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Away from the Shadows

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It felt like it had been forever since Felicity felt warm. Rain and darkness and cold, at least of a metaphorical kind if not always literal, had been part of her life for so long now, it was hard to believe they were gone. But the farther they got from Starling City, and the longer the sun sparkled onto the water beside the road, the more she believed it. The warmth unknotted her spine. Her shoulders loosened. She smiled at the feel of the wind against her cheeks and the sun on her hair.

Freedom. That was what this felt like, she thought, holding a hand over the side as if she could hold back the force of the wind. But it blew past, and she let her concerns blow with it.

She'd had enough worry and grief for a life-time, and she'd learned to appreciate the moment. And this moment was great.

The leather seat was very comfortable. Oliver had excellent taste in rental cars, even if his money came from places that Felicity would prefer the FBI and Oliver himself not examine too closely. But he wouldn't, because he had a rich boy's lack of awareness for where money came from. John knew, of course, that something was fishy that Oliver's personal account kept replenishing itself, even after the assets in his trust fund were seized. But she'd shrugged and said it wasn't as if certain dead villains needed their ill-gotten gains anymore, and Team Arrow had to support themselves somehow.

John had given her that look that said he didn't really approve, that look that made her squirm inside like she was twelve years old again. "So you don't have to work at that retail job."

"Sure I do," she'd answered. "For my own sanity."

His hand settled on her shoulder and gripped it companionably. "You have a degree; you deserve better."

She'd appreciated the wish-- John was so genuine and supporting, she had to believe everything he said-- but she'd answered with a smile, "I have it all set up as my personal server. It's pretty perfect really."

"I wasn't talking about just the job," John had said with a glance at the Arrow suit.

Now she glanced at Oliver's face, lit golden with the low sun, and she thought that maybe John had been right. She had deserved better than the man Oliver had been, then, but the man Oliver was becoming? As his wounds healed, as the trauma eased its grip – on them both, not him alone; she was self-aware to admit it wasn't just Oliver needing this time away – he was becoming the man she'd glimpsed all along. Not the reckless playboy he'd been before the Island, she was pretty sure she'd never have given that boy a minute of her time. But the man who'd smiled when he'd lied badly about arrows, poison, and bullet holes.

His head turned, catching her looking at him. "What?"

"Remembering when we first met."

He laughed. "So many terrible excuses to come see you," he admitted. His eyes returned to the road, his right hand moved off the wheel to find her leg. She laid her hand over his and tucked her fingers between his, the roughened skin giving a clue that he was no useless rich boy and hadn't been one in a long time.

The touch reminded her of those fingertips on her skin in other places. She imagined that hand sliding up her thigh, slipping beneath her skirt... She bit her lower lip and kept their joined hands where they were. The road was too curvy to not have his full attention, and the car diving off the edge into the water sounded like a terrible ending to their vacation.

It was like he read her mind. He glanced at her and asked, "Beach town up ahead. Shall we call it a day?"

She moved her hand from his hand to his thigh and squeezed lightly. The steering wheel jerked right in reaction before he corrected, and grinned at her. "That's a yes?"

She took back her hand and smirked. "That is a very definite 'yes', Mister Queen."

He stomped on the gas pedal, and she tilted her head back to laugh.

 


Felicity used her phone and her google-fu to find a B&B but Oliver navigated by the seat of his pants – which was a very nice thing to navigate by, it had to be said, though hopefully not outloud this time – and she was about to touch the Yelp review of the Sleepy Cove B&B when Oliver pulled into the driveway, saying, "They have a vacancy, it says, and it looks nice."

Off-season and midweek, the place was empty and the proprietor let them have the nicest one for hardly anything. Felicity was tempted to go back down and pay more when she saw the room – it was tasteful in its quasi-rustic look and best of all the sliding glass doors opened straight out to a balcony that overlooked the water.

She took out her phone to snap a photo of the water.

"Hey, put that away," Oliver chided. "You put down the tech, I put down the bow, that was the deal."

"Sending a picture to John. You know he'll worry if we don't check in." She texted "Stopping for the night, it's so ugly here. Pity me." and pressed send.

Then she slipped it back into her pocket and turned with a smile. "If you're as attached to that bow as I am to the internet, the bed's gonna be very awkward."

He snickered a laugh, and she could only look at him, astonished by the sunset's light falling on his face. He was so transformed on this trip; he was always handsome, and the body always to die for, but when he smiled, she realized each time how rarely she'd seen him this alight.

"What?" he demanded. "You have that look again, like I have a smudge on my nose." He rubbed at his nose, trying to find whatever she was looking at.

"Admiring." She lifted a hand to touch his face, the scruff prickling her fingers when she caressed opposite the grain and then soft down his cheek. "Smiling suits your face."

He captured that hand against his skin. "You suit my face."

"Your face suits my face. And other parts, too," she added, and then looked wildly around, aware that they were outside and there might be people on the beach or in the side garden below to hear. "Did I say that outloud?"

He chuckled. "You always do." Leaning in, his hand slipping around her waist, his voice dropped to a whispered promise, "I will put my face wherever you want."

She shivered, feeling the weight of his promise, and everything within fluttered in anticipation. "Don't shave," she whispered back, and his eyes flared with a matching interest. As one, their mouths seized each other, and she could give into her desire to put her hands on his chest and his shoulders, ending up with a hand in his bristly hair and the other shoved under his shirt to get at his skin.

Inadvertently her fingers found the scar on his chest, and while she had flinched back from touching it before, this time she pressed her whole hand over it, and held her mouth against his. Mine, and alive, never again, not letting go, not letting go...

She didn't realize she was saying it into his mouth, until he pulled back and her lips shaped the words against his. "Never again."

His eyes looked into hers, reading the desperation. "Felicity..."

"I'm okay," she said but didn't protest as his arms folded her against his chest. His hand was infinitely gentle smoothing her hair against her head and down her shoulders.

"Hey, hey," he murmured. "I'm here, you're here, we're safe."

"I know, I know..." It probably would've been more convincing if her voice hadn't wobbled. Her hands clenched to fists and pressed his back. "It just hit me for a moment. I'm sorry--"

"No, no, don't be sorry. I'm sorry I put you through that. I never meant to hurt you, I wanted to keep you safe. That's all I wanted," he whispered into her hair.

"I don't want to be safe, if you're in danger," she objected, eyes burning now. "I want us to face it together."

He kissed her hair. "I know, and you're right. You're so much wiser than I am," he said, and when she looked up at his face, he thumbed the corner of her right eye, blotting the threatening tear. "You are. Because you knew that all along. You knew that, and Dig knew that, but..."

"You were a big dummy." She traced his lips with a finger, as he smiled.

"I was. I am. But I get it now, and I promise, together."

She booped him on the nose. "Good."

Her phone played the five notes from "Close Encounters" fanfare for her text alert, and she grabbed it out of her pocket. Chuckling she held it for Oliver to see John's response.

"Stay out of the dolphin-turtle turf war. Those sea gangs are tough."

Oliver shook his head. "Dig. I'm glad he's talking to you." His voice turned heavy and his gaze more inward with regret.

She patted his arm. "He needs time. He's still your friend."

As Oliver went back inside to check the bathroom, she texted back, "LOL. Kiss Sara for us. Night."

"There's an enormous spa tub," Oliver reported, poking his head around the corner. "Did you see it?" He wriggled his eyebrows with overblown suggestiveness. "Room enough for two?"

She felt her smile grow fixed and it was a bit of a struggle to get the words out, "I think we should eat dinner first."

But of course he noticed. "That was... too much?"

"No, it was fine." She inhaled a deep breath and walked toward him. "It isn't as if you haven't seen everything. I just... I guess, sometimes I still think of myself as that twelve year old nerd girl that none of the boys noticed."

"I noticed," he told her, and when she would've objected or said that wasn't the point, he shook his head once. "Hey, if it's not comfortable, it's okay. I don't want to do anything you don't want, I hope you know that? But let me just say it again, so you hear me: you, Felicity Smoak, are beautiful. With clothes, without clothes, all the time." She liked his fingers, combing a lock of hair down the side of her face with a warm look in his eyes, and when the praise was starting to make her uncomfortable, his smile broadened to a grin. "Also, I should tell you, twelve-year-old boys are the stupidest creatures on Earth. I should know because I was one. So never trust the opinion of one of them, because they know nothing."

Felicity was this close to making a Jon Snow joke, and Oliver put a finger over her lips. "Nope. Let's go find some dinner, Wildling princess."

She was going to let that go. She meant to let it go, but they'd only reached the hall before she had to correct him, "They don't have princesses."

He looked upward in a silent prayer to preserve him from her geekiness, and laughed. His arm slipped around her waist with a comforting familiarity.

She tilted her head against his shoulder and thought: This is how it should be.


 

The dream started out in memory. She and John were in Nanda Parbat, in the cell together, but this time they were alone.

A dark shape – masked, wearing League leather – entered, through a door that suddenly appeared and silently opened. It was Oliver, she knew it was, she could feel that it was him, even though he said nothing as he approached them. Her heart started to pound, as a chill filled the air, spread across her skin, a foul miasma of evil. Unsheathing his sword, the sword of Ra's Al'ghul that was somehow dripping with blood, he said in a flat voice so unlike Oliver's, "Everything of Oliver Queen must die."

Without effort, he drove the sword right into John's chest. She wanted to scream, but she could only watch, as John grabbed at the sword. "Oliver... come back," he whispered.

His hand fell to the stone floor, limp. And he was dead.

"John!" But she had no time for tears, as the dark shadow advanced on her. She pressed her back against the rough unfinished granite of the dungeon wall and looked up at him. "Don't let him win," she whispered in a plea.

But as he bent down nearer and she could see into his eyes, she knew the demon had already won. Because it was a stranger in Oliver's eyes, cold and remote, not only without recognition, but as if all the goodness had been extinguished. All the heart he'd struggled so hard to regain after the island was burned away to ash, and there was nothing left.

He was going to kill her, but the real Oliver was already dead, and John was dead, and...

… it all broke apart, and dissolved, as she heard her name and a hand on her shoulder, shaking her. "Felicity!"

Her eyes opened to find Oliver looking at her. "You were having a bad dream," he explained, and she nodded, still remembering the dead look in his eyes.

"You were lost," she whispered. "You were lost, and John was dead..."

He gathered her close to his warmth, strong arms wrapped around her. "It was a dream. We're both free, and it's over."

She inhaled several deep breaths, calming herself, and closed her eyes. She cuddled close, head on his shoulder and an arm across his chest. Her hand smoothed his skin to calm herself and remind herself of his presence. Lifting her head to look at his face, she asked, "Did I wake you?"

He shook his head, lips pressing together in a wry grimace. "I was already awake."

She wished she'd been able to wake him from his nightmare as he'd wakened her from hers, but kissed what she could reach without moving and laid her head back down. "We'll get through it. We just need to... process."

His fingers made gentle trails down her back. "Right. I'm glad you're here."

"Me, too." It was much better to wake up in his arms, and to feel him alive and see his face, than to wake up alone, unsure whether she was living that nightmare or not.

His fingers kept up their light caress, sending her drifting away to peaceful sleep.


 

After a bowl of cereal and caffeine for breakfast, they were on the road again.

The highway stretched out before them, open and inviting. While they couldn't leave the past behind, it became more distant, as new memories became stronger: walking barefoot on a rocky beach to her feet's dismay until Oliver had scooped her up to carry her, pulling off the road to watch the elephant seal pups, and visiting the Coast City science museum to discover Oliver couldn't resist any buttons or levers until she couldn't stop laughing and had to pull him away to let the actual kids try. She documented all of it on her phone and sent the pictures to John, hoping that they helped to bring a little more light to his life, as well.

But mostly she remembered the car, the wind in her hair and the sunlight on her face, and how she would turn her head to look at Oliver as he turned to look at her. They'd smile and laugh for no reason, except that they'd caught each other looking. It was silly and she loved every single time it happened.

Mile by mile, the darkness was chased away, and the cold of nightmares became the warmth of daydreams.