For how long Oliver sat in the van, parked a short distance from Felicity's apartment, he wasn't quite sure. He wasn't sleepy, as such, but exhaustion was started to kick in. And given the fact that he had narrowly avoided being killed by a bomb tonight, it was no surprise, really.
He'd told Felicity that he would go back to the foundry, in case Lance needed him. And, in fact, he had turned on the engine and driven several blocks away from her apartment before – inexplicably – he'd done a U-turn and headed straight back.
After all, Felicity was right. It would take Lance a while to find out who the new leader of a street gang was – and it would take even longer to ascertain this leader's location before getting back to the Arrow.
So here he was. All was quiet so far, and after some time, Oliver finally allowed his mind to wander to his disastrous date with Felicity. He winced, remembering how his heart had started racing upon seeing her on the restaurant floor, unconscious, her leg half-covered in rubble, and how it had only slowed down a fraction when he felt the steady beat of her pulse on her wrist. Oliver buried his head in his hands, still not quite believing how stupid he had been. How could he have defeated the likes of Malcolm Merlyn and Slade Wilson and yet failed to notice bug on him – planted by a low-level street thug, no less?
Of course, he knew the answer to that. He was distracted, so caught up in the prospect of finally telling Felicity how he felt, how he really felt, how he had felt for longer than he wanted to admit, that he had completely disregarded the other half of his life.
And it had nearly cost him hers.
It wasn't as if Oliver had never come close to losing Felicity before. Just a few weeks ago, he was willing to give himself up if it meant Clinton Hogue let her go. And before that was Slade, the Clock King, the Count… the list was endless, really.
But he knew tonight was different, because tonight, he had decided to be Oliver Queen.
He wasn't making that mistake again.
A sudden beep from his phone brought him out of his reverie. He got his phone out of his pocket – it was a text from Felicity.
If you're going to insist on watching my apartment tonight, at least do it from inside.
Despite everything, Oliver couldn't stop himself smiling. Then, a few seconds later, his phone pinged again.
Seriously, my neighbours are the gossipy type. That, and I have pizza. If you want.
He wasn't really hungry – being in an explosion had made him lose his appetite – but for some reason, he got out of the van anyway. The walk to her apartment helped clear his head, somehow, distract him from his brooding thoughts.
Still, he wondered if it was a good idea for him to go in. He raised his hand to knock on the door but hesitated. Thankfully, at that moment, Felicity opened the door, making the choice for him.
"So pizza won out," she said with a slight smile. Oliver smiled back. Felicity had clearly just showered – her glasses were off, her hair wet, and she was wearing a thin white camisole and purple pyjama pants. "I just figured, you know, we went out to dinner but didn't get to eat. So, pizza. Although, I should probably add that it's from yesterday. I mean, obviously, it's been in my refrigerator, but –"
"That's fine." He wasn't quite meeting her eyes, instead fixing his gaze on a spot around her right shoulder instead.
She seemed to notice, too. "You all right?"
"Not really," he said honestly. She sighed, stepping back to let Oliver pass, before closing the door behind him and gesturing for him to sit down on her couch. Oliver reluctantly did so, settling on the couch and leaning back against the cushions. "I thought you said you were going back to the foundry, anyway?"
Oliver looked away from her, staring at his shoes instead. "I was headed there. But then… I was worried about you, I guess. So I came back."
At first, Felicity didn't say anything. She went over to her microwave instead, pressing a button to turn it on. Even from where he was, at a slight distance, it was impossible to ignore the way her damp hair glistened in the dim light. Her back was still to Oliver as she said, with a sigh, "That's very chivalrous of you, Oliver, but I can look after myself, you know."
"I know that," he said quickly. "It's just – we both almost died tonight."
"We didn't, though." Still, Felicity's back was turned. And suddenly, the distance between them was too much to bear; Oliver got to his feet and he was by her side, barely before he even realised he had moved.
"You need help?" He made to put his hand on her shoulder, but after a moment, he thought better of it, letting his hand drop back to his side.
"Yeah, you can get plates from that cupboard over there. And glasses, if you can."
"Sure," he said, and this time, she did look up at him. She smiled, then, and it hit him once again how beautiful she was – her hair was swept over one shoulder, a few stray droplets of water lingering on the ends of her hair making her bare shoulder wet. Felicity had taken her makeup off, too, and her features were less pronounced, softer, her tiredness more obvious up close. Still, that didn't stop her eyes lighting up when they met his, warm and expectant, and it was then that he remembered he had offered to help and she had asked him to do something. Hastily, he did as she asked, placing the plates and glasses on the kitchen surface, and out of the corner of his eye, he could see Felicity turning on the tap and wetting a flannel at the sink.
He turned towards her, raising his eyebrows questioningly. "What are you –"
"You look awful," she told him matter-of-factly, and he chuckled. "And believe me, it takes a lot for you to look awful. At least let me clean you up."
Sighing, Oliver nevertheless obediently bent his knees a little so Felicity wouldn't have to tiptoe as much. And as he closed his eyes, he felt an unexpected hand on the back of his neck, keeping his face steady while she wiped the soot off his forehead. Her touch was gentler than he imagined, especially when she wiped over his eyelids. And then, as she leaned over him to wash out the flannel under the tap, he suddenly became very aware of the fact that she clearly wasn't wearing a bra. He groaned inwardly, holding his breath, eyes still closed, waiting for her to move so she was no longer pressed right against him, and after what felt like forever, she finally did.
And either she didn't notice the rapid decrease of personal space between them that had just happened, or she was pretending not to, because silence fell as she continued to clean his face. The flannel was hot and felt soothing on his skin, and so was her warm hand on his shoulder.
"Lucky your hair's short," she said after a couple of minutes, and this time, Oliver took the flannel from her and washed it out himself before handing it back to her. "Took me ages to get all the ash out of mine. And I still think it smells."
"It doesn't," Oliver assured her, and it was impossible for him not to breathe in her now-familiar scent of sandalwood and honey. Again, though for a moment she opened her mouth, as if on the verge of speech, Felicity didn't say anything. She continued to gently apply the flannel on his skin, until at last Oliver felt clean, and some of the fatigue that he had been feeling since the explosion came off along with the grime on his face. "Thank you," he said gratefully. Felicity smiled back, before turning to the microwave, which had just pinged.
Minutes later, they were sitting on Felicity's couch, plates of steaming pizza on their laps. "Probably not the dinner you were hoping for," Oliver said, and he watched as Felicity lifted her legs onto the couch and tucked them beneath her.
But then, to his surprise, she laughed. "Oh, I don't know. It's still Italian. Technically."
They were both quiet for a moment as he took a bite from his slice of pizza, and he could see from her expression that she was hesitating. "What is it?" he asked.
"Oliver, you were in the middle of telling me something. On our date." Oliver opened his mouth to speak, but Felicity went on hurriedly, "I just mean – I know neither of us are exactly dressed for it, but can we not just… pick up from where we left off?"
He sighed. "Felicity, where we left off was an explosion that almost killed us."
"I know that," she said. "But I also know that we're both still alive and that… not two hours ago, you were telling me that you were wrong when you told me that you didn't think you could be with anyone."
"And right after that, I almost lost you." Oliver set down his late, pizza half-eaten, unable to look her in the eyes. "You know, I've been on that table in the foundry more times than I can count. So has Diggle. And Roy. And I've always been able to live with it when it comes to them because – I don't know, being in the field is their job, I guess, just like it is mine. But seeing you there – it was different."
"But I'm fine," Felicity said resolutely. "We're fine."
"This time we are," he said. "I – Felicity, I'm scared."
She did the same as Oliver, putting her plate down on the table before folding her arms. "Of what?"
Still, he couldn't bring himself to meet her eyes. "You know what. I don't know what I'd do if something happens to you…"
But Felicity shook her head. "This is about more than that."
And Oliver didn't have it in him to deny it. "You're right," he said, and finally, he managed to look her in the eyes. He almost instantly regretted it, though, because as soon as he did so, he became lost in her soft grey gaze, so warm and earnest that his resolve was already beginning to crumble.
Felicity didn't seem to notice, though – that, or she didn't say anything if she did. "Tell me."
"It's hard to explain," he began. He was silent, trying to think of the words, but they weren't coming out.
"Look, I get it," she said eventually. "I meant what I said before. It's been… more than a while since I've been with someone, and honestly, I never really had the whole relationship figured out –"
"It's not that," Oliver finally managed to say. "I – when I was with Sara, I…" Again, he hesitated, but the mention of Sara's name made Felicity raise her eyebrows in curiosity. "I asked her to move in with me."
He wasn't sure what reaction he was expecting, but it certainly wasn't her tilting her head to one side and regarding him with a mixture of surprise and admiration.
"What did she say?"
"I… never got an answer from her. Soon after, she broke things off. She said it was because... because she didn't think she was good enough for me, that there was too much darkness in her, and I couldn't convince her that she was wrong. But when I look at you, Felicity, I sometimes wonder the same. That there is – darkness in me, that there are things I did in the time I was away that you don't know about, that no one knows about, that would make you see me differently. And honestly? I'm afraid of that."
And at some point while Oliver was speaking, she had shifted closer to him on the couch, so that her knee was brushing against his. "I'm sorry," she said, reaching out and covering his hand with hers. "About things not working out with Sara."
"It's okay. I mean… I think we both realised – later – that as much as we loved each other, the truth was, we were both in love with other people." He took a deep breath, and then, before he could give himself a chance to hesitate, he said "And I do love you, Felicity. A lot."
She was close enough to him that he could feel her sharp intake of breath at his words. Up close, too, he watched as her eyes widened incredulously. In truth, Oliver's sudden candour had surprised even himself, but he didn't regret saying those words, and if the tightening of her fingers on his wrist and the way she bit her lip in a half-smile, half-laugh was any indication, neither did she.
Oliver couldn't help but chuckle a little at her disbelief. "You look so surprised."
The smile didn't leave Felicity's lips or her eyes. "It's just nice to hear you say those words to me without a syringe being involved."
Her hand was on his cheek now, and he reached up and made to move it away. But as soon as he lifted his hand to hers, her fingers laced with his and he found it impossible to let go – which only served to make his next words even more painful. "I meant what I said," he murmured, "even back then. But, Felicity – I can't. We can't."
"And is that because you think – wrongly, I should add – that you don't deserve me… or because of the whole, you leading a double life, us being in an explosion because you lost your focus thing?"
"Both," he said honestly. Oliver groaned inwardly, though, because Felicity's face was still mere inches from his and it was becoming unbearable.
But then, unexpectedly, she reached up, hands still framing his cheeks, raising herself until she was on her knees on the couch and it dipped a little with her weight, and before he could stop her – not that he would, anyway, because this was Felicity – she was pressing her lips against his forehead. And her touch was feather-light, so much so that when she pulled away to meet his eyes, Oliver wondered if it had really happened at all, but any doubt that he had disappeared when he saw her smile. "Look, I can't convince you that nothing you tell me about your time - on the island, on the freighter, in Hong Kong - will change the way I see you. But I know you will figure it out."
This time, he caught hold of her wrist, managed to move it away from his face. "I don't know how."
Still, Felicity's smile didn't waver. "Neither do I. But I'm sure of one thing."
And it was damn near impossible for Oliver not to smile back – not when she was looking at him like that, like she was seeing right through the mask that stayed on long after the Arrow had lowered his hood. "Yeah?"
She was so close to him now that he could feel the flutter of her breath on his nose. "Yeah. I love you too, Oliver," she whispered, and the words had barely left her mouth when he just couldn't take it anymore – his arm curled almost of its own accord around her waist, and then he was kissing her, sweetly, softly, at first, just his lips against hers. But then, the kiss deepened, and before he knew it, Felicity was climbing on top of him on the couch, straddling him, so he could feel the warmth of her legs on either side of his waist as she pushed off his suit jacket.
Neither of them spoke, maybe because neither of them wanted to break the spell, or whatever this was, and it didn't take long for Oliver to become breathless, but still, he didn't pull away – he couldn't, for the life of him, and a jolt of electricity shot right through his spine as she plied his mouth open with her own. She let out a quick, breathy pant and then a long moan, and he swallowed the sound and could feel the heat of it – visceral – in the back of his throat as he fisted his hands in her still-damp hair, pulling her closer until not an inch of space separated them and he could feel the gentle swell of her breasts against his chest and the only thing between her skin and his was clothing.
His need for her was becoming obvious now, and despite the desperation of their kiss that they were both still clinging to, it was almost like she was teasing him, the way she pressed her hips onto him and briefly, tantalisingly, let her fingers skim between his legs. Oliver groaned her name, hands raking at her hair still, and his grip tightened when she sucked down on his lower lip.
He never wanted to let her go – he couldn't, even if he tried; he wanted nothing more than to stay lost in the blissful oblivion that was Felicity Smoak with her legs wrapped around his waist, still kissing him so hard that he couldn't even fathom having a single misgiving. And then, barely audible against the wonderful sounds Felicity was making in his mouth, he could hear a phone ringing – his, or Felicity's he was unsure, but he didn't care – this was more important; she was more important, but the noise was getting louder now, and she was pulling away now. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out, and she was saying something, but he couldn't hear her over that noise –
Oliver woke up with a start, drenched in sweat. He was breathing heavily, and immediately he could feel a knot in the back of his neck from where he had fallen asleep in the front seat of the van. Wincing, he got his phone out of his pocket and groaned – there were three missed calls from Lance. Trying his best to get his breath back, he sat up, pressing the call back button.
"Sorry, detective," he said into the phone. "I was… occupied."
"Ah, don't sweat it," Lance replied. "One of Steelgrave's crew finally gave me a name. And where we can find him."
"Go." He winced again as he moved his neck from side to side.
"He's supposed to be holed up at a defunct factory at Seventh and Drayton."
Already, he was starting up the engine, and as he did so, he opened the window. The cool night air was soothing, and he welcomed the cold feeling against his sweat-covered skin. "And how do you know he wasn't lying?"
"Well, one of my tech boys found CCTV footage of a man matching his description entering said factory, and he hasn't left."
"Got it. Thanks, detective."
He hung up, but as he drove back to the foundry to get his Arrow gear, he could not help but look back longingly at Felicity's apartment. He wanted nothing more than to march to her door and kiss her so neither of them could breathe - just like in his dream.
He knew, though, in his heart, that the possibility of that happening – of anything happening – between him and Felicity was so remote that he was better off confining that fantasy firmly to the back of his mind where it belonged.
Still, when Zytle hit him with the Vertigo, Oliver knew why he saw himself. Sure, he had been dreaming, but he hadn't been lying to Felicity when he had said this was more about leading a double life. As the Arrow, he had a purpose – to catch the bad guy and hand him over to the SCPD. It was clear cut. Simple. But letting himself love Felicity Smoak was different – letting her love him, if she did, was not something he thought he could do, not when there was so much of him she didn't know and she was a hundred times too good for him.
So he resolved to keep his distance. He decided that it was better for both of them that the only time he would ever be kissing her was in his wildest dreams – and that he would keep it that way.
But then he found himself on the rooftop of boxing arena with Sara, whose timely intervention had allowed him to take out Zytle once and for all. It was comforting, seeing her – surprising, yes, but a relief just the same, because he had missed her a lot.
"How about you, how are you doing?" Sara asked.
Oliver tried to smile but it looked more like a grimace. "I'm... working through some stuff."
Unexpectedly, Sara tiptoed and reached up, hands on his shoulders, a smile on her lips. "Word of advice? We're not our masks, and we need people in our lives who don't wear one."
This time, he did smile, but as Sara put her mask and wig back on, she turned back round for a second. "Tell Dig congrats from me, okay?"
He nodded. "Sure."
"Do yourself a favour, and don't make the mistake I made, okay?"
And before Oliver could ask what she meant, exactly, the Canary disappeared into the night, blonde hair flying a little in the wind.
"I'm so sorry." It almost pained him to look at her, to see the hurt in her eyes and to watch the way she pressed her lips together in that knowing, not-quite-smile of hers. "I thought that I could be me, and the Arrow, but I can't. Not now... maybe not ever."
"Then say never. Stop... dangling maybes. Say it's never going to work out between us. Say you never loved me. Say..."
But at that moment, any resolve he had disappeared completely, and before he knew it, he was cupping her cheeks with his hands and murmuring her name and kissing her, because how could she think for one second that he didn't love her? And she tasted so warm, so sweet, her lips soft, a hundred times more so than in any of his dreams. Reluctantly, slowly, he pulled away, saying to her earnestly, "Don't ask me to say that I don't love you."
But when she opened her eyes, he could see they were shimmering with tears, and a lump formed in his own throat as she tugged his hands away from her face.
"I told you," she said, and her voice was surprisingly steady, "as soon as we talked, it would be over."
And as he watched her walk away, her hand automatically going to her mouth – as if to wipe the taste of him away – he realised his hands were cradling air. If this was a dream, he would have run after her, grabbed her hand, told her he loved her and that he would make it work and please could we talk about it some more Felicity please –
But this was not a dream.
Oliver Queen dreamt of the beautiful and the impossible and the unrealistic – and those were fantasies, luxuries the Arrow simply didn't have time for.