"Dig, you got eyes on them?"
Oliver paced restlessly across the top of the building overlooking the Q Club, twisting his bow in agitation.
"Not yet, Oliver. I'll let you know when I do."
Oliver frowned, ignoring the mild annoyance in his partner's voice, and moved to the edge of the rooftop again. He was positioned on top of a building overlooking the storage entrance at the back of the club, half hidden by a small shed, and it was agonisingly quiet. The yard beneath him was empty, all deliveries having finished some hours ago and, given that it was a Monday night, even the club itself was closed. He gritted his teeth, fingers of his right hand tensing, wishing he could see her.
"Why hasn't she got her comms on?" he muttered under his breath.
"She must still be on the way. We told her to check in when they got here."
Oliver grimaced, not bothering to reply. He regretted letting her out of his sight, never mind not asking her to stay in constant contact. A few lengthy minutes passed in silence before he snapped.
"I'm calling her."
He ignored Diggle's obvious exasperation and pulled his phone from his pocket, quickly bringing up Felicity's number. He had an odd sense of déjà vu as he listened to the dial tone ringing with no response and fought a growing sense of panic.
"Dig, she's not answering her phone. Something's wrong."
"No, sorry. I forgot to tell you," Diggle replied calmly, "she's using a different number right now."
There was a long moment of strained silence.
"She changed her number?" Oliver asked finally, his voice tight.
He thought back to the last time he had tried calling Felicity, when she had walked out of the base after their argument. She must have changed her number before she even came to meet them that day. Had she really been that determined to leave? Oliver placed a hand over his face, his eyes slamming shut. He had not realised how determined she had been to cut him out of her life. It hurt. A lot. If he had had any doubts of how much it would pain him to lose her, or how unbearable it would be to have her really leave him, they were gone now.
"Dig…" He didn't even know what he wanted to say, but the pain in his voice must have been evident.
"Look man, talk to her about it," his partner said carefully. There was a pause and he heard the other man sigh. "I'm going to regret asking this, but did you at least get a chance to talk to her earlier?"
Oliver hesitated, remembering his last moments with Felicity. Despite his fears a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, even as he felt his heart rate pick up slightly at the memory of her pressed tightly against him. His voice was warm when he replied.
"Yes. Well, not talk, but…"
"O-kay. Already regretting it. Let's just leave it there, alright?"
Oliver smiled beneath his hood, thinking of how good it had felt to have Felicity kiss him. His thoughts drifted back over the previous night and morning, to memories of her safe and comfortable in his apartment, of cooking for her, caring for her, loving her. The rightness of it all was still fresh in his mind. He sighed deeply, knowing that the reasons he had had for keeping her at arm's length didn't seem so reasonable anymore. He still wasn't sure if it could work, if he could manage to be with her without hurting her or driving her away, but the one thing he was certain of was that he couldn't keep his distance from her any longer.
He moved back to the edge of the rooftop, keeping to the shadows as his eyes scanned the yard. Where was she? Even though he was starting to get his head around what he wanted, it bothered him how uncertain he was of how Felicity actually felt. What if he had done too much damage already, telling her one thing while doing another? He had been so caught up in his own battle, he had never gotten to the point where he wondered how she felt about it all.
Oliver grimaced, leaning against the wall of the shed, finally coming to terms with a realisation that had been growing on him over the last few days. He had taken it upon himself to decide the future for both of them, without ever considering where Felicity stood. He had been a fool and, he knew, if he wasn't careful he could lose her still. Diggle's voice sounded over the comms.
"Here they come."
Oliver's head snapped up, eyes locking onto the corner of the night club where he knew they would emerge.
"Dig, you know what to do?"
He heard his partner sigh heavily. "Keep my eyes on Felicity. Watch her back. Avoid running into Detective Lance if I can, but wear a mask just in case."
Oliver nodded, nerves strung too tight to respond. He still couldn't see her.
"She'll be ok, Oliver."
At that moment, Felicity's voice rang in Oliver's ear.
"Hey Felicity," Diggle said, his voice warm. "You alright?"
"Yeah, I'm good, a little nervous, but you know…"
There was a pause. Oliver realised he still hadn't spoken.
"Felicity." He struggled to keep the tension from his voice. "Are you wearing Kevlar?"
"Yep, Detective Lance said you insisted. Apparently you hinted at horrible repercussions if I didn't? For him, I mean. Not me obviously, because I'd probably, you know, be dead or something."
Oliver didn't want to sound so angry with her, but listening to her talking about being killed was not helping matters. He clenched his jaw. All he really wanted to say was he loved her and he'd die to protect her. He hoped she already knew.
At that moment a shadow moved at the corner of the building where his gaze was trained. His eyes narrowed as he saw Quentin Lance edge around the corner, gun already drawn. The detective hesitated, glancing towards the neighbouring rooftop, and Oliver stepped away from the wall where he had been hidden to allow his silhouette to be outlined in the moonlight. He saw the detective nod curtly and then move towards the storeroom door. Oliver barely paid any attention to him, eyes caught by the small figure who hurried behind, her gait punctuated by a slight limp. Even from here he could see the police uniform she wore, but his attention was caught by the gun she held tentatively in front of her. His mouth twisted, hating to see the weapon in her hand but at the same time glad that she was armed. Oliver knew that Diggle had given her some training in firearms, but he still hoped she would not have to use it, for more reasons than one.
He moved closer to the edge of the rooftop, his descent already planned, watching with shallow breath as Felicity holstered the gun and edged towards the keypad on the warehouse door. Her voice whispered in his earpiece.
"We need to get to the office," he heard her tell the detective. "I hacked Simon Raine's phone and his GPS puts him there."
"Right," was the muffled reply. "But first we find those weapons, then I'm calling it in, and after that we get him."
Oliver continued scanning the yard, making sure they weren't disturbed. From the corner of his eye he could see the faint glow of the tablet in Felicity's hands and the soft beeping of the keypad rang in his earpiece. Two rapid chimes sounded and he knew the door was unlocked.
Even though she was whispering Oliver could hear the triumph in her voice. He smiled beneath his hood.
"Be careful," he murmured.
And then she was gone, disappearing into the darkened store behind the detective. Oliver was over the side of the rooftop in an instant, dropping onto a nearby freight container and rolling. He jumped from the edge and landed on the ground in a low crouch, ears straining for any sounds of disturbance.
"Felicity?" he whispered.
"Still ok." Her voice shook slightly but Oliver was relieved just to hear it.
"I'm right behind you, Felicity," Diggle added reassuringly.
Oliver crossed the darkened yard in a jog, his nerves growing wire-tight with every moment that he couldn't see her. He fought the urge to check in with her again over the comms. He was already at the door when a sudden burst of gunfire flared, followed by an abrupt silence. Oliver's heart stopped.
He didn't bother being quiet, already rocketing through the open doorway. He was met with rows of crates stacked atop each other, blocking both his path and his view. He clambered up them quickly, desperate to lay eyes on Felicity, needing to know what was happening. Within seconds he was atop the containers, crouching down and peering into the darkened room. The storeroom was in shadow, but the light from the streetlamps outside and the emergency lamps on the roof revealed more stacks of containers filling the large space.
He couldn't see her.
"Felicity!" he hissed again, refusing to imagine the worst.
There was no answer, the silence torn again by another abrupt round of gunshots. Oliver's eyes snapped towards the flash of gunfire. From what he could tell, the shots were coming from two different positions towards the back of the storeroom, one in the left corner and the other on the right, near the doorway to the manager's office. He moved to the right, making sure he wasn't outlined by the lights behind him, barely controlling his panic but unable to prevent disturbing images from crowding his imagination.
"Diggle, what's happening?"
"It looks like they surprised some of Raine's guys. He must have left them to watch the weapons." His partner's voice was strained but controlled.
"Can you see her?" Oliver asked, extremely aware of how close he was to losing control. At that moment Felicity's voice came over the comms.
"We're ok. My earpiece just came loose when Detective Lance pulled me down. We're behind one of the crates in the centre of the warehouse." She sounded oddly calm and Oliver felt a sudden surge of pride in her, even as his relief at hearing her voice threatened to overwhelm him.
"Ask him if he can outflank those guys or something," Oliver heard Lance mutter in Felicity's ear, "we're pinned down here. I'm calling for backup."
Oliver was already moving, keeping to the shadows as he ghosted across the tops of the containers.
"Digg, I'm on the crates. Make sure you get eyes on Felicity," he muttered quietly.
"Already on it," was the clipped reply.
Oliver glided along the right side of the room, keeping to the tops of the crates. Halfway along the wall he came up short, grimacing as he realised the tall stacks of containers ended there. All that remained were a few clusters of crates, none piled more than two high and offering limited shelter. Glancing to his left, he thought he saw a glimpse of blond hair hidden behind a small pile of containers in the centre of the room. He wanted to make sure, but there was no time to linger and he couldn't risk giving away his position.
Oliver dropped to the ground, already regretting everything about this plan. The warehouse should have been empty, apart from Raine and a security guard or two. Lance and Felicity should have been able to stroll right in with minimal assistance from himself and Diggle. Felicity should never, ever have been in the kind of danger she was in right now. He struggled with the inclination to hold himself accountable, reminding himself again that it was Felicity who had made the decision to be there, but an overpowering sense of guilt buffeted him regardless.
Another burst of gunfire came from up ahead and Oliver rolled to the side, taking shelter behind a nearby container. He looked up to see two shadowy shapes crouching behind a large crate near the doorway to the manager's office. He cursed under his breath, realising that the angle of the containers meant he couldn't get a clear shot with his bow.
"Dig, I need some cover fire," Oliver whispered.
There was no verbal response, only a flurry of gunshots from the opposite side of the warehouse. Oliver saw his targets' heads turn in that direction and quickly slipped between the shadows to manoeuvre behind them. As soon as the gunfire stopped he was amongst them, striking one on the back of the head before turning to the other and punching him in the jaw as he turned. He disarmed them both easily, landing a few more blows to ensure they were out. Felicity's voice reverberated in his ear.
"Detective Lance is going to take out the guys on the left," she said evenly.
"I'll cover him," Dig replied.
"Alright." Oliver stepped forward to cross towards Felicity's position, needing to be next to her to prove to himself that she was safe. He froze in place when he heard a bullet being chambered loudly behind him.
"Don't move," a man's voice snapped.
Oliver raised his hands slowly, trying to gauge his opponent's position from the sound of his voice. He realised he needed to get him to talk.
"Simon Raine, I take it?" he asked, his modulated voice sounding overloud in the silence. Another burst of gunfire rang out abruptly to the left.
"That's right," came the shaky reply. Oliver guessed the man had very few guards left. "I wonder who you are, under that hood."
Oliver slid his foot backwards, ostensibly to turn but also to further close the distance between him and the gun. Raine's nervous shout held him in place.
"I told you not to move!"
Oliver rolled his eyes at the heightened nervousness in the man's tone. The nightclub owner was close to panic, and panicked gunmen tended to shoot at the slightest provocation.
A female voice broke the tense silence. "You're the one who shouldn't move," Felicity said, stepping out from behind a line of crates, her gun raised. "Freeze… I mean."
Oliver's heart thumped in his chest. What was she thinking? Her eyes were fastened on the gunman and she seemed outwardly calm, but he hoped Raine didn't have enough experience with the police to see past the borrowed uniform to the IT girl beneath. He knew he had to end this fast. Now, before Felicity got hurt.
Oliver tilted his head a little to right and saw her pick up on the slight gesture. Without taking her eyes from Raine Felicity began edging sidewards, manoeuvring to get a clearer shot. On cue, Oliver heard Raine shuffle closer behind him, attempting to use Oliver's body as a shield. Knowing he was close enough Oliver spun, knocking the gun to the side and launching himself at the nightclub owner. He hit him hard, more times than he should have, even though the gun had technically been pointing at him and not at Felicity.
"Sir, thank you for you assistance," he heard Felicity say, her tone formal and carefully pitched, "but we do need him alive."
He looked up to see her standing close behind, the gun held loosely in her grip. Even though her tone was distant and aloof, her expression was not. Oliver's breath caught as he turned towards her, suddenly aware that the last time he was this close to her she had kissed him. He was about to say something when Lance emerged from the other side of the warehouse, handcuffs at the ready.
"Took care of those other guys," the detective said a little breathlessly. He looked at Oliver from the corner of his eye. "You got someone else with you?" His tone implied he already knew the answer.
"A friend," Oliver said noncommittally.
He stepped aside to allow the detective to cuff Raine, his own eyes glued to Felicity. Even now, seeing her in safe in front of him, his worry was not completely dispelled. He struggled with the urge to grab her hand and drag her from the storeroom, to not let go of her until they were safely back in the tiny apartment that had somehow become their sanctuary. And, even though he knew his eyes were hidden in the shadows of his hood, he watched Felicity meet his gaze and smile reassuringly, as if hearing his thoughts. Neither of them spoke.
"Officer Smoak," Lance interrupted dryly, his gaze passing between them. "You think you could check those crates behind you? Seems to be an awful lot of stock here for a simple nightclub."
"Yes, sir," Felicity replied, turning to the containers. Oliver resisted the temptation to help her, edging backwards into the shadows instead. It was important that no particular connection be drawn between Felicity and the Arrow if his plan was to work.
"You got a lot of problems here, Mr. Raine," he heard Lance say. "Not only did your guys fire at myself and Officer Smoak here, but you sent some of them to her house. Now that's just asking for a world of trouble."
Oliver nodded to himself, grateful that Lance was doing everything he could to build up Felicity's cover. That, coupled with the fake personnel file Felicity had planted in the SCPD system, should be enough to stop Raine or any of his associates from paying any further attention to her. Since Felicity's scans had shown that all Raine's men had been able to get on her was a name and address, to all appearances she would be nothing more than a pretty police officer singled out for some light undercover work. He hoped it would be enough.
Oliver was already on top of the stacks on the edge of the storeroom when Felicity's voice echoed through the silence.
"Yes! Got them! So that looks like ten, twenty… thirty crates of military grade weapons?" Oliver looked back to see her turning towards Raine, a satisfied smile on her face. "Book 'im, detective."
Oliver stifled a laugh but could not suppress his smile. Diggle's amused groan reverberated through his earpiece.
"Hey man, you get out ok?" Oliver asked warmly.
"Yeah, but you better get moving. We got cop cars pulling up out front and more coming round the back."
"Alright. I'll see you back at the base." He sprinted across the tops of the crates towards the back door, not bothering to be quiet. "Felicity?"
Oliver hesitated, suddenly realising that they were finally going to have the opportunity to talk. For some reason he thought of her changed number and his anxiety grew. If she had been that serious about leaving him once, it could very easily happen again. He couldn't mess this up.
"I'll be waiting for you outside." He found himself wishing he was better at this and cast around for something to say. "Make sure Detective Lance gets you out before the other officers notice you and start asking questions."
Oliver wondered if he detected a hint of nervousness in her tone. He crossed the yard silently, narrowly avoiding being caught in the headlights of the incoming police cars, and took shelter beside the freight container he had used in his earlier descent into the yard. He watched the backup officers race into the still darkened warehouse, using all of his training to try focus his thoughts. He was still shaken from the panic that had hit him when he first heard the gunshots, and all of his previous rationalisations suddenly seemed naïve and reckless. He struggled to get his head together, but all too soon a small shape slipped out the corner of the storeroom door and began crossing the yard.
"I'm at the container, Felicity," Oliver whispered tightly into his comms unit.
A few moments later she was next to him, staring up into his face with her eyes large and dark in the shadows, mouth already opened to speak. Oliver placed a finger to his lips and pointedly turned off his comms. He watched Felicity do the same. Without another word he stepped close to her and wrapped his arm around her waist. He saw her eyes widen and, not breaking her gaze, he activated the rappel arrow he had already fired into the side of the shed on the rooftop, holding her close as they shot rapidly upwards.
When they reached the rooftop he set her on her feet, embracing her for a moment longer than necessary, just to reassure himself that she was really there, safe and unharmed. And then he very carefully stepped away, pulling his hood down and lowering his mask, safely concealed by the shadows cast by the small shed.
Felicity stayed where she was, a look of dismay crossing her features. She wrapped her arms around herself defensively.
"Oliver…" she began, her voice strained.
"Felicity," Oliver interrupted her, and then paused, not knowing how to continue. Residual traces of panic still shot through him, the fear he had felt for her when he had first heard the gunshots still fresh in his mind. He said the first thing that came into his head. "You changed your number."
"Your phone number, you changed it."
Felicity sighed, touching her glasses nervously and refusing to meet his gaze. "Oliver, what's this about?"
"It's about you leaving, it's about me losing you. I tried to explain. I can't…" Oliver groaned. He had no idea what he wanted to say anymore. "I don't know if I can risk this…us…"
He wasn't even sure if that was what he actually wanted to say. The incident in the storeroom had rattled him more than he had expected and all of his fears and worries were boiling to the surface.
"For the record, and not that it matters," Felicity shot back, "but I didn't change my number. I just broke my phone."
She said it as if she was admitting something embarrassing and Oliver frowned in confusion.
"That night, after you kissed me, I was…" she took a shuddering breath, "I was really upset. And I threw my phone against the wall and smashed it. That's how much you got to me, Oliver Queen. You made me break my phone."
He wasn't sure if she was trying to be funny, because the pain in her voice was drowning out everything else. Oliver shut his eyes, unable to look at her anguished expression. To his surprise, she laughed humourlessly.
"Look at us," Felicity said, a note of bitterness in her voice. She gestured around her, taking in the nightclub in the distance, "right back where we started."
Oliver swallowed, knowing exactly what she meant. In fact, that was exactly how he felt. He was right back where he had started, struggling with his feelings for her but terrified to upset their carefully balanced relationship. For a moment he considered ending things with Felicity completely, sending her away for her own safety. He stared at her, trying to summon the words that would finally finish things between them, but when he looked in her eyes all he could see was her strength, her courage, and her steadfast belief in him and in what they did together.
He suddenly realised that she was wrong. They weren't back where they had started; they could never go back. He had changed and so had she. They could only move forward, either together or apart. Oliver already knew which option he would choose. For him, somehow, it had become the only choice.
"We're not back where we started," he said finally, his tone softening.
That brief moment of clarity had changed everything and he felt a smile beginning to break across his face. He saw Felicity eye him warily, noting his change in demeanour, and he took a step closer to her. He gestured at her clothing. "For one thing, we seem to have switched outfits somewhere along the way."
He saw her frown for a second and then begin to understand, remembering their first night in the Q Club and how they had been dressed. Oliver looked her up and down, taking his time, allowing himself to fully absorb the sight of her in her police uniform. He let his eyes linger suggestively on the handcuffs hooked to her belt, glancing at her face just in time to see her cheeks flush.
"I think the cop uniform looks better on you," she said cautiously, uncertainty written on her face.
Oliver grinned wickedly. "I think green leather definitely looks better on you." He didn't bother to hide the appreciation in his tone.
He had moved closer to her somehow, without even noticing, and she tilted her head upwards to look him in the eye. He was relieved to see her flash a cheeky smile, finally giving in to the playfulness in his manner.
"I know it did." She bit her lip, her eyes sparkling. "That's why you kissed me."
Oliver stopped in his tracks, brow furrowing, and a look of confusion crossed Felicity's face. He considered letting the moment pass, then reminded himself how much was at stake here, and how every word mattered.
"No," he finally admitted, "that's not why I kissed you."
He took a breath, glancing upwards for a moment as he steadied himself. Then he locked eyes with Felicity, close enough to touch her but still not bridging the distance.
"I kissed you because I love you."
The silence that followed seemed interminable. Felicity's eyes scanned his face, her breath coming in short gasps. He was reminded of another night, of very similar words that passed between them. He knew what she was thinking before she spoke.
"That night, with Slade, you were telling the truth?"
The disbelief in her voice was almost painful for Oliver to hear. His fists clenched at his sides but he held her gaze, putting everything he felt for her into his eyes.
"Yes. I love you, Felicity."
She bit her lip, her gaze still roaming over his face. Was he imagining that she wanted to believe him?
"Why did you wait so long to say something?"
Oliver released a shuddering breath. He hadn't expected it to be this difficult to make her accept the truth, especially since all he really wanted to do was take her in his arms and kiss her, and then drag her back to the safety of his apartment. He wondered briefly if he should just try that approach, but instantly pushed the idea aside. Felicity deserved better than that. If this was to work he needed to make her understand. He shut his eyes tightly, forcing the words out.
"I was trying to protect you. From everyone who would try to hurt you because of me." He took a breath. "But mostly from myself."
He felt Felicity reach out and clasp one of his clenched fists. He opened his eyes to see her regarding him earnestly, her expression tinged with sadness.
"Oliver, I thought I told you. I thought you understood. It's my life, and it's my choice."
Oliver's grip loosened and he clasped her small hand in his.
"I know and I'm sorry. It's just…" He stroked her knuckles with his thumb, trying to verbalise things that he was only now beginning to understand. "I've lost so many people that I feel like I'm somehow responsible. And I feel like I'm responsible for keeping you safe because…"
"Because you love me," she finished for him.
Oliver still couldn't tell if she believed him or not. He was keenly aware that she hadn't said she loved him back. What if she didn't? What if he had pushed her too far and ruined whatever chance there was for them? He felt his stomach clench. He had to know.
"I make my own decisions, Oliver," Felicity was saying, her tone determined, "I'm responsible for my own choices."
"I know," he said again. "I understand that now. I was trying to decide everything for both of us. I never asked what you wanted and I never gave you a choice." Oliver stepped closer to her, holding her gaze, and placed his hand tentatively on her shoulder. "I'm asking now."
He would have smiled when she leaned her face towards his hand, brushing his fingers with her cheek, but he was so terrified of what she was going to say next that he could barely breathe. When she looked up at him her eyes were shining.
"I love you, Oliver Queen. There's no choice to make."
A gasp of relief escaped him, his hand sliding up her neck to cup her cheek. He leaned forward to kiss her and saw her begin to close her eyes. He stopped abruptly, turning to glance over his shoulder.
"What are you doing?" Felicity asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
He turned back towards her, mouth curved in a broad grin. "Making sure we're not interrupted this time."
She started to smile and then he kissed her, or maybe she kissed him. He wasn't sure which and, for the very first time, it didn't matter.