The asset wasn't known for tender compassion or warmth. If he was, Nicky assumed, he wouldn't be an asset.
But there was a certain amount of liability in being an obvious plant that disappeared at irregular intervals, always when someone of import within the country died, and there was something to be said for the traditional old standbys for covers.
"Are you comfortable with this assignment?" her supervisor asked, and she was not unintelligent.
She looked thoughtful for a moment, processing all the implications—it would do no good to have them assume her an airhead or even blindly devoted to the cause; it was a delicate balance to strike—then nodded. "Yes."
His shoulders relaxed. He nodded back, satisfied. "Good. You'll receive a packet with all your paperwork and whatever tickets and other materials you'll need."
Nothing about the marriage license would be fake. She was actually going to be married.
Nicky Parsons was about to become Nicky Bourne.
He looked her over when she arrived. Classic symptoms. Agitation, hypervigilant, and she guessed at a glance he had the nightmares and headaches that went with being a Treadstone asset.
She smiled, more of a tentative greeting than anything else, and she was almost surprised to see him smile slightly back.
Perhaps it was merely reflex. He wasn't a spy, but he was under orders to generally attempt to blend in.
"This is your room," he said, when he showed her the spacious bedroom he'd set aside for her.
Nicky wasn't entirely certain it was common not to share. "Thank you," she said, without bringing it up. Jason Bourne was some complex combination of triggers and issues, and she had yet to assess him to determine what they were. It was better not to push back on anything until she had.
They were entirely too professional exchanging their schedules and code words and anything else they might need.
"We'll need to practice," she said, "looking married."
For just a moment, he stared at her almost blankly, and she was fairly certain he was a little bit startled by that particular realization. Then he smiled again, and it looked so sincere, she was certain it was fake. "Of course," he said and kissed her cheek with a warmth that made her want to raise her hackles.
She didn't of course. She flashed him a brilliant smile back. This was what she was here for after all.
Nicky knew all the neighbors. They all called her Colette and she felt free to talk about her workaholic husband and write off his business trips as exactly that. His cover was stronger for it, and her own as a student abroad was equally improved.
But then he would come home, hands shaking, looking at her briefly like she was another figure from his nightmares, and maybe she was. She never asked him about that.
She would take him by the hand, and he would let her, draw him to couch or bed or whatever was most convenient and find the blood. There was always blood somewhere, some injury she could wash and care for as she murmured almost forgotten stories of warmth and tenderness from her childhood.
The warm, peach-colored sunlight in her grandmother's kitchen as she learned, small hands under gnarled, how to knead dough and bake bread. The swingset she used to ride, imagining she could swing right up into the sky and let it take her away. Giggles and screams of delight as her father swung her around the room like an airplane.
She never talked about the bad moments, her education, or their jobs. Nothing that might trigger any memories of his own.
This time, it was one of her favorite stories her mother used to tell her at bedtime, and how they'd made a game of it. She kept talking while she bandaged and cleaned and touched this halfway stranger she was married to until his hands stopped shaking and his shoulders finally lost their tension, until he suddenly reached a hand up to her face, and her tongue froze in her mouth because he'd never done that before.
He kissed her, softly, almost tenderly, and then pulled away, studying her with those too aware eyes.
This time it was her hands that were shaking, her mouth that opened and shut without words coming out. Her whole body felt flushed with the warmth of that momentary intimacy.
He didn't answer, but she could see the tension ratchet up a notch in his body as he waited for whatever else she would say.
She had no words. Her ability to do assessments didn't do much for analyzing her own heart. She went with her instincts and leaned in close to kiss him back.