Laurel was having one of those days.
It was one of those days when there was nothing specifically wrong. For once, there was no drama in her family (it was much harder for there to be disputes when her mother had packed up and left two weeks ago), school was going okay and Laurel was going about her life as usual. But in spite of the relative normalcy surrounding her, she could not help feeling the now familiar… emptiness within her.
And it was difficult to explain. It had been over two years since Oliver had disappeared with Sara on the Queen's Gambit, two years since Laurel's life had been turned upside down and her world had been shattered to pieces. She'd managed to pick most of them up, she supposed, and she had (mostly) put them back together. She had even found it in her to keep going, eventually, but the truth was that she felt the absence of the missing fragments of her life more often than not.
On days like these, she felt it the most – especially when she was on her own with only her thoughts for company. She could feel a lump form in her throat as she scribbled the details of cases on post-its, sticking them on the back of her door. She was studying family law – specifically, the matrimonial home. It was ironic, really, that she was learning about so many different marital disputes, and yet not once had she come across a couple's irreconcilable differences resting in their dead daughter who had gotten on an ill-fated yacht with their other daughter's boyfriend.
She was glad, therefore, that she had taken the decision to move out before then. There was only so much of the constant arguing, crying and shouting that she could take. And at least if she was out of the house, she could pretend not to notice her mother's glaring absence, or the fact that her father had suddenly become a lot more partial to scotch than ever before.
Mercifully, her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the doorbell ringing. She wondered if it was her father at the door. He came round occasionally, to check up on her, he said, but Laurel knew it was more because he needed company now her mother had left.
But it wasn't her dad, she discovered as she looked through the peephole. Rolling her eyes, she opened the door.
"What is it, Tommy?" she asked shortly, but once she got a closer look at him, she immediately realised there was something different about him. His shoulders were slumped, his mouth missing its usual grin, and she could see dark shadows under his eyes.
"Can I come in?" he asked. Laurel nodded, not saying anything and instead stepping back to let him pass. After shutting the door, she led the way into her living room.
"Sit down," she said, gesturing to the couch, and he obeyed, still with that lost look in his eyes. And after a moment's consideration, she sat beside him. "What's wrong?"
"How are you doing?" he asked first, and she knew he was referring to her parents' divorce.
"I'm fine," Laurel assured him, but he didn't look convinced, so she quickly added, "Tommy, honestly, I'm not doing great, but I'm dealing with it. Tell me what's happened. You look like you haven't slept in days."
Tommy sighed. "I haven't. I just got back from Hong Kong."
"Okay," she said encouragingly. "Why were you there?"
For some reason, he hesitated for several moments before speaking. "A few days ago… Moira called me. Told me that someone had logged into… Ollie's email account. From Hong Kong."
Immediately, she felt a lump rising in her throat once more. "That's impossible," she said faintly, only realising now that she was whispering. And despite everything Oliver had done, to her, to Sara, to her family, she couldn't help but feel something that felt like hope well up in her chest.
"It wasn't him," Tommy said, and just as quickly as it had arisen, whatever feeling that had sparked inside her died away. She realised he must have seen the sudden hopeful look on her face, and she was thankful that he had quelled that before she got those hopes high.
"How do you know?"
"I went to Hong Kong looking for him. Without telling anyone, not even my dad. He was giving me a lecture on the phone when –" He faltered, and before she knew what she was doing, Laurel placed her hand on his.
"Tommy, what happened?"
"It was a trap. Someone logged onto his email to draw me out. Well, not me specifically – they were expecting Moira, I think, or other family – but it was all a setup to kidnap whoever came looking for Ollie for a ransom."
"What?" Laurel said in disbelief. "You were kidnapped? Oh, God, Tommy…"
He shook his head, squeezing her hand, and she squeezed back. "It's fine. I'm fine. I got out okay. The police came before the guy could do anything."
"Thank God," she said, breathing out a sigh of relief. "Did they catch him?"
"No, he got away, apparently." Tommy's voice was hollow as he spoke, still not looking at her directly but instead looking down at their joined hands.
"Well, what's important is that you're okay," Laurel said firmly, and she meant it. She had lost enough people who had been important to her already.
But then he moved his hand away from hers, scoffing. "Go ahead and tell me 'I told you so'."
"What makes you think I would say that?" she asked.
He laughed humourlessly. "My dad did. He said it was obvious it was a trap, that I was stupid to go all the way there and nearly get myself killed on a hunch about an email account."
"Ouch," she said sympathetically. "That was harsh."
Tommy looked up at her, then, properly meeting her eyes for the first time since he had arrived on her doorstep. She could see tears in his eyes. "I know you hate him," he said, and his voice was low, strained, "and you have every right to… but I just –"
"– wanted your best friend back?" Laurel said, and he nodded, closing his eyes. Without thinking twice about it, she was hugging him. She could feel him shaking as he cried on her shoulder, his tears wetting her shirt, but she just held on to him, touching his hair. It was softer than she thought. "Shhhh," she said gently. "It's okay. I get it."
"I just miss him, Laurel," Tommy told her, his voice muffled from where his face was still buried in her shoulder.
"I'll deny ever having said this," she said, and it was easier to speak, now, without having to look him in the face, "but I miss him too. Even with everything he did, I do. And Sara – God, I miss her so much. I miss her so much that I spent weeks and weeks looking at weather graphs and studying correlations trying to figure out how the boat went down and if there was a chance she could have survived."
"I remember," Tommy murmured into her shoulder.
"So I understand," Laurel continued, "better than most, how easy it is to get sucked in when there's even the slightest possibility that they could still be – even though… even though there's really nothing we can do to bring them back."
And once again, at that moment, Tommy extricated himself from her grasp, moving away from her. "My dad was right," he said. "It was stupid. I shouldn't have gone."
She pushed at his shoulders a little and found herself framing his face with her hands. "Caring about someone isn't stupid," she told him firmly. "It just means you had hope. And that's never a bad thing."
And she had only intended the gesture so she could say those words to his face, but she realised (seemingly at the same moment as him) how close his lips suddenly were to hers. And she wasn't sure if she had leaned in a little more, or he had, but before she knew it, their lips were touching and she was gripping the back of his neck, pulling him closer to her. He kissed her back, his mouth insistent against hers, his hands tentative and light on the back of her shirt, and in some part of her mind, she wondered when Tommy had become such a good kisser.
And then it hit her that she was kissing Tommy Merlyn. Her (dead and cheating) ex-boyfriend's best friend. The mere thought was complicated enough.
It was with that thought that she pulled away from him, her hand automatically going to her mouth. Already, she could feel it burning, and she craved more, wanting, needing to taste him properly, but she pressed her lips together determinedly nevertheless. "Tommy…"
"I'm sorry," he said immediately.
"So am I," Laurel said, but she was unable to tear her eyes away from him. He was looking at her in a way she could not remember him doing before – as if he was seeing her for the very first time, drinking her in, trying to memorise her features, and all the while not blinking once. His irises were on fire, the tiny golden flecks in his eyes brightening as his lips parted slightly, and she could barely hear his next words over the sudden pounding in her ears.
"We shouldn't…" he said, and Laurel cursed inwardly at how close he still was – so close that she could feel the warmth of his breath brush against her cheek. And then, damn him, he chose that moment to lick his lower lip, and this time, in spite of the words of agreement on her tongue, she kissed him again.
It felt good. Better than good. She didn't realise until now how much she had missed kissing, touching, feeling someone… the hunger she could taste on Tommy's lips made her heart drop to her stomach in a way that only made her kiss him harder, plying his lips apart with her tongue. He moaned – he actuallymoaned – and she welcomed the sound of pleasure she had elicited, slipping her hands under his t-shirt to touch his back.
He inhaled sharply when she did that, surfacing from their kiss, and it occurred to her that he had never seen this side of her before, the side that took charge physically and sexually. A frisson of anticipation coursed through her and she shivered, her skin tingling, her need for him already growing stronger.
"Laurel…" he said, and he was still holding her cheek, "don't you think maybe we should… talk about this?" She kept her eyes closed, not wanting to listen, even though for once he was being the voice of reason and she was the one who didn't want to listen. "Hey," he said, and he ran his thumb across the outline of her jaw, "I'm just saying… Ollie –"
"Don't say his name," Laurel pleaded, opening her eyes now. "Tommy… please. I – I need someone right now. And so do you."
He shook his head. "No." Her shoulders sank and her face fell, but a moment later, she felt his hand on her hip, pulling her closer to him, brushing ever so lightly against her thigh and causing gooseflesh to erupt on the back of her neck. "I don't need someone. I need you," he said, and that was all it took for her to kiss him again. His teeth pressed into her lip, his hand cautiously moving higher until finally it was in contact with bare skin.
Tugging at the hem of his t-shirt, she pulled it up and over his head, and she threw it to one side before starting to unbutton her own shirt. He watched as she did so, and she couldn't help but notice the transfixed expression on his face as she undid the last button and took it off, revealing her bra.
She was the one caught unawares this time when he kissed her, one hand going up to cup her breast through her bra, and she moaned in his mouth, climbing onto his lap so she was straddling his waist. There was an urgent desperation to the kiss that followed – Tommy pulling Laurel closer to him, his breath laboured, his hands tangling in her hair.
It should have been strange, unfamiliar, because they were friends and had been for longer than either of them could remember. And it was true – this was brand new territory for both of them and they were crossing lines neither of them would have even considered in other circumstances… at least, that much held true for Laurel, anyway. She never thought she would ever hear him murmur her name against her lips; she would have laughed at herself for marvelling at the unexpected softness of his lips or the gentle ease with which his tongue explored her mouth.
But in fact, that very strangeness was surprisingly comforting – perhaps because everything that had once been familiar and usual in their lives was no longer so.
Already, she could feel his hard-on press against her leg through her jeans. She opened her mouth more fully, allowing his tongue entrance, and her hand strayed downwards, touching, stroking, all the while kissing him back and returning every thrust of his tongue and upper body with her own. His lips moved down, to her cheek, peppering kisses along her jaw and chin and down her neck, stopping briefly to groan and mouth her name against her skin. Her fingers danced around his hipbones, slipping into the waistband of his pants. She felt a rush of heat in her belly when he planted an open-mouthed kiss at the base of her throat, his tongue flicking against her skin, and the pull of a sudden ache in her groin, and she clenched her thighs tighter around his hips as an involuntary groan left her lips, rubbing herself more insistently against his erection.
The increasing heat and building moisture between her legs felt obvious now – she could tell her panties were soaked with arousal. Laurel shifted, pushing her hair back to allow him better access to her neck before her hands moved down again, to the buttons on his jeans.
"Bedroom?" he asked, and she murmured in agreement, getting off him and standing up. Tommy looked up at her, still sitting, and she could see he still had that transfixed expression on his face. He got slowly to his feet, eyes still glued to hers.
"Laurel…" he whispered, and his tone was almost reverent as he caught one of her hands in his and kissed her again – but with a softness she didn't expect. She kissed him back, harder, pushing at his shoulders and eventually wrapping her arms around his neck, walking backwards and trusting that Tommy was steering her in the right direction.
Thankfully, soon enough, she felt the coldness of the door handle press against her hip, and with one hand, she opened the door to her room. He was still kissing her as she pulled down his pants, still a couple of feet away from her bed, but at that moment, he stopped. His arms were still encircling her waist as he looked at her, again a little hesitantly.
"Are you sure?" he asked, and for some reason, the question threw her a bit.
"Are you?" Laurel countered, but his response surprised her even more.
"Only if you are."
And she wasn't sure exactly why but she tugged down her own pants in answer, stepping out of them before kissing him. She found his hand, which was at her side, and she guided it down to between her legs, letting him feel the damp cotton and the wetness that had leaked to just inside her thigh.
"Oh, fuck," he moaned softly, the sharp hiss of his muttered epithet heady in her ears. Then he pressed down with one finger through the wet material, making her arch into him. She took a few more steps back until the backs of her legs hit her bed. Her fall backwards was cushioned by her mattress and she panted as he almost lost his balance – for a brief moment, she could feel his full weight on her lap just as she was removing her bra.
"Sorry," he mumbled, but for the first time, Laurel found herself smiling, and after a second, he smiled back. Once again, she realised how much she missed sex – the unpredictability of it, the clumsiness, the exhilaration and power of eliciting pleasure in someone else.
"It's okay," she replied. She put her hands on his biceps and pushed until she was on top again. She could feel the hardness of his arousal push between her thighs, and that only increased the ache there even more.
But as she started taking off her underwear, his hands suddenly covered hers, stilling them. "Condoms?"
"Top drawer," she said, and thankfully, he managed to reach it easily enough, only fumbling a little. She took that time to remove her panties, tossing them aside and settling once more on his lap, directly above his arousal, his underwear now the only barrier between them. He groaned when she shifted her hips a little, finally taking the condom out of the packet, and she pulled down his boxers, freeing his erection.
Rolling over so he was now on top of her, Tommy gazed directly into her eyes as he slid into her, and she sighed, glad that her need was beginning to be satiated. Laurel gripped his back, wrapping her legs around his calves, and he groaned at that, kissing her clumsily on her chin and down her neck. He started rocking his hips, faster – too fast, she thought, and before she knew it. he was breathing heavily into her neck as he came.
Closing her eyes, she tried her best not to feel disappointed – he was unused to her, after all, and he probably didn't mean to come so fast. She avoided his gaze as he moved off her, trying to fight the anti-climax and attempting to ignore the tight ache of arousal still lingering in her belly, painful between her thighs.
"Sorry," he said softly, and his hand was on hers. She made to move away, but she halted when she unexpectedly felt his hand on her breast.
Shaking her head, she cursed inwardly when her body betrayed the words (now dying) on her lips, her nipple becoming erect at his touch. Laurel could not help but moan as he teased her with his fingers before moving his hand down, palm dragging against her abdomen and further, to her thigh. And then he slipped his forefinger inside her, making her gasp.
Tommy pressed down, adding a second finger, and she arched her back, aware of the liquid dripping onto his hand with the movement. But he didn't stop; he continued to explore inside her, his hand practiced but slow and deliberate. "Yes," she muttered, and her eyes had fluttered shut now as she bit down on her lip to quiet herself, "right there… oh God…"
"Laurel…" he whispered, and once again, her name on his lips sounded like a prayer. Still, he didn't stop, not even when she thrust onto him, gasping for air, and she could feel warm sweat on her forehead when she climaxed, her arousal unfurling in her centre in a final rush of heat. At last, she collapsed on his hand, breathless and almost lightheaded from her orgasm.
Laurel opened her eyes, meeting his for a brief moment before she buried her face in his neck, kissing his collarbone. She felt his hand in her hair, and she mouthed "thank you" into his skin.
"For what?" Tommy asked.
But instead of answering, she reached up and kissed his lips. As she did so, some of the haziness of her orgasm wore away. "We probably should talk about this," she said, but this time, he was the one who looked reluctant.
"We probably should," he said, dropping a kiss on the side of her face and running his tongue along the shell of her ear. She shivered, and despite herself, she shifted closer to him until her body was flush against his.
"Later," she decided, and the word had barely left her mouth when his lips were on hers again and she was lost in his kiss. They would have to talk about this, whatever this was, but for right now, she decided she was long past letting the crap happening in her life define her and what she did and what she wanted. For the first time in a long time – ever since Moira Queen had come knocking on the Lances' door bearing the news about her sister and her boyfriend – Laurel felt wanted, needed and, most importantly, alive.