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Not too long ago, in a galaxy not too far away were three inhabited planets and four others that could not sustain any life, all orbiting around a brilliant sun.

Of the three inhabited planets, the one farthest from the sun was called Ronak and was ruled by Walter Dunes, a former warmonger who 'repented' upon the death of his wife five years ago after a prolonged illness. The woman, Belinda, had been such a gentle soul that many had wondered how she and Walter had gotten together in the first place, let alone stayed together for twenty-five years. Before Belinda died she had made Walter promise that their only child would not grow up knowing only war.

True to his word, Walter gave up his war with their closest neighbor even though he was still convinced that he was in the right and the war had been necessary. His daughter, Nikita, had been nineteen when her mother died and well on her way in the ranks of her father's navy. Six months after Belinda's death a peace treaty was ratified.

While Nikita was happy that her father had ceased fighting and spent more time with her and his people, she nevertheless continued her training. She knew that their enemy agreed to the treaty merely because they had been losing and not because they wanted peace. Nikita did not believe that the war was truly over.

Walter had placed Nikita in charge of their armed forces after peace was declared. She had trained for this from an early age and Walter knew she was ready despite her young age. Those who had opposed the decision quickly learned how wrong they were and how good Nikita was.

While Ronak's navy was smaller than the combined forces of their neighboring enemy and their fleet of ships and single-man/woman fighters not as advanced, they had still held more than their own. The foot soldiers had been about even in number, but Ronak's superior air support had tilted the scales in their favor, thereby not allowing the enemy forces to advance. Nikita vowed that she would further improve the navy and make sure they were ready for the day their enemy decided they were sufficiently recovered to try again.

Walter's enemy were actually two separate rulers who shared a single planet named Tekonis. The planet was literally split in half and each of the two ruled their half of the planet. It was an agreement that went back generations and was one that neither of the current rulers' predecessors broke.

The older of the two co-rulers, Paul Wolfe was in his early fifties, a ruthless general who had overthrown his king fifteen years ago because the man did not want to go to war simply to gain more power. Paul ruled with an iron fist and was feared by his people much more than he was respected by them. His ultimate goal was to rule this solar system before expanding into the next one.

The younger co-ruler was Michael Samuelle, only thirty years old and already the ruler of his people for eleven years. The throne had been thrust upon him after the death of his father in battle on Ronak. Michael's father had led the army himself as had Walter his navy, they of the old school - never send in someone where you are unwilling to go. Walter's forces were as one, navy only. But the rulers of Tekonis believed in a separate army and navy. Witnesses said that it had been Walter himself that had killed Michael's father.

Michael did not even have the luxury of a mother to turn to for help for she had committed suicide upon learning of her husband's fate. She had left Michael all alone with two younger brothers (twins) to raise and a people to rule. Michael did the best that he could with his then seven year old brothers, Seymour and Jason, as well as with his people. The day that he was crowned Michael swore revenge on the man who had killed his father and destroyed his family.

That vow of revenge is what had forced Michael to join Paul in his war with Walter five years ago, just six years after his people's retreat upon their leader's death. Michael did not like or even trust Paul, but to get to Walter he made a pact with the devil next door. Michael was bitterly disappointed that their campaign resulted in a truce less than two years after it started, but the choice had been easy at the time. The tide had been turning in Walter's favor and Michael knew to keep going would be suicide. He resigned himself to biding his time, rebuilding his forces and exacting his revenge when they were stronger.

The third inhabited planet, Shulan, was ruled by a forty-something year old woman named Madeline Sands. She'd inherited the throne upon her husband Charles' death twelve years ago. There were some who suspected Madeline of slowly poisoning her husband, but nothing had ever been proven and those who initiated the rumors had mysteriously disappeared. Madeline was as power hungry as Paul. The difference was that Madeline was more patient, content to sit back and watch while her neighbors battled each other. Her plan was to wait until they destroyed each other and then move in for the kill.

It was now just about three years since the treaty was signed and Paul was ready to try again. He'd rebuilt his army and navy and came to Michael one warm spring night with plans of a sneak attack on Ronak.

This is where the story really begins.

********

"Father." Nikita took a nervous breath and called out.

"Yes?" Walter turned from the window he had been staring out of. The imminent battle was necessary for their continued survival, but that did not ease his pain at sending his daughter out to lead it. Walter knew he was too old and set in his ways to do it and that Nikita was ready but still, it was the most difficult decision he'd ever made.

"I need to speak with you about our upcoming offensive." Nikita answered. Their spy, in Paul's employ on Tekonis, had warned them of Paul and Michael's plans. Walter and Nikita had agreed that their best course of action was a pre imminent strike and were due to launch one in a few short hours.

"Second thoughts?" Walter inquired, surprised at the hesitant tone of her voice. Nikita was more than capable and it wasn't like her to doubt herself or her skills.

"No." Nikita quickly assured then took a deep calming breath before she continued, her voice steady. "I have neglected to tell you about the special training I, and nine others, have undertaken in the last two years."

"What training?" Walter asked. Since the peace treaty had been ratified Walter had left the navy in Nikita's hands. But he'd also left her advisors who were supposed to report any irregularities to him. What kind of special training was this and more importantly, why wasn't he aware of it? Walter didn't know that Nikita had commandeered those advisors' loyalties long ago.

"All our single fighters are capable of hyperspeed." Nikita began. "But we haven't used the technology in our previous battles with the Tekonians."

"Yes, of course." Walter nodded. "It's too dangerous. You'd have to use microsecond jumps, leaving no time to prepare for deceleration and any unexpected objects."

"I have been training with our nine best pilots and we're ready to prove that theory wrong."

"What?" Walter thundered. "Are you crazy?"

"Hear me out, father." Nikita beseeched. "Short, microsecond jumps in a seemingly random pattern would be nearly impossible to track. We've studied numerous maps and included the most updated ones in the on-board computers."

"Why?" Walter asked. "There's no need to take such risks."

"But there is." Nikita disagreed. "Since the peace accord both Paul and Michael have been rebuilding their armed forces. They've increased their numbers and modernized. They're better than last time and so is their technology."

"So are we." Walter argued.

"Not enough." Nikita countered. "Last time we merely drove them back. This time we have to defeat them decisively. With these short jumps we'll raise the odds in our favor. Pull up right on their fighters' tails. By the time they fire back we'll have made the next jump."

"What if the next jump is into a star or another ship?"

"We've had our best technicians working on this program for almost two years. We've been practicing and perfecting for a full year. It's the only way to ensure victory. The simulators concur."

"The simulators are merely machines..."

"That have been programmed by our best. The only way we can fail is if the Tekonians discover the pattern. But they don't have anyone that good." Nikita sighed. "I'm sorry I had to keep this from you."

"Why did you?" Walter asked.

"Because I knew you would never agree to me leading the squadron."

"I still don't." Walter stated. "You're the commander of the entire navy..."

"A navy which has its orders and knows what to do." Nikita interrupted. "My second in command will direct the rest of the forces. He's been trained and he's ready."

"Why put yourself in such a position?" Walter asked resignedly.

"You taught me never to send someone where I was unwilling to go." Nikita answered.

********

Nikita's plan was almost foolproof. There was just one problem with it, well two really. Seymour and Jason Samuelle.

Even before the twins had been old enough and tall enough to sit and comfortably reach a console they had spent almost every waking hour at one computer or another. If there was a lull in activity they simply played a game. Soon, communicating in a language seemingly only known to twins, they created their own games.

By the time they were twelve they had graduated to improving existing programs and systems. Less than a year after that they were creating rather than improving all the computerized systems. Between the two of them there was not a system on their half of the planet that was unfamiliar. Even Paul's systems weren't immune to the brothers' hacking and Paul's own computer genius was no match for the twins' hacking skills.

When the surprise attack from Ronak came Seymour and Jason went straight to systems in the command center while their older brother Michael went to lead their forces in battle.

Less than one hour after the first series of Nikita's special teams' microsecond jumps, Jason and Seymour found the pattern. They relayed their success to their brother who then told them to upload the information to their fighters' computers.

Only five of the ships were in Michael's airspace, the other five being in Paul's. As a courtesy to his ally, Michael informed Paul of their find and volunteered to upload the information to him as well. A grateful Paul told Michael that in exchange for his help, provided of course that they succeeded, Michael would have first crack at all the spoils of this battle. Of course, the offer sounded better than it actually was. Since the battle had been fought on their planet only, there wasn't much to divvy up except prisoners and if they were lucky, perhaps some salvageable technology off the Ronakanite ships and ground vehicles that hadn't been completely destroyed..

Soon all but one of Nikita's team were successfully targeted and destroyed. Whether by sheer luck or intuition, Nikita swerved at the last moment and avoided a direct hit. She was able to eject before her ship crashed somewhere in Paul's territory.

With their main air support decimated, Walter's forces were steadily beaten back and Ronak's leader had no choice but to order a retreat. Walter did not know that Nikita survived the crash and believed her dead along with the rest of her team. Her ship's computer had malfunctioned as soon as it was hit and the pilot ejection did not register in the command center back on Ronak.

A devastated Walter secluded himself in his chambers after he left the 'cleanup duties' in the care of Marco O'Brien, Nikita's second in command. For the first time since his wife's death Walter cried. When he saw that O'Brien had things as under control as they could be, he proceeded to get drunk, something he hadn't done since before he'd met his late wife.

********

"The prisoners have arrived, sir." Paul Wolfe's son and right hand man announced. Steven only addressed him 'father' in private. They had collected Ronak's surviving soldiers throughout the various parts of Tekonis that were under Paul's rule. Michael's people had done the same on their half the planet.

Paul, Michael, Seymour and Jason were in one of the larger hangar bays of Paul's military compound/command center, thirty miles from his palatial home. Paul had kept the two separate because he didn't want his home destroyed in the event his command center was targeted.

They were going over the remains of the various ships and vehicles to see what was salvageable. As Paul had promised, Michael had first crack at anything he wanted. Seymour and Jason were, of course, advising their brother on the technological worth of everything inside the hangar.

Paul's losses were heavier than Michael's but still far less than they would have been if not for Michael's information. One of the reasons Michael had sustained less damage than Paul was because his command center and military compounds were on the grounds of his palace. It made for instant access and quicker readiness.

"Good." Paul nodded. "Take them to the dungeon and prepare them for inspection."

"Inspection?" Steven Wolfe asked, surprised. Standard policy was to throw them in the dungeon for a week with a very limited supply of bread and water. Only after the week was up did the inspection come.

The policy was a good way of measuring their captives. If they were *too* defiant even after a week that meant that they were too difficult to break and could never be trusted even if broken. If they were *too* pliant after a week that meant that they were useless for anything except perhaps the most menial of tasks. Paul was very good at reading his prisoners and was rarely wrong about their potential, or lack thereof.

"Yes." Paul answered. "Michael has first choice."

Nikita Dunes was one of the prisoners brought in for inspection. She was easily recognized and made no attempts to hide herself, her attitude defiant. Paul would have liked to keep her for himself and had he known ahead of time she was one of the prisoners of war, he would have told his son to separate her. Paul grimaced inwardly in disappointment, the boy simply wasn't sharp or ruthless enough.

Michael recognized Nikita immediately as well. Finally, revenge was his. He may not have been able to get to Walter, the man who had killed his father and destroyed his family, but standing not fifteen in front of him was something even better. An eye for an eye, Michael had vowed eleven years ago.

Walter's daughter for Michael's father.

By nightfall, Michael was ready to head back for home. He had sent his second, Chris Davenport, home earlier with the two dozen or so prisoners that he had chosen from Paul's 'collection. Nikita had been included in that mix. No reason to hurry, his vengeance had waited eleven years, another night wouldn't matter. Better even, let her worry about her fate for a bit. Michael had given Davenport strict instructions to separate Nikita. The rest were to be treated as Michael's prisoners usually were.

Paul was sorry to see Nikita go but he knew Michael would not allow her to stay. 'The man *was* entitled to his revenge.' Paul mused, contenting himself with the knowledge that she would soon be dead, leaving an aging Walter no heirs.

Seymour and Jason had finally finished directing traffic as to what to take and what not to take. Apart from a few loud "watch it, it's fragile" or variations of the same, they had behaved well. They'd even shared some discoveries with Paul's technological expert Greg Hillinger. Of course that exchange was filled with as many insults flying back and forth as information...

"I was thinking." Paul commented as he was leading Michael and his brothers to the hanger where Michael's private ship was docked. "Nikita must have a lot of useful information..."

"No. She's mine." Michael forestalled Paul forcefully. He was well aware of Paul's 'interrogation' techniques, the older man having crossed lines that Michael never would. While he *may* have enjoyed watching his father's murderer undergo such interrogation, Michael had no desire to watch anyone else, not even his sworn enemy's flesh and blood, go through it. Besides, he didn't want any information from Nikita, just her blood.

********

Michael awoke to darkness from a restless slumber. He'd been weighed down by nightmares all night and finally gave up on sleep. The nightmares were a variation of the same ones plaguing him for the last eleven years, ever since the nineteen year old boy had been forced to grow up overnight. He sat up in bed and decided to exorcise his demons now and then perhaps he'd finally find peace again.

Michael made his way to his seldom used prison located underneath the palace. In the old days it had been referred to as a dungeon but those times had long since passed. Michael had modernized the dungeon after moving the various prisoners to a new prison elsewhere, away from the population. He'd modernized with the hope of someday using it on Walter, but had given up on that idea years ago. Instead the dungeon had remained empty.

Michael encountered no one but his guards along the way, the hour still too early even for the morning shift to stir. Like Michael, the old dungeon's lone occupant wasn't sleeping either.

Nikita herself had been up all night. Nobody had spoken a word to her, not the men who'd brought her here or the servants who'd brought her what she assumed was her last meal. She knew she was going to be tortured and killed in the morning but there was something she needed to know first.

Although she hadn't heard Michael's quiet footfalls, Nikita sensed she was no longer alone. Turning around she came face to face with her executioner coming slowly down the steps of the remodeled dungeon.

"Where are my people?" Nikita asked before Michael had made it completely down the steps.

"What?" Michael blinked in surprise. *That* was her first question?

"There were twenty two others." Nikita repeated impatiently. "Where are they?"

"Why?"

"You don't have to kill them. My father will pay you whatever you want for their safe return." Nikita answered. When Michael remained silent and unmoving she added, "Please."

"No." Michael finally replied.

"What are you going to do with them?" Nikita persisted.

"That's none of your concern." Michael evaded.

"They're my people." Nikita countered. "I need to know what's going to happen to them."

"They're safe." Michael relented a bit.

"Safe from what?" Nikita asked confused.

"Paul Wolfe."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Paul has a tendency to...discard...those he believes will be too much trouble." Michael replied. He'd deliberately taken those who he thought Paul would consider too much trouble to 'rehabilitate' in one way or another.

"But *you* won't 'discard' them." An unbelieving Nikita snorted.

"Believe what you will. It doesn't matter." Michael returned then asked a question of his own. "Why haven't you asked about your own fate?"

"I already know the answer to that." Nikita replied. "I know who you are and I know you've been seeking revenge against my father for over ten years."

"Do you know what for?" Michael asked.

"For defeating your father in battle."

"Is that what you've been told?"

"Yeah." Nikita replied. "Why? Is it not true?"

"Close enough." Michael sighed, not wanting to go into details she wouldn't believe anyway in the shord she had left to live.

"Before you take your revenge may I send a message to my father?" Nikita asked, having already accepted her fate. She would not give him the satisfaction of begging for her life.

"A last request?" Michael asked, somewhat amused despite himself.

Before Nikita could reply the door to the prison opened from the outside and footsteps were heard coming down the steps.

"Michael." Chris Davenport greeted deferentially.

"Yes?" Michael inquired, surprised that his chief of staff was up this early.

"A moment?" Davenport glanced furtively at Nikita. "In private?"

"Of course." Michael replied and walked upstairs, Davenport following. Nikita heard nothing of their conversation as they had waited for the door to her prison to slam shut before speaking.

Five minutes later Michael came purposely back down the stairs, his anger evident in his steps. Without saying a word Michael strode over to Nikita, grabbed her arm to turn her around and with his other hand reached up and pulled out several locks of her hair. By the time Nikita recovered from her shock enough to pull away and open her mouth in protest, Michael was already climbing back up the stairs.

Nikita was left alone for the next two hours. When Michael returned he was in control of his emotions again.

"What was that all about?" Nikita demanded angrily.

"Your father is as arrogant as ever. Even in defeat he had 'demands.'" Michael sighed.

"What does that have to do with pulling my hair out?"

"That was proof of your capture and subsequent death. A merchant ship has already left with it as well as my answer to his demands." Michael replied, his anger rising again at Walter's audacity. "There will be no message, no last request."

"What were the demands?" Nikita asked.

"Return those of his people I had not yet had killed."

"Even if you did not have the rest of our people killed, my father has no way of knowing that." Nikita defended. "Why should he think you any less brutal than your ally? After all..."

"Enough." Michael cut her off. "Follow me."

"To where?"

"There's nowhere to run to. Don't waste my time trying." Michael avoided the question.

Knowing that Michael was probably right and any attempts to escape or cause damage would most certainly result in the other prisoners' being punished anyway, Nikita followed silently behind. On the way to wherever it was they were going Nikita sorted out her final thoughts.

Up the stairs and through two corridors brought them to a sterile room, empty save for a door on the opposite side, cameras mounted in each corner and a cursory examination table in the center. Standing next to the table was a woman in a white coat, holding an old fashioned syringe (rather than the modern day hypo-spray) filled to capacity with an amber liquid.

"You won't feel any pain." Michael turned back towards Nikita. "Be grateful you will not suffer the excruciating death I had planned for your father." He finished quietly then walked over to the adjoining observation room.

Her head held high, Nikita walked over to the table and lay down gracefully. Saying a silent goodbye to her father, Nikita closed her eyes as the amber liquid was injected into her arm. Her last conscious thought was that at least she would soon be joining her mother.

********

Davenport stood outside the door waiting. Of all the tasks that Michael had assigned him over the years this was certainly one of the most 'unusual.' As soon as he heard movement inside the guest chambers he went inside without knocking.

"Good evening." Davenport greeted the figure gingerly sitting up on the bed.

"Where am I?" A still groggy Nikita asked. "Wait a minute, I know you. You're...."

"Chris Davenport." He supplied when Nikita faltered.

"Right. So I guess that means I'm not dead." Nikita stated the obvious. "Why?"

"Lucky for you Michael couldn't go through with taking his revenge out on you, well deserved as it may be." Davenport answered with a hint of resentment "He had the physician inject an antidote before the effects had become irreversible."

"He's letting me go?" Nikita asked incredulously.

"No."

"Then what?"

"You will remain here." Davenport replied.

"For how long?"

"Indefinitely."

"As a prisoner?"

"No." Davenport answered. "You will be confined to the palace and the surrounding grounds."

"Can I at least speak to my father?"

"Your father believes you dead." Davenport returned. "That won't change. He will continue to believe so until his dying day."

"It won't work." Nikita argued. "Someone will see me and report back to my father."

"Everyone here is loyal to Michael." Davenport countered. "No one will report your existence."

"Everyone? *All* the servants? *All* the soldiers?" Nikita snorted scornfully.

"Of course." Davenport replied. "Why else would anyone remain here?"

"Duress." Nikita replied. More than a fair amount of Tekonian refugees made their new home on Ronak over the years. Many of them had told of the atrocious oppression they had suffered.

"Duress?" Davenport smirked. "All the 'servants' here collect fair wages and our armed forces are strictly voluntary, also subject to good wages. Believe me, no one in his employ will betray Michael to *anyone,* let alone Walter Dunes."

"Yeah, right." Nikita returned dubiously. "I've talked to former Tekonians on Ronak. Their version of life here vastly differs from yours."

"Were these people living under Michael or Paul's rule?" Davenport asked.

"I-I don't know." Nikita admitted.

"Thought so." Davenport sighed. "Look, all you need to know is that there is no escape and if you try anything there will be consequences."

"Like what?" Nikita asked defiantly. "You'll kill me?"

"No. Not you." Davenport went on to deflate Nikita's sails. "Just those of your people still on Tekonis."

********

During the first month of her imprisonment Nikita learned a great deal about her captors, much of it surprising. Tekonians, on this part of the planet at least, weren't very different than her own people back on Ronak.

Nikita was still regarded warily by some of the people she came into contact with in the palace and the surrounding grounds. Davenport had told her that she was free to 'roam' around but he hadn't told her that upon leaving the palace gates she would be shadowed by two armed guards. It had been disconcerting at first, but Nikita had grown used to it.

Nikita had seen Davenport a few times as well as Seymour and Jason. The two brothers still gave her a wide berth and furtive, wary glances when they passed her but Nikita didn't hold her predicament against them. They were only children when their older brother had begun his crusade against her father and weren't responsible for the bloodshed Michael had wrought in his crusade.

Although outwardly accepting, Nikita had no intentions of remaining on Tekonis indefinitely. She had already befriended several of the palatial staff with her surprisingly affable behavior and was beginning to do the same with some of the Tekonian soldiers, albeit on a much smaller scale. Most of them still viewed her as the enemy, but there were a few, very few, willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Nikita planned on cultivating these friendships for as long as it took to find someone willing to help her escape. If it was just herself it would have been a lot easier, but Nikita had no doubt that Michael would, as promised, take her escape out on the Ronakanites imprisoned here. Nikita wasn't about to run and leave her people behind to face Michael's wrath so she had to find a way to get them out, too.

Late one night Nikita couldn't sleep and decided to take a stroll in the gardens in the back of the palace. On her way out through the long, twisting corridors of the palace, Nikita reflected on the oddity that the one person she hadn't seen since she woke up in her chambers was her 'host.' Granted, the palace *was* huge, but still, you'd think she would have at least caught a glimpse of the man responsible for her 'confinement.' Although she had questions for Michael, Nikita wasn't about to seek *him* out. She was still rather angry, despite the cordial and fair treatment she had been receiving and had a few choice words for the man besides the myriad of questions she wanted answered.

Almost as if the mere thought of the man had conjured him up, Nikita rounded a corner and bumped right into Michael.

His thoughts on the training exercises later this morning, Michael wasn't paying attention to his surroundings. A dangerous practice, but one he indulged in very rarely and *only* in the safety of his palace walls. Besides, it was very late and he didn't expect anyone except the nightwatch to be up, let alone strolling about.

When he bumped into someone, Michael automatically reached out to steady them, already apologizing. It took him only a moment to realize who he'd bumped into and when he did, he dropped his arms immediately. If he hadn't wanted to extricate himself from Nikita in the first place, the look on her face when she realized it was him would have convinced him, bringing to mind the phrase 'if looks could kill...'

"Well, well, well." Nikita found her voice first. "And here I was beginning to think you might have been dead and nobody wanted to tell me."

"Sorry to disappoint you." Michael replied icily, matching his demeanor to Nikita's.

"Yeah, well a girl can still hope. Maybe if I wish hard enough"

"If that's all?" Michael began, hoping to get away before his anger got the better of him. It had been war and her side lost. Nikita should be grateful she was not only still alive but treated well.

"Not even close." Nikita blocked his path. "Why have you been avoiding me? Guilt?"

"No." Michael denied. "I have nothing to feel guilty about. You're being treated better than the daughter of Walter Dunes deserves."

"You can't keep me here forever."

"Your father is an old man and grief is already aging him further." Michael returned. "Maybe *his* guilt at losing his only child in a war he started will hasten his death even further."

"That was a pre imminent strike and you know it." Nikita retorted angrily.

"Perhaps." Michael admitted. "But your father started this war a long time ago and it's time he paid."

"Revisionist history? Your father died in a battle that he himself started." Nikita argued.

"Do you even know the origins of the war?" Michael asked, his green eyes flashing momentarily in anger. "Never mind. It doesn't matter."

"No, it doesn't." Nikita agreed. "Neither one of us was a part of it. So why do this? Let me go and I swear there will be no retaliation or attack against you as long as you reign." She cajoled, no qualms about lying if it meant her freedom.

"No." Michael returned adamantly. "You're not suffering, you're living in luxury. Be grateful for it."

"May I at least send a message?" Nikita asked. She could see the resolve in Michael's eyes and demeanor and knew she had to bide her time. But Nikita had to somehow let her father know she was alive. She didn't doubt what her father must be going through, believing that he had sent her to her death.

"I told you already..." Michael started.

"You could say I recorded it before..." Nikita interrupted.

"One message was sent already. There will be no more."

"What did you say?" Nikita asked.

"I told him we are even now. Our war is over."

"Why?" Nikita asked, tears pooling despite her vow to be strong. "Over a decade has passed. Why can't you let it go?"

"He destroyed my family, I destroyed his peace of mind." Michael replied. "Let him finally live with the consequences of his actions."

"You're every bit as malevolent as I'd always believed." Nikita spat.

"Good." Michael replied and strode away, leaving a fuming Nikita in his wake.

********

Things didn't get any friendlier between Michael and Nikita over the next several months and they didn't see much of each other either. When they did, neither one said anything to the other, merely glared. The temperature in the room though always seemed to drop significantly whenever they happened to be in the same room.

The reason Michael was hardly ever around was not because of Nikita, or at least not for the reasons she thought. Truthfully, he'd been busy reorganizing his armed forces. Nikita had found this out one day while she was out. She had taken to walking the grounds every day to relieve her boredom and had tried to take different paths to vary the routine. Of course, her 'shadows' always went with her.

On this particular day, Nikita had chosen to walk near the command center and happened upon a familiar face.

"Chuck?" Nikita asked, shock written all over her face.

"Nikita." Chuck greeted in return.

"I thought you died in battle." Nikita recovered enough to remark Chuck was one of their best pilots, shot down over Tekonis five years ago. Now here he was not only alive and well, but seemingly a free man on their enemy's planet. "What happened?"

"I was injured. Actually quite seriously." Chuck explained. "Look, I was just headed out for a late lunch. Why don't you join me and we'll talk?"

"Where?" Nikita asked.

"In the cafeteria." Chuck nodded over to the building he was headed for.

"I'm not the most welcome person here." Nikita hesitated.

"Nonsense." Chuck shrugged her hesitation off. "You're with me."

"That's another thing. Why are you running around free?" Nikita persisted.

"Like I said, I'll explain as much as I can." Chuck returned. "Now, come on, I didn't have any breakfast and I'm starving." Chuck insisted then added upon her continued frown, "Don't worry there's hardly anyone there at this hour."

"Okay." Nikita relented.

"Good."

Chuck led the way inside and discreetly motioned to Nikita's guards to give them some privacy. The guards consented and sat a few tables away, out of earshot, in the nearly empty cafeteria. When Nikita and Chuck had sat down, the few pairs of eyes in the room turned toward them. However, once they recognized Nikita's table companion, most just nodded to Chuck and turned back to their meals.

********

"So, where do you want to start?" Chuck asked once they'd finished their meal. After they'd sat down Chuck had insisted on waiting until after they'd eaten to talk, he *was* starving, after all.

"How about the beginning?" Nikita asked. She was still stunned and very much confused about Chuck's seeming equality among Tekonians.

"Alright then." Chuck sighed and began his tale. "As you know I was shot down five years ago. I told you I was injured." Nikita nodded and Chuck continued. "Well, the injury was pretty bad. I woke up in the medical facility after nearly a week and it still took months of rehabilitation for me to even walk."

"That still doesn't explain..." Nikita began.

"Patience, please." Chuck interrupted with a grin. "That never was one of you virtues, glad to see some things haven't changed."

"Please." Nikita beseeched, this wasn't the time for levity.

"Okay, okay." Chuck sobered. "Anyway, after I was awake for a day and no one had come to interrogate me I started to wonder and wait for the inevitable. Finally when I was feeling somewhat human one of Michael's people, Davenport, came to see me. I figured there it was, better prepare myself but..." Chuck trailed off, momentarily lost in the memory that ultimately changed his life.

"But..." Nikita prodded impatiently after a few moments of silence.

"But there was no interrogation." Chuck finally continued. "I mean sure, there were questions but nothing like I'd expected. No 'talk or die.' Then in the end all he said was it looked like I was going to be fine and we'd talk more after rehab."

"Really?" Nikita was skeptical.

"Shocking isn't it? It certainly was to me." Chuck stated. "Actually when I was starting to walk again, Davenport came back around and I asked him why they bothered to waste their resources patching up the enemy. I mean I hadn't given them anything useful in all the time I'd been there and they knew I certainly had no intention of telling them anything useful then either."

"I don't suppose they did it to prepare you for intense interrogation." Nikita sighed.

"No." Chuck smiled. "After I'd recovered they shipped me off to prison. But even that wasn't so bad. It was separate from the civilian population and the guards were all former military. There weren't even any sneers cast our way, let alone anything worse. Sure we were the other side, but they respected the fact that we fought for what we believed in, just like they did."

"So how did you get out?" Nikita's curiosity was piqued.

"I started asking questions. I still couldn't understand why they didn't just let me die, why bother with me in the first place, you know? There were also others they could have extracted information from if that was all they wanted. Plus the relative easy life in prison even though I gave up no information? None of that sounded like the actions of any 'bad guys' I'd ever heard about. So, I started looking around me, *really* looking and asking questions." Chuck paused and took a sip of the green beverage in front of him.

"What kind of questions?" Nikita asked.

"The most foremost was why, but all kinds, really. I also started talking to the guards and found out some of the history between our planets that I hadn't known about before." Chuck paused. "Anyway, one day out of the blue, about ten months after my internment, Davenport shows up again with another man behind him and asks me to come with them."

"Asks?"

"Well, yeah. Of course, I don't know that 'no' would have been an option..." Chuck grinned. "They led me outside and Davenport remained behind while the two of us went for a walk, alone."

"Who was it?" Nikita asked, even though she was fairly sure of the answer.

"Michael." Chuck answered. "He introduced himself as we started walking."

"Alone? No guards? Just like that?"

"That's what I thought at the time, too." Chuck paused. "But let me tell you something, from what I've seen since he would have been able to defend himself fine even if I had wanted to try something."

"So what did he want?" Nikita asked then stated knowingly, "Information."

"Not exactly. He wanted to know if I'd be willing to help train their pilots." Chuck explained. "Michael said there would be no repercussions for saying no, but if I said yes, I would have much more freedom and I'd eventually be released if I proved to be trustworthy."

"You said yes to the enemy?" Nikita asked incredulously.

"I said no." Chuck grinned again. "I wanted to see if Michael was a man of his word."

"What do you mean?"

"He said no repercussions and I wanted to see if that was the truth."

"Was it?"

"Oh yeah. Nothing had changed after I said no." Chuck answered. "No privileges had been taken away, I wasn't locked up in solitary or beaten into submission like you're probably thinking."

"But in the end you changed sides."

"Yeah." Chuck confirmed. "Funny thing is Michael offered me the chance to go home after I'd kept my part of the deal. But by then I didn't want to. I'd made a life for myself here and I was, still am, happy with it."

"But you betrayed your own people to establish yourself here."

"You would see it that way." Chuck sighed. "Look Nikita, there's a lot you don't know. It's why I haven't come by to see you. I didn't think you'd be willing to listen to things that would skew a lot of what you thought you knew. Ask your father one day about the origins of the war."

"Ask my father?" Nikita echoed her bitterness obscuring Chuck's inference. "Thanks to your new friends I'll never see him again."

"Michael will let you go." Chuck argued. "He's a good guy, he's just angry but he won't be able to keep you for long."

"Really? I find that hard to believe."

"It's hectic right now with the final stages of the restructuring and all. But when things calm down a bit and he has a chance to think about what he's done, he *will* reconsider. You'll see."

********

The next time Nikita ran into Michael was again by accident. She was exiting the holodeck as he was about to enter. Nikita had decided to visit her homeland. Although it was painful to visit the lifelike recreation Nikita felt the need to do it every once in a while. Whenever she felt the least bit comfortable with her surroundings Nikita went to the holodeck to strengthen her resolve to get home by whatever means necessary. To her consternation, Nikita found that the need for these visits was increasing with every passing week.

Michael for his part, was about to use the holodeck for a workout. His brothers had programmed the holograms to match Michael's skill levels in the various types of combat he used to stay sharp. The need for holograms arose when one too many sparring partners went down with injuries.

This particular day had been a difficult one for Michael and he had come to the holodeck to let off some steam with one-on-one unarmed combat. 'Bumping' into Nikita now was the last thing he needed, especially given the scowl on her face and the fierce determination radiating from her body language.

Unbeknownst to Michael, Nikita's countenance was due to anger at herself more than at him. Michael had come to the holodeck dressed in his regular workout gear, black drawstring pants and tight black sleeveless t-shirt.

Nikita, who'd never seen her captor in anything quite so...casual, had unconsciously reacted to the man rather than to the actual person. Anger at herself for *that* reaction is what had brought the scowl to her face and an answering tired sigh from a physically and emotionally drained Michael. He'd come here after a long hard day and the last thing he needed was a confrontation.

Covering her embarrassment with the only weapon she has at her disposal, Nikita opened her mouth and spoke the first thing that came to mind. "You can't keep me here. I want to go home."

"Forget it." Michael answered, the weariness in his features suddenly dissolving into the blank mask his friends and foes alike knew so well.

"Why does everybody call you Michael?" Nikita asked out of the blue. Truthfully, the question had been in the back of her mind for a while and now seemed a good time as any to ask. She would *not* think about the reason for her desire to prolong the conversation any way she could without further alienating the man standing before her.

"What?" Michael asked, his confusion at the abrupt change of conversation evident in his features.

"Everyone refers to you by name."

"As opposed to?"

"Your title."

"You're upset that no one calls you Princess?" Michael asked amusedly.

"No, of course not." Nikita frowned. No one called her that even in her own homeland. "What I mean is that none of your...subordinates even calls you 'sir.'"

"A lot of my 'subordinates' are older than I am. And even if they weren't, I never liked titles of any kind. I prefer to be spoken to as a person rather than a title."

"What are you restructuring?" Nikita once again shifted the conversation abruptly while she thought over Michael's seemingly sincere explanation.

"Restructuring?" Michael asked, again baffled by the rapid shift of conversation.

"I keep hearing that you...you've all been busy restructuring."

"Our armed forces." Michael supplied, missing Nikita's slip of singular versus plural as he was too busy willing himself not to get captivated by her azure eyes and for once open and approachable demeanor. "We're combining them." He answered, realizing his mistake too late.

"Like us." Nikita finished bitterly, the glimmer fading from her eyes as she was unceremoniously reminded of her circumstances, and turned and stalked away, Michael watching her retreating figure with an inscrutable expression on his face.

After Nikita walked angrily away Michael mentally berated himself for ruining what had been an almost amiable conversation. As quickly as the criticism of his actions entered his mind, they vanished in the face of his anger at himself for caring about the hurt he'd seen in Nikita's eyes before she walked away.

Not liking at all where his thoughts were going, Michael keyed in some programming codes into the holodeck after checking to see where Nikita had 'gone' in her time on the holodeck. Michael ruthlessly shoved aside the pang of regret he felt when he saw that it was her homeland that Nikita had 'traveled' to. Considering that he felt justified in his actions, Michael was having a hard time keeping the guilt at bay.

Angry at himself for the seeming compassion he had started feeling for his enemy, Michael almost visibly shook off everything and forced his mind to clear in preparation for the one on one unarmed combat he'd programmed in.

Less than fifteen minutes later Michael shut down the program in frustration. He'd been distracted early and his holographic opponent had taken full advantage. Michael gave up on sparring and instead programmed in a solitary program.

A heavy bag appeared in the middle of the room suspended from a chain in the suddenly lower ceiling. A bench with a pair of fingerless gloves, a towel and a bottle of water laying on it followed nearby. Michael slipped on the gloves and willed himself to concentrate on his routine.

Just a couple of dozen kicks, jabs and punches later Michael's concentration began to slip again.

Michael's thoughts were a jumbled mess and his temples were pounding. The day had been long and arduous and the conversation, if you could even call it that, with Nikita had made things worse.

His day had started to go bad early. In the morning he'd met with Chuck to discuss their pilots' progress. As they were winding down Chuck brought up his former rulers. Specifically, he wanted to know when Michael was finally going to release Nikita and let go of the past.

After Michael answered with an angry and vehement "never" Chuck just looked at him askance and said he thought Michael was better than that. 'Besides,' Chuck had had the audacity to ask, 'Nikita really wasn't such a bad person was she?' Chuck had also thought to himself that Walter wasn't such a bad person after all, either. The older man had changed over the years, and for the better. But knowing how *that* comment would have gone over, Chuck wisely refrained from voicing his opinion on Walter Dunes.

At the time Michael had shrugged off the other man's comments. Chuck was an old friend of Nikita's and his perception was therefore skewed. After a brief lull following his conversation with Chuck Michael's day got progressively worse.

Just after lunch he met with Davenport and several other key members of his staff and trusted advisors. After the meeting Davenport had quietly pulled him aside and asked him what his intentions were with Ronak now that they were back at optimum strength.

When prodded, Davenport confirmed Michael's suspicions as to the state of mind of many of his staff. They had begun to feel that perhaps it was time to move on and cease the generation long war with Ronak. They knew he'd sent a message to Ronak saying that in Michael's eyes the war was over, they were even. Maybe they should just let it go at that.

To top things off, Davenport also commented on the growing affection the palatial staff felt for the Ronakanite princess. They understood Michael's need for revenge, but why did it have to extend to someone who had been just a baby when the war started.

As if the above wasn't enough, Michael had received word half an hour ago that Paul Wolfe wanted to speak to him on an urgent matter. The 'urgent matter' was what had finally driven Michael to the holodeck in the first place. When Michael contacted him via secured channels Paul appeared on his vidscreen and demanded to know when they would attack Ronak again.

Paul argued that the Ronakanites were weak. They hadn't recovered from the previous battle four months ago. Furthermore, Paul had it 'on good authority' that Walter's devastation at losing his only child was wreaking havoc on the man's psyche. He was doing so badly, it was believed, that he had relinquished control to subordinates.

In the meantime, Paul had added, he was sure that Michael's forces were ready as were his. Like Michael, he had recovered quickly and was ready to deal a death blow to an already staggering Ronak. All in all it was the perfect time to strike.

Michael told him curtly that he'll think about it and calmly shut the vidscreen off before throwing it against the wall and smashing it to pieces out of aggravation. A perfect end to a perfect day

If Michael had known who was hovering around Paul out of sight, but within earshot, the fierce headache he'd had all day would have gotten even worse. What Michael hadn't seen was Madeline in the background and her statement to Paul after the video conference was over.

"I told you he was weak." Madeline told Paul shrewdly.

********

Whatever could have been gained that day at the holodeck before the untimely comment was lost. After their conversation Nikita had withdrawn into herself again. All around her noticed it and left her alone.

Gradually, bit by bit, a fleeting smile or a humorous glint in her eye slowly reappeared. Of course there was one notable exception to Nikita's returning good humor, one who was never graced with her smile - Michael.

While in the past he'd purposely avoided her, Michael now found himself looking for her even though he knew what was coming. He couldn't help himself. But as soon as Nikita would notice Michael the glimmer would die or the smile would fade and a scowl or frown would inevitably take its place.

Michael wasn't blind, he saw Nikita's reactions and his heart died a little more every time it happened. He knew that it was fruitless to hope for anything, after all she was a prisoner and he her captor. His head might have accepted that as far as Nikita was concerned he deserved her rejection, but his heart was another matter.

Ironically, no one spoke of Ronak or releasing Nikita again. Michael didn't understand why but he was grateful. His guilt was eating him up as it was and he didn't need any further reminders. The reason for the sudden quiet of course, was the recognition of Michael's feelings for Nikita and sympathy for the countless 'rejections.'

Unbeknownst to all of them was the reason for Nikita's behavior. She was upset with herself more than Michael. Just two months after the ill-advised conversation, Michael was finally giving up his foolish notions and was almost ready to give Nikita back her freedom. Fate however, had other ideas.

********

One night, about six months after her capture, Nikita was awakened from a sound sleep by a pounding on her door. Waking instantly, she jumped out of bed and ran to open the door to find Chuck standing there in his pilot's gear.

"What's wrong?" Nikita asked, anxiously. Before he could answer an alarm sounded through the entire palace.

"Get dressed. Quickly. You're going home." Chuck answered abruptly once the sirens died down. He waited outside her door for a couple of minutes until a shocked but elated Nikita dressed.

"What's with the sirens?" Nikita asked once she came out of the room, following Chuck's furious pace to the docking bay.

"We're under attack." Chuck answered grimly as they entered the hangar.

"My father?" Nikita stated more than she asked then added. "Good."

"Not your father." Michael answered Nikita quietly from just inside the doorway where he'd been issuing orders through his communications earpiece while awaiting their arrival. He'd overheard her reaction and seen her expression of glee at the news. Even though he understood, given her situation, it still pained him more deeply than he thought it would.

"Then who? Someone else whose life you destroyed?" Nikita asked bitingly.

"Does it matter? You've got your wish." Michael countered stiffly without looking at her, his voice cracking. Burying his emotions he turned to Chuck and handed him the minidisk he was holding. "The access codes."

Taking a deep breath he turned back to Nikita to plead for his remaining family's life. "Can you take my brothers with you? Grant them safe passage? I know I have no right to ask, but they're innocent in all of this." Seeing her hesitation, Michael beseeched her, gaze sad and resigned, "Please."

"Alright." Nikita nodded, still numbed by the shocking and quick turn of events.

"Thank you." Michael breathed in relief turning as the doors opened once again, his younger brothers sprinting towards them before they were fully open, each one carrying a small bag.

"Are you sure?" Seymour asked, both he and Jason struggling to hold back tears.

"Yes. There's no other choice." Michael answered. "If you can't find them, don't come back."

"But..." Jason started to protest.

"No. Do what you have to do to survive." Michael interrupted. "Live." He finished then walked quickly out of the hangar and headed for the command center as the first explosions were heard in the distance.

"Why are we landing?" Nikita, sitting in the seldom used co-pilot's chair of their shuttle, asked Chuck. Tekonian shuttle crafts had been updated in recent years so there was no more need for a co-pilot. One person was enough to fly it, but rather than remodel, they left the civilian shuttles as is.

"We're picking some people up." Chuck stated vaguely, plugging in the access codes Michael had given him in the hangar before they launched. Once the computer in the compound they wanted to land in accepted the codes they were given permission to land.

The attack had already started and if they wanted to make it out of Tekonis' airspace before the battle reached them they had to hurry. Seymour and Jason were at the doors and helped direct their oncoming passengers aboard quickly.

Her curiosity getting the better of her, Nikita, exasperated by Chuck's grim silence, left the cockpit and went to see for herself who it was that was so important to risk stopping for.

To her surprise, Nikita recognized many of the people coming onboard. They had stopped to pick up Ronakanites that Michael had been holding captive. Not just the ones from the last battle six months ago but *all* them, fifty one in all.

After a brief reunion with her people a numbed Nikita stumbled back into the cockpit and sat down heavily, not minding Chuck's continued silence in the face of his intense concentration on flying them safely back home.

'Live.' Michael had said before he walked away and in to certain death at the hands of the new alliance of Paul Wolfe and Madeline Sands. Nikita had had no idea at the time that he had actually been granting life to more than just the people standing in the hangar.

Nikita was shamed by the fact that the thought of rescuing her own people had never even entered her mind in her eagerness to get home. But a man who had considered them all his enemy had the consideration, compassion and foresight to do it on his own even as *his* world was falling apart. She couldn't even say that it was simply gratitude for taking his brothers with her because Michael had given Chuck the access codes before she had agreed. He hadn't even used her people as a bargaining tool for her cooperation.

********

Once they were clear of the battle, Chuck sat back and breathed a sigh of relief. The rest of the journey would be easy. He plugged in their destination and watched as the shuttle made its way safely into hyperspace. Turning to his cockpit companion he noticed she had been quiet and withdrawn. He might have believed she had stayed quiet so as not to interfere with Chuck's flying, but the faraway contemplative look on her face belied that impression.

"What's wrong Princess?" Chuck asked, attempting to draw her out and find the reason behind her melancholy. "You're going home, your enemy's about to be defeated without you even having to lift a finger. So, why so glum?"

"I'm fine." Nikita was trying to convince herself as much as she was Chuck.

"Really?" Chuck asked skeptically.

"Yeah." Nikita replied more forcefully. "Just thinking about finally getting home."

"Was it really that terrible?"

"Michael is just getting what he deserves." Nikita evaded. "I'm only sorry he's taking his people with him."

"You have no idea why he didn't let you go earlier, do you?"

"Of course I do." Nikita answered. "He wanted my father to suffer."

"At first, yeah." Chuck conceded. "But then he fell in love you, Nikita. That's why he couldn't let go."

"What?!?" Nikita asked, stunned. "You're insane."

"Oh, please." Chuck reproved. "Everyone saw it."

"*I* didn't."

"Of course not." Chuck commented. "Doesn't matter now. But just so you know, he was going to send you home shortly anyway."

"Really?" Nikita asked skeptically, still struggling to come to terms with his previous revelation.

"Yeah, really." Chuck answered. "He finally gave up."

"Gave up? On what?" Nikita asked confused.

"On you." Chuck sighed. "Michael hoped you'd at least stop hating him, but he finally realized that would never happen."

"I didn't hate him." Nikita returned, talking more to herself than to Chuck.

"Could have fooled me." Chuck countered, having heard Nikita's quiet denial. "You have...forget it."

"Tell me."

"Fine. You avoided Michael like the plague. Shot daggers with your eyes every time you *did* see him. You never spoke to him other than to criticize or berate him." Chuck reminded her. "Look I'm not trying to convince you that Michael was right in what he did, but he had his reasons. Damn good ones, too."

"Like what?"

Before Chuck could answer, the computer signaled their approach to Ronak. "Strap in, we're about to land."

********

"Nikita!" A joyous Walter cried upon seeing his daughter exit the shuttle. Even though he'd seen her on the vidscreen from the cockpit of the shuttle when they asked for clearance, he still couldn't completely believe it until she was standing before him. Walter had been so anxious he hadn't waited for them to even get out of the docking bay. As soon as the outer doors of the docking bay shut he ran in and waited for the shuttle doors to open.

"Father." Nikita smiled and hugged him.

It was only then that Walter noticed the other fifty plus people disembarking from the shuttle, some of whom he recognized on sight. "How did you all manage to escape?"

"We didn't." Nikita began explaining only to be cut off as Walter noticed the last two passengers getting off.

"What are they doing here?" Walter asked, referring to Seymour and Jason then puzzled it out aloud. "Oh, I see. A trade. When Paul attacked he exchanged their lives for yours." His face hardened with hatred and he directed his gaze to the twins. "You can't stay here."

"Don't worry, we're not." Chuck answered before Nikita had a chance to say anything. "We're staying only long enough to refuel and we'll be out of here."

"We?" Walter asked surprised. "You've switched sides?"

"Yeah." Chuck affirmed.

"Why? How could you?"

"The truth came out." Chuck answered. "All of it."

"What truth?" Nikita asked then turned to Chuck. "And where are you going?"

"What do you care?" Jason asked as he and his brother came to stand by Chuck.

"We're going to look for our mother's family." Seymour answered Nikita's question. "They had some connections, maybe they could help. It's the only chance we've got left."

"Nothing will help you now. Not against Paul and Madeline." Walter returned harshly. "Your brother's probably already deservedly dead and your people will soon follow. Those two take no prisoners."

"Father!" Nikita cried, aghast at his attitude.

"You can't tell me you care what happens to them." Walter returned surprised at her tone.

"At the very least they're people. How could you be so callous?"

"Callous? After what they've done to you you're defending them?"

"No, of course not." Nikita countered quickly. "I just don't think anyone's death is cause for celebration."

"You're right." Walter sighed. "Let's just go. They can refuel without our help."

"Wait a minute." Seymour walked over to Nikita, pulling a small black pouch out of his bag.

"Seymour..." Jason protested.

"It was meant for her anyway." Seymour quieted his brother. "Here." He shoved the pouch at Nikita.

"What is this?" Nikita asked as she opened the pouch to reveal a beautiful ring, the stone matching the blue of her eyes. "You don't have to pay me." She misunderstood the gesture.

"My brother bought it, said it reminded him of you." Seymour told her. "He wanted to give it to you, but well, it's not like you'd have accepted anything from him other than his head on a platter."

"Keep it, use it to buy..."

"Look if we can't get help by asking, no amount of jewelry or money is gonna be enough to..." Seymour couldn't finish the thought. "Just take it." He turned away and walked back to his brother and Chuck.

********

Michael's entire existence was reduced to pinpoints of pain. Unfortunately, those pinpoints were just about everywhere on his body and in his mind as well. Not for the first time he wished he were dead. He'd *expected* to be dead by now, but Paul and Madeline had had other plans.

Michael had thought that his father's technological legacy had been forgotten. But he was wrong, very wrong. Paul and/or Madeline remembered his father's invention very well. They wanted it and knew that Michael was the only one privy to its location and design. He'd been the only one his father trusted with it.

Of course the two knew that it could very well have been a failure, but they highly doubted it. Michael's father's technological genius was a well-known fact. It was entirely possible that not only were his experiments a success but that there was a working model hidden somewhere on Michael's half of Tekonis.

Reasonably sure that it would have had to be hidden underground, Paul and Madeline had taken care to confine the damage to top world and had in the most part succeeded. Now all that remained was to pry the information out of Michael.

They had captured Michael not long after he had verified the escape of the shuttle containing Nikita and his brothers. Besides concern for their safety, Michael had another reason for making sure the three of them were far away. They were the only people that could be used against him effectively to force his cooperation.

As soon as he'd seen that Paul had joined his forces with Madeline's, Michael knew that fighting them was an exercise in futility, their numbers were too great. He'd given an evacuation order almost immediately and prayed that his people would get out.

As for himself, Michael stayed behind to ensure that as many as could get out did. He did as mush as he was able to, including directing the defense lasers himself in the hopes of distracting the enemy fighters so the escape shuttles could get through. Michael had seen over five dozen long range shuttles escape before Paul's forces broke into the command center and shot him with tranquilizers. When he realized that they weren't shooting to kill, Michael had known that they weren't doing him any favors.

He'd been right. Michael woke up in a small cell that for the next several hours plummeted to freezing temperatures then shot up to unbearable heat over and over again. He couldn't tell how long as he was stripped of everything except his pants, timepiece included.

On the brink of succumbing to the extreme temperatures, Michael's cell returned to normal environment and four large guards came to take him to another 'home.' Barely conscious and in no condition to put up any resistance, Michael was dragged to his new cell and unceremoniously dumped inside. Hoping that was the end of it, Michael was sorely disappointed. After checking the equipment in the cell, they strung him up by his wrists to a metal bracket in the low ceiling, just high enough to ensure that Michael's feet would barely touch the floor, adding even more strain to his upper body.

As per instructions, the guards then proceeded to land blow after blow to Michael's limp and defenseless form. Half an hour and several bone and rib crushing snaps later the beating stopped and Michael was left alone. He wasn't aware of the cessation though as he'd passed out well before.

When he awoke several hours later, Michael found himself alone. However, he was being monitored and even before he was fully awake Madeline walked in and the *real* torture began.

Madeline knew that Michael wouldn't break from the physical pain but she'd used the physical abuse to weaken Michael for the upcoming session. The secrets she wanted would be buried deep in the recesses of Michael's mind, unreachable without risking damage to it. Instead he would tell her on his own.

Madeline had had the guards attach a new 'toy' of hers to Michael's head while he was still unconscious. What this new invention of hers did was bring forth not only pain but an added something as well. The added bonus was evoking the most painful memories in the subject's mind and then replaying them over and over again until the subject screamed for mercy or lost their mind. In all her testing Madeline's machine never failed to illicit 'confessions' from the victims.

Impressed with Michael's fortitude, Madeline had to stop the session prematurely as he had passed out without screaming for 'mercy.' Less than ten percent of those 'tested' lasted more than a session and none lasted more than two sessions. Madeline was confident another session would bring forth the desired results. She was a patient woman but Paul Wolfe was *not* a patient man so she went to calm him down and assure him that it would take just a bit longer. If need be, Madeline had several distractions in mind, some of them enjoyable for her as well.

Michael awoke briefly an hour later but no one came this time. His conscious state did not last long, but before he did succumb to the darkness he realized that he was on the brink of madness, hearing shouting and voices he recognized but knew he'd never hear again.

********

While the shuttle was refueling, Nikita and Walter were walking away from the docking bay. Nikita was quiet on the walk back to the main part of the palace. Walter, believing Nikita's silence was due to relief at being home, and the overwhelming emotions that came with that relief, did not interrupt the silence but rather walked beside her, happy just to have Nikita alive, well and home, her tormentor defeated without his participation.

Nikita's feelings *were* overwhelming her, but they weren't the feelings Walter had expected. Nikita was remembering her time on Tekonis and more specifically the little amount of time she'd spent with her 'host.' She especially recalled the sad but hopeful, almost longing way he looked at her just before inevitably censured him.

Nikita also remembered allusions and comments made to her by Michael, Davenport and Chuck as well as others throughout the palace. The common theme early on in her captivity was that she was lucky to be treated as well as she was considering her parentage.

While the comments and disparaging remarks had all but disappeared after a couple of months, they had nevertheless stuck in her subconsciousness. Now, it was extremely important for Nikita to know exactly what was going on before she set on her next course of actions.

"How did the war start?" Nikita suddenly stopped walking and turned to her father.

"What do you mean, how?" Walter stopped walking as well and faced his daughter. "You don't remember? What did they do to you?"

"I didn't mean the last one, I want to know about the first one." Nikita answered.

Walter's eyes narrowed. "Why? That was over twenty years ago. What difference does it make now?"

"Father." Nikita persisted. "I want to know the truth. All of it."

"It was a disagreement, Nikita." Walter sighed. "Nothing more."

"A disagreement about what?"

"Teleportation." Walter finally answered when he realized Nikita would not let it go.

"That's still just theory." Nikita answered. There were rumors that teleportation was possible, but it had never been proven or so she thought.

"Michael's father made it work." Walter told Nikita, himself remembering being witness to the first test of teleportation all those years ago, before their peaceful coexistence was shattered by the debate and escalating arguing that ensued from the successful testing.

"So, how did that start the war?" Nikita asked, unable to connect the pieces.

"The invention *was* an incredible technological advance." Walter elaborated. "But it was also incredibly dangerous."

"What were you afraid of?"

"That eventually an entire fleet or army could be instantly teleported..."

"Was that the intention?" Nikita asked horrified by the implications.

"He said it wasn't, but..."

"You didn't believe him."

"I couldn't take the chance..."

"Michael didn't know that." Chuck interjected. He'd decided to talk to Nikita one last time before leaving, hoping he could convince her to help. He'd come up on them in the middle of the discussion and waited to hear the rest of the conversation. However, he couldn't keep silent any longer. "He thought you killed his father because you wanted the technology for yourself."

"No..." Nikita cried, leaning up against the wall for support, the implications of Chuck's statements shaking the very foundation she'd based her mind-set on.

Walter turned to Chuck. "Are you sure...?"

"Yeah, I'm sure and Michael had no more intention of using teleportation for domination than his father. He knew the ramifications and the fact that it had caused his father's death. He destroyed all the hard data a long time ago." Chuck answered sadly. "It doesn't matter now anyway. Michael's most likely already dead."

"But you don't know that fore sure?" Nikita asked hopefully.

"Before we entered Ronak's airspace I received a message from Davenport. He was on the last of the shuttles. Michael stayed behind to help ensure that the evacuation shuttles got out safely. Chris said they'd stormed the palace."

"But..."

"Forget it, Nikita." Chuck interrupted. "There was no resistance, Michael sent everyone away, he was the only one left."

"Maybe he escaped." Nikita tried to find some hope to hold on to.

"Davenport's was the last vehicle of any kind to escape." Chuck sighed. "Like your father said, they would have killed him right away."

"Not necessarily." Walter said. He still wasn't convinced about the Sameulles' motives, but it was obvious that one of his most trusted former pilots as well as his daughter were.

"What do you mean?" Nikita asked sharply.

"Michael worked on the teleportation with his father. He probably wouldn't need the hard data to recreate the technology."

"So?" Chuck asked. "What does that change?"

"Paul was there, too." Walter remembered. "I'm sure he also figured out that Michael knew almost as much as his father about it. I *know* Paul wanted that device for himself. The fact that Paul was involved was one of the reasons I didn't trust the potential for the technology in the first place."

"You think they'd try to get it out of Michael before..." Nikita trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.

"I think so." Walter returned. "Expansion was always Paul's goal and he was never hesitant about using force to do it. Teleportation would go a long way in attaining that goal."

"Then there's a chance that Michael's still alive." Nikita stated. "We have to help."

"How?" Walter asked. "We can't take on Paul and Madeline's combined forces. If it was just one..."

"There has to be something." Nikita argued.

"I'm not going to send our people into a full-scale war to save one person's life, especially *his.*" Walter countered. "I can't believe you would either."

"It's not just about getting Michael out." Nikita argued.

"What else *is* it about then?" Walter asked. He knew his daughter well, could see that she cared for her former captor, or at the least his people. But while he may have been able to see it, he certainly didn't understand it, especially as she was willing to risk the lives of her own people for the man who'd imprisoned her for six months.

Chuck, who didn't see the bleakness in Nikita's eyes as she thought about what might be happening on Tekonis while they argued, remained silent. He'd intended to plead Michael's case to Walter, but Nikita seemed to be beating him to it. Chuck was glad because she certainly had a much better chance of convincing her father than he did. But while he was grateful for Nikita's intervention, Chuck didn't understand it. Since when did she have any other feelings besides hatred and contempt for the man she was now trying to save?

"You think Paul and Madeline will stop with Tekonis?" Nikita asked. "If they get their hands on the teleportation technology who do you think they'll go after next?"

"Their closest neighbor." Walter finished. "Us."

"Exactly." Nikita nodded.

"And I'm sure they won't stop there either." Walter continued. "But they were both always so power hungry, I never thought they'd ever *cooperate* with each other let alone join forces."

"We all underestimated them and now Michael's the first one to pay the price." Chuck was disappointed but not surprised. It seemed that Nikita didn't care about Michael's survival, only the future safety of her planet. In the end though, the reasons didn't matter as long as they were willing to help. "But you're right, he won't be the last."

"That much I agree with." Walter conceded.

"What can we do?" Nikita asked her father.

"There may be someone. I haven't spoken to her in a while, but she's always had a standing military and they were very good."

"Will she help?" Chuck asked.

"I don't know..."

"But you *will* try." Nikita interrupted.

"Yes, Nikita, I'll try."

"Good." Nikita sighed in relief, knowing her father would do as he promised. She could tell he was starting to feel remorse at what had transpired over the years and knew that he didn't need much prodding because of it. Her father's help assured, she turned to Chuck. "Get in touch with the escape shuttles."

"What for?" Chuck and Walter asked almost simultaneously.

"They need refuge until they can go home."

"You're sure?" A very surprised Chuck asked before Walter had a chance to protest.

"Of course we're sure, aren't we father?" Nikita turned back to her father.

"Fine." Walter sighed in defeat. If they were going to bury the hatchet...

"So, who is this woman you're going to ask to help?" Nikita asked her father once Chuck left to impart the news to his adopted people.

********

"Walter." The woman on the secured vidscreen greeted. "This is a most inopportune time. I'm in the middle of negotiations."

"I'm sorry." Walter apologized, "But it's urgent."

"Yes, I can see that it is." She returned, the strain and tension evident on her old friend's weary face.

"I need your help, Adrian."

"Can this wait a bit? I'm almost finished with negotiations for some of my Tylium."

"I'm afraid not."

"What's wrong?"

"Paul and Madeline."

"What have they done?" Adrian Smythe asked, not exactly surprised. She figured those two would cause trouble, probably sooner rather than later. "I haven't heard anything yet."

"They only attacked a few hours ago."

"Who did they attack? Each other, or you?" Adrian asked.

"Neither." Walter answered. "They joined up in an attack on Michael."

"I see." Adrian said. "I never did believe Michael was in the same category as them."

"I know." Walter nearly smiled. She'd tried to convince him more than once over the years that a treaty with the younger man was a good idea. She'd argued that he was an ally worth having considering his close proximity to the other two, if only to keep an eye on them.

"So, what does this have to do with you?"

"I need to join the fracas."

"Why? Michael doesn't stand a chance against the two of them as it is. They don't need your help." Adrian misunderstood Walter's intentions.

"It's Michael that I need to help." Walter grimaced, still not used to the idea.

"Why? I thought you'd be more than content to let it play out, especially considering what happened six months ago." Adrian reminded Walter, knowing how painful Nikita's 'death' had been for Walter.

"Nikita's not dead."

"Now you've lost me."

Walter sighed and quickly explained the current situation to Adrian, finishing with, "Will you help? I can't do it alone."

********

Oblivious to the concern and actions on his behalf, the centerpiece of the unfolding events remained buried in his own nightmares - courtesy of Madeline.

Who was going to come for him? No one. He'd burned his old bridges and never built new ones. He'd sent everyone away in the hopes they'd survive a war of his own making. Michael's driving need for revenge and single-minded devotion to that revenge blinded him to his surroundings until it was too late. All Michael had now were regrets.

Adrian, a powerful but fair ruler in the next galaxy, had time and again offered Michael an olive branch that he repeatedly refused. She'd even tried to warn him, as did others, that he was in a precarious situation and needed allies. He ignored them all in his quest to avenge his family's destruction and now his entire people were homeless and on the run because of his selfish need for vengeance.

Being left alone with his nightmarish memories and flashbacks was no less than he deserved. Assaulted by his most painful memories, Michael could only jerk back in his chains, the physical pain paling next to the psychological.

He tried to force his mind to remember the good times, but thanks to Madeline's 'toy,' it didn't work. Any happy thoughts of his childhood were immediately chased away.

Michael remembered the day his father died. He'd been left behind in the palace, his father claiming he was still too young to fight in the seemingly endless war with Ronak. 'Work on the teleportation machines,' his father had told him before he left for that final battle. Frustrated at not being able to join the battle, Michael's last words to him were full of nothing but anger.

Immediately on the heels of this memory came another. He saw himself running to his mother's room, his grief at the news of his father's death overwhelming him, only to find her dead by her own hand.

His brothers were next. Michael recalled telling the seven year-old twins that neither their mother nor their father were ever coming back. The nineteen year-old heir to the throne grieved all night with his brothers. The next morning he shouldered the burden and the legacy left to him.

In one last fit of anger and grief, Michael had destroyed the catalyst for his family's ruination. He'd wiped out all data and hardware having to do with teleportation. All that was left of the technology was in his head.

Worn out after destroying all the hardware and the sleepless night that preceded it, Michael slid down the nearest wall and vowed revenge, his once vibrant green eyes turning bleak, his once expressive face devoid of all emotion.

Again Michael's thoughts shifted suddenly, this time to the even more painful agonizing recent past. He'd been dead inside for so long that the reawakening of his heart and soul had been slow and painful. But reawaken they did, thanks to the blue-eyed daughter of the enemy he'd sworn to kill. But the force of her hatred and contempt shattered any dreams or illusions he'd had of a future free of demons.

It had been this last realization of an empty future that had sent Michael back into oblivion and caused a delay in Madeline's 'interrogation.' Why bother trying to escape when there was nothing left to escape to?

His reality hopelessly distorted, Michael was oblivious to the sounds of battle coming closer to his cell. By the time the voices were close enough for him to discern conclusively, he'd slid into darkness one last time.

********

Locating and reaching Michael had been almost easy. Not expecting his longtime enemies to come to Michael's rescue, Paul and Madeline were caught completely unawares. The two were no match for the combined forces of Walter, Adrian and the Tekonian soldiers that had been aboard the escaping shuttles.

Barely a day after their devastating attack on Michael's people, Paul and Madeline were themselves devastated. By the time they had scrambled their forces it was too late. Not expecting any interference Paul had made the mistake of keeping his prisoner inside his palace walls rather than taking him to a remote location. He and Madeline had also made the arrogant mistake of relaxing their guard and allowing their soldiers conditional downtime, thereby decreasing response time even further.

The combined fleets and armies of Michael's rescuers had immediately and quickly surrounded Paul's docking bays and command center, not allowing any of his or Madeline's resting forces to launch.

Taking a 'no prisoners' stance, the invading forces contacted Paul and told him he and his partner had two choices - surrender or die. Realizing the futility of fighting, a still stunned Paul and Madeline had no choice but to surrender.

Adding to their shock and dismay was the discovery of the leader of this invasion. Striding purposely towards the two as they were standing, flanked by Ronakanite soldiers, in the middle of one of the docking bays, was a very much alive Nikita Dunes.

The only thing more surprising than Nikita's continued existence was the anger emanating from her as she asked for Michael's whereabouts. Any suspicions they might have harbored that she was there to exact her own revenge against her father's enemy were quickly laid to rest. The relief she'd shown upon verification that as far as they knew Michael was still alive was palpable.

Obtaining directions from Paul and leaving the others behind for cleanup detail, Nikita led a small rescue party consisting of herself, Chuck and Davenport to the cell where Michael was being held. There was no resistance on the way as everyone had been herded together while Paul and Madeline were being questioned.

Finally reaching their destination, Nikita was immediately grateful that she had convinced Seymour and Jason to stay behind on Ronak and help direct communications. The sight before her brought tears to her eyes and with baited breath she walked up to an unconscious Michael and felt for a pulse.

********

It had been a long week. Michael's rescue and the capture of his tormentors was just the beginning. After making sure that Michael would get the best of care for his injuries, Nikita set out to clean up the mess that was the aftermath.

Tekonis, Michael's half of it anyway, was all but destroyed. There was nothing left for his people to return to. There were two choices, either rebuild or relocate. With Michael out of commission, the decision fell unto his brothers' shoulders. Walter, with a bit of prodding from his daughter, had offered to take their people in. After much deliberation with Davenport and Chuck, the brothers had come to the conclusion that relocating was their best option.

They knew it wouldn't be easy, years of distrust and dislike would undoubtedly serve to hamper a peaceful coexistence. Luckily there was support not only from Nikita and Chuck but also from other Ronakanites who had been 'in touch' with the Tekonians in recent years.

Chuck had been but one of several respected Ronakanites who had found a new home on Tekonis. The freely given support of many of those who'd 'switched sides' went a long way in diffusing the situation among the people of Ronak and their new citizens. Adding the stories of the former prisoners who were returned home helped too, as did the uncovering of the 'misunderstanding' that was responsible for a generation long war. The prisoners of war who'd been sent home with Nikita had all told of the fair and humanitarian treatment they'd received during their imprisonment, further convincing each side to give the benefit of the doubt to the other.

Relocating to Ronak had solved another problem as well - what to do with Paul, Madeline and their followers. As much as they may have deserved it, Nikita did not have the stomach for killing them. Even Walter, remorseful for all the destruction that had begun with his contemporaries all those years ago had agreed on 'mercy.' It had been decided that both Paul and Madeline would remain on Tekonis with their people, fittingly left to live on the planet they had nearly destroyed.

Of course, there were several stipulations. Their weapons and fleet had been 'taken away.' Data and schematics for rebuilding hardware had been wiped out by Jason while Seymour had taken care of limiting their communications range. They'd effectively be trapped on the planet without any means of wreaking further havoc on their neighbors.

Other stipulations to further ensure their isolation and cut down on their opportunity for mischief included limited and monitored trade. Furthermore, monthly inspections would be carried out to confirm their compliance to all the rules imposed on them. Any departure would not be taken lightly and the penalties would be severe.

Both Shulans and Paul's Tekonians were given the option of relocating to Ronak on the condition that they agreed to remain under 'observation' until such time as they were deemed a non-threat. Surprisingly, many chose that option (including Paul's own son Steven), preferring scrutiny over the tyranny they had been subjected to under Paul and Madeline.

The reorganization of their galaxy took up much of not only Nikita's time, but Walter, Adrian, Seymour, Jason, Chuck and Davenport's as well. Each had a key role in the restructuring of the planets. The one 'duty' they shared was keeping a vigil by Michael's bedside. An unofficial schedule ensured that he would never be alone while he fought to recover.

Adrian's participation in this endeavor had not been that much of a surprise. She was always fond of the young man and knew he had been vilified and misunderstood by most. She thought it unfortunate that it had to come to all of this for the truth to finally get out.

Walter's participation was, to say the least, a surprise. He hadn't intended to, still wary of what had transpired in the last few days. But three days after the 'rescue,' he'd had several issues to discuss with his daughter and had found her sitting in the continuously occupied chair by Michael's medlab bed. She'd fallen asleep, exhausted by the long days and nights spent ensuring integration.

Before they had a chance to converse though, the figure on the bed interrupted them. A fever induced nightmare had gripped Michael suddenly and he cried out, the soft restraints the only thing preventing him from causing further injury to himself. He was reliving the most painful parts of his past that Madeline's invention had so recently brought to the forefront.

Watching and listening to the younger man's suffering, both old and recent, the last of Walter's wariness slowly fled replaced by regret for the past. Since then Walter had sat in the chair when no-one else was available.

A week after his liberation from the clutches of his former ally, Michael's fever had finally broken and his physical wounds were no longer life-threatening. Assured by the physicians that he would be regaining consciousness soon, the dosage of his medication finally reduced and his restraints removed, Nikita sat waiting, wanting to be there when Michael finally woke up.

********

"Hi." Nikita leaned over the right side of Michael's bed, her arms resting on top of each other along the edge, when she saw his eyes open.

"Hi." Michael greeted hoarsely in return, trying to focus and come to terms with what he was seeing. "Where...?" He began in a panic, thinking perhaps that she'd somehow been captured as well.

"It's ok. You're safe." Nikita read the worry in Michael's troubled green gaze. "You're in a medlab room on Ronak." She reached for the glass filled with ice chips on the bedside table and spooned some into Michael's sore throat after he nodded his appreciation.

"What happened?" A confused Michael asked after a few spoonfuls of the ice chips relieved his parched lips and aching throat.

Nikita explained softly and as succinctly as possible the events of the last week in answer to Michael's sweeping question.

"I don't understand." Michael admitted after Nikita had finished. "After everything...."

"Paul and Madeline had to be stopped."

"I see." Michael returned, looking away, unable to hide his disappointment despite his knowing that he had no right to feel it.

"Besides, I wasn't ready to see you die." Nikita continued.

"Why?" Michael turned back to Nikita, a glimmer of hope making its way into his eyes. Waiting for an answer, Michael's gaze traveled up and down Nikita's form then stopped at her hands. Her left arm was lying on top of her right arm and plainly visible was the ring he had bought for her but never had the opportunity to give. Lifting his still weak arm slowly, he reached out as Nikita silently followed his movements. Reaching his destination, Michael looked up questioningly at Nikita.

Nikita laid Michael's hand back on the bed twining her fingers in his. "I had it shrunk to fit a different finger." Nikita shyly answered his question in a roundabout way. "I hope that's okay."

"Yes." An overwhelmed Michael answered smiling, slowly but readily lifting Nikita's left hand and brushing his lips over her fourth finger, the one now sporting his ring.

********

One month later.

Nikita walked to the holodeck knowing Michael would be finishing his daily routine soon. He'd been out of medlab for three weeks now and his recovery had been remarkably quick. Just one week after he'd been released albeit under the head physician's protest, Michael had finally been granted access to the holodeck as a means of recovering his strength and stamina. A week in a sometimes induced slumber followed by another week in medlab had left him weak. The physician who'd reluctantly released him insisted that in exchange for an early release he had to take it easy for another week, otherwise he'd more than likely suffer a relapse.

Not knowing if *she* could survive a relapse, Nikita made sure that Michael adhered to his promise and wouldn't allow him near any exercise equipment. Remembering his daily workouts in his holodeck on Tekonis, she'd restricted his access to their holodeck as well.

Watching as he finished his workout, Nikita admired his physique and silently remarked that he had certainly returned to top form. As if reading her thoughts, Michael turned to her and smiled causing Nikita to blush furiously at where her thoughts had turned.

"Finished?" Nikita asked to cover her embarrassment.

"Yes." Michael replied, surprised at her appearance. They didn't usually meet until dinner. Dinner had been their way of unwinding after a long day, something which both of them had become very familiar with over the last couple of weeks. Usually Michael worked out on the holodeck while Nikita spent time with her father. After a quick shower, Michael would meet up with them in the dining hall.

They were hardly ever alone in the dining hall either, dinner more often than not consisting of the three of them as well as Michael's brothers. Sometimes Chuck, Davenport or some other high and not so high ranking friends joined them as well. Even Adrian had made a couple of appearances although the consensus was that she was visiting with Walter more than anyone else. There wasn't much laughter in the dining hall over dinner yet, but each day was less awkward than the last.

"Ready to go?"

"Yes." Michael repeated, waiting for an explanation for Nikita's unexpected appearance.

"I keep forgetting how talkative you are." Nikita commented dryly.

"Your fault, I can never get a word in edgewise." Michael smiled again, taking her hand and leading her out of the holodeck, then realizing she wasn't going to volunteer what was troubling her asked, "What are you doing here?"

"I thought we could talk." Nikita replied hesitantly.

"What about?" Michael asked, the tone of her voice compelling him to look down at her left hand to reassure himself that she was still wearing his ring before they started talking.

********

Nikita and Michael were in the holodeck sitting on a cliff. When he had seen the seriousness of her expression, Michael had turned Nikita back around to the holodeck, more private than the corridor they had been standing in.

Michael had no intention of programming any environment into the holodeck, but Nikita punched in codes that brought up Tekonis. Jason had programmed it in, a haven for him and his brothers when they needed it.

Right now Nikita and Michael were sitting side by side on a cliff overlooking the land that had once belonged to Michael. Nikita knew this was his favorite place and that he often 'came' here when he needed a break.

Michael still wasn't comfortable on Ronak. Besides missing his homeland he also felt like an outsider. Nikita saw it in his expression when it grew wistful or distant seemingly all of a sudden. He still blamed himself for turning so many lives upside down.

Even though Michael was far more than an invited guest he still felt like an intruder. Most of the time Nikita, his brothers or one of their friends was able to convince him of the folly of his feelings. Other times though, Michael would hear none of it and retreat here for a few hours of solitude. Nikita thought it was more for penance than for refuge, but she held her tongue, hoping he'd snap out of it himself. But now, after a month with little progress, Nikita ran out of patience, something she never had in abundance to begin with.

"The integration of our societies is going better than expected." Nikita began. "There's a lot less resistance than we thought there would be."

"I know how difficult this has been for you and your people." Michael sighed, misinterpreting Nikita's intentions. "Mine too. I'm sorry for being the cause...."

"That's not what I meant." Nikita interrupted, taking his hand in hers. "Yes, there are things you should take responsibility for. My father and myself, too for that matter. But you didn't cause *this.* It was only a matter of time before Paul and Madeline attacked all of us."

"But..."

"The truth of the matter is if the last seven months hadn't happened they would have attacked Ronak by now. And you know it." Nikita interrupted. "Take *your* blame, but leave the rest where it belongs."

"I'm sorry." Michael looked down at their intertwined hands, wondering yet again what he did right to deserve a future, let alone one filled with anything other than pain and loneliness.

"Stop apologizing." Nikita sighed in frustration pulling his chin up to face her, her blue eyes boring into his green ones. Pulling Michael closer she brushed her lips against his, moaning in delight when he deepened it. With much difficulty, Nikita finally pulled back, needing to resolve the matter she had originally come here to discuss first.

"What's wrong?" Michael asked when Nikita pulled back.

"Believe it or not, I came by to talk to you." Nikita sighed. "You're just very good at distracting me."

"Sorry." Michael smiled, not at all repentant.

"I'll just bet you are." Nikita returned his smile then got back to the matter at hand. "As I was trying to say earlier, integration is going very well."

"Yes, I remember."

"Well, you know that our military is mandatory as opposed to yours which was voluntary. I'd like to change our system. With the influx of additional personnel, there'd be enough volunteers to maintain at the very least the numbers we need, probably more. Seymour and Jason are still counting up the electronic signatures."

"Signatures?" Michael asked.

"I went ahead with a survey to see if the idea was feasible. I didn't want to broach the subject until I was sure there would be enough volunteers from both camps to make it work."

"I see." Michael nodded, saddened at yet another reminder of his situation. While he was glad that his people were settling in, he still felt a pang of irrational longing and pain that they were ready to abandon him and his ways so quickly. It seemed to him that they were more than happy to fit in and forget about him. But why shouldn't they? He'd brought them to this, hadn't he?

"Yes, well since the numbers are there, there's just one problem."

"What?" Michael asked tiredly.

"I said we'd both be doing the training and running the military without asking you first."

"You want me involved?" Michael asked, surprised. "What about your father? Certainly your military wouldn't approve." He paused. "No, Nikita you can't force this on them, it'd only cause resentment."

"Actually, they've already agreed." Nikita smiled. "Truth be told my father needed more convincing than the military."

"Really?" Michael asked skeptically.

"Let's just say that Chuck wasn't the only 'defector' who was happy in and impressed with his adopted home. He, Davenport and not a few others from both sides were quite vocal in their request for a joint effort." Nikita answered. "So, will you do it?" She asked, knowing that the way he answered would reveal how he really felt about his new home.

Rather than answer, Michael brushed his lips against Nikita's, his turn to groan when she deepened the kiss as she pushed Michael back away from the cliff face and down onto the grass.

Before he completely lost himself to her, Michael looked up and asked Nikita, "Are you sure?"

"Absolutely." Nikita answered. "Are you recovered enough to..."

"Absolutely." Michael answered then cupped Nikita's face and slipped his tongue into Nikita's welcoming mouth.

Michael, content to let Nikita set the pace, initially at least, dropped his hands from her face and began caressing her arms, working his way down from her shoulders to her wrists before venturing to her back, reaching underneath her shirt. To his pleasant surprise, Nikita wore nothing underneath the shirt. No passive lover she, Nikita busied herself stroking up and down Michael's backside, slowly pulling his tank top up, all while never breaking their kiss.

Neither of them very patient given how long they'd been waiting for this, it wasn't long before Nikita's shirt and Michael's tank top were lying on the grass beside them. A few more minutes of caressing and fondling and they were both ready for more than their tongues to mate.

Pulling impatiently on the drawstring of Michael's pants, Nikita fought with the knot while Michael stroked her through the thin material of her loose skirt. Finally freeing him from the confines of his pants, Nikita pulled them down along with his briefs, Michael pausing his own ministrations to help.

Once Michael was undressed, Nikita broke away from him just long enough to admire the sight before her. Impatient now to see all of Nikita, Michael pulled her back to him, gently flipping her over onto her back then tugging her skirt and panties off slowly, alternately caressing the outside and inside of her legs as he went.

Needing to be inside her as much as she needed him, Michael supported himself over Nikita with one arm and reached down between them with his other hand finding her wet and more than ready for him.

Sliding a finger inside her core, Michael smiled as Nikita moaned, lifting her hips and urging him on. The smile faded quickly, replaced by a sharp indrawn breath as Nikita literally took matters into her own hands. She locked her heels around his lower back, one hand cupping the back of Michael's neck, the other stroking his already throbbing arousal.

Slow and gentle would not suffice, the wait for this first time too long. Pulling Michael's head back slightly, Nikita breathed urgently, "Please," before she fastened her mouth on his again.

Complying quickly as he was on the edge himself, Michael let her guide him inside, both of them gasping and groaning at the sensations. Michael supported himself on his elbows, while Nikita locked her legs behind him, bucking her hips to meet his thrusts and squeezing his buttocks in a mute plea for harder and faster.

Obeying her silent request, Michael thrust faster and deeper, bringing them both to the brink quickly. Knowing he wouldn't last much longer, his infamous control slipping quickly in the face their urgency, Michael tore his mouth away long enough to urge, green eyes blazing, "Come for me."

Grabbing the back of his head, pulling gently on his hair Nikita, her blue eyes blazing as well, breathed a plea of her own, "Come with me."

Both undone by the other, they came together, each crying out the other's name in ecstasy.

Long moments later, lying on their sides face-to-face and still entwined, their breathing returning to some semblance of normal, Nikita asked, "So, can I take that as a yes?"

END

********

Epilogue

Two years later:

Michael was standing in his robe on the balcony which was facing the palace's private grounds, looking out at the star-filled night. Sleepless and anxious, his thoughts drifted. He was anxious about tomorrow, then remembering that it was already early morning rather than late night amended, today. A hand on his shoulder brought him back to the present and he turned to find Nikita standing beside him. She'd woken when she turned over expecting Michael's warmth and found herself alone instead.

"Can't sleep?" Nikita asked. "You're still worried about the ceremony?" She added gently.

"Yes." Michael closed his eyes momentarily. They knew each other so well already.

Nikita extended her arm to Michael's left hand, the one sporting the platinum band on his fourth finger. "You were accepted a long time ago." She played with the band, a not so subtle reminder of their wedding over a year ago.

They'd had a small private ceremony, family and a few close friends. After the ceremony though, they received a very warm reception in the palace's main entertainment hall. All in attendance were there to wish them luck and no ill will or feeling had been in evidence even before then.

"That was different. Your own personal decision." Michael countered softly. "Today I become one half of the monarchy."

"One third." Nikita corrected with a smile, her other hand automatically going to her stomach, stroking the new life that was growing there. Three months along and she was just starting to show.

"One third." Michael smiled, in spite of his melancholic thoughts, his own hand closing over Nikita's. "Still, I don't why your father insisted...."

"He insisted because that's the way it should be." Nikita interrupted, turning slightly and embracing her husband. "It's the way *our* people want it."

Walter and Adrian had grown closer and closer over the last two years. At first they were allies with only widowhood in common. Walter's wife, Belinda had died after a long illness while George, Adrian's husband, had died in a tragic accident while testing a new shuttle.

They had gradually found more and more in common and then friendship turned into something more. After a recent inspection of Tekonis that they'd supervised together, Adrian had accompanied Walter back to Ronak for a few weeks, having left her own planet in the very capable hands of her second in command, Mick Jones, freeing her to enjoy her first real vacation in quite a few years.

Ironically, it had been the current situation on Tekonis that had been the catalyst for today's event. Paul and Madeline had seemingly given up their quest for 'more.' They'd found something better - someone they *wanted* to share whatever they had with - each other. While they were still not exactly trusted, the last year and a half or so had been calm and peaceful in this part of the galaxy.

Talk of Paul and Madeline's 'union' had somehow segued into a more personal conversation and Walter had ended up proposing to a *very* willing Adrian. Before she'd accepted, it was rumored, she'd actually asked Walter what had taken him so long.

Their imminent ceremony was what had put Michael in his current state. Walter was marrying Adrian in a few short hours. He and Adrian had decided to move to her planet. Walter was 'retiring,' abdicating his Ronakanite throne in favor of the next generation. He and Adrian still planned on being around often to baby-sit the grandkids. Yes, they meant plural and expected several more in the coming years. Adrian had never had children of her own and had already come to regard both Nikita and Michael as family. She was more than happy to volunteer grandmother duties - as long as nobody *called* her grandmother.

"But..." Michael tried to argue.

"But nothing. Everyone already knows you belong, except *you.*" Nikita admonished gently but firmly. "Get over it."

"Get over it?" Michael repeated questioningly.

"Yes." Nikita nodded, tugging at his hand, leading him back inside their bedroom. "I'll help you."