War-King Wounded (7922 words) by Irony_Rocks
Fandom: Bourne Legacy (2012), Bourne Series - All Media Types, Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Relationships: Aaron Cross/Marta Shearing
Characters: Aaron Cross, Jason Bourne, Marta Shearing
Summary: In Aaron's way of thinking, it's a simple enough strategy. He and Marta can't breathe until they figure out the scope of the problem, and in order to do that, they have no choice but to go the source: Jason Bourne.
It takes Aaron far, far too long to realize that Marta is not chattering at him because she is nervous or flirting or thinks he needs to know why she's inordinately fond of the Baltimore system of viral classification, but because she's has a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. There's a sickly sheen of sweat breaking out on her forehead that gives her a clammy look, and her face is too flush. Aaron is pretty sure that normally he'd offer up a reprimand for keeping silent about it for so long – or a pithy remark, a joke to lighten the mood, something; but he just gets her back to their room and lays her against the bed, saying almost nothing at all.
They're in Crete, in a bungalow fifty yards off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and there's a gentle breeze wafting in through their open window; he flips on the fan to make sure she's getting plenty of extra-circulated air, anyway. The irony of their role reversal isn't lost on either of them as he presses a damp cloth to her forehead. He stays up all night – a combination of diligence, worry and structure that forces him to stay alert whenever something doesn't fall within acceptable parameters.
The bungalow is spacious and airy, big windows and wood-paneled walls, everything in simple white linens and muted colors. He's already memorized the pattern on the ceiling, already familiarized himself with standard noise of their neighbors – to their left, a family from Egypt, mother, father, with two sons and a daughter all under the age of sixteen; to their right, a newly wed couple that's been spending most of their weekend in bed. (Aaron's timed them, and from foreplay to finish it's a standard 25 minutes flat. Aaron almost feels compelled to give the guy some pointers.) There's a well-staffed bar around the corner open until the late pre-dawn hours, and a small parking lot at their back where a total of seventeen cars are squared away.
The observations are all equal parts fastidious and annoying; most times Aaron hates the part of his brain that can't shut off, always quantifying and cataloging every detail, even ones of absolute inconsequence.
At two in the morning, Marta begins to wake slowly, almost against her will; she blinks once, twice, murmurs incoherently like her limbs are all aching, and he pushes her gently back to the mattress when she tries to rise up.
"Rest," he tells her. "You need to rest."
"Which one of us is the doctor?" she chides, groggily.
"Ph.D., sweetheart," he reminds her, amused. "Until your body remembers it's not a petri-dish, you're following my orders."
"Pushy, pushy," she mumbles, but she's fast asleep again before he can even respond.
It's another twenty-four hours before the fever breaks, before he feels comfortable letting her out of his sight. He gathers his things and looks out the window, spotting a dark sedan pull up in front of the beach. From the outside, the place looks like a small cottage with a pale green picket fence surrounding it, weathered, paint chips peeling, and a wide veranda encircling the entire structure. A man climbs out of the car – early forties, gray hair, dark tan, well-worn slacks. Tourist, Aaron decides, and goes back to packing his things.
Marta sounds guilty when she speaks from behind, "I can't believe we wasted so much time here."
"We're a couple on vacation," he reminds her – more cover than reality, frustratingly enough. He grabs his gun and tucks it into his waistband, then hides it with the flaps of his pale blue shirt. He's dressed causally, collar open at his throat, beige khakis only to knee length. "So you got sick? We're staying a few more days, no big deal. No one is going to bat an eyelash. Now stay in bed and drink plenty of fluids. I'll be back in a few hours."
"You shouldn't have watched over me. It was a waste of time. We should have been out of here by now."
"A few more days in paradise. Yeah, a realhardship."
"Aaron," she stops him, when his hand is braced on the doorknob. "Stay safe."
He smiles at her, because she's cute when she worries. "Sure thing, doc."
The international news mention nothing about the American Senate hearings, but Aaron takes a short walk down the street and decides to use the faster WIFI connection provided at the local internet café. The one at the bungalow sucks. The waiter brings him a mild roast cup of coffee while Aaron stares out over the plateia and watches a flock of pigeons take flight. He has on a wide brimmed hat, shading him from the glaring sun, but it's the sort of thing a tourist is expected to wear rather than what he really wantsto wear; Marta made relentless fun of him when he'd thrown down a handful of coins for it.
The website on his laptop loads slowly, and Aaron focuses on the leading paragraph. The Senate investigation hearings into CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy's allegations against fellow government agents has been rescheduled to the following week due to the unavailability of its lead witness. Blackbriar supervisor Noah Vosen, one of the topmost CIA agents most heavily accused in Landy's indictments, has suffered a severe heart attack and is currently listed in critical condition in Columbia Memorial Hospital. Landy was unavailable for comment, but the delay in hearings is yet another setback in what one high-level official has called "a mad rendition of the final act of Hamlet." As to date, in the last sixteen weeks, three leading witnesses for the Senate investigation hearings have met with death, illness or accident, rendering them unavailable in answering a growing number of ethical questions surrounding the CIA's use of black ops programs.
It began with Treadstone, Aaron knows.
It's a familiar name to him, now. He's still muddling through some of the names of major players, trying to figure out which ones are heavily involved and which ones are patsies: Ward Abbott, Head of Operations. Alexander Conklin, Field Director. Albert Hirsch, Director of the CIA's training program and a man that trained Aaron himself. And, of course, Pamela Landy. The woman is someone Aaron wishes he could talk to, desperately.
But he's done enough digging around that he's pieced together a significant amount of the story behind Jason Bourne; it's in fact the reason he and Marta are in Crete in the first place. The timeline of Bourne's dissent is easy enough to map out once Aaron knew what he was looking for: from the Wombosi op going sideways three years ago, to Marie Kruetz's watery demise in Goa late last August, to Bourne resurfacing in Russia and the US weeks later. His reemergence set off a domino effect that lead to the quick demolition of an entire wing of the agency. Months later, and the collateral is still piling up: Senate hearings, resignations from a dozen high-level officials, not to mention the execution of who knows how many pricey, highly-trained assassins, an entire support staff – including Marta's own medical team, and the systematic dismantling of not one but three different black ops programs – Treadstone, Blackbriar and Outcome. All because one man lost his memory.
Issues of resentment aside, Aaron's got to hand it to Bourne – the guy is a perfect weapon of mass destruction.
So, in Aaron's way of thinking, it's a simple enough strategy. He and Marta can't breathe until they figure out the scope of the problem, and in order to do that, they have no choice but to go the source: Jason Bourne. He closes the laptop, and settles back against the chair in silence. The trail's been light, almost invisible, but Aaron had seen one loose thread that he'd tugged at until Crete came out. It's not the sort of place he would have pegged for Bourne, but Aaron isn't one to judge. Three days in, however, and Aaron hasn't uncovered nearly as much intel as he should have. Marta's illness is only half the reason; the sources and gut-instincts that led them thus far have suddenly gone dry as a bone.
Aaron suddenly feels like he's been chasing a ghost this entire time.
After running a few errands, the entire day unfolds without incident and it's getting dark by the time he comes back to the bungalow. There's the soft aroma of dinner simmering in the kitchen. Aaron drops his laptop bag at the side of the door and then freezes, sensing something. By the time he's turned around with his gun drawn, Jason Bourne is standing in the hallway with a Beretta trained right back at him.
"Well, shit," Aaron offers.
"Your girlfriend's in the kitchen," Jason informs, evenly. "Let's stay calm."
"Calm is good. I like calm. How'd you find us?"
"You were blown thirty-six hours after arrival."
"Tell me it wasn't the hat? Marta will never let me live it down if it was the hat."
Jason doesn't seem to have a sense of humor, shockingly enough. He gestures once with his gun for Aaron to drop his weapon, and the only thing that forces his hand is that he hasn't heard a peep out of Marta. He has no idea what condition she's in, and as many files as he's read on Jason Bourne, none of them talk about the man as if he's anything more than a weapon. Aaron assesses him, one on one. Jason is a pre-gen recruit, so there's an advantage. Aaron glances briefly to the side. After years spent in one bland safehouse or another, the bungalow surrounding them feels almost opulent. Aaron can already tell Jason's removed the Glock from behind the fireplace, and he's probably already scoped the rest of the flat for the miscellaneous weapons Aaron stashed here and there.
"You followed me," Jason says, sensing the assessment. "You brought this to my door. Drop the weapon and we'll talk. This isn't going to happen any other way."
Aaron offers a wry sort of smile, nodding. He drops the gun and kicks it across the room, and Jason carefully reaches down to retrieve it – Aaron takes any opening he can get. Darting across, he jabs an undercut at Jason's side and twists at his arm. The gun goes off, but the aim is towards the wall and the two vie for control. Jason tries to slam an elbow back into Aaron's face, but he throws up a hand, fingers spread wide and catches it. Aaron twists, Jason drops the gun, and then it's a brutal fight after that.
They grapple for the gun on the floor before Jason slams a boot into his stomach. They dive apart, and then attack again, a quick series of hard jabs and swift kicks. Aaron sees snatches of Jeet Kune Do and Krav Maga. He counters with judo and kendo. It's too close quarters for either to gain an immediate upper hand. At one point, Aaron hefts Jason around the waist and hurls him into the full-length mirror in the hallway. They go crashing through the wood-paneled walls and Jason recovers first, stretching across for a blade of glass. He swings out, and Aaron takes a slice to his sleeve. Neither pauses for pain or breath.
Aaron retreats, feet swift and calculating, into the kitchen. Marta is gagged and tied to the stove, staring wide-eyed at them. Jason dodges back when Aaron throws a cross, and there's a slight favor to Jason's left side now – he must've gotten hurt with the crash through the wall. Aaron uses that, delivering a series of consecutive blows to the left side of his ribcage. Jason doubles-over, before recovering, and it isn't more than another ten seconds of fighting before everything in the kitchen – from the stove to the ceramic plates to the single fork resting on the countertop – is used as a weapon.
Finally, when Aaron is barely warding off the pronged edge of a fork from digging into his right eye, holding Jason's assault back with nothing more than gritted teeth and bicep muscle, it's Marta's nearby gagged screaming that registers. Jason's eyes drift, just briefly, to the woman – and then he snaps back to Aaron. Something changes with the exchange, a brief moment of cognitive dissonance over behavioral reflex – and Jason pulls back.
The kitchen is demolished, there's a bullet hole in the hallway plaster, and both men are breathing heavily. Marta continues to stare wide-eyed at them, and Aaron is aware the neighbors have probably already called the cops.
"We're on the same side," Aaron offers.
Jason's body is still tensed like he could reengage the fight at any second. Aaron just stands, barely moving, aware that the difference between fight and favor might come down to a split second decision.
Eventually, Jason says, "The cops are going to show up within—"
"Eight minutes, yeah, I know."
Jason retreats a step, then says, "Meet me at the Manousakis Winery, tomorrow, 1600."
Aaron pauses for a beat, then nods. Jason doesn't wait for any more confirmation than that. He's already moving for the nearest exit, fifteen seconds flat before Aaron can hear a motorcycle outside their bungalow taking off. The aftermath of a fight and the reprieve of a truce barely register with Aaron as he moves swiftly towards Marta.
He unties the gag first, before undoing the ropes at her hands. "You all right?" he asks her.
Marta nods. "He didn't hurt me."
It's the one thing that stopped Aaron from deciding to kill him.
Aaron has an arm around Marta as they move down the streets, but after the first few blocks and the local police have driven by, he forces them to go leisurely, nothing more than a couple enjoying a late night stroll. She pulls her jacket a little tighter around her, trying to burrow in to ward off the biting wind. Aaron does his best to cover up the bloodstains on his sleeve, but he isn't that hurt; other than a few bruises and one knife-wound, he came through the fight relatively unscathed. They walk in silence down the cracked pavement. He keeps his eyes peeled and focused on the corners, avoiding people's direct stares as best he can. The empty streets and vacant shops aren't problematic, but Bourne's appearance has him paranoid. It was sloppy, how all of that had gone down. Not one error, but two. First, being caught off-guard by Bourne, and then the fight. Sloppy, and dangerous. He's lucky Bourne hadn't killed first and asked questions later.
They pick a new place, this time a rundown motel with half the neon lights on the vacancy sign flickered out. Marta gets the water going, scorching hot and pouring out so hard that when she tests it with her fingers beneath the faucet the force knocks her hand back. She insists on tending to his knife wound, but he's too busy securing the layout at first to indulge her; after ten minutes have confirmed sanctuary for him, she steps in front and stares him down.
"You need stitches."
He nods, knowing better than to argue with her when she gets into doctor mode. Never mind it was this side of twenty-four hours ago that she was the patient. Aaron silently strips off his shirt and sits on the lip of the tub, obliging. She disinfects the area on his bicep, and holds the needle to a flame for a few seconds before shaking it out. He knows she could do this all with a tenth of the concentration she's giving it, because she's always careful and quick and focused, forever effortlessly efficient; it's the type of clinical distance that he shouldn't find sexy, but he always has, even back when he had no chance in hell with her and he'd known it. Instead that'd just given him the drive to flirt without conviction, half-disdain, probing her for information even though he knew she'd never give any. All those doctors honing their impersonal treatment down to an art form, and she'd been no exception, but he'd always watched out for her anyway. Those same mannerisms that he found unattractive on every other doctor somehow sat differently on her. She'd been the only exception to his feigned disinterest.
He finds she's a lotof his only exceptions.
When she starts with the stitches, poking through tender flesh, it only hurts for a few seconds. He doesn't wince, but he does tense up and her eyes flicker up to meet his, and he senses the restrained fear, the uncertain look of shaken discord.
"I'm fine," he tells her, because he realizes he didn't actually say that before, in any of the aftermath of smashing up their vacation house with fists and his face.
"That man could have killed us," Marta says.
Aaron doesn't want to argue the point too much. "He didn't, though."
She shakes her head and turns away, like she has no idea why they were gifted with such mercy – but Aaron thinks he already knows why, and it's ironic that she doesn't get it because sheis exactly the reason. Aaron saw the way Jason had looked at her, just seconds before he pulled back and relented on the fight.
"I'm coming with you tomorrow," Marta says, breaking into his thoughts.
He looks up at her and it's easier to focus on her hand, the sting of thread and needle, than it is to think about the harsh reality of new alliances. "What?"
"Tomorrow," she repeats. "I'm coming with you."
Aaron is already shaking his head. "No. It's too dangerous. He's still an unknown—"
"If I leave it up to you two," Marta cuts in, "you'll kill each other."
Aaron almost laughs, but there's just a smidge too much honesty in the admission. He doesn't doubt for a second that if Marta hadn't been there today, things would've ended another way. The IQ of both men combined probably breaks the bank, but both are trained to neutralize threats first and foremost. But if Jason recognizes mercy, maybe coming to Crete hasn't been such an insane idea, after all? The observations inform Aaron of more than a little about the quality of Jason Bourne. Despite the resulting bruises, it's more positive than negative.
One thing at a time, though.
"I don't want you in harm's way," Aaron says.
Marta gives a rueful laugh, short but not sweet. "A little too late for that, don't you think?"
Later that night, he's still up, admittedly running on fumes after a few sleepless nights but he can't unwind. He spends a while prepping for the following day's meeting, studying the layout of the Manousakis Winery that he pulls from the internet. The place is public, one of the biggest tourist draws of the area. It's only twenty minutes from the town of Chania, and if any of them need to get lost quickly, it isn't going to be that difficult. Not a bad place for a neutral meeting.
Marta finally pulls him into bed around 3 am, where they lie on the scratchy mattress and try to stay warm from the lingering chill. He doesn't sleep. He just lays beneath the sheets for hours, staring up at the ceiling and thinking too hard. Marta turns over on her side, curling up around him in deep slumber, an idle hand resting against the rough scar on his chest. He mind fixates on Bourne, and as far as Aaron is concerned, Jason Bourne is a living cautionary tale of how his life can go wrong. He highly doubts the other agent had been exaggerating about the bit where their cover had been blown thirty-six hours after their plane touched down. Which means Bourne had been watching them for two days; he must've been watching them while Marta was sick, while Aaron was taking care of her. The thought festers unpleasantly.
His mind flashes to the photos he'd seen of Marie Kruetz, the ones the locals had taken when they'd fished her body out of the Zuari River. The halo of her damp red hair had stuck in clumps around her face; she'd been ashen, a lifeless doll with pale eyes. "Did you fall in love? That's it, isn't it? You fell in love."It's a mistake many agents have made. Aaron's real fear isn't that he'll die for making it; it's that Marta will.
It's this observation that makes him turn over, tug Marta up from her sleep by sucking a small bruise into her collarbone. She's slow to rise, but he takes his time, pressing her body back into the mattress as he moves down her. Her curves arch against the stiff lines of his chest, and she's wearing a thin white shirt that he lifts to mouth kisses to her bellybutton. She squirms a little, hair bed-tousled and eyes heavy-lidded – and he's seen women all around the world but she's still one of the sexiest creatures alive, even without the barest hint of makeup.
He rolls her underwear down her thighs and loses them in the sheets. Pressing a hand between her legs, the sharp tightness in his chest eases when she moans, releasing those small, choked noises from her throat and his hips buck a bit against her body in greedy anticipation. Her fingers slide down to meet his and she encourages his movement, quickening the pace of his fingers by guiding them and pushing them against her and inside of her. He loves it when she moves for control.
Then he's leaning heavily against her, reaching for the bedside table where a box of condoms rests just out of reach. He finally snags a pack, impatiently ripping the edge open with his teeth while his free hand spreads her thighs apart again; her muscles tremble against his heavy petting, his fingers wet and sticky. She helps him pull on the condom with a throaty laugh, half-breathless, and then his cock is thrusting in, hard and slow. She whines deep in the back of her throat. He pushes in and out, slowly at first, then manages to get one hand beneath her ass and lifts her up so he can move faster, can fuck her with enough urgency to have the headboard thrashing against the wall in a rhythmic staccato. He holds her hands down above her head, and she bucks against his hold, teeth biting lips and her fingernails pressing into the back of his hands with crescent marks. She comes before he does, but it's a near thing, and then he lays there for a while, still physically connected, him on top, breath slowly coming back to normal.
They make love once more at dawn, this time slower, more relaxed, his mind appeased of silent fears. He finally drags off all her clothes, knuckles brushing across her skin as he divests her of the shirt and her unmatched ivory bra so that they join in a pile with her green underwear. He pulls her on top of him, where she rides against him with an open mouth and a graceful throat full of lines that Michelangelo couldn't dream to draw.
Afterwards, cooling with sweat, he finally, finallyfalls asleep.
An idyllic morning yields to the afternoon, and suddenly Aaron is all business again. It's like a switch flips and even if every romantic impulse Aaron ever had came bearing down on him in that single moment, he'd be powerless to stop the analytical part of his brain from taking over; the side that the CIA trained into him with twelve million dollars worth of training, drugs and conditioning. Marta doesn't even comment, just excuses herself by folding up into the corner chair with the latest medical journals in her lap; she insists on keeping up to date, always will. He goes over his escape routes again, checks his ammo supply and examines all his weaponry to make sure they're solid. It's supposed to be a friendly chat, a truce on both sides, but Aaron prepares as if he's going on a wet job. He won't be caught off guard this time.
"Aaron," she calls. Marta stands nearly toe-to-toe with him, but she still has to tilt her head slightly up to meet his eyes. "It's time."
They arrive five minutes early, but Bourne is already waiting for them at a small table under the shaded veranda. He's wearing a light thin jacket and jeans, casually enough to blend in with the crowd, and Aaron realizes with a start that he's dressed similarly, even down to the same muted colors. Aaron nods for Marta to walk on the other side of him and she complies, shifting to cross his path so that he's the first to approach Bourne.
If Bourne is surprised Marta came along, he doesn't show it. They both sit down without saying much, and a waitress comes by to offer them some water. The winery has a lovely selection of vintage and fresh wine, but the afternoon is too early for that and the waitress offers them a menu for a late lunch instead. Pleasantries are painful until she leaves, and then Aaron leans back in his chair and smiles.
"So," Aaron says, lightly, "I think we got off on the wrong foot yesterday."
"What do you want?" Jason asks.
No beating around the bush; he's going to be as painfully single-minded in this conversation as expected.
"We need information," Marta says. "We need your contacts."
Bourne offers her the courtesy of directing the answer to her, before he says, flatly, "That's not how this works. If you came here for answers, it was a waste of time."
"Our lives have been upended," Aaron remarks. "You don't give a shit about that, do you?"
"Would it matter if I did?" Bourne asks.
"The truth always matters," Aaron says. "What they're doing, it needs to end. It needs to stop. You have contacts. Pamela Landy, and others? I'm tired of running. We need to start playing offense."
Jason shifts in his seat, shaking his head like he's hearing something as outrageous as a bad plot in a spy movie. "I didn't get into this to expose people. That's not how it went down. I told them what would happen if they came after me, and they did. I delivered on my threat. It's a simple as that."
"A lot of other people got caught up in that threat," Marta says, tightly. "A lot of innocent people died."
"That wasn't me," Jason answers. "I just wanted off the grid. They're the ones the burned the operation down. I never wanted any of that."
Aaron means to keep cool, maintain a level grasp on the situation, but already he can feel his emotions shoving him passed indifference and into the region of antagonism. He should draw information out of Bourne, a source of intel if not an ally, but instead he finds himself leaning forward, elbows braced on the table, meeting Bourne's eyes with an aggressive stare.
"That's not good enough," he tells Bourne. "You started something, and whether you like it or not, you have an obligation now. A reasonability and duty—"
"Don't talk to me about duty. I gave more than just blood and sweat to the program. I gave my life. It tookfrom me, and I'll bring this fight to the door of anyone that wants a piece of it, but I am not a martyr. If you came here looking for—"
"We don't want a personal messiah," Aaron cuts in, angrily. "Treadstone? That was the tip of the ice burg. It isn't just about you and the Senate hearings. If it was, I could drop your body on the corner of 71st and First Avenue, and all of this would be over."
The reaction to the address is abrupt and immediate, and Aaron suddenly knows the same men conditioned Jason in the same bleak facility in New York as him. Treadstone, Outcome – it's all the same thing. They changed the nameplate on the wall and upgraded with drugs, but it's the same hands getting dirty every time.
"What do you want?" Jason asks again.
"Pamela Landy," Aaron answers, "We know you have contact with her, and we need to arrange a meeting."
"What information do you want to get from her?"
"Not get," Marta cuts in, hands making a stalling gesture. "Give.The conspiracy is larger than even she knows. Treadstone, Blackbriar, even Outcome – it's only one facet of a larger program. I was on the cutting edge of multiple projects, working with subjects that had reconditioning and genetic modifiers to numerous chromosomes. I'm talking about restructuring the human DNA, Mr. Bourne. Do you know what that means?"
"I can hazard a guess," Jason replies. "Better operatives – faster, stronger, smarter." He looks to Aaron. "In theory, anyway."
Aaron offers a smirk to the dig. "Watch it, gramps."
"It's more than better soldiers," Marta cuts in, silencing both men. "Aaron represents the next gen-level of subjects after you, but it doesn't stop with his program. LARX pushed the envelope even further, cutting back on the emotional noise that some of the higher-ups were so intent on eliminating. I'm talking about seeding out human emotions – empathy, pain, grief, guilt."
"LARX?" Jason repeats, with interest sparking in his eyes.
"The prodigy to follow Outcome and all it's predecessors," Marta explains. "I wasn't aware the project had even started until a year ago. But it's there, and possibly still up and running. It's the next stage."
For the first year of the program, the first year that Aaron Cross even existed, he'd been mostly numb, soaked through with cold conviction, stuck in a loop of a good soldier following orders. But Aaron Cross or Kenneth J. Kitsom, either one, there has always been a fundamental core that's never changed in him. Patriotism, an innate sense of right and wrong, a firm belief in basic human decency – whatever you called it, he's always had it deep down. It's something that he clung to in Iraq, even through the heaviest shit storms imaginable, and it's something he very nearly lost afterwards too, driven by a bloodied conscious and a feigned apathy to the mission.
That was when he first started questioning things, questioning everyone – his orders, his superiors, his doctors, and his missions. Jason Bourne may have been the catalyst that led to a hit out on Aaron's life, but the truth is Aaron began that descent long ago. As soon as he started questioning the order of things, the implications and the reasons – that was when he'd signed his own death certificate.
"I have medical files," Marta adds. "Copies that I backed up religiously. The information on there could shed light on human experimentation that goes nowhere near ethical considerations and makes a mockery of FDA approval. We just need to get to it, which – I gather – is where you two might need to sort out some sort of strategy. They're inside secure government facilities. But if we get our hands on those documents, it'll give your friend Landy ammunition not only to shut down the programs, but it'll help her bring to light these experiments."
Jason stares at her. "And you were a part of those experiments?"
Marta pauses, lips sealing into a thin line, before she answers, "I was. I lead a team. It was my life's work."
"Now I want to take a wrecking ball to it, just like you."
The statement is punctuated by silence when the waitress walks by and everyone falls into a hush. It's a hot day for once, one of the hottest of the year. For the six hundred thousand residents of the city and its outlying areas, today is one of those days where every citizen spends the majority of the day searching for cool, dark shade to hide under.
Aaron takes a sip of the ice water, before he gives Jason a measured look. "We've all done things we wish we could take back."
In answer, Jason only looks away and then nods.
Aaron picks up the thread again. "I know a man, Eric Byer, retired Colonel who's with the agency now. He recruited me. His hands are deep and bloody in the thickest parts of this. And I guarantee you he's still in play. Morally indefensible and absolutely necessary,that's what he called us. With men like him in charge, there will always be a Treadstone in play. We have to bring down men like him, and no offense to Landy, but she isn't cutting it. Not with what she has. She needs more."
Jason keeps his voice even, devoid of any hint as to what he's thinking, "So you're suggesting you get the proof and then I bring it to Landy. How do I know I can trust you?"
"If you couldn't, you'd be dead already," Aaron answers, pointedly. "You want something good to come out of this? All this bloodshed, all this destruction? Let it be this. Burn it down. Burn all of it down."
Surprisingly, it's easier to convince Jason after that than Aaron expects.
Still, there's one question that continues to plague them. "Why?" Jason asks him, pointblank that night. "I still haven't gotten a satisfactory answer to that. You should walk away. Take Marta and hide."
It's a fair question, actually. Even though they're currently planning infiltration into a secret government facility on foreign soil, a task that should demand their undivided attention, the question deserves a careful response. Aaron's thought a lot about doing exactly that – disappearing into the wind with Marta and never looking back – but if he starts running, he'll never stop. Back, before, when things had been about immediate survival and nothing else, Aaron hadn't allowed himself to think about anything beyond how to viral out. Then it had been about getting to safety with Marta, getting lostwith Marta.
But he's always been a man to buck convention.
Eventually Aaron says, "You remember when you first joined the forces? What were you, Air Force? Navy?"
"Army," Bourne answers. "A Captain."
"Guess that means you outrank me," Aaron replies, a little amused. "I was a PCF."
That earns his first genuine smile out of Jason. The guy doesn't strike Aaron as the type that gets along with other guys, even the way men normally do. Aaron might even feel jealous by the way he seems more relaxed around Marta, shoulders less tense and body language less aggressive – but Aaron doesn't bother; he knows it's about evaluating threats, and besides, it doesn't take a genius to figure out the guy is still grief-stricken over his girl anyway.
"You remember the conviction we had back when we were young?" Aaron asks him, "Back, when we were fresh soldiers. When we thought patriotism was about fighting for the right cause." There's a lengthy pause, and Jason doesn't have to answer because Aaron can see it on his face. "They took everything from me," he tells Jason. "I want at least that much back."
Veni, vidi, vici. Pugio, gladius, spatha, pilum. Hastati, Principes, Triarii.A soldier's life is both simple and complicated because it's all about following orders. He doesn't have to remind Jason of what it was like to be that young, because the CIA always looks for mal-adjusted boys that give little thought to smaller sacrifices as long as they hold to a higher calling.
"Captain what?" Aaron finds himself asking.
"Your name. Captain what? Who were you before you became Jason Bourne?"
There's a heavy pause. "Webb. David Webb."
Aaron smiles at him, a little ruefully. "Kenneth James Kitsom," he returns. "Nice to meet you."
He doesn't believe in staying in a blown location, and neither does Jason; they leave Crete shortly thereafter, jumping onto the first ferry off the island and then to the fastest train to London that crosses the Alps. He settles in with Marta in the relative luxury of first class seats, just a normal couple during those hours. The plan isn't explicitly agreed upon, but they stay separate from Jason – until, that is, Marta quietly slips out of the seat next to Aaron and crosses the compartment, dropping into the chair next to Jason in the back. It's an unprecedented move, and he's perfectly aware that Jason tenses, caught off guard when Marta talks to him displaying only the briefest micro-expressions of unease; what the conversation centers about, Aaron doesn't know and can't hazard a guess, but it's amusing as fuck to see Jason visibly thrown.
It's a bold move, but it isn't dangerous – no cameras on the train, barely any security, and whatever scrutiny they need to avoid has passed since loading onto the first class cabin. They're just ordinary folk now, a few among a crowd, and as long as they act natural, Aaron knows no one will lift an eyebrow at them. It's more obsession than diligence that makes Jason sit apart, and it's obvious he's more than a little rusty on simple conversation because it looks like Marta is doing most of the talking. Something akin to pity fosters in Aaron's veins when he thinks about everything the other agent has lost, but he clamps down on the emotion hard because he isn't here to be Jason's friend, and neither is Marta.
Eventually, after about five minutes or so, when the conversation finally looks casual enough to an onlooker, she gets a startled laugh out of Bourne – sharp and half-incredulous, but Aaron appreciates the moment because he realizes it's entirely genuine, that behind Bourne's calculating exterior must still be a human being.
Marta finally hands Bourne a few pills and smiles. She slips out of the chair and rejoins Aaron in the front, and he asks, "What was that about?"
"Nothing," Marta answers vaguely, a little embarrassed. "Just noticed it looked like he was having a headache or a migraine. The earlier subjects in the program were prone to them. I handed him a few tablets of aspirin."
"You shouldn't have done that. We're trying to stay below radar."
"He said the same thing."
"And?" Aaron prods.
"I can't live my life as paranoid as you two," Marta informs, simply.
They arrive in London late the second day. By that time, Aaron already has crisp new IDs and two new blank passports drafted just in case. Halfway into the lobby of their hotel, Marta excuses herself to use the bathroom and disappears for a few minutes. Aaron passes by the glass doors, spotting a group of men across the street, one in particular with a heavy set of shoulders and a flat unkind gaze. Aaron fixates on him, even as he continues swiftly down the lobby, and something's off that he can't place into words, but he looks across the lobby, spots Bourne, and trades a single nod – nothing more, but it conveys everything that needs to be conveyed. Aaron passes by the desk, while Jason slips into the ladies' rooms to retrieve Marta because he's closer, and they've got a ten-second head start, but that's all they need.
Another thirty seconds after that, a SWAT team full of Special Forces swarm the hotel carrying Hk G3K. The trio escape easily, slipping into dark alleys and then disappearing into the crowd without incident.
"How did you know it wasn't just an ordinary man?" Marta asks, looking shaken.
He can't really answer that. It's more than just a look or a feeling; it's something that wasn't precisely trained into him, more like gut-instincts that were always there and Outcome just enhanced it. Whatever he calls it, it's impossible to describe in words, especially to a novice, but he wouldn't even bother to try with a seasoned pro like Jason either. It's just… there, innately. It's like being pulled down (slow or fast) into murky icy water, the greenbrownness closing in with jabs as sharp as a knifepoint. A normal person would freak out, react, except to him the cold is just the cold, quantifiable and escapable, a matter of using the time to strategize rather than feel; he suspects that there's something perhaps inhuman about that, not reacting with fear, that healthy inherent fear of deaththat plagues all of humanity, but he doesn't like the implications and he doesn't want to describe it like that to Marta anyway.
They stay at an alternative hotel across the city, and it's only later, when they're settled down for the night and Jason hands him Marta's bag, somehow mixed up with his, that Aaron realizes he trusted Jason in the heat of the moment – to look after Marta without question or pause.
The action is once again more indicative than anything he can put into words.
The next day, shit hits the fan only on their way out of the facility.
Up till then, everything had gone smoothly. Both Marta and Aaron had made it inside with no problems, passing the security checkpoints with flawless IDs and granted access to the central mainframe. Aaron hadn't liked the idea of bringing her along, but only Marta could identify the medical files worth taking. Jason spent the op running back up, looking out for potential problems and deflecting the government security to the other end of the facility when suspicions arose. They'd made it clear out of the first building when the alarms had gone off.
Then, it's the standard affair: gates shut down, floodlights open, and the entire facility starts going into lockdown.
"Car, to your right," Aaron instructs, guiding Marta with a hand at the small of her back.
Aaron gets in behind the driver's seat, and then it's a mad dash, almost kamikaze-style, but instead of smashing through the gates where their tires will rupture on spiked roadblocks, Aaron hurdles the car through the chained-fence at the side; he crashes onto the side streets in mid-traffic. Marta lunges for the backseat, huddling while gunfire smashes through the back window – and Aaron swerves and spots Jason outside the gates. There's blood on his shirt, a clear gunshot wound to the stomach, but Jason barely falters; Aaron hardly needs to slow the car down while he passes, throwing open the passenger door so that Jason can dive in; there's gunfire, burned rubber, and blood soaking the car seats.
Jason seems more concerned about firing off a suppressive barrage than he is about his own injuries.
"How bad is it?" Aaron finally asks him, when they've made it far enough that he can see the bridge lights.
"It's fine," Jason lies. "Take the next right."
Aaron grips the steering wheel tight and swerves, and then there's an ugly car chase after that, involving over half a dozen vehicles, all government issued and heavy duty. Aaron leaves a line of wreckage through twelve blocks of London commercial real estate and residential homes. They finally make a getaway when they cross over the river and park under an overpass while cop cars fly overhead.
Twenty minutes later, Aaron's dragging Jason's limp body out of the car, hauling him onto a flat wooden bench in their safe house while Marta frantically calls out for supplies. Aaron leaves briefly to retrieve the med kit, and by the time he makes it back, Marta already has Bourne's blood-soaked shirt cut down the center, hanging open in soiled flaps at his sides. The wound looks bad.
"Look at us," Jason says, slurring. "Look at what they make you give."
"With a few more pints of your blood and a Hail Mary," Marta announces tiredly, several hours later. "He'll live."
She looks exhausted and particularly garish, covered in Bourne's blood. There's even a streak of it across her cheek that Aaron wipes away with his thumb, careful to keep his touch light because it looks like Marta is holding herself together by a thin string. She's a virologist and a scientist, not a medical physician in the normal sense of the profession, but since joining Aaron, she's had to brush up on her triage skills more often than she's liked.
"He needs a hospital," she tells him.
"We can't do that, and you know it."
She flinches and looks away, because she does, so she settles down heavily on the stiff metal chair at the side. He goes down on his knees in front of her, taking her hands into his and noticing for the first time that they're trembling. He's been desensitized to blood for longer than he can remember, but sometimes he has to actively remind himself that she doesn't handle death the same way. She offers a watery smile, all her reserves plainly depleted, then glances across the poorly lit room.
She frowns at Jason's body. "We're not equipped to deal with this here. He's going to wake up in a lot of pain."
"You've seen the old bullet wounds on his body? This isn't the guy's first rodeo."
"This still isn't the best place," she insists.
The safe house leaves a lot to be desired, he'll give her that. They picked it because of its prime location, set up in an old ironworks district. It looks a cross between an auto junkyard and an armory. Equipment is strewn everywhere: lathes, mills, old furnaces, gutted vehicles, and they've hastily erected an ad-hoc surgical theater in one corner. Aaron doesn't want to think about the complications of sanitation affecting Bourne's condition, but the place is hardly a sterile environment.
"He'll be fine," he says, with no proof to back it up.
"Just promise me you'll never end up on a slab like that," she says.
"Yeah, sure," he answers lightly, because they both know it's a lie.
The thing of it is, it won't stop with LARX, just like it hadn't stopped with Outcome, Blackbriar or Treadstone. It isn't just the CIA's way of doing things—it's men in power, and where there's power, there's corruption. Neither Aaron or Jason are the type of guys naïve enough to believe in an incorruptible system, but that isn't the point. The point, Aaron figures, is that they're both men with blood on their hands. The difference between them and men like Byer – like Conklin and Hirsch and Abbott – is a degree of conscience.
Here's the story you could have guessed: Aaron was small when he was a boy, gangly and awkward, with skinned knees and hair that flopped into his eyes. As a young man, he had a clean-shaven head and a discipline with raw talent that got him noticed – noticed and commended, while soldiers around him died in droves. As a man, he'd been reforged into a weapon, used by a system that draped the American flag in blood in order to protect that same flag.
And here's the story you already know: he turns thirty-eight next month, but the truth is he was reborn only months back – on a fishing boat recovering from a nasty gunshot wound; Jason would tell you a similar tale. It's what they make of the story nowthat matters. Aaron can't change the past, can't undo the things he's done, but give him two things and only two things – Marta, and a chance in hell – and there's no telling what he's capable of.
Now here's the story you can't predict: how it'll end.