Disclaimer: Nikita is so not my property. As a matter of fact, none of these characters are. I just take them out to play once in awhile and put them back where I found them.

Spoilers: Nothing specific

Archiving: Sure, just let me know. Nikitangel@hotmail.com

Feedback: Any and all, even the bad stuff, but keep it constructive, would you? Please review - I always return the favor if you have fic on a series that I know.

Notes: Set during third season, with flashbacks to Nikita's life before Section One

Nikita shifted position in her seat, and surreptitiously glanced at her watch. Michael looked up from his laptop and she could read the disapproval in his eyes. She didn't react, keeping their cover intact, but inwardly she fumed. She was never free from his scrutiny, never had a moment to herself. He always seemed to be aware of her actions and thoughts. It was damn annoying.

She tried to stretch her legs as much as possible without drawing the notice of their "colleague," Marion. Marion was a freelance arms dealer in the Middle East. "Aren't they all?" she thought to herself. It had been long week. What had begun as a long-awaited day off had grown into a nightmare mission. First the contact had been 'detained', forcing Michael and Nikita to alter the entire profile to recover him, a long and complicated process. Then the equipment had started malfunctioning, and this was all before they had even started their dealings with Marion.

Nikita snapped back to attention as she heard the conversation drawing to a close.

"I'm sure we'll be working together again soon," said Michael as he gathered his belongings. Nikita followed suit, working up a polite smile to offer Marion, who grinned back appreciatively.

"Well, if your beautiful coworker continues to produce such -- attractive contracts, I look forward to future interaction." He winked at her, and Nikita forced herself to lower her head demurely and blush, envisioning the 'chat' the man had to look forward to with Madeline.

"Yes, she does wonderful work, and I am grateful for her continued loyalty." Michael gazed at her with the expected admiration in his eyes, extending his hand to her. Nikita smiled as she took it, using the opportunity to check her watch once again.

'Well done.' An almost imperceptible smile twitched the corner of his mouth as he --

Nikita gasped and dropped his hand. Michael faltered only a moment before turning to Marion, smoothly covering her slip. The two operatives took their leave, Nikita continuing to stare suspiciously at the silent man. She knew she had imagined his comment. The words had just come to her, a flash, something from -- she didn't know. She couldn't place the feeling, and it made her uneasy.

"Nikita, what is it." Michael finally gave in, not looking up from his computer. He had felt her eyes on him since they had entered the van. She shook her head, not answering. Eventually he allowed himself to meet her gaze, but found he was unable to interpret it. She wasn't angry with him, she wasn't sad, she wasn't feeling righteously indignant over the treatment of some poor soul. She just kept staring thoughtfully at his hand. He looked her face over once more before reverting back to mission mode and focusing on the computer screen.

**********

Nikita wandered aimlessly through her apartment, trailing her fingers along the objects she passed. She knew the restlessness was entirely due to the nagging, almost-memory that had been plaguing her since the mission. Just when she thought she was close to it, the feeling skittered away and she was left wondering. She finished her tea and prepared for bed, her mind still whirling. As she reached up to switch off the light, she paused, struggling to hold on to the wisp of recognition that had drifted through her mind. Sighing in defeat, she rolled over and fell asleep...

A/N : I had the dream in italics, but it was more difficult to read, so just pretend :-)

Nikita smiled triumphantly as she defeated the once-cocky university student. "Checkmate," she added unnecessarily. The man was already shoving his folding chair away from the wobbling table.

She counted her winnings greedily. There had been a lot riding on this match - this would feed her for two weeks. She had seen her opportunity as soon as the students had stepped onto her street. One unfortunate victim gazed condescendingly down at Nikita's makeshift 'office', the table arrayed with a second-hand chess set, flanked by two rickety chairs. She returned his stare challengingly.

"Show me what you've got," her words echoed throughout the alley. The student glanced at his chuckling friends, and puffed out his chest.

"You must be joking. You don't stand a chance." Self-assurance dripped from his tone.

"Well, if you're so sure, let's see some cash on the table. C'mon. What are the chances of someone like me beating someone like you?" she returned sarcastically. She knew exactly which buttons to push.

With a sneer, he sat down and the game began. Intensity mounted, and his friends were quickly forgotten as he struggled to maneuver around her strategy. In the end, he slammed his king down on the table and took off, his mocking companions following close behind.

Nikita shook her head. They never believed she could be anything but a stupid homeless brat. What could a street rat know about chess strategy? But that was their mistake. There was more to it - Nikita knew how to read people. It was that skill that had kept her alive for so long on her own. She knew exactly how to prick their pride, and lure them into the game. She knew which ones were hopeless to even try for, and which ones would end up throwing down their wallet's contents just to show off.

She stole a glance at the clock tower, and began gathering up the chess pieces. No one else worthwhile would come along at this time of night. After this point, she preferred to avoid the kind of people her 'office' attracted. So, she was not altogether surprised to feel a hand touch her arm from behind. She spun around, grabbing for the attackers neck.

It wasn't there anymore.

Blinking, Nikita realized that her assailant had managed to twist himself in front of her, and was still gripping her arm. Furious, she glared up at him and vainly tried to free herself.

He hadn't planned on doing it. He was just observing. He didn't know what had possessed him to approach this wild girl-woman, now struggling in his grip. He certainly hadn't expected her to be so defensive. His eyes automatically went to hers to gauge the fear there.

There wasn't any. If anything, she was practically growling at him in frustration. "Let me go!" she spat venomously. Abruptly, he did. He hadn't meant to hold on to her in the first place. She yanked her arm back and scooted her chair away from him. "Who the hell do you think you are?" He simply stared blankly at her. "I asked you a question!"

The first spark of fear crept into her eyes. "Are you a cop? You are!" She crossed her arms in front of herself protectively. "I'm not doing anything illegal. I beat them fair!" She glanced around the alley and tensed herself to run. "I didn't steal this money. It's mine! I earned it!" She was becoming more and more upset, and he didn't know how to deal with her.

"I'm not a cop," he finally stated. She looked him over, noting the tailored lines of his clothing, the polish gleaming from his shoes. Realization flooded through her, and she narrowed her eyes.

"I'm not a hooker." Damn it. This was getting ridiculous. Tomorrow she would start tucking her hair under her cap. She stuck her chin out, and turned away from him.

"No, I -- " To his horror, Michael found himself reaching out to her again. She shrank away. He was doing this all wrong. Inspired, he took out his billfold and began rifling through it.

'Oh, this guy's a real genius,' Nikita thought derisively. She sat back and waited for him to get ripped off. Funny - the guy didn't even look nervous. He found what he was looking for, and extended a wad of bills her way.

"Look mister, I told you, I don't do that. Back off!" Her temper took over, conveniently forgetting the fierce grip that had restrained her only moments ago.

He shook his head. "It's a challenge." She remained silent. "Are you still open for business?" Keeping her distance, she leaned over to view the offered cash, quickly counting in her head. Too much. Way too much.

"You think I'm stupid? No one carries that kind of money around. And they definitely don't bet it on a chess match. Get. Lost." The guy was creeping her out, and she wished he would just leave. He just kept staring at her, like he was trying to get inside her head. His eyes gave away nothing -- she might as well gaze into the cement wall behind her. Her eyes briefly lit upon his watch as the street light flashed against the shining metal.

He caught the momentary glimmer of longing in her gaze before she could cover it. Slowly, he removed the watch and placed in on the table between them. His eyebrows barely moved, but she knew a dare when she saw one. She tilted her head, sizing him up.

"Shoes." Ha! She glimpsed a flicker of surprise in that mask before he clamped it down again.

"My -- shoes?"

"Yeah. Or no deal." She sat back, waiting to see how serious he was. He seemed to ponder it for a moment, then agreed. It was a deal. She felt a fleeting sensation of dread, but couldn't let an opportunity like this go. Hesitating only briefly, she began setting up the board. He pulled out a chair with his right hand as he unbuttoned his coat with his left.

"I'll take black," he murmured, turning the board. She raised her eyebrows. Didn't he just think he was King of the World, deciding who was whom. She let it go, intrigued to see his first move.

"So, where'd you come from?" she threw in casually, tuning him out as she planned her next attack. These guys were so easy to distract.

"South Africa."

She snorted. Yeah, right. Nice tan. Fine, she could play that game too.

He noted her disbelief with a glimmer of amusement. His transport plane from South Africa had arrived this morning. "And you?" he inquired politely, deftly avoiding her trap. She bit her lip in concentration.

"China," answered Nikita sarcastically. "Where does it sound like I'm from?"

Michael's forehead nearly frowned for moment. Strange girl.

"What makes you want to come here?" she asked absentmindedly, keeping her gaze on the board.

"I've always wanted to see -- " Michael thought wildly. " . . . ducks."

"Excuse me?" She squinted her eyes at the stranger. "Did you just say you came to see the ducks?" He simply stared back at her, silently capturing another of her pieces. She swiftly evened the score, countering with a move of her own.

"Well, Mr. DuckMan, you're gonna have to search long and hard around here. In case you haven't noticed, this isn't exactly the right side of the tracks for fluffy yellow feathers. You lost or something?" He had no response to her chatter.

It made her uneasy, his silence. She couldn't read him with nothing to go on. Squirming in her seat, she waited for him to step into her next trap. She cautiously studied his face as he considered his next move. Completely inexpressive -- it wasn't even a guarded look, just . . . nothing. As if he had no emotions even to hide. His movements were minimal, carefully calculated and never extraneous.

Michael rubbed his finger across his chin, inwardly amused at her inspection. He finally glanced up and caught her, wondering what her reaction would be. She didn't even blush, just stared right back at him, lifting her head and narrowing her eyes a bit. He inclined his head towards her, acknowledging her show of spirit. She returned his nod with a gaze he couldn't interpret as she made her next move.

Michael was so involved in their silent communication that when he glanced at the board he didn't believe it at first. He blinked a few times, and checked again. He lifted his head to see her grinning smugly at him. She had been waiting to see his face when he realized his defeat. Surely, he would let something slip. Nikita raised an eyebrow, awaiting his response.

He took a breath, contemplating his next action. The loss was definitely unexpected. He should have been concentrating more on the game, and less on the mystery seated across from him, practically rubbing her hands together in anticipation. Slowly he pushed his chair away from the table and stood, buttoning his coat.

Nothing. He hadn't said a thing, and his face had remained just as frustratingly empty. Nikita sighed, and reached for her winnings.

The gleam in her eye as she reverently fingered the watch stirred something in Michael. She had momentarily forgotten his presence, and was busy imagining how long the money would stretch out for. She closed her eyes as she slid the cool metal of the watch over her wrist. He continued watching her, noting the wistfulness that crept into her face when she realized how loosely the watch hung on her.

Michael shook his head, unable to place the feeling. Anyone else would have classified it as sadness, but it had been so long . . . so long. He took a step back and turned to go, feeling uncomfortable and not knowing how to end their strange interlude.

"Hey!" her voice snapped out to him. He paused and looked back, curious. "We had a deal here!" His eyes flicked back and forth, still unsure. "Hello -- what about the rest of it?" Comprehension dawned -- he continued to stare disbelievingly at her. She couldn't be serious.

Nikita was most definitely serious. She wasn't letting this guy out of it now. She smiled in satisfaction as he sat down again. He finished and stood to go. Just before he left, he reached out to shake her hand and uttered a single statement.

"Well done." An almost imperceptible smile twitched the corner of his mouth as he shuffled away down the street in his socks.

***********Epilogue***********

Michael unlocked his office door, hit the light switch, and stepped inside, still going over the last debrief in his mind. He was so preoccupied he nearly missed the slim envelope lying on the floor. Stooping to pick it up, Michael turned it in his hands, searching for identifying marks. He untucked the flap and let the contents slide out. There was a small "N" printed neatly on the back of the photo he found lying in his hand. With some feeling of trepidation, he flipped the photo over.

For a moment he just stood there speechless.

"Hey, Michael, Operations wants you to -- " Birkoff burst in, knocking carelessly on the open door as he passed it. He stopped in his tracks, peering curiously at the unmoving operative and noting the opened envelope forgotten at his feet. "Michael? What is that?" He glanced down at the photo. "Who would send you a picture of some ducks?"