A/N: Going to tentatively mark this series as complete. I expect soon enough we'll have season 3 spoilers and if the muse strikes I'll start a new 'Season 3 Drabbles', so be on the lookout. Thanks so much for spending the year with me, it's been a hell of a ride and I expect the new season is going to be just as awesome.
Enjoy! And thanks so much for reading!
Even after three months Oliver still hadn't gotten used to the new lair. Face pulled into a grim line he punched in the security code and waited impatiently for the single metal garage door to open off the deserted alleyway. There were multiple access points in and out of this facility which he did find useful, but it had taken him too long to realize what exactly about the new place left him on edge all the time.
Of course it was Felicity who put it into words.
"No stairs." she'd suddenly blurted out one night when he'd come around the corner and spotted her at her computers.
He'd just quirked a brow and put his bow away as he waited for her to explain.
"I mean, there are stairs," she said with a hand waving over her shoulder, towards the steps she and Digg typically used during the day, "But they're concrete and hidden and...it's the not the same. As quiet as you can be I could always hear you on those metal stairs at the foundry. It was…" she fiddled with her necklace and turned back to her screens before she chanced a quick look his way, "It was what I would listen for. Even when I knew you'd be coming ho- back safe, I'd still listen and…" a flush crept across her neck and jaw and Oliver realized he'd become frozen as she'd talked, one hand paused at his wrist in the process of pulling his gloves off.
She gave a self-conscious shrug and dipped her head, "Anyways, sorry, it's just...it's been bugging me why this place doesn't feel right yet and I think that's it." she threw him a quick, tight lipped smile and adjusted her glasses, "I'll just have to find a new thing to listen for. Too bad I can't hear the garage door from here,"
They held their gaze for a few seconds too long and then she was rolling her chair sideways to look at the far screen and he finally felt like he could look away. He took his time changing out of his suit, unable to keep his eyes from flicking to her. Because what he'd never admitted, and what he could never tell her was he knew exactly what she meant.
The sound of the heavy metal door clanging shut behind him as he started down the steps had meant safety, and security, and eventually it began to mean home. He also couldn't tell her that his pulse usually didn't begin to settle until he'd made it far enough down the second set of steps to see her blonde head in her spot, safe and sound. The fifth step down is when the tension could begin to ease out of him. And long before then he'd always be able to hear the comforting click of her keyboard.
Coming in through the garage in the new lair forced him to go through a low, compact tunnel that was dimly lit and kept him from seeing her until he emerged into the main area all at once. It was like a narrow river emptying out into a large sea off the face of a cliff with no estuary to ease him in. Just dark to light, no transition, no warning, no time for him to make the switch from Arrow to Oliver even though he knew she'd seen all sides of him and still knew who he really was.
Maybe that's why it always left him so on edge. He couldn't prepare for her. He couldn't take in the quiet comfort and security that he greedily took from her because he didn't think he knew how to breathe until she was working with him at his side.
The steps at the foundry gave him those few seconds where he could see her and hear her and let her presence wash over him. He'd found he was more tight when returning from missions now. It took longer for him to shake the weight of the hood and keep his emotions in check. She probably thought it was all still fallout from Slade but...how could he tell her she was the one who kept him sane and kept him whole. He already took so much from her, he couldn't put that burden on her as well.
Because he hadn't lied. He hadn't meant to tell her he loved her that night. That had never been part of the plan. But he had an army to fight and there were missiles pointed at his city and his last hope rested in the hands of the woman who had proven herself again and again to be the bravest person he'd ever met. And if it all went to hell it wasn't a risk he was willing to take.
He'd been just as surprised by his admission as she had. He had needed her to understand that when he pressed the syringe into her hands it wasn't just a ploy, it wasn't just a ruse. But he'd still walked out of the door that night wondering if he'd gone too far, and if she truly did understand.
When they'd all survived he had a long flight to realize that in the aftermath, once the smoke cleared, he couldn't be what she needed. Not yet. Maybe not ever. He wanted to be though.
He'd watched her sleep on the plane, curled in a small seat, face pale with the bruises standing out stark on her fair skin. He remembered the few seconds of blinding panic when the van had crashed and he didn't know if she'd survived. Remembered the way she'd been limp in his arms. For a moment he couldn't breathe.
Somewhere over the Pacific he made the decision to tell her it had been a trick, that he hadn't meant it. He knew it would hurt her but he knew he could hurt her more in the future and that was something he wasn't willing to risk.
But then she'd stood there on the beach at Lian Yu and told him how unthinkable it was for them to be together and he couldn't bring himself to do it.
He'd never been able to lie to her. That had always been his problem.