AN: I've been working on this for weeks, but I'm still not sure I like it.

I wanted to explore the idea of taking one step forward and three back, and where do they go from there, how do they move forward.

So there's a lot of angst, but if you know anything about me, it's that I can't keep my otp apart for long. So there's a very happy ending if you stick it out.

This is definitely not what I think season three will be like, by the way!

(Title from a Civil Wars song, intro lyrics from a Fine Frenzy song.)

I should've known you'd bring me heartache

Almost lovers always do

It's not that he ever thought things would just turn out perfectly. It's not that he was ever so delusional as to think that his world could one day become some idealistic fantasy. No, he's always known that darkness follows him. Death follows him. Has for years now, no matter how hard he tries to leave it behind. Be it at his hands or another's, bodies fall like coppiced saplings around him.

But he had thought, despite that, despite a life that holds more pain than it does good, and a history that's blacker than most, he'd thought, hoped he could have something, one precious thing, someone.

Because if anyone would forgive his sins and stare unblinking into the darkness alongside him, it's her. Felicity. This sweet girl he managed to stumble across somehow, who's brought him more hope than anything in more years than he cares to count.

So no, he'd never thought that it would all turn out perfectly. But he had never imagined it would end like this. Because this, this is unthinkable.

There's blood streaking across her face and her golden locks are matted crimson around her shoulders. Her soft skin is marred by dirt and pain and her babbling lips are silent.

He doesn't think anything's ever been more painful.

There's a moment when everything goes still, for him at least. Diggle is a flurry of activity nearby, fumbling with medical supplies, clumsy in his own fear. But there's a moment, when all he can see is her. Broken and damaged in a way only he should ever be. Not her. Never her.

He braces himself over her still body, fingers digging into his palms, muscles coiling as anguish melts into fury. A rage that burns through his veins like a forest fire, filling his heart until the pain has faded, replaced by a blinding anger that even he can't control.

He's turning away, shrugging cold leather over his shoulders before he realizes what he's doing. His bow is heavy in his hands and he doesn't even remember picking it up. He stops two paces from the door, looking back at her, eyes sweeping over her familiar features, some distant part of him aware that she might be gone by the time he gets back. He's a coward for leaving, but the rage is better than the hurt. He can't face the pain, but he can channel the anger.

Diggle says something, eyes angry, lips moving fast as he starts attaching cables to Felicity's chest. But he can't stay any longer, he can't watch this. His blood is boiling with the need to fight, adrenaline humming through every nerve. And he's so helpless when it matters. He can break and destroy, but he can't fix. He can avenge and punish, but he can't protect. And he can't stay here, useless by her side, watching her suffer and fade, unable to save her. He can't.

So he leaves.

He's a reckless force unleashed, a man of the most dangerous sort, with nothing left to lose. Cities would crumble and fall, greater men perish at the hands of a beast with a broken heart.

He kills. The fallback into brutality easier than he'd ever thought it could be. The burning in his chest not abating until three men lie at his feet, bloodied and broken, empty eyes still watching him in horror.

His knuckles are torn, and he can feel the wet sting of blood splashed across his face. Right there and then, angry and broken, wild and predatory, he looks every bit the monster many feared he'd become.

And then, as quickly as it came, the anger ebbs away. And the fear's back and it's choking him, crawling up his throat, cold and cloying, unforgiving.

He finds himself on a rooftop, the city stretched beneath him, safer than it's been in years, because of him. Evidence of the work he's done, with her at his side, in his ear. People's he's saved, they've saved.

He's idly amazed by how little he cares. The city could be burning and he wouldn't lift a finger. Not anymore. Because really, what does any of it matter anyway? Now, like this, he doubts he'll be able to care again, if she's gone. Because her being gone, would be like turning off the sun. And without the sun, everything ceases to exist, life becomes impossible.

It is impossible to him, the thought of being there without her. That he survived a day she didn't, that he'd have to wake up every morning and know that she's no longer there. It's unfathomable, unbearable.

The shrill ringing of his phone interrupts his painful reverie and he pulls it out of his pocket, holding it too tight in his fist as he stares at Digg's name flashing across the screen.

He knows what he's going to say. It's over and he wasn't there. He left her alone, didn't stay with her, hold her hand, tell her… tell her everything. Every secret he ever had, every truth he ever held back. He wasn't there for her, with her, because he's a coward and a killer who'll be maddened by grief the second he hears those words.

She's gone, Oliver. She's gone. Gone.

He slides a shaky finger across the screen and holds it to his ear, eyes closed, heart numb.

Please. Please. Please.

"Oliver? Oliver, you there? She's going to be okay, Oliver. She's going to be okay."

And just like that, with a few measly words over a patchy cell phone connection, he can see again. He can breathe and the world no longer feels like it's crushing him to dust.

"She's stable, still out right now, but she'll wake up soon. You should get back here."

With stiff limbs he stands, the city spread before him instantly looking brighter than it did before. He feels numb, dazed. He doesn't even remember the journey back, all he knows is that he can't feel the tips of his fingers and that Felicity's still alive.

For hours, he keeps a silent vigil by her side. Watching her chest rise and fall, measuring each breath. Every sweet intake of oxygen reminding him that she's still there, still holding strong, stubborn to her core.

She doesn't open her eyes until the darkness is fading into daylight, but he hasn't moved a muscle. This night is going to stay with him for a long time, the sight of her there, motionless on that table, the knowledge of just how close this almost really was.

As will the memories of what will come after. He wants to greet her with love and happiness, comfort and hope, but he can't because it's all different now. He killed, she nearly died, there's a vendetta waiting to be filled, hanging like a noose around all of their necks. It's only hours since he picked her up at her door, a smile on his lips and flowers in his hand. She was so beautiful, she always is, but she was excited and happy, free of any burdens and heartache, even just for the night. She reminded him of the girl he first met, bright and young, not worried about the things that go bump in the night, untouched by his chaos. It was only a few hours ago when his words of greeting got stuck in his throat, his mouth going dry as he took her in. His heart skipped a beat. An actual cheesy romance novel beat. And then she slipped her hand around his elbow and even through his jacket he swore his skin tingled where she touched him. They spent the ride to the restaurant exchanging little smiles and accidental touches. His hand brushed against the bare skin of her arm, while her fingers grazed his knee as the car turned a corner. It was only a few hours ago that they were both thrumming with anticipation and excitement. It was the start of something beautiful, the culmination of something that had been building for so long. And now, just like everything else he touches, it's been destroyed by darkness. And there's no going back.

So when she wakes, he's going to say words that he doesn't want to say, words that already taste bitter on his tongue. He's going to push her as far away as he possibly can, because that's what he does. That's all he knows how to do. And he'll take whatever she throws at him, whatever anger or even tears, he'll take it all. Because no one will ever punish him as much as he'll punish himself.

But when her eyes open to the sound of the city waking up, he can't do it right then. He can't bring himself to hurt her more than she already is. He'll wait, just until she's had some time to heal. Just a day or two.

So instead of breaking her heart, both their hearts, he presses a kiss into her hair and drives her home.

He doesn't get as long as he'd hoped. She calls him in the evening, and his stomach clenches when she speaks because she sounds off. Angry, sad, something he can't place. And it's not until he reaches her that he realizes what it is. The TV is on in her sitting room, the news running the story of three bodies found beaten with arrows buried in their hearts on a loop.

And that unidentified strand in her voice is in her eyes too. Horror. Guilt.

"Please tell me that wasn't for me."

They're the first words out of her mouth, and it's so extraordinary to him, how she can almost lose her life, and still be more concerned about the others who did.

"It wasn't for you." His voice is rough, and he drags a hand down his face, feeling far older than his years.

"Oliver." She doesn't believe him. He can see it in her eyes.

"It wasn't. It was for me. It's what I did, what I wanted to… It's not on you." He's insistent now, because he won't have her carrying his burdens. It's his guilt to bear, not hers.

"Then why?"

He swallows, remembering how it felt, standing over those broken bodies, the anger that hummed in his veins.

"It was… It was instinct, protecting you is-"

"That wasn't to protect me. That was vengeance." She cuts him off, her voice raised and her cheeks flushed. She's angry. That's good, he can handle angry.

"I thought you were going to die Felicity! Do you really think I wouldn't avenge your death?" His own voice rises to meet hers and he takes a step forward, fists clenched at his sides.

"Do you really think that's what I would want? For you to run around killing people in my name?"

He hates when she does that. Mentions the possibility of her death like it's nothing. Like it wouldn't destroy everything.

He doesn't say any of that though. Doesn't say how desperate he was, how terrified, how lost. He says three words that are bittersweet on his tongue. Words he's wanted to say for months, hell, years. Words he never imagined saying like this, as the start of a goodbye, on the trail end of an argument after the worst twenty-four hours of his life. It's all wrong. But he says it anyway.

"I love you. I love you, Felicity. And when I think I might lose you I just… I lose control. But that's not on you, okay? What I did to those people is not your fault."

She's silent for a long time, piercing blue eyes staring him down, burning into his soul. She doesn't look surprised, she just looks sad. And then when she speaks, her words are as bittersweet as his. They both know it's not the beginning that it should be. Not anymore.

"I love you too." She takes a deep breath, reigning in her emotions in a way he's all too familiar with. "And if something happens to me, that's not your fault."

He can't help but think of how this could have gone. If their night hadn't ended the way it did, if they'd finished their dinner and he'd left her at her door with a kiss. If they'd gone on a second date, and then a third. If they'd told each other those words, with nothing but warmth and anticipation hanging between them.

Instead they're here and it's painful and lonely and so far from the place he'd hoped they'd be.

"We can't do this, can we?" She's quiet now, sad, all her anger faded away.

He clears his throat and blinks back the moisture gathering in his eyes.

"No. We can't. I let my guard down with you. And if I let myself do that, I'm going to get you killed. I lose control with you, and… Tonight I thought I lost you and it was… the worst thing I've ever felt. If we were together and you… I wouldn't just kill three men who had a hand in what happened to you, I would… God Felicity I don't even know what I'd do."

She nods, eyes falling to the floor.

"That whole 'because of the life I lead speech' is about to make a comeback, isn't it?"

"I'm sorry." His voice cracks and he stares at the ceiling, taking a shuddering breath to try and center himself.

"Me too."

She looks up at him then, and he meets her eyes, they're shimmering with tears that she isn't bothering to blink back. His chest squeezes, hating that he's the one to make her cry. She takes a step towards him and he freezes, watching her carefully, still so unsure of his own reactions and emotions. She lifts herself onto her toes and her lips brush across his cheek, soft against rough, gentle against broken.

She drops back down after a moment, even tinier than usual without her heels, and her hand replaces her lips against his face, her thumb brushing against the spot she kissed.

"I know you feel like you have to carry everyone's burdens. You hold yourself responsible for the people you care about, and that's noble, Oliver, it is. But it doesn't mean it's right. All this guilt you carry around on your shoulders, it's going to make you sick." His eyes shift away, and her fingers dig into his skin slightly in response. "Hey, look at me. I'm fine, I don't even have another scar. That's what you do. You save people, and… I'll never stop believing in you." A tear slips down her cheek and he tracks it with his eyes until it slips over her jaw and disappears into her neck. "But I can't keep doing this back and forth thing with you. It's not healthy, Oliver, and it hurts too much. So if this is it, and we're calling it now. Then we have to call it now. And put it to rest and just… move on." She squeezes her eyes closed and two more tears slip out, taking a little piece of his heart as they go. "I can't anymore Oliver I just…"

He mirrors her, raising a hand and resting against her cheek, thumb brushing back and forth beneath her eye, wiping away stray tears.

"Hey. It's okay. I understand." He smiles, small and unconvincing. "You and I, maybe it was just never meant to be."

They part ways with sadness in their hearts and the heavy feeling that something's been broken.

She takes a couple of days off, and he doesn't see her. Doesn't call her, or text. Digg lets him know every morning that she's okay, and he merely nods. Because he's no longer the person she calls. He's not the one who knows how her day went, or what she's doing tomorrow.

They've lost something they never had. And it hurts more than he'd ever known it could. There's a heaviness in his chest, a weight that he can't seem to shake, even as the days pass.

It's a break up, he realizes. A really bad breakup, one you didn't see coming. When you really, really loved the person and imagined a life with them, a family, a whole future, because you thought it was forever. And then when it's gone, you haven't just lost the person, you feel like you've lost a whole part of yourself, an entire future that won't happen anymore.

He's never experienced a break up like that. But he's witnessed some amongst his friends, and he recognizes the loss he feels as what it is. Mourning something he thought would be forever.

It's funny, considering they were never actually together, but right from the start there was a thread of hope, of anticipation, perhaps even inevitability. And it's unbelievably painful to admit that it's gone now. Because it has. He can feel it in the way she looks at him. That hope has gone, and whatever the future holds, it's not for them to share.

There's a distance between them now. Where there was teasing and banter before, now there's professionalism and polite conversation. She doesn't watch him on the salmon ladder, and he doesn't smile that smile just for her.

The night she goes on her first date with Ray, he drinks half a bottle of whiskey and does the most reckless things he's done in a long time. Since the night she almost died, in fact. He hoods up, alone and drunk and angry, and spends the night roaming the streets looking for anyone and anything to unleash his anger, his grief upon. He doesn't kill. He won't do that again, at least, not unless he has to. But he does damage enough, all the same. And when the sun starts to rise and the alcohol wears off, he finds himself staring at his bloodstained reflection in the bathroom mirror. And he gets it. He knows why she'd go for someone like Ray. Someone funny and lighthearted, someone safe. Someone who doesn't have hands that have taken far too many lives and someone else's blood splattered across his face.

He doesn't want her to be with him. She's too special for someone as rough and broken as he is. She's precious and light and wonderful, and she deserves someone who matches her, who'll laugh with her and spend stress free evenings watching movies and eating takeout. He's not that guy, and he never will be. She should be with someone ten times the man he is. And if she's found him in Ray, he should be happy for her. He is happy for her, because he likes seeing her happy. But the weight in his chest hasn't gone away, and the sense of loss he feels whenever he looks at her is stronger than ever.

Months pass as they will, bringing new trials and tribulations, new enemies and new friends.

There's one evening, several in fact, but only one that stands out, when he finds a beautiful woman in his arms, more than willing to be the person he loses himself in for a night.

It's three whole months before he lets himself consider it. The thought of being with someone else. Someone who isn't her.

He doesn't even know the woman's name. A pretty brunette who's situated herself at his side, a soft hand running up his thigh. It would be so easy, to take that hand in his, to lead her out of this bar, somewhere lonely and quiet. To forget for a few hours, forget everything that plagues him, everything that weighs him down. To forget how much he loves her.


The hand on his leg is olive skinned and thin, nails painted a demure white, her hair is dark and falls in a straight waterfall over her shoulder, she's tall, her three inch heels making her almost equal to him and it all feels wrong.

He stands up abruptly, mumbles some quick apology and practically runs for the door. He needs air, his head feels like it's full of cotton wool and all he can hear is a low buzzing like he's underwater.

It's all so painfully ironic really. His history is littered with indiscretions, he's never been the sort of guy to turn down a beautiful girl, let alone when he's actually unattached for once and completely within his rights to be with her. In the past he would have jumped on the opportunity, sought it out, even when he was with someone else. Even when he was with Laurel. And here he is, single, free to do what he wants, who he wants, and the only person he can think about, is the one person he can't have.

The first time either of them so much as mention their almost relationship, is two months later still. And the circumstances are almost as bad as they were the first time. At this point, if she wasn't so damn stubborn and determined, and if he wasn't so reliant on her, he would have sent her packing. Put her on a plane to somewhere safe and warm as far away from him as possible. Because this really took the cake.

She jumped in front of a bullet for him. Not for Sara or Roy or Digg, that he could understand, he still hates it, it still filsl him with fear and dread like nothing else, but to risk herself to save him?

She isn't hit. She comes out of nowhere, crashing into him with a desperate shout of his name and he just has time to let his body fall to the floor with the force of her impact, before the bullet goes sailing over them. It grazes her jacket, burning an inch long tear into the material. And that feeling is back, that numb sense of horror at how close it was, how easily he could have lost her. Just a few centimeters lower and it would have torn through her spine, through her heart, her lungs. Just a few damn centimeters. And she did it for him.

They burst through the foundry door, his hand gripping her arm tight as he drags her with him. She's yelling something about Neanderthals and how she's not a suitcase thank you very much, and really shouldn't he be thanking her here? He ignores her, tuning her rant out as as once again his fear quickly turns into anger.

He remembers a time when he was a kid, Raisa took him to the park and he ran off to look for the churro stand. He got lost and she had to call the police to help look for him. They found him a few hours later and he'd never seen Raisa so angry, she yelled at him, properly yelled, like she never had before. He cried and said told her he hadn't meant to make her mad and she deflated like a helium balloon, promptly bursting into tears and making him feel even worse than he did already. She told him that she wasn't mad, she was just so scared, so worried about him. He'd never understood it before, but now, with Felicity stumbling down the steps behind him and his heart still beating a frantic pattern in his chest, he finally did.

When you really, really love someone, and they put themselves in danger, they scare you like that, make you think, even for just a split second, that you might've lost them, it does make you angry. It makes you furious.

She wrenches her arm out of his grip when they reach the bottom of the stairs, glaring at him as he turns to face her.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" She spits, rubbing her arm, even though he knows he wasn't holding her hard enough to hurt her.

"What the hell is wrong with me? What the hell is wrong with you?" He shouts, thankful that they arrived back before everyone else, and have the room to themselves. "You were going to take a bullet for me? Are you insane?" His voice rises with every word, nails digging into his palms.

"No! I did what anyone would do, there's no need to yell at me. You could thank me actually, I did just save your life. And I'm just realizing this is the second time I've done that for someone. I'm pretty sure that makes me awesome." She doesn't seem phased by his anger, and a part of him is glad that she's not scared of him, doesn't fear him even when he's like this, at his worst, at his most dangerous. While another part wants to shake her, try and knock some sense into her before she gets herself killed.

She notices the look on his face and sighs.

"Right, sorry. What were you saying?"

"You don't jump in front of bullets for me, Felicity. You don't get hurt because of me, am I clear?"

She steps towards him then, her own anger dissipating, her eyes softening.

"You can't ask me not to try and save you Oliver." She says quietly, heartbreakingly gentle.

"Yes I can." His anger fades with hers, and his voice lowers to a hoarse growl.

"You would do it for me, without missing a beat. You'd try to save me. Because that's what partners do. They look out for each other, they save each other." She's staring him down, daring him to contradict her, willing to fight her point until he sees reason. He's always admired that about her, the way she stands up to him, doesn't give in or let herself be swayed from her argument. It's one of the first things he noticed about her, actually. Her stubborn determination, her unwillingness to be intimidated into changing her opinion.

It's a moment before her words sink in, and when they do, his eyes fall closed. It's the first time she's referred to him as her partner in months and it effects him more than it should. And he knows she's right, really. He would die for her, it makes sense that she would do the same for him. Logically. But on every other level, it's the most absurd, insane, unthinkable thing.

"It's different."

"How? How exactly is it different?"

"Because I'm not worth it Felicity! How… How could you ever think that my life is worth yours?" He's shouting again, his voice echoing around the empty lair.

She lets out an incredulous laugh, and he meets her eyes, surprised to see them swimming with tears.

"And that, that is exactly why we can't ever be together."

It's the last thing he expects her to say, and he takes a surprised step back, physically recoiling from her words.


"It's inevitable that one day you're just going to leave me behind. You'll make some rash, angry decision and you'll just be gone. Most likely in some misguided attempt to save me. And you just… You act like that doesn't matter, like the thought of it doesn't keep me up at night." She breaks off, roughly wiping a hand across her eyes. "And the worst part is, you don't care."

"Felicity, I…"

"I don't mean that you don't care about anything, you care more than anyone I know. But you don't care about yourself, you act like your life is just expendable or not important and I don't think you've ever thought about what that's like for the people who love you."

She tucks her hair behind her ear, takes a deep breath and reaches for her jacket and purse.

"So you can't ask me not to jump in front of a bullet for you. Because I'd do it a thousand times over and I wouldn't change a thing."

She leaves then, heels clacking up the stairs until the door slams behind her. Leaving him reeling in the aftermath of her words.

The funny thing is, it's stuff like that that just makes him love her all the more. How much she cares about him, enough for both of them really. How she'll fight him tooth and nail and not give an inch of room when she knows she's right. How fearless she is when it comes to putting others first.

He loves her so much he almost hates her for it.

They don't mention that fight again. Or anything either of them said. It gets filed away in that box of things they don't talk about anymore.

Ray leaves a while later, but she doesn't say why. And he doesn't feel happy that he's gone, because she's sad, and he would never wish that on her.

He gets the company back eventually, but when he takes his rightful place behind his desk, the CEO plaque sitting proudly before him and a gathering of partners waiting for his command, he glances across to where Felicity's desk used to be, and can't help the feeling that something missing.

She's down eighteen stories in IT, and he's happy for her. He really is. She seems to like her new job, and that's what matters at the end of the day. But he misses having her up here with him, to catch his eye when he grows bored in a meeting, to smile discreetly and unknowingly give him the energy to carry on. He misses their banter, the way she would collapse dramatically onto his couch and complain about her shoes at the end of the day. He misses the simple, mundane, mediocrity of their old relationship. How easy everything was with her, natural and unassuming.

They still work together in the evenings, she still patches him up when he comes home worse for wear. Gentle fingers soothing cuts and bruises, teeth biting into her lower lip, concern evident in every feature. And he wouldn't trade any of that for the world. But he still misses everything else.

Someone clears their throat and he drags his eyes away from the empty desk, shaking off his thoughts and carefully pulling his business mask over his head.

She visits him in her lunch break, a bunch of flowers in her hands and a smile on her face. She offers her congratulations and carefully arranges the brightly colored bouquet on his desk. It's the closest to normal they've been in a long time, and he wonders if maybe they will be able to get back to how they were.

She eats lunch with him and he tells her about the new investors he has on the line and she chats about the Trojan she found in the system before anyone else did.

Nearly a year has past since they put that distance between them. Nearly a year since they both acknowledged how they felt. Nearly a year since they both agreed that they were better off apart. It almost destroyed their relationship, they took a sledgehammer to what they had. But they survived, their team survived, their partnership survived. And slowly but surely, their friendship re-grew and survived as well.

The year ends on a similar note to which it started. With a bang. It's not an explosion this time. But gunfire, a series of cracks that are followed instantly by blinding pain. White hot, racing through his veins.

The year started with a bomb in a restaurant and an end to something glorious. The year ends with five bullets and the question of whether it was all worth it. Whether he should have pushed her away, if this was always going to be the outcome.

He's in an abandoned warehouse, where the perpetrators have left him for dead. And all he can think about is Felicity. Thea's there too, in the back of his mind with the hope that she's okay, that she has someone to help her through this, that she'll make the right decisions in her future, and live a successful life. But Felicity, Felicity's everywhere. In every thought, in every breath, in every tired blink.

It's a little ridiculous how much he loves her really.

He must have passed out at some point, either that or he's hallucinating, because the next thing he knows, a blurry face is filling his vision and he feels the soft touch of a lock of hair brushing his neck. Small hands cup his cheeks, thumbs stroking back and forth under his eyes. It's nice, comforting, warm. His eyes drift closed, the pain fading to the background, content to sleep now.

A harsh cry draws him back and he jolts, desperate to protect her, even in his almost unconscious state.


He can hear the tears in her voice, the panic, and he wants to tell her that it's going to be fine, but he can't find the words, and he's not sure they'd be true even if he could. He can feel his strength slipping away with his blood, slowing seeping out of open wounds, weakening him with every passing second.

He's okay with it, really. He came to terms with the concept of dying a long time ago. With what he does, he's always known the odds of living a long life are slim, and if his time's up… He's okay with that.

Until her frantic sobs fill his ears, garbled sentences, begging him to stay with her, begging him not leave. Her hands have left his face, and he can vaguely feel them scrabbling at his clothing, pushing it aside to find where he's hurt. There's a stab of pain when she presses down on one of the bullet wounds, her small hand doing little to stem the flow of blood. He was okay with dying. But he's not okay with leaving her. Not okay with hurting her. He's hurt her so much already, caused so much of her innocence to be chipped away, and he can't bear to take anymore. Can't bear the fact that she's going to have to watch this, watch him die, until she's all by herself with the body of a friend. More than a friend? A partner, an almost lover. He doesn't want that for her, doesn't want her to have that memory, have that weight on her shoulders. He wants her to leave, get out of this cold, damp place, go somewhere warm and light, where she's happy and her eyes are dry.

But at the same time he doesn't want her to go. He doesn't want her to leave and take her warmth along with her. Because if she does, the second she's out of sight, he'll be surrounded by darkness and death. And he doesn't want to die alone in the dark. He's selfish and miserable, and he needs her light.

"Don't do this to me. Come on, don't do this to me." She's bent over him, her knees digging into his side, one hand on his neck while the other remains firm over the hole in his abdomen. He can feel her breath against his face, and one of her tears falls to roll down his own cheek. It's symbolic really, because if he were crying, it would be for her anyway. And here he is, crying her tears.

They say that when you're old or dying, you regret the things you didn't do, more than the things you did. He'd imagined he'd regret not being with her, not having that life, that love. But he doesn't, because who is he to regret how he got to spend his time with her? He's grateful for every minute he had with her, he's grateful for every smile and every ramble, every conversation. He's grateful for all of it, because he loves her, he loves her more than anything in the world. More than he ever thought was possible. He's grateful that he told her, grateful that she knows how loved she was. He hopes she knows that it never faded, despite the distance between them, despite any arguments or boyfriends, he never stopped loving her. He hopes she knows that.

"Oliver. Oliver. Look at me." He does, blinking tired eyes to gaze up into her face. "Good. Just keep on looking at me, okay?" She brushes a hand softly through his hair, the action intimate and affectionate in a way that makes his heart warm even now. "I need you to fight, Oliver. Just promise me you won't give up." Another tear hits his cheek. "Hold on. Just hold on, okay? For me. Oliver, for me. Please."

He parts his lips, desperate to say something, reassure her, help her. But what comes out, is far more important, it's the only thing that matters.

"I never stopped." It's barely a whisper, his voice dry and cracked, but she hears, and she smiles even as more tears flow down her face. She leans down closer, resting her forehead against his.

"I know."

He knew she'd understand. She always understands him.

"I never did either." She whispers. "I never stopped, Oliver. Ever. You know that right?" She pulls back to look at him, her shoulders shaking with the force of her sobs. He manages to jerk his chin down once in response, and it's all the answer she needs.

She presses herself back against him, her face coming to rest against his neck, her fingers still rubbing through his hair.

"Just stay with me."

He wants to, God he wants to more than anything. Her words are ringing in his ears, playing in a loop and it would be a nice song to die to, if he wouldn't be leaving so much heartache in his wake.

I never stopped, Oliver. Ever. You know that right? Just stay with me.

He can feel it slipping away, his breathing is too shallow and his heartbeat is too slow, he can't feel his legs, and his eyelids are too heavy to open.

She's crying into his neck, whispering words that are a mixture of comfort and pleas, and his own heart aches to match hers. Because he knows that if he were in her place, he'd be maddened by grief, horror, fear. Desperation.

"Felicity." The darkness is circling and those four syllables are at the tip of his tongue.

"No. No, no, no, no."

Her fingers are back to running across his face, through his stubble, over his brow.

And then there's a new touch, softer, warmer. She presses her lips to his cheek, then to the other, she kisses his forehead, the bridge of his nose, each closed eyelid. Her lips are damp from her tears, but Oliver doesn't think he's ever felt so warm. And then, finally, miraculously, impossibly gently, she presses her lips to his. It's beautiful and it's simple and the world goes dark with her mouth on his and her love encompassing him.

He couldn't ask for a better way to go.

The steady beeping of a machine is the first thing he's aware of, and then the hum of distant voices, and then the smell of disinfectant and bleach, and then the bright light that's hurting his eyes even with them closed.

It doesn't take a genius to realize he's in a hospital. But he can't think why he would be. He opens his eyes slowly, blinking until the white ceiling tiles come into focus. He wriggles his toes, just to check he can, and then goes to move his fingers, only to realize they're not all his. He turns his head slowly, feeling weaker and groggier than he has in a long time. His eyes fall on Felicity, curled up in a chair beside the bed. She's sleeping, her knees pulled up to her chest, loose hair falling around her shoulders, her glasses missing from her nose. Her hand is tangled with his, fingers laced through his own, holding them tight even as she sleeps.

He digs back through his memory, trying to remember what got him here, with her at his vigil. But he draws a blank and his head is starting to pound. He shifts slightly and she stirs, eyes fluttering open and confusion crossing her features before she sees him. And then she's gasping and jumping at him, kneeling on the bed beside him and wrapping her arms around him as best she can.

He's surprised, but by no means unappreciative of her actions, so he curls an arm around her back, ignoring how his muscles protest the movement. A sore muscle is literally the last thing on his mind when Felicity is burying her face in his neck and pressing her chest against his. He feels her shoulders shake and frowns, running his hand over her hair and down her back.

"Hey, don't cry. I'm fine." He murmurs gently and she pulls back a little, not enough to leave their embrace, but just enough that she can see his face.

Her eyes are rimmed red and she looks like she hasn't slept in days.

"How long was I out?"

Her eyes shift away and she carefully extricates herself from beneath his arm and gets off the bed.

"You should talk to your doctor."

She presses a red call button nearby and they're interrupted only moments later as doctors burst into the room, white coats and scrubs forcing Felicity to release his hand a take a step back. He misses her touch the second it's gone.

The next hour is taken up by questions and needles and tests and no one will tell him anything. When the hustle has finally died down, one doctor remains, an older woman with a kind face, who seems very familiar with Felicity, judging by the reassuring look she throws her way.

"This may come as a bit of a shock Oliver, so I want you to be prepared."

He nods, his stomach swooping with nerves as his mind runs through every possible scenario.

"After your attack, you lost a lot of blood, that coupled with the head wound you sustained when you fell, caused some serious swelling in your brain. We couldn't operate on your other injuries for fear of causing a bleed somewhere else, so we had to put you into a medically induced coma, to do the surgery. There were some complications, some swelling and..."

His eyes flash to Felicity's, taking in her tired eyes, how thin she looks, the brown peeking out at the roots of her hair.

"How long?"

The doctor sighs and hesitates, and he nods to let her know he can take it.

"Two months."

Felicity lets out a shaky breath and he drags a rough hand down his face. Two months.

There are questions he should be asking, about his condition, when he can leave, permanent damage, all that sort of stuff. But what his mind keeps flashing to is the agony he felt sitting beside Felicity for that one night she was unconscious all those months ago. She was out for eight hours and it was the worst eight hours of his life. She's sat beside him for two months, he'd guess she barely left from the state of her. He's always known she's stronger than him. But she just keeps proving it time and again.

"Can you give us a minute please?" He asks the doctor, offering a small smile of thanks when she nods, glancing between them warmly before excusing herself.

As soon as the door closes behind her, Felicity is back by his side, her hand slipping into his.

"Are you okay?" His thumb brushes a pattern over her knuckles and she huffs out a dry laugh.

"I think I should be asking you that."

He gives her a look, that talk to me Felicity, look that doesn't even need words anymore.

"I'm just really happy you're awake." She smiles, and it's genuine, a big shiny smile that makes his heart jump. "What do you remember?"

"I got shot. In the warehouse."


"You were there and you…"

He frowns, remembering her heartbreaking pleas for him not to leave, her tears hitting his cheeks as she sobbed over him.

"You were sad. Crying."

He reaches up towards her and she leans down, letting him cup her face, his thumb brushing across her cheekbone and beneath her eye.

"And then?"

"I told you that-" He breaks off and looks at her closely, almost asking for permission to continue. Her face is open and hopeful and his heart lurches as he carries on. "I told you that I never stopped."

She nods, eyes glistening with unshed tears.

"And you told me that you never did either."

The silence is endless, but not uncomfortable. The weight of their words hang between them, but this time, that spark of hope is back. That tingling of anticipation, of maybe.

"And then you kissed me."

"I did."

"Because I was dying?"

"I don't know what the right answer is to that." He looks at her in confusion and she sighs, her eyes shifting away from his. "Oliver it doesn't have to mean anything, if you don't want it to. You were dying, I'm an affectionate person, we can just chalk it up to the moment and forget about it."

"Is that what you want?" His thumb and forefinger are rubbing together anxiously and he's pretty sure he's holding her breath as he waits for her response.

"I'm not the one who stopped this, us, the first time. You are. So I don't think it really matters what I want because you'll just-"

He moves his hand on her face, stroking back into her hair, thumb brushing across her ear and coming to rest against her neck.

"I don't want to forget about it." He says gently, watching her face carefully, his heart lightening when her eyes flick to his, surprise and hope warring in her blue orbs.



"But what about everything we said last time?"

He sighs, thinking back to that conversation in her house. He felt like the weight of the world was on his shoulders and all he could do to protect her was push her as far away from him as she would go. But the truth is, despite the emotional distance that they created, she didn't go far at all. She stayed beside him, fighting with him for everything they believed in, together. And then, once again she proved that she's twice the person he is, by reacting to his near death with hope and love as opposed to rage and fear.

It's a year later, and in a funny way, they're right back where they started. With the same two roads ahead of them. But this time, he's making the right choice.

"It all still applies, but it's been a year and nothing's changed." He takes a deep breath and smiles up at her. "I still love you. Bad things are still happening, and you're still in danger but… I miss you. And I really don't want to waste any more time."

She mirrors him, resting her hand against his cheek, the warmth in her eyes filling him with a sense of home, and happiness and love, and every other cheesy chocolate box noun you can think of.

"Do you really think we can do this? You're not going to flip out and push me away again?" She says it lightly, but he can hear the thread of worry in her voice, so he answers in kind, steady and sincere. Honest.

"If something ever happens to you, I'll… It would destroy me. But that's true whether we're together or not. And if you can deal with it, that fear I mean, then I can too."

She holds his eyes for a long moment, searching for something, hesitation, regret? But then she's closing the distance between them and leaning down to brush her lips against his.

This time, he doesn't pass out. So that's a plus. Instead he kisses her back like he's wanted to for years. An arm reaching up to wrap around her waist and pull her flush against him, his other hand tangling in her hair. It's messy and imperfect, with him bedridden and her awkwardly perched above him. But neither of them care. Because whatever else the world has to throw at them, they're going to face it as a team.

If the past year's taught them anything, it's that they're far better off together than they are apart.


I'd really love to hear your comments, because I'm a bit uncertain about this one.