A/N: Expanded Oliver POV from "Guilty" (3.6).
Oliver: "If you ever need to tell someone about your day, you can tell me." (Salvation – 1.18)
Shades of Gray
"It's kind of sad," she teases. I jump at the sound of her soft voice, a sudden presence I hadn't heard enter the lair because I was too lost in my own thoughts. "A candlelit dinner for one with no food."
I'm still sitting cross-legged on the floor, the red candle giving off its spicy, exotic scent. It's been years since I needed the help to meditate, but after Roy left, I didn't blow it out, choosing instead to stare at the flame and just breathe.
"Yeah," I agree with a forced smile. "But you shouldn't be surprised. I pretty much suck at dates."
I immediately want to take back my words when I see her breath catch, and she quickly turns her back to me. I want to assure her it's all my fault, that I meant it as a joke, that I wish like hell I was someone else, someone who could actually take her on a date that didn't end in bloodshed. I bite back the various excuses and finally decide to just be quiet and try not to move before I make it worse.
"So how'd it go with our grasshopper, zen master?" she asks. She keeps her back turned as she busies herself with cartons of take-out and cheap wooden chopsticks and paper napkins and bottles of water.
First Little Red Riding Hoodie. Now Grasshopper. Roy needs to accept my offering of Arsenal or pick his own name before she does it for him. Something tells me he won't like any of her options.
"About as well as you would expect, considering he knows now that he killed a man."
"So it worked," she quietly says with a sigh. Her shoulders slump. "I mean, of course it did. I didn't think you couldn't help. It's just that part of me hoped, for his sake, that he wouldn't remember."
"It's probably better that he knows the truth. That he's not left worrying and wondering."
She nods. "You're right. Just." She sighs again. She hands me two cartons and takes Roy's place on the floor across the candle from me. She demurely crosses her legs, carefully tucking her skirt between her knees. "That smells really good." She leans closer to the golden flame and closes her eyes while she inhales.
"Want me to teach you?" I ask.
"No. Well, maybe. Mostly I try to not remember things quite so vividly. But maybe. Not tonight, though. I think we've had enough revelations for one day. I just hope he realizes it wasn't his fault." She sits up and opens her container. "Just like it's not your fault," she continues.
"What isn't?" I quietly ask.
"Whatever it is you're beating yourself up about this time."
She deftly scoops up chicken and vegetables with chopsticks.
"That one," she says, pointing with a chopstick to the container in my right hand. "Is all protein. I wasn't sure when you last worked out. You can save it for later if you don't need it now. The other has some produce mixed in."
"Thanks," I say, very much aware that Felicity knows me better than anyone else and is far more kind than I deserve after what I did to her.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" she asks.
She doesn't ask again or wait for me to say something. She just sits there in a comfortable silence and eats with me, our chewing the only sound in the lair.
As always, despite my best efforts, too much has gone too wrong.
"Laurel's training. After I told her I wouldn't help, she went and found someone else."
"Not your fault," she says with a shrug. "When has she ever listened to you about anything?"
"It's not a girl-thing," I try to explain. "I mean, I don't have a problem with girls, women, fighting."
"Of course you don't," she agrees. "You actually have a bit of a thing for badass women."
"Laurel's just." I stumble at Felicity's assessment of my dating history, and my voice trails off because I don't know what to say.
"Impulsive and reckless and runs off half-cocked and mad and does stupid things that will probably get her hurt if not killed, not to mention jeopardize whoever has to go in a rescue her, and then none of the consequences are ever her fault?" Felicity casually offers before popping another bite into her mouth.
"Something like that."
"She's a grown woman, capable of making her own decisions. And if she found someone else, more power to her. You already have a padewan."
"Yeah," I say even though I still worry about Laurel and feel responsible. "Roy came to you," I finally explain. Instead of looking at her, I pretend I need to concentrate on moving the food from the container in my hand to my mouth. "He's my responsibility. I'm training him. I knew something was wrong. He knew I knew. And he confided in you."
"Oliver," she begins.
"Don't," I interrupt. "Don't try and make that okay because it's not. It's really not. He should have talked to me."
"Does it matter?" she quietly asks. "You're his person, Oliver. He worships you. He and I aren't like me and Digg. I don't think he has any friends. He's been abandoned by everyone in his life, up to and including your sister, and he doesn't know us all that well, and he thought he'd killed Sara."
She sighs and shakes her head, and I think for a second she may cry, but instead she carefully chews a snap pea before continuing.
"He was violated. Mirakurued against his will. Turned into a crazy killing machine. And he thought he was responsible, while not in control of his own actions, for the death of someone we all care very much about. He's just a kid, and he's scared. The way I see it, it's good he told us at all. As to why he decided to tell me, I suspect it's only because I'm the least capable of physical retribution."
I don't argue, but I know that's not why he shared his secret with Felicity. How many times have I unburdened my soul to her, this amazingly kind woman who doesn't judge and always tries to absolve me even when I don't deserve it?
I had to wash the blood from my hands after I beat that man to death with a rock on Lian Yu, the man I killed to protect Shado. He was a stranger, a threat. It was kill or be killed. And that man wasn't even the first. In my head, even then, I knew that. But it didn't change how I felt: I had taken another man's life. Only that time it wasn't an accident. It was an act of rage. I killed a man with my bare hands in cold blood.
I was a killer.
I don't know what I would have done if Shado hadn't been there. She was so gentle with me. Her hands. Her lips. Her soft hair hanging around us like a curtain so I could hide while Slade took care of the body.
Roy didn't have anyone. He's struggled alone because even though he says he trusts me, he obviously doesn't. Not enough to tell me what was going on. Not enough to come to me when he was scared.
"He killed the cop," I say. "Not Sara. But still, a death is a death."
"Bullshit," Felicity interrupts.
I look up from my food, stunned, but she is matter of fact as she holds out her container.
"Want to trade?" she asks.
I hand her mine and take hers, imagining I can feel the warmth from her fingers in the wood and taste the lingering traces of her lips on the chopsticks.
"In theory," she continues after chewing and swallowing. "If we were having a philosophical discussion, yes, a death would be a death. Same same. But in the world we live in, you know that's not true." She picks through the container and finally chooses a piece of broccoli. "Oliver, I'm not saying Roy doesn't feel terrible or that it's no big deal. He should feel terrible. I would be worried if he didn't feel terrible. Because it is a big deal. But it would be a very different situation if he'd killed Sara."
Her answer horrifies me because I know it's true.
"I didn't want this for him," I admit.
"I assume you didn't want it for you, either. But it happened. Now we have to deal with it as best we can. At least Roy told us. He's not alone. He's part of our team. He's." She sighs again. "You picked him, and we're a family. We stick together."
"I would stand by him even if he had killed Sara."
"I know that," she quietly says. "And now so does Roy. That's not nothing."
"Digg said we can't use different rules for our people."
"Well, I think Digg will find he's more forgiving when he realizes Roy isn't responsible for Sara."
"You usually side with him," I quietly point out.
"He's usually right. But he allows ARGUS nannies to watch his infant daughter." She sets down the now empty container and rests her chin on the back of her hand. "Go ahead and take a minute to wrap your head around that idea. I know I need a minute every time I think of it. And he's wrong about this too. Believe me when I say it's terrible about the cop. He has friends and family who miss him. He didn't deserve to die. But that wasn't Roy. Him confessing to that crime and sitting in prison until they execute him isn't justice."
"So drunk drivers shouldn't be brought to justice if they kill someone while they're intoxicated?"
"Not if a super-strong, deranged psychopath held them down and injected the alcohol into their blood and then forced them behind the wheel. We live in a crazy world that most people can't imagine and wouldn't believe if they saw it with their own eyes. It's not black and white. It's shades of gray, Oliver, something you should know better than anyone."
I don't kill anymore, but I did. On accident. In self-defense. Protecting others. And then I was Amanda Waller's assassin. And then the vigilante. A serial killer, like Tommy said. Acting judge and jury and executioner, like Ted accused.
I am guilty. Like Diggle is guilty. And now, Roy, too.
"What should I do?" I whisper. "I want to help. Tell me what I should do."
"Bring him dinner," she says with a smile. "Listen. Tell him when he's wrong. Agree with him when he's right. Point out his good qualities that he can't see for himself. Leave him a little better than he was when you got there. Repeat."
"He said he wanted to be left alone."
"Oh Oliver." She rolls her eyes and pats my knee. "I'm going to go out on a limb and assume he means that about as much as you do all the times you've said it. Lord, inevitably, when you decide you need to be alone is when you most need someone to retrieve your head from your ass."
"Hey," I object.
I know she's right, so I don't argue with her. "What about Digg? Laurel?"
"One person at a time. Tonight, it's definitely Roy's turn for a pep talk. Go be his friend, Oliver. Be his family. Be the one person who who doesn't walk away no matter what. Who loves him no matter what mistakes he's made. Who believes in him even when he can't. Especially when he can't."
I can't go to Roy and be Felicity. I'm not that good. I'm not a good son or brother or friend. I don't know how to take care of people the way she takes care of me. I'll fail, and I'll fail him.
"You can do this," she says. Like she heard my doubts even though I didn't say them out loud, she scoots over and squeezes my hand.
"I only know how to bring death and destruction," I whisper. "I only know how to hurt people."
"Oliver, that is not true. Think of all the people you've saved."
"We're all guilty," she says. "We're all shades of gray. Roy doesn't need a saint. He needs you."
"Come with me?" I ask.
"Nah." She shakes her head. "You've got this. I believe in you."
A/N: I'm running off into the woods, gentle readers. No, that's not melodramatic hyperbole: I really am going to be off the grid for the next 6 weeks. Which means limited internet. Which means no new Arrow episodes. Which also means (you probably know where this is headed) no new chapters until after New Years. I will be updating as I catch up, and hopefully it won't take too long after I get back to civilization. Thank you for your understanding, and happy merry festivities of whichever flavor you prefer. See y'all on the flip-side. Cheers!