A/N: Thank you! I can't say it enough! Sorry for the bit of cliffhanger I left you with but I hadn't done one in awhile and it just seemed right. :)
All the threads are starting to come together, albeit slowly. Lots happening in the next few chapters.
Hope you enjoy, and please let me know what you think!
Previously in 'Queen of Hearts'...
Oliver stood silent on the roof listening to the wind whip around him, feeling as if everything he'd been trying so hard to overcome, every doubt, every concern, every fear had just been thrown back at him, stronger and more real than ever.
"Oliver! Oliver, talk to me!" Felicity's voice was high and frantic. He knew she was aware of exactly what sort of headspace he was in. He wanted to run again. He wanted to pack her away as far from him as possible to ensure their safety.
"Oliver, don't do this!" she pleaded, a sob breaking her words.
His fists clenched at his side as he fought with his demons. The most horrible experiences of the island flew through his head as he relived, memory after memory, except instead of him or Shado, or Sarah, it was Felicity he watched in pain, or being tortured, or being killed.
"You told me you'd be there! You told me we'd do this together! Don't you dare do this to me, Oliver. Don't you do this to us!"
He tried to reply to her but his throat was thick with guilt and then he'd been quiet too long. Her sobs made the ache in his chest grow until he thought it would crack his ribs and tear right through him, but still he couldn't make himself move.
"Damn you, Oliver! Fine, you won't come to me then I'll come to you. I'm not going to lose another person I love."
He could hear the surety in her tone and he knew she meant what she said. That was the only thing that broke through to him. Love.
"No! I'm coming back." he managed to rasp out before he tore out the earpiece and numbly made his way to the edge of the building.
He was anything but careful as he returned to the lair. Somehow his recklessness didn't result in him being seen.
Quiet and stealth were not actions he was capable of. He knew his boots were loud and echoing on the metal stairs, knew the end of the bow clipped the edge of the railing as he forgot to hold it up high enough, because after the fifth step down all he could see was her.
The man who'd left that night was not the one who came back. He was at war with himself, not knowing which side was going to win.
She stood in the center of the floor facing away from him. Head slightly bowed, arms wrapped around her middle, pulling the material of her dress taut so he could see the shake of her shoulders although she didn't make a sound. Heart twisting so hard it made him pause on the bottom step he didn't remember the next fifteen feet.
The bow was lost somewhere, although his hood remained up and the part of him yelling that he didn't deserve her, that he was too broken and soiled to touch her, was somehow shoved aside.
His arms banded about her from the back, torso curling to follow the bend of her spine so she was immediately enveloped by him. He laid his arms over hers, overlapping where she bracketed her belly, not one inch of it uncovered by either of them.
Felicity let out a shuddering sob and only resisted for a second before she sank into his hold, almost all her weight falling against his chest but he barely noticed as he widened his stance and held tight. Her body shook as she cried and the pang behind his ribs grew until he let out a shaky breath of his own and swallowed convulsively over the lump in his throat.
He didn't know when he'd begun apologizing. Eventually he heard his own voice, foreign and raspy as they continued to cling to each other. The urge to leave or make her leave was still strong. It was so damn strong. Seeing her so upset tore at him though and for that he was sorry.
"What if someone goes after her or the baby to get to you?"
Lance's words were now his own and they burned into him, deep and ragged like another scar making his lungs so tight he couldn't breathe. Because what would he do if someone found out. If they came for her or the baby. Now or ten years from now. How was he supposed to survive that?
But how could he survive letting her go? With her warmth pressed into him, and the feel of the baby under his palms, the image of it's tiny arms and legs kicking came to his mind. He screwed his eyes shut tight and buried his face in her hair, taking in a swift, sharp breath that filled him with the familiar scent of her shampoo.
Still trembling she turned in his hold, hands coming up slowly to weakly grasp the strap of the quiver. Her face fell forward, burrowing into the gap of the hood until she'd shifted it enough to the side for it to partially cover her as well as she turned her head and sighed into him. Hot, damp pants crossed his neck as her breathing slowed and he felt each one like a brand.
He'd gone rigid when she moved not sure at first if she was pulling away from him, but when she readjusted and tucked herself against him his chest expanded in one great inhale that physically lifted her.
"What if he's right?" he heard himself ask hollowly,
"What if he's not?" she replied immediately. It was the first thing he'd heard her say since she declared she was going to come hunt him down.
Her voice was shaky but strong,"We can't live with what ifs, Oliver, we just can't. Our what ifs are so much more horrifying. And so much more real. But that just means we have to live in the here and now more than ever."
All he could hear was his own pulse pounding in his head as her words washed over him.
"I have to know you're here. I have to know you're staying." she said carefully, "I was ready to do this by myself but...you said...you said you were all in and I have to be able to trust that."
He could hear her starting to pull away, to erect walls to protect herself and he rushed ahead, knowing he couldn't let her do that.
"I am, I am. I swear I...I'm so damn scared, Felicity. I can't lose you. I can't," his arms wrapped tighter around her, a physical mirror to his words. He knew he sounded raw and vulnerable but he was stripped bare before her.
"You'll only lose me when you let me go," she said fiercely. He felt her head lift from his chest and then her cool fingers on his chin coaxing him to look at her. When their eyes met everything between them became charged with a different sort of energy. "Don't let me go,"
"Last year, Merlyn...he said I kept failing because I didn't know what I was fighting for. He was right. I had a mission, not a purpose. I do this now because I can, because I want to. But what if the sacrifice is too much?" his gloved hand came up to slip behind her ear, feeling her warmth seep through the leather.
"I want to do this too, Oliver. It's as much my fight as it is yours now. Don't ask me to stop and don't stop because of me. We'll make this work, we'll figure it out."
As always it was her calm, even certainty that dragged him back from the brink. If she believed in them, believed in him, then his fears were quieted although he knew they'd never disappear.
His hand slid into her hair as he drew her forward, dropping his head to meet hers. With his eyes shut tight he blew out a long breath, "There's so much to lose now. And with the trial and everything going public tomorrow and now finding out the Count has been released...I feel like I'm drowning,"
The hood was pushed back, cool air flowing over his neck making the fine hairs stand on end before he felt her hand gently stroking from behind his ear down to dip beneath the back collar of his jacket. "It's...a lot. And if I think too hard about everything I can feel a panic attack coming. But we'll deal with it, just like we've dealt with everything else."
A small humorless laugh left his lips, "You make it sound simple,"
One slim shoulder lifted in a short shrug, "It's not simple at all but it's going to happen regardless. One thing at a time. Or more like ten things at a time because it's us but I'm pretty good at multi-tasking,"
He didn't reply, just pulled her in close again and pressed his face in her neck. Her fingers drew small patterns at the top of his spine and for just a moment he let her hold him.
"Come home with me," she said suddenly, causing his head to whip up in surprise. "It's my last night as plain 'ol Felicity Smoak, seems right you spend it with me,"
He could see the trepidation in her eyes and the nervous shake of her voice. "I thought you wanted these last few nights to yourself?" he replied hoarsely, mouth suddenly dry.
"I thought I did too, but I'm not alone anymore,"
Consciously or unconsciously her hand smoothed over her middle and his hand flashed up to join hers.
"No, you're not alone anymore," he confirmed,
The back of her hand trailed gently across his cheek, "You're not either,"
He turned into her touch as her hand unfurled, nails scraping the rough stubble of his jaw which sent an answering zing of electricity through his body.
"I laid there last night for hours, wondering if you were trying to sleep, but figuring you went to the lair to train. And then I tracked your phone, and...that's where you were," she said unapologetically, and with a hint of reprimand, "I regretted telling you to take me home because I...I knew if you were there we'd both be asleep and it all just suddenly seemed so stupid."
"I didn't want to say anything, but I sleep better when I'm with you. I...rest. I don't think I've had that since I came back to Starling," his head ducked some at the admission, eyes focused on the swell of her belly which seemed more prominent from that vantage point. He spread his hand as wide as he could and covered it completely. How long would it be before he could no longer do that?
"So you'll come back with me, tonight?"
She must have seen the answer in his eyes because he didn't even get a chance to reply before her mouth was fused to his. One hand threaded through her hair, the other slid around to the small of her back in order to pull her in as close as possible. He could feel her small hands clutch at his shoulders and then wrap around his back, bumping into his quiver as she did.
It felt like it had been years since he'd kissed her. Somehow all the fear and guilt and doubt he'd had earlier pushed some sort of reset button on his emotions and the intensity was deeper and stronger than he'd ever experienced before. And by the way she was responding he thought maybe she felt the same.
With difficulty he dragged his lips from hers and rested his head against her temple as he tried to calm his racing heart. "I'm sorry I made you cry," thumb coming up to swipe across her now dry cheek,
"I'm sorry Lance yelled at you,"
"He makes a fair point-"
Two fingers covered his mouth, halting his words, "I'm still sorry it made you feel so bad. I know how hard this is, but I believe we can do it. I just have to know you're not going to let go."
There was something in her tone, something that ran deep and that continued to remain a mystery. Whatever it was shook her, and standing there, staring into her slightly reddened eyes he knew he'd rather die than put that doubt in her heart again.
"I'm not," he vowed,
She gave him a watery smile and tried to talk but ended up pushing up on her toes and hugged him as hard as she could.
"Go get changed," she murmured into his neck, "I'll shut everything down,"
He sat her back carefully and was about to turn when he stopped short, "No, I...the Count, he's out there and I've-"
"Not tonight," she said forcefully, "You're no good tonight and neither am I."
A protest was on the tip of his tongue but he saw the strain around her eyes, and the shadows beneath them and swallowed it back.
"I'll look into that address tomorrow. It'll give me something to do instead of staring at the RSS feed I set up today for my name."
He blew out a long breath at the thought of what the next day would bring, what the next few days would bring.
"We'll take the night," he agreed and was gifted with a broad smile in return.
"Good, now go, get changed," she said as she stepped away and headed for her computers, "Unless you want me to do it for you," she threw over her shoulder with a smirk that made the blood rush through his veins.
By the time he came back she was leaning against the end of the stair railing, bag and coat draped over her arm. She wordlessly handed him her keys which he took and then switched to his right hand so he could take hers.
Once they were in her tiny car she muffled her laugh as he had to adjust the seat all the way back to fit his legs under the steering column. He shot her a look which only made her chuckle harder. "Don't worry, I'm going to have to get a new car. There's no way a car-seat and everything else a baby needs is going to fit."
He was about to make a comment about how he had plenty of cars that would fit whatever they would need when she began to laugh again, this time wiping tears from her eyes, "Sorry, I just got an image of Digg driving a minivan."
The grin that cracked his face was unavoidable, and he pulled out of the lot still smiling, amazed at her ability to always make him feel better.
He looked over to see her curl into the seat, shoes kicked off onto the floor as she turned her head towards him. Her hand stretched across the center console and he took it immediately.
The ride to her place was silent and by the time he'd pulled into her spot in the parking garage she was asleep.
He tried to shut the door carefully, not wanting to wake her, but she was slipping her shoes back on when he opened the passenger side door.
"Don't apologize, it's late," he said quietly and helped her up.
They were silent again as they rode in the elevator although she did lean against his side and sighed her approval as he rubbed tight muscles in her lower back.
Her bag and coat were dropped on the back of the couch as they entered, "Make yourself at home," there was a touch of nervousness in her tone and he realized it was really the first time they'd been alone in her place since everything had changed.
His jacket joined hers and he didn't miss the way her lips turned up at the image. She kicked her heels off and shot a pointed look at his own feet before he complied, taking his time with the laces. When he looked back up she was in the kitchen pouring a glass of water. "I'd love a glass of wine but…"
He winced in sympathy, "A glass wouldn't hurt every now and then would it?"
"No, but after tonight I'd be tempted to finish the bottle so...best to just stay away,"
Another wash of guilt ran through him at what he'd put her through. He let out a ragged exhale and wiped a hand over his face.
The glass was clutched to her chest as she stared down into the contents, eyes unfocused, lost in thought.
Before he could second guess his decision he blurted out the question that had been echoing in his head since she'd said it. "What did you mean earlier, when you said you weren't going to lose another person?" he deliberately left off the fact that she'd also implied that she loved him. He'd done the same when he was talking with Digg and had almost fallen off the salmon ladder when it had resonated with him hours later.
But she'd said it during a moment of high emotion and he didn't know if she'd meant to or not and the last thing he wanted to do was make her feel uncomfortable.
However, the way her cheeks flushed let him know she was well aware of what he'd omitted. She cleared her throat and adjusted her glasses before she took a deep inhale and let it out slow and controlled. "Now I really wish I could have that wine," she murmured under her breath.
"You don't have to tell me," he said quickly, not wanting to pressure her,
She gave a slow shake of her head and stepped forward, reaching out to take his hand as she did, "No, I...you should know,"
Obediently he allowed her to lead him into the living room perching anxiously on the edge of the couch as she curled in the corner, tucking her feet under her, taking her time setting the glass down and pulling the tie out of her hair with a long sigh. When the long blonde strands settled around her shoulders her head ducked and he knew she was using it as a shield. A cold fist closed around his heart at the thought of her feeling she had to hide from him.
"Hey," he said softly, fingers barely brushing her chin to tilt it up, "Whatever it is, I'm here for you. I know I scared you earlier and maybe I don't deserve your trust but nothing you can say will change how I feel about you," After everything she'd done for him, everything she'd looked past and still saw a man she wanted to be with he'd be the worst sort of hypocrite if he couldn't do the same for her.
Her blue eyes were swimming and she gave a watery laugh, quickly brushing a hand across her cheeks, "You can't make me cry already," she admonished, turning into his touch as his thumb caught an errant drop she'd missed.
Patiently he waited as she looked around the room and played with the hem of her dress. He dropped his palm to her knee and rubbed small, comforting circles as she gathered her courage.
Finally she locked her eyes on his and began speaking, "You've probably noticed that I've never really mentioned my family,"
Oliver felt like he'd been punched in the gut, a garbled, torn noise escaping the back of his throat. Because while it may have crossed his mind once or twice it was nothing he'd ever felt like he'd needed to ask about. She knew the intricate details of his life out of necessity, but he couldn't say the same for her. There was always another mission to focus on, another lead to follow up with. The company by day and the lair by night. It didn't leave a lot of time for discussing personal histories as ridiculous as that now sounded to him.
Her hand closed over his and he jerked his head up, the stricken look on his face making her tilt her head to the side and look at him sadly, "Oliver...don't do this. I don't want you to feel bad. It's been my choice to not talk about my past. Even if you had asked I probably wouldn't have told you."
"But...how? How do we do what we do every night and I've never even asked?" he was sure he'd never felt smaller than he did just then,
"You know the important things," she replied softly, "And I guess that's sort of my point with this. I'm not where I came from or who my parents are. Just like I know you're more than the spoiled rich kid, or the broken man that came back from the island."
"I'm sorry," he croaked out,
"When I said what I said earlier...it's because my father left us when I was little. I don't know why. I don't know what his reason was. I just remember how much it hurt."
If he thought he felt bad before he didn't know how to describe what he felt then. What must she have thought when it seemed like he was leaving, to believe he could be abandoning her and the baby the same way her own father had.
"Oh god," he didn't even realize he'd been trying to pull his hand from hers until he felt the sharp pinch of her nails. He shouldn't be touching her. He was right, he didn't deserve her
But she wasn't letting him go and she pushed on, not giving him a chance to say a word, "My mom...things are complicated with her. It was hard on her, I know but...she didn't always make it easy on me."
The hand that wasn't clutching his like a lifeline rested over her belly and he couldn't draw his eyes away.
"It took me a long time to figure out that's why I liked computers so much. It was something I could do on my own, I didn't have to rely on anyone else, make any attachments because those could always be broken." her shoulders lifted in a slight shrug as if her admission held no weight, "I had friends, I don't want to make it sound like I was some sort of weird loner but...no one really close, not until…" she blew out a ragged breath and he looked at her then seeing her open and vulnerable before him.
"You and Digg...you're the first people I really let in, and I didn't even realize I'd done it until it was too late. I've never...I've never had a family before not like you do even though I know yours isn't ideal, what with your mother in prison and Thea's history of drug and alcohol abuse, and-" she clamped her lips together and waited, "Sorry, but even through that you know they love you. I mean, your mom is risking the death penalty to protect you and your sister. I have no idea what it's like to mean that much to someone-"
He'd moved in an instant, reaching out to bracket her face in his hands, ensuring she couldn't look away, "You do know. Please tell me you know," he said with more intensity than he'd ever used before, it had welled thick and fast in his chest and emerged in a voice that was low and resonant, "Felicity, there is nothing I wouldn't do for you. To keep you safe. To protect you. You have to know that. You mean that much to me."
He needed her to understand. It seemed unfathomable to him that she couldn't know how deeply he cared for her, how much he loved her.
She stared at him with wide eyes, unblinking.
"I love you," it came out choked and full of emotion he couldn't hide.
If possible her eyes widened more, as her mouth dropped open in a soundless 'oh' of shocked surprise.
So slowly he was sure time had stopped her hands came up and gently wrapped around his wrists, making his breath catch at the contact.
"I love you, too," she whispered, almost in awe that she was saying the words.
His heart actually flipped, and he only saw her brilliant smile for a split second before he kissed her.
It was quick and hard and when he pulled back he could see her eyes sparkling. "I really don't deserve you," he said more to himself than for her ears, but by the way she tugged his head down and kissed him again slow and sweet that time he knew she heard.
She only drew back enough to meet his gaze, her breath a bit tremulous, "So tonight when you...I freaked out a little. I probably should have told you about this back when we found out about the baby but...it seemed like it might be too much pressure then,"
"You weren't convinced I was sure and you didn't want me to do it out of some sort of misguided obligation," he finished for her,
"Yeah, maybe a little," she replied sheepishly,
"I understand," he smoothed her hair back and pressed a kiss to her temple,
She leaned into him, fingers playing with the buttons at the top of the henley he wore and his heart swelled to think of what she'd silently endured for so long.
"You're amazing," he murmured into her hair, pulling her closer into his side. She gave a small dismissive laugh that he couldn't allow, "No, you are. You're strong and resilient, and still so damn good...I'm so glad this baby has you for a mother. I told you before there is no one else I'd rather do this with but...I think I really understand it now."
She was nodding, even though he felt her reach up and swipe at her face. He heard her sniffle and wondered if there was anything he could say tonight that wouldn't make her cry.
"I think I'm excited about this." she said so softly he almost missed it, "I was so shocked at first, about how it happened, and that we couldn't really remember, and then things with us were...wow, you know and I was just sort of dealing with it. I had accepted that it was happening, but it was like it was something I had to just endure. But then we saw the ultrasound and things have been good, really good and…" she shifted so she could see him and she looked happy, "I know there's so much going on right now, so many things that could go wrong but this can be a good thing can't it? I mean I know we've done this whole thing backwards-"
He cut her off with a bruising kiss, pulling back only to give her a smile that make his cheeks hurt, "God I love you." he kissed her again, everything in him becoming lighter when he heard her surprised squeak. "Yes, this is a good thing and... I've felt so much guilt over this. That I had done this to you. That I shouldn't have you or the baby because of my life and the things that I've done." the blood rushed through his veins as he dropped his head to hers, "I'm excited too," he admitted on a whisper.
And he realized he was. He'd known since he'd seen that first image all those weeks ago that he wanted this but it was starting to become a reality now, to have a form and substance that couldn't be denied.
She surprised him by wrapping her arms around his neck and pushing him back onto the couch cushions, peppering his face with kiss after kiss as he wrapped his arms around her and held tight.
With a sound almost like a purr she shifted until she fit between his side and the back of the couch, mostly laying on top of him. Her head lay just under his chin and for a long moment they were quiet, hands slowly moving as soft reminders that the other was there and for that small bit of time everything was good.
The longer they lay there the more tired he felt. The day had begun with the meeting at Iron Heights and that felt like it had been weeks ago instead of hours.
When the backs of his knuckles gently trace her cheek Felicity blinked up at him tiredly and he took the opportunity to carefully remove her glasses. "Probably shouldn't fall asleep out here, huh?" she asked around a yawn,
Her lips tilted up in a smile, one small hand moving upwards to brace against his chest as she pushed herself upright. "Come on then, no risk of getting lost in my place but I'll still be your tour guide,"
She climbed to her feet and held out a hand which he took instantly. Nothing was said as she turned to exit the room, their joined hands now placed at the small of her back, refusing to let go as she led him down the short hall. He didn't say a word about how he'd been in there once before on the night he'd snuck in through the fire escape.
She flipped on the light, finally letting her hand slip from his as she motioned to the bathroom, "I'll just be a minute,"
Oliver shucked off the long sleeved shirt he'd been wearing but left on the t-shirt and jeans. There was no reason for this to feel awkward and yet somehow it suddenly did. She was out quicker than he expected, still in the dress she'd worn all day, "It's all yours,"
Her lower lip was caught between her teeth making his blood rush and her eyes sparked for a second before she disappeared into her closet.
When he emerged from the bathroom in nothing but a pair of black boxer briefs she was already under the covers. Even though they'd slept in the same bed more than once it somehow felt different in her bedroom with the overabundance of purple and the scent of her perfume lingering in the air. He paused at the side of the bed that lay empty, not missing the way her eyes raked over him from head to toe.
Her glasses had been placed on the table next to her, hair still long and loose around her shoulders. Shoulders that appeared to now be covered in the henley he'd discarded earlier.
He must have stood there, slightly stunned. When he blinked she was giving him a decidedly naughty grin.
"Oliver...get in the damn bed,"
Not needing to be told twice he slid in next to her, loving how she automatically moved to fit against his side, head finding the hollow of his shoulder before he'd even fully settled against the pillows.
She let out a contented sigh that was interrupted by another yawn and he smoothed a tender hand across her head and down her arm to where her hand lay against his chest.
"You're right, you know," he said as he shifted slightly to tug her closer in, causing one of her legs to drape over his thigh,
"Well yes, I'm sure I am, but about what specifically?"
He paused for a beat and let the hand at her hip slide under the edge of her pilfered shirt, broad palm spreading across her ribcage, deliberately letting his fingers skim the underside of her breast.
"It is pretty hot to be told to get in the damn bed,"
He felt her still, and then the slow draw of her knee shifting just a few inches higher. Lips pressed into his chest just below his collarbone and when he felt her tongue peek out and lick the spot his fingers tightened in reflex.
"For the record, if it wasn't almost two in the morning and if we weren't both completely worn out, I'd be rocking your world right now."
The laugh that bubbled up from his chest was loud, filling the room and making her lift her head to watch him.
They kissed long, and slow, and deep until she pulled away, eyes still shut and lay her head back down.
"I look forward to better circumstances then," he told her softly and she hummed her agreement.