Disclaimer: I don't own Arrow.

Setting: Post 3x09 "The Climb"; takes place from immediately after to 35 years into the future.

Warnings: Trigger warning. Deals intimately with the grieving process.

A/N: Hi! I'm relatively new to the fandom; this is only the second Arrow fic I've written. I had previously posted this fic to Tumblr, but I thought I would also give it a trial run here, to see how it takes. I hope you enjoy reading it (as much as one could a tragedy fic). Please leave a comment if you do!

-Sophie


Peace by Piece

They collect his body from Ra's al Ghul.

They clean his body and prepare it for burial. (Much like Sara Lance, Oliver Queen shall simply fade from the world; no one need know how he died, or that he died at all. Only his Family will be privy to that knowledge.)

The whole time, she thinks, It was red.

They wash off the blood on his back—made grotesque by his fall and the way the rocks shredded his flesh—allowing carmine to swirl around in the bucket they had placed under the table in the Foundry.

They stitch him up and turn his body around, and she sponges down his front. Gently, she cleans the rust-coloured wound a sharp sword and an unhesitant hand had left behind.

She wipes the dribble of blood off his chin; runs her damp cloth tenderly over his once ruby lips.

It was red. It had been red.

He had loved that colour on her. She hates that colour on him.

:o:o:o:o:

It happens abruptly.

She doesn't get conscious of the fact that she cannot stand the sight of red in all its tonal complexities anymore until someone is unlucky enough to hand her a red pen.

The end result is a flashback she cannot hide her embarrassment about; a panic attack she cannot justify away to anyone. Thankfully, she does not say anything incriminating whilst in her haze of delirium. (That the person on the receiving end of her panic attack told her about, anyway.) Team Arrow (which isn't really Team Arrow anymore) are safe, for now.

That night, she goes home and digs through her jewellery case. Then, she rifles through her closet. Finally, she picks up a few bottles of nail polish. Anything that looks remotely red, she throws away.

She ends up needing new clothes and jewellery and nail polish, so she goes out and buys some green. Apple green. Olive green. Forest green. Emerald green.

Then she throws them all away, too, because they make her miss him so acutely that the pain eats her alive.

:o:o:o:o:

Few things do not remind her of him.

Sometimes, it's something like the colour of his eyes or hair; sometimes, it's something utterly stupid and ridiculous like the shade of ruddy palms that had once caressed her skin.

She tries to move on, though. Never let it be said that Felicity Smoak is a woman who can be taken down. She is her own woman, even beyond her love for Oliver Queen, and so she does her dutiful grieving-widow bit and goes out to face the world again.

That's not to say she remains unchanged. Her self morphs alongside her taste in colours; she gets new glasses and stops dyeing her hair and goes back to wearing blouses and skirts. She may still be Felicity, but she refuses to be Felicity anymore: Never again will anyone look at her with a fond smile and an exasperated twinkle in their eye and claim her to be so remarkable that her defining trait is for others to 'see her as a person.' She may never have set out to strike Oliver Queen as extraordinary, but she will strive harder to be ordinary now. From now on, she is one of the tired masses, fading into the background except when someone cares to dig deeper.

Against all odds, she finds someone she can reasonably get along with. Shane is awkward and clumsy and has a pattern of speech that is dull beyond belief, but he is nice and well-read and looks at her like she hung the moon and stars. He doesn't judge her when she freaks out and slams the door in his face the first time he picks her up for dinner with a red rose. He doesn't demand an explanation when she eventually opens the door and apologizes without telling him why. Instead, he offers her his arm and promises to throw the rose into the first trashcan they see and never brings her flowers again because he assumes she hates flowers.

It takes them four years, but when he asks her to marry him, she says yes. She had wanted to say no, because he deserved better than her. But he had waited for her answer with his heart in his eyes and his hope laid bare all over his face, and she knew he would rather have her as she loved him right then than have someone else who could love him like he loved her. By then, she had told him about 'the partner who passed away,' and he knew she would never love him as much as she loved that partner. But he still asked her to marry him, and it would be crueller for her to reject than for her to accept knowing that he was sure of what he was doing. So, she says yes. On her wedding day, she's actually happy.

They have a baby girl. Felicity vetoes the name 'Scarlett.' They end up settling for 'Willow.'

:o:o:o:o:

She doesn't learn until years later that sometime after the flower and baby-naming incidents, her husband had picked up on her aversion to the colour red. She doesn't learn it until she walks past her daughter's room and overhears the four-year-old pondering what colour to put on the Mother's Day card and her husband replying, "Mommy doesn't like red, Will. How 'bout blue or purple?" She doesn't learn until she's gone into her room to cry over her daughter's resultant confusion that the quiet way in which Shane has been trying to make her happy goes far beyond what she sees.

Later that night, she tells her husband that, though she appreciates his concern, their daughter can put whatever colour she wants on a Mother's Day card. Because it's a Mother's Day card, and for Willow, Felicity can try to be a better mother.

The message had already gone through, though. Felicity never sees a single hint of red touch anything Willow gives her.

:o:o:o:o:

Tending to Willow's scrapes and bruises is the worst part of motherhood. Not because the angry lines or jagged edges make her heart ache (they do), but because the colour reminds her of the carnelian that had seeped out of someone else's wounds (once, twice, uncountable times—and then never again). She has never had an iron stomach, but for Oliver, she had strengthened her gag reflex; for Willow, she fails to, and she's retching over the toilet bowl before her eight-year-old who simply fell off a bike can ask her whether it's really that bad.

After that, anything beyond superficially scraped knees automatically becomes her husband's job.

:o:o:o:o:

Time passes, and Mother's Day cards turn into Mother's Day presents which turn into Mother's Day breakfasts. Willow seems to accept Felicity's dislike for anything in shades of red as a weird quirk, so no questions are ever asked.

On the day of Willow's Bachelor's degree graduation, Felicity watches on proudly as her daughter goes onstage and shakes hands with some academic dude whose name and role she's already forgotten and collects a blank slate. Perversely, she wishes Oliver were there to see it.

Even if Oliver had lived, but they had not married and he would have had to watch her raise a child with another man (which she sincerely doubts), she knows he would have been proud of Willow. That's who he had been—he had always loved others more than he loved himself. And that's why he would have been proud of Willow, and he would have waited outside the auditorium (because there wouldn't have been enough seats inside) for the moment they stepped out of the doors so that he could tease the young girl by slipping the red hood of her graduation robe over her head and tousling her hair mercilessly.

Felicity thinks he would have been a great godfather.

She cries and Shane pulls her into his arms, but she pretends it's all for her daughter.

:o:o:o:o:

Willow moves out and gets on with her own life; their family unit of three reverts back into a family unit of two. Despite evidence to the contrary, time has tempered her pain; thirty-odd years after his death, Felicity finally recognizes that it is okay to talk about Oliver to her husband. She tells Shane bits and pieces about who the other man had been; about Oliver's likes and dislikes and character and mannerisms.

At the end of it all, she apologizes to her husband for not having loved him with all her heart. But dear sweet, loving, devoted Shane just looks at her and says, "You made it clear from the get-go that there was someone else—someone lucky enough to have met you before me. But you still always did what you could to make me and Willow happy, and I don't regret having had the chance to experience that. Don't apologize for loving us with as much as you could have given."

She cries again, but this time, it isn't about Oliver.

:o:o:o:o:

The next spring, she goes back to where she and her friends had buried Oliver and plants a rose bush.

She enlists the help of Thea, who now lives nearby, to tend to it every so often. Felicity doesn't go back until it's flowering: When she does, she cuts a full bloom from its stem and kneels at his headstone (which is, in truth, a rock; unmarked and nondescript, as mysterious as his alter ego had been to the world at large). And she tells him, "I have a daughter. Her name is Willow. Two years ago, when she was graduating from college … I thought of you. Don't ask me why—it's not like we ever talked about it. Hell, if you were alive now, we'd still have that unresolved-sexual-tension thing going on.

"I still haven't forgiven you for losing that fight, Oliver. I probably never will. Before you left, I let you tell me you loved me because I thought it meant you'd have something to come home to. Even though I'm sorry I didn't say it back, I'm not as sorry as I would've been had it then meant that saying it to my husband would now be a lie. Sometimes I question if me saying it to you would've made you fight harder … but I'll never know, will I?

"I'm sorry, Oliver, that we never got a chance. I wanted so much beyond that crappy first date we had which wasn't even crappy because of the explosion but because you broke up with me before we could get to the entrées. Who does that? Usually, people make it past the main course before they make up their minds. And then, when it became clear we would never get a chance, I moved on and I married Shane—and don't you even dare laugh at his name—and he's had to live with picking up the pieces for the past twenty-five years because I've been too busy wondering what could have been. But he's so good to me—you would've liked him, even if you would also then have hidden in a corner of the Foundry and done the growly I-deserve-to-be-alone Arrow thing. I'm sorry you'll never get to meet him. I'm also sorry he'll never get to meet you, but there are only so many of my cracks that he can patch up before he starts to fracture.

"I'm rambling now. You always seem to invoke that response from me, even if you're not talking. Huh. I guess I just wanted to say that I planted you a rose bush. You'll notice that it's dark crimson. Google says that means 'in mourning.' It's been thirty-five years, I know … but—" She tips her hand gently, so that the single rose falls from her fingers, "—I just wanted you to know that I haven't forgotten you. I never will, for as long as that rose bush is here. The reason I planted you a rose bush instead of giving you a rose each day, though, is because—well, firstly, it's so others can give you roses too—but secondly … it's so I won't have to come back. Don't—don't think of it as abandonment, because this part of my heart? It'll always belong to you. But it's overshadowed the other parts of my heart for long enough.

"So, yeah." Giving the grave marker a single nod, she stands. "This is the last time I'll see you, so I guess—I guess I should tell you that I love you. I still love you as I had loved you. And as trite as it sounds, I hope you're happy wherever you are. I'm not that vindictive a woman, Oliver Queen—I'm not gonna wish you misery just because you died before I could say the Words to your face. You had a hard life, and the last thing I would want is for you to spend eternity in another Purgatory. I know, I know—lame, and probably in bad taste. And Purgatory isn't even eternal. But you have to admit: It made you smile. And I couldn't leave without letting you know I still want you to be happy."

Offering him a weak smile of her own, she brushes her fingers across her lips and then bends down to press her digits to the smoothened top of the cold stone. "Goodbye, Oliver. For now and forever—I hope you rest in peace."