You are born Nicolette Louise Parsons on March 28th, 1979, in New York City. You grow up in New York, where your mother is a post-modernist curator at the Met and your father is an editor with Reuters. You spend your childhood thinking your parents are happy - lots of vacations and smiling faces in the photos on the walls in your house - but by your teens, you begin to see the cracks; your mother bitterly covets the talent of the painters whose art she cares for and your father misses being a reporter, travelling to war zones and witnessing revolutions instead of being stuck behind a desk. You have an older brother named Reeve who dies when you're fourteen, passes out an MIT frosh week party and doesn’t wake up again. You lose your virginity at fifteen to a boy your parents hate; his name is Matthew and three weeks after he fucks you in the back of his parents' Audi, he wraps the same car around a lightpost in midtown driving drunk, and his father ships him off to a prep school in Denver.
You graduate a year early, and your parents take you out to your favourite Cambodian restaurant when you get your college acceptance letters. Your father wants you to go to MIT like your brother, and your mother wants you to go to the Sorbonne, like she did.
You are recruited during your final year at Columbia, where you’ve learned Russian, Greek and German, in addition to the French, Italian, and Spanish you’re already fluent in thanks to a private school education. You like languages and study European politics, but it’s your minor in computer science that seems to earn the interest of the man who recruits you.
You apply for graduate school half-heartedly. Your father wants you to go to law school and your mother thinks you should take a year off and travel before making a decision, but you’re tired of school.
You’re tired of what other people want for you, tired of trying to fill a hole that looks like Reeve.
In the first four years you're with the CIA, you live in five cities across Europe and Asia. You're Susannah, Gillian, Rose, Katerina, and Corrine. Alexander Conklin finds you while you're working for Clive Richards in the London office, running logistics for a team tracking a Hezbollah splinter cell in Lewisham.
You meet Jason Bourne two months later.
Nicolette Louise Parsons dies on February 2nd, 2007, in Tangiers.
You've been dead less than 24 hours. The dye in your hair runs down your neck leaving black streaks along your too-pale skin. You think it looks like the awful mess that tears make when you cry through mascara, the kind that might be on your face if you had bothered to put on make-up last night. But years of pretending to be something you're not has left its toll and you realize halfway through cutting your hair that your eyes aren’t even glassy.
Jason watches you in the mirror as you cut your hair; it's detached, but not in the way you remember. There's nothing cold about how he looks at you now, which seems ironic given what you had once been to one another, that this version is the one that is tender and kind in his own way. You wonder if he’s picturing her instead of you; after Paris, there had been a thick file put together on Marie, but you’d never been able to bring yourself to read it.
At the time, it just felt like salt in the wound. You never thought you’d see him again.
Now here you are.
He winces slightly when you hack off another hunk of hair. You’re not being careless about it; the thing about disguises is often the uglier you try to make yourself look - especially when your face doesn’t match it - the more you tend to stick out. You want to be unremarkable, neither pretty nor ugly, and you definitely have experience being unremarkable.
“You knew me.” His voice makes you jump, and you nearly drop the scissors into the sink.
He already knows this answer. Back in that safehouse in Paris, with Conklin, there was a spark of recognition in his face. You faced an incredible amount of suspicion from Langley being the only one he left behind alive, which is why you were surprised when Landy brought you back to Berlin to consult on her case. He definitely recognized you there, so whatever he’s trying to pry at, it’s more than just knowing. He’s trying to get at the depth of it.
In the briefing before you met with Bourne in Berlin, one of the PsyOps consultant took you through retrograde amnesia recovery and the kind of memory relapses that can occur. He said some people - and likely Bourne given his recent behaviour - recover memory like puzzle pieces. A snapshot that they know is part of the larger picture, but one that they know they may never understand. It’s dangerous because of the frustration it breeds, the helplessness that most normal people have trouble dealing with, but can lead to violence and instability in operatives like Bourne.
You remember thinking of that as one of the worst betrayals, that a man like Bourne who had prized knowing more than anyone else would have a mind that would never give him the full truth.
You look at him in the mirror and nod. “Yes.”
There’s no real point in lying anymore, but you’re not sure you’re willing to share the whole truth with him. You remember how hard your chest hurt in that diner when he told you didn’t remember a thing; it seems unfair that you alone have to live with the memory. “You were already stationed in Paris when Conkin brought me in to run logistics. You were the first assigned to me to start because he didn’t quite trust me fully and he considered you the most stable of the group.” You laugh under your breath even though it isn’t very funny. “So… about two years? Before… you know.”
Before you got yourself shot in the back, dropped in the ocean, and forgot about fucking me.
"What was I like?" Jason asks you. God, there are moments now where he almost seems childlike. Vulnerable in a way he never was when he knew you as well as you knew him. Which is to say: not very well. But now you're mostly a stranger to him, and you think that bugs him now that he's beginning to suspect there was something deeper than a handler-agent relationships between the two of you.
His questions are brutally blunt, none of the savvy you’ve seen him employ on targets. He’s not trying to work you, which only makes this all seem so much worse.
"You weren't very nice," you answer truthfully, because nothing about this is supposed to be gentle. He doesn’t look sad, but he almost looks… disappointed. So you add, “At first. You had your moments, but you struggled a lot. With what they made you do. And it wasn’t like you had many people to talk to about it."
You know he wants to ask you more questions, and he’s never struck you to be the kind to hold back. But these questions he wants answers to are different than the ones about his missions. You get the sense that he’s had quite a few answers in the last couple years about who he was and what he had done that he hasn’t liked. Learning about what you’re capable of isn’t easy.
“But I had you,” he says, his voice confused. You’re not sure if he’s asking a question or stating a fact, so you leave it alone. The last two days is evidence enough to fuel whatever conclusions his broken mind is trying to come to. She’s given up her life for him.
You don't answer. Instead you hack off another lump of hair and let it drop into the sink.
You wonder what your obituary will say. The Company likes car wrecks. Clean. Easy to pass off almost any body when the wreckage burns.
In the back of your mind, you're already thinking of the new lies of your life. In this one, you never had a brother. You never knew your father, and your mother was an artist somewhere in the midwest - Missouri, maybe - that died of cancer when you were fifteen. You’re good at making up lives, at making up lies.
Which makes it easier when he struggles as he asks, “Did we… Were we…” He seems unable to form the right words.
“No,” you lie.
Eight hours later, he drives you to the bus station and you say your goodbyes. It feels like deja vu.
You read your obituary online from a cafe in Lugano. Your father works at the New York Times now, so you’re given a spot normally reserved for someone important, which you’re really not. At least not in ink. There’s a lot about your scholastic achievements, a little about your brother and how his death drove you relentlessly toward success, some mention of your time with the State Department, which any spook worth their salt will be able to read as CIA work.
Your father picks his favourite photo of you, the one he took the spring you graduated from Columbia. You’re sitting in the backyard of the house they sold last year, leaning back against a tree that ended up having to be cut down because of root rot, and unbeknownst to your father, later that day, you had your first meeting with the man who would be your first supervisor at the CIA.
The car bombing in Tangiers is scrubbed; instead, you died in a head on collision near Marbella in a car with Neil Daniels. You know that if any reporter goes sniffing, they’ll likely find hints of an affair, but not enough to confirm anything that could lead to real scandal. Just enough to tarnish your memory and his so people won’t give a shit what happened to you, that whatever inconsistencies exist in the story will be passed off as two people trying to cover a tryst.
No reporter goes sniffing, and a year later, you read your father’s obituary in the same paper. They don’t give a cause of death, but one of the baby reporters that your father had been nurturing along writes a heartfelt post about suicide on her blog the same week he dies.
They never run one for Jason Bourne. Or David Webb.
Obituaries are for the people you leave behind, and now the both of you have no one.
The first time you meet Jason Bourne, you don't like him. You sense the feeling is mutual. His face is like stone: cold and sharp, distant. He’s methodical, much like the other agents you’ve encountered in the two weeks since you arrived in Paris. You’ve only met three of them in passing - there are eight active in the program, though most live in cities scattered across Europe - but they definitely leave an impression.
Treadstone's original logistics officer is retasked to a mission out of Jakarta, the start of some secondary stage program that you don’t have clearance for. There’s no overlap, so they bring in two agents from Langley to help you with the initial transition. One is a complete asshole (Ellerman, 39, always stinks of cigarette smoke and plays with his wedding ring when he hits on you) and the other you like (Danny, 28, recruited out of Duke, a genuinely sweet guy and apparently Conklin’s favourite), and by the time they leave, you feel sufficiently over your head.
Most Treadstone agents write their weekly briefing reports and send them to you, only flying to Paris every three months to log their physicals and psych evals in person, but Bourne is different. Conklin seems to take a strange interest in his Paris agent, and has him meet weekly with you to go over his evals and sitreps.
You wouldn’t mind so much if he wasn’t such an ornery fucker. As soon as Danny and Ellerman are gone, Bourne makes his check-ins an absolute nightmare. Deference to authority is an absolute for Treadstone agents, but it’s clear that you do not register as an authority to anyone, least of all Bourne.
It doesn’t help that the evaluations are absurdly stupid.
"I do not feel sad. I feel sad. I am sad all the time and I can’t snap out of it. I am so sad and unhappy that I can’t stand it,” you ask him, staring out the window of the office. If you squint hard enough, you can see the edge of the Eiffel Tower not blocked by the roof of the building across from you.
Bourne shoots you a look of quiet annoyance, like he can’t quite believe you’re bothering to ask him such stupid questions. But you also know it’s a bit more than that. Bourne’s a good soldier, obedient to his superiors, but there’s an edge to him that you haven’t been able to fully qualify and that you’ve been leaving out of your observation reports. While the other agents take on an almost robotic quality to their behaviour, Bourne has an attitude that surprises you at times.
“This is really the shit they want you to ask me?” He plays with the pen in front of him like he’s thinking of all the ways he could use it to kill you.
"Please answer the question," you say, tapping your fingers against the desk. You’ve had this exchange week after week, and you’re growing tired of it.
“What cleverly designed psych questions.”
Your coffee spilt all over your desk this morning, there’s a fruit salad that’s been sitting around for three hours waiting for you to eat it, and you’re still missing two check-in reports from Madrid and Athens. You neither have the time nor the patience for this shit. “Can you just answer the fucking question?” you snap, then slam your mouth shut, shocked at yourself.
Not that he didn’t deserve it. The worst part is that you swear that for a split second the side of his mouth twitches up, like he’s trying to repress a smile.
He looks you dead in the eye as if it’s a challenge. “I do not feel sad.”
You eventually end up back in Germany. Though you’ve never discussed this with anyone - not even Bourne - you’d known Conklin was dirty back before Landy told you in Berlin, back before he’d even been killed in Paris. At the time, you hadn’t realized just how dirty he had been, but you had known he and Abbott were up to something that wasn’t sanctioned given the number of times he’d activated agents outside of standard protocol and didn’t file paperwork in the aftermath. It was part of the reason you’d been so afraid of him; you knew the lengths he’d go to protect his secrets.
But you’d also made it your mission to know his secrets. Including the quarter million Euros he kept in a lockbox at a suburban branch of Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt. He’d rented it under his mother’s name, and it only takes you a week to forge the documents you need to empty the box. It was the money you had promised Daniels for his cooperation, back before Bourne had blown everything up.
Something else you didn’t tell Bourne?
You had turned Daniels.
(Neal Daniels may have been Simon Ross’s source, but you had been the one to set the meet. Ross had been your contact first, an errant comment from your father about his series of articles on an MI5 whistleblower alleging collusion on blackbook programs getting you onto his scent. Yet another body added to your tally of collateral damage.)
You wait for him in one of the bedrooms of the safehouse. The main bedroom has cameras and microphones, as does the living room and kitchen, but this room has neither. Nicky isn’t stupid; there’s a reason the floor in this room is tile instead of carpet, why it’s set up like a living room on the off chance someone sees it, but has blackout curtains, why there’s extra soundproofing in the walls.
Last resort, though. You don’t shit where you eat. You don’t torture where you sleep.
(It didn’t take long for that idealistic Columbia girl to die now, did it?)
“Back to our regularly scheduled repartee?” you ask. You haven’t been sleeping well lately. They sent Bourne on a mission in Stockholm for two months and you’ve missed him, not that you’ll admit it. The apartment is cold and quiet in the winter, and when Bourne is on assignment, you’re often the only one left in this place other than the odd visit from other operatives on assignments. But most of them make Bourne seem like a gabby New York socialite in comparison.
(You especially hate the Professor, who has spoken all of three words to you and seems to loathe your entire existence.)
He shrugs, staring you down a bit. You know the Stockholm mission went a bit sideways; he had to kill his target’s personal assistant, a young woman that from the mission prep files you had read looked entirely clean, despite her boss’s underhanded dealings with the Kremlin. Bourne looks a bit exhausted, so the irony is thick when he says, “You look tired, Nicky.”
It’s the first time he’s referred to you as anything other than Parsons.
“My mother died,” you tell him, trying to keep your voice cold and unattached. “Last month.”
The ovarian cancer had been quick and brutal, even though your mother had kept telling you not to come home, that her oncologists were optimistic about her prognosis. It hadn’t been the first time your mother had lied to you, and you’d been so willing to believe it.
You’d gone home for a week after she passed to help your father - even that had been a fight with Conklin and central command - and prepare for the funeral. In the end, you think they let you go only because it would have been conspicuous if you hadn't gone, and suspicion is bad when your father is a reporter. It had been fucking awful; you and your father barely spoke to one another, which was balanced by the fact that the rest of your family hadn't shut up about their grief. Your aunts had sobbed openly, talked about how proud she was about your job at the State Department, how you got to see the world like she had always wanted, and all you wanted in that moment was to jump on a plane back to Paris.
“Sorry,” he says. The sincerity in his voice and softness to his face is almost shocking. You know he’s an orphan from his file, but he doesn’t offer you any platitudes, any details of his own losses, and it’s the only thing out of the conversation that makes any sense.
You don’t know what happened in Stockholm, but it’s starting to fill out a pattern. Anxiety pre-mission, depressive attitude post-mission.
“How have the headaches been?” you ask him.
He goes quiet in a way that makes you think immediately that he’s debating lying to you. You’ve seen it from him before, but he rarely follows through, and today is no exception. “They haven’t been good,” he tells you. “They’re getting longer and more frequent. They’re waking me up at night.”
This means a medical eval alert to central command, which you’re not looking forward to even though they tend to ignore them, like these men are guinea pigs instead of soldiers. “Have you been taking the Oxydiathone?” you ask him. The med team had given him a repeat prescription the last time he’d had his full physical and complained of the same increasing severity headaches that the other operatives had.
“Makes me groggy as hell. I’m not sharp on them.”
You try not to sound like scolding parent when you say, “Yeah, but you can sleep through the night.”
The slight smile on his face tells you that you definitely failed.
You don’t see Bourne for almost two years after Tangiers. After picking up Conklin’s money in Germany, you split the cash between three accounts and a safety deposit box in Geneva, secure a few fake passports (Canada, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, and a shitty American one that you refuse to pay for because they fucked up the lamination), and spend the first year hopscotching around Europe and Southeast Asia to ensure the Agency isn’t on to your scent.
Between Landy’s exposure of Treadstone and Blackbriar and the increasing media coverage of the CIA’s blackbook programs in general, you know they have bigger fish to fry than a shitty junior agent that went off the reservation for a man presumed dead in the East River. Senators are calling for senior security agency resignations and the White House is putting out fires left and right, and while Jason Bourne’s name is everywhere, you are still dead in a car with Neal Daniels, a forgotten photo in a newspaper lining someone’s birdcage.
So after fourteen months spent in boarding houses and hostels for a few weeks at a time, you finally stop running.
You settle in Anzio, renting a little two bedroom cottage on the coast near a beautiful beach. Your Italian is strong enough that you almost pass for a native speaker, and with a cleverly forged resume, you get a job waiting tables at a restaurant that most tourists avoid, but that is popular with the locals. You don’t need a job, not with the Conklin money, but nothing is more suspicious in a small town than a woman with money and no job, so it’s easier to pull a few shifts a week and earn extra cash on the side to cover expenses.
Six months later, you return from work with sore feet to find Jason Bourne bleeding all over your shitty second-hand couch.
“Jesus Christ,” you say, lifting up the bloody edge of his shirt. Your med kit is out, and you can tell from the smudged fingerprints on it that he’s been trying to open it. The wound is already patched, but the bandage is soaked with blood. Whoever did this did it shoddily. “Knife or bullet?”
“Bullet.” He motions for you to take off his shirt. You realize with an internal moment of levity that you haven’t even said hello. Just like old times.
“Did they take the fucking thing out, Bourne?” you ask, and when you touch his bare abdomen, a shiver goes through his body that doesn’t look related to pain at all.
He mumbles something that sounds like, Jason, but his pupils are fucked, so you ignore it.
“Lie back,” you tell him, carefully working at the tape holding down the bandage, making sure not to tear the skin beneath it. The shot of morphine you give him puts him down quickly, and by the time you finish cleaning the wound and fishing out the tiny sliver of bullet fragment whoever patched him up was too lazy to get out, he’s passed out on your couch.
You give him a shot of penicillin, toss a blanket over him, and drink half a bottle of wine before climbing into bed.
He sleeps for nearly sixteen hours. When he wakes the next day, accepting the cup of coffee you hand him, he says, “You lied to me.”
“What?” You feel shitty from the wine, the edge of a hangover pressing at your temples, and though you’re happy that your suspicions of his escape from the East River have been proven correct, this doesn’t feel like a happy reunion. You also don’t love that he broke into your home, that he’s drifted into your place ripped apart, needing to be put back together again.
“I remember. You told me we weren’t…” his voice drifts off. He lifts the edge of his shirt and stares at the bandage over his abdomen. There’s only a small spot of dried blood on it. “That’s not the first time you’ve done that for me, is it?”
“What do you think?” you say, taking a gulp of coffee that burns your throat.
“Jesus,” you say, trying to manage the ends of Bourne’s split open skin. You’ve got so much blood on your hands that they feel slick, making it fucking impossible to do more than press your hands to the wound and try to keep more blood from pouring out.
It unnerves you, watching him watching you. It’s like you’re not 10 seconds from having his guts in your hands; he’s so detached from his own body that you only see a reflection of pain at first.
The bodies of three men lay strewn around the apartment. In an hour, a clean up team will be on site, and the safe house will be stripped and sanitized. You’re not sure how these men found out about this one, on the third floor above an interior design shop in the 7th arrondissement, but soon enough it will no longer exist. You don’t know who they work for, you don’t know how they found you, but you do know it took Bourne less than three minutes to disarm and kill them all.
The last one had a knife.
“Fuck, I don’t know if I can fix this up,” you hear yourself say. You’re starting to feel detached from your own body too, and you watch as your hands begin to shake. At first it’s low, like the bad tremor of an alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in too long, but eventually, your hands are slipsliding against him as though you’re having a goddamn seizure.
If you were in your right mind, you’d feel embarrassed that you’re coming so unhinged. You’ve gone through the Farm, you’ve had tactical weapons and field medic training, but you also haven’t seen much action. Most of your reports are second-hand violence, death and pain relayed to you by men who talk about it with a detachment that makes it feel banal, unreal.
It shocked you, watching him. You can still remember the sound that man's neck made when Bourne had snapped it. It had looked so easy for him, like a muscle memory instead of a conscious thought. You hadn’t felt an inch of sympathy for the man; before Bourne had stumbled onto the attack, the man had punched you in the face hard enough that the entire left side of it is throbbing like an open wound. Every time you talk, you can taste the blood in your mouth from your split bottom lip.
Bourne slides his hand over yours, bloodying it. “You can,” he says so calmly and gently that your heart starts racing from the sheer absurdity of it. “Calm down, take a breath, and then stitch it fucking closed.”
The next day, Jason is gone. The blanket is folded at the end of the couch on top of the pillow that smells of him, and there’s a wad of cash on the counter. No note, though you weren’t really expecting one. He’s cleaned the floor and the sink in the bathroom, both of which had been splattered with blood the night before.
You go to work, make good tips, and buy a fresh baked baguette and some goat cheese at the small market down the street on your way home. You smile at your neighbours and remember to answer to the name Franchesca. You sleep like shit and dream about Desh chasing you through the streets of Tangiers, of Jason not reaching you in time.
He comes back twice before you leave Anzio for good in the spring. He never tells you where he comes from or where he goes, he never asks permission to stay, and he never stays long. He stares at you, not even trying to hide that he is, like if he looks hard enough, the pieces of his memories will slide back into place, like he can recover the things he’s lost.
You know better than that. You can never get back the things that have been taken from you.
(It’s only when he tracks you down in Brussels that you realize you’ve started calling him Jason again.)
He follows you back to your apartment one night.
Standing there, you know you should be afraid; you’ve worked with these men long enough to know that they’re not nearly as stable as Conklin’s reports to Abbott are making them out to be, and you don’t like the way Jarda looks at you at all, like he’s trying to decide if he’s going to be bothered to fuck you or kill you one of these days.
But Bourne’s never really made you feel afraid. You don’t entirely trust him, but you’re not afraid of him either. He’s a brutally efficient asset, and you wonder if you haven’t gone a bit stupid considering the number of times you’ve filed reports with the frightening details of what he is capable of. But looking at him, skulking out from the shadows, his hands shoved into the pockets of his coat, you aren’t afraid.
The one thing the reports and the evaluations have taught you is that unlike most of the assets, who seem like guns left with their safeties off, Bourne has a moral compass that the conditioning hasn’t been able to completely erase.
So you roll your eyes and heave your cloth grocery bag up your arm a little bit, trying to distribute the weight of the orange juice, chicken breasts, and demi baguette evenly on your shoulder as you reach into your pocket for your key.
"What the hell are you doing?" you ask.
"Your security is shit, Rose.”
You sigh. “Noted. Thank you for that frank assessment of my living arrangements.” You want to make a pissy snap that your rent isn’t paid by the Agency in an upscale building in the 1st arrondissement, that you aren’t given a healthy stipend like Bourne’s, relegated to pretty shitty base pay for the program. But you also know that everyone’s been jumpy since they lost the safehouse in the 7th, and you’ve still got the shadow of the black eye that has taken forever to heal.
You’ve caught him staring at it a couple times out of the corner of his eye, a quiet, simmering anger on his features. You chalk it up to the conditioning. A certain amount of loyalty and protectiveness has been hardwired into him.
You struggle a bit with your bag, trying to balance as you search for the keys in your purse now that you’ve discovered they aren’t in your pocket. He reaches out as the strap slips down your shoulder, then snaps his hand back and shoves it into his pocket. He looks almost embarrassed.
“Stop following me around,” you order, shoving your body half into the door when you manage to finally open it.
“Stop making your routine so predictable,” he parries back. So he has been watching you, shadowing you from work. Line 1 to 4. Saint-Sulpice. Stop at the market down the street that has overpriced produce but an incredible bakery. Stop at the bank every few days for some cash. Two blocks home from there. “It’s sloppy.”
You shake your head and make an annoyed sound as the door snaps shut behind you, a thin layer of glass and metal between you.
When you get up to your apartment, you watch him stand across the street for a half hour before he finally walks away.
You end up in Brussels after Italy. With better forged papers, you get a decent job in the translation department of Innovacruz Global, an international telecommunications and data conglomerate. Their Belgium office is relatively small compared to the London and US-based offices, but it serves as a massive data hub for West and Central Europe, and it takes you a little less than a month to access the security mainframe.
Then Jason shows up.
“What the fuck are you doing, Nicky?” he scolds, running his hand through his hair. You’d come home to find the front door unlocked, him sitting on your couch. You don’t know how he keeps finding you; you haven’t been Franchesca in nearly six months, and Sara Meijer is a completely clean identity.
It takes you a long time to realize that he’s the only damn person in the fucking world that knows your real name other than a few governmental agencies that would be happy to shove you into a cell for the rest of your life or put a bullet through your skull.
“I’m not a child. I know exactly what I’m doing.”
“You’re working at one of the largest companies in the goddamn world with a six month old cover and identity papers that don’t check out. You’re exposed, and the second they think you’re a threat, they’ll come after you. Why would you risk that?”
You don’t know where he goes when he’s not with you, but you see bruises and cuts and the haunted look of a man that hasn’t learned how to settle down any more than you have. The irony that he is lecturing you on how to let things go is not lost on you. “Atonement,” you say.
That catches him off guard. “Atonement for what?” The tone is the one a man who has committed endless sins uses against an innocent pleading their guilt. It is misplaced.
“For what I’ve done.”
He reaches out and wraps his fingers around the top of your forearm, just holding onto you. “We did those things. You wrote reports about them.”
You shake your head and yank your arm out of his hand. “You don’t get it. I’m not just talking about the missions,” you say. “What they did to you - what they did to all of the Treadstone assets.” You sigh and scrub your hand over your face. “The first year I was with the program, we were having problems with the asset in Zagreb. You weren’t the fucking aberration that you think you were.”
“Ahmed. The conditioning started breaking down. He’d been Delta before Treadstone, so he was still effective even with the faulty conditioning, but the evals started going off the rails, and then Kiev happened. They never told me what they did with him after,” you say, remembering the night Conklin had told you to purge Ahmed’s files from the database.
Jason looks confused. “I don’t remember him.”
“I don’t think you ever met him. Most assets never interacted with one another by design,” you say. Although it was never explicitly stated and the solitary nature of the work made sense for there to be little contact between assets, they were kept apart mostly because of the understanding that there might be a time where one would be tasked to capture or kill another.
“Daniels had access to the core Treadstone files at Langley,” you explain. A shiver runs down your back. “They scrambled Ahmed’s brains trying to fix what they broke, trying to revive their obedient soldier. Spent two months drooling all over himself before they put him out of his misery.”
You had liked Ahmed. As the conditioning began to break down, he’d become warmer. Talked of things he shouldn’t have, of the mother who believed he was a banker living in Geneva and a younger sister whose name you can’t remember anymore. You’d found out they’d given him a massive overdose of barbiturates at Walter Reed shortly after you arrived in Madrid, a perfunctory note about it at the end of a long file.
You were all expendable. Thrown away like trash. Even Danny, who had been kind and good. Everything you’ve done with Treadstone has been in service of feeding an unfathomable beast. And now the beast is growing ever larger thanks to your diligent servitude.
Suddenly, Jason’s eyes go dark. Knowing.
“Daniels,” he says. “That was you, wasn’t it? How you knew where he was going, why he’d left.” The pieces are starting to fall into place for him. “What are you playing at, Nicky?”
You think about Landy, how the hearings meant to expose corruption instead started to swallow her whole, destroying the last genuinely good person you knew at the CIA. You think about Vosen and Conklin and Abbot and all the fucking men who hid behind the flag and a thick line about patriotism while pursuing their own agenda, their own power and money. You think about your father dying alone, believing you were gone, that the last of his family was dead.
“There have to be consequences,” you tell him.
That is the difference between the two of you, you think. Jason wants to be left alone.
You want vengeance.
Bourne follows you home three more times before he follows you right through your front door. You know it’s a mistake immediately. The rules you are breaking, the lines you are letting bleed that need to be sharp and unforgiving.
He fucks you like you expect, too urgent and full of distemper. But there are surprises, too. You expect selfishness and find an odd generosity between your sheets, a softness at first that you have never seen out of him before. He kisses you gently even as his hips pound mercilessly into yours.
You know what this is. It’s why handlers aren’t allowed to fuck assets; for deep cover agents like Bourne, cut off from family, forbidden from attachments, it’s natural for them to develop unhealthy attachments to the people they interact with most.
But you don’t stop it.
The second time he shows up at your door, wheedles his way across your threshold, he pushes you back against the door as soon as it shuts behind you. He falls to his knees in front of you and the gasp you let out has less to do with the urgent way he’s shoving up the snug hem of your pencil skirt and more to do with the idea of Bourne on his knees for anyone.
You come so quickly that even Bourne looks shocked.
Eventually Brussels gets too hot. You use your security access to hack into a few low-level CIA routers in Eastern Europe and piggyback on them to get into one of the data centres in Dallas. Though it doesn’t get you access to Treadstone or Blackbriar files, you pull a substantial data dump from the servers.
Sara Meijer moves out of her apartment that night. No forwarding address.
You bounce around a bit as your hack makes waves. The Agency makes sure it doesn’t make the news, but the dark net is ripe with rumours of a hacker named KnightRider breaching the CIA. Eventually Christian Dassault reaches out to you and asks to meet, and you accept. You spend weeks hashing out the details, breaking the specs of the meeting into separate backdooor communication streams that you know the CIA doesn’t monitor. Though you are not on their radar, Dassault definitely is.
Twenty-four hours before the meet, you give Dassault final instructions, then fly out to Iceland.
Jason finds you in a motel in Reykjavik.
“What the fuck are you doing?” he asks, like a bad moment of deja vu from Brussels. That he does not approve of what you are doing is not new to you. This time though, he seems almost frantic in his disapproval.
“I’m doing what I need to do,” you tell him, and you know somewhere deep inside, he understands this. He has to. “You don’t need to be here.”
“Nicky,” he says, his voice torn like he can’t decide between wanting to throttle you or kiss you, so it’s a shock when he does the latter, grasping your jaw in his hands and pushing your mouth open.
It’s too much like the first time he fucked you, that edge of desperation to it. Like he hasn’t been touched in a long time, like he’s trying to glut himself on the sensation of another body against his. You clearly haven’t learned your lesson because there’s no condom, and when he comes inside of you it’s messy, leaking out of you onto the sheets.
He breathes hard, like he’s run a thousand miles, holding himself over you so he doesn’t crush you with his weight.
The next morning, he’s waiting in the chair across from the bed, already dressed. You sit up in the sheets that still stink of sex and rub the sleep out of your eyes. “Get up,” he tells you. “You’re going to be late.”
He sits in the car as you meet with Dassault in a warehouse east of the city. You hand over a chunk of documents to Dassault - not enough to put any agents at risk, but more than enough to make some serious waves in Washington. Dassault looks disgustingly pleased with what you give him; you’re not sure if you trust the man, but you trust the mission. You are both a means to an end for one another.
When you get back into the car, Jason doesn’t say a word to you, just stares at the road and drives you to the airport.
“Christian Dassault is going to get you fucking killed,” he says as you step out of the car.
You don’t see Jason again for a year.
You always fuck at your apartment, never at his. This doesn’t bug you all that much as you’ve never liked his place; it’s barren and cold, devoid of anything that makes it look more than a safehouse. This decision is made out of practicality, though. Neither of you discuss it, but the chances of you being discovered in his apartment are much higher.
But everything else is sloppy and stupid, and you know, without a doubt, that eventually it will catch up with you.
He doesn’t talk much before, during, or after sex, and in that way, it seems like an extension of your working relationship. But as the months pass, the trips to your apartment become more frequent.
It starts to feel like it’s a fix for him, though you can’t pretend that you don’t ache for it, too. Any assignations while working a field office need to be vetted, and you haven’t fucked anyone other than Bourne since you came to Paris. Fake names and fake lives just make it too difficult to bother with anything other than one night stands, but in truth, you know you’re just getting too attached to him.
It’s made harder by the fact that something in him is changing. You are starting to see the same cracks as you did with Ahmed: a softness, a conflict that started as a hairline fracture and grew into a gaping wound. You can feel it in the way he touches you and the way he listens. The things that he says.
It comes to a head in September, his body half-draped over yours in your bed, sticky with sweat and come. The summer is making one last ditch effort to charge into fall, and your place is sickeningly hot, even with the windows open and both of your fans blowing air through the small space.
You’re half-asleep when you hear it.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” he whispers, and for a second, your breath catches. You’ve never heard him sound like this before, like he’s broken. You’re pretty sure he never meant for you to hear it at all, so you feign sleep, breathing deeply until you feel real sleep start to roll over you. You don’t want to be awake when he leaves your bed.
The next morning, he meets you at 7am sharp at the logistics office. He listens to Conklin’s briefing from Virginia, a new target with a short turnaround time.
He kills five people three days later.
He starts pressing you for more answers.
The third time Jason visits you in Amsterdam, he wants to know how long you were together. You laugh when he says together, and the blank hurt on his face makes you cringe at yourself. From the outside, you imagine you look like a cold bitch, but you never…. You never knew what was inside Jason’s head back then. You don’t think he was really capable of being with someone in the same way you weren’t capable of understanding just how broken his mind was.
You weren’t with Bourne back then in the same way you aren’t with Jason now. The circumstances have changed, but the dynamics haven’t. He’s a different man now, but he’s gunshy about attachments, and though you haven’t talked about it, you suspect a lot of it has to do with Marie.
You sleep a bit after he fucks you roughly up against the wall, ending up in your bed for a second round that has your hips aching. There will be bruises later, but right now, the ache feels perfect.
This time it felt like you were the one frantic for it.
In the year Jason was gone, you set up a semi-permanent shop in Amsterdam, working as an IT consultant for some of the connections you made through Dassault. It pays well, but more importantly gives you access to usernets and contacts that help you in your search to access Treadstone data.
You even tried dating a nice Danish man, an idealistic lawyer named Vincent you met through a contact with FreedomNet, but it didn’t last long. A few dates, a bit of pleasurable, but forgettable sex, a lot of lies. The truth is that you’re not built to share a life with anyone.
Jason is the closest you’ve come to a stable relationship in your adult life, and that is depressing as hell. You wonder how long he’s going to stay this time; each time he visits you, he stays a little longer. He still won’t tell you where he’s been, but he’s got a nasty bruise on his cheek bone and a tan on his arms.
You wake to him touching the bruises on your hips that have finally started to rise to the surface. “We weren’t together when I got shot,” he says, and it’s one of the few times he’s positioned a new memory as a statement, rather than a question. They must be getting clearer. “What happened?”
“We knew it was better to end it,” you tell him, and his hand freezes on your body. “We decided to end it before we got caught.”
The way he lets the silence linger is telling; he doesn’t believe you.
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not,” you argue, even though you know you are.
“A lie of omission is still a lie.”
Fine then, you think belligerently.
“I was pregnant,” you tell him bluntly, and of all the fucking things you don’t want to relive, this is at the top of the list. It was years ago, but you can still feel the fear fresh in your mouth when you realized you were two weeks late.
“You were pregnant,” he repeats flatly, like the process of speaking the words will make them more palatable. Easier to swallow. Real.
Suddenly, you just feel angry. “Yeah. Yeah, you got me pregnant,” you say.
He’s quiet for a few minutes, his hands unmoving from your hip.
“Did I know?”
You seriously consider lying to him for a moment. It would be easier on him to lie, and the anger inside you was short-lived and aimed at a different man than the one lying next to you. There are bits and pieces of him that you can see in his mannerisms, in the way that he talks and thinks, and you wonder if this was what Jason Bourne was like before the torture, before Hirsch got his hands on him and stripped out the pieces of him that were good and kind, that made him a man instead of a weapon. You wonder if this is a broken David Webb, because it’s not really Jason Bourne, despite the fact he still chooses to carry the name.
So you tell the truth. “Yes, you knew I was pregnant.” You brush your hair back from your face. “You followed me to the doctor.”
It had been a clinic in the 17th arrondissement, far enough away from your office and your home that you thought you were safe. But you had walked out the door with the card for your appointment the next week clutched between your fingers only to find Jason waiting for you, leaning back against a parked car with a face so grave that for a second you wondered if he’d been sent to kill you.
“Was I--” You can see the war raging on his face and you know what he’s asking. You’ve talked about this before, about the man he was. A man that wasn’t always nice to you, even when you were fucking him.
“You weren’t cruel,” you say. “You weren’t mean. But we both knew I couldn’t keep it. The one rule you had to follow was no attachments. No girlfriends, no families. No children.” The last most important of all. You had both known Conklin would have sooner put a bullet in your head than let Bourne have a child.
Jason swallows, his breath ragged. “I’m sorry.”
You shake your head. “I was too young anyway. I wouldn’t have kept it, even if I could have.” You take a deep breath and steady your voice. “I don’t think I could ever bring a kid into this fucking world.” You’ve seen too many children used as leverage, as collateral damage in the war of politics and power.
He doesn’t say anything, just presses his forehead into the back of your neck.
Jason leaves the next morning. You don’t see him for six months.
There’s a pot of tea on the table when you let yourself into your apartment. It’s still steaming when you sit down in the chair across from Bourne. There’s only one cup on the table, in front of your chair, not his. He’s cut lemon and didn’t bother with setting out milk.
You didn’t realize he knew how you took your tea, but you’re not surprised he managed to suss out when your appointment was.
You’ve got a bit of cramping, but the doctor at the clinic said the worst of it wouldn’t come until you took the misoprostol, which you’ll have to do tomorrow before lunch. You’re going to take a half-day; you’ve rescheduled your call with Langley to the morning, and plan to call out sick for the latter half of the day.
The tea smells gingery, but you ran out of your favourite ginger tea last week and haven’t managed to go to the market to get more. You want to drink it, but don’t. You’re exhausted and angry, mostly at yourself, but a little at him.
“We need to stop this,” you tell him. He nods at you like he expected it was what you were going to say, but there’s a look in his eye that echos something you feel deep inside of yourself.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and you realize it’s the first time you’ve ever heard him say the words.
(It won’t be the last.)
You’ve started to make peace with the idea of Amsterdam as home after two and a half years. You still live on the periphery, careful not to integrate too much, but with US relations with The Netherlands poor after Prime Minister Rutte takes power, you know that CIA presence is minimal and collusion with the US government is unlikely. It’s as close to a relatively secure base as you’re ever going to get.
Jason doesn’t like it, naturally. You pick up bits of where he’s been through conversation, but you know he lives like a true nomad. You’re not built like him; the first fourteen months after Tangiers were rough on you in a way he’ll never understand. It gave you insight into him, though, into how they all lived: as nothing, no one. At first you thought he continued out of habit and comfort, but now you think it might be penance.
The only place he seems to frequent with any predictability is your apartment. He still comes without warning and leaves without saying goodbye, but you both give up the pretence of the blanket and pillow you leave on your couch. Half the time you wake up to him breathing deeply in your bed, the strange warmth of another body between your sheets.
After Vincent, you stopped meeting men’s eyes in bars, stopped bothering to entertain the idea that you are interested in dating someone, in being in a relationship. It’s fucked up to want someone who barely exists, whose presence is your life is more ghost than human, but it’s been nearly a decade and you’re tired of pretending.
This time he visits, he stays for nearly two weeks, the longest he’s ever spent with you in a single visit. The first day, he pumps you for a bit of information on a man he once killed, then quietly asks you to hack ViCAP, which is so easy it barely seems fair to consider it a favour, which he obviously does.
You cook more when he’s around, happy to exist primarily on take-out when he’s not. You make chicken and roast potatoes with some of the squash you’ve been growing in the backyard, which he eats rabidly. Jason’s always ravenous when he visits you, and though he doesn’t say anything, you can the see the change in his face when you eat at the small table in the dining room. It’s a normality you don’t think he allows himself much of.
This time, when he fucks you, it’s gentle in a way it’s never been before. His fingers are cautious and unrushed when he pulls down your panites, when he ducks his head between your thighs and presses his mouth over your cunt. Though he pins your wrists to the mattress, when he fucks you, his hips are agonizingly slow and gentle, wringing a blinding orgasm out of you.
You realize you’ve slept with two men with the same face and the same name. And you’re in love with both of them.
It terrifies you. There’s no happy endings for people like you and him.
“I gave the Professor that house,” you tell him later as your hand slips between your legs; you’re wet and filthy with his come, and though you want to take a shower to clean up, you can’t bring yourself to get out of bed. He’s lying on his stomach beside you, his head turned to face you. “When they were hunting you and Marie. I gave him the address of her brother’s house at the drop.”
It still feels wrong to say her name. You’re not sure if you’re jealous or guilty, but the look on Jason’s face when you talk about her is so broken that it just hurts you. She got what you didn’t, what you had stupidly daydreamed about as he fucked you between missions and evals, but it earned her a bullet in the head. Sometimes you wonder if your bullet is somewhere on its way.
“Why?” He doesn’t sound angry. There’s an amnesty you have both earned over the years. He once tried to apologize for Berlin - told you that he regretted threatening you, hurting you - but you wouldn’t have it. The sins you’ve committed against one another are too numerous for apologies now.
But the confession is important to you, and the knowledge is important to him. That is why you do this.
“Because it was my job.” You shrug your shoulders, and over this, you feel guilt. At the time, you had thought they’d still attempt to subdue him, bring him in; he’d been valuable, even broken. “After everything, sometimes I wondered if you’d kill me if they asked.”
That earns you a blank, but hurt look.
You laugh flatly. “You’re not you,” you say, and Jason’s forehead wrinkles in confusion. The conditioning was intentionally structured to reduce autonomy and increase deference to authority. You’re not sure if he truly understands the choices he has now are not the choices he saw back then. “I just--” you start to say, but can’t find the words to finish.
You want to tell him that the man he is now is so different in so many ways, but similar in a thousand others. That sometimes when you sleep with him - with Jason - that you think of Bourne. That there are pieces of that man that you miss, even though he wasn’t always kind, that made you feel unsure. But you don’t miss how conflicted he had been, how the job that you had shared with him felt like torture after a while, like you were his jailor.
“I wouldn’t,” he says grimly, his hand finding the ridge of your knee under the light sheet. “I remember enough. I wouldn’t have hurt you.”
You so desperately want to believe him, but you’re not sure you do. Whatever is on your face must tell him as much, because he tightens his grip and looks you straight in the eye as he says, “I remember.”
Three weeks later, when he’s disappeared into the world again, you viciously throw a Clear Blue test into your basket and think about how you never fucking managed to learn from your mistakes.
You try to let it go.
It was a stupid, stupid idea in the first place, and you’re only lucky you didn’t get caught. You know that between the two of you, you are the entirely expendable one, that you’d be lucky if the worst they did to you was fire you or ship you off to some monitoring station in fucking Siberia. You’ve seen the lengths they go to to protect assets.
Bourne does too.
But it’s hard. Three months of cool, tepid interaction, never straying into anything personal. Every interaction is professional, every word spoken to you given in an aloof tone that belies nothing of the incredibly unprofessional interaction of the past year. He’s not cruel, but he’s not kind either, and in some ways, it makes it easier. You don’t hate him, but the parts of you that had once been soft start to harden.
He watches you. When he thinks you aren’t looking, he stares at you. A few times you’ve felt someone shadowing you again on your way home, but you’ve never been able to make him, staring back into the dark, Parisian streets and seeing nothing but tourists and unfamiliar faces.
Now, you barely remember what it was like to take him inside of you, what it was like to see him smile when he thought you weren’t looking, what it was like to see bits of the man under the thick layer of training and brutality.
You’re pulling together a last-minute briefing memo for Conklin on Wombosi when Bourne hefts his pack over his left shoulder and makes for the door of the safe house. Your fingers don’t falter, but you’re not paying attention to what you’re typing as you breathe steadily, impossible to ignore the way he’s quietly staring at you from the doorway. It’s fucking unnerving, and you wish you could look up and see what’s on his face.
“I’m on the boat tonight,” he tells you, and you finally stop tapping at the keys and look at him. He seems exhausted, the hint of shadow under his eyes. “They’re scheduled to depart tomorrow night, and it’ll be another seventy-two hours after that before I can check in.”
“Okay.” You want to tell him to be careful, but you wouldn’t say that to any of the other assets, so you stow it, squinting at the screen as you realize that the last few minutes of typing have resulted in some truly indecipherable dribble that you’ll have to rewrite.
You can hear him breathing heavily over by the door and you don’t know why he hasn’t left yet, why he hasn’t put this awkward moment out of its misery.
“Nicky,” he says, and you feel your blood chill because it’s been Parsons again since the shitty, rainy night in October when you both decided to stop playing with fire. The tone is all wrong, too. “When I get back… we need to talk.”
When you look up, he’s already gone.