Letting Go - Chapter 12

“Where are you going?” Oliver muttered as he followed Laurel’s car. He’s been tailing her for almost an hour, and she didn’t give any inclination of stopping. They’d left the interstate and were driving through rural country which meant he’d have to stop soon or risk her spotting him.

Just as he was contemplating abandoning the mission, she finally turned onto a dirt road leading toward what looked like a large barn.

He ditched the car in a copse of trees down the road and approached the barn on foot, thankful for the cover the thick forest on this particular side of the structure provided. He passed a ‘Private property-trespassers will be prosecuted’ sign and wondered at its significance. It was a barn, wasn’t it? And why did the view of the sign make him think the owner meant something else for the last word? Like ‘trespassers will be sorry’.

The structure, as he stood at the back wall, was built in concrete and then covered with timber to give it a barn-like look. It also made it rather easy to climb toward the windows at the top.

One look inside confirmed the not-barn theory. It was a gym. Half of the floor was covered with mats, the other with an intricate obstacle course up to the high ceiling and one side of the gym turned into a climbing wall with very sparse handholds.

“What the hell?”

The interior of the structure looked like a compact military training facility. What was Laurel doing here?

At the moment, rhythmically punching air, her movements quick, contained, and fluid, her feet constantly moving, keeping her balance. She looked magnificent. And sexy as hell in tight black yoga pants and an even tighter tank top. Her feet and hands were bare, her wrists still bandaged.

His heart stopped when a man approached her from behind, his intent clear. Damn it, why didn’t she hear the guy? Then Oliver noticed the ear buds. She probably had her music at full blast. He contemplated the quickest entry through the window when the man attacked her. And Oliver’s mouth dropped open as she dropped her attacker in a heartbeat, the movement so fast the fight was over before it had seemingly started.

She grinned down at the man, and Oliver frowned. She obviously knew him. And the man who was on his feet a second later and went on the attack again. As Oliver watched, the two combatants sparred, constantly changing sides from attacker to ‘victim’. The fights were short, the movements lightning fast and sparse, yet from his perch up on the window, he could see each of the moves could inflict damage to the opponent. It could, because the two weren’t going for the truly vulnerable spots like the throat, nose and eyes. They also refrained from grabbing fingers, kicking the knees, and, in Laurel’s case, kicking the groin.

However, that didn’t mean they were pulling punches.

Oliver gritted his teeth as Laurel received a vicious open-handed chop to the kidney, but instead of doubling-up in pain and going down, she returned the favor with a open-handed shot to the solar plexus that sent her opponent staggering back as air rushed from his lungs.

Oliver grinned. He didn’t get off on violence, but watching Laurel fight like that sent blood coursing through his veins as his imagination kicked into higher gear. Visions of the two of them sparring, of feeling her sweat-drenched body move against his, how he’d pin her under him...Catch her lips with his, lick the sweat off her throat as she writhed under him no longer trying to escape...

His pants suddenly got too tight. It was time to think of something else.

He couldn’t not think of Laurel, so he turned his mind toward the obvious question. Why was she keeping all this a secret? Because there had been no mention of her having such extensive training in all the time he’s been back in the city. And why hadn’t she used her training before when she’d been in trouble. Sure she’d pulled off some fancy moves from time to time, but still.

Why was she hiding her training? Why was she keeping it a secret? And who was the guy who sparred with her?

Jealousy reared its ugly head as the man in question gently lifted her bandaged wrists for closer inspection. She shook her head and smiled reassuringly. And then said something that made her companion utter something akin to a curse and draw her into his embrace. She went willingly, and Oliver felt his heart stutter.

Because she let the man hold her with care, with tenderness as he ran his palm up and down her spine in a soothing motion, while she’d only let Oliver hold her in passionate frenzy the night he’d gone to her apartment hoping he wasn’t too late.

She hadn’t let him be tender that night, make love to her like he wanted to, like he’d dreamed about for the five hellish years he’d been gone. She’s been wild and frenzied, demanding he go fast and hard...It had been only later, when she’d fallen asleep beside him, that he could hold her close, brush his fingers softly over her skin, kiss her tenderly.

She hadn’t let him hold her with love and tenderness, yet she allowed that stranger to embrace her gently. Which meant she trusted that man more than she trusted Oliver. He admitted she had good reasons for that mistrust, yet it still hurt. It hurt watching some other man do—have—what Oliver wanted.

So before he could do something, he’d regret, he quickly and silently dropped down from his perch and returned to Diggle’s car.

Λ

Laurel lifted her head off Adam’s chest and took a step back. “Sorry about that.”

He shook his head. “Do not worry about it. Are you feeling better now?”

She shrugged. “A little.”

He nodded, and she knew he understood. Better than anyone. “It will get better, you know that. Taking a life is not a light matter, it stays with you.”

“I know. It does.”

He sighed as they both thought of that day, long past, when she’d first used her training as a deadly weapon. She’d had no choice then either. But it weighted on her still. It always will.

She admired Adam Bachman in that context. He’d taken numerous lives, had been trained to, had had to, yet he’d stayed ‘sane’, normal, not letting those souls affect his life. That didn’t mean he was remorseless, that he had no feelings. He felt, deeply, and the dead weighted on him. Nevertheless, he functioned, had an ordinary life—as normal a life as a former IDF commando could have—had befriended her, helped her to channel her anger into honing her body, her skills, taught her to use her body as a deadly weapon when need arose.

And taught her that fighting, killing was not the answer. That deadly force should be used only in extreme circumstances. In true life-and-death situations. That’s why she kept training the not-so-deadly martial arts as well as Krav.

“Remember what I said, Dinah.”

She smiled. He was the only one who used her first name. He claimed it was easier to pronounce. And he was right. Her middle name always sounded a little French when he said it, since he’d never gotten rid of the accent that was a dead giveaway he wasn’t a native.

“Compartmentalize. That is the key. Sometimes, there is no other choice but kill, and you cannot let that define you, shape you, or cripple you.”

“What if there was a choice? What if I made the wrong decision?”

“There were two of them. He had a gun. She had a knife. There was another hostage.” He placed his hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eye. “One threat had to be neutralized as soon as possible to prevent harm to the hostage.”

She breathed deeply, remembering the fear on Felicity’s face.

“You did what you had to do, Dinah,” Adam said forcefully.

She smiled sadly. He was right. She’d done what she had to. Perhaps killing the man hadn’t been the correct choice, maybe she could’ve broken a few bones and render him unconscious, but then she’d had her back to him the entire time she’d aimed her gun at Helena Berinelli. Who knew what the man could’ve done if she’d let him live?

She sighed. What was done was done. She had yet another ghost to keep her company. And if she took her sister’s offer, the collection was bound to get bigger. She’d deal with it when and if the time came.

“Have you learned anything?”

Adam’s expression turned grim. “I have.” He walked to the edge of the mats and picked up the folder he’d dropped earlier. Handed it to her. “League of Assassins, also known as the League of Shadows or Society of Shadows. Mostly guns for hire, specializing in assassinations and terrorism, although my source suspects they sometimes have their own agenda. The base of operations is somewhere in the Himalayas. The leader is Ra’s as Ghul. He is an enigma. No photographs exist, and my source believes the original leader is long dead, and the name is passed on to his followers.”

Laurel quickly scanned the file. It wasn’t much, no photos, no locations, mostly just rumors, speculation, and hearsay. However, she trusted Adam’s source and his or her information.

“If your sister is truly one of them—”

“Was,” she corrected.

Adam shook his head. “You do not leave the League. Not alive, Dinah.”

She remembered what Sara told her that first day. “There’s only one way you leave the League.”

“They will come for her,” Adam said. “Be ready.”

Ready for anything.


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