Letting Go - Chapter 26

John didn’t get it. He simply didn’t get it. Call him stupid, call him an idiot, but he simply didn’t see the point of this test. Or exercise. Or demonstration. Or whatever Oliver called it. Laurel Lance had the freaking League of Assassins gunning for her—they were probably already in the city—and what does Oliver do? He challenges her to a fight.

“Let’s see what you’re made of,” he’d said and she’d accepted.

Not readily, but she had. After a string of poorly thought-out reasons Oliver has spouted. If anyone had asked John for his opinion, he would’ve said it was pure bullshit—that opinion hasn’t changed—but no one had deigned to ask, so he’d kept it shut.

And now here they were, the entire congregation, in this private gym underneath the more public one, owned by a friend of Bachman’s—John wasn’t asking that one either—ready to witness a hand-to-hand combat between former lovers Oliver Queen and Laurel Lance. A fight, John suspected, both would use as a means to get off, to release some pent-up tension, some UST—unrequited sexual tension as Felicity would put it, because they couldn’t do it otherwise. Mostly due to Laurel's stubbornness. Or whatever her problem was.

John was all about demonstrating and polishing one’s abilities, especially with fanatical killers breathing down your neck, but he didn’t need to see this particular demonstration. He knew what Laurel was capable of. He knew Bachman, knew what the man was made of, had seen the man in action. And if he’d transferred at least a portion of what he knew to Laurel...Well, John wouldn’t want to be the one to face her in the ring, and even less in a real life-or-death situation.

Oliver also knew what she was capable of. He’d told him and Felicity about what he’d seen that day he’d followed her. And that had been mere practice. And with Oliver being aware of this particular skill of Laurel’s, proved this ‘fight’ to be as bogus as his excuses had sounded. The guy just wanted to get his hands on her, one way or another.

John shook his head. Oliver better bring it all onto the mat, because if she took this seriously—which he suspected she would, she had something to prove—and Oliver didn’t...Well, he’d get his ass handed to him.

Looking at the situation from that particular point of view, John figured what happened next was something he wouldn’t miss for anything in the world. He grinned, crossed his arms over his chest, leaned back against the wall, and got ready for the show.

“Rules first,” Bachman said sternly. “This is a practice fight, so no dirty moves.” He looked pointedly at Laurel, who presented a perfect picture of innocence as she gazed at Oliver. “No kicks to sensitive areas, no kicking at the joints, no twisting of fingers, no eye-gouging, and the neck, especially the throat, is off limits.”

John clenched his teeth. Everything which was a no-no during this practice run was otherwise allowed. It had to be, when you found yourself in a fight for your life. From what he remembered Bachman telling him all those years ago, the throat was the easiest target and the easiest and quickest way to end the fight.

“Understood?” Bachman asked and both Oliver and Laurel nodded. “Good. Whenever you are ready.”

He stepped off the mats and joined Sara on the other side of the gym, opposite to John and Felicity.

And...nothing happened. At least nothing violent. The two fighters merely started slowly circling each other, waiting for the other to go first, waiting for an opening, for that one moment of distraction.

Felicity huffed beside him. “Are they planning on starting this soon?” she whispered.

John noticed the almost imperceptible tensing of Oliver’s thighs. He wouldn’t have if he hadn’t been paying attention. Or sparred with the guy regularly. “Here we go,” he whispered back.

Oliver sprung forward and Laurel merely lifted her hands to chest level and sidestepped.

“Really?” she asked. “I thought you wanted to see what I was made of.”

“I do,” Oliver replied.

“It doesn’t look like it. You want to fight or you want to dance, Queen?”

Oliver grinned and went on the offensive again. John frowned as Laurel easily sidestepped again. What was Oliver doing? This wasn’t taking it easy, this was...He had no idea what this was, but it sure wasn’t fighting. It wasn’t even sparring. It looked like he truly wasn’t taking any of this seriously, but John knew better. Oliver didn’t want to hurt her. The suggestion of the match had been a spur of the moment and now, that he had to go through with it, Oliver simply didn’t dare to give it all.

Laurel rolled her eyes and glared. “I’m not made of glass, Queen. I won’t shatter, but I’m on my way to getting pissed off.”

“I don’t want to hurt you!” Oliver snapped.

Arms akimbo, her glare turned murderous. “Whatever assassin comes after me will want to hurt me.” She placed her hand on Oliver’s chest and shoved. Hard. “Show respect for my abilities. Fight me!”

And he did. And while at the beginning the two seemed pretty evenly-matched, the scales quickly tipped in Laurel’s favor. Oliver was taller, heavier and stronger, but his bulk, for lack of a better word, was also an impediment. He was quick, he was agile, but she was quicker. And while Oliver, John soon noticed—he saw much more as an observer than he did when he sparred with him—utilized pretty much the same moves all over again, Laurel’s style was much more adaptable. Oliver had tells—no matter the different sequences of moves he used—she didn’t. She changed motions and moves, she changed directions of her attack...No matter how hard he tried to anticipate what her next move would be, John found he couldn’t.

He looked at Bachman. The Israeli didn’t move his gaze off the two fighters, a small smile playing on his lips and his eyes filled with pride. Then he caught John’s gaze and grinned.

There was a thump and a groan and John quickly looked back to the sparring couple to see Oliver sprawled on his back. Again. He’s lost count of how many times that’s happened. John shook his head. Oliver was finally fighting for real, it didn’t look like he was holding back. Not anymore. Yet he hasn’t, as of yet, been able to put Laurel onto her back. On the mats, that is.

“Satisfied?” she asked with a smirk as she stood over him.

“Hardly,” Oliver growled and swung out with his leg, kicking her legs from under her. He was on top of her the moment she hit the mats.

Felicity huffed. “Even I could see that one coming.”

John chuckled. So could Laurel. The fact she hasn’t evaded the move told a lot.

“This is better,” Oliver said with a smile as he leaned over her. He curled his fingers gently around her throat. “Does this mean I win?”

“Hardly,” she echoed, lifted her lower body off the mat, brought her legs up underneath his arms, and crossed her ankles in front of Oliver’s neck. Once more, it was him lying on the mats, but she still had her ankles crossed. “You’re dead. Again. Are we done?”

“Yeah,” Oliver whispered.

“Good.” She unhooked her ankles, rolled onto her back, placed her palms on either side of her head, swung up, did a quick arm-stand, and dropped lightly back onto her feet. She leaned over and offered Oliver her hand to help him get back to his feet.

He accepted it, and John was half-expecting him to pull Laurel back down, but he didn’t.

“Damn, Laurel,” Olvier said, admiration in his voice. “You’re amazing.”

She blinked. “Thank you.”

“And damn sexy.”

She rolled her eyes. “So, are you satisfied that I can protect myself?”

Oliver’s expression was grave. “Yes, against one. What if there are more?”

Before he could finish, six men, dressed from head to toe in black, rushed into the gym, and attacked Laurel.

“What the—” John was about to jump into the fray, when a strong tug on his arm stopped him.

“Relax,” Bachman murmured. “It is all part of the exercise.”

He wasn’t sure he heard him right, when two more men descended from the trap-door in the center of the ceiling, also dressed in black.

“Are you nuts?” he hissed at Bachman. “Eight against one?” No matter how good she was, she was alone, a woman, and the men went at her en masse. She didn’t have eyes on the back of her head, how did Bachman suppose she defend herself?

“Eight against two,” Bachman corrected him and nodded to where Oliver reached Laurel, and placed himself so they were back to back. She seemed to sense it was him, because she didn’t even turn, her attention focused on the four men coming at her.

Oliver and Laurel worked in perfect synchronization. Back to back, their movements sparse, yet efficient, and John could’ve sworn Oliver had picked up something during their earlier sparring, because he seemed to be adapting to the fight as well, echoing his attacker’s moves, adapting his style, forgoing the routine, forgoing form, but going with pure instinct. Like her. They didn’t think, they didn’t analyze. They worked as if on auto-pilot, every move, every step, every kick, every jab made with one sole goal, one sole purpose. End the fight as soon as possible, protect your front and side, trust the person behind you to protect your back. Trust the person at your back with your life.

It didn’t take long, maybe a couple of minutes, but Oliver and Laurel were the only ones left standing.

Bachman clapped as he reached them. “Good job.”

Oliver grabbed the front of his shirt. “What the hell was that all about?!”

Bachman shrugged. “A test.”

“A test?” Oliver looked ready to punch the man. John wanted heartily to recommend him not to do it.

“Yes, a test in compatibility. If you two are compatible in a fight, since you plan on helping Dinah fight the League.”

“You could’ve warned us, Adam,” Laurel said, a bite in her voice. She pried Oliver’s fingers off Bachman’s shirt. “You almost gave me a heart attack."”

“You should’ve seen you two fight together,” Felicity cut in. “Like you’ve done it before.”

John nodded. “As if you’ve always fought back to back. You can’t learn to do that.”

“No,” Sara said. “It’s instinct.”

“Okay, glad we sorted it out,” Laurel said quickly, forcibly turned Sara around, and started pushing her toward the exit. “I’m tired, let’s have a sleepover at my place.” She turned, waved enthusiastically. “See you tomorrow, guys.”

John frowned after the Lance sisters. Was he hallucinating or had there been blood on Sara’s upper lip?


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