Times Like These

Chapter 30

The upper hallway outside Oliver’s room looked longer than ever at first glance. All Felicity could see was an endless corridor and closed doors. It wasn’t until after a long blink that everything rearranged itself back the way it really was. She could see the railing that edged the upper balcony and Digg waiting, suit on, hands folded in front of him.

Seeing Digg look so normal helped to calm her. Oliver’s hand tightened over hers and she was the one who increased their pace. As they approached Digg turned and gave Oliver a significant look which she was about to question when the pacing figure of Thea Queen could been seen on the balcony that overlooked the foyer.

Digg’s shoulders lifted in a sympathetic shrug that let her know he’d tried to keep Thea away and failed. Tiny pinpricks of fear washed over Felicity, leaving her hands and feet numb even though she had known she’d have to face others.

Oliver turned his body, blocking Thea from view and reached out one hand to tip her chin up, “I can talk to her if you want to wait here with Digg,”

With a shaky breath she shook her head, feeling slowly returning to her extremities. “It’s okay,” she assured him,

There was no more time because just then Thea had turned at the far end and spotted them, “Ollie!” she exclaimed but seemed frozen in place,

As soon as they hit the near side of the balcony Thea flew at her brother, slamming into his chest with enough force to make him grunt slightly, his bruised ribs protesting.

“Oh god, Ollie, you got her back! I knew you would…Mom told me and I wanted to see you but she said you needed some time. I’m just…I was so worried for you if…” she pulled back with watery eyes and waved her hand in front of her face, “Doesn’t matter now. Everything worked out, right?”

In a whirl she turned to Felicity and started forward as if to hug her but pulled up short, “Sorry, I was…I was really scared this week. For Ollie and for you and-” her hands came up again, “I know we don’t really know each other but I was really worried we weren’t going to get the chance to do that,”

A rough noise came from Oliver and Felicity was stunned by her words, having no time to prepare before Thea finally couldn’t seem to control herself any longer and pulled Felicity into a hug.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” she said quietly into her shoulder as Felicity began to slowly relax, not bringing her own arms up for a long moment, “He wouldn’t have survived without you,” it was a whisper, only meant for her ears and not for the first time Felicity wondered how bad things had been for Oliver,

Her own eyes were a bit damp when the younger girl pulled back and looked at her with an intensity she found surprising. “If you need anything, let me know,”

Felicity could only nod, the fast forming lump in her throat keeping her from speaking. She’d never had a sister before but she felt like she’d just gained one, and something told her ‘sister’ was a role Thea didn’t take lightly.

She wasn’t quite able to pay attention as Thea turned back to her brother, “They’re already here, Mom was going to take them into the front parlor if you need a couple more minutes,” she said helpfully,

Felicity heard him thank her but hardly felt the gentle squeeze to her forearm before they were once again alone.

“Hey, you okay?” he asked, fingers skirting up her wrist to cup her elbow and draw her near him,

With a small start her eyes focused and she found herself blinking quickly as she hurriedly tried to remember everything that had just been said, “Yeah, I…”

It was a combination of Thea’s words echoing in her head and Oliver himself asking if she was okay that made her mouth drop open as she took half a step back in order to really look at him. He was paler than usual, a crease that now seemed to be permanent between his brows, dark circles beneath his eyes, and a mouth that appeared pulled down as a default. But it was the slight edge of fear and almost borderline hysteria that crossed his face at random that affected her the most.

He looked at her sometimes like he still expected her to vanish at any second or that she had never really been there at all. His touches felt they were the only way he had to remind himself she was with him and not a ghost.

The signs had been there since he’d found her in the motel. His reluctance to let her go, his refusal to leave her side, not wanting her to do something as simple as walk off the plane, pacing right outside the door when the doctor had been there…he’d even allowed a few desperate slides where he said something about the time she’d been gone, but nothing that went into any detail. She knew the week she’d been missing had been hard for him but she was beginning to realize she didn’t really know how hard.

With a shaking hand she reached out and cupped his cheek, thumb stroking from the smooth skin over the stubble that was still longer than usual, “Oliver, are you okay?”

His head tilted in genuine confusion, and she hurried on, “I haven’t…I’m so sorry. I haven’t really asked you if you’re okay. You can’t be. But you’ve been so good taking care of me and making sure I’m alright and I know it was bad–”

She wasn’t expecting his hands to drop hard on her hips as he moved closer and stared down at her, breath almost ragged. With a low, half growl he lowered his forehead to hers and screwed his eyes shut tight. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,”

She drew back and looked at him in shock, “Oliver–”, he understood what she wasn’t saying, what she was questioning. How could he ever say that considering everything he’d endured on the island.

He pulled her back, shaking his head, an almost electric current of intensity rushing through his touch that she could feel skittering across the surface of her skin, “No, you have to…” he cut himself off, swallowing hard, jaw clenching before he continued, “Physical pain I learned to live with.” he took her face in his hands and dropped his voice to a whisper, “I could not live without you,”

Her mouth fell into a silent ‘oh’ and then she was raising her good arm to wrap tight around his neck, her face pressed into him. “I’m here, I’m okay. I’m not going anywhere,” she promised fiercely, and felt him shudder as he banded too strong arms about her waist.

They stood locked in place like that until she began to feel some of the tension begin to ease from him although it didn’t all dissipate. She didn’t know if it ever truly would.

It was the familiar gravelly drawl of Detective Lance from below that eventually made her pull back and turn her head to look over the banister. Oliver’s arms were still solidly around her as she peered down to see Lance and Moira talking in quiet tones, their words disappearing into the grand space on the entrance hall before they could reach Felicity’s ears.

The detective chose that moment to look up, his eyes softening when he took her in, and even from her removed vantage point she could see the relief that crossed his face at seeing her safe.

She gave him a small smile before giving her attention back to Oliver. His head was still lowered, eyes cast on the floor. She slid her hand around from the nape of his neck to cradle the side of his cheek, coaxing him with gentle pressure until he looked at her.

He hadn’t completely gathered his emotions and her heart clenched as she saw once again all the pain and fear he’d been through swirling through dull blue eyes. “Hey,” it was no more than a breath but it made him blink and when he looked at her his eyes were clearer, “I’m okay,” she repeated as she pushed up on her toes and kissed him, trying to pour every ounce of love and support she felt for him into it.

He responded immediately, unable to control his reaction as he kissed her back almost desperately. It was rough and hard and she could feel her lower lip being pushed into her bottom teeth, the healing cut she had there stinging slightly. She was breathless when he lifted his head and sat her back, scraping a hand through his hair and over the back of his neck, other hand fisting in the material of her blouse.

“If you can’t do this I…” she started but was stopped by the almost wild look he gave her. He spread his hands wide over his face, and let out one deep exhale. When he looked at her again the rawness was missing although she was sure it was hidden just out of sight.

“I’m fine. I’m not letting you do this alone,” he said forcefully, taking her hands in his and holding them tight.

“Okay, good,” she said in a rush, letting out a nervous breath as her eyes cut back down to where Moira and Quentin were now both looking at them expectantly. “I didn’t actually mean that, by the way. I can’t do this by myself.”

She thought he might smile but instead he just blew air from between pursed lips like he hadn’t even heard her.

Suddenly more worried than she had been since they’d left his room she let her hands slip from his and turned to head down the staircase. She gripped the railing hard, her knees feeling like they may not keep her upright, her chest tightening in panic until Oliver’s broad hand fell to her back, other hand coming across to let her grasp his wrist for extra support.

At the first landing she looked up and gave him a wan smile, “Can’t remember the last time I walked these on my own, seems like you’re always carrying me.”

There was only the slightest twitch of his lips before his brows drew together, “Let’s just get this over with,”

A cold knot tightened in her stomach as she gave him a long look that he avoided. The worry that struck her only grew as she continued down the steps.

When they reached the bottom Moira had moved closer, the impeccable suit she wore making Felicity all too aware of the bruises on her face she’d been unable to cover with make up and her simple skirt and top.

Felicity felt incredibly self conscious and dropped the hand she had on Oliver’s arm to adjust her glasses and smooth her hair as they slowly approached.

It was Moira who broke the silence, eyes locked on Felicity with her hands outstretched, “Felicity, dear,” she said in a surprisingly affected voice that made Felicity’s eyes go round. She expected the other woman to take her hands like she had before. She hadn’t expected a hug.

A small ‘oh’ escaped her lips as Moira warmly enveloped her, not holding her for long. When she drew back there was such a kind, motherly expression on her face Felicity felt a pang go through her, “We were so worried about you. I can’t tell you how relieved Thea and I were to get the call that you were coming home,”

It wasn’t the use of home that had Felicity suddenly blinking back tears, it was the soft touch of Moira’s fingers grazing over her bruised cheek.

As if sensing she was becoming overwhelmed, Moira let her hands skim over Felicity’s arms before turning to Oliver. She didn’t say a word to her son, just tugged him down until he was forced to stoop and accept her hug. That one lasted considerably longer than the one she had given Felicity but by the time they parted Felicity felt like she could breathe again.

“Never been so glad to have this one be right before,” Quentin said wryly, pointing a finger in Oliver’s direction but not looking at him, as he stepped up to join the group and broke the silence. “When he called to tell me he’d heard from you…can’t say I believed him at first but…you bring out the best in everyone, sweetheart.”

He still looked tired, but not quite as worn as she remembered from seeing him the day before outside the motel.

Oliver had already come back to her side, hand rubbing small circles at the small of her back as she found herself unable to look away from the detective. Lance gave a little sigh and a tilt of his head and then before she even knew what she was doing she found herself moving forward right into his arms.

He wrapped her up without hesitation as she struggled not to completely fall apart. The amount of people she trusted was small, and most of them were in the room with her right then.

“Okay, okay,” he said quietly as he held her, “You’re strong and you survived, and don’t for one second feel bad for coming home, okay? Lots of people don’t get to do that.” the unspoken reference to his own daughter and his choked words were enough to bring a fresh wave of tears.

She gave herself another few seconds before she made to pull back. Wiping her fingers under her eyes she knew she was probably doing more harm than good to the small amount of makeup she’d applied earlier.

Lance cleared his throat and stepped away, hands on his hips as he stared hard at the floor for a moment until she felt Oliver once again at her back. But it was Digg’s hand that entered her field of vision holding a crisp white handkerchief that made her look up.

She took it with a smile of thanks and tried to dab away the moisture without making more of a mess.

“Don’t you know you should always have a handkerchief on you, Queen? I figured you were raised better than that,” Quentin said, albeit in a far lower and rougher voice than he usually used, “No offense, Moira,”

Moira held her hands up in mock surrender, “He was raised better I can assure you. Thank goodness Mr. Diggle is a gentleman as well.” her tone had a forced lightness to it that Felicity appreciated even though she could feel the tension flowing off Oliver in waves.

“I’ll go see if they’re ready for you,” Quentin offered and Moira followed after him, leaving the three of them alone once again in the entrance hall.

She fiddled with the edge of the cloth in her hands and looked at Oliver, not expecting to see him with his hands in his pocket almost glaring in the direction Lance his mother had just gone.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” she asked immediately,

He gave a small jolt, setting his shoulders and pulling his hands out before he looked at her, mask sliding into place. “Nothing,”

She gave him a look and stepped right up to him, hand coming up to lay against his lapel, “Don’t try and lie to me,”

He let out a huff, pinching the bridge of his nose, “I’m not…this isn’t about me right now. This is about you, okay.” the harsh, angry look was gone and even though she knew he was forcing something away and boxing it up for now she’d get it out of him eventually,

“Okay,” she agreed, “But don’t think this is over,” she admonished lightly,

He sighed and dropped a kiss to her cheek, “Never,”

“You okay?” Digg asked from behind her, and she pivoted on her heel to see him looking at her intently,

“Yeah, I think I’ve cried over everyone in this house now except for Agent Jackson so…lets get this over with,” she said with a shrug and half a smile that she knew was forced. Something was off with Oliver, not that she really had any room to talk about what behavior was right or wrong just then but there was an unease she was feeling that was leaving her worried.

Without another word she lifted her chin and grabbed Oliver’s hand as they headed for the parlor. Some of the apprehension that had been building within her vanished when she felt his thumb ghost over the back of her knuckles. She looked up at him as he pulled her a few inches closer, “If you want to stop at any time you can stop,” he assured her and she nodded mutely just as they entered the room.

She made it four steps before her eyes locked on Agent Jackson and then her feet felt like they had been encased in lead. The breath caught in her chest as her pulse began to beat erratically. Every instinct told her to run, to hide, to protect herself. Because all she could see right then was the inside of a dark ambulance as Jackson told her she’d been missing for over a week.

It was the sudden appearance of Oliver’s broad chest in her eyeline that made her jerk her head up with a gasp, not expecting to see him right in front of her, blocking her view of the room and Jackson as well.

His hands held her elbows as he peered down at her, not speaking, waiting for her to show some sort of recognition.

“Oliver!” she said sharply, knowing it came out higher and louder than she meant for it to.

“What happened?” he was fighting to keep the anger out of his voice, but she could see how close to the edge he was. Knowing he was about to break actually seemed to help her. She could hear the sounds of the room coming back, feel the tingling of her skin abate, and her racing heart began to settle down. They couldn’t both fall apart at the same time.

“Sorry, just had a bit of a flashback. I’m okay now.” she assured him as well as she could. He didn’t look like he fully believed her but the grip on her arms loosened and his shoulders dropped.

She let her hands come up to grip his forearms, feeling the play of the muscles beneath the fabric of his shirt, and squeezed once.

Reluctantly Oliver turned and she continued into the room, making her way towards the grouping of couches and chairs where Jackson, Lance, Moira, and an agent she didn’t recognize were waiting.

Moira excused herself and Felicity found herself worrying the edges of Digg’s handkerchief when they finally paused in front of a sofa, Jackson on the other side of the table.

She gave him a tight half smile of greeting that probably looked pained as she couldn’t quite get her mouth to cooperate. Jackson gave an understanding nod. “Glad to see you up and moving under your own steam, Ms. Smoak.” his hand came out intending to shake hers but Oliver moved quickly to intercept. He took her right forearm and crossed it over her middle as his other hand lay over her back, helping her sit.

When she looked up at him in half shock, half mortified surprise she saw him giving Jackson a glare that was typically only seen when he donned the hood. Oliver clearly hadn’t forgotten being forced to leave her alone in the ambulance.

But Jackson was either smart enough to read the situation or kind enough to not be offended. He just nodded once and drew his hand back, quickly sitting himself and motioning for the other agent to do the same.

That left Oliver, Lance, and Digg still standing. She felt more than saw Digg take up a place directly behind her while Lance was a few paces to the left of the couch. It took her reaching up and slipping her fingers into Oliver’s palm and tugging down for him to sit, and when he did he was perched on the edge like a tiger waiting to attack.

Jackson’s eyes cut to the three men that had effectively surrounded her and she knew what he was going to say before he spoke.

“I understand we have to do this, Agent Jackson, but they’re staying. All of them.” her words were strong and clear and made her sit up straighter as she finally locked her eyes on him and almost dared him to challenge her.

There was a long pause where she could feel Oliver becoming more and more tense. She tightened her grip on him until her fingers hurt and then Jackson conceded. “Some of what we need to discuss will involve them so I’ll allow it,”

A flare of irritation went through her at his use of the word ‘allow’, but if it meant she wouldn’t be alone she’d let it go for now.

“I know all of this was a horrible ordeal for you and the family aspect has only made it that much more difficult,” Jackson began and she felt her throat growing thicker, “Your initial statement was helpful in giving us a timeline of events as best you could recall, but we’re now trying to understand his motivations better in order to finish our report and close this case as quickly as possible. I think you’ll agree that would be best for everyone,”

Oliver shifted next to her, his body sliding even further to the front of the sofa. She honestly didn’t know if Jackson was trying to be comforting or not, but Oliver didn’t seem to think so.

“Is there anything he may have said about his motivations that you could tell me. Why he’d been planning this for so long? Why he felt compelled to do it in the first place? Even something that might have seemed insignificant may be of use.”

Jackson was staring at her expectantly and she realized that he wanted her to just start talking. Her first attempt was a failure, her too dry mouth made her croak, hand rising to her throat as she swallowed and tried again. But Oliver cut her off by bellowing for water to be brought in, and she could practically feel him vibrating with barely suppressed rage next to her.

It was Digg who calmly walked to the sideboard and poured her a glass from the crystal pitcher that had already been prepared. She reached out to take it, only to have Oliver intercept the glass, handing it to her as he canted his body even further her direction until his knee was pushed into hers.

She sipped it carefully, eyes casting down to watch how Oliver’s hands were clenched into fists, knuckles turning white. When she went to set the glass back down Oliver took it before she could finish the action, the thunk of the heavy crystal hitting the table sounding too loud in the all too quiet room.

“Whenever you’re ready, Ms. Smoak,” Jackson said evenly but when she looked up his eyes were trained on Oliver who was staring at her like he wanted to do nothing more than throw her over his shoulder and haul her out of there.

Slowly, and haltingly she began. She told them about Nate’s childhood, the parts she’d never known, especially about his parents. She told them about how Jenny had been the first person in his life who had made him feel normal. She told them about how the guilt he’d felt over her death had broken him. By the time she got to explaining how fractured and changed Nate had become her voice had gone flat, she was only reciting information.

“It was your belief that Samuels planned to kill you and then himself?” Jackson queried as the agent next to him hastily scribbled notes.

Oliver let out a harsh exhale and she laid her hand over his balled fist as best she could.

“It wasn’t my belief. He told me that’s what he was going to do. In his mind it was the only way to make everything end. He was going to drug me again and then–” she could feel that light headed, floaty feeling starting to creep back over her but Jackson’s next words slammed her back into reality.

“Thank you, I know this was difficult. Now we need to discuss whether you want to inform your family about the events of the past week and your involvement.”

“I’m….I’m sorry?”

For a second a look of shock flashed over Jackson’s face, “You haven’t been made aware that your direct relatives were not notified of your abduction?” the almost hesitant tone let her know he was actually concerned about being the one to once again inadvertently tell her surprising news.

“No. I know that,” she said quickly, “Oliver told me–” she cut her eyes to him and ran her thumb over the back of his hand to try and let him know she didn’t blame him, “He told me you were concerned there could be issues if…” she trailed off when she found she couldn’t bring herself to say Nate’s name.

“That’s correct,” Jackson finished for her, “If there was a chance Samuels was being assisted by his parents and they talked to yours…it was too great a risk especially with the bombings.”

She dipped her chin in acknowledgement. “Yes, on paper I’m sure it made perfect sense,”

“As of right now you’re being listed as ‘Jane Doe’ in the paperwork and reports. Nothing official has your name attached to it. And we can keep it that way,” he said with significant looks to the others in the room, “With your connection to the Queen family and the ensuing media coverage something like this becoming public could bring, the Director thought it might be in the best interest of everyone if it stayed that way. But ultimately it’s your choice.” he paused as he let his words sink in, “However, I’m afraid I need a decision now. The medical examiner has finished the autopsy and we’re ready to call the family to inform them of what has happened and release the body.”

She didn’t know what sort of noise she made just that the mention of Nate’s body had elicited a response from her that took everyone by surprise. The room seemed to fade out, her limbs going ice cold as she swayed in her seat.

There were loud, angry voices, and shadows that danced in front of her but she couldn’t seem to focus on anything.

Her body felt like it was out of her own control, too heavy and unwieldy to do what she wanted and at first she didn’t feel the hands that caught her as she listed to the side. Gradually a familiar voice, and a hand cupping her face made her blink her way back to normal. Each open and close allowing her to recognize more of what was around her. The last time she blinked she could see the person crouched in front of her was Detective Lance, one hand wrapped around her wrist with a thumb over her pulse point, the other gently patting her cheek.

“Hey, hey, sweetheart you gotta snap out of it,” his eyes darted to the side and with effort she followed his gaze to see Oliver barely being held back by Digg while he railed at Jackson.

“How…how long?” she had no idea how much time she’d missed, but feeling was quickly coming back, her fingers tingling almost painfully and she knew she needed to get up and get Oliver out of there before something bad happened.

“Not long, just a few seconds,” Lance told her, a brief look of disapproval crossing his face as she began to pull herself up but he just sighed and helped her to her feet.

Still feeling weak and unstable she reached out and grabbed Oliver’s arm for support and also to get his attention. She swallowed more than once, trying to get rid of the bitter taste that burned her mouth.

The sudden quiet broke her from her daze and she snapped her eyes up to see Oliver staring down at her, still angry and red faced. Without a word she slid her hand down to wrap around his wrist and then turned, heading for the door leaving him to either be towed along behind her or to pull from her hold.

Her chest expanded in a rush when he fell into step at her heels and by the time they reached the doorway of the study she was feeling like everything might not implode at any second. With a glance to Digg who had followed as well she gave him a reassuring nod before she entered and shut the door, letting Oliver’s arm go as she did.

“Oliver, what is wrong with you and don’t say-”

“Nothing,”

“-nothing,” she finished with a small noise of dissatisfaction,

She could only watch as he walked away from her, heading for the large desk where he slammed both hands on the top making everything on it rattle as the sound filled the room.

“What the hell was he thinking! How did he think saying that in front of you was a good idea!” he spun, eyes searching the room as if he wanted to make some sort of move, find some sort of weapon but couldn’t. Now he looked like a caged tiger and she knew she couldn’t let him out of there until he’d calmed down.

Moving slowly but purposefully she closed the distance between them. He didn’t seem to even realize she was there until she placed her palms on his stomach and took one more step, sliding her arms around his waist.

He was stiff and unyielding as she laid her head on his chest and waited. When she felt him draw her closer she rubbed her cheek into the soft fabric of his shirt and held him tighter. “Talk to me,” she mumbled, “And don’t tell me it’s nothing, and don’t tell me you don’t want me to worry about anything else. Please, let me help.”

She turned her head enough she could look up at him, only really able to see the underside of his jaw and the way he was looking over the top of her head at something unseen.

He shook his head and began to pull back before he stopped and let out a long breath she felt coast across her forehead. “Talk to me,” she implored once more,

She could see how hesitant he was, how torn he was because he didn’t want to burden her. “Oliver…please. You’ve done nothing but take care of me since I’ve been back, but I know things were bad for you too.” he made some sort of strangled noise and actually took a step away until she was forced to grab a handful of his shirtsleeve to keep any sort of contact with him, “I’m not back to normal…I don’t even know if I can go back to normal…but I’m so much better than I was and that’s because of you. Why won’t you let me help you?”

“I don’t deserve it!” he tore away from her grasp, spinning to put his back to her as both hands scrubbed over his face, “I didn’t keep you safe! I spent a week FAILING! It was pure luck that we were headed in the right direction and that wasn’t even me, it was Diggle.” he fell into the armchair as if he had given up, elbows resting on his thighs as he buried his head in his hands. “I failed you,” his voice was desolate now, the anger gone, replaced with guilt and loathing.

Not a sound could be heard, but his last words rang in her head like he’d been screaming them. With a hand pushed to her chest that did nothing to ease the ache in her heart she stumbled forward on shaky legs until she could lower herself to her knees in front of him, covering his hands with hers, but unable to get him to look up.

“You didn’t fail me,” she whispered in a tight voice, “You could never fail me,” once again she tried to pry his hands off but he wouldn’t relent. She settled for stroking a hand over his head and feeling him shudder under her touch. “You saved me. I knew that wherever you were you were doing all you could to find me. I knew it. Sometimes it was the only thing I knew. When he dyed my hair and made me dress up like another woman. When he called me by a different name and talked to me like I was someone else…Knowing that you were looking for me was enough. When I was terrified, and hurting, and drugged out of my mind I still thought of you, I dreamt of you. You grounded me. So don’t you dare say you failed me. You’ve never failed me once since the day I met you and you never will.”

She let her head fall forward and press into the back of his fingers, only the top of their foreheads actually touching. Each breath he took was ragged and shaky and fine tremors still wracked his body as she waited.

She hadn’t realized she’d been crying until she felt the tears drip off the end of her nose to splash on his pants leg. He took on so much he didn’t need to, she couldn’t bear if he carried guilt over her abduction as well.

“You’re so much stronger than me,” the broken words came out suddenly, like he hadn’t meant to say them, but as she drew back and opened her mouth to protest he dropped his hands and looked at her with hurting, reddened eyes. “I tried…Felicity…from the moment I woke up in the hospital until the moment I kicked in the door to that motel room you were the only thing I thought about. But there were no leads, there was no trace, we needed you to find you and even then…”

“He was off grid… I couldn’t find him, remember? You did nothing wrong,” she assured him, cupping his face in her hands, even though he tried to move from the comfort she gave him,

“I’ve never felt that…helpless before. The stakes were too high and everyone was looking to me! Except it was day after day of nothing or false leads that led nowhere and…it got so hard…it got so hard to believe…”

His head hung in shame again as a pang struck her hard, heart beginning to pound so quick she thought it might beat through her ribs. He had begun to believe they’d never find her alive. “You didn’t though…you didn’t stop believing. If you had you wouldn’t have gone with Digg on a hunch, Oliver, I know you! Some part of you still believed and never stopped!”

He sat up so quick he almost clipped her chin and there was a stricken, raw look on his face that made her sit back on her heels. He was just shaking his head, mouth bobbing as if he wanted to speak but didn’t know how or where to begin, and there was something else, something lurking, something hidden he didn’t want her to know.

“I almost did,”

The words were so thick and heavy and full of derision she felt her heart break for him.

“Thea found me one night…” he let out a bitter, scoffing laugh, “In the room we were just in actually. I had upended the drink cart…I had left Lance after he’d laid into me…into the Arrow about not doing enough to find you and everything just boiled over. For a second I stopped and let myself think about what it would mean if you were gone…”

“I’m not gone. I’m right here!” she said quickly, repeating the words she’d said earlier, pushing up on her knees to be more level with him. There was a rapidly developing look in his eyes she didn’t like. Hands shaking she grabbed one of his and placed it flat over her chest where she knew he could feel the rapid thrum of her heart. “I’m right here, Oliver!”

He looked at her sadly, but reached out with his other hand to drag the back of his knuckles over her cheek, the sensation making her breath catch as he wiped away tears. “I know, but you were gone longer than you’ve been back and it’s hard to make myself trust that what I’m seeing is true.”

With a small cry she lurched upwards, never fully finding her feet as she pushed him backwards into the chair, wrapping herself around him so there was no doubt in his mind that she had made it, she had come home, she had come back to him.

She was high enough up on his lap that she could tuck his head under her chin, dipping her head next to his ear as he resisted briefly before encircling her. His hands clutched her tightly, face half resting on her blouse half on the exposed skin of her neck. His breath was hot and stuttered at first and she just held him, hands stroking over his head and across shoulders that felt like iron.

“I can’t do this without you,” he muttered against her, lips brushing over her collarbone as he spoke. “I can’t…thinking about a life without you in it scared me,”

With a shaky inhale of her own she kissed the top of his head and then his temple, ignoring how the awkward angle she was forced into pulled on her bruised and sore muscles. “I’m not going anywhere,” she whispered, “I’m right here,”

She sniffed and sat up when he tilted his head back, stormy blue eyes meeting hers, “It wasn’t fast was it? This…us…” he was trailing a hand down the side of her face, along her jaw and then back up, thumb catching her bottom lip and making her eyes go wide at the unexpected bolt of desire that struck her.

“It wasn’t fast,” she confirmed giving him a soft smile, “This is the path we’ve been on since you stepped into my office with a bad cover story and a cheesy grin,”

That finally earned her a small upturn of his lips and she couldn’t resist discovering if it tasted different. One hand worked it’s way into her hair as she slanted her mouth over his, making sure to kiss the corners. “Smile more,” she muttered against him before she pulled back enough to see him.

“Haven’t had a lot to smile about,” he said in a voice that still held a weeks worth of misery but didn’t sound as desolate as it had only a few minutes earlier.

“I know,”

His large hands framed her face as he pulled her into him, foreheads braced as they just took a moment to breathe.

“I can’t promise that nothing will ever happen to me no more than you can. But I can promise that I will never give up, and I know you won’t either. And I know that you will do everything you can to bring me back just like I would do the same for you,”

His eyes fell shut as she spoke and after a beat she felt him begin to relax. Without looking he turned his head, hand coming up to grab hers so he could press a kiss into the palm.

“I love you,” he said softly, “I can’t lose you,”

“I love you too,” she replied and slipped a hand over the back of his head, gently tugging him forward until he had his head on her chest where she knew he could hear her heart.

She didn’t know how long they sat there like that, but she knew he needed the physical, tactile reinforcement that she was present, that she was alive and he hadn’t lost her.

There was quiet knock on the door that she knew could only belong to Digg. With a sad smile at being interrupted she sat up and wiped her thumbs under his eyes, kissing the bridge of his nose before she planted her hands on his shoulders and used him as leverage to get up. However, his hands found her hips and lifted her in one smooth motion setting her down in front of the chair.

She let her palm stroke softly over the side of his face and let their fingers intertwine before she called out, “Come in, Digg”

The door pushed open slowly as Oliver rose to a stand, wrapping one arm around her back as Digg entered.

“Sorry, but Jackson needs to get going and he wants an answer,”

For a moment she was dumbstruck. She had completely forgotten about the actual event that had caused her to drag Oliver to another room in the first place.

The decision to tell her parents what she’d been through this past week or leave them in the dark.

She recalled Moira’s obvious worry and reaction to her safe return and she wasn’t even Felicity’s mother. She couldn’t imagine what hell her own parents would have gone through if they had known. Everything that had happened with Nate seven years ago rolled through her mind, along with images of her mom sobbing in the hospital when she thought Felicity was asleep. No. She couldn’t do that to her again, especially with it being so much more this time. Her stomach rolled as a flash of memory caused her to see Nate’s prone form bleeding out on the floor because she’d killed him.

With a gasp her head jerked up, “I’m not going to tell them.” she blurted out, causing both Oliver and Digg to look at her in surprise, but she knew as soon as she said it she was making the right choice.

“We help people, it’s what we do. I can’t…I can’t tell them now. I can’t let them feel all that fear and pain when it changes nothing. It’s done. It’s finished–”

“Felicity, you can’t just…” Oliver started, turning so he was in front of her now, hand trailing around to stay on her hip.

“What? Ignore it? Pretend it didn’t happen?” she finished for him with a slight tilt of her head and a knowing look, “I’m not doing that, I couldn’t. But…we keep secrets for a reason and that reason is to help and protect others.” she paused and then stepped forward, fingers resting lightly against his shirt, “I’m not ignoring this, Oliver, I promise, but I’ve got you and John,” she said with a significant look Digg’s direction who gave her a single nod in return, “You’re the only ones I’d want helping me through this.”

Oliver’s eyes clouded for a second and then he dropped his head with a sigh, “I’ll support you in whatever you decide.” he didn’t sound resigned but instead that he felt he held some sort of responsibility for her making the choice she had.

And she supposed he did. Working with him at night, with the secrets they were forced to keep she had come to see that transparency was not always the answer. There was a greater good. They made those decisions everyday. It’s why Oliver wore a hood and a mask and why they operated out of a top secret lair. Not everyone was meant to see behind the curtain.

Her family was about to be rocked by the knowledge that Nate was dead. A shiver went through her at how much worse it all would be if they not only knew that he had held her captive for a week but that she had been the one to kill him.

“Hey, if you’re having second thoughts it’s okay,” Oliver’s voice broke through, his hand warm and strong at her waist,

She shook off the images that were trying to swamp her and gave him a tremulous smile, “I’m…okay…it’s how it needs to be,”

Digg made a small sound and shifted backwards, looking down the hallway, “Sorry, Jackson’s in the foyer waiting,”

Now that the focus was back on her all the anxiety and fear she’d felt before came rushing back. Her hands were tingling again and she could feel her chest tighten.

“Tell him we’ll be there in a minute,” Oliver said and she could feel his gaze burning into her,

As soon as Digg had left the doorway Oliver pulled her into his arms. He didn’t say a word, just let her hold onto him while she tried to tramp down the rush of panic rising.

“Guess it’s my turn,” she said with a wavery laugh that they both knew wasn’t real,

“We don’t have to go out there until you’re ready,” his hands slipped up and down her arms reassuringly,

“I know, I just…if I do it it’s done and hopefully I’ll never have to see him again so…let’s do it.”

They found Jackson and the other agent right where Digg said they would be. Lance was conspicuously missing and no one else seemed to be around.

As soon as they came into view Jackson began to speak but she held up her hand to stop him, “It’s not necessary. I’ve made my decision. I’d like to remain unnamed in the reports, this is going to be hard enough on everyone as it is.”

Jackson nodded once, “It’s a difficult choice, but I understand. I’m very sorry you went through this ordeal Ms. Smoak and if you need anything from myself or the Bureau in the future I’ve left my card with your bodyman.”

“Thank you, Agent Jackson,”

Digg moved forward to show them out, but Oliver didn’t drop his hardened stance until he heard the door click shut. When it did she let herself sag, Oliver moving half a step forward so she could lean against his chest.

His arms came up around her, half support, half comfort and she let him take even more of her weight.

“You okay,” the worry in his voice was back and she wondered how long it would take to go away completely,

“Just tired all of a sudden. This is more activity than I’ve had in days,” she froze as she realized what she’d said. Oliver let out a harsh puff of air in response and held her closer.

“Then lets get you back upstairs so you can rest,”

The thought of sliding back between his sheets, cool pillow under her head with Oliver at her back was enough to make her emit a contented hum.

They hadn’t made it two feet when the sharp click of heels on marble caught their attention and they turned to see Moira heading towards them.

“Felicity, dear this was delivered for you while you were in your meeting,” she was holding out a plain white envelope with no distinguishable marks.

Taking it automatically, Felicity’s brows drew together in confusion, not understanding what could have been delivered to her at the Queen mansion.

It wasn’t until she’d flipped it over and seen the return address that her mind went blank and all the air left her body.

The delivery was from Dr. Anderson’s office. It was the results from her bloodwork.


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