Oliver laughs outright the first time Felicity tries to sort him into a Hogwarts house.
"Stop laughing!" she says, embarrassment staining her cheeks, but she smiles at the crack in his normally steadfast exterior.
"Sorry, sorry," he says. He drains his plastic water bottle with a final squeeze and lifts himself back onto the pull up bar. Felicity reclines in her "Dr. Evil" chair (as she likes to call it), and watches him, still excited she can finally tell someone about her Hogwarts personality theory.
"But seriously, you can see a lot more into people once you've sorted them into houses. Take Digg, for instance. Sure, he's brave – braver than pretty much anyone – well, you're brave, too – I mean, I don't want you to think –"
"I get it, Felicity," grunts Oliver.
"Right, anyway. Digg is as brave as the best Gryffindor, but it's not what motivates him into action. People he loves – that's what motivates him. He's loyal to a fault. That's why he was such a good soldier, even when he didn't like guarding that guy in Afghanistan. He was loyal to his superiors; to his job."
Oliver drops from the bar. Sweat sprinkles the floor. "So Digg is…what, exactly?"
"Hufflepuff," Felicity says, as if it should be obvious. Oliver laughs again, and Felicity can't help but wonder why he's being so generous with his smiles tonight. Not that she's complaining.
"I don't think he'd be very happy to hear that."
"Hey, don't hate on Hufflepuff. They're the unsung heroes. The ones who have your back in a fight. That's Digg."
Oliver nods and walks toward her. Felicity swallows nervously and turns back to her monitors.
"So what am I?" he asks, coming around the table to look at her face. Felicity doesn't look up at him and continues typing.
"Oh, um, Gryffindor. Of course."
Felicity has three tells, and Oliver watches as she then exhibits all of them: avoiding eye contact, worrying the left side of her cheek with her teeth, which makes her lips purse.
"Liar," he says, and she glares at him, annoyed.
"It's a dumb theory, Oliver. You don't have to indulge me anymore."
He folds his arms, a stubborn smile on his face. "I insist."
"Fine. Most people have a little of two houses in them. The way I see it, anyway." She mirrors his actions, crossing her arms as if to ward off his displeasure at her analysis.
"Before Lian Yu, you were all Hufflepuff. An irresponsible one, but a Hufflepuff all the same. Now, you're still a Hufflepuff, a little…but mostly…" she trails off quietly. "Slytherin."
He frowns. "I thought they were the bad guys."
"Not all of them," she says. "Besides, we're talking qualities here, not Harry Potter characters."
"Is there a difference?"
"Yes!" she snaps, and Oliver smirks.
"Okay, sorry. So my qualities are?"
She bites the end of her tongue for a second before answering. "Cunning. Ambition. Resourcefulness."
"Basically, all the qualities needed to survive," he says baldly.
She gives him a sad half-smile and tilts her head.
"Spoken like a guy who runs around in a green leather suit – which is, by the way, the color of Slytherin house."
He shrugs and starts jumping up and down, warming up his legs. "Okay, so what are you?"
Felicity gestures at her computers as if the answer were obvious. "I'm the brains of this operation. Ravenclaw, hello."
"A nerd, then," he calls out wickedly, jogging away.
"That's…!" she trails off as he gets farther from her, chuckling to himself, "rude. Never mind."
When Oliver comes back around to her desk a few minutes later, his breath short from his cardio workout, and he starts to make a crack about her and Barry being two Ravenclaw nerds in a pod, she levels him with a glare.
"Be smart, Queen," she warns, and throws her cupful of pens at his back as he retreats, laughing.
Felicity's a little bit drunk when she figures it out.
She shuffles the deck of cards, ready to deal, when another small piece of Oliver Queen's enigmatic character falls into place on her mental spreadsheet.
"You lie a lot," she says to Oliver off-handedly, and Digg chuckles.
"It's poker, Felicity," says Digg, while Oliver smirks his best half-smirk. "Lying is kind of the point."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I mean, you lie when you're not playing poker. Like, all the time."
Oliver gives her a curious look. "I have to. To keep people safe, Felicity. Does that…"
Felicity waves off his concern and takes a swig from her beer bottle. "You're not listening!" she says, and points at him severely, which is made infinitely less threatening by the way her eyes cross slightly. Her glasses lie on the table a few inches away from him. "I'm talking about your tells."
"Ah," says Digg. "His tells. I see what you mean, Felicity."
"Thank you!" Felicity exclaims, and Digg laughs while Oliver's face becomes a mask of confusion.
"I do not have tells!" he says indignantly, and the two of them laugh at him until Oliver takes all of their chips.
But he does, Felicity muses. Just of a different kind. Oliver's tells don't happen when he lies - they happen when he's being honest.
She sees him – the real him - when he relaxes his shoulders; stands up straight; loses the stance of the Arrow teetering on the edge of jumping into a fight, and becomes Oliver again. She sees him when his voice drops from what she has mentally labeled as his Arrow Voice – strong (almost arrogant), demanding, every word punctuated like a punch – to his real tone: soft, the words a bit round around the edges, missing beginning and ending syllables, his modulation doing the slightest uptick when he admits something he'd rather not.
"Think I'd better see you home," he says softly, in his real voice, when Felicity stands to leave the lair, following Digg.
"'M fine," she says, but she stumbles and Oliver catches her elbow so that she doesn't fall. He smells too good to refuse, anyway. Like spice and outdoor air.
"You smell like a pumpkin patch," she tells him drowsily, a goofy smile on her face. He exhales sharply, a laugh hidden underneath the breath.
"New team rule for people under 130 pounds: no more trying to match those over 200 pounds drink for drink." He helps her put on her jacket and stands patiently behind her as she climbs the steps out of the basement.
"'M fine," she repeats again, climbing into his car. She sighs in contentment and snuggles down into the front seat. They've been driving for a few minutes before Oliver speaks again.
She hums in response, sleepily watching the lights flash outside the passenger's side window.
"I've been thinking about your Hogwarts theory. I think you're wrong."
This is enough to make her sit up and frown at him. Well, the blurry edges of him, anyway.
"'M never wrong! Well, 'm sometimes wrong 'bout other stuff. B'not normally. That's why you pay me the big bucks to order your favorite sandwich for lunch on Wens'days. And to do computer things." She punctuates each over-exaggerated word with a poke into his abnormally solid shoulder.
Oliver smiles and pulls the car over to idle on the street in front of her building. He turns and looks at her sitting there, hair mussed, lipstick mostly gone to waste on the completely unappreciative mouths of discarded beer bottles, glowing in the light of the twinkle lights wrapped around the tree in front of her bright yellow door. Always glowing. Felicity always throws off a light that Oliver can't help but be drawn toward.
"I think you're right about being in the smart house," he says.
"Ravenclaw," she interrupts.
"Yes, that. You're certainly our mastermind, and my eyes and ears. But I also think you're our heart."
Even in her buzzed state, Felicity notices that his shoulders relax. She zeroes in on the way he pronounces his words: soft, light, a bit higher in tone than normal. And she smiles.
"So, you're sayin' 'm in Gryffindor."
"Is that the house Harry and his friends are in?"
"Yup," she says, finishing the word with a pop.
"Then, yes. My brave IT girl."
She smiles, wanting to be smug about the fact that billionaire playboy Oliver Queen has been dedicating time to thinking about Harry Potter, but the bubbles of pride, making their way from her stomach and into her throat, are all she can feel. Or was that nerves? She tries to think it through, but the words he's just said abruptly (or perhaps finally) interrupt her train of thought.
Oliver just called her smart. And brave. And the heart of the team.
And now their faces are mere inches apart; they're breathing the same air through parted lips; and Oliver's bright blue eyes are gentle and eager and content, all at the same time, and they stare at her. Her fingers suddenly itch to trace his jawline, his lips.
She gulps and opens the door; steps onto the sidewalk, itching fingers searching her purse for her keys. "We really need t' work on your Harry Potter education, Oliver. Night."
"Night," he says, and he's smiling when she shuts the door. He waits until he sees the light from her lamp flood the window of her living room, sees her wave at him, hair already out of its normal ponytail and cascading around her shoulders, before he pulls away.
"Daring, nerve, and chiv'lry," Felicity murmurs to herself as she collapses into bed. She grabs the lonely pillow on the other side of her bed and clutches it to her chest, wishing it smelled of dark spice and breeze and well-worn green leather.
It becomes a joke between them, then. It starts with Oliver dragging his feet going into a board meeting one day, unsure of how to keep Isabel's sticky fingers off of his part of the company. Felicity gives him all the notes he needs (and more, even), a cup of coffee (number nine, though she smacks the back of his head whenever he smiles presumptuously about it), and a reassuring pat on the back.
"You can do this," she tells him. "Be you. Be smart." She emphasizes the last two words with two squeezes of his hand. Be – quick squeeze – smart – longer, more insistent pressure.
He does his signature half-sigh, half-laugh.
"Me. Smart. Right."
"Slytherin smart," she quips, and he rolls his eyes as she steers him toward the boardroom.
He gets back at her a few days later, though, when she's practicing her sparring skills, facing off with Digg in the lair. Digg stands like an oak tree on one corner of the mat, waiting patiently for Felicity to make her move.
Oliver pauses in his upside down ab workout to watch her dance on the opposite corner, feet light and anxious. She shakes her hands out as if they are cramping from typing too much, whispering "okay, okay okay okay," to herself as she works up her nerve.
"Be you!" he calls out to her, and she presses him with a look that is half skittish and half irritated.
"What?" she asks, and he pads over, wiping sweat off his chest. He lines up behind her, his expression a bit impish, and puts both hands heavily on her shoulders.
"Be you. Be brave," he murmurs in her ear, marking the last two words with two squeezes, like she had. Be – quick – brave – longer, more insistent.
"Leave the girl alone, Oliv –" starts Digg, but he's cut off by Felicity landing a solid hit on his jaw.
It's only when they are standing outside the door of the enormous Queen mansion that Felicity realizes she's been following Oliver blindly. He hesitates a few feet from the vast front door. She stops with him, eyes wide and wondering if she asks him for the fourteenth time what exactly he is doing, he might relent and tell her.
Just as she opens her mouth to try, he speaks. Finally, she thinks.
She takes his hand and unconsciously starts their squeeze. Quick – long. Quick – long. He swallows a knot in his throat, and the part of his face she can see under the hood and mask looks lost, guilty, and beyond worried. She doesn't like it, so she uses her unoccupied hand to push back the hood, take off the mask.
"Felicity," he says again, the way he always does, like her name is a complete sentence.
"I'm right here. What do you need? What can I do?" (She really wants to ask: "Why are we here? What are we doing?" but she knows those questions are surefire ways to spook him again.)
He meets her eyes for the first time since they spoke over Isabel Rochev's dead body.
"I need to know something."
"Then ask," she says simply, and he drops the bow at his feet. His eyes bore into hers.
"Do you trust me?"
Her brows knit together, more confused and a little offended at his apparent lack of faith in her. "Of course I do. You know I do."
He scowls and looks back down at the ground.
"I trust you with every fiber of my being," he tells her, shaking his head as if he can't believe it of himself. His knuckles are white as they clutch her hands. "And I believe in you, too."
She is moved, and silent, and now thoroughly perplexed. He takes a deep breath and seems to be steeling himself against something awful.
"Let's go," he says in his Arrow Voice, and she follows him inside, exasperated.
"Oliver, what are we doing here? The whole city's falling apart."
"I know," he tells her, steering her in front of him so that she is standing right in front of the colossal hearth.
"You need to stay here," he says, and her fight response kicks in.
"What? Why? You can't just ask me to –"
"I'm not asking."
Her eyes narrow at him dangerously.
"I will come and get you when this is all over," he commands, each word over-enunciated, before turning away. She stares after him for a split second, bereft, wondering if the wound on her head could make her hallucinate this extensively, before she finds her voice again.
"Felicity…!" he warns.
"No, not unless you tell me why!"
He turns and strides back to her. His brow is furrowed and his hands are clenched at his sides.
"Because I need you to be safe."
"Well, I don't wanna be safe. I want to be with you," she says, and the look in his eyes is warm and worried as she remembers to finish the sentence.
"…and the others, unsafe!"
"I can't let that happen," he says resolutely.
"Oliver," she says, and she takes hold of his elbow, willing him to be clear with her. "You're not making any sense."
He pauses for a moment before taking both of her arms in his hands, right behind each elbow, mirroring her hold.
"Slade took Laurel because he wants to kill the woman I love," he tells her, and his mouth is so near hers.
"I know, so –"
"So he took the wrong woman."
The rest of Felicity's sentence dies on her tongue (" – so let me help you get her back."). She stares at him, shocked, and very intelligently says: "Oh!"
Wait. Me? Oliver loves...me?
Oliver's hand slides slowly down her forearm. Her heartbeat stutters when his fingers brush the pulse point in her wrist. He presses a cold plastic object into the palm of her hand. His gaze is arresting and impossible to ignore, but it also carries a warning: Don't look down.
She doesn't need to, though. It's a syringe. A syringe of the mirakuru cure. And then, she understands.
Slade took Laurel because he wants to kill the woman I love, she hears again, and she imagines Laurel with Slade's blade to her throat. Beautiful Laurel, dead at Oliver's feet.
So he took the wrong woman, echoes the Oliver in her mind, and now, instead of Laurel, she imagines herself kneeling in front of Slade, the syringe in her hand. Oliver standing in front of her, trusting her, silently supporting her as she does exactly what he needs her to do.
What he can't do.
And then in her mind's eye, she's stabbing it into his thigh, his arm, his neck – anywhere she can reach.
She's so wrapped up in her head, wrapped up in the plan, that she nearly misses it. Nearly misses the way Oliver drops the first syllable of the sentence. How his words are rounded, whispered at the edges. How his shoulders relax as he bends his face closer to hers.
How he's telling her the truth even as he lies, even as he lays traps for his enemy.
She swallows and breaks eye contact for just a moment, trying to reign in the pace of her heart. She grips the syringe tightly and then looks back up at him.
But why didn't you tell me beforehand? she thinks, a bit panicked.
Oliver's eyes are intense. Don't speak, Felicity, they say. Think. And they dart almost infinitesimally to a corner of the room.
Bugs, she realizes. The house is bugged. Slade is watching.
This is a trap.
You're the bait.
Slade is coming.
"Do you understand?" he asks, still in his real voice.
She wonders for a half-second what he really means - Do you understand how dangerous this is? Do you understand that it's a trick?
And the one that gives her most pause: Do you understand that I love you?
Still stunned and in the beginning throes of panic at what lies before her, she nods and tells him: "Yes."
He exhales a shaky breath and looks almost disappointed, as if he wanted to her object. And maybe he did. She can see the worry and hesitation at putting her in harm's way on his face.
But instead, he accepts her help. He squeezes the arm without the mirakuru cure twice, then twice again.
Be brave. I'm sorry.
And then he's gone, and Felicity lets out a dry sob she didn't know was trapped in her throat.
"I love you, too," she whispers to the empty house.
No one replies. Not even the ghosts.
Waller is speaking to him, but he isn't listening. The lights blare, the sirens wail, she tries raising her voice, trying to keep his attention, but his focus fades in and out. He watches dimly, adrenaline sharply declining, as the soldiers unharness an unconscious Slade and bind him so tightly, Oliver idly wonders if he'll be able to breathe.
Where is she? he wants to know, and then he realizes he has asked the question out loud. It's the first thing he's verbalized since lancing Slade to the pillar and demanding that Amanda call off the drones. The woman in question raises an eyebrow at him.
"You will give me your statement, Mr. Queen. Soon," she says, and her tone tells him that he has no choice in the matter.
But then she points to the right, and Oliver turns to see her standing there, looking small and gray and completely unlike her lion-hearted self, wrapped in an ambulance shock blanket. EMTs and police scurry around her, but she simply stands and stares at him. His legs carry him forward even as he limps, and then he's got her, safe, in his embrace.
She doesn't say anything, and neither does he. The blanket begins to slip from her shoulders as they stand there, so he has to loosen his grip for just a moment to drape it back around her. A small whimper escapes her throat at the momentary loss of his arms, and Oliver can't bear to hear it, so he holds her even more tightly, burying his nose in her hair. She smells like sweat and lemon soap and dried, coppery blood.
He isn't even cognizant of the fact that he is shuddering until she starts to hush him.
"You did it," she whispers. "Shh. You did it. It's over."
He draws back from her, and then it occurs to him that maybe she's hurt, maybe the EMTs missed something. His movements flirt on the edge of frantic as his gloved fingers probe her scalp, neck, shoulders, jaw, cheekbones.
"I'm fine," she assures him, but does not push his efforts away. Keeps him close, her arms around his torso. "I'm fine. It's over. It's over."
His hands slow their assessment, and he draws in his first deep, full breath since he was riding in the limousine with his mother and sister.
"'S over," he repeats. His voice modulator is still on, but Felicity can still hear that it's his real voice. His honest voice.
"Yeah," she says, and she smiles, looking like herself again. The glowing light rolls off of her in waves.
It warms him to his bones, and finally, for the first time in months (perhaps even years), he stops shuddering.