A Nikita Story
From Sarah Rose Serena
Doomed. What a word. But that's what it all came down to, right? Sure, nothing as maudlin as Romeo and Juliet. No suicides. No romantic soliloquies or aching confessions of undying devotion. There was no overdone tragedy here. Just … a pathetic resignation. Forbidden love was forbidden for a reason, and nowhere near as fun as the movies made it seem, because it never conquered the obstacle of reality. No matter how powerful that state of being.
There was this burning inside of her chest. So unbearable. She had carried it there for years now. On occasion, it went dormant, and she could breathe, pretend she was content. When it flared, though, there was nothing in the world that could compare.
"Passion," someone once said. "It lies in all of us. Sleeping. Waiting. And, though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir. Open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us. Guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joys of love … the clarity of hatred … and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts, sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we'd know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we'd be truly dead."
Nikita had passion aplenty. Passion for life. For justice. For vengeance. For kindness and empathy. For exhilaration, a rushing sensation of adrenaline, and the thrill of finally feeling alive in the truest sense of the concept. Brief glimpses were all she got of that last one. And, most of the time, it was more than enough. Yes, Nikita had passion. She had love, she had hatred, she had grief in spades.
But sometimes, most times, all she felt beneath that knowledge of necessity was a restless void. A sucking wound in the core of her existence. The fight. The fire. It burned bright and hard, never fading, never faltering. However, lying awake at night, allowing herself rare moments of weakness, of truth, she had to wonder. Was that enough? Would it ever be enough?
Then the world kept turning, spinning madly on, and she would find herself in the middle of the fray. Adrenaline would spike. That familiar thrill of life would course through her veins. And sometimes, often lately, she would find herself face to face with her main source of conflict. They would fight. They would struggle, this constant ebb and flow of tug-of-war zinging between them, and they would lock eyes. An implacable connection existed there. Questions. Answers. Confusion. Understanding. It all arced between them then. They knew. They felt. They flailed. They accepted. And the cycle forged ahead, as always, spinning madly on.
In those moments, conflict was all there was. Forbidden didn't factor. Sucking wounds didn't seem so vital. Nothing inside of her was bereft. She simply was. No past, no future, only each second that beat by her pulse. A part of her—every part that wasn't fueled by righteous hunger—lived for that.
Yet, once those moments of life passed, there was an inevitable awareness that she wanted more, needed more, and knew it was never to be. Then again, the comedown was always crushing, and the high was always worth it. Recovered junkie. Yeah, right. She'd only traded her drug of choice. And this one came with a lot more complications.
"Ask me how I got here," he demanded, his smoky voice leveled with that edge of self-importance, an inflection of all that repressed anger. For her? For this situation? She couldn't tell. That more than anything was what had her unnerved.
"Michael …" was all she could say. Her throat had constricted. Her fingertips were tingling. A warning furled at the base of her spine, too late to do her any good. Her heart began beating faster, thumping harder, and it was as familiar as breathing, this internal reaction to him and every surprise he ever settled her with. Every table ever turned. Every detour ever taken.
She still stood frozen in the wide entryway, shocked—and not so shocked—to see him sitting there across the room, calm and confident as if he had all the time in the world and had been waiting for her to return with unerring patience. As if he weren't nervous at all. And why should he be? She was the one whose oh-so secure sanctuary had just been infiltrated by the enemy. Even if this particular operative was definitively a gray area of said adversarial status.
"Nikita," he stressed, jaw locked. Her eyes flicked down to the inordinately-large automatic assault weapon resting in his lap. His hand was curved lightly over the barrel. Unmoving. "Ask me how I got here."
That syrupy stretch of changing track—adapting, realigning her reality—ended. Motion popped back into a natural pace and she inhaled. Moving with deceptive ease, she resisted the instinct to tense amidst danger and simply prowled into the room, carefully constructing her facial expression into neutral territory.
"Does it matter?" she wanted to know. If he had shared with Division, he wouldn't be alone. Percy wouldn't have permitted it. When he merely cocked an eyebrow, she gave a soft sigh of surrender. "How did you get here, Michael?"
With an abrupt fluidity that made her hesitate, he swung to his feet. "I've changed my mind." A few swift paces to his right brought him to her central workstation. Without meeting her curious gaze, he lifted the assault weapon, dropped it onto the desktop, and turned his back, facing the floor-to-ceiling window lighting the loft.
The blunt thunk of impact filled her ears with a note of finality.
"Changed your mind about what?" she let herself ask, after releasing an imperceptible breath of relief. Her feet brought her forward, venturing deeper into the vastly vacant room, unable to stop herself from drawing near. "Michael?"
"This," he retorted sharply, and whirled back to meet her advance. "I was …" Words failed him for a difficult instant. Frowning, he shook his head—at himself, at her, at them, at the world. Frustration seeped from him, disintegrating his normally cool demeanor, fraying the façade. "What's the point, anymore? Our pattern has been more than well-established. We both know how it's going to end."
Though uncertainty coiled in the pit of her stomach, Nikita's lips twitched into a small smirk, lighting her dark eyes as she tilted her head at him. "Yeah, but what else are we going to do?"
For the first time since standing, Michael focused his attention in on his target, and the hard edge to his gaze made her sober. "I'm tired," he confessed, though his tone was more accusing than anything else. "This game? It's over. I'm done."
"No, you're not."
"Nikita," he countered, a warning thick in the air as he shifted closer, shoulders stiffening. "You got out. You were free. All this resistance? I thought … For a while there, I actually believed you were sincere." He shook his head again, too impatient to find the words for what he meant.
Tensing in reaction to his body language, readying for action, her brow furrowed. She was rising to meet his mien before she could resist. "What are you talking about?"
"Alex!" he snapped, getting into her face. "I'm talking about Alex. I'm talking about you and all of your 'Evil Division' vigilante grind." Nikita took a step back, comprehension smoothing out her beautiful features, and he followed, towering in his temper. "I know you sent her to Percy. Put an innocent young girl in the path of destruction for your own revenge. You're a lot of things, Nikita, but I never thought you were a hypocrite."
"Alex?" she echoed, lilting her brow. "Your recruit?"
"Don't," he growled through clenched teeth, closing whatever space had lingered between them still. "Don't do that. Don't bother."
The fury, she could take. The piercing at the guilt already niggling inside of her for allowing herself to be talked into endangering the girl, she could swallow. But the betrayal that flashed through his eyes—so brief that she nearly missed it—well, that had her snagged. That frisson was personal. So, since there was no reason for plausible deniability any longer, not with him, she didn't bother to bite her tongue when her own fire flared.
"You don't know all there is to it," she said, still backing and sidling, giving ground to his building intensity. It was so rare that he let his control slip; she didn't want to waste the moment. "This is as much her fight as it is mine."
That made him hesitate. His anger flickered, taking a backseat to consideration as all the implications filed through his mind.
Nikita pounced on the lull. "You came alone. I'm assuming whatever led you here was extracurricular?"
A look of disdain crossed his face as he ran his eyes down her. "You could say that."
"You obviously don't intend to report this new development." It didn't matter. Not strategically, anyway. As soon as they were finished here, she was relocating. This time, there wouldn't be a trail. Not even a trace. She was good at covering her tracks—the best. Had to be to survive. Apparently, though, she'd slipped up somewhere. That would need to be rectified.
"My intentions are my own," he bit back. "I just wanted a chance to … to know."
"Know?" she prompted, tipping her head. They'd stilled at some point, and she was mildly unsettled to realize that she'd let herself be cornered, a wall at her back and a hard body blocking her path. "About Alex?"
"Yes," he replied without missing a beat, but the look in his eyes gave his lie away. He'd always been a terrible liar. At least when it was Nikita watching him do it. She knew all his tells. There was no way around it.
Locking gazes, he stepped into her, snaked an arm around her waist. As her spine arched, swaying back, he slipped his hand up under the hem of her jacket, going for the pistol tucked at the small of her back. It dropped to the floor at their feet with a loud clatter. On his hand's way back, it paused to disarm her of the dagger holstered to her thigh, and then down the length of her leg to the .45 she carried for backup in her boot.
Expression placid, she didn't resist. But when he eased their bodies from flush, she started getting doubtful. The urge to let go, the impulse to reach the stratosphere whenever in his proximity, it was a dangerous promise. She walked a high wire here. She had a balance to maintain. Sometimes, having a deadly weapon handy helped her keep her head straight.
Heartbeat racing, Nikita started to sidestep, fingertips biting into the plaster of the wall behind her. His arms shot up, palms smacked against wall on either side of her head. A warning that was not to be ignored whispered through her nervous system. She was being indulgent, she knew. It was wrong. It was weak.
This has gone too far.
With a blurring swiftness, she struck out, forcing him backward for room to counter her attack. A succession of blocked jabs, a crescent kick in between two straight-armed strikes—one toward the shoulder that was brushed aside, and one to the upper abdomen that very narrowly landed—and then she was ducking under his punch and pivoting onto one heel to snap a sideswipe into his solar plexus that sent him reeling away a few precious paces.
"Sloppy," she taunted airily, verging on breathless. "I totally telegraphed for you. There's no excuse."
Using a convenient ottoman as a stepping stool, despite it being stacked with important files she was supposed to be sorting through, she curved a butterfly kick at his temple to keep him off balance. Unfortunately, he dodged the first impact and caught her calf on the second, gave a good twist, and ruined her trajectory. She landed on her back with enough force to vibrate through her bones.
"Just warming up," he retorted, cocking his head down at her in warning.
Shaking it off, she hooked a foot behind his ankles and wrenched him down. But he rolled with the fall, distancing them, and she couldn't kip-up to her feet fast enough to use the opportunity. Mostly because neither were trying very hard.
They fought frequently, fiercely, but both knew that this one was different. They could feel it. It almost reminded her of sparring matches all those years ago—mentor versus pupil. Only that edge of turmoil underneath made it too intense, a denied pressure building and building, straining against the confines of repression, begging for some sort of release. Here they were again, going at it, locked in their endless struggle, always without victor, never resolution. Only this time, there were no flunkies with automatics breaking down the door or a nefarious scheme to derail against the merciless clock. There was just Michael, and Nikita, and this outlet-less passion.
Smooth and distanced attack, counterattack, circling descended more quickly than usual into down-and-dirty grappling. As emotions rode high, growing stronger, boiling over, their encounter turned vicious. Almost feral.
"When are you going to stop this?" he demanded as they slammed together into an interior partition between the main loft and the inner foyer.
"You mean give up?" she panted, straining her neck upward as she jostled against the bindings of their precarious deadlock. She knew he wasn't referring to this fight, but the battle of their lives, and there wasn't ever going to be a choice for that. "Never."
Michael's jaw clenched even tighter, muscles coiling to the point of pain as he hovered at a dangerous precipice of emotion. He had her arms twisted into an X hold, but that limited him so far that he was just as pinned as she was. The mass of his body pressed her into the cracked wall, providing no room for advantage.
"When are you going to understand why I can't?" she went on, bucking on occasion in search of an easy escape, only to make him tighten his grip around her, crush her harder into the wall, until there wasn't any space to breathe. "And why does it matter? You're the one that—" Realizing what was about to come out of her mouth in the heat of the moment, Nikita clamped her teeth together.
But it was too late. His eyes narrowed, nose just centimeters from her own as he studied her every facet. "One that what?"
Having gone lax in his grasp, she reared her upper body backwards into the wall, scissoring her legs around the sensitive juncture of his knees and wrenching them out of alignment. The two of them went whirling to the floor, broke away from one another, and were on their feet a millisecond later, facing off.
He wasn't so easily distracted this time, though. "I'm the one that what?"
Fists pulled in tight, she brought a thigh up to absorb the momentum of his next blow, snapping a left hook toward his jaw in return, only to be deflected. She spun, danced out of reach, and they resumed circling.
"Michael," she gasped, shuddering under the shock of a landed strike, before lashing out and swiping him onto his back at her feet. Clutching one-handed at her bruised arc of ribs, she planted a boot on his chest and pinned him down. It wouldn't have kept him, not for a second, except for the shock that rippled through him when she gave into outburst. "Why does it matter when you're the one that wouldn't choose."
Stilling, his expression went hard with caution. "Choose?"
"Me," she finished. But regret hit her instantly and she started to retreat. Before she could disengage, though, his hands darted out on instinct, dislodged her higher position. She would've landed on her elbow, possibly fractured something, if he hadn't corralled her lithe body to him with an encompassing arm and rolled with the momentum of motion, sending the two of them across the hard floor.
He brought himself on top of her, using superior size and strength to keep her beneath him when she would have automatically flipped them.
"You chose Daniel," he growled, deep voice rumbling from the back of his throat, jagged with breathy intakes. "Then you chose your revenge." One arm fastened across her collarbone in a perfunctory chokehold. The other levered him above her, muscles tightening, sinew winding with the pressure beneath the thin material of his dark button-down. "Don't try to turn this around on me like you've been wronged here."
Nikita went still under him, cheeks tinted with their exertion and lips parted. Long fingers furled over the curve of his arm beside her temple but didn't fight it. The other pressed between them, digging into the hard muscle of his torso, keeping close to a debilitating nerve for insurance.
"I loved him," she said, just to make that clear. "But I wouldn't have ever been tempted by the distraction if you had just once … just once wanted me more than you wanted to be loyal to Division."
Hanging his head, Michael screwed his eyes shut for a taut heartbeat, jaw clenching again. "Want?" he rasped, not looking at her. "No. Had to. There's a big difference. You knew that."
"I know," she breathed, staring skyward from beneath him, her voice so low that it was barely audible. "I know." And that hollow feeling began creeping in on her again.
It was not supposed to go this way. Circle. Fight. Threaten. Finger on the trigger. Can't finish it. Walk away. Someone was supposed to win. Granted, it was always a superficial victory, but there was comfort in logic. Someone was supposed to let go. She was supposed to run. He was supposed to chase. Not that he ever actually tried to catch her. Nevertheless, nowhere in that well-established pattern was this the way it was supposed to go down.
She'd gotten out from under him, of course. He tried to confine her. She evaded. They whirled right back into the flurry of halfhearted violence. It was a dance that they knew all too well, where one another were concerned. As was inevitable with longtime combatants—with, against, around—they knew each other's moves, synced styles, correlating tempos.
Finally, she let a surge of distress bloom, and backpedalled to a nonthreatening distance, arms going wide in emphasized capitulation. "Enough," she said. "You're tired. You're done. Fine. Make a decision then. Right now. And stick to it. Because I'm tired, too, Michael." Her voice pitched low with strain. "More than you can imagine."
Stance still defensive, he started forward. "Nikita …"
"Bring me in," she challenged, standing her ground. "Or use that toy you brought along." At the wry twist to his expression, she tossed a look over her shoulder toward the desk, where his wholly-unnecessary weapon still rested. When she turned her somber eyes back onto him, a quiver went up her spine. "What'll it be?"
"I should take you down."
"You should try," she countered lightly, a teasing quirk to her mouth. "Tick-Tock."
At that, Michael shifted his weight, another growl of frustration rising from his chest. "Stop that. We both know—"
Nikita's expression softened at his falter. "We both know." Everything went quiet for a long moment, and all she could think of was how unfair it all was, and of how exhilarating that churning pressure inside her chest could be if she'd only let it be. "So?"
One breath, two, and he was striding over the space between them with a sigh of air from his lungs that had a bit of resignation, a bit of eagerness, and a bit of dread all drenched within.
"Screw it," he breathed out, lips already crashing down onto hers. His arms slid between hers, hands gripping at familiar curves that had haunted his dreams since she'd gone. Nikita's fingertips dug into the corded set of his shoulders as he hoisted her up against him, long legs fastening around his torso, hips rocking, mouths melding.
This one too was a dance they knew well. A rhythm they had down pat. The cycle could bend, twist, evolve, but it was never broken. Sure, this didn't solve anything. But, hell, if it didn't feel good.
"We're too far out. We're in too deep," someone once sang. "And we've got miles to go before we can sleep. I said, we've been walking a thin line. You've got one hand on the devil, baby, and one hand in mine. But don't let go. No. It's not too late, you know."
Doomed. What a word. It's not subjective. You're doomed. Or you're not. There's no middle ground. But that's the outcome. And, sometimes, it has no bearings on the actual journey.