Title: You clung to self-restraint, you followed the plan (You put the brakes on this)
Category: Arrow
Genre: Angst/Romance
Ship: Felicity/Oliver
Rating: Teen/PG-13
Dedicated to: dhfreak (Mel)
Word Count: 8,000
Summary: "What about for falling in love with you?" he finally wondered. "Can you forgive me for that?"

You clung to self-restraint, you followed the plan (You put the brakes on this)

Felicity wouldn't call herself disillusioned, exactly. She just felt like reality had finally bitch-slapped her in the face. It wasn't that she'd been living in a fantasy world, exactly… Although, being around Oliver Queen in the foundry meant that he was very rarely wearing a shirt, so, fantasies were bound to arise. But in the six and a half years that she'd played IT sidekick to his broody Hood persona, she'd sort of idolized him a little… Or a lot. Okay, in the beginning, the Oliver Queen side of things was a big 'wow' factor for her, but then the nightly murdering of local businessmen turned it into a 'whoa' issue, and finally, having figured him out and been able to understand who he really was, she was past those phases. There was still some wow in terms of how he looked and some whoa when it came to things she didn't always agree with, but the good thing about being that trusty sidekick was that she got to play Jiminy Cricket to the battered side of his psyche.

Oliver was her friend. Over the time spent working together to better Starling City and clean up the corruption that ran rampant, they had built a solid base of friendship that she very much treasured. He was one of the few people she'd met who didn't make fun of her for how often she stuck her foot in her mouth or even cut off her mile-long rambling stretches. He simply smiled and let her finish, waiting for her to collect what dignity she had left and get back to business. Sometimes, she even liked that it happened, because the smile he gifted her with was real. It wasn't the fake on she saw in the press or the forced one that his family had to see, it was something different, something special, and she cherished that.

So yes, he was her friend, but at some point (well, in her case, it was from the beginning), a well of sexual tension had begun to build, and it wasn't one-sided. The thing about mixing sexual tension with friendship was that there were real feelings involved. Like, for her, she was in love with him. Phew. It felt good to get that off her chest. It had only been weighing her down for almost, oooh… five years. She was in love with Oliver Queen. Not the one in the papers or dressed in green leather, although she accepted those sides of him just as much, but she was in love with the man who was still learning to trust people, who still looked surprised when she made him laugh, who would do anything and everything for the people he cared about, and who had slowly, but surely, become the hero she knew he could be.

It would be far too easy to say he loved her back and they lived happily ever after in Queen Mansion. They went on to have beautiful blonde-haired children that had great aim and loved computers. But life was not that easy. At least not their lives.

While Felicity was relieved that the tension wasn't solely on her, Oliver was not. In fact, he started avoiding her. Obviously he couldn't not be in the arrow-cave, but he had stopped standing behind her like he used to. He stopped touching her, even the little things like resting a hand on her shoulder or her arm, asking if she was okay or giving her encouragement. He stopped standing in her personal space in that intimidating way that she no longer felt any fear for but instead enjoyed. Now he kept his distance, he kept his hands to himself, and, when possible, he tried not to even look in her direction.

Which was not working for her.

Okay, she got it. She was not the type of girl that billionaires brought home to mom… Even moms who were involved in complicated murder plots and helped to destroy part of the city they lived in. Moira Queen was out of jail now, having cut a plea bargain after she'd shared everything she known, but she wasn't in Starling City anymore, not when the majority of the city was still so angry with her that the constant death threats made it impossible. It didn't matter in this case, however, because Oliver wouldn't be bringing his brainy IT girl home any time soon. Half the time he couldn't even be bothered to greet her when he arrived at the foundry.

Honestly though, she could have dealt with that. He was gruff and distant when they first started working together; she'd just had to chip away at the armor for a while. He didn't have a gooey center, but it was softer than he'd like people to think. She would gladly have done it again, if only to restore order to their team and return them to being the friends they were. Friends who could joke about criminals and the odd things that came out of her mouth and share their days over a bottle of wine. She wanted to go back to the nights they spent sitting on the mats in front of her desk, where he talked and she listened, and he told her about his time on the island in dark, vivid detail, being honest and vulnerable in a way he wasn't with anyone else.

What she couldn't deal with was that he'd kissed her.

Still wearing his gear when he returned to the foundry that night, he had his hood pushed back, his eyes painted, but the expression he wore was the real Oliver. He stalked toward her, taking her face in his hands, and bent to kiss her. She could have dealt with distant Oliver, but now… Having felt his lips slant over hers, knowing the heat that spread over her skin, the way her breath left her in a rush, his fingers lightly tracing her cheeks… How was she supposed to ignore that? How was she supposed to let that go?

They stood there, with her gripping the front of his shirt, her lips parted and her breath shaky as he suckled her bottom lip, his teeth gently scraping, the whiskers on his chin rasping against her skin. It was slow and explorative and she felt it down to the tips of her toes. Minutes passed before finally, he rested his forehead against hers and all she could hear was her heart in her ears and their panting. And then his hands slid down her neck, kneading and stroking as they went, and he kissed the corner of her lips, before releasing her and stepping back. He stared into her eyes a long moment, the corner of his mouth quirking when she readjusted her askew glasses, and then his smile fled and he turned on his heel, walking away.

Confused, she watched him go. Did that mean he didn't feel the same as she did? Was that him closing the door on it ever going past that point? Was it goodbye before they ever had a chance at hello?

The next time she saw him, he was back to business, back to being distant Oliver who barely looked at her or talked to her and kept her in that carefully marked stall of 'work associate' or 'IT girl' or 'necessary but not wanted.' And she hated it. She hated that she got a taste. Not just of how they could be together, but of their friendship, only to have it all ripped away.

She began to dread going to the foundry. She hated sitting at her desk, trying not to watch him as he worked out or practiced with Diggle. She flinched when he called her name, needing her to do something for him, to look someone up or prepare an infiltrate and exit plan for his latest target. She started counting down the minutes until she didn't have to be around him anymore. But that only led to her sitting at home, curled up on her couch in her comfiest pajamas, eating ice cream as she vegged out to season after season of Doctor Who.

Felicity wasn't made for this. She didn't like head games. She liked sweet-natured nerds who were into graphic novels and action figures and understood 1's and 0's as much as she did. She didn't fall for mentally scarred billionaire's that pushed her away and pulled her back in and then pushed her away again. She was tired of her glasses fogging up from all her crying and the constant guard she had to be on around him. She just wanted to erase all of it.

She was done.

She would go back to her boring IT life just like she'd originally planned and forget all about vigilantes and sidekicks and explosive sexual tension. She'd forget how soft his lips were, how his callused fingers felt on her cheeks, how he sighed when they kissed and his whole body just relaxed. She would forget the fear she felt whenever he came back from a job and she had to pull out the First Aid supplies to tend to him. She'd put away all her silly dreams of waking up next to him and seeing that smile every day for, possibly, if things worked out, the rest of her life. It just wasn't meant to be…

She decided it was best to go through Diggle and met him outside of Verdant, shifting her feet back and forth. Taking a deep breath, she said, "I'm not sure there's really a protocol to this, but I wrote up a resignation letter just in case…"

He blinked at her. "You wrote a resignation letter to the Hood…?"

She shrugged and readjusted her glasses. "It seemed like the professional thing to do at the time."

"I'm sure he'll put it right in with the other non-existent files we keep…" he mused, crossing his arms over his chest and cocking his head to study her. "Is this about how weird you two've been around each other lately?"

"No, this is because he won't let me have Chinese food delivered." She rolled her eyes. "Yes, this is about the weirdness. I mean, who expects anybody to work under these conditions?" She ran a hand over her head, smoothing down her hair in a nervous gesture. "One minute we're fine and we're friends and now, suddenly everything is off kilter and he can't look at me and I'm constantly feeling like I did something wrong. And any day now, he's just going to put me out of misery with an arrow to the back of the head, which, frankly, I'm not sure I would turn down right now." Her eyes burned with tears as she threw her hands up. "I can't do this anymore, Dig. I don't want to. That—" She waved a hand back toward the club, the foundry hidden beneath it. "That is not what I signed on for. That's not who I signed on for. And I—I won't be ignored anymore!"

Smiling gently, he reached for her, his hands a steady pressure on her shoulders. "Okay, okay, I get where you're coming from. Oliver's been… He's been acting strangely lately. I know he's been pushing you away, but I'm sure it won't last. He's probably been having some personal problems; you know that affects how he reacts to us."

She stared up at him, at her earnest friend trying to keep the team together, and blurted out, "We kissed."

He paused, his brows slowly raising. "You what?"

"He—He kissed me. About a month ago. It was after things started getting weird, after he started pushing me away. He just came in one night and he kissed me and I thought…" Her lips trembled. "I don't know what I thought. Maybe that it would be okay. That—That it would all work out and he'd gotten over whatever was bugging him. But he… He walked away and it got worse." A sob broke from her. "And I c-can't. I can't do this anymore." She sniffled, shaking her head, and dug in her purse, pulling out a balled up wad of tissues and a piece of paper. She rubbed the tissues under her nose and pressed the paper against his chest. "Tell him I'm sorry…" she whispered before turning and walking down the street, every clack of her shoes like a hammer against a nail on the door to possibilities. Closing her eyes, she held her chin up high, breathed in deep, and told herself that the two tears that escaped would be her last over Oliver Queen.

She lied to herself.

She went home and watched Game of Thrones and cried buckets into a pint of Cherry Garcia.

The next day, she returned to Queen Consolidated and she picked up her mantle of IT girl with a smile. It was a fake, brittle smile, but it was there, pasted on her face, and, for anybody who didn't know her, they wouldn't know that she was falling apart and the life she'd been happy with had officially been dismantled. She spent her days in the IT department, filling any and all voids with 1's and 0's until her eyes were crossed. Finally, long past when she would've usually made her way over to the foundry, she clocked out of work and made her way home. Five days a week, rinse and repeat.

It was monotonous.

Felicity had no idea how much she enjoyed the fast-paced world of helping a vigilante save the city until she realized that it was all her life had been these last six and a half years. She still worked, but her life outside of Queen Consolidated had mostly consisted of tracking down bad guys and sending the Hood off to bring them to justice. Now all she had was a ton of TV shows to catch up on and an emptiness where she'd once had fulfillment. To try and find some kind of balance, she started going out more. She invited friends out to fill in the gap after work and during the weekends. She avoided any and all mention of the Hood and instead chose to focus solely on being the girl she was pre-"Felicity Smoak? Hi, I'm Oliver Queen." And most of all, she started dating again. She was not going to let that six foot one shadow of muscle and broodiness hang over her life. He didn't want to be with her. Fine. But she wasn't going to be alone and suffer over it.

In the three weeks that followed her resignation, Felicity found her feet again. Yes, she missed her extracurricular work and yes, she missed the two men she worked with. But she would not let that keep her from being happy. She worked on her friendships, some of which had been sorely underappreciated thanks to all of the times she had to bail to help out Oliver. She met a nice guy, and then another nice guy, and a third nice guy. She wasn't looking for a long-term relationship, but she liked dating. She liked going out for food and talking and getting to know people. She wasn't looking for strings because she wasn't entirely sure she'd cut the last ones that were tied around Oliver and fashioned with an intricate knot that she couldn't, for the life of her, figure out how to undo. So she saw Mark on Tuesday; they went to the latest Marvel superhero flick. And she met Kyle on Friday, going out for drinks and dancing. She saw Cole on Sunday, taking a walk in the park and eating frozen yogurt. And they were nice; they were all great people who were cute and funny and thoughtful.

But they weren't Oliver and, unfortunately, she found herself comparing each of them to him. They were too quick to smile, making each grin seem less special. They looked awkward when she rambled, unintentionally making her ramble longer. They didn't sound like him, look like him, or move like him, like a caged predator ready to strike balanced with a loving man who only wanted the best for his family and friends. And okay, those were reeeally high standards to set on virtual strangers. They shouldn't have to live up to the image of a hero, but that was where her bar currently was at.

On the fourth week, she saw Diggle for the first time since she left.

She was on her way to her car, leaving work with her bag open and her hand rifling around inside, searching for her keys. Her brow was furrowed and she was mumbling to herself, when suddenly there was a hand on her shoulder. She reacted instinctively; six years of training coming into play. She slammed her elbow back against the perpetrator, dug her heel into their foot, and pivoted, rearing her hand back to punch them.

"Easy, it's just me!" Diggle's voice called out, cutting through the adrenaline.

Breathing heavily, she relaxed. "What the hell?! You scared the crap out of me!"

He half-smiled, rubbing his sore ribs from the impact of her elbow. "Well, you weren't too scared to fight back, so it couldn't have been too bad."

Dropping her hands to her hips, she raised an eyebrow. "What are you doing here?" She frowned. "I mean, not that you can't visit me. I fully encourage you to do that. I don't want you to think I was trying to push you away, because I wasn't and I'm not. It's just that things were really awkward and I needed to get away. I needed space and time to breathe. And you and Oliver are kind of a packaged deal, so I just figured it made sense to stay away for a while, you know? But that doesn't mean I'm not still your friend, because I am, I always will be, even if I'm not working for the team anymore…" She paused. "Well, at least, I hope we're still friends and you don't feel like I abandoned you, because that is the furthest thing from what I meant to do and—"

"Felicity," he interrupted, holding his hands up to try and calm her down. "Take a breath."

Inhaling deeply, she nodded. "Right, sorry. I just—I wasn't expecting you, so…"

"It's okay." He grinned genuinely. "I kind of missed your rambling."

She laughed under her breath. "Only kind of?"

He shook his head, amused. "How are you?" he wondered.

"I'm good," she assured him. "I mean, it took some getting used to. You don't spend that much time doing something, being someone, and then just go back to life beforehand like it's nothing. Everything's a little slower now, but… I—I'm reconnecting with friends and I'm almost all caught up on my shows, and, you know, I've been trying to date more and put myself out there, so… It's good. Yeah. Um, how are you?"

"Good. Carly and I are happy, I'm keeping busy…" He reached up and dragged his fingers down his closed lips. "Thing is… The team's feeling a little light. We're short a pretty vital part and… I guess I was hoping I might get you to reconsider."

"Oh." Her eyebrows hiked. "Um, that— That's really flattering and generous of you, but… Nothing's changed. If I go back, it's going to be the same whole cycle, and I… I can't do that." She sighed, her eyes dropping. "I wish him the best, I really do. I want him to be happy and to do what he does best, but I won't be the Welcome mat that he tramples on because he's confused or scared or whatever reason he has…"

"Felicity, I… Whatever he's done, I'm sure he never meant to hurt you. You know Oliver… Better than anyone, you get why he does the things he does. When he pushes someone away, it's not because he doesn't want to be with them, it's because he cares too much and he knows that, in the end, that means they're a target. He can't afford to lose anymore."

"Maybe," she allowed. "But I'm not going to be a casualty of his confused heroics. I've been here the whole time, I've faced my share of near-death experiences, and he might've worried, but he never treated me like that. I'm not just a girl at a computer. I'm not a robot. And I don't deserve to be treated like I'm only there because he can't figure out how to use a keyboard." Hiking her bag over her arm, she shook her head. "I'm sorry."

"No." He shook his head. "You're right." He frowned, staring down at her. "I'm sorry it turned out this way…"

She half-smiled. "I know. It's mutual."

He held a hand out for her to shake and nodded. "If you ever need anything…"

She glanced at his hand before stepping forward and wrapping her arms around him in a hug. "You're still my friend, John Diggle… It was an honor to work with you."

He hugged her back, patting her shoulder. "You too."

When she left, she felt the same hollow pit in her stomach that she did when she'd given him her letter of resignation. She didn't know if it was the choice she truly wanted to make, leaving the team permanently, but it was the right one for the moment.

Unfortunately, it served to remind her of just how much she missed everything. Going over schematics, tracking down criminals, and, best of all, knowing, at the end of the day, that they had saved lives and done good, were all things she wished she still had. To make up for it, she called up Kyle and asked if he wanted to go dancing that weekend. Had she known the destination he had in mind, she might have rethought that plan.

Verdant was loud; she could hear the pulsing music long before the club was in sight. While she was concerned about being there, she also told herself that this was a step in the right direction. She was facing her fears. She couldn't avoid Oliver forever. It was time for her to move on and this would be a huge stepping stone toward that.

Kyle parked his car two blocks over, every space closer was already taken. They walked down the sidewalk side by side, with him doing most of the talking as she wasn't sure how to get words past the ball of emotional anxiety that had lodged itself in her throat. When they finally saw the club, she almost turned and ran away, despite the fact that her four inch heels would probably result in a face-plant and a never-ending lifetime of embarrassment. Instead, she followed him toward the line that was blocked off by a velvet rope. Not exactly inclined to hang out in the dank street and, feeling a burst of confidence toward her intended mission for the night, she instead walked toward the bouncer at the front.

"Billy," she greeted, grinning at him. "Hey, I didn't know you were working Fridays now too."

"Felicity," he said back, replacing the usual unfriendly scowl he wore with a smile. "Haven't seen you around her in weeks! Yeah, I picked up another shift. Tony got himself fired. Some of the guys say he was dealing in the back and the Hood caught him." He shrugged. "Whatever it was, I'm glad he's gone. Guy was a jerk. And hey, I need the extra money, right?"

She nodded. "I'm glad. You deserve it."

"You here to see Mr. Queen?" he wondered.

"Uh, no…" She shook her head. "No, I'm just here for the… ear-splitting music," she said with a light laugh.

"You ask me, we should hand out earplugs at the front door." He reached for the velvet rope and unlatched it. "Go on in, have a drink for me, will ya?"

"You bet," she agreed, before turning back to Kyle and waving him in after her. "Have a good night, Billy."

"Yeah, you too," he called after her.

As they walked further inside the club, Kyle bent down to her ear, his hand on the small of her back. "Should I be more worried that you frequent this place enough to get an instant foot in the door or the fact that you apparently know Oliver Queen well enough that his bouncers assume you're here to see him?"

Felicity turned her head up to look at him, her eyes wide. "I work for his company," she reminded. "He's had me work out some kinks in the security and internet connections." She shrugged. "It took a while."

He watched her for a moment, but seemed to take her answer at face value.

"Come on, I'm thirsty," she said, waving toward the elaborate and lit up bar across the room.

She and Kyle walked around the edges of the dance floor, avoiding the gyrating bodies that were all locked together in a sweaty mating call she would much rather not have any part in. Felicity was more of a high-school two-step dancer. Although, she could admit that she'd had a lot of fun in the past, going to banquets and charity balls. She'd never gone with Oliver as arm candy, but he was always the reason she got an invite. Eventually, they would share a slow dance so they could trade Intel on whichever rich and famous face they were tracking. Perhaps it wasn't so much the scene she enjoyed as it was being in his arms, swaying to the string quartet that was always present at those types of events. At least that music she could enjoy; club music just gave her a headache.

But she was here for a purpose, and it wasn't just to have fun with a handsome guy who knew Lord of the Rings almost as well as she did. This was the closest she'd been to the foundry since she left the team. It was the closest she'd been to Oliver, even though she didn't know exactly where in the club he was. But if it was open, then he was probably nearby. Since Tommy had died in the earthquake that had leveled a good portion of The Glades, it had been Oliver holding the reins on the club, and he wasn't exactly equipped for it. It was always meant to be a front, helping to keep his image up, and he didn't much care what happened to the business itself as long as it served its purpose. Which was why he'd taken on a few managers over the years, except none of them every really stuck. Thea had offered to take over in Tommy's stead, but Oliver was resistant; he wanted her to go to college first. Last she knew, Oliver had fired another manager, which meant he was probably here, whether he wanted to be or not.

Deciding she was spending too much time wondering on his whereabouts, she turned back to her date, accepting the drink he bought for her and wrapping her lips around the straw to take a long pull. "So, have you ever been here?" she wondered, leaning in and shouting to be heard over the music.

He shook his head. "No… I tried waiting outside a few times but I guess I wasn't their kind of customer."

She nodded, stirring her drink. "I'm not really a clubber," she told him.

He grinned and looked down at her outfit. "Could've fooled me."

Felicity glanced down at herself. She wasn't dressed as outrageously as many of the other women in the club. She just didn't have the same kind of confidence as they did. All the power to them, of course, but she still felt a little awkward in her body sometimes. The dress she was wearing was one of a few she'd bought to attend a party on a yacht; Oliver had gotten her on the invite list so she could get close enough to one of the guests to put a bug in their phone. Usually surrounded by security guards, the only time he waved them off was when he had a beautiful woman within reach. The dress was green, the material clung to every curve; it had a small slit in the side and a low back, but the collar was set high enough that she didn't show off any real cleavage. It was pretty modest, especially for a club like Verdant, but it was one of her favorite dresses; it always made her feel beautiful.

"Thank you," she told Kyle, smoothing a hand down her hip.

The worst thing about clubs, in her opinion, was that there was no way to really talk to each other. It didn't stop her from trying, but eventually she got tired of repeating herself or asking, 'Huh?' when he tried to reply. There were booths to sit at, but there was no escape from the music. They stood at the bar for a while, with her nursing her drink and casting her eyes around the room. Finally, gathering her courage, she asked, "Do you want to dance?"

He didn't seem to hear or understand her, but her thumb pointing at the dance floor was explanation enough.

He nodded and left his drink behind, reaching for her, his hand on her back to draw her with him.

Felicity felt awkward in the mass of moving bodies; it always took her a while to find the beat of the song and get her body to react accordingly. Kyle didn't have the same problem. He stood behind her, his hands on her hips, and encouraged her to move. She didn't like not seeing him and she felt like it was a little forward for only having seen each other a few times. Call her old-fashioned, but she didn't particularly feel like grinding on a virtual stranger. Yes, she knew the basic details of his life and she'd done an extensive background check, of which he wasn't aware, but she and Kyle weren't a couple and if he thought this was leading to him getting lucky tonight, he was wrong. Maybe she was using him a little, as this was more of a step in her independence rather than in their 'relationship' of sorts, but she'd been upfront in the beginning that she was only looking to have fun and she was making no guarantees on where 'fun' was going to lead.

Kyle seemed nice enough. He was smart and funny and he liked many of the same books and authors, but she was fully aware that she was still emotionally attached to the most emotional distant man she'd ever met. She wasn't sure how well that reflected on her, now that she thought about it. Still, she liked Kyle well enough and she figured if the dance got out of control she could stop it at any time. So she let her hips move to the song, slow at first before she found the beat and a rhythm she liked. His hands stayed on her hips, not wandering, and she appreciated that. Mostly because, after a few minutes, she kind of forgot he was there. It turned into less of a dance with Kyle and more of a single dance on her own, her arms raised up above her head as she rolled her hips around and around, shaking them side to side, her head bouncing. It felt good, like a release she'd sorely needed.

She didn't know how much time had passed but at some point, her eyes had closed. Sweat collected on her skin, the room too warm due to an excess of body heat, and the vibrations of the music were making her body thrum. It wasn't until she felt Kyle's hand slide over her stomach that her eyes opened, suddenly very aware of her surroundings again. But it wasn't him that her attention landed on. Instead, she found her gaze locked above, on a platform just outside of Oliver's office. He stood with his arms resting on the railing, staring down at the crowd. No… Not them. Her.

There was that same brooding expression she'd come to expect from him, but this was the first time their eyes had met in what seemed like ages. He looked good, but then, he always did. The dark, dangerous aura still pulsed around him while the knowledge that he was more than what he seemed was tucked close to her heart. She wanted to look away; she wanted to be the one to break contact first since he was the one who had always done it to her. But she couldn't.

She missed him.

Her heart ached with the fact.

She missed his smile and the way he laughed under his breath and the sound of his voice. She missed how impatient he was and how skilled with a bow. She missed the satisfaction on his face when he'd saved someone and the way he relaxed a little more with each good night of patrolling. She missed how he honored how hard she worked with an insanely expensive bottle of wine and an offer to drink it with her. She missed tipsy Oliver who let his guard down around her and always seemed to find himself staring at her with a sincere fondness that made her blush, butterflies creating havoc in her stomach.

So she didn't look away. She kept her eyes on him, even as she danced, her body pressed up against Kyle's, who she kept forgetting was even there. And then the lights shifted direction and spiraled around in a way that made her dizzy enough to blink and look down. When she looked back up, he was gone. And for a moment, she wondered if she hadn't dreamt the whole thing up.

She was done with dancing; a lead weight heavy in her gut now. She turned to Kyle and nodded her head toward the bar before walking in that direction, assuming he would follow. She was already trying to think up excuses to leave. She'd made her triumphant step forward only to stumble back three paces. She was still in love with Oliver and coming to Verdant had been a monumental mistake.

It didn't take long to explain to Kyle that she wanted to go home; he was disappointed, but he didn't push her. They left the club with her saying goodnight to Billy the bouncer and walked down the road to where Kyle had parked his car. He was the perfect gentleman, driving her home and walking her up the stairs to the front door of her apartment building. He told her he was looking forward to seeing her again and even kissed her. It wasn't passionate or even all that romantic; just a short peck to the lips that was sweet and tender and did absolutely nothing for her. She half-smiled, partly in regret. She wouldn't be calling Kyle again, but she silently wished him the best. He deserved a nice girl who wasn't hung up on a vigilante.

Unlocking the door, she stepped inside her building and, after stopping at her mailbox since she hadn't that morning, she gathered up the bills and junk mail that had collected before climbing three flights of stairs to her floor. Taking her keys from her clutch, she tucked her mail between her lips and undid her lock, stepping inside and kicking the door closed behind her with her heel. She flicked the light on and dropped her mail in the bowl she kept near the door for that exact purpose. Toeing her way out of her shoes, she stretched her feet, which she now realized were aching something fierce. She was undoing the zipper to her dress and humming under her breath as she walked toward her bedroom when she heard someone clearing their throat.

"Oh my God!" she cried and reached for the nearest weapon. Which happened to be a fly swatter she'd left on her kitchen table when she saw a spider crawling across her floor. Brandishing her pathetic weapon, she turned to find Oliver sitting on her couch, an eyebrow raised.

He held his hands up in mocking surrender. "I give up."

Letting out a long sigh, she dropped her arm. "Doors are there for a reason. It's what knocking was invented for. Polite company let's me know they're here so I can ignore them."

His lips twitched and he shifted forward on the couch, pressing his hands down on his knees as he stood. "I was going to wait outside, but I wasn't sure I wanted to see the goodnight kiss, so I figured it was better to wait in here."

She frowned. "How'd you know I wasn't going to invite him up to my apartment for a nightcap?" she wondered. "For all you know, Kyle and I had phenomenal sexual chemistry and I was going to introduce him to my bedroom. You don't get to make assumptions about my personal life. I'm currently dating three different men, so I could've left Kyle at the club and met charming ad executive Mark for drinks and gone home with him." She paused and shook her head. "Well, probably not, he's not much of a drinker, he actually kind of has an allergy to wine, but that's beside the point! If I wanted to sleep with someone, I could, and it would've been really awkward, for all involved, to come back here and find you sitting on my couch. I mean, how would I even explain that?" She threw her hands up and huffed. "'Oh, don't mind him, that's just Oliver Queen. He's my boss's step-son, who I used to help out with his internet sometimes. He apparently has a key or jimmied his way in through my window, I'm not sure, why don't we ask him?' I'm sure that would've gone over well."

He waited for her to finish her rant before he turned his eyes away and nodded slowly. "You're right, you could have, and I would've had no reason to stop you. You're an adult, capable of making your own decisions, and who you have sex with is completely up to you… To be honest, I was just really hoping that the guy you were with didn't make it past the front door." He swallowed tightly. "I took a chance, but I also invaded your privacy and, for that, I'm sorry."

She stared at him, the wind leaving her sails a little. "Is that all you're sorry for?" she asked quietly.

He turned back to her, and gone was the broody mask; instead, she saw only regret. "No." He shook his head. "I screwed things up with you. I pushed you away and I treated you horribly. I—I'm ashamed of how I dealt with things, and that I made it so difficult for you that you had to leave."

She watched him carefully, seeing the sincere and honest apology in his face, and nodded. "Okay."

His brow furrowed. "Okay?"

She nodded. "Okay, you're sorry, and you're forgiven."

He stared at her blankly a long moment, not entirely sure what she meant. His mouth opened, but he had no words, so she added some of her own.

"I forgive you, Oliver. For being a jerk who is confused and self-loathing and never lets himself be happy. I forgive you for inviting me into a world, into your world, only to shove me out of it when it became familiar. I forgive you for becoming my friend and, as soon as any other feelings started to grow, making me start from scratch again. I forgive you for kissing me and walking away and for never stopping. I forgive you. You are forgiven! So you can go." Her hands were shaking so violently that she balled them into fists.

His eyes fell, unable to meet hers.

She waited, licking her lips, desperately hoping that the tears in her eyes wouldn't fall.

"What about for falling in love with you?" he finally wondered. "Can you forgive me for that?"

She went still, not entirely sure she'd hurt him correctly.

"You scare me," he admitted softly. "You know every part of me and you accept it. You know the worst parts of me, you know about the island, you've seen the damage I can and have done, and you still look at me, Felicity, like I—I'm worthy. You support me and anchor me and you have been beside me through all of this, from a vigilante murderer to what they're calling a hero who's cleaning up the streets." He shook his head. "And it was easy, it was so easy, to fall in love with you. But when it happened, when I realized what that meant, I… I got scared."

She raised her eyes to meet his and found his face stricken with remorse.

"My track record with relationships is… laughable, at best. That alone should scare you off, but you… You don't. You don't let those parts of me change your mind." He stared down at her searchingly. "I thought if I kept pushing you away, I would stop feeling that way about you… I thought I'd be able to let you go and we could go back to just being friends and you wouldn't become another woman in my life who gets hurt or killed or who I break." He inhaled shakily. "But I pushed you too far and when you were gone I realized that I'm selfish and I didn't just need you there, I wanted you there. I don't need an IT girl; it might come in handy, but I'll survive. What I want is you in my life…"

A tear escaped and she tried to blink the blur away from her eyes. He reached for her, cupping her face just as he had before, when he'd kissed her, but this time his thumbs were stroking her cheeks for a different reason, wiping away the salty trails that streamed down them.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything. And I have a lot to make up for…" He nodded. "Which I will, if you'll let me… If you'll give me a chance, I want to do this right."

And she wanted to, she really did. She wanted the happily ever after she'd dreamed of not so long ago. But it wasn't that simple. "How do I know…? How do I know you're not going to do the same thing in a few weeks or months?" She bit her lip as it trembled. "I trusted you… and you broke that."

"And I regret that, I do. But I know what it's like now… not having you. I thought it would be okay before. You would still be there, I could still see you, but when you were gone, it was… It was empty. There was something missing all the time and I hated it. I hated that I did that to you. That I made you feel so horrible that you wrote an actual resignation letter, which…" A helpless laugh escaped him, "I'd like to point out, doesn't usually have that many expletives added to it."

She rolled her eyes. "I might've been a little tipsy when I wrote it."

He raised an eyebrow.

"There was boxed wine involved, and I'd rather not talk about it."

His lips twitched but he sobered quickly. His hands slid down her neck and settled on her shoulders, kneading them gently. "I can't promise I won't screw up again… I have a history of it and I don't lead the safest life. But I've come a long way from who I was. I'm not the same person who ruined those relationships. The person I am today is due, in part, to you… I was damaged when I left that island, a lot of me still is, probably always will be, but I've changed still. And you were there for that, you know who I am." He squeezed her shoulders. "I'm not asking you to make a life-long commitment, but just a chance… I just want a chance to prove that I can be what you deserve. That I can love you like you deserve."

Felicity had often imagined what it would look like if he told her he loved her. The earnest expression on his face was never so vivid as it was in real life. A well of emotion clogged her throat and, though a little uncertain still, she felt hope bloom in her chest. Nodding, she breathed, "Okay."

He paused. "Okay?"

She smiled. "Okay, you get a chance." She wagged a finger at him. "But only one. And if you pull any of your distant/broody/Hood crap like you did before, there is no apology in the world that's going to fix this. I might be in love with you, but I won't just lay down and take it. I've spent six and a half years as your equal and I won't be shoved down the ladder now."

He grinned down at her. "Say it again."

Her brow furrowed. "I spent six and a half years—"

"No, the other part."

She shrugged. "You'll have to be more specific."

He quirked an eyebrow. "Felicity, you know what I want to hear."

Her lips quirked. "What, you mean my declaration of love? I don't know. I'm not sure you've earned it yet. I mean, you've spent how much time trying to convince me to go out with you and I haven't gotten one mind-blowing kiss out of the deal…? That sounds a little—"

His lips slanted over hers, cutting her off, and she found it was her new favorite way to stunt one of her rambles. Oliver was an expert kisser, though she chose to completely disregard how he might have gotten that way and just enjoy the spoils. His arm wrapped around her waist as he pulled her in tighter and buried his other hand cradled her head, finger buried in her hair, his thumb rubbing the hinge of her jaw. She reached her hand up his chest and curled it around his neck, nails digging little crescent moons into his skin as she parted her lips, enjoying his teeth as they nibbled around the edges and his tongue stroked soothingly behind it.

They weren't perfect. They had a long way to go. He still had his issues and she was still a little wary about whether he would push her away again. But they loved each other and they were willing to do what it took to make it work. She smiled, her head tipped back as his mouth moved down her chin and buried at her neck.

He loved her.

Oliver Queen was in love with her.

She paused suddenly. "I should probably let down the other guys I was dating before this goes any further," she blurted suddenly.

He chuckled against her skin and raised his head to look down at her. "Send them a letter of resignation from the dating scene. If all goes well, you've just entered a long-term relationship." With that, he kissed her once more, and Felicity forgot all about the other men in her life. She had her hands full enough with Oliver.

She didn't end up writing them a resignation letter, or even calling them. But she thought they might have gotten the memo when she started showing up in public on the arm of Oliver Queen. And they certainly got the message when, four years later, she became Felicity Queen. Her happily ever after had more than a few road bumps along the way (both personally and professionally), but she thought it was well worth the dream come true.