Times Like These

Chapter 5

Her vision tunneled until all she could see was what was straight in front of her, and every desperate attempt to drag air into her lungs was futile as the panic rose in her chest and enveloped her completely.

She felt Digg catch her about the waist and ease her down to sit on a nearby ottoman while Lance laid a hand on her back and told her to lean forward. They sounded like they were talking to her from underwater, or maybe she was the one drowning. It was hard to tell.

She tried to concentrate on her breathing but it was no use, her chest rose and fell erratically as horrible thought after horrible thought flew through her head at what Nate could have done to her.

Then there were warm hands on her face and it was being pulled up until Oliver’s worried eyes were the only thing she could see. Her fingers clamped tight around his wrists, and even though she still couldn’t hear what he was saying over the rush of blood in her head she could feel his pulse and she concentrated on that.

She was able to take one regular breath and then a second and one of his hands slipped behind her ear and rubbed soothing circles into her scalp as she shut her eyes and tried to gather her control as she let him support her head.

Gradually her heart beat slowed and she could take normal breaths. When she began to hear the sounds around her she slowly opened her eyes to see Oliver right there, still crouched in front of her. Waiting.

He gave her a supportive smile as his thumb coasted repeatedly over her cheekbone. “Hey, what happened?”

She sat back abruptly at his question, immediately feeling the loss of his touch as she turned pleading eyes to Digg.

“Oliver,” he said, but Oliver didn’t take his eyes off of her, “Oliver, give her a minute.” Digg spoke again, this time with more force and finally Oliver turned his head.

With a slight shake of his head and another look thrown her direction he reluctantly climbed to his feet and followed Digg to the other side of the room.

She tried to force the tension from her shoulders, but she knew Oliver’s reaction wasn’t going to be good when he heard what Digg was about to tell him.

Lance hovered next to her but one glance his direction let her know he had his eyes firmly fixed on Oliver and Digg.

There wasn’t an explosion like she was expecting. Digg spoke in low tones, and she couldn’t make out his words, but the tightening of Oliver’s hands into fists and the way his jaw clenched let her know he’d found out about the restraining order at least. When he squared his shoulders and let his hands fall to his side, she knew he’d been told Nate had been in her apartment while she’d been there.

He looked like he did under the hood.

Digg was still speaking but Oliver was now looking at her and she couldn’t have averted her gaze if she wanted to. The variety of emotion she saw flicker through his eyes was enough to leave her breathless once again and her heart flipped at the intensity she saw there.

It took her a moment to realize he was stalking back towards her and Lance, his attention now focused on the detective as he came so close to her side his pant leg was brushing her bare ankle.

“How can he have been released?” Oliver growled, waves of barely contained fury flowing from him.

Lance adjusted his stance and narrowed his eyes, “Like I told your bodyman and Ms. Smoak, he was cleared by a psychologist and a judge.” before Oliver could erupt again he held up a hand, “I don’t agree with it. The fact that the first thing he did was hop a plane and fly three thousand miles away to mess with her again tells me he’s still got more than a few screws loose. But right now the only thing we could pick him up on was B and E, and even that could be hard to prove without prints.”

Oliver glowered and scraped a rough hand over his hair. “He was in her place with her there.” his voice was so low she was shocked at how much he sounded like the Arrow with the voice modulator and her hand shot out to lay against his leg in a weak attempt to calm him some in case Lance became suspicious. She could feel the hard, tense line of his quad through the fine Italian fabric she gripped tightly.

Lance let out a frustrated breath through his nose, “And I will enjoy nothing more than slapping cuffs on this creepy piece of scum when we find him. Until then, I recommend she doesn’t go back there, or at least doesn’t go back there alone.”

Oliver actually scoffed at that, “She’s not going anywhere near that place until he’s behind bars.”

Lance tipped his chin towards Digg, “I assume you’re handling security here and at Queen Consolidated. Right now this really isn’t a case, I’m doing it more as a favor of sorts but I could probably convince a few uniforms to moonlight for a little extra cash if you need the eyes.”

Digg stepped forward until he was right behind her, “We’ve already added more men here. And security at QC knows to not let him in.” there was a pause where she was sure he was looking to Oliver, “But I don’t think we’d turn down assistance from SCPD. A few extra patrols on the exterior of the property would be welcome.”

“I’ll ask around. In the meantime, she shouldn’t be alone-”

Felicity had suddenly had enough and pushed to her feet so quickly Oliver took a step back.

“That’s it! She’s right here! She’s been right here the entire time! So you can all get off your testosterone high horses and realize that I am a human being with a brain, bigger than all of yours I might add, and that I am perfectly capable of participating in a conversation about my own safety!”

Lance had the decency to look slightly chagrined, but as she glanced at Oliver she wasn’t surprised to see him staring back at her, unapologetic and if she had turned to look at Digg she knew he’d look the same.

“Felicity…” Oliver began and she whirled on him, finger pointing,

“Don’t, Oliver.” she said firmly, “I am obviously going to do whatever Digg and Detective Lance tell me to do. I am not being reckless. I am scared to death. And I can’t even begin to tell you how I feel, knowing that he was…” she choked on her words and forced herself to continue, “that he was there when I was sleeping. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stay there again. But I get to have a say in all of this, okay.”

She was staring at him through watery eyes as her chest heaved slightly from her outburst and she waited for him to respond.

“Okay,” he said simply and she let out a shaky exhale, dashing a hand under her eyes to quickly wipe away any moisture that may have fallen.

She stared at Oliver a moment longer and pivoted to address Lance, “So where does this leave me? I need to at least go back and get some things.” a cold chill went through her at the thought of going back, and she replayed her words to Oliver. A new apartment might be necessary when this was over.

“We can go over there if you’d like. In fact, I wouldn’t mind walking through the place with you and making sure nothing else was touched.”

“Do you know how he got in?” Oliver asked, voice much calmer than it had been before and she shot him an appreciative smile for his effort,

Lance shook his head no, “Can’t say. Front door was locked, and I assume the alarm was set. All the windows were also locked and closed.”

Felicity nodded, “The alarm was set…windows locked…” her mouth dropped open as a memory struck her, “Oh god,”

“What?” Oliver said, taking her by the elbow and turning her towards him.

“The window to the fire escape…it’s sticky. Half the time it doesn’t want to lock correctly I’ve been meaning to talk to the super…”

Digg interjected, “I checked all the windows, Felicity. The latch was locked.”

“I know, it looks locked. And I never go out there. I never use it, especially this time of year and…I totally forgot…” she blanched as she remembered using the spoon to wedge it shut. After Nate had already been inside.

“That’s how he got in.” she looked at Lance, “I’m sure you took prints but maybe there’s hair or fiber or…something he left behind.”

“I’ll have a unit go back over it.” he assured her and she swallowed hard past the ball of acid in her throat at knowing it was her fault Nate had gotten in.

There was a minute where no one spoke and she could feel all eyes on her. She squared her shoulders and clasped her hands in front of her. “Okay, let’s get this over with.”

“Felicity, you don’t have to do this. You can stay here and borrow some things from Thea…” Oliver began and she saw the true conflict in his expression.

“My life, my choice.” she reminded him, “I’d rather be at work than stuck here. Not that this is a bad place to be stuck. It’s a veritable fortress. But I can’t just do nothing.”

She knew the words she’d said before had resonated with him and his eyes fell shut for longer than a blink. It was the only tell he gave that let her know how much this was affecting him as well.

He was about to speak and she didn’t know if it was to argue with her more or not when he reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out her phone. She could see the screen and saw it was her mother calling. Her stomach dropped at the thought of having to tell her everything that had happened.

Oliver handed it to her silently and she took it with shaky hands as the call cut off. A quick swipe of her thumb let her know there were five missed calls and a new voicemail had just been left. With a sigh she gripped the slim device and turned to the others. “Sorry, I really need to take this before she gets on a plane and heads out here.”

She looked around, wondering where she could go to make the call when Oliver dropped a hand on her shoulder. “Take your time. We’ll be waiting when you’re finished.” he said softly, hand trailing down her arm as he stepped away, Digg and Lance right behind him.

Before she could talk herself out of it she pressed her mother’s number and wandered to the large window overlooking a formal garden she’d never seen before, fingers absently playing with the drapes as she listened to the phone ring on the other end.

Her mom picked up almost immediately, calling out her name in worry and asking if she was alright.

“I"m okay, Mom.” she said

“Why haven’t you answered? I’ve been so worried!”

“I know, I’m sorry…” she paused, unsure of whether to tell her everything that had happened or not. “I, um, decided to stay with a friend last night I guess I didn’t hear it ring.”

“Why are you staying with a friend? Did Nate try something? Felicity, what is going on?”

She winced and rubbed her temples, her mother had always been able to spot when she wasn’t being entirely truthful. “It’s under control. The local police know what’s happening.”

“That didn’t answer my question.” her mother countered,

“Mom, I just don’t want you to worry.”

“Felicity, I’m your mother, I’m going to worry regardless. Now tell me what happened.”

And then Felicity found herself telling her everything. About the hair dye, and the restraining order, and the fact that she had her boss’s personal bodyguard protecting her.

By the time she’d done her best to convince her mother not to fly to Starling City she was drained and exhausted and it was only a little past eight in the morning. She took a moment and then shook herself off. If they wanted to get to the office at any sort of a respectable hour they needed to head to her apartment right then.

Digg and Oliver were waiting in the foyer when she joined them and she had hardly quirked an eyebrow before Digg spoke, “Lance is waiting outside.”

“Sorry, and thanks.” she said, waving her phone at them, not having anywhere to put it.

Oliver’s brows drew together as he looked down at her, “Felicity, don’t apologize. As much as you do for me…it’s the least I can do for you.” his blue eyes bore into her with such strength and conviction she could only nod,

Digg cleared his throat and opened the door for them as Oliver’s hand dropped to her lower back and escorted her out.

There was an extra security detail at the door that usually wasn’t there and he sprang ahead to open the rear car door for them. She slid across the seat and fastened her seat belt, watching as Lance’s cruiser pulled away ahead of them.

The ride to her apartment was done in silence, and she could do no more than fiddle with her phone and look nervously out the window the closer they got.

She kept her eyes down when they pulled up in front of the building and she was very glad it was daylight. Oliver climbed out and reached back for her hand which she gratefully gave and if anyone noticed that he didn’t let go of her when she was standing on the sidewalk they didn’t say.

They headed straight for the elevators and her grip on Oliver’s hand was so hard her own fingers were going numb. She didn’t know what she expected to see when they reached her hallway, maybe crime scene tape, or the door standing open, but it looked no different than it ever had.

“I don’t have my keys.” she blurted out suddenly, her voice sounding louder than normal in the narrow space.

Lance held one up, “I got it.” he stepped forward and had the door unlocked quickly.

Digg tensed imperceptibly and Oliver’s hand pushed her back slightly so she was more behind him than beside him.

Lance entered first, followed by Digg. Oliver stepped across the threshold slowly, eyes taking everything in, including her reaction.

She watched as Digg and Lance headed for her bedroom, no doubt to look at the window and fire escape Nate had come through. Felicity couldn’t seem to take her eyes off the couch as her heart tried to thud out of her chest.

“What’s wrong?” Oliver asked, tugging her towards him slightly.

She shook her head slowly and gestured towards the couch, “Just…I was sitting there, asleep and he…he was in here. He probably stood right here where we are now and watched me.” a violent shiver shook her entire body. “He had to have been watching somehow. There was only an hour. I had just texted you and then…I fell asleep. I woke up only an hour later.” two fingers laid over her slightly parted lips as she looked up at Oliver in shock, “God, what if he was still here when I woke up? How did I not know? How didn’t I feel him staring at me?”

“Hey, this isn’t your fault.” Oliver’s other hand wrapped around her wrist and drew her arm down to her side, “You thought you were safe in here. There was no reason to be on guard.”

“He’s right, you can’t play the 'what if’ game. If anything he’s tipped his hand. We know he’s still fixated on you and he’s going to do stupid things like show up at your work and break into your apartment. He’ll slip up and we’ll get him.” Lance said as he and Digg emerged from her room.

She gave the detective a tight smile and then motioned behind him, “Is it okay if I pack some things?”

“Just stay away from the window, but everything else is clear. Including the bathroom. I know how you women need your things.” he was trying to lighten the mood some and she appreciated it.

She didn’t realize Oliver was still at her side until she was about to step into her bedroom. “Oh, sorry, you um…you don’t have to help or anything. I can do this.”

“Felicity,” he said warningly and she sighed and rolled her eyes, although she purposely slipped her hand from his. She could do this. Although it was nice having him there.

“Fine, then make yourself useful and get the duffel bag out of my closet, top right.” she said, and pointed straight ahead at the door in front of him.

“Yes ma'am,” he answered with an upturn of his lips and she made her way to her dresser.

She’d gather two sets of pajamas, spending much more time than was necessary deciding exactly what would be okay to wear in the Queen mansion, when she turned to see Oliver placing a garment bag and her large suitcase on the bed.

“That’s not a duffle bag,” she observed dryly,

“No, it’s not.” he agreed, ignoring her tone as he unzipped both and flipped the top open on the suitcase. Watching Oliver do something so…domestic in her bedroom was almost too much for her to handle.

“Why didn’t you get my duffle bag?” she hoped her he hadn’t heard the slight crack in her voice,

“Because we don’t know how long this is going to take and I don’t want you to have any reason to have to come back over here until it’s through. So pack the big bags.” for a second the control slipped and she saw the strain and the worry, and the unknown. Because this wasn’t someone coming after the Arrow. This was something he hadn’t had to deal with before.

Her eyes locked on his as they had a silent battle, but in the end she blinked first. She couldn’t let him worry. He already had so much on his shoulders. And she didn’t want to be in her apartment any more than he wanted her there.

“Fine. I’ll pack the big bags. But you’re carrying them to the car. Not Digg.” she countered, and whirled on her heel with a flip of her hair as she went to place her armload of pajamas in the open case.

He let out a disgruntled noise but didn’t say anything and she gave herself a mental victory point.

“I’ll let you pack. Unless you need help with anything else.”

She crossed back to the dresser and had just opened the top drawer when she let out an embarrassed squeak and shut it quickly, wondering if he’d caught a glimpse of her bras and underwear. But the small twinkle in his eyes let her know he had.

“No. I’m good. Very good. I can handle everything.” she said quickly, “I’ll call you when I need your muscle.” she pressed her lips into a tight line and willed herself to stop talking.

His eyebrows raised slightly but he didn’t comment, just gave her a wink as he left the room.

She spent the next five minutes muttering about Oliver Queen and winking and how it was just rude and there was no woman on the planet who could claim to be immune to that particular act, as she rifled through her lingerie, being selective as if it had a chance to be seen by someone other than her. With a disgusted groan she raked her hands through her hair and grabbed two large handfuls to stuff into the bags.

Fifteen minutes later she was fully packed, and dressed for the office in one of her favorite dresses, hair pulled back in her familiar ponytail. Being in the bathroom had made her stomach churn a bit, but she did what she had to do and got out as soon as possible. She stepped into her heels and smoothed the skirt down before she took a deep breath and opened the door.

Digg and Oliver were standing in her small kitchen talking quietly and it was a strange sight. Digg saw her first and gave her a warm, approving smile which she returned and was still on her face when Oliver pivoted to see her.

His features softened as he tilted his head towards the bedroom. “Lance got a call and had to go. Ready for the muscle now?” he asked as straight faced as possible, to which she scowled and brushed past him to unplug her coffee maker and microwave and look around to see if she’d forgotten anything.

She grabbed a few more things from the living room and slipped them into her bag before she cast one last glance around the place she used to feel safe in.

“Ready?” Oliver asked, one bag in each hand.

She took her coat from the closet and nodded. “Yeah, let’s go.”

A sort of self-satisfied pride filled her as she watched Oliver carry, not pull, her bags all the way to the elevator and down to the trunk of the car. She knew he wasn’t pulling them on purpose to try and goad her into saying something, but she just exchanged a knowing look with Digg and remained silent.

She stood on the curb and watched with a barely contained grin as Oliver made a show of hefting the suitcases into the trunk. Even Digg cracked a broad smile and by the time she got into the car she’d forgotten all about standing in the very spot the night before shivering and scared out of her mind.

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