Title: Someone Borrowed
Author name(s): small-wonders / always_a_queen on livejournal
Fandom/Pairings: Nikita (2010), Michael/Nikita
Ratings: T / PG-13
Warnings: Violence, mentions of torture, mild language & non-graphic sexual content, talk of miscarriages and abortion.
Spoilers: Anything from the first season is fair game.
Summary: Pre-series AU. Michael and Nikita go on a long-term undercover assignment. Angst ensues. / "There's a wedding band on her fourth finger and a matching one on Michael's hand, and no amount of prior experience or training could ever prepare her for this."
Beta: Sara/beyondthepen, who deserves lots and lots of pretzel M&M's and my eternal gratitude for beta-ing this.
Author's Note the First: Written for HetBigBang on Livejournal. Oddly enough, the original plot-bunny said 'hilarity ensues'. Then I started writing this thing and discovered that Michael and Nikita don't exactly lend themselves to fluff, at least not in my head.
Author's Note the Second: This fic has some epic artwork made by skylar0grace on livejournal. The link will be posted on my profile. Go check it out and leave lots of lovely comments, kay?
Disclaimer: I own neither the show nor the characters, and some of the dialogue is shamelessly swiped from episodes. The chapter headings are all taken from Taylor Swift's Haunted
I. you and I walk a fragile line
It's not her first mission.
It's not even her second or third, but the butterflies fluttering in her stomach beg to differ.
There's a wedding band on her fourth finger and a matching one on Michael's hand, and no amount of prior experience or training could ever prepare her for this.
Amanda's mouth is moving, explaining nuances and details of the mission, plans and contingencies that Nikita should be committing to memory, but she can't seem to get her brain to focus on anything other than the diamond on her finger. She certainly can't risk a glance at Michael or her stomach will sink like lead at the tight expression she knows must be on his face.
Although they've only been working together as equals for a few short months, they're already more in sync than half of Percy's other agents at Division. This compatibility – which has obviously not escaped Percy's notice – seems to have resulted in the high profile missions she's been getting. These types of assignments are not normally given to someone with her limited experience, and in every one she's been working closely with Michael.
The mission itself is supposed to be simple. (If there's one thing Nikita's learned during her short time at Division, it's that a simple mission is like a cold fire or dry water – oxymoronic.) They're taking down one John Bower: a loving husband by day, a shady bad guy with his hands in a number of various illegal cookie jars by night.
("Good thing it's not Jack Bauer," Birkhoff says with a smirk when he sees the name at the top of the file. Michael smacks him upside the head.)
This Mr. Bower is apparently involved in everything from weapons dealing to human trafficking to drug smuggling. Basically, Nikita realizes, if it involves sneaking anything into or out of the States, he probably has one of his underlings working on it.
Nikita's job is to befriend Bower's wife; Michael's task is to infiltrate his organization. The guy Bower had working on his weapons smuggling suddenly dropped off of the face of the earth – no doubt thanks to Division – and Michael's posing as a potential replacement. Bower needs him for his alias' contacts; Michael supposedly needs Bower for his ability to move merchandise between countries with minimal difficulty.
It's exactly the kind of job Michael loves. It's not an assassination; it's not Percy using Division to achieve his own nefarious ends. They're not walking the knife-edge between evil and morally gray. No, this assignment has an actual bad guy, a villain.
To her left, Michael is eerily silent, twirling the gold band on his ring finger in a manner that makes Nikita wonder if he is anxious or just uncomfortable. And then she wonders if she's the reason he's nervous.
Michael thinks Nikita isn't ready; she can tell. She knows he's argued with Percy about her participation in this op. She knows that the words 'emotionally attached' and 'problematic' were batted around and that the fight never reached a conclusion. At the moment, the two men are so peeved with each other that they're not speaking.
The problem is more than just Michael being his typical overprotective self and Percy being his usual manipulative self. The fact that lately they've been constantly at odds essentially guaranties that they're going to argue over everything related to this mission. Nikita's involvement has just ramped up the tension to triple its normal intensity, at least.
Part of it has to do with the fact that Nikita is a last minute addition. Michael's first pick was an agent Nikita had never met, but who had apparently been partnered with Michael infrequently over the last couple of years. A stray bullet lodged in the woman's midsection and a three hour surgery made Nikita Percy's second choice.
Amanda, for her part, seems as serene and impartial as ever, watching both boys with a careful eye as she attempts to persuade them that running through the details one more time would be prudent.
Angrily, Michael snaps that he knows what he's doing and storms out of the room with a meaningful glare at Percy. Percy rolls his eyes and follows him.
Without batting an eye, Amanda slowly sits down across from Nikita. Her voice is smooth, sticky like honey. "So Nikita." She folds her fingers together. "It looks like it's just you and me left, so let's talk, shall we? How do you feel about this mission?"
Nikita isn't sure how she feels about Amanda as a person, but she does know that she definitely doesn't like the weekly sessions she's forced to attend. Michael tells her to grin and bear it, but considering that he himself isn't required to go to counseling at all, his platitudes don't help her much.
"Like I can handle it," Nikita replies.
"You previous assignments have all been brief," Amanda continues like Nikita has just admitted nervousness instead of confidence. "Relatively short, quick kills, nothing terribly long and detailed, and certainly nothing with this much emotional weight. You could be under for weeks or months, with no respite. But you must remember, Nikita, that this isn't real. It's not your life. Michael is not your husband, and your relationship is all a show. Do you think you can handle that?"
She doesn't know the answer to that question simply because it's Michael and somehow everything's messier with him. What Nikita does know is that no matter what answer she gives, Amanda is going to keep her already-formed opinions to herself.
"I can handle it."
"Good. We won't have any problems then."
The problem isn't that he doesn't want Nikita on the mission.
(He wants her. He always wants her and maybe that's just a difficulty Michael is forever cursed to live with.)
It isn't even because it's a dangerous mission. It's not; not for her, anyway. Even if it was, Nikita is one of the most capable agents he knows, and even if she wasn't that, he would do everything in his power to protect her.
So Michael tells himself that there is not a single good, solid reason for him to be against Nikita's participation, save for the fact that his brain seems to be incapable of even contemplating the prospect of pretending to be married to Nikita for an inevitably long stretch of time.
These feelings – the emotions that swell in his chest whenever he looks at her, the fireworks on his skin when he touches her – they're more dangerous to the both of them than any weapon ever forged.
Maybe the truth is that he's afraid that when it's just the two of them outside Division, away from prying eyes and listening ears, one or both of them will give into temptation and do something they'll later deeply regret.
Or maybe he's scared of what might happen when the assignment finally ends.
The house is beautiful.
Nikita feels like she could wander around for days just looking at all the little details. The obvious things are there – matching furniture, wedding pictures above the mantle, a small sculpture on a table and paintings hanging on the walls – but it's the little things that shock her.
There's a half-squeezed out tube of toothpaste in the upstairs master bathroom, magnets from eight different states on the fridge, a ring on the coffee table, a loose knob in the kitchen and the third step from the top squeaks to high heaven whenever the slightest amount of pressure is applied to the floorboards. Packages in the cupboards are open, some are half empty, and the ones towards the back are expired. Books on the shelf are arranged in a crazy order; some are new, and some are old. Nikita flips through a few and finds folded down corners, ripped pages, and random bookmarks. One of the first she explores – a hard cover copy of Pride and Prejudice – actually has an inscription in Michael's handwriting that begins with the words: To My Darling Wife, on our Anniversary.
Upstairs, Nikita looks through a jewelry box and finds an earring without a partner. (She'll find its mate under the couch days later.) In her top drawer, beneath her sleepwear she finds over twenty Hallmark cards tied with a ribbon. Every one is from Michael to Nikita. Some are old and bent, others are newer. Every one is dated, and the script is unmistakably Michael's.
There's lingerie tucked inside another drawer. (Nikita closes that drawer without any further exploration.)
It's not perfect, except that it actually is and that's what shocks Nikita the most.
If anyone were to snoop around, the house would look like a married couple lived there. It would look like a home.
She wants to look through Michael's drawers, to see what things this alternate Nikita has given him, if any even exist, but she never quite works up the courage.
Nikita thinks she's beginning to understand what Amanda meant when she described this assignment as emotionally weighted. It's not just sweet little Nikita working as a nanny for a week so she can get the access to kill the head of the family.
No, this is Nikita becoming another person, one who went to Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, one who loves Jane Austen, one who is happily married to a man madly in love with her. This Nikita was never a foster child, never abused, never in prison, never brought to Division. This Nikita has never learned how to kill a man with her bare hands, never learned how to clean a gun, and never learned how to arm or disarm a bomb. This Nikita is innocent.
But the woman playing her is not.
It's enough to make her head spin. When Michael finally comes upstairs to the master bedroom to see if she's alright because he's called her name several times and she hasn't answered, he finds her sitting on the floor, back against the foot of the bed, her head aching from the sheer complexity of it all.
"It's like living in a dream," she tells him. One that I'm not sure I want to wake up from remains unspoken.
"It is," he agrees softly. "But you have to remember: it's not real. None of it."
She decides that will be her mantra for the duration of this assignment from hell.
It's not real.
Aside from that, the first day is relatively easy.
They move in, they eat dinner, they go to sleep – nothing too traumatic.
There's a moment of awkwardness when Nikita realizes that it's simply expected for them to sleep in the same bed. No alternate options exist.
Nikita doesn't know how anyone,much less the Bowers, would even know if they slept in separate beds, but she figures that Division doesn't want anything – no matter how trifling – to interfere with the integrity of their cover. Considering that, they're supposed to be happily married…well, separate bedrooms or even separate beds would seriously damage that pretense if the Bowers found out.
Michael doesn't even have to spell it out for Nikita; she understands within a few seconds of seeing him lying on the right side of the bed reading a Stephan King novel.
Besides, Nikita convinces herself as she tugs at her oversized tee-shirt, it's a huge bed. They could both toss and turn all night and never so much as brush up against the other.
She turns down the bedspread and slips beneath the covers. There's a well worn book on Nikita's side of the bed, and she picks it up. Wuthering Heights.
Carefully, she sneaks a glance at Michael. Either he's actually interested in his novel or he's very good at pretending to be engrossed. Based on how often Nikita's seen him pretending to pour over Amanda's detailed briefs and unnecessary memos her money is on the latter.
She can't concentrate enough to read any more than a sentence or two, so it only takes her a few minutes to get bored and return the book to its former home on the nightstand.
As she settles against her pillow – with her back to Michael; he can read her too well and one look at her expression will entice him to start a conversation about their present circumstances – she can't help but speculate about the other Michael and Nikita. Would they really spend their nights reading, or would she have rolled across the bed and kissed him by now? Would the other Nikita really wear a huge shirt, or would she have slid on one of those slinky negligees?
She doesn't know for sure, but in both instances, the latter choice seems more likely.
"Goodnight, Nikita," she hears Michael whisper, seconds before the lights go out.
She meets Mrs. Bower the next day.
It's not so much luck as it is Division's amazing ability to manipulate people into being in the right place at the right time.
In other words: afternoon tea.
It's unclear whether or not Carla Bower is aware of her husband's extra-curricular activities, so it falls to Nikita to find out what she knows. Bumping into her in the ladies room at the prestigious restaurant Carla frequents at least twice a week for brunch is ridiculously easy.
(Nikita thinks she should be compensated for even agreeing to wear pastel and an elegant white hat for this portion of the mission. It's enough to make her actually prefer the slinky dress and the killer heels Amanda makes her wear on the nightclub assignments.)
Still, she's a professional or at least she's supposed to be, so she complements Carla on her pearls, and the two strike up a conversation. It doesn't lead much of anywhere – Nikita didn't exactly care to know how much money was spent on the jewelry – but it's a start, so she takes it with a grain of salt, finishes up her tea and salad and reports back to the house.
Michael's out on his "job interview," which is a fairly loose description for participating in a likely illegal activity to prove his capability to his potential employer. This means that he's either breaking a few kneecaps or killing a few traitors, it all depends on just how sadistic his new boss is. Nikita hopes for the former, but a weight in her gut says that it'll be the latter.
In the meantime, she tidies up and gets Amanda up to speed via one of the most boring conference calls ever.
When Michael does come home – she shouldn't be thinking of it as home; she knows this, but it can't be helped – he's got a few cuts and bruises, but it seems that his interview went well.
He doesn't tell Nikita what he had to do, and she's wise enough to simply not ask.
Three days later, they're invited over to the Bower's house for a dinner party.
At least, that's what Michael tells Nikita. It's really more that John Bower is a paranoid psychopath who wants to make sure that his latest employee's significant other is on the up and up.
Nikita brings salad.
Michael watches her in the kitchen as she slices vegetables, washes lettuce and throws everything together into a bowl. When she finishes, she wipes her hands on her thighs, slaps some plastic wrap around the lid of the container and does this absolutely adorable little victory dance that makes her look like the innocent girl she must have been at some point in her lifetime.
She catches him watching her and their eyes meet for a second.
If she were really his wife, he would kiss her right now. If she were his wife, he would take her in his arms and spin around the kitchen with her, and they would both get so swept up in each other that they would totally forget all about the party and be hours late – if they showed up at all.
But she's not, and he can't. So he doesn't.
Instead he turns away and goes upstairs to change.
When he sees her again, she's traded her tee-shirt and jeans for a casual, practical dress. Pearls earrings dot her earlobes and a matching bracelet encircles her wrist. She looks beautiful more than she does sexy, and since Michael thinks that Nikita is sexy so often – well, at least thrice a day - the former doesn't detract from the latter at all.
Her necklace is laid out against the hardwood of the dresser and Michael picks it up to place it around her neck.
"You look lovely," he tells her placidly, though he has to admit it's a huge understatement.
"Thank you." She's so demure, even as her eyes rise to meet his and he sees the thick emotion held in her gaze.
Michael thinks they've gotten too damn good at conversing without saying a word.
His thumbs brush against her collarbone and he forces his expression to remain neutral so she can't see how her closeness is making him want to throw logic, protocol and propriety out the window and kiss her.
But he feels her shiver, hears her sharp intake of breath, sees her lips part slightly and her eyelashes flutter, and he knows that he's not the only one affected. Physically, it's a relatively small distance between them, yet emotionally they might as well be standing on different continents.
Division is the chasm that looms between them, and Michael thinks it exists for reasons more than the simple fact that he doesn't know how to cross it.
Division agents do not become emotionally involved with anyone Percy doesn't expressly tell them to, and even then, it's an understood facet of their job. There are the occasionally romantic trysts every now and again, but once the scuttlebutt upgrades from rumor to confirmed fact, the two parties in question are immediately split up. Occasionally, the less valuable of the two agents is canceled.
There is one thing in the world Michael doesn't know how to deal with losing – one thing he can't even envision life without – it's Nikita.
It's the cold, heavy fear for Nikita – never himself; Michael's a big boy who can deal with the consequences of his choices – that keeps Michael awake at night. If Percy were to ever find out that they'd stepped across that invisible line…the consequences would be unfathomable.
So he tells himself that the emotional conflict – that constant push and pull between them spurred on by their work at Division – is a good thing that keeps them alive.
Most of the time he actually thinks he believes it.
At dinner, Nikita and Carla Bower take to each other instantly. They've met briefly before – Division has seen to it – and soon the two women are talking and laughing while Michael and John smile at each other and trade niceties.
Bower is a completely different man around his wife: open, talkative, and even affectionate. His warmth influences the way Michael acts around Nikita. They've supposedly been married five years, so he reminds himself that constantly holding her hand, pressing his own against her waist or leaning over to place a kiss on her cheek is perfectly acceptable. They're playing lovebirds, after all.
Nikita complies with the requirements of their cover as well, fixing his tie, smiling sweetly up at him, and letting the undertones in their normally veiled flirtation become overtones. They've always played a tightly wound verbal game, volleying insincere insults and implied complements back and forth with unmatched skill.
It all makes Michael wonder: how much of this is an act and how much is it just them pure and simple, once all the complications and complexities of life inside Division have been stripped away and only Michael and Nikita remain?
Nikita laughs at something John says, and Michael joins along with a chuckle, though he can't for the life of him remember what words were spoken.
"So," Carla leans forward on the table, hands folded under her chin. "How did you two meet?"
Nikita looks at Michael, and her eyes tell him that she'd prefer he take this one, so he does. He spins a story of a beautiful young woman, the daughter of a rich CEO who was traveling through Europe the year before she enrolled in a university, and that of an average American boy visiting relatives in Paris. Their paths cross, naturally, and they fall madly in love within the span of a week. He has to leave Europe, but she stays. Their relationship survives on letters and scattered phone calls for the better part of the next two years as their paths continued to cross occasionally, but never intersect directly.
"And finally," Michael says as he draws the story to a conclusion, "we ended up on the same continent, and started actually dating. And for some reason…she agreed to marry me."
They're sitting next to one another at the Bower's dining room table, and Michael has been keeping his eyes off of her so he can finish the fabricated story of how they met, but once he reaches those last five words, he glances over at her. She's staring at him intently, as if held captive by his every word. There's so much emotion in Nikita's expression that he doesn't think she can speak, so he rescues her by leaning over and pressing a gentle, loving kiss to her lips.
Under the table, his hand finds hers and he gives it a reassuring squeeze. The first gesture is for the fake Nikita, the second is for the real one.
When he draws away from her – reluctantly, and he mentally curses his own faultless self-control, because what he'd really like to do is just keep kissing her – he realizes that in the past five minutes, they've managed to sell themselves to the Bowers. Carla looks like she could melt into a puddle of goo, and even John seems moved by Michael's completely fictional anecdote.
Their primary mission for the night is simple: determine if John is paranoid enough to have anti-bugging devices in his home, and if not, their orders are to plant a few bugs here and there.
Since his house is secured to the hilt against any form of espionage, Michael casually asks Nikita if she double checked to make sure her curling iron was switched off so she knows that the secondary mission was scrapped. She tells him that yes, she checked, which means she got the message and she's seen the anti-bugs as well.
Carla and Nikita disappear to the kitchen to fetch dessert, leaving the men alone.
"She's lovely," John says of Nikita, and Michael finds himself inclined to agree.
There are so many aspects of Nikita's personality that transcend even the characters she plays. Her loveliness is one of those things; her tenacity and strength are another.
No matter who Nikita is at any given moment, Michael finds he can always see her underneath the superficiality that continually surrounds her while she's on assignment.
"Yes," he agrees, taking a slow sip of his coffee, "she is."
"She doesn't know about our little 'business arrangement'?" Bower says.
"Would you tell her?" Michael asks in a tone that's supposed to say he clearly hasn't.
John Bower grins. "You're a smart man, Michael. I like that about you."
The women return. Nikita brings a scrumptious-looking chocolate cream pie, and Carla carries a tray of small plates and serving utensils.
With a small, sweet smile Nikita hands Michael a large slice of pie. His fingers brush across her wrist as he takes the dish from her. He wants the touch to linger longer, like it would if they were in Division, but they're not, and this obvious longing between them will arouse the Bower's suspicion if it is allowed to continue.
So Michael bites his tongue as he thanks her, and tries to keep his eyes off of her as she gets her own pie and slips into the seat next to his. Their shoulders brush as she sits down, and the familiarity evident in the contact is good for their cover. He slips his free arm around her and draws her close to his side, rubbing his hand gently up and down her forearm.
Carla sighs delightedly as she sinks into her own chair. "Aren't they just the perfect little couple, Hon?"
John nods. Michael is inclined to agree with his boss.
They are perfect.
That night, Nikita wakes to find him sleeping soundly beside her. He's shirtless, lying on his stomach, one arm stretched above his head. Her fingers long to touch him because he's perfect and he looks so innocent when he's sleeping, less like a trained killer and more like a person – a husband, a partner, a friend.
And her heart aches because over the past few days she's begun to realize that he's everything she wants and needs and can never fully have.
There's something undeniable simmering between them. She knows that he knows it. She also knows that – Michael being Michael – this attraction connecting them is something he'll never dare speak of out loud. It's not cowardice on his part, Nikita understands this better than anyone; it's simply Michael's protective streak manifesting in a way she often wished it didn't.
With a sigh, Nikita slips out of bed and pads downstairs, careful to avoid the squeaky step. In the kitchen, she pours herself a bowl of chocolate cereal and sits at the center island, thinking.
Her cereal gets soggy as she sits, wondering about the other Michael and Nikita. She imagines them happily married, wonderfully and hopelessly in love, their daily worries regulated to fixing squeaky steps and figuring out what to have for dinner.
They wouldn't worry about shooting someone in the kneecap or whether or not Michael's boss has anti-bugging devices sprinkled throughout his house.
The noisy floorboard creeks, letting Nikita know that she's not the only one awake. A few seconds later, she looks up to see Michael entering the kitchen. He's pulled on a white undershirt, thank goodness, and he still looks half asleep.
"What are you doing awake?" he asks, and Nikita can't tell if he's concerned or curious.
"Couldn't sleep," she answers, taking a bite of her cereal.
Michael sighs heavily. "Nikita." There's a warning in his tone that doesn't escape Nikita's notice. "About tonight…"
Ah, the kiss at the dinner table. "We did the job. We were supposed to portray a young married couple in love. I think they bought it."
"Well," he grins lazily, a half-smile that always makes her heart rate double, "We're probably going to have to go through a few more tests before they trust us completely, but I'd say we're well on our way."
"Do you think Bower trusts you?"
"Not yet," Michael replies. "He'd been a fool to trust me implicitly at this point, but give it a little time."
"Carla likes you too."
"Well, I am very charming."
Yes. Yes he is. When he wants to be, that is. Nikita looks down at her Coco Puffs. "Percy will be pleased."
Michael shrugs her words off as he pours himself a glass of water. "You think Carla's involved?" he asks her. She can't tell if he really wants to know her opinion in order to gauge it against his own or if he is simply asking the question out of curiosity.
"I don't know," she answers, because she doesn't have anywhere near enough facts to know anything for sure and if she guesses or goes on instinct, she's liable to get a lecture about the precarious balance between solid proof and gun feelings.
As if he can read her mind, Michael leans forward on the counter and says, "I'm not gonna lecture you, Nikita. I just want to know what you think."
She shrugs, but answers hesitantly, "I don't want to think that she's involved, but I'm not going to delude myself into believing she's innocent just because I want to hope that's the case."
"Look, Nikita." He looks down at his hands, fingers tapping restlessly against each other. "I know a lot of this is difficult, but I want you to know that you're doing great, okay?" His lips are twisted impishly into that self-confident smirk
Nikita takes another bite of her cereal. Michael takes a sip of his water.
"I don't know if I can keep doing this, Michael."
"Nikita…" he starts, and his tone is a warning.
"No," she snaps, standing up, "don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about. You know exactly what I'm talking about."
He looks away. "It's too dangerous. I won't let you be put through that. We'll get through this mission as best we can and that'll be the end of it."
She shoves the last spoonful of Coco Puffs into her mouth and marches over to the sink to rinse her dishes. "I'm done ignoring this, Michael."
There's a moment where their eyes meet and the expression exchanged is filled with such strong longing that Nikita knows without question that he wishes desperately that it didn't have to be this way. And she knows that his unwillingness to act on their increasingly obvious feelings is based on some misguided sense of over-protectiveness.
Though it affects him as much as it does her, Michael will do everything he can to keep her safe, even if it means denying the attraction between them until the day they die.
Despite how much her head understands his motivations, her heart still feels wounded.
In short: Nikita's still angry with him. So she does the only mature thing she can.
She gives him the silent treatment.