A/N: So...I have updated. Yes, I have. I am really, really sorry for not doing so for almost five months. But. this new update is like, literally 10k words long, so...props for that? (I'm sorry)
Also, my Nysara is showing. Like, a lot. Oops.
XXIII. Date Night
"I understand I'm asking you for a leap of faith, Ned, but you know I wouldn't do so if I wasn't sure."
"I know, Moira. And you know I would rather stand by Oliver, and you, than Isabel. Even with – what happened. But it might be difficult convincing the others."
Moira held back a sigh. "But you will try?"
"Thank you," she said. "And I don't think I need to remind you how delicate this matter is."
"I will tread carefully. And I'll be in touch."
She disconnected the call after a few more exchanged pleasantries, and made her way to the liquor cabinet for a much needed glass. Her son had shown great faith when he entrusted her with saving the company after Isabel Rochev's planned demise, and she would see it through; it just so happened that dealing with Queen Consolidated politics required something to soothe the nerves in the aftermath.
She had gotten the habit from Robert.
Another thing she shared with her late husband, was the instant brightening of her mood, no matter how sour it had been, upon seeing Thea.
"Scotch before dinner?" her daughter commented as she lowered herself on the couch next to her. "That had to be some conversation you just had with…?"
"Ned Foster," Moira said, indulging in her need for a long, drawn-out sigh this time.
"Pulling strings behind the curtain, I take it?"
"No one in the company, besides Walter, was more loyal to your father than Ned," she obliged Thea's unspoken request for details. "I am confident he has that same loyalty towards Oliver, even after – well. And if Green Arrow does expose Isabel for her crimes, things will go south very quickly for QC, which means that the board will only have so much time to save that sinking ship."
"By reinstating Ollie as CEO," Thea supplied.
Moira smiled. "Exactly. I am trusting Ned to share this with the select few who are of similar views when it comes to the company's rightful heir, so that when the time comes, they will prepared to make the change swiftly."
Thea looked impressed. "You're really good with this backroom kind of stuff," she said. "And I mean that in a good way."
"You are the second person to tell me that sort of thing this week."
"The other day, Felicity asked me to give her advice," Moira explained, "on how to manipulate Isabel. She seems to think that I am an expert on the matter."
"That is so her," Thea laughed under her breath, then seemed to consider something. "Any special plans for her in this new – let's call it a strategy?"
"She is already doing a great deal, by making nice with Isabel." Moira shrugged. "Of course, it will also mean a great deal when she throws her support back behind Oliver again, what with being a valued executive."
"She calls it being a 'big kahuna'."
"She's really nice, though."
"She is," Moira agreed.
And she surmised no one thought so quite as much as her son.
"Oliver," she let out when he appeared in the doorway, dressed to the nines in what she thought might be a brand new suit and tie.
"Well, don't you look handsome, brother," Thea commented. "What's the occasion?"
"Uh, I…have a date."
"A date?" Thea echoed like it was the single most inconceivable thing she had heard in her life.
"Yes, Speedy, a date," Oliver replied dryly.
Well, that explained the sharp new suit.
"I thought Felicity didn't want to date you," Thea said.
"Well, it – " He seemed to struggle for an appropriate explanation there, and after a few false starts, simply skipped it altogether. "In any case, we're dating now, and tonight we are going on a date."
Of course, Moira thought, the woman in question being Felicity probably also explained the way he fiddled with the hem of his sleeves, and the knot of his tie, and the way he seemed to trip over his words; she had to stifle a smile. He was nervous.
And Thea picked up on it too. "You look like you're both happy and about to have a heart attack at the same time."
He swallowed. "Is it that obvious?"
"If it helps, I'm pretty sure Felicity's all jitters right now, too," Thea comforted. "Which is weird, because you guys are already friends and spend all of your time together. I mean, this will be like, the chillest date ever."
"Yeah, but – the thing is, we've never really done date-like things together," he said. "We've mostly just – " He sighed. "This is really important to me, and I don't want to mess it up."
With his past experiences, Moira could understand why he would have such concerns. Of course, she didn't voice the thought aloud.
"Just be yourself, Ollie," Thea advised. "She likes you that way."
"Yeah," he agreed quietly, and did so with a smile.
"Thea's right, sweetheart," Moira told him. "It'll be great."
It was terrible.
Well, maybe not terrible.
More like a moderate train wreck.
She was nervous – which was absurd, which in turn only made her even more nervous, and there was only one thing she did when she was nervous, which was talk.
Which was why she was just now finishing a very, very, very long-winded account of that one time she had built that one mini-robot back at MIT.
To Oliver's credit, he'd seemed completely fascinated by every word coming out of her mouth.
But that was probably just because he loved her.
Oh yeah, and that was another thing.
That one time he'd made that one grand, heartfelt declaration of love.
Which had yet to be declared back.
Maybe she should just bust out with that?
No, that would be bad.
"Are you okay?" Oliver asked. "Because you…kinda look like you might throw up."
"What? No…" She swallowed. "Okay, maybe a little."
"Yeah, me too," he muttered.
"So is this the worst date you've ever been on or what?" she laughed a little hysterically, then cringed because why did she even say that? "Not that it's the worst one I've been on – not that it is bad, it's definitely not bad, I mean, this is actually pretty good, compared to that one time I went out with this philosophy major in college and she spent the entire time telling me I shouldn't vaccinate my kids – like, I don't even have kids, why would you – "
She broke off on a gulp, then grabbed for her water glass so she could proceed to gulp down every last drop of it.
When she looked up, it was to Oliver wearing the single most dismayed, kicked-puppy face she'd ever seen on him.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"No, it's – " He sighed. "It's just that…this is not really the way I wanted tonight to go."
Yeah, you and me both, she thought. "Well, you know, maybe we're…overthinking it? I mean, this isn't just any first date, the stakes are kinda high here, right?"
"Yeah," he agreed quietly, then reached across the table to hold her hand; at least that was familiar, and calming, in this new upside-world where she was doing the first-date thing with the man she'd once helped stop a plan to cause a man-made earthquake that would level half the city.
Well, they'd failed, but that was not the point.
"This, being with you," Oliver said after a moment, "it's…really important to me. It kind of feels like one the most important things I'll ever do, so…" He shrugged. "Tonight was supposed to go better than this."
"To be fair, I think we're probably both at fault here."
"But I'm the one with the terrible track record."
Ah yes, his terrible track record. Which she had kept somewhere in her top five list of reasons why being with him would be a bad idea.
"Don't…don't think about that so much, okay?" she said. "I mean, I don't want you like, going through the day thinking of ways to prove that you're not gonna run away from me Road Runner-style, you know?"
He raised an eyebrow at the metaphor then chewed on his lip for a moment, before he looked down to where he'd turned her hand over in his and begun tracing the lines of her palm with his thumb. "I do know," he said quietly, "but I also know that it's not easy for you to trust that I won't run. You took a leap of faith with me. I do have to prove I'm worth that."
"Oliver – " She clasped his hand, stopping his movements; she smiled when he looked up at her. "I know you are," she told him. "That's my whole point. I knew what I was getting – who I was getting." She shrugged. "And yeah, I've got my issues, but I wouldn't be on this….terrible, terrible date with you right now if I didn't think you were worth it."
He pressed his lips together, like he might be stifling a grin, but it still broke through in the end. "Fair enough," he conceded.
"I do think about it, though," he added, more quietly. "Not that I've got things to prove, but just – who I was, who I am now, and…" He paused to look up at her, and let his eyes flicker over her face before he lowered them back to their hands. "And how much of that I can actually show you."
She frowned. "I thought we were past the part where you got all worried about offending my delicate sensibilities?"
"No, it's – " He shook his head. "It's not like that, Felicity. Okay, it kind of used to be," he admitted, "before, but that's – it's not what I meant. What I meant was – the – " He broke off on a small sigh, and she kept quiet while he seemed to be putting his thoughts in order. "The thing is, you get to see more of me than most people," he tried again, clear and steady this time. "And not all of that is pretty."
"My mom," he went on, "and Thea, and Laurel, and, uh, Tommy, before" – he cleared his throat – "it hurt them, it still does, to know that I'm not the Oliver they knew, that I've changed. It hurts them to know, and it hurts me to let them know – they try, to accept it, but…I know it's always going to hurt them. Even if they say it won't. So I have to…choose what they get to see. But you…" He huffed a small, quiet laugh. "You're one of the exactly three people in my life that I don't have to do that with."
The other two, she knew, being Sara and Digg.
"What I told you," he said, "about Shado and Slade and…what happened with them, I'd never – I'd never told anyone else that." He shook his head. "It doesn't…hurt you, to hear all this stuff, not like it does the others, and it just – " He blew out a breath. "That means everything to me. So…I think about it a lot."
"Does that mean" – she reached over and took his hand in both of hers, holding tight – "I'll get to hear everything that happened to you on the island?"
"I'm not asking," she added quickly, "that you tell me, you don't have to. But, if you want…" She shrugged. "You can tell me everything."
Oliver rubbed his lips together, nodding ever-so-slightly, before his eyes fell to their hands again. "Do you remember," he prompted, "just after you and Digg brought me back from Lian Yu, how I, uh…got mad at you for calling me a hero?"
"Oh, yeah. I definitely remember that."
His mouth quirked at the corner. "And when I came to apologize, how I…asked you not to expect more from me than what I'm capable of?"
"I remember that, too," she said softly.
"And uh, you told me," he went on, "that I'd already found a way to do things I didn't think I could, that I'm the one who didn't know what I was capable of, and...I thought about, um, how easy it would be for me to turn that on you, to tell you that you were the one who didn't know what I was capable of. Because, you didn't know, what I'd done, who I was, you were looking at me and seeing a hero, and – " He drew a deep breath before he looked up at her. "I was…so sure," he said, his voice getting thicker, "that you didn't – that you couldn't, see me for what I really was, because then you wouldn't be able to live with helping someone like me, and uh – I thought, if you did know, if you really knew, that you would – " He broke off on a quiet gulp, closing his eyes for a moment, then simply added, "I was wrong."
She stared at him.
And she wanted to say something – anything, really – but only got as far as getting misty-eyed.
And Oliver's eyes didn't look all that dry either. "I know I can tell you about Lian Yu, Felicity." He nodded. "Because what I also know, now, is that you do see me for what I am – who I am. You see it better than most." With a shrug, he added, "And you see the best in me."
It was amazing, how he always found a way to overwhelm her.
She busied herself with tracing patterns on his skin for a while, until she got her mouth to work again. "You know, John said something."
"Yeah. I can't believe I'm actually quoting him here" – she laughed lightly – "but he said that, you and I, that we have this thing, where we…see all that's great in each other. And he's right, I guess." She blew out a breath. "You – and again, I can't believe I'm quoting Digg here – you looked at me and you saw more than just an IT girl, and because of that, because of you, I…finally found a place where I felt like I belonged." It got kind of hard to go on after that, because there was a lump halfway up her throat, but she did her best. "So…however much it means to you that I see you the way I do, you should know that – that it means just as much to me that you see me the way you do."
Oliver smiled, lifting one of her hands to his lips to brush a small kiss against her knuckles. "It's really not hard to see what's great in you, Felicity," he said.
That was it.
She was going to cry.
Into the tablecloth.
In the middle of Table Salt.
Oliver looked like he might follow suit, too.
After a beat, he ducked his head and muttered, "This really isn't great topic for a first-date conversation, is it?"
She tried for a chuckle that came out kind of wrong, and did her best not to sniffle. Oliver breathed in, out, then met her eyes again, and she almost did bust out with that declaration of love.
It was right on the tip of her tongue, she'd already opened her mouth to get it out, when her phone buzzed on the table – which could only mean it was an emergency, because Sara and Digg had both promised not to interrupt for anything short of a code red.
She grabbed for it, eyes skimming over the alert quickly. "Sara and Digg need back-up."
Oliver looked a little thrown, but still nodded. "Okay," he said, and with that, they were both out of their seats and up on their feet.
"I'll get our coats."
"I'll get the check."
"I'm sorry we ruined date night," Sara said, once again, sending one more apologetic smile at Oliver's hooded profile, from where she had fallen into step with him.
"No, it's fine," Felicity sounded in her ear. "When duty calls, duty calls."
"Yeah," Oliver agreed helpfully, nodding for emphasis.
"Still," Diggle chimed in, "we feel bad."
"Maybe we should have just brought Roy in…"
"He's not ready for this kind of fieldwork," Oliver promptly put an end to that line of thinking, and Sara was of a mind to agree; busting a makeshift drug lab crawling with twenty armed Triad members was a little too high-stakes for a hotheaded newbie. Diggle, on the other hand, would have been a perfect extra set of hands. Except then they'd have no one to man the comms.
"He could've handled tech support, though," Diggle voiced her thoughts. "Maybe we could speed up the timetable on letting him on the whole thing, that way, next date night – "
"Okay, no," Felicity was the one putting her foot down this time. "There is only one other person in this world I'd trust with my computers – and that's you, Digg."
"Hey," Oliver protested, even as he broke into a grin.
"Oliver," Felicity said, very seriously, "I'd trust you with my deepest, darkest secrets, and I'd trust you with my life. But I don't trust you with my gear."
"I'm not as incapable as you think," Oliver commented, still grinning. "I had a perfectly functioning set-up before you came along, you know."
"Okay, first of all, that set-up was tragic."
Sara bit back a smile.
"I'm surprised you could even fire up a google search without melting the entire mainframe, and second – if it was so perfect, why did I need to come down here and fix it before it could actually do anything?"
"Well…maybe it was just part of my plan. Make it seem like I was hopeless so you'd have to stay and save me."
"No, I had to stay and save you because you showed up bleeding in my car, nearly shot to death by your own mother."
Oliver's grin grew softer along the edges, and he only said, "My hero." But it really sounded more like he was calling her his beloved.
It was just like when Nyssa –
Sara shut her eyes tight.
She had to stop doing that.
Her mind couldn't wander back to Nanda Parbat, to Nyssa, at every little reminder.
And yet it did.
" – got a text from Detective Lance, the cops are just about done with reading the perps their Mirandas, so I'd say we can call it a night."
Sara shook her head to clear it – of things she shouldn't be thinking of anyway – and put her focus back on what was being said just as Oliver asked, "Any word on where is with the warrant for Haze's files?"
Oh, she could answer that. "Laurel's getting it in the morning."
Sara nodded. "Heard her and Dad talking about it," she said, before throwing a quick smile Oliver's way. "Told you she'd help you."
"I still can't really believe that," Diggle commented
"She's not setting him up, Digg."
"It's not what I'm thinking, Sara," Diggle assured, though she didn't doubt for a second that it had crossed his mind, "it's just – "
"She hated me," Oliver said simply. "Green Arrow. She wanted me unmasked an in prison. I mean, sure, she eased up on me after a while but this is still a one-eighty from – two weeks ago."
"Well, things changed," Sara said. "You saved you."
"I saved a lot of people before that," he pointed out. "It didn't change her mind. And Laurel, she cares about everyone, not just me, or Tommy, or – " He sighed. "I just can't help but think there's more to it than that."
Sara made to suggest there was a way to go about remedying that uncertainty, but Felicity beat her to it.
"You should go and ask her," she told him quietly. "Pretty sure there's not gonna be a swarm of undercover cops waiting for you this time."
"Yeah," he muttered a little absently, his brow furrowed like he was lost in thought.
"She's still at the office," Sara supplied. "If you wanna stop by."
"Go," Felicity said, and as soon as it was out of her mouth, Sara was sure Oliver would do it.
"Okay," he agreed, just as she knew he would, before telling both John and Felicity to go home and shutting off communication; Sara did the same, and the moment they turned the corner and went down to where their bikes were stashed in a back alley, he stopped walking and spun to face her.
"You okay?" he asked.
She pulled short, blinking up at him; he shrugged.
"You kinda shut down for a moment there," he said. "So…you okay?"
He'd noticed that, then; she couldn't help but smile. "I'm fine."
He said nothing, just raised an eyebrow at her.
"You wanna do this now, Ollie? Here?"
He shrugged again, walking back until he was leaning against his bike, then crossed his arms and ankles. And just waited.
With a sigh, Sara relented.
"I am fine," she maintained, leaning against the bike next to him. "I've just been…thinking."
She looked away. "Nyssa."
"You've mentioned her," he recalled, quietly.
"Right," she muttered.
She hadn't really meant to but Nyssa's name had slipped out, here and there, because it was easy to talk to Ollie. She'd still found that it had been easiest to tell Felicity.
"I miss her," she let Oliver hear it, too. "And I shouldn't, because I left her when I left the life I led when I was with her, but sometimes I just – " She sighed. "I tried, to tell myself that I have my family now, that I have all that I've needed for six years, but I guess I…I guess I need her, too."
She shut her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them again, it was to Oliver slowly nodding in understanding.
"Everything reminds me of her," she said. "She's an archer too, by the way. Guess that's my type."
Oliver laughed with her, right up until the moment she felt more like crying instead. "Whenever I hear you draw back your bow," she kept her voice low, so it wouldn't break on the words, "I'm half-expecting I'll turn around and see her instead. And the other day, Diggle mentioned he knew some Arabic, and…I almost said that I did, too." She sniffled. "That where I was, they called me Taer al-Asfer, and that it was Nyssa who taught me how to say my new name. Then Laurel, she – she made this comment, about how I use 'big' words now, and I almost told her it was because of Nyssa, because she talks that way – "
She pulled in a deep breath when her voice did break, and hung her head.
Oliver stepped in front of her, his hand falling to her arm.
"Where – where I was, what I did," she forced the words out, "it was terrible, all of it, it was – terrible. But Nyssa…Nyssa was a good thing."
Oliver nodded. "You ever wanna go back?" he asked. "To her?"
"Yes," she admitted, and it hurt so much to get that one, little word out. "They released me. I'm free, unless they need me, and I know they won't because I paid my debt, and I chose my family, and Nyssa – " She gulped. "Nyssa will respect that. And even with that, with knowing that I don't ever have to go back, on some days, I'm hoping that they will call on me…I guess it really is hard to let go."
"Maybe you don't have to," he told her. "It doesn't have to be either-or, Sara. You don't have to choose between your family and her. You can have everything."
She chuckled, short and mirthless. "No, I can't," she said. "This isn't like it was for you, Oliver. Your family, your hood, Felicity…they were all right here, the entire time. Nyssa is…half the world away, waiting for the day she gets to lead an entire league of assassins. She's never going to leave that life, and I am never going to go back to it, so…"
"You can still see her, even where she is," he said. "Or meet her halfway."
"And what? Live on stolen moments?"
He shrugged. "Maybe that's better than nothing."
"Maybe," she allowed.
"Sara, it's – look, if you love her, if you need her, then you should…try and find a way to be with her, instead of trying to make yourself forget."
She had to bite back a smile when he leaned in, like he was about to let her in on some big secret, adding, "If I deserve to be happy again, then so do you."
Oh, so, they were doing this now? Well, if they were already quoting other people – "It's rude to throw someone's pep talk material back at them like that."
She saw the exact moment he realized the words had to have been Felicity's, because now he was grinning. Again.
"You know, you and Felicity now?" she commented after a moment. "You remind me of Nyssa, too."
He tipped his head to the side, looking a little confused; Sara shook her head slightly.
"Nyssa, she – she called me her beloved," she said, swallowing. "I could hear it, in every word she said to me. And when I listen to you talk to Felicity now" – she smiled faintly – "I can hear it in your voice, too."
Oliver nodded slowly, with a small smile on his lips, and even though it was hard to really tell with the hood and the mask, she knew his eyes held sympathy – for her, because he could probably hear it in her voice now, too.
He probably could see how glassy her eyes were getting again as well, so she ducked her head, holding back a sniffle.
"You should talk to her," he advised, giving her arm a squeeze. "See her, if you can. At least then it'll be easier to figure out what you want to do."
"Yeah," she agreed quietly, then asked, staring at the tips of her boots, "Can I say something that's maybe kind of terrible?"
She raised her head again. "I envy you."
Even the hood and the mask couldn't hide the way his eyes widened. "What?"
"Not really, but…part of me does," she said. "You got everything you wanted, Ollie – right now, in this very moment, you have everything you want. You get to be Green Arrow, your city's embracing you, you have Moira, and Thea, and Laurel, and Digg – you have Felicity. And" – she gave him a little smile – "I like to think you're glad to have me around, too. You have everything you want and you're…happy. You got to be happy." She shrugged. "Part of me envies that."
His mouth dropped a fraction, and after she was done, he only stood there silently for a long while; apparently, he hadn't thought of this. Or maybe he just hadn't gotten around to it.
Eventually, he shook his head, as if to clear it, and said, "You will be happy, too, Sara."
Maybe. But she wasn't there yet.
"I hope so," she whispered, then took a deep breath; there was only so much of talking about this she could take, even if it was with Oliver. So, she said, "You should go. Talk to Laurel before she leaves the office."
He gave a little nod of agreement, but still took the time to ask, "Are you gonna be okay?"
She did her best to give him a smile. "Yeah."
"Okay." He gave her arm one last squeeze and leaned in to drop a small kiss to her forehead before moving to his bike, and driving it off back onto the road.
In the silence, Sara sagged against her bike, closing her eyes.
Every day, it got harder to tell herself not to miss Nyssa, not to want to hear her voice again, to see her again, and now Ollie –
He'd made it harder, too, because she'd come to Starling clinging to the shadows, hoping that he would have the answers to how to step back into the light; he hadn't. But now he did – now, he was happy, so –
Maybe he did have it all figured out. Maybe what he was telling her to do was exactly the kind of answer she needed.
So, with a deep breath, she reached into her pocket for her phone, and dialed.
She seemed barely surprised by his presence in her office, at the dead of night, and merely responded with a, "Long time no see."
Oliver took a step out of the shadows, still keeping a safe distance. "Well, we didn't exactly part on the best of terms last time, so…"
Laurel nodded, ducking her head. "Right," she muttered. With a deep breath, she pushed away from her desk and stood. "You should know I won't come after you anymore," she said, like she was making an announcement. "I'm letting it go. And" – she pointed to one particular pile on her desk – "I'm going to a judge first thing in the morning, to get that warrant you asked my father for." Her mouth twitched into a quick smile. "He sort of danced around it, but I know the idea came from you. And I'm pretty sure it's why you're here now."
"I wanted to thank you," Oliver said. "For doing this. I know it's not easy for you."
"It's easier than you might think," she told him quietly, looking down for a moment.
Oliver chewed on his tongue while she kept quiet, then decided to simply ask, "Because I saved Oliver Queen?"
"That's part of it," she conceded, glancing to a picture frame at the corner of her desk before she looked up at him again. "But I've also been doing a lot of thinking, lately," she added, "and I've realized that I blamed you for a lot of things, just so I wouldn't…blame myself." She swallowed. "That wasn't fair."
People died and they left, all around her, and the only thing at the center of it was her.
"It wasn't your fault, Laurel," he said. "That The Undertaking happened, that…Tommy Merlyn died."
"It kind of was, actually," she corrected, her eyes growing clouded with tears. "And I blamed you, because you didn't save him. I…believed in you, and you failed. You didn't save the city, you didn't save him. But the truth is…he wouldn't have needed saving at all if it weren't for me. He died because he saved me." She sighed. "That was hard to accept."
Oliver closed his eyes.
For a moment, he was back at CNRI, pushing away debris only to find blood seeping out of Tommy's chest, and realizing that it was too late; that there was nothing he could do.
"When I got there," he said, "it was too late. There was nothing I could do for him. But he was still alive, just barely." He swallowed. "And…he asked me about you. If you were safe. He said he tried to get you out. He didn't regret saving you. Not for a second."
Laurel smiled, just slightly, even though more tears gathered in her eyes. "Thank you for saying that."
"It's just the truth."
"The truth, right," she mumbled. After a moment, she added, "Can I ask you something?"
"Why did you come to me, when you first came here?" she asked. "Why did you – I don't know, save me every time I got in trouble, or try and prove to me that you were the good guy? Just – why me?"
That was a loaded question.
And it probably had way more to do with Tommy than it did with him.
It did have a very simple answer, though.
"Because you're good, Laurel," he said. "You fight for those who deserve it. Right and wrong is clear to you. That didn't come easy to me. Knowing right from wrong. Being good." He shrugged. "I guess I thought that, just by being close to you, maybe I could…be better, too."
She nodded slowly, taking that in, before she gave him a curious look. "So, who are you trying to be better for now?"
His first thought was to say it was for his best friend.
He changed for Tommy, to be better in honor of his memory. But that was months ago. These days, who he was, who he wanted to be; it wasn't just about other people anymore.
So, he said, "Me, actually."
"That's good," she told him. "But you know, uh, right and wrong – it hasn't been all that clear to me either, since the quake. But now it is." She nodded. "And if we're already telling the truth, then the truth is, the reason I'm helping you, isn't really about Oliver, or Tommy, or the city – it's because my sister works with you."
"Oh, come on, I know it's her." Laurel looked like she might laugh. "The woman in black? The Canary?" She actually rolled her eyes there. "Do you know why she calls herself that?"
"Our father bought her a canary, when we were kids," she went on. "A black one. It wouldn't shut up, chirped night and day, drove us nuts. But Sara loved that bird." Her eyes were back on the framed picture on the desk, and Oliver knew what he'd find there even before he moved just far enough to the side to be able to see; it was Sara, on the day of her high school graduation.
"One of my informants," Laurel spoke again, "said that the word on the street was, the woman in black called herself The Canary. The moment I heard that, everything just sort of…clicked." She looked up at him. "Why she seems so different now, why she was so calm when Ollie got sick, why I couldn't reach her for hours that day – it's because she was there, helping you save him."
And the moment he heard her say it, everything clicked for him, too. "You're doing this for her."
"She's my sister, and I have to protect her," Laurel said, like it was the simplest thing in the world. "And I can't keep coming after you, or your partners, not when she's one of them, too."
"My – my partners?"
Laurel raised an eyebrow at him, then turned her voice mockingly deep as she mimicked, "You have your sidekicks, and I have mine."
Oh, right, yes. He had said that.
"If I didn't know you had partners before, I sure did after that," Laurel went on. "And I figured I would get you through them. That's what I focused on, actually. Finding out who they were. Never thought it would lead me to my own sister, though." She chuckled. "But when it did, I had to…reevaluate…a few things."
"Does she know?" Oliver asked, even if he already had the answer. "That you've figured it out?"
"No." Laurel shook her head. "She's been trying so hard to hide it. Actually, I get the feeling there are a lot of things she's trying very hard to hide. I don't wanna…spring this on her before she's ready to talk about it. With me, I mean. I don't want to…push her the wrong way."
His first thought was that this wasn't how Laurel did things. She didn't play it safe like this.
But it made sense, if only just this once.
She ran a hand over her face. "I don't know why I'm telling you any of this," she muttered.
He smiled the faintest bit. "You're not going to lose her."
Laurel's head whipped up to him, eyes wide, and he thought that he'd probably never seen her look so surprised in his life.
He gave her a small shrug. "That feeling you get," he said, "that somehow, all you ever do is lose, it's – it's an illusion. No one only ever loses." He shook his head. "But when you've already lost so much, it…gets hard to see that."
Laurel said nothing, but he knew he'd hit home – he knew because she'd told him, that she only ever felt like she was failing, like she could never get it right – even when she did get it right, when she did win, it still didn't seem like enough – and he knew that feeling, he knew it so well, he could practically see every thought running through her head right now.
But it was an illusion.
"You're not going to lose Sara," he told her again, just for good measure. "Whatever you choose to do, she's not going anywhere."
"Um, I – " She shook her head. "Thanks for…saying that, too, I guess," she said uncertainly.
He just nodded.
"But, could you, um – not tell Sara?" she asked, faltering over the words a little. "That I know?"
He didn't want to – but he at least owed her the chance to talk to Sara on her own terms. So, he nodded again.
Laurel gave him a faint smile. "Thank you."
"You know, for all the times I've thought about jolly green men climbing through my window at the dead of night," Felicity said, "this is still really weird for me."
Oliver grinned from beneath his hood, perched on her fire escape, with a Big Belly Burger bag in each hand.
"You think about a lot of jolly green men coming in through your window?" he asked as he did just that, handing over the takeout.
"Mm, no." She went to her tiptoes to peck his cheek. "Just one."
She was pretty sure he blushed.
"So," she prompted, peeking into the bags as she walked over to the coffee table, "how come your jolly green self is in my apartment with Big Belly right now?"
She turned around after putting the bags down, to find him right in front of her.
"Well," he said, bringing an arm around her waist to pull her in closer, "our date was kind of a bust, so I…thought we could use a little do-over. Plus" – he leaned in, brushing a small kiss against her lips – "I kind of wanted to see you again before the night was over."
Her hands bunched the leather at his shoulders when he kissed her again, longer this time, and honestly, this was practically chaste compared to some of their work, even with all the tongue and teeth, and his hand coming under her shirt, glove and all, and up her bare back – yes, still, with all of that, it was practically eighth-grade hand-holding, but all she could feel under her fingers was the leather, and all she could see was the hood, and the mask – and, not to give into hormone-driven exaggeration or anything, but this was probably the hottest thing to ever happen to her.
He pulled away, just when she was about a second away from pointing him to the bedroom, and gave her a little smirk. "Food's gonna get cold," he breathed.
Still, she let him have his way – which, for the record, was so much less fun than hers – and followed him to the couch. She watched him sit down next to her, take off his hood, then his mask, then place the latter on the table – her table. It was her apartment, her couch, her table, and now he was here, with takeout and in his gear, being – well, her Oliver.
He noticed her staring at him. "What?"
"Nothing," she said softly. "It's just really nice having you here."
He smiled, handing her the food he'd gotten for her; her usual, of course.
"How did this work, exactly?" she asked. "Did you just walk into Big Belly and place the order in full Green Arrow gear or…?"
"Of course not," he said, like it was absurd. "I waited in the back alley for the cook to come out for a smoke and then I gave him my order."
She…really couldn't tell if he was joking or not.
No, actually, she could – this was Oliver, so of course he had done exactly that.
"You know Carly's gonna tell Digg about it, right?"
"Oh, she already did." He reached for his phone, scrolling through it before he held it up for her to see a single text from Diggle: what the hell, man?
"Yeah," Oliver laughed under his breath, giving the text another glance before his phone joined his mask on the table; Felicity felt a lot like hugging him.
"So, before you probably gave a poor, unsuspecting cook a heart attack," she said, biting into her burger, "how did it go with Laurel?"
His face fell a little at that. "She knows. About Sara."
Felicity nearly spat out her food. "That she's The Canary?"
"Yeah," Oliver said. "Apparently, calling herself The Canary is kind of a dead giveaway – at least for Laurel. Probably for Mr. Lance, too, as soon as someone repeats it to him."
"Sara doesn't know that she knows, does she?"
"No." He shook his head. "Which is – I mean, there's so much behind it for her, with everything that – " He sighed. "It's just hard for her, talking to Sara about it."
"So – where do we stand on this?" Felicity asked. "Are we gonna tell Sara?"
"Laurel, um…she asked me not to." He shrugged. "She'll do it, eventually, and…we should give her that time. I figure I owe her at least that."
"Right," Felicity muttered, watching as he frowned in silence, obviously somewhere off in his thoughts.
She waited him out, until he said, "Sara's the reason she won't come after me anymore."
Felicity blinked. "Oh."
"She says she has to protect her."
"Can't do that if she's hunting down the guy Sara's working with, right?" Felicity guessed.
"Right," Oliver echoed.
"Isn't this a good thing? I mean, she's dropping the manhunt, so…"
"No, it – it is," he said. "But she's…she's still going through a lot. So is Sara."
"Yeah." Oliver nodded. "They're both still – fighting, you know, they're still not there yet, and I just – " He turned to look at her, and she was surprised to see that his eyes were getting a little glassy. "I just can't really believe," he went on, more quietly, "that – that I'm the one who has it figured out, that – that of the three of us, that I'm the one who's happy."
"I'm actually happy – me," he said, laughing under his breath, and it sounded wet and scratchy. "I'm the one who's…giving out advice, telling Sara to go talk to Nyssa, and Laurel that just because it feels like failure, doesn't mean it actually is, and I just – " He shrugged helplessly. "How am I the one who's doing that?"
"Hey – " Felicity ditched her food, scooting closer to him; she put a hand on his shoulder, and the other on the back of his head, running her fingers through his hair.
He closed his eyes for a moment, leaning into the touch. He turned his head to the side, until his forehead bumped hers. He stayed that way as he said, "I got everything I wanted. I have my family, and my hood, and Digg, and Sara, and Laurel, and – I have you." He swallowed, bobbing his head in a tiny nod. "I have you," he said it again, and when he pulled back just far enough to be able to look at her, there were tears in his eyes; she couldn't keep her own from burning. "I never thought I'd get here."
She nodded, leaning in to brush her lips against his hairline. "Expect the unexpected?" she suggested.
He smiled at that – a small, watery smile, before she felt his arm around her, pulling her closer, so that she was all but sitting in his lap; her arms went around his shoulders and his head fell to the crook of her neck, while his fingers skimmed along her ribs. She pressed another kiss to his hair.
"So far," he spoke after a while, voice quiet and rough, "this do-over date is going about as badly as the first one did."
"Nah." She sniffled. "This is great."
He chuckled against her neck, then pressed a kiss to the side of it, and she felt his chest expand under her hands, like he was breathing her in; she felt his lips move against her, too, as he whispered, "I love you, Felicity."
She felt the words against her skin just as much as she felt them inside her, and she really did believe, as he said it, that she wasn't ending up with a broken heart, that as deep as she'd fallen, he was right there with her; that he wouldn't leave.
So she put all of her heart into it, and hoped he could feel it the same way she did, as she said, "I love you, too."
A little shudder went through him, before he burrowed deeper into her, nuzzling his nose against her neck. She nudged his head back just enough to able to trail her lips to his forehead, then the bridge of his nose, then his cheek, and then his mouth; he kissed her readily, his fingers going up to her hair.
He was shifting them again, with a hand on her thigh, and she really did find herself in his lap this time, straddling him. He was still kissing her, sitting up to bring her closer, with his hands going under her shirt again, and she thought that this was great, it was perfect, because – and the thing was, she got everything she was wanted, too. She was happy, too.
She pressed in harder, hands in his hair to hold him closer, and then, because she couldn't resist, she pulled back an inch just to say, "Food's getting really cold."
Oliver smiled against her mouth, before dropping his lips to her jaw. "Maybe we should get back to the food, and not…start anything else," he muttered. "I'll – have – to leave – soon," he punctuated every word with a small kiss to her neck, like an apology.
"Or," she said, "you could stay the night."
"As much as I'd love that" – another kiss – "it'll be much harder to keep people" – the next one landed at the hollow of her throat – "from seeing me coming out of your apartment" – really, he was sending some mixed signals here for a man who was making a case for leaving, what with having started nuzzling her breasts – "in the morning."
"I have" – she held back a moan – "a change of clothes for you upstairs."
He stopped. "What?"
She sighed, a little impatiently. "I started keeping some clothes in your size – and Digg's – here, a while back. You know, in case of emergency. Like right now. So" – she gave a little shrug – "stay the night."
That was apparently all the convincing he needed – and if he wanted more explanations, he didn't ask for them – because he was back to kissing her, needier than before, one hand going down her lower back and dipping past the waistband of her sweats, and the other splayed across her ribs – also, leather gloves on bare skin? Definitely a good thing.
Then his hands were gone – and she almost protested, until she realized they were only gone because he wanted to take the gloves off. She almost protested about that, too, but what came out instead was, "You know, I always imagined you doing that with your teeth."
He paused, then made a little pointing gesture, as if to ask if she actually wanted him to take them off with his teeth.
She shook her head, smiling, then leaned in to start running her mouth along his jaw; she kind of really liked the way his stubble prickled her lips. "It's kinda nice," she said in-between kisses, "now that we're together – that I don't really have to – try and filter – all the weird sexual things – that go through my head."
He swallowed, and it seemed to catch in his throat. "Feel free."
She smiled again. "How are those gloves coming along?"
There was a faint thump behind her, like something soft landing on a pile of paper bags.
"They're off," he muttered just as his hands – gloveless, this time – carded through her hair, pulling her head up. They were on her face then, as were his eyes, going over every inch of it; he looked like he might say something but just gave a little shake of his head in the end, like he couldn't really find the words.
She dipped her head, to place a small kiss against his palm, before she reached up to take off her glasses then go for the hem of her shirt, both ending up in a bundle at the corner of her couch.
His eyes were decidedly not on her face anymore, and he pulled her closer again, pressing her chest to his, and – did she mention that leather on bare skin was like, a really, really good thing?
Not so good, though, that she didn't want him out of all that leather – well, keeping the leather would probably be all sorts of fun, too, but like, not now.
They didn't actually make it to the bedroom on the first try.
They ended up against a wall, because that scratch-and-lick thing he had going on with his stubble and his tongue was all sorts of amazing and it had her moaning and pushing as much of her skin as she could in his face, so he'd pushed her against a wall, to give himself a good long moment to really make her feel it – and then they ended up on the stairs, and she had her hands gripping the railing and about a dozen dirty cracks about archer's fingers that got stuck in her throat.
By the time they did get to the bedroom, her sweats were gone too, as was his vest, his pants were undone, and she was practically dragging him to the bed – before they somehow ended up on the floor or on the dresser – trying to pull him with her as she went.
That didn't go as smoothly – or as quickly – as she would have liked, because he had to stop and get rid of his shoes and pants; which took a while, as his archer's fingers had apparently turned more into butter fingers that tripped over the laces of his boots – and she got to hear what she was pretty was just a long string of Russian cursing as running commentary, too – so it took him over a good, full minute to actually get them off. By which time, of course, she was laughing at him.
It turned into a squeal then died in her throat when he moved, too fast for her to react, and had her on her back on the bed, hovering above her.
She wasn't much in the mood for laughing after that.
Really, all her mouth was good for from then on out was having her tongue twist and her voice break over the syllables of his name. Well – that, and an equally twisty and hiccupy and choppy stream of every dirty, and sappy, and sentimental thing that ran through her head. He hadn't seem to mind, though; in fact, he'd encouraged it. Heartily.
That was round one.
And a discovery Felicity made in the aftermath – Oliver Queen, Starling's lean mean green vigilante machine, was a cuddler. An actual, honest-to-God, will-wrap-himself-around-you-like-an-overly-affectionate-octupus kind of cuddler.
The thing was, she wasn't used to sharing her bed. So, as much as exhaustion had forced her to doze off, she still squirmed awake, because she was all sticky, and all sweaty, and had Oliver wrapped around her like she was his favorite teddy bear; one arm under her head, like a really muscly, flexing pillow – and she worried about his circulation –, the other around her middle, his chest to her back, and a leg between hers. So yeah – like an overly affectionate octopus. But at least he was her overly affectionate octopus.
She couldn't help but smile at that thought, and turned her head to brush her lips along his biceps; his hand tightened against her stomach in response.
"Trouble sleeping?" he asked, low and raspy, right next to her ear, then trailed a few quick nips along the shell of it – because that was going to help her sleep.
"Yeah," she said, kind of breathlessly. "'S your fault."
She could feel his teeth against her when he grinned, from where he'd progressed down to her neck. "Sorry."
He didn't actually sound very sorry at all.
She turned in his arms, to face him, nudging his head with hers; he immediately went in for a kiss.
"Hi," he muttered against her lips.
"Hi," she echoed, and if John could see her right now, he'd say she was grinning like a fool.
Well, actually, she should probably not be thinking about John right now. 'Cause that was kind of weird.
Not that it was hard not thinking about John, when she had a very naked Oliver in her bed, plastered to her very naked self, looking at her with those pretty bright blue eyes of his – even if the dark, she could see it, that look, like it was – sacred, maybe? Yeah, that probably came closest. Like it was sacred, being here with her – like she was.
He was playing with her hair now, fingers absently twisting the strands, while his other moved up and down her thigh. She let her own hands roam, down his arm then his back, her fingers catching on scar tissue; and she just felt compelled to say it again. "I love you."
She felt the small shudder that went through him this time, too, and everything about the way he was looking at her now made her think that what he really wanted to say in response was 'thank you'.
Instead, he just said her name, just 'Felicity', and he might as well have gift-wrapped the 'thank you' and a thousand other declarations of love in it, with a bow on top, too.
That was how they got to round two.
And then round three was probably her fault, because she'd mentioned something about wanting beard burns on her inner thighs during round two – and well, Oliver had delivered.
He'd delivered so well, in fact, that her walk down to the kitchen in the morning had really been more of an awkward, don't-let-your-thighs-rub-together kind of wobble.
In hindsight, she probably should've put some pants on too, instead of just underwear and an old MIT shirt.
Not that she minded, really. Nope, not one bit. Actually, she was grinning – like a fool, Digg's voice supplied in her head – as she started on the coffee.
She replayed it all in her head, round one, and two, and three – which was not an ideal line of thinking considering the whole not-letting-her-thighs-rub-together predicament, she would admit – as she waited on the coffee maker, and honestly, when he padded up behind her, hands settling lightly on her hips, she thought she could really go for round four – like, now. Right there. On the counter. She was game.
"Morning," he muttered right next to her ear; she leaned back into him.
"Morning," she sighed.
He busied himself with nipping at her earlobe for a second, then said, "I have a question."
"Why do you have a picture of me and Digg in a bunny frame in your bedroom?"
She giggled. "Because" – she spun to face him, arms winding around his shoulders – "it's cute."
And so was he. With his little bedhead and in just the change of boxers she'd left for him before coming down – and okay, he was like, really tall and built like a bear, and had a really prominent mark of affiliation to an international organized crime network right there below his clavicle, but still – cute.
He made a little face at her.
"Hey," she defended, "I love that picture. And I can't keep it down here 'cause you know, what if my aunt comes over and she's like, 'why do you have a picture of your boss and his bodyguard, Felicity'?"
"And the bunny frame?"
She grinned. "It's cute."
"So are you," he said, all low and husky, leaning in for a kiss; she promptly clamped a hand over his mouth.
Then barely held back a laugh at the way his eyes widened.
"Morning breath," she explained.
He gave her a look. "Felicity," he nudged her hand out of the way, "I – "
"Yes, yes, you survived five years without a toothbrush," she said, "and you don't care, but I – " she pointed to herself – "do."
He chewed on the inside of his cheek. "Fine," he relented, and she placed a small kiss of apology to his shoulder before wiggling out of his arms and going for the – now ready – coffee.
She filled a cup for him – black, no sugar, no nothing, obviously, because he was hardcore like that.
He took it readily, though his eyes lingered on her bare legs; she was pretty sure that they'd moved up to her ass when she turned back around to work on her own cup.
"You know, after a year or so," he commented, "you won't care about the morning breath thing anymore."
"A year?" she echoed, leaning back against the counter once she'd finished adding the last of the sugar. "Already planning that far ahead?"
He tilted his head in mock-consideration. "More like five, actually," he said. "At least."
She bit her lip. "See, when you say stuff like that," she slid up to him again, "it makes really hard for me not to want to kiss you and your morning breath."
He gave her a wide, tight-lipped smile, almost like a challenge, before taking a sip of his coffee.
He really was cute. A big, cute, cuddly octopus-bear.
She should probably stop thinking of him in weird animal imagery.
"Also, you should probably drop a call or a text to your mom and Thea," she said next, tracing the lines of his chest with her free hand as she did – just because she could. It made her kind of giddy. "Since you didn't last night, and they might get worried."
He shrugged, a little smirk at the corner of his mouth. "They've probably already figured that I was spending the night with you."
And the moment that suggestive double entendre was out of his mouth, it sort of caught up with her that this was – well, not weird. Kind of weird, maybe? Because yes, she did see more of him than most people, but Oliver being flirty, and fun, and teasing – that was new. It was definitely new that it seemed to come out of him so easily – so easily, that it hadn't even struck her as weird; nothing like before, after he came back from Lian Yu, when it was so painfully obvious to all parties involved that he was forcing it, in a 'fake 'til you make it' kind of way.
So yeah, that was new.
"What's that look about?" he asked softly.
Ah, to hell with it. She was going to kiss him and his morning breath included.
She went on her tiptoes to plant one on him – and tried very hard not to breathe while she was at it.
His eyebrows were all scrunched up when she pulled away – adorably, was the word that came to mind – and he tilted his head at her.
She shrugged. "I just…really love you. Like, a lot."
He broke into a grin at hearing it. "I love you a lot, too," he said, leaning in as if for another kiss – she held her breath – but then stopped just short of target, mouth twitching, straightened back up, and winked. Winked.
She shook her head at him, then asked, "How do you feel about reheated Big Belly leftovers for breakfast?"
He gave a little shrug. "Sure," he agreed, then did that smirking thing again as he added, "Guess we really let the food get cold."
"Mmhmm," she hummed agreeably, starting to move past him as she said, "But I mean, you know, I can live with that, 'cause – and, just for the record – " She put her mouth right next to his ear to add, "it really did feel good having you inside me."
He choked on his coffee.