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Self Contradictions

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Sometimes, being on the verge of tears seemed like the permanent condition of her life. It had happened throughout her entire childhood and during her life on the streets, as well; being in Section, it seemed, had only worsened the problem. . . . This wasn't the result of weakness, however; it was more that Nikita was a human, feeling person who had existed in a series of inhuman, painful environments.

Today, the tears she was repressing were motivated by frustration, rage, and grief. Michael was trying, once again, to prove what a soulless bastard he could be.

She had no doubt that Julia's family would be slaughtered at Michael's command. Worse, she knew she was powerless to help the child--again. The only thing she wanted to do at the moment was go home and cry in peace; she just needed to hold herself together for awhile longer--to be let alone till she made it to her car.

That wish, however, was going to go unfulfilled. Unknown to her, Walter had spotted her in her single-minded attempt to cross Section and escape, and he hadn't liked what he had seen; she was pretty obviously in bad shape. "Hey, Sugar!" he called out cheerfully, just as she was passing.

Nikita closed her eyes and willed back the tears. She took as unobtrusive a deep breath as possible, swallowed hard, and turned to focus on him. "Hey, Walter," she said in a failed attempt at brightness.

"Been a few hard days lately," he noted, sounding casual.

"Oh, Jesus," she thought. "Why does he have to make small talk *now*?"

"Yeah," she responded aloud. "In fact, I think I'm just going to head home. . . . See you later." She half-smiled and tried to exit.

"Good idea." He caught up with her, putting an arm around her shoulder. "But why don't you let me buy you dinner first?"

Nikita swallowed hard again, trying to hold herself together; she stopped walking and pulled away, turning to him slightly. "No, Walter. . . . Thanks. I just really want to get some rest."

"You will," he smiled. "But let's get some supper first. . . . I insist."

His eyes gave her his real message: "The only way you're getting out of this is to make a scene in the middle of Section."

Nikita understood and was too worn down to argue. She tried to smile.

"Okay."

"Good." Walter hooked his arm back around her and led her off, making light small talk.

45 minutes later, they were seated at a small Indian restaurant, waiting for their food. The place was slightly run down, and its clientele was an odd combination of yuppies and lower working class; it was the sort of restaurant you only noticed or knew about if you were initiated to it by a friend. They were in a back corner, enough away from the other diners to allow for some privacy, if they talked softly.

"Okay, so spill it, Sugar. What's wrong?" Walter demanded gently.

Nikita took a sip of her water and stared down at the table, not answering.

He sighed. "C'mon, . . . this is me. What's up?"

She shook her head and looked at him briefly. "I don't know that I should talk about it, Walter."

"Is it about the little girl?" he asked.

She refocused on him completely, surprised, then smiled with sad understanding. "Birkoff told you."

"When you obsess over the image of a girl you think is dead for three quarters of an hour?" He nodded. "Yeah, he told me."

She shook her head. "It's not really that important," she denied, looking at the table again.

"Uh huh. That's why you look like Operations just cancelled your dog." He leaned toward her. "C'mon, Sugar, you know you can trust me. . . . Talk."

She sighed. "I tried to find her."

"And did you?"

She nodded.

"Was she dead?" Walter asked gently.

Nikita shook her head and looked back up at him. "No, she was fine--not a scratch."

"That's good news, right?" He looked confused.

She nodded, looking away. "It should be."

"So?" He was beginning to feel a bit exasperated.

She took a deep breath and looked at him, her hands on her glass. "Her family's a bunch of petty thieves. They thought I was a cop, so they grabbed me."

"But you got away."

She nodded. "With the little girl's help."

"So everything's okay."

She shook her head and stared at the glass. "They heard my code name," she murmured.

Walter let out a loud sigh and leaned forward to rub his forehead, resting his head in his hand.

She looked back up to him. "They're harmless, though, Walter." Her voice sounded pleading. "They don't know what the name means." Her eyes were becoming increasingly teary. "They shouldn't have to suffer for my mistake."

He forced himself to look at her. "Sugar, you know that's too big a risk." She rolled her eyes in exasperation and mild despair. "Jesus, you sound just like him."

"Who? . . . Michael?" Things began to fall into place for him.

"Yes!" she stated under her breath before shaking her head. "Can't we go for a single day without slaughtering people? Do we really have to kill every innocent we come across?"

Walter sympathized with her; he wished he knew a way to encourage her. He knew Section, though; the danger of exposure was too great. "He's just trying to protect you."

Nikita gave an astonished laugh. "`Protect' me? You call slaughtering innocents `protection'?" Her voice was low but harsh.

He tried to touch one of her hands, which were now on the table, but she pulled it back. "I'm not defending the moral justice of the act; I'm not sure such a thing exists for us. Michael's been molded by Section, though; they both work with expediency and probabilities, . . . and he wouldn't do *anything* to risk your life."

"Not even act like a human being," Nikita mumbled, looking down again.

"Sugar," he leaned closer, "I'm not saying the things he does are right, but he does love you."

"He's got a shitty way of showing it," she stated bluntly.

Walter nodded and reached for one of her hands. "He's got a *terrible* way of showing it," he agreed, "but Michael," he sighed, pausing, "Michael's been inside himself a long time, Sugar. He has trouble seeing outside his own head."

"No kidding."

He rubbed her hand.

She sighed. "Look, Walter, I know he cares," she looked back up at him, "but the only way he ever seems to show it is by hurting me. I mean, if I were dating some abusive jerk, I'd just dump him; I wouldn't stick around. Michael shows his feelings for me by giving people pain. Sometimes, I think he'd destroy *planets* full of people, if it seemed an expedient way of protecting me." She shrugged. "How can I reconcile that? I don't think love and pain should go together."

Walter smiled sadly. "You're right; they shouldn't, but they usually do." He was obviously thinking of Belinda; Nikita gave him a half-smile and patted his hand. "In real love, the people involved don't go about hurting each other on purpose, but something usually does it for them. There're separations and needless arguments and sometimes malicious, jealous people out to get them. . . . Any of those things can hurt."

She looked at the table, as he continued. "It's the people we care about the most who can hurt us the deepest--one way or another, even if they don't mean to. You know that." She looked at him again. "You're right; Michael is totally fucked up. He got lost a long time ago." He put his head close to hers. "You're the closest to truth he's seen in years, but you can't expect him to immediately see things your way--even if he should."

Nikita sighed and put her head down on their clasped hands, just as the food arrived. Walter nudged her, and she looked up at the confused waiter.

"Boyfriend problems," Walter filled him in. The waiter nodded, set down their food, and left.

Nikita propped her chin on her hand, ignoring her food. "I know what you're saying is right, Walter, but I can't just pretend that everything's fine. I can't ignore this."

"I'm not saying you should," he answered, beginning to eat. "But, if you're in love with a guy like Michael, you can't expect things to be easy. Neither of you's going to change."

She laughed slightly and began to pick at her meal, staring at it. "He's trying to change me, though, Walter. He's trying to make me empty . . . soulless." She seemed very sad, as she took a small bite, looking up at him.

"I'm afraid he's winning, too."

Walter put down his fork and focused on her seriously. "Michael wants you to change about as much as he wants to lose a limb. He might make noises about it to please Operations, but it's all an act. . . . And Sugar," he leaned over, putting his hand on her chin, "they're never changing you."

She smiled, slightly weakly, and turned her head to kiss his hand lightly, before looking back to her meal.

Nikita's feelings were still in turmoil--her love and hate for Michael battling. As pleased as she was that he cared, she couldn't forgive his way of showing it; she didn't want to be the excuse for his cruelty. She hoped, too, that she wouldn't get so worn down by him that she would one day end up following the terrible path he laid out before her. . . . She couldn't stand having the price of his love be her soul.

Walter watched her eat quietly; he could see that he hadn't entirely convinced her, as much as he wanted to be able to. He sighed and returned to his meal, vowing to keep a closer eye on her in the future--for her sake, for Michael's, and for his own.

***********

It was an hour or so after Michael's confrontation with Operations when he saw Walter return from his supper with Nikita. . . . He had to crush the urge to debrief him. Instead, he took a deep breath and went to lurk in his office.

He seated himself behind his desk. He knew that his feelings for Nikita were obsessive, but he didn't know how to stop them. The only thing he could think of that would allow him to change this pattern was if he and Nikita had met and fallen in love outside of Section--if they had always been free of it; if they had had choices, had had the opportunity to form a life *together*, then he could have trusted her--trusted himself enough to allow her to live unmolested.

Michael sighed. That wasn't and never would be the case, however. He had lived in Section for too long--had been molded by it for too many years to ever be so open. To survive here, he had made himself into a control freak--had crushed all his loose, freedom-loving tendencies. . . . He had made himself into the sort of person Nikita hated most.

It had all seemed necessary, though--for both his survival and his sanity. Competence in Section, after all, wasn't enough; in fact, even absolute perfection was only just acceptable. You had to know everything--to understand every angle and contingency, without overstepping your bounds; only then could you hope to be alive one more day.

Of course, Michael wasn't entirely sure why, early on, he had wanted to keep living; there had been nothing in life he particularly enjoyed. . . . His survival instinct had always been strong, though--whether he had had a logical reason for it or not.

He had always known, too, that survival in Section was based on power. Those who possessed--and guarded--it here, without overtly challenging the status quo, lived to grow old; those who ignored this basic rule died quickly. Michael had decided to survive, and, therefore, he knew he needed power; it was a simple equation.

There was, however, another reason for his decision. If he hoped to live in relative autonomy, he also needed to pursue this path. The higher you climbed, the less you were questioned. With power, therefore, he could also be left alone, for the most part--outside of missions, and this was something he needed desperately--especially in those early days; the more he was let alone, after all, the easier it was to keep what soul he possessed to himself.

Things had changed since then, of course. He leaned back in his chair and sighed. Once Simone had arrived in his life, he had needed a position of strength in order to negotiate what privacy they were allowed. And, after her assumed death, he had needed it in order to be allowed to grieve in peace.

Michael's real hunger for power had begun with Nikita, however--a fact she would have hated. Just to keep her alive, he had struck deals, made compromises, called in old favors. It was becoming increasingly obvious, as well, that he would need to climb even higher in Section's ranks in order to continue to keep her safe.

All of this was his reason for confronting Operations today, for making damn sure that his position as next in line went unchallenged. He had no particular desire, beyond his need to protect Nikita, to run Section; he was more than willing, otherwise, to follow orders--whatever they might be. If he were to keep her alive, though, he would have to climb higher; otherwise, she was doomed.

He couldn't help thinking, too, about the possibilities for them, if he were in charge. With Operations' position, Michael could truly protect her; he could take her off of missions--would have to, for his own sanity, if he wasn't there to look after her--and move her to a safer area . . . perhaps profiling.

He would also, though, have to keep her from Madeline's more powerful job in order to protect her from the strain interrogations gave her soul.

Even that plan would have problems, though. While they could be together more permanently, in this scenario, he would still have to conceal much of his day-to-day life from her, or she would question his methods and motives into a standstill. . . . Just being the quiet submissive under him in their personal relationship--as this plan would require--would wear her down, as well--would diminish her. He sighed. Even his fantasies were problematic.

None of this was applicable, anyway, however. He wouldn't dethrone Operations.

He did feel, though, that Operations really should have sympathized with his motivations; after all, he, too, was inextricably bound to a woman, one for whose protection he had risked Section's security several times. Michael knew, however, that the similarity ended there. While he doubted his own ability to love at times, he knew that Nikita, at least, provided what depth of emotion he couldn't.

The same wasn't true of Operations and Madeline; for Section's leader, his relationship had begun because Madeline had intentionally created and fed needs in him--mostly lower ones. Nikita, conversely, had opened up parts of Michael--higher parts--which had always existed but had lain dormant for many years; there had been nothing calculated about it, on either of their parts.

He sighed again. His desire turned him into a control freak not just over himself and Section but over her, as well. And this, he knew, made her hate him. She had no wish to be controlled; she wanted, instead, to be part of a pairing of equals--to be loved.

Michael closed his eyes. That couldn't happen here, however, as even his fantasies proved. Section was about ruthlessness, brutality, and power plays, not love and equality. He opened his eyes again. He couldn't be the man she wanted, because that man couldn't survive in Section; he would be a liability. He couldn't meet her as a partner with whom she could form a whole; he could only take her as the dominant lion choosing its mate. . . . And Nikita wasn't much for being submissively chosen.

He sighed. He had had to engage in a power struggle with Operations today in order to protect her. . . . She would have hated it.

Because of her, because of his continued protection of her, he knew he was being much more closely watched. That had started back when he had chosen her as his recruit and had only increased from the moment, near the end of her training, when Operations had threatened Michael's life, as well, if she failed. When she had been brought back in, too, just six months ago, they had used Jurgen to increase his pressure to perform; lately, furthermore, Operations' growing desire to kill her soul had made his position even more difficult.

Of course, it wasn't like he wasn't threatening her soul as well, regardless of how little he liked doing it. Just today, in fact, he had suggested that she slaughter a family of relative innocents in order to protect herself. He had known, and inwardly wished, of course, that she would refuse, but the request itself had hurt her.

His feelings about this were torn. On one hand, he wanted Nikita to defend herself no matter what--to keep herself alive, regardless of whom she had to destroy to do it. At the same time, however, he needed her to keep her soul. It was, after all, the one thing which kept him alive; he couldn't bear her losing it.

His computer screen flashed silently at him, and he sat up to check the message he had been waiting for: Julia and her extended family were dead; Nikita was safe again. Michael typed an acknowledgement and then erased all evidence of the message.

Nikita had known he would do this, and he had seen her despair--her hate for him grow. She had no desire to be controlled by anyone--especially someone as cold and ruthless as him. She didn't want to be defended, didn't want to be killed for.

It didn't matter, though; it wouldn't stop him. Michael knew that he would kill anyone he felt he had to in order to protect her. Small children, babies, old women--none of them would be safe if their existence might endanger her. If an entire country needed to be sacrificed to keep her alive, in fact, he would do it without a second thought. She was--she always would be his first priority. . . . And he knew, painfully, that she despised him for it.

Michael shut off his computer, sighed, and rubbed his eyes with a hand. Operations had asked him earlier whether he ever thought he needed any help. He smiled slightly, ironically, and looked up again. Yes, he did. He needed her. And if he had to kill to prove it to her, he would. . . . Even if it made her hate him.