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Dissuasion

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Amsterdam is cold and wet.

It's different from the dry, bone-searing cold that he is well acquainted with.  He decides there is no need to endure such discomfort for this simple assignment, so he stops watching the streets altogether and ducks into a cafe nearby. 

The coffee he orders is scalding hot, and in one moment of inattentiveness, the lid pops open, spilling its content over his coat.  He swears colorfully under his breath.  

Someone who has just entered the cafe laughs, softly, at his side.  When he looks up, a woman is watching him, eyes sparkling with amusement.  Which tells him she's understood every single Russian word he's just uttered.

This shouldn't surprise him, given what he already knows about her.  The available intel on her hasn't been extensive, but enough.

Before she takes her drink and leaves, she places a paper cup sleeve on his table.

*

She's back in the same cafe next day.  She has brought two newspapers with her, one in Dutch and another in German, both of which she's reading with careful precision.  She doesn't see him watching from across the street.

Her hair is shorter than in the photos.  She's wearing a thick, wooly scarf and she looks warm, out of this damned rain.  He idly entertains the idea of running his fingers through her hair but quickly dismisses it.  Work always comes first.

Then again, now that she's already seen his face, tailing her would get him nowhere.  He considers his options, of which there are only few.  After a moment, he crumples the paper cup in his hand, throws it away, and enters the cafe again.

He walks up to her table and asks, in Russian, whether the seat across from hers is taken.

She glances up at him.  "No," she says, also in Russian. "It's not."

Her accent could still use some work, but overall her Russian is decent.  For an American.

*

He doesn't offer her his real name, but she offers hers without any hesitation.

This isn't the only thing about her that catches him off-guard.

*

He asks her why she's in Amsterdam.

"To study," she answers. "I'm a student."  Which, he knows, is technically true.  "What about you?"

"I'm here on business."

Which is also true.  Technically.

*

When he relates stories on his home country, he expects studious, scholarly discussions on Lenin versus Trotsky, or perhaps Tolstoy and Chekov, in response.  He expects heated and earnest arguments on the Chernobyl disaster and possibly Russia-Georgia relations.  Instead, she mentions her visit to St. Petersburg and briefly recounts the quietness of the Neva River, the unaccountable beauty of it, her every word tinged with unaffected reminiscence.

He's felt no particular fondness for his home, but at her words, he finds himself missing it. 

"Do you want to see it again?" he asks, surprising himself.

"Yes, but it won't be the same."

"I doubt it would have changed much."

She smiles, just a little.  "But I have."

It's not a rueful answer, just an honest one.  

He does want her, he decides.  Possibly in more ways than one.

*

While he walks her back to her place, he teaches her a few new Russian words.   In turn, she teaches him a few Dutch phrases, and her eyes are laughing when he awkwardly sounds them out and butchers the language.

He pulls her back from slipping on a puddle of rain on the street; afterward, he leaves his arm around her shoulders.

She lets him.

Once they reach her place, she watches him thoughtfully for a moment before she asks: "Do you want to come up?"

*

She hooks her fingers around his belt.  He unwraps the scarf around her neck and lets it fall onto the floor, leaving her oddly vulnerable.

She kisses him first, wiping away all other thoughts he might have had.

*

She's deceptively soft, no harsh angles anywhere.  The girls he's known have been hard and rough, resilient, even when their skins were supple and pliant under his hands.  They've known hard lives.

She's known it, too, but it has left no evidence on her, nothing as apparent.  Except in her eyes, and only sometimes.

He runs his fingers through her hair and makes her forget.

*

She traces the calluses covering his palm.  On a strange whim, he lets her, even though she should be able to feel a familiar shape of a gun imprinted and outlined by the calluses.

She does feel it, but passes no judgment; he isn't surprised, but still feels grateful.  His other hand rests over her neck, which he isn't eager to see broken, at least not yet. 

Under his fingertips, he feels the steady, reassuring beat of her pulse until she falls asleep.

*

At two in the morning, he finds out she doesn't bring work home.  If she has her field kit or a sidearm somewhere in her apartment, it's either very well hidden or too out of reach to be of much use.  He can still find it, if he wants to.  If he cares enough to spend some time on it.

He can think of a much better use of his time, so he kisses her awake, his hand travelling over the freckles on her back.

*

Later, he realizes she's made him forget.

*

The call comes in the morning, as expected, while she's in the shower.

"He's been found."

That hasn't taken long.  So, then, this Jason Bourne isn't as invincible as he's rumored to be.  Disappointing.  He's wanted someone worth chasing.  "Where?"

"India." A beat. "What of his former handler?"

He's already calculated his answer.  "She knows nothing."

He doesn't hold his breath while awaiting his orders.

"Leave her, then," Yuri decides, after a moment of contemplation.  "She's of no consequence.  Head to Berlin, Kirill, and then Goa.  The operation is about to start."

He hasn't been holding his breath, or so he tells himself.

*

She gives him a small kiss on his cheek before he leaves.

"For luck."  Her eyes are knowing, but never entirely revealing, and he thinks he wouldn't mind having enough time to unravel them.  Eventually. "You may need it."

He has survived this far only because he's never needed luck, but he collects another kiss from her anyway.

Amsterdam is still cold, wet and miserable, but he thinks he will come back.

Once this job is over.