“Wow, Ollie. First me, then my sister and now my cousin? You really like the women in our family, don’t you?” Laurel remarked as she held up the paper. She wasn’t angry, not really. She had been practicing that line all day and had wanted it to sound genuine, not rehearsed in the slightest.
“I am not dating your cousin,” he said as he continued to stuff his mouth.
“No, you stop it.” Laurel hit Oliver on the head with the paper as Felicity made sure she had something to do on the computer. “I swear, Ollie, if you’re going to hurt her…”
“I’m not!” He furiously pushed his plate away from him and looked at Laurel. “I am tired of you three ganging up on me about this. Nothing has happened or will happen, okay? Bella and I will handle this.”
Laurel looked over at Felicity and frowned. “Can you give us a few? I need to tell him some things that I really don’t want other people knowing yet without my cousin’s permission.”
“Oh,” Felicity said a bit disappointed. “Oh, oh! Okay,” she then smiled and took her tablet. “Permission to sit in your office upstairs? The club is a bit noisy to work in.”
“Yeah, go ahead. Don’t make a mess,” Oliver sighed as he opened his shirt, this was going to be a long night and he wouldn’t get a chance to flee. He kicked off his boots and tried to relax in his chair when Felicity was making her way upstairs.
Laurel sighed as she pulled a chair over and looked at her friend. “Bella is – a difficult person. She had it rough since high school but she did what she could. She used to date someone very much like you used to be but when he dumped her, something snapped inside her. She changed into this person, Oliver. Granted, it’s good for her to be strong, but she also doesn’t let anyone in anymore either. Not even family. If she is making even the slightest sign that she might let you in, then I’m happy if you are willing to give her a chance. A chance, Oliver. Not a marriage proposal.”
“Dig said something along those lines as well. But why me, Laurel? I can’t — I mean, what if — What if I, no, the Arrow, gets her into trouble, huh?”
“Why not you? And from what Dad tells me, Bella can take care of herself. Maybe she just need some extra training to get up to your level, which I’m sure you can help her with,” she grinned knowingly, sending him a wink.
“I don’t need extra people on the team, Laurel,” Oliver said with an indulgent smile and sighed. “But you’re right, it would be nice to have someone on the outside.” He pulled his plate of food back to him. “So, any ideas on how I should approach this?” Why was he even doing this? Because Laurel asked him to? Just like that?
“Ask her on a date,” she said obviously. “Are you really that much of an idiot? Never mind, don’t answer that. But back to that comment about the team. While I think it would be great, it would have to be her choice and after you feel that you can trust her. She has a lot of hurt in her that needs healing before she can trust us.”
Sighing, the man glared up at her in warning. “Is there any more you need to get off your chest?”
“Don’t be an idiot. You may be the Arrow but my cousin can still be damn scary when she’s pissed off. Just don’t hurt her like the men before. That’s why she acted like a bitch to you last night you know. She was attracted to you and with your history, she didn’t want to get close. It’s her typical M.O.”
“I have a great record when it comes to women. Somehow I end up hurting every single one of them. So why are you so sure I won’t do the same to her?”
“Because…” Laurel smiled at him. “You’re ready. You’re at a point where you are ready. You may not see it yet, but you are, trust me. That, and you don’t want to hurt us again.”
He sat there for awhile, mulling over what she said. He was irritated that she was right and eventually caved. “Alright,” Oliver said with a smile on his face and put up his hands as if he was surrendering. “I’ll try to ask her out again.”
She looked back at him confused. “What? Wait. Again?” she questioned in a quiet and dangerous tone. “What did you do Oliver?”
“When I saw the news this morning about us, I went to her office to try to see what we can do about it but there was press already waiting there so I am afraid I only stirred the pot on that account. Anyway, I told her that for all of this to go away, we’d give them what they want without actually giving them what they want; go out to lunch together, dinner or whatever, and get to know each other that way. It sent her bolting across the office.”
Laurel blinked slowly as she tried to picture the scene before laughing like crazy. “Wow. Okay, just wow. Next time, try asking her without anyone around or right after a media circus breathing down your necks. You can’t blame the girl for being skittish when she was hit with all that in one morning. Luckily she had a quiet night after she left the club early so that might work in your favor of you try calling her tonight… ”
Oliver shook her head. “Not such a quiet night. After she left, she didn’t wait for a car so…” He shrugged and pointed at his outfit. “She put up a fight, I helped.”
“Seriously? Damn. The girl is a walking danger magnet. For all the crap she attracted over the years, it’s a wonder how she’s not dead, ” Laurel said shaking her head as she went to start cleaning up.
“As you said, she can defend herself,” Oliver mused and stopped Laurel from packing things up. “I’m going to eat this all, cold or not, and I will go home to get some sleep myself.”
“Right,” she said suspiciously but left him to whatever he was up to. “Talk to you later.”
Almost as soon as Laurel left, Felicity returned, hoping to find something from their conversation lingering for her to pick up. “Hey. Is there anything you need me to do?” she asked casually, looking around.
“Nope,” he said as he packed up the food and smiled. “Thanks for the food. Go home.”
“You sure?” she asked confused as she was normally working the computers. A night off sounded good, but still…
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he said as he stripped himself from his outfit and got back into his clothes. “Even I am going home. I’m going to have a good night sleep, hopefully.”
Felicity nodded but like Laurel, wasn’t sure about him telling the truth about his intentions. She left without anymore objections, calling her friend once in the safety of her car to share theories but neither one was able to come up with a reasonable idea of what the man might be doing.
He understood why his friends didn’t believe him when he said he was going home; he was never there and barely slept and yes, he was certain that if was going to try to sleep, that he’d wake up after an hour or two and he’d be fully awake. But he wasn’t going to jump roofs and run around with a hood on his head either, not after having pigged out on the food that Felicity had given him – the traitor.
Oliver had things to take care of for Verdant; order extra cameras, training manuals for the staff and stuff like that. He was going to double check everything. Of course, he could go and talk to Bella, but, after today, maybe it was best to leave it for now. He switched off the lights of the basement and went upstairs.
It was a weekday night and yet, the club was packed to the rafters; he spotted a handful or two of reporters in the celebrating crowd as well and quickly made his way over to the stairs, nodding to Roy as a greeting. Not going home and showing his face in the club had been a bad decision.
He had sent Diggle home after he had dropped him off and there was no way that Oliver could go out in front and get a taxi home. Retreating back to the basement, he got into his suit and escaped. He was going back to the apartment, change clothes and then he was going to get some more of Alfredo’s and bring it to his old house; a peace offering of a sort, if she accepted. All the jumping and running would empty his stomach anyway.
Oliver drove himself to his old house; no matter what people would say, he’d still think of it as his old house. There were a lot of memories in there and sadly, a lot of bad ones as well. No, it had been good to shed it, it was huge and he was all alone. He had brought a good bottle of wine and picked it up with the food as he left the car. Was she even going to open the door for him?
He hated it how nervous he felt as he walked to the front door, every step feeling as if he was walking to his own execution and that was just stupid. She was a beautiful woman and he was a big guy who could take care of himself, for fucks sake, he was the damn Arrow. Oliver took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.
Bella had been home alone as Charlie decided to take the rest of the week away from the city and media with the drama around her. She couldn’t really blame him for it as it had become their routine. So when the doorbell rang, she hadn’t expected any visitors. Grabbing her gun that she kept in the house, she made her way to the door, peeking through the curtain.
She couldn’t help but to step back in surprise at the unexpected face. Biting her lip she was unsure of what to do at first but finally took a deep breath and slowly opened the door with the hand free from the weapon still held.
“Oliver?” she greeted curiously.
“Hi,” he smiled at her and held up the bottle of wine and the food. “I am really sorry for being a jerk yesterday, for startling you today, and for whatever it is you’ll get angry with me for tomorrow. I also hope you haven’t eaten yet because that would make me look like an idiot.”
Her eyes went from him to the bags and back a few times before she could form any words. “Umm, no. At least nothing that would count for anything,” she admitted as she stepped back and waved him in with her armed hand, swallowing nervously.
He could tell she was nervous and this might have been a bad idea, but he didn’t care. He smiled at her as he took a step inside and was gobsmacked by the transformation. “Wow. I love what you’ve done to the place.”
“Thanks. I tried to keep the original feel of it from Laurels pictures of the house. It helped that you left a lot of the original furniture and artwork,” she explained softly.
“I did. It wouldn’t fit into the apartment anyway,” he grinned. “Did you use anything of it?”
Bella looked back over her shoulder as if in debate with herself before making a decision. “Why don’t you go look around at what I’ve done while I warm the food up and get some wine glasses out?”
“Sure,” he smiled at her and handed her the bag of food. “The food’s from this new place called Alfredo’s, it’s supposedly really good,” he said as he wandered into the living room. For some reason, it looked bigger, more spacious and also a lot warmer than he remembered. The fireplace seemed to stand out but not take any of the focus away from anything else in the room. It was always one of his favorite features and he was glad she hadn’t changed it at all as the wood had been something his father had worked on himself and the area held many memories.
When he was younger, Thea and he would sit in front of that fireplace, in their pyjamas and play. If they tossed a toy into the fire – every child is curious as to how something would burn to a crisp – they’d get scolded at and sent to their room. There was this one time where they didn’t want to play together and they threw in most of their toys, engulfing the living room in a thick black smoke because it was not all wood that they burned. Their mother was mad at them for weeks while their father retreated to his study instead.
The already big windows looked even bigger, he supposed that was just how you dressed something. She had even installed a low window sill in which you could sit and watch the backyard from. It was just beautiful. He recognized a few paintings that he had left, although their old place had been the study or on the walls at the stairs; but how the living room looked now, they looked right where they belonged.
He wasn’t going to venture out of the living room or past the hallway even though she had given him her permission. If there was anything left of the old furniture and she didn’t use it, then maybe they could build a bonfire out of it and burn it all to ash. But if the rest of the house was anything like the living room, she had done a great job.
Bella had welcomed his willingness to look around while she made her escape into the kitchen to put the food into trays and into the oven to warm up. Her mind tried to make sense of this visit after the last two days’ events, making her even more confused about the man.
As she opened the wine and left it on the counter to breathe, she thought about what might be driving the man to come see her twice in one day after she deliberately tried making him hate her to keep him away. That clearly didn’t work so she was lost on the man and his quirks, curious that maybe he was as attracted to her as she was to him. She shook her head from that nonsense, knowing that if she did begin something with him, her father would send her for a psychiatric evaluation.
Huffing to herself from her thoughts, Bella pushed them aside as she opened cabinets, trying to recall where she stored the wine glasses. Being her luck, she found them on the top shelf, and had a hard time struggling to reach them as she begun to climb up on the counter.
Oliver had gone over to the kitchen – he was surprised he could find it as the cook never wanted him in there – as he was wondering what was taking Bella so long and to see her struggle to get wine glasses from the most top shelf of a raised cupboard was just — the sight caused him to stop short. Absolutely breathtaking, he thought. He then remembered what Laurel had said; that Bella was a danger magnet and her climbing on top of the counter counted as a dangerous situation.
“Let me help get that.” In a few strides, Oliver was behind her, careful not to touch her more than necessary in their position. Which was hard – she was so close! He reached over her head for the glasses and set them down on the counter, but decided not to move. He could feel the heat of her body tingling on his skin, almost as if she was setting him on fire and surprisingly, it felt good.
Bella froze, remaining still as she turned her head to eye him in her usual cautious manner. She took in slow, deep breathes to keep herself calm but his scent was both strangely familiar and intoxicating to her. “Thanks,” she murmured after he backed away enough for her to get down but she was unstable and reached out for his shoulder as she made her way down. His body heat burned through her hand as she slowly pulled it away, looking at him again. “So, um, what did you think?”
When she had reached for his shoulder, he stood absolutely still. Laurel would call this progress. He called it pure torture. It was almost like Bella was surrounded by a gravitational axis that pulled him in, but he was not allowed. He didn’t want to overwhelm her. He needed to prove to her that he could be trusted, that he wouldn’t hurt her. Unfortunately, the brief moment of contact had scrambled his head. “Uhm, about what?” Her? Hot and sexy – unfortunately, unavailable at the current moment. He was going to be careful with her.
She canted her head in confusion for a second. “The house?” she asked, almost unsure herself now as she blinked and looked away to clear her head. Bella moved passed him, brushing against him casually in the process, as she went to the oven to pull the food out and mixed it. Silently she got out plates and silverware before pausing. “Where would you like to eat? I had a movie running in the family room if you want to join me?” she offered almost shyly.
“Oh, yes, the house,” he responded and scratched himself behind his head when she moved passed him. “I like it but I’m glad it’s no longer in my hands,” he continued with a smile. Despite not wanting to part with the mansion for sentimental reasons, it had been a good decision anyway, a way to start anew… sort of. He still had to spend a full day in his penthouse apartment. “And it’s me intruding on your night home. If you were watching a movie, then let us continue watch that movie.”
Bella kept an eye on him as she went to plate the food for them and grabbed extra napkins before balancing the dishes in her hands. Nodding towards the glasses and wine, “You mind?”
“No, not at all,” he said as he picked up the glasses and the wine. “Do you need some help with that?” Oliver pointed to the plates of food she was holding and he didn’t want her to fall over – that would be a waste of the food.
“No. I’m good,” she replied easily as she made her way through the halls and back into the room where she had started when he had showed up on her doorstep. Setting the plates down on the coffee table, she grabbed the remote to start the movie she had ordered stop. “Is there anything in particular you prefer? I actually had a run in with Starling City’s own version of a superhero so I had been feeling like a little bit of mocking humor after that, and today. If it’s not your cup of tea – I’m game for something else. I thought I saw what might be a good horror movie on the list.”
“Oh, mocking is good,” Oliver said as he set down the glasses and started to pour the wine. “Did you run in to him or did you get into trouble?” He asked as he sat down on the couch. “Are you alright?”
Bella smiled to herself as she thought about the incident and shrugged. “Depends on how you look at it I suppose. It was after I left the club last night,” she replied with a shrug. She looked up at him with a teasing grin. “A couple of idiots thought I was an easy target. They were wrong,” she ended in a sing-song voice.
Oliver was quiet for a moment, humoured by her apparent carelessness. Yes, she could take care of herself – he had witnessed it in first hand, but it was still a bad idea to walk around in the Glades all by yourself, especially when you’re a woman. “There’s a reason why we have a taxi bay in front of Verdant. You know? To drive you home. I thought you were so intent on safety?”
Raising an eyebrow, she smiled. “I know. I was just impatient to get away from the place at the time. You don’t see me blaming you for any of that, do you? I’m not running to my lawyers if that’s what you’re afraid of. I wonder what that guy did with them anyway…”
“What? The Arrow? He has your cousin’s phone number…” Oliver said sheepishly as he looked at her. “Laurel told me.”
“The Arrow? That’s what he calls himself? Huh,” she let out as she turned to the television thoughtfully before picking up the remote to restart Robin Hood: Men in Tights. “So…” Bella started to speak, but was unsure of what to say as she moved his plate beside her on the table so that they could watch the screen. “Laurel and the – Arrow? Do they have a thing or something?”
Men in Tights, seriously? Oliver chuckled as he shook his head. Oh, this was just brilliant. He slinked down to the floor, sitting next to her with his plate and took a sip of the wine. “She tried, I suppose,” he said with a nod. “She certainly does a lot of…” What was that word that Felicity often used? he thought. “Fangirling over the guy.”
“I can definitely see her doing that,” she mused as she went to take a bite of the food. Her eyes slipped over to him as her body grew more aware of his presence. “I could understand the appeal for any woman who may have come into contact. It’s hard not to with the whole mystery hero persona going on. Though, to be honest, he kinda reminded me of some of the men I employ who really just needs to be knocked down a few pegs and reminded he really is just a man who is remarkably skilled with a bow. It’s only what he chose to do with those skills that seems to have gotten to his head. Or at least that’s my opinion. I would happily hire him in a heartbeat. I could use a man like him on my roster. He could even continue moonlighting for all I care with those kind of skills.”
Oliver shrugged as he tucked into his food. “I just see him as a guy who helps to clean up Starling City and that’s one hell of a task, so I applaud him for that.” He could feel the same effect she had on him in the kitchen right now and it really made it hard for him to focus. The food was – once again – delicious and the wine he had chosen absolutely complimented the food. “I’m just curious, what does your company do? Anything like a regular security firm or do you work outside the box?”
She looked up at him and grinned. “Well, I could answer that but I don’t know. Really, we do a variety of duties and the levels vary depending on what the area needs. We do a lot of work in the private sector. Regular contracts for bodyguards and such for celebrities and names. Much like your friend that was with you this morning operates. We’ve also done some government jobs, since we can go into places that their people can’t go as we are civilian. I research the training my people get personally and make sure that they get the best that is available. We all know that not everyone may come back – hazards of the job but I include in all my contracts a compensation package for their families to take care of them that includes a college tuition check for each child they leave behind they receive only when they graduate high school. There is more, but I don’t want to bore you with depressing details like that.”
He listened intensely as he kept eating. When she was finished, he nodded. “It’s not boring or depressing, not at all. It’s good that you’re a good boss, it makes your clients and employees very loyal to you.” He took a sip of his wine and gestured to the tv. “When not watching silly movies, what do you do for fun? To relax?” Oliver was so not good at this, he sounded like a twat.
Bella paused as she ate as she considered his question, trying to think of an answer. “Honestly, not much anymore,” she said quietly. “Before the move, I just stopped going out, got tired of the fakeness of everyone wanting something from me.”
“I can understand that,” Oliver sighed as he gently pushed his now empty plate away from him. Two servings of Alfredo’s in one night? It was going to hurt. He’d be surprised if he didn’t explode. “When I returned from the Island I preferred to be outdoors but not out in the open, lucky for me, this house comes with a lot of ground around it so I just went for runs over the property… until Laurel and Diggle got inside my head and kicked my ass.”
Pushing her own plate aside, she wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her cheek on her knees as she looked at him, taking him in. She could see the tiredness in his eyes and overall expression in his face. It wasn’t just from lack of sleep because she knew it from something being that she was familiar with herself. “What was the island like?” she asked softly.
“Well…” He took a sip of his wine and another one before setting the glass down. How was he going to explain without revealing just how much he had learned there? “The Chinese name for it is Yian Lu, purgatory. The Chinese government used to send their prisoners there so when I stranded, I thought I was alone. I was wrong. The five years I spent there were…” he paused for a moment, trying to find the right word. “Hell. I aligned myself with people who taught me how to take care of myself, taught me different languages and survival and if it wasn’t for the miracle healing herbs growing on that island, I wouldn’t even have made it back.”
Raising her head, she eyed him curiously as she had indeed heard of that island in whispers when she would travel to China for business as she had a contract in the country – not that she advertised that one. “Well, you’re back and safe. That’s what matters, right?” she smiled as she reached over to refill their wine glasses, glancing back at him.
“It depends on how you see that, I suppose,” he said with a slight shrug. “What about your demon then? Why didn’t your father just shoot him?” If he had learned anything from Detective Lance, it was that he was very protective of his girls. No doubt it ran in the family as Bella’s father had moved to Starling City with her.
Confused, she looked at him. “Who are you talking about?”
He smiled at her. “I’m not the only one who’s observant. You called him… Doucheward. Seeing how you reacted this morning to my proposal of how to handle the media attention… I take it that he’s an ex-boyfriend?” He took a sip of the wine. “You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to.”
Awareness filled her as she sat up in amusement. “Ah. Yeah. The asshole that started everything. He had dumped me back in high school in the middle of the woods right when a storm hit. I had gotten lost trying to get home, and was caught in it. Ended up in the hospital for almost two weeks before I heard from his family. When they heard that I had almost died from what happened – of course he had lied about how he left me – they tried to cover it up. We were up to our ears in hospital bills already and I had enough of their crap. The only way I was going to keep my mouth shut was if they gave me his trust fund and anything else I asked for until I graduated college. Then I was free from them. Every now and then I get a call from Daddy Dearest as he tries to sell me his son’s accomplishments, thinking I’d be willing to take him back and maybe one day marry the idiot but they only showed their true colors all those years ago. I keep in touch with his sister though. She was beyond pissed at him.”
He listened to her story and nearly felt his jaw drop to the floor. “Wow, what an asshole!” Now he realised why Laurel said what she had; in the past, he had treated girls he dated like crap but nothing like this. However, he knew a handful of rich kids who did that, and it was not done. Oliver was more of the ‘ignore it and it’ll go away’ type of guy. “I’m sorry that you met someone like him.”
“That’s why I like as much honesty as possible. If someone doesn’t want to be with me, that’s fine. Just say so. Don’t try leaving then crawl back when you realize you’re not going to find someone better. Shit like that only pisses me off more and I am not ashamed to say that I like my revenge. Keep a break up clean and I’m good, just don’t screw with me because I will go for whatever you hold dear. Edward always looked forward to his trust fund. Aaron babied his company. Both became mine,” she smiled.
“So it does run in the family then,” Oliver chuckled as he saw the confused look on Bella’s face. “It’s that Laurel physically couldn’t do it, but she would have had my balls for the stunt I pulled with her and Sara. I was lucky that she only avoided me for a very long time and now she’s a very good friend of mine.”
Pursing her lips, she looked him over, giving him a thorough staredown, but subconsciously – a good eyefucking at the same time. “I’m sure that if she’s got any resentment from that incident, I can get a few shots in myself on her behalf,” she smirked.
What was it with this woman? She was drawing him in – no, reeling him in, as if he was a fish – and there was nothing that could stop it apart from being needed somewhere else. He had subconsciously started to lean into her, and he wanted to pull back, because he was in her personal space, but he was okay where he was, as long as she didn’t say anything… She was in control, it was something she needed – although, Oliver mused to himself, if this was going anywhere, in time, she was going to have to deal with it that he liked to be in control as well. “I could definitely see you try.”
Bella smiled back at him, a glint in her eye as she met his. Breathing in his scent as he was incredibly close, she could feel her eyes begin to drift closed as her face loomed closer to his. Almost as soon as their lips would meet, a crack of thunder rumbled through the house, causing her to jump away as the power cut out in the house. “What the fuck?” she grumbled, pissed off as she jumped to her feet as she nearly knocked their glasses over on the table as she crashed into him solidly.