Of one thing Felicity is certain: Oliver Queen is fascinating in a dangerous sort of way.
In the light he is beautiful, perfect even: the ideal son, the caring brother, the suave nightclub owner, the charismatic best friend. In the darkness that facade falls away until all that's left is the twang of an arrow flying through the air and the battle cry of a weary soldier. You have failed this city.
In the day he lies through his teeth and treats enemies like friends, guarding his past like a secret; in the night he thrives on his own definition of justice and suffers beneath the weight of an obligation Felicity doesn't think he should ever have tried to carry alone.
Oliver Queen is like the foundry where he spends his nights. Abandoned and damaged by the elder Mr. Queen, but scraped out and purged and built up again into something new. In the same way the pulsing beat of the nightclub above carefully conceals the secret hideout beneath, so Oliver uses the playboy billionaire persona to obscure the secret identity beneath the hood.
Somehow he's managed to become two sides of the same coin, love and hate, lies and truth, safety and danger; he's always two extremes that mix into the greyest morality Felicity's ever seen.
When Felicity thinks of the real Oliver, she thinks of the one who slips into the foundry early in the morning. She thinks of the green and black smearing beneath his eyes and down his cheeks, how he looks broken and burdened, tired and taut.
She does not think of the billionaire with his perfectly tailored suits and his gorgeous girlfriends; she does not think of the vigilante, the green hood and the deepened voice and the curve of a bow. To Felicity, the real Oliver resides between his two polarizing identities. The real Oliver is the hurt, bleeding man who turned up in her backseat with a bullet in his shoulder and trust in his eyes.
She never met the Oliver-of-before. The only Oliver she knows is the one forged by fire, the one who was irreparably broken again and again, but still somehow managed to piece himself back together, scar fragments be damned.
She knows the Oliver who survived - or at least she's starting to. She knows the one who hates thunderstorms and lightning and rain and the bitter cold, but will never admit it to a soul because he equates it with weakness. She knows the man who can hang from the ceiling by one hand, who can fire a bow and arrow with pinpoint accuracy.
It frustrates her that he cloaks himself with this masquerade of who he was before. She sees through it in an instant in a way that his family can't because they don't want to see how the island changed him for the worse.
He doesn't talk about the island, and Felicity vows to herself to never push. She has no problems letting him know when she knows he's not telling the truth, but she never presses. Just like he told her about the Hood, he'll tell her the rest in his own time, whether by prompted by circumstances or by friendship.
Felicity soft of hopes it's the latter, actually.
Felicity is a whirlwind.
She fills the room like the gust of a rushing wind, ten steps ahead before he can even take one to catch up. She's quick, and she's clever.
If Oliver is dark and jaded, Felicity is innocence and light. Her brain jumps from one thing to another thing to another thing, and life just seems to pour out of her at this incredible rate. She's so real it hurts, and Oliver might be used to pain, but not this kind of pain. This is the sharp agony of discerning the genuine from the artificial and the gnawing ache that comes with the realization that he will forever be the later.
The Hood is not Oliver Queen. Playboy Billionaire Oliver Queen is not Oliver Queen. Oliver Queen died on a life raft in the middle of a storm. He drowned in a sea of death and blood. The creature that rose from the depths of that ocean with the word survive echoing in his chest like a heartbeat is not Oliver Queen.
And Felicity Smoak is the one who knows him the least and yet sees through his facade the most.
Oliver looked her up before he even approached her the first time. Felicity Megan Smoak. Only child. Studied at MIT. Top of her class. Brilliant. Bold. Beautiful.
There are things his research doesn't tell him. Things like the fact that she has a proclivity towards bold nail polish and bright lipstick, that she built her first computer when she was seven and has a tendency to babble when she's nervous.
It doesn't say that she can read Oliver Queen like a book, that she cares much, much more than she ever lets on, or that she always wants to do the right thing no matter the cost.
He watches her sometimes, the remarkable Felicity Smoak, who chews on the ends of her pens when she's distracted and twirls her hair when she's working, who has these glasses that she's constantly adjusting with her forefinger because they slide down her nose.
Oliver likes having people figured out, and Felicity isn't hard to figure out. She's fascinated by him, first by his former life as a castaway, then by his secret life as a vigilante.
She's also attracted to him. That's a given; Oliver's yet to meet a woman who isn't. He doesn't think much about it.
The Felicity that Oliver is familiar with is the one who accepts none of his lies yet helps him anyway, the one whose hair is always tucked back neatly in that low ponytail and whose eyes are shrouded by those cute glasses. It's not until he sees her in that gold dress, hair curling around her shoulders, make-up flawless, that he looks at Felicity and thinks words like woman and precious and lovely. It initially seems rather shallow of him, but in hindsight, the only women he's taken the time to appreciate lately have all meant something to him emotionally. McKenna, Helena, even Laurel.
In that respect, he's not sure what Felicity means to him. All Oliver knows is that all too quickly he comes to rely on her voice in his ear, comes to trust that she's watching out for him, watching over him.
They argue a lot.
Here's the thing: Felicity trusts Oliver. She somehow always has, and she likely always will. That trust doesn't mean that she agrees with everything he says or does.
Felicity believes that Oliver can be better, that the selfish boy who grew into a headstrong man can continue to grow into a hero. Maybe it is naïveté on her part, but she believes it. Oliver Queen is a man on a mission but he's also a man who cares and caresd eeply.
So she seizes those moments to shake his sense of morality, to challenge him when he lets his emotions or his experience or his skewed sense of what is right and wrong mess with his head.
Sometimes Oliver just outright yells at her. She finds in these confrontations it's best to stand her ground until they've both had their say, and then just get the hell out of his way until they've both cooled down.
His passion is breathtaking, and it makes him even more attractive to her.
Here's the thing about when Oliver yells. It's almost always a release of tension, and it's almost always over the Bluetooth he hates wearing. Once that's gone, once he's back at the foundry and with her in person, all that emotion, the anger, the frustration, all of it just drains out of him.
In the calm after the storm, his voice softens into this gentle, quiet tone. Like he's suddenly afraid he'll scare her away. Warmly, his fingers touch her shoulder or her hands. On her shoulder, his touch is heavy, soothing. On her hands his contact is light, steady.
Felicity loves Oliver's hands, loves the strength of them, the way they hold his bow steady, the way they hold her steady.
There are lighter moments, too. There are times when she does or says something that amuses him, and he does this thing where he breathes in through his nose and just barely shakes his head as he rolls his eyes. It's this half-entertained, half-exasperated gesture that starts appearing more and more frequently as Felicity continues to help him. Felicity likes that look on Oliver, likes that it makes him seem lighter, less burdened somehow, more like the person he must have been half a decade ago. She doesn't exactly try to make him laugh - Felicity's not even certain how that would work, anyway - but she feels a sense of accomplishment when he chuckles at something she's said.
Oliver's smiles are few and far between, and his laughter is a rare sound.
"We can protect her," he tells Dig, and he means it when he says it. But Diggle seems to have a sixth sense about these things, because it's not even a week before Felicity is staring at him with wide eyes, telling him to get away before the bomb collar around her neck explodes. He hears the fear in her voice, sees it in her eyes. "I'm going to get decapitated, aren't I?"
Oliver has no problems jumping off a building, no fear flying down the streets on a motorcycle. He doesn't dread gunfire or bullets or fists. He can handle himself. If there is one thing Oliver Queen knows, it's that he's a survivor.
The problem with opening up to people, the problem with letting them in, with being vulnerable, is the pain you open yourself up to when bad things happen to them.
His loved ones are balls in the juggling act that is his life and somehow he knows there is only so long he can keep from slipping up and causing everything to fall to the floor. Only so long before he fails completely.
He thinks of Felicity tied up on the floor of her office, thinks of how he failed her, failed Tommy, failed McKenna, by not taking out Helena sooner. He hears her "I'm sorry, Oliver", and thinks, This is my fault.
If Oliver fears anything, he fears failing to protect the people he cares about. It seems brutally unfair that right after he vows to protect Felicity, her life is thrust into jeopardy not once, but twice.
After that second brush with danger, Oliver starts teaching her self-defense in addition to the few hours a week she gets in with Diggle. It's not because he doesn't trust Dig to teach her everything; it's more that Oliver has this huge protective streak, especially when it involves the women in his life. (And Oliver is discovering more and more that Felicity has become a Woman In Oliver Queen's Life.)
Felicity is eager to learn and eager to please. "I don't want to be a burden," she tells him once, skin slick with sweat and hair matted to the back of her neck.
The only word that comes out of Oliver's mouth is quick and heartfelt: "Never."
"Maybe it's better to be alone," she says, and something inside him twists.
Because if Oliver has learned one thing since coming back from the island it's that No, it's never good to be alone.
People need people. People need connection. Oliver doesn't want Felicity's connection with the world to be severed because of him. Oliver doesn't want any of his demons to become hers. He doesn't want his past to suffocate her future like it's already smothering his.
Oliver doesn't want Felicity to be on an island. Not because of him.
"If you ever need someone to talk to about your day...you can talk to me."
And it's the craziest thing in the world, but she does. At first, it's just about missions. Things like, I'm not sure how I feel about you shooting that guy in the chest. Or, I should have found this information faster. I'm sorry, Oliver.
Quickly, Felicity learns that Oliver is a fantastic listener. He's quiet, he keeps his eyes fixed on her as she talks, and he only offers advice or consolation when he genuinely means it. Their talks often end with his hand rubbing her shoulder or his fingers skimming down her back.
She wonders, sometimes, if it's all a ploy to keep her around, if he knows just how to push her buttons, just how to pull her strings in order to encourage her to stay. A touch here, a kind word there, just enough to keep her invested, just enough to give her hope that one day she could be more than his girl Friday.
And then in the next moment she banishes those thoughts because no. Oliver manipulates people, and he tried it with her in the beginning of their relationship - flashing that charming grin, you're remarkable, one of those bottles of wine is yours - but he hasn't since she found him shot and bleeding. Intimidation, yes. Manipulation, no.
So maybe the physical contact is less his way of using her own foolish infatuation against her and more of an effort to ensure that his own brokenness isn't allowed shatter her. Maybe it's his way of trying to help her hold together because he's not capable of doing anything else for her.
Slowly, the topics of their conversations turn to other things. Her life before Oliver Queen. Her life outside Oliver Queen. Felicity is almost certain he already knows the answers to some of the questions he asks, but he asks anyway, and that counts for something.
"What's your favorite color?"
"Best day of your life?"
Felicity Smoak? Hi. I'm Oliver Queen. "Graduating from college."
"Still think archery is ridiculous?"
"A little. I might be changing my mind. Favorite food?"
"All of them. Yours?"
"Will you tell me about the scars someday?"
The first time the Hood saves Felicity Smoak, she finds herself sitting in a police interrogation room. She's shaking and she's covered in blood and she would really like to go home and sleep.
Instead she's trying desperately to keep her story straight. Facing a band of gun toting mercenaries sweeping through the Queen Consolidated building wasn't how she was planning on spending her evening.
"Do you know who the Hood is?" Felicity stares at Detective Lance, words caught in her throat, visions of Oliver flashing before in her eyes. Lance slams the palm of his hand against the table. "Do you know who the Hood is?"
Felicity jumps, startled. "No. No. How could I possibly know that?"
"Why did the Hood save you?"
"I-I don't know. Why does the Hood save anybody? To be honest, I'm just glad he did." She forces a chuckle; it sounds strangled even to her ears.
"What is your relationship with Oliver Queen?"
The question comes out of nowhere and Felicity tries to hide her surprise. "He's kind of my boss at Queen Consolidated. I'm in the I.T. department."
"What exactly is the nature of your relationship?"
He lies to me until I make him tell me the truth, she doesn't say, He's frustrating and fascinating and I'm hopelessly attracted to him even though he'll never see me in the same way.
"Oliver comes to me for technical help sometimes."
"Why would he need your help?"
Felicity tries not to give him a look, she really does. "He was trapped on an island for five years. A lot changes in five years."
"Are you and Mr. Queen romantically involved?"
Her stomach twists. "No."
It's then that she hears Oliver's voice, loud, angry, "You have one of my employees! She has been through a trauma; she's in shock. You let her go and you let her go now."
Felicity's not sure if it's because of Oliver's threats to call in the Queen family lawyers, or if it's just that Detective Lance is finished with her anyway, but they let her go after that.
Oliver escorts her out of the police station, helps her push past the paparazzi and then drives her home.
"You okay?" he asks, once he's shifted the car into park and shut off the engine. During the drive over, Felicity's done nothing but stare at the blank phone in her hand.
"Just...wondering how much more of this I'm going to put up with before my self-preservation kicks in," she says.
"You don't have to stay." He's not looking at her, which isn't exactly a good sign. "I would never make you stay if you didn't want to."
"I know," she says.
The next day as Oliver pulls up to the nightclub, he forces himself to confront the reality that she might not be there. He hasn't given a lot of thought to what will happen if Felicity leaves. He doesn't even want to think about what might happen after they find Walter. So when Oliver jogs down the metal staircase and sees her sitting in her usual place in front of her bevy of computer monitors, he finds himself releasing a breath he hasn't realized he's been holding.
He'll be okay if she leaves; he knows this. He got along alright without her before, and he'll get on alright after. There's supposed to be a difference between wanting to have someone around and needing to have someone around, but Oliver's not sure when the distinction got so blurry where Felicity is concerned.
Oliver comes to a stop behind her and settles both hands on her shoulders. She jumps slightly. Since she's starting working with him, he's been catching her off-guard less and less, but it's sort of nice to know that he can still have that effect on her.
Felicity tips her head back so she can look up at him. Her lips are bright red today. "I'm here."
Felicity is alone in the foundry when Oliver finds Walter.
He calls in over the communication unit Felicity gave him. He hates wearing it while he's fighting, (he's already accidentally broken three) but he likes the convenience of being able to easily get in touch with her.
"Is he alive?"
She knows it's bad when Oliver is quiet. Generally, when he's the Hood, Oliver doesn't care much for tact. He says it exactly like it is in as few words as possible. So the fact that he's trying to figure out how to break the news to her tells Felicity all she needs to know.
"Just tell me, Oliver," she says.
"I'm sorry." His voice is tight, wrecked.
Felicity mutes her microphone so he can't hear the sob that rips from her chest. Walter was her boss and he was good to her, and even though she knows it's not entirely her fault, guilt sits heavy in her gut. She didn't pull the trigger, but she inadvertently pushed him into the line of fire.
After Oliver's tells her he's heading back, Felicity starts to gather her things. She doesn't want to be in the foundry when Oliver returns. She doesn't want to see the look on his face, and she doesn't want him to see she's been crying.
Felicity stops mid-stride when she sees him. Lifting the hood off of his face with one hand, Oliver unzips his jacket with the other. Felicity can see the exhaustion behind his eyes.
There's black running down both their cheeks. Hers from her mascara; his from his domino mask.
"Don't tell me it's not my fault, Oliver," she says. "I don't want to hear it. I helped him decode that book."
"You don't know that's why they did it."
"Why else, Oliver? That book was - is - dangerous and I helped him decode it."
She holds up a hand. "I just...I don't think I can be here right now."
"Let me take you home," he says, setting his bow down and removing his quiver from around his torso.
"I drove here," Felicity says. "I'll be fine."
"I need my car, Oliver, and I can drive myself home."
He catches her arm as she tries to brush past him. "Talk to me, Felicity." It's not the growl of a frustrated Oliver over the comm. unit. It's low and laced with concern.
"I can't," she says. "I don't know what to say."
"Then don't say anything; just...please don't go."
His voice sounds so broken that Felicity is helpless to refuse him
She sets down her purse; Oliver takes off his jacket.
In silence, they sit on the stairs until the sun rises.
After Walter's memorial, Felicity wears black and stands in line with the rest of the Queen Consolidated employees to offer condolences to the family. She shakes Thea's hand, and says a quick "I'm so sorry for your loss," to Moira.
When Oliver sees the red lining her eyes and traces of tears on her cheeks, he can't help himself. She starts to offers him her hand; he envelopes her in a hug.
It's short and it's effortless, but he somehow can't imagine not hugging her.
"It was not your fault," he murmurs, lips close to her ear. "I promise you, Felicity. It was not your fault." He feels her shudder in his arms, this tiny tremble that accompanies a shallow intake of breath. Felicity steps back a second later and walks away without saying a word. Oliver watches her go.
Walter was gone for so long that Oliver never truly expected to find him alive, but Felicity hoped, and that hope was contagious. Now that hope is crushed. Oliver knows the sting of that, knows how often the hope of getting off the island, of seeing Laurel, Thea, Tommy, and his mother again was a buoy that kept him afloat in a storm.
"Who was that?" Thea asks.
"A friend," Oliver answers.
Their relationship changes when Walter dies. It can't not.
Felicity doesn't go back to the foundry. And it's not that Felicity doesn't immediately go back, she doesn't go back. She leaves some of her things there on accident, but she doesn't have the heart to go get them. In her soul, she knows that if she steps foot in the foundry she'll be back in that world and after that point she won't leave.
Felicity likes her boring IT girl life. She likes the fact that up until Oliver Queen entered it, she didn't have to worry about people putting bomb collars around her neck, threatening her with crossbows, or tying her up and leaving her on the floor of her office.
She doesn't like not being in the loop. She doesn't like only hearing about the Hood from the news. She doesn't like how she always feels compelled to watch because it's the only glimpse of the vigilante that she has anymore. She hates the way terror clenches around her heart when she hacks into the police frequencies in order to make sure Oliver is alive.
Diggle is the one who finally calls her. "He misses you, Felicity; you miss him. He needs you. Why don't you just come back? What are you waiting for?"
She doesn't know what she's waiting for. Something, she supposes. But that's not what comes out of her mouth. "I'm waiting for him to ask me to stay."
"This is Oliver Queen we're talking about, Felicity. You could be in for a very long wait."
Oliver doesn't see Felicity for an entire two weeks after the memorial. He's painfully aware of the rules she laid down at the start of their relationship. She'll help until they find Walter; they found Walter.
He doesn't have a right to ask any more from her, not after everything she's done, everything she's been through. So it doesn't matter how many times he picks up his phone to call her; it doesn't matter how many times he starts to head to the I.T. department at Queen Consolidated.
He cares about Felicity, and he respects her, so he'll respect her decisions no matter how much he wishes she would have chosen to stay.
Oliver's upside down on his hands, heels brushing against the wall at his back, his shirt drenched in sweat, when he hears the shuffle of her shoes on the cement and the uneasy sound of her voice.
In one quick motion, he kicks down from the handstand and onto his feet. When his eyes land on her, his smile is involuntary. Grabbing a towel from a nearby table, Oliver hangs it around his neck as he steps towards Felicity. "Hi."
They look at each other for a long time, until Oliver finally asks, "What are you doing here, Felicity?"
"I came here," she says, "because you're an idiot, Oliver."
He outright smiles at that, the smile he gives her when he's actually trying to hold back a laugh so as not to hurt her feelings. "What did I do this time?"
"You let me go. Duh."
Lowering his voice, Oliver says, "You said you'd stay to help us find Walter. We found Walter. Asking more from you wouldn't have been fair."
She shrugs. "Maybe not. But you never asked."
"What do you want from me, Felicity?"
"I want you to know that if you ask me to stay, I'll stay."
Oliver doesn't hesitate. He walks to her, places both hands on her shoulders and says, "Stay."
She blinks in surprise. "Just like that?"
"Just like that."
It takes him a second. Oliver's never been the greatest at sentiment; he's probably worse when he's pressed for it. "Because I'm better with you."
It's not I need you, because Oliver has a hard time admitting to actually needing anyone, but that's okay. I'm better with you, is as close as Felicity thinks Oliver Queen will ever get. It implies need, and Felicity can be content in that knowledge. Content enough to stay. Content enough to help. Content enough to keep Oliver safe, which - if she's truthful with herself - is exactly what her mandate has been all along, whether he knows it or not.
Somewhere along the way she started caring for him far beyond what she'd ever intended.
A fleeting, hopeless crush melted into undeniable love, and Felicity doesn't care that she can't separate the platonic from the romantic anymore. That line was blurred from the beginning anyway.
The scary thing is now she realizes that she needs him too. Felicity's tasted her life with a sense of purpose, a sense of making a difference. With that gone, normal suddenly became bland. Routine suddenly turned into insignificant.
But beyond that, she spent two weeks not talking to one of the people who understands her the best, and that pretty much sucked.
The best thing about Felicity returning is the way Oliver feels like a piece of himself has come home too.
She's familiar to him now. He's grown accustomed to the way she uses the toe of her shoe to spin around in her chair, to the way her fingers click against the keyboard as he trains. He's used to the sight of her purse below the desk where she always sets it; the light, subtle scent of her perfume; and the shuffling of her shoes on the concrete floor.
She comes back with a slew of complains regarding her previously perfectly set-up system, but Oliver's happy to indulge her ranting so long as she's there and alive and smiling at him with those bubble-gum pink lips.
"You're happy," Dig says the day after she comes back. They're in the middle of a sparring session; Felicity's over at her keyboard researching the next name on the list. "You missed her. Admit it."
With one move, Oliver knocks him to the floor. "I'm not admitting anything."
Their first kiss is on a rooftop in the rain.
It happens after another one of those near death experiences. The Dark Archer has Felicity by the throat, blade pressed against her neck, and somewhere in her mind she registers Oliver's shout to let her go, and the response of take another step and I will slit her throat.
In a sudden burst of tunnel vision, Felicity sees Oliver's fingers on his bowstring, sees the steadiness of his gaze and the way he draws in his breath only to hold it for a moment. She recognizes the tells instantly.
The arrow flies through the air with incredible precision and strikes the Archer right in the throat, giving Felicity the precious seconds she needs to slip away. She hears the releaseof another arrow, then a third, and Oliver's voice yelling Felicity, get down.
He leaps at the Archer, and Felicity sees him grab the knife, sees him sink it into the monster's chest. He draws the blade out and stabs again, then again.
Until he's sure the man beneath the mask is dead.
Felicity doesn't move until Oliver picks up his bow again. "Are you okay?" he asks.
"You shouldn't have killed him," Felicity says between heaving breathes as she shakily stands to her feet. "You needed him alive."
"I need you alive," he says. His eyes are sorrowful and his voice is absolutely broken. "Just you, Felicity."
He steps towards her, but she runs to him, and she hears the clank of his bow dropping to the roof as he catches her in up in his arms. They collide with a kiss that Felicity can only describe as epic.
The wind and the rain whip around them, but the hood shields her face from the storm. It's cold and wet, but Oliver's arms are around her, holding her impossibly close. His hands press flat against her back as his lips move against hers.
In hindsight, she should have known he would be an excellent kisser.
"When?" Felicity asks when their lips part.
"I don't know," he's so close the words are a breath against her mouth. "Somehow you just...crept up on me."
Of one thing Felicity is certain: Her life is infinitely better with Oliver Queen in it.
She'd like it to stay that way.