He finds her sitting on the shower floor, water cascading over her shaking form. The handle points far enough away for him to know that her reaction wasn't due to the temperature of the water that remained colorless as it swirled down the drain, and yet she scrubbed at her hands like a surgeon post-operation. There was no wound to stitch up here. This was an injury of the mind, just as painful but far more fragile.
Bruises purpled and faded. Cuts scabbed over and scarred. Bad memories could forever linger in the corner of your eye.
He makes sure to approach slowly, not wanting to startle her and add to her tremors. He sees her flinch when she finally notices him only a few paces from the glass enclosure. Her gaze doesn't seek him out though, but instead stays anchored on an invisible point behind him. He takes her silence as consent for him to move closer, and the lack of reaction she has concerns him. He isn't sure how far under she is, but as he enters the shower and briefly pauses next to her form… she looks like she's drowning.
He lowers himself to the tiled floor and sits beside her, silently accepting the lukewarm waterfall that immediately soaks through his clothes, painting his suit onto his skin. It's fitting: Vesper had molded herself to match his needs in the poker den, and now he did the same. His wet clothes clumped against her ruined dress, the brown fabric dark and lifeless, no longer framing her figure but weighing it down.
He undoes his bowtie, completely untying the knot so it hung limp under his collar. It was his way of disarming the weaponized version of himself, the one that met her words with flirtatious comments or backhanded compliments. Vesper was struggling– he could hear the way her breath had picked up in the past few moments– and she needed James, not Bond.
She needed a reminder that they were both alive.
She leans into him, her hand coming up to brace against his arm, a safety rope thrown to haul a tired swimmer to shore. Her nails prick at his skin through the fabric like hail against a window, desperately seeking a way to break inside a secure home. Her breathing becomes more panicked and harsher as the seconds tick on.
James remains silent and waits for Vesper to find her footing in the storm.
"It's like there's blood on my hands," she finally murmurs, voice trembling as much as her fingers do against his arm. "It's not coming off."
He knew there was nothing there. In a corner of her mind, Vesper knew that as well. Right now it was drowned out, that little reminder of reason and logic. It wasn't a flaw or a weakness, in his opinion; she'd kept it together until the threat was neutralized. He was quietly impressed at that, to be honest. She clearly wasn't a field agent, trained to deal with such high-stress situations that end with one party dead and the other to nurse their wounds.
But she's come to him, trusted him, to help her. Being coldly snapped back to reality would only do more damage.
"Here, let's see."
He takes her limp hand in his larger, rougher one and uncurls her fingers one at a time. He draws them into his mouth gently, as if he can swallow her guilt, gulp down her sins and sorrows and make the burden his and his alone. The clean water hasn't washed the blood away from her mind, but maybe his grittier soul can scrub it clean.
"That's better." He curls his fingers around her hand to secure her firmly against him, but avoids holding it close to his chest—to his heart. One of them must remain uncompromised for now.
Instead, he looks down at her, allowing his eyes to remain on her tear-stained face. He can feel her heartrate has decreased and yet she still clings to him, staring off into nothing.
"You cold?" He asks, barely more than a whisper.
He reaches up, turns the water hotter, and she leans further into him, pulling the hand that he holds close to her chest—to her heart. He's breached her armor. When he brings his arm down, he wraps it around her shoulders to pull her into his side. He can spare the defenses to maintain her foundations. Her hand now clutches his knee, and he cradles her head against his shoulder, stroking her hair to help soothe her. He can feel his own laying flat against his forehead, water dripping down his face and collecting like dew on his eyelashes.
"How do you do it?"
He knows she can't see his face in this position, but he still keeps his expression neutral. "Hmm?"
She turns her cheek further towards his warmth, resting it against his shoulder. "How do you keep it all at bay?"
The patter of man-made rain filled their ears as he considered her query. Maybe it wasn't the water that cleansed, but rather had all their public facades leeching away like dye and running down the drain until all that was left were their true selves. He wasn't sure what would remain of himself in such an aftermath.
"I don't." He paused, ruminating over his next words. "It chips away at you little by little."
He feels her shudder against him and grip his hand tighter, tucking it beneath her chin. "Enables you to take more risks?"
He huffs quietly. "Something like that." He wouldn't snap at her for her deduction, not now, and especially not after she'd seen his skills pay off to save them mere hours ago.
"Do you regret it?" Do you regret what you've become, what it's turned you into, goes unsaid, but the ghost of them chills him to the bone. They're questions he's asked himself on the worst days but not allowed his mind to dwell on.
"No." That's true. He doesn't. This is his life.
Before tonight, it wasn't hers.
Vesper nods, the movement so small that he wouldn't have noticed if her head wasn't touching his chest. It's become quieter now, her panting nearly returned to normal patterns and her shaking gone.
"Alright." Her admission was soft, a gentle apology and thanks rolled into two simple syllables. He responds with another squeeze of her hand before gently guiding her to sit up so he could shift onto his knees. When he offers his other hand, palm up and already cupped to fit hers, she doesn't hesitate. He pulls her up, steadying her when she stumbles due to her dress sticking to her legs.
She finally looks up at him, a reflexive gratitude slipping from her tongue, and their eyes meet. It's so unexpected that his mask slips, and while he hurriedly builds it up again, he knows that she sees something.
She says nothing. He's grateful for it.
"Would you mind…" She begins to ask, then stops, purses her lips, and tries again. "Would you stay for the night, please?" He inclines his head just enough to convey his acceptance and her shoulders slump in relief. "Thank you."
"Come on," he says, stepping backwards and out of the shower to allow her room to exit. "We'll dry off first."
"Alright," she repeats, and allows him to lead her away.
He'll stay and keep watch for the night. He may not owe it to her, but for tonight, he'll allow himself to be her keeper.