Synopsis: By 9:00 a.m., she had broken a heel, lost her cell phone, and been the victim of a coffee catastrophe. By 9:30 a.m. she had "borrowed" the NSA mainframe. By 10:00 a.m., she was engaged to Oliver Queen. Really, it was all in a day's work.
Rating: strong T
Warnings: suggestive dialogue and brief harsh profanity
Spoilers: Anything up through episode 2x6 "Keep Your Enemies Closer" is fair game.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you have followed, favorited, sent PMs, or reviewed this story. I truly do appreciate your continued support and encouragement.
Part Nine: "The Ice Cream's Good, but You Taste Better"
"Hey, buddy. You ready to go meet her?"
The boy wrinkled his nose. "Her? I thought I was getting a little brother."
His dad smiled broadly and squeezed his shoulder. "Between you and me, that's what I thought, too. Looks like fate had other plans."
Father and son walked down the hallway of the hospital, side by side, until they reached the entrance of a private room. Two guards stood on either side of the door looking very serious until they saw the duo approach.
"Congratulations," one of the guards said with a nod of his head, the look of solemnity softening to happiness. "She's going to be a heartbreaker."
"She already has quite a set of lungs on her," his dad replied, pride evident in his tone. "She's going to keep her mom and me on our toes."
When they went inside, the boy saw his mom, her honey-colored hair falling in waves around her shoulders. She looked tired but so happy as she held the tiny bundle in her arms.
"Go on," his dad encouraged.
With a smile, his mom patted the space next to her on the bed. The boy sat next to her and finally saw the tiny creature up close. She was perfect with downy hair, rosy cheeks, and a button nose.
"This is Thea," his mom introduced. "Thea, this is your big brother Oliver. He's always going to love you and take care of you. He's going to be the best big brother in the world."
Oliver saw the resemblance immediately as he looked at the image of the boy on Felicity's tablet. "He looks like me. The way I did at that age."
A brother. He had a brother.
Whose mother was Isabel Rochev.
His stomach began to churn.
He'd had regrets before. In his younger years, those regrets usually came after a bender. As he used to joke with Tommy that a few drinks too many could turn a six into a ten, and as a nice consolation prize, those drinks often included a hangover to boot.
He'd been with women that he actually liked who had disappointed him, either because they thought they would be the ones to tame him, as though he was a trainable stud, or because they were interested in the lifestyle, not his actual life. They were mostly nameless, faceless, now.
He regretted Laurel. That he hadn't been a better boyfriend to her, that he'd not had the courage to break things off instead of their peculiar tug-of-war that pulled in Tommy, pulled in Sara, and ended with a downed boat and five years of regrets centered around false hopes because what else did he have?
He regretted Shado. She'd been his ally, his mentor, his comfort, and she died because he instinctively protected Sara. There should have been another way. It should have been him.
After the island, he had been more selective, sleeping with women he felt at least some emotional connection to. Even with Isabel—she called him on his bullshit, commiserated with him about keeping up appearances and shared loneliness, and he'd enjoyed their tryst knowing full well it was about physical release and they were not about to embark on the soulmate train—he'd at least felt a camaraderie with her.
But as soon as he'd seen the disappointment and hurt in Felicity's eyes, he'd regretted Isabel. A few minutes of pleasure wasn't worth that.
Now, the thought of what he'd done with Isabel made him ill on an entirely different level. He'd thought Isabel just wanted to fuck him. Now he knew she wanted to fuck with him. This was a new type of regret.
"I'm sorry, Oliver." Felicity's voice was sedate, devoid of its usual zest. But it was her eyes that got to him. Those blue eyes that housed a storm of emotion. Part of him wanted to reach out to her, to anchor himself to her, but he had the feeling he would only drown her if he tried.
Oliver exhaled. "2001." He had been sixteen, so wrapped up in his own life. The conversations he had with his father circled around school, how he needed a plan for his future, and about not walking the girl out the morning after in front of his little sister because it only made her ask questions that she was too young to know the answers to. They'd never discussed his father's infidelities or problems in his parents' marriage. "Did he know about Kirill?"
"I don't know."
He took the tablet from Felicity and stared into the boy's face. He wore a baseball uniform; Oliver had always been more of a hockey fan himself. It was something he and his dad had in common. But this boy—his smile, his chin, his nose—Kirill was a Queen through and through. His eyes were different, though. Brown like his mother's. Isabel's. Except the boy's eyes looked warm, happy. Isabel was anything but.
"I have a half-brother," he uttered, more to himself than to her. "I never met him. I never knew. And I slept with his…with Isabel…"
The revulsion was overwhelming. It was one thing to hypothesize his father and Isabel had a relationship, quite another to see the proof.
What was Isabel's game? Was their Russian rendezvous a mere curiosity to her? To see if the old adage 'like father, like son' held true in every sense of the word? Was it something else entirely? A way to be with a dead man? Was it revenge because he was the so-called legitimate son while her child remained unacknowledged? Was the sex to make it hurt more when she wrested Queen Consolidated away from him and—what?—put it on a shiny platter for Kirill? Why pass him off as her brother?
Oliver shoved the tablet back into her hands and spun away, heading for the metal stairs.
"Wait! Where are you going?"
He looked back at her. "To find Isabel. To have this out once and for all."
"You can't go out like that."
Oliver looked down and realized he was still wearing the green leather pants.
Felicity trailed after him, reached out with a clean cloth, and wiped at the green grease paint around his eyes. It would be so much more practical if he would get a mask made, but any time she mentioned it, he balked at the idea. Now she was glad for the paint; it slowed him down enough that maybe he would rethink this.
She managed to get most of it off before his restlessness got the better of him.
Oliver walked past her, grabbed a change of clothes and disappeared into the bathroom. She snatched her phone and texted John.
A minute later, she heard the sound of breaking glass, followed by a string of words she recognized as Russian. Though she couldn't understand the words themselves, she understood the meaning behind them.
She opened the door and saw Oliver, still in partial Arrow attire, standing with his hand over the sink, blood dripping into the white porcelain bowl. Shards of what had been the mirror littered the area. "Oh my God." She ran water over his hand before quickly grabbing a fresh hand towel from the cupboard to wrap around his injury.
He gritted his teeth and looked at her, as though waiting for her to reprimand him, but she didn't. Instead, she led him to the medical table and silently began to pull first aid supplies from the storage cabinet. She removed the towel and began to disinfect the cuts on the knuckles of his right hand. The antiseptic stung, but he did not outwardly react, watching her instead. Her bright lips were pressed tightly, and she avoided eye contact.
"It was stupid," he finally said.
"Yes, it was," she concurred as she began to bandage the area. "I liked that mirror."
But he knew it wasn't about the mirror.
Guilt bubbled up in him. He'd worried her—probably scared her, too. This, after she was already in tears at the thought of telling him earlier. "I know it wasn't easy to tell me."
"I couldn't run the risk of you finding out in the worst way possible from her." The inflection in Felicity's voice when she referred to Isabel was not something Oliver heard often. Felicity—who could generally see something good in nearly anyone—strongly disliked Isabel.
"It would have been worse coming from her," he confirmed as he looked up at the ceiling before focusing on Felicity again.
She could feel his eyes on her and finally met his gaze. "Promise me something. Slow down and think before you decide on anything."
Slow down and think?!
Think about what?
Just another reminder that he didn't know his father as well as he thought he did?
Just another reminder that he had screwed up yet again by thinking with his dick and not his brain?
The last thing he wanted to do was to slow down and think.
"No. What I need to do is find Isabel."
"And say what exactly? Look, I get it. I do. What Isabel did to you was deceptive and…and…twisted and just plain gross. And I think psychologists would have a field day analyzing her, though if it makes you feel better, this type of thing is old news on Jerry Springer, but—"
"But I chose to sleep with her," Oliver bluntly stated. He watched as Felicity cringed slightly. "I knew she was on the List. I knew she had been gunning for my family's company. So I deserve what I get, right?"
Her eyes widened. "What? No! That's not what I was going to say at all. I told you after it happened that you deserved better than her, and I meant it."
"Felicity, if you knew the things I've done, you wouldn't think that."
Felicity swallowed hard. Five years on an island struggling to survive. Sometimes she let her mind go there, imagine what it must have been like for him. He left Starling City as a spoiled, pampered young man and returned hardened, scarred, and world-weary. She never knew 'Ollie,' so she didn't exactly have a basis for comparison. But Oliver—him she respected, even admired, poor choices in women notwithstanding.
"It's what you do now that matters. I know the man you are now. I even like you—most of the time. You know, when you aren't asking me to get coffee or surprising me with fake engagements." She managed a tiny uptick of her lips. "What I was going to say is that Isabel obviously has an agenda, but so do we. We're going to secure your company; then we're going to kick ass and take names."
His hand throbbed—which was his own fault for losing control, lashing out when he saw his reflection, not liking what he saw.
His pride throbbed worse—partly from being played by Isabel but largely from the knowledge that his identity as Robert Queen's only son—one of the few roles he wore with satisfaction—was built on a lie.
His dad had told Oliver he was his best hope, that he had to right his wrongs. Where did Kirill fit into all of this? And how the hell did his dad have a child with Isabel, a woman whose name appeared on the List?
And there stood Felicity with her plucky determination and blind faith, so sure this could be fixed.
So sure he could be fixed.
He wished he could be as sure.
"My pleasure." She paused and rethought that. "No. Scratch that. Not a pleasure. But you're welcome. That's what friends do."
He'd kissed her. It wasn't enough—and it was too much.
Little by little, Felicity had chipped away at the wall he'd erected between them. He needed to be stronger for her benefit because she didn't know the type of man he was, but he was so tired of pretending the attraction was one-sided, tired of acting as though she didn't matter. And so he'd given in. Briefly. She had tasted of hope and promise, mint and innocence.
He would destroy her. Not intentionally. Never intentionally.
But he was already halfway there, running down a hill at full speed, unable to still the movements that drove him into her orbit. With one little kiss, he'd set them in motion.
"About earlier. Before you told me about Kirill—"
Felicity lifted her hand. "You don't have to say it." The last thing she wanted was to hear a recap of why they would never work. It was a bit like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Once you knew the surprise twist, why bother again? She'd been there and done that.
"I think I do."
"No, you don't," she reiterated. "Honestly, I don't need placating. I know I'm not your girlfriend. I'm just a girl you know who is good with computers and not so good with people."
He was stunned to hear her self-assessment. "Felicity, you're more than just a girl I know. You're one of the most important people in the world to me. I thought you knew that."
She expelled a breath she didn't even realize she'd been holding. That was not what she expected him to say. She opened her mouth to say something, thought better of it, and instead let out a tiny growl of frustration.
"Did you just grrr at me?" he asked, eyebrows rising in surprise and amusement.
Her hands went to her hips. "Sometimes I don't know whether to throw you to the kangaroos or just hug you. You make it so hard and so easy to care about you, and I'm just trying to keep a grip and not make an idiot of myself and not take it personally when you push me and pull me, but it's agony and ecstasy. And I think that was the title of a Charlton Heston movie my mom made me watch about Michelangelo—the artist, not the Ninja Turtle—when she wanted me to take art lessons, but I never did take art lessons. Too messy. I don't like messy. I like solutions to problems, answers to questions, not a free-for-all mess. Speaking of messy, a few minutes ago, you kissed me. That is messy. Oh, not slobbery messy, thank God. And I wanted you to kiss me even though this thing between us is complicated enough. Yes, I said it. We have a thing, whether you want to admit it or not. And the kiss was sweet and…and all too brief, and I couldn't even get excited over it because there I was about to deliver axis shifting news—being a messenger sucks by the way—and I knew I was about to hurt you. And there you are. Hurt. Hurting. All manpain. So there. Yes. I did grrr at you."
She grabbed the roll of bandages off the exam table and turned to put it back into the medical supply storage cabinet.
That was all it took for him to span the distance between them, invade her space. When she turned back around, she bumped right into him with a tiny yelp of surprise.
Oliver caught her elbow to steady her.
And both of them froze.
She could feel heat radiating from his body, but more than that, she saw the intensity in his eyes as those beautiful blues darkened. That fluttery, ticklish sensation returned to her stomach. She hated the butterflies. Hated that she couldn't control her body's reaction to him.
But there was something utterly invigorating about being near Oliver.
"What are you doing?" she whispered.
"Trying not to live with regret."
She sucked in a breath. What did that even mean? Was he trying to bury his pain and using her to do it? Or was he saying he would regret it if he didn't kiss her? Because the way he was looking at her, his eyes flitting to her lips, made her think that was where this was headed.
"For the record, we do have 'a thing.' I'm not sorry I kissed you. I should be, but I'm not. I would be sorry if I never kissed you properly."
And suddenly he drew her closer, lowered his head, and kissed her. Thoroughly. Unlike the first kiss, this was neither subtle nor sweet. Felicity made a startled little sound in the back of her throat as his mouth covered hers, warm, extending an invitation.
Come along with me, he seemed to say.
He let go of her elbow, his fingers trailing up the soft skin of her arm, lingering on her shoulder, until he found the nape of her slender neck, that expanse of skin he had long wanted to touch.
She grabbed his arms, her fingers closing around the taut, corded muscles beneath his black long-sleeved shirt.
Felicity wasn't sure if she meant to push him away or keep herself from falling on unsteady feet. But a part of her was already falling, fumbling toward ecstasy, toward an abyss of heat and yearning and delicious sensations as his lips moved over hers.
She had wondered what kissing him—truly kissing him—would be like. Now she knew. And that knowledge was powerful. He tasted the way she imagined, fiery and intoxicating, but the pleasure of reality far surpassed the vagueness of imagination, which was amazing, actually, because she had a vivid imagination.
Her heart thundered in her head. What began as a kiss of exploration morphed into a deep, slow, bone-melting kiss. He angled his head and molded his mouth to hers, his fingers tangling in her hair.
The sound in her throat became a soft moan. She always thought it was such a cliché when she would read stories about the heroine being so overwhelmed with passion that her knees went weak. For the first time in her life, Felicity understood the sentiment. Her legs felt like jelly, which was so odd because she suddenly felt stronger, more assured than she had ever felt before. She pressed closer to him, her breasts pillowed against the hard muscles of his chest. Oliver groaned at the contact, deepening the kiss, the stubble of his jaw abrading her skin. The thrust of his tongue against hers became hot and demanding, sent her senses spinning. Her Atlas. He thought he held the responsibility of the world on his shoulders, but she was the one he held in his arms.
And, yes, her knees felt weak, even as she welcomed the hungry pressure of his mouth, the rough velvet of his tongue. Oliver's kiss was passionate and intense, dark and lovely, beyond anything she had ever experienced.
Her hands came up to his face, her palms moving over his stubbled cheeks, memorizing him with her touch as she had already memorized him with her eyes. Her fingers slid into his hair, her nails lightly scraping against his scalp, and she could feel a tremor run through his muscular body and the harsh groan that escaped from his lips in response. His arm fastened around her hips, drew her in tight against him. "Felicity," he breathed against her mouth.
It was a warning.
It was a promise.
And she felt exactly how much he wanted her. Instinctively, she arched her hips, needing to bring him closer.
So close, not close enough.
Just a little closer.
Just a little closer.
His movements went still. She felt his harsh breathing, heard him curse.
And he pulled away from her.
She looked up at him. What had just happened?
He stood staring down at her for a second, his eyes almost black, a muscle working in his jaw. The front of his leather pants looked incredibly tight. Unconsciously, she licked her lips, which elicited another groan from him.
"You are going to be the death of me," he murmured.
It was then that Felicity heard the footsteps coming down the metal stairs. Diggle! She'd completely forgotten she had texted him when she was worried that Oliver was going to tear out of the lair and go after Isabel. She had been so focused on Oliver, she hadn't even heard the quick buzz from the security system that indicated the lock on the door had been disengaged by a code.
"Everything okay down here?" Digg asked when he saw the two take a step away from each other.
Oliver reached for a nearby clipboard and held it strategically in front of himself. "Fine," he replied. "I'm going to get changed." He tried to force his voice to sound normal. Instead, it came out strained and gravely.
"I-I should clean up in there first," Felicity stammered. "I don't want you getting hurt. Again."
Diggle crossed his arms. "You do that on patrol?"
Oliver cleared his throat. "I need to change now."
"Right. Um, be careful in there." She watched as he retreated to change out of what she could only imagine were uncomfortable pants and to get his body under control.
She didn't have that luxury. Her face felt hot, her heart still hammered in her chest, and her legs still felt shaky. And she was left with a disapproving John Diggle. Oh, Oliver would be hearing about this later.
Just one word, her name, had her cringing. "Don't, John. Don't use that disappointed voice. You sound like my mom."
At that, Diggle snorted. "That's one I've not heard before. What are you doing?"
"It was just a kiss."
"Just a kiss? I know you. There is no 'just a kiss' with you."
What was she doing? Oliver may have been the one to initiate the kiss, but he was only reaching out to her because he was hurting, right?
Her phone chimed and she picked it up, eager for a distraction. "It's an e-mail from Belinda Carlen."
"QC resident publicity guru," Felicity replied, bringing up the email on her computers instead of the smartphone.
"The one who last night was certain you were pregnant."
"That's the one. Turns out she's not so bad." She clicked on the link, and high-quality images filled the trio of monitors.
"Wow," Diggle muttered.
But Felicity's eyes were drawn to a photograph that Belinda tagged as her favorite. "I didn't know Henri took a picture of this."
And she couldn't help the smile that tugged at her lips.
"The photographer is set up near the fountain," Oliver informed her as they pulled into a parking space outside of Starling City Park.
Felicity exhaled when she saw the distance they would have to cover. Usually, she wouldn't have balked, but as the day wore on, her foot became increasingly uncomfortable.
"My back. I'll carry you."
"I'm fine to walk."
"No, you're not. You've already been on your feet too much today. Besides, you're supposed to look happy to be around me. Doesn't help when you're grimacing in pain."
"Well, you can be a pain in the…" she stopped as he looked at her expectantly. "I'm not riding on your back. You're going to hurt yourself."
"You weigh what? About…" The stink eye Felicity gave him stopped his estimation of her weight. "I could just flip you over my shoulder."
"You wouldn't dare."
Oliver's solid arms went around her, and she felt herself being hoisted off the ground, which he did with ease. She shouldn't have been surprised, considering all the hours she had watched him exercise on the salmon ladder or pound on the tractor tire with a sledgehammer.
Her hands went to his shoulders to steady herself. "Okay! Okay! Put me down!" She slid down his front as he lowered her. He was ridiculously firm. "Piggyback ride it is."
With a look of triumph, Oliver turned, and partially squatted so she could mount his back with greater ease. She yelped slightly when he straightened to his full height. Felicity tightened her arms around his shoulders. Meanwhile his hands went to her thighs, holding her legs close to his torso.
"Wow," she muttered to herself as she felt the movement of his muscles and the warmth of his hands on her legs.
"What was that?" Oliver asked.
Felicity covered, "Wow. Things look different up here."
"I don't know why you were worried. I could carry you all day. You're light as a feather."
"That's not what Jackass used to say," she blurted.
At that, Oliver's body shook with rare laughter.
"I can't believe I called him that," Felicity replied, his laughter spurring her own.
"I can. His loss is definitely my gain."
She stiffened. "Oliver—"
"I know. But I still say I'm pretty damn lucky. I'm in your life. He's not."
Her hold on him tightened.
Oliver's phone began to buzz. He picked it up, saw the picture on the screen, and sighed before sliding his finger across the screen to answer it.
"Is it true?" Laurel's strained voice came over the other end.
He knew immediately what prompted the call. "Yes."
"That's great. Just great. Good for you, Oliver. There's nothing like finding out because your co-worker points toward a television with a gleeful, 'Hey, Lance, isn't that the guy you used to date?' Congratulations all around. Really, Oliver."
His tone was apologetic. "I tried to tell you yesterday."
"And I was worried about your mother's case. But you should've found a way."
There was no winning this. "I'm sorry you found out like that."
"How long has this been going on? When you came to me at my apartment, were you already seeing her?"
"Of course not."
"I find it hard to believe anything you say. Joke's on me. As usual."
"Laurel, don't hang-" But he heard the click on the other end. "Dammit!" Oliver growled, gripping the phone tightly, though his first instinct was the throw it against the wall. But one temper tantrum was more than enough; two would be pushing his quota and Felicity's patience.
He finished changing; Laurel's phone call certain expedited the calming down of his body, he noted wryly.
When Oliver emerged from the bathroom, Felicity was seated at her monitors. She tilted her head as she looked at him knowingly. "Maybe you should go check on her."
Oliver's brows furrowed. "How did you know?"
"Turns out the bathroom door doesn't keep out much sound. I'll have to file that away for future reference," she mused.
Oliver returned the leather pants to their case. "The last thing we need is for reporters to get wind that I'm visiting my ex-girlfriend's apartment. Besides, Laurel doesn't want to see me."
She tapped her fingers nervously on her armrest. "Somehow I think you could manage to avoid getting detected."
He looked at her sideways. "Suppose I did. What's the point? I'm engaged to you."
"No, you're not. Not really." She smiled, though the smile didn't fully reach her eyes. "I appreciate you don't want to 'cheat' on me. My pride thanks you. Really it does. But I know she matters to you. You could tell her the truth. If you trust her, I mean."
Oliver's brows furrowed. "We've talked about this."
"We have, but this is real now, not hypothetical. And obviously, she's upset."
And it seemed Laurel wasn't the only one. Felicity's tone reminded him of a woman who said "Fine" when it obviously wasn't.
"Laurel's not my responsibility. Not anymore. I'm going to take the motorcycle. Get some air." He looked to John. "Will you make sure Felicity gets home safely?"
"Will do," Diggle assured him with a nod.
"Is it okay if I fill John in on what I found out?"
And some of Oliver's own frustration melted. It was so like Felicity to be concerned about his sense of privacy, even when she was obviously bothered by his reaction to Laurel's call. "Of course." He gave a perfunctory nod.
"And you'll steer clear of Isabel?" she added.
At that question, Digg looked from Felicity to Oliver. They were speaking in shorthand that he didn't know.
"I'll steer clear," he promised.
She turned to her monitors.
Oliver took his riding jacket off the coat hook, and looked back at her. Her elbow was propped on the arm of her chair, her hand supporting her chin, which he noticed appeared pinker than usual. He rubbed a hand against his own chin and felt the coarseness of his stubble. He had left his mark on her, he realized, and in a primal way, he was almost proud.
He pulled on the jacket, zipped it up, and walked to her workstation. It was then that he noticed the images that filled the screen from their earlier photo shoot.
"Belinda sent these a few minutes ago," Felicity explained. "She wants to know our preferences, but it can wait until tomorrow."
"I like this one," he said, pointing to the impromptu photo the photographer took of her hitching a ride on his back. "We look happy together." He rested his hand on her shoulder and squeezed it lightly before he turned and headed up the metal staircase.
When Digg heard the door close and the system's chime indicate it was locked again, he turned to Felicity. "That was awkward."
"You'd rather we bask in the afterglow?" she snapped. Realizing what she said, she shook her and quickly added, "There was no afterglow. None whatsoever. For that, we'd have to have sex. And there was no sex. None. And there won't be. And I don't know why I'm telling you this because you don't need details of…okay. That's even more awkward. Shutting up now."
He pulled up a stool. "You think it was a good idea trying to send him to Laurel?"
"No. I should get 'bad idea' tattooed to my forehead."
"It could match your other tattoo," he joked.
"I really need to see about getting that removed," she muttered. "I'm pretty sure next time I go home, my mom is going to throw a fit. Thanks a lot, People magazine."
"So why'd you do it?" Digg asked, getting her focus back on track.
"Well, I'd had too much to drink and…"
"I meant Laurel."
"Right. This thing Oliver and I are doing…"
"When you put it that way, it sounds so…eww." She shuddered. "This plan we have to give Oliver a new image, it shouldn't come at the expense of the people we love."
"And you think Oliver loves Laurel?"
"Don't you?" Her eyes went back to the images on the screen. Henri had really worked his magic; she could almost believe they captured the real deal. But she'd seen Oliver fall to pieces over Laurel too many times.
"What does Oliver say about it?"
"That she's a friend. It didn't work out with them."
"Felicity, I don't want to see you get pulled into this and get hurt."
She sighed. This was what made John a good friend. He told her the truth, even when it wasn't what she particularly wanted to hear. Then again, he knew firsthand the level of Oliver's devotion to Laurel. At times like these, he still bore the burn marks. "I have a low threshold for pain. I don't want to get hurt either. But it's better to know now, right? So maybe Oliver goes over there tonight, he realizes he wants the Laurel. Maybe he goes over there tonight and is reminded of why they don't work. Maybe he doesn't go over there at all. I don't know what's going to happen. All I know is that if he has a chance to be happy, then he should take it."
"What's going on with you two?"
"Don't give me that. Is this pretending hitting a little too close to home?" Digg asked.
"You know I care about Oliver, but I don't have any illusions." Her tone was one of finality. The matter was closed, as far as she was concerned.
He nodded. "So what did you find out about Isabel?"
It was rare for Oliver to go to his father's grave in the garden of the Queen Estate. First, it wasn't really a grave. It was a hole in the ground with an empty coffin. Second, it wasn't even the place where Oliver felt closest to him, but he could appreciate the irony of seeing his father's headstone next to his own. A part of him did die on that island. He wasn't sure if it was the best or worst part of himself.
"I don't know what to do."
He tried to remember the advice his father used to give him about weighing actions and consequences. It seemed empty now.
"Things aren't better in the city. Put one criminal away, two more pop up. I'm treading water. Moving and getting nowhere."
It had seemed so obvious, so easy when he used his father's list. Check off a name, be that much closer to restoring justice. But it wasn't all black and white, and Starling City had bigger problems than a group of greedy one-percenters.
"Something's coming. I don't know what. Or maybe I'm just so used to the other shoe dropping, I'm looking for trouble."
He sat, picking at a blade of grass.
"Isabel Rochev…what were we thinking?" Oliver shook his head in disgust. "She's gunning for your company."
Even still, he couldn't quite refer to Queen Consolidated as his company. His legacy? Yes. But it would always be his father's life work.
"Did you know I have a brother? He looks a hell of a lot like you."
A brother. What was he even supposed to do with that information? How was he supposed to feel?
"And then there's Felicity. I wish you could've met her. How do I describe her? She's smart and sexy. She doesn't know she's sexy, but she does know she's smart." Oliver smiled thinking of her. "She's the most genuine person I've ever met. I pulled her into my life, and I shouldn't have. I don't know how to love her and keep her safe."
He allowed himself to mull over those words.
He loved Felicity.
He loved her.
He loved her.
The cool night air was silent.
Felicity had just finished sprucing up her apartment—mostly putting away clothes she had pulled out several nights ago—and getting ready for bed when her cell phone buzzed on the nightstand.
sent 11:01 p.m.
OQ: Are you home?
She flopped down on her bed, stomach down, and used her elbows to prop herself as she typed a response.
FS: Yes. John's bunking with me tonight.
FS: He's a big guy. I should've sprung for the king-size bed.
Felicity smiled. She could just picture Oliver's scowl.
FS: Relax. He brought me home, showed me how to work the new security system, and left.
FS: You're glad I'm not rooming with Digg tonight?
OQ: I'm glad the security system is working…
OQ: And that you're not sharing a bed with John tonight.
FS: He's my friend.
OQ: I'm your friend, too.
True, but she generally didn't go around kissing her friends.
FS: You should get some rest.
OQ: Would love to, but I can't.
FS: I know it's been a sucky day, but you-
OQ: I need your help.
OQ: I have mint chocolate chip ice cream. It must be eaten.
FS: You don't fight fair.
OQ: Never claimed to.
FS: Where are you?
OQ: Outside your door in the hallway.
She slid off the bed, pushed her bare feet into her bunny slippers, and made her way to the front door. Remembering his admonishment earlier, she looked through the peephole to check that it was actually Oliver.
"You were pretty confident I'd open the door."
"Who can resist ice cream?" he replied as she stepped aside to allow him entrance. His eyes fell on her. She wore a tank top that didn't quite cover her taut abdomen and long pajama pants with a printed pattern of…beavers?
Noticing him staring, she explained, "Tim the Beaver. It's an MIT thing. So why mint chocolate chip?"
She walked toward the kitchen, and he followed. "It's my favorite, but how could you have known that?"
"I didn't, but when we kissed, you tasted like mint. It put me in the mood…" his eyes twinkled wickedly, "for ice cream."
"Where did you go tonight?" she asked, trying to keep her voice casual as she reached into the cabinet for two bowls.
"To talk to my dad. His gravestone."
"That wasn't what I expected," she confessed. "Was it a good conversation?"
"It helped. You came up." He shadowed her and reached out, his hand brushing her hair over one shoulder. He leaned down and pressed a trail of tiny kisses on the exposed flesh of her neck while his hands slid around her waist.
She did her best to ignore his nearness.
And failed miserably.
They stood like that for a moment as she ran her fingertips over the back of his hands and found herself practically melting into him.
You're being an idiot, she scolded herself. This isn't going to end well for you.
She wanted to ask what he told his father, but pushed that impulse aside even as she stepped away from his touch. "No wonder my ears were burning. Anywhere else?"
Oliver was disappointed when she disentangled herself from his hold. "The grocery store." He opened a kitchen drawer and pulled out two spoons and an ice cream scooper. "I have a question for you. Why were you pushing me toward Laurel?"
That got her attention. "I…" She exhaled. "I wasn't exactly."
She sighed. "Maybe I was. To see what you'd do."
"So you were testing me."
She cringed. "Not testing you exactly. Just giving you an opportunity, I guess."
"I don't want to be with Laurel."
"Right. Because of the life you lead, it's better to not be with someone you care about. Etc. Etc."
Dammit. Those words were coming back to haunt him yet again. "That's not it. I don't want to be with Laurel."
Oh? That's all he got? Oh?
"Can you forget what I told you when we got back from Russia? I was being an idiot."
"Yes, you were."
"Hey," he protested good-naturedly. "You don't have to agree with me!"
"I kept waiting for you to figure it out. And then I analyzed and overanalyzed your words. Once I had time to think about it, it kind of pissed me off."
"I just want to keep you safe."
"There is no such thing as safe. Haven't we covered this already?"
"Right. Don't bubble wrap you."
"And you probably thought you were letting me down easy."
"Well, it wasn't easy. It hurt. A lot."
"I'm not telling you this to make you feel bad or even for an apology, but things are changing kind of fast here. Last night you pulled away from me like I had bad breath or cooties or something." She scooped the ice cream into the bowls she'd placed on the counter.
Despite the serious turn in their conversation, he couldn't help the small smile that formed on his lips. "Your breath was fine."
"Tonight you kissed me. And no complaints there because it was pretty fantastic. But now you're here, and you brought ice cream and you're being flirtatious, which I can't decide if that's awesome or really strange because I feel like I'm getting a little glimpse of…" she stopped herself. "You've had a bad day—"
"Which describes most of them," Oliver interrupted trying to follow her shifting train of thought. "You're making me dizzy."
"I just think you need to be sure about our thing before this goes any further, and I don't think you can be sure when I've kind of blown up your ideas about your family. So the best thing we can do is eat our ice cream before it melts."
With that, she took her bowl and walked the short distance to the living room. Oliver followed her, settling on the couch next to her.
They sat in silence, eating their ice cream, until finally Felicity spoke up. "So this party at the McMartins' is tomorrow night. Any words of advice or warning for me?"
"Just don't be shocked if we don't get a warm reception. Parker may have invited us, but his old man is not as forgiving. Whatever happens, don't take it personally."
"Oh, I don't expect parties to actually be fun anymore." At the baffled look on his face, she added, "Not because of you."
"What does that even mean?"
"It seems like every party we go to, somebody ends up dead or kidnapped or with a bomb collar. No poison yet, so that's good. And…I've just jinxed us."
He shook his head in bemusement. "No one's going to end up dead."
She turned sideways on the sofa and drew her legs up beneath her. "Seriously, the Starling City Coroner's office must absolutely hate it whenever there's a society party or charity event. All I know is that there is no way I am going to wear red to this."
"Is this another pop culture reference I don't get?"
"Star Trek. The redshirts. Always the ones who got," she sliced her finger across her throat and made a little kill sound.
"Well, for once, we'll be attending as Oliver and Felicity, not as any other personas."
Oliver fell silent, and his mood darkened, she noticed.
"What are you thinking?"
"McMartin knew my dad. They were good friends, occasional business associates. Scratched each other's backs, I suppose. Frederick McMartin knows Isabel, but I wonder if he knew about her back then." They needed his capital, but convincing McMartin to take a chance on him was going to be a tough sell. They needed some back up plans. "We're running out of time."
As though reading his thoughts, Felicity asked, "How did the meeting with Mr. Glenmullen go today?"
"I may or may not have told him to keep his hands off your ass if he knows what's good for him."
"Oliver, you can't go around threatening potential investors."
"I won't have him mistreating you. But I have a meeting with Yeardley Glenmullen next week, Peter Glenmullen's brother." She looked at him in some surprise. "Sorry. I didn't put it on the calendar like you've asked me to do with meetings."
"A million times."
"Half a million times. The two have been feuding for years. I thought I might be able to use that to work up…something."
"That's really sad," she said softly. "Not what you're doing, but the fact they are at such odds with other."
"Word is they haven't even seen each other in nearly twenty years," Oliver explained. "They even had separate funeral services for their mother when she passed away. And of course they went to court over who had the rights to her body."
"Yikes." Felicity swallowed hard. "I know it's not the same, but I would give anything to see my brother again."
"You have a brother?"
She reached over to the end table and picked up a framed photograph and passed it to Oliver. In it, he immediately recognized a younger Felicity standing next to a young man wearing a commencement gown and proudly beaming as he held up his diploma. His hair and eyes were dark—quite the opposite of hers.
"His name was Gabe. He was Dad's son from his first marriage that, depending on whom you ask, ended either because his first wife was a vindictive bitch—that's my mom's take on it—or because they wanted different things in life. So Gabe spent alternate holidays and every summer with us. I thought he hung the moon."
"What happened?" Oliver's stomach knotted. He dreaded her answer.
"He died in a car accident when I was seventeen." She stared straight ahead and stabbed at her ice cream. "I hated his driving. He used to quote Top Gun at me: 'I feel the need…the need for speed.' And I'd tell him Maverick and Goose were talking jets, not Jeep Wranglers. I loathe that movie now."
"Felicity, I'm sorry."
She set aside her bowl and reached for the picture. "I miss him. Some days are harder than others, but enough time has passed that I can think of him and smile. Not cry." Despite her words, her eyes welled. "Except now, apparently. Figures," she added with a weak smile.
"You don't ever have to hide what you feel from me."
She nodded. "I hope you know that goes both ways." She returned the photo to its place on the table.
"I don't know what to feel about Kirill."
"That's understandable. Your situation with him is far different from my family situation with Gabe. I knew Gabe for as long as I could remember. You're a grown man finding out you have a very young brother."
"It's not just that. I liked being Robert Queen's only son. It's…," he shook his head, "prideful."
"You let it become your identity. Well, one of them."
"I knew my dad cheated on my mother. More than once, actually. And it bothered me, but it also never seemed real. My mom would put on her public face, mostly for Thea's sake, I think, and it was brushed under the rug. But Kirill is the proof." He watched her reaction. "You think I'm a hypocrite to be upset with my dad when I did the same thing to Laurel."
"I think that your feelings are your feelings, and no one has the right to tell you how you should feel. So now that you know about Kirill, what are you going to do?"
"Confirm his parentage. Secretly, of course."
"Nothing for now. He's a twelve-year-old kid being raised by Isabel's family. I can't swoop in and introduce myself as his brother. For all I know, the questions that I would raise would tear his world apart."
"I wonder if Isabel will offer the same consideration to him."
"Whatever happens between Isabel and myself, I need to make sure Kirill is protected. When he finds out—and sooner or later he will—he's got to be equipped to handle it. He's a part of my dad, just as much as I am, just as much as Thea is. I want to know him someday."
"What about your mom? Thea?"
Oliver leaned his head back against the couch and closed his eyes. "I'm dreading that conversation. They need to know. I can't let Isabel use Kirill against them, either."
She took his empty bowl from his lap and set it on the coffee table. "You should get some rest. You don't sleep enough."
"I sleep too much," he replied opening his eyes. The look of concern etched on her features set his heart pounding. "Hey. I'm okay. I am."
He slid closer to her on the couch, leaning toward her. He worried her too much, he knew, and for whatever reason, she was the one person he didn't want to worry about him.
His hand went to her hip and his fingers dipped under the hem of her tank top. Ever so lightly, he brushed his fingertips over her smooth skin. It was an act of intimacy, something a lover would do.
Felicity sucked in a breath. Her skin felt hot, even as goose bumps rose. Oliver urged her closer until she was in his lap. His hands worked to reposition her legs so that she straddled him. "Oliver..." She loved the sound of his name, but even more, she loved the way this felt. Pressed against him, she could feel his body reacting to her. Instinctively, she ground against him, needing more. "Oliver, we shouldn't complicate..."
He wasn't listening. He was too busy tracing her full lips with his fingertips. She was innocent in so many ways, but at that moment, he wanted to give her knowledge. He wanted to touch her, to take her to bed and meld with her, to be with her. He wanted to warn her that his intentions weren't good, that she deserved much better than him, that he likely wouldn't get a happy ending.
He wanted to kiss her.
Her eyes fluttered. Oliver was rewriting everything she thought she knew about them, and their story alternately thrilled and scared her. They were a team at Queen Consolidated, a team in the foundry.
Was he to become her lover, too?
Her body ached for him. Could she trust him with her heart after he'd already broken it once? There wasn't enough ice cream in the world if this went bad.
His hand moved away from her lips and rested at the nape of her neck.
She was his captive, but strangely, she didn't mind.
"I'm a selfish man, Felicity," he said before taking possession of her lips.
She sighed. His lips were a combination of hot and cold. Hot from the natural heat that emanated from him, cold from the ice cream.
Gently, he sucked on her lower lip loosening her resolve, determined to gain full access to her mouth. She parted her lips, accepting him completely. His tongue delved into her mouth, rubbing against her own.
It scared him knowing that he could very easily get lost in the moment, lost in her.
"You taste so good," he murmured as he pulled away slightly before plundering her mouth again. "So sweet."
"It's the ice cream," she managed.
The moment needed to end before they passed the point of no return. He pulled away from her, his eyes still fixed on her with an intensity that sent her heart racing. "The ice cream's good, but you taste better."
She leaned her forehead against his, their breaths still mingling. "I want this, Oliver, but we shouldn't let ourselves get carried away."
"Agreed," he said reluctantly.
"So no more kissing," she added before she lightly trailed her lips across his jaw.
He gripped her hips. "Starting tomorrow," he negotiated.
She smiled before pressing her mouth against his.
To be continued….
A/N: Well, I know many of you were hoping for the Belinda/Isabel conversation, but I couldn't get it to fit into this chapter without interrupting the flow. I promise you will find out what the two of them discussed.
I have to admit; this one was a bear to write. I really, really wanted to do these two justice. I hope I have.
I originally planned this story to be ten chapters, but I am just too darn wordy. I'm looking for it to be about twelve now.
The other issue I had with writing it is that my muse is a fickle creature. The plot bunnies have been frolicking in a couple of other directions. So in addition to this story, I actually have two other Arrow stories in the works and my love of Jericho has flared again. We'll see if the muse sticks with me.
I'd love to know what you thought about this one. As always, thanks so much for reading!