Author's Note: For lithiumlaughter. So this was born out of some serious meta conversations with lithiumlaughter about Nicky Parsons and her characterization throughout the trilogy.
Thin Walls of Stone
The first thing they did was teach her to ask no questions. They didn't outright tell her, but by the third day on the job, she had figured out what was and was not safe to talk about.
Nicky Parsons was logistics, psych eval. She was responsible for the assets, giving them what they needed, and making sure they didn't break. Not once in the entire orientation were the assets referred to as human.
When they finally handed Nicky her first evaluation, she could see the fault lines showing. He—and it was he, d–, not just an asset—had all the symptoms she soon came to know as typical: headaches, sensitivity to light, insomnia, nightmares. He hadn't learned yet to hide himself behind the safety of a mask and answered her clinical questions honestly.
She had heard the rumor mill churning and she knew that whatever this man had gone through to become Jason Bourne instead of the birth name she read in his file, the damage wasn't entirely gone. He reported in excruciating detail his assignment, and she swallowed, wondering if the damage ever would be.
He shut down in pieces, sealing his humanity behind thin walls of stone that slowly added layers the way a tree grew twice a year.
Nicky was responsible for his mental and emotional well-being. The fault lines weren't showing, and she understood it: it was sane, but it wasn't healthy. There was only so long it could last before he broke.
She almost told her superiors. She almost called them on the way they used Jason as a tool instead of a person, but she had figured out what was and wasn't safe to talk about, and this was off the table. They would assume that Nicky had been compromised. She had to figure out how to reach him herself.
She tried asking him questions—tiny ones, less clinical. He didn't take it well. He didn't answer at all.
The first time she crossed that professional line, she recited the details over again in her head afterward, but still couldn't figure out how she'd gotten herself out on the limb. They hadn't trained her for this, but they had trained her how to clean up.
She took the morning after pills to cover whatever the other stuff might have missed. Nicky had heard the rumor mill churning and the last thing she needed was to find out Treadstone assets had heritable genetic modifications.
She stayed professional and watched Jason carefully, but however he sealed himself off was still working, and she had no idea what he felt about any of it. She was floundering, and Nicky hated to flounder.
When it happened again later, she came to grips with the way this worked. She didn't ask him whether he cared—that was off the table. She didn't say anything. They kept it quiet. It kept him human, gave him the relief he needed from all of this. Nicky never admitted, it kept her human too.
Bourne missed the contact. Nicky's cover was a student in Paris, but her real purpose was to deal with the assets in the field out there, and he was supposed to call in after Wombosi. Instead, Wombosi lived and Jason disappeared.
It scared her. He disappeared and she couldn't find him, but she wouldn't be able to, she reminded herself. If he wasn't done with the mission, he wasn't done.
But then he diverted money from the Zurich account, and her gut tightened with something different. He was running and she didn't blame him.
They didn't have the kind of relationship where he could ask her to come with him. She wasn't entirely sure if he had actually asked that she would say yes. Right, Nicky told herself bitterly, as she did what her job dictated. He would never have asked.
Nicky made up the wanted posters. She studied the face of the woman with him: Marie. She looked real in a way that agents and assets weren't allowed to be, and Jason looked real beside her.
It unknotted this gnarl of discomfort inside her that he wasn't going to make it, that maybe he would break as she'd worried for the last two years she had known him. Bourne was the best Treadstone asset in the field, and he was going to make it out.
He didn't remember her. She didn't need him to tell her when the look on his face said everything. She felt numb—nothing at all—but when she went to sleep, her face was wet from tears she didn't feel.
Ironically, her failure to tell was the reason she had been compromised.
Nothing made sense at first when he came back onto the grid. Why now? Why any of it? 'You killed two people, Bourne.' He asked for her and none of it made any sense.
Four thousand miles away, watching Marie die.
Nicky had watched him born and that had been hard enough. Four stages of grief, her psychology background supplied when she was currently in the middle of four stages of sheer panic. He was angry and she was a better target than most for him to lash out at. She was going to die and nothing that had ever been between them would ever matter again.
They never trained her for this.
"It wasn't in the file! It wasn't in the file!"
G— what else wasn't in his file?
She couldn't breathe, wouldn't live to see the next breath anyway. Then she did, and that was harder than anything else.
She had written up so many reports on the mental health of the assets. Nicky watched quietly while the woman across from her wrote up her own.
"I was terrified," she admitted, but she never admitted in any sideways, subliminal, or indirect way, "I was devastated."
She packed up her humanity behind a stone wall and knew it would grow thicker with time.
He still didn't know her. She still didn't need to ask. Nicky had looked into Jason's eyes enough times to recognize the difference now. He recognized her, but he didn't know her and that should hurt, but she felt nothing.
"Why are you helping me?"
He had started to remember and she didn't know what to think of the question. Nicky had never been trained for this: they didn't give courses in human relations with a living weapon.
She swallowed and fought down the hundreds of reasons, the moments crystallized in her memory of all the times he gave away another piece of himself for a cause she had only recently realized was so, so flawed.
"It was difficult for me."
It had all been difficult, the more she watched their humanity stripped away, but Jason had been the first and the one that meant something to her and let her convince herself she might have meant something to him.
She stopped talking. With you, I— What? I wanted to keep you from breaking. I wanted you to be free from the weight of deaths you shouldn't have had to bear. I didn't sign up for this. You didn't sign up for this, and I was the only one that knew it.
And even after he'd gotten free, it hadn't stopped. He watched Marie die…
Her thoughts stuttered to a halt. "You really don't remember anything?" she asked, realizing this was a personal line she didn't want to cross unless he needed her to.
He took a longer space than she expected to study her and finally answer, as if nothing had jogged, "No."
She thought she would feel nothing, but this time something jagged ran through her before she put that away behind another layer of stone. There was work to be done, and she couldn't afford to feel, just care. No matter what, no matter how many complications, she didn't think she'd stop doing that.
"It gets easier."
Nicky looked back at Jason for just a moment. She saw him put away the stone wall behind his humanity, and just the fact that he could…
She boarded the bus and breathed in slowly, slowly.
He was going to be okay. She was going to be okay. It was just barely enough.