A/N: Happy Wednesday all! OK, so this has been floating around in my brain for a long time, and I finally think I found a way to make it work. I had to rewind the elevator scene in 1.22 about five times to watch it because it was SO funny, and now I'm going to take a quick dip into the waters of Arrow fanfiction because of it. It's taken me a long time to finally decide exactly where I wanted this to go and trying to keep them all in character. It started as just a quick bit of Oliver's internal monologue after the elevator scene but, well… Like with everything I seem to do, it took on a life of its own and it's too late to really go too AU. So I decided ultimately to approach it as an after the fact analysis and continuation from there, but hopefully I did them justice. I spent some time figuring out an actual plot that worked after I'd finished this chapter so hopefully it's believable. I'm going to say this picks up sometime in the future, including events from the show up until the end of 2.07 (State v. Queen).
Another little addition to my author rant: I started writing this before Felicity became his assistant, so at that point Thea didn't know her. However, I liked the Thea parts I have written so far so I decided to just operate under the assumption that Thea has seen her a couple of times, but doesn't actually know Felicity or her relationship to Oliver.
Disclaimer: If I owned Arrow, Laurel would have been dead as soon as they introduced Felicity. A little harsh, I know, but I wouldn't allow for the possibility of ANY competition for her.
The Storm After the Calm
He didn't know at the time why he did it, and it's been a long time since he's thought about it, what with the results of that particular day and the following ones. He just knew that in that instant he felt the absurd desire to reach out and hit the man.
"Where are you heading, sweetie?"
"That's too bad. I'm going to thirteen."
He could have reached out right then and there and killed him in an instant, or at least knocked him out, but instead he settled on knocking the guy's papers out of his hand. He figured Felicity wouldn't approve of 'unnecessary violence.'
What kind of man talks to a woman like that anyways? Felicity is not a piece of meat to be ogled at by some pig. She is the kind of woman who deserves to be respected. She's much more than just a pretty face. She's intelligent, funny, and yes she lacks a conversational filter, but it's a quirk that makes her more endearing. She doesn't deserve to be treated the way he treated so many women before the island. Truth be told, his behaviour back then disgusts him now. To think he probably would have said a (much smoother, less sleazy) variation of the same thing to her years ago makes him wince. He never fully realized just how abhorrent his behaviour toward women was until that very moment, hearing it coming from someone else.
He tries to tell himself that his reaction was a purely protective instinct. He respects Felicity and they did need the elevator to be empty. It meant nothing of significance that his stomach twisted in a knot of anger and defensiveness as he watched the guy look her head to toe and don a sleazy smile. He was only looking out for his friend. That's what friends do, right? They have uncalled-for desires to murder anyone who disrespects their friends?
He's been gone a long time, but he's sure that isn't really a thing nowadays. He does know he has a similar reaction whenever he catches guys eyeing Thea, so it could be a brotherly thing, but he's not entirely convinced that's it. With Thea, it's a fiercely protective feeling, a need to ensure Roy knows not to hurt her, but in that elevator… It was like he needed to neutralize a threat, like he needed to protect his territory or something. Not that Felicity is his property by any stretch of the imagination. He just can't stomach the thought of another man looking at her and talking to her the way that guy in the elevator did. He isn't sure what to make of that, since he hasn't felt that way in a very long time.
In fact, he doesn't even feel that way about Laurel anymore. He tells himself it's because he knows she can look after herself, whereas Felicity begged out of his attempts to give her self-defence lessons, but he knows it isn't true. The idea of Laurel kept him alive for five years on that island, but maybe that's all it is: an idea. The reality is that he's a very different person now, and Laurel doesn't know him at all. She knows the boy who got lost on an island, and the billionaire playboy who is trying to find a place in life after being stranded for five years, not the man who came back with a purpose. Even after their night together before the Undertaking, he has to admit that it isn't the same as before, and not just because of Tommy's death. He never planned on telling her about that part of his life, even if he had taken off the Hood for good, so he'd always be hiding some piece of himself from her. The only two people who actually know the real him are now sitting in this room with him, and neither of them are a brunette female. Or perhaps one is. He seems to recall Felicity once saying that she dyes her hair. Not that it matters. Either way, she's not Laurel.
Looking around, he realizes there is actually only one other person in the room now. They'd come back from another successful mission a couple of hours ago which saw Felicity out in the field once more, getting caught by the man they were trying to stop, so maybe that's what triggered this trip down memory lane. Diggle must have left while he was absorbed in his thoughts, but Felicity still sits in front of her computers, typing away as always. He's never really noticed how absorbed she gets in her work. It reminds him a bit of the new Oliver, the one who can focus on something and let the rest of the world melt away. She's driven; she has a purpose.
She is currently frowning at him. He hadn't realized he was watching her so intently.
"Zoned out?" She supplies, grinning, "No worries, I do it all the time. I accidentally did it once at a bar at one of my friends' bachelorette parties and unfortunately I was not staring at a straight girl… That was a bit awkward."
His lips quirk upward in a small smile, the closest he gets to the real thing anymore aside from the fake billionaire playboy ones. "I can imagine."
"Anyways… Now that you know that unfortunate detail of my life, I'm going to call it a night. See you tomorrow?" She asks, jumping up from her chair and grabbing her purse.
He nods. "Let me walk you out."
He says the words before really processing them. Obviously her lack of a filter is rubbing off on him. She looks confused but nods all the same. He's aware that this is not a normal offer on his part, but the incident in the elevator seems to be more than just a one-time thing. He can't shake the overwhelming need to make sure she reaches her car safely, even though she probably didn't park far. He's always had a desire to protect her, but it's heightened in the past few hours. Maybe it's the reminder that danger lurks around every corner, even in places as innocent as an elevator.
"Well, goodnight," she says, interrupting his thoughts once more. He didn't realize they'd arrived at her car.
"Are you sure you're OK?" He asks again.
She shrugs, "Yeah, fine. I mean, it's not every day that you get held hostage by a psychotic drug lord, but I seem to be growing accustomed to the experience."
His stomach clenches at her words. Not for the first time, he feels a twinge of regret at bringing her into this life. She shouldn't be getting used to being held at gun-point. He debates saying something to that effect, but they've had this conversation too many times to count, and he knows how it will end.
"Text me when you get home safely," he replies instead, backing away and figuring it might be good to get a workout in to clear his head of all this nonsense before he heads home. This is just some weird thing triggered by the fact that she went out in the field again and his own remaining adrenaline.
Have a good night.
Abandoning his workout, he changes back into his suit, tucks the phone in his pocket, and ascends the stairs, the slight anxiety slipping away at her assurance that she's safely in her apartment for the night.
Everything goes more or less back to normal over the next week, with the exception of his continued escorts to her car when she leaves and his requests for her to notify him of her safe return home. They haven't had any real missions in that time, and he's starting to get restless. Every time things calm down, a huge storm finds a way to erupt around them, turning their lives to chaos. He blames this for his extra precautions where Felicity's safety is concerned. He can't shake the feeling that something is about to go down that won't end well for any of them.
"Everything ok, Oliver?" Diggle asks as he returns from walking her out.
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"You've never insisted on walking Felicity to her car before, yet you've done it every night this week."
He shrugs, turning his back on his friend to ensure his bow is locked away. "I just want to make sure she's safe."
"She parks across the street…"
"A lot can happen between here and there. Especially if someone figures out where the Ho- Arrow's headquarters are." He still has trouble referring to himself by the new name.
Diggle doesn't reply, so he must have accepted the explanation. Oliver doesn't see the other man's skeptical look behind his back.
His run-in with her at the diner is completely unintentional. It's become a regular place for him, and clearly it has for her as well. At first he thinks she's alone, but then she tilts her head back in laughter and he realizes there's someone on the other side of the table. His feet are on their way over before his brain can catch up, curious to see who she's with. He's never seen her outside of her office, Arrow work, and the 'lair' as she's taken to calling it.
She realizes his presence before he is properly in her line of sight, tensing in surprise.
He smiles his standard 'public smile' for his billionaire playboy ruse, taking in the sight of her companion. He looks to be a man around her age, with boyish features and the same sparkle in his eyes that so often lights up Felicity's. He frowns momentarily, wondering when exactly he noticed a sparkle in her eyes, but then remembers the people in front of him and puts a smile back on. "Felicity. How are you?"
"Good, you?" She asks. Her face is still lit up with the remnants of laughter.
"Can't complain. Are you going to…?" He asks, trailing off and indicating the man across from her.
"Right, sorry," she shakes her head as though to clear it, turning to her companion, "Connor, this is my friend, and… uh… boss… Oliver Queen. Oliver, this is Connor Telman, my, uh… other… friend…?" She finishes lamely, red colouring her cheeks. His lips quirk up in another smile at her obvious discomfort, just because the way she handles herself in slightly tense situations is pretty amusing.
He turns to Connor, Oliver-the-billionaire-playboy smile in place, "Good to meet you."
The other man returns the sentiment as they shake hands and Oliver notes his attempt to squeeze firmly. The same feeling that possessed him in the elevator takes hold once more, and his returning squeeze is enough to make Connor's eyes widen in surprise and discomfort, earning Oliver a disapproving look from Felicity. He can't find it within himself to even try to look abashed.
"I'm meeting my sister, so I'll see you later?" He says, turning his attention back to her. She nods.
"Who's that you keep sneaking glances at?" Thea asks after only fifteen minutes.
"What are you talking about?" He asks, failing to cover his surprise at being caught.
"That blonde over there with that guy. You're not as stealthy as you think, Ollie," she clarifies, taking a sip of her drink.
He shrugs. "She's a friend."
"You're sure looking quite a lot for her being a 'friend'."
He shoots his sister a look. "It's not like that. I'm just keeping an eye on her, making sure she's ok."
"Whatever you say," she singsongs, grinning widely.
He sighs, knowing he won't convince her, and glances back at Felicity again. She's laughing away with Connor, her eyes dancing as he tells her something. The same feeling from earlier returns as he notices Connor's eyes drinking her in, but he clamps down on it. What exactly is this feeling? Sure, he's protective of her, but why does he feel like he wants to go over there and remove Connor from the other side of that booth? He isn't being rude, as far as he can tell. In fact, it looks to be just the opposite. Felicity seems… happy and carefree, with her hair cascading down around her shoulders instead of confined in an elastic as usual. He finds he's never actually seen this side of her, even before the Undertaking. Sure, she is easily the happiest and most positive of the trio, but she rarely gives herself over to such uninhibited laughter. He's noticed she's been leaving her hair down more frequently since his return, but smiling less, another regret on his long list. It looks good on her, happiness.
"Hi," he says as he descends the stairs, mostly to alert her to his presence. He's walked up behind her without a greeting before and that resulted in her on the floor and her chair across the room.
"Hey," she mutters back, her tone distracted as usual. He's used to her replies sounding far away when she's looking at a computer screen.
"Digg in yet?" He asks, heading over to check on his arrow supply.
She makes a sound he assumes means 'no' and continues to stare at the screen, fingers moving rapidly over the keyboard.
"So… Connor seems…" The words are coming out before he can stop them or even decide what to finish the statement with. He presses his lips together tightly to avoid kicking something in his frustration with himself. He's beginning to understand Felicity a lot better lately with his filter apparently out of commission.
The sound of her typing stops. "He's a friend from work. Nice guy. A little shy, but sweet. No criminal record. Not that I looked specifically before becoming friends with him. I don't usually do that, it's just that I got the results of all of the company background checks from employee applications when I still worked in IT and I had to process them so I saw…" She stops abruptly, taking a deep breath to stall the rant before the sound of her typing resumes. "What's this all about?"
Unable to find anything else to do to appear busy, he moves to the cabinet containing his island herbs and starts sifting through them to keep his hands occupied as his mind races for the right response. All he comes up with is a stalling, "What do you mean?"
"Don't play coy with me. Why are you asking about Connor?" She demands, and he hears her chair swivel around to face him. He doesn't turn to her yet, unsure of the answer to her question himself.
"I-" He falters, trying to come up with the right thing to say to diffuse the rapidly growing tension in the room. "I wasn't asking about him. Just making a general observation."
"That you didn't finish," she says pointedly. "Come on, Oliver. You think I didn't see that stupid, macho, caveman hand-shake thing you guys were doing? You're not as subtle as you think. And then you come in here suddenly interested in my friends and my personal life? That was the most obvious fishing expedition I've seen since my dad took me ice-fishing when I was nine in a bright orange parka."
He can't help turning around to face her then, leaning back on the table with an amused half-grin on his face. He tries not to think of the way her use of the word 'friend' lightens the tension in his shoulders just a bit. "You ice-fish?"
Her cheeks turn a delicate shade of pink and her eyes seem far away at the memory she's recalling for just a moment before they snap back to the present. "I said he took me ice-fishing, I didn't say it stuck. He wasn't too keen for a repeat after I fell in."
He chuckles quietly at the image of a nine year old Felicity splashing around in freezing cold water in an orange parka, wondering when the last time anything even resembling a real laugh came out of his mouth. Laughter is a privilege he doesn't much indulge in these days.
"Glad I could amuse you," she snaps darkly, "But that's not the point. You've never shown any interest in my personal life before. Why now?"
His mind finally lands on a semi-plausible explanation and he latches onto it eagerly, just needing a way to frame it so that she won't get too angry. "It occurred to me after our last takedown that anyone… aware of my situation and your part in it might-"
It's the wrong thing to say. Her eyes flash angrily as she stands, her chair rolling back to hit the desk as she does so. "I'm going to stop you right there and give you the chance to avoid saying that you think people would only be interested in using me to get to you."
Her voice is dangerously low and his brain searches frantically for the words that will put this right. Honestly, that hadn't been his motivation at all, but he really doesn't have a clue what the actual reasoning is so it's as good as any.
"I- I didn't-" He stutters, still not finding the words. Why is it that in any other situation, with any other person, he could be covering and spewing lies by now, but in the face of the small blonde IT girl he's speechless?
"Yes, you did. Just because you push people away doesn't mean I will. I won't let this secret interfere with my life any more than it has to."
"I didn't say you did," he replies, hands up in a gesture of surrender. Usually she isn't quite so quick to anger.
"You suggesting that my friends aren't really my friends is doing exactly that," she snaps, turning back around and pushing in her chair before starting to collect her things.
"What are you doing?" He asks, even though it's obvious.
"I'm taking a night off. I need a break. Ever since the Glades, you've been three times as paranoid as you usually are, and that's saying something," she tells him, pulling on her sweater and grabbing her car keys. "There are alarms set on my computer if there are any reports of suspicious activity. You and Digg will be fine without me for the night. I'm going to go home, breathe, maybe take a bath, and try to forget this conversation ever happened."
"Felicity," he tries again, not wanting her to leave like this. Actually, he doesn't want her to leave at all, but that thought troubles him too much and he pushes it aside. "I'm just concerned, OK? I worry about you- your safety. I don't want you to get hurt."
"I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself, despite what you may think," she tells him defiantly.
"Is that why you refused self-defence training? You're already an expert?" He challenges, feeling his temper rising. He's trying to look out for her and she's throwing it back in his face.
She rolls her eyes. "Not everyone is waiting to attack me, Oliver. The Count used me to get to you, yes, but that was my own fault. I shouldn't have gone there alone and unprepared, but that was months ago and I won't make that mistake again. And getting caught a couple of weeks ago couldn't be helped. It happens. You may think that's a naïve way to look at things, but some people need to look at the world and see good. Some people need to believe there are still bright spots in the dark." She stops to take a deep breath before muttering, "Besides, I'd probably do more damage to myself than any would-be attacker."
He clenches his jaw to prevent himself from showing any outward reaction to her words. The truth is that he admires her unfailing optimism. He wishes he could see the world the way she does, but too much has happened for that to be possible anymore.
"I'm just trying to protect you," he says softly.
"Why now, though?" She asks, not really angry anymore. She sounds more exhausted and exasperated if he had to define it. "You've never cared before, yet here you are suddenly walking me to my car and making sure I get home alright and invading my personal life. If this is some big brother protector thing, save it. You brought me into this because you trusted my judgement. Trust it now."
"This isn't about not trusting your judgement, Felicity," he urges, needing her to believe him. She can't think he doesn't trust her.
"Then what is it about?" She yells again, exasperated. She throws her hands up at her sides before throwing them back down and shaking her head.
She scoffs loudly. He's never seen her so angry or combative and it's starting to worry him. The Felicity he knows wouldn't be acting like this over something as simple as a "macho-caveman-handshake" as she'd called it. Sure, she'd make sure he knew what she thought about it, and then maybe ignore him for a bit, but by the end of the night she'd either forgive him or fake it until she had. That was how Felicity worked. Somewhere along the line this conversation took a very wrong turn and pushed some button he didn't know she had. That has to be the explanation for why she's looking at him like this. There's something else going on, but he knows she won't share it. Especially not with him, and not now.
"You sound exactly like my father. I thought I was through with all of this overprotection crap when he died but I guess not. I told you that I can take care of myself where my personal life is concerned," she tells him firmly. He can't think of anything to say, but she doesn't stick around to see if he does. Instead, she turns on her heel and starts toward the stairs.
"Felicity!" He tries calling after her, finally regaining his voice. He even takes a couple of steps in her direction, but she keeps on walking.
"I need space, Oliver. I'll see you tomorrow," she calls back as she climbs the stairs.
Dumbfounded, he makes his way back to the table and leans against it. He hadn't even known her father was dead.
A/N: Ok, so initially this was supposed to be a one shot but as I kept building it up piece by piece I started to realize that it was taking on a life of its own and now I guess I'll see where it goes. It started as kind of a re-examination of his feelings about Felicity, but now I figure it probably needs an actual plot so I did some research and finally decided on one. Hopefully it works out. Reviews are love!