He blocks the swift blow to his throat, grabs the man's shoulders and drives his knee with shattering force into his opponent's chest, jerking him up and driving him backwards with a final, crushing impact of his kneecap against the solar plexus.
The man stumbles backwards and rises, ready to attack, but he's already turning, the nail gun in his practiced killer's hands, and with a killer's ease and a killer's calm he pulls the trigger once, with sharp, almost painful finality.
There is a hiss.
And the man's head snaps upwards, and he lolls backwards, and he slumps against the wall, and his bare eye is rolled upwards, and the other eye, behind the layer of glass-
-a needle, protruding, piercing, penetrating, extends from the tender, vulnerable cavity of the man's eye socket.
James doesn't even blink, just stares, calm and cold on the outside, before reaching behind his left shoulder and wrenching an identical needle from the flesh of his back with a grunt, droplets of water sliding down his gaunt, angular cheeks. The gun falls from nerveless hands, and there is a moment of stillness.
There is a scream.
Short and shrill, it cruelly pierces the simulacrum of peace in his mind, and the sounds come rushing back, the water, churning, frothing, the very foundations of the walls of the building, contorting and moaning in unadulterated agony as it succumbs to its final death throes, but it is only the scream, only the voice, that James focuses on.
Instantly he reacts, sprinting as quickly as he can past the crumbling remains of the walkway, his feet making ever so loud impacts against the floorboards, ignoring the spray of the water that threatens to dislodge the positioning of his tread, and dodges past the banister, throwing himself against the solid, metal mesh that walls the elevator, his eyes focused only on the pair of eyes that gazes back upon him, on the other side of the barrier. His hands reach for the mechanism binding the steel girders together, frantically shaking them, wrenching them, tearing them in an attempt to part them. He looks up, and she emerges from the shadows of the cage to place her hands on the grill, scant inches away from his.
She was beautiful, even now, even with the cascade of water bombarding them from all sides that drenches her silky, radiant hair, smudging and smearing at her make-up, making her look as if she was weeping. His hands stop, and he can do nothing for a moment but watch her in silence.
It is only now that James realizes that she is weeping.
"I'm sorry, James."
Her voice is soft, but the sound of it is all that fills his mind, and his eyes, perpetually cold, perpetually emotionless and analytical, soften for a nanosecond as his icy gaze searches hers for an answer that is all too apparent.
Her hands jerk sideways, and he looks down, remembering too late.
There is a click.
The latch closes over the grating of the girders, and he puts both hands to the steel now, forgetting the why, and the how, furiously focusing on simply tearing the metal apart with his considerable strength that has never failed him before now.
Before now, as the hinges of the pulleys start to move.
The building shakes and sinks further. Gravity is amplified, with a shocking suddenness that forces his hands away from the girders as the cage shifts, plummeting down through the darkness much faster than it was ever designed to do.
There is a splash, deafening, shattering as the absolute, unyielding weight of the elevator cage hits the water, and immediately begins to sink. Ripples, candescent and elliptical, are flung forcefully by the impact, and the water churns and swirls even more fiercely than before.
There is muffled silence, ringing in his ears as the blood drains from his face, and he lunges, diving off the banister, ignoring the plummeting splinters of wood and stone that batter his form as he falls through the air and plunges into the freezing cold water, diving deeper and deeper to keep up with the sinking cage. With a powerful pull of his arms and a passionate kick of his legs, he closes with the gargantuan metal construct and desperately, blindly grabs the girders with his hands, his fingers scrambling wildly for a suitable grip, shuddering back and forth as he shakes the metal with enough force to snap another man's neck. He's aware of her as she watches him, crouching in her corner of the cage.
There is a shudder.
There is a shudder as he forces his muscles to clench harder than he's ever done in his life, and he's grasping the cage walls now, and he's pulling and pushing with all his might, and it's not working, and his strength that he had prided himself upon, that had never failed him before, isn't enough. A muffled scream of frustration and exertion leaves his lips in a stream of bubbles, muted by the chilling embrace of the water that surrounds him, and her, and the cage, and he slams himself against the cage again with so much force that the metal shudders and shifts, and for a moment he almost believes it is going to give.
And then, pair of pale, warm, soft hands envelops his killer's hands with a gentle caress, and he can do nothing but stare helplessly and desperately as Vesper drifts to the barrier. He watches as she closes her eyes slowly, and lowers her face to brush against his calloused, rough hands. His heart lurches in his chest, and he can do nothing but feel the agonizing burning at the edges of his eyes as tears that he thought he no longer had left were summoned forth. His eyes meet hers, and he realizes that she's crying too, and her lips are clenched tightly shut in an attempt to still the sobs that shake her slender body so. He feels the warmth of her lips caress his fingers for the last time. Finally, she looks up and meets his eyes as her mouth opens and, instinctively, inevitably, she breathes.
There is a scream.
A muffled scream. The most horrible sound he has ever heard in his life. Suddenly, she shudders, her body involuntarily convulsing as the water hits her lungs, her eyes widening in agony as she screams again, flinging herself back against the metal. Her hand rises through the water, in a desperate attempt to reach for him, for anyone, for anything.
He screams long and hard, trails of harsh bubbles rushing from his lips as he blindly seizes the metal with his hands and he's pulling, and pulling, and tearing, and it's not working, and he doesn't know why, and he knows he has to save her before she drowns but he cant. The cage's walls are shaking with frightening intensity now, and he lets out a final scream before desperately shifting to the side and slamming his feet into the metal, striking it again and again, ignoring the pain that blossoms up his legs, smashing the girders asunder with strength he never knew he had. His lungs are burning now, but he continues, ripping through the lock at last and forces his hand through the narrow gap, straining, struggling, trying to reach her as she lolls against the side of the cage. His face presses into the metal as he frantically reaches for her, just to touch her, just to hold her once more, his hands groping wildly and recklessly through the gloom.
Finally, eventually, his hand manages to brush against hers, and, his teeth clenching furiously, he lunges again, this time managing to latch onto her limp wrist, and he pulls, tugging her body to him and out of the cage as he makes a powerful kick for the surface. His arms wrap around her waist and he swims on towards the light.
There is a gasp.
A gasp of air, deep and intense as his head breaks the surface, and he immediately pulls her up so that her head rises into the air, and he stares frantically at her, watching for any signs of life.
There are none.
His muscles and body scream in exhaustion, but he pays no attention, grabbing onto a protruding pew of wood and hauling himself out of the water, dragging her cold form with him.
They collapse onto the wooden floor, water pooling around them as the building finally reaches the bottom of the river, and his hands feverishly rake her throat, searching, desperately feeling for a pulse, for a sign of life.
There are none.
Undeterred, he places his hands on her chest, and, with as much force as he can muster from his tortured muscles, he pumps her frail form, repeating again and again, pausing after every set to press his lips to hers in an attempt to breathe life into her body. He's pumping, and he's gasping, and he's sobbing, and he's crying now, and it's not fair. He had resigned. She had applied for a month's leave. They were supposed to lose themselves on a glorious, romantic cruise around the world, resting in each other's arms. All the killing was supposed to be done. All the death. All the deception. All the pain, and the regret, and the hollow emptiness.
It wasn't fair.
Eventually, even James reaches his limit. He releases her lifeless body and slumps backwards, his chest heaving with his gasping breaths, his sopping, soaking hair falling into his eyes as he tries to cry out, tries to make a sound, tries to do something to release the knot of agony that tightens and constricts his chest, but he can't. For a moment, he tries to force the pain aside as he's always been able to do in the past, trying to force the pure, limitless rage, frustration, and denial that sings forth from his icy blue eyes, but he can't.
Slowly, silently, he falls forward onto his knees, and, with shivering, shaking arms, he lifts her frail, lifeless body and cradles her to him, his eyes clenched shut as he forces himself not to cry.
There is a whimper.
A soft exhalation. A gasp. A sob.
And James opens his eyes to feel liquid crystal sliding down his cheeks, and falling softly onto Vesper's perfect, tantalizingly smooth skin, and he tells himself that it's the river water, it's not his tears, he's not crying. He can't cry.
But as he clings to her limp body for a long moment, his lips pressed fiercely to her forehead, his body trembling violently from the cold and the despair that clenches his heart in its vice-like grip, he realizes that maybe this time, maybe now, maybe with her…
Maybe it was all right to cry after all.