Oliver Queen met his future wife on a Wednesday.
"Hey, it's, uh, William, right?" he asked, flagging down a semi-familiar face as he walked through the floor his father's EA had informed him Robert was on.
With a raised eyebrow and a slightly amused lilt to his English accent, the man informed him, "Walter Steele. And what can I help you with, Oliver?"
"My dad. Connie said he was on this floor." He glanced around curiously. "Point me in the right direction?"
"Certainly. Last I saw him, he was speaking to the IT Director…" He pointed to a nearby hallway. "You'll likely find him down there. Straight to the end, large office, can't miss it."
"Great, thanks." He turned on his heel to leave, already board with his mission. His father had informed him, none too politely, that if had dropped out of yet another college he had better have a plan for his life, starting yesterday. Oliver did not have a plan for his life, but he did have a plan for distracting his father from forcing him to make that life plan. Just as he was walking down the hallway, however, he spotted a familiar face canted in his direction.
Heather was the one-night-stand from hell.
Fine, she was the two-night-stand from hell since he hadn't learned his lesson the first time and he was a little too drunk to recognize her when they ran into each other at Club Onyx. She was clingy and desperate to prove they could make it work outside the bedroom. But Oliver was on a break from Laurel, one of many, and he was sure once she cooled down from their latest argument, he'd been back in her good graces and out of the beds of all the Heather's of the world. But that didn't help him right now and, well, he was a coward.
Later in life, he would credit that cowardice with saving him from a downward spiral he wasn't even aware he was in.
Just as Heather stepped into view and very clearly recognized him, he turned left, stepping into what appeared to be the coffee room. There was one person inside, a blonde woman wrinkling her nose at whatever she'd just dug out of the company fridge. She tossed what appeared to be an open yogurt away and dusted off her hands.
He grinned charmingly down at her. "Hi, you don't know me, but just go along with this, all right?"
She looked up at him in surprise and readjusted her glasses. "What?"
He ignored her question and waved a hand at her curiously. "What's your name?"
He repeated her first name to himself, twice, trying to get it to sound familiar, and then nodded. "Okay. We met over coffee, we've been seeing each other for… three weeks…? Yeah, that sounds about right. Three weeks, and I'm completely in love with you."
She blinked at him. "I… What?"
He looked up abruptly, smiling widely. "Hi…" His brow furrowed, feigning confusion.
Her smile waned as she pointed to herself. "Heather." She walked toward him, her hips swaying exaggeratedly.
A subtle snort beside him drew his and he found Felicity muffling her amusement, biting her lip. She had pretty lips, painted a bright pink.
Shaking his head of the distraction, he turned back to the woman in front of him. "Right, Heather." He snapped his fingers and pointed at her. "I didn't know you worked here…"
"Oh." She waved a dismissive hand. "Not on this floor. I'm actually two down. But I needed help with my boss's computers and the grunts were happy to help, so…"
"I'm sure they appreciate being called grunts, too," Felicity muttered.
Heather's eyes cut toward her, an eyebrow raised. "I'm sorry. And you are?"
"This is Felicity," Oliver piped up, his arm wrapping around her waist, hand settling on her hip and pulling her tightly against his side. "My girlfriend."
Brows raised, Heather motioned between them. "You and her… you're together?"
With a disinterested sigh, Felicity wondered, "Who exactly is working on your boss's computer?"
"Mark Something," Heather replied, before cutting her eyes toward Oliver. "Exactly how long have you been together, Ollie? Because it doesn't feel like you were single so long ago…"
"A few weeks now." He hugged Felicity, rubbing a hand up and down her arm. "Ran into each other in a coffee shop and I feel for her on sight."
Heather didn't look convinced and gave Felicity a look over. Oliver found himself doing the same. She was short, only reaching his shoulder, with square glasses, a red silk blouse and a dark black pencil skirt, the last two of which capitalized on her curves. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail, long and wavy. She was pretty in that innocent, girl-next-door kind of way, which wasn't usually his type, but then, once upon a time, Tommy said anyone with breasts and a pulse was Oliver's type.
"Really?" Heather's lip curled. "How quaint."
"The quaintest," Felicity returned. "Shouldn't you be checking on that computer? I know Mark. He's good at his job. It's probably ready."
The dismissal was clear and Heather shot her an icy look before turning to Oliver. "When you get tired of playing house, you know where to find me." She winked before she walked out and, while Oliver knew she wasn't in his best interest, he did enjoy the view as she left.
A throat clearing drew his attention and he turned to his fake girlfriend, offering a boyish grin. "Thank you. Heather's a bit of a…" He trailed off, making a face.
"Just so we're clear, you ran up to the first woman you saw, forced her into pretending to be your girlfriend, and insulted a woman you definitely slept with because…" She shook her head, waving a hand. "You're a coward who can't just tell someone you're not interested in anything long term."
His eyes turned up in thought as he absorbed her words. "Yes…" he said, slowly. "But, in my defense—"
"In your defense, you're the son of my boss, so I probably shouldn't tell you that what you just did was sad and pathetic and as much as I don't appreciate a complete stranger looking down on me, I actually feel bad for that woman for ever wasting her time sleeping with you in the first place." Standing a little taller, her chin tilted up stubbornly, she added, "And just so you're aware, son of my boss or not, what you just did could have been seen as sexual harassment and put this company and your father's job at risk. So maybe the next time you have a little trouble in your personal life, you put on your big boy pants and face it."
Turning on her heel, she stalked toward the door, muttering under her breath about privileged men taking advantage and never owning up to things. He stared after her, his mouth agape and his brow furrowed.
A familiar chuckle caught his attention then and he watched his father step in front of the door, smiling down the hall at the irritated woman before he stepped into the coffee room, his hands tucked into his pockets. "I see you're charming my staff, Oliver…"
He sighed, rolling his eyes. "It was a misunderstanding."
"You know, I personally hired Miss Smoak. She was an outstanding student at MIT. Graduated early with honors. I had to fight Stellmoor International and Wayne Enterprises to get her hired here. Somehow I don't think when she agreed to work for me that she thought she'd be standing in as your fake girlfriend when one of your… previous bed partners tried to rekindle something."
He sighed, frowning. "It was a mistake. I'll apologize to her if you're worried about a lawsuit."
Robert shook his head, looking disappointed. "If you're going to apologize, it shouldn't be because I want you to, or because you're worried about how it'll reflect on my company. You should apologize because you just put her in a very awkward position. You took advantage of her confusion and possibly your position as my son, and that, Oliver… is something worth being sorry over."
Oliver stared at him, a pressure on his chest that he didn't like. While he'd never quite lived up to what his parents wanted him to and was very familiar with that look of disappointment, it never failed to make him feel like complete shit. "Okay…" he finally said, nodding. "I get it."
Robert nodded. "Now, you wanted to talk to me?"
Sighing, he stepped forward, nodding. "Can we go to your office?"
"Sure." He waved a hand telling him to follow and together they made their way back toward the elevator.
On the way, Oliver spotted Felicity across the room, talking to one of the other tech workers. She was smiling, her lips stretched wide, and he remember how he'd thought she was just pretty, a little above average. When she smiled, she was beautiful, and he found himself tipping his head, watching her a moment longer.
Feeling his gaze, she glanced over and caught his curious stare. She, however, frowned at him before walking out of sight.
That was new.
Oliver returned to the IT Department the following day.
He had a bouquet of the most attractive and expensive flowers the shop a block over was selling. With his most charming smile to back him, he made his way through the floor, searching out a familiar blonde.
He tried the coffee room first and then aimlessly searched cubicle to cubicle until he spotted her ponytail.
When he stepped up behind her, he found she was in the middle of eating her lunch.
"So, do I need to grovel, or can I do this standing up?" he said in greeting.
She jumped in her seat and whirled around, eyes wide as she found him standing there. A second later, however, her shock had disappeared and was replaced with resignation. "What? Did you run into Heather and tell her we had a fight and now you have to publically make it up to me?" she wondered, already looking exasperated with him.
"No… This has nothing to do with Heather. This is me apologizing for my behaviour yesterday." He held the flowers out to her. "I was out of line. I shouldn't have taken advantage of you or forced you into pretending to be my girlfriend." He grinned flirtatiously. "Forgive me?"
She waved a hand up to brush the flowers aside and stared up at him, brow raised. "Why exactly are you apologizing?"
He paused. That was not how this usually went. He glanced away and then tried, "Like I said, I shouldn't have taken advantage of you."
"You shouldn't have lied."
He frowned. "To who? To Heather?" He shook his head. "Trust me, you don't know her, she's… clingy."
Arms crossed over her chest, she asked, "How well do you know her?"
He smirked, tipping his head at her. "Intimately."
Felicity rolled her eyes and stood from her chair. "Just because you have sex with someone, doesn't mean you know them," she said, quietly enough that no one overheard her. "What happens behind closed doors is your business. But by bringing it to work and putting me in the position you did, you made it my business. And what you did, creating a fake girlfriend so you didn't have to tell her you weren't interested in being with her outside of a one-night stand, probably took a lot more effort, and created a lot more drama than necessary."
He sighed, shoulders slumping and flowers falling to his side. "You're not going to accept my apology, are you?"
"When you know why you're apologizing," she told him, her eyebrows hiked, "then I'll accept your apology."
"Fine, I was a coward. I should've just talked to Heather. She's a human-being and I shouldn't have treated her that way. Or you." He waved a hand in the air in a 'blah blah blah' motion. "Now. Flowers?"
Hands on her hips, Felicity let out a heavy sigh, not unlike the kind his mother used when he was being obnoxious. "Please go away… before I lose my job for insulting the boss's son."
His jaw ticked and he started to feel his hackles raise. "I don't know why you're getting so bent out of shape. You don't even know Heather, and she wasn't exactly nice to you."
"Well, maybe part of that was a defense mechanism since she'd been hoping you might see her as something more than a one-night stand and you rubbed a new relationship in her face," she bit back.
His mouth fell open but no argument came to him.
With a huff, she turned her back on him and retook her seat, dismissing him completely.
Muttering under his breath, Oliver turned on his heel and walked away, dropping her flowers in a waste basket as he went. He took the elevator down to the main floor and decided no, noon wasn't too early to get a drink. He needed one after that fiasco.
Oliver spent three days trying to figure out why Felicity Smoak disliked him so much. People loved him. Women especially loved him. And it wasn't as if he'd insulted her specifically. He'd picked her to be his girlfriend, who he was madly in love with. That should be a compliment! She should feel proud that she garnered that much attention.
When he told Tommy about it, they were sitting in a strip bar. It was no dive, specifically catering to men of wealth and pushing the confidentiality clause to keep business flowing. There was a pretty red-head that called herself, the all too clichéd, Candi doing a dance for them, smiling as Tommy waved a wad of cash at her and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
"She completely shut me down. Twice," Oliver complained.
"I don't know why you're getting so upset about this. She did what you wanted her to. She scared off Heather." He shrugged. "So what if your dad told you she deserved an apology? You tried and she rejected it. Not your fault." He leaned back in his chair and glanced at him. "Even if she tries for a harassment suit, your dad's lawyers will shut it down fast."
He shook his head. "No, she won't. I think she was just making a point."
"What kind of point?"
"I don't know. That my behaviour could've been seen differently by someone else." He sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. "She told me she wouldn't accept my apology until I knew what I was apologizing for."
Tommy laughed. "That is some real live girlfriend bull right there."
Oliver's brow furrowed in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"You went in for a fake girlfriend and you got a real girlfriend lecture." He shook his head, amused. "Only you, my friend."
Rolling his eyes, Oliver turned his attention back to the show in front of him.
Whatever. Who cared if Felicity Smoak liked him or not? He'd probably never see her again.
Raisa's birthday was on Saturday and he was making a last minute trip to a bookstore he knew of that carried one of her favorite authors. Now some might say that Oliver buying a very specific gift for one of the staff members that worked for his family was out of character for him, but that was only if they didn't know Raisa. She had practically raised him, his go-to for comfort when he scraped his knees and the motherly force that often tried to set him on the right path in life with a few words of wisdom. Simply put, he adored her, and he knew that the only gift she would truly appreciate was something he put thought into. So he went browsing through the Russian section for a book she didn't yet own, which was a hard thing to find considering her sprawling collection of books in her mother tongue. It also didn't help that what little Russian he did now was what she'd taught him over the year, and it was probably nothing he should say in polite company.
He'd just found the book he was looking for when he heard muttering and looked over to see a familiar blonde browsing the shelves. It was the ponytail and the oversized MIT sweatshirt that gave her away. He was walking toward her before his brain could tell him there were probably plenty of blonde women who went to MIT.
She had three books in her arms and a finger tracing the spice of a fourth, her teeth pressed into her bottom lip when he reached her.
She looked over abruptly, her brows hiked a little, and then frowned. "Uh, hi…" She glanced around uncertainly.
"I'm not following you," he blurted out, suddenly feeling defensive.
"Which is exactly what someone would say if they were following me…"
His lips twitched. Shaking his head, he asked, "Look, can we start over?" He held a hand out. "I'm Oliver Queen, it's nice to meet you."
She glanced at his hand and, after a moment's pause, reached out to shake it. "Felicity Smoak."
Her hand was small compared to his, dainty, with bright purple fingernails and a silver ring on her thumb.
"Would you… Do you want to get a cup of coffee with me?" he wondered.
She stared up at him. "I don't know. Apparently the last time we were in a coffee shop together, you fell madly in love with me."
Her voice was filled with mirth and he ducked his head as he laughed, scratching a finger at his temple.
"Never know, could've been a prophecy of sorts," he told her, raising an eyebrow.
She let out a faint sigh and looked away. "Listen, it's nice of you to try so hard to apologize or… whatever it is you're doing. But, you really don't have to." She shrugged, hugging an arm around her books. "I've thought about it and, it's your life. Who you choose to be with, how you choose to be, that's all up to you. You don't need a complete stranger telling you that your choices are questionable. So I rescind my previous statement. You are forgiven." She waved a hand. "Forgiven you are."
He blinked. "Did you just Yoda me?"
She smiled, her cheeks flushed, and shook her head. "It was nice meeting you, Oliver." With that, she turned on her heel to walk away, only to pause, return, reach past him for the book she'd been admiring, wave it at him awkwardly, and then rush off to the front desk to pay for them.
He watched her go, all the while thinking she was completely unexpected, and he didn't know why he liked it so much.
Laurel took him back the following afternoon, and he didn't think about Felicity for three blissful weeks of being back in Laurel's good graces. She forgave him for, well, being himself and dropping out of school without a word of warning, and he promised he was going to clean his act up, for good this time. She asked him about college, he distracted her with wine. She asked him about getting a job, he distracted her with sex. Same old, same old.
When he saw Felicity again, she was walking a dog through Starling Central Park. He was an ugly little thing, white with grey spots, scraggly fur, and the goofiest face Oliver had ever seen on a dog.
"What is that?" he wondered as he sidled up to her on her walk.
"Hey! Don't insult him!" she exclaimed. "His name is Rufus, and he's sensitive."
The dog didn't look sensitive at all. He tottered ahead, completely unaware of Oliver's comments on his appearance, wagging his bent tail, tongue lolling out of his mouth.
"Where'd you find him? Like, a back alley or something?"
"A shelter." She shrugged. "He's not mine. I just volunteer to walk the dogs sometimes."
He blinked at her. "A good Samaritan then?"
She rolled her eyes. "Sure, if you want to think about it that way. It also gives me a break from computers though." She raised a hand to stall whatever he might've said. "Don't get me wrong, I love my job at QC, and I studied my butt of at MIT so I could get into this field, but they don't warn you about how much your butt cramps from sitting too long. Or, I guess those suggestions about getting up and walking around were a warning, but I never remember to do that, so I just suffer through the discomfort and then, before you know it, day's over…"
"So you take ugly dogs out for walks to relieve butt cramps…" He laughed under his breath. "Well, that's… that's different."
She glared at him, but it carried no heat. "And what are you doing out here? I don't see any strobe lights or cameras."
He shrugged. "Much to the disappointment of the paparazzi, I'm not always in clubs."
"No, occasionally you go to QC to harass strangers."
"One time," he argued, wagging a finger. "And I'd like to think she's warming up to me."
"Frankly, she's still a little surprised you keep finding her… and not completely sure you aren't stalking her."
"Serendipity," he said, shrugging. "It's probably a sign."
"Really?" she asked, unconvinced. "And what sign would that be?"
"I don't know. I'm hoping a good one."
She raised an eyebrow and shook her head. And then she held the leash out for him. "Here. Hold this."
"What?" He looked down at the leash uncertainly. "Why?"
"What, are you afraid somebody might see you walking an ugly dog?"
He eyed Rufus hesitantly. "I've never walked one before. What do I have to do?"
She looked surprised. "You've never walked a dog?"
He shook his head. "My mom is allergic. We have horses, but they're mostly for show."
"Uh-huh…" She reached for his hand and wrapped it around the leather handle of the leash. "He's small, he won't pull you. Just let him sniff things and pee and he's fine. But don't let him get too close to other dogs, he's kind of territorial."
"Why? It's not his park."
"Yeah, well, dogs don't really pay much attention to ownership. It's more like, 'if I peed on it, it's mine.' Obviously, he's a boy."
He hummed, warily holding the leash upright for a while. When Rufus didn't race off or freak out, he gradually began to relax. "So this is all you do after work? Just walk him?"
"Sometimes I take him to the field and through a b-a-l-l for him to chase." She shrugged. "I have to have him back at the shelter before six-thirty."
"What happens if he gets adopted?"
"Then they give me a different dog to walk." She blew into her cold hands to warm them up and then tucked them into the pockets of her jacket. "Rufus is my first. Well, I used to walk dogs back home, but when I moved to Cambridge for school, I was too busy. So he's my first here in Starling."
"Where'd you grow up?" he wondered.
"Not far from here, over in Coast City. After MIT I wanted to be closer to home and this seemed like a good place to work, so…"
He tipped his head, looking at over at her curiously. "Dad said you had offers from Wayne Enterprises and Stellmoor."
She smiled, nodding. "I did. But my dad was worried about Gotham's crime rate and, I don't know, I didn't really like Stellmoor." She wrinkled her nose and scrunched up her mouth in a way he found distinctly cute.
Clearing his throat, he offered, "Well, I might be biased, but I think you made the right choice."
She chuckled. "You're not wrong."
As they walked around a bend in the walking path, Oliver spotted a field up ahead, filled with various people and their dogs. "Did you bring a ball?"
Immediately, Rufus caught on and started jumping around, running circles and panting excitedly.
Oliver looked awkward and held the leash out for her.
Felicity merely grinned, forcing him to hold it still. "He's just happy. He knows that word."
Nodding, he tugged on the leash to get Rufus to follow him as they headed toward the open field. When they found an open area, Felicity leaned down to detach the leash from his collar.
Oliver felt a buzzing against his chest and reached into his jacket to get his phone. Laurel's name stared back at him, the phone vibrating for attention.
"Do you need to get that?" Felicity asked, kneeling beside the still ugly Rufus, scratching his ears.
He stared at her, her cheeks red from the cool breeze, her hair down from its usual pony tail, and he shook his head. "No." He tucked the phone away. "I can call them back."
She smiled and stood, digging a ball out from her pocket. "What's this?" she asked Rufus, showing it to him.
He hopped back on his hind legs and sniffed the air hopefully.
Grinning, she turned on her heel and threw the ball as far as she could.
Rufus took off, chasing after it, happily grabbing it up out of the grass and racing back toward them. He dropped the slobbery ball at her feet and, without even flinching, she grabbed it up and threw it again, smiling cheerfully as he went bounding after it.
Oliver's gaze bounced between her and the dog, curious and confused about why he was enjoying himself when so little was happening. He was used to things being in overdrive. He enjoyed himself more when energy was high, dancing in clubs, having sex, that was when he was at his best. But here, things were slow, relaxed, a back and forth of ball and dog.
"Do you want to throw it?" she asked him.
He looked down at the bright red ball she held, sticky with grass clinging to it, and he hesitantly reached out and plucked it from her hand. "This is disgusting," he informed her.
She merely smiled.
He pulled his arm back and flung the ball forward, faster and farther than she had.
She clapped for him, bouncing on the tips of her toes. "See? You're a natural!"
His chest puffed up with pride and, when Rufus returned, he found himself throwing it again and again in a bid to show off. It wasn't until Rufus came back and plopped down on his belly, too tired to play anymore, that Oliver finally stopped.
"Aww," Felicity cooed, kneeling down to pet her hand down Rufus' back. "You're pooped."
"Well, it's not easy throwing those balls either," Oliver told her.
She laughed and looked up at him. "Did you want a rub down too?" She paused, her eyes wide. "Non-sexually. I did not mean that the way that it came out."
He laughed, his head falling back, his chest vibrating with his humor.
"It's not funny! I put my foot in my mouth all the time. I can't believe I said that! And after I told you that what you did could be construed as sexual harassment, oh my god…"
His hand pressed to his stomach as he shook his head, still laughing. "It was a nice offer."
"Oliver," she muttered, disgruntled.
He didn't know why, but he liked the way she said his name.
Looking down at her, a pink hue to her skin from embarrassment, he felt something soften in his chest, and he didn't understand it at all.
"Come on." She stood, reattaching Rufus' leash as she went. "I think it's time I brought this guy back to the shelter." She held a hand out for the ball and put it away inside her pocket. "Thanks for helping out… I imagine this wasn't in your plan for your afternoon."
He shrugged. "I had fun. Thanks for letting me tag along."
"Sure." She tipped her head as she looked up at him. "You ever feel like doing it again, the shelter over on 23rd street has plenty of dogs that need someone to walk them."
He looked down at Rufus, with his goofy face and his lopsided ears. "Do they all look like that?" he wondered.
Clucking her tongue, she shoved his shoulder and turned to leave. "You're a terrible person," she called back, but her voice was light and teasing.
He smiled to himself, and wondered if every time he watched her go he'd feel like he wanted her to stay.
Things with Laurel were going well. They got back into their old routine of her being mostly busy with law school and him filling his days with whatever trouble he and Tommy could stir up. His nights, at least when Laurel wasn't studying, were spent with her. And when she was studying, he and Tommy hit the best clubs and drank until they couldn't see anymore.
The morning after, however, was never fun.
"Oliver, it's three in the afternoon," his mother's chastising voice came through the door of his bedroom. "When are you getting up?'
"I'm up," he groaned from his bed, rolling over and burying his face in his pillows.
"You told your father you were going to start shadowing him at QC today," she reminded. "He's very disappointed you weren't up and ready to go this morning."
Oliver was pretty sure his dad wasn't disappointed. In fact, he probably wasn't even surprised.
"All right, mom, I'll talk to him," he called back, irritably.
"Okay!" he sighed.
When he heard her footsteps leaving down the hall, he relaxed, and fell right back to sleep. He would apologize to his dad at dinner.
Things fell apart that Sunday.
"Let me put this in terms you'll understand," Robert said, turning to face him. "If you don't get your head on straight, I'm cutting you off."
Oliver's brow furrowed and he laughed in confusion. "What?"
"You either need to get into school, and stay in school, or you need to start coming to work with me to get some hands-on experience. Because if you don't, that trust fund I have set up for you is getting frozen and you're going to have to learn the hard way that life doesn't just get handed to you on a platter. You need to earn it."
He sighed, his head falling back. "Dad, come on…" He shook his head. "I know I screwed up, but cutting me off? Don't you think that's a little overboard?"
"What's overboard is that I have worked very hard to build this family up and you have done nothing but flout your responsibilities and make an ass of yourself in the public eye." He shook his head. "Peeing on a cop, Oliver?"
"I… I was really drunk. I don't…" He laughed awkwardly. "I don't know what I was thinking."
"You weren't. You weren't thinking. And I'm tired of it."
"You have two options. Shape up or fend for yourself." Leaving it at that, Robert crossed the den to the door.
"Dad… Dad, come on, let's talk about this!"
But his father didn't stop or give him a chance to change his mind, and Oliver sunk down onto the couch and buried his face in his hands.
What the hell was he supposed to do now?
"Well, maybe this is a good thing," Laurel said as she joined him in her living room.
"How? How is my father cutting me off from the only money I have a good thing?" he wondered, disgruntled with how positive she was being.
"Now you don't have that safety net." She shrugged her shoulders high and half-smiled. "You have to admit, you don't really have to try with it there. You always know you can fall back on that, so if you screw up, it'll be okay. Now, if you don't have that, you have to put the effort in."
He sighed, falling back against the couch. "I don't want to be in school… I don't fit there. I don't like it. It's… boring. And I feel dumb in every class. I just…" he trailed off.
The problem with telling her any of this was that he knew she didn't understand. Laurel was smart. She did amazing in school and she never doubted her intelligence. While she preened under the gaze of any instructor, Oliver wilted, and he hated that feeling.
"So maybe college isn't where you want to be. But your dad said you could shadow him, so why not try that?"
He shook his head. "And what? Wait for him to retire so I can become CEO?" His eyes shot wide as he laughed incredulously. "Can you see me there? Running that whole thing?"
She smiled and shuffled across the couch. "I don't know… You in a suit with your own office…" She bit her lip as she crawled into his lap. "I can see that."
He grinned and tipped his head to the side as she buried her mouth at his neck.
He put aside the current issue and focused on her. It was a lot easier than admitting that no, he couldn't see himself in that desk, in that office, wearing that suit. Ever.
His mother left a stack of college applications in his room.
He took them with him and left them on the passenger seat as he drove into town.
The animal shelter on 23rd street was a little on the run down inside, but he walked inside with all the confidence he'd ever possessed. Walking up to the front desk, he wrapped his knuckles on the top and said, "Hi, uh, I want to sign up to walk dogs..."
The woman behind the counter eyed him curiously. "Any specific reason?"
He offered a charming grin. "I have some extra time on my hands and a friend of mine told me about this shelter."
"A friend huh…" she eyed him suspiciously.
He briefly considered making a crack about having an underground dog fighting ring, but then decided it probably wouldn't land right.
"Felicity Smoak," he said instead. "She walks a dog named Rufus. Funny looking thing, really likes to play fetch…"
The woman before him immediately softened, a smile forming on her lips. "Oh, Felicity is a regular here. She's been a great help." Her smile faded however as she added, "I was so sorry to hear about Rufus."
His brow furrowed. "I'm sorry?"
She looked up at him sadly. "They had to put him down yesterday. He'd been with the shelter for quite some time and he was quite a bit older than the other dogs. We have a policy here and when his time expired, they decided to put him down." She sighed, shaking her head.
Despite only having met the dog once, Oliver felt a distinct stab to his chest at the news.
Moving on, the woman continued, "Now, the application process for dog walking takes a little bit of time. We have to do a background check and you'll have to be interviewed before we can release any dogs to your care. There's some papers you'll have to fill out, just hold on a second…" She dug around under the counter and came up with a small bundle. "Here. You can fill them out while you're here or you can bring them back later."
He nodded, still distracted by the news of Rufus, and took the papers from her. Knowing he'd never finish them if he took them home, he took a seat in the waiting room area and filled out all the papers. When he was finished, he dropped them off with her and then left, climbing into his car and driving aimlessly for a while. He called QC and had them transfer him to the IT Department but when he asked for Felicity Smoak, he was told she was out sick. While he knew he could probably finagle her address out of them, being the boss's son and all, he decided against it. Honestly, he wasn't even sure what he would do with it. Upset over Rufus or not, he didn't imagine she'd take too well to him showing up at her apartment out of the blue. He hadn't talked to or seen her since he'd run into her and Rufus at the park two weeks earlier, but some part of him felt obligated to finding her.
Before he knew it, he was driving to the park. He walked the same path as before, passing various people and dogs on the way, and remembered how goofy Rufus had looked. Happy, though. He'd never seen a dog look so cheerful. It didn't take him long to reach the park and he found himself scanning it. The odds of finding her there were slim; she was probably at home, curled up in bed in that oversized MIT sweatshirt of hers.
But then he spotted her, sitting in the grass, a leash held tight in her grip.
He walked toward her, uncertain how to broach the subject and worried he might say the wrong thing.
Felicity look up, startled, and quickly wiped under her eyes as she saw him. "Hey." She sniffled. "Sorry. I—I didn't think I'd see anybody here."
"In a public park?"
She smiled faintly. "That I knew."
He nodded and took a seat beside her, eyeing the leash in her hand. "I heard about Rufus… I'm sorry."
Her hand tightened around the leash and she offered him a watery smile. "Thanks. I…" She shook her head. "I know he wasn't the prettiest dog, but he was really sweet and friendly and…" She let out a shuddering breath. "If I'd known they were going to put him down, I would've adopted him."
He let out a heavy breath, nodding at her as he reached over, an arm coming around her shoulders, rubbing her arm gently.
"I should've asked…" She swallowed thickly and rubbed the heel of her hand against the corner of her eye. "I should've told them I'd take him."
"You didn't know," he reminded.
She looked up at him, tears spilling down her cheeks. "He was a really good dog," she breathed, her voice cracking.
Oliver's heart thumped hard in his chest. He hugged her to his side, resting his head against hers when it fell to his shoulder. "I'm sorry you lost him."
She nodded, hiccupping on her tears.
Oliver wasn't used to this. To comforting people. When Tommy was down, Oliver just ordered a round of shots and pointed him toward the next pretty face. When Laurel was upset, she usually went to her sister, not him. There were a few times when she fought with her dad and she came to him, but he'd found ways to distract her. He wasn't good with crying or feelings; they made him feel awkward and out of his depth, often leading to him avoiding whoever was upset or finding a reason to be somewhere else.
But he sat there with Felicity, rubbing circles on her back as she cried, letting her use his shoulder to hold herself up. He watched as life continued on around him; people walking, talking, dogs chasing balls and their tails and barking at birds. He sat there, holding a broken-hearted woman, and he realized that the world didn't stop because she was sad. Just like it wouldn't stop just because he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. They were just two people in a world of billions. He was just one man, one person, and, like Laurel had shouted at him in a number of fights, the world didn't revolve around him.
When Felicity lifted her head, she swiped at her face, brushing away tear tracks and rubbing under her nose. "I'm sorry…" She wiped at the shoulder of his shirt. "That's probably designer."
He chuckled under his breath. "Probably."
She looked up at him and offered a faint smile. "Thank you. I'm sure you didn't come here for me to blubber all over you."
"Can't say it was in my day planner, but…" He shrugged.
Tucking her hair behind her ears, she twisted the leash in her hand, and then, brows furrowed, she wondered, "How did you find out about Rufus?"
"Oh, I…" He shrugged, suddenly feeling embarrassed for a reason he didn't quite understand. "I, uh, went to the shelter to see if I could sign up to walk dogs."
Her brows hiked. "You did?"
"Don't sound so surprised."
She half-smiled. "I think it's great, I just… Well, I'm not sure they were expecting Oliver Queen to waltz in and ask for a leash."
He shrugged. "Lady at the desk didn't seem to recognize me… She did recognize your name though."
"You name-dropped me?" she asked, looking amused.
"Figured you had a good reputation. They might take pity and let me take a dog for a spin right away."
She frowned. "What's going on that you need dog therapy?"
He stared at her a moment and considered telling her about what was going on with his dad and him and how his life was a complete mess that didn't look like it was going to get cleaned up anytime soon. But then he didn't. Because she had enough on her plate and, while he was sure she'd probably try to help him gain clarity, this wasn't about him.
He stood from the ground and dusted the grass off his pants.
"Come on," he said, holding a hand out for her to take. "Let's get coffee and… you can tell me your best memories with Rufus."
She let him help her up, taking his outstretched hand. Her head tipped as she considered him a moment, as if she wasn't sure she wanted to let him get away with not telling her what was going on. But then she nodded and stepped toward the walking path. "That'd be nice," she told him.
He offered her an elbow and she laughed lightly under her breath before she hooked her arm through his.
"When I first met him, he sneezed in my face," she started.
He laughed, turning to look at the sweet smile on her lips, and he realized his day, which started out complicated and uncertain, just got a lot better with her there.
After he left Felicity, he was feeling good, until he drove home. The college applications mocked him from the passenger seat. His father told him he had two options; together or solo. Simply put, Oliver knew school wasn't where he wanted to be. He also knew that he didn't want to be in an office at QC, but it was the lesser of two evils.
He found his father in his office at home, going over a stack of papers so thick, Oliver's eyes were already going cross just thinking about reading them.
"Oliver," his father said, never looking up.
He ground his teeth a little before he said, "I'll shadow you. Tomorrow. I'll be there every step of the way."
"Will you?" his father asked, finally laying a pen down to look up at him, a brow raised. "I think I've heard this before."
His hands balled into fists, but he offered his dad a fake smile, one that was all too familiar with his face. "Bright and early, I'll be up and ready to go."
Robert stared at him a moment before giving a sharp nod. "Okay then."
Oliver nodded and turned on his heel to leave. But a pit had formed in his stomach, and it told him he was making the wrong decision.