The morning after the grand re-opening of Verdant, Bella had decided to go out for breakfast on her way into work, stopping at a coffee shop uptown near the estate. Grabbing the morning paper, she ordered her coffee and bagel and paid before making her way to the side to wait, finally opening the pages to catch the headlines and nearly choking on her saliva.
Glancing around the room in her ire, she could see the college and high school aged girls whispering as they giggled, likely about the article and pictures, but she shook her head as she flipped through the pages to read what the reporters had to say.
“Mother fucker,” she muttered as she pressed her eyes closed, her hands tightening around the newspaper as it crinkled in protest. When her order was called out, Bella quickly grabbed it and ran out to make her escape to the office to see what kind of damage control she might be able to do, if any, on this problem.
Granted, for the club, this was a good thing, but personally for her, she absolutely was not pleased to be linked to another man even in the slightest romantically. Especially to an asshole such as Oliver Queen. She couldn’t help the stray thought about restricting usage of cameras inside the club, even from cell phones but even she knew she wouldn’t be able to make it hold and keep the business ratings high.
She was even tempted to call Oliver to see if he had read the paper yet himself, but she resisted. It might lead to questions about what occurred after she left and with her running into the hooded vigilante, she wasn’t particularly in the sharing mood for information about her personal life. While this supposed hero might be trustworthy in theory, with her secret, she couldn’t even bring herself to tell her own father about the fact that she was unable to be injured in any way. All those trips to the emergency room for his piece of mind was a waste of time and resources for the doctors growing up, but she knew she could never say anything for fear of being feared.
By the time Bella reached her office, there was a small group of reporters gathered outside the door making her scowl in displeasure. One of her security officers met her at her driver’s door to escort her inside, giving her a brief report along the way.
“Morning, ma’am,” Derek, one of her favorites greeted. “They’ve been waiting since 0500 roughly and we’ve been unable to deter them. You also have a visitor waiting in your office. Since they’ve seen his arrival – they’ve absolutely refused to leave.”
“I think I have an idea of who it is,” Bella grumbled, letting him pull her past the reporters who were throwing out questions to her about her relationship with Oliver Queen which only made her face red with anger.
Making her way into her office, she brushed past the man as she not so gracefully dumped her coat on her chair and set her coffee on her desk. Pacing the floor a few times, she finally turned to him as she fixed him with an icy glare, she gritted her teeth before turning away again, only feeling angered all over from reading the article.
He hadn’t gone back to the apartment the previous night and instead had slept at Verdant. Mostly it was because he didn’t want Roy to clean up the mess all by himself and the few waitresses that were left. After the task, he sent everyone home, closed up and settled on the field bed in the basement – only to be awoken a few hours later by an ecstatic Felicity, who was jumping all over the place.
“Remind me to restrict your caffeine intake,” he had gruntled at her when she handed him a cup of coffee and she politely waited until he had fully woken up. Oliver didn’t like hearing what she had to say. There were pictures of him and Bella in the papers – which was no big deal – but the message that came with those pictures, Starling City’s Most Eligible Bachelor Off The Market! – amongst others – was a big deal. He could not deal with this.
Yes, this kind of publicity was great for the club. Yes, it would be good to be seen with her for Queen Consolidated. However, seeing as they were both in the public eye now, it made things very difficult for him to just sneak away like he usually did when the Arrow was needed and he did not want to give up that. It was an extra risk he didn’t want to work around.
He was fuming by the time Diggle arrived to take him to the office as Laurel had sent him text messages about the coverage and instructed the man to take him to Bella’s office instead; which was only a short ride. Felicity told him to get cleaned up before he left, however, so after a quick shower and a clean suit, he was on his way.
His exit from Verdant was a lot easier than getting into the building of Swan Security as there were reporters waiting for her. No doubt they were posting outside Queen Consolidated too and even though he had a pretty good handle on his anger thanks to his time on the Lian Yu and his experience as the Arrow, he just couldn’t have a smile appear on his face as he exited the car. He wanted to hit every single one of the reporters, but he was Oliver Queen, he had Diggle to shove them out of the way.
Oliver had to admit, her staff was incredible and didn’t want to let him into her office, but just as he was about to start raging, they let him through. Probably because one reporter had managed to follow them in and they didn’t want him to cause a scene. Waiting for her was agony. Diggle kept a watchful eye, but his mouth shut, mostly because Oliver was ready to explode.
When she finally entered, he could see she was just as pissed off as he was, and he felt his anger get a bit less, there was no need to be angry for two when she appeared to be even worse than he was.
When she didn’t speak, he decided to begin. “I can’t use this.”
Bella turned to him with a raised eyebrow, questioningly. “Can’t use what Queen?” she asked, also noticing his friend with him at the same time with a glance and nod of acknowledgment. “Because right now, I’m trying to think of some kind of damage control for this mess but am failing to come up with anything past to just play into their fucking game – which I don’t like for the record.”
“How about we ignore it until it goes away?” Oliver offered, it usually worked for things like this, didn’t it? He could see why blatantly denying it would only put more fuel on the fire and if they’d be seen in public together it would be the same. “Being linked to each other might do both our businesses some good.”
She eyed him like he was the biggest idiot that walked into her office – and he probably was at the moment. “That might have worked if you decided not to make a personal appearance here this morning. Your coming here only confirms their beliefs or are you that much of an idiot to not have considered that? What? Was picking up the phone too difficult for you? I believe I had told you last night that we would have all business conducted through our contacts for the club since you don’t give a damn about anyone else but your own opinion and intend on buying me out first chance you get. It’s your club. I get it. It’s only my money that helped get it open again for you, not that it matters any or that I know a thing or two about business you pompous jackass.”
A knock on the door interrupted them as Derek stuck his head in. “My apologies ma’am. Mr. Swan is on line two for you and said that it is important,” he announced, making her sigh. Bella knew that it really wasn’t and that he just wanted to rant about the article himself as he must have just woken up to get the paper delivery at the mansion. Reaching back on her desk, she lifted the phone and pressed the extension.
“Swan,” she answered, rubbing at her eyes, suddenly grateful for not bothering with any makeup that morning. She was quiet as he went off on his tirade, but it made the morning gossip on the television that he had caught while getting ready for the day. “Dad – it’s not true. You really think that after everything I would honestly — ugh — Even if I was — God! I would trust Laurel but I wouldn’t do that again after last time. No. Just don’t. No. There’s no need to kill him Daddy. He didn’t do anything, yet. If he did, I’m sure I can take care of matters myself. Go fishing. I love you too. Bye now.”
Oliver was slightly amused by the phone call and he had to admit, maybe he was too overprotective over Verdant – or Queen Consolidated, for that matter – but after what happened with Slade, Isabel Rochev and Queen Consolidated, he had every right to be. It was only because he initially thought that the money to fix Verdant’s basement came from Laurel, that he was in this mess in the first place. Laurel he could trust – Bella probably too but that remained to be seen.
“You’re absolutely right, of course,” Oliver said eventually, he’d been called worse names than that and she needed an outlet for her anger too. “And just so you know, I have informed the manager of Verdant about what you said last night and he agrees, so all the changes will be implemented.”
Bella nodded silently as she leaned back against her desk, almost in a reflection of their position the night before as she eyed him with caution. She truly never felt so uncontrolled of a situation as she did not as the man was an unknown factor in everything. His years away was a mystery and her cousin admitted as much that it did change him, but did not clarify to her just how.
“As for this mess,” he said, gesturing to her and himself, “I suppose it could be worse. Let them make up their stories. As long as we and our friends and family really know what’s going on, it shouldn’t matter.”
She remained silent as she considered it and slowly nodded after a few moments. “I can’t be seen with any of you then. Sadly, not even my cousin because she spends so much time around you. I’ll have to speak to her,” she sighed as she turned away to start sifting through the papers on her desk. “I’ll call and explain the situation to Laurel so you don’t have to. I’m sure you’re jumping for joy at my attending functions at the club any longer to instigate any possible curiosity from the media for you.”
“Don’t let this restrict your connections to your family or your responsibilities to the club,” Oliver sighed. “This will go away, but it doesn’t mean that we have to disrupt our lives to avoid exposure.”
“No. This is about trust and you don’t trust me,” Bella announced as she looked up at him, dead in the eye. “Which is fine because frankly I don’t trust you. I do trust Laurel to an extent but I haven’t been close to her since we were children. Too much has changed, too much has happened over the years that I can’t share with her. I don’t want her to get hurt by whatever may come out of this this media circus and keeping my distance will protect her and the rest of the family from that. I’ve been here before already. History just repeats itself over and over again. I won’t shirk my responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be there. You need something for the club, send me the invoice and it’s done. I’m just tired of all of this,” she said wearily, and probably revealing a little more of her true loneliness in her life than she realized.
Oliver didn’t say anything right away as he realized that underneath that tough exterior there was a broken, or at least bruised, young woman. What he was going to say next was something that had to count, something she could find herself in, at least just a little, just as he had with her words. “I do trust Laurel. She might have her flaws, just like you and I, but she is a good friend. Hell, I don’t even deserve her friendship, her trust, as I have hurt her due to my own irresponsibility in the past.”
He then paused, thinking of his next words and he swore he could hear Diggle hold his breath, anticipating Oliver’s behavior. Bella had shared something personal, and to open up possibilities, so should he. “It is difficult for me to trust people, mostly due to my past experiences. However, if we allow the past to hold us back in the present, what kind of world would that be? When I came back from that island, I didn’t trust anyone. The people that cared kept coming back to me, much to my annoyance, but for my own good. If I hadn’t changed the way that I was, I’d still be the savage that that island turned me into. Let’s make Verdant and our trust in Laurel be something we can work with, a common ground. You are not alone in this and neither am I. I am not the bad guy. If you get to know me, you’ll find that I am quite harmless.” he then pointed at Diggle. “Which is why I have him.”
Oliver genuinely smiled at her, it wasn’t the smile he reserved for situations where he had to be this fake image, but his own, it even reached his eyes. “Let’s take this mess and make it into an opportunity. Let’s get to know each other and learn to trust each other.”
Bella watched him carefully and while she couldn’t help but believe a part of what he said as truth, he was like her and held back secrets. “All of a sudden you want to hold hands and braid each other’s hair? What do you want from me? Because since I agreed to help you, I haven’t asked or expected anything but cooperation from you. Just offered my help the only way that I was able to but you are the one that threw up those walls. You really can’t expect me to be less than suspicious of the sudden change of heart here.”
Oliver sighed deep and nodded, realizing she doesn’t forgive easily. “I know and I apologise for being an ass. That wasn’t fair towards you and I should have known better. It’s just that last year, I had someone invest into Queen’s Consolidated and for a while I had lost my company and most of my resources. I am very protective of what’s mine. I was, and still am I suppose, afraid that you’d do the same.”
“I read about that mess. It wasn’t like you had any control over that situation when she rolled into town either. The difference though is the history and reputation. Hers was just that, hostile takeovers. I don’t care for that. I have no interest in taking over someone else’s company when I have my own that is thriving just fine on its own. If you had taken five minutes to look into my records, you would have seen that any company I’ve assisted in the same manner was returned to its owners after it was in the black for a solid year. No buy out needed. Did you take those five minutes, or even had your assistant – what was her name? Felicity? You could have had her do the leg work, or let her speak for more than a minute of the immediate details before cutting her off, which I’m sure you did before walking away, not wanting to hear something that you were afraid of hearing,” Bella responded with.
Running a hand through her hair, she shook her head. “But you are right about one thing. We probably did get off on the wrong foot and a fresh start might be a good idea, though it would be difficult with all of this looming over everything. We won’t be able to run from it and I can assure you from experience, they won’t let us try to hide either.”
“Then let’s not hide. Let’s go for lunch, dinner or a museum together. For them a date, for us an opportunity to get to know each other. Sure, it will be something we’d have to fit into our busy schedule, but why not?”
Bella looked at him like he just sprouted two heads from his shoulder. “You’re seriously asking me for a date?!” she practically screeched in disbelief as she scrambled to get as far away from him in the office as she could.
“Not a date. I don’t do dates. But like you said, there’s no hiding from this. Let’s give them what they want without giving them what they want. They’ll leave us alone eventually and we can go back to our lives.”
“Well what you just fucking described sounds a lot like a fucking date!” she pointed out to him hysterically, probably to his friend’s amusement.
“I. Don’t. Do. Dates.” Oliver repeated slowly, though it sounded hollow even to him.
“Then we don’t need to go out,” Bella said almost as slowly, calming down with some relief, but for some odd reason, a sense of disappointment was sitting deep inside her that was pissing her off.
“I have been here before, you know, before the island. They were tying me to girls I didn’t know or they blew something up that was completely innocent. If we do what they expect us to do, they’ll get bored and leave us alone.” Oliver hadn’t moved an inch in his seat, neither had Diggle from his position by the door. She obviously had something going on that spooked her when he suggested his idea. Probably something to do with her ex-boyfriend, but he wasn’t going to pry and he was going to tell Felicity to stop digging. “I won’t kiss you, I will not touch you.”
Bella nodded but was still not liking the whole going out idea. “I guess we can figure something out, but start slower. Somewhere less public until I’m sure that I can deal with you in front of all of them without wanting to knock some teeth out – yours or theirs.”
Oliver chuckled and nodded. “If you’ve figured out where, let me know. I’ll have you take the lead on this, okay?” He got to his feet and didn’t move towards her, she still looked like a deer caught in headlights. “Feel free to ask Laurel all about me and once again, I am sorry that we got off on the wrong foot yesterday. Have a good day, Miss Swan. I think it’s time I deal with the board members about the stories in the papers.” He had felt his phone constantly vibrate in his pocket, no doubt it were the board members. Or Laurel. Or Felicity, even. He hoped it would be Thea. He left his card on the chair with his phone number on it and left her office.
Bella only moved after the two left the office to pick up the card, hesitating to add the information to her cell phone. She considered forwarding her information to him but decided to wait. Collapsing into her chair, she closed her eyes as she feared what this new truce would bring to her life as she continued to lie to herself. Her mind shifted to the thoughts of another man from the night before, but wasn’t sure what to make of the local hero. While she was sure they may have been cut of a similar cloth, she was hesitant to trust the masked man with the secret he was obviously observant enough to catch in the excitement of the fight. It also made her wonder if he might have the capabilities to help her find answers about this so called gift. Between Oliver and this hero, she was confused more than anything.
Once in the safety of the car, Diggle started to laugh as they drove away towards Queen Consolidated. Oliver frowned, he thought he had handled it all very well. He had managed to freak the woman out, but also managed not to have it escalate. He had treated her better than the night before, why was Diggle laughing so much? “What?” Oliver asked annoyed after five minutes. He really didn’t stop, did he?
“Is she? I hadn’t noticed.”
Diggle shot his friend a look through the rearview mirror. “I can’t believe you said that with a straight face. She looked sizzling hot yesterday and that business suit today – wow.”
“I’m sure Felicity can find her phone number for you, Dig.”
“She thinks you’re hot too,” he said after a while to remind him what Laurel said, not believing that Oliver missed the look on Bella’s face when he said that he didn’t do dates. “I think she was looking forward to go on a date with you.”
“I think you missed the part where she didn’t know how fast she had to get away from the desk to put as much distance between us than necessary.”
“This is a business arrangement, Diggle. Not anything else,” he said annoyed, looking out the window, setting his jaw in frustration. He didn’t know what was worse; the media thinking that he and Bella were an item or his friend thinking that he should go for it.
They drove for awhile in complete silence and Oliver saw that Diggle was growing anxious over something and knew that he wasn’t going to be quiet for long. “You really need to stop that, you know. Just because I’m saying something you don’t want to hear, doesn’t mean that it’s not true.”
He opened his mouth to deny it but didn’t really know what to say. Diggle was right. Whenever things hit too close to home, he shut down. Thing was though, Bella was attractive, yes. She was probably as damaged as him, or maybe even more, and he should cut her some slack. Oliver had done just that; he had spoken to her as Oliver, not as Mr. Queen, the entitled asshole. He had opened up to her because she had done it too; but that did not mean that they had to get together. He didn’t need a relationship. He didn’t want to date. He was fine on his own because that meant that one less person would be hurt when things would go as bad as last year.
“We’re all thinking that you’ve had enough alone time, Oliver,” Diggle’s voice sounded softer. “You’ve been alone long enough, you need to stop hiding. We all have needs.”
“I can’t date anyone, Diggle. They’ll only end up getting hurt, or frustrated because I run out on them all the time because other people need me.” Then again, Bella had this weird ability that kept her safe from bullets, so maybe she’d be fine. But that was a big maybe.
“I think she could use someone in her life that’s like you. You’ve been where she is right now.”
As I told her, I’ve only come this far because of people like you who didn’t stop coming to me when I pushed you away.”
“Then be that annoying person for her. That woman is frightened, she’s scared of something and she needs saving. And she doesn’t need the Arrow, she needs a person.”
“Can we just… not talk about her?”
Diggle snorted. “Yeah, I think that for now, you’ve had enough. Wait until Felicity gets her hands on you when I tell her what happened.”
After placating the board members and signing a bunch of paperwork in his office that unfortunately took the rest of the day due to constant interruptions, he went to the hideout in Verdant and really hoped there was something going on so he could fight some people. Oliver was itching for a fight and he just needed to be alone, gone, vanish.
As he was suiting up, Felicity came in with dinner. “Oh no, you’re not going out without having had something to eat. Diggle said you haven’t eaten all day.”
“I’m fine,” Oliver grunted as he zipped himself up.
Felicity started to unpack the food that she had delivered from some new place called Alfredo’s. She had taken the large salad that easily served four, a nice, spicy pasta dish that sounded too good to be true, and figuring that Oliver needed more comfort food, a huge steak and baked potato. “You’re going to eat or I’ll have Roy put an arrow through your leg.”
“Actually, he would. And he could. You’ve trained him well,” she pointed to the plate of food. “Sit down and eat, Ollie. You’ll feel better.” She opened a bottle of water for him and crossed her arms over her chest while looking at him and waiting. If there was one thing she had learned from the past year, she had learned that Oliver didn’t like it when people looked at him for a very long time and he’d either bolt or do as he was told. In a way, he was like a small child sometimes.
Oliver sat down with a sigh and started to eat and much to his surprise, it tasted phenomenal.
Breaking the silence, Felicity grinned. “I got an email from Barry and he told me to congratulate you for landing such a catch.”
Remind me to strangle him next time I see him.”
“If you can catch him,” she replied as she sat down in a chair opposite of her friend. “How does it taste?”
“It’s really good,” Oliver smiled at her as he handed her a fork. “Try it.”
She reached for his plate and got something on her fork before taking a bite. It was hard not to moan as it was truly delicious and she wondered why had it taken so long for this chain to open in Starling City. “Wow,” she said with a full mouth. “Hey, if it tastes this good delivered, it should definitely taste better at the restaurant.”
“Yeah, probably,” Oliver said with a nod.
“You should take Bella.”
“I’m just saying! If you two are really going to do this media walk, then you should take her to Alfredo’s. They deserve the clientele your appearance will bring them.”
He looked up when the door opened and groaned when Laurel stepped through the door. There was no way he was going to get away now, she had this determined look upon her face and she’d kill him if he’d run away for no reason. All of a sudden, his plate filled with food was looking even more delicious than it already was and the coming conversation was not going to be a good one.