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 For someone who can move fast, Barry sure does take his time saying goodbye to everyone at the Foundry.

Not that Felicity minds, because Barry’s nice and he’s funny and he smiles at her the whole time he’s making his farewells. Plus Oliver’s got that face, like a bear that stuck his hand in a hornet’s nest and can’t get it out, and she’s pretty sure he’s going to have something to say to her once Barry’s gone. 

Oh boy, that conversation’s going to be no fun at all.

Barry turns towards Oliver and really, the sudden silence that falls over the room would be funny if it wasn’t so unbelievably awkward. The sudden pressure of nails into her palm tells Felicity she’s clenching her fists.

As it happens, nothing happens. A whole week of arguing, backbiting and, on one occasion, actual honest-to-god fighting, and all they do is smile grimly at each other. It takes a lot of effort not to roll her eyes.

“Thank you,” Oliver says, simply. 

Barry smiles broadly, dipping his head in acknowledgement. “Likewise.”

She swears the whole room lets out a breath at exactly the same moment that they clasp hands and shake.

Barry’s eyes flick to Felicity and then quickly back down at his hand, which Oliver is still grasping. Slightly tighter than before if Barry’s sudden wince is anything to go by.

Barry just huffs a laugh, releasing Oliver’s hand and flexing his fingers as he turns to Felicity.  

She opens her arms for a hug and he steps into the embrace, grinning. It’s nice. She smiles into his shoulder but when he lets her go she doesn’t miss the contact. That sums them up nicely, she thinks, surprised to find that the realisation doesn’t hurt as much as it might have done once.

“Sorry I got you into trouble,” Barry offers, wincing.

“No apologies, she says, sounding lighter than she feels. “It was both of our idea.” She makes sure to say that last part loud enough for certain other parties in the room to hear. “And it worked! Sort of.”

She glances to her left and Oliver’s working on his angry bear look again so she takes Barry by the elbow and leads him towards the stairs, which just so happen to be a little further away from the reach of Oliver’s arms. Barry’s eyes flash gratefully.

“You could have been really hurt,” Barry reminds her, which is unnecessary because she was there and she remembers. Everything, as it happens. The dimly lit server room, the smell of overheating plastic, the clatter of her frantic typing at the terminal. And the moment that sound had died when she’d heard unfamiliar footsteps behind her, leaving nothing but the whir of the failing AC and her frantic heartbeat in her ears.

“I’m fine,” she lies.

“Felicity–” 

“Had my boys to come get me out, didn’t I?” It comes out overloud and too cheerful, even for her. She tries a smile but doesn’t quite sell it, because her bottom lip has a mind of it’s own and has decided now is a good time to tremble and betray her. 

Barry looks at her for a moment, but lets her off the hook. He leans in and pecks her on the cheek. “Bye Felicity.”

“Bye Barry,” she says, managing a genuine smile.

He turns to go, turning round at the last moment and dropping his voice to a murmur that’s for her ears only. “He really cares about you, y’know.”

She follows his eyes to Oliver and by the time she looks back, Barry’s at the bottom of the stairs and then suddenly a blur, and then gone. She smiles at the empty space. 

When she turns back, Diggle and Roy are right behind her, ready to head out. Roy gives her arm a squeeze on his way past and then Dig’s pulling her into a bear hug. The pressure makes her shoulder sting right where she slammed into the sharp edge of a server rack earlier but she doesn’t really mind. Everyone’s hugging her tonight. She figures it’s got something to do with the whole nearly getting killed thing. Either way, it’s nice. 

As they part, she peeks around Dig at Oliver. He’s putting his bow away with a little more force than strictly necessary, determinedly not looking their way. No hug from him then, probably.

“I’ll be alright,” she tells Diggle, not sure if they’re talking about earlier or what’s going to happen when he leaves her alone with Oliver tonight. 

Dig shoots her a long-suffering look, one she’s seen him give Oliver a thousand times. 

Then he’s gone and there’s nothing left to do but turn and face the music. She steps carefully back in the room, wrapping her arms around herself as some sort of armour against Oliver’s disapproval.

She finds him waiting for her. He is completely, almost scarily, still. Every line of his body is hard, his arms folded, jaw set.

There’s a storm brewing in his eyes.   

She raises a hand, but before she has a chance to decide if it’s going to be in warning or surrender, his eyes lock on her and all the fight drains out of him.

His shoulders drop, his chest heaves and he’s taking a step towards her, arm half raised to reach for her before he even seems to know he’s doing it. He stops himself halfway, coming up short and leaving a pace of distance between them.

“Are you alright?” he asks and it’s the softest voice he has, the one he only seems to use around her. The one she hasn’t heard for weeks. 

It knocks the breath out of her. 

“I–”

She doesn’t get it. He was supposed to be angry. She was ready for angry. She could have coped with that. 

“Felicity?” he prompts. 

He’s looking at her like her answer has the potential to break him. Before she knows it she’s telling him everything’s fine even though it’s not. Anything to get that look off his face.

“I pulled my shoulder a bit in all the commotion,” she babbles, focusing on the physical which is not what he’s asking about, but is all she can handle right now. “But it’ll be fine.” 

She puts her hand over her shoulder and flexes the joint as if to prove it which turns out to be a completely stupid idea because, y’know, ouch. Now she’s wincing and he looks even worse and God, it’s not even his fault. He doesn’t get to play the guilt card. Not this time. 

Anger flares, white hot and even more painful than her shoulder. “It was my idea, y’know.” Her tone is crueler than she intended and Oliver actually flinches. “You didn’t need to be so hard on Barry.”

She expects his face to harden, wants him to snap back with some biting retort. His face before had hinted that he’d had plenty lined up. But he just closes his eyes against her anger, swallowing hard.

“I’m sorry about that,” he says, after a moment. “I told him, after, when you were safe. I told him I was sorry.”

“Oh.”

She doesn’t know what to do with him when he’s like this; quiet and kind, with all the right answers. It makes it harder not to do things, things she promised herself she’d stop doing, like reaching for his arm when he’s talking.

In the end, she doesn’t have to reach for him. While she’s thinking about it, he steps into the distance between them and closes his hand over her elbow.

Her anger slips away, leaving just the dull throb of her shoulder and the pulse of a battered heart that’s still completely his.

The day, the whole week really, catches up to her at once - constantly trying to keep Barry and Oliver from tearing into each other in Central City, then the frantic panic when they’d realised the threat had followed them home. Knowing that Barry was right, that she needed to be on site to stop the attack, even as Oliver pleaded with her not to go. The look in his eyes when she’d told him she was going anyway. Then if that wasn’t bad enough, the look in his eyes when he’d had found her later, still desperately typing even as she begged him to check if the man slumped on the floor was dead. 

Even after Oliver promised he was only knocked out, even as he began to come round, Oliver had still had to peel her fingers off the keyboard to make her move. The rest is a blur of fighting, all of them around her, the eventual victory swallowed up by the thought that had preoccupied her all the way back to the Foundry. It had taken her almost killing a man for Oliver to touch her again.

Suddenly she’s so, so, tired.

She lifts her free arm to slip her hand under her glasses and rub her eyes, but jerks away when she sees the slight coating of blood on her fingertips. Her first, wild thought is that it’s the guard’s and once again she sees the flash of shock on his face when she’d shoved him off her and he’d landed hard, his head hitting the side of the desk on the way down. Reason catches up and she reminds herself that there’d been no blood. She stares at her hand, realising it’s the one that she just held her shoulder with, trying to roll it to show Oliver she was fine.

“Felicity?” he prompts, concern making his tone sharp.

“I think my shoulder’s bleeding,” she says, trying to swivel her head to see but not quite making the angle.

“Let me see,” he says, tugging the hand that’s on her elbow to make her move.

She lets him turn her, flicking her ponytail over the other shoulder and out of his way.

She holds her breath while she waits for his verdict, not daring to turn her head to the side towards him but wanting to, oh god, wanting to.

Oliver’s hand lands lightly on her shoulder and somehow she doesn’t jump, which is a blessing she can’t quite believe. He picks at the fabric and she winces, realising it’s sticking to her in places.

“It’s bleeding,” he concludes grimly. “You didn’t notice?”

She shrugs, quickly regretting the action when her shoulder throbs again. “I thought it was just a muscle pull,” she says, "I guess the adrenaline masked it?”

“Probably,” he agrees. “I don’t think it’s too deep.”

His hand drops to the small of her back, ushering her in the direction of the workbench where they keep the medical supplies.

“There’s no need,” she protests, but he shoots her a look and keeps the pressure on her back until she starts moving again.

“Please,” he says and that single plea is enough to silence her arguments.

She perches on a small stool, feeling awkward, while Oliver busies himself with finding the right supplies.

He puts his foot on the feet of her stool and spins her, so she’s facing away from him and into the room. 

Carefully, so carefully she’s probably going to dwell on it for a long, long time, he lifts her ponytail and moves her hair out of the way.

She can feel his fingers hovering over her, but they don’t drop. She sits idly for a minute until she realises he’s waiting for her to move her blouse. Face burning, she fumbles with the tiny buttons. It takes twice as long as normal to undo enough to slip the blouse off her shoulder. She sucks in a breath as the fabric peels away from the wound and Oliver moves quickly, taking hold of the fabric from her and moving it himself, slowly and carefully, until her shoulder is free. 

She closes her hands over the front of her blouse, tugging the sides closed as much as possible. If he was to lean forwards he’d have a pretty good view of her bra and it’s literally all she can think about. Well that, and the fact that she’s so extremely grateful to herself from this morning for picking a nice one. Still, if she’s thinking about that she’s not thinking about the fact that the last person who patched her up is gone forever, so she focuses on the bra and tries not to remember Sara’s steady stitches and gentle hands.

Oliver studies the wound for a moment, hands hovering still. 

“Uh ... can I ...” He trails off, awkwardness creeping into his tone.

Felicity blinks, unsure why he’s chosen now to get cold feet, when she’s already half undressed in front of him. “Yeah. Go ahead.”

His thumb hooks under her bra strap and her stomach drops as she realises, too late, that this is what he was asking permission for. She can’t control the gasp that escapes her as he peels the strap down her arm and out of the way, the pad of his thumb rough against the smooth skin of her arm. She bites her lip until she tastes blood, heart rattling in her chest as his hand lingers on the top of her arm for a fraction longer than necessary.

“It’s not too deep,” he says, in a voice that’s ragged round the edges. “Doesn’t need stitches.”

He seems as affected as she does, which only makes it worse. He did this to them. When he kissed her goodbye instead of hello, he did this. There was a time when she could have let him do this with nothing more than a smile she’d have tried not to let him see. But then he went and changed everything and now he can’t touch her without breaking her heart all over again. She should be angry about that, she realises, but instead she’s ... sad. For him. For her. Loving him from far away was so much easier than missing him from this close.

“I’ll just clean it up,” he says, and she can hear the effort it’s taking him to even out his voice. He snaps on a pair of gloves and angles the light to better see what he’s doing.

The antiseptic stings but not as much as the thought of how close he is, how if he just turned his head to the left he could press his lips to her neck. She chooses a spot in the distance to focus on while he works, eyes landing on his case of arrows across the room. She counts the rows over and over, in every language she knows. One, two, three, four, uno, dos, tres, cuatro, une, deux, trois, quatre.

Oliver’s deft hands fly over her skin, making short work of the task and she can’t help herself, she has to look. Giving in, she turns her head to the side and sees his furrowed brow as he leans over his work. He’s concentrating on the simple task so much that he’s barely noticed her turning to him. There’s something so achingly lovely about it, this strong man who can break things so easily, trying to put her back together.

He hasn’t said a word, but when he feels her eyes on him he lets out a breath that she can tell he’s been holding.

“I’m sorry you got hurt,” he says, still not looking up. 

“It’s nothing,” she assures him. His jaw snaps shut and that’s enough to let her know that the words were a mistake. “I’ll be fine,” she amends, making her voice as soothing as possible. 

Oliver lets out a frustrated sound that’s caught somewhere between a growl and a sigh. “I still wish it hadn’t happened.”

“Me too,” she agrees readily. “This blouse is new, and now it’s ruined–”

“Felicity,” he interjects, stopping her before she can fill the silence with more chatter. 

“Hey, this was my choice,” she reminds him. “I decided it was worth the risk. And–”

“And you were right, I know,” he agrees, unhappily. “I just ...” He sighs, heavily.  “... I don’t cope well when you’re not safe.”

The confession hangs in the air between them for a moment. Felicity sucks in a breath, willing him to look up at her, kind of scared about what will happen if he does.

But Oliver just keeps working, now pressing a small dressing against her skin. As he methodically secures it with medical tape, he drops another apology on her. She’s losing count, tonight. “I’m sorry about blaming Barry, too. I wasn’t fair to him. Or you.”

“No, you weren’t,” she says, because this is Oliver and she doesn’t sugarcoat things for him. “Why does Barry get to you so much?” 

“I’m not sure.” Oliver hesitates, then comes out with the last thing she expected. “Maybe I envy him.” He huffs a humourless laugh. “All that optimism.” 

“What?” All week, she’d put the fighting down to a more primal, warring alpha male kind of stupidity. A sickening swoop of guilt washes over her.

Oliver shrugs but doesn’t elaborate, focusing instead on smoothing over the edges of the tape. Job done, he snaps off the gloves and surveys his work for a moment. 

Then he finally, finally, drags his gaze up to meet her eyes. Her breath catches. He’s looking at her like he did that night in the restaurant, before it all went wrong, like he can’t quite believe she’s in front of him. Like he’s lucky that she is. 

It’s too much. Felicity lasts about two seconds under that open stare before she has to look away. She feels his gaze on the back of her neck but can’t make herself turn back. 

“And you fit in so well with Barry’s team,” he goes on, ignoring the fact that she can’t even look at him. “So when you took his side today ... I don’t know, I didn’t handle it very well.”

She can’t help but laugh at that. “Understatement of the week.”

Oliver carefully lifts her bra strap back into place over the dressing and her laughter dies in her throat at the pressure of his hands on her skin again. It was easy to ignore while he worked, medical gloves between his skin and hers, but now his warm palm is resting on her shoulder for no reason other than he wants it to be there. She swallows hard, her mouth suddenly dry.

His fingers skip upwards and over a little, to the scar from a bullet wound that seems a million years ago now. He runs his thumb gently over the mark, and he must be thinking of that night too, because there’s a smile in his voice when he parrots a version of her words back to her, “I guess I’m just used to you ... being on my team.”

Something twists in her gut at his choice of words. He must think that he’s lost the right to call her his girl, even in jest. And it’s stupid but it hurts, because if he just asked, she’d tell him that he hasn’t.

“Oliver.” She sounds his name like a reprove, for being so foolish as to entertain the idea that she could ever be anything other than on his side. 

“Come on,” she says, trying to lighten the tone, “I am so Team Arrow. You know that.”

He huffs a half-laugh, sending a trail of goosebumps across her neck. “Don’t call us that.”

“Too late,” she laughs, a little too loud.  

Glancing around the Foundry, evidence of her place on his team is everywhere. The monitors over there, the new touchscreen he bought her with money he almost definitely doesn’t have, even the fern that’s thriving down here. She wonders if he’s been watering it.

But he wasn’t talking about her skills, even if she does enable the work they do so much that she sometimes wonders how on earth he thought he could do it without someone like her. No, he means something else entirely. Something they only seem to talk about when he’s about to do something stupid, like give himself up to a madman like Slade. 

“I haven’t given up on you, y’know,” she tells him, realising far, far too late that it sounds as though she’s talking about more than just his soul. The hand running over her shoulder stops dead and she knows he’s taken it that way, too.

She breathes out, closing her eyes against her own stupidity. He’s so close that if she just leant back a little, she’d hit the solid expanse of his chest. But nothing’s changed, and what he said at the hospital is still hanging there between them, so she stays still even as she’s practically vibrating with the need to lean into him. Still, she can’t bring herself to take the words back. Not tonight. She’s too tired and his hand is so warm on her shoulder and just once, she wants to tell the truth.

His hand leaves her shoulder and the sudden absence of warmth makes it even harder not to lean back towards him. Then his foot lands on the feet of the stool again, spinning her back so she’s facing him. He looms in front of her, tall and broad, the muscles of his chest visible through his t-shirt.

She doesn’t know where to look. She tries his face but that’s a big, big mistake, because his eyes are dark and his gaze is heavy as it runs over her face, her lips, dropping ever so slightly to glance at her chest. When his tongue darts out and wets his lips, she’s not entirely sure how she manages to keep herself upright. 

She should stop this, because it already hurts and if it goes any further she doesn’t think she’ll survive it. But then Oliver’s hands drop to her blouse, taking it out of her hands and tugging it back up over her shoulder. She shouldn’t let him, but she can’t move when he’s looking at her like this, concentrating on fastening the tiny buttons so much that there’s a little crease in his forehead. 

He finishes the task and smooths the front of the blouse down, hands staying where they come to rest either side of her collar.

This would be the time to get up, to say thanks and go home and drink a lot of wine until she forgets the way he’s looking at her right now. 

Instead she lets out a sigh that comes out closer to a moan and the next thing she knows, he’s kissing her.

Chapter Text

 

Felicity gasps into the kiss, reeling back in surprise. She feels Oliver’s hands tighten on her shoulder, steadying her. He is all she can see, a solid mass of warmth and muscle looming over her where she sits. Her hands reach for him of their own accord, tugging at his waist to bring him closer. At the contact, she feels him smile against her lips. He pulls back to tuck his fingers under her jaw and ever so gently tilt her chin up to meet his lips again. 

Felicity just closes her eyes and lets him.

She is dimly aware that this is a bad, bad idea, that she should stand up, push him away and say nothing’s changed. But he’s kissing her like he’s got all the time in the world and his hands are in her hair and it’s far too late to go back now.

When his mouth opens under hers, her name dropping out like a moan, that’s it, the exact moment she thinks, fuck it.

Oliver must sense the change in her, because in the space of a heartbeat, the kiss changes. Careful and slow becomes frantic and desperate, but it’s still not remotely enough. Her knees fall open and she grabs desperately at his hips, hauling him into the space. It’s still not enough, and even as she arches her back to get closer, the angle is all wrong. 

She lets out a frustrated whine against his lips and Oliver groans at the sound, hand dropping to her waist. She gasps as he lifts her off the stool with one strong arm, then kicks it aside. Still carrying her, he backs them towards the bench, not breaking the kiss. He sets her down when she gasps, her back hitting the cool metal. 

The sound of the medical supplies falling off the back of the bench fractures the silence, and clears the fog in her mind. She’s suddenly very aware of what’s going on, that it’s Oliver’s hands on her, Oliver’s tongue sliding against hers. Her heart plummets.

She lays her palms on Oliver’s chest and he gets the message, breaking the kiss and dropping his hands from her. He rests his forehead against hers for a long moment, bringing his breathing under control. 

Felicity keeps her eyes closed, putting off the moment she has to see the twist of guilt that she’s sure is brewing in Oliver’s eyes. 

“Felicity,” he breathes her name into the tiny distance between them, pulling his forehead away from hers.

She opens her eyes at last, but it’s not guilt that’s clouding his eyes. It’s something else, something she doesn’t quite recognise. Hesitance, maybe. 

He sighs, heavily. She’s so sure that his next words will be sorry and she can’t believe it, can’t believe that it’s been all this time and they’re still here. He won’t let her go but he doesn’t love her enough to stay. 

Fight or flight kicks in and it’s been a long week, a week of mostly fight. So tonight, lips still bruised, she lets herself choose flight.

“I have to go,” she says, stepping away from him and heading over to grab her coat.

“Felicity,” he calls out to her but she ignores him, too desperate to register the hurt in his tone.

“I can’t do this right now,” she says. Her voice comes out so tired and thin it’s a wonder he even hears her.

“Look,” he says, voice careful, “I underst–”

Anger explodes in her chest, trumping the exhausting and the humiliation, flooding some strength back into her. 

“I swear to God, Oliver, if you say you understand, I am going to punch you in the face!” she yells, spinning on her heel to face him. “Ineffectually,” she adds, quieter. “Probably break my hand.”

Oliver reels, actually taking a step back. He looks wildly at her and only it infuriates her even more because how can he not understand?

“Felicity, Listen.” She can hear the effort it’s taking to keep his voice level. “I know it’s complicat–”

Her eyes flash and he stops talking, mid-sentence, mid-word. He raises his palms in surrender, in warning, but it’s too late. Everything she’s ever held back is on the tip of her tongue and she’s too tired to hold it in anymore.

“It’s always been complicated for me,” she bites out, knowing there’s no going back if she goes here. She closes her eyes, takes a breath. On the edge of the cliff. Then, for better or worse, she jumps off.

“You could get caught. You could get killed.” Every single doubt she’s ever had about him comes pouring out. “You could get torn apart and I could listen to it happen over the comms and it could all be my fault.”  

She wipes impatiently under her glasses, tears falling freely. “You’re closed off. And you’re a little broken. Y’know, sometimes I think that Island took so much of you that there’s hardly anything left for anyone else."

Oliver’s nodding, even as his eyes are red, but she knows, right down to her bones, she knows he still doesn’t understand.

“It has always been complicated for me,” she repeats, slower this time, because he has to understand this. This is the most important thing. “But I loved you anyway.”

He closes his eyes at her last words, so he doesn’t see her walk away from him towards the door.

“That’s what love is, Oliver,” she adds, from the foot of the stairs. 

She makes herself walk, not run, up to the door, and she cries into her hand so he doesn’t have to hear it.

 


 

He knocks on her door exactly forty two minutes after she leaves him in the Foundry.

It could be anyone of course, and Oliver’s not exactly prone to coming to her house in the middle of the night, but the second the knock sounds she knows it’s him.

Felicity unfolds herself from the couch, discarding her cup of tea. The camomile wasn’t really working anyway. A glance in the mirror tells her exactly how much of the last hour she’s spent crying. She runs a hand under her eyes, in a pointless attempt to chase some of the redness away. Too tired to care that she’s in her pyjamas, she makes for the door.

Oliver looks almost as bad as she does, which is saying something.

“Can I come in?” he asks, in a voice that’s carefully neutral. What almost breaks her is that it’s actually a genuine question. He really doesn’t know if she’ll let him in or not. Not for the first time that night, she wonders how they ended up here.

She steps aside but catches the slump in his shoulders, the little tell of relief that she’s letting him in.

He follows her into the living room, but doesn’t sit. Instead he paces a little in front of her couch and she would reach out an arm and stop him if she could bring herself to touch him.

“Oliver?” she prompts, leaning against the arm of her couch and tucking her hair nervously behind her ears.

He smooths his hands over his jeans and stops pacing to face her.

It’d be funny, if so much didn’t ride on what he’s here to say. The Starling City vigilante, who strikes fear into the hearts of monsters, trembling in front of a blonde in her pyjamas. 

The thing is, she really doesn’t know why he’s here. Earlier, she'd been so sure she knew what was coming, but all the drive home she could only remember how he'd smiled against her lips when he kissed her. And she hadn't even let him speak before she exploded at him.

It was every bad thought that’s ever kept her up at night and she’d thrown them all at him. Worst of all, he’d just stood there and let her. Now he’s standing in her living room at one in the morning and she honestly doesn’t know if it’s to say hello or goodbye. Even though it’s killing her, she folds her arms and tells herself to shut up and wait to see if she broke something that can’t be fixed tonight.

“I’m sorry,” he begins, yet another to add to his list.

She blinks at him, not understanding.

“I wanted to tell you something tonight,” Oliver says, carefully. “And I shouldn’t have kissed you without saying it first.”

She bites her lip, not wanting to hope, but hoping anyway. Story of her life, really. 

“What?”

In the space between the question and his answer, she swears that everything stops. Her heart. His breathing. The clock on her mantle doesn’t even seem to tick.  

“I love you.”

Oliver lets out a breath and then he smiles at her, broader and clearer than maybe she’s ever seen him smile. Happy. Hopeful. Everything she’s ever wanted. And all she can see is his face, across the table in a restaurant. And all she can hear is him saying all the right things then, and not 24 hours later, taking them all back. It’s going to hurt even more this time, she just knows.

Oliver’s face falls. “You don’t believe me.”

“I think you mean it now,” she says, choosing her words very carefully. Oliver is looking at her like she just punched him in the ribs, and hurting him hurts her, but not as much as losing him again will. “But what happens next time something happens to change your mind?”

Oliver shakes his head. He looks almost relieved, as if he’d expected something else besides her doubts to stand between them.

“It won’t,” he says, clearly. Calmly. “I want to be with you. I’m done running from it.”

A beat of silence and then, Felicity laughs. Giggles, really. Wildly. It’s inappropriate and kind of rude, but god, she can’t help it.

“Oh, and I didn't let you talk. I yelled at you,” she says, with an edge of madness that has Oliver looking worried. 

She knows she’s on the edge of hysterics, can see the warning signs in her voice, feel them in the frantic hitch in her breathing.

“How was I supposed to see this coming? You said you had to be alone.” Now she’s the one pacing, trying to get some of the nervous energy out so she doesn’t just sit down and scream. “You kept saying it,” she reminds him, rounding on him with an accusing wave of her hand. “You ... you wouldn’t change your mind. You didn’t.”

“I did,” he says, voice as calm and steady as he can make it. He reaches out and grabs hold of her shoulders, making her stop and look at him. “I have, Felicity,” he says, dropping his head to meet her eyes.

The laughter dies in her throat as he says her name, because he looks so sure, she almost believes him. Somehow that hurts even more.

“Y’know, it’s alright if you don’t believe me,” Oliver says, surprising her yet again. “I’m not asking you to.”

She sighs, frustrated and tired and so confused. “Then what are you asking?”

“Just for a chance.” Oliver smiles, even though he looks closer to tears than she feels. “To convince you.”

“I don’t understand.” 

“I haven’t given you much reason to believe me,” he explains, still holding her arms. “And everything you said before was true. It is complicated. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth fighting for.”

He lets go of her to run a hand over his face, under her eyes. Suddenly he looks as tired as she feels. “I was scared, Felicity. Still am. And I let that make me a coward.”

She wants to interrupt, to tell him that he’s a lot of things but never that, but he holds up a hand to beg her to let him finish. So she holds her breath and listens, her heart pounding so loud she wonders if he can hear it.

“You deserve more than that.” He smiles, a rare, proper smile. “And I’m sorry it took me so long to get here. But I think I understand now. Loving you doesn’t make me weaker. It makes me stronger.”

“Oh.”

For once, she is truly speechless. 

She wants to believe him, of course she does. He’s looking at her like she’s judge, jury and executioner, and she would cross the distance between them and wrap her arms around him if she could just make herself move.

Oliver bites his lip, so unsure it actually hurts her to look at him. “Am I too late?”

“What?”

He smiles again, sadly this time. “Before. You said you loved me.” He lets out a shuddering breath and she realises, with a twist in her gut, that he is utterly terrified. “Past tense,” he explains.

Her mouth falls open. She hadn’t even realised.

“And I understand there’s Ray to think about.”

“What?” 

“And I know I've hurt you. So ... if you don’t want this,” he goes on, voice trembling, “If you’re happy, just tell me and I will never mention it again.”

He lets out a long breath, looking steadily at her. Every single thing he’s just said is written on his face, in his eyes and the furrow on his brow and the tremble, barely restrained, in his lip. She stares back at him and realises that he has just handed her the power to destroy him and god, it’s terrifying.

Felicity opens her mouth to say ... something, she’s not sure what. She can’t deny him, not when he’s been so brave, but she won’t fall into his arms either. Her heart is pounding and her head is aching and was it only an hour ago that her shoulder was the only thing hurting?

“I’m not unhappy,” she begins, clearly and calmly, because it’s important he understands this. She has a life outside of their cave and that matters. She has not just sat around pining for him. She is more than that.

Oliver closes her eyes against her words, all the breath in his body rushing out in a ragged sigh.

Her stomach drops and she rushes to finish her point because his heart is breaking in front of her and she can’t stand it.

“But I could be happier,” she finishes, watching him carefully to see if he understands what she’s saying. What this means.

His eyes snap open and he comes back to life in front of her. Eyes brightening, lips turning upward ever so slightly, even the shadows under his eyes seem to fade.

She is still tired and sore but somewhere, deep down, she recognises a flare of hope and she can’t help it, she smiles at him. 

Oliver lets out a long breath, a sigh of pure relief. “Ok then.” 

“So, you’re throwing your hat in the ring?” she asks, meaning it to come out lighthearted, but finding it sound like a challenge.

Oliver eyes darken suddenly. He takes a step towards her and when he closes his fingers gently around the top of her arm, Felicity is suddenly reminded of the pressure of his lips on hers. He looks openly at her, eyes dropping slowly, degree by degree, to her lips. 

“Yes. My hat’s in the ring,” he repeats, his voice low.

She swallows, and his gaze flicks down to her throat as she does.

The temperature in the room seems to have gone up a few degrees, it can’t just be the way he’s looking at her, like he wants to throw her over his shoulder and take her to bed right now. She is seriously considering letting him, when he takes a sudden step back. 

He closes his eyes and when he opens them, his gaze is deliberately more careful, controlled. 

She can’t help it, she pouts a little in disappointment. He smirks a little, which doesn’t help with the fluttering in her stomach. 

He’s close that if she just breathed in, she’d be kissing him. 

Instead she pushes the desire down and does what she wanted to do just a few minutes earlier. What she’s wanted to do for a long, long, time.

She wraps her arms around his waist and lays her head against his heart.

Oliver responds instantly, his arms wrapping around her with so much enthusiasm that she’s almost lifted off her feet. She is enveloped in warmth, tiny inside his embrace, but not vulnerable. He is careful with his strength, holding her just tight enough but carefully avoiding her injured shoulder. The little gesture makes her smile into his chest. 

Too soon, he releases her, taking a step back. She can’t help the whine that escapes the back of her throat.

“Stay,” she pleads, without thinking.

Oliver’s eyes blow wide and he cocks his head at her, questioning. 

She realises the implications of her words and winces, embarrassed. Some things, apparently, never change.

“Just to sleep,” she corrects, raising a warning finger that’s as much for her as it is for him.

He looks unsure, terrified even, but in an entirely new way that she thinks she could get used to. She briefly entertains the idea of pressing her lips to his neck right where he swallows, hard.

“If you want to convince me,” she says, surprised at how steady her voice sounds. “This is a good start. I happen to have ... some abandonment issues. And you do not have a good track record in that area. Plus there was a minute today where I thought I might die. So I don’t want to be alo–” She stops herself, amends to the truth. “I don’t want to be without you, tonight. So stay. Sleep. Start convincing me.”

Her heart is pounding, but she takes a deep breath and pushes the fear aside. She raises her eyebrows at him, the offer hanging between them.

For a moment Oliver just looks at her, stunned. 

Then his face breaks into a smile.

“Ok.”

He takes a step back into her personal space and Felicity feels her eyes go wide. She tries to back up but her legs are already hitting the couch and there’s nowhere else to go.

When Oliver’s smile turns into a smirk, she knows she’s blushing. 

“Just to sleep,” he reminds her, and god, she could kiss that look off his face because he is actually daring to tease her. 

Acting far braver than she feels, she offers him her hand.

 


  

There are at least three occasions in the next twenty minutes when she very sincerely regrets the whole idea. First there’s the whole awkward, where’s the bathroom, you go first, no you go first, thing. Then there’s which side of the bed is yours, and the implication of what’s about to happen hits her right then so she can barely speak enough to answer him. Oliver seems to find the whole debacle endearing, if the way he’s biting back a smile is anything to go by. 

When she comes out of the bathroom, cold water splashed on her blushes, she finds him waiting for her. He’s in his t-shirt and underwear and she really shouldn’t look down, but of course she does and he catches her and oh, it’s beyond embarrassing. 

But then he just laughs and slides into her bed like he’s done it a thousand times before. She stands on her side of the bed, flicking off her lamp so he can’t see her smiling like a lunatic because everything about this moment is surreal.

She slides in, lying on her side facing him, but carefully leaving a gap between them.

Oliver drops his head to the side to look at her. She can barely look at him, even in the dark, it’s too much. Him in her bed. Smiling at her like there’s nowhere else in the world he’d rather be. He jerks his head slightly, voice rough as he murmurs, “C’mere.” 

And that’s it, she’s a goner.

She melts against him. He waits for her to lay her head against his chest, right over his heart, and then brings his arm down around her, anchoring her there. 

They breathe in and out together for a long time, but even with the lullaby of his heartbeat in her ears, Felicity finds she can’t sleep. Not until she settles one final misunderstanding.

“Present tense,” she says, quietly. 

“Hmm?” Oliver murmurs, half asleep.

“Present tense,” she repeats. “Very, very much so. Present tense. Just so you know.”

She knows the minute he realises what she’s talking about. His hand, which has been absently playing with the edge of her camisole, stops dead. 

She opens her mouth to say more, to say the words that have been on the tip of her tongue for longer than she cares to admit. But then Oliver tightens his hold on her and murmurs, “Thank God,” and she knows that tonight, the roundabout admission is enough. She’ll tell him another time, properly, when it’s daylight and she’s looking him in the eye and there’s no running from it anymore.  

“Goodnight,” Oliver says, quietly. “Felicity,” he adds her name, for no apparent reason other than he just wants to say it. 

She hears his voice as a rumble under her ear, and decides then and there that she’d like to hear everything else he ever says from right here, her head against his chest.

With that thought, she finally falls asleep.

 

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