Title: I will make sure to keep my distance (say "I love you" when you're not listening)
Prompt: Picture / "Pretending not to love you was the hardest thing I've ever done."
Word Count: 9,750
Summary: "So this is it. This is me making it really easy. Because when I walk away, there's no more rewrites. No more waiting for the day you change your mind… No more expectations. You get one chance, Oliver, and then I pull the plug."
I will make sure to keep my distance (say "I love you" when you're not listening)
Some days were easier than the last. Some days he could convince himself he was doing the right thing. Thea would tell him that being a martyr only paid off in the movies, and she was half-right.
"Because of the life that I lead… I just think that it's better to not… be with someone that I could really care about."
Those words were going to haunt him; he had no idea.
The thing about Felicity was that she was always there. She was his constant. She could be relied on, trusted, turned to, and she would always do her best to come through. She would stick around in a foundry made of concrete and rebar, waiting for it to cave in on her head, talking someone through deactivating a machine bent on making the city around her fall apart. Loyal did not begin to describe Felicity Smoak. It was one of many reasons he fell in love with her. Her quirky wit, stunning intelligence, and ability to always care were just a few of the others.
But he made an executive decision to stop what was happening between them before it could happen. He lived too many lives, tightly packed into one very complicated cover as a playboy billionaire, and what she deserved, what he wanted to give her, was never going to be an option. He had been kidding himself when he thought he could have that with Laurel. Laurel who didn't even know about his alter-egos. Who still held him up to the person he used to be. Who would never be able to forgive him for the mistakes he'd made, and probably shouldn't.
When he came back from the island, he thought it'd be so easy. He thought the people around him would move where he wanted them to, placed on a board like chess pieces; he forgot they had free will. So many years on an island fighting for his own, and he'd completely forgotten to expect that others would not just bend to his will.
Felicity was a prime example of that. She was strong, stronger than he gave her credit for, and she'd only built her confidence over the course of their friendship. Even from the beginning, she was quick to question the lies he offered as truths, quick to tell him what was right and wrong, and to rescind her offer of help if she didn't think what he was doing was okay with her values.
That's what his dad would have called it. An admirable trait to have under certain circumstances. An irritation when he was in Hood-mode and unwilling to compromise. But that was what Felicity demanded; compromise. And he learned how to do that, in part because she was too valuable an asset to lose, and more because he didn't like the disappointment that crossed her face when he didn't meet his required hero status.
That was what she saw him has. Even now. Even after years of fighting and bloodshed and murder. Even when he made promises not to kill and had to break them, time and time again. He was not a hero. He couldn't be. Not with the amount of blood on his hands. The tally of deaths chalked up in his corner of the leadership board. He was no hero. He was a vigilante, going after the justice he felt fit, with no care for the law or anyone who got in his way.
Except there were days when she convinced him different. When he patrolled the Glades and saved people because they needed it, and not because it was demanded of him. When he stopped the next villain from destroying lives or the city around them. It wasn't a matter of just saving those he loved, those that mattered to him, and the list seemed to get longer as time went on, but he had to save others too. 'Had' wasn't even the right word. He felt compelled to. He had the abilities, the resources at his disposal; why not save everyone he could?
The burden of not saving them weighed heavy on him. Almost as heavily as the deaths that tallied their way up, blocking out whatever good he hoped to see in himself. He tried. He tried until he was exhausted. There were nights he couldn't move, every muscle ached so much, his mind overworked to a degree that he was too tired to do much more than breathe. And Felicity would help him relieve his leather jacket from his too tired arms, she'd make him a cup of tea, offer to listen to his day if he wanted to talk, or leave him be if that's what he preferred. She learned to read him, both in and out of the office; there was no one who knew him better.
He'd gotten so used to playing the image up for those around him that sometimes he got lost in it. He lost sight of who he was and what he wanted. He loved his sister, but it was hard to be the brother she wanted and needed when he knew he was nothing like the man she used to chase after, eager for any scrap of his attention. It was hard to be his mother's son, all the while knowing what he did about her, what he worked so hard to derail at every chance, what he worried still corrupted some part of her even as he desperately tried to hold on to the loving image of her he'd known from birth. Tommy was gone, dying with the belief that his best friend was a cold-blooded murderer. Everyone who knew him pre-island still saw him as who he had been, a pampered playboy with no business sense, or sense at all really.
But when all of that fell away, he was someone else entirely. He was a man scarred from an island of horror, who had trouble laughing or smiling sincerely, who still struggled with PTSD and whose trust never came easy. He could better kill a man than shake his hand, and would, if necessary. He had ties to the Bratva, which said more about him than he liked. He was not a good person. He would never be able to settle down into a normal, easy life. He was not destined for that. One day, he would die a brutal, bloody death, and he was sure he would deserve every second of it. Until that day, he would do everything he could to repent for his sins; for the sins of his father and mother too. And he would take down as many of the corrupt and cruel as he could.
At night, standing in the foundry, he felt at ease. This was his sanctuary; the only two people who were allowed inside were those he would trust his life with, and who he would lay his life down for in the blink of an eye. This was where he didn't hide behind masks or lies or carefully cultivated images. He didn't have to hide his scars, or his story, he let them see.
Felicity was never put off by his scars.
Maybe it was the way she was introduced to them, helping Digg save his life when a bullet wound his mother had inflicted forced him to trust a quirky IT specialist by crawling into her car as a last grab at survival. It was one of the best decisions he ever made, and only paid off as time went on. But putting his trust in her meant showing her parts of him he'd previously been quick to hide. When she signed on with their team, she was privy to more than he ever expected to share, and she showed her loyalty with every secret she kept.
He could admit that her obvious admiration of him was an ego boost. The self-involved playboy he'd been before the island was used to how women fawned over him. He wasn't without enough confidence to recognize that he was in peak condition post-island. But the scars could be off-putting, even terrifying if one took the time to wonder how they happened. Felicity never looked horrified. She had expressed sympathy that he'd been through so much, but his scars didn't scare her. They were simply part of who he was. She had the advantage of only knowing him after the island. There was nothing to compare him to, nothing to mold him back into. He was simply who he was, and she accepted that. Even if she didn't always agree with him or his methods.
He couldn't say for sure when exactly he fell in love with her. It was a gradual climb from general admiration of her intelligence and skills to something much deeper, aided by the fact that she was one of only two people he knew could be trusted completely. That was an important factor after spending five years constantly stuck in hyper-awareness, questioning every face he saw, sure that it would be the next enemy out to take his life.
But he knew, the moment she found him and Isabel together, that what he felt for her went far beyond friendship. And it wouldn't be fading any time soon. She was going to be there, a part of his life, for as long as he led it. So he would either have to accept that she would always be out of reach, pushed away for her own good, or let down his guard even more and take a chance that he wouldn't be the reason she'd end up a name on a headstone too early in her life.
He wasn't willing to sacrifice her.
At the same time, however, he was too selfish not to have her.
Women came and went. He couldn't remember their names. They were blips on the radar, passing faces in a long-line of events that took far more attention and energy. First and foremost, he had to be Arrow. He had to be that version of him caught between a hero and a vigilante, never quite sure how high or low on the scale he registered.
There were men in her life too, but he was sure she knew far more details about them. Felicity had relationships, not liaisons. And, truth be told, he knew a lot more about the men she spent her time with than the women he spent his. Not because she shared details, because she didn't, except for a few slip-ups during her many rambles. He knew about them because if they had any part of her life, he needed to know their backgrounds, their history, if they were worthy. Digg warned him that was a breach of privacy, but Oliver didn't care.
There was Jake from accounting. He was a nice enough guy. Boring, sure, but safe. He had a good credit score, a few forgettable speeding tickets, and an ex-fiancé that occasionally contacted him via Facebook to see if he wanted to give it another try. Other than that, he was spotless. He and Felicity dated for four months. He slobbered too much when he kissed, or so Felicity said once while complaining about her lack of personal life.
A few months after Jake was Paul. He was a few years older, liked the outdoors, rock-climbed for fun, and occasionally played the guitar. His credit score was on the lower side, but he made up for it with being independently wealthy. He met Felicity at an art exhibit one of his friend's was hosting. They spent over a year together. Oliver hated him. Not because he wasn't good enough for her, but because he was. Paul was funny and friendly and he worshipped the ground Felicity walked on. He always made time for her, knew her favorite wine, often cooked her dinner, even late at night due to her hectic schedule, and was able to offer her everything she deserved.
She broke up with him when she realized she'd never have enough time to give the same back to him.
Oliver watched her cry in John's arms afterwards, and he hated that a small part of him was relieved it was over.
She didn't date for a while after that, but when she did it was a creep named Taylor. He'd later wonder if Felicity was punishing herself for breaking up with Perfect Paul when she let Taylor in her life and didn't kick him out the first time he stole fifty dollars out of her purse.
"Everybody deserves a second chance," she'd tell him. But it didn't sound like her. It didn't sound like the strong, capable, smart woman he knew. She let Taylor stick around for three and a half months, but when he asked her if she could get him a job at QC, something with good benefits, she kicked him to the curb.
She didn't cry that time. Sarah took her out and they got very, very drunk. By out, he meant upstairs to Verdant. She laughed for the first time in months, and Oliver watched her, Sarah, and Thea dance to Single Ladies, completely and hilariously offbeat but proud of themselves all the same.
There was a blur of relationships that followed, all short-lived: Kyle the entrepreneur, Mike the bartender, Phil the lawyer, Aaron the gym trainer.
Oliver told himself it didn't hurt, watching her move on, watching her try to find someone to love and be loved by. He told himself he had no right to be jealous, no right to hold her back, but with every man that came into her life, he waited for it to be the one. He waited for her to tell him she couldn't do it, she couldn't continue being his Girl Friday because her life was calling and she was finally going to answer. He dreaded the day that moment would come, constantly aware of its inevitability.
But then she stopped dating. She stopped having dinner with men she never gave him names to, but he always found out about anyway. She stopped having coffee with smart, handsome men who weren't dragging their own body-weight in baggage behind them. She stopped letting her friends set her up and flirting with the FedEx guy who visited the office regularly, always finding a way to come by and see Felicity. She just stopped. And he didn't understand why.
Until he did.
She brought him coffee when he had a long day.
He looked up, exhausted, from where his head had been buried in his hands. "Felicity… Hi." His brow furrowed. "I thought you went home."
"Well, that would be the logical thing to do, considering it's nearly midnight, but…" She shrugged, walking toward him. "I know you're staying late, later than usual anyway, and…" She held out a mug he hadn't realized she was holding and placed it down on the desk. "I figure this is one of those occasions where coffee is warranted."
He sighed, his shoulders slumping a little. "What am I doing?"
"Mostly getting down on yourself, I'd guess. But what you should be doing is giving yourself a break."
He raised an eyebrow, reaching for the mug of coffee and drawing it closer.
"Oliver, I know you've been doing this for a few years, but you and I both know that it isn't where your passion lies. Part of it is a cover and the other part is family loyalty. I know you don't want to hand the reigns back to your mother because you're worried her image isn't cleaned up enough for the investors to trust her, but having her run the company while you stay the face of it is a better option… You can't keep doing this to yourself. You've got two jobs, both of which are sucking you dry, and you blame yourself whenever anything doesn't go off without a hitch. But you can't split yourself between the two and expect them both to run smoothly." She shook her head, circling his desk to stand closer to him. She picked up the mug still on the desk and then wrapped his hand around it. "So drink your coffee, finish up your work, and tomorrow, talk to your mother about what duties she could start taking on to build up her image in the company. Baby steps, right?"
He stared up at her, relief and appreciation warming his chest. "Thank you."
She smiled down at him lightly. "You're welcome."
When she walked away, he felt a little lighter than before. Hope was on the horizon.
She started smiling at him more.
He couldn't narrow it down to exact instances where it stood out significantly. He just noticed that she was directing those bright, effortless smiles of hers in his direction more often. When he did well in a business meeting, when he arrived at the office and before he left, when she cracked the code to getting into a particularly difficult database, when they beat the bad guys, a comforting smile after a long day, after a good day, a reassuring smile on a bad day.
If anything, he found himself cataloguing her smiles; happy, relieved, warm, friendly, excited, proud, encouraging, tender, sweet, flirty, awkward, sarcastic, forced. She was an open book and her smile always gave her away.
And those smiles, more often than not, were for him.
It made him want to smile in return. Which was a rare feeling for him of late.
He liked it.
She stopped keeping him at a distance.
"Can we talk?"
He paused as he stripped his leather jacket from his shoulders, his black undershirt pulled taut over his chest. He hadn't realized she was still there. Usually when he went out patrolling, she went home as soon as she knew he was on his way back to the foundry, content that he was safe and would be on his way home soon. That she stayed was new. Or at least different. She used to before… Before Russia. Before Isabel. Before he'd effectively put an arrow in their burgeoning relationship.
Shaking his head, he glanced at her over his shoulder. "Of course," he agreed. "What's wrong?"
Her lips quirked. "Does something have to be 'wrong'?" She stepped closer to him and reached up, helping him pull the leather jacket down his arms. She walked toward the case it was housed in and hung it up, examining it quickly for any tears. She grabbed a wet-wipe and cleaned it quickly of the dirt on the elbows and a few spots he'd landed on while fighting.
He waited, watching her thoughtfully as he stripped off his gloves, hooking them in his pocket, before pulling off his black undershirt and putting it aside to be washed. "Felicity?"
Her shoulders slumped a little. "It's just been a long day…" She bit her lip and he felt something stir in his belly, as it often did when she bit her lip.
Before his mind could wander to less safe areas, he cleared his throat. "Has it?"
"A long week, really." She turned to face him, her hands bunching in the flowery skirt of her dress. Her knuckles were white and his fingers twitched, eager to reach out and smooth hers out, ease the stress from her grip. "I just thought… We haven't really talked lately. And I don't have anyone to share my day with…" She shook her head, her eyes closed. "Nobody who I can tell everything to, anyway."
He frowned. Did that mean she had someone she could tell some of it to?
His gut twisted.
He would know, wouldn't he? He always did before.
He needed to stop. He couldn't spend his life wondering who she was spending hers with. She was here, right now, trying to share her day with him. And that's what he offered before, wasn't it? Years ago, when they first started. He told her she could always tell him about her day. It had just been so long since she took him up on that offer. So long since she shared time with him that didn't involve QC or John. He missed it. He missed the days when they could sit down and talk about their lives, the parts that did and didn't involve each other. She was one of the few people he could talk to about his mother and Thea, who he could share his worries with, who would understand the parts of him that were struggling.
"Are you hungry?" she wondered suddenly.
He stared at her a long second, wondering why she looked so nervous, and then he nodded shortly.
She half-smiled. "Let's get dinner and… we can talk."
He smiled back. "I'd like that."
"Great," she said happily, and then turned quickly, hurrying to her desk. "Um, I'll just shut down my computers. You get undressed." She paused, blinking twice. "I—I mean, not—not undressed, but… dressed into something else. Something not leathery and… arrow-y." She waved a hand through the air, as if trying to bat away the words she'd let loose. "You get changed and I'll wait here."
He grinned then, a familiar tug at his stomach that was happy to hear one of her usual faux-pas. It'd been a while since she let one of those slip too. It was nice. Familiar. He didn't wonder about the relief that hit him square in the chest, instead he walked off to get changed. When he came back, she was tapping away on her phone, her hair down from the ponytail she usually kept it in for the foundry.
"How's Big Belly Burger sound?" she asked. "I'm feeling like I need comfort food."
He nodded. "Sounds great."
As they walked out, she filled the quiet with her usual chatter, telling him about a program she'd been running in conjunction with the facial recognition software. It was comfortable and easy and he was happy to have it back in his life. They left Verdant and soon found themselves at their usual table at Big Belly, minus one teammate. But even without John there, it was comfortable. Oliver knew he'd missed her, she'd kept him at an emotional and physical distance for a long time, but he never realized just how much he liked what they had until he had it back again.
Despite everything, despite knowing that it was easier, it was safer, to keep Felicity at a distance, he hoped she wouldn't erect that wall between them again. He wanted her close. He wanted her to share her days with him. Even if he knew that at that at the end of that day, she'd go home to someone else. It would hurt, but he would live with it. Because he couldn't stand not having her at all. He wasn't sure what brought it on, but he hoped it continued.
She took over bandaging his wounds, as long as they weren't life-threatening.
"I don't want to point fingers, but I think some of us are getting a little danger-happy…"
Oliver pursed his lips at her as he eased back on his elbows, watching her patch up a slice across his stomach. He could have done it himself. In fact, he had the bandages in hand and was about to start cleaning it up when she appeared, pulling on a pair of gloves and taking the bandage out of his hand before she gave his chest a shove and directed him toward the metal table. She told him to lay back because his "ridiculous ab situation" was making it difficult to clean the cut. He decided to take 'ridiculous' as a compliment.
"I'm not danger-happy… I took a chance and it paid off."
"You realize if you'd gotten just a little closer, this wouldn't be a flesh wound… He could have stabbed you through a very vital organ, and then where would you be?"
"Probably exactly where I am, only Diggle would be here and he'd be less…"
She arched an eyebrow at him. "He'd be less what?" She put a hand on her hip. "Naggy?"
His eyes darted away. "I didn't say that."
"But you were going to."
He rolled his eyes. "He'd be less concerned."
"No, he'd just hide it better," she argued, turning her attention back to his stomach as she smoothed down the edges of his bandage. "This is the third time I've done this in two weeks, you know that?"
"I wasn't keeping a tally, but it sounds about right," he muttered.
She sighed, yanking her gloves off and throwing them angrily into the garbage can. "Oliver…"
Pushing himself up, he winced at the pull on his skin but didn't let it stop him from hopping off the table and moving toward her. He touched her elbow, and she stilled, waiting. He tugged on her, turning her around to face him.
His brow furrowed tightly. "I know that you worry, and maybe it seems like I'm in danger more lately, but… This is my life, Felicity. These things, these decisions I have to make, they all happen so quickly. So I can't always avoid them, I can't be scared every time I go out…" He shook his head. "I promise, I'm not trying to be in more danger than usual. I have too much to live for, too many people I care about, to do that."
She didn't respond right away, but eventually gave a tiny nod, her eyes down, staring at the white patch over his stomach.
He caught her chin with his finger and lifted it so they were eye to eye. "I'll never leave you intentionally. I'll always fight."
He wasn't sure that was the right thing to say. Did people say that to their friends? Probably not. But he meant it.
Her watery eyes stared up at him searchingly before finally she murmured, "I'll hold you to that." And then, not waiting for a response, she rose up and wrapped her arms around his neck in a hug, burying her face in his shoulder. She was so warm against him, so soft against his much more solid frame. His arms wrapped low around her waist, hands splayed over the small of her back. He tipped his head down, nose buried in her hair, and let himself have that moment.
She'd been doing this more lately, helping him patch up rather than letting him do it himself. He wasn't sure if it was because she was so worried about how dangerous it was out there or because they'd been getting closer, rebuilding the roots of their friendship, but some part of him liked her concern. He liked how she took charge and fussed over every little injury. It reminded him he was cared for.
The problem with being a secret vigilante was that there was no one around to lean on when things hurt; not publically. It wasn't like when he was a kid and he'd scrape his knee; he could go to his mother or Raisa and have them kiss it better, tell him it was okay, and coo at him as they praised him for being so brave. The stories behind his injuries now were much darker than falling off his bike or out of the trees in the yard. He had to hide them, swallow the wince each time he moved the wrong way or pulled at his stitches.
Felicity never hesitated to touch him, to ask if he was okay, to check his wounds after they'd been patched and see for herself how bad they were. She didn't mind telling him he wasn't being careful or berating him for taking unnecessary risks. She worried and she cared and it reminded him that these things were real, that someone cared, that it was okay to be hurt and share it with someone. Just her though. She was one of the very few people he had who he didn't have to, and never wanted to, lie to.
Her hand dragged down the back of his neck, leaving a trail of warmth behind. "You want some tea?" she asked as she pulled back.
His hands shook and he curled his fingers into his palms when what he really wanted to do was pull her close and bury his face in her neck. He didn't need tea, that wasn't the comfort he wanted. He wanted her. But he couldn't have her. He'd already made that choice.
"Sure," he said. "Tea would be nice."
She would be better. But that wasn't an option.
She ignored personal space and started reaching out to him again.
"So, what plans do you have tonight?" she asked, taking a seat on the edge of his desk, her long legs crossed. "I mean, I don't want to toot the horn too early, but you actually have a night off for once…" She paused, shrugging an attractively bare shoulder, her fuchsia pink blouse showing off her lean arms. "Well, outside of green leather and arrow commitments," she admitted, closing one eye and drawing a hand back, finger cocked as if she was letting loose an invisible arrow.
He leaned back in his chair, away from her, when what he really wanted to do was lean forward, breathe in the intoxicating scent of her perfume. Brow furrowed, he shook off the desire and focused his eyes up on her. "I don't know. I think I might see if Thea has some time off. We can get dinner, catch up."
She smiled brightly. "That's sweet. She'll like that." Hopping off his desk, she rested an arm on his shoulder and bent a little closer to him. "You deserve a night off. You should enjoy it." Her hand rose and she rubbed her knuckles over his cheek affectionately.
He leaned into her touch without even thinking about it, an unconscious need to be closer. And then she was gone, and he felt the place her hand had been like a hot brand on his skin. He watched her go, his forehead wrinkled in confusion. Aside from patching him up, she hadn't been that close to him in a long time, keeping a professional distance between them since Russia. He'd both welcomed and hated it. Welcomed it because it helped to keep his attraction to her, his constant awareness of her, at bay. And hated it because he didn't want the distance, he wanted her closer, wanted her constantly within reach.
He wasn't sure what to think now. How was he supposed to stay detached if she was letting him close?
She let him worry.
Felicity was a strong person. She didn't like feeling like she was any less capable than anyone else on the team. She didn't like feeling weak and she hated when he argued against her going into the field. Oliver, on the other hand, didn't like having no control, and things happened in the field that he couldn't stop. So letting her get out of reach, putting her in harm's way; that was never an option to him. Felicity didn't like that, and she really didn't appreciate it when he fought for her to stay out of the field.
In the end, she usually got her way. And, to her credit, things often went off without a hitch. For the most part, she trained with Digg, and after nearly five years of his tutelage, she was a deadly adversary, if necessary. But Felicity was too kind-hearted to kill. She always subdued attackers, knocked them out and moved on. She never killed, always looking for another option when faced with another obstacle. He admired that, even if it was unrealistic as time went on that she would always stay pure.
The night she was faced with having to kill someone, he knew it would forever change her. But it was her life or theirs, and Oliver didn't have enough time to get to her. When he found her, there was a body on the ground, unmoving, and the relief that it wasn't her hit him hard. She was kneeling beside her attacker, hands balled into fists on her knees, to keep them from shaking he was sure. He put a hand on her shoulder, but she didn't see or hear him. They had to move and he was forced to pull her up and drag her along with him. They got out, past a haze of bullets. She had the microchip they went in for tucked away in a pocket. She dug it out and put it on her desk, but did nothing more than stare at it for ten minutes.
And then she cried. She sobbed so hard, so jaggedly, that Oliver felt his heart lurch. He struggled with how to make her feel better, because some part of him couldn't help but be glad the other man was dead. If he wasn't, Felicity wouldn't be there, and that simply wasn't an option.
Digg left them to talk, apparently leaving it to Oliver to fix it, and he wasn't sure why. Digg had seen death, he'd had to kill, he could just as easily have comforted Felicity after taking a life. Probably better than Oliver could. But he chose not to, leaving it up to Oliver.
It took him a few minutes before he finally moved, bending down in front of her, his hands on her knees, turning her chair so she was facing him. Her eyes were red, puffy, and her face splotchy. Tears fell in a constant stream of sorrow and regret. He reached up, cupping her cheeks, and swiped them away with his thumbs.
"I killed him," she breathed brokenly. "I killed him. He's dead."
He nodded slowly.
"I…" She shook her head, squeezing her eyes closed. "I don't know what to do. I don't know what that makes me." Her hands were shaking.
Her breath left her in a rush, tripping over her lips.
When she still didn't look at him, he ground his teeth a little, angry that this dead man was still hurting her. "Felicity, if you didn't kill him, he would've killed you, and he wouldn't cry over it." He swiped another tear away. "I know you didn't want to, and I know you'll always remember it, but… You're here, right now, because you had to make a very difficult choice, and… I know you don't want to hear it, but it was the right choice."
Her eyes opened slowly, turning down to meet his, her brow furrowed. "How can it be?"
He pulled her in tight, until she sunk to the floor in front of him, and he hugged her to his chest, wrapping her up close in his arms. "I could hear you, on the comm.'s. I could hear you fighting, hear you crying out, and I thought— I thought you were going to die…" He squeezed her tighter, burying his head down against her. "I can't lose you. So I'm sorry you're upset that he's dead, but I'm not. I'd kill him myself if it meant you lived."
Her arms slowly wrapped around him and she sunk into his chest. She was still crying, she would be for a while. It would be a few months before she went into the field again, but at least she understood why he worried. It wasn't just his concern about her physically, it was about her mental and emotional state too. So she let him worry, let him argue with her and hold her afterwards. And he didn't ask himself if it was too much, if they were getting too close, because he needed it, he needed her.
It hit him suddenly.
After six months of her not dating. Six months of them reconnecting, of coffee and talking and smiles just for him. Of fussing and touching and confiding in each other. Felicity was rewriting their boundaries; she was rewiring how they worked and what they meant to each other. She was bringing him closer, resetting them to that point right before Russia, only it had hit that point and then it had moved past it, growing and deepening as it was always meant to, before he'd ruined it.
He was at a fundraiser, though he had no idea what it was for. His mother was charming everyone to further revamp and smooth out her image. Even after all these years, it was hard to get people to look past the Glades and her involvement. But Oliver needed this just as much as Moira did. He needed her to take the company back over. Not only because she would run it far better than he could, but because he didn't care for the title of CEO or wearing the all-too-heavy mantle of businessman. He was not that person. He was a vigilante, and having his interests pulled in any other direction was not helping his cause, it was hindering it. It helped too, that he was sure Felicity would much rather trade in her executive assistant title for IT geek once more.
Speaking of his smart and stunning assistant, he finally spotted her across the room. His breath left him abruptly. The bottom of her white dress pooled around her feet. It draped dramatically from her waist, while black lace flowers climbed her hips and spread up from her stomach, creating a dramatic top. She was gorgeous. Of course, he found her gorgeous last week when she'd traded in her pencil skirt for a pair of sweats and an oversized sweater that slipped off one of her shoulders. But now… His heart leapt up into his throat and made it difficult for him to swallow.
He found himself walking toward her before he'd even consciously made the decision. She was smiling, a punch of bright red lipstick making her smile seem even brighter. She reached up to tuck a blonde wave behind her ear, showing off her matching red nail polish and a pretty pearl earring.
When he reached her, he wondered if he was gaping. "You look…" He shook his head, his eyes wide, brows hiked.
She ducked her head, a pink flush flooding her cheeks. "Thank you." She smoothed a hand down her stomach. "Sarah helped me pick it out, actually."
"She has good taste."
"Yeah. It was nice. We don't get to do normal things together very often."
"Normal," he repeated, as if the word were unfamiliar.
She rolled her eyes at him. "Yes, something you're obviously severely lacking in your life." She started walking, pulling him along with her. "Come on, we're going to apply a little normal right now and dance."
He didn't argue, instead wrapping an arm around her waist while he took up her free hand in his own and raised it, his thumb absently stroking her knuckles.
Her hand settled high on his shoulder as they started moving to the beat of the orchestra playing in the background. The white fabric of her dress was silk; it was soft and thin beneath his hand, which almost seemed too rough, too callused to be touching it… to be touching her. Still, as he breathed in deeply, inhaling the light scent of jasmine she wore, he couldn't help but think of slowly stripping that silk from her body, those same rough hands of his dragging down her soft skin.
"Hm?" He lifted his head, his eyes meeting hers.
She stared at him curiously. "Are you usually this quiet when dancing?"
His eyes darted away for a moment. "Usually when I'm dancing, it's an elaborate plan to get closer to a mark or I'm distracting them while you and Digg sneak into an office somewhere and steal something high tech…" He shrugged. "Except when I'm dancing with Thea or my mother, and then I have to make idle chit-chat."
"Should I be flattered then?" Her lips turned up on one side. "I mean, you don't need to distract me and you currently have access to everything I have…" She frowned. "I meant my computers. You have access to my computers."
He grinned slowly, letting out a low chuckle.
"Don't make me pinch you," she warned.
He stifled his smile and shook his head, glancing away from her and catching sight of his mother across the room. She'd just finished laughing at something one of the board members had said when she noticed him. She smiled genuinely then before her eyes lit up on seeing Felicity. He imagined if the setting was different, she would have given him a thumbs-up. Between her and Thea, he was surprised they hadn't created an elaborate matchmaking scheme to get him and Felicity together. It wasn't their fault; as far as they knew, she was the only stable woman in his life that he regularly spent time with and trusted. From an outsider's point of view, it only made sense. Which is why they didn't understand his reticence to be with Felicity outside of friendship. He couldn't exactly explain that his life would never fit that mold, and she deserved better than what he could offer.
"Moira's having a nice time," Felicity said then, drawing his eyes back to her.
Apparently she too had caught his mother's eye and lifted her hand to wave at Moira, who nodded in reply.
"She's been spending more time with the investors lately… Does that mean you'll be letting her take over soon?"
"Hopefully… She stills needs more time to convince everyone. It's not just the investors. We have a lot of other people watching our every move. I don't want to put her in that position and then watch the stock fall. It won't help QC or her."
"She's strong. And the business has come a long way."
"You're an unfailing optimist."
She smiled up at him. "Someone has to be to balance out all that broody pessimism."
He scoffed. "I'm not always pessimistic."
"I don't want to burst your bubble, but you plan for the worst every time. You always expect things will blow up in your face."
"There's a difference between being pessimistic and realistic."
She raised an eyebrow. "There is," she agreed. "But when you automatically assume everything you touch, everything you're involved in, and everyone around you will eventually either die or leave you, that's not being realistic…" Her expression sobered. "Take us for example."
He paused, his heart stuttering in his chest. That hadn't been where he was expecting this conversation to go.
"You stopped us before we could start because you were sure that it would lead to disaster. Not that we couldn't make it in a relationship, but that outside forces were going to intervene somehow. You made assumptions about what I wanted and needed and that you couldn't give them to me. You decided that your life was too dangerous, too much to share with anybody, even though I shared the same risks you did, every day and night. You pushed me away and convinced yourself that it would save me in the long run, and then when I did start to move on, you piled on the self-hatred and only made it worse by basically stalking every guy that ever so much as breathed in my direction. Which, by the way, was borderline creepy."
"I didn't stalk them… I just kept an eye on them." He shrugged. "The world's a dangerous place. You never really know who you're getting into bed with."
"Well, that was the problem wasn't it? You wanted me in your bed, but you weren't willing to let me in. So then when I got into someone else's bed, you couldn't control it, which, I'm sure, drove you crazy."
He let out a heavy sigh and looked away. "What do you want me to say?"
"I want you to say you were wrong, but you won't… because you still think you were right. Even now, even knowing that these last six months we've been getting closer, some part of you is prepared to push me away." She stopped dancing and released his hand. "So I'm going to make it easy for you."
He stared down at her, his brow furrowed.
"The life you think I wanted to live, I could've had it. I could've been happy with Paul. We could be married and we could have the 2.5 kids and a mini-van. He would love me for the rest of my life and he would never come home with stab wounds or disappear after some lame excuse about something to do with work. He doesn't have demons he fights regularly, his scars don't have a background in torture, and he doesn't have a heartbreakingly epic romance with another woman that I will probably always feel inferior to. Paul was perfect. Paul was everything you are and more, because he didn't come with the baggage or the secret night life or the murder-y ex-girlfriends… And I was happy with Paul. I even loved Paul. But my future is not what I imagine playing out with him. It's not what you see either.
"You imagine me, twenty years from now, as a soccer mom who fixes computers in the IT Department. You imagine I'll get tired of you and this life and undercover missions where I occasionally kick bad-guy ass. And the problem here is that you keep trying to write my life without consulting me. Because maybe if you did, you would've realized that I was prepared to be with you, whatever that meant. I was prepared to help you fight this cause for however long it takes, and I'm completely aware of how much of a commitment that is. Because I'm not the same geeky IT girl you met five years ago. I'm not naïve about this world anymore, and you can't change that. Nor do I want you to."
She waved a hand at him before he could interrupt. "Oliver, I let you call the shots before, because we were at a crossroads and you made your choice. You weren't ready yet and you weren't sure if you ever would be. You were still reeling from losing Tommy, you had a lot on your plate, and whatever was happening between us was bad timing… But I'm not going to be the girl who waits around forever for you to figure yourself out. My life doesn't get put on hold because you're confused or playing martyr or any of that… I'm capable of making my own decisions, I have been for a long time, and if you'd ever bothered to ask what I wanted, the answer was you. Dangerous secret night life and all."
Swallowing tightly, she put her hands to her hips. "So this is it. This is me making it really easy. Because when I walk away, there's no more rewrites. No more waiting for the day you change your mind. No more stalking the Perfect Paul's and Terrible Taylor's of my life. We continue working as partners in this 'save-the-city' quest of ours, and that's it. You let go and I let go. No more expectations. You get one chance, Oliver, and then I pull the plug."
She stared up at him a long moment and he stared back.
She was right.
He was waiting.
He was holding on.
He was hoping that eventually his life would either smooth out and he could move on, or waiting for the moment she would finally say that was enough and leave him behind. And here she was saying there were two alternatives. Either she lived his life with him, or she was a part of his life, but never as much as he wanted. Because she wasn't saying she'd walk away completely. She still wanted to help him be the hero she thought he was. But she was putting an end to the longing and the suffering and the what if's that were still lingering between them. It was either all in or not at all.
When she sighed, her shoulders fell a little, and she turned to leave, her white dress dancing around her legs.
He watched her walk away, all the while feeling a pit forming in his stomach. She stopped by his mother, taking her hands and squeezing, before she said her goodbyes and moved to leave. And he watched her go, a nervous anticipation biting away at him. What if she left and that was really it? What if, tomorrow, he walked into QC and she was back to being just Felicity? Felicity who didn't talk to him or linger after patrol. Felicity who didn't tell him about her day or fuss over his injuries. Felicity who didn't make those embarrassing verbal gaffes he enjoyed so much. Felicity who didn't smile at him or reach for him or let him hold her after a bad mission. What if he woke up tomorrow and knew that there would never be a day when he still had a chance with her? What if she really let him go and moved on? What if she found Paul again and gave it another chance? What if, what if, what if.
And the thing of it was… he didn't want that. He didn't want to miss her even when she was within reach. He didn't want to know that he had his chance and he let it walk away. He didn't want to lose her. Not in any way. And that was his biggest problem. All this time he'd pushed her away out of a fear of losing her, but pushing her away was what made him lose her once before. For three and a half years, he never really had her. He had to watch from the sidelines as she grew apart from him, as he kept her at a distance, all the while knowing that he was in love with her and he had to keep her safe by not being with her. She was right, he should have asked her what she wanted, who she wanted, instead of making that decision for the both of them. Because she was smarter than him, she was better at understanding why he did things and why he shouldn't. She was better at calling him out on his mistakes than he could ever be. Without her saying no, without her telling him that pushing her away was the wrong decision, he went with it, putting himself through more anguish than necessary. And that's what it was.
Felicity was his rock. She had been for a long time. When days were going south, he knew he could rely on her to brighten them up. When missions were botched, she was the optimist, she looked for another way. When things were rough with his family, she told him what he could do to fix it. When he questioned what he was doing, whether he was good or not, she helped him find clarity. She was the bright spot in his life. And without her there, something was missing, it wasn't right, and he felt it.
He walked out of the fundraiser without a backward glance or an excuse. He walked outside and took the stairs two at a time until he was standing on the sidewalk, turning his head in either direction, searching for her.
She was down the block, reaching for the handle of a yellow cab, when he shouted her name, running toward her, his feet eating up pavement.
She stood upright, her brow furrowed, and the cab drove away, not bothering to wait.
"Do you know how long it took to flag them down?"
He stared at her a long second, searching her face as if he thought he'd never see it again. "Pretending not to love you was the hardest thing I've ever done."
Her lips parted, but no sound escaped, and her eyes widened.
"I was an idiot… Four years ago, when I told you I couldn't be with anyone I cared about… I was wrong. I…" He shook his head. "I was scared. I came back thinking that the only person I could ever be happy with was Laurel, and when that fell apart, when I lost Tommy, I just… I wasn't sure where I fit anymore. But then then you were there, you were always there. And you helped pick me up, you helped me get on my feet and find my purpose again. You stood by me even when I made you leave a job you loved because I was being selfish. Everything was just happening so fast and I… I couldn't lose you. All I ever do is lose people. So I thought if I could just keep you close, if I could just have part of you, it would be enough…"
He blinked quickly as his eyes burned. "But it wasn't. It was never enough. And I watched you try to be happy with Paul and Jake and all of these other guys, and I was just waiting for the moment that you decided you needed to stop spending your nights with vigilantes and start building a life with them… I was still waiting for you to leave me. I wouldn't even blame you for it, because I'm not easy to be with. I'm selfish and I don't have the best history with women. I've killed a lot of people. I've been tortured and I still have PTSD that I don't know if I'll ever deal with. I still have nightmares. I wake up terrified I'm still on that island. And even knowing you are the best thing I've ever had in my life and that you're picking me, I still think I don't deserve you. I'm not sure I ever will."
He reached for her, his hands finding her elbows and tugging her a little closer. "But I spent four years trying to convince myself that I was doing the right thing. Four years telling myself that I didn't love you. And I know I'm late, I know I screwed it up once before, but… You told me once that I deserve better, and I'm telling you that you're the best I'll ever have, if you'll have me."
She stared up at him, her blue eyes swimming, and he didn't realize he was holding his breath until she smiled.
He bent to kiss her before she could say anything, his lips slanting over hers, hard and deep. She let out a surprised hum before meeting that bruising kiss with the same intensity. Her arms came up and around his neck while his circled her waist and he drew her in tight, his hands sliding up her back, clutching her to him. On a chilly night, on the sidewalk outside of a bustling fundraiser he never learned the reason for, with his mother peeking out from a window, silently cheering him on, Oliver Queen finally stopped letting his fear run his relationships.
When he drew back a little, drawing in a deep breath, he rested his forehead against hers and tried to calm his racing heart.
"I love you too."
His eyes opened, meeting hers.
She pecked his lips once, twice, three times. "You know, just in case you weren't sure… I don't think I mentioned that when I was rambling."
His lips curled up in a smile. "I don't think I heard it the first time. Maybe you should repeat it."
She pursed her lips to hide her grin. "No way. You need to earn it." She tipped her head back. "The way I see it, you wasted four years. You need to be the one making up for lost time. So…" She trailed off when his head ducked down and he started peppering her neck and collar bones with sucking kisses. Her breath tripped as she exhaled and her fingers gripped his hair a little tighter.
"You should flag another taxi down," he suggested, his hands sliding down her hips and squeezing. "It's been a long time since I was arrested for public nudity, but I'm not opposed to it."
Her arm rose abruptly, hand waving frantically, and she shouted in a strangled voice. "Taxi!"
Oliver laughed, dragging his mouth down her chest, his chin coming to a stop at the neckline of her dress. He really liked her dress. He was almost going to regret tearing it off of her when they got to her apartment. Almost.
Thankfully, a cab did pull it up, and they made it to her apartment in record time. She even managed to get his hands off her long enough to get the dress off without destroying it. He spent the night trying to make up for time lost, getting very little sleep in between, and the following afternoon, when he finally found his way home, his mother merely congratulated him on finally seeing what was in front of him all along.
In the end, Felicity was right. A phrase he would utter often. The life he thought she wanted, and that he thought he would lead, were not what came to fruition. He could have balance. He could have a stable, loving relationship without destroying it. That didn't mean neither of them ever got hurt; they lived dangerous lives. It also didn't mean they were perfect or their relationship didn't have its ups and downs. But they were solid.
It seemed his life happened in increments of five. Five years on the island, five keeping her at distance, and, after five years together, they were married in a small ceremony that consisted of only their closest friends and family. Five years after that, they welcomed a healthy baby boy into their life; Connor Thomas Queen.
Life was good. It wasn't always easy and he didn't hang up the hood or his bow for a very long time, but he was happy. Happier than he ever thought he could be, or that he deserved. But then, he was a pessimist, and his optimistic wife promised she'd always be there to remind him of why he deserved all the happiness he had and more.
Whether he deserved her or not, he had her, and as long as she wanted him, he wouldn't let her go.
Author's Note: The next part of the Betrayal series will probably be up Monday night. My Sunday is completely packed and Monday morning I have an exam. But I've had this mostly finished for a while since I've been writing stories based on gifs to keep my muse going, so I decided to put it up to hold you over. I hope you liked it!
Check out my Polyvore to see Felicity's dress, and my LJ to see the gif this story was based off of.
Please leave a review! Thank you so much for reading!
- Lee | Fina