The first time it happened, Oliver thought it was a fluke.
They were infiltrating the home of one of Starling City's elite—Harlan Brownstein—who was buying up the remaining tenements in the Glades and evicting earthquake survivors.
Ironically, their entry point was a charity ball with half of the city in attendance to benefit the Glades. The plan was to get into his private home office, copy his files, and get out without being caught. The Hood would pay him a visit later that night.
Simple. Easy. Piece of cake.
Except Brownstein's in-house security patrolled the upper floors of his mansion every ten minutes. Felicity was fast, but not that fast.
"Someone's coming," Dig said over the comm. He was positioned at the foot of the stairs in his rented tux, looming over the rest of the catering staff, a tray of champagne flutes rendering him invisible to the attendees.
"Almost there," Felicity murmured, her fingers flying across the keyboard as her custom-made encryption-breaking algorithm worked its way through Brownstein's directories.
"Oliver, hurry up!" Diggle hissed.
Oliver stood behind the tall leather chair, watching the files queue up to download to their server as soon as the encryption was broken. "Felicity, we have to go."
"Almost there!" she whispered fiercely, reaching up to adjust glasses she wasn't actually wearing. In her "disguise" as Oliver's arm candy, she wore a vintage Chanel halter dress. Her long blond curls were tinted dark auburn ("Everyone knows Oliver Queen, playboy of the Western World, prefers brunettes," she'd said as she'd carefully navigated down the metal stairs of the factory basement while Oliver and Diggle just gaped at her transformation) and blown out straight to fall down her bare back like a curtain of silk.
Oliver had been playing his role as dilettante playboy to the hilt. It wasn't working much in the way of magic, as most of the city still blamed his mother for not reporting Malcolm Merlyn to the police before he'd actually had a chance to use the technology he'd stolen from Unidac to level a third of downtown. Still, most of the glares came from people who didn't have even a tenth of the Queen family's amassed fortune. The rest forgave and forgot according to how many zeros were on the cheques he cut for whatever the charity-du-jour might be.
"Felicity—" Oliver grabbed her arm, and tried to move her bodily out of the chair as the security guard's approaching footsteps grew louder.
He almost tripped as Felicity slipped out of the office chair and turned around to grab his forearms.
"What—" he began as she shoved him into the chair, and then hiked up her already almost sinfully short skirt to straddle him.
"Just go with it," Felicity whispered as she clicked off the monitor and dropped her clutch on the desk next to the blinking flash drive. Then her lips were on his, and his hands went automatically to her hips.
This was not part of the plan, the rational part of Oliver's brain supplied, while the rest of him was trying to deal with a sudden lapful of one warm, willing IT girl. It was difficult to remember that as her tongue slid against his, while his palms found the warm, bare skin of her back.
Oliver had been very attentive all evening, dancing with her, making a show of pulling out her chair. But when he'd leaned over and whispered in her ear, it had been info about the guards shifts and floor plans, not sweet nothings.
In that moment, however, he was all too aware of exactly how sexy his date was; he felt like he was drowning in her perfume and the warmth of her body pressed up against his.
The door crashed open, and Oliver's body tensed beneath Felicity's. But she just continued kissing him, his head tipped back against the office chair. He practically growled as she dug her fingernails into his shoulders and arched her back.
"Hey! Lovebirds! You can't be in here."
Felicity drew back, simpering and giggling as she looked over her shoulder at the beefy security guard.
"The party's downstairs."
"Sorry—just looking for a little privacy," Oliver stammered as she climbed off his lap. He didn't even see her palm the flash drive.
She was getting better at that.
She was getting better at a lot of things.
The guard's scowl only deepened as Oliver gave him a smile oozing charm and the tiniest hint of a leer at Felicity's retreating figure, and he jogged to catch up with her.
"Wow, people do that on TV all the time, but it actually works!" Felicity whispered, a flush in her cheeks and eyes bright with mirth. His hand hovered over her back before settling on her waist lightly.
"Next time, a little warning?" Oliver whispered back, unable to keep a little of the Hood's growl out of his voice.
"You looked like a landed fish." Felicity giggled as they made their way down the spiral staircase to where Diggle waited at the bottom on the other side of the red velvet rope, barely containing his laughter.
"Felicity! You can't just randomly kiss people."
"It wasn't random. It was strategic."
"You can't strategically kiss people."
"Well, it worked, didn't it?
"What'd you do?" Diggle asked with a raised eyebrow.
Felicity gave him a wide smile. "I whammied him."
"You did not 'whammy' me." Oliver scowled, and took a look around the entryway to make sure no-one was watching them.
"She totally whammied you," Dig said, gesturing to his chin. Oliver ran his hand over his own, and his fingers came away with traces of Felicity's red lipstick.
"I'm just gonna go..." Felicity gestured to her face, and then her heels were clicking across the hardwood floor to the ladies room, to repair her make-up. Oliver stared down at the trace of blood-red lipstick on his thumb like he'd never seen it before.
At the factory, after Felicity had gone home, her high-heeled shoes in one hand, garment bag in the other, Diggle had sat down in her chair. He spun around twice before slowing to a halt in front of Oliver.
"Felicity really did a number on you, didn't she."
"Right. Beautiful girl crawls in my lap, I'm just saying... It's okay if you need some time to work through some stuff."
"There's nothing to work through. I'm fine."
Diggle gave him a look, then shrugged. "Okay. But don't say I didn't warn you."
When the Hood paid Brownstein a visit long after the party had ended, the man had gibbered in terror. But even as Oliver grimly offered him the choice of rehabbing his crumbling properties and offering them at controlled rents to the survivors or leaving Starling City with one or more ash wood shafts sticking out of his body, his mind was elsewhere. Remembering how he'd felt as he'd sat in that same leather chair just hours earlier.
He imagined Felicity's perfume still lingering in the air. The night air as he drove his motorcycle back to Verdant should have cleared it.
He was just haunted by the memory of the scent.
The second time it happened, Oliver considered turnabout fair play.
They were in the dimly lit, freezing cold server room of one of Queen Consolidated's chief competitors in the steel industry. Someone at Edge International was profiting from using substandard materials in the Rebuild The Glades project. Oliver was determined to find the person or persons responsible.
Unfortunately, the data they needed was stored on the servers, and Felicity had had zero luck hacking into the secure servers from the outside. After the near-fiasco at Merlyn Global, Oliver had been reticent. Mainly because he was confident that showing up in Morgan Edge's penthouse apartment with his bow would be more than enough to get the answers they needed. But both Dig and Felicity had pointed out that Edge himself—no matter how shady—might not be the guilty party. They needed access to the servers to determine who exactly had authorised the shipments of materials from China to Starling City.
The invitation to the cocktail party to launch Edge's brand new Starling City offices he'd had every intention of turning down became their in. It had been ballsy to invite the scion of the Queen family, but Edge was known for his grand gestures. It was part of what had made him a household name in Metropolis, despite his long-suspected-but-never-proven ties to organised crime.
Which was why Oliver once again wore his disguise of feckless playboy, instead of green leather, standing guard while Felicity had her tablet plugged into the server.
Oliver had been concerned she might be recognised, but she'd just laughed and informed him no-one outside of QC's IT department even know what she looked like, let alone remembered her name. He'd introduced her as "Meghan", her standard undercover fall-back, and they'd sipped champagne and nibbled on shrimp puffs until they could sneak away without being followed.
It had taken her seconds to find the access ports she was looking for, but longer than he'd have liked to find the actual shipping manifests. She chewed her bottom lip as she maniacally chased down the exact files they needed, while a cocktail party for Starling City's elite went on two floors below.
"Got it!" Felicity grinned, pumping her fist in the air.
"Shh!" Oliver reminded her, and she slapped her hand over her mouth.
"Got it," she repeated in a whisper as she disconnected her tablet from the server. Oliver plucked at her shirtsleeve just as a security guard's flashlight rounded the corner ahead of them.
Doubling back the way they had come, Oliver tried each door until he found one that was unlocked. It turned out to be a minuscule janitor's closet, boxes of paper products and a large cleaning cart taking up most of the space. Beggars couldn't be choosers.
Oliver yanked Felicity into the closet, one hand clamped over her mouth. Her tablet was trapped between them as they froze, listening to the approaching footsteps. He could feel her breath against his palm; the way her chest rose and fell faster as the footsteps grew closer.
They both held their breath when the sound stopped.
"Oh crap," she breathed; instead of receding, the footsteps got louder.
"Just go with it," he whispered as he removed his hand. His fingers ghosted over her jaw as he bent his head and brushed her lips with his. After all, as she'd argued before, Oliver Queen getting caught making out with a pretty girl wouldn't raise anyone's eyebrows. It was almost expected.
That didn't stop his heart from skipping a beat when his lips actually made contact with hers.
Her gasp seemed loud in the enclosed space, and he felt a flutter of panic—he messed this up, he messed them up—before her arms snaked around his neck, the edges of her tablet digging into his shoulder blade.
Last time they'd made out to avoid detection, he'd been so shocked he'd barely responded. Not so, Felicity. He knew it wasn't real, but it felt real. She curved around him, her teeth worrying at his lower lip in a way that made him press her back against the wall instinctively.
In her low work heels, she had to strain upwards to meet his mouth, and despite the fact that this was pure deception on their part—a cover, a sham, a ploy—it didn't mean he couldn't appreciate the way she carded her short nails through his hair, or how her breasts felt pressed up against his chest through thin layers of clothing.
One hand slid down her side, fingers aching to tug up the hem of her skirt and caress her thigh. But he curled his hand around her slim waist instead, reminding himself with each breath that this was just for show.
A TV-MA show, Thea would have called it, and he wasn't sure he disagreed. Particularly when Felicity opened her mouth beneath his with a soft sigh.
The door was opened, light from the hallway making them both squint. But instead of an Edge security guard, it was Diggle.
"That was..." Felicity began as she fought to get her breathing under control.
"... strategic," Oliver finished for her, and straightened the collar of his jacket.
It turned out that one of Edge's most trusted department heads had not only been making deals with suppliers in China, but she had also been pocketing the difference between the top-grade steel the company had paid for, and the subpar materials arriving from Asia.
Oliver hadn't even needed to threaten her. Much. Just the suggestion that he could make the information easily available to Morgan Edge was enough to get her to send in her letter of resignation on the spot.
Edge himself would have to wait. But Oliver was almost looking forward to their next visit to the Edge International server room.
The third time it happened, it was for show.
Over the last week, Felicity had snapped at both of them more than once, and even broke down crying when her computer had crashed in the middle of a custom search. Judging by her reaction to the unexpected blue screen of death, calling her "jittery" was the understatement of the year
"Okay, what's up?" Dig had asked as he handed her a box of Kleenex. "The Felicity Smoak I know doesn't completely lose it unless something big's going on. So... what's the big something that's got you all on edge?"
"Is it about this week-end?" Oliver asked as he pulled up a chair.
"What's this week-end?" Dig asked, confused.
"My best friend from college is getting married. I'm a bridesmaid."
Diggle nodded sagely. "Is she a bridezilla?"
"No, Amanda's awesome. Totally laid back, still the same old Mandy. It's the other two bridesmaids. They're associates from her law firm, and every single time we've been in the same room—at the shower, the dress fittings, the engagement party—they've just been—"
"Total bitches?" Diggle supplied smoothly, and Oliver got the feeling he'd had this conversation before—most likely with Carly, whose sister had just tied the knot three months before.
"I normally don't use the B-word about other women. But yes. Oh my God. On rails. Nothing I do is good enough. My shower gift was lame; all my ideas for the bachelorette party suck; I don't have the right clothes or shoes or boyfriend or anything. Clarissa's the worst, although Nichelle's no picnic either. She's the Maid of Honour, and she sends these passive-aggressive emails to the mailing list—"
Dig blinked. "The wedding has a mailing list?"
"It had to—the wedding party is split between Starling City, Gotham, and Metropolis. I set it up. And the website. It took all of, like, ten minutes. No big deal. But Mandy just can't see how Clarissa comes across. She just... They keep trolling me."
Now it was Oliver's turn to be completely lost. "Troll?"
"It's an online thing," Dig supplied.
"And it's like—okay, I have a decent job. I make good money." She turned toward Oliver. "And this is not me angling for a raise, I swear. But I can swing the $1000 dress and matching jewellery, and all the flights back and forth. Okay, maybe there's going to be a lot of ramen in my future. But I can do it."
"Wait—wait, wait, wait." Dig held up his hand. "A thousand dollars for a dress you're going to wear once? I know rich people are crazy, but you're... a normal person."
He gestured to her jeans, flat shoes, colourful tee-shirt and cardigan to illustrate his point.
"For a given value of 'normal'," Felicity added without pause, tapping the industrial piercing in her right ear. "It's Zac Posen prêt-à-porter, with this sort of retro '30s geometric shapes and oh-em-gee it's gorgeous. So I'll probably be able to wear it again. Or better yet, resell it on eBay. Actually—yeah. eBay. Definitely eBay."
"A thousand dollars. For a dress." Dig's expression was still horrified. "Oliver, tell me she's kidding."
"I've seen what Thea pays for her clothes. She's not. In fact, that's seriously the low end."
"Yeah. Mandy's dress? Is a Vera Wang that costs more than I paid for my car."
"I thought you leased your car?"
"I mean the full sticker price of my car. When it was new."
While Dig was struggling to put this information into context, Felicity continued, talking animatedly with her hands.
"So, Clarissa wants me to go in on this incredibly expensive group gift on top of everything else. And I get it. I do! But she keeps dropping all these hints about how she can cover me if I can't come up with my share. And I'm not saying we should have gone to David's and got matching sheath dresses—I mean, 'God forbid!'" she said in a high-pitched voice that Oliver could only assume was an impression of the evil maid of honour. "And like I said—ramen. No big deal. But Kyle cancelled on me, and now I have to deal with three days of wedding drama with no wingman."
"Kyle?" Dig asked, at the same time Oliver asked "You have a boyfriend?"
"Kyle is my other best friend from college. And no, he's not my boyfriend—just my plus one. But he called this afternoon—he broke his ankle in a cycling accident and he's having surgery on Saturday. So he can't come. And it's too late to line up anyone else, I'm leaving straight from work tomorrow."
She spun in her chair, head tipped back, looking completely lost.
"I've only made it this far because Kyle and I would sit at the back and snark. I cannot do this week-end without snark. I mean it. They'll put some creepy mouth-breather fill-in groomsman next to me at dinner, and his palms will probably be sweaty when we dance, and I will end up tossing Clarissa and Nichelle out of a window and ruining Mandy's big day—"
Oliver stopped her chair with a hand on each armrest, and leaned down to meet her eyes. "Felicity, breathe."
She took a huge gulp of air, and then blew her nose into one of the tissues.
"You're going to get through this. You made it through an earthquake. You can make it through this wedding."
"This rehearsal dinner, wedding, and reception."
"All of the above. You're remarkable, remember?"
He smiled fondly at her as she perked up a bit at that. He hated seeing her looking so miserable, and it might have only been a glimmer of the self-assured, confident IT tech he'd first met, but right now he'd take a glimmer over how morose she'd been all day.
"Yeah. You're right. I can do this. I hacked a federal database that one time. I can handle some Mean Girls."
She gave him a smile full of bravado, and it wasn't until she'd left for the night that Oliver decided on his course of action.
When he arrived, shaking Gotham rain off a Hermes umbrella in the foyer of the expensively charming bed and breakfast where the rehearsal dinner was being held, he had a moment of panic where he wondered if this truly was the wisest course of action. But he shook it off and strode into the dining room like he was Walter walking into the boardroom—calm, self-assured, and radiating power.
He walked past the gaping family members and wedding party guests to where Felicity sat, a goblet of wine poised in front of her open mouth. From the flush on her cheeks and the brightness in her eyes, he was guessing it was not her first glass of red wine.
She downed the glass as a white-coated server brought him a chair, and conversation at the table stuttered to a halt.
"Felicity?" a woman roughly her age sitting two chairs down leaned forward, confusion writ large across her features. "Who's this?"
"Manda, this is my... Oliver," Felicity said, reaching beneath the table to grab his hand in an iron death grip as he leaned forward to introduce himself.
He leaned forward, smiling his most winning smile at the bridal party. "Oliver Queen, Felicity's plus one. I'm sorry I'm late, but my pilot filed the flight plan at the last minute and we sat forever on the tarmac at SCIA, waiting for take-off."
"Well, this is quite a surprise," the woman next to Amanda said with a brittle smile. Clarissa, Oliver decided, from the way the smile never quite reached her eyes.
"What are you doing here?" Felicity whispered in his ear as the waiters whisked away the soup course and began brushing crumbs from the pristine white linen tablecloths.
"I thought you might need a wingman. I can't promise much in the way of snark, but I can definitely do the waltz. My mother insisted on ballroom dance lessons when I was fourteen. And I am an expert navigating society weddings. Been stuck going to them since I was old enough to be wrestled into a tux. The trick is to make friends with the catering staff; you get first crack at the canapés, and it usually only takes slipping someone a twenty to score extra bottles of champagne."
"But don't you have... things to do? Back in Starling City? Verdant things, or other..." she dropped her voice to a breathy whisper, "green things?"
"Nothing that can't wait 'til Monday."
The plates of roasted chicken and steamed vegetables were placed in front of them, and Felicity kept shooting him looks that were mixed confusion and surprise as he exchanged small talk with the other diners at the table. It wasn't until she dragged him through the French doors to the gardens after dessert and coffee that he started to worry whether he'd gone too far.
He was convinced he was about to be treated to an up-close and personal demonstration of exactly what Felicity Meghan Smoak's Loud Voice sounded like until she launched herself at him, enveloping him in a fierce hug.
"OhmygodIamsogladyou'rehere," she said into his merino v-neck, and he just chuckled and hugged her back.
The drizzle had stopped, leaving the paving stones and grass limned with moonlight as they walked down the steps to the perfectly manicured gardens.
"Hey, not that I thought you couldn't handle it alone—but I figured being your arm candy for a change was the least I could do. You know, instead of a raise."
"I wouldn't exactly say no to a raise. I mean, I am technically working two jobs."
His lips twitched as he tried to keep from grinning. "I'll see what I can do."
"Maybe this isn't the best idea," she began. "I mean, letting them think you're my... that we're..."
"More than friends?"
"Yes! I saw the way Nichelle was sizing you up during dinner. I'm sure she's wondering how the hell a Plain Jane IT girl landed a multi-millionaire. I could see it on her face."
"Then we'll just have to show Nichelle and Claire—"
"—Clarissa that Felicity Smoak is anything but a Plain Jane IT girl."
"Oliver, I'm serious."
"So am I." He took her hands, turning them so she was facing the veranda. "Don't look now, but we have an audience."
Her blue eyes went wide as saucers behind her glasses, and he knew she'd spotted the other bridesmaids watching them from the stone porch of the guest house.
"Ohmygod," she breathed, and he brought one of her hands to his mouth, pressing a kiss to her knuckles.
"What say we give 'em a show?" he said, and before she could object, pulled her into his arms.
She was stiff and spooked at first, but after a few seconds she twined her arms around his neck, giving as good as she got. He forgot the chill in the air from the rain, or the distant sounds of animals in the woods, and gave himself over to the simple pleasure of kissing a beautiful woman—completely ignoring the voice in the back of his head that reminded him of all the lines they were crossing. All the lines they seemed to be redrawing lately, between them.
When they parted, Oliver was feeling slightly light-headed.
"Did they see?" Felicity whispered next to his ear, and he glanced up at the porch as surreptitiously as he could, but their stalkers had moved away from the windows.
Her giggle was giddy, and he reached down to twine his fingers with hers as they started back to the house.
The wedding went off without a hitch. Oliver and Felicity even danced at the reception. And when she sold her dress on eBay, Oliver bought it from her and wrapped it up with a ridiculous bow and left it on her chair in the factory.
He told himself it was because she deserved it. But the truth was, he couldn't bear the idea of anyone else in the dress.
The fourth time it happened, it was because Oliver had to be sure.
Diggle and Oliver were sparring with yantok when Diggle brought up the elephant that had been in the factory for weeks.
"So, you need to knock it off."
"Knock what off?"
"This thing with Felicity."
Oliver hesitated for a fraction of a second, and gritted his teeth as Dig landed a blow to his ribs. "What thing?"
"Felicity told me about your little side trip to Gotham. Including your little make-out session."
"It wasn't—We were just putting on a show for the evil bridesmaids."
"Uh huh. A show. But she has a crush on you, Oliver. And you can't take advantage of that."
"She's the one who jumped me at the fundraiser."
"Oh. I see. So she started it, and you're just going along with it cos you're being a pal?"
"Yes. Gotham was a team solidarity thing. That's all."
"And the server closet at Edge?"
"We thought you were security."
"I'm just saying, making out like horny teenagers at every opportunity—you gotta fish or cut bait, Oliver. Not lead the girl on."
"I'm not leading her on. If anything," He got past Diggle's guard and gave him a stinging rap to the shoulder, "she's the one shaking things up."
"Well, tap 'em back down. You gotta keep your head in the game, Oliver."
Oliver slammed his yantok so hard into Diggle's that it splintered, half of the rattan stick flying off into the shadows of the darkened factory.
"This isn't a game, Dig."
"Does she know that?" Diggle asked with a raised brow, but Oliver had no answer for him.
Dig had left by the time Felicity arrived from working late at QC. She was cheerful as she set her shoulder bag down next to her desk and fired up her beloved machines.
Oliver had spent the last few hours trying to figure out exactly how to approach "the Felicity situation".
He had a speech all prepared. He'd even rehearsed it. It covered all the angles. How they worked closely together, the three of them, and it might unbalance the team. How he was still working through the aftermath of betraying Tommy with Laurel and he probably shouldn't be with anyone right now. Not to mention it probably wasn't safe for anyone to date the Starling City vigilante, given his track record. He was just trying to protect their friendship, because it meant so much to him to have her in his life—one fewer person he needed to lie to about how he spent his nights.
It was a good speech.
Felicity spun around in her chair, her panda flats dragging on the cement floor.
Oliver suddenly couldn't remember a word of it.
She slowed to a stop in front of him, looking up at him over her glasses. "So, I was thinking. Have you thought at all about sunglasses? I mean, like Google glasses, but not. I mean, with an optical head's up display, but obviously not made by Google because of... reasons. Mainly because I've been thinking about biometrics. You know, facial recognition software can ID you by the space between your eyes, and the paint doesn't really change that in greyscale. And you know, those algorithms, they're really sophisticated when it comes to extracting landscapes from even crappy video footage. And it's not like they don't have lots of photos of you to compare them with. I mean, not just, like mug shots from all the times you were—"
He bent down and covered her mouth with his before she could continue. It was quick, but her cheeks were flushed when he drew back.
"—arrested," she trailed off.
He raised his hood, and took a very deliberate step back.
"I'm going to go patrol."
He was so screwed.
The fifth time it happened, they were drunk.
Well, Felicity was drunk. Oliver didn't really drink. Not wine. Maybe there had been a serious relationship with a bottle or two of whiskey, after Tommy. But the fact of the matter was, he'd been avoiding both the factory and Felicity while he sorted some things out.
No matter what Oliver felt for Felicity, they'd have to cool it before things got too far. Things had already gone too far, as far as Diggle was concerned. And if Felicity wasn't going to put the breaks on their nascent physical relationship, then it was up to Oliver.
Which meant he was armed with wine to soften the blow. He may not know all that much about Felicity Smoak, but he knew she would not turn down a nice Tuscan red.
He'd texted her that day that he was hanging up his Hood for the night, and she and Dig were off. Dig had immediately responded, but he hadn't heard from her. He'd had dinner with Thea—who needled him mercilessly about how he'd let the club slide from the black into the red, leaving her to clean up his mess. He let her; she was right, after all. Tommy had been the one who ran Verdant. He'd barely kept up with the existing inventory, let alone keeping the club fully stocked.
When she opened her door, Oliver saw Felicity was wearing yoga pants and a faded MIT hoodie, the straps and yolk of a bright purple tank top peeking out from beneath. Her hair hung down her back, free of its usual ponytail. She seemed shorter than he remembered, and glanced down to see she was in her socks. Specifically, pink and purple striped socks.
The socks seemed to confirm his suspicions. "I'm interrupting your night off."
"My night off thus far has consisted of couch potatoing, and reading online journals. I could use a break. And from the looks of it, so could you." She held open the door, and he came inside. "Family?"
He nodded tightly. "Dinner with my sister."
"She give you a hard time about the club?"
"Two hours. Two hours of being lectured by my baby sister about inventory control. Apparently, it's impossible to make Jäeger bombs without Jägermeister."
"And she would know this because...?"
"Hearsay, rumour, and innuendo. I keep telling myself that, on the off chance it could be true."
"So I've been told."
Oliver held up the wine bottle in one hand.
"It's not an '82 Rothschild, but I hope it'll do?"
"Sassicaia '07? Very, very nice. Apology, or bribe?"
"Can't a guy just bring his friend a nice bottle of wine?"
"Nope." She popped the 'p', and gave him a wide smile.
"What makes you say that?"
"Because in the fourteen months we've known each other, you have never actually come to my apartment before through the front door. Least of all with wine. And it's good wine. So... apology, or bribe?"
"Do I have anything to apologise for?"
"Let's see... Where to start?" Her eyes crinkled at the corners as she teased him. "Maybe the part where the police impounded my work machine for a week, leading to a massive backlog in the middle of a city-wide disaster? Or how I've worked two jobs for the last year on maybe five hours of sleep a night—if I'm lucky? Or, wait... I know! I have no personal life to speak of, and haven't been on vacation that hasn't involved stakeouts or wiretaps in eight months? Shall I go on?"
"I should have brought more wine." He hung his head in mock defeat. "Is that all? Nothing else?"
"Well," she tapped her lips with her index finger, "you did buy me a very expensive Zac Posen. And this is a very nice bottle of wine. So, apology accepted."
This was it: the moment where he should have explained what he was really apologising for. But she seemed so happy, and so relaxed, and he didn't want to dive headfirst into what was going to be an incredibly awkward discussion. Not right away.
Instead, he followed her into the living room, noticing the way she hastily grabbed a pile of books and magazines from the coffee table and shoved them in a sloppy pile next to the armchair.
"So... shall we open said apology?"
"Oh, yes, please." She padded barefoot into the kitchen, and emerged with a corkscrew and two large wine glasses. Oliver did the honours, while she waved the remote at him.
"What do you want to watch?" she asked as they settled down on her overstuffed sofa.
"I have no idea. Still working on the backlog of popular culture Thea keeps taking great delight in ribbing me about. Whatever you want, I guess? This is your evening off I'm intruding on, after all."
"Well, you did say you've never read Hamlet. We could watch The Lion King."
Oliver frowned, digging through his pre-island memory. "The Disney movie?"
"What does that have to do with Hamlet?"
"It has everything to do with Hamlet." She made a face. "Okay, except for the ending."
"You mean that Hamlet doesn't live happily ever after?" Oliver deadpanned, and she smiled again, wide and open.
"Yeah. Not so much. It's not exactly called The Comedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark."
"I wouldn't know; I never read Hamlet," he reminded her.
"Exactly. And it's either The Lion King, or the four hour Branagh version, and I don't think I have that in me tonight."
"There's a four hour version of Hamlet?"
"Actually, the entire play plus intermission is usually around the five-hour mark."
Oliver knew he must have looked completely horrified, because she took one look at his face and burst into laughter.
She clicked on the television, and started paging through an online menu. Just one more thing that had apparently changed while he was gone: no-one actually watched DVDs anymore.
"Hey—wait a minute. Don't you need your glasses?"
"Um..." Colour flooded her cheeks, and she bit her bottom lip.
"I always assumed you were blind without them."
"Not exactly?" She drew the syllables out, her pitch rising. "I do have astigmatism! It's just really, really—"
Oliver stared at her, aghast. "They're fake glasses?"
"They're real glasses!" she said fiercely, smacking him on the arm. "I just need them mostly for close work. Like working on the computer, or reading. I probably don't really need them all the time. But when you're a 20-something blond girlie-girl, people don't take you all that seriously when you're applying for tech jobs. Especially when you're applying for senior tech jobs. The glasses... help."
She shrugged, and crossed her arms as if daring him to contradict her.
Oliver shook his head in mock disappointment. "Felicity Smoak, you are a sham."
"Yeah, well... now you know my deepest, darkest secret."
Deciding that the wine had had enough time to breathe, she poured them each a glass, and if hers was slightly fuller than his, Oliver made no mention of it. Particularly when she drained half of it before the movie finished caching and the small living room was filled with the opening strains of "Circle of Life."
Oliver tried to pay attention to the movie, but he found himself watching Felicity out of the corner of his eye, instead. She was curled up on the sofa, a pillow in her lap, and her feet in her ridiculous striped socks wedged between two of the couch cushions. Every once in a while, she'd take a sip of wine, or pick up her tablet from the coffee table to check her email. But other than that, she was completely engrossed in the film.
Her eyes misted over at Mufasa's death, and even Oliver had to take a long swallow of his wine—still his first glass, as he was driving—to cover his reaction to Scar murdering his brother. She was right; Queen family drama was a little too Shakespearean for comfort.
They made it as far as "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" before Oliver grabbed the remote from the coffee table and paused the movie.
"Since when does Hamlet have musical numbers?"
"Ophelia sings when she goes crazy," Felicity said helpfully, reaching for the remote, but he held it out of her reach.
"There's a lot more to this Hamlet thing than just meerkats and warthogs, I assume?"
"You have to watch to find out." She made another grab for the remote, and he twisted further away from her.
"They're animals. Singing."
"How have you never seen The Lion King before?"
"My father took Thea to see it on Broadway for her seventh birthday. I was away at boarding school."
She rolled her eyes. "That's not the same."
"How many glasses of wine have you had?"
"Two..." She pursed her lips and eyed the bottle, which was nearly empty. "...many."
He laughed. He couldn't help it. It was just so different from how they were at the factory. There they were all business, and while Felicity's quips, observations, and occasional Freudian slips made him smile despite his usual doom-and-gloom perspective, it was different tonight. In her home, surrounded by all the little touches that made Felicity Felicity, like the brightly patterned throw rug and her collection of programming books and software manuals haphazardly stacked in a shaky tower on the corner of her desk, he was loose and relaxed. Being with her made him feel so much more like a real person instead of a player wearing a mask.
She rested her arm on the back of the sofa, and propped her chin in her hand as she watched him. "I like seeing you like this."
"Smiling. Laughing. You don't do that enough."
Oliver turned so he was facing her, his arm across the back of the sofa and hand close enough to her elbow to feel the heat through the worn fabric of her hoodie.
"I do it around you. You make me smile."
"With my rambling?"
"Not just your rambling."
She covered her face with her hands. "No-one's ever actually complimented me on my inability to know when to shut up."
Oliver peeled her hands away from her face, chuckling. "It's but one of your many charms."
Her eyebrows rose. "So now I'm charming?"
"I've always found you charming. Since the day I met you."
Her eyes narrowed. "Are you fishing for compliments?"
"I'm fishing for the remote," she giggled, lunging toward him again. She ended up half-draped over him, and his arm went around her waist to keep her from tumbling to the floor. Her laughter stuttered to a halt, and her blue eyes darkened above him.
All his resolve to end their affair before it started melted away at the look in her eyes. All he knew was she was warm, and alive, and so close he could breathe in the smell of her shampoo. And he wanted her. It was like a physical ache in his chest.
Felicity leaned down, and rested her forehead against his. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Why did you kiss me? In the factory, I mean."
There was a long moment where Oliver tried to come up with a convincing lie. In the end, he couldn't. Not like this. Not with her. Not anymore.
"I kissed you because needed to know what it would be like—if it was real. Not strategic, or part of a cover. A scene."
"What was it like?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.
His hand stroked up and down her back, and she shifted her weight, balancing with both hands on his shoulders as she straddled him. Oliver closed his eyes, and could feel a muscle in his jaw twitch as she traced the line of his jaw with her thumb.
"It felt real," he said as he opened his eyes, her thumb tracing his bottom lip. "It felt like I'd like to keep on kissing you, and never stop."
"Oh," she breathed.
"This is probably a bad idea," she said, her mouth so close to his he could feel her breath warm on his lips.
"The worst," he agreed.
Oliver didn't know who moved first. Between one breath and the next, her lips were on his and kissing her was easy as breathing.
She tasted like the wine she'd been drinking, tart and rich. The remote hit the hardwood floor, and he buried his hands in her hair, leaning up into her touch.
Oliver tugged the zipper of her hoodie down, wanting to feel her skin warm beneath his hands. Her purple tank top had ridden up, and his thumbs stroked along the ribbon of skin between the hem and her yoga pants.
Felicity made a small, needy sound in the back of her throat, her short nails digging into his shoulders as she licked into his mouth. Oliver tightened his grip around her waist, and twisted so he had her pinned to the sofa, their legs still entwined.
She pushed his jacket off his shoulders with suddenly clumsy fingers, and he straightened up just long enough to drop it to the floor before pinning her wrists above her head and nipping at the pulse beating wildly beneath her ear.
Her legs went around his waist, and this time he was the one who groaned as she arched up into him, her sock-clad heels digging into the back of his thighs.
"Oliver," she said softly, her breath coming faster as he pressed her down into the couch cushions with his weight. He loved the way she said his name, breathy and low. She arched her back, the cords in her neck standing out against her pale skin as he trailed kissed along her collarbones above the gentle swell of her breasts. He sucked a bruise at the juncture of her neck and shoulder then teased the spot with his lips and tongue, and she squirmed beneath him, gasping. Erogenous zone noted, he thought, giddy with the knowledge.
She tore one hand free, and tugged on his short hair to bring his lips back to her mouth, her legs tightening around him. He slid a hand down her thigh, and hitched her leg up higher around his waist. She plucked at the buttons of his crisp blue shirt, reaching inside to press her hands against his back, short blunt nails driving him wild while she mapped the inside of his mouth with her tongue.
His lungs burned from lack of oxygen, and they pulled apart so they could gulp in air. He rested his forehead against hers for a moment, fighting to keep control when all he wanted to do was carry her into the bedroom and learn every sound she made, everything that made her gasp or moan. He wanted so much.
"We should probably stop."
"We should," she agreed, fingers playing with the short hair at the nape of his neck giving lie to his words.
"Had too much wine, and I'm..." He bit back a groan as she rocked against him, "... I'm still..."
He pulled back, and brushed the tangle of blond curls back from her face. Her cheeks were flushed and her lips bruised and red. It took every ounce of restraint he still had not to finish what they'd started.
"Me. I'm still me."
"Tomorrow I'll be sober," she pointed out, reaching for him, but he caught her hand, and kissed her fingers before he reluctantly withdrew from the warmth of her embrace. He sat back down on the opposite end of the sofa, and scrubbed his hands across his face.
"But I'll still be the Starling City vigilante."
He looked up at her as she propped herself up on her arms, and curled her legs beneath her. She absently tugged her tank top down, and he winced as he caught sight of the marks of his teeth on her neck. He suspected he had similar hickeys on his own neck, and would have to remember to avoid Dig until they faded.
Dig. Who was going to kill him. Probably. Definitely probably going to kill him.
Felicity frowned, and reached for her wineglass, draining the dregs before carefully setting it back down on the coffee table.
"So where does that leave us?" she asked, pulling her hair back into a messy ponytail and fastening it with the bright pink elastic that she'd had around her wrist.
"Still friends? I hope?"
Felicity rolled her eyes. "It takes a lot more than this for you to lose me as a friend."
"I never want to find out," he said quickly, and realised he meant it. He could live without her as a lover. But the thought of not having her by his side, in his corner, and a part of his life left him feeling like he was back on the island. Alone, and helpless.
Her expression softened, and she scooted closer to him.
"Hey—seriously. Mixed signals, crossed signals, whatever—I mean it. You've got me for as long as you want me."
She winced when she realised what she'd said.
"As a friend. You've got me as a friend. Always."
He gave her a wan smile, and reached down to pick up his jacket from where it had landed.
"I should probably go."
"We never finished the movie," she pointed out chewing on her bottom lip.
"That's okay. I know how it ends."
He hadn't exactly been telling the truth about Hamlet.
His mother had taken him to see the Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Kennedy Centre when he was fifteen. The play had opened with a young man in a sharply tailored suit, a flickering home movie of a father and son playing in the snow projected behind him.
If there was one thing Oliver Queen always remembered, it was how tragedies played out.
The last time it happened, it was the beginning of something new.
If Diggle had noticed the two of them acting differently around one another, he hadn't remarked on it. Oliver was careful to keep a specific distance from Felicity at all times, and she pretended not to be affected, though it killed him to pull away from her instead of toward her.
It wasn't that he was afraid he'd obliterate whatever personal and professional barriers were still between them her so much as he was afraid she'd let him. And if he lay awake at night, running the pads of his fingers across his lips, remembering the feel of her beneath him, the way she tasted, the way she moved, well... That was a condition he could live with. Memories and fantasies were safer for both of them.
He told himself that so often, he almost believed it.
But eventually, things seemed to settle back into their normal routine—in as much as anyone could call his nocturnal activities of stalking and intimidating bad guys into going straight or leaving town could be called 'normal'.
"So, I've made a decision," Felicity said one night—early morning—as she tugged on her coat and settled the strap of her messenger bag firmly across her chest. The club upstairs was quiet—curfew in the Glades still in effect. He'd changed from his green leathers back into a tee-shirt and v-neck, worn jeans cuffed just about his sturdy shoes. He never knew when he'd have to leap across rooftops, even as Oliver Queen.
His hair was still damp from washing off the green mask, and drops of cold water ran down his spine where he'd missed them with the single towel hanging above the battered old sink in the remaining functioning washroom.
"What kind of decision?" Oliver asked, trying to ignore the dread that welled up in his gut at the way she was walking toward him, her head held high, shoulders back and a determined gleam in her blue eyes behind her real-but-not-really-real glasses.
"I've decided that you aren't the only one who gets a say in our relationship."
"Felicity—" he began, backing away from her slowly until the cement wall was at his back. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
"Nope. Nope, it's my turn, so you just have to shut up and listen."
He opened his mouth to protest, but she clamped her hand over it, her frown both adorable and frustrating.
"I like you. Like you, like you. As a friend, but also more than a friend. Since we are not in the 7th grade, I'm not going to really elaborate. Just point out that this is not a crush. It started out as a crush—and I'm pretty sure you were aware of that due to the part where my brain picks the worst way ever to say stuff. But. Crush? Yeah, not for a while now."
His hands twitched at his sides, but he forced himself to stay still.
"I'm a big girl, and I'm allowed to decide whom I kiss, when I kiss them, and whether or not I kiss them on an ongoing, regular basis. Among other things."
He made a sound against her hand, and she just clamped down harder, moving further into his personal space and glaring at him.
"I know you're convinced that you're toxic, and broken, and very bad boyfriend material. And I know you've got all kinds of perfectly sensible and noble objections to giving in to this—whatever this is—and I get it. I really do. But here's the thing: you're full of it."
"Seriously. I don't know about you, but my feelings haven't changed, and whether or not we act on them, they're not going away. And in case you haven't noticed, they're not compromising your mission, or the work we're doing, or how well we work together. So dancing around each other and keeping safe minimum distance at all times is stupid."
He carefully wrapped his hand around her wrist, and gently tugged until she lifted her hand from his mouth.
"Felicity, I'm only trying to protect you."
"From what? Falling for you? Too late. You had me at 'I ran out of sports bottles', Jerry McGuire. Try again."
Oliver rolled his eyes. "From getting hurt."
"The only one hurting me right now is you," she pointed out. "And in case you haven't noticed, you're not doing yourself any great favours, either. You're lonely, Oliver. Dig and I are the only two people in your life right now who know you—all of you, the real you."
"And who exactly is the real me?"
"The one who hurts from lying to your friends and family, from losing people over and over again. Who sits around in the dark thinking up new and exotic ways to blow shit up with primitive projectile weapons, instead of living the life you deserve to have. You survived five years on an island. You survived losing the woman you loved, and your best friend in life. You survived. And you beat yourself up over it every day."
She took a deep breath, and dropped her eyes, nervously glancing away as she pushed through what was obviously a carefully scripted and rehearsed speech.
"I get that you've got baggage. I get that. But Oliver, we all have baggage. It's a part of having relationships, interacting with people out there in the world. You can't hide in your office or in the hood forever, pretending you're not missing the people you've lost, or pushed away, or have to keep at a distance because of the work we do. But you don't need to push me away. I don't want you to keep pushing me away."
She raised eyes wet with unshed tears to his, and he hated himself for making her cry over him for even a second.
"And I'm just tired of watching you deny yourself one more thing that makes you happy. I mean—I'm assuming I made you happy, even if it was just for, like, five minutes—"
He gave her wrist a tug, and she collided with his chest, the words still falling from her lips as he wrapped his arms around her.
"You did." He rested his forehead against hers. "You do."
"Then..." she took a deep breath. "Then I think maybe we should give this a try. We both deserve to be happy, don't we?"
She shook her head. "Uh-uh. Not playing that game. I've spent the last however many months going through all of them. Bottom line: I want to give us a chance. And I want you to give us a chance. Can you do that? For me?"
Oliver nodded. "I can't guarantee it'll work."
"No-one can. But we'll never know, if we don't take that leap."
She slid her hands up his chest, curling them around his neck and drawing him back down to her mouth.
It wasn't like any of their previous kisses. It wasn't staged, or for show. Nor was it frenzied and full of barely repressed longing.
It was sweet, and it was slow and it promised more than it delivered. But the promise alone made her sigh into his mouth, and go up on her tiptoes.
Oliver pulled back slowly, and reached up to smooth her hair back from her face, his thumbs tracing the curves of her cheekbones. Felicity smiled. Not like the cat that had got the cream but like Felicity. It was bright, and open, and all for him.
"So... what was it like?" he whispered in her ear.
"Kissing you just to kiss you, instead of it being—"
"Oh, it was definitely strategic," she said, her lips curving into a sly smile.