A/N: Because Tollie is my obsession right now. Takes place early during season eight, some time after "Committed."

In absolutely no way do I own the rights to Smallville, or Superman, or DC ... I'm just playing with these fascinating toys.

Enjoy fellow fans!


Ambush Tactics

by AmethystB


The wood burns until it's hollow as the fire cracks and spits—it is the sound comfort would make if allowed the chance to break contemplative silence. It's not a roar, not a blaze that burns angry but a spark so desperate to fight on through the night, with little fuel to burn but enough to ignite.

Tess lies on her stomach, her back exposed to a slight draft but, like the fire, it's a comfort—at least she knows she can still feel. As she waits she thinks. Is this what it feels like to live another's life?

There is a towel beneath her, as soft as anything and smelling like lavender. Her eyes flutter closed on the table but sleep is too far away yet—after all, isn't that what the massage is for?

The doors to the library open and Tess doesn't look up, doesn't move—just requests the rosewood oil and relaxes her shoulders.

The masseur—René, she remembers—takes his time preparing but instead of snapping at him, Tess breathes deeply, the strong scent of lavender filling her immediately like a sedative.

She hears him move, breathe, lather oil into his palms and fingertips—like a ritual. He doesn't say anything to her but leans close so his breath reaches under her hair as he dips his fingers down into her shoulders. Tess inhales sharply at the first touch but lets it out when she feels his hands spread across the blade of her back.

He pauses a moment before slowly moving one hand straight down, along the crease of her spine. Tess opens her eyes, tenses suddenly and snaps up her head to face Oliver Queen, grinning down at her. She shrugs his hands off violently, reaching for the towel before scrambling to sit.

"Did that give me away?"

Tess glowers as she feels the light dimming around her, but maybe that's an illusion. "What the hell are you doing here, Oliver?"

Her voice is cool and gives nothing away, her face a mask of indifference save for the look she gives him—how dare he!

"Hey, remember Fiji. On the beach, sipping kava. There was some coconut oil involved—"

"What happened to René?" Tess interjects, because really she just doesn't want to hear what Oliver Queen has to say about Fiji.

Oliver lifts the corner of his lip and rolls his white shirt sleeves up, turning away from Tess to observe the room. "I told him I had this one."

"I paid him in advance," Tess returns coldly, wrapping the towel tightly around her chest and following Oliver's gaze to the fire.

"You've got money to burn now, right?"

It hurts, Tess almost admits to herself. It hurts being taunted, to taunt, to receive venom and to give it back just as good. She never thought she'd be this person, especially not with Oliver. But that was then, this is now.

Oliver flashes her a haughty smile before sitting by the fire, stretching his arms languidly over the back of the couch, looking to the flame again as it sputters.

"Come on, Mercy. You've got it pretty good, don't you. Living out Lex's life in his mansion, indulging in the lucrative Luthor luxuries. Isn't this what you always wanted?"

Tess comes to stand by him, holding the towel at its fold even though it's tight. "You don't know me. You never did."

There's a sadness in her words, underneath the poison. He looks at her, really looks because a glance isn't enough to catch the regret in her eyes. The room is lit with down lights that flicker—there's a storm outside, Oliver remembers—and barely offer illumination, but the fire rekindles after a sharp stoke from Tess and that's all the light they need.

After a silence that stretches too long, Oliver moistens his lips and guides his eyes towards Tess once more. "I know you're dangerous. You're powerful, but in a way that consumes. You're beautiful, and you're dangerous."

Tess just looks at him, pierces his eyes with hers and she can't move, can't look away. "Why are you here?"

Her voice is above a whisper, barely, and it hurts so much.

Oliver snorts bitterly, turns his head and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Came to even the playing field. You got one up on me last time, thought I'd return the favour."

That's all the time it takes for Tess to recover, and her voice is cold again. "By pretending to be my masseur? What did you hope to accomplish?"

He shrugs at her, feigning nonchalance. "Ambush tactics. Except I didn't bring my bo staff."

"Pity," Tess returns evenly as she takes up position on the other couch, facing Oliver with a thin smirk.

"We could just skip to the sex."

The fire crackles in the silence that follows. They sit opposite each other, facing one another but they're not enemies—the world isn't that kind of black and white, not for them anyway. Tess knows that Lex and Oliver were enemies—she was told that on several occasions, by both of them at one time or another—but try as she might, Tess will never be Lex.

"You said I'm dangerous," Tess says, quietly—the sting's gone out of her words, because the one thing she craves more than revenge on Oliver, is truth. "How?"

Oliver leans forward, his elbows digging sharp into the soft flesh above his knees. He kneads his hands together and looks at Tess, his eyes open.

"I would have done anything for you," he begins softly. "You have this thing, this way about you, like a compulsion. It's not malicious—at least, it wasn't. It was innocent."

"But dangerous? So you slept with that waitress, what was her name—Angela? Oliver, if you wanted out of that relationship, all you had to do was tell me. You didn't have to show me."

His face a mask for fire shadows to dance on, Oliver smiles sadly. "You don't understand. I couldn't tell you. I would never have gotten that far."

"Was it such a burden, really? Were you that trapped?"

"I wasn't trapped," Oliver replies, his voice quiet as the fire consumes a small branch on a log. "I was drowning, and it was exactly what I wanted. I was losing myself in you, and I wanted to. But I got scared. Where would I go? That's what I was afraid of."

Tess remembers the pain, the absolute hurt that raced like a heartbeat through her when she'd discovered his betrayal. She feels it now, not because of what he'd done to her, but because she had been able to make him feel like that. She keeps quiet, rather lulled into holding her tongue because Oliver still looks at her like he did all those years ago.

"You were right, what you said last time," he continues after breathing deeply in. "About the absence of romance in what we do. What we had was raw, it was real and hardened. We both use sex as a weapon, we use it to buy back something we never really had."

"You're confusing past and present," Tess reminds him, though it's ineffectual really—their thing will never truly be one or the other.

The down lights blink once into darkness, the power closes off in the fury of the storm outside, but the fire pounces on another small plank of wood and grows bright. The generator will turn itself on but for now, Tess has already crossed the gap between herself and Oliver, black and white, past and present and when she kisses him she doesn't have revenge on her mind. For once.