Author's Note: Thanks to all of you who have stuck with this story. I really do appreciate each of you!

So...this one is a long chapter (9000+ words) and definitely earns the M rating. Yep. The story finally went there. However, the bulk of the chapter is not naughty and it features the long awaited meeting between Felicity's family and Oliver.

I hope you enjoy! Please let me know what you think.

Chapter Eighteen: "Putting on a Show for Justin Timberlake"

Enloe Medical Center was a state of the art facility located in the heart of Chico, California. From the helipad, Felicity could gaze over and see the red tiled roof, indicative of the Spanish style architecture of the facility. It was an odd thing to focus on, she decided. And yet her hypersensitive attention to details was the only thing keeping her sane at the moment.

She hated the place.

It was here that her brother died after his accident. Technically, Gabriel was dead before he even arrived. Brain dead, they'd said. At another time under a different circumstance, that might have been the punch line to some bad joke between Gabe and her. He used to always tease her about being too smart for her own good, and she returned the favor by suggesting that he didn't do as well in school because he was killing his brain cells by using his head to hit the soccer ball and that if he kept it up, they'd soon be declaring him brain dead.

"Brain dead" took on an entirely more ominous meaning when it was a doctor saying it.

Felicity didn't like to think about how his body had been kept alive long enough to harvest his organs. It was what Gabe would've wanted. Logically she knew that. Yet it had still been difficult to watch her brother lying there, merely a shell, and to know what made him him was gone.

She shuddered to think of the same fate befalling her oma—that special something that completed her soul being gone and only a shell remaining. There were too many things left unsaid.

Oliver pulled her from her thoughts, even as he pulled her toward the warmth of his body, an arm around her, guiding her away from the chopper and toward the inside of the facility. Felicity wanted to curl into him but had to fight the instinct. It made no sense to seek solace in someone who wasn't going to be there. She had become a liar—something that she didn't admire—but she wasn't going to compound that by lying to herself. His touches meant nothing.

And they meant everything.

It was a literal push-pull with him. A part of her was grateful for the support, even if she was so angry she couldn't see straight.

She loved him for being there.

And she hated him for it, too.

They hurried into the building from the door on the roof, the warmth of the interior battling the cool November air for dominance and winning.

Oliver surveyed their surroundings, as always assessing the situation for potential threats. Knowing more specifically what he had endured on the island, she understood him better, that sense of precaution, even if she felt like in this instance it was misplaced. For as much of a strategist as Oliver suggested that Slade was, not even he could be manipulating them like pawns on a chessboard in this instance.

Felicity's fear was far different from Oliver's. What if oma…? Her throat constricted as tears stung her eyes.

No. She couldn't let herself be ruled by her fears. It was the unknown really, and part of combating the churning of emotion meant meeting the unknown head-on with information.

A hospital administrator greeted them, her brown eyes looking amazingly wide awake for the time of night. The woman, a few years older than herself and attractive in a trim knee-length skirt and button-up blouse (with a few of the buttons noticeably left unbuttoned), practically fawned over Oliver. Whether the woman was basking in Oliver's celebrity status or just the general magnetism he seemed to have with the straight female population, Felicity wasn't sure and didn't really care. All she knew was he must have pulled some strings in order for them to gain access to the hospital's helipad, which the hospital typically only allowed for medical transport, and if that meant they had to deal with a lovelorn hospital administrator, then so be it. She needed to get to her family ASAP.

"My dad said he would text me Oma's location." Felicity pulled her cell phone from her pocket. "No texts. Just missed calls." Which she hadn't heard due to the noise within the helicopter. "No voicemails. I hope that doesn't mean…"

"Hey. Don't assume the worst," Oliver cautioned her, his voice patient and reassuring.

"Ms. Smoak," interjected the woman whose name had gone in one ear and out the other, "Mr. Queen is right. I am going to deliver you to your grandmother personally. After Mr. Queen contacted the hospital, I made it a priority to check on her. She has…" the woman chuckled, "quite a personality."

When had Oliver had the time? She had packed for the trip in record time, and other than that, they'd been together. But more importantly, if the woman was commenting on Oma's personality, then… "She's talking?"


"Sounds like someone else I know," Oliver replied as he squeezed Felicity's shoulder.

Some of the oppressive weight Felicity felt began to lift as a glimmer of cautious hope took hold within her. "Can you give me an update on her condition?"

"HIPAA rules don't allow me to divulge any specifics without her consent, but the fact she's speaking coherently is a good sign." The woman's eyes quickly moved to the engagement ring on Felicity's finger before flickering back to Oliver's face. For his part, Oliver was either unaware or—and Felicity found this more likely—ignoring the woman's blatant interest.

Felicity let out a breath she hadn't even realized she'd been holding, somewhere between a sigh of relief and a huff of exasperation.

"Let's go see her," Oliver suggested.

"Wait." Felicity looked at the other woman. "Could you give us a minute or two?"

A shadow of annoyance crossed the woman's face before she plastered on a pleasant smile. "Certainly. Whenever you're ready, I'll be at your disposal on the other side of that door," she said pointing to a large brown door with faux wood paneling. She walked to the door and looked over her shoulder before opening it and going through.

"I thought you'd be in a bigger hurry," Oliver commented.

"Now that I know she's okay, we need to talk."


"You meeting my family was never part of the deal. Especially now."

"I believe you said it would be like entering Dante's first ring of hell. I know a little bit about going through hell." Was he cracking a joke? When she didn't bite, he added, "We never said I wouldn't meet them."

"You're giving me whiplash, Oliver. Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold. Hot." Incredibly hot. She couldn't fault the hospital administrator when she herself still wasn't immune to his good looks. And to think earlier in the evening, she thought they'd be on about round three of lovemaking instead of being at odds in a hospital in Chico. "Our situation is messy enough. What are my parents going to think when they see you?"

"They're going to think that I am a man who knows their daughter is the best thing that ever happened to him. They're going to know that I want what's best for you."

Felicity pressed her lips together and looked away from Oliver, focusing on a framed aerial photo of the hospital block, trying to process his words and her own reaction. She wasn't sure whether to throttle him or just give him a big hug. "You can't say things like that with one breath and push me away with the next."

"I never said I am what is best for you."

Yep. Throttling was looking like the better of the two options. "Just so we're clear on that, I'm pretty sure that's where my mom stands on the issue, as well. She's not going to make this easy for you, and I've had enough drama tonight to last a lifetime."

"I can handle irate mothers."

"And you're not listening to me. I've already lied to my parents thanks to this ridiculous 'engagement.' I don't want to perpetuate that lie any more than I already have. Shockingly, I'm still not comfortable with lying, even if it seems that the language I'm speaking these days is Bullshit rather than English," she ended with a ramble.

He processed her words, nodding, "Okay. You're right. I'll be here waiting."

"What? Hanging out in the hallway? Or with what's-her-face? I'm sure she'd be happy to keep you company."

"If I were with someone, the only woman I'd want to be with is you."

Felicity huffed out a breath. "Well, now we know where I learned my alternative to English. Thanks for the ride, Oliver. It's been really great. I'll see you back in Starling."

Felicity stood at the entrance to her grandmother's hospital room. The lights were dimmed, but with the glow of the equipment and the light coming from the hall, she would recognize the two figures in the room anytime. Mother and daughter. Her mom and her oma.

Judith Smoak sat in a chair next to the hospital bed, her usually perfectly coiffed blonde hair falling over her shoulders in tousled waves. She had her elbow on the arm of the chair, propping up her head. Her grandmother lay in the hospital bed, a wisp of a figure, her eyes closed but her chest rising and falling.

"Mom?" Felicity whispered.

Judith jerked to attention and rose to greet her daughter.

"Hi," Felicity whispered as she was enveloped in a hug, suddenly feeling safer, better. Despite their ups and downs, there was nothing quite like her mom's hugs.

"Elfie. You got here so fast." Judith held her daughter tightly. "It's been so long," she added. "And you're too thin. And you're not wearing glasses. And…" Her mother stopped herself short. "It's good to see you."

"I got a ride on the QC helicopter," Felicity explained. There wasn't much to say to her mother's other statements. It had been a long time since they had been together in the same room. It started by choice—distancing herself from the family after the breakup with Mr. Wrong. Honestly, her mom had a harder time letting go of the relationship than Felicity did. Judith had kept pressuring her to reach out to Jack, to come back to Chico. The more her mom pushed, the more she pulled away. And then her distance was a byproduct of the new life she'd built for herself. Working a full time job all day and as a crimefighter at night didn't lend itself to mother-daughter shopping trips or days at the spa.

"I guess the helicopter's one benefit to being engaged to Oliver Queen." Her mother's eyes fell on the ring on Felicity's left hand. "Or two. Wow."

But the last thing Felicity wanted to do was talk about Oliver. After all, what was there to say that wasn't either an outright lie or the ghost of one? "How is she?"

"Your oma's going to be fine. It was just hypoglycemia. Of all things."

"Low blood sugar?" Felicity asked, relieved. From what she knew, that was easily treatable.

"It mimicked the symptoms of a stroke. I went to say goodnight to her, and she was on the floor, confused, unable to move the left side of her body."

Felicity nodded. Her grandmother had moved in with her parents about a year ago. "You both must've been so scared."

"It's been quite a night," her mother confirmed.

"Can you believe they wouldn't give me my lipstick?" came a voice from across the room. The strength of Oma Miriam's voice was in direct contrast to the hushed tones in which Felicity and Judith spoke.

"You're awake," Felicity said with a smile going immediately to her grandmother's bedside. Her mother followed suit.

"And alive," Miriam Rosenbaum quipped holding out her hands, reaching for Felicity. Felicity leaned down and kissed her grandmother's cheek. "I need lipstick."

"Ma, the nurses need to be able to see your lip color." Felicity recognized her mom's 'I'm trying to be patient but I'm not quite there' tone.

Miriam took issue with her daughter's by-the-rules response. "To make sure I'm not dead? When I'm dead, I won't care about my lip color. Until then…"

Felicity opened her purse and retrieved bright pink lipstick. Tenderly, she applied the lipcover to her grandmother's mouth. "There. Beautiful as always."

"Much better. I knew I could count on you."

"Ma!" That was decidedly less than patient.

"I'm so happy to see you," Oma said running her thumb over the palm of Felicity's hand. "But you should be asleep in bed. Preferably with that hunk of a man you're engaged to. Judith, why did you call Felicity and scare her to death?"

It technically wasn't her mother who called, but neither Felicity nor Judith corrected her.

"Ma, we feared the worst. Times like this are when family should come together."

"So you thought I was going to kick the bucket and Felicity'd want to drag herself out of bed when she could be wrapped up with her hunk? If I were going to die, I'd be good and dead. Might as well let her sleep. It was just a little low sugar, and you sound the alarms like Paul Revere."

"Your face was drooping. You weren't moving your left arm and leg. You were confused and had slurred speech. What else was I supposed to think besides stroke?"

Oma Miriam turned to Felicity. "Next time, I'm having that piece of pecan pie with dinner. I'm not going to worry about my girlish figure."

At that, Felicity couldn't help but grin as she squeezed her grandmother's hand.

"Where's Dad?" she asked her mom. "Did he go home?"

"No, he's wandering around here somewhere," her mother replied.

"He had to get away from the nagging," Oma Miriam piped in.

"Ma!" Judith fussed. "I do not nag."

"Says the woman who wouldn't give me lipstick," her oma replied.

"Did you bring Oliver with you?" Judith asked, turning to her daughter, ignoring her mother's comment.

Felicity's eyes narrowed. Smooth. Changing the subject. How was she going to answer that? Technically, Oliver brought himself and was possibly still somewhere in the hospital, unless he went back to Starling on the helicopter. She had been pretty dismissive of him, after all.

No. Knowing Oliver, he was still there somewhere. Keeping his distance but not too far off, still able to keep an eye on her.

"He flew in with me, but he thought it would be better to give our family some space."

"But our family is about to be his family," Judith replied. "Theoretically. I mean, that's what the newspapers say."

"Mom." "Judith." Felicity and Oma Miriam spoke simultaneously.

"I'm just saying that it would be nice to meet him. That's all. I can't help but wonder why you've kept him away from us. Or why I had to find out you were getting married on the news."

The hospital cafeteria was closed, the lights off in the expansive room. The only glow came from a vending machine with "COFFEE" illuminating its casing, though it was questionable as to whether it could truly be considered palatable coffee. Unfortunately, at this point, it looked like Oliver's only option. As he choked down the first sip of the too-late and too-thick coffee from his Styrofoam cup, his cell phone vibrated.

2:01 a.m.

Thea: Seriously? You're cancelling?

A series of angry emojis followed. He had texted her a few minutes ago, banking on her still being awake despite the lateness because of the hours she worked at Verdant. Friday night would be one of the busiest.

Their brunch for tomorrow morning—correction—later that morning, would have to be postponed. There was no way he would make it back. John would continue to keep an eye on Thea, and Oliver would keep a watch over Felicity, albeit from a distance.

He took a deep breath. He had so much to tell Thea, so many things that needed to be said, and so many things that needed to be omitted. But how could he? She'd know him to be a liar. Would she know him to be a monster, too? Would she hate him? Would it be better if she did? Maybe it would be enough for Slade. Maybe…

He pinched the bridge of his nose. At the rate he was going, he had done more harm than good in coming back.

2:01 a.m.

Oliver: Not cancelling. Raincheck. Family emergency in Chico. Felicity's grandmother. Please don't be mad.

2:02 a.m.

Thea: Too late.

2:02 a.m.

Oliver: Will call you as soon as I get back.

He waited. He saw that she had read the message, but she had not responded yet. After what seemed like an eternity, he decided she wasn't going to answer.

2:04 a.m.

Oliver: I will make this up to you. I promise.

Was it a promise he couldn't keep?

Oliver Queen wasn't sure what was worse. Knowing Slade Wilson was going to hurt the people he loved if he got the opportunity, or knowing that he himself was the one who had succeeded in hurting Felicity and Thea both.


She was so close and so far away. The hurt and anger blazing in her eyes had been difficult to see, made even moreso by the fact that he was the one responsible.

At least this way she was still alive. Though if looks could kill, he would be lying on the floor.

He didn't blame Felicity for being angry on top of being hurt. She was right. Hot. Cold. Push. Pull. His instinct—to support her and accompany her to Chico despite the looming expiration date of their relationship—was off target. It only muddied the waters more, made the situation more difficult.

But he was damned if he was going to make it easy for Slade to gain access to her.

Another presence brought Oliver from thoughts. The man was middle aged and didn't look particularly threatening, though at this point, Oliver was well aware that looks often were deceiving.

The new arrival ambled to the coffee vending machine, considering his options and not looking pleased with any of them. His eyes cut over to Oliver. "Is it as bad as I think it is?"

"It might be engine oil," Oliver replied, holding up the coffee cup for show, before taking another drink of the suspect liquid.

"That's what I was afraid of," the other man responded as he fished some change from his pocket. "You look like you could use something stronger than coffee. You lose your best friend or something?"

Oliver practically choked on the sip of hot liquid.

The man shook his head in horror. "Oh. Wait. We're in a hospital. Not really the place for saying things like that. I'm sorry. Didn't think that one through. It's been a long day, and I have this tendancy to …" He pressed his thumb and fingers together repeatedly, the universal symbol for jabbering. "…when I'm tired."

Oliver had the feeling the man wasn't going to stop talking if he didn't put him out of his misery. "It's fine. We actually got good news."

The older man picked up the Styrofoam cup that had just filled and sniffed its contents, hesitant to take a drink. "So did we."


An awkward silence fell between them. Ollie Queen was great at small talk—but mostly if that meant he'd score a beautiful woman in his bed. Oliver Queen not so much. Talking meant revealing. He was drained physically, emotionally. The last thing he wanted was to make small talk with a stranger.

But the man continued to study him. "Do I…know you?"

"I don't think so."

"Did you play in the Spring Outdoor Soccer League?"

"I'm not from here. I'm here with my…" Oliver hesitated. How could he describe what Felicity was to him? His friend? His fake fiancée? His hope? His lost cause? His kick in the ass? His everything? He settled on, "my girl. Her grandmother was brought in."

Recognition was written all over the older man's face. "Oh. Oh! You're Oliver. Of course! I should have recognized you. You're all over those magazines that my wife claims are ridiculous but reads anyway. Your girl is my girl. I mean," he chuckled, "she's my daughter. I'm Ben Smoak."

The conversation and the man both suddenly made so much more sense. "You're Felicity's dad." Oliver extended his hand, and the older man took it, shaking it enthusiastically.

"I'm really glad to meet you. It's not everyday I meet a man who's come back from the dead. Or, you know, the man who's going to marry my daughter. Not something I ever thought I would say together."


"I just have to know…your teeth are perfect. What did you do for dental care on that island?"

"Judith, Felicity didn't come here to get the third degree," Oma Miriam said sharply from her bed. "You treat her like this, no wonder she doesn't visit more often."

"Am I mistreating you?" Judith asked, flumoxed. "I'm just trying to understand what you're thinking, what you're going through, since you don't ever really tell me anything anymore."

"What I'm going through?" Felicity repeated numbly. There were so many directions she could go with that, none of which ended with her mother getting off her back.

"I just…I don't even understand your employment situation, let alone the fact you're engaged to a man that I have yet to meet. The newspapers are saying you're Oliver's assistant? When did this even happen? What happened to your career in information technology? And that $40,000 a year education you received at MIT?"

"For starters, I had a full academic scholarship, so don't make it sound like I've led the family on the path of financial ruin. Secondly, my work with Oliver is…challenging." It was hard to argue with the lack of correlation between her actual skills and the secretarial arts, but she wasn't lying when she called working with Oliver challenging. She never knew what to expect, and she thrived on that. What they did together—beyond QC but even within QC itself—mattered to her. Navigating piranha-infested water was interesting to say the least. And when the piranha wore Prada? It gave her pleasure to foil Isabel Rochev's plans.

"Oh, Judith. Get your head out of your ass," Oma Miriam piped in. "I've seen pictures of Felicity's Oliver. One look at him should tell you exactly why Felicity is willing to be his assistant. If I were a few years younger, I'd be happy to assist him myself," she added suggestively.

"Ma, that's gross," Judith scolded lightly.

"I'm old, not dead."

"Look who I found in the cafeteria," said a new voice entering the room.

Felicity and Judith turned to see Ben Smoak enter the hospital room with an almost sheepish looking Oliver trailing behind. Felicity caught Oliver's eyes, and she tilted her head and pursed her lips as though to say, "Seriously?"

In response, he shrugged his shoulders. Sorry not sorry.

"Pumpkin," Ben said as he closed the distance between himself and his daughter.

"I've missed you, Dad," she said as she was enveloped in a hug. Even with her cheek against her dad's heart, she couldn't revel in the feeling of contentment, the feeling of home—not with Oliver standing a few feet away. No, he was supposed to be keeping his distance. Despite the fact that she'd told him she did not intend to introduce him to her family, he'd managed anyway. And knowing how skilled he was at escaping when necessary, there was only one thing she could conclude: Oliver didn't want to escape.

"Aren't you going to introduce us?" Judith asked her daughter.

Felicity cleared her throat. She was cornered. "Mom, this is Oliver. Oliver, this is my mom, Judith Smoak."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Smoak," Oliver said politely extending his hand.

"Please call me my Judith," she said shaking his hand very briefly and mechanically.

"Evidently, you've already met my dad," Felicity said, a slight edge to her voice as she gently tugged Oliver to her grandmother's bedside. "And this is my Oma Miriam. She's the best of all of us."

"You see why I love this one so much," Oma Miriam said with a smile as she extended both hands. Oliver reached out and allowed his hand to be enveloped by the elderly lady's smaller hands. "It's so good to meet you, Oliver. The man who has captured my Felicity's heart must be a very special man, indeed."

"I'm so glad to meet you," Oliver replied warmly.

"You can call me Oma."

Judith cleared her throat. "So did the two of you start up your relationship before or after Felicity left her career path in technology to join your secretarial staff? And is that seriously the way you conduct business?"

"Here we go. The third degree. That took all of five seconds," Felicity muttered with annoyance.

"Give your mother credit. It was more like ten," Oma Miriam chirped.

"Judith," Ben broke in, placing a hand on his wife's shoulder. "Don't you think it's better to get to know Oliver before you interrogate him?"

"That's what I'm trying to do," Judith rationalized.

"Small talk. Interrogation. Same difference," Felicity said sarcastically.

"If Oliver here is going to marry our only daughter, he won't mind answering a few questions. It'll give me peace of mind."

"Of course," Oliver agreed.

But Felicity's dad intervened. "It's late, and I'm sure Felicity and Oliver would like to get some rest, which is what we should do as well." Ben looked to his daughter. "You and Oliver can stay in your room. The sheets are clean. There are fresh towels in the bathroom linen closet, and…"

"Oh good grief," Judith interrupted, squirming from her husband's touch.

"Dr. Smoak. Judith," Oliver corrected. "I was away for a long time. Coming back—adjusting—was not easy. Felicity is…Felicity is remarkable. She helped me to see that there are good people still left. She's helped me to become a better man than the idiot kid who was shipwrecked. She's a testament to you and your family."

At that, Ben smiled, but Judith's expression remained impassive.

Oliver continued, "We were friends before anything else, and we're friends above all else. Felicity is working with me as my assistant because there is simply no one else in the world that I trust more than I trust her. I understand how it must look to you, but at the office we are professional. I respect her too much to do otherwise."

Felicity reached out and patted his cheek. "If you call this one being late for meetings professional."

"But you're helping me with that, too." He looked at the others in the room to explain. "She just tells me the meetings are 15 minutes earlier than what they are. Then when I'm late, I'm actually arriving on time. Makes things run more smoothly."

Oliver's conciliatory statements did little to allay Judith Smoak's concerns.

"If you understand how it must look to me, then you should know it looks like you've got some weird Christian Grey vibe going on. Damaged billionaire. Questionable influence on an impressionable young woman. You even came here in a helicopter of all things." Judith turned to Felicity. "Please. Be honest with your mother, Elfie. You're not his submissive, are you?"

"Whoa, Judith. This is too much information," Ben interjected.

Despite everything, Oliver had to fight back a chortle. He had no idea who Christian Grey was, but Felicity as his submissive? She was the least submissive person he'd ever met.

Felicity ignored her mother's ridiculous question and instead looked to her grandmother. "Why did you give her that book?"

"What book are we talking about?" Oliver asked, knowing that he was missing something.

"50 Shades of Smut," Felicity hissed. At that, Oliver's left eyebrow shot up.

"One of the literary greats," Oma Miriam said with an ironic twinkle in her eyes.

Judith continued, "If you're going to marry my daughter, I have more questions for you. Are you circumcised, Oliver? Do you intend to convert? What about the children you and Felicity will have?"

Felicity held up her hands. "Stop. Right now. Stop. And this is Exhibit A for why I don't come home more often. Throw Jack in the mix, and we can have open our own museum. Until you learn how to act normal or at least pretend, I-"

"I only want what's best for you."

"Why does everyone think they know what's best for me and that I don't? Trust that I'm a big girl and I can make my own decisions. Whether Oliver is in my life or isn't—that's my choice. And here's one other thing," Felicity added twining her arms around Oliver. She could feel the tension in his body. "Oliver has been a complete gentleman to you, despite receiving nothing but accusations and innuendo. That's a testament to the kind of man he is."

She could feel him ease up a bit.

"We should go check into a hotel or something," she told him before she looked to her grandmother. "I'll be back to see you in a few hours."

Ben stepped forward. "C'mon, Pumpkin. Please stay at the house. Your mother will behave."

"I'm right here," Judith seethed.

"Then you tell her you'll behave," Ben prompted.

Felicity hesitated. She believed that her dad would try to keep her mom in check—he was the perfect balance to her high-strung antics—but no one could control Judith Smoak. Apparently, not even Judith Smoak.

"It's okay," Oliver assured Felicity, wanting to give her as much of an opportunity to be with her family as possible. There was more going on with the family dynamics than her mother's hesitance to accept him, and perhaps if they had time to sort it out…

Ben shot a look of thanks to Oliver. "Do you still have a key?" her dad asked.

"Yes," Felicity grudgingly responded.

"Then go home. Get some rest. We'll be laughing about all of this in the morning."

"It's not that funny," Felicity insisted as she rinsed off her toothbrush in the en suite bathroom of her childhood room.

Oliver leaned against the doorframe. "Felicity, you have a poster of Justin Timberlake with little hearts drawn on him. The only thing that would make this better would be if there were lipstick marks on it."

She looked at him knowingly. "And if I went into your childhood bedroom, what do you suppose I would find there?"

"Probably dirty magazines," he replied, stifling a yawn. "Hidden. Not plastered on the bathroom door. My mom would not have approved. Neither would Laurel."

"I bet," she replied drily. "I guess you've got something in common with Mr. Wrong. Jack used to make fun of that poster, too," she replied as she walked past Oliver, their bodies briefly brushing. "I lost my virginity with the Justin poster watching us."

Oliver grimaced.

"Hey. What happens in Chico, right?" She went to her overnight bag and searched for her pajamas.

She thought she heard him mutter 'Damn Jackass' under his breath.

"That was either very kinky or very awkward. And still you've kept up the poster."

"I'm stubborn that way." More like she hadn't been home in ages—only very briefly after she finished MIT. "Where are my…?" She tossed the bag aside in annoyance.


"I forgot pajamas."

Oliver dug through his bag. He wasn't the one to pack it, but he was fairly certain he would find pajamas there. Sure enough. He pulled out flannel pants and a t-shirt and handed them over to her.

"Just the shirt. Thanks," she said, her fingers brushing against his as she took the white v-neck shirt from him. She turned her back to him and peeled off her sweater and removed her bra before pulling on the borrowed shirt. Just as she expected, Oliver's too-large-for-her shirt provided plenty of coverage, length wise, though it did slip off her shoulder. She toed off her shoes and pulled off her jeans. When she turned back around, she realized he was watching her.

Self-consciously, Oliver turned away, having been caught staring.

"I know I can't really stay on the couch without raising more questions, so I'll just…uh…take the floor in here."

"We've slept in the same bed before," Felicity said wearily, pulling down the covers.

"Being in the same bed won't change anything between us."

She rolled her eyes. What did he think she was going to try to do? Seduce him with Justin Timberlake watching? "Don't be a dick."

Her grandmother's long-forgotten words of wisdom suddenly came to the forefront of her mind.

"Felicity, it's a funny thing about men. They've got their pros and their cons."

"That's true of anybody, Oma."

"But it's really true of men. Men's greated pro: their dicks. Men's greatest con: they're dicks."

She smiled faintly at the memory. Oliver looked at her quizzically, but he said nothing in reply to her comment or to what must've seemed like an odd expression on her face.

Felicity turned off the table lamp next to the bed and climbed under the covers. The room was more shadows than light now, with the neighborhood streetlights providing an eerie orangish glow through the window blinds.

Taking that as a sign that their conversation was over, Oliver took off his pants and unbuttoned his shirt. She noticed he didn't pull on the flannel pants. It figured. Oliver was used to sleeping in the nude. She should just be glad (disappointed?) that he had kept on his boxer briefs. As her eyes adjusted, she admired the play of light and shadows on his sculpted body.

He slipped into the bed next to her, taking pains not to invade her space, despite the fact that the bed was not spacious in the least.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly as he stared at the ceiling.

She turned on her side and expelled a breath. "So am I. But if Slade Wilson didn't give you second thoughts about us, I'm pretty sure my mom would do the trick."

She said it so matter-of-factly that, despite the rollercoaster ride of the night, he couldn't help but be amused by Felicity's assessment of his first meeting with her mom. Judith Smoak was certainly an interesting woman.

Felicity continued, "Thank God you dodged that bullet, right? What if crazy runs in the family?"

He played along. "On the plus side, your mom looks really good for her age."

From beside him, Felicity laughed softly, despite the aching in her heart. "Lucky for me you have a thing for sister duos instead of mother/daughter duos."

Oliver deadpanned, "So you're saying you think I have a shot with your mom?"

At that, she took her pillow and playfully smacked him with it. He stilled her movements by snatching the pillow from her with one hand and circling her forearm with the other hand.

Their eyes met, and an eternity passed in a second. It would be so easy to just meld into one another. One move from her, one from him. For a few minutes, they could leave behind the worries and bask in the warmth of the other. They could give into their longings. But they would be left with the same conundrum. Oliver believed Felicity wasn't safe with him, and he wouldn't continue to put her life in jeopardy for his own benefit.

Oliver seemed to realize the precariousness of the situation because he let go of her and tucked her pillow under his head.

"You're not fighting fair," she protested and tugged on her pillow, which was now securely under him.

"Hey, you started it."

"And you actually cracked a joke."

"I have been known to joke. Periodically."

"Rarely," she yawned.

"In my defense, it's late. And you laughed." He sat up and let her retrieve her pillow.

She fluffed the pillow before sinking back down onto it. "Sometimes you've got to laugh."

Or you'll cry.

Sleep should have come easily to him. He was going on being awake for nearly 24 hours straight, but as she lay next to him, her back turned, the thought kept echoing, How am I going to give her up?

Felicity had long since fallen asleep, her breathing even. In her sleep, she had drifted closer to him, her shapely rear pressed against him. The t-shirt she wore had ridden up, and her smooth legs tangled with his hairy ones. She stirred slightly, wiggling to get comfortable, her derriere rubbing against what was turning out to be a rather painful erection. He shifted to lessen the contact between their bodies, partly to give himself some relief and partly because if he didn't, he didn't trust what he would do.

Even as angry as she was with him, she still had defended him to her mother and made an impassioned demand for her mother—and him—to respect her choices.

Felicity was strong.

It was sexy as hell.

He wasn't trying to placate Judith when he told her that Felicity made him a better man. Was there a way to have it all—keep Felicity safe and be with her? Was she right? Was he playing right into what Slade would expect him to do? Or worse, was he actually making her less safe by pushing her away? Or was it just his selfishness that wanted to believe that, so he could justify being with her despite the risks?

How am I going to give her up?

Oliver had been, quite simply, understating to Felicity's parents just the effect she had on him. She was the first person he saw as a person after coming home. She neither wanted nor expected anything from him. She didn't go out of her way to fabricate excuses to be near him. She found a way into his heart without even trying. She was the greatest surprise of his life—the greatest gift.

And he was throwing it away.

For her own good, he reminded himself.

How am I going to give her up?

Even through her closed eyelids, Felicity could see the light. The east-facing room was bathed in the morning sun. Her eyes felt heavy as she tried to fight through the fatigue and open them. For that matter, her whole body felt heavy. The reason quickly became apparent.

Opening her bleary eyes, she recognized her childhood room, everything just as she'd left it except for one detail: she was sharing the bed with Oliver and was wrapped in his arms. He lay plastered against her, his knees tucked into the crook of hers, one strong arm supplementing the pillow under her head and the other draped over her torso, weighing her down. So much for his supreme effort at keeping his distance the night before. Sometime in their sleep, they must have gravitated toward one another.

Oliver's large, callused hand was possessively splayed over her abdomen. Felicity tried not to think about how incredibly right this felt, or how she could get used to waking up like this, and focused on extricating herself from his hold. Nothing good could come from

this, not when the reality of the situation was that the clock was going tick-tock-boom on their arrangement. Then there would be no more fake engagement or real relationship, and she'd never look at a taco the same way again.

That didn't mean she wouldn't still do everything she could to help Oliver with his Slade situation—whether he wanted her help or not. Oliver might choose to shut her out through some misguided notion of keeping her safe, but that didn't mean she was going to let him face this nemesis without giving him the best chance for survival. But how? She needed to think, but Oliver's nearness had her brain cascading into a sea of jumbled thoughts and emotions.

She moved experimentally, thinking that if she shifted, he would pull away. Instead, as she tried to lift his hand, his arms flexed, and his hand gently exerted more pressure on her belly.

That didn't work, but it sure felt good.

She could just straight-up wake him. Yes, if he became aware that he was wrapped around her, he'd let go faster than if she was a hot potato. Well, maybe not. Oliver seemed to invite pain.

On the other hand, Oliver seldom relaxed, and it had been a long night. So it was purely for unselfish reasons that she ceased her movements. It had absolutely nothing to do with wanting to prolong those moments of closeness, or the fact that she had so quickly become addicted to the feel of his skin against hers.

She thought of the promise she made herself. I won't lie to myself. I won't let myself believe this is even a possibility. She relaxed, willing wishes to become reality, allowing herself just five minutes. In five minutes' time, she would stop lying to herself.

It was a beautiful lie that she allowed until she felt the tension seeping out of his arms and heard his breathing regulate again. Once she was sure he was still asleep, she subtly tried to move away again, but his reaction was the same as before.

Crazy. Even in his sleep, Oliver was a force to be reckoned with.

She sighed quietly and stilled her movements wondering what she should do. She absolutely, positively should not revel in the feel of the hot, muscled male flesh pressed up against her back, or the fact that Oliver wasn't wearing anything more than a pair of boxer briefs, or the fact that his fingers had dipped slightly beneath the waistband of her tiny, silky panties.

She carefully laid her hand over his where it rested low on her stomach and gently tried to lift it. His hand quite unexpectedly curled around hers and she jumped in response to the touch.

"I'm sorry. I had no right. I just wanted to hold you." His voice, still filled with the remnants of slumber and hoarse from the lack of use, rumbled in her ear. His hand briefly tightened around her smaller hand for a few seconds longer before he let her go and removed his arm from around her waist. He shifted away from her, giving her the space to leave. Now was her opportunity to escape. No harm. No foul. Dignity intact. They couldn't be responsible for what they did in their sleep, but now that they were awake…

Felicity hesitated, impulsively turning around to face him. Her heart pounded as she saw his expression shift. Adoration. Longing. Resignation.

It didn't have to be this way!

Against her better judgment, she reached out a hand to touch his stubbled jaw. His own hand lifted to trap her against the bristly surface of his skin. He turned his head slightly and brushed his lips against the tender flesh of her inner wrist.

Sparks skittered through her.

He felt it, too.

"If you don't leave now, Felicity…" He left the rest of the desperately whispered warning unspoken, and Felicity closed her eyes briefly, trying to gather the strength to get up and walk away.

Instead, she found the strength to stay.

"What are you going to do, Oliver?" she challenged. She settled back on her pillow.

"Make you hate me," he whispered as he moved closer, bracing himself on one elbow to look down at her.

"I will never hate you," she replied without hesitation.

"I'm sorry, I have to do this." Before she could react, his mouth found hers in an achingly sweet yet infinitely hungry kiss.

"So sorry," he apologized again, when he lifted his mouth to stare down into her face tenderly before dropping to claim her lips again. His kiss was tender and beautiful and overwhelming to her senses.

Felicity met his kisses with an eagerness of her own. Her lips opened up and welcomed him in, and his tongue accepted the invitation, gently courting and coaxing hers. She shouldn't want this, not with things so unsettled between them, but all reason left, replaced with yearning.

Was this a hello? Was it a goodbye? It didn't matter. It just was.

Oliver's hands moved down the slim column of her neck, to her shoulders, stroking the expanse of silky skin he encountered thanks to the too-large t-shirt she wore. Her heart thrummed when his lips followed his hands. She felt his hot, moist breath on her sensitive skin as he worked his way down, kissing every inch of available skin. She cried out softly when she felt his breath on one tautly beaded nipple through the thin material of her top. His mouth moved over the nipple, and he very deliberately breathed onto the bud through the cotton. The fabric sensuously abraded the sensitive peak, while his fingers fluttered up and down the small slope of her breast, circling, taunting but not quite touching the eager tip.

Felicity's breath hitched as she wondered how he had gotten her so hot so fast. He glanced up into her face, over the small mound of the breast, and stared almost reverently. He hovered for an endless moment before bending his head and drawing the tight nub of her nipple, cotton and all, deeply into his hot, wet mouth. At the same time, he buried his free hand between her legs and found the other eager nubbin desperate for his touch through her silky underwear.

It happened quickly—like being jolted by a huge bolt of lightning—unexpected and powerful. She stifled a scream and arched off the bed as she climaxed with ferocious force. Her back bowed and she remained taut. It was as though time suspended, as the spasms went on and on. All the while, he drew her nipple deeper and deeper into his mouth. He had one hand cupped in the nape of her neck with the other still buried between her legs and kept them there even after she went completely boneless and collapsed back onto the bed. He lifted his head to chuckle hoarsely.

"Good morning, Beautiful," he whispered as he gave her one final stroke with his long finger before moving his hand to rest on her heaving abdomen. She barely heard him over the thunderous crashing of her heart, the whooshing of the blood in her ears.

She could hardly move and she was only just vaguely aware of him dragging her top off and tossing it aside. He went back to work, kissing her skin, licking, sucking, and nipping. Felicity tried to regain her equilibrium, but it was an impossible task when Oliver was so determinedly keeping her off-kilter.

The man was patient and undemanding, and Felicity sighed dreamily, feeling ridiculously relaxed after her massive release, while his sweeping hands and loving mouth continued to do deliciously wicked things to her. Gradually, his relentless patience started to have an undeniable effect on her. Her nipples had beaded back into tight, hard peaks, and her breathing became more and more ragged as he kissed and caressed his way over her entire body. Her panties had long since disappeared, and she became sharply aware of that fact when his lips found their way to her flat stomach. His tongue swirled in and around the indention of her belly button, and she helplessly shifted her hips, encouraging him to move even lower. She was amazed by how quickly he had managed to get her aroused again after her earlier climax.

All thought fled her mind when his talented mouth found the moist core of her femininity, and she shuddered violently with every stroke of his tongue. The velvet of his tongue combined with the friction from his stubbled jaw had her practically breathless. She barely had time to brace herself before a second, even bigger climax had her crashing in the agony of ecstasy. He managed to still her thrusting hips between his large hands as he continued to lave her with his incredibly skilled tongue.

It was too much.

"Stop," she whispered, unable to tolerate the overwhelming sensations any longer.

Oliver dragged himself up over her body and braced himself above her to stare down into her face. This was intense and so personal, and it probably shouldn't have happened, but she couldn't find it in her to regret it.

"Wow," she whispered after her climactic shudders eventually stopped. "So…that happened. I can see now what all the fuss is about. You are…that was…" It was absolutely one-sided. Oliver had stroked her in a way that no one ever had before, and all she had done was lie there like a ragdoll. She needed to remedy that situation. "Thank you." She lifted her head, peppering tiny kisses along his jaw, even as her hands explored his body. He moaned at the contact, the sound strangled and pained.

She glanced down between their bodies and noticed two things: his boxers were gone and the man was very, very aroused. She had imagined what Oliver would look like naked, but it was a prime example of her imagination not doing him justice. Her fingers skimmed along his abdomen and moved lower. He hissed when she closed around his shaft and groaned when she stroked his hard length languidly with one hand and lightly massaged his balls with the other.

"Felicity," he hissed, gritting his teeth.

He dropped his hips, and she could feel him thrust his length, rubbing against her stomach. He had held back too long, she realized. He needed his own release, and he needed it hard and fast. She spread her legs and guided the tip of his erection against her slick heat, sliding it back and forth, earning moans of pleasure from them both, until he settled at her opening.

Still, he did not penetrate her. She lifted her hips, grinding against him. His tip entered her shallowly, and she cried out in frustration, wanting more of him, needing him to bury himself in her. "Please."

He looked equally frustrated as he pulled back, breaking the contact between their lower bodies.

"No, we can't," he ground out when she tried to guide him to her again, "This isn't a good idea."

"Why not? I'm on birth control, and we both want this," she breathed into his ear. "I need to feel you inside of me, Oliver." She nipped at his bottom lip. "I want to make you forget that there's a world that exists outside of this moment. Let me do that for you."

"But when the moment is over, you will hate me."

"No," she denied, "I won't."

"It won't change anything. You deserve better than a one-time fuck."

"This doesn't have to be one time."

"The world is still out there, and it's still not safe for you to be with me." He moved off of her, settling beside her on the bed, his back to her.

She got on her knees behind him and traced a scar on his shoulder. It was the gunshot wound that he'd received at the hands of his own mother—the bullet that brought her fully into his world. "I'm not expecting white picket fences, Oliver, and I'm not going to hate you."

He shifted to look at her. "A couple of days ago, you wanted to wait until we were more established in our relationship."

"I thought we had all the time in the world," she admitted. "Turns out you're saying goodbye before we've really even said hello, even though I know that's not what you really want."

"You deserve more than a man who is always going to look over his shoulder—or worse, a man who can barely hold back the monster he is."

"I deserve…I deserve. What about what you deserve? You're not a monster, Oliver," she asserted taking his hand and running her thumb back and forth along his palm. "You deserve happiness. You deserve to know and feel love."

"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I never meant for any of this to happen. I shouldn't have touched you…not like that."

"Do you see me complaining?" she retorted with a smile.

"I just..I wanted to hold you."

"I know," she assured, leaning her forehead against his. "It's okay. We're going to be okay."

"No," he whispered quietly. "No, it's not. We're not." He vacillated for a moment before, with a groan of brutal self-denial, he dragged himself out of her reach and off the bed all in one swift movement. He stood at the side of the bed, gloriously naked and painfully aroused, to stare at her for a heartbeat before turning away and heading toward the en suite. Tears stung her eyes, and she wondered at the amount of self-control it must have taken for Oliver to get up and leave her.

Felicity watched the door close gently behind him and, an instant later, heard the shower running. She was tempted to join him in the shower, but she knew that he believed he had done the right thing. If she wanted people to respect her choices, she had to be willing to respect theirs, as well.

Felicity spotted the t-shirt bunched into a wad at the foot of the bed. She pulled it on, despite the fact that it was still damp in the area over her left breast. She would wait for her turn in the bathroom; the last thing she wanted was to venture out into her parents' house with her thighs slick, smelling of sex.

Her body still tingled, and her eyes fluttered closed at the memory of what Oliver's fingers and tongue had accomplished.


Her eyes opened, and the poster of Justin Timberlake stared back at her. With a grimace, Felicity peeled herself off the bed and walked to the door where it hung, her legs wobbly. "That was your last show, Justin," she said to the poster as she tugged at it, finally pulling it from its place on the bathroom door.

The double-sided tape on the back left a sticky residue on the painted door. The poster was gone from the door but definitely not forgotten. Just like the island. Just like the people who hurt Oliver. Just like the people he had hurt. Oliver was still trying to deal with that sticky residue of his past, and he may never get cleaned up all the way.

That didn't mean the door didn't still work.

Felicity shook her head slightly—not enough sleep had her brain coming up with the goofiest analogies.

She didn't know what was going to happen, but she did know this: she wasn't going to beg Oliver to change his mind. The man was just as stubborn as she was. After Monday, she would give Oliver the distance he needed in order to deal with Slade Wilson.

But she had a few ideas of her own for how to deal with Slade Wilson.

In the meantime, she would just have to believe in him enough for the both of them.

Coming up, Oliver will finally meet Jack(ass), much to Felicity's chagrin. Oh, and they have the pesky problem of Slade Wilson to contend with. Stay tuned!