The farmhouse belonged to a family called Deschamps, had a door that looked out on rolling hills – beautiful land, quiet and isolated. A table set with a traditional tablecloth and pretty crockery.
Nicky remembers the evening shadows closing in around her.
She pauses beneath the streetlight by her apartment building and bids her date goodnight. She was going to ask him in, but that’s probably not such a good idea now.
A goodnight kiss keeps him from wondering what’s happening – if he was smart enough to realize anything going on in the world apart from his own little concerns.
By the time the knock comes at the door, she has the water boiled and the teapot out.
He doesn’t ask permission to come in; she doesn’t need to give it.
Their eyes meet across the weary linoleum of a kitchen that’s seen better days, better reunions. Blue and brown stare, catalog, measure. The air is too thick, too hot to breathe, although it’s barely spring.
She’s not trained the way he is, but she’s still trained. It’s not an all or nothing situation.
He stands in the entryway to her kitchen, his hands by his sides, a gun in his right pocket – as though he needed it. This is a kitchen – there are a dozen ways to kill someone and make it sound like nothing more than a domestic argument. In this area, nobody would even call the cops.
It’s why Nicky is living here after all.
She looks away first, down at the kettle in her hand, pours it into the teapot – old, chipped stoneware she got from Goodwill, browsing for little bits and pieces.
“You shouldn’t leave your door unlocked.” Then, more quietly, “Who is he?”
Nicky puts the kettle down, sits at the worn and well-scarred kitchen table and studies him. “The brother of someone who forges passports and identity cards.”
“How long will it take?”
“How long do we have?”
He doesn’t question her use of the plural. “Maybe a day, maybe a week.”
She indicates the cups. “Is there time to finish the tea?”
He comes in and takes a seat. Moves it to give him a view of both the door and the windows.
They drink tea. They don’t talk about what they’re going to do, where they’re going. They don’t talk about what they’ve been doing, how she knew he was coming for her. They don’t talk about the weather or about the Senate Inquiry that’s going on in DC.
Nicky thinks of the stashes all set up for when she’d have to cut and run, the ID that’s always to hand, waking or sleeping. She stares out the window at the bleak city and the dim room, and thinks she’s not going to miss this view.
Two hours later when the door slams open, there’s nothing to find but the cold, empty teapot sitting on the table and two chipped mugs with cold dregs of tea.
They stay in town just long enough to get her passport, living on the fringes, working the system, keeping an eye out for their pursuers. They’re off the grid – for the moment. But so long as they’re in the US, they’ll be found.
They might be found anyway – the world is getting smaller, day by day.
Jason learned that the hard way, in Goa.
Nicky doesn’t waste time looking over her shoulder, though. Instead, she keeps track of their life in the now - the details of living. She manages their food, the little they earn from bit-work here and there, the hoarding of their identities – working out where they can go, what they can do.
Life on the run with the man who still answers to ‘Jason Bourne’ has a rhythm, a pace she falls into without thinking, like a rabbit hole in her psyche.
She still doesn’t know where it goes, although she can feel the end coming – the short, sharp stop that will hurt.
The shadows are closing in. She can feel the night coming, as sure as the day.
They reach Central America and keep moving. Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia...
They pause for breath in La Paz. They take an apartment with barely enough space to move.
One bed, so they share, but don’t have sex.
Nicky isn’t sure how she feels about sex with Jason. This familiarity they hold between them is less to do with physical intimacy and more to do with...comfort.
She buys him coffee that he likes at first taste– a strong blend, but not too bitter. He boils water in the kettle just before she’s due back, so when she comes in it’s hot for her first cup. She leaves him space to move when they’re walking down the street together so he has room to fight. He keeps at her elbow when she turns to look at something, watching her back when she focuses.
They don’t talk much. Small talk, small conversations – nothing about what came before. Barely anything about what’s yet to come.
At first, she thinks he doesn’t want to broach the topic of Treadstone, of Blackbriar, of what she was doing working for Conklin in the first place. It’s not until one rainy night in downtown La Paz when they’re standing together under an awning waiting for the rain to ease, that Nicky squints into the halos of color that the neon casts across the wet surfaces and isn’t sure if they’re in La Paz or Lisbon.
“We’ve been here before,” she says, suddenly confused. They haven’t. Not now, not in the time before. She’s sure of it. But it feels like they have.
He looks at her, jacket collar turned up, hooded eyes wary. “In Madrid, you implied we knew each other. But your memory isn’t much clearer than mine.”
“Do you remember the farmhouse?”
“The dead mouse.”
“Flowers on the table.”
“Tea.” He smiles now, and he seems younger in the night and the neon light and the memories. “Tea that wasn’t microwaved.”
Nicky doesn’t quite shiver. In spite of the rain, it’s a mild night – the temperatures are far more pleasant here. “It’s not raining so hard.”
He catches her hand as they step out into the street – an impulsive gesture that seems…unlike him. They jog through the lessening rain for several blocks, then let go so she can move past a fallen trashcan.
Climbing the stairs of their apartment building, she fishes for her key.
His hand closes over hers as she puts it in the lock, and when she turns, his mouth covers hers.
Nicky knows the taste of him, the feel of his lips against hers. She knows that if she curls her hand in his hair then he’ll angle his mouth deeper against her. If she skims her hand down his belly, she’ll find him getting hard.
But this feels wrong – wrong for her - cold and smooth, choreographed.
Like strangers in a mockery of a love scene.
She tilts her head away, breaking the contact effortlessly. Their gazes meet, unflinching. There are no words for the wrongness inside her, the shadows that stretch cold fingers across them both.
“Sorry,” he says, and steps back.
Marie Kreuz thought that the CIA would leave Jason Bourne alone once they went far enough away. And because she believed it, he let himself believe it, too.
The woman known as Nicky Parsons knows better.
Which is why, when the mercs come for them, she’s not surprised.
He engages three of the four men, his mind already working in the patterns they taught him, using his environment, watching for their training, taking them out of the fight with brutal swiftness.
Nicky stays out of the way until he tosses one to the ground beside her, then slams her heel down on his ankle, crunching the bones there. He screams once, then again when she matches it with his knuckles.
The click of the gun cocking by her temple is almost expected after that.
Jason pauses, but doesn’t let go of the man he’s got in a headlock. He meets her gaze, the indecision on his face. Nicky can see his apology in his eyes – the memory of Berlin and the bunker.
He doesn’t realize that the Alexanderstrasse was as much a revelation of herself was as Tangiers.
There’s a reason Conklin kept her on a short leash, and Abbott made a face as Landy informed her she was coming with them to Berlin. It’s the same reason she was assigned to Daniels after her second encounter with Bourne. The reason Vosen was so swift to believe she’d turned.
Pamela Landy had no idea what she walked into when she brought Nicky Parsons back into the orbit of Jason Bourne.
She has her attacker’s wrist. A moment later, she has his gun. She has the leverage and the momentum. Bone grinds and tendons snap as his elbow goes the wrong way. His scream ends with the short, sharp retort of two bullets in his eye.
Jason is looking at her with a dawning understanding in his expression.
Kill Wombosi? We can do that anytime we like! I can send Nicky to do that for Chrissake!
“They’re coming,” she says with a certainty so sharp it’s a physical pain around her ribcage. “For both of us.”
“We’d better go.”
Someday, Nicky thinks with the dispassion they drilled into her, she should probably send Pamela Landy a thank-you note. Assuming she lives long enough to do so. Because Jason Bourne is a dangerous, but with Nicky Parsons in the balance...
“Do you remember your name?”
They’re on a rattling, rickety bus headed out to the coast, to Peru. He speaks in Russian rather than English or Spanish. They’ve been silent since they took their grab-bags with some bare necessities and left the apartment, picking their way out the window and through the streets of La Paz.
“Corinne Deschamps,” she says after a moment. “Maybe.”
“But you don’t remember.” Any more than I did.
“It was a different program.” The details are there, cold and blank in her memory, shorn of the emotions that should have accompanied them. “We weren’t soldiers – they didn’t want soldiers. We had different medications – different modifications. And biology turned out to be a bigger issue than they expected. Women,” she says when he looks at her, puzzled. “Hormone cycles. Some things stick; other things…don’t.”
“And I did. Why?”
She looks at him, sideways. “Don’t you remember?”
“Flashes. Fragments.” He studies her face, much the way he did in the diner in Madrid, looking for familiarity. “The farmhouse. The mission.”
I see the faces of everyone I’ve ever killed…
“I was your cover. We were a couple on holiday.”
“‘I shouldn’t leave my door unlocked.’”
Nicky doesn’t shift away, doesn’t quite smile. “You shouldn’t.”
It was a different program.
To begin with, permission wasn’t asked of the women. They never consented to the treatments, to the punishments, to the mods – not the way the men did. Maybe that was why so few made it to the end of the process.
“The most stubborn survived,” she says that night, sitting at the small, scarred table in the cheap Arequipa room they hired. “But none of us were asked.”
“When did you realize what they were doing?”
She cradles the chipped stoneware mug across from him. The tea is more herbal than black, but the warmth is comforting between her palms. “After the first injection. A set of immunization shots were issued to all the agents in the class. I got sick from them, and so did about eight other women. And so we were separated and monitored – they said it must have been a bad batch of immunizations”
But when they returned to the program, their colleagues were gone. ‘Already graduated and moved on.’ And Nicky realized that it had been spring when she fell sick and now it was fall. Six months lost, with only strange, dream-like memories of that time between.
And that was just the way it was.
“And the amnesia, the memory-gaps?”
“It’s not the same as what you experienced.” There are no blanks in her past, just…segments that seem dreamlike and distant. Like she was someone else. Activated to do the task at hand, then deactivated to be…normal. Or, at least, to appear normal. “It didn’t work that way - not until the Deschamps' farmhouse.”
Maybe it was the name of the place they were in; maybe it was the way he looked at her. Most operatives barely existed in the world around them, solitary and discomforting men who were permitted their quirks because male genius could always be excused.
Jason Bourne managed to seem charming, switched on, engaged. Personable.
A man has fewer secrets in bed.
“I still don’t remember all the missions,” he says. “But I remembered you. Parts of the mission.”
Nicky tilts her head, amused by the momentary roughness in his voice, by the heat showing in his cheeks. “Parts?”
He meets her gaze, steady and unflinching. “The good parts.”
They find places to live in Lima, spaces to inhabit. Not for very long. Trying to rebuild their lives is no longer an option. Every aspect of their lives must be lived as though it’s temporary. At least, it has to if they want to continue to live.
They want to live.
They’re both survivors of the programs that made them – the last ones.
“Run or fight back.”
He’s an operative. He thinks in terms of objectives, of targets. That’s what he was trained to do. Nicky has other options, other possibilities that can be considered. “Or fall off the radar.” Then, considering, she adds, “Treadstone, Blackbriar, and Zelle weren’t the only projects.”
“Do you know the others?”
“I know someone who might have been asked to work on the next one. But I don’t think it’s wise to contact her.”
“Someone like you?”
“No. She was one of the doctors – brought in to the project from another branch, I think. She worked with the modification drugs.” A fragment of an old rhyme sings through her head. Blue and green should never be seen without another color in between…
“What does it mean?” He asks when she tells him of this.
“I don’t know.” Then, “I don’t want to endanger her.”
He looks at her for a long moment, then nods. “Okay.”
And that, Nicky thinks, is the difference between Jason Bourne and the assassin he was.
It was, she likes to think, why she climbed into his bed in the farmhouse where a family with her surname had once lived, worked the land, laughed, made love.
“I don’t mind staying on the move.” Nicky meets his gaze. She never had a ‘home’ the way most people think of the term.
Home was always where she felt safest – the people she trusted most. When that trust was betrayed…
I’m only here because of Paris, please!
She doesn’t remember being cleaned up, sorted out, reset. She doesn’t know who took care of that. Neil Daniels, maybe? In spite of Nicky Parson’s breakdown in the bunker, Corinne Deschamps was still an asset.
She always will be.
Nicky thinks twice about it. More than twice, actually.
But once she’s moving she doesn’t let herself pause until she’s standing outside his room.
He knows she’s there. But no attack comes when she pushes the door open with a creak.
Their eyes meet in the darkness. "You shouldn't leave your door unlocked.”
“So I’ve been told.”
He’s seated on the edge of the bed, his weapon is in his hand. In spite of all they’ve been through together, there’s still that thread of distrust – perhaps because of all they’ve been through.
They trust each other enough, though.
He puts the safety on the gun, places it on the nightstand, within easy reach – old habit.
He looks at her, steady in the eye. "If you were going to kill me, how would you do it?
She closes the door behind her. "Why would I kill you?"
"Make it a theoretical exercise."
"Sniper, long distance setup."
“You’re better in close quarters. Faster. Stronger."
Nicky’s standing between his legs now, her hand hovering just by his cheek, not quite touching. He tilts his cheek to push into her palm. "Why not seduce me?"
"Don't you think that's a little sexist?"
Zelle agents weren’t trained in seduction, because – as one Zelle overseer remarked – anyone could seduce a man, and the CIA wasn’t running an escort agency. What Zelle wanted was someone to get inside a man’s defences. Less seduction, more psychology. And, if needed, a kill.
She doesn’t want to kill Jason.
She’s not sure she wants to seduce him.
But she wants him.
Is that simple enough?
He turns his face up so he can see her expression. His hand curves around the back of her thigh, sliding carefully up and around to her hipbone. Her shirt-dress bunches in his fist as he draws her down to his lap. "What if I just want to get you into bed?"
Nicky closes her mouth over his, shutting him up, making her move. And Jason leans into her kiss, hesitant at first, then more certain. It takes them both a moment to find the rhythm of things – something they’ve done before, muscle memory, but it only takes a moment to relearn...
Jason cups her jaw, and she lets her hands press against his skin, slide across the bunched strength of his shoulders, run down the long line of his spine.
She pulls out her hair, worn twisted up in a knot, and lets her fingertips trail down his chest.
She rests the pointed tip of the wooden hairpin over his heart. “All I’d have to do is push.” Beneath her fingertips, she can feel the thud of his heart against his ribcage. So much strength, so much life, so much fragility. “You’d never know until you were bleeding out into my hands.”
Without looking away, Jason’s hand closes over hers. The pin is eased from her unresisting hand and he tosses it away to clatter in the corner.
Nicky swallows. Trust – as much as they can give, and more than they deserve, given what they are.
You’re a killer, Jason, you always were.
“Do you know what I am?"
He meets her gaze. “You know what I am.”
Then he draws her back down to him.
This time, they’ll make their own shadows. Maybe they can’t hide for long in them, but they can hide long enough. And long enough will have to do.