Laurel feels it in every bone, in every muscle. The weight of Sara's jacket on her shoulders is unmistakable – the torch has been passed.
"Oliver needs you."
Yes, yes he does, Laurel thinks, her heart swelling up with emotion. Ever since she found out that Oliver – her Ollie – was the Arrow, the man underneath the green hood, everything about him since his return had finally made sense. She finally understands, and it is incredibly liberating. To find out that Ollie had risked his life numerous times – for this city, for her – it brings back certain emotions with an intensity that surprises even her.
With this knowledge, she finds herself falling in love all the more with one Oliver Queen, and the desire to help him in his quest to save this city becomes overwhelming. But she needs to put her wishes on hold for a while, because her father's heart attack has left him weak and vulnerable, and she needs to take care of him.
Detective Lance, however, proves to be resilient – a fact that both surprises and amuses her – and recovers quite well from his heart attack. He's back on his feet in no time, and Laurel is immensely grateful for it.
But with her father now in better health, she feels that incredible rush of purpose flood her entire being again, and resolutely makes her way to Verdant.
She finds Oliver in the foundry – or, as she glances around at the abysmal surroundings, what's left of it – picking through the debris, obviously attempting to salvage whatever he could.
She also notes – with a surprising degree of envy – that Felicity and Diggle are there as well, and that they are probably always there (always have been), helping Oliver every step of the way.
"This started with the three of us."
"Laurel," Oliver greets her, eyebrows slightly raised. "What're you doing here? How's Detective Lance?"
She smiles at his concern, and places a grateful hand on his shoulder. "He's doing a lot better, thanks," she says. Out of the corner of her eye, she spots Felicity and Diggle collecting pieces of computer hardware, the two combing through the wreckage both methodically and efficiently – a well-oiled machine.
"Hey," the sound of Oliver's voice snaps her back into reality, and Laurel stares up at him. "You still haven't answered my first question."
Though his voice is soft and kind, she bristles a little. "I want to help," she says. "Now that Sara's gone – I want to be out there, on the field, with you. I want to make this city a better place."
Oliver shuffles uncomfortably. "Laurel –" he begins.
"Please, Ollie," she interrupts him in earnest. "I know that I'm not a fraction of the fighter Sara is, but I can learn. I want to learn. If you teach me how to fight – please, let me do this. Let me help you."
She sounds desperate, she knows. But deep down, she can feel that this is the path she is meant to walk on – she can feel it all the way to her core. Her and Oliver – fighting hand in hand, together, to save Starling City.
The vision is so clear in her mind, Laurel can almost taste it.
Oliver holds her gaze for a split-second longer before he glances backwards, and Laurel's vision abruptly becomes riddled with cracks.
Because there, right in front of her eyes, Oliver does not make the decision by himself, but consults them. His team.
"This started with the three of us."
She observes this silent exchange with morbid fascination.
Their silent communication is something she has never seen, ever. Their ability to make their opinion known and understood with only one placed look only speaks to the amount of time they have spent, and the experiences they have endured together. This is a team that has been built on tears, sweat, blood, and trust – that level of companionship and camaraderie attained only through their work together; their mutual goal to save this city.
Laurel suddenly realizes that she has not to only earn Oliver's respect and trust, but that she will have to work to earn those of Felicity Smoak, and John Diggle.
Oliver nods suddenly – the move almost imperceptible – before he turns back to Laurel. "Alright," he says, and she can feel her face split into a giant smile. "Digg and I will supervise your training." He extends his hand, and Laurel takes it confidently.
She doesn't miss the way their palms fit, or the sparks of electricity that shoot up her entire body.
This is meant to be.
"Welcome to the team, Laurel," Oliver says.
Almost three months after Laurel officially joins the ranks of Team Arrow, she finally starts to get somewhere.
She can practically hold her own in a fight with Oliver – not in hand-to-hand combat, but using her sister's weapon of choice of course – and even Digg has become more open to the idea of sparring with her, often encouraging her to practice with him and Roy.
The salmon ladder has proven to be a challenge all on its own, but she's managed to make it up a third of the way without wanting to throw up, and has been steadily improving ever since.
Laurel can tell too, that she's been improving – every day, as she looks into the mirror, and takes in the sight of her newly defined biceps, the outlines of her abdominal muscles beginning to take shape, the strength of her calves. She is slowly, but surely, transforming into a person that can carry the responsibility of the Canary, and she thinks Sara would be proud.
As they embark on their first mission of priority – reclaiming Queen Consolidated – Laurel slowly begins to notice the very real cracks in her vision.
For one, this isn't about just her and Oliver, but about Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity. They are a group – a team built from the beginnings of Oliver's crusade – and are an incredibly tight and efficient dynamic. She has to learn not only to adapt to Oliver, but to the team as well. The experience proves to be harder than she initially thought it would be.
She focuses on that at first – on making sure she is a part of the cohesive whole, and so almost misses the other interactions; the subtle ones that immediately start to set alarm bells ringing her head.
It doesn't take Laurel long to figure out that Oliver cares for Felicity.
It takes her a while to figure out how much.
She remembers the first time she really noticed, clear as day. It had been after a particularly grueling mission, one in which they had been compromised. Oliver had taken the hit in an effort to protect her, while Roy had finished the attackers off. His injury had been pretty severe, and they had taken him to the foundry as fast as they could.
Laurel – who up at that point, had never seen Oliver severely injured – was feeling the guilt acutely. She didn't know how they were supposed to handle this, and it had happened because of her. She wasn't even supposed to have been out on this mission, but Diggle was at home with a sick Lyla, and Oliver had insisted that he take the night off to take care of her and his unborn child.
"I'm sorry," she remembers repeating that phrase over and over again through broken sobs.
Oliver had attempted to smile at her through his pain. "It's okay," he reassured her through gritted teeth.
With Roy's help, they had carried him back to the foundry, dropping him promptly on one of the readily available chairs. Felicity had been there, anxiously waiting for them, but one look at Oliver had her snapping back into focus.
"Get me the medical kit," she told Roy, as she helped Oliver out of his green leather jacket.
Laurel shudders out a painful breath as she remembers watching with wide eyes as Felicity calmly extracted the bullet out of the back of Oliver's shoulder, and began disinfecting the wound.
She caught her looking at her as she worked. "Oh don't worry," she said almost breezily. "You start to get used to this. I almost threw up the first time I stitched Oliver up – not that I stitch him up all the time. I mean, he does get into his fair share of trouble…"
And to Laurel's ever-lasting amazement, Oliver began to laugh. "Felicity," he enunciated clearly, and Laurel noticed – with an uncomfortable twinge in her heart – that he spoke her name almost reverently. "Open wound here?"
"Right! Sorry, my bad," she replied quickly, resuming her work. "I tend to babble," she offered in way of explanation to a shell-shocked Laurel.
The discrete twitch upwards of Oliver's mouth did not escape Laurel's notice. It bespoke something she had not seen him display in a while.
She remembers just quietly taking a seat, completely oblivious to the fact that Roy was training and that she should probably do the same, and instead engrossed in Oliver and Felicity's interaction as she played nurse, and fixed him right up.
Her touch was light, and delicate; and though that might have been necessary due to the nature of Oliver's injury, Laurel clearly saw the tenderness Felicity infused in her movements.
Both of her hands were on Oliver's shoulders as she threaded the surgical needle through the gaping wound, pressing gauze almost lovingly whenever it bled through. Though she had not known it then, Laurel now knows that Felicity is truly a beacon of light – she shines and she nurtures and she cares, displaying it mutedly in the most significant ways time and time again.
And Oliver, like a moth to a flame, is unable to resist the pull of Felicity Smoak's unknowing charm.
She remembers the scene so clearly – forever seared into her mind's eye – and her stomach churns with uninhibited envy. She recalls Oliver's small, breathless sighs as Felicity's hands moved delicately over his shoulder blades, the way he leant into her touch as she worked at his injury, eyes closed, implicitly trusting Felicity in a way Laurel had never seen Oliver trust anybody.
She remembers Felicity soaking extra pieces of gauze with water, and tenderly cleaning up any left over blood once she was done, remembers the way she looked at him – with concern and love – as she helped him back into a cotton sweatshirt. She saw the grateful look Oliver gave Felicity as he titled his head up, the discretely mouthed 'thank you' as she flushed slightly and nodded her head.
Most of all, Laurel remembers Oliver sliding his hand up to cup Felicity's face, stunned by the emotions playing on his face. She knows Oliver is a rather private person, but she has known him for the better part of his life, and what Felicity might not have picked up, Laurel was receiving loud and clear.
Oliver was looking at Felicity with the expression of a man in love. And it killed – kills her.
Because Laurel realizes that she had her vision all wrong the entire time. That she had been stupidly counting on the fact that Oliver's affections for her would not change, no matter what, simply because her hadn't.
She always thought of her and Oliver as being in the same bubble, with everyone on the outside looking in.
She understands that that does not hold true anymore.
Over the course of the past year, somehow, someway, she was ousted from Oliver's bubble. And though she might have thought it was because she didn't know his secret, and that he was keeping his nightly activities from her, she understands now that the answer is deeper than that.
Oliver and Felicity were now in a bubble of their own. One that was built on mutual trust, respect, admiration and adoration, however one-sided Felicity thinks it might be, it isn't. Because Laurel sees it now – every day – and not in Oliver's blatant concern for Felicity's safety, or by the fact that he always seems to listen to whatever she has to say first.
But in the way he enters and leaves the foundry – Oliver comes and goes from his mission with only one goal.
He leaves and always comes back for Felicity. His desire to go forward is for her, and his motivation to stay alive is for her, so that he can come back to her.
And Laurel realizes that was never on the inside with Oliver, but always on the outside looking in.
Author's Note: So this is my first venture into the Arrow fandom – I hope you guys like it! The inspiration for this one-shot struck after reading some stuff online about how Katie Cassidy is convinced that Laurel is more in love than ever with Oliver now that she knows he's the Arrow and that there is no other way but for Oliver and Laurel to be together because they are soul mates.
Though I respect Katie Cassidy's work as an actress and Laurel Lance as a character, I disagree with her opinion. My intention was not to bash on a character, and I hope this one-shot did not come across this way, but that it conveyed the depth and sincerity of Oliver and Felicity's relationship, something I hope Laurel will come to realize and respect next season on the show.
Anyway, I would love to hear what you guys think. Please, please leave a review! Thanks!