Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to Arrow.
Rating: M (for violence, language, sexual situations, graphic descriptions of human trafficking and other mob business)
Timeline: Set between 2.06 "Keep Your Enemies Closer" and 02.07 "State vs. Queen"
Summary: When new Bratva business comes to Starling City, it brings Oliver's past with the brotherhood into sharp, ugly focus. But when it strikes too close to home, endangering the one person he never wanted that darkness to touch, he finds out his and Felicity's pasts are more tangled than he could have ever imagined.
Author's Notes: Title from Royal Blood's "Blood Hands" and chapter titles from songs off Metallica's Black album.
Authors Notes 2: I extended a heavy degree of darkness into Oliver's past – he did have to go through hell to be on the path he is on today. Along those lines, I'm woefully uneducated on the ways of Russia and the Bratva, or anything criminal or mob-related. There's a lot of interesting and conflicting information out there, so I really let my imagination fly with this. Any inaccuracies or misinformation are all mine.
Dedication: To Cat (FalconCraneLove) for being so amazing and listening to me babble endlessly about this fic - I've known her for years and trust her insight and judgment way more than my own, and to my Mara (Foreverdaylight) for yelling at me when I wasn't writing and all her fantastic insight, beautiful comments and immense help with the Russian translations (especially considering the wacky shit I was asking to be translated - she was so patient with me).
The first chapter is a bit longer than the rest will be, to set up the story. All mistakes are mine.
Chapter One - So close no matter how far, couldn't be much more from the heart… (114 hours before the gala…)
The repetitious sound of fists and arms colliding with the training dummy beat out a rhythm in time with his harsh gasps for air, the only sound in the foundry for hours.
"I… sort of have an idea."
"I can't think of a time you didn't sort of have an idea, Felicity."
"Okay, I'm taking that as a compliment."
"Well, good… and my ideas usually work, right?"
"… You only ask me that when you know I won't like your idea."
"And that's why it's important to remember that my ideas, while sometimes not awesome ideas, they work. Usually."
"Okay. I found a new job. For you. I only found it because a new faceless, nameless business has recently swooped in and bought up some land in the Glades. Not a terrible thing normally because Starling City could definitely use that help right now, but it was too soon at the same time, which is exactly why I put a flag on stuff like this because that's kind of sketchy. I mean, the Glades are primed for terrible criminal activity anyway, we shouldn't hang a sign on the door that says, 'Please take advantage of us,' right?"
"You're not telling me anything I don't already know, Felicity."
"Right. Well, I've been tracking down suspicious sales like that since before you got back, and so far they've all panned out, but this one, these… they panned out, yes, but they're linked to the Russian mob…
"Nothing? That's all you've got for me? The Russian mob bought a bunch of buildings and you look like I just told you the sky is blue…
"Alright, I'll keeping going. I looked into them, and they call themselves the Bratva. I traced similar deals they've been involved in, where they 'set up shop' - which is a pretty accurate way to describe what they're doing, in a really creepy and skeevy way - and they've done this… a lot. Nightclubs, Gentlemen's Clubs, restaurants, shoe stores, you name it, in clusters, and they've all - all of them - have been linked to human trafficking, and… and why are you looking at me like that?"
He moved from one dummy to another. He picked up his escrima sticks, going through the deadly ballet, hitting and parrying an invisible foe until he spun, slamming both of them into a dummy, making the bamboo wood shatter.
He did the salmon ladder until his lungs burned and his arms felt like they were going to slip from their sockets, and then he did one more set before dropping from the top, landing in an unsteady roll, stumbling when his foot caught on the edge of a mat.
But he didn't stop.
"I don't want you looking into this."
"Because I don't want you to."
"Okay, growly guy, but this is exactly the kind of thing we were looking for. Human trafficking, in Starling City? That's sort of high on the list of stuff we should be stopping."
"And they haven't exactly been careful about hiding their tracks, I followed a few leads, because you can't start a business without creating a trail, and a lot of it is centered around a charity gala that is this Saturday."
"… And what exactly is your plan?"
"Me. Going to the gala."
His body screamed with exhaustion and his muscles felt like they were holding on by a thread, but he didn't stop. No matter how hard he tried to beat it out of his head, to focus on something else, his mind was stuck on the grotesque merry-go-round the day had turned into.
How things had gone from pretty bad to pretty shitty bad in the space of six milliseconds was beyond him.
"Okay, let's hit the pause button and then rewind. You've been really grouchy these last few days, ever since Russia, and maybe it's because I just mentioned Russia and their terrifying Mafia, I don't know, but I don't see why-"
"This has nothing to do with Russia."
"I'd believe you if you didn't just take off my head while saying that."
It'd be a cold day in hell when he'd admit it to her, but she wasn't entirely wrong, although it wasn't just Russia that was trying to crawl its way under his skin and eat him alive from the inside out. It was certainly part of it, but not just that.
If the only thing bothering him had just been their few days in Russia, he would be fine right now.
"What happens in Russia stays in Russia."
He wished it was just what had happened over the last week that was gnawing at him.
His mind hopped to being back in Russia…
Visiting old haunts from his Bratva days he'd hoped he'd never seen again; seeing Anatoly; getting Digg arrested; threatening that man's family for the truck; Isabel's smooth Russian lilt making an appearance; speaking Russian with someone who didn't have an ulterior motive behind it like all his conversations with Alexi; how easy it had been to bring Isabel back to his room, consequences be damned; hearing her shocked amusement as she accused him of calling her the wrong name; Felicity's face when she saw Isabel leave; her quiet and resonating disappointment at the gulag; Isabel's knowing smiles and glances on the place all the way back home…
And right back to Starling City, to the awkward-morning-after feel that lingered with Isabel, to Felicity's soft words about him and Isabel.
He didn't deserve better, and that Felicity still thought that for him, thought he deserved anything at all past the hell he relegated himself to made it all more vividly painful: he was a piece of shit.
He didn't deserve better. He deserved the cold, emotionless sex he had had with Isabel, and he had been alright with that, been fine with his entirely justified explanation because it was true.
"Because of the life that I lead, I just think that it's better to not be with someone that I could really care about."
Until Felicity had said, "Well, I think you deserve better than her."
Oliver grunted, hitting the dummy harder.
He really, really didn't.
And she shouldn't think that for him because she was better than all the broken pieces of himself he still managed to retain, and he didn't like the idea of that tainting her somehow, that she was somehow lowering herself to his level to see the pieces. That the shattered shell he managed to keep together most of the time was starting to rub off on her ate at him like acid.
Oliver moved quicker, his arms moving in a blur. His hits resonated in his bones, shaking his core. He knew he needed to get water and take a breath before he pulled or damaged something, but he couldn't.
Instead of wearing him out, the exertion seemed to be fueling the self-masochistic anger running rampant through his body. Every hit shoved more adrenaline through his heart, which pumped his blood quicker, spreading the need to 'hit more, hit harder, hit faster' through his veins like wildfire.
He had been fine when they'd gotten back from Russia, really, he had been. Isabel kept her mouth shut even though Oliver honestly didn't remember saying anything to garner the reaction it had, and Felicity had put away the disappointed look, no longer staring at him with questions and the damn hurt she thought she kept so well hidden.
He had been fine until Felicity had mentioned the new property being bought, by none other than the Russian mob, and their supposed intent to turn them into clubs - one a nightclub, the other two gentlemen's clubs on either side of the Glades. That had been news enough until she'd mentioned the gala, the potentially very mob-funded and mob-heavy gala, and the ludicrous suggestion of putting herself right in the fucking middle of it.
"Since when have we shied away from something like this? This is what you do, what we do."
"No, Felicity, I do not make it a habit of putting innocent women in harm's way."
"You'll be right there with me the entire time! I know what I'm suggesting, but it's not like I'm jumping into a lion's den wearing only a meat suit-"
"That is exactly what you're doing!"
"-without a contingency plan!"
"Damn it, Felicity! You don't… you don't know what it will be like in there, you don't know how dangerous these men are, you have no idea what they're capable of!"
"Oh, but you do?... Is this another secret island thing that you can't tell us about?"
He hit harder, but he was no longer seeing the dummy, or the quiet, cold foundry.
He saw a gray-washed street, oppressive clouds hinting at more snow, the air so cold it hurt to breathe and the warehouse looming up before him, so far away along the icy docks in Kaliningrad…
Oliver didn't like to think about his time with the Bratva. He didn't like thinking back on any part of the five years he was away from Starling City, but there was a certain edge of darkness he had stepped into during his time in the Russian mob that had left him… broken.
The island had started the process, and it had continued to whittle him down in Hong Kong, but it had reached its pinnacle during his time as a Brigadier.
When Oliver left Russia the last time, he had promised himself he'd never come back. It was an amusing catastrophe of a thought since he'd not hesitated a second when Diggle had mentioned where Lyla had been sent, but that had been for Diggle. And he had been going there for a good reason this time, nothing… sinister.
When he'd told Diggle and Felicity that nothing good had happened the entire five years he was gone, it hadn't been an exaggeration.
There was nothing good about anything he had done.
When he'd first found Anatoly again, it had been about survival.
After the final blowout with Amanda and her bullshit in Hong Kong, Russia had felt like a sanctuary in comparison, even when Oliver had taken to living on the streets, stealing food and clothes when he could and finding out he was really bad at it. His arm had been fractured from a fight and a vessel in his eye had popped from a punch by a rather large vendor. He'd had a festering infection on his chest from someone tossing a lit match on him and another homeless man to get them off his block.
If not for Anatoly, Oliver would have died. He had been a godsend - an old friend, someone Oliver had trusted and who hadn't let him down on the island, someone who was offering him help… but it had turned into the complete opposite.
Anatoly had only suggested a role for him in the organization, something to get him some money to put away so he could go back home, back to his world, and for a while that had been all Oliver could think about. He didn't need much, he could catch cargo ships most of the way, barter his way back home if he had to…
It would have been so easy to go home.
But he didn't.
It hadn't been Anatoly that made the decision for him to join, but Oliver, and he had jumped in with both eyes closed.
"Is this another secret island thing that you can't tell us about? Because I have to say I'm getting pretty sick of only hearing about the pertinent information when you deem it necessary."
"Hey, guys, why don't we take a little breather?"
"No, John, this is too big to put on the backburner. Why isn't this something we're checking out? People could get hurt, Oliver."
"I didn't say I wasn't going to check it out, but I will do it. Alone."
"Because you could get hurt!"
"I could get hurt every day. And I'm still here."
"No… absolutely not."
"I don't understand-"
"This isn't a negotiation, Felicity, drop it!"
Oliver's arms were numb, but he kept hitting, sweat flying off him with each harsh movement, unable to get his mind out of the past.
He thought about that warehouse, the chipping green paint in faded Russian on the side, the way the cold had slid underneath his jacket, tiny spikes of ice dancing along his bare skin as he opened the door. The shipping containers were supposed to be in there, ready to be switched and head out on the MV Zeya back to the U.S. Everything was supposed to have worked, but one thing the Bratva had taught him was that loyalty was to be held above everything else, and the deaths of twenty-three girls was the price paid for that lesson…
The pit of shame that lived in his chest whenever Oliver thought back on those years with the Bratva always felt like it was drowning him. He had been so blind; so stupid and naïve. The darkness that had grown in him from the island and his time with Waller had primed him for the world he'd inhabited in Russia during those nineteen months; he'd lost all sense of morality for a very long time, throwing himself down the slippery slope that eventually landed him in a hell of his own making.
It was something he never let himself think about. What he had done and the decisions he had made ultimately led to him going back to the island, to the path he was on now, to becoming a savior for Starling City - to not only right the wrongs of his father, however misguided they might have been, but to right his own sins as well.
Redemption was a sour pill to swallow, one he forced himself to choke down.
But only he was supposed to relive those moments.
Nobody around him.
"My life, my choice, remember? I'm our best shot of getting into the gala since Oliver Queen and the Arrow can't exactly be in two places at the same time. If it's going to save someone-"
"No!... I said no. You will not be going into a mob-funded gala for any reason. Ever."
"Oh, but I can go into a scary underground mob-funded casino just fine, but not this?"
"That was different."
"Not. Going. To. Happen, Felicity. Drop it!"
Oliver let out a rough intelligible growl and shoved his elbow into the center of the dummy, snapping it in half with a loud screech. Splintered wood scattered across the floor, a thick puff of dust puffing out as the heavy top fell to the ground.
His lungs felt like they were rapidly filling with acid as he tried to right his breathing, leaning over, fighting the urge to collapse. He stared at the broken training dummy, blinking dust from his eyes.
Oliver remembered very specifically how loud he had yelled that last part.
His voice had echoed through the foundry, making her flinch. He had stared at her for a split second, their eyes meeting, both refusing to back down.
The mere thought of Felicity in anything related to the world he'd lived terrified him to the very center of his being. It morphed into a frightful panic that built under his chest plate like a pressure bomb, sending shockwaves through his system with each passing second.
The fire in her blue eyes he normally appreciated and admired so much, especially when it was directed at him, only pissed him off because he knew she wasn't going to let it go.
He'd turned away, his fingers raw from rubbing his thumb against his index finger, from fighting the urge to reach out and shake her until she understood.
He never yelled at her, ever. But the thought of her anywhere near something like this had made him see red.
A few minutes after that he'd heard the slap of her grabbing her purse from the table and the clatter of her shoes as she left for the night.
Diggle had tried to talk to him, but he'd been done the minute the words 'Russian mob' had left Felicity's lips. After several attempts and Oliver nearly taking his head off too, he'd backed down, finally leaving Oliver to stew in a pit of frustration.
The anger was… surprising. It lashed through him with enough force to take his breath away. It was anger at himself, who he had been and for not being more involved to prevent this, at the Bratva for just being, at Felicity for finding the information, that she wanted to involve herself in any way, shape or form…
The fervor that roared in his ears at the thought of her anywhere near those types of men burned hot. Too hot.
He had already failed this city once, he had already lost one of the most important people in his life as a result, he couldn't lose another one. He couldn't lose her. And something in the pit of his chest was telling him that was exactly what would happen if she did get involved.
Oliver stood slowly, eyes still on the broken dummy. His hands scrubbed the back of his neck, skin slick with sweat and hot from the exertion. He was hungry, but he knew if he tried to eat his body would throw it right back up. He needed some water and a hot shower and a bed and then…
And then he would think about food.
About a plan.
About how big of a dick he had been that night.
He just needed to make Felicity see how dangerous this was.
Oliver groaned at the thought of going another round with her. It was one of the things he loved most about her, how stubborn and on-point she could be, but he really needed her to just not be that this time.
He grabbed his phone, thumbing it on. Thea had called again but nobody else. He frowned. Two in the morning or not, Alexi should have returned his call by now.
That was the first step, getting information. The most practical way to handle it was to approach it as a business venture, which would get Oliver the information he needed as well as who was at the helm of the operation. It was practical and logical and a sure thing. He just needed to get the fucker to call him back.
Leaving the dummy for later, Oliver headed towards the corner bathroom Felicity had had installed while he had been on the island - as she had said, "You were coming back, and you needed a shower in here because sometimes… ew."
Just remembering the face she had made when she said that made him smile… it melted away when he thought about what would happen to her if she went within fifty feet of the Russian mobsters.
He grabbed a ratty pair of sweatpants for after his shower before going through his ablutions quickly, ignoring his strained muscles, the aches in joints and the sting of the small cuts on his swollen knuckles where the training tape had worn through.
Felicity had no idea he was involved with the Bratva. It hadn't come up, she hadn't asked him and he hadn't supplied an explanation in Russia.
She didn't know what she was suggesting.
He thought back to the last time he'd gone to see Alexi, the favor Alexi had asked of him. His mood darkened. He didn't want to waste any damn time on whatever shady shit the man would come up with in exchange for the gala information.
Oliver knew it was a foolish thing to think. He knew how the brotherhood worked. He'd have to pick his battles a little carefully here. If it was as simple as killing again, he wasn't so sure he could pull the same trick this time around. That had been pure luck Alexi hadn't handed him a gun to do the job properly last time. If that were the case, he'd have to persuade Alexi towards something more obtainable so he could get the information about the clubs, about the gala, and hopefully it would end there, without Felicity going anywhere near the Bratva because the Arrow would step in and end everything before it even started.
Because anything besides that…
His stomach roiled as a quick flash of a woman who looked too much like Felicity hit him, of her shoved into a tiny box, clothes torn, lip bruised and bloody from when they'd nabbed her, her nails and fingers jagged from fighting back, makeup smudged from tears as they drilled holes in the top of the box for breathing and then shoved it and dozens just like it onto a cargo ship…
Oliver gritted his teeth as he dried off quickly, tugging on his sweats, feeling dirtier than when he had gone in as he thought about all the boxes with tiny breathing holes he had handled, all the girls he had worked with and what had happened to them.
The foundry was colder than usual, the air outside starting to dip as winter approached. His skin was still hot from the shower and goose bumps erupted across his naked chest and back as he padded barefoot towards the cot he kept in the far corner of the large room. His phone - still no missed calls - was clenched in his fist and he dropped it on a nearby heater before letting himself fall onto the cheap metal bed.
It was very simple - utilitarian and easy, with a threadbare blanket and a thin pillow - and it felt amazing.
Oliver groaned, his muscles starting to relax without a nudge from his mind. The cot accepted the bulk of his weight, sinking further down and taking him with it.
He was tired.
He was always tired.
He honestly couldn't remember the last time he had slept through an entire night. The only times he'd gotten a solid ounce of sleep was when someone knocked him out, or drugged him, and he always woke up with a nasty hangover as a thank you gift. He barely let himself sleep when he was alone, much less when he was with anyone unless he wanted to terrify the hell out of them - or worse, hurt them. He couldn't keep his eyes shut for more than an hour even when he was somewhere he felt safe enough to do so.
But now, the rough exercise in conjunction with the hot shower was quickly catching up with him. For the first time since Felicity had suggested her certifiable idea, it all felt fuzzy and faraway. Something to be dealt with later.
Oliver stared at the ceiling, at the dull glow coming from Felicity's computers where they ran their searches or diagnostics or whatever the hell they did 24/7.
He watched thin plumes of steam sneak through the rafters before letting his eyes close.
He absently wondered what he would get to see tonight in his nightmares - they ranged from his first days on the island, to the body count he'd collected in Hong Kong, to the blood splatter on his hands in Russia - when he heard it.
The soft shuffle of soft-soled shoes at the entrance of the foundry.
Oliver's eyes snapped open, instantly alert, and he arched his head up off the cot, cocked to hear more, his body preternaturally still, waiting for the danger to present itself so he knew where to go when he heard it again.
He was up in the blink of an eye; he didn't feel the cold ground or the chilled air. He paused, waiting for another sound outside the coarse sound of calloused fingers rubbing together, his hand itching to grab his bow, to act, when he finally heard the distinct ding of a keypad coming to life and then a code being entered.
The pressure melted from his body as the loud metallic clang of the door that entered from the alleyway popped open and the very source of his agitation for the last several hours stepped through.
And just like that the annoyance and frustration he had fought so hard to beat out the last several hours surged to the surface again.
How could someone so tiny and harmless make him feel simultaneously murderously calm while wanting to throw every damn thing around him at a wall?
Oliver didn't move.
Felicity walked on the balls of her feet, barely breathing, like she was sneaking in. Oliver frowned, wondering what she was up to, when she finally let out a heavy cautious breath before relaxing, jogging down the steps quickly, the metal stairs aching and groaning.
"You will not win," she said as she made her way to the computers.
Oliver silently made his way back towards the center of the room.
She left the main generator off, switching on the lamps that lit up the back of her computers, lighting her face in a florescent glow.
He felt something tug in his gut at the sight of her moving around so easily and naturally. Every once in a while he found himself stopping and just watching her, the way she moved, the way her face displayed every thought racing through her mind, how she bit her lip instead of her nails, how she touched her right earring when she was staring at the farthest left monitor display and her left earring when it was the right monitor.
He had known since their first meeting that she could read him like an open book, much to his chagrin, but he could do the same with her. It was why whatever dynamic they had worked so seamlessly. Oliver felt better having her here, and it wasn't just the dangerous plan she had presented to him earlier. The foundry used to be just a base, a place to come to escape the real world, a place where he could be himself, and it was still that, but now it was so much more.
Because of Diggle. Because of her.
It was… home. As much of a home as it could be.
Oliver hadn't realized how much tension he'd been hammering out all night had been because she wasn't there. Just being near her, watching her in her element, in the place that was as much hers as it was his, made him feel better. Warmer.
He didn't let himself pause to examine that particular feeling, it always happened around her… she was just Felicity.
He shoved the feeling away.
He was still upset with her.
Just what was she doing in the foundry at two on a Tuesday morning?
"Alright. Let's see how you guys are doing first."
He inclined his head further to get a better view around the mess of industrial obstacles in his way, watching her lean over her keyboards. A few keystrokes later and all three screens shifted, and she scanned the information. She furrowed her brow, tugging her bottom lip between her teeth, something she only did when she had high expectations and was getting frustrated because it was taking too long.
Oliver really, really hoped she wasn't doing what he thought she was.
Because then he really might have to kill her.
Or lock her up in a box. With no Wi-Fi and the sour sesame chicken from the Chinese shop down the block she didn't like.
Felicity mumbled to herself, flicking through more screens.
She had scrubbed the makeup off her face and pulled her hair on top of her head in a messy, lopsided bun. The tastefully cut peach dress she had worn that day - which he specifically did notice had a very appropriate skirt length - and out of the black strappy heels - that he had specifically not noticed were an inch or two higher than her normal fare that made her longs seem longer than usual - were gone and replaced with stretchy yoga pants and a small cut-up MIT sweatshirt.
He had never seen her so dressed-down or casual, she was always so put-together and mind-bogglingly color coordinated.
He felt like he was intruding. Which was a stupid thought really since she was in his foundry.
She absently shrugged out of her jacket, draping it over her chair. She leaned over the table again, baring a healthy strip of her midriff.
Something tripped in his chest at the sight. Oliver felt like he should look away - this was Felicity - but he didn't.
And his mouth went dry when the shirt drifted higher as she moved between all three keyboards.
Oliver couldn't fathom how many naked women he had seen in his short lifetime. He'd seen more than enough to be able to see one's bare skin and not react to it. It most definitely had to be the physical hell he had just put himself through in combination with the exhaustion that he always carried as well as being unable to stop thinking about anything besides what had happened in Russia and what looked to be happening in Starling City, and the thought of anything like that coming near her, but…
It was just skin.
Normal skin, everyone had skin, he had no reason to react to it.
Skin that she was baring for anyone to see.
Skin that nobody should see.
A wicked wave of possession stomped through his chest, his mind whipping back to their earlier conversation, to what she might have to wear if he was even close to agreeing to let her go through with the moronic plan to attend that gala she had tried to push on him.
That other men - bad men - might see her in something skimpy, degrading and ugly, might see that skin…
He didn't like it.
And now, seeing her in something meant only for home, meant for a place of comfort and security, it made it all feel so much more…
Oliver's eyes followed her - with her sweatshirt tugged up enough to see the soft curve of her spine when she leaned one way, her pants slithering up her hips in a surprisingly seductive way - and he felt his stomach hollow out. He watched her lean further over to check the farthest screen, her bottom lip between her teeth, and he caught the gentle slope of her stomach peeking out. He didn't have a name for what suddenly made his fingers start to tingle as he wondered what that slope would feel like against the palm of his hand.
Nobody had the right to see these parts of her, especially the people who would be at that gala.
Felicity hummed under her breath, breaking his reverie, and Oliver slammed his eyes shut, groaning internally. He was suddenly painfully aware of the fact that he was leaning around the corner like a peeping tom, leering at Felicity from a shady corner wearing nothing more than the simple sweats she wore to bed.
She wore that to bed, that's what she slept in.
And he was unbelievably shitty.
He had just spent the last several hours raging on his training equipment at the thought of men doing this very thing to her, of her volunteering for it, and here he was, lurking in the shadows like a monster, doing that exact thing.
This was Felicity, his friend, his partner, someone he trusted with his life more than he had any other human being, someone he should be protecting from the dangers of the world, not mentally wondering what he'd find if he slipped his hand down her pants.
Oliver made a face at himself as self-disgust warmed his chest… but that sure didn't stop his traitorous mind from imagining what she would do if he stepped up behind her, pressed his chest to her back, wrapping his arms around her. He actually felt the curve of her stomach under his hand when he pressed it to her middle, pushing his fingers underneath the loose band of her pants and further down while he pressed his mouth…
Oliver bit his tongue, his index finger rubbing against his thumb for a very different reason, wanting to act on a very different instinct that was completely ludicrous. He had specifically gone out of his way to not think that way about her, because he had to work with her in such close quarters all the time. He had obviously noticed that Felicity was a beautiful woman. She was confidant and spoke her mind, something that made her beauty all the more endearing. But she was Felicity, and he knew that, which is why he never let his mind go past that.
Oliver clenched his jaw.
He should have gone home.
No, that wasn't fair, she shouldn't even be here in the middle of the night.
She should be at home.
Away from him right now.
"Okay, nothing new, which is bad, but also good since I didn't miss anything," she murmured to the screen. "Although I could have done so much more from here, but no, no, someone had to blow about fifty gaskets for no reason whatsoever. Stupid giant freakishly muscled jerk."
Oliver glowered at her.
"He is literally a walking romance novel cliché," she continued, hitting the keyboard keys harder as she said, "He's those… bulbous models on the covers. Walking around shirtless all the time and doing stupid things on that stupid salmon ladder, being a jerk, all broody and… moody. And now he's making me rhyme."
Oliver pinched his lips to keep the smile at bay. He didn't like that she had the ability to send him swinging from rabid annoyance right back to cute amusement.
"Stupid… mime. Or lime. Or… climb. Okay, time to stop, Felicity."
How could he go from thinking about sliding his hands down her pants to glaring a hole in the back of her head to finding her so cute he wanted to tap her nose with his finger? Oliver closed his eyes. He wasn't thinking straight - it was too late and he was too tired. That was the explanation.
"And that's the last time I drink two anger cappuccinos before bed. Alright." Felicity shut down the searches and turned a hard glare at her tablet. She pointed at it like it had just sassed her and Oliver bit off the chuckle building in his throat.
"Now either you have some serious explanations coming my way, Rodrigo, or…" She pointed at the servers. "Someone got a little too wire happy and missed something. Which I would never actually admit doing to anyone, but sometimes I do get too wire happy. Happy wires makes a happy Felicity. Except when I can't connect to the servers. Which makes me sad. And mad. And not glad. Okay, and we're shutting up now."
Felicity grabbed her tablet and tugged her shirt back into place, her midriff disappearing - which he was not disappointed about, because that would be ridiculous - before she darted into the small maze of server boxes.
For fuck's sake, what was he doing?
Oliver took a deep breath, looking down when he realized his hands were clenched in tight fists. He released them, shaking his head. He was strung out, that was it. He wasn't thinking straight. The information about the clubs had just brought up old memories, and combine that with new people in his life, he was just… overreacting.
Wanting to wrap her up in a blanket and shove her back in her bed where he knew she would be safe was definitely overreacting.
He should really just go back to his cot. She would likely leave after she fixed whatever she was there to fix and then they'd see each other in a few hours, after they'd both cooled off, and he would calmly explain why he was acting the way he was without going into explicit detail, and she would poke and prod, but she would eventually back off because she would do her uncanny understanding thing and see he wasn't willing to discuss it, trusting him to do what was best.
Or, more likely scenario, she'd do exactly what she was doing right now, which was going behind his back to research something dangerous as hell.
Oliver grimaced when he felt his nails digging into his palms again. Now was definitely not the time to talk.
He should wait, make sure she got to her car okay.
Her car that was sitting outside, in a dark alley, in the middle of the Glades, at 2 a.m.
She might as well hang a bright pink neon sign around her neck that said, 'Kidnap-Ready.'
Oliver was stepping out of his hiding spot before he could think twice.
He heard her mumbling to herself still, narrating her way through whatever wire hell she was in, and it didn't take her long to find what she was looking for. He heard a, "Well, well, well, there you are, my pretty," and then the rustle of wires followed by something snapping into place.
Oliver clenched his jaw, annoyed with her for coming here in the middle of the night and with himself that he was suddenly feeling an odd note of pride that she had - he really should be upset that her courage was bigger than her eyes - and stood by her computers. He crossed his arms, waiting.
When she made her way back, her brow was furrowed as she whipped through several screens on her tablet. She made a frustrated noise, her hand moving in a blur. It finally pinged, causing a huge grin to cross her face.
"A-ha!" she said, throwing her fist in the air. "That's how you - oh my god!"
Oliver wasn't sure what happened first.
She yelped, one hand flying to cover her face, the other to cover her heart, her tablet still somewhere in the middle as she jumped back, but her arms seemed to forget what the other was doing because they suddenly switched trajectories, and she jammed her tablet up into her chin.
The sound of her teeth clacking together very loudly echoed in the open room and Oliver winced as the next sound she made was a pained keel. The tablet clattered to the ground, and all the quiet-voiced yelling he had planned was gone in the blink of an eye.
Oliver leapt forward, grabbing her arms before she fell over.
"Whoa, Felicity. Hey." She looked up at him, dazed but aware and he let her go. "Are you okay?" She opened her mouth, but then she started to tilt and Oliver snatched her waist to steady her. "Whoa, easy. I thought you saw me."
"Oh, let's not worry about that. I saw you alright," Felicity replied, voice breathy. He was close enough that he felt her breath on his chest, and Oliver couldn't stop his hands from gripping her waist tighter, or the way his heart fluttered when her hands landed on his chest to steady herself.
He gritted his teeth. This was Felicity.
Why did he have to keep reminding himself of that?
She slowly came back, blinking up at him through her glasses, and then her eyes narrowed.
He immediately dropped his hands from her waist, his fingers burning where they had touched her bare skin.
"What the heck were you doing, Oliver? Lurking and creeping around like that! You scared the…" Felicity paused and then she winced, opening her mouth experimentally before touching her chin. "Ow."
"I didn't mean to scare you." She glared at him some more, and he had the decency to look sheepish. "Are you okay?"
"Oh yeah, I'm fine," she said, wincing. "Just fine. I just rammed myself in the face with a chunk of tablet, but I'm fine."
Oliver was reaching for her before he could think about it. "Here, let me look."
Felicity didn't hesitate, moving right into his grasp, making his heart skip a beat. Oliver ignored it, and the way his palms suddenly felt itchy.
They had been doing that lately. And he didn't like it.
Oliver held her lightly, tilting her head back, and she grabbed his forearms, leaning back with him.
There was an angry red mark where her tablet had hit.
"It doesn't look too bad. Are you okay?"
She made an imperceptible noise, her eyes closed, and he couldn't help the smile this time, watching her. Her skin was soft, warm, and when his thumb brushed over her cheek of its own volition, he couldn't ignore the way her fingers tightened on his arms in response.
"Did you bite your tongue?" he asked, the smile evident in his voice.
"Mm… now that's something I never thought I'd get to hear you ask me," she replied and then she jerked when she realized what she'd said. Her eyes snapped open. "I said that like I was disappointed, but I'm not. Because I don't think about you and biting, or any biting really. Not that you're not bitable, you definitely are… or you would be if I thought about that, or noticed at all really, because I definitely do not notice anything being… bitable…"
Oliver's breathy chuckle cut her off. She blushed, and he felt her skin warm under his hands. He watched it spread rapidly down her neck and across her chest, disappearing underneath her shirt.
Which he was definitely not noticing.
Felicity swallowed audibly, her eyes flickering shut, and took a deep breath. He could practically hear her, "Three… two… one…"
"No," she replied slowly. "I did not bite my tongue. Obviously. My jaw just entered Tooth Thunderdome and came out the loser, but they still feel very attached so I think I'm okay." She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth and winced. She angled her head back, her voice growing huskier as a result. "Is there a bruise?"
Husky was not how he would describe Felicity's voice. Mostly because it made him think about a bedroom voice. And this was Felicity.
Oliver swallowed to get rid of his dry mouth, reminding himself this was Felicity - Felicity, his very platonic friend Felicity.
He was sure if he kept repeating it, his 2 a.m. mind limbo would get the message.
He ran his thumb over the red mark.
And just like that all precautionary thoughts flew right out the window when her throat flexed in reaction to his touch. He was suddenly very aware of how chilly the foundry was, and how warm she was. He could feel it radiating through her thin clothes, her blushing making it worse.
His thumb brushed over the spot again, and her breath hitched, and he stared when her tongue dart out to lick her lips.
He didn't think he'd ever seen her without lipstick before. Her lips were bare, exposed without their color barrier.
Now that was an odd thought.
"No bruise," Oliver said. He tilted her head back down, telling himself to step back and put space between them, but he didn't move. "Just a little tender."
"Good," she replied. And then she looked up at him from underneath her eyelashes.
Oliver's chest tightened painfully. She managed to look both vulnerable and gorgeous as hell, and his mind flashed to what she had said earlier, to wanting to put herself in a position where she would have to do this for men, bad men, to save others.
Instead of the rush of anger, he wanted to pull her closer, to protect her.
Anyone but her.
He felt the hitch in her breathing when he said her name, her chest rising and falling to match his own. Her fingers dug into his arms as she stared up at him, and he could feel her rapid heartbeat thrumming through her as she stared at him under hooded lids.
His eyes darted to her lips.
If Oliver wanted to blame anyone for his reaction, he was going to choose Isabel Rochev.
He hadn't been able to stop wondering what name had slipped from his lips when she'd jerked back like he was covered in liquid fire and proceeded to look at him like he had just confirmed everything she'd ever thought about him.
And about Felicity.
He had thought about it, gone over it and over it and there was no way he could have said that. He didn't think of her that way. She was just a friend.
Just a friend, who at the thought of someone else touching her like this made him want to throw something.
Oliver's hands shifted, his fingers sinking into her messy hair, making her breath hitch softly. Felicity blinked up at him, her eyes darkening as she shivered.
Fear, anger and exhaustion were a heady combination when it came to clarity: Oliver only knew one thing in that moment - she was here, she was alive, and he was going to do everything in his power to keep her that way.
Her tentative voice was like a bucket of ice cold water dumping over his head.
What the hell was he doing?
This was Felicity, for fuck's sake.
Oliver immediately released her. He cleared his throat, stepping back, grabbing her chair in a white-knuckled grip as Felicity blinked after him, her hands hovering in the air where she had held his arms before letting them drop.
A moment of strained silence stretched between them, neither moving. Whatever that had just been…
Oliver interrupted the thought before it could finish.
"Uh, what are…" His voice came out far too roughly and he cleared his throat again, pushing her chair between them. "What are you doing here?"
"Uh," Felicity started. She adjusted the small sweatshirt with nervous hands, and he noticed it either sat too far back or too far forward, giving anyone willing to look a pretty view of skin. So much skin.
He noticed her abdomen was pinker than it had been before and he wondered just how far her blushing went.
No, no, not going there. His eyes snapped back to her face, where she was watching him with wide eyes.
Oliver bit the inside of his lip until he tasted blood.
"What are you doing here, Felicity?"
She jumped, opening her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Instead she averted her gaze and moved to pick up her tablet when Oliver saw her pause when she saw the mess he'd left.
"What did you do to Sid the Dummy?"
"It broke," he said plainly. "What are you doing here?"
"Nothing, I was doing nothing." She shot him a falsely cheerful smile. "I was just checking on some… things, that I forgot to check on earlier, because someone ran me out of here like a bull in a china shop…" Oliver stared at her and for some reason it made her blush. "So, I think I'll just… go… now."
She moved to grab her jacket, which was on the chair he was currently hiding behind, and Oliver rolled it out of her reach. "Oliver-"
"Felicity," he said slowly. "What are you doing here?" She moved to argue again but he stopped her. "The truth. Please."
"I always tell you the truth," she replied, crossing her arms around the tablet. "Especially when you don't want to hear it."
He narrowed his eyes. "Felicity."
"I might have been… monitoring some searches from home. That's all," she said and she waved her tablet. "And I didn't realize the connection had died out until about an hour ago and I was awake anyway so I came in because I was pretty sure it was just a loose wire that was the culprit and hey, it was."
Oliver's frown deepened when she didn't elaborate on what she was searching.
She pursed her lips when he didn't say anything.
"So I'll just go. And I'll see you when I wake up. I mean, not when I wake up, because you won't be in bed with me to see when I wake up, but we will be together at work. Not together-together, because that's ridiculous, but together in the professional space in which we occupy, as professionals. In a few hours." She took a breath, waiting for a reaction and got nothing. "Okay. Bye."
She grabbed her jacket and Oliver reached for it at the same time, stopping her.
"Nothing." He stared at her. "It's nothing, I swear, nothing that can't wait until tomorrow. Or today, whatever, because… because John will want to know too! So later, I'll explain them all later. Good, see you then." She tugged on her jacket again, causing that damn sweatshirt to ride up even more. "Oliver, let go of my jacket."
"You're running searches on the clubs, aren't you?"
"What? No. You specifically asked me not to, so I'm not doing that."
"I'm not." He stared at her and her eyes remained guileless. "I remember because you had your…" She made a face, using her free hand to make a claw in the air next to her face. "Growly face, and you said - no, you yelled - 'Stop looking into the clubs.'"
"Yes, I remember. I was there."
"Yes, and it was very simple, very understated, in a loud voice kind of way, but still." Felicity tugged on her jacket. "Oliver."
He just stared at her.
"Fine!" Her face crinkled and she stomped her foot. "Fine, no, I was not searching the clubs, because despite how much of a jerk you are…" Even through the angry haze starting to form over his eyes, Oliver had the decency to flinch and she caught it. "Yeah, you were a huge jerk, but I still listened because yes, you're a jerk, but I also know you don't say things without a good reason, and I know I can trust you because, well, I've always been able to, but…"
"But you can't just tell me to stop looking into something as serious as human trafficking without a good reason!"
"Damn it, Felicity," Oliver snapped, letting go of her jacket abruptly, making her stumble back. And just like that, any warmth from the past few minutes evaporated. "I told you to leave it alone."
"And I told you I couldn't do that."
Oliver ground his teeth together. "Why can't you just…"
"Because I can't." She stepped towards him again and threw her jacket at the top of the chair. He had to step back to avoid it whipping into him as she turned back to her computers. "We still haven't found much-"
Felicity faltered, her tongue sneaking out to dance on her lip. "I meant the royal we?"
Oliver growled under his breath. Why couldn't anyone just listen to him?
"Because when your head lives inside your ass, you have a tendency to not make much sense," Felicity replied smartly, wisely choosing not to look at him as she pulled up the searches on her computer again. He glared at the side of her head, not realizing he'd spoken out loud.
"Anyway, like I said, I, in my own independent searching and not necessarily as a representative of Team Arrow, have not found much outside the clubs." Oliver rolled his eyes. "But I did find some information about suspicious shipments at the docks, suspicious enough to tip off the SCPD, but they didn't pan out. It shouldn't mean anything, but it got me thinking about dummy shipments, something to keep the police occupied, and so I hacked into the docks' system - if you can even call it that…"
"And I found another shipment, but it was empty." Felicity turned, eyebrows raised. "Empty, Oliver. It was empty." She paused, waiting for him to catch on but he kept his face stoic, preferring to continue glaring at her instead, and she huffed. "Fine, be a grumpy cat. Anyway, I kind of hit a dead end on the empty thing, but I also found a lot of new employers looking for new applicants in Starling City. Employers who were not here a month ago. Employers looking for… very…" Felicity pursed her lips again, rocking on her heels before waving her hands over her body in emphasis. "Specific requirements."
Oliver didn't respond. He could only stare at her.
Did she have a death wish?
He didn't realize he had grabbed her chair again or that he was currently squeezing the life out of it until her eyes darted down to his hands. He let go of it abruptly, stepping away from her.
"I really don't get why you're so upset. This is good, we're getting information we can-"
"No, Felicity," Oliver snapped, waving a hand to cut her off. "If I tell you to stop searching for something, you need to stop searching. It's simple."
"I said no."
Oliver opened his mouth to continue, to tell her exactly why he said no, so she could at least pretend to understand the gravity of what she was looking into, but he snapped his jaw closed with a resounding thud.
No. The past was the past, and he would be damned if this one thing didn't stay in the past.
"I'm taking care of it. I said I was taking care of it and that you didn't need to do anything else." She looked ready to argue and Oliver slashed his hand through the air definitively. "I said it was done. Now just… Go home, Felicity."
Hurt flashed across her face before she looked away.
After a heavy minute, she shook her head, letting out a huff of incredulous laugh and grabbed her jacket again. She hit a few keys, setting the computers back to their default searches and turned to go, not sparing him a glance.
He wanted to apologize, he wanted to say he didn't mean to be a dick about it, that the last thing he wanted was for her to get involved in this, to see what he had seen, what he had participated in. He just wanted to explain it to her without having to explain how he knew anything.
Because he knew the minute she knew, she would never look at him the same again.
He closed his eyes, not moving as she shoved her tablet inside her purse.
"You don't have to carry all this by yourself, Oliver." She slid her jacket on in rough jerky movements. "The last time I checked, we were a team, not a dictatorship. So whatever your problem is, just get over it."
She moved towards the stairs, not giving him a chance to reply. Not that he had anything to say. She was making a point, a valid point, but he couldn't let it go. Not yet. Not until he talked to Alexi, not until he figured out what the Bratva had planned, and not until he got it out of Starling City.
She paused at the bottom of the stairs. "Oliver?"
He looked back at her. "What?"
"Did something else happen in Russia, besides, you know, the extremely poor judgment choices?"
"Well something obviously happened. Or you know something you aren't sharing with the rest of us… Something that's scaring you."
She waited, but nothing came.
Felicity clenched her jaw and shook her head minutely. "Alright, fine, keep it to yourself." A layer of sarcasm and derision he had never heard directed his way coated her words. "That's a great plan." She turned, her hand on the stair railing. "You know, Oliver, you didn't come back from the island just to push everyone away again."
The hurt and disappointment that had finally disappeared was back, echoing in the foundry in her wake.
The stairs creaked as Oliver watched her go, watched her disappear through the door. His eyes closed for a brief second, wanting to call her back. Instead he leaned over her computers, opening the program that linked him to the outside cameras. She appeared a second later in the alley, striding purposefully towards her car.
A few seconds later, she was gone.
Oliver groaned, scrubbing his hands across his face and then over his head. This one thing, that was all he was asking for, this one thing.
A series of pings came from his phone where he'd left it, disrupting his thoughts, and then the far computer monitor came to life.
Alexi Leonov's face lit up the screen underneath a blocked number.
This isn't a quick and easy ride for our OTP, and really, what fun would it be if it were?
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