Times Like These

Chapter 13

Oliver’s hurt and confused face was all she could see as she walked into his room. She shook her head roughly to rid herself of the image and closed her eyes in a grimace as it only made her head throb.

Knowing she’d collapse if she stopped moving she headed straight to the desk in front of the large window and turned on the desktop computer he kept there. However, as soon as it began to boot up she let out a heavy sigh at the operating system it was using and knew it had been too long since an update.

She began the required updates while she brought out her own laptop and tablet and settled herself gingerly in the chair. Soon enough she had a set up that did its best to mirror what she had at the lair. She’d be able to remotely access her servers there but it would mean the work would take longer due to the security measures she’d have to take to ensure no one could track what she was doing.

The security footage she’d sent over was her first order of business and she plugged the video into the facial recognition program and let it run while she headed to the closet and kicked off her shoes.

She was surprised to notice that the clothes she’d worn the day before had already been cleaned and rehung. A quick glance around the room showed the bed made and the breakfast tray gone. She had to admit there were certain parts to staying at the mansion that she could get used to.

Her eyes trailed to the bed and memories of sleeping there with Oliver filled her mind. She was definitely already used to that.

The updates on Oliver’s computer were going to take longer than she’d like and with a sigh she made her way to the bathroom. It was late afternoon but she was shaky and pale and knew she should just take the pain meds and pass out for a few hours but she was having a hard time reconciling that with her need to find Nate and make all of this end.

She stood at the counter, hands braced as she leaned forward letting out a long, controlled breath and did her best to ignore the way her ribs stung. The shower beckoned but she didn’t know if she could stand that long, and then her eyes landed on the large tub she’d barely glanced at. For only a second she considered the stitches in her leg, but what Digg didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him and she’d deal with that later if she had to. Right then, sinking into a tub full of hot water sounded like exactly what she needed.

She didn’t waste any time turning on the faucet. It was a challenge to reach the drain stop and she was breathing heavily when she was upright again, but the pain would be worth it. One corner of the marble platform surrounding the tub had an array of bath salts and oils and other products that she was sure Oliver had never used. A brief thought flit through her mind that they were there for his ‘guests’ but she dismissed it along with the flash of jealousy it had summoned.

Felicity selected a bottle of bubble bath and poured in a generous amount before she went to check on her set up in the other room.

Muttering about Oliver’s inability to keep his computer up to date she knew she’d have at least half an hour before it was ready to use and the facial recognition program was still running.

The bath was full when she returned and she quickly shed her clothes and bundled her hair on top of her head in a sloppy knot.

Climbing in wasn’t easy but she managed and soon enough she was sighing as she sank up to her neck in hot frothy water. Her leg stung fiercely at first but she ignored it and just enjoyed the way the heat seeped into her sore muscles.

The tub was beyond huge. Stretched out fully she could barely touch her toes to the other side. It was a good tub for two people she thought as she sat back and closed her eyes. Especially if one of those people was six foot one and built like a Greek god.

But all too soon her nice, pleasant, sexy thought of Oliver was replaced with his tired, worn expression as she’d left him on his own. Her stomach tumbled as she remembered leaving him when she should have been at his side. She hadn’t known how to explain to him that she just needed some space to think and clear her head. Except now that she had it that wasn’t what was happening at all.

Frustrated, and sad, feeling like she was failing everyone she picked up a cloth and dipped it in the hot water before covering her face with it and just lay there, breathing the humid air.

She didn’t hear him enter, but she felt him. Her heart rate jumped and she did a quick check to make sure everything vital was well below the waterline and covered in bubbles but she didn’t move to uncover her face. She waited until she heard him settle on the side of the tub and when a finger dipped into the water and stroked over her knee she shivered despite the heat.

Slowly she let the cloth fall, not opening her eyes until she’d laid it off to the side.

He was staring at her intently when she looked at him and it took every ounce of control she had not to ask if he wanted to join her. He’d shed his suit coat, and had his shirt sleeves rolled up, the tie loose around his neck with the top two buttons undone. Her mouth went dry at the image he presented sitting only inches away while she lay there naked beneath an ever evaporating layer of white.

His shoulders were slumped and there was a bone deep tiredness she saw that she knew he’d kept from everyone else. His eyes were pinched and the furrow between his brow was so deep it almost looked painful. And she knew she’d only added to his strain when she’d left him on the stairs.

“Hi,” she said in a raspy voice that betrayed everything she was feeling just then. She slid a hand through the bubbles and reached for his fingers, grasping them loosely where they rested over the edge of the tub.

He replied with a small uptick of his lips, but no words.

She wanted to apologize. She knew she should but she also knew he’d brush her off and tell her she didn’t have to and that made her mad. She wanted to feel responsible. She wanted him to blame her. Because that would mean she had some sort of control over everything that was happening. When everyone told her it wasn’t her fault and gave her sympathetic looks it just made her feel like a victim and that’s not what she wanted.

So she avoided it all, and drew her hand back before she spoke.

“How did the calls go?” she tried for normal or even nonchalant. What came out was something half desperate, half broken that made her shut her eyes tight and turn her head away.

His finger along her knee again made her glance up to see him looking even more disheartened than he had before.

“Fine. They were what I expected. And I still have to call Tokyo,” he said checking his watch, “It’ll be the start of business there soon.” he sounded just as wrong as she did.

“I’m sorry,” she blurted out, not being able to stop herself even though she knew what would come of it.

Except she was wrong.

He let his hand rest on the curved edge where the tub began and sat back against the pillar behind him, letting out a long exhale as his head tipped back. “I know what it’s like to need to run, Felicity. When everything is too much and you just…need a chance to step back and find yourself again without all the other madness screaming at you. It’s okay to need that.”

Her chest tightened as he spoke because she knew he meant how he’d run to the island and she couldn’t believe that her issues were anywhere near the equivalent. “Oliver…”

But he continued on like he hadn’t heard her. “You handle this the way you want. Even if that means you run. Because I’ll always come after you, just like you came after me.”

The lines on his forehead had smoothed and his jaw had loosened. She stared at him in stunned surprise and a bit of awe, as she understood he’d released some of his own demons by telling her that. Because he’d realized if she deserved to be found then so did he.

She was almost taken aback by the swell of love that filled her, making her catch her breath. Understanding was mirrored back at her and a slow, easy smile began to form on his face. Suddenly she didn’t feel the need to hide any longer.

The only noise in the room was the steady hiss of the bubbles popping and as she let the water work it’s magic on her bruised body, Oliver’s words and support did the same for her soul.

With a grin she raised her hand and lightly flicked water at him, “So… Mr. Monroe…were you ever going to tell me?”

His eyes widened almost imperceptibly but she saw. “Monroe?” he asked, playing dumb and she flicked water at him again.

“Yes, Monroe, the man who apparently you hired as a personal bodyguard for only me, and didn’t think I should know about.” his eyes shifted away for a second before they met hers, a challenge flashing through them. “Monroe is very talkative you should know. He’s told me everything.”

At that Oliver crooked a disbelieving eyebrow. Monroe’s taciturn nature and impeccable professionalism had been obvious from the moment she’d met him.

“Well if he’s told you everything then you don’t need to ask.” Oliver countered, quickly putting his hands up to avoid a drenching as she pretended to splash him in mock indignation.

“He told me nothing other than I was his only detail.” she replied with a small pout.

Oliver became serious and nodded once, “I talked to Digg, and we decided it was for the best. There were going to be times where we couldn’t guarantee either of us would be with you at every moment, especially when we were out, and today…” he scraped a rough hand down his face as memories flooded him, “today was a perfect example of what could happen. So if you’re looking for an apology you’re not going to get one. He did what Digg and I couldn’t do and he kept you safe.”

“I don’t want an apology. But I wouldn’t mind being filled in on things like this.”

“That sounds like something I can live with.” he said in agreement and she smiled in response. The longer they stared at each other the quicker her pulse began to thrum and she wondered if he was feeling the same.

Slowly she sat up and saw a spark light his eyes. Without saying a word she moved towards the end of the tub where he was sitting, never averting her gaze. The tub was so deep she could sit normally and just the top swell of her breasts were visible, but there was something provocative and a touch dangerous at being so close to him and so naked while he was fully clothed looking down at her.

She held in a smirk when Oliver’s eyes dropped for a split second, but when he looked back his pupils had darkened to near black. Her hands closed over the lip of the tub where it met the marble and the breath caught in her throat when he ran the tip of one finger over the ridges of her knuckles.

Neither of them blinked as he traced the fine bones along the back of her hand, trailing slowly to her wrist and then back to where her fingers curled. With each pass a warmth spread throughout her body and it had nothing to do with the heat of the water. Her breath was shallow and she knew he could feel the tremors that shook her each time he touched her wrist.

When he’d mapped each line he let his fingers continue and she was unable to stop the strangled gasp that left her throat. She was gripping the cold porcelain tight, his touch making her shiver as he followed the line of her arm, across the sensitive inside of her elbow and up to her shoulder. He paused there and seemed focused on one particular spot. When she looked she realized he was circling a rather large bruise, but he was gentle and it didn’t hurt.

She was hyper-aware of every point of contact and when he skimmed across her collarbone her eyes fell shut and her head tilted to the right as she gave up the fight. His thumb ran just where the water met her skin and she was sure if he didn’t kiss her soon she might spontaneously combust.

It felt like forever before she felt his hand just graze her throat and cup her jaw. The swirls of heat in her belly were gathering quicker as electricity seemed to spark from each place he’d been. Her entire hand and arm were alive with fire, like he’d left some sort of impression of himself under her skin.

Then he was tilting her chin up and she fluttered her eyelashes open just in time to see him leaning in. His other hand framed her face as his lips dropped to hers. She pressed up into the kiss, not wasting time as she opened beneath him, tasting the distinctive flavor of the whisky he must have drank right before he made his calls.

She moaned low in her throat and leaned in closer as his hand left her jaw and fell again to her shoulder and then down her back. Felicity gasped his name as his fingers trailed down her side and under the water. A thumb brushed the side of her breast and she moaned again, swirling her tongue around his, stroking it slowly until she pulled a noise from his chest she’d never heard him make before.

When his hand traveled north again she almost whimpered at the loss. He retraced his path, coasting over her shoulder, down her arm and ending at her fingers. His mouth pulled away from hers at the very moment he broke contact with her knuckles.

It took her a few seconds to open her lids, and when she did she was greeted with a dark vortex of desire brewing in his normally blue eyes. Her heart was pounding so fast she knew her pulse had to be visible in her neck. She licked her lips subconsciously and the half-lidded look of want he gave her sent bolts of heat to her core.

His jaw tightened and she watched as he gathered himself and purposely pushed to his feet, checking his watch as he stood. He swore violently under his breath and stalked to the sinks.

Felicity lay her folded arms in the spot where he’d been sitting and perched her chin on top. It gave her an almost giddy sense of pride to see him so affected. He ran cold water on his hands and splashed his face before drying off. His gaze caught hers in the mirror and she grinned saucily for which she was granted a lifted eyebrow in return.

He looked at his reflection again and before she could say anything tore off the gauze square taped to his temple. She let out a disapproving huff, and crooked a finger at him that she knew he could see.

With a sigh he turned and approached the tub. Her neck was craned upwards to see him and all she had to do was tilt her head to the side and give him a look. He knelt down and she rewarded him with a smile.

Grabbing the cloth she’d used earlier, she dipped it in the water once before she wrung it out and carefully took his chin in one hand. He relaxed into her hold as she raised the cloth and gently washed away the dried blood. The cut was healing, but the bruise around it looked tender. Looking down quickly she saw his eyes were still shut and she raised up on her knees to brush a quick kiss over the spot. Cool air made her nipples harden as they broke the surface of the water and when she lowered herself and looked at him again his eyes were open, but they gave away nothing.

He pushed to his feet and turned back to the counter, studiously avoiding her gaze. She watched without embarrassment as he redid his buttons and tightened his tie. When he rolled his sleeves down she had to stifle a giggle when he noticed the cuff on his right arm was wet. He checked his watch again and muttered another curse as he did the button with a deft flick of his fingers. She knew he didn’t have time to change.

A wicked smile crossed her face at the thought of knowing he’d have a wet sleeve all through his video call halfway around the world because he’d been feeling her up only minutes before.

He caught her look in the mirror and paused, “Proud of yourself?” he asked dryly and she only nodded. He looked back and was about to say something but he stopped himself and his gaze shifted filling her with heat again.

“I’ll be done in about half an hour. Take some meds, get some rest.” he said and she nodded again, knowing there was a slim chance she’d actually do that.

Just before he left he turned back and gave her a wicked grin of his own. She narrowed her eyes in question and he lifted his chin towards the tub. “Your bubbles are gone.”

Her gasp was swallowed up by the door shutting as she turned as fast as she could to see he was correct. The bubbles were gone, and he’d had an excellent view of her ass.

She tried to settle back into the now cloudy water but her thoughts kept straying to Oliver, and that kiss and finally she pulled the drain with a sharp jerk and climbed from the tub.

Her muscles were warm and loose for the first few minutes. The view that greeted her in the mirror made her cringe. One side was peppered with bruises from her shoulder to her knee, and the other hadn’t done much better, especially the area around her stitches.

She dried the wound carefully and applied a generous amount of ointment before she covered it up. Bending over to place and tape down the gauze coupled with the heat of the bath left her breathless and lightheaded. Knowing she’d regret it when she passed out within the hour she begrudgingly took two pills from the bottle Oliver had left on the counter and made her way to the closet to procure another one of his shirts, now doing it because she knew he liked it and so did she.

The updates were finished she noticed as she passed by and she eagerly took a seat, propping her hurt leg on a nearby ottoman while she drew the other foot up in front of her, letting her lean some of her weight away from her injured ribs.

With the security footage ready she filtered through the facial recognition program, cringing when Nate was spotted entering the plaza only a few minutes before the speech was set to start. He’d come in with other curious members of the public and seemed to blend in. The black backpack against his black jacket was almost invisible and the second one he carried easily in his hand, looking no different than any of the other people there.

As the cameras changed the program picked him up as he made his way around the perimeter of the crowd and stood behind a group that had obviously come together. The first backpack was dropped just as Oliver took the podium. She watched with her heart in her throat as he wove through the people and came to stand right in front of where she knew she’d been.

She, Digg, and Monroe were too close to the building to be visible on the camera but she went cold again as he lifted the bag her direction and then sat it down carefully. The next few seconds were chilling. With no sound there was no way to know when Digg had yelled until suddenly people began to flee.

Nate had started to leave the way he’d come in as soon as he’d dropped the bag, but when others caught up with him he ran too. She lost him once, but spotted him just as he turned the corner to cut up the street QC bordered.

“Gotcha,” she muttered.

There were three banks along that street that all had ATM cameras she’d used before. Typing furiously she accessed their cameras and sat back, waiting as the video she wanted was added to her program.

The second camera showed him hailing a cab and she paused the video with a tight smile and zoomed in on the plates before shooting off a quick email to Detective Lance. He shouldn’t have any trouble finding the driver who picked Nate up or where he took him.

Feeling reinvigorated and a bit euphoric thanks to her meds she refocused her efforts on running the searches of the bomb materials and where they’d been purchased. Several of the stores near her apartment came up with sales of specific items the day before the bomb was delivered.

She was waiting to cross reference the card numbers used to make the purchases to see if they matched, but only three of the stores kept their systems online and there was lag due to her bouncing the search through multiple servers to keep the lair protected.

Her eyes grew heavier and heavier and the running strings of numbers across the screens were almost hypnotic. She told herself she’d only close her eyes for a minute, and that’s the last thing she remembered.

When she woke up it was dark, her head felt slow and heavy, and she could hear a familiar deep voice close by.

Felicity lay in the bed as the fog in her mind cleared. The voice she realized was Digg’s and she pushed herself up on her right arm, covers falling to her lap as she took in the sight before her.

Digg was sitting in the chair at Oliver’s desk, her makeshift lair set up in front of him, and when he turned his head slightly she could see a comm link in his ear.

It only took her a few precious seconds to make a quick scan of the room and see that Oliver wasn’t there.

“Where is he?” she demanded before she’d fully made it from the bed and stalked as menacingly as she could towards Digg.

She saw his shoulders come back as she approached and give a soft sigh, “She’s awake,” he said resignedly

“Give it over,” she said through gritted teeth, holding her hand out for the comm link.

“Felicity…” Digg began and she cut him off,

“Don’t! What does he think he’s doing?” she couldn’t believe he’d go after Nate without telling her first.

“Your intel hit.” Digg said in that terribly even tone of his that usually helped calm her down, but just then all it did was infuriate her.

“Digg! Where is he?!”

His eyes dropped and so did her stomach as she suddenly realized there was something going on she might not want to know.

“What is it?” she asked warily,

“You were right, that Nate had sent those texts from your apartment.” he waited for her to nod, that wasn’t new information. “Between what we’ve got here and an email that came from Lance a little bit ago…it looks like he never left.”

“What?” she asked breathlessly.

“He’s been holed up at your place for the past twenty-four hours, at least.”

She felt like the floor had dropped out beneath her. Knowing he’d been in her place to leave the hair dye and then to send the texts had been disturbing enough. But to know he’d been living there…making his bombs there made her head reel.

Warm hands on her knees brought her back and she startled when she saw Digg kneeling in front of her as she now sat in the chair.

“Oliver went to my apartment. He went after him.” she said, voice choked.

“Yeah,” Digg confirmed, “Left about an hour ago, had to swing by the lair first.”

She nodded and blew out a long breath, “How’d he get out of here if it’s surrounded by security, and I’m assuming the press.”

Digg actually smiled and shook his head at that, “I asked him the same thing, but he assured me he had a lot of practice sneaking out of his room and off the property in his pre-island days.”

She let out a small snort of laughter, “I’m sure he did,” she said sardonically,

The air stilled as a veil of seriousness settled between them, “Is he okay enough to do this?”

Digg scrubbed his palms down his thighs and climbed to his feet, “He says he is.”

“What do you say?” she had to turn and look at the screens, she couldn’t keep her eyes on him as he answered.

“I think it’s a good thing Nate doesn’t seem to be that much of a physical threat. He’ll be fine.”

The results from the stores were scrolling past, the same gift card numbers highlighted as well as a timestamp and the itemized list of what was bought.

“No…not a physical threat,” she said distractedly as her brain began to see a pattern and put the pieces together. Fingers flying she pulled up the report from the bomb squad and saw there was a new one from the one at the plaza. A cold, gnawing terror was growing and she felt Digg step closer to her, knowing she was on to something. “He’s not a physical threat…but he is smart. Smarter than I think we’re giving him credit for.”

The amounts that Nate had bought were too much for only one or two devices. But it wasn’t too much for something bigger, like wiring an entire apartment building.

Her hand whipped out and snatched the comm link from Digg’s ear, slapping it in place before he could react.

“Oliver! Where are you?” she asked, desperate as she worked to pull up his location on the screen.

Her heart dropped as she saw the blip appear just as he answered,

“I’m on your fire escape, the place looks empty but I’ll check it out in case he’s still here.”

“NO!” she cried, half rising from the chair, “The apartment is going to explode!”

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