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you sing it out loud, 'who made us this way?'

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you sing it out loud, 'who made us this way?'

and the arms of the ocean, so sweet and so cold, and all this devotion I never knew at all,

never let me go, florence + the machine


 

Venice. A cloudy sky. Water, quiet in the dark. Tourists all shut up in their hotels, tired of taking in the sights. A building, crumbled and broken; destroyed. There is a silence, caught in the air. A man stumbles down the street, his arm thrown across a woman next to him, easily but with hidden care. A bird whistles in the wind.

(and, in a Venetian hospital not three miles away, a woman once rose from the dead)

...

They walk, arm in arm, down the street. Her eyes are tightly focused above them, and not at the water below.

She feels like if she looks at the water, it will reach out its hands and take her, screaming, under its icy depths.

She tightens her grip on her companion. He sends a sidelong glance at her, but doesn't make a comment.

They come down the street, through a little square and then out the other side.

She stops, eyes wide and heart leaping in her throat. He comes to a halt beside her and they stay like that, side by side, staring, for quite some time.

He turns to look at her, eyes saying what the mouth cannot.

Are you alright? 

She doesn't say anything, doesn't move a muscle; eyes fixed, body tense, heart beating far too fast.

They shouldn't have come here, she can feel the water creeping into her bones (or is it just resurfacing, from where it was trapped, deep within her?) She wants to scream, she wants to curl up on the floor and weep for all the lost years, wants to screw her eyes up as tight as she can and pretend time has gone backwards.

She does not do any of this. Instead she takes a step away, letting go of his arm, and wanders towards the building, or at least the wreckage of it now is. It is just as she left it: eyes burning, lungs screaming, waiting for an oblivion that never came.

She puts her hand, palm flat, against the wood, gazes down into the dark water.

The water here was supposed to soothe her sins, but it did not.

She has learnt to live with them, make her peace, move on. She wondered once what that made her (a monster, maybe?)

She turns away from the water, the memories - clawing their way in, scratching her skin so it bleeds, aching her insides - weighing her down.

'Can we go now?' she says quietly.

James nods.

...

Vesper Lynd.

Just her name. All that M gave her was her name scratched onto a memorial for the lost. It makes her angry though she's not sure why. She thinks maybe it's because even though she's not in the grave, even though she is not dead (damn the doctor's scrawl) this is her last resting place - the final place Vesper Lynd lived and breathed and loved.

Now, she does all those things, but she thinks she has lost her sense of self, her identity, somewhere along the way, buried in the soulless shoes she has worn in the years that have tumbled since then.

It fills her with a melancholy sadness, pulling at her insides with a fervour she wasn't expecting.

James is outside. He knew it was something she had to face alone and for that she is glad.

She traces the letters on the stone memorial. A lifetime ago, she thinks. She turns away.

It begins to rain.

...

They're back at the hotel, wrapped in an embrace, her grip far too tight, marking his skin.

He's asleep; she's tangled in the sheets, unable to find rest.

The insomniac is back, though had she ever left? James usually joins her in wakefulness but not today.

It was his idea to come here - to the city of glittering depths and romance and love.

'To put ghosts to rest,' he'd said, one Saturday morning, newspaper in his hands, eyes turned away.

She'd been washing the dishes and she'd nearly dropped a plate, but caught herself just in time. She wanted to tell him no, that it was a stupid idea, what the hell was he thinking?

But she didn't. Instead she said, 'Okay then,' as if her mouth wasn't connected to her brain.

And here they are, back in the city of canals, where her story should have ended but did not. And James is right. There are ghosts (herself, maybe; the woman she used to be) to be put to rest.

So many ghosts.

..

She gets headaches, blurred vision. The doctors can't tell her if it'll go away.

Her wrist aches in the winter, her elbow too, but she's become used to that over the years.

She still forgets things, sometimes, though usually only after waking, which she does little of given sleep is an elusive friend nowadays.

Her lungs scream and protest and won't do the simple job of allowing herself to breathe sometimes.

But she's still alive.

(that's what matters right?)

...

Sweden feels different once they return. It is lighter, brighter, kinder, than she remembers.

James seems different too. Lighter too, maybe.

She's not sure what the trip has done for her. Sometimes, when she sits and thinks, she feels a stillness at the very centre of her that wasn't there before.

She lies in their bed at night, listening to him in the bathroom, and wonders what she did to deserve this, the guilt that plagued her in the hospital often an unwelcome third bedfellow.

What did she do that meant her sins have fallen away and she no longer has to pay her price? Why does she get to live and others die?

James tells her just to live.

Sometimes she can, sometimes they stand in the sun like she always dreamed of and she can bask in the sunlight, in this future she never thought she'd get. Sometimes she cannot. Sometimes the sunlight burns her, because she is undeserving: a sinner, a betrayer, a bitch.

...

'Marry me.'

James is lying on the sofa, half asleep. She's got her arm thrown across him, hand tracing his heartbeat through his skin, the light of the TV washing over them.

She blinks in the dim light, frowns, looks at him.

'Marry me.'

She turns her head on the side, regards him carefully.

She thinks about red dresses, and guilt, and water. She thinks about her father, Yusef, Gustav - James himself. She thinks about lilywhite scars and regret and pain. She thinks about dying, and about love, and about how both seem inextricably linked in her head now. She thinks about being cradled in her mother's arms, and her father's soft eyes, and James' hand, resting on her knee right now.

'Yes.'

...

She doesn't wear a white dress.

(ha!)

...

She never thought she would get married. It was one of those dreams, idly held in her hands once before, so long ago - the foolish dreams of a woman who thought she had a future.

And yet she does.

James is there (of course), but so is Gustav. He and Marta are their witnesses and that is it. A small wedding, maybe. But she wouldn't have it any other way (of course she would, but she cannot raise the dead, no matter how hard she tries).

...

The ring feels odd, and she cannot help but be reminded that there was another woman who once had his ring on her finger, a woman gone to travel the world - a woman in love with a man who could not love her back.

She knows how that feels.

But then James smiles at her, in that gruff way of his, quiet but sincere, and she is instead reminded of Venice, long ago, so very long ago.

...

'My wife,' James is fond of saying.

She thinks it sounds strange. It is something too domestic for them; two people whose lives could never be called domestic.

And yet she thinks, maybe, she will grow to like it.

...

She still works in the cafe, James still works his shifts as a security guard.

They never talk about it, but she knows he wanted to leave Stockholm after Yusef. She had seen it in his eyes once they went home, once she began to heal.

She had put her foot down over that. It is her home. A novel thing, really. She hasn't had one in so long. There was no way she was giving it up, not after she fought so hard to wrestle out of the shadows.

And so they had stayed, and for that she will always be glad.

...

Her colleagues coo over her ring, moan that they weren't invited, ask her what it's like being married.

She laughs, and she is reminded of Lucy Brown - of the library she used to work in, of her work-friends there. Such time has elapsed since then, so much has changed. First Switzerland, Gustav and the first tentative steps into the light, and then Sweden and James, and her stumble into grace.

And yet who was it at the altar? Not Vesper Lynd, with her unmarked grave so many years old, but Lucy Brown. Lucy Brown who has a birth certificate (and no death), Lucy Brown who signs the register, Lucy Brown who smiles and laughs and cries. 

(because, of course, Vesper Lynd is well and truly dead

--isn't she?)

She wonders what Lucy Brown's colleagues from London would make of her now. She guesses she'll never know. 

...

She's lying on the sofa. James is at work. Her head is aching, her eyes unfocused and weeping.

It is a hangover from Yusef, the burning pain in her head, radiating away from the fault where the lackey had smashed his boot into her skull. Her vision swims in and out and she screws up her eyes and rests her head on the cushion.

She thinks, briefly, about Yusef.

She had been happy with him, there is no lying about that. He knew how to make her laugh, make her smile (and of course, she hadn't done so much of that over the years) and he knew how to pick her up when she was sad.

But, as it turns out, it was all a lie - a lie built on shifting sand, and out of the ruins of a monster, ready to destroy her whenever was necessary (which of course it was).

She had thought she had loved him. Then she met James, watched the sand turn to rubble and crack and break and fall away, and she realised she had not.

She sees Yusef's eyes, burning with hatred, when she closes her eyes sometimes. Another terrible image to add those that haunt her.

(the dead are legion and she is one of them too)

...

A better memory.

It is a Friday. James has come back from work, is standing in the garden, holding a beer, smiling through the French windows at her.

She follows him out onto the grass, wraps her arms around him.

(so long ago, a memory she should go back to, instead of the horrors she has witnessed)

It is a year after Yusef.

She leans her head on his shoulder, her bare feet on the grass reminding herself that this is real, that the water that has poured from her bones for the last fifteen years no longer has to weigh her down.

Her lungs nearly choke her, seal up her throat and stop her speaking.

But she does.

'I love you.'

(oh, Vesper, finally)

...

(hold on to that, hold on to him, and the shadows will recede)

...

She's still on the sofa, chasing away Yusef with memories of James, when the doorbell rings.

She frowns, eyes wobbling, checks the time. It's too early for James, and anyway, why would he be ringing the bell?

She gets to unsteady feet, stumbles across the room, towards the door, uneasy.

There have been too many strangers on her doorstep, held fast by one intention - to see her into the grave she should already be making her bed in.

She swings the door open, eyes blinking, head still aching.

She blinks again.

'Hello Vesper. Can I come in?'

...

She hasn't seen him since she was back in London, James beside her, on their chase across the continents for his wife. Since she sat behind his desk, arms folded, letting James tell a story that did not touch on the two of them - and the simple note that was all that was written in her file, once upon a time.

He looks uncomfortable at her kitchen table, arms hanging at strange angles, legs folded underneath, his well-tailored suit making it seem strange that this man could ever have what she thought of as a domestic life.

She's standing at the kettle, taking more painkillers, trying to drive away the pain and the thud thud thud of the boot into her head that rings between her ears.

She brings him a mug of tea, sets it and her own down on the table, pulls out a chair, slides in opposite him.

She is tense too. He reminds her of time gone, her hands curling and uncurling, grasping for things that are no longer there.

'I know who you are now,' M says, triumphantly.

...

He sips at his tea, throws a magazine onto the table. She frowns, picks it up.

'Turn to page sixteen,' he instructs. She does so.

The pages tumble open and she lies it flat on the table, smoothing the crumpled sheets.

She thinks maybe it's a trick of her head, ailing and damaged as it is. But then she runs her hand across the photo again and she knows it's not.

There's something in the way she tilts her head, in the eyes - burning even in a photograph - in the body language, that betrays the family resemblance - so that even if her face was not etched into her memory, inescapable, she would know who this woman is.

She pushes the magazine away, shrugs.

'She's involved in charity work,' M says, taking the magazine and turning it towards him. 'Breast cancer, though maybe you already knew that.'

She shrugs again.

'She talks about your mother,' he continues. He pushes it back over to her, page turned, and she can't help but scan the words.

When Emily Johnson was thirty-six, it begins, she discovered that her beloved sister Jenny was dying.

She closes her eyes, rests both hands on the table. Steady.  

'She talks about you too.' M picks up the magazine, begins to recite its content.

'In the memoir, Johnson also touches upon how the loss of her sister is not the end of the tragedy that has befallen her family. Three years after her sister succumbed to cancer, Jenny's devoted husband would be killed in a botched robbery, leaving their six year old daughter an orphan.'

Her eyes are still tightly shut, her heart beating in a strange rhythm. She cannot abide her past being recounted; it is a part of her she has folded up and put away, somewhere to never see the light of day again.

'Johnson looked after the child, but their relationship was difficult and when the girl left for university, Johnson never saw her again. 'I made a lot of mistakes there,' she admits. 'I wasn't there for her, I was too distant. But she just reminded me so much of Jenny.'

She almost laughs but catches herself. M watches her carefully.

'Johnson also describes the moment she was contacted by Italian police and told that her niece had had an accident whilst on holiday in Venice. I have been told that it is a topic she might refuse to talk about, but she brings it up before I can. 'She was in Venice with her boyfriend. I didn't know, of course, I hadn't spoken to her in years, but they called me up as her next of kin and said, 'Vesper's had an accident. She's drowned. She's dead.'

M stops there, puts it down, regards her carefully.

She cannot help but pull the magazine back towards her. Inset beside the text is a photograph. She recognises it. It is a childhood memory of hers, reprinted in front of her. She can feel the sand under her feet once again, the oppressive sun, her aunt standing beside her, a figure of coldness and emptiness; distance.

There she is, eight years old, snapped on the beach, smiling at the camera. It is the first photograph she has seen of herself in a very long time.

'I saw the photo,' M said, turning back to the beginning, to the photo she traced with her hand, 'and I thought, who does that remind me of and the answer was you. And then I read the article and of course things fell into place.'

She pushes her tea away from her. It has gone cold.

'Vesper Lynd,' he says, quietly. 'Finally, a name to put to the face.' A pause, then, 'What happened in Venice?'

She closes her eyes, head pounding, and laughs.

She stands, crosses to the worktop, drops the mug in the sink.

'I died.'

...

James comes home late. She's already tucked into bed, eyes closed, sleep unable to grace her.

He climbs in next to her, tries to wrap his arms around her but she pulls away.

He freezes, frowns, and she flinches away from him again.

She tries to remind herself this has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with her, but she still doesn't want to be touched. Everything feels like it's on fire again and she can't think straight.

The magazine the spymaster brought with him is placed, carefully, into her bedside draw. It has made memories, feelings, resurface - things she hasn't considered in years, and that was perfectly fine by her. She is a woman with no past who once had no future.

Before M left, she had wondered why he had come all this way to tell her that he had solved her mystery. And then they had been facing each other at the table, and M had looked at her, and she had seen a man, a father perhaps, who sees her as a lost child.

(and of course, what better way to describe her?)

...

She doesn't sleep. She's not sure James does either.

...

The next day, she rises early, flees downstairs, stands by the backdoor.

It's raining again and there's a chill in the air.

It invades her bones, striking at her weaknesses, clinging to the brokenness within her.

She wants to go outside, but she can't. She just watches the rain as it tumbles down from the leaden skies and remembers the water in Venice.

So much for setting ghosts to rest; she knows now they will never leave her. They will cling to her skin, to her bones, to her dreams and fears, and she will carry them with her for as long as she lives - knows because that is what she has done since that day with the red dress when she should have died but did not. 

...

James comes down later, when the rain is still hitting the patio with a rhythmic quality and she is still sitting, transfixed.

He hovers in the doorway, wearing his pyjamas still (such a domestic sight and it nearly makes her laugh. Since when were they made for this? For having a home and a life and a marriage?) and she doesn't look at him.

'There's something I have to do,' she says, quietly, tapping in time to the beats as the water hits.

One, two, three, four. It's in time with her heartbeats. One, two, three, four. 

James nods.

He doesn't understand. He will never understand. She is often struck by depressive moods, great swathes of silences, mournful glances, lungs screaming and tears tracking down a still face. Sometimes she is empty, sometimes she is angry. These are the gifts she has been given for the things she has done.

And yet he is still here. He stays, because sometimes, under the rubble and through the broken wreckage, there is still a fragment of the woman she was.

...

London is cold.

And it rains.

...

The magazine article, left by M after his exit, told her one important thing.

Her aunt has not left the house that they both shared, as she grew from a child to a woman.

It looks wrong seen by her eyes now, with the weight of her experiences behind her.

This is a place of innocence - of childhood, of dreams (for university, for a nice man, for a family). She is no longer quite so innocent.

She doesn't know what she is going to do, caught in the rain, coat wrapped up to her neck against the chill, bones set with pain, her head thrumming with a low-level ache.

She stands and watches and waits.

(for what, she's not sure)

...

She finds herself tracing the scars on her wrist, prominent and clear in the cold air. She closes her eyes, drags herself away from the memories of Montenegro and a monster's eyes and how much she wanted to die.

Her aunt steps out of the front door.

She folds her hands into fists, bides her time, begins to follow.

...

There are instincts, well trained within her, part of the structure now, that she could never lose.

She follows at a distance, well aware she will not be caught.

She's far too good at this game.

...

Her aunt goes to the market, picks up food.

She can remember trailing behind her, staring up at the stalls. A memory thought lost but not, there still, waiting for a trigger. Long ago now. A lifetime.

The routine is the same, despite the many years that have elapsed. Her aunt was always a woman who stuck to her routines.

And that means she knows where they are going. Her aunt will lead and she will follow and she wants to turn away and stop and put an end to this stupid idea, but she cannot.  

She can already feel a knot, deep in her chest - of guilt, or sadness, or grief, she's not quite sure. Maybe all three, tumbled into one.

...

Her aunt doesn't notice the ghost stalking her every move. She's too enthralled by her own actions, too caught up in her own life to see the shadow hovering, always half a street away.

They go through the market, out the other side, down the road, past the dentists and the supermarkets.

Idly, she realises the butchers where they would always go to is gone, replaced by a Tesco. Her aunt goes in, she stays outside.

She is glad to see the predictability of her aunt has not decreased in her absence. She comes out with a carrier bag, the packaging for two lamb chops clear to see.

They always had lamb chops for dinner on Fridays. And of course, what day is it today?

She is hit by a wave of memories, one after each other, again and again, and suddenly she cannot move.

She is a child again, standing on that street, knowing full-well where they are going next, lamb chops safely tucked away, the market behind them, the vegetables packed away, the flowers too.

She takes a deep breath, her lungs rattle and spasm. A passing stranger mutters that she should give up the fags.

She just laughs.

...

They head through the wrought iron gates, her aunt first and then she follows on a few minutes later. She knows where they are going, there's no point in rushing.

Her aunt takes the same route, skipping in-between the stones, a well-worn path, one she hasn't walked since she was eighteen and she left London for university.

Guilt hits her, deep in her chest, like a fist caught tight around her heart.

She watches from afar as her aunt stands before the stones, as she wrestles with the plastic bags to find the flowers.

Vesper always used to hold the flowers when they came here; she can recall the sound of the cellophane wrapping in her hands, the bright colours of the petals against a dying sky.

Her aunt leans down, places the flowers on the grave, then straightens up, paying her respects. Then she turns away, reclaiming her shopping, and heads back the way she came.

She hides her face as her aunt bustles past, pretending to be interested in a grave that is sinking into the ground, low, by the path.

Once her aunt is out of sight, she retraces the steps, her feet feeling heavy, her hands beginning to shake (the fault of the cold, of course).

Here lies Jenny Lynd, it reads. Beloved wife, sister and mother. Beneath that, just above the flowers, it says, Marcus Lynd and nothing more, just two dates, just like her mother's - two dates that showed the paltry years they had been on the earth.

She is now older than both of her parents were when they died. Her mother: thirty. Her father: thirty-three. She is more than ten years older than her mother managed, almost ten years older than her father. A strange thought, really. She shouldn't have survived longer than them. They are a family united in early graves (except hers is empty). 

She stands, caught in contemplation. There is a weight inside of her than makes her sink to her knees in a mockery of prayer.

The tears come then --

She places her hands on the earth, digs her fingers into the mud, claws and cries and her lungs protest, but she doesn't care.

...

It is dark by the time she rights herself, furiously wiping at the tears on her face, turning her face away from the grief and the cellophane flowers drowned by a flood.

She stumbles away.

...

She heads back to the house, stands before the front door. She wonders about knocking, but decides not to. She is a ghost - dead in a Venetian 'accident', there is no way she could explain how the lies became the truth and the truth became lies.

And anyway, her time here was not a happy one.

'I made mistakes,' her aunt said in the magazine. Damn right she did. It was a cold, lonely existence. It sums up her life, maybe.

She turns from the door. She has a plane to catch.

...

James is waiting for her when she returns, sitting in the kitchen.

He doesn't ask her about it, just like she never asks about Madeleine, and he never asks why they can only have a shower and no bath, and why sometimes she sits by the window and cries, silently.

She just tumbles into a seat, rests her head on the table.

He reaches out his hand, puts it on hers, their wedding rings glittering like water in the darkness.

...

A few weeks go by. They fall back into their rhythms.

And then the phone rings.

...

'Oh my dear, my darling dear.'

She's numb. Empty. Cold.

'It's Gustav, my dear.'

She clings to James with painful hands, marking his skin, marking her own.

'He's gone.'

Another grave, another day.

...

A heart attack. Simple, no?

One day, he was fine, the next, dead.

James tries to comfort her, but there is nothing he can do.

Grief hits her, wave after wave, reopening wounds that have only recently started to heal. She is a patchwork of scars and bruises and breaks and blood, fresh and stark, on her skin.

...

The funeral is loud, too many people. He said to Marta, he said he wanted people to laugh. And they do, retelling his little stories, his flair for humour.

Everyone is crying and laughing at the same time, dressed in black, remembering the man they have lost.

She sits at the back, with and without, there but not quite, until Maja sits down beside her, eyes red-rimmed from crying, and then they sit there together, holding each other's hands, staring forward, fighting to keep the darkness at bay.

...

She lies in bed, still wearing her dress, staring at the ceiling. James is folded into the chair in the corner, watching her carefully.

'Stop watching me,' she snaps. 'I'm not going to break.'

He shrugs.

'I'm not fragile, James. I'm not 'handle-with-care.''

He just looks at her, a pair of midnight blue eyes soft and sad, and she wants to scream.

She sits up, tense, her broken body protesting.

'Come on, James,' she says, 'don't just sit there. Say something! Anything!'

He just leans forward, rests his arms on his knees, silent.

'You bastard,' she cries. 'Say something!'

She doesn't know why she is so angry (liar) but as she curls and uncurls her fists, she can feel it coursing through her veins, his silence making it worse.

'You should sleep,' he says, eventually.

Her eyes flash with outrage.

'Don't bloody say what I should do.'

She lunges across the bed towards him, gesturing wildly with her arms.

'Leave me, James. You should get the fuck out before it gets worse.'

She's about to say something else when he reaches towards her, taking her flailing wrists, and they tumble together onto the floor, her wrestling limbs, her burning fury; his calm hands and calm eyes.

In the end, she goes still, slumping against his grip, head buried into her chest, his arms wrapped tightly around her. 

'I wanted to die,' she says, finally, quietly. 'I wanted to die and I couldn't.'

He runs his hand through her hair and says, softly, 'I know.'

'I was waiting for oblivion and it never came, James.'

'I know.'

She closes her eyes.

'How did we get here?' she asks.

He doesn't have an answer.

...

The next day flies away in a haze. She doesn't sleep, rises early, leaves before work before James has stirred.

Once her shift comes to an end, she contemplates going home, but she does not.

Instead, she finds herself drawn towards the bar next door, slips inside, walks in with her head held high.

She gets a scotch, finds a table, can feel the eyes on her, even as the night is only just beginning to fall.

She only has two drinks, heads back to James.

(He knows. He can smell it on her breath. but he doesn't say a word. She's just dealing with things, right?)

...

It becomes a habit, recalling a time long before, when she filled up the lonely hours with scotch and silence.

She's chasing a different kind of oblivion now.

...

She drinks to forget. The burn in her throat eclipses other aches, until she's sitting in the bar, cradling her glass, her mind finally still.

Sometimes, when she's like this, as it heads towards the night, she begins to collect the what ifs, until she's holding them in her hands like glass. Other lives, ones she could have lived, play before her eyes, and then she downs more scotch to chase it away.

In another life: she doesn't betray James. They stay in Venice for a few more weeks, then go to Milan, then onto Madrid and finally Paris - the city of love, where they make their home. She finds a job as an accountant at a little firm, James begins work in security. He does triathlons at the weekends to burn away the pent up energy, to chase away the adrenaline highs he seeks.

In time, they marry. More time passes, they have children - first a girl. She sits in their bedroom, watches as James stands by the window, cradling their daughter, smiling. Next is a boy, a little bundle of energy with his father's eyes.

Across the world, Madeleine Swann meets a kind author - a man with little money but a true heart - and they set up home in London, his home, and they live a haphazard life, full of ideas and travel and love. They have children too, two girls.

Gustav still puts in his night shifts. He just has no one to talk to. He still takes in his waifs and strays, Marta still sighs and puts up with it. He still succumbs to his heart attack, there's just one less person there to grieve his loss. 

Vesper grows old with James Bond in their little ramshackle Parisian home, their children turning into adults and flying the nest. It is a normal life, tainted little by their unusual meeting.

But no. The Paris home disappears. The children return to the shadows they are. Madeleine's kind author visits Austria but finds no beautiful doctor waiting for him. Gustav knows the little stray who pitches up at his hotel one snowy night and to whom he tells his stories. One more woman grieves his loss when he goes.

Just a dream. Another life. A scotch-inspired sojourn into what might have been had she not taken her future into her hands and dashed it to pieces.

She has a different future now. They all do. 

...

Three weeks. It's been three weeks since Gustav's funeral, since she decided it was better to drown her sorrows than face up to them. She's been down this road before, knows it doesn't end well, does it anyway.

It's only a few drinks, until it's not. Until she's lost count of her scotches and there's a man across the bar smiling at her, and she forgets all about James at home.

(she forgets about Gustav too, and Yusef, and Venice and blood and sand, and that's the point, really)

The guy buys her a drink, sits at her table. She giggles and smiles and leans into him when he talks.

(go home Vesper, part of her is begging. the other half tells her Vesper's dead, keep going.)

She's not sure how it happens, but one moment she's throwing down the last of her scotch and then she's in the fresh air, stumbling down an alley way, hand in hand with a stranger.

They stop when they are out of sight and the guy pushes her up against the wall.

He kisses her. She leans in, head spinning, mind whirling, lost in the moment to oblivion - the sweet, sweet oblivion she's been chasing ever since she can remember.

It's not glamorous, it's not pretty, but it's different. It's rebellion.

The guy's hands start to wander, she pushes them away, pulls back, frowns. She's looking into his eyes and they're not right - grey, instead of midnight blue.

(oh my dear, what have you done?)

'Stop,' she mutters, taking a few steps back.

Then she hears it, her name, so unfamiliar to her, and she swivels. The guy in front of her reaches out, snags her round the waist, pulls her close again.

'Vesper?' is repeated somewhere, distantly, and then she sees him, coming towards her, the right eyes, the right man, and she pushes the hands from her again, head screaming, lungs screaming, everything screaming.

James is there. The guy won't let go.

'Get off my wife,' he says.

The guy laughs, mutters, 'Not a bloody good wife, man,' and James shoves him in the chest. 'She was all over me.'

'Fuck off,' James snaps.

The guy laughs again, smirks. She's stumbled a few steps, brushed against the brickwork.

She knows what James is going to do before he does it, wants to tell him not to, but she can't get the words out, can't think straight, can't do anything.

She suddenly feels empty.

James swings back his arm, connects with the guy's face with a thud. Turns to her.

'Let's go home.' 

...

He puts her to bed, says nothing. She falls quickly, the drink's fault, into a dark and lonely sleep.

When she wakes in the morning, the first thing she does is throw up into the bathroom sink. Then she goes into the shower, turns on the water. Stops, the cold rush spraying over her shoulders onto the floor. She hasn't taken last night's dress off and the water soaks the fabric. She sinks down under the weight of it all, curls up against the cool tiles, knees up to her chest, waits (but for what, she doesn't know.)

(she's been here before, they've been here before).

...

James comes in after half an hour, slides down next to her, tucks up his own knees. The water's still going, long cold now.

'I should be so fucking angry with you,' he says.

She laughs.

'Are you?' she replies.

'No.' He doesn't look at her. 'That would be what you wanted, wouldn't it?'

She looks down at her feet, bare and cold, the water running across them. Shrugs.

'You want me to leave,' he says.

She shrugs again. They fall into a silence, cold and painful.

'I betrayed you,' she says, finally. He frowns, she continues. 'In Venice. Before.'

'You did what you had to,' he replies. 'And I've already forgiven you.'

She tightens her grip on her knees. 'You shouldn't.'

He shrugs. 'I have.'

'I don't deserve it.'

'I don't care.'

'You deserve someone whole. Someone who hasn't hurt you. Who isn't a guilty fucking mess.'

She's not sure where her words are coming from, somewhere deep inside she supposes. Somewhere she has no control over, the words flowing like the water above them out of her mouth.

'But I want you.' He pauses, she can feel his eyes fall on her. 'I always have.'

She closes her eyes. He puts his hand on her arm. She starts to cry.

'In Venice,' she says, quietly, 'in the water, it was hell.'

He puts an arm around her. She doesn't flinch away. Instead she leans in, rests her head on his arm.

('It's like there's blood on my hands, it's not coming off. She said that, a lifetime ago, in another shower, in another country, about a different life. And here they are again, so many years later.) 

...

Night. An empty bed from across the room, a head that's pounding from last night's booze and the healed fault line, the world slightly spinning on its axis. She's too old for this, for any of this.

She lies on the bed, hears footsteps from down below. Closes her eyes, counts the seconds until James opens the bedroom door, walks across, lies next to her.

'I'm sorry,' she whispers, staring up at the ceiling.

He doesn't reply.

'I had this future once,' she says, to fill the silence, once again the words rising from somewhere she's not sure where quite is. There's an emptiness at the very heart of her, screaming at her.

'I wanted a family.' It hangs between them, out there now, unable to be fumbled back, unable to be unsaid. She smiles to herself sadly. 'A little girl, with her daddy's eyes.'

James shuffles a little, but doesn't speak.

'I wanted her so badly sometimes I could feel her there in my arms.' She closes her eyes, hands beginning to shake and not because she hasn't had a scotch today. 'This was before. When we were in Venice. The first time you told me you loved me.'

He reaches out an arm, places it on her stomach, palm flat.

'I'm sorry,' he murmurs.

'Did you want children?' she asks, unsure if she wants to her the answer.

He doesn't say anything for a long moment.

Eventually, there is, 'Once,' spoken into the empty air. 'With you.'

'With me,' she echoes. 'We fucked that up, didn't we?'

His hand is still resting on her.

'Madeleine,' he starts, but can't finish. She thinks maybe she's not heard him say her name before.

'Madeleine was pregnant?' she says, turning her head slightly to look at him.

He nods; a hurried thing, vulnerable.

'Once,' he repeats, as if it is all he can say.

She doesn't want to ask how it ended, but in the end she doesn't have to because he says, rolling onto his side to face her, 'She lost it.'

She nods. They are face-to-face now, arms loosely thrown over each other.

She puts her hand on his face, smiles a little.

...

He stands, silhouetted by the light flooding in through the window, a shadow of a man. Her shadow man.

'What happens now?' she asks, the sheet wrapped around her in the early morning light.

He shrugs, turns back, face caught in the light. Smiles. 'Life?'

'I'd like that.'

...

Slowly, things begin to reset, to return to their attempt at domesticity. She stops drinking scotch, James starts coming home earlier.

She doesn't know how this will end, but she knows whatever happens, she needs James there beside her.

She spent too many years lonely to go back there now.

It was always James, the only man she has ever loved. And it is still him now, despite everything, despite her attempts to self-destruct, despite the grief that sits at the very heart of her (for the life not lived, for her parents, for Gustav, for the things she has done).

...

'I know he meant a lot to you.'

She half-turns in the afternoon sunshine. It is a birthday party - Oscar, Gustav's grandson - just like the one Yusef interrupted so long ago now. There are no mad men here now. The light is dappled through the trees, the September warm but not hot.

'Who?' she asks.

'Gustav,' James says, quietly.

The light catches his face as she thinks about what he has said.

She remembers Switzerland, her port in a storm to remind her of her humanity. She thinks about Gustav's stories and his faith in her and his kindness. She thinks about him making her smile when she had decided she wasn't made for happiness. She thinks about Gustav, his kind smile, kind eyes, kind words.

He built her back up again from the depths of despair, piece by piece, with stories and smiles and so much more that she cannot put into words. Without him, there is something missing, something she cannot quantify. She knows he would hate to know what she did when she lost him - tumbling headfirst into a bottle of scotch in a race to find the oblivion she has always danced with.

'I want to live a life he would be proud of,' she says, eventually. 'He was a good man. He made me realise I could be a good woman still. Despite...' She trails off. James knows what she means.

He pulls her into an embrace. She buries her head in his chest.

'To the future,' James says, quietly.

'To the future,' she echoes.

...

Time unravels like a ribbon, one day then the next, and on and on and on.

Once upon a time, she imagined growing old with James, but of course it was different, it was before she let the water consume her and the world flipped and she became someone else, someone different with the same face.

And yet here they are, side-by-side, facing the light, together.

...

Her sins will always follow her. Her guilt will not fade away. Her lungs will never right themselves; they will always scream. Her parents cannot rise from the dead. She will always have done things she cannot take back. Venice, the red dress, water - they will always haunt her.

But it's alright. She has James. She will always have James.

...

They grow old together (impossible, she once thought - not true, it turns out. She gets her happy ending, her way back, her redemption. And him. Always him).

...

A memory: Venice. Sunshine. Water sparkling in the breeze. Tourists milling around, taking in the sights. A building, crumbling and breaking. The echo of gunshots hang in the air. A tortured man stumbles from the wreckage, replacing his armour like an expensive leather jacket, easily but with hidden care. A bird whistles in the wind. 

(and, in a Venetian hospital not three miles away, a woman rises from the dead)

...

Vesper Lynd grows old, in the end.