Rating – PG for suggested sex
Spoilers: Arrow through Season 3 episode 1; teasers from interviews and previews for episode 3X2 (AU)
Disclaimer: Arrow belongs to DC, CW, Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television.
Relationships: Oliver/Felicity, Oliver/Laurel
Summary: Oliver reverts to type after Sara's death, but this time there's someone that can be hurt.
When Sara ends up dead, it hits them all hard.
Sara's family grieves, as does Team Arrow. They all do things to deal with the emotional pain of it. Crying, questioning, searching for answers and fighting off the urge to drown their sorrows. But when Oliver wakes up in Laurel's bed the morning following Sara's 'reburial', he knows he's made a huge mistake.
The same mistake, yet again.
In his grief, his loneliness and pain, he isn't with the one woman he loves. Instead, somehow, he let himself fall back into a pattern. Let himself fall into bed with Laurel.
They'd gotten closer again following Sara's death. In the forty eight hours after Sara had been murdered, they'd yelled at one another, blamed one another, argued the unfairness of it - they'd run the gambit of emotions and the guilt within and between them had been off the chart. And all that guilt and pain had led to crying and sorrow and the need to be comforted and to comfort. And he and Laurel had so much history…
So Oliver had let himself take the comfort that sex could offer him.
He should have learned his lesson after Tommy died, after betraying his best friend by sleeping with the woman he loved. But he hadn't.
He should have learned his lesson after Russia, after having let Isabel worm her way into his bed, but he'd just hidden his failure under an excuse on why he couldn't be with someone he loved.
He should have learned his lesson after he'd let Sara ease his emotional pain, after he'd learned of Thea's parentage and his mother's duplicity and infidelity.
Yet instead of learning anything, he kept falling back into the same trap.
He carefully peeled the covers aside and slid his legs off the bed, sitting on the edge. Head in his hands as Laurel sleeps on opposite him, he realized just how momentous this mistake is.
Before, he hadn't said the words. Before, he'd had kept her at arms length. Now though, he'd admitted to himself that he loved Felicity. Admitted it to her. And although she'd walked away from him that night in the hospital, halted things between them that hadn't even started yet, he still loved her. He'd told her as much.
"Don't ask me to say that I don't love you."
But he'd come to realize before that moment in the hallway that he couldn't have what he wanted now. Maybe not ever. And she'd called him on it.
Now though, listening to Laurel's quiet breathing,he wondered if he was really protecting her. He had wanted to think that the reason he wasn't with Felicity was because he couldn't be with someone he could love right now. Because he needed his focus to be on the mission, and she would be a distraction, a liability.
But, now, looking at the mess he'd made of his life once more, he had to question if the true reason that he thought he couldn't be with her was because he knew she deserved better than a man who still hadn't learned how not to hurt the people he loved the most.
Thea, Tommy, Laurel, Sarah… Felicity.
Without waking Laurel - allowing him to not escape without having to say something wrong or awkward, Oliver dressed and slipped out, his mind preoccupied on whether it was really is possible to have everything he wanted; to try and fix things with Felicity. To see if maybe he can learn how to be with someone, love someone and not cause them pain.
Oliver had yet to decide how to restart the conversation with Felicity about them when Laurel stopped at the Foundry to discuss the future of the Canary after Sara's death. Oliver spoke with Laurel quietly, near the stairs even as Felicity reviewed the latest information on suspects in Sara's death on her computers. When Oliver went quiet, finally shaking his head no, ending the discussion with Laurel for now about her taking up Sara's costume, Felicity's head had turned to see Laurel and Oliver's reaction to the decision.
What she glimpsed on Laurel's face instead of pain and despair was something she wasn't prepared for.
The moment Felicity saw the fond way Laurel's hand brushed Oliver's cheek on her way out, the more than familiar touch that he didn't shy away from, she knew. The two were looking at one another, the expression on their faces like a bolt of deja vu for Felicity – she remembered a similar day when Sara and Oliver had appeared in the Foundry after she'd told him of Thea's parentage, and it was that following day that Oliver and Sara had become more than just friends once more.
Felicity found her heart cratering in her chest as she watched them, realizing that 'gorgeous Laurel' had once again found a way into Oliver's heart.
Oliver's senses pulled his eyes from Laurel and cut across the Foundry to find Felicity staring at him. At him and Laurel. And his blood went cold in his veins at the expression of hurt that he could see on her face.
He swore inwardly even as he eased away from Laurel, who took his final words and departure as her cue to leave, none the wiser to what was going on behind her, and headed towards Felicity. The moment he began to approach Felicity stood from her chair and looked for a way out that didn't require her to go past him. She began to walk away from him, crossing the floor of the Foundry towards the back, emergency entrance, hoping to escape.
His arm caught her elbow, and she tried to jerk it from his grip, but he held on too tightly. She then spun to face him, eyes wet even as her face looked angry.
"So, I see that you can be with someone you care about," said Felicity with a note of hostility in her voice.
"Felicity," Oliver begins, his eyes full of apologies that have yet to pass his lips.
"No, I get it. You have history. She wants to take up Sara's mantle. She can take care of herself. You don't have to worry about her…"
"It's not like that."
"What is it like Oliver?" Felicity challenged, her eyes stormy.
"I just… I screwed up. It was a lapse. A mistake."
Felicity looked at him, her expression disbelieving. He'd done that before; made a 'mistake' by sleeping with Laurel and in the end Tommy had been the one who had been hurt by them. She wasn't about to be the one to be hurt by them this time.
"Let me explain," Oliver quickly added, the pleading tone in his voice surprising Felicity.
"Why? You keep pushing me away when you say you love me," Felicity charged, finally yanking her arm from Oliver's now loose grasp.
"I do love you…" he vows, his voice low and husky, and the emotional weight of his words hits Felicity like a freight train, but she remembers the look on his face as he looked at Laurel, and Sara… he said one thing but did another, and she couldn't do that. She wouldn't survive him making her believe he really did love her and then fall into bed with someone else… make another 'mistake'.
"You have a funny way of showing it. You say you love me, yet you slept with Laurel. Did you love me when you slept with Sara? When you slept with Isabel?" she asks rapid fire, and Oliver's eyes fall away in shame.
In truth, he thought he was in love with her when he was with Sara, and he knew that he could love her when he'd slept with Isabel… But that was in the past...
"I… I wasn't, I didn't fully know how I felt about you then. But I do know now."
"But you won't be with me. Maybe not ever," she remarks, paraphrasing his words from the hospital.
"I… I don't, I didn't know if I can do what needs to be done if I'm with… you," Oliver instinctively tries to explain, before Felicity cuts him off.
"You mean be a hero. A hero like I told you over and over again that you were."
The implications of her words cut him deep. She was a part of the team, the heart of the team. She was the one who believed in him, when no one else did, when even he didn't. She made him a better man, helped him so many times, saved his life. She had given him everything he'd needed - her trust, her dedication and belief to become what he was now, and he could see how she felt his reason for not trying to be with her had marginalized her contribution to making him the hero he was now. That somehow her role was insignificant.
But it wasn't. It had been the most defining, important connection he'd ever had in his life. He was just… afraid that he couldn't live up to being both the man she deserved and the hero that Starling City needed.
Yet he wanted to try now. Sara's death, falling into bed with Laurel for meaningless, comfort sex had pulled the blinders away from his eyes. He could continue to say he couldn't be with her, go through life only partially there, or he could try and be with Felicity - as a man and a hero.
"Felicity," he said thickly, his emotions choking him, his voice trailing off as he watched her before him, his future hanging on what she said, what she wanted.
Her hand raised to place between them, and without her conscious thought it landed on his chest. Instantly Oliver pressed both of his hands over it, holding her to him. Her eyes moved from where his hands covered hers and then slid up to meet his, the look reflected in them making her mouth slack open in awe.
She can see the struggle within the darkened blue; the want, the need, the love. But she can see the fear, the apprehension, the doubt there too. In the hospital corridor he'd been willing to say they couldn't be together. He'd let her walk away. Now…
Felicity closed her eyes behind her glasses for a moment, pulling a deep breath before she let it out and looked at him, eyes honest and yearning for a different outcome this time.
"You can't be half in, half out Oliver. You can't say you love me but you can't be with me. You can't ask me to wait for you while you sleep with other women because they're safe. You have to either be with me," she said, her voice cracking a little even as her eyes turn watery behind her glasses once more, "or you have to let me go."
There's a long silence between them. One that both of them know will end with a final decision one way or another. One that maybe neither of them can live with...
"I can't let you go," Oliver says, breaking the silence and causing Felicity's breathing to catch in a quiet gasp.
Oliver smiles at her, that same smile she remembered him giving her when he'd asked her out. The one that tells her that he knows what she means to him, that he wants a future with her. So when his hands move from hers and catch her face gently, she steps into him, both hands pressing flush against his chest as her lips rush to meet his.
This time their kiss is a beginning, and not an end. And when this kiss finally breaks, they can both smile.