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Dreaming of Forever...

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It began as a simple dream...one in which she and Michael escaped from Section together, to start a normal life. One in which their lives were not always hanging in the balance; one in which the only occurrence they had to dread was leaving each others arms in the morning.

Over the years that simple dream had grown into a complex fantasy. Fueled by Michael's continued presence and ignited into shooting flames by a simple touch or word of encouragement on his part.

Right now, lying next to Michael, Nikita was living part of her fantasy...

***********

It had all begun early that same morning, when she had awoken to the sound of footfalls approaching her bedroom door. To her surprise, it was Michael who approached, and the expression on his face was unlike any she had seen on him before. It was definitely emotional and in retrospect she could only describe the emotion as excitement. Even as he attempted to keep himself composed and fought to retain his blank stare Nikita sensed in his eyes and in his body language an emotional reaction he was fighting hard to reign in.

"What's wrong?" she had asked, slowly getting up from her bed. The strangeness of his expression and the unbelievability of his answer almost caused her to fall off the edge of her bed.

"We're getting out." He said, still fighting to retain his blank stare, but failing miserably. Nikita's attempt to stand failed and she resigned her self to sitting on the edge of her bed - in shock. "How, that's impossible!!"

Even as she said the words, she knew that she was wrong. If Michael said they were getting out, he had found a way to do it. Her mind began to reel with the possibility. For a few seconds, she actually believed they might really be escaping for good, but then reality kicked in and she considered the fact that it might simply be a mission - then she realized that it didn't matter. Mission or not, they were getting out, even if only for a short time. With her mind still reeling, it took a few moments for Nikita to realize that Michael was speaking.

"...explain, get dressed." No sooner had Michael said the words, then he was on the move again, this time heading for her living room, slightly outside her view. His entire demeanor screamed agitation, so Nikita dressed quickly, followed him into her living room, sat down cross-legged on her couch, and watched him pace up and down in front of the couch.

"Michael, what's going on? How are we getting out, and when?"

Over the next few hours Michael explained the situation. Nikita watched him as he spoke, paced, and fought to retain his cool exterior. Although he did an excellent job, Nikita had trained herself to look for cracks in his calm, and as he spoke of them escaping together, those cracks became all too apparent...

And now, here they were. In a tiny, run-down farmhouse in Belgium. Away from Section, if only for a couple of days. Their first evening had been a glorious mix of beautiful moments, new experiences, and learning about each other. And each moment had fueled Nikita's dream. She realized, moment by moment, hour by hour, that this was probably the closest she would ever come to her dream of a normal life with Michael. As the evening progressed and the sky darkened into the gray of approaching clouds, the two of them lit candles and headed up the dim stairway and into the simply decorated bedroom, where they would sleep, together.

Nikita's hands were trembling as she placed her candle on the table next to the bed, and sat down on its edge. Her mind was filled with memories...Memories of other missions when they had been together this close...Memories of her escape from Section and their night of passion on the barge before her return...And vivid recollections of the many times she had dreamed this moment. Taking a deep breath, she decided something had to be said and since she knew he wouldn't be the first to do anything, she decided it was up to her.

"How is this going to work?" There, Nikita thought, its out in the open. Now all she had to do was wait for the answer, and try to keep him from seeing her hands shake and the tears in her eyes...

"We can be careful, take things slowly." Nikita sighed. Typical Michael response. What she really wanted was for him to take her in his arms, and convince her that this night would never end...

"There's another option..." she said, trying to catch Michael's eye and failing, "I mean, we can live this day like it's our last..."

"It very well could be...." After finally succeeding in catching his eye Nikita was stunned by the intensity of his stare, and yet, in his eyes, she still did not find the answer she was looking for...or any answer at all. In exasperation she turned away from his stare, stretched out on the bed, and closed her eyes, not seeing Michael's shadow looming over her as she drifted off to sleep...

It couldn't have been more then an hour later, when she was awakened from a dream. And as her eyes adjusted to their surroundings, and her mind tried to figure out exactly where she was and why, another part of her mind was recalling her dream and wishing it were real...

The topic of her dream was not terribly surprising considering her current situation. In this particular dream, much like in her overall fantasy, she and Michael were together, happy, and safe from Section. However, this one was a little more specific, it contained a run-down cabin in Belgium, dinner by candlelight, quiet French music, and Michael carrying her up the stairs to bed...

As her mind completely cleared from sleep...she realized that that was the point at which she had awoken...the point at which the reality of her dream had slipped into fantasy. Sighing in frustration, Nikita rolled over on her side, so she could see Michael clearly on the other side of the bed.

What she saw made her breath catch her in throat and tears spring into her eyes. Michael looked like an angel. The soft moonlight shining through the window shone luminescently on his fair skin and highlighted the delicate curls that framed his face. His arms were crossed behind his head so that it looked as if he had been lying awake and sleep had caught him by surprise. But what struck her most was the soft, almost peaceful look on his face.

As she stared at it, she realized she had never really seen him sleep before. They had been on missions together. A couple of those had even called on them to sleep together, but as she looked back she could not think of one moment when he had slept - or at least that she had seen. Either she had gone to bed earlier, or fallen asleep before him and always, always he was gone or out of bed before she got up in the morning. She fleetingly wondered if that was some kind of defense mechanism for him. Whether ensuring that no one saw his sleeping form helped him to maintain his cool exterior, and ensured that no one saw him vulnerable.

The vulnerability was what kept her staring now. His face in the moonlight was almost childlike in its innocence. It showed nothing of the stress he lived day by day, and nothing of his patented blank stare. His face in sleep showed more emotion then his face awake, and she was able to read it without looking in his eyes. There was even an almost smile forming on his lips, if she looked hard enough. Nikita fought the urge to reach out and touch the hair the lay on his forehead, the unruly strands that were usually as reigned in as his emotions. Instead she settled herself down more comfortably in the crook of her arm and began to think of what her life might be like outside of Section, with Michael...

As she thought, her thoughts became dreams. And as she drifted back into a welcome sleep, she dreamed those dreams of Michael...

************

On the other side of the bed, Michael was awakened with a start by a painful cramp in his right arm. As he pulled his arms down from behind his head and began to massage his sore arm, Nikita's sleeping form caught his attention.

Curled up with her head lying on the crook of her arm, she looked like a small child. He half expected to pull down the covers and find a teddy bear cuddled in her other arm. She looked...innocent...much like she had when he had entered the white room on her first day in Section. It wasn't the first time he had watched her sleep, but it was the first time he had allowed his mind to drift away from the mission at hand and allowed his heart to take over his thoughts...

As sleep finally cleared his mind, Michael began to feel how cold it had become in the cabin while he had been sleeping and wished he had thought to keep the fire burning longer.

Then his thoughts and eyes turned back to Nikita and he noticed that her bare legs lay partially uncovered by the blankets. Slowly and carefully, so as not to wake her and have to answer the questions that he knew would appear in her eyes, he leaned over and fought to untangle the blankets that seemed to have wrapped themselves around her upper body in a warm embrace. After finally succeeding in disentangling her from the sheets he carefully placed them back over her, and brushed several stray hairs from her face as she cuddled deeper into the blankets and sighed.

Beautiful, he thought to himself. Beautiful and so full of life. So unlike me...

What Nikita didn't realize, would probably never truly know, was that although he did not know all her thoughts and feelings, he knew and understood her fantasy about a life for them together. He knew and understood because he held a similar dream - one of a life for them together, innocent, and away from Section forever. However he also knew how painful that fantasy life could be, because he had lived it with Elena, and watched it go up in smoke.

Michael's fantasy, unlike Nikita's did not bring a smile to his face. Michael was a realist, and in all things avoided being even the slightest bit optimistic. His life in Section had taught him that. And not for one moment did he ever believe that his fantasy was attainable. Until now.

As he watched Nikita sleep, Michael realized that this might be the closest they would ever come to his fantasy. In his mind he knew that the dream he held was unattainable. But, in his heart, which he talked to rarely, but which sometimes intruded on his rational thinking, he knew that he would grasp any moment he could with Nikita in order to make even one aspect of that dream real - if only for a fleeting moment.

In the early morning hours of the day before, when Michael had entered Nikita's apartment he had been conflicted; his mind jumping back and forth between excitement and agitation. Excited at getting to spend some uninterrupted and unmonitored time with her. Agitated at the idea of showing Nikita a side of himself that she had never seen...and hopeful that she would like what she saw.

Michael knew that he had done many things over the last few years that would justify Nikita disliking him at least, loathing him at most. And yet, she continued to hang on. She continued to trust him, she continued to believe in him...she had proved that when she had attempted to help him get over losing Adam. In spite of all that he had done to her, all the pain he had put her through, she still wanted to be his friend...and more.

Michael did not love easily...especially since Simone. He had fought to keep Elena out of his heart but his failure was made complete when Adam was born. Try as he might to deny his love for her, he could not help but love the woman who had given him the one thing that Simone could not - the one thing that Section would not allow them to have together - a child - a son - a little piece of immortality.

But both of those loves were different from the one he held for Nikita. She had invaded his heart and tortured his mind from the first day he had set eyes on her. She gave him purpose in a life that had become, over his 14 years in Section, almost robotic in its monotony. And she continued to surprise him by her audacity and by the way she had retained her soul...the part of her he loved most of all. He often wondered where she got her strength and how his life in Section would have been different, how he would have been different if he had had her strength when he first arrived.

Brushing away a few more errant strands from her soft forehead Michael placed his arms back behind his head and waited for sleep to engulf him in peace again; away from his tumultuous thoughts- hoping, no, praying to a God he no longer believed in that he would be able to keep his Nikita safe, no matter what their future held...and that maybe, just maybe they would be allowed by the Fates, by God, by Section, a few more precious moments like this one. He also hoped that the remainder of the night passed without the nightmares that usually accompanied his tumultuous thoughts...

************

Michael's nightmares did not leave him alone for long. His peaceful sleep was interrupted by his tortured mind. A mind capable of creating for Michael a personal Hell. Replaying the events from his life that had slowly chipped away at his fragile soul...the terrorist bombing that had brought him into section...this training as an operative...the loss of Simone... Elena...and especially of Adam. But in the forefront of his mind in the darkness of this particular night was Nikita - and the times he thought he had lost her forever...

The dream he was having in the early morning hours of what would become a difficult and genuinely painful day was worse then almost any possible torture. For in his dream, he was helpless.

It was not that he was unable to fulfill his mission - his confidence in his ability as a field operative was much too deeply engrained for that. He was not even helpless in the matter of saving his own life, worthless as it was. But this dream, this Hell, had him helpless to save Nikita.

In his dream, Michael's methodical mind went over and over the possibilities and over and over the mission profile, but each answer was a failure. The profile was airtight - Nikita was going to die - there was no way he could save her this time. Section had won. They were about to chip away another piece of Michael's soul...

The profile was solid. Operations had outdone himself this time. He had ensured that there was no way for Nikita to come out of it alive. The profile actually called for her death in order for the mission to succeed. If Nikita lived, the mission failed...and if the mission failed a terrorist went free and thousands of lives were put in danger. In his warped way Operations was forcing Michael to chose between Nikita and thousands of innocent lives.

It all depended on which Michael ranked first. And this was part of his dilemma; this was what made him break out in a cold sweat, and pace his office frantically, trying to find an answer. He knew what should rank first. But deep down, his heart was screaming for him to do something, anything to change the inevitable. Because his heart knew - more then his mind - what did rank first: Nikita's life. Hers and hers alone among all the thousands that would be endangered on this mission.

Michael's dilemma was interrupted by a knock on his door, and as he reapplied his blank stare, Nikita entered the room. Holding up his hand as a signal for her to keep silent until the "ears" in the room were dampened, he pressed a button under his desk, and motioned for her to sit down.

"Michael..." she began without attempting to sit down, but approaching his side of the desk, slowly and carefully.

Seeing the look on her face Michael looked away; knowing she must have already read the profile, and also knowing what she was thinking, Michael quickly interrupted her, in an attempt to dissuade her from what he knew she was going to say.

"Nikita..."

"No Michael. Stop. I know what you're going to say and dammit, for once something is going to go my way. I don't want you to get me out of this. I know what it will cost, I've read the profile - and I know there are no loopholes. I know that if I live, thousands will die - now and in years to come. And I can't live with that. I can't. Just leave it be...Michael, look at me...LOOK at me."

Michael looked up. Maintaining his blank expression, even though his heart and soul were being tormented by the realization that this time, she was not going to let him help her. This was it, the end. In 6 hours, Michael would return to his office, and be alone...completely alone. Again.

Michael's mind struggled in his dream to find a way to convince Nikita to let him help her stay alive, for herself, and though he'd never admit it, for him...

His nightmare shifted view suddenly and unexpectedly and he experienced no confusion by the sudden shift of events. All he experienced was fear, and overwhelming sadness. For the next view in his dream was played out in his mind like the final scene in a melodrama and in it Michael was painfully aware of his helplessness. He continued to tell himself Nikita wanted it this way, and yet had to struggle to keep himself from leaving the mission van and going to her rescue. In truth, only two things kept him stationary in the van: Birkoff's calming voice over his headset, on a private channel, and his fear of missing Nikita's last moments. As he struggled, his subconscious mind and his body betrayed him. The mental blanket he used to cover his emotions and the fragile aspects of his tortured soul had been yanked away...to reveal fear, fear at failure, fear at losing Nikita for good this time. In his dream, he ripped off his headset, and left the van just in time to see the French chateau explode in the darkness of the night...with his Nikita inside. In his dream...he screamed her name...

And, in the darkness and silence of the night Nikita was awakened by someone screaming out her name...

************

Nikita awakened with a start, blinking her eyes in sleepy confusion. As she looked over at Michael's sleeping form and saw the sweat on his brow and him bodily struggling against something she couldn't see, she heard again what had woken her...

"Nikita, no!!!! Nikita..." As he called her name again, Nikita saw something she had never seen before, and knew she probably would never see again - a tear running down Michael's cheek followed closely by a second one.

She gasped and stared, but resisted the temptation to wake him. That was the last thing he would want. Michael relied on his blank stare, on his ability to show as little emotion as possible. Preferably, no emotion at all. If Nikita awakened him now, he would have to admit he was human and Nikita knew that that was unacceptable to him. Instead, she sat up carefully next to him on the bed, and wiped the tears of his face. Watching his face betray a stream of emotions she had never seen him portray before. Fear. Anger. Sadness? That one was hard, Nikita though, watching Michael's brows furrow and his body tense, What exactly was that expression?...she needed to see his eyes to be sure...

Eventually, Michael seemed to calm under her touch and her gaze, as if he sensed her watching, and caring. Seeing him calm, and drifting back into a peaceful sleep, Nikita laid back down next to him, allowing herself to give into one final tempation - she curled herself into the crook of Michael's arm, and to her surprise - and delight - felt Michael's arm tighten around her shoulders as she drifted into an uninterrupted sleep... And as she drifted she knew, that no matter what happened, or didn't happen, in their future, she had her memories of tonight. And for now? For now she would continue to dream of forever...