Chapter 1: Hold My Heart
Oliver flicked back the hood of his leather jacket as he entered his hideout beneath Verdant. It had been a long night but he was satisfied with his work. He had finally tracked down Elliot King and delivered him to the Police. His father's former business partner had been responsible for a series of sub-standard housing developments in the Glades. Taking deliberate short cuts during the construction process to better line his own pockets had resulted in twelve people dying due to collapsed ceilings, electrical fires and poorly insulated homes. The Police had been looking for him for months without much success. With the help of Diggle and Felicity, Oliver had managed to track him down, despite his apparent disappearance from Starling City. In conjunction with having to pay back all the money he stole, King would be spending a long time in prison.
Stowing his bow and arrows back in their casings, Oliver moved further into the room. On one side of the large space was his exercise equipment and the mini surgical area Diggle had set up. On the other, the main brain of his operation. The flash of the computer screens lent a soft glow to the otherwise darkened area. No sound could be heard save for the constant hum of the expensive equipment.
Oliver frowned. Is Dig and Felicity still here?
After calling them with the news that King had been apprehended, he'd told them to close up shop for the night. Walking closer to the screens Oliver noticed that software upgrades were running.
He smiled faintly as he thought of the quirky tech girl who had joined his team not long before. Despite her eccentricities, she was invaluable to his objective. While he was adequately adept at computers and their operation, Felicity was a genius. He didn't think he would have been able to cross so many names off the list, in so short a time, without her help.
Having her around also created a different dynamic within the team. Before, when there had just been him and Diggle, things had often gotten a little intense. A few times they had had differing opinions on how to approach a situation. Most times a mini argument would ensue and in the end either one of them would yield to the other's judgement. With Felicity around, there was another sounding board. Someone else to talk to. Someone else to add some perspective.
Someone else I can trust.
Since Tommy still wasn't really talking to him, it felt nice to have another person in his corner.
He turned as he heard the steady tattoo of Felicity's low heeled boots on the floor. She was walking toward him, unaware that he was there, her attention was focussed on a CD cover she was studying. She wore her hair in a ponytail, little blonde wisps having escaped to frame her face. Her clothing was simple and without embellishments – a black pencil skirt and a pink short sleeved shirt. Behind her right ear was a pencil, already stuck there before Oliver had left to find King.
Oliver eyed the pencil with amusement. "I thought you'd left for the night."
Startled, Felicity yelped and almost dropped the cover she was perusing. Clutching her hand to her heart she stared at him with wide eyes.
"Oliver! You scared me."
He smiled. "Sorry. I should have warned you that I was back. I'm kind of used to being alone."
Felicity started forward again. "Well, not anymore. There's me….and Diggle, of course." She giggled nervously. "Obviously he was here before me…that makes two extras…I uh, so you're not actually alone."
Oliver laughed softly. Felicity never failed to do that – make him laugh.
"Yeah. I guess I'm not." He looked at her thoughtfully.
Feeling her face flush, Felicity continued, "I..umm.. I'm running some updates on the computer software. It's not exactly cutting edge, despite all the changes I've already made." She motioned haphazardly at the screens. "But I'm getting there."
Now standing in front of him, Oliver could see the vivid blue of Felicity's eyes behind her black rimmed glasses. She always wore them, save for the one time she went undercover with him and Diggle. Thinking of that night brought back flashes of her in a short gold dress, her hair loose around her shoulders, the golden curls free from their constant binding. He had been startled by her transformation. She'd looked the same, and yet completely different.
Confused by why the memory was still so clear to him, Oliver moved away from her and started removing his green gear.
"You don't have to put in so many late nights. You also have a day job. One that actually pays," he said with a smile.
Felicity stared at Oliver as his jacket was swiftly discarded and placed on one of the low tables before him. Facing away from her, she couldn't help but gape at his exposed back, beautiful and broad, tapering to narrow hips and steely thighs encased in tight green leather.
Swallowing convulsively she turned away to stare at the blue status bar flashing on one of the screens.
"This pays in viewing," she whispered, but evidently not softly enough.
"Viewing?" Oliver looked at her curiously over his left shoulder.
"Reviewing. I meant reviewing. You know…I get to review. My protocols. Um, new technology and…stuff...that uh, I don't get to use at my day job…for your company. Because that's where I actually work…your company…" her voice trailed off as she closed her eyes tightly hoping he'd either ignore her or the ground would open up and swallow her.
Because that's where I work? Seriously?
She could feel Oliver's gaze on her back but she refused to look at him. Best to appear otherwise engaged. That way he'd most likely drop it.
Pretend busy meant that she was acutely aware of the rustle of his clothing. She'd become infatuated with Oliver Queen from the second she'd laid eyes on him. It hadn't been because he was handsome; there were many handsome men around. None of them had ever affected her the way he did. She'd sensed that there was more to him than the careless playboy long before he'd revealed himself to her as the Starling City vigilante. Those ridiculous stories he'd told her about his reasons for needing her help aside, she'd still been surprised to find out that he was the man who had the local Police splitting hairs. The hood persona was so far removed from the image that Oliver portrayed to the world. To everyone he was spoiled and selfish, a playboy and party goer without a conscience. But now she knew differently. He cared, perhaps he always had, but the five years he'd spent on that island had brought whatever was hidden deep down to the surface. He'd become honourable and even though his campaign had started out only as a means of fulfilling his father's dying wish, she knew that since then, his crusade had become much more personal.
The beep of one of the computers shook her from her reverie. The updates were complete. A good thing too. It was pointless losing her heart to Oliver Queen. He was a man of the world; chased by so many beautiful women he couldn't keep their names straight.
"I'm going to take a shower and then head upstairs. The club won't be closing for another hour. I think I need to put in an appearance." Bare chested and gorgeous despite the green paint still evident around his eyes, Oliver stood, arms laden with fresh clothes. "Why don't you come along? I think you'd enjoy it."
Felicity laughed humorously. "Me? In a club?" The very idea was so absurd she was genuinely amused. "I'd stick out like a sore thumb. I-I don't belong in that world," she said pointing upstairs.
"That world is just a staircase away," Oliver reminded her.
"Still. I'm not rich and famous. I don't wear three thousand Dollar dresses. I mean, I don't even look at three thousand Dollar dresses. I'm-"
"You're lovely and sweet and smart," Oliver finished. "My club isn't only for the affluent, Felicity. It's for everyone."
Momentarily tongue tied Felicity sank down into her chair. "Thanks, but uh…I think I'll pass. I still have some things to do here."
Oliver looked at her for a moment longer and then smiled. "Another time then. Don't stay too late."
Felicity watched as he turned and made his way to the shower located at the back of the club. There was no way someone like him would ever be interested in someone like her. Asking Oliver Queen to hold her heart safe would be tantamount to shooting herself in the foot. She needed to stop daydreaming about him and focus on what she was there for. Helping him find Walter and tracking down the people who took him.
Chapter 2: From The Start
The following morning Oliver was walking down the stairs to grab breakfast when Thea met him halfway. She was carrying her laptop in her hands. "Ollie, I need your help. There's some kind of virus on my computer."
Thea shoved the laptop into his hands. "Every time I try to access my hard drive, the entire screen goes blue." She sighed in frustration. "I have an environmental paper that's due tomorrow. If you can't fix it, I'm screwed!"
"Good morning to you too, Speedy," Oliver smiled as he grabbed hold of the laptop.
Thea had the sense to look contrite. "Sorry. I didn't mean to be rude. It's just important that I get that paper back."
Oliver used his free hand to turn her around so he could walk her back down the stairs. "Tell you what... I'll get Felicity to look at your laptop. If your paper is somewhere in here, she'll rescue it."
Thea raised an eyebrow as she fell into step with him. "Who's Felicity? You finally have a smart girlfriend?"
Oliver rolled his eyes. "She's not my girlfriend. She's a friend who happens to know her way around computers." They walked toward the dining room.
"Ollie, you don't have girl-friends. They're either current or ex."
Sighing, Oliver observed his sister. She looked pretty with her long brown hair hanging about her shoulders in loose waves. "I do have female friends and Felicity is one of them."
Thea shrugged, appearing unconvinced. "Whatever."
"What are the two of you bickering about so early in the morning?" Moira Queen was sitting at the breakfast table scanning the local newspaper.
"Nothing," Oliver replied as he bent to kiss his mother's cheek.
Thea slumped down into a vacant chair and reached for a croissant. "I'm starving!"
"Grab something quickly or else you're going to be late," Moira admonished. "You overslept again."
Taking a seat opposite his mother Oliver listened to their idle chatter. It was good to be home. He'd missed his family during those five years on the island. It was difficult though, straddling the line between son and brother while keeping his other life a secret. He wished that he could tell them the truth but he knew that doing so would only put their lives in danger. Already Diggle and Felicity were at risk because they knew who he was. Tommy knew too and Oliver believed that he could trust him, but with them barely on speaking terms, it was hard to explain things when his best friend refused to listen.
Then there was Laurel. Oliver wasn't sure how he felt about her. He'd loved her a long time ago, despite how badly he'd treated her. He hadn't appreciated or respected her very much and that knowledge shamed him. Back then he'd been a different man to the one he was now. Seeing her with Tommy had touched a nerve in the beginning and sometimes it still did.
The reality was that he didn't have the time or right to be in a relationship with anyone. He'd learnt that lesson after the debacle with Helena and McKenna. Just one person knowing about his secret life had nearly cost McKenna her life. If he couldn't be honest with the woman he was in a relationship with, then it was pointless starting something he couldn't really commit to. In the end, someone was bound to get hurt.
"Earth to Ollie…" Thea poked him in the shoulder. "Don't forget about my laptop."
Moira and Thea were gathering their belongings. "Try to be home for dinner tonight, Oliver. You're hardly ever here."
Oliver focussed his attention on his sister. "I won't," then on his mother, "Sorry. The club keeps me really busy." Seeing the disappointment in her eyes, Oliver added, "But I'll do my best." She patted his cheek fondly and ushered Thea out the door.
Oliver was about to pour himself some coffee when Diggle rushed in. "Have you seen the news?"
At Oliver's confused look he grabbed the remote control off the coffee table and increased the volume on the TV. Tom Bower's round face filled the screen, his voice booming into the now empty room. "…thought to be the work of the vigilante. Numerous arrows were found all over the crime scene and three were buried in the chest of Starling City banker, Jeremy Coft. No motive for the murder has been found, but City Police are pouring all their resources into finding the killer in the green hood. This is Tom Bowe-" Diggle turned the TV off.
"Jeremy Croft is on the list." Oliver moved toward the door, jacket in hand, Diggle following him closely. "As far as I know, there isn't much on him."
Diggle climbed into the driver's seat of the Lexus he drove Oliver around in. "Nothing that you or I have managed to find. But Felicity? That girl can dig up dirt on a convent nun."
Oliver laughed despite the seriousness of the situation. "She's got skills."
"Not bad on the eye either." Diggle caught his eye in the rear-view mirror as they pulled away from the mansion.
Oliver chose to ignore the comment. "Let's get to work and see what we can find. Someone killed Croft and is trying to pin this on the Hood."
When they arrived at HQ Felicity was already there. Oliver could hear the tap of her fingers as it flew across the keyboard. He could also smell the faint traces of the fresh citrus scent she always wore. Annoyed that he'd even noticed, he moved toward the back of her chair.
Before he got a word out Felicity spoke, "I'm already on it. From what I could find, it would appear that Jeremy Croft was a successful banker who ran a drug smuggling ring on the side. He's been partly responsible for the increase in drug use in the Glades over the last year." Her fingers kept moving across the keys. "Due to the nature of his business, he's made some powerful enemies. Six months ago he stole a cocaine shipment from the Sanchez cartel in Mexico. They could be the ones behind the killing." She finally looked up and met Oliver's gaze. Hers was steady as a rock.
Oliver's hand rested on the back of Felicity's chair. From his vantage point, he could see the tiny blonde hairs that grew at the nape of her neck. What is wrong with me? "Maybe. But that doesn't explain the copycat Hood. A Mexican drug lord would just pull the trigger. He wouldn't go to all the trouble of trying to frame a supposed vigilante. This isn't their style."
Diggle moved to stand on the other side of Felicity. His arms were folded across his crisp white shirt. "Maybe they got someone else to do their dirty work? Someone who has a hidden agenda?"
Oliver moved back. Felicity's perfume seemed to be stuck to his clothing. "We need to know more. From the start. Felicity, check into all known associates of the Sanchez cartel residing in Starling City. If we're lucky a name will pop." He glanced at his watch. "Dammit. I have a meeting upstairs. I can't cancel – again."
"That's okay. You go. I'll set up a meet with our Russian contacts. Maybe they know something. Hopefully by the time you're done I'll be back with some answers." Diggle grabbed the keys to the Lexus and nodded in Oliver's direction as he headed out.
"Oliver," Felicity stared up at him. "I'll do my best to find something." He placed his hand lightly on her shoulder and gave her an encouraging squeeze.
"Call me if anything comes up." He walked toward the staircase leading up into the club before abruptly stopping. "Oh, I nearly forgot." He retraced his steps and reached for the laptop that lay on the side of Felicity's desk. "This is Thea's. Apparently it crashed. She needs an environmental paper that's on here somewhere. Think you could have a look at it when you have a moment?"
"Su-ure," Felicity responded to his retreating figure.
"Thanks!" He called as he raced up the stairs, two at a time.
Chapter 3: Around Me
Felicity was still sitting at the computer when Oliver returned an hour later. "Diggle not back yet?" He took a seat beside her.
Distracted by his nearness she fumbled with some notes she'd been making. "No." She couldn't think of anything else to add. Being around Oliver had a strange effect on her ability to behave normally. If truth be told, she preferred it when Diggle was around. He made it easier for her to concentrate by keeping Oliver's attention off her.
Felicity forced her tongue to separate from the roof of her mouth. "I've been doing what you asked and searching for names of people in Starling City who have known connections with Croft and the cartel. I've set up the search so that an automatic background check is done on the names that come up - we can then see how they intersect." She glanced at him and gave him a half smile. "It could take a while."
Oliver nodded and sat back. As he stretched his neck from side to side, Felicity couldn't help but notice how well his creamy sweater fit him. The soft wool looked warm and inviting, a fact she could attest to since her fingers were itching to touch it, or rather, him. She knotted them in an attempt to keep them to herself. "So, what will you do once you catch this guy? Go all, 'Grrr…stop killing more people or I'm going to arrow you?' Or just arrow him anyway?"
Oliver gave her a look that said, "Seriously?"
"Sorry," she pulled a face. "It's not like I know all the vigilante protocol."
"I don't hurt anyone unless they give me no choice. And even then, I choose to show a measure of restraint."
"Good vigilante." Great Felicity, why not pat him on the head while you're at it? Change the subject. "How did business go upstairs?"
"Alright. All things considered." He sounded weary.
"I don't even know why I was there. He never looked at me once. In fact, he barely acknowledged me. How are we supposed to be business partners if we can't communicate?" he muttered in frustration, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.
Felicity couldn't help but notice the fine sandy blonde of his lashes as they rested against his cheek bones. "Give him some time. It's not an easy thing to accept."
As quickly as they had closed, his eyes shot back open and met hers. Blue stared into blue. "You did," he said softly.
Felicity was the first to break contact. There was a peculiar tightness in her chest that resulted in a shortness of breath. "I-I didn't know you before … you know ... before you disappeared. What I know about you now is what I've learnt over a relatively short period of time. There isn't a history. Tommy is remembering your history, your friendship, and he needs time to figure out for himself why you didn't tell him before. When he's ready, he will come to you."
Oliver didn't say anything for a moment. "How can you be sure?"
"Because you're his best friend. One day soon he's going to remember that."
Oliver laughed humourlessly. "And if he never does?"
"Then you'll know that he's not the friend you thought he was," she said simply.
"Tommy and I go way back. We knew each other since childhood. After his father left, my dad became like his surrogate. We were inseparable. Then one day, we were torn apart." Oliver seemed to be lost in thought. "My dad died and I went missing at sea and my life changed forever. I hurt him by not telling him the truth. I don't know if he'll ever accept my reasons."
Felicity reached across the table and laid her hand gently over his. "He'll come around, Oliver."
He was smelling her perfume again. Its sweet, intoxicating fragrance seemed to wrap around him, just as her words had moments before. It had been a long time since he was able to be completely honest with someone about his feelings without holding anything back. The fact that Felicity was as insightful as she was kind seemed to make opening up a little easier.
Feeling slightly awkward with her compassionate eyes trained on him, Oliver felt the heat from her hand as it enveloped his. Touch. It felt like a lifetime since he'd been touched. Not in jest, or in anger, or in a moment of sexual gratification, but really touched. With no agenda other than to provide comfort and support.
Oliver looked down at her small hand on his, smooth and milky white against his darker, roughened one. Her nails were an electric blue, matching her sweater almost perfectly. Why he even noticed it, he didn't know.
His stomach did a strange flip. The sincere gesture was doing things to his emotions that he didn't want to deal with. Abruptly, he pulled his hand away. As he did so, he looked up and saw the flash of hurt in her eyes. He cursed softly. "Felic-"
Ignoring him, she rambled. "Like I said, he'll forgive you. Members of the Billionaire's Club always stick together, right?"
Sharply, she turned her attention to the computer. "The search is done." Tapping the keyboard swiftly she called up sheets of information.
"Felicity, I didn't mean-"
She didn't stop talking and refused to look at him, her cheeks bright. "Just another moment. There may not be anything here…you know, or I might need to adjust the search…o-or I could try a different database, if you like?" She didn't give him a chance to respond, she just kept on babbling. "Although I like this one. It has the most reliable inform- ..Whoa!" Felicity hopped back in her chair.
Concerned, Oliver leaned closer. "What is it?"
"One name popped up. Only one name that connects to both parties," Felicity whispered, finally meeting his gaze.
Oliver looked at her expectantly, feeling disconcerted by the stunned look in her eyes.
Suddenly the door crashed open and Diggle burst in. He was out of breath, as though he'd run some distance. His tie was askew and the top three buttons of his shirt were ripped off. There were bits of dried blood around his left temple.
"Are you alright?" Felicity and Oliver both jumped up.
Diggle looked up at them from his hunched over position. "I'm okay. The Lexus? Not so much."
Oliver stepped forward. "What happened?"
"I was with the Russians when we were attacked by a group I didn't recognise. They stole the car and left me with no choice but to make a run for it. Luckily I got away." His breathing was returning to normal.
Oliver placed his hand on Diggle's shoulder. "Do you think this attack is related to the murder?"
He shook his head. "No. I'm sure it was a matter of wrong place, wrong time." Diggle stood up straight. "Oliver, you won't believe who they suspect is behind the killing. I don't even know how to tell you."
"I think I already know what you're going to say," Felicity said nervously.
Diggle and Oliver turned to stare at her.
"Well?" Oliver demanded.
Felicity's lips moved but no sound came out. She took a fortifying breath and then stared Oliver straight in the eyes. "Malcolm Merlyn."
Chapter 4: Change My Mind
"Tommy's dad? You think the man responsible for killing Jeremy Croft is my best friend's father?" Oliver sounded angry, his voice tinged with disbelief.
Diggle held up a hand. "I'm not accusing him of anything. But the Russians were clear about their intel."
"So was my search," added Felicity. "It was thorough. His name was the only one that's connected to Croft and the cartel."
Oliver ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "How? Why? He's a local businessman for God's sake!"
Diggle's voice remained calm. "Oliver, every man on your father's list runs charitable organisations in this city and yet all of them are guilty of something."
Oliver shook his head. "Not Tommy's dad. I've known him all my life."
"You've also been gone for five years," Felicity reminded him gently. "A lot can happen. People change. Or maybe there is some mistake and we're grasping the wrong end of the stick."
"Felicity is right. There are a dozen different ways this can play out. But we can't ignore the facts. You know that."
Oliver nodded. "Fine. We track him. Day and night. I want to know where he's going, when he's going, what for and who he's meeting. Also, run checks on his companies looking for shell corporations and anything else that looks suspicious."
"Done." Felicity walked back to her workstation.
Diggle moved closer to Oliver. "Are you going to tell Tommy?"
"No. We don't know if Malcolm really is involved. Until we do, there's no point in causing an even greater rift between us."
With a nod, Diggle patted him on the back and walked away.
Oliver walked into the mansion shortly after midnight. He'd missed dinner and he knew his mother felt let down. He'd heard it in her voice when he'd called to cancel. There'd just been too much to do. Digging into Tommy's father's entire background felt like a betrayal. He hated the feeling.
"Ollie?" Thea peeked round the corner.
Oliver closed the door behind him. "Yeah. Why aren't you in bed?"
Thea looked at him accusingly. "You forgot, didn't you?"
Oliver closed his eyes. Dammit. The laptop.
"I didn't forget. It's with Felicity. I just-"
He cringed. "-didn't take it back afterward."
Thea groaned. "I need that paper! It's due tomorrow. What am I going to hand in? Mr. Know-It-All-Albert already expects me to flunk it."
Putting an arm around his sister, Oliver replied, "You're not going to flunk it. I'll have your paper by morning." At Thea's hopeful look he added, "I promise."
Felicity was a mess. Oliver had called to ask if he could collect his sister's laptop and although she wasn't done retrieving the information, he'd said it was important. Also, thathe didn't mind waiting. Knowing that the drive from the Queen mansion to her apartment wouldn't take long at this time of night, Felicity had freaked out, indecisive about whether she should get dressed again or stay in her comfortable tank and pajama bottoms. She changed her mind a few times before she chose to stay as she was, only adding a cardi to cover her bare arms.
She felt nervous about having Oliver inside her personal sanctum. It was one thing to be inside his world, surrounded by everything that was familiar to him. She could deal with that. That was safe. It somehow felt different having him come into her world – where everything was a lot less glamorous, a lot less intriguing and definitely a lot less exciting.
Ordinary. I'm ordinary and Oliver Queen is attracted to the extraordinary. The thought was a little depressing.
When the doorbell chimed Felicity jumped. Trying to calm her frayed nerves, she looked into the mirror one last time and tucked a strand of hair back into her ponytail.
Standing in her doorway was Oliver as she'd seen him a few hours before - designer jeans, boots and a casual cashmere sweater under a black coat to stave off the winter chill.
Her heart lodged in her throat. "H-Hi.."
Oliver gave her one of his heart stopping smiles. "Sorry for bothering you so late."
Felicity showed him in. "That's okay. I'm almost done." She extended her arm to one of the bright yellow couches. "Please, have a seat." She closed the door behind her.
"Can I get you anything? I don't have any island teas with amazing healing properties that are almost unheard of," she teased, "but I do have regular or decaf?"
Oliver laughed. "Regular is fine."
Felicity bumped into him as he shrugged out of his coat. "Sorry. Not exactly a mansion by your standards. This room is probably the size of your bathroom." She gestured to nothing in particular. "Not that I think about your bathroom. I mean, I'm just comparing it for size…"
He laughed while looking around. He thought her home reflected her personality. There was a lot of colour, but not in a garish or tacky kind of way. The yellow couches were balanced by white walls and wooden floors. Pink and purple pillows and throws were scattered around with fresh flowers on the coffee table in the centre of the room. There were also all kinds of little gadgets lying around, most of them small and obscure. Oliver decided it was cheerful and quirky. Like Felicity.
"I like it. It reminds me of you."
She looked at him in surprise. "Small, cheesy and mismatched?"
Oliver raised an eyebrow in amusement. "I meant charming, warm and inviting."
She rolled her eyes but didn't comment as she moved to make the tea.
Settled on the couch moments later, they sipped in companionable silence.
"Why's this mission retrieve so important?" she asked curling her legs up under her.
Oliver wrapped his fingers around the mug, feeling the warmth seep into his skin. "Thea's paper. She's not doing too well in her environmental studies class. This assignment is her last ditch attempt to prove to her teacher that she's not incapable."
"Ah." Felicity nodded. "So Oliver to the rescue."
He looked at her through narrowed eyes. "You make me sound overprotective."
"You know that you are. But it's not a criticism. Thea's lucky to have a brother who'd do anything for her," she said, her eyes cast downward.
"You don't have any brothers or sisters?"
She shook her head. "Uh, no. I was adopted as a baby and raised by an old couple who couldn't conceive. They died a few years back. I never had any siblings."
She looked vulnerable sitting alone on the couch. Oliver felt a strange need to comfort her. He shoved it back down. "I'm sorry."
She shrugged, feigning indifference. "They were good people and they cared about me. I was lucky."
Oliver leaned forward, his voice soft and measured. "You don't have to pretend with me, Felicity."
She looked at him, startled, her eyes luminescent pools that reached down and touched him in places he thought he'd closed off a long time ago. The feeling made him uncomfortable. "I-I wasn't pretending. They were good to me. They're just gone now and there's no one else."
"You're not alone."
She looked over at him quizzically. "You know something that I don't?"
"You have me." It was out before he could stop it. He didn't know why he said it, or even what he meant by it. What was supposed to be friendly and reassuring came out sounding intimate and personal.
Amazed, Oliver watched as colour swept up her neck and bloomed in her cheeks, her eyes widening in surprise. That's the second time today. It had been a long time since he'd been around women who blushed. He was surprised by how attractive he found it – how attractive he found her.
Halting his train of thought immediately, he stood up. So did she.
"I didn't mean-" Oliver started.
"I know," she interjected before he could finish. She looked mortified.
Oliver was irritated with himself. He'd clearly embarrassed her which had not been his intention. At that point, he didn't know what his intention had been. How did this even happen?
She picked up the laptop on the coffee table and briefly examined the screen. "All done," she said desperately.
"There was a … uh… virus on the machine which I removed. Thea should be able to log on normally. I bypassed her password… you should really tell her to use something more complex…I mean, it wasn't difficult to crack… took me mere seconds actually. You know… because passwords are my thing…code breaker is my middle name – well, actually, its Megan but-"
She stopped talking and moved a hand to her hair self-consciously. Fascinated, he watched a golden lock fall across her forehead. He wanted to touch it to feel if it was as soft as it looked. I need to get out of here.
Felicity gave him a tense smile. "You're welcome."
What is wrong with me? He wondered as he climbed into his car. Felicity was his friend. His partner. He needed to keep things in perspective.
Running a hand over his face, he blamed the aberration on a lack of sleep, and firmly put it from his mind. He didn't want or need any more entanglements. His life was complicated enough without thoughts of a blushing Felicity Smoak.
Chapter 5: See Through My Walls
Felicity walked into Oliver's hideout while giving herself a stern talking to. Work. This is work. No getting personal. No blurring the lines. He's my employer. I am his employee. I will be courteous, friendly and professional. She nodded, satisfied. Courteous, friendly, professional. She kept repeating it, like a mantra, as she fished her tablet out of her large handbag. Courteous, friendly, professional. The last thing she needed was for him to see through her walls.
"Morning, Felicity," Diggle grunted.
Diggle and Oliver were in sweats. They looked like they were in the middle of a sparring session if the moisture clinging to their bodies was anything to go by.
Keeping her gaze focussed on some point beyond Oliver's ear so that she didn't drool at the sight of his naked torso, she addressed neither one of them in particular. "Do you guys live here? Seriously. You're always here." When both of them just continued sparring, she rolled her eyes and walked toward her workstation. "Of course you're always here."
Hooking her tablet up to the internet, Felicity was acutely aware of Oliver shuffling around behind her. She could hear the rapid changes in their breathing as skin connected with skin, each trading blows. She could tell which one was Oliver based solely on the swiftness of his movements in relation to Diggle. The man was a machine and his body was a fortress.
Not that keeping her back to him stopped her overactive imagination from running wild. She'd seen enough to know how his body moved - how he changed direction seamlessly as he went through his martial arts routines, how his muscled arms adjusted without effort as he brandished different weapons, how his legs moved with power and speed as he practiced hand to hand combat.
Sometimes she had to catch herself from just staring at him. It was fascinating to see him stretch his body to its limits, sometimes without even breaking a sweat.
"Nice try, Dig," she heard Oliver say as someone, presumably Diggle, hit the ground.
"Man, I was sure you wouldn't see that one coming."
Feeling a body behind her, Felicity froze. Instinctively she knew it was Oliver. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and her palms became sweaty. She could feel his body heat rolling off him in waves. Courteous, friendly, professional.
"Find anything on Malcolm yet?"
"I'm just activating the tech Dig planted. Everything else I've already got access to." She felt bereft as he moved to stand beside her. "Cellphone records, GPS, wire taps, micro transmitters."
She checked the signal strength on all the objects they were tracking. Everything was working. "Thus far, there's nothing out of the ordinary. Business meetings with members of his Board of Directors, a haircut, a new suit fitting, lunch with Tommy. All run of the mill." She punched a few keys. "Right now, he's in his office," she punched some more keys, "on a conference call with a Deon van Wyk and a Portia Botha in South Africa."
Taking a break from guzzling down copious amounts of water, Diggle chimed in. "Looks like Malcolm Merlyn believes in diversity, if nothing else."
Felicity flashed a smile in Dig's direction as she switched computer screens and called up the two South Africans' profiles. "They're software buyers based in Johannesburg, no priors, no records." She scanned the reports a second time and then added, "We can listen in if you want?"
Oliver had been acutely aware of Felicity from the second she came in. She reminded him of cotton candy, dressed in pink, her short skirt showing her legs off to perfection. Something he'd never noticed a week before. He also observed that she seemed completely unaware of him. The knowledge stung. He'd arrived that morning worried that he may have hurt her feelings. Evidently he was mistaken. It was as if that moment between them the previous night had never happened. He should have been relieved, but for some reason he didn't care to analyse, he wasn't.
Agitated, he focussed on what she was saying. "No, I don't think that's necessary. What about his assets? Anything unusual there?"
He heard, rather than saw, her fingers fly across the keyboard for the umpteenth time. Instead, his attention was diverted to the delicate shell of her earlobe and the gold leaf earring that swung to and fro with every movement of her head. I'm losing my mind, he thought, not for the first time.
"I'm still digging, but at this point I have nothing concrete. The guy seems legit."
Annoyed that he was so distracted when she was completely in control, Oliver snapped, "Keep looking."
"Yes, Sir, Mr. Queen, Sir," she muttered mockingly under her breath. Then, "Wait."
On his way upstairs, Oliver halted his progress.
"Where is Nanda Parbat?" she wrinkled her nose as she pronounced it slowly.
Diggle spoke first, "Tibet. Why?"
Felicity swung her chair around and faced them. "Apparently Mr. Merlyn spent two years there 20 years ago. Is Tibet like the old Ibiza, or something? I mean, who goes to monk land for two years? Did they have crazy parties that no one knew about?" She did a little chair jig.
Diggle burst out laughing while Oliver frowned. "That coincides with his wife's death. That must be where he went when he disappeared."
Felicity and Diggle sobered immediately. "I-I'm sorry, I didn't know."
Oliver smiled faintly. "It's okay."
"Does Tommy know about this?" Diggle asked.
Oliver shook his head. "He never knew where his father went."
"So, what's the big deal? Why not tell his son where he was?"
Oliver stared at the computer screen, thinking. "I don't know."
Felicity offered a theory. "Maybe he felt that Tommy would think him weak? Choosing to spend 24 months in the company of monks in order to get over your dead wife isn't exactly the norm."
"No, Tommy would have understood." He was sure Tommy would not have held his father's grief against him.
"Maybe he wasn't there for R&R. Maybe it was for an entirely different reason?" Suspicion tainted his words.
"Like what, Dig? Drug smuggling? Come on! His wife just died!" Frustration was evident in Oliver's voice.
"I'm just saying. Just because the time coincides, doesn't mean that has to be the reason."
"So you're saying he's a cold hearted bastard who left his eight year old son behind so he could hone his criminal skills?!"
Diggle held up his hands to signal surrender.
Felicity broke the tension. "Let me look into it and see what I can find before we jump to conclusions. I'll let you both know if something comes up."
Oliver's shoulders relaxed.
"I'll be in the club." Oliver grabbed a towel and left the two of them staring after him.
Felicity exhaled. Clearly that exchange had touched some raw nerves. She could understand why Oliver was upset; it involved his best friend's father. If Malcolm was somehow involved, she didn't want to think about the repercussions.
But she also understood Diggle's need to play Devil's Advocate; to ask the tough questions. Even though Oliver wasn't in a position to admit it right that second, that was probably the thing he admired most in Diggle - His ability to always be honest, no matter the consequences.
"Sorry about that." Diggle sat down beside her.
"One difference of opinion and I swear the testosterone levels in here start spiking."
He chuckled. "Get used to it."
Felicity bumped shoulders with him playfully. "I get it, Dig. You're both feeling the pressure."
He nodded. "Yeah. I don't want Malcolm to be guilty, believe me. I think Oliver has enough on his plate. But I don't think we can bury our heads in the sand either. We investigate and we rule him in or out based on the facts."
"I agree." She waited a heartbeat. "Do you think he's going to be okay?"
Diggle didn't pretend to misunderstand. "He'll be fine. When he's ready to talk about it, he'll come to you."
Felicity opened her mouth to refute his interpretation of her question, but Diggle had already stood up and left the room. Not that she knew what she would have said anyway. He hadn't misread her meaning at all.
Chapter 6: I'm Already Falling
Showered and dressed, Oliver felt marginally better. He knew that he owed Diggle an apology. He'd flown off the handle when it had not been deserved. The investigation was heading in an uncomfortable direction and added to that was his sudden awareness of Felicity. The latter, rather than the former, is what put him on edge.
He was used to being in control of his emotions – especially where women were concerned. He called the shots; he handled relationships on his terms. With Felicity, it was different. She challenged him when others chose to remain silent. She also had this uncanny ability to make him laugh; to take himself less seriously.
Still not prepared to sort through his traitorous feelings, Oliver set out to find Tommy who he eventually found signing for crates of beverages that had just been delivered.
"Everything here?" he asked casually.
Tommy gave him a cool glance before refocusing his attention to his clip board. "Yeah, all here."
"Tommy, could we talk?"
Dropping his pen on the clip board with more emphasis than what was required, he looked at Oliver expectantly.
"I…Look, I know we haven't exactly been getting along lately-"
Anger flared in Tommy's eyes. "Not getting along? That's what how you'd categorise the result of you lying to me for months?"
Oliver prayed for patience. "I'm sorry. Nothing I say seems to appease your anger towards me. I'd like the opportunity to explain things to you, if you'd give me a hearing."
Tommy slammed the clip board down on the bar counter. The club was empty since the staff would only be arriving in a few hours. "Explain? You want to explain to me how you became a murderer? How you're nothing like the person I thought you were? Why you chose to lie to me about it?"
"I was trying to protect you!"
"I'm a grown man, Oliver! I don't need your protection and I certainly never asked for it!"
Oliver bit down on his back teeth to keep from losing his temper. "I know that finding out about me the way you did must have come as a shock. There are things-" He tried again. "Those five years on that island was the toughest thing I've ever been through. Not because I was stranded, but because I had to do things I never thought I'd have to in order to survive."
"So, what? That excuses the fact that you now kill people in your spare time?"
"It's not as simple as you make it seem!" Oliver snapped.
"Last time I checked, murder didn't really have much of a grey area!" He grabbed his things off the counter. "You know what? I can't do this right now. I don't know who you are anymore and I certainly can't trust a word that comes out of your mouth. For the sake of this business venture," he gestured to the area around them, "let's keep things professional. I won't divulge your secret. Just stay out of my life."
He walked away. "Tommy! Tommy, wait! Dammit!" Oliver cursed as he watched his best friend's retreating figure. He slammed his hands down on the bar counter in frustration as his phoned buzzed. It was a text from Felicity.
"ME REPORT'S BACK."
Taking a last look in the direction Tommy disappeared in, Oliver walked back toward the basement.
"What you got?" Oliver asked.
Felicity sensed that his mood was even worse than it was before. "Uh, says here that Croft died as a result of his injuries. Three arrows to the heart."
Diggle, who was replenishing their medical supplies, stopped. "Three arrows? All to the heart?"
"That's what it says. What?" she asked, looking from one to the other. "Am I missing something here?"
Oliver started pacing, running a hand over his forehead as he walked. "This is a professional. No random archer has that level of skill." He faced Felicity and Diggle. "Apart from me, there's only one other person I've come across in Starling City who's that good."
Realisation dawned on Diggle's face. "The Archer. He's framing you."
"He wants me to be caught. My identity to be revealed."
"Wait. Who or what is The Archer?"
Diggle filled in the blanks. "A master with a bow and arrow; his disguise has some Asian influences. He ruffed Oliver up quite bad a couple of months back. We never learnt his identity."
"So, a faceless vigilante? I guess that rules out a Legolas wannabe." At Oliver's confused look, she added, "You know… long beautiful blonde hair and elf ears." She lifted her hands to the side of her head and used her fingers to make points. He raised an eyebrow. "Lord of- Nevermind. So what's the next step?"
"Check security feeds in and around the neighbourhood the night Croft was killed. Now that we have an idea of who we're looking for, it may be easier to spot him."
Looking dubious she mumbled, "Right. Hack into the City's traffic cameras and look for a man in an Asian inspired get-up? No problem."
"I guess this rules out Malcolm Merlyn." Diggle looked at Oliver as he said it. "Unless either of you thinks Starling City's Philanthropist of the Year is a deadly Archer by night?" Felicity understood that Diggle was trying to make light of their previous disagreement.
"About Malcolm…" Felicity consulted the screens before her. "The passport he used when entering Tibet 20 years ago contained a working Visa. According to US Embassy records, he was assisting with a project to build accommodation for newly ordained monks and destitute children in the Nanda Parbat area. The funding came from one of his Foundations."
Oliver nodded at Diggle. He'd received the message. "I guess he really needed to get away."
Felicity still didn't understand why he couldn't take Tommy with him, or at least explain where he was going, but right now, that wasn't their concern.
"But this still doesn't explain his link to Croft and the cartel," Oliver continued.
"I may have the answer to that." Felicity replied. "Croft was on the Board of one of Malcolm's subsidiaries a few years ago. After he resigned to pursue other interests, their paths never crossed again on a business level. But it means that they knew one another and travelled in the same circles."
"And the Russians? The cartel?" asked Diggle.
"Considering Malcom's ties to both groups, it's not a stretch that their intel would point to him. We reached the same conclusion. "Felicity felt a little uncomfortable. This was the difficult part. "According to his financial records, Malcolm paid Manuel Sanchez two million dollars four years ago. It was in connection with a debt," she looked at Oliver as she said softly, "that Tommy was unable to honour."
Felicity saw as Oliver registered her meaning. "Tommy got caught up with a Mexican drug cartel? I knew he'd had a problem before I disappeared…" His voice trailed off.
"It must have gotten worse once you were gone." Felicity said quietly.
Diggle's phone rang so he stepped away to take the call.
Oliver looked distressed and turned his attention to grinding some of the herbs he'd brought back from the island. Felicity's heart went out to him. So many things had happened to his family and friends in the time that he went missing. She doubted that he'd ever know the full extent of how everyone had grieved for him – while he himself had suffered on that island.
Unable to stand seeing him in pain, Felicity went over to him. "That was not your fault. He made some bad choices and luckily it seems like he's pulled through."
He put the pestle down and leaned his arms on the desk. "I know. I just can't help feeling like everyone I care about had their lives torn to shreds when I disappeared. My mother, Thea, Laurel, Tommy. They all suffered in different ways."
Felicity moved closer and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. Her pink nails a bright contrast against the black of his shirt. He turned his head to look at her and her brain went to mush. His beautiful blue eyes were trapped in a storm, and in their depths she saw his despair and helplessness. She saw his desire to make things better, and his regret at not being able to change the past. More than anything in the world, Felicity wished she could ease his pain. I am not falling in love with you.
Uncomfortable, she looked away, not wanting his astute gaze to read her thoughts. "You're back, Oliver. And I'm positive that not one of them, Tommy included, would wish to change that. Whatever they've suffered, you can't take that on. What happened was out of your control. You need to let that burden go."
Oliver stared at her and wondered, not for the first time, why she affected him the way she did. He felt overwhelmed by her nearness, by her kindness and compassion. She stirred something inside of him that made his protective instincts leap to the fore. Being around her made him want to be more than just a guy crossing names off a list – he wanted to make a difference and Felicity made him believe that he could.
"I'm sorry that I snapped at you earlier. It was unfair of me." He could see that she was taken aback by his change of subject and also by his apology.
She smiled. That sweet smile that was uniquely her – containing no artifice or guile – the one that was, right at that moment, doing strange things to his insides.
"You're forgiven. This time." Her eyes twinkled. "Next time though I may demand proper compensation."
Oliver couldn't help it. He felt himself smiling back at her. "Such as?"
She pursed her lips as if contemplating her options. "Chinese. I've been dying for some ever since you took Tommy for his birthday. Although, I have a nut allergy, so that could be a problem. I blow up like a fish," she puffed out her cheeks to demonstrate.
Always so animated. He liked that about her. "That particular place was a disaster. But, it's noted. No nuts. You have a deal." He held out his hand for her to shake on it.
Her hand was soft and warm, dwarfed by his. Her thumb brushed softly over his pulse, a featherlike caress that left a trail of goosebumps all along his forearm. Felicity, beaming at him, seemed unaware of its effect.
"Oliver, your mom called. She wants me to pick her up, so I'm off."
They jumped apart, like two guilty teenagers caught in a compromising position. Oliver felt Felicity tug her hand free of his, clearly embarrassed.
"Errr… thanks," she said awkwardly as Diggle grabbed his jacket, looking curiously from one to the other.
Oliver avoided his friends gaze as he picked up the pestle again. He didn't have answers to Diggle's questions.
Chapter 7: So Close
Oliver's phone vibrated as he watched bodies gyrating on the dance floor. The DJ Tommy had contracted for the evening was the latest craze - and it showed. The place was packed. Lights flashed in different colours, illuminating body parts as people swayed together on the crowded floor, as though hypnotised.
Reaching for it he saw Felicity's name flash across the screen. When he'd last heard from her, she'd been at Queen Consolidated sifting through more camera footage. It was possible that she was already at the foundry. His heart skipped a beat as he stared at her picture, admiring her bright smile before he cancelled the call. She wouldn't call unless it was important and he wouldn't be able to hear her over the loud noise inside the club. It would be easier if he just went down to check what the problem was.
Noting that his steps quickened the closer he got to the secured entrance to his hideout, he wondered about his eagerness at seeing her. He'd never been this interested in seeing Diggle when it had just been the two of them.
"You called?" he asked as he hastily made his way down the staircase. At the sight of Diggle and Felicity's anxious faces he felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "What's going on?"
"I just intercepted a 911 call over the Police frequency. It was from the house of Sean Grayson. He was business partners with Croft." Oliver watched as she called up the street view in a wealthy neighbourhood. "Look."
She pointed to a hooded figure scaling the gates to a mansion, presumably Grayson's. Narrowing his eyes to get a closer look, Oliver recognised the black arrows strapped to the back of the intruder and the bow held loosely in his hand. "It's him. The Archer."
Seeing the man who had knocked him down months before and taken a chunk of his confidence with it, Oliver was filled with momentary dread. Diggle must have sensed his inner struggle because he spoke up first. "Time for The Hood to kick his ass for good." Oliver appreciated his reassurance. After all, Diggle had been the one to get him back on the mend both physically and psychologically after his last run-in with The Archer. I can do this.
"This was time stamped about four minutes ago. The 911 call came in just after that."
Oliver geared up and grabbed his bow and arrows. "Dig, stay close to comms, I may need your help. Keep your eyes on the cameras too in case he manages to slip away." His friend gave him the thumbs up and reached for his ear piece, testing it.
Glancing at Felicity, their eyes met and held – hers filled with worry and something else he couldn't define; his with reassurance. He wished that he had a moment to talk to her, but with a life hanging in the balance he dared not take the chance. He looked at her for a second more before tearing his gaze from hers and hurrying toward his fate.
Be careful, Felicity said silently as she watched his green shadow disappear. Despite knowing how capable he was, she still worried every time he went out to catch a criminal. Knowing the history between Oliver and The Archer, Diggle having filled her in, she couldn't help feeling a certain level of panic. What if he hurts him? What if he kills him? Her thoughts were all over the place, fear making her unable to fully concentrate.
As though hearing her thoughts, Diggle put a steadying hand on her arm. "He's got this. Don't worry." But despite his words, Felicity sensed that even Diggle was concerned.
Touching her ear piece to activate the transmission, she asked, "Oliver, can you hear me?"
"Loud and clear," came his voice, raised above the sound of his motorcycle.
Tracking him on GPS and street cameras, Felicity watched him weave amongst traffic, eating the miles between the foundry and Grayson's neighbourhood with alarming speed. It was a cold, damp night and thankfully there wasn't much activity on the roads. "First exit right and then second one left. The mansion will be on your right."
She watched him arrive at his destination and park his bike around the corner and out of sight. The last she saw of him was as he jumped over the high wall and disappeared on the other side. With him out of view, her heart jumped into her throat. She watched the red blip that registered his GPS location move across the screen as though her life depended on it. The truth was that his life did.
"Felicity, trace any cellphone signals inside the house." Oliver's voice was soft, barely discernible.
She worked swiftly. "There's two. One on the upper level and one on the lower."
"Can you hack them?" asked Diggle.
"Let me try." She managed to crack the service provider's network quickly and reverse traced the signals. "They belong to Grayson and his wife. The wife's was used to call 911. Grayson last used his phone two hours ago."
"I'm going in," Oliver whispered.
"Copy that." Felicity took a deep breath and kept her gaze focussed on his signal.
Oliver slipped inside the back entrance, his eyes adjusting to the dark. There were no lights on inside the house or anywhere on the property. The mains must be cut. There was silence except for the pitter patter of the rain as it hit the roof. He stopped. He could hear shuffling coming from the next room, followed by heavy footfalls. Moving swiftly towards the sound, he reached for an arrow and aligned it with his bow. His feet light and noiseless, he took the corner looking to see who was there.
"Oliver, the police are almost there. According to the radio, they're six minutes out." She would have sounded calm and in control had it not been for the faint quiver he detected in her voice when she'd said his name. Determined not to get distracted, he pushed into the room.
It was the lounge; right in front of him was a massive patio door that led onto the pool. He heard moaning and more shuffling. He moved closer to the glass. His foot connected with something soft but solid. Looking down he noticed a woman lying on her side, still. He bent and put a finger to her pulse. It was faint, but steady.
Moving on he followed the noise. There, tied to a chair with tape across his mouth was Sean Grayson. His suit was rumpled, his tie loose. Sweat was dripping down the side of his face, disappearing into his shirt collar. Following the direction of his terrified gaze, Oliver saw The Archer.
He stood tall, the black hood completely shielding his head just as a black band covered the lower half of his face. His bow and arrow were primed, aimed at Grayson in what appeared to be his final moments. Oliver didn't hesitate.
"Stop!" Quickly, Oliver aimed his arrow and released it. The sound of his voice, followed by glass shattering alerted The Archer to the presence of someone else. With unbelievable reflexes, he pulled back, the arrow missing him by a hairs breadth as he countered and fired in Oliver's direction. Caught off balance, The Archer's aim was still remarkably good as the arrow head grazed Oliver's shoulder tearing the flesh. Ignoring the sear of pain, he kept running forward, arrow at the ready. Rolling to the floor The Archer dodged the second one, sprinting toward Oliver and tackling him to the ground. His bow fell out of his hand and landed a few paces away.
The air in his lungs left with a whoosh as his body made contact with the brick paving, the heavy weight on his chest holding him pinned down momentarily. Recovering, he shoved the body off, sending The Archer sprawling. Back on his feet, Oliver attacked, his fists connecting with The Archer's mid-section, keeping his blows low and consistent.
The Archer countered, catching a fist in his, twisting Oliver around, his arm pinned behind him; dangerously close to popping out of its socket. The pain was intense, but he wiped it from his mind. Pain could be dealt with later. He raised his other arm and knocked his fist back, his knuckles making contact with The Archer's nose, causing him to loosen his grip.
He swung around and kicked him in the shin, hearing the other man's grunt of pain. Pressing his advantage, he kicked him again, this time landing on top of him as he fell backward onto the wet grass. Showering blows down on him, Oliver reached to pull the hood off, but The Archer threw him backward, his head hitting the paving with a colossal force. His vision blurred as he heard the wail of police sirens as they drew closer. Trying to roll onto his side he was stopped by a steel tipped boot as it rammed into his solar plexus, once, twice. The third time he heard the crack of bone as his ribs were broken.
Pain exploded everywhere. He couldn't move. The sirens were much closer, probably just outside. He needed to move or else he would be discovered. Opening his eyes, he saw no one. Felicity. Her name came to him out of nowhere. Confused he looked around, his body protesting with every movement.
He was gone.
I must move. Now.
Focussing all his energy on getting up, he stood, wavering slightly. Each breath hurting more than the last, he grabbed his bow and limped to the fence on the side of the house, just out of sight of the police officers who flooded the property. Using every energy reserve he possessed, he vaulted across the side gate and ran for his bike.
"Oh my God!" Felicity was beside herself. The street camera had shown Oliver limping to his motor cycle. He'd been doubled over, one arm wrapped around his ribs. Diggle had already rushed outside to intercept him when he arrived. She stayed behind to track him via GPS but all comms were down.
She watched his bike on the City cameras as he took a back route to get back to the foundry. Her heart was beating so fast she was sure it would explode out of her chest entirely. Even on the bike, he was slumped forward, clearly in possession of no energy to hold himself upright. She gasped as she watched him swerve dangerously close to an oncoming truck. Pulling away in time, he travelled over the bridge that brought him within spitting distance of them.
Throwing her ear piece carelessly on the desk, she ran toward the entrance, not bothering to grab her coat.
Reaching the doorway, she saw him collapse into Diggle's arms. "Let me help!" Hurrying forward, she grabbed hold of his legs before it hit the ground. He was unbelievably heavy, but between them, they got him inside and onto the medical table.
"W-what can I do? Tell me what to do!" He looked so pale, his eyes closed. He must have passed out because he didn't protest when Diggle pulled his jacket off.
Diggle grabbed her trembling hand in his and forced her to look at him. "Listen to me. He's going to be fine. Felicity!" he called when her gaze drifted back to Oliver's prone body.
Startled, her gaze settled on his. Closing her eyes briefly she exhaled. Calm. Be calm. "Tell me what to do."
Nodding his approval they worked quickly and efficiently, Felicity following Diggle's instructions to the letter. Twenty heart stopping minutes later, Oliver lay bruised and bandaged but otherwise okay, his breathing steady.
Exhausted, Felicity flopped into a chair beside the bed and reached for his hand. It was cold and lifeless. She rubbed it gently between hers in the hope of transferring some of her heat into them. She kept running her eyes over his body, reminding herself that he was still in once piece.
Diggle touched her shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"No." She knew her voice was trembling.
"I'll sit with him if you want to take a minute." Diggle's voice was tinged with concern.
She shook her head vehemently. Right now Oliver was her only priority and she wouldn't leave his side until those beautiful blues were staring into hers once more.
Chapter 8: See The Truth
Oliver surfaced feeling groggy and disorientated. Every inch of his body felt as though it had been run over by a bus. He tried opening his eyes, but his lids felt heavy and uncooperative. Trying again, they cracked open, taking a few seconds to adjust.
He was lying on the medical bed in the foundry. It was quiet, the lights dimmed. His head was throbbing mildly, a reminder of the hit he'd taken when he'd fallen to the ground.
He got away. I failed - again.
Oliver tried to piece everything together through the fog that still clouded his memory. He felt anger and no small measure of defeat at being bested a second time. How do I stop him if he has no weaknesses? Since coming back from the island he'd never gone up against anyone he couldn't conquer. The thought that this foe may always have the upper hand didn't sit well with him. However, he was grateful that no one had died – himself included.
His senses returning to normal, he became aware of something soft and warm resting against his right hand. Moving his head slightly he saw Felicity. She was sitting beside his bed, her body bent at the waist, her arms resting on the bed. Her face was turned toward him, her cheek resting on his hand. She was fast asleep.
Her cheeks rosy and her hair in a pleasant state of disarray, she looked so peaceful. Taking in the sight of her, his eyes roamed over her puckered lips, devoid of any lipstick; her mouth slightly ajar, the warmth of her breath blowing over his wrist as she slept.
She'd never looked more adorable.
Watching her sleep, his complicated feelings for her stirring in his chest, almost made him forget his vow to avoid any kind of personal relationship. But he knew he couldn't. He'd only end up hurting her and she deserved far better than a man who lived half of his life in the shadows. If he ever went down, he refused to take her with him.
When her head lifted and her eyes popped open he realised that he'd said her name out loud. Embarrassed, he was glad that she couldn't see his face clearly in the dimly lit room.
"Oliver?" She sprang up and leaned over him, her hands running over his face, her eyes searching his. Her touch was gentle and feather light.
"I'm here," he said softly, watching her face flood with relief.
She sagged against the bed. "How are you feeling?" Her hands were now running down his arm, leaving a trail of sensation in their wake. They came to rest at his hand, his fingers curling around hers to hold them captive.
"Thank you, Felicity."
Her eyes devoured his face, registering his sincerity. She'd never been so happy to see anyone as she was to see him awake and well. He'd been out for more than three hours while she'd kept a vigil at his bedside, unable to tear herself away. She must have fallen asleep because all she remembered was watching his face one moment and then hearing him call her name the next.
"It wasn't all me. Dig was the real lifesaver," she said, her face burning beneath his intense scrutiny. "If I'd been alone you would most likely be in a body bag right now."
He laughed and then grimaced. She felt a pang as she watched him flinch. He had to be in a considerable amount of pain. "I don't believe that. You have an impeccable bedside manner."
She was acutely aware of their joined hands, fingers entwined as tightly as a lovers knot. It felt right - as though her hand belonged in his, as though his was specifically designed to fit hers. She knew the notion was fanciful. A man like Oliver, charming and sophisticated, his beauty undeniable, his appeal irrefutable, could have his pick of willing women. With so much variety, he wouldn't choose an IT nerd who thought Roberto Cavalli was a soccer player.
Not that she thought him a snob. He wasn't. It was just the way of the world. The rich and beautiful stuck together and she, a normal girl, would always be on the outside looking in. But despite all that, she couldn't help it. She'd tried to remain courteous, friendly and professional and the truth was that she'd failed miserably. Somewhere between him scaling that wall at Sean Grayson's house and him collapsing in Diggle's arms, she'd given up trying to. She could no more deny loving Oliver Queen than she could deny her lungs air to breathe. A road that she was sure would be paved with the embarrassment of unrequited love, but one she would happily travel if it meant she got to spend more time with him.
Finally admitting the truth made her feel shy and awkward. "M-maybe I missed my…uh…calling. Perhaps I should be a nurse, you know? Then again, I tend to panic in certain situations. I mean…blood makes me want to heave…not that I heaved looking at your blood. You have nice blood…red and gooey…" She cringed as her words trailed off. Nice blood?
Oliver stifled a laugh. She knew it hurt. "I'm glad you like it." Then, "What time is it?"
She checked. "Just past 4am."
"You've been here all this time?"
Uncomfortable, she nodded. "I couldn't exactly leave you here by yourself."
He looked around as if suddenly remembering something. "Where's Dig? He should have sent you home."
Felicity frowned. "He had to drive your mother to an event. You think I could have gone home and played a round of Dungeons and Dragons knowing you were lying here unconscious? Possibly seriously injured?" She sounded incredulous. "I-I may not be your personal chauffeur-cum-back-up-Arrow-person, but that doesn't mean I don't care." She tugged at her hand, hurt that he'd wanted her gone.
He held on firmly, refusing to let go. "Hey," he said softly, "that's not what I meant. If anything happened to me, I would want Dig to keep you safe. At home, you'd have not been involved in any fallout."
"Oh," she said, embarrassed that she'd jumped to conclusions.
"Oliver! You're awake! Another hour and I would have been forced to take you to a hospital." With Diggle's arrival the intimate spell between them was broken. Felicity withdrew her fingers from his, their loss leaving a void, but not before Diggle got an eyeful.
Oliver felt her withdrawal more keenly than he ought to. She'd been offended at the suggestion that she flee to safety while his life hung in the balance. Her concern touched him. If he was honest with himself, he was glad she'd been there.
Oliver sat up gingerly, wincing as he moved. "Thanks Dig. You're always patching me up."
"Hey, what's a vigilante without his clean-up crew?" he joked.
Testing his arm he lifted it slightly, relieved that there was no damage other than a superficial wound. "Everything okay at home?"
Felicity brought a blanket and covered his shoulders with it. Its warmth was immediate and much needed. He looked over his shoulder at her, his eyes conveying his gratitude as he grasped the ends and pulled it up high against his neck.
"Okay. I dropped your mother back home a few minutes ago. She asked about you."
"I hope your story telling is better than Oliver's," Felicity quipped from behind him.
Diggle cracked a smile. "Much."
"Could you track him?" Oliver needed to know if they had any idea who The Archer was or where he went.
Felicity came around the bed and stood beside Diggle. "Only as far the next street. He took out the cameras and disappeared."
"Oliver, what happened in there?" He knew the question was coming.
Slowly climbing off the bed, he ran a hand over his bandaged rib cage. "When I arrived he was about to kill Grayson. My appearance distracted him enough to put a stop to the execution. We fought and he got away."
"I'm just glad you're okay. If the Police didn't arrive when they did…"
"I could be in the City morgue right now," Oliver finished sombrely.
"But you're not. And neither are the Grayson's. That's a win in my book." Diggle was always the optimist.
Oliver looked at him, frustration evident in his body language. "He's better than I am. Much better than I am." He shook his head when Diggle started to speak. "I'm being realistic about the facts, Dig. He's stronger, he's faster."
"Maybe. But a lot of that is also in here." He pointed a finger at his head.
Oliver knew he was right. The Archer did have a psychological edge.
"We'll get him."
"Yes, we will." Determination braced Oliver's words.
Felicity had been standing silent, listening to them. "Any idea if he was planning on framing you again?"
Oliver shrugged. "Possibly. It makes sense that he would. I wasn't looking out for that though."
"Right. Too busy trying to arrow him." She made a throat slitting gesture.
Oliver knew it was her attempt to lighten the mood. He smiled. "Something like that. Although I think he had more success than I did."
Diggle turned off the medical equipment. "Time to get you home, Oliver."
"I doubt I'll be able to get any sleep with the residual adrenalin in my system."
"So not the point. Drink some hot milk if you have to."
Oliver glared at Diggle.
"If you want to be ready to beat Hawkeye 2.0, then you need to regain your strength."
Oliver's gaze swung from Diggle to Felicity, his head cocked to the side, eyes narrowed. "Where do you come up with this stuff?"
Felicity grinned. "I'm blonde. But not that blonde. Genius, remember?"
Diggle grabbed his coat and keys. "Get ready and I'll meet you both out front."
Felicity watched as Oliver walked slowly to her side, the blanket draped around him like a cloak. Her eyes widened when he didn't maintain his usual personal-space barrier. He stepped up close. Very close. She froze in place as he bent slightly, leaning down until his mouth aligned with her ear. She shivered involuntarily. "You're remarkable." He waited a heartbeat before pulling back, his eyes holding hers captive, searching, before following Diggle out. It took her a moment to register what he'd said before her cheeks flamed with colour. Confused, she grabbed her bag and walked after him.
Chapter 9: Find A Reason
Oliver sat down to breakfast, his mother and Thea on either side of him. His body still felt battered and bruised, but with an ice bath and some of his island remedies, he was on the mend. Tucking into a piece of buttered toast, he mentally ticked off the things he needed to do.
"Oliver, the Queen Annual Charity Gala is tomorrow night. I'd like you to be there. Both of you." His mother's eyes bore into his before aiming them in Thea's direction.
"I'll try-" he began, deciding that he didn't want to attend. He could already visualise the predictable spectacle as Starling City's rich stepped forward to outbid one another in an attempt to prove which one was the greater philanthropist. Or the bigger braggart. Anything for a mention in the society columns – a place he regularly landed without even having to try. He wanted no part of it.
"No, you won't try. You'll be there. This fundraiser is an important one for our family and the charities we support. You're a Queen. I expect you to act like one." Moira's voice brooked no opposition.
Briefly wondering how he could still be chastised at his age, he glimpsed the determined look on his mother's face. She wasn't taking no for an answer. "I'll be there."
She nodded her approval and went back to sipping her tea. "Oh, and bring a date. Someone other than Mr. Diggle. While I'm happy that you've embraced the idea of personal security, he doesn't exactly look good on your arm."
Thea choked on her cereal. Amused, Oliver thumped her firmly on the back.
"Wow, Ollie," she croaked, clearing her throat. "I had no idea your tastes swung both ways." Her eyes were bright with mischief.
"Thea, do stop being crude." Moira admonished without heat. Rising from the table she excused herself. "I have a few phone calls to make before I meet you in the lobby," she said to Thea. She kissed Oliver on the cheek. "You have a good day."
Oliver went back to his breakfast.
"So, who are you going to bring?" Thea probed between bites of cornflakes.
Oliver shrugged, nonchalant. "I haven't thought about it."
Not one to let things go, his sister started speculating. "Well, it can't be Laurel Lance because she's dating your BFF," she said, using her fingers as a counter. "McKenna Hall is also on the outs since she dumped your ass," she went on, mouthing "sorry" when Oliver scowled at her. "Of course I would personally skin you alive if you rocked up with that serial killer, Helena Bertinelli," Thea continued, ticking the name off of an imaginary list. "So I guess that leaves Lisbeth Salander." She shoved another spoonful of cereal into her mouth.
"Who?" Oliver asked despite his better judgement.
Thea rolled her eyes as at him, exasperated. "Seriously, Ollie. You need to brush up on your pop culture references. You're off the island - read some books. Watch some TV. Hell, surf the internet."
Oliver chose to ignore her tirade, even though he knew she had a point. "Lisbeth Salander?"
"Oh right!" Thea said. "She's a hacker in print and film."
Finally making the connection, Oliver gave her a look of amused indulgence. "I don't know who I'm bringing to the fundraiser – or even if I'm bringing anyone at all."
"Think I didn't notice how you didn't deny possibly bringing hacker girl, aka Felicity, to the glorified auction?"
Oliver laughed, he couldn't help it. "Why are you calling her a hacker?"
"Ollie, the woman practically upgraded my laptop. It's like, brand new; working better than ever. Since I forgot to give you my password, that means she hacked her way past a fourteen letter word that contained special characters!" Thea sounded impressed.
Oliver didn't bother to tell her that Felicity could decode encryptions in her sleep. Fourteen letters and special characters were child's play.
Thea dropped her spoon loudly into her bowl. "Plus, she left me some pointers on my paper. This means that I automatically like her and think you should bring her along."
He was taken aback by the news. "She did?"
"Yeah. I took her advice and guess what? An A-!" She whooped in her chair. "Know-it-all-Albert couldn't deal, he was so shocked."
Watching his sister's jubilant expression, Oliver felt bemused. Felicity didn't know Thea and had no reason to offer her any assistance. She did it for me. The thought pleased him more than he cared to admit. Felicity was a complication he could do without. The problem was, he didn't know if he wanted to do without it.
"I'm happy that you've redeemed yourself."
Thea hopped up, throwing her hair over her shoulder as she did so. "Gotta go. Think about it." At his blank stare she sighed dramatically, "Felicity! Bring her!"
Not waiting to hear his response, she took off.
Felicity sat at her desk at Queen Consolidated. It was the third time in as many minutes that she attempted to read an internal email from Procurement. Focus! The problem was that every time she attempted to get anything done, she heard his voice in her head, almost seductive, whispering, "You're remarkable," and her stomach did cartwheels.
Admitting to herself that she was in love with the most unattainable man in the City was one thing, but being constantly reminded of him when she was attempting to do her job was another. She didn't recall a college course that covered dealing with the effects of a one-sided romance in the workplace.
When she'd signed up to help Oliver, she'd had a crush, yes. She'd never thought it would result in head-over-heels. A part of her had liked the thought of spending time with the mysterious bachelor who'd returned from no-man's land, his name on everyone's lips. It had seemed like a cool opportunity to do some real good in the process of getting to know a little more about him. Besides, the eye candy factor had seemed too good a chance to miss.
Also, the part of her that loved a good challenge had revelled at the idea of being able to practice the skills she excelled at in order to help other people in a way that went beyond squashing viruses from porn sites.
She'd honestly never thought she'd be here - trying to figure out how to act around the man who made her heart do somersaults with just a smile. Then there was the aspect she'd slightly overlooked – the very real danger. What Oliver did was no stroll in the park. It was dangerous and fraught with all kinds of risks; mostly to him. He could be caught and jailed, be seriously maimed or worse, lose his life. She didn't know if she was cut out to deal with those realities. Somehow she'd never thought that seeing him in pain, his life on the precipice, would make her feel so inept, helpless and afraid.
She often wondered how he managed to be the dutiful son and brother, successful night club owner and vigilante. From the outside he appeared to switch roles as easily as a seasoned actor but she knew that it must be far more difficult than he lead on.
Annoyed at the direction her thoughts were going, she muttered, "Get out!" as she hit the DELETE key with enough force to make her pencil jump.
"I'm interrupting?" came the voice that had been on repeat in her brain all morning. Already skittish, the intrusion only served to amp up her simmering hormones.
Oliver stood before her looking fresh and fit. If she hadn't known better, she'd never have guessed that a few hours before he'd been unconscious. So handsome, his chin and cheeks covered in a fine spattering of stubble, he was the embodiment of the female fantasy. Screw David Beckham. This man needed to be on billboards.
Determined to act normally, she waved him in, her bright purple nails flashing in front of her face. "No, I was talking to myself. Well, I wasn't telling myself to get out, because that would be impossible…but I meant my brain should get out…" She stopped. Normal. "Nevermind."
She watched as amusement flickered across his face. "What can I help with? Wait. How are you feeling?"
"Still tender, but overall much better, thank you for asking."
Felicity felt relieved. Things could so easily have been much worse.
Curious, she watched him reach into his jacket pocket and extract an envelope. Accepting it, she looked down and read the fancy gold lettering. "Who's this for?" It was an invitation to the Queen Annual Charity Gala.
"You. You're my plus one."
Felicity looked at him, startled. "Me?" If she hadn't already been sitting down, she was sure her legs would have given way.
"My mother will have my head if I show up with Dig at my side. You would make a prettier picture," he teased lightly.
Ignoring the compliment since she was sure he was merely being polite, she handed the card back to him. "I-I can't. I mean, I'm sure you have someone else you can ask."
Oliver refused to take it. "I could. But I want you."
Her jaw would have dropped had she not caught herself in time. He didn't mean it that way, did he?
She watched a slow smile spread across his face. He seemed to be enjoying her discomfort.
Of course, he didn't. She needed to get a grip. Just because he was flirting with her didn't mean anything.
He'd been asking himself the same question on the drive over to the office. In the end he decided to do it for Thea. Right. For Thea. His traitorous thoughts clearly didn't believe a word of it.
"My sister wants to meet you. She's really grateful for your help. She got a good grade. Thank you."
Felicity flushed, her fingers turning the invitation from side to side. "I was happy to help. But a text or a fruit basket would suffice. This is too much."
Exasperated, Oliver planted his hands on her desk and leaned forward. Her eyes widened and he knew she was thinking about the night before. So, she had been affected.Knowing that gave him a curious sense of satisfaction. "Felicity, she would like to meet you. There's an opportunity tomorrow. Besides, you may actually have a good time."
He watched her resolve waver. "You'd also be doing me a favour - I need a date, Thea wants to meet you. Two birds, one stone. There'll be good red wine…"
Felicity bit her lip, her brow furrowed. "I love red wine. Alright, I'll go."
Oliver felt the knots in his stomach unravel. "I'll pick you up at 7."
What have I done? I can't go to this shindig. Oh God. What am I going to wear? Felicity panicked as she rifled through her closet. "No, no. Already wore that..." she mumbled as she threw a short gold dress to the floor. Surveying her lack of options with rising horror she slumped down on her bed. She had nothing suitable. I need help. Except she didn't know who to ask. Being more than ninety percent intellectual and less than ten percent trendy, meant having friends who were equally clueless.
I should just call him and cancel. Except she didn't want to cancel. She knew it wasn't a date, but deep down she wanted to go. She wanted to look beautiful and feel glamorous, to experience how the other half lived, even if it wasn't real. But there was nothing remotely beautiful or glamorous in her closet.
Staring in dismay at the chaos her room had been reduced to, she felt a little depressed. This was why she didn't belong in his world. She didn't even have a suitable dress to wear to a charity event. The one nice one she had, he'd already seen her in. Although she knew he wouldn't care what she wore, she had her pride. She wanted to look the part, more than a geek playing dress-up, even though she knew she didn't feel it on the inside.
Defeated, she started clearing her room. As she dumped a sweet wrapper in the bin, a logo caught her eye. Could I? Making a snap decision, she grabbed her bag and hurried out the door. She had nothing to lose. If this didn't work, she'd have to call it off.
Chapter 10: Alone
"I need your help…please," Felicity said as she approached Carly Diggle at Big Belly Burger.
Carly smiled in welcome. "Felicity!" Her hands were clutching a tray piled with burgers and shakes. "Can you give me a second?" She hurried to a corner table to drop off the food.
Felicity watched her flit between the tables. She was tall and slim, her straight, chocolatey brown hair was caught up in a ponytail. Her caramel skin was flawless, devoid of make-up, except for a bit of lip gloss and two spots of colour on her cheeks. She had a natural beauty that Felicity envied.
Looking around she noticed that the place was fairly empty for a Thursday afternoon. There was the odd person reading the newspaper over a cup of coffee while a few others treated themselves to a meal.
Felicity felt nervous. When she'd seen the Big Belly wrapper in her bin, her mind had immediately flashed to Carly. She was Diggle's sister-in-law, although Felicity knew there were romantic feelings on both sides. While she didn't know Carly well enough to call her a friend, she'd always been friendly.
"How can I help?" Carly joined her at the counter and dropped the tray over the top and onto the other side.
Taking a steadying breath Felicity explained. "I've been invited to attend the Queen Charity Gala and I don't have anything suitable to wear. In fact, I don't even know where to find something suitable to wear… or even what the definition of suitable is," she rambled.
Carly put hand on her arm. "You came to me for help?" She looked surprised, but flattered.
Felicity nodded. "Yes. Dig always talks about your great sense of style and well, you're the best looking waitress I've ever seen. I'm-," she gestured to her plain red skirt and polka dot shirt beneath her serviceable coat, "not sure that this is the type of thing one wears to a Gala."
Carly laughed. "Firstly, thank you. I think that's one of the nicest compliments I've ever received." She eyed Felicity's outfit from top to bottom, her gaze settling on her ballet flats.
"There's nothing wrong with the way you look. It's just a little-" she struggled for the word.
"Boring?" Felicity volunteered.
"Practical," Carly countered.
She gave a small smile. "That's me, Functional Felicity."
Carly squeezed her arm encouragingly. "Better that than being inside a skin you find uncomfortable."
Felicity appreciated her kindness. She could see why Diggle liked her. She liked her too. "Thanks."
"So, let me get this straight. You need my help to find something appropriate to wear?"
"Basically. Any advice on hair and makeup would not be frowned upon either," Felicity said a little self-consciously.
"My shift's over in 15 minutes. If you're willing to wait we can head out afterward? I already have a few ideas." She seemed excited.
Felicity sagged with relief. "That would be awesome."
Carly beamed. "Have a seat and I'll get you some coffee, on the house."
Felicity was exhausted. Who knew that shopping was such hard work? Carly had taken her into an upmarket boutique in the City that housed so many beautiful dresses she'd felt intimidated just looking at them. Although, two surprisingly fun hours later, after trying on seven different styles, they'd walked out with the dress of her dreams and a pair of matching heels.
Despite feeling drained, Felicity had enjoyed the experience very much. Or perhaps she'd enjoyed it more because she'd been with a friend – a status Carly had been upgraded to within minutes. She was fun and outgoing, easy to talk to and most of all, Felicity felt like she could genuinely be herself around her. They'd chattered endlessly as Felicity paraded in front of the dressing room mirrors, giggling like school girls when they selected a miss and gasping collectively when they finally scored the hit.
"So, you and Oliver?" Carly asked as they placed their purchases in Felicity's bedroom.
Felicity blushed. "No. Definitely no me and Oliver."
"Ah," was her knowing response.
Felicity felt the need to clarify. "We work together."
"Many a lasting relationship has started out the same way."
"Not this one," Felicity said. "He's way out of my league." The second the words left her mouth she realised what she'd admitted.
Carly raised a sculptured eyebrow, "Don't sell yourself short, girl. You have loads to offer a guy. Oliver Queen would be so lucky."
Appreciating the vote of confidence but not really wanting to get into it, she asked, "What about you and Dig?"
It was other woman's turn to look a little embarrassed. "It's complicated – I was married to his brother. I think he feels as though we're betraying him."
Carly shook her head, her ponytail swinging gently. "No. He would have wanted both of us to be happy."
Felicity watched her new friend as she hung up the dress they'd picked out together. While she didn't wish Carly any harm, it felt comforting to know that she wasn't the only one dealing with matters of the heart.
"So, you and Felicity, huh?" Oliver was at the foundry, having his ribs re-bandaged.
He scowled at Diggle. "There is no me and Felicity."
"Right. So that little hand holding last night was just a friendly gesture?" Diggle asked, checking Oliver's injuries.
Oliver wished he knew. "It was a thank you."
"No need to give me the rehearsed version. I'm the one who's been telling you for months that you need to put yourself out there."
Oliver winced as Diggle secured the bandages around him. "Felicity is different. She's off limits."
He exhaled slowly, his ribs tightly swathed. "Since I brought her on board to help us. I won't place her in any more danger."
Diggle packed the supplies away as Oliver put his shirt on. "Coming on board was her choice. She's a big girl and I'm sure she won't appreciate knowing that you're making decisions on her behalf. Secondly, she can't be in any more danger than she already is. You're the one who told me you can protect her. Have you changed your mind?"
"Of course not," he said. "It's just complicated."
"Complicated is me being into my dead brother's wife."
Oliver acknowledged his point. "How's that going, by the way?"
"We'll choose another day to bond over my sad love life. Right now, my time is all yours."
"Your time could be better spent," Oliver argued. Seeing Diggle's determined look he explained, "My track record isn't great, Dig. I cheated on Laurel with her sister. I don't know anyone who's sunk lower than that. Then there's Helena and McKenna – both of which didn't turn out well." Understatement of the year. He stood and buttoned his shirt, tucking the ends into his jeans.
Diggle leaned over the heart rate monitor machine, making himself comfortable. "Those are just excuses. You aren't the same man you were back then, so yeah, I get that you feel guilty about what happened to Sarah Lance, but that's no reason to stop living."
"I am living - the life of a crime fighter. There's no room for romance."
"I see the way you look at Felicity." Diggle let that sink in for a moment. "I suppose your reasons for asking her to the Gala were only altruistic?"
Oliver wasn't surprised that Diggle had found out. He seemed to know everything all of a sudden.
"Not that I need to explain myself to you, but Thea wants to meet her."
"Which could be remedied over a cup of coffee," he said reasonably.
"Drop it, Dig," Oliver snapped, irritated. He wasn't used to being poked and prodded for answers when half the time he didn't have any.
Diggle shrugged, indifferent to Oliver's sudden burst of temper. "All I'm saying is that the road you've chosen to travel is a long and lonely one. You don't have to do it alone. If you're really not interested in Felicity, fine. Just don't throw away a chance at something that could change your life – for the better – because you're hung up on doing what you think is the right thing."
Later that night, long after Diggle had left, his words continued to haunt Oliver. Was he being too hard on himself? Were his own demons preventing him from pursuing some normalcy in an otherwise chaotic situation?
Past experiences taught him to be guarded. Granted, things were different with Felicity. He didn't need to lie to her, run out on her at the drop of a hat without a plausible explanation, or pretend to be someone that he wasn't.
In the privacy of his bedroom, with no one to hear his confession, he finally admitted to himself that asking her to the Gala had nothing to do with Thea. Yes, he was sure his sister genuinely wanted to meet Felicity, but that could have been achieved in many different ways. His reasons had been more selfish. He'd asked her to accompany him because he'd wanted to spend a night with her that had nothing to do with fighting crime. He'd wanted to just be with her - to talk about normal things, to enjoy a meal, to share a laugh, a glass of wine.
So despite his own misgivings, he'd given in to the urge to be with her. For the first time since the inception of his family's annual soirée, he was actually looking forward it. Not for the pomp and ceremony, but because on his arm was going to be the woman who had knocked a kink in what he thought was his impenetrable armour.
Chapter 11: Believe
The day passed in a blur. Felicity had been working on trying to determine where The Archer had disappeared to after he'd fled the houses of Croft and Grayson but she wasn't having much luck. Apart from there being virtually no clues to help her along, she was also completely distracted.
She wasn't sure if it had been excitement or terror at the upcoming Gala that had prevented her from getting a decent night's sleep. Perhaps a mixture of both. She'd never attended anything as glitzy before and if the office gossip was anything to go by, everyone who was anyone was going to be there.
She glanced at the time at the bottom of her tablet screen. 02:45pm. She'd promised Carly that she'd leave by 03:00pm so that she'd have some time to relax before getting ready. As though relaxing was even a thing she could do. Her nerves were wound tighter than a two dollar watch – which was ridiculous – this was not a date.
She hadn't seen Oliver since he'd dropped off the invitation. He'd called her a few times to discuss her progress on The Archer investigation, but it wasn't the same. She missed seeing him. The one time she'd popped by the foundry, he'd been wrapped up in club business and so she'd left without ever laying eyes on him. Much to her disappointment.
She glanced at the time again. 2.47pm. Shaking her head in annoyance she logged off and packed up for the weekend. There was no point in sitting there when her mind was clearly elsewhere.
Nervously Felicity turned from her bedroom mirror to face Carly. "Well, what do you think?" Her face was covered in trepidation as she waited for the verdict.
Carly gasped, her hands reaching up to cover her heart. "Oh Felicity… you look amazing!"
She made her turn in a full circle. "Yip, I knew this was your colour the second I saw you yesterday. Trust me, he's not gonna know what hit him," Carly said as she admired her handiwork.
"That's not the point," Felicity said, rolling her eyes in response.
"That's the whole point. Of course it's equally important that you like the way you look and that you feel comfortable and confident? That's more than half the battle won," she said, starting to gather her things. She'd popped around to help Felicity with her hair and make-up.
Turning back to the mirror, Felicity nodded. She looked different, but not in a way that made her feel like she was someone else. The reflection staring back at her was the person she knew herself to be, albeit a more glammed up version.
She smoothed her hands over her waist to give them something to do. It was almost time. Oliver would be there at any minute.
"I gotta go," Carly said as she grabbed her bag and other paraphernalia. "Almost time for Cinderella to go to the ball," she teased, stuffing her curling iron into a backpack.
"Let's hope I don't turn into a pumpkin at midnight."
Carly walked over, her bags slung over one arm. Giving Felicity a side hug she smiled brightly, "You look radiant, so stop worrying. Go and have a good time."
With her gone, there was nothing left to do but wait for Oliver to arrive.
"Do I look alright?" Oliver asked from the back seat of the new BMW he'd purchased for Diggle's use.
Meeting his eyes in the rear-view mirror, Diggle seemed amused. "That's the third time you've ask me that and it's the third time I'm telling you that you look fine."
He couldn't stop fidgeting, his fingers drumming restlessly on his thighs. He felt nervous, something that had been completely foreign to him before he met a certain IT girl. Relax, almost there.
"Which makes me wonder why you're asking me for advice on your appearance?" His tone suggested that he already knew the answer. "I don't recall you ever asking before." Diggle added.
Choosing to ignore him, Oliver hopped out of the car the second it came to a stop outside Felicity's apartment. Heading in, he called over his shoulder, "Be right back."
Clearing his throat he knocked on her door.
When it opened his greeting stuck in the back of his throat, his mouth suddenly so dry he felt like he was swallowing sandpaper.
Her hair, always tied back was allowed free reign. Loose curls cascaded down her back and shoulders, shimmering like a golden halo. His eyes nearly popped out of his head as they travelled down her body – at present encased in a red strapless dress that gently hugged the curves of her waist, hips and thighs before flaring gently at the knee and falling to the floor in soft waves.
Her make-up was simple yet flawless – bright blue eyes rimmed with black liner, her lashes impossibly long, no hint of her glasses in sight. Her cheeks held a hint of colour, growing even brighter under the intensity of his scrutiny. Her mouth – Lord help him – was crimson, the perfect shade to match her gown. Free of accessories save for the diamond drops at her ears, and a similar cuff at her wrist, she was perfection.
"You're beautiful," he breathed.
Felicity was staring. She'd seen him in a suit before and had always thought him handsome. But standing in her doorway, there to collect her, put a whole new spin on things. She drank in the sight of him - his suit black and tailored to precision; his broad shoulders palpably hard and lean beneath the snowy whiteness of his shirt evident beneath his jacket. She smiled inwardly as she noted his black silk tie, a thing she knew he wasn't overly fond of. His ever present stubble added a rakish appeal to his otherwise sophisticated look. In a nutshell, he was gorgeous.
Her feminine sensibilities didn't fail to notice that her appearance had rendered him momentarily speechless. She was flattered. Having spent a considerable amount of money on the dress she was wearing, seeing his reaction made the splurge completely worth it.
"Thank you," she said, her stomach doing back flips as his eyes settled on hers.
The silence stretched as they simply stood looking at one another. Felicity felt the need to fill the void with something, anything. He was looking at her in a way she didn't quite understand but it was doing crazy things to her heart rate.
"Um, I'm ready if you are?"
Blinking once, twice, Oliver replied, "Yes. I'm ready."
Grabbing her wrap and silver clutch they headed out.
Oliver was blown away. It was her, but it wasn't her. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had such a visceral reaction to a woman. Thinking back, he didn't know what he was expecting, or even if he'd had an expectation, he only knew that the end result had bowled him over. After just one look he'd been mesmerised.
Not Helena or even McKenna had ever had such an effect on him. The only other woman who'd elicited such gut clenching reactions had been Laurel and even that had been more than five years ago.
The drive to their destination wasn't very long. Sitting in silence he listened as Diggle and Felicity engaged in a lively conversation. Satisfied that they weren't paying him much heed, he retreated into his thoughts.
Suddenly, he didn't think that spending an entire evening in Felicity's company was such a good idea. Who knew that beneath the sarcasm and the smarts beat the heart of a temptress? Not that he thought Felicity was entirely aware of the effect she had on him. Chances were she didn't have a clue – for which he was thoroughly grateful. The last thing he needed was for her to know that she could twist him around her little finger with very little effort.
A little intimidated by the amount of stylish people milling around the outside of the Starling City Metropolitan Museum, Felicity looked around, fascinated, as Oliver steered them toward the entrance.
"Oliver! Is that Senator Ross?" She didn't protest as he tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. It felt nice.
He glanced over his shoulder. "Yes. You seem surprised?"
"This might be your regular scene, but it's not mine. Allow me a moment to be a little star struck," she quipped as she fell into step beside him, the click of her silver stiletto's resounding on the stone floor.
"You're star struck by a Senator? Seriously?" Oliver looked incredulous.
"What? I'm into politics," she defended.
She watched him shake his head, a faint smile tilting his lips upward.
The entrance was just ahead and Felicity could see into the foyer. Oliver's mother was standing just inside the door, greeting the guests as they arrived. She suddenly felt nervous again.
"You alright?" Oliver asked. "They're just people you know."
"I'm fine," she responded, even though that wasn't exactly true. Right at that moment, she wasn't too concerned about the other people. The object of her anxiety was waiting to welcome them.
She'd only ever met Walter, never Moira Queen. All she knew about her was courtesy of the office grapevine, not an altogether reliable source of information.
"Mother," Oliver said warmly as he planted a kiss on both her cheeks. She was wearing a silver draped floor length gown that Felicity was sure cost more than her monthly income.
"Oliver, you made it." She smiled, genuinely happy to see him. Noticing Felicity at his side, she pulled back.
Oliver placed a hand in the small of her back, the sensation making her spine tingle. "Mother, this is Felicity Smoak – Felicity, this is my mother, Moira Queen."
An old hand at social graces, Moira focussed her blue gaze, so similar to her son's, on Felicity. "Miss Smoak, I'm pleased to meet you." Her smile was friendly and welcoming, her handshake firm.
"Thank you for having me. Oh, and it's Felicity. Miss Smoak is what my third grade teacher called me when I punched Barry Schulman in the face for stealing my lunch money." Dammit. She bit her tongue in an attempt to keep her mouth closed.
Beside her, Oliver laughed. His mother just looked at her strangely. "You look familiar. Have we met at the Country Club?"
Felicity would have laughed at the absurdity of the question had Moira not been looking directly at her. "Err, no. I work at Queen Consolidated."
"Felicity works in the IT Department," Oliver explained.
"Well, that's lovely," was his mother's only response. Felicity wondered what her thoughts were on her son fraternising with company staff. Not that they were fraternising. This is not a date.
The line behind them grew longer. "Oliver, find your sister and keep an eye on her." Then to Felicity, "I hope you have a good time."
Unable to detect any hint of disapproval in her tone, but not entirely sure that it wasn't merely properly disguised, Felicity breathed a sigh of relief when they moved on.
They made their way through the crowded foyer, Oliver grabbing hold of her hand so that he didn't lose her in the throng. There it was again. That feeling – her hand in his. Perfect.
He stopped and turned. Not expecting it, she bumped straight into him. Looking up, her face was mere inches away from his. With an embarrassed gulp she took a step back. "Sorry," she mumbled inaudibly.
"Mind if we find my sister? Or would you like to wait for me somewhere?" He hadn't let go of her hand.
"Let's find her."
She didn't think she'd want to be left alone in this crowd. She knew she didn't exactly belong there. Perhaps part of her fear had been that everyone would stare and point at her, picking her out as an interloper. Maybe that particular insecurity had been a tad irrational.
Everyone they passed, men and women alike, greeted Oliver like an old friend, all of them clearly in possession of money – if the amount of diamonds on display and the fine cut of their clothing was any indication. For the most part, he was polite if not friendly.
She detected some inquisitive glances directed her way, not entirely unexpected. She wasn't one of them, despite what her dress might suggest, and yet there she was, on the arm of the City's most eligible bachelor.
"Ollie!" Felicity turned in time to see a petite, pretty brunette, her hair twisted up in a fashionable knot and secured by a diamond pin, hurrying toward them. Dressed in a beautiful flowy green gown, the colour almost perfectly matching her eyes, she looked flirty and feminine.
Reaching Oliver's side she launched herself at him, hugging him close. "Where have you been? There's only old people here and they're so boring. Shoot me now."
Felicity smiled to herself. This had to be Thea Queen.
Chapter 12: Turn Around
Bright green eyes turned their attention to Felicity.
"Lisbeth!'" she exclaimed before cringing. "Sorry. You must be Felicity." She extended her hand in greeting.
Confused, Felicity automatically returned the gesture. Based on the frown Oliver was directing at his sister, she sensed that she'd missed something.
Oliver stepped closer to her side. "Felicity, this is my sister, Thea. A word of warning – she rarely thinks before she speaks." He looked at Thea pointedly.
Leaning closer to Felicity, she whispered, "Ignore him. He's a grouch with zero sense of humour. That makes him incapable of understanding my genius." Her eyes twinkled with merriment.
Felicity grinned. "I couldn't agree with you more."
Oliver looked from one to the other, rolling his eyes. "You're tag teaming now?"
Looking at Felicity, Thea said, "Finally! Someone who takes my side! This is the start of a long and wonderful friendship." She ignored Oliver's stare. "You clearly seem to know who the fun one in this family is. Yip, you've guessed right. It's definitely not brood-a-minute over here." She jerked her thumb in Oliver's direction.
Linking her arm through Felicity's as though they were old friends and not newly acquainted, Thea guided her into the main hall. Inside, there was seating for around two hundred people at round tables arranged around a dance floor, a podium at the front. There were already many guests seated and a few milling around deep in conversation; some on the dance floor. The cream and gold colour scheme was elegant and classy, clearly the work of a skilled and expensive decorator.
"Why don't we check out the view while Ollie does the gentlemanly thing and gets us something to drink?" Thea looked at her brother mischievously. "So thirsty," she mouthed at him as she guided Felicity away.
"Nice dress, by the way," she said. "You look hot."
A little out of her depth, Felicity didn't quite know what to say or how she was supposed to respond. While Oliver's sister seemed quite friendly, Felicity wasn't adept at making friends easily – especially ones as outgoing and outspoken as Thea Queen obviously was.
"Thanks. Err, so do you."
"You know, you're not at all what I was expecting," Thea said thoughtfully, ignoring Felicity's awkward reply.
Caught off guard by the statement, she asked, "What were you expecting?" They stopped at the other end of the room, the glass walls displaying the twinkling City lights below. In the background, she heard the orchestra switch to a lively tune.
"You're not Ollie's type," she said, before hastening to clarify. "Which is not a bad thing. It's actually a compliment." She smiled at Felicity apologetically. "He has a track record with cops and serial killers. You don't fall into either category, thank God." The last she seemed to say more to herself than to Felicity.
"Anyway, what I meant though was that Ollie doesn't usually date," she took a moment to choose the right word, "smart women. And you are really smart." Thea seemed to have no problem complimenting her while at the same time insulting her brother. "Which reminds me - thank you for your help with my environmental paper…and my laptop. I'm officially Know-It-All-Albert's poster child for reform," she said sarcastically.
Despite her initial apprehension, Felicity liked her. She was honest and direct, something she admired. Thea also had a tendency to go off on a tangent, a quality Felicity could identify with.
"You're welcome. I'm glad it all worked out okay." She took a moment before saying, "Oliver likes smart women. I'm sure what you meant to say is that he doesn't go for plain women. How did you guess that this isn't my regular social scene?" Felicity felt a little embarrassed at being so transparent.
Thea put a hand on Felicity's arm, looking contrite. "I don't mean to imply that you're plain. Clearly you're anything but," she said, her eyes admiring Felicity's ensemble. "It's nothing you said. I just noticed that you don't seem completely comfortable? You're also a lot less jaded than everyone else around here. That is hard to hide."
Not really offended by what was essentially the truth, Felicity looked at her enquiringly. "Jaded?"
Thea nodded. "Trust me, when you're born into all this," she raised a hand and twirled her index finger in a circle, "it gets old quickly. You have the look of a newbie – as shiny as a new penny."
"Well, I'm not planning to make this a regular thing. Oliver and I are just friends…probably more colleagues than friends actually. He didn't exactly ask me out. I mean…he did ask me…but not in a date kind of way…I'm rambling aren't I?" Felicity said, as she noticed Thea laughing at her. "Basically, I'm here because your mother insisted that he bring someone."
"You're so convincing," Thea teased and Felicity felt her cheeks warm. She continued, "I was there when the edict was delivered. My mother is determined to make Ollie and I care about our obligations to the Queen name."
Hesitant to pry, Felicity asked, "You don't agree with her sentiments?"
"Lord no. Love my mother," she said as she shaped a heart with her two thumbs and index fingers, "but she's a little stuck in her ways. Old school. I'm too wild for her," Thea confessed. "I doubt she knows what to do with me most of the time."
"I can see enjoy riling her," Felicity stated.
"Oh absolutely! It's every daughter's duty you know - to give their parents a few grey hairs." She laughed, the sound infectious. "To be fair though, I've contributed to more than just a few." She didn't seem at all remorseful.
"Not that our mother would ever confess to having grey hairs, but if she did, she'd say that you contributed to all of them" Oliver interrupted, his voice coming from behind Felicity.
Handing her a glass of wine, he presented Thea with the non-alcoholic alternative. "Seriously? I'm stuck at Geriatrics Anonymous and you won't even allow me to numb my pain?"
Oliver gave her a blank stare, continuing to hold the glass out. Shaking her head she looked at Felicity. "What did I tell you? No sense of humour."
Felicity watched the siblings as they bickered good naturedly. She'd never had that – the sense of belonging anywhere. Thea had a brother who adored her and a mother, who while strict, cared enough to risk her daughter's censure.
"I swear, the next time I'm forced to attend one of these things, I'm negotiating," Thea said, her eyes fixed on the orchestra. "Think I could convince mother to go with Fallout Boy next year instead of this snooze-fest?"
Glancing at Oliver, she snorted in disgust. "Ollie, I can't. You make my brain bleed. This is just too much. Felicity," she said, swinging her gaze back in her direction, "Help my brother into the 21st century. I'm convinced the last album he listened to was The Backsteet Boys. If you're looking for me, I'll be in the bathroom, drowning myself." She walked away shaking her head.
"The Backstreet Boys?" Felicity asked. "Really?"
Oliver scoffed. "Come on. They weren't that bad."
"You're right. They were worse. And you," she said, pointing a finger into his chest, "were a fan. I'm sorry, Mr Queen, but this information may affect our relationship going forward."
He took a step closer to her. "What relationship would that be?"
She suddenly had difficulty swallowing. The subtle hint of his expensive cologne was assaulting her senses. "Err…you know, I may decide to exclude you from contributing to any playlists whilst in the Arrow Cave."
He raised an eyebrow, now so close she could see each individual eyelash. "Arrow Cave?" His lips twitched slightly.
Her mouth went dry. "What would you call it?"
Instead of answering her, he said, "Dance with me." It wasn't a question.
Felicity's heart fluttered nervously. "I-I don't think that's such a good idea. I was born with two left feet…not literally of course…I do have a right foot…but I'm likely to crush your feet…or break your shins," she said desperately. The song was a slow one, attracting couples from all over the room.
He removed the glass from her hand and placed it on the tray of a passing waiter. "I'll take my chances."
"Really, you don't know what you're saying. You should ask Simon from Finance. At last year's Christmas party I nearly maimed him." She didn't know if she could handle being that close to him. She may do something stupid. Like refuse to let him go.
"Trust me," he whispered.
"O-okay," she murmured, her resistance crumbing at the sound of those two words.
Oliver gathered her close, one hand spanning the width of her waist, the other holding her hand loosely in his. Despite the high heels, which he admitted he found incredibly sexy, her head still tucked neatly beneath his chin. With his chin grazing the top of her hair he could smell the hint of vanilla from her shampoo.
"You're not so bad," he whispered close to her ear.
She pulled back and looked up at him, her eyes bright and clear. "Maybe it's merely because you're so good."
"Can't be. I haven't danced in a very long time." They settled into a comfortable rhythm.
"I think it's a skill you never forget. Like riding a bicycle. Only problem is, I never quite learnt to perfect it. Too busy taking hard-drives apart," she said, by way of explanation.
His interest piqued, he asked, "What made you choose IT?"
She thought for a moment. "I was always good at fixing things. Finding out why they weren't working and devising ways to solve the problem. It's funny though, no matter how hard I worked or how many times I succeeded, most of the guys in my class still assumed I was just a typical blonde."
"You resented it?" he asked, curious.
She shook her head. "Not really. Well, maybe sometimes," she confessed with a smile. "It just made me work harder. Graduating at the top of my class was my response to their assumptions."
Her hand was trembling slightly in his, a sign that she wasn't indifferent to his nearness. He knew he shouldn't have asked her to dance. The closeness, the feel of her in his arms, the memory of it, was likely to drive him crazy. However, he couldn't help himself. The idea of letting an opportunity such as this one simply pass him by was not an option.
"The sweetest revenge."
"I like to think so." She remained silent for a moment. "What about you? Did you ever want to go to college?"
No one ever asked him questions about his life before the island. People's curiosity was always focussed on what he'd done whilst he was there. "My parents wanted me to continue my education after High School but I was more interested in my own selfish pursuits."
He knew the exact moment when she fully relaxed. Her body went soft and pliant, leaning into his, her cheek resting on his shoulder. Dancing with her seemed like the most natural thing in earth.
"Meaning women, wine and wild times?" He heard the amusement in her tone.
He laughed. "Something like that."
Felicity was enjoying herself. She felt cozy and content swaying gently in Oliver's arms. One song blended smoothly into another and since he didn't protest, she assumed that he wanted to dance a little longer. She knew that she did.
Enjoying their conversation, she was about to ask him another question when someone bumped into them. Before she could react she heard a soft voice asking, "Ollie, is that you?"
With a sense of dread Felicity turned in the direction of the voice and looked straight into the beautiful face of Laurel Lance.
Chapter 13: Coming Down
Felicity stepped back from Oliver, clasping her hands tightly in front of her. The surprise that briefly flashed in his eyes indicated that her sudden extrication hadn't gone unnoticed.
"Laurel," he said, kissing her cheek. She gave him a broad, sweeping smile that lit up her face.
Never one to forget his manners, Oliver introduced them. Felicity had never seen Laurel Lance up close, but she was familiar with her work as a human rights attorney specialising in legal aid for the less fortunate.
"Hi," Laurel said, looking at Felicity curiously. Despite her friendly demeanour, Felicity could tell that Laurel was trying to figure out where she fit into the picture.
"Hey," Felicity replied, with a mini wave. She said the first thing that came to mind. "I…uh…liked the article you did for the Times last week."
Laurel beamed. "Thank you. Working cases that involve the destitute is the most rewarding for me."
Felicity nodded. She didn't know what else to say.
"I just saw Thea casting daggers at the violinist," Laurel laughed as she glanced in the direction she'd come from. They'd moved to stand at the edge of the dance floor.
Oliver smiled. "My sister's taste in music is a little less refined than everyone else here."
Felicity drowned out the sound of their conversation as she watched them, her fragile self-esteem taking a nose dive. They looked so natural together, familiarity evident in their relaxed smiles and easy body language. To her, the outsider, they looked like the perfect couple – Oliver, so handsome and self-assured and Laurel, the perfect mixture of beauty and brains. Felicity couldn't even dislike her on principal; she was practically a saint.
She watched as they greeted a couple who passed them by. This was their world.
She suddenly felt awkward and uncomfortable. How had she, for even a second, believed that a new dress and fancy hairdo could place her in Laurel Lance's stratosphere? In her black, beaded, off the shoulder gown, she made elegance and class look effortless. In comparison, Felicity hadn't even been able to choose a dress on her own. It hurt.
She felt the prickle of hot tears in the back of her throat and she swallowed them, refusing to humiliate herself.
"Err...I'm going to the ladies. Excuse me." Oliver called after her as she fled, but she didn't care. She needed to get some air and the further away from Oliver and the perfect Miss Lance, the better.
Oliver watched as Felicity hastened toward the exit. She'd gone quiet the second Laurel had joined them. He'd initially assumed that she was letting them catch up, but seeing the stiffness in her shoulders as she'd passed him, he wondered if it was something else.
"New girlfriend?" Laurel asked.
Distracted, Oliver took a moment before answering. "No. Felicity is a friend."
"Since when are you friendly with wide-eyed does?" Laurel seemed sceptical.
Oliver looked at her. She was a beautiful woman and there'd been a time when all he'd ever wanted was to be with her. Maybe if he'd never run scared and had an affair with her sister, they might still have been together. They may even have gotten married eventually. But that time was long gone and despite her forgiveness, too much had happened in their past for them to ever go back. While he would always care for her, he was no longer in love with her.
It struck him as interesting that he'd only realised the truth of his feelings once he'd developed others for a certain nerdy blonde.
"I'm not the same person I was, Laurel," he said softly, watching her expression change to contrition.
She touched his arm lightly. "You're right, Ollie; I'm sorry. That statement was out of line."
"Yes. But perhaps not entirely undeserved."
Laurel searched is face. "You care about her."
Oliver thought about denying it, but decided that he had no reason to. "She's very special."
Laurel smiled. "Then I'm happy for you. I hope you endeavour to deserve her."
Oliver laughed. "I already know that she's too good for me."
"Then that knowledge should keep you on your toes," she teased in response.
Oliver's expression turned serious. "Laurel, I truly am sorry."
She looked at him for a long moment, then gave him a faint smile. "I know."
"What do you know?" asked Tommy as he swept an arm around Laurel's waist.
She reached up and kissed him on the cheek. "Nothing. I was just telling Ollie that you haven't danced with me yet."
Oliver met Tommy's eyes. His friend's were stony and indifferent. Pasting a smile in place he grabbed Laurel's hand and dragged her in the direction of the swaying couples. "Then let me remedy that immediately."
Oliver heard Laurel's laugh as she wrapped her arms around his friend. He observed them for a while. They looked great together, happy. Perhaps his disappearance had brought about at least one good thing – Laurel and Tommy had found their way to each other. Satisfied, he went in search of his date.
"Miss Smoak, are you alright?" Felicity was standing in the museum's main gallery admiring a Rembrandt while trying to gain a measure of control over her emotions.
Moira Queen was approaching her. Great.
"I-I'm just admiring Mr. Rembrandt." She pointed at the painting hanging behind bullet proof glass. "He really seemed to like himself a lot, didn't he? Well…he painted himself a lot…so perhaps he was a bit vain? I've read that most artists possess some form of vanity," she rambled nervously.
The other woman looked surprised. "You're familiar with his work?"
"Just in passing. I took an Art-History class in my final year."
Moira came to a standstill beside her, her head tilted slightly to the side as she, too, admired the painting. "Not a particularly handsome man, was he?"
Felicity was surprised to hear the teasing in the older woman's voice. "No, not really."
She looked at Felicity, eyebrows raised.
"Okay, not at all."
They shared a laugh, its sound echoing in the empty room.
"Are you having a good time?"
Felicity thought about Oliver and Laurel and pushed it to the back of her mind. "Yes, thank you. I'm sure there are enough rich people here to make a sizeable donation to your foundation." She gasped in horror. "Mrs Queen, that is not what I meant to say…I mean it was…but it wasn't…well, not like that at least…" Wonderful. I'm an idiot.
"It's okay," Moira looked at her considerately. "You remind me of my daughter. She also had a tendency to speak her mind. While I do wish, at times, that Thea had more of an internal filter, I can appreciate honesty, in all forms."
Felicity breathed a sigh of relief.
"Do you enjoy your work at Queen Consolidated?" Moira asked.
"Very much. There's always a new challenge and the funding to try new innovations." Felicity liked working for an organisation that didn't skimp on the necessities.
"Walter mentioned you a few times," she said, her eyes sad. "He spoke highly of your talent and abilities."
Felicity was flattered. She'd really liked Walter and still hoped that they would be able to find him - alive. "He was really nice to me."
Lost in her thoughts for a moment, Moira didn't say anything. As though realising she wasn't alone, she smiled, although it didn't reach her eyes. "Almost time for the pledges. I should be getting back."
"So this is where you've been hiding." Felicity heard Oliver before she saw him. Her heart beating painfully inside her chest as she watched him stroll toward them. She wondered where Laurel was.
"Oliver," his mother exclaimed. "Felicity and I were just talking art. A subject you wouldn't be able to contribute much to since you never bothered to show up for class." She looked at him reproachfully.
"It wasn't my thing," he said, as his eyes sought Felicity's.
Moira hugged him loosely to her side. "Too many things weren't your thing. I have to go back inside. The pledges should start at any minute. Don't take too long," she cautioned fondly.
"You disappeared," he said, looking at her intently.
"I-I needed the bathroom and got distracted by the art in here." She looked around the gallery as she said it.
He stepped closer to her, his hand reaching out to cup her cheek, his voice filled with concern. "Are you okay?"
Felicity's breath stuck in her throat as she felt his warm hand on her face. The urge to close her eyes and just savour the moment was overwhelming. "Just dandy," she replied cheerfully, stepping away from his touch. "Where's Laurel?" she asked, her back to him.
"Dancing with Tommy last I saw."
Felicity wanted so desperately to erase what she'd seen. To go back to that moment just before Laurel had arrived, when she was in his arms, held close to his heart. But she couldn't. That moment was gone, forever ruined by the realisation that she'd lost her heart to a man who was destined for one woman - and it wasn't her.
Laurel may be with Tommy now but sooner or later she'd realise that she was with the wrong billionaire and they'd pick up right where they left off. Starling City's most eligible bachelor and the city's most promising attorney – a match made in heaven.
"Felicity." He said her name the way only he could – softly, like a sigh – and her heart turned over. It wasn't fair that he affected her so, that he could make her melt with just a look, a word, a touch.
Grateful for the interruption, Felicity called out, "In here," as Thea poked her head around the corner. She looked from Felicity's gloomy expression to her brother's annoyed one. "Who died?"
There was more than a hint of irritation in Oliver's voice when he replied, "Not now, Thea."
She shrugged. "Whatever. Mother says you should get seated."
Glad to get away, Felicity walked over to Thea, leaving a perplexed Oliver to trail slowly behind.
Oliver was confused. He had been certain that Felicity was having a good time. Now, he wasn't so sure. After re-entering the hall, they'd taken their seats and listened to a series of long winded speeches before the money came pouring in. Before long, the meal was served and it was time for his mother to deliver the vote of thanks.
Throughout the proceedings, Felicity had sat in silence, occasionally exchanging a few words with Thea who was seated beside her. Whenever Oliver had tried to engage her, the best she could manage were mono-syllabic responses. What the hell happened?
Nothing seemed to make sense. One moment they'd been dancing and laughing, the next she'd been giving him the cold shoulder. He thrust down a stab of disappointment. This was not how he'd envisioned their evening together.
Soon after his mother's speech concluded, Felicity claimed exhaustion. With genuine warmth she bid farewell to Thea and within minutes they were on the road heading home. Diggle plied her with questions about the evening to which she responded, but without her usual enthusiasm. He must have noticed, because by the time they reached her apartment he'd stopped asking.
Escorting her to her door, a task he needed to insist on since she claimed it wasn't necessary, he received a muffled "thank you" as she practically ran into her apartment, shutting the door behind her.
Stunned, Oliver made his way back to the car.
"What did you do?" Diggle asked accusingly.
"I wish I knew, Dig," he replied as they sped away from the curb. "I wish I knew."
Chapter 14: Good Enough
Oliver woke with a headache. Not the ideal way to start a Saturday morning, but it couldn't be helped. He attributed it to having spent the larger part of the evening trying to figure out what had happened to alter Felicity's mood so completely. After getting home he'd tried calling her several times, but kept getting her voicemail.
He'd always thought he had a pretty good understanding of how the female mind worked. Obviously, he'd been mistaken. Or perhaps his mistake had been in assuming that Felicity was like any other woman he'd known. She wasn't. Not even close.
Her rejection hurt, something he was loathe to admit, but couldn't deny. The only thing that seemed to soothe his wounded pride was the knowledge that she would never deliberately harm anyone. Somethingmust have happened.
Climbing out of bed, he pulled the curtains aside to look out of the window. It was a bright winter's day; crisp and cold. He could see Thea down below, laying flowers on their father's grave. A habit she'd developed soon after he'd returned home.
Deciding to join her, he turned from the window and headed to the shower.
"Speedy," Oliver called as he approached Thea. She was kneeling beside the grave, wrapped up warmly in a grey coat and scarf, her hands covered in gloves. He stood beside her for a moment, lending his silent support.
"I miss him, Ollie. Every day. It's been five years, and though the pain dulls to an ache, I don't think it will ever go away."
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, hugging her close to his side. He understood her pain better than anyone. He'd been with his father in his final moments, the memory one he wished he could erase. He had to live with so much that he could never share with his family. "I know. We all do."
Sniffing indelicately, she wiped at her wet cheeks. "Enough of the doom and gloom. What are you doing up so early?" She looked at him curiously.
"I could ask you the same question," he said.
She wrinkled her nose. "Why is my being awake so hard to believe?"
"Okay, okay. So I like my beauty sleep. It's not a crime," she said defensively."Why are you up?"
"Couldn't sleep." They walked up the grassy bank and sat down on a bench overlooking the garden.
Thea bumped her shoulder against his. The jolt made him wince inwardly. His ribs were healing well, but they still caused him a lot of discomfort. "Oh, to be young and in love," she teased, jiggling her eyebrows at him saucily.
Oliver laughed. "Do I need to remind you that I'm the older one?"
Thea rolled her eyes. "A thing no one ever lets me forget."
He watched the fine mist of her breath disperse as she exhaled. "I take it you had an awful time last night?"
"Horrid," Thea was never one to prevaricate. "But, there was an upside," she said, her eyes twinkling devilishly.
"Do I need to spell it out? I've never seen you smile the way you did last night. Wait. Let the clarify - I've never seen you smile that much, Ollie! I would have paid good money for it had it not been for free. My big brother," she sighed dramatically, "finally taken down by cupid's arrow."
Oliver gaped at her. "There is definitely something wrong with you."
She ignored him "I like her. You're different around her, you know – softer, less guarded, relaxed." She looked at him pointedly.
Oliver wasn't sure he wanted to be having this conversation with his baby sister. However, he couldn't deny that she was right. He felt different around Felicity.
"But based on the awkwardness during dinner, I'm thinking you did something to piss her off," Thea continued.
"How is this any of your business?"
"Oh come on, Ollie. You're here." She pointed at him. "I'm here." She pointed at herself. "Spill the deets."
Oliver mulled it over. What would it hurt to gain a woman's perspective? "I'm not sure what happened. One moment we were having a good time and the next she wasn't talking to me."
Thea frowned. "When did her behaviour change?"
Oliver shrugged. "I don't know," he said before noticing the dubious look Thea cast in his direction. "I suspect it was after we danced, when Laurel came over."
"You idiot!" Thea's voice was filled with reproach as she slapped him on the shoulder, none too gently.
"What?" Oliver exclaimed, clueless.
Thea rolled her eyes heavenward. "You know, for a guy, I always thought you were fairly intuitive. Clearly I was wrong." She shook her head in disappointment.
So I'm not the only one.
At his blank stare, she sat up straight, turning to look at him. "Think! Felicity is not like us, Ollie. Negotiating her way around the elite doesn't come naturally to her. That automatically means that she arrived last night, already on the back foot. I could detect her nerves a mile away."
With a sense of growing unease Oliver listened as his sister persisted, "Then she meets Laurel. Your ex. Your very beautiful, poised, sophisticated ex, who just so happens to understand all this." She gestured to the displays of opulence around them. "She's known you all your life. She is the one woman who, up till now, has meant the most to you. How could you not realise that it would make Felicity feel inadequate? Like an outsider? Not good enough?"
"That's ridiculous! Of course she's good enough," Oliver scoffed.
"We know that. But does she?"
Oliver felt like an jerk. How could I have been so blind? Felicity was sensitive; she felt things more keenly than others. He should have realised that she'd feel out of place, uncomfortable and alone. Fool! He should have made more of an effort to ease her fears. Instead, he'd fed her to the wolves and just expected that she'd survive.
"So you see, she probably thinks that she's not in your league. Those feelings, when left to fester, can do a lot of damage."
He looked at his sister with pride. She really wasn't a kid anymore. "When did you become so smart?"
Thea fluttered her eyelashes at him. "About the same time you dumbed down."
Oliver grinned, feeling lighter already.
Felicity was sitting in her lounge with a huge tub of Ben and Jerry's chocolate chip cookie dough, watching Swordfish. She'd been determined to steer clear of any rom coms. Not that she thought she could possibly feel any worse, but she wasn't going to tempt fate either.
She'd slept fitfully, haunted by the memory of her brief moment in Oliver's arms before it had all gone to hell. After tossing and turning for a few hours, she'd given up entirely. That's how she'd ended up on the couch, in her pjs, attempting to drown her sorrows with ice-cream and Hugh Jackman.
She jumped at the knock on the door. Frowning, she glared at the offending object in annoyance before guilt assailed her. It was probably Mrs Berry from across the hall. She regularly asked Felicity to help her carry her laundry basket to the basement.
Turning the TV off and reluctantly leaving her ice-cream on the table, she opened the door. Then froze. There was Oliver, gorgeous in jeans, the look in his eyes making her blush from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.
Secretly gobbling up the sight of him, she stood in the doorway, trying to string a coherent sentence together. In the end all she managed was one word. "O-Oliver."
She automatically backed up as he walked inside. Turning, he pushed his hand against the door to close it, at the same time trapping her within the circle of his arms.
Still, he remained silent, just staring at her. Her heart kicked into overdrive as he moved again, even closer to her, her body trapped between his muscular frame and the door, leaving her no room to escape. Their eyes locked and held; Felicity feeling mildly panicked at the intensity with which he examined her face.
"C-cold weather we're having…well, it is w-winter and all…and you do look hot." She winced. "I mean warm! Y-you look warm…" Her voice trailed off.
As though in slow motion, he lifted a hand and cupped the back of her neck, his thumb caressing her jaw. Felicity felt her breath hitch in her throat. He was going to kiss her. She knew it as surely as she knew her name. She had to stop him. She knew she should. But for the life of her, she couldn't. She didn't want to.
His mouth descended and her eyes fluttered closed. She could feel the warmth of his breath as it mingled with hers. Their lips touched, his gently exploring the softness of hers. She sighed as her hands reached up and grabbed the front of his jacket to keep from falling down.
As he deepened the kiss, she felt his hand on her back, moving down to the base of her spine, his fingers leaving a trail of tingles as he gently, yet firmly, pulled her against him. Their bodies touched from shoulders to knees, fitting together as perfectly as the pieces of a puzzle.
Her heart hammering against her chest, she moved onto her toes to better align their mouths, her arms sliding up to snake around his neck.
Drowning in a pool of delicious sensation, Felicity clung to him, never wanting the kiss to end. Greedy for more, she welcomed the invasion of his tongue as he expertly explored the warm cavern of her mouth. His strong, capable hands scorched her skin as one tangled in her hair, the other holding her captive.
By degrees, he lifted his mouth from hers, in no rush to end their passionate embrace. Opening her eyes gradually she met his heated gaze.
Gently, he whispered, "You are good enough, Felicity."
Chapter 15: Open Up
Oliver was reeling, feeling shaky and out of breath. He had not planned to step into her home and ravish her, but when he'd seen her, dark circles evident beneath both eyes, all he'd felt was a possessive need to protect. He'd meant to hug her, perhaps a friendly kiss on the cheek. However, when he'd touched her, friendly had gone out the window and instinct had taken over.
He'd never imagined that she'd feel so good in his arms, so responsive to his touch, as eager as he was. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been that affected by a kiss. There'd been many women in his life, but not one of them had made him feel the way Felicity just had.
Ever since he'd met her, nothing had followed the expected route. She wasn't the type of woman he was used to: cool, calm and detached having always been his style. Instead, she was brutally honest in a rambling, round about kind of way, incredibly smart, compassionate and just a little bit peculiar. An interesting combination and one he'd never thought would be so intriguing to him.
He could hear her ragged breathing, as she too tried to gain some semblance of control. In truth, he wanted nothing more than to resume their pleasurable pursuit, but he knew they needed to talk and with his hands glued to her tempting curves, talking was the last thing on his mind.
He set her away from him with great reluctance. "The first thing you need to know is that I'm not going to apologise for kissing you. I wanted to."
"O-Oh." She flushed. "Well, I think it's fairly obvious that I wanted to kiss you too."
There's that honesty again.
He gently swept a lock of hair behind her ear. "I think I know why you're mad at me."
Her eyes clouded briefly. "I-I'm sorry. I shouldn't have behaved that badly. I-I was just feeling a little down and…it was pointless and juvenile, I know. I guess-"
"Felicity, you have nothing to be sorry for." Grasping her hand he led her over to the couch.
Sitting side by side, she was looking everywhere but at him. "I was an idiot last night. I should have realised that you'd feel a little…out of place." He watched as she squirmed uncomfortably. "Then Laurel came and I guess I just assumed you knew we were over."
Her head snapped up as her eyes met his, doubt unmistakable in their depths. "Over?"
Oliver nodded emphatically. "A long time ago. Apart from the fact that she's now with my best friend – former best friend-." He started again, "What I'm trying to say is that even if she wasn't, we wouldn't be together."
Felicity huffed. "That's not true. I saw you together, Oliver. I saw that spark, that thing…"
He interrupted. "What you think you saw isn't the same as what actually is. Even before Laurel and I dated, we were friends – we're still friends. There's years of history between us – something I can't ever erase. I wouldn't want to. She's a part of my past, a part of the man I used to be. I don't want to be that man anymore," he concluded softly.
Felicity's expression wavered between uncertainty and wanting to believe him. "But you loved her."
"I did. She was exactly what I wanted back then. Now, I'm a different person and I don't want that anymore." He watched as she struggled to accept his words. "I'm not looking for a temporary diversion to amuse myself until the right time comes along for Laurel and I to be together."
"How can you be so sure? What if you're wrong?"
Oliver looked at her intently. "I'm sure because I've moved on. There is no going back."
He watched as she sagged into the couch. "Seeing her, so composed and so incredibly beautiful, made me feel," her eyes met his briefly before they darted away again, "inadequate."
Oliver had a flash of Thea saying the exact same thing that morning. He grasped her chin and turned her face towards his. "Don't you see, Felicity? You're beautiful. This version of you. Not only the one I saw last night. You don't need to compete with anyone."
Her face changed as she absorbed his words. "You're different to almost every woman I know – your mannerisms, your likes and dislikes, your interests, your sense of humour – and that's what I like about you. I like that you're different. That's what makes you special."
She sniffed and smiled tentatively. "You like the crazy?"
He smiled, feeling like they were finally on the same page. "My life would be a lot less interesting without it."
She laughed softly, for the first time since they'd danced the previous night. He realised just how much he liked the sound. "That's what you say now. Wait until Hanukkah and you find a Menorah and dreidels right beside your bow and arrows."
Felicity watched as a shadow fell across his face. "While fighting to stay alive, observing religious holidays is really low on the list of priorities."
She didn't know much about his time away. Although curious, she hadn't felt it was her place to ask him about something so personal. Oliver had always been a private man, and while he occasionally gave her and Diggle glimpses into what his life had been like, he'd never specifically talked to her about it.
"Your family will be happy to have you with them this year. So much more to be thankful for," she said.
"Why have you never asked me about my time on the island?" His question was completely unexpected.
She frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Dig, my mother, Thea, Tommy and numerous other people have asked, many times. Yet you never have." He looked at her strangely.
"It's none of my business," Felicity said simply. "If you wanted to talk about it, you would."
For a while he didn't say anything and she wondered what was going through his mind. What experience he was reliving. Whatever had happened, it had surely changed him. From what she'd heard, the Oliver she knew now was polar opposites from the one that had been presumed dead.
So softly she almost didn't hear him, he said, "I watched my father die. I was there when he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger."
Felicity gasped, horrified. That was the last thing she'd been expecting him to say. Instinctively she reached for his hand.
"He gave me the book with the names in and made me promise to right all the wrongs perpetuated by our family," he continued, after drifting for a moment. "It was the worst and the most frightening moment of my life. There I was, alone, drifting in a vast ocean and the one man I'd looked up to my entire life had just killed himself." There was raw pain in his voice.
Felicity was stunned. She'd never suspected anything as appalling as that. Understanding that he needed her to listen, she moved closer to him, slipping her arm under his and intertwining their fingers, as he'd once done.
"It was a few days before I found myself on land. But that wasn't even a safe place. My hopes of a quick rescue and a return to my life were dashed almost as soon as I was marooned." His laugh was bitter as he pressed on, "I was a pampered city boy. I knew nothing about struggling for survival. Something I learnt harshly and very quickly."
He looked at her then, his blue eyes dark, filled with tormenting remembrances. Staring into those pain-filled depths of despair, she'd never felt more needed than she did in that moment. "Were you alone?"
He shook his head. "No. There were three of us. I met them there. Yao Fei, Slade Wilson and Shado. We were hunted every second of every day by a rebel military group who claimed to own the island. The only reason we managed to evade capture was because we sought refuge on the remotest side, furthest from their base. Our home was inside the fuselage of a wrecked plane."
He turned their hands over, staring at the back of Felicity's. He ran his fingers over hers, slowly tracing their shape. "It was Slade who taught me to fight and Shado who instructed me on the correct use of a bow and arrow." He smiled faintly at some memory. "Without them teaching me how to defend myself, I wouldn't have made it past the first year."
Felicity shuddered at the thought. She couldn't even imagine what it must have been like for him to live in constant fear of dying. Her throat burned as she felt tears rushing to the fore, momentarily blinding her.
Taking a steadying breath she asked, "What happened to them?"
He closed his eyes then, his hand squeezing hers so tightly she almost yelled out. "They were killed. All of them executed. I still have nightmares about that day; how they made me watch my friends die while I could do nothing but stare in horror at their brutality." His voice was ragged, filled with so much hurt she couldn't bear it.
Felicity felt hot tears run unchecked down her cheeks. The kind of violence he must have endured at the hands of those beasts made her want to run around hurting everyone who'd ever caused him a moments pain. "Why didn't they kill you?"
Oliver's hands were shaking slightly as he replied, "They would have, but I managed to escape when the bomb we'd planted in their camp detonated. The last three months I spent on the island were in isolation. Everyone I cared about was dead and I feared I'd go mad."
"I'm so sorry," she whispered, her voice trembling uncontrollably.
He shook his head. "Don't be. It was my punishment."
Felicity looked at him, confused. "Punishment?"
She watched his Adam's apple move as he swallowed, jaw clenched. "I killed people, Felicity. It was them or me. And so I did it. Initially I hated myself, distraught that I'd been reduced to killing human beings. But as time passed and I killed more, I was able to separate my emotions and do what needed to be done."
Felicity moved then, gently disengaging her hands from his. Then she did something she'd never done before. She stood and watched as surprised registered on his face when she straddled his legs and sat down in his lap. Her hands reached up and firmly cupped his cheeks, her gaze level with his.
Oliver sat dead still, trying to figure out how they'd ended up in this position. One look at Felicity silenced all his thoughts. Her eyes were flashing with anger as she addressed him. "Now you listen to me, Oliver Queen, and you listen well because I'm only saying this once." Her eyes bore into his, shimmering with tears behind her glasses. "Don't you dare blame yourself. You did what you had to. If you hadn't, you wouldn't be sitting here right now and I'll have you know, that just the thought of that possibility, hurts me deep in my soul." Her voice wobbled slightly. "All of those horrible experiences, memories I yearn to rip from your mind and cast so far away that they'll never touch you again, have made you into the man you are now. Honourable. Decent. Kind. Loyal. And those qualities are just the tip of the iceberg. So while I wish I could turn back time and change what happened to you, I can't be sorry that you've come out of it stronger than you've ever been, when you could so easily have spiralled the other way. I thank God for that. Just as every person whose life you've risked yours to save, thanks God for you too."
He watched, fascinated as her tears spilled over and fell down her cheeks. He couldn't speak because there were no words that could adequately express how he felt in that moment.
Instead, he showed her in the one way he knew how. He kissed her. A deep, drugging, mind numbing kiss that washed away his pain and conveyed his gratitude in a way that words never could.
In a corner of his heart where he hadn't known she'd been hiding, a tiny spark ignited, the flame growing brighter until it warmed him from the inside out. He was already past the point of no return. Felicity Smoak had slayed his dragons and lay claim to his most guarded possession - his heart.
Chapter 16: Save Me
There was an extra bounce in Felicity's step as she walked into Big Belly Burger the following Monday. After the emotions of the weekend, she was glad to be back in her happy place.
She smiled to herself as she recalled the heated kisses she'd shared with Oliver. Just thinking about their steamy exchange caused her temperature to rise by several degrees. The man certainly knew how to sweep a girl off her feet, she'd give him that.
"Don't you look like the cat that got the cream," Carly's voice teased from behind the counter.
Felicity laughed. "Perhaps I did," she responded cryptically.
Carly raised an eyebrow curiously, her eyes sparkling with mirth. "You sit your behind down and start talking." She pointed to an empty seat in front of her.
Felicity removed her coat and took the proffered seat. "Our non-date started out well, really well in fact," she explained as she accepted the cup of coffee Carly placed before her, "and then descended into misery about halfway through."
At Carly's startled look she waved her hand carelessly. "Long story. Anyway, the most important thing is that we managed to sort it all out," she concluded.
Stepping around the counter to sit down beside Felicity, she gave her a quick hug. "So what does this mean? You and Oliver Queen are now…?" She smiled, waiting for Felicity's response.
She shrugged. "In an undefined…something. There is no label at present."
"Are you okay with that?"
Felicity was sorry that she couldn't tell Carly everything. However, betraying Oliver's trust would never be an option. "There's a lot going on at the moment. I think once things settle down, we may get around to figuring out exactly what this is. Right now, we have an understanding. So in the interim that's good enough for me."
Carly nodded, accepting her explanation. "Then I'm so happy for you."
Behind them, the door opened. Glancing over her shoulder, Felicity saw Tommy Merlyn walk in. Carly hopped up and ushered him to the counter, offering him a menu.
"Just a coffee please. I'm waiting for someone," he told her with a smile.
Tommy sat down and glanced at Felicity, recognition flaring in his eyes. "Felicity, right? You were at the Gala with Oliver." Felicity thought she detected a note of disapproval.
"I work at Queen Consolidated," she said, ignoring his mention of the Gala.
"So you've known Oliver for a while?" He thanked Carly for the coffee.
Felicity got the impression that he was leading up to something. "Almost as long as he's been back."
"Does he treat you well?" Tommy seemed to choose his words carefully.
Annoyed, Felicity realised what he was getting at. "No, Mr Merlyn. He regularly threatens to put an arrow through me if I refuse to obey an instruction."
He looked taken aback, her sarcasm clearly unexpected. "Please, call me Tommy." He raked a hand through his hair. "Look, I'm sorry. I just want to make sure that you know that he's…dangerous." He said the last word softly.
Felicity narrowed her eyes at him. Seriously? This was Oliver's best friend and he was trying to warn her to stay away from him? "Thanks for the concern, but I assure you it's not necessary."
His voice harsh, Tommy glanced sideways at her. "You don't know, Oliver. You don't know what he's capable of!"
Felicity was not prone to irrational bursts of anger. She prided herself on being evenly tempered, capable of diffusing a situation by remaining calm and focused. But after listening to Tommy maligning Oliver's reputation when he had no idea what he'd been through, made something inside of her snap.
She stood up, her eyes meeting his. "No. You don't know Oliver. If it wasn't for him you'd be dead and so would your father. I figure that means that you owe him a little bit of loyalty instead of going around lambasting his character." Her words were heated, growing even more so as she continued, "You're his best friend. How about extending him the courtesy of hearing what he has to say before you go off half cocked, jumping to all kinds of ridiculous conclusions – appointing yourself as judge, jury and executioner." Her chest was heaving, she was so incensed.
Tommy was staring at her, mouth gaping, his face red. "You're angry that he wasn't honest with you? Considering the jerk you've been since you found out, I can fully understand why." She grabbed her purse and coat, dropping a bill on the counter. "Good day, Mr Merlyn…I mean, Tommy," she amended.
She waved at Carly as she walked toward the exit. She'd never gone off at someone like that before. Shaking off the residual irritation, she extended a hand toward the door. At the same time, someone opened it from the outside causing her to collide with a navy blue coat.
"Oomph!" she exclaimed.
"Sorry," came a deep voice.
Pulling back she looked up to see who she'd bumped into. His hands on her upper arms to steady her, was Malcolm Merlyn.
Felicity's eyes widened a fraction as she looked at his face. His nose had blue and purple bruising across the bridge and a cut, already healing, marred the underside of his left eye. "Bathroom brawl?" she asked before she could stop herself.
Instead of scowling as she expected him to, he smiled and something, she couldn't quite say what, made her uncomfortable.
"Merely a skilled opponent," he said, letting go of her.
From behind she heard Tommy call, "Dad!"
"Excuse me." He stepped past her and walked in the direction of his son.
Alarm bells raised, an idea started forming in her head.
Oliver was doing some stretches in the arrow cave under the watchful eye of Diggle.
"Man, I know you're keen to get back into action, but those ribs still need time," he cautioned.
Oliver gave him an exasperated look. "I'm stretching, Dig. Not waging a full scale attack."
Diggle looked at him sceptically. "I know you well enough to know that patience is not your forte."
"Maybe I'm learning." He exhaled sharply as he felt a twinge of pain on his injured side.
Diggle scoffed. "Yeah. Right. Or," his lips twitched slightly, "perhaps this new level of restraint can be attributed to a certain IT girl?"
Oliver glared at him. "When are you going to start minding your own business?"
Diggle took a seat, watching as Oliver gently exercised his muscles. "Ah. So there is some business that I should be minding?"
Laughing, Oliver grabbed a towel off the table and sat down on the floor, swiping at his brow. "Felicity is…incredible."
Diggle punched a fist into the air. "Finally! The man speaks words of wisdom! Are you two officially an item?"
Oliver took a swig from his water bottle. "I wouldn't say that exactly. It's not something we've discussed," he said, adding, "yet" at the sight of Diggle's disbelief.
"Don't wait too long before you grab hold of that woman with both hands," Diggle cautioned. "She's a catch."
"I hear you."
"Where is she, by the way?"
Oliver glanced at his wrist watch, frowning. "Good question. She should have been here by now."
Diggle stood up and walked over to the computer terminal. "Oh, there she is," he said staring at the screen. "The tracker on her cell phone puts her inside her office at Queen Consolidated."
Oliver put his sweater on and walked over to Diggle's side. "I guess she must be finishing up." He reached for his mobile and dialled her number. It just rang before switching to voicemail.
He felt a little uneasy. It wasn't like Felicity to run late and not let him know. "Dig, call security at QC. I want them to check her office."
"You think something's wrong?"
"I'd rather be sure that it's not."
Diggle dialled and asked if Felicity was still in the building.
"Good afternoon, Mr Diggle. No, Miss Smoak left the office about forty minutes ago."
Oliver piped up. "Alone?"
"No. She was with Mr Malcolm Merlyn."
Oliver felt a chill wash over him. There was no rational reason for Felicity and Malcolm Merlyn to cross paths, never mind leave the building together. The initial suspicions that Diggle had raised about him came rushing back. Could there be some connection between Merlyn and The Archer?
"Call up the camera footage in reception."
Diggle tapped the keyboard a few times before the grey and white imaging flashed onto screen. As they watched, Felicity stepped out of the elevator and walked beside Malcolm toward the building exit. Everything appeared normal except for the look on Felicity's face - fear.
"Oliver!" Diggle called sharply as he headed toward his green gear.
"I have to know why he's taken her."
Diggle tried to reason with him. "You're not ready to tackle The Archer! That is, if he is The Archer. We don't have any proof."
Oliver looked at him, his heart in his eyes, his voice pure emotion as he whispered, "I love her, Dig. I won't lose her, not to anyone."
Diggle stared back at him, unable to utter a single response that could trump that. Both of them looked up as Tommy came down the stairs. "Hey," he said by way of greeting. "Oliver, could we talk?"
Oliver was busy pulling on his kit. There has to be some mistake. It can't be Malcolm. The idea that it may be, terrified him. The Archer was skilled and deadly. Hurting Felicity would be as easy as stealing candy from a baby.
While on the outside he projected his usual image of steely self-control in the face of danger, on the inside he was a churning mass of fear that centered completely on Felicity. When he'd involved her in his crusade, he'd told Diggle that he'd protect her.
He'd die before he broke that vow.
"What's going on?" Tommy seemed confused by the flurry of activity.
"Hopefully nothing," replied an awkward Diggle.
Oliver pulled the hood of his jacket over his head and grabbed his bow. He walked up to Tommy and shoved him unceremoniously against the back of a table. "If he hurts her, I'll kill him." His voice was cold, his eyes hard.
Tommy struggled as he tried to catch his balance. "What the-"
Oliver moved on. "Dig, get over to QC and check her computer. Maybe there's a clue. Once you have something, activate comms and let me know."
Diggle grabbed his keys. "On it!"
Tommy stood looking from one to the other, troubled. "Can someone please explain what's going on?"
Oliver slung his quiver over his back and ran up the stairs. Diggle tapped Tommy on the shoulder as he hurried past. "Come with me. I'll fill you in on the drive."
Felicity was lying on her side, a blindfold covering her eyes, restraints at her wrists and ankles. The right side of her head was throbbing where Malcolm, or rather, The Archer had knocked her unconscious. She could feel that her cheek and temple were already swollen, probably bruised. She didn't know where she was, only that the floor was cold and the room dark.
She shivered inwardly as she recalled the events of the past few hours. After she'd left Big Burger she'd gone back to Queen Consolidated. Suspecting something was off once she'd seen Malcolm's facial injuries, she'd gone back to check the camera footage of the night The Archer had made an attempt on Grayson's life.
Like the first time she'd checked, the cameras outside the Merlyn mansion indicated that Malcolm had arrived home early on the night of the incident and never left again. When she'd initially seen the footage, she'd taken it as confirmation of his whereabouts.
This time she checked the camera footage from his other properties. She'd had no luck until she checked his penthouse apartment. That's when she'd struck gold. The Archer aka Malcolm had arrived shortly after the incident at the Grayson's and taken the basement elevator to the top floor.
Wanting to call Oliver immediately with the news of her discovery, she'd been side tracked by a colleague needing help with one of the servers. By the time she'd managed to get back to her desk, Malcolm had been waiting for her.
He'd wanted to know why she'd accessed his penthouse camera footage and flustered, she'd mumbled a few implausible reasons, all the while knowing that he didn't believe a word of it. At gunpoint, he'd forced her to leave the building with him.
She heard a door sliding open and footsteps entering the room. She could tell that the light had been switched on. She stiffened. "Miss Smoak," Malcolm said. "Time for you to tell me who the vigilante is," he pulled off her blindfold, "or I'll make sure that you die a very slow and painful death." Felicity squinted as her eyes adjusted to the light.
Gasping, her heart leapt into her throat; fear the overriding emotion as she stared at the terrifying sight of The Archer's black hood and mask suspended eerily above his coat and boots.
Chapter 17: Make You Bleed
Diggle and Tommy entered Felicity's office. Walking straight to her computer, Diggle sat down and got to work. Tommy, however, was pacing frantically.
"Dude, you're going to wear the carpet thin," Diggle said without raising his eyes from the screen.
Tommy didn't stop his anxious march. "Forgive me for seeming more than a little on edge. You've just told me that my father is potentially a psychopath. I think the carpet will understand."
Diggle glanced at him sympathetically. "Look, I'm sorry about all this. I realise that it's a lot to process, but we don't have time for you to lose it right now. Felicity's life may depend on the work we do here, so I get it, you're in a rough place, but I need you to put that asid-"
Tommy's voice, slightly hysterical, interrupted Diggle's words, "Rough place?! You haven't just had your whole life crumble to pieces in front of you! How is this even possible? He's my father, for God's sake! I'd know if he was some damaged, perverse version of Robin Hood!"
Diggle got up and strode over to Tommy. "Look at me!" He grasped Tommy's arms and shook him firmly. "You need to focus! A woman may die! Do you understand that?"
Tommy tried to break free, but Diggle's grasp was too strong. "Let go of me!"
"Tommy! I don't have time for this! Felicity could die! Hear that? DIE!"
Those words, shouted at him, seemed to get through to him. He closed his eyes, no longer fighting. "There has to be some mistake." His voice was ragged.
"This is a dangerous game and someone could get hurt. Do you want that on your conscience?"
Tommy looked completely defeated. "What do you need from me?"
Diggle let out the breath he hasn't realised he'd been holding. "Okay." He walked back to Felicity's computer. "From what's here, she was looking through your father's properties." He pressed a few keys. "She was checking surveillance. Come and have a look," he said, making room for Tommy to squeeze in beside him.
"Yeah, that's it. Fifteen developments in total."
"If we exclude properties overseas and in other states, how many are we looking at?"
Tommy pointed at one, then another. "The third one isn't here," he said, his forehead furrowed in surprise.
Diggle followed the trail of Tommy's pointing finger. "The mansion, the office block. What's missing?"
Diggle noticed a shadow pass over Tommy's face. "What? What is it?"
"I-I nothing." He raked a hand through his hair.
"Man, you better tell me what you know, or I swear I won't be held accountable for my actions." Diggle's voice was low and threatening.
"I'm not sure, okay?!" Tommy's hands were shaking as he turned his back to Diggle. "The night my father was shot, he took me to his penthouse when the shooting started. On the way up, he-" his voiced sounded strained, "he fought with the attackers, like a pro. He killed them." He turned back to face Diggle. "When we reached the suite he accessed a hidden panel that opened a concealed door."
"What was inside?"
Tommy levelled his gaze at him. "I don't know. Before he could show me the shooting started and the door automatically closed. I never thought about it again until now." He slumped into a chair, his head in his hands. "If he has her, it's probably there."
Diggle laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Thanks." He reached for his earpiece, activating it. "Oliver?"
Oliver was inside the Merlyn mansion, trying to determine if Malcolm had brought Felicity there. His stomach was in knots. The more time passed, the more scared he became. He knew that his best way of finding her was to remain focussed and block out all distractions. But it had never been harder to do.
He'd told Diggle that he loved Felicity. Saying the words out loud had come as a surprise, even to him. He hadn't known how true it was until he'd uttered them, embracing their meaning. Felicity had changed his life. Not because she'd joined his crusade when he'd asked her, but because she truly believed in him, her faith unwavering. She accepted all of him, even the flawed and the damaged. She'd made him see that following his father's wishes didn't mean turning a blind eye to those in need of his help if their name wasn't inside his book. Honouring his father went beyond striking names off a list – it was in every act he performed, every life he saved and every criminal he put behind bars. He refused to accept that Felicity wouldn't make it out of this. She had to.
Completing his inspection of the property, he concluded that she wasn't there. Frustration welled up inside him.
"Oliver?" He heard Diggle over comms.
"Tell me you have something!"
"Penthouse apartment. We think that's where Merlyn has her."
He heard a commotion, then Diggle calling Tommy's name.
"Dig, what's going on?"
Diggle cursed. "Tommy's left. He's going after his father. Since I suspect you're in the suburbs, he'll get there before you do."
Calm descending upon him, Oliver raced to his motorcycle. "Maybe Tommy can hold him off. I'm on my way." He started the engine. "Dig, give me fifteen minutes, then call the police. Make sure Detective Lance comes."
Diggle agreed. "Oliver, be careful."
"I'm coming out of there alive and so is Felicity." His voice was cool and confident.
Placing his helmet over his head, he sped off into the City.
Felicity stared at the carefully displayed, eerie image of The Archer's costume. Malcolm had roughly pulled her up from the floor and pushed her into a steel chair. Her wrists and ankles were still bound together painfully. She could feel the beginning of pins and needles in her legs due to her compromised circulation.
The room she was in was large but sparsely decorated. The white walls were in stark contrast to all the black equipment and apparatus in the area. The cabinet that housed his Archer's costume was along one wall, closest to the sliding door. Along the other three were tables lined with black bows and arrows. The shiny metal arrow heads glinted unnervingly under the lights. There was also a fancy rack filled with fencing paraphernalia. Sabres, foils and epee's were artfully displayed, blades all pointing skyward. The floor was covered in a rubber-type cladding, also black, that absorbed the sound of footsteps.
Felicity eyed the sabres. "You're not planning to go all Zorro on me, right?" She swallowed nervously. "Because I happen to like Zorro…and his horse. You know his horse, Tornado? Beautiful animal. Oh wait. Come to think of it, Zorro was a good guy and you're...not." Stop babbling, Felicity! It's not helping!
Malcolm looked at her coldly, clearly not amused.
"You're not really going to kill me, are you? I mean, I-I'm worthless to anyone. All I do is talk…a lot…okay, not a lot a lot. I mean, I would ever tell anyone about you…about this..." her voice was a little shrill. "I have a bad memory. I don't even remember who you are. See? Early onset Alzheimer's."
His eyes were indifferent and emotionless. "You aren't going anywhere, Miss Smoak. What you will be doing, however, is telling me about your vigilante friend."
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said, her face clear of any expression.
Malcolm removed his suit jacket and casually threw it on the table beside one of his bows.
"You will talk," he said, selecting one of his foils, bending it this way and that, testing its flexibility.
Felicity swallowed the lump of fear that lodged in her throat. She was terrified. The fact that he displayed no outward sign of emotion indicated that he couldn't be reasoned with. She was sure that Oliver must be aware that she was missing. He'd be looking for her. She had to hold on, be brave. He'd come. She knew he would. It was only a matter of time. She wouldn't betray him, even if it meant suffering at the hands of this madman.
Staring at Malcolm as he approached, blade aimed at her, she prayed that she had the strength to endure whatever was coming.
Tommy ran up the stairs to the penthouse suite his father had owned for as long as he could remember. It had always been the one place that he'd never been allowed into on his own. As a child, he'd often wondered what his father had been doing there, holed up for hours at a time.
His stomach churned with nausea at the thought that he could have Felicity, that he'd killed Croft and very nearly Grayson. He knew both men. He'd approached them for financial help when his father had cut him off. Both had rebuffed him, not willing to take a chance on him if he didn't have his father's backing. Tommy had been resentful and had told his father about their refusal a few weeks ago, after they'd reconciled.
Did he decide to kill them because of me? Some irrational form of revenge?
Entering the office he'd last set foot into the night of the shooting, he looked around. Everything was quiet, not a thing out of place. Looking to the spot where he knew the hidden panel was, he moved toward it, hand outstretched.
Oliver jumped off his bike, having parked across a loading bay. His mind clear of every thought save that of finding Felicity and getting her out of there in one piece, he ran up the back fire escape and entered the building on the 1st floor. Noticing that the lift was on the top floor and too impatient to wait for it, he ran for the stairs.
He will never know how much I love him. The thought entered her mind as she felt a sharp sting as her cheek was grazed by the steel weapon. She jerked, hearing Malcolm's icy laugh he drew back slightly. "I think I'm going to enjoy scarring your flesh bit by bit. Or you could just tell me what I want to know and your death will be quick and painless."
Felicity felt tears prick at the back of her eyes. She didn't care what Malcolm did to her, she wasn't talking. Perhaps Oliver wouldn't even get there in time and her death was inevitable. If that was her fate, she only had one regret - never telling Oliver how she felt about him. She didn't know if it was something he was ready to hear, or even if he wanted to hear it at all, she just wanted the opportunity to say it.
"Then so be it."
Felicity kept her eyes shut tightly, waiting for the pain to come.
Tommy pressed the button as he'd seen his father do once before. He braced himself as the wooden wall slid noiselessly aside, not sure what awaited. The scene that greeted him brought his worst nightmare into stark relief.
His father, one of his fencing foils held aloft, was about to strike a defenceless Felicity. "No!" he cried as he ran forward.
Malcolm, surprise registering on his face, lowered the weapon slightly. "Tommy, what are you doing here?"
Ignoring the question, his mind a jumble of thoughts, Tommy replied, "Dad, put down the foil. Please." He approached his father carefully, his hands raised. Felicity was looking at him, fear rolling off her in waves.
Malcolm's eyes glinted dangerously. "She's going to tell me the name of the vigilante. Finally I'll know who The Hood is; his skill with a bow only second to mine."
Tommy stared at the figure before him, so different from the father he'd always known. This man was cold, calm, calculated. So far removed from the kind hearted, generous and loving man he remembered from his childhood, before his mother had died. "The police are on their way. Dad, please. Is it true? Did you kill Jeremy Croft and attempt to kill Sean Grayson?" His voice cracked.
"I did what needed to be done." Malcolm turned to face him. "No one insults the Merlyn name. How dare they turn their backs on you when I'd done so much for them over the years? The only reason they stood in positions of wealth and power was because I afforded them those opportunities."
With every word his father uttered, Tommy felt his blood running cold. It was true. "They didn't do it to spite you. They made what they thought were sound business decisions. Something you would have done in their shoes." His mind was spinning. "You tried to frame The Hood?"
"I did it so I could draw him out. So we could finally determine who was better. A fight to the death. One I would win, of course."
He couldn't believe what he was hearing. His mind refusing wrap itself around the absurdity of his father's confessions. "This is crazy! Why is Felicity here?"
"You know her?" He waved a hand absently. "Of course you do. She works for Queen Consolidated. No doubt Oliver knows her too." He looked around the room, his gaze settling on his Archer's disguise. "I caught her hacking into my security cameras. I have it closely monitored because no one can know about this place. When I confronted her, it was obvious she had something to hide. It didn't take long for me to connect the dots. She's working for The Hood."
Tommy's gaze met Felicity's. He knew she was worried he'd reveal Oliver's identity. Ashamed at his behaviour toward his friend over the last few months, Tommy sent her a look that he hoped she understood. He wouldn't betray Oliver's secret.
Malcolm glanced at Felicity briefly, then back at Tommy. "You should leave now. I'll be done shortly and then we can meet at home for dinner."
Tommy lost it. "Meet for dinner? Are you insane? You've killed a man and tried to kill another! Now you're torturing a unarmed woman? Who the hell are you?"
Irritation clear in his eyes, Malcolm approached Tommy, pushing him out of the room and into the suite. "Get out of here. I will see you at home." It was a command.
Oliver had overheard the gist of the conversation. The entire reason for Malcolm's actions had been to avenge his son's wounded pride and in the process lure Oliver out into the open. Felicity had merely been caught in the crossfire while trying to prove who Malcolm really was.
His jaw tightened. Grabbing an arrow out of his quiver, he lined it up.
Entering, he saw Malcolm pushing Tommy out of a room, presumably where Felicity was being kept. Aiming his arrow at Malcolm he shouted, "Freeze!"
Chapter 18: Arms
Both men turned to look at him. For a second Malcolm appeared surprised by his presence before he levelled a twisted smile at Oliver. Pushing Tommy aside, he said, "Leave us."
"Dad, come on. You don't have to do-"
Out of patience, Malcolm bellowed, "Go!"
Tommy looked at Oliver, clearly conflicted. "Get Felicity and go downstairs. Wait for the police. They'll be here soon." When Tommy was slow to obey, Oliver shouted, "NOW!" The sound of his voice, raised with urgency, propelled Tommy into action.
Felicity listened intently. She was relieved to hear Oliver's voice, but also scared. Malcolm was probably at his most dangerous and he appeared to be revelling in the idea of finally killing the man she loved. The very idea, made her tremble with fear.
Wriggling in the chair in an attempt to loosen her bonds, she saw Tommy rush in. He looked around for a second before grabbing an arrow off the a table. Using the head as a knife, he cut her restraints.
"I'm sorry, Felicity. I had no idea.."he started, his breathing laboured. "I said some horrible things to you earlier. I shouldn't have."
Rubbing a hand over her numb wrist, she shook her head at him. "You didn't know. It's okay."
He seemed like he wanted to say more, but stopped himself. "Can you walk?" At her nod he said, "Let's get out of here."
She grasped his shoulder, panicked. "We can't just leave Oliver!"
"He wants you out of here, safe. The police are on their way," he told her reassuringly.
Taking a calming breath Felicity grabbed hold of his extended hand and lifted herself from the chair. Her legs felt a little heavy, but she would manage. Stepping forward, she prayed that Oliver would make it out alive.
Malcolm laughed, low and sadistic. "So it's finally you and me. Long overdue I'd say. Then again, this is going to be quick. I've bettered you twice already, without even really trying. This time should be no different – except the ending. You'll be leaving in a body bag."
Oliver watched him closely. He had a fencing sword in his hands, the end a little bloody. "I wouldn't be so certain if I were you."
He felt the tenuous grip he'd maintained on his control slip as he briefly glanced at Tommy, arm around Felicity, assisting her toward the door. Her hair was messy and her clothes badly rumpled. She looked pale and a little weak, a bloody streak on her cheek and bruises around her wrists and ankles.
She looked up at him as she passed by, her eyes vulnerable and afraid behind the lenses of her glasses. Unable to show her any hint of his true feelings lest Malcolm use it against him, he looked away and stared straight ahead, thinking it best to remain focussed. That however, didn't stop him from desperately wanting to reach out and touch her.
Tommy stopped beside him, his voice pleading, "Please. He's my father." With one final look of despair aimed at his parent, he helped Felicity out of the room.
"So how would you like us to do this?" Malcolm stood staring at Oliver, unbuttoning his dress shirt before removing it.
He seemed cocky and arrogant, as though he'd already won. What he didn't know was that this time, things were different - it was personal. Malcolm had messed with his inner circle, a life that was so closely entwined with his, he would have risked everything to see her to safety – including discovery or even death. Now that she was securely out of harms way, he could focus on ending this once and for all. His doubts, his fears, his insecurities melted away as he stared at his opponent, determined to make it out of this.
"With less talk!" Oliver released his arrow, but Malcolm anticipated it and dropped to the floor, rolling behind his desk. Approaching, another arrow already lined up, Oliver sent it, and more, raining down on the desk and its surrounds.
Malcolm came at him from the side, his body slamming into Oliver's as they hit the ground. Oliver cried out as he felt his ribs protest under the force of the landing. Shoving Malcolm off him, his bow thrown to the opposite side of the room, he grabbed the closest object he could find – a heavy paperweight – and threw it at his foe.
It landed with a thud against the side of Malcolm's head, knocking him sideways as he attempted to regain his footing, his foil slipping from his hand with a clatter. Diving for his bow, Oliver almost grabbed hold of it before Malcolm seized both his feet in a vice and pulled him back forcefully, his hood not quite falling off. He could feel the wooden floor scrape against his belly as his jacket rode up, the resulting scratches burning.
Once more in control, Malcolm turned him over and aimed his shoe at Oliver's already fragile rib cage. Expecting the kick, he caught Malcolm's foot just before it made contact with his torso and twisted it sharply to the side. Malcolm cried out in pain, the muscles of his groin objecting under the strain. Oliver leapt to his feet and punched Malcolm in the face, hard, a half dozen times. He staggered back with every blow, his face swinging from one side to the next, already a bloody mess.
Sensing he had the upper hand, Oliver barrelled into him and used his body weight to throw Malcolm backward across his desk. Paper and stationery went flying in one direction, shards of glass in another. Advancing on him, Oliver grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, lifting him to his feet and jabbing him in the stomach - once, twice - with so much force he heard the repetitive whoosh as the air left his lungs. The final jab, so powerful, sent Malcolm reeling backward and falling over the sideboard.
Not giving up yet, Malcolm turned around quickly, grabbing Oliver before butting their heads together, sending him keeling rearward. Quickly regaining his balance, Oliver refused to allow Malcolm the opportunity to get into his stride. Running forward, he thrust an angled elbow into his face. The other man groaned loudly as his nose broke. Oliver kept the pressure on, punching, kicking and thrashing him solidly, systematically wearing him down. By the time Oliver had exercised a portion of his anger, in addition to a broken nose, Malcolm also had a broken shin, fractured wrist, and innumerable soft tissue injuries.
He could hear the police sirens downstairs, relief flooding him as he realised that Felicity was safe. That knowledge, coupled with his desire to see her, spurred him on.
Malcolm, slumped to the ground, blood running down his forehead, stared up at Oliver, hatred blazing in his eyes. "This isn't over," he threatened, attempting to stand up.
Oliver kicked his good leg out from under him, the man falling to the floor, his face knocking against the ground. This was his moment, the one he'd waited so long for. He knew he could kill him, easily. One fatal blow in the right place and it would all be over. The world would be rid of Malcolm Merlyn and The Archer, all at once. But staring into the back of his dark head, so like Tommy's, Oliver couldn't do it.
Killing Malcolm would create a divide between them that they would never be able to breach. He'd settle for preserving their friendship and sending Malcolm to jail, a decision he hoped Tommy would support and understand. Choice made, he leaned down. "Yeah, it is." He punched Malcolm in the face, watching as he instantly lost consciousness.
At the same moment, Tommy ran in, rushing to his father's side. He touched him with shaking hands. "Is he…?"
"No," Oliver replied. "He's merely unconscious."
He saw Tommy breath a sigh of relief. "Thank you."
"The only reason he's alive is because of you," Oliver said softly.
Tommy looked at him, his eyes filled with gratitude. "I know. Ollie-"
Oliver could hear the police running up the fire escape. "Not now, Tommy. There will be time afterward."
His friend seemed to understand. "Go. I'll catch up with you later."
Felicity felt like she'd spent an eternity under the scrutiny of the paramedics and then the police. After providing her statement and explaining for the third time what had happened – leaving out a few pertinent facts of course – she was released and escorted home by a friendly officer.
After a quick shower and a change of clothes, she paced impatiently, waiting for Oliver to arrive; she knew he'd come and see her as soon as he was able to. Diggle had called to let her know that Oliver had made it back to Verdant, but he'd warned her about leaving her apartment to meet them. She may be under police surveillance as a precaution.
Frustrated, she twirled her fingers around her hair. After washing it she'd left it to hang loose wanting it to dry.
Finally, there was a knock at her door. Her heart in her throat, she jerked it open to see Oliver, out of his leather, an anxious look on his face.
At the sight of her, he rushed in, shutting the door behind him with a thud before taking her into his arms. She clung to him, her arms wrapped around his neck, his around her waist as he lifted her clean off the ground. His face was buried in her neck. "Are you alright?"
All she could do was nod. She was so happy to see him safe.
A lifetime later, he set her down gently and drew back a fraction, his hands running over her face, tracing the faint line of the scab on her cheek. His eyes flared with anger at the sight of it.
"I would have killed him if it wasn't for Tommy," he whispered, his hands cupping the sides of her face.
"You did the right thing," she insisted, turning her head and kissing his palm. "I'm fine. Really I am. He's going to jail and he's never coming out. He can't hurt anyone anymore."
"I hope Tommy's going to be okay." Felicity could tell he was concerned about his friend.
His hands moved down and clasped her loosely around her waist. "It may take some time, but he'll rally. I think he's a lot stronger than you've given him credit for."
Oliver nodded. "I know. I should have known better. As I should have known that you'd be more than capable of handling yourself today." He smiled.
Felicity gave him a shocked look. "Me? I was a wreck!"
"You were strong. The way you left those clues for Dig, the way you managed the situation with Malcolm. Anyone else may have panicked. But you," he smiled and her heart turned over, "you were calm and you played it perfectly."
Felicity laughed. "I think you give me too much credit. I babbled a few times. It was pretty touch and go at one point."
"I want you to promise me something." He was looking at her seriously.
Felicity huffed. "You're not going to go all macho on me and demand that I stop working with you, are you? Because I can tell you now, that's not your decision to make. It's mine and I choose to help in whatever way I can."
Oliver's lips twitched. "Actually I prefer it if you're working with me. I can keep a closer eye on you."
"So what's this promise?" she asked suspiciously.
He smoothed the frown lines from her forehead. "Only that you keep the bulk of your in depth research confined to the foundry. It's more secure there. I'd feel better knowing that you're in a safer environment."
"That I can do." The way he was looking at her made her bones melt and her brain turn to mush. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
His hands trailed down her bare arms, leaving goose bumps in their wake. "The same reason you're looking at me like that."
Her face flushed as he leaned down to capture her lips in a soft kiss. Eyes fluttering closed, she sighed with pleasure as her hands moved up to grab hold of his shoulders, steadying herself. She gasped as his arms pulled her closer, her soft form bumping delightfully against the hardness of his.
She heard him moan, his hands moving again, grasping the back of her head to hold her still as he angled his mouth across hers, deepening the kiss. Felicity was a ball of awareness, every nerve ending alive and humming with enjoyment. She felt lightheaded, drunk from his intoxicating kisses.
He lifted her without breaking their kiss, walked the few steps to the couch and lay her down gently, his body following hers until they were nothing but a tangle of arms and legs. Lips devoured and hands explored, neither of them able to get close enough to the other.
His pocket started vibrating.
Oliver cursed. Lifting his lips from hers, he flashed her an apologetic smile. It was a text from his mother. She wanted him home urgently. He sighed in frustration.
"Something wrong?" Felicity asked, concerned.
He looked down at her, her hair spread around the pillow like a cloud of gold. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips swollen, her eyes soft and sensual. He didn't want to leave her, but he couldn't stay. His family needed him. "My mother. The news of Malcolm's arrest must have reached her. They were friends."
She nodded sympathetically. "I can imagine it will come as a shock to many."
"I don't want to leave you," he said, nuzzling the side of her neck.
Felicity gasped, his stubble ticklish. "You have to."
He shifted his weight so that he lay beside her, her head cradled on his chest. "Have dinner with me tomorrow night?"
"Yes," was her automatic response. She sounded relaxed and sleepy.
He laughed. "That was easy."
"I'm picking my battles. I'm bound to be hungry and you're offering to buy me a meal. How's that not a win-win?" she teased.
"I get it. You're only in it for the free food."
She lifted her head from his shoulder. "Oh no. Getting to make out with my dinner date is definitely another perk."
His eyes darkened. "I couldn't agree more."
She kissed the underside of his jaw and his heart turned over at the sweet gesture. "You'd better go."
Reluctantly he stood and pulled her up behind him. "Until tomorrow," he whispered as he kissed her goodnight.
Chapter 19: To Be Loved
Oliver found Thea sitting in the kitchen munching on an apple, a glass of water on the counter before her. "Hey, have you heard the news?"
He sat down beside her. "It's been pretty hard to miss."
She took another bite, the sound of crunching apple amplified in the quiet area. "I always thought Malcolm was kinda creepy. That slick smile coupled with the egotistical streak... He totally never fooled me."
"Of course he didn't."
She made a face at him. "Mock me all you want. Remember that time I thought Mom was having an affair with him and I freaked out?" He nodded. "That's because I knew he was a whack job." She slammed a hand down on the counter for emphasis.
Oliver looked at her sceptically. "You told me that you were merely concerned that she was cheating on Walter?"
She shrugged. "Semantics, brother dear." She drained her water glass. "Bottom line, I knew Malcolm had a dark side."
Oliver shook his head at her. Thea was something else. "Where is our Mother?"
"In her room. I don't think she's taking the news very well. I mean think about it – imagine knowing someone practically all your life and never once suspecting that he was a sadistic killing machine?" She shuddered. "In her shoes, I'd probably be a basket case."
The irony of her statement wasn't lost on Oliver. Although he was a far cry from a sadistic killing machine.
He heard footsteps approaching. Turning towards the door he saw Tommy enter. He looked awful; haggard and tired, like he'd been through the worst day of his life. The reality was, he probably had been.
Thea was the first one out of her seat. She rushed over and hugged him. "I'm so sorry, Tommy." Her tone was sympathetic and compassionate.
Oliver marvelled at her ability to be flippant one moment and caring the next. Despite all her protestations to the contrary, his sister had a heart of gold.
He watched as Tommy returned her embrace. "Thanks, Speedy." They drew apart. "Mind if I talk to Ollie in private?"
"No, of course not." She grabbed what was left of her apple. "I'll be with Mom," she said to Oliver as she walked out.
The silence following her departure was awkward and fraught with tension. "Oliver-"
Both spoke at the same time. The action seemed to relieve some of the strain. Tommy walked over and sat down in the seat Thea had just vacated. "I have a lot to say and I'd appreciate it if you'd just listen." He glanced sideways at Oliver.
Tommy took a deep breath. "First off, I need to apologise to you. The past few months I've behaved like a complete jackass and it's actually a miracle that you're still talking to me. I guess when I finally found out about you I was angry – not so much that you didn't tell me, but that you never had any intention of telling me at all." He kept his eyes focussed on the granite counter. "It made me feel as though you had no faith in our friendship – no faith in me – and that hurt more than anything else. It was only after I talked with Felicity this morning-"
"Wait. What? You talked with Felicity before she was kidnapped?" Oliver was confused.
"She didn't tell you?" At Oliver's negative response, he continued. "I ran into her at Big Belly. I-uh-I was trying to convince her to stay away from you." He glanced at Oliver, clearly embarrassed. "Anyway, she gave me an earful and told me some hard truths: Namely that as your supposed best friend, you deserved my loyalty and I owed you an opportunity to explain things. She was right."
Oliver couldn't believe that Felicity had stood up for him, defending him in response to Tommy's accusations. The knowledge just made him love her more. How did I get so lucky?
"After everything that's happened today, I know now, more than ever, that you've always had my best interests at heart. You could have killed him, Ollie, and no one would have blamed you. But because of me you didn't, and I can never repay you for that. Despite what he's done," Tommy's voice broke, "he's still my father."
Oliver placed a comforting hand on his friend's back. "You don't owe me anything and I don't regret my choice." He felt his friend shiver beneath his palm. "Have you spoken to him?"
Tommy shook his head. "No. He's at the in-house prison hospital facility. I had the option to see him, but I chose not to. While I don't wish him dead, I can't pretend that I'm not sickened by his actions. He abandoned me as a child so that he could go off and learn to be a killer. Who does that?"
Oliver hated seeing Tommy in so much pain, but it was better that he knew what his father truly was than to live in ignorance. "I wish things were different. I hope you know that I mean that."
Tommy smiled sadly. "I do."
"You'll get through this. It won't happen overnight, but I'm here for you and so is my family. Whatever you need, okay? I'm not going anywhere."
Oliver felt a lump in his throat as Tommy broke down. He knew the feeling of having the scales ripped from your eyes when you realised that someone you loved wasn't what they seemed to be. He'd felt the exact same way after his father had killed himself. It had taken a long time, but he'd made great strides toward forgiving his father and learning to move past his disappointment. Tommy would get there too.
Tommy ran an arm across his eyes to mop up his tears. "Thanks." He sat still for an instant. "I'm ready to listen now. If it's not too late."
It was in that moment that Oliver knew that they'd be okay, that their friendship would make it past this hurdle, perhaps even bringing them closer.
Sitting in the stillness of the kitchen, Oliver told Tommy why he'd become The Hood. He told him about his father, the list and the promise he'd made. There were lots more he could have told him, but he wasn't ready to share it with anyone other than Felicity. She was the only person who made him feel safe enough to bare his soul.
An hour later Tommy left to go home and he went in search of his mother.
He knocked on the door to her bedroom. "Come in, Oliver."
Moira was sitting on the edge of her bed watching the news. "You should stop watching that," he said as he sat down beside her.
She put a hand over his and squeezed. "I know. I can't seem to help myself though. It's so shocking. All those people they're saying he's killed…"
Oliver switched the TV off. "The important thing is that he's been apprehended and he can't hurt anyone else. To dwell on the details won't serve any purpose."
She nodded. "You're right. I'm sorry if I ruined your evening. You probably had plans." The smile she gave him didn't reach her eyes.
"Don't worry about it. I'm happy to be here." He put his arm around her and she leaned into him, her head resting on his shoulder.
"Poor Tommy. What will he do?"
"In time he'll figure it out. He's a mess right now, but he's going to be fine."
Moira lifted her head and looked at him, tears in her eyes. "I'm so happy you're back with us, Oliver. Your and Thea's happiness if the most important thing to me. I want you to know that."
Oliver smiled. "I never doubted it."
For a long time Oliver just sat there comforting his mother.
The following day.
"So, you and Felicity huh?" Diggle sniggered.
"Is it just me or does that question sound familiar?" Oliver and Diggle were at the foundry, having just watched Detective Lance clear The Hood of all charges pertaining to the murder of Jeremy Croft and the attempted murder of Sean Grayson.
Diggle switched the volume down on the screen. "That's because I wasn't satisfied with the answer the last time I asked the question."
Oliver rolled his eyes, amused. "I recall telling you that it was none of your business."
"Please!" Diggle scoffed. "You declared your feelings to me, remember? Now quit beating around the bush and tell me where you two are at."
Oliver knew that Diggle wouldn't let it go. "We're having dinner tonight."
"But you've told her how you feel, right?"
Oliver shifted uncomfortably. "Not exactly."
Diggle gaped at him. "Then what the hell were you doing there last night?"
At Oliver's silence Diggle hooted with laughter. "I see. Satisfying your baser needs?"
"You're behaving like Thea, an eighteen year old. Which is not a compliment by the way," Oliver retorted.
Clearing his throat, Diggle attempted to get his laughter under control. "Okay. Sorry. But when exactly are you telling her?"
"Hopefully tonight," Oliver replied.
Diggle made a sound akin to approval. "Any idea where you're taking her?"
"Yeah. I've already got it all planned."
Diggle grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. "Best of luck, man."
Felicity had a feeling of déjà vu as she looked at herself in the mirror. Her stomach was a pit of butterflies. Oliver had called her at work and asked her to meet him at Verdant by seven-thirty. She wasn't sure what to expect since he'd refused to tell her where they were going or what he'd been planning. When she'd asked him about the dress code, he'd told her to wear whatever she felt comfortable in.
She'd smiled at that. He honestly seemed to like her as she was, eccentric tastes and all. But she'd decided against her usual skirts and shirts. Tonight was going to be special – well, it would be for her anyway. She was going to tell him how she felt about him. The very thought made her stomach turn over, but she was determined to do it. After what happened with Malcolm, she'd realised that life was too short to hold back. It was all or nothing.
She exhaled nervously as she looked at her reflection. She'd chosen a simple black dress, one she'd only worn once, to the Queen Consolidated Christmas party the year before. Afterwards she'd thrown it in the back of her closet because of all the unwanted attention it had attracted. An impulse purchase after the sales woman had convinced her that she'd looked amazing in it, she'd regretted it the second after bringing it home. Tonight though, she wanted Oliver's attention and she wasn't above using a dress to do so.
Round at the neck, it was sleeveless and short, the fabric stretchy and comfortable. Skimming her curves in all the right places, it ended at mid thigh, its only embellishment a double row of gold beads around the neckline. On her feet were a pair of stiletto booties she'd purchased on the same day as the dress and like the latter, had only worn once.
She'd tied her hair up in a messy bun and wore the diamond and gold studs she'd received as a twenty-first gift from her parents.
Deciding that she'd have to do, she took a final look in the mirror before grabbing her coat and purse and heading out to meet Oliver.
Chapter 20: Home
Oliver wiped the fine sheen of sweat from his brow. All the arrangements for the evening were made. All that was missing was Felicity.
"Look at you, Starling City's vigilante, calm in the face of danger but apparently a complete wreck before a date. Well, a real date," Diggle teased as he watched Oliver pacing.
Oliver glared at him. "Shouldn't you be somewhere? Like with Carly?"
Diggle settled himself comfortably in one of the chairs by the computers. "She knows I'm with you. In fact, she made me promise not to arrive without some scoop."
Oliver rolled his eyes. "Scoop? Seriously? I think you need to spend less time around Thea."
Diggle laughed. "Alright. I'm sorry. I'm just not used to seeing you this…rattled. It's not exactly the norm."
Oliver continued to pace. "I'm glad my insecurities provide you with endless amusement."
"Come on. Where's that confidence with just a dash of arrogance? You've got this." Diggle asserted.
Oliver wished he felt as sure. Tonight was either going to be the best or worst night of his life. "I hope so."
"Man, you're really freaking out." Diggle looked surprised.
"I think 'freaking out' is a bit of a stretch, Dig." Or maybe not.
"Then why don't you sit down before you make me dizzy?"
Oliver stopped. "Sorry." He tugged at the cuffs of his open collared white shirt, having already discarded his silver blazer.
Diggle leaned forward in his chair. "Oliver, I know you. I know Felicity. There are no two people more perfect for one another. Just tell her how you feel."
"Easier said than done."
Diggle stood up, gathering his belongings. He patted Oliver on the back. "Relax. You're over-thinking this.
He probably was. "Thanks."
"Good luck." Diggle gave him a thumbs up as walked away.
Oliver hoped he didn't need it.
Felicity arrived at Verdant right on time. It was quiet outside, unusual for a night when the club was supposed to be open for business. Entering the front door, she made her way through the hall, the club almost completely in darkness. Confused, she walked on, following the route that lead to the main dance floor.
Rounding the corner, she gasped, stopping in her tracks. The whole room had been cleared save for the four poster canopy in the center of the floor, draped beautifully in volumes of white fabric, all tied back to reveal a lone round table beneath. Stepping closer, she noticed the table setting: a trio of orange blossoms, red roses and white jasmine lay delicately across two large white plates. Positioned alongside were dainty, stemmed crystal glasses.
There were candles everywhere, a single rotund white one in the middle of the table and hundreds of tealights in glass holders all about the room, their light flickering off the glass and chrome structures, casting a soft romantic glow.
Staring in astonishment, Felicity wasn't aware that Oliver was there until she felt a pair of strong arms snake around her waist, holding her from behind. Turning in his arms, her eyes wide with wonder, she whispered, "What is all this?"
Oliver linked his fingers behind the small of her back. "Our last dinner together was a bit of a disaster and I wanted to make it up to you."
"This is…," she was at a loss for words, a feat not easily accomplished. "It's beautiful," she breathed.
He leaned down and brushed his lips against hers, the soft touch sending her pulse racing. "So are you," he said, his voice ringing with sincerity.
Felicity flushed with pleasure. "How did you manage all this?"
Oliver grinned roguishly. "I have certain resources at my disposal."
"You closed the club, for an entire evening," she said, in awe.
He shrugged. "It's not a big deal."
Turning, she looked back at the table. "All the effort you went through to do this, for me…" her voice trailed off.
"Hey, you're worth this," he turned her in a small circle, "and so much more."
She looked at him with mock suspicion. "All this flattery. I'm starting to wonder what you're after. In need of some more of my IT genius?"
The look he gave her turned her knees to jelly. "You don't want to know what I'm after," he said huskily.
Without thinking, she blurted, "Probably the same thing as me." The words out, she could feel her face flame.
He lifted an eyebrow, a smile playing around his mouth. "Noted." Grasping her hand, he pulled her toward the table. "Come on. Your free meal awaits," he teased.
Oliver felt nervous. The meal they'd consumed had been a veritable feast, but it had tasted like sawdust in his mouth. Truth was, he wouldn't even have bothered to eat, his stomach in knots, but he hadn't wanted to ruin the meal for Felicity. He'd kept staring at her laughing face across the table, watched her expressions change as she sampled different dishes, all the while wondering whether she felt the same. She cared about him, he was certain of it. Felicity wasn't the type of woman prone to meaningless flings. That, however, didn't mean that she loved him.
Her expression bright and animated as she chatted away, his mind kept running over the elaborate speech he'd planned. However, the more he tried to recall what he wanted to say, the quicker the words scattered from his mind. Just tell her how you feel.
He watched as she picked up the trio of flowers, sniffing them gently. "These are so lovely. Do you know that flowers have their own language? It was used extensively during the Victorian era as a way of conveying different sentiments such as friendship, love, respect, admiration."
"Can you identify what those mean?" Oliver asked, his throat dry.
She shook her head lightly, little wisps of hair that had escaped from her bun, swaying softly around her face. "Unfortunately not."
He cleared his throat. "I can tell you."
She looked at him, startled. "You know flowers?"
"A bit," he said as he moved his chair around until it was beside hers. Taking the flowers from her, he removed one. Looking at her, he said, "This is white jasmine. It symbolises amiability, grace and elegance. A woman in possession of the finest qualities - kindness, compassion, understanding, strength, honesty, warmth and sensuality; someone who possesses beauty in both form and manner. Like you." He offered the flower to her, noticing that her hands were trembling.
He removed the second one. "This red rose is symbolic of passion and desire, two emotions that I've experienced multiple times in my life, but never with the blinding intensity that I've felt it with you." He held the rose out to her, her eyes brimming with tears.
Taking a steadying breath, he lifted the last one. "Orange blossoms represent undying love. A love that is true and sincere and so unlike the petals of a rose that eventually shrivels and dies – like relationships based purely on passion and desire often does – undying love has no chance of ever withering away." He stared into her eyes, baring his heart to her. "Like my love for you - constant and endless."
"That's how I feel, Felicity. Like I've found the one person whose soul is a mirror image of mine - a woman I can respect as an equal, whom I desire beyond measure and who possesses my entire heart." He offered her the flower. "It's yours if you choose to accept it."
Not for the first time, Felicity was speechless. When he'd started talking about the meaning of the flowers, she'd had no idea that he'd use it as the perfect metaphor to describe his feelings. It was the most wildly romantic thing that anyone had ever done for her.
Oliver continued, "I know that I'm a lot to take on and I realise that I have a long way to go before I can put the past five years behind me…but I want you to accompany me on that journey, every step of the way. I can't imagine sharing it with anyone els-"
Felicity lifted a finger and placed it over his lips, silencing him. With a jaunty smile she asked, "Did I ever tell you that you talk too much?"
He raised an eyebrow, the corners of his lips tugging upward. "This coming from you?"
Felicity laughed. She reached out and accepted the orange blossom. "Oliver, I'm so in love with you." Her voice was filled with tears. "I've been for absolute ages and I've wanted to tell you-"
Before she could finish her sentence, Oliver swept her up in his arms, crushing her to him. His forehead resting against hers, he whispered, "Say it again."
Felicity kissed one eye and then the other. "I love you." She kissed his left cheek and then the right. "I love you." She placed her lips gently over his, her hands on either the side of his neck. "I love you." She lifted her lips from his. "You're not damaged to me, Oliver. Everything that you are is what I fell in love with. I don't see your past as a burden that you need to carry alone. I'm here to share it with you. This, here," she gestured to her shoulders, "broad shoulders. Well, not that broad, because then I'd probably look like a man…and can you even imagine me as a man?" She scrunched up her nose. "Disaster."
Oliver laughed. "You're adorable."
His lips captured hers in a kiss that left her in no doubt as to the true nature of his feelings. It started off hot and demanding, Felicity meeting him every step of the way, before simmering to a tender and loving caress. They laughed and hugged and kissed.
Oliver stepped back and held out his hand to her. "May I have this dance?"
Felicity pointed to her ears. "There's no music."
The next instant the beautiful strains of Arms, by Christina Perri, started playing. Felicity glanced at him in surprise. He'd really thought of everything.
He held her close as they swayed to the music. For a moment neither one of them saying anything. They just moved together, two halves of the same whole. Felicity was overjoyed, her heart so full she feared it may burst from sheer happiness.
"Oliver, how can you be sure that this is what you want? That I'm what you want?"
He smiled at her, his eyes filled with love and tenderness. "Felicity, you put your arms around me and I'm home." He sealed his avowal with a kiss.
With those words, whatever doubts she had melted away. He loved her just as much as she loved him. Whatever the future held, together, they would see it through.
Chapter 21: Epilogue
Three Years Later
Leaving a bound and gagged Dominic Harrison behind, Oliver exited the residence of the fraudster via the back entrance. Jumping the fence, he could hear Detective Lance calling out orders to his subordinates as they invaded the property.
"Coast is clear, Oliver," came Felicity's voice over comms. "You're safe to get to your motorcycle and out of there."
Swiftly he made his way to his transportation. "Felicity, activate now." The confession he'd forced from Harrison was recorded on the rigged arrow embedded in the wall above the con man's head. Designed to flash brightly it was different from his regular armoury.
He could hear her fingers on the keyboard. "Done."
"Roger that, wife," he said, still marvelling at being able to call her that after eighteen months of marriage. It never got old. "I think you should let Dig drive you home. I'll be there as soon as I can."
He heard her huff into the microphone. "We've already had this discussion. I'm waiting for you."
Oliver sighed. He lost the argument every time. "So stubborn," he quipped, although he wasn't complaining. "I love you."
"Love you too, husband." Her voice was filled with tender affection.
"Seriously guys, I'm also here…listening in. When did this comms stream descend into a nauseating rendition of Sleepless in Seattle?" said Diggle's amused voice, belying his mocking words.
Oliver laughed when he heard Diggle's "Ow!" Presumably Felicity had elbowed him in the ribs. "I'm on my way."
Having waved Diggle off, Felicity sat at the computer terminal at the foundry waiting for Oliver's return. Monitoring his progress on screen, she noted that he was only two blocks away. Knowing he wouldn't be long, she programmed the next run of updates to start within the hour, before slowly gathering her belongings.
Reaching for her cellphone, her eyes fell on the four carat solitaire diamond engagement ring and matching band on her ring finger. Turning her hand slightly, she watched as the light glinted off its flawless surface. It had been the one indulgence she'd allowed, giving in to Oliver's insistence that he wanted her to have the perfect ring. She couldn't deny it, she loved it.
They'd been together for a year and a half before he'd popped the question. For Felicity, there'd only ever been one response worth giving. The ceremony had been small and intimate, something Moira had initially resisted. However, she'd come around once she realised that neither Oliver nor Felicity wanted a spectacle. They'd stuck to a select guest list that had contained mostly family and close friends.
Carly had been her Maid of Honor and Thea her bridesmaid. Oliver had asked both Tommy and Diggle to stand up with him, something that had really meant a lot to both of them, especially Diggle.
They'd spent a glorious honeymoon on the French Riviera where they hadn't left their hotel room for the first week. Thereafter Felicity had made Oliver take her to every museum, monument and cultural/historical site she could think of. It had been the best three weeks of her life.
Life as a Queen had not been all smooth sailing. The press had been harsh when word had broken of Oliver's engagement to 'the plain nerd who worked in the basement of his family's company' but he'd brushed it off saying that he refused to live his life with an eye on the tabloids. They could say what they wanted as long as Felicity knew the truth.
Initially their digs at her character and appearance had hurt, but as time passed and Oliver showed her that he truly didn't care for the opinions of others, she'd learnt to believe it as well. He'd made a constant effort to show her, every day, that she was the only one he wanted.
Oliver still maintained his Hood status, a fact that had Felicity worrying about him more often than not, but she understood his need to be useful, to make a difference in the way he knew best. She had never and would never ask him to give that up. It was, after all one of the reasons she'd fallen in love with him. His sense of justice, loyalty and honour demanded that he continue to do good within the Glades.
Likewise, he respected her need to be independent, especially financially. Not once in the three years that they'd been together had Oliver asked or expected her to give up her career. If anything, he'd encouraged her to follow her dreams. The position she'd earned as Head of IT at Queen Consolidated hadn't been handed to her when she'd married the boss. She'd worked hard for it. An achievement she was very proud of.
She absently rubbed her back as she watched the software updates start. "I told you to let Dig drive you home," Oliver chided.
Felicity smiled. He was so protective of her. "I already told you. I don't want to go home without you. It's a comfort thing. If I'm here, I know where you are and if you're okay. If I'm not, I worry."
His body moved close to hers, his hands gently massaging from the base of her neck all the way down to her lower back. She moaned with pleasure. "Did I ever tell you that you have amazing hands?"
Oliver kissed a particularly sensitive spot behind her ear. He knew her body so well. "Frequently," he whispered, his voice husky and teasing.
Felicity laughed softly. "Thea's right. You're becoming way too cocky. I need to knock you down a few notches."
His laughter joined hers as his hands continued to weave their magic. Skimming around her waist, they moved to her belly, swollen and heavy with their first child. "I'll have you know that the last time I checked, you liked cocky…at least in the bedroom."
The news that they were going to be parents had come as a surprise to both of them. It certainly hadn't been planned, but once they'd found out, they couldn't have been more excited – an arrival the whole family was eagerly anticipating.
Felicity swatted his arm playfully. "Your son/daughter won't give me a moments rest. I think this is a sign of what's to come." Her voice was soft and filled with love. Apart from the first few weeks when her morning sickness had been unbearable, the rest of her pregnancy had been a breeze.
His hands kept moving, gently rubbing a thumb over the spot where their baby was kicking energetically. "Two more weeks and we're home free."
Her hand moved to cover his. "Home free? According to Carly, that's apparently when the real party starts. Sleepless nights, diaper duty, scheduled feedings," Felicity reminded him.
Turning her around in his arms, he kissed her deeply, "I can't wait."
Felicity knew that he genuinely couldn't. "Neither can I."
"Hey baby, time to go to bed," he said, patting her belly devotedly. "You need to get some rest. It's mother's birthday party tomorrow night. It's bound to be a tiring affair."
He was right. "Let's go home." She helped him remove his leather kit and watched him stow his equipment before they left the foundry hand in hand.
Oliver walked into Verdant the following afternoon. He'd been pretty busy the last few years, juggling his time between his work at the club, helping his mother keep Queen Consolidated afloat, saving lives by night and being a full-time loving husband and soon-to-be-father. Some would think it was all a bit too much, but Oliver loved the challenge.
It certainly helped when he had a wife who understood him as well as Felicity did. She kept him grounded and focussed, her presence a constant reminder of all that they'd achieved and all that they still wished to. They hadn't found Walter and any hopes they had that he was still alive dwindled as the years passed. Yet despite the odds, they'd never stop looking.
"Daddy-O!" Tommy called.
Oliver smiled. Like he'd predicted, it had taken Tommy some time, perhaps the darkest space he'd ever been in, but he'd come to terms with his father's deception. The journey he'd travelled had made him a better man, friend and partner.
"Ever the adult," Oliver joked as he took a seat on a high chair.
Tommy was perusing some ledgers. "You know, marriage really suits you. It almost makes me want to venture down that path."
Marriage to Felicity really suits me. "I highly recommend the institution. You and Laurel making plans?"
Tommy scowled at him. "Ollie, I said almost. I'm the supreme bachelor, remember? Besides, I think that matrimony requires the right combination of the sexes, something you and Felicity have successfully mastered." He took a sip of his drink. "Your wife is looking radiant by the way."
"Yes, she is," Oliver agreed. Felicity had gained a bit of weight, her curves filling out attractively. It was a circumstance he personally thought made her more beautiful and more desirable than ever. "What do you mean by 'the right combination'? Things not going that well with the two of you?"
Tommy shrugged. "I'm not sure. We've been together for so long… I don't know if we're staying that way because we love each other or because it's just convenient."
Oliver frowned. "Why haven't you told me this before?"
"And ruin your sunshine and roses?" Tommy gave him an amused look. "You've been walking around on a cloud since the second you and Felicity hooked up. I was not going to be responsible for bringing you down to earth."
Oliver couldn't argue with him. Being with Felicity had made him happier than he'd ever thought possible. He wouldn't change a thing. "I'm sorry. I hope you guys can figure it out."
Tommy brushed his comment aside. "Don't worry about it. My main concern right now is working on my appalling lack of maturity. According to your wife, I need to grow up some more before she allows me near your unborn offspring."
Oliver wasn't going to force Tommy to talk. He would when he was ready. "Well, you have about two weeks left. Probably less by the look of things. And just so you know, you haven't improved since the last time I saw you."
Tommy scoffed. "What? I take offense to that. Yesterday I didn't make one crude joke."
Raising an eyebrow, Oliver stared him down. "Okay, so I made a tiny one. Doesn't count."
Oliver shook his head, amused. "You're coming tonight, right? Thea's back. I'm sure she'd love to see you."
Tommy looked up from his paperwork. "She's home for good?"
"Much to my mother's relief." Thea had spent the last three years in Europe completing her degree in fashion design.
"Yeah, I'll be there."
"Felicity dear, you're positively glowing," Moira Queen declared as Oliver and Felicity arrived at the mansion. Her mother-in-law seized her in a tight embrace before planting a kiss on her son's cheek. "You two are the last to arrive," she asserted as she ushered them into the lounge area.
It had taken a while for Felicity to understand Moira. The woman was so different to her in every way, she'd feared many times throughout the duration of her courtship with Oliver that their personalities would clash. Surprisingly, Moira had welcomed her into the fold of the family – a thing she suspected was because of her love for Oliver. Whatever her motivation had been, they got along well. However, whenever Moira became a little too overbearing, it was nice to be able to retreat into her own home.
Walking into the crowded room filled with the matriarch's friends and associates, Felicity looked around for a few familiar faces. With Oliver's hand at the small of her back guiding her deeper into the room, she spotted Thea. The younger woman was wearing a bright green jumper, the colour marvellous against her milky complexion.
Spotting them, Thea came running their way, arms outstretched. "There you are! I was just telling Mom that you can't be late because of any last minute hanky panky," she teased, watching Felicity blush brightly, "since there is already an over-baked bun in the oven."
Oliver raised an eyebrow as his sister's insinuation, his lips twitching uncontrollably. Felicity thought it was ironic since that was the exact reason they'd been late. Stifling a giggle, she hugged Thea back. "I'm so glad to see you! Europe clearly agrees with you."
"As pending motherhood seems to agree with you. You look amazing!" Thea declared, her designer eye admiring Felicity's soft blue maternity dress. The style, long and flowing, was flattering to her curves as well as cool and practical. Thea reached out to rub her bump affectionately.
Felicity grinned at her sister-in-law's enthusiasm. "You need to thank the talented designer who made it for me."
Thea beamed. "I did a good job, didn't I?" she claimed, with not a shred of modesty. Next, she hugged Oliver tightly. "I missed you guys sooo much!"
"We missed you too, Speedy," Oliver said, his arm still around his sister.
"So this is where the party's at!" Felicity heard Diggle's booming voice before she saw him. "Errr… Good evening, Mr and Mrs Queen." The latter was said facetiously as a conservative couple passed close by, giving Diggle the evil eye.
"Pfft! What's wrong with these people? Dig, they're looking at you as though you're the hired help - well, technically you are - but we don't care." She rolled her eyes as she hooked her arm into Diggle's. "Come on, take a turn about the room with me. It's by time someone shakes these old harpies up." The look of dread on Diggle's face was hilarious.
"Thea," Oliver cautioned, but Felicity placed a placating hand on his arm.
She smiled at him. "Leave her. She means no harm."
Oliver leaned down and kissed the tip of her nose. "I can't believe that's my baby sister. She doesn't look like a baby anymore."
Felicity looked at him indulgently. "She hasn't been a baby since before I met her."
He shuddered. "I don't think I want to contemplate what that means."
Laughing, Felicity followed him as he shepherded her towards a comfortable seat. "Imagine we have a girl-"
Before she could complete her sentence, Tommy called them from across the room. Laurel and Carly were standing at his side, glasses in hand. Felicity had long since let go of any insecurities she'd harboured regarding the attractive lawyer. She was completely secure in Oliver's love and knew that Laurel posed no threat to her happiness.
Laurel stepped forward to plant a kiss on her cheek. "You look wonderful."
Carly shook her head in amazement. "I wish I looked that good when I was about to pop."
"Thank you, both of you. But you're all being far too kind. I'm hair's breadth away from resembling a dinosaur," she joked.
Oliver, standing beside her, whispered wickedly. "I like your breed of dinosaur."
She rolled her eyes at him. He enjoyed teasing her. Her comment about feeling like a dinosaur wasn't completely true. She loved being pregnant and she loved that Oliver genuinely seemed to enjoy her curvier body – he told her, and showed her, often enough.
Tommy stood aside, watching as Oliver and Felicity engaged with Laurel and Carly. He envied his best friend. He'd found his place in the world while he was still very much adrift. He loved his work; managing the club was an absolute dream. But he wasn't happy, not really. Things were unsettled between himself and Laurel – he wasn't sure why - perhaps the reality was that they'd outgrown one another and refused to acknowledge it.
Hearing a familiar voice he turned towards its source.
"Tommy Merlyn," said Thea, her hands on her hips as she surveyed him.
Grinning broadly, his gaze lazily travelled over her green clad figure, admiring how she'd grown into a beautiful young woman. "Speedy!" he called, genuinely happy to see her.
They hugged. "You know, I do have a name," she teased. "Oh wait, sorry. Too many female names," she tapped his forehead, "too little space up there to remember them all."
He laughed. "I see the European climate hasn't done anything to dull your love of sarcasm. It's the lowest form of wit, you know."
Thea looked up at him through dark lashes. "I do try to cater to my audience." With that saucy rebound, she turned her back to him and walked over to her brother, leaving a grinning Tommy staring after her.
The clinking of a glass caused everyone's attention to turn towards its source. Moira was standing at the front of the room, waiting as her guests quietened down. "Thank you to all of you for coming to celebrate my birthday. As you know, it's been a tough few years for my family, but things have really turned around for the better." She smiled briefly. "I want to take this opportunity to thank my children for being such wonderful people and for continuing to be my greatest blessing."
She turned to her son. "Oliver, looking at you, successful in your own right, I'm so proud of the man you've become. I know your father would have been proud too." She sought out her daughter's gaze. "Thea, never have a mother and daughter clashed as much as you and I have." There were chuckles from the audience. "But I'm grateful that we've overcome our differences. I'm thrilled at what you've achieved thus far and I'm so happy to have you home again."
Felicity watched as Thea blinked rapidly, her own emotions far from under control. She knew that deep down Thea had always sought her mother's approval. "Felicity," Moira began. Startled at being singled out, Felicity stared at her mother-in-law in surprise. "You came into our lives like a breath of fresh air and you've made my son happier than I've ever known him to be. Thank you." The look Moira gave her was so sincere that she felt a lump lodge in her throat. "I am very much looking forward to the birth of my first grandchild."
Taking a moment to compose herself, she concluded, "Please, everyone, enjoy the party and thank you again for coming." There was a loud applause before the buzz of chatter started up again.
Sniffing, Felicity gasped as she felt a painful tug in the lower region of her back. It was so sharp and unexpected that it took her breath away. This explains the low back pain. Instinctively she reached for Oliver's hand.
Oliver watched his mother as she mingled amongst her friends. He'd been very touched by her words to Felicity, knowing how much they would mean to her.
Shaken from his thoughts by Felicity's hand squeezing his with surprising strength, he glanced at her. Alarmed, his face drained of colour. She was hunched over, one hand clutching her belly, a sheen of sweat on her brow.
Panicked, he reached for her. "Felicity! Are you okay?"
Her jaw clenched tightly and her eyes filled with pain, she retorted, "I'm hunched over what looks like a puddle of pee and you're asking if I'm alright?" Her breath hitched.
His mind in a whirl, Oliver looked around frantically. Diggle was the first to catch his eye and hurried over. "Man, that wild look on your face is not particularly comforting to your wife right now."
Sweeping her up in his arms, his nerves frayed, he yelled at Diggle. "Bring the car! We need to get her to a hospital."
Her breaths coming in gasps, Felicity admonished him. "Be nice to Dig. He may need to deliver our kid on the back seat." At the look of pure terror that crossed his face, Felicity grinned. "I'm kidding!"
Oliver growled. "Now is not the time for jests, Felicity."
"Thea was right. You have no sense of humour," she said as another wave of pain hit her.
He'd never felt so completely useless. "You know I love you, right?"
Five hours later, weighing in at a whopping 9lbs 4oz, Robert John Queen made is way into the world. Mother and son were both declared perfectly healthy and happy. The father however, had seemed on the verge of a meltdown as he watched his wife deliver their son.
Afterward, when all the well wishers had left, Oliver held Felicity in his arms as they stared down at the miracle they'd created. "He has your golden head of hair," he whispered in awe, gently touching the soft strands.
Felicity grinned. "And that's where my involvement ends. The rest of him is all you." She watched the slow smile that spread across her husband's face as he absorbed the baby's pale blue eyes and miniscule features, a replica of his own.
"He does look like me, doesn't he?" His voice rang with pride.
Felicity kissed his jaw. "I demand that we have a girl next. All this testosterone is not good. I will not be outnumbered," she teased.
His eyes left their son's face and locked with hers. "Thank you."
"Whatever for?" Felicity asked, wiping away a tear that had tumbled down his cheek.
"For loving me. For giving me a home. For creating a family with me."
Felicity kissed him, her heart and soul in the act. "Oliver, loving you has always been as natural to me as breathing."
Holding each other close they watched their sleeping son.
Life didn't get any better than that.