Michael was back. Nikita spotted him almost immediately upon her arrival at Section. He was sitting at the com center with his back to her. She didn't need to see his face though to know it was him. There was no mistaking the physique and lines that she knew by heart. Relief rippled over her like a gentle breeze. She hadn't realized until that moment how much she had feared that Michael would not return; that he wouldn't be able to overcome the loss of his family.

Nikita paused and shifted her gaze up to the tower to see Operations standing there, his attention glued on Michael. She changed direction and headed over to the empty briefing table and sat down, purposely avoiding facing the com center.

Once, in what seemed a very long time ago, she had believed that Michael could survive anything because of his ability to lock his emotions away in some lonely corner of his soul. It was a skill that drove her insane on more than one occasion. But in time she came to realize that it was how Michael survived in Section. Then as time passed it seemed as if Michael's ability to compartmentalize had begun to slowly unravel. And it had begun when he had set her free.

'I can't protect you anymore, Nikita.'

That was the first time she had seen a glimmer of genuine emotion in his eyes and it had confused her.

'I never asked for your protection.'

Surprise entered his expression as he gazed back at her. 'Without it you'd be dead by now.'

'You seem to care more about that than I do, Michael.'

Surprise was replaced by a moiety of anger and another deeper emotion that Nikita had been reluctant at the time to acknowledge. 'Why can't you just . . . do the job?'

For Nikita it had been a strange question. Didn't he know her well enough by now to understand the answer to that? 'I can't change who I am,' she'd told him.

Nikita expelled a long breath as she sat back and stared blankly at the wall opposite of her. She had been so naive. In those early days she had believed that justice would prevail; that her innocence would be proven and she would be set free. When that hope was irrevocably dashed, she was ready to choose death rather than continue living in Section. Michael, however, wouldn't allow it. He risked his life time and again to protect her and keep her alive. In the end, when he saw her will to live waver, he risked his life once more and set her free.

Being out of Section, though hadn't brought Nikita the freedom she sought. She discovered that she had seen too much of the real world to ever go back to the blissful innocence of normal life. Instead, being out of Section did the very opposite - it proved what Madeline had said to her, 'You will never be free of Section.'

For six months she fought against the truth; tried to find some way to fit in a world that she no longer belonged too. She struggled to recapture her purpose in life; struggled to find some sort of direction. And during all that time Michael had reached out to her everyday; called to her, 'Nikita are you there?'

He knew.

Nikita figured that out afterward. Michael knew all along that there was no place for her in the other world anymore but he had let her go so that she could find out for herself. Even then he continued to watch out for her, holding out to her daily the lifeline back to the only world he knew she could now exist in.

Comprehension finally dawned the fateful night she had followed the Freedom League and saw two of their people raise their gun against and unwary Michael. In a flash, without even thinking of any consequences, she pointed her weapon and pulled the trigger twice. The instinct to protect him had come naturally.

That had been a turning point for her and Michael. Standing there in the glow of the fire and destruction caused by the Freedom League their eyes had met and a truth discovered - their life paths were irrevocably intertwined. They needed each other. And this time, when Michael once again reached out to her, Nikita responded.

Nikita closed her eyes as she recalled the night that she and Michael sealed their fate on that abandoned barge she had been living in. Looking back she realized that neither of them understood the power that drew them together that night. They only knew that each had a raw, desperate need for the other in their life and that they had to become one. Their coupling, wild and passionate as it was, was not about love. Rather it was an acknowledgment that they belonged together, needed each other in order to survive.

The year after her return to Section had been a difficult and painful experience for both of them. Michael seemed more determined then ever to teach Nikita how to survive in Section. He insisted on having her learn, sometimes through the excruciating pain of rejection, how to shut off her feelings so that no one would be able to use them against her. 'To feel is to be weak' he told her. Michael didn't want her weak. He wanted her strong. He wanted her to be able to protect herself from Operations, from Madeline, even from himself if need be.

"Trust no one, Nikita."

In return, though, Nikita taught Michael to do the very thing he was teaching her not to do — to feel.

Nikita braced her elbows on the table and rested her chin on top of clasped fingers. She had learned her lessons well and had become stronger. At times the lessons had been almost unbearable, like the time he used her to betray Jurgen, but slowly she adapted. She became skilled in camouflaging her feelings behind her own brand of masks. She changed her apartment to be less revealing of her personal tastes and cloaked her love of life behind the somber grays and blacks of Sections wardrobe. Slowly she learned to compartmentalize. Gradually she became - one of them.

Michael, on the other hand, was struggling. On a mission in the Balkans a terrorists they confronted had said something which, Nikita saw, struck a chord in Michael. 'Me and you, we are the same,' he had said to Michael. We do what we have to do to survive.' His statement had caused something in Michael to snap. She had seen it in his eyes. It was as if he were looking into a mirror for the first time and not liking what he saw reflected back. Michael had raised his gun and shot the man point-blank. Shortly after, and much to Nikita's surprised delight, he began to change. Slowly, but surely, Michael learned how to feel again, to care. Bit by bit he regained his humanity.

Nikita leaned back and swiveled her chair to face the com center. Reviewing all that Michael had had to endure within the past couple of months, she wasn't so sure that teaching Michael to feel again had been the best thing after all. Even from this distance she could feel his pain. Michael - strong, stoic Michael - sat defeated, his hair unruly, face unshaven, body slouched. "What have I done to you, Michael?" she wondered silently, frowning to herself.

With a sigh she stood and strolled across the floor. No matter what happened to them in this insane world they lived in, no matter what falsehoods they were required to fulfill in the name of Section, there was still only one truth. She and Michael needed each other. He had been there to teach her how to survive. Now it was her turn to teach him how to live.