Felicity jolted awake, heart beating rapidly and breath coming hard and fast. She sat up too quickly and her head spun from the sudden movement. Her skin was sticky with sweat, making her thin t-shirt cling to her back, her chest, her stomach – it was soaked through, but instead of chilling her heated skin, it only succeeded in making her hotter.
The heat in Bangkok was oppressive even at night, the humidity making everything about ten times worse, and whatever respite she thought darkness would bring from the scorching sun never came.
Or maybe I blinked and I missed it, Felicity thought bitterly as she pulled her long hair off the back of her neck and piled it on top of her head, holding it in place with one hand as she fanned the nape of her neck in an attempt to cool down. The old fan she'd bought from a 'shop' (it really was far too generous a term for the hole-in-the-wall place) a few alleys over had broken down two nights ago and she refused to pay through the nose just to have another fan die on her.
Swinging her legs over the side of her small bed, Felicity forced herself to take slower breaths. Head bowed, hands holding on to the edge of the thin mattress, her hair arranged itself in a long cascade over her shoulders and along the side of her face. She was too tired to bother holding it back again and too lazy to search for the hair tie she'd earlier tossed onto the chair she was using as a nightstand. The sounds of wild dogs and old scooters flowed in through her open window and not for the first time Felicity wondered if she wasn't just wasting her time searching the city for a man who clearly didn't want to be found. Maybe she'd well and truly lost touch with reality. Maybe she didn't really know him as well as she thought she did.
A shuffling sound from the corner of her room had Felicity's head snapping up and her hand reaching under her pillow. A tall figure stepped out of the darkness, hands raised, and into the weak light coming in through her open window.
"Oliver," Felicity breathed. Her fingers relaxed around the hilt of the knife Diggle had given her and made her promise to keep under her pillow, but she didn't let go.
Oliver's eyes flickered between her pillow and her face and Felicity forced her expression to remain neutral despite the immediate sense of bone deep relief she felt at his presence. He finally met her gaze, his face tired instead of stony, and his eyes too weary to hide anything. Felicity could read the questions in them. She could make out the apprehension there too as clearly as though the light illuminating his face were bright sunlight instead of the tired light of the dead of night.
"How'd you get in here?" Felicity figured she'd start with the easy questions instead of the ones that had been burning holes into her stomach for the past few months.
"Your window was open," Oliver replied quietly, his tone even and calm. Too even and too calm, and again, Felicity could read far more in his voice in those few words than she'd been able to in all the months they'd worked together.
"I'm three stories up."
Oliver cocked his head to the side, eyebrows raised slightly as if to suggest she'd insulted him by supposing a mere three stories would do anything other than make him breath moderately harder than normal.
She shrugged in reply. "This place is a sauna. I would have melted otherwise."
Shaking his head, he finally lowered his hands and took a step closer. Dressed in a grey tank and black cargo pants, Oliver looked unbothered by the sweltering humidity. She figured that had a lot to do with spending five years unable to do anything but withstand it without hope of any reprieve. Not even from an overpriced and mostly broken down fan.
Her room was small enough that two steps in, he was standing directly in front of her and it made Felicity want to kick herself for being so wrapped up in nightmares that she hadn't noticed another person in her bedroom. Had it been anyone other than Oliver, not even Diggle's knife would have been enough to save her.
Oliver lowered himself to sit beside her, the mattress sagging further under his weight, creaking slightly as he pulled himself right to its edge and fixed his gaze on the cracks running up and down the opposite wall. Clad only in a thin t-shirt and cotton shorts, Felicity supposed she should have felt practically naked next to him, but her mind was working a mile a minute having never actually expected to find him let alone having him show up in her room well after midnight.
Felicity watched him out of the corner of her eye, determined to wait him out, to get him to break the heavy silence between them. With what, she didn't exactly know. She hadn't come looking for an apology. She hadn't even come to bring him back. If she were being completely honest with herself, the only real reason she'd travelled all the way to Bangkok and had taken up residence in a dilapidated hostel in a rundown part of the city had been to make sure he was still alive.
And he was. She could see it now for herself. Oliver Queen had stood in front of her, had spoken to her, and had even shown some semblance of a sense of humour. Now, seated beside her, she could feel the heat coming off of him. His shoulder had brushed against her when he'd sat down and there had been such a familiar solidness to him that her breath had hitched and she'd hoped, in the split second it had taken him to pull away, that he hadn't noticed.
But it wasn't enough, she discovered. She wanted to believe what her eyes saw and what her ears heard, but there was this ridiculously irrational part of her that demanded a sure-fire reassurance that the man seated and sweating next to her was in fact the Oliver Queen who'd left Starling City months ago with nothing more than some money thrown her way. He'd called it a severance package. She'd called it fear. She supposed she'd also come to Thailand to tell him that.
The fingers of the hand that lay between them tightened along the edge of the mattress before she shifted her hand closer to Oliver. She lost the nerve to actually reach out and touch him a mere inch away from his thigh. The mattress creaked again as he she felt him move on the bed. She felt the warmth of his hand settle over hers. His fingers curled into her palm, his thumb over the back of her hand.
"You're a jerk," she declared quietly, eyes tracing one large crack from floor to ceiling. The bed shifted and she assumed Oliver had turned to face her. She couldn't do the same, but she snuck a quick glance out of the corner of her eye and caught him as he was turning back to face the wall again. The mattress dipped again and Felicity finally released the knife she'd been holding since he'd appeared. She pulled her hand out from under the pillow and used it to pull sweat-soaked strands of hair away from her face.
"And don't expect me to launch into an awkward ramble filled with caveats and addendums all about how that wasn't what I'd meant to say because it is what I meant to say." Oliver's fingers tightened around her hand as she spoke, but he made no other attempt to reply. Felicity sighed, tilting her head back to towards the ceiling. "You just," she paused, lips pursed as she forced more calm than she felt into her tone, "left. You just left. And there are people who care about you and worry about you and depend-" his fingers tighten almost painfully around hers at that, but Felicity went on,"-on you, and you just walked away from all of them."
She sucked in a breath. She wasn't being fair. She knew she wasn't being fair. But they had all suffered that night and yet Oliver was the only one who'd not only fled the city, but the country. The continent even.
"You here to bring me back?"
Felicity shook her head slowly. "Would you come back even if I asked you to?"
A beat. A pause, then, "No."
The word hung between them in the stifling darkness. A dog howled somewhere outside her window and a car backfired as if in response. A bead of sweat rolled down Felicity's spine and she tried to lightly shrug off the uncomfortable sensation.
"I came to help you." Felicity hadn't realised how completely true that was until she'd said the words aloud, "even though you're the jerk who left without so much as a goodbye or a note saying where you were running off to. Did you think we wouldn't get it, that we wouldn't understand everything that you'd been through and what it meant? That we wouldn't want to help?"
She could no longer sit still. Pulling her hand free, she stood up and paced to the other side of the room before turning around. "Okay, now you really need to say something because I've gone and done that thing where I ramble incessantly and you're just staring off into the distance."
Oliver rubbed a tired hand over his face and continued to look anywhere but at her.
Felicity swallowed heavily, absently rubbing the hand Oliver had been holding earlier with the other. "You're supposed to be mad. You're supposed to tell me that I can't possibly understand what you've been through and you'd be right – I can't. I absolutely I can't because it's so far out of the realm of anything anyone could ever imagine happening as part of our daily scheduled programming that there is no manual for handling this."
Felicity forced herself to slow down and take a breath. She imagined Oliver tilting his head at her in amusement as he used to – imagined that knowing smile that would play at the corner of his lips as he listened to her talk herself into corners and then back out of them. She imagined those things because Oliver had fixed his gaze on those cracks behind her and it looked like he was hell bent on memorising every one.
She stepped in front of them, forcing Oliver to at least look up in the direction of her face. "I don't need to understand to know that you're hurting or to want to help you," she said quietly. Stepping forward towards him again, she watched Oliver's shoulders rise and fall as he took a slow shuddering breath. "Let me help you."
Her eyes widened as she watched Oliver reach out for her bare leg, his fingers pressing into the back of her knee so lightly she'd think she was imagining it if she weren't watching it happen. Oliver shifted his gaze away from the wall and to her face.
"There's a part of me that wants to shove you onto the next flight out of here." He started rubbing circles onto her knee with his thumb much as he'd done earlier on the back of her hand.
"You can try." Her voice sounded hoarse even to her own ears.
He smiled for the first time at her words. It was small and it didn't reach his eyes – barely more than a small uptick at the corners of his lips – but it was there and Felicity felt that ever present tightening in her chest ease just a little.
"I could," he answered thoughtfully, that small smile melting into his voice. "I'd fail, though." His head tilted to one side as he studied her. "Wouldn't I?"
He released a breath through his nose, eyes sliding shut, shoulders relaxing into a slouch. Felicity could read exhaustion in every hard line of his body. She felt a sudden urge to reach down and smooth the worried crease between his eyebrows down with her thumb. She dug her nails into her palms to keep them firmly at her sides.
"There's a bigger part of me that's selfish. That part of me wants you stay." He opened his eyes to look at her. His thumb continued drawing maddening circles against her heated skin. Another trickle of sweat slid down her spine and Felicity couldn't tell whether her shiver was as a result of that or Oliver's fingers playing along the back of her knee.
Determinedly, she pushed aside her confusion at his unexpectedly tactile response. "You know I'm always willing to help you. You knew that even before you wrote me a cheque for a million dollars and ran away to Thailand."
Oliver steadied his gaze. "Do you want me to apologise for trying to do what I failed at the first time – keeping you safe?
Felicity breathed in sharply. Eyes closing, she let out a slow breath. "I don't want you to apologise for anything." Eyes opening, she fixed him with an equally steady gaze, bending down slightly so that he couldn't look away. "I'm a big girl. What happens to me is on me not on you."
"It's not that simple."
"It is that simple," Felicity insisted. "It will always be that simple if you have even one shred of the amount of respect for me that I have for you."
"Tell me that's not why you're here," Felicity interrupted. "Tell me that this isn't even partly about me being at Verdant the night the Glades were destroyed? Because if it is, even if it's like 10% of the reason why you left, I'm telling you right now, no."
"Absolutely not. I'm not going to let you feel guilty about that. In fact, I'm telling you right now that you're not allowed to feel guilty about it."
"Just like that?"
"Yes." Felicity placed her hands on his shoulders and squeezed. "Look at me, Oliver. I'm here. I'm alive. I'm okay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me that wasn't wrong with me before you showed up at my desk with a bullet-riddled laptop and a bad lie."
She felt his shoulders lift as he took a long breath at her words, holding it in for a few seconds – she swore she heard him mutter a five-count – before slowly letting it out and letting his shoulders fall. His grip tightened on her leg. Not painfully, but almost as though he were reassuring himself that what she was saying was true – she was there, she was real, and that she really was okay. Something clicked into place for Felicity in that moment and suddenly the room seemed to shrink around them.
"You want to help?" Oliver's voice sounded smaller, almost unsure, and Felicity pressed down on his shoulders. He cleared his throat.
"Got any plans tomorrow morning?"
"I guess I do now."
Oliver chuckled softly, shaking his head and pushing himself up off the bed. His hand left her knee, but she could still feel the ghost of it against her skin like a brand. Her hands dropped from his shoulders and tangled themselves in the hem of her t-shirt. He looked at her like he wanted to say something more. She looked at him like she was expecting it, but he only squeezed her upper arms lightly and stepped around her. She turned to watch him.
"Felicity?" He was climbing back out of her window and she wanted to roll her eyes at his inability to use the door like a normal person.
"Those nightmares you're having?"
Felicity sucked in a sharp breath and he took that as affirmation of his suspicions.
"If I'm not allowed to feel guilty then neither are you."
Felicity wanted to laugh it off, wanted to at least smile and tell him she was fine, that nightmares were normal and that they weren't a sign of any guilt she may or may not have been feeling, but her chest had tightened almost painfully and all she could do was nod in response.
"I guess we'll both have to work on that."
And he was gone.