"The devil's on your shoulder
Strangers in your head
As if you don't remember
As if you can forget
It's only been a moment
It's only been a lifetime
But tonight you're a stranger or some silhouette"
Three years fly by so quickly, he wants to go back, find a way to slow them. He would give anything to deter the passage of time, stop it altogether. Pause everything, remain in limbo with Emily, Flynn, and the puppy he surprised them with just a couple of months ago. He would give anything to have his life back, to stay there.
He wants to go back to the life he had before she was violently ripped out of it.
Instead, he's left alone. His wife taken, presumed dead, and their three year old constantly asking for mommy.
He refuses to stop looking for her, acquiring Warren's help in taking care of Flynn while he spends countless hours at the office.
"Do whatever you need to do to find my daughter," the older man tells him each day that he drops Flynn off at his grandfather's home. "Just find her."
He tries. Every single day and night for a year, he tries. Even after Conrad Harlow is convicted for her murder.
He searches for her until he just can't anymore. Until the wound of losing her becomes so infected and raw, spreading through his bloodstream like sepsis, that he has to stop, tend to it before it kills him. He doesn't want to live without her, but she would kill him if he cursed Flynn with the same fate that she had as a child, if he left Flynn as an orphan.
So he stops. He puts her case in a box at the office, puts her in a box in the darkest corner of his mind, and dedicates all he has into raising their son. Her father despises him for it, her brother grants him with silent disapproval, and without Emily to light the way, Nick sinks into the darkness.
Within the following year, he meets Alice.
She's pretty and sweet, graceful, elicits a pleasant warmth through his blood as time goes on. He doesn't know how to love past the guilt that remains like a sentinel guarding his heart, doesn't know if he wants to, but Flynn takes to her quickly, benefits from having such a positive female presence in his life. So he tries.
He forces himself to accept that the fire he felt with Emily was a once in a lifetime experience, that no one else will ever live up to the beauty of burning with her; he wouldn't want it with anyone else. The flames died with her. So did a piece of him.
He learns to live in the shell of who he was, begins to accept that happiness doesn't always come in the form of wild passion, but can be quiet too. He learns to settle, to do what is best for his son, because it's the one thing he knows without question that Emily would have wanted - for Flynn to be happy.
Flynn is all that matters now.
It's not completely fair to Alice, who loves both him and Flynn so full and completely, who gives so much when he gives so little. But as the months pass, the years, he loves her back almost as much, loves her with what he has left - in that quiet, tender way. It's enough for her, for the little family they've become. It has to be.
Of course, he's imagined what it would be like if Emily ever made a miraculous return. It was all he thought about in those first few months, the first year she was gone. But as time passes and hope withers, he realizes that a daydream is all it will ever be.
Until it isn't.
When he pulls her body from that tank of water and she takes her first breath, he feels like he's diving in.
Neither one of them is who they were six years ago. They've both been broken down and stripped bare in different ways, souls scooped out, leaving them hollow.
Six years. She's been gone, taken away from him and their son, believed to be dead. He let himself believe she was dead, taught Flynn to trust in the same horrible lie, mourn the mother he never got to know.
He never truly mourned his wife, not like he should have. He locked her away in the back of his mind, locked all the hurt away with her, and pretended he moved on. He married someone else, allowed another woman to raise his son, and part of him was happy.
But it's been six years, and he still thinks of Emily Byrne as his wife. He's missed his wife.
And now he has to turn her into the police for a crime he could never fathom her taking part in.
It's breaking her all over again, the lack of trust from those who should be defending her, believing in her. Not crucifying her. He's seen her on the shuddering edge of panic attacks since her return, seen the way her eyes go dark and fill with the horror she can't escape despite being rescued. He can't stand it anymore, can't stand to watch while she treads water alone.
When he cradles her trembling hands in his, secures them tight in his grasp to anchor her in the middle of her hotel room, he doesn't want to let go. He wants to be closer, to hold every broken part of her until they can meld together again.
He wants to go back in time, when he could love her so freely. It stops him from thinking clearly, from thinking at all, and instead, encourages him to take what he wants, what they both need.
Kissing her again for the first time in so long is like fresh oxygen being pumped through his tired lungs. The tears on her cheeks dry and her lips part for him, welcome him home.
Her body has changed. He's startled by the raised flesh he encounters beneath his fingertips, the long strips of scars on her back, the evidence of what she's been through. How she was being tortured while he was living a new life without her.
He whispers apologies to every marred line of flesh, memorizes the location of every scar she's acquired. He forgets about everything else, who they are now, what they've become. Tonight, he leaves his life at the foot of the hotel bed and buries himself inside of her with long strokes and smooth thrusts. He loses himself in the sounds of her moans, the noises of pleasure he once knew by heart, the scent of her skin and the way it burns so good with every brush against his. The familiar fit of his hand in hers.
Afterwards, he curls his body around hers, twines their limbs. He's the opposite of clingy after sex and she is too, but he doesn't want to let her go this time. She doesn't seem to mind, tracing the possessive band of his arm at her waist with the tips of her fingers, grazing fleeting kisses to the column of his throat. They don't sleep, they don't have the luxury of that, but he drifts with her, gets drunk on the drug of her company, the naked seal of her body to his.
"I don't want to go," she whispers into the silence.
He lifts a hand to her face, cups her cheek. She turns her head to brush her lips to the heel of his palm.
He stains his words along the scar slashed into her forehead. "I don't want you to either."
He's eventually forced to leave her for the bathroom, washing his face once he's done, splashing cold water like a jolt of reality to his senses. He should feel guilty, he should feel overcome with it. He should be rallying for his resolve, for the dedication to his job. He should be thinking about Alice, his son, the consequences of his actions. But all he can think about is having her again. Running away with Emily, doing everything he shouldn't, all for her.
When he emerges from the bathroom, though, the mere idea of that choice is washed away.
But the hotel room is empty, the air still with her absence. She's gone.
It feels as if he's lost her all over again.