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Darling heart, I loved you from the start (But you'll never know what a fool I've been)

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There is love in your body but you can't hold it in
It pours from your eyes and spills from your skin
Tenderest touch leaves the darkest of marks
And the kindest of kisses break the hardest of hearts

Oliver never much cared for the 'soul mates' thing when he was younger. It was a matter of not wanting to be tied down. He just wanted to have fun, and meeting somebody that came with that kind of responsibility, that scared the shit out of him. He didn't want to meet the one person who would fit him in every way imaginable. A ying to his yang, the balance to his unbalanced; it seemed a lot heavier than what he was ready for. So, he was glad that he never met that person. For all of his sleeping around, all the women he'd been with, not one had worn the mark that said 'this was it.' He noticed the disappointment on a lot of those faces come the morning after, but the relief that flooded him said a lot.

When he met Laurel, he thought things might be different. They got each other, in a way, and he could see himself doing something more long term. But the mark didn't appear on her, and there was a time limit to these things. It was said that if a mark didn't show within 24 hours of meeting, then they weren't the one. Oliver always kind of thought that was a load of bull. What could possibly happen in 24 hours that made something inside of him click and acknowledge that hey, she's it? There were stories, of course, of the mark showing up a little later, sometimes days or weeks after the fact. It couldn't be proven why, but Oliver wondered if maybe something happened, if someone had witnessed something or had to go through something that changed them irrevocably, and only then was that other person the right fit for them.

Laurel hoped that was what would happen in their case. So, they kept dating, for three years they dated, but no mark. And Oliver started to think maybe it was for the better. Because he wasn't ready for that commitment. Oh, he loved Laurel. And sometimes he even imagined a fuzzy future where they were married. But, thinking about those things occasionally didn't change the core of him. He cheated. He lied. He got high on more than life, just because he could and why not? He had so few responsibilities that boredom came easily and relieving it came cheap. Well, to him anyway. He had so much money at his disposal that he never batted an eye.

He was twenty-three when things changed.

Laurel was talking about moving in and, as much as they'd been together a while now and he did love her, something was holding him back.

It wasn't uncommon for people to get married and live out their lives together without sharing a soul mate mark. His parents were proof that it happened, and they sustained a marriage this long. There were complications, of course. The knowledge that some part of them knew there was always somebody out there who would fit them better was ever present. And the worry that one day their partner might meet them loomed overhead. But, after twenty-five years of marriage, neither Moira nor Robert had. And sometimes that happened. Sometimes, they never met the right fit for them, but could maintain a good and happy life with someone who was just close enough.

Maybe it was an excuse, especially given the fact that Oliver had never put much stock in it to begin with, but he convinced himself that the reason he and Laurel shouldn't move in together, shouldn't get married, shouldn't start making those plans, was because she wasn't his soul mate. That wasn't, however, a good enough reason to sleep with her sister, or to take Sara away on the Queen's Gambit. But, he did. And he would always regret that.

Five years did a lot to change how he thought, not just about life, but about having a soul mate and who that soul mate might be.

He'd thought once, that the soul mate mark was a way of chaining him to someone. For as long as he could remember, Raisa would tell him that the mark was a gift. That something, some divine intervention, beyond their comprehension, had searched the world and found for him the one person who would love him and support him. They would be the partner he needed, meeting and exceeding expectation, pushing him when he needed to be pushed and holding him when he needed to be held. But as a boy, Oliver never really understood what that meant. What little he knew of love was displayed between parents who were often too busy and whose marriage was often more for show. As time went on, the cracks could be seen. Oliver wasn't unaware that while his parents loved each other, they were not in love with each other. And he didn't understand how a mark could keep something like that from happening.

As a teenager, all he wanted was the next good time, the next thrill, the next hot girl to share his bed. He wanted something quick and easy and immediate. He didn't care about marks or soul mates or relationships. He wanted to have fun. He wanted to party and hang out with Tommy and enjoy himself. He remembered a few girls in high school would look for the mark as soon as they were done screwing around. He avoided them after. The ones that didn't, the ones who didn't care if he marked them or not, those were the ones he revisited. Because he was young and things like that, things like commitment, they weren't on his to-do list.

Becoming an adult didn't change his opinion. He was one of the lucky few who didn't have to grow up right away. Sure, there was college, four of them at last count, but that was just something to appease his dad. He spent more time in frat houses, sleeping around and sleeping off last night's hangover than he ever did in class or doing homework. It just wasn't his thing, and his trust fund told him that was okay. But then Laurel came along and, sometimes, she managed to get him to tread the responsible path. Eventually, however, his selfish nature would rear its ugly head and he'd forget about Laurel and what was 'right' and focus more on that immediate gratification he enjoyed so much.

The island was a sharp reminder that everything he didn't think he wanted was a lot better than what he currently had. There were nights where he was so cold and so alone that maybe he would've liked to see that mark somewhere, to trace it with his fingers and know that he wasn't alone. That someone out there would love him despite the scars, despite the trauma, despite everything.

There was so much death and destruction that the only good thing he had to hold onto was the image of his family and of Laurel. Would it be so bad? he wondered. To love and be loved by her for the rest of his life? No, of course not. He would be a better man when he got back, a more committed man. And maybe, like those other people, when he returned and saw her again, their marks would appear. Maybe this island had changed him so much that now, now he was who she was meant to be with. He held on to that hope tightly, one of the few things pushing him forward each day when most of the time, all he wanted to do was lay down and die.

There was a moment of doubt when he met Shado. She was kind and beautiful and her heart was so giving. She opened his eyes to a new way of living, a new way of seeing the world, and she offered him love and companionship in a world where everything seemed edged in agony. Maybe she was the right fit for this new Oliver, bred from the bloodied soil of the island. But the mark never came. Not before or after they became intimate with one another. There was talk, once, that sometimes only one person bore the mark and that the other took longer for it to show. He used to find Laurel looking for hers, certain that she'd just missed it. It could appear anywhere on the body without warning. Sometimes, when he and Shado laid beside each other, he'd look for it on her, wondering if maybe it was there, somewhere, and they just hadn't seen it.

He found it one early morning, seared onto her shoulder, a coil of black against her tanned skin. He was surprised by how much it scared him, how it made his gut twist and turn. She searched him over to see if she could find one on him but he was bereft of any mark besides the scars he'd been given as a reminder of his time there. For weeks, they waited, but it never came. And then, things changed. Sara and Ivo and the mirakuru invaded the island. It was all a frenzied blur of fear and anger. There was a choice that wasn't really a choice and then Shado was dead. Ivo shot her in the head and left her to fall, face first into the dirt. That loss would stick with him for the rest of his life, coiling around his heart and squeezing whenever he thought of her.

It would be a while later when he finally saw the mark, that beautiful black spiral he'd traced every night for weeks, kissing it before she fell asleep in his arms.

It wasn't on him, though.

It was on Slade.

Slade wore it high on his shoulder blade, the mark so new, so delicate against his rough skin that it almost looked wrong.

And Oliver pieced it together, that terror and devastation in Slade's voice as he cradled Shado in his arms and wept over her. All those weeks of him being a little more on edge, of telling Oliver to be careful, that they couldn't afford to fall in love here. But the truth was that some part of Slade must have known. Even if he'd never seen the mark, even if he didn't know for a fact that Shado was his, some part of him had known and had loved her.

Oliver began to resent the mark after that. Maybe if it had been Slade. If he'd been there with Shado, if he'd been the one to hold her each night, maybe then things would have turned out differently. He resented that he got the message too late. That he'd put his hope in Shado only to realize that she was never really his. And he wondered why. Why, if this mark was supposed to be so important, so life-changing, why did it take so long to appear? And why when she was in love with the wrong person? Because he was wrong for her. He always had been. His lot in life was that he was never the right person for anyone. He was too selfish, too pathetic, too indulgent, too much, always too much, and Shado, for some reason, though he was worthy of her and her love. When really, it was Slade all along.

He started to dream of Laurel again after that. He started to believe that the only one who could ever accept him in all of his broken glory was the same girl who put up with him when he was a party-boy that made too many mistakes and never meant any of his apologies. He held on to her face in his mind like it was the only good thing left, and maybe it was, for a time. His mind got darker, his life worse, the island became deadlier, and so too had he. Friends were lost, some he killed himself, and a new enemy came to replace the last one, fiercer with each rebirth. He became a shell of who he once was, a shadow of the boy that had turned up on the island, useless and privileged and expecting so much different from what he found. Survival was all that mattered. Survival and justice.

When help finally arrived, he was someone else entirely. Shaving off the beard, cutting back the ratty hair, replacing his ragged clothes with clean ones, and showering, God, showering in actual hot water, it was a blessing, but the image staring back at him in the mirror was not the image he'd once had. He was older, yes, harder, too. And his face still looked familiar in some ways, but he knew the truth. Ollie died on that island, and, in his place, was a cold-blooded killer that had only one mission ahead of him.

Was he happy to be home? To see his family? Absolutely. There were some days that he thought it was a dream his dying mind had built up. But there they were, solid and real. Thea was taller, snarkier, not the same little girl he'd left behind. But she still hugged the same, she still cried his name with all the reverence of a little sister. That would fade, of course, when the boy she remembered didn't reappear as expected. He had too many lies, too many secrets, too much going on for him to ever be what she wanted him to be. But he tried. For her sake, he tried to be who he used to be, at least around her, around Tommy and his mother. It was difficult, it was exhausting, but he owed it to them.

Truth be told, he thought he'd die long before he ever met his soul mate. He wondered sometimes if she ever existed. That spark of hope that it was Laurel had dwindled, and fast. He thought, when he saw her again, even with the hatred, the anger burning in her eyes, that something might give. Some small reprieve from all that he'd gone through. But there was nothing. No mark. No sign that she was it. That after some time and one hugely defining stay in the worst, possible place in existence, finally, he was the man she was meant to be with.

But he was wrong.

All that time spent on the island, hoping against hope that he would come home, he would see her, and all the pieces would begin to fall into place, it was for nothing.

He decided to dedicate himself to his mission. To righting his father's wrongs. To crossing out every name in that book until he was satisfied that his father's sins had been washed away. He did it without mercy, arrows flung from his bow with righteous certainty, and he stood behind his actions without regret.

He wasn't expecting her.

He'd come to accept that this was all he would ever be. He would kill until he was killed. He would fight until he was beaten. Some days, he felt less like a man and more like a machine.

And then he had a laptop, riddled with bullets, and he needed more tech expertise than he had at his disposal. He went to Queen Consolidated's IT Department and asked for the best they had, using his name and his tabloid-grin to get the secretary to let him through with as few questions as possible.

The office was a bright blue, unlike many of the other's in the building that had stuck with the depressing off-white shade. In fact, there was color everywhere. She'd taken a rather oppressive desk space and made it her own, from the multi-colored pens and folders spread out to the knick-knacks of cats and panda bears scattered over the shelves. There was a picture in the background, of her wearing a grad cap with her arms thrown around the shoulders of two other girls; she grinned brightly, looking sweet and young and innocent.

He paused for a moment, taking it all in, feeling slightly out of place in a world with so much brightness. Finally, he focused on his target. A woman, blonde hair tied into a ponytail, pale pink blouse tucked into a skirt, and a pen stuck between brightly painted lips, greeted him. Or, well, she might have, if she wasn't distracted by the computers she was working on.

"Felicity Smoak?"

She flinched, lifting her head, and turned to him, plucking the pen from her mouth. Her brows were hiked in surprise as she stared up at him.

"Hi… I'm Oliver Queen."

"Of course." She waved her pen around and scooted her chair in closer to her desk. "I know who you are…" She laughed awkwardly, tossing her hands up in a 'duh' fashion. "You're Mr. Queen."

"No. Mr. Queen was my father," he corrected.

"Right, but he's dead," she said off-handedly. Quickly shaking her head, she said, "I mean, he drowned."

Oliver's eyes narrowed, watching her flounder for a moment, struggling to find the PC thing to say.

"But you didn't. Which means you could come down to the IT Department…" She tapped her pen on the desk, "and listen to me babble. Which will end in 3… 2… 1."

Oliver stifled his amusement, which crashed over him quicker than expected. He raised an eyebrow, his mouth curved up slightly, and brought the laptop up and around to show her. "I'm having some trouble with my computer and they told me you were the person to come and see." He laid it down on her desk and watched her roll her chair over, her hand spread over the laptop, bright purple nails flashing at him. He sucked in a breath, crossing his arms over his chest, and explained, "I was at my coffee shop, surfing the web, and I spilled a latte on it."

She folded her lips as she examined the computer for a moment before looking up at him, brow raised. "Really?"


"'Cause these look like bullet holes," she told him matter-of-factly, letting her finger touch a few of them.

"My coffee shop is in a bad neighborhood," he told her, straight-faced.

Staring up at him a moment, she tipped her head, giving him a 'what do you take me for?' look that drew out of him the most honest smile he'd felt in a long time.

A laugh bubbled in his throat that he swallowed back, scratching absently at an itch on his chest. He stared at her, square in the eyes. "If there is anything that you can salvage from it… I would really appreciate it."

She was still looking at him like he'd just fed her the most pathetic lie in existence, her brows hiked high, but after a moment, she nodded, tapping the top.

Her quick, efficient work, with a side of snark, proved to him she'd be an asset in future, even if she was silently letting him know that his lies were not as top-notch as he thought they were. If he was being honest, however, he hadn't expected anyone that worked at a company that bore his name to actually question him. He thought they'd just do as asked and keep their mouth shut. Felicity proved different.

She would do that a lot.

He didn't notice it at first.

He was a little too busy with everything else going on in his life. But one night, after a particularly rough mission, he'd gone home to shower and try to get a few hours of sleep. It was difficult to get any real kind of rest. He was always too worked up, too paranoid, too aware of how vulnerable he was when he was sleeping. He usually had to work himself to exhaustion before he had any chance of passing out.

When he left the shower, the tattoos and scars were nothing new. Seeing them in the mirror, in such stark clarity, sometimes threw him, but he was getting used to it. This was what he was now; scar tissue. He was brushing his teeth, something else he'd missed desperately in the last five years, when he spotted it. An arrow, leaned to one side, with a line through it near the bottom of the shaft. He reached for it, his brow furrowed, and ran his finger over the smooth skin. A few inches below and to the right of his Bratva tattoo, the mark was much darker, cleaner, standing out against his skin.

He ran through a mental list of who he'd been around lately, wondering if, like Shado, it had just taken a while for it to appear. Maybe it was Laurel. Maybe he'd been right and all they needed was a little more time for them to fit.

He was both disappointed and hopeful.

Laurel was with Tommy now. Even if they were just trying to figure it out, even if it had only started as a way to get over his supposed death, they were together. There was something there, and Oliver would not stand between that. He'd done enough, hurt the both enough, to stand in the way of them now.

Besides, for all he knew, Laurel didn't wear his mark.

He wouldn't be surprised if this was just another way for life to mock him.

It was a struggle. Juggling his duties as the Hood with his personal life. There were days when he wanted to hang up this crusade and be someone normal, but the truth was, he knew that could never happen. Even on the nights where he managed to lie to himself, to believe that Laurel would come around, that, somehow, she and Tommy wouldn't work out, that his best friend wouldn't hate him for trying with her again. He told himself he could be the brother Thea deserved and the son that his mother wanted. He fell asleep dreaming of a life he couldn't have and woke up knowing that he'd always be chasing pipe dreams.

This was his life now. Fighting, surviving, lying. He would never be who his family wanted him to. He couldn't reverse time and become that man. And that anger that simmered inside him now, that bitter desperation that was drowning in guilt, it was never going to go away. He could put on a cheery façade, he could joke and laugh and don the mask of son and friend all he wanted, but they would always just be masks.

He knew he was a disappointment. He knew that their dreams of having him back were destroyed every time that he did something that didn't fit into what they expected of him. He couldn't be normal. There was nothing normal left in him. And he couldn't tell them that, he couldn't explain why he was the way he was. Thea had seen the scars, she'd wanted the story, but the words always got clogged up in his throat. Because even though he knew he couldn't be the him she wanted him to be, he sometimes liked that she still saw him as something close to who he was. As long as she kept that ideal of him, then he never had to see the horror on her face when she realized there was none of the brother she remembered left in him.

It should bother him more how many of his lies were for his benefit than theirs.

Felicity was unexpected in every possible way.

He didn't realize it for too long. He knew his own feelings were growing. How could they not? She was everything good left in the world. She was literal 'happiness' surviving in a world where nothing but pain seemed to surround him. Making her smile, hearing her laugh, catching her in one of her babbles, these became things he cherished, that he relied on to bring him out of a bad day. Falling in love with her was easy, being in love with her was not.

He did not deserve her.

There was nothing and no one that could tell him different on that account.

Being with him would only make her a bigger target and he couldn't do that. He couldn't risk her. Having her be a part of the team was already too much. He questioned himself about that every day. But he couldn't do it without her, not only her skills, but she herself. Her light and warmth and the way she stood up to him; those were vital parts to their team. Sometimes, he wondered who he would be if he hadn't met her. If he'd still be striking names off a list, if he'd have accomplished as much as he had, if he'd even be alive. He wasn't healed. He wasn't sure he ever would be. But she had brought back pieces of him that he'd once thought were lost. The ability to laugh, to smile, genuinely, was so rare. Thea and John and Tommy, they'd managed it. Friendship and family had that affect. But the way he felt around Felicity sometimes, like his burdens had lifted from his shoulders, nobody else did that. Sometimes she talked, or babbled, or just looked at him, and he would sigh, feeling weightless and hopeful and a little dizzy with how pretty and kind and loving she was.

Sometimes he dreamed that she wore his mark. That an arrow abraded the soft skin of her breast. He dreamed of stripping her pretty blouse off of her and kissing it as he shoved her skirt up to her waist and sunk into her. He dreamed of her lipstick print against his mark as she held him, hugging his waist, telling him it would be okay, they would be okay, that they'd get through their latest challenge together. He dreamed of her and when he woke, he wasn't scared.

But then reality came crashing down and he realized he should be. That her bearing his mark would mean more danger for her. It would mean facing the fact that he was already in love with her and every day he feared what might happen to her. John could handle himself, but Felicity was still learning, and self-defence wasn't something that came easy to her. She preferred her computers and using her brain to outwit an opponent.

"I'm the brain to your brawn," she would joke. "Oh, yours and Digg's, I mean. Not—Not just yours. Which wouldn't be terrible, but, you know what, never mind…"

Sometimes he wondered if the mark was really there at all. If maybe it was a figment of his imagination. Like a break from reality, maybe he'd forced it into becoming real, or just imagined it was. Maybe that arrow wasn't there at all and it was just in his head.

When Tommy died, he found out Laurel had a mark, a line with three prongs coming from the bottom.

"It looks like a peace sign, doesn't it?" she said. "I thought so too when I saw Tommy's, but… This doesn't feel peaceful."

There were days that Oliver thought the soul mate mark was a curse. Slade lost Shado. Laurel lost Tommy. And he… He had no idea who wore his. Some nameless stranger, maybe? Somebody out there, having no idea just what kind of person they were tied to. It wasn't Helena; she'd been marked by her fiancé before he died. It wasn't Isabel; she wore a dagger-looking mark on her hip; she never said who and he didn't ask.

When Sara came back, he thought maybe things could be different. They were similar enough, they'd gone through so much of the same, that if anybody could understand him, it would be her. She wore Nyssa's mark on the nape of her neck. She never let him touch her there. He thought maybe that was worse than having your soul mate die. Knowing you couldn't ever really be with them.

Sometimes Sara traced his arrow mark on his chest, but she didn't ask. Sometimes she watched him watch Felicity but she never said anything. Sometimes he wished she would. Sometimes.

Everything changed the night the Clock King attacked. Felicity took a bullet meant for Sara and, after that, Oliver lived in a world of panic. She was going to be fine, they were sure of that. She was hyped up on pain killers, loopier than ever, and Oliver felt relief hit him like a flood. When he went to talk to her, his only drive had been letting her know that what she did that night, while brave, was not something she should ever do again. There was a reason he wanted her to stay in the foundry. She was safe there. Or, she was, until Tockman found them. Maybe safe was a relative word. Maybe it was a lie he told himself so he wouldn't bundle her up and hide her somewhere, far out of reach from everyone, himself included.

Diggle's words, earlier, about how Felicity was feeling neglected played through his mind. It wasn't that he wanted to keep his distance, because he didn't. It was that keeping his distance was the only thing he could do. He wasn't lying before, when he told her he couldn't be with anyone he could really care about. He was already half-way in love with her at that point and all too aware of the ramifications of that. With Sara, who he did care about, he at least knew that she could take care of herself. And, in the end, he had no chance of breaking her heart, not when it was firmly attached to Nyssa. But Felicity couldn't know that part, she couldn't know that he loved her too much for his own good and that holding her at a distance was the only way he knew to keep her from getting any deeper into his life. It already felt like quicksand and he didn't want her to sink with him.

But then his hand was on her cheek and he was telling her she would always be his girl, because he was never really all that good at lying, not to her. Just for a second, as she smiled up at him dopily, her cheek in his hand, the shirt she wore, one of his, slipped, and he saw it. That tiny arrow printed on her breast. His heart stopped. It stuttered in his chest before it kicked into action, beating so fast, his eyes went black around the edges.

"Oliver?" she asked, her brow furrowed.

There was a second, a split-second, where he wanted to throw caution to the wind, to stop playing it safe, and to just be with who he knew he was supposed to. And then his eyes stung and reality set back in and he remembered that if he really loved her, he could never be with her.

So he stepped back and away and he told himself he was doing the right thing.

But later that night, as he laid on a thin mattress, his arm tucked behind his head, staring up at the clock tower's roof, things changed.

Sara sat beside him, her back against a pillar, and she said, "I saw it… It's just like yours."

And all those times he wished she'd said something, he very much took back.

"You've been doing this for a long time, haven't you? Pretending you don't love her. Holding yourself back. Treating her like a friend when you've always wanted more."

"Not from the beginning," he said, his voice raspy. "I thought that's what we were. Friends. Partners. But… things changed."

Sara was quiet a moment, before finally wondering, "Does she know?"

"She hasn't said anything."

"She must've seen it. You walk around shirtless all the time…" She let out a laugh. "Maybe you were hoping she would see it. That she'd confirm she had the same mark."

He frowned. Maybe she was right. Maybe he thought if she saw it enough something would happen, something would make hers appear and she would finally just blurt it out to him. Maybe he hoped that Felicity would do what she always did, call him on his bullshit and force him to deal with it. And when she didn't, he started to believe it couldn't be her.

"Even if she doesn't know, she deserves to," Sara told him firmly.

He turned to look at her, pushing up to his elbows. "No," he said harshly.

She leveled him with a glare. "It's her mark too, Ollie. Her future. She's not just yours, you're hers. Which means that you owe it to her, even if it's just to tell her that you can't be what she deserves. You owe it to her to tell her that. She's never going to let you go – the real you, or the idea of finding her soul mate – unless you tell her."

Oliver looked away, his teeth clenched.

"Unless you're hoping she'll wait, hold out hope, until eventually, one day you can be that guy for her…" Sara said quietly, knowingly. "Felicity's a romantic. She wouldn't marry someone she knew wasn't her soul mate. So she'll always wait, she'll look for that mark on every man she meets, hoping he's the one, while you're right there, lying to her."

"I'm not lying."

"By omission!" she argued. "Ollie, you know how much she cares about you! Anybody can see that."

He sighed, closing his eyes.

"And I know how much you care about her," she whispered.

Oliver went still. "Sara…"

"Hey, I can't blame you… It's always going to be Nyssa for me, I know that. Do I wish things were different? Sure. Sometimes I wish I had an arrow of my own on my heart. And other days I wish I could live that life with Nyssa, even though it was suffocating and killing anything good I had left in me. I miss her, Ollie. I miss her every day. But I know that I can't go back to her. I can't leave my family and be who she wants me to be." She shook her head, tears springing to her eyes before she swiped at them angrily. "But you, you have a real chance! Felicity knows you, she knows that you're never going to be like a normal person, and she loves you anyway. Hell, she loves all the damaged parts, too. So stop being such a stubborn ass and forcing yourself to pay for things that aren't your fault…" She stared at him searchingly. "After everything you've been through, everything that's happened to us, don't you think you deserve that happiness?"

Oliver's throat burned with emotion. Finally, he turned over onto his side and sighed. "No."

Sara didn't kick him out, she let him stay with her at the clock tower even while it was clear that she had ended whatever relationship they had. And when they met in the foundry as friends, she cast her eyes meaningfully toward Felicity, silently telling him to get his act together.

He wished he'd listened to her earlier.

He wished he'd done something long before.

All that time he thought he was keeping her safe, and really he was only painting a larger target on her.

Slade came for her on a Wednesday. Late that night, while she was on her way home from the foundry, he took her.

All they found was her empty car, parked on the side of the road, emergency lights flashing for attention, the door open and her purse on the passenger seat.

Lance informed him exactly six hours after his work day started and there was no sign of her.

Oliver spent every day frantically searching for her, never sleeping, using everything he had at his disposal, but she was nowhere. The tracking device in her phone was useless, the one in her watch wasn't sending out a signal; it was clear that Slade knew about them and had taken measures to make sure they wouldn't be found until he wanted them found.

Oliver didn't know what to do. He knew he had to focus, to find his control, but every day, he felt his grip slipping. He couldn't lose her. It was as simple as that. Losing her would mean losing himself.

He knew Diggle was scared, too. Even as he lashed out, even as he fought against him on the training mats to relieve some of the pent up energy. He knew he was taking his fears out on them, but he couldn't stop himself. And apparently he hadn't been as good at hiding it as he thought, because Digg knew exactly why.

"I know you're scared. So am I. You think I don't know what it's like not to have your soul mate? Huh? Lyla and I marked each other the second we looked at each other. We couldn't make it work once, we tried going our separate ways. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But we're getting there now, we're working it out now. And you're going to have your chance, too. I know it's killing you, Oliver, but you've gotta your head on straight," Diggle told him. "You know Slade, better than any of us, so think, Oliver. What would he do?"

He did know Slade better than them, than even Sara. Which is why when he did think about what Slade would do, what he might have planned, it made him want to crumble. He did this. This was his fault. If she died, if Slade killed her, the only one to blame would be him. He didn't think he could live with himself if that happened.

His mark hurt.

Every day, every second, it burned. And it terrified him.

Was it just his fear that something was happening to her, or was she being hurt? The idea that Slade might be torturing her, might be making her pay for Oliver's mistakes… He'd thrown up so many times just thinking about it, that all that was left was stomach acid and bile.

He didn't know of any stories where pain could be felt through the mark. If it could, then he needed to apologize to her for what she must feel. He thanked whatever force made sure that mark didn't show up until after the island, because knowing she might've had to feel that torture made his gut twist. But that didn't mean he didn't get into scrapes just about every day. Did she feel those? Did she feel how hollow he was?

He spent every moment of every day looking for her, petrified about what he might find when he did. Despite how much he knew Felicity hated others using them, he had Sara use her computers to see if she could track anything, if she could find Slade or anyone matching his description. If she could make sure he was still in Starling or if he'd left somewhere else. What if he had left town? What if he'd taken her back to the island? Or what if he'd simply left town and the mystery of what happened to her would be Oliver's penance.

The whole team was doing something, whether it was searching the city on foot or visiting old sources for information. John talked to Lyla, to the Suicide Squad, desperate for any scrap of information they might have. They were tight-lipped for the most part, but Lyla admitted that, as of Wednesday, they had no idea where Slade was, or what he might have done with Felicity. It was a sobering fact. But that didn't slow Oliver down.

He was working himself to the bone, trying to keep up the façade of CEO each day while he knew he was falling apart.

His sister was worried. She kept telling him that he looked terrible, that he needed to get some sleep, but he ignored her. He couldn't sleep. Too much could happen in that time. All of his energy was put into finding her. What little food he'd eaten was just enough to sustain him. Was this what Helena felt when her fiancé died? What Slade felt when he lost Shado? Was this how Laurel felt every day? Because he could kind of understand the drinking then, couldn't he? The difference was that they knew their soul mates were gone. They knew there was no chance that they might still be alive. That they might be out there, being hurt, mentally and physically.

He lasted until Monday before he passed out, exhaustion finally claiming him. It wasn't peaceful, not even close. He found himself back on the island, only it wasn't Shado and Sara kneeling in front of him. It was Felicity and Shado, with Slade at their backs, and he knew. He knew which one Slade would pick. He could feel the blood on his face as it sprayed from her head on impact. He could feel her in his arms as he held her, hugged her to his chest, crying apologies into her hair.

He woke with a strangled scream, Sara's hand shaking his shoulder.

She said nothing, instead staring at his hand; his fingers were digging into his chest, covering his mark like he was trying to shield her from what was happening.

"We're going to get her back," Sara told him, her voice thick, hoarse.

There was no promise that she'd be alive, though. They'd been through too much together for her to lie.

It was a Wednesday night, exactly a week after he'd taken her, when Slade called for him with nothing more than the blinking light of Felicity's watch tracker turning on.

Oliver answered.

He appeared on the roof with his bow at the ready, his hands shaking, fear clawing at his chest.

"How's it feel?" Slade yelled to him.

Oliver sneered at him.

"You can feel it, can't you? That throbbing in your mark? That hollowness in your heart?" Slade pressed a hand down to Felicty's head as she knelt in front of him, shivering, still wearing the same clothes he'd seen her in last Wednesday night. "It doesn't go away. When you lose them… When they're taken from you… It only gets worse."

"This is between you and me. She has nothing to do with this," Oliver snapped, his chest heaving.

"She has everything to do with this." He grinned, a dark, cruel smile, as he dragged the barrel of his gun down her face. "When I planned this, I always dreamed it'd be Laurel who knelt here. Or maybe her sister. Sara would be poetic justice indeed…" His teeth flashed as lightening cracked the sky, a rumble of thunder following it. "But then I realized what a beautiful secret you were hiding…" His hand slid down Felicity's front, tugging at the collar of her blouse until the buttons gave.

She gave a little cry, pulling back, but he pressed the gun harder against her head and she whimpered, going still.

Oliver gritted his teeth, his fingers flexing on the string of his bow.

Slade's fingers walked down, touching the mark on Felicity's chest without having to see it. "Late bloomer, I see… Took her a while to bear your mark back, didn't she?"

Felicity raised her head slowly, peering at him across the wet roof, her brow furrowed as she tried to understand what was happening.

"Took me a while to figure it out, but you showed your hand a few times… Killing Count Vertigo, that was the first tip-off. You'd always kept your friends close, but this one…" He stroked her cheek with his knuckles. "Oh, she was special to you. A sunflower in a field of weeds."

Felicity glared up at him.

"Don't be upset with me, sweetheart. He's the one who didn't tell you about the mark. That you've been his soul mate all this time… Go on, Oliver, tell her how you lied to her."

He shook his head. "I didn't. I only just found out. I only saw her mark a few weeks ago."

"But you knew… Don't lie. You had to feel it, that pull towards her… I felt it with Shado. Every day. Long before my mark even came in. I knew who she was to me. I had to watch her with you, loving you, when I knew she was supposed to be with me. That I would love her better. I would keep her safe!"

Swallowing tightly, Oliver said, "I didn't know. I… When her mark came in, we thought mine would come later. Slade, I didn't know until she was gone. I didn't see your mark until after she was…"

"Dead. Go on. You can say it. You're the reason she died in the first place!"

He flinched. "I didn't kill her. Ivo did."

"You had a choice! And you picked wrong." He pressed the gun against Felicity's head, just above her ear. "Well, now you don't have a choice, brother. Now I'll make it for you. One soul mate for one soul mate. I think that's fair, don't you?" He smirked savagely, flicking the safety off.

It was a blur of action then. Lightening lit the sky up, filling hollowed out shadows and making everyone and everything stand out. There were players in the game he hadn't noticed before. He'd come alone; he'd called John and Sara on his way over on his bike, but there was no time to plan anything. Slade had Felicity and Oliver wouldn't risk losing her.

It was Deadshot that fired first. Raised above on a higher building, he'd taken the shot on John's command, and a bullet had pierced through the back of Slade's head, coming out his remaining eye and hitting the ground beneath him. There was a moment where it looked like that wouldn't stop him, when even without his sight, he still looked like he planned to pull that trigger. Oliver reacted. One after the other, he put arrow after arrow into his friend until there was nothing left to shoot. A roar he hadn't even realized he was making finally petered out, a crash of thunder following it, and then Oliver was on his knees, and Slade was lying dead on the ground, riddled with arrows, blood dribbling out of his destroyed eye.

It took him a moment, the shock running through him, thick in his veins, and then he turned, looking at Felicity, hunched over a few feet away.

"Felicity…" He crawled toward her. "Felicity!" Reaching for her, he grabbed her up, pulling her into his chest. "Are you okay? Did he hurt you?"

Her face fell to his shoulder as she shivered, silent and limp.

His arms wrapped around her tightly, stroking through her wet hair. He sat back on the roof and cradled her against him, his cheek pressed to her hair. "Talk to me… Please."

But she didn't. She stayed unresponsive in his arms and he let out a shaky breath.

"Felicity, please… I- I'm sorry. I should've told you, about the mark, about… about me. I… I didn't know Slade would find out. I thought I was keeping you safe. I—"

"You're an idiot."

He paused, his brow furrowed. "What?"

"You, Oliver Queen, are an idiot."

He looked down at her, brushing her hair back from her face, searching out her eyes.

"All this time… You knew, all this time…" She was staring at him, tears in her eyes, and his heart broke.

"I… I suspected, I didn't know, not until you were shot."

"You suspected?" she shrieked. "Why didn't you tell me? You call me your friend, you partner, your girl, but you don't think to tell me this!" She threw a hand up. " 'Hey Felicity, sorry about the terrible timing, but I just thought you should know, I think you might be my soul mate, and hey, keep an eye out for psychotic pirates, because they might have a vendetta against me and will probably take you hostage for a week and a half before trying to kill you on a rooftop!'"

"In my defense, I wouldn't know half of that."

She slapped his shoulder. "Oliver!"

He sighed, his eyes falling. "I made a mistake, not telling you. But I thought… Felicity, I'm not the kind of person people sign up for when they want a soul mate. Generally, you want someone who's all there, mentally and otherwise. I have PTSD, I barely sleep, I've killed a lot of people, and the truth is, as much as I say I won't again, if anybody ever tried to hurt you, I wouldn't hesitate."

She stared at him, her shoulders slumping a little. "How long?"

His brow furrowed. "How long what?"

"How long have you…?" She pressed her fingers to his chest, tapping exactly where it lay on his chest. "Mine, it only appeared a couple weeks ago. I… I thought yours was just another tattoo. I mean, it looks a lot like the Sagittarius sign, I thought you were being ironic."

He swallowed tightly. "I didn't notice it for a few weeks, but… I think it happened the same day I met you." When you made me smile, he thought.

She nodded slowly, thoughtfully. "Why do you think mine took so long?" she wondered.

He shook his head. "Maybe because you knew better than to fall for someone like me."

"That's not it," she said decisively. "Maybe you still had some growing to do… You're not the same person you were last year. Not that I didn't care about you then, but… Things are different now. How I feel is different."

Maybe that idea he had about having to go through things, changing due to experience, and thus becoming the person's soul mate wasn't so off the mark. Felicity had changed, but the essence of her was the same. She was always going to be who he loved, who he was meant to love and be with, but he had some growth to do before he was who she needed, who he wanted and could love.

"How do you feel?" he wondered, his voice low and thick.

"I'm not sure I want to tell you while we're feet away from a dead body," she admitted, casting her eyes to the left.

Oliver followed her gaze, his heart clenching. For all that Slade had turned into someone he wouldn't call friend or brother, he had been just that once. Before Shado's death, before the mirakuru, before Ivo and everything he brought with him. And he felt responsible for the person Slade became, for the monster that took over when Shado was killed. It was partly his fault that he'd lost his soul mate and that the rage he had in him had such an easy path to consuming him. Oliver couldn't save him. He couldn't do anything but try to stop him. That didn't make it any easier to know that one of his allies, someone he'd once considered a friend and mentor, was gone.

He sighed, pressing a kiss to Felicity's forehead, and then he gathered her up into his arms and he stood.

Like a signal was given, the others appeared. Sara, Diggle, Lyla and the rest of the Suicide Squad.

"We'll take care of it," Lyla informed him, placing her gun back into the holster on her hip.

Oliver gave a short nod before he turned to leave, carrying Felicity despite protests that her legs worked just fine.

He wasn't ready to let go of her. He wasn't sure he ever would be.

Oliver didn't bring her back to the foundry; instead he brought her to her apartment. After taking a long shower and changing into a pair of Snoopy pajamas, she joined him on the couch, explaining that Slade had actually picked her up a block away from Verdant. She'd pulled over when she saw a police car flashing their lights behind her, but it was a ploy. He didn't hurt her during her stay. He fed her, talked to her sometimes, and tried to convince her that what he was doing was necessary, that Oliver had to pay for what he'd done. Oliver listened, but he was distracted. He'd taken her hand into his lap and was stroking her fingers, letting her voice soothe him, her occasional babble making the tension ebb from his body.

Exhaustion was setting in, swamping him, and all he wanted to do was lay down and let it claim him. But if he closed his eyes, he feared, when he opened them, she wouldn't be there.

Her hand swept over his forehead, cool and soothing. "You look tired."

He hummed, turning his eyes up to look at her, his head resting on the back of the couch. "Can I see it?" he asked.

She bit her lip for a moment, her gaze falling, and then she undid one of the overlarge buttons on her pajama top, parting the fabric.

He sat up then, turning in his seat to face her. He reached out, his fingers barely an inch away, but paused, looking up at her for permission.

She gave him a quick, perfunctory nod, and he let the pads of his fingers finally touch it. Her skin was as smooth as he'd always known it would be. Goosebumps spread over her and she shivered as he traced the arrow slowly. His heart sped up in his chest, a muscle ticking in his jaw, and before he'd given it much thought, he was leaning forward, pressing his lips to it, letting out a sigh as he rested there a moment.

Her fingers brushed through his hair, dragging down his neck. His arms wrapped low around her waist, hugging her to him as he closed his eyes and let out a harsh breath. She was alive and unharmed and she was right there.

"Shh… I'm okay," she told him, rubbing her hand over his shoulders, which he only then realized were shaking.

With some shuffling, they managed to lay out on the couch, his ear pressed to her heart and his arms wrapped around her, their legs tangled. He listened to her heart beat steadily away, soothing the frayed edges of his mind, pushing back that frantic fear that had consumed him for ten, long days.

It was a while before he'd finally stopped shaking. And a few minutes longer before she reached down his back for the edge of his sweater and pulled it up over his head, tossing it to the floor behind her. He crawled up her body so they were face to face and watched as she touched his mark, smiling to herself. Something soft and sweet and undeserved by him.

"What does it mean?" she wondered. "I mean, going on from here. What does it mean for us?"

There was still a part of him that wanted to push her away, to keep her at a distance, but a much stronger part stomped it out. Staying away from her wasn't an option, denying this wasn't working, and it wasn't as if their lives weren't already dangerous. Was it going to be easy? No, of course not. But it would be worth it.

Oliver ducked his head down to catch her lips. It was soft and searching; he suckled her bottom lip as she let out a small breath and finally reached up, her hand cupping his face. And then it was deeper, more frenzied; slanting mouths, scraping teeth, soothing tongues. His fingers buried in her hair, palm cupped around the nape of her neck as he drew her impossibly closer, kissing her so deeply that her lips felt like they'd become his own. His mouth swept down her neck and planted quick, sweet kisses across her chest until he found her mark and he nipped at it, dragging his teeth over the top of her breast.

She hummed, arching her back, pressing up closer to him. He swirled his tongue around her nipple, suckling on it as he pulled the sleeve of her pajama top off her shoulder, stripping it down her arm until she had to let go of him to help him get it free. He maneuvered them around so she was on her back and he was on top of her, kneeling between her legs. And then he was kissing her everywhere, his hands smoothing over the soft expanse of her belly and hips, her sides, where her ribs were ticklish, her shoulders and her arms and back down. He found the sides of her pajamas pants and he edged them down her hips. She lifted herself up to help him, taking his hands when they were empty and bring them back up to cup her breasts. His thumbs rubbed around her pearled, pink nipples as he kissed down her stomach and licked at her hip bones. He dragged his mouth up and down her thighs, teasing her soft skin as he parted her legs, hitching one over his shoulder as bent to lick her. Crying out, she dropped a hand to the top of his head, gripping his hair.

He spread a hand over her stomach to hold her down as he ate her. She tasted sweet and tangy and warm. He licked her thoroughly, suckling on her folds, drawing over them with his tongue, burying a hand under his chin to sink one and then two fingers inside her while he focused on her clit, flicking and sucking on it at random. She came twice for him before she pulled him up her body, shaking her head. His scruff scraped over her breast as he focused on her mark again, kissing it softly, reverently, before his mouth dragged up her chest and he was faced with her again.

She was flushed and beautiful and panting as he kissed her, licking into her mouth, his lips still wet with her. She wrapped her legs around his waist, her hands reaching between them to undo the button and lower the zipper. He was so hard it was actually painful, straining as her fingers circled him. She stroked him twice before he gripped her thigh and grunted. "Stop, stop…"

She looked up at him in confusion, but he leaned back, taking one of her hands to bring her with him. "We're doing this in a bed," he informed her, before he lifted her up into his arms and carried her back to her bedroom. Lying her back on the bed, he shucked his jeans completely and dug around in the bedside table she'd informed him had the condoms. He came up with one before he crawled onto the bed after her. She was laying on her side, head propped on an arm, looking up at him with a half-smile.

"What?" he asked, feeling a tiny bit self-conscious as things slowed down.

Shaking her head, she reached up and put a hand to his chest, directly over his heart. "We should talk about this. I know we're having a not so verbal conversation about what we mean to each other, but… There was a reason you had your suspicions and didn't say anything. And that, even after confirming those suspicions, you still didn't say anything…" She tapped her fingers. "This is a big deal. A huge deal, even. I always thought when I met my soul mate, that all the easy stuff would start, you know? There'd be no questions, no confusion, just, 'hey, voila, here you go, your perfect match.' But… If you're not sure, if this is something you don't think you're really ready for, then I want you to know I won't blame you. I… Soul mate stories don't usually come with a five-year stay in purgatory, so if you need more time… If you don't think you'll ever really be ready. I—I can accept that. But, don't do this because you feel you have to, because the secret's out or because Slade nearly killed me. I don't think I could come back from that." She sighed, closing her eyes. "This is our life, Oliver. Me and you and the team, that's what we do. So if this is going to interfere, if you had a bigger idea for your life than this, if adding me to the mix is going to cause some kind of problem, then it's okay to say no. I know it's not conventional, but I won't force you to be with me."

"Felicity…" He shook his head. "I thought it was obvious how I felt about you."

She turned her eyes up and let out a faint laugh. "Sexual chemistry isn't love. And I think you've had enough partners to know that by now." She frowned. "That wasn't a dig at your past, or your present, or—Oh my God, what about Sara?" Her eyes went wide as she went to slide away from him.

He caught her by the hip and held her there, even pulling her a few inches closer. "Sara and I ended things, the same night I saw your mark."

Felicity stared at him uncertainly. "And she's… She's okay with…"

"She's still in love with Nyssa. I think we both knew it was never going anywhere, not really, but we care about each other and sometimes you just want to be with someone you can trust."

Felicity nodded slowly. "I get that, I guess. I mean, I had an on/off thing with one of my old college boyfriends for a while last year. Familiarity made it easy even if we knew the relationship would never work. And I was stressed out, with all the arrow stuff, so it felt good to do something without any messy complications. Plus, it was fun, and no strings means I didn't have to feel bad about cancelling dates to run off and help my boss with something at like, one in the morning." She cast her eyes away thoughtfully. "He was also one of the few guys I'd slept with that actually knew how to go down on a girl. I mean, I've had a few experiences where it was just not working for me. I mean, giving someone direction is fine, but they have to be willing to learn, and—"


She paused. "Oh, you probably don't want to hear about my ex-boyfriend's amazing tongue."

He frowned. "Amazing?"

"Well, I mean, at the time it was amazing. Don't worry, you're really good too."

Now, he was a little offended. His brows hiked as he repeated, "Too?"

Felicity's lips twitched. "Fine, you were the best I ever had. Feel better?"

"Only if it's true," he growled, squeezing her hip.

She smiled at him softly. "Can we go back to the part where you were making your feelings clear?"

He blew out a heavy sigh and shifted closer to her on the bed. His hand slid up to cup her cheek, thumb stroking lightly beneath her eye. "I'm in love with you," he said quietly. "I don't know how else to say it but just point blank like that. I don't… I'm not good with words, you know that, but… I know my life would be different, wrong somehow, if you weren't a part of it. And I don't just mean as a friend, even though that—that's very important to me. But I don't just want part of you, I want all of you. And I know that you'll want the same and sometimes it'll feel like I'm not giving you everything, but that's only because I'm not even completely sure I'm all there yet. I'm trying to be. I'm… I'm trying to piece myself together. And I think being with you, and loving you, helps to give me focus. I don't expect you to save me or to make me a whole person. I just want you to be there. I just want to love you."

Felicity swallowed tightly, blinking back a few tears. "For someone who isn't good with words, that was pretty good."

"Yeah?" He grinned. "The best 'I love you' you've ever heard?"

She laughed under her breath. "Yeah, I think it was…" Her eyes glinted with mischief, as she added, "So far. I mean, who knows who might tell me they love me in the future? For a quiet guy, Digg's a pretty deep person."

Rolling his eyes, Oliver leaned over to kiss her, catching her giggle on his lips as he pressed her back against her bed, his hand smoothing up her side and curling around her shoulder.

Lying on top of her, he kissed her softly, like her mouth was something delicate, to be treasured.

And then she said, "I love you, too." She stroked her fingers through his hair and rubbed her thumb down his neck. "You might not think you're worth it, but you don't get a say this time. So you'll just have to trust me when I say I love you, and I always will."

When he kissed her then, it wasn't soft or sweet, it was intense and searching, as if he could find the honesty of her words trapped on her tongue. And when he did, when he was sure she meant them, that he believed her, he found his balance, between soft and hard, light and dark. Maybe he wasn't whole, maybe he never would be, but Felicity loved him now, and she would love him later, and she would love him always.

Dream became reality when he sunk inside her, buried to the hilt with his mouth pressed to her mark, whispering 'I love you' against her heart.

In the morning, he woke knowing that he could have it all, and so he did.