Author's Note: So I posted this on AO3 a few days ago, but for some reason FF was giving me a hard time so I'm only just getting it up here now. Anyway, hooray for a new story! I posted the original idea for this on my tumblr a little bit ago, and I'm looking forward to fleshing it out into a full story. Hope you guys enjoy it. :)
Spoilers: None. Jumps off just after the end of season 2.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Words have weight, Oliver. They have power. Use them carefully; their echoes leave lasting impressions.
His father's words, imparted to him a lifetime ago, reverberated in his mind. Around and around they went, bouncing off of each other as if they were brightly colored bouncy balls, carelessly thrown and then forgotten. He couldn't say why he'd remembered his father's advice so suddenly.
No. That was a lie. He knew exactly why those words were pestering him, why they were creating a chaos in him that he refused to acknowledge. The echo of his father's words kept smashing into the echo of his own: I love you.
Across from him, Felicity was picking through the piles of displaced trash that had once been the Foundry in an effort to salvage any bits of technology or wiring that she could use to rebuild. The lair was moving. They couldn't keep their base of operations in the basement of a club that Oliver no longer owned. The safety building - the redundancy Oliver had set up had escaped Isabel's notice, and so had not been ripped away from him in the take over. That was one small mercy, according to Felicity. She didn't mention anything about their inability to furnish or otherwise set up their secondary lair now that Oliver was destitute. Well, not exactly destitute, but close enough to not make much difference.
Oliver's eyes tracked her movement as Felicity sifted through the junk. The evidence of the concussion she'd sustained from the wreck was in the slight jerk of movements that were normally seamless. Though the blood in her hairline was gone, an angry bruise had taken up residence in the same spot. Every time Oliver saw it, he felt that same terrible thrill of adrenaline he'd experienced after the crash.
Is she breathing?
They'd had one too many close calls lately. Too many chances for everything to go wrong, too many plans that could've gone to Hell with no warning or hope of redemption.
They had almost lost. He had almost lost, so much; too much.
Do you understand?
He'd done what was necessary, what Felicity herself had told him to do. Slade had had him backed into a corner. Still, it left a bad taste in his mouth when he thought about what he'd done to her, what he'd put her through. He had offered Felicity up as bait - dangled her from a hook like a choice worm in order to draw out the big fish. The plan had worked, but he didn't hate it any less for its success. If it hadn't worked -.
"Oliver?" Felicity was looking at him, a mess of wires clutched in one hand. "You're staring at me."
"How are you feeling?" He went to her automatically, crossing into her space like it was no different from his own. The bruise at her hairline stood out starkly against her pale skin.
"A little dizzy still, but not bad," Felicity replied honestly. "Nothing to worry about." He shot her a glare, which she brushed off with a casual shrug. "I'm fine, Oliver."
In reality, he knew that. All things considered, she'd been lucky to come out of the last seventy-two hours with nothing more than a concussion and a few scrapes. That wasn't the problem.
Oliver had always felt … connected to Felicity in some way. He knew where she was the moment he stepped into the room. He was always aware of her. Now, though - now that awareness had morphed into something else, something electric. Oliver didn't just feel connected to Felicity, he felt tied to her, as if some part of him had reached out and wrapped itself around her. He felt hyper aware of her now, as if he were a rod and she a lightning bolt.
Logically, he knew that she was okay. He was just … having a hard time dealing with the strange new reactions he was having to her presence.
"Find anything usable?" he asked, motioning to the damaged equipment littering the floor. He needed to stop thinking about it.
"A few wires so far," she answered, sighing. "I'll probably only be able to run one monitor for awhile. I know I have some spare motherboards somewhere at home, I'll have to dig them out. Rebuilding the mainframe will be the hardest part."
Oliver nodded, then said, "What?" when he realized Felicity was smirking at him.
"Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?"
"I'm not a complete idiot, Felicity. I know what a mainframe is."
"Ollie?" A new voice called.
As one, Felicity and Oliver turned to see Laurel descending the stairs.
Though he'd belonged to that nickname for most of his life, it felt wrong to hear it uttered in this space, ruined as it was. That was new, too - he'd never particularly minded before. Now, though, the nickname was just a reminder of a past that shamed him. A past that was, in some part, responsible for the destruction of his city.
"Laurel." She was wearing Sara's leather jacket and looked as though she'd gone home and cleaned up.
"I'm gonna keep looking," Felicity said quietly, excusing herself.
Oliver met Laurel halfway, thinking as he did so that it was strange to see her here. The way that her eyes cast around made him think that she was trying to recall what this place had looked like before; what that pile had been before its demise, where that glass had come from.
Oliver acknowledged that this woman, who had once fit into so many places in his life, did not fit here.
"What will you do now?" Laurel questioned by way of a greeting.
"Rebuild." He tried not to sigh tiredly when he said it, and almost succeeded.
"Where will you go?"
The answer was automatic, and a lie. "I don't know yet."
Laurel appraised him, gauging what his answer would be before he gave it. "You won't tell me when you do, will you?"
This time, he told her the truth. "No. You're in line to be the new District Attorney, Laurel. It's better if you don't know."
Oliver thought Laurel might be recalling an earlier conversation, when he'd told her that they needed to get back to being just the three of them, because she didn't press the issue. He was grateful for that. While he didn't blame Laurel for what had happened, the sight of her now only reinforced his distaste for what he'd had to do to protect her from Slade. Saving Laurel, getting the upper hand over Slade, had required more of Oliver than he'd previously thought himself capable of giving. Something that he hoped he'd never have to give again.
To fight the unthinkable, you have to be willing to do the unthinkable.
Laurel's eyes flicked to a spot over his shoulder. Her voice was quieter - gentler - when she said, "I didn't know."
He knew what - who she was looking at, then. He didn't need to turn around to see Felicity, still expertly working her way between the rubble of equipment. The Foundry had been her home as much as it had been his; she knew exactly what she was looking for, and where it should be.
Oliver was saved from answering by a muttered, "Why can't there be some sort of superhero insurance? My poor computers," which was followed immediately by Digg calling out a greeting. Oliver hid his smile - a result of Felicity's muttering - in an answer to that greeting.
"Down here, Diggle."
Lyla was with him. She smiled by way of a greeting, but there seemed to be some underlying tension between her and Diggle. Oliver didn't pry.
Digg nodded at Laurel. "How's your father?"
"Grumpy because he has to stay in the hospital, but otherwise he's on the mend. He'll be on desk duty for awhile when he gets out - no one's told him yet."
"Digg? Could you give me a hand moving this?" Felicity asked then.
"Take care, Laurel."
Digg and Lyla stepped away to assist Felicity, and when Oliver turned his attention back to Laurel there was something in her expression that he couldn't quite grasp. "I'm gonna go. You've got a lot to do, and I told my dad I'd sneak him in a burger. Be careful out there, and take care of yourself, Ollie."
He smiled and gave her a short nod. "If you need anything."
As Oliver watched Laurel disappear up the stairs, Felicity's voice in the background explaining to Digg and Lyla what she was looking for, he had the unshakeable feeling that it would be a long time before he saw either one of the Lance sisters again.
For the first time in seven years, that thought didn't bother him. Despite everything that had happened, and all the new challenges that were ahead of him, as he rejoined his team Oliver Queen felt free in a way that he'd never known.
"I vote we get a hammock for the new lair," Felicity informed them.
"Where would we put a hammock, Felicity?" Digg queried.
"Next to the salmon ladder, so I can still see. Wait - that came out wrong. I didn't mean …"
Oliver smiled. They had work to do.