita thought as she watched him. She turned back over. It was nearly eleven o'clock and she was only now beginning to feel sleepy.

She closed her eyes.

Images of Michael came to her as they always did each night. She shook her head and concentrated on another image. It was enough she was being forced to live a fantasy, she didn't need to dream it.

 

 

The morning came the same as it had the morning before. Michael was up early and already gone before she awoke. He left plenty of coffee in the pot and even took out the trash. Nikita opened the trash can with the foot pedal and peered into the clean white plastic. She looked around the kitchen noting it's pristine appearance. So very much like Michael, she thought. Everything in its place. Nothing left out of order.

Nikita took the sugar caddy and poured a small pile on the counter. The white crystals made a pleasurable yet neat mess. She smiled, imagining Michael coming in and seeing the sugar mess and billow cartoon steam out of his ears. More than likely, he would simply sweep the sugar grains into the trash and check the caddy to be sure there were no holes in it. He probably wouldn’t say a word to ask why there was sugar on the counter. He would just go about the rest of the day as if it never occurred.

Nikita wondered if that was how Michael lived his life, pretending things did not actually occur. Maybe he fantasized about waking up one day and realizing it had all just been a really bad dream, that Section did not exist, and he was never an operative. Nikita leaned against the counter and drew a line with her finger through the sugar. It would be grand to think that they were all somehow connected within a massive shared dream from which they could all awake and return to their normal lives.

Her finger trailed a second line parallel to the first.

If it were all a dream, then she would never know what it was like to be with Michael. She would never know what it felt like to touch him or hold him close. She would be in one place in the world and him in another and they would never meet. Nikita looked over at the coffee mug that Michael used that morning now washed and left drying on the drying rack next to the sink. She wasn’t sure if she could accept a world that did not have Michael somehow involved in it. Section she could do without, but Michael…

Nikita grabbed a paper towel and carefully swept the sugar pile onto it to discard it in the trash. She washed off her hands and dried them on the dishtowel folded neatly beside the sink.

The rest of the morning went as routine as the day before, complete with cleaning everything in the house in the same order she had before. This time she barely noticed she had not turned on any music to clean. Instead, she went through her chores in mindless repetition without the need for any distracting noises. By the time she looked up to check the time, it was nearly 1pm. She shut off the vacuum and began wrapping the cord.

The front door opened.

Nikita bolted upright, alarmed to see someone coming in the house. Michael turned and smiled warmly at her as he set down his briefcase next to the sideboard table. Nikita raced up the go and helped him out his coat.

"You're home early. What's going on?"

"I took a half-day," Michael said. He landed a quick peck at her cheek. "Looks good in here."

Nikita hung his coat in the hall closet and went to find Michael in the kitchen rummaging through the refrigerator.

"Are you hungry? I could fix you something," Nikita offered as she leaned against the counter.

He pulled out a few ingredients, setting them on the counter in an arrangement that clearly indicated she was about to prepare something. Nikita looked at the assortment of vegetables. Michael finally pulled his head out of the fridge and began washing his hands. Nikita picked up an onion.

"What's going on?"

Michael grabbed a cutting board and a knife.

"Dinner," he said. He took the onion from her and began slicing it.

"You came home early from work to cook dinner?" Nikita crossed around the counter to where Michael continued to work slicing the onion.

"Could you grab a pot and start water to boil?"

"What for?"

"Because I needed it to boil," Michael answered plainly.

"Yes, but what for?"

"We're having dinner tonight, with guests." Michael continued to chop expertly.

It was odd watching him chop onions while still dressed in his suit. He had decided to wear a charcoal-colored suit paired with a white shirt and maroon and grey tie. Nikita moved over close to him and gestured for the knife.

"I can finish. You go get changed out of your work clothes. Let me handle this."

Michael paused, handing over the knife slowly.

"Just not big pieces," he said as he left the kitchen.

"Go," Nikita shooed.

Michael disappeared a few moments upstairs and returned just as Nikita chopped the last bit of onion to small irregular cubes. He gave her more vegetables to chop and dice as he moved about the kitchen almost as fluidly as he did an obstacle course. Dressed in a pair of jeans and green sweater, he once more gave the illusion of a man so far removed from the one that Section Michael was that Nikita almost forgot that they were only playing a role. She was reminded of what was going on when Michael drew in close to her and gave her a quick kiss while tucking her comm unit back over her ear. He gave her a wary look before returning to his roast beef.

At 4pm, Michael finished cleaning up the kitchen and started upstairs to get himself cleaned up. Their guests were arriving in two hours. Michael stated they were going to be his colleague from work and his wife. Her name was Karen. They would be bringing dessert. Nikita fidgeted with the button on her jewel blue top as she looked out the window. A man in a long trench coat walked his dog. He seemed to be talking on the phone while the pooch pulled him along.

"How do I look?"

Nikita turned and assessed Michael as he stood in the doorway of the bathroom. There was a look of genuine expectation of an answer in his expression. Nikita smiled and sauntered up to him placing one hand on his chest. He was wearing a maroon-colored sweater and dark brown tweed pants. She caught a glimpse of them in the bathroom mirror and considered the two of them together in real life. His dark Earth tones against her deep jewel blue pants suit looked oddly matched. She landed a kiss at his chin.

"Very fetching," she complimented.

He smiled.

The dinner party began with music and wine leading first into the living room where Later and her husband Allen warmly greeted and sat down. Michael carried on a light conversation with Allen, spinning a story that was almost as believable as him being some type of business broker. The two men laughed and drank like old friends. Nikita could not help but steal a few glances towards Michael, taking him in as he reclined in the armchair. After an hour, they moved into the dining room and sat down for dinner.

Karen made small talk about shopping and other such trivial interests that Nikita supposed would be something that housewives busied themselves with. Allen and Michael continued drinking and sharing work stories changing only minor details to hide the fact that they were actually talking about different missions they were on. As the night wore on, Karen brought out her dessert, a simple apple pie topped with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream.

"I've eaten so much I don't know if I have room for my own dessert," Karen said while patting her bloated stomach.

Nikita nodded, assessing her own full belly. Michael had labored long in the kitchen creating a meal of roasted beef with pearl onions, garlic red potatoes, sauteed brussel sprouts, French cut green beans, sweetened corn, and sweet rolls that went so well with the roast beef that Nikita ate three in a row. She would have liked to say that she helped to make such a delicious spread but the reality was she only acted as a prep chef. Michael, in his infinite knowledge and skill, had made the dinner. He seemed impossibly full of hidden talents that never hinted at themselves until necessary. It seemed there was nothing that Michael could not do well.

"Of course I'm not so sure anymore that my pie will compare at all to Michael's roast." Karen put down slices of pie.

"I'm sure it's delicious," said Nikita. She took a bite and savored the buttery crust. She nodded.

Karen beamed, pleased that her dessert was considered good. At the other end of the table, Michael and Allen let out more boisterous laughter. Nikita looked over at Michael and noticed a slight color of red beginning at his ears and blushing down towards his cheeks. His smile was broad and his eyes danced in the low lighting at the table.

Nikita stood and began clearing away some of the plates from the table. She started towards the kitchen when Karen rose to help. The two took away the empty plates and brought them to the kitchen.

"Everything going ok?" asked Karen as she handed Nikita her set of plates.

"Yes, of course. What do you mean?"

"Well, I know how it is when you first get married. The first year is always the hardest. It's like I find out something new about Allen every day, even after over a year."

Nikita rinsed the dishes.

"Yeah. Michael and I have known each other for a while. I don't think we can surprise each other much more."

"Yeah, you think that. Even though you think they've shown you all of themselves, they always come up with something, you know. I'm telling you, as long as Allen and I have been together, I never truly get used to him."

Nikita looked at Karen, noticing the sadness in her voice. Karen and Allen were partners much like Nikita and Michael, only they had been together for far longer. There was something about what Karen said that made her feel like she was talking about something far more meaningful than marriage. Even though she and Allen were close, Nikita did sense a distance between the two. She was beginning to wonder what had caused the rift between the two.

Karen let out a sigh that reset the energy in the room.

"Shall we go see what the boys are up to?

Riotous laughter exploded from the dining room. The sound made Nikita want to know what had been so hilarious. It was the most she had ever heard Michael laugh apart from a small chuckle. The two women returned to the table to see Michael and Allen with their arm around each other appearing way more cheerful than they should have been. Karen grabbed her coat.

"I think it's about time to get this guy home before he winds up on your couch."

"It's a very comfortable couch," said Nikita.

"I'm so sure," Karen pulled Allen to his feet.

"Great dinner," said Allen. "We will have to do this again soon."

"Certainly," said Michael, his voice sounding a bit huskier than normal. "Maybe after we close this account."

"It's a date then," said Allen.

Karen herded Allen towards the door. Nina and Michael followed.

"We had a great time," said Nikita.

Everyone leaned in for hugs with each other's opposite partners.

"So did we! You never told me Michael was such a good cook," said Karen with a smile.

"Hey! I can cook." Allen interjected, his tone feigning slight offense.

Karen gave her husband a wary look. "Yeah. Hard-boiled eggs." She laughed.

"Remember, 9:30 Saturday morning. We gotta coordinate," said Michael with a bit of meaning.

"Great," said Allen, catching the meaning.

They bid each other goodnight as Karen and Allen left out to their car.

"You guys… Have a safe ride home," said Michael, his words dragging a little. "Don't let him drive. Hope you know why."

Nikita closed the door giving Michael another knowing look. She could tell by the way he was leaning against the doors and wall that he had drunk way more than he needed to.

"What?" he said sharply.

Nikita turned. "Did you have enough to drink?"

"I... don't know."

"Uh-huh."

Michael caught her hand as she started up the stairs. Nikita reached back and caught his other hand to begin pulling Michael up the steps. She pulled him up to the top of the steps but stopped abruptly hearing Michael make a sound of pain. Nikita spun quickly seeing Michael holding his back and righting somewhat slowly.

"What's the matter?"

Michael continued to make noises and rub a spot at his lower back. Nikita slipped an arm around him.

"I'm fine," he said even though it was clear that he wasn’t.

"Is it your back again?"

Michael dragged his feet along as Nikita led him into the dining room. Michael mumbled something inaudible.

"Well...I don't think you'll be playing any tennis until you see Dr. Kent."

"Oh no," Michael groaned with displeasure.

"I don't want you to be crippled for the next six months."

Nikita managed Michael into the dining room and settled him into a chair. Michael continued to hang onto her pulling her down onto his lap. She was aware of his arms wrapping about her waist. She leaned forward and plucked a small bit of sweet roll from the breadbasket.

"Who is Doctor Kent?" Michael slurred. "Who is he? I don't know any doctor Kent."

Michael drew in close, a small grin forming on his lips. One arm wrapped firmly around her back while the other eased under her legs. Nikita turned to face Michael. He pulled her to him, smashing her face up to his.

"I don't think this is a really good idea for your back, alright," warned Nikita as Michael began to try to stand and lift her up.

"Ok, then you be my doctor." Michael's tone was colored with playful meaning.

Although she was enjoying this other side of Michael, a rarely seen version of him, she could not help but worry over him. She could sense that he did not know everything that he was saying or doing, and therefore was not in complete control. She had to be the one to manage the rest of the evening and make sure that their cover was not blown by a silly, unintentional mistake.

Michaels tried lifting her, and nearly had her up, but his legs gave out far faster than his back leaving him groaning and nearly dropping her to the floor.

"Very smart, very smart," Nikita teased as she regained her footing. "C'mon. In the bed, you."

Michael continued to gasp in pain and laugh. Nikita wrapped her arm around him once more and led him towards the bedroom.

"I feel good.." Michael mumbled.

"I bet."

Nikita managed to get Michael into the bedroom and dumped him heavily onto the bed. He lay on his back, eyes closed and head swimming with red wine. She stared at him a moment, trying to figure out what to do next. She figured the best thing to do was to start getting him ready for bed however difficult it might become seeing as how he was in no condition to offer much help. She bent down and began removing his shoes. After both shoes were off, she raised up and began wrestling away his sweater from over his head.

At first, she was able to pull the sweater up to his neck and move his arms out of the sleeves with a little assistance from Michael. When she seemed to get the sweater over his head, it stuck under his chin. She tugged a little trying to pull the sweater up but it continued to snag at his chin. Finally, Michael, either tired of the constant jostling or awakened by it, pushed Nikita away gently and removed his own sweater. She went to help with the black t-shirt underneath when Michael held up his hand for her to stop.

"I can do it," he said quietly.

Nikita watched as he sat upon the bed and breathed out a long sigh. His hair was wild and his expression was drawn long and exhausted. Nikita sat down beside him and took his hand into hers. They sat silent a moment while holding hands. Michael leaned in closer to her, meeting his forehead to her’s and allowed another, more meaningful sigh. His thumb rubbed over her knuckles. Nikita could feel almost a buzzing tremor happening between them as her breathing followed his. She could feel him pressing ever so slightly forward. His parted lips drew closer. She laced her fingers in between his, meeting his palm. One arm wrapped around her waist. Nikita touched his face lightly. He lifted his eyes to meet her. They breathed evenly, staring into each other’s eyes, not speaking. Nikita pulled her lips in, biting a little down on her lower lip.

“I should clean up the dining room,” she heard herself saying, but was not really sure why.

She could feel herself wanting Michael, desiring more than just the touch of his hand, but she could not bring herself to move forward. Each time she looked into his eyes, she could see obvious desire within his pale blue hue, yet something was also holding him back. They were both paused at the edge of a precarious ledge, leaning forward enough to teeter towards falling, yet neither of them dared to make the final leap. Instead, they settled back on their heels, ignoring the urge.

Nikita stood up. Michael’s hand slipped from her fingertips. She moved slowly out of the bedroom, leaving Michael on the bed. She went into the hall and leaned her head against the wall. Whether it was from the wine or from the heady feeling she always got from being around Michael a bit too long, she felt a little dizzy. She closed her eyes and recentered herself. Even though she was tired, she pushed herself to finish clearing away the plates and other dinnerware from the table. She decided to leave the rest for the next morning and climbed the steps back to the bedroom.

The bedroom was empty with the bathroom door closed and the sound of the shower running. Nikita sat down on the bed, pushing off each shoe with the toe of the opposite foot. She took off her bracelet, thinking over the day. Cooking with Michael in the kitchen felt like a page from a fantasy book someone else was reading. She was close to him, working next to him with movement that felt so natural to her, it might as well have been routine. Michael was patient with her, guiding her hands with the knife when she faltered with exactly how to cut and encouraging her instinct when seasoning. They had found a rhythm with one another that might not have been there with anyone else, and that was what made her nervous. It was too easy to slip into normal with Michael. Too easy to lie to herself and say the people they were pretending to be, were who they truly were. The man that was living with her now, was someone who she always imagined Michael could be if there was no Section. He was who she was quickly falling in love with and hoping that somehow after the mission was complete, he might stay with her despite Section. She knew, however, that this would not be the case. Inevitably, Michael, the real Michael, would return and kill the other Michael leaving her with the cold corpse.

The shower stopped. Nikita rose from the bed and prepared to get her own bed clothing ready. She pulled her hair into a ponytail and turned in time to see Michael walk out of the bathroom in just a towel wrapped about his waist. For a moment, she stood staring at Michael’s masculine frame, admiring the definition of his muscles. The white towel balanced on his hips and was held closed by a few folds that could easily be loosened. Her mind traced back to a memory of what lay beyond the folds of the terry cloth fabric. She mindlessly licked her lips. Her eyes lifted and met head one with Michael staring warily back at her.

“Are you about finished?” Nikita asked, attempting to recover quickly.

Michael looked down at himself. He gave her a look that stated without saying that he was not quite done with the bathroom. He pulled open the top drawer of the dresser and selected a pair of light grey boxer briefs. He retreated back to the bathroom, closing the door.

Nikita let out an audible sigh and sank back down on the bed. It was later than their normal bedtime, and she was beginning to feel drowsy. Normally, she might not have cared that Michael was taking much longer in the bathroom than usual, but this time was different. She thought to go into another bathroom to wash up, but her body rejected the idea of heading down the hall to the guest bedroom. Her legs were not interested in making the trek and would only commit to going to the bathroom right next to her. Nikita looked at the bathroom door again, wondering what it was that he was doing to stay so long. As if in answer, the door finally opened releasing Michael from behind it dressed in his usual bedclothes.

“All yours,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Thanks,” Nikita retorted and stood up quickly.

She could feel Michael’s eyes on her as she went into the bathroom and shut the door. The scene inside the bathroom was much like it always was other nights before. The only marked difference was that the toilet seat was left up. Nikita put the seat back down and sat down on the lid. The day had been mildly eventful with the addition of work colleagues as party guests. Michael revealed a little of himself working in the kitchen. She knew it was something that he likely taught himself and not a skill that Section commanded he learn. The care and precision that he expressed clearly pointed towards a passion for culinary arts. Plus, his penchant towards silence spoke more to him being a cerebral type, which was a complete opposite of her own visceral reasoning. Michael was always in his head, thinking. Nikita never liked to be alone too much with her thoughts. He craved silence and solitude. She could not stand the quiet. It always unnerved her. If she had been the one to put together the dinner party, there would have been many more bodies filling the room, much louder music, and a dinner spread to rival a wedding. She suspected any life with Michael outside of Section would be spent exactly as it was tonight, with minimal interaction with others, followed immediately by contemplative silence.

Nikita took her time in the shower, allowing herself a moment to collect herself and refocus back to the mission at hand. They had been in the house for nearly a week now with no sign of Armel or his henchmen approaching them. They knew the house was impregnated with cameras transmitting a constant video feed to Armel’s home. Section had leaked information about their background to Armel shortly after his son was supposedly killed in a hit and run accident. Armel was searching for some kind of solace to help him process the death of his only child which led him to Nikita and Michael. Nikita felt it a little evil to use the man’s apparent pain from losing his son to such tragedy in order to get close to him. Madeline had proposed the idea of using Nikita as a retired psychic in such a way that nearly appeared sincere, but Nikita knew it was not entirely honest. The information that they got about Armel and his son had come from years of surveillance and research all brought together to finally fool him into thinking that Nikita was actually a psychic. Nikita was beginning to wonder if the hit and run was not an accident, but something Section orchestrated just for a chance to capture Roland Armel and gain further information to bring down the terrorist group First Flag. Even though she knew Section would never freely admit to killing a child on purpose just to get to their target, she couldn’t put it past Section’s methods either. By now, she was quite clear about what Section was willing to do and sacrifice to get to what they truly wanted. Killing the innocent was merely part of the game. Collateral, as Madeline and Operations called it. Nothing and no one was exempt from Section’s cruel and malevolent means. Not even the truly innocent.

Nikita finished in the bathroom and walked out. She looked over at the bed and found Michael asleep with his book lying open in his lap. She smiled, considering him, then went over to his side of the bed. Gently, she took the book and placed it on the end table. She then swept his hair out his face, taking note of the curve of his jawline and his peaceful expression. She coaxed him down under the blankets, making sure his pillow propped his head with enough support and pulling the sheets up over his shoulders. He hummed in relaxation as the rest of him settled down into the bed. Satisfied at tucking Michael in, she went around to her side and settled down. She cut off the lamp and crushed her own pillow underneath her. Once more, the house was dark and quiet. The buzzing in her head started up again, trying to drown out the silence.

Nikita closed her eyes.

Arms wrapped around her and pulled her close to Michael’s warm body. She sighed, enjoying the feeling of him pressed near to her. She took his hand and kissed his fingers before lacing her fingers with his. She felt words beginning to sprout at her lips, threatening to come out. She swallowed the words back down, fearing that they would spoil the delicious moment happening right then. Michael’s warmth made her feel less anxious about the quiet. Before long, she was fast asleep, wrapped within Michael’s arms, and no longer aware of the silence.

 

Evil.

Nikita could not shake the words from her thoughts. When they returned from Armel’s house, she busied herself with beginning her cleaning routine. They acted out a conversation between herself and Michael leading him to subsequently leave for work while she continued to clean. Once Section had the necessarily recorded feed in place, she and Michael left the house and headed into Section for further mission updates and instructions. On the way in, she could see Michael already changing right in front of her back into Section Michael. He was cold and distant, near robotic so that by the time they were on the transport elevator heading down, he was all but inhuman again. Nikita looked warily at him as he stepped out of the elevator and headed inside Section without so much as a glance backward at her. Section Michael was a far cry from the Michael that she woke next to earlier that morning, and even further from the frisky one, she deflected advances from the night before.

In the house with Armel, he had petted and held on to her in much the same convincing way a loving yet fearful husband would. After she returned from Louis’s bedroom with Armel, Michael looked nearly distraught. He reached for her possessively and held her away from Armel in a protective manner placing himself between her and the attorney. Nikita played along, allowing Michael to appear concerned and cautious while she feigned utter exhaustion. In the car, he held her hand but stared out the window in apparent deep thought. She knew it was really him being naturally disconnected which sort of worked in his favor making him look like he was so very concerned to the point of distraction for her safety. He was careful to remember to be gentlemanly as they exited the car, and even threw a few cautioned looks over his shoulder, further cementing his character as being a now wary and suspicious husband. Once back inside the house, she had wanted him to return to being loving and doting again, but instead, he seemed stuck at being wary, suspicious, and disconnected.

After their briefing, they went to Walter to pick up their new Comm units and turn in their old ones. As usual, Walter greeted them with a smile and a humorous inquiry.

“So...How’s things in the suburbs?”

“Normal,” Nikita replied back airly.

“Yeah, we all remember normal,” Walter laughed then found Michael’s cold light eyes leveling with him. Walter fumbled a little and got right to business, obviously reading Michael’s deadpan stare.

After a few details, Walter went towards the back of his inventory to check on the counts and weight of each magazine they would be carrying. Nikita took the moment to ask a question that had been eating away at her since the beginning of the mission.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you. Did you choose me for this assignment or did Madeline?”

“I did. I thought it would be an opportunity for you to improve your...field mechanics.” Michael looked at her evenly.

Nikita nodded. “Is that the only reason?”

“No.” Michael began checking through his equipment.

“What's the other reason?”

“You want silencers?” Walter called from the back.

“Yes,” Michael responded. He continued checking through his equipment.

“You were saying?” Nikita was not about to let the conversation drop.

“We’re convincing as two people in love,” Michael responded matter-of-factly.

Nikita tried to hide a smirk but it twitched upon her lips anyway. As always, she could not read anything from Michael’s expression as he looked back at her. Thankfully, Walter returned to give them an account of how many pieces were checked out to them and their total weight.

“What do you want to do?” asked Walter.

“I’ll get them tomorrow,” said Michael before walking away.

“Thanks,” said Nikita quietly.

There was a brief sit down meeting with Madeline before returning to the house. As usual, Nikita sat down easily into the armchair and waited for Madeline to begin her subtle, yet often unnerving probing. She had questions of her own about the feed she was receiving from Birkoff and how it was that he could give her answers faster than the questions could be asked. True to form, Madeline saw right past her mild question of how Armel’s son managed to inexplicably turn up dead and answered the question that wasn’t being asked.

“The answer to the question you’re really asking is...No. Section didn’t kill him.” Madeline remained placid.

Nikita nodded, not really trusting this answer, but deciding against challenging it.

Madeline drew in a breath. “By the way. Armel is still watching you. He has to remain convinced that you and Michael are husband and wife.”

“Why? Is there something wrong?” Nikita was genuinely wary now of Madeline’s assessment.

“The average couple that have been married under five years have intimate relations at least twice a week.”

Nikita swallowed hard, understanding quickly what it was that Madeline was saying without saying. The easy smile that played on her maroon lips cemented the notion and made Nikita shift uncomfortably in her seat.

“Also...I would suggest a small argument, perhaps about finances or inlaws.”

Nikita left Madeline’s office feeling more weighted with thoughts than she did when she first arrived at Section that morning. She was able to sneak back inside the house unnoticed and return to where she was last recorded being at the end of Section’s feed. She climbed into bed and waited for Birkoff to give her the signal for when their feed ended and Armel’s cameras were recording again. It was nearly nine o’clock in the evening and despite the intensity of the day, she felt restless. She could not help but think about Madeline’s words and the look on her face when she said them. It was enough to know that Armel’s men were watching their every move inside the house. She did not want to think about how many other eyes were watching their little soap opera. Now Madeline was suggesting she have sex with Michael to further their ruse and keep their cover in place. She already knew that Michael likely would not have any trouble completing the task. He would probably walk stark naked across Command if it was somehow required for him to do so. She, on the other hand, was not so confident.

Nikita sat up in bed and combed her hair back from her face with her fingers. Having an argument out the blue about finances or inlaws seemed highly implausible. Especially since they had not spoken about each other’s family since they had been in the house. Considering she had not been out shopping anywhere, or seen any new objects showing up at the house, bickering about money was even more ridiculous. She could possibly start arguing about wanting to help Armel speak with his son. That, at least, would be something that did hold some shaving of truth to it and would be something that Michael would naturally debate about. However, coming off such a lovely morning waking up with him wrapped in his arms, she did not want to lose that feeling. Arguing with him would only result in them both sleeping as far apart from one another as the bed would allow, or completely banishing one of them to the couch for the rest of the night. Even though arguing would save her from having to have her most intimate moment captured on tape, she did not want to be alone in the bed with her own frustrations mimicking anger towards Michael. She knew he would catch on to what she was doing and follow through with as much believable emotion as if he truly did feel the words he spoke. The following day, he would act in much the same manner as he had any other day. In the last few days with him, she had come dangerously close to admitting her love for him, or at least in love with the idea of the man that he portrayed. She had even ventured to say the words out loud, testing to see how it felt to say something so outrageously true. Michael had said the words back, but she could tell he did not truly mean them. He had told countless other women that he loved him and never meant a single word of it. It was of no surprise to her that the words slipped easily from his lips in response to her admission. She was quite sure that he must have thought her saying that she loved him was all a part of the role she was playing and not an honest admission. Even if he was playing a role, he was extremely convincing, which made it all the harder for her to distinguish the real Michael from the one that he pretended to be. She could not help but feel on some level, however small it was, that Michael was exactly the man he was playing and the man that was Section Michael was the fallacy.

The door downstairs opened. Nikita felt a tremor go through her. She could hear him setting down his briefcase and hung his coat in the hall closet. A few moments later, he was heard rummaging around in the kitchen searching for something to eat. Nikita got out of bed and went into the bathroom. She quickly assessed herself and drew in a collected breath. She splashed her face with some water and pinched her cheeks so that a blush of pink surfaced. She grabbed some chapstick and ran it over her lips so that they appeared smoother and more supple. She quickly spritzed some perfume and tossed her hair so that the scent carried into her hair. She brushed her teeth then quickly went back into the bedroom, almost jumping back into bed so that she was under the sheets before Michael came into the bedroom. She watched him as he headed straight for the bathroom, loosening and discarding clothing as he went. As usual, she heard the shower cut on. She listened while Michael took a silent shower and waited for the three squeaks signaling the end.

Nikita drew in a breath and pulled off her nightgown. She was careful not to turn completely towards the corner of the room where she knew a camera was positioned. She lay across the bed and waited for Michael to enter. Her mind raced through all the other options that she could take to help continue the idea of she and Michael being lovingly married, but she knew what was expected of her. Madeline had not made the suggestion of intimacy without some sort of intention.

The three squeaks were heard and the shower stopped. Nikita tried to quiet herself. She had no idea how she would go about seducing Michael. Being flirty with someone she barely knew was quite different from being alluring with Michael. He was undoubtedly well versed in all things enticing and would likely see right through any kind of ploy she could ever come up with. The best thing she could do was to simply be straightforward with what she wanted and leave the rest up to him to decide how to play it out.

Michael finally emerged from the bathroom, dressed as he always did in a white t-shirt and blue pajama pants. He took off his bathrobe and tossed it on a bench by the window.

“You never told me you had a meeting today?” Nikita began, sounding every bit the concerned wife.

“They postponed it,” Michael said.

“Why? I thought it was your biggest account?”

“Can’t concentrate on anything until we’re past all this,” said Michael as he climbed into bed beside her.

He leaned in, obviously ignoring the fact that she was lying nearly naked on the bed with only her panties on.

“It’ll be okay, I promise.”

Michael kissed her sweetly on her lips before reaching to turn off his lamp on his bedside table. He settled down further in the bed. Nikita repositioned herself closer to him.

“As long as I’ve got you,” she pressed in and delivered a lingering kiss as he stroked her hair. “I can make it.”

She could barely believe the words coming out of her mouth. They sounded like lyrics to a song she once heard and now repeating them with hopeful meaning. Michael seemed to be fine with playing along, even going as far as being even more gentle and soft with her.

“You should get some rest. You must be exhausted,” he whispered, still continuing to stroke her hair.

Nikita saw that he was giving her an out, but she had already decided in her own course and was not about to leave through the door that Michael was trying to create for her. He smelled heavenly of his soap and of fresh aftershave lotion. It was a scent that she had caught a handful of times before and it always captivated her more than any of the varied colognes he also favored wearing. It was him in his most simple of forms, no longer hidden behind tailored Italian suits or fragrant Parisian colognes. His gaze fell softly on her, taking in her demeanor now. She could see him realizing her at that moment and a flicker of interest lit in his eyes.

“Not really,” said Nikita. She allowed her fingers to play with the fabric of Michael’s t-shirt.

His hands trailed along her shoulders and around the back of her neck. From the dull light of her own lamp, she could see a much different expression beginning to cross over Michael’s face. He continued to lie still, only moving his fingers through her hair. Nikita’s own hands played with the edge of his shirt.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to sleep unless…” Nikita let the words fall without completing the idea.

Nikita hoped that he might catch her meaning. She was on the verge of letting the whole thing fall away and take Michael’s option. He continued to play in her hair. She did not want to come right out and say what it was that she was thinking. It was enough that she was trying to be both subtle and blunt by presenting herself mostly naked on the bed with him and spewing out lines she ripped from a song. She looked back into Michael’s eyes. He was looking at her with such softness and compassion, she felt herself teetering on the verge of being dramatic.

“You need to relax,” Michael said with his own dose of meaning.

Nikita nodded, relieved that she did not have to dance about the subject any further. The look in his eyes said that he was very much in tune with what she was offering and was willing to go with her.

“Yeah,” Nikita answered within a breath.

Michael reached for her and pulled her towards him. Many times in the past she had imagined making love to Michael in much the same setting as where they were. The only difference was that they were completely alone. She tried to push out the fact that they were being watched and throw herself headlong into being with Michael. He was beginning slowly with her, not rushing forward, but allowing the moment to evolve. His kiss was deep and tugged her away from her battling thoughts so that she no longer was aware of where she was or of what was going on. There were only Michael and the heated press of his lips to hers. He pressed forward more, finding his way atop her, and effectively shielding her from view. She pulled at his t-shirt, raising it over his head. He finished by taking the shirt off and dropping it on the floor beside the bed. His hands grasped her wrists and held her down to the bed while his mouth cruised over the side of her neck.

Nikita closed her eyes, relishing the feeling of his lips on her skin and his tongue licking at her. She laced her fingers with his and arched her back up towards him, inviting more kisses. He obliged, trailing slick paths around her neck and up to the side of her face. She turned and captured his lips once more and sucked at his bottom lip. Below, she could feel him pressing in towards her. His legs were open and straddling her so that she felt him against her stomach. His pajama pants did little to hide his arousal. He was more than interested and likely had been since the moment he saw her lying across the bed when he entered the room. He did not move or make any kind of suggestion towards his own desire. Instead, he allowed her to make the first move so that he could respond with vigorous earnestness.

Nikita was not prepared for how quickly she found herself lost within her own lust. As his mouth went lower on her, she did not quiet the soft moans that escaped her lips. She could tell, on some level, he attempted to keep her hidden even as he worked her body into a reckless frenzy. His hands cupped around her breasts while his tongue circled around her belly. She pulled the comforter cover over the top of her chest mostly so she could hide her expression behind the folds as he ventured even lower. He slowly pulled away her panties leaving them looped around her right ankle. A moment later, she felt his lips at her thigh, landing kisses up her leg. She was beginning to tremble with anticipation and need.

“Please…” she whispered.

“Turn off the light,” he whispered as he continued kissing about her pelvis and just under her navel.

Nikita reached quickly and turned off the light, plunging the room into near darkness. It was then that Michael rose up, folding the blankets over top himself, fully blocking them from the view of the camera. He was already mostly out of his pajama pants. He moved up her body, planting more kisses on her trembling form. Slowly, he pushed her legs apart with his knees and lowered himself towards her. He paused a moment, balanced just before entering. She opened her eyes and stared deeply into him seeing the same look he had given to her while on the barge. He would not move unless she gave him permission to. He would remain forever waiting if she willed it. She raised up, pulling him down into her kiss, burying her fingers into his hair. As if activated, Michael moved into her, pressing himself deep within her.

A pleasured moan erupted from her as she felt him begin to move within her. He captured her wrists once more and held her down as his body took possession of her. He breathed deeply, pouring out his own guttural groan in response to the feeling of her wrapped about him. She encaged him within her thighs, locking her ankles at the back of his thighs and pressing him forward. He let go of her wrists and wrapped his arms around her, hugging her close to him. She turned to face him and met his lips. Once more, he pulled her in hungrily sucking at her until she was nearly left breathless. The rhythmic movement of his body against her gradually pushed her towards madness. She felt herself wanting to go wild under him, yet he kept her tamed and in complete obedience to his will. He did not want to go quickly, she could tell by the way he moved. He was enjoying the slow grind and the deep moans it lifted out of her. She licked the side of his neck and received his pleasured moan in response, sending a delicious added tremor through her body. Her hands went back into his hair and her lips trailed down the side of his throat.

He sucked in a hiss of air.

He burrowed deeper, raising up slightly from her. She arched up towards him, moving her body in rhythm with him. She could see in his expression that he was becoming lost in the ecstasy her body created for him. She grabbed his face and made him look at her. As they moved against one another, Nikita stared intensely into his eyes, holding him hostage. She thrust up towards him, meeting him with the same vigor he expressed. After a moment, his expression changed revealing his desperation growing within. He started to close his eyes.

“Look at me,” Nikita commanded within her own gasping breath.

Obediently, he opened his eyes. His breath was coming out in snatches following the quickened pace of his thrusting.

“Kiss me,” Nikita instructed.

He bent to her and engulfed her mouth. The passion in his kiss was overwhelming. She raked her nails over his back. He responded with a moan that spoke towards his peaking climax. She was barely able to keep herself from rocketing off into oblivion. Instead, she moved her lips down his throat wanting to gather more of his sounds, which he gave freely, further exciting her.

Finally, she could no longer contain the building pressure within. She felt her entire body beginning to quake. Michale’s hands grabbed at her thighs then moved to cup her buttocks. Sweat beaded on his back as he pushed himself further, grunting heavily. Nikita took hold of his hands and moved them so that he held her hands above her head. She surrendered to him once more, twisting herself into his favor and knowing it was sending ripples of pleasure through him. He groaned in response. Her body quaked again, bucking up against him hard enough to drive him completely over the edge. He tensed, letting out a groan that seemed to come so deep down that it caused his muscles to constrict. He continued to move within her, screaming out in full expression before finally collapsing atop her. He lay trembling, still partially inside her. She held him close, feeling his thundering heart beat against her breasts. She kissed the side of his face. Once more, the words she feared saying tingled at her lips. She could hear herself saying them and imagine him saying them back with honesty. He moved off of her, being careful not to take the sheets with him and leave her covered. She was grateful he did not move far, but only curled up beside her and held her close to him again. She began to feel as she did before on the barge, safely tucked away with him and feeling like nothing in the world could touch her. Yet, even at that moment, she still felt awkward and aware. On the barge, he had expressed himself fully and without restraint, but by morning, had taken it all back. She had given up freedom to be with him and he seemed to think it nothing at all once she was returned to Section.

Nikita kissed his hand.

They both had given up a lot to have each other close, risking their lives. Now, in the guise of a mission, they were expected, even instructed to at the very least appear to care for one another. That was the part that confused her the most. The appearance of care. Once more she found herself wondering if the care that Michael took towards her was genuine or all part of his elaborate act. Was she being manipulated just as much as Armel? Had Madeline taken time to sit down with Michael and explain to him the importance of keeping up the ruse?

Behind her, she could feel Michael’s breath fanning the back of her neck. She wanted to enjoy it, even needed to, but she found she could not find solace at the moment. She could not rest easy until she knew, once and for all, that the Michael she was living with was the Michael that she loved and not an illusion.

 

He was distant the next morning.

When she opened her eyes, she found his side empty and cold. She looked at the clock and noticed that it was nearly eight in the morning on a Saturday. She thought little of it as she pulled on her robe and went downstairs into the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee she could already smell brewed. She picked up the paper left on the kitchen counter and sifted out the comics section. After preparing a cup, she read a few panels, smiling to herself. The night before seemed dreamlike, but she could still feel Michael on her skin. She saw him seated at the kitchen table drinking coffee, dressed as though he were about to head off to work, but looking very far away.

“You’re up early,” Nikita said with a smile.

“I...didn’t sleep well,” Michael answered honestly.

Nikita’s brows furrowed with concern.

“Everything okay?”

Michael nodded. “Yeah...yeah.”

Nikita sat her mug down on the counter and drew closer, sitting on the table next to Michael, noticing he looked very much troubled. It was the first time she had seen him look that much trapped within his own thoughts. She knew that whatever he was thinking had little to do with the mission and much more to with real emotions tumbling around inside him. She reached to touch his face in a caring way, offering some comfort and reassurance that she would listen to whatever he needed to say.

“Michael.”

“What?”

“What’s wrong?”

He looked into her eyes, conveying his internal turmoil before looking away. He drew in a deciding breath.

“It was a mistake,” he said finally.

Nikita drew back, pulling her robe closed as if hiding her exposed heart. The next words he spoke were scripted, expressing concern about Armel and not about what he actually meant. She could see it in his eyes what he really meant, what he truly thought was the mistake. It wasn’t Armel. It was the mission and having her play the part of his wife.

“I never expected your support,” Nikita said as she straightened his tie. She pulled him in for a lingering kiss. “But I do expect your love.”

She looked at him with all the meaning of her words crowding in and laying heavily between them. Something passed over his expression. A mix of pain and confusion possibly trying to hide behind a careful and cool facade. He pulled her towards him and kissed her forehead, something she knew was not a part of the script but was all his own doing in response to what she meant. She could see that he wanted to say more and would say more if it weren’t for the fact that they were being watched on all sides by nearly everyone and that making any kind of movement towards their real truth would blow their cover on both sides.

She went and retrieved her mug from the counter and sat down with him to drink the rest of their coffee together. She reached for his hand, not really speaking much more than a few words while he continued to navigate the labyrinth of his mind. She read through the rest of her comics, noticing how Michael seemed to drift further and further away until he was nearly on the other end of the universe. When his coffee was done, he pulled his hand away from her and got up from the table. Nikita watched as he disappeared around the corner to gather his jacket and coat to head out the door. She stood and carried her mug with her as she watched him leave, waving goodbye. He nodded, still looking very troubled, before closing the door behind him.

Nikita sighed.

The feelings that she held onto that morning slowly drained away with the contents of her mug. Once more, she was left embattled with herself, wondering if she had imagined it all. She had hoped living with Michael would somehow open up the closed door that he always was. She had hoped that she might see inside the inner workings of what made him who he was, but instead, she was left with only more questions. Her heart was tied up with a man that she could not figure out no matter how close she thought herself to him. Certainly, she had found out things about Michael that many others likely did not know, but these were things that did not truly define him. They were attributes, small details that fleshed him out, but what she really wanted to know was still well hidden behind the now confused look in his blue eyes. What once was a look of cold and distant yet controlled certainty, was now replaced by anxiousness and unsettled disorder. Coupled with the fact that he was unable to rest further implied his obvious disconnection from what Nikita was feeling. He had labeled it as a mistake, as a flaw in a sequence profile. It was something that was not supposed to have happened. Or perhaps it was not the act that was the mistake, but the feelings that produced from it. It was possible that he had not expected to have such emotion from being with her again. She certainly was not prepared for the ease of falling headlong into longing and care for Michael. Nor had she really counted on her lust for him directing her actions and willing her to follow through with Madeline’s suggestion. Michael, after all, did try and give her an excuse not to follow through, but she had brushed all excuses aside to get what she wanted ultimately. She would take Michael any way that she could have him, so long as she could have him. However, the main flaw in that plan was now evident in the way she was left to feel alone in the house. No matter how much she tried to kill the feelings that she held for him, she knew the truth. She could never be satisfied with just one night with Michael. She was not interested in just his body alone. She wanted all of him, mind, body, and soul. If what Walter had said was true about ninety percent of operatives in their first year, the only thing that would be left of Michael was his body. The rest belonged to Section, and they would sooner destroy what they owned than give up control.

______________________________________________________________________

 

Monstrous.

The word came to her while she sat with Armel in his son’s bedroom. Birkoff fed her information through her Comm unit as she acted like a psychic receiving messages from the dead. It took all that she knew and could recall from every movie she had ever seen involving someone interacting with the paranormal to convince the troubled father that he was speaking with his dead son. She had become so involved at one point that real tears welled in her eyes, and she thought for a moment that she truly was feeling the spirit of the young boy overtake her. Inside her ear, Birkoff continued to give her the necessary information to relay back to Armel and keep him concentrated on her.

After getting him to cut off his security features to the house, she went into more reassuring dialogue hoping to somehow give the father some kind of solace to his obvious pain. He collapsed in her arms, sobbing woefully, believing that his son was speaking to him. She hated every moment of what she was doing but knew it all had to be done. His pain was nothing compared to the countless other lives he ruined or ended by his order.

Once the session was over, she left the house, pretending to return home to rest. When she got the signal from Birkoff that they were once more watching their cover feed, she slipped out the back and into a transport to head into Section. When she arrived, Michael met her on the elevator but said nothing as they rode down with other members of his team. He handed over the file disc collected from Armel’s computer drive to Birkoff before falling in stride with her as she walked into Section’s main floor.

“Did you upload your panel?” Michael asked.

“Not yet.”

“Do it now, then debrief.”

“Alright, I’ll meet you up there.”

Nikita watched warily as Michael headed towards his office. As before, Section Michael had returned, but she longer concerned herself with the change. Her focus, after her last meeting with Armel, redirected towards the well being of Louis and what actually happened to him. She could not accept that he had been hit by a car and died. It seemed too random and convenient. There was something that wasn’t being told, and she had the sneaking suspicion that it was a secret hiding somewhere in plain sight inside Section. She was certain it was information that Michael would not know, nor would care to know as it had little to do with his part in the assignment. It was all the more clear than ever that he did not bother with details that did not have some sort of effect on what he was directed to do. He, like his cooking, was linear and followed certain steps done in a precise order with little need or interest in underlying variables. Instead, she went to the only other person that seemed to know all of Section’s secrets.

“Hi, Walter…”

______________________________________________________________________

She never accused Section of being unreasonable. Cruel and uncaring maybe, but not unreasonable. She found the young teenager in a holding cell on Level 5, bouncing a ball against the wall. He was surrounded by only a few amenities to keep him mildly entertained. Of course, it was not Section’s aim to have the boy kept in much the same way as when he was at home with his father. Their minimal attention to his well being only stretched to include a board game he could play alone, a ball, and a few comics to read. When the subject of Louis Armel came up with Operations, Nikita got the feeling that there really was no decision made about what to do with him once they were done with his father. Nikita feared that they might discard him in much the same way as they were going to do with his father. She met Madeline outside of the White Room.

“What about Louis?” asked Nikita.

“What about him?” Madeline turned and faced Nikita, leveling her impartial gaze with her.

“Can Armel see him?”

“What purpose would that serve?”

“Probably none,” said Nikita.

She resolved to the fact that Armel’s suffering would only continue for the few more hours he had left on earth without ever knowing that his son was not actually dead, but very much alive and bored out of his mind in a holding cell.

“Armel’s peace of mind means nothing to us.”

Nikita nodded, not surprised by the answer.

“Would help mine,” Nikita turned back towards Madeline.

Madeline looked unmoved at first, then a small smile peaked on her lips. She nodded.

“Fine.”

Even though she hated what Armel was and what he had done to so many others without ever thinking of the pain that he was causing, she could not allow him to go to his death believing a lie. With some trepidation, she escorted him to a monitor to show him his son for the last time. She could not save him from his fate, but she could at least show him some compassion. It was more than he ever showed anyone else.

Once Armel was gone, Nikita returned to her station to finish her report. Now that the assignment was over, life could return back to normal, as much as normal was in Section. Birkoff sat at his computer looking over encrypted files. Walter argued with an operative about the use of safety goggles. Operations stood at Command overlooking everyone. Michael sat in his office submerged in work at his computer.

Nikita paused, watching Michael sit as still as a mannequin poised at his desk. Their time as husband and wife were over and they were now back to their true selves. She tried not to think about being in the house with Michael, but her mind went to the memories anyway. It had been a few days past her last moment in the house. She had spent it alone, preparing to go to Armel’s house to deliver the death nail to his already prepared coffin. Michael’s things were still there as if waiting for him to return home from work. In a small way, she had hoped that at the end of the mission, she and Michael would return to the house and continue to play out their little fantasy. When she returned to her own apartment, it felt oddly empty and alien compared to the warmth of the house. There would be no dinner parties, no squeaky showerhead, or freshly brewed coffee to greet her in the mornings. There would be no aftershave lotion or toilet seats to put down in her apartment. At night, she quickly realized she needed noise and lights again to keep out the crowding silence. Even though she stuffed several pillows behind her in the bed, it still did not provide the kind of warmth and comfort Michael’s body gave.

Nikita got up from her desk and began towards the lounge. She had opted to dress in an all-white mock tracksuit complete with Adidas sneakers and her hair styled in faux dreads. She had chosen this look to get away from the suburban housewife she had been for nearly two weeks. She had filled her apartment with music and almost never had a moment in the day where she was not listening to some type of rancorous music. Anything to try and crawl out of the skin she had worn for so long during the assignment. It was the same skin that melded with Michael and responded a bit too earnestly to his touch. He was far away again, having murdered the other Michael quietly in some dark corner. Nikita tried to not look at him as much, putting away the memory of him as an imagined dream. None of it was ever truly real. It was all an illusion, all a fantasy constructed to fool everyone involved.

“Did you finish your debrief?” Michael asked as he rounded the corner, catching Nikita as she returned from the lounge.

“Yes. It’s done.”

“Good. Was it difficult for you?”

“The debrief?” Nikita stopped, somewhat aware, but curious about Michael’s line of questioning. It was not rare for him to ask her about her reports, but it was a little odd for him to show interest in her opinion of it.

“No the mission.”

“At the time, no,” Nikita answered honestly.

“And now?”

Nikita thought about her answer. She could say her true feelings and express that she felt more confused and baffled about her feelings towards him and his feelings towards her, but she knew she likely would not get any answers. She could see there was something rolling about in his mind, something that he was desperately trying to put at ease and it depended entirely on her answer to him.

“Well, it depends upon you. How do you feel about it?”

Nikita kicked the ball back into his court, pressing him to make some sort of declaration, or give an answer that could resolve the question between them both.

“Conflicted.”

It was an answer, just not one that she was expecting. Still, it was as honest as he had ever been with her. Even though he gave his answer, he managed to remain dubious.

“Well...maybe I can help. We can talk about it,’ Nikita offered.

At first, she thought Michael might take her up on her offer and agree to go for coffee or something to eat. His expression, although still rather blank, flickered a little emotion within his answer.

“I’d love to, but what you need to hear I can’t tell you yet.”

Nikita nodded, completely resolved. Instead of admitting his own feelings, or at the very least, telling her right out what he was thinking, he was going to make her wait. Again.

“Yet.”

Nikita hated waiting. Once more, he was playing the careful card and preferring to hide behind the shield of extended patience and always keeping her at arm's length from him. She was more than certain now that Section Michael had killed the one that she had lived within the house. Now there was the cold and unfeeling stranger standing in front of her dressed in a sleek Italian suit and smelling faintly of Parisian cologne.

“You know a lot about me, Nikita, but not everything. There are things that have to remain hidden.” His gaze fell on her heavily and full of meaning.

Nikita’s eyes widened, seeing Michael again still living beneath the steel hard mask of his alter ego.

“And it has nothing to do with how I feel about you.”

His words were quiet and only meant for her to hear. Nikita was taken aback by his admission. It was the most he had ever said to her without coming right out and saying the truth of his heart. What had passed between them was real. The emotions that they felt happened. What occurred in the bedroom was not an illusion. Perhaps one day they could shed away the skins that Section made them wear to hide themselves. She would wake one sunny morning and find herself back in the suburban house, listening to music and waiting for Michael to finally come home.