Chapter Twelve - Trust I seek and I find in you, every day for us something new… (47 hours before the gala…)

A/N: Thank you so much for the comments, kudos, reblogs, favorites and likes! I'm so glad you're enjoying the story so far - there really aren't enough words to capture how giddy each review makes me, this fandom is incredibly astute and generous, and I appreciate it so much.

This story wouldn't be anything without Margaret (teawhovian/TeaWithLemon) - her insight, suggestions and advice make Blood Hands what it is. Send her all the kudos.

This will be my last update for 2015! The holidays are upon us and my writing time has already taken a hit, so I'll be back to updating once we're into the new year!

I hope you enjoy the update!


Felicity landed face-first on the mat with a solid smack.

She groaned, not moving.

"Ow."

Two hours.

Two hours of constant attacks and reminders of what John had put her through over a year ago. Felicity was pleased to find she remembered way more than she thought she did, but just when she thought she was doing a pretty good job of holding her own, dodging his hits and getting in at least one attack of her own, Diggle took her by surprise. He was always a few steps ahead of her, reading her movements with his stupid eagle eye before viciously turning it all around on her.

That was the tenth time her face had made out with the mat, and she was not enjoying it.

"You need to keep your center of balance, Felicity," Diggle said where he stood over her.

Felicity rolled onto her back with a tired moan to find his hand hovering over her. She made a face before gripping it and he yanked her to her feet like she weighed nothing.

"I can see which way you're leaning, how you're standing," Diggle continued, letting her go the instant she found her feet. "Your weight isn't distributed evenly, and I'm using it against you."

"Right." Felicity rubbed her side where John's arm had landed with a solid hit… right before he'd swept her feet out from under her. "Balance."

The differences between John's techniques and what Oliver had been doing that morning were glaring. Not that she was thinking about that, or comparing, or finding herself slightly distracted, wondering what Oliver was doing whenever she stopped hearing the telltale clink of the salmon ladder, or jumping out of her skin when he started it back up again.

It also wasn't helping that Diggle was battering the actual hell out of her.

"You'll be able to deflect my attack better," he said, pulling her attention back to him. "Move with the hits, use my weight against me."

"You're literally three times my size," Felicity replied breathlessly, cupping the back of her neck.

"Yeah," Diggle said with a wily smirk. "I am. And you're so tiny that you should be an easy target, but it's actually your greatest asset."

"Right," Felicity said, rubbing the tight muscles in her shoulders, nodding. "Wing chun, right? Or wang chung, or ming chung, or whatever it's called."

Diggle chuckled, moving to grab their water bottles. "Yes. That."

She sighed, letting her arms drop, her hands slapping against her thighs as she followed him. Felicity rotated her shoulders, the rush of adrenaline-fueled blood starting to abate from her ears as she waited for Diggle to pass her her towel, and her water bottle.

It took her too long to realize that the rest of the foundry was silent.

Too silent.

The hair on the back of her neck stood up, a chill falling down her spine, and her bizarre brain decided that was the right moment to think about how tight her tank top was as the chills raced over her entire body instead of realizing…

Arms suddenly wrapped around her from behind, one wrapping around her waist while the other covered her mouth, moving so fast she barely had time to comprehend anything was different before she was yanked off her feet.

Felicity let out a sharp, muffled shriek, grabbing the hand covering her mouth.

Adrenaline shot through her, a heady rush of fight or flight taking over as she simultaneously realized that Diggle had tricked her and that Oliver was attacking her.

Felicity pulled her legs up to her chest, her abdominal muscles straining with the effort, using the new weight difference to force Oliver forward again.

She didn't have to tell her body what to do. She'd always been a quick learner; she just had to see something a few times and go through the motions before she caught on, leaving only perfecting the motion as her biggest obstacle. That, and thinking way too much.

When that option was taken away, she was left with nothing but reacting.

Felicity suddenly dropped her weight, making Oliver buckle.

"Good!" she thought she heard Diggle saying, but it was there one second and gone the next as her feet landed on the ground again; it would have been the perfect opening to use that momentum and swing him forward except he knew exactly what she was trying to do, and the second he felt her shifting, he reacted. His quiet grunt of his only sign of strain as he stopped her abruptly and lifted her back up into the air, using the fact that he was made of pure freaking muscle against her, moving too fast for her to even think about what she should do next.

Felicity let out a short cry, flailing in his arms, but the force of his swing shoved her right back against him and he locked on, overpowering her with an ease that left her breathless, and the urge to fight disappeared as he took over everything. She knew there was more she should be doing, that she should be planning her next move, her next attack… but it wasn't there. She didn't want to. He was stronger than her, faster, but that wasn't why she stopped - it was that he was Oliver, and it wasn't the urge to fight that she felt right then.

She felt herself submitting and it left her reeling as she sagged against him.

Oliver's response was to tighten his hold on her and plant his feet, securing her in his tight embrace.

Felicity's chest burned for air, and not because he still had his hand covering her mouth but because her back was plastered to his damp chest and his skin was hot, so hot she felt like she was going to burst into flames. Her hips were fused to his, his legs actual tree trunks where he kept her immobile - keeping her pressed up against him - and she struggled to remember how to breathe at all when the arm wrapped around her middle tightened, his hand sliding slightly lower on her hip, making her burn hotter.

He was everywhere, surrounding her.

Felicity struggled to remember exactly what was happening, how he was there, wrapped around her like that, so… everywhere.

Was he… what, what was he…?

They didn't move, or at least it felt like they didn't move, like they weren't moving, like they couldn't move.

She felt everything, and her heart took off, pounding so hard and fast she started shaking.

Oh god.

"Freeze right there," Diggle said, and reality slammed her back into the moment as they did just that.

Training.

Diggle.

Training.

Right.

Felicity felt Oliver's even breaths puffing against the back of her neck, making her shiver, but they weren't normal shivers.

No, these were something else.

Heated shivers.

Felicity's lungs positively ached for the oxygen she was denying herself.

How was she so winded after only literally five seconds of moving?

It definitely had nothing to do with the fact that Oliver's very sweaty and hard chest was pressed flush against her back, her tank top leaving so much of her skin exposed that she felt so much of him, or that his arms were like bands of steel where they were wrapped around her, or that she could feel every single movement his fingers were making on her hips… every twitch, every little shift, every time he held her a little tighter before easing off like he was only just then realizing what he was doing.

Oliver slowly released his hold on her mouth, his hand dropping to cover her shoulder.

Felicity blinked.

Was his heart pounding? Or was that hers, and it was doing enough for the both of them?

Felicity had been more than ready to throw in the towel well over half an hour ago. The lack of sleep and proper anything being taken care of over the last few days had made the training session feel like it was scooping out her energy instead of slowly siphoning it away, like normal… but now, now a renewed jolt of vigor hit her. She was more awake than she had been since the inadvertent training session at four that morning.

She tightened her hold on his arm, and he responded by squeezing her shoulder lightly, almost like he was asking if she was okay.

Which was probably all in her imagination.

Right?

Right.

Still, she found herself giving him a short nod, and Oliver relaxed… but he didn't let her go. Instead he ran his thumb over the bare skin of her shoulder, making her shiver again.

Felicity swallowed slowly, ignoring the buzzing of awareness in her ears - he'd attacked her, he'd just attacked her without any warning, she should be remembering that, that he was supposed to be the bad guy… but it was Oliver, and she felt nothing but a quiet sense of security in his arms, like nothing would ever hurt her as long as she stayed right there.

Diggle launched into a lengthy explanation of what she could do next. She struggled to pay attention as he knelt next to them, touching the areas he was talking about, how she could use the position against her attacker.

He suddenly lifted her leg, forcing Oliver to hold her tighter to compensate for the lack of balance, and she had absolutely no idea what Diggle said next; all her attention was on Oliver's hands, and his body, and his muscles, and…

And she needed to stop thinking because this was bad. All bad.

Diggle was saying something about kicking, about her heel… about driving her heel into her attacker, wherever she could, telling her she should use everything she had at her disposal.

Including biting.

That was surprisingly grounding… until her mind jumped to the next thought of biting Oliver, where she could bite Oliver, of what he would taste like and wow, she needed to never think again.

"Biting?" Felicity repeated, shaking her head, grasping for something to say. "Isn't that kind of a cheap shot?"

"That's very noble of you, Felicity," Diggle replied with a small smile. "But it won't feel like a cheap shot when a stranger is doing this to you."

"I don't know, they might be really concerned with sportsmanship, and biting doesn't seem very sportsmanlike. What's next, pulling hair?"

"A fair fight is the last thing they're going to give you," Oliver said quietly, his breath skating over the shell of her ear and she prayed to the Google gods her eyes didn't shut like she thought they did, or that she didn't shiver like she might have, or…

Or anything.

Felicity gave him a quick nod, shifting slightly, inadvertently pressing closer to him, where she thought she felt… something.

No.

No, she was imagining things.

Lots of things.

Bad things.

Oliver squeezed her shoulder again, and she swore she felt him shifting in kind, felt his face move just enough that his nose brushed against the frizzy curls at the base of her neck, felt his chest as he took a deep breath…

Oh god.

This time she definitely shivered, and she knew he felt it because he squeezed her hip, holding her tighter.

"You two can relax now," Diggle said.

Oliver instantly released her, stepping back several paces, leaving Felicity to stumble before she caught herself. Her hand flew to her shoulder, still feeling the ghost of his touch, feeling his arms wrapped around her, holding her.

But he hadn't been holding her.

Training.

The center of her back burned, like his eyes were on her, and Felicity fought the urge to look back.

Something was happening.

No, nothing was happening.

This was her applying way too much meaning to things that weren't happening, because she was ridiculous. This new energy between them was all in her head - the 'what if' had always been on her side, and the increased stress of the last few days was just doing her in, that was all this was.

Just like earlier at the office, she'd imagined the way his eyes had warmed, his pupils dilating, his face softening… the way he'd leaned into her touch, into her hand where she still cupped his cheek, looking up at her like… well, in a way that'd made her heart leap into her throat, and then his eyes had dropped down her lips…

"Oh boy," Felicity whispered under her breath, shaking her arms out.

Nope. She was imagining it. She had to be, because that had been so much more than everything else combined and she wasn't sure that was… she couldn't… it wasn't…

God, she couldn't even think.

No, she could think, but all she could think about was that Oliver of Last Week wouldn't have kissed her forehead, or held her like he had; he wouldn't have whispered those soft words, the sincerity in his eyes resonating inside her, making her feel so safe, knowing he'd never let anything happen to her; he wouldn't have moved as close as he had that morning, he wouldn't have opened up as much as he had about his past, about who he was in the Bratva, about what it meant, and he definitely, definitely wouldn't have looked at her like he had in his office; he wouldn't have held her back just as tightly, he wouldn't have let his defenses down, almost like he wanted to let her in…

No, she was pretty sure Oliver of Last Week would have just asked if she was alright last night, and taken her word for it when she said she was; he would've walked right past her and her poor attempts at punching with a, "What are you doing?" before disappearing; he wouldn't have told her jack about the Bratva until it was so relevant he couldn't not tell them and he wouldn't have touched her as long as he had, wouldn't have let his thumb run over the spot he'd grabbed in his sleep.

He definitely wouldn't have let himself fall asleep as he had, letting his guard down, which told her both how exhausted he was and how safe she and Diggle made him feel.

That she made him feel safe in any, way, shape or form filled something inside her, something she didn't even know was empty until she'd looked into his office and seen him slumped in his chair. Even Isabel's repeated calls hadn't woken him, or Thea's.

How long had it been since he'd let his guard down around anyone? Since he'd trusted anyone enough?

This on the other hand…

Felicity took in a shaky breath.

This was something else.

Which was why the only explanation was that it was a figment of her overactive imagination.

The heated spot in her back disappeared as Oliver moved back to his corner of the foundry, not looking back. Felicity lifted her ponytail off her neck, watching him got for a second before looking away. She jumped when her towel and water bottle were suddenly thrust in front of her.

"Thanks," she said, and Diggle grunted in response as she took a heavy pull of water before wiping her face, tossing the towel over her shoulder, taking another drink.

Her heart was starting to calm down, which was good. Very good. Although what wasn't very good was the sudden energy streaking through her veins. She'd been ready to drop a few minutes ago and now she felt like she could do twenty laps around the block and still have plenty of energy to spare.

"So what's next?" Felicity asked. "Punching? Kicking? Maybe some biting practice?"

Diggle smirked, grabbing his own towel, wiping his face before picking up his t-shirt.

"Hair-pulling then?" Felicity offered with a smile, and that earned her a laugh.

"Actually, next…" Diggle said, tugging the shirt over his head. "I go home."

"Got a hot date?" Felicity asked, taking another drink of water, bouncing on her toes a bit before she realized what she was doing. God, it was like a weird nervous energy was literally crackling across her skin.

"If you count me taking A.J. to the movies," Diggle said. "Some new movie is premiering tonight, I said I'd take him."

"Oh," Felicity said, nodding. "Is that maybe including Carly?"

Diggle shook his head. "No, not really." He grabbed his jacket. "I think that ship has sailed. That doesn't mean I'm still not expected to spoil the hell out of my nephew though."

"Darn tootin' it doesn't," Felicity said, throwing her fist in the air in an exaggerated fist pump.

Diggle paused, a weird smile on his face before he glanced over at where Oliver had disappeared.

"You know," he drawled. "If you're still wanting to keep going, I'm sure Oliver could help out."

Felicity's heart stopped at the suggestion, and she instantly froze where she'd been shaking her hand out, like she was able to whip the energy off her or something.

Diggle raised his eyebrows, glancing back at Oliver's self-created corner.

"He's just been sitting in the corner, brooding all night," he said. "I'm sure he wouldn't mind."

"No," Felicity said, shaking her head, waving her hand where Diggle was looking before waving at herself. "That… no, this is… I'm beat. I should get some sleep."

Diggle eyed her for a long moment, looking like he was fighting a bigger smile before he shrugged. "Alright. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yep," Felicity said, nodding as he turned to leave. "Tomorrow."

"I'm out for the night, Oliver," Diggle said, his raised voice echoing in the foundry before he headed upstairs, a distant grunt from Oliver the only thing he got in response.

And then… there was just her.

Felicity stood by herself in the middle of the mats, her foot bouncing slightly.

Maybe she could take up running, although that wasn't exactly a safe idea in that scary part of the Glades that late at night. Maybe she could talk to the boys about getting a treadmill installed, although now that she was thinking about it, the only time she'd really use it was at that very moment.

Because running, all the time?

No.

She was more of an elliptical girl.

Oh, maybe an elliptical!

Felicity shook out her hands again before rolling her eyes at herself. She looked around. Oliver had disappeared, leaving just her and… her computers. And the cameras.

"Right," she said, heading towards her workstation. "Back traces. Gimme all the back traces."

She dropped her water bottle and towel and clicked on the keyboards. The screens lit up, but the second she saw the little signal still bouncing to and fro, her shoulders fell.

The first thing they'd done when they'd gotten back was set up the back trace on the camera that had been in her vent, but whoever had set it up had more than covered their tracks. The signal was bouncing everywhere, and the process of finding it was moving slower than a snail's pace. It was frustrating, because it meant whoever had set up the camera had someone who knew what they were doing on their side. And that was both annoying and worrying, and the longer it took to find the feed source, the more worrying it got because it meant someone had gone to great lengths to hide their identity.

All for her… and that led her right back around to the big question: why?

Felicity chewed on the tip of her tongue, watching the signal bounce around.

"Time, time, time," she whispered. "Just give me a bucket of time and I'll find you."

"Who?" Oliver asked, right over her shoulder.

"Gah!" Felicity yelped, whirling around to face him.

He took a few steps back, his eyes staying on her for a fraction of a second before he looked at her computers. He was still shirtless, which was even more distracting than usual because now she knew exactly what all that felt like pressed up against her.

Oh wow, so not the time.

"You have got to stop doing that sneaky ninja thing around me," Felicity said.

"Sorry," Oliver offered, offering her an tight, contrite smile before his eyes found the computer screen again. "What's that?"

"That," Felicity said, turning back to the screen. "Is me trying to find out where the camera feed is going, a.k.a. me trying to find a needle in a haystack apparently. I tell you, those Russian mobsters are surprisingly sophisticated tech-wise."

"No luck at all?"

"They are being elusive," Felicity replied, tapping a few keys, her mind already jumping ahead a few paces. She was sure she wasn't going to be getting any sleep for a while, so she'd have more time later to nail down a few more algorithms to help boost the search. Still, she made a few adjustments, but it did nothing to speed it up. She sighed. "And that is putting it kindly."

Very kindly.

Too kindly.

Stupid Russian jerks and their stupid really-good-tech-having ways.

It was a good thing she was better.

She'd find them.

Tapping out a few more commands, Felicity watched the target bounce around a little quicker, overly aware that Oliver hadn't moved, and that he wasn't moving. She tapped fingers lightly on the F and J keys, her eyes staying on the little target, her mind racing ahead on more than a few fronts now.

"So you know these guys pretty well, right?" Felicity asked. Silence was her answer, but she definitely felt the change in the air between them. She stood up slowly and turned to face him. His face was blank, unhappy eyes on her. "Like, maybe…" Felicity made a face, waving at the mats. "You could teach me some of their attack moves, or modes, or… whatever you'd call it."

His face darkened, his eyes narrowing.

"You know, like what to expect from big brawly Russian bodyguards, or any Russian for that matter. Do they train differently or do they have special moves, like are they super fluent in the ways of Dark Side of the Force?"

Oliver's blank look slowly melted into one of stone.

"Just to be extra prepared on Saturday."

The instant the word 'Saturday' left her lips, a whirl of emotions lit up eyes before he shuttered them. Oliver took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he stared at her, but he did nothing else.

It was becoming unnerving, the way he could go from hot to cold in three seconds flat.

"Okay," Felicity said, waiting for a more seconds but all he did was look at her. It was starting to make her fidget and she just started talking. "So… how about secret handshakes, or secret code words? Do you guys do code words? Are they in Russian? Of course they're in Russian, it's the Russian mob. Okay, so… is it the kind of club where if you taught me some of them, you'd get in trouble because it's like a 'boys only' thing where…"

One second he was standing before her, his shoulders tense, his face taut with growing agitation, a foot of space between them…

And the next he was moving.

Oliver stepped towards her abruptly, making her choke on the rest of her words. Felicity stumbled backwards, running into her chair, the heavy cushion slamming into her back. He didn't relent as he crowded her, not even when the chair rammed into the desk from the force of her trying to get away from him, not even when there was nowhere else to go. His arms shot up to grip the chair, to keep it from moving as he pressed himself against her, until there was nothing left between them but her startled gasps and his harsh breaths.

His body was flush with hers, heat coming off him in waves as he wrapped himself around her, his warmth echoing the razor sharp blush rushing across her skin, making her shiver. She felt it all the way down to her toes as he pushed her until they were both leaning across the back of her chair.

She was vaguely aware that she was gripping the chair just as tightly as he was, that her nailbeds were aching with the force of her hold on the cushion, and that the way her arms were bent back was shoving her chest right into his.

He was so hot; his skin was searing, slicing right through her thin tank top, his sweats barely a barrier against her yoga pants.

He was everywhere, and she felt everything, and Felicity completely forgot how to breathe as he stared at her.

"This," Oliver said softly, his voice low, "Is what I will have to do the entire night, to prove to the brotherhood that you are mine."

Mine.

Felicity's stomach dropped, and she barely managed breath as the word rattled through her head.

"O-okay," she managed, swallowing past the lump in her throat, barely getting past the desert her mouth had become. "Okay…"

Oliver's eyes dropped to her lips, and her stomach more than dropped as he watched her lips move; he looked transfixed, like he was watching something far more exceptional than her struggling to breathe. They darkened, his brow growing heavy, and something hot and languid slowly uncoiled in the pit of her stomach as she watched him watch her.

Oh god.

Felicity licked her lips and Oliver's pupils dilated, making her heart trip all over itself as the heat inside her spread like wildfire.

"Oliver," she breathed.

His eyes slowly dragged back up to meet hers.

The heat in her core exploded, and she couldn't bite back the whimper that slipped past her lips. Oliver inhaled sharply in response, his chest expanding against hers, making her insides melt even more as she leaned into him.

Oh god, what was happening, what was he…?

A tiny noise sounded from deep inside him, and Oliver pushed closer, his body moving against hers in a way that made her breath hitch, that made her eyes flutter shut, that made her almost let go of the chair and wrap herself around him, hold on, to pull him closer to her, to feel more

But then he pulled back.

Oliver smiled, a not-so-gentle smile that doused the fire inside her when it didn't reach his eyes, when his lips simply curled, empty and cold.

Felicity blinked, furrowing her brow at the sudden transformation, and her heart skipped a beat for an entirely different reason as a very different Oliver stared down at her, staring at her like she was… like he wasn't seeing her. Ice filed her chest as he cocked his head, and she fought the urge to shrink away from him.

"I've told them that you're mine, Felicity," he said, and she shivered at the darkness in his words. "Which means I'll have to treat you like you're mine." He narrowed his eyes. "There is a code in the Bratva, and it comes first, always."

"A code?" she asked, her voice cracking. She had no idea what he was talking about, barely able to comprehend what he was saying past the rush of blood through her ears, the adrenaline making her knees weak, the reality of his words slowly coming to the surface…

"I've told them you're mine, Felicity… which means I'll have to treat you like you're mine."

Mine…

And just like that, the ice evaporated, swept up in a swath of heat at the implication behind the word.

"Oh," was all she could manage.

He didn't react to the sound of her voice falling apart at all. His gaze remained steady, his touch sure and confident, which only made her feel like she was going to melt more, and she had no idea if it was because it was him who was touching her like this, or if it was because of what he was insinuating.

"Nothing comes before the code, unless there is a very specific reason why it should."

Felicity blinked.

What?

"Do you understand, Felicity?"

She knew she should be hearing more than the way he dragged her name out, that the sound of his tongue hitting every single syllable in her name shouldn't be making her chest feel so full, but it did.

Felicity licked her lips, and his eyes dropped back down, making her gasp.

"Felicity," he said, his tone sharper.

"It doesn't sound so bad," she whispered without thinking, not fully aware of what she was responding to.

His eyes narrowed dangerously and she started at the sudden change, but before she could say anything else, Oliver's hand slid from the chair to her throat, his calluses scraping over her delicate skin as he cupped the back of her neck in a tight grip, one that had everything inside her turning molten, and then he stepped closer, literally pushing her back over the chair.

Felicity's mind scrambled to make sense of what was happening as her hands flew towards him for something to hold on to, one hand sprawling over his burn scar, the other grabbing his tensed bicep where he towered over her.

He was everywhere, pushing against her everywhere, and she felt him as the full length of his body…

Oliver wrapped his hand around her throat, his thumb pressing against her pulse point in a purely threatening manner, one that instantly broke through the haze in her head. Her heart had already been pounding to the point of making her dizzy, but now it really took off as she froze, fight or flight kicking in so hard and fast it left her breathless.

His thumb pressed down, just enough for a surge of panic to set in, for her to fight him, and she choked out a gasp, shoving on him.

Oliver instantly let her go.

He stepped back, leaving her draped over the chair, his face quietly drawn with resolve.

Felicity stared at him, her hands still hovering in front of her.

They were shaking, not from fear, but from adrenaline.

And a wild shock of anger that was suddenly burning in the pit of her stomach.

"That's why we won't be going," he said, and the words sliced through her like a rusted knife.

What?

Felicity blinked, and then she blinked again.

Oliver waited for her to say something, but when she did nothing, he nodded, and then he turned away from her.

Felicity was moving before she knew what she was doing.

"Wait," she snapped as she shoved off the chair, barely noticing that where a few minutes ago she'd felt like she was going to melt into the floor, but now, now she was solid, and ready to kick his ass. She walked around him until she was facing him. "You just tried to intimidate me."

"Yes, I did," he replied baldly. "And it proved my point."

Felicity shook her head incredulously. "Which point is that exactly, that you're a Neanderthalian jackass?"

A spark of anger lit up his eyes before he shoved it down. "No. That this is way over our heads, that this is crossing a line."

"Crossing a line?" Felicity stared at him, seeing right through his words. "Do you not think I can handle it?"

"What?"

"You don't think I can handle all the… touching, all the manhandling or whatever you'd have to do. Is that it? What do you think I'll…"

"No," Oliver said sharply, cutting her off. "I don't want you to have to handle it, Felicity. That isn't a world you need to be involved in, ever." Oliver took a slow breath, enunciating each word carefully as he said, "We'll find another way."

"Like what, sneak in in your Arrow suit?" Felicity asked, sarcasm dripping from every letter. "Whisper through the crowd, listen in on conversations that could literally be about anything? That won't be inconspicuous at all, no. Or maybe you thought about bugging the entire museum? Oliver, I barely hacked into the one Bratva database I did find, and it had several layers of Cyrillic mumbo-jumbo that meant absolutely nothing to me, and I got through about three layers before my translation program started pushing Cyrillic back at me. I can barely find the feed origin for these cameras," she said, waving at her computers, "And you really think you're going to be able to bug a Bratva gala where we know they're going to be talking about the nightclubs? You really think they won't have something set up to counteract that?"

Oliver's shoulders dropped in a heavy sigh, but she didn't stop.

"And last time I checked, we're both adults, Oliver, which means if you can handle touching me however you're going to be touching me, I'm pretty sure I can handle being touched. One night of acting will not kill us."

Oliver paused, disbelief filling in the lines of his face. "Acting?"

"Yes, acting. We can act, we can play the part."

"You just don't get it, do you?" he asked. "This isn't a game, Felicity, this isn't sneaking into a mob-run casino, or sneaking past security in a business high rise downtown. The Bratva are snakes. They are dangerous and they will stop at nothing to get what they want, and right now, what they want is you! And I don't know why, I don't know how to protect you from that. This is your life at stake, why can't you get that?"

"I do get it," Felicity started but Oliver cut her off.

"No, you don't," he replied, his voice rising to overtake hers. "You don't get that you aren't the one who'll have to deal with… God, Felicity, I'm not okay with you risking your life like it means nothing!"

"It does mean something, Oliver," Felicity said. "Just like yours does, just like John's. Do you even hear yourself? How do you think I feel having to watch you go out every single night, risking your life, wondering if the gunshots I hear over the comms are the last thing I'll ever hear from you, or when I know you're getting hurt and I can't do anything about it, or you're stuck somewhere, dying, and nobody can reach you? You ask it of me every single day."

"It's different-"

"No," Felicity said vehemently. "It's not."

"Yes, it is!" Oliver replied with just as much intensity. "Because with you, it's different, because I'm not… I just, I… I can't, Felicity."

The unspoken words hung in the air between them.

Oliver stared at her, and with each second that passed, the more he let her see.

It was her.

He couldn't lose her.

The realization hit Felicity square in the chest, sucking the air right out of her lungs. It wasn't just the danger in general, or that they were going into a volatile situation, it was that she was going in there.

He stared at her, willing her to see.

The weight of what he was saying was like lead in her stomach, chained to her heart, tugging - tearing - because she wanted to tell him that she understood, she wanted to tell him that she wouldn't go, that she'd let him handle it, but she couldn't. She couldn't sit by and let others take the fall in her place, she wouldn't.

And he knew it. He had known it, and as he watched the torrent of thoughts crossing her face, he gritted his teeth, his shoulders tightening, his chest rising and falling in quick rapid breaths that were too shallow to be doing any good.

How could she make him understand that she felt the exact same way he did? If it was within his control, he would be out there, doing everything in his power to stop the badness, but when it was her, when she wanted to do the same thing, he fought her every inch of the way?

"Felicity…"

And just like he could read her so easily, she read the emotions rushing over him, and she was shaking her head before he could finish.

"No, Oliver," she said, her voice soft as she shook her head. The look on his face made her chest ache as he looked away. She felt the undeniable urge to tell him what he wanted to hear, but she didn't. She couldn't. "My life, my choice, remember?"

His response was a glare so filled with frustrated anger that it almost made her pause.

Almost.

Instead, she let it harden her resolve.

"So," she said, squaring her shoulders. "We're gonna… act, and… Practice!"

Yes, practice. That was perfect. She clapped her hands, but he didn't budge.

Oliver just stared at her, not moving, not giving anything away. It was different than before, in a way she couldn't quite explain. She watched the strange new Oliver she'd only glimpsed in the last few days take over again, his eyes hardening, the lines in his face growing harsh.

The air around him slowly grew… unstable, like he was going to snap any second.

Snap at her.

If he was trying to scare her again, she wasn't going to let him.

"Practice," she repeated. "Practice makes perfect, and we definitely need to perfect this… this…"

Felicity waved her hands between them, remembering the way he'd been pressed up against her, and how she'd reacted to it. She'd reacted like he'd never done that before, which wouldn't work, would it? No, they needed to be… not that, they needed to be more. Except he wasn't doing anything. Oliver was an immovable wall where he stood before her, all harshly cut lines… it was kind of amazing how soft he'd felt a minute ago when he'd been pressed up against her…

And now was so not the time for thinking like that.

That wasn't part of acting. Or was it?

Was it acting to remember how his fingers had felt on the back of her neck, how the skin suddenly felt hot, the fine hair at the base of her neck standing up at the memory?

"Practice," she said again, stepping up to him. He did nothing, just watching her and she bit her bottom lip before realizing what she was doing. Nope, she did that when she was nervous, and she wasn't about to show him that he was making her nervous. She nodded, shaking her hands out a bit before waving at him. "Let's do this, let's… come on, get on me again."

That got a reaction out of him, but not the one she might've expected.

His entire demeanor darkened, and this time she couldn't hide the nervous butterflies that slammed into her stomach.

"Not like get on me, we definitely don't have to go that far, not like… getting on anyone. Talk about crossing lines, that would definitely be crossing a line because any getting on or off, or… There won't be any getting off, of any kind, because that's really crossing a line."

Felicity laughed, and it sounded as trill and ridiculous as she knew it would, but Oliver was impassable.

"You know," Felicity said. "If you weren't being so very Oliver right now, that would've made you at least smile."

Nothing.

"Fine," Felicity said, shrugging. "Just know that this is what we'll have to deal with if we don't prepare. And that's… that's what we're doing, preparing, so… here we go."

Felicity took in a quick breath, her eyes dropping to his chest - his huge chest, which had somehow grown in the last few minutes - and before she could lose her nerve, she pressed her hands to his skin.

She didn't miss the way his breath caught, how his pecs tightened under her fingers, or how warm he was or how her heart tried to leap right out of her chest, sending a rush of heat straight into the pit of her stomach.

He didn't move, and neither did she.

Her fingers flexed over the burn scar on his right pectoral - it'd taken her a long time to categorize all his scars, but the ones she had catalogued in her mind were just the ones she could see from a distance. There were dozens of scars littering him, some so tiny they were barely visible, others so old that they'd faded to nothing but a light glimmer in the right light. The handful of stories she'd caught over the last several months covered maybe a handful of all the damage he carried.

His skin was a literal roadmap of where he'd been, what had happened to him, and when.

Felicity took a step closer, her eyes taking in all the marks, the ones she'd never seen before, the different variations on the ones she had noticed, how much different they looked up close.

She let her fingers slide across the surface of the burn scar, her fingers skating over it, dipping in and out of the ridges… she didn't notice the goosebumps erupting over his skin, his tiny shudder as she wondered what had to have happened to leave a wound like that. It was surprisingly soft, like he rubbed the scar often, wearing the harsh skin down.

And then his tattoo, the star tattoo.

She had no idea what it meant - she had no idea what any of his tattoos meant, and she took a second to marvel that she'd never taken the time to look any of them up, to find out their meaning. But the idea of diving into his past like that, of butting into his world just because she was curious, it'd felt too personal; it still felt too personal.

This felt too personal… but she didn't stop.

She didn't want to.

Felicity's eyes followed the jagged lines of the tattoo, feeling an odd sense of familiarity as her fingers followed. The tattoo looked older than a few years; all his tattoos looked like he'd gotten them twenty years ago, not just within the last six years.

He was able to hide what had happened to him those five long years away, but his body couldn't.

Felicity wanted to find every single mark and erase it from his body. She wanted to take away all the pain he'd felt, strip it away until the weight was gone, until he could breathe, until he didn't look at her and see all the things that had happened to him, all the things he'd done…

But at the same time, these scars, every single one of them, were what made him Oliver.

And she wouldn't change that for the world.

And wow, maybe it was time to take try that sleep thing because she was getting way too profound.

Over scars.

Over Oliver, who was still standing before her, silent and unmoving, barely breathing.

And he was still pissed.

Anger radiated off of him and Felicity caught the sight of his hands curled into tights fists at his sides, like he was barely keeping himself from moving.

"Right," she said, nodding, moving her hands again.

Practice.

Gone was the curious and gentle caress she'd totally accidentally just been doing - she was mad at him, she was damn mad at him, and she needed to remember that - and in its place was a series of awkward pats and her making a show of rubbing her palms against his chest.

"See?" she said, chancing a glance up with what she hoped was a smile. "Doing good so far…"

But Oliver still wasn't moving. She wasn't even sure he was breathing. He stood stock-still, his jaw clenched tight, his eyes hooded where he stared down at her. He looked like he was in… pain.

Felicity instantly removed her hands, taking a step back. "Are you okay? I didn't mean to… rub weird, or… whatever."

His nostrils flared with a quick exhale as he bit out, "I'm fine."

"Okay," Felicity said tentatively, waving at him. "Well, you could at least act like…"

Oliver snatched her hands out of midair, and before Felicity could properly process what was happening, he had her wrists clasped together in one large hand and he was spinning her around, yanking her back against his chest again.

Felicity let out a startled squeak, alarm streaking through her as she tried to pull her arms free but he held her tight, plastering her back to his chest in move of pure intimidation.

She yanked even harder, trying to get away, but he was too fast and too strong.

Oliver wrapped his arms around her, banding her hands against her stomach as he wrapped his other arm around her chest, his hand grabbing the side of her neck, his thumb sliding up along her throat right up under her chin, forcing her head back, immobilizing her completely.

Felicity froze, letting out a stuttered breath.

He was completely wrapped around her; he was everywhere again, and she couldn't think.

All she could concentrate on was how very much him there was, all around her; she felt his measured breaths against the shell of her ear, tickling the stray strands against her temple, his rough stubble scraping against her scalp. It scraped harder, making her gasp, as he adjusted her slightly, pulling her in closer as he took in a shaky breath of his own.

He was shaking.

Or was that her?

And…

Muscle.

Had he always had that much muscle? So much muscle, everywhere.

The heat of his body made the foundry air feel like ice where it grazed her skin and Felicity shivered, and she didn't realize she was trying to choke out a breath until Oliver shifted his face so his mouth was right at her ear.

"Breathe, Felicity," he whispered and she shivered.

"Okay," she replied, nodding slightly. "I get it."

She didn't, but she knew it was the quickest way to get him off her and she needed that like she needed air because putting two words together, much less an entire sentence, wasn't going to happen with him right there.

Why was he always right there?

Felicity expected him to let her go, just like he had earlier, but he didn't. He actually held her tighter, gripping her wrists together, right before it might hurt, his thumb pressing on her chin as if to remind her it was there.

Like she needed a reminder.

What the hell was happening, what was he doing?

"Get what?" Oliver asked.

Felicity moved her head to break from his hold but Oliver only slid his hand up further, keeping her still. She'd thought her heart had been racing before; now it slammed into high gear, and she really had no idea if it was from something as ridiculous as actually being afraid of Oliver - that wasn't it, she knew that wasn't it - or if it was the way he was touching her.

He was doing it on purpose.

"Oliver, you can stop now," she breathed.

He didn't relent.

"If you go to the gala…" he started, his voice so quiet, it was almost… serene.

Felicity swallowed, waiting, ice settling in the pit of her stomach at the odd note she heard in his words - the cold detachment.

"This is what your entire night will be," he said. "Someone in the organization wants you, and I have made a direct challenge to that, which means if I don't keep constant contact with you, if I don't keep you in my sight at all times, if I'm not… laying my claim on you in some way, it's very likely they'll take you right then and there."

With each and every word he spoke, the ice grew heavier, a strange counter-sensation to the suffocating heat surrounding her.

"Do you understand?" he asked, moving just enough so his lips brushed over her ear. "This isn't something we can just come back from, Felicity."

Felicity shuddered at the promise in his words, her mouth going dry.

"So," she said, taking a steadying breath before continuing, the words just flowing without a second thought, without pause, trying to feed the deceiving calmness in what he was saying. "Okay, you have to keep touching me all night, because you… what, stole me?"

Oliver let out a humorless chuckle, brushing over the loose strands of hair at her temple.

He didn't answer.

"So… now that I'm yours," Felicity continued, stressing the word, wanting to remind him that this was his doing, that he'd put them on this road, not her. "Isn't it a little, I don't know, disrespectful? To just take me?"

"What do you think I did, Felicity?" Oliver replied without hesitation and her eyes fluttered shut before she could catch herself. "I took you. The Code comes first, always, and when I told Alexi you were mine, that was me putting something - someone - before another member, and that's…" He paused, and she held her breath, waiting. "That is frowned on."

Frowned on.

He'd gone against the Code the brotherhood followed, challenged another member, took something that another member wanted… he did it, despite what would happen to him, despite the fact that it had put his standing and maybe even his life in danger… he'd still done it.

For her.

"And now you have to follow through with it," Felicity said slowly.

Oliver nodded with a barely audible, "Yes."

Felicity's chest hollowed out as the full ramifications of what he was saying hit her.

They had to go, not because of the clubs or the women whose lives would be in danger, but because he was in danger too.

The weight of what he'd done - what he'd done for her - slammed into her.

"Oliver…" she whispered, choking on the acid burning the back of her throat. "Why?"

Oliver stiffened. "What?"

"Why'd you do that?" Felicity asked. "You could have just… let it go, or pretended like you were getting me, or taken the information and hidden me, or… I don't know, but not this! Because now you have to go, don't you? If you don't go, if you don't show up with me, or…" Felicity froze. "Oliver, what will they do if you aren't there?"

He was quiet for a split second too long, and Felicity knew.

"Oliver," she breathed, shaking her head, and he cut her off.

"It doesn't matter what happens to me, Felicity," he said quietly, and she knew that was true. Too true, way too true. "I only care about you."

"I care," she snapped. "I care what happens to you." She tugged on her arms again, but he kept her still. "Oliver, let me go, I… God, if I had agreed to not go, if I'd said, 'Okay, let's hide out and try something else,' that would've made things worse for you, wouldn't it? You would've…"

"Felicity…"

"No," she said with a vehemence that made them both freeze. She was shaking, she knew it was her this time as she shook her head, the burn in the back of her throat worsening as a hundred different scenarios ran through her head, all of them ending bad, so bad. Her voice cracked as she said, "You can't ask that of me, Oliver, you cannot ask me to stand down and not do anything when you could get killed!"

"That won't happen," Oliver said, and she didn't believe him.

She didn't believe him.

He couldn't lose her, he wouldn't be able to handle it if something happened to her, but what if something happened to him?

"Let me go!" Felicity growled, twisting in his grasp. Oliver relented, letting her hands go abruptly, but he didn't move far, he didn't step away, almost like he wanted to make sure she was okay, or like he was still trying to prove a point. She didn't know, and she didn't care. The only thing she could compute was that he still had his arms wrapped around her, that he was saying something…

He was physically there, but he was also so far gone she couldn't even see him anymore.

How could he not see that she cared about him, that the thought of losing him was too much to bear, that she couldn't live in a world without him either, and that the fact that he was even thinking of demanding she let him risk of his life for hers, like his meant nothing, like he didn't care…

The thought pushed her over the edge of a cliff she didn't even realize was there and a surge of anger lit her chest.

Felicity moved.

She grabbed one of his wrists and jabbed the heel of her sneaker into his foot.

"Oh, hey!… What are…?" Oliver managed, but she was already slamming her elbow into his stomach with as much force as she could muster, taking him completely by surprise.

He doubled over for a split second and Felicity took advantage, spinning in the opposite direction, using her own momentum just like Diggle had taught her last summer. She twisted in the confined space and hit Oliver square in the face with a tightly closed fist.

Pain exploded in her knuckles as they collided with his cheekbone, and Felicity let out a tiny cry, hot agony slicing through her hand and up her arm as Oliver stumbled back a step. The pain was quickly followed by pride and the realization that she suddenly felt so much better - lighter - and then it swung right back to pain because ow.

Oliver's hand coming up to his cheek in shock, his eyes finding hers.

"Oh… frak," Felicity gasped, looking down at her hand - the knuckles were beet red, remnants from her faux training early that morning and his stubble and his ridiculously hard face - before looking back at him, cradling her hand gingerly as she nodded, breathing way too hard considering she hadn't really done anything.

But she had.

She really had.

She'd just punched Oliver in the face.

Oh, wow.

"See that?" she asked, gesturing to his face with her elbow - her hand was more than out of commission. "If anything happens - and we're keeping at 'if' status because that's where it belongs - I'll be okay, until you catch up. Because I know you won't be far behind. Okay?"

Oliver didn't reply, and for once since this entire thing had started, Felicity actually didn't mind.

She felt so much better.

He stared at her for a beat before he shifted his jaw, his fingers prodding at his cheek.

His eyes dropped down to where she cradled her hand.

"Is your hand okay?" he asked, his tone genial.

Genial.

That was a pretty red-flag moment, but the high from the adrenaline spike and the sudden energy transference was still running rampant through her system.

"What, this old thing?" Felicity replied, waving her hand around, trying not to wince because ow. She shrugged, pretending like her bones didn't feel like they'd been shattered, but her voice still came out a little too breathless as she continued, "Fine. It's fine." She smiled at him, and she was too far gone to appreciate how long it'd been since she'd really smiled. "At least I can say from experience that you really do have a hard head."

Oliver lifted an eyebrow, and she thought she saw a little smile slip out - and was that pride shining back at her? - but then it was gone.

In fact, he was gone.

Oliver attacked her.

Felicity let out a surprised squeak, her hands flying up to ward him off as she staggered back a step but he was already there, and his fist was aimed right at her face.

Before she could really process the fact that Oliver was attacking her, Felicity's body took over.

She dodged back, eyes wide, some rational part of her knowing that he wasn't really attacking her, but her muscles responded all the same. Her arm came up to push his arm away just as he aimed his other first at her gut. Felicity barely managed to push that hand away as well, pushing off him at the same time, tripping backwards, but he advanced on her, never relenting, never giving her a second.

When his leg moved to slam into her knee, Felicity jumped to evade it, her lungs burning with exertion and adrenaline, feeling the strangest lightness at the understanding that she was responding, that she was protecting herself and doing a damn good job of it - it was an invigorating feeling, like she was part of the air around her, like they were moving together - but he'd been expecting her to do that.

He'd counted on her doing that and the second she landed again, Oliver was already waiting for her.

He rushed her.

Felicity's eyes widened, her mouth opening in an alarmed, "Wait!" but he was already there.

Oliver wrapped one arm around her waist while the hooked under her knee, yanking her feet out from under her and then they were falling.

Felicity let out a startled shriek, grabbing onto him as her stomach pitched, the world blurring before they slammed into the ground. Well, Oliver slammed into the ground. She wasn't sure how it happened, but not a single inch of her hit the mat as he landed on his knees and elbow, holding her up, but it didn't last long, because one second she was curled in against him and the next he had her pinned to the ground, his body bracketed around hers in what could easily be him about to crush her, his face landing a mere inch from hers.

"Whoa," Felicity gasped, staring up at him.

She tried to take a deep breath, but he definitely had her pinned down, and she wasn't moving from where he loomed over her. Her legs were tangled in his, her hands frozen in surprised claws between them, her mind racing to figure out exactly what the hell had just happened and how she'd gone from standing and protecting herself to on her back in five seconds flat.

How Oliver had just gotten her on her back in five seconds flat.

Whoa.

"You know," she said, trying to catch her breath. She didn't have to force the levity in her voice, and she knew by the way his eyes softened slightly that he heard it. "I think we should remember who has the superior island training between the two of us here, big guy."

Oliver's lips quirked just enough to qualify as a smile. "Brute strength."

Felicity furrowed her brow. What exactly did that mean? Yes, he had brute strength, but he hadn't exactly been very brutish. She didn't think the word 'brute' when she thought of Oliver Queen… well, last week she wouldn't've, but this week maybe, but in that very second…

His tiny smile grew at the look on her face. "That's what they'll use against you, especially if you throw a punch like that."

"Oh," Felicity said, her eyes widening in realization. They, they as in Russian mobster goons they.

"They're big and they're strong, and they're used to women submitting to them without a fight," Oliver continued, his voice lowering with a new grave tenor that had Felicity's chest tightening.

"They're used to women submitting to them without a fight."

She didn't really like the connotation behind his words.

"You will take them by surprise, Felicity, because they won't be expecting it, but you can't stick around," Oliver said. "So if you have to throw a punch like that, run."

"Run," Felicity repeated, nodding. "Right."

"Don't focus on brute strength because you don't have it."

He was right, of course, because she could would've easily gotten away after punching Oliver, even if it'd just given her a few second head start. The way he'd stumbled back and the surprise on his face when he'd looked back at her told her it'd been the last thing he'd been expecting, and she could have easily used that to her advantage.

Run.

"Although…" Felicity started, licking her lips as she shrugged.

His eyes darted down for a quick second, so quick she nearly didn't catch it, but she did. Her mouth went dry, her body suddenly flaring to life in awareness, the shock of him taking her off her feet slowly fading away, leaving room for other things.

Other things… like the fact that Oliver was on top of her, his body pressed against hers again, his muscles taut, keeping the majority of his weight off her but still… there.

Against her.

What the hell was she thinking?

"Although what?" Oliver asked, pulling her back to the moment.

"Although," she repeated, scrambling for what she'd been about to say. Something about… "If I'm wearing the one pair of stilettos that look amazing with every evening gown ever, I might fall and break my face."

"So take them off," Oliver replied, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"And let my dress drag on the floor?"

That caught him off guard, and he huffed out what might have been a chuckle.

Before she could comment about it though, Oliver was moving, rolling off her and into a sitting position next to her on the mat, his hand appearing over her to help her sit up. Felicity gripped it and he pulled her up with barely any effort, only serving as a reminder that all of that had just been on top of her.

Oliver Queen had just been on top of her - he'd been on top of her, with his naked chest pushed up against her, sweaty and huge and his face had been right there, still so ridiculously handsome it made her bones ache - and she hadn't made a single comment about it.

Was this what people called growth?

Felicity crossed her legs, wincing when she put weight on her hand. She looked down at it, stretching her fingers out. The skin over her knuckles was still bright red and growing more tender by the second, but it felt good at the same time. Because she'd done that, she'd punched Oliver, she'd taken him by surprise, she'd protected herself. She made a fist again, barely feeling it, before she took a steadying breath, looking back at him.

He was staring at her hand as well, his face unreadable.

The thought of anything happening to him made her stomach churn.

"You can't ask me to not do this, Oliver, not if it means you'll be in more danger than I am right now."

"You don't know that," Oliver replied, meeting her gaze. "We don't know anything about who wants you, or why, or for what."

"But we do know that if you don't go, that means you'll be on their hit list too," Felicity argued, her voice plaintive. "And you know what, there's only room for one of us, and I've already kind of called dibs."

Oliver's eyes slipped shut. "Felicity…"

She ignored him, ignored what he was saying, the desperation in his voice, because it wasn't just about her, not anymore.

"You didn't say anything," Felicity said softly.

He paused, not moving for a moment, staring at the mat before him while she stared at him. He sat cross-legged, his fingers interlaced in front of him, his hands gripped together tightly. She could see the muscles in his forearms where they were pulled taut, his shoulders straight, his jaw clenching rhythmically.

And then he sighed, his shoulders sagging.

"I hadn't even thought about it," he finally said.

The words shot through her like a shard of ice, and she made tight fists to keep herself from reaching out to him.

"From the second I saw those pictures of you, Felicity, the pictures of you in your home," he said, shaking his head before looking at her, and the steel staring back at her made her shiver. "I know what these people are capable of, what they will do to get what they want, and I couldn't… I couldn't let them have you, Felicity, I couldn't."

They stared at each other, and Felicity knew he meant every single word. He honestly would do anything to protect her, to keep her safe, even risk his own life, even risk pissing off the Russian mob.

He just didn't care, he didn't care what the price would mean for him, and that was something she wasn't okay with. She refused to be okay with it.

She wanted to berate him, to tell him he was wrong, that he was an idiot, that he was a blind idiot because he refused to see anything past what he himself put in front of him, only seeing what he wanted… but she didn't. Because he'd only agree.

"You are, without a doubt, the most frustrating man I've ever met," she said instead, reaching over. He snorted quietly, but he didn't respond as Felicity settled her hand over his clasped ones. She squeezed gently and he looked up at her. The steel was still there, but now there was something else, a softness. "You can't do this alone, Oliver. You take care of everyone around you, but you don't let anyone do that for you."

He furrowed his brow, a flash of pain lighting his eyes before it disappeared again - and that boggled her mind, because what was he thinking that pained him?

"All in or all out, remember?" she said. "And that includes this."

"Felicity," Oliver breathed, closing his eyes, bowing his head. "If something happens to you…"

"And if something happens to you because we don't go?" Felicity asked.

The look he shot her was full of exhaustion, and after a second he looked away again, back down to her hand.

"That was a good punch," he said after a moment, blatantly changing the subject. His voice was quiet, resigned, both knowing this conversation was not done. She let it go for a second, looking down at her hand as well.

"Thank you," she responded, unable to stop the smile curving her lips, a smile full of satisfaction.

Oliver heard it in her voice and his lips quirked slightly as he moved to cradle her hand in his, running his fingers over her damaged knuckles.

"I feel better," Felicity added, watching him touch her. "I think punching you was enough therapy to last me an entire year."

A beautiful involuntary smile lit up his face, nearly taking her breath away as he chuckled at her hand, shaking his head, running the gentle pad of his index finger over her knuckles.

"I'm glad I could be of service," he said. "You definitely didn't go easy on me."

"Yeah, well, you kind of deserved it."

He snorted again and Felicity angled her head, studying his left cheek. She couldn't see anything, mostly thanks to the stubble decorating his jawline, but also because most of the impact had just been because she'd surprised him. And that was disappointing because her hand hurt… although it was feeling a little better at the moment. For reasons she didn't want to think about.

"Hopefully it'll bruise," she added.

Oliver's finger stopped stroking her hand and he looked up, raising an eyebrow. "Hopefully?"

"If my hand's gonna be hurting, so will your face."

He smiled again, but it didn't reach his eyes. He looked back at her hand.

Neither of them spoke for a heavy moment. The silence wasn't unbearable or stifling, not like the others that had been existing between them. Felicity wasn't sure if it was the punch that had broken the camel's back, or if the pressure of the entire situation had become too much and forced the tension between them to collapse in on itself, or if the fact that he was just finally letting her in was making a difference, but she didn't care.

As long as it lasted.

Felicity bit the inside of her lip, her eyes drifting down to the star tattoo on his pectoral, to his scars.

He was quiet, but it was a peaceful quiet, oddly settling.

And then he took a deep breath, letting it out slowly before he looked up at her, looking her square in the eye.

"Okay," he said, the word cracking a little.

Felicity started, her heart skipping a beat. "What?"

"I said okay," Oliver repeated, and her eyes widened but he suddenly wrapped his hand around hers, squeezing it just hard enough that she was aware of it - not enough to hurt her, but definitely enough for her to stop whatever nonsense had been about to spew out. "But we're doing it my way, Felicity. You stay with me the entire time, no matter what. I don't care where you go, even if it's to the bathroom, even if something comes up, I don't care. I'm not letting you out of my sight. Ever."

Felicity nodded, and it probably was as emphatic as it felt because Oliver narrowed his eyes.

"Felicity…"

He suddenly turned to her, the hand holding hers sliding up her arm to her elbow, gripping it tightly as his other found the side of her neck, cradling her as he dipped down to look her dead in the eye.

"You do not leave my sight," he repeated slowly, his voice low, daring her to disagree… it was Arrow low, reminding her of the first few weeks when she'd been on the comms with him, when she'd agreed to help his cause, before he'd gotten the voice modulator.

He'd never used that voice on her before.

"No matter what, Felicity. Okay?"

Felicity blinked, a herd of butterflies ramming into the walls of her stomach, scattering her thoughts to the winds.

"Felicity," he said, his fingers tightening with emphasis, making her heart trip all over itself again.

Fe-li-ci-ty.

She took a quick breath, nodding.

He raised an eyebrow, obviously needing to hear it… although how in the world he expected her to do anything when he ran his thumb along the edge of her jaw was beyond her.

"I heard you," Felicity said, nodding again. "Your way… I mean, of course it's your way, you know more about this than me, or John, or anyone for that matter, because it's not like we have a bunch of Bratva Captains just hanging out in the wings. And it's probably most definitely a lot better than my way, which would've just been me wandering around asking, 'Hey, you heard anything about human trafficking 'round these parts?' because that probably wouldn't… end very… well."

Shut.

Up.

Oliver clenched his jaw, looking like he regretted ever opening his mouth.

But he didn't let her go.

Felicity silently counted backwards to quiet the insane babble that was attacking her thoughts before nodding again.

"Okay," she said. "No matter what."

Oliver took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, his eyes searching hers before he gave her another soft, "Okay," like he needed to hear it again. He dragged his hand down her arm until he reached hers and he clasped it tightly, his grip on her neck tightening slightly. "Okay."


I hope you guys liked it (this is my favorite chapter to date)!

Thank you for reading, and please let me know what you thought!