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How Did This Happen?

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Green Dress

(an approximation of Felicity's dress, decidedly NOT her dress -  and ignore the chain links for straps and that middle thing just lying there :))

O stare

Stepping out of the taxi - she’d paid the driver to park around the side of the restaurant - Felicity took a deep breath… relax. It’s only Tommy.

Tommy Merlyn - to be precise - who had asked her to dinner.

It wasn’t a date, not an actual date; like a date, date.

They were just friends. Good ones. Close ones.

After the Undertaking - after the physical therapy, the organisation for various charitable foundations and the lessening of his panic attacks - Tommy, had taken to calling her up. A coffee here, a lunch date there; but this was to be their first real dinner date.

“I need the practice.” He’d urged her the Thursday before. “I’m completely out of touch; flirting is foreign to me now.” He’d pouted at the deadpan look on her face. “If I’m going to start getting out there again, getting passed… this,” he’d waved a hand over the parts of him she could see over the table top and she’d felt her brow break in sympathy - never pity, because she got it - before he finished with, “then I have to start small. And I need the person who helps me do that to be someone I trust.”

Since he no longer trusted anyone other than Thea and… and me.

That was the mitigating factor, the ball in her court.

She’d licked her lips, figuring that at the very least she’d get a five-star meal out of it and there were worst things to do on a Saturday night than spend it across the table from a handsome billionaire. Exhaling then nodding, she'd talked around her straw. “Alright. I’ll help.” She’d swallowed down her iced tea and smiled. “I’ll do it. I will bring back your mojo.”

Beaming in delight, he’d slapped his hands together, rubbing them with vigour; he was way too happy about this. “Excellent!”

But.” She’d immediately demanded and he’d blinked - mid-perverse thought, I just know it - at her. “Nothing too… upper-class.” Inevitably biting down on her lip, she'd almost begged him. “Please. And no rock bars! That last one gave me indigestion.” She'd added in a mutter.

A mocking hand to his chest had been his answer. “Who, moi?”

Great. She’d moaned out-loud; a miserable giggle leaving her. “Come on; I can’t pull off an evening at The View.”

“That place doesn’t deserve its clientele.” Throwing down his napkin, he’d risen from his seat. “Trust me: an evening of fine dining is exactly what the doctor ordered. For both of us.”

He hadn’t been wrong. After weeks and weeks of dead ends, long hours and too little sleep; she'd been about ready for some personal attention. “I thought we were going so Stella could get his grove back.” She’d gestured to him, blasé.

And he’d shrugged. “Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy yourself during.” Then he’d checked his watch with a wince. “Yikes. I’ve got to go; my new EA’s more tyrannical than the last one.”

“Your last EA remembers Tommy the Early years.” When he’d been caught, semi-naked with a young intern in the Archive room.

He’d grinned. “Yeah. Those were good times.” He’d looked lost for a minute before shaking his head and clearing his throat. “Ok: Saturday. 7pm. I’ll text you the details.”

The two days since had gone by at warp speed and she’d almost forgotten about the date… until 6 hours before it when he’d told her just exactly where he’d be taking her.

The Lamont.

A highly decorative, very sophisticated - swanky pants - and expensive French restaurant that held a century long history with Starling City’s rich and famous.

She’d almost choked on oxygen.

And now, standing around the side of the building itself, she had only one thought: I’m going to kill him.

She was terrified.

“Well,” and she wasn’t going to focus on how her voice wobbled,” here goes nothing.”

One step at a time, one foot in front of the other - breathe; walk, don’t run - and suddenly she was at the front and heading towards a set of glass doors, paling when she didn’t see Tommy standing where he said he’d be waiting for her.

Frack.

She’d had a plan; it had seemed like a good one a few hours ago. She’d meet him at the front and he’d escort her inside. Simple.

As if anything with Tommy was ever simple. Ngh. He wasn’t high maintenance; what he was, was lonely. And a lonely Tommy was a bored Tommy and a bored Tommy… well, you understand.

So, they’d be seated immediately because no matter what the media said, Tommy was now the heir to the entirety of his late father’s company; the staff would crawl on broken glass for him if he handed over the cash. Then he’d order an expensive wine and regale her with tales of his youth, during which she’d sneakily incorporate Oliver into the conversation.

His best friend, who he hadn’t really spoken to in months.

“I told him I needed time.” Tired, grieving and despondent; Tommy sat slouched in old sweat pants and an even older Sigma Kappa T-shirt, favouring his arm. His shoulder not yet fully healed. “I’m… I’m not ready.”

Not ready to forgive and forget. Not ready to move on.

“Take the time.” She murmured to him, sitting next to him on the slip of a step outside the Merlyn Mansion. “It’s only been a few weeks.” Since the Undertaking. Since… everything. “He’ll wait.”

Oliver would wait forever.

“And what if… what if, when I’ve had the time, I still don’t want to talk?”

Taking a deep breath, she hoped for Oliver then. Hoped that he’d get his friend back, that Laurel’s silence would end soon, that he’d feel like it wasn’t all for nothing… because the misery on Tommy’s face was only half the agony she’d glimpse in Oliver’s eyes that afternoon after he’d visited him. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Tommy had never suffered like that before.

Sure, he’d lost people; his mother, then Oliver. But never like this, for the reasons why. And he’d never thought it would happen at the hand of his best friend. A man he no longer understood.

Worse, Tommy didn’t have to understand a thing. He’d lost his father, who barely loved him. He’d lost his best friend; a man who killed people during the night hours. He’d inherited a company he’d never wanted and spent the hours he’d normally be off cajoling through the city, planning fundraisers and the like for the men, women and children of the Glades who’d suffered thanks to the rich and powerful.

Add onto that, the loss of Laurel’s affections, the fact that he’d never really had them in the first place and… well, Tommy hadn’t found it inside himself to give either of them the time of day.

Which, honestly, was understandable.

Unfortunately, it was hurting Oliver a lot more than it was hurting Tommy. That Tommy didn’t fully understand the nature of the beast at Oliver’s back wasn’t helping matters.

But like Tommy, Oliver had started trying again. With his sister, his mother… and with Laurel.

Still, it was like watching a tortoise climb up hill with a boulder attached to its back. And Oliver was the fastest man she’d ever seen. She’d had to draw on her patience; offering both friends the benefit of her limited wisdom on how to move forwards, how to live, to be

To forgive.

Neither was very good at that one; be it themselves or each other.

So, she’d thought to deliberately slip in pieces of her own memories of Oliver this past year; of working with him, of helping him. Of his passion and his hope. Of how much he loved him and the people he cared for…

Now; outside the grand and intimidating restaurant, she noted the absence of a certain dark-haired billionaire and all this went out of her head. She paused, almost turning to leave.

But.

Right.

She needed to be brave too sometimes.

He’d have texted me if there was a problem, which meant that he was inside and probably getting caught up flirting with the barkeep. Practice made perfect; maybe he’d started early.

Gulping - you are the very definition of the highbrow CEO you’re pretending to be; you are Walter Steele with boobs- an image I did not need, ew - she levelled her shoulders and walked - what she hoped was a classy saunter - towards the entrance.

There was a bell boy and door man at the threshold and she opened her mouth to say-

Uh, what… what do I say?!  What do rich people do at the doors of rich people restaurants?

But it seemed she didn’t need to utter a word.

The doorman’s eyes hit her and took one very fast glance over her attire before smiling. It wasn’t fake politeness. It was the smile of a man who saw lots of ladies and knew the difference between fake and real…

Or at least he thought he did.

Opening the door, he nodded - near bowed - at her. “Have a pleasurable evening Miss.”

Oh. Okay.

He thought she was one of them.

That’s nice. Super nice. And I am a lady; I just don’t have any money. Tiny detail.

Because she’d made sure to at least look the part.

Her dress was one of three she owned that she’d been sure, before this day, she’d never get to wear when she’d bought them but had to buy them because they were either beautiful, symbolic or on sale.

It was dark green.

Yes, I know. Eye rolls grow old over time, surely. But I couldn’t resist the call

It had caught her eye in a store she should never have entered because it made her wallet want to kill her and - since it felt an emblematic gesture - had bought it; ignoring how she’d have to forgo dim sum and Big Belly for a month.

Every time she opened her closet, she’d see it there. Hanging proud. A reminder of what she’d chosen to do, that she was secretly helping Oliver every night and doing something to aid the city where all else failed.

But what had made her truly tingle with delight was that it was the exact same colour as Oliver’s - the Hood’s - leather. We need to think of a better name. The Hood was far too gangster for her tastes.

Then again, that’s exactly what the three of them were: the original gangsters.

Now to the dress.

Two soft as silk straps - simplistic compared to the rest of the dress - curved around her shoulders and collarbone like a veiled promised. They led down to her chest where the dress seemed to fold and shape to the contour of her breasts; each side cupping and outlining them tightly so that even though cleavage was displayed, if she were to bend forwards, no more than that would be.

It was about seeing her skin.

Passing the chest, there was an oddly elegantly shaped hole where a triangle of her stomach could be seen and since she'd been working on her abs recently, she could say with absolute certainty that, for once, she had nothing to worry about. Then the tight dress took a back-step towards simplistic once more. At her hips it loosened somewhat, the dress falling to her feet; however down one leg there was a slit made her thigh look delightful. A thin gold trim edged the outline at the chest. The back was non-existent.

It made her look… it made her sexy.

Since she wasn’t naturally gifted in that department, she was rarely given an opportunity to be sexy. Some of us women have to actually try. Unlike, the Laurel Lances of the world, Felicity wasn’t the woman men see in a crowded room and think, wow. She was just Felicity Smoak.

For once, she’d wanted to be a little more.

Figuring, she’d never get to wear it again and knowing neither Oliver nor Dig would see her - thank god for small mercies because having to bear Dig’s knowing smile and Oliver’s blatant confusion since Felicity + attraction did mix for him, it was just too sad to bear thinking about - she’d taken a chance.

And she was thrilled with the result.

She felt… she felt good.

It had been so long since she’d been asked out on a date - even a friendly one - that she’d forgotten the rush of feelings that came with it. The excitement, the nerves, the wonder… the fun. Please let there be fun tonight.

Needless to say, she was smiling as she stepped into the foyer; her stomach in knots but glad of it as she took in the splendour about her, suddenly much more composed and was immediately spotted by a seating hostess.

“May I help you?”

Whoa; good service! “Hi.” Still, her colouring was a little high in her cheeks and she sent the very pretty - very confident - woman an unsure smile, which was surprisingly - and genuinely - returned with a much friendlier one. “I’m here with Thomas Merlyn…?”

The woman nodded. “Yes, you are.” Tucking a folder beneath her arm, she caught Felicity blink. “He told us he was expecting you,” oh Tommy; what did you say- keep smiling, “your table will be ready in just a few minutes. If you’ll follow me.” Leading her forwards, the hostess took a slight turn towards the bar. “I hope you enjoy your evening with us.”

I do too. At the very least, Felicity’s response was honest. “I think I will.” She smiled as the woman gestured her towards the seats at the end of the very long bar. “Thank you.”

Alone once more, she took another breath - her fingers worrying at each other - and made to move towards where the woman had suggested, looking about her for Tommy and wondering why he hadn’t been-

She froze.

A very tall waiter had been covering that corner, so she hadn’t fully seen the congregation of three behind him. Now he was gone and she wanted to disappear into the upholstery.

Tommy’s absence had been more than understandable: he’d been detained. Wilfully. Unquestionably.

Besotted.

Right there at the end, stood Laurel Lance…

And Oliver.

In front of them both, was Tommy; looking every inch the entitled man’s man.

Her insides clenched as her heart dropped down.

They were all just… talking. Just that.

Oliver - who was slightly turned away from her - had one hand in the pocket of some very fine black suit pants as the other nurtured what looked like two fingers of untouched scotch just sitting on the bar top. There was something slightly off about the way he stood - a touch too stiff - but overall, he seemed relaxed. A practised move she’d seen before. Stood beside his date, he was silent as Laurel did all the talking; saying something to Tommy, who Oliver was watching.

He looked like everything she’d never have.

No, no, no, no… No. No?

The fact that she was even thinking it - and Laurel is still right there - told her that she wasn’t as ‘over him’ as she thought she was. And it was rude of her. And wrong - so wrong, even though he looks so good

He did look amazingly ridiculous. Delicious.

How was Laurel keeping her hands to herself? If given the choice - if he’d wanted her - she’d be all over him like white on rice.

Tommy - wearing a baby blue suit - who normally looked edible, seemed like a school boy in comparison.

The year before, she’d told her very sensible self to stop mooning over a man who she’d known was unavailable the moment she’d met him. Since then, she’d drawn a line in the metaphorical sand that only allowed her to happily ogle the abs, pectorals and everything everywhere that she saw glistening when Oliver worked out.

He worked out a lot.

I really have been blessed this year. Or maybe, she’d been punished because having to stare – being allowed that small thing – but being unable to touch, taste and worship was a level of frustration that had led to more than a few sleepless nights for her.

And she’d taken it upon herself to chronicle each and every endeavour of his to look more and more divine than he already did. A Mission Impossible movie she’d gladly pay for: to make Oliver look even more drop dead gorgeous than he already did.

And right now, he was… he’s perfect.

He was.

Alluring. Provocative. Quiet. That fine layer of scruff shadowing his jaw.

Like she’d drunk warm cocoa, her insides heated up in that odd yet, soothing sort of way she’d come to associate with him; the safe thing being that he never reciprocated. He looked at her like she held his full attention when she spoke but not like he wanted to bite on her lower lip.

She wasn’t sure what she’d do if he ever did. But since she knew he never would, it was a moot point.

Men like Oliver Queen did not go for women like her.

And even though she’d told herself not to, she felt something inside her deflate. I know better.

Then why was she still watching? Why was she so rooted to the floor? Why couldn’t she take her eyes of him?

Maybe because his face was interesting. More than being incredibly attractive, his face was the type that even a twitch could tell a tale. She looked at it now, from the side seeing the expression held there and the way his small smile was… polite?

When Tommy responded to Laurel, he indicated his head a little and the movement pulled Felicity’s eyes over to him, to his smile and the shine of his eyes, to Laurel’s smile…

Even though they hadn’t seen her yet, she felt like an intruder. An outsider.

Really, what was she doing there? He didn’t need her, not really. He needed his best friend. He needed the woman he loved. She didn’t fit.

I should go. Before the intimate gathering saw her. She held no place there; unwelcome and unwanted in every way. Tommy hadn’t come out to meet her because the moment he’d clapped eyes on Laurel, all thought of his friend had left him.

She didn’t want Oliver to know Tommy knew her. She didn’t want Laurel to ask that doomed question; ‘are you two dating’? She’d ask because she was taken, because it was safe, because she had her ‘Ollie’ and the world was put to rights.

She didn’t want to hear that. Tommy wouldn’t either.

On three inch heels - these were also green and so, so pretty; they made her feet look attractive somehow - she made to pivot, stepping back, but her moment to leave came and left as swiftly as she’d thought it out.

Her gaze already on him - and maybe that’s why, because his sense were almost preternatural - she stopped when Oliver casually twisted; lifting the glass to his lips to take a large sip.

His eyes flickered uninterestedly over his surroundings.

Don’t look. She couldn’t move. Don’t see me. Wait-

When they landed on her, he stilled.

Completely.

Like a wolf that’d caught a scent.

Once, twice; he blinked, softly.

It was such a small, seemingly insignificant move that most people would have dismissed… but it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.

The weight of his gaze pinned her there and she was riveted.

His eyes were so exposed, so surprised when he pulled a little back from his drink; his mouth, each lip slowly releasing his glass and, just as slowly, swallowing the contents before placing the rest quietly on the surface before him.

All without looking away from her.

Did something happen to his brain?  Worse, was it because that she was there? Was he panicking? She had a clear shot of his face then: he looked like… like someone had hit him over the head with a mallet.

Stunned.

Staring.

Open mouthed.

There’s every chance he’s just wondering what the hell I’m doing here, she figured; freaking.

She watched his throat work; her eyes flickering to it and felt her cheeks heat up for some unfathomable reason, before looking him in the eye again.

Then he mouthed ,“Hey,” to her and she gaped.

Hey.

Hey?

Uh. Staring some more, she couldn’t help the embarrassed way she smiled - more like a timid twitch - before sucking in her lower lip, blushing some more and pleading like hell that this all turned out alright.

Plus she gave him a tiny, spastic wave of her hand - hi - feeling like an utter moron, so her night was off to a great start.

…He smiled.

It was slow, languid and so very earnest. The best smile, her smile but… more. His eyes brightened like he thought she was charming instead of a doofus and creased slightly at the edges. His teeth were perfect, his mouth more so and the warmth in his expression was like a drawn-out hug.

She hadn’t realised until then that there’d been a problem over there.

Wrapped up in her own neurosis, she hadn’t paused to consider that his polite smile had been a cover. A ruse.

This smile was different however; it lit him up, made her heart climb back up and pitter patter as it did.

It was still there when he leaned slightly back, as if the extra distance would help him see her better. Why he’d even want to-

Eyes moving over her face, they lifted towards her hair; his gaze softening and oh, that was nice.

He liked it. He liked what she’d done to it. She could tell; all women knew that look on a man. The savouring. Like, his brain had clicked a picture to revisit.

Which was a completely normal thing to do.

It made her feel a little better though. She’d styled her very natural curls to boing before pinning them up; letting errant pieces flick out in wonderful little ways, except she’d also made a few strands fall against her cheek and trace the side of her neck as light suggestions…

His eyes fixed there - on the smooth column of her throat - a few seconds too long.

Oh my.

And, as all men’s eyes do, he eventually looked down. His eyes slid over her collarbone to her chest and the lids fluttered; his chest moving heavily for a moment, like he’d let out a gruff breath. Guh.

That smile on his face, didn’t leave. And that was what let her know that Oliver really liked what she was wearing.

It dimed slightly but, instead of vanishing, it slid somewhat into something more heated; his mouth closing over his teeth, until the arch of his lips sent the same message his eyes were whispering to her; something very male.

Admiring.

Covetous.

Oh.

But he was a gentleman.

He looked up again, back to her face and she felt like she’d been hit by a cannon ball. His pupils were blown, but he was still smiling.

Her hands splayed on her stomach, imagining the wave of butterflies that had to be swimming around in there - because no stomach could cause that sensation and be deemed a normal organ - smoothing her fingers unconsciously over the fabric.

He watched her do it.

She let out a tremulous breath. What’s happening?

This needed to end. She had to leave and this-

Then he was moving around the side of the bar before her thoughts could become actions and her mouth dried when he came fully into view. Seriously; her toes wanted to curl.

He looked like every tempting sin and every loving word imaginable. Utterly wonderful: practically perfect in every way. Her kind of perfect.

And she was pretty sure she made a noise analogous to a dying moose but if he heard it, he didn’t let on. Nothing seemed to touch him.

Not his date, who frowned as he moved past her but quickly turned her attention back to Tommy, not to the genuine blonde bombshell behind the bar… nothing. His eyes never left her and it was probably one of the most intense moments of her life.

In that instant, he was all hers and he wasn’t anything other than very happy to see her; a light and warmth she could feel coming from a place deeper than any of the other caverns she’d glimpsed in him. Like the sun was shining on him for a moment and he felt true contentment.

Closing in on her now, she could only comprehend one thing. This is one hell of a dress.

That and she needed a drink.

But then his eyes flared, tracing over every inch of her dress swiftly and he put a hand to his chest. Like he’d felt something there. A foot in front of her, he came to a stop and opened his mouth to speak-

She opened hers at the same time.

He shut his, looking into her eyes; his own bright and unblinking.

She closed her mouth too; pressing her lips together.

He opened his again, closed it. Opened it - his eyes clearly asking for permission to speak.

“Um…” she tried.

He breathed. “I…”

Seeing the self-conscious way his gaze flittered away and back again, a dusting of red rising over his jaw as he took an unsteady breath; she felt her own blush climb from her breasts and closed her eyes on a quiet laugh.

They were being ridiculous.

A sound left him, like he’d been hit in the throat mid-chuckle and he cleared it. “Felicity.”

A shiver stole down her spine and she sighed before peeking up through her lashes.

He was still smiling.

“Hi.”

An internal groan expressed itself on her face - he let out a breathy laugh seeing it - and she grimaced; muttering, “Hi,” back.

Then he started forwards, surprising her; hesitant yet determined and before she knew it, his arms were gathering her closer in a welcoming hug.

She found herself blinking at his shoulder, her eyes nearly rolling back in her head when she smelled his cologne. Some guys got it right; they found that perfect scent for them that inspired an intrinsic, primitive reaction in women. The kind that called for immediate action, which explained her sudden desire to climb him like a tree (come to think of it, it was her go-to response on most days with him). Oliver was one of those guys.

Then again, she was pretty sure he could smell of drain cleaner and she’d still want him to clean her plumbing.

Ahem.

The scruff at his jaw was oddly soft against her cheek and she wanted to stay right where she was.

She felt him turn his face into her throat and breathe.

His body loosened ever so slightly, pushing down into her and she didn’t mind one bit; his hands pressing lightly at her hips where they’d landed - loosely, which was pretty pathetic really, like he was afraid to touch her - before moving. In stops and starts, they slid inwards towards where her spine dipped but stilled when they met uncovered skin.

She jolted against him; a zing shooting from her spine to her extremities: her skin was cool compared to his.

His hands left her and she almost jumped away, only for his arms to wind fully around her back; his hands settling on opposite sides, safely not touching skin. They tightened and Oliver - as large, broad and as strong as he was - enveloping her like this was a level of perfect she never thought she’d feel.

But all too soon they were pulling back and their eyes shyly danced against each others. Like they’d done something different. Something special.  Something they shouldn’t have?

The stroke of his palms down her arms - so light they were barely touching - was a shock she’d gladly have happen again. His gaze followed where his skin touched hers…

Then he licked his lips and ngh; her stomach clenched.

He really liked the dress.

“So, er…” mouth closing again, opening; he puffed an exhale through it before it became an insecure laugh. “Why is this so weird?”

Why was her heart racing?

Her teeth traced over her bottom lip. “I know; I don’t get it either.” But she was smiling too and it was apologetic.

An apology for interrupting, for being there.

Sincere, he shook his head - don’t be sorry - his brows joining in a smile; his irises violet beneath the dim, romantic lighting. “I’m,” he searched for the words in the dips and furrows of her face, seeming to find something, “a little out of my element.”

She felt that - the innocence of it; the honesty - somewhere in her mid-section.

It was endearing. To her, he always had been but it still came as a surprise.

So, she gave him that - let him see that it was wonderful - and wanted to give a whole lot more as she pretty much lookedlike a teenager stood with her crush. “It’s been a while.” Both a statement for herself and a fact for him.

He was quiet too. “Yeah.”

“You look very handsome.” She whispered, watching his smile widen yet remain completely innocuous and soft, oblivious to his own charm. Her hand reaching up without her telling it too, to touch his tie. “I prefer the grey,” a suit he could kill with at 20 paces, “but there’s no denying that you look good in a tux.” Understatement.

No kidding: he looked like sex.

And she’d murmured every word.

Step back Felicity, she advised herself, before you get hurt.

She didn’t. He was right there, looking touchable and amiable…

At any moment, Laurel could come over, put her arm in Oliver’s and introduce herself as his girlfriend. Or worse, Oliver could ask her to stop touching his tie-

“You’re stunning.”

Her heart skipped a beat. She’d never believed it could do that - what romance novels proclaimed all victims of love had experienced before; nu uh, lie - yet here it was; proof that it could.

Her eyes shot back up to his and it took everything she had not to pull him down by his tie and slam her mouth to his in a hard kiss.

Like her closeness had melted him, his eyes looked molten. “Beautiful.” Honest and low-toned, his voice touched her; seeping into her bones.

She just stared at him.

He stared back.

…Then his throat moved and, like a nervous school boy, his gaze fell; his feet shifting slightly on the spot and his hands slid fast into his pockets. They were fisted. “Are you... are you meeting someone here?” His head lifted to look at her again and there was something so wrong about the forced - and she could tell it was forced because his eyes were sad - nonchalance in his expression.

Her head tilted. “Oliver…”

“Are you here on… on a date?”

How to answer… “Kind of.”

Kind of?

Loquacious.

But he nodded, like he understood. Lips pressed together - eyes dark, too dark - he smiled again, except this one wasn’t warm. Or… hungry.

It was aching.

“Whoever he is, he’s a lucky guy.” He whispered.

of

It hurt.

And she didn’t know what possessed her or why, but she didn’t stop her hand from lifting; didn’t halt her fingers from stroking up his jawline, didn’t pull her palm away as it cupped his cheek completely… didn’t stop the shudder that coursed through her at the feel of him.

Didn’t care that Tommy and Laurel weren’t far behind him when Oliver’s eyes shut tight; the space between his brows furrowing, like he was concentring on the feel of her hand.

He took a deep breath in through his nose and it came out as a sigh against her wrist… then his eyes re-opened and met hers. They were wide, fully awake, dilated and asked questions and she was awed. Staring into them, her own held him close. Tell me. They said. Tell me what’s making you look like that.

He was here with Laurel; why did he look so deeply unhappy?

Why did hearing that she had a date, make him look like he’d been stabbed?

And he drank it all in, guiltily. Maybe. But with yearning too. He was alone in the crowd and suddenly she was there with him.

It was intimacy that crossed all sorts of lines.

Neither of them pulled away.

…It became heady, fast.

Until-

“Felicity?”

Tommy.

Seeing him murmur something to Laurel in her peripheral, she didn’t move; didn’t want Oliver to feel second place to Tommy’s needs right now-

Oliver jerked backwards - away from her touch - like he’d been burned; his eyes flying to somewhere over her head. In one second - one - his face and everything about it, was wiped clean of all emotion. As if he let it go. A passive mask of nonchalance, as if nothing had just happened. To any outside observer, they were two strangers passing each other by.

And that hurt more than anything else could.

She’d been right. She didn’t fit here. He didn’t want her there. Not with his friends.

A shaky breath left her, but she couldn’t look away from him. Her hand was hovering in mid-air; useless and unwanted but she didn’t move, even though Tommy’s steps were loud and close and-

She was just standing there.

Unable to avoid her like a child might, Oliver’s eyes fell back to hers and she watched how - again, in a single second - that carefully put-together façade, crumbled into dust. He looked floored. Open and wretchedly stunned at the clear hurt she was sure was on her face, knowing that he’d put it there.

Knowing that she’d considered his step back a rejection of anything more than the simple niceties he normally allowed between them. That he didn’t want Tommy or Laurel to know that they might be close in any sense of the word. Even if they did normally find it easy to be in each other’s company, it didn’t matter.

She didn’t matter.

At least, it was what she was thinking. It was what he’d made her think.

And yet…

“No.” Closing the space between them, he reached out; his gaze pleading, like he needed to make something right. “Felicity…”

He was surprised. Genuinely taken back by her reaction. Like, he thought she’d think the same; that maybe he’d only shirked her off because he thought she wouldn’t want the attention. That she’d want to keep the way she cared about him a secret.

She never had. She didn’t want to start now.

It stung and she pushed back the mess of emotions as he swallowed, his fingertips brushing over her arm. “I-I thought that-”

“Hey!”

Yanking her attention away from the man who could realistically destroy her from the inside out, Felicity slapped on her brave face - her brightest smile - as she looked to the newcomer who was now standing at Oliver’s right. “Tommy.”

“Felicity.” Said man repeated, taking her in. “Wow, you look…” he shook his head, as if to clear it; “wow.”

She grinned at him, thankful for the momentary reprieve from Oliver. “Thanks.”

Oliver who was staring at them; his face abruptly blank. Save for his eyes... he was putting two and two together.

“No, seriously,” Tommy blabbered on, completely unseeing of this or the way Laurel was striding slowly into view on Tommy’s other side, unknowingly caging her in. “You look hot. Amazing. Amazingly hot. Sm-oa-king!” Oh Jesus. “I said wow already, right?”

Feeling put on display but also, kind of - very - flattered at the extremely appreciative was Tommy’s eyes had lit up, she gave him a soft cheek nuzzle and whispered, “thank you.” In his ear.

They pulled back, grinning at each other.

But on both sides, they were being watched. On her left, Laurel was giving her a quick glance over - more like an examination, oh no - her eyes swiftly travelling down her dress and lifting back to her face where she gave her a civil smile.

It looked brittle as heck. Nothing warm in it or even remotely welcoming at all. It asked questions, judged, dressed her down and made her mind up immediately.

Felicity was white trash.

Flinty, that’s what it was. In her confident eyes was a knowing - a woman’s intuition - one Felicity could read like a book because it had been throw at her by other women who’d once thought they understood all that she was with a single glance.

She’d taken one look at Felicity’s dress - instead of thinking that maybe Felicity was a slightly insecure individual who needed the confidence that Oliver’s reaction to her attire had inspired - and had decided, she was only there for sex.

That and, she obviously hadn’t recognised her from the nerd who’d been ‘setting up Oliver’s router’ that day in Verdant.

Dismissed and insulted without saying a word.

Dressed very prim and proper in rouge; a dress that clung to her figure, giving her slender thighs a shapelier outline - a dress that stopped just short of her knees, showing no cleavage; the colour exacerbating the bronze in the brown of her hair - Laurel looked every inch the lady she knew she was.

A possessive one.

Oliver and Tommy were hers - first and foremost - and whilst Felicity could lure Tommy into bed, at the end of the day, Laurel would still be first place in his life. Knowing them both the way she did - carnal knowledge and all that jazz - she may think it made her entitled to think very little of their dates because in the end-

In the end, they’d come crawling back to her.

Oh, please tell me she doesn’t think that. It would crucify Oliver, who pinned all his hopes on being able to heal what he’d broken on Laurel’s ability to love him. It would crush Tommy’s heart, to know the woman he loved, loved Oliver more and yet, liked being favoured by him too.

And, honestly - if this was the truth - where was the self-respect in accepting that? To be loved enough that she’d always know they’d come back to her - to keep coming back - but to never stay long.

Already, Felicity knew this night was going to end badly.

“Right!” Tommy asserted. “I forgot the introductions.” Stepping into place beside her, he gestured towards Laurel first then Oliver in turn. “This is Laurel Lance, excellent lawyer at work and this is… my friend. Oliver Queen. Who you know already.” He was the very impression of the jovial entertainer at a party he hadn’t expected to host.

His voice shook.

Anger, stress, sadness; take your pick.

And Oliver… sneaking a peak at him, she caught him looking tentatively at Tommy and the vulnerability there was clear; he hated that his friend was still so hurt but he had no idea how to handle it.

“You know Oliver?” Laurel asked and her eyes shifting from one friend to another in the same vein an incredibly intuitive child might have done - except, once again, the look in her eyes spoke a very different type of curiosity.

They said one word. Explain.

And - somewhat surprisingly - it was like a bucket of cold water had been thrown over Oliver.

Losing any semblance of affection, concern or remorse; Oliver’s lips pressed together, his head bowing, his gaze to the floor with something akin to shame colouring his features.

It clicked in Felicity’s head; was upset that Laurel hadn’t remembered her. Oh.

Well… that was nice.

But he didn’t say a word.

And that wasn’t particularly nice. Yet, what had she expected? Of course, Gorgeous Laurel wouldn’t remember her after one little scene. Why should she expect more from Oliver at this juncture?

He’d made his feelings supremely clear.

“I-I…” the tension - the way Oliver still looking at the floor - was getting to her, “work for him.” She said to Laurel, pointing at Oliver and thinking this was probably the best thing to say. “I’m an IT technician at Queen Consolidated.”

“With.” There was something hard about the lack of a smile on Oliver’s face, when less than a minute before he’d worn the most sensual yet gentle one she’d ever seen on him. “She works with me.” He corrected. “You met her once.” He pointedly reminded Laurel. “At Verdant.”

She sent him a look of her own. “Ollie, you can’t expect me to remember everyone who works for you.”

And since she’d probably never met anyone else Oliver worked with, Felicity understood his one-word answer. “With.” He repeated.

And the tension continued to grow.

“I’ve never met a friend of Ollie’s who’s a woman.” Laurel stated and Oliver closed him eyes. It was brief but… he did. Tommy shifted at Felicity’s side, maybe because he could see the collision course this bumpy car ride was on. “Not one he hasn’t dated before.” Ow. “Sorry, I’m channelling Thea.” Laurel added to Tommy, whose brow had risen way up. “We’ve been spending a lot of time together recently.”

“You have?” Oliver queried, quietly.

“We have.” There was the famous Laurel Lance smile. It wasn’t complete; not by a long shot, but it curved up on one side and gave her face a slightly brighter, softer tone. Made her lovelier if that was possible, which obviously it was. “She needed a woman’s ear.”

Nodding, he smiled back and everything was alright in the world of Lauriver once more.

Until the next time.

She felt Tommy’s breath on her ear. “I think our table’s ready.” He muttered and when Felicity glanced at him, she saw he was looking anywhere but at the two people now staring at them. Not good.

And yes, the hostess was coming over: complete with award winning smile.

“Wait.” Laurel started, looking at them both in a very different light. “You’re here together?” As if it hadn’t even occurred to her that Felicity was there for Tommy.

It made Felicity frown. I thought she knew that we were… her behaviour from before was ‘mean girl’ in the extreme if she hadn’t.

“You’re on a date.” Oliver murmured, like he’d known.

It definitely wasn’t a question and it made her look at him, his voice. Spoken so softly, it was still like the breaking of glass.

Like something was hurting him.

She was already shaking her head - those doe-soft eyes were killing her - when Tommy beat her to the punch.

“We are.” He murmured and she could have choked on her tongue but she was too shocked. “I made the reservation a few days ago.” He added needlessly, ignoring her great fish impersonation but it wasn’t as magnificent as his ex-girlfriend’s.

Laurel looked like she’d been slapped in the face.

And Oliver…

“Oh.” Gentle blinks punctuated the ache - there was no other word for it - fluxing through his features. As if he was fighting with himself, trying to smile and wasn’t fully succeeding. “Right.” He closed his mouth, cleared his throat and this time, managed that ‘happy for you’ expression. “That’s… that’s great.”

He looked like someone had just broken his arm and he was trying not to scream.

Oliver, no it- she shook her head, opening her mouth to utterly refuse the idiot standing to her left-

Said idiot - avoiding her eyes - slid a hand around her back to press on the opposite hip. “It isn’t our first date.”

What the hell was he doing?!

Eyes narrowing, she silently told him she was seconds away from filling his phone, laptop and any other communicative device’s he owned with porcupine flatulence when she caught his own stare.

It was begging her not to embarrass him by contradicting his words. Pleading with her to play along for some reason even though he knew he was asking too much.

A ‘please, please help me out here…?’

But she couldn’t. No. She couldn’t do that to Oliver, not him of all people-

“Let’s go get a drink.” Tommy said to her in that intimate way couples do - his mouth close to her cheek - his hand tugging her close as he threw Oliver a glance. “You were having a scotch, right?”

“…Yeah.”

“And,” and why was his smiling like that, because he wasn’t even looking at anyone, “yours was a chardonnay, Laurel?” Their backs to said woman as they indolently - I swear to God Tommy - moved over to the bar, neither he nor Felicity heard a response.

And when they got there, Felicity let rip.

“What do you think you’re-”

“Hey!” Tommy spoke over her as he whirled around to face the other two who Felicity couldn’t even bring herself to look at anymore. She stood there blinking with jerky spasms. “Why don’t we make this a double feature?” He exclaimed, a tad too into it and dear God, no. No Tommy- “Our table’s ready for us; I’m sure we can switch to a seating for four. Excuse me.” He hustled over to the hostess before Felicity could grab the back of his tie - ass! “Any chance of our table being made into a four this evening?”

Like the amazing woman she obviously was, the hostess was already nodding. “Actually, that helps us a lot. If you’ll just follow me-” She stopped, “or would you prefer to order your drinks at the bar first instead of the table?”

Tommy’s hand touched her arm. “The bar. Thank you.” And Felicity watched as Tommy openly, without flirting, placed a $100 bill on her folder before turning on the spot and walking back to his so-called date…

Who was going to murder him.

“So,” he breathed as he slid in next to her and, yes, his hand was decidedly on the lower part of her back where Oliver had refused to touch, “what’s your poison?”

“Arsenic.” She bit out under her breath and he flinched, smiling widely - falsely - at the barkeep. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Please just play along.” He whispered, before giving his order of four drinks; a vodka tonic for him and a red wine - a whisky, she corrected; it was that kind of evening - for Felicity and splaying his hand out on her skin in a sign of apology. “I didn’t mean for this to happen but I need them to think this is genuine.”

Baffled, she shook her head. “God, why?”

“Laurel still thinks I’m the sad, barely coping EX-EVERYTHING,” he hissed back; his eyes hopeful, an old pain somewhere deep in there and imploring all at once, “and the way she looked just now when I said we were dating,” as if Laurel’s slapped-face expression meant the world to him, “this is the only way I can get her to understand.”

“Understand what?”

“How much she hurt me.” He admitted. “Ollie gets it. He always did. But Laurel… you know when you came in just now, she was letting me know about this really great jazz club opening downtown and that I should go sometime and meet someone.”

Wow. Tactless. Tacky.

“Yeah.” He nodded at her expression. “And Oliver just stood there like this great big pole, but he knew how that made me feel. Honestly, I’d prefer the rack.”

Their drinks were placed on the bar top in front of them.

“Worse,” Tommy continued as he pulled his in, “it was like she had no idea. And the Laurel I knew has never been cruel like that, even unknowingly.”

What was worse; acting like nothing had happened or bringing it up whenever the opportunity arose like everything she’d done was perfectly acceptable?

“But at least she addresses it.” He thought that was addressing it? What was wrong with these three? “Oliver never brings it up. He doesn’t talk about anything! He just asks if I’m ok; like he’s expecting me to drop dead.”

Or to forgive him.

To be his best friend again. And how could he ever bring any of it up when it would mean explaining what he isn’t ready to touch; the reality of why he does the things he does. He didn’t want to hurt Tommy any more than he already had.

Still, she couldn’t do this.

“Tommy.” She leant into him, hiding her mouth. “I can’t-”

“Hey.” Oliver. She blinked up at him, wrenching back from Tommy to find him right there. Just looking at her. “If this is too uncomfortable for you,” heck yes it was, but she could tell that the idea of this double date was analogous to consuming poison for him too, “we’re good with waiting.” Shrugging his shoulders, this beautiful smile appeared on his face and she stared because it wasn’t meant for him.

He was doing it for her.

I can’t do this. She opened her mouth-

“Sure we can Ollie.” Laurel’s voice made her jump guiltily, made Oliver let out a quiet exhale. The smile vanished. “We’ll be waiting another hour if we don’t. Besides, this way we can get to know you better Felicity.”

We.

Laurel and Oliver.

As if Oliver didn’t know anything about her already.

She felt that in her chest - would it always be this away around his friends - avoiding Oliver’s eyes completely and letting her own travel down; pressing her lips together-

Oliver’s fingers – of the hand not in his pocket – were rubbing together.

She had a feeling that no matter what happened tonight – double date or single – Oliver wouldn’t be having a good time.

Impulsively, her hand reached for his; her index and middle finger wrapping over his own. “It’s ok.”

I’m not here with Tommy.

I’d rather be here with you.

I hate this even more than you do right now.

At least if we’re having dinner together, we’re not alone.

I’m sorry Oliver.

She said all this and more in those two words, in her eyes; some of which she didn't know why. And he caught something from it; his brow furrowing, his fingers responding to her own…

“See.” Tommy declared, pulling her attention of Oliver’s pleasant frown lines and making her want to throw him out of a window. He lifted his glass, handing Laurel hers around Felicity’s shoulder. “We’re all agreed. Let’s eat.”

She’d lost her appetite.

Her mouth opened, her last chance to shut Tommy up-

Laurel’s hand slid into the opening Oliver’s arm made, linking him. The action forced Oliver’s fingers from her own. “Lead the way.” She announced, smiling to an equally pleased Tommy. What’s wrong with these people?

At least Oliver looked as apprehensive - sick and unwilling - as she felt.

Then Tommy slid his hand into hers, pulling her over to the hostess and she figured, she felt worse. Letting out a slow breath, Felicity tried to smile and swallowed. Oliver was looking down and Laurel, strangely, was chatting animatedly with Tommy at Felicity’s side.

Oliver’s eyes swiftly slid to meet her own. They didn’t move. He looked curious, confused… lonely.

Angry.

…This wasn’t going to end well.