Times Like These

Chapter 8

Twenty minutes later she was ready to go. Her phone was nowhere to be found and she assumed it was still in Digg’s possession. She’d had one more slightly awkward encounter with Oliver when he’d come back to the closet for a forgotten tie while she was slipping her shoes on. It was the easy, natural familiarity of the action that struck her and she knew she hadn’t been able to hide her reaction from him. However, it was made easier or maybe harder that he hadn’t been able to mask his face either.

They made their way silently down the hallway, coats thrown over their arms, the large bag she used for work clutched tightly in her right hand. As they walked down the stairs his hand hovered near her elbow and she had to focus more than she should have on each step to make sure she didn’t stumble.

Moira met them in the foyer and Felicity immediately felt a rush of guilt and embarrassment at not only having woken the entire house, but how she knew she’d spent the rest of the night in Oliver’s room.

“Good morning, Mother.” Oliver said evenly, crossing to buss her on the cheek.

“Good morning, dear, Ms. Smoak.”

Felicity somehow managed to return the greeting around a thick tongue and tried to look everywhere but at the other woman.

“Breakfast is ready, you should eat before you head into the office.” the way she spoke let them know there was really no room for argument.

A maid appeared from out of the shadows and took both their coats and Felicity’s bag before she knew what was happening and Oliver sent her a resigned look that told her to just go with it.

“Breakfast sounds perfect, .” she said with a tight smile

“Excellent, Thea and Roy are already waiting.” her hand extended out behind her and Felicity just caught the muscle ticking in Oliver’s jaw that told her he didn’t want to be there.

His hand fell to the small of her back again and she could feel the heat through the material of her dress. Touching her there seemed like something he did now, something that was so automatic and normal he didn’t even seem to know he was doing it. But she was very aware.

She assumed they’d be going to the dining room. She’d only seen it once, a smaller investor dinner Oliver had hosted and he’d insisted he’d needed her for. She spent most of the night in the kitchen eating leftovers with the extra staff that had been hired. Digg had offered to drive her home when it was over she’d grabbed an expensive bottle of wine off the sideboard and sent Oliver a challenging glare as she’d stalked out of there.

However, the dining room was dark and with slight pressure he directed her down a hallway to the right which opened up into a large, bright, open breakfast room that overlooked a formal garden.

Thea and Roy were already seated, Roy looking slightly awkward as he sat staring at the other three empty seats, but Thea smiled broadly when she saw them and Felicity couldn’t help but smile back.

“Sit here!” she said brightly and patted the chair next to her.

Felicity exchanged a small look with Oliver who shot his sister a warning glare that she pointedly ignored. She wasn’t expecting him to pull the chair out for her, or to lean in and whisper “Good luck” in her ear, making her shiver.

She took a long drink of the orange juice that sat in front of her and then blushed when she noticed no one else had touched their food or drink yet as they had been waiting for everyone to be seated.

“Oh, god. Sorry.” she said quickly and sat the heavy goblet down, managing to send a wave of juice over the edge to trickle slowly down the side.

“Don’t worry about it. Roy snuck a piece of bacon when he didn’t think I was looking.” Thea said conspiratorially which resulted in Roy letting out a betrayed huff and Felicity giving her a grateful smile.

“Please eat. I know you all need to get to work.” Moira said easily, placing a white napkin delicately in her lap.

Felicity decided to not make a move until Oliver did and managed to make it through taking her napkin off her plate and pouring a cup of coffee without incident before Thea let out an indelicate snort causing Oliver to pause with the pitcher of cream poised over Felicity’s cup.

“Have something to say, Speedy?” he asked

“Just wondering how long you two have been doing that.” she said with a nod towards their coffee.

“Doing what?” he asked, brows drawn together in true confusion.

“She just put the correct amount of sugar in your cup and you’re about to pour the correct amount of cream into hers. Just an observation brother dear.”

Felicity sat back in surprise, she hadn’t realized they did that.

Oliver broke out of his temporary stupor and finished pouring the cream, making sure to lock his gaze on Thea as he did so. “Sometimes I pick up the coffee in the morning, sometimes she does. I don’t think how I take my coffee is a state secret.”

Thea narrowed her eyes and looked at them suspiciously. “Ok, I’ll give you that.” but there was a tone there that made Felicity sit up and take notice.

There was a bit of small talk. Moira asked some questions about an upcoming merger and Felicity was grateful for a topic that didn’t make her feel like she was under a microscope. She still felt like Thea was studying her though.

“Well, I’m assuming you slept better since I didn’t hear anything else the rest of the night.” The younger girl said when there was a lull in the conversation. There was a slight upturn of her lips and Roy and Oliver both whipped their heads to look at her in surprise.

Felicity froze with her fork halfway to her mouth, appetite suddenly gone. For about five minutes she’d forgotten about Nate, and the hair dye, and being driven from her home, and waking up to creepy texts. She’d just been enjoying breakfast with Oliver and his family, even if it was a bit nerve wracking. Now her nightmare slammed back to her and her numb fingers let the fork fall to the plate with a clatter.

Oliver’s hand clamped around her knee and rubbed small circles into the spot just below the hem of her dress as he practically growled at his sister, “Was that really necessary?”

“I’m sorry, she just seemed really upset earlier and she seems better now. And I still don’t understand why mom put her all the way over there. You two are adults you…do adult things even if you don’t want anyone to know. Which, I get. I mean, with your past Ollie, the whole CEO, secretary thing is practically an expected cliche and the press would eat it up with a spoon if they ever caught wind. But here. You shouldn’t have to hide anything, that’s all I was getting at.” she calmly buttered a piece of toast and turned innocent eyes their way.

Felicity felt her face flame at Thea’s implications and Oliver’s hand stilled before slowly pulling away.

“We’re not…that’s…we’re…friends. Just friends. And your brother was kind enough to let me stay here and provide the extra security. I can’t say how much I appreciate it.” she stammered out, wondering why Oliver wasn’t saying anything, but not daring to look at him.

Thea looked surprised and genuinely contrite. “Sorry, I guess I just got the wrong impression then. I’m glad you’re here, really.”

There was a long moment of silence and Felicity had just cleared her throat and moved to pick up her fork when Oliver spoke. “What made you think that?”

She could tell how hard he was trying to keep his voice even, but there was a tightness there she recognized.

Felicity curled her fingers into the palm of her hand and turned her head slightly so she could see Thea who gave a little shrug as she addressed her brother. “Just, last night. You didn’t have a shirt on and Felicity didn’t exactly act like it was the first time she’d seen your scars. In fact they didn’t’ seem to phase her at all.”

She felt Oliver freeze next to her, as time seemed to still and her brain went blank in pure panic. Never would she have ever thought they’d be found out because of that.

Oliver recovered first and for once had a lie that didn’t sound completely ridiculous. “Just because Felicity knows about my scars doesn’t mean we’re in a relationship.”

Thea considered his words and held up her hands in mock surrender, “Okay, I give up.” she wiped her mouth and looked over at Roy, “Ready to go?” he practically leapt to his feet, anxious to get away from the uncomfortable meal.

“We’re out. Sorry for the drama. And really, I am glad you’re here. You seem like a nice, normal girl. You’re obviously too good for my brother.” she gave her mother a kiss, and breezed out with Roy on her heels leaving the rest of them to deal with the vacuum of her exit.

There was deafening silence as no one dared speak. Felicity had never been more glad to hear the scrape of chair legs on a floor than she was when Oliver stood abruptly and practically threw his napkin on the table. She was on her feet right behind him, and barely managed to stutter out a thank you to Moira before she was striding from the room, doing everything she could to out pace Oliver without breaking into a run. She didn’t’ think she could handle him touching her just then.

Oliver was already calling out for the maid as he entered the foyer, his deep voice booming around the large space. He took both their coats when the woman appeared almost instantly and helped Felicity into hers even though she tried to just take it from him. Digg was waiting by the door, sharp eyes noticing everything. When he caught her looking at him he silently asked if everything was okay since she and Oliver were being oddly quiet.

Her attention was drawn when Oliver handed her her bag and took her elbow as they left the house. When the door shut behind them he stopped and turned so quickly Digg had to neatly sidestep around them, pausing only long enough to notice Oliver was waiting for him to give them a moment of privacy.

“I’m sorry about Thea,” he said, low, an undercurrent of anger running through him.

“It’s okay, she doesn’t know.” she replied quickly, not sure where this conversation could be going and not knowing if it was the best time for it either. “Look, I know what it looks like. I hear the talk. It’s nothing new, not since I was promoted. And coming to and from work with you now in your car probably isn’t going to help that but…what other choice do we have. So let’s just get to the lair so I can run these searches and try and figure out where he is so he can be caught and things can go back to normal.” and before he could reply she spun on her heel and hurried down the steps, taking her phone from Digg’s palm as he opened the car door for her.

By the time Oliver slid in next to her she was already pretending to be busy with something on her phone, and in actuality she was reviewing all the data mining hits she’d programed to send her alerts for the night before.

They arrived at the lair without incident, neither Oliver nor Digg pushing her to talk and when she was back in front of her computers she felt a weight lift from her shoulders.

But it had been harder to concentrate than it should have been and took her twice the time to trace back the cell signal and find where the texts had been sent from. Even though she’d already known in her gut he’d sent them from her apartment the evidence staring back at her on the screen made her insides run cold.

She sat back and let her hands fall to her lap as Digg and Oliver came up to flank her. “It’s not always a good feeling when you’re right.” she said in a weak voice. Oliver’s hand clasped her shoulder and she was very glad for the contact as he squeezed it gently.

“We’ll get him.” Digg said, sounding more sure than she felt. “You want to call Lance and let him know or do you want me to?”

“I should. I don’t want him getting suspicious of you knowing that I can do things like trace cell signals.”

Feeling heavy and tired she rolled her chair back and slid her phone off the desk. “I can make the call in the car. We’re already more than late as it is.”

“Felicity, I told you, it’s not important.” the sincerity she saw in his eyes was almost more than enough to make her give up on the minute hold she had on her emotions just then.

“It’s important to me. I feel guilty enough, I don’t need you adding busted deals, and the wrath of Isabel Rochev to my list, okay.” her eyes were beginning to water and she cursed herself for being so sensitive.

She tried to turn away but he grabbed her arm near her elbow and wouldn’t let her go. “Hey. Stop. Right now, this is our mission, okay. Nothing else matters. You’re too important to m…to the team.” her breath caught as he paused and shook his head sharply, “No, you’re too important to me. I’m not going to let you get hurt. And I’m not going to let you feel guilty. I will do whatever I have to do to make sure you’re safe, and I need you to understand that.” his eyes locked on hers, their ability to have silent, pleading conversations without words once again taking precedence and she became lost in swirling blue eyes that for a few brief moments betrayed everything to her.

His hand left her elbow and came to rest lightly against her cheek, making her breath catch as she stared at him. She was assaulted by images from that morning: sleeping in his bed, waking up in his arms, her clothes mixed with his, getting ready for work together. It was almost too much and yet she found herself wanting more and trying to reconcile both of those was leaving her feeling raw and ragged.

She took a deep centering breath and leaned into his touch, letting her eyes fall shut briefly as she allowed herself a moment. “Thank you,” she whispered before she looked at him, surprised to see a shift in his eyes as well.

“Oliver…”

“Not now.” but his tone was soft and she knew what he was saying. What was happening was important and it deserved their attention, but right then was not the time.

“Okay,” she agreed, giving him a small smile as his fingers stroked over her cheek and fell down to her shoulder, thumb rubbing along her collarbone and sending small sparks of electricity down her spine.

Digg cleared his throat from the other side of the room and she jumped back, quickly grabbing her coat and bag while risking a glance at Oliver to see him shooting his partner a glare. Digg just looked on, face betraying nothing.

They were quiet in the car while she called Lance. He’d cursed under his breath when she told him where the texts had been made from and told her they’d put a car on her building that night, although she had a feeling Nate wouldn’t be going back there.

As soon as she’d hung up with Lance, her phone rang and she saw Oliver’s head turn sharply, not even hiding the fact that he was looking at the screen to see who it was. They both let out small sighs of relief when it turned out to be her mother.

“Felicity, how are you?” she asked immediately, her worry and concern more than obvious.

“I’m okay, Mom. Promise.” Felicity replied, forcing her voice to sound more upbeat than she felt.

There was a long pause and a gnawing feeling began to claw at her gut, “Mom…”

“I went to see your aunt and uncle yesterday. They wouldn’t take my calls and…I couldn’t just sit here and do nothing.”

“Oh Mom.” she breathed out. The fallout in the family hadn’t been that hard on Felicity, but she knew losing contact with the brother she’d always been close with had hurt her mother.

“Well, Diane almost wouldn’t let me in the house, but I’ve always suspected she never liked our side of the family.” the bitterness in her tone almost made Felicity crack a smile, she’d always known her mother and her aunt had harbored some animosity for each other.

“What did they say?” she prodded,

Her mother gave a dark laugh, “They said he was better. That he said he wanted to get away and have some alone time since he’d been in that place for so many years.”

Felicity rubbed her fingers over her temple and sighed heavily, “He’s not better. He’s played them all.”

“They didn’t believe me when I told them he went to Starling City. They said he wanted to go to the beach and be by himself.”

“Oh god, they helped him then, didn’t they? That’s how he got the plane ticket and the money he’s been using.” a warm hand wrapped around hers and squeezed gently, not letting go.

“They bought him an open ended ticket, and gave him a stack of gift cards that could be used as cash…He’s been…Dan said he’s been calling every day and telling them all about the resort he’s at. I’m still not sure they believe that he came to see you.”

“I’m sure they don’t. They never believed me the first time, even after the police reports.” Oliver held her hand tighter and she looked over to see him staring at her in concern.

“Did they say how he convinced the psychologist he was better? And convince a judge of the same?” she asked, still in disbelief that he could have appeared better when he had clearly been planning this for some time.

Her mother sighed before answering, “Diane got the lawyer to request the closed meeting but she wasn’t in there with him. And I’m sure those records will be sealed.”

“We’ll see about that.” Felicity muttered under her breath, now knowing what her next course of action was going to be. Nate must either be an exceptional actor or have something on one or more of the people involved with letting him go.

“Are you sure you’re safe? You could come home for awhile. Maybe he wouldn’t follow you.” the break in her mom’s voice was almost enough to make her agree, but the anchor of Oliver beside her let her know she wasn’t running.

“I’m safe. I’ve got two of the strongest, bravest men I’ve ever met only feet from me right now. I’m probably the safest person in the city.” She caught Digg’s wry smile in the rearview mirror and chanced a glance at Oliver, not expecting him to look so protectively fierce. Her heart flipped and for a moment she didn’t hear a word her mother said.

After promising her mother she’d call later that day she sat back and let herself sink into the plush leather seat, Oliver’s hand still wrapped around hers, thumb rubbing comfortingly over her knuckles.

She filled them in on what her mother had told her, both of them agreeing there was more to Nate than anyone suspected. She hoped the court records would be online soon so she could hack into their database and read the notes from that meeting.

Their work day was blessedly busy. Meeting after meeting kept her distracted and even though she caught Oliver staring at her more than once she didn’t mind.

There was a meeting with the department heads scheduled for four and then they’d be free to go. Oliver was finishing up a call that was running late before they’d make their way down the hall to the larger conference room. Her mind was fixated on the alerts she’d received and the background check she was going to run on the psychologist when security called to say they’d sent a courier up.

A few minutes later the elevator doors opened and the regular delivery guy stepped out, his arms full as he approached her desk. It was the service they used when making deliveries within the city and they needed papers moved during the business day. He smiled easily and dropped a package and a large envelope on her desk before he asked her to sign for them.

As she watched him leave she picked up the two items and saw the package was addressed to Oliver and the envelope to her. He was on the phone when she went in, leaving the box on the corner of his desk with a small smile. He lifted his free hand in a wave and she made her way back, standing in front of her desk as she ripped the tab off the envelope.

The only thing inside was a folded piece of paper. Her brows drew together in confusion as she opened it to see one word written in dark ink.

‘Duck’

She flipped it over to see if she had missed anything and looked in the envelope again but it was empty. When she read the note a second time, cold pure panic filled her. It was Nate’s handwriting.

Her eyes shot to the box she’d left on Oliver’s desk and she was racing for the door before she could think.

He must have seen the fear on her face as she ran towards him. He was on his feet in an instant, the phone falling forgotten from his hand. Her mouth didn’t want to work, but just as she reached his side and grabbed his arm she managed to get out “Bomb!”

Oliver didn’t hesitate. They never stopped moving as his arm wrapped around her back and he directed her into the conference room adjacent to his office.

The last thing she’d remember was him yelling her name as he pulled her to his chest, tucking her head into him as he dove under the table.

There was an explosion of noise, followed by a wall of heat and then nothing but darkness.


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