Disclaimer: I don't own Arrow.

Spoilers: Semi-references up to 3x01 "The Calm."

Setting: Half-AU. Oliver and Felicity have been together for a few months now, and instead of camping out at the Foundry, Oliver has been staying with Felicity. The explosion at the restaurant doesn't happen, but the takeover of QC does. Loosely based on "For the First Time" by the Script.

Enjoy!

-Soph


Here

"You coming to bed soon?" she asks, casting an expectant look over her shoulder at him. It's a completely innocent look; it's been a long day and all she wants is probably some company to curl up with, but it makes the knife twist in his gut.

"Nah, you—you go ahead." He shoots her a smile that's meant to be reassuring, but which he doubts actually looks that way. "I've got some things I wanna take care of first."

"Oh, okay." She hesitates in the doorway of her bedroom, clearly aware that there's hidden meaning to his words. Still, she doesn't question him. "Don't take too long."

"I won't," he promises. She nods and retreats into her room. At the snick of the door shutting, his smile falls. He turns towards the front door and reaches out, curling his fingers around the rounded doorknob. He'll come back later, he knows, but simply going elsewhere while she sleeps already feels like betrayal.

His heart heavy, he opens the door and slips out into the night. Just a few rounds with the punching bag, he tells himself, and then he'll return to her home.

:o:o:o:o:

He pulls away from her because she deserves better.

It's for the best; this way, he isn't holding her back. He's put her out for long enough, and he's going to try harder to be better on his own—he's going to search harder for a job and work harder to be someone people can actually respect. And if it means longer hours outside her home and more time spent on his own, then so be it.

He's going to give her back the space he's so unceremoniously robbed her of.

In theory, it makes so much sense to him.

In practice, he returns home one day to a suitcase waiting by the door, and his world starts crumbling.

:o:o:o:o:

Finding a job is harder than he thinks. The prominence of his face doesn't help; in a city so newly torn apart, ravaged buildings and destroyed businesses all around them, no one wants to hire the spoilt brat of an heir to an empire that had once stood tall but has fallen so far as to be taken over by someone else altogether.

His name is Oliver Queen, and it means nothing in a world where it's eat or be eaten.

He walks now, dejected, out of yet another office and stands lonely on a pavement riddled with cracks. Empty land is spread out before him on the other side of the road, the aftermath of Slade and his men, and he wonders what she must think of him now. He must have been worth something to her. But he's lost the company and failed his family and the city and—

All he had wanted was the chance to make things right again.

Sighing, he bows his head and kicks his shoe against the pavement as he heads off to yet another job interview.

:o:o:o:o:

"What's this?" he asks her, his mouth dry.

"I bought it today," she answers, palms pressed together and fingers splayed. "I thought, if you want out, you should at least have somewhere to put all your stuff. I know the things you still have are mostly either in storage or at the Foundry anyway, but the things you have here were moved in bit by bit, and it would be a big hassle for you to just randomly pick up a few items every time you dropped by. If you want a clean break, you should have it. And hey, what better way to remember me than by a suitcase I once bought you, right? I mean, I don't know if it's entirely appropriate—I don't want to make it seem like I'm kicking you out, which I'm not—but this is a lot more practical than an old T-shirt of mine—I love my clothes and I want to keep them, Oliver—or nothing altogether. Because I don't want you t-to forget me. Even if you think you can't live with me anymore. And before you ask—yes, I will be continuing my work as tech girl on Team Arrow. I just meant: Romantically. Because I assume that if you can't tolerate living with me, then you probably wouldn't want to date me casually."

Her chin is half-raised, almost as if she's daring him to fight her on this. His voice cracks as he replies, "I never said I can't live with you, Felicity."

"We don't even sleep in the same bed anymore," she replies promptly. "We don't eat the same meals. Sure, the Arrow side of us is all fine and dandy, what with us being good work partners and all, but then we come home and you sit on the opposite side of the room from me lost in your thoughts all the time and more often than not, you pretend to fall asleep on the couch so that you won't have to go to bed with me. I get it, Oliver. I kick in bed; I probably snore; you're like a furnace and you probably despise having me accidentally cuddling up to you and making you sweat; but … I don't want you to feel like you have to act like a guest in my house by sleeping on the couch just because you don't want to hurt my feelings. I can get you a bed at the Foundry, if that's where you want to stay. Or wherever. Just—stop inconveniencing yourself on my behalf."

He feels his throat close up. All he can think is, This isn't how it's supposed to go. She was supposed to have realized that he was the undesirable one, not thought that he didn't want her or love her anymore. He loves her so much he has to let her go; doesn't she understand? It's all about him; none of the failings in their relationship are her fault.

But she thinks they are.

He rubs a hand over his face and makes his way over to the couch, sinking down into it slowly. He feels much older than his thirty years of life. That's all he's felt lately—jaded, weary, the blink of an eye away from disappearing into an oblivion where no one cares about him. He just hadn't wanted to take her down as well.

:o:o:o:o:

"I had another job interview."

"Oh!" Her face lights up, all traces of tiredness from the day gone. "How'd it go?"

He grimaces at the remembrance of the earlier conversation. "Horribly. It seems I … do not have the face of 'someone who wants to bring the company to glory.'"

She tilts her head to one side, her ponytail swaying as a pondering expression overtakes her face. "That is the weirdest thing ever for someone to say."

He laughs bitterly at that. "I can't blame them. I mean, they're all just trying to do what's best for their businesses."

"Well." She moves towards him from where she stands; bends down to scoop up his hands from his lap. "You'll find a job, Oliver."

"I'm just so tired, Felicity."

She shakes her head. "We do what we have to do. That's just the way it works from now on."

"I know," he whispers, "I know."

Her right hand disentangles from his to curl around his ear instead; her thumb grazes his cheek, and he trains his gaze on the floor. "You okay?" she asks, her voice much softer than it had been a moment before. "You've seemed off lately."

"I'm fine," he presses out.

"C'mon." She draws him closer. He buries his face in her abdomen and takes in her scent. "Let's go to bed. And not even for the hanky panky—just you, me, Ben, and Jerry until we fall into a coma from sugar overload and eventually drift off to sleep with the TV on."

He does it, not because he feels a particular affinity for Ben & Jerry's but because he wants to remember what it's like to still get to love her.

:o:o:o:o:

"I very much enjoy being with you," he confesses, his voice strained from the tears he knows he's holding back.

"Then, what's going on?" And she sounds so hurt, so confused.

"I just—I've been in a bad place lately, Felicity. Thea's gone, Queen Consolidated's been taken over, and I have no job. I have no job, and I've—I've found it hard to see why I deserve to be here."

"You know there's no test you have to pass in order to be allowed here, right? At least, not one that doesn't have to do with me trying to figure out whether you're a thief or a conman, and you passed that one a while back." She sits down next to him, resting a hand on his knee, and he wonders at the comfort she gives him even though it should be his trying to reassure her.

It's so unfair to her.

"Why open your home to me?" he blurts.

"'Cause you needed one," she answers softly. "And I have one. There was no choice to make."

"Thank you." He swallows the lump in his throat. "For everything you've done."

She is still for a moment, quiet beside him. And then she tightens her hand around his knee and speaks, "We need to talk, don't we?"

He hesitates. "Probably."

:o:o:o:o:

"So, I got a job offer today," she says. Her lips twist, as if in a nervous tick, before he can respond.

"For what?" He forks another mouthful of spaghetti into his mouth because he doesn't think it's a big deal —she hates her current job, and he would be all the happier if she found one she liked better—and then promptly regrets it.

"For—for working at Queen Consolidated," she answers reluctantly. "Except it's not gonna be called Queen Consolidated anymore."

"Oh." He swallows the tasteless grit he has just consumed. "So, Palmer's offering you a job."

Her eyes flick away. "He's … been offering me one for a while, actually. I've just been rejecting it up till now."

"And now you've accepted it?" His voice sounds rougher than he'd like, more accusing, and it makes defiance flare up in her expression before she sets her jaw.

"We need the money," she tells him firmly. "Or I need the money. I can't keep this place on the salary I currently have."

"I can just pay my half of the rent, Felicity."

"No! You're already paying to keep up our secret night-time activities—wait." She grits her teeth. "That … didn't come out the way I meant it. I didn't mean I'm your prostitute or—my point is, you have your bills to pay, too, and it's not like I'm letting you stay here completely free. You pay for your own food and transport and your half of the bills. The only thing you're not paying is rent, and you can't dip into your bank account any more than you already have, and you shouldn't have to pay rent in the first place because this is my original apartment which I would be able to keep if I had a job as well-paying as my first so that you and I would both have a home! So, I'm taking this job, okay, Oliver?"

Apologies sear the tip of his tongue the moment she's finished. He never meant to imply that she shouldn't take the job—he really didn't; he was just caught off-guard—and he understands that she's only trying to look out for herself. For both of them, even.

Maybe if he had a skill other than 'arrowing,' he could get a job and they'd be okay , but as it is, she's the genius and he dropped out of four colleges. She made her own name and his family made his. And at times like these, he is worthless where she is invaluable.

So, he meekly says, "You're right. I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking."

She sucks in a breath and jabs her fork vindictively into her spaghetti, and he knows he's dodged a bullet.

He just doesn't know how to tell her how inadequate he feels.

:o:o:o:o:

"If it isn't that you want out … what is it?"

"We moved so fast," he murmurs. "We defeated Slade and I asked you out, and before you knew it we were moving in together because I had no home."

"It wasn't our choice," she replies softly. "You needed someplace to stay."

"That's exactly it, Felicity. What if we're not made to go the distance … because we haven't been the distance?"

Her brow wrinkles and her eyes search his, as if she is confused, but he doesn't know what else to say. How else to tell her that he is not a man made for long-term relationships. Before the island, it had been his inability to stay faithful; after the island, the time had simply come and gone for such an option to still be viable for him. Where he could once have been an acceptable partner (if not for his virtue), he is now at best a space-filler, someone to keep the bed warm and the body satisfied until someone else who touches heart, mind, and soul alike comes along and takes all that he desires away. And as much as he wants to try out a lifetime with Felicity, he's far too damaged to win that fight.

She has not seen it yet, but that's only because they've been so busy with the other facets of their lives. Eventually, though, she will find out that he has a proclivity for leaving his shoes all over the place and he can't afford to take her on too many dates and he is afraid of snuggling up with her not because she is overly warm, but because he has night terrors that he can't control and is afraid of accidentally harming her.

What will become of them then?

"We have been so far," she says, breaking him out of his thoughts. "Oliver, have the past two years meant nothing to you?"

"Of course they've meant something to me," he answers honestly, "but they weren't—they weren't—they were me, trying to be the Arrow. And I am much doing much better at that than I am at being Oliver."

"You aren't two people!"

"I am a broke, unemployed, and homeless man living in your house—not because you want me here but because I have nowhere to stay!"

"I want you here," she says loudly, angrily, her glare as hard as the hands that abruptly cup his jaw are soft. She swings a leg over his lap, bracketing his thighs—seated atop him in a position that is both intimate and domineering, her eyes blaze with intensity that chokes him up. Thoroughly ashamed of the insecurity he has laid bare, he looks away. "I want you here, Oliver. I have wanted you here. I will want you here. When are you going to get that?"

He is only stunned speechless. His breathing is ragged, like he has run a marathon, but it is merely the conviction of her words that has robbed him of air.

"I want you here," she repeats. "Oliver, I've had feelings for you for so long. You know that. And—and fine, I'll give it to you that we haven't been through all the milestones other couples have been through, but so what? Other couples haven't been through the milestones we've been through. We can't compare ourselves to them. We'd go crazy doing that, because we're already too different. But as long as you want to be here, do you think I really care that we haven't done the living-together thing the conventional way? Do you think I care that you're broke and unemployed and homeless? I have you. I don't need anything else."

He blinks hard, curling his hands into fists and digging his thumbs into his flesh.

It's juvenile, but the gesture grounds him.

It gives him the courage to finally lift his gaze to meet hers. Behind the reflection of her glasses, swirls of blue and green and grey are fixed on him, clear and determined.

Almost unremarkably, his heart skips a beat.

"I love you," he tells her quietly.

She crinkles her nose. "I'll give you a free pass this time, but don't think you'll be getting away with using that as an argument again."

He chuckles even though his eyes sting.

"Stay," she adds, almost plaintively. "If you love me, stay. And not just in body, either—in spirit, too. Stay, and we'll figure things out. We'll get you a job. We'll make a budgeting plan so we can live on what we earn without dipping into your account. We'll do whatever it takes to make you okay with yourself again."

He inhales deeply and gives a brave nod. "Okay," he promises, his voice rough.

She asks nothing more of him—only feathers her thumbs under his eyes, brushing away the moisture he wanted to pretend hadn't collected in his lashes. "And I love you, too," she whispers.

It's all he needs to hear right now.