A Matching Set
The name is familiar, like it should mean something, but I cant place it.
A spark of recognition ignites. A face immerges. A glimpse of a paper. A news broadcast.
"Jason Bourne....." I repeat. Aaron is watching me, his arms folded, his intense blue eyes like a storm about to break, staring into mine, trying to see through me and read my thoughts. As far as I know, he can.
"You know him?" he asks.
I don't know him, but I know enough to know that he is important.
It all started with a glimpse of a file—something that I never should have seen. A man came into the lab one day armed with the promise of our full cooperation and a thousand questions on the research we were doing in the lab and the results it had in Outcome. The man had with him a file, that he carried under his arm and referred to occasionally—it was when passing through the tight hallways of the lab, brushing up against me as he followed a doctor in a spotless lab coat, that he dropped it. In the flurry of papers that followed as both he and I scrambled to pick up the pages dropped, one caught my eye. On it was the thumbnail sized, unsmiling face of an otherwise handsome man, staring back at me with stormy grey eyes.
Name: Jason Bourne
Status: Not Operational—Location Unknown—Unresponsive to Directive
Potential Candidate for Outcome
That was all I could read before the paper was roughly snatched from my hands, and replaced into its file. It was the glare I received from the man, that really made me never forget the incident: cold pale eyes boring into mine. Eyes that had seen death. Eyes that had killed. Eyes that now threatened me. He didn't speak, as he got up and walked away. He didn't have to—the message was clear. And as he left me, crouching on the sterile white floors, still frozen in place, I wondered why I felt so cold.
The second time I had heard the name was four days ago in the airport while I was waiting at the gate for the flight to Manila, sticking close to a woman with three kids per Aaron's instructions. There was a large flat screen mounted up above me playing a nonstop stream of News. My eyes drifted over to it.
"The FBI this morning confirmed reports that Dr. Albert Hirsch died of heart failure in a Washington, D. C. hotel." The female reporter stated.
"Dr. Hirsch had been expected to testify yesterday before a Senate Intelligence committee. That select committee is investigating links between a troubled CIA program known as Treadstone and this man, Jason Bourne." My attention was instantly arrested by the mention of the words that had set me wondering for weeks. A picture flashed on the screen, and I once more looked into the stormy grey eyes and face of the man I had seen on the file.
"Police and federal officials are searching for Bourne in connection with recent shootings in New York and in London. Dr. Hirsch had been cooperating with the Justice Department and was in protective custody at the time of the incident. A committee spokesman told reporters last night that the hearings will be postponed temporarily as they evaluate the loss of Doctor. And now a heartwarming story of a man who......." The picture that had captured my gaze disappeared, and the story moved on to another, and at that moment the announcement that my flight was now boarding came in over the loud speaker.
"I don't know him," I said quietly, looking up at Aaron and breaking the short silence that had developed between us as I relived the past. "But I've heard of him. Who is he?"
And Aaron explained.
He told me about Treadstone, how the program, initially created with good intentions, soured and became corrupt, its resources used for unsanctioned assassinations and personal gain. He told me about how Jason Bourne was one of the first to join, after enduring months of torturous training and moral desensitization. He told me how Bourne went MIA while attempting to assassinate an African dictator, only to resurface later with apparent amnesia. Bourne started digging, curious about the past that he couldn't remember, and Treadstone got nervous. After not responding to Treadstone's "invitations" to return to the program, it was feared that Bourne had gone rouge and was now working on his own therefore making him a liability. A series of, so far unsuccessful, attempts had been made on his life, accidentally killing his girlfriend in the process, and fueling Bourne's quest for the truth and making Treadstone vulnerable to exposure. With the help of a woman named Pamela Landy, Bourne finally discovered who he was, and what Treadstone was, now upgraded to a program called Blackbrier, while Landy leaked the classified information of Treadstone and Blackbrier's existence to the press.
"Last I heard," Aaron concluded casually, while I tried to absorb and make sense of the flood of information. "Bourne was apparently shot as he leapt off of a 10 story roof into the East River."
"His body, however," he quickly added at the look on my face, "was never found. Which is slang in the spy world for "he's not dead". Believe me, you would be surprised at how many times I have faked my own death."
That caught my attention, but Aaron was already moving on.
"They've recently opened up an investigation and Senate hearing on Treadstone, which is what prompted Byer to shut down Outcome in case that program also was discovered."
"So," I began, speaking slowly, cautiously picking my way through my words. "You want Jason Bourne for what he knows about the programs and the corrupt officials inside—for his testimony as more evidence?"
Aaron nodded, standing up once again and resuming his pacing. "Among other things, yes. We just need to find him......." he trailed off, lost in his own thoughts. He suddenly stopped and turned to me. "You said earlier that you had heard of him?"
"Twice," I said, and told him about the file and news broadcast.
He frowned. "So they were going to make him Outcome?"
I nodded. "Initially I believe that was the plan, but if what you have told me is true, then he must have become to much of a threat to keep him alive."
We both were silent, Aaron once more pacing the deck line, and myself staring absentmindedly at my abandoned plate.
It was all so incredible; like something out of a movie. I couldn't believe that this was now my life. I thought back to Jason Bourne's history, wondering how someone could live like that, how Aaron could live like that. But then again, hadn't both of their hands had been forced?
His girlfriend, Marie St. Jacques, was killed with a bullet meant for Bourne. Aaron had said that, and my heart felt pity for.......Wait a second! How did Aaron know that?!?
"Aaron," I said suddenly, jerking my head up to look at him. He stopped pacing, and seemed to tense at my tone, as if he knew what was coming. "How do you know all this about Bourne?"
He froze, his back to me, and dropped his head to stare at his feet, while the tiniest sigh escaped him, so quiet I wondered if I had imagined it.
"Marta....." he whispered, like a groan, voicing both an apology and a plead for silence in my name.
He didn't answer.
"You need to know how to defend yourself." Aaron voiced close behind me, making me jump as I did not hear him.
I had been standing alone at the railing outside of our cabin, staring angrily out over the water, thinking over Aaron's refusal to tell me why he knew so much about Bourne. What was there to hide? Didn't he trust me? I thought we were past keeping secrets from each other!
I had worked myself into quite the self-injustice fit, when Aaron surprised me. "We pull into Zamboanga in the morning and I need to know that......." he hesitated, "that you're not helpless."
Well, thanks! I thought bitterly, though a part of me knew that he was right. In a world where my life was threatened at every moment, I at least needed to increase my chances. I looked up at Aaron. His eyes were avoiding mine, his mouth set in a hard line and his jaw firm, and in the way he held himself seemed to command more of a presence, making him seem taller and more imposing.
There was a distance between us now, and while I brooded, he had reverted to his cold calculating self to compensate.
An instinct told me that it was all for my benefit: he wouldn't answer me, I held a grudge against him for it, and now he distanced himself to spare me any awkwardness, giving me the freedom to forgive him or not. He knew I was hurt by his action, and he was sorry for that, but for some reason he refused to tell me all the same. If I chose to hold a grudge, he understood, and wouldn't pressure me.
Damn it, even when we fight he's selfless.
"Fine," I snapped, a little more short and terse then I had meant it.
He nodded, still not looking at me. "Meet me here after lunch." was all he said, before walking away.
I ran a frustrated hand through my hair and turned back to the railing.
It wasn't right. We shouldn't be like this. He saved my life, I saved his; we were a team, a matching set. To hell with my feelings, anything and everything that Aaron does, he does for a reason, and I know for a fact that he thinks more about my safety and comfort than his own.
"Aaron!" I cried out suddenly, whirling around. He stopped at the verge of rounding the corner and turned, looking at me expectantly. I suddenly felt very hot. "I—If you choose not to tell me something, I know you have a reason, and—well, I trust you." It was out.
Something I couldn't recognize flashed into his eyes, and his face softened. His eyes met mine, and he nodded, before disappearing around the corner.
Immediately after lunch under the awning, Aaron and I met back on the deck outside of our cabin, and my Self-Defense lesson began.
"Rule number one," Aaron began, standing before me, "is that whenever you are in a fight, you always want to be careful no to break the little bones in your hand. It's not like in the movies where you can punch a guy in the face eight times and not feel a thing. For you, your best weapon would be the bone on your forearm, right here." He said, and placed a firm hand on the spot on my arm. "It's hard, and in a place that will hurt less, but give you more power."
"So, you weigh, what? 125 lbs.?" he asked, sizing me up in a quick glance.
"128." I corrected, blushing. It was just like Aaron to estimate my weight almost exactly, but with a number that was flatteringly lower.
"128 then," he said continuing, "Now divide that number by three, and you get what, roughly 42 lbs? If you can put one third of your body weight into your swing, that's 42 pounds of force striking your opponent through the bone of your forearm. Learn how to put in half of your body weight: that's 64 pounds of force. One solid hit like that in the head and you can take down a full grown man."
A normal full grown man, I thought.
"Now," Aaron began, assuming a fighting stance. "You're going to hold your arms up like this: close to your body, protecting your vitals, but ready to strike."
I mimicked his stance, holding up my arms like he demonstrated, with my legs slightly spread, one more in front of the other, and my knees bent.
"Good." He said, nodding. "Now you're going to strike like this." And he showed me, three times. The first time he moved like lightning, striking the air with his forearm, with what I knew had to be perfect form, and even though he was hitting into thin air, you could see the power behind it. The second and third time, he did it slower so that I could see every shift and movement: his left arm remained in its defensive position close to his body, while his right elbow came up, his weight shifted from his back foot to his front and into his arm as he struck out with it, turning his body slightly. I noted that all was done while keeping a tight core, with everything close and controlled.
"Now it's your turn," Aaron said, dropping the fighting stance and standing before me, yet still tense and ready like a loaded spring. "Hit me." he motioned, like it was nothing.
"Hit me!" He insisted.
I raised an eyebrow, but resumed the fighting stance all the same. I gave him a look to prepare him, and then, trying to duplicate Aaron's movements as best as I could, I swung at him with my forearm.
His hand came up so fast, I felt it before I saw it, latching onto my wrist and completely deadening the momentum, stopping my arm in mid swing inches away from his face.
He didn't even blink.
"Again," he ordered, releasing my arm. "And harder this time. Put your weight into it."
I admit that I was holding back as I didn't really want to hit him, much less hurt him, but now that I knew what was coming, I was ready to commit a little more.
I drew back, once more into position, and then swung. Again, Aaron caught my arm a millisecond before it would have cracked into his jaw, and didn't even flinch. "That was better. Do it again." I did.
I was getting into a pattern, my attacks becoming faster and stronger as I became more familiar with the movements. On one particular hit, I focused on fuelling all of my weight and power into my arm as I swung, and this time when Aaron's hand snapped up to grab it, he had only deadened some of its momentum, before it slipped out of his grasp, connecting squarely with his jaw.
He made a sound and stumbled back, his hands rising to his face.
What did I just do?
"Aaron!" I cried, instantly rushing to him. "Are you alright? I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to—" Before I could say another word, or even think to react, Aaron had grabbed my wrist, spun me around, placed a leg up against the back of my kneecap, an arm across my neck, and had me pinned in an effective hold.
"Lesson number two:" he whispered, his lips inches away from my ear, his breath tickling my neck and sending chills down my spine. "Never let your guard down. Especially when you think your opponent is down." He chuckled, and stretched his jaw. "That was a hell of a hit though."
I was trapped, my back pressed against Aaron's chest, my head drawn back by the firm but not restricting arm he had around my neck, and my wrist twisted behind me and held fast by him in a not uncomfortable position, but that could all change with a simple rotation of his wrist. The fact that I was even standing was only because Aaron choose for me to be so, for with his leg positioned behind my kneecap like that, all it would take was one hit in the right area and I would collapse on the deck. I have to say that I was feeling a little discouraged with how easily Aaron had got me into this hold.
"Aaron," I cried, "what's the point? I don't stand a chance against anyone who is even slightly a match for you!"
Even though I couldn't see his face, I could feel his frown in the way his body tensed suddenly. "Don't say that." he said in a low serious tone.
"Its true." I argued.
"Who saved both of our lives, by killing that Agent in Manila?"
I sighed. How could I forget?
"It was a lucky kick."
"But it was a kick all the same! You always stand a chance if you fight back." he countered earnestly. Then after a pause and in a voice barely above a whisper: "You're a warrior, Marta."
You're a warrior. At his words my mind instantly flashed back to that horrible night in Manila, when he was sick after I had viralled him off—when I thought that I was going to lose him. He had begged me to leave him, to take what he had and save myself. I had refused. And that night I had learned that somewhere along the road, running for our lives, he had become a part of me. We were a team now. A matching set. You take both of us, or you take none.
His words, as they always do, had assured me. That maybe, just maybe, I wasn't such a lost case after all.
"Now," he began again, once more the instructor. "Try and escape. Don't focus on the pain, just focus on getting out."
Right now all I was focusing on was the press of his chest against my back and the way his breath tickled my ear, giving me goose bumps and making my face feel hot.
But then Aaron shifted his wrist a fraction of an inch.
Lord, but it hurt! It wasn't like the pain of any normal wrist hold, and it must have had something to do with the fact that he had his thumbs on pressure points. It didn't help that as the seconds slowly ticked by, his wrist kept rotating by steady increments, only increasing the pain.
"Focus, Marta." came Aaron's soft whisper in my ear again. "Think. Where is my weakness?"
Focus, Marta. Think.
Suddenly it came to me in a flash, and unable to think clearly besides the fact that my actions would bring respite from the pain, I whipped back the elbow of my hand that was free into Aaron's face. An instinctual reaction made him drop my wrist, and again I brought the elbow of my now free arm back into his gut, so that his arm around my neck also fell away, before staggering away out of his reach, and whirling around with my arms up and ready in the fighting stance that he had taught me.
Aaron was standing slightly doubled over, one hand over his gut and the other on a rapidly swelling fat lip, staring at me with his mouth agape. For a split second, all we did was stare at each other, each equally amazed at my actions, before Aaron threw back his head and laughed.
"Well done!" he cried, beaming at me and laughing. "See? I'll make something of you yet!"
A thrill of pride shot through me and I couldn't help but grin. Aaron's laughter is rare, but very contagious.
He ran his tongue tenderly over his fat lip and chuckled to himself.
My pride evaporated into remorse.
"Are you all right? I'm so sorry......." I approached him, my hand reaching up for his face, but he caught it in his.
"Oh, no you don't!" he grinned. "That was a fair hit, and one I deserved." I smiled despite myself.
A mischievous glint came into his eyes and once more, before I could blink, he had whirled me into another hold, this one different from the last. "Try and get out of this one." he challenged, with a snarky grin I could hear in his voice.
"You'll be black and blue before we're done." I warned, with a smirk.
"I'm counting on it." he replied, adjusting his grip on me.