A/N: Spoilers up through S2e12. Something I thought up after seeing Marco get fired. Clearly things didn't turn out this way, but I consider it an alternative way for Nolan to find out the truth, if Padma had been a bit more careful and Marco had been a bit more determined.
Marco sucked in a deep breath. Believing Marco to be guilty of betraying him to Daniel Grayson, probably due to a manipulative suggestion of his girlfriend's, Nolan had thrown Marco out of his own office, firing him.
Padma had stood by Nolan the entire time, providing silent support. It made Marco sick to see it. He would bet anything that Padma was the one betraying Nolan and framing Marco. Seeing Nolan stand next to her, clearly in love with her, while dismissing the one who was actually on his side, stung.
Marco bit his tongue at the injustice. He didn't even have the benefit of being justifiably indignant about the lack of trust because he knew full well that he deserved it. Still, it pained him that Nolan hated him so much that he wouldn't even allow Marco the chance to explain his side of the story.
Some might accept the rejection and leave it at that. If Nolan wanted him gone, why should he stick around? They might feel that if Nolan had no loyalty towards Marco, Marco should have no loyalty towards Nolan.
But Marco was in love with the eccentric entrepreneur, and there was no way he was just going to disappear off the grid while a mole was undermining Nolan's company from right under his nose.
So instead of leaving, Marco took action. Even if Nolan hated him, he would do all he could to save NolCorp from destruction.
The office was dark. Everyone had gone home, except Nolan. Even Padma, who usually stuck with Nolan until he was done for the day, was absent, having left earlier for a family commitment.
Walking down the dimly lit hallway, Marco kept his eyes locked on the light emanating from Nolan's office. His heart beat faster just knowing that Nolan was nearby, and that, for the first time in a number of weeks, since being fired, Marco would get to see him.
This happiness was unfortunately offset by the rather unhappy knowledge that Nolan would gaze at him with genuine hatred. How he longed for the days when Nolan had gazed at him with nothing but love and devotion in his eyes.
Sighing, Marco placed a hand over the pocket of his pants, finding reassurance in the solid shape of the flash drive there. This flash drive held the information that would redeem him in Nolan's eyes, and help Nolan to see the truth about his girlfriend.
The moment Marco pushed through Nolan's door, Nolan's head came up from staring at his computer screen. His face hardened, his jaw clenched and his eyes were immensely foreboding.
"Did I not make my sentiments perfectly clear, Marco?" asked Nolan harshly. "In case I didn't, let me reiterate them for you. Get out."
Maintaining a perfectly composed façade, Marco replied calmly, "Not this time, sorry."
"How did you even get in here?"
Marco scoffed. "Oh, please. That's child's play to people like us, Nolan. There's no need to insult my intelligence."
"Really? Because a smart man would have realized by now that you have absolutely no chance with me," said Nolan pointedly.
Ignoring his ex-boyfriend's hostility, Marco, ever the professional, got right down to business. "I've got something you need to take a look at," he proclaimed firmly.
"Well I'm sorry!" exclaimed Nolan with a sarcastic smile, "But you don't work for me anymore. If you need to, I don't know, tie up some loose ends from your stay at NolCorp, then, from now on, everything between you and me goes through my secretary. I never want to have to look at your face." Lip wrinkling with disgust, Nolan turned back to his computer.
"This isn't related to my work as your CFO. Well, not… exactly."
Rolling his eyes, Nolan glared up at Marco. "Then must I really say it again? Get out!"
"Listen, Nolan-" Marco tried, starting to walk towards Nolan's desk.
"Stop!" exclaimed Nolan immediately, looking alert. Eyebrows rising, Marco stood still. "Stop right there. Put your hands in your pockets and don't move."
"Do it," the ex-boss snapped.
"Okay, fine," said Marco, jaw tight with slight irritation as he slipped his hands into his pockets. "Why am I doing it?"
"I'm not taking any chances with you. I don't want you planting bugs in my office."
Marco stared at Nolan, stunned and not a bit insulted. "I'm not-" he began to protest. Marco cut himself off, taking a breath to bring himself under control. "Never mind. That doesn't matter. The point is, I'm not going to let this go. Trust me just this once. All you have to do is look at it."
Nolan paused, his expression still hard. He took a long moment to ponder his options. He recognized the look of determination on Marco's face. Nolan sighed. He knew Marco well enough to know that he was serious about not letting it go. What a bother.
"How long will this take?" he drawled, faking vague disinterest.
"Two minutes, no more."
"Fine. But that's it," was the strict condition. Smiling mockingly, with contemptuous amusement, Nolan continued on, saying, "Why don't we move this little shindig to your old office, hmm? I still don't feel safe having you in here."
Grinding his teeth together, Marco pulled a tight smile. "Whatever you want. You are the boss."
"And after this, you leave me alone, understand?" Nolan rose from his chair, smoothing out his perfectly tailored white suit and striding over to Marco's side. Marco admired the taller man's graceful figure and walk, wishing he didn't have to admire in silence. "I believe I've made my feelings towards you clear as crystal." Nolan's blue eyes locked with Marco's in an intense stare. Marco could practically feel the sexual tension sparking between them. There was no way that Nolan didn't feel it too. "I want nothing to do with you. Your face makes me sick."
"Whatever you may think of me, don't pretend that you aren't loving this," jabbed Marco sharply. Reaching out, he pulled the door handle, holding it open for Nolan to pass through. "I know that the attention is making you happy."
Nolan smirked, putting his own hand on the door and gesturing flamboyantly for Marco to go through first. "Yes, because who wouldn't want to receive obnoxious attentions from a traitorous rat."
"You may talk big, but you're enjoying it," returned Marco simply, smirking right back as he walked past Nolan, a twinkle in his eye. A bit of Nolan's confidence faded, and his eyes flicked back and forth between Marco's, searching for answers. "There's no need to lie to me. I know you too well."
"I'm afraid I can't quite agree with that statement, Marco," said Nolan, his smile turning bitter as he followed out the door. They began to walk side by side down the hall. "You made it very clear that Thanksgiving that you have no idea who I am." The smile was gone completely, replaced with pure ice.
"I know that you like the attention because you aren't used to it," was Marco's blunt response. "You're used to being alone, shunned, treated like a weirdo. You're always so eager to have anyone like you. It's like a drug. The only drug that can pull you out of your lonely miserable life and make you happy."
Nolan's eyebrows rose in the middle of Marco's short speech and stayed put there. Breaking eye contact, Nolan tilted his head to the side, plastering a smile of amusement on his face to hide his bruised feelings.
"And here I thought you were trying to win me back," he said lightly. "Sounds like one of us missed a memo because we are certainly not on the same page."
Looking up at his former boss longingly, the ex-CFO halted, gently grabbing Nolan's arm. Nolan immediately yanked away from Marco's touch, but he stopped as well, gazing stonily at Marco.
"I do want you back, Nolan," said Marco quietly. "I understand you. I want to give you that attention. I want to prove to you that you aren't alone, and that you never need to be alone again. Just give me a chance. I still care about you."
Nolan grinned, both amused and amazed at Marco's naïve arrogance. He even chuckled. "Do you honestly think that I'll just fall into your arms at the first declaration of feelings? You must really think I'm pathetic. Your words mean nothing to me. You mean nothing to me," he sneered. "How can you possibly believe that I would ever stoop so low as to go to bed with the man who sold me out to Grayson Global?"
"I don't want to be in your bed," answered Marco quietly. "I want to be in your heart."
This cheesy, romantic line was so reminiscent of the old days that Nolan had to swallow a lump in his throat, reminding himself that he should be infuriated, not wistful. As he forced himself to remember everything that Marco had done to him, the fury came easily.
"I… love you, Nolan."
Eyes flashing swiftly to Marco's, face contorted angrily, Nolan yelled, "Just stop it! This company is my life! You know what NolCorp means to me, and you helped Daniel Grayson take it all away! I don't see how love factors into that equation."
"Then maybe you should consider the possibility that you're missing some of the variables," retorted Marco. "Just like Thanksgiving, remember? 10 becomes IPO? The equation only makes sense with all the variables in place."
Nolan crossed his arms, glaring unamusedly. "Ha. Cute. Think you're so clever, do you? Go ahead, then. Show me your magic trick!" Nolan clapped his hands together, feigning childish excitement.
Marco blinked. "Pardon?"
"Fill in the missing variable!" clarified Nolan, still playing at being excited. "Show me how exactly handing Grayson Global my company on a silver platter came from a place of love in your heart. Well? Don't keep me waiting."
"I didn't have a choice!" stressed Marco passionately. "If I hadn't cooperated, Grayson would have kept digging until he found what he was looking for. He knew that something was going on. It wasn't just some whim of his to call me. He was determined to find the truth. This way, I was able to control what he found out, and what he didn't. If you'll notice, I made absolutely no mention of who that money supposedly went to."
"Yes, because you then used that information to blackmail me into giving you your old job back. Excellent point," returned Nolan sarcastically. Marco cringed.
"I know, and I'm sorry. But I needed a way back in. Someone within the company is betraying you, I'm sure of it. I wanted to protect you. I could only do that from inside NolCorp. I didn't have any other options." At this, the first flicker of confusion and doubt crossed Nolan's face. A spring of hope welled up inside of Marco. "I was trying to protect you, Nolan. I'm still trying to protect you."
"How am I ever supposed to believe you?" asked Nolan, his tone less harsh than previously, but still cold. "How am I supposed to know that you aren't playing me, and that you won't just… up and leave me again? You say you know me so well? Well then, I guess you know how little I enjoy heartbreak. Fool me once, right?"
"Is that what you're afraid of?" asked Marco quickly. "Being made a fool of? Why can't you just trust me? You loved me once. Can't you trust that man?"
"Like the way you trusted me?" Nolan threw back. "I don't think it's so crazy for me to be skeptical of your devotion. You abandoned me, Marco."
"You fired me!" shouted Marco.
"What else could I do?" Nolan snarled. "How could you think those things of me? You were supposed to be the one who trusted me and understood me. Who loved me. But I guess that was asking too much of you."
"You're not the only one who's been betrayed in the past, you know!" snapped Marco. Nolan froze, his anger slipping away, replaced with uncertainty and hints of sympathy. "I've been tricked by people before too."
Running a shaking hand over his face, Marco released a slow breath. Restoring his calm, the ex-CFO continued on sadly, "Appearances aren't always what they seem. And no matter how well you think you know someone… sometimes, all of a sudden, you find out that you didn't know them at all. I was… shocked, I became paranoid! You weren't being open and honest with me. How else could I have reacted? But… still, I should have known better. I should have trusted your motives."
Nolan pulled a mask over his conflicted feelings and steeled his expression once more, settling into a safe mode of snark. "Yes, you should have, how perceptive of you, six years later-"
"Look, I'm trying to make up for it, okay?" Marco interrupted. "I know I was wrong. I can't tell you how much I regret that day. It was the worst day of my life."
"Of course it was, it was the day your career got flushed down the toilet." Nolan's eyebrow quirked and he smirked amusedly. "Life lesson: don't bite the hand that feeds you."
"No. No, that isn't it," Marco said simply, locking his dark eyes on Nolan's. Nolan found that he was unable to look away. "Not because of my career. It's because that's the day I lost you."
The genius billionaire shut his eyes tight, fighting against the flood of emotions threatening to boil over inside of him.
Remember Padma, he thought to himself, Remember what Marco did to you. Don't let him toy with you, Nolan. You can be better than that. You don't need him, or anyone else.
Nolan was lying to himself.
Nolan's hand raised, two fingers pressing against his aching temple. He pulled his thoughts together.
"None of this changes the fact that I have feelings for someone else now, and you continued betraying me to Daniel!" he said, his cool white suit a perfect contrast to the fire in his blue eyes. "You can try to explain away your involvement in my loss of control over my own company, but I found that email on your computer. You were nothing more than Grayson Global's trained rat."
"Actually, that's why I needed you to take a look at this," replied Marco, sticking his hand into his pocket. Pulling out the flash drive, Marco held it up in front of him. Nolan's brow creased confusedly. "I have proof that I'm innocent."
The creator of NolCorp stopped dead. "What?"
"I have evidence proving that I was framed," explained Marco. He smiled gently at a shell-shocked Nolan Ross. "I'm hoping that… once you learn the truth, you can try to start trusting me again. You said that you wanted to. You said you wanted to believe in me. Well, I'm going to prove that you'd be right to do so."
A snarky response tickled the tip of Nolan's tongue, but he wisely swallowed it, remaining silent for the time being. The two men swiftly walked the rest of the way to Marco's old office. This time, Marco held the door open and Nolan walked through without argument. Nolan watched with nervous anticipation as Marco crossed the room and plugged the flash drive into his computer. Loping along behind his ex-boyfriend, shoving his hands into his pockets, Nolan made sure he had a clear view of the computer screen.
Marco paused, glancing at Nolan with concern. "Maybe you should… sit down," he suggested.
Nolan smiled ironically. "Nah. I'm fine where I am, thanks."
Marco looked like he wanted to argue, but instead he just shook his head at the stubborn man and leaned down, grabbing the keyboard mouse after shooting one last look Nolan's way.
After a moment of clicking options on the computer, a video recording popped up on the screen. Marco straightened, looking solemn. Nolan's palms began to sweat as the air filled with the crackle of a cheap recording job and a hazy picture started to form on the monitor.
The moment Nolan recognized her dark head of hair, his jaw tightened and he was forced to swallow a lump in his throat. For a split second, Marco considered turning the video off—but he knew that he was doing the right thing. It was better to break Nolan's heart sooner than later.
"How did you even get a camera inside Padma's place?" Nolan murmured, making a point not to look in Marco's direction. Marco just put a finger to his lips. A second later, the audio started up.
Padma was standing with her back to the recorder, a phone held up to her ear. "I know, I'm aware that-" She stopped. Padma turned around, a hand held up to her forehead. She paced across the floor, coming closer to the hidden camera.
"The files are buried deep under the company's security programs," explained Padma. "I don't know how to get in. And I haven't been able to find what you described." She stopped, listening, undoubtedly, to the voice on the other end of the line.
"We don't talk much about business. At least not sensitive issues like Carrion. He hasn't told me anything about it. It hasn't even been mentioned between us since the night I planted that ghost email on his former CFO's computer."
Head drooping down, a small crease in his brow, Nolan's eyes slid shut as silent tears began to trickle down his cheeks. After a moment, Nolan dropped into a crouch, holding his head in his hands.
Marco shut off the video. The phone conversation continued, but nothing else important was said. Nolan had heard enough. Something inside of Marco ached seeing Nolan in such pain, but he forced himself to remain as aloof as possible. He didn't want to overwhelm the heartbroken man.
"Nolan… Nolan, I'm sorry," he said quietly, close to tears as he looked down on the still-crouched president of NolCorp. "Honestly I am. But you had to know. It would have been worse to keep it from you."
"How did you even get this?" whispered Nolan, his voice muffled by the tears.
"I've been suspicious of your girlfriend almost since I got here. After she framed me with that fake email, I became sure that she was up to something," explained Marco. "So… I broke into her place and planted a camera. I did learn a thing or two during all that time we were together, you know. I only meant to keep tabs on her, so I could have the best chance of protecting you. I never dreamed I'd hit the jackpot like this."
Nolan's breaths faltered, his steady flow of tears making it impossible for him to breathe smoothly. Grimacing sympathetically, Marco reached down and squeezed Nolan's shoulder.
"Don't," said Nolan immediately. Finally he rose to his feet. With a quick glance at Marco, his blue eyes shining with moisture, Nolan brushed the back of his hand over his eyes and walked away. He took a seat on the couch. "I don't want you to touch me."
Forcing in a breath, Marco followed Nolan to the couch, sitting beside him, close enough to be intimate but not close enough to touch. "I know how much this must hurt you. You don't deserve to be treated this way."
"Who knows? Maybe I'm just not fit to be loved," replied Nolan, smiling whimsically, bitterly amused. "Every romantic partner I've ever had has betrayed me. I think the universe is trying to send me a less than subtle hint.
"Message received and understood, universe," he announced, holding up his hands in a mocking show of surrender.
"No," declared Marco passionately. Nolan's head snapped up, looking at Marco confusedly. "Don't ever say that! Don't even think it. It kills me that I once made you feel the same way as you do now. You have to believe me, I would do anything to go back and change it. And I'm here for you now."
"So what?" asked Nolan, his expression numb. It was as if he'd been drained of all emotions, left with nothing but an empty smile. "Why should I forgive you? You committed the same crime as Padma."
"Padma is using you! She's pretending to love you so that she can betray you. I never did that. I would never deliberately deceive you. I truly loved you-"
"So did she!" snapped Nolan, his voice dangerously low and quiet, but fiery. Marco pursed his lips, but didn't pursue the subject. Nolan had the right to cling to that belief if he wanted to. It might hurt him too much to think otherwise.
"My betrayal was accidental," he pointed out. "It was borne of misunderstandings and fear. I've moved past that. Please. Let me back into your life. That's all I want."
The blonde genius was quiet, staring at Marco contemplatively. The heartbreak was clear in those dark blue eyes, but even so, Marco could see a hint of light in the darkness, a spark of hope in Nolan's expression. Nolan's desire to be loved clearly hadn't changed at all. It was really rather sweet. The expression that Nolan wore whenever he realized how much another person loved him… was priceless. Marco would give anything for a lifetime of those looks. Nolan obviously craved love more than anything else, and he was never more beautiful than when he smiled at an act of love.
But what Marco found amazing was that Nolan never compromised or acted untrue to himself in order to find love, despite his desperate need for it. Nolan was without doubt the strongest person he'd ever met.
"I don't understand," said Nolan finally, his voice still a bit stuffy, though his tears had dried. "Why do you even want me so much? A guy like you, I'm sure you could get plenty of people to fall in love with you. I don't have that gift, but you do. So why are you here? Why not be with someone more… normal? Someone who hasn't been a social outcast all their life?"
"Because it's you I love," replied Marco. When Nolan's eyes flickered—A good sign, Marco thought—Marco hesitantly reached over, grabbing one of Nolan's hands. When Nolan made no effort to remove his hand, Marco's heart leapt. He smiled gently, squeezing Nolan's hand for good measure. "There is nothing wrong with you, Nolan. I want you to understand that. I know you've been alone. A lot. But don't ever think that it's because of you, that it's because you aren't worthy of having friends or lovers."
It was obvious from Nolan's down-turned expression that he didn't believe his ex-boyfriend.
"Hey," Marco said softly, leaning forward, trying to get Nolan to look up again. Nolan obliged, slowly looking up to meet his eyes. Marco smiled reassuringly, brushing a thumb over the soft skin of Nolan's hand.
"Nolan… you…" Marco smiled, shaking his head a bit in bewilderment—how could he possibly find the right words to describe how he felt about Nolan? "…are the best man I have ever met. I'm always left in awe of your brilliance. Really, you are one-of-a-kind, and I love absolutely everything different about you that others may find strange or disconcerting. I love every little quirk that makes you who you are. It's all part of your allure. There's no way I could ever find someone else like you, Nolan."
No sounds emanated from Nolan's mouth. He was staring at Marco dumbstruck. He could no longer deny the way that his pulse was racing and his sorrows seemed to evaporate more with each passing second.
"And do you know what I love most about you?" continued Marco. Nolan didn't respond, still speechless, but he was listening. "You have a heart of gold. You are the most pure, selfless person I've ever known. No one loves the way that you do. I see how willing you are to do anything for the people you care about."
Breathing in deeply, Nolan started to look away. But Marco, not finished talking, moved closer to him on the couch, drawing Nolan's attention back to him quickly. Nolan bit his lip to keep the tears at bay.
"But, what's amazing is that you never even seem conflicted about it, you never look like you're sacrificing anything in the process. Because…" Marco paused, struggling to find the words. "You don't do things for people just to keep them interested in you or… out of obligation. You do things for people because you genuinely want to help them and make them happy.
"Even just the people who work for you. You don't know most of your employees personally, but I see the way you light up when you're able to give them good news. You like to make others happy. Even when you don't get the credit for it. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. You are the most beautiful person I've ever seen."
The tears overflowed from Nolan's eyes, spilling down his cheeks as his lips quivered. Smiling, Marco tenderly wiped the wet streaks off of Nolan's cheeks. Nolan wanted to respond, but he couldn't. He didn't know what to say. Even if he had any words, there was no way he could have gotten them through his tears.
Locking eyes firmly with Nolan again, Marco said, "And I know that maybe I don't deserve you. I'm not sure that anyone deserves you. But I appreciate you for all that you are. And I love you. I'm going to fight for you if I can. I'm not giving up yet."
Nolan's body was trembling slightly, but his crying finished, and he even smiled weakly at the other man.
"Marco, I…" he started to say. Nothing followed. Marco squeezed his hand understandingly.
"It's okay, Nolan. I know that's a lot to put on you. I just wanted you to know."
"Thank you," whispered Nolan.
"I told you before. You're always the one taking care of everyone else. It's about time someone took care of you."
Nolan chuckled. "I still have that Galaxy Defender," he admitted. Marco grinned.
"Of course you do! I know how to shop for my boyfriend."
At this, Nolan tilted his head thoughtfully. "You know… back when we were together… you never called me that."
Marco dropped his head, shamed by Nolan's hurt tone. "I was stupid then. I was afraid of what others might think."
"You were embarrassed by me?" Nolan whispered.
"No! No, of course not. I just… I was afraid of the assumptions people could make because I was your CFO. I didn't want there to be any nasty rumors about our relationship. I couldn't handle that type of public scrutiny back then. But now, I don't care about any of that. I don't care how it looks. I would be proud to call you my boyfriend."
"The rest of the world be damned?" Nolan smiled timidly. The gesture was returned, with greater confidence.
"The rest of the world be damned," confirmed Marco. Nolan smiled warmly at the kindness in Marco's eyes. Chuckling, he decided it was time that he quit being so emotional and vulnerable.
"Well," said Nolan, smirking saucily, "the jury's still out on my decision. I think you'd do well to put in a little more effort here. I'm talking flowers, chocolates, fly-by airplane banners…"
"Well of course," Marco replied, straight-faced, "Didn't you see the banner that flew by your window today?"
"Oh, drat! I must've missed it. What can ya do, right?" Nolan shrugged his shoulders, smiling innocently. "So what did it say?"
"It said, 'Nolan Ross, will you-'." Nolan waited for Marco to finish. When he didn't, Nolan raised an eyebrow quizzically.
"Was there an end to that question?"
Marco shrugged apologetically. "Unfortunately, there wasn't room on the banner for any more."
"Then perhaps you should have bought a longer banner. Just, you know, throwing out some ca-razy ideas here."
"Well I would have, but money's pretty tight these days. I recently became unemployed."
"Oh, is that so?" replied Nolan, feigning unawareness. "What happened, pray tell?"
"My boss was kind of a prick," answered Marco bluntly. Nolan burst out with a loud, appreciative laugh, all pretenses gone as he grinned at Marco and Marco smiled back.
"So what do you think?" asked Marco softly, bringing a serious tone back to the conversation. "Willing to give me another chance?"
Nolan paused for a moment to think. Then, "I think I'd like that. Just… it may take me some time to… fully get over Padma."
"In the meantime, there might be something you could do to maybe help me make up my mind."
Nolan smiled, a hint of sass in his expression. "You could kiss me, if you're at all inclined to do so-"
He was interrupted when a pair of lips pressed against his in a warm, tender kiss. Nolan smiled, and returned the gesture happily.