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Torn Souls

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There weren't words which could truly explain the way she felt after this latest mission; "sickened," "violated," and "betrayed" were all completely inadequate. . . . The only way anyone could really begin to describe it, she supposed, was that--emotionally--she was in Hell.

Nikita had taken several showers, once she had returned from her mission. They had been interrupted more than once, however, by the emotional interference her recent programming had caused; several times, after all, part of her mind had been convinced that it was Michael's scent which still clung to her . . . instead of Karl Peruze's.

She closed her eyes and continued to rock herself slightly, as she sat on her couch. She was finally back in her own apartment again, yes, but it couldn't help the way she felt.

She was no longer sure, in fact, that she would ever feel quite whole again; this mission, indeed, had taken so great a toll on her that she still wasn't completely certain yet of just how far its influence reached. . . . In some ways, indeed, she was still a little in shock.

She tried to sort through some of her torment. All of it, of course, centered--in one way or another--around the fact that she had suddenly--with a brutal, appalling sort of astonishment--recently found herself to be a valentine op.

She swallowed heavily, trying to repress her rising nausea. She had tried for so long to avoid this fate--to escape it. She would, she knew without question, infinitely have preferred to be dead than to finally have been subjected to this. . . . It wasn't even a choice.

She took a deep breath, as she shook a little with anger. But no--Michael had seen to it that her escape hadn't happened. . . . *Michael* had turned her into a whore.

She clenched her teeth with fury. The vicious slap she had given him today was *nothing* compared to what she wanted to do to the soulless bastard. Hell, if a knife had been handy in Madeline's office, he would have needed a very skilled plastic surgeon to repair him--if she hadn't simply left Section's doyenne little choice but to call in housekeeping to clean up was left of him.

She shook her head slightly. It was too bad there hadn't been some weapon nearby, really--she decided. Maybe then, at least, Section might have canceled her in repayment and gotten it over with. . . . They would have been down two very valuable whores, of course, but their masters had the rest of the world left to defile to take their places.

Her breathing was shaky, as her emotions warred. Her rage at Michael was overwhelming; it boiled through her blood--was burning into cinders everything inside of her it came into contact with.

Her heart, especially, didn't even feel like it existed anymore; there was just a blackened, painful hole where it had once been. What *was* left of her was only the shell of a woman--was nothing tangible or real; she was simply a rotting husk . . . just like that unspeakable bastard she had been fool enough to think she loved.

She snorted out a breath in enraged amusement, as she shook her head--her teeth biting her lower lip slightly. Michael had been right--during their recent, misbegotten week together--when he had told her that she needed to leave him, that she needed to not care about him--that to stay with him would only bring her pain.

He had been absolutely right, she realized now. What an idiot she had been to think he mattered in the least, to think that he cared at all--that he was even capable of it.

She was sure, of course, that he would have some excuse--that Section's rulers had threatened her life or some such nonsense . . . like it could matter now. Whatever his excuses, they always simply returned to the same damn thing: he had taken the action he had not because he wanted to protect her, not because he cared, but because he didn't want to let her go--because he didn't want to lose his favorite toy. She shook her head. Well, he could go find some other bitch to call to heel; she was through with him.

Just as she thought this, however, just as the vitriol which Section had built up in her--to an incredible level, over the last few days--reached its critical point, she felt as though she were on fire with sudden, intense, physical pain. She closed her eyes and bent over, her hand over her heart--which was beating far faster than normal.

She rocked there for several seconds, overwhelmed, before a shocking new thought managed to snake its way slowly through the pain. . . . Maybe she still did have a heart. . . . Maybe the damn organ wasn't dead yet, after all.

The pain slacked off a little a second after this realization, and she sat up a bit more, opening her eyes again and taking a deep breath. Despite what had just happened, she wasn't worried about her physical health; she knew that this was just an externalization of her emotional turmoil. Possibly, too--she realized, she may have just tried to go against some barrier her recent brainwashing had implanted. . . . Anything was possible.

No amount of tampering with her emotions, however, could force her to not hate Michael at the moment. That would be asking *far* too much of any sane individual.

This was, indeed, the worst of any of his betrayals; *nothing* before it could even begin to come close. He had beaten her, shot her, almost seduced her--had manipulated her into turning on her friends and herself. He had even expected her to quietly accept the fact that he was married and had a child. . . . And she had survived and accepted it all.

But not this. This was too far, even for him. . . . She was beginning to feel, indeed, like nothing would ever get her past it.

One of the things about this latest, unspeakable betrayal, too, which had hurt her the most was that he had promised--during their one week of communion together--that he wouldn't let this happen, that he would help her avoid this tormenting fate, no matter what.

He had even been keeping that promise, too, until now--had helped her find a way around this same, depraved fate during the Markali mission. But now . . . now, *everything* was different.

What possibly hurt her the most about this, as well, was that she had always known, on some level, that it would happen eventually--that one day he would turn on her, would give her up to this sickening fate. . . . She supposed she was grateful, really, that they hadn't simply staked her out and told Peruze to do what he wanted with her, while Michael had watched calmly from the sidelines--but the emotional effect of what *had* happened hadn't really been that much different.

In many ways, of course, this wasn't a first for her; she had been raped before. At least this time there weren't any physical bruises to heal, she supposed--but the spiritual ones, she knew, were more than enough on their own.

In a way, too, she knew that she was somewhat lucky that she had been drugged--that she had been only partly consciously aware of what was happening. She had--this way--had some more control in what had occurred, . . . but it could hardly have been said to have really been her decision.

No--she knew, this way had been both better and worse than those times with her mother's boyfriend. She hadn't been overpowered physically on this mission; she hadn't been beaten. . . . She wasn't even completely certain that she could wholly term what had happened with Peruze to be "rape," but--at the same time--it certainly hadn't been consensual sex, either; anything, after all, that required drugging and brainwashing could hardly be said to be "consensual."

She sighed. She knew, of course, from personal experience, that the victims of such crimes tended to blame themselves--and she knew, as well, that what had happened here hadn't been her fault.

The fact remained, though, that she had been manipulated to have a real part in it, besides simple overpowered submission. . . . And, for the life of her, she truly didn't know whether this made her feel any better or not.

She was furious, certainly, that her mind and emotions had been warped into taking part in this. While it lessened the physical atrocity of it somewhat for her, it made the emotional impact almost more overwhelming.

The worst part, in fact, about her previous, traumatizing victimization by her mother's boyfriend had been the absolute loss of control--the inability to claim a right over her own body, the fact that it was no longer hers to give as she chose. With Peruze, too, though, Section had done absolutely the same thing; they had taken possession of her mind and emotions--had warped them so that they could force her to displace her passion for Michael onto the object of their choosing.

All of this terrified her unspeakably. She had told herself, after all, since her entrance into Section, that she would never have to worry about this sort of thing again--that she was now strong enough to overpower any attacker. She had, indeed, had proof of that when she was attacked by that pervert during her first year as an operative; that had led to a complete debacle, of course--ending with O'Brien's recruitment, but it had still proven irrefutably that she was no longer really at the mercy of the same sort of predator she once had been.

Now, however, she was being forced back into the traumatizing category of "victim" once again. Peruze, it was well known, was not above raping whatever woman he wanted--usually sharing her with his brother. And, while she hadn't been overpowered by him, she had been forced to sleep with him, nonetheless--had been overpowered by her own chemically-manipulated emotions.

She closed her eyes and lowered her face into her hand, feeling incredible disgust. This mission had been the worst of any of the ones she had experienced--*all* the rest now seemed almost pleasant in comparison. . . . It sickened her to think, as well, that it was probably only going to go downhill from here.

She shook her head and looked back up. She couldn't imagine, unfortunately, that she would be free in the future from valentine ops, now that the pattern had begun; she wasn't even sure whether upcoming missions would happen in this same way again--with her being brainwashed into cooperation, or whether she would now simply be told to seduce whoever the creep du jour was on her own.

She swallowed heavily, the thought sickening her, her eyes tearing a bit. She prayed, of course, that this wouldn't happen; she wanted desperately to believe that she wouldn't simply be whored out at whim in the future, . . . but she feared very much that this would prove to be an unfounded hope.

One thing was certain, however; Michael could no longer be trusted--could no longer be turned to for help of any sort. He had proven that to her now in the most painful way possible.

He had been right, in the fear he had expressed during their week together, as well; he had broken his promise to her--had given her up to the indescribable depravities of Section. As much as he had claimed to care then, none of that had stopped him from this unspeakable desecration of . . . whatever the hell it was that lay between them.

She tried to look back on that week now, tried to remember some of its beauty--some of the love she had felt then. . . . But it was no use. Section--*Michael* had defiled it, had used her feelings to turn her into a whore--and he had, even more painfully, willingly taken on the role of her pimp.

She closed her eyes again, for a second. She wanted to be able to cut Michael out of her emotions completely, wanted desperately to be able to rid herself of her feelings for him. They had never--it seemed at the moment--done anything but bring her pain.

Her eyes closed more tightly, as she swallowed heavily. Part of her, though, knew that this wasn't true; part of her--a very tiny part, right now--still felt the love he had shown her so openly, so undeniably honestly, during that week. . . . Part of her still loved him to the point of pain.

She sighed and opened her bloodshot eyes. She hated this contradiction in herself, hated that she was constantly, inescapably caught between hate and love with him. She wanted release--wanted her life to be simple, . . . wanted to be able to either despise or adore him, without the lingering doubts.

As much as she wanted to, though, she knew she couldn't escape the truth about him: his soul was divided; he was two people.

It wasn't multiple personalities with him, however--ones who had only a vague understanding of each other. No. His personalities lived together--existed together at all times; even when one was dominant, the other was always there somewhere--was noting everything which its twin took part in, with incredulous disgust.

As much as she hated this, as well, she knew it to be the truth. There was one Michael who was gentle and caring, and this was the one she loved--was the one she *adored*, passionately and instinctively. This side of him was one she always wanted near her, was the person she always wanted to go to for comfort and love. . . . But this side, too, was the personality he submerged.

The one which was dominant was despicable and incapable of love--was, in fact, *completely* unsalvageable. He had willingly sold his soul long ago, . . . and he never seemed able to rest in his battle to steal hers, as well.

It was this dominant side of Michael who had betrayed her yet again on this mission, she was well aware. And it was this Michael she would willingly kill--would happily dismember, given anything like the chance to do so.

This Michael, indeed, had sold her body like a prostitute's. He had pimped her to Section, because he enjoyed his domination of her, because he refused to let his favorite toy go. . . . And it was this Michael for whom a simple, rough backhand to the face hadn't *begun* to express her disgust.

She snorted slightly. Maybe he was right in this need for her he seemed to be expressing, however--she decided; after all, finding someone who could be pushed around as much as she had been and who would still be there for more might be a problem, if he let her die.

She closed her eyes once more and sighed, disgusted with the entire subject. This was the division in her soul--was the tug-of-war which seemed to be viciously ripping her spirit in two. Every time she felt a hate for him so strong as to make her feel ill, indeed, some small, wounded part of her would weep for his gentle side's comfort--would want *desperately* to be held in his arms, while the warmth of the love which flowed from him healed her.

Perversely, though, it never worked like this. Every time she felt her love for him flow through her, this depraved side of him would hurt her unspeakably and ruthlessly, instead; every time she thought she loved him, this other side would help orchestrate some outrage against her--one which damaged her soul to the point where it could no longer be fully repaired.

She refocused on the room once more, shaking her head. What was there for her to do, anymore? How could she ever hope for sanity, when her soul was torn and twisted, when she could neither entirely love nor hate the man she always came back to?

All she could truly do, she supposed, was *try* to distance herself. The part of him she loved was a part he was unlikely to ever show her, after all--was one this depraved side of him would betray in a second, given *any* opportunity to do so.

She closed her eyes for a moment and focused on holding back her tears. There was no hope for them, truthfully--not while he was always willing to hurt her, if ordered to. Until he learned that it was better to let her die than to take part in defiling her, indeed, they would *never* have a future.

She swallowed heavily and forced her eyes back open. Michael had hurt her too badly this time. She wasn't even certain she would heal. Even if what had taken place with Peruze hadn't *quite* been rape, in physical terms, it had been, irrefutably, in emotional ones.

She shook her head. There was no way, then, that she could continue to be close to a man who saw her as having so little value--to one who was so willing to give her over to a known rapist, rather than chance not following the despicable orders his masters had given him.

She took a deep breath. There was no future for them, she knew; she had to accept that. Michael belonged to Section and Section only, by his own--repeated--choice. Any other allegiances, for him, were only transitory. . . . And so, therefore, was their love.

Her emotions had been seesawing for hours--for days, by now. It didn't matter, it wasn't--couldn't ever be--enough that he might simply regret what he had done to her, now that it was over; you couldn't excuse defiling someone's soul with a simple, "I'm sorry." She shook her head disgustedly. He would have to learn that someday.

Of course, it wasn't like he was really trying to apologize on this one, for the most part, but she suspected that was only because she had made it so obvious that she didn't want him to--that he wasn't welcome anywhere near her. In the van back from the mission, in fact, he had tried to approach her, at one point--to explain, she supposed; he had had that look--like a little boy who realized that he had done something wrong, . . . but only after everything was long over and the damage was done.

She hadn't let him apologize then, however, hadn't allowed him to explain--had moved across the van and away from him, before he could even try. She didn't want to hear it--now or then. . . . Whatever his goddamned excuses were, he could keep them to himself this time. . . . She wasn't interested.

She shook her head, as her mind changed tracks slightly; she laughed vaguely. The bastard, she knew, had even been listening in to her encounters with Peruze--had heard every gasp and moan. For as relatively quick as those encounters had been, she hoped to hell that they had hurt him even half as badly as they had her. . . . He deserved that and more.

Her fury was beginning to come to the fore again. It didn't matter why he had done it--it *never* would. *Nothing* could ever make this right; nothing could ever make the hurt of this lessen.

She shook her head. She would survive all this, of course--she supposed; she really had no choice not to, unfortunately--but her more tender feelings for Michael had taken a serious, possibly even a life-threatening, blow. Only time would tell whether they survived this together, . . . and, right now, she honestly didn't give a damn whether they did or not.

She looked up distractedly, her focus half-landing on the abstract light fixture she had chosen for one of her walls. She was certain, for the moment, that she had finally purged the desire for Michael from her soul--that she had been shown, once and for all, that this . . . predilection would lead her nowhere. . . . The fact that this belief completely contradicted her feelings of only a minute before wasn't really something she was--understandably--willing to think about, at the moment.

As she looked at this blank piece of art, however, her mind began playing tricks with her--began to betray her again. The image of Michael seemed to be painted there--along with various words which were altogether too appropriate to her feelings, at the moment; "love," "hate," "obey," and many others stared out at her, along with his image--tormented her again with her own, internal conflict.

She stood up and walked closer to it, to see if she were imagining things, but the images simply seemed to get stronger. Even when she looked at the other prints in her apartment, she couldn't escape them; they were there, wherever she looked.

It was then that her fury truly took hold. She couldn't stand this manipulation any longer. If she couldn't tear that bastard Michael apart limb from limb, then she could at least take her justifiable rage out on the image of him that Section had planted in her mind. . . . It was the *least* of what she wanted, at the moment.

She didn't know, of course, that this was exactly the reaction which her unknown observers had been hoping for. She didn't know that this was precisely the response which Madeline had calculated she would have.

Had she known, though, it would only have added to her fury. All she wanted, after all, was an escape from manipulation and abuse, . . . and all she received, instead, was a constant increase in Section's demonic plans for her.

Her message, really, as she tore apart the symbols of her recent defilement, was that she wanted it to end. She wanted to be let alone to decide her own emotions, without having them twisted to her masters' own ends.

The message they received, however, was more what Madeline wanted to hear--that her willful subordinate was now through with Michael, that she would no longer have anything to do with him, would no longer turn to him for help, under any circumstances. . . . Fortunately, however, for both Nikita and the man who seemed incapable of proving that he loved her--and despite everything that Nikita consciously believed of her own emotions, at the moment--Madeline was wrong. . . . But it was only in the months to come that either of them would actually manage to discover this important fact.

***********

He had never felt more ill before. Nothing he had ever done--either in his time with Section or in his days before it as a terrorist--had ever made him feel so despicable, so completely lacking in soul. . . . No depravity he had ever committed had even come close to subjecting the woman he loved more than life to a desecration this great.

Michael was sitting in his office, was unwilling to go home. At this point, he was simply trying to find work to do to avoid having to face the place where he had, not that many weeks ago, allowed himself to be so human with her; he couldn't face the accusations of seeing the bed they had called their own, of all of the places where they had made love so passionately--so soulfully. . . . He couldn't face the depth of the betrayal he had just been part of.

He had hurt her often enough before, he knew--had committed almost every atrocity there was to commit on her. He had beaten her until she was bruised and broken, until she could no longer stand under her own power. He had led her to believe that they could have a life together, only to reveal in the cruelest ways that it was all a lie. He had forced her to betray and to give up men she cared about--either out of jealousy or because of some random order. . . . But none of it had *ever* come close to this.

He closed his eyes for a second and swallowed back the bile that was rising in his throat--before forcing himself to refocus dimly on his office. He had always told himself that this--*this* was the one thing which he would never do to her, that this was the one atrocity from which he would always protect her, whatever the cost to them both. . . . But he had lied--to both himself and to her.

In the end, too, all it had taken to convince him to be part of this ultimate defilement of her soul had been one clinically-precise sentence from Madeline: "Nikita's long-term value as a cold op. Will be diminished greatly if she doesn't learn to expand her skills." He let out a tired, disgusted breath and closed his eyes again. He had known immediately what she really meant, however: "Nikita needs to learn to be a whore. If she doesn't, we'll kill her."

This, then, this one deceptively simple sentence had been all it had taken for him to willingly agree to take part in whoring the woman he loved. He opened his eyes and shook his head very slightly. . . . There could never be a creature to walk the earth who would ever be more filthy than him.

He swallowed heavily again. His love for Nikita was so strong, was so intense that it shuddered through his soul; it held him together when there was nothing else to go on for. Her purity of spirit--her light was the only thing which could remind him, at these times, that there *was* some purpose in living.

Now, however, he had taken the flame of her spirit and had calculatedly wrapped his hand around it to snuff it out. . . . The fact that it hurt him like hell seemed only appropriate.

He hadn't known, it was true, exactly what the process was by which they would force his betrayed beloved into valentine ops. He hadn't asked. . . . He supposed the truth of it, really, was that he hadn't wanted to know.

He *had* been told that they would drug her--that they would play with her mind and her emotions, that they would manipulate them in order to fulfill their end game. . . . Beyond that, however, the details had been meaningless to him.

He had been thankful, he supposed, that they were at least going to alter her somewhat--temporarily--before they expected her to go through with this depraved task; in some small, sick way, this had been a blessing. . . . At least, they hadn't expected her to sleep with some target without the "benefit" of drugs.

None of this, however, made any of it any less sickening; there were so many others, after all, who they could have used for this mission. Section never ran low on female valentine ops.; there were hundreds of them in Section One alone, thousands if you included the other Sections, as well. While some of them were in play at the moment, others weren't. There were probably almost a hundred at any one time who would have been free to take on this sort of work. . . . There had been *no* need for it to be Nikita.

He knew, though, that none of this had mattered to Madeline; it had, indeed, been utterly inconsequential to her. She hadn't been concerned with Nikita's long-term status, either--would probably cancel her, if the opportunity arose. . . . That had only been her bait to lure him into an unspeakable betrayal of the woman she knew he cared for.

No. Madeline's real target here hadn't been the Peruze brothers or the anthrax they hid--anthrax he knew very well would not be destroyed but which would be held by Section in order to be used on whatever target they might find disposable in the future. Her real target, indeed, had been Nikita.

He closed his eyes once more. He knew, furthermore, that Section's executive strategist had not chosen her target randomly. She had chosen her, instead, because of *him*.

Michael held his breath for a second and fought an overwhelming wave of nausea. He couldn't afford to suddenly be sick in the middle of Section; the cause would be too obvious. He had to maintain control.

After about a minute, he managed to open his eyes once more. He had always known that his love was poison--that the people whom he cared for ended up being the targets of unspeakable pain. He understood, as well, that, were it not for his love for her, Nikita would never have suffered half of the indignities she had been forced through. . . . But, as soul-crushing as so many of them had been, this one went beyond all the rest.

He swallowed heavily once more, fighting the illness he felt. Madeline, he knew, had been targeting Nikita for sometime now--had been trying to force her into valentine ops., because of his ex-material's quasi-relationship with him.

He still wasn't entirely certain, however, just why the older woman was choosing this particular degradation for his beloved. He didn't truly think that she was foolish enough to believe that he would see Nikita as tarnished and worthless after such missions--especially after all of his experience with similar ones. He didn't think, as well, that she truly suspected that she could destroy Nikita's compassion so easily.

No. The only really viable theory, then, was that she believed that this particular form of defilement would cause Nikita to turn on him--would force his beloved to wash her hands of him forever. . . . And, very likely--he suspected, she was right.

Michael sighed, his eyes slightly reddened. He had always felt that his true purpose in Nikita's life was to protect her--especially from anything as depraved as this; he had been working from his earliest days with her, in fact, to keep her away from this path.

Back during her early days as a recruit--before she was even an operative, indeed, Madeline had tried to use the possibility of his training Nikita in this area as a temptation--to see what his feelings toward his "material" truly were. He had, though--of course, come up with excuses not to then--despite the desire for her he had known, even then, raged within him.

Since those days, too, he had reworked numerous missions, had frequently reassigned personnel--had done everything in his power to keep Nikita from this brutal path. And she, as well, had come to understand that he would do this--that he did care enough about her to help protect her from the sort of assignment they both knew would irreversibly destroy bits of her soul.

Now, though, he had not only failed her, he had actively taken a part in his beloved's defilement. He sighed resignedly. The vicious slap she had given him had been the *least* he had deserved.

He couldn't say, however, that he had expected it--that he had known it was coming. She had tolerated so much before, indeed, that he had, at times, wondered whether there was anything she would actually attack him for, in more physical terms.

It wasn't that he thought she was unjustified, of course. It was more that he simply hadn't anticipated it--hadn't predicted this particular reaction. He was used to her angry words, to her cold denials of him--had come to the point where he usually braced himself to face them after some horrible manipulation he had set into motion, but this . . .

No. This had hurt--far more than he ever could have anticipated. He was not a man, after all, who was unused to physical pain; he had taken punches and blows from many men who specialized in such techniques. But Nikita's slap had truly stung him, far more viciously than he had ever realized it could.

It wasn't simply the physical pain of it, either--although that had been considerable; the blow had been of bruising force. No--it was the pain of the emotions which went with it--the denial of all deeper emotions, the absolute repudiation of feelings from her--which had truly hurt him.

Nikita's slap, indeed, had not really been aimed at his face, but at his soul--or, at least, at what there was left of it. It was her way of telling him how little value he had to her--of making it absolutely clear that her primary emotion for him now was disgust.

He had been frozen in the position she had slapped him into for at least a minute thereafter--had been shocked and brutalized into immovable, aching stone. The truth of the words she had aimed at him before it had been forced deep into his soul with the blow; he had felt, as deeply as it was possible to feel, his utter insignificance, his total lack of value--to anyone. . . . And he had felt this way, too, because he had known she was right; even to Section, he was only an "errand boy."

He had known in those few seconds, as well, what it must feel like to be an abused woman; it was one of the only times in his life that a blow he had received had hurt him emotionally, as well as physically--had told him just how utterly valueless he was to the person who had given it. . . . The only difference in these cases, of course, was that he *had* deserved it.

Madeline had watched him carefully, after his beloved had so completely dismissed him; there had even been a small bit of sorrow in her eyes, as she had evaluated him--once he had found that he still had the power of movement enough to look at her. She seemed a little unhappy that such a scene had come to pass, seemed to feel a tiny speck of pity that she had been forced to set such events in motion. He swallowed heavily. It was, in its irony, he supposed, the only sort of sympathy he had deserved.

He had picked up the disk Nikita had thrown at him before he left, deciding finally that he should try to discover the exact method of brainwashing he had helped use on his beloved. . . . It wasn't like the knowledge would actually help him any, but he had suddenly felt the need to know, nonetheless.

He had gotten lucky, as well--he supposed, when he had walked by Walter to see the older man give him a disgusted glare--one which had suggested that he knew *exactly* what Nikita was going through--had understood the method Section had used to force her into her current, degraded state. . . . So it had, thus, been from Section's weapons expert that Michael had received the entire story on the disk.

Walter, however, hadn't necessarily been happy to help him out. He suspected, in fact, that the older man had only told him as a way to try to show his disgust for him--as a way to try to rub his younger counterpart's face in the pain he had caused the woman they both cared for so much.

Michael sighed. His, sometimes difficult, relationship with Walter wasn't of great concern to him, at the moment, though. The older man, indeed, had every right to hate him for the things he had done to Nikita. . . . No. What concerned him, instead, was the sickening irony of what had at last forced his beloved into her current, depraved condition.

He could barely withstand the simple thought. It had been him, after all; it had been him who had given her up, and it was her feelings for him which their masters had been using in order to brainwash her to sleep with Peruze. . . . Once again, her misguided desire for the revolting monster who had so often hurt her had been her downfall.

He closed his eyes again, once more fighting almost overwhelming nausea. The entire situation had been perverse enough without this final bit of irony. . . . It sickened him unspeakably that his subliminal role in it had only revealed the situation's deeper truth.

He sat for a minute--eyes still closed, focusing on nothing except his battle for physical control. If he were sick now--here, they would force him into Medical--and there they would find out quickly that there was nothing the matter with his body, only with his soul. . . . It was a victory he couldn't afford to let Madeline win.

He finally gained enough control over himself to open his eyes once more, his mind still replaying his pain. He had forced himself to listen to the entirety of all of Nikita's encounters with Peruze--had listened while she had moaned, while he had grunted in satisfaction.

He desperately swallowed back his nausea again. He had been able to tell only too well everything which was happening, could tell every place he had touched her--or she had touched him; he had understood the cause for her every small, pleased noise. . . . And it had revolted him beyond words that it was *him* she thought she was with, the entire time.

He was glad, of course, that the sounds he had heard from her hadn't been screams for help or moans of pain; he was vaguely relieved that Section had at least done what they could to cloud her mind--to force her to not fully be able to understand what she was doing. He had had enough nightmares--especially lately, in those rare moments when he slept--where he was forced to watch her pinned down and brutally defiled, where she was beaten into submission as some bastard who got off on cruelty and pain desecrated her. . . . He hadn't needed to experience that in real life, as well.

It didn't help him, though, that--in each of these dreams--he had simply stood by and watched her pain, had done nothing to help her. He knew, indeed, that this was what he had truly done here, as well--that he had simply allowed an unspeakably cruel excuse for a man to hurt her in the most depraved way there was.

He had no moral high ground to even pretend to take, however. For all he had done to her of late, he was certain that he might as well have been her rapist himself. . . . And he knew, without a doubt, that that was all that a valentine op. could ever be to her; Nikita simply wasn't detached enough from her own emotions to ever allow it to be anything else.

He wondered what she was feeling now--whether she felt as defiled as he was certain he had made her. He had allowed his beautiful angel, after all, to be used as a whore by Section--had not just allowed it, in fact, but had set it in motion. . . . There was no Hell low enough for him to suffer in, he knew, in repayment for a sin this immense.

None of this, of course, had--could ever--change his feelings toward her, however. He didn't love her--didn't need her--and didn't desire her any less because of the cruelty he had put her through; she was still unutterably sacred. . . . And he was still inexpressibly profane.

He shook his head slightly and sighed, his mind going back to a previous path. He had listened to her entire mission with Peruze for two reasons, really. The first, of course, had been because he wanted to be certain that she was relatively safe--that Peruze didn't recall what events had brought him there; had the man remembered, indeed, he would have called the mission--would have taken Peruze out in a second--whatever the consequences with Operations and Madeline. He knew that, in the end, in fact, he had--on some level--enjoyed killing him, . . . although he also knew that he would have preferred to have watched him suffer more first.

He shook his head slightly, disgusted with both himself and with Section. There was nothing, however, that he could *ever* have done to the man which would have made Michael feel that the score was truly settled. Even if he had only been used as a pawn by Madeline in a game against Nikita and himself, he would still gladly have tortured him for his despicable part in it, nonetheless.

There was another reason, too, though, that Michael had been listening, during Nikita's time with her assigned, pseudo-fiancé. It was a form of self-punishment, of self-flagellation, as well. It served him right, after all, to have to listen to Nikita's pleased moans with another man--to have to listen to someone else bring her to orgasm. And, in fact, he would have thought that all of this was precisely what he had deserved, too, . . . had it not been--in the end--so painful for his beloved, as well.

He closed his eyes for another few minutes, trying to fight once more the sense of physical revolt his body was giving to his recent actions. It was almost as though he had poisoned himself with this latest betrayal of his heart's beloved wife--was as though the desecration he had made of the unofficial vows of love he had spoken to her only a few weeks ago were being taken out now in physical form on himself.

He thought back to those cherished days once more now, while questioning his own words during them. . . . No. He couldn't call her his wife--even unofficially. No man who truly loved a woman would ever treat her the way that he had his Nikita.

He opened his eyes again, his mind focusing on his last words. "His" Nikita. That was the real cause of this, he knew--his possession of her. If he truly loved her, indeed, he would allow her to follow her own wishes and let her soul take her where it might, even if it ended in her physical death.

But no. He didn't love her, apparently. He only wanted to keep her--to hold her as his own . . . whatever the traumatizing consequences of that desire may be to her.

He closed his eyes for a second and repressed a shudder. He didn't know where this latest atrocity to her soul had left them. . . . He didn't know what it would truly do to her.

He forced open his eyes again. She was strong, of course; she had had to be to survive her years with him. She would probably find a way to come through this--to piece her soul back together and continue on once more after his latest brutal devastation of her. . . . But that didn't change the fact that she shouldn't *have* to.

He had tried to apologize to her--had tried to explain, after everything was over. He had made a move to, even in the cramped confines of the mission van. . . . But she had turned away--had moved away from him completely. She simply hadn't wanted his apologies.

He knew, more than likely, that she was right in this denial, as well. What did anything he could say amount to in the end, anyway? What could he possibly express which would take back what he had helped do to her--what he had forced her to become?

He sighed, his eyes reddened. Nothing. There was nothing. He had defiled her soul, after he had promised to cherish it, . . . and there weren't--there never could be--words which could make that alright.

Nikita hated him now, he knew, and she had every right to. Were she able to follow through on her disgust in the future, indeed, he knew she would be far better off.

But no. He suspected that--somewhere inside her--there was still the woman he had spent one blissful week with, was a woman who wanted to be healed by a part of him he wasn't certain existed--who wanted to be cleansed of the defilements he had put her through. . . . And, even if she were buried somewhere *very* deep inside her--at the moment, she probably wasn't buried deep enough to protect her from him.

He almost wished--as much as it would hurt him, as much as it would make him long for his own death--that she would give him up, that she would never again look to him for love or for comfort. . . . He couldn't give them to her, after all; they simply didn't exist anywhere in his soul.

No. He swallowed heavily, trying to hold in his torment. All he had to offer her were pain and betrayal--was an infinite variety of both. . . . He wished that, for once, she could learn that her hate was truly the only thing he could ever deserve.