New York in winter is different than Amsterdam in winter, or Paris in winter. Nicky had wanted different, needed it (Paris still haunts her, Amsterdam is too close her nightmares), and Landy had obliged with an office job in the Manhattan bureau. Her job now is just recordings and reports, and impartial judgments on the motivations and desires of others. No contact with active agents, nothing that touches her, nothing that involves her.
She still has friends here, even after years overseas, and she meets them for dinner, for drinks, for dancing. She doesn't go to movies, though, not when they choose action films -- the guns blast at Nicky's ears and she has a headache from flinching at sound and memory by the time the movie ends. Horror movies are worse, though; they don't know anything about blood or about death or about scary. Her friends shudder and pretend to be afraid of serial killers or psychotic stalkers and tease Nicky about being too afraid to join them in their delight.
She smiles tightly and pretends that yes, she's afraid of the boogeyman, and she wraps her scarf tighter around her neck when she leaves the subway. She keeps her eyes open as she walks towards her block; there have been four muggings and two rapes in her neighborhood in the last two months.
Nicky's not afraid of the boogeyman; there are too many things to be afraid in real life to bother making any up. She shifts her shoulders restlessly as she walks, willing them to relax, not to scream 'Victim!', but it doesn't work.
She understands about fear. She knows about blood and guns and terror. Bourne's eyes are on her back; she can't see him, but she knows he's there again. Watching her. Following her.
And she is afraid.
The first time she caught a glimpse of him in a crowd on Fifth Avenue -- just standing there, watching her expressionlessly -- she bolted for a cab and arrived in Landy's office panting and wild-eyed. Landy's assistant was ready to call security, but Landy had taken a proprietary interest in Nicky, probably based in guilt at virtually handing her over to Bourne in Berlin. She brought Nicky into her office, listened calmly, and ordered a car to take her home.
"Is that all you're going to do?" Nicky demanded shrilly. "He's out there, he's hunting me!"
Landy just looked back at her; still calm, but with maybe a touch of sympathy. "If he wanted you dead, you would be," she pointed out, with unassailable logic.
"That's not very comforting," Nicky shot back.
"You're not the only one he's followed," Landy said, with a glance out her window. "And I'm still standing here." Landy had a kind of wary, almost amused tolerance for Bourne. She'd never seen him kill three men in less than a minute, never seen him screaming and wild-eyed, never been slammed against a concrete wall with a gun pressed to her head. Nicky didn't think she'd be amused if she had.
Landy had summoned Nicky the first time Bourne had called her in New York, when he'd let Landy know he'd been there, watching her, the whole time they'd talked. She'd asked for Nicky's opinion on what Bourne was doing, what he wanted.
As if Nicky had ever known, had ever had any of those answers.
That first time she saw Bourne for herself, she accepted the car home and triple-bolted her apartment doors. A few days later, the sensation of being watched went away. It came back a few months later, and again a month after that; no pattern that was discernable to anyone but Bourne. It was even odds which of them, her or Landy, Bourne would visit first whenever he decided to turn stalker; she learned to live with it, to function normally even when her nerves were screaming at her to scream, to run, to hide.
It was only fair, she thought in one surreally rational moment. After all, Bourne had learned to live like this; all the Treadstone operatives had. Maybe it was her turn now.
She bought another lock for the front door.
The streetlights are mostly unbroken; they cast harsh shadows as she walks, and she puts her head down and hurries a little faster against the wind -- not that it will do her any good if this is the day Bourne decides he's going to kill her. Nicky's still not sure what stopped him last time; she heard the tape he made, talking to Abbott, but she's not going to stake her life on Bourne's dead girlfriend's last request.
A police car rolls by her and she lifts a hand towards the officers inside; they nod in return as they pass. She wonders if they'd drive beside her the rest of the way home if she asked, but decides it would be too paranoid even for her. Her neighborhood isn't bad, with its old, mostly well-maintained buildings, but it's not good either; this time, she really will move when her lease expires.
She's less than a block from her apartment when something shifts in the shadows of the alley a few feet away. She freezes instinctively as her heart lurches and her breathing stutters. "Who's there?" she demands, her voice shaking. No one answers, and she can almost convince herself she imagined it, but suddenly she can feel the concrete wall rough against her back and the gun pressed against her head and his voice pounding at her, over and over. "Bourne? Oh God, please don't...."
A shadow shifts in the alley, then suddenly lunges towards her, and she turns and runs.
The cold air burns in her lungs as she skids slightly on a patch of ice, catches herself on the sidewalk and forces herself to stand again, to run again. Then her lobby door is there and she can barely feel her keys in her hands as she fumbles them into the lock, but she can feel Bourne behind her, his hands about to grab her.
The lock clicks and she stumbles inside, slamming the door closed behind her. She stays there, panting, staring wild-eyed through the windows.
Nothing moves in the darkness. As she slowly calms, she realizes her hand is bleeding where she hit the pavement, and her scarf is gone, and she probably just made a total fool of herself.
She doesn't care. She's not going to die tonight.
Her neighborhood in Amsterdam was much nicer -- safer, more peaceful -- and she liked it. Loved it, in fact. Paris had been irreparably tainted for her after... after everything, but Amsterdam had been comforting. She could hide in Amsterdam, and no one from Treadstone could find her. She'd delivered Bourne's message, the one he'd given her as the lights glowed eerily green around them in the safehouse that had suddenly been anything but; then she'd been reassigned, and that part of her life had been over.
Then Abbott had appeared, and she'd known it wasn't over at all.
Maybe it never would be. Conklin was dead, Abbott was dead, all of the agents (assassins) were dead. There was only Bourne left, only Nicky -- but it still wasn't over.
And maybe she didn't deserve for it to be over. She had passed out 'assignments', sent killing machines out to destroy, calmly monitored them to make sure they would only kill in the ways they were told. She'd assured herself it was for God and country, but part of her had enjoyed it: knowing things no one else did, having all of that information and all of that knowledge, all of that vicarious power. Somehow, the blood and bodies and the damage had never been real to her, any more than they had been to the men who had created them. Destroyed them.
They hadn't been real until Bourne stood in front of her, ancient eyes desperate and furious in his young face, demanding with words and weapon to be given his life back. And there was nothing left to give.
Nicky manages to sleep a little that night, is woken bright and early by the sound of sirens somewhere down the street. She showers and dresses and can't quite face breakfast, so she takes her thermos of coffee out the door with her. She freezes when it swings open, and she sees her scarf dangling from the doorknob on the other side.
She swallows hard as she fingers it, then drops it inside the door as if it burns her fingers. It lies there in a puddle of fabric, and she doesn't look at it as she leaves.
There's still a mob down the street, two police cars and an ambulance along with the expected crowd of New Yorkers looking on, and she starts to cross the street to avoid it all. But they're too close to the alley where she had her encounter last night, and there's a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.
She gets there right before they zip up the body bag, pushes her way to the front of the crowd just in time to see the man's open, staring eyes, his obviously broken neck. "Oh my god," she says involuntarily, and the older man standing next to her pats her shoulder.
"Don't you go wasting any sympathy on the likes of him," he says in a strong Brooklyn accent. "The officers who found him? They been saying he matches the description of the bastard who raped those girls last week."
It takes a moment to sink in. "Oh my god," she repeats blankly. It hadn't been Bourne, then. Maybe worse, but not Bourne.
The man pats her again, and she's too stunned to pull away. "You ask me, they oughta give the guy what killed him a medal. The streets just ain't safe no more."
The police finish with the body, begin to bring it towards the yellow barricade, and Nicky moves numbly aside to let them pass. She recognizes the pattern, the skill it takes to break the man's neck without leaving so much as a bruise.
She once tracked Jason Bourne across half of Europe by following the destruction he left in his wake. She knows Bourne's bodies when she sees them.
She had nightmares after Berlin, visions of Treadstone operatives, all of them, hunting her. She would run and they would follow: coldly, inevitably, unstoppably. She was the objective, she was the target, and she could never escape. She didn't understand what she'd done to all of those targets she'd calmly sent kill squads after -- not until she was one of them.
Inevitably, she'd surge forward through a door to safety and breathe a sigh of relief, only to find herself shoved back into the small storage closet, her cheek scraping against the concrete, and Jason Bourne screaming and the gunshot that inevitably woke her: frozen, her heart pounding and her cheeks wet with tears.
You don't really die in reality if you die in dreams, or Nicky would be dead a hundred times over.
She'd thought about therapy almost as many times, but finding someone cleared for Treadstone who wasn't involved was almost impossible. And no one who wasn't there would understand.
She reloads the New York Times website compulsively all day, but doesn't find anything more than a short news report; no one cares about the death of a suspected rapist. There are several patrol cars as she walks home -- too little, too late -- and she locks all of her locks, snapping them closed one after the other.
The fifth time she catches herself checking the top deadbolt, she stops and closes her eyes, leaning her forehead against the door and breathing until all she can feel is her lungs expanding and contracting, in and out. She draws back a little and opens her eyes, and stares at the locks that trap her inside the apartment as surely as they keep everything else out.
Except Bourne. He's right here in the apartment with her; there's no way to keep him out. Not ever.
She takes another deep breath that shakes on the way in and out. Then, before she can think about it, she puts her coat back on, wraps the discarded scarf around her neck, and opens the locks.
It's a short walk to the park down the street, where kids play during the day and parents watch them with eagle eyes. In the dark and cold, it's empty and silent; only a fool would come here alone at night.
But Nicky isn't alone. She finds a bench and she sits down, and she waits.
She wondered sometimes, sitting in her small office and staring blindly at field reports, if she had been programmed too, just like the Treadstone agents. If someone had taken her soul away, installed new software, and put it back smaller and darker. After Berlin, she got headaches, so sharp and brutal that she'd stare into the mirror, and wonder if this was what the Treadstone agents had felt--pain and emotion and memory utterly out of control.
She didn't think so, didn't remember it happening to her. She'd remember, wouldn't she? The process of being tainted and twisted, her "for God and country" fervor turned to something colder and bleaker? Her ability to sympathize with the people she was killing somehow... stripped away from her.
She knew something had happened, could look back and see the change in herself, from what she used to be to what she'd become. She just couldn't remember how it happened.
But then, neither did Bourne, anymore.
The cold seems to sink into her bones, but she's not moving. She's tired of hiding, tired of running, and if Bourne decides tonight is the night to kill her... well, no one has a better right. And at least it will be over.
It seems like hours, and it might have been -- Nicky doesn't know for sure -- when she hears snow crunching under boots. He's letting her hear him, and that might be a good sign, or maybe he just wants her to know what's coming. But then he just stops, and she can hear him breathing a few feet away, and she almost cries from the suspense. Finally, it's too much, and she turns to look over her shoulder.
And it's nothing like she thought it would be. The Bourne of her memories and nightmares is furious, screaming, half-insane from rage. This Bourne is quiet, contained, his face nearly expressionless. He's waiting, she thinks wildly, to see which way she'll run before her attacks. Except his hands are deep in the pockets of his pea coat, and he's not moving at all.
They stare at each other for a long, long time. It's been over a year since they were face to face like this and it's so different than it was. No crowds, no sunlight, no light at all. And no gun. That's a big change.
But eventually, she just can't tolerate the silence anymore, can't stand the way it stretches between them, the suspense of wondering when it's going to snap. She breaks it, not knowing she's going to until it's done.
"What the hell do you want from me?"
It comes out angrier than she'd expected. Rawer, on the edge of a sob or a scream. Bourne doesn't react. He takes a long time to answer, and Nicky discovers that she has no idea what he's going to say. She expects 'information' or 'answers' or even 'revenge'. But instead, he studies her face for a long second... then looks away.
"I don't know."
"You don't know?" Nicky demands incredulously. "You've been stalking me for a year, you've made it your mission in life to scare the shit out of me, you held a gun to my head and -- did you kill that man last night? And you don't know?"
"He had a knife," Bourne says, "and he'd been watching you for three days."
A shudder runs the length of her body, and she wraps her arms tightly around herself, turning a little away so she doesn't have to look at him. "God." It's a curse, not a prayer, and she suddenly whirls on him again. "Why do you care if someone else kills me? What do you want from me?"
A muscle jumps in his jaw and one hand moves a little in his pocket. It's a strangely helpless gesture from Nicky's personal boogeyman, and she doesn't know what it means. What to do with it.
"You're the only one...." He has to stop, and start again. "You're the only one left who knows."
It's not what she expected to hear, or maybe it's exactly what she expected. She's always known why Bourne was after her, always known she was the last piece of his unfinished business.
But not like this. She breathes out, half laugh, half sob. "I don't know anything. Not anymore."
"You know who I was." He finally looks back at her, suddenly staring so intensely that she wants to step back, to put more distance between them. But she's not running anymore, damn it. "You're the only one left who knows who I was."
She jerks her head to the side once, an involuntary denial. "I... didn't know you. I didn't know who you were. The only thing I knew was what they made you."
Bourne keeps looking at her like he can see inside her head, and she wishes he'd tell her what he sees there. He licks his lips once, then twice, then simply shrugs. "That's more than I know."
In another lifetime, Nicky Parsons was someone different. In another lifetime, so was Jason Bourne.
She tells him. Every assignment she ever sent him on, every target she remembers, and she surprises herself by how many she does remember. She can think of 10 separate people at the Agency who would be having aneurysms over the classified-beyond-black information she's giving away, but it's not like she's telling him anything he wasn't there for. It takes longer than she expected and her feet are tiny blocks of ice in her boots by the time she's done.
It hurts Bourne, and she didn't expect that at all. But she can see him flinch, deep inside, at some of the details, some of the killings, and she feels sick: for him, for her, for the lives Treadstone left scattered in its wake. She can still believe some of them deserved what came to them. Others.... Others, she supposes she and Bourne will just have to live with.
When she finally finishes, he just stands there for a long time. His hands are still buried deep in his pockets, his shoulders hunched, his eyes locked somewhere very far past her left ear.
"I'm sorry," she says, when she can't stand the silence anymore.
He shakes his head. "No. Thank you." He starts to say something else, but can't quite seem to formulate any words. What comes out is, "It's cold. You should go home."
Nicky nods silently and turns to leave, but she only goes a few feet before she turns back. Bourne is already moving away, sideways, towards the shadows of the trees.
"Jason." She's never said his first name before, and she didn't plan to say it this time. She thinks he's going to keep going, but he stops, his head turning a little towards her. She takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry. About Marie Kreutz, about... about what they did. You deserved... I... I'm just sorry."
His profile is silhouetted against the streetlights; she can see him swallow, hard. "Thank you," he says finally.
She nods and turns back away.
This time, she keeps walking, all the way down the street; as she unlocks the lobby door, she can still feel Jason watching her. She'll have to call Landy tomorrow, tell her what happened tonight. She's not sure how much she'll tell, how much Landy will understand. She wasn't there, after all.
And Nicky isn't afraid anymore.
She looks out into the night one last time, but doesn't see Jason. She takes a last deep breath, lets it out slowly. Then the door swings closed and the lock clicks into place.