Much, much later, they lay tangled naked in the firelight, Oliver on his back and Barry wrapped around him like a lanky climbing vine. The howling wind outside was muffled against the windows, but their room was a warm cocoon of quiet, broken only by the crackling of wood burning in the hearth.
Oliver felt a little drunk on contentment, an odd warmth curling tentatively inside his chest that he identified as happiness. He nosed at Barry's floofy bedhead, stealing little sniffs of it. It was such a soothing scent. The feeling of soft hair against his face, of Barry's fingers idly tracing the scars on his chest, the sated heaviness of his limbs, were making Oliver sink blissfully toward sleep.
He was not aware of having closed his eyes but they fluttered open at the feeling of Barry's lips on his chest. He looked down to see him mouthing the sensitive outlines of his scars with great concentration. Oliver's lips quirked up.
"Y'know, if you want round two, you'll have to give me a while. Not all of us have speedster refractory periods."
"I can wait," said Barry, not pausing in his laser-focused ministrations.
Oliver observed him for a minute. Despite the hardness he felt pressing against his hip, this didn't seem to be sexual. Barry had that small furrow on his brow he had when he was contemplating a piece of evidence very hard.
"Bab-Barry?" he cut off the automatic endearment, not sure if it was allowed. They hadnt discussed much of anything before falling into bed. "What are you doing?"
There was a pause. "You were hurt," Barry finally looked at him, eyes somber. "These - I've seen them before but I was too focused on saving your life. I knew they were there. But. You were hurt. As bad as I've ever been. And you hurt for longer because you don't heal like me."
Barry pressed his face to the scar left by Eddie Fyer's torturer when he had run a sword through Oliver's abdomen. He had screamed until his throat bled. The memory began to seep out unbidden, a distant ringing behind his ears, but Barry's soft lips and body heat anchored him to the present, and it receded back into the recesses of his mind.
He threaded his rough fingers through the other man's long, unmarred ones and tugged him up. Barry crawled up his body and claimed his mouth, long and deep. They lay pressed together, leaning their foreheads against each other, breath mingling between them.
"It's in the past," Oliver told him gently, trying to chase away the concern in the younger man's eyes.
"Doesn't mean they don't hurt. When you see things. Touch things. Hear things. When you close your eyes," there were tears in Barry's voice, even though his gaze was still clear and intense. "I don't have any scars but I still feel them in me, some days. Oliver -,"
Do you feel them too? Barry's eyes spoke the question clearly.
With anyone else, Oliver would have lashed out or withdrawn by now. He had only survived this long by obstinately outrunning the past, focusing on surviving in the present. The next mission, the next target, the next arrow. He had people who loved him yes, but they never seemed to understand, always pushing and pushing for him to talk about what had happened to him. The bits and pieces he did tell them made them look at him with such horror and pity.
It made him feel ashamed and angry and inadequate somehow. If he had been better, done things differently, not been such a foolish, selfish boy, he wouldn't have put those expressions on their faces. He wouldn't have gotten the people who had put their faith in him (Yao Fei, Shado, Sara, Akio, Maseo, Tiana, Tommy, his mother) killed.
People seemed to think that the wounds were part of his past, leaving only the scars. Instead of failures that were etched indelibly under his skin, reaching black veins into his present, poisoning everything he touched. Like Barry.
"Oliver?" He snapped back to the present to see Barry staring at him in concern.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to -," Barry backpedalled, physically as well. "Wow, I really killed the buzz there, didn't I?" he said with a humorless laugh, running his fingers through his hair. "God, I'm so sorry."
Do you feel them too?
Another memory. Of Helena this time, her eyes red-rimmed and yearning, speaking of crucibles and loneliness. The answering want he had felt when he realized she didnt need him to open up and rehash his pain and shame and fear - she already understood it because she carried the same pain inside herself, inescapable. He had thought that opening his wounds and letting his poison meld with hers would help them both find relief.
He had been wrong. So wrong.
Barry was struggling to extricate himself from the sheets next to him. Barry who been shaped by his own crucible of loss and grief as much as he had been. Barry, who was pure and loving and a light in the world, who had come to him bleeding from wounds no one would ever see except in his eyes, seeking someone who understood his nightmares.
Barry who also felt he had poison in his blood and cold stamped on his bones, burrowing inside the circle of Oliver's arms as though he could burn all of it away.
Oliver pulled his lover back under the covers, into his arms and kissed him deeply. After a frozen beat, Barry fell into him with a sigh of relief, letting Oliver sweep deeply into his mouth in reassurance.
"I feel them too," admitted Oliver as they leaned their foreheads together again. "And yes, it hurts. But a lot less when you're here with me."
He had never actually confessed that to anyone. Even before the island he had had trouble opening up to even his nearest and dearest. But Barry made him want to hold onto him with both hands, to repay that trusting heart he offered so freely with his own.
You wouldn't have survived all those years if you didn't have a light inside you.
He ran their joined hands over his chest, tracing his scars together. "Come on then, Mr. CSI," he smiled gently, "examine the evidence and tell me what you see."
Barry hesitated. "I won't trigger you will I?"
His eyes were sweet with uncertain hope, his hand soft and gentle in Oliver's rough, calloused one. A young boy-god warm in his bed.
He brushed their entwined fingertips over the raised ridge of skin inches above his heart.
"I think, as long as you're with me, we'll be fine."