It starts small. It starts with bribery in the form of bottles of wine, with bad cover stories about scavenger hunts and Oliver’s own particular form of charm which has more in common with brute force than it does soft flirtation. He knows he’s a handsome man, he can see she’s flustered at his presence, and he uses that to get what he needs from her.
But she’s not an idiot, and when she finds him bleeding in the back seat of her car, her surprise is all about his injury, not his identity. She works with John Diggle to stitch him up, makes a choice to join the team, tries to act as his conscience when all he can see are the names in his book. They work together to find Walter, but her life isn’t so goal oriented that she can’t appreciate the view when he climbs up the salmon ladder shirtless.
He spends a lot of time shirtless.
At first she thought he was teasing her, but then she realised that whatever his motivation was for eschewing upper body wear, her feelings weren’t under consideration.
Felicity is an analytical person. She works from data, from facts. Her mind strings disparate facts together until the bigger picture starts to make sense. From the start he used the fact she thought he was attractive against her. Now he rarely wears a shirt. It’s hard not to see a correlation.
But there isn’t one, not really. She doesn’t have the role of love interest here. He has other women in his life for that. She’s his sidekick - combination IT support and Jiminy Cricket, and his eyes never linger.
Sometimes she feels vindicated by this; she’s a third generation feminist, who has always balanced girly clothes and bright lipstick with a determination not to be taken any less seriously at her work just because she has boobs. Other times she resents the fact that Oliver Queen, Billionaire playboy with a dating history in the gossip pages thicker than a phone book, just doesn’t see her as desirable.
It’s not like she wants to get involved with him, but it would be nice if he noticed her once in a while. For equality’s sake.
She knows she doesn’t want him. The occasional night-time fantasy - have you seen what he looks like? - doesn’t count. It’s just the normal everyday reaction to working alongside a super hero. She’s even had the odd fleeting thought about John, and he’s even more off the market.
She knows enough about this world and her part in it to know that she’s here to support these two. Help them on their way to happiness with other people. She does that when she pushes John to ask out Carly, when she teases Oliver about McKenna. It’s fun to look but she’s not a groupie and she’s not desperate. She just spends most evenings in the company of two of the fittest and most attractive men she’s ever met, and she’s not blind. She may be blonde but she’s not dumb. Of course she’s going to enjoy the view.
She hears herself saying things that make her cringe, but she’s not about to stop talking around him. It’s about the only thing she does that flusters him (in his own very stoic way) as much as he flusters her.
It’s her own subtle form of revenge, and despite all the embarrassment she feels when she reveals a little too much, she delights in it.
And then Malcolm Merlyn triggers his artificial earthquake and destroys half of the Glades.
Felicity is in the club basement, tear tracks on her cheeks as she watches dust fall from cracks in the ceiling and wonders if this is it. Will the ceiling come down and crush her in her chair? How many are dead? The radio crackles in her ear and she can hear Oliver begging Tommy to open his eyes, to say something, anything.
Even over the crackle of the transmission she can hear the pain in his voice, the desperation and loss in his tone. He doesn’t need to tell her Tommy’s gone. She already knows.
She sits at her post and watches data fly across the screen. Notifications of emergency calls, dispatch notices of ambulances and fire engines, news reports from roving reporters. The city is bleeding right now because they failed it. She and Oliver and John tried and failed and innocent people died. All these months of work were for nothing. There was a second device and none of them saw it coming.
She wonders if Detective Lance is still alive. She feared for him when he triggered the short countdown on the device they were disarming. She heard half of a phone conversation telling his daughter - Oliver’s Laurel - to get out of the Glades, but there hadn’t been enough time for her even to get out of the building.
There’s always a price.
This time Tommy paid it. Tommy and who knows how many others.
She’s still watching the data when Oliver arrives. She doesn’t know how long she’s been sitting there, but her cheeks are long since dry. Her eyes are cried out, tears for the dying, tears for the dead and tears for the fact that all of it is down to their failure.
She looks up and Oliver is there, standing just beyond the screens. His hood is down and the green make-up he uses to hide his eyes is smeared and streaked just like what remains of her own mascara. She looks at him and sees heartbreak, and without a word she gets up from the computers, crosses to where he is and wraps her arms around his chest.
It isn’t a moment of chemistry, longing or flirtation. His best friend died in his arms tonight and this is all the comfort she has to give him - to give anyone - right now.
Slowly she feels his head come down on her shoulder, his arms come up around her waist and he sags into her. She kicked off her shoes hours ago, so he should be standing taller than ever above her, but he’s broken in ways he never was coming back from the island, and he feels small in her arms. Small and lost and broken.
“Get the medical kit,” he says in a rough voice.
She blinks and steps back to look at him. She spots the injury immediately, a dark red stain on his upper chest.
“Arrow,” he says. “Malcolm was behind me. I had to take him out.”
“So you stabbed yourself through the chest?” She hears her own voice rise several octaves.
“It was the only way,” he says, not looking at her. His shoulders are slumped, his chest is bleeding. There’s no animation in his voice. Everything about him is exhausted. And exhausting. She feels weary just looking at him, or maybe that’s her own trauma externalising itself. No one could say it’s been an easy day.
She raises her hands to the wound. There’s not as much blood as she might expect given that he was impaled earlier this evening. She tries to remember her anatomy, what might have been hit.
“How’s your breathing?”
“I missed the lung,” he says. “All I hit was muscle.”
“How do you know?”
“It hurts when I move.”
She glares at him. “You’re not a doctor, you don’t know that.”
“I know it.”
“You went to medical school on that island of yours?”
“No,” he says, his eyes going distant as they always do when he thinks of his past, “but I know I missed the lung. I’ve done too much running since I took the hit. If I’d punctured the lung I’d have known it.”
She wants to fuss, try and make him go to the hospital, but she already knows his answer. Instead she pushes him towards a chair. He doesn’t need fussing, he needs help.
“I’ll get the kit,” she says, “you, sit.”
The medical kit should really be called the medical case - it’s far bigger than any first aid collection she’s ever seen outside of an emergency room. John keeps it stocked with everything from adrenalin shots to zinc oxide tape, all neatly labelled and categorised. He took her through it when Oliver was recovering from his mother’s bullets and she worked hard to memorise the lessons. For a deep puncture arrow wound (John had gone into great depth about arrow wounds as they both agreed it was definitely something that would come up) that seems to have missed all major organs, she’ll need these wipes, and that disinfectant and these bandages too.
She lines up supplies on the counter top and looks for gauze and tape.
Oliver has already taken off his Hood jacket by the time she turns back to him. He sits on the high stool, bruises already blossoming on his skin. The red of the blood has darkened and his wound looks like a dirty smear rather than an injury.
She doesn’t often see the scars. Her eyes prefer to linger over the curve of his muscles or the line of his back, occasionally they notice the tattoos, which have never made a great deal of sense to her if he was, as he said publicly, stuck alone on an island for five years. But that’s just another unknowable element of the enigma that is Oliver Queen.
Tonight however she sees the scars. The old and the new. This wound will close soon enough and become yet another mark on his body. She has an antiseptic wipe in her hand, ready to clean away the dried blood and dirt that cake the puncture, but she can’t quite bring herself to do it.
Her hand hovers mere millimetres from his skin, but she doesn’t close the distance.
She jumps at the sound of her name on his lips. He sounds bone tired.
“Sorry,” she says, pushing her glasses up her nose and bringing the wipe down to clean his injury. “Got distracted.”
“Not what you had in mind?” He says, giving her a weak smile.
“Computers don’t bleed,” she retorts, “and if they did it would be some kind of cooling fluid, not this.”
The still damp blood is easy to remove, as is the grime of his sweat, the dirt on the skin. The dried ichor is harder, she has to push at it, scrape at it with her fingernails to give the wipe traction. It’s icky and she thinks briefly of herself six months ago, the girl who could barely deal with her own cuts and bruises. She’s come a long way since then. Ickiness is now an accepted part of her life.
“Ickiness?” He asks, and she flushes as she realises she must have been thinking out loud.
“You know what I mean.”
He doesn’t say anything else so she focuses on getting doing her job, cleaning him up. A second more of scraping lifts the last of the coagulated blood and caked dirt from his skin and a fresh trickle of red appears. She steps around his to repeat the action on the wound on his back.
“Who’s arrow was it,” she asks, “his or yours?” Oliver shifts in his seat but doesn’t answer. “I don’t suppose it matters,” she continues. “One arrow is pretty much like another.”
“Not really,” he grunts.
“Of course there are differences,” she admits, not really paying attention, just letting her mouth run as she works. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have so many different types, but in terms of stabbing, does it matter what type of arrow it was? You still got stabbed. Even if you did stab yourself.”
The entry and exit wounds are clean. She pulls off the gloves she’s wearing over the dirty wipes in her hand, then pulls on another pair and grabs the antiseptic, ready to clean the inside of the wound as best she can.
“Are you still on antibiotics?” She asks, “maybe we should keep you on them all the time. But then, would that mean your system gets used to them and then you’ll get one of those super-bugs?” She pauses, pulling up data from her memories, trying to remember how much over exposure to antibiotics it takes before infections get resistant. She remembers reading an article about it a long time ago when she needed to respond to a forum post about infectious disease on a zombie apocalypse board she used to visit in college. Was it the antibiotics themselves that caused the problem or the rise in antibiotic hand soaps? She doesn’t recall. Either way the human race was screwed in the long term.
Her mind is ticking along while her hands work, cleaning his wound. The actual puncture is quite small, he might not need stitches, which is good because there’s only so dispassionately professional she can be and pushing a needle through flesh crosses that line.
“I don’t need stitches,” he says, either reading her mind or trying to head off her argument that he should do to a hospital. In other circumstances she might disagree but it’s already three in the morning and today has been long enough.
“Okay,” she agrees, and attaches a pad of gauze to his chest with tape.
“You’re not going to fight with me?” He says, sounding genuinely surprised, the first real emotion other than exhaustion he’s shown since he arrived. “Tell me I need to go to the hospital.”
“Would you go to the hospital?”
“Then what’s the point? I’m too tired.” She steps around the stool to place a second piece of gauze on his back. “Not that I think I’ll get any sleep tonight. But I don’t have the energy to argue with you about stitches. The bleeding’s mostly stopped and it’s not like one more scar will make a difference.”
She unrolls a roll of cloth bandage and starts to wrap his chest. He doesn’t really need the bandage but it’ll help keep the gauze secure. She uses one hand to hold the end of it in place, then steps in to wrap it around his back and pass the cloth from one hand to the other. She’s standing very close to him, her arms close to being wrapped around him, but she barely notices, so intent is she on her task.
“Where’s the witty comment?” Oliver asks, and she frowns at him.
“What do you mean?” She shifts the angle of the bandage now so she’s wrapping his shoulder, then going diagonally down his back to tuck the material under his arm. It won’t cover the entire gauze pad but it should make it more secure.
“You’re standing so close,” he says, sounding more like himself than he has since he arrived back. “You’ve got your arms around me - where’s the oh so witty comment? Something like ‘I expected this to be more fun,’ or I don’t know, something flirtatious about tying me down? Or up?”
Felicity blinks at him.
“What?” She says, “I don’t say -”
“You do,” he interrupts. “Don’t pretend you don’t. You’ve always got something to say.”
“No,” his expression darkens, “not tonight.”
“We failed,” she says, not meeting his eye and focusing instead on securing the bandage in place with a safety pin. “We failed the city and people died.”
“I failed the city.”
“We failed the city,” she says, “I should have known about the second device. If we’d known -”
“We’d have done, what?” He says, bitterly, “there’s only three of us. It took both Diggle and I to take down Malcolm. We both almost died doing it. He’s the one who failed the city. Malcolm.”
“If I had gone with Detective Lance,” she says as she tidies away the medical supplies, “if there had been two of us, maybe we could have found both devices, deactivated them both. Saved the Glades.” She keeps her eyes on the bottles, on the packets, putting each one back into its proper drawer and collecting the dirty wipes and used gloves to throw away. If she keeps her mind on the task maybe she won’t have to look up and see the death of his best friend in his face. The death she might have been able to prevent.
“No,” he says, “you could have died.”
“I could have saved,” Tommy, “everyone.”
“You could have died,” he repeats. He turns in the seat, making her jump. Her elbow knocks a pair of scissors to the floor and she drops to a crouch to pick them up.
She places her hand on top of the scissors meaning to pick them up but something stops her. All at once the events of the evening hit her and she lacks the energy to even curl her fingers around the implement on the floor.
“Oliver,” she says, “I’m so sorry about Tommy. I’m so sorry that I didn’t know about the second device. That I didn’t stop it.”
“You didn’t know,” he says, “we didn’t know.”
She doesn’t move, and suddenly he’s there beside her, his large hand coming down on top of her hand on top of the scissors. His fingers thread through hers and he lifts her hand up from the ground, wrapped inside his.
Now he’s standing close to her, his large frame behind her, her hand in his. She’s not looking at him, and she knows that if it wasn’t for the fact she’s already shed every tear she could tonight she’d be crying right now.
He doesn’t move their joined hands but his other arm comes up around her, pulling her back against him and holding her tight.
It’s about the most awkward hug she’s ever experienced, and she’s counting her earlier attempt to comfort him in that. He’s comforted her before but this so far from their normal relationship that she doesn’t know what to say.
However ineffectual, she appreciates the gesture, so her raises her free hand and squeezes the arm he wrapped around her. She tightens her grip on his hand too, and he seems to get the message because he lets her go.
She turns to face him and isn’t surprised to see tears in his eyes again.
“What now?” She asks, wrapping her arms around herself and wishing for her tablet, just so she had something to do with her hands.
“We go home, go to sleep, get up tomorrow.”
“What now,” she says, “for you? For the Hood?”
“Malcolm’s dead, “ he says, “Tommy’s dead. The undertaking is over. The city doesn’t need the Hood anymore, it needs money. Investment for rebuilding.”
“It needs Oliver Queen,” she says, realising.
“Maybe I can help save the city without a bow and arrow.” He says, but there’s none of the confidence there usually is in his voice when he’s talked about the saving the city before. Instead there’s uncertainty.
“Oliver Queen,” she says, “man of the people.”
“Something like that.”
“What about all this?” She asks, “You promised John you’d find his brother’s killer.”
“We’ve still got to find Deadshot,” he admits, “I’ll give Diggle the closure he needs. But right now the city’s what matters. The city and the people in it.”
“Your mother’s in jail,” she realises. “With Malcolm dead she’ll take more of the fall.”
“Yeah,” he sighs, “Thea called, she’s safe. Laurel’s with her father.”
“He made it out okay,” she sighs, “Thank God. I was worried.”
“He’s okay,” Oliver confirms, “they both are, but Tommy...” He looks past her and she realises he must be reliving his friend’s death. “He said he loved Laurel, he saved her when I couldn’t. He was the hero. And he died for it. Other people always seem to end up paying for my mistakes.”
“You can’t think like that,” she says, “you did everything you could.”
“Yes and it wasn’t enough.”
The pain in his voice is suddenly too much and before she knows it, she’s stepped forward and has taken up his hand in both of hers.
“It was more than anyone else could do,” she says softly, “you can’t save everyone.”
“I never could,” he says, “My father’s dead, my mother’s in jail, Tommy’s dead, Yao Fai’s dead, Shado…”
“No one.” Oliver’s expression shuts down and he steps back, pulling his hand away from her, but she doesn’t let go.
“No,” she says, “You’re alive, I’m alive, John’s alive, Laurel, your sister - we’re all alive because of you. If both devices had gone off this place would be dust, it’s still standing because of you.”
“Because of us.”
“Fine, us. But mostly you. If you hadn’t come back from that island none of us would have had a chance. Now we do, and whether you want to believe me or not, I know it’s true. And whether you’re Oliver Queen, masked vigilante or Oliver Queen, local businessman, I know you’ll find a way to make things better. You’re a hero.”
She finishes her sentence and takes a breath. She stares up at him and he stares back down at her, and she realises suddenly that they’re having a moment. That was a lot of words and she’s sure she meant every one but she’s standing here, looking up at the most handsome man she’s ever met, holding onto him with both hands and telling him how wonderful he is. She’s pretty sure there should be rising music for a moment like that, and they shouldn’t both have red eyes and bone deep weariness and she shouldn’t have a blood stain from his injury on her shirt.
His face softens and his free hand comes up, moving towards her face and she knows he’s going to cup her cheek and lean in and while she’s imagined a moment like this before she knows that this one is wrong wrong wrong so she pulls back.
“Go home,” she says, dropping her hands from his. “Sleep in your own bed, wake up tomorrow. It’s another day.”
He’s staring at her like he’s never quite seen her before and she’s uncomfortable.
“I won’t be able to sleep,” he says, and his voice sounds different than she’s ever heard it before. She pretends to not notice.
“You should be with Laurel,” she says, “go find her. Make sure she’s okay.”
“Felicity,” he says, his voice deep and full of emotion.
“You need to go Oliver,” she says, “find Laurel, find your sister. Be the better man you want to be.”
“Where will you go?”
“Home,” she says with a smile. “I’m going to go home, and then tomorrow I’m going to check on John, and then I’m going to come here, because if you’re going to save the city properly, you’re going to need help.”
“Yeah,” he says, but he accepts the jacket she throws him.
“She’s in Starling City General,” Felicity says, “nothing serious but they’re keeping her for observation. Get changed. Go.”
Oliver nods, but he’s still watching her with that strange expression on his face.
“I’ll see you in the morning?” he asks softly.
“Yes,” she agrees, “I’ll see you in the morning.”
She’s too tired to do anything else but go so she picks up her shoes and bag. Shoes she needs for the broken glass that’s bound to be covering the sidewalk outside, bag for her car keys. She doesn’t say anything else as she turns and walks away from him, trying not to think about the fact she might have just turned her back on her one chance to steal a kiss from Oliver Queen.
But even if that was her one chance, she doesn’t regret it. Oliver’s in pieces - he’s strong but he’s in shock. And right now she’d rather stand and fight alongside him tomorrow and all the days after, than risk it all tonight to play out a romantic moment more suited to a soap opera than her life. He’ll need her support in the days to come, and he won’t have that if he’s avoiding her out of embarrassment.
She’s not the heroine in this tale, even if he is the hero. She’s the comic relief, the plucky sidekick, and for all that she’ll check out his abs when he takes his shirt off, that’s as far as it goes. She can look and she might comment but she can’t touch.
This isn’t insecurity speaking, she knows her place in his life.
She will feed him data, patch his wounds, and be his friend.
And that’s it.
She’s almost out the door when she hears:
“Good night, Felicity. And thank you.”
“Good night, Oliver,” she says, smiling at him from the door. “See you tomorrow.”
And they’re back to normal. No long looks, no strange tones.
She closes the door behind her, and finds her car miraculously untouched despite the crumbled walls and cracked asphalt around it. Everything’s as normal as it can be in the aftermath of a man-made earthquake set off by a madman.
But if the skin of her hands tingles all the way home at the memory of his touch, she’s not telling anyone.