all along, with time

Disclaimer: Don't own anything. Lyrics by Florence + the Machine.

Rating: T

Spoiler: 1.22 (Reckoning).

A/N: This is a follow up to my previous Nolan/Emily one shot, See you, where we end, but it's not necessary for you to read to understand this. It does, however, make sense to watch the finale as there are major spoilers ahead and it picks up right after the final scene. Enjoy! Also thank you to my beta, forthecoast, for being efficient and amazing as always!

xxx

"I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart…"

xxx

The one thought that crosses his mind is how he's never seen Emily look so unsettled. Even when she had shown up at his doorstep in the middle of the night months ago with the news that Charlotte was her sister, she still had that look of steely resolve concealing her surprise. And though, Nolan reasons, not even the great Emily Thorne is impervious to the news that she may not be orphaned after all, he still feels a knot of fear coil in his stomach, as he watches Emily's expression change from disbelief, to fear, and then quiet resolve.

All in a matter of seconds.

For once he is actually speechless. Unsure of what to say, unsure of what to do even, which hasn't been an issue for them ever since that day on the beach when he came to congratulate on her engagement and spent two hours distracting her with stories from MIT and the start of his company.

Nolan remembers being surprised when Emily asked him to tell her about his past but accepted eagerly, ignoring all warning signs, ones that were reminding him that this was dangerous, that he was going to get hurt.

That whichever way this story ended, he will be the one burned, because he's no Jack Porter, he's not the person with whom Amanda Clarke is meant to grow old.

However during the course of that afternoon and every day after, Nolan started to wonder if perhaps he is the one with whom Emily Thorne is meant to grow old, if they make it to retirement age that is.

The thought jolts him out of the reverie, propelling him into action as he stands up, announcing that they both need a drink. Before he can make it off the couch though, her steely voice halts him.

"No."

The knot in this stomach tightens.

"We have work to do, Nolan." She declares with a hint of condescension, as if his suggestion of a drink is particularly ludicrous right now. When he meets her eye, all he sees is cold determination, but he knows better.

He knows this is her way of dealing with this new revelation, one that not only brings up old scars but also has the potential to change the course of her plan, complicate it, create new tributaries, new issues to think about.

Despite what she wants him to believe and what she wants to communicate by hiding behind a façade of indifference and purpose, the last few months have taught Nolan that he is in fact not dispensable. That quite the opposite, he is probably the most important person in Emily's life at the moment, whether she acknowledges it or not, and as such, he is okay playing this game with her.

He's okay with conceding this round to her.

But not without a little caution.

"You need to sleep sometime and this will help." He pushes forth regardless, nodding over to the liquor cabinet where he knows she keeps at least two bottles of vodka and a decanter of very good and very expensive scotch.

Her face hardens at his words almost instantaneously and she stands up, as if in defiance.

"I'll sleep when this is all finished." She says resolutely and brushes past him to retrieve her laptop, a plan no doubt already brewing.

Nolan doesn't take offense, already expecting this reaction, and dutifully settles besides her at the desk, ready to follow her instructions.

However, a few hours later, Emily's assertion about sleep proves to be premature.

As Nolan drapes a blanket over her exhausted form, he has the faintest urge to run his fingers across her cheek, but hesitates for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is his healthy preservation instinct. There's not a scenario in this moment in which Emily wouldn't break his fingers if he startled her from sleep.

So despite the overwhelming desire, Nolan retreats. For a fleeting moment, he considers settling into the loveseat opposite the couch, but in the end, he follows his instinct and goes home, aware that Emily needs some time to herself, regardless of how much he wants to be there for her.

He does make sure that the door is safely locked behind him.

xxx

True to form, Emily doesn't call him the next day. She does, however, send him an encrypted email with a list of people she wants him to research, associates of her mother's that she remembers presumably from memory.

Nolan doesn't question her instructions and despite wanting to check on her, decides to be patient and wait for her to come to him. Besides, he actually has a business he needs to keep tabs on from time to time.

And so he spends the next few days juggling his NolCorp responsibilities while doing research for Emily on the side. Although his presence is requested in the city, he stays in the Hamptons, completely aware that he's doing so in order to stay closer to her even if he won't reach out.

He also avoids The Stowaway, still unsure of how to approach the issue of a knocked up faux Amanda with Jack. Nolan does call him though and can hear a touch of excitement in his voice, even if it's largely overridden by anxiety and wariness.

So Nolan congratulates him, doesn't mention Emily, and blames too much work on his recent absence. Jack is preoccupied anyway and Nolan tries to push down the guilt that envelopes him every time he remembers that Emily is not the only one fooling Jack.

He wonders briefly if Jack will want to speak to him once the truth is revealed but tries not to dwell on it too much, knowing that between loyalty to Emily and Jack, he would choose the former in a heartbeat. So he hangs up instead of making small talk and focuses on the complicated algorithm he's running.

Nolan works all through lunch and dinner, something he hasn't done since before Emily Thorne stormed into town and disrupted his existence. Relishing the tightness in his muscles, he decides to take a break in the very least, listening acutely to how his stomach protests against the absence of food for so long.

Upon discovering his kitchen to be completely empty, he retrieves the take out menu of the only late-night delivery joint within 20 miles of Montauk and orders something that will likely be dripping with grease but taste oh so good.

Just as he's about to make the trek upstairs for a much needed shower, he hears a persistent knock on his front door. There's no one else it could be and yet he's not as relieved as he should be. Something about the knock worries him, not the least of which is that he cannot recall the last time Emily knocked instead of picking a lock.

Nevertheless, when he opens the door, there's not a trace of worry on his face. Feigning the practiced amused look, Nolan gives Emily a onceover and leans against the doorframe with a smirk.

"To what do I owe the pleasure of you actually alerting me to your presence instead of picking my locks?" He purrs teasingly, words not wavering even when he sees that Emily is so not clearly in the mood for his jabs.

For a moment, he thinks he's gotten to her, but she quickly brings him back down with a carefully measured verbal stab, "you double bolted all your doors, Nolan. It wasn't worth the trouble."

She then breezes by him into the living room, leaving him frowning by the door as he realizes that he did in fact bring in a handyman to rework and add additional locks after the "white haired man" incident.

Still, he doesn't dwell on it and instead quickly closes the door, turning around to find an expectant Emily Throne standing in the middle of the room with her arms crossed. It's then that he notices that something is amiss.

He can't quite pinpoint it, but there is something different about the young woman standing in front of him. It's not her perfect posture, or the pursed lips, or even the darkened stare, but there is an air of anxiety about her. He can tell that though she tries to mask it, she has not quite recovered from everything they discovered just a few days ago, regardless of her attempt to conceal it.

Nolan understands how much easier it is to suppress your feelings rather than to deal with them, and yet there is a part of him that's angry with Emily for trying to be so nonchalant. For trying to pretend that she isn't shocked and angry as hell, and especially for not talking to him about it. Because if she isn't talking to him, Nolan is certain she isn't talking to anyone about anything and at this rate, she will likely self-combust, taking him down along with her.

Fortunately, Nolan doesn't have much more time to contemplate his frustration before Emily speaks; the hint of urgency in her voice the first inclination that this isn't a routine visit for her.

"Where are the files I asked for? I don't have all day, Nolan." Despite her immaculate façade of indifference, Nolan doesn't miss the flicker of regret in her eye.

"Chill. I got them right here." He saunters by her without even acknowledging her cold remark, only stopping to tap on the quilted Chanel hanging from her shoulder.

"Doing some retail therapy, Ems?"

He teases softly, only to earn an eye roll from her in the process. She doesn't say anything, though. Instead, follows him behind his desk, leaning over his shoulder as he pulls up the reports she asked for.

In their proximity, Nolan can't help but breathe in the light floral scent of her perfume. She smells like the onset of spring, reminding Nolan of the breaks he used to spend with Aunt Carole in Pennsylvania while the rest of his classmates took more traditional spring break vacations.

He remembers being bitter about being the outcast, the one who never got invited anywhere, but given that those spring breaks were where he got his inspiration for what would eventually become NolCorp, he can't be too upset about it.

The memory is broken by Emily's impatience, practically radiating off of her in waves, and Nolan quickly consolidates his research into one massive file, and transfers it over to the flash drive Emily sticks into his laptop.

As soon as the transfer is complete, Emily pulls the flash drive out and briskly thanks him, probably intent on leaving right away. In that moment something inside Nolan snaps.

His patience evaporates as she turns around and though this is a huge warning to him that he should get the hell away from her if he wants to maintain what little is left of his sanity, Nolan allows impulse to drive his next action.

He doesn't say anything, somehow knowing that words alone would have absolutely no effect on her, but he reaches forward and pulls what he thinks is a white index card from the back pocket of her jeans.

"Well what do we have here?"

Emily instantly has his wrist in a death grip, eyes trained on him with muted rage.

"Don't." She hisses, her grip restricting blood supply to his fingers and so ensuring that he loosens his grip on what he realizes is a photograph. It falls to the floor but even from his perch on the chair, Nolan can easily make out David Clarke and a blonde woman he recognizes as Emily's mother holding a bundled up baby in her arms.

The photo is creased in all corners and yellowing at the edges, but there's no mistaking that the couple is happy, that David's smile is genuine and that he is very much in love with both his wife and daughter.

He's not sure if Emily gives into exhaustion or if the apology and guilt evident in his own eyes dispels her anger, but when he makes eye contact with her again, the fury has subsided, replaced with a kind of weariness and sadness that Emily seldom reveals.

"I'm sorry, Ems. Didn't realize-…"

"It's okay." She cuts him off, expelling a sigh and picking up the photo from the floor.

"I found it again last night when I was going through one of my father's journals." She explains, taking a seat on the couch.

Nolan watches her silently, noting how genuinely exhausted she looks, elbows resting on her closed knees as she stares at the picture. There's a rare look of innocence and vulnerability about her in this moment that reminds him of Amanda Clarke in those days after he gave her the Infinity box, when she was holed up in his apartment refusing to leave the guest room as she sifted through all the evidence of her father's innocence.

Except this Amanda Clarke looks like she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and Nolan wants nothing more than to be there for her right now. She's giving him an in and he doesn't plan on wasting it, destiny be damned.

"I suppose a drink is really in order now." He muses before walking to his liquor cabinet and pulling out the same bottle of scotch she took out on her own the night she came to him with the news that Charlotte was her sister.

When he hands her a glass with two fingers of scotch in it, Emily doesn't object. Instead she accepts the proffered drink and takes a healthy swallow of the auburn liquor. Nolan follows suit, relishing the biting warmth as it coats his throat.

They sit in silence for a while after, undefined stretches of time passing until at least half the bottle is empty, and Nolan starts to feel his thoughts get hazy, the alcohol making its way through his system. He's a little thirsty but the scotch induced warmth makes him lazy, almost lethargic, and he doesn't want to leave this couch, not with Emily so close to him.

"Sometimes I don't even remember what she looks like anymore." Emily finally breaks the silence.

"I used to take that photo out just to remind myself of what she looked like…and now I have to imagine what she looks like now and where the hell she's been for the last 20 years." Emily adds, tone growing harsher with each word.

"God, this is so fucked up." She murmurs after a pause, and Nolan wonders if she's talking to him or simply thinking out loud, trying to make sense of it all.

Despite the alcohol-induced haziness, Nolan realizes yet again how much the events of the last few days have unraveled Emily, not only disrupting her plans, but also disrupting her psyche, triggering an emotional response she isn't prepared for.

And although he is certainly chagrined on her behalf, a part of him is relieved by her reaction. If she were completely consumed by revenge, there would be no room for such devastation.

Still, he would take it all away in an instant if he could. This knowledge, paired with loosened inhibitions, propels him forward until his arm winds itself around Emily's shoulder. She stills beneath his embrace but then relaxes, going as far as to even lean against him. Without letting his thoughts caution him, Nolan pulls her against his side, inviting her into the crook of his shoulder as he reclines against the couch.

Nolan doesn't think about how willingly Emily falls into his arms. Instead he focuses on how instinctively they fit together, the heat from her body warming him and her breath on his chest sending tiny goose bumps down his arms.

He also doesn't think about that as he brushes his lips against her forehead in lieu of empty words of comfort.

And he certainly doesn't think about that…or anything at all for that matter when Emily leans up and kisses him.

Somehow he's not as shocked as he should be and responds immediately, capturing her bottom lip between his; she doesn't make a sound but her fingers curl around his collar and Nolan lets his instincts guide him completely.

His fingers tangle in her soft blond curls as he pulls her flush against him. Emily puts up no resistance, instead shifts closer until there's no semblance of space between them. Nolan doesn't waste any time taking advantage of her position, sliding his hands from her hair to her hips, tracing her curves as he coaxes her mouth open. When he runs his tongue along her bottom lip, the moan that escapes her mouth sends a jolt of arousal straight through him, spurring him on.

Nolan pours everything he has into the kiss, perhaps in some vain attempt to show her what could be if she just, if she just considered the alternative…

But even through the pleasure filled haze, Nolan suddenly realizes that it's not that simple, and it's as if fate agrees with him, because moments later the shrill sound of his doorbell cuts through the quiet. Emily pulls back first and the stunned look on her face leaves a weight in his chest. Yet she doesn't move and he doesn't either, thumbs still tracing indeterminate patterns on her skin.

Even when the doorbell rings a second time, Emily makes no attempt to crawl off his lap.

"Expecting someone?" she asks teasingly, a little out of breath, making Nolan wonder what would have happened if they weren't interrupted.

The thought sends a second jolt of arousal through his body and to keep some semblance of mind, he replies in his signature drawl, "yes, Uncle Tom and his fried chicken," before gently sliding her off and walking to the door to relieve the delivery boy.

The realization of what they were just doing finally hits him as he signs the credit card receipt and somehow he instinctively knows that Emily will be ready to bolt the second he sets the food on the counter. But instead of simply accepting it, Nolan steels himself for a moment, recalibrating his sobered mind and turns around just in time to see Emily walk to the door.

"Stay," he says, halting her with her hand on the doorknob. She looks over her shoulder at him, all traces of arousal gone. He can still make out a flicker of something though, something aside from the usual determination and it gives him the courage to move forward, until he's in her space, breathing in her scent again.

He watches her reaction as he takes her hand off the doorknob and into his palm.

"Whatever you were planning to do with those files, you can do it here." He suggests as gently as possible, but Emily still hesitates.

She doesn't pull away from him though and Nolan takes this as encouragement to press her further, resorting to humor.

"C'mon Ems, you really going to leave me alone here with an entire bucket of chicken?"

"Your eating habits are not my responsibility," Emily retorts back after a moment, but the smile pulling at the corner of her lips reveals that she is merely teasing. Nolan ignores the wave of relief that washes over him and pulls her back into the living room.

He watches from the kitchen as she plugs her flash drive back into his laptop, obviously intent on working tonight but finds that he doesn't really care. The enormity of what has just happened between them is difficult for even him to wrap his mind around so he figures this is Emily's way of (not) dealing with it.

This is fine by him, because she agreed to stay, and that's at least a step in the right direction. Besides, he's patient and willing to wait as long as it takes for Emily to realize that he isn't going anywhere, that Jack Porter isn't the only one vying for her heart.

Still, a moment later, when Emily turns around and flashes him a rueful smile, Nolan wonders whether she hasn't known it all along.