Author's note: This is my explanation of the cryptic "It was hard for me, with you" line in the cafe. You see, although I think Nikki may have loved Jason, I've never believed they were romantically involved, for several reasons: (one) There's no supporting evidence in either of the first two movies; (two) It undermines the integrity of the Jason/Marie relationship, which I think was an absolutely perfect pairing; and (three) I have to shy away from how horrific a thing it would be, if they had anything more than a professional relationship, for both of the characters. Don't you think they've had enough to suffer through?

Anyway, this is just a different view than most people are taking. Don't blame me if you don't agree.


Expiation

I jolt upward, out of sleep. My hair is damp with sweat, my cheeks burning. Ashamed. The clock glares half-past five in the morning and New York City has already begun to yawn, stretch, awaken around me.

No point sleeping now—the dreams (unprofessional, I scold myself, unrealistic, and unreasonable) will only repeat, again, if I try. Like a damaged CD, stuck on one track; that is where I am now, stuck on one track.

And it aches.

Brief fragments—warm skin, heavy breathing, soft noises—flit in and out of the shadows in my head. I concentrate on making myself a cup of coffee. Methodical.

The caffeine helps, chases some of the memory away. I attempt to read the newspaper, but the tiny jags and lines refuse to arrange themselves into sense. I sit for a moment, turn my empty mug around and around (like the dreams) in my fingers. I will be early, again. But anything will be better than this.

Almost.

I dress quietly, quickly. Then I steel myself, pick up my briefcase, and go.


He releases the washcloth, straightens. My head is still ringing—from the sound of their combat, or from the elbows I took?—when he turns to stare at me, framed in the doorway.

His eyes are the deep acute blue of unspeakable pain; he looks wild, something trapped and beating furiously against the bars, desperate to escape.

And, suddenly, I remember.


The sounds that issue from that awful, awful room are terrible. But the silence. The silence is so much worse. Appalling. It is the silence of manipulation, of "experimental treatment"—of breaking minds and restructuring them. Of recreation.

I sit at my desk and try, very hard, to stop the trembling in my fingers. Try to ignore it—to endure. That is all there is in this place: Endure, or die.

Outside in the corridor, a door opens, shuts. A pause, and then he stumbles in, his eyes transparent with panic or loss.

Or nothing—an abyss.

He looks wild, body tensed and shaking, hands half-outstretched as though reaching for something that has evaded him. I note, almost indifferently, that his hair is wet (again). The water causes the cloth of his shirt to cling to his shoulders, and, noticing, I nearly lose myself (again) to the shards of dreams that refuse to relinquish me.

As I shake them off, he starts to pace. Uneasy, unsure what to do with himself. Only that he cannot remain still.

He stops abruptly, directly before me. "Who am I?" he demands. Every day his tone is a little bit sharper, a little bit harsher. A little bit more violent.

I swallow, answer as instructed. "Your name is Jason Bourne."

"No!" The denial is more vehement than it should be, at this stage.

"If you are not Jason Bourne," I reply, empty, "then who are you?" Reasonable.

He resumes his pacing, around and around (like the dreams) my tiny office. Trapped. I can see the confusion, the ambiguity, whirl and eddy in his wake.

"I don't know," he admits. A confession. It seems to hurt him, putting it into words.

"Jason—" he flinches at the name, accepts it "—sit down. Let's talk," I say. It is half-plea, half-command, and he obeys. A good soldier. "I want to know how you're feeling, and if—"

"What's your name?" His voice is almost inaudible, but its intensity amplifies the query so much that I could swear he has just shouted it.

I shift. They never ask me questions—I have no name for them. Like them. It is for everyone's protection.

"Nikki," I manage, barely. A scrap of dream flashes through my mind; I am so selfish.

He nods, sits back, satisfied.

So selfish.


"It was hard for me," I murmur. The words are slow, thick on my tongue. As bitter as the coffee he has just bought me. I finish, "With you."

His face is blank; only his eyes inquire. But: As a practical matter—merely for answers, for truth, something he has been deprived of for too long.

(I want to tell him: the dreams I had, still have, of the two of us entwined warm and secure. The difficulty I had reminding myself that it could never be, that I owed him a duty, that I was his psychologist and he my patient. The horror of watching him deteriorate daily, hearing him splinter and reform into a shape that steadily grew less recognizable, less human. The lies I had deliberately fed him. The guilt knowing that I was, in part, responsible for what he had become, what and who and where he was today. The relief I had felt when he had disappeared the first and then the second time.)

I revert to old habits, hedge. Despise myself as I request a confirmation, an acquittal—cover myself. "You really don't remember anything?"

How could he forget my role in depriving him of reality and identity and humanity? Yet: How could he remember?

He responds, "No."

I almost cry.

One day he will remember, will dredge up all the deceptions, the torture. And he will not forgive. So I will make my amends, atone for my culpability here. Now. While I have the chance.

And I dare to hope: Perhaps giving him back his identity will compensate, somewhat, for helping tear it from him in the first place.