Nicky watched the digital clock on the wall flicker from 6:58 to 6:59. She sat up a little straighter in her chair and exhaled silently, twisting a pen between her fingers and watching the door. Forgetfulness did not appear on the list of psychological issues she monitored for this operative. He was never late, ever.
At 7:00 the door swung open without a sound. The operative paused in the doorway, a hand still on the knob and the other in his pocket. His eyes immediately locked on her and considered her face for a second before flickering around the room in an almost cursory fashion. They returned to her with the steady, slightly glassy gaze of someone who has been awake for too long.
"Hello, Jason," said Nicky.
After a moment he sat down, still looking at her.
"Parsons." His low voice broke the silence of the office without much change to his expression.
Nicky pulled her chair closer to her desk and made her mouth into a firm line.
"Tell me about your last mission," she said.
"How did it happen?" she pressed.
"The way it's supposed to."
"No complications at all?" Nicky searched Jason's gaze, sensing she was outplayed again. His poker face beat all the other operatives, when he remembered to use it.
"They don't even know he's dead. They'll find out in 26 hours, 27." Jason's gaze wandered to the far wall.
Nicky breathed out softly and studied the table, considering.
"How are the headaches?" she asked.
"I can fill out the sheet," he offered in a monotone, still studying the wall.
"Just the headaches." She fought off a frown, but let her eyes harden a little. "You've had seven missions in four months."
"I don't keep track. I've got a mission or I don't." His gaze met hers, "Why the headaches?"
"They're getting worse, aren't they?" Her voice dropped an octave and she bit her lip.
Nicky laced her fingers together on the desk, fidgeting. "You need a break, and I can't pull you out unless I can report a psychological problem."
"An injury won't do the job?" he inquired.
"You're not injured, you're on the verge of a breakdown. If we can narrow it down to something we can fix then I can take you off the roster until you're ready to go back."
He shook his head.
"Why not?" Her eyes caught his and held them, sharp and bright above a hardening frown.
"You know they put operatives who take a break back through the system," he said. "Reconditioning."
Nicky checked the line forming between her eyebrows and bit her lip again. "Yes."
He continued to watch her in stony silence, a glint in his eyes like a tethered bird of prey - she put her pen down with a soft click.
"I can't do anything about that," she said. "It's not my decision, it's just a part of Treadstone."
Nicky swallowed, but didn't look away. "Like both of us."
Jason's gaze dropped and he inhaled silently, but didn't answer.
"I can transfer a few of your assignments to other operatives -" Nicky rotated the pen on her desk in a slow circle until it faced the far wall. "But we don't give you missions unless you're the only one capable of pulling it off the right way. They'll notice that I'm giving you slack."
The light retreated in Jason's eyes as he studied the carpet. "You always try to help."
"It's my job." Nicky leaned with crossed arms on the table and sighed, still watching him.
"Why do you do it? You could do anything."
Nicky's breath caught and she didn't answer for several seconds. At last she snuck a glance at Jason out of the corner of her eye. "Why do you do it?"
"To serve my country." His answer was flat, familiar.
"Maybe I do it for that too," she suggested carefully.
"I don't think you do." He looked up, calculating. "But I don't know what you do it for."
"Maybe it doesn't matter," she suggested with enforced steadiness in her voice.
He examined her expression for another moment, then turned away. "Maybe not."
"I can give you something for the headaches," she offered.
"You know I don't take drugs."
"It doesn't have to be habit-forming. I've got access to pretty much every kind of medication, there are lots of stable painkillers -"
She clenched the pen in a white fist. "Your pain tolerance levels aren't supposed to keep going higher like this. If you get hurt we need you to feel it."
"Do you think if I don't feel it I won't notice?" his tone rose a little, though he still spoke quietly. "If I get shot I'll take a painkiller. These are side effects. Just headaches."
"You're not sleeping," she said quietly.
"I don't mind," he mumbled.
She put the pen down. "Bourne?"
His eyes flicked to her face, but he said nothing.
"Don't do this." Her voice softened. "Every time you do this they ask me to send you to reconditioning again, and that is not what you need. Take something for the headaches, and for God's sake tell me why you don't want to sleep at night."
"You think you don't know?" he asked, his voice muted. "Really?"
Nicky's jaw tightened, but she only watched him.
Jason stood up. "I gotta go, our fifteen minutes are up."
"I'm putting you on Excedrin unless you ask for something else," Nicky warned him.
"That's fine," he answered as he turned to the door.
Nicky swallowed, her eyes burning as she watched him go. He closed the door behind him before she could think of anything to say.
Forgetfulness did not appear on the list of psychological issues she monitored for Jason Bourne. In a month and a half he'd pick up the conversation where they left off. Maybe by then she'd know what to tell him.