01: Life goes on

PREVIOUSLY IN GAMBLING HEARTS

~o.O.o~

When we left in Gambling Hearts, Bella had begun her formal training with the team and officially joined them in her first mission. While it begun smoothly for Oliver, Roy, and Bella; taking down yet another arms dealer – that pop up like the Whac-a-Mole game – it quickly turned sour when it was discovered that a member of the most recent gang included her ex-boyfriend’s brother that she hadn’t seen in over ten years.

Bella faltered on the mission but recovered quickly and they completed the job, but she grew concerned about what had led the quiet boy she’d known into that kind of life. In leaving the scene, she had received a text message on her phone from her friend Rosalie. In it, they received information that caused great concern for all. Bella, Esmé told me they were going to move to Starling City ‘to help the poor’. Stay safe, please! Rose. At least one of the Cullens was planning on moving to Starling City.

~o.O.o~

FOUR MONTHS LATER

~o.O.o~

Bella sat at the empty bar at Verdant as she worked on the employees’ payroll. It was the regular Wednesday distraction since her first mission with the team. It had taken some time for the staff to get used to her presence and style of management as it was much more driven than Oliver and Roy’s.

Granted it was still predominantly Oliver’s club, but he had allowed her the control she needed as it helped keep her from breaking down over her concern for her friend. When she had realized that the text message was not truly from Rosalie, Bella had Felicity run every trace she could possibly perform on her phone and her friend’s number. Every background check and missing person’s report for her friend had come back with nothing of note, except some information that the girl was home with her family in Seattle.

Between the text message that stated Esmé Cullen’s intent to move to Starling City for some charitable work and Rosalie’s disappearance, Oliver had grown increasingly concerned for Bella’s mental state. Time had continued to pass and the woman still hadn’t been seen around the city, and he was relieved thus far, but small blessings could only last for so long. He needed to get some eyes on the Cullens soon to find out what was going on there, but he didn’t want to leave Bella either as her nightmares, in spite of beautiful fall weather and no weather controlling meta-humans in the vicinity that they were aware of, were terrible enough that they woke him often from a sound sleep.

It was hard on her to learn how far Jasper Cullen had fallen since she’d last seen him. She had admitted she wasn’t close with him, but that he also hadn’t treated her bad either. They simply had a cordial passing relationship that she respected from her distance, which was what made her hesitate that night on the rooftop when Oliver questioned her on what she wanted him to do.

After making sure that Roy and Bella had been safe in the van that night, he returned to try to question the man about his brother and father’s intentions with the girl but Jasper seemed to genuinely not know what the Arrow was talking about. Every method short of severe pain infliction that he knew of, never caused him to deflect on his answers, forcing him to leave him for Captain Lance with the feeling of extreme dissatisfaction from the encounter. Oliver was no closer to getting to Carlisle Cullen than before and it was one more day that Bella would live in her nightmare.

~o.O.o~

Oliver was forced to find a healthy balance between spending his time at Queen Consolidated and his duty as The Arrow by spending mornings at the office and in the afternoons training in the basement at Verdant, either with Bella, Diggle or Roy or on his own. The only full day he spent at QC was on Wednesdays, as this was a requirement the team convinced him to do in order to reduce suspicions from anyone at the office.

He couldn’t be happier with that team. They had shown to be trustworthy, hard workers and true to their word. QC was out of the red and was finally making money again and that had been one of his biggest fears; that he couldn’t get his father’s company out of the shit that Oliver himself had been responsible for.

Oliver liked how easy it was. How easy this was, him and Bella. Despite both of them being slightly awkward when it came to romance (honestly, if Felicity hadn’t helped him out during their first real date, that event would have been more problematic than it already had been) and to sharing things, things were going well. He supposed it helped that they both had their own houses to retreat to when one of them weren’t feeling all that great and wanted to be alone, but he had to admit, he spent more time in his old house, with Bella, than at his own apartment. Maybe it was so easy because they gave each other the space that they needed.

Dealing with Bella out in the field was getting easier as well, especially now that they had settled in a good training regime and that he accepted that she could take care of herself. He could fully focus on the job instead of worrying about his team so much because Roy had shown improvement as well and as long as they were following the rules, things were good.

He wouldn’t admit it out loud, but he felt that Bella coming down from an adrenaline rush after stopping some criminal was hot. She usually bounced all over the place and once time would literally try to pull Oliver into the closest area for privacy in an attempt to get rid of her high that way. She was his in every way he quickly learned. Always trying to push herself to the limits, never knowing when to stop with training either. It sure caught up with her more than a few times.

As part of her newly adopted routine, after Bella completed her work for Verdant, she made her way down to the basement. It was one of her forced rest days, so she wasn’t allowed to do any training. A compromise that Oliver had made with her when she had pushed herself to the point where she was in so much pain and with no one from the team around at the time, Felicity had been forced to take her to the emergency room. With witnesses around, and there were many around the club, it would have been more suspicious to not do anything.

Who would have known how much the woman changed when she had a few Percocet inside her?

*flashback*

“Diggy!” Bella squealed as Felicity wheeled her out to the car at the back of Verdant where she had insisted the guys wait for them to come out. Felicity waited to call them about the unexpected side trip as they had been busy with their own Arrow duties while Bella stayed back with training and tending to club business, but she didn’t anticipate the spectacle that their friend was making.

She was worn out herself, trying to keep the girl under control and couldn’t help but to admire the strength Oliver had for dealing with her as he does. “Thank god,” Felicity muttered. “She’s all yours. They gave her some morphine and muscle relaxants before discharging her for strict bed rest and orders not to overexert herself again. She also has a prescription here for Percocet. I don’t think she’ll need it until tomorrow though.”

“Then why didn’t you meet us at her house?” Oliver wondered out loud as he looked at Bella. She was smiling widely and she looked a little out of it. “You really expect me to take her home like this?”

“Yes.” Felicity replied. “Because I didn’t fancy driving that around for twenty more miles so, off you go.”

Bella grinned up at Oliver as she looked at him completely unabashedly. “You’re hot in your leather. You gonna strip for me?”

Oliver growled as he handed his bow and quiver to Diggle and lifted Bella out of the wheelchair before taking her to his car. He knew that Charlie wasn’t home so it was safe to drive her home while still wearing his Arrow suit – he was not going to get changed now because she needed to go home. “We can’t keep doing this, you know,” he said after getting into the car himself and started to drive. What he said probably fell on deaf ears anyway, seeing as she was so out of it. They needed to do something to make sure this wasn’t going to happen again. Maybe restrict her access to the basement or something.

She only responded with a giggle as she reached across the car for him. “Ollie! Don’t say it like you actually mean that. You enjoy it just as much,” she purred as she rested her head against his shoulder while her hand slipped over his, dangerously close to his groin.

Oliver hoped that she was going to fall asleep soon, otherwise it was going to be a long twenty miles to her house. “We’ll talk about this when you’re not all doped up.”

“Mmhmm,” Bella murmured as she snuggled into his side, dozing off as the music from the radio had begun to dull her senses with the medication. It wasn’t long before she had nodded off against him, her head dipping down and a soft snore from the drugs escaping her.

* end flashback *

~o.O.o~

Both Felicity and Diggle had an interesting time with trying to see where Bella’s shielding ability came from, this was mostly out of a scientific and survival point of view rather than fun, although they had fun figuring it out. They even had Barry come over once to see if projectiles would even hit Bella, as he could see fast enough to notice any changes on her skin. Oliver did not like that they asked Roy to shoot arrows at his girlfriend, but he could see the reasoning in the scientific process of trying new things without a lot of people getting hurt. Such as Bella shielding Oliver from impact of an arrow. Oliver realized that his friends just liked shooting stuff at him for once and getting away with it because it was all in the name of science.

Barry, of course, got very excited during the tests, mostly because he could barely see any change on Bella’s skin when she was impacted with something but he could see the thin layer of protection when she projected it to Oliver. He thought it was very cool and promised to keep his mouth shut about her around his co-workers, especially Doctor Wells.

Of course, with Barry being around, Felicity was pleased because her boyfriend – or friend with benefits – was in town and as soon as the testing was over, she dragged him off to her house. Oliver didn’t have to think much to know what was going to happen with those two and he was fine with it. He was happy that Felicity had someone she could be with, just like Diggle, and Oliver hoped that his sister, Thea, would eventually see reason and come back to them and Roy.

Bella scowled as she curled up on the armchair that she refused to allow Oliver to remove. She was frustrated with her agreement as she looked longingly at the boxing gloves laying nearby on a table. “Who’s idea was this forced rest day again?” she questioned, knowing full and well whose it was.

“Your boyfriend, our boss,” Felicity answered as she looked up from the computer. She had been trying to follow everyone in the Cullen family digitally since she had received that text message. It had been frustrating for her because, to the public, the parents appeared absolutely clean and the team knew better than anyone looks are extremely deceiving. Especially after Peter Warren’s involvement in Bella’s life over the last several years.

Yes, years. Before Oliver had contacted A.R.G.U.S to ship Peter off to a rubber cell, he had thoroughly interrogated the man himself and had been surprised by the revelation of Peter having been causing storms around Bella for years, and only had received the order to put more pressure on her when she moved to Starling City, further away from the Cullen’s reach.

Having found Jasper Cullen in that warehouse four months ago had been a surprise, but it seemed that, like his sister Rosalie, he had gone off on his own, making his own future instead of being dependant and bullied around by his parents. Unfortunately for Jasper, he made the wrong decisions and escalated in his bad behaviour which ultimately resulted in him getting caught by Team Arrow.

With Esmé Cullen coming to Starling City for charitable work and actually making public appearances, it was important that Felicity kept tabs on the family and she had already found out that Carlisle Cullen had closed his practice and put their house up for sale. It definitely looked like all of the Cullens were coming to Starling City and even though it would make it easier for Oliver to go after them, it was also making things very difficult.

“What? Am I the bad guy, again?” Oliver asked as he walked down the stairs into the basement. “And here I thought I’d take my beautiful girlfriend out for a surprise trip on the motorcycle.”

“You’re supposed to be at QC.”

“I was. And I was not needed, so here I am,” Oliver stated as he squatted down in front of Bella, who was still moping in the chair. “What do you say? Fancy a ride?”

She eyed him suspiciously as she raised her head. “That depends on if we’re going out on that motorcycle in uniform or not.”

“No,” he shook his head as he looked up to her. “I thought we’d go to a place where they sell the best coffee in town – neither you or Diggle have found it yet and I’m really surprised about that.”

The thought of a new coffee shop had Bella at odds, biting her lip as she looked back at him. She didn’t know whether she wanted to kiss him or slap him in that moment. “You play dirty,” she complained.

“I play dirty?” Oliver beamed up to her. “I think you’ve done remarkably well by substituting at least one third of your coffee intake with tea to make your life a little bit healthier and I think that you deserve a treat. But hey,” he got to his feet and shrugged. “If you don’t want to go…”

“Pompous asshole,” she cursed as she pushed herself up out of the chair and shoved him towards the stairs. “This coffee place better be worth it.”

“Yep,” he said as he leapt up the stairs. “And you know what we’re going to do after?”

“Heading back to my place so that I can tie you up to my bed and fuck the shit out of you?” Bella smiled up at him.

“Well, maybe,” Oliver said as he opened the door for her. “But how about we break one of my rules, just for once?”

She raised an eyebrow curiously, pausing beside him. He wasn’t one for breaking rules which made her suspicious. “What’s the cost for this broken rule?”

“Fun.” Oliver smirked as he continued to walk towards the exit with a spring in his step.

Staring after him, she wasn’t sure what to make of the the man before she ran after him. When she caught up, she was quiet for a moment, opening her mouth as she tried to find her words a couple times. “Who are you and what did you do with my boyfriend?”

Grinning, Oliver handed her her helmet and put his on. “You’ll just have to find that out for yourself.”

Narrowing her eyes on him, Bella pushed his helmet back before he could secure. She reached up and yanked a piece of his hair from his scalp with a smile before letting him go. “Great! I’ll have Robin run some tests on this to find out just who you are,” she replied as she kissed his cheek. Putting her own helmet on and climbing on behind him. “Let’s ride, Cowboy.”

Grinning, he fastened his helmet and started to drive them towards that new coffee place across town, taking the long way around just for Bella to see more of the city. Sure, they’d covered a lot of ‘things to see in Starling City’ but he still liked going places that even he hadn’t been to in years.

The coffee shop was being run by good people who imported their own coffee and he had liked the way they had transformed the previously run down shop into something quite foreign looking, exotic. He parked the bike in front of the store and pulled off his helmet. “Rumors are that you can blend your own coffee here.”

“Sounds like you’re trying to butter me up for something Mr. Queen,” she implied while eyeing the outside of the shop. It was certainly something that had her attention and the coffee lover in her was anxious to get inside.

“I’m not buttering you up. Like I said; you deserve a treat,” he smiled at her as he opened the door for her, the smell of coffee wafting out of the building.

Bella could almost feel her mouth salivate at the aroma as she walked in. “Oh my god Ollie. How in the world did you find this place?” she questioned as she looked around with a huge grin on her face. Between the scent of the coffee that pulled her to the counter to view their menu, her eyes took in the decor and knew she could easily get lost in the place for hours. The man had no idea what he did by introducing her to this place. He would have been safer to just bring her the coffee and keeping it a secret.

Oliver grinned as he leaned against the doorpost. “You like?”

She shook her head no at his question as she pulled him with her to the counter to read the labels of the coffee beans and view the house made cakes they had on display. “Ooh, that sounds like it would be really strong,” she muttered as she pointed to one label before moving onto others.

Oliver let her fangirl over the coffee for a while as he took a seat with a big grin on his face. Yeah, this had been a good idea, a very good idea. “Welcome to the newest business venture of Queen Consolidated. All in secret, of course, and ten percent of its earnings go to charities across Starling City, thirty percent goes back into QC and twenty percent goes to you. The rest is for the shop itself.”

Bella smiled over at him as she tried to get a grasp on the turbulent emotions she was feeling. Making her way over to him, she pulled his face into her hands and pressed a kiss to his lips. “Raise the charitable donations to fifteen percent and drop my share to the same and then it will be absolutely perfect,” she said to him. “Thank you.”

Oliver grinned and nodded. “Deal and you’re welcome, just don’t drown yourself in the coffee in here, okay? The people working here are a good team that we’ve hired and know their stuff. All affordable prices too; not as pricey as some.”

“Yes, I can see that,” she replied as she looked back over her shoulder. “It’ll be difficult to keep the prices this low however. Importing coffee beans of this quality isn’t cheap.”

“I have my sources,” Oliver smiled at her. “Don’t worry about it. It’s all legal and it’s all above board. It’s time that we give an example of how Starling City can be a good city again, by making sure that everyone has access to the finer things.”

“You’re too good for me Mr. Queen. Now, would you like me to treat you to a cup from our coffee shop?” she asked, a giddy grin plastered on her face as she looked at the menu, ready to try every blend they offered.

“Certainly,” he smiled at her and got to his feet. “Eduardo, two cups of your finest, please!” He called out as he walked towards the counter and saw the man scurry out from the back with the biggest grin on his face. “I love what you’ve done to the place, well done.”

“Thank you, Mr. Queen,” Eduardo smiled back at him as he selected a few coffee beans to grind. “And for the opportunity.”

“Don’t mention it,” Oliver waited patiently for the coffee and then returned to Bella with the cups. “Eduardo is from Italy and his family was in the coffee business until they ran into some trouble and came here. The Arrow helped them when their trouble had followed them and told me about the potential these people have. When my team suggested we branch out a little, I immediately thought about Eduardo.”

Bella gave him a knowing look and eyed the man behind the counter. “Remind me to thank The Arrow properly later,” she said, raising her cup to her lips to hide the smirk as she met his eyes.

He took a sip of the coffee – he had to admit, it was damn good coffee – and grinned. “We’re going to have so much fun after this coffee. You have no idea what’s going to happen.”

“If you have some locked room with whips and chains somewhere that you haven’t told me about, you and I are having another talk about keeping secrets,” she said before taking her first sip and moaned out. Setting the cup down, she almost slid out of her seat dramatically as she had immediately fell in love with the coffee. “Okay. I have to have that man’s baby for this. Not really, but this is good. Really good.”

“No, it’s not a locked room with whips and chains and-” he raised an eyebrow when she slid out of her chair. “Are you okay?”

“You should have never told me about this place,” her voice came out muffled from under the table as she peered at him over it. “You know that, right?”

“Oh, but I should have, and I did,” Oliver grinned. “It all has to do with self-restraint.”

She glared at him as she pulled herself back up. Rolling her eyes, restraint was a subject of many of their arguments. There were things she was perfectly fine in controlling herself in, but after convincing her to at least give up a portion of her normal caffeine intake, then practically hand her unlimited coffee with a giant red bow, the man had to have lost his mind. “You are freaking crazy, you know that, right? Restraint? Right after you hand me a coffee shop practically gift wrapped? Restraint?!

“See it as a box of chocolate you have to go days with instead of eating it all in one go,” Oliver said amused as he took another sip of his coffee. “I’m mean, yes, I know. You can kill me later.”

“Killing you would do nothing for me tonight,” Bella huffed as she inhaled her cup before drinking from it again, letting out another hum of pleasure. Yes, this would become a regular visit for her. Probably more often than Oliver may like, but she didn’t care.

“But I’m happy that you’re happy with this place,” he said with a nod and took another sip of his coffee before downing his cup entirely. “Ready for the next bit?”

She finished her coffee, though slower as she preferred to savour her drink. When she was finished, she nodded to him. “Alright. I’m kind of afraid to see what else you have planned for this adventure today after this surprise.”

“I’ll give you a hint; I’ve packed our workout clothes in the bike,” Oliver said before he paid for the coffee and said bye to Eduardo.

Looking back at him, the girl felt more than relieved that it wasn’t some extraordinarily spectacular event he was intending on. Bella wrapped her arms around his waist. “You do know that Charlie is out of town this week, right?” she whispered to him.

“Good,” he said as he softly kissed her. “We can continue this day at your place then…” he grinned as he caressed a strand of hair out of her face. “But first, rule breaking. You’re going to love it.”

She pulled back from him as she looked at him peculiarly. One of the things that she learned about him over the months they’d been together was that he valued his routines almost as much as she did. For him to deviate so much, sparked some concern in her. “Oliver? You’d tell me if something was wrong, right?”

“I have an unexpected day off and I want to spend it with my girlfriend. Seeing as I’m never taking you anywhere, I decided to take you places and break the rule of this being your break day since I don’t like doing nothing,” Oliver explained as he looked at her. “You deserve some fun, so why would there be anything wrong?”

Bella shrugged, unsure of the feeling she had been struggling with. “I can’t exactly explain. It just seemed that lately that Felicity had been keeping something from me but with everything going on, I didn’t want to overwhelm her by pressuring her to tell me anything. She just clams up something fierce when I come around and she’s on the computer,” she replied. “I guess I was hoping that you might had known about it.”

Oliver sighed as he tiredly rubbed his hand over his face. “Felicity doesn’t want to bother you with the things she’s doing. She’s keeping a close eye on every single member of the Cullens so we know where they are at all times. Seeing as you get upset because of them, she doesn’t want to bother you with it.”

Sighing, she loosened her hold on him ready to let go, but didn’t quite yet. “I’d rather have been kept in the loop than out. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you all that I can handle it. They mean nothing to me and I would want nothing more than to kick their collective asses if I see them, but that little lecture you’ve beat into me about restraint comes back. I know you trust me in the field with you but I need you to trust me about them now, because right now, out of all of us, I’m pretty much the only one that can guess what they might do, simply because I used to know them once upon a time.”

“I know that, but this isn’t even my call, you know. Felicity just doesn’t want you to get hurt.” He softly kissed the top of her head. “I trust you, Bella. We all trust you. Felicity only wants to protect you,” he smiled at her. “She’s not listening to me about this, but maybe she will listen to you.”

“Sure. When I threaten to take her computer hostage or break it over her head,” she growled.

“No threats. Just normal talk.” Oliver mused. “You can do normal talking, no need to threaten our computer girl.”

“She only listens to anyone when it comes to her computer. You know this Oliver,” she pointed out.

“Not really,” Oliver replied. “She listens to Laurel without Laurel having to tell Felicity she’ll break her computer. Felicity just doesn’t want to listen to me and Diggle because she feels like she needs to mother us.”

Bella blinked at him as she stared at him for a moment. “You really are so oblivious. Laurel has had a standing threat on that computer in the lair for awhile now. I must say that I was really proud and shocked at her that night.”

“Alright, then threaten to cut the internet cable or wreck the internet thing that it comes through,” he grinned. “Computers are expensive to replace, especially ones with her specifications.”

“I have a large bank account. I think I can afford to replace it, but fine. Only cut off her internet access. You promised me a workout Cowboy. Where are we off to next?” she questioned as she pulled him back to the motorcycle.

“Parkour,” Oliver grinned as he grabbed his helmet and put it back on. “I don’t really have to do it but it’s nice to practice some stuff when there’s a mat underneath you.”

She stared at him with an expression of mixed excitement, fascination, and absolute fear. “Really?” she asked in a slight squeak with her anticipation. It had been a routine he’d been reluctant to include her in before because of her unflinching ability to drive herself to exhaustion.

“Yes, however, when I say stop, we’ll stop and no complaining, okay?” She had been taking unnecessary risks sometimes when they were out and the least he could do was to teach her the safe way of doing those unnecessary risks. “Oh, and don’t tell Diggle. He’ll kill me.”

Nodding emphatically, Bella was the epitome of a bobble head doll in her exuberance for the upcoming activities. “I promise! No arguments, no complaining. Our little secret,” she repeated.

He handed her her helmet and then fastened his. “Alright then,” he said as he got on the bike and started it, waiting for her to climb onto it and hold on and sped off towards the gym. He felt giddy by the upcoming activity as it was simply so much fun to do. Exhausting but fun and he loved her enthusiasm. Maybe, if today went well, they could do it again. But that was a maybe still.

He parked the bike near the gym and removed his helmet. “Okay. So, we’ll have the gym to ourselves. I called them up and said that you were going to show me some moves because you ntthink it might come in handy should Diggle not be around and I need to make a quick getaway. We won’t have any onlookers either.” He then saw the look on her face, like an excited young puppy and he found that so adorable. “You’re so cute,” he grinned and softly kissed her.

Bella wasn’t about to have a chaste kiss for the surprises he showered on her that day and deepened it as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “You really are something else Oliver,” she murmured once she finally pulled back for oxygen. Tracing her finger over his lip, she smiled up at him, “I think I have something special at home to thank you properly tonight.”

~o.O.o~

Bella handled herself pretty well during their parkour fun once she got over the initial anxiety of just trusting the body to fall where it should. As suspected, after their hour and a half of fun, she had started showing signs of exhaustion while pushing herself further and he wasn’t going to have any of that. He told her to stop and then carried her to the showers to take a shower. Since it wasn’t allowed for two people sharing a shower, he quickly refreshed himself while waiting for her to come out of the locker room. “Coffee?”

She sighed at the thought, and shrugged. “We can make it at the house. We’ve been out all day and I think since you made me stop, it would be a good idea to spend the rest of the evening inside.”

Oliver smiled as he handed her her helmet for the last time and drove them home, easily zig-zagging through traffic, reaching home faster than would they have been in a car. He stopped in front of the mansion and turned off the ignition before getting his helmet off. “You’re sure your dad is out of town?”

“Positive. He left for a two week business trip to London on Friday,” she smirked as she set her helmet aside and maneuvered herself between his legs as he climbed off. Running her hands down his back, they traveled further until they grabbed his ass as she grinned more broadly. “The house is entirely mine. I even gave the cleaning staff the rest of the week off…”

“Okay…” he said as he put his arms around her with a wicked smile on his face. “What rooms do we still need to defile?”

Laughing, she pulled him in for a heated kiss, practically gluing her body to his. “Too many,” she mumbled around his lips as her hands moved to begin pulling his shirt from where it was neatly tucked into his pants, eager for their night alone.

He lifted her up in his arms as they stumbled towards the house and managed to open the door without breaking the kiss. He kicked the door shut and set off to one of the many rooms they still had to claim as theirs.

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