Times Like These

Chapter 25

It didn’t take two hours for them to get to Ashford as Digg continued to push the limits of the road and the car, but even a second was too long for Oliver. The worry and anxiety inside him churned. They were so close. She was so close. There was no wasted talk between him and John, they both knew the stakes and they both knew what would happen if they failed.

There was a quick call made to the hanger to request for the pilot to fly ahead to Ashford. Oliver knew as soon as he had her he was going to want her back in Starling as quick as possible; hours in the car wasn’t an option.

Half an hour out Digg reached behind his back and pulled out his backup weapon, silently handing it to Oliver. He checked it on instinct and let it lay against his thigh, eyes never leaving the screen that showed how close they now were.

When the motel came into view he felt his breath hitch and the grip he had on the gun grew tighter. Once again he wished for the familiar weight of his bow, but the gun would do, as well as his bare hands if necessary.

Digg pulled to a stop in front of the office and Oliver was out of the car before it had rocked back, his eyes already scanning the doors looking for the number twenty.

Normally at this point in a mission his mind would go blank, instinct and reaction time mixing with his training to allow him to do what he had to do. But right then all he could hear was Felicity’s terrified voice on the phone. He’d never heard her that frightened before, and he vowed he’d never hear her like that again. His heart was beating quicker than it ever had, blood rushing in his head so fast he couldn’t hear anything else and leaving his fingertips numb.

Digg was two steps behind him to his left, gun drawn as they ran down the cracked concrete walkway that stretched in front of the rooms. When they got to the end it only took one silent exchange before Oliver lifted his leg and kicked the door in violently.

The room was dimly lit, curtains drawn and no lights on when he entered, eyes scanning every inch of space but finding no movement as he shouted her name.

When he saw the bed and the two still bodies everything ground to a halt. His vision blanked for a moment as he tried to process what he was seeing. Samuels body was slumped, half resting against the bed to the right, an ever growing pool of blood surrounding him. Oliver dismissed him almost immediately as the gun fell limp to his side and took in a sight he had never wanted to witness.

Felicity lay just as still as Samuels, but her eyes were open and unseeing and the spread of blood over her left side where her arm was attached to the headboard by handcuffs stood out starkly even in the low light. Her hair was wrong. Not the bright, gleaming blonde that always caught his attention, now it was brown like his sister’s. It was the final injustice, for Samuels to have taken something that was so quintessentially Felicity.

Rage and pain and guilt slammed into him so hard he knew he made a noise, something primal and deep that crawled out of his chest and echoed in the small space. He was frozen, unable to move or breathe or even begin to understand what had happened.

It was Digg brushing past him, weapon still drawn that propelled Oliver forward.

Feeling empty inside he took stumbling steps towards her, barely registering the fact that he had to step over Samuels to get to her. He slid the gun into the small of his back with shaking hands, legs threatening to give out as he got closer. As he neared her he could feel the ache in his chest grow until it threatened to consume him. She was pale, and too thin with bruises along her cheek and a split lip that looked fresh. He’d been too late. He’d promised to protect her and he’d failed.

Over a week of waiting, and wondering, and searching. Over a week of slowly sinking down into a hole so deep he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to climb out, only to get her phone call a short time before. It was beyond cruel. To be so close and have it torn away so viciously.

He wasn’t expecting her to blink. He’d been so sure she was dead, so sure he’d once again lost someone he loved. When her lashes fluttered shut for a split second he felt his heart lurch wildly, as he stared in amazement, almost not understanding what he had seen.

“Felicity!” he cried out, erasing the final two feet that separated them his hands coming forward to cup her face and feel for a pulse.

All the air left his lungs when he felt it, slow, and unsteady but there. She let out a great gasp and pulled back as she blinked furiously, fighting to focus on him. And when she whispered his name in confusion he gave a half-choking sob and dropped his forehead to hers, ragged breaths tearing from his lungs. His legs actually went numb for a moment, and all he could think was that she was alive. She hadn’t died. He hadn’t lost her.

“Felicity…” his voice was rough and strained and cracked on the last syllable as he felt a rush of heat behind his eyes. He pulled back enough to look at her again, taking in the blood staining her shirt and then looking down for any other injuries. It was then he saw the gun resting against her abdomen.

His stomach sank and the burn of bile raced up his throat as he knew without asking what she’d had to do.

“No…” it left his lips as an exhale. He never wanted that for her. He knew what it would do to her.

“Oliver…I killed him. I killed him Oliver…” she sounded weak and nothing like herself, “Oliver…I…I killed him. Oliver,” he could feel her trembling under his hands and he wanted nothing more than to be able to reverse time in order to spare her from this.

“Shhh, don’t think about that right now, okay. You’re safe.” he tried to force himself to sound as normal as possible and knew as soon as the words were out that he had failed.

A surge of anger filled him as his eyes landed on her outstretched arm, “He’s got her chained to the bed, find the damn key!” he bit out to Digg, gaze never leaving Felicity.

When Digg crowded in the space next to him he forced himself to tramp down the red hot rage that was beginning to overtake his thoughts. The person he wanted to direct it at was dead, and all he could do now was help Felicity.

“What did that sick son of a bitch do to her?” Digg asked, voice hard as he took in her condition all the while working the key into the lock.

She cried out when her arm was released and suddenly all previous problems were pushed aside as he and Digg worked in tandem.

Oliver took the weight of her arm and laid it gently across her middle while Digg removed the gun and they shifted her down on the bed in order to get an idea of her injuries.

Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks and he scrambled around the end of the bed to get out of Digg’s way. “Felicity, look at me, focus on me okay?” he directed as Digg easily tore the fabric of the shirt away from her arm.

“Where are you hurt?” Oliver asked, hands cradling her face, thumbs brushing away the wetness he found as he tried to get her to answer. “Did he shoot you?”

Her head shook once, eyes glazed as she tried to look at him, “I don’t know, maybe.”

“Jesus,” Digg whispered under his breath and Oliver looked up to see him turning her forearm over, a series of short and long cuts of various depths littered the pale skin from wrist to elbow.

“I did that,” she said distractedly, her head following Oliver’s line of sight, lolling to the side as if she didn’t have the strength to control it, “I stole a knife. From the diner. I stole a knife and I hid it.” her voice was becoming slurred and Oliver felt a spike of fear.

Digg’s eyes shut tight for a second before he dropped a hand to her head. Felicity’s lips pressed together as she raised her chin slightly and looked at him, “I had to kill him. I didn’t want to but…I…”

“I know.” he replied, the gravitas of those two words meaning more than anything else he could have said just then.

The air still around the three of them for a long moment until Digg moved again, trying to get a better look at her injury.

Oliver smoothed loose hair out of her face, trying to ignore how wrong the color looked on her. Her hand gripped the sleeve of his jacket as Digg manipulated her arm, and she sucked air between her teeth in a pained hiss.

“It was a bullet, but I can’t tell if it’s a graze of if it’s still in there.” he said as he stood back and turned towards the door. “Med kit is in the car, I’ll get it and call Lance too…let him know. Local P.D should at least come secure the scene and send an ambulance.”

“NO!” Felicity said sharply making both men look at her in surprise, “No, ambulance. No, hospital.” she was almost frantic, her head shaking back and forth while she tried to pull herself upright with her good arm.

“Felicity…” he began but she turned wet, begging eyes on him and he knew he’d do anything she asked if she stopped looking so damn broken,

“Oliver, please,” she mouthed, “Let Digg fix me. I want to go home. Please let me go home.”

Unable to restrain himself any longer he let out a low growl and slid his arms under her, pulling her tight into his chest as he stood.

“We’re not staying in here,” he said decisively, taking long strides towards the door. Felicity let her head fall to his shoulder and he repressed a shudder. He wanted her home too. He wanted nothing more to walk out that door and to keep walking, never looking back. But she needed to be treated and they had to wait for the authorities to arrive. However, none of that kept him from wanting to just leave.

Digg moved past him, long legs eating up the distance to the car, and Oliver could already see him fishing his phone from his pocket to make the calls he wished weren’t necessary. Bureaucracy and red-tape was not what he wanted to deal with.

The weight of her in his arms was all he had wanted, but now that he had it he almost couldn’t let himself believe it was real. It felt like a dream, like a nightmare he expected to wake from where she was still missing.

He paused when he stepped outside, shifting his hold so the fading sun would be out of her face. However, when he looked down her eyes were closed and her face was slack. A bolt of fear shot through him as his heart seized in his chest.

“Felicity! Felicity, wake up! Don’t do this! Wake up!”

She jumped, and shot awake, grimacing at the pain that moving her arm must have caused her, the wound bleeding freely again. When her eyes met his he let out a breath of relief and leaned over, kissing her forehead and then her temple, “I thought I’d lost you,” he whispered into her skin, unable to keep his voice calm. “I need you to stay awake, okay, you’ll be able to rest soon.”

He didn’t know how tired and exhausted she had to be. Hadn’t allowed himself to think about everything she’d gone through, or what Samuels had done to her after she’d hung up the phone. One look at her was enough to make his vision cloud with a fury he could barely tramp down. But right then the only thing that mattered was her wellbeing, they’d deal with the rest when the time was right.

Her eyes grew glassy as she blinked slowly and he felt her hand fall from the hold she’d had on his jacket to lay limp across her middle. He saw her mouth move but no sound came out until she tried again, “I’m sorry…the sedative…” she swallowed hard before she could go on, “I didn’t get much but…”

“Sedative? What sedative?” he demanded, looking up quickly to see the back of the Escalade opened with Digg behind the doors, when he looked back her eyes were shut again and her head was falling to the side, “Felicity, open your eyes!”

“He kept me drugged,” she said slowly, like each letter was an effort, “For days…I don’t know how long,” She licked her lips and tried to keep talking, “We fought…he got me in the shoulder…I’m sorry,”

Her body went completely limp in his arms and he was cutting across the parking lot towards Digg, calling his name as he hurried.

“The bastard was keeping her drugged,” he spit out when he was close enough, barely keeping a handle on his emotions, “She said he dosed her again when they were fighting and then she passed out,”

Digg quickly put down the supplies he had gathered and checked her pulse and eyes, “She’s okay from what I can tell. Just sleeping, which probably isn’t a bad thing since I have to clean that wound.”

The man cut an appraising look over him and motioned to the open cargo area, “Have a seat and let me get to work,”

If Oliver noticed that Digg never suggested he relinquish his hold on Felicity he didn’t say a word.

He sat heavily, adjusting her so she was rolled more towards him, her legs resting next to him in the back of the SUV. With his right hand now free he brushed her hair out of the way and pulled up the sleeve of the t-shirt she wore, getting a good look at her wound for the first time.

It looked more like a long gash he was glad to see, almost three inches in length and deep enough he knew she’d need stitches. The cuts along her forearm made his stomach turn as he rubbed his thumb over the inside of her wrist, the feel of her heart beat thrumming steadily under his touch helping to settle him some.

“I called Lance, he says they’re about twenty minutes out and Jackson has put a call into the local PD. They’ve dispatched an ambulance, but it’s got to come from the next county over.” Digg said as he draped a blanket over her.

Oliver’s head shot up and he glared, “She’s not going to the hospital. At least not here.” he protested,

Digg looked at him hard, “I heard what she said in the room, and I understand how she feels. I don’t think she needs to here. She looks like she’s dehydrated, and in need of a good meal and some rest, but other than her arm everything else seems fine. But she’s going to need to be seen by someone.” he turned his attention back to the wound, letting Oliver mull over what he’d said.

Logically he knew it made sense, however, it didn’t match with what his instincts were telling him to do, which was leave, immediately. He had her back now, he wanted it all to be over.

For a long beat they were quiet as Digg worked, Oliver trying to ignore the way the alcohol ran pink after it was poured over her arm.

“Had a text from the pilot,” Digg supplied as he capped the bottle and set it aside. “He’s at a small airstrip a few miles away.”

Oliver nodded, “Good, I want to get out of here as soon as possible.”

Digg sighed and paused as he readied the suture kit, “You know they’re going to want to talk to her.”

Oliver’s jaw tightened and he forced himself to run his fingers along her cheek instead of clenching them into fists like he wanted to. “If she wakes up and agrees to it she can give a brief statement, but I will not let them put her through hours of an interrogation.”

Digg grunted an agreement and focused on his work. They weren’t in the ideal situation for sewing up a wound, but Oliver knew she’d only want Digg doing it.

He worked quickly and efficiently, putting in a row of tiny stitches. “The ones in her leg were probably ready to come out a few days ago.” he said absently,

Oliver scrubbed his hand over his face and let out a long breath. The bombing at the office seemed so far away it almost seemed surreal. “What the hell has he done with her for a week!” he said in a harsh, angry hiss, “A week! Have they been here the entire time? He kept her sedated, barely fed her from how much weight she’s lost…” his chest was growing tight as the need to lash out and seek vengeance tried to take over.

Digg paused and looked at him hard, “There will be a time and a place to work through all of this, man, but it’s not right now. She survived. She did what she had to do and she survived. The hard part now will be keeping her in one piece once all of that registers with her.”

Oliver nodded stiffly, and directed his gaze back to her face.

In the distance sirens could be heard and Digg shook his head sardonically as he tied off the last stitch. “Here comes the cavalry. Probably the most exciting thing to happen in this town in a decade.” he taped a gauze square in place and quickly cleaned the smaller cuts, “These aren’t that deep.” he said as he handed Oliver smaller adhesive bandages for the ones that needed to be covered, “Take care of that while I take care of them,”

Over his shoulder Oliver could see two sheriff’s cars skidding to a stop behind and next to them.

Felicity didn’t so much as stir at the noise, and he was forced to agree with Digg he was grateful she’d slept through the treatment. He kept his attention on her, carefully placing the bandages to protect the worst of the cuts. He couldn’t imagine what had been going through her head when she’d grabbed the knife and concealed it in her sleeve. How she had to have felt it cutting into her, but left it there until she had a chance to use it. She amazed him. He’d known she was strong. He’d known she was tough. But what she’d gone through…what she’d done…it just made him more certain how lucky he was to have her in his life.

He’d barely been paying attention to Digg, who was surrounded by the Sheriff and his deputies, but he did hear “Mr. Queen” get bandied about more than once and in this instance had no problem with his name and notoriety being used for their advantage.

Digg and the Sheriff nodded as they passed by the back of the Escalade, but no one approached him. He turned his head and watched as Digg lead them to the room and stood outside as the Sheriff stepped in.

Oliver didn’t so much as shift even though his legs were beginning to tingle from how he sat in the back of the cargo area. Occasionally he would move to touch her face, or her neck, or her leg, as if he had to make contact with her to remind himself that she was really there and he hadn’t lost her.

The long line of black SUVs that were caravaning silently down the road let him know the feds had arrived. He just hoped Lance could help expedite their leaving. He wanted Felicity back in Starling, back in the mansion, back in his bed where he knew she was safe.

He watched, eyes narrowed, as the cars pulled to a stop and a flood of black clad agents poured out, all carrying guns they wouldn’t be needing.

Felicity’s face contorted at the sound of multiple slamming car doors and he leaned over her, whispering in her ear that she was safe.

When he looked up he saw Detective Lance eating up the ground between them, his eyes firmly fixed on Felicity.

“Oh god, no.” he breathed out as he slowed his approach, taking in her appearance and obvious injuries. “What did that sick bastard do to her?” unknowingly almost repeating Digg’s initial observation verbatim.

Oliver’s throat was thick and it took him longer than he wanted to respond, “What didn’t he do,” he finally replied.

Lance ran a hand over his head and moved closer, fingers coming out tentatively to barely brush her newly dyed hair. “Jesus,” he muttered under his breath, “She did it, huh? She killed him?” there was an unmistakable tone of pride in his voice, although heavily concealed by sadness and resignation. The relief on his face was evident and the man didn’t even seem to notice as he let his hand just touch her head once.

Oliver felt his breath hitch and couldn’t answer. Lance turned away and looked around, clearing his throat before he spoke, “They’re gonna want to talk to her, Oliver, you know that. You know Jackson is a decent guy but…there are protocols and she’s the only one who knows what actually happened.”

He just held her tighter, “I don’t know how much she can tell you since she was kept drugged almost constantly!” the tenuous rein he’d had on his anger was slipping, he was about to say more when Felicity turned in his arms and let out a low moan.

When he saw her eyelids flutter he forgot all about Lance or anyone else, as his hand came up to cup her cheek. “Hey, it’s okay, you’re safe.” he repeated as she struggled to open her eyes the rest of the way.

The faintest bit of blue peeked out and he felt some of the tension leave his shoulders, then she was blinking repeatedly, her brows drawing together as she slowly focused on him.

“Oliver?” her voice sounded scratchy and raw, as she turned towards him, a small smile lifted the corner of her mouth and it almost took his breath away. Until she frowned and her eyes popped open in confusion and panic.

“Felicity, you’re safe, it’s over.”

“Oliver?” she repeated, finally looking at him like she might not be seeing correctly, “You’re here?”

“Yeah, we found you. Digg and I found you. You called me, remember?” his knuckles brushed over her temple and down along the side of her face,

“The diner. I called you from the diner. The nice waitress, she let me use her phone.” she started and then blanched, eyes going wide in fear, “Oh god…Oliver…I…”

Before he could react she had begun to retch. Moving quickly he tipped her to the side so she could get sick on the ground if necessary, his hand fell across her middle and he could feel her abdominal muscles twitching and straining to expel whatever was in her stomach.

Lance moved as well, swiping her hair out of her face and helping support her head, but other than a few horrible noises nothing came up.

She went limp in Oliver’s arms, breathing heavily, tears dripping off her nose. He rubbed comforting circles over her belly hating how the feel of her ribs was more prominent than it had been before.

He continued to whisper soft words into her hair until she took a long, ragged breath in through her nose and lifted her head some. She blinked again when she saw Lance kneeling in front of her.

“Det…Detective?”

“Hey sweetheart,” he said quietly, as he straightened the blanket across her legs. “Glad we got you back,”

“Where’s Digg?” she asked, eyes taking in the bandage on her arm,

“He’s talking to the agents who’ve been working the case. But he fixed you up first,” Oliver supplied,

“Speaking of the agents…” Lance began, shooting a look at Oliver before he continued, “I know you might not feel up to it, but you’re going to need to give a statement.”

All the color drained from her face again and he felt a low rumble emerge from his chest as he hitched her closer.

“I’ll talk to them. Try and see if I can’t get them to let you just do a brief statement right now and they can do the formal one back home in a couple of days when you’re feeling better.” Lance offered,

She was trembling now and Oliver knew it was from thinking about having to relive what she’d just gone through. “Do I have to?” she asked in the smallest voice he’d ever heard her use before.

A huge exhale left his lungs and Oliver couldn’t help slipping a hand into her hair and gathering her to him, his lips pressed tight to her head. She felt like she was going to fly apart.

His eyes met Lance’s over the top of her head and he silently pleaded with the older man to not do this to her, to allow her some bit of peace. With a sigh Lance dropped his head and let it hang for a long moment before he scrubbed his hands over his thighs and pushed to his feet.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

The screaming siren of the approaching ambulance made her cringe and Oliver covered her ear with his palm as he looked around for Digg who was already moving to intercept the paramedics.

He saw his partner trying to get them to stop and listen but before Oliver knew it there were three medics rushing right towards them.

Felicity looked up at that moment, no doubt picking up on the tension that had entered his body, and emitted a small shrieking cry when she spied the strangers.

Oliver’s free hand was out, and he was ready to put Felicity down and physically block her if necessary, but luckily Digg slipped in front of them and helped put up a wall of protection.

“You need to back off!” Oliver ground out, voice as low as it ever was when he used the modulator,

“Give her some space and let me brief you,” Digg tried, but they didn’t seem to be interested in listening as the one in the front continued to try and push forward,

“Hey, man, you need to listen!” Digg bit out, one large palm coming out to slap across the man’s chest and keep him from taking another step.

They were quickly joined by two of the deputies, and several agents all who seemed to be talking at once. Felicity’s hand wrapped tight in his jacket as she turned her face into his chest, trying to make herself as small as possible.

It was Lance and Jackson shoving their way through and talking over the rest that finally got the medics to back off some. Digg stepped away with them, and Oliver could tell by the set of his shoulders and the way he kept shaking his head it wasn’t going well.

“I just want to go home,” she whispered, “I want it to be over,”

“It’s almost over. I promise.” he said as carefully as he could, knowing his tone was nowhere near as calm as he needed it to be.

Digg headed back, face drawn and Oliver could already feel his ire building.

He knelt down so he could look Felicity in the eyes when he talked, “Hey, they have to look you over, okay. They’re not going to touch your arm, and they’re not going to take you to the hospital.” he waited for her to slowly turn her head so she was looking at him, neither of them missing how she grimaced and shut her eyes tight for a second. Digg flicked his gaze to Oliver and rubbed a hand over his face, “But you’re going to have to go lay on the stretcher, okay.”

A strangled noise came from the back of her throat and Oliver was on his feet, ready to put her in the car and leave. It was Digg’s hard grip on his shoulder that kept him in one place.

“Oliver, we don’t have a choice. Let them check her out and get it over with. She could probably use some fluids which we don’t have with us.”

Lance joined them, and if he noticed the tension he didn’t say anything, “Sorry, they need at least a basic statement today.” he said, looking genuinely contrite

Oliver’s head fell back in frustration and fury. She’d been through enough. It all needed to end.

“Let’s get it over with,” Digg said in that even tone of his that Oliver often appreciated, just not at that moment.

When he looked down he was surprised to see Felicity staring back, a look of resigned acceptance on her face. “I can do it,” she whispered,

“You shouldn’t have to,” he replied immediately, angry he seemed to be the only one who wanted to keep her from having to relive it all again.

The sharp bitter laugh she gave made his heart clench, “Shouldn’t have to do a lot of things. Don’t have a choice,”

He didn’t want to think what sort of reserve she had to be tapping into in order to agree to do this. How much damage had Nate done to her that would stay with her for the rest of her life. This was never supposed to be her fate. He knew what it was like to live with blood on your hands, but she was never supposed to know.

“Oliver…” it was her soft touch against his jaw that broke him from his thoughts,

With a gasp he curled around her, burying his face in her neck. “I missed you,” he said brokenly, feeling her nails scraping through the hair on his face he hadn’t bothered to keep up with for days. The weak hold he’d had on everything had snapped for just a second.

“I missed you,” she replied, turning her head so her lips moved against his jaw, “I can do this,”

He kissed her, hard and quick, avoiding the cut on her lip and pulling back before she could even try and return it. He kept his head down as he blinked wet eyes, not looking up until he had his control back.

He looked Lance dead in the eye, and then turned his gaze on Jackson, “She gets upset at all and this is over,”

There was a second where he thought Jackson was going to challenge him, but then he nodded and led the way to the back of the open ambulance.

The stretcher looked hard and uncomfortable and it was the last place he wanted to put her down. He didn’t want to put her down at all. With a stuttered movement he placed her as gently as possible, brushing a kiss over her forehead along with a promise to not leave her.

There was a flash of panic in her eyes as he sat on the bench next to her and he was already reaching for her hand when it reached out for his. Her chest rose and fell in quick, short bursts and he could see she was on the verge of a panic attack.

“You’re safe, I’m right here,” he said as calmly as possible while he smoothed a hand over her head.

She didn’t speak, but gave him a short nod and he could feel her nails dig into his flesh from where she gripped him so tightly.

A voice over his shoulder interrupted them, and when the paramedic asked for him to step outside Oliver thought he might like to tear the man’s throat out. He had no intention of leaving her.

It took Felicity asking for him to be allowed to stay that the medic responded to, and Oliver couldn’t help but level the man with a glare as he began to prepare his equipment.

Felicity made a small noise and Oliver turned back to her, trying to keep her focus on him and not what the medic was doing. They made it through routine blood pressure and oxygen level checks without incident, but when the man moved towards her and began to check her for any head trauma she balked.

With a violent jerk she pulled away and tried to move as far towards Oliver as she could. “Please…please don’t touch my hair. He…he touched my hair…I can’t.” her voice was small and trembling and he felt a flare of protectiveness surge within him quickly followed by the ever present guilt he’d been carrying for the past week.

From that point on the medic wisely told Felicity everything he was going to do before he did it.

Oliver saw how she began to tremble again when the needle was brought out to start the I.V and he cupped his hand over her cheek, directing her gaze towards him and away from what was happening on her other side, beginning to talk in an attempt to distract her.

“It’ll be over soon, you just need some fluids and then we’ll be on the plane back to Starling.”

Her eyes widened at that and he could see the questions begin to swirl. How far were they from home? How did they know to look for her in Ashford? How did they figure it out and not the F.B.I?

“Mostly blind luck,” he said with a shake of his head. “There hadn’t been a real lead for days. The profiler was convinced you’d been taken back east, and that’s where the F.B.I was focusing most of their efforts. Digg and I had been pouring over every bit of evidence we had when a call came in from Lance. He said they had received an anonymous tip that Samuels had been spotted in a town about three hours from here and he was going to ride along.” He was being intentionally vague. She didn’t need to know all the details yet if ever. He flicked a quick look to the medic to see he was about to insert the port and held her hand tighter.

Her eyes had shut when the needle had gone in and she swallowed hard, blood draining from her already pale face. When she looked at him again there was a spark of determination.

“It was obviously a bad lead. And it doesn’t explain how you knew to come here.” she still sounded shaky, but he knew she was trying to keep herself distracted and he wasn’t going to let her down.

“Digg was looking at a map of the surrounding area, just happened to see the name of the town and remembered he’d seen the same name on the diner menu from the backpack in the plaza. We decided to come on a whim and check it out. Honestly I think Digg was just trying to get me out in an attempt to clear my head a bit.” That was an outright lie, but he couldn’t let her know how bad it had gotten. He couldn’t let her know how close to the edge he’d been. She didn’t need to know how desperate everything had become. How the F.B.I had warned them every passing hour past the first forty-eight dropped the chances of her being found alive. How it had been seven days of hell and imagining every time the phone rang it would be the call saying her body had been discovered.

He hadn’t realized he’d gone quiet until he felt her fingers on the back of his neck, softly carding through his hair. “What?”

“We’re six hours from Starling. We shouldn’t have driven. We could have been here faster and…” he blurted out before he could stop himself, the guilt tasting bitter in his mouth and making him want to spit it out when he really should have been swallowing it down as part of his penance. He knew why they had driven but now, in hindsight…all of those reasons didn’t seem to matter.

“Hey, you had no reason to think I was here, you said so yourself. Don’t take on blame that’s not yours.” the small bit of absolution she was giving him wasn’t deserved and he couldn’t bring himself to lift his head. Instead he stroked his thumb over her hand and shut his eyes as she continued to run her fingers through his hair.

For a long moment it was actually quiet until he heard movement behind him and turned to see Jackson climbing into the ambulance.

“Ms. Smoak, I’m Agent Jackson and I’m in charge of the task force based out of Starling City.”

Her hand slid off the back of Oliver’s neck and he grabbed it up quickly, feeling the tension enter her body.

“Mr. Queen I’m going to need you to step out while I take Ms. Smoak’s statement.”

Oliver’s back stiffened and he had to choke back a laugh. There was no way he was leaving. The idea was absurd.

“Mr. Queen…” Jackson began again but Oliver just leveled him with a glare, which Jackson decided to ignore. “I understand this is difficult, but I am already compromising by conducting the interview here instead of insisting that Ms. Smoak be taken to the nearest field office and debriefed immediately, which is typically how things would go in a situation like this.”

The swell of rage that filled him was almost welcomed. He knew that feeling. He could work with that. “I would like to see you try,”

Agent Jackson’s eyes flashed, he was clearly not used to be challenged, “Sir, I will get the statement one way or the other.”

“You can threaten to have her transported. But if you do that I’d like to remind you that I have the Defense Secretary’s private number, and Queen Consolidated’s Applied Sciences division holds quite a few defense contracts. It would be unfortunate if those contracts were terminated and the research lost because certain members of the government couldn’t conduct themselves satisfactorily.”

He’d felt…useless as Arrow since all of this had started. He had failed, repeatedly to do what he was trained to do. But if the Arrow couldn’t help her just then, he’d damn well make sure that Oliver Queen, CEO could.

Felicity’s head whipped towards him, but he only saw it out of his periphery. He and Jackson were engaged in a battle of wills just then and he couldn’t spare her a glance.

Finally Jackson looked away, his jaw tightening as he considered Oliver’s words, “Mr. Queen, I do not wish to cause Ms. Smoak any further stress. But I also cannot allow you to be present when she gives her statement.”

Oliver’s hands clenched into fists and he had to remind himself he was still holding onto her when he felt the small bones in her hands pressed together under his grip.

“Oliver, it’s okay. I’ll be fine.” she said quickly, and he couldn’t help the way he turned to look at her, stricken expression crossing his face.

He realized his mistake as soon as he saw her eyes drop, a fresh wash of tears making them look wavy in the dim light.

“Shit,” he muttered under his breath. She thought he was upset with her, “No, I…I just need you…” he cut himself off and shut his eyes tight for a moment. He didn’t know how to explain to her that he needed to be near her. To be able to see her and touch her because he’d gone too long thinking he’d never get to do those things again and right then he couldn’t reconcile those fears with the reality that she was safe. “Are you sure?”

Part of him wanted her to say no.

“I just want it over with.” she said tiredly, and it was her forlorn, exhausted tone that made him concede. They’d get this over with and they’d leave.

“Okay,” he agreed, “I’ll be right out there if you need me.” Before he could talk himself out of it, or see something else in her eyes that would make him stop he forced himself to his feet and brushed a kiss over her cheek, not looking back as he exited the ambulance.

The whirling red and blue lights of the police cruisers cut into the rapidly darkening sky, casting shadows everywhere he looked. A quick glance towards the motel room they’d found her in showed a large spotlight going up as the area was swarmed by agents. He resolutely turned his back on the view and took up a position ten feet from where she was.

He felt Digg and Lance come up to flank him, but none of them spoke. The three held a silent sentry as F.B.I agents, and sheriff’s deputies, and forensic units swarmed about them.

But Oliver’s eyes were locked on the dim cavern of the ambulance. He couldn’t see her, Jackson blocked his view, and no one had turned on the interior lights. All he could make out was a dark shape and the edge of the stretcher when the strobes hit it. It was pointless to try and hear her, but he kept straining his ears anyways.

A part of him ached to know what she was saying. Partly because he didn’t want her to have to tell it again. Partly because he needed to know what she’d gone through. And another part of him, the selfish part, didn’t want to know. He didn’t know if he could handle hearing what had happened to her. If he didn’t know it was one last layer of guilt he could leave off.

And that made him feel even more guilty. She’d lived it. She’d been forced to endure all of it and he hadn’t been able to stop it. The least he could do was take on as much of it for her as possible. To try and make her burdens his. Logically he knew that’s not how it worked, but it didn’t stop him from wanting to be able to save her from as much of it as he could.

The longer he was forced to wait the more anxious and tense he became. On the outside he was a solid, rigid, unmoving force that betrayed none of the inner turmoil churnin through him. It crossed his mind that the profile he exuded just then looked similar to when he stood on rooftops in the middle of the night with a hood and a bow.

He needed to move, but he wasn’t going to shift from his spot. The second Jackson was done with her Oliver planned on being back at her side. He could feel how tight his jaw was. There was an actual pain he could feel shooting down the sides of his neck, but he couldn’t get himself to ease up, to relax. That might not happen for a long time.

When the agent suddenly half stood, Oliver started forward a step. All his senses were on alert telling him something was wrong. Then he heard it, a high pitched cry that emerged from the darkness and he was moving.

Hands dropped to his arms to hold him back but he shrugged them off. Jackson had already moved back, turning as Oliver approached at a run.

“I’m sorry,” he said with obvious concern, “I didn’t realize she was unaware of how long she’d been gone.”

Oliver’s heart dropped and then he was climbing in the back.

She was so pale she was almost grey, her mouth opening and shutting with nothing coming out but a garbled, unintelligible sound full of shock and her complete inability to understand what she’d been told.

“Felicity!” he said sharply, not even noticing how loud he was in the small space. Digg was crowded in next to him, and Oliver barely noticed as the other man removed her I.V.

He took her face in his hands and tried to get her to look at him, but her eyes scared him. They were wide, pupils blown, and she didn’t seem to be seeing anything. “Felicity! You’re safe! You’re okay!” he shouted, hoping if nothing else she’d hear him.

When she did respond it was with a gasp as she struck out frantically, hand coming to wrap itself once more in his jacket. “A week?” she gasped out between sobs, “A week? Oliver…I didn’t….I didn’t know! I didn’t know!” she collapsed against him, “I didn’t know it had been that long. What did he do to me? I can’t remember! What did he do?”

Her words tore at him, gnawing at his soul as his mind buzzed white with static. She didn’t know she’d been gone a week. She had no memories of half the time she’d been missing. What had that bastard done to her?

He had her in his arms and was out of the ambulance before he’d known he’d moved. She jumped and hitched against him, her breaths erratic and short, and one look at her terrified face was all he needed to know she was too far gone.

Lance raced ahead and opened the back door to the Escalade, clapping him on the shoulder as he maneuvered her gently into the car. “Get her home safe,” he heard before the door was shutting behind him.

She was slumped unnaturally against the tan leather, head lolling to the side and her eyes still had that far off, unattended look to them that made a shiver go down his spine.

He slipped a hand under her neck to support her head, the other gripping her shoulder tight, as he watched her struggle to breathe. Both her hands came up to pull at her bloodstained t-shirt, as if it was constricting her, fingers weakly pulling at the fabric

“Felicity! Breathe!” he ordered, “You’re having a panic attack. Open your eyes and look at me.”

Not breathing himself he watched as she tried. He saw the struggle as she worked to bring herself back, and knew how hard it was for her.

“Listen to my voice, and concentrate on your breaths.” he lowered his voice, trying to help calm her by staying calm himself, but he heard the tremors and the cracks, and knew he was only barely hanging on.

Slowly she regained control. Her breaths got longer, and there was more time between them. Color began to return to her face, and her eyes began to ‘see’ him once again.

He saw when she opened her mouth and tried to speak but he cut her off before she could.

“Don’t, don’t talk about it right now.” he said, letting the finger he’d laid over her lips caress the chapped skin for a moment.

With a sigh she let her head fall back as she leaned into his arm.

“Let’s go, Digg.” he threw over his shoulder, gathering her back to him as they pulled away from the motel and the hell she’d been forced to endure.

Small tremors periodically made her body shake head to toe and each time Oliver would hold her tighter and whisper to her that she was safe, and she could sleep.

He didn’t take his eyes off of her during the entire drive. They were leaving. Finally. The only goal he’d had was finally being met.

Find her. Save her. Bring her home.

Two out of three.

The hot sting behind his eyes made him drop his head over hers, peppering her forehead with small kisses. She barely stirred and he knew she was almost asleep.

When the car stopped he looked up to see the sight of his jet parked on a weed infested runway. The stairs were already down, the pilot waiting at the bottom and it took no time for Digg to open the door.

He settled in the back where three seats made a small couch, Digg dropped into the single chair across from them and didn’t say a word about how he left Felicity in his lap.

They didn’t speak until after the stairs had been brought up and the door shut and the pilot came over the intercom to say they were clear for takeoff.

When they were in the air he let out a sigh that was mirrored by Digg and let his head fall back to be struck almost immediately by a wave of exhaustion.

It took effort to open his eyes and when he did he saw the supportive stare of his partner.

“I’ll keep watch, take a rest.” he ordered and Oliver didn’t fight him.

Felicity mumbled something in her sleep and turned into him slightly. He smoothed a hand over her head and took her hand in his, tangling their fingers together as they lay across her middle. The deep shuddering exhale that emerged from his chest as he leaned back did little to expel the new demons he’d acquired in the past week, but it was a cathartic release none the less.

He stretched his legs out and crossed his feet at the ankles as he held her just a little bit tighter. She was alive. She was in his arms. He had her back.

She was alive.

Finally, knowing Digg was keeping watch over her he shut his eyes and let himself sleep.


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