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Oliver on Vacation

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Chapter 1:  When Life Gives You Lemons

Oliver Queen downshifted the gear of his sleek, silver Porsche, hearing the engine rev as it worked to scale the steep, barely paved incline with grace.  “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he muttered to himself, an uncharacteristic display of uncertainty for a man accustomed to issuing commands with authoritative comfort.  “I can’t believe Digg talked me into this.”

He controlled an involuntary cringe, still feeling weak for having given in to his friend’s unusual request.  Especially now, with his Porsche nagging at him in its efforts to maneuver the final deep hills toward Blissful Blue Retreat, Oliver questioned the necessity of this journey.  No matter what Dr. John Diggle thought, this mountainous trip couldn’t possibly fix what was wrong in Oliver’s life. 

“Blissful Blue is just a place for relaxation,” Digg had informed him a month ago, as he’d handed Oliver a beer and flipped on the television, turning his eyes to the basketball game.  “It’s absolutely gorgeous up there – just a bunch of log cabins right in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  So quiet and peaceful.  You’re the CEO of Queen Consolidated, Oliver, yet you never take a vacation. I think you’re allowed the same benefits as any of your employees.”

As he’d slumped down beside Digg on the couch, Oliver shook his head. “But this wouldn’t really be a vacation, would it?  It’s a psychiatric retreat.”

Digg had looked at him with his dark, knowing eyes, and sighed. “Call it whatever you need to, man. You don’t have to talk to a soul for the whole three weeks if you don’t want to.  But, if you want, there are group meetings and get-togethers, with working people, just like you.”

“You mean patients like me, Doctor.”

“You’re not my patient, Oliver; we’re friends.  And don’t call me doctor. You always look like you’re going to vomit when you say that word.  You’re the one who asked me what I thought you should do; you’re the one who sought out my advice.  So now I’m telling you.  Take three weeks off of work – I promise the company will survive that long without you – and spend it up at Blissful Blue.”

“You actually think I need to be trapped in the mountains for three weeks with a bunch of psychiatric doctors and patients?  Isn’t that the premise of a horror film?”

Digg chuckled.  “You can’t do it, can you?”

“Can’t do what?”

“You can’t let go…even for a handful of days.”

“Of course I can let go.  That’s not what this is about. I just don’t think I need that kind of intensive therapy.”

“Well, if you don’t need therapy, then sit in your damn log cabin for three weeks and don’t say anything to anyone.  That’s fine.  Just so long as you’re away from here.  Because you need that, whether you want to admit it or not.”

“You’re wrong, Digg; I don’t need that. And I can let go.”

“Whatever, Oliver.”

Oliver remembered sitting there in Digg’s living room, staring at the basketball game on his friend’s big screen, fuming to himself over the fact that Digg had basically issued him a dare.  And yes, Digg was his friend and not his physician, but that didn’t change the fact that Dr. John Diggle was one of the most well-known and respected psychiatrists in Starling City.  And Oliver did ask for his advice…and Blissful Blue was Digg’s answer.

Oliver huffed. “Alright, fine. I’ll go.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t.”

“I’m going, damn it!”

“Hey, if you want to go, then go.  I won’t stop you,” Digg said, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender. And then Digg laughed, and Oliver shook his head, because they both knew Digg had won that round.

Digg didn’t always win in the boxing ring at their gym, where they’d been beating the shit out of each other for years, but he often won when it came to personal dares. Oliver knew theirs was a unique relationship, more brothers than friends, and he trusted John Diggle with his life. But taking this particular vacation made Oliver feel like he was putting his life in a stranger’s hands, and he wasn’t sure if he could pull that off.  Even if John was the one asking him to do it.

That conversation with Digg had taken place a month ago, but still sounded fresh in Oliver’s mind.  Especially now, as he sat in the driver’s seat while his Porsche growled on its way up the steep trail toward Blissful Blue.  He’d spent the past month rearranging his appointments at Queen Consolidated, and ensuring the continuity of long-brewing business deals, as he’d planned this vacation. And he’d also spent the month continually questioning the sanity of this decision…and wondering what the hell kind of world he’d be stepping into.

As Oliver drove farther up the mountainside, he shook his head, trying to cope with the insane amount of hunter green color surrounding him.  He wasn’t paying nearly enough attention to the road – not until a squirrel darted out from the wooded underbrush, diving in front of his bumper. Oliver cursed and swerved, running the Porsche’s back tire into the gravel at the edge of the road and listening with dread to the ensuing explosion.  While the squirrel flitted safely across the street, Oliver tapped his brakes and pulled the car grudgingly over.

Due to the unbalanced skew of his windshield view, Oliver could acknowledge the fact that he’d blown a tire.  What he didn’t want to acknowledge was how badly this decision was already playing out. He didn’t believe in Fate – being fully capable of holding his life in his own hands – but it did seem as if someone was trying to tell him something.

Running a hand roughly through his hair, he stared briefly at his reflection in the rearview mirror.  His blue eyes looked weathered, their edges marked with subtle wrinkles that he heard gave a man ‘character’. His mouth was currently drawn, his lips pressed into a fixed frown, his teeth rigidly clenched as his jaw muscle twitched beneath his well-groomed stubble.

Was this the same face he’d seen in the mirror for thirty-four years? Were these the classically Roman features that were capable of both closing business deals and seducing women with little-to-no effort?  It couldn’t be…this face looked worn.  And weary.

Oliver forced himself to breathe.  He looked out to the road beyond his windshield, still overwhelmingly canopied by large boughs of evergreens, and reminded himself that he was supposed to be on vacation. “Just fix the tire, Queen,” he grumbled, forcing the car door open. 

Early October made the air crisp, and everything smelled different. This was definitely not Starling City, even though he was still in Virginia and only a few hours away from home. But there were no exhaust fumes or skyscrapers here; there were only trees, and trees, and then some more goddamn trees, with no other vehicles in sight as far as he could see. Oliver knew this place existed on a map – after all, he’d looked it up with morbid curiosity a month ago, and then pretty much every day since – and yet the barely paved road seemed to originate from nowhere and continue steeply upward to nowhere.  And he was stuck exactly in the middle.

The slam of his car door reverberated eerily off of the surrounding tree trunks as Oliver made his way around the bumper to view the damage. The back tire’s tread lay slumped to one side, showcasing a shining metal rim and little else. Oliver sighed and moved to pop open the trunk, digging beneath the mat for a jack.  Within moments he was crouched low to the ground – the crisp white sleeves of his thick cotton shirt rolled above his elbows, the shine of his Italian leather loafers scuffed with dirt and gravel – as he set to work at his onerous task. 

Although hours at the gym made him physically powerful, not to mention hours of sparring with Doctor-Diggle-of-the-massive-biceps, Oliver discovered that the tire didn’t really give a fuck about how strong he was. So he cursed a filthy stream of repulsive words worthy of any self-respecting drunken sailor as he damned the lug nuts for their tenacity, thinking they were indeed lugs in the most derogatory sense of the term. Then again, maybe he was the lug.  And probably nuts, too…for even being here right now.

With a growl of effort, he finally loosened the last nut from its refuge. “Amazing!” he shouted, feeling as if something was finally going his way.

“Thank goodness for small miracles,” an airy voice sang from behind him.

The light, unexpected sound startled him into dropping his wrench, and the tool missed pummeling his foot by centimeters, at best.  Oliver stood and spun simultaneously, facing the intruder that could easily have cost him a toe.  He was fully prepared to give the sly culprit a lecture on the atrocities of sneaking up on people, until his eyes caught sight of the offender. 

Then he zeroed in on her, and the words left him.

Stunning.

She was stunning. Oliver didn’t know if she struck him so deeply because of the fact that she’d materialized out of nowhere, or because she looked like she should be on the cover of a magazine. By the way she was dressed, it would be some type of jungle-safari magazine, but she would still deserve the cover.

A cropped, navy tank top and khaki shorts hugged her feminine curves and showcased a flat, bared midriff of flawless, cream skin.  Her eyes were a light, sky blue, her full lips were painted dark pink, and her smile was bright and gorgeous and perfect.  A halo of loose gold curls surrounded her face, reflecting the sunlight that now seemed to originate directly from behind her. She was simply the perfect combination of adorable and sexy, and dear God that sounded like the worst pick-up line he’d ever heard, but he’d be damned if it wasn’t true.

Oliver barely took note of the obscenely large digital camera that hung around her neck – the lens of which would make any normal phallic symbol green with envy – or the rugged brown climbing boots laced beneath her slender ankles.  Because seriously, who could care about manly footwear with legs like those above them? Legs that went on forever. Legs he could easily picture wrapped around him.  And Oliver considered, for the first time ever, that this vacation might not be a complete waste after all.

“I’m sorry if I startled you,” she spoke again, her voice soft and infinitely appealing.

Oliver blinked his vision into focus and settled his eyes on hers. “Oh, no, don’t worry about it. It’s no problem.”

“So, what is so amazing?” she inquired.

“Amazing?”

“As I stepped out of the forest, you said you found something amazing.”

For the life of him, Oliver couldn’t recall what had been amazing – not with such a woman standing before him.  He glanced to her left ring finger.  No ring. Potentially available. Although why someone wouldn’t have snatched her up long ago was a puzzle to him.

“Was it something to do with the tire?” she prompted in his moment of awkward silence.

“The tire?” he questioned, suddenly recalling the tenacious lug nuts. “Oh, yes. Yes, it was the tire.”

“Then I would have to agree.”

“About what?”

“About tires being amazing.  They’re so round.  I mean, who really thought of that first, anyway? So even and shiny and smooth – spinning round and round and round.  You stare at a tire long enough and it becomes rather hypnotic, don’t you think?”

Oliver frowned. Now he understood why she was single. She was crazy.

Well, what did he expect?  After all, he was only moments away from a psychological vacation spot, wasn’t he? At least, he hoped he was only moments away, because his hobbled Porsche wouldn’t make it much farther. “Is Blissful Blue Retreat up ahead?” he asked, pretty damn certain that she would have the answer.

“It is.  The information cabin is a quarter mile up this road to your left, and the guest cabins start after that toward the right.  You can’t miss it; there’s nothing else up here, really.”

Oliver nodded solemnly.  “So, you’re staying at Blissful Blue, I take it?”

“Yes, I am.” She grinned at him, her bright eyes wide and innocent. “Cabin 10.”

“And you’re, um, on vacation?” he prodded as gently as possible, not sure if it was appropriate to ask a perfect stranger about their psychological status.

“Actually,” she replied as she glided smoothly toward him, “I’m working on a piece for National Geographic magazine.”

“Really?”

“Yes. It’s a nature exposé. I’m trying to photograph a rare species of bird.”

Wait – so she’s a freelance nature reporter and not a psychiatric patient?  

Oliver relaxed his guard somewhat then, watching as she approached him with her golden hair moving softly around her shoulders.  Damn, she really was just beautiful.  “Working for National Geographic is impressive,” he considered.  “What’s the name of your rare bird?”

She stopped walking when she was just a few feet in front of him. And then she stared at him for a long moment, her blue eyes looking deep into his, as she bit her lower lip in her teeth.  Oliver made every effort to not stare at her mouth, because he couldn’t be held responsible for what he might imagine doing with that mouth, and he still hadn’t decided if this woman was crazy or not.  But then she helped him make his decision by turning her round, luminous eyes up to his and grinning wildly. “The yellow-crowned purple fantini!” she shouted with unearthly giddiness.

Oliver’s eyebrow rose.  “That is an actual thing?”

“Oh, yes! One of the most beautiful birds in the world!  It’s found only here, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It has a deep purple body and a large, bright yellow cap of feathers that rise above its head when it’s angry.  Like this….”

Oliver watched with censured amazement, and no small amount of fear, as she raised her hands above her head, spreading her fingers out above her golden locks and wriggling them in the air.  And she smiled, with her eyes full of mirth and excitement, as if she’d imparted him with some miraculous knowledge.

His face contorted as he watched her.  He had no idea what horrific expression he was making, but it must have been pretty ridiculous, because she dropped her hands back to her sides and started laughing.

She tilted her head as she looked into him.  “Don’t you like impressions?”

“Um…” was all he could manage to say.

“Oh, I know! How about this one?”

Oliver remained frozen in place as she started flapping her arms, and moving her hands, and wriggling her hips, and clapping, over and over again.  Then she giggled like a winsome child, and he had no earthly idea what to say, so he just stood there.  He just stood there and watched her, with wide eyes and held breath.  And he returned to his previous, apparently astute, assessment. This woman is crazy.  Totally, utterly, completely crazy.

Finally, after several rounds of the bizarre behavior, she threw her hands up in the air. “Oh, come on, seriously? I don’t even get a laugh for that? It’s the Chicken Dance! Everyone laughs at the Chicken Dance! I actually thought it was physically impossible to watch someone do the Chicken Dance and not laugh.  Apparently, I was wrong.”

Oliver cleared his throat. “Well, um, it’s probably just that I’m in the middle of something important,” he offered, keeping his voice low and even, afraid to make any sudden moves.  “So I should probably just get back to it…I mean, get back to the tire. It’s a shame I can’t watch more of, uh, your dance, but duty calls, you know?”

She made no move to leave, so Oliver reached down very slowly, picked the wrench up off of the ground, and held it out in front of him, offering her proof of his predicament. She stared at the tool in his hand for a long moment before peering around him to the heap of tread on the ground. Then her lips puckered and she whistled softly in a gesture reminiscent of Leave It to Beaver.  “Golly, that tire really blew.”   

“Yes. Yes, it sure did.”

“What on earth happened?” she asked, her eyes sparkly with implied intrigue.

Oliver resisted the urge to think she was delightful.  “Squirrel,” he stated.  “Darted right out in front of me.”  Good Lord, how long is she going to stay?

She nodded.  “Ah yes, the ever-darting squirrel.  Did you know that squirrels are the fastest land mammals?”

“No, I wasn’t aware of that.”  Apparently she’s going to stay for a while.

Oliver considered the possibility that – if he became really, really still right now – she might think he’d turned into a statue and then she would get bored and wander off.  But, on second thought, that was probably a terrible idea, because birds just fucking loved statues, didn’t they? It was some sort of inexplicable opposites-attract thing.  And the statues always came out on the worse end of that particular relationship.

She continued to stare at him, for seconds that turned to minutes that possibly turned to hours, perusing his face as if searching for something she couldn’t quite find.  Then she licked her pink lips, and he focused in on her luscious mouth again…not because he wanted to, but because he was a man.  And because she was still just as gorgeous now as she was the minute she’d stepped out of the forest, even despite all the dancing.

Oliver shifted his stance from one leg to the next, fighting inwardly between the urge to dart away faster than a squirrel and the urge to pull her to him and lick those sweet, sexy lips for himself.  Damn male desires.  Damn the crazy woman with the beautiful body.  And damn me straight to hell for even having these thoughts about her right now.

Oliver closed his eyes for a moment and concentrated on breathing.  When he reopened them, she was still staring at him.  And he didn’t know what to do, so he just stared back.

Then she broke the loaded silence with a single word.  “Felicity.”

“Felicity?” Oliver echoed.  He’d heard that term before. Felicity meant happiness.  

Dear God, is this woman actually standing here right now, telling me to be happy? As if someone can just make the decision to be happy in one second, and then flip a goddamn switch and be happy?

She extended her hand.  “Felicity,” she repeated.  “Felicity Smoak, pleased to meet you.”

“Oh, it’s…that’s your name.”

“Yup, that’s my name. Do you have one?”

“Oliver,” he replied without thought, taking her hand in a simple introduction that felt, at this point, almost bizarre. 

He gripped her hand firmly, with a powerful handshake perfected over a thousand board meetings, yet as he attempted to let go she held on. Her fingers were deliciously soft. Her eyes shone brilliantly. Her mouth curved delicately upward in a tantalizing smile. 

“Do you like lemonade, Oliver?” she questioned with a voice like pure sunshine.

He didn’t know if he liked lemonade.  He didn’t know much of anything at this moment – except that her skin was warm and smooth and her palm fit perfectly inside his.  “Yes,” he replied, still unable to extract his hand from her grip, although not trying overzealously to do so.

“Good. Then you’ll come to visit me. I make it fresh-squeezed, not out of a can like you get everywhere else.  Lots of cute little yellow lemons.  You’ll love it; you’ll see.”  She finally released her hold on him.  “You know, I’d offer to call someone to fix your tire, but there’s no cell service up here; I don’t even bother to carry my phone with me.  And besides, the nearest mechanic is all the way back at the bottom of the mountain and is closed on weekends anyway.”

“Of course,” Oliver said, because all of that somehow made perfect sense right now.

“Is there something I can do to help you fix it, you think?”

He had a sudden vision of her crouched down beside him, her golden hair tickling his arms, and her little tank top riding up on her skin, as she bent over to hold onto…something. “Um, no.  I appreciate the offer, but I’ll manage just fine on my own.”

Felicity shrugged. “Okay, well, I’m sorry I’m not more helpful. When you swing by my cabin, I promise I’ll make it up to you.”  With those words she smiled exuberantly, and it made Oliver wonder what she planned to do in order to “make it up” to him.  Because a smile that brilliant probably involved more than just the sharing of squished fruit.

He continued studying her carefully until she finally turned away, her hefty hiking boots thumping onto the pavement as she marched decidedly up the steep hill.  “See you soon, Oliver,” Felicity sang, her words carried to him on a light, cool breeze. She looked back only once, to give him a wink and a grin.

As she moved farther away, Oliver’s eyes focused on her bottom:  a perfect, reverse-heart-shaped ass that had his fingers twitching at his sides. “No,” he muttered to himself. “No touching.  No anything.  Not a normal person, Oliver.  Not normal.”

But as he sunk back to the ground, refocusing himself on the tire, he could still feel her skin against his fingers and see her smile in his mind’s eye. “Focus,” he reprimanded. “There will be no lemonade, or anything else.  She is out of the question.”

Deep inside, he knew that with certainty.

He spent nearly an hour putting on the spare tire. Not because it was exceptionally difficult, or because he hadn’t done it before, but because his treacherous thoughts ran elsewhere.  To Freebird Felicity, with eyes like the sky and a backside he wanted to eat dinner off of.

As Oliver finally guided his hobbled Porsche back onto the road, he reminded himself again that there could be no touching.  Touching led to kissing and kissing led to the bedroom and the bedroom led to relationships.  Not that he was opposed to relationships.  In fact, he’d been trying to make a relationship work – with one woman or another – for about as long as he could remember.  But he generally renounced relationships with crazy women…especially ones that he knew were crazy right off the bat.

The information cabin appeared to Oliver’s left almost immediately, just as Felicity had said. Welcome to Blissful Blue Retreat, greeted a worn wooden entry marker. Oliver pulled the Porsche into a roughly marked parking space, eased the keys from the ignition, and opened his briefcase, extracting his reservation paperwork.

He forced himself out of the car and up the steps of the cabin before his sound judgment could attempt to shake reason into him again.  The mahogany front door creaked as he eased it tentatively open, a forceful odor of cinnamon and pine wafting into his nostrils as he stepped inside the dimly lit dwelling that reminded him of an overgrown tree house. Warmth seeped beneath his skin, generated by a steadily glowing fireplace to his right.  Immediately before him lay a smattering of log-built benches with plaid cushions, and beyond that an oak counter grew up from the ground, housing deer antlers above it and a stout little man behind it.

“Hello, there,” the man called out.  “Welcome to Blissful Blue.  I’m Pete Jackson, the caretaker.”

Oliver approached the counter, noting offhandedly that Pete’s round cheeks and twinkling blue eyes, combined with his plaid shirt and red flannel vest, gave him the striking appearance of a garden gnome.  “Nice to meet you, Mr. Jackson,” Oliver offered the pleasantry along with his hand. “Oliver Queen, checking in.”

Pete gave a firm handshake, even as he smiled lazily.  “You’ve picked a great place to stay, Mr. Queen,” he assured, his aged voice soothing in a Grandfather Time sort of way.  “Plenty of rest and relaxation here.”

“That’s great,” Oliver forced himself to reply, even as his stomach clenched at the idea of wasted time and inertia.  Then he reminded himself of Digg’s words.  “This is just what I need.”

Oliver handed his reservation to Pete, and then watched as the man produced a detailed listing of daily Blissful Blue offerings:  counseling sessions, both group and individual; biweekly Retreat Socials; Spa appointments available with a phone call; and gourmet meal delivery services. Apparently, Oliver had arrived at Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous – Deeply Wooded and A Little Crazy.

“And here’s everything you need,” Pete finally offered, handing Oliver a packet of reading and registration information, complete with an electronic door card. “You’re in Cabin 9, up the hill to the right.”

Cabin 9?  Crazy Felicity is in 10. How close will we be?

“Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Jackson,” Oliver stated as he stuffed the card into his shirt pocket.

“Sure thing. If you ever need anything while you’re here, I’m the man to talk to.”

“I’ll remember that. Oh, and I assume there’s Wi-Fi in the rooms?”

Pete chuckled. “Nope.  Mountains don’t leave much room for that stuff.”

“You mean there’s no Internet access at all? That can’t be true. I know I read online that access was available.”

“Well, you can have one of them cords if you want to.”

“A cord?”  What is this, the Dark Ages?

“Yep, but I don’t recommend using it,” the caretaker added.

“Why not? Will I be struck by lightning? Burn the cabin down?”

Mr. Jackson shook his head and stood from his chair, bending down to fumble beneath the counter. When he stood back up, he handed Oliver an Internet connection cable with more than a little dust on it. “Here you go, Mr. Queen. But can I offer you a piece of advice?”

Oliver’s brow rose, but he nodded.

“Don’t use this,” Pete said, tapping the cord with his stubby fingers.  “You need to disconnect from all of that hullabaloo and reconnect to what’s really important.”

Hullabaloo? Did he actually just say ‘hullabaloo’ to me? Oliver grabbed hold of the cord and mustered a polite smile as he turned to leave.  “I appreciate the advice, Mr. Jackson.”

“You call me Pete, now. You’re not in the big city anymore. Things’ll be different around here. It’ll be good for you; you’ll see.”

Right at that moment, with those words, Oliver experienced a bout of sheer panic. A serious, palm-sweating, heart-pounding, gut-churning bout of absolute fucking panic. “Thanks,” he barked, forcing the word from his throat in order to cover the quaver in his voice. “I’m sure it will be.”

Oliver felt Pete’s kindly eyes boring into him as he moved swiftly back to the car.

He could have bolted, of course.  He could have driven his hobbled car, complete with spare tire, right out of these woods and back to civilization.  He wanted to. Damn, how he wanted to. But, at this point, it was a matter of pride. 

John Diggle had given him a dare – a double dog dare, to recall the insipid terminology of his forgone youth – and, if he cowered away now, he could never live it down.  Because even if his parents believed he was on vacation in Cozumel with some friends from the office, and his office believed he was mountain climbing in Washington with his parents, Digg would know the truth.  He would look at Oliver with his unerringly perceptive eyes, and shake his head slowly and disapprovingly, acknowledging the fact that Oliver couldn’t do this one little thing that he had asked of him.  And, no matter what, Oliver knew he could not face that.

Cabins 4 and 5 passed idly behind him as he drove higher into the mountain.  He could practically hear John’s voice in his mind. Try to relax, Oliver.

Normally, he would never even consider leaving a decision like this up to another person. His parents had raised him to be strong and independent, after all.  But, when he’d finally acknowledged that his life wasn’t progressing as planned, and that he had no clue how to fix it, and that he needed the input of someone who gave advice as a profession, he’d managed to ask his friend for help.

Honestly, Digg had always offered Oliver advice, on countless occasions throughout their years of friendship, in wise little sentences that Oliver could either take at face value or read the world into, as he saw fit.  But Oliver had never before asked for his friend’s assistance. Not until a month ago. And nothing specific had really brought the moment about.  They’d just been sitting there in Digg’s living room, getting ready to watch a basketball game, and Oliver had caught sight of the photo of John and his wife, Lyla, on their wedding day, and he just decided in that moment to ask Digg what he could do to make his life better. 

Thankfully, Digg hadn’t looked at him like he was crazy.  And he hadn’t told him to make an appointment and come see him at his office. He’d simply started talking about this place, Blissful Blue.  And then, before he knew it, Oliver had found himself rearranging his entire life to come here. Still, he hadn’t told another soul; this undertaking was going to be his little secret.

The Porsche made it all the way to Cabin 9 without any further misadventure.  And Cabin 9 appeared to be rather roomy.  At least, that’s what Oliver assumed as he visually inspected the exterior of his new home-away-from-home.  Parking in front of the porch steps, Oliver took his briefcase from the front seat and then exited the Porsche, slamming his door shut before moving to the trunk to pull out his suitcase.  Locking up the car, he took a deep breath and walked across the gravel driveway to the stairs.

The entire structure was made of logs, each one the definition of knotty excellence. Several large windows hung above the railings of the wrapped porch, inside which a weather-beaten rocking chair swayed softly in the October breeze.   Trees canopied the dwelling on all sides, and Oliver noted that the only way in or out was the gravel road that had brought him here.  With all this suffocating nature, he could barely believe that a modernized key-card entry system opened the door.  Yet, as he crossed the threshold, he realized that nothing else here would bear any resemblance to the real world…or life as he knew it.

The living room was large, although smaller than his.  What his spacious studio apartment in the city did not have to offer, apparently, was the all-log construction of everything he saw before him:  the couch, the chairs, the desk, the kitchen counters, the doors, the floors, the walls, the ceiling. Hell, is anyone here aware that other building materials exist?

Closing the front door behind him, Oliver set his suitcase aside and carried his briefcase swiftly to the desk, holding his breath as he searched for the lifeline.  “Yes!” he celebrated as he located the wall outlet. Removing his laptop and situating it with great care on the desktop, he pulled out the cord Pete had given him and plugged it in.  Oliver sat on the red-and-green plaid cushion of the log chair for a moment, listening to the calming whirr as the computer sprang to life and promised to keep him connected to the real world. That promise enabled him to search the remainder of the house, and even unpack his things, without any further panic symptoms.

Night invaded quickly. Oliver made himself as at-home as possible, placing all of his personal items with great care into the log dresser, on the log countertops, in the log closets.  He’d been amused to find that the bathroom had a normal, ceramic sink basin and toilet, although the deer-antler towel rack made up for that in spades.  The towels were a dark, forest green, as was the bath mat.  Oliver shook his head at the log-ness of it all, and wondered offhandedly if logness was a word and, if so, had there been sightings of a Logness Monster.  Up here, right now, he could see it happening.

After his toiletries were lined up properly in order of their usage – deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, shaver, comb and cologne – he returned to his computer and delved happily into his work email.  The world had not forgotten him, far from it.  Office situations were continuing on as usual:  items needing his approval, people requiring his assessment skills, and functions begging his control.  He found it easy to spend several hours at these tasks, achieving almost mindless simpatico with his keyboard and his thoughts. 

“I might not know how to make a relationship last,” he mumbled, “but this I can do.”

Oliver had to shake his head then, knowing Diggle always told him that work was his “comfort zone”. That sure as hell was the truth. He thought – when he first began seeing McKenna so long ago – that he could change that.  In the end, he’d only proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt. In the end, McKenna hated his work. Yet she’d still wanted to marry him.

McKenna Hall had been perfect from day one.  Physically striking, socially alluring, intellectually stimulating:  she was everything he categorized in his mind as suitable. And she said she loved him. So why couldn’t he just agree? He wasn’t upset that she’d proposed instead of him; it was the 21st century, after all, and women did that. He simply came to understand that, when he looked into her, she wasn’t who he saw himself with for the rest of his life. 

It was a crippling realization – that McKenna could fit perfectly into his cookie-cutter mold of what a suitable companion should be and he still couldn’t make it work out – and it finally forced him to acknowledge that the problem resided with him. He was thirty-four, after all. He was the CEO of a massively successful company.  He was generally thought of as financially desirable, physically attractive, and randomly amusing. So he should rightfully be married with 2.3 kids, or whatever.  He shouldn’t be sitting in a cabin, wondering if he was crazy…or worse, wondering if a crazy person would be beating down his door at any moment.

Felicity.

The name sprung to his mind of its own volition.  Freebird Forest Felicity, with the gorgeous eyes and the soft hands and the fantastic ass, was only one cabin over.  Oliver remembered too easily how she’d smiled at him – with unnerving beauty and more than a little mischief – when she’d invited him over for lemonade, and a make-up for not assisting him with his tenuous tire repair. He had no idea what that make-up would entail, but there were parts of his body that wanted to sprint to her cabin right now, and pound on her door like a certifiable madman, until he found out.

Digg had advised Oliver, on more than one occasion, to be more adventurous in his choice of a woman, and to consider that the person he would truly fall in love with might not meet his preset ideals or require his active adjustments. Digg had told him that love wasn’t about changing a person; it was about finding someone who was already the right fit.  Oliver wanted to believe that, and he wanted more than anything to find the person that fit him, but he felt about 99% certain that crazy Felicity was not that person.  After all, the woman thought tires were hypnotizing.  She performed chicken-dances in front of complete strangers. And she spouted random knowledge about squirrels.

Oliver stilled as the memory of Felicity’s disarmingly charming voice filled his mind.

Did you know that squirrels are the fastest land mammals?

That’s what she’d said to him, with her pale blue eyes all lit up and sparkling.  And she’d had him thrown so off-balance at the time that he hadn’t even thought to question her.  But there was just no way that could actually be true.

Turning back to his computer, he exited his email in order to Google “fastest mammal”. The results came quickly: the cheetah could sprint the fastest at 70 miles per hour; the Pronghorn antelope could sustain 60 miles over long distances; and the squirrel could manage a mere 12 mph. It was faster than a chicken, at least. 

Leaning back in his log chair, Oliver stared at the ceiling for a moment and wondered why she’d lied to him. Did she honestly believe that squirrels were the fastest mammals?  Or was she making something up for the sake of conversation?  Or did she just enjoy lying?  And if so, did she only lie to him or did she lie to everyone?

Knowing he couldn’t possibly have the answers to those questions, and decidedly certain that he should never ask, Oliver shut down his laptop and prepared for sleep.  He found the bed exceedingly comfortable, and the patchwork-quilt a soft, warm cover. Sleep readily overtook him, accompanied by wild, wacky dreams.  Dreams of tires spinning idly in the air.  And forest fairies, with blue eyes and gold hair, flying around his head. And squirrels zooming past him, stopping only long enough to tell him that he needed to get a life.

A/N:  Hey guys!  I hope you've enjoyed this first installment; I'd love to hear what you think!  Up next...Chapter 2:  Lemonade

Chapter Text

The next morning started nearly the same as any morning in Oliver’s life – a hundred pushups, a hundred sit-ups, a shower, and then a sensible breakfast.  The only difference here at Blissful Blue, if he overlooked all of the logs and antlers, was that breakfast was gourmet, delivered right to his doorstep by a young man in a red hoodie, who nodded and grinned but didn’t say a word.  The breakfast tray also held an itinerary, and Oliver scrutinized the list of daily programs. Several group psychotherapy sessions were available, addressing various addictive personalities such as overeaters, smokers, alcoholics, and workaholics.  And, as if that wasn’t enough, individual treatment appointments were also available, with a mere phone call to Pete-the-gnome caretaker.  The call to Pete would need to be placed on the old-fashioned landline phone – which was situated prominently on the log coffee table – because, of course, there wasn’t any cell service up here.

Oliver harrumphed as his eyes scanned the list down to the final offering of the day: 5 pm…Retreat Social in the Common Cabin, number 13. Casual wear.  All guests invited.  Please attend. He immediately envisioned a group of overweight chain-smokers passing around liquor bottles and handing out business cards.  An involuntary shudder ran the long length of his spine.  Did he really want to get himself into that?  And what if crazy Felicity was there, toting a basket of lemons and performing another bird dance?

Oliver set the paper aside, finished eating, and placed the empty food tray back on the porch for pickup. No, thanks, he thought to himself, internally planning a day of solitude with his computer.

You’re not keeping your mind open to new possibilities, Oliver, Digg lectured.

Just not today, Digg, Oliver responded to the disembodied voice in his head before settling down in front of his laptop.

Hours later, after managing every possible office decision of which he was capable at this distance, after eating a healthy lunch and making his dinner selections, and after staring at a particularly odd knot of pine on the wall that somehow resembled his tenth grade Algebra teacher (who’d given him a D, for crying out loud), Oliver could still hear John’s voice.

Go to the Social, Oliver.  No one will bite you. They’re just people. People like you, overworked and in need of relaxation and companionship.  Go.

“Nope,” Oliver replied aloud, standing from the plaid-cushioned chair and stretching his legs. He jogged in place for a minute, increasing his heart rate.  Then he walked around the inside of the cabin, examining his new surroundings in more detail.  He opened all the drawers in the kitchen.  Pushed all the buttons on the stove and the microwave.  Marched into the bedroom and straightened all the clothes he’d placed in the drawers the night before.  Moved into the hallway and opened up the closet. 

Oliver paused then, while staring into the hall closet.  He’d expected to find some linens, and perhaps a few extra rolls of toilet paper. But instead, he saw stacks and stacks of board games situated on the shelves.  Monopoly, Life, Risk, Twister, Sorry, Scrabble…the list went on and on. And Oliver just stood there, looking at the games, for the longest time.  Until he realized that every single one of them was intended for at least two people to play. 

“There’s not even a deck of cards for playing Solitaire,” he grumbled. 

That’s because you’re not supposed to be sitting all alone in your cabin, Digg’s voice returned.  Go to the damn Social, asshole.

“God, alright, Digg,” Oliver growled, unsure if he’d ever heard his friend call him an asshole before. “But just this once, and if I don’t like it, I’m leaving.”

He pulled on his shoes and grabbed his car keys, walking out of the front door and stepping onto the porch. “I don’t have to stay if I don’t want to,” he mumbled beneath his breath.  The words comforted him for approximately two seconds, at which point he saw his Porsche, with its pitiful spare tire, sitting on the gravel driveway. Oliver sighed. He knew that darting squirrel had been trying to tell him something yesterday…he just didn’t know what. Shaking his head, he pocketed his keys and decided to hoof it rather than force the Porsche to endure any further humiliation.

Scenic perfection surrounded him as Oliver scaled the steep incline toward the Common Cabin 13, but he barely noticed the wooded beauty, because an unusual level of anxiety rose into his chest as he realized he had to pass Cabin 10 on the way. Felicity’s driveway came closer with each step he took, and his footing faltered.  Would she be there?  Perhaps standing by the roadside, shouting some ritualistic birdcall?  Or possibly squatting down, waiting to catch a glimpse of the hypnotizing revolutions of passing car tires?

Oliver swallowed down a lump in his throat, of equal parts fear and excitement, as the cabin emerged on his right.  He risked a peripheral glance down the gravel path as he continued by.  No crazy Felicity.  No bird dancing.  No golden hair and gorgeous smile.

Oliver continued to walk, moving onward toward Cabin 13, and yet his footsteps slowed.  Something welled inside his chest, and he couldn’t quite identify the emotion coursing through him, but he had to admit it somewhat resembled…disappointment. 

Is that possible?  Was I actually hoping to see the certifiable woman again?

No, it couldn’t be. He knew better.

And yet here he stood, apparently disappointed that she hadn’t been waiting for him by the side of the road, chickens and all. Oliver shook his head.  Why the hell am I disappointed?  It doesn’t make any damn sense.  He considered a multitude of reasons for the unwelcome emotion, and then he huffed. It has to be the lying.  That has to be it. Her lying to me is an injustice, plain and simple.  

Oliver gritted his teeth as he begrudgingly acknowledged the fact that her act of dishonesty had lodged itself inside his brain, niggling at him and inciting him to see her again, when he damn well knew better.  I shouldn’t.  I shouldn’t turn around and march down this road, back to her cabin, and then bang my fist insistently on her door until she has no choice but to open it. Definitely not. I should stay away from her. Far, far away.

Except that he couldn’t. He couldn’t stay away from her, because she obviously needed his help.  She needed to understand what she’d done wrong, and it was up to him to inform her. It was up to him to correct her egregious errors, because really, who else was going to do it? Certainly not Pete-the-caretaker. After all, a gentle geezer garden gnome would never tell a beautiful bounding bird to settle down and be more practical.

“Ridiculous!” Oliver shouted out loud as he came to a halt shortly after passing Cabin 11.  “This is ridiculous!”  Felicity lied to him!  Blatantly lied to him!  About squirrels no less!

“You alright, buddy?” a deep voice spoke from behind him.

Oliver spun toward the sound, focusing in on the dark haired, athletic looking man emerging from Cabin 11’s driveway. What is it with people around here sneaking up on me?

“Can I help you?” the man asked, looking at Oliver with noticeable pity in his eyes.

Oh hell, Oliver realized, this man thinks I’m crazy!   “No, no,” he reassured the stranger.  “I’m just…I’m fine.”

“Okay.” The man nodded at him, grinning boyishly.  “Tommy Merlyn,” he offered, extending his hand to Oliver’s.  “I’m heading to the Social.  Are you?”

Oliver gave Tommy his best, commanding handshake, even as he inwardly seethed at Felicity. “Oliver Queen. Pleased to meet you, Tommy. I am heading to the Social, but I just realized that I forgot to do something. Don’t you hate it when that happens? It feels ridiculous, right?” Oliver hoped his words would disguise the morbid display of frustration he’d shown by shouting to himself on the side of a deserted road, but Tommy still observed him with wary concern.

“Things do feel ridiculous sometimes,” Tommy placated as he reached out to pat Oliver sympathetically on the shoulder.  “But just try to take it easy while you’re up here, okay?”

“Sure will,” Oliver replied through tight lips, forcing a smile as Tommy nodded at him before moving on up the road.  Inside, Oliver’s gut roiled.

My God, that man thinks I’m insane!  And it’s all Felicity’s fault!  She made me look like an idiot!  She needs to understand that lying to people simply isn’t acceptable! You can’t just do that and then live with a clear conscience!

The next thing Oliver knew, his feet began stomping back down the road, leading him toward Cabin 10 before his mind could overcome the urge.  A moment later, the gravel of her driveway crunched beneath his shoes as her cabin rushed toward him.  Oliver noted offhandedly that Felicity’s cabin was much bigger than his, and even had an attached garage, and then he wondered if Pete gave her the bigger place because the little gnome harbored some sort of freaky fetish for bird-women. And then Oliver shook his head again, because that was a fucking ridiculous thought…which was, once again, all her fault. 

Holy hell, why would she chicken-dance in front of a complete stranger? Why would she tell me that she’s a National Geographic reporter, when she’s obviously a patient, just like me? And what about the squirrels? How could she smile at me so sweetly and then just lie about something so ridiculous?

Oliver reached the front porch of her cabin and bounded up the stairs.  He lifted his hand to knock, poised to hold her accountable for her crimes. But the door opened before he ever got the chance to bang out his anger against the logs.  And there she stood – Forest Felicity – in all her glory.

Oliver’s mouth opened as he decided whether to offer a haughty greeting first, or just dive right into her well-deserved scolding.  But then he took a good look at her…and he said absolutely nothing.

God, he’d forgotten just how remarkable she was.

“Oh good, Oliver, I was hoping it was you,” Felicity chirped, smiling brightly into his eyes as her entire body hummed with energy.  “I’m telling you, that gravel driveway is the best alarm system ever created.  Not that there’s anything to be alarmed about up here.”

Another lie.  She was more alarming than ever – from the loose gold curls eased behind her bare shoulders, to the curves of her breasts outlined with sensuous detail by the light blue satin camisole that matched her eyes, to the slim, sculpted legs easing from her ivory capris down to her bare feet and pink painted toenails. The sight of her set off so many alarm bells inside his head that he could barely hear his own thoughts.

“Well, don’t stand outside all day, Mr. Talkative,” Felicity directed as she reached up to take hold of the hand that he had, apparently, left suspended in midair. “Come in, come in.” She led him, tugging his body into her cabin and kicking the door closed behind them, all while keeping her fingers curled into his. 

She pulled on him until he stood before her in the middle of her spacious log living room, holding her hand and staring into her eyes like a love-struck schoolboy on a playground. Felicity gazed up at him and grinned. “I know just why you’re here, Oliver. This is about what I said to you yesterday, isn’t it?”

His brow furrowed. Is she talking about the squirrel comment?  Does she feel guilty about it now?  Is she actually going to apologize for lying to me?

Oliver observed her expression. She didn’t look the least bit remorseful. She didn’t look at all guilty. She looked entrancing. And frisky.  And mischievous. 

Oh hell, he’d forgotten about the “make-up” session she’d promised him for not helping to fix the tire. Lord, what exactly would that entail?  From the look in her gleaming eyes, it could be just about anything.

His body reacted compulsively then, stimulated by the thought of her feeling indebted to him in some way, and he had to remind himself to calm down.  No, Oliver.  No touching.  Except, apparently, for holding hands – because he hadn’t yet brought himself to extricate his large, rough fingers from her dainty, soft ones.

Felicity stepped closer then, even though mere inches separated them to start with, and her breasts brushed lightly against his chest.  “No one can resist, you know,” she whispered.

Her lips were candy pink and beyond temptation.  Oliver stared at them. He absorbed the perfect poutiness of her mouth’s subtle contours, imagining how softly those lips would mold beneath his, how warm and inviting she would taste if he could just slip his tongue….

Oliver reared back, redirecting his vision to her eyes. 

Felicity wasn’t smiling anymore.  She was looking into him, and Oliver knew that she knew exactly what he’d been thinking.  Then she licked her lips, just slightly, which rendered him completely and utterly mute. It occurred to him then that he hadn’t managed to say a goddamn word since he’d arrived, and he had no idea what she thought of the silent, skulking stranger standing in front of her.

A long minute passed before Felicity grinned again.  “I’m talking about the lemonade, of course.  I’m sure that’s why you came.”  She finally released his hand.  “And you’ve never had any better; I can assure you.  Just make yourself at home and you’ll be in heaven in no time.”

Heaven, he considered.  Or perhaps hell. It would depend on his point of view, of course.  Watching her well-sculpted derriere swish away to the kitchen, he considered some heavenly possibilities. Too many possibilities. More than he cared to admit.

But then he forced himself to refocus on the reality of her – the sheer and utter craziness factor – the bird dances and round tires and squirrelly lies.  That should be plenty enough to keep his animalistic desires in check, and to remind him of why he’d come here.  Once he’d said his peace, Frivolous Felicity would certainly not be tempted to lie again with such recklessness.

Straightening to his impressive height, Oliver folded his arms across his chest and attempted to glare formidably.  He’d certainly had years of practice glaring, whenever he’d needed to get a business point across, or tell his parents that they should take more care in choosing their retirement activities. But somehow, as he watched her, he couldn’t muster up the necessary glaring-gumption.

Felicity was dancing again, but it wasn’t the Chicken Dance this time.  Instead, she wriggled her hips and hummed a delightfully happy little tune under her breath as she opened the refrigerator door and whipped out a full gallon pitcher of lemonade.  She rested the jug onto the counter and then spun around, still moving giddily to her own music, twirling over to a cabinet from which she pulled two glasses.  Her flourished sliding maneuver back to the freezer for ice was nearly his undoing.  

Oliver averted his eyes for a moment, knowing he needed to complete his mission before she sidetracked him any further.  “You were mistaken, you know,” he barked as he looked back to her.  He sounded like an ass, even to himself.

Felicity didn’t stop dancing. “No, I wasn’t,” she sang, continuing to hum as she poured the opaque concoction into the glasses. “This really is the best lemonade you’ve ever had.”

Oliver shook his head.  I’m not talking about the lemonade.  He opened his mouth to correct her, but found it watering instead – with the sultry sight of her backside as she bent over to put the pitcher back into the fridge.  Damn it, that was the best ass he’d ever seen.  For the love of all that’s good, Oliver, control yourself! He attempted to focus, yet again, as she turned toward him, hoisting the stately glasses and sauntering forward.

In the next instant, she stood before him, her arm outstretched with her sunshine-yellow offering, and his mind fought for clarity.  “Thank you,” he managed to say as he accepted the glass.  He raised it to his lips and took a huge swig as he mentally prepared the proper and thorough reprimand she required. 

But then everything came to a screeching halt.  Because this wasn’t lemonade. For a split second, he thought she’d drugged him.  But then his taste buds screamed as Oliver realized exactly what he’d ingested.

He nearly spit out the entire gulp onto the floor.  The sickly sour affront of straight lemon juice stabbed his tongue, causing a near gag reflex that he could only subdue by smacking his lips together like an elderly man missing his dentures.  His saliva fermented as he swallowed again and again, attempting to cleanse his shocked palate.

“Holy hell, Felicity! This is pure lemon juice! Pure, undiluted lemon juice!”

She grinned wildly.  “I know!  It really wakes up your mouth, doesn’t it?”

He stared in blatant disbelief as she lifted her glass to her pink lips, took a huge swallow of the foul liquid, stilled for a moment, and then shook gleefully while a shiver ran the length of her body.  “Hoo-wee!” she squealed. “That is wild! Everything feels so alive, right?”

She watched him expectantly, obviously desiring some validation of her own giddiness, yet all he could think was that she’d deceived him.  Again.  Even that adorable button nose wouldn’t save her this time.  “You lied to me,” he snapped, his voice deep and stern as he willed away the sour pangs in the back of his throat.  “And not just now, with the lemonade, but also yesterday by the roadside. You told me squirrels are the fastest ground mammals, and that’s not true.  They aren’t even close to the fastest.  They only run 12 miles per hour.”

Whatever he expected her reaction to be – sorrow, guilt, or shame – it wasn’t.  She simply looked into his eyes, staring deep inside him in the most unsettling way, as a little smile curved the corners of her mouth.  He got the bizarre feeling that she could see right into his soul, and the thought shook him, because he didn’t want anyone looking that far inside.

“Cheetahs are actually the fastest,” he continued, suddenly feeling the need to fill the empty air with words.  “Also, the Pronghorn antelope is quite fast.”

Felicity just kept staring.

Oliver felt himself backing down – an emotion as foreign and unsettling as any he could recall – yet he couldn’t overcome the need to soothe her wounded ego, whether she required it or not.  “Squirrels are, at least, faster than chickens,” he added before he could stop himself.

Felicity reached out to take the lecherous lemonade from his hand.  Pivoting, she rested both glasses on the living room table and then turned directly back to him.  She stepped forward, closing the space between them until she filled his senses. She smelled of fresh soap and tiny flowers, her light blue eyes sparkled like jewels, and her lemony breath eased softly from her lips with every exhale.  As she raised her arms toward him, he heard a warning in the back of his mind that sounded an awful lot like, “Run away now!”  But he stayed very, very still.

Her small hands landed on his shoulders, resting firmly against him, as if she had every right in the world to touch him.  She stood toe-to-toe with him, looking up into his eyes with a sweet smile on her lips. He definitely should have run when he had the chance.

“Tell me something,” she invited. “Who are you?”

What? The warmth of her fingers seeped through his shirt and he had to clear his throat to speak.  “I’m Oliver.”

“Mm-hmm.” She kept watching him, obviously waiting for something more.

Like what?  What does she want to know? “I’m the CEO of a very successful company,” he added, trying to remind himself that he didn’t owe her anything.

“Wow, the CEO. That means you’re the boss.”

“Yes.”

“Like, the boss boss.  The top dog. The head cheese.”

“The head cheese? Really?”

“And being the boss boss means that a lot of people are counting on you to make the right decisions, all the time.  It places a lot of burden on your shoulders.”  Her eyes drifted down to her hands as her fingers moved softly across the same shoulders she’d just spoken of.

“I can handle it,” he insisted, unused to getting this sort of response from a woman. Most women who met Oliver Queen became instantly predatory, with hungered looks and clawed fingers. They definitely never looked at him like Felicity did now, tilting her head and nibbling her lip and obviously concerned for his wellbeing.

“I’m sure you can handle it, Oliver. But even so, I imagine it’s a lot of stress.”

“It’s fine; the job isn’t a problem.”

“What does the job entail, exactly?” she inquired, her hands now moving slowly over his arms, tracing all the way down to his wrists.

Oliver’s eyes shifted to her fingers, watching in fascination as she repeated the path of her touch, smoothing her hands up and down his arms, from his shoulders to his wrists and back again.  Her fingers were dainty, her nails painted green, her skin warm and smooth and lulling. “I’m, um, well…I’m the boss, like you said.”  He forced his gaze away from the sight of her hands so he could focus.  “I keep everything in order.  I keep everyone in order.”

“Ah, I see. So basically, you make your living by telling other people what to do.”

“Well, when you put it that way, it sounds…”  Oliver caught himself before he started back-pedaling.  “Yes, actually, that is one way to look at it.”

Felicity continued the slow, methodical movement of her hands as she looked back to his face. “Hmm.  Well, you obviously have a commanding presence. And a deep, authoritative voice. And seriously intense eyes. So I imagine people do whatever you tell them to do.  Willingly.”

Her lips were too close. Too close and far too kissable. Just one wouldn’t hurt, right? Just one kiss. Just one touch of his mouth to hers. Just one little moan from her throat that would tell him how on fire she was…just the same as him. He knew she would bend into him so easily, her breasts crushed to his chest, her shapely arms wrapped around his neck, her fingers in his hair.  She would whimper and writhe as his hands ran down her back, all the way down, until he could grab two handfuls of her perfect…

Oliver blinked his eyes. Focus and speak!  Say anything! “I’m damn good at my job, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“No, I’m asking something completely different, and you haven’t answered.”

“Answered what?”

“The question.”

“Which is?”

“Who are you?”

“I told you.”

“No, you didn’t. You told me your name, and what you do for a living, but you didn’t tell me who you are.”  The soothing movement of her hands continued, up and down his arms, over and over again, and Oliver realized that the touch felt somehow familiar. “I know that you don’t like lies,” she continued speaking in her soft, pleasing tone.  “And you don’t like swallowing lemon juice. But I don’t know who you are – not completely.”

“I think everyone dislikes lies and lemon juice.”  Good Lord, I know why her touch feels familiar! This woman is petting me right now! She’s petting me like I’m an animal! Why in the hell is she doing that? And, goddamn it, why am I letting her?

“No, Oliver, not everyone dislikes lies and lemon juice.”  Staring into him, Felicity seemed to consider a thousand possibilities in the span of seconds.  “You don’t really know who you are, do you?”

He opened his mouth to protest but she continued speaking before he had the chance.

“It’s alright, of course. A lot of people don’t. You should come with me sometime, into the woods.  It’s wonderfully peaceful there. Great for reflection. It might help you figure yourself out; I imagine that’s why you came to Blissful Blue anyway.”

Stop petting me.  “No, that’s not why I came at all.”  And of course I know who I am.

“Then why did you come here?”

“I...I…” he struggled with the words, knowing the truth made him sound ridiculous.

“Yes, Oliver?”

He shook his head and exhaled. “It was a dare, okay?” he admitted, because damn it, he was not going to lie to her.

Her entire face lit up with a brilliant smile.  “You actually came here on a dare?”

“Basically.”

“Was it, like, a game of Truth or Dare?”

“No, it wasn’t a game. It was a suggestion…from a friend.”

“Must be a really good friend, I take it.”

“The best.”

“Hmm, a best friend who can convince you to do something you obviously really, really don’t want to do.  That’s pretty impressive.”

“Yes, he is impressive, and so I asked his opinion, and he gave it to me, and now I’m here. End of story.”

“Actually, I think that’s just the beginning of the story.  But, I must admit, I’m curious as to why you would trust this friend so much.”

“Because he’s a psychiatrist. A damn good one.”

“Really? Does he have a name?”

“Dr. John Diggle.”

Her eyes widened for a moment, and then she chuckled beneath her breath.  “You’re John Diggle’s best friend?”

Oliver narrowed his gaze. “Do you know Digg?”

“Yes. He comes up here to Blissful Blue sometimes, to provide counseling sessions.  He stays for a few weeks at a time and sees patients.”

Patients like you, Oliver realized.  Hell, had Digg treated her in the past? “How often do you come up here, Felicity?”

“Often enough,” she said, shrugging as she dismissed the topic.  “But this is your first time, Oliver, and you need to get as much out of it as possible.  Because I’m afraid John won’t be able to convince you to come back again, and that would be a shame.”

“Why would that be a shame?”

“Because you could really use the therapy here.”

His mouth dropped open at the insinuation that he was the one in need of counseling, when here she stood before him, knee-deep in all her crazy, squirrely, lemonade-lies. 

“I don’t need therapy, Felicity.  That’s not why I’m here. I’m just…I’m on vacation.”

“On vacation,” she echoed.

And then the strangest thing happened.  With those two little words – on vacation – her entire demeanor changed.  Her hands dropped from his arms to lie limply at her sides.  Her blue eyes lost their spark.  And her beautiful lips turned down at the edges.  “I’m on vacation, too,” she whispered, her sweet voice now edged with distress.

Oliver froze, hardly believing what his eyes and ears told him.  Was Felicity sad?  Was she having a normal human emotion, like regret?  He hadn’t thought her capable, yet here she stood:  her normally bright eyes now lackluster, her normally bouncy body now staid.

What the hell?

She pulled away from him, picking up the lemonade and moving back to the kitchen with her head hung.

“You’re on vacation?” he questioned, following eagerly on her heels, wanting to see how long this moment of lucidity might last her.  “I thought you were on assignment for National Geographic.”

Felicity stopped in her tracks. She set the glasses down on the kitchen counter.  Then she let out a high-pitched squeal.  “The yellow-crowned purple fantini!”  She spun back around to him, with giddy joy filling her eyes once more.  “That bird and I have a date with destiny!”

In the next instant, she laughed and jumped up and down and wiggled, dancing in front of him as if shaking troubled thoughts out of her body. 

Oliver knew, with utmost certainty, exactly what he should do at this moment.  He should run away.  He should bolt in the opposite direction, because she’d turned back into Frivolous Freebird Felicity faster than he could blink. 

But he didn’t run. He ignored everything his brain told him in order to move toward her.  He focused in on her face, wishing like hell that he could see Solemnly Sedate Felicity for just one more minute, just to know for sure that he hadn’t imagined her.

Her eyes rose to his as he came to a stop just a few inches away from her.  “I wish you would come with me,” she said, refocusing on him as excitement oozed from every pore of her vivacious body.   “I go out in the mornings and sit quietly in the woods, just waiting for him and his cute little feathers and all that chirping and whistling. Would you like to come, Oliver?”

He stared at her, looking hard into her eyes in the hopes of catching a glimpse of that other woman inside her.  The one who looked sullen and serious. The one who seemed to be far more in touch with reality.  But all he could envision, while looking deep into her beautiful sky blue, was a flitting fairy, chicken-dancing by the side of the road.  At that moment, he chose to take a step back.

“No, thanks,” he answered, able to regain his control now that she wasn’t touching him, now that she wasn’t overtaking his senses.  “Actually, I had best be going.”

“So soon?”

“Yes. I have…things to do.”

“Oh. Of course.”

She took a step toward him and Oliver retreated.  Turning away, he hurried toward the door, silently admitting a fear of having her too close. When he reached for the handle, he felt her hand cover his.  Oliver looked back to her and watched her entire face brighten as she stood by his side, smiling up at him. 

“Please come back anytime, Oliver. My door is always open to you.”

“I appreciate that,” he said, realizing it was the truth.  Even though he knew he should never return.  “Good night, Felicity.  And good luck with…the bird.”

“Thank you.”

As he turned to leave, his hand slipped from under hers and felt instantly cold.

...

A/N:  Hey there!  I hope you're enjoying Oliver's little journey so far - I'd love to hear what you think!  :)Tina  

Up next...Chapter 3: Twister

Chapter Text

Oliver slept poorly that night. He didn’t even attempt to go to the Social, because Felicity had been enough new territory for one evening. Or for one lifetime. He’d also had no desire to see Tommy Merlyn again, after the man had witnessed Oliver talking to himself like a homeless person. 

Honestly, the entire situation last night had gotten completely out of control.  All Oliver intended to do was to find the little forest fairy, hold her accountable for her various atrocities, and then come away from her cabin feeling the victor after correcting the grievous wrongs perpetrated against him.  Instead, he’d just stood there while she played with him, and while she petted him, and then he’d left with his tail tucked securely between his legs. 

He should never have allowed Felicity to sidetrack him.  He should never have let her think that he didn’t know who he was.  And he should never have let her touch him. God, she’d just kept touching him – over and over again.  But he hadn’t moved away; he hadn’t told her to stop.  If anything, he stayed right where he was, so she could keep touching him. He wanted her to touch him. He wanted it last night; he wanted it now.

Damn it, this isn’t normal.  What is wrong with me?

Oliver had certainly desired women before, and he’d enjoyed many, in carefully manipulated moments. The women were beautiful, the pleasure mutual.  But they didn’t occupy his thoughts incessantly.  He didn’t dream about them at night.  Not like he’d dreamt about her.

Oliver wasn’t exactly sure where the dreams came from.  Maybe it was just because she was the last person he’d spoken to before bed.  Maybe it was the heavy, decadent dinner he’d thoroughly savored after the lemon-mouth fiasco.  Or maybe it was simply because he hadn’t been with a woman in sometime; after all, he’d only allowed himself one brief involvement since he and McKenna separated over a year ago.  He honestly didn’t know why he’d dreamt about Felicity; he only knew that her tempting body cemented itself into his mind for the entirety of the night.  Hell, he’d needed fifteen minutes just to calm himself enough to pee this morning. 

Everything about the little fairy distracted him.  Everything about her haunted him.  And what he needed, more than anything, was to find a way to regain control of his senses.

Oliver took a few quick bites of his gourmet breakfast and then walked back to his bedroom, throwing on a T-shirt and shorts and grabbing his room card before heading out to Blissful Blue’s gym.  As he marched down his gravel driveway, Oliver thanked the heavens that the gym facilities were to the left in Cabin 6, and not to the right toward Felicity’s 10. Because, apparently, he couldn’t be held responsible for where his mind went, or how his body responded, when he was around her.

Starting down the paved road toward the gym, Oliver took a deep breath in.  The air was crisp, and cleaner than he’d probably ever experienced, even on all of his outings with Mom and Dad through the years. The evergreen boughs shaded his every step, allowing the sun to peek out for seconds at best. It was beautiful, he considered, knowing that anyone on the planet would reach that conclusion. Still, he was grateful when he arrived at the gym, eager for the kempt air.

A few people were already in the thick of morning workouts as Oliver used his room card to gain entry to the facility.  Rather larger than he expected, the gym held nearly every type of cardio and weight training equipment he’d grown accustomed to at the Starling City gym where he’d met Digg almost a decade ago.  Oliver wished Digg were here now, so they could use each other as punching bags, because Oliver wanted nothing more than to expend some of the energy his body was focusing on thoughts of Forest Felicity. 

The mere consideration of her brought instant pictures to his mind’s eye, an invasion of color led by her bright gold hair and pink, smiling lips.  Oliver shook his head, frustrated by his inability to remove her image from his brain, as he stepped to a treadmill in the corner and began a slow jog that escalated quickly into a full-on run.  The other occupants of the gym smiled and waved to him in passing as he worked out. Oliver nodded cordially, wondering if he would have seen any of them had he made it to the Social. None of them appeared to be overweight, chain-smoking, boozing workaholics, but then again the gym attire didn’t lend itself to business cards, either.  Even so, he had to admit that these people – psychiatric patients though they must all be – just looked like people.

Maybe he wasn’t the only sane one, surrounded by lunatics.  Maybe they were all sane.  Or maybe he was blending in nicely as one of the lunatics.

As the treadmill shook under the weight of his muscled body, Oliver watched in mortification while the door to the gym opened and Tommy Merlyn stepped inside.  “Oh, shit,” Oliver grumbled, hoping Tommy would ignore him so he wouldn’t have to revisit the embarrassing encounter from the previous night. But, of course, Tommy saw him immediately and nodded.  Oliver returned the gesture, trying to look as normal as humanly possible while secretly hoping Tommy wouldn’t feel the need to talk to him.

In the next instant, Tommy made a beeline forward, not stopping until he stood next to Oliver’s treadmill and glanced idly at the workout timer.  “I never understood why they have treadmills in here,” Tommy noted, crinkling his eyebrows as if contemplating an unfathomable mystery of the universe. “There are miles and miles of road outside to run on; I’d think that would be much more refreshing.”

Oliver shook his head stiffly. “I don’t do nature.”

“Yeah, it does get pretty to easy to forget that nature exists when you’re hard at work.” Tommy looked up and smiled. “You know, I realized after talking to you last night that you said your name was Oliver Queen.  Are you the Oliver Queen of Queen Consolidated?”

Oliver slowed to a trot to speak easier.  “Yeah, that’s me.”

“I’ve heard a lot about your company.  You’re doing an amazing job as CEO.”

“I’ve got my father to thank for making the company what it is,” Oliver admitted. “And you’re Tommy Merlyn.  Would that be Merlyn Global?”

Tommy’s blue eyes twinkled as he grinned.  “Yep, that’s us.”

“You operate out of New York, right?”

“The main offices are there, where my dad works.  But I plan to head up the new Starling City branch we’re looking into.”

“Yeah? Well, you’ll have to give me a call when you get to town, then.”

“I’ll do that. But we shouldn’t discuss it here.”

“No? Why not?”

“Because this is Blissful Blue. This is the only place in my world where I don’t have to talk about business.”

Oliver’s footsteps slowed even further.  “Did you actually fly all the way from New York just to come here?”

“Absolutely. I come here as often as possible – three or four times a year if I’m able.  I take it this is your first time?”

“How did you guess?”

“Well, no offense, but you looked pretty wound up yesterday.  It reminded me of how I looked the first time I came here.  It took me a while to realize what was missing from my life.”

This statement made Oliver stop running entirely.  Tommy was roughly his height, roughly his build, jovial, personable, and an executive, also. If Tommy had found what was missing in his life, then perhaps he’d actually solved one of the mysteries of the universe.

Oliver held perfectly still as he stared Tommy in the eye.  “What did you find missing?”

Tommy shrugged. “Appreciation,” he said. “I know it sounds awfully cliché, but it really is the little things that matter, you know? You get all involved in business dealings and the mundane day to day absolutes, and you forget to appreciate all of the little things that make life so damn spectacular.”

Tommy flashed a perfectly straight, sparkly-toothed grin, and Oliver stared at him in utter disbelief, unable to fathom how Tommy could look so damn happy while leading basically the same life that currently had Oliver questioning everything. Appreciation. Bah, humbug. 

“Hey, how about you get off of that contraption and join me in a little one-on-one?” Tommy goaded, bending down to retrieve a basketball from a nearby bin and spinning it idly on the tip of his finger.  “I promise I’ll take it easy on you.”

Oliver chuckled. “Don’t you dare. I can hold my own.”

“Oh, we’ll see about that,” Tommy promised as he led Oliver outside to the waiting basketball court.

Within moments of hitting the blacktop, Oliver knew he’d found a friend in Tommy Merlyn. Tommy was fun and uncomplicated and easy to talk to.  And he seemed to have his life together, which was a trick Oliver desperately wanted to learn. On top of all that, Tommy was a pretty good basketball player.  Although Oliver had no intention of letting him win this game.

Oliver blocked one of Tommy’s shots, and then watched as Tommy goofily faked a foot injury before sneaking behind Oliver to steal the ball and dribble it niftily between his legs. “And that’s how you pull a one-two fake-out,” Tommy announced, grinning as he shot and missed. “It’s a lot more effective, however, if you actually make the basket.”

“Sure, I could see that.” Oliver chuckled, rebounding the ball and dribbling around Tommy’s back.  Out of the corner of his eye, Oliver saw a dark-haired woman come out of the gym and move to the bench next to the court, stretching her finely toned legs. She wore a tightly fitted purple jacket, black shorts that barely covered her butt, and a wicked little smile. She watched them play for a moment, and her eyes met his briefly before she bent forward to touch her toes, causing her miniscule shorts to rise up even further, giving Oliver an interesting and rather inviting view. 

Oliver shook his head and turned back to the game, shooting the ball and swooshing the basket with expert precision.

“The score is officially tied,” Tommy announced, catching the ball from under the net. “And we’re being watched,” he added under his breath.

“I noticed that.” Oliver glanced back over to her. Their female onlooker was exceedingly attractive, with long, straight brown hair and a slender yet shapely figure, and Oliver knew his entire body should be paying attention to her. But it wasn’t.

“How about the next shot is winner-take-all?” Tommy suggested.

Oliver nodded. “Sounds good,” he agreed, refocusing as Tommy took a shot.  Oliver blocked it easily, catching the ball and dribbling back toward the basket.

Oliver wasn’t about to allow this woman to distract him from winning this game of hoops, even if it was just a friendly little competition.  She’d have to be far more alluring in order to deter him from his mission. She’d have to be…well, she’d have to be Felicity.  Frolicking Freebird Felicity, with the gorgeous smile and the mouth-watering ass and the eyes that could look straight through him.

Oliver’s fingers twitched with the thought of his forest fairy and the ball wobbled out of his hands. Tommy picked it up and pivoted, shooting perfectly.  As Oliver watched the ball drop through the hoop, he cursed and shook his head, knowing he’d lost the game. “That was a damn fine shot, Tommy. Well done.”

“Hmm. I feel a little guilty, really. You would have beaten me fair and square if you hadn’t been distracted by our lovely spectator over there.”

Oliver ran a hand roughly through his hair.  God help me, she wasn’t the woman who distracted me. “Maybe you could give me a chance to redeem myself sometime?”

Tommy grinned. “Love to,” he replied, motioning his head toward the limber brunette as he lowered his voice. “I already met this woman at the Social last night.  She’s CFO of a weapons development company out in California.  She’s smart, beautiful, and more than a little scary…the whole package, really. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”

Not wanting to appear rude, Oliver followed Tommy toward the bench where the woman manipulated her body with stretches that didn’t seem quite human.  She straightened and smiled as they approached.  “Hello again, Tommy.  Nice game,” she offered with a piercing stare.

He took hold of her hand and kissed it.  “A pleasure, as always, Helena.”

“And who’s your friend?” she added, moving her intent gaze to Oliver.

“Oliver Queen – Helena Bertinelli.”

“Pleased to meet you, Oliver,” she purred as she extended her fingers toward him.

“And you,” he replied, shaking her hand with utmost brevity.

“Sorry I distracted you from your game,” Helena offered with a coy smile.  “I certainly didn’t mean to make you fumble the ball like that. I was only stretching before my run.”

“No need to apologize.”

“Alright. Well, I’d best be on my way. Would you boys like to join me on the trails?”

“Of course!” Tommy leapt on the invitation before turning expectant eyes to Oliver.

“No, thanks. You go on ahead,” Oliver insisted. “I’ve already had my run today.”

Tommy’s brow rose. “You sure, buddy?”

Oliver got the strangest sensation that Tommy was asking his permission to pursue the beguiling brunette. “Absolutely sure, Tommy.”

Oliver nodded politely to Helena just before she turned away, then he looked back to Tommy to catch the wiggle of his eyebrows and the wink of his eye that stated in no uncertain terms that Tommy intended to go after Helena in more ways than one.

“I’ll see you again?” Tommy questioned as he began jogging backwards.

“Yes. I will have my revenge,” Oliver chided, watching as Tommy ran after Helena, whose shorts revealed more flesh with every bounce of her feet.

Oliver stared after them, with no reaction from his body whatsoever to the sultry quivering of her exposed skin.  He wondered, for the second time today, what was wrong with him.  Helena was certainly attractive enough – the gorgeous hair, the fit body, the freakish flexibility – and knowing that Tommy was interested would normally make her even more attractive, if only for the challenge of the game. But, as Oliver watched her leave, he felt absolutely nothing.

And then the most amazing thought occurred to him:  Helena reminded him of McKenna. McKenna, the woman he’d spent years learning about and being intimate with.  McKenna, the woman he’d almost married.  Yet here he stood, with a potential McKenna in arms’ reach, and he couldn’t drum up interest if he tried. 

McKenna had been cookie-cutter perfect, and Helena might be also, but Oliver didn’t want that. He didn’t want the flawlessly formed cookie. Not today.  Today he was in the mood for a lump of dough with a hell of a lot of sprinkles on top.

“Damn it,” he grumbled, wondering when in the hell half-baked had started to look appealing to him.

But then again, he already knew the answer to that question. 

 ...

Morning was completely over by the time he returned to his cabin, and Oliver sighed in relief. After Felicity’s invitation last evening, he’d half-expected her to be waiting on his front porch, demanding that he accompany her into the woods for…whatever she did in the woods.

Did he want to know what she did in the woods?  Maybe. 

No.  He did not want to know.  He needed to keep up his resolve. 

Stay away from her.

He showered, he dressed business-casual in pleated khakis and a short-sleeve navy button-down, he ate his gourmet lunch, he turned on his computer.  Several emails awaited him, but surprisingly fewer business matters than the day before.  Diving in head first, he sought out further work to occupy himself with, even things that didn’t necessarily demand his attention.  He worked until night began to fall, and the familiar sound of the food truck’s wheels crunched onto his gravel driveway.  Best alarm system in the world.

Oliver opened his front door before the delivery boy had a chance to knock.  “Thanks,” Oliver said as the young man in the red hoodie handed over the tray with a stiff smile and a nod.  Then the boy pivoted and marched off the steps, back to the truck.

“He’s not a big talker,” Oliver mumbled to himself as he brought the tray in and settled it onto the log coffee table.  He sunk down onto the plaid couch cushions and took a good look at his feast:  glazed lamb with roasted potatoes and vegetables in a thick béarnaise sauce, accompanied by a bottle of red wine.  He would definitely have to work out again tomorrow.

Taking a bite of potatoes, he reached for the itinerary accompanying his meal. Blissful Blue events for tomorrow:  8:00 Breakfast gathering in the dining area…10:00 Group therapy session: “How to Find Your Inner Calm” by Dr. Quentin Lance…14:00-18:00 Individual therapy sessions.  Please contact Pete Jackson at the front desk for registration.

Oliver sighed as he set the paper down beside him.  He didn’t need this amount of therapy.  He only came here because Digg asked him, not because he needed to. This was a dare rather than a desire, and he would be damned if this place was going to make him question himself.

You don’t really know who you are, do you?  It’s alright.  A lot of people don’t.

Oliver harrumphed at the sound of Felicity’s voice inside his brain.  Of course he knew who he was.  She was just…she was just…. 

What was she doing, anyway?  Challenging him? Seeing if he would buckle beneath her insults to his psyche?  Seeing if he would accept her lying to him? Seeing if he would sip pure lemon juice out of her hand and do nothing about it?

Rising restlessly from the couch, Oliver began pacing the cabin, eager to direct his mind elsewhere. What was there to do around this godforsaken place?  Was there anything to do that wasn’t related to psychotherapy?  He could go to see Tommy, he supposed; Tommy was in Cabin 11.  He could just walk there…although Helena might be with Tommy and Oliver didn’t want to interrupt anything.

Lemon juice!  Good Lord, she had me drink pure lemon juice!  She outright challenged me and I just cowered away!

Oliver suddenly understood what had happened last night.  He and Felicity had been two gunslingers – standing on opposite sides of a corral, with tumbleweed rolling by – waiting for someone to make a move. And she shot first, and he took one right in the gut.  Literally, his gut reminded him, his mouth puckering with the thought.

Oliver stilled as he stared out of the window at the blackening sky.  Felicity had gotten the better of him, plain and simple.  His jaw clenched as every fiber of his being revolted against the thought of being conquered.  Especially during a war he hadn’t even realized she’d waged.

“Holy hell,” he growled.  “I’m going back, aren’t I?  I’m going back to see her again.”

Only this time, he would be prepared.  She was not the all-knowing, powerful Oz.  She was nothing to be frightened of, or to hide from.  He was the CEO of a Fortune-500 company, for crying out loud. He could take whatever she could dish out, and even dish some of his own.  After all, she’d shown him a vulnerable side yesterday. It was only a tiny glimpse, but he saw it.

Oliver flew out of his front door before he could second-guess his decision.  He didn’t even see the outrageous number of trees surrounding him as he walked, because all his mind could see was the instant of vulnerability he’d witnessed in Felicity last night:  the far-off look in her eyes that suggested she might have an inner sane person.  What had he said that made her act normal, even for that brief second?  Simply that he was on vacation. Nothing else.  But she’d repeated the words almost reverently, and turned away from him for the first time. 

Nothing about that moment made sense to him.  Why would those two little words reach her in such a way?  Why would she care about that simple thought, when the fact that he’d called her a liar had been a footnote on a thousand pages? 

His feet were already crunching down her driveway before he considered that he had, in fact, called her a liar.  That was rude, he supposed, even if it were true.  Most people would have been quite angry and defensive. But not Felicity.

“She’s not going to beat me this time,” Oliver assured himself as her cabin loomed closer and closer. “I’m on to her game now. This time I will stand my ground.”

His foot slipped on the gravel as he bounded up onto her front porch.  Oliver corrected his balance quickly and poised himself to knock. But, of course, the door opened before he had the chance.  And there she stood.

Her hair was pulled back into a high ponytail today, with a few wayward strands hanging down to her shoulders. Her shirt was pale pink with a deep V that showcased more skin than he should have seen.  The shirt did, at least, cover her midriff, being tucked into a little pair of jeans that hugged her in a perfect silhouette. But tonight, her bare toes were red instead of pink. 

Do you paint your toenails everyday?  The question popped into his mind, but he didn’t have the chance to ask, because she instantly reached out, grabbed his hand, and pulled him inside, before he could form another conscious thought. 

Felicity closed the door quickly and immediately stepped into his personal space. “Oh, thank God you’re here, Oliver,” she breathed with nervous energy, her fingers trembling as they gripped onto his. “I desperately need your help.”

He stared at her, his heart skipping a beat.  Is she in trouble?  Having some sort of delusional episode?  Why did I come here again?  “Is everything okay, Felicity?”

“It’s better than okay! Just look!”

Oliver followed the line of her pointing finger as she drew his attention to the wall on the opposite side of the living room, where she’d hung a new picture – of a tree. “Um, wow,” he offered, unsure of the response she desired.  “Did you take that photo?”

“Yes, yes!” Felicity nodded vehemently as she pulled him toward it.  “What do you think? Is it straight? I feel like I’ve been staring at it for two solid hours, trying to decide if it’s straight or not. You can’t gauge anything by the knots in these log walls.”

Oliver smiled despite himself as they came to a stop in front of her new artwork. “Yes, the walls are a problem,” he agreed, glancing down to her face.  He watched her for a long minute, watched her staring up at him with her sparkling blue eyes and innocent smile, and he completely forgot every thought he’d had before now. Because the only thing he wanted, right at this moment, was for her to be happy.  So he used his free hand – the one not tangled up with her dainty fingers – to reach to the wall, moving the frame a millimeter to the left. “There,” he assured. “It’s completely straight now.”

“Oh, thank you.” She sighed heavily, as if the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders.  Then she raised her eyes back to his.  “Sometimes you just need someone to help you, you know?”

He nodded. “I suppose everyone does.”

She grinned with his words, and gazed sweetly up to his face, and the impulse to wrap her up in his arms was overwhelming.  How could she manage to look so damn vulnerable when he knew for a fact that she was a spitfire? It was only a picture of a damn tree. But Felicity was a picture, too. A picture of beauty, unlike anything he’d experienced before.

“Do you like the view?” she asked in a whisper.

How could he not? Looking at her could be a hobby of his. Despite her personality, or maybe because of it, he could find no fault in anything he saw before him. “I love the view,” he admitted.

Felicity giggled blissfully. “So you see the bird, then?”

“The bird?” Do you have a bird tattoo?  Where is it? Can I see it?

“In the picture! The yellow-crowned purple fantini! I took the photo just this morning!”

Oliver spent a moment registering her thought process before he turned his attention back to the wall. Feeling a little silly for thinking she’d been asking him about her own appearance, he finally released his hold on her hand in order to approach the new portrait.  He stared hard into it, but all he saw was a tree. And even that wasn’t really in focus. Good Lord, she was a really bad photographer. “Um…” he stalled, hoping beyond hope that he would discern something else.

“It’s right there!” She moved up to his side again, pointing to a spot in the photo that appeared to be a concentration of sunshine reflecting off of a blob of leaves.  “I know it’s not exactly in focus, but I have to admit I got so excited that I was shaking the camera from sheer nerves!”

Oliver concentrated harder. He wanted to see the bird. He actually really wanted to see it.  But there was nothing but blurs of green and a smidgeon of yellow. He cleared his throat. “The picture is…it’s really something, Felicity.”

“Thank you, Oliver. Thank you so much.” She smiled vibrantly as she looked up at him from her position beside his shoulder, locking her blue eyes with his. “I wish you’d been there. The whole forest was amazing this morning, just full of life.  So still and calm at times, and then other times the noises can fill your ears to bursting. Did you know that there are over 400 species of trees in the Blue Ridge Mountains?”

The warmth of her breath tickled his skin as she spoke, and he barely registered her words. “No, I didn’t know that.”

“You should really come with me tomorrow.  I’d be happy to pick you up, bright and early, so we could walk my little path together. I know the exact spot I was in when I took the picture.  Maybe, if we’re very lucky, the fantini will return and this time I can snap a photo without shaking like a child!” 

Her exhilarated laughter was infectious, her body hopping slightly up and down beside him, her breast brushing his arm.  He wanted to turn to her and crush her to him, to kiss that adorable, silly grin straight off her lips.  He wanted it so badly that it actually scared him, and the intensity of the fear finally sobered him.

Oliver forced himself to look away. He stood very still instead, staring at the photo, and at the frame nailed to the wall.  He willed away his freakish desire for her, a desire that took hold of him against his better judgment, against any judgment, and threatened to overtake his semblance of calm.   He could be calm around her. That would be the only way he could even begin to participate in this war of wills.  The war she’d mastered so skillfully that he’d barely even noticed it taking place.  Squirrels. Lemon Juice.  Questioning his psyche.  He would not let her win again.

Oliver stared at the photo – no bird.  He stared at the frame – nailed to the wall. 

And then it finally struck him.

Felicity,” he growled as he looked back to her, “you have nailed this photo to the wall.” 

She peered up into his eyes. “Yes, of course I did. How else do you expect it to stay up there?”

He huffed. “But this is private property.  You don’t own this cabin, do you?”

“No, I don’t own it.”

Oliver glared down at her. “Well, you can’t just go around nailing your own pictures into walls that aren’t yours.  Did you ask permission to do this?”

Felicity returned his stare for a long, lingering minute, and then reached out to grasp both of his hands in her own, turning him to face her.  “Oliver, are you actually going to tell me that you think one little nail hole could possibly matter in a wall that had more knots, holes, and twists than a minefield?”

“That’s not the issue,” he stated, wishing for his own peace of mind that she wasn’t holding his hands, or standing so close.  “This is about principle.  You’re on private property and you’ve defaced it.”

“Would you be happy if I said I’d buy some wood spackle before I left?”

“I don’t know. Would you do that?”

“No. But I just wonder if that would make you happy.”

“Not if you’re lying to me again, it wouldn’t.”

Felicity sighed, her shoulders falling, and Oliver instantly regretted his words. Yep, he’d called her a liar again.  Certainly, she would be upset by it this time. There was just no way around it. She might even slap him.

She didn’t. She simply stared into his eyes, stared and stared, until he shifted his feet.  She was looking into him again, in that harrowing way she had, and he wasn’t sure he wanted her to see anything. He didn’t believe she needed to know more about him than he did.

“Hmm,” Felicity murmured after several minutes.  Or possibly hours. “There is something about you, Oliver, something…”

“What?”

Crinkling her nose, she seemed about to sneeze when instead she said, “Closed.”

Oliver arched an eyebrow. “What’s closed?”

“You are. You’re just…closed.”

“I am not closed.”

“Yes, you are. Do you know why you’re closed?”

His mind reached back sixteen years.  He forced the thought down. “I’m not closed.”

“How is your relationship with your parents?”

Oliver choked out a laugh. “What is this? Are you learning some psycho babble being encased up here at Chez Nutjob?”

Felicity shook her head. “No need to get defensive. If you have nothing to hide, simply answer the question.”

“Mom and Dad are great,” he stated, determined not to let her get the upper hand again. “We have a wonderful relationship, they have an amazing marriage, and I love them both dearly. They raised me with every advantage.”

“And where are they now?”

“Mountain climbing in Washington.”

Mountain climbing?  Really? How old are they?”

“Just turned sixty. Their birthdays are only two days apart. The trip was a gift to each other.”

“Amazing. I hope that I’ll be climbing mountains when I’m sixty.”  She smiled radiantly for a moment, but then her brows scrunched.  “But you’re not, are you?”

“I’m not what?”

“Climbing mountains with your parents.”

“No, I’m here.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t like climbing mountains.”

“Well, if you think about it, you had to climb a mountain to get here.”

“No, I drove a car to get here.”

“I know why you climbed a mountain to get here, Oliver.”

“Oh, really? This should be good.”

“You climbed your way here because you’re closed…”

“I’m not closed.”

“…and you realize that you would rather be open.”

“And are you going to open me, then, Felicity?” He drilled the question into her eyes with a fierce glare, wondering how she would come back from the purposefully tempting suggestion.  But, as he eyed her with his steel gaze, he realized he hadn’t ruffled her feathers even the slightest bit.

Felicity wasn’t flummoxed or flustered.  She wasn’t anything he expected anyone to be.  Honestly, he had no fucking clue what to expect from her, and it unnerved him on every level.  So, when she stepped even closer to him, he held his breath as he waited to see what she would do next. 

The little forest fairy extracted one of her hands from his and reached up to his face. She touched him, her fingers smoothing slowly across his jaw, and Oliver had to actively resist the urge to close his eyes and sigh against her soft skin.  Then her hand trailed down, over his neck and onto his shoulder, before she began tracing another one of her rhythmic, methodical paths, up and down his arm.

Dear God, she’s petting me again.  And I’m letting her.  Again.

“Do you play Twister, Oliver?”

He stared at her for a long minute, working to register her words through the soft, plying touch of her fingers. “What?”

“Twister. You know:  spin the arrow, right hand on blue, left hand on yellow. Twister.”

Oliver was at a loss, but for only a moment.  He knew what was happening right now.  Felicity was challenging him, trying to throw him off-kilter with her little flight-of-ideas superiority. But he wasn’t having it. She wouldn’t conquer him again so easily.  “Yes, I play Twister well, actually.  You’d be hard pressed to beat me.”

She grinned, her eyes twinkling. “Well, now, that’s the spirit! Where does that competitive nature originate, I wonder?”

“Four years of football in high school.  A coach that drilled us all day, every day.”

Felicity moved away, finally pulling her hands from his body as she walked to the hall closet and began rummaging inside.  He tried to ignore the fact that he could still feel her fingertips against his skin.

Her closet-muffled voice traveled down the hallway.  “Did you play football in college, too?”

Oliver winced involuntarily. Thankfully, she hadn’t seen him cringe; otherwise, she would surely have called him on his display of weakness. “No, I didn’t,” he dismissed. “So, where’s this Twister?”

“Here!” she yelled, raising the box triumphantly in her hands as she closed the closet door. “I love all the board games they put in these cabins.  It’s just good, back-to-basics fun, you know?”

Felicity sauntered back to the living room and Oliver wasted no time pushing the coffee table out of the way so she could unfold the large plastic game mat and shake it out over the throw rug.  Oliver shook his head at the familiar sight from his youth.  He couldn’t believe he was about to play Twister with crazy Felicity.

He watched intently as she knelt down to straighten each corner of the mat, crawling on her knees and stretching her body in order to achieve the perfect symmetry of plastic against the floor.  Her pink T-shirt pulled up out of her jeans as she moved, revealing an inch of perfect, creamy skin across her low back.  As Oliver watched her bend and wriggle, he had to clear his throat for some reason. Actually, he knew the reason. He just didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Finally finished with her task, Felicity sat back on her heels.  She peered up at him from the ground with one eyebrow raised. And then she sat there and stared at him, waiting for him to read her mind.

“What?” he grumbled, wondering what ridiculous thing she wanted him to do next.

“Um, I was just hoping you would take off your shoes?”

“Oh,” he said, shaking his head. “Yes, of course.” He kicked the offending loafers off to the side of the couch.

“Thank you, Oliver. It’s just that you’re quite a bit bigger than me, and I would really hate to have my toes crushed, especially since I just painted my toenails today.”

“They’re adorable.” Oliver’s jaw clenched. Damn it, I didn’t mean to say that out loud.

Felicity tilted her head and beamed up at him from her crouched position.  “I’m glad you like them,” she said, although her voice was almost a whisper.   Oliver saw a slight blush in her cheeks, and his jaw unclenched.

Felicity looked back to the Twister mat, her eyes focusing on the bright primary circles beneath her. “I’m so excited that we’re going to play this!  I haven’t played since I was a teenager.  Do you want to spin or should I?”

God, does it matter?  The whole room is spinning, isn’t it? 

Oliver shook his head, flustered by how ferociously he wanted to touch her.  Even though he was absolutely certain that he shouldn’t touch her.  Except for the fact that they were about to play a game that would require him to touch her, over and over again.  It would require him to constantly feel the warmth of her body against his…and not lose his mind.

Come on, pull it together, Queen!  You can handle this!  “By all means, you spin,” he offered, mentally steeling himself for what was about to happen.

“Yay!” she squealed, giggling before giving the little plastic arrow a thorough beating. He watched her body quiver with anticipation as the arrow finally pointed to right hand – blue.  Then she smiled up at him, waiting until he knelt down and placed his hand in the middle of the blue dots. Her hand came down immediately next to his.

Felicity spun again. Left hand – green.  They complied, their bodies side by side as they spread their arms to accommodate their instructions.

Right foot – blue.

Oliver immediately placed his right foot next to his right hand, but because Felicity had chosen the blue beside his she was now left with little option.  She could twist her body to get her right leg over to the blue dot on her left…or she could straddle him.

She chose the latter.

Hoisting her leg over his back, she reached the very edge of the next blue with the tip of her painted big toe, stretching fully to try to maintain her hands on the appropriate dots while doing so.  Oliver was encased beneath her, feeling her chest and stomach against his back, able to sense the increased inhalation and exhalation that caused her breasts to rub against him.  She felt warm and soft, just like he knew she would, and he closed his eyes as her sweet scent of fresh soap and tiny flowers wrapped around him.  He breathed in deeper, trying to capture the smell he already knew as hers, but the motion only made her chest come into fuller contact with his back, and he wasn’t sure how long he could maintain this position before various parts of his body began to respond aggressively to her proximity.

Relax, he commanded himself.  He was not prepared to lose another battle of wills, or wits, with her. He quieted his mind and waited for her to spin again.  He waited a while.

“Um…” she finally spoke after several moments traipsed across his back, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t reach the spinner thingy.”

“Would you like me to get that for you?”

“If you would be so kind,” she answered, her tone quite noble, considering she required only a saddle to be officially riding him.

Oliver eased his fingers out and spun, returning quickly to his previous position as he saw right hand – red.

They lunged simultaneously, her chest plopping down on his back, and they both collapsed onto the mat. Oliver felt the thud of her body on top of him, felt her legs straddling his hips, and he immediately flipped over inside the embrace of her thighs in order to look at her. Felicity resituated herself on his lap as he eased up onto his elbows and stared into her face. “I won,” he announced, trying to ignore the fact that she’d perched herself on top of him and didn’t appear to have any plans to fly away.

You won?  How do you figure that?  You hit the mat first.”

“Only because you made me. I would have kept my balance if you’d kept yours.”

“I disagree.”

“Me, too.”

“Hmm…” she considered, her legs still pinned around his waist.  “I guess that calls for a rematch then.”

“You’re on,” he replied, refusing to back down.

“Yes, I am.” She nodded, glancing down to his chest and back to his eyes with a little smile.  “But I’ll get off of you now.  There’s work to be done.”

He watched as she grinned before rising, her thighs rubbing against his waist as she did. Oliver encouraged himself to breathe slowly, in and out.  He didn’t know what “work” needed to be done, but he wasn’t going to be putty in her hands, no matter how fucking adorable and gorgeous and sexy she was.  Or how often she planned to use him as her personal hobbyhorse.

However, as the next few hours would teach him, this goal would not be an easy one. 

Felicity threw herself across him in every game they played.  Again and again, no matter how quickly he moved or how he contorted his body, she wrapped herself in between his arms, through his legs, and over his back. He’d found himself mere inches from her chest on multiple occasions, with the deep V of her little top gaping down to showcase the ivory lace bra that barely contained her breasts. He’d had to rest his head on her tiny bared stomach once, just to reach his hand to the green, and tried like hell not to notice how close his teeth were to the button on her jeans.

But the worst part wasn’t how her closeness affected him.  The worst part was how obviously his closeness affected her. Having to listen to the little pants of her breaths when their bodies aligned perfectly together, having to watch the dilatation of her pupils when his face came just inches from hers, and having to hear her whimper when his arm accidentally brushed across her breasts, was sheer torture.  But Oliver forged through.  Because Felicity would not crack him.  She would not “open” him.  No matter how much work she thought she had to do.

Eventually, they collapsed together while simultaneously reaching their right feet for red. Exhausted, Oliver rested back against the mat and let his head drop onto the throw rug.  Felicity lay sideways across him, her belly on his, but he couldn’t muster the energy, or desire, to move.

Turning her head to look at him, she moaned.  “I’m so sore.”

“Me, too,” he admitted, not remembering the last time he’d stretched so thoroughly.

“How long do you think we were at that?” she asked as disheveled hair, falling from her barely contained ponytail, covered part of her face.  She blew out in an attempt to dislodge a loose curl from her mouth.

“Hours,” he replied. Unthinking, he raised a sore arm to her face in order to ease the hair from her lips.  He felt the softness beneath his fingertips as he brushed his hand against her cheek before tucking the wandering curl behind her ear.

Felicity’s eyes closed, and she sighed.

Oliver yanked his arm away. “We’d best get up now,” he instructed himself, willing his tired limbs to escape from the easy pleasure of her body draped over his.

“Okay,” she murmured, finally crawling off of him to sit up and rest her back against the couch. He moved to sit beside her, although several feet away, slumping back against the couch logs as he looked into her shinning eyes.

“Did one of us win, Oliver?”

“I don’t think so.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Yeah, it really is.”

They rested, both silent, for several more minutes.  Oliver used the brief respite to catch his breath and calm his racing pulse. It was working, too…right up until Felicity turned to him and grinned.  “May I offer you some lemonade?”

He desperately fought the urge to roll his eyes. Goddamn lemonade! “Yes, Felicity, I would love some.”

“Okay then. Wait right here.”

He watched her jump up, heard her rustle about in the kitchen, listened to the refrigerator door open and the ice clank into the glasses, and then grimaced as her footsteps returned. Felicity plopped down onto the floor again, the sickly yellow liquid sloshing in the glasses and dribbling onto the red Twister dots beneath them.  She offered him a glass and Oliver accepted.  It was, thankfully, smaller than the glass she’d given him yesterday.

Oliver stared down at the opaque swill, wondering if drinking an entire serving could harm something of vital importance inside his body.  Is this going to destroy my pancreas? Or my spleen?  Good Lord, what exactly does a spleen do, anyway? Can I survive without it?

He took a deep breath and brought the rim of the cup to his lips.

“Wait.” Felicity held up her hand to stop him. “I need to know something first.”

Oliver sighed in relief as he lowered the glass.  “Yes?”

“What is your last name?”

His brow furrowed. “Haven’t I told you?”

“No.”

Oliver considered that for a moment.  Perhaps he’d been too frightened of giving her that much information about him.  “Queen,” he said.  “Oliver Queen.”

Her mouth puckered into a perfect little “o” before she spoke.  “You don’t mean the Oliver Queen, do you?”

“I think I do.”

“You’re the CEO of Queen Consolidated in Starling City?”

Oliver looked into her eyes, watching the curiosity move across her face.  “That’s me.  How do you know about Queen Consolidated?”

“Who wouldn’t know about Queen Consolidated?  My goodness, you’re the head of a Fortune-500 company, Oliver.  You’re a billionaire.”

“Yup,” he said, and a small part of him was proud of the fact that she’d heard of his family’s company. But then again, another part of him feared her next reaction…the hungered looks and clawed fingers he’d come to expect from any woman who realized who he was.  He watched as Felicity absorbed the information, and then held his breath until she spoke.

“Hmm. So, I guess you like your last name, then.”

Oliver ogled her for a long minute.  And then he smiled, because that wasn’t the response he’d expected.  Honestly, he had no idea what in the hell she was talking about right now, which was kind of wonderful.  “Yes, I suppose I do like my last name.”

“That’s a really good thing. Queen is a cool last name to have. Very regal.  You should be happy about it.”

“I am.” He saw her eyes shift to floor, making her look like a dejected puppy, and he began to follow her train of thought. “I take it you don’t like your last name?”

Felicity shook her head. “No, I do not. I mean, Smoak? What good thing ever came from smoke? It’s just fire and cancer.”

Oliver watched as she frowned, and couldn’t help grinning at how charmingly pouty she looked. “Well, you know, you can also smoke a chicken.  And that’s pretty tasty.”

She tried to keep frowning, but he saw her lips twitch up with his words.

Oliver shook his head. “It’s not that bad for a last name, Felicity. It really isn’t.”

Her shoulders eased. “Thank you for saying that, but sometimes I just want to march into a courthouse and have it changed.”

“Yeah? What would you change it to?”

“Well, I like my middle name. It’s Megan.”

“So you would be Felicity Megan?” he asked, watching as she chewed on her lip and on her thoughts.

“That could work. But, unfortunately, Megan’s not much of a last name.  I’d have to do something with it.  Maybe it could be Megan…son.” She stopped talking for a moment, turning her bright eyes to his as her entire body lit up once again. “Ooh, yes!  That’s it!  Perfect.”

“So now you’re going to be Felicity Meganson?”

“Yes. Yes, I am.  Or I could drop Felicity, too, and just go by Meganson.”

“But then you’d only have one name.”

“Well, lots of rock stars do it,” she offered, wiggling her toes against the plastic. “Although I would probably have to buy more clothes with sequins and glitter on them.  But maybe that’s a good thing, because my sequins-and-glitter collection is sorely lacking.”

She gave him a ridiculously broad and bubbly smile, and he just smiled back, because he realized she was joking. He could tell that now…a feat he wasn’t sure he’d have been capable of yesterday.  He was starting to see how her mind worked, starting to glimpse the world inside her brain, and he found it strangely appealing.  Which was a frightening realization.  “Well, as beautiful as I’m sure you’ll look in sequins and glitter, I think I’ll still call you Felicity.  I like Felicity.”

“You can call me whatever makes you happy, Oliver.  I like it when you’re happy.”

He squeezed onto the glass in his hand as he watched her light blue eyes sparkle along with her words. She was so close to him. Close enough that he could reach out and grab her.  Close enough that he could take her in his arms, and lay her down on this Twister-floor, and kiss every inch of her, if he wanted to.  For the love of all things holy, he really, really wanted to.  And suddenly, drinking an entire glass of straight lemon juice sounded like a completely reasonable thing to do, because he desperately needed to force his mind back to reality.

Oliver looked down to the disgusting liquid filth in his hand and then raised his cup. “Cheers, Felicity.”

She clinked her glass with his.  “Cheers, Oliver.”

Felicity straightened in front of him, staring him down.  Oliver looked deep into her eyes, holding her gaze steady with his own. They were gunslingers across a corral. With tumbleweed drifting past. Or it could have just been lint.

They threw the glasses to their lips simultaneously, tipping them back as they forced the juice swiftly down their throats, the acidic fluid burning all the way down. Oliver tried to imagine this was beer – attempting to trick his mind into thinking he was drinking something other than horse piddle.  It didn’t work. But he still swallowed every last drop, not releasing the glass until he knew he was finished.

They slammed their empty cups to the floor at the same moment, staring at each other with tears in their eyes.  “Shit,” he choked out. “Did you ever drink a whole glass before?”

Felicity sucked in her cheeks as a shiver rocked her shoulders.  “No. Never.  It’s awful.”

Oliver tried to repress his laughter.  He really did. He tried not to think of how stupid they were, or how silly this entire night had been…but he couldn’t help himself. As he watched her body quake beneath the onslaught of lemon juice, he chuckled.  Softly at first, but then louder and harder.

Felicity joined him immediately, her giggles a bright, sparkling sound that filled his ears and moved straight to his chest.  The more she laughed, the more he followed her…until they were both in near fits on the floor. Oliver couldn’t remember ever laughing this hard in his life.  It drained every semblance of obstinate reality from his body, just for these few moments, and he loved the fact that she was here with him, beside him.

When his chuckles finally died down, Oliver continued to absorb the blissful sound of the little giggles still erupting from her throat.  He watched her smile, giddy and perfect, and he realized, quite clearly, that Felicity had won the night.  Whatever game they were playing, he knew he’d come away from it feeling changed. And she was still just…Felicity. This realization, although not sad, was enough to encourage him to leave.  He was not on stable ground when he was around her; he didn’t know if he ever would be.  But nothing else could happen between them tonight.  He’d allowed too much to happen already.

“Felicity, I should…I should really be going.”

Her light blue eyes latched onto his and he saw a twinge of sadness pass through them before she smiled softly and nodded.  “If you need to.”

He started to move, but her hand landed on his knee, daintily preventing his escape. He stilled, looking back to her.

“Oliver, before you go, could I ask you something?”

Her voice was soft and lulling, and so he just said, “Sure.”

She scooted up closer, her thigh pressing against him as she turned her body into his. “Did you like playing football in high school?”

His brow furrowed. Of all the things he thought she might ask him, that question was definitely not on the list. “Yes, I loved it, actually.”

“I’ll bet you were good at it, too.”

“I was.”

“And you were Oliver Queen.”

He huffed out a laugh. “I still am.”

“Yes, but back then you were the Oliver Queen, the young, gorgeous, athletic son of ridiculously wealthy parents.  I can only imagine what that must have been like for you – to have the world entirely at your feet.  I suppose you were deliriously happy, all the time.”

He looked into her, wondering what point she was trying to make.  He wasn’t sure, but he was aware of an undeniable truth.  “Actually, Felicity, I was a complete asshole.”

She made a choking sound in the back of her throat.  “Really?”

“Yup. A total dick.  I mean, don’t get me wrong; I was quite charming. I could charm the pants off of anyone. Literally.  And I often did.”

A tint of red flushed her cheeks.  “You had a lot of women, I guess.”

“More than my fair share. Not that I was faithful to any of them. I was too busy partying to care how they felt.  Too busy making sure I had the most fun I could.  I didn’t really give a shit about anything, except football.  Once, I even peed on a cop car.”

Her eyes widened. “Seriously?”

Oliver hung his head. “Hell, I haven’t thought about that in years.  It seems like a lifetime ago.”

Felicity’s fingers, which had been resting on his knee this entire time, began rubbing softly up and down his leg. Oliver knew she was petting him again, but he was used to it now.  And honestly, he liked it. 

“So then, what happened, Oliver?”

His eyes drew back to hers. “What do you mean?”

“Well, that’s not who you are anymore, is it?  The frolicking, happy-go-lucky boy – with the line of girls running after him, and the urge to decorate police vehicles with bodily fluids – isn’t the person who’s sitting beside me now.”

He smiled despite himself. “No, I suppose not.”

“So, what happened to change him?”

Oliver stared into her, and watched her staring back.  And he had that feeling again, that she was looking farther into him than he thought possible, and definitely farther than he wanted her to look. It both alarmed and unsettled him, and yet here he sat, letting her do it, and there was part of him that didn’t want to leave.  He didn’t want to be alone again.  He didn’t want to be without the soft, soothing touch of her delicate fingers on his body.

Felicity leaned closer, eagerly awaiting his response, and Oliver worked to bring his thoughts back into focus. “You know, I just…I grew up,” he stated, knowing it wasn’t entirely the truth, but it was close enough that he didn’t have to feel guilty about lying to her.  “And now I really should be going.”

He stood swiftly, disconnecting himself from her touch as he towered above her.  But then he looked down at her, at her gentle eyes as they gazed up at him from the ground, and he held his hand out to her. Felicity took the offering, settling her fingers onto his as she pulled herself up and came to stand before him. Keeping hold of his hand, she took a step closer.

The Twister mat crinkled beneath her feet as she eased her free hand up to his face, moving her fingers across his jaw once again.  She explored the feel of his skin for a long moment, until she finally allowed her hand to drop to his chest, splaying her fingers out on his shirt. Oliver’s breath hitched, responding to her proximity, to the warmth of her body, to the sweet scent of little flowers that floated around her.  He looked down to her lips, seeing her tongue dart out to moisten them, and he had to tear his gaze away from the sight.  He refocused on her eyes and stilled.

Her hand rested on his chest, but not just anywhere…her hand lay over his heart, as if she wanted to physically reach inside and take hold of it.  She just seemed so comfortable touching him.  And he wanted nothing more than to touch her back.

But, despite the fact that they’d been draped across each other on a plastic sheet all night, Oliver still felt nervous to touch her now.  Probably because he’d never actually touched her on purpose before. She’d always been the one to touch him. She was the one who held his hand, who petted him, who reached for his heart.  The only time he’d initiated any contact, other than helping her up off the floor just now, was when he’d eased that stray hair from her mouth a few minutes ago. And just that small touch of his fingers to her skin left him feeling burned. 

However, as frightening as that sensation was, it wasn’t enough to prevent him from doing what he wanted to do right now.

Reaching out to her, Oliver rested his hand against her shoulder.  This felt safe somehow, at least until he felt the heat of her skin beneath the thin material of her shirt, and then had to watch as she sighed and leaned closer to him.  Damn, she was just beautiful. So happy and gentle and perfect. His hand wandered up, first to the side of her neck and then up to her cheek, exploring the softness of her skin as his heart pounded inside his chest.  Her lips were still wet from the touch of her tongue just moments before, and he eased his fingers down her jaw and then moved his thumb to her lower lip, dragging it across the smooth, moist warmth of her mouth.  Felicity let out a little gasp at the touch and Oliver’s body pulled closer to hers.  Cupping her cheek in his hand, he stared at her lips.  “God, I want to kiss you,” he breathed, not even realizing he’d said the words out loud until her eyes widened and her breath caught in her throat.

He felt her tremble, just slightly, beneath his touch.  “I want that, too,” she whispered, looking up at him for a moment before her gaze fell to his chest, watching her fingers as she fiddled with a button on his shirt. “It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? Attraction, I mean. You meet a hundred people – a thousand, even – and you may find a few of them attractive.  But then, out of the blue, you see one.  Just one. And that person feels so different, and makes you feel open and connected in a way you didn’t even know existed. And, at that moment, you know you’re finally just…alive.”

Her eyes moved back to his then, and he held his breath as he watched her. 

“But you know, Oliver, attraction is actually just a simple chemical reaction that takes place in the human body.”

“Is it?” he questioned, because part of him knew that it was, and the other part of him didn’t give a fuck what it was, because he just wanted to feel the warmth of her lips beneath his.

“It is,” she said. “So it’s probably not a good idea for us to do anything about it.”

“You’re right,” he forced himself to say.  "It’s probably the worst idea ever.”  His hand moved from her cheek to push into her hair, grounding her in place. 

Felicity wet her lips again. “Yes.  The worst idea ever.”

She didn’t try to back away. She just kept standing there, playing her fingers against his shirt as her gaze drifted from his eyes to his lips and back again, and Oliver knew all he had to do was lean down. All he had to do was get a little closer, and she would do the rest.  Because he knew she didn’t give a fuck about what chemicals were in play here, either.

Oliver curled his fingers into the hair at the nape of her neck, inhaling deeply as he silently acknowledged the strength of his desire for this woman.  Hell, right at this moment, he’d give up every damn thing he owned just to learn what sound she would make when his tongue swept past her lips for the first time. 

But was that really what was best for either of them? 

This wasn’t exactly a normal vacation, and they weren’t exactly a normal couple. Felicity could very well be crazy. Or she could be perfectly sane, which meant he was the crazy one. Oliver couldn’t be sure which of those were true, but he did know two things:  the first was that Felicity planned to “open” him, and probably could, and he didn’t know if he was ready for it; and the second was that, if he started kissing her, he wouldn’t want to stop.

That last thought sobered him, and Oliver finally found the strength to straighten, dropping his hand from her hair and pulling away.  “I should say goodnight now, Felicity.”

She closed her eyes for a moment before nodding.

Oliver stepped back off the plastic mat and onto the wood floor, yanking on his shoes and heading toward the front door quickly, before he had time to change his mind. He reached for the handle and opened it, sensing her close behind him.  Before he stepped outside, he turned to see her face again. She was still just as lovely as ever – especially with tiny gold hairs sticking up from her tousled ponytail – and he had to reassure his disgruntled body that this was the right thing to do.

When he’d made it safely out onto the front porch, Felicity leaned up against the doorframe and looked up to his eyes.  “What cabin are you in, Oliver?”

Don’t answer!  “Cabin 9.”

“I’ll pick you up at 8 a.m.,” she assured, as if he’d agreed to the arrangement long ago.  “I’ll show you my woods, just as they were meant to be seen.”

Oliver absorbed the sight of her beautiful body haloed by the soft light from inside the cabin. “Okay,” he agreed without an ounce of regret.  He probably just needed to see where this thing took him.  After all, he was already floundering out in the middle of nowhere; he figured there had to be a logical conclusion to all of this.  He just wished it didn’t seem as if she already knew what it was.

Felicity smiled with his acquiescence. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” he repeated as he stepped off the porch and onto the gravel.  Oliver felt her bright eyes on his back, all the way down the driveway.  When he finally made it to the road, he congratulated himself for not turning around and heading back for that kiss, no matter how much his body and soul begged for it.

A/N:  Hi!  Thank you so much for reading!  I would love to hear your comments.  Also, come talk to me on Tumblr anytime at TinaDay3W :)

Up next...Chapter 4:  Soothing the Savage Beast

Chapter Text

Oliver’s alarm woke him at seven and he jumped up out of bed.  Felicity was coming, all set to flutter her way into his world and drag him off to the woods, and Oliver needed time to prepare.  Today held too many unknowns, and too much potential chaos, and he needed his wits about him.

He proceeded with his usual morning routine, completing his sit-ups and push-ups before hopping into the shower.  He tried not to think about Frolicking Freebird Felicity, but as he ran shampoo through his hair, he couldn’t prevent his mind from drifting to the previous night. The entire evening felt like a test, with the crazy, golden-haired beauty engaging him in one contest after the next, to see who would call Uncle first. Felicity wanted to “open” him. And, as frightening a thought as that was, Oliver knew he wanted to open her, too.  Because his little fairy had layers, a hell of a lot of layers, and he wanted nothing more than to peel them away.

The hot water poured over Oliver’s back, and he closed his eyes to picture the look on Felicity’s face two evenings ago, when he’d said he was on vacation.  Just the mention of it had sent her into a moment of lucidity bordering on normalcy. Why?  If she wasn’t silly, frivolous, devil-may-care-and-I’ll-nail-this-damn-picture-to-the-wall-if-I-want-to Felicity, then who was she?  Could he ever possibly find out?

Oliver shook his head as he stepped out of the shower and dried off.  Wrapping his towel around his waist, he stared at his personal care items, lined up in order of usage:  deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, shaver, comb and cologne. They were always like that, because he’d enacted his morning routine in exactly the same manner for as long as he could recall.  He wondered if Felicity had a routine.  She probably didn’t. She probably had to search for where she left her perfume.  And she probably forgot to brush her teeth sometimes, too.  Did that make her crazy?  Or did it just make him obsessive-compulsive?

Oliver stared at the line of products.  He moved his deodorant to the end of the line.  He smiled. There. See?  I can be adventurous.  I can do things differently

Felicity would not keep him off-kilter.  He would simply choose to be off-kilter, and beat her at her own game.  He would show her that he could put his deodorant on after his cologne, damn it.

Oliver left the bathroom with a sense of accomplishment.  He would have to go into the woods this morning – into all of that disgruntling nature – but he would do it with a smile on his face.  He had no earthly desire to see the 400 species of trees Felicity told him were out there, but she didn’t have to know that. He could take whatever she dished out.

After pulling on a black T-shirt and khaki cargo pants, Oliver moved hurriedly to his laptop. He took a seat on the plaid-cushioned chair, knowing only minutes remained for him to check on work.  But as he waited for the computer to start, a sickly feeling crawled into his chest, along with the echo of Felicity’s voice: Did you know that there are over 400 species of trees in the Blue Ridge Mountains?

His fingers twitched against the keyboard.  That sounds like a lot of fucking trees. 

Had she done it again? Had she lied to him?  Had she looked right at him, after their slow squirrel discussion the night before, and lied about trees?

Oliver gritted his teeth as he typed Blue Ridge Mountain trees into the search engine.  The information appeared swiftly.  Blue Ridge harbored 1400 herbaceous plants…34 types of salamanders…and 158 species of trees.

158 species of trees, Felicity,” he seethed.  Why?  Why couldn’t she just be honest with him?  Why did she make these things up?  Who the hell cared how many trees were in the Blue Ridge?  She could have just said a lot. That wouldn’t have been a lie. Why did she have to lie?

Oliver leaned back in the log chair and stared up at the log ceiling. 

Why does she keep doing this?  

Admittedly, at first, he thought the lies were just part of the craziness of her. But now, as he looked back on each little deception, Oliver didn’t believe that any more. The lies were too exact and well placed, each one exaggerated enough to become obvious the moment he took the time to think about it.  Which probably meant it all had a purpose in her mind.  But what the hell could that be?

Oliver just didn’t know what to do with her; he didn’t know what to think about her. She’d lied to him again and again, about silly things like squirrels and lemonade and trees, but he also believed she’d lied about a much more fundamental thing – because Oliver didn’t believe for a second that Felicity was a freelance nature reporter. He knew she was a patient, just like him, and he wanted nothing more than for her to admit it. Not because he wanted to expose some flaw in her, but because he didn’t care that she was a patient. It didn’t matter if she needed help. After all, as much as he’d fought the admission, the fact remained that he needed help, too.

Flipping his computer back off, Oliver ran his fingers across his eyelids and took a deep breath in. Felicity. How could one tiny woman manage to crawl so far under his skin in so short a period of time?

She’d worked her way inside him, not just with her ridiculous lies, but with her kindness and caring and beauty.  God, she was beautiful, and Oliver wanted nothing more than to touch her.  He wanted to touch her heart, and he wanted to touch her body. But he knew he shouldn’t.

The conversation they’d had at the end of last night was a good one.  They’d agreed not to act on the attraction between them, and Oliver knew that was for the best.  Adding a physical component to this bizarre relationship would only complicate the shit out of it. He was glad that Felicity had been the voice of reason after he’d blurted out his desire to kiss her, because he was almost absolutely certain that he shouldn’t kiss her.  Or grab hold of her and peel her clothes off. Or push himself inside her skin, just like she was already inside his.  That would all be a terrible mistake, right? 

Tire wheels crunched against his gravel driveway and Oliver’s head popped up.  He sprung out of his chair and headed for the door, hoping to catch the silent, red-hooded young man before he had the chance to scurry away. Oliver reached the door handle and yanked it open.  But instead of the stealthy delivery boy, Oliver found Felicity. 

The little fairy perched herself on his front porch, holding onto his food tray and gazing up at him with sparkling blue eyes.  “Breakfast at your service, sir,” she sung with a curtsey.

Oliver barely registered how delectable she looked in her matching heather gray yoga pants and jacket before he noticed the delivery boy already returning to his van. 

“Have a nice day, Felicity!” the young man hollered from beneath his red hood as he eased into the driver’s seat.

“You too, Roy!” she yelled back.

Oliver’s brow arched. “The meal delivery guy talks to you?”

“Of course.   Doesn’t he talk to you?”

“No. He’s never said a word to me.”

Felicity shrugged. “He’s just a little shy. Once he gets used to you, he’ll babble your ear off.”  She smiled up into Oliver’s eyes as she wriggled past him and fluttered into his cabin, her manly hiking boots barely making a sound on the log floor.

Oliver closed the door behind her, wondering just how much time Felicity spent at Blissful Blue. Enough time for red-hoodie Roy to get used to her, apparently.  Enough time for her to be comfortable traipsing through the woods.  Enough time for her to know Digg in an official capacity. Did she come here every chance she got? Was she like Tommy, a stressed out executive who’d found peace up here in these mountains? 

Turning toward her, Oliver watched as she delivered his food to the coffee table and then plopped down on the plaid couch cushions.  She stole the croissant from his tray, breaking off a flaky piece and popping it into her mouth. Then she gave him a brilliant, silly grin as she proceeded to eat his breakfast, and Oliver focused on the perfect upturn of her bright pink lips.  Looking at her right this moment, he honestly couldn’t imagine Freebird Forest Felicity ever being stressed out.

“You want some?” she asked, holding the partially devoured croissant up in the air.  “I mean, it’s yours, of course.  And you really should eat something before we head out. The food here is amazing, right?”

Oliver moved to join her on the couch, sitting far enough away so that he didn’t risk touching her. He pivoted himself to look into her eyes and watched as she smiled and held the croissant out to him. He took it, shoving a bite into his mouth.

“Did you sleep well, Oliver?”

He nodded as he swallowed. “I did.”

“Oh, good. Honestly, I was hoping you would still be asleep when I got here.  That way I could have served you breakfast in bed.  But you probably don’t want to go lay back down now; you don’t seem like the type to take a rest after you’ve already gotten up for the day.”

He stared at her for a long minute, not sure which part of her statement was the most worrisome: the fact that she’d planned to break into his cabin while he slept; her use of the word honestly; the thought of seeing her smiling down at him when he opened his eyes for the first time; or the suggestion that he wasn’t capable of napping. And no, he never took a nap, but she didn’t need to know that.

Oliver chewed thoughtfully on the last bite of the croissant, trying to decide which troublesome topic he wanted to address first.  Then he grabbed his orange juice glass and took a big swig before sinking back into the couch and locking her eyes with his.  “Well, we do have to head out into the woods this morning, so I suppose we should plan on having breakfast in bed another day,” he offered, watching in anticipation as the words reached her ears.

And then it came – that sweet little blush of pink he knew would light her cheeks the moment she understood his suggestion.  He loved the subtle widening of her eyes, and the way her tongue peeked out to wet her lips in response. Damn, he could kiss her so easily. He could press her into these couch cushions and do a hundred different things to her.  Things that would make her whimper and gasp and moan. But that wasn’t an option, was it? Hadn’t they agreed last night that none of that was going to happen?  And, if that were true, then what the hell were they doing talking about breakfast in bed right now?

Oliver watched in fascination as Felicity leaned toward him, bringing her hand to his face. Her fingers trembled, just slightly, as she ran them across his jaw, and then wiped a tiny piece of croissant from his chin stubble.  “You’re right, of course; we have things to do today,” she agreed.  “Breakfast in bed will have to wait.”  And then she took his glass out of his hand, brought it to her lips, drank the rest of his orange juice, and set the cup down before bouncing off of the couch cushions to step toward the door.

His eyes followed her across the room.  As she paused to reach for the door handle, his gaze drifted down to her ass, which was scrumptiously outlined by her clinging, heather grey yoga pants.  The matching fitted jacket didn’t come past her waist, and he zeroed in on the tiny triangular shadow of her black thong panties, just before she turned back to look at him. 

“Are you coming, Oliver?”

He coughed. “Yup,” he said, pulling his eyes back up to her face.  “Coming.”

She waited patiently as he stood, gathered his mostly-full food tray, and brought it back to the porch, setting it down by the door.  Felicity eased the door shut behind them as Oliver straightened.  Then she looked up to his face and reached out to him. “Hold my hand?” she encouraged, her voice as gentle and flawless as he knew her touch would be.

Oliver didn’t hesitate. He took her hand in his, threading their fingers together.  He registered the softness and warmth of the feeling just a moment before Felicity stepped off the porch, guiding him into the forest behind his cabin.

Felicity moved him through the trees and underbrush, with no trail or beaten path in sight, seemingly knowing exactly where she was going.  He followed her with utmost trust, but still said a silent prayer that they would be able to find their way back out one day.  He had no desire for a hiker to find his half-eaten body in a week.

“I take it you know where we are?” Oliver questioned despite himself.  Although he’d been attempting to imitate her amazingly nonchalant attitude, the thought of various and sundry forest creatures had simply gotten the better of him. There were 34 types of goddamn salamanders out here, for fuck’s sake.

“Don’t worry,” she offered with a squeeze of his hand.  “I’ll take good care of you.”

“I wasn’t worried,” he protested to the back of her head.  “It’s just that everything looks pretty much the same around here and I know you don’t have GPS or…”

Felicity stopped suddenly, cutting off his words.  The rapid, unexpected movement caused him to bump into her backside.  Oliver dropped his hold on her hand to reach for her waist, gripping both of her hips with his fingers to prevent her from toppling over. 

Felicity rested her back against his chest as she turned her head to peek up into his face. “Thank you for steadying me.”

The length of her body fit perfectly onto his, her warmth permeating through his T-shirt and cargo pants. “You’re welcome. Forgive my clumsiness.”

“Oh, it was my fault,” she insisted, patting his hands before stepping aside to stare at a nearby tree. Oliver would have been more amazed by the fact that she’d just accepted responsibility for something, had he not been wholly dejected by the instant lack of warmth. 

Felicity stood quietly for several minutes, just staring up at the tree branches, until Oliver eventually began shuffling his feet.  “So, we’re here now,” he announced, anxious to proceed with this bird watching of hers and then retreat from these woods as quickly as possible. “What do we do?”

“Patience, Oliver. I have to make sure this is the spot.” She fingered the knots of the oak tree, and then circled the trunk completely, before returning to her exact spot of origin. “Yes, I believe this is the one. The picture looks exactly like this.”

Oliver stared at the trunk in front of her, wondering how she could possibly determine that this one tree – in an entire forest of them – was the one she was searching for. He shook his head. “If you think so.”

Felicity glanced back to him. “Will you give me your hand?”

Holy hell, how many times is she going to ask me to touch her today?

He held his hand out, palm up, and Felicity smiled as she grasped him by the wrist and pulled him forward. His chest bumped up onto her back again as she placed his hand on the oak’s trunk, trapping herself between him and the tree.  Oliver felt the roughness of the bark beneath his fingertips, but he barely registered the sensation. Because all he could think of was how much he loved having her body against him again.  And how cold it would be if she left.

“Do you feel that?” she whispered, her gaze fastened to the oak before them.

She took a deep breath in, causing her back to shift against his chest, and Oliver closed his eyes. He breathed in her scent, that intoxicatingly sweet mix of fresh soap and tiny flowers, as he allowed his body to lean heavier into hers.  “What do you want me to feel?”

“The tree, Oliver. All of the little cracks and crevices in the bark.”  She moved his hand against the trunk as she spoke, her fingers on top of his as she reverently traced the tiny indentations.  “Can you feel them? How they each have their own path, and how they all wind together?”

He opened his eyes again, looking at the top of her gold head, and he fought the urge to press his lips into her hair.  “It’s just a tree, Felicity.”

“Oh, no, it’s not. It’s alive,” she insisted, twisting inside the shelter of his body in order to look up to his face.  “Everything here is alive. Can’t you feel it?”

God, he didn’t know. All he knew was how she felt pressed up against him:  soft and warm and perfect.  “It’s just a tree,” he repeated, because he wanted to see the little spark of indignation that he knew would light her eyes.  She didn’t disappoint.

“Oh, Oliver,” she groaned, but her mouth eased into a smile.  She reached up to his face, placing her hand against his cheek for one brief moment. Then she stepped away from him.

He wanted to grab her. To pull her back. To press her up against the tree trunk and…

Felicity fell down.

Oliver startled. “Felicity!” he shouted, struggling to catch her as she landed on the ground at his feet.

“What are you doing?” she asked, staring at his outstretched arms.

His brow furrowed. “I’m helping you get back up.”

“Why?”

“Because you fell.”

“No. I sat.”

“You sat?”

“Yes. And now I’m going to lay.”

Oliver watched in dread as she eased her back to the forest floor, stretching out her legs and gazing sweetly up at him. 

She doesn’t actually think I’m going to accompany her in this, does she?

“Oliver Queen! Come on down!” she shouted in her best The Price Is Right voice.

He huffed out a laugh. “No, I’m fine,” he insisted, crossing his arms over his chest.  He was not about to lie on the ground.  Who knows what had pooped there.

A hefty tug against his pants made his eyes wander down.  Felicity’s fingers were wrapped around his pant leg, yanking on the material over and over again. He looked from her hand to her face and watched a rascally grin curve her lips.  “I imagine this will irritate you sooner or later, Oliver.”

Sooner.

“Come lay next to me; you’re blocking my view and I don’t want to miss anything,” she said, staring up at him for a moment before adding,  “I promise I won’t bite.”

Oliver glared up at the tree branches, silently admitting that he would be more inclined to lie beside her if she said she would bite him. But that was another issue altogether.

His pant leg jiggled for the twentieth time and Oliver sighed.  Okay, okay, you win, Felicity. Again.  But he wasn’t about to let her know it. 

Hopping down onto the dirt floor beside her, Oliver leaned back and pretended that the ground wasn’t hard as a rock and probably covered in 400 species of animal droppings. “Yes, this does give a much better view,” he offered instead, trying to sound incredibly interested.  He didn’t have to look at her to know she was still smiling.

Time passed in bizarre silence. Oliver initially attempted to discern birds in the trees, to possibly even see this purple fantini she was so obsessed with, but gave up quickly when he realized that everything here looked exactly the same.  One big blur of green and brown, punctuated by an occasional noise that made him wonder what little beady eyes were faceted on his prone form.  He was simply not prepared for a squirrel attack at this juncture.

When he’d first joined her on the forest floor, Oliver could count the number of acorns beneath his back based on his heightened level of discomfort.  But now, the freezing cold earth had turned him to stone. Good Lord, will she be finding this bird of hers sometime soon? Or is she waiting for my entire body to go numb first?  Why won’t she just take some damn pictures and be done with this?

Realization hit Oliver like a fist to his chest.  He took a sharp breath in and then exhaled slowly.  “Felicity,” he began, trying to keep his voice from rising, “if we’re waiting out here to get another picture of the fantini bird, then why don’t you have your camera with you?”

“Oh, I don’t think he’ll come back today.  That would be like lightning striking twice on the same tree.”

His head whipped to the side to see her.  “But if we’re not bird watching, then why the hell are we out here, lying on the cold forest floor, staring at trees?”

Felicity turned to meet his gaze, her face inches from his.  “Because you need it.”

What?  No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do,” she sighed, looking back up through the boughs to the blue sky.

Oliver harrumphed and turned his gaze up, too.  Damn it!  Why does she feel like she knows what’s best for me?  What gives her the unearthly power of deciding my needs? “No, I don’t,” he mumbled beneath his breath, not caring if she heard.

Time continued, but Oliver didn’t say another word.  He lay stiff and rigid beside her, carefully eyeing the tree branches, with every muscle in his body tense against the frigid forest floor.  At one point, an acorn dropped beside his head, and he knew – if it had landed six inches to the right – that it could have easily poked his eye out.

“Oliver,” Felicity spoke finally, her sweet voice a welcome intrusion in the creepy stillness. “Why do you hate nature?”

“I don’t hate nature,” he insisted, inwardly cursing the pinecone that seemed to have become a permanent part of his left butt cheek.

“Then why aren’t you mountain climbing with your parents?”

“I told you. I don’t like mountain climbing.”

“So then why aren’t you enjoying the forest?”

“I just…I find it overrated.”

Overrated?  What about all of the wonder around you?  The delicate, beautiful shapes of original, irreplaceable living things?”

Oliver resisted his body’s pull toward her childlike appreciation of life.  “The forest is uncontrolled, Felicity.  Dangerous.  You have no idea what is going to happen out here.  We could be eaten by something big and hairy at any moment.”

“Hmm. So what upsets you is the safety issue?”

“I suppose.”

“The fact that you can’t control what happens?”

“I am not a control freak.”

“I didn’t say you were. But you did inform me that you tell people what to do for a living.”

“I didn’t put it that way. You did.”

“But it’s true.”

He sighed. “Yes, it’s true.”

“What about your parents? Did you encourage them to go on their hiking trip?”

“No, I wasn’t crazy about the idea.”

“Because they might get hurt?”

“I believe it would be quite easy for two sixty-year-olds to fall off of a mountain.”

“But what about the thrill of it? What about them doing something new and refreshing and invigorating, and being able to hold the experience in their hearts for the rest of their lives?”

“What about them breaking their necks and that being the end of their lives?”

Felicity sat silently for a moment. “So you tried to stop them?”

“Yes.”

“And what did they say?”

“They just asked me to come with them.”

“So they know about your little problem.”

Oliver worked hard to stare straight up into space.  “What little problem?”

“The fact that you like to tell other people what to do with their lives.”

He turned his face back to hers in order to glare at her better.  “I like to help people understand what’s best for them, if that’s what you mean.”

“No, that’s not what I mean,” she hummed, still gazing dreamily into the tree boughs.

Oliver lay there, just looking at the side of her face, for a long minute.  And then he watched as her hand eased over to his arm. He saw her fingers land on his skin, warm and soft against his forearm.  And then Felicity started it again – the petting – the slow and lulling movement he’d come to know as hers.

He wanted to be mad at her right now.  He wanted to fume and growl and glower.  But, if he wanted to do all that, he knew he would have to stop this petting of hers.

Oliver didn’t stop her. He didn’t move at all. He just lay there, feeling her touch. She stroked his skin, over and over again, soft and easy and languid.  And he actually felt his heart rate slowing from the calm, soothing motion.

“Felicity?” he mumbled, his speech thicker than it had been a moment ago.

“Yes?”

“Are you petting me right now?”

Her fingers stopped their movement momentarily, settling onto his skin.  A little giggle eased past her lips.  “Does it feel like I’m petting you?”

“Pretty much.”

“I don’t mean for it to feel that way.  Do you want me to stop?”

Oliver concentrated on her hand, resting warm and still on his arm, and shook his head.  “No, I don’t want you to stop.”

Felicity immediately began the soft motion again, trailing her fingers up and down.  “I’m glad you don’t want me to stop.  I like touching you.”

He had to close his eyes for a minute while he absorbed that information.  “I like it, too.  But it’s very methodical, like petting.”

“Hmm, I guess I could see that.  It’s called therapeutic touch.”

His brow arched as he opened his eyes to see her.  “Therapeutic touch?”

“Touch is an incredible means of communication, Oliver.  And it’s a wonderful way to relax muscles, lower blood pressure, and calm anxiety. The skin is actually the body’s largest organ, so touching the skin can simultaneously touch the heart and the mind and the soul.”  She turned to look at him, giving him a soft smile.  “Essentially, therapeutic touch can soothe the savage beast.”

Oliver’s mouth dropped open. Did she just call me a savage beast? 

“So I take it this is more of the psychological drivel you’ve learned in your time up here at Blissful Blue?” he grumbled as he stared into her.  He still wanted to be mad at her, but the petting was making it difficult. And he sure as hell didn’t want to admit that her “therapeutic touch” worked on him.

Felicity looked back to the puffy white clouds above the trees.  “Actually, your best friend gave an amazing lecture on it a few years back.”

“You mean John Diggle gave a talk on therapeutic touch here at Blue?”

“He did.”

“Well, that’s odd. Because the only touch I get from Digg is when he’s beating the shit out of me in the boxing ring at our gym.”

Felicity chuckled. “Well, I guess for big, growly men like the two of you, punching can be a form of therapeutic touch.”

Oliver glanced down at her hand against his arm, watching the movement that accompanied the soft, blissful feeling.  He could literally feel his body calming down as her dainty fingers moved across his skin, and he allowed his shoulders to relax against the ground while he looked back to her face. “I think I like your version of it better.”

Felicity’s blue eyes met his once again.  “I didn’t mean to make you think I was petting you.  I just thought…I thought maybe you needed it.”

“Why would you think I need it?”

“Because it seems like you haven’t been touched in a while.”

Oliver stared into her. He stared hard, trying to find some explanation for this pull toward her.  “No, I haven’t been touched in a while,” he admitted.  Although it wouldn’t matter how often or how recently he’d felt anyone, because her touch was different from anything else, ever.

She nodded with his words, and Oliver saw a flicker of sadness pass through her eyes. He studied her then, examining the way her body moved against the cold ground as she breathed in deeply and exhaled slowly, and he saw something he hadn’t seen before.  Frolicking Freebird Felicity still lay beside him, and she still touched him, but at that moment Oliver could see – so clearly – the loneliness inside her.

His fingers clenched against the dirt floor.  “What about you, Felicity?  Has it been a while since you’ve been touched?”

She turned her gaze back to the sky. “Mmm…sometimes it feels like it’s been forever.”

His chest constricted with her words, his muscles stiffening as he watched the gentle breeze ruffle her gold hair.  He stared at the side of her face, and the little upturn of her nose, as his hands twitched by his sides. He shouldn’t touch her. He shouldn’t. 

Don’t do it, Oliver.  Just don’t. Change the subject. Talk about anything else.

“You know, Digg made me the godfather of his daughter, Sara,” he offered, although he wasn’t quite sure why that particular sentence popped out of his mouth.

But then Felicity smiled and whispered, “Of course he did,” and Oliver knew exactly why he’d told her. He wanted her to see him as…more.  More than the savage beast. 

“I bet you’re an amazing godfather,” she added, and Oliver cringed.

He felt her fingers move across his skin, over and over again, and he shook his head. “I’m not, actually. I’ve never even held baby Sara, that I can recall.”

“No? Why not?”

“I don’t know. She’s so small. Innocent.  I might break her.”

Felicity’s hand stopped, pausing to hold onto his arm in a firm yet gentle grasp.  “Sara doesn’t need you to be perfect, Oliver. She just needs you to be there for her.”

“But I don’t know if I’ll be any good at that.  Honestly, I don’t even know why Digg picked me.”

“It sounds like he picked you because you’re his best friend and he loves you.”

Oliver’s shoulders fell. “You’re right; he does. Although I’m not sure why.”

Her fingers started their slow path across his arm again as she closed her eyes.  “It’s because you’re very loveable, Oliver Queen.”

Loveable?

He wasn’t sure if a woman had ever called him that, except for his mother. 

Oliver watched his forest fairy for a long moment before he turned onto his side, easing up on his elbow in order to get a better look at her.  He was careful to move slowly, not wanting to break the contact of her hand on his arm as he positioned himself beside her.  And then Oliver gazed down at the softness of her features as she lay on the cold, hard ground.

No woman had ever called him loveable like Felicity just did. He’d been called attractive many, many times.  He’d been called skilled by women he’d slept with.  And there was that one time he’d walked off the Queen Consolidated elevator on the wrong floor and overheard a group of women in an employee lounge referring to him as infinitely fuckable. It hadn’t been the worst moment of his life. But nothing could hold a candle to this: feeling Felicity’s gentle touch against his skin as she smiled softly into the tree-shaded sunshine and called him loveable.

He wanted to touch her. Goddamn it, he wanted it so badly. But he knew where that would lead, because he could so easily envision her naked and writhing beneath him. Felicity wanted his touch as much as he wanted hers, and that meant muddying their already confusing-as-hell relationship. He couldn’t do that. Could he?

No, I can’t.  Not when she keeps lying to me, over and over again.  Absolutely not.

Unless…

What if that changes?  What if she admits she lied?  What if she takes responsibility for her actions?  What if she tells me the truth?  I could touch her then, couldn’t I? 

“Felicity,” he began, his voice breaking on her name.

“Yes?”

“I know you lied to me again.”

“Oh? About what?”

“You told me last night that there are over 400 species of trees in the Blue Ridge.”

Oliver watched her tranquil face, awaiting a response.  None came. “Well, there aren’t,” he added in her silence.  “There are only 158 species.”

He stared at her from his spot on the cold, hard earth, wanting her to admit that she’d been caught. Wanting her to look guilty, for once. But she didn’t. Not at all.  And Oliver knew that fact should make him mad. Hell, he should be completely pissed off at her, and want nothing more than to jump up off of this dirt floor and run in the opposite direction. 

But he didn’t want to run. He wanted to stay here, with her. He wanted her to keep touching him. And he wanted to touch her back.

Oliver exhaled as he shook his head. “You’ve told me some fairly ridiculous lies, and yet I still feel like I can trust you,” he admitted. “Why is that?”

Felicity’s fingers ceased their movements against his arm.  She opened her eyes to look up into his. “You’re right, Oliver. I did lie to you, and I’m sorry.”

As the lead weight lifted off his chest, Oliver breathed in deeply for the first time in as long as he could remember.  “Thank you for that, Felicity.”

She smiled softly in response before resuming the path of her fingers on his skin.

Oliver concentrated on her sky blue. “Can you tell me why you lied to me?”

“I can. But I don’t think you’ll like the answer.”

He huffed out a laugh. “Try me, please.”

“Well…sometimes you have to light a powder keg’s fuse, and have it blow up, in order to see what’s inside.”

Did she just call me a powder keg?  Good Lord, first I’m a savage beast, and now I’m a powder keg? What the hell is she going to call me next?

“Just so we’re clear here, Felicity, I did not blow up.”

“No, but you did get all growly and broody, like a big old grizzly bear.”

Apparently, she’s going to call me a grizzly bear next. 

Oliver shifted his body closer to hers, in order to pin her with a determined stare. “So what you’re telling me right now is that you thought I was a big, growly grizzly bear, and so you figured it would be fun to poke me with a stick?”

Felicity burst out laughing. “Well, when you put it that way, it sounds like a pretty dumb thing to do.”

“You’re damn right it was a dumb thing to do.  And you don’t strike me as a dumb person.  In fact, I’m beginning to think you’re a fucking genius, so I really don’t get why you did that. If you thought I was a bear, how could you possibly know I wouldn’t hurt you?”

She quieted then, her giggles subsiding as she looked into him.  “Because, Oliver.  You’re a good person with a good heart.”

“But you just met me. How do you know that?”

Felicity shrugged. “I just do,” she said, closing her eyes again. 

Oliver gazed down at her tiny prone form, haloed in leaves and twigs.  She looked so fragile right now.  So small and innocent and sweet. 

Is this what she does everyday?  Does she go around looking for crazy-ass powder kegs, inserting herself into their lives so she can blow them up to see what’s inside?  And does she really think she can handle something that dangerous, just because she’s learned some dime-store psychology while on vacation at Blissful Blue? 

Oliver’s mouth soured with his thoughts.  He hated to think of the pain behind her sweet eyes if any of those bombs blew up in her face. “Felicity?”

“Yes?”

“I don’t want you to poke any more bears, because I don’t want you to get hurt.”

She smiled tenderly with his words. “Oliver, I assure you, I’m tougher than I look.”

I already know you're tough.  And I know you're bright and brilliant and joyous.  But that's exactly the kind of person the world can break.

Oliver wanted to demand that she never poke another bear again, as long as she lived. But somehow, he knew she wouldn’t agree to that.  Because she was going to do what she wanted to do, and live on the edge, like the frolicking freebird she was. And knowing that made one thing perfectly clear.  “You’ve been challenging me these past few days.  Haven’t you, Felicity?”

Her hand continued its gentle path up and down his arm.  “Yes, I suppose I have.”

“But…why? Other than the powder keg thing.”

“Because I want to know that you’ll fight back.”

Oliver leaned in even closer. “Why do you want me to fight back?”

“So I know you haven’t given up.”

“Haven’t given up on what?”

Felicity gazed up into his eyes. “On life, Oliver.”

His shoulders deflated.

Life. She had an obsession with it. Drinking lemon juice made her feel alive.  Tree trunks made her feel alive. And the attraction between them…that made her feel alive, too.

Oliver watched her for a long minute. He watched the sunlight reflect off of the sky blue of her eyes.  Watched the breeze brush her hair across the ground.  Watched the tiny tremble that moved over her pink lips as she waited for his assurance.  And he couldn’t hold himself back from her any longer. 

Oliver reached out to her. Moving his hand onto her cheek, he eased across her smooth skin before pushing his fingers into her hair. Felicity’s response to him was immediate, and a gentle, cooing sound bubbled up from her throat as she leaned into his touch.  Oliver tangled his fingers up in her loose gold curls, holding her steady as he pinned her eyes with his own.

“I haven’t given up on life, Felicity.”

He thought she’d been relaxed before, lying here on her bed of leaves, but that was nothing compared to now.  With his words, Felicity’s entire body sank into the dirt floor beneath her as her fingers came to a rest against his forearm.  “Thank you,” she breathed.  “Thank you, Oliver.” Her eyes fluttered closed again and she smiled gently into the sunshine, with her eyelashes flush to her cheeks and a look of serene peace on her face. 

She looked like an angel, with a halo of gold around her head, and Oliver couldn’t stop staring at her. He moved his fingers inside her hair, stroking her scalp as he did, and listened to the purrs that emanated from her throat.  Then he trailed his hand down, out of the blond softness and onto her shoulder, stroking down her arm all the way to her hand.  Felicity breathed in deeply and then exhaled on a sigh, and he couldn’t help the swell of pride in his chest.  He could perform therapeutic touch just as well as she could, it seemed.  Although, as he trailed his hand up and down her arm, he wasn’t exactly sure which of them was getting the therapy.  Touching her felt like a reward for something, and he wasn’t sure if he deserved such a medal, but it was shiny and sparkly and he wanted to hold onto it for as long as he could.  For as long as she let him.

He eased his hand back up her arm again, stilling against her shoulder for moment as he watched her heartbeat pulse in the hollow of her throat.  His fingers sought out the tiny motion of their own accord, marveling at the life beneath her skin.  Oliver listened intently to the little mewling sound she made as he stroked from the base of her throat to her chin and back again. 

“My God, that feels so good,” Felicity murmured, and then bit into her lip.

Oliver smiled, because he knew she hadn’t meant to say the words out loud.  But, as much as he loved just quietly touching her, the sound of her voice made him realize how much he missed hearing her thoughts. “Talk to me,” he urged. “Tell me something about yourself.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Anything. Tell me about your parents.”

She giggled. “My parents?  Is this some psycho babble you’re learning up here at Blissful Blue, Oliver?”

He couldn’t help chuckling with her. “I suppose it is.” He continued to stroke her skin, his fingers easing onto her soft cheek and then into her vibrant hair.

She hummed contentedly. “Hmm, let’s see. I’m an only child. My mother is a very free-spirited woman. She sculpts and paints and soul searches, and is quite formidable in her own way.  My father was a cardiac surgeon.”

“Was?”

“He died two years ago.”

“Oh. May I ask how?”

She breathed deeply, her eyelids fluttering, before she answered.  “He was a workaholic.  Day and night he was at the hospital, or at his office.  He had a massive coronary one night while working late.  Everyone had gone home for the day.  It wasn’t abnormal for him to sleep in the office, so we didn’t question where he was.  No one found him until the staff came in the next morning.”

“I…I’m sorry,” he mumbled, pulling his hand away from her.

Her eyes opened. “Don’t stop touching me, Oliver. Please don’t.”

He listened to her plea, and he complied, half because she asked it of him, half because he recognized a significant ache the moment his skin lost contact with hers. Her eyes reached into him, and Oliver could see the dulled pain of her memories behind that beautiful blue. He eased his fingers through her hair, brushing it gently down to her shoulders and then smoothing his hand all the way down her arm, before starting his path over again. 

Felicity settled further into the dirt floor as he petted her, her body relaxed and calm and definitively at home in the earth.  “I guess you take after your mother,” Oliver thought aloud.

A little laugh escaped her lips.  “I used to think she was crazy.  Can you believe that?”

His face cracked with a smile. Yes, he knew how it felt to consider a free spirit “crazy”.  But he had to admit now that Felicity wasn’t crazy; she simply took after her mother – free, and wild, and definitely formidable.  “When did you change your mind about your mother?”

“Oh, you know how it is when you grow up.  You start to look at life differently.”

“And you didn’t want to be a workaholic like your father, I take it.”

“Life is short, Oliver. I simply see my mother’s viewpoint now. I want to appreciate all of the little things. I want to appreciate every single moment for what it has to offer.  Every laugh. Every sigh.  Every tree.  Every bird.”

“Every tire,” Oliver interjected.

Felicity grinned. “Yes, the car tires, too. Everything.  It’s all about appreciation.”

Appreciation. He’d heard that word before…from Tommy.

Hell, was it possible that she knew Tommy?  Had she been here with Tommy in the past, and allowed Tommy to touch her this way? Is this where Tommy learned how to be so happy?

Oliver stiffened, unable to stomach the thought.  “You’re not seeing anyone, are you Felicity?” he asked before he could stop himself, noting the glimmer of genuine surprise in her eyes.  Of course he knew she wasn’t seeing anybody, because she’d just said that it had been forever since someone touched her, and Oliver knew, without a doubt, that if she had a man in her life, the guy would be all over her – morning, noon, and night. 

“No, I’m not seeing anyone,” she assured.  “I meant what I said to you earlier…I haven’t been touched in a very long time.”

“Good. I mean, good about the not-seeing-anyone part, not the haven’t-been-touched part.” 

Felicity smiled brilliantly in response to his fumbled words.  “Are you seeing anyone?”

He chuckled, because he knew she already knew the answer.  “No.”

“Good,” she said, and he smiled back as he watched her close her eyes once again. 

She seemed to be staring up into the sunshine, even though she couldn’t possibly see anything behind her closed eyes, and Oliver wondered what colors were popping up behind her eyelids as she turned her face toward the light above the trees. He swore she was more beautiful right now than ever before, just basking in the bright warmth, and he gave himself over to his need to touch her.  Easing his hands to her forehead, he traced the outline of her hair around her face and then drew his fingers down her neck once again, ending at the curve of her shoulder.  He wished she wasn’t wearing so many clothes.  Not that he wanted to undress her right here on the forest floor.  No, of course he didn’t want that.  He just wanted a little more skin to touch.

Oliver stared at her jacket. There was a zipper at the base of her throat.  He reached for it, assuring himself that he would only grant himself access to a tiny bit more of her. Just a tiny bit more. Grasping the metal between his fingertips, he drew the zipper down a few inches.  When Felicity’s breath caught in her throat, he stopped.

He saw nothing but cream skin beneath the section of jacket he’d opened, and he traced the edge of the material, easing it toward her shoulder as he slipped his fingers underneath to explore the straight line of her collarbone.  The moment he pushed his hand under the heather gray edge, Felicity moaned out loud.  His eyes flew to hers, curious to see if she would be embarrassed by the rather bold noise she’d made, but her lids remained closed, and her face looked just as serene as ever. Oliver tested his boundaries, moving his hand lower and massaging across the upper part of her chest.

“Mmm, Oliver, you’re like a magician,” she murmured, turning her face toward his body as if seeking some refuge.

Oliver inched even closer to her, silently offering his support, and the moment her forehead came into contact with his bicep Felicity sank into him.  Her fingers curled into the skin on his lower arm as she purred in response to the continued movement of his hand beneath the collar of her jacket. Oliver glanced down to her chest and noticed the tautness of her nipples straining against the material. He gritted his teeth together, trying to maintain his composure as she emitted needy noises with every stroke of his fingers on her bare skin. 

Felicity’s legs shifted against the ground, her knees pressed together as she purred, and Oliver swallowed hard against the rapid pulsation of his heart inside his throat. He knew he couldn’t keep these touches of skin on skin chaste for much longer.  For his own sanity, he pulled his fingers out from beneath the fabric and returned to the familiarity of petting her jacket sleeve.  But Felicity seemed to enjoy that touch just as much, and she snuggled her forehead even farther into the crook of his arm. Oliver dropped his nose into her hair, taking a deep breath to fill his lungs with the sweet floral scent of her gold curls.  Felicity gripped tighter to his forearm the moment he breathed her in, and Oliver’s hand slipped off of its normal, safe path, taking a detour down to her waist. 

He lifted his head just enough to watch his fingers as they found the little indentation of her hipbone. Gripping onto that perfectly formed handle, he pulled forward, edging her body even closer to his. She was practically beneath him now, and Oliver’s lungs squeezed inside his ribcage as she licked her lips and groaned with the pressure of his fingers.  His gaze drifted up, from her lush hips to her slender waist, to her perfect breasts outline with unearthly detail by the fitted jacket, to the full lips she’d just moistened. 

He stared at her mouth. He stared hard. The desire to kiss her burned through his veins, and he knew he had to do something, to say something, to get his mind off of this craving.

“Felicity, please,” he begged, the huskiness of his voice an outright betrayal of his thoughts, “talk to me more.  Tell me something else about yourself.” 

She reached her other hand to his chest, balling the fabric of his T-shirt into her fist. “Hmm…what do you want to know, Oliver?” she whispered, her warm breath infusing his skin through the material of his shirt.

“Anything,” he said, drawing his fingers slowly back up her body, all the way to her face. “Anything you want to tell me.”

“Well…um…uh…”

Oliver eased his hand onto her jaw, his fingers skimming dangerously close to her mouth as he watched the movement with utmost intensity. 

“I don’t…I don’t know what to say,” she mumbled, the motion causing her lower lip to brush against his thumb. Oliver groaned at the contact and Felicity gathered more of his shirt inside her fingers as she turned her face up to his.  “I’m, um…hmm…I’m…allergic…to latex.”

For a few seconds, they both froze in place, neither one daring to move a muscle.  And then Felicity’s eyes popped open, round as saucers, and she sat bolt upright.  “And peanuts! I’m allergic to peanuts, too!”

Oliver continued to lie on the ground for a moment, briefly stunned by the rapidity of her withdrawal. But then he followed her to a sitting position, facing her as she stared at him with cheeks bright as cherries. He wanted to curse the fact that they weren’t touching each other anymore, but his mind was too preoccupied by what she’d just told him.  “You’re allergic to latex?”

“And peanuts,” she reiterated, clasping her hands tightly together in her lap.  “I have a funny story about it, actually. Well, not so much funny as sad. It was my freshman year of college and I wandered into this fraternity party and I wasn’t used to drinking and I had a few of those Kool-Aid things – you know the ones they mix up in the big trash bins with the Kool-Aid and some unknown form of alcohol – and I shouldn’t have been drinking, but then they were passing around this tray of brownies, and I really thought it was just like Betty Crocker or something, and my mother always told me to stay away from peanuts, because I got a rash once when I was a kid, not that I need to carry an Epi-pen with me or anything, and so anyway I kind of stayed away from peanuts, but I’d had a bit to drink, as I said, and I didn’t notice the peanuts were in the brownie, although I didn’t know the pot was in there, either, and next thing I knew my eyelids swelled up and my lips got really big, but I didn’t even care because of…well, because of the pot, I’m assuming, although, I can assure you, I’ve never done drugs on purpose, and that was just a really unfortunate night.”

Oliver blinked a few times as he looked at her.  He wasn’t sure if he’d ever heard a longer run-on sentence in his life.  But that wasn’t what interested him.  “Why did you tell me that you’re allergic to latex, Felicity?”

Her fingers twisted around each other.  “I don’t know. I guess…you said you wanted to know something about me.”

Oliver focused in, pinning her with his eyes, because he wasn’t going to let her off that easily. “But why did you tell me about latex, specifically?”

She shook her head as she slumped against the tree trunk at her back.  “Oh, God.  It’s…it’s because you were touching me, and it felt amazing, and I was thinking about condoms.”

There it is.  Oliver rested his arms against his knees as he leaned toward her.  “So what you’re telling me is that we won’t be able to use condoms when we’re together.”

Her head tilted as she looked at him.  “I’m so sorry, Oliver. I know I said last night that it would be a mistake for us to act on this thing between us, and I shouldn’t have brought it up again, but your touch felt so incredible and I just…”

“I want you, too, Felicity,” he said, because for some unimaginable reason he didn’t think she knew that he wanted her.  Or, at least, she didn’t know how fiercely he did.

“You do?” she asked, her eyes widening again.  “I mean, you just said you do, so that’s…yeah, that’s fantastic.  And I want you, too.  Obviously.  Like, I know it’s really obvious, and I feel kind of bad about how obvious it is, but I want you to know that I’m disease free.”  She stopped talking for a moment as her eyebrows shot to her hairline and her shoulders stiffened again.  “Oh my God, I don’t know why I just said that, except that I just told you I’m allergic to latex, and I don’t want you to think I’m asking you to do something reckless, because I’m not.  I’m really not asking you to have unprotected sex with me, although I guess I kind of just did, apparently, and there are certain types of condoms I can use, but they’re made out of weird things like animal intestines, and they don’t prevent the spread of diseases anyway, and even if they did, I didn’t bring any with me, because this is Blissful Blue and I wasn’t exactly thinking that I would have this kind of situation while I was here, and I don’t think the caretaker, Pete, would have the kind of condoms I need, and dear God, I can’t even imagine having to ask sweet old Pete for condoms, so I’m just completely unprepared for all of this, but I really am disease free, although I didn’t bring medical paperwork with me or anything, but I’m sure you’re disease free, too, because you look like the type of person who is really particular about what goes on inside your body, and I promise I’m not interested in getting pregnant, I mean, I promise I’m on birth control, I’ll even show you the pills if you like, and I assure you I have no desire to be a single mother, not that there’s anything wrong with being a single mother, I’m just not interested in that, although I’ll never say never, because who knows what the future holds, but even if I wanted to be a single mother they have sperm banks for that kind of thing, and…”

“Felicity!”

She swallowed hard. “Yes?”

“Take a breath, please.”

Oliver watched as she registered his words.  Then she nodded, and inhaled and exhaled.  He saw her fingers unclench, and found that he could breathe easier himself. Undeniably, he’d pressed her on the latex allergy thing, because he wanted her to admit the truth of why she’d said it, but he had no earthly idea that it was going to send her into this kind of tailspin. 

“Are you okay?” he wondered aloud.

“I’m just…kind of…mortified,” she admitted, her eyebrows scrunching together as she looked at him.  “I don’t suppose we could just agree that the last five minutes never happened?”

Oliver shook his head slowly. “No, I can’t agree to that. Because there’s nothing for you to be embarrassed about.  You wanted to have the safe sex discussion, and I appreciate it.  Of course, you chose a really interesting way to have that particular conversation, but I would expect nothing less from you. And yes, I am disease free, although I don’t have any medical paperwork with me, either.  And no, we don’t need to use condoms when we’re together, as long as you feel comfortable with that.”

“Oh,” she said. “Okay.”

Oliver watched as she worried her lower lip in her teeth and he couldn’t help smiling. “Are you feeling better about it all now?”

“Yes, thank you,” she offered, her shoulders finally easing away from the level of her ears.  “I’m so sorry about the babbling thing.  I haven’t done that in years.”

“You used to babble?”

“All the time. Especially as a kid. My mind would just get away from me, and I couldn’t stop my mouth from going.  But I haven’t done it since I got therapy in college.”

“I take it you’ve liked psychiatric therapy ever since college, then.”

“I do like it, because it was really helpful to me.  And it’s been so long since I’ve babbled that I thought I’d completely conquered it. So that’s weird.”

“What’s weird?”

“It’s just, it must be you. There’s something about you that affects me…differently.  You’re so unexpected, Oliver.”

He stared blankly at her then, with his brow raised and his jaw unhinged, because he felt fairly certain that he’d just witnessed the ultimate pot-calling-the-kettle-black moment.

Felicity shook her head. “Or maybe it’s because I’ve never done this before.”

“Never done what?”

This,” she repeated while motioning from him to her and back again.

Oliver tried to wrap his mind around her apparent inexperience.  “So…you’ve never taken a lover before.”

She bit into her lip for a moment, and then giggled.  “Lover.  That sounds creepy no matter how you say it.”

Oliver chuckled. “Yeah, I guess it does.” He concentrated on her eyes, holding her gaze steady with his own, in the hope that she could stay focused while they discussed this rationally.  “But I have to assume that you’ve had lovers before, Felicity, since you know you can’t use latex condoms, and since you’re incredibly beautiful and I can’t imagine that men haven’t lined up for the chance to be with you.”

With his words, a flush of pink moved from her neck into her cheeks, like an artist’s canvas coming to life, and Oliver watched her in complete fascination.

“I’ve been with a few men, although I can assure you that no one has ever formed a line,” she admitted, her voice soft and soothing against his skin.  “But this – whatever this thing is between us – it’s unusual, and I don’t exactly know how to handle it.  I don’t really feel like I’m standing on even ground here.”

He huffed out another laugh. “Believe me, I know the feeling.”

Felicity smiled into his eyes. “Part of me wants to say that we’re both on vacation, and we’re both adults, and we can do whatever we want. Another part of me…”

“Thinks it might be the worst idea ever?” he finished her sentence, remembering their words from the previous night.  He watched as she took a deep breath and sighed.

“Exactly. What do you think, Oliver?”

He knew what he thought. He wanted her, plain and simple. He wanted to hold her, to taste her, to push himself inside her.  But then again, something told him there would be nothing plain or simple about being with Felicity.  She was absolutely right; whatever existed between them was unusual.  Honestly, this whole fucking situation was absolutely bizarre, and he only knew one thing for certain:  he couldn’t tolerate her lying to him.  As much as he wanted to throw caution to the wind, as much as he wanted to happily drown in his desire for her, as much as he wanted to pretend the dishonesty between them didn’t exist, he just couldn’t do it.

“I’ll tell you what I think, Felicity.  I think you’ve lied to me, repeatedly.  And even though it sounds like you’ve worked it out in your mind that your lies were actually helpful to me, I can’t be with you if you’re still lying.  So, what I want from you, before we go any further, is the truth.”

Felicity stared at him for a long moment, as if she couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of his words. Then her gaze drifted down to the dirt floor between them.  “The truth is that I’ve lied to you about more than just squirrels and trees, Oliver,” she spoke to the ground, her lips trembling with the admission.

I know that, he thought.  And he knew exactly what she’d lied about – it was the fact that she was a patient here, just like him, and not a freelance nature photographer.  At least, he hoped she wasn’t a photographer, because the picture she’d taken of the bird in the tree was unfocused and poorly composed and just terrible.  And then today, when they were supposed to be bird watching, she hadn’t even remembered to bring her camera.  If Felicity was on assignment, she was officially the worst reporter ever.  And Oliver figured National Geographic would have much higher standards than that.

No, she was absolutely not a reporter.  She was a patient, and she’d lied about it from the moment she met him.  In a way, he didn’t blame her for it.  After all, she didn’t know anything about him when she’d first stepped out of the woods and found him crouched down and growling by his blown tire.  And, as much as she insisted that she knew he was a good person from the get-go, she probably hadn’t wanted to admit her weakness in front of a complete stranger.

But they weren’t strangers anymore; they were so much more than that.  So much more than acquaintances, too.  They could be lovers.  Oliver wanted that.  He wanted to spend these few precious days of vacation wrapped up inside her body. But, in order to do that, he needed Felicity to tell him the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He just couldn’t bear to be vulnerable with her if she was unwilling to be vulnerable with him.

“Please tell me what you’ve lied to me about,” he encouraged, keeping his voice low and even as he looked to her downcast eyes.  “Because I want complete honesty from you.  About everything.”

Felicity blew out a breath as she clenched her hands together in front of her.  “It’s…it’s complicated, Oliver.”

“Then un-complicate it for me. Be honest with me.”

“I can’t give you complete honesty.”

“You can’t or you won’t?”

Felicity shook her head, running her fingers through her hair as she continued to gaze at the ground. Oliver watched as she dropped her hands back into her lap, watched as her hair fell across her shoulders. And then he saw it. A little red leaf, with tiny green veins threaded through it, clung to her gold curls.  It had wound its way into the blond strands while she’d been lying on the ground, and it refused to leave now that she sat up.

Oliver stared at the leaf. He wanted to take it out for her. But he didn’t just want to take it out; he wanted to run his fingers through her loose curls again, to feel the softness of her skin against his own.  He wanted to hear her moan and sigh and pant with the sensation, and know that his touch was the reason for the change in her breathing.

He knew he could have her right now, if he let himself.  He could lift her off of this cold, hard ground and pin her up against this damn oak tree and fuck her until she felt alive.  Until they both felt completely alive, even if just for a few moments. Felicity wanted to feel alive, and Oliver knew he could give her that.  But not like this.  Not with these lies between them.

“So, then? What’s it going to be, Felicity?” he snapped, his multitudinous frustrations beginning to bubble over the simmering surface.

She looked up to him then, looked deep into his eyes, and Oliver could see the sadness and regret inside of her sky blue.  He had her back with him – the Solemnly Sedate Felicity – the woman he’d met briefly that first lemonade-night. The woman who lamented the fact that she was on vacation. The woman who looked normal and lucid and deeply unhappy.  He had her back now, but he could tell by the look in her eyes that this Felicity wasn’t willing to give him anything.

This Felicity wasn’t like the Frolicking Freebird Felicity he was used to, because Frolicking Freebird Felicity would give him everything. Right this second, he wasn’t sure which Felicity he wanted to be with.  He only knew he needed them both to be honest with him. 

Oliver watched her sad eyes for another long minute before he realized what her silence meant. “You’re not going to tell me the truth, are you?”

She shook her head slowly.

“Okay,” he spoke through gritted teeth, “well, I guess we should head back, then.”

He stood swiftly, separating himself from her body, as he tried to shake off the dirt from his clothing.  Felicity picked herself off of the ground a moment later, brushing off her pants before looking up to his face.  Oliver took a deep breath, giving himself a minute before meeting her eyes.

“I’ll take you to your cabin,” she said, her voice as light as a feather.

“I’d appreciate that,” he replied, keeping his tone formal.

Felicity nodded briefly and then turned away from him, leading him on an unbeaten path through the trees and underbrush.  Oliver followed along behind her, trying desperately not to look at the little leaf that still held strong in the curls of her hair.  But he couldn’t help himself.  He watched the way the tiny red-and-green culprit moved inside her gold strands. He watched how it clung to her, how it didn’t want to let go.  And he understood that feeling all too well.

By some miracle, Felicity actually found her way back out of the forest and to his cabin. Oliver had never been so happy to see the quaint log abode before.  Stepping up on the first stair of his log porch, a wave of relief passed over him.

“Oliver?”

His footsteps froze with her tiny, singsong voice.  Oliver turned around slowly, remaining on the porch step as he looked down at her. “Yes?”

Felicity shifted her feet against his gravel driveway.  “I know I probably don’t have the right, but could I ask you to do a favor for me, as my friend?”

“Your friend?” he echoed, his eyebrow arching.

“Yes. My friend.”

Oliver watched her – seeing the hope in her eyes, tempered by a healthy dose of sorrow – and he felt himself soften.  “You can ask, Felicity.”

She grasped her hands together in front of her, her fingers working hard against each other. “Will you please attend some of the therapy sessions while you’re here?  It doesn’t matter which doctor you choose; they’re all very good. I just…I need to know, in case I don’t see you again, that you’ll talk to someone.”

In case I don’t see you again. 

Her words left a bitter taste in his mouth, even worse than pure lemon juice, and Oliver reminded himself that it was his choice to end this friendship.

Part of him wanted to deny her request, to tell her that she had no right to ask him for any favors. But as he stood here, watching her fret her fingers together and nibble against her lip, his shoulders fell and he exhaled. “I promise I’ll think about it.”

“Thank you,” she breathed, looking up at him from the gravel.  “Goodbye, Oliver.”

He didn’t respond. He simply stood and watched as she turned away, forcing himself to listen to the crunch of her boots as she moved farther and farther up the driveway.  She was almost out of sight before he called to her.  “Felicity?”

She pivoted back toward him immediately.  “Yes?”

Even at this distance, he could see the light in her eyes.  “It’s just…you just…"  He inhaled sharply, his fists balling at his sides.  "You have a leaf in your hair.”

“Oh.” She reached her hands up to find it.

Oliver watched her comb her fingers softly through her curls and he swallowed hard.

Felicity finally discovered the tiny freeloader, and she pulled it out and rested it inside her palm. “Hmm…he’s a handsome little fellow. I’m going to set him on my kitchen counter, so I can see him every day.”  Her eyes moved back to his, although the light inside them was dimmer than it had been a moment ago, and she offered him a gentle smile.  “Thank you, Oliver.”

“Sure,” he said, watching as she nodded and turned away again, moving back up the driveway while twirling the leaf’s stem between her fingertips. 

“You’re doing the right thing,” Oliver muttered under his breath.

He stood stiffly on his porch and watched Felicity walk away from him. 

And he fucking hated it.

But there was nothing else he could do.

...

A/N:  Thank you so much for reading!  I'd love to know what you think :)  Tina

Up next...Chapter 5: To Touch or Not To Touch

Chapter Text

After Oliver watched Felicity walk away from him, after he grumbled and grunted as he marched up the steps of his porch, after he forced his way inside his cabin and yanked the door shut behind him, Oliver stood in the middle of his log living room and stared into space. 

He hated watching her walk away from him.  He hated that he’d pushed her away.  He hated that she wasn’t with him anymore.  And he hated the havoc that all of it created inside his body.

His mind swam. His heart ached. His hands shook. His eyes stared.

He just kept staring, straight ahead of him, and even though he was alone now, in complete solitude in his living room, all Oliver could see was her…his little forest fairy, standing in front of him. 

It was an ethereal image: this Felicity his mind created to be with him here and now. 

She looked like a ghost, a sparkling spirit, too bright and celestial to be real. Oliver knew he couldn’t touch this picture of her.  He knew he couldn’t feel her skin beneath his fingertips, or hear the infectious joy of her laughter. But he still wanted to look.

At first, this otherworldly Felicity gave him a brilliant smile, her body bouncing with childlike innocence as she held her hand out to reach for him.  Oliver knew this Felicity very well; this was his Frivolous Freebird Felicity, and part of him wanted to throw his arms around her and dance.  Even though he never danced. 

But then the image changed. Frolicking Felicity transformed right in front of him.  Her smile fell, and she regarded him with intelligent, knowing eyes – eyes that held such pain and loneliness, even as they looked straight through all of his bullshit and right into his soul.  Oliver knew this Felicity, too; this was Solemnly Sedate Felicity, and part of him wanted to sit with her and talk with her and soothe the ache he could see so clearly inside her.  Except he knew that this Felicity was closed tight, and wouldn’t allow him to see anything.

Oliver looked away. Shoving his hands through his hair, he averted his gaze from the separate, but equally unsettling, pictures he’d conjured of her.  There were definitely two different people living inside of his forest fairy. He had no fucking idea how she fit both of those women into that tiny little body of hers, but they were there. And Oliver honestly didn’t know which one of them he preferred.  He just knew he should stay away from both.

Goddamn it,” he growled as he trudged through the living room, stripping off his clothes on his way to the bathroom.  He needed to get in the shower again, to wash off whatever remnants of nature might still be clinging to him.  And he needed to get the smell of her tiny flowers off of his body and out of his brain.  Because Felicity was just everywhere, and right now he needed her gone.

Once he stood under the pummeling water, he scrubbed his skin.  He scrubbed and scrubbed, until he was nearly raw.  And then he braced his hands against the shower stall, dropping his head to let the spray pour over his back as he melted beneath the heat.

He tried not to think about her.  He tried not to think about what happened between them in the woods this morning. But it was too fresh, and too frightening, and he couldn’t control his mind.  When he gave in to the realization that he couldn’t rid himself of her right now, and that he probably didn’t even want to, he closed his eyes and whispered her name. 

“Felicity.”

He’d told her things he’d never told anyone.  He’d already confessed, the other night, about the asshole he’d been in high school. Today he confessed that he’d never held baby Sara.  And he also admitted that he didn’t understand why his best friend loved him.

Oliver didn’t know why he said those things to her.  Except that he trusted her.  Despite all her lies, he believed he could trust Felicity with anything.  That was a confusing contradiction, but it wasn’t the most confusing thing about their bizarre friendship. 

The most confusing thing was that he wanted to keep confiding in her.  He wanted to be honest with her, as much as he could be.  He just didn’t know why she wouldn’t be honest with him.  She said she couldn’t be honest with him, and he didn’t understand it, and it just killed him. Because what he wanted, more than anything, was for her to be open.  He wanted her laid out in front of him; he wanted her completely bare. Literally and figuratively.

Straightening his body inside the shower, Oliver ran his hand across his chest, distinctly aware of the powerful ache inside him.  He’d been more vulnerable with her today than he’d been with anyone, ever in his life. It left him feeling raw. And exposed.  And it hurt.

Why can’t you just be vulnerable with me, too, Felicity? he silently questioned the image of his little forest fairy, the one that returned so easily to his mind.  But his imaginary Felicity just smiled at him, and danced around in a circle, and didn’t answer at all.

“Fuck,” Oliver growled. “Fuck all of this.”

He cut off the water, jumped out of the shower, dried off, dressed in a fresh T-shirt and shorts, and grabbed his key card.  Then he ran through the living room and yanked open the front door, slamming it shut behind him as he pushed his way up the gravel driveway.  He needed the gym right now.  Exercise would clear his head, and work all the frustrations out of his body, sexual and otherwise. 

He just wished Digg were here to challenge him in the boxing ring.  He needed to punch and be punched.  And he also just missed his friend.  He missed Digg’s calm and his strength.  Plus, there was absolutely no way Digg could beat him in the ring today, because Oliver would put up one hell of a fight. 

Oliver had some hope, when he stepped through the door into the cardio room, that he could get Felicity out of his head.  But two hours on the treadmill still didn’t do the trick.  She was with him, as sure as if she’d been perched on his back the entire time, which made him imagine her as a bird, sitting on one of his branches and whistling a little tune in his ear.  And Oliver really didn’t care for that image, because it meant that he was the tree, with all of its little cracks and crevices in the bark, and that was way too unsettling.

After the treadmill, Oliver moved to a weight lifting machine and continued to torture his body. His muscles still hurt from the Twister-stretching the night before, and they strained against the load he forced on them.  But he didn’t stop. He didn’t give in. He just kept going and going, pushing and pushing, until he truly had absolutely nothing left and his only choice was to admit defeat.

When he finally exited the gym and started back up the road, Oliver’s fingers trembled. He acknowledged the fact that it was almost dinnertime and he hadn’t eaten anything all day, except for part of a croissant and half a cup of orange juice.  But, even though he was starving, he didn’t think that was the reason for the trembling.  He knew he just didn’t want to go back to his cabin.  He just didn’t want to be alone.

Hope came in the form of whistling. The sound originated from up the road before him, and Oliver smiled, because he recognized the voice. “Hey there, Tommy!”

Tommy caught his eye as he ambled down the hill with a spring in his step.  “Hey, Oliver!  Good to see you, man! I missed you this morning at the gym. I thought we could have a rematch of hoops.”

Oliver came to a stop in front of his friend.  “Yeah, that would have been fun.”  And so much easier than spending the morning the way I did. “What are you up to now? Interested in doing something? I was just at the gym but I could head back.”

“Sorry,” Tommy offered with a frown.  “I’m heading to dinner with Helena.”

“Oh.” Shit. “Well, no problem. Perhaps another time.”

“How about a rematch in the morning?”

“Yes, definitely.”

“Great. Are you coming to the Social tomorrow evening?  It’s a great chance to meet everyone, especially the ladies,” Tommy said, wiggling his eyebrows in a bizarrely cartoonish display of fervor.

Oliver laughed, not at Tommy’s boyish silliness, but at the irony of the suggestion. The last thing Oliver wanted to do was to meet another woman up here.  “Probably not, but I will definitely take you up on the basketball game.”

“Gym. 9 a.m.  When you get there, I’ll change your mind about the Social.”

Good luck.  “See you then.”

With a nod and a goofy smile, Tommy proceeded past him, whistling his way down the mountain, looking as if he didn’t have a care in the world.  Oliver stood and watched him for a few moments.  He honestly couldn’t recall the last time he’d looked or felt that carefree.  Definitely not when he was with McKenna, whom he’d supposedly loved.   Hell, he probably hadn’t been that happy since high school, and that was just a stupid, unwitting, uncaring kind of teenage boy happiness.  That wasn’t what he was looking for now.  That wasn’t what he needed. 

Oliver turned and started back up the road to his cabin.  He thought about McKenna for a moment, thought about the simplistic perfection that was their life together.  Yet, in the end, he didn’t want it; he pushed away the perfection.  He didn’t know why, but he was beginning to think it was because McKenna didn’t challenge him.

Was that what he needed? A challenge?

All Felicity ever did was challenge him.  Lemonade.  Twister. Lies.  She told him in the forest that she’d done all of it for his own good. Because she wanted to make sure he would fight back.  Because she wanted to know that he hadn’t given up on life. 

As Oliver moved farther up the mountain, he repeated the same sentence he’d told her this morning in the woods.  “I haven’t given up on life, Felicity,” he said, knowing deep down that the reassurance had been just as much for her as it had been for him.  It might have even been more for her.  And Oliver had no idea why it meant so much for her to hear those words, which confused the living shit out of him. 

“God, Digg, where are you when I need you?” he mumbled as he started down his driveway. He wished his best friend would just spontaneously appear before him, right here and now.  He could imagine Digg smiling at him, but also probably shaking his head and heaving a sigh.  But Oliver wouldn’t care, because he knew Digg would sit on the living room couch with him, and pop open a beer with him, and listen to his questions and his fears. He knew Digg would look at him with his perceptive eyes, and then tell him exactly what he should be doing right now. That was precisely what Oliver needed, because he honestly didn’t know what the hell to do. And that was a horrible fucking feeling.

As Oliver reached the first step of his porch, still lamenting the fact that his friend was hours away back in Starling, he heard the meal truck wheels coming down the driveway. Pivoting on his heels, he waited for Roy to come to a stop a few feet from the cabin, right beside Oliver’s pathetically hobbled Porsche.  Oliver watched as the near-silent delivery boy jumped out of the driver’s seat, opened the rear of the van, and pulled out his dinner tray.

“Hi,” Oliver offered as Roy approached him. 

Roy nodded stiffly and held out the tray. 

Oliver took it, and then cleared his throat.  “Roy? It is Roy, right?”

The boy smiled. “Yes, Mr. Queen.”

“Call me Oliver, please.”

“Okay,” he agreed with a furrowed brow.  “Do you need something?”

“Yeah, actually. I was wondering, when you bring dinner tomorrow, if you could also bring me a six-pack of beer? I don’t really care what kind.”

Roy pressed his lips together as he looked at him.  “Um, are you an alcoholic, Mr. Qu….Oliver?”

“No. Why?”

“Because I’m not allowed to deliver alcohol to alcoholics.  But you’ve only ordered one bottle of wine since you came, so I’m thinking you’re not.”

Oliver huffed. “What makes you think I’d actually admit it to you if I am an alcoholic?  It would be pretty easy for me to lie about it.”

“Yeah, but what good would that do you?  The first step is always admitting that you need help.  Everyone knows that.”

Oliver couldn’t help chuckling.  Does everyone up here practice their own little bizarre form of psychology?  “Do you mind waiting here for a minute, Roy?”

The boy shrugged beneath his red hoodie.  “Sure.”

Oliver turned on his heels and walked into his cabin, setting the food tray down on the coffee table before moving into his bedroom, taking his wallet out of the closet safe, and pulling out a hundred dollar bill.  Then he walked back to the porch and stepped down off the stairs toward the young man.  “Here,” he said, extending the money in his hand.  “I promise I’m not an alcoholic, Roy.  I’d just like a beer or two.”

Roy raised an eyebrow as he stared at the bill.  “I can’t take that.”

“Why not?”

“Well, first of all, everything you order goes on your tab.  Second, I don’t know where you call home, but around here a six-pack of beer doesn’t cost a hundred dollars.”

“Just take the money, please. Consider it a tip. You are allowed to accept tips, right?”

Roy reached out and took the bill, shoving it into the pocket of his jeans.  “Well then, thanks…I’ll put it in my savings fund,” he said while turning back toward the truck.  “And I’ll have your beer for you tomorrow.”

Oliver nodded as the boy hopped up into the driver’s seat.  “See you tomorrow.”

Roy smiled and then shut the door and drove back down the gravel driveway.

Feeling as if he had a little something to look forward to now, Oliver moved back up the porch steps and into the cabin.  First, he collapsed onto the couch cushions and devoured every last morsel of his meal. Then he stood and moved to the desk. Sitting on the log chair and opening his laptop, Oliver listened as the computer whirred to life. He felt his body ease a bit with the sound, although he could also hear Digg growling at him, pissed off that he was burying his head in work yet again.  But tonight, he just didn’t have a choice.  He needed this. 

Much to Oliver’s disappointment, he found that Queen Consolidated was functioning perfectly well without him. He knew he should be proud of his well-oiled machine, especially since he’d spent a month ensuring that all QC business deals would progress smoothly in his absence, but right now he just wanted something to occupy his attention.  If he was being honest with himself, he knew it was because he was still desperately trying to chase his thoughts of Felicity away.  He needed to keep his mind off of her, just long enough for exhaustion to overtake him so he could sleep. 

Not having any real work to do, Oliver chose the most mundane task he could think of, which was to look over the quarterly financial statements.  This realm of the company usually fell to the Queens’ long-time family friend, their CFO, Walter Steele.  Oliver already knew that the statements would be in perfect order, because Walter was a professional, and a perfectionist, and someone Oliver could trust implicitly. Which meant that reviewing the financial records would be the most boring, draining, and coma-inducing activity of all time, and that was perfect.  Because Oliver needed a good coma right now.

Sure enough, hours and hours later, Oliver’s eyelids drooped and his muscles ached and his shoulders sagged. Finally, he dragged himself off to bed. Then he tossed and turned all night.

Oliver awoke to sunshine lying across his patchwork comforter.  Although “awoke” was a strong word, because he never really felt like he’d been asleep.  He’d spent the entire night in that hazy place been rest and wake, and it forced him to acknowledge the fact that the only good night of sleep he’d had since he came to Blue was the one night when he knew he would see Felicity in the morning. But that didn’t make any sense, because she was all tornadoes and wildfires and challenges, and that shouldn’t make him feel peaceful.  And yet it did.

Oliver tried very hard not to think about what that meant. 

Sitting up in bed, Oliver pushed himself off of the mattress and into the bathroom.  He made the decision to skip his normal sit-ups and push-ups this morning, since he still ached from his ridiculously aggressive workout yesterday afternoon.  And he decided to skip his shower, since he was just going back to the gym for basketball anyway, and would need to shower again when he returned. He also mostly ignored his line of personal care items in the bathroom.  He did, however, put on his deodorant.  Because otherwise, he would feel sorry for poor Tommy. 

After spending his early morning doing almost nothing as he normally would, Oliver forced his feet into his gym shoes and exited his cabin, heading down the driveway toward the road. It occurred to him as he walked that this was the most unusual morning he could remember, in as long as he could remember, because he hadn’t done anything the way he typically would. He figured Felicity would be proud of him for that.  If she knew, his frolicking freebird would probably grin up at him, and bounce around a bit, and then put her hand over his heart and tell him he’d done a good job.

Oliver smiled with that thought, wishing he could see her right now.  Wishing she would just show up by the side of the road, so he could tell her how different and free he’d been today.  Of course, he was still mad at her.  And he still needed her to be completely honest with him. But that didn’t mean he didn’t want her to know how well he was doing with letting some things go.

When he reached the main road, Oliver glanced to his right, toward Cabin 10.  Nearly an entire day had passed since he’d seen her. He wanted her to be here. He wanted her to be leaving her driveway and walking down the road toward the gym.  He wanted to see her, so he could tell her how well he’d done this morning.

He would still have to growl and glower at her a bit.  Most certainly. And he would have to insist that they have lengthy, tiring discussions about her bizarre need to lie to him. But, after that, he would be able to let himself go.  He would be able to just be with her, and feel the sensation of her fingertips against his arm as she petted him, and look down into her sparkling blue eyes, and forget everything else in the world, even if just for a few moments.

Oliver stood, still and breathless, looking toward Cabin 10.  But there was no Felicity coming down the road.  And, deep down, he knew she wouldn’t be.  She wouldn’t be coming to the gym, because he never saw her at the gym. In fact, he never saw her anywhere in public. He only ever saw her when they were alone. And that thought made his brow furrow.

Turning to his left and continuing down the pavement, Oliver considered each moment he’d been with his forest fairy:  first by the side of the road; twice when he went to her cabin; once at his own; and then in the woods. Each time, they were always alone. Just the two of them.

Oliver chuckled then, a tad bit maniacally, because the funniest thought entered his brain.

What if she doesn’t actually exist?  What if I’m so stressed out that I’ve completely and utterly made her up? What if that’s the reason we’re always alone?

Oliver stopped walking. His smile fell, and the V in his brow deepened, and a shiver ran the length of his spine.  He shoved his hands through his hair with enough force to be painful. “Holy shit, I am officially going fucking crazy up here on this mountain,” he growled, not because he actually believed that he had made Felicity up, but because he even considered the possibility that he might have made her up. 

“Good Lord, of course she’s real,” he assured himself, shaking his head as he resumed walking. She had to be real, because he distinctly remembered touching her.  He remembered how warm her skin felt beneath his fingertips.  He remembered how she sounded as she purred and whimpered while he pushed his hand beneath the tiny opening he’d made at the neck of her jacket. He remembered how she’d turned her face up to him as she curled his shirt up in her fierce little fist.

Although, he had to admit, if he was crazy, then he probably could have made all of that stuff up, too.  Honestly, touching her yesterday felt too good to be true. So maybe it was too good to be true. Maybe Blissful Blue had truly gotten to him, and sucked reality right out of his head, and so he’d imagined every last teeny tiny bit of her. 

Oliver halted again on the pavement. He forced himself to take a deep breath in.  “No, goddamn it.  I didn’t fabricate her out of thin air.  She’s real. Because if I wanted to create a make-believe woman in my head, it sure as hell wouldn’t be one who lies to me constantly.  That makes no fucking sense at all.” 

Oliver wanted to start walking again.  Right now. Purposefully.  To the gym. 

But he didn’t, because he felt too shaken by his thoughts.  Too shaken by the thought of his bizarre-yet-delicious imaginary friend. But then he remembered something, and he shouted out loud.  “Roy! Roy saw her!  He talked to her yesterday morning at my cabin, and she talked back to him!”

Oliver’s shoulders dropped and he exhaled.  “Oh, thank God,” he muttered, his feet finally resuming their steady pace.  He wasn’t crazy.  She was real.  Because Roy saw her.

Unless I made Roy up, too.

“Oh, for the love of all things holy, Oliver, go to the gym,” he grumbled to himself. “And stop thinking about her. Just make the decision to stop thinking about her, and then stop.”

Making the decision to stop thinking about Felicity sounded really easy. 

It turned out to be difficult as hell. 

Even hours later, with Tommy beside him the entire time, Oliver could barely focus.  Tommy babbled on and on about his night with Helena, about how they’d eaten a romantic dinner and gone for a walk under the stars, but Oliver hardly heard a word.  Because every time he saw another person walk out of the gym, or jog by the basketball court, he looked to see if it was Felicity.  And it never was.

When he missed his tenth basket in a row, Tommy finally caught hold of the ball and stood, staring him down. “What is up with you today, Oliver? You’re completely off your game. I’m starting to worry about you.”    

“Sorry,” he offered as he blew out his breath.  “My mind is…elsewhere.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Oliver shook his head firmly. “No, thanks.”

Tommy’s brow scrunched. “It’s alright, buddy; I understand. You’re not a big talker and that’s okay. But I do expect you to come to the Social tonight.  You can just let everyone else talk.  Believe me, they love to do that.”

“I just…I don’t know.”

“Well, if I make this basket, you’ll come,” Tommy announced just before tossing the ball effortlessly above his head and watching it swish through the rim.  “There you go.  It has been decided by a power greater than you.”

“And that would be?”

“The power of the basketball gods.  They will not be denied.”

Oliver chuckled. As much as he wanted to say no to the Social, he also couldn’t imagine spending another night alone, pouring over financial spreadsheets.  So he sighed and nodded.  “Okay, Tommy, I suppose it’ll be fun.”

“Yes it will.” Tommy winked, tossing him the ball.

 … 

By the time Oliver made it back to his cabin, lunch was already on the porch.  He took the tray inside, ate his meal and put the tray back out, and then jumped into the shower.  When he got out, he wrapped the towel around his waist and stood in front of the mirror in his room.  All of his workouts made his body physically powerful, but his face still looked as worn and weary as it had the day he’d arrived here.  Not that he really ever thought Blissful Blue was going to change him. Although it had definitely made him doubt himself today.

Oliver stepped away from the mirror to choose his clothes for the Social.  The itinerary said dress was business casual, so he decided on a long-sleeved ivory button down shirt with dark grey slacks and a matching sport coat. Putting on office attire made him feel more at home in his skin, and his confidence returned a bit as he made his way from the bedroom to the computer desk.  Sitting down on the red and green plaid cushion, Oliver waited patiently for his laptop to start.  He knew there wouldn’t be much, if anything, in the way of business matters to tend to, but he needed to try to make the time pass until the Social tonight.

The moment his search engine popped up, Oliver’s fingers froze against the keyboard. He meant to go straight to the QC website, but for some reason he didn’t.  He just stared at the screen, recalling all of the things he’d typed into here. Things like fastest mammal and Blue Ridge Mountain trees.  It was so easy to look up Felicity’s lies on the computer.  But there was one truth he hadn’t searched for yet.

Moving his fingers deliberately, Oliver typed in the words yellow crowned purple fantini.  Then he hovered over the enter key.  All he had to do was press down.  All he had to do was hit the search button, and he would know, 100% for certain, that there was no bird, and that she was no photographer.

He sat, quietly and barely breathing, for a long minute.  And then he reached to the delete key and pressed it down hard, until the name was completely erased. 

God help him, he didn’t want to find out this way.  He wanted her to tell him that there was no bird.  He wanted her to tell him that there was no National Geographic article.  He wanted to hear, from her own beautiful pink lips, that she was here because she needed help.  And he wanted her to tell him willingly, because he needed that vulnerability from her.

Oliver rubbed his hand over his forehead and then opened the QC homepage.  He logged in and went immediately back to the financial records he’d been scouring the night before.  Within moments, an Instant Message popped up on his screen.

Walter Steele:  Hello, Oliver. How are you?

Oliver stared at the IM, finding it strange, somehow, to know that another person was on the other end of his computer, back in the real world.  And then he smiled to himself, imagining Walter’s British accent through the words on the screen.  Walter wasn’t just a coworker to him; he was more like a second father, and Oliver missed the older man’s wise, comforting presence.

Oliver Queen:  I’m fine, Walter. How are you?

Walter Steele:  Doing well, thank you. Just curious if something is wrong?

Oliver Queen:  Why would anything be wrong?

Walter Steele:  Because I can see that you were looking into the quarterly financial records for hours last night, and now you are back, looking into them again.  Is there a problem I need to know about?

Oliver cringed, having never considered the fact that his CFO would know he’d been knee-deep in financial records while he was supposed to be on vacation.

Oliver Queen:  No, Walter. No problem.  I didn’t mean to alarm you; I was just trying to fill up some free time.

Walter Steele:  Oh? Aren’t you having fun mountain climbing with your parents? 

Oliver’s heart stopped dead in his chest.

His eyes widened as he stared at the screen.

Aren’t you having fun mountain climbing with your parents?

Oliver’s entire body shook as he absorbed those words.

Walter thought he was on vacation with his parents in Washington.  Everyone at work thought that.  And his parents thought he was in Cozumel with friends from the office. None of them knew where he really was. Because he’d lied.

“Holy shit. I lied to everyone,” he breathed. “And then I sat there yesterday, right on that forest floor with Felicity, insisting she tell me the truth. I demanded complete honesty from her, while here I am, lying to Walter, and to my coworkers, and to my parents. My God, I’m such a hypocrite. I’m the biggest fucking hypocrite in the whole goddamn world.” 

Oliver closed his eyes. He ran his fingers across his eyelids, working hard to breathe in and out.  After a long moment, when he could manage to control the tremor in his fingers, he looked back to his computer and typed:  Vacation is fine. Thanks for all your hard work on the financials, Walter; they look perfect, as always. I won’t be in contact again until I get home. See you then.

He closed the laptop. Then he reached around the side of the machine and pulled the Internet cord out of the wall. Oliver stuck the computer back in its case and stood from the desk.  He walked back and forth across the floor of his cabin, pacing the living room for several minutes, before he exited his front door and sat down on the porch steps to wait.  He would wait here for Roy. And for the beer.

As Oliver waited, his battered and bruised mind crawled back to the same thought he’d had earlier in the day: Maybe Felicity isn’t real.  Maybe I really did make her up.  Maybe I fabricated a sweet, loving, beautiful little liar in my mind, to teach me how awful it feels to be lied to by someone I care about.

His fingers clenched as every muscle he owned stiffened against the log steps. And then he spoke to himself out loud, because he just needed to hear someone’s voice.  “No.  Don’t go there again, Oliver. Because that is a ridiculous thought.”

Felicity couldn’t just be a figment of his imagination, right?  She wasn’t some sort of Ebenezer Scrooge type of you-will-be-visited-by-three-ghosts spirit sent to show him what he was doing wrong in his life, was she?  No, she wasn’t.  She absolutely could not be a stress-induced hallucination of insane proportions. Because that was a fucking maniacal thought.

Oliver twisted his fingers together and chuckled softly to himself as he sat on the porch and continued to wait. He had no earthly idea how long he sat there.  He just knew how relieved he was when the meal delivery truck finally came down his driveway.

Roy parked a few feet from the porch steps and hopped out.  He nodded briefly to Oliver before retrieving the tray from the back. And then he reached for something else, and Oliver held his breath until he saw the six-pack in Roy’s hand.

“You brought it,” Oliver sighed, reaching out to take the beer.  “Thank you.”

“Sure thing,” Roy replied, setting Oliver’s dinner on the porch and then turning back to the truck.

Oliver watched the young man walk away and he took a deep breath.  “Roy?”

Roy turned back when he reached the driver’s door.  He looked Oliver in the eye.  “Yes?”

“I don’t suppose you’d like to have a beer with me?”

“Um, well, I’d like to, but I can’t.  I have to drive the truck.”

“Oh, of course. That was a stupid suggestion. Sorry.”

Roy watched him for a minute, and then offered a smile.  “I can’t drink, but I could sit for a little while, if you want.”

“If…if you have the time.”

The boy nodded and walked over, joining Oliver on the porch steps.  Roy settled in beside Oliver, and they both looked out to the surrounding trees. Oliver grabbed a beer from the pack, popped the cap off of the bottle, and took a long drink.

At first, neither one of them said a word, and it was a peaceful silence.  But right now, Oliver needed more.  Fiddling with the label on his bottle, he cleared his throat. “So, Roy, what are you saving for?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Yesterday, when I gave you the hundred, you said you were going to put it in your savings fund.”

“Oh, that,” Roy acknowledged, his gaze dropping to the gravel beneath his feet.  “I have a year left of college, and I’m trying to save up so I can go back.”

“Did you have to stop for some reason?”

“Yeah…kind of a lot of reasons.”

Oliver heard a note of distress in the young man’s voice, and he turned to look at him. “What reasons?”

Roy rested his elbows against his knees and rubbed his hands together.  “The summer after my third year of college, my folks were in a car accident.  They both died. I couldn’t go back to college then, not just because I didn’t have the money, but because I was struggling to keep my head up.”

Oliver stilled, squeezing onto the bottle in his hand.  “God, I’m sorry.  Are you okay?”

“Okay is a strong word,” he offered with a chuckle, “but I’m making it.  I like it up here at Blue.  It’s peaceful, and it feels a bit like a home, at least until I can get back on my feet.”

“I’m sorry I asked,” Oliver said, his stomach churning.  “I mean…I’m not sorry I asked, but I’m sorry if it hurt you to talk about it.”

The young man smiled. “You know, if I’m learning anything up here, it’s that it gets a little easier, and just a little bit better, every time I say it out loud.”

Oliver watched the boy for a long minute, and then he shook his head and looked away, out into the surrounding trees.  He gripped the bottle so tightly in his fingers that he feared it might burst.  “Well, I’m glad this place could give you what you need for now.”

“Thanks.”

“Yeah,” he offered halfheartedly, knowing the boy shouldn’t have to thank him.  Oliver couldn’t imagine being an orphan.  His parents were his strength, especially as a young man. He took another drink of his beer and fell back into silence.

“So, what about you, Oliver?” Roy asked after several more minutes of stillness.

“What about me?”

“Is Blissful Blue giving you what you need for now?”

Oliver huffed out a laugh. “I don’t know. Maybe.”  But only because of her.  Only because of his forest fairy.  The one he may or may not have fabricated in his head.  “Can I ask you a question, Roy?”

“Sure.”

“Can you tell me about Felicity?”

Roy turned to look at him. “Are you asking me an existential question?”

“What?”

“Are you asking me about happiness?”

Oliver stared at him for a moment before chuckling.  “No, I’m not asking about happiness, Roy.  I’m asking about the woman, Felicity.  The person who was here yesterday morning when you delivered my breakfast?”

“Oh. Well, I’m glad you’re not asking me to tell you how to be happy, because I think everyone has to figure that out for themselves.  Although, unfortunately, I’m probably not going to be much help with the other Felicity, either.”

Oliver felt his heart trip over a beat.  “No? Why not?”  Please don’t say it’s because she’s not real.  Please don’t say that.

“Well, as much as I’d like to help you out, I’m not supposed to talk about the other guests here. Because of discretion and all.”

“Oh, sure, of course. I completely understand. It’s just…she was here, right?  I mean, you saw her here?”

Roy’s head tilted when he heard the words.  He stared at Oliver for a moment, and then smiled softly.  “Yeah, Oliver, she was here.”

Oliver closed his eyes and sighed.  “Thanks, Roy.”

“Sure thing.”

They relapsed into silence once again, and Oliver knew he should probably be completely mortified right now, for even asking that question.  But he was too relieved to care. 

“Well, it’s nice sitting here with you,” Roy offered after a long while sitting in amicable peace, “but I should really get going, before any of these dinners turn cold.”

“Yeah, of course. I want you to know that I appreciate the beer.  And the talk.”

“I’m here to talk anytime,” Roy assured as he stood and stepped down the driveway.

“Me, too,” Oliver called out, waiting until Roy turned back to look at him.  “I’m available to talk…if you ever need to.”

Roy gave him a boyish grin and a nod.  “Thanks,” he said before moving back to the truck.  Oliver waited until the young man was behind the wheel, and then he picked up the dinner tray and returned to his cabin.

He sat on the log couch and picked at his food, having little appetite, even though Roy had brought him steak tonight, which was his favorite.  As he pushed the meat around the plate, Oliver thought about the red-hooded young man with no parents.  He thought about his own parents, and how supportive they’d been throughout his life. He thought about the things that had happened to him as a teenager; things he couldn’t have gotten through without his mother and father.  He thought about how he’d lied to his parents, and to his friends and coworkers, about coming here to Blue.  And he thought about how he’d looked into his forest fairy’s eyes yesterday and demanded complete honesty from her, when he could barely be honest with himself, let alone anyone else in his life.

Oliver set his fork down. The living room was dark now, although he’d scarcely even noticed the sun setting.  Glancing to the clock on the wall, he realized the Social started a while ago, and now he would be more than fashionably late.  That was okay with him, because he didn’t really want to go anyway. But he would, because he promised Tommy he would. 

Pulling himself up off the couch cushions, Oliver pocketed his key card in his sport coat before carrying the food tray back to the porch.  Easing the door shut behind him, he walked off the steps and up the gravel drive. When he reached the main road, he turned to the right and forced himself to stare straight ahead, to maintain his composure. But his heart still thumped harder in his chest with every step he took toward Cabin 10.

He meant to pass by her cabin without even a sidelong glance.  He meant to move by without thinking about her at all.  But he couldn’t do that. 

Oliver stopped at the top of Felicity’s driveway and stared down the tree-lined path.  He wanted to walk down it.  He wanted to run to the end of the gravel and watch her open her door to him with a smile on her sweet lips and a sparkle in her blue eyes.

But he didn’t. He didn’t run down the driveway. He didn’t move at all.

He told himself that the reason he didn’t go to her was because he’d promised Tommy he would be at the Social.  But he knew that was a lie. He didn’t go to her because he still needed her to be honest with him, despite the fact that he’d told so many lies of his own.  He didn’t go to her because he needed her to be vulnerable with him and she wouldn’t. He didn’t go to her because he knew she could open him, and he didn’t know if he could ever open her. And he didn’t go to her because, despite all that, he knew that going to her was the one thing he wanted to do most in this whole entire world, and it absolutely terrified him.

Sucking in a deep breath and looking down to the pavement, Oliver forced himself away from her path. He kept his feet moving, watching every step he took, his designer shoes highlighted by the moonlight bursting sporadically through the overhanging tree branches.  He didn’t look up again until he could hear the din of music coming from ahead.

Cabin 13 was brightly lit, with wide windows that revealed multiple bodies moving around inside the large open rooms.  Oliver noted that this cabin was easily three times the size of any of the residential ones, and he could tell by the raucous sound of voices that the party was already in full swing. Stepping onto the front porch and grasping the door handle, he straightened his shoulders and attempted to settle his nerves.

The door opened to a rush of scents and sounds.  He could smell wine and beer, as well as expensive perfume and cologne, and he could hear the thumping beat of a song beneath the rampant conversations. Closing the door behind him, he took a good look around at the crowd of people.  They were all dressed like him:  business casual, leaning toward the more formal.  The women were beautiful, most sporting diamond jewelry and cosmetically enhanced smiles and chests.  The men were like him, well groomed and obviously affluent.  And Oliver couldn’t help but chuckle a little beneath his breath, because he realized that this looked just like any business function he’d ever been to in his life. 

What had Digg told him about the people up here at Blue?  They’re working people, just like you, Oliver.  And they were. All of these people looked like the people he knew, the people he spent time with nearly every day of his life. He wasn’t sure, right this minute, if that made him happy or sad.

“Hey there, friend! I’m George,” a tall, thin man in a black suit greeted from his side.

“Oliver,” he replied, shaking the man’s hand.

“You an alcoholic, Oliver?”

God, do I look like an alcoholic?  “Um…no. Should I be?”

A deep laugh emanated from George’s reedy chest.  “Good one, good one. Anyway…the beer and wine is over on the back table.  Help yourself. Non-alcoholic refreshments are over this way, if you’d rather.”

“Thanks, George,” Oliver offered as the man smiled and stepped away.  Oliver stood for a moment, looking across the faces in the crowd, until he finally spotted Tommy standing by the spirits table, talking to Helena and another woman. Oliver made his way through the crowd, returning the smiles he received along the way, until he came to a stop in front of his friend.

“You did come,” Tommy announced the moment Oliver arrived. “I’m damn glad. You remember Helena?”

“Yes, of course. How are you?” Oliver offered as he turned toward the dark-haired beauty with the eyes of steel.

“I am doing well, thank you, Oliver. This is my friend, Isabel Rochev.”

Oliver glanced to the woman on Helena’s left.  She was just as beautiful as Helena, with rich, mahogany hair and big brown eyes. Her bone structure was perfect, her height in heels nearly six feet, as she stood only a few inches shorter than him. “Pleasure to meet you, Oliver,” she said, glancing down to his chest and then back up to his eyes before flashing an appreciative, albeit predatory, smile.  “Tommy was just telling us what a wonderful basketball player you are.”

Oliver ran a hand across the tight muscles in his neck.  “Oh, I don’t know about that.  He beat up on me pretty good today.”

“Only because you were distracted,” Tommy interjected.  “Otherwise, your form was perfect.”

“What were you distracted by, Oliver?” Helena questioned as her gaze descended on him.

“Just…things. I’m a little preoccupied, I suppose.”

Tommy patted him on the back. “Aren’t we all? That’s why most of us are here, isn’t it?  Because we need to let all of that go and just enjoy ourselves.”

“Have you been to see Dr. Quentin Lance yet?” Isabel asked.

“Um, no. I can’t say that I have.”

“Oh, you really should. He’s the resident psychiatrist here. The guest physicians come and go, but Dr. Lance is always here, sturdy and stable.  He gave the most wonderful talk this week about about finding your inner calm.”

“Yes, he’s truly a genius,” Helena added. “I always feel like I have a new perspective after listening to him.”

“I enjoyed that talk as well,” Tommy agreed, continuing on with the discussion of Dr. Lance’s admirable qualities. 

The three chatted in tandem and Oliver just stood and listened for a long time, amazed by how openly everyone discussed psychotherapy, as if it was the norm.  But then again, he supposed that it was the norm here.  And that didn’t scare him nearly as much today as it had five days ago, when he’d first set foot on this mountain.  When he’d first seen his little fairy step out of the forest.

“So, Oliver, what do you do for a living?” Isabel asked, pulling him from his thoughts as she moved closer to stand by his side.

Tommy harrumphed. “Isabel!  You know we don’t talk about business at these parties!”

“It’s okay,” Oliver said with a shrug.  He could talk about business.  Business was the easiest thing for him to talk about.  “I actually run a company called Queen Consolidated.”

Isabel’s eyes widened briefly before narrowing to near slits.  “You mean you’re the Oliver Queen? The CEO of Queen Consolidated in Starling City?”

He forced a smile onto his lips.  “That would be me.”

Isabel wound her hand around his bicep then, curling her fingers into the material of his jacket. “That’s quite impressive. Your company is Fortune-500, isn’t it?”

Oliver nodded as he watched her brown eyes glitter.  “It is.”

“Amazing job you’re doing,” she offered, her gaze fastening on his mouth.

He wanted to laugh. Because even up here on this crazy-ass mountain, he couldn’t get away from this – the typical reaction of any woman who found out who he was.  Hungered looks?  Check.  Clawed fingers? Check.

He shook his head and said a half-hearted, “Thank you,” but Isabel didn’t move an inch from his side, or drop her hand from his arm.

“Ugh,” Tommy grunted from beside them.  “No more business talk, people.  Come on, let’s go dance.”

Oliver stilled as Tommy grasped Helena by the hand and pulled her to the next room and a waiting dance floor.  He felt Isabel’s hand tighten on his bicep. 

“Do you dance, Oliver?”

“No, I don’t,” he said, eager to dispel that notion.  “But tonight, I will drink.”

“Oh, alright. Wine or beer?”

“Let’s start with wine,” he decided, reaching for a pre-filled glass from the refreshment table and downing the entirety of the contents in one long gulp.  Then he set the glass down and picked up another.

Isabel took a wine glass for herself and sipped.  “You know, I will talk business with you, if that makes you happy. I’m actually the COO of a pharmaceuticals company in Florida.”

“Oh, really?” he said, trying hard to sound interested. 

“Yes. If you like, I can talk about business. Or about anything else.”

Oliver watched a half-smile pull at her dark painted lips and his stomach roiled.  “I will listen to anything you want to talk about, Isabel.”

She squeezed his arm again and tossed her head back with a laugh.  “Such a gentleman, Oliver.  And since you’re being so good, I’ll be good too, and not talk business.  Those are Tommy’s rules, after all.  So, would you like to hear about my childhood?”

Oliver nodded and said, “Yes,” even though that was a complete and utter lie.  He brought the second glass of wine to his lips and drank it dry before setting it back on the table.  Then he stood, stiff and silent, as Isabel began speaking.

“Well, I was born in Miami, close to where my company’s home base is now.  My father owned a little convenience store and my mother…”

Oliver watched her mouth move with her words and wished desperately that this alcohol would kick in. Normally, he would never drink like this.  Drinking was for the purpose of being out of control, and that wasn’t a sensation he appreciated. But right now, he needed it. Because he couldn’t be with Felicity, which was where he desperately wanted to be.  And his only hope for getting through the night with Isabel was a good, strong buzz.

Oliver grabbed a third glass of wine and forced it down as Isabel continued talking, laughing at her own jokes while continuously caressing his arm.  He almost laughed too, at one point – not because he found her funny, but because he realized that Isabel’s touch against his body wasn’t at all therapeutic.  Not that he thought it would be. 

When the alcohol finally began to dull his senses, Oliver focused in on Isabel’s left eye, because he figured it would make him look like he was paying attention. That worked for a while, but then a movement caught his attention, and his gaze darted to the dance floor. There was a woman there, with long, loose blond hair, and for a moment his entire body froze. He stood, stiff and silent, holding his breath as he watched her.  A little light of hope swelled in his chest, but then his eyes drifted down to the blond woman’s butt, and he shook his head.  That wasn’t his forest fairy’s backside.  He would know Felicity’s perfect ass anywhere, and that definitely was not it.

Oliver glanced back to Isabel, whose thin lips still formed a lot of words.  He sighed, and his gaze fell to her shoes. They were red high heels. Oliver wondered if Felicity ever wore heels. He’d only ever seen her in hiking boots, or with bare feet.  Bare feet with adorable little painted toes.  But, even with heels on, he knew Felicity wouldn’t come close to his height. She was a little pixie forest fairy, and he would have to bend down when he kissed her.  Or he could just lift her.  He could grab hold of her perfect ass and lift her onto him, and feel every inch of her body pressed against his, feel her arms clutching his neck, feel her breasts crushed against his chest, feel her legs wrapped around his waist…

“Do you agree, Oliver?”

Isabel’s voice pulled him from his reverie, and he refocused on the left eyeball.  “Yes,” he said, not entirely sure what he’d agreed to.

Isabel smiled. “I feel the same way,” she purred, dragging her fingertips down his arm in order to give his hand a squeeze. Her touch was cool, her fingers thin, and Oliver reached for a fourth glass of wine as her constant speech restarted. Isabel kept holding onto him, and stepping even closer, and Oliver knew his jacket was going to smell like her. The thought repulsed him. Isabel’s perfume was heady and heavy and the only scent Oliver wanted on him was the fresh soap and tiny flowers that floated around his Felicity.

Isabel squeezed his hand again.

Shit. He hated feeling her fingers against his.  He didn’t want her to touch him.  He wanted Felicity to touch him.  He didn’t even care which Felicity did the touching.   Frolicking Freebird Felicity or Solemnly Sedate Felicity…he wanted both, but he would take either. He just needed something of her. 

“…and then, when I was seventeen, my brother went to college and I believe that was a real sense of loss for me…” Isabel’s voice continued.  Oliver stared at the woman in front of him.  Isabel’s hair didn’t shine quite like Felicity’s.  It didn’t move like Felicity’s, as if it had a mind of its own, or make him ache with the need to touch it.

“…but I still saw him on school breaks, and I realized I could still have him in my life…”

Her lips weren’t nearly as full as Felicity’s, and nowhere near as kissable.  They didn’t mesmerize him when she talked and when she smiled.

“…and then my friend Mitzy – the one with the golden retriever that I told you about earlier – came over and we both gave my brother advice on his new girlfriend…”

Her voice didn’t sing like Felicity’s.  Her words didn’t crawl beneath his skin and make him question everything. Her laughter didn’t stir his soul.

“…so years later he ended up marrying this girl, and I began to feel as if I should consider settling down, especially since I had developed so much of my career and nearly nothing of my personal life…”

Oliver heard those last words. He understood them. This was a thing he actually shared in common with Isabel, because the career he could handle; it was the personal life he stunk at.  But right now, standing here with this blandly ambitious creature in front of him, Oliver realized what he’d been doing wrong this whole time.  Because this woman didn’t challenge him at all, and yet this was exactly the kind of woman he’d spent his entire life seeking out. She was just like McKenna, just like all the McKenna’s of the world.

“I’m staying in Cabin 27,” Isabel’s voice broke his thoughts.  “If you’d care to walk me back to my place, I have a lovely bottle of Merlot we could share.”

Oliver straightened. The buzz in his head wasn’t loud enough to disguise Isabel’s intentions.  He could have her if he wanted, even though he’d probably spoken less than twenty sentences through the course of the painfully long evening. He could take her to bed, offer pleasure and accept it, and be on his way.

Dear God, how many times had he found himself in this exact situation?  How many times had he stood in a crowd at a business party, with some woman or other smiling at him and touching him and letting him know, in no uncertain terms, that she would be his in an instant? The women were always smart, and wealthy, and beautiful.  Just like this one. And everything seemed to be in perfect order tonight, as it should be.  This night was just like any other night of his life.  This meeting was just like any other business meeting he’d ever had.

Except Oliver felt like he wasn’t even in the room. 

He closed his eyes for a long minute, and then opened them to look around.   So many glittery, polished bodies, like mannequins in a storefront.  He couldn’t believe that this was what he’d tried to achieve for so long – this idea of perfection – when nothing about this situation felt remotely real to him.  This room wasn’t home. These people weren’t family. They were plastic Barbie and Ken dolls, surrounding him and chattering at him until he couldn’t hear anything else.

And all he could think of, all he wanted, was his Felicity. 

At this moment, he couldn’t believe he’d ever thought that he might have made her up, or that she might not be real.  Because here, now, surrounded by all of these fake bodies and fake smiles, Felicity was the only real thing he knew.  His little forest fairy, with her twinkling eyes and her sparkling voice and her constant challenges, was the only real thing here. 

“Hello, Oliver?” Isabel niggled him.  “Did you hear what I asked you?”

He snapped out of his head then, facing the reality before him.  And he knew he would crawl out of his skin if he had to stay here for one more second. “You know, I appreciate the offer, Isabel, but I suddenly realize that I have a previous obligation. I’ll have to ask you to excuse me,” he said, although he didn’t bother to wait for her acceptance. Oliver headed to the front door, making a beeline through the crowd until he finally pushed his way outside and felt the cold night breeze hit his face.  Stepping down the stairs off the porch, he pulled a deep breath of fresh mountain air into his lungs.

“Hey, Oliver, where are you headed?” Tommy’s voice came from behind him.

Oliver whirled around on the gravel drive to look up to his friend’s concerned eyes. “I’m sorry, Tommy, but I need to leave.”

“Why? It seemed like you and Isabel were getting pretty friendly.”

“Isabel?” Oliver repeated, honestly having trouble remembering what she looked like.

“Yeah, Isabel. Don’t you like her?”

“Oh, sure; she’s lovely, I guess. I just…I think I’ve had too much to drink for one night.”

“But that leaves two beautiful women here, and just one of me,” Tommy suggested with a giddy tone. “Not that I’m complaining. At all.”

Tommy grinned from ear to ear and Oliver’s head tilted as he regarded his friend. From the expression on Tommy’s face, Oliver got the feeling that Tommy planned to go after both women at once. And Oliver wasn’t exactly sure what to think about that.  He opened his mouth, thoroughly prepared to impart a good, healthy, brotherly lecture, when he realized a simple truth and had to force his lips shut again.

The simple truth was that Oliver couldn’t blame Tommy for wanting two women at once. Because Oliver also wanted two women. It just so happened that the two women Oliver wanted both lived in the same body.

“You know, I really need to go now,” Oliver managed to say as he backed down Cabin 13’s driveway.

“Okay, buddy. You gonna make it back to your cabin?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“So, I’ll catch you on the basketball court in the morning?”

“Yeah, see you then,” he offered as he turned and began moving back to the main road.

“Night, Oliver!” Tommy shouted after him. 

Oliver waved his hand in the air as he walked.  He strode down Cabin 13’s driveway with purpose and determination, because he knew exactly where he was going.  He was headed to Cabin 10, and to the little fairy that lived inside it.

...

A/N:  Thank you all so much for reading and for talking to me...I so love listening to your thoughts! :)Tina

Up next... Chapter 6:  To Touch or Not To Touch (really!) 

Chapter Text

Oliver kept walking down the driveway, away from the Social and toward the road. When he finally stepped off the gravel and onto the pavement, he turned toward Cabin 10.  Toward her. He knew that he and Felicity had issues to discuss.  And he had no earthly idea if they could work anything out, but Oliver knew he had to try. Because he didn’t want to hold himself back from her anymore, and he sure as hell didn’t want to push her away.

As he moved farther down the moonlit path toward her cabin, Oliver thought about how Felicity looked yesterday, lying on the cold, hard forest floor with the most beautiful, serene smile on her face.  He thought about how she felt beneath his fingertips, and how his entire body ached to know hers.  And he thought about how she’d admitted that she lied about squirrels and lemonade and trees, to make him fight back, to make him fight for something.

Oliver knew Felicity was trying to help him.  It was a weird kind of help, but maybe that was what he needed, because her lying to him actually made him want to be honest with her.  Maybe she’d meant for that to happen.  Maybe it was some voodoo magic that she utilized, in order to make people want to confide in her.  Or maybe this was all some well-constructed, elaborate plan to open him up, and she was actually the deliciously evil mastermind of Blissful Blue Retreat.

Except he knew that couldn’t be true.  Because Felicity wasn’t evil. And as brilliant as she obviously was, at times she was also innocent and unsure and…vulnerable.

Vulnerable.

That’s what he wanted from her. He wanted vulnerability. And he’d pushed her away yesterday, because he thought she wasn’t giving it to him.  Except now, looking back on it all, he could see how wrong he was.

Hadn’t she already revealed a million weaknesses to him?   She’d told him how she hadn’t been touched in forever, and showed him how desperately she wanted his touch.  She’d looked up into him with panicked eyes and trembling lips and admitted that she’d challenged him with her lies because she feared that he’d given up on life. She’d babbled with such nervousness while talking about condoms that he could feel the anxiety reaching out of her body and into his own.  And she’d shown him the two sides of herself:  the frolicking, frivolous side and the solemnly serious side. He didn’t know if she actually meant to reveal those separate parts of herself, but did it really matter?

God, she practically cut herself open in front of me yesterday. She basically bled out on that forest floor, right there in front of my eyes, and I had the gall to think that she wasn’t being vulnerable.  Do I really need her to say the words?  Yes, she lied to me about being a patient.  But didn’t I lie about the exact same thing?  I didn’t come here on a dare; I came because I need help with my life. Maybe not as much help as Felicity apparently needs, but I still need it.  I asked Digg for help and Digg told me to come here and that’s why I’m here. And I lied to everyone about it, and then sat there in the forest and called Felicity a liar for not telling me the complete truth. 

Oliver stopped walking, his heart beating so hard in his chest that he thought it would tear its way out. He needed to tell her all of this. He needed to lay himself out in front of her, to be real and honest with her, and then just pray to God that she would listen, and understand.  And then maybe they could reach some sort of compromise. 

He desperately needed that to happen, because he needed her.  For these few days on vacation, for this brief moment of time in his life, Oliver desperately needed Felicity with him.  Because he knew there was no fucking way that he could get through any of this without her.

With trembling hands, Oliver began walking again.  The alcohol still ran through his veins, and he walked faster to push it out, so he could focus on getting to her.  He wanted his head clear now. He wanted to know exactly what he was saying when she opened the door to him, when she allowed him entry into her world once again.  Oliver needed to be inside that world of hers right now.  He needed it.

But what did Felicity need?

He shook his head as he walked, afraid of not being able to give her what she needed – of not being able to help her the way she helped him.  He probably couldn’t give her any sage advice.  He probably couldn’t help her solve the problems in her life. He probably couldn’t do much of anything for her.  But he could do one thing.

He could touch her.

Touch was one of the things she needed.  His touch. He could give her that much. He wouldn’t even pretend to deny that he wanted to give her that. He wanted to wrap her in his arms, to feel her sweet, soft skin against him, to kiss her everywhere, to hear his name on her lips as he made her come harder than she ever had in her life.

Oliver felt fairly certain that he could give her that.  Not just because of his extensive history with women, but because of the sexual innocence he saw in her.  She said she’d had lovers before, but he could sense that she’d never really let herself go. Her own touches were too innocent, her hesitance too genuine, to be the actions of a sexually seasoned woman.

Felicity may be relatively inexperienced, but she definitely wanted him; he had no question of that. And he knew he could satisfy her physically.  After all, he’d never lacked skill when taking a lover.  What he’d lacked, with every woman before now, was the desire to be inside her…not just physically, but in every possible way.  Oliver wanted inside of Felicity.  He wanted all of her.  Frantically. Painfully.  Frighteningly.

When his foot finally hit the entrance of her driveway, Oliver’s pulse sputtered. The alcohol was nearly gone, and his nerves were completely fried.  It had been almost a day and a half since he’d last seen her, and right now 36 hours felt like a goddamn eternity.

Oliver stared straight ahead as he bounded down the gravel path, waiting for her cabin to come into view. When he finally saw a dim light glowing from her window, he felt his body ease.  She was here.  She was inside, in that light.  He was so close.

A smile spread his lips as he approached the porch, because he knew that any second now her door would open to him.  She would hear the sound of the gravel alarm system beneath his feet and she would open the door and grab his hand and pull him inside and grin up at him as she bounced on the balls of her tiny bare feet.  Oliver needed that. He needed to see her. He needed to touch her.

But, as he came to the end of the gravel and arrived at the steps to her cabin, nothing happened. The door didn’t open. Oliver paused for a moment, looking at the steps as if he wasn’t sure he should use them.  But then he did.  He walked up onto her porch, stomping his feet loudly against the wood slats as he did. Then he stood, staring at her closed door. And still, nothing happened.

Reaching his hand out tentatively, Oliver knocked once. 

He waited again, in silence. He waited a while.

When she still didn’t come, he moved closer and knocked again. 

“Felicity?” he called. “It’s me, Oliver.”

Nothing. He heard nothing. Even though he was almost positive that she stood behind this door.  He swore he could feel her warm body on the other side of the thick wood.

He knocked again. “Fe-li-ci-ty.  Open the door.  Please.”

He held his breath this time, determined to hear her.  But he heard nothing but the hooting of an owl and the wind breezing through the trees, and he realized that she wasn’t going to let him in. Oliver leaned forward, resting his head against the hard slab of wood, his shoulders sagging. He reached out, running his fingers across the imperfections in the logs, and sighed.

He knew what was happening right now.  He knew why the door wouldn’t open, because he knew who stood on the other side.  Solemnly Sedate Felicity stood there, and she wouldn’t let him in. She was far too practical for that.

God, what did he expect? He was the one who’d brought her out, after all.  Yesterday in the forest, when he’d called Felicity a liar and demanded complete honesty from her, he’d pulled this serious, sober person right out of his little forest fairy’s body. Apparently, she hadn’t left.

Oliver shook his head back and forth against the cold, hard wood and took a deep breath. He needed to get inside. Unfortunately, he knew the strong, stable woman standing on the other side of these logs wouldn’t open the damn door.

But maybe the other woman would. 

What was her name? He knew her name. She’d told him her name the night they’d played Twister.  It was Megan…something. “Meganson,” he whispered.

Oliver bunched his hand into a fist and banged it against the wood, cringing as the sound reverberated through his forehead.  “Meganson,” he repeated, louder this time. “Please let me in.”

There was another long moment of silence.  And then, finally, the lock on the door clicked.  Oliver straightened back to standing, holding his breath as he stared at the dark wood. A moment later, the door creaked open just slightly.

She wasn’t standing there, but she’d opened it enough to let him know that it was okay to step inside, and Oliver didn’t hesitate.  He pushed through the doorway, his eyes searching the dimly lit cabin until he saw her.  Felicity stood in the living room, with her back turned to him, while she pulled on a robe and fastened the tie around her waist.  Damn, he hadn’t even considered how late it was.

“I’m sorry…were you trying to sleep?” he questioned as he closed the door behind him and took a step toward her. 

She turned around then, facing him while tightening the belt against her stomach.  Oliver’s eyes dropped to her hands, watching her fingers fumble with the ends of the silky tie.  Her robe was hunter green satin, and from what he could tell by the deep V of the opening, she wore a matching satin nightgown beneath it.  Neither piece of clothing came past her mid-thigh, and his gaze trailed down the length of her bare legs and onto her little purple-painted toenails.

“I wasn’t asleep yet,” she offered, the beautiful sound of her voice causing him to refocus on her face. “I was just having a glass of wine before bed.”

“Oh,” he said, giving her a gentle smile before he glanced toward the dim light coming from the kitchen. She’d set a few candles on the counter, and they were already burning down.  There was an open bottle of red wine, and a half-full glass, next to the flickering lights.  And then there was the little red-and-green leaf, that tiny culprit Oliver had wanted to pull from her hair yesterday, sitting proudly a few inches away.  He looked at it for a moment before turning his eyes back to hers.

Solemnly Sedate Felicity observed him cautiously, and he could see the concern written on her face. He probably looked like hell. He probably looked worn and beaten, after the last 36 hours.  But Oliver could tell that she hadn’t faired much better.  Not that she wasn’t beautiful.  No, she was more gorgeous than ever, with her loose blond curls hanging around her shoulders and the satin green fabric skimming over her skin. But her eyes looked tired, and sad, and he wanted nothing more than to take all of that away.

“You okay, Oliver?” she asked as she studied him.

“Kind of,” he replied as honestly as possible.  “You?”

Felicity shrugged her shoulders.  “Kind of,” she offered, shuffling her bare feet against the log floor.  “So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit tonight?”

“I…I was at the Social.” And all I could think of was being inside you.

“Really? I imagine you met all sorts of interesting people there.”

“I suppose.”

“Lots of beautiful women, I’m sure,” she said, squeezing her hands together in front of her. “It seems like this place is a haven for supermodels sometimes.”

Oliver shook his head. “None of them could hold a candle to you.”

She gave him a tiny smile. “Thank you for that. But still, there are some really good people up here on this mountain.  Some wonderful people, even.  You should spend time with them, and give them a chance to…”

“I don’t care about those people right now, Felicity,” he insisted, the tone of his voice allowing no room for debate.  “Right now, the only person I care about is you.  The only person I want to be with is you.” 

Oliver watched as her eyes widened with his words, and as the long column of her throat shifted with a hard swallow.  He saw her dainty fingers tremble while fidgeting with the satiny ties of her robe, and he chuckled. “I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t come here for sex,” he assured.  Then he shook his head and amended the statement.  “Well, I didn’t come here just for sex.” 

He could hear her little gasp, even at this distance, but he didn’t remove his gaze from hers. He needed her here with him, talking with him.  He needed them to work all of this out. Because, sooner or later, he was going to walk across this floor, and take her in his arms, and crush her body up against his, and kiss the hell out of her, and then press his face into her hair and just breathe her in.  And he needed her consent to do all of that.

The thought of filling his lungs with Felicity’s scent made him hate the heavy perfumed odor that still clung to his jacket.  So he reached up to the lapels of the coat, shrugged the material off of his shoulders, and laid the jacket across the back of the couch.  Then he turned back to his little bird and took another step toward her.

Felicity took a step back. 

“Have you been drinking tonight, Oliver?”

He nodded as he watched her.  “I have. But the alcohol has pretty much worn off. You can trust me on that.”

“I do trust you. I just want to make sure that you know what you’re saying right now, and what you’re doing.  Because I don’t want you to regret anything.”

“I’m not drunk, Felicity. And I want to be here. God, believe me when I say that I desperately want to be here.”

Felicity stared at him for a long minute before shaking her head.  “Well, your alcohol may have worn off, but I feel like I need some. If you don’t mind.”

Oliver motioned his hand toward the kitchen counter.  “Help yourself.”

She took her eyes off of him for the first time since he’d arrived, keeping her distance as she maneuvered around the far end of the couch to make her way into the kitchen. When she arrived at the counter she leaned heavily against it, her satin-covered belly resting against the wood. Then she grabbed the stem of her glass and took a long drink before setting it back down.  “Would you like some wine?”

He shook his head. “No.  Honestly, I don’t like the feeling of alcohol.”

She nodded. “I didn’t think you would. Too uncontrolled, right?”

He couldn’t help smiling. “Yup.  That’s exactly right,” he agreed, knowing how many times in the past few days she’d tried to get him to admit to just that. He didn’t see any reason to hide it now. “I like being in control, Felicity.”

“I know, Oliver.”

She stood very still, just watching him, as the candlelight played with her hair and licked her skin, just like he wanted to.  And it was all he could do to stand here, with the desire to have her in his arms, to possess her in every way, burning through his veins and threatening to render him senseless. But he couldn’t succumb to that now. Not yet.  Not until they’d cleared the air.  “You and I, we need to talk.” 

“About what?”

“About you lying to me.”

Her shoulders sagged, and her fingers fiddled with the stem of her glass.  “I thought we settled this in the woods yesterday.”

“I thought we did, too. But then I spent 36 hours away from you, and I honestly felt like I was going to go crazy.”

Felicity reached her hand out to him, but then stopped herself and settled her palm against the countertop. “What happened, Oliver?”

The concern in her voice soothed him.  “Nothing, really, I guess. But all I’ve done, since the minute you walked away from me yesterday morning, is think. And I’ve come to several realizations.”

Her fingers curled into the wood as she watched him.  “What kind of realizations?”

“Well, for one, I realized that I don’t care about the lies you’ve told me before now.”

Her jaw nearly unhinged as she looked at him.  She stared for a long minute, and then shook her head.  “No, Oliver.  You do care, and I understand that.  It was wrong of me to lie to you.  I’m not even trying to make excuses, I just…”

“Felicity,” he cut off her words, waiting patiently until she pressed her lips together and refocused on him.  “I honestly don’t care about any lie you’ve told me before now.”

“Before now?”

“That’s right. I know I pressed you unfairly in the woods yesterday.  I pushed for you to tell me the truth about everything, and I realize now that it was a shitty thing to do, because no one tells the truth about everything. I just…I wanted to know you. I wanted you to tell me why you came here to Blue.  I wanted you to confide in me. But the thing is, it doesn’t matter why you chose to come here.  No matter what your reason, I think it’s brave that you came to get help, and I think it’s brave that you accept the need for therapy with open arms.”

Oliver paused to watch her. He watched the sadness move through her eyes, he watched the tremble of her lips, he watched her fingers twist into the countertop.  And then a new fear overtook him:  the fear of doing more harm than good.  “I…I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, his voice coming out raw and strained.  “I don’t know why you came here, and I don’t know what problems exist in your life that made you look to therapy for help, but I do know that hurting you is the last thing in the world I want to do. So, if my actions are in any way detrimental to you, then just tell me and I will leave.”

Felicity gave him a tremulous smile.  “Oh, Oliver…you aren’t hurting me.  Not at all. Quite the opposite, actually.”

It was his turn to smile. “I’m really glad to hear that. I want to be as helpful to you as I can be, Felicity, because you’ve helped me so much already.  Just seeing how brave you are, and how you embrace this place with your utter joy…it amazes me.  Because I wasn’t brave at all; I wasn’t able to admit to anyone that I came here for help.”

Her fingers spread out against the wood.  “Are you telling me that you didn’t come here on a dare, Oliver?”

He looked down to her fingers, and wished his hand was beneath hers.  “No, I didn’t come here on a dare.  I lied and told you that I did, because I couldn’t even admit to myself that I needed help.  And I thought I was going to hate this place. I thought I was going to hate everything about it.  But then you found me, and everything changed.  My whole world changed.” He started walking toward her, just putting one foot in front of the other.  “I love your company, Felicity.  I love hearing your voice.  I love listening to your thoughts.  I love it when you touch me.  And God, I love touching you. But I don’t expect you to tell me why you came here to Blue…not if you don’t want to.  I just want the chance to be with you – to keep watching you and listening to you and learning from you – for the rest of the time that we’re up here on this mountain.  Because I honestly can’t imagine making it through this vacation without you.”

Oliver stopped walking when he reached the other side of the counter, and he looked across the smooth wood surface to where she stood.  Her breaths came in short, staccato movements to her lungs, and he focused in on her eyes as he continued.  “I just need to ask you for one thing.  Just one small favor, before we go any further.”

“Wh-what favor is that?”

He pinned her intent gaze with his own.  “I want you to stop lying to me, as of now.  From this point forward, I want to know that every word coming out of your ungodly gorgeous mouth is the truth.”

Felicity reached up to touch her lips, her fingers trembling against her skin.  “But, I just…I’ve already told you so many lies, Oliver.”

“I don’t care about that. What I do care about is knowing for certain that you aren’t lying to me anymore.”

“But what if we’re having a conversation and you ask me something that I don’t want to answer?”

“Then don’t answer. Tell me you won’t answer. I’ll accept that. Just don’t lie to me about it. Please.”  She whimpered with his request, and Oliver rested his hands against the cool countertop, voraciously aware that just a few feet separated her body from his.  “You know, you told me yesterday, when you stood in my driveway, that I am your friend.”

“You are my friend, Oliver. At least, I feel like you are.”

“Good. Because I feel like you’re my friend, too, and I want that.  I want to be your friend.  Of course, I want to be your lover, also.  But right now, I just need to know that we can reach this compromise together. I need your promise that every word you say to me, from this moment forward, is the truth.  Can you give me that much, Felicity?  Can you promise me that?”

He held his breath as he waited for her response, held his breath until he thought he would pass out cold, right here on this counter.  But then he saw her smile.  Felicity smiled and said, “Okay, Oliver.  I promise,” and the air came back to his lungs.

His body sagged against the countertop for a moment.  He hadn’t even been aware of how much stress he held in his muscles until the second she freed him with her assurance of honesty.  As far as Oliver was concerned, Felicity had just removed any and all barriers. As far as he was concerned, nothing prevented him from being with her now, in any way he desired.

Her honesty liberated him, and Oliver wanted to say that he felt like his old self again, but that wasn’t true.  Because this was better than his old self.  This was his new self, the one that could be here with his forest fairy, without restriction or reservation. He liked being this person. God, he loved being this person.

Oliver looked into Felicity’s eyes.  He knew he wore a ridiculously goofy grin on his face, and yet she still looked as solemn and concerned as when he’d first stepped inside this cabin tonight. He didn’t want that for her. He wanted her to feel as free and unrestricted as he did.  He wanted her to be as excited about the potential of their relationship as he was. Because even though Felicity hadn’t agreed to anything more than honest friendship, Oliver knew that was a start. Now he just had to see where that start could lead.

Straightening to his full height, he began moving around the countertop.  Felicity’s eyes remained glued to his as he walked toward her, careful but determined.  She gripped the edge of the wood beneath her fingertips and Oliver glanced down. The height of the countertop came just to his waist.  It was the perfect level to sit her on, so he could fuck her.  Hard and wild. 

But he wouldn’t do that tonight. No, tonight he would definitely make love to her in a bed.  He would lay her down in the red sheets – he imagined the sheets would be red, because he could picture himself making love to her in red sheets, and also because everything up here was either red or green, which was kind of ironic, considering this was Blissful Blue – and he would treasure every second he had inside her. Although, at some point before they left this mountain, he would have to fuck her here on this countertop. That was just a given.

Oliver watched her fingers gripping tighter and tighter to the edge of the wood as he wound his way toward her and, by the time he arrived at her back, her knuckles were blanched white. He stood behind her for a long minute, just trying to regulate his breathing, as the scent he’d been aching for – her fresh soap and tiny flowers – filled his mind.  He wanted that fragrance all over him, and the thought of it had him swiftly hardening in response.

He stared down to her shoulders, which moved unsteadily up and down beneath her robe. He wanted to touch the silky green material, to see if it felt as soft as it looked, and since he’d already decided that nothing should keep him away from her anymore, he did as he desired. Reaching out, Oliver rested his hands against her shoulders.  The moment he touched her, Felicity took a shuddering breath in.  He smiled to himself, aware of how responsive her body was to his. And as his erection swelled and thickened, he had no doubt of how his body responded to hers.

Oliver smoothed his palms down her arms, from her shoulders all the way to her wrists. Then he covered her hands with his own, sliding across them again and again until she finally released her fierce grip on the countertop.  The moment she did, he threaded their fingers together and rested his chin against her shoulder as he pressed his cheek to her hair.  “So, now that we’re friends, Felicity, I think we should talk about becoming lovers.”  Her fingers tightened inside his, and he smiled and continued.  “I would just like to take this opportunity to say that I think it’s a fantastic idea.  Best idea I can think of in the whole world, right at the moment.  So, if you still want to talk about it, I’m all for it.”

She made a little choking sound and held tighter to his hands.  “It’s…it’s probably not a good idea, Oliver.”

“No? Why not? Because I’m pretty sure we decided in the woods yesterday that this would be safe sex.”

“No, what we decided was that we didn’t need to use condoms.”

Oliver chuckled with her words, because he understood what she meant.  Because nothing about this felt safe at all. Because touching her felt downright fucking dangerous.

But even with the alarm bells ringing diligently in his brain, Oliver couldn’t bring himself to care. He straightened behind her, unthreading his fingers from hers in order to drag them back up the sleeves of her robe and onto her shoulders again.  She breathed short and shallow beneath his hands, and he dropped his forehead into her hair and closed his eyes. 

“I like being your friend,” he whispered into her gold curls.

Felicity shifted her bare feet against the floor.  “I like being your friend, too, Oliver.”

“Good,” he replied, his hands massaging across the satin that hung on her shoulders, working their way closer and closer toward her neck.  “But I’m not going to lie to you.  I want to be more than your friend.  I just want…more.”  His fingers found the edge of her robe, and curled beneath the fabric, pulling it gently across her skin until it came to the ends of her shoulders.  He brought his face back beside hers, resting his stubbly cheek against her soft one. “I’m going to take your robe off now, so I can touch more of you,” he informed her.  “But you can stop me, if you honestly want to.”

He waited for a moment, holding his breath to see if she would protest.  But she didn’t, and so he pulled the silky green fabric down her arms. Felicity allowed her hands to fall to her sides, to let the material slip off the tips of her fingers, and Oliver reached both of his hands to her waist, threading into the knot at the front of her robe in order to untie it.  When he’d finished pulling the ties from her waist, the fabric pooled at their feet.

He flattened both palms against the soft slip that still covered her belly and pulled her against his body. He was already hard as a rock, and his prominent erection pressed into one soft cheek of her ass. Felicity groaned with sensation, and then grabbed onto the countertop again, clinging ferociously to the wood.

Oliver smoothed his hands across her tiny waist, and then down to the tops of her thighs. This little slip of a nightgown was even shorter than the robe had been, and it barely covered her panties. Oliver wanted to know what kind she wore, so he moved his fingers from the front of her thighs slowly across to the outer side of her legs, and then up further, inch by inch, raising the little slip up until it rested at her hipbones. 

Felicity whimpered when he ran his hands over the tiny straps of her panties, drawing his fingers across her waist until they met at the center of her rounded belly.  Her bellybutton lay beneath his fingertips and he traced the edge of it as he explored the soft, silky front of what he now knew were thongs. They needed to come off soon. Just as soon as she agreed to be more than friends.

Oliver allowed himself to slip his pinkie finger beneath the edge of her underwear, and Felicity mewled and leaned farther back against him, which caused his aching length to jut harder into her.  He was terribly, horribly aware of the fact that her thong panties left her ass cheeks bare, and that his pants’ button and zipper were the only things separating them at this point. Oliver groaned with that knowledge and dropped his head onto her shoulder.  Her skin was there, just beneath his lips, so he pressed his mouth to it.

Oliver kissed her shoulder, and licked it, and nipped at it, and Felicity shifted against him, instinctively rubbing her backside up and down his stiffness as his little finger wandered even further below the scrap of fabric that was her underwear.

“Uh…Ol-Oliver,” she panted when his finger reached a bit too far down, and he forced himself to withdraw. He pulled his hands out from under her satiny clothes and placed them back on her shoulders.  He told himself this was safer for now, to touch her arms and only her arms, but in reality it didn’t matter which part of her he touched because it was all warmth and softness and delight – it was all her, and he wanted all of it.

His desire for her overwhelmed him, almost painfully, and Oliver wasn’t sure if he’d ever felt anything quite like it. He couldn’t understand what made this pull to her so strong.  Was it just that neither of them had been touched in so long?  Was that all this was – just two lonely people looking for someone to touch? Or was this a simple chemical reaction happening inside his body?  Was it both? Or was it something more?

He honestly didn’t know. He was only sure of one thing: touching her was heaven. Truly unearthly. And, right at this moment, he couldn’t imagine stopping.  But he would have to, if that was what she wanted.

God, that isn’t what she wants, is it?

“Come here, Felicity,” he demanded, the grasp on his control waning fast.  He held tight to her arms and pulled her away from the counter, turning her body around so that he could look into her eyes.  The moment she stood before him, chest-to-chest and eye-to-eye, he grabbed hold of her shoulders and grounded her.  “I need you to tell me what you want.  Do you want to just be friends?  Because I can do that.  I can stop touching you, if that’s what you want.  I can spend the rest of this vacation seeing you every day, and talking to you every day, and enjoying every minute I get to spend as your friend. And I’ll love every bit of it, even though my entire body will ache with the need to touch you.”

Tears sprang to the corners of her eyes.  “Oliver, y-you can’t say things like that to me.”

“Why not?”

“Because that…that hurts.”

He sighed, his shoulders falling.  “It doesn’t have to. But I’ll do whatever you want. If you don’t want me to touch you anymore, just tell me, and I’ll stop.”

She held his gaze for a long minute and then shook her head.  “I can’t tell you that.”

“Why not?”

“Because. I just promised to be honest with you, and if I said I didn’t want your touches it would be such an incredibly preposterous lie.”

Oliver couldn’t help smiling with that admission.  He drew both his hands down her arms, and Felicity moaned.  The sound sent an acute awareness through his entire body. “You like it when I touch you. Don’t you, Felicity?”

“God, yes.”

“But it’s not just therapeutic touch, is it?  There’s something electrical beneath my skin when I feel you.”

“Mine, too.”

“You told me what this attraction was the night we played Twister.  You said it was just a simple chemical reaction that takes place in the human body.”

Felicity looked up at him, her eyelids now at half-mast.  “That is what I said, isn’t it?”

Oliver moved one hand to her cheek, smoothing his fingers across her skin.  “Do you still believe that?  Because this doesn’t feel like a simple thing to me.”

She shook her head slowly, her eyes never leaving his.  “No, it doesn’t feel simple at all.”

He nodded as he ran his thumb across the edge of her lower lip.  “Is this still the worst idea ever, then?  To act on this attraction?”

“Probably.”

“Why? Why would it be so bad?”

“Because this…this place, everything up here, everything between you and me…is unusual, Oliver. It’s not reality.”

He heard her words, but as he continued to smooth his thumb slowly and softly across her skin, he couldn’t agree with them.  “I don’t know; this feels pretty goddamn real to me.  And I understand what you’re trying to say, but you also said yesterday in the woods that we’re both adults and we’re both on vacation. And I think we can agree that vacation is time off from reality.  Much-needed time off from reality.  When you’re on vacation, you do things you normally wouldn’t do.”

She swallowed, the movement causing her lip to shift against his thumb, and he reached his other hand to her waist, curling his fingers into her hip.  She hummed with the sensation, her words coming out in a hoarse whisper. “Sometimes you make really bad decisions on vacation.  And then, when you go back to reality, you regret those decisions.” 

“Sometimes you regret them. Sometimes you don’t.” He pulled her forward, bringing her entire body against his.  He bent down, skimming his lips across her cheek before pressing the side of his nose to hers. “Which do you think this will be, Felicity?”

She whimpered against his mouth.  “Dear Lord, I have no earthly idea right now.”

“Neither do I. But I’m willing to find out. Are you?”

He waited a second, feeling every breath that left her body and every one that entered his own. He waited for her consent, knowing he would have to step away if she said no.  He waited, and his heart came to a near stop while he did.

Then Felicity sighed and wrapped her arms around his neck.  “Yes, Oliver. I’m willing.”

All the air left his lungs on a rush and he grabbed her face in both hands, grounding her to him as he raised his head to look into her eyes.  “Are you sure?” he asked, his fingers shifting over her skin, lingering on the softness. He allowed her the time to respond to him.  Because he needed to know that she meant what she said.  He needed her to be happy and without regret.  He needed her to leave this serious and solemn side of her behind, just for a while, and allow the free little bird to come play with him, here and now.

After forever passed, Felicity finally gazed into his eyes and nodded.  “I’m sure.”

The moment he heard the words, Oliver’s face broke into a silly grin.  “Oh, well, thank goodness for that,” he teased.

His Felicity smiled then. Really smiled, for the first time tonight.  It was joyous and bubbly, and he laughed when he saw it. He moved his hands to her hair, running his fingertips through the loose curls, and then down onto her shoulders. He watched her tilt her chin up and sigh with the sensation, as if she were feeling the sunshine on her face for the first time in forever.  And then, an instant later, she moved her hand to his chest, her fingers coming to rest right over his heart.  “I’m so happy you’re here with me, Oliver,” she sang.

Oliver’s smile became almost painful then, because he knew he had her back – his frolicking freebird. “I’m happy I’m here with you too, Felicity.”

He watched her eyes sparkle as she reached up to wind her fingers into his hair, and Oliver moved his hands to her back, flattening his palms against her spine to pull her further against him.  His heart pounded in his chest while he looked down at his little forest fairy, because just now, right this second, he finally, finally, felt like he had the right to kiss her. 

So he did.

The first touch of his lips to hers created an explosion of sensation, a pulsing electricity that coursed straight through his body.  He pressed his mouth to hers, hard and strong, despite the quaking current. When he pulled back, just slightly, and only after long moments of savoring the softness of her lips, he worked to catch his breath.  Felicity trembled and gasped against him, curling her fingers into the collar of his shirt. Then she whimpered and Oliver wrapped his hands tighter around her back.  He wanted more of her.  He wanted so much more.  So he took it.

The second kiss blended seamlessly into the third, and then the fourth and the fifth. He lost count at some point, lost track of everything except the soft heat of her skin and the smooth wetness of her tongue and the perfect sounds of her little moans. Her fingers clung to the fabric of his shirt as his hands moved restlessly up and down her satin-covered spine, but his mouth never left hers. 

He kissed her every possible way he could think of. 

Softly. Aggressively.  Sweetly.  Hungrily. Lovingly.  Desperately.  Leisurely. Urgently.

He tasted her tongue over and over, tangling it into his own, learning the rhythm of her movements and the pattern her responses.  He nibbled against her lip, as he’d seen her do so many times, pulling the soft skin into his mouth for a moment before letting it go to start back in on another kiss. One time he pushed so hard into her that their teeth clashed, and then he smiled against her lips as she giggled. He did everything he wanted to do, everything he’d been wanting to do since the moment she first stepped out of the woods by the side of the road, and it felt amazing and unbelievable and so very, very freeing. 

When he finally pulled back, after long minutes or hours or possibly days, he looked down to her face and watched a slow grin pull up the corners of her mouth.  Her lips were dark pink and just a little swollen and it was all he could do not to devour them again.  Felicity kept her eyes closed for a long time, and he felt her body sway against his, her fingers clinging ferociously to his shirt.  And then Oliver grinned too, because he knew she’d probably collapse if he took a step away from her. 

“I’m not going anywhere,” he assured her.  He knew the words sunk in as soon as her fists uncurled from his collar and her body leaned forward onto his.  She sighed heavily, her muscles relaxing when she let him take her weight into his arms. Oliver wrapped her up tighter, banding her to him, attempting to accustom himself to feel of her soft breasts pushed into the hardness of his chest.  He wasn’t sure if he would ever get used to that sensation, but he sure as hell wanted to give it a try.

Felicity let her face fall into his shoulder, snuggling her forehead into his neck.  Her hands moved down, until her fingers could play with buttons of his shirt.  “My goodness, you’re good at that,” she breathed, the warm air of her hushed words brushing against his skin and raising goose bumps on his arms. 

Oliver chuckled, because he couldn’t remember the last time that happened…he was thirty-four years old; he wasn’t supposed to get goose bumps anymore.  “What exactly is it that I’m good at, Felicity?”

“Oh my God, everything.”

His hand traced up her spine and then pushed into her hair, to hold her closer to his chest. “Did you have a particular favorite kiss?” he wondered aloud, because he was intent to repeat whatever she liked the most.

She pulled at one of his buttons. “Um…all of them?”

He smiled. Of course she would be easy to please. No matter the number of lovers she’d had in her life, his little forest fairy still had a sexual innocence about her that made him feel predatory and protective, all at the same time. Oliver didn’t know how the coexistence of those two emotions was even possible.  All he knew was that part of him wanted to shelter her, and only make love to her in the dark, cocooned inside warm sheets, in hushed, soft perfection.  And the other part of him wanted to teach her everything he knew, wanted to fuck her on every surface of this cabin and in every possible way, so that she would understand every imaginable sensation he could give her, and then she could tell him exactly how and where she wanted his mouth and his tongue and his fingers and his body.

The thought of all the ways he could have her made Oliver’s aching erection twitch into the softness of her belly, and Felicity moaned against his neck, causing the goose bumps to crawl higher up his arms.  “What do you want to do right now?” he asked, not because he couldn’t think of anything he wanted to do, but because he could think of everything he wanted to do, and the limitlessness of his imagination made it difficult to decide.

“Hmm…can I, um, can I get this shirt off of you?” she asked with a little quiver in her voice. She lifted her head as she spoke, looking up to him.  Her eyes twinkled with giddiness and joy and Oliver moved both hands to her face, cupping her cheeks and absorbing the excitement written in her sky blue. He made his decision then.

I’m going to make love to her tonight, gentle and soft and sweet. Everything else can wait. At least until tomorrow.

“Of course you can take off my shirt, Felicity.  Would you like my help?”

She shook her head. “Nope.  Uh-uh.  Want to do this myself,” she announced with a smile.  Then she refocused, her gaze drifting to his chest as she started in on her task. She took her time with each and every button, being careful and considerate with the expensive material as she moved slowly from his collar all the way down to his abdomen.  When she reached the waist of his pants, she stilled and swallowed, her eyes focused below his shirt.

Oliver knew what she saw. Sorry about the ridiculously massive erection, he thought, but didn’t say it out loud, mostly because it would have been a lie.  He wasn’t sorry at all.  “Everything okay?” he offered instead, observing her as she dragged her eyes back up to his. 

“Um, yup,” she replied, licking her lips. “I’m just gonna, uh, take this shirt off now, but I have to, you know, pull it up out of your pants for that, so…”

He smiled. “Do what you want to do, Felicity. I’m certainly not going to stop you.”

“’Kay,” she agreed, keeping her focus on him as her fingers curled into the material above his waist and pulled up. 

The sensation of the soft fabric moving over his stiff length caused his breath to catch in his throat.

“Sorry,” she offered.

“God, don’t be sorry.”

Felicity grinned with his reassurance.  Then she looked down, to where her fingers rested against his stomach.  Slowly and surely, she watched her hands move upward, tracing over the seam of the unbuttoned, but still mostly closed, shirt. Her tentative fingers finally eased beneath the fabric and then smoothed it up his bare chest and over his shoulders, before pulling it down his arms.  She’d forgotten to unbutton his sleeves, and the material caught on his wrists, effectively pinning his arms in place at his sides.

Oliver thought she would realize her mistake now and set about freeing his hands, but she just stood in place, staring at his chest.  He wasn’t sure if she even breathed, but then she made a little whimpering sound and he knew she was getting some air, at least. “Felicity?  Everything okay?”

“Good golly, Oliver, you’re…” She motioned to his chest with her fingers, over and over again.  “You’re really quite, um, intimidating.”

His brow arched. “Intimidating?”

Felicity’s eyes darted back to his.  “Oh, I didn’t mean that in a, ‘Grr, I’m a big man who is going to be all growly with you,’ kind of way. I meant it in a, ‘Holy crap, every one of your muscles looks like it’s been cut by steel and I’m completely intimated to be naked in front of you,’ kind of way.”

Oliver laughed, hard, his entire body shaking as he watched her smile in response. When he managed to take control of his chuckles, he met her playful gaze with his own.  “You’re gorgeous, you know.  Every inch of you is gorgeous.”

“But you haven’t even seen every inch of me.”

“No, but I intend to,” he promised, watching as her eyes widened in response.  “I intend to touch every inch, and taste every inch. And I already know I’m going to love every single tiny piece of you.”

She bit into her lip as she looked up at him, and Oliver pulled against the constraint of his sleeves. “Dear God, please get this shirt off of me.  I need to use my hands right now.”

“Oh,” she said, as if she just realized that she’d left him helpless to touch her. She looked down to the shirt he’d fisted in his hands and smiled.  “Guess I should help with that.”

“I would appreciate it,” he growled through clenched teeth.

Her fingers moved back to his arms, working to find the opening of his sleeve.  She’d pulled the fabric down so far that it hung to the ground, and she had to fish and fumble with it to even find his skin. When she did, she struggled with the tiny double buttons at his wrist, her eyes focused completely on her task as she made curious little noises of consternation. 

Oliver watched her tongue move over her lips, licking against them while she concentrated on her task. He stared at the wet trail she’d left on her mouth and he nearly popped open his zipper from the strain of his erection.  “Please hurry, Felicity. I need to touch you.”

“Saying that is really not helping me.  Where in the heck was this shirt made?  A magician’s workshop? I feel like I need a special degree to get these buttons undone.”

“Here, just…let me do it,” he insisted, his patience long gone.  He stepped back to try to reach one hand across to the other in front of him, but the material wouldn’t budge and after about thirty seconds he just gave up and yanked his arms out hard, ripping the fabric across both wrists before shoving the tenacious material to the floor.  When he looked back to Felicity, her mouth gaped.

“Oh my God, Oliver! You just tore it! How much did that shirt even cost?”

“I don’t know, probably a couple hundred dollars.  I don’t really give a damn right now.”

“Well, you should! Although you can probably have it repaired.  I know a good tailor in the town at the bottom of the mountain who…”

He shut her up with his mouth. Stepping back up to her body, he wound his tongue with hers, pressing her into the ridge of the countertop as he pushed himself onto her.  The feel of her silky satin slip against his bare chest made him growl with want and desire and crazy fucking need and he reached his hands down, grabbing both cheeks of her ass, palms flush to her soft, exposed skin. His fingers curled greedily into her supple flesh and she groaned into his mouth as her hands roamed wildly over his bare back. 

Oliver kneaded the flesh of her ass while his fingers wandered closer and closer to the soft seam in the center.  Eventually, he felt the edge of her thong panties against his fingertips.  He knew that little flimsy piece of fabric was the only thing keeping him from touching her properly, and in that moment he hated her underwear. So he reached up to each side of her waist, and threaded his fingers around the dainty little straps against her hips, and pulled. 

The material snapped easily, and dropped to the floor, and Felicity gasped beside his ear. “I’m sorry,” he offered, returning his hands to the perfect flesh of her ass.  “I didn’t mean to tear them off.” 

“It’s…it’s okay,” she breathed against his skin, her fingers trembling as they curled into the back of his neck. 

Oliver smiled with her acceptance and pulled her farther against him, burying his face into her gold curls and breathing in.  He loved the fact that he could touch her freely now.  He loved that there were no more boundaries between them at this moment, that there was nothing to keep her from him.  He smiled for a second at that thought, but then his lips fell to a frown. “Damn it,” he grumbled into her hair.

Felicity pulled back, just enough to look up to his face.  “What’s wrong?”

Her blue eyes looked wide and luminous and concerned, and Oliver shook his head. “Nothing’s wrong. I just…I think our honesty agreement needs to go both ways, so I should tell you that I just lied to you.”

“You did?”

“Yes. Because I’m not sorry I ripped off your panties.  I’m not sorry at all, because I’ve wanted to do that since I saw the tiny black triangle of them under your yoga pants yesterday morning.”

“You could see my underwear through my pants yesterday?”  She grimaced. “Well gosh, that’s embarrassing. I probably shouldn’t wear those pants anymore.”

Oliver chuckled. “I think you’re missing the point, here; I didn’t tell you that to embarrass you.  I told you that because you should know that I’ve wanted to get my hands on you for what feels pretty much like forever, and now that I’ve got you here, I want to touch you everywhere.”  She made a strangled sound in the back of her throat and Oliver smiled, his fingers twitching against her bottom.  “It’s okay if I touch you wherever I want to, right?”

“God, yes,” she breathed, sinking against his chest and winding her arms tighter around his neck. “Please feel free to do whatever you like.”

It was Oliver’s turn to make a strangled sound in his throat then, because he’d never been given such an open invitation.  By anyone. Ever.  For anything.  And yet here she stood, his little forest fairy, looking up to his eyes, smiling bright as the sun, and offering him all of her.

He dropped his mouth onto hers again, pressing their lips together.  He felt her tilt her head up, felt her open to him as he slipped his tongue inside to taste her.  She was so trusting. She had so much faith in him. He wanted to deserve it. Wanted to deserve her trust. Wanted to make her feel cherished and needed and desired.  And he wanted to satisfy her, in every possible way.  He wanted to make her come so hard that she wouldn’t even remember her own name.

Oliver growled into her mouth at the thought, sucking on her tongue and biting her lip as he pressed the rigid, eager length of his erection into the softness of her belly. Adjusting his grip on her ass in order to pull her even further up onto him, he allowed his hands to roam toward the center, tracing the soft seam of her ass with his fingertips, all the way down to the juncture of her thighs.  Felicity opened her legs to his touch, parting just enough to give him the access he desired.  Then Oliver explored further, smoothing his fingers in from behind, seeking out what he hoped would be the very wet entrance to her sex.  Fuck, he wasn’t disappointed.  She was soaking – even her thighs were damp – and he couldn’t resist pressing a finger tenderly inside her, pushing all the way into her soft warmth. 

Felicity moaned and shifted beneath the gentle invasion, her satiny gown rubbing against him as she rolled her forehead onto his shoulder and then started pressing her mouth to his chest, kissing his heated flesh.  Her tongue peeked out over his collarbone, and she hummed with the sensation, her lips pulling into a smile he could feel against his skin. Oliver needed more, so he eagerly pushed a second finger inside her. 

“Mmm,” she murmured, pressing her hips down into his touch.  He pulled his fingers out a bit and then surged back in again, and then again, listening attentively to the change in her breathing as he moved inside her. Felicity continued to press open-mouthed kisses to his chest, working her way across him as Oliver drove his fingers in and out of her body from behind.  His other hand still clenched onto one ass cheek, pulling gently up to spread her further apart, so the hand inside of her could have better access, and push even deeper. His fingers were coated in her wetness now, cocooned in the tight sheath of her body, and his mind grasped at straws to maintain his composure.

Felicity mewled and panted as she continued to taste his flesh, and Oliver dropped his head into her gold curls and closed his eyes tight.  He breathed in deeply, absorbing the scent of her hair into his lungs. He wasn’t going to last much longer like this.  He needed to be inside her, now, and he knew this was the point where he was supposed to pick her up and carry her into the bedroom.  This was the moment when he was supposed to place her carefully on a plush mattress, and make soft, slow, sweet love to her, again and again, right up until morning.

But then Felicity’s mouth moved to cover his nipple, and her tongue darted out to tease, and Oliver moaned. He pulled his fingers from the heat of her body and grasped her waist with both hands.  “Damn it, I changed my mind,” he growled.

Felicity stiffened inside his arms, raising her face from his chest. “Wh-what?  You mean, you don’t want me?”

Oliver’s eyes flew to hers. “What? No!  God, no, that’s not what I meant.  I want you, Felicity. You couldn’t possibly have any earthly idea of how much I want you.”

“Oh, well, thank goodness for that,” she teased him with his own words as she relaxed onto his body once again.  “But then what did you change your mind about?”

He squeezed tighter to her hips.  “Well, I thought I was going carry you into your bedroom, and lay you down on the sheets, and make love to you properly, like a gentleman.  And I have every intention of doing that, at some point before we leave this mountain. But right at this moment, I just want to fuck the hell out of you, right here on this countertop.” Oliver watched her eyes widen exponentially and he smiled.  “That okay?”

Felicity didn’t say a word. She just licked her lips, and then proceeded to nod her head so vehemently that he feared she’d cause herself whiplash.

He leaned down and pressed his mouth to hers, biting into her lip again and listening as her breath caught inside her throat.  “Good,” he whispered.

Oliver looked to the countertop, and took a moment to move the wine bottle and glass over to the left, next to the flickering candles and the little red-and-green leaf. Then he reached down, re-grabbed his two favorite handfuls of her ass, and lifted her up to set her into the freshly cleared space.  The moment he seated her on the cool wood, he stepped between her legs and raised his hands to her face, cradling her cheeks beneath his fingertips.  “How is this, Felicity?  You’re not too cold, are you?”

“Cold?” she echoed, her brow rising as she looked into his eyes. “I’m on fire, Oliver.”

He allowed one hand to fall from her face, easing down to trace the pulse point of her throat. “You are, aren’t you?” he realized, leaning forward so his mouth could mimic the path his hand had taken, kissing from her cheek to her jaw and then all the way down to her collarbone, tasting the heat of her skin as he went.  “I love that. I love how warm you are.”

Felicity sighed, her arms draping across his back, and Oliver kissed his way to her shoulder, licking and sucking while he explored.  But then he reached the tiny green strap of her slip and he frowned. “I don’t want this here,” he mumbled before looking up to her eyes.  “I want it off.”

“Oh…okay. Would you like me to, or…”

“I want to do it,” he insisted, moving as close to the counter as his hard length would allow, parting her thighs further with his hips.  “Just lift your arms.”

She complied, watching his eyes as her fingers reached toward the ceiling.  Oliver took his time gathering the hem of the green satin against his palms, and then lifted the beautiful, unwanted fabric up above her head. When he let the gown fall onto the counter beside her, Felicity lowered her arms to her sides and looked to his face.

He knew she was observing his reaction to her body, but he honestly couldn’t understand why she would question it at all.  Reaching his hand to her neck, he smoothed slowly down the center of her chest, between the round, soft firmness of her breasts, and then across her tiny belly, as his eyes feasted on the sight.  He skimmed lightly over the juncture of her thighs, not concentrating on her sex right this moment, but rather appreciating the beauty of her form.

Oliver returned his gaze to hers. “Damn, you’re perfect,” he realized, and it was the absolute truth.  Felicity smiled with his words, and it lit up her entire face.  And Oliver understood then that it wouldn’t have mattered what she looked like, and it wouldn’t have mattered if her entire body were covered in scars, because she would still be just as beautiful.

“Really?” she asked, her eyes shimmering as they continued to search his. 

Oliver couldn’t believe she ever doubted the fact.  But then he looked even farther into her, even farther into her sky blue, and he could see the uncertainty deep inside her.  For whatever reason, this stunning creature in his arms wasn’t comfortable in her own skin.  Oliver didn’t know why – except perhaps for the fact that there were two women inside her – and he considered, just now, that it was possible even Felicity herself didn’t know which woman truly belonged here.

Reaching out to her, Oliver grabbed her face in both hands and stared hard into her eyes. “Felicity, you’re perfect. Just as you are now, or in any way you choose to be.”

Her shoulders dropped with his words, and moisture sprang to the corners of her eyes, and she gave him a trembling smile.  “Kiss me, Oliver, please,” she begged, and they were quite possibly the sweetest words he’d ever heard.

Her arms wrapped around him the moment his lips touched hers, and she opened completely to his tongue and his taste and his touch.  Her fingers curled over his hair before moving down to his neck and then onto his shoulders, pulling him closer and closer.  Oliver kissed her long and hard and forever, until the sound of her panting broke through the haze in his brain and he realized how hard her body arched up against his, begging to be filled.  He reached for her hips, pulling her closer, and listened to her moan as her thighs hitched up on either side of his waist.

“Need to be inside you,” he murmured against her mouth while pressing tiny kisses to the corners of her lips. 

“Yes, please. Please, please.  Like, pretty please with a cherry on top and lots of sugar.”

“Mmm-hmm, sugar,” he repeated, not even exactly sure what he was saying at this point.

Oliver took a step back and reached for his pants.  His fingers brushed up against his thick, swollen length and just the feel of his own hand nearly undid him.  He shook his head as he popped open the button.  “I’m really sorry this first time isn’t going to last as long as I’d like it to,” he apologized, knowing he didn’t have much stamina left at all right now. Then he pulled down his zipper and freed the erection that was now so hard and painful it practically required medical attention.  “But I promise you that I will make you come.”

“Don’t worry, Oliver,” she panted in response.  “I don’t think it’s going to take me very long at all.”

He smiled. “You that close already?”

“Umm-hmm. It’d probably just take a good, stiff wind to send me over the edge at this point.  Or, you know, maybe even a gentle breeze.”

“Gentle breeze?” he echoed as he stepped back up to the counter.  “I think I can do a bit better than that.”  He wanted to take his pants completely off, but that would mean too much precious time away from her, so he decided it wasn’t necessary. He just pushed the material roughly open and then reached for her hips, pulling her forward until she was balanced on the very edge. 

Felicity steadied herself with her hands on his shoulders.  The movement brought them even closer together, and the tip of his length pressed against her sex, lining up perfectly with the entrance to her body. Her lips parted on a gasp and Oliver focused on the excitement in her eyes as his fingers dug into her skin.

“Wrap your legs around me,” he instructed, waiting until she complied.  When her warm thighs encased him, he pressed his forehead onto hers and took another deep breath, filling his lungs with the smell of her soap and flowers, mixed now with the intoxicating scent of her arousal. “You ready, Felicity?”

“Yes. Yes.”

Oliver heard the desperation in her voice, and so he allowed himself to push slowly and fully inside her, inch by inch, savoring each and every moment until he was buried to the hilt in her sweet, wet heat.  Damn, she was so tight, and so soft, and so incredibly perfect.  She surrounded him, fully and completely, and he pressed his eyes shut and dropped his head onto her shoulder as he worked to breathe. “Fuck,” he growled against her collarbone.

“Oh, God, oh.  It feels so good having you inside me, Oliver.  So, so amazingly good.”

He sucked in a hard breath. “Felicity, please, just…don’t say anything for a minute.  I’m barely holding on as it is.”

She whimpered in response to his pained request, her arms banding around his neck and her fingers threading into his hair.  She pressed her face beside his cheek, the little puffs of her sighs warming his skin. Then she wrapped her legs tighter around his waist, and Oliver felt her link her feet together in the middle of his back.  And he wasn’t sure he’d ever felt anything better.

He tried to move, just a little, to give her some friction, to give her something. But the moment he did, he felt a surge of electricity shoot down his spine and he nearly emptied himself inside her. “Damn it,” he breathed. “I’m sorry.”

She held his head in her hands and pressed her lips into his hair.  “Why are you sorry?”

Oliver lifted his head, looking into her sweet, trusting eyes.  “I just can’t seem to control myself.  I’m trying to give you an incredible, earth-shattering experience, and I can barely keep myself from coming right this instant, just from the warmth of your body. I feel like some fumbling teenager. You’d think I’d never had sex before.”

“Oh, no, I don’t think that at all,” she said with a firm shake of her head.  “I can tell you’re experienced.  Like, really, really experienced.”  She grinned at him for a moment after she made her comment, but then her glowing look of happiness was rapidly replaced by sheer terror.  “No, wait…I didn’t mean to suggest that you’re that experienced.   I wasn’t trying to say that you’ve slept with every woman on the East Coast, or any number even remotely near that.  I just, I remembered you telling me that you’d been with a lot of girls in high school, and now that you’re an adult – with this body and those eyes and that smile and just everything – I imagine you’ve had a lot more women since.  But I really don’t mean that in a negative way.  Not at all.  I’m not implying that you’re a scoundrel or anything…I really was just trying to reassure you that you’re amazingly good at this whole thing.  Which, I realize now, I probably did not succeed in doing.”

Oliver’s brow quirked up when her babble finished running its course.  “Scoundrel?” he echoed.  “Did you just call me a scoundrel?”

“No, I said that you aren’t a scoundrel. But I am sorry about the word choice. Did you ever see The Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo was about to kiss Princess Leia and she calls him a scoundrel?”

“Yes, I saw it.”

“Well, I always thought that scene was pretty sexy, so…”

“Are you actually telling me that you’re thinking about Star Wars right now?”

“Oh, well…I’m not actively thinking about Star Wars, like with the flying spaceships and all that.  It was more just the sexy scene part…if that helps.” When she finished speaking, she cringed and bit into her lip.  “I don’t know; does that help?”

He reached up and pulled her lip out from her teeth, running his thumb across the smoothness of her mouth. “You know, oddly enough, it helps,” he said, pulling his full length slowly out of her warmth before sinking himself back inside her again.  He watched her eyelids flutter with the sensation, and he was grateful to be back in control of his body. The scoundrel conversation was infinitely helpful, not because it in any way lessened his desire for her, but because it renewed his determination to make her enjoy this moment as much as he was going to.

“Kiss me, Felicity,” he instructed, needing to pull her back to him, needing to have her present and aware and ready.  Because he had every intention of showing her what a scoundrel could do for her.

She pressed her mouth to his, tentative and slightly unsure, and he smiled against her lips a moment before he took over the kiss.  Then he proceeded to devour her mouth with his own, warring his tongue with hers as he edged himself in and out of her hot, wet sex.  He found an exceptional rhythm quite easily, holding her hips in hands and pulling her close to him so he could slide in and out of her body while his tongue licked and tasted and explored her mouth.

Eventually he pulled back to rest his forehead against hers, in order to listen to the sweet little pants that left her throat as he continued to edge his hard length in and out of her warmth.  He glanced down to her chest, seeing the little beads of moisture springing up across her skin as her breasts bounced in time with his thrusts, and he inhaled sharply. “Lean back on the counter, Felicity. Now, please.  I need to taste more of you.”

She made a groaning sound, as if she couldn’t imagine not touching him right now, but then she did as he asked and leaned back, placing her hands against the cool wood. Oliver kept one arm around her low back, controlling the movement of her hips as he continued to fuck her, only a bit slower now, allowing himself more time to enjoy her body. With his other hand, he took the weight of one breast in his fingers and then lowered his mouth to her chest, centering his lips around her nipple and drinking in the taste of her salty skin.

Felicity sucked in a shaky breath while he took his time tasting and teasing and tantalizing her, until the tiny bud was hard and jutting beneath his tongue.  She grasped his hair in her fingers and squeezed, alternately pulling him away from her and then closer to her, as she mumbled unintelligible words that sounded like curses and prayers all rolled into one. He mimicked her motions with his hips, thrusting into her and pulling out of her in time with her movements and her moans.  At some point he dragged his tongue from one breast to the other, to continue his attentions in equal measure, but he didn’t really recall making the decision to do it. He only knew that he wanted more of her. He wanted anything and everything she would give. 

Oliver kept driving in and out of her, over and over again, as he sucked and swirled his tongue over her skin, and Felicity’s fingers tightened painfully in his hair while she gasped and groaned.  He didn’t care about the pain.  In fact, he rather enjoyed it.  But it did cause a rush of sensation down his spine, and he knew he didn’t have much time left.

“Oh…oh…Oliver,” she moaned, whimpering with each thrust he gave, and he smiled against her breast before he lifted his head and reached his hand to her face, pulling her back to him so he could plant his mouth against hers right now, at the end. 

The moment their lips touched and he pushed his tongue inside her, she exploded around him. Her inner walls tightened fiercely, milking his erection until he saw stars behind his eyelids. Oliver let himself go, spilling completely inside her, because he didn’t have a choice in the matter. “Holy fuck,” he groaned against her mouth, his entire body thrumming and shaking and pulsating.

“Oh my God,” she breathed, wrapping her arms around his neck and grasping him hard as she arched into him. Her legs tightened around his waist, holding him securely to her while she sighed and trembled.

Oliver encased her in his arms, his hands spanning her back.  He banded her to his chest while his body continued to empty itself into hers. Then he buried his face into her shoulder, collapsing against her when he felt her rest her head against his.

They stayed like that for several minutes, just holding onto each other while the air returned to their lungs and their hearts resumed a normal pace.  Oliver refused to let go of her, even when he knew he was completely spent and should most definitely withdraw.  He just didn’t want to.  Fuck, if he could be hard again right this instant, he would stay here indefinitely. He would never leave.

“Wow,” Felicity whispered beside his ear.  “That was…wow.”

Oliver smiled and raised his head to see her face.  “Am I still a scoundrel?”

She met his eyes and giggled. “I said you aren’t a scoundrel.”

“Well, give me a few more chances. You might change your mind about that.”

“Oh, no, I won’t,” she insisted with a firm shake of her head.  “I know you’re not a scoundrel, Oliver, because you’re lovely and kind and wonderful. Everything about you is just wonderful.”

Felicity ran her fingers into his hair, smoothing over the tufts she’d been pulling on just a few moments before. She gazed at him with glassy eyes and a gentle grin and she looked absolutely drunk with pleasure and Oliver didn’t know if he’d ever seen anything more beautiful in his entire life. His arms tightened around her of their own volition, because he couldn’t stop the craving in his body, or in his mind, to have her as close to him as humanly possible. 

He clung to her. Just clung to her.  Because he knew that right now, and for every second that he would be trapped on this mountain, he needed her. At this moment in time, for these few days of his life, Oliver needed her more than he needed air or food or water.

And that realization scared the living hell out of him. 

Felicity traced her fingers down the sides of his face, looking into him with the most loving, adoring eyes, and Oliver’s heart pounded frantically in his chest. He blinked his eyes and then straightened his spine, suddenly needing to fight this hold she had on him. She was so close. She was too close. It was all too much. He needed some time away. He needed some distance – even just a little distance.

Untangling himself from her, Oliver mumbled, “Um, I need to go to the restroom, just for a minute.”

Her brow furrowed a bit, but then she dropped her hands to her sides and nodded.  “Of course, Oliver.  It’s just down the hall.” 

When he pulled completely out of her body, a sense of loss descended on him, bringing with it a shit-storm of pain.  So he turned away from her, zipping his pants back up and grabbing his torn shirt from the floor as he moved swiftly down the hall and into the bathroom.

The moment he was inside, he shut the door, dropped his shirt over the edge of the bathtub, and turned to the sink, shoving the faucet on.  He ran the cold water on high and stuck his hands beneath it, bending down to splash the icy water over his face.  It was fucking freezing and it stunned him for a moment, forcing him to take deep breaths into his lungs.

After several moments, when he could finally breathe normally again, he shut off the faucet and grabbed the hunter green towel off of the deer antler towel rack. Oliver ran the towel across his face and neck and then stood stiffly at the sink and stared into the mirror. He didn’t know who stared back at him. He didn’t know what was happening to him.

He only knew that what he’d just felt wasn’t normal.  That wasn’t just sex.  That wasn’t just a good fuck against a countertop.  He honestly didn’t know what it was.  And he really didn’t know where to go from here.

“God, what the hell are you thinking, Oliver?” he questioned his reflection.  But he had no answer, and so he sighed and ran his hand through his hair and just focused on breathing, in and out.  Eventually, he hung the towel back up and looked down to his chest, realizing he was still naked from the waist up. 

Turning to grab his shirt, Oliver’s eyes zeroed in on the ledge at the side of the sink. His entire body stilled as he absorbed the sight.  Right there, in front of him, were all of Felicity’s personal care items, lined up in order. Deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, makeup case, hairbrush, perfume…all distinctly arranged in a perfect pattern. Oliver’s jaw fell. He stared at each product in turn, not quite sure what he was seeing.  He stood, frozen in place, for several more minutes.  And then he laughed. 

Dear Lord, is she a frolicking freebird at all?  Does happy, carefree Felicity even exist? Or is the real Felicity just like me, a stressed-out executive trying desperately to find a way to make life better?

Oliver couldn’t help himself; he reached out and took her deodorant bottle into his hand. He moved it to the end of the line. And then he smiled. It was a wicked smile, honestly. But it was still a smile.

When he could finally tear his eyes away from that sight, he reached to pick his shirt up off of the edge of the bathtub.  Oliver paused for a moment to appreciate her large, bear-claw-footed tub. He instantly pictured Felicity inside it, with candles glowing on the ledge behind her and bubbles swimming around her naked body. Yeah, he definitively needed to have her in that tub at some point.  He knew he would never be able to leave these mountains with any sense of accomplishment unless he did that.

Pulling his shirt back on, he buttoned up the center and then rolled the torn sleeves up to his elbows before glancing back into the mirror.  Honestly, he thought the shirt looked better this way.  More relaxed.  And then he smiled again, and shook his head, and opened the door.  He needed to get back to his little forest fairy…or whoever she was at the moment.

When Oliver came around the corner of the hallway into the kitchen, Felicity stood with her back to the countertop.  She’d put her robe back on, and she was staring at the floor and chewing on her thumbnail. Her shoulders were tight, and he could feel the tension and anxiety in her body from here.

Fuck. I did this. 

Oliver took a step toward her, knowing her insecurity was his fault and hating himself for making her feel this way. “Hey there, beautiful,” he offered.

Her head popped up with the sound of his voice, and her arm fell to her side as she looked at him. Oliver moved to her, reaching his hand to her face and holding her cheek gently inside his palm. He looked down into her beautiful sky blue, now darkened with her fear.

“Do you regret it already?” Felicity whispered, blinking back moisture from her eyes.

Oliver wanted to grab hold of his chest, in a vain attempt to quell the sharp, stabbing pain inside him, but instead he grabbed her face in both hands and pressed their lips together. He kissed her softly, and gently, and then rested his forehead against hers for a long minute. “I don’t regret anything, Felicity. I never will.”

Raising his head to see her again, he watched a tiny smile pull at the edges of her lips. “I’m so glad, Oliver.”

“Do you want me to stay the night?” he asked, because he knew he should.  Because he didn’t want her to feel alone. Because part of him wanted her to say yes, so that he could carry her into the bedroom and make love to her the way he’d originally planned. 

But the other part of him prayed that she would say no, because he knew this was all too much, too soon, and he needed to keep some walls intact. 

Felicity studied him for a long moment, and then she shook her head almost imperceptibly. “No, that’s alright. Why don’t you go home and get some rest.”

“Oh…okay. If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure,” she said, reaching up to run her fingers across his jaw.  “But I would love for you to come back tomorrow night, for dinner. If you’d like.”

“Yes,” he accepted without hesitation. Tomorrow would be perfect; it would give him just a little time and a little distance, so he could be stronger. “I would love that, actually.”

“Wonderful. What’s your favorite food?”

“Steak.”

“That’s what we’ll have, then. I’ll have Roy bring your dinner here.”

Oliver nodded. “Okay.  I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

The moment he promised her a tomorrow, Felicity’s shoulders dropped and he felt the tension ease from her body.  She smiled up at him, and bounced just a bit on the balls of her feet.  “Kiss me one more time, Oliver?”

He looked down to her expectant eyes and couldn’t help grinning.  He pressed his lips to hers once, and then, as he started to pull away, he went back in and claimed her mouth again.  “That was two kisses,” he announced as he straightened. “I’m a scoundrel like that.”

She laughed and ran her fingers down his arm, to squeeze his hand in hers.  Oliver held tight for a moment and then said, “Goodnight, Felicity.”

He pulled away, not letting go of her fingers until he absolutely had to, and moved back into the living room to retrieve his jacket.  When he finally made it to the door, he heard her say, “Goodnight, Oliver,” and he looked back to watch her smile.  Oliver returned the smile just before stepping outside into the cold night air.

...

A/N:  Hi there!  I hope you enjoyed this chapter and, as always, I would love to hear your thoughts.  :)Tina

Up next...Chapter 7:  Green and Red

Chapter Text

Oliver’s alarm didn’t wake him the next morning. 

Probably because he hadn’t set an alarm. 

He actually woke to the sound of a bird chirping outside of his bedroom window.  It was a soothing little song, working its way into his mind to pull him slowly from the bliss of his dreams.  Except they weren’t just dreams…they were memories. Memories of Felicity. Memories of last night. Of holding her, of kissing her, of being inside her. 

Oliver took a deep breath in, and a smile curved his lips before he even opened his eyes. He could still smell her – her tiny flowers, her fresh soap.  He could smell her all over him, probably because he’d worn his shirt, complete with torn sleeves, to bed.  Or maybe he could smell her because Felicity was just here, with him, even when she wasn’t.

With that thought, Oliver sat up in bed and threw his legs over the edge, placing his feet securely onto the cold wood floor.  He ran his hands through his hair and then rested his elbows against his knees and just sat, staring at the log walls surrounding him.  He remembered staring into the mirror in Felicity’s bathroom last night. He remembered not really knowing exactly what had happened between them, or what he’d been thinking.

Honestly, Oliver still didn’t know what he’d been thinking last night…except for the obvious thought. He’d wanted her. He’d wanted to be inside her. So he made it happen.

Oh, he’d given her a choice in the matter, of course. 

But had he really given her that much of a choice? 

He knew Felicity was sexually innocent, and yet he’d come on strong.  He’d come on stronger with her than he ever had with any woman in his life.  He’d used every bit of power at his disposal to convince her to let him inside, and now, looking back on his actions in the cold light of day, Oliver realized it probably wasn’t very fair of him. 

The simple truth was that, the moment Felicity agreed to be honest with him last night, Oliver knew he’d won.  Because he already knew how much she wanted his touch, and he knew there was no way she could honestly say she didn’t.  So he pushed her – with his words and with his desires and with his body – he pushed her until he had her right where he wanted her.  And then he took what he wanted.

Shifting on the mattress, Oliver raised his hand to his face and pressed his fingers against his eyelids. Felicity asked him last night if he regretted being with her.  But maybe the real question was whether or not she would regret being with him.

Oliver sucked in a painful breath and stood.  Stepping to his chest of drawers, he peeled off last night’s shirt and grabbed a T-shirt and gym shorts. Then he moved to the bathroom to dress and splash water on his face.  Afterward, he walked through the living room, opened the front door, and retrieved his breakfast tray from the porch. 

Settling down on the green-and-red plaid couch cushions with his food, Oliver shoved a bite of croissant into his mouth and grabbed hold of his orange juice glass.  He would prefer to be eating this in bed right now, with Felicity feeding it to him, but it was probably best for both of them that he’d left last night.  He’d needed some time to recoup from that experience.  And maybe Felicity needed time, too.  Maybe that’s why she’d encouraged him to leave.  But still, even though leaving was for the best, Oliver missed having her in his arms this morning.

At least I’ll see her tonight, he assured himself. After all, they were going to have dinner together.  It would be a normal, peacefully shared meal of his favorite food – steak – just like she’d promised.

Tonight, Oliver would sit across a candlelit table from her, and share a meal with her, and talk to her, and laugh with her.  Then he would take her into her bedroom and make love to her, slowly and deliberately. And tomorrow morning, he would wake up in her arms.

With a smile pulling at the corner of his mouth, Oliver swallowed a few more bites of food down and then replaced the cover on his tray.  Standing to leave, his eyes darted to the corner of the room, to the empty desk. His trusted computer still sat inside its case on the floor, where he’d thrust it yesterday afternoon, after his illuminating chat with Walter.  The Internet cord that Pete had given him hung out of the side.

Oliver walked over to the desk and grabbed hold of the cord.  He wound it into a tight figure eight, and then shoved it into the pocket of his gym shorts.  It was time to give it back to the little gnome caretaker.

After returning his food tray to the porch, Oliver locked the door behind him and started up the gravel driveway. As he walked, he felt the cord in his pocket jostling against his leg.  And he felt a little sick, honestly, because he knew he was giving up a lifeline. But he also knew it was the right decision.  He needed to finally take the advice Pete had given him his first day here at Blue, and disconnect from the real world for a while.  At least for as long as he was up here on this mountain. 

He could do that now. He didn’t need to bury himself in work, because he had another lifeline to cling to.  He could cling to her.  He could cling to Felicity. 

Actually, he didn’t have a choice in the matter.  He had to cling to her.  For these few days of his life, Oliver really had no other option. He needed her here, now, with him. And he knew that she would be here, in whatever form he required.

That thought soothed him in a way, knowing that Felicity would willingly be his lifeline. But it was also the reason he’d had a mild panic attack after they’d been together last night. Relying on someone that much – especially someone he’d only just met – was terrifying at best. Oliver was used to his independence. He was used to being in control. And he wasn’t sure if he could give up that control, even for her.

Oliver jumped up off of the blacktop, shot at the basket, and then frowned as the ball bounced off the rim and into Tommy’s hands.  Again.

“Man, no offense, but your playing sucks today.  Are you okay?”

Oliver blinked as he looked at Tommy.  “What?”

“I’m just wondering what’s going on with you,” Tommy continued, stuffing the basketball beneath his arm as he walked across the court to stand in front of Oliver. “Yesterday you were distracted, and this morning it’s like you’re in another world.”

Oliver shook his head. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry; I’m just worried about you.  Are you thinking about Isabel?”

“Who?”

“Isabel? Rochev?  The incredibly gorgeous woman you spent hours talking to last night at the Social?”

“Right…Isabel. No, I’m not thinking about her.”

“Oh,” Tommy said. “I see.”  Then his eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “Oh! God, I’m so sorry, man; I didn’t know. I promise I won’t do it anymore.”

Oliver’s held tilted. “Won’t do what?”

“I just…I didn’t realize that you’re gay.  But now that I know, I promise I won’t keep trying to push women your way.”

“Tommy, I’m not gay.”

“Hey, it’s okay with me if you are. I’m not one of those people who will judge you because of who you want to love.  I mean, I tried being gay a few times myself.  Well, more bisexual, I guess.”

Oliver smiled. “Okay, well, I’m not going to judge, either.  The thing is, as much as I appreciate you wanting to help me out with the ladies, I really don’t need that.”

“No? Why not?”

The words were on the tip of Oliver’s tongue, but he bit them back.  He didn’t want Tommy to know about Felicity. He’d seen Tommy operate one too many times to feel comfortable giving him her name.  “It’s…it’s nothing.  No reason.”

Tommy grinned wildly. “It’s a woman, isn’t it? You met someone.”

Oliver reached out and knocked the basketball from Tommy’s slack arm.  Then he dodged around his friend’s back and dribbled toward the net. “Why would you think that?”

“Because it’s the only thing that makes sense.  You’re totally preoccupied, and sometimes you get that dopey looking smile.  Only a woman can drive a man that crazy.”

Oliver jumped up and slammed the ball through the net.  Dropping back to the ground, he turned and tossed the ball to Tommy. “Yes, she can drive you crazy, but she can also make you feel like…”

“Like LeBron James, apparently.”

Oliver chuckled. “Yeah.  Just like that.”

Tommy dribbled the ball back toward the basket.  “So, are you planning to share the name of this mystery woman with me?”

“Sorry,” he said, knocking the basketball from Tommy’s grasp, “I don’t kiss and tell.”

Kiss and tell?”

Oliver fumbled his fingers against the orange ball when he realized what he’d implied. “Well, that’s just an expression, it’s not…”

“I know what it is, Oliver. And dear God, you’re blushing.  Wow, you move fast, buddy.  You were with Isabel half the night; how’d you hook up with another woman so quickly?”

“It’s not that quick.  I didn’t just pick up a stranger after the Social.  I’ve known this woman for…”  Oliver grasped onto the ball and stilled for a long minute.

“For?” Tommy repeated in his silence.

Oliver’s heart tripped over a beat.  Tommy was asking him to define something that he hadn’t even had the time to define for himself. Not that he probably could define it, even if he tried his damnedest for the rest of his life. “Well, I’ve known her for six days, I guess.”

“Six whole days, huh? So, when’s the wedding?”

Oliver watched his friend grin and forced himself to smile back.  In his mind, he knew that Tommy was right.  This thing with Felicity wasn’t permanent.  They were just two people who’d found each other for a brief period of time. They were just two people holding onto each other at the top of a mountain. 

“I get your point, Tommy; I haven’t known her forever.  But she and I are…we’re both just…on vacation.”

“And you’re sure that’s all it is? Because you look awfully involved for a guy who’s only having a little vacation fling.”

Oliver nodded stiffly. “That’s all it is.”

After all, it’s not like I’m going to take Frolicking Freebird Felicity home to meet my parents.  I mean…I’m not going to do that.  Am I?

“She and I are both just on vacation, Tommy,” he repeated, reinforcing the thought into his brain.

“Okay,” Tommy said with a shrug.  “Good luck with that, buddy.” Then he knocked the ball out of Oliver’s hand, dribbled up to the basket, and dunked the ball in.

Oliver just stood there and stared. 

… 

An hour later, Oliver left Tommy at the gym and made his way down the road toward the information cabin. He was still a little rattled by their conversation on the basketball court, but the more he walked, the more his head cleared.  He didn’t have to define this thing with him and Felicity.  She certainly wasn’t asking him to.  And they didn’t need to, because they each knew where they stood. They were both adults. Both on vacation. Both in need of someone to touch. That was all this was. It was all it needed to be. And he was okay with that.

He knew it was a practical viewpoint, and he honestly wasn’t trying to be a dick about it. He just didn’t want to make more of their relationship than what it was, because that wouldn’t do him, or her, any good.  They’d agreed last night that being here at Blue – and everything about the two of them together – was unusual.  It wasn’t reality. And Oliver figured they both needed a break from reality.  He knew he certainly did. And Felicity?  Well, he felt pretty certain that she needed a break, too.

He wanted to be that for her…to be her alternative to reality.  He wanted to help her.  Felicity told him last night that he was already helping her.  He thought that his touch was the one thing he had to give, but Felicity said he was helping her before he even laid a finger on her. So maybe touch wasn’t the only thing he could give her. Maybe just being with her gave her something more.

Even if it was only for these few days.

The information cabin came into view, redirecting Oliver’s mind to the purpose of this afternoon’s journey.  He continued down driveway and up the porch stairs to the thick mahogany door.  Pulling open the handle, he stepped into the large tree-house room and looked around.  The fireplace still sparked and glowed, and the cinnamon and pine scents still wafted into his nose, and the deer antlers still hung over the oak desk, just as they had the first day he’d arrived at Blue.  But now, Oliver didn’t feel panicked at all, by any of it. In fact, as he saw Pete look up from his crossword puzzle, Oliver felt a smile spread his lips. Probably because he suddenly got the image in his head of Felicity wringing her hands and babbling while trying to ask the kindly old man for non-latex condoms.  And the thought of her adorably scrunched up brow and thoroughly nibbled lip sent a shot of warmth through his entire body.

“Hey there, Mr. Jackson,” he offered as he moved up to the desk.

“Aw, I told you to call me Pete, Mr. Queen.”

“I do remember that, Pete. And I’d like for you to call me Oliver, please.”

The little old gnome smiled as he peered over the top of his bifocals.  “Well, now, that is something I can do.”  He set his crossword puzzle down and smiled. “It’s been a busy day for me today; don’t normally get so many visitors.  What can I do for you?  Did you come to schedule a therapy session?”

Oliver shook his head. “No, actually. I just wanted to bring you this,” he explained, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the Internet cable. He set the wound cord on the oak desk and looked back to Pete.

“Well, it’s about time,” the gnome sighed.  “You held onto it a lot longer than most first-timers.  Ever been told that you’re a bit tenacious, Oliver?”

He chuckled. “Maybe once or twice.”

“Good for you, for bringing it back,” Pete offered as he grabbed the cord with his stubby fingers and stuck it back under the desk.  “And, since you’re here, let me just give you the updated list of doctors on staff this week.”

“But I told you I’m not here to schedule a session.”

“Oh, no, of course you’re not.”  He laid the paper out on the desktop.  “But it’s always good to have information, just in case you change your mind.”

Oliver glanced down to the list of names.  He only recognized one: Dr. Quentin Lance. He ran his finger over the printed letters.

“Dr. Lance,” Pete observed. “Have you seen him around?”

“No, I just heard some guests talking about him at the Social last night.”

“He’d be a good one for you, I think.  He’s very no-nonsense. Usually works out pretty well for the hard-working types, like yourself.”

Oliver looked up to Pete’s gentle blue eyes and smiled.  “Thanks for the recommendation, but I think I’m okay.”

“Well, you take that paper on home with you, anyway.  If you do change your mind, just give me a ring.”

“Alright,” Oliver agreed, not wanting to disappoint the little gnome, even though he felt pretty sure that he wouldn’t be changing his mind.  “Thanks, Pete.”

“Anytime, Oliver.”

Oliver grabbed the paper and walked back out of the cabin. 

A million and one hours passed before it was dinnertime. 

That might have been a slight exaggeration, but it felt pretty close to real time.

Oliver stood at the window of his cabin, just waiting for the sun to set.  He’d come back from seeing Pete a lifetime ago, and he’d showered and dressed, and then paced around the log floors until his feet hurt. He knew Roy would be delivering his meal to Felicity’s tonight, so Oliver couldn’t even distract himself by talking to the red-hooded boy. 

The waiting was torture. He’d gone back to stand in front of his mirror more than once.  Or possibly more than a dozen times.  He’d put on khakis, and then he’d chosen a black, short-sleeve shirt, so Felicity wouldn’t have to deal with any buttons at his wrists.  But the shirt was still crisp and fairly formal.  He wanted to look nice for their dinner date. He wanted to look nice for her.

When dusk finally hit, Oliver flew out of his front door, barely getting it shut behind him. It was cool outside, and he probably should have worn long sleeves or a jacket, but the blood rushing through his veins made the weather bearable.  Besides, he wasn’t about to turn around to change clothes; he definitely had somewhere he needed to be.

As he moved up his driveway and onto the paved road, Oliver tried to tell himself to act calm and casual. If he’d realized anything after his talk with Tommy today, it was that he couldn’t make this relationship with Felicity into more than what it actually was.  In his mind, he knew that.  But he still felt his heart race when he arrived at the entrance to her driveway in record time.

Taking a step onto the gravel, and listening to it crunch beneath his shoes while he hurried forward, Oliver wondered how his forest fairy would feel today, after what they’d done last night. Would she be excited to see him, and bounce around her living room with giddy smiles and laughter? Or would she be shy, and fumbling with her words and with her fingers?  Would his little bird be all-aflutter?  Or would she be demure?  Or regretful?

Oliver shook his head as he came closer to her cabin.  God, please don’t let her be regretful. Not that.  I can handle anything but that.

He didn’t want her to regret anything they’d done last night, especially since he’d basically seduced her into letting him fuck her on a countertop.  But he would make up for that tonight.  Tonight, he would be the perfect gentleman. Tonight he would make love to her the right way.  And it would all be okay in the morning. 

Her cabin came into view then, and a smile lit his face.  But only for a second.  Because once he took a good look, his face fell and his footsteps faltered. 

Felicity’s cabin was completely dark inside.  There was no light coming from the windows at all.  It was pitch black.

For a moment, Oliver’s vision blurred.  Because the only thing he could imagine was that she’d left.  After everything they’d shared these past days, after everything that happened last night, she’d just packed up her things and gone.

That thought was sharp as a knife in his chest.

“Felicity?” he called out when he was within a few feet of the cabin.  “Are you there?”

A moment later, his feet hit the porch steps and he bounded up to the door.  “Felicity?” he yelled, raising his hand to knock – or pound ferociously – on the thick wood. But, before he had the chance, it opened. The door pulled away from him, and a blast of hot air hit him directly in the face.

He hesitated to reach for the handle, not knowing what was happening.  “God, Felicity, are you okay?  It’s so hot in here; is there a fire or something?”

“I’m fine, Oliver. And nothing is on fire at the moment.”

His shoulders eased the second he heard her voice coming from behind the door.  But his heart still raced, because he had no idea what was going on.  “Was there a fire before? Damn, I can’t see a thing. Can you turn on a light?”

“Nope. No lights.  Just step inside,” she instructed. 

“What?”

“Take a few steps inside the living room, please.”

He did as she asked, moving a couple feet into the cabin as he tried to discern shapes in the darkness. Then he heard the front door snap shut and lock behind him.  “Felicity, what is going on?  You had me scared to death that something happened to you.”

“Nothing happened; everything is okay,” she assured, her voice coming from over his shoulder. He started to turn, to move toward her, but then he felt her hand ease onto his forearm.  “No, don’t turn around.  Just stand very still for a moment.”

“Why?”

Felicity pressed her cheek to his bicep and ran her hand down his forearm.  She sighed against him, and he could feel her warm breath on his hot skin. “Do you trust me, Oliver?”

“Yes,” he answered without hesitation.  “Of course I trust you.”

“Good. Because I want to do something a little unusual tonight, if that’s okay.”

“What are we talking about? How unusual?”

“Do you feel this?” she asked just as she ran something soft across his hand.

Oliver clenched the material in his fist.  “It’s silky.”

“Yes. It’s a scarf.  I would like to blindfold you with it.”

Blindfold me? Why in the hell do you want to blindfold me?”

A soft laugh escaped her throat. “Because I’ve never done it before and I’ve always wanted to blindfold a man before I have sex with him. Is that okay?”

Oliver nearly choked on his own tongue.  Did she just say what I think she said?  And why is it so dark in here?  And so hot?  And, holy shit, did she just say what I think she said?  “Felicity, are you serious?”

“Mmm-hmm,” she acknowledged, dragging the soft, flowing fabric away from his hand and up his arm. “I would like to do this very much. If you’ll let me.”

“I…” he began a thought, but didn’t know exactly how to finish.  Because his mind was all over the place, while his pants suddenly became uncomfortably tight.  “I’m just…I’m trying to process things here, for a minute, if that’s alright.”

“Of course it’s alright, Oliver.”

“Good, because I’m not exactly sure what’s happening right now.  I thought I was coming here for dinner, and now it’s pitch black and crazy hot and you’re trying to wrap a scarf around my head.  And you’re also talking about having sex, which I am definitely not opposed to, but it’s a little difficult to absorb all of this information at once and…”  His voice trailed off as he tilted his head in her general direction.  “Wait, did you say you’ve never blindfolded a man before?”

That’s the thing you want to focus on?”

“To start with, yes.”

“No, Oliver. I haven’t ever blindfolded a man.”

“But you want to.”

Felicity sighed, and he could hear her dejection.  “Yes, I want to. It’s just…I’m curious about a few things, and I want to try this.  With you, specifically, if that helps.”

Oliver sucked in a deep breath.  He felt her fingers move to his arm, stroking softly up and down, and he concentrated on the feel of her petting him.  God, he’d missed that. He’d missed her touch. He’d missed her voice. He’d missed every damn little thing about her.  He’d even missed all the surprises that came with her…in fact, he’d probably missed them most of all.

Her touch was so warm, even in the heat of the room, and Oliver smiled into the darkness. “Okay, Felicity. If that’s what you want, if that’s what will make you happy, then go ahead.  Blindfold me.”

Her hand stilled against his skin. “You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.”

She giggled then. It was a bright, giddy sound, like sunshine bursting through the room, and Oliver chuckled in response. He held very still as he felt her move to stand behind him, as he felt her soft hands brush through his hair, as he felt the silky material being wrapped over his eyes and tied behind his head. She didn’t pull too hard, but she did make sure the blindfold was secure by running her fingers across his face. Then she dropped her arms to her sides and he could feel the little puffs of her breaths against his arm.

“How is it, Oliver? Not too tight?”

“It’s fine.”

“And you can’t see anything through it, right?”

“I don’t think so. But I wouldn’t really know, because it’s dark as hell in here.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry about that,” she offered.  He heard her move then, circling widely around his body before bustling about a few feet in front of him. “I’m going to fix that now.”

A distinct snap filled his ears and Oliver saw a haze of light from behind the silk scarf. “Are you lighting candles?”

“Yes, I set a few here on the living room table.  But you can’t see me, can you?”

“No. Just a bit of a yellow glow.”

“Good. That’s perfect.”

The blur that was her body straightened somewhere before him and, as much as he wanted her to be happy, he hated the fact that he couldn’t see her.  “Felicity, what is happening here tonight?  I thought we were going to have a nice dinner together.”

“Oh, we are having dinner, Oliver. Don’t worry; I won’t let you go hungry.”

“But then what is with the blindfold?  And the darkness? And the heat?”

“It is hot in here, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Why is that?”

“Because I turned the thermostat all the way up.”

“Well, of course you did. Can I ask why?”

“Because I don’t want you to get cold when you’re naked.”

Oliver coughed. “And when, exactly, am I’m going to be naked?”

“Well, now is a good time for me.”

Now?

“Yes. I would like for you to undress, please.”

“You want me to undress here – now – in front of you?”

“Yes. I want to see all of you.”

“But I can’t see any of you.”

Felicity giggled. “Yeah, it’s funny how those blindfolds work, isn’t it?”

Oliver shook his head and fisted his fingers, tempted to reach up and snatch this scarf off of his face and retake control of this dinner date.  But then he listened to her laughter and his hands eased back open. “You’re really happy right now, aren’t you?” he asked, not because he didn’t know the answer, but because he wanted her to acknowledge the smile that he knew must be lighting up her face.

“Yes,” she sighed. “I must admit that I am blissfully happy right now.”

The bashfulness he heard in her voice brought a fresh, new warmth to Oliver’s already overly heated body. He imagined how bright and shinning her eyes would be if he could see them, and how her entire body would thrum with excitement for whatever sexual venture this was for her. And he just stood there, blindfolded in her candlelit living room, and grinned like an idiot.

I am doing great,” she reiterated.  “But how are you, Oliver?”

Oh, he knew exactly how he was. He was whipped. Because right this minute, he couldn’t possibly deny her anything.  He knew he would do anything to make her happy.  “I’m doing just fine, Felicity.  And, apparently, I am now going to get undressed.”

“Oh my gosh, really? That’s fantastic!”

She clapped then. Actually clapped. And Oliver chuckled as he reached for his shirt.  “I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone clap for me while I undress,” he considered as his fingers undid the buttons and pulled the material open across his chest and over his shoulders.

Felicity made a little choking sound when his shirt hit the floor.  “Well, that’s ridiculous, Oliver.  You should definitely be applauded for undressing. Have you seen you?”

He exhaled as he kicked off his shoes.  “I am definitely much more interested in seeing you,” he insisted while popping open the button on his pants.  Felicity made another sound, this one a gulping squeak, and he could feel her eyes glued to his every moment, which made him grow harder and thicker as he stripped.  When he undid his zipper, his erection forced its way out and he had to maneuver his clothing over the jutting length in order to push his pants and boxers down to the floor.  Then he stepped out of the material and stood before her, naked as a jaybird, with his entire body standing at attention.  “Alright, Felicity.  I’m undressed. And blindfolded. What on earth are you going to do with me now?”

“Um…well…” she fumbled with her words, and Oliver wasn’t sure what had her rattled right at this moment. He hoped it was the gigantic erection. But he couldn’t be sure. Not with this fucking scarf covering his eyes. “I actually want to try something else unusual, Oliver.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

He held very still as he heard her little footsteps padding across the log floor.  Oliver felt her body circle around his.  And then she came to a stop behind him. 

“Will you put your hands behind your back?” she asked.

“Why?”

“Just…please?”

His shoulders fell on sigh and he placed both hands behind him. 

Felicity set a new thing inside his palms.  “Do you feel that?”

“What am I feeling? Is that…is that a rope, Felicity?”

“It is.”

Oliver’s fingers clenched around the hard twine.  “Good God, woman! What has gotten into you tonight?”

She laughed again, enthusiastic and bubbly and excited, and Oliver knew exactly what had gotten into her tonight: this was Frolicking Freebird Felicity at her finest.  She was with him now, in all her glory, and he probably didn’t stand a chance against whatever she had planned.

He knew that thought should terrify him.  But it didn’t. At least, not entirely.

“I’m just trying out some new things tonight,” she offered as an explanation.  Then she stepped closer to his back, although she still didn’t touch him.  “And I would really like to use this rope to tie you up a bit.”

A bit?” he echoed, his brow arching above the blindfold.  “What exactly does a bit mean?”

“It means I would like to tie your hands behind your back.  That’s all. Just your hands. I’m sorry the rope is scratchy; I would use something softer to tie you up, but I only packed one scarf with me.”

“But you packed rope with you?”

“No, Oliver, I didn’t pack rope.”

“Then how did you get it?”

“I…acquired it.”

“From where?”

She heaved a sigh. “Oh, okay.  If you must know, I got it from Pete.”

“Pete Jackson, the little old caretaker?”

“Yes.”

“So, let me get this straight. You told me in the woods that you would be nervous to ask Pete for condoms, and yet you felt perfectly comfortable asking him for rope?”

Felicity giggled, and the movement shifted the hard twine against Oliver’s palm.  He shook his head as he recalled the old gnome staring at him over his bifocals today.  “You know, Pete told me this afternoon that he’d had more visitors than usual.”

“You saw Pete this afternoon? I was there in the morning; we must have just missed each other.”

“I guess we did.”

“We’ve probably just missed each other quite a few times.”

“Do you think so?” he questioned, his brow furrowing as he wondered how many times they could have passed by each other up here on the trails at Blue, seeing as he never saw her in the common areas.

“So, why did you go to see Pete today, Oliver?”

“Oh, well. I just…I went to return my Internet connection cord.”

“You did? Why?”

“Because I don’t need it anymore.”

“Seriously? Oh my gosh!  That’s amazing! I’m so happy for you, and…”

“Felicity…”

“I mean, that is such a positive, forward move!  It’s just wonderful that you can…”

Felicity!

Her breath caught. “Yes?”

“Can we please refocus? I think we have more pressing matters to discuss than my Internet cord.  You are holding a rope in my hand. A rope that you want to tie me up with.”

“Oh. Right.  We need to get back to that.”

Oliver huffed. “Yes, I would very much like to get back to that.  And to the Pete issue.”

“What Pete issue?”

“The fact that you asked him for a rope and he just handed it over to you!”

“Well, Pete and I aren’t strangers.  I’ve known him for a long time.  He trusts me.”

“Yeah, but still. Nearly deserted mountains, a bunch of psychiatric patients, and a rope, don’t exactly add up to the best combination.  Did he at least ask you what is was for?”

“Yes, he did ask me. And I did not tell him that I was planning to tie up Oliver Queen for sex, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Oh, well, thank God for that. But what did you tell him?”

Oliver,” she breathed, leaning forward and pressing her body up against his back.  Her completely, tantalizingly, incredibly, utterly naked body. “Do you really want to stand here and discuss Pete Jackson right now?”

Oliver sucked in a sharp breath as her tight nipples grazed across his back and her soft lips pressed against his shoulder blade.  His hands were wedged onto her stomach, and even with the rope still lying between them, he could trace the smooth outline of her little bare tummy with his fingertips. “You’re, um…you’re naked,” he mastered the obvious.

“Yes I am.”

“Have you been naked this whole time?”

“Yes I have. Which is why the lights were out when you came in, because I wanted it to be a surprise.  And it’s also the reason why it’s so hot in here, because I didn’t want to freeze to death while I was waiting for you.”

“Were you naked when Roy delivered dinner?”

Felicity’s forehead fell onto his back as she laughed.  “No. No.  No,” she insisted between giggles. “Now, can we please get back to the rope thing?”

“If we have to.”

She straightened then, easing away from him, until her body lost all contact with his. She even let the rope drop away from his hands.  Oliver returned his arms back to his sides, although his fingers itched with the need to touch her.

“Oliver, if you don’t want to do this tying-up thing, I totally understand.”

“I didn’t say that I didn’t want to do it, Felicity.”  After all, he’d been tied up by women before.  And he’d also been the one to do the tying.  He’d had his fair share of kinky sex. 

The problem was that Oliver didn’t believe kinkiness was the real reason Felicity was doing this, and that thought was even more disturbing than her being a closeted dominatrix. Kinky he could handle. But this?  He didn’t know about this.  “I guess I’m just curious as to why you want to tie me up.”

“Well,” she considered, “when compared to some other people I’ve met, I wouldn’t say that I have an especially active sexual fantasy life going on in my head. But it does exist, and this is something I’ve always been curious about.  Plus, I think it could be a bonding tool – which, as I’m saying it out loud, sounds kind of funny, because it’s both literal and figurative.”

“So…you think that tying me up is going to be bonding experience for us?”

“I think it could be.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s unplanned.”

Oliver huffed out a laugh. “I think we both know that’s not true. You’ve planned this all day, at least. Or…did you plan this before today? Damn, how long ago did you plan this?”

She chuckled. “Just today, Oliver. Although I must admit that I got the idea last night, when I was trying to get your shirt off and you couldn’t get your hands out of your sleeves.  And yes, I planned this whole thing out, but that’s not the point. The point is that you didn’t plan it.”

“Why is that the point?”

“Because I get the feeling that everything in your life is planned, Oliver.  Completely and utterly planned, in exceptional detail, by you. Am I wrong?”

This coming from the woman who lines up her toiletries just as compulsively as I do. “Just so you know, I do some things very spontaneously.”

“You do? Like what?”

“Um…” He tried to think of an answer, but it was difficult.  And he didn’t know if that was because he never did anything spontaneously, or if it was because the awareness of her naked body so close to his had addled his brain. “Well, I came up here for vacation, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did. And how long did it take you to get your affairs in order so that you could take this vacation?”

Oliver’s shoulders fell. “A month,” he admitted. Then he shook his head. “Okay, so I’m a planner. It’s not a crime, Felicity.”

“No, it’s not. But I’m asking you, just once, to let that go.  I’m asking you to trust me.”

“I do trust you.”

“Then let me be in control tonight, Oliver.  Please.”

He cringed with the words, because he didn’t want to give up his control.  And yet, at the same time, he knew it was only fair. Because he hadn’t let her be in control of much of anything last night.  On the contrary, he’d done exactly what he wanted the first time they were together.  And now, tonight, he knew he needed to reciprocate, and let her do what she wanted.

“So, you’ve never blindfolded a man before,” Oliver considered, testing the air of this new world he’d stepped into, “and you’ve never tied a man up.”

“Nope. Neither one.”

“And you want me to be your first.”

“Yes. I really want it to be you.”

Oliver put one hand behind his back.  “Let me feel the rope again?” he requested, waiting for her to set the twine against his palm, not because he needed to feel it, but because he needed to feel her. When Felicity’s hand rested inside of his once more, Oliver smiled to himself.  Her dainty fingers trembled around the rope, and he knew she was nervous. His brave-hearted, fierce little fairy was nervous.  And Oliver didn’t want her to be.  Not when he was perfectly willing to be her alternative to reality.

“Well, it’s hard to say no to being your first, Felicity, so…”

“Only if you want to,” she interjected, her voice now edged with concern.  “I mean, only if it’s not going to cause you any harm. You assured me last night that you don’t want to hurt me, Oliver, and I don’t want to hurt you, either. I just…I want to try this with you. But, if my actions are in any way detrimental to you, just tell me and I will stop.”

Oliver recognized the words he’d said to her the night before, and he released a long exhale. “You won’t hurt me,” he promised.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

He brought his other hand behind his back then, pressing his wrists together.  “Go ahead, Felicity.  Tie me up.”

“Really?” she asked, and he could hear the excitement returning to her voice.

“Yes, really. You know what? I want you to tie me up.”

“You do?”

“I do. Please tie me up, Felicity. Pretty please with a cherry on top and lots of sugar.”

Oliver felt wafts of air moving against his back then, and he knew she was bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet.  “You’re really, really, absolutely sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Seriously, do your worst,” he teased, feeling pretty certain that he would be able to get out of whatever knot she tied anyway.  He knew she was nervous, and she’d already admitted that she’d never tied anyone up before, so he figured she would be timid about actually using the rope on him. But he would pretend that she’d done a good job with her ties, and hold his hands together for as long as he could, just to make her happy.

“Yay!” she squealed from behind him.  Then he felt her fingers against his palms, and felt her run the rope across his wrists. “Let me know if it’s too tight, okay?”

Oliver grinned. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

She wound the rope in and out between his hands, and whipped it around and over, and then did some interesting things with her fingers, and his eyes scrunched up behind the blindfold as he tried to envision what he thought he felt. It seemed like she should already be done with her task, but she just kept forming more loops. She just kept going and going.

“What…what is that knot you’re tying now, Felicity?  Is that a sailor’s knot?”

“Oh, yeah, I did a couple of those. I also did a few figure eights and a timber hitch, too.”

What the fuck?  “Where did you learn to tie knots like this?”

“Oh, well. I was a Girl Scout.”

A Girl Scout?

“Mmm-hmm,” she confirmed as she tugged on the rope to secure it.  “I spent a lot of time traipsing through the woods as a kid, hiking and camping with my troop.  And, along the way, I learned a thing or two about tying knots.”

God, he should have known she was a Girl Scout.  He could envision her crawling around campgrounds on her hands and knees, talking to plants. “You’re, um, you’re very good at it,” he realized as he attempted to pull his wrists against the rope and understood, without a doubt, that he was not getting out of this binding without her help. Or with the help of some sort of shiv. Which he did not have on him, because he was naked.  Not that he’d ever had a shiv on him, that he could recall. 

Damn it!

“I think I’m done, Oliver. How does it feel?”

“Tight.”

“Too tight?”

“No, it’s just…very secure.”

“Oh. Well, good!  Not bad for my first try, then?”

“Nope. You are an expert already.”

“Man, this is fun. I am having so much fun! Are you having fun?”

Oliver pulled on the ropes again. “I think I am.”

“Well, that didn’t sound too certain.  But don’t worry, because I am going to make sure that you enjoy yourself.  I mean, I absolutely swear that you will enjoy yourself.”

His ears perked up with that promise.  “Yeah? What did you have in mind, Felicity? I mean, after you blindfolded me, had me strip naked, and then tied me up?”

She giggled and wrapped her fingers around his bicep.  “Well, I told you I would feed you dinner, so that’s what I’m going to do. Now just take a few steps forward.”

He cringed behind the scarf, resisting her pull on his arm.

“What’s wrong, Oliver?”

“I don’t really feel comfortable with this.  Everything here is made of logs.  I have no desire to trip and fall on my face.”

“I promise I won’t let you fall.”

“And I appreciate the reassurance, but I’m thinking I need to move a bit to the left because I think the table is pretty much right in front of me.”

Felicity stepped up to him, and he felt her nipples graze against his chest.  He gritted his teeth together with that sensation as her voice filled his ears.  “Don’t think, Oliver. Not right now. Tonight isn’t about thinking; it’s about feeling.  I want you to just feel.”

Oliver huffed. He did feel.  He felt hot.  And blind.

She pressed her lips to his jawline as her fingers curled around his arm.  “Come on, you can do this for me,” she urged.

Oliver tilted his head down to capture her mouth with his.  She immediately swept her tongue past his lips and let her body melt onto his. Her breasts pushed into his bare chest and Oliver growled, needing his hands more than ever. Because all he wanted to do was touch her everywhere, and kiss her forever, and fuck her hard, and then make sweet, slow love to her, over and over again.

After several long, languid minutes, Felicity pulled away from him and sighed. “Mmm…we should stop all this kissing for now, or we’ll never get to dinner.  And I’m sure you’re starving.”

“You’re right,” he realized, his voice catching from the truth of her words. “I am starving. In so many ways.”

Her fingers traced slowly down his face.  “I know, Oliver. And I plan to fix as many of them as I can.  Now step forward, please. I promise I’ll keep you safe.”

He took a deep breath and nodded. “Lead the way.”

She tugged on his arm again, and this time he followed, although his steps remained cautious. She led him forward several paces, and then turned him and pressed him back a bit, until he could feel the log couch frame against his calves.  “The couch is behind you.  You can sit now.”

“Okay,” he said, lowering himself down.  When he made contact with the soft fabric, his arms pressed into the back of the couch cushions. The twine at his wrist scraped against his lower spine, but he could deal with that for now. For her.

“There you go!” Felicity proclaimed, her triumphant voice coming from above him.  “See?  I didn’t let anything bad happen to you.  Now just sit tight for a minute while I get everything ready.”

Oliver heard her tiny footsteps padding away from him and he frowned and pulled against the rope. It sounded like she’d gone to the kitchen, and he didn’t like her being that far away.  The moment he heard her moving back to him, his hands eased. “Did you bring back our dinner, Felicity? Is it steak?”

“There is steak, as promised.”

“What…what is that sound? What are you doing now?”

“Try to relax, Oliver; I’m just putting the food tray beside you on the couch cushions. And also try not to move around too much, because I don’t want anything to spill.”

“I will do my best to sit still. But where will you be sitting?”

“Right here,” she announced as she placed one of her knees beside his hip and then straddled him, plopping down onto his lap.  “You are going to be my seat for dinner this evening, Mr. Queen.  If that’s okay.”

The tray shifted on the cushion beside them as she settled down, but Oliver barely noticed the sound of the rattling dishes.  Because all he knew was that Frolicking Freebird Felicity was sitting naked, right on top of him, with her soft, shapely bottom pressed into his hard thighs, and it was the most incredible sensation he could ever remember feeling. “Fuck, I love your ass,” he mumbled beneath his breath.

“What was that, Oliver? I didn’t hear you.”

“Nothing…it was nothing.”

Felicity leaned in closer, pressing her face beside his.  He could feel her lips spread into smile against his cheek just before she pulled his earlobe into her teeth.  She bit down a little, and ran her tongue over the indentations she’d made, and then whispered, “Oh, you have to tell me what you said.  Please.”

The goose bumps she’d given him last night returned with a vengeance, flitting down both of his arms and scurrying beneath the rope at his wrists.  Oliver couldn’t help chuckling, because he knew his little forest fairy felt quite empowered right at the moment.  But he also chuckled because he knew that he wasn’t entirely helpless in this situation.  “If you must know, Felicity, my exact words were, ‘Fuck, I love your ass.’”

“Oh. Well, that’s…” She sat back a bit on his lap, resting her hands on his shoulders.  “Really?”

“Yes, really. I think it’s the best ass I’ve ever seen.  It’s definitely the best one I’ve ever had my hands on.  I would like to have my hands on it again.  Right now, if possible.  Actually, if you would be so kind as to let me out of this rope, I will lay you down on this couch and run my hands over every inch of your body.  Then I’ll flip you over onto your stomach, and eat my steak dinner directly off of your backside.  And once I’ve finished eating, and I’ve licked your back clean, I will pay thorough attention to both of your ass cheeks.  I will worship them with my hands and my fingers and my mouth, for as long as you like. After that, I’ll use my tongue, quite exhaustively, to explore you in unmentionable places – unless, of course, you’d like me to mention them.  And, since I’m being brutally honest here, I should probably warn you that I might also bite a little.  But I promise it won’t be too painful; it will be just painful enough to make you come exceptionally hard. Because I am very eager to learn how you will taste, Felicity, when you come in my mouth.”

Oliver stopped talking. He held very still, listening intently to the tiny puffs of air escaping erratically from her throat. He felt her fingertips quiver against his skin, and heard her swallow, and he smiled wickedly. Because Oliver knew that – even blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back – he could still be in control of some things. 

Felicity shifted against him, spreading her legs farther apart as she squirmed in the aftermath of his words.  When she settled back down onto his lap, Oliver could feel the wet entrance of her sex pressed into his thigh. Heat and need and wild fucking desire shot through his body, and all he could do was clench his teeth and fist his fingers in response.

“I, um…I don’t, uh…” Felicity fumbled, her trembling hands moving down to rest on his chest. “I don’t think that’s, well, none of those things are really, um, in the plans.  At least, not for tonight.”

“Good thing we have a few more days together, then,” he growled.

“Um, yeah. It’s a good thing. It’s such a good thing.” She held her breath for a moment, and then exhaled. “Good Lord, Oliver, you’re just…you’re lethal, aren’t you?”

“Lethal?”

“I mean, with your intoxicating words and your earth-shattering smile and your crazy-sexy voice and your gorgeous, deep blue eyes – which I would really like to see right now – and no, before you even ask, I am not taking the blindfold off yet.  But honestly, I just can’t figure out why you aren’t married.  Because I imagine you could have any woman you want, with all of this…”

Oliver felt her jostling against him and he knew she was motioning to him.  “Just so you know, Felicity, I can’t actually see anything you’re doing.”

“Oh, right. Well, I’m gesturing toward…all of you.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”

“So, then? Why aren’t you?”

“Why aren’t I what?”

“Why aren’t you married? I mean, unless that’s not something you want.  Maybe you just like having a variety of women.  I don’t know, maybe you…”

“No,” he said, interrupting her before she could go any further, because he didn’t want her to think of him that way.  “That’s not me. That hasn’t been me for a long, long time.  I want to do the right thing. I want to find the right woman, and settle down, and get married.  I want the house with the picket fence and the kids and the dog and all of it.”

“You do?”

“Yes. Very much.”

“Then why don’t you already have that?”

He shook his head, back and forth, over and over.  “God, I…I wish I knew.  I guess I just haven’t found the right woman.”

“Oh,” she said, her fingers curling into his chest, right over his heart.  “Well, I’m sure she exists, Oliver.  You just have to keep searching, until you find her. Just keep putting yourself out there, and dating different women, until you know you’ve found the one.”

Oliver tugged against the rope.  “Felicity?”

“Yes?”

“Can we please stop talking about other women?  Because I am quite fixated on one particular woman at the moment, and I would like to keep my focus here, with her.”

Felicity huffed out a laugh. “I’m sorry, Oliver. I shouldn’t be talking about you dating other women while I’m sitting naked on your lap.  My mind, it…it runs away from me sometimes. I just, I want so much for you to be happy.”

He took a deep breath in, filling his lungs with her sweet scent.  “It’s okay.  I appreciate that you want me to be happy, Felicity.  But, I have to say, I am honestly, truly, blissfully happy right at the moment.”

“Yeah? Even with your hands tied?”

“Even with my hands tied.”

Felicity reached out, resting both hands on his shoulders before running them down his arms. Her movement stopped when she came in contact with the couch cushions, and Oliver leaned forward so she could continue petting him.  He rested his chin against her shoulder, enjoying the tickling of her hair against his nose as Felicity ran her fingers across the knots at his wrists before placing her palms inside his.  “How is that rope treating you, Oliver?”

“It’s alright,” he assured, grasping onto her fingers.  He wished he could see her face.  He wished the hazy blur of yellow candlelight flickering behind this scarf would clear, and he would be able to look into her sky blue eyes and see just what she was feeling at this moment.  Because he couldn’t get any sort of handle on the wild emotions coursing through his own veins, so he wished he could have some idea of what was going on inside her.

“You know,” she said, her breath warming his cheek as her fingers laced between his, “after this experience, I’m thinking I should really start carrying rope with me when I travel. I imagine it comes in handy for all sorts of binding emergencies.  It’s probably one of the two handiest things on earth, actually.”

He tried to hold her fingers inside his, but she slipped out of his grasp.  “And what would the other handiest thing on earth be?”

“Silly putty, of course.”

“Silly putty?”

“Absolutely,” she insisted, pulling her hands completely away from his and running her fingers back up his arms to his shoulders.  “What else on earth can you squish between your fingers and copy a cartoon with?”

Oliver’s empty hands fisted against the rope.  “Well, you do make a fine point, Felicity.  But you forget duct tape.  Duct tape is the finest, all-purpose handy thing on earth.”

“Yeah? You’re a duct tape kind of guy?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And what would you do with it, if you had it now?”

“God, I could think of several things.”

“Hmm, I’ll bet you could. You have a really filthy mind. I mean…I didn’t…I meant that in a totally good way.  It’s an awesomely filthy mind.  In fact, I’m thoroughly enjoying your filthy thoughts, Oliver. Like really, really enjoying them.”

He chuckled. “Felicity?”

“Yes?”

“I love talking to you about silly putty and duct tape and filthy thoughts.  I really do.  But you did promise me dinner, right?”

“Oh. Oh, yeah, right. I did.  Sorry.”

Oliver felt her bending over to the side, reaching for the food tray, and he smiled so hard it hurt. He couldn’t believe he actually had to remind her to keep her seduction of him on track.  Felicity shifted against him as she fiddled with something on the tray, and Oliver’s brow arched in curiosity.  “So, am I getting my steak now?”

“In a moment. First, there’s an appetizer.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

Felicity sat up straight on his thighs and then shimmied into a comfortable position.  “Open your mouth for me, Oliver.”

He did as she asked. Not that he wasn’t a little scared. He was actually a little terrified, but he didn’t want it to show. He would trust her, and feel, just like she wanted him to.

When his lips parted, Oliver felt warm a warm, thick liquid drip onto his tongue and his chin. He closed his mouth and tasted. “Chocolate?”

“Mmm-hmm. It’s actually a chocolate fondue. I have strawberries to dip in it, if you like.  Although, I have other plans for the strawberries, for later.”

Oliver smiled. “It’s okay; I don’t want strawberries right now.  I want more chocolate.”

“Oh, alright. Just open up your mouth again.”

He shook his head. “No.  Not that way, Felicity.  I want to eat the chocolate off of you.”

“Off of me?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Which, um, which part of me?”

“I literally do not care in the slightest.  I just want to lick it off of some part of your body, so I can taste your skin on my tongue. Because, as good as this chocolate is, I know you will taste even better.”

Oliver heard her gasp, and felt her wriggle on his lap, and he knew, if he could look into her eyes, that her sky blue would appear nearly black from the dilatation of her pupils.

“Oliver, I don’t…I don’t know which part of me to offer you.  I can probably imagine a thousand places where I would want you to lick me. Except…do I even have a thousand places on my body?  I guess I do, if we count skin pores, or maybe individual hair follicles.  God, I don’t even know what I’m saying right now. You just…you turn my brain to mush sometimes, and I…”

Felicity.  I want to lick all of the thousand places on your body, but for now, why don’t you just put the chocolate on your fingers?  I think that might be a good place to start.”

“Oh. Okay, yes.  I can do that.”

He felt her movement, and he heard the breaths entering and exiting her chest, as he waited impatiently. When he felt her hand come toward his lips, he smiled and opened his mouth.

“Here you go,” she offered, placing one finger against his tongue. 

Oliver took the offering. He sucked the chocolate off of her, getting rid of the unnecessary flavor, and then swirled his tongue around her finger.  He could smell the fresh soap on her skin, and he could taste just a little saltiness beneath the lingering chocolate.  But mostly he could feel her warmth and her softness in his mouth, at the same time he felt the wet heat of her sex against his thighs. 

After several moments he pulled back, letting her finger leave his mouth with a little popping sound. But he didn’t let her go far. He pressed his face into her hand, trailing his tongue down her finger and into her palm.  And then he kissed her there, and licked her, and just buried his face in her skin.

Oliver knew Felicity enjoyed what he was doing; he could tell by the way she wriggled and groaned and panted.  But then she started giggling, rather wildly, and her entire body shook on top of his. Oliver eased away, just a little, as his brow furrowed.  “What is so funny?”

“Oh, it’s silly, it’s just…” She paused to laugh a bit more, and then said, “I just realized that I have Oliver Queen eating out of my hand right now.”

He froze for a second, because she had no idea just how true that statement was.  “Yes, you do,” he agreed, and then pressed his lips back into her palm, kissing and nipping at her skin again and again. When he finally raised his face back to hers, he tried like hell to see her through the blinding scarf. He desperately wanted to see her sky blue eyes as they gazed at him, but all he could visualize was a hazy blur of yellow.  That distorted sight made her feel way too far away and unreachable, and made him thirsty and hungry and achy all over.  “I want more, Felicity. Please.  More chocolate, more skin.”

“You do?”

“God, yes. I do.”

“Hmm…well, you can’t have it.”

One eyebrow arched above his blindfold.  “No? Why not?”

She leaned in and placed a soft kiss to his lips.  “Because. Life’s not all chocolate, Oliver,” she explained, and then reached for the tray again.  He heard the dishes clank a bit and then felt her resituate herself on his lap.  “Now, open your mouth for me again, please.”

Oliver squeezed his hands together behind the couch, because he was a bit more frightened this time. But he still did as she asked. The next liquid she dropped on his tongue was thin and tart and pungent and sour as hell.  He smacked his lips together and grimaced. “Seriously?  More lemons?”

She giggled. “Yup.  Chocolate and lemons…best combination in the world.”

“Felicity, this is hideous.” He swallowed, attempting to cleanse his palate of the flavors.  This was like wanting soda and getting milk.  Or wanting lobster and getting Brussels sprouts.  “What is it with you and lemons?”

“Oh my gosh, I love lemons! They have to be the cutest of all the fruits.  And yes, that includes the little clementine oranges, which are also adorable. But I like lemons better because they’re so bright and happy looking, and yet, once you open them up, they have this exciting sour little kick that just takes you off guard.”

“Hmm. Well, I can honestly say that I have never given that much thought to fruit before.  But it still doesn’t make the taste of chocolate and lemon go together in any way, shape, or form.”

“Oh, it can’t be that bad.” Felicity traced her hand down his face, stopping when she reached his chin.  “You have a little something right here, by the way,” she whispered, and then bent forward to lick a drop of chocolate off of his stubble. Her tongue was warm and wet and soft on his face and he smiled.  “Mmm…I think this tastes quite good, actually.”

“That’s because you only got the chocolate part,” he complained, although is was only half-hearted, because the feel of her warm body pressed to his thighs and his chest, and the warm wetness of her tongue on his skin, had most of his concentration focused on the huge erection wedged between his stomach and hers. 

“You know, you’re right. I need to eat the lemon, too.”

He heard a soft sucking noise and then felt a shiver run the length of her. 

Shit, did she just suck right out of a lemon?

“Kiss me, Oliver,” she begged, her tart breath tickling his nose.

Yes, she just sucked right out of a lemon.

Still, he didn’t hesitate. If she wanted him to kiss her, he was damn well going to fucking kiss her, and he didn’t care about anything else. The moment his lips touched hers, Felicity slipped her tongue into his mouth.  Oliver inhaled swiftly as the tart flavor assaulted his taste buds, but he only noticed it for a second.  Because she settled further onto his chest, soft and warm and pliant, and he could feel her everywhere. 

He pulled against the ropes that restrained him, hating that he could only touch her passively. His mouth was currently his only weapon, so he used it.  He deepened the kiss with slow, perfect deliberation, enticing her to melt even further into him. His mind took leave of his body as his heart thudded against his ribcage, as each and every one of his nerve endings came alive beneath her body.

When Felicity pulled away, he nearly screamed for her to come back.  The only satisfaction he had now was the quaver in her voice. “Uh, O-Oliver, um…that will…that will be enough of that.  You still haven’t had your dinner.” 

I don’t fucking care, he thought, but he didn’t dare say it out loud. He knew she wanted to feed him, and to seduce him, and to have him at her mercy, and he wanted to give her that experience.  Even if it killed him. Which it might.

Her backside wiggled against his thighs as she turned back to the tray beside them once again. Oliver heard the drag of a fork against a plate.  “Smell this,” she encouraged when she returned.

He breathed in, absorbing the scent right below his nose.  “That is my steak, I believe.”

“Not just steak, Oliver – the choicest cut filet mignon.  It’s phenomenal.  I had the chef prepare it just for you.”  She slipped the piece past his lips and Oliver bit down on it, savoring the incredible flavor that burst on his tongue as he chewed and swallowed.

“Damn, that is good, Felicity.”

“Oh, wonderful. I was hoping you would say that.”

“So…you know the chef here at Blue?”

“I do. After I saw Pete today, I went to see him. His name’s Phil.”

“And how long have you known Phil?”

Felicity pushed another bite of steak into his mouth.  “A while. I like to know people. I always have.”

Oliver chewed on the meat, and on her words.  “So, you’re one of those gregarious extroverts, I take it.”

“Actually, I’m not, really. I was pretty introverted growing up. I discovered early on that I prefer to know people on a more one-on-one basis, because I want to know what makes them tick. A personality is like a mystery for me, and I think all mysteries should be solved.  I like to dig in deep to see what I can find.”

Oliver smiled as he swallowed, because he knew how far she’d already dug into him. “I would venture to guess that you’re exceptionally good at uncovering people’s mysteries.”

She laughed, and it was a bright, sparkling sound to his ears.  “I daresay I am good at it, most of the time.  But you are still a bit of a mystery to me.”

“Really? You mean you don’t already know everything about me?  Because sometimes it feels like you know more about me than I do.”

Felicity placed another bite of meat on his tongue.  “I know a few things about you.  But there’s just so much more to know.”

“Yeah? Like what?”

“Like the thing that happened to you…the thing that changed your life.”

Oliver stiffened beneath her as he gulped the last bite of steak down.  “I don’t…I don’t know what you mean.”

She leaned closer, her body warming his as her hand drifted onto his heart.  “Yes, you do know, Oliver.  It happened when you were a teenager.  I’m pretty sure it’s the reason you stopped playing football after high school. It’s the reason you transformed from a wild party boy who pees on police cars into a staunch, stuffy executive with fierce control issues and a penchant for planning.” 

“I’m not stuffy,” he insisted, needing to divert this conversation to something more palatable. “But I am thirsty. Do you have anything for me to drink?”

Felicity sighed and then reached to the tray.  “I do. I have some red wine. I know you don’t care for alcohol, but is a little wine okay?”

“Yes, it’s fine.”

She brought the glass to his lips.  “Drink, Oliver.”

He did as she instructed. He took deep, quenching gulps, as Felicity tipped the cup farther toward him.  When he’d finished the glass, he licked the liquid off of his lips. “Thank you for that.”

“Of course,” she said, replacing the glass on the tray and then replacing her hand on his heart. “I want to give you what you need.”

Oliver sucked in a deep breath, because he understood that desire.  “I know you do, Felicity.  I just…I don’t know that I want you to unravel every mystery inside me.”

“Why not?”

“Because. Just…because.”

“Hmm. Well, I suppose I could always fill in the gaps with my imagination.  I actually have a very active imagination.”

He couldn’t help chuckling at that statement.  “I can tell that you do.”

“I like imagining things about you, Oliver.”

“Yeah? Why is that?”

“Because I find you so interesting, so unexpected.  I find you quite colorful, actually.”

“Colorful? You find me colorful?”

“Yes. Why do you sound surprised?”

“I don’t know; I just don’t really think my life lends itself to much color.”

Felicity moved her fingers up from his chest to his shoulder, tracing across his collarbone as she shifted her legs against his hips.  “Oh, I think it does.  One color in particular, actually.”

“And what color is that?”

“Green.”

His brow arched. “Green?” he echoed, because there was a hell of a lot green up here, surrounding these cabins, and he didn’t really feel like a part of any of it.

“Yes. Just like the evergreen trees right outside,” she explained, and Oliver wondered if she’d read his mind. “You’re a forest’s green, Oliver – profound, and lush, and full of life.  And you’re a hunter’s green – skillful, and intelligent, and predatory, when necessary.”

She reached up to run her fingers across his cheek and Oliver absorbed her touch at the same time that he absorbed her words.  He loved how she saw him.  He loved who he could be when he was with her. 

He smiled then, because he liked this little game of hers, and knew he could play along. “You know, I have a color in mind for you, too, Felicity,” he said, thinking about the little red leaf in her hair, and about laying her down in red bed sheets.

“Yeah? What color do you see for me?”

“Red.”

Felicity’s breath caught in her throat.  Her hands dropped back to his shoulders and she squeezed hard to his skin.  “Red? Oh, no. No, no.  Please…not red, Oliver. Red is a horrible color.  It’s angry. It’s angry and it’s violent and it’s blood.  And I hate the sight of blood.”

Oliver stilled beneath her, not understanding the strength or origin of her reaction. He only knew that she’d turned to stone above him, and that fear radiated off of her skin.  He pulled hard on the binds of the rope, needing desperately to reach out to her, to touch her, to hold her.

“Will you pick a different color for me, Oliver?  Please? Please?

He could feel her trembling against him and part of him wanted to give in, and just do as she asked. But he knew he couldn’t. Because somehow he knew that wouldn’t do her any good.  So he shook his head. “No, Felicity. Your color is red. But I need you to hear me out…because you’re not seeing it the way I do.”

She inhaled deeply, and he knew she was trying to steady herself.  She counted backwards beneath her breath, “3…2…1…” and then she exhaled, and settled down onto him once again.  “Okay, Oliver. I’m listening.”

He tried to see her through the blindfold, tried to concentrate on the shape of her face haloed by the flickering glow of candlelight behind her.  “Your color is red, Felicity, because red is deep, and vibrant, and promising.  It’s the color of fires – fires that burn you right down inside your soul. And it’s the color of your heart, pumping blood through your veins to keep you alive.  And it’s the color of the morning sky – that glorious, gorgeous red that tells you, in no uncertain terms, that the sun is going to come out, and it’s going to fill your life with such warmth and such joy, if you just stand still for a moment, and open yourself up to let it in.”

Oliver held his breath when he finished.  He sat as quietly as he could, because he didn’t know what she would say or do. He held his breath and waited…and then he heard her sniffle, and he felt a drop of wetness fall onto his chest. “Felicity?  Are you okay?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

God, he hated not being able to see her right now, so he leaned forward and pressed his cheek beside hers, in order to verify what he thought he knew.  The tears on her skin wet his face and he sighed.  “You’re not okay.  You’re crying.”

“Yes, I am crying.”

Oliver straightened, pulling hard against the goddamn fucking rope that prevented him from touching her. “Felicity, please don’t cry. I can’t stand that you’re crying, especially when I can’t even hold you.”

She reached out, running her hand across his cheek to wipe her tears off of his skin. “It’s okay.  It’s a good kind of crying.”

“Is there such a thing?”

“Oh, yes. They’re definitely happy tears.” She inched closer to him, pressing her chest to his as she placed soft little kisses to his lips, over and over. Oliver still felt the wetness on her cheek, and tasted the salt on her skin, but he loved having her close to him again.

“You just did the most amazing thing, Oliver.  It might be the most amazing thing anyone has ever done for me.”

“What did I do?”

“You gave me back a color,” she breathed, the tone of her voice awed as she smiled against his lips. “It’s not every day of your life that you get a color back.  It’s an incredible day; it’s an incredible thing.  And I’m so grateful for it.  I’m so grateful for you.”

He shook his head beneath the scarf, because he couldn’t actually believe that she felt grateful for him. “I’m grateful for you, too. You have to know that. Please know that.”

“I know,” Felicity assured as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her legs against his thighs. “I love being this close to you.”

He sought out her mouth again, savoring the lemony taste that still lingered on her tongue, and whispered against her lips, “God, I love it, too.”

Felicity pushed farther into him, her breasts crushed to his chest as her fingers wound into his hair. She arched her hips forward, pinning his stiff erection between their stomachs.  “Please let me be closer to you, Oliver.  I want to be closer.”

He felt her grasping onto him with her entire body, holding him in every possible way, and he pressed his eyes shut tight behind the blindfold.  Oliver wasn’t sure what she meant by being closer; he only knew he wanted whatever she wanted.  “I want you to be closer,” he breathed, his mouth finding hers again and again.

Felicity panted between his kisses.  “Then tell me, Oliver, please.  I want to know. I want to know so badly.”

Oliver blinked in the darkness, trying to understand her words.  “Wh-what do you want to know?”

She pressed her forehead against his as air fell in little pants from her lips.  “I want to know what this thing is that happened to you…this thing that changed your life.” 

Oliver stiffened, lifting his head from hers, trying to put some distance between them. 

But Felicity didn’t stop. “I can just picture you, back in high school.  So young, so beautiful, so gloriously alive.  I can picture you playing your football, and excelling, and challenging everyone around you. I see you being so driven, like you are now, but also being lively and excited and adventurous. I see you smiling and laughing and just making the most of your life.”  She smoothed her fingers from his hair down to his jaw, and held his face still within her hands.  “I can still see that person inside of you, here and now.  You let him out every once in a while, and I see him.  And I want to know, I have to know, what made you lock him away, so deep inside.”

“Felicity, I just, I don’t…”

“You don’t have to tell me tonight. In fact, I think it’s best that you don’t tell me tonight.  But I would like to ask you for a promise.”

Oliver cringed with those words.  Because he knew he’d asked her for a promise last night.  He’d asked her to promise not to lie to him anymore, and she’d agreed. And he knew she’d kept that promise, every moment since.  “What promise do you want from me?”

“I want you to promise me that, at some point before we leave this mountain, you will share this with me. I want you to promise that you will tell me about this turning point in your life.  Because I want to know, so badly.  I want you to let me in, to let me see inside you. Will you give me that much, Oliver? Will you promise me that?”

He took a shaky breath in, and then shook his head, because he knew what he should say. He should say no. He should push her away. He should force her away. 

But he just couldn’t. He couldn’t bear to even consider being up here on this mountain without her, and he couldn’t risk her turning away from him.  So he said, “Yes, I promise,” and then he waited for his chest to explode from the pressure inside it. But she was there, with her body pressed up against his, and she held him together. 

“Oh, thank you,” she sighed against his lips, her entire body relaxing into him, just before she eased her mouth onto his once again. 

Felicity’s kiss was eager, but it was also still timid, and Oliver couldn’t let it go on that way. So he took over, claiming her the only way he was currently capable of.  He kissed her as hard as he could, winding his tongue against hers as he teased her and tantalized her and lured her to him and then drank her in. 

She just melted against him, so willingly, her body falling onto his as she moaned into his mouth. Oliver pushed even closer to her as Felicity wrapped her arms tighter around his neck and threaded her fingers into his hair, grasping desperately to him while her hips rocked against his thighs. The harder he kissed her, the more she picked up the pace of her movements, bucking into his lap as his erection strained against the softness of her stomach. 

Then Oliver pulled his mouth away from hers, which took more effort than anything he could ever recall, and he gasped for air.  “Felicity. I need to be inside you. Please.”

“Mmm…wh-what?”

“I need to fuck you. Please.  Just let me be inside you.”

Her fingers tightened in his hair.  “But, but I…”

“Felicity, please.”

“But, wait. I have…I have so many other plans for us tonight.”

“God, what plans?”

“Well, I was going to feed you some more steak.  And then I had dessert all ready for us.  It’s strawberries and whipped cream, and I was going to do some, well, some very filthy things with the whipped cream.  I was going to smear it all over you, and lick it off, all the way down your chest to your…to your cock, and then I was going to take you in my mouth and suck on you until you were completely satisfied, and…”

Felicity.  Stop. Just stop talking. I need to be inside you. Now.”

“But…don’t you want any of that?”

“I fucking want all of that. But not tonight. Not now.  Right now I need you the way I need you.  Just promise me that we can do all of those things another time.”

She smiled against his lips. “I promise, Oliver.”

“Good. Now just lift your hips toward me and let me fuck you.”

“Uh…um…”

“Felicity. Now.”

She straightened on his lap, bringing her hands to his shoulders.  “No.”

What?

Her fingers traced a path down his arms then, stopping just shy of the rope tied to his wrists. The rope he was pulling so hard against that he could very well be bleeding on the couch cushions. “No, Oliver.  You’re not in control tonight, remember?”

She smoothed over the twine at his wrists, and he sighed.  “But, Felicity…”

“You’re taking control right now.  And I understand that it’s your way, but tonight isn’t about that.  Tonight is about feeling.  I want you to let me be in control, and I want you to feel.”

“Yes, I understand that tonight is about me giving up control.  I get that. But I don’t think you understand how much I need you right now.”

“I do understand, because I need you just as much.  And I’m going to do what you want me to do; I promise I am.  But I’m going to do it my way, and I want you to let me.”

Damn it!  Fuck! Shit!  God Bless America!  “Alright. Fine.”

Oliver.”

He exhaled heavily and released his strain on the rope.  “Okay, Felicity, okay.  I’ll let you do anything you want.  You already know that, right? Good Lord, if you didn’t know before tonight, you must know now.  I’m at your mercy.  I will give you anything you want.”

“Well, that’s…wow. I actually did not know that,” she said, placing both hands on his shoulders and grasping tight to him as she shifted her hips up off of his thighs. “But now I do.”

Felicity reached down between them, taking his hot, aching erection into one hand and lining it up with the soaking wet entrance of her sex.  Then she returned her hand to his shoulder and steadied herself above him. “You ready, Oliver?”

“Yes. Yes.”

She sunk down on him, slowly and steadily, her slick flesh sliding against his and squeezing around him as she took her sweet time to join them fully.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

Once she’d lowered herself all the way down, her fingers gripped onto his skin and a harsh moan left her throat. 

Oliver’s hands balled up, because he wasn’t sure if that was a good moan or a bad moan, and he hated that he couldn’t read the answer in her eyes.  “Felicity? That wasn’t a sound of pain, was it?”

She brought the side of her face to rest against his.  “Oh, no,” she hummed beside his ear.  “It’s just that you’re very big.  Although, I’m sure you’re aware of that.  You’re just so big, and so hard, and I love that first moment you slide inside me, and fill me up so completely, and…”

“Stop, please. I need you to stop talking.”

Her fingers gripped tighter to his shoulders as she pulled away just a little bit.  “Don’t you like my voice, Oliver?”

What?

“It’s just…last night you said you liked it, but in the past few minutes you’ve asked me to stop talking twice.”

He blew out a harsh breath. “Felicity, I fucking love your voice.  I love it too much.  I could listen to your voice all day.  It’s just a little difficult to hear you talk and still maintain my restraint.”

“Oh,” she said. Then she raised herself up, allowing him to slide almost entirely out of her, before she sank back down again. “I didn’t realize you loved my voice that much.  I thought what you really loved was my ass.”

She repeated the movement, gliding up and down his shaft.  Oliver had to unclench his jaw to speak.  “I love your ass, too.”

“Mmm,” she murmured, her hot, wet sheath tightening around him as she sunk all the way down.

Oliver groaned deep in his throat and his next words came out in a blissful, heated rush. “I meant everything I said to you last night, Felicity.  I love your voice, and your thoughts, and your touch.  And yes, I love your ass, too.  But there’s so much more.  I love your eyes and your smile. I love your mind and your strength. I love your warmth and your heart. I just…I love everything about you.”

She stopped moving. Felicity froze in place on top of him, and Oliver stilled beneath her.

Damn it.  I went too far.

He twisted his fingers against the rope, wondering if she was going to bolt away now. Wondering if she would just leave him here, bound and helpless.  But then Felicity brought her mouth to his, and pressed a kiss to his lips, and said, “I love everything about you, too, Oliver.”

The sound of those words rang through his entire body before settling firmly inside his chest. He didn’t respond to her, because he couldn’t.  Because he was speechless, and because speech wasn’t necessary.

Felicity began moving again. Up and down, raising her hips slowly off of his thighs before sinking onto him once again.  She repeated the movement over and over and over, riding him eagerly yet smoothly as her fingers clung to his shoulders and her breaths came rapid and quick to her lips. 

When she pressed her mouth to his, Oliver kissed her for all he was worth.  He tasted her warmth and sucked on her tongue and pulled her lip between his teeth, trying to be as close to her as he possibly could be. But, as much as he loved kissing her, and being ridden by her, the need to touch her overwhelmed him. It turned into a longing that grew into a desire that morphed into a frenzied, hungered craving that clawed at his insides. And he just couldn’t do this anymore. “Untie me,” he growled.  “You have to untie me. Now.”

Felicity slowed her movements, and then pressed her mouth softly to his.  “No,” she whispered.  “Not yet.”

“Good God, please,” he begged, lifting his hips off the couch to push up into her.

“Easy, Oliver. Easy.”  Her fingers traced down his arms and over the ropes, and she nuzzled her nose beside his.  “Let me do the work tonight.  Just feel. Just feel.”

“Felicity, I can’t feel any more than I already do.  Please just…go faster.”

She held still for a long moment, and then drew her hands back up to his shoulders and held tight. “Okay,” she said, and he felt her lift back up and then down again.  Slowly at first.  Deliberately. But then she picked up her pace.

She moved her body quicker and quicker, filling herself with him over and over again.  She sighed every time she came flush with his body, every time her ass landed against his thighs.  The sound of flesh hitting flesh filled his ears.   The sensation of her hot, wet sex tightening around him drove him to near madness.  Her sighs turned to moans and then escalated to screams, and Oliver grit his teeth together, trying to hold out for as long as he could. 

All he could hear was her – all he wanted to hear was her – so he missed the rattling of glass and silverware warning him that the dinner tray was headed off the side of the couch.  When it fell to floor, the dishes made a huge crashing sound as they broke into bits and pieces.  Oliver honestly didn’t give a shit.  Unfortunately, Felicity did. 

Oh,” she breathed, suddenly stilling all of her movements, “Oh, no…”

“Leave it, Felicity.”

“But, Oliver, I forgot to…”

“Baby, just leave it. Stay with me.  Keep fucking me.  I need you to come.  I need to feel you come apart around me.”

Her hips bucked with his words.  “God, please say that again.”

“Which part?”

“Any of it. All of it.  Especially the baby part.”

He leaned forward, capturing her mouth with his for one sweet second.  “I need you to fuck me, baby,” he growled against her lips. “I need you to come for me, please.”

Felicity gasped as she restarted her movements.  She pressed into him again and again, impaling herself on his rock hard thickness over and over.  “Oh my God, you feel so good, Oliver.  I just…I feel you everywhere.”

He strained against the ropes. “I know.  Move faster for me now. Faster and harder.”

Felicity did exactly as instructed.  She whimpered and moaned and panted as she increased her pace, her fingernails clawing into his skin as the flesh of her ass pounded against his thighs.  “Oh…oh…oh…” she groaned, and Oliver nearly bit through his tongue. 

Then she came. She came hard, crying out her release as she grasped onto his body with her arms and her hands and her fingers and her thighs and her tight, aching, throbbing sex.  Oliver didn’t last another second.  He growled as he joined her, emptying himself into her burning hot, soaking wet, perfect sheath. 

Felicity continued to move, although disjointedly, milking his erection as she panted beside his ear.

“Fuck, baby, that’s so good,” he breathed, his orgasm going on and on while she tightened her inner muscles around him.  For a minute, he thought he might never stop coming.  But then she just collapsed, her head lolling onto his shoulder and her breasts heaving against his chest, as she worked to fill her lungs with air.

Her body shaped itself to his, but her arms still held tight to his shoulders, working hard to bind him to her, and Oliver understood exactly how she felt.  “I’m here.  I’m right here with you,” he whispered beside her ear, waiting patiently until she sighed and released her clinging hold on him.  Then Oliver turned his face to press his lips into her hair. “God, Felicity, you’re remarkable.”

She giggled, puffing out little breaths against his neck.  “Thank you for remarking on it.”

He closed his eyes, letting his face sink into her gold curls as he settled against the couch cushion and allowed himself to simply feel her.  To feel her softness.  To feel her warmth.  To feel the joy and peace that radiated off of her skin. 

Oliver tried to absorb it all, to absorb all of her and hold it all against him, but he couldn’t. Because he still couldn’t touch her with his hands or see her with his eyes.  And it was killing him now, more than it had all night. His heart and soul ached with the need to hold her, and to look into her sky blue and witness everything inside her.

Somehow, she knew. Somehow, Felicity understood. Maybe she had some sort of sixth sense. Or maybe she could actually feel the pain in his chest as she lay against him.  Oliver didn’t know how; he only knew that her hands drifted down to his wrists, to untie the binding he could no longer cope with.

He leaned forward slightly, maintaining her position against his chest while giving her better access to the rope. Felicity pulled lazily against the knots she’d so diligently tied, and it took her forever to get the binding undone. Okay, maybe it wasn’t forever.  But it felt like it was.

The instant the rope came loose, the very second Oliver could get his hands out, he reached for her and wrapped her so tight in his arms that he pushed the air from her lungs. He held onto her so hard that he actually feared he might hurt her.  But then she giggled, and he felt her smile into his neck, and he sighed in relief.

The next moment, he ripped the scarf off of his face and threw it to the ground. He blinked his eyes, adjusting his vision to the flickering candlelight that was still far brighter than what he’d been used to throughout the night.  And then he returned his hand to Felicity’s back and pulled her close to him as he shifted up off of the couch.

Oliver stood with his little fairy still attached to him.  Then he pivoted, laid her down against the cushions, and covered her body with his own, all in one smooth motion.  Once he had her beneath him, he grabbed her face in both hands and stared down into her. 

Felicity gazed up at him with a soft, satiated smile.  Her eyes were glossed and gleaming.  Her cheeks were flushed and rosy.  Her gold curls were tussled and unruly.  And her body was so soft in all the right places, like a Felicity-shaped pillow made just for him.  He couldn’t believe he’d had her twice now and yet this was the first time he’d felt her lying beneath him. Especially since he would be perfectly happy never leaving this spot again. 

He stared into her eyes, seeing that same drunk pleasure that she’d had on the countertop last night, and her smile was easy and joyful and so goddamn beautiful that it hurt like hell. Oliver worked to move his lungs, to just get air in and out of his chest, as she stole his breath with nothing but that smile.  And then he pressed his lips to hers, just because he could.

“Hmm,” she hummed against his mouth.  “Thank you, Oliver.”

He eased back to look into her and his brow furrowed.  “For what?”

“For everything.”

Her whispered words brushed across his skin and he shook his head.  “I have to admit, I feel a little shell-shocked right now. What exactly was all of this tonight, Felicity?  The blindfold? The rope?  Where did this come from?” 

She shrugged her shoulders beneath him.  “I don’t know. It was you, I think. When I’m with you, I just feel…free.” She nibbled against her lip as she peered up at him.  “Is that okay?”

Oliver looked into her trusting eyes and his pulse sputtered.  “God, yes, it’s okay.  You can be whatever you want to be when you’re with me.”  He ran his hand into her hair, holding her even steadier.  “You know that, right?  You know you can be completely free with me, don’t you?  Because I’m here, Felicity.  I’m right here with you.”

Tears sprung to the corners of her eyes and she gave him a tremulous smile. 

He moved his hand back to her face the moment the first tear fell, tracing its path with his fingertips. “These tears…why so many tears tonight?”

She blinked as she looked up to him.  “I told you, Oliver. They’re happy tears.”

He nodded, even though he wasn’t sure how true it was.  Tears were tears.  They hurt. And he couldn’t stand to see her cry.

Felicity’s hands moved to his shoulders and then traced downward, until she could latch her fingers around his forearms.  “Will you come with me to the woods again in the morning?” she asked, her eyes pleading as they looked into his.  “I want to look at the red things.  I want to see all the colors again.  To see them and to appreciate them.”

“Of course I’ll come with you.”

“Good,” she said, her voice catching as another tear ran down her cheek.  “I’ve been trying to like red again, you know. I paint my nails red from time to time and I drink red wine.  And for the past few days, I’ve been staring at that little red leaf – the one that wound its way into my hair when we were in the forest.  I wanted so badly to see the beauty in that leaf, Oliver. To see the beauty in the color red. But I couldn’t.”

She paused for a moment, and took a shaky breath in before she continued.  “And then, tonight, you just…you said a few words to me. A few of the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard.  And, all of a sudden, I had the color red back again.” 

She uncurled one hand from his arm to reach up and run her fingers over his face.  She gazed into his eyes, and the look on her face was no less than sheer, utter adoration.  “My Oliver is a poet.”

He wrapped both arms around her back then, tightening his hold on her, because she said my Oliver, and he knew it was true.  This person he was, right here and now, belonged to her. He’d never been this person before her, and he didn’t know if he could ever be this person again after her. He only knew that he was ecstatically happy, right this minute, because he’d given her back the color red.

He just wished it had never left her to begin with.

Smoothing one hand up her back, he reached into her hair and grounded her to him.  He studied her eyes, and tried to look as far inside of her as he could. “What happened to you, Felicity?” he asked, keeping his voice as low and calm as possible.  “What happened to take the color red away from you?”

She stiffened immediately. All of her muscles hardened beneath him, and then trembled and shivered.  He watched in dread as her head shook back and forth and the tears returned, quick and fast, to her eyes.

“Oh, no, shh…” he soothed, running his fingers onto her cheeks and across her trembling lips. He pressed his mouth to hers over and over again.  “Shh, Felicity, baby…it’s okay.” 

Oliver rubbed his nose beside hers and dropped tiny kisses to her lips, listening intently as she took ragged breaths into her lungs.  “You don’t have to tell me.  I don’t want you to hurt. Just please don’t cry. I never want to make you cry.”

She inhaled and exhaled then, a bit slower and steadier, as she brushed her fingers across his jaw. “It’s okay, Oliver. Sometimes you need to cry.”

He pulled back to look into her eyes and watched her beautiful pink lips form a smile for him. Oliver knew he couldn’t push her, but there was one thing he had to know.  “Felicity, you don’t have to tell me what happened to you right now, but…” He stopped talking and swallowed hard against the pressure in his chest, his mind creating so many violent scenes that could have made her hate the sight of blood.  “I need to know if you were physically hurt. Can you just tell me yes or no? Please?”

She watched him carefully for a long minute as she blinked back the tears.  “No, I wasn’t physically hurt.”

He nodded, and a little of the tension left his shoulders.  “And mentally?  What about mentally?”

Felicity kept her gaze on him while she nibbled on her lip, and he felt her hand curl tighter to his forearm. “Mentally…I’m working out a few issues, Oliver.”

He exhaled and closed his eyes, letting all the kempt air leave his body.  “Okay,” he said, because he could accept that answer. She was being honest with him, and she’d just admitted that she needed help, and that was enough for now.

“But I hope you know,” her voice returned, drawing his gaze back to hers, “that I am not mentally ill. I am just…I’m just trying to deal with some things.”

Oliver smiled softly as he looked down at her.  “I know. I know you’re not mentally ill.”

“Do you know that?”

“Yes, I do.”

She huffed out a laugh. “Really?  Because I’m pretty sure that first time you met me, by the side of the road, you thought I was mentally unstable.”

Oliver cringed, remembering just how stressful that moment was, for so many reasons. “Was it that obvious, what I was thinking?”

“It was a bit obvious, yes.”

He shook his head. “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry I questioned your sanity at first.” He looked down to her face and ran his fingers across her cheek, reveling in the soft warmth of her skin beneath his fingertips.  And he remembered how much he’d wanted to touch her, from the first moment he saw her, and why he’d thought he would never get the chance.  He remembered those first moments all too well, and now they brought a smile to his face.  “You know, in my defense, Felicity, you did do an angry bird impression, followed swiftly by a chicken dance.”

Felicity giggled. “Well, in my defense, Oliver, I was trying really, really hard to get you to laugh. Because you looked like you hadn’t truly laughed in years.”

Oliver sucked in a deep breath and shook his head.  “I probably hadn’t.”

She reached up to smooth her hand across his jaw.  “I love it when you laugh.”

“I love it when you laugh with me, baby.”

Her entire face broke into a grin as bright as sunshine.  “I love it when you call me baby.”

Oliver bent down to press a quick kiss to her lips.  “Then I’ll keep doing it.  Baby.”

Felicity laughed with sheer joy and Oliver pulled back to see her, to just look at her, because he hadn’t gotten the chance all night and he’d missed it so badly. He’d missed seeing the blue of her eyes and the gold of her hair and the pink of her lips.  He wanted to see all of her colors.  Each and every one.

Oliver watched while Felicity explored his face with her fingers, touching his forehead and his cheek and his mouth as she studied the movement intently.  Then she eased her fingers across his lips and said, “You’ve been so good tonight, with letting me be in control.  So, now I’ll give it back to you.  I’m going to leave the rest of the evening up to you, Oliver. What would you like to do with it?”

Her fingers still caressed his mouth, so Oliver nipped at her fingertips and watched as she giggled again. She looked so happy, and so innocent, and so beautiful, and his heart clenched inside his chest. “Honestly, I think I just want to lay here with you, and touch you, and kiss you.  How does that sound?”

Her blue eyes sparkled as she gazed up at him.  “That sounds pretty darn incredible.”

“It does,” he agreed. And then he smiled all the way to her mouth.

 ...

A/N:  Hi there!  Thanks so much for reading!  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts :) Tina

Up next...Chapter 8:  Vulnerability

 

Chapter Text

Oliver sat on the porch steps of his cabin, looking out into the surrounding trees. The evergreens seemed darker this early in the morning, without the full sunlight shining on them, but they were still beautiful.  Oliver understood that everything was beautiful at Blue, but he wasn’t sitting here right now because he wanted to see nature.  He only wanted to see Felicity.

It’s probably best that you sleep in your own bed, so you can get some rest.

Those were the words she’d said to him last night, just before she planted a kiss on his lips and then scooted him out of her cabin door.  At the time, Oliver didn’t protest.  A lot had happened between them over the course of the evening, and they both needed time to process.  But that still didn’t make it any easier to be without her when he opened his eyes. He hadn’t stayed in his lonely bed for a single second longer after he woke.  He’d just leapt up, and dressed quickly, and made his way outside to wait for her.

Felicity wanted to go to the woods today, to see the colors.  To see them and to appreciate them…that’s what she’d told him.  Oliver knew she wanted to see all the colors, but she especially wanted to see red. Because he’d given red back to her last night, and he loved that he’d been able to change her life for the better.

As he sat on the cold porch stairs, Oliver pressed his fingers over his eyelids.  He swore he could still feel Felicity’s skin against his. He could still smell her sweet scent. He could still feel the warmth of her body and of her heart.  And all he wanted was to have his hands on her again, to have her with him in every possible way.

The strength of his desire overwhelmed him, and Oliver shook his head, because nothing about this made sense. His pull to her was so strong – his ache for her so potent – that it couldn’t be normal.  Good God, he’d been so caught up in her last night that he’d told her he loved everything about her.  He’d told her that he was at her mercy.  He’d told her that he would do anything for her.  And, at the time, he’d meant every little bit of it. 

The problem wasn’t that Oliver had confessed preposterous things to Felicity in the heat of passion. After all, everyone knew passion-induced declarations weren’t often based in reality.  No, the problem wasn’t that he’d said them. The problem was that even now, in the cold light of day, Oliver still meant every word.

“It’s only been a week,” he muttered to himself.  “You’ve known this woman for a week.” And he’d spent half of that week believing she was barely hanging on to her sanity.

Oliver didn’t think Felicity was crazy anymore.  Especially not after last night.  He understood now that something had happened to her.  Something angry and violent and bloody.  Something that didn’t hurt her physically, but sure as hell fucked her up mentally. He wanted Felicity to tell him what it was.  He wanted her to lean on him, and use his strength, because he felt like he could give her that much, at least.

He’d tried to be there for her last night, as best he could.  After she’d untied the rope, and allowed him to resume his control, Oliver laid on the couch with her forever, kissing her lips and playing with her hair and touching her face.  He’d wanted to be there for her, for whatever she needed. 

Of course, his actions weren’t entirely selfless.  He loved touching her; he loved feeling her skin beneath his.  He spent a ridiculous amount of the evening with his ear pressed to her chest, listening to the steady pulsation of her heartbeat. The rhythmic thumping sang to him, and lulled him, and he hadn’t wanted to leave that spot, ever.

The strength of his hunger for her terrified him, and Oliver was trapped between the desire to hold her in his arms and cling to her for the rest of his life, and the desire to run screaming from this mountain right now – to go back to the shelter of the life he knew, as tedious and dreary as it was.

He should probably do just that.  He should probably put an end to this bizarre relationship.  He should probably tell Felicity that it wasn’t a good idea for them to see each other anymore, and then walk away. 

With that harrowing thought, Oliver shifted against the wood staircase, dropping his hands to his thighs and fisting his fingers.  Just the consideration of saying those words to his little fairy made his gut twist and his stomach roil.  He’d already tried being up here at Blue without her…and he’d barely made it 36 hours without losing his mind. 

No, he knew he couldn’t walk away, because he didn’t want to, and because he wasn’t able to. Oliver needed Felicity right now and, if he planned to stay by her side, he knew he needed to fulfill the promise he’d made to her in the heat of the night.  Felicity wanted to know what had happened to change his life, and Oliver had to tell her.  And he had to tell her today, because he wanted to get it over with.  He wanted to get all of that mess out of the way, and lay it quickly back to rest, so that he could concentrate on her, and enjoy being with her, for the little time they had left with each other. 

Because Oliver knew there was no future for them beyond these moments.  There was no life for them together after they left this mountain. He understood that fact. Honestly, he knew it should make him happy, because whatever happened up here at Blue would stay here, and he never had to think about it – or her – again, once he went back to reality.

That knowledge should make him blissfully happy.  But right now, it just made him sick to his stomach.  Because, right this minute, Oliver couldn’t imagine there ever coming a time when he wouldn’t want to wrap his arms around his Felicity and hold on as tight as he could.

When the sound of tires crunching on gravel hit his ears, Oliver’s head shot up and his eyes focused. He watched as Roy drove the food truck down the driveway and parked beside the hobbled silver Porsche. Roy hopped out of the driver’s seat, pulled a tray from the back, and walked to where Oliver sat.

The boy didn’t smile. He just said, “Hey, Oliver,” and handed over the food.

“Hey,” Oliver replied as he took the tray of food he couldn’t imagine eating right now from Roy’s hand and set it behind him on the porch.  Then he turned back to the boy.  “If you don’t mind me saying, Roy, you don’t look so good today.”

“Well, you don’t look so good yourself.”

Oliver huffed out a laugh. “You want to sit for a minute?”

The young man shrugged beneath his red hoodie and then stepped up to sit with Oliver on the wood steps.

Oliver smiled as Roy settled beside him.  “So, we’re both having a bad start to the day.”

“I guess so,” Roy agreed.

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

The boy chuckled. “You first.”

Oliver sighed and shook his head.  “Alright. Well, I just want to ask you a question.”

“Go ahead.”

“Do you…do you ever see people get together up here?  The patients, I mean.”

Roy’s eyebrow arched. “What do you mean by ‘get together’?”

“Together, romantically. Do you ever see people try to start relationships here?” 

“Oh. Yeah, sometimes.”

“Does it ever work out? I mean, after they leave Blue, do they ever stay together?”

“Well, I don’t really know, because I don’t see anyone when they go back home.  But I do see some of them return to Blue again, and I’ve never known anyone to still be with the person they were with the time before.”

Oliver looked out to the surrounding forest.  “And why do you think that is?  Why don’t romantic relationships last beyond these mountains?”

Roy shrugged. “I don’t know; probably because it’s not the real world up here.  This place is just too different, and the real world changes everything.”

Oliver’s shoulders sagged and he sighed.  He knew every one of those words was true, but that didn’t make it any easier to listen to them. “Thanks, Roy.”

The boy’s head tilted as he looked to Oliver’s face.  “I don’t know why you’re thanking me; I can’t imagine that’s what you wanted to hear.”

“You’re right, it wasn’t. But I appreciate your honesty.”

“Well…you’re welcome, then.”

Oliver nodded, and sat for a moment, trying to let Roy’s words sink in.  Then he glanced over at the boy and forced a smile on his face. “So, now it’s your turn. Why are you having a bad morning?”

Roy flinched as he stared out into the evergreens.  “Today is my mother’s birthday.  Well, it was my mother’s birthday.”

All the air left Oliver’s lungs on a rush.  “Oh, fuck, man. Don’t let me sit here and talk about stupid shit when you’re dealing with something like that.”

Roy chuckled. “It’s not stupid shit, Oliver. Everyone is dealing with different issues.  It’s not a contest. It’s all just about figuring out a way to get through it.  And besides, it’s nice to concentrate on someone else’s problems for a while, to get your mind off of your own.”

Oliver shook his head as he watched the young man.  “God, you’re wise beyond your years, Roy.  How did you manage that?”

He grinned. “Don’t give me too much credit. Felicity taught me that part about life not being a contest.  She’s taught me a lot of things.”

“Felicity taught you?”

“Yeah.”

“Did I hear my name?” Felicity asked as she stepped out of the grove of trees between Cabins 9 and 10, her boots crunching on the gravel as she left the underbrush to approach them.

Oliver’s heart pounded with sight of his forest fairy, and he stood from the porch stairs at the same time Roy did.  Both men took a step toward her simultaneously.  But then Oliver glanced at Roy’s stricken face and he held back, allowing the boy to move forward.

Felicity smiled briefly at Oliver before turning her attention to Roy. They stepped up to each other, and Felicity reached out to take both of Roy’s hands inside of hers. Roy quieted the moment she touched him, and looked to her face as she focused in on his eyes.

“It’s a good day, Roy,” Felicity whispered.  “She would be so proud of you.  She is proud of you.  You know that, right?”

Roy nodded, and a single tear dropped down his cheek.  “Yeah, I know.”

Felicity threw her arms around him then, and Roy hugged her back just as tight. 

Oliver stood and watched. He watched his Felicity give her entire heart and soul to the bedraggled and beaten young man, and his fingers twitched with the need to touch her.  But he steadied himself, and he waited, because he knew she had enough love in that perfect, tiny little body of hers to share with each of them.

When Roy finally pulled away from her embrace, the boy swiped at the tears on his face. “Well, I should…I should go finish my route,” he mumbled. 

Felicity gave him a gentle smile.  “You always know where to find me.”

He nodded. “Thanks, Felicity.” Roy straightened his spine as he turned to Oliver. “And thank you for listening to me.”

“Anytime, Roy. Thank you for listening, too.”

Roy forced a smile and then shifted away to move up the driveway. 

Oliver didn’t wait another second. He moved to her, because he had to, and because he could.  Felicity’s eyes were still focused on Roy’s retreating back as Oliver stepped toward her. It took him exactly two strides to reach her, and pull her body onto his, and grab her face in his hands, and press his lips to hers. 

Felicity met his kiss instantly, accepting the insistence of his mouth, but a moment later she hesitated, pulling back and placing her hand on his chest.  Oliver’s brow furrowed in confusion as he looked down to her, but then he watched her eyes dart over to where Roy stood, preparing to hop up into the driver’s seat. Oliver smiled. “I don’t think you need to be so shy about our relationship, Felicity,” he teased.  “I’m sure Roy understands; he is an adult.”

“I didn’t see anything!” Roy hollered as he jumped into the truck.  “Not a damn thing!”

Oliver chuckled while Roy pulled his door shut and drove off down the gravel.  Felicity looked back to Oliver’s face, her blue eyes luminous and earnest.  “I take it Roy told you what today is?” she asked as her fingers curled into the fabric of his shirt, right over his heart.

“Yeah, he told me.”

She sighed, easing her body further onto his.  “Oh, good. I’m glad you two can talk to each other. You’re both such wonderful people.”

Oliver shook his head as he absorbed the adoration in her gaze, not knowing where she came from or how she came to be in his arms.  He pressed another kiss to her mouth before resting his forehead against hers and closing his eyes.  “I missed you, baby.”

Felicity shifted even closer to him, and Oliver felt her smile against his lips. “I missed you, too, baby.”

He raised his head to look into her eyes.  “Hmm. I like it when you call me baby.”

“It’s nice, isn’t it? I really loved it when you called me that last night.  Of course, that wasn’t the only thing I loved about last night, because it was all quite…lovely.”

Oliver watched her cheeks flush pink as she bit down on her lower lip, and he thought his face would crack from the broadness of his smile.  “God, I loved last night, too,” he announced, mostly because he wanted to see her blush even more.  She didn’t disappoint him.

He dropped his gaze down then, glancing at the thin black sweatshirt and yoga pants she wore. Oliver chuckled beneath his breath, because he knew she probably wore black pants instead of heather grey so he couldn’t see her underwear through them.  He reached out to touch the material of her top and he shook his head. “Are you going to be warm enough in this to go out into the woods, Felicity?  It’s a bit chilly this morning.”

“I’ll be fine,” she insisted as she looked up to his eyes.  Oliver felt her hand run across the sleeve of his navy thermal shirt. “How about you? Is this warm enough?”

“Yeah, I’m good. But I do want to get one thing before we go.”

“What do you want to get?”

“Just give me a minute; I’ll be right back,” he said, forcing himself to step away from her. He bounded into his cabin to grab the blanket he’d left sitting on the couch.  When he stepped back to the porch and closed the door behind him, he glanced to her face. “Here it is.”

Felicity crinkled her nose. “What is that?”

“It’s a nice, cozy, king size blanket.  I found it in the closet behind the board games.” 

“I know what it is, but what is it for?”

“It’s for lying on the ground beneath us as we sit.  Or lay,” he offered, still somewhat traumatized by the prospect of random animal droppings.  “I realize I don’t know all of your forest rules yet, but will this still allow us to commune with nature properly?”

Felicity laughed. “Alright.  Bring your blanket, silly.”

He smiled and tucked the blanket up under one arm before stepping down off the porch and reaching his other hand to hers.  Felicity moved to his side and threaded their fingers together.  “You ready, Oliver?”

He nodded. “Ready, baby.”

Oliver walked beside her today, through the trees and underbrush.  Felicity didn’t have to pull him along, as she had the first time. He still couldn’t say that he relished the experience, but he knew he wanted to be here with her, and he was beginning to see things through her eyes. 

Felicity was just entranced by everything she witnessed.  She gasped and giggled and squealed with every acorn that dropped on the ground and every bird that fluttered its wings, and Oliver was so taken by her response to the world around her.  She bounced and bubbled and danced, and he was afraid to look at her for too long, because of the way his heart pounded against his chest at the sight of her innocent, enthusiastic eyes. 

Felicity stepped through the forest with no path in sight, just like the last time, and yet Oliver actually recognized a few landmarks from when they were here before. He realized as they walked that his little fairy wasn’t just flitting about; she actually knew exactly where she was going.  To Oliver, it seemed as if she always knew where she was going.  It must be the Girl Scout in her, he thought. The same Girl Scout who’d tied him up with sailor’s knots and a timber hitch the night before. 

“So,” he considered as he watched the side of her face while they moved through the trees, “last night was really something.  I’m still not over your latent dominatrix tendencies.”

Felicity blushed with his words. “Thank you again, Oliver.”

“What are you thanking me for now?”

“For letting me act out my sexual fantasy.  I promise I’m not like that normally.”

“Well, then, I’m glad I got to be there with you when you let yourself go.”

She glanced up at him. “You know, I was thinking…since you were so good to me about everything I wanted to do last night, it would only be fair to return the favor.”

Oliver’s brow rose. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I think I should reciprocate, and fulfill a sexual fantasy of yours. If you want.”

If I want?  Are you seriously asking me if I want that?”

“I am.”

“Oh, yes, Felicity. I want that.”

Her cheeks flushed brighter as she nibbled against her lip.  “Okay then. I officially promise to fulfill a fantasy of yours, Oliver Queen.  Anytime you’d like me to.”

“But what if I want to tie you up the next time around?”

“I’ll…I’ll do whatever you want.”

He smiled wickedly. “You know, I would be a lot more aggressive with you…if I was the one in control.”

Her fingers squeezed onto his. “I understand that. Do you think it makes me a bad person that I wanted to tie you up first?”

Oliver chuckled. “I don’t think there’s a force on earth that could make you a bad person, Felicity.  And besides, I already told you that you can be completely free when you’re with me.  Because I’m here with you, for as long as you want me.”

Her eyes sparkled as she gazed up at him.  “That makes me happy, Oliver.”

“Me, too.”

She glanced away then, looking to the trees, but her hand stayed firmly implanted inside his, and he smiled to himself as they continued walking.  Her body felt so warm against him, and his mind wandered to all the sexual fantasies he wanted to fulfill with her.  He would probably spend every spare minute of the next two weeks just trying to decide which one he wanted, because that decision would be hard as hell. 

Oliver was in the middle of all sorts of naked-Felicity mental images when he heard a rapid firing noise and startled, freezing in place.  “What on earth was that?”

“Oh my gosh, oh my gosh,” Felicity breathed as she came to a stop beside him.

“What? What is it?”

“Shh, Oliver, don’t scare him. Look.”  She pointed up into the boughs of a large pine tree, and Oliver followed her finger to a black-and-white speckled bird with a red crest of feathers above its beady black eyes.  The bird slammed its beak into the tree trunk, making the hammering sound again.

“He’s noisy,” Oliver huffed.

“He’s a red-headed woodpecker,” she informed him.  “He’s supposed to be noisy.”

Oliver chuckled as he looked down into her vibrant eyes.  “You like him?”

“I love him.  He’s amazing, isn’t he?”

Oliver stood beside her, with her warm body flush against his arm, and just absorbed the sight of her for a long, long time.  Eventually, he heard the rustle of feathers above him and he knew the bird had flown away, not because he was watching the woodpecker, but because he was watching Felicity’s face, and feeling the joy that radiated from her body as she stood, enraptured and enthralled, by the bird’s flight.  The image of her childlike joy brought a memory to the surface of his mind: a memory of a little girl with dark hair, looking up to the sky and giggling whenever birds flew by.

Oliver reached out to run his finger down the side of Felicity’s face.  “You know, sometimes you remind me of my sister.”

Her eyes grew wide as she looked up to him.  “You have a sister, Oliver?”

“Yeah. Her name is Thea. She’s ten years younger than me.”

“Oh my goodness! What’s she like?”

“She’s fun and bright and bubbly, like you.”

Felicity grinned. “Are you close to her?”

“As close as I can be, with her living in Paris right now.”

Paris?  How did she end up there?”

He shrugged. “She wanted to travel the world, so she took a position with our Queen Consolidated branch in France. She loves it.”

“Hmm. And I’ll bet you hate it…having her that far away, out of your sight.”

Oliver chuckled, because Felicity already knew him so well.  “You’re right.  I hate it.”

Felicity just smiled again, and squeezed onto his hand, as she resumed walking.

He kept pace beside her, looking down to her bright face as they moved in synchronicity. His sweet little freebird was enchanting and positive and soothing and perfect, and right now Oliver couldn’t imagine giving her up, ever.  “I think you and Thea would get along so well, back in the real world,” he admitted before he could stop himself.

Felicity’s fingers twitched inside his as her eyes darted to his face.  Oliver watched her force a smile.  “I’m sure we would,” she mumbled.  Then she looked away, back into the trees.

Oliver knew he should let this conversation go now.  But he didn’t want to. “You know, I had an interesting talk with Roy this morning.”

“Oh yeah? What about?”

“It was about romantic relationships that start between patients up on this mountain.”

Her breath caught with his words, and she focused on the ground beneath her feet.  “And what did Roy have to say about it?”

“He said people don’t usually stay together after they leave here.  He said he’s never seen a couple make it once they get back to the real world.”

Felicity’s footing faltered as she walked, and Oliver held tighter to her hand, steadying her. “No, they don’t,” she whispered. “Not that I’ve seen.”

“Why do you think that is?”

She was quiet for a long moment, just moving beside him, and then she took a deep breath in. “Have you ever seen the movie Speed, Oliver? The one where they have to keep the bus going above 50 miles per hour or it will blow up?”

“Yes, I’ve seen it.”

“Well, in that movie, Keanu Reeves tells Sandra Bullock that relationships based on intense experiences never work.  And I think that applies to things up here, too.  Relationships that start up on this mountain can’t last.  They just can’t.”

His brow quirked upward as he looked at her.  “Do you often live your life based on Keanu Reeves movie quotes, Felicity?”

She smiled. “Alright, maybe that was a bad example,” she offered, and then her smile fell as she met his eyes.  “But you do know what I mean, right?”

He wanted to say no. He wanted to say that her Speed theory was utter, absurd nonsense and that anyone could make anything work, if they just tried hard enough. But he couldn’t say that, because he knew it would be a lie. 

“Yeah, I suppose I do know what you mean,” he admitted, even though the words stabbed like a sword into his gut.  He unthreaded his fingers from hers then, dropping his hold on her hand, but only because he needed her closer.  Reaching his arm around her back, Oliver grabbed hold of her waist and pulled her hip against his. He felt Felicity’s hand reach to the material of his shirt, and felt her fist gather the fabric into a ball against his lower back, as they continued to walk side by side.  His little fairy became quiet then, and that was okay with him, because he needed a moment to process his thoughts and his desires.

The forest felt still around them as they moved forward together, and Oliver was so caught up in the sensation of her body pressed to his side that he barely noticed her footsteps slowing. But he definitely felt her trembling beneath his arm, and his eyes darted to her face.  “Baby, are you okay?” he asked when Felicity came to a complete stop. 

Oh,” she breathed, her eyes widening as she stared at the tree before them.

Oliver followed her gaze to the beautiful, slender brown trunk in front of her that supported multitudinous branches covered in a million bright red leaves. Her body trembled as she stood beside him, and he held his breath as he watched her.

“Oh, Oliver, look. This…this is a red maple. It’s always been my most favorite tree.” She stepped away from him then, pulled toward the diverse shades of red leaves.  He let her go, because he knew she needed to see the leaves, and to feel them.  

Felicity reached up, running her hand reverently across a branch before stilling her fingers against one single rosy leaf.  “My God, it’s beautiful,” she whispered.  “It’s so beautiful.”

Oliver heard the quaver in her voice and he stepped up behind her, wrapping his arm around her waist to pull her back to his chest, although careful not to pull her away from her red leaf. Felicity’s free hand moved to his, overlapping his fingers as she sighed and relaxed into his embrace. He dropped his head into her hair, allowing himself to just breathe her in.  The scent of her tiny flowers floated into his brain, and Oliver cleared his mind of everything but her.  Because all he wanted was to be here, in this moment, with his freebird.

“Thank you for this, Oliver. Thank you so much. I love having this tree back.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, and felt her shiver as she wrapped both of her hands around his forearm, holding him even tighter to her body.  Oliver didn’t know how long they stood like that, with her staring at the red leaves as he breathed quietly into her loose gold curls, absorbing the warmth of her body into his skin.  But, eventually, Felicity turned in his arms and looked into his eyes and eased up on her toes to press her lips to his.  He kissed her softly, and slowly, and when she finally eased back down to the ground she gave him a sensual, satiated smile.

“Do you want to spread our blanket out here, Felicity?  Or do you want to go find your oak tree?  I think it’s pretty close.”

“You’re right; it is close. Let’s go there.”  

“Okay,” he agreed, grateful for the respite of walking again, because he didn’t know what acts he might commit if he had to stand there and continue to witness the desirous, drunken look on her face after just one of his kisses.

Within minutes of leaving the maple, Felicity stopped again, this time in front of a large oak trunk. “Here it is,” she announced, and Oliver chuckled, because he was pretty sure that it was actually the same one from the other day.

Felicity turned back to him and reached for the blanket under his arm.  Oliver opened the soft material up, and then handed her an edge, so they could unfold it together.  Felicity let her half of the fabric drop to the ground a few feet from the base of the oak, and Oliver knelt down to help her spread the rest out. He wasn’t all that helpful, though, because watching her wriggle on the ground as she straightened the material mesmerized him. It reminded him of the night she’d spread the Twister mat out on her living room floor, and Oliver remembered how difficult it was to watch her back then, too.  He wanted her just as much now as he did that night. God, he probably wanted her even more now, because he already knew what it felt like to be inside her, and he wanted to experience that sensation again and again and again.

When Felicity finished with her task, she perched herself on the smooth green fabric and looked up to his eyes.  “Are you going to come sit with me, baby?”

“I am,” he assured as he settled down on the blanket beside her. 

Her bright eyes watched him as he sat.  “Do you mind if I take my shoes off?”

Oliver’s brow furrowed. “Seriously?  It’s freezing out here.  You’ll get frostbite.”

“It’s not that cold,” she assured with a laugh as she reached to her boots and began untying the laces.  “And besides, I told you the last time we were here:  I’m tougher than I look.” 

He smiled then, because he knew she meant those words.  And he wanted nothing more than to believe they were true.  Especially since she’d told him that she enjoyed blowing up powder kegs and poking grizzly bears, and he needed her to be strong enough to survive all that.

Felicity pulled off both of her boots, and then her socks, and set them beside the blanket. Then she sunk her feet onto the hard ground and curled her toes up in the dried, fallen leaves. She’d painted her toenails red again, and Oliver couldn’t help but smile when he saw them. “Do you actually enjoy having your feet in the dirt?”

“I do. Sometimes you just need to dance around in the dirt, you know?”

He didn’t know. But it seemed to make her happy, which made him happy.

Felicity flopped back onto the blanket then, and her gold halo of curls spread out on the green fabric as she looked up to the sky.  Oliver followed her lead.  He lay down on his back beside her, and rested his arm next to hers, and looked up.

The trees branches went on and on above him, reaching all the way to the clouds, and the morning sun eased through the branches with little streaks of silver and gold. It was beautiful, but it was also enormous, and he still wasn’t sure how safe they were.  But then he felt Felicity’s hand move to his, and felt her fingers stroke softly across the back of his own, and he smiled up into the boughs.  Oliver knew how much Felicity loved it here, so he would try to love it, too.

He listened to the flutter of unseen birds in the tree branches, and to the occasional dropping of acorns, and he worked to keep his body relaxed beside her.  But it was difficult, because Oliver knew that he couldn’t just lay here.  There was something else he had to do for Felicity today.  He had to fulfill his promise, and tell her what happened to change his life all those years ago. 

Oliver knew what it was. He didn’t have to search his memory, or figure out what incident she might be referring to. He knew exactly what Felicity was asking him about, but part of him still wanted to ignore its existence, because he found it unnecessary to dredge it from its resting place.

His muscles tensed against the blanket, even though he wasn’t actually afraid to tell her what happened. He didn’t fear reciting the event to her; what Oliver feared was what would come after.  He knew Felicity would never understand that, as horrible as the incident was, he had put it behind him.  He knew Felicity would react like his parents had, and try to dissect his feelings and force him to get help.  But Oliver hadn’t wanted to deal with doctors and therapy sessions and unrelenting psychoanalysis sixteen years ago, and he sure as hell didn’t want it now.

After all, it wasn’t as if this thing affected him on a daily basis.  The problem was dealt with; it was laid to rest.  Despite his parents begging him to seek counseling, he had managed – on his own – to put it in the past.  It wasn’t the reason he questioned his life now.  It wasn’t the reason he’d been unable to commit to McKenna, and it certainly wasn’t the reason he’d allowed Digg to talk him into coming here.

But that didn’t change the fact that he preferred the memory where it was: long buried, infrequently recalled, and definitely unshared.  The only adults still in his life who knew about that night were his parents. He’d long ago broken contact with anyone from high school, and his sister Thea had been too young to understand anything, and Oliver never found it necessary to share the incident with any women over the years.  Not even with McKenna.

And yet here he was, having made this promise to Felicity in a moment of sexually induced weakness, and now he would have to reopen the memory.  He would have to leave himself bare to Felicity’s examination, and grant her the opportunity to dissect him like the psychological fodder he’d never wanted to become.  He definitely wasn’t looking forward to it.  But he understood that it was best to get it over with.  If he told her today, then he could continue with this vacation, and spend every minute he had with his little freebird, without having to think about it again. He could rebury it, where it had been for sixteen years now, and move along.

Oliver took a deep breath and cleared his throat as he stared up into the trees. “Felicity?”

“Hmm?”

“I made you a promise last night…and I intend to keep it.”

Felicity’s fingers stilled against his.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her turn her face toward him.  Oliver could feel her searching gaze against his skin and he swallowed hard.

“Do you want to keep it?” she questioned.

“It was a promise,” he insisted, knowing he couldn’t simply ignore a promise and still live with himself afterward.

“Yes, I know it was a promise. But I kind of coerced you into making it.”

He smiled up to the heavens. “Well, I guess I’m glad you can admit that.”

“Oh, yes, I admit it. I fully enjoyed exploring my feminine powers last night.”

“They’re exceptional, I must say.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. But your powers aren’t the issue here. I made a promise to you, and I intend to keep it.”

Felicity quieted for a long minute, and Oliver could feel her watching him.  Finally, she exhaled and said, “Then I release you from your promise.”

Oliver’s brow quirked upward as he turned to look into her eyes.  “You do?”

“Yes, because I got it unfairly.  My only excuse was that I was emotionally overwhelmed last night, being with you in that way, and then you gave me back a color.  A color, Oliver. And I just…I wanted to know you. I wanted to see inside of you, so badly. And I’m not going to lie; I still do. But I don’t want you to share this with me if you don’t want to.  So I’m not going to hold you to that promise.”

Oliver’s breath caught in his throat.  Is she actually going to allow me to walk away from this? God, it was certainly tempting to let sleeping dogs lie and forget the whole thing.  And yet, nothing about that felt right.  It was probably because he’d made her the promise and he didn’t want to back out of it.  But Oliver also knew that this was a woman who wanted nothing from him – who asked nothing of him – except to see into his heart.  And maybe, just maybe, he actually wanted her to see.

“Hmm, that’s odd.”

“What’s odd?” she asked.

“It’s odd that it seems I do want to share this with you.”

“Why is it so odd?”

“Because I haven’t told anyone…”

“In a long time?”

“No. I haven’t told anyone. Ever.”

Felicity’s eyes widened and Oliver turned his head away from her, refocusing on the nothingness above him. He didn’t want her looking into him just yet; he didn’t want her to see those deep, dark places until he was ready. “This thing…this night…it was a long time ago,” he began, steeling his determination as he tried to find the words.

“When you were a teenager,” Felicity continued for him.

“Yes. I was eighteen. It was my senior year of high school. You already know that I was…very popular.”

“I do know that you were popular. And I know that you loved playing football.”

“I did. I was the quarterback, actually. I was good.  I was really good. I already had a scholarship to play college ball.  Not that I needed a scholarship, financially speaking, but it felt good to know that I’d earned it myself. It was mine.”

Felicity reached her fingers to the inside of his hand.  “You were happy.”

Oliver clasped her fingers against his palm as he stared into the sky.  “I was. It was a foolish childhood happiness, for the most part, but I did understand that I had a lot going for me. My parents were incredible and they loved me without limits.  I had all the money and all the things I could possibly desire.  I had an amazing future to look forward to.  And it didn’t hurt that I could have pretty much any girl I wanted. My life was full and promising.”

His words trailed off while he concentrated on the feel of her fingers rising slowly up and then down his forearm.  Oliver closed his eyes with that sensation as visions of the past formed behind his eyelids. Felicity’s touch grounded him, and yet he was back there again, on that football field, throwing the pass that won the game.

“It was homecoming night,” he heard his own words from a distance, “and we won.  Coach named me MVP right there on the field, and my teammates carried me off on their shoulders.  I remember seeing Mom and Dad in the stands and knowing how proud they were of me. It was an amazing moment.”

Oliver inhaled shakily. “We all crowded into the locker room, screaming and hollering and slapping each other on the back. I don’t know who saw her first, because it took a while for us to settle down.  It took a moment for us to stop cheering and realize what we were seeing.

“A girl from our school was hanging from one of the rafters, her feet dangling over a bench. Her eyes were kind of bugged out and her skin was mottled.  She’d used the homecoming banner from the hallway to make a noose and she’d hung herself right there.

“The coach pushed past us and demanded that one of the guys help him get her down. They started CPR, and they called for an ambulance, but she was already gone.”

Felicity turned her body toward him, propping up on her elbow to look down to his face. “Did you know her, Oliver?”

He opened his eyes to see hers.  “No. I didn’t even recognize her. Not at first.  But she looked different, of course.  The body hanging there…that wasn’t who she was. Later, I remembered that she’d said hello to me in the school halls a few times.  And that night, before the game, she’d wished me luck right before I ran out onto the field – her and twenty other girls, hollering at me from the stands. I just remembered her being there because she was normally so quiet and it seemed odd for her to be standing in that crowd, shouting along with everyone else.”

“Did you know her name?”

“Not then, no,” he said with a shake of his head.  “They ushered us all out of the locker room before we had a chance to change clothes or anything.  I remember riding home with my parents that night…the car was so silent.  My father didn’t even turn the radio on, and he always had the radio on.  But not that night.

“The rest of the evening was difficult.  I couldn’t sleep for thinking about her; I just couldn’t fathom what had brought her to commit that act. She was so young, as young as I was, and I was so fortunate.  I recognized all of this happiness and all of this potential in my life, and I couldn’t understand how she didn’t see the same things in her own.  And I mourned her that night, even though I never knew who she was.”

Felicity sniffled with his words, and Oliver watched as a tear streamed from the corner of her eye. He took a deep breath in, working to steady himself, because he couldn’t stand for Felicity to cry because of him. He’d seen his mother cry way too many times over him through the years; he distinctly remembered how she’d sobbed the day he told her he was giving up his football scholarship. And now he had to watch the little drops fall from Felicity’s beautiful blue eyes, and he hated it.

Oliver could feel his own tears, salty and burning, behind his eyelids.  But he refused to let them out.  Because they would not control him.

Felicity settled down onto his body, resting her head in the crook of his shoulder as she curled her fingers up against his arm.  “I’m sorry, Oliver,” she whispered.

“There’s more,” he rasped, barely recognizing his own words for the pain behind them. “I went back the next day…to the locker room.  They had reopened it and I wanted to grab my things.  A few other guys from the team were there, but no one had much to say. I stared briefly at the rafter that she’d been hanging from, and then I went straight to my locker. I didn’t want to be there at all.

“I pulled open my locker door and began stuffing my things into a bag.  Then, as I was about to close the door, I noticed a small envelope taped to the inside.  It wasn’t addressed, but I knew it hadn’t been there before the game. 

“I sat down on the bench and opened it.  It was a piece of paper with a girl’s handwriting, very flowery and yet crooked in places. It had my name at the top, and when I looked down I saw that it was from her.  Carrie. The girl who had hung herself. She’d left me this letter.”

Oliver took in a deep breath, filling his lungs as he pressed his eyes shut again. Carrie Cutter.  He hadn’t thought her name in as many years as he could recall.  He could still see the letter…the smudges that had been made by her tears…the smudges that developed later with his own.

“She wrote that she’d been watching me for years,” he recalled, his tongue feeling dry and thick. “That she thought I was the most incredible person, and that I had such a wonderful life, and that she’d always wanted to be a part of it.  She said she had tried to talk to me, had tried to write me, but she never had the nerve. And then she said that things in her life weren’t very good.  She was afraid when she was at home, and she didn’t want to be there anymore. She said she wished that she could have been my girlfriend, because she knew I would have made her happy. She said that – if I had just wanted her – then maybe things would have been different.

“But then she wrote that she didn’t blame me.  She wrote that she loved me, and always would.  And then she wished me luck on my football game.  That goddamn, silly, stupid fucking football game.  And then she signed it:  Carrie.

“I imagine she put it in my locker just before she took her life.”

He cleared his throat, allowing his eyes to open to the sky.  “I read it over and over again.  It’s been sixteen years, but I can still see her handwriting.  I gave the letter to the police the next day – after I had spent an entire night reading it, and after I’d gotten up the nerve to show it to my parents. The police investigated her home, and shortly afterward her father was arrested.  A report came out later that said he’d been abusing Carrie and her younger sister.”

Oliver dragged in a ragged breath, his eyes staring, unseeing, up at the trees.  “I guess…I guess she had just found her way out.”

Felicity raised her head from his shoulder to look down to his face.  Oliver didn’t even see her at first, taking several moments to acclimate himself to the present.  But he knew her voice, and he knew her next words…he’d certainly heard them before.

“You know this wasn’t your fault.  She was obviously very troubled, and she could have focused on anyone.  It didn’t really have anything to do with you.”

He clenched his jaw. Goddamn it, here it comes…the psychological interrogation.

Oliver sat up then. He pulled away from Felicity’s body to balance on the edge of the blanket.  “Yeah, I know,” he insisted, turning his eyes to look out to the forest. He ran both hands across his thighs, trying to control the trembling in his fingers.

Felicity sat up beside him. He heard her exhale in frustration, and he fought the urge to turn to her.  Because he was not about to be fodder for anyone.  Not even her.

“But you don’t know, of course,” she spoke with fierce determination. “You blame yourself for Carrie’s death as sure as if you took her life with your own hands.”

Oliver shivered with the sound of Carrie’s name.  He couldn’t recall it ever being spoken aloud since high school.  “I know I didn’t take her life, Felicity.  That was a horrible night, and the next few months were a worrisome time for me, but it’s in the past.  I’ve moved on.”

Felicity froze beside him. She felt so stiff that Oliver couldn’t prevent himself from looking to her, just to make sure she was still breathing. But, the moment he met her intense gaze, he regretted it…because she looked mournful, and soulful, and impassioned, all at the same time, and he knew she’d only just begun.

“My God, you don’t actually believe that, do you?” Felicity questioned as she stared into him. “You don’t really think that this was just some troublesome event in your past that you’ve moved on from, do you?”

He huffed as he shook his head.  “I do believe that, because that’s exactly what it is.  And you can stop with your analysis of me now, because I already know what you’re going to say next. You’re going to say that I felt a lot of guilt about it and it fucked me up psychologically.”

Felicity exhaled. “Did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Did you feel a lot of guilt about it?”

Oliver ran a rough hand through his hair.  “I already told you I was an asshole back then.  And I just…I wish she’d picked someone else.  I mean, I wish she hadn’t done it at all, but if she had to pick someone, it shouldn’t have been me.  She shouldn’t have seen me as some knight in shining armor.”

Felicity moved closer to him, easing her hand to his arm, and Oliver flinched with her touch. He turned his head away from her, staring blankly into the trees.  “Do you know what I did the morning of the homecoming game, Felicity?”

“What did you do, Oliver?”

“I fucked two girls. Not at the same time, but…one of them was supposed to be my girlfriend.  The other one was her twin sister.”

Oliver felt Felicity’s hand move tenderly across his forearm and he felt nauseated.  He gritted his teeth as she continued to pet him, as he continued to remember that day.  “I went to my girlfriend’s house first thing that morning and I climbed the trellis outside of her window and snuck into her bedroom.  I woke her up and told her I needed her, so that I could have luck for the big game.  And she just smiled at me and opened her arms to me and let me fuck her.  Then, when I was done, I climbed back out of her window and shimmied across the trellis to the window next to hers.  That was her twin sister’s bedroom, and I climbed inside there. Her sister was waiting for me, because we’d been sleeping together behind my girlfriend’s back for a while, and I looked right at this other girl and said I needed luck before the big game. And then I fucked her, too. That’s what I did the day Carrie took her life.”

Felicity inched closer to him. “Oliver, you were a boy. Those were the actions of a boy.”

“No,” he said, fisting his hands tight against his thighs, “I was an asshole.  I was complete fucking dick and she shouldn’t have picked me. Carrie shouldn’t have picked me.”

Felicity drew her hand slowly up his arm and then reached for his face, curving her fingers around his jaw to pull him to her.  When Oliver finally had the guts to look into her trusting eyes, she smiled softly. “You have too much guilt over this. More guilt than any innocent has a right to have.”

Innocent? Oliver had no fucking clue how she could use that word to describe him.  He only knew that he needed to bury all of this back down again now, in the recesses of his mind, where it had settled so long ago.  “I’m sorry to have to say this, Felicity, but you just don’t know what you’re talking about.  Yes, I felt guilty back then because of what I’d done that day, but whatever guilt I may have felt as a teenager…”

“You have carried with you each and every day of your life since.”

Oliver’s brow furrowed as he glared at her.  “You know, this is why I never tell anyone what happened.  People always want to make an issue of something that is long gone and forgotten. I didn’t tell you this so you could use your amateur psychology on me.  You asked me a question about my life and now I’ve answered it. That’s all.”

Felicity breathed in deeply as she watched him, with eyes as soft and sweet as they were focused and determined.  Oliver could tell she wasn’t done.  He knew she was going to come at him now, with all of the psychological vomit she’d learned up here at Blue, and he couldn’t stand the thought of it.

He pulled away from her again, shifting over on the blanket to stare at the oak’s trunk.

Felicity immediately moved forward. She crawled to her knees beside him and encircled his forearm with her hand, leaning onto his shoulder as she spoke beside his ear.  “You did answer my question. I asked you to tell me about the event that changed your life forever – the one that changed who you are as a person – and you told me.  The thing is, even though you knew exactly what I was referring to, you still don’t acknowledge the significance of it.   Or the fact that it completely changed you.”

“You don’t know that,” he insisted, denying his body the need to touch her, to breathe in her scent, to welcome her comforting warmth.

“Don’t I?” she whispered, her breath flushing against his skin.  “You told me last night that you couldn’t remember the last time you’d really laughed.  And you and I both know that you have fierce control issues.  You plan everything, in excruciating detail.  You don’t let anyone around you take risks; you don’t want anyone to make mistakes.  And you spend your life telling people what to do.  All because you want to save them from themselves.”

“You can’t relate all of this to one incident.”

“Yes, actually, I can. It’s not all about that one night, Oliver; it’s about the years and years of pressure and pain that have built up on top of it.  You threw yourself into a job that gives you the power to tell people what’s best for them. You tell your parents not to climb mountains because of the chance of being hurt.  You hate that your sister lives so far away because you want her under your thumb.  You deny yourself the joys of nature because of its inherent chaos.  You have let this guilt rule you – you have let it rule your life. And you’ve been so busy trying to maintain control of everything and everyone that you didn’t realize you never had control. Because nobody does. Not really.”

Oliver huffed. This was worse than he’d imagined. She was spewing more Freudian waste than he ever thought possible.  But at least he’d learned his lesson:  he definitely would never tell this to anyone again, ever.

“Oliver,” Felicity sighed, the warmth of her body infusing his skin as she snuggled up beside him, “will you answer a question for me?”

“It depends,” he replied, staring out at the never ending trees and wishing she had no effect on him at all.

“On what does it depend?”

“On what the question is. I’m not making any more promises.”

“Fair enough. I was just wondering if you would tell me about the relationships you’ve had in your life.”

“Relationships?”

“With women.”

He shrugged. “There’s not much to tell. Just normal relationship stuff.”

“But you told me that you want to be married.  You said you want the picket fence and the kids and everything.  And I imagine you’ve found a woman or two during your life who would have been more than willing to give that to you.”

He cringed. “I found a woman. Once.”

“Yeah? Will you tell me about her?”

Oliver didn’t like where this was headed.  But he knew Felicity wouldn’t stop until he told her, and dear God, he just wanted this over with. “Her name was McKenna. We were together for three years. She was a financial planner at Starling National Bank.”

“And what did you like about her?”

“I don’t know; the normal things you like about someone.  She was beautiful.  Intelligent. Socially connected. It made sense.”

“What made sense?”

“Her. She made sense. Any man would be lucky to have a future with her.”

“Did the two of you discuss a future?”

“Yes.”

“Did she want to get married?”

“Actually, she asked me.”

“She did? Well then, why aren’t you married, Oliver?”

A laugh forced its way from his throat.  How many times had he asked himself the same question?  “I don’t know,” he replied in all honesty.

“I know why you aren’t married.”

He turned to look at her then, staring into the blue eyes that were just inches from his. “Well, of course you know, Felicity. Because, apparently, you have all the answers.”

Her hand tightened on his arm. “I didn’t say I have all the answers. But I do have this answer. Would you like to hear it?”

“Oh, sure. Why not?”

“You said you aren’t married yet because you haven’t found the right woman. But have you ever considered that you’re not looking for the right kind of woman?  Because Oliver Queen – the real Oliver Queen – wants someone who challenges him. He wants someone he can argue with. He wants someone to explore the world with.  He wants a woman who gives him everything, and takes everything, all at the same time. Because you, Oliver Queen, are not a man who wants a boring, perfect little life.  You think you do, because of all the years that you’ve tortured yourself with guilt over Carrie. You think that if you lead a picture perfect life, with a picture perfect woman, then you will do Carrie’s memory justice, and prove that her final beliefs weren’t for nothing. Except you can’t quite force yourself to go through with it, because deep down you know it’s not who you really are.”

Oliver shook his head. “You do realize that everything you’re saying is ridiculous, right?  Carrie isn’t the reason I can’t make a relationship work.”

Felicity sighed heavily as she continued to look into him.  “Okay. Well then, let’s look at another issue. What about your work?”

“What about it?”

“How many hours a week are you at your job, Oliver?”

“I’m the CEO, Felicity.”

“Yes, but I’m just curious. How many hours a week?”

“I don’t know. Maybe seventy or eighty.”

“Mmm-hmm. And when was the last time you took a vacation before this one?”

“It’s been a few years.”

“A few?”

“It’s…it’s been a while. I don’t remember how long. A work ethic isn’t a flaw, you know. Those people – my employees – they rely on me.”

“I know they do. And you give them everything; I can see that.  I know how much you want to make their lives better.  I know how brave and strong you want to be for them, so they’ll have everything they need for a happy life.  But you don’t leave anything for yourself…you don’t have anything to come home to.”

Oliver shook his head again, his blood boiling in his veins, because a Frolicking Freebird would have no fucking clue what it meant to be responsible for the lives of so many people. “No offense, but you don’t have any idea what the hell you’re talking about, Felicity.  And I’m done with this conversation now.  I want to change the subject.”

She held tighter to his arm. “You work so hard for everyone else, but you don’t leave anything for yourself.  And it’s killing you.”

Stop,” he barked.  “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

“You’ve been cowering in dread since that night in high school, Oliver.  You’ve never even held your goddaughter, because you’re afraid you’ll break her.  You can’t even understand why your best friend loves you, because you don’t realize how loveable you are.”

Felicity…”

“I can’t stand to see you suffer this way.”

Stop.  I’m telling you to stop.”

“Because you are, Oliver; you’re suffering.”

“Damn it, I said stop!”

“No. I need you to hear me. I need you to see. You’ve allowed this to suck all the joy from your life.  It’s killing you, slowly but surely, and I can’t bear to watch…”

“Then you don’t have to!” Oliver shouted as he detached himself from her body and stood.  He took several steps away and came to a stop in front of the oak tree, with his back to her.  Every muscle in his body tightened, and his next words came out in a rush.  “You know, we’ve already decided that this thing between us isn’t permanent. We both know we’re just on vacation here. So, if you think I’m suffering and you can’t stand to watch, then you should just leave.”

Oliver stared at the oak’s trunk, clenching his teeth so tight that he thought his jaw would break. He listened as Felicity heaved out a sigh. Then he heard the rustling of her tiny body and the padding of her bare feet as she came to stand behind him.

Her voice was like an angel’s as she whispered, “I don’t want to leave.”

The blood rushed through Oliver’s veins while he stared at all the little cracks and crevices in the bark. “Then I won’t give you a choice.” He turned back to her, pulling up to his full height as he stared, hard and unflinching, into her face. “We’ve had a few fun days together, you and I.  But that’s all this was, so now we’ll stop.  And we will say goodbye.”

Oliver watched as moisture collected in the corners of Felicity’s eyes, and his stomach ground against itself, pushing acid into his throat. 

“But, Oliver…”

“I’m serious, Felicity. Take me back to the cabin. I’m done.”

A single tear fell down her cheek and she brushed it away with the back of her hand. “Okay.  If that’s what you really want, then I’ll take you back. And I’ll say goodbye to you.”

Oliver battled the stinging sensation behind his eyelids.  “That’s what I want.”

Felicity watched him for a long minute, with her head tilted, and her eyes glassed with tears, and a thousand emotions running across her face, and Oliver forced himself to stand there and take it all in.  Then she said, “Alright,” and he’d never felt more relieved or more sickened.

He continued to stare at her, waiting for her to move.  Waiting for her to turn and lead him out of this forest, back to some semblance of safety. He waited for a thousand hours, and then she smiled so softly and so sweetly that it forced all the air out of his lungs.

“Oliver,” she whispered, taking a step toward him and looking up into his eyes, “before we go, could I ask you for one thing?”

What?

She blinked at the harshness of his voice.  Then she took another step forward, so that her body was just inches from his. “Will you give me a hug goodbye? I won’t ask you for anything else, I promise.  I just…I would like to feel your touch one more time.  Just once more.”

Pain shot through his chest at the sound of her perfectly beautiful plea, and he feared she’d broken something inside him.  Something that could never be fixed.  But the thought of denying her this one thing, as she stood here looking up at him with the biggest, saddest eyes he’d ever seen, hurt far worse.  So he said, “Okay.”

His entire body stiffened, and he held as still as stone, as he waited for her to come to him. Felicity gazed up into his eyes for an eternity.  By the time she finally stepped up to his body, and reached her hands to his waist, Oliver’s muscles shook from the tension.

Felicity wrapped her arms around his back, curling her fingers into the material of his shirt. She rested her cheek against his chest, nuzzling her ear beside his heart.  And then she sighed, relaxing onto him. 

Oliver remained stiff as a board.

He wanted to hold her. He needed to hold her.  But he knew he couldn’t. So he forced himself to stay still, with his arms stiff at his sides, knowing that this was for the best. Knowing that she needed to walk away from him.  Knowing that he needed to let her go. 

He needed to let her go. He had to.  He had to.

And he almost made it. He almost got through the entire embrace without breaking.  He made it right up until she started to pull away.  But then he couldn’t stand it any more. 

As Felicity straightened, as she eased her arms away from his body, Oliver grabbed hold of her shoulders. She lifted her head from his chest, tilting her chin up to his face, and Oliver leaned down to press his cheek against hers, feeling the warmth and softness of her skin against his scratchy stubble. His fingers squeezed into her arms as he breathed, harsh and ragged, beside her ear. 

Felicity didn’t move. She didn’t twitch or squirm or pull away from the fierce grip of his hands.  But she did tremble against him, just slightly, as he held tight to her.

Oliver knew he should leave her be. She was too good. She was too pure. Too innocent.  He should walk away.  He should run away.

But he didn’t. He just stood there, listening to the shallow breaths that left her lungs.  He stood there for as long as he could, until he couldn’t handle it anymore. Then he dragged his cheek across hers as he sought out her mouth with his own.  The moment he pressed his lips against hers, he dragged her body onto his and banded her tight to his chest, holding her so fiercely that she whimpered inside his unforgiving hold. 

Oliver deepened the kiss, tasting her, pulling her closer, pushing himself inside her. Felicity let him. She sunk into the harsh embrace, curling her arms around his shoulders and running her fingers into his hair.

He kissed her as hard as he could.  In the back of his mind, he knew it was too hard.  Too punishing. He wanted to stop, and he didn’t want to stop.  And Felicity still just held him, and caressed him, and let him do as he pleased. 

Oliver couldn’t take it. He couldn’t take this trust she gave him so openly.  So he pulled back, tearing his mouth away and staring down into her face. 

She gazed up at him as tiny, shallow breaths left her throat.  Her sky blue eyes were dark with desire and determination and acceptance and he didn’t know why she still stood here.  Especially with her lips already swollen from the callousness of his kiss.

Felicity was so innocent and so beautiful and so full of life and Oliver never felt more like an animal than he did right now.  “You need to leave,” he growled.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“You need to leave,” he repeated, and he didn’t even recognize his own voice – it was harsh and menacing and pleading, all at the same time.

Felicity looked up to him and shook her head slowly in response.

Goddamn it, doesn’t she know what’s best for her?

Oliver gripped tight to her shoulders and stared down into her face.  “If you stay here right now, I am going to do exactly what I want to do,” he warned. 

He expected her to recoil from the feral look in his eyes.  She didn’t. She didn’t move at all. So he decided to give her one last warning.  “If you stay here right now, Felicity, you will not touch me.  I am going to do all of the touching.  I will be in control of everything.  Do you understand?”

She watched him for a long minute, just stood and breathed and watched him, but her determination never wavered.  “I understand,” was all she said, and Oliver groaned deep in his throat from the pain of her surrender. 

“Lift your arms,” he demanded.

Felicity complied. She didn’t flinch or falter. She didn’t take her eyes off of his. She raised her hands above her head and stilled.

Oliver reached to the hem of her shirt and gathered the material in his hands.  His fingers scraped against the warm skin at her waist and she sucked in a breath but didn’t move.  He watched her closely as he raised the material up her body, all the way to the end of her fingertips, before letting it fall to the ground. Then he stood for a moment, looking down at her, watching her breathe.  He knew the air was cold.  He knew she would start to shiver soon.  But she still didn’t move.  She just stood there, with her arms above her head, meeting his stare.

Oliver reached around her back and undid the clasp of her bra.  He lifted the black lace material up and over her arms.  He let it fall.  Then he reached down to the hem of his own shirt and whipped it up and over his head, allowing it to join her clothes in the dirt. 

Stepping into her body, Oliver pressed his bare chest onto hers.  He felt her tight nipples push into his skin, and heard a little moan escape her lips, but she still didn’t move.  Reaching down, he grabbed hold of her ass and lifted her. “Wrap your legs around me,” he instructed, waiting until she obeyed.  When her thighs encased his waist, Felicity lowered her hands to his shoulders, steadying herself as he held her above the ground, and Oliver winced at the softness of her touch. 

He took the few steps he needed in order to reach the hunter green blanket that lay against the dirt and leaves. Gripping her body tightly, Oliver lowered her to the soft fabric and laid her down on her back, just before covering her body with his own.  Felicity’s gentle hands found their way into his hair, and he grimaced.  “Put your arms back above your head.  Now.”

Felicity’s eyelids fluttered for a moment, but then she did as he ordered.  She placed her arms above her head, beside the gold halo of curls that framed her face.  Oliver stared down into her trusting eyes as she gazed up at him, and he couldn’t bear for her to look at him.  He couldn’t bear for her to see him.  So he let his forehead fall into her chest, resting against her heart, as he worked to catch his breath.

Her skin was warm and soft beneath his mouth and he pressed his lips to it, trying to be gentle for a moment before giving up and just biting.  Felicity arched beneath him as he licked and nipped his way across her skin, from one breast to the other, taking each nipple into his mouth in turn and sucking and tasting and pulling until she cried out and squeezed her thighs tighter around his hips. 

“Unwrap your legs from around me and put your feet on the ground,” he instructed when he finally released her breast from his mouth.  Her nipple was taut and jutting in the cold air, still wet from his tongue, and she moaned as she complied.  When Oliver felt her thighs spread open, he hummed his approval into her skin and pressed his lips to her breastbone.  Then he kissed down the center of her body, purposefully dragging his chin stubble across her as he went.  When he reached the top of her pants, he nipped at her skin while curling his fingers into the waistband.

Oliver pulled back then, sitting up on his knees to get a good hold on the material. “Lift your hips,” he demanded, watching the steadiness in her eyes as she allowed him to pull her pants down to her thighs.  Then he reached to one of her bare feet, and bent her leg up beside his hip, so he could remove the pant leg.  Once that was done, he stripped the rest of the material from her other leg and threw it to the side.

Felicity lay before him then, in nothing but a little pair of black panties, and he knew it was too fucking cold out here for her to be naked, but she didn’t say a word. She didn’t protest anything. She just looked up at him, with her arms above her head, and waited. 

Her fingers dug into the hunter green fabric beside her hair.  Her chest was heaving, her tight nipples pointed skyward.  The skin from her neck to her belly was dark pink, marred by the coarse scruff of his chin.  Red bite marks from his teeth tarnished the cream color of her breasts.

Oliver stared at her for a long moment. 

She was so sweet and so beautiful and so trusting and he was going to devour her.

Felicity should care about that.  She should possess the self-preservation to leave.  But, apparently, she didn’t.  I’m tougher than I look, Oliver…she’d said those words to him more than once.  But he didn’t know if she was tough enough.  He honestly didn’t think anyone could be that strong.

Reaching down to the straps at her hips, Oliver ripped her underwear off.  She sucked in a little breath, but didn’t move. He let the torn material fall to the ground.  And then he dropped down on the blanket, and buried his face between her thighs, and pressed his mouth to her sex, and drank her in. 

Oliver heard Felicity’s swift inhalation, and her shuddered moan, as he ran his tongue into her soft folds. He wrapped his arms around both her legs, and hitched her knees up over his shoulders, to get a better grip on her. And then he just dove in, licking and tasting and sucking and doing every damn thing he’d wanted to do since the moment she first walked out of the woods by the side of the road.

He wasn’t playful with her. He wasn’t teasing. He was determined and consuming and insistent and he didn’t let up.  Not for a second.

Felicity didn’t fight him. She stayed as still as she could while she moaned beneath his ministrations.  The louder she moaned, the harder he held her in place.

Oliver was so engrossed in her body, so engrossed in the ability to finally taste her flesh, that he didn’t notice her touch.  He didn’t notice her hands easing onto his head.  He didn’t notice the soft ruffling of her fingers through his hair. Not at first.  But then he did.  He felt her caressing him as he continued his invasion, and he couldn’t accept that tenderness right now.

Oliver lifted his head just enough to look up to her face.  Her eyelids were pressed shut.  And her lower lip was clamped in her teeth, so tight that he thought she might draw blood.

Felicity.”

Her eyes popped open and she looked down to him, releasing her lip as she drew in a shaky breath.

“Put. Your.  Arms.  Back. Above.  Your.  Head.”

She whimpered with his words.

“You will not touch me,” he growled.

Oliver held his breath as he waited for her to comply.  After long, stretched seconds, she did.  She gave in, and returned her hands to the top edge of the blanket, and only then did Oliver return to her wet, salty skin.  He buried his face back inside her heat, buried his tongue back inside her softness. She tasted like honey and wine and she intoxicated him.  He felt drunk off of the power and control she offered him as he worked her tender flesh beneath his mouth.

Felicity mewled and panted and wriggled while Oliver did his bidding, and when he pulled one hand from her thigh to press his fingers inside her tight, wet sheath, she cried out into the cool forest air.  Her inner muscles squeezed around his fingers and Oliver knew she was close. He wanted her to come. He wanted her to come uncontrollably against his tongue and his hand.  He wanted to know that she would give him everything, absolutely everything, without question…even though that knowledge would torture him as much as it would empower him.

Felicity's hips began moving rhythmically as Oliver continued to fuck her with his mouth and his fingers, over and over and over again.  He worked her flesh with expert precision, relishing the wetness he coaxed from deep inside her body.  He nipped and licked and hummed against her tight little bundle of nerves, and when Felicity finally let herself go, she clamped her thighs against his neck and screamed.

Oliver’s erection throbbed and twitched in his jeans as he pressed his face into her sex and rode the crest of her orgasm.  God, he needed to be inside her.  He needed to fuck her. Hard.  Fierce.  Unrelenting.

Pulling his fingers from her body, Oliver grabbed hold of her thighs and pried them apart. He sat back on his knees and reached for his zipper.  He had his cock free in an instant, and the next second he plunged inside her, driving deep and full into the warmth of her body.  Felicity inhaled swiftly as his chest landed on top of hers, and he found himself face to face with his little forest fairy as she gazed up at him beneath heavy-lidded eyes.  Oliver knew she was still in the aftermath of her orgasm, because he could feel the waves of her inner muscles contracting around his thick, heavy length, but he needed her attention so she could comprehend what he was about to do.

“Felicity,” he said, waiting until she focused on his face.  “You need to keep your hands above your head.  You understand that?”

She nodded slowly.

“I’m going to be rough,” he confessed, and he wasn’t just talking about this moment, but it was the only warning he could get out. 

Oliver forced himself to be still as he waited for her consent. 

Or, more likely, her refusal.

He fully expected her to deny him, because he needed to use her right now.  He needed to use her body for his own selfish purposes, and he didn’t want her to allow it.  He wanted her to force him away.  He wanted her to tell him that he was a monster and to get the fuck off of her.

So he lay there, buried inside of her, and waited for her rejection.

But Felicity didn’t refuse him.  Instead, she gazed up at him with soft, adoring eyes, and curled her fingers tighter into the blanket beneath her hair, and said, “I’m here, Oliver.”  That was her answer.  I’m here, Oliver.  And he knew, without a doubt, that he didn’t deserve her.

He started fucking her then. He fucked her as hard as he could. He wasn’t tender. He didn’t kiss her. He dropped his head into her shoulder, so he wouldn’t have to see her face, as he drove himself inside her, over and over again.  He took it all out on her – all his frustration, all his pain, all his years of pent up anger and fear and self-loathing.  He took it all out on her with a pounding, driving, frantic need.  Felicity just allowed it, panting beside his ear as he lost himself inside the warmth of her body.

Oliver heard the little moans that left her throat with every tortured thrust he made, and the tender sounds gripped like a vice around his heart.  He didn’t deserve her understanding.  He didn’t deserve her innocence.  He didn’t deserve all that she willingly gave.  But he took it anyway.  He took everything, took every tiny piece of her she offered.  And he still wanted more. 

He kept fucking her, his movements furious and stuttered and desperate, and yet Felicity’s hands remained where they were.  She lay pliant and peaceful beneath him, and Oliver could feel her acceptance. He could feel her willingness to be whatever he needed her to be. 

And right this moment, Oliver loved her, and hated himself, all at once.

He jerked violently into her several more times, and then his orgasm hit him like a freight train and he came inside her with a wild, roaring growl.  Felicity’s breath caught in response.  Oliver’s entire body tensed and pulsed as he emptied himself into her, and she lifted her legs to wrap them around his back, enveloping him and holding him steady while he found his release in the welcoming home of her body.

Oliver collapsed on top of her.  He buried his forehead into the side of her neck as he struggled to force air back into his lungs. He could feel her thighs around his hips, and her feet linked together behind his back, and he couldn’t believe that she still held him to her, after what he’d just done.

He grabbed hold of her. Wrapping both of his arms around her shoulders, Oliver gripped tight to Felicity’s body.  He squeezed his eyes shut as he listened to the tiny breaths escaping her throat, and he felt the sting of tears behind his eyelids. Then he felt the wetness on his cheek. For a moment, Oliver thought the tears were his.  But he realized they weren’t; they were hers. 

He raised his head to see her. Little droplets ran down her soft cheeks as she gazed up at him with brimming, glassy blue eyes, and dread and panic filled Oliver’s gut.  “Oh, God, I’m sorry,” he breathed, bringing his hands to her face to hold her steady as he looked into her. “Did I hurt you? I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry, Felicity.  Please forgive me.  I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head and more tears fell, running down her cheeks and onto his hands. “You didn’t hurt me, Oliver. I need you to understand that. You did not hurt me.  You’re a good person.  You’re a good man.”

He raised his fingers to her forehead and traced the outline of her face, trying to absorb her words. “I don’t…I don’t know how you can say that. You’re crying; I must have hurt you.”

“That’s not why I’m crying. I swear you didn’t hurt me.”

“But then why are you crying?”

Her lips trembled as she looked up to his eyes.  “I’m crying because I can’t bear to lose you yet.”

Oliver’s brow furrowed. “Wh-what are you talking about?”

“You said…you said you wanted to say goodbye to me.”

All the air left his lungs on a rush.  He hadn’t even remembered saying those goddamn fucking idiotic words.  “Felicity, I…”

“No, wait. I need to apologize, Oliver. I pushed you too hard. You confided in me, and I pushed you, and I completely understand if you don’t want to see me anymore. But I just…I really don’t want to say goodbye.  So, if I promise not to say anything else about what happened in your past after we leave these woods today, do you think we could still be together up here on this mountain?”

Oliver grabbed her face in both hands.  “I don’t want to say goodbye, either.  Those were stupid, panicked words that I didn’t mean and should never have said.”

Felicity gave him a tremulous smile.  “So we’ll stay together?”

“Of course. Of course we’ll stay together.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” she whispered, blinking against the moisture in her eyes as she twisted her fingers beside her hair.  “Oliver, can I…can I please touch you now?”

“God, yes,” he breathed. “If you still want to.”

She immediately lowered her arms from the blanket and raised her hands to his face, running her fingers across his cheeks and into his hair.  Oliver could see the affection in her tender gaze and he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Felicity. I’m sorry,” he echoed, because he didn’t think he could ever say it enough.  “I’m so, so sorry for what I did.”

“It’s okay.”

He stared hard into her eyes. “No, it’s not okay. I’m sorry for everything, and I need you to forgive me.”

“But I already told you…you didn’t hurt me.”

“I need you to forgive me.”

Felicity steadied his face in her hands.   “I do forgive you.”

His heart pounded inside his chest.  He shook his head again, over and over, because she didn’t understand.  She couldn’t possibly understand.  “No, not just for today.  I need you to forgive me for everything.  For everything.”

Her lips trembled as another tear fell down her cheek.  “Oliver…you were just a boy.”

He reached his fingers into her hair.  “I need you to forgive me.”

“Listen to me, baby, please. You’re a good person – a strong, compassionate, loveable person – and the boy you were can’t hurt the man you are now.  Not if you don’t let him.”

He clenched her gold curls tighter in his hands.  “I need you to forgive me.  God, Felicity, please. Please. Forgive me.”

Her breaths left her chest in shallow spurts, but Felicity looked up at him with nothing but calm, certain acceptance. He watched as she raised her head from the blanket in order to press her soft lips to his for one perfect moment. Then she settled back and whispered, “I forgive you, Oliver. You’re forgiven.”

Oliver listened to those words.  He listened to those sweet, beautiful words and then he crumpled onto her, his forehead falling into her neck as the tears – the tears he never wanted – began spilling from his eyes.  The moment Oliver’s teardrops hit Felicity’s cheek, she cried, too.

Oliver just held her closer, and pressed his face into her hair, and breathed her in. 

Felicity wrapped her arms around his neck and clung to him.  She held onto him with everything, with her arms and her legs and her body and her heart and her soul, and Oliver held her back just as tightly. Right now, for the first time in as long as he could remember, Oliver didn’t feel completely and utterly broken. He was raw and exposed and bare, but he wasn’t broken…because Felicity was here, holding him together. And right this moment, for the first time ever, Oliver had faith that maybe, just maybe, he could put himself back together.

...

A/N: Okay, so, I am both nervous and excited to hear what you think of this, if you feel like sharing your thoughts. I hope you have a wonderful weekend :)Tina

Up next...Chapter 9: Unbreakable

Chapter Text

Felicity and Oliver walked out of the forest together, side-by-side and hand-in-hand.

Oliver glanced at her constantly as they moved in synchronicity, looking to her face to gauge her expression. She always gazed back at him the same way – with a sweet smile and kind, adoring eyes – and it made his heart clench even tighter in his chest.  His fingers trembled against hers as she held onto him.

After what had just happened between them in the woods, Oliver wanted to grip onto her hand as hard as he could, to ensure that she wouldn’t leave his side. But he knew he couldn’t do that, because his little bird had the right to fly away from him at any moment, and there was really nothing he could do to stop it.  So, instead of gripping her tightly, he held her hand as softly and gently as possible, taking care not to harm her in any way, shape, or form.

Felicity led him straight from the woods to her cabin.  She didn’t ask if he wanted to go back to his place, and Oliver didn’t question her decision. He simply walked beside her, trusting her to take him where he needed to go.

When they stepped through her front door into her living room, Felicity arched up on her tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek.  “Make yourself at home,” she whispered beside his ear just before she disappeared down the hall. Oliver stood stiffly by the door, watching her retreating back.  He knew he couldn’t do as she’d asked him; he knew he couldn’t feel at home here without her. Because the moment she left his sight, his blood rushed furiously through his veins, robbing him of any sense of peace.  So he stood in place, raw and unnerved, until she returned.

The moment she emerged from the back rooms, Oliver could breathe again.  When Felicity saw that he hadn’t moved from that one spot, she immediately stepped toward him, with her head tilted and a gentle smile on her pink lips, and took him by the hand.  “Come with me, baby,” she encouraged, guiding him into a chair at her kitchen table. 

Oliver absorbed the sight of his little fairy as he sat down.  Felicity had changed clothes – she’d put on a pink T-shirt and navy pajama bottoms, even though it was the middle of the day – and she looked soft and warm and young. Oliver knew she’d had to put on a fresh outfit because of him, because he’d thrown her clothes on the forest floor and torn off her underwear.  And even though she’d granted him unquestioning forgiveness for everything, Oliver still hated himself for what he’d done to her.

Memories of what happened between them in the woods accosted him, and he clenched his fists and his shoulders and his jaw as he sat stiff as a stone at her kitchen table. Felicity regarded him for several moments, and then stepped up to his side, resting her chest against his arm. She reached her hand to his head and ruffled her fingers through his hair.  Then she pressed a kiss to his forehead and said, “Please don’t forget to breathe, Oliver.  I need you to breathe.”

He did as she asked. He took a deep, shuddering inhale and then exhaled slowly, allowing his icy body to seek out the heat of hers. Felicity wrapped her arms around him, cradling Oliver to her chest as he worked the air in and out of his lungs. She held onto him tight, but he was afraid to hold her back.  He was afraid to touch her at all.

Felicity started petting him then, stroking her hands gently up and down his arms, and Oliver sank farther into her, closing his eyes and allowing himself to experience her touch. Eventually, his body eased and his breathing calmed.  Eventually, he was able to reach for her hand and trace the outline of her fingers with his own. Felicity threaded their fingers together for a moment before placing another kiss to his forehead. “How about some lunch? Do you think you can eat something for me?”

“Yes,” he agreed, wanting to do something – anything – for her.

Felicity left his side just long enough to gather the lunch tray from the porch and bring it to the table. She sat on the chair beside him and picked up her sandwich, breaking it in two pieces and handing him the larger portion.  He didn’t protest. He just took the offering, and chewed and swallowed, as he watched her. 

She started talking as they ate.  She talked about the red-headed woodpecker they’d seen in the woods.  Between bites of sandwich and fruit, and long sips of iced tea, Felicity told Oliver about the bird’s nesting habits and dietary needs and how woodpeckers had evolved special anatomical qualities to protect their brains from damage while they compulsively hammered their beaks into tree trunks.

He heard a lot of what she said.  But mostly he heard her voice.  It was familiar and clear and soothing, and he could focus on it.  Her voice settled him, and grounded him, and he started to feel more comfortable touching her.  Tenderly, of course. Reverently.  He stroked the soft skin of her forearm with the tips of his fingers, amazed by her warmth, as she spoke to him. 

When they’d finished lunch, and Felicity had completed her oral report on woodpeckers, she asked Oliver if he wanted to play a board game.  He said, “Yes.” Because he would do anything that meant he could be here, with her.

Oliver walked to the hall closet as Felicity placed the empty lunch tray back on the porch. He stared at all of the games on the closet shelves for a long minute, and finally just picked the one on top. “How does Scrabble sound?” he asked while stepping back to the kitchen.

“Sounds great to me,” she offered with a smile while they settled back onto the chairs around the table. Oliver smiled in return as Felicity lifted the lid off of the box.

She kicked his ass at Scrabble. Oliver wanted to say that it was because he was taking it easy on her, but that wasn’t true. She was just phenomenal at it, and he eventually came to the understanding that Felicity was actually the one taking it easy on him.  By the time they were done playing, the score was basically a bazillion to one.  But at least he’d learned a few new vocabulary words.

As Felicity packed the game back into the box, Oliver heard Roy’s truck coming down her gravel driveway. “I’ll go get your dinner,” Oliver offered.

Felicity grinned. “Thank you.”

Oliver stepped through the living room, out of the front door, and down the porch steps, to meet Roy as he exited the driver’s side.  The sun was setting, but even in the dim light Oliver could tell that Roy looked better now than he had this morning.  Oliver wished he could say the same for himself.  “You hanging in there today, Roy?”

“Yeah. I’m slowly realizing this isn’t the worst day of my life.  How about you?”

Oliver honestly didn’t know what today was, so he just said, “I’m still here.”

“I’m glad you are,” Roy replied, reaching into the back of the truck and pulling out two trays piled on top of each other.  “I brought your dinner over here.  I figured, when you weren’t at your cabin, that you’d be with her.”

You’re right; I am with her.  That much I do know.  “Thanks, Roy.”

“Anytime.”

By the time Oliver stepped back inside the cabin, Felicity had lit candles on the living room table and set two chair cushions on the floor at the base of the couch.  She looked up at him when he entered.  “Do you mind if we sit on the floor while we eat?”

Oliver nodded as he kicked the door shut behind him.  “That sounds good. Roy brought my dinner here, so there’s plenty of food.”

“Oh, wonderful. He’s so thoughtful.”

“Yeah, he is,” Oliver agreed, laying the trays down beside the candlesticks.

They situated themselves on the floor cushions, and then ate in silence, except for when Felicity hummed as she chewed, and when she offered random remarks on the tastiness of the meal and how Phil-the-chef deserved some sort of award.  Oliver just nodded in agreement.

Once they’d finished eating, and set the trays aside, Oliver pulled himself up from the floor to sit on the couch.  “Come sit with me?” he asked, reaching out his hand to her.

“Of course,” she answered, clasping onto his fingers and standing from the ground.  The only light in the cabin now came from her candles, because the world outside the windows was pitch black, and the golden glow of the flames haloed Felicity’s body as she looked down to him.  He’d never seen her more angelic, and he needed so badly to have her in his arms.  He watched as she took a step to the side, settling onto the cushion a few inches away from him.

He frowned. “You’re too far away.”

“Oliver, if I was any closer, I’d be in your lap.”

“Yes, please.”

Felicity gazed into his expectant eyes for a long moment before giving him a gentle smile. Then she eased her legs across his and scooted over, settling her bottom onto his thighs as she sat sideways on top of him.  Oliver reached one arm around her back to support her, cradling her shoulder in his hand. His other hand found its way to her legs, smoothing lightly across her pajama-covered thighs. Felicity allowed her head to fall onto his chest while her hand came to rest right over his heart, where it always found a home. 

Oliver relaxed then. He relaxed more than he had all day. Because she was here, in his arms, real and warm and solid, and he knew she wouldn’t fly away tonight.

“How is this?” Felicity questioned as her fingers curled into his shirt.

“This is perfect.”

“What would you like to do for the rest of the night?”

He stroked his hand up and down her arm.  “I just want you to talk to me some more.  Will you do that? Will you just talk to me?”

“Of course. What do you want me to talk about?”

“Anything you want. I just want to listen to you. Maybe…maybe you could tell me about Girl Scouts?”

Girl Scouts?” she repeated with a giggle. “Goodness gracious, Oliver, I don’t think you know what you’re asking.  I could babble about Girl Scouts for hours.”

He leaned down to press a kiss to the top of her head.  “That’s perfect, then.  I want to hear all about your scouting adventures.”

Felicity wasn’t kidding. She actually babbled about Girl Scouts for three solid hours.  Oliver learned everything she knew about trees, and birds, and pitching tents, and tying knots.  He listened to the many escapades Felicity had with her best friend Caitlin Snow, and how they liked to play Harry Potter together, except that they both wanted to be Hermione, so they just created their own wooded wizard world with two young female geniuses. Oliver paid rapt attention as Felicity recalled how her mother came on some of the camping trips while her father was busy at work, and how Donna Smoak would sit around the bonfire at night, teaching the girls how to make animal shadows with their hands in the firelight. Oliver heard every word Felicity said to him, and he loved the picture she painted.  He could almost see the girl she was, so joyful and openhearted, discovering her spirit while rummaging on an unbeaten path through the woods.

He held her the entire time she spoke.  He held her quietly and delicately, rubbing her back and caressing her arms and smoothing over her hair, as she leaned heavier and fuller against his chest.  Her words continued on and on, until they slowly began to trail off, with longer and steadier pauses between them.  Eventually, the sounds stopped entirely as her body slumped onto his and her breathing assumed a steady, even pace.

Oliver knew she’d dozed off, but he didn’t dare twitch a muscle for fear of disturbing her peace. Or his.  After several more minutes, tiny snores escaped her throat, and yet her fierce little fist still held tight over his heart.  He refused to move her yet, because if Felicity wanted to hold onto him, even in her sleep, then he was damn well going to sit here and let her.

He peered down at his forest fairy as her mouth hung open just slightly against his shirt and her gold curls spread out across his shoulder.  This image of her struck deep, like an arrow through his chest, because Oliver was intensely aware of the fact that he’d never felt her sleeping in his arms before this moment.  He’d never laid beside her in a bed.  He’d never made love to her. Hell, what he’d done to her in the forest today was almost the exact opposite of making love, and Oliver knew he needed to make that up to her.  Because Felicity was precious, and he wanted her safe and sound and happy. Always happy.

She hadn’t been happy today. Because today, he’d made her cry. Felicity should have been crying because of how callous and rough he’d been with her, but instead she’d cried in fear of him leaving her.  Which made him realize that, the entire time he’d been using her body, she actually believed he was going to walk away when he’d finished.  And still, despite that belief, she’d lain there and given herself to him, and he’d never met anyone so generous or selfless in his whole entire life. 

Oliver didn’t know how his little fairy even existed, let alone how she came to be here with him. He didn’t know why she picked him, of all the men in the world, to share her love and joy and trust with.  All he knew was that he had to cherish her, to cherish every moment she allowed him to have with her.

So he sat there, as she snored and clung to his shirt.  He sat there, just feeling her in his arms.  And then he glanced to the far wall, where she’d hung the photo she’d taken of her bird.  He remembered how excited she was the day she’d showed it to him – how she’d fretted over whether or not the picture was straight, and how she’d asked for his help aligning the frame on the knotty wall.  Felicity had never mentioned the yellow-crowned purple fantini again…not since the night she’d agreed to stop lying to him.  Oliver was more certain now than ever that the bird didn’t exist.  And yet, she’d still taken the photo, and nailed that picture frame right into the wall, and he couldn’t help wondering what significance the blurry green-and-yellow image held for her.  He wondered what she saw in the photo that he couldn’t see.

Oliver knew something had happened to her in the past, something that stole the color red away, and he wanted desperately to know what it was.  But he didn’t want to hurt her by asking again, especially after she’d promised in the woods today not to question him further about his past. If she wasn’t going to push him anymore, then he didn’t want to push her, either.  Instead, he wanted to be tender and loving with her, allowing her to work out her problems with him beside her, supporting her in any way he could.

Felicity went completely limp in Oliver’s arms then, and her hand finally fell from his chest onto her lap. He was pretty sure she’d drooled a bit on his shirt, but he still didn’t want to move from this spot. He just wanted to stay here and keep holding her for as long as he could.  But then, when Nearly Comatose Felicity began mumbling unintelligible words, Oliver begrudgingly acknowledged the fact that she needed to be resting in a soft, comfortable bed. 

Gathering her close to his heart, Oliver lifted his freebird into his arms and stood from the couch. He took a moment to balance himself, because his legs were unsteady from sitting with her for so long and he didn’t want to drop her.  He would never forgive himself if he let her fall.

Oliver carried her through the living room, down the hall, and into her bedroom. As he stepped through the doorway, he was acutely aware that this was the first time he’d ever been in her bedroom. He wished he’d gotten here under different circumstances.

The room was dark, and he stepped carefully over to her mattress.  He eased Felicity down onto the green-and-red plaid comforter, and then watched as she instantly curled into a little ball on her side.  Oliver wanted nothing more than to lay with her, and curl up around her, and be the big spoon to her small one, and then wake in the morning with a sleepy little fairy in his arms.  But he couldn’t do that, because she hadn’t actually invited him into her bedroom, and he didn’t want the first night he spent here to be without her knowledge or her desire.

Oliver covered her tiny body with a throw blanket he found at the end of the bed, tucking the hunter green fabric in around her sides.  Then he leaned down to press a kiss to her temple.  Felicity shifted with the light scratch of his chin stubble against her skin.

“Wi’you come dinner ‘morrow, Ol’ver?” she breathed.

He smiled into her hair. “Yes, baby, I’ll be here for dinner tomorrow.  Now get some sleep, please.”

“Hmm…’kay.”

He watched her for another moment, watched her snuggle her face farther into the soft fabric beneath her cheek. Then he turned and walked out of her bedroom. He strode through her living room, and out her front door, and down her porch stairs.  He marched up her gravel driveway, and across the deserted main road, and then down his own driveway. 

When he reached his cabin, Oliver stepped inside and shut the door behind him.  He moved immediately over to the table where the old-fashioned phone sat.  And then he picked up the receiver and dialed the front desk.

Pete’s voice came promptly across the line.  “This is Blissful Blue; how can I help you?”

Oliver sighed in relief. “Oh good, it’s…it’s still you, Pete. I was worried you wouldn’t be there, since it’s so late.” 

“I’m always around, Oliver. You doing okay tonight? You sound a bit off.”

He shook his head. “I just…I need to, um…” Oliver’s voice trailed into silence, and he could hear the little gnome breathing on the other end of the phone.

Pete cleared his throat. “You know, Dr. Lance has an appointment available tomorrow at 1 p.m.  How does that sound?”

“God, that…that actually sounds perfect.” 

“Alright, Oliver. I’ve got you scheduled, then. Cabin 13, tomorrow at 1.”

“Thank you, Pete.”

“Of course. You get some rest, now.”

He nodded. “I will.”

“’Night, Oliver.”

“’Night, Pete.”

Oliver hung up the phone. He only stared at the receiver for another minute.  Then he dragged himself to his bedroom, collapsed on the comforter, and dropped instantly into sleep.

 …

When Oliver woke the next morning, his first thought was of Felicity.  And his second thought.  And third. Pretty much every thought he had all morning was of her, except for the few that were of his therapy appointment.

Oliver was ready to see the doctor today. The word didn’t even make him want to vomit, not like it normally would.  He was ready now, ready to start putting things back together again. Felicity had given him that ability. She’d given him everything. And he had no idea if he’d given her anything. But he was going to try. For the next two weeks they had together on this mountain, Oliver was going to try to be everything she needed. He could barely stomach the idea of walking away from Blue without her, but if he really had to, then he wanted to know that he’d done some good for her before he left.

After dragging himself out of bed, Oliver threw on his gym clothes and headed out to see Tommy for their ritual morning basketball game.  He expected his dark-haired friend to already be warming up on the court, but when Oliver arrived, the blacktop was empty.  He scanned the courtyard for a moment before spotting Tommy on a bench near the woods behind the gym.  As Oliver approached, he noticed the slump of his friend’s shoulders and the shifting of his fingers.

“Hey, buddy, you doing okay this morning?”

Tommy lifted his head, looking up at Oliver with wide, sad eyes.  “Oh, hey Oliver.  I wasn’t sure you were gonna show today.”

“Yeah, sorry about yesterday; I had somewhere I needed to be.  But I’m up for a game today, if you are.”

“I, um…I don’t know about that.”

Oliver sat down beside his friend on the thick log bench.  “Why not?”

Tommy huffed out a laugh. “You’re gonna think I’m ridiculous if I tell you.”

“I’m not going to think you’re ridiculous.  It’s obvious something has you upset, and I know I’m not a therapist, but you can talk to me if you want to.”

“Thanks, man,” Tommy sighed. “It’s just…it’s Helena. She’s gone.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me too. God, it’s not like I didn’t know it was coming.  I knew she only had a week left here when I met her, but I still feel like dirt now that she’s actually gone. Worst part is, I know it’s my own fault. I get too attached to women when I’m up here; it’s one of the pitfalls of this place, and I know that. I’ve known it for years. And yet, I still do it.”

Oliver cringed as he listened, and it was all he could do to try to stay supportive. “You shouldn’t…you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.  You can’t always control your emotions.  Sometimes you want things that just aren’t possible.”

“Yeah, but I knew it wasn’t possible.  I live in New York; she lives in California.  What was I going to do?  Convince her to move across the country after knowing me for only a week?”

Oliver clenched his jaw. He didn’t even know where Felicity lived. She could be visiting here from Timbuktu, for all he knew. “Isn’t there any way to see her after you leave?  Long distance relationships are difficult, but I think you could make it work, if you tried hard enough.” I have a company jet.  I could fly to Timbuktu if I had to.

“No, man,” Tommy said with a firm shake of his head.  “It’s finished. I just have to accept it and move on.”

“Maybe you don’t.”

“No, I do. I appreciate the wishful thinking, but I need to just deal with the fact that she’s gone, and then keep moving forward.”

Oliver swallowed hard against the bile pushing up into his throat.  “I guess that’s…that’s the right answer, isn’t it?  Relationships that start up here aren’t meant to last beyond these mountains.”  After all, that’s what Roy and Felicity had told him, and Oliver was 100% certain that it was the truth. Well, maybe he was more like 70% certain.  Or possibly less.

“Yeah, you’re right.” Tommy exhaled, and then patted Oliver on the back.  “Thanks for bringing me back to reality, buddy.”

He gritted his teeth. “Yeah, sure…anytime.”

“Now, what about you?”

“What about me?”

“Why are you so upset today?”

Oliver’s brow arched. “Do I look upset?”

“Right now you do.”

“Oh, well, it’s…it’s nothing.” God help me, I still don’t want you to know about Felicity. “I just have a therapy appointment today.”

“An appointment? Well, that’s nothing to be upset about – I think it’s great that you’re actually going to give it a try. You know, the doctors up here take turns giving lectures; we could go to some together, if that would make it easier for you.”

“I appreciate the offer, Tommy, I really do.  I just think I need to start out by myself.  I’m going to try some one-on-one.”

“Who are you seeing?”

“Dr. Lance?”

“Oh, nice choice; he’s really good.  Super strict, of course. He’s the big boss at Blue. I’ve always wanted him to like me. Probably because of some sort of latent desire for my father’s approval that I transferred over to Dr. Lance because he’s in charge.”

Oliver chuckled. “That’s a nice self diagnosis.”

Tommy shrugged. “You get pretty good at self diagnosis when you’ve been in therapy as long as I have. But I’m happy for you, Oliver. I think it’s great that you’re going to see him.”

“Thanks, Tommy.”

“You’re welcome. And thank you.”

Oliver glanced to his friend’s face.  “What for?”

“For helping me realize that I need to move on from Helena.  That realization is going to make things so much easier for me tonight.”

“Yeah? What’s tonight?”

“Oh, I have a date with Isabel tonight.”

Oliver’s brow furrowed. “But…I thought you were upset about Helena leaving.”

“God, yeah, I am. But what better way to get over a woman than to be with another woman?”

He stared at Tommy for a long minute.  How can you even think that?  Fuck me, I can’t even imagine being with any woman but Felicity. “Tommy, I don’t…I don’t know if that’s a very healthy thought.”

“Sure it is, Oliver. We all have our coping mechanisms; this is mine.  Now, how about some basketball?”

Oliver watched as Tommy stood from the bench.  He rose slowly to meet him. “Sure.  We can play some ball.”

“Let’s go, then; time’s wasting,” Tommy insisted as he stepped toward the blacktop.

“Coming,” Oliver replied, doing his best to just put one foot in front of the other.

 …

After playing the worst game of basketball ever in the history of the sport, Oliver left a smiling Tommy on the blacktop and proceeded back to his cabin to shower and eat lunch.  At quarter-to-one, Oliver left his cabin and proceeded up the hill toward Cabin 13. When he passed Cabin 10, his body veered toward Felicity’s driveway of it’s own volition.

Oliver had to pull himself away, because he had somewhere else to be.  And because he wasn’t supposed to see her until dinner. And because, after his talk with Tommy, Oliver was blatantly aware of just how attached he’d become to his little fairy, and how horrible it was going to be when she inevitably left him. Not that he hadn’t already figured out that terrifying truth for himself, but seeing Tommy’s morose expression this morning painted it in a much starker light. 

He fisted his fingers as he continued trudging up the mountain.  Oliver had been more than a little lost and confused since the woods yesterday, but there was one thing he knew with absolute certainty: watching Felicity walk away from him would tear a fucking hole in his heart. 

Oliver shuddered, his entire body trembling in fear of that moment.  Get it together, man. You can’t think about that right now; you have other things to do at this moment.  Besides, you still have two weeks left with her. Well, more like thirteen days now. But still…you have time.

He attempted to feel reassured by that thought as he moved past Tommy’s driveway and then further up.  He focused on his breathing, and tried to concentrate on the assuredness of his footsteps, as he worked his way toward Cabin 13.  When he finally reached the large log structure, he moved up the porch steps and then paused for a moment at the front door.

Then he took a deep breath and stepped inside.

Cabin 13 was just as he remembered it from the night of the Social, large and open and strangely welcoming. A few people buzzed through the vast rooms, nodding at him and offering warm hellos.  He took note of their general appearance of contentment, and had to admit that everyone here looked far more relaxed than he’d ever been.

An older, grey-haired woman in a white, high-collared blouse and a flowing red skirt approached him from an adjoining room.  “May I help you, dear?”

Oliver cleared his throat.  “Yes, please. I have an appointment with Dr. Lance.”

He watched the glint in the woman’s pale eyes and the rosiness on her crinkled cheeks as she smiled up to him. “Oh, you must be Oliver,” she sang. “Pete told me you would be here.”

Oliver couldn’t help grinning as Mrs. Claus took him by the arm and led him into the next room, because he wondered if Pete enjoyed more than just talking with this woman. A gnome and a Claus should have plenty in common.

She guided him down a long hallway, ending in a closed white door.  “Here is his office, honey.  You just head right in.”

“Thank you so much…I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”

“Betsy.”

“Thank you, Betsy. Please tell Pete I said hello the next time you talk to him.”

She grinned as she gave his arm a squeeze.  “Oh, I will. And you be sure to create a wonderful day for yourself, Oliver.”

“I’ll…I’ll try.”

Oliver waited until Betsy bustled back where she came from before turning to the door and reaching for the brass handle.  He knocked as he entered, his eyes scanning the room while his feet stepped forward. “Come on in,” he heard a man’s voice say as he made his way into the brightly lit room and closed the door behind him.

Oliver’s eyes looked first to the large office windows, focusing for a moment on the surrounding forest, before he turned to the man behind the proverbial curtain. Quentin Lance sat in a deep, brown leather office chair, looking up to Oliver across a neatly organized desk. He gave a courteous nod and a brief smile, and then said, “Hello, Mr. Queen.”

Oliver shook his head immediately.  “Please…just Oliver.”

“Alright, Oliver,” the doctor said as he stood and extended his hand over the desktop.

Oliver reciprocated the firm handshake, scanning the middle-aged man’s angular features and discerning eyes before releasing his hand and straightening.

“You can call me Quentin, if you like.”

“No, it’s…do you mind if I call you ‘doctor’?”

“I don’t mind at all.”

“Good, because I think I need that.  I’ve been resisting therapy for so long, and I want to embrace it now.  I want to accept the fact that I’m talking to a physician because I need help.”

“Okay. Well, why don’t you sit down, so we can talk about the help you need.”

Oliver looked over to the high-backed brown chair across from Lance’s desk. “Actually, I’d prefer to stand…if that’s okay.”

“Of course it’s okay. This is for you, so do what you need to do to feel comfortable.”

Oliver nodded, and took a deep breath, and walked over to the window.  “You know, the guests I met at the Social spoke very highly of you, Dr. Lance.”

“Well, that’s good to hear, although we have a great deal of talented physicians up here. I’m just fortunate to call Blissful Blue my home, instead of coming and going from the city.”

“I imagine it would be nice to stay here awhile,” Oliver said, his eyes scanning the forest outside for another moment before shifting to the framed certificates that hung on the wall.  He skimmed over the bold print of the closest document:  Dr. Quentin Lance, Medical Director, Blissful Blue Retreat.  

“So, I understand that you’re the boss up here?” Oliver questioned as he turned back toward the older man.

Dr. Lance shrugged. “In a way.  I coordinate the physicians who come here, make sure everything is in order for the guests.  I like to think I run a tight ship.  What about you, Oliver?”

“What about me?”

“I know you’re the CEO of Queen Consolidated in Starling.  Do you run a tight ship?”

Oliver smiled softly to himself.  “Yeah, I do. Honestly, I’m a complete control freak.”

“I see. Would you like to talk about that?”

“I suppose I would. Or, at least, I should,” Oliver admitted as he stepped back toward the doctor.  A photo on Lance’s desk caught his eye and he looked over the faces of the two young women he saw.  “Are these your daughters?”

Quentin nodded. “Yeah, that’s Laurel and Sara, my baby girls. They’re both grown women now, much as I hate to admit it.  Do you have children, Oliver?”

He shook his head. “No, I don’t.”

“Do you want them?”

Oliver looked back to Dr. Lance’s searching eyes.  “Yeah, I do. But I’m not married. I want to be, but…”

“But what?”

His shoulders fell on a sigh. “Apparently, I need to work a few issues out first.” 

“What issues?”

“It’s just…something happened, a long time ago.  Something happened, and I honestly believed I’d put it behind me.  But I realize now that I haven’t, and I need to figure out how to work through it, because it’s affecting the way I live my life. I want to fix it, so I can move on.”

Quentin nodded slowly. “Okay, Oliver. I can help with that.”

Oliver felt his legs buckle, and he eased down into the chair opposite Lance.  “Thank you, doctor.  That’s…that’s wonderful.”

 …

Oliver stood in his cabin several hours later, dressed in a hunter green button-down shirt and tan cargo pants, waiting for night to fall.  Because he knew, the moment it got dark, that he would get to see his Frolicking Freebird.  He would get to see his Felicity, and hold her gently in his arms, and look into her adoring eyes, and feel whole again.

Not that Oliver felt entirely broken. Actually, right this moment, he felt pretty good.  The session with Dr. Lance went better than he expected.  It wasn’t easy to recount the story of what had happened with Carrie in high school, but it was easier to repeat the words today because he’d said them to Felicity just yesterday. Honestly, it was harder for Oliver to talk to Lance about the twin sisters he’d been fucking the day of homecoming dance, especially after seeing the photo on the doctor’s desk.  But Lance didn’t seem to judge him, at least not outwardly. Oliver figured the good doctor was probably just happy that they weren’t his own daughters.

Oliver and Quentin had spoken for several hours, and at the end of their session, Oliver asked him one single question.  He asked Dr. Lance if he thought a person like the one he’d been – a person who’d been that blind and that selfish for so long – deserved a loving woman and children. He asked if a person like that deserved a family.

Dr. Lance answered his question with another question:  What do you think, Oliver?

Oliver shook his head with the recent memory now, as he looked out of his living room window. He knew Dr. Lance was right; he had to find his own answers to a lot of things.  The good news was that Lance would help him figure out how to do that. He would help him figure out the right questions to ask, and show him the right path to take, so he could finally find the life he’d been searching for.  And it was all because of Felicity.  It was all because she’d showed Oliver what he couldn’t see, and helped him understand what was broken. 

He just prayed that he hadn’t broken her in the process.

With that harrowing thought, Oliver strode to his front door and stepped out onto the porch. Closing the latch behind him, he bounded down the stairs and began walking up his driveway.  It was almost dusk, and he knew it was a bit early to show up to her cabin for dinner, but he couldn’t wait any longer. He had to see his little bird. He had to see her, and talk to her, and hold her.  He had to be with her, because there was no other option for him.

When he came to the end of his driveway, Oliver turned up onto the paved road, his eyes forward as he moved eagerly toward Cabin 10.  Anticipation spread through his body, and his fingers stretched as he imagined holding her again.  The thought made his heart beat faster in his chest, and the sound of his pounding pulse nearly drowned out the sound of whistling from up ahead.  But then Oliver heard the whistling, and he remembered hearing it on this road before, and he froze in place.

Oliver watched in horror as Tommy Merlyn stepped off the gravel of Felicity’s driveway and turned to his right, moving up the pavement toward his own Cabin 11.  Tommy didn’t look back, and didn’t see Oliver standing a few yards down the hill.  And that was probably a good thing, because if looks could kill, Tommy would most certainly be dead. Like, dead dead.  With knives and bullets in his chest. Or maybe arrows, because they would hurt more.

Oliver’s entire body shook as he watched the other man walk away from Felicity’s cabin. The words Tommy had uttered to him just a few hours ago rang in his ears:  What better way to get over a woman than to be with another woman?

Oliver shook his head, over and over again.  Good God, is Tommy trying to use Felicity to get over Helena?

That had better not be the truth.  Because, if it were, then Oliver couldn’t be held responsible for what he would do to Tommy if that man had laid one hand on his Felicity.  Even if Felicity had agreed to having Tommy’s hands on her.  Which she actually had every right to do, because Oliver certainly didn’t own her.

Holy fuck, he needed to vomit.

Oliver’s legs started working then.  He began moving, nearly running, up the rest of the hill and then down her driveway. He tried to tell himself to calm the hell down as he rushed toward her, but it was hard to hear his own thoughts over the pounding of blood in his veins.  When Oliver reached her porch steps, he grasped the door handle beneath his fingers and stilled himself, taking several deep breaths before opening the door.

“Felicity?” he questioned, his voice little more than a growl as he stepped inside. “Where are you?” Please don’t let her be coming from the bedroom.  And please let her be fully clothed.

“Oliver! I’m so happy to see you,” she sang.

His eyes drew to the sound of her voice immediately, and found her standing in the kitchen, in front of the counter.  She looked just beautiful, especially with all her clothes on.  She smiled up at him as he stepped toward her, and Oliver noticed that she had a large chef’s knife in her hand and was busy preparing food. For dinner.  Their dinner.

“I’m sorry I can’t come over to kiss you right now,” she apologized.  “But you’re here a bit early, and I’m still working on dinner. I was trying to do something to surprise you.”

Oliver’s shoulders relaxed a bit as he stared down to her hands.  Looking across the countertop, he watched Felicity returned her attention to the partially carved steak in front of her.  There was an ivory china dinner plate beside it, already covered in several bite-size pieces of the juicy meat, and Felicity now used the chef’s knife in her hand to dissect even more pieces.  The presentation of the steak was quite meticulous, and Oliver could tell she’d been at the task for a while, which made his muscles relax further.

“Do you mind another steak dinner, Oliver?  You said it’s your favorite, and you really didn’t get a whole steak the other night, so I thought I’d try to fix that,” she explained as she carved.  “But you weren’t supposed to be here just yet.”

“Was Tommy Merlyn supposed to be here?” he bit out, immediately pressing his lips together after he’d said the words.

Felicity’s brow rose as she looked up at him from across the countertop. 

“I’m sorry,” Oliver offered. “It’s none of my business, I suppose.”

She exhaled slowly. “I guess you saw Tommy leaving?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“He wasn’t supposed to be here, you know; he just wanted to talk.  I’ve known Tommy for many years, and he feels comfortable around me. He was upset today and he needed an ear.”

Oliver listened to her voice as he looked into her eyes.  He could see the truth of her words written inside that sky blue, and he regretted his jealous accusation.  Especially since he knew Tommy was hurting this morning, and that he’d probably just needed Felicity’s friendship.  Just like Roy had needed Felicity’s friendship the day before.  People simply relied on her, and Oliver understood that feeling. Dear God, he understood that feeling so starkly and painfully.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, dropping his head for a moment before looking back to her eyes. “I apologize for asking, Felicity. It’s blatantly obvious that everyone up here at Blue trusts you and depends on you, and I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions. I’ve just spent some time with Tommy, and I had trouble controlling my jealousy when I saw him leave your driveway.”

Jealousy?” she repeated, her eyes widening as if he’d said the most bizarre thing she’d ever heard.  “You were jealous of me and Tommy?  Seriously?”

He exhaled harshly. “Yes, seriously. You’re an amazing, beautiful, loving woman, and I know we’ve only known each other for eight days, but I don’t particularly want to share you with another man.”  Ever, he added in his mind, but didn’t say it aloud. 

Felicity giggled then. She giggled with twinkling eyes and an effervescent smile, and Oliver huffed.  “I’m glad my jealousy amuses you, Felicity.”

“Oh, no…no, it doesn’t. It’s just that you have no idea how funny that is.  Because Tommy Merlyn is so completely not my type. I mean, I don’t even think I could possibly explain to you how not my type he is.  At all.”

Oliver’s brow furrowed, because at first glance he’d considered Tommy and himself to be pretty much the same person, in two different bodies.  “Well, if he’s not your type, then who is your type?”

Felicity smiled to herself while she set the carving knife down and stepped to the sink to wash her hands. “I thought that would be pretty obvious by now,” she mused as she turned off the water and dried her hands on a towel.  When she’d finished her task, Felicity squared her shoulders and stared across the countertop into his eyes. “You are the only man I want to be with, Oliver.”

God, those were the best words he’d ever heard.  Even if they were only temporary.  “Well, good. Because you’re the only woman I want to be with.”

“Well, good,” she echoed, still staring into him, unflinching.

Oliver knew she meant every word she said.  And he sure as hell meant every word he said.  Which made him shake his head again at the absurdity of these raw, overwhelming, fucking magnificent feelings.  “Good Lord, this is crazy,” he muttered.

“What’s crazy?”

Oliver ran a rough hand through his hair as he stared across the counter at her bright eyes and her luscious mouth and her sweet face.  “All of this.  Does it…does it freak you out?”

“Does what freak me out?”

He motioned his hand between the two of them.  “This? Us?  Does this…” Damn it, I don’t know what word to use.  “Does this attraction we have for each other ever freak you out?”

She nibbled against her lip for a moment before nodding.  “It did, especially at first.  But since the night we decided to become lovers, I’ve been trying to let that concern go. Because I want to experience this with you.  What we have is unlike anything I’ve ever known, and yes, it’s scary, but I want to feel that. I want to feel everything I can possibly feel with you, Oliver, because I know I’m alive when I’m with you. And I want to be as close to you as I can be.”

The emotion in her eyes hit dead center in his chest and Oliver huffed out a laugh. “Well, who knows, baby, with as close as we’ve become in just one week, in another two weeks we could end up married.”

The minute the words left his lips, her face fell.  Oliver watched the light in her eyes dim, and he immediately regretted his impulsiveness. “I…I didn’t mean to upset you, Felicity. The marriage thing was just a joke.”

She grimaced as she watched him. “I know it was a joke, Oliver; that’s not why I’m upset. There’s just something that I need to tell you, something I really don’t want to say.”

Oliver fisted his hands at his sides.  “What is it?”

Felicity took a deep breath. “I only…I only have six more days left on vacation.”

His brow rose as his jaw slackened.  “Wh-what do mean? Don’t most people spend three weeks up here?  I thought that was the standard stay.”

“Yes, it is, but I’d already been here for a week when we met.”

Oliver cringed, because that made perfect sense.  Felicity came walking out of the woods the day he’d arrived, which meant she’d already been here, communing with nature, well before he ever showed up. He should have figured that out on his own, except that he probably hadn’t wanted to.  And he honestly couldn’t bear to think about it now.

He looked down to the ground, and then pinched his eyes shut, as he worked to inhale. He tried to fight the hollow feeling that settled into his chest, but it took over, and for a split second he lost sight of everything.  “But, Felicity, I can’t…I can’t survive on this mountain without you.”

Oliver’s heart thumped painfully against his ribcage, and he couldn’t hear anything but the blood rushing through his body.  But then Felicity moved, and he focused in on the sound of her bare padded footsteps as she came around the counter.  A moment later, he felt the warmth of her body pressing into his chest. 

“Look at me,” she whispered, waiting patiently until he lifted his head.  Once he met her gaze, she smiled up at him with tender determination.  “You can survive without me, Oliver.  Because you’re strong.  You’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever met in my life, and you can do anything you set your mind to.”

He watched Felicity’s eyes widen as she looked up to him and he could practically hear her thoughts: Please, Oliver…I need to know that you’re going to be okay.

Oliver reached to her shoulders, stroking his hands lightly all the way down her arms until he reached her fingers and threaded them inside his own.  “You’re right; I’m going to be okay,” he reassured her, because he knew it wasn’t fair to set the burden of his survival on her shoulders.  And because he knew he could survive without her…he just didn’t want to.

Felicity gave him a tremulous smile.  “Are you sure?”

“I am. Because I did something really good today.  At least, I think it was good.”

“Yeah? What did you do?”

“I…I went to see Dr. Lance. For therapy.”

Felicity’s hands squeezed onto his, so tight it actually caused him pain.  Her eyes filled with tears, gigantic brimming drops that made her sky blue shine even brighter.  And she gasped in a breath, and then stilled, before grinning as big a grin as he’d ever seen on anyone.  “Really? Did you really do that, Oliver?”

He stood there for a moment, absorbing her hopeful, joyous, adoring gaze, and then he nodded. “Yes, I went to see him. I told him about Carrie. I told him everything. He’s going to help me. He’s going to help me learn how to fix the things in my life that are broken.”

Felicity pressed her lips together, as if trying to physically contain all of the emotion inside her body, and then her forehead fell onto his chest as her fingers trembled inside his. “Thank you, Oliver,” she breathed against him.  “Thank you so much.”

He extracted one of his hands from hers in order run his fingers through her hair.  “Why are you thanking me?  I should definitely be the one thanking you.”

She shook her head and then lifted her eyes back to his.  “I just…I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I’m so proud of you.”

“How could I take that the wrong way?  I know you want the best for me. I think I’ve always known that, from the first day you found me.”

Felicity eased up on her toes and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.  “You’re wonderful.  Do you know that?  Have I told you just how wonderful you are?”

Oliver pulled Felicity closer to him with his hands pressed against her spine.  He wanted to smile with her words.  He wanted to hold her beautiful words close to his chest – as close as he now held her body – but he knew he couldn’t.  Because he’d hurt her just yesterday, and even though she’d forgiven him, he knew he didn’t deserve her praise today.

Felicity snuggled closer to him, tilting her face up to his.  She smiled into his eyes just before pressing a kiss to his lips. Oliver kissed her back, gentle and tender and loving, needing to keep his actions as innocent as possible. Needing to treat her like the precious gift she was.

She seemed to enjoy the soft pressure of his lips, at least for a few moments. But then Oliver felt her body slide harder against his, felt her arms tightening around his neck, felt her fingers pushing into his hair.  He heard the little moan in the back of her throat as her tongue eased past his lips and into his mouth.

Oliver couldn’t help tasting her.  He couldn’t help winding his tongue with hers, just for a second or two.  Or three.  But then he eased away, loosening his hold on her body and resituating himself in order to press his forehead onto hers and nudge the tip of her nose with his own.

“Mmm…kiss me again, please,” she urged in a heated whisper.

He complied, but just with the briefest, most tender touch of lips that he could manage.

Felicity stilled inside his arms.  She huffed out a little laugh.  And then she raised her head to look into his eyes.  “You need to leave now, Oliver.”

His brow furrowed. “Excuse me?”

She untangled her arms from his body and took a step back.  “Just for a few minutes.  I meant what I said before; you really did show up too early tonight.  I have a surprise for you, and I wasn’t able to finish it before you came through the door, so now you need to leave for a bit so I can finish getting it ready.”

“But, Felicity, I don’t need surprises.  I’ll be perfectly happy sitting on the couch and holding you tonight…just like last night.”

“Oliver, last night you listened to me babble for hours on end, and then I fell asleep on you. Like, literally on you.  Which I’m sorry about, by the way.  I hope I didn’t snore.”

“You may have snored a bit.”

“Dear God, that’s horrible. I so did not need to know that.”

“Then I probably shouldn’t mention the drool.”

“Holy hell.”

Oliver grinned. “It was adorable. I liked it.  I’d like a repeat performance, actually.”

Felicity shook her head. “Nope.  Nope, nope.  Not going to happen.  I have plans for us tonight and you need to step outside for them to happen.”

“But, baby…”

“Outside! Now, please.  Just stand on the porch and I will yell for you when I’m ready.”

Oliver was all set to protest again, but then she arched one eyebrow and stared him down, and his shoulders fell in defeat.  “Okay, Felicity, I will go wait on the porch.”

“Good. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he sighed as he turned and walked back to the door.  He stepped outside, into the cool air, and closed the latch behind him. 

Night had descended rapidly while he’d been inside her cabin, and Oliver took a few steps forward, in order to look up past the treetops to the clear sky littered with stars. He stood there for several minutes, just gazing up to the tiny lights and wondering what his forest fairy had planned for him tonight.  He hoped it wasn’t anything too indecent, because he was going to have enough trouble keeping things gentle and chaste between them without her being in latent-dominatrix mode.

Frolicking Freebird Felicity may still want to explore her sexual fantasies, but Oliver didn’t think he could indulge her after what happened between them in the woods yesterday. She was just so sweet and so pure, and he wanted to show her that he appreciated those things about her. He wanted to show her that he was more than the devouring monster she’d seen.

“I’m ready now!” Felicity yelled from beyond the logs.

Oliver took one last look at the stars, and then took a deep breath in, as he turned to the door and pushed it slowly open.  When he stepped back into the cabin, the first thing he noticed was that the temperature was warmer, and he knew she’d turned the thermostat up again.  The next thing he noticed was that Felicity had turned the lights off, and lit candles on the living room table.  He didn’t see his little bird at first, but his eyes kept searching through the flickering yellow glow until he found her.

Felicity lay on the couch. Belly down.  Completely naked.  With the plate of carved-up steak morsels situated right over the small of her back.

Oliver closed the door behind him, but remained where he stood, several feet away from her. He cleared his throat. “What is all this?”

She peered up to his eyes over the couch’s log hand rest.  “Do you remember the night I tied you up, Oliver?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, honestly.”

She smiled wildly, and it lit her eyes.  “Well, that night you mentioned that you would like to eat your steak dinner off of my backside. So I thought I would provide you the opportunity to do that.”

Oliver groaned with the salacious look in her eyes.  Then his eyes traced down the gorgeous curve of her spine, and over the plate of food, and onto the perfectly round mounds of her ass cheeks.  He licked his lips, and his fingers clenched at his sides, but he didn’t move from where he stood.  “This just…it isn’t necessary.  I really appreciate the effort, but why don’t we just sit on the couch and eat a nice meal tonight?  I can go get your robe for you.”

Felicity stared at him for a long minute, and then rolled her eyes.  “I don’t want my robe.  I want to be here on this couch, completely naked, with you eating your dinner off of my backside.  Because you said you wanted that, and I want you to have that.”

“But you don’t have to do this for me.”

“I know I don’t have to.  I want to. Now please come over here and eat your dinner.”

Oliver clenched his teeth as he stared at her scrumptious ass.  “Felicity, this is too tempting.  It isn’t…it isn’t safe.  I don’t want to hurt you again.” 

She met his gaze with determination.  “You are not going to hurt me, Oliver, and I want you to stop thinking you are. I want you to stop feeling guilty.”

He pressed his lips together. He wanted to tell her guilt wasn’t the problem, but that would be an absolute lie, so he remained silent.

Felicity sighed. “I know you still feel guilty about what happened yesterday.”

“You’re right. I do.”

“Even though I swore you didn’t hurt me?”

Oliver grimaced. “It’s…it’s hard for me to accept that.”

“Baby, do you remember the night you made me promise to be honest with you?  Because I remember it.  The exact words you said to me were, ‘I want to know that every word coming out of your ungodly gorgeous mouth is the truth.’  I remember those words distinctly, because they were so intense, and because you are so intense, and what I felt as I looked at you then was both sensual and painful.  I’d never experienced those two feelings at the same time before, and I knew at that moment what I would be getting into if we decided to become lovers.”

“You knew…and yet you still agreed to become my lover?”

“I did. I went into this with my eyes open, and they’re still open.  And I swear to you, from the moment I promised to be honest with you, that I haven’t uttered a single lie.  You did not hurt me in the woods yesterday.  I need you to understand that, because I don’t want your concern over it to prevent you from enjoying the little time we have left together.  You told me yesterday that you were going to be rough with me, and I accepted that.  I accept you.  So if you still need to be rough, then just let me know, and I swear I will tell you to stop if I need to.  Because I trust you, Oliver. I utterly, completely trust you to stop yourself if I tell you that I don’t like something we’re doing with each other.”

Oliver heard her words, but he couldn’t accept them, no matter how sincere she looked. He shook his head, over and over again, as images from the forest flooded his mind.  “Felicity, what happened in those woods yesterday…it fucking terrified me.”

“I know it did. It was a scary thing. But I’m not afraid. I’m still here.”

“I know you are. And I don’t really know why. I just want to prove to you that I can be different than that.  I want to prove to you that I can change.”

“But I don’t want you to change who you are.  I don’t want you to feel guilty about your needs, and I sure as hell don’t want you to hide your nature from me.  You’re a sexually aggressive person and I love that.  Honestly, it’s just one item on the ridiculously long list of things I love about you. So please just be yourself, because that’s what I want.  I want you.”

Oliver stared at his fairy, looking into her determined blue eyes, trying to comprehend her words. He stared at her for the longest time, amazed by her undiluted acceptance.  And he wanted nothing more than to believe her, and to be real and honest with her in every way.

“Please, Oliver,” she echoed. “I just want you.”

He took a deep breath in and then released it slowly.  He looked over her perfect form, and all her luscious curves, and her simply gorgeous, enchanting smile, and he felt his muscles start to ease.  “Do you…do you really have a ridiculously long list of things you love about me?”

“Yes. I do.”

“How ridiculous is it?”

“Like, ridiculously ridiculous.”

“Hmm. I thought you’d come up with a more creative adverb than that, Scrabble queen.”

Her eyebrow arched. “You know, you are seriously starting to frustrate me, Oliver.”

“Am I?” he questioned, unable to prevent himself from grinning.

“Yes, you are.”

“Really? Why is that?” 

“Because you’re still standing by the door, just chatting away with me like I’m your Scrabble buddy – which I love being, by the way – but that doesn’t mean I can’t be more.  A lot more. And I am getting incredibly frustrated by the fact that you still haven’t taken a single step toward me, even though I’m lying here naked.  I mean, I’m completely naked, Oliver, and you’re not doing anything about it. I don’t want to be treated like I’m a china doll.”

“I’m not treating you like a china doll.”

“Yes you are! You’ve been treating me like porcelain since we walked out of those woods!  But I am not made of glass, and you are not going to break me! So pick your damn feet up, get the hell over here, and eat your dinner off my ass like you said you wanted to!”

Oliver’s brow shot up at the forcefulness of her words.  He couldn’t help admiring the tenacity in her eyes and her voice as she made her demands.  He’d honestly never been told to eat his dinner off of a woman’s ass before.  He liked it.  Good God, he loved it.

Oliver resigned himself to his fate then.  His magnificent, sensual, deliriously beautiful fate.  Because he couldn’t deny his little bird anything.

He took several steps forward, coming to stand by the side of the couch, just a few feet in front of Felicity’s face.  Then he reached to his shirt and undid the buttons as she watched.  Her pupils dilated impossibly large in the candlelight as he proceeded to strip bare before her eyes.  Oliver loved seeing her reaction.  He grew hard as he watched her watching him, and by the time he’d gotten the last of his clothes off, Felicity was staring blatantly at his erection while moistening her lips.  The sight made him ache with devilish desire and he had to force himself to look away, so he could concentrate on fulfilling this fantasy.  For both of them.

When he moved around to the front of the couch, Oliver noticed that she’d put a chair cushion on the floor for him to kneel on.  Dear Lord, the woman thinks of everything. He sunk to his knees on the green-and-red plaid fabric, right next to her lower back.  Then he glanced down to her perfect ass, appreciating the curves that he knew would feel as soft as they looked. 

He cleared his throat. “Do you honestly want the real me, Felicity?”

She turned her face toward him, folding her arms up beneath her head and resting her cheek against her hands.  Her blue eyes looked right into his.  “I honestly do.”

Oliver reached for the plate of food she’d left him.  “Well then, I must tell you that I remember, in exact detail, what I said to you the night you tied me up.”

An easy smiled curved her pink lips. “You do?”

“Yes, I do,” he said, taking the plate of steak in his right hand and lifting the dish up off of her body. “What I said was that I wanted to eat my dinner directly off of your backside.”

Oliver reached his free hand to the base of her spine, easing his fingers across the warmth of her skin as Felicity moaned beneath his touch.  He traced his way up the smooth, straight line of her back, until he reached her neck. Then he brushed her hair off to the side, over her far shoulder.  Oliver looked back to her face.  “Are you willing to let me eat directly off of you?”

“Sweet Lord, yes. I’m more than willing.”

He grinned as he reached his left hand to the plate and took one expertly dissected morsel between his fingertips.  With great care, he placed the meat directly on the small of her back, in the little spot at the base of her spine.  Felicity’s eyes closed on a sigh and his cock throbbed.

“Mmm…don’t worry, Oliver; I’ve showered today.”

“I honestly couldn’t care in the least,” he admitted as he took another portion of filet and laid it directly between her shoulder blades. He continued his placement, one morsel after the other, across every section of her skin from her shoulders to her heart-shaped bottom.  When finished, he set the plate down on the table behind him and then turned back to feast his eyes on his creation.  “You know, I think I may have missed my calling in life.”

“Yeah? What should you have been?”

“An artist. Although I would probably only ever be inspired when you’re my canvas.”

Felicity laughed, her body quaking with the movement, causing the pieces of meat to dance against her.  Oliver bent down and sucked one morsel into his mouth, allowing his teeth and lips to linger on her skin, dragging his tongue over her flesh as he slowly pulled away. He chewed leisurely, and then swallowed before looking back to her face.  “Damn. I have never tasted better steak in my life.”

“Well, Phil does make a mean filet.”

“Phil doesn’t have shit to do with it.  It’s the fact that I get to lick it off of your skin.”

Felicity blushed with his words, and Oliver had never been more enchanted by the pink flush of her skin, especially since he could see now that it wasn’t just on her face. She actually blushed across her entire body, from her shoulders all the way to her toes.  His eyes followed the spread of the color as it moved down, and then he sucked in a deep breath when his gaze landed on the mounds of her ass. Oliver reached to them, laying his right hand against the smooth seam that separated the two rounded cheeks. “Fuck, I love your ass,” he whispered.

She giggled. “You may have mentioned that before.”

He eased his fingers across the delicate seam, all the way down to the juncture of her thighs. Felicity parted her legs for him, shifting her body just slightly against the cushions.  Oliver’s eyes darted to her back, where one piece of meat tipped over with her movement.  He dove down to catch it, his lips closing around her skin at the same time his fingers found the blissfully wet opening to her sex.  Oliver bit his teeth into the steak while simultaneously pressing one finger inside the heat of her body.

Felicity moaned deep in her throat.  Oliver felt the rumble of the sensual sound against his lips and his erection jerked so violently that he nearly came on the side of the couch.  He drew his finger out of her body, just so he could add a second finger inside her. Her legs spread a bit further to accommodate him, and Oliver smiled as he swallowed the second piece of steak.

When he leaned down for another bite, this one between her shoulder blades, Felicity sucked in a deep breath and shivered beneath his mouth.  “Is this bothering you?” he murmured against her skin as he slid his fingers slowly out, and then back inside, of her.

“Mmm. Oh, yes, it’s bothering me. In the best possible way.”

Oliver pulled his hand completely out of her then, but only so he could trace up the seam of her ass. Her wetness coated his fingers, leaving a glistening trail behind as he relished the feel of her soft skin. “You want me to keep going, then?”

“I do. Please.”

A grin curved his lips as he bent down to suck another piece of meat from her flesh. He slid his fingers back down her bottom and into her soft, wet sex.  She felt even wetter now than she had a moment ago, and he pulled back out again to follow the trail he’d started up the curved ridge of her ass, all the way to the base of her spine.  While he chewed on his food, his eyes focused on the path of his fingers as they traveled back down again, into her tight, hot sheath. 

“This is the best fucking dinner I’ve ever had,” he admitted after a hard swallow. 

She exhaled and smiled. “It is?”

“Yes, it is. Just narrowly beats out the dinner I had when you tied me up.  I think I only like this one better because I get to touch you any way I want to. Although, I did enjoy you being on top of me that night.”

“I can be on top again.”

Oliver dragged his fingers back out of her heat and up her soft seam again, leaving a trail of perfect wetness as he went.  “No, I don’t want you to be on top tonight.  After I finish eating my dinner, I want to fuck you from behind, right here, just like this. That okay with you?”

He slid his fingers back down her ass and into her sex.

Felicity groaned. “Mm-hmm…that’s just…yes…so good.”

Oliver leaned down to eat another piece of meat from her skin.  He repeated the path of his fingers, over and over again, dragging her wetness out of her body and all the way up to the little curve at the base of her spine. He watched the journey his hand took as he chewed one morsel after another.  His fingers transitioned smoothly now, from her hot sheath all the way to her back, because he’d seamlessly lubricated the path.

His cock pulsed and ached, wanting inside of her in the worst possible way, and he cursed the fact that she’d cut up so much steak for him.  But, on the other hand, he loved that she’d given him so much, because it forced him to enjoy every moment of this sweet torture.  When he finally sucked the last bite of meat into his mouth, he watched Felicity nibble against her lower lip.  Oliver chewed and swallowed, and then brought his free hand to the side of her face, tracing down her cheek and into her hair. She sighed in pleasure and contentment and Oliver’s chest squeezed.  “God, Felicity, I really need to be inside you.”

She gave him a soft smile. “I need you inside me.”

He pressed his lips together, clenching his jaw as every muscle in his body tightened in response to her words.  Pulling his hands reluctantly from her body, Oliver stood at the side of the couch, looking down to his little fairy.  The skin across her back was slightly pink from where he’d been eating off of her, but he’d left no marks.  There were still spots he’d licked that glistened from the moisture of his tongue, but it was nothing compared to how the candlelight caught on the wet seam of her ass.

“Spread your legs for me,” he instructed as he leaned down to brace his arms beside her shoulders. Felicity complied with a moan, easing her thighs further apart.  Oliver climbed onto the couch, hearing the wood groan beneath his weight as pressed his knees between hers.  He situated himself into position behind her, and as he did his rock-hard erection landed against the seam of her ass.  His body responded involuntarily to the sensation, his cock throbbing and his hips pulsing forward.  Oliver stared at the sight of his heavy length resting between her wet ass cheeks and he swallowed hard.

“You doing okay?” Felicity whispered.

“Yup, I’m…I’m good.”

“What are you thinking about?”

Oliver huffed out a laugh. “Honestly?”

“Yes, please.”

Oliver balanced himself with his left arm so he could bring his right hand down to her back. He touched the base of her spine with his still-wet fingers.  “I’m thinking about this little hollow at the bottom of your back,” he admitted, reverently tracing across the flawless dimple.

“What are you thinking about it?”

His hips arched again, running his cock against the deliciously damp seam.  “I’m thinking that the skin over your ass is really wet now, which I admit is totally my fault.  But, since it is so wet, I’m thinking I could fuck the wonderfully smooth ridge between your ass cheeks, just like this, and then come right into this perfect dimple in your back.”

Felicity made a tiny choking sound in her throat.  “And you…you would enjoy that?”

“Fuck, yes,” he whispered, outlining the indentation over and over with his fingertips.

“Then I want that, too.”

Oliver’s eyes shot up to the side of her face.  She was nibbling her lip, and he hated that he couldn’t see her full expression from this angle. “Felicity, no…I’m not actually going to do that tonight.  You just asked what I was thinking, and I was being brutally honest.”

“And I love your honesty, Oliver.  I’m willing to try it. It sounds interesting.”

His gaze fell back down over the curve of her spine to where his fingers rested.  The head of his cock pulsed against her, and he could picture himself coming right there, just spurting out on her skin. He knew he would enjoy that, but he wasn’t sure she would, so it simply wasn’t an option tonight. Because he was damn well going to make sure she enjoyed herself as much as he would.  “I love that you want to try it, baby.  But right now, I need to be inside you.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Hmm…well then, that sounds good, too.”

“It sounds better than good; it sounds incredible,” he breathed as he leaned back, distancing himself just enough to take his thick erection in hand and line up the tip with the soaking entrance to her sex.  She bit into her lip again and Oliver groaned as he watched.  Then he lowered himself onto both arms, easing his chest onto her back, so he could kiss the curve of her ear.  Felicity giggled with the sensation, and Oliver pushed his way inside her as she smiled.

She arched her back as he entered her, pressing her bottom up higher into his lower abs, and he relished the softness and wetness of her skin as he sunk all the way in. Felicity moaned while her body sheathed his cock completely, and she drew her arms out from under her head to grip the side of the couch with her hands.  Oliver watched her fingers clench the wood before resting his forehead against her hair. “You doing okay?” he whispered into her loose gold curls.

“Mmm, yes…you just…you feel so good.”

He shifted his hips in order to ease out of her and then back in again.  “So do you.”

“Do I really?”

“God, yes.”

She turned her face to the side as her arms stretched above her head.  “Tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“Tell me how it feels to be inside me.”

Oliver watched her lick her lips and he groaned.  He slid out and then sunk in again, focusing on the sensation as he searched for words. “It’s hard to describe. You feel incredibly soft and so, so wet. I love how wet you are; I love knowing that your body anticipates me and aches for me just like my body aches for you.” He pulled out again and then plunged back in, listening as she whimpered beneath him.  “And you’re so tight around me, and so warm, and I feel like I can’t get enough of you, no matter how hard I try.”

She smiled as he spoke, and Oliver leaned down to press his nose to her ear, nuzzling against her earlobe. “Your turn,” he whispered into her hair, taking a deep breath in and filling his lungs with the sweet scent of tiny flowers.

“You want to know what you feel like to me?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Oh, Oliver, you feel amazing,” she began, digging her fingers into the wood hand rest as he pressed himself to the hilt inside her. “You feel so big and so hard and so thick, especially from behind like this.”

His hips jerked with her words. “You like this position?”

“God, yes, I love it. I love feeling your chest against my back, and your breath on my cheek.  I just wish…”

“What do you wish?”

“I wish you would hold onto my hands.”

Oliver lifted his arms immediately, covering her hands with his and entwining their fingers so they could grip the log hand rest together.  The full weight of his chest now rested against her back, settling them deeper into the couch cushions, and he worried that it was too much pressure on her. “How is this, baby? Are you good like this?”

“Oh, this…this is perfect,” she sighed.  “Will you move harder inside me now?”

“You want me to fuck you harder?”

“Yes.”

“Mmm…if you insist,” he breathed into her neck as he began driving deep into her body, over and over again. He tried to keep the pace slow, so he could last longer, but he was terribly aware of the still-wet seam of her ass pressing into his abs as he moved, and it made him tremble with a fierce, pounding need.  “You like this, Felicity?”

“I do. So much.”

“Do you think you can come like this?”

“I…I don’t know.”

“I could use my hands to touch you, to make you come.”

“No, I like your hands where they are, holding mine.  You feel so incredible, Oliver.  You feel even thicker from behind than you normally do, and you always fill me up so completely.  I love having you inside me, and on top of me, and all around me.  You just fit me so perfectly, and it’s like you’re everywhere all at once. I love it so much. I love it when you fuck me.”

Her words sent a pulse of electricity down his spine and Oliver slammed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth.  He gripped hard to her fingers, fighting the sensations as best he could.  But then she arched her ass up even higher, and Oliver lost the fight.  He came with a growl, dropping his forehead into her neck as he panted in time with his next few stuttered, purely instinctive thrusts.  Felicity’s shoulder blade lay beneath his lips and he licked and nipped at her skin while he emptied himself inside the warm sheath of her sex. She moaned and whimpered with the pulsations of his hips and his cock, her fingers still entwined with his as she clamped down on the hand rest and trembled underneath him.

When Oliver’s body finally stopped thrumming, it took him a long minute to reopen his eyes, and refocus, and return to reality.  Once he did, he shook his head.  “Damn it, I’m sorry.”

“Why on earth are you sorry?”

“I came without you. Utterly and completely without you.”

“It wasn’t utterly without me; I was right here the whole time.  And I actually really enjoyed it.”

Oliver raised his head to see the side of her face.  “I’m glad you enjoyed it, but I’m still disappointed in myself that you didn’t finish.”

Felicity sighed against the couch cushion.  “Well, I promise I’m just fine.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that I had a nice time; I don’t need to have an orgasm to feel satisfied.”

Oliver lifted up on his arms, trying to get a better look at her eyes.  “Are you fucking kidding me right now?  Please tell me you’re joking.”

“No, I’m really not.”

“Dear Lord, Felicity, did the men you dated before me convince you of that shit?”

A smile pulled at her pink lips. “It’s…it’s okay, Oliver.”

“No, it’s not okay. You’re such a giving person, and I love that about you, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get something in return for what you give.” 

“But I don’t need a reward.”

He shook his head, unable to believe his ears.  “Well, you’re getting a reward, whether you need it or not.”  Oliver pulled out of her body, instantly hating the loss of her warmth, as he lifted his legs up over hers.  Planting his feet beside the couch, he stood and looked down to his little fairy. “I fully intend to give you an orgasm, Felicity.  I am going to make you come right now, and it will be better for you if you accept that fact. But I will need to join you on the couch, so I would like for you to turn on your side, please.”

“Oliver, really, it’s not…”

“Turn. On.  Your.  Side. Please.”  

She pressed her lips together, but still didn’t move.

Oliver stood there, staring expectantly at her.  “Just so you know, I am at least as stubborn as you are, if not more.  And I will wait right here, buck-ass naked, for the next six days, if I have to.”

That statement etched a smile on her lips, and pulled a giggle from her throat, and Oliver grinned back at her.  But then her smile fell, and she closed her eyes for a moment.  Finally, Felicity exhaled and tilted over onto her hip, resting her spine against the back of the couch as she looked up to his face. 

Oliver wanted to be happy that she’d done as he’d asked, and that she’d given in to the fact that he was going to please her, come hell or high water.  He wanted to be ecstatic about it, but the moment she turned over, he saw them.  Oliver saw the bite marks he’d left on her skin the day before.  And all the air sucked out of the room.

His eyes focused in on her chest.  The bruises were purple and mottled and he could see shadows of his teeth marks against the cream color of her skin.  Oliver’s entire body revolted against the sight, pushing acid into his throat. “God, Felicity…”

“They don’t hurt,” she whispered. “And I will heal just fine.”

Oliver felt his knees go weak, and he sunk down beside her on the couch, lying on his side so he could be face to face with his little bird.  For a long time, he could only see the bruises.  Then he pulled his eyes up to hers.  Oliver reached out, taking her face in one hand, as he focused in on her sky blue.  “Please tell me you weren’t laying on your stomach because you were trying to hide this from me.”

Felicity shook her head. “No, I wasn’t trying to hide it, I promise.  I knew you’d see it eventually, but I also knew you’d feel guilty and I honestly just didn’t want that tonight.  I really needed to be able to spend the evening with you without you treating me like something breakable.  Because I’m not that easily broken.  I swear I’m not.”

She reached her hand to his chest, resting her palm over his heart.  “You’re a wonderful man, you know.  You give me so, so much; I really can’t even tell you how much. And I just couldn’t bear to see this distressed look on your face, because tonight I wanted to be with the real Oliver – the one that lives without guilt or regret.”

He shut his eyelids against the pain of her words.  “I don’t…I don’t even know if that Oliver exists anymore, Felicity.”

Her fingers moved across his heart. “He does.  I can see him in there.  You just have to let him live.  You just have to let him breathe.”

Oliver reopened his eyes to see hers.  He looked into her beautiful blue, and watched a gentle smile grace her lips, and he didn’t understand how she could be with him like this, so open and so loving, after witnessing him at his worst.  His gaze fell to her chest, to the bruises littered across her skin, and he winced.

He bent his head down, slowly and tentatively, easing his mouth onto her chest.  He pressed his lips to the first purple mark he came to, taking care to be tender so he didn’t hurt her again.  When his mouth met her skin, Felicity dropped her face into his hair and moaned. Reaching one hand to her hip, Oliver pulled her body closer to his as he moved on to the next bruise, and then the next.  He took his time, kissing each and every one in turn, while she hummed her approval against his scalp.

Oliver ran his hand over her hipbone, his fingers drifting steadily across her skin, as he attempted to kiss away the wounds he’d inflicted.  Felicity shifted beneath the touch of his lips and his hands, pressing her knees together with a breathy moan.  Oliver’s touches became firmer, and farther-reaching, while he tried to mend what he’d nearly broken.  He stroked all the way up her ribcage, and then down again, across her waist and over her thigh. He felt the goose bumps spread across her skin as he kissed from one breast to the other.

Felicity whimpered when his lips brushed across the peak of her nipple, so he pressed his mouth to her skin to worship the tiny bud with his tongue.  She muttered unintelligible words while smoothing her fingers into his hair, and Oliver ran his hand back across her thigh and onto her softly rounded belly.  Then he moved further down, easing his fingers between her rigid legs.

She arched against his hand even as she shook her head.  “Oliver, you don’t have to…”  

He let her nipple loose in order to look up to her face.  Her sky blue eyes darkened, her cheeks flushed pink, and her lips trembled. “Let me give you this, Felicity.”

“But you give me so much already.”

“Then let me give you more. Please.”

She whimpered with his request, but then smiled and nodded.  He felt her stiff legs relax, easing apart so he could run his fingers down into the soft folds of her sex.  Felicity moaned the moment Oliver touched her there, her mouth parting as her eyelids fluttered shut.  Oliver stared at her. She was beautiful – so goddamn beautiful – and he had to kiss her; he had to taste her.

When he pressed his lips against hers, she immediately wrapped her arms around his neck and sunk into his kiss.  Oliver tangled his tongue with hers as his hand dipped even further down.  He discovered the opening of her body so easily, and pressed two fingers inside of her hot sheath, and then groaned into her mouth from the wetness he found.  Felicity was so fucking wet, and he knew it wasn’t just from her; it was also from him, because he’d already come inside her.  He liked feeling his thicker liquid pooled deep within her soft walls. He liked knowing that part of his body was still inside hers.  And he realized that was goddamn caveman-like possessive thought, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

As he dragged his fingers back out of her heat and up onto her tight little bundle of nerves, Felicity shuddered against him.  Oliver’s mouth left hers, but only to move across her cheek and onto her neck. His fingers circled slowly around her fleshy, tender nub and then eased back down through her folds and into her soft wetness once again.  “God, you feel good,” he rasped against her collarbone as he ran his tongue into the hollow beside her throat.

“I do?” she breathed.

“Yes, you do. So good.  And your skin…it tastes perfect.  Salty and sweet and so fucking amazing.”

She moaned with his declarations, and Oliver grinned as he moved his mouth down to her chest again. He found one nipple with his lips, running his tongue across the tight, eager peak as he guided his hand in and out of her sex, again and again.  Felicity arched sharply against him, pulling at his hair as she whimpered and gasped and shifted her hips up and down, trying her damnedest to fuck his fingers. Oliver loved feeling her need. And he loved knowing that he could make her feel it. 

He pushed his fingers deep inside her then, adding his thumb to caress her tight little nerve bud as he sucked her nipple deep onto his tongue.  “Oh, damn, baby,” she gasped.

Oliver smiled against her skin when he heard her breathy curse.  “Come for me, Felicity,” he instructed, his breath hot against her tight, wet nipple as he worked her sensitive flesh harder and faster with his fingers. “I want you to come. I need you to.”

“Um-hmm. I’m going to…I’m going…to…oh…oh…Oliver!

Her arms tightened fiercely around his neck as her legs clamped down on his hand, and Oliver latched his mouth onto her nipple and pulled hard against it.  Felicity screamed out with the sensation, her entire body trembling and shuddering as he continued to move his thumb and fingers and tongue with the rhythm of her undulating hips.  He wanted to spend eternity enjoying the feel of her inner muscles pulsing around him as she moaned his name, but then he heard a loud thud and a gruffly muttered, “Ouch,” and he lifted his eyes to her face.

Oliver watched as Felicity raised one hand to the top of her head and rubbed her hair. “I’m so sorry,” she whimpered. “I didn’t mean to ruin the moment…I just hit my head on the arm of the couch.”

“You didn’t ruin anything; I’m more worried about your head.  Is it okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. I should know better than to thrash about with all of the log furniture around here, but I completely forgot where I was there for a minute.”

Oliver chuckled. “I am going to take that as a compliment.”

“Oh, yes, do. Please do.”

He eased his fingers out of her, dragging them up her body and onto her back.  He used the new leverage to pull her closer, and then he leaned down to press his lips to hers.  “Did you have a nice orgasm?”

“God, yes. It was awesome.”

“Good.”

Felicity smiled against his lips.  “How about you? Did you enjoy yourself tonight? I mean, did you enjoy dinner and then…what came afterward?”

“I don’t think ‘enjoyed’ is a strong enough word.”

“That’s wonderful,” she sighed, grinning giddily up at him with enchanted eyes.  “I’m so glad I was able to guess.”

Oliver’s brow furrowed. “What did you guess?”

“Your fantasy. You know…the one I promised you when we were walking into the woods yesterday?  Since you’d fulfilled a fantasy of mine by letting me tie you up, it was my turn to fulfill a fantasy of yours, and I figured this would be the one you’d want.”

“Oh yes, I do remember that promise quite well.  And I have to admit, this certainly was amazing.”

“Hooray,” Felicity hummed, beaming up at him before pressing her lips to his for a long minute.  When she settled back against the couch again, she smiled ear to ear.  “I’m so glad I could make you happy, Oliver.” 

“You do make me happy.  So goddamn happy,” he confessed, wrapping his arms tighter around her back and pulling her harder to his chest.  “But I would still like to discuss this fantasy you owe me.”

Felicity’s lips parted and her eyes widened.  “What are you talking about?”

Oliver grinned wildly.  “I’m talking about the fantasy you promised me.”

“You mean the one that I just gave you?”

“No. I mean the one that you owe me.”

“But I thought I just gave you your fantasy.”

“You gave me a fantasy,” he corrected as he bent down to kiss the tip of her nose.  “But you didn’t give me the fantasy – the one I am still owed, and I get to choose, per your words.”

“I…um…”

“I do still get my fantasy, don’t I, Felicity?”

The confused look on her face was priceless, and Oliver fought back a laugh. She considered his words for several minutes before finally settling into his embrace and smiling up to his eyes. “Of course you get your fantasy. That is what I promised you.”

“Yes it is,” he confirmed with a nod and another kiss to her nose.

She giggled, which shifted the soft contours of her body against the hardness of his, and Oliver sighed in contentment.  He loved lying here with her, naked and entangled on these couch cushions, but he would give anything to take her into her bedroom now, and curl up with her on top of her mattress and under her sheets.  He stared into her eyes, enjoying the happiness inside them, as Felicity reached out to him, running her hands from his shoulder to his wrists.

“Hmm…do you like my arms, Felicity?”

“Oh, Dear Lord, yes. I love your arms.”

“Well, you know, if you like them so much, you’d probably like waking up in them.”

Felicity stilled for a moment, and then burst into laughter.  “Wow, Oliver,” she managed to squeak out between giggles, “that may be the corniest line I’ve ever heard.”

He chuckled. “It may be the corniest line I’ve ever said.  But the fact remains that you and I have never slept in bed together, and I’d really like to wake up with you in my arms.”

Her laughter died down as she continued to pet him.  “We shouldn’t tonight.  You saw Dr. Lance for the first time today and that is a huge step.  You need some space to process it all.”

Oliver’s brain knew those words made perfect sense, but his body rebelled fiercely against the thought of letting her go.  “Okay, Felicity. I guess I can accept that. But only if I can have another promise from you.” 

“What promise is that?”

Oliver pinned her eyes with his.  “I want you to promise me that, at some point during the next six days, you’ll let me stay over, and you’ll spend the entire night in my arms.”

She nibbled her lip as she met his determined gaze.  “Okay, Oliver. I promise.  But I reserve the right to choose which night it will be.”

“Fair enough,” he agreed, easing his hand across her lower back and onto her hip. “I don’t suppose you’d change your mind and let it be tonight?”

Felicity shook her head. “No, not tonight.”

“Well, you can’t blame a guy for trying.  But, just so you know, I am still going to lay here and hold you for a good, long while.”

“Hmm,” she considered with a grin.  “Honestly, I’d be pissed off if you didn’t.”

Oliver chuckled. “Do you get pissed off? Because I’m having trouble imagining that.”

“Yes, I absolutely do get pissed off.  I have a loud voice and everything.”

“Oh, your loud voice. I did experience that tonight, didn’t I? I mean, you actually demanded that I eat my dinner off your ass.”

She giggled with his words, and the sound wound its way around his heart.  “That wasn’t even close to my real loud voice, Oliver. Also, when I’m really angry, I have been known to stomp my foot from time to time.”

His brow rose. “You stomp your foot? Yikes.  Remind me to stay on your good side.”

Felicity laughed even harder, and Oliver joined her.  He dropped his chin to his chest as the laughter lightened his soul.  But then his eyes drew to the bruises still marring her skin, and he sucked in a breath and quieted.

The moment his body stilled, Felicity reached her hands to his cheeks, pulling his face back up to catch his eyes with her own.   She waited patiently until he could focus on her.  And then she whispered, “Everything heals with time.”

Oliver listened to her, and he heard her, and he nodded.  He felt her fingers run up his jaw and into his hair, and he watched as she gazed up at him with pure adoration.  Oliver banded his arms tighter around her back.  “Tell me something I can do for you, Felicity.  Please tell me something I can give you.”

“I told you…you give me so much already,” she assured as her fingers curled against his scalp. “However, since you asked, I could use more kisses.  If it’s not too much trouble.”

Felicity smiled with her request, and some of the weight on Oliver’s chest lifted. He leaned down to press his mouth to hers.  “I’ll give you anything you want, baby,” he whispered against her lips. 

Even if that means letting you go.

...

A/N:  Hi there!  I hope you enjoyed this chapter...please let me know what you think, because I just love that!  I hope you will have a beautiful, peaceful and thankful week  :)Tina

Up next...Chapter 10:  Positive Reinforcement

Chapter Text

Two days. Oliver only had two more days left with her.  Felicity would walk away from him the day after tomorrow, and he didn’t know how he could possibly cope with that.

Oliver’s jaw clenched as he sat on the porch steps of his cabin, waiting for his little bird to flutter back into his life.  It was already mid-morning.  He’d already showered and dressed.  Roy had already come and gone with breakfast.  But Felicity still wasn’t here yet. 

The lack of her presence made Oliver’s hands tremble, and he alternately stretched and squeezed his fingers as he sat on the cool wood stair, looking toward the clump of trees that separated her cabin from his.  He hated not seeing her.  He hated not knowing the exact moment she would come walking toward him.  Because they only had two days left together, and he wanted to spend every minute he could with her.

Oliver wasn’t quite sure how the time with his forest fairy had flown away so quickly. From the moment she’d told him she only had six days left here, everything moved so fast.  His life at Blue adopted a strangely comfortable pattern: morning basketball with Tommy, afternoon therapy sessions with Dr. Lance, and then evening frolicking with Felicity.

The morning basketball wasn’t easy to go back to at first, after finding out that Tommy had been in Felicity’s cabin.  But Oliver trusted her when she said Tommy only wanted to talk, and he understood that Tommy needed Felicity’s support, just like Roy did.  So Oliver continued that brotherly friendship…but he never brought up Felicity’s name. Because even though Tommy could probably tell him so many things about her, Oliver didn’t want another man feeding him information about his freebird; he wanted to discover everything for himself. So, even though it was almost the end of her vacation now, and there were a billion things he’d never learned about Felicity Megan Smoak, he still didn’t mention her name to Tommy.

The afternoons were a bit easier. Oliver made the decision to embrace his time with Dr. Lance, and he’d been as open and honest as he could with the doctor.  Not that it wasn’t hard. It was hard as hell, and emotionally exhausting, but Oliver knew, without question, that he was on the right road now.  He could only thank the heavens that Felicity had shown him the entrance.

Roy continued bringing Oliver’s dinner to Felicity’s cabin every day.  Because that’s where Oliver went, directly from Lance’s office, to spend his evenings.  Roy never questioned it; he acted as if it was completely natural for Oliver to be with Felicity, and Oliver appreciated the unspoken approval more than he could say. Because it did feel natural to be with her – it felt like the most natural thing ever – and Oliver didn’t think he could explain that fact, even if he tried.

Of course, Felicity didn’t ask for explanations.  She was just there, beside him, gripping his hand tightly and smiling at him with her whole body and gazing into his eyes like she’d discovered a new universe inside him. Every time she looked at him like that, Oliver wanted her more.  Which was difficult to comprehend, because he already wanted her constantly. Even despite that fact that he had her every day.

The night after he’d eaten his steak dinner off her backside, they’d spent the evening playing Twister again. Only this time, it was a new version of the game that Felicity named Kissing Twister, which meant they had to kiss whatever part of each other’s body they were closest to at the end of their turn.  They tried to make the game last as long as they could. They ended up ripping each other’s clothes off – literally, in the case of her underwear – and having laughing, smiling, sweaty sex on top of the plastic mat on the living room floor.

The next night, after they shared a mostly platonic dinner on the couch, Oliver followed her into the kitchen to help clean up.  But then Felicity dropped a fork on the floor.  When she bent over to pick it up, he basically lost his mind.  Because that position made her ass look…holy damn wow.  So he grabbed her and fucked her up against the refrigerator door. At first she was surprised, and then she giggled, and then she moaned, and then she screamed out in pleasure, and Oliver couldn’t bring himself to regret a minute of it.

Last night, however, Oliver tried to make things more romantic for them…because he was still bound and determined to make love to her in a bedroom.  But then, after a charming dinner by candlelight, Felicity armed herself with the hose from the kitchen sink and started a water fight with him. By the time Oliver finished retaliating, she ended up with her bare ass perched on the wet countertop and yet another pair of torn panties on the floor.  Of course, she didn’t complain.  But she did laugh a lot, and Oliver made sure she also screamed more.

He didn’t want to leave her cabin after the water fight last night, but Felicity didn’t give him a choice. She sent him out of her door with one last long kiss, and Oliver left with a warm smile on his face despite the cold air seeping through his still-wet clothes.  Of course, he’d made sure to secure plans for today before he left her cabin.  He told her he wouldn’t leave her porch unless she promised to spend this entire day with him.

Felicity hemmed about it at first.  She said he needed to have his time with Lance; Oliver answered her with a promise to see the doctor tomorrow. Then she explained that she really wanted to spend today in the woods; Oliver answered by offering to go with her. He remained persistent despite all of her protests, and eventually Felicity agreed to his terms. Oliver exhaled in relief the moment she did, and then hurried home and fell swiftly into an exhausted sleep. He did that every night now, probably because of the emotional toll his therapy took on him.  But, even though he slept like a baby, he still woke each morning with the clawing desire to see her – a desire that only worsened as the day went on.

So here he sat, on the cold wood of his porch steps, eager to spend the day with her. And wondering why she wasn’t here yet. And wondering why she hadn’t yet fulfilled her promise to sleep through the night in his arms. And wondering why she never, ever spoke of a future between them, no matter how intimate they were, emotionally and physically.

A rustling sound came from the trees beside his cabin then, followed quickly by a loudly shouted, “Oliver!” He turned his head to see his Felicity running at him with a wide smile on her lips and loose gold curls flying around her face.  He had just enough time to stand and step out onto the gravel before she launched herself into his arms.

Felicity knocked the wind out of him when he caught her against his chest, and Oliver stumbled back a step or two.  “Oh my God…I’m so happy to see you,” she breathed beside his ear, her arms tightening around his neck.

“I’m happy to see you, too,” he reassured as he pulled her closer, supporting her weight as she pushed up on the tiptoes of her hiking boots.  Her body shivered against his, and she clung so tightly to him, that Oliver wondered if something bad had happened.  “Felicity, are you…”

She stopped his question by pressing her lips to his, planting fast and furious kisses against his mouth and his cheeks and his nose as she grinned and giggled. Then she eased back, just a little, to look up at him.  Her arms uncurled from his neck, but her fingers remained close to his shirt collar.

Oliver studied his little bird.  Her eyes were wide and luminous.  Her fingers fiddled and fumbled with his collar.  Her entire body hummed against his.  She felt like a ball of nervous energy inside his arms, and it reminded him of the night she’d showed him the picture of her yellow-crowned purple fantini and asked him to straighten the frame she’d hung on the wall.  Felicity had thrummed with energy that night, just as she did now, and Oliver wasn’t sure what to make of it.  “Are you doing okay today?”

She nibbled against her lip. “Yeah, yeah…I’m okay.”

Oliver shook his head, and then took her face in both his hands, grounding her to him. “I can tell that you’re not. Talk to me.  Please.”

Felicity exhaled as she brought her fingers up to rest over his heart.  “It’s just…this is it, you know?  This is my last day in the woods.”

A surge of panic shot through Oliver’s body.  “No. No. This isn’t your last day. We still have one more day. You’ll still be here tomorrow.”

“Yes, I’ll still be here tomorrow, but I won’t be able to go into the woods again.  I just have too much to do.  I have to get ready to return to the real world; there’s so much to get ready for. I have to pack, of course. And then there’s dinner. I would love to have dinner with you one more time.  You will come for dinner, right? I want you to. I’ll try to make it special. I can talk to Phil to see if he’ll make another steak for you.  I mean…if that’s okay.  Is that okay? Or is that too much steak? I don’t know if it’s too much of a good thing.  Although that sounds ridiculous, right?  Too much of a good thing? I’ve always found that to be an odd expression, but I suppose it could be, and…”

Felicity.  Take a breath. Please.”

She stopped talking and stared up into his eyes as air came in little bursts from her lips. She blinked her eyes a few times and then nodded and tried to smile.  “Sorry.”

Oliver placed his hands on her shoulders.  “Don’t be sorry. I just want to make sure you’re doing alright. Besides, you know I’ll be there for dinner tomorrow.  And it doesn’t matter what we eat, as long as I’m with you.  But…”

“But what?”

“Do you really want me to come with you today?”

Her fingers immediately fisted into his shirt.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean if this is the last chance for you to be in the woods, I don’t want to interfere,” he offered despite the churning in his gut.  “If you need to be alone, I understand.”  Oliver held his breath as he waited for her to answer.

Felicity reached up to touch his cheek.  “Thank you, baby. But I don’t want to be alone today. I’ve been alone in the woods everyday. All morning, while you’re playing basketball with Tommy, and then all afternoon, while you have your talks with Dr. Lance.  And I absolutely need that time to myself, but I get so excited when I know I’m going to see you in the evenings and I just…I want to spend my last day in the forest with you by my side. If that’s okay.”

Oliver nodded, probably a little too violently.  “Yes. That is definitely okay.”

She grinned and reached for his hand, grasping onto his fingers as she stepped backwards into the tree line.  “Then come on, let’s go.”

They walked into the woods together.  Well, he walked.  She bounced. Through the brambles and underbrush and snapped twigs and branches, she bounced and hummed and giggled, and Oliver watched her with both amazement and apprehension. Because he didn’t know how she maintained this level of energy day after day, and even though he wasn’t sure how stable his little bird felt today, he couldn’t bear the thought of losing these moments from his life.

They found her favorite red maple tree again.  She stood in front of it for several minutes, touching the leaves with uncensored awe as she smiled more brilliantly than the sun shining down on her.  And then she turned to him, and grabbed his hands, and sang, “Dance with me?”

His brow rose with the request.  “You mean here?”

Felicity pulled against him while balancing on her tiptoes.  “Yes, right here.”

“I’m sorry, but no. I…I don’t dance.”

“Yes you do, Oliver. I just haven’t seen it on the outside yet.”

Oliver’s heart squeezed inside his chest, and he worked to catch a breath.  Then he tugged her toward him, and wrapped her up in his arms. “I don’t dance, but I do kiss,” he offered, pressing his lips to hers before moving them across her cheek and then down to her neck.  Felicity whimpered as he tasted her skin, her fingers curling over his biceps while she held onto him. He found that little spot behind her ear again – the one that made her giggle and squirm just last night – and he kissed her there.  She did exactly what he knew she would, laughing and wriggling inside his arms.

Oliver banded her tighter to his chest, but his little fairy was harder to keep hold of than he’d imagined. As he continued to nibble against that tender spot, Felicity twisted herself right out of his arms and jumped several feet away.  “You have to stop that!” she chastised with a big, silly grin on her face.  “I’m ticklish there!”

“I know; that’s why I do it. Now come back and let me do it again.”

“Uh-uh,” she refused, stepping backwards.  “You’ll have to catch me first.”

He smiled so wide that it was nearly painful.  “I can do that, you know.”

Oliver wiggled his eyebrows and Felicity laughed – sparkling and bright with just a hint of hysteria – and then she squealed as she turned and began fluttering through the trees. Oliver chuckled to himself while he watched her retreating form.  He even gave her a head start, because he knew her cute little legs would be no match for his long ones.  He watched her hair brush across her back as she darted quickly but carefully through the trees, and he listened to the music of her giggles floating in the air. Once he started after her, Oliver closed the distance between them with only a few long strides. He was quite preoccupied with the thought of catching her, and wrapping her up in his arms, and kissing her ferociously, so she damn near scared the hell out of him when she skidded to sudden halt and shrieked, “Oh my God!  Look!”

Oliver froze, stopping only a few feet away from her, as he attempted to follow her gaze down to the forest floor.  “What? What am I looking at?”

“This!” she exclaimed, pointing to a little branch sticking up out of the dirt.  “It’s a baby pine tree!” 

His brow rose while he stared at the tiny brown stem with the sporadic thin green needles dangling off of it.  Then Oliver refocused on Felicity as she turned toward him and grinned ear to ear.  She clasped her fingers together in front of her, and bounced on the balls of her feet.  Her eyes shone with unbridled excitement, and Oliver’s breath caught as a vision entered his mind: a vision of Felicity holding a little baby girl in her arms.  A baby girl with curly blond hair and bright blue eyes, who reached out to him with her tiny, chubby fingers. 

Oliver’s blood bounded in his veins, pulsing through his body as his heart swelled with the image. Then he rubbed his fingertips across his eyelids and forced himself to inhale and exhale. Good Lord, man, what are you thinking?

When he managed to reopen his eyes, he saw Felicity tilt her head. 

“Are you okay, Oliver?”

“I…yes. I’m okay.”

She smiled at him again. “Well, then, come see! Come see the baby!”

Oliver nodded, attempting to school his features so he wouldn’t have to try to explain where his mind just went. Because he didn’t think he could explain it.  Not right now.

“Are you coming?” she asked, reaching out to him with wriggling fingers.

He stepped up beside her and took her hand inside his own.  Then he watched as she turned her face back to the tiny branch and smiled. Her fingers trembled inside his, and Oliver knew she needed to be closer to the little pine, so he bent over and plopped onto the ground, pulling her down along with him.

Felicity squeaked in surprise when they hit the dirt, and Oliver chuckled as he wrapped one arm around her back, tugging her closer to snuggle up against his side. She looked to his eyes, her gaze both questioning and adoring.  “What are we doing down here?”

Oliver reached out to brush a wayward hair from her cheek.  “We are appreciating the little tree.  Although, I have to say it’s pretty much just a twig at this point.”

She giggled with his words and then rested her head against his shoulder, sighing as she relaxed into the side of his chest.  “Yes, right now he’s just a twig, but one day he’ll be just as big and tall as the others. He’ll have the traits of his parents when he grows up, and yet he’ll be his own tree, with his own trunk and his own branches and his own cracks and crevices.”

Oliver ran his fingers through her hair as he listened to her words.  And then she sank further into him, and her thrumming body calmed, and she sat silently for several minutes.  So Oliver just sat with her, and held her, and listened to her breathe.

Eventually, Felicity turned her face up to his and met his eyes.  “Who are you more like, Oliver?  Your mom or your dad?”

He considered the question for a long moment before shaking his head.  “I don’t know; I have my father’s business skill.  But definitely my mother’s fierce sense of family.”

She smiled with his words and he pulled her tighter against him.  “What about you, Felicity?  Are you more like your mom or your dad?”

The look in her eyes shifted from peaceful to painful the moment he asked.  The response didn’t surprise him, because Oliver knew it was a loaded question.  She would have to choose between her deceased, workaholic father, or her wandering-but-not-lost mother – which basically meant a choice between Solemnly Sedate Felicity and Frolicking Freebird Felicity.  And, as much as Oliver wanted the answer, he wasn’t sure if she knew enough to give it to him.

His little bird stared at him for a long time before answering.  And then she looked back to the baby pine tree and said, “I honestly don’t know. But I’m figuring it out, day by day.”

Oliver nodded, because he knew how truthful the statement was, and then he settled into the dirt beside her, just holding her against him as she stared at the little branch. He could feel the warmth of her body, and the steadiness of her breathing, and he smiled to himself as they spent time in silence.  The flapping of a bird’s wings eventually broke the silence, and Oliver glanced up to one of the tall oaks around them.  “Hey, look…it’s a red-headed woodpecker.” 

Felicity’s gaze followed his up to the branches.  “Oh my gosh, it is,” she breathed, her body instantly humming once again. 

Oliver smiled at her enthusiastic response, dually proud of himself for remembering the bird’s name and for making her happy.  He ran his hand up and down her arm as they watched the woodpecker hop along the tree branches, and he felt her tremble beneath his fingers.  At first, he thought it was a good, excited kind of trembling. But then Felicity made a strangled sound in her throat and whispered, “Oh, no.”

Oliver turned his attention back to her immediately, holding onto her as he peered down to her face. Tears welled in the corners of her eyes. “Felicity?  What’s wrong?”

She sniffled as she shook her head.  “I…I lied to you, Oliver.”

“About what?”

“That bird isn’t a red-headed woodpecker.  It’s a red-bellied woodpecker.”

His brow furrowed. “Really?  But it doesn’t have a red belly.”

“I know. I used to think that was so weird when I was a kid, but the actual red-headed woodpecker has a red head and mostly black wings, and this one’s wings are different.  I remember my friend Caitlin and I joking that whoever named this bird ‘red-bellied’ needed new binoculars, because this bird doesn’t have any red on it’s belly.  And I know that’s a silly memory, but I just thought I would never forget it. I thought I would never forget any of those things from my childhood.  But I did. I forgot so many things and I…I lied to you.”

Oliver’s chest tightened as Felicity looked up to him with fearful eyes.  He wrapped his other arm around her, encasing her completely. “You didn’t lie to me. You made a mistake.”

The trembling of her body increased exponentially.  “No, I lied to you. Even though I swore to you that I wouldn’t lie anymore.  I swore it.”

“You couldn’t remember the name of a bird, baby.  It was an honest mistake.”

She shook her head, over and over, as tears spilled down her cheeks.  “No, you don’t understand…I lied to you.  I lied to you and I pushed you.  I pushed you so hard, from the second I met you.  I forced you to look at things that maybe you weren’t ready to see, and I hate knowing that I did it against your will.”

Oliver understood what she was referring to now.  This was about the last time they were here in these woods together, and how she’d forced him to acknowledge the significance of what had happened with Carrie. That day had been so painful for him – and he’d reacted poorly, to say the least – but he knew Felicity had only pushed him for his own good.  She’d forced him to take a cold, hard look at his life, so he could finally start moving in the right direction, and he had nothing but gratitude for her actions now.

He smiled in reassurance. “Felicity, you may have pushed me, but you have to know by now that my will is pretty damn strong. What I’ve done at Blue has been of my own choosing, and you shouldn’t feel bad about anything that’s happened between us on this mountain.”

Another tear spilled from her eye onto his fingers.  “I’m sorry, Oliver.”

“Please don’t be.”

Her head shook beneath his hand. “God, I’m so, so sorry.”

The look of crumpled defeat on her face stabbed into his chest, and Oliver couldn’t stand it. “Come here,” he said, pulling her entire body onto his lap.  Felicity immediately curled into a ball against him and Oliver dropped his forehead into her hair. He took a deep breath in, filling his lungs with her scent as she struggled just to steady her breaths. She trembled and cried and shuddered, and it felt like she was unraveling at her seams and falling apart in his arms. Oliver’s gut clenched, because he didn’t know how to hold her together.  He only knew he had to try.  “Shh…it’s okay. Everything is going to be okay.”

Felicity’s fingers fisted against his chest, her words coming out raw and pained. “I’m so sorry I pushed you. I thought I was doing the right thing and I’m just…I’m so, so sorry.” 

He shook his head, not understanding the strength of her reaction, and not knowing how to help her.  But then, as she continued to whisper the word sorry over and over while she clung to him, Oliver suddenly understood what she needed. Because he’d needed the same thing the last time they were here together.  “I forgive you, Felicity,” he breathed into her gold curls. “You’re forgiven.”

She sobbed then. She gripped his shirt and sobbed, and Oliver held her tighter as she shook.  He had no clue what she needed forgiveness for, but he was just grateful to be able to give it.  Because this was his forest fairy…his little freebird…his Felicity.  This woman had changed his life, his whole world. She’d given everything she could to make him a happier person, and he didn’t know that he’d given her much of anything. But he knew he could give her this much. “You’re forgiven,” he whispered, again and again, as she shivered in his arms.

Oliver didn’t know how long they stayed like that.  All he knew was he needed to hold her until she stopped crying and shaking. So he did.  He offered her his strength, because it felt like the only other thing he had to offer.  And he closed his eyes and thanked the heavens when he felt her sink farther into him, accepting that strength without question.

After her trembling finally stopped, and she’d dried her tears with the back of her hands, and her breathing returned to normal, Oliver still didn’t move. Eventually, Felicity reached to his shirt and smoothed out the fabric beneath her cheek, and a little laugh bubbled up from her throat.  “I completely soaked your shirt,” she said, her voice slowly returning to normal. “I think even worse than I did with the kitchen hose last night.”

“My shirt and I will be fine. As long as you’re okay.”

Felicity raised her head from his chest to look into his face.  Her eyes were dry now, but still red around the edges, and Oliver forced himself to smile for her, even though it killed him to see her look so sad. “I’m okay,” she whispered, offering him a smile in return.  “Sorry about my mini gargantuan freak out.”

“Don’t be sorry. Do you want to talk about it?”

Her brow knit and she shook her head.

“Okay, well…do you want to stay here in the forest?  We could go find your oak tree.”

“No. I appreciate the offer, but I think I want to go to the cabin.”

“Are you sure? It’s probably just early afternoon, so we have plenty of time left.”

“Thank you, but I think it’s time to head back now.”

Oliver nodded as she eased herself off of his lap and stood.  He immediately jumped up beside her, and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her back to his side.  Felicity rested her head against his shoulder as they walked, slow and steady, back toward civilization.  She didn’t say anything, and she barely moved, and Oliver hated that she wasn’t dancing anymore.

“I have an idea,” he said, breaking the silence between them.

Felicity looked up to his eyes.  “What idea?”

“Do you want to play a game?”

“What kind of game?”

“I was thinking maybe hide-and-seek?”

She grinned with the suggestion, and he felt it everywhere.  “I haven’t played hide-and-seek in forever…not since I was a child.”

Oliver stopped walking and turned to her.  “Do you want to hide or should I?”

“Can I hide?”

“Of course. But you do realize that I get to kiss you when I find you, right?”

“Ooh, I realize that now.”  She smiled at him then, and bounced up and down, and Oliver’s world made sense again.  “Now close your eyes and count to twenty, please.” 

He did as instructed. And when he reopened his eyes, he found her.  Every time. Over and over again. It never took very long to discover her hiding place, even when she managed to find an oak big enough to shield her entirely.  Because he could always see her hot breaths in the cool air, or hear her muffled giggles, or catch sight of her shirt, or just feel her warmth.  So he would sneak up behind her, and scare her almost every time, at which point she would squeal and laugh and then throw her arms around his neck as he kissed her.

He knew his little fairy felt unnerved today, but playing with her made her peaceful, and happy, and Oliver loved being able to give her that.  So he let her hide again, and then snuck up behind her and grabbed her and planted his lips against her mouth as she laughed.  Once he’d finished kissing her, he looked down to her eyes and smiled. “Gotcha.”

“Ugh. How is it that you’re so good at this game?”

Oliver looked directly into her and said, “I will always be able to find you, Felicity.”

He didn’t mean it as a threat. He really didn’t. It was a simple fact. And maybe even a promise. But, as Oliver watched a flicker of fear pass through her eyes, he knew she didn’t take it that way. So he shook his head and gave her a playful grin and said, “Come on, I’ll race you back to your cabin.”

Felicity frowned. “I can’t race you. You’re like a stealthy ninja jet plane or something.”

He chuckled. “Well then, I will give you a ridiculous head start.”

“But what if you lose sight of me and you get lost?”

“I won’t get lost. I know how to navigate this forest now. You taught me well.”

Felicity considered his words for a moment before smiling brilliantly.  She leaned in to kiss him, and waited until his eyes closed, and then squealed and turned to run in the opposite direction.  Oliver laughed as he watched her bound through the trees, and waited until she was almost out of his sight before following.  By the time she reached the edge of the trees behind her cabin, he’d caught up with her.  So he slowed to a jog, making sure she could round the porch and hop up onto the steps before him.

“Yes! I did it!” she cheered while she jumped around in front of her door, pumping her fists in the air. “I beat you here! And I’m going to celebrate like crazy! Even though I know you totally let me win!”

Oliver laughed as he walked up the steps to join her.  “It was worth it to see you happy,” he admitted as he wrapped his arms around her waist, stopping her dancing momentarily so he could kiss the tip of her nose.

Felicity eased her hands across his chest while she smiled up to his eyes.  “Thank you for letting me win, Oliver.  Thank you for this entire day.”

“You’re welcome.”

She pulled away from him, but only to grab hold of his hand and tug him toward her front door. “Come inside with me,” she encouraged, as if there was even a consideration that he wouldn’t follow her anywhere.

When Felicity turned to step into the living room, Oliver glanced at the loose gold curls hanging down around her shoulders.  Kicking the door shut behind them, he followed her into the kitchen.  “Felicity, you have something in your hair.”

“What? Where?” she asked, turning back to him while she reached her hands up to her head.

“Here, let me,” he insisted, easing his fingers into the back of her curls and pulling out a little green leaf. 

“Oh!” she gasped when he handed it to her.  “It’s another one, just like the first time we went into the forest!  It’s funny; it’s like they just want to cling to me.”

“I know the feeling,” he said, watching her breath catch for a moment before she smiled.

“Well, I suppose I will put this one on the counter, right beside the other one.”

Oliver watched as she set this leaf next to the first.  He stared at the two of them, lying side by side.  The new leaf was mostly green with just a little red inside it. Oliver realized the two leaves were reverse images of each other:  red with green and green with red.  Like yin and yang. He smiled at the sight before turning back to his fairy.

“You know, Felicity, I hate to say this, but the leaf proves it.  You are very dirty.”

Her nose crinkled. “What?  No, I’m not.  We weren’t in the forest that long, and I took a shower just this morning.”

“Oh, but you are dirty. You’re…”

“Oliver! I am not dirty! Just smell my hair! I shampooed it this…”

Felicity,” he growled, grabbing her hips and pulling her up against him.  “You are dirty, and you need to take a bath in that big, bear-claw bathtub you have, and you need someone to wash you.  Thoroughly.”

“Oh,” she said. “Oh.” Her eyes widened and she licked her lips.  “Well, then, you are totally right.  I’m so dirty. I am actually filthy.  It’s disgusting, really.  I don’t even know how you can stand to be in the same room with me, and…”

Oliver chuckled as she expounded on her level of grime, and Felicity’s cheeks reddened when she finally pressed her lips shut and dropped her forehead onto his chest.

“Sorry,” she whispered into his shirt before lifting her gaze back to his.  “I took it too far, didn’t I?”

He leaned down to kiss her, because there was nothing else he could do.  “It was perfect,” he murmured against her lips.   “Now come into the bathroom and let me get you clean.”

“Ooh, yay!” she squealed, her eyes lighting up like Christmas.

Oliver grabbed hold of her hand and pulled her along with him.  They entered the bathroom together, and his gaze wandered immediately to the side of the sink.  All of Felicity’s toiletries were still there, lined up in order, just as they always were. He stared at them briefly before turning his attention to the large white porcelain tub.  Oliver let go of her hand to reach down and plug the drain before turning on the water and testing the temperature beneath his fingertips. Then he looked to the wide tiled ledge that connected the tub to the wall.  “What are all of the things you have here on the ledge?”

“Oh, it’s just bubble bath, and shampoo and conditioner, and a cup to rinse my hair. And candles and matches, of course. I love candles.”

“Well, that all sounds perfect,” he said, reaching for the bubble bath and pouring a healthy dose beneath the running water.  The smell of vanilla filled the air, and Oliver replaced the bottle on the ledge before stepping over to light the candles.  He waited until the tiny yellow lights began to flicker, and then he moved around Felicity to flip off the bathroom light switch and close the door. The room darkened immediately, because there were no windows, and he turned to see the candle flames highlight the gold in her hair.

Oliver stepped back to her, stopping just a few inches away and reaching his hand to cup her cheek. “How do you like this?”

“It’s amazing. How would you like to play another game?”

“What game?”

“The see-who-can-get-their-clothes-off-the-fastest game?”

He grinned down into her sparkling eyes.  “Oh, yes. I definitely want to play that.”

“Ready, set, go,” she said as quickly as she could, reaching for the hem of her shirt.

Felicity moved hurriedly, but she was no match for him, especially since she slowed herself up by giggling almost constantly.  By the time she got down to just her underwear, Oliver had already been buck naked and staring at her for several seconds. 

“Guess you didn’t let me win this contest,” she lamented as she reached for her panties.

Oliver placed his hands on hers, stilling her fingers.  “Wait…can I tear those off of you?”

“Oliver. This would be like the fifth pair.”

“Is that too much?” he asked, giving her his best puppy-dog face.

She shook her head and smiled. “You know what, if it makes you happy, go ahead.”

Oliver couldn’t help the grin that spread his lips while he hooked his fingers into the little straps of fabric against her hips and pulled.  Then he stepped up to her, aligning their naked bodies together, as her torn panties fell to the floor.  “Damn, that’s fun,” he whispered against her mouth, just before pressing his lips to hers.

Felicity smiled into his kiss, and it was the best feeling in the world.  His little bird had been so unsettled today – too unsettled – and it disarmed him to see her that way.  He wanted her here with him, and he wanted her happy.  “You ready to get into the tub now, Felicity?”

She kissed him once more before nodding.

Oliver turned to shut off the water, and then tested the temperature one more time, before he stepped into the tub and sat down, situating himself against the high-topped back opposite the faucet.  Then he held his arm out to her.  Felicity took hold of his hand and stepped into the water, easing her body beneath the clouds of bubbles. She moved into the same position Oliver was in, pressing her back to his chest as she pushed her bottom between his thighs. 

He wrapped his arms around her waist the moment she’d settled against him, pulling her in even closer. Felicity allowed her head to fall back against his shoulder, and he watched the ends of her hair soak into the water, turning from light gold to dark.  His eyes moved across her skin and down her chest.  Even with the dim candlelight and the surrounding bubbles, Oliver could still make out the shadows of his teeth marks against her skin. The bruises were still there, but they didn’t look angry anymore.  Oliver knew they were healing, and he didn’t feel the same levels of pain and guilt when he saw them.  But it did still amaze him to think of how much she’d given of herself, and how much she’d helped him in the few days they’d had together.

Felicity sighed, her soft body sinking against his hard one, the contours of her curves lining up perfectly in his arms.  Oliver reached one of his hands to hers, and watched the way their fingers wound together. He could feel the warmth of her skin despite the heat of the water, and he knew he would never be able get enough of this, no matter how much time they spent together.  Even though the sad truth was that they basically had no time left at all.  Oliver knew it was going to be hard as hell to get through the next week up here after she’d gone, but he couldn’t even imagine how horrible it would be to have to go back to his actual home without this.  Without her.

I don’t want to let her go.  I want her with me in the real world.  I want to see her smiling face the first time she crosses through my front door. I want to know how it feels to sit beside her at my dining room table.  I want to sleep with her in my arms, in my bed.  I want to wake to the sight of her beside me.  Again and again and again.

Oliver’s fingers tightened to hers of their own volition.  “God, I don’t want to give this up,” he admitted in a hoarse rasp. “Do you?  Do you really want to give all of this up?”

She stilled against him, her muscles stiffening beneath the water.

He cringed when he felt her tension. And he knew he shouldn’t ruin these last moments with her, but he couldn’t help how he felt. “I just…I can’t imagine it, Felicity. I can’t imagine you leaving the day after tomorrow.  I can’t imagine having to stand there, and kiss you for the last time, and then watch you walk away from me.”

His voice left him for a moment, and he could only lay here, with her in his arms. Felicity didn’t say anything. She just held his hand inside her own.

Oliver sighed. “I know what you’re thinking. You think we’re on a speeding bus and we can’t stay together once we jump off.”

“You’re right,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.  “That is what I’m thinking.”

He closed his eyes and shook his head.  “But there’s not enough time left for us.  There are still so many things I want to know about you, and there’s just not enough time.”

“Wh-what do you want to know?”

“I want to know where you’ll go when you leave here; I want to know where you call home. And I want to know what you do for a living. Because I’m pretty sure you’re not actually a National Geographic reporter.”

Felicity’s body stiffened even harder against him, and Oliver heard her breath catch with his words, and he knew he’d crossed a line.  “I’m sorry,” he offered, looking down to the side of her face, trying to gauge her reaction. “I know I told you before that you didn’t have to share anything with me that you didn’t feel comfortable sharing. And I don’t want to put you in a position where you feel like you have to lie, because I appreciate your honesty more than I can say.  I just…I want more of you.  I want to know more. I want to know where you grew up. I want to know what side of the bed you sleep on.  I want to know your favorite singer.  And your favorite food. I want you to tell me anything and everything.”

Her fingers tightened inside his.  “Oliver…I could answer all of that, but what difference would it make?  Blissful Blue still isn’t reality, and I’m still leaving the day after tomorrow.”

“I know. I know this isn’t the real world. But if it’s all just a fantasy, then I want as much of it as I can have, for as long as I can have it.”

When he finished speaking, Oliver held his breath.  He stilled beneath her, waiting to see if she would allow this.  To see if she would give him more. 

Felicity didn’t respond at first.  She just lay stiffly against him, and he could feel her body move as she breathed. Then she said, “Elvis.”

A smile tugged at his lips as he looked down to the ends of her gold hair floating in the warm water. “Why is Elvis your favorite singer?”

“Because my mother always played his songs in the car when I was little, and I fell in love with them. And, you know, the hip-swinging thing was pretty cool.”

“Yes it was,” he agreed. “And what’s your favorite food?”

Her muscles eased a bit against his chest.  “Twinkies.”

“Twinkies? Really?”

“Yes. I love things that look a certain way on the outside, but then once you get to the inside, it’s a complete surprise. Like Twinkies. Oh, and corndogs. And lemons, of course – the adorable fruit with the surprising kick inside.”

“And powder kegs,” Oliver added, relishing the ability to follow her train of thought.

Felicity reached up behind her, finding his face with her hand and cradling his jaw in her fingertips. “Especially powder kegs,” she said.

Oliver pressed a kiss to the top of her head and then reached his hand to the underside of her elbow, dragging his fingertips along the underside of her arm.  Felicity laughed and squirmed beneath his fingers, just as he knew she would, because he’d discovered this ticklish spot just yesterday. He loved knowing where her ticklish places were.  And he loved knowing about Elvis and Twinkies and lemons, even if they just scratched the surface of who she really was. 

“Will you answer something else for me, Felicity?”

“What?”

“Do you like having your hair washed?”

“Oh my God, yes.  I didn’t know that was an option.  Is that an option?”

“It’s more than an option, actually.  It’s a necessity.”

“Why is it a necessity?”

“Because, even though I haven’t spent nearly as much time at Blue as you have, and I’m nowhere near as good at this psychology stuff as you are, there is one theory I’m familiar with.”

“Yeah? Which one?”

“Positive reinforcement,” he said as he reached to the ledge beside them for her shampoo bottle. “You confided in me just now, and I want you to know how much I like that, so I’m going to reward you with something you like, in an attempt to further said behavior.”

“You know, I think positive reinforcement might work better if you don’t tell your subject that you’re going to use it on them.”

“Well, I didn’t really have a choice.  Because I have no doubt that you would have figured it out on your own.  Now sit up, please.”

Felicity giggled as she complied, positioning herself in front of him and placing her hands on the sides of the tub. Oliver straightened behind her, pressing his thighs against her hips to keep her in place so she wouldn’t drift too far away.  Then he popped open the cap of the shampoo bottle and took a deep breath in.  “This smells like you,” he realized as he poured the thick liquid into his hands and rubbed it against his palms.  “Like a field of little wildflowers.”

The moment his coated fingers pressed into her hair, Felicity moaned.  Her shoulders dropped and her knuckles whitened against the edge of the tub, and he knew she was fighting to keep herself upright. “Good Lord, Oliver, that is just…mmm…”

He smiled as he continued, moving his fingers tenderly yet firmly across her scalp as he lathered the liquid into thick bubbles, releasing that wondrous scent all around them. Felicity instantly turned to mush beneath his hands, descending into a state of bliss that hypnotized him nearly as much as it did her.  She became soft and pliant, her breathing deep and even, and Oliver knew his positive reinforcement was working.  At least, he hoped it was. He wanted more information. He wanted more confidences. He just wanted…more. And, in the state she was in, he hoped he might actually get what he wanted. 

Oliver rinsed the shampoo from her hair using the cup she kept on the tub ledge, and then he restarted the entire procedure with her conditioner.  Felicity became nearly boneless, her hands dropping off the tub edges and falling into the water, while she swayed in time with the movement of his fingers against her scalp.  Oliver grinned as she rocked back and forth and moaned.  God, she was so his right now. It was probably wrong to use her own body against her like this, but he did tell her that he was going to do it, so that made him feel a bit less guilty.

Once he’d rinsed out the conditioner, and her hair was soft and slick beneath his fingers, Oliver reached to Felicity’s shoulders and pulled her gently toward him. She dropped instantly backwards onto his chest, sloshing the water around them as she collapsed. Sliding his hands down her arms and onto her hips, Oliver adjusted her between his legs, pulling her closer to him so her ass came flush with his lower abs.  Her head lolled onto his shoulder and he pressed his cheek beside hers. “How is this, Felicity? Are you comfortable?”

“Comfor’ble not a good enough word.”

He smiled with her mumbled almost-sentence, running his hands across her hips and over her belly. “I’m glad you liked it.”

“Hmm…you deserve a shampooing award.”

“I’ll take it. I like awards.”

“Me, too. Who doesn’t like awards?”

Oliver reached his hands to hers, aligning their palms together and threading their fingers. Felicity sighed and snuggled her face beside his.  She was completely calm, and completely peaceful, so Oliver decided to use it to his advantage. Because he was almost out of time, and he needed more. “Have you ever gotten any awards, Felicity?”

“Awards? Um, sure.  I mean, well…I got a lot in high school.”

“Yeah? What kind of awards?”

She shifted against his chest, but she wasn’t running away yet.  “Oh, you know, I won the State Science Fair and I was Valedictorian of my class…things like that.”

Oliver curled their hands together further as he smiled.  “You’re a genius, aren’t you?”

Felicity chuckled, which moved her body beautifully against his.  “Is this about me kicking your butt at Scrabble the other day?  Because I’m sure you would have given me a run for my money if you’d been in a different headspace.”

“Actually, I don’t think I could ever challenge you at Scrabble, no matter what headspace I’m in.  But that’s not even what I mean.  I suspected the truth of it before, but when I think about everything I’ve seen you do, and heard you say, I realize just how much of a genius you are. Mensa-level, if I had to guess. Am I right?”

Her fingers stilled inside his for a moment before she sighed.  “Yes.”

“You don’t sound happy about it.”

“Of course I’m happy, Oliver. I’m thrilled.  Intelligence is a gift and I’ve been so blessed in that regard.”

“But?”

She shook her head. “But it comes with a lot of responsibility, and I don’t know that I handled it all that well in my youth. And then, the older I got, the more seriously I took it.  I drifted away from my mother’s encouragement to be free and joyful and celebrate life, and I leaned toward my father’s goals of science and studies. I started to think that all those things my mother believed in were silly and frivolous, and I started to think I’d wasted my life running around in the woods, watching the squirrels jump through trees and watching the birds fly.”

Felicity stopped speaking for a long minute, and then she inhaled deeply and said, “You’re right, you know…I’m not a National Geographic reporter.”

Oliver froze, his heart pounding in his chest.  He didn’t say a word, for fear of ruining the moment.  He listened intently, his entire body focused on hers, as she spoke again.

“When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a nature photographer.  I used to fantasize about it on my Girl Scout campouts.  And when I decided to come on vacation up here at Blue, I brought my camera with me, because it sounded fun, and it felt hopeful.” Felicity eased her fingers out of his in order to run them across his forearms.  “Do you remember the picture I took, Oliver? The photo of the yellow-crowned purple fantini that I hung up in the living room?”

“Of course I remember.”

“Well, that…that bird doesn’t exist.  At least, nowhere but in my imagination.  In the imagination of a young girl in the woods – a girl who believed everything her mother said about magic and miracles and the idea that you can do anything you set your mind to. A girl who wanted to discover a new bird, to see something that no one else had ever seen before.”

Oliver eased his arms across her belly, pulling her closer to him.  “So that’s what the picture represents?  It’s your imagination?”

“It’s…it’s everything I loved about my childhood.  All the joy, all the excitement, all the limitless opportunities laid out before me. And the day I took that photo, I actually thought I saw something in that tree.  I swore I saw that bird.  But, looking back on it now, I realize it was just wishful thinking. I saw what I wanted to see, because I wanted to believe in excitement and possibility again.”

His arms banded tighter around her as he listened.

“You told me once that you wanted to know why I came to Blue,” she whispered, the words sending chills down his spine.  “The answer is that I came here to reconnect with the joy I knew in my childhood, to begin a journey that would hopefully take me back to my roots.  I came here to feel open and free and precocious and silly again. Because I’d been missing all of those things for so long, and I just wanted to see if they were still here, inside me.”

“Did you…did you find what you wanted to find?”

Felicity grabbed hold of his forearms and held him closer.  “I got here the week before you did, and I spent a lot of that week walking in the woods.  I reminisced about the countless hours I’d wandered through the forest as a kid, looking for my fantini bird, and how I’d appreciated everything around me back then – how I appreciated every leaf on every tree.  And as the week went on, I realized that being up here at Blue was helping me so much, and that I was starting to feel whole again, starting to feel like I remembered what magic was.  That would have been enough for me; it really would have.  Just reconnecting to those feelings, to that appreciation, was all I wanted out of this vacation. But then the most amazing thing happened.”

“What happened?”

“Well…one day, after I’d finished my walk in the woods, I stepped out of the forest and I saw a man hunched over a blown tire, cursing and grumbling and being generally pissed off at life.  A squirrel had darted out in front of his car on his way up the mountain, and it looked to be the last straw for this man, because he obviously didn’t want to be here anyway. And I decided, almost from the second I saw him, that I was going to take him with me on my journey. I decided that he needed the journey, too, whether he wanted to admit it or not. 

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to take him with me; I knew he would resist.  But I believed I could pull him along, so I set about doing just that.  I purposefully provoked him with obvious, silly lies.  And I did ridiculous things, like tricking him into drinking straight lemon juice. All because I wanted him to fight for his life the way I was trying to fight for my own. 

“He reacted to my behavior just as I thought he would:  he fought back, and I felt good about that, because I felt like he was traveling with me. But then, after a few days, he got fed up with my lies and he pushed me away.  And that moment broke my heart, because I already knew what a wonderful man he was, and I worried that he didn’t see it in himself.  And also because I was alone on my journey again, and I didn’t want to be.

“After he pushed me away, I spent a day and a half without him, and it honestly felt like torture. But then, thank God, the next night he came back to me.  He came back looking just as miserable as I felt, and he asked me to stop lying and just be with him. That night, we stopped fighting with each other.  And we’ve been fighting for each other ever since. We’ve been working together through all of this.  But, the strange thing is, I think he believes this journey was one-sided.  I think he believes that I helped him, and not the other way around.”

Felicity paused to take a breath, her body trembling in his arms.  “You don’t have any idea how much you’ve done for me, Oliver. I felt so weak and so beaten when I came here to Blue.  And I don’t feel that way anymore.  I can go back to the real world now.  I can go back and deal with all those problems and all those realities.  I have the confidence to do all of it again, and I have that confidence because of you.  Because the entire time I thought I was taking you on a journey, you were really taking me on one. And I don’t have the words to tell you how grateful I am for everything you’ve given me.”

When she finished speaking, Oliver shook nearly as much as she did. 

He had so many questions. He wanted to know what made her feel weak and beaten.  He wanted to know what took the color red away.  He wanted to know what problems she had to face back in the real world.

He had a hundred thousand bazillion questions, but she’d already said more than he ever thought he would hear, and he could tell from the trembling of her body that she’d given him as much as she could at this moment.  Oliver knew he couldn’t push her any more right now.  So he just wrapped his arms securely around her, and pressed his cheek beside her hair, and held onto her as hard as he could.

Felicity sighed inside his embrace. Her body sank against him as she allowed herself to melt into his arms.  Oliver held her even tighter.  He wanted to hold her so tight that she would just become one with him, and never be able to leave.  But he knew he couldn’t. He knew the choice to stay was hers, and he couldn’t change that.  All he could do was hold her, and hope she realized that this was where she belonged. Here, with him.

Time passed. Oliver didn’t have any earthly idea how long they lay together in the warm water, but her breathing became so even that he wondered if she’d fallen asleep.  She wasn’t snoring yet, but he could tell, even from this angle, that her eyes were closed.  He watched her face for a long moment, loving how soft and carefree she looked right now, especially after the day she’d had.  Pressing his lips beside her ear, he whispered, “You asleep, baby?”

“Hmm…not really. But you do make a fine pillow, Oliver Queen.  I could take a nap on you right now.”

“Well then, go ahead. I’ve got you.”

Felicity snuggled her face into his neck.  “My goodness, that sounds amazing. Maybe you could nap with me? Although, on second thought, that might be bad.  We probably shouldn’t both nap in the bathtub.  Drowning sounds like an awful way to go.”

Oliver chuckled. “It’s okay; I promise I won’t fall asleep.”

“Why not? Aren’t you comfortable?”

“I’m incredibly comfortable. But I’m pretty sure it’s not night yet.”

“Oh, that’s right…you don’t take daytime naps, do you?”

“No.”

“Too much wasted time?”

“Yes,” he said, knowing that wasted time had always been the reason he never napped. Although he couldn’t imagine a single moment with her in his arms ever feeling like a waste.

“Well, if you aren’t going to nap, then I won’t either.  I will stay wide, wide awake,” she insisted, peeling open her eyes and staring straight ahead.  She shifted inside his embrace, straightening her back against his chest, and Oliver swallowed hard with the feel of her soft, wet skin rubbing up between his thighs.

“Well, if you’re so wide awake, Felicity, there is something else I would like to do.”

“Yeah? What is that?”

He pulled one arm from around her waist to reach over to the side of the tub and push the shampoo and conditioner bottles out of the way, toward the flickering candles. “I want you to sit up here on this ledge,” he said, patting his hand on the freshly cleared tile surface.

“Why do you want me to sit there?”

“Because I want to push my face between your legs and then lick and suck on you until you come in my mouth.”

A tiny gasp escaped her throat.  “O-Oh. Well, that sounds…very good.”

“I’m glad it sounds good. Because it serves two purposes.”

“It does?”

“Mmm-hmm. The first is allowing me to taste you again, which I want to do.  So much.”

Felicity groaned. “And the second thing?”

“I told you earlier…I’m a firm believer in positive reinforcement.  You confided quite a bit in me just now, and I know it wasn’t easy for you, so I fully intend to reward you.”

“You don’t need to reward me for that, Oliver.  And besides…I’d say this particular reward is significantly more involved than a hair shampooing.”

Oliver smiled as he straightened himself behind her, grasping onto her hips and pushing her toward the side of the tub.  “Well, the more you confide in me, the bigger the rewards will become.  And I really want you to keep that in mind, because I absolutely mean it. Now sit up on the ledge, please. I have work to do.”

Felicity’s hands reached to the edges of the tub, gripping onto the white porcelain for a moment as she hesitated. Oliver ran his fingers over her wet hair and then down her back, tracing her straight spine all the way down to her ass.  He played with top of the soft seam that divided her cheeks, running his fingers against the little divot at the base of her spine.  Felicity groaned and her knuckles whitened. 

Oliver leaned down to press a kiss to her shoulder.  “I want you to know that I’m waiting very patiently for you to do as I’ve asked,” he whispered against her hot skin.  “Because there’s a huge part of me that wants to grab you by the ass and set you up on that ledge myself, whether you wish it or not.  But I won’t do that just yet.  I will wait a bit longer, because I have faith that you’ll do it yourself. Soon.”

She huffed out a laugh. “You certainly are pushy.”

“Yes, I am. And I’m demanding and controlling and domineering and lots of other similar adjectives,” he agreed as he ran his hands around the sides of her ass to catch the edges of her hipbones beneath his fingertips.  “Of course, you already know all that about me.  And you know I’m working on being better about my control issues. But you did tell me the other night that you want the real me when we’re together, and this is me, being my pushy and demanding self.  Now I would like for you to sit up on the ledge please.  I won’t ask nicely again.”

Felicity released her hands from the edge of the tub.  “I did tell you that I want the real you.  And I meant it.” 

Oliver watched hungrily while she pushed herself up on her knees.  The motion brought her ass to the perfect level in front of his eyes, and he stared hard at her rounded cheeks while the water sluiced down her skin. His cock thickened and throbbed and he licked his lips as Felicity moved to the side of the tub and lifted herself up to the ledge.  Then she sat down on the cold tiles, with her back against the wall, and looked to his face.

Oliver could see all of her perfectly from this position, even in the dim glow of the candlelight. His gaze roamed over her body, across the tight peaks of her nipples and onto the gentle curve of her belly. He could still make out the faint line of bruises on her chest, and even though he knew they were healing, he still found it hard to believe that she accepted all of him with such an open heart. Especially since the last time he’d had his face between her legs was in the woods, just after he’d made those bite marks.

He stared at the fading purple edges for a moment longer, and when he looked back to her face it took him a minute to refocus on her eyes.  Once he did, Oliver saw the anticipation written inside her. And he also saw, so openly and plainly, the adoration she held for him.  “You know I would never purposefully do anything to hurt you, right?” he asked, because he couldn’t bear to think of anything or anyone hurting her, but definitely not him.  Not ever again. “I mean, I like being in control, especially during sex, but I need you to know that I would never…”

“Hey,” she said, stopping his words as she reached out to run her fingers down the side of his face. “Of course I know.”

He nodded. “Good.”

A slow, gorgeous smile pulled up the edges of her pink lips.  “I’m actually very much looking forward to my positive reinforcement right now, Oliver.”

He watched as she nibbled her lower lip in her teeth, and his hands fisted in the water, his entire body pulsing with the desire to touch her.  Oliver allowed his gaze to fall back down her form, taking in all of her curves before settling on the juncture of her closed thighs.  Then he reached his hands to her hips, pulling her a bit closer to the edge of the tub, as he centered himself in front of her knees.

He looked up to her face once again.  “Spread your legs for me, Felicity.”

She did as he instructed, her eyelids immediately falling to a drunken half-mast. Oliver smiled before easing his body forward in the water and lowering his mouth to her belly. Felicity’s thighs encased his chest while he began licking the skin over her stomach and her hips and her thighs. He played and nipped and teased, listening to the eruption of sweet giggles from her throat as he worked his tongue slowly and worshipfully across her body.  Oliver knew this wasn’t anything like it had been the first time in the woods, and he was thankful for that.  He wanted Felicity to know that this could be different, and that he could make her feel a million different things.  And he wanted her aching and begging to know them all.

Once Felicity stopped giggling and started moaning as she squirmed beneath him, once her thighs began trembling as they clamped against his ribcage, Oliver knew she’d had enough teasing. So he put them both out of their misery. He kissed his way down her stomach, and onto her soft skin folds, and then he ran his tongue straight up the seam of her sex.  She cried out with the sensation, and her fingers reached for his hair.

Oliver repeated the motion again, licking up her folds and onto the tight nub of nerves at the top. He tried to taste her – he wanted so badly to taste her – but realized quickly that he couldn’t. They’d been soaking in this tub too long, and her skin was perfumed with the scents of vanilla bubble bath and floral shampoo. He loved those smells on her, but they weren’t what he wanted right now.  He wanted her. He didn’t want her skin wet because of this water.  He wanted to make her wet, to have it come from inside her, to have her body openly plead for his. So he took his time tonguing her, sucking gently on her tender skin as she moaned and shifted her legs, dragging her feet in the water and lapping the bubbly warmth against his skin.

When he finally pushed his tongue deep inside the heat of her body, Felicity curled her fingers tightly into his hair, imprisoning his face against her.  He wanted to take a moment to tell her it wasn’t necessary to hold him here.  He wanted to assure her that the hounds of hell couldn’t drag him away from his clawing need to taste her, but he didn’t want to spend that much time away from her skin. Because she was truly wet now. Her taste soaked his tongue as he curled it inside her.  Her back arched and her thighs shook and her voice cracked as she chanted his name and begged for unintelligible things. 

Oliver smiled against her salted skin while he grounded her hips in his hands, pulling her against him so he could get better leverage for his mouth and his tongue. Her legs shifted rhythmically, her body rocking into his mouth as she groaned and whimpered. Oliver could feel the tension tightening inside her, and he quickened his movements, licking and sucking and breathing in her intoxicating scent as he tasted her sweet flesh over and over again. And then she came apart, her hands fisting into his hair while she cried out.  Oliver’s erection pulsed and throbbed in the water as he drank her in – all of her – from her taste in his mouth to the sound of her gasps to the sensation of her warm skin against his lips. 

He didn’t let up anytime soon. He continued running his tongue against her soft, wet folds, over and over again, just to keep feeling her tremble. He could have persisted indefinitely, but then he heard a thud and an, “Ow.” Lifting his head, Oliver looked up to see Felicity holding the back of her head in one hand.

When her glassy eyes met his, she let out a little giggle.  “Sorry,” she offered, her voice panting and breathy.  “Forgot where I was again and banged my head into the wall.”

Oliver couldn’t help smiling. “Come here.  Let me kiss it and make it all better.”

“More kissing? God, there’s so much kissing. It’s wonderful.”

He chuckled as he eased himself away from her, careful not to displace too much water while he leaned back against the tub and held his arms out to her.  Felicity sunk into the warm bubbles and fitted her bottom between his thighs again, cozying up to him with her back against his chest. Oliver took her head in one hand, cradling her against him so he could press his lips to the damp hair she’d bumped against the wall.  “There. How is that?”

“Hmm…perfect. I’m all better now.”

“I think we might need to get you a helmet or something.  You keep hitting your head when you come, and we need to protect all these amazing brains of yours.”

Felicity laughed out loud at his statement, which caused her body to shake against his, which made his thick, swollen cock twitch into one of her ass cheeks.  “Mmm,” she moaned, reaching her hands to his legs. “You’re so hard, Oliver.”

“Do I need to apologize for becoming aroused by tasting you?”

“No, no, no. Don’t ever apologize for that. Bless you for enjoying it.”

“Fuck, yes, I enjoy it. More than I can say.”

Her fingers clamped against his thighs as she shifted her ass back against his throbbing erection. “And you’re so good at it. I mean, I don’t have much to compare it to, but dear Lord I can’t imagine it getting any better than that. You’re just…magic.”

Oliver wanted to take the time to dwell on her compliments, but he was having difficulty focusing on anything but the movement of her body.  Felicity pressed her bottom firmly against his cock, and rocked her hips as she did, while her breaths left her chest in staccato pants. Damn, she was so eager for him – just straining to feel him – and it only made him harder, knowing how responsive her body was to his.

He took her by the shoulders, stilling her movements for a moment as he cleared his throat to speak. “What do you want to do right now, Felicity?”

“I…I think you know.”

“Yes, I’m pretty sure I know. But I would like for you to tell me exactly what you want.”

She shook her head, and a little laugh escaped her throat.  “I know this probably seems silly to you, after all we’ve done with each other, but it still feels strange to say the words.”

Oliver ran his hands from her shoulders down to her wrists, dragging little droplets of water with him, watching them caress her skin.  “I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.  Ever.  But, if you can, then I would love to hear you say what you want me to do to you.”

“You would?”

“God, yes. I would.”

“Well, then, I want…I want to feel you inside me.  I want you to fuck me now, Oliver.  Here, in the water.”

“How would like me to fuck you?  Do you want to turn around and face me?  Or do you want me from behind? Fast or slow?  Hard or gentle?”

“Um…from behind, I think. Just like this. And as for the rest, surprise me.”

He smiled to himself. “Well, we should probably go slow, so we don’t spill too much water over the side of the tub. We made enough of a mess in the kitchen with the water fight yesterday.”

“Oh my God, that water fight was so much fun!”

“It was. This is going to be fun, too,” he promised, grasping onto her hips and lifting her.  Felicity grabbed hold of the sides of the tub and tilted her ass up toward his abs.  Oliver’s erection found the entrance to her sex almost instantly.  It was like his cock had some sort of internal homing beacon just for her, and he chuckled with the thought.

She turned her head to look back at him.  “Is something funny?”

Oliver looked into her eyes, watching the blue darken as he pushed himself inside her while he pulled her hips down.  She whimpered as their bodies joined, and the moment he became fully sheathed by her sex Oliver reached for her hands, pulling them from the side of the tub to entwine their fingers. “Nothing is funny about this. It’s just…it amazes me sometimes, how well we fit together.”

She allowed herself to fall back against him again, resting her back to his chest and her head to his shoulder. “I know, right? I’m glad you think so, too. I thought maybe I was just imagining that.”

Oliver shifted his hips just enough to pull out of her an inch or two before sinking back in. She groaned and he smiled. “You’re not imagining anything.”

Felicity tugged his hands closer, wrapping them around her waist and holding them against her. “I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it feels really good having you inside me.”

“You did mention that before. And I assure you it’s going to feel even better soon.”

“Yeah? Why is that?”

“Because I’m going to make you come again, of course.”

Felicity’s body stiffened with his words, her fingers knotting against his, and Oliver’s brow furrowed as he tried to see her face around the dark gold hair that clung to her cheek. “What’s wrong? Do you not want to come again?” he asked, although the question sounded infinitely bizarre.

She let out a sigh, hugging their arms tighter around her.  “Oh, no, it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just…”

“Just what?”

“I haven’t, um, I haven’t ever done that before.”

Oliver’s jaw unhinged. “Are you actually telling me that you’ve never had more than one orgasm during sex?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Good God, Felicity,” he growled, pressing his eyelids shut.  “Seriously, who are these men you dated before me?  I fucking hate every single one of them.”

She shook her head. “It’s…it’s not all their fault. I wasn’t exactly open to trying new things.  I wasn’t like this, like I am with you.”

Oliver blew out a held breath as he reopened his eyes to refocus on the side of her face. “Alright, well, I am going to take selfish pride in the fact that you’re willing to try new things with me. But it’s still an abomination that no one ever made you come twice.  And honestly, I feel like an asshole for not giving you more than one orgasm before now.”

“Oh, please don’t feel that way.  What you give me when we’re together – the way you make me feel – it’s just incredible. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever known. And besides, I’ve always felt pretty fortunate to have one orgasm during sex.  I mean, I’ve spoken to women who don’t even get that, so…”

“Felicity?”

“Yes?”

“You’re going to have another orgasm now.”

“But, it’s really not…”

“Baby, let me do this. You know I can.”

Felicity tensed in his arms – which was the exact opposite of what he was trying to accomplish – as she whispered, “But…what if it’s not you?  What if it’s me?  What if I can’t?”

Her words sounded tiny and fearful and it killed Oliver to think that she believed something might be wrong with her just because she hadn’t experienced more than minimally adequate lovers.  Holding tighter to her hands, Oliver pulled her farther back onto his chest as he shifted his hips to push his heavy cock even deeper into her warmth.  She shivered in response and he pressed his lips to her shoulder.

“Felicity, do you even realize how sexy you are?  Because you are. You are incredibly beautiful and so, so goddamn sexy.  I don’t think you have any idea of how much I want you.  And I’m not even talking about the emotional or intellectual aspects of you right now…I’m just speaking from a purely physical standpoint. Because physically, my body aches for yours.  I’ve told you that before, and I meant it.  If I could be inside of you all fucking day long, I would.  Because I want you all the time.  Constantly. You are gorgeous and perfect and I want you so badly that it’s painful.”

Felicity whimpered with his words and Oliver took a moment to kiss his way up her neck. “You always say that you feel free when you’re with me,” he whispered beside her ear. 

“Oh, I do. So free.”

“Good. Then just be free with me now. Just let everything else go, and be here with me, and let me give you this.  Because I want to.  More than you can imagine.”

She exhaled slowly, her tense muscles easing.  “Okay.”

He smiled in silent triumph as he pressed another kiss to her wet shoulder.

“Um, Oliver?”

“Yes?”

“Just in case it doesn’t work out, thank you in advance for wanting to try.”

With a shake of his head, he uncurled his arms from around her body, releasing her fingers and flattening both his hands against her softly rounded belly.  “You’re welcome, in advance, for the next orgasm. Because it’s going to happen.”

Felicity giggled then, which may have been the best sound he’d ever heard, and she reached one hand up to thread her fingers into his hair as she turned her face to his. Her mouth found his instantly, and Oliver curled his body around hers as he eased his tongue past her lips to taste her.  She kissed him back, loving and yet eager, and he allowed his hands to roam across her skin beneath the water, circling over her tummy and her hips and onto her thighs.

She spread her legs farther apart, as far as the white porcelain walls would allow, and planted her feet against the bottom of the tub beside his knees.  It gave her the leverage she needed to push herself up off of him and then back down again, sliding his cock in and out of her body as she moaned into his mouth.  Oliver kissed her again and then smiled against her lips, because he knew she was doing as he’d asked:  allowing herself to be free with him.

He drew one hand back up her body, taking the weight of one breast in his palm as he ran his thumb across her nipple.  When she sucked in a little breath, he pressed another kiss to her mouth and eased his other hand down her inner thigh to the juncture of her legs.  She shifted herself up and down on his shaft again, and it was his turn to moan as he parted the folds of her sex with his fingers, searching out the soft little nub he’d spent so much wonderful time sucking on earlier.

Oh,” she groaned when he found his target. “That is…um…”

“Is this touch okay?” he asked, running his fingertips lightly across the sensitive bundle of nerves. “You’re not too tender from earlier?”

“I feel a little tender, but…in a good way.”

“That’s good. Now I want you to put your hand on top of mine, please.”

“On top?”

“Um-hmm.”

Felicity kept one hand entangled in Oliver’s hair as she turned her head to look down. Then she did as he instructed, easing her other hand down across his forearm and wrist and then further still. Once her palm rested against the back of his hand, directly over her sex, she took a deep breath and asked, “Like this?”

“That’s perfect. I want you to guide me.”

“You mean…guide you to touch me?”

“Yes. I want to touch you like you would touch yourself.  You do touch yourself, right?”

“Oh yes, that I can do. I hadn’t had a boyfriend in a while before we met.”

Oliver had to clear his throat with that admission, because the only thing he really took from that sentence was that she considered him her boyfriend.  “Well, that’s…um, that’s good.  Now just move my hand the way you want it moved.”

It took her a few seconds to actually do what he said, but then she did.  She moved her fingers over his, and he mimicked her touch, easing his fingers through the top of her folds in the warm water. Her skin was soft and slick as she concentrated his touch around her nerve bud, circling and pressing against it as she shifted her hips up and down to ride his erection. Oliver watched the few remaining bath bubbles break against her arms, watched her fingers as they directed his own over the soft skin between her legs.  She hummed and purred with the sensation, and then he added the rhythmic stroke of his other hand across her nipple.  That made her own hand go faster, her fingers running harder across his as he pressed down into her skin. 

She wound herself up, sliding up and down his erection while teaching him how to touch her. Her fingers moved so quickly and eagerly across his that she slipped a bit too far down, onto the base of his cock where it joined with her sex.  Oliver inhaled sharply from the feel of her fingers there, and Felicity stilled her movements. “I’m sorry,” she panted. “Did that hurt?”

“Fuck, no. It didn’t hurt.”

“Did it…did it feel good?”

“Yes,” he admitted, his voice little more than a rasp.

“Oh,” she said. Then she reached down again, easing her fingers across the only part of his erection that wasn’t planted firmly inside her.  It sent a pulse of electricity shooting through his shaft and he closed his eyes on a groan. The sound he made only emboldened her, and Felicity reached farther down to smooth across the skin of his balls before easing her fingers back up to the base of his cock. Oliver bit his tongue and pressed his forehead onto her hair as she repeated the motion again and again, while he continued playing his fingers across her nipple and over her tender nub. Her breaths came in shallow spurts as she explored him with her hand, and Oliver could barely keep himself together.

“You…you probably need to stop doing that,” he confessed after several minutes of sheer bliss. “Because I don’t want to come without you.”

“I wouldn’t mind.”

“Felicity, you’re having a second orgasm, damn it.  Please return your hand to mine.”

“Oh, alright,” she huffed with a laugh as she aligned their fingers together once again.

Oliver couldn’t help chuckling.  “Well done. Now behave yourself, and remember this is about you. We are both going to touch you until you come.”

“But I want you to come, too.”

“Good Lord, that won’t be an issue, trust me.  Just keep showing me how you want to be touched.  I need to do this exactly the way you want it.”

“But…everything you do is exactly the way I want it.”

His face fell into her hair and he kissed the damp gold curls beneath his lips.  “Would you please stop being so adorable when I’m trying to fuck the hell out of you?”

“Sorry,” she offered with a giggle. “I promise I will take this more seriously.”

He smiled despite himself. “Good.  Now move my hand with yours again.”

She complied, pressing down on his fingertips while they shifted in tiny circles across her nerve bud. Felicity settled back against him, and rested her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes with the sensation. Oliver watched the air heave in and out of her chest as she used her thighs to press up and down in the water, riding his cock while they stroked her sex together.  Her hand slipped back down again, to where their bodies met, and Felicity moaned.  “God, that feels amazing,” she sighed as her fingers spread apart around the base of his shaft.

Oliver eased his lips onto her shoulder, tasting her on his tongue.  “What feels amazing?”

Felicity’s fingertips ran across his sex and onto her own.  “You and me, joined together.”  She moved her hand back to his then, urging his touch further down. “Feel this, Oliver. Feel this with me.”

He did as she asked, spreading his fingers out through her folds and then around his cock.

Oliver could feel himself, and he could feel her.  He felt her soft, wet skin where it opened up so willingly to accept the hard, thick length of him inside her body.  He felt the slickness from inside her coating each of them, even in the surrounding water. He felt her pliant folds as they wrapped so eagerly around his cock.  “Damn, you’re right,” he growled against her skin.  “That does feel amazing.”

Felicity’s head fell back onto his shoulder again and she pressed her cheek to his jaw. “It does.  It feels so incredible.”  Her hand was still on top of his, and she pushed down, encouraging his palm to flatten against her.  “That’s…mmm-hmm…right there,” she groaned.

Oliver could feel the tight jutting of her tender little nub against his palm as he pressed further down into her skin, guided by her.  “Just like this?”

She gripped the side of the tub with one hand, using the leverage to push herself up and then back down again, sinking onto his erection as the fingers of her other hand continued to touch both of them, curling around the base of his cock right where it met the opening of her sex.  “God, yes. Just like this,” she panted, pushing up with her thighs before impaling herself once again.  His palm shifted against her as she moved up and down, over and over again, while her fingers gripped the base of his shaft. Oliver could feel the point of entry of his body into hers, right there against his fingertips. He could feel the slick gliding together of their skin, and he knew she felt it, too.  That sensation of togetherness was both sensually erotic and emotionally overwhelming, and he fought the urge to run from it. Because he didn’t want to run. He wanted to be here, with her, feeling everything.

“Oh, oh, Oliver…” she moaned, riding him faster and harder as she pressed his palm into her skin, fucking both his cock and his hand.  Water sloshed violently around them as she moved, but Oliver didn’t give a damn about anything but her.  Because he could feel her winding up – winding up to come apart around him – and he wanted that. Holy hell, he wanted that more than anything in the world.  It was the only reason he held on as long as he did.  It was the only reason he made it until she breathed, “Oh, fuck,” and her entire body shuddered and trembled on top of him.  The second her inner walls began contracting around him, Oliver was done.

He screamed when he came. He screamed so loud that he worried he would hurt her ears, so he bit into the skin of her shoulder just to muffle the sound.  Felicity cried out in utter pleasure, her body thrashing in the water as she gasped in shallow breaths between harsh exhales and moans.  The orgasm went on forever, for both of them, and Oliver closed his eyes as his body poured itself inside hers.  The instant her muscles stopped convulsing, Felicity degenerated into an amorphous mass and flopped back against his chest.  Oliver somehow had the presence of mind to grab hold of her head and cradle it against his own, because even though he wasn’t exactly sure of where he was at the moment, he did know that he didn’t want her banging those big beautiful brains of hers on another hard surface.

When the side of her face made contact with his, Felicity turned toward him and pressed her lips to his jaw.  Oliver smiled while she ran her mouth across the stubble of his cheek.  Then he sighed as she rested her forehead against his ear and settled down further against him.  He wrapped both his arms around her, pulling her even closer, and they lay in silence for several minutes as Oliver focused in on the soothing sound of her slowly calming inhales and exhales.

Eventually, Felicity managed to mumble out, “Wow.  I don’t, uh, really know what to, um, say about that.”

Oliver chuckled. “Neither do I. Maybe we just shouldn’t say anything.”

“You’re right,” she agreed, bringing her hands up to cover his where they rested against her waist. “Well, I mean, except for thank you. I should definitely say thank you.”

“But you already thanked me, before we even got started.”

“Yeah, but that was a thanks for trying.  This is a thanks for really, truly succeeding.”

He smiled as he wound their fingers together.  “Well then, you’re welcome.”

Felicity snuggled herself farther into his arms, and sighed contentedly, and Oliver closed his eyes with the peaceful, settling feeling.  Until she stiffened and said, “Oh, no, Oliver. Look what we did to the floor.”

He peeled one eyelid open to see. “Hmm.  We spilled a little water.”

“A little?  It’s practically a lake.”

“Yeah, well. Shit happens.”

Felicity chuckled. “It does, doesn’t it? But I should probably clean it up now.”

“Nope,” he said, his arms tightening around her.  “I’m not letting you go yet.”

“Oliver, the floor…”

“Will be fine for a little while longer.”

“But I should…”

“Felicity, I will only let you get out of this tub right now on one condition.”

“What condition is that?”

He took a deep breath in. “If you tell me that I can stay the night with you in your bed.”

Her fingers twitched against his.  “I don’t…I don’t think tonight is a good idea.”

Oliver exhaled slowly. “You did promise me that you would spend an entire night in my arms before you left Blue.”

“Yes, I know I did. Just not tonight.”

“But that only leaves tomorrow night.”

She nodded against his chest. “Yes.  Tomorrow.” 

Oliver shook his head and sighed. “Okay,” he agreed, because he didn’t have a choice.  Then he raised one leg out of the water to move his foot to the spigot, turning on the hot water with his big toe.

Felicity looked to the faucet as fresh water poured into the tub.  “What are you doing?”

“Replacing the water we spilled. And making it a little warmer for you.”

“But…aren’t we getting out? I need to clean the floor.”

“I can clean the floor later.”

“But…”

“Felicity, we are not leaving here yet.  I told you that you could only get out of this tub on one condition, and you didn’t meet that condition. So now we stay.”

“Oliver. We’ve been soaking in water a long time. We’re going to turn into prunes.”

He shrugged. “I like prunes. I mean, they’re not as cute as lemons, of course. Really, they’re just dry, wrinkly plums. But still admirable in their own way.” The heat from the newly filling water began seeping in around them, and Oliver banded her more solidly to his chest.

Felicity shifted against him. “Well, even if we stay, I don’t know what you expect us to do in here.  Because I don’t think I can have a third orgasm.”

“Oh, you could. I can prove that to you, if you want. But that’s not what I expect of you right this minute.”

She tilted her face up to his. “What do you expect of me?”

Oliver met her searching gaze. “I expect you to take a nap, Felicity.”

Her brow rose. “A nap?”

“Yes. I know it’s been a long day for you.”

“Well, yes, it has, but…”

He reached out, smoothing her damp hair from her face.  “Please don’t overthink it, baby.  Just let your mind rest for a while, okay?  Let your mind rest and just be here with me.”

Felicity sighed, her shoulders relaxing against his chest.  “My God, that sounds…that sounds heavenly.  Although I feel kind of guilty, because you won’t get anything out of this.”

“Actually, that’s not true at all.  I’ll get to feel you sleeping in my arms again, like you did that night on the couch. I want that – I want to feel you at peace in my arms.  And since I’m not allowed to lay with you in a bed right now, I’ll have to settle for the bathtub.”

The water had filled back up to its original level, and Oliver reached his toe to the faucet again to turn it back off.  Felicity giggled. “You sure do have some talented feet, there, Mister.”

He ran his fingers through her hair and onto her neck, massaging into her muscles.  “I like to think I have a lot of talented body parts.”

“Oh, don’t I know it,” she agreed, moaning with his touch before tucking her forehead into his shoulder. “Are you really sure it’s okay for me to nap on you?”

“Yes.”

“But what if you get tired, too?”

“I won’t. Trust me, Felicity. I’ve got you.”

She reached her hand up to his chest, her fingers brushing over his heart.  “I know you do, Oliver.  Thank you.”

He pressed another kiss to her hair. “You’re welcome. Now go to sleep, please.”

“Hmm…’kay,” she sighed, her body already slumping further onto his.  In just a few moments, her hand fell into the water and she was out cold.

Oliver smiled into her gold curls.  “Don’t worry, little bird,” he whispered. “I’ve got you. I’ve always got you.”

...

A/N:  Thank you again for reading, my dears.  I would love to hear what you think - and please come say "hi" on Tumblr anytime (I'm tinaday3w on there, too).  This will be the last post I can do before the new year, so I hope you all have a truly blessed and wonderful holiday season!  :)Tina

Up Next...Chapter 11:  The First Date

Chapter Text

Oliver woke alone in his bed, just as he always did at Blue. His days here had assumed a pattern: morning basketball with Tommy, afternoon therapy sessions with Lance, and then dinner with Felicity…followed by a lonely walk back to his cabin, and another night alone in his bed. But it wouldn’t be that way tomorrow. Because tonight, Felicity would finally fulfill her promise to him, and tomorrow he would wake beside her, wrapped in her arms, in her bed.

Of course, he would then be forced to get out of her bed. And kiss her goodbye. And watch her walk away from him. And then he would stand there, wondering how in the hell he would ever reassemble his heart.

With a harsh exhale, Oliver opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. He couldn’t believe this was his last day with her. He couldn’t believe she was actually leaving. Especially since he didn’t even know where she called home.

I will always be able to find you, Felicity.

He’d said those words to her just yesterday, and they were true. How many Felicity Megan Smoaks could there be in the world? If he couldn’t find her with a simple Internet search, he could get someone else to find her. All he had to do was walk into his IT department back at Queen Consolidated and grab hold of Curtis, who was his friend as well as his employee. Curtis was a genius at computers, and could find Felicity for him. He could find her so easily.

But what good would that do, if she didn’t want to be found?

Felicity obviously didn’t want Oliver coming after her once she left Blue. She believed they were on a speeding bus right now, and as much as he wanted to deny her logic, he understood the analogy. After all, only two weeks had passed since he’d first laid eyes on her. Two weeks filled with overwhelming, and sometimes brutal, emotions. He’d been more open with her than he’d ever been with anyone in his life. And he’d watched her struggle with the two sides of herself, trying to come to terms with who she really was. They’d seen each other at their most vulnerable, and they’d clung to each other in desperation.

It wasn’t exactly what he could call a normal relationship.

God, maybe Felicity is right. A bond like ours probably isn’t meant to last forever. It’s too immediate, and too delicate, and to force it into a world of harsh realities would most likely shatter it into a million broken, bitter pieces.

Oliver stared off into space, trying to convince himself of those truths. Because honestly, he knew Felicity’s reasoning was logical and practical and made perfect sense: Blissful Blue was a vacation, a break from life, far from reality. And they were just two people who’d found each other for a brief moment in time – like a spark of something unexplained in the night sky – and to try to hold onto that would be foolish and irrational, at best.

So she would walk away from him tomorrow, because that was the prudent, reasonable thing to do. She would walk away from him, and it would be horrifying. It would be sheer, utter hell, and Oliver didn’t even want to think about it, let alone live it.

The worst part of it all was that Felicity had tried to warn him. From the second he admitted that he wanted to kiss her, she told him it wasn’t a good idea to act on their attraction. From the minute he convinced her to become his lover, she cautioned him that they would have to go back to reality eventually, and that they might come to regret indulging in the fantasy of this relationship. Because that’s what all of this was: a fantasy.

Oliver sat up at the edge of the bed then, planting his feet on the hard wood floor. He rested his elbows against his thighs and dropped his forehead into his hands. “Oh, hell. I understand now,” he breathed into the cool air.

For the first time, he understood why Felicity sent him away every night, and why he woke alone in his cabin every morning. His little bird had been trying to protect him. She’d been trying to protect him, and to protect herself. Because she always knew they each had to return to reality without the other, and she’d wanted to save them both from feeling the loss of something they never really had.

Felicity couldn’t allow either of them the luxury of dreaming about a future, because they had no future. They would never go out on a date, or stroll through town hand in hand, or wake entangled in each other’s arms on a lazy Sunday morning. Felicity understood that those things didn’t exist for them, so she’d separated this one thing – the moment of making love in a bed and falling asleep in each other’s arms – in order to distance their relationship as much as possible from the real world.

Oliver understood now why she did it. He understood that she wanted to protect both of their hearts. And he appreciated that she’d tried.

But she’d failed.

He shook his head. “Damn it,” he grumbled, because he knew he’d lost his control with Felicity. He’d lost control of so many things, not the least of which were his emotions. That fact scared him at first. He’d practically had a panic attack the first time they’d had sex, because his pull to her was so hard and so fast and so strong and it was all too much, too soon.

Yet his feelings for her had only grown since. They’d grown wildly and exponentially, and Oliver had become so used to them that they didn’t frighten him anymore. He loved how he felt with her. He loved who he was with her. And now he wanted to embrace these ridiculous, amazing emotions. He wanted to ignore her incredibly prudent decision to part ways amicably, and grab hold of this chance at happiness, however unlikely it may be.

But that obviously wasn’t what Felicity wanted.

He’d tried, just yesterday in the bathtub, to tell her that he didn’t want to give up on them. Yet for whatever reason – whether it was the speeding bus or something else entirely – Felicity didn’t believe they could be together when they left Blue, and she refused to change her mind. But Oliver couldn’t comprehend that. He couldn’t understand why his little fairy didn’t see the potential of their relationship like he did, far beyond these mountains.

Good Lord, what the hell happened to me? When did I become the sunshine optimist in this scenario? At what point did I forgo logic and reason, and choose to believe that anything is possible? And why won’t my frolicking freebird agree with me?

Oliver stood and began to pace in front of his bed. He balled his fists in frustration, because he knew what he should do. He knew he should embrace the logical truth of the situation, and accept his fate, and allow her to walk out of his life. But he just couldn’t fathom doing that. He didn’t want to be logical or reasonable anymore. Not when it came to her.

There were just too many things he needed from her. He needed her to tell him where in the world she lived. He needed her to commit to seeing him again next week. And the next week, and the next. He needed her to admit that they could make this relationship work, however long-distance it may be, if they both just wanted it badly enough. He needed her to believe that, if they worked together, they could turn this fantasy into a reality.

Oliver huffed out a laugh. Because he already knew there was little-to-no chance of any of those things actually happening. His Felicity was quite stubborn, and he probably couldn’t convince her to change her mind about their logical fate.

He probably couldn’t talk her out of anything. But maybe, just maybe, he could show her a different path. She had one more day here at Blue, and Oliver could use this time to show her how wonderful things could be for them, as a real couple in the real world. He could romance the hell out of her, so she wouldn’t ever want to leave. It probably wouldn’t work. She would most likely dig in her heels, and not budge an inch. But, even if she refused to see reason – or more like the opposite of reason – then at least he would get to experience everything he possibly could with her in the few hours they had left.

Because Oliver knew that his feelings for Felicity ran way too deep now. And that nothing in the world could make the thought of losing her tomorrow any less painful. So he didn’t see the purpose of holding back.

Reaching for his shirt, Oliver peeled off his clothes on the way to the shower. He wasn’t going to keep his set schedule of basketball and therapy today, because anything that kept him away from her just sounded like a pile of bullshit. So he washed quickly, and dried off, and pulled on pants and a shirt, and hurried to the living room. He grabbed his breakfast tray from the porch, and shoved a few bites of croissant in his mouth before gulping down his orange juice. Then he picked up the phone and dialed Cabin 13.

Mrs. Claus answered the phone. “Blissful Blue Retreat, this is Betsy. How may I help you this fine morning?”

He smiled when he heard her voice. “Good morning, Betsy, this is Oliver Queen.”

“Hello, Oliver! How are you, dear?”

“I’m good. But I won’t be able to see Dr. Lance today.”

“No? But you missed your appointment yesterday, too. Is everything aright?”

“It’s fine, I just…I have something I need to do. Can you please tell him I’ll be there tomorrow?”

“Okay, Oliver. You take care of yourself, and we’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Betsy,” he said before ending the call and dialing Cabin 11. Tommy didn’t answer, so Oliver left a quick message that he wouldn’t be at the gym today. Then he dropped the receiver back in place and reached for his shoes. He barely got his keycard in hand and shut the door behind him before his feet bounded up the gravel.

Anticipation built in his chest as Oliver wound his way up to the main paved road, and over it, and then onto Felicity’s driveway. Anticipation and…hope. God, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this hopeful. Just a week ago, he’d asked Dr. Lance if a man with such a selfish, uncaring past even deserved to have a family. And then just yesterday, Oliver imagined Felicity holding his baby girl in her arms. That image was…beautiful. Startling. But beautiful.

Everything about his forest fairy had been beautiful yesterday. She’d played with him, and leaned on him, and confided in him, and he needed more of that, more of her. Especially after she’d napped so peacefully in his arms, in the warm bath water, before spending the rest of the night cuddled up with him on her couch, grinning and laughing and pressing tender, loving kisses to his lips.

Oliver wanted today to be just as wonderful and sweet and perfect as yesterday had been. Because if he could prove to her that they could have that every day, then maybe, just maybe, Felicity would agree with him that this shouldn’t be their last day. This should be their first day.

He reached her porch in no time at all, and bounded up the stairs, half expecting the door to pop open to her smiling face. But he also wasn’t surprised when she didn’t appear, because Oliver knew she wasn’t anticipating this visit. Grabbing hold of the handle, he knocked and entered at the same time. “Felicity?” he called as he stepped into her living room.

Movement came from the back of the cabin, but she didn’t reply. Oliver closed the door behind him and walked toward her hallway. “Felicity? You here?”

“Oliver?” She emerged from the bedroom, halting when she saw his face. “What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here right now.”

Felicity stilled in the doorway between the living room and the hall, and Oliver took a moment to study her. Her blond curls were pulled back into a tight ponytail, and she wore black slacks and a sensible blue blouse. Her stance was rigid and purposeful. She wasn’t glowing or bouncing or even smiling as she stared him down from across the room.

Oliver faltered. His heart thudded deep in his chest and his footsteps ceased, because he recognized this woman. This was Solemnly Sedate Felicity.

He hadn’t seen her very often up here at Blue, but he would know her anywhere. This was the rigid, purposeful woman who lived inside his little fairy’s body. The woman who was logical and reasonable and didn’t play any games. The woman who wouldn’t give him any leeway. This Felicity was serious and sober and strict, and Oliver knew he should probably tuck his tail between his legs and run the other way. But he wasn’t about to back down.

Taking a deep breath, he matched her intent gaze with his own. “I came to spend the day with you, Felicity.”

Her brow arched as her body stiffened even further. “But you aren’t supposed to be here until tonight. You’re supposed to play basketball with Tommy this morning, and then go to your therapy session with Dr. Lance this afternoon, and then come here for dinner. Later.”

“Well, I decided to change those plans.”

“But, no, this isn’t…hmm.” She put her hands on her hips, glaring at him as she tapped her bare toes against the floor. “You promised me, Oliver. You said if we spent yesterday together, then you would go to therapy today. You promised me.”

Her eyes flared with fire as she spoke, and Oliver couldn’t have been happier about the fact that she was so completely pissed off at him. He actually felt positively giddy about it, because he knew that the opposite of love was apathy. And Solemnly Sedate Felicity wasn’t at all apathetic right now. She was mad as hell.

Honestly, the sight of his angry little bird was pretty fucking adorable, and Oliver couldn’t help grinning. “I can see Dr. Lance tomorrow,” he assured as he resumed moving toward her. “And the next day, and the next.” He only stopped walking when he stood directly in front of her, and she had to crane her neck to look up at him while he smiled down into her eyes. “I can spend the rest of the week with him, Felicity. But I only have today left with you.”

She was obviously struggling to stay mad at him. Oliver could tell by the way she forcibly furrowed her brow, and by the way she pinched her pink lips together before huffing out a breath. But he just reached out, and ran his hands down her arms, and caught her fingers inside his own. Then he leaned forward, until his face came just inches from hers. “Tell me you’re happy to see me, Felicity. Tell me I can spend the day with you.”

She swayed a little beneath his touch, and Oliver pulled her even closer. Felicity licked her lips, and he watched the movement of her tongue hungrily. She trembled, just slightly, before she closed her eyes.

Felicity took a moment to breathe, and then placed one hand firmly against his chest and shook her head. “I am happy to see you, but you can’t be here right now,” she insisted, just before turning on her heels and heading back through the hallway to her bedroom. “I have too many things to do today.”

Oliver followed close behind her, but stopped when he came to the doorway of her room. A pile of clothes lay on her bed, right beside her open suitcase. “Oh…you’re packing.”

Felicity grabbed a shirt and folded it with expert precision before laying it meticulously inside her luggage. “Yes, I’m packing.”

He forced himself to shrug, even though the sight of it made him want to vomit. “Okay, well, I can wait here until you’re done.”

She exhaled heavily as she grabbed another shirt to fold. “It doesn’t make sense for you to wait here. I have a bunch of other things to do after this, so it would be easier if you just came back later, like we planned.”

Oliver folded his arms across his chest and rested against the doorframe. “What other things do you have to do?”

“I just…hmm.” She glanced up at him. “Why don’t you come back for dinner, Oliver? I promise I’ll make everything very nice for you this evening. Besides, there isn’t anything for you to do here today, and watching me pack will be boring.”

“Nothing you do ever bores me.”

Felicity stilled, and stared at him for a long moment, before returning to her task. Oliver absorbed the tautness of her muscles as she tended to each piece of clothing with detailed attention. He’d never seen anyone pack luggage so precisely, but it made perfect sense for Solemnly Sedate Felicity to do so, because this was a precise and meticulous woman. This was the woman he’d first caught sight of the night his freebird fed him straight lemon juice. She was the woman who lamented being on vacation. She was the woman who lined her toiletries up in order of usage. She was also the woman who’d warned him – who’d warned them both – about the perils of acting on the fantasy of this relationship. And she was here now, standing before him, preparing to return to all the problems of the real world.

There was a part of Oliver that wished she wasn’t here right now. Part of him wished he could just be with Frolicking Freebird Felicity for one last day. But the other part of him was happy to see this stoic, serious side of her again, because he understood that Solemnly Sedate Felicity was a huge, interwoven part of the person he cared so deeply for. And he also understood that, if he had any chance of being with his Felicity in the real world, then he would have to work his way beneath the hardened shell of this woman before him.

So Oliver stood quietly in the doorway, and watched her structured, stiff movements, as she prepared her things to leave.   He stood quietly, but determinedly. Because he knew she was going to try to push him away, and he had no intention of letting her. Not today.

Once Felicity finished placing the last of her items carefully inside her suitcase, she closed the top, and zipped it, and then started to lift the large bag. “Here, let me,” Oliver insisted, stepping into the room and rounding the bed to reach for the handle.

The moment his hand covered hers, Felicity’s breath caught. Her fingers tightened on the bag as she looked up to his eyes. “I’ll be okay, Oliver; I can do this on my own.”

He stared down into her. “Yes, I’m certain you can do everything in the world on your own. But you don’t have to.”

Felicity blinked a few times before releasing her hardened grip. “Well…thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Where would you like me to put it?”

“In the living room, please.”

“Alright.” Oliver pulled the heavy suitcase off the bed and carried it through the hall and into the front room. He set it down beside the couch before turning to observe her as she scurried through the kitchen. “So, what’s next on the to-do list?”

“I have to clean out the fridge,” she mumbled while opening the door and burying her head inside the cold shelves.

Oliver watched her pull out several leftover bits of food, throwing them into the trash. Her eyes darted from the fridge to the counter to the trashcan, but never to him, and her movements became quicker and less efficient as she continued.   She emptied it all out, until only one thing remained. The last item Felicity pulled from the shelves was her lemonade. The remaining yellow fluid sloshed against the glass as she hoisted the large pitcher onto the counter.

Moving across the living room, Oliver came to a stop on the opposite side of the counter and stared at the glass container. “What are you going to do with that?”

She straightened her shoulders when she finally looked up to him. “It’s time to let it go,” she insisted, but the quaver in her voice betrayed her. She wasn’t holding herself together nearly as much as she wanted him to believe, and Oliver knew she needed him now, whether she admitted it or not.

As Felicity poured the sunshine yellow liquid into the sink, Oliver walked around the counter, coming slowly toward her. He only stopped when he reached her side, and he watched her face as her eyes focused on the lemon juice disappearing slowly down the drain. Then he glanced down to her hands, seeing her fingers tremble while they attempted to steady the glass. Her breaths left her lips in little gasps, and Oliver knew she was barely holding back a sob, and he couldn’t stand to see her this way.

“Hey,” he whispered, reaching out to take the now-empty pitcher from her unstable grip. He set it on the counter and then reached for her hands, winding their fingers together as he pulled her toward him. She stiffened immediately, her eyes darting up to his.

“Felicity. Relax. Take a breath. I need you to breathe.”

She focused hard on his eyes, her gaze locked to his even as her body shivered. She stared up at him for a long minute before nodding stiffly. Then she forced herself to inhale.

Oliver offered her a smile as he looked down into her sky blue. “I know you’re getting ready to go back to the real world. And I know there are problems waiting for you there. But right now, you’re still here with me, and we have one day left together. I want to spend it with you. Please.”

It took a moment for his words to register, but he could tell when they did, because her shoulders fell and her fingers eased inside his. She exhaled as she shook her head. “I want that, too. I would love it, actually. But I still have so many things to do today.”

Oliver inched closer. “Like what?”

“I…I have to go into town.”

“You mean the town at the bottom of the mountain?”

“Yes. I need to pick up a few things.”

“What things?”

She nibbled against her lip before answering. “Well, I need new underwear, for one.”

“New underwear?”

“Yes. I mean, I could get them when I get home, but things will be hectic when I get back, because it’s always like that at home, but it will be especially hectic at first, because I’ve been away for so long, and I won’t be able to go shopping right away, and besides, there’s a really cute little women’s boutique I like at the bottom of the mountain, and I could go there tomorrow on my way out, but tomorrow is Sunday and a lot of the stores here are closed on Sunday, so I really can’t go tomorrow, and that just leaves today.”

He couldn’t help smiling at her run-on sentence. Because if she was babbling, it meant she was nervous. And if she was nervous, it meant she wasn’t as certain about her decisions as she wanted him to believe.

“You know, Felicity, the fact that you need new underwear is definitely my fault, so I should be the one buying them for you.”

She shook her head immediately. “I can pay for my own underwear.”

“I’m sure you can, but that’s not the issue. I tore them off, so I should pay for them.”

“Oliver…”

“No, it’s settled. I’m coming to town with you. No choice in the matter. I am bound by honor to buy you new underwear. You wouldn’t deny me my underwear honor, would you?”

Her brow quirked up. “Underwear honor?”

“Yes. That’s a real thing. And I need to maintain it. So I’m coming. Do you want me to drive? I can, although my car still has a spare tire and may not be the smoothest ride.”

“Actually, I was going to take my car, but…”

“Okay, great. We’ll take your car. And while we’re in town we can probably get a bite to eat and maybe walk around a bit and…”

Felicity reached a hand to his chest, stopping him mid-sentence. Her fingers smoothed across his heart, and her face truly softened for the first time since he’d arrived. “Baby,” she breathed as she stared up into his eyes, “what are you doing right now?”

He exhaled. “I’m making plans to take you out on a date. Our first date.”

She cringed, a mixture of sadness and fear and pain moving across her face.

“Please don’t say it,” he begged, his voice barely a whisper. “Don’t say that it will be our last date, too. Because I would like to think of it as the first, even if it’s just for today.”

Felicity stood there for a long while, with her eyes searching his, and then she opened her mouth to speak. Oliver already knew her words would be in protest, and he didn’t want to hear them, so he kissed her instead. He wrapped his arms around her, and dragged her onto his body, and kissed her, deep and loving and thorough.

It took a good, solid minute, but she finally gave in to him. She gave in to the heat and the pull and the need between them, and melted into his body as Oliver wound his tongue with hers, tasting and teasing and tempting. He continued exploring her mouth, rather mercilessly, until she swayed against him. Only then did he pull back to look to her face.

Felicity had trouble keeping her eyelids open as she gazed up at him. “Mmm,” she hummed while licking her lips.

Oliver brought his hand up to run his fingers across her cheek and into her hair. “Tell me I can spend the day with you in town. Tell me we can have our first date.”

She nodded slowly. “O-okay, Oliver.”

He smiled. “Perfect. Thank you.”

Felicity whispered, “You’re welcome,” before trying to pull away from him. But Oliver just held her tighter, and she smiled at his persistence. “You will have to let me go, you know – for a minute or two at least – so I can get my car keys.”

He frowned before releasing her, and then watched as she exited the kitchen and stepped back down the hallway, her ponytail swinging behind her. Oliver waited impatiently, with his heart in his throat, because he had the unsettling mental image of her climbing out of her bedroom window to escape. It was all he could do to stand still and remain calm.

When Felicity finally stepped back into the kitchen, with an extremely large purse in one hand and a set of keys in the other, Oliver exhaled. She fidgeted with the keychain while she looked to his eyes. “My car is in the garage. We can go out the side entrance.”

He nodded, and followed on her heels when she led him to the door at the back of the kitchen. “You know, I always meant to complain about the fact that you got a cabin with an attached garage and I didn’t. Is it because Pete Jackson is madly in love with you?”

Felicity burst out laughing while she stepped into the garage, toward a sleek black 4-door BMW. “Of course Pete isn’t in love with me. He has his eyes set on another woman at Blue.”

“It’s Betsy,” Oliver stated while attempting to absorb the sight of Felicity’s car. He’d never imagined her driving something like this. He’d just assumed that his frolicking freebird would most likely own a VW bug with Dr. Seuss hats painted on the outside. Or, at the very least, an orange van with pompom-fringed curtains in the windows and a peace symbol on the back door. He hadn’t expected a sensible sedan.

“You’re right, Oliver; Pete does have his eyes on Betsy. Have you seen them together?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Then how did you know?”

“Because they just fit,” he explained while stepping to the driver’s door to open it for her. Felicity smiled up at him before settling down into her seat.

Oliver shut the door behind her and then rounded the hood of the BMW, glancing down at the license plate on his way to the passenger side. He opened his door and sat down bedside her on the smooth, tan leather. “Felicity, is this a rental car?”

“No, it’s mine.”

A ridiculous grin spread across his face, and Oliver grabbed hold of the seatbelt to prevent himself from jumping up and down and pumping his fist in the air. Because her license plate was issued in Virginia, which meant she lived within a few hours of Starling City, no matter where she called home. She didn’t come from Timbuktu. And he could get to her quite easily. If she only wanted him to.

Felicity buckled her seatbelt and looked over to him. “Why do you think Pete and Betsy fit together?”

Oliver forced himself to calm down and shrug. “I guess it’s because he reminds me of a gnome, and she reminds me of Mrs. Claus. They’re a good match. Just like us.”

Her eyes widened. “Are you saying I remind you of Mrs. Claus?”

“Of course you’re not Mrs. Claus. You’re a bird.”

“A bird?”

“Yes. So free and so colorful and so beautiful.”

A smile tugged at the corners of her lips. “If I’m a bird, then what does that make you?”

“Well, when I first met you, I thought maybe I was just a statue.   But now I’m pretty sure I’m a tree, with all of the cracks and crevices in the bark.”

“Really? Do you like being a tree?”

“At first I didn’t, but now I’m good with it.” He stilled, focusing in on her eyes. “Birds just love trees, you know.”

Felicity looked into him for a long minute before turning her gaze to the windshield. “Yeah, they do,” she whispered, her fingers fumbling with the keys as she started the engine and pulled the car onto the gravel driveway.

Oliver grinned to himself as she drove them out onto the main road. This day was going so much better than he expected. He’d accomplished so much already, even with Solemnly Sedate Felicity by his side. Honestly, as much as he loved spending time with his freebird, this side of her truly intrigued him. He wanted to know this woman. And he wanted this woman to trust him, and depend on him, and adore him, just as much as the other woman did.

“Do you mind if we listen to music while I drive?”

Her voice pulled him from his thoughts. “Of course not. What do you have?”

“Well, I can’t get a radio signal up on the mountain, but you can play anything you like on my iPod. It’s in my purse.”

“Okay.” Oliver reached for her purse and began rummaging through the contents. The bag was ridiculously oversized, considering she only had her wallet and iPod inside, and he shook his head at the unsolvable mystery of women’s purse needs as he grabbed the little electronic device. Setting the bag back down, Oliver began shuffling through her music lists. He made a selection quickly, and turned up the volume.

Felicity smiled as Blue Suede Shoes began. “Did you choose Elvis just for me?”

“I like Elvis, too, actually. Everybody likes Elvis. Honestly, I think it’s unconstitutional if you don’t.”

She laughed. “My mother would love to hear you say that.”

“Well, I’ll be sure to tell her, if I ever get the chance to meet her.”

Felicity’s eyes darted to his, just for a second, before she refocused on the road. Her fingers gripped harder to the steering wheel, and Oliver reached out to her. He ran his hand purposefully across hers, smoothing over her skin again and again, until she released her fierce hold on the wheel. Then Oliver smiled as he let his hand drop down to her rest against her leg.

“I’m looking forward to this ride with you, Felicity.”

She didn’t respond to the statement, and he honestly didn’t expect her to. Because he knew she was nervous right now, and doubtful, and confused, and he was okay with all of that. In fact, he wanted that. He wanted her to question every decision she’d made before this moment. And to realize that there was more than one road this relationship could travel.

Felicity stayed mostly quiet for the rest of the car ride, except for the few times she sang along with Elvis, which made Oliver smile as he listened. When they reached the bottom of the mountain, she turned onto the main road. Oliver watched a town materialize, along with a vague memory of having driven by it two weeks earlier. A beauty salon, a tailor, a hardware store, and a restaurant were among the miscellaneous offerings of Bottom-of-Blissful-Blue town, and Felicity pulled into a parking space between the hardware store and a women’s clothing shop. She reached for her door handle, but he squeezed onto her leg. “Wait, I’ll open it for you.”

“Oliver, I am perfectly capable of opening my own do…”

He jumped up out of his seat before she could finish her sentence. And he rounded the hood quickly, because he wanted to make sure he could get to her before she hopped out and scurried away from him. When he opened the driver’s door, Felicity grabbed her purse and stood, staring up at him with her forehead crinkled.

Oliver ignored her look of curious confusion and reached for her hand, threading their fingers together. Then he shut the car door and pulled her toward the sidewalk. Felicity followed along, but he could feel her eyes on him the entire time, and as they started walking Oliver couldn’t hide his wild smile.

Felicity exhaled. “Are you doing alright today?”

“Me?” he responded, glancing down to her face. “Yes, I’m good. I’m fantastic, actually. I really like taking a stroll with you. Through town. Hand in hand. Because that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re strolling through town hand in hand.”

“O…kay. Well, we don’t need to stroll any more. The store is right here.”

“That’s alright. It still counts as a stroll.”

She tilted her head up to his, and she looked adorably perplexed, so Oliver bent down and kissed the tip of her nose. “Is this the underwear honor store?”

Felicity chuckled. “Yes, I suppose it is.”

“Hmm…it’s odd that they don’t write that on a sign somewhere,” he mentioned as he pulled on the handle. She giggled again while he held the door open for her, and then she reached out and took hold of his hand. Her fingers remained entwined with his as she led him around the various racks and tables, and Oliver felt more encouraged with every step.

When she finally stopped at a table full of underwear, he picked up a pair of hunter green thongs. “These are nice. Are these your size?”

Felicity looked down to his fingers. “Oliver, can I please pick my own?”

“Well, of course you can. I just think this color would look nice on you. Most of the underwear I tore off of you were black.”

A woman cleared her throat behind them then, and Felicity’s eyes widened as the other shopper stepped away. Oliver watched a beautiful pink glow flush Solemnly Sedate Felicity’s cheeks and he bent down to press his lips to her ear. “Sorry,” he whispered. “Guess I said that a bit too loud.”

“Just a bit,” she agreed. But then she smiled, which made him smile, too. “So, you think I should get some different colors?”

“Yes. Get one of every color.”

“But there are a ton of colors here, and you only tore five pair.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m buying you every kind of underwear you want. I’ll even get you Granny panties.”

She burst out laughing, which drew the attention of two other shoppers.

He watched as Felicity clamped her hand over her mouth to muffle the sound. But she kept giggling beneath her fingers, and Oliver reached his arm around her waist, pulling her against his side. “Don’t hide that smile from me. Please.”

She dropped her hand from her mouth and swatted his shoulder. “Oliver, you can’t say things like that to me in public! And how do you even know about Granny panties?”

“I grew up with two women in my house. I know things. So I’ll buy some for you, if you want.”

“No, no, no,” she insisted, although she still smiled as she shook her head. “You are not buying me Granny panties. I don’t wear those…very often. And I shouldn’t need any more until I am a Granny. Although, I’ll need to have kids before I can be a Granny, and I guess it’s possible I might need to wear them when I’m pregnant, so…”

“Pregnant?”

Felicity’s mouth dropped open as she stared up into him. “I…I didn’t mean anything by that. I mean, I’m not pregnant. I’m on birth control, and…”

Oliver reached one hand to her face, cupping her cheek. “God, you would look so beautiful pregnant.”

Felicity blinked beneath his intent gaze. “O-Oliver,” she breathed, her skin flushing redder under his fingertips.

He wanted to kiss her. He wanted to kiss her so badly – and maybe also do a bunch of other things to her that would be terribly indecent in public – but he stopped himself, because of the look of fear written in her eyes. Dropping his hand from her face, Oliver straightened beside her and smiled. “I mean, I know you don’t want to be pregnant now,” he said, trying very hard to act nonchalant. “You told me that the first time we went into the woods. You said you didn’t want to be a single mother.”

Felicity reached up to touch her hot cheek. “Yes, I did, um, I did say that.”

“But you do want to be a mother someday? After you’re married?”

She swallowed hard. “Yeah, sure, someday, but…”

“How many kids do you want?”

“Oliver…why are we talking about this?”

He shrugged. “I’m just curious. How many kids?”

“I-I don’t know. Maybe two?”

“Two. That’s a nice number. I like two.”

Her brow crinkled as she stared up at him, and then she cleared her throat and shifted her gaze back to the table. “I think I should finish shopping now.”

“Yes, of course,” he conceded, watching the side of her face as she tried to concentrate on making her selection. He probably shouldn’t have continued on so far with the children topic, but he really was curious as to how many she would want, and honestly, he wanted her to know that he’d thought about having a baby with her. Because he had. And it was a happy thought. Unexpected, but happy. That’s how everything was with her.

“Here, I’d like to get these,” she said, grasping her hand around several colorful panties.

“I don’t think that’s one of every color.”

“It’s five. Thank you for the offer to buy more, but this is all I need.”

Oliver sighed as he glanced down. “Well, at least you got the hunter green ones. That makes me happy.”

She looked back up and gave him a little smile. “Let’s go, okay?”

He nodded, resting his hand against her low back as they moved to the cashier. Oliver paid for their purchase, and waited for the woman at the counter to wrap the underwear in frilly tissue and hand the bag to Felicity. Then they walked out side by side.

The chilly October air surrounded them the moment they left the store, and Oliver encircled his arm around her shoulder while they moved toward the car. As he stepped off the sidewalk, Felicity reached into her purse and pulled out her key chain, offering it to him. “Here, Oliver. You go ahead and get in the car; I need to use the restroom and I think the hardware store has one.”

“But, I…”

“I’ll just be a minute,” she insisted as she set the keys in his hand, “and then we’ll head back to Blue.”

“Oh.” He barely got the word out before she turned on her heels and disappeared into the store beside the clothing shop. Oliver stared after her for a while before he turned to open the passenger door. He huffed as he sat, upset by the fact that she already wanted to leave town, and also by how overly eager she seemed to get away from him for a few minutes. Not that he could blame her. After all, he realized he’d come on a bit strong with the whole kid conversation, and she probably needed some space after that. He hadn’t meant to upset her; he just liked talking with her about the future. He only wished that she liked it, too.

Oliver exhaled as he waited for her to return. His eyes fell from the windshield onto the BMW’s dashboard, and then onto the door of the glove compartment. And the most interesting thought occurred to him. Felicity’s car registration is most likely in there. It will have her home address on it. The information is right there. Inches away. All I have to do is open that little door and reach inside.

His fingers twitched against his thighs as he stared down temptation. And then he swore a string of curses beneath his breath. Because he wasn’t going to do that. He wanted so badly to know where she lived, but he wanted her to tell him.

And if she didn’t want to give him that information, then there was no point in having it.

With a growl of frustration, Oliver tore his gaze from the glove compartment and stared out of the window. His eyes scanned the rest of the shopping center, until they zeroed in on a movie theater. Oliver smiled at the sight, because he was still on a mission today. Mission: First Date. It was a romantic mission, of course, yet still filled with its share of perils and uncertainties. And it had only just begun, because he still had a ton of romance to smother all over her.

His gaze darted to the left when Felicity emerged from the hardware store with her purse and frilly bag in hand. He opened his door and jumped out of his seat the moment he saw her, moving swiftly around the car to join her on the sidewalk.

Oliver,” she breathed when he stepped up to her, standing so close that she had to tilt her head back to see his eyes. “Why did you get out of the car? We’re driving back now.”

“No, we’re not.”

Her eyebrow arched. “We’re not?”

“Nope. We’re going to see a movie.”

“But we don’t…”

He silenced her protest by wrapping both arms around her back and pulling her against him. Oliver held her tight while he lowered his face to hers and pressed their lips together. Felicity tried to fight him for all of one second, keeping her mouth rigid until his tongue traced across the seam. And then she sighed and opened up to him, allowing him a proper, thorough, extensive kiss as her body melted slowly onto his.

“Mmm,” he hummed against her lips after several long, languorous minutes.

“Hmm,” she grumbled, prying open her heavy eyelids to look up at him. “That’s really unfair, you know.”

“What’s unfair?”

“The way you just grab me and kiss me whenever you want to change my mind about something. I know you’re using my attraction for you against me.”

“Wait. Are you saying you’re attracted to me? I did not know that.”

Oliver gave her a crooked smile and she laughed.

“You think you’re pretty cute, don’t you, Oliver Queen?”

“Don’t you think I’m cute?”

Felicity rolled her eyes. “Good Lord, yes, I think you’re cute. It’s disgusting, really, how freaking adorably cute you are.”

He chuckled with her words, and then kissed the tip of her nose. “Let’s go see a movie, Felicity. You did say that you’d spend the day in town with me, and this is our first date, so I want to do something you’ll enjoy. And I know you absolutely love movies.”

She brought her hand up to rest over his heart. And then she nibbled her lip as her fingers ran restlessly over his shirt. “Why do you think I love movies so much?”

“Because you quote them all the time.”

“I do not quote movies all the time.”

Oliver grinned down at her. “You’ve quoted Star Wars, Speed, and Spiderman just within the last few days.”

“When did I quote Spiderman?”

“Last night in the tub. You said your intelligence came with a lot of responsibility.”

“That’s not a Spiderman quote.”

“It basically is. ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ Totally Spiderman.”

She laughed, sparkling and bright, and the sound moved straight into his chest. “Okay, maybe that was a little Spiderman-like.”

Oliver leaned down and nudged his nose against hers. “You love movies,” he whispered against her lips. “So let’s go see one together. And then let’s have dinner afterward. There’s an Italian restaurant right here. You like Italian, right? Everyone likes Italian.”

Felicity rolled her eyes, but couldn’t hide her smile. Then she arched up and pressed her lips to his before whispering, “You’re lucky you’re so cute.”

“God, don’t I know it.”

Her shoulders shook with laughter as she gazed up at him. “Okay, Oliver. Let me put my bags in the car and we’ll go see a movie and have dinner.”

Oliver nodded at her with purposeful intent, attempting to look composed while he struggled to not shout, “Hooray! Hooray!” and giggle like a schoolgirl.

Felicity hadn’t given him her home address yet, or made him any promises for a future. But as Oliver sat beside her in the movie theater, he still felt a sense of accomplishment. Because this was a date, an actual date, and it felt like he’d won the Romance Olympics.

He thoroughly enjoyed winding his arm around her shoulder, and feeling her rest her head against him, in the darkened theater. He savored stealing a kiss whenever the mood struck him, and loved how her eyes reflected the light onscreen when she gazed up at him afterward. He adored it when she fed him popcorn and then giggled when he nipped her fingers. Oliver barely even watched the movie – it was some romantic comedy about a stoic architect who figured out that he was in love with his secretary after she took revenge on him for ignoring her for six years – because he spent nearly all of his time watching Felicity. Because they were on a date. A date. And he was just fucking giddy about it.  

Dinner proved to be just as amazing to him, seeing her seated across the white linen tablecloth of their cozy corner table. She was still Solemnly Sedate Felicity, sitting straight and pristine in her chair with her napkin folded impeccably on her lap, but she also had a glow of happiness to her. She smiled as she looked at him, and made excited little noises when she read the menu, and ordered enough food to feed a small horse, because she said she couldn’t decide what she wanted and so he’d told her to just get everything, so they could taste it all.

When the waiter walked away after removing their menus, Felicity reached for her water glass and downed several gulps with camel-like fervor. Oliver grinned. “Thirsty?”

“Yes,” she admitted after setting her glass down. “That popcorn was salty. I love movie theater popcorn, but I’m always so thirsty afterward.”

“You could get something else to drink if you like. Maybe some wine?”

“Oh, no, thank you. I still have to drive back to Blue after dinner.”

“I could drive us back.”

Felicity’s hand curled around the stem of the water goblet, her fingers fidgeting with the glass. “No, I would rather drive. But I appreciate the offer, Oliver. I appreciate everything you’ve done today.”

“You mean, on our date.”

A shaky laugh left her throat. “Yes, on our date. I want you to know how much I appreciate all of this…although I still wish you had seen Dr. Lance earlier today. You need your time with him.”

Oliver reached his hand out on the table then, opening it palm-up to her. Because her fingers were working mercilessly against her water glass, and he just needed to hold them. She stared at his offering for a moment before releasing the stem of her glass and resting her fingers onto his. Oliver exhaled slowly with the feel of her skin. “I promise I’ll stay in therapy, Felicity. You don’t have to worry, because I’m not afraid of it anymore.”

Her eyes drew back to his. “Does that mean you enjoy your sessions with Dr. Lance?”

“I do, actually. He helps me put things in perspective. And he gives good advice.”

“Yeah? Like what?”

“Well, the other day we talked about achieving a work-life balance.”

She huffed out a laugh. “Wow, that sounds wonderful. Maybe Quentin could help me figure out that one, too.”

Felicity’s fingers began fiddling with his, and Oliver studied the look in her eyes. “I take it your job is stressful?”

“Well, I mean, I’m not the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation, but yes, my work has stressors. Everyone’s work does. But that’s okay. I can deal with that again now.”

“Because your vacation at Blue helped you?”

“Because you helped me.”

He tried to calm the fidgeting of her fingers by running his thumb across her knuckles. “You know, I bet your mother would be proud of how you’ve ventured back into the woods these past weeks.”

Felicity smiled brilliantly with his words, and the sight of it brought a deep, infusing warmth to his chest. “Yeah, I think she would be proud of me.”

“Will you be able to see her when you go back home?”

“No. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen my mom in almost a year. She moved to Vegas a while ago and now she works as a cocktail waitress in a casino.”

“A cocktail waitress? Does she need the money?”

“Oh, no. Dad left her with a fortune in life insurance. She works there because she loves the excitement of the place. And because of Elvis, of course. When I do get the chance to visit her, we go to watch the impersonators sing. I just love it.”

“That sounds amazing. I would love to see you in Vegas, dancing and singing with the Elvis impersonators.”

Felicity laughed, but it died quickly in her throat.

Oliver knew why. He knew he’d gotten back to the forbidden subject: their future. “I guess I’ll never get to see that, will I?” he wondered aloud.

She blinked several times before glancing down to speak to the tablecloth. “We both have lives to get back to, Oliver.”  

He held tight to her hand. “You’re right; I do have a life to get back to. I have a company to run, and friends and family to spend time with. And I have a goddaughter to love.”

Felicity’s gaze rose back to his with the mention of baby Sara, and she gave him a tremulous smile. “I’m so glad. Those are all such wonderful things.”

“Yes, they are.” Except that I won’t have you, and you are what I want the most. “So, what about you? What do you have to go back to?”

“Oh, just work, mostly,” she sighed. “And plants. I have a lot of plants.”

Oliver couldn’t help grinning with her words, because he could easily imagine her surrounded by a forest of greenery. “Anything else? Besides work and plants?”

“Like what?”

“Like people? I know you said you haven’t had a boyfriend in a while, but maybe there is someone…”

“No. There’s no one.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. After what happened with my last boyfriend, I just…”

“What happened?” he asked, straightening in his seat. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“No, no, he didn’t hurt me. Actually, he asked me to marry him. And I said yes.”

Oliver had to clear his throat. “Y-you were engaged?”

She nodded, and his gut churned.

“But you didn’t marry him?”

“No, I didn’t. Ray and I were together for three years, and we were going to get married, but then I broke it off.”

“Why?”

“Because after my father died, it didn’t feel right. Ray was a cardiac surgeon, just like my father, and Dad died right on his desk. I questioned a lot of things after he passed. And after I broke up with Ray, I just didn’t find anyone else I wanted to be with.”

Oliver watched the sadness move through her eyes and his heart sank. “I’m sorry you’ve been so alone, Felicity.”

She tried to give him a smile. “Thank you, Oliver. I’m sorry you’ve been alone, too.”

He nodded as he stared down at their joined hands. “So, you were with Ray for three years?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s funny; I was with McKenna for three years, too.”

“Oh, yes, the woman who asked you to marry her. Will you go back to her now?”

His brow quirked up as he returned his gaze to hers. “Why would I go back to her?”

“Well, you said Dr. Lance gave you a new perspective on life. I just wonder if that new perspective includes McKenna.”

Oliver huffed out a laugh. “First of all, you were the one who really gave me the new perspective. And as for getting back together with McKenna, absolutely not.”

“But maybe she could make you happy now.”

“No, she can’t.”

“You’ll never know unless you try.”

“Actually, I do know,” he said, pinning her blue eyes with his own, capturing her beneath an intent and determined stare. “Do you remember that day in the woods? The day I told you about what happened with Carrie?”

“Of course I remember.”

“Well, you told me then that I’d been looking for the wrong kind of woman. And I was too stunned at that particular moment to really absorb what you said, but you were absolutely right. I didn’t see it when I was with McKenna, but I do now. I know she wasn’t the right person for me, because I didn’t laugh with her. And we didn’t play together. She didn’t challenge me. I didn’t ache to hold her. I never wanted to marry her. And I couldn’t imagine having children with her.” Oliver paused to run his thumb across her fingers. “I didn’t know who I was looking for before, but I do now. I know exactly who I want to be with, Felicity.”

She may have stopped breathing for a moment. She became so still as he watched her that Oliver didn’t think anything in her body moved at all. He knew then, without a doubt, that Felicity understood he was talking about her. And he was perfectly happy with that.

“Oliver, I…” she started, her voice trailing off as she held his gaze.

He saw so many emotions pass through her eyes at that moment: longing, affection, craving, adoration, need, want, ache. Her hand squeezed inside his. Felicity held onto him so hard, while her eyes revealed everything he wanted to see. And as he watched her, Oliver knew for certain that he wasn’t alone in his struggle with these magnificent, tumultuous, overwhelming feelings. Felicity felt all of it, too. This beautiful, wondrous woman felt everything he did, and he couldn’t help but smile as the emotions in her eyes reflected his own.

“I…I just…” she tried to speak again, her words coming out breathy and more than a little frightened.

Oliver didn’t want her to be scared. He held tight to her hand, trying to soothe her fears. Because he knew how terrifying this was. Two weeks. They’d met each other just two weeks ago, and yet now he couldn’t imagine having to endure another day of his life without her. And he knew these feelings were scary as hell. But that didn’t mean they weren’t real.

As far as he was concerned, they’d lived a thousand lifetimes together in the past two weeks, and he’d come out on the other side with an entirely new outlook on life. A bright, positive, hopeful outlook. Oliver knew he owed all of that to her, and it made him feel like his heart would climb out of his chest and crawl across this table just to get to her. And that was pretty fucking wonderful.

“Thank you, Felicity.”

She blinked her eyes. “What?”

“Thank you,” Oliver repeated, still holding onto her as he smiled. “I don’t know if I’ve said it properly before, so I want to say it now. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. Thank you for taking me along with you on your journey of self-discovery. Thank you for helping me understand my life. Thank you for showing me how to be happy.”

Oliver felt himself glow as he said the words. He glowed with happiness and joy and unbound adoration, and he looked to her, expecting to witness all of those things reflected back at him. But he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Felicity’s face changed. Her entire body changed. Her lips pulled down, and her shoulders sagged, and the light in her eyes dimmed the moment he finished speaking.

Oliver didn’t understand her reaction. He studied her while she sat forever in silence. Then he watched her force a smile on her face as she stiffened her spine.

“You’re welcome,” she said, her voice soft but determined. “I know you’ll find a way to be happy once you return home, Oliver. I want you to be happy. You certainly deserve it.”

He opened his mouth to speak – to tell her that she was the one person, of all the people in the world, who made him the happiest – but then the waiter showed up with their meals, and Felicity pulled her hand away as plates of food were set before them. Oliver kept his arm on the table. He left his hand open to her, in case she decided to hold onto him again.

She didn’t.

They started eating, and Felicity made the effort to engage in small talk over dinner, but the air between them had changed. Oliver couldn’t comprehend it. All he’d done was thank her. He thought it would make her happy, to know how grateful he was for all her actions. But now it felt like she was a million miles away from him, and he didn’t have a clue as to why.

She stayed remote through the rest of their meal, and when they walked out of the restaurant and back to her car, and as he sat beside her while Felicity drove them up the mountainside in the dark night. There wasn’t much light in the car at all, but it was just enough to see her, and Oliver studied the side of her face while she downshifted the gears in order to scale the steep incline. She looked so serious, and so sad, and he wanted nothing more than to soothe whatever weighed so heavily on her mind.

Oliver reached out, placing his hand on her shoulder. Felicity tensed instantly. But that didn’t deter him. He started massaging her, pressing his fingers into the tight muscles of her shoulder and her upper back. Felicity fought him at first, staying as stiff and still as possible, but eventually a little moan escaped her lips. She relaxed beneath his hand, and Oliver understood that he was taking advantage of her body’s responsiveness to him; after all, she’d told him just hours ago that it was unfair of him to use her attraction for him against her. He considered feeling bad about it, but then he remembered how often she’d used her therapeutic touch on him, and decided not to feel guilty. Because his little fairy always craved his touch, and since she wouldn’t communicate with him in words right now, all he had left were actions.

So he used them. He massaged across her back and her arm, and then down to her leg, letting the warmth of his skin permeate through the thin material of her pants as he spanned her thigh with his hand. Felicity whimpered while Oliver stroked down to her knee and then back up again, skimming his fingers close to her inner thigh. She shifted in her seat, and he smiled as he watched her teeth nibble against her lip in the dim light.

Oliver knew Felicity still believed they were on a speeding bus, and they couldn’t be together once they jumped off. But he’d believed, just this morning, that they would never get to go out on a date, or stroll together through town hand in hand. Yet they had. They’d done both of those things, and the day had been damn near perfect. And Oliver knew the one thing that would push it over the edge – right into complete bliss – would be the chance to make love to her in bed, and then wake beside her in the morning.

They were almost back to the cabin now. It was almost time for Felicity to fulfill her promise to him, and spend the entire night in his arms. Oliver’s hand squeezed tighter to her in anticipation, and a groan escaped her throat as his fingertips skimmed close to the juncture of her thighs. He knew he could use her body against her if he had to – if she tried to go back on her promise – but he didn’t want to travel down that road. Because he wanted her to want to be with him. He wanted her to need him as much as he needed her.

Oliver was so focused on the feel of Felicity’s warmth beneath his fingers that he barely noticed her slowing the car. But then he heard the crunch of gravel under the tires, and he looked up to see her cabin at the end of the driveway. He reluctantly pulled his hand away, instantly missing that touch, as she fitted the BMW into the garage once again. The moment she parked, Felicity grabbed her purse and bag and then leapt up out of the car. Oliver barely had the chance to undo his seatbelt before she was inside the cabin, out of his sight.

He huffed out a laugh while he stepped from the car and moved to the door. Crossing over into the kitchen, Oliver pushed the handle shut behind him as his eyes searched the room. He found her standing by the sink. Felicity had thrown her keys and bags on the countertop, and she’d switched on the tiny light above the stove. The dim yellow glow hugged the curves of her body as she stood with her back to him in the darkened room.

Oliver clenched his jaw while he stared at her rigid spine. Because he knew that, in a lot of ways, he’d failed today. He’d wanted Felicity to admit that they could still be together when they left Blue, and that they could turn fantasy into reality, and that they could make this relationship work far beyond this mountain. But he’d failed at all of that. Because this stiff, tenacious person in front of him wasn’t going to change her mind. She wasn’t going to admit to anything except the prudent, rational need for them to say goodbye.

Yes, he’d failed in a lot of ways today. But he hadn’t failed at everything. Because he now knew for certain that Felicity felt just as strongly about him as he felt about her. He’d seen that at the restaurant. He’d seen every emotion she had for him coursing through her eyes, and he knew she wanted this. He knew she wanted them.

But she wouldn’t allow it. Felicity simply refused to take this leap of faith together, and it frustrated the hell out of him. Oliver was just about at the end of his rope, and he knew he only had one more shot at this. He only had one more chance, and it was right here and now.

He stared at Felicity’s back, watching the shallow breaths move through her body as she stood in silence. Her shoulders were tense. Her entire body was tense. Oliver could tell that she was going to put up a fight about the promise she’d made. She was already fighting it.

But this was his last chance. It was their last chance, and he was going to take it.

He closed the distance between them with a few long strides, coming to stand behind her with his chest to her back. He watched her exhale shakily while she gripped onto the countertop. Oliver took a deep breath in and inched closer, filling his lungs with her familiar scent – the one he craved beyond reason. Then he eased his hands to her shoulders, and then down her arms, until he could cover her hands with his own, threading their fingers together against the wood while his body came flush with hers.

Felicity trembled as she cleared her throat to speak. “So, Oliver, we both know this is our last night together.”

“Yes, we both know that,” he agreed against his will, his voice barely above a growl. “And we also both know you made me a promise to spend the night in my arms before you left.”

“You’re right, I did,” she conceded, holding tighter to his fingers. “But I made you another promise, also. I promised to fulfill a fantasy of your choosing, and you never chose one. So I thought we should fulfill that promise, instead. After all, there are so many adventurous sexual things we could try. You could tie me up, if you want to. I still have the rope I borrowed from Pete, and you could…”

Oliver took a step back so he could grab her by the hips and spin her around to face him. The moment she looked up to his eyes, he pressed forward. “We’re not doing that,” he insisted, crowding her against the counter so she couldn’t run. “I want the other promise.”

“But, Oliver…”

No. I’m staying the night with you, in your bed. You swore that I could have an entire night with you in my arms, and you’ve avoided it over and over again. But we’re out of time now. This is the last chance.”

“But, it’s just – we don’t have to do that. We don’t have to go into the bedroom. We could have sex anywhere you want. The counter. The refrigerator door. The couch. The floor. What about the shower? That would be fun, right? We haven’t ever done that before.”

Oliver forced himself to take a deep breath. “The bed, Felicity. We are going to make love in your bed, and afterward we’ll fall asleep together, and in the morning we’ll wake up in each other’s arms. And then we can say goodbye.”

She shook her head with his words – a silent but firm protest to the promise she’d made him – and it pissed him off even more than he already was. So he reached down, and grabbed her by the ass, and pulled her up off the ground. “Wrap your legs around me,” Oliver commanded when she gasped with the rapid movement.

Felicity complied, but he could see the apprehension in her eyes. Her hands clung to his shoulders while he walked her through the kitchen. Her fingertips trembled against his shirt. It didn’t stop him. Oliver carried her into the hall, their path lit only by the dim moonlight streaming through the cabin windows. He moved them both to her bedroom with purpose and determination. But as he stepped through the entrance to the elusive room, Felicity reached out and grabbed hold of the doorframe above his head, her knuckles whitening with the effort of holding them in place.

“Wait,” she breathed, pinning his eyes with a determined stare. “What about here, in the doorway? I could hang on just like this, and you could do whatever you want to me. Seriously. Anything you want. I promise I won’t move my hands at all. I will keep them above my head the whole time, and…”

Securing her to his chest with one hand, Oliver reached his other hand up to the underside of her arm and tickled her until she laughed and squealed and dropped her fingers back to his shoulders. Then he took the last few strides to her bed and plunged them both onto the mattress. They fell down together, with him on top of her, and he fell instantly in love with the sensation of her on a soft, welcoming bed.

Felicity giggled for one more second. But then she focused in on his eyes and she stopped. She stopped laughing, stopped moving, stopped breathing. She stopped everything and gazed up at him with pleading, desperate eyes.

She obviously didn’t want to be here. But Oliver wanted to be here. He wanted this more than anything. Because her suitcase had been lying right here, just hours before, and he’d been forced to watch as she meticulously organized everything inside of it, and it had killed him to think that she would leave him and not look back.

Oliver knew she was returning to the real world – to the world of Solemnly Sedate Felicity. And he knew she’d tried to keep that side of herself away from him, so he could only see the freebird who came to live for these few weeks at Blue. But Felicity was clearly torn now – torn between what she wanted to do and what she needed to do – and Oliver could see how scared she was. He could see the fear move through her eyes as she lay here beneath him. He watched it, and his chest tightened, and his heart pounded, because he didn’t want her to be frightened. And he certainly didn’t want to be the one to frighten her. So he released a slow exhale, and allowed his shoulders to fall, as he looked down into her sky blue.

“Felicity, I know why you don’t want to be in this bed with me tonight.”

Her brow rose. “You do?”

“I do. It’s because it’s too intimate here. It’s too close to reality, and I know you’ve done your best to keep reality away from both of us while we’ve been up here on this mountain. But I’m not afraid of reality anymore, and that’s because of you. So tonight, I don’t want the fantasies. I don’t want to tie you up, or fuck you on a counter, or push you up against the refrigerator door. I just want to be here in this bed with you. I want to make love to you, like two people who are together in a real world.”

He sighed as he gazed into her. “It took me a while to figure out why you never let me stay the night with you, but I understand now. You’ve been trying to protect both of us, by keeping reality away. You’ve been trying to protect us from the pain we’re going to feel when we have to say goodbye tomorrow. But despite all your efforts, the fact remains that we’re both in this thing too deep. So tomorrow is going to hurt like hell, and there’s nothing you can do now to save us from that.”

Moisture lit the corners of her eyes and Felicity shook her head. “I’m sorry, Oliver. I’m so very, very sorry. I never meant for either of us to have to feel that pain.”

“I appreciate you wanting to protect me from it, baby; I really do. But it’s going to happen, no matter what we do right now. So, what I want is to have you in my arms all night long. I want that more than I can say. But I can’t make you want the same thing. I can’t force you to be here with me, and I won’t try.”

“Wh-what do you mean?”

“I mean that I release you from your promise.”

“You…what?”

“I release you from your promise. You don’t have to spend the night in this bed with me. We can leave here, and have sex anywhere you want. We can go get in the shower right now, if you like. I promise I will be very involved in the act of shower sex, and I promise I will make you come. Multiple times, if that’s what you want.”

Her eyelids fluttered and she shook her head. “Oliver, I don’t want that…well, I mean, I want you to make me come; of course I do. Seriously, who wouldn’t want that? I really would be a mentally unstable person if I said I didn’t want that. And you’re so good at it, by the way. Although I’m sure you know that by now, and…”

“Felicity.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry. I’m…I’m nervous.”

Oliver reached his hand to her face, tracing down the side of her cheek. “I know you are. I am, too.”

Felicity stilled beneath him, pausing to take a breath. “I do want to be here with you, in this bed. I want to make love. I do, but…”

“But what?”

“But it’s not going to change what happens tomorrow.”

The pain of those words stabbed into his heart, and Oliver had to force himself to speak. “I know. But I don’t want to think about tomorrow right now. I just want to be here, with you, tonight. Can you give me that? Can you be here with me tonight?”

She thought about it for a long time. But then she nodded, and the ache in his chest eased a little. “Yes, Oliver, I can. I want to. I want to be here with you so badly. You have no idea.”

A smile pulled at his lips. “I have some idea, Felicity.”

She returned his smile, looking up at him with wide blue eyes and soft pink lips, and Oliver dropped his forehead down to hers, nudging their noses together before stilling himself and taking a moment to just breathe her in. God, this feeling was incredible. Knowing she was here. Knowing she wasn’t going to run away from the bedroom, or push him out of the door at the end of the night. Knowing she wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with her. At least for now. But now was all he could think about.

Oliver kept his eyes shut, and his forehead against hers, while he listened to the steadiness of her breathing. And then he felt her hands move to his hair, threading through the thick strands to hold him to her. He wanted to hold onto her too, so he wrapped his arms tighter around her back and allowed them both to sink further into the mattress. He felt her smile against his lips, and the joy of it overwhelmed him, so he pressed his mouth to hers for just a moment. At least, he told himself it would just be a moment. He didn’t want to get too carried away. He didn’t want this to pass too quickly, because he wanted to savor every single minute.

But the second he felt her lips on his, Oliver lost himself to that blissful sensation. Damn, her mouth was perfect. She was perfect. He had to taste her, so he did. He eased his tongue past her lips and relished the smooth wetness awaiting him. Felicity responded immediately, so eager for his touch. Her fingers tightened in his hair while his arms banded more securely around her back, and his muscles nearly shook with the effort of holding her beneath him without crushing her.

She gasped when he finally pulled back for air, and her whole body trembled. Oliver trembled too, and had to shift his hips, because he was already painfully hard and straining against his zipper. His entire being was just utterly and completely intent on this woman beneath him, begging and pleading to be inside her. All he’d done was kiss her a few blissful moments, yet he could barely fight the urge to bury himself in her warmth right this instant and bring them both to completion.  

But he didn’t want it to end. Not yet. And he knew the fact that she was finally under him on the bed was just too damn overwhelming. So he bent down again, and pressed his lips to hers once more, and then tightened his arms around her back so he could roll them both over and put her on top.

The moment Felicity found herself above him, she eased her knees down to the bed. She tucked her thighs close to his hips, adjusting herself over the ridge of his erection. But she didn’t stop kissing him. She wound her tongue with his while she flattened her body onto him, pressing her breasts to his chest as her hips ground down against his stiff length. Their breaths mingled, hot and gasping, while they reveled in the experience of each other, in the wetness of tongues and the pressure of lips and the smoothness of skin.

Oliver held onto her so tight. He banded his arms around her back, spanning the width of her body twice over, just clinging to her. He clung to his beautiful little bird, his frolicking forest fairy, with desperate need. But he also clung to the sober, practical, serious woman who’d spent this last day with him, because he needed her, too. Oliver clung to his Felicity, who was both of these women in one.

Felicity didn’t fight him. At all. She didn’t stop touching him, not for an instant. Her hands roamed across his shoulders and up his neck and into his hair. She cradled his head with her fingertips while she kissed him a hundred different ways – sometimes hard and sometimes gentle, sometimes fiercely and sometimes lovingly. Oliver lost himself to each sensation, so he barely noticed when she started to pull back. But then he felt it – the arching of her body away from his – and his eyes shot open as his hands fell to his sides.

The moment he released her, Felicity backed off of the bed and stood, looking down into his eyes. Panic rose in Oliver’s chest – a sudden, horrid ache – as he thought she might turn to leave. He reacted instantly, sitting bolt upright and grabbing onto her hips to keep her here, with him. But she didn’t try to escape. She only smiled at him, soft and tender, while she reached to the back of her hair to pull the tie from her ponytail.

Oliver remained seated before her as he looked up to her face. The pale moonlight streaming through the window lit Felicity’s body in a dark blue glow, and Oliver watched hungrily while the gold curls fell to her shoulders in loose waves. And all he could think was that he wished he’d been the one to set her hair free.

He pulled her body closer to his, cradling her knees between his thighs, as she dropped the tie to the floor. Then Felicity reached for the hem of her blouse. Oliver covered her hands with his own as she gathered the material in her fingers, and they both raised the shirt together, until he couldn’t reach any further and she finished for them. When she allowed it to fall to the ground, and brought her fingers back down to rest against his shoulders, Oliver sighed with the touch of her skin. Her bare stomach lay in front of his eyes, with it’s soft, perfect curves, and so he pressed his forehead into in, wrapping his arms around her back to bring her even closer.

Felicity ran her hands from his shoulders to his neck and back again, allowing them both time to just be here together. When her fingers smoothed into his hair, Oliver hummed against her skin. She massaged his scalp, and he breathed in, filling his lungs with her fresh soap and tiny flowers. Her bellybutton lay beneath his mouth, and he pressed his lips to the tiny circle, just so he could hear her soft giggles in the cool, dark air.

Her fingers left his hair then, and Oliver looked up to watch as she reached around her back to unclasp her bra. She drew the black lace fabric across her arms before letting it join the other items on the floor. Then she stood before him, still encased within his legs, and smiled down into his eyes.

Oliver stared at her for a long minute, just taking in the sight of her curved pink lips, of the gold curls resting against her shoulders, of the rose peaks of her breasts tightening beneath his heated gaze. As he stared, he ran his hands up her spine and then down again, soaking in every sensation. His hands eventually came to rest at her waist, and then he traced the edge of her pants around to the front. When Oliver felt the button beneath his fingers, he popped it open and curled into the fabric, grasping both her pants and underwear beneath his fingertips. His eyes fell to his hands while he pulled down, easing the soft material down her softer skin, watching raptly and trying to memorize every curve he revealed. When the fabric bunched at her knees, Oliver leaned in to press his mouth to one hip. He kissed across the bone there, tracing the flesh-covered line with his lips and his tongue, feeling her wriggle and quiver against him until she finally burst out giggling and took a step back.

Oliver looked up to her, and Felicity smiled as she brought one hand back to rest against his shoulder, steadying herself while she proceeded to kick off her shoes and then remove the remainder of her pants, one leg at a time. When she finished ridding them of the last of her clothes, she straightened in front of him and met his heated gaze.

She stood a few inches away from him – completely bare and so fucking gorgeous – and all Oliver knew was that there was way too much distance between them. So he stood, keeping her eyes pinned to his as he did, watching her face tilt as she followed his intent gaze up. The moment he’d straightened to his full height, he stepped into her, and took her face in both hands, and lowered his mouth to hers, and kissed the hell out of her. Felicity grabbed hold of his forearms, clamping on to steady herself as his tongue both tantalized and tortured. She clung tighter to him when her legs swayed, and Oliver pulled back just enough to listen to the panting little gasps that left her lips. Her obvious longing for his touch soothed him, and he smiled as he rested their foreheads together.

Felicity continued clinging to his arms for several moments, her breaths moving short and shallow through her chest. When she was able to stand independently again, she eased her hands from his arms to his waist, gathering the hem of his shirt in her trembling fingers. Oliver raised his head, focusing in on the desire and determination in her gaze while she drew the material up his chest. He helped her when she needed him to, helped her pull it over his head quickly, so he wouldn’t miss watching her for even a second.

The instant his shirt joined her clothes on the floor, Felicity’s eager eyes fell to his bare chest, followed quickly by her hands. Oliver reached out, grasping her hips and pulling her closer to him. He grounded her in place, even though he felt quite certain that she wasn’t going anywhere at the moment. Because Felicity looked simply, and beautifully, entranced. She traced each line of muscle across his abdomen with reverence and awe, obviously mesmerized by her ability to touch him. And Oliver allowed his hands to wander from her hips to the curve of her bare bottom, stroking and caressing that supple skin, because he was just as mesmerized by his ability to touch her. She was the soft to his hard, the curves to his lines, and they fit perfectly together. He knew that like he knew his own name.

Felicity sighed while she continued to trace over his stomach and Oliver could feel her desire for him practically pulsing through her skin. He expected her to move her hands down further now, to undo the button of his pants, to continue what they’d started. But she didn’t. Felicity brought her hands up instead, to the top of his chest, roaming and seeking until her fingers finally found their home over his heart. And then she looked to his eyes as her palms flattened onto his heated skin.

Oliver stared down into her sky blue, watching in amazement while the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen in his life spread across her lips, even as her tears welled. He stilled when her fingers curled up against his chest, because it felt like they were trying their damnedest to reach inside. Oliver could only stand and stare while her hand moved slowly and deliberately across his skin, over his ferociously pounding heart.

Good God, Felicity, just take it. It’s already yours. You may as well just physically remove it and take it home with you.

He dropped his hands to his sides then, his muscles shaking as he stared into her eyes. Felicity’s hands fell also, finally leaving his chest, and Oliver struggled to take a deep breath. Then he watched while she reached for his arm, wrapping her fingers around one of his wrists. She brought his hand up to her chest, and laid his palm over her heart, and pressed it there, holding it against her with trembling fingers.

Oliver swallowed hard with the sight, a lump forming in his throat as she gave him a watery smile just before resting her forehead onto his chest. Both of her hands wrapped around his, securing his fingers in place, as she took a shuddering breath against his skin. Oliver just closed his eyes, and let his face fall into her hair, while he concentrated on the fluttered pulsations of her heart beneath his hand.

He didn’t know how long they stood like that. He only knew that her breathing stayed ragged for a long time while she held him to her, and that he matched each one of her tremulous inhales and exhales with his own. But eventually, she calmed. And when she finally raised her head from his chest, locking her blue eyes onto his, they no longer brimmed with tears.

Felicity released his hand then, and she stepped up into his body, arching up on tiptoes to press her mouth to his. Her lips were smooth and insistent, and Oliver followed her lead. He kissed her with hunger and intention, tasting the warmth of her tongue as she pushed herself against him. Then her fingers moved to his hips, and onto the waistband of his pants. Oliver grabbed her face in both hands, kissing her harder as she popped open the button and pulled down his zipper and reached for him.

Her fingers felt warm and sure when they encircled his erection. Oliver sucked in a breath with the sensation, stilling his mouth against hers while he steadied himself. Felicity stroked him, drawing her hand up and down his shaft as he twitched against her belly. Her bare feet shifted against the floor in time with the motion of her hands, pressing her body rhythmically onto his while he throbbed and pulsed beneath her fingers.

Holy fucking hell, he wanted her. Want didn’t really even begin to describe how he felt. This was a bone-deep ache, a need he could barely comprehend. Oliver needed Felicity with him – surrounding him, accepting him, holding him together. He needed her now, and he was about two seconds away from grabbing her and pushing her up against the wall and burying himself inside her.

But that just wouldn’t do.

Not tonight.

Forcing himself to inhale deeply, Oliver dropped his hands to her shoulders and squeezed, stopping her movements as he looked into down to her face. Felicity met his gaze and Oliver offered her a soft smile before reaching down to remove her hand from around him. He brought that hand up to his mouth and kissed each one of her fingers. Then he released her arms and pressed another kiss to her forehead.

He didn’t want to leave her. Not for a second. But he wanted her in the bed, and they weren’t going to get there this way. So Oliver stepped over to the mattress, and reached down to pull back the covers. Then he smiled again, because the sheets were red, just as he imagined they’d be. They were Felicity’s red, and he would have her inside them now, and he couldn’t imagine anything better.

He turned back, sighing in relief when he saw that she hadn’t moved at all. Oliver returned to his little bird, and banded his arms around her, reaching down with both hands to grab hold of her ass. Oliver lifted her and Felicity wrapped her legs around his waist, pinning his stiff length between their stomachs. He could feel the wet entrance to her sex against his skin, and he groaned as he pressed his mouth to hers. After taking the few steps to the bed with her in his arms, he put one knee on the mattress so he could lower her down gently. Oliver made sure that her head eased down onto a pillow, and that her entire body lay comfortable and cocooned by the soft bedding, before he withdrew his arms. Then he stood up again, to toe off his shoes and finish removing his pants.

Felicity waited patiently for him to finish, even though her fingers dug into the sheets and her feet moved restlessly against the red. Oliver undressed as quickly as he could, but not too quickly, because he liked seeing her there. He liked watching the need and the craving written in each tense muscle of her body as she anticipated him.

Once he finished with his task, he stepped back to the bed and stared down at her. Felicity lay against the mattress, looking up at him under heavy-lidded eyes, with her halo of hair spread out across the pillow and a serene smile gracing her lips. And Oliver’s heart thudded against his ribcage, because he understood then that she was an angel, sent here just for him, even if only for these few days. So if this truly was all the time he had with her, then that would have to be okay. Because he’d at least gotten to have this much.

Felicity reached her arm to him, holding her hand out as she waited for him to join her, and Oliver couldn’t stay away from her any longer. He crawled slowly onto the bed, between her parted legs, until he could lower his body onto hers. He didn’t enter her. Not just yet. First he needed to experience her warmth, to accustom himself to the feel of her naked body beneath his, because he knew the sensation would take his breath away. And it did.

He inhaled swiftly as he came to rest against her, and Felicity sighed the moment his body covered hers. He positioned his hips just a little to the side, so his thick length lay against her thigh. But otherwise he matched her completely, with his chest and his stomach and his legs lining up with hers, and then he eased his forearms onto the mattress beside her shoulders so he could support some of his weight. He didn’t want to crush her. He wanted her to be comfortable, and happy, and at peace. From the look in her eyes, Oliver believed she was all those things, and more.

Felicity reached her hands to his face, smoothing her fingers down his cheeks and across his jaw. She traced the outline of his lips while smiling up into his eyes. “This…this is wonderful,” she whispered.

He nodded in response, because he wasn’t sure he could make his voice work right now, so he didn’t try. Instead, he returned her smile just before bringing his mouth down to hers. Felicity met him eagerly, her lips sealing against his, her hands cradling his face. Oliver threaded his fingers into her hair, wrapping himself in soft gold curls.

The warmth of her skin infused into his as they kissed. Oliver moved his mouth over hers again and again, before trailing his kisses across her cheek and down to her neck. He listened intently as she moaned and whimpered beneath him, the sounds moving through her chest and into his. He tasted the skin over her neck and her jaw, and felt the pulse point of her throat beneath his tongue. Felicity clung to him the entire time, her fingers gripping onto his shoulders while he explored her with his mouth.

Oliver just kept kissing her as she writhed beneath him, her legs spreading wider to settle his hips more firmly against hers. She arched her bared body up onto his as the ridge of his erection throbbed against her inner thigh. Oliver groaned into her skin, because he knew where all this led. And he knew that when he finally entered her, this would be almost over. He didn’t want it to end, but he needed to be inside her. God, he needed inside her so badly.

He worked his kisses slowly back to Felicity’s lips, and pressed his mouth tenderly to hers, before pulling back just enough to look down to her eyes. Her sky blue was glassy with drunk desire and blatant need, but then she blinked a few times, and focused in on him, and smiled. She smiled like she did when they were in the forest together, when she saw the sun shining through the tree leaves, all sparkling silver and gold. It was definitely the smile of his little freebird, the fairy who’d flitted her way into his soul and brought all her light with him. And Oliver wanted to be surrounded by that light now, to feel it shine inside him.

So he held onto her gaze as he straightened his hips, finally aligning them with hers, to run his thick, aching length through the soft folds of her sex. She was so warm, and so wet, and he found the opening to her body instantly. He pressed the tip of his erection inside her, and she grabbed hold of his forearms and held tight, biting into her lip as she groaned. Oliver’s heart pounded against his ribcage while he watched her, and it was all he could do to not plunge himself inside and finish them both. But he wouldn’t do that. He needed to take his time, to love her so thoroughly that she would never forget him. Because Lord knows he could never forget her.

Oliver forced himself to still, even as his erection pulsated, begging for more of her heat. Felicity watched him war with his desires, and she eased her hands to his face, cradling his jaw in her fingers as she rocked her hips up. The motion brought him a little farther inside, coating him in her warmth and her wetness.

Felicity smiled up to him again, and the pure, undiluted emotion in her eyes shined like a beacon. Because Felicity wasn’t holding back right now. She wasn’t concealing anything she felt, and the sight of all the emotion inside her forced the air from his lungs.   He needed to be with her now. Not just with his body, but with his heart and mind and soul – his entire being demanded to be with her at this moment, so Oliver finally allowed himself to sink inside.

Her eyes widened and a moan escaped her throat as they joined, becoming one in an instant. Oliver gasped with the sensation, having trouble reconciling the joy with the pain. Because he’d felt himself entering her body so many times, but it had never been quite like this. So warm and welcoming, like home. Like a home he never thought he deserved.

Felicity held tight to his arms, clinging fiercely to him, pulling him even closer, inviting him in deeper. She gazed up at him with her soft, sweet smile, and Oliver wanted to stare at her forever, and bask in the thought of this perfect world they’d found in each other. Except it wasn’t perfect. Nothing about this was even remotely perfect, because as much as Felicity felt like home to him, Oliver knew this was actually her way of saying goodbye.

He couldn’t bear that thought right now. He couldn’t bear any of it, so he closed his eyes and dropped his forehead to hers. Oliver concentrated on breathing, in and out.

Felicity only held him closer. She circled her arms across his shoulders, and shifted her hips to wrap her legs around his back. He groaned as she curled her hands over his neck and linked her feet together against his low spine. She held him to her with every part of her body, and with all of her heart, and Oliver clenched his jaw as she clung to him without restraint.

Dear Lord, why does this have to end? Why does this ever, ever have to end? I want her. I want to be with her, every day of the rest of my life.

Oliver raised his head. He raised his head to look into her eyes, and brought his hands up to cradle her face. “I’m going to miss you,” he breathed, his voice broken and shaking. “I’m going to miss you so damn much.”

The tears returned to her eyes. They sprung back up, quick and clear, brimming in the dim light. She didn’t say anything, but a sob choked its way from the back of her throat and she nodded, over and over.  

Oliver closed his eyes again, because it hurt like hell to see her on the verge of tears. He ran his fingers over her cheeks as he pressed his body into hers, and Felicity’s arms curled over his back, her fists balling up against his spine. Then she let out a shuddered exhale, and Oliver felt the moisture against his fingers as tears spilled from her eyes. He didn’t want her to cry, but he couldn’t stop her tears; honestly, he could barely hold back his own. So he did the only thing he could – he pressed his lips to the wetness on her cheeks, tasting the salty sting against his tongue as he whispered her name again and again.

Felicity tried to compose herself. She took deep breaths, and sniffed, and pressed her body closer to his, but Oliver still felt her tremble beneath him. He knew now that he needed to finish this. It was too painful for her; it was too painful for him. He couldn’t stay here, inside her, forever. That just wasn’t possible, and to try would only torture them both.

So he started moving. He eased out of her and then sank back in again, and Felicity rocked against him as she gasped with the sensation. Oliver continued to thrust into her, over and over, while she moaned and panted beneath him, their breaths and tongues mingling as he pressed fevered kissed to her face and her lips. He felt her body encase his, felt the tight, wet smoothness of her sex sheathing him completely, and it felt so incredibly wonderful, and yet as painful as anything he’d ever known. So he squeezed his eyelids shut tighter and drove into her even harder, again and again, determined to finish this for them both.

But then he heard her voice. She whispered, “Oliver,” and he stilled. He ceased all his movements, and raised his head to look into her eyes. Her clouded sky blue gazed up into him and Felicity took a shaky breath in. “Hold my hands. Please.”

Memory after memory instantly accosted him – of all the times in the past two weeks that she’d asked him to hold her hands. Of all the times she’d begged him to touch her, with and without words. So Oliver grabbed hold of both her hands now, one in each of his own, and brought them to rest against the pillow beside her tousled hair. The movement shifted his body down fully onto hers, and Felicity gasped in a breath as she wound their fingers together. And then she sighed, grasping onto his hands while she smiled up at him through her tears. It was a beautiful smile, the perfect smile, and he wanted to see it. So he watched her as he started to move again.

Oliver focused on that smile, and on her eyes, as he rocked himself inside her, slow and steady. He studied every emotion that crossed her face, and witnessed her desire and her need as they built and swelled and burned. The smile eventually fell from her lips, once she began whimpering in time with his thrusts. Oliver felt her inner muscles tighten around him, but he refused to look away from her, and she never looked away from him. She just held onto him, her fingers wound inextricably with his, as their bodies glided together, soft and hard, hot and wet, deep and penetrating and complete.

When she came, her lips parted, and her breath hitched, but she still didn’t look away. Her body shook, trembling and clinging to his as she worked hard to focus on his face. Oliver wanted to watch her forever. He wanted to see this quiver in her lips and that beauty in her eyes for the rest of his life. But his physical needs overruled his wishes, and so he let himself go. He drowned himself the pleasure of her body as he had so many times before, but never quite like this – never with the definitive knowledge that this was the last time. So even as he gave himself over to the ecstasy, even as he rocked and throbbed and poured himself inside her, the pain in his heart became too great and too powerful to be ignored. And he couldn’t fight the tears that fell from his eyes to join the ones streaming down her cheeks.

Felicity blinked as she looked up into him. She whimpered while she watched the tears slide down his face, and arched up from the pillow to press her forehead onto his. “Oliver. Oliver.”

Felicity,” he breathed against her skin, holding tight to her hands, gripping her fingers hard inside his own. He brought his lips to hers and kissed her, joining their mouths and tongues while their bodies continued to pulse in time together. They lived out each final second of this moment with their limbs intricately entwined, coming slowly and quietly back down to earth. Felicity stayed with him the entire time, her lips never leaving his, her body wrapped tight around him. And Oliver held onto her for what felt like forever, although he knew it wasn’t, and couldn’t be.

Eventually, he rested his forehead onto her shoulder, and released his grip on her hands, and waited as she extracted her fingers from his to ease them onto his back. He knew her tears had dried, because he could no longer feel that wetness against his skin. He was happy for it, grateful she no longer cried because of him, and dreading the thought of seeing those tears again in the morning.

Oliver stilled against her, hesitant to even twitch a muscle, resistant to the thought that he would ever have to leave. Felicity didn’t attempt to move at all. She just drew her hands up and down his spine, lazily tracing her fingers across his skin. As she soothed him with her touch, she began humming in his ear. Oliver couldn’t quite make out the tune, but it sounded like an old Elvis ballad, something he wasn’t able to place right now. Her voice was soft and sweet and wonderful, and he smiled against her skin. “What are you humming, baby?”

“Was I humming? Oh…I guess I was. I didn’t realize.”

He lifted his head, looking down to her in the pale light. “I like it when you hum. I always love hearing your voice.”

Felicity smiled then, lighting a little spark in her sad eyes. She brought a hand to his face, to smooth her fingers across his jaw. “Should we get under the covers now? I don’t want you to get cold.”

“I’m not cold at all; you keep me so warm. But you’re probably right, we should get under the covers.”

Oliver left her body with great reluctance, moving to her side and sitting up to gather the edge of the covers in his hand. He pulled the sheets and comforter up around them both, encasing them in warmth and softness as he lay back down beside her. Felicity snuggled immediately into his chest, curling up against him as her thighs pressed onto his. Oliver threw one leg over both of hers, and wrapped his arm around her back, and drew her in even further, grateful for the sensation of her warm breath against his neck, and her dainty fingers resting on his chest, and her soft breasts pushed into his skin.

Oliver pressed his face into her hair, filling his senses with the touch and sound and smell of her. He ran his fingers over her body, and listened to the little gasps that left her throat, and breathed in deep, trying to memorize every sensation. He tried to live in the moment alone, and not consider what tomorrow would bring.

Felicity’s hand spread out over his heart once again, and he smiled into the darkness.

“Oliver?”

“Hmm?”

“Will you be okay? I mean, I probably don’t have the right to ask you that, but I just…I need to know. You will be okay, right?”

For a brief moment, Oliver considered saying that he wouldn’t be okay, just to see if that would make her stay. But he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t put that burden on her shoulders when she was trying so hard to do the sensible thing for them both – the goddamn ridiculously sensible, rational, logical thing that obviously devastated her as much as it did him.

“I’ll survive, Felicity. What about you?”

He felt her nod against his shoulder. “I’ll survive, too.”

Oliver ran his hand through her hair, and then down across her back, as he tried to wrap his head around her response. Because he couldn’t imagine his Frolicking Freebird just surviving. The woman he’d spent the last two weeks with danced and sang and bounced, and that’s what he wanted for her. He didn’t want her to lose that joy from her life. He didn’t want her to lose the hope in her eyes.

Felicity pressed her lips to his neck for a moment and Oliver shivered. “You know, you never used your fantasy,” she murmured against his skin. “But we do have a little more time together tonight. We could probably still fulfill it, if you want.”

Oliver shook his head, because she obviously had no idea of the fantasy she’d just fulfilled for him. “Thank you for the offer, but I want to remember us just like this.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Besides, knowing that there is a gorgeous woman somewhere in the world who owes me a fantasy will put a sparkle in my eye everyday. People will always wonder what I’m thinking about. It’ll be worth it.”

Felicity laughed softly, which moved her body against his skin, which made his arms tighten around her of their own volition. As he pulled her closer, she took a deep breath in. “So you think it was worth it, Oliver?”

He froze for a moment, and then sighed into her hair, because he understood everything she was asking. “Yeah, it was worth it.”

“Honestly? Because I know you said the first night we were together that you didn’t have any regrets, but I would understand if you’d changed your mind.”

“I haven’t changed my mind.” Of course he hadn’t. He didn’t regret anything they’d been to each other.

The only thing I will ever regret is letting you go.

Oliver wanted to tell her that now. He wanted to tell her that the thought of losing her was unfathomable to him, and that he knew she hated the thought of losing him just as much, and that they could find a way to be together, if they just tried hard enough. He wanted to be able to convince her of all of this using elegant, intelligent words – words he knew he wasn’t capable of forming right at the moment.

So when Felicity settled further against his chest, and ran her fingers over his heart, and sighed into his skin, Oliver decided not to say anything. Because she just felt so warm and tranquil and flawless in his arms, and he didn’t want to risk disturbing this perfect peace. He decided to save his speech for tomorrow, for when she woke, soft and snuggly in his arms. He planned to look down into her sleepy eyes the moment she opened them, and assure her that life could always be like this for them. And then try like hell, one last time, to convince her to give them a chance.

“I’m glad you didn’t change your mind, Oliver,” she whispered, her voice already thick with exhaustion.

“Of course I didn’t. I’ll never regret a moment we spent together.”

She smiled against him. “Me, neither. I’ll never regret a moment of us. Never, ever.”

Oliver grinned with the beauty and innocence of her words. And he tried to pull her even closer to him, although she was already completely wrapped in the shelter of his arms. But she didn’t complain at all while he practically smothered her in a full-body embrace. She only smiled more, and snuggled further beneath his arms, and nuzzled her face into his neck.

After several minutes, her breathing evened out and her body relaxed, and Oliver wondered if he would finally get to feel his little fairy asleep in bed with him. It took a few more moments, but eventually he heard what he wanted to hear…he heard her snore. And he smiled again, because her fingers still lay over his heart, even in her sleep.

Oliver leaned in to place a kiss to the top of her head. “Goodnight, baby,” he spoke into her gold curls. And then he closed his eyes, allowing sleep to overcome him as he savored the joy of being wrapped around her.

Oliver woke to the feel of warm, bright sunshine against his face. Before he even opened his eyes, he basked in the sensation of the soft sheets beneath him, and in the fluffy comforter on top of him, and in the fact that he was not in his bed. He was in Felicity’s.

With a grin spreading his face, he reached for her. His hand eased to his side, searching for the feel of her body. He searched out her warmth and her softness and her joy, needing to pull her back against him. But all he felt were pillows and sheets and blankets. Nothing else.

Oliver ceased all his movements. He held his breath for a long minute, straining to hear any noises that might come from within the cabin. But everything was silent.

A deep hollowness instantly settled inside his chest, and he didn’t have to open his eyes to prove what he already knew.

His Felicity was gone.

...

A/N:  Hey lovelies!  I'm so sorry for the angst; please don't hurt me ;)  I do promise that this fic has a happy ending.  And there are still 7 chapters to go, so I promise lots of eventual fluff!  I'd love to hear your thoughts, if you have the time :) Tina

Up Next...Chapter 12:  Discoveries

Chapter Text

Oliver lay in Felicity’s bed, staring up at the ceiling. He could still smell her. Her scent was everywhere – in the sheets, in the air, on his skin. The bed was warm, but not as warm as it would have been with her beside him.

He quieted again, holding his breath as long as he could while straining to hear sounds from the other rooms of her cabin. But of course there weren’t any noises, other than the chirping of birds outside her window. So Oliver closed his eyes, and encouraged himself to breathe, while his heart thudded, heavy and painful, inside his chest.

She’s gone, he told himself, because he knew he needed to accept it.

He just hadn’t thought he would need to accept it this soon. Because he really thought he would still see her this morning. He believed he would have her in his arms when he woke, and have one last opportunity to convince her to give this relationship a chance to survive in the real world. But instead, she’d gone without even saying goodbye.

Oliver brushed one hand over his face, pressing his fingers into his eyelids. As much as he hated facing this day without her, deep down he knew why Felicity left before he woke. She did it because saying goodbye this morning would have been too damn hard on both of them, and she wanted to save them from any more pain. And Oliver also knew that she didn’t really leave without saying goodbye…because she’d said her goodbyes last night. Maybe not in words, but with her body and with her heart.

“Damn it,” he groaned, wishing he’d had one more opportunity to talk to her. Not that it would have made much of a difference; he would have tried to convince her to give them a chance, and she would have refused. She would have refused with tears in her eyes and a deep, horrible ache in her body that he could feel as surely as he felt the ache in his own. Which left him even more confused, because Oliver knew Felicity’s feelings for him ran just as deep as his for her. So why wouldn’t she even consider a future?

Oliver shook his head as he lay against her sheets. Images of the two of them together last night – wrapped up in each other, clinging to each other, loving each other – accosted him in the most beautiful and painful way. He could still feel her soft skin against his, and taste her salty tears, and hear her voice as she whispered his name with such sadness and longing.

His chest burned with the memories of sights and sounds that were still too real and too raw, and Oliver exhaled sharply as he threw back the covers and sat up at the side of the bed. He knew he couldn’t stay here anymore, even if he couldn’t imagine being anywhere on this mountain without her. So he stared at the log floor for a moment, and at his clothes still strewn on the ground, as he worked up the courage to leave. But when he reached for his shirt, he glanced over to the bed stand and froze. His eyes focused as his body stilled.

A letter lay there. Beside him. A letter in a woman’s distinct handwriting.

Oliver’s eyes scanned to the bottom of the page to see her signature: Yours, Felicity.

His pulse raced while he stared at the paper. And then he reached for it, grasping it hard in both hands. He inhaled, and exhaled, and read.

 

My Dearest Oliver,

First and foremost, I must ask you to please forgive me. I know I’d promised to stay the entire night with you, and I didn’t. I’m sorry. I just remembered you saying that you couldn’t imagine having to watch me walk away from you, and honestly, I couldn’t bear the thought of having to do it. I know it was cowardice on my part, but I hope you’ll forgive me for wanting to spare us both that pain. I also hope our last memories of each other will be happier this way.

I must also apologize for writing you a letter. I hesitated to do it, because I know the letter you received back in your high school locker room was something that hurt you deeply, and the last thing I ever want is to hurt you. But I still had things to say, and not enough time to say them, so I decided to put my thoughts down here. I hope you’ll indulge me by reading, and I hope you’ll find a way to see this letter as something positive.

I never spoke with you again about what happened between you and Carrie all those years ago, because I promised I wouldn’t say anything else while we were together at Blue. But now that I’m leaving, I need to get a few things off my chest and I pray you’ll allow it. The most important thing I have to tell you is that what Carrie did was not your fault, Oliver. I know I said those words before, and I know you heard me. But I wanted you to see them in writing, and I wanted you to understand them without a doubt.

You were so young when all of that happened. So young, and not yet capable of understanding the effect it had on your mind and on your soul. I understand how your need for control grew from your grief, and honestly, I’m amazed by the positive choices you made because of it. You became a strong, steadfast leader, and I couldn’t be more proud of you for that. But now I hope you’ll see that the control you’ve tried to hold over your life, and everyone else’s, isn’t doing you any favors anymore. The guilt you’ve carried with you since that night in high school has prevented you from experiencing all the miracles this world has to offer, and you deserve so much more than that. You deserve everything. Please know that, Oliver. Please know that you deserve all the love in the world.

You shared yourself so deeply with me that day in the woods, and I will never forget the trust you placed in me. You also asked me for my forgiveness, and I willingly and absolutely gave it. But my utmost wish for you is that you will allow yourself forgiveness for the events that were not, in any way, within your control. You are such an amazing man, and you have such capacity for laughter and joy and love. You let me see inside your heart while we were up here on this mountain. You let me see the beauty and the light inside you, and that was something I was missing so desperately from my life, and I am so grateful to you for allowing me to see.

Honestly, I have so many things to thank you for. Most of all, I want to thank you for being here with me. Because I needed you, Oliver. I had no idea, when I found you by the side of the road, just how much I needed you in my life. I couldn’t possibly ever tell you all the ways you helped me, so I won’t try. Just please know that our time together was one of the best experiences of my life. I have never allowed myself the freedom of a relationship like ours before, and I’m so grateful that you were willing to share these days with me, because every moment with you was wondrous and magical and perfect.

So all I have left to give you now, after my apologies and my gratitude, is hope. My hope for you, my sweetest Oliver, is that you’ll let other people see this man that I’ve seen. I hope you’ll let them see the fun, playful, adventurous spirit inside you – the one that lit up my entire world for these past precious weeks. If you can allow that person to keep living and breathing, then I know you’ll find the life you’re searching for. Because you so deserve to be happy.

Thank you, again and again, for everything. And until the day you put me from your thoughts, hopefully with a smile, please know that you will never be far from my heart.

Yours, Felicity

 

Oliver sat, silent, holding the letter in his hand. He concentrated on breathing for a long minute, and then his eyes returned to the top of the page. His fingers trembled as he read the letter again. And again. And again. Until he knew he’d memorized every word. Then he set the paper down carefully onto the bed beside him.

He stared at the ground, unseeing, just trying to wrap his mind around her words. His fingers fisted into the sheets, remembering having her here with him, in every way, just hours earlier. Those memories still burned against his skin, even more so now than they had before he’d read her final words to him. Because last night, Oliver felt pretty damn sure about how deeply Felicity cared for him, but now he knew for certain: the woman who wrote that letter cared more about his happiness than she did her own.

He still couldn’t comprehend why Felicity refused to admit that they could make each other happy far beyond these mountains, but he did know that this pain in his chest sat heavier with each passing minute. He knew that he had to get out of here, to leave her bed and her cabin, if he was going to have even a remote chance of breathing normally. So Oliver forced a deep inhale, filling his lungs with her lingering scent one last time, as he reached for his clothes. He stood and dressed and then grabbed the letter. Folding the paper up, he shoved it into the pocket of his pants and turned his eyes away from the bed, because it hurt too fucking much to see the mussed sheets and indented mattress. Because he’d worked so hard to be here with her, only to have this be the place where she’d said goodbye.

Oliver stepped out of Felicity’s bedroom, and rushed down the hall and into the living room, determined to escape as quickly as he could. He pushed one foot in front of the other, purposefully and intently, yet when he saw the front door, his footing faltered. He came to a stuttered halt beside the couch, because he couldn’t actually bring himself to leave. Because this was where he’d spent so much of his time with her, and walking out of that door meant leaving all of this behind.

With his hands balled at his sides, Oliver’s eyes turned to the kitchen, his mind filling instantly with images of her naked on the countertop. He remembered the first night he’d sat her up there, and how nervous and sweet and timid she’d been. And he remembered the next time he had her on the counter – soaking wet with smiling lips and fiery eyes – after their kitchen sink water fight. Oliver looked to the living room floor next, savoring the thought of being wrapped around her on the Twister mat, both with clothes and without. Then he glanced to the couch, and could almost feel her asleep in his arms again.

When his gaze eventually drew to the far wall, Oliver sought out the picture of her imaginary bird. He wanted to see the blurry photo again, because he knew how much it meant to her, and he knew it would make him smile. Except the photo wasn’t there. The log wall was empty again, just as it had been the first night he’d come here. Felicity had removed the picture and taken it with her…she’d even taken the nail.

Oliver’s head tilted as his body drew unconsciously toward the empty wall. Staring at the wood surface, he recalled how angry he’d been with his frolicking freebird when he realized she’d nailed a picture to a wall that wasn’t hers. He remembered chastising her for it, and he also remembered how she’d responded by telling him, as they stood before her bird photo, that she would open him up.

Coming to a stop in front of the empty wall, Oliver wished now, with all his heart, that her fantini photograph had been real. He wished Felicity had actually seen that bird, because then maybe she would believe in magic again. Maybe she wouldn’t have made the logical, prudent decision to abandon the feelings that had sprung up so fast and furious between them. Maybe, if the bird she’d created in her mind were real, then Felicity would have believed that these fantastical emotions they shared could still exist in the real world.

Sighing dejectedly with wishes that never came to fruition, Oliver looked over to the knotty pine wall, searching out the hole that his frolicking freebird had hammered into the wood. He didn’t know exactly why he needed to find it, except that he still wanted validation of her existence. He figured he would have a hell of a time seeing one little pit mark in the wildly uneven log surface, but to his surprise, it wasn’t hard to find the hole at all. Because it was wet and sticky.

Oliver’s brow furrowed as he looked at what was obviously wood spackle, smoothed over the tiny divot. He reached out, running his finger over the substance, just to validate what he saw. And then he pulled his hand back, and stared down at the brown paste now on his skin.

She filled the hole with wood spackle. Where in the hell did she get wood spackle?

He frowned for a moment, and then considered that Pete could have given it to her. Except that Oliver had spent almost all of the past two days with Felicity, and didn’t think she would have had time to see the little gnome caretaker.

But if she didn’t get it from Pete, where did she get it?

Oliver pondered the question for a second, and then shook his head. Because he remembered that moment yesterday in town, when Felicity had shoved her car keys into his hands and abandoned him on the sidewalk, in order to go into the hardware store to use the restroom. And how she’d emerged from that store carrying her ridiculously oversized purse and eager to return to Blue.

Damn, she certainly went through a lot of trouble to hide her spackle purchase from me.

He wasn’t really sure why she’d gone out of her way to hide it. Except for the fact that Frolicking Freebird Felicity had told him, the night she’d nailed the photo to the wall, that she wouldn’t buy spackle to fill this hole. Apparently, Solemnly Sedate Felicity changed her mind.

Rubbing the brown paste into his fingers, Oliver huffed out a laugh. “She really wrapped things up, didn’t she?” he questioned the cool, empty air.

Solemnly Sedate Felicity had wrapped everything up completely, with a bow. She’d tried to set everything right before she left. She’d worked to fulfill all her promises to him. She’d said her peace about his past with Carrie. She’d told him goodbye, both with her body and with her words. And she’d spackled this wall.

Oliver could see how she’d filled in all the gaps, literally and figuratively, so she could go back to her ordered life and continue on without regret. And he knew she’d tried her best to do right by him in the last few hours before she left. But none of those actions made him hurt any less. Because putting a bow on a turd didn’t change the fact that it was still a turd.

Oliver’s shoulders fell as he turned away from the empty wall, forcing himself back toward the door. His blood pulsed thick through his veins, and the only thing he wanted to do in the whole world right now was to see her. But he couldn’t do that, of course, which made him even more desperate.

God, I just really need to talk to someone right now. But who?

Oliver knew the correct answer to this dilemma, of course. He was at a psychiatric retreat, after all, and the appropriate thing would be to go talk to his therapist. But Oliver honestly couldn’t imagine doing that, because he’d never mentioned a word to Dr. Lance about Felicity. Because he’d always felt pretty certain that his by-the-books doctor, who also happened to be Blissful Blue’s Medical Director, wouldn’t approve of two patients having a heated sexual relationship while undergoing therapy.

Oliver felt quite certain that all he would get from talking to Lance about Felicity was a stern, fatherly lecture. And he just couldn’t bear the thought of that right now. Oliver didn’t want a lecture; he wanted to talk to someone who would understand his point of view, and his pain. Which made the decision simple: he needed to talk to Tommy. After all, the man who’d looked like a kicked puppy when Helena left Blue would definitely sympathize with his plight.

When Oliver reached the front door, he grasped the handle firmly, determined to leave without looking back. But he couldn’t quite go through with it, so he allowed himself to take one last glance around Felicity’s cabin. The moment he did, a thousand images – of her smile, and her eyes, and her body, and her skin – accosted him, accompanied by more pain than he was capable of handling at this point in time. So he closed his eyes tight, and pulled open the log door, and stepped out into the cold morning air.

Yanking the door shut behind him, Oliver worked to breathe as he strode off the porch and up her gravel path, all the way to the paved road. Then he turned to the right, across the paved incline toward Tommy’s Cabin 11. He hoped his friend would be home, since it was already late morning and he should most likely be back from the gym, if he’d even gone. But if Tommy wasn’t at his cabin, Oliver would have to find him. Because he needed to talk. He needed an empathetic friend to share in this anguish and ache.

As Oliver tread down Tommy’s driveway, he acknowledged the fact that he was right in the middle of the moment he’d been dreading for so long. Felicity had gone, and she’d torn a fucking hole in his heart, and it hurt like hell, just as he knew it would. The pain in his chest was deep and cutting and raw, but oddly enough, it wasn’t the worst thing Oliver could imagine. Because he hadn’t hurt like this in as long as he could remember, and he realized now that the worst thing was what he’d been doing before coming to Blue: living his life feeling nothing. So now, instead of mourning the existence of these tumultuous emotions, Oliver allowed himself to experience the pain with a reverent appreciation for the depth of feeling Felicity had brought to his life in such a few short days. Because it was beautiful, really…to feel so much, when just two weeks ago he’d felt so little.

A smile pulled at the edges of Oliver’s lips as Tommy’s cabin came into view. Bounding up the porch steps, Oliver knocked on the door and then held his breath while he waited. Rustling sounds came from behind the logs a moment before Tommy opened the door.

“Oliver? Hey, I wasn’t expecting you. When I didn’t see you at the gym this morning, I figured I wouldn’t have the pleasure of your company today.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry I haven’t been around the past couple of days. A lot’s been going on and I was just hoping…well, I was hoping we could talk. If you have the time.”

“Of course I have the time. There’s nothing but time up here, after all. Do you want to come in?”

“That would be great.”

Tommy stepped back, holding the door open to him. “Sorry the place is a bit messy.”

“That’s no problem,” Oliver offered as he walked into Tommy’s living room. But then Oliver had to school his reaction, because the place was a veritable pigsty. Clothes and dishes were strewn all over the furniture and floor, and Oliver hesitated to move because he wasn’t exactly sure where to go.

“Here, let me clear a place for you,” Tommy offered while yanking a couple of shirts from the couch. “Have a seat.”

Oliver did as instructed, easing tentatively onto the couch cushions as he watched his friend clear another spot on the chair. Oliver focused in on Tommy’s face while he worked, just now noticing the dark circles under his eyes and the tension in his shoulders. When Tommy finally took a seat in the chair opposite him, Oliver shook his head. “I apologize for showing up unannounced. And I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but you look like hell, man.”

Tommy rested his arms against his thighs and huffed out a laugh. “Right back at you.”

Oliver couldn’t help cringing with Tommy’s acknowledgement. “So, what’s going on with you? I haven’t seen you this upset since Helena left.”

“Believe it or not, I’m actually not upset, Oliver.”

“You’re not? But then why do you look like you’ve gone ten rounds in a boxing ring?”

Tommy smiled. “I’ll admit that I do feel tossed around a bit, but it’s because I think…I think I’m in love.”

“What? Who are you in love with? Isabel Rochev?”

Isabel?” Tommy barked. “Hell, no! Good Lord, that woman is a serious ice queen. And I’ve seen my share of ice queens up here, let me tell you. But that woman deserves her own ice castle.”

Oliver couldn’t help chuckling. “Well, if not her, then who?”

“Her name is Laurel. She’s Dr. Lance’s daughter.”

“Dr. Lance’s daughter?” Oliver repeated, his brow arching as he recalled the photograph on his physician’s office desk. “When did you meet her?”

“Yesterday. She’s up here visiting her dad.”

“Wait a minute. Let me get this straight, Tommy. You met this woman yesterday and you think you’re in love with her?”

Tommy shook his head, his eyes downcast. “Look, I know how it sounds. And I know that it’s really the reason I’m here. But I think this could be different. I think I could change. Don’t you think I could change?”

“I’m sorry Tommy, but I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

“I just…you know what? It doesn’t matter. You came here today because something’s bothering you, and all we’ve done is talk about me. So why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind, instead?”

“Right now, you’re what’s on my mind. Please tell me the reason you’re really here.”

Tommy blew out a breath. “It’s because I’m…I’m a sex addict.”

Oliver stilled as he watched his friend’s shoulders fall. “Oh, I see. Since when?”

“Since forever, I guess. At least since I knew what sex was. The therapists say it’s an unhealthy coping mechanism I developed because I suffered childhood trauma. You see, my mom died when I was little. A mugger robbed her and shot her and left her in an alley.”

“God, I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks. I guess it wouldn’t have been the worst thing ever, except that my dad went crazy because of it. I mean, he didn’t run off and join a league of assassins or anything, but he definitely had some processing issues and he never really got over what happened to her. And apparently, I didn’t either. The doctors tell me that I didn’t have the ability to form healthy relationships with women as a child, and that I’ve always missed my mother’s love, so I seek it out in other women. Lots and lots of other women. I don’t know if I buy all of that, but it makes sense, I suppose.”

“So that’s why you stay in therapy? And why you come to Blue so often?”

“Yup. That’s why.”

“Well…I guess it’s good that you’re aware of what’s happening with your life.”

“Oh, you know how it goes. Once upon a time, I would have just been labeled a womanizer, or even a chronic bachelor. But nowadays they diagnose you with a disease and give you therapy for it. And I really do enjoy therapy. I mean, back in my youth, I went from woman to woman with no remorse at all. But since I started counseling, I feel a bit guilty about it. They tell me that’s progress.”

Oliver stared at him with wide eyes. “Um, I’m…I’m glad you’re making progress?”

“Thanks, buddy. I believe I am making progress. Especially since the moment that I fell in love with Laurel. I think maybe she could be the one woman I can finally commit to.”

“You mean Laurel, the woman you met yesterday.”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Tommy said with a sheepish grin. “But I can tell you don’t agree with me. I guess you don’t believe in love at first sight, do you?”

“I, um…” Oliver mumbled, certain that he should impart his friend with a lengthy sermon on the impracticality of such a thought. Two weeks ago, he would have told Tommy he was nuts for even thinking such a thing. But now, Oliver wasn’t sure what to say. “I just…I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Tommy parroted, regarding him from his spot on the chair cushion. “Oh, I see what’s going on here.”

Oliver’s brow arched. “What do you see?”

“I see why you needed to talk today. This is about that woman, isn’t it? The one you’ve been with since you got to Blue. The one you never wanted to kiss-and-tell me about.”

Oliver’s eyes shifted away from his friend, desperate to focus anywhere else. He heaved a sigh, and rubbed his hand across the back of his neck, unable to say a word. Because this suddenly felt like an inquisition.

“So…was it love at first sight, Oliver?”

The memory of Felicity stepping out of the forest that first time – with her rugged hiking boots and her huge camera and her loose gold curls and her delightful smile – entered Oliver’s mind and refused to leave. “No, it’s…it’s not…” he fumbled, fisting his fingers against his thighs as he recalled dropping his wrench with the sound of her unexpected, but enchanting, voice. “It’s not possible to fall in love at first sight.”

“Well, we’re going to have to agree to disagree on that then, because it’s pretty damn obvious to me that you fell in love with her,” Tommy stated. “Maybe not instantly, but over the last two weeks, you did fall in love.”

“No, Tommy. That’s just not possible. Of course I didn’t fall in love. Of course not. I mean…no. Definitely not.”

“Definitely not?”

“Definitely not,” he repeated, the words forcing acid into his throat. “Except, well, except…definitely is such a strong word, isn’t it? It’s a really strong word, and I don’t know if I should use it, because…well, because…maybe.”

Tommy’s gaze didn’t veer from Oliver’s face. “Maybe?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“Maybe you fell in love with her?”

Oliver cleared his dry throat. “Maybe. Or…probably.”

“Probably?”

“Probably,” he said, staring at his friend as a smile settled leisurely onto Tommy’s face. Oliver fell silent for a long minute, and then he pinched his fingers over the bridge of his nose and cursed. “Damn it, yes. Yes, I fell in love with her, Tommy. I am completely, utterly, madly in love with this woman. You just…you have no idea. I can barely comprehend it myself.”

Tommy chuckled as he settled back into the seat cushions.

Oliver refocused on Tommy’s twinkling eyes. “I’m glad this amuses you.”

“Oh, it does, buddy. To no end. But only because I understand it so well. You don’t have to worry about approval here, you know. You can talk to me about anything.”

It was Oliver’s turn to chuckle. “I must admit, that’s exactly why I came here today. But now I don’t even know what to talk about. This is all just so bizarre.”

“Well then, how about you answer a question for me?”

“Okay.”

Tommy’s eyes pinned his. “What are you still doing here?”

“What…what do you mean?”

“If you love her, and she left, then why the hell are you sitting here, talking to me? Why aren’t you packing your bags right this minute and going to find her?”

Oliver clenched his jaw as his heart sunk into his stomach. “Because she doesn’t want to be found, Tommy.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure.”

Tommy leaned forward in his chair. “No, I’m not asking if you’re pretty sure, Oliver. I’m asking if you are absolutely, positively, one-hundred-percent, there’s-no-way-in-hell-I-could-possibly-be-wrong-about-this, completely fucking sure.”

Oliver stopped breathing for a moment while he worked to absorb those words. His mind wandered back to the restaurant yesterday, where he could see the millions of emotions moving over Felicity’s face as she sat across the table from him. His body trembled with the memory of them together in her bed last night, as Felicity embraced him, body and heart and soul. His thoughts reeled as he recalled every word of the letter currently burning a hole in his pocket.

“No,” Oliver admitted finally, his voice thick and raw. “I’m not that sure.”

Tommy nodded slowly. “Then I’ll ask again. What are you doing here, man?”

Oliver ran his hands roughly through his hair. “You don’t understand. I tried. I really tried. We went out on a date yesterday, and I did everything I knew to do. It was romantic and fun and perfect, and if she wanted to still be with me once we got back to the real world, she would have said something last night.”

“So then, I assume you told her.”

“Told her what?”

“How you feel. I mean, yesterday on your date, did you or did you not tell her that you love her?”

Oliver swallowed hard. “Well, no, I didn’t use those exact words, but I’m pretty sure she knows. I mean, I basically told her that she’s the only woman I want, and that I can imagine marrying her, and that I would love to see her pregnant, and then I asked how many kids she wants and…” Oliver’s voice trailed off as his eyes glassed over. His fingers trembled while he replayed those words in his head. “Holy fucking shit, Tommy, I can’t believe I said all that. I probably terrified her. Good Lord, we’ve only known each other for two weeks, and there I was, telling her how I want the rest of our lives to be. No wonder she ran away from me. I probably sounded like a maniac.”

Tommy laughed. “Or maybe you sounded perfectly sane, like a man who finally knows what he wants from life. But either way, she still deserves to hear that you love her. And I think you should go find her and tell her.”

“Why? So I can scare her more? Or have her look at me and tell me that we haven’t known each other long enough to feel that way? She’d be right, you know. It’s only been two weeks since I laid eyes on her. I really don’t have any business talking about being in love.”

“But you do love her, don’t you?”

Oliver stared at his friend for a long minute, and then his shoulders hung as he shook his head. “God, yes. I love her with all my heart and soul.”

Tommy offered Oliver an understanding smile. “Look…I get it, buddy. Believe me, I get it. It’s scary as hell to put yourself out there like that. It feels like you’re walking over a high wire with no safety net. But if she’s the person you want to be with, and you truly believe you can make each other happy, then wouldn’t that be worth the risk?”

“But what if I’m wrong? Because people don’t do that, do they? People don’t fall madly in love with other people in two weeks. And there I sat with her yesterday, and essentially told her that I want us to get married and make babies. She probably thought I’d lost my mind. Because she was being the sensible, practical one. She told me all along that the emotions up here are weird and overpowering and don’t translate into real life. And at first I understood that, and I even agreed with it, but then I stopped caring about all the practicalities because I just wanted to be with her. But she was right, Tommy. People don’t fall madly in love with other people in two weeks.”

“You already said that.”

“What?”

“‘People don’t fall madly in love with other people in two weeks.’ You said that more than once.”

“Yeah. So?”

“So I think you’re trying to talk yourself into it. Because you actually believe that people can fall in love in two weeks. Because that’s what you did.”

A wild laugh escaped Oliver’s throat as a strange combination of giddiness and fear overtook him. “You’re right. I did. And do you want to know the worst part?”

“What’s the worst part?”

“It didn’t even take the whole two weeks. I mean, I’m still not going to say that I believe in love at first sight, but…I know it didn’t take the whole two weeks.”

“Well then, congratulations, Oliver. You’re in love.”

Oliver shook his head as he stared into his friend’s twinkling eyes. “Thanks, Tommy. Even though nothing about this makes any sense.”

“Does it have to? I mean, shit, who ever said love makes sense? I never saw that written anywhere. No therapist ever looked me in the eye and told me that I would know when I was really in love because it would make perfect sense. Maybe it works that way for some people, but…I don’t think love is supposed to make sense. It just is.”

Oliver nodded with Tommy’s words, because on one level he understood them. Oliver understood now that he was in love with Felicity. Honestly, he’d known that for a while; he just hadn’t taken the time to label his emotions before now. But on another level, Oliver knew that love wasn’t always the answer to everything, and that chasing Felicity down, and confessing his emotions outright, could do a hell of a lot more harm than good, to both of them.

As his brain waged war with his heart, Oliver forced himself to look his friend in the eye. “You know, I really appreciate you talking to me, but I think I need to go now.”

Tommy’s brow rose. “Are you going to be okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll be okay. Thank you. Thank you for listening, and for the advice.”

“Sure, buddy. Although I’d feel better if you told me you’d think about actually taking my advice.”

“I will think about little else, I imagine,” Oliver admitted as he pushed off the couch.

Tommy smiled and stood, following him to the front door. “Well, good.”

Oliver stepped out onto the front porch and then turned back to shake his friend’s hand.

“Do you think I’ll see you tomorrow?” Tommy asked when he released his grip. “Or do you think you’ll be on your way to find your woman? Because I have to say, as much as I enjoy playing basketball with you, I wouldn’t be overly upset if you didn’t show up.”

“I wish…I wish I could give you an answer to that question, Tommy.”

“You know what? Don’t even try to answer right now. Just know that I plan to be here in my cabin all morning, and if you show up on my doorstep, we’ll go play some hoops. And if you don’t show up, well then…I wish you and your lady the best of luck.”

A tentative smile pulled against Oliver’s lips. “Thanks.”

“Anytime.”

Oliver nodded as he walked off the stairs and headed up the gravel driveway. He heard Tommy close the door behind him, and the sound made Oliver cringe. Because he was alone again now, alone up on this mountain, and he didn’t want to be. Especially with all the new questions that had come from their conversation.

Should he go find her? Should he go find Felicity right now, and try to convince her to change her mind about them? Should he tell her that he’s madly in love with her, and that he really does want to marry her as soon as humanly possible? And would she scream in horror if he did just that?

God, he probably had terrified her yesterday. He’d smothered her in romance during their date, just as he’d intended, but now Oliver wondered if it had all been too much. He knew that was a distinct possibility, but at the same time, he remembered asking her just a week ago if the attraction between them freaked her out. At that time, Felicity said it didn’t. She said it bothered her when they first met, but that she’d eventually decided to embrace it. She’d decided to embrace all the emotions between them, because she wanted to experience every feeling she could with him. Because she felt alive when she was with him.

Alive.

That’s how Oliver felt now. Love, pain, joy, sorrow, hope, ache: he felt all these things and more, and they allowed him to know, for certain, that he was truly alive. He didn’t think he could have said those words two weeks ago.

“Damn it, Felicity,” he grumbled into the cool air as he shuffled down his driveway. “Why did you leave?”

That was the big question. Oliver had a million questions, but that was the main one. Because despite all his uncertainties, he embraced one reality now, without doubt: he loved her. And if their conversation at dinner yesterday, and their lovemaking last night, and her letter this morning, had shown him anything, it was that she might love him, too.

“Why did you leave?” he asked again, his footsteps slowing as he approached his cabin. He assumed a snail’s pace, because he didn’t want to be alone inside those log walls. He didn’t want to be alone at all right now.

Which made the person who materialized before him a very welcome apparition.

Roy sat on the porch steps of the cabin, huddled up inside his red hoodie, with his food truck parked just a few feet away.

Oliver walked faster, so he could reach the young man. “Hey there, Roy.”

“Hey yourself,” he replied when Oliver came to sit beside him on the log staircase. “I hope you don’t mind me sitting here, waiting for you.”

Oliver rested his forearms onto his thighs. “Hell, no, I don’t mind you being here. Honestly, I’m extremely grateful to see you.”

“Yeah, I thought you might say something like that. It’s always tough when she leaves.”

Glancing over to his right, Oliver absorbed the gloominess of Roy’s features as he stared out into the surrounding trees.   “You’re missing Felicity, too, I take it?”

“I always miss her after she’s gone. It’s just that when she’s here, I feel like…like I have stability. When she’s here, I feel like I have a home.”

“Home,” Oliver considered, running the word repeatedly through his mind as he listened to the background music of the breeze smoothing through the evergreen branches. “I know exactly what you mean, Roy.”

The two men sat in silence for a while, and it was the most peaceful Oliver felt all day. He didn’t like the fact that Roy was in pain also, but at the same time he took solace knowing that the person beside him understood some of what he was going through. Taking a deep breath in, Oliver settled farther down onto the log step, working to clear his mind for these few moments. Then he raised his eyes up to the endless woods that his freebird loved so much. They were beautiful. They were so boundless and so deep and so beautiful, just like her.

“I didn’t know where to bring your breakfast tray,” Roy finally spoke, breaking the stretched silence between them. “I knew she’d left, but I also knew you weren’t here at your cabin, and I wasn’t sure what to do. But I wanted to be certain that you had something to eat, so I just decided to bring your lunch tray here a bit early and wait for you.”

Oliver couldn’t help smiling. “You’re a good man. Thanks for looking out for me.”

“Yeah, sure,” he replied, rubbing his hands together over and over.

“Is something on your mind?” Oliver asked as the boy stared at his fingers.

Roy huffed out a laugh. “Yeah, there is. But it’s kind of personal, and I know you’re a guest here and I’m just a truck driver…”

“You’re not just anything, Roy. You’re a friend. And I value what you think.”

His eyes shifted to Oliver’s for a moment before he nodded. “Thanks.”

“You don’t have to thank me; it’s the truth. So please tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Well, it’s just…” he started, squeezing his fingers as he inhaled. “I don’t know what happened between you and Felicity up here, and I’m not asking you to tell me. I’m actually trying really hard not to imagine it. But you should know that she’s been my friend for years…”

“For years?”

“Yeah. She was here the first day I started work. She was the first person at Blue to throw her arms around me and ask how I was doing after my parents died. She always looks out for me, always talks to me, always listens.”

“She is amazingly wonderful, isn’t she?”

“Yes, she is, and I’ve known her for what feels like forever, so I can honestly tell you that she’s looked happier in the past couple weeks than she ever has before, since the day I met her. And the only difference I can see is you. So, whatever you did to change things for her, I just want to tell you that I appreciate it. Because that woman deserves to be happy, Oliver. And I want to thank you for putting a smile on her face, even if it was only for these few days.”

Oliver blinked against the unexpected moisture brimming in his eyes. He stared at the side of Roy’s face, but he didn’t reply, because he was at a complete loss for words. All he could do was watch while the young man smiled softly to himself before standing.

“Well, that’s really all I had to say, so I’d best be going. I set your lunch on the kitchen counter inside. I hope you don’t mind me letting myself into your cabin, but I wasn’t sure if I’d get to see you and I didn’t want to leave the food out on the porch for too long.”

“Thank you,” Oliver replied when he found his voice. “Not just for lunch, but…for everything.”

“Sure.” Roy stepped off the porch and onto the gravel, moving toward the van. As he reached for the door handle, he turned back. “You know Oliver, you asked me once if romantic relationships ever worked out beyond these mountains, and I told you that they didn’t.”

“Yeah, Roy. I remember that pretty clearly.”

The boy nodded as he looked to the ground. “Well, maybe I was wrong,” he said, pulling his gaze back to Oliver’s. “I mean, I wouldn’t be upset at all if you proved me wrong.”

Oliver smiled with those words. Then he stilled and watched while Roy hopped up into his seat and drove the truck back up the gravel. When the truck disappeared from view, Oliver continued to sit in place. He missed having Roy here beside him. He missed talking to someone who knew his Felicity. He wanted to hear more about how she’d transformed into a happier person in the days she’d been with him.

Oliver may never have entered his lonely cabin again, if it weren’t for the angry grumblings of his empty stomach. But eventually, he forced himself to trudge up his stairs, and pass through the log door, and move to the counter to grab his tray, and then slump onto the couch to eat. The letter in his pocket crinkled as he sat, so he took it out and unfolded it while shoving bites of food into his mouth. Oliver didn’t really taste anything. He just concentrated on the words she’d left him with.

I’m amazed by the positive choices you made. I couldn’t be more proud of you. You deserve all the love in the world. You let me see the beauty and the light inside you. I am so grateful to you for allowing me to see. I needed you, Oliver. Every moment with you was wondrous and magical and perfect. You will never be far from my heart.

He read his favorite sentences over and over again, studying the strokes of her handwriting, imagining her face as she’d put the words to paper. And while his eyes absorbed the meaning inside the letter, and his mind replayed the words Roy had just said to him, Oliver became certain of an amazingly magnificent thing.

This woman loves me.

Felicity is in love with me.

Oliver smiled as he embraced that truth. But the smile fell before he even had the chance to appreciate its feel. Because she’d still left. Which meant that she didn’t know she loved him. Or that she knew, and it still didn’t overcome her reasons for leaving.

Oliver cringed at both thoughts. The first one, he hoped he could fix…if he went to find her, and they just spent some time together in the real world, then maybe she would realize how she felt about him. But if the second thought were true – and Felicity knew exactly how she felt, but still decided that it didn’t matter – then Oliver didn’t know how he could possibly fix that. Because now that he’d acknowledged his emotions and desires and needs, he couldn’t imagine any reason to stay away from her. So he couldn’t understand why she felt the need to stay away from him. Which brought him back to the same damn question.

Why did you leave, Felicity?

With his insides churning against his hastily eaten food, Oliver grabbed the letter and jumped up off the couch. Folding the paper back into a neat little rectangle, he shoved it into his pocket and gathered his empty food tray from the table. He walked the tray to the front door, and then stepped outside to set it down.

Another breeze swirled through the trees, feathering cool air across Oliver’s face as he straightened on the log porch. He inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with the crisp smell of pine. Noises rustled around him, and he glanced down to see red and green leaves twirl against his feet. Then Oliver looked back to the tree line, and the smile returned to his face. Because the woods called to him. Felicity’s woods called to him, and that was where he wanted to be.

Oliver took two steps forward before he realized he couldn’t actually go running off into the forest right this minute, because he had somewhere else to go. He was supposed to walk to Cabin 13, and attend his therapy session with Dr. Lance. But even though he knew he should keep up with his therapy, Oliver still couldn’t imagine talking to the stern physician today, since he couldn’t discuss his feelings for a fellow patient with the Medical Director of Blissful Blue. Oliver also knew he couldn’t hide the turmoil he was in right now, and didn’t want to lie to the doctor who’d done nothing but help him. So that only left one option.

Turning on his heels, Oliver strode back into his cabin. He left the door open, because he planned to go right back outside. Moving to the landline phone, he picked up the receiver and dialed Cabin 13, immediately recognizing the cheery voice on the other side.

“Blissful Blue, this is Betsy. How may I help you?”

“Hey, Betsy, it’s Oliver.”

“Oh, hello, dear! How are you?”

“I’m…here. But I won’t be there. Today, I mean. I need to cancel my appointment with Dr. Lance.”

Betsy exhaled in his ear. “But you’re supposed to be here in just a few minutes, Oliver. This is the third day in a row you’ve cancelled therapy, and I’m starting to worry about you. Do you need help? I can send Pete over to your cabin to check on you.”

“No, it’s…I appreciate your concern, but I just need some time to think.”

“Well, I understand that. But I also want to make sure you’re getting all the help you need. Because that’s what we’re here for, you know; that’s the whole purpose of Blissful Blue.”

“I know that, Betsy. Everyone here is pretty damn selfless, and I appreciate everything you do. And I will get more therapy, I promise. Just not today.”

“So, tomorrow then?”

He chuckled at her kind but firm persistence. “Okay, yes. Tomorrow.”

“You’ll be here to see Dr. Lance tomorrow? You swear?”

“I swear. I’ll be there tomorrow.”

“I’m putting you down for an 8 a.m. appointment – bright and early.”

“That’s fine. I’ll be there first thing. Scout’s honor.”

“Were you ever a Scout, Oliver?”

“Well, not technically. But I’d like to think I have an honorary designation at this point.”

“Alright, then, dear. I will take you on your Scout’s honor, and see you tomorrow.”

Oliver smiled at the pride and acceptance in Betsy’s voice, and figured he might still get a Christmas gift this year, if Mrs. Claus had anything to do with it. “See you tomorrow, Betsy.”

“Until then, Oliver.”

“Until then.”

He hung up the phone. And then he turned and rushed through the open door, barely getting it shut before he bounded off the stairs toward the woods behind his cabin. The cool breeze brushed against his skin as he crossed over the tree line and into the welcoming evergreens.

Oliver walked through the forest for hours.

Not because he was lost. On the contrary, he knew exactly where he was.

He thought a lot as he wandered. He thought about Tommy, who didn’t have a mother growing up, and sought out refuge in the arms of woman after woman. He thought about Roy, who’d lost both his parents in a car accident, and yet chose to drive a truck as his occupation. And he thought about his own parents, who’d given him unquestioning, boundless, undeniable love from the moment he’d been born. That was the kind of love Oliver was used to. It was the kind of love he wanted to give.

He knew he’d never been able to give love the way he really wanted to. Not since that one fateful night in high school, so long ago. He’d held onto so much guilt over what happened with Carrie, and had tried to control everyone and everything around him because of that guilt. Yet it was only now, in these past weeks, that he’d come to realize the truth: he was the person preventing his own happiness.

Felicity had forced him to accept that truth. To stare it down, and take it in, and accept it. She’d shown him what he needed to be happy. She’d told him that he deserved happiness, and all the love in the world. And all Oliver wanted now was to give his love – the way he wanted to give it, the way he believed he could give it – to her.  

Not that the thought wasn’t scary. It was terrifying, honestly, to even consider. The emotions themselves didn’t frighten him; knowing that he loved her actually soothed him in a way he hadn’t thought possible. But to chase her down – to find her against her will and then just shout out that he loved her beyond reason – sounded quite unreasonable. He wanted to do it, but at the same time it meant taking the ultimate leap of faith. It meant putting himself out there in a way he’d never done before. It meant throwing away every logical thought, and giving up every bit of control, and putting his life in her hands.

All of that petrified him…and yet, as Oliver walked through her woods now, he still wanted to do it. He wanted to take that risk, and step out onto that high wire, and trust that she would be there to catch him. He would just feel so much better about taking that risk if he knew for sure why she’d left.

Felicity’s red maple tree showed up then, right in front of him. Oliver paused when he saw it, and took a moment to stare at the bright rose and dark crimson leaves interspersed among the branches. Memories of standing here with her, of holding her as she marveled at the tree’s beauty, accosted him and lit his skin on fire. Because he could still feel her body trembling against his as she looked at this tree, and he hated the fact that he’d never discovered what took the color red away from her.

Forcing himself to push past the maple and farther into the woods, Oliver couldn’t help wishing that, at some point during their time together here, Felicity had asked him for his help. He wished she’d confided in him, and told him what she’d needed to feel better, to feel whole. He wished she’d relied on him the way he’d relied on her. But those were all just foolhardy dreams, because Oliver knew, deep down, that they would never have come true.

Felicity would never have asked him for what she needed. She may have embraced being here at Blue, and encouraged him to go to therapy, but Oliver wasn’t sure if she’d ever actually attended therapy herself. All he did know was that she’d spent a great deal time alone and wandering in the woods, and he wondered now if she’d ever really asked anyone for help.

She probably hadn’t. After all, she was brilliant, and probably believed she could do everything on her own. Because that’s what she’d been doing. Felicity had told him just last night that she’d been living her life entirely alone. Since her father passed, and she’d broken off her engagement, and her mother moved away, she’d been by herself. Oliver already knew that loneliness was the reason Frolicking Freebird Felicity had craved his touch so desperately. But now he understood that it was also the reason why Solemnly Sedate Felicity insisted on doing everything on her own. Because she was an intuitive, resourceful genius, and she would figure out a way to exist, in spite of her own weaknesses and needs. She was tougher than she looked, and she would survive.

Oliver came to a stop then.

He stopped because he’d reached his destination. He’d found her oak tree, the one she’d always brought him to. Oliver recognized it so easily, with all its cracks and crevices in the bark. Even the ground looked familiar: the dirt floor he’d laid on with her, time and time again.

He sat on that ground now, easing down in front of the oak’s thick trunk, as he looked up to its broad, towering branches. Oliver wondered if he might catch sight of his forest fairy’s yellow-crowned purple fantini. He wished he could. He wished he could run to Felicity right now, and tell her that the bird wasn’t just in her imagination. And then, in his next breath, he would tell her that she didn’t have to just survive on her own. He would tell her that she could live, truly live, with him.

Oliver sucked in a deep breath, and then released it slowly, as he stared up at the branches of the enormous tree. He watched the sunlight play off the leaves, each one a tiny little world of its own. He watched the gold and silver sparkle all the way down to where he sat, gazing up at the bright blue sky above him.

It was enormous, this world. As enormous as it had ever been. But just now, it didn’t scare him anymore. Just now, Oliver felt at peace in these woods.

The peace settled into his bones, and he lay back on the earth to look higher into the sky. A smile found it’s way to his lips, and then he whispered, “Carrie? Can you hear me?”

The ache Oliver had carried for so long released the moment he said her name, lifting the steel weight that had lay against his chest for so many years.

“I hope you can hear me,” he continued, his voice shaky but clear. “I know I’ve never spoken to you before, not even when you were here. But I hope you’ll listen to me now, because I’ve wanted to talk to you for so long.”

Oliver’s smile fell as he stared into the silver and gold. “I’m sorry,” he said, focusing on the leaves fanning delicately in the breeze. “I’m sorry that I failed you. If I’d known you…if I’d had the chance…I would like to think that I could have changed something for you. I would like to think that I could have shown you all the happiness life has to offer. I would like to think that I could have helped you understand that there was an entire world waiting for you.”

He inhaled deeply, feeling his heart beat soundly against his ribcage as he considered his next words to her. “I don’t know if you’ve been watching me, Carrie. But if you have, then you’ll know that I tried to make my life perfect. I tried to control everything, and make it all perfect, because I thought that would honor your memory. But I realize now that I failed you. I failed us both, because that never should have been my goal. My goal should have been to enjoy my life, to enjoy a good life. I should have embraced every little piece of it – every breath and every emotion, all the laughter and the joy, and even the pain. But instead, I shut all that down and I strove for perfection, and somewhere along the way I lost my appreciation for what makes life so beautiful and so magical.”

Oliver closed his eyes, watching the colors the sunlight created behind his eyelids and hearing the whisper of the breeze running through the trees. “I’ve made so many mistakes, Carrie,” he breathed. “But I’m going to fix them now. I’m going to enjoy this life. I’m going to honor your memory by feeling, by experiencing, by taking chances and loving the chaos they create. It won’t always be easy for me – and I know I can’t change overnight – but I understand now what I need to do.”

Taking a deep breath in, Oliver settled farther into the earth beneath him. “I want you to know that I will never forget you. I will never forget the responsibility you gave me to keep your dreams and your spirit alive. But now, I’m going to take that responsibility into my heart in a new way, and I’m going to allow myself the happiness I believe you would want for me.

“I will climb mountains, and I will play in the forest, and I will love with all of my heart. I promise you. And I hope, somewhere, that you are smiling, Carrie. I hope you are.”

Oliver exhaled slowly. Then he opened his eyes to see the beautiful simplicity of each leaf above his head. And as the cool air brushed over his skin in a soft and gentle caress, he knew Carrie had heard him.

… 

Oliver never ran so fast in his life. Through bramble and underbrush, and around rocks and branches, he focused solely on getting out of the woods. Although he did take the time to leap over a fallen log or two, just to see if he could. He laughed when he landed, unharmed, on the other side.

By the time he emerged from the trees at the back of his cabin, night had fallen. Oliver cursed beneath his breath, because he knew he still had to pack, and to say goodbye to his friends, and as much as he wanted to jump in his car right now and haul ass down this mountain to get to Felicity, he knew he couldn’t leave tonight. Especially since he’d promised Betsy that he would attend therapy in the morning.

As he wound his way from the forest to his porch, Oliver made a mental list of the things he needed to accomplish before he could leave Blue: he needed to pack, to clean up, to have one last session with Dr. Lance, and to go tell Pete that he was checking out early and thank him for all his help. Taking the porch steps two at a time, Oliver entered his cabin with fervor and determination, and immediately saw his dinner tray waiting for him on the kitchen counter – which made him smile, because he knew Roy always took good care of him. And that reminded Oliver of one more thing he had to do before he left.

Stepping down the hall and into his bedroom, he opened the safe in his closet and pulled out his wallet and checkbook. He smiled as he looked at his checkbook, because he remembered bringing it here in case this weird psychiatric retreat didn’t have credit card machines. He hated how close-minded he’d been about this place back then, but he did have to admit that he was happy he’d brought this back-up plan along.

Oliver grabbed the Blissful Blue pen off of his bed stand and wrote out one check. He didn’t fill in a full name, because he didn’t know it entirely, but in the memo section he wrote the address for Queen Consolidated. Then he tore out the check, and set it on his dresser, and smiled.

Next, Oliver grabbed his suitcase. He threw his clothes in hastily, emptying out the drawers he’d organized so neatly two weeks ago. He thought about gathering his toiletries from the bathroom now but decided to wait until morning, because he did intend to take a shower before he left, even though he couldn’t bear to think of wasting any more time in getting to her.

After tidying up the rest of the cabin, Oliver took his dinner tray to the couch and ate. Roy had brought him steak tonight, and it was good. Not as good as it would have been with Felicity’s backside for a plate, but it was well cooked and quite delicious. Oliver couldn’t help remembering how carefully his forest fairy had cut up the last steak he’d eaten, and how fiery she’d looked as she demanded, in her loud voice, that he eat it off of her. Oliver smiled wildly with that image now, because he knew that tomorrow he would once again get to see the fire in her eyes and hear the resonance of her loud voice. He might even get to see her stomp her foot.

Dear Lord, Felicity is going to be so pissed when I show up on her doorstep.

She was going to be pissed that he’d left Blue early. She was going to pissed that he hadn’t finished his therapy. She was going to be pissed that he’d tracked her down after they’d said goodbye. And she was going to be pissed that he was kissing her senseless…at least at first.

But all of that was going to have to be okay somehow, because he was coming after her no matter what, and they would just have to work through all of her anger issues together.

Oliver was still smiling when he finally finished his meal and set it back on the porch. It wasn’t terribly late, but he decided to go to bed anyway, so he could have a good night’s sleep before his adventure tomorrow. He actually slept quite well, because nothing weighed him down. Because he knew what he wanted out of life, and he knew who he wanted to spend it with, and he didn’t have any doubts.

Oliver woke before the birds even had a chance to start chirping. He showered and dressed and finished packing up his things. Then he took his computer briefcase and luggage out to his Porsche and threw them into the trunk.

As he turned to go back to the cabin, Oliver heard tires coming down the driveway. He smiled while he watched Roy approach.

“Morning, Oliver,” the boy offered, jumping out of his seat to make his way around to the back of the truck.

“Morning, Roy.”

“You’re up early,” he mentioned while bringing Oliver his food.

Oliver took the tray and nodded. “I am up early. I’m actually leaving today.”

Roy’s brow rose. “Leaving? Don’t you have until the end of the week?”

“I do. But I’ve decided to head out early. I’d like to give you something first, though. Can you wait here for a minute?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Oliver walked back into the cabin, set the tray down on the table, and then grabbed the check he’d written. He strode out of the front door with a smile on his face, bouncing down the stairs toward the young man. “I need you to take this,” he explained as he placed the check into Roy’s hand.

“Why are you giving me a check?” Roy questioned before glancing down at the amount. “Holy fuck, Oliver! Why are you giving me a check for fifty thousand dollars?”

“Because you need to finish school, Roy, and you can’t do it up here on this mountain. I know this has been a refuge for you, and I know you needed to be here for a time, and I respect that you knew enough to come here to get help. But I think you’re okay now. And I know it’s not up to me to make that decision, but I want you to know that I believe you’re okay now, and I believe that you can leave here and go back to the real world and live your life again.”

Roy’s head shook as he held onto the check.

Oliver glanced down at the young man’s trembling fingers before looking back to his eyes. “This isn’t charity, Roy. It’s an investment. When you’re done with school, I want you to consider coming to work for me at Queen Consolidated. The address is on the check. I know good workers when I see them, and I wouldn’t be a very intelligent businessman if I didn’t try to get them to come work for me. So, will you take the money?”

“I…I don’t know what to say.”

“Say you’ll let me invest in you. And then write your name on that check and cash it. And then go back to school, and come see me when you’re done.”

Roy didn’t say anything for a long minute. But a tear fell out of one of his eyes, and then he nodded. “I will. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Promise you’ll consider coming to work for me?”

“Yes, sir.”

Oliver,” he corrected with a grin. “I’ll always be Oliver to you.”

Roy returned the smile, and then swiped the wetness from his cheek, as he turned back to the truck. He stepped up into the driver’s seat, and started the engine, and then rolled down the window and stuck his head out to meet Oliver’s gaze once again. “Hey, Oliver?”

“Yeah, Roy?”

“You’re going after her, right? I mean, you are going to find Felicity, aren’t you?”

Oliver looked the boy directly in the eyes. “Yes. I’m going to find her.”

Roy nodded. “Good.”

Oliver smiled again as he watched the young man, and hopefully his future employee, drive back down the gravel. Oliver glanced at his watch: 7:30. Stepping back into his cabin, he spent his last few moments eating the breakfast Roy had brought him. Then he walked back outside, and locked the door behind him. Oliver stood on the porch for just one more minute, looking out into the evergreens and filling his lungs with a deep breath of fresh air. Then he walked to his car and got inside.

The hobbled Porsche did just fine as Oliver made his way up the road toward Cabin 13. He had faith that his car would get him all the way back home, and once he arrived in Starling, his first stop would be Queen Consolidated. Not because he was going back to work, but because today was Monday, which meant Curtis would be working in IT, which meant the computer guru could track down Felicity’s address in the blink of an eye. Oliver wasn’t exactly sure what he would say to Curtis in order to avert the suspicion that he was stalking some poor woman, but then again, Oliver knew that he was stalking Felicity – in what he thought of as a pleasant and loving way. Which was probably what most stalkers thought.

“Shit, this is going to be a rough day,” he mumbled to himself as he pulled into the parking lot of Cabin 13. It was going to be a hell of a day, but Oliver would forge through, because he knew she was worth it. And because he knew she would give him a piece of her mind for coming after her, and honestly, a piece of her mind was exactly what he wanted.

“Oliver!” a woman’s voice called to him when he stepped out of his car.

Glancing up to the front door, he smiled up at Mrs. Claus. “Hey, Betsy. I promised I would be here.”

“You did, you did,” she agreed as she held her arm out to him. “Thank you for keeping your promise.”

“Of course,” he said, taking her hand. He glanced to the side of her face as she led him into the building and then through the hallway toward Dr. Lance’s office. “I appreciate how supportive you always are, Betsy.”

“Well, we always try to be supportive, dear. You know you can come here anytime.”

“I do know that, but…I won’t be coming back anymore. At least, not on this visit.”

Betsy’s footsteps halted in front of Lance’s door. “What are you talking about?”

Oliver looked down to her pale eyes. “I’m leaving Blue after my appointment today.”

“But, Oliver…”

He rested his other hand over hers. “I need you to know that I’m okay. I really am. And I’m not running away from anything. I’m actually running toward something. Something I’ve been looking for all my life. And I’m going to be fine. I’m going to be better than fine. So just please know that. And please know how grateful I am for all your help.”

It took a few moments, but Betsy finally smiled as she looked up to his face. “Well, I’m sad to watch you leave so soon, but I can see how sure you are, when I look into your eyes. So I’m glad for you. And I wish you the best of luck.”

“Thank you, Betsy.”

She squeezed his hand before turning away and walking back down the hall. Oliver watched her long red skirt shuffle around her black boots before he looked back to the door in front of him. He knocked, and then waited for the deep voice to say, “Come in.”

Quentin Lance sat behind his stately desk, resting deep inside his leather chair as he looked up to Oliver’s eyes. “It’s good to see you, Oliver. After you cancelled your last three appointments, I’d started to fear that I wouldn’t have the pleasure again.”

“I’m sorry about cancelling.”

“It’s no problem; I’m just glad you’re back. Would you like to have a seat?”

“Sure,” Oliver agreed, settling into the chair opposite the good doctor. “Although I have to tell you that I’m not here for a full session. I actually need to leave as soon as possible.”

“Leave? To go where?”

“Back home.”

Quentin’s brow furrowed while he stared across the desktop. “You’re going home today?”

“Yes. I’m actually just here to say goodbye. And to say thank you for all your help.”

“Well, you’re welcome, of course, Oliver. But you have almost a full week left here at Blue, and I think it would be worthwhile for you to stay, to continue therapy.”

“I understand, Doctor. But I just have things to tend to at home, and they’re things that can’t wait, as far as I’m concerned.”

Lance observed him for a long, loaded minute before shaking his head. “Well, honestly, I’m sorry to hear that. I think you’ve come a long way in just a few sessions, but I don’t think you’re done.”

Oliver smiled to himself, because he knew Felicity would tell him the same thing. “You’re right; I’m not done. I need to keep improving, and I realize that. And I promise that I fully intend to continue therapy when I get back to Starling. My friend John can help me.”

Quentin frowned. “You mean Dr. John Diggle.”

“Yeah, my best friend. I’ve told you about him before.”

“I know you have. And I know John is an excellent physician; he’s actually one of the traveling doctors who comes to Blue from time to time.”

“Yeah, he’s the person who got me to come here.”

“And that’s wonderful, Oliver, but I don’t believe it’s a good idea to continue therapy with someone you’re that close to. I think you should see someone else.”

“Oh,” Oliver considered, knowing the words made perfect sense the moment he heard them. “You’re right, of course; I’ll have to find another therapist when I get home.”

“I could give you a recommendation, if you like,” Lance offered. “It just so happens that one of our other visiting psychiatrists here at Blue actually lives in Starling, too, and she’s an excellent therapist.”

“Well then, that sounds perfect. What’s her name?”

“Dr. Smoak.”

Oliver froze in place, staring at the man before him as all the air sucked out of the room. “I’m…I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“Her name is Felicity Smoak. Dr. Felicity Smoak.”

...

A/N:  So...I do believe many of you saw that coming :)  I would love to hear what you think, as always!  Also, I apologize for Felicity not being physically in this chapter; I do promise that she will be in the next one.  And please come say "hi" to me on Tumblr anytime - I'm TinaDay3W on there, too.  :) Tina

Up next...Chapter 13:  Oliver

Chapter Text

Oliver balled his fists as he sat in Dr. Lance’s office, staring at the man across the desk. The words still hung in the air, attached to the doctor’s lips in a little cartoon balloon: Her name is Felicity Smoak. Dr. Felicity Smoak.

“I’m sorry, it’s…did you just…could you repeat that one more time?”

Lance’s brow rose. “Felicity Smoak. She’s one of the visiting physicians who travel to Blue to treat patients. She’s actually a colleague of your friend, John. They both work in Starling, although not in the same practice.”

“Felicity is John’s colleague.”

“Yes. Occasionally, they both work here at the same time.”

Oliver couldn’t feel his fingers. “Felicity and John work here together.”

Quentin tilted his head, regarding Oliver from across the desk. “That’s right.”

“And she’s a doctor,” Oliver continued, struggling to make the word stick in his brain.

“Yes, she’s a doctor,” Lance verified, leaning forward in his chair and pinning Oliver’s eyes. “Have you already met Dr. Smoak?”

Oliver straightened, bracing his spine against the back of his chair the moment he witnessed the doctor’s intense stare. Oliver knew that look. It was the same one he used to get from his football coach in high school, when he’d been out partying the night before and came to morning practice bleary-eyed and unprepared. Oliver wasn’t exactly sure what was happening right at this moment, but he did know that the look in Lance’s eyes wasn’t a good one.

Forcing himself to release his balled-up hands, Oliver took a deep breath and fixed the doctor’s severe gaze with his own. “Yes, I’ve met Felicity. She lives in Starling City.”

“So you met her in Starling?”

“I’ve met her,” he verified, trying to keep to the truth, although not the entire truth, as he watched Lance’s eagle eyes regarding him.

The doctor didn’t say anything for a long moment while he studied Oliver from across the wood desktop. Then he glanced down to Oliver’s hands, and back to his eyes, before finally resettling into his chair. “Well, if you already know Dr. Smoak, I suppose you shouldn’t continue your therapy at home with her, either. We’ll have to find another psychiatrist for you to see.”

“Yes, that’s…I’ll do that,” Oliver replied, standing swiftly from his seat. “I’ll talk to John when I get home and I’ll find someone to see. But right now, I really need to go.”

Lance stood also, and held his hand out. “I’m sorry to see you leave so soon.”

Oliver shook the proffered hand briefly before turning toward the door. “Thank you again for all your help, Dr. Lance.”

“Of course.”

Oliver couldn’t get out of that office fast enough. He didn’t look around him as he hurried down the hallway and out the front door of Cabin 13. He just needed to get outside. He just needed air.

A cool breeze hit his face the moment he stepped onto the porch, and Oliver struggled to take it into his lungs. He moved toward his Porsche, stepping onto the gravel driveway and listening to the tiny rocks crunch beneath his shoes. And then he paced, back and forth, in front of his car door.

“My God, she’s a doctor,” he mumbled beneath his breath. “Felicity is a doctor here.”

It was all suddenly so obvious: the way she spoke to him, the way she looked inside him, the way she opened him up. She was a doctor here, and he was a patient. Except…was she really a doctor when she was with him? Felicity always told him she was on vacation at Blue. Was that true? It felt true. It always felt true, because Felicity had been vulnerable with him. So vulnerable. And Oliver didn’t think a doctor would treat a patient the way she treated him. God, at least he hoped a doctor wouldn’t do that. Unless maybe they were a sex therapist.

Oliver’s footsteps ceased immediately and he sucked in a deep breath. “Good Lord, is she a sex therapist?”

The moment he asked himself the question, Oliver replied with a huffed laugh. “No,” he insisted, because he knew his Felicity. The woman he’d been with these past weeks was a sexual innocent. She’d been exploring her own needs and desires while she was with him. She was not a sex professional, by any means. And he loved that about her.

But, if she wasn’t a sex therapist, then what the hell happened between the two of them?

“Damn it, damn it, damn it,” he grumbled, feeling like a fool for not figuring out the truth about her. He should have seen it. He should have known. But it honestly never even crossed his mind that she could be a doctor here.

Oliver ran both hands through his hair, exhaling harshly while his mind burned and his stomach twisted. He needed to talk to someone about her. Someone who knew her. Someone who knew them both.

Roy.

Roy knew what had happened between them up here on this mountain. And Roy knew Felicity. He’d known her for years.

“Well, shit,” Oliver spit out. “Roy has known her for years. Which means he knew she was a doctor, and he never told me the truth, either. Goddamn it! Does everyone know she’s a doctor except me?”

Yes.

That was the answer to that question. Everyone knew but him, and Oliver honestly didn’t understand how Felicity had managed to keep it a secret the entire time, but she had. She’d lied to him from the moment she met him. From the very first moment, right up until the last.

The tender ache in Oliver’s chest hardened then, stiffening his muscles and leveling his thoughts. He’d been too stunned to be angry before, but now he felt it: the surge of heat in his veins, the raw pain of betrayal building in his bones. Felicity never told him the truth. She’d had so many opportunities…so many. But she’d never told him the truth. And then she just left.

Oliver needed the truth now. He needed someone to tell it to him straight. And he could only think of one person who would do that.

Jamming the key into his car door, Oliver jumped into his driver’s seat, started up the Porsche, and peeled out of Cabin 13’s driveway. The trip to Cabin 11 was quick, and Oliver made it down the gravel path to Tommy’s porch in the blink of an eye. He leapt out of the car and onto the wood staircase in an instant, prepared to slam his fist into the log door until his friend answered.

But then he stopped. Oliver paused before Tommy’s door and stilled, working to take a breath. Because something was wrong here. Something was wrong about all of this. Oliver knew it the moment Lance stared him down across his desk.

Oliver remembered, just now, the day he’d watched Tommy leave Felicity’s driveway. He’d been so upset to see another man coming from her cabin, and Oliver went to her at that moment, full of possessive jealousy. But Felicity simply explained to him that Tommy had only needed a friendly ear. And she also said Tommy shouldn’t have been there. She said Tommy wasn’t supposed to see her. Which didn’t make any sense, if Felicity was a doctor and Tommy was a patient. She was supposed to see patients, right? Wasn’t that what doctors did?

Oliver’s brow furrowed as he stared at the logs in front of him, trying to reconcile one of the million questions running around in his brain. He didn’t know much of anything at the moment, but he did know – even with as angry as he was at her – that he didn’t want to hurt her. Because she’d helped him. Despite all her lies, Felicity had helped him, and he didn’t want to repay her by creating more problems in her life.

So Oliver remained standing on Tommy’s porch, sucking in big, calming breaths, trying to mask his frustration and anger as best he could. He stayed there for several more minutes, until he thought he might be able to have a rational conversation with another human being without turning into The Hulk. Then he raised his hand to knock once. Or twice.

Fumbling sounds originated from inside the cabin before the door finally cracked. “Oliver?” Tommy questioned, peeling his eyes open while straightening his shirt.

“Did I wake you?”

“Maybe a little.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry it’s so early. I just…I really need to talk.”

“Oh, yeah, sure. Come on in.”

Oliver stepped over the threshold as soon as his friend stepped back. He worked not to trample on any of the debris littered about the floor while Tommy closed the door behind him. Settling himself purposefully into the small cleared spot on the couch that he’d occupied yesterday, Oliver waited for Tommy to slump into the cushion of the chair across from him.

“So, Oliver, not that I’m not happy to see you,” Tommy offered as he swiped his hands across his eyes, “but I have to admit, there was a part of me that hoped you wouldn’t be here this morning. I hoped you would have taken my advice, and decided to chase after your lady love.”

“I listened to your advice, Tommy. I’ve thought about it constantly; I swear I have. I just…” His words trailed off as he shook his head. “I actually came here today because I need to ask you a few things about one of the doctors who works up here.”

“Yeah? Which one?”

“Dr. Felicity Smoak.”

Tommy’s brow rose. “How do you know about her?”

“Well, I just…I had a therapy session with Dr. Lance this morning, and I told him that I plan to head back to Starling City today. Lance recommended Dr. Smoak as a physician I could continue my therapy with at home.”

A grin lit Tommy’s face. “So you are leaving today?”

“That was the plan.”

His smile fell. “You mean it’s not the plan anymore?”

Oliver grimaced. “I don’t know. It’s just…Lance thinks I should keep up with my therapy when I get back, so I need some information on Dr. Smoak before I go.”

“Well, yeah, keeping up with therapy is a good idea, isn’t it? Therapy is always a good idea. And Dr. Smoak is the best. A real professional.”

“A real professional? So I take it you’ve been treated by her before?”

“Oh, yes, whenever I get the chance,” Tommy confirmed, settling farther back into the seat cushions. “Unfortunately, I live in New York and she lives in Starling, so I can’t see her regularly. But I do go to her whenever I come to Blissful Blue; I’ve always enjoyed sessions with her. I remember when she first started working here, right out of her doctor-residency-thing. She was a live-in physician at Blue for almost a year before she moved away to do private practice. It didn’t take her long to build up a following, even as young as she was. Dr. Smoak has this uncanny ability to see through bullshit – to see people for who they really are.”

Oliver wanted to laugh out loud with that statement. But he held it in, trying not to reveal any connection to her. Because he just didn’t know how to handle all of this yet.

“So now I actually schedule my visits to coincide with hers whenever possible,” Tommy added. “Although I like to stay up here a bit longer than the standard three weeks, for extra relaxation time. And, you know, extra time with the ladies.”

Oliver watched Tommy waggle his eyebrows, and attempted to return his friend’s smile. “Just out of curiosity, Tommy, why do you schedule your visits to coincide with hers?”

“Because Dr. Smoak specializes in addictive personalities. Of course, she can handle anything, but addiction is her focus field. So I fit right into her wheelhouse, so to speak.”

“Then I guess you saw her while she was here this time? As I understand it, she’s been at Blue for the past three weeks.”

Tommy’s mouth pulled down at the edges. “No, I didn’t get to see her. I mean, I did that first week, but everything changed after the lecture.”

“What lecture?”

“Do you remember when I saw you at the gym for the first time, Oliver? You asked me what I’d found that was missing from my life, and I told you I’d found appreciation?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Well, that came from her lecture. All the patients here had gathered to hear Dr. Smoak speak at the end of her first week, and she gave an amazing talk about appreciating the beauty of life around us – about appreciating all the little things. It was such a wonderful and inspiring speech, and we were all so excited by it, but then at the end of the lecture she announced that she wasn’t going to see any more patients while she was up here this visit.”

Oliver’s heart stopped. “Why not?”

“Because she was taking a vacation.”

“A vacation?”

“Yeah. Strangest thing, really. I’ve never known a doctor to take a vacation here, among the patients. But she let us know, as soon as she finished her talk, that she wouldn’t be seeing any of us until the next time she came back to Blue. Dr. Lance was there, too – at her lecture. He confirmed that no one would be able to have any sessions with her for the remainder of the time she was here.”

All the air rushed from Oliver’s lungs. “So she’s been on vacation for the past two weeks.”

Tommy nodded. “It really pissed me off, if I’m being honest. I mean, when you travel all this way to see a specific doctor, you should be able to see them.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s…yeah.”

“But I can see her point of view, I suppose. Everyone needs a vacation, right? Although I never really thought of her as needing one.”

“Why wouldn’t you think she needed one?”

“Because she’s so straight-laced and organized. She’s just one of those people who obviously has her life in perfect order, you know? I guess that’s why patients like me flock to her. We all have these messy, needy, addictive personalities, and she’s this pillar of order and professionalism. Honestly, I’ve always aspired to be just like her.”

Oliver’s brow furrowed as he stared the words out of Tommy’s mouth. Straight-laced and organized? A life in perfect order? The pillar of order and professionalism? No. No. That wasn’t his freebird.

“I was actually really surprised to hear Dr. Smoak give a lecture on appreciating life,” Tommy continued, cutting into Oliver’s muddled thoughts. “That speech just wasn’t what I would expect from her. She’s always been a positive person, but normally she’s so reserved.”

“Reserved?”

“Yeah. I’d even go so far as to call her anal-retentive. I mean, you should have seen her cutting up her steak.”

“What are you talking about?”

Tommy chuckled. “Oh, it was really something. I went to see her about a week ago, even though I wasn’t supposed to. Do you remember how messed up I was after Helena left?”

“I do remember.”

“Yeah, well, I really needed someone to talk to. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was nice talking to you. But I needed a professional to speak to, so I went to Dr. Smoak’s cabin, because I’d figured out which one was hers, by process of elimination. It felt kind of naughty, honestly – going to see her when I knew I wasn’t supposed to. I liked it.”

Oliver stiffened with Tommy’s insinuation. “And what happened when you arrived?”

“Oh, she told me I wasn’t supposed to be there. She said it would be unethical for her to treat me while she was on vacation. But I begged her. I begged her to listen to me. So she did. She gave me a few minutes of her time, just to get the load off of my back, and I appreciated her doing it. But the entire time I spoke to her, she was busily cutting up this filet mignon into teeny, tiny pieces. That steak looked so delicious, it had my mouth watering. I would have just dug in, but she was meticulously dissecting it, pulling out only the best morsels and putting them on another plate. So weird. I’ve never met anyone that anal before.”

Oliver held his breath as he listened, remembering how fantastic that steak tasted when he licked it off of her bare backside. “So Dr. Smoak listened to you, and helped you, even though she wasn’t supposed to?”

“Yeah. She couldn’t resist, of course; she has that need to help people. It’s a marvelous thing – how some doctors have that urge, no matter what. She listened to me go on and on about Helena, and she gave me her sound advice, as always. Of course, I don’t ever take that advice. Maybe if I saw her all the time, even when I’m not here, I’d learn to fix myself. But my therapist back home isn’t all that good. Great legs, though.”

“Wait…who?”

“Who what?”

“Who has great legs?”

“Oh. My therapist back home. She’s hot. Don’t get me wrong, Dr. Smoak has awesome legs herself; it’s just too bad they’re connected to such a frigid body, if you know what I mean.”

Oliver fisted his hands against his thighs. “Frigid body?”

“Yeah, man,” Tommy acknowledged with a solemn nod. “Believe me, I’ve tried to unfreeze that ice. But it’s like she never even notices me flirting with her.”

“You…flirt with her?” Oliver growled, ignoring the pain of his own fingernails digging into his palms.

“Well, sure. I’ve tried to come on to her plenty of times.”

Oliver’s entire body bristled, his shoulders bunching up to his ears. He couldn’t stand the thought of Tommy touching her. He couldn’t stand the thought of any man touching her. Ever.

“I used to tell her all about my sexual encounters with other women,” Tommy continued, paying no attention to the rage swelling inside the man on the couch. “I would go into a lot of detail, to see if I could get a reaction out of her. I just wanted to see her eyes widen, or a blush on her cheeks – anything. But she never changed her expression, not once, while I confessed my sins. And I know she treats a lot of sex addicts, so I know she hears crap like that all the time, but I really thought my very intimate descriptions would be enough to rattle her.”

Oliver nearly bit through his tongue.

Tommy sighed. “But there was nothing. No reaction from her whatsoever. Hell, you think Isabel is an ice queen? She’s got nothing on that cold-ass doctor. I honestly don’t know if Dr. Smoak has ever even been with a man. I think what she really needs is a good lay…”

“Damn it, Tommy, STOP! Stop fucking talking about her like that or I swear to God I will beat the living shit out of you!”

Tommy’s mouth fell open. His brow shot into his hairline as he straightened in his seat. “Oh…kay,” he offered, holding his hands up in surrender.

Oliver attempted to reign himself in. “I’m…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have threatened you. I just…I can’t even…”

Tommy stared at him, his eyes widening farther and farther while the silence stretched out between them. And then he made a choking sound in the back of his throat, just before he croaked out, “Oh. My. God. It’s her, isn’t it? The woman you’re in love with. It’s Dr. Smoak. Isn’t it?”

Oliver shifted against the couch cushions before looking Tommy in the eye. “Yeah, it’s her. It’s Felicity.”

“She’s the woman you’ve been with for the past two weeks?”

“Yes.”

Tommy’s head shook. Almost imperceptibly at first. But then harder and harder. “Fuck me. That’s…that’s not good, Oliver. That’s actually really, really bad. Shit. Oh, shit. Please tell me you didn’t say anything to him.”

“Who?”

“Lance!” Tommy stood from his chair to pace the cluttered floor. “Holy fuck, please tell me you didn’t say anything to Lance about it! I can’t lose her, Oliver! None of us can!”

“What – what are you saying? Are you saying Lance would fire her if he knew?”

Tommy stopped walking to stare down at him. “You don’t understand. I don’t think he would just fire her. I think he would bring her up on medical malpractice charges, and I think he would make sure she never worked as a physician again, anywhere. And I can’t even begin tell you how many people that would hurt. We rely on her, man. We all rely on her.”

Oliver’s stomach sank as he watched the panic move across Tommy’s face. He remembered, so clearly, the day Roy hugged Felicity right in front of him, crying in her arms. “I didn’t say anything to Lance. I don’t want to hurt her. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Oh, thank God,” Tommy breathed, collapsing back into his chair. “But I just don’t…I don’t understand how it happened. I know you haven’t been in therapy before, Oliver, but sexual relationships between doctors and patients are so forbidden, it’s beyond words. It’s what always made it so fun for me to try to rattle her, because deep down I knew she’d never accept my advances. And now I just…I can’t comprehend what would make her cross that line. The Dr. Smoak I know would never break the rules like that. She would never do anything to jeopardize her job, or her patients. She…”

“I wasn’t her patient, Tommy! She was on vacation!” Oliver yelled, finding it difficult to control anything, including the volume of his voice. He squeezed his fingernails harder into his palms as he attempted to form rational words. “Felicity wasn’t working as a doctor for the past two weeks. She was on vacation, just like you said. Lance knew she was on vacation.”

Tommy held up his hands once again. “Okay, Oliver. Okay. I see where you’re coming from, man. I really do. But I have to tell you, I don’t think it would matter to Lance if she was on vacation or not. You were still a patient, and that man is strictly by-the-book. And Felicity, she’s normally just so perfect. So straight and narrow. I just…I don’t understand. What in the hell would make her do something this reckless?”

Oliver stared at Tommy for a few seconds while he considered the question. But he didn’t have to think very long. Because he already knew the answer.

It was because I needed her.

And because she needed me.

Oliver’s hands shook fiercely, and he clasped them together to try to control it. God, everything was spinning. The entire room was spinning; his entire world was spinning. And all he wanted was to see her, to touch her, to hold her. He needed to look into her sky blue eyes, and watch her smile at him, and feel the gentle, soothing softness of her skin. That would calm him. That would set his world right again.

Oliver shifted against the couch cushions, hating the fact that he was still on this fucking mountain. “I…I can’t stay here anymore,” he mumbled. Then he looked to his friend. “I have to find her, Tommy. I have to see her now, today. Do you have the address to her office?”

“Yeah, yeah, I have it,” Tommy said, rising from the chair to grab his wallet off of the kitchen counter. He shuffled through several items before pulling out a business card and turning back.

Oliver stood, reaching his hand out.

Tommy started to give him the card, but he stopped. He hesitated as he stared into Oliver’s eyes. Then he shook his head. “Wait a minute. You’re so angry, Oliver. I’ve never seen you like this before, not even when you first came to Blue. I want to know why.”

Oliver’s breath hissed through his teeth. “Tommy…”

He pulled the card back. “Why?”

Give me the goddamn card, Tommy.”

Why are you so angry, Oliver?

Oliver’s jaw clenched hard before the words burst out. “Because she didn’t tell me! Two weeks we were together! In every way! But she never fucking told me she was a doctor! And I think I had the right to know!”

Tommy’s entire body stiffened. “Oh. I see. Well, damn. That is…that is bad.”

Oliver huffed. “Yeah.”

“You know, maybe…maybe I shouldn’t give you her address. Seeing her right now might not be the best thing for you. Maybe you need to take some time to calm yourself down.”

“I don’t need time. And if you don’t give me the address, I’ll find it myself.”

“Oliver, why don’t you just…”

“Give me her card. Please,” he growled.

Tommy straightened his spine and puffed out his chest. He looked Oliver squarely in the eye. “I’m not giving you this until you swear to me that you won’t hurt her.”

What?

“I want you to say the words, Oliver! I want you to swear that you won’t hurt her!”

Oliver observed Tommy’s brave front for a long minute. And he knew this man in front of him – who’d said such crass things about a cold-ass doctor just moments ago – would fight like hell right now in order to defend her honor. Oliver blinked a few times as he held Tommy’s determined gaze, and then he heaved out a sigh and finally allowed his shoulders to fall. “I’m not going to hurt her, Tommy. I’m in love with her. I’m madly, ridiculously in love with her, and you know that. And yes, I’m pretty pissed off right now, but that doesn’t change how I feel about her. I swear to you, I don’t want to hurt her in any way, shape, or form. I just need to see her again. I just need her. So please help me. Please.”

Tommy watched Oliver carefully throughout his speech. He studied him harshly and intently. And then he shook his head. “God, you really are in love with her, aren’t you?”

Oliver exhaled. “Yes.”

“Okay, then,” Tommy agreed, settling himself as he handed over the card with a firm nod. “I want you to know that, as far as I’m concerned, none of this ever happened, Oliver. I won’t mention a word of it. To anyone. Ever. So, if that woman loves you as much as you love her, and you find a way to make things work, then just know that I won’t tell Lance, or anyone else, what happened between you two up here at Blue. That secret will go with me to my grave.”

Oliver’s eyes widened as he stared at Tommy. “Thank you,” he whispered, taking the business card in one hand and reaching out to shake his friend’s hand with the other. “Seriously. Thank you.”

Tommy clasped his hand with a firm grip. “Of course.”

“I’m sorry I yelled, Tommy.”

“Don’t worry about it, buddy; you’ve had a lot to deal with today. I wish you the best, you know. I want you to be happy. And I would love to see Felicity happy.”

Oliver smiled for the first time in what felt like forever. “I want that, too.”

Tommy returned his smile, releasing Oliver’s hand in order to pat his shoulder.

Oliver took that moment to glance down at the business card he now held. He read the header: Dr. Felicity Smoak, Starling Psychiatric Associates. He glanced at her phone number. Then he looked at the address. He read it once. And then again. And again. As he read, his jaw came unhinged. And he could barely get his next words out. “Is…is this her…her office?”

“Yeah, that’s her office. I mean, I’ve never been there, but that’s the address.”

“Good Lord, Tommy. This building is across the street from Queen Consolidated. I can see this building from my office.”

“Well, good. You won’t have far to go, then.”

Oliver stared at his friend, trying to accept those words. But then he shook his head, because he knew they weren’t true. Because Felicity obviously knew he was the CEO of Queen Consolidated, which meant she was well aware of the fact that they would be right across the street from each other when they returned to the real world, and yet she’d still left without telling him the truth. Which meant he actually had a long, long way to go…if he was ever going to change her mind about them.

“Thanks again, Tommy,” he offered while turning to walk out. “I’ll never forget this; you’ve been a real friend to me when I needed one.”

“You’ve done the same for me, Oliver. Maybe I can look you up, if Merlyn Global decides to open up that Starling City branch?”

“Yes. Please do.”

When they reached the front door, Tommy grinned. “Also, I promise I won’t ever flirt with your woman again.”

Oliver bristled instantly, then forced himself to breathe. “That’s probably for the best.”

“I think so,” Tommy agreed with a chuckle.

Working to smile, Oliver stepped out onto the front porch. He looked back to Tommy just once after he got into his Porsche, returning Tommy’s wave while he watched his friend shut the door to his cabin. Then Oliver sat, stiff and still, for a long moment in the driver’s seat. He sat and stared at Felicity’s business card.

Dr. Felicity Smoak. The woman who’d opened him up, and turned his entire world upside down. The woman who’d been on vacation, and never told him she was a doctor. The woman who’d apparently risked losing her entire livelihood in order to help him. The woman who might actually think of him as her patient.

Oliver shook his head while staring down at her name in bold print. He glanced again at the contact information, his fingers twitching as he memorized the phone number. Then Oliver leaned over to reach into the glove compartment and grab his cell phone. The device had been long drained of battery, never having gone this length of time without being used, and he plugged it into his car charger. Setting Felicity’s business card down in the seat beside him, he started the engine and pulled back out onto the main road.

He needed to see her now. He needed to get to her. And he honestly didn’t know what he was going to say to her, or what she might say to him. He only knew that he had to leave here to find her, so he could look in her eyes again – so he could look into her eyes while she finally told him the truth.

He just had one more stop to make first.

Oliver passed by the entrance to Felicity’s Cabin 10, and his own Cabin 9, as he made his way off the mountain. The information cabin eventually showed up on his right. He glanced at the worn wooden entry marker – Welcome to Blissful Blue Retreat – just before pulling into a parking space and killing the engine.

Jumping out of his seat and walking to the front door, Oliver stepped into the pine-and-cinnamon scented great room of the large log structure. The fireplace still glowed steadily, just like it did the first day he’d arrived. And the little gnome still sat behind the desk, with deer antlers perched on the wall above his head.

Pete Jackson: the caretaker of Blue, who also knew that Felicity was a doctor. Because everyone knew she was a doctor. Everyone but him. And that thought made Oliver angry all over again, because it felt like everyone and everything at Blue had kept secrets from him. It felt like the trees themselves had purposefully withheld vital information.

“Well, hello there, Oliver. Good to see you.”

“Pete,” he acknowledged, clipping the name as he moved up to stand before the oak desk.

“What brings you by?”

“I’m leaving today. I’m here to check out.”

Pete raised one bushy white eyebrow. “You’re checking out? That’s surprising. Don’t you have another week here?”

Oliver stared down at the gnome. “Yes, I do. And don’t pretend you don’t know that I’m checking out, because I’m sure Betsy already told you.”

Pete stilled for a long while, observing Oliver with a keen eye, before bringing his hands up to rest on top of the desk. “That’s true, Oliver. Betsy did call to let me know. But only because she was concerned about you.”

“Well, I just wish everyone would stop lying to me in the name of concern,” Oliver huffed, shuffling his feet against the log floor.

“Seems to me like you’ve got a lot on your mind,” Pete noted in his languid drawl. “Maybe leaving here isn’t the best thing for you.”

“No. I have to get out of here. I have to head back home. I have to see her, and…”

Pete looked up at him as Oliver let the words fall off. “Who do you have to see?”

Oliver clamped his lips together, staring down to the ground before meeting the little gnome’s bright blue eyes once again. “God, you’re right, Pete. I do have a lot on my mind.”

“You want to talk about it?”

“I do,” he admitted, inhaling deeply before addressing the man again. “I do want to talk to you, but I just need to know something first: I need to know that you’ll keep whatever I say in strict confidence. You have to do that anyway, right? Because I’m a guest here?”

Pete smiled gently. “Yes, Oliver. But I would keep it in confidence anyway, even if you weren’t a guest. I can promise you that.”

“Then I just want to know…I want to know what you can tell me about Dr. Smoak.”

“Felicity?” Pete asked, his gravelly voice hanging on the name. “Well, she’s…she’s wonderful. One of the best physicians who ever comes up here.”

“And what is she like? I mean, how would you describe her personality?”

“Hmm. I guess I would say that she’s soft. Soft and lovely. And kind. So kind.”

“Soft and kind? Not uptight and straight-laced and cold?”

Cold? Goodness, no. Felicity is a sweetheart.   She’s like a daughter to me, to tell you the truth. To me and Betsy both. We just love her.”

“You love her.”

“Yeah, we both do. She’s very easy to love.”

Those words struck him deep inside, and Oliver closed his eyes to take in a breath. When he reopened them, he focused on the older man again. “Can I ask you another question, Pete?”

“Sure.”

“Several days ago, did Felicity ask you for a rope?”

The caretaker quieted for a long minute, and then he nodded. “Seeing as you already seem to know the answer to that, Oliver, I’ll admit that she did.”

“And you just gave it to her. You just gave her a rope.”

“Of course I gave it to her; she said she needed it.”

“Did you ask why she needed it?”

“I did. She said it was for a trust-building exercise.”

“You mean, with a patient?”

“I assumed so.”

Oliver’s stomach lurched.

Good God, Felicity doesn’t really think of me as her patient, does she?

“No, Pete. No. She wasn’t seeing patients at that point. She was on vacation.”

“Yeah, she was on vacation. But it didn’t surprise me that she was still trying to help someone, even if she wasn’t getting paid for it.”

Oliver huffed out a laugh. “So you gave her a rope? Up here, on a nearly deserted mountain full of psychiatric patients? You gave her a rope, just because she asked for it?”

“I did.”

“Did you also give her a hammer and nail to hang a picture up on the wall of her cabin?”

“I sure did.”

“And if she asked for a shotgun and a chainsaw, would you have given her those, too?”

Pete chuckled as he looked up to Oliver’s eyes. “Yes, I would have. Because I trust her. I trust her with my life. Honestly, I would trust Felicity Smoak with anyone’s life.”

Oliver stared the man down, just waiting. Waiting for Pete to ask him why he had so many questions about Dr. Smoak. Waiting to be grilled by the caretaker as to how he knew about the rope and the picture on the wall. But the little gnome just sat there, looking back at him, saying nothing.

Oliver exhaled. “Aren’t you going to ask me how I know so much about Felicity?”

Pete shook his head. “Nope.”

“Why not?”

“Because you said you wanted to talk in confidence, and I figure the less I know, the more confidential this can be. Because I don’t ever intend to utter a word about this conversation. Not to anyone.”

Oliver continued to stare at the caretaker for another minute. He stared in wonder, his mind working to grasp all the scraps of information that slammed into his brain from moment to moment. As he stood, he absorbed the even, easy temperament of the man before him. The older man’s calmness permeated the air, and Oliver hung his head and nodded. “Thank you, Pete. I should…I should get going now.”

“I really am sorry to see you go. I hope you found what you were looking for here.”

Clenching his teeth, Oliver concentrated on breathing, in and out. He concentrated on quieting himself. But then Pete’s voice broke the silence.

“I remember, you know. I remember how everything felt, the first time I came to Blue as a patient.”

Oliver raised his head. “You…you were a patient here?”

“Yeah. I used to have a job in the city, just like you. I was the CFO of a big financial institution. I spent too much time at the office, and not enough time with the people who matter, and eventually I lost my marriage because of it. And then my daughter got sick. She got really sick with cancer, and she died at the age of 32. When I lost her, I lost myself. That’s when I came here for the first time. And then I came back again, and again, until I decided to stay.”

Oliver exhaled shakily. “I’m so sorry about your daughter.”

“Thank you. It’s been a few years, and I still miss her, but everything heals with time.”

Everything heals with time. Oliver knew those words. Felicity had said those exact words to him. She’d said so many things to him in the past two weeks – so many beautiful, wonderful things – and he wanted to hear them again. He wanted to hear her voice, to hear the ringing of her laughter and the tenderness of her whispers. He needed to hear her again.

“I’m glad you found what you were looking for here,” Oliver offered as he refocused on the man behind the counter. “And just so you know, I did, too. I found what I was looking for.”

The caretaker smiled up at him. “Good, Oliver. Now hold onto it with both hands and don’t let go.”

Oliver returned the smile. “Thanks, Pete. I will. But for now, I need to say goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Oliver. Take care of yourself. And be sure to take care of the people you love, too.”

Oliver swallowed hard with those words. Then he nodded and turned, leaving the warmth of the welcome cabin. As he walked away, Pete’s words roiled in his brain.

Take care of the people you love.

Oliver wanted to do that. He wanted to take care of her. But would she let him? Would she let him take care of her now, after she’d been taking care of him since the moment they met?

Felicity told Pete that she needed the rope for a trust-building exercise. With a patient. And then she’d used that rope with him.

Good Lord, was I her patient? Is that really how she saw me? Was that all there was between us?

No. Hell, no. Oliver knew that wasn’t true. What they had was so much more than that.

But is that the reason she ran?   Because she thought of me as a patient?

Oliver thought of himself as a patient too, but not her patient. He always thought they were both patients here. He always believed they’d both come to Blue for help.

“Damn it,” he cursed for what felt like the thousandth time today.

Cold air hit him in the face while he stepped off of Pete’s porch, and then the sound of tires on gravel grabbed his attention. Oliver’s head shot up as he watched the Blissful Blue food truck pull into the parking space next to his Porsche.

“Hey,” Roy greeted when he dropped out of the driver’s seat.

Oliver stopped moving to pin his eyes on the young man.

Roy approached him openly, his footsteps easy as he carried a folded piece of paper toward the welcome cabin. “Are you heading back home now, Oliver?”

He didn’t answer the question. He just continued to glare. Eventually, the glare made Roy stop in his tracks, and made the smile fall from his face.

Roy pinched his lips together when he arrived in front of Oliver. “What’s wrong?”

“You knew, Roy. Didn’t you? You knew Felicity was a doctor.”

The young man stiffened his legs, and then nodded slowly. “Yes, I knew.”

“And you knew she was keeping it a secret from me.”

“I did. She told me she didn’t want you to know.”

“Did you her ask why?”

“No.”

“Why not? Why didn’t you question her?”

Roy squared his shoulders. “I didn’t question her because I trust her, Oliver. And because that woman has a gift. There are a lot of doctors in this world, but a few of them – just a few – have a way with people that defies explanation. Felicity is like that. And she helped me, from the moment I met her. I never paid her; I couldn’t have afforded her. But she helped me anyway, because that’s who she is and what she does. So I am certain – absolutely certain – that whatever her reasons were for not telling you the truth, they must have been some pretty damn good reasons.”

Oliver stilled against the gravel, trying to wrap his mind around Roy’s words. Then he glanced down to the paper in the young man’s hand. “What is that? Is that a letter?”

Roy nodded. “It’s my letter of resignation, actually. I was just coming to give it to Pete. But maybe…maybe I shouldn’t. In case you want your check back.”

“Why would I want my check back?”

“Because I didn’t tell you about her.”

Oliver huffed out a laugh. “I’m not going to punish you for being loyal to a friend, Roy. Only an asshole would do that. And I’m not an asshole.”

A grin pulled up the side of Roy’s mouth. “I know you’re not.”

Oliver returned the smile before exhaling. “Go turn in your resignation. And cash the check. I have to leave now, but I still hope I’ll see you when you finish school.”

“You will. I promise you will.”

“Good,” Oliver replied, reaching out to squeeze Roy’s shoulder before moving to his car.

“Are you still going after her?” Roy called from behind him.

Oliver’s fingers fisted around his keys. Then he turned back to look the young man in the eye. “Yes, I’m still going after her.”

“Well then…do you think you could promise me something?”

“What’s that?”

“Will you listen to her?   Will you listen to whatever she has to say about all this?”

Oliver could feel the anxiety emanating from the boy’s body. “Of course, Roy,” he assured. “I fully intend to listen to her.”

“That’s…that’s wonderful. It’s really wonderful, but…”

“But what?”

“I just think it might be an uphill battle, to change her mind. She has quite a mind.”

“Believe me, I know that. And I already knew it was going to be an uphill battle. It’s just going to be a steeper incline than I originally thought.”

“Well, I want you to know that I’m still rooting for you,” Roy offered with a youthful grin. “I mean, I don’t have pom-poms with me or anything, but if I did, I would shake them.”

Oliver chuckled. “I appreciate the thought. Now stop talking to me and go talk to Pete. You have things to do.”

“I’m going right now. Good luck, Oliver.”

“Thanks, Roy. Good luck to you, too,” he replied, returning the smile as he fell into the seat of his Porsche and started the engine.

The journey back down the mountain was bumpy. Because of the spare tire. And because of his turbulent thoughts.

Oliver just couldn’t reconcile all of the information he’d gathered about his Felicity. The questionable part wasn’t the fact that she was a doctor; he’d actually grown quite accustomed to that truth already, probably because it made perfect sense. No, the part of this that Oliver couldn’t wrap his mind around was how Tommy and Pete and Roy saw her.

Felicity was a different person to each of these men. To Roy she was home, a representation of the stability he’d lost. To Pete she was a daughter, the fulfillment of a missing piece of his heart. And to Tommy she was order and perfection, a goal to strive toward in his unorganized, unbalanced life. Apparently, Dr. Smoak became whoever her patients needed her to be, fulfilling a different role for each of them.

Which left Oliver to wonder if she’d become the person he needed, when he needed her.

If that was what had actually happened between them, then it would be horrible. Both for her and for him. Because she would have just been an actress playing a part, and he would never have known the real her.

Except Oliver didn’t believe that was what happened between them at all. Because he honestly believed he’d seen her. He’d seen Felicity. He’d watched her struggle, nearly every day, with the two sides of herself: the frolicking freebird versus the solemn doctor. He’d actually been front and center – the only member of the audience witnessing that battle.

Oliver understood now that Felicity might have started out their relationship thinking she would be his doctor, whether he wanted that or not. And maybe she’d started out as an actress in a role, playing her little mind games and telling him her far-fetched lies, in order to get him to open up to her. But Oliver also knew – from the night when she’d promised not to tell him any more lies – that Felicity became herself with him. She let him see her struggles. She allowed herself to be truly vulnerable. And she let herself feel for him. She let herself fall in love with him, even though she probably felt she shouldn’t have.

But no matter how their time at Blue started, or how it ended, Oliver believed in that truth: he believed she’d fallen in love with him. Just like he’d fallen in love with her. They’d seen and embraced the most real versions of each other, and that wasn’t anything he felt the need to be ashamed of, or to hide. On the contrary, he believed a truth like that needed to be shouted from the rooftops, and treasured for the gift it was.

Oliver smiled then. He smiled even through his uncertainty and his pain. Because he knew this was going to be an uphill battle with her, but he was perfectly willing to fight it. And he was determined to win.

He wanted to drive straight back to Starling. He wanted to drive straight to her office, and barge his way in, and tell her that he knew she was a doctor, and that he didn’t care about the fact that she hadn’t told him, and that he wanted them to live happily ever after from this moment forward. But Oliver knew he wasn’t going to get what he wanted. First, because the wobbly spare tire barely made it down the mountainside and into the parking lot of the car mechanic of Bottom-of-Blissful-Blue town. And second, because he did care about the fact that she hadn’t told him she was a doctor. He needed her explanations, and he needed them today. Because he actually did want them to live happily ever after.

The moment Oliver parked the Porsche in front of the auto shop’s entrance, he jumped out of his seat and went in to speak to the mechanic in charge. He offered a ridiculous amount of money to have his car fixed immediately, and the grizzled-and-somewhat-greasy man was more than happy to oblige him. Oliver grabbed his cell phone and Felicity’s business card from the front seat, and stepped around to the side of the building while Earl pulled the Porsche into the repair bay.

Oliver paced back and forth for a long time beside the store’s white painted bricks, holding her card in his hand and staring at the phone number he already knew by heart. Eventually, he forced himself to stop moving and stand still in the deserted gravel side alley. Breathe, he encouraged, gulping in a huge inhale before releasing the air slowly from his lungs.

Then Oliver turned on his cell phone and dialed the number to Felicity’s office.

After several rings, a woman’s stern voice came across the line. “Starling Psychiatric Associates, how may I direct your call?”

Oliver cleared his throat. “I need to make an appointment.”

“Certainly, sir. Do you know which doctor you would like to see?”

“Dr. Felicity Smoak.”

“Of course. I’ll direct you to her assistant. One moment please.”

He heard a few seconds of music – an instrumental version of an old Rolling Stones song – before a different voice addressed him. “Hello, this is Marie. How may I help you today?”

This woman sounded older, and soft and pleasant, and Oliver smiled to himself. “Hello, Marie. I need to make an appointment to see Dr. Smoak.”

“Alright, I can certainly help you with that. Can I have your name please?”

“Yeah, sure, it’s um…” His voice trailed off as he looked up to the tree line in the distance. “Forest. Jonas Forest.”

“Okay, Mr. Forest. I assume you’re new to Dr. Smoak’s practice?”

“Yes, I am. Is that a problem?”

“No, that will be fine,” Marie replied, becoming silent for a moment as Oliver heard her punching computer keys in the background. “Alright, then, Mr. Forest. Dr. Smoak’s next appointment is in nine weeks.”

Nine weeks?”

“Yes. She recently returned from vacation and her schedule is especially heavy.”

He shook his head. “No, Marie. I…I need to see her sooner than that.”

“Well, if you’re flexible with your physician choice, I could redirect you to Dr. Asa.”

“Who?”

“Dr. Asa. He’s one of Dr. Smoak’s partners. I assure you he is very good, and should have an opening sooner.”

“No, that won’t do. I need to see Dr. Smoak as soon as possible.”

“Well, I wish I could assist you, but…”

Marie,” Oliver growled as panic set into his chest. “You don’t understand. It has to be Dr. Smoak.”

“I’m sorry, but that just isn’t possible right now.”

Oliver closed his eyes. God, please forgive me for what I’m about to do.

“I really need your help here, Marie. If I don’t see Dr. Smoak today, I think something bad will happen.”

He heard the woman suck in a sharp breath. “Mr. Forest, if you’re having thoughts of hurting yourself, I implore you to please go to the nearest hospital, or call 911.”

Fisting the business card in his hand, he sighed. “I have no plans to hurt myself. I just…I have to see her today. Please. Please.”

After a long pause, Marie’s voice returned, soft and calm. “Can you hold on for one minute, Mr. Forest? I need to see what I can do for you.”

“Yes, that’s fine. I’ll wait. Thank you.”

The elevator music returned to his ear, and Oliver resumed pacing beside the white bricks. When the woman finally returned to the line, he held his breath to listen.

“Alright, Mr. Forest, Dr. Smoak says she’ll be able to work you in at the end of her sessions today. Can you be here at 5:30?”

“Yes, I…yes. Thank you, Marie.”

“Will you be alright until then?”

“Yeah, I’ll be okay. I promise. And thank you again.”

“Of course. We’ll see you at 5:30, Mr. Forest.”

Marie hung up her phone, and Oliver stood still for a long moment, listening to the silence on the other end. He couldn’t believe what he’d just done, what he’d said, in order to see Felicity. But then again, he could believe it. Because desperate times called for desperate measures, and he’d never felt more desperate in his life. He couldn’t really justify what he’d done, but he wasn’t going to apologize for it. Because the simple fact was that he finally knew what he wanted, and what he needed, and he would do anything to attain it.

Oliver rested his eyes shut, leaning back against the cool bricks on the side of the building. Time passed while a thousand memories swirled through his brain, from the first moment he saw her until the last. Oliver could recall, so easily, the sound of Felicity’s voice the very first time they met, when he’d been changing his blown tire by the side of the road and she’d told him about this mechanic at the bottom of the mountain. That moment felt like a lifetime ago. Because it was. They’d spent a lifetime together in the past two weeks, and Oliver refused to let go of it. He refused to let go of them.

He knew the road to her was going to be uphill. He knew he was going to have to fight to change her mind about them. But he would. He would change her mind. Because they had so much to look forward to, together. They were going to have so many, many more dates, talking and laughing and strolling through town hand in hand. They were going to spend endless nights making love, and experience a million mornings waking lazily in each other’s arms. They would have family dinners, both with his parents and her mother, and double date with other couples, like the Diggles.

Oliver stilled against the bricks.

Digg.

“Digg,” he repeated aloud, smiling as he pictured the man he loved like a brother.

Oliver couldn’t wait until he and Felicity could have their first dinner with John and Lyla. That would be so perfect, especially since John and Felicity already knew each other. Anticipation built in his chest as Oliver imagined introducing his girlfriend Felicity to Digg, and then watching the happiness on his friend’s face when he realized he already knew the woman Oliver was in love with. Because Digg already knew Felicity. He’d known her for years.

Oliver mulled over that last thought, running the words through his mind again and again. Digg knows Felicity. He’s known her for years.

His brow furrowed then, as a new concern popped into his brain. Digg probably knew Felicity was at Blue these past weeks. They were colleagues back in Starling, and had worked at Blue together, so Digg should know when Felicity was here. Shouldn’t he? And if he knew Felicity would be here when Oliver was here, then was that on purpose? Did John intend for them to meet? Dear Lord, was this all some sort of elaborate matchmaking scheme?

“No, Oliver, that’s…that’s ridiculous,” he insisted, grasping his phone hard in one hand as he looked back to the forest. “John wouldn’t do that. He’s a by-the-book physician too, just like Lance. He wouldn’t encourage a relationship between a doctor and a patient.”

Would he?

Oliver started dialing Digg’s cell number before he had the chance to think it through.

The phone rang twice before Digg answered. “Oliver? Is that you?”

He couldn’t help smiling at the sound of his friend’s voice. “Yeah, it’s me. Man, it’s great to hear you. Is this a good time to talk? I didn’t interrupt your work, did I?”

“It’s okay; I’m between patients right now. And I’m happy you called, although I didn’t think I’d hear from you for another week. I know cell phones don’t work at Blissful Blue.”

“Yeah, well…I’m not at Blue anymore.”

“What do you mean you’re not at Blue?”

“I left, Digg. I’m coming home early.”

A chuckle came from the other end of the line. “Damn it, man. You couldn’t do it, could you? You couldn’t let go, even for three measly weeks.”

“No. No, that’s not true. I did let go. I can’t even tell you how much I let go. That’s not what this is about at all. I just…I met someone up here who changed my whole damn life, Digg, and I’m coming home because I’m ready to live that life now.”

Digg fell silent for a long moment before exhaling. “Well, Oliver, that’s wonderful. It’s really quick, I’m thinking, but it’s wonderful. So, can I ask who changed your life?”

“Her name is Felicity.”

“Do you mean Dr. Smoak? She was up there with you?”

“Yeah, she was. I take it you didn’t know?”

“No, I didn’t.”

Oliver held tighter to the phone. “Really? Do you swear to me that you didn’t know she was here?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He swallowed hard. “Nothing. It’s just…she told me you two knew each other.”

“Yeah, I know her. She and I work at Blue together sometimes, and occasionally we see each other here in Starling.”

“But you didn’t know she would be at Blue while I was?”

“No, Oliver, we’re just colleagues; I don’t keep track of her schedule. But it sounds like I should be happy she was there, if she helped you so much. Did you take some of her lectures?”

Oliver laughed. I took every single one of her lectures. “Yeah, you could say that. Listen, Digg, do you think I could see you sometime? Maybe in the next few days?”

“Sure, anytime. You know where I live.”

“I do. Thank you…for everything. I’ll let you get back to work now.”

“Alright, Oliver. Take of yourself.”

“You too.”

Oliver exhaled as he hung up the phone, working to absorb all the facts he’d gathered since this morning. He stared out into the woods, into the tree line he’d emerged from so recently. As angry as he’d been just a few hours ago, thinking that the trees themselves had withheld vital information from him, now Oliver looked at the woods and saw a place of solace. And even possibly a place of destiny. He’d never believed much in Fate, but he had to wonder now – just like he had the first day he’d arrived at Blue – if this forest had been trying to tell him something when it sent a squirrel out of the underbrush to leap in front of his car.

“Mr. Queen?” a gruff voice called from around the corner.

Oliver stepped away from the side of the building, making his way back to the entrance. “Yes, Earl?”

The mechanic looked him in the eye and smiled. “I think everything is good for travel down the mountain now. You’re all set to go back home.”

Oliver nodded as he returned the smile. “Thanks. I’m sure you’re right.”

The trip back to Starling took several hours. Oliver stopped only once, to pick up a bite to eat, and realized he would have to get used to not having his meals delivered to him by Roy anymore. That was one truth he was not looking forward to.

Oliver passed the lengthy driving time by listening to music. As soon as he could get a satellite radio signal, he tuned in to the all-Elvis channel. He hummed along to the songs he knew by heart, but it wasn’t until he was nearly back to Starling that he recognized the song Felicity had hummed to him in bed two nights ago.

As soon as Oliver heard the familiar tune, he immediately recalled those moments with her, right after they’d made love. He remembered her resting peacefully beneath him, running her hands up and down his spine while she hummed. He hadn’t been able to place her song just then, but he could now, as he listened to it filtering into his car: Wise men say only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you…

Oliver’s heart pumped wildly in his chest while the deep, impassioned voice moved across his skin. Tears sprang to the corners of his eyes, and he had to fight them back as the words sunk in. Then he forced himself to straighten in his seat, and focus, so he could get to her as quickly and safely as possible.

When he arrived on the street where he’d worked nearly every day of his life for the past dozen years, Oliver’s instinct was to turn into the parking lot of Queen Consolidated. But he didn’t do that today. He made a left instead, and pulled beneath Felicity’s office building.

He’d arrived just a few minutes early for his “appointment”, and as he stepped out of his car and walked through the parking garage to enter the first floor, Oliver drank in the details of his surroundings. Security guards waited just past the front doors, instructing Oliver to remove his keys and watch from his pockets in order to pass through the metal detectors. The guards observed him with keen eyes as he cleared the detectors, and Oliver nodded at the burly men, reassured by the knowledge that Felicity’s workplace was so safe.

Once he’d retrieved his personal effects again, Oliver found a restroom near the elevator on the first floor. He spent a moment freshening up, and checking his appearance in the mirror. While he stared at his reflection, he recognized the same old face he’d seen the day he arrived at Blue, with the same crinkles at the corners of his eyes. But this face didn’t look so worn and weary anymore. And the crinkles looked more like laugh lines.

Oliver smiled to himself before leaving the washroom to head to the elevator. Pulling her business card from his pocket, he verified Felicity’s office suite number while stepping onto the elevator. His stomach flipped over on itself when he pushed the button for the 17th floor. And then he stood, as patiently as possible, waiting to reach her.

When the ding resounded at his arrival, Oliver squeezed his fingers together before stepping out into a long hallway. He turned to the right, and walked to the end of the hall, and then stood before the opaque glass door that read: Dr. Felicity Smoak. Sucking in a deep breath, Oliver reached for the handle and stepped inside.

The waiting area was bright and homey, with floor-to-ceiling windows that shone with the softly glowing evening sunlight. Two couches lay at angles before the window, and a reception desk sat to his right. The thin, middle-aged woman behind the desk jumped up from her seat the moment she saw him.

“Mr. Forest, is that you?”

“Yes, hello,” Oliver offered, trying to reassure the obviously frazzled lady by giving her a warm smile and a nod. “I’m here for my appointment. I take it you’re Marie?”

“I am,” she acknowledged, coming around the desk to shake his hand. “I’m so glad you got here safely.”

Oliver gave her small hand a gentle squeeze before releasing it. “I did. Although I’m sorry I’m a bit early.”

“Oh, no, that’s okay. Dr. Smoak still has a patient with her now, but it should just be few moments until she’s available. You can fill out some paperwork for me while you’re waiting, if you don’t mind.”

“Paperwork?” he questioned, as if he’d never been to a doctor’s office before. Of course there’s paperwork, Oliver.

“Yes, let me just grab that,” she said, pushing her short black hair behind her ears as she turned back to her desk.

He observed the woman while she bustled around, gathering a clipboard and pen. Oliver felt more and more guilty about the lies he’d told her in order to get his way in here unannounced. Because he figured he was going to see this woman a lot more in the future, and sooner or later she would have to know the truth.

“Here you are, Jonas,” Marie said when she stepped back to him and handed over the papers. “Is it okay if I call you Jonas?”

Oliver nodded.

“Alright then, please fill in the first two forms completely, and initial the third form here, here, and here, and then answer the questions on the fourth page. And if you have your insurance card with you, I can take that now.”

“You need my insurance card?”

“Yes, if you have it with you.”

“I…I don’t,” he lied again, cringing with the words.

“Oh, well, do you want to get me that information later?”

“Um, maybe not.”

Marie’s brow furrowed, and then her face softened in concern. “Do you need financial assistance, Jonas? Dr. Smoak has programs in place for patients who are unable to pay, and she also runs a clinic downtown, for individual and group therapy sessions for…”

“She runs a clinic, too?”

“Yes. Do you need information on that?”

“No, it’s…I’ll just pay cash. Is cash okay?”

“Of course,” she said, gesturing to the couch. “Why don’t you just have a seat now, and make yourself comfortable while you wait.”

Oliver did as requested, and eased down into the fluffy cushions, as he stared at the clipboard in his hand. He wrote his fake name in at the top of the first form, but tried to answer every other question as truthfully as possible. After all, he was perfectly fine with Felicity having his real home address and phone number. He actually wanted her to become very familiar with that information, the sooner the better.

When he got to the fourth piece of paperwork, Oliver glanced over the form and realized it was some sort of basic psychological assessment. The first question at the top of the page read: How are you feeling today?

He stared at those words. He stared long and hard, trying to decide the most truthful answer. Because the truth was that he felt about a hundred different things right now. He was angry still, at least a little, about the fact that Felicity had never told him the truth. And he was excited to see her again, to see her with the truth exposed in stark light. And he was curious, wondering how she would respond when she realized that he’d come for her. And he was scared, because he honestly didn’t know how hard she was going to fight him.

But as he sat there, waiting for her door to open so he could walk back into her life – walk into her real life – what Oliver felt most was the pull. The pull he always felt toward her, from the first moment he’d laid eyes on her. He could feel it so strongly now, because he knew she sat on the other side of the wall in front of him. And he just wanted to see her. So badly.

Putting his pen to the paper, Oliver jotted a few things down; he wasn’t even entirely sure of all the words he wrote. But he did get through to the end of the questionnaire, and then stood from the couch to take the clipboard back to Marie. She smiled up at him from behind the desk. “Thank you, Jonas. And here is your bill.”

Oliver took the new paper in his hand and stared at the amount typed in at the bottom. His eyes bulged a bit, because he couldn’t believe how expensive it was to have an appointment with Dr. Smoak. No wonder Roy couldn’t afford her.

Reaching into his wallet, Oliver pulled out several hundred-dollar bills and handed them to Marie without another thought. He honestly didn’t care how much it cost to get this time with his Felicity; he would have thrown a million dollars on Marie’s desk right now, if it meant he could finally see his freebird in the real world.

After Marie took his money and handed him a receipt, Oliver shoved the slip of paper in his pocket and went to sit back on the couch, to wait. He stared at the receptionist while she began typing his information into her computer. As he watched her work, Oliver grasped his hands together in his lap. His leg began to move, bouncing nervously up and down.

He felt too much like a patient right now. This – sitting here in this waiting room with a receptionist and paperwork and all manner of formalities – is what it felt like to be a patient of Dr. Felicity Smoak. But this wasn’t what existed between them on that mountain. This felt nothing like what they’d had up there. Because he wasn’t Felicity’s patient at Blue. He wasn’t, damn it. No matter what anyone thought.

A moment later, the large mahogany door to the left of Marie’s desk swung open and another woman emerged, this one younger than him. The woman’s eyes were swollen, as if she’d been crying, and she barely even glanced in his direction before turning toward the reception desk. “Can I make my next appointment, Marie?”

“Certainly, Cindy. Give me just a moment.”

Marie lifted her head to Oliver then, motioning her hand toward the door. “You can go in for your session now, Mr. Forest.”

Oliver nodded, and stood, stepping toward the inner office. His hands shook as he pulled open the door to his Felicity. Because the last time he’d seen this woman, she’d been naked and wrapped up against his chest. She’d just made love to him, using all of her heart and body and soul, and then she’d hummed an Elvis tune about falling in love, and then she’d fallen asleep in his arms. Warm and soft and peaceful.

Oliver stepped quietly into the back of the huge, elongated room, and pulled the door closed silently behind him.

The first thing he noted was that her office reminded him of Blissful Blue. It was vast and spacious, and the walls were paneled in the same dark mahogany as the door, and there were plants everywhere. So many, many plants – from floor to ceiling.   A pristine leather couch lay some yards before him, then several chairs, and then an oversized desk with a laptop on it.

Felicity sat behind the computer, her eyes focused on the screen.

Standing unnoticed in the back of the room, Oliver watched her for a silent moment. Less than two days had passed since he’d laid eyes on his forest fairy, but it felt like an eternity. The last time he’d gone this long without seeing her, he’d only made it 36 hours before desperation kicked in. This time, he made it slightly longer. But only slightly.

Felicity’s fingers flew across the keyboard while she typed. She remained oblivious to the fact that he’d entered the room, and Oliver listened to the click of the keys as he observed her. His freebird was just like he remembered, mostly. Her skin was still a perfect cream, her lips still gorgeous pink, her eyes still light as the sky. She wore her hair up in a ponytail today, like she had that last day they were together at Blue. But now she was also wearing…glasses.

“I didn’t know you wore glasses,” he said.

Felicity stopped typing.

Oliver saw her chest move with a sharp inhalation. He watched her fingers tremble as she reached up to close the lid of her laptop. Then she took another deep breath in before her gaze rose up to focus in on him from across the expanse of the room.

“I wear them when I read.”

“Well, I guess we didn’t do much reading when we were together, did we?”

He took a few steps closer to her before stopping again.

Felicity watched him for a long minute, and then swallowed hard.

“So…you’re Mr. Forest? Jonas Forest?”

“Jonas is my middle name. I know how you like middle names.”

Her tongue darted out to moisten her lips. “I should have figured out the ‘Forest’ part. I suppose I just…wasn’t expecting you.”

Oliver stared her down. “Did you really think I wouldn’t find you, Felicity?”

She shifted in her thick leather chair. “Yes. No. I…I don’t know. I guess I just didn’t think you’d find me this soon. You’re supposed to still be at Blue, Oliver.”

He ignored that statement entirely, and instead turned toward the wall of greenery beside him. Taking a few steps forward, he took note of the ridiculous number of pots and stands. “You have a lot of plants. I remember you telling me that you had a lot of plants, but…damn, this is a lot of plants.”

He reached out to touch the one closest to him, his fingertips grazing the feathery leaves.

“That’s a fern,” Felicity explained. “It thrives in low light.”

Oliver glanced back to her. “An ideal for your patients to strive toward?”

She blinked behind her glasses. “Something like that.”

He nodded and then turned away again, moving around the perimeter of the room, soaking in his surroundings. He kept walking until he stood just a few feet from her desk, and then pivoted his body in order to look at a wall of framed diplomas and certificates. His eyes skimmed over several of the obviously hard-earned accolades.

“I see you have a lot of degrees and honors, Dr. Smoak. I suppose I should be happy that I was in such good hands while I was at Blue,” he said, knowing it was a low blow – and not even what he meant to say – but unable to stop the words from spilling out.

Felicity sucked in a deep breath behind him, but didn’t reply.

Oliver continued to read the contents of each wall frame. When he finished, he took a few steps toward the tall, bright windows overlooking the city. This entire corner of her office was made of glass, and he stood before it, gazing out to the building across the street. “That’s my office, you know. Queen Consolidated. You can see the huge ‘Q’ on the side of building.”

“Yes, Oliver. I am well aware of that.”

“Since when?” he questioned, turning his head toward her. “When exactly did you know that we worked across the street from each other?”

Felicity straightened in her seat, pivoting the chair toward him and squaring her shoulders against the brown leather backrest. “Since the moment you told me your last name.”

“That…that was the first night we played Twister on your living room floor.”

“Yes, that was the night.”

He smiled then, just a little, because he remembered how adorable his forest fairy looked, with tiny hairs sticking up out of her blond ponytail, after they’d wrestled with each other for hours on a plastic mat. That wasn’t how she looked now, though. This Solemnly Sedate Felicity was completely different – all tightness and solidity and determination.

“That night feels like a lifetime ago. It feels like a fantasy,” he admitted, regretting the words the moment they came out.

Felicity nodded slowly. “That’s because it was a fantasy, Oliver. Blissful Blue wasn’t real life. We both know that.”

He inwardly cringed with her expected response, but attempted to hide his reaction as best he could. He refused to acknowledge what she said. So instead, he stared out of her office windows, to his own building across the street, gathering his thoughts before looking back to her.

Oliver took a few steps forward, watching her chin rise as she attempted to maintain her poise while he approached. He stopped himself when he was still a good distance away from her. He didn’t want to appear too confrontational. At least, not any more than he had to be. Because he knew if he pushed this woman too hard, she would just push back harder, and that wouldn’t get them anywhere.

Oliver observed Dr. Smoak for a long minute: the rigidness of her spine as she sat in her deep chair; the clear, focused blue of her eyes as she peered at him through her glasses; the shallowness and rapidity of the breaths she worked to keep steady inside her chest. He wished he could see some of his forest fairy inside of her here, now. He wished there was some indication – however small – that his freebird still existed inside this office.

Felicity’s eyes darted down to her desktop, and Oliver followed her line of sight…to the two little leaves resting on the wood surface. Green with red, and red with green. They were the leaves that had clung to her hair in the forest, and they were here. On her desk. On Dr. Smoak’s desk.

Oliver smiled at the sight. Then he watched as she moved her hands to the arms of her chair. He stood and watched while her fingers squeezed tight to the padded leather.

Felicity cleared her throat. “I imagine you have a lot of questions for me, Oliver.”

He chuckled softly to himself, because she was using that “therapist voice” right now – the one he recognized from talking to Lance – the one he knew from being friends with Digg for so long. He continued to stare at her fingers, observing as they twitched against the armrests.

“Actually, Felicity, I only have one question.”

“Just one?”

“Yes.”

“What is it?”

He lifted his eyes to pin them onto hers. “Why did you leave?”

Her lips parted. “Why did I leave? Are you really asking me that?”

“Yes, I am. And I don’t want to hear that it’s because I never knew you were a doctor. Or that you thought of me as a patient, which would have made our relationship unethical. Or that Lance might have found out about us, which could have destroyed your medical career.”

Felicity’s eyebrows rose above the rim of her glasses. “Are you saying those aren’t good enough reasons for me to leave?”

“No, actually, those are all perfectly fine reasons for you to leave. But I don’t think any of them are the real reason you left, and that’s what I really want to know. And please don’t repeat that Keanu Reeves quote about the fate of relationships based on intense experiences, because we’re not on a speeding bus anymore. We’re here in the real world now, dealing with reality, and that quote no longer applies.”

“Well, it kind of does, Oliver.”

“No, it doesn’t. And besides, you do know those two characters from Speed end up together, right? They’re a couple by the end of the movie. There’s a sequel and everything.”

She smiled softly. “Yeah, but the sequel was awful.”

“That’s just because Keanu Reeves wasn’t in it,” he replied, taking a moment to appreciate the beauty of her curved lips. “But I don’t want to talk about movies right now; I want to talk about us. I want you to answer my question. Why did you leave, Felicity?”

“Oliver, I…”

He took one step forward. “I know you didn’t want to leave me. I know you didn’t. That last night, when we made love, you held onto me so tight – like your life depended on mine – and I know you didn’t want to leave. And the letter you wrote me? Dear God, Felicity, that letter…I think I’ve read it a hundred times. The woman who wrote that letter cares so deeply for me, and I know this isn’t what you really want. I know you don’t want us to be apart. So why, in the name of all that’s holy, did you leave? Why didn’t you just stay, and tell me the truth?”

She watched him the entire time he spoke, focusing on his face as her lips trembled with his words. When he finished, Felicity took a deep breath in and looked him squarely in the eye. “When I first met you, Oliver, you were so closed off. So angry. You didn’t want to be at Blue; you even insisted that you’d only gone there on a dare. You weren’t ready for therapy, and I knew, from the moment I found you crouched down and grumbling by that blown tire, that if I told you I was a doctor – even one who was on vacation – you would run screaming in the opposite direction. I couldn’t bear the thought of that. So I made the decision not to tell you, at least for a while. At least until you could get used to the idea of therapy, and until I could figure out how to open you up.”

“Open me up? But you were on vacation. You were on your own vacation.”

“Yes, I was on vacation, but…”

“Well, then, you shouldn’t have felt the need to play doctor with me. If you were on vacation, you shouldn’t have felt the need to open me at all.”

“You’re right; I shouldn’t have. But I just couldn’t help myself. I wanted to help you. I needed to help you. As much as I’d promised myself that I would take a step away from the real world for those two weeks, when I saw you, I just couldn’t turn that part of me off. I still needed to help you, because that’s who I am, Oliver. I’d been doubting that fact, before I went up to that mountain. God, I’d been questioning everything in my life, if I’m being brutally honest.”

“I like brutal honesty,” he interjected, watching as she closed her eyes for a brief moment. “Please give me all the honesty you can. I want all of it.”

Felicity refocused on him. “I tried to give you honesty at Blue. At least, as much as I felt I could. I told you once that the reason I went there was to begin a journey, to reconnect with my roots, to find my joy.”

Oliver could so easily recall that moment. He could still hear those words whispered to him while he held her bare body against his in the warm bathwater. “I remember, Felicity.”

“Well, that was the truth. And the reason I needed to take that journey was because I was struggling here in the real world, Oliver. I was questioning every decision I’d ever made, questioning my very identity. You basically caught me in the middle of a mid-life crisis.”

“A mid-life crisis?”

“Yes, for lack of a better term. Although that may be a particularly bad choice of words, considering I would really like to live past the age of 58.”

Oliver couldn’t help smiling, and Felicity returned the smile briefly before her face fell again. Looking down to her hands, she studied her fingers while they trembled against the leather. “I tried really hard not to struggle while I was at Blue. I tried to just be happy and carefree, and I did a lot of things up on that mountain that I normally wouldn’t have. I did a lot of things that I shouldn’t have.”

“You mean like being physically intimate with me.”

“Yes,” she whispered. “I hope you can forgive me for entering into that kind of relationship with you. I never should have done it.”

“You were on vacation, Felicity. And you told me we shouldn’t get involved that way, but I didn’t listen to you. I basically seduced you, especially that first night.”

“It doesn’t matter; I should have fought harder against it. I knew it was wrong, but I just kept telling myself that it was okay, because we were two adults on vacation and our relationship was consensual.”

“It was consensual. I don’t feel violated, if that’s something you’re worried about. And I still don’t regret anything. You said you didn’t, either…that last night in bed, you said you would never regret a moment we spent together.”

“And I don’t,” she insisted, looking back to his eyes. “I don’t regret a moment of us. Even if I lose everything because of it, I will still never regret a moment I had with you.”

Oliver cringed with those words. “You don’t have to lose anything. I have no desire to hurt you; you must know that.”

“I do know that. I really do. And honestly, it’s still hard for me to believe you never found out that I was a doctor while we were at Blue. I just figured Roy would accidentally mention something, or you would hear it from Tommy or Quentin. In the back of my mind, it was always a concern.”

“Because you thought Lance would be angry and you might lose your medical practice?”

Felicity tilted her head as she observed him. “No, Oliver. Because I knew it would hurt you to find out that way, and hurting you was the last thing I wanted to do.”

His brow arched. “So you didn’t care that you might lose your practice?”

“Of course I cared. At first, I cared a lot. But then, when we grew closer, and I realized that I was actually truly helping you to live again, I decided that any consequence I would have to face for my actions would be worth it.”

Oliver’s chest tightened. “Are you saying that losing everything you’ve worked for – the nine-week backlog of patients waiting to see you here, and the clinic you run, not to mention Tommy and Roy and Pete and everyone else who relies on you – would have been worth it, just to help me?”

She looked straight into him. “Absolutely.”

He shifted his stance, his heart thudding against his ribcage. “Well, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue. The few people who knew about us up at Blue are all ridiculously loyal to you. Tommy promised me he would take his knowledge of us to his grave. And Pete didn’t know much, but swore himself to secrecy over what he did know. And I think Roy would lay himself down on train tracks before he’d ever hurt you.”

Felicity’s eyes filled with moisture. “They’re all such wonderful people.”

“They all adore you,” he said. “But not as much as I do.”

Her breath hitched with his words.

“So, will you answer my question now, Felicity?”

“Wh-which question?”

“Why did you leave?”

She pressed her lips back together.

Oliver waited for a long moment for her to answer.

When she didn’t, he sighed.

“Is it really because I didn’t know the truth about you being a doctor? Because I still don’t understand why you didn’t just tell me. I mean, I get why you didn’t tell me at first; you thought I would run away screaming, and you were right, I probably would have. But why didn’t you tell me later, after we were really together?”

“I wanted to tell you, Oliver. I swear I did. I thought about it so many times. But I knew it would change things between us. I knew that, even if you didn’t run away screaming, you would still see me as Dr. Felicity Smoak, and I didn’t want to be her. Not when I was with you. I wanted to just be Felicity, because the Felicity you saw was free and adventurous and happy. I wanted to be that person, just for a little while – to be a person I hadn’t been in as long as I could remember. I wanted to take a break from reality, and I know that was a terribly selfish thought, but I told myself it was okay, because you and I only had a few days together anyway.” She paused to take a breath, her fingers digging into the chair arms. “But there was one moment when I almost said the words…one time when I almost told you everything.”

Oliver took another step forward. “When? When was that?”

“That last night at the restaurant. We were sitting together at the dinner table, and you were holding my hand and telling me about the woman you wanted to spend the rest of your life with. And I wanted that woman to be me. I wanted it so badly, but there was this lie – this huge lie between us – and I knew I had to tell you the truth, before we could go any further.”

“So why didn’t you just tell me?”

“Because you thanked me.”

What?”

“You thanked me for helping you at Blue. You thanked me for helping you understand your life, and for helping you learn how to be happy. Don’t you remember?”

“Yes, of course I remember. And I meant every word. But what the hell does that have to do with anything?”

Felicity sighed. “It just confirmed what I already knew, what I’d known all along: you were a patient at Blue, a patient who needed help. I gave you that help. And yes, technically, I was on vacation. But that doesn’t change the fact that our relationship was therapeutic in nature, and it doesn’t change the fact that all therapy is based on trust. If I had sat there in that restaurant with you, and told you that I was a doctor at Blue, and that I’d been lying to you about it since the moment I met you, it would have destroyed your trust in me. Which could have destroyed all the progress you’d made.” She stopped speaking to breathe, her voice shaking as she continued. “Y-you told me that I helped you to be happy, and that’s all I ever wanted for you. So how could I have told you the truth then? How could I take away your trust, and take away your happiness, just because of my own desire to be with you, to fulfill my own needs? I’d already been so selfish, but taking all of that away from you would have been the most selfish thing I could possibly do. Ever.”

Oliver’s hands shook at his sides as he absorbed her words. Because he understood now. He understood that she believed she’d done all this for his own good. But more than that, he understood that she did want him, which was the best thing he’d ever heard.

So why doesn’t she look happier about being here with me now?

He forced his shoulders to relax. “Felicity, you do realize you just admitted that you want to be with me, right?”

A tiny smile pulled at her pink lips. “Is that what you took from my speech?”

“Yup. That’s what I took from it.”

She smiled for one moment longer, and then her lips fell. “What I want doesn’t matter.”

“What? How can you say that?”

“Because it’s the truth. I have to do what’s right here, and my wishes don’t matter.”

“They matter to me.”

A whimper escaped her throat, but then she straightened in her chair and looked him right in the eyes. “Oliver, I liked who I was on that mountain with you, but please understand…that’s not who I really am. I’m not the free-spirited woman you met by the side of the road. This,” she said, motioning to the room around them, “is me. Dr. Felicity Smoak. This is who I am.”

Oliver’s jaw unhinged as he stared back at her. Because those words clarified a million things all at once, and he could finally see the light through the trees. “Oh my God, is that what this is really all about? Do you actually think that I don’t know you? That I don’t know who you are? Is that the reason you didn’t tell me you bought wood spackle at the hardware store?”

“Well, I…I really did use the restroom when I went inside the store.”

“I’m not doubting that. But you also bought wood spackle, and you didn’t tell me. And I’m just now realizing it’s because you think I wouldn’t have understood, because you think I only saw one side of you. You think I only saw the person you were allowing yourself to be for a brief moment of time – the reinvigorated Girl Scout running around in the forest. But you couldn’t be more wrong.”

Felicity’s brow quirked in confusion.

“I can’t believe you think you hid yourself from me, because you didn’t,” Oliver insisted, taking several more steps toward her, so only a few feet of space separated them.

She stared up at him, her breaths moving stiffly through her chest.

“I saw you, Felicity. Up there, on that mountain. I saw those little moments when your façade cracked. When you mourned being on vacation, and when you regretted lying to me. God, the last day we were in the forest together, you practically came apart in my arms – begging me to forgive you for pushing me to take such a hard look at my life. I didn’t know why you felt so bad about it at the time. But I did know that the person in my arms, begging my forgiveness, wasn’t a carefree, untroubled woman.

“And those aren’t the only things I saw, either. There were so many little things, too. Like how you lined up your toiletries so precisely in the bathroom, and how you packed your luggage like a schoolmarm, and how you went out of your way to buy wood spackle to fill in the holes you’d made. I saw you, Felicity. Or maybe I should say that I saw both of you.”

Her eyes widened behind her glasses. “Both of me?”

“Both of you.” Oliver straightened himself in front of her. “I named them, you know. The two sides of you.”

“You…named them?”

“Yes. The carefree little forest fairy – the one you called Meganson – I call her Frolicking Freebird Felicity.”

She laughed, a sound as bright as any he’d ever heard, and Oliver smiled in response.

“Freebird,” she echoed.

“Yes. My freebird. She was the person I was with the most up on that mountain. But I also saw this person – the woman sitting in front of me now. I named her Solemnly Sedate Felicity. And no, I didn’t know she was a doctor, but I knew she existed. Because I watched you, baby. I was right there beside you, and I watched you struggle, trying to decide which woman you really were. Which woman you are.”

Her lip quivered as the smile dropped from her face. “The answer is this woman, Oliver. I can’t be that freebird you knew. Too many people depend on the person I am right now – sometimes with their very lives – and I’ve realized that this is who I was always meant to be.”

Oliver’s brow furrowed as he listened to her, as he inched closer. “Okay, fine. You’ve decided to leave the freebird behind, and be this person. So here you are, helping others, and even though I may not agree completely with your logic, I do understand it. But I honestly don’t see what it has to do with us. I don’t see why you can’t help these people and still be with me.”

Felicity squared her shoulders. “It’s because I’m not the person you were with on that mountain. I’m not that freebird. I’m Dr. Smoak, a physician at Blissful Blue Retreat. And you were a patient, Oliver. A patient.”

No,” he spit out. “You were on vacation. We both were. We were both patients.”

“It doesn’t matter. What I did was wrong.”

Oliver threw his hands up in the air. “Well, then, I forgive you! Damn it, Felicity, I forgive you! So now that’s over, and we can move on!”

She cringed with his outburst, her eyelids blinking rapidly behind her dark frames, and Oliver reigned in his temper as quickly as he could. But he knew it was too late. The damage was already done, and the person he thought he’d been reaching was now closed off again. He watched her fingers twitch against the arms of her chair, and he wanted to touch her so badly – to feel the connection of his skin to hers – that it damn near took his breath away.

Felicity held still as stone while she observed him, waiting patiently until his shoulders fell back down and he met her gaze evenly. Then she began speaking, her tone calm and steady. “I go to Blue several times a year to see patients, Oliver, and I have been since I first came out of my residency. I actually started my practice at Blue, and I’ve always enjoyed my time there as a physician. But this visit, for the first time ever, I asked Dr. Lance if I could spend two of my three weeks there alone, for personal reflection. At first, he said no. He was quite adamant about it, actually. He didn’t think it was a good idea for me to be there and not be practicing, because he said it would confuse the patients, especially those who came specifically to see me. I understood his argument. But I wanted so desperately to be there, and to have my journey in those woods, that I begged him until he caved in. It wasn’t easy; I had to promise not to have any communication with any guests after that first week. I had to promise I wouldn’t attend any common functions, or be seen around the grounds. I basically had to promise Dr. Lance my firstborn child, just to have the opportunity to be there by myself for those two weeks. But I knew it would be worth it, because I needed that time, so badly.

“I told you a few days ago that I felt weak and beaten when I got to Blue, and that was the absolute truth. I needed my journey there, Oliver. I needed to recharge myself, so I could come back to the real world and be this person again. And I never should have involved you in any of that, but I did, and I still don’t regret it. I will never regret it. Because from the moment you let me see into your heart – to really see everything you’d been struggling with for so many years – I realized that my journey at Blue was always supposed to be bound to yours.”

Felicity stopped speaking for a moment, inhaling deeply before smiling softly up into his eyes. “Do you know that I actually got a little lost in the woods, the day I met you? I’ve never gotten lost in those woods before, but that day – the day you arrived – I got a bit turned around, and I came out of the forest farther down on the road than I normally would have. I recognized where I was immediately, once I’d stepped out of the tree line. And then I saw you. I saw you crouched down by that tire, held up there by the flitting of a squirrel. It felt so random, so arbitrary. But days later, when you told me your last name, it occurred to me just how many times we’d probably passed each other on the street here in Starling, and never met. And yet, that day at Blue, I got lost in the woods, and you got waylaid by a squirrel, and we found each other.

“It amazed me to think about it, to think about how the stars aligned for us on that mountain. I mean, just the fact that no one up there ever mentioned the name Dr. Smoak to you, not even once in fourteen days, was unbelievable to me. And I began to understand, as we spent more and more time together, that I was supposed to be there for your journey. I believe that I was always meant to guide you, from the moment I saw you. And realizing that really helped me, Oliver. It helped me remember why I chose to become a doctor in the first place. Knowing that I could bring you out of the forest you were in meant that I could do the same thing for other people, too. And now I’m just grateful I had the opportunity to guide you. I’m just grateful I was able to be there.

“So I hope you can understand why I didn’t tell you the truth about me. I hope you understand that I chose not to tell you, because I never wanted to harm you by breaking your trust in me. Instead, I chose to leave. I chose to leave you, so that you could finish healing. I chose to come back here to my life – the life I was always meant to lead.

“And I knew that, when I came back home, I would have to look out of my window and see your building. I knew that I would have to sit here, knowing you were practically within the reach of my fingertips, and not say a word about it. But I made that decision, and I stand by it. Because Blue gave us both what we needed in order to move on with our lives, and now it’s time for us to do that.”

Felicity held tight to arms of the chair while she looked into him. “I can’t be your frolicking freebird here in the real world, Oliver. And you need to let me go now, so you can move on. So we can both move on.”

Oliver stood, stunned.

Let her go? Let her go? What the fuck was she even talking about? Hadn’t she just admitted a few minutes ago that she wanted to be with him? Why wouldn’t she let herself have this relationship? Why would she let them have this relationship?

He took three more steps toward her, erasing the space between them entirely, forcing her to look up to his eyes. “You know, Felicity, if you wanted me to believe that there was no hope for us, you never should have written me that letter.”

She blinked several times before stiffening her spine. “I’m sorry, Oliver.”

His jaw clenched with her words, because he didn’t need any more apologies. He just needed her. He just needed them.

He stood there, staring down into her eyes, for the longest time. And then Oliver shook his head, over and over again, completely exasperated by all of this. Because Dr. Smoak sat stiff and still before him – full of determination and resolve – and it frustrated him beyond belief. He just couldn’t get through to her right now, because his mind was too tossed and too tortured, and her walls were too thick and too high. This argument between them was just going in circles, and he couldn’t think of anyway to change the direction at this point in time. Especially since he wasn’t exactly sure why she still resisted him so hard.

Oliver took a deep breath in, and then exhaled, resigning himself to the only course of action he currently had. “I’m going to leave now, Felicity.”

“I think that’s…that’s for the best.”

He closed his eyes. Goddamn it! No it’s not! It’s not for the best! Why can’t you see that? Why can’t you just admit that we’re better off together?

When he reopened his eyes, he pinned them onto hers. He stared into her, stared into the sky blue behind the glasses, searching for that woman he knew on the mountain. The woman he’d held in his arms so many times. The woman who bounced and bubbled and laughed. The woman he’d kissed senseless, for hours on end. The woman who’d come apart beneath his hands and his mouth – who’d come so hard for him that she forgot where she was, and banged her head into furniture. The woman he’d made love to just two nights ago, who’d achingly whispered his name as tears ran down her face.

Oliver wanted nothing more than to see that woman right now – to feel that woman right now – so he trailed his eyes down her body, just drinking her in. He took in the slope of her shoulders under her tailored blouse, and the curve of her hips beneath her pencil skirt, and the perfection of her tiny feet inside her heels. God, she was wearing high heels. Red ones. He wanted to fuck her in them. He wanted to fuck her right out of them. And then he wanted to take her back to his house and make her dinner. And then snuggle up with her on his couch and talk to her for hours. And then lay her down in his bed and make love to her again and again.

By the time Oliver finally managed to peel his eyes away from the sight of her red heels, and drag his gaze slowly up her body and back to her face, Felicity was barely breathing. He wasn’t exactly sure what she saw in his eyes when she looked at him right now, but whatever it was, it obviously set her body on fire. She shifted nervously in her seat as she watched him, her knuckles whitening against the chair arms. Then her tongue darted out, moistening her lips for just a second, and Oliver couldn’t stand it any longer.

He leaned forward, placing his hands in front of hers on the armrests, the tips of his fingers overlapping her own. His breath lodged in his throat as his face came just an inch from hers. And then he took a deep inhale, filling his lungs with her fresh soap and tiny flowers.

“God, I missed you,” he whispered against her lips. “It’s only been two days since I felt your skin on mine, but I swear it’s been a lifetime.”

Oliver,” she breathed, whimpering as her fingers shifted across his.

His mouth hovered close to hers, and Oliver could feel her lips tremble. Felicity’s entire body hummed, pulling toward him. Because his freebird wanted his touch. She wanted his touch, and his kiss. He could just take a kiss from her now. He could take a hundred kisses. Hell, he could just take all of her, for this one moment. But he knew he couldn’t do that. Because he wanted more. He wanted more than a moment. He wanted everything.

Oliver held himself there, suspended above her, for as long as he could – just relishing the feel of her shallow breaths against his skin. Then he forced himself to pull away fr