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After the Island (Summer Hiatus Stories)

Chapter Text

“Oliver, can you teach me how to shoot a bow and arrow?”

Samantha Clayton’s head snapped up from her food, surprised at her son’s question. She apparently wasn’t the only one. Across the table from her, Oliver Queen shifted his gaze to the son he hadn’t known existed a year and a half ago, his expression nearly blank except for his widened eyes. Despite spending a lot of time with Oliver and Felicity over the last month or so, Samantha wasn’t sure how Oliver was going to feel about sharing that part of his life with William. Felicity just chuckled where she sat next to Oliver.

Samantha decided that she needed to take the lead on this. “Why would you ask that, Will?”

“Because … well, you know, that’s something that Oliver knows how to do and I’d like to learn.” The twelve-year-old looked at his mother as he answered, then shook his head. “It’s not because of that, Mom. I really would just like to learn.”

Samantha felt more than saw Oliver’s attention switch to her. She was surprised when his face took on an expectant and questioning look. Apparently he wasn’t as surprised by his son’s request as she was.

“I think that would be okay, Will, but your mother has to say okay.”

“Come on, Mom,” Will pled.

Samantha focused on Oliver. “Do you think that’s appropriate for a boy Will’s age.”

Samantha tried to make the question sound straightforward, but she wasn’t sure she had completely eliminated the doubt in her voice.

“Yes. I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all. Archery is a sport enjoyed by a lot of people, Samantha. Just because I use it for something … more, doesn’t mean that most people do.” Oliver said, trying hard to keep his voice normal.

“Besides, Thea started when she was ten. She was still competing when I got on the Gambit. She would have been twelve then. She was really good.”

Samantha could now see the hint of excitement and hope in Oliver’s visage. She had to admit that he was trying very hard to be a good father to William while respecting her wishes. They had had a very honest discussion on the long plane ride back from the North China Sea. Oliver had told her that he had been wrong to think hiding their existence would protect them. Obviously. So, instead, he had convinced her that moving to Star City and resuming their real identities would allow him to protect them when necessary and play a part in William’s life. He had made it very clear that it was her decision, but he had also made it very clear that he wanted to be in William’s life. And, she had to admit, in the time since he had discovered William’s existence, Oliver Queen had, at the very least, shown her that he was nothing like the man he had been at the time of their one night stand.

As her thoughts came back around to William’s request, Oliver’s point about Thea proved to be the best argument, Samantha thought. If his younger sister had competed in archery competitions at a young age, there was no reason not to let Will at least try it.

“There was no archery for young Oliver Queen?” She decided to ask with a smirk.

Oliver huffed a laugh, then shook his head. “No. I might have enjoyed it at ten, but Tommy and I did everything together and he would have immediately been bored. That wouldn’t have worked. And by the time I was Will’s age?” Oliver paused, trying to figure out what to say, obviously. “Yeah, that wouldn’t have happened.”

Samantha noticed that at the mention of Tommy – he had to mean Tommy Merlyn – Felicity Smoak had poked her hand through Oliver’s arm and pulled him a little closer. She again noted that for two people who claimed to be figuring out their relationship how blatantly intimate they were with one another.

“Where would you even go to teach him?” Samantha asked.

In one of their few discussions about what was appropriate to share about his alter ego, she had asked that William not be shown the bunker just yet. Having been there herself, she knew that would glamorize the Green Arrow a little too much. Oliver had not only understood that, but also agreed with it. They had been back in Starling City for about a week when Oliver had taken the time to explain who he was to William: both as his father and as the Green Arrow in more than just general terms. She and Oliver (and Felicity) had also explained that they would eventually give William a more complete understanding of Oliver’s Green Arrow side, but that was something they all needed to figure out how best to manage. William had been disappointed, but when Oliver had suggested that he could ask any question he wanted and they would do their best to answer them, that was good enough. William and Samantha had both laughed at Felicity’s comment that Oliver hadn’t figured out how to explain his life to her yet, let alone anyone else. Oliver had been surprisingly amused at the comment.

“There’s a nice archery range north of Star City that Mayor Queen occasionally visits,” Oliver said, unable to keep the smirk off his face.

Samantha held Oliver’s gaze for a long time before looking back at her son. She shook her head and said, “Okay, fine.” And yes, she played up her reluctance a little more than necessary. It maybe gave her a measure of control that she realized she may have already lost.

William pumped his fist in the air and exclaimed, “Yes!”

“But I’m going with you,” she said with a motherly look aimed at her son.

“Moooom. You know, I think you can trust me to be with Oliver without you always being there.”

Samantha grinned at that. “I know, Will. But this I want to see this. How ‘bout you, Felicity?”

Felicity nudged Oliver. “Now that you mention it, I want to see you try and teach someone other than Roy how to shoot a bow.”

“Who’s Roy?” William immediately asked.

< = = = = = >

Saturday morning was uncharacteristically bright when Oliver pulled into the parking lot of the Starling Archery Club. It had been a long time since Samantha had lived in Star City, but she remembered that the sky was overcast more often than not. She, William and Felicity had gotten to the range earlier than planned, but Will was driving them both crazy that morning and she figured that if they at least got to the range, her son might be able to manage his impatience.

So they had been standing there for fifteen minutes when Oliver finally pulled into the spot next to them. Oliver had already been by the loft and had fixed breakfast for everyone, but was out running errands when she came downstairs. Felicity had apparently only been a few minutes ahead of her, because she was nursing her first cup of coffee, but wasn’t really fully awake yet.

Samantha glanced at her watch and was surprised to see that Oliver was on time. She remembered that he had a reputation for being late back in the day, and if Felicity was to be believed, he still tended to lose track of time. Beside her, William started bouncing on the balls of his feet again. She could feel the anticipation rolling off her son. That was actually something that she liked about Oliver’s influence in her son’s life. William wasn’t as quiet and reserved around Oliver. He was more boyish and active.

Felicity laughed at William’s exuberance and asked him if he was excited.

“Yes! This is going to be so cool!”

Felicity looked up to see Oliver grinning.

Oliver joined the other three. He threw an arm around William’s shoulders and waved toward the door. “C’mon, bud. Let’s go get you a bow.”

“Yes!” Only his father’s arm slung around his shoulders prevented the boy from bolting towards the small shop in front of the archery range.

Samantha and Felicity fell in side by side and followed the guys. Samantha asked Felicity, “You think Oliver will be able to do this? This isn’t the same as trying to teach another vigilante.”

Felicity nodded. “I can’t know for sure, but Oliver’s been pretty good at finding the right approach with Will up to now. I think this will be the same.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Samantha knew that she probably wasn’t concealing all of her hesitation, but it was getting easier.

The two women slipped in the door and stood back, watching Oliver and William at the counter. William already had a bow in hand, and was tentatively pulling on the string. Oliver watched him carefully and after a minute made a suggestion to William about adjusting his hand on the bow. After another minute, William nodded, indicating that the bow was okay. Another few minutes were spent outfitting William with general safety equipment before the boys were ready.

Oliver then picked up the bow case laying on the counter and a quiver full of arrows. He looked back to Felicity and Samantha briefly before leading William out another door to the side of the counter. The women followed him, squinting again as they emerged into the sunlight. Samantha pulled her sunglasses back down over her eyes. Felicity did the same, having forgone her normal glasses for contacts this morning, Samantha realized.

The few people belonging to the pair of vehicles out front were spread out among the range lanes, but it still seemed pretty empty to Samantha for such a beautiful morning. The sun was fairly high for this early in the day, but it was pleasantly warm. The air was calm, again unusual for this time of year. The only real sound the twang of bow strings launching arrows towards their targets.

Oliver and William had taken a sharp left and were heading to the short distance lanes on the outside of the general shooting area. They were far enough ahead that neither Samantha nor Felicity could hear them, but it was obvious that William was battering Oliver with a steady stream of questions. Samantha smiled as she watched Oliver attempt to answer. He obviously was enjoying himself and she was pleased to see that he was really pretty good at interacting with her son. She had always wanted William to have a father, but she didn’t want him to know Oliver as he had been twelve years ago; that was no longer an issue, she admitted to herself.

The women found a bench situated behind the lane the boys had chosen and took a seat. They were both quiet for a couple of minutes, just watching Oliver show William the basics of how to hold the bow and how to aim.

“I’m glad we decided to do this,” Samantha commented. “I wasn’t sure when William originally asked, but this is normal, right? A father teaching his son how to do something?”

Felicity nodded before offering her verbal agreement. “Yes, it is. And we all need as much normal in our lives as we can get.”

There was another extended silence as William took his first shot. The arrow fell short by a few feet and the boy uttered a disgusted sigh. Oliver gently laughed and told him it was all right. William looked at him and Oliver smiled. “The first time I took a shot, I was practicing in the woods on the island and we never found the arrow. My teacher was not impressed.”

William laughed at that and asked, “Really?”

“Yeah. It’s going to take a while to really get it, but that wasn’t bad. Let’s try it again.”

Samantha reclaimed Felicity’s attention a minute later. “Do you think our lives will ever be normal?”

Felicity looked at her thoughtfully. “I wish I could say ‘yes,’ but I really don’t know, Samantha.” The blonde woman shrugged. “I’m not sure I know what normal is anymore.”

Samantha felt the worried look bloom on her face.

Felicity shook her head. “That didn’t come out right. Knowing Oliver has opened up my world in ways I didn’t know were possible. And I’m not talking about our relationship. Just helping him as the Arrow has led me to experience things I never would have believed existed. Some of it has been bad, but not all of it. That’s the part of all of this that I love.”

Samantha shook her head. “I think you’re a lot more adventurous than I am.”

“I certainly didn’t think so when I first met Oliver. When I first found out that he was the Hood, I agreed to help him until we found Walter. Walter Steele, his stepfather. Then I was going to go back to my boring life. But I found that I liked doing something good. I liked helping people.

“A couple of years ago, Oliver thought he had reached a point where he could quit. He asked me to go away with him. And we did. We traveled for three months all over the world. Then we bought a house in Coast City and settled down. Oliver loved it; he took to it immediately. Me, not so much. I mean I liked being with Oliver, but I was already bored. Oliver hadn’t even realized that I was helping the team while we were on the road, and I was too scared to tell him.” She sighed.

Samantha asked, “I take it he found out?”

“Oh yes. It became obvious pretty quickly when we came back to Star City and I knew more about what the team had been facing than I should have. He didn’t get mad, though. He’s always been far more willing to forgive and forget faults in other people than he is his own. He’s not overly religious, but he’s got the self-guilt thing down pat.”

“He wasn’t like that when I first knew him.”

Felicity shrugged. “I haven’t figured whether he was and he ignored it, or if he really was as careless as he appeared. It doesn’t really matter at this point. That guy is long gone.”

The discussion was interrupted by an excited “Yes!” coming from Will.

When Samantha looked up at her son, he had turned back to them. “Mom! Felicity! Look, I hit the target. I got it in the second ring. That’s really good. It’s good, right, Oliver?”

“That’s great, Will. It took me a long time to get that good.”

“Okay! I’m going to do it again!”

Samantha and Felicity both laughed at his enthusiasm.

There had been something else nagging Samantha for the last week and she decided now was a good time to broach the subject with Felicity.

“Does it bother you that Oliver is spending so much time with William? I know you keep saying that the two of you are figuring out your relationship. Kind of hard to do that with Will and me staying at the loft and the four of us doing things together all the time.”

Felicity smiled. “No. Believe or not, I never had a problem with the fact that Oliver had a child. I didn’t like the fact that he didn’t tell me, but once I calmed down and thought about it, I understood at least part of his reasoning. Oliver and I went into our relationship blind. We literally had one night together and the next time I saw him he was acting as if he was our enemy. Then, we had no more than defeated Ra’s al Ghul and he asks me to go away with him.”

Felicity shook her head ruefully at the memory before continuing.

“We knew parts of each other thoroughly. Intimately even. And we had danced around each other for years, but both of us were still dealing with things in our past that were always going to affect our relationship. Trying to be a couple without building a proper foundation was going to fail. No matter what. We’re taking things a lot slower this time around. It’s actually going well and I know – well, I hope anyway – that William’s going to be part of Oliver’s life, so it is important to include him. And you.”

Samantha hadn’t expected that much candor from Felicity, although she wasn’t surprised. Still, this was the same woman who had kissed Oliver very intently in front of friends and enemies and then told Samantha that “she and Oliver were complicated.”

“Okay, but if you and Oliver need time to yourself, you’ll let me know, right?”

Felicity chuckled softly. “Yes, and if I don’t, I’m fairly sure that Oliver will.”

They went back to watching William and Oliver for a minute.

Samantha turned back to Felicity. “Something just occurred to me. Since Oliver is not staying at the loft, where does he live?”

Felicity shook her head again, chuckling. “There’s living quarters in the bunker. He stays there most of the time. Occasionally, he stays at Thea’s apartment and I’m pretty sure that’s his official address, but he really doesn’t care much. He sleeps on this cot in the lower level of the bunker and is fine with it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, he’ll say that he doesn’t need much, but the island really stripped a lot of the rich boy out of him. You’ve seen the island. He pretty much slept in caves and the shell of a crashed airplane.”

Samantha didn’t know how to react to that.

“That’s why he immediately offered to have you stay at the loft until we could get things figured out for you. He knew that you would need a good place to stay and he really doesn’t care much about his own accommodations.”

“Well, thank you. I still think this must be difficult for you.”

Felicity reached out and laid a hand on Samantha’s arm. “It really isn’t. And I don’t want you to ever feel like you aren’t welcome at the loft or in our lives. I know that this all seems a little strange, but Team Arrow is a family as much as anything. Most of us have lost people in our lives, so we know how important it is to hang on to what remains. You’re a part of that, Samantha. And you can count on every one of us if need be.”

Samantha didn’t get a chance to respond to that as William ran back to them at that moment. “Did you see me, Mom? I hit the target four more times. This is really cool. Can I do this again?”

Samantha spared a glance down at the target where, sure enough, five arrows were sticking out of the padded circle.

“That’s great, honey. And yes, I think you and Oliver can continue to come out here when he has time.”

William turned back to Oliver. “Did you hear that Oliver? Mom says we can come back again! Thanks Mom! This is going to be a great summer!”

Chapter Text

“Enjoying yourself?”

The quiet, but masculine voice of John Diggle asked from behind where Dinah Drake stood.

She was standing off to the side of the Star City Convention Center Ballroom, taking in the random movements of the crowd milling around. When she had taken the advice of her new friends to join the SCPD and, in general, start living her life again, she couldn’t have imagined that six months later she would be standing in the middle of an elegant fundraiser and wearing the most gorgeous gown she had ever seen – thank you, Thea Queen! She was surrounded by the rich and powerful of Star City, but didn’t feel out of place. Of course, if she hadn’t been working, she probably might have felt incredibly uncomfortable, but having a purpose made everything better.

Dinah turned to look at Diggle. “Yes, I am. Aside from the fact that I’m drinking sparkling juice instead of champagne, this evening is a nice change of pace.”

Diggle quietly snorted. “Most of your days are spent at City Hall. It’s not like you’re not walking a beat.”

Dinah grinned. “Yeah, but the people watching is 100% more entertaining tonight.”

Diggle laughed at that, and just nodded his head.

“I know there’s a lot less crime in Star City these days, but I haven’t seen a single suspicious thing tonight, although I’m pretty sure that Councilman Beckett disappeared with some woman who wasn’t his wife. He’s been gone way too long for it to be a bathroom run.”

Diggle shrugged at that. The two stood silently for a few minutes, just glancing around. Dinah knew that while Diggle wasn’t officially part of the Mayor’s security detail in any way, Oliver Queen relied on him heavily as a security advisor. Of course, the notion of the Green Arrow needing someone for security was fairly laughable, but Dinah always kept that observation to herself.

She finally turned to look at him. “Didn’t Lyla come with you tonight? Why are you standing here next to me?”

Diggle waved his hand in the general direction of the other side of the room. “She’s over there talking with Felicity and some scientist from Kord Industries. Lyla knows him from some very non-confidential consulting he’s done for ARGUS. Felicity knows him from her days at Palmer Tech and thinks he might be able to help her and Curtis get their company off the ground.”

Dinah located the small group and they both watched the conversation for a couple of minutes, but Dinah in particular kept noticing that even when she was talking, Felicity Smoak’s eyes were constantly looking off to the side.

“How does she do that?”

“How does who do what?”

“Felicity. She keeps looking off to the side, even when she’s talking. She’ll focus on something for a few seconds, then glance back at the guy she’s talking to.”

Diggle snorted again. “You know where she’s looking,” he said. It was definitely not a question.

Dinah scoffed. “Of course, I do. She’s all he’s looked at all evening as well. The funny thing is, I don’t think they’ve even spoken to each other since she came in. Yet I guarantee he’s known exactly where she is the entire evening.”

“Uh-uh.”

“Is this a good sign?”

“I think so, but I’ve seen those two dance around each other so much, that I’ve given up trying to figure out what they’ll do.”

Dinah chuckled at that. “There’s a story there, isn’t there?”

“A hundred stories, probably.”

“Really?”

Diggle looked back at her. “You know that subtle tension that’s been between them in the bunker since we came home?”

“There’s nothing subtle about it. He and I were talking about how to better handle situations like that drug bust the other night, and I swear he never looked at me the entire conversation. I assume she was just as bad. Do they not realize the effect it has on the rest of us or don’t they care?”

“They’re blind to everyone else. But trust me, this is ten times better than what it was like the first couple of years. That was like being in high school all over again. At first it was all Felicity. She was so taken with Oliver that she didn’t realize how much she just stared and Oliver was clueless. Then she moved on – well, tried to move on – about the same time he figured out how he had really screwed up. Of course, Oliver always had so much going on in his head that trying to figure out how to be with Felicity was just beyond what he could manage. Idiots.”

Dinah laughed at that.

While Diggle had been reciting history, Lyla had left the conversation with Felicity and sauntered over to her husband. She moved to his side and he wrapped an arm around her.

“Hi, Dinah. You look great tonight.”

Lyla was wearing a dark blue dress coupled with a lofty pair of heels. Her hair was longer than it had been a month earlier when she had helped lead the evacuation from Lian Yu. Dinah hadn’t seen Lyla in anything other than business clothes during their infrequent meetings and noted that Lyla cleaned up really well. She was also glad to see that Diggle had apparently made peace with his wife in the month since the rescue. She knew that the lead up to defeating Adrian Chase had been sprinkled with serious disagreements about ethics and ARGUS methods between the ARGUS director and her by-the-book husband.

“Thanks, so do you. That’s a beautiful dress.”

Lyla smiled. “A present from my husband. He always surprises me with his good taste.”

Dinah elbowed Diggle good naturedly. “Nice job.”

Diggle flashed a small smile but stayed quiet.

“So what were you two laughing about over here.” Lyla asked.

“The mating dance of the Mayor and his not-girlfriend. Your husband shared some observations about their tortured history.”

Lyla just nodded. “Yeah they are both clueless and completely unsubtle. I haven’t figured why they are taking things slow this time around. I had hoped Oliver had given up on self-torture.”

Diggle looked at his wife. “How much have you had to drink? Should I cut you off before you say something you shouldn’t?”

Lyle smacked her husband’s chest. “Oh, hush, Johnny. I’ve had one glass of champagne, but I think I’m due for a glass of the really good wine Oliver keeps for Felicity at these things. I was coming to see if you would join me.”

Diggle looked at Dinah with an amused smile before he agreed to going with his wife. They both told Dinah they’d see her later and walked towards the bar.

Dinah resumed her surveillance of the Ballroom and noticed that Oliver had taken up a position by himself about twenty feet to her right. He was sipping a tumbler of whiskey, but she was sure it was still the first one of the night. She slowly moved toward him, watching him. He was watching Felicity, who now stood chatting with a gray-haired portly gentleman. The man was short, standing nearly eye-to-eye with Felicity, although her four-inch heels boosted her own height to surpass his. She was animatedly explaining something to him and he nodded his head often, clearly understanding what she was telling him. Dinah figured that Felicity didn’t often get that.

Dinah sidled up next to the Mayor. He turned to acknowledge her when she came within a step, flashing a small smile.

“Miss Drake, I presume your evening has been okay?”

Dinah laughed at the formality in Oliver’s voice, but decided to play along.

“It’s been very nice, Mr. Mayor. Thank you for the assignment. I have enjoyed myself.” She tilted her half full champagne flute towards him. “I will be grabbing a bottle of something good at the end of the evening, however. Just so you know.”

It was Oliver’s turn to laugh. “And you are more than entitled. I’ll make sure to let the bartender know.”

“And how’s your evening been?”

“Good. I’ve had some productive conversations with several council members, although I can’t seem to find Councilman. Beckett. I’ve also gotten to talk to several business leaders and those have been surprisingly positive as well. Most of them found Adrian Chase’s actions to be reprehensible. I haven’t had to work very hard to get back into their good graces. I was afraid that I, or my family, would be blamed for Chase’s reign of terror. Instead I’ve found that most people still regard my parents positively. Many of these people think they did more good for the city than not. Not sure I completely agree, but I’ll take it.

Oliver paused. Dinah knew how much of the previous year had caused Oliver to re-examine his father’s character and legacy. And how hard that had been on him. She could easily understand that struggle, having dealt with her own sense of purpose and legacy during her quest for vengeance.

Oliver smiled quietly, shaking his head. “I didn’t share everything I know. I’ve decided to let people form and keep their own opinions. I doubt I’ll ever correct anyone unless they are just completely off base.”

“I get that,” she responded quietly. “And you shouldn’t have to. You’re clearly your own man, Oliver. You shouldn’t have to answer for your parents’ sins.”

The two stood silent for a couple of minutes. Dinah had glanced around the room, again looking for threats she was sure wouldn’t materialize. When she turned back to Oliver, she noticed that he was once again looking in Felicity’s direction.

Dinah leaned in toward Oliver. “I know it may not be my place, but why are you waiting. It’s obvious that both of you want to be together again.”

Oliver closed his eyes for just a second, another small smile appearing, before looking at her. “Felicity and I made a lot of mistakes the last couple of years. We rushed things when we first got together, and at the very least, I wasn’t fully ready to share my life. Not the way I needed to be. Felicity had her own issues that I was blind to and, for the most part, she wasn’t ready to face them either.”

“Most relationships are like that, I would guess.”

“You’re probably right. But now that I know – really know – what I want, I want to build our relationship the right way. So does Felicity.”

“Well, you look like a couple of lovesick puppies, mooning over each other tonight. It’s cute and yet incredibly painful to watch.”

Oliver shrugged. A small smile graced his face again.

Dinah wasn’t sure where her next comment came from, but she had said it before she could stop herself.

“You know, I thought Vince and I had the same kind of connection you and Felicity do. I hope we did. We lived in the same kind of pressure cooker you do. I had hope that we’d eventually get Sonus and then we’d be able to go back to a normal life, but that got taken from us. I don’t think that anything is going to replace that for me, but I’m glad I had the time I did.”

For the first time that night, Dinah saw Oliver focus on something other than Felicity. He was obviously thinking about what she’d said, so she kept going.

“There’s always going to be something trying to grab your attention or your time. You have to take the opportunity to be together, Oliver, if that’s what you want. Vince and I grabbed every moment we could, even though we were undercover. And just like you, Oliver, we both knew that it could end at any time, so we made sure that we made the best of the time we had.”

Oliver nodded his head in understanding.

“Dinah, I may not have ever said this, but I’m sorry you had to go through what you did. I’m sorry you had to lose Vince.” He paused for a long couple of minutes. “I told Felicity one time that despite the fact she had to go through some really terrible things in her life, I was glad that she did, because those things made her the person she is now. I think the same can be said of you.” He laughed. “Hell, the same can be said of me.”

Dinah fought back the tears that had suddenly clouded her eyes. She nodded in agreement with Oliver, unable to verbalize her understanding.

Oliver wasn’t done. “If it makes you feel better, Felicity and I are talking. A lot. We get some time to ourselves most nights when I drive her back to the loft. We have lunch a couple of times a week. We’re constantly either texting or talking to each other on the phone. I’m sure we look funny tonight, but things are good.”

Dinah nodded.

Oliver chuckled to himself. “Even if we were ready to move back in together, Samantha and William are living at the loft. I’m trying to set a good example for my son, so maintaining a little distance isn’t a big deal.”

“Speaking of William, how’s he doing? This all has to be a major adjustment for him.”

“It is. I’m glad that Samantha was able to make it safely off the island with everybody else. I’m sure this would have been far worse for him if he’d lost his mother. My best friend Tommy lost his mother when he was a little younger than William and it devastated him for quite a while.” Oliver chuckled a little before continuing. “I think it helps that his father is the Green Arrow. I have a feeling I wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if I was just Oliver Queen.”

“I don’t know, Oliver. Having the Mayor as his dad can’t be too bad either. I think you sell yourself short.”

“Oh, that’s actually his super power. Well, that and the brooding. Always brooding.”

Both looked up to see that Felicity had joined them. She had a big smile on her face.

“Hi, Dinah. You look great, by the way. Do I detect the work of Thea Queen?”

Dinah smiled, held out her arms and twirled a little. “Of course. The woman is a genius.”

Oliver wrinkled his forehead in a playful frown. “Please don’t tell her that. Her ego doesn’t need an unnecessary boost.”

Felicity playfully slapped Oliver’s chest. “Stop! Your sister needs to know that she has impeccable taste. Her year hasn’t been any better than anybody else’s. Any and all encouragement is good at this point.”

“Okay,” Oliver said as he nodded his head. “Whatever you say, honey.”

Felicity just rolled her eyes.

“I take it your evening has been productive, Felicity. That last gentleman you were talking to seem to be hanging on everything you said.” Dinah commented.

“Oh, Mr. Verducci? He was one of my biggest supporters on the Palmer Tech board. Apparently, there is an ongoing discussion about bringing me back. Carleton Dennis is actively discouraging the idea, but the two interim CEOs they’ve hired haven’t been able to do any more than keep the company afloat. Stanley says that Mr. Dennis is just about the only board member objecting to me returning at this point.”

“Do you want me to talk to Dennis? I could explain to him how important Palmer Tech is to the city’s continued growth.”

Felicity looked at him. Her face reflected her strong consideration of Oliver’s offer, but she finally said, “I’m not sure that’s a great idea, Oliver. Won’t that be considered favoritism? Or a conflict of interest?”

“Not really, but if you’d rather I don’t, I can respect that.”

“Yeah, let’s hold off on that for now.”

Felicity turned to Dinah once more. “Do you mind if I steal my boyfriend for a dance or two? Wait, are you my boyfriend? Did I jump ahead? Are we to that point again?”

Oliver just smiled. “Yes, Felicity, it’s okay if you call me your boyfriend.”

Oliver looked at Dinah and rolled his eyes. “I told you that things were good. Now, if you’ll excuse us, I’m going to go dance with my girlfriend.”

The sound of Felicity giggling at something Oliver whispered to her, made Dinah feel even better about the evening. And just maybe, she thought, Oliver and Felicity will have what she and Vince had for a much longer time. That would be good, too.

Chapter Text

“Are you Felicity Smoak?”

Dr. Carter Bowen stood at the entrance of the server room in the basement of Starling General Hospital. It had taken him fifteen minutes just to find the room and the search had put in him in a bit of a mood. He was one of the important doctors in the hospital, but the network administrator didn’t think it was necessary to have someone relay Carter’s message to Ms. Smoak, so instead he had made the trek himself.

The server room was dimly lit in comparison to the sterile white light of the hallway, which itself seemed to be dim compared to the rest of the hospital. The room was mostly an empty space with equipment taking up the wall opposite the doorway. The entire wall was filled with several racks of computer equipment, most of which had blinking red, orange and blue lights dotting their otherwise dark faces. Wiring ran to the sides and overhead and seemed to just disappear.

Carter had addressed a blonde woman standing in the center of the equipment rack. She was short, although a modest pair of heels made her taller than she really was. She was wearing a dark blue, knee length skirt with a short tan jacket. She was working quickly, her typing the only sound rising above the murmur of exhaust fans filling the room. Bowen thought he heard a couple of muttered words, but they were soft enough that he couldn’t make them out above the constant hum. A long minute after he had asked his question, the woman raised her left hand, index finger pointing up to indicate that he should wait. The right hand continued typing.

Carter was not a particularly patient man, but he waited what he thought was an appropriate length of time while the woman continued to type furiously at the keyboard that was hidden from his line of sight. He reasoned that he was, after all, the Chief Neurosurgeon of Starling General and his time was valuable. She obviously didn’t understand that or she would have already turned around.

He decided to make that point clear. “Ms. Smoak, my time is rather valuable.”

Before he could continue, the hand and upraised finger flashed up again briefly before returning to the keyboard. Carter was now officially miffed, but he decided to see if she was close to finishing.

Four minutes later, the typing ceased, followed immediately by her right fist pumping the air and a whisper-yelled “Take that!”

It was another minute before the woman turned around, and recognition dawned on Carter’s face. While he had never had the pleasure of meeting Felicity Smoak, he certainly knew of her. Her professional career and private life had been plastered across both the tabloid and legitimate news in Star City for several years now.

Carter remembered that Felicity Smoak had first come to public attention when she served as Oliver Queen’s secretary during his brief and, meeting Carter’s expectations, disastrous tenure as CEO of his family’s company. She had disappeared for a while, but shortly after Ray Palmer took over Queen Consolidated, she had popped up again, surprisingly enough as a high-placed executive in a high-profile technical department of the company. And then, she somehow managed to succeed Palmer at the helm of the company upon his death. Of course, she had been linked with both Queen and Palmer in a romantic sense, but Carter hadn’t paid much attention to that.

That was, until Queen proposed to her in very public fashion a couple of years ago. As far as Carter remembered, the two had eventually split. No doubt due to something stupid Queen had done, he supposed. Ms. Smoak had kept a much lower profile after that, although her near miraculous recovery from paralysis resulting from a shooting had made medical headlines. Typically Starling General had distanced themselves from the chip once its untested nature had come to light.

Now, despite the dim lighting of the server room, Carter could tell that Felicity Smoak was certainly not paralyzed. Aside from her obviously fully-functioning mobility, she was an attractive woman, far more than he remembered from his casual notices of her before. Even in the dim light, he could tell that she was still young, moreso than he thought. The neat ponytail she wore highlighted her youthfulness and even though she wore a dark rimmed pair of glasses, Bowen could see the bright blue of her eyes shining in the light from the hallway. He also knew that she was quietly assessing him every bit as much as he was her.

“I’m sorry about that. I don’t mean to be rude, but I was writing a small app to shore up the network defenses. The hospital’s network has been under attack, and I just stopped what would have been a successful penetration.” She punctuated her explanation with hand motions, although he had no idea what they signified. Carter watched as she started to say more, then clamped her mouth shut.

She finally asked, “How can I help you?”

Carter had been captivated enough by her appearance and the recognition of who she was that he had forgotten both his urgency and his reason for coming to find Felicity Smoak in the first place. Her question set him back on track.

“I’m Dr. Carter Bowen. I’m the Chief Neurosurgeon of Starling General and I understand that you are in possession of a remarkable piece of bio-medical technology.”

Felicity squinted in confusion for a minute before it dawned on her what he was talking about.

“You’re referring to the bio-stimulant chip implanted in my spine.” She nodded. “I don’t think of it as being in my possession, but I suppose that’s one way of describing it.”

“Well, I would like to find out more about it. I know that you had it implanted here at Starling General by one of my colleges, a Doctor Heinrik Waldrop, I believe. I was unfortunately out of the country at the time, but Heinrik was recently telling me about the technology and I am very interested to learn more. Would it be possible to have dinner and discuss it?”

The sudden and rather direct invitation seemed to catch her off guard. “Perhaps. You know that I didn’t invent the chip, right? That’s the work of my business partner, Curtis Holt.”

Bowen didn’t say anything for a minute. He hadn’t really been told much about the origin of the chip. Heinrik had told him that Felicity had been implanted with the chip after being shot in the spine. Apparently there was some question over the ownership of the chip and Palmer Tech had been unwilling to make the chip available more widely. He knew that Felicity had been the CEO of Palmer Tech, although now that he saw how young she was, the rumors of some impropriety between her and Ray Palmer seemed like they may be more truthful than he thought.

But now that he had met her, he couldn’t deny that he found her attractive in general, and not just for what she could tell him about the chip. He could see why Palmer had taken more than a professional interest in her. On the other hand, what she could have possibly seen in Oliver Queen was a question Carter wasn’t going to waste nanoseconds contemplating.

Still, Felicity Smoak was attractive enough that the thought of sharing her company with someone else at dinner wasn’t particularly appealing, but he supposed if that was a condition of learning more about the chip, than he would have to live with that. After all, learning about the chip had to come first.

“I wasn’t aware of the history of the device, so I didn’t know of Mr. Holt’s involvement,” Carter told her.

Felicity squinted at him for a minute. “Let me talk to Curtis and then I’ll get ahold of you.” She paused. “Not get ahold of you as in grab you. Why would I grab you? No, I meant that I’ll call you. He and I have been working on some other projects, but would still like to make the chip viable for a wider audience. I assume that’s part of what you’re interested in, as well.”

Carter had been taken by surprise when she started to ramble. That didn’t seem very professional, he thought. But he followed her as she brought the conversation back to point.

Yes, exactly.” That wasn’t exactly a lie. Carter very much had a humanitarian side. But being a neurosurgeon wasn’t exactly the cash cow people thought. And Carter’s fame the last couple of years had dimmed; he hadn’t written a book in almost three years and his Doctors Without Borders trips didn’t really pay either. He still liked the work, but he wanted to benefit from his work for a change.

Felicity held her hand out. “Let me get your number and I’ll contact you as soon I’ve talked to Curtis.”

He handed her his phone without thinking. She quickly accessed his Messages app and sent herself a text before handing the phone back to him. She passed the phone back to him quicker than he thought possible.

“Well, if you don’t mind, I’ve got a little more work to finish up here before I leave. I should know something later this afternoon or evening.” She said, obviously ending their conversation.

With that she turned back to the keyboard and starting working again. Carter was a bit surprised, but fascinated at the same time. He let his eyes drag down her body one last time before leaving the room.

< = = = = = >

True to her word, Felicity Smoak called him back at 8:37 PM that night.

“Hello, Dr. Bowen?”

“Yes, this is Carter Bowen.” He didn’t immediately recognize her voice; it was softer than it had been that morning.

“Good.” There was a pause. “This is Felicity Smoak. You hunted me down this morning at the hospital … I mean you came to see me this morning while I was working on the network security.”

Carter could hear laughter in the background. It was soft but sounded masculine.

“Anyway, I had a chance to talk to Curtis Holt and he is interested in meeting with you.”

Carter deflated a little. He had built up a scenario in his head of entertaining Felicity exclusively, despite knowing that probably wasn’t going to happen.

Felicity continued, “I also have a counterproposal to your offer of dinner. Well, just a change in plans? Sort of? I guess.”

Again there was an almost inaudible laugh in the background, and then “get to the point.”

Felicity’s own voice got softer; Carter figured she turned away from the phone to say something to whoever was with her. He must have been correct, since there was a “Hush,” before her voice resumed its normal volume.

“Instead of having dinner at some restaurant where we will have to be careful about being overheard, why don’t you join Curtis and me for dinner at my place tomorrow evening? Neither Curtis nor I will be cooking. I’d like you to survive dinner.” Another laugh in the background.” But I know of an excellent chef who has already agreed to cook for us. We’d prefer this because Curtis and I would like to keep discussions about the bio-stimulant chip as private as possible right now.”

Carter contemplated her offer for a minute. Obviously, he still wouldn’t be alone with Felicity during dinner, but maybe after they all took care of the more business-oriented part of the evening, he would have a chance to be alone with Ms. Smoak. They would be at her apartment, after all, and surely her business partner would leave at some point.

“I think that would work,” Carter said.

“Good!” And wow, he could almost see the smile on her face through the phone.

“I’ll text you the address after I hang up. Why don’t you come around … say, seven tomorrow evening. We’ll eat about seven-thirty.”

Carter agreed and hung up the call. He pulled the phone back and just stared at it for a minute. He had not planned on being as intrigued by Felicity Smoak as he was. She was a ball of contradictions. He knew that she was smart by her reputation alone, but she also was slightly awkward based on the couple of interactions he had had with her. He wasn’t sure how to take some of the rambling, to be honest. Still, it had been a while since he had actively dated and Felicity Smoak seemed like the type of woman who would complement him in public. And surely he had to be a better choice than either Oliver Queen or the late Dr. Ray Palmer!

< = = = = = >

Carter knocked on the hefty wood door of Felicity Smoak’s loft at 6:50 PM. He knew that he was five minutes early, but he had found over the years that being early caught people off guard which, in turn, gave him an advantage no matter the situation. And, like with everything else, he wanted the advantage when negotiating with Felicity Smoak and Curtis Holt. Just because they had invented the bio-stimulant technology, there was no reason he couldn’t profit handsomely from it as well.

The door swung open immediately and before him stood Felicity Smoak. She had a big smile on her face. Carter had noted that she was a beautiful woman when he had met her at the hospital, but now … well now she was radiant. She was wearing a light yellow dress with a red flower print across the knee-length skirt. She had on heels that matched the color of the dress, but wore little jewelry other than a gold toned bracelet and small necklace with an arrow-shaped pendant. Her hair was down and loose compared to her ponytail the day before and she again wore minimal makeup aside from her bright pink lipstick.

“Hello, Dr. Bowen. It’s nice to see you this evening.” She took a step back, opening the door wide to let him in.

“Thank you. You look lovely.” Carter said as he crossed the threshold, making no secret that he was appreciatively checking her out.

“Well, thank you. Can I get you something to drink? I’ve opened a nice red wine to go with dinner, but we’ve also got water or coffee.”

Felicity led him to a sitting area in front of a large fireplace. He could hear two voices talking softly on the other side of the very large room; he assumed that was the chef and someone else as they finished dinner. As he took a seat on the leather couch, he said, “A water would be fine.”

Felicity smiled at him again, nodding. “I’ll be right back.”

As she moved away, Carter heard more footsteps coming down the stairs. He turned to see a dark-haired woman dressed casually in jeans and a light sweater and a younger boy in jeans and a red t-shirt with a yellow lightning bolt coming down the stairs. Felicity veered over to the landing as the pair reached the bottom.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay for dinner? I’m sure there’s enough,” Felicity asked.

The other woman shook her head. “No, I’m sure Will’s got his heart set on Big Belly at this point.”

The boy’s face broke out into a big grin and he let out a enthusiastic “Yes!” at what Carter supposed was his mother’s declaration.

“Besides, we don’t want to interrupt your discussion.”

The other woman reached out to touch Felicity’s shoulder with an encouraging pat.

“We’ll be back later. I hope you have a good evening.”

Carter watched as Felicity thanked the other woman and tousled the boy’s hair before the pair left the loft. He then shifted to the end of the couch that allowed him to trail her movements as she walked over to the kitchen area. Most of the kitchen was hidden from view due to the placement of the couch, but he could hear Felicity say something to the individuals around the corner.

When she turned and started back toward him, Carter could see that she was accompanied by a tall, dark-skinned man. The man was wearing glasses and a sweater over a patterned button-up shirt and jeans. He was also fairly young. He was definitely not what Carter had expected when picturing the inventor of the bio-stimulant chip. Nothing like what he had pictured.

As the two approached, he stood back up.

“Dr. Carter Bowen, this is Curtis Holt. Curtis, this is Carter Bowen. As I told you yesterday, Carter is the head of neurosurgery at Starling General. He is interested in knowing more about the bio-stimulant chip.”

Curtis grinned goofily, and held out his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Bowen. Dr. Waldrop mentioned you when I initially met with him about performing the surgery.”

“Yes, it was unfortunate that I couldn’t be in the states during that time. I think I was working in Ethiopia that winter. I try to spend about a month with Doctors without Borders once every other year or so, but if I remember correctly, my group ended up staying for nearly three. And then I spent another three weeks in Europe preparing for a symposium.” Carter smiled his professional smile at Felicity and Curtis. “I rarely miss as much excitement as I did that year, and that’s saying a lot for Star City.”

Carter was surprised as both Felicity and Curtis’s faces darkened for a second before they also regained their smiles.

Curtis took the lead, surprising Carter. “So, what has Dr. Waldrop told you about the chip, and Felicity’s condition?”

Carter took the next few minutes to explain what he knew, including the fact that he had reviewed the general records for Felicity’s condition and the surgery report from Dr. Waldrop. Once he was done, Curtis began to offer some general information about the bio-stimulant chip and how it worked. Carter noticed that he left out a lot of detailed information, but for the discussion at hand, he wasn’t rattled about getting nothing more than high-level information.

A couple of minutes into Curtis’s explanation, Felicity stood up and walked back toward the kitchen. Carter’s eyes flashed to her briefly as she walked away, but quickly refocused on the man talking to him. After several minutes of explanation, Carter broke in with a question and the exchange continued in that fashion for another fifteen minutes: explanation, question, answer and back to explanation again. Carter was getting his questions answered, but he felt like he was playing poker at the same time. Curtis Holt was definitely not revealing all the cards in his hand.

Finally the two were interrupted when Felicity approached the sitting area again.

“Guys, dinner’s ready. Think you can take a break?

Carter finally noticed that Curtis had grown increasingly tense as they talked, even though his enthusiasm had grown as well. He probably wouldn’t have noticed it, but the taller man visibly relaxed at Felicity’s announcement. He too relaxed, not realizing how intense the conversation had been.

Curtis stood first. “Great, I’ve been looking forward to Oliver’s cooking all day.”

What? Oliver’s cooking? Carter suddenly had a feeling that there was definitely something more to the situation in the apartment than he was aware of.

He followed the other two as they migrated to a large table sitting in front of the floor to ceiling windows. Once he reached the point where his view of the kitchen was no longer blocked he was still surprised to find Oliver Queen carrying two plates of food to the table. He could see that the other two places were already set.

“Carter, do you know Oliver Queen?” Felicity asked, although there was a touch of humor in question.

Carter pushed down his surprise at seeing his former classmate standing in front of him and held his hand out to Oliver, who had set down the two plates of food.

Carter ignored Felicity’s question and greeted the other man formally, “Mr. Mayor.”

Oliver quirked an eyebrow and smirked. “Really, Carter? I don’t particularly like being called that when I’m in the office, let alone in private. I think we’ve know each far too long for that anyway, don’t you?”

Carter smiled, but he had to force it. He and Queen had always had a bit of a contentious relationship. Mostly because, despite everything Carter did – academically, athletically, socially – Oliver Queen had always come in first. To make matters worse, Queen didn’t care. Carter had to admit that, back then, a lot of it had to do with the fact that Oliver was always going to be the guy that got the girl. It was mostly his name and his money, of course. But Carter knew that Oliver also had the ability to sweet talk anybody back in those days. Carter, who had always stayed out of trouble, had been constantly amazed at Oliver’s ability to worm himself out of almost anything.

The fact that Oliver had suffered a tremendous amount of adversity the last ten years did little to blunt Carter’s envy of the other man. Carter rarely allowed himself to admit, but he had often been jealous of Oliver Queen’s charmed life. He had been the richest and most popular guy at Starling Academy. He had dated the smartest girl in the school, greatly disrespected her, and yet she stayed with him no matter what. Even his dismal college record failed to take the polish off the luster of Oliver Queen. For someone as competitive as Carter Bowen, that had been unacceptable.

And now, here he was, standing in the kitchen of a woman Carter was interested in more than just a professional capacity and Oliver Queen had cooked them dinner?

“I guess I’m just surprised to see you here Oliver. Felicity mentioned that she knew an excellent chef. You have to admit that you wouldn’t be the first person I thought in that regard.”

Oliver shrugged. “Probably not, but I think you’ll find that I do okay.”

Carter was peripherally aware of Felicity Smoak and Curtis Holt watching the exchange, but Oliver had again subtly laid down a challenge.

“When did you even learn how to cook?” Carter challenged

“Believe it or not. I started with our family housekeeper growing up. Raisa tended to get through to me when even my parents couldn’t. She convinced me that cooking was a skill that would be worthwhile. Strangely enough, when I got stranded on the island, I found that I could adapt what she had taught me. It helped me survive.”

Felicity drew Carter’s attention when she chipped in. “When Oliver and I started traveling together, he quickly realized that I couldn’t boil water, so he started cooking for us. It became a little bit of an obsession with him.”

Carter couldn’t believe the grin she had as she finished. When he looked back to Oliver, he had a matching expression on his face. He hadn’t known that they had traveled together. He had never really thought about how long they had been together prior to their engagement. Carter also started to wonder what the nature of Oliver and Felicity’s relationship was now. He decided that wasn’t something he wanted to ask about just yet.

Instead, he went with non-committal. “Well, consider me surprised, I guess.”

Oliver laughed softly at that. “Well, let’s sit down. Carter would you like a glass of wine to go with your meal?”

Carter didn’t hesitate. “Yes, I would.”

Carter took the seat at the table that Felicity directed him to. He was seated across from her and Curtis was seated to his left. Oliver sat next to Felicity and opposite Curtis. He looked down to find a well-presented meal featuring what looked like Chicken Parmesan and oven-roasted Italian vegetables on a bed of wild rice. A heaping basket of breadsticks sat in the center of the table, a kitchen towel keeping them warm.

Oliver returned with the glass of wine and took his seat. Felicity signaled that everyone should start eating. The table was silent as everyone took their first couple of bites. Felicity broke the silence first with a moan of appreciation for the chicken.

“Is this the recipe for the chicken from Florence? I thought you said that those spices were going to be impossible to get?”

Oliver smiled and ducked his head. “Apparently they were just difficult to get, not impossible. I knew how much you liked that meal.”

“Oliver, like doesn’t begin to describe how I felt about that meal. Love doesn’t describe it. And yet, here you have captured it exactly. We’ll need to talk about some other meals from our travels that I need to experience again.” She looked up at the other two men at the table, realizing she and Oliver weren't alone. "Later."

Felicity resumed eating and for the most part, the four of them were again quiet. Carter had to acknowledge that the meal was exceptional. It was probably the best chicken he had ever tasted, and he was used to eating in fine restaurants. Not only was the chicken well prepared, the vegetables were obviously fresh and had been cooked to perfection. Carter had to admit he would have never expected Oliver Queen to be this good in the kitchen.

What was more perplexing for Carter was the easy relationship between Oliver and Felicity. He certainly didn’t have that type of relationship with either of his ex-fiancés. He was under the assumption that once Oliver and Felicity had broken off their engagement, they had kept their distance from one another. Their current behavior certainly didn’t indicate that.

Curtis was the first to finish eating and once he laid down his silverware, he started talking. At first it was a few general questions directed at Oliver or Felicity. Carter noticed that while Curtis was respectful of Oliver, there was a familiarity as well. Eventually, Curtis turned his attention back to Carter. The questions started easy: How long had he been at the hospital? How many books had he written?

Finally, Curtis brought the discussion back to the reason for the evening. He asked Carter how the chip fit with his work in neurological medicine. As Carter began to explain his interest, Curtis continued to ask more probing questions. Carter had realized earlier that despite his somewhat goofy demeanor, Curtis Holt had a very intellectual mind. The resumption of their discussion made that even clearer.

He was drawn back into the discussion so quickly that he didn’t catch when Oliver had stood up and begun clearing the table. Oliver worked quickly and quietly as he moved between the table and the kitchen proper, cleaning the table of all the dishes except for the wine glasses, then cleaning up what little mess remained in the kitchen proper. Twenty minutes had passed when Carter next noticed Oliver’s presence. He was standing behind Felicity, his hands resting lightly on her shoulders. She had been about to ask a question herself when Oliver interrupted her.

“I’m going to take off. I’ve got everything cleaned up. All you need to do is start the dishwasher, okay?”

Felicity nodded, but asked, “Where are you going?”

“I’m meeting Dig for a beer. He texted me while I was fixing dinner. Lyla was taking J.J. somewhere, so he had the evening free.”

“Oh, that’s sounds fun. You guys don’t do that often enough.”

Oliver leaned over and kissed the top of her head. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Tell Sam and William I’ll see them tomorrow as well.” He then looked up at Carter. “Carter, it was good seeing you again. I’ll leave you to the capable hands of these two. You might want to be careful, though. They can be very devious together once they’ve had some wine.”

Carter replied automatically, “It was good to see you again, too. Maybe we should have lunch some time. Catch up on things.”

Oliver nodded. “That sounds good. Give my office a call and we’ll set something up.”

Oliver stood up and left, walking quietly to the door while Felicity went back to the question she had been about to ask. The three continued their discussion. Carter realized that both Felicity and Curtis were far more informed on the business aspects of the bio-stimulant chip that he had anticipated. The original opportunities that he had imagined concerning his being able to profit from the chip probably didn’t exist, but both Felicity and Curtis moved towards discussing how Carter’s involvement going forward could help them get the chip to market under current conditions.

Half an hour after Oliver Queen had left, Curtis’ watch alarm went off.

“Frak! I need to leave.”

“Really?” Felicity asked.

“Yeah. Paul called and wanted to talk tonight. I don’t anticipate it being anything more than finalizing our divorce, but I still don’t want to be late.”

“You’re not already?”

Curtis grinned. “No, I started setting my alarms half an hour ahead, so that I wouldn’t be late to appointments.” He turned to Carter, “Dr. Bowen, I’ve enjoyed our discussion. I look forward to continuing it, but I leave it to Felicity to make the arrangements. Thanks.”

Felicity started to get up, but Curtis waved her off. “I can show myself out.”

When he had left, Carter found himself sitting quietly opposite Felicity. For the most part, he had found out what he wanted to know. He suspected that none of his original plans were going to come to fruition, but he didn’t consider the night a complete loss either.

It only took a couple of minutes, but Felicity Smoak’s steady gaze finally unnerved him.

“What?”

“I’m just trying to figure which of your remaining questions you want to ask first.”

“What makes you think I still have questions.”

Felicity offered a small smile. “You don’t spend as much time as I do with Oliver Queen without becoming good at reading people. If I’m not mistaken, you had a pretty clear agenda for yourself tonight. I’m guessing most of what you hoped to find out or accomplish has not played out the way you wanted.”

Carter was surprised by Felicity’s accurate perception of the night, but he wasn’t going to give up that easily.

He smiled as he asked, “What is it you think I wanted from tonight?”

“Before I answer that, I want to make it clear that I think there a good opportunity for you to join forces with Curtis and me in order to get the chip to a wider range of paralysis patients. That is what I am interested in. I don’t want to offend you and ruin that chance.”

Carter had already figured out that Felicity Smoak was an optimist, so her statement didn’t surprise him.

“You’re not going to offend me. I’m just curious as to whether I’m as transparent as you think.”

“Okay. Well, first, I think you had made the assumption that Curtis and I were a little naïve where the chip is concerned, and you were hoping that you could take more control over the future development than you now realize we’re willing to give up.”

Carter nodded once in acknowledgement. “I wasn’t trying to con you, but I have to admit the two of you are not only very smart in your chosen fields, but show a surprisingly astute business sense. I underestimated both of you at the very least.”

“I may not have been CEO of Palmer Technologies for very long, but I was pretty good at running the company. If Cameron Dennis hadn’t been intimated by me and my abilities, I would still be running the company. As it is, PT has floundered for a year and a half. I have a running internal debate over whether I should attempt to regain the company or start my own. And for the record, I was basically running the company for both Oliver and Ray Palmer. Oliver had too many personal issues going on at the time to be able to settle into the job and Ray was too busy working on his own projects to pay attention to what was going on. So I stepped up and filled the gap in both places.”

Carter nodded as she finished. He knew that most people would think she was boasting, but he knew better. She had simply stated the facts. He had a feeling that she’d had to defend herself more times than she should have in the past.

Before he could comment on that, she continued.

“You also thought that there was a chance that you and I could have a more … personal relationship. You weren’t very subtle in checking me out, Doc.” She grinned. “I’m a Vegas girl. My mom taught me to be aware of men long before most girls need to know those things. For the record, I’m not offended, but I’m not really interested in more than a professional association.”

“Yeah, I kind of figured that out. Didn’t you and Queen break off your engagement a year and half ago?”

“I did actually.”

“And yet?”

“Oliver did something kind of stupid and I didn’t understand it and I didn’t expect it. I was struggling with my paralysis, with the chip not yet working and with a number of other things going on in our lives, and I overreacted. It took us nearly a year and a half to finally talk about it and I discovered how much of a mistake I’d made. So did Oliver.”

“So you’re back together?”

“We’re rebuilding our relationship.” She paused, and it went on long enough that Carter began to think that was all she was going to say.

Then she continued. “I honestly can’t imagine my life with anyone other than Oliver. I’m pretty sure he feels the same way, but this time we’re taking the time to really blend our lives together. We talk a lot, and despite knowing each other for almost five years now, we’re still discovering new things about each other.”

Carter bowed his head in silent acknowledgement. “Well, despite my long held opinion of Oliver Queen, I’m happy for you. And in case you’re wondering, I was sincere in my offer to have lunch with Oliver. He’s definitely not the man I knew anymore.”

“There’s a lot of that going around, Doc.”

Chapter Text

“Have you seen the news this morning?”

Felicity Smoak’s question greeted Samantha before she could reach the bottom of the stairs. Samantha watched in amusement as Felicity immediately rolled her eyes and then muttered to herself.

“Of course, she didn’t, Felicity. She just got up. She probably needs coffee first before she can even comprehend the news.”

Samantha laughed as Felicity finished. She poured herself a cup and went back to the table where Felicity was sitting. She took a long sip of coffee, sat down, and then asked, “So what’s in the news?”

Felicity looked up at her.

“First of all, it’s not news, news. The Star City Reporter is closer to a tabloid then an actual newspaper. You’ll notice this is more speculation than fact.”

With that, she turned her tablet around and pushed it toward Samantha. Samantha glanced down at the tablet. The browser displayed the Star City Reporter’s website and an article talking about the love life of the Mayor was front and center.

Mayor Handsome’s New Romance?
By Frank Varonis

Does Mayor Handsome have something new he’s hiding? Based on a couple of recent sightings in and around Star City, it seems that the Mayor may be embarking on a new relationship. Just this past Saturday, Oliver Queen was spotted making an early visit to the Star City Zoo. Accompanying him was an attractive brunette and a young boy. The Mayor was careful not to exhibit any PDA with his female companion, but this was the first time that the two of them have been seen in public by themselves. Previous sightings, including several visits to Big Belly Burger over the last few weeks, have included the presence of Mr. Queen’s ex-fiancée, Felicity Smoak.

After a very public proposal in early December 2015, Queen and Smoak’s relationship petered out quietly. There were rumors of a wedding sometime the following March, but the two were rarely seen in each other’s company even at that point. Ms. Smoak has occasionally been seen at the City Building and anonymous sources all say that the two remain on friendly terms, but there has been no indication that the two are trying to rekindle their romance. It was even rumored that both Queen and Smoak tested the waters with other people this past fall and winter.

The presence of Ms. Smoak at many of the earlier outings between Mr. Queen and his unidentified girlfriend may indicate that ex has had a hand in introducing the Mayor to his new love. As noted above, the two are always accompanied by the boy. The fact that the boy has been heard to address the brunette woman as “Mom” and Mr. Queen by his first name would seemingly indicate the boy has been getting to know Mr. Queen in the past few weeks. One can safely presume that we will soon see Mr. Queen and his new lady on dates unchaperoned in the very near future.

This would seemingly indicate that Star City’s one time most eligible bachelor is once again off the market. Sorry, ladies.

When Samantha finished the article, she looked back up at Felicity. The blonde’s face was neutral, but Samantha was fairly sure that Felicity wasn’t as bothered by the rampant speculation as she was.

“Why,” she finally managed to croak out after a long minute of silence.

Felicity shrugged. “Because Oliver still makes news just by breathing. Because Oliver’s love life splashed across the front page of anything sells. I don’t know; because they can?”

“This is just wrong!” Samantha cried. “I don’t want to be any part of this.”

Felicity nodded in agreement. “I never wanted to be either, but from the moment Oliver ‘promoted’ me to being his Executive Assistant, this has been part of my life. I spent two years of my life dealing with this crap and not getting any of the implied benefits.”

Samantha was too worked up already to appreciate that particular comment.

“Are you telling me that this is my life now? Felicity, I don’t know if I can deal with this.” Samantha could hear the panic in her voice, and she certainly felt her heartbeat start to race.

Felicity stepped over to her and placed her hands on Samantha’s upper arms. The grip was firm, but not too tight.

“Samantha. Take some deep breaths. There’s nothing to get upset about yet. The reporter obviously hasn’t figured out who you are. Or who William is, for that matter. This article is nothing but speculation. This Varonis guy is known for his farfetched guesses, especially about Oliver.”

“But, why? I don’t understand why anyone would do that?”

Felicity shook her head. “Well, I’m pretty sure that Varonis is the reporter that Oliver assaulted back in his pre-Gambit, bad boy days. Even if that wasn’t the case, Varonis isn’t normal. He gives reporters a bad name. He is so unethical he makes Susan Williams look like Bob Woodward. We’re going to ignore this. More importantly, I know that Oliver was already working on how to handle this with the press. So all of it will be dealt with soon.”

Samantha squinted at Felicity, her brows wrinkled in confusion. “Oliver knew that the press was going to speculate about him and me?”

Felicity laughed. “No, but he did know that eventually they were going to start asking questions about William. I’m sure he is just as surprised by this as you and I are.”

Samantha took at moment to think about what Felicity was saying. She realized that the other woman was right. The article was pretty off the mark and it should be easy to straighten out, but… There were still implications that she didn’t like.

“Oliver is planning on talking to the press about the William?”

Felicity nodded. “He’s been pretty sure that he won’t be able to maintain even a moderately public life and not own up to Will being his son. I think he’s had his PR people working on something for a while.”

Samantha frowned at that. “He hasn’t said anything to me.”

“I didn’t think he had, but I don’t think there’s any reason to be concerned.”

“Wasn’t this one of the problems between you two in the past?” Samantha said, trying to keep any accusation out of her voice, but knowing she was failing.

“Yes and no. In the past, if he was working up a plan, he wouldn’t have told me anything. He would have some complicated scheme for taking down an opponent without ever consulting the people working with him who needed to know. In this case, however, he has told me several times he was putting together a statement. I’m guessing that he doesn’t have it done yet. And Samantha, I’m not really defending him here, but I can’t imagine that he was going to do anything without your blessing. He’s been very careful not to do that up ‘til now. I can’t imagine he would handle this differently.”

Samantha considered that for a minute. Felicity was right. Oliver had been very conscientious about not making any decisions about their son without including her. More often than not, he had gone with her suggestions, even though there were a couple of times she was sure he didn’t agree. Still this felt bigger than anything they had dealt with so far. The enormity of this equaled how she felt when he first came to her claiming to know that William was his son. There was the same pressure now.

“Well, I guess that Oliver and I need to have another conversation, then.”

Felicity indicated her agreement. “Why don’t you have some breakfast and get ready. I’ll call Oliver’s office and let Marilyn know you’ll be stopping by. I’ll take William and he and I can do something fun this morning, while you talk to Oliver. Then we can all get lunch.”

“Is it smart to continue to do that?” Samantha asked.

Felicity waved that away.

“The press is going to speculate now, no matter what. It really doesn’t matter if we continue the way we have been acting in public or not. It’s not like anybody’s guessed right yet.”

< = = = = = >

“Mr. Queen? Ms. Clayton is here to see you.”

Samantha saw Oliver look up from what he had been reading. His eyes briefly focused on his secretary standing in front of her, then shifted to her. He offered a smile to the other woman.

“Thank you, Marilyn. Show her in. Would you close the door, please.”

Well, Samantha told herself, at least he’s not surprised that I’m here.

Marilyn had stepped further into the office, so Samantha walked past her with a soft ‘thank you’ before heading to the chairs in front of Oliver’s desk.

“Would either of you like something to drink?” Marilyn asked from behind her.

Samantha turned and indicated that she was fine. Once Oliver had done the same, Marilyn exited the room, making sure the door was closed behind her.

Oliver had stood while she had entered the room and now he gestured to one of the chairs in front of the desk. “Please, have a seat.”

Samantha sat down and Oliver followed. She realized that her relationship with Oliver had become stiffly formal again. There had been a time a couple of years ago after Oliver first learned about William where she had started to feel more comfortable around him. William became more familiar and comfortable with him and Oliver grew increasingly relaxed when he visited and she thought that maybe they could eventually reach a point where they could co-parent William.

But William had been kidnapped for leverage against Oliver and then she had to uproot her entire life in order to protect her son. She had wanted to distance herself as far from Oliver as she could. The fact that he didn’t know where they were didn’t even completely comfort her. This spring’s abduction certainly didn’t make the situation any better. So now they struggled to communicate one-on-one. When Felicity was around, it was completely different. The same with William. But when it was just the two of them, Oliver seemed to be walking on eggshells and she was constantly worried he was going to ask her for something she didn’t want to give or give up.

She looked up to see that Oliver was sitting stiffly behind his desk waiting for her to start.

“I suppose you saw the article in the Star City Reporter this morning? I’m not excited about that kind of speculation, Oliver.”

Oliver screwed up his face in frustration before he ran his hand over it. When he was finished, he had regained some composure, but the stress was still evident.

“First of all, I’m sorry. I forget sometimes that other people haven’t had to deal with the tabloid media all their lives. I just ignore it and move on.” He paused, clearly measuring his words.

“I didn’t ignore the article this morning. I have been working on a timeline for when to reveal William’s existence and I’ve had my PR people working on fine tuning how we present the situation. I wanted to have a plan fleshed out before I sat down with you, so that you could understand possible results and repercussions and help make adjustments to the plan. I also wanted to hold off on this until the whole Adrian Chase story died down a little more, but obviously that not going to be possible now.”

Samantha just nodded her agreement. Despite her current frustration, she thought Oliver had done a good job of explaining Adrian Chase’s campaign of terror on Star City during the last year while keeping her and William out of the story. The explanation had focused on Chase holding a grudge against Oliver because of Robert Queen’s actions years earlier. Robert’s exposure in the death of a fellow businessman had actually helped support the story of Chase’s vengeance. Chase had gone on his reign of terror during the last year and had finished with kidnapping Oliver, his sister Thea, and several other people close to him. A lot of details had been left out, but the story provided enough to explain how Oliver’s staff and other associates got dragged into the mess.

Yet despite Oliver leaving them out of the story, here she was: Oliver’s unidentified girlfriend. Samantha sighed. She had hoped that her life would never come to the point where it was fodder for public consumption, but here she was.

“Oliver, I told you that one of the reasons I went along with your mother’s ‘suggestion’ to leave all those years ago was because I didn’t want to live in the fishbowl that your family lived in. And yet, here I am.”

Oliver started to say something, but she held up a hand.

“I’m not done. I know that this isn’t directly your fault. I know that you are not the same guy you were ten years ago. I know that, but I still don’t want William to have to grow up with this. And there’s a part of me that wants to run away from all of this and just disappear again.”

Oliver sighed. “Do you think I want this for William? For you? For Felicity? For myself? I don’t. But I can’t change who I am, Sam.”

“But you still choose to live your life in the public eye, Oliver. It comes with being Mayor. And while you may not think of it like this, you choose to live in the public eye as the Green Arrow as well. Felicity does, too. William isn’t being given a choice.”

Oliver popped up from his chair and paced back and forth a couple of times before he stopped behind his chair again. His hands gripped the back of the chair.

“What do you want to do, Samantha? Let’s start with that.”

Samantha noted for the hundredth time since they had returned to Star City that Oliver was extremely conscious of listening to her concerns and then trying to find a compromise solution. So far, they had been in a holding pattern. Samantha had pretty quickly decided, to Oliver’s relief, they weren’t going to return to their witness protection-like existence. She wasn’t sure she wanted to return to Central City either. There was nothing compelling to pull them back: she had no close family there and William didn’t have any close friends, especially after a year and a half away. As a matter of fact, he had made more friends in the last year as Matthew than he had in Central City as himself. She kind of hated that he was going to lose those connections.

For herself, she had already been able to find some teaching opportunities in Star City. ARGUS had pretty quickly helped her re-establish her true identity. She did have some family in Star City that it would be nice to be closer to. And she was fairly sure that Oliver and Felicity would continue to make her feel like she had support and friendship.

But moving back to Star City meant being pulled into the fishbowl that Oliver Queen lived in. William would take the brunt of that exposure.

“I suppose that’s the problem. I know what I don’t want. I don’t know what I want.”

Oliver nodded his understanding.

“Okay, so let’s talk about what you seem to want. If I’ve understood you the last few weeks, you seem to want to move back to Star City. Felicity said that you’ve even gotten a couple of job offers? And I get the impression you aren’t opposed to me continuing to be involved in William’s life?”

“Yes. All of that is correct.”

Oliver smirked just a bit. “But you don’t want William to be publicly known? Or you don’t want him to be publicly known as my son?”

Samantha gave Oliver the same disapproving frown she gave William when he was trying to talk her into something.

“I don’t want him to be the subject of the tabloids, Oliver. Unfortunately, him being your son makes that impossible. Don’t play the martyr.”

“Okay. Let’s deal with the reality of the situation. If you and William stay in Star City, it is inevitable that the press is going to find out about you. The fact that that idiot Varonis has enough people feeding him information that he figured out that you and I have been seen together makes that clear. There are a couple of things you aren’t factoring in, though. The first is that William will get a certain amount of privacy because he is a minor. Before I started doing stupid stuff in public – on my own – the press took a lot less notice of me.”

Samantha wasn’t sure what to make of that, but Oliver had no reason to lie.

“As long as William doesn’t follow in my footsteps when it comes to that stuff, he’ll be fine. And, let’s face it, he won’t follow in my footsteps. Between the two of us, I hope that we can steer him along better than my parents did me. And I will make it perfectly clear that he is off limits to the press.”

Samantha nodded this time. Oliver was right. She wasn’t going to let William get to the point where he acted out because he needed attention or because he had more money and time than he knew what to do with. She was pretty sure that Oliver wasn’t going to let that happen either, even without making that explicitly clear.

“The other thing to consider is that fact that Felicity and I getting back together will draw attention away from the fact that I have a ten year old son. Again, Varonis is an idiot, but he usually manages to touch upon what people are most interested in knowing. He thinks my love life is the story. So we can play to that. Felicity and I have talked about making an announcement so that we headed off any wild speculation. I didn’t anticipate Varonis particular guess about us, but his logic works for us.”

Oliver had sat back down, but now Samantha stood up. Oliver’s logical reasoning wasn’t completely helping settle her nervous energy.

“So you do have a plan?” she asked, putting off the bigger questions she knew she needed to ask.

“Yes. As I mentioned, my PR team has been putting together a statement. They’ve been running some internal testing of it – don’t ask me how that works – but I know they’ve about got it done. I can grab a copy and we can review it tonight. Basically, I’m going to call a press conference, explain that Felicity and I are dating again and that I discovered recently that I had a son from a brief relationship before the Gambit went down. William’s first name only will be mentioned, and I’m not going to identify you at all. I’ll also explain that I want William to grow up outside the public eye and that you wish to remain private.”

“And you think that will work?”

“Yes, I do. So does the PR team.”

Samantha nodded, but didn’t comment. She agreed that the plan sounded all well and fine, but she was still spooked by this morning’s story and she wasn’t sure she believed that the press would respect their wishes as much as Oliver thought.

“There’s something else on your mind, isn’t there?”

Samantha’s eyes snapped up to look at Oliver. When did he get to be so perceptive.

“Yeah, there is. We’ve never … we’ve never fully talked about how the parenting is going to work. We haven’t had to since I’ve been living at the loft, but I spent some time the last couple of days looking at apartments. I’d like to re-establish myself independent of you and Felicity. But once I move out, then we’ve got to figure out things in more detail. I suppose you’re going to want some kind of formal custody arrangement?”

She said the last with some hesitation. That was the reason she didn’t want to have this conversation in the first place. An arrangement locked in her as much as preserved her rights.

“If you want a custody arrangement, then yes, we should do that. I don’t need it, Samantha. I trust you. I hope that you trust me as well, but I know you’re not completely there yet. I hope you know that I want what’s best for my son and that I respect your decisions. You have done a great job raising him so far. I’m not going to mess that up.”

Samantha focused intently on Oliver as he explained his position. She could tell that he was serious. It wasn’t what she expected him to say.

“I’ll tell you what. I have a family lawyer that I’ve known for years. I know that he tended to disagree with my parents’ often heavy-handed approach to things. That means that we can talk to him and get his opinion, but if we find that we are both comfortable with an informal arrangement, then he won’t push for something more formal,” Oliver added.

“Okay. But what do you want, Oliver? What will make you happy?”

“I want to be there for William, Sam. I want him to know that he is a priority for me. That just because I wasn’t able to be there the first ten years of his life, I am here now and if he needs me, he’s got me.”

“Oh. That’s … great, Oliver. It’s just not what I expected.”

“What did you expect?”

Samantha teared up involuntarily. “I expected to have to fight for him, Oliver. I thought that once we got to this point, you would use your lawyers and take my son away from me. And even though you aren’t going to do that, I’m still worried that he’s going to like you better. Life with you is going to be more glamorous and exciting and he won’t want to spend time with me anymore.”

Oliver shook his head. He was obviously surprised by her fears. “That’s not going to happen, Samantha. I would never take him away from you. I’m trying to be a good father, but I’m kind of making this up as I go along. It’s not like I had a great example. But I’m trying to be better than that.”

“What do you mean?”

“My parents were strange, Samantha. I know that they both loved me very much. When I was young, my Dad spent a time with me: baseball games, the zoo, other things. But the older I got, he became more and more preoccupied by business and spent less and less time with me. It got to the point where the only time I saw him was when he was lecturing me about screwing up.”

Samantha could see that the memory of those times were easy for Oliver.

“My mom. She was more concerned with my image. I got lectures from her, too. But she never really disciplined me. It didn’t matter what I did. She’d tell me I hadn’t made a good choice, but there were never consequences. That’s why I ended up the way I did. I know they loved me, but they didn’t understand that raising children took work. Or they just didn’t want to take the time.

“I do not want to be that kind of dad. I refuse to be that kind of dad.”

Samantha nodded her head. She really didn’t have anything to say to Oliver’s declaration, but Oliver stayed quiet, waiting for her to ask the next question or raise the next topic.

Samantha certainly didn’t intend to say what came out of her mouth next. She had thought about it off and on the last month, but she didn’t think it was appropriate to bring up. And she wasn’t normally one to blurt things out inadvertently. But suddenly she was asking him anyway.

“Why couldn’t you have been this type of man back then, Oliver?”

She closed her eyes. She knew that not only shouldn’t she have asked that particular question, but that Oliver could certainly hear the hurt in her voice. But once he started talking, she had to look at him, despite her impulse not to.

“Samantha. I’m sorry that I wasn’t a good man when we met. You have no idea how scared I was when you told me you were pregnant. I knew what kind of guy I was and what kind of guy I wasn’t. There was a part of me that wanted to be able to step up and take responsibility. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I knew that I would try if I had to. My mother …”

Oliver’s voice dripped with acid suddenly.

“My mother took that opportunity away from me. Instead she did what she always did; she pushed the consequences of my mistakes onto someone else. You. She shouldn’t have done that. And I know that I can never make up for that, but I would like to try and make a part of it right.”

Samantha nodded her understanding. Then something else that had been bothering her popped into her head and she couldn’t stop herself from asking that question either.

“If you had known I had William, would you have tried to make it work? Would we have tried to be a couple?”

If she thought the previous question had surprised him, this one knocked him over. He slumped completely in his chair, like it was the only thing keeping him upright at all. There was a long pause while he considered the question. She eventually thought he wasn’t going to answer.

“I don’t know. I just don’t know. You were different than anyone else I knew, Samantha. Up until then I was either with Laurel or with all of the women and girls that just wanted something from me. Laurel was the normal one, but … well, despite loving each other, we didn’t complement each other. She was this perfect life, not realizing that her example – my parents – were far, far from perfect. God, we were a horrible couple most of the time.”

Samantha could see the struggle again as he remembered his past.

“Felicity complements me in ways that Laurel never did. We’ve had our bumps, but we’re getting back to a good place. A better place than before, I think. But back then, I could see where life with you would have been far better than with Laurel. But being able to see that and being able to get past my notions of who I was and what my life was supposed to look like are two completely different things. I had been told that Laurel was my future. And I …”

“I understand, Oliver. For what it’s worth, I could see us together, but I was having trouble seeing myself in your world. And that was before I met your mother. She was scary.”

“You actually met my mother?”

Samantha laughed at Oliver’s question, relieved that they had suddenly moved past her awkward questions about their past.

“Oh, yes. She summoned me to the mansion. Had one of her big black cars show up at my dorm to drive me out there. She sat there and explained how important you were going to be and that a child at that point in your life would hurt your potential. Would hold you back. Then she gave me that check and suggested that I do the right thing.”

Oliver was just shaking his head, the disbelief written all over his face.

It’s not like I hadn’t considered running already, Oliver. I was scared, too. Your mother just made it easy.”

“Well, if this past year has taught me anything, Samantha, it’s not to be held captive by your past. I know our situation not ideal, but I think we can still parent William so that he gets the best out of both of us.”

“Okay, but I’ve got one more question for you. Have you and Felicity talked about this? Have you talked about how it affects your relationship? How it affects the two of you having children of your own?”

Samantha saw the small smile grace Oliver’s face at the mention of Felicity.

“Yes, we have. I don’t want to speak for her, but she has certainly encouraged my relationship with William. And I’m sure that she wants to be involved in William’s life as well. She has specifically made the comment that she doesn’t want to replace you, but she does really like spending time with him. I don’t think that will be a problem, whether or whether not we have kids of our own.”

Samantha smirked. “You do want that, though, don’t you?”

Oliver’s smile grew. “Yes, we do. We’re not sure if Felicity’s back injuries or the implant will hinder that, but yes, we would like to have children.”

As if to signal that their discussion was over, the door opened and William bounced into the office, followed by Felicity.

William immediately moved over to his Mom, pulled him in for a huge. He looked back towards the blonde woman. “Well, they don’t look like they’re angry, Felicity. That’s a good sign, right?”

“Yep, kiddo, I think we’ll take that as a good sign.”

Chapter Text

“Are you awake, Princess?”

Black Siren opened her eyes and glanced toward the opaque glass wall opposite side where she lay. She had been impressed at the efforts to provide a semi-comfortable living environment for her, even though ultimately it was still a prison cell. The room was about twelve by fifteen feet in size, the three concrete walls a pale cream color. The color warmed the room in a way that drab prison gray never could. There was a single metal chair anchored to the floor in the center of the room, along with a small table. The bed she was laying on, as well as the toilet and sink, recessed into the back wall when they weren’t being used. She even had various forms of entertainment; so far she had stuck with the decent selection of books versus the TV for the most page.

The room even afforded her a fair amount of privacy. She was sure that there were cameras in the room, but they were hidden well enough that she had yet to find them. The glass wall stayed opaque unless there was someone on the other side wanting to talk to her. She con control of the wall’s transparency, but she was pretty sure that her controls could be overridden.

She waited a couple of minutes, but decided there was no reason not to talk to her visitor, so she pressed the button on the side of the bed and rolled to her side.

The wall cleared and standing on the other side was a woman of average height but otherwise strikingly attractive in a business-like fashion. She was slim and had short dark hair. Her attire was similar to her previous visits: today she wore matching dark gray pants and jacket, with pastel yellow silk blouse. Modest heels in very dark gray completed the outfit. The woman looked pretty normal considering she ran a secret government organization.

Siren recognized her, of course. The woman had been in charge of the group that had rescued her and several others off the island that Adrian Chase had blown up. She obviously knew or worked with the Green Arrow, because she had been identifying friends versus foes for the people under her, leading Siren to assume that she had at least a working knowledge of the people who worked with not-her-Ollie.

It had been at least four weeks since she had been thrown into this cell – she had frankly lost track of time – and Siren wondered what finally had brought the woman’s attention back to focus on her. Until now, the woman had very infrequently accompanied the guards tasked with bringing her meals. Siren thought that she was simply surveilling the situation during those earlier visits, but today’s visit had a purpose.

“So what brings the queen down to see little ol’ me?” Her voice was purposely sarcastic as she asked the question.

“Apparently, at least one person thinks you may be worth talking to. I came down to see if you would take visitors?”

“You’re giving me the choice?” she asked, too surprised to maintain her tough façade.

“Against my better judgment,” the ice queen said. “Siding with Chase buys no respect from me. That maniac nearly killed my husband. He’s dead, so his allies deserve to get his punishment, if you ask me.”

There it was! Siren put together the connection. This woman – Lilly, she thought – was John Diggle’s wife. Chase had made sure that everyone who was in his employ knew who the enemy was. He hadn’t given her much information on Lilly, but Diggle’s importance to Oliver Queen had been stressed over and over again.

“For what it’s worth, I wasn’t too thrilled about Chase’s scorched earth approach to things either. He was just a means to be free.”

“How’d that work out for you?” Lilly asked.

Siren shrugged. “’bout as well as all my other efforts. Apparently, it doesn’t even matter which earth I’m on. Which also begs the question, who on this earth would even want to talk to me?”

Lilly looked at her rather harshly, she thought. Not that she was particularly bothered by the stares of others at this point. She had pretty much been a target for them ever since she had been changed by the particle accelerator explosion on her own world.

The other woman finally turned away and walked toward the outer door. Siren heard her say over her shoulder, “He’ll be in shortly.”

< = = = = = >

Twenty minutes later the door opened and the impressive figure of Oliver Queen walked through. He was wearing a dark red henley under a brown leather jacket and jeans. He appeared relaxed, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans.

More than all the other times she had seen him, it took Siren a second to remind herself that this wasn’t her Ollie. Her Ollie had never been this buff or this mature looking. When he got on the Queen’s Gambit, he was still young and good-natured, only starting to find his place in the world, but not yet carrying the burdens that went along with adulthood. Siren realized she hadn’t been much more mature. Yes, she knew what she wanted to do and who she wanted to be, but her life hadn’t been so complicated that she couldn’t enjoy the simple moments, especially with her Ollie.

The man in front of her? Carefree was a long, long way in his past. So long that she wondered if he even remembered it. Today, she reflected, was the first time she had seen him relaxed to any degree. Still, she wasn’t going to let this stranger know how she felt.

“Ollie Queen. I was wondering when you would show up. Are you still trying to save my soul?” She added just a touch of seduction to her voice; it echoed the tone she had used with him several months ago when he realized he was Laurel’s doppelganger.

She also sat up straighter and smoothed the wrinkles in the nondescript prison clothes that made up her wardrobe. She smiled at him, but it was fake and suddenly she felt a certain nervousness as he was standing before her. She realized that this was the first time they were facing each other without her having a hidden agenda. She had nothing to fake – no part to play.

She had expected him to show up after the first time she had attacked him as part of Prometheus’s plans, but he never had. When Prometheus broke her free the second time, she realized that Ollie hadn’t shown up because Prometheus had never let up the pressure in his campaign to destroy Ollie. Even if not-her-Ollie had wanted to check up on her, he never had the chance.

Siren had also admitted to herself that she hadn’t fully understood what Prometheus was trying to accomplish, but he had promised her freedom and safety for the Earth One version of Quentin Lance. She now knew that Chase had had no intention of keeping his promises. The fact that he was willing to sacrifice so many people, his own allies included, in order to make Ollie suffer was proof of that.

Oliver’s silence had allowed her thoughts to roam, but now that he had taken a seat, he finally spoke.

“Do you want me to save your soul, Laurel?” His voice was soft, but strong.

“Can you?” she challenged.

“No.” He shook his head and an ironic smile appeared. “I struggle just to reclaim mine. I think everyone has to handle saving their own soul.”

“Well, that’s inconvenient. And I still don’t know why you’re here, Ollie.”

“I may not be able to save your soul, but I want to know if there’s anything I can do to help you.”

So she wasn’t wrong about his general intentions.

“Let’s start by not calling me Laurel. I haven’t been that girl for a long time. Just call me Siren.” She flattened her tone, making it clear that her name wasn’t up for discussion.

Oliver nodded. “Fair enough. But then, I’m Oliver. I’m no more Ollie than you’re Laurel.”

Siren looked at him critically for a long minute. “No, you really aren’t. It’s easy for me to see that now. You don’t even look like my Ollie.”

She shook her head, looking down. When she raised her face to look at him again, her voice grew wistful, even though she had no idea why. Before she knew what she was saying, a long hidden truth crept out.

“It was so long ago. I really loved him, you know. From what I been told, he may have been a better boyfriend than you were. No offense.”

Oliver shrugged. “None taken. I’ve made peace with that part of my past.”

Siren looked at him for a long time, before she continued. “He still wasn’t perfect, but he had started to grow up. He had gotten his degree and was working for his dad’s company. Then he had to get on that damn boat with his dad.” She paused, overcome by the sudden memory of Moira’s phone call saying the boat had gone down. “It was Malcolm Merlyn here, right? He was the one that had the boat sunk?

“Yeah. My dad knew too much about the Undertaking and had decided to stop it.”

“It was the same on my world. Malcolm didn’t realize that Tommy was on the boat, too. I lost the love of my life and one of my best friends. And … and my sister. She was in love with Tommy. She got on the boat with Tommy. Robert said that none of them had a chance. Tommy and Sara were right on top of the explosion that split the Gambit.

“My dad couldn’t handle it. The heart attack killed him instantly. Mom and I didn’t know what to do with ourselves. She took a semester off and I dropped out completely. We both moved to Central City, but by then it was too late. Mom barely holds herself together most days and she drinks way too much. And … well, here I am. The result of way too many bad choices.”

Siren realized that this was the first time she’d really told her story to anyone. She wasn’t sure why she wanted this Oliver to know. He wasn’t her Oliver, but he was the closest she’d ever come to him again. She felt some relief when she finished, but she immediately shut down those feelings. And immediately hated the moment of weakness.

Oliver just nodded his understanding. He couldn’t see her closing herself off.

“Malcolm never cared who got in his way. On either Earth, it sounds like.”

“How could you work with him after that? He was with you when you first came to the island to get Chase, right?” Any discussion of Malcolm Merlyn always set her off and this time she relished the topic because it pushed away her maudlin train of thought.

Oliver shrugged again. “I needed someone I could trust. Even partially. The only thing that Malcolm could be trusted to do was defend Thea. Since she had been taken by Chase along with everyone else, I knew I had his help for the short term. I played him, knowing that he would go along to obtain Thea’s safety.

Siren shook her head. She didn’t know him well, but she found that this version of Oliver repeatedly subverted her expectations.

“So how’d you end up being the survivor of the Gambit on this earth? You were the only one, right?”

Oliver told her the story of his dad’s sacrifice and the promise he extracted from Oliver.

“So you spent five years in hell, only to come back to Starling and eventually have some guy tell you that you were to blame for the person you’d become?” She couldn’t help the disdain that crept into voice.

“You make it sound worse than it is. Was. But, yes, that’s what happened,” Oliver agreed.

She looked at him critically, but he seemed unaffected by her stare.

“Chase said you were nothing but a killer. He even compared you to my Ollie. Said you were nothing like him. How he thought he knew that, I don’t know. But, you’re really not a killer, are you? Instead, you’re a hero.” Siren realized that she honestly wanted to know and she hoped that Oliver could hear that in her voice. God, she hated the mix of emotions the conversation was pushing on her.

“I don’t think of myself as a hero. I never have. I certainly wasn’t when I first came back.”

He was silent for a long pause, but Siren knew he hadn’t finished yet.

“Felicity has been telling me for years that I am one. I’m just trying to do the right thing. This year, especially has been tough. From now on, though, I’m going to do the right thing because I want to. Not because of my dad. Or Tommy. Or even my Laurel. I’m doing it because Oliver Queen wants to make Star City better.”

There was no question about his honesty. He was enough like her Ollie that she recognized the sincerity in his voice. In his posture.

The two fell silent, both lost in their own thoughts. For Siren, it was the first time in a long time that she found herself considering things beyond her own day-to-day survival. For the last month, she has assumed that this cell, on an Earth that wasn’t hers, was going to be where she spent the rest of her life. She didn’t have any plans – not that she had a good plan before now – but she had been resigned to her fate. But with Oliver sitting on the other side of that glass wall, suddenly she felt the barest glimpse of something more again. Hope, if she wasn’t mistaken.

Still the pragmatic part of her brain responded to him. “I guess that’s good. Well, good for you, at least. Your journey’s been a little different than mine, don’t you think?”

Oliver cocked his head to the side, considering her statement. “Not sure that we’re all that different, Siren. I think our journeys have been similar in a lot of ways.”

Siren laughed at him. It was an ugly sound, absent of any humor. “You’ll have to explain how. I don’t see it.”

“Well, Felicity would say that our origins are the same. We both had the direction of our lives changed by the sinking of the Gambit. You lost people; I lost my naiveté. The next five years honed us into the people we are now. For me it was all the horrible things I had to go through and do; for you, it was the long slow build of anger and the search for the meaning of it all, I suspect. It took five years to make me into the unfeeling weapon I was when I came back to Starling; for you, it was a singular event that gave you your powers. The result was the same. We suddenly had the ability to get revenge. And we did.”

“Well, something ended up different. You’re a hero and I’m locked in a cell.”

“I think the difference is that I’ve had people who steered me in the right direction. Before John Diggle and Felicity Smoak joined, I just hoped to stop Merlyn’s plans before I died.”

He laughed at some unspoken joke.

“As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for them, I would have been dead more times than I can count.”

“That’s great, Oliver,” Siren said sarcastically. “I haven’t had that kind of luck. I just keep getting used. First it was Zoom. It was either do what he wanted or he killed you. Some he killed just because he was having a bad day. I got stranded on Earth One because of Zoom and thrown in a prison. Chase wasn’t much better; he couldn’t threaten me as easily, but he used me just the same. I’m tired of being used, Oliver.”

The sarcasm had changed to anger. She understood what the man on the other side of the glass was getting at, but his assumptions were off. He had no idea what she had been through.

“Chase said that you liked killing. He said that you were worse than he and I because you pretended to be a hero. But that was never true, was it? You got used to it. Or maybe you got used to the control it gave you. That’s how I feel when I use my powers. They’re mine and only I can do those things. I like that control. And I’ve seen enough death and destruction; caused enough death and destruction to know that I do like it.”

Now it was Oliver studying her critically. She stood firm under his gaze. Finally, he shook his head.

“I find it hard to believe that Laurel Lance – any Laurel Lance – could be that malicious.”

Siren harrumphed derisively. “Does Felicity know you’re here? I can’t imagine that she condoned you wanting to reform me, any more than she did six months ago.”

Oliver smiled. “Of course, she knows I’m here.” He laughed softly. “Didn’t think much of my coming, either. Until I explained why this time was different.”

“And why did you come to see me? How is this different? Because all I’ve heard is that you can’t save my soul. I suppose I don’t mind the occasional visitor, but you don’t seem the kind of guy to do casual visits to people who tried to kill you. So what do you want, Oliver?”

“I don’t want anything. Well, I suppose that’s not completely true. I want to make sure you understand all the opportunities before you.”

Siren was beginning to wonder if Oliver was under the influence of something. He seemed to be sober, but the unrelenting optimism seemed unrealistic.

“What opportunities, Oliver?” She waved her hands around, highlighting the starkness of her cell. “I’m going to spend the rest of my life right here. Unless another supervillain comes along who wants to make me their puppet. Quite frankly, I’d rather stay here. The bed’s comfy and I get three squares a day.”

“And that sounds very appealing. I didn’t get that when I was Amanda Waller’s whipping boy. The thing is, Waller’s gone and Lyla Michaels is in charge. If you want the opportunity to earn your way out of here, my guess is that she’ll give it to you.”

Siren snapped her fingers. “Lyla. Well, I was close. I’ve been calling her Lilly in my head. Hate to tell you this, but I don’t think I’ll be getting any chances for redemption from Lyla.” She stressed the name to indicate that she had gotten it right. “She just told me that she pretty much thinks I should stand in for Chase because he almost killed her husband. Honestly, I understand her logic.”

“Yeah. What you don’t know is that she’s pretty willing to forgive people. I kidnapped her and left her son alone with an assassin guarding him. She forgave me a lot quicker than Diggle did.”

Siren watched Oliver shake his head at the remembrance and she wondered at what kinds of craziness Oliver had lived through in recent years.

Oliver didn’t give her much time to contemplate his history. “She and I have talked. I think she’ll visit a little more often. I also think that you should listen to her. I think you should talk to her and be honest. About anything and everything.”

“Why, Oliver. Honestly, why do you think that I even deserve another chance? Why do you think anybody else will give it to me?”

“Everybody deserves another chance, Siren. It’s up to you whether you take it or not.”

Oliver stood up, and Siren wondered if that was all he had to say. Had he really wanted nothing more than to cheer her up? Because if that was it, he hadn’t done a great job.

He was about to open the door when he turned around again.

“I know that I’m not your Ollie and you’re not my Laurel. But I will be your friend, Siren. If you want to get out of here, I will do what I can to give you the opportunity to do so. But you have to want something better than this. You have to want to be better than this.”

Siren didn’t really have a response to that. Because she no longer knew what she wanted, but maybe it was time to start thinking about it again.

Chapter Text

“Is anybody home?”

Donna Smoak’s question echoed in the large open space of the loft, but there was no reply. She pulled the bright yellow suitcase into the room after her and pushed the door shut. Her heels click-clacked on the marbled floor, but there were other no further sounds.

It was a bright summer day in Star City and the floor to ceiling windows let plenty of light into the main room. As Donna looked around, she could see evidence that several people had been there recently. The table still held three plates left over from breakfast, along with utensils and glasses. The plates were dirty, with only crumbs left behind. Over in the sitting area, there was a blanket haphazardly thrown over the back of the sofa. More confusing were the large number of toys scattered on the coffee table. Boys’ action figures, a Lego vehicle and some loose blocks, and a pad of paper and some markers.

The loft looked far more lived in than Donna had seen it since Oliver lived here with Felicity.

Suddenly in the silence, there was a clink from somewhere upstairs. Donna spun on her heels and looked up, but there was nothing to see.

“Felicity?” Donna called again. She waited but again there was no answer.

Letting go of the suitcase handle, she moved to the stairs. She looked up, but there was no sign of movement on the open hallway. She headed up the steps, navigating the stairs far quicker than woman in four-inch heels should. When she reached the top, she again paused and looked around, both on her level and back down in the main room. When she again spied no other movement, she moved to the first room.

She peeked in the doorway. The room was obviously lived in. The bed wasn’t made and there were clothes strewn here and there. As Donna looked around, she realized the clothes were a mix of women’s clothing and a younger person. Most likely a boy, which matched the toys and other things downstairs. Donna didn’t remember Felicity telling her about any new roommates, so Donna was a little concerned.

She moved on to Felicity’s room. The door was pulled closed, but not completely shut. She about ready to walk away and go back downstairs when she heard the groan. She couldn’t tell from the sound whether it was good or bad, but a minute later came a long, low-voiced “Ohhhhhhhhh.” Definitely a man.

With that, Donna pushed open the door and took several steps into the room. The room itself was much as she remembered it. Felicity had changed very little in the nearly two years since Oliver had moved out, although some simple details were different. Basic things like the sheets and the comforter. Most of the pictures of Oliver were gone, and there were a couple of Felicity and another man. Donna recalled that Felicity had dated a cop for a while, so that explains the pictures she has seen yet.

It was as she was finishing her sweep of the room that she noticed the pile of clothes and equipment in the corner by the windows. For a minute, she couldn’t tell exactly what it was. Then she realized that there was a bow and a quiver propped up against the wall. The outfit was made of leather and dyed a deep shade of green, the legs of the pants extending out of the pile. The green military style boots sat off to the side. Donna sucked in a sharp breath as she recognized of the vigilante’s uniform.

Her attention was quickly pulled to the bed when another moan sounded. There in the middle of the bed lay Oliver Queen. He was sprawled out on his back, his right arm flung out to the side, but his left was held close to his side. The sheets had been pushed down off his chest and Donna realized he was shirtless. It took several seconds before she realized that the left side of his torso was wrapped in bandages and that the visible areas of his chest were covered in scars, including a particularly ugly one above his right pec. He was every bit as impressive as she had always thought he would be, despite the scarring.

She knew she was staring and while she had never had trouble admitting she admired well-built men, a sense of propriety finally kicked in, reminding her that Oliver was Felicity’s significant other. Or had been and hopefully would be again. At that thought, she finally shifted her gaze up to Oliver’s face. His eyes were closed, but she wasn’t sure he was asleep. He was obviously in pain. She knew the injury to his side had to have been recent. As she watched him, his head twisted left and right and he more clearly cried out in agony this time.

“Oliver!” She called to him, making sure he could hear her clearly without yelling.

He immediately reacted, but his eyes stayed closed. She continued to call his name at intervals, the tone and volume of her voice always the same. She had been taught that by a policeman she’d dated for a while. The guy had been a passable boyfriend, but he was always sharing weird tips about how to handle different situations that he had experienced. She remembered more of that stuff than she cared to admit and apparently more so than she could remember his name.

It took a good ten minutes, but with another long groan, Oliver’s eyes finally opened and he raised his head off the pillow. It took him just a few seconds to find her, but longer to process who she was and where he was. When everything finally clicked, he dropped his head back down.

“Donna.” It was a statement and an acknowledgement of her presence, but there was a note of resignation in his voice as well. She wondered what that was about.

“Oliver, are you okay?”

He huffed a bit of a laugh at her question, although it was cut short by a wince.

“I’ve been better,” he finally said.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” she offered. Donna was realistic enough to know that she didn’t have a lot of skills in medical care, but thought that surely there was something she could do.

“No. But I could probably go for some juice and toast?”

She nodded in agreement, before saying, “I think I can do that.”

“Great. If you don’t mind giving me a little privacy, I’ll get up, get dressed and meet you down in the kitchen.”

Suddenly, his brow furrowed. “Wait. What time is it?”

Donna glanced at her smart watch. “It’s a little after ten-thirty.”

“And there’s nobody else here, I take it?”

Donna huffed with indignation. “No! I let Felicity know I was coming in this morning, but she hasn’t answered my calls or texts. I tried you as well, but …” She waved her hand in his general direction. “I know why you weren’t answering. I even tried Quentin, but he didn’t answer either. That didn’t surprise me too much. That’s why I finally took a taxi and came over.”

Oliver had nodded his head during her explanation. “I’m guessing Felicity and Quentin are working on a project.”

Donna watched as Oliver’s gaze on her became a little more focused and questioning.

“I’ll explain what’s going on when I come downstairs.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, I’ll just go and get started on that toast.”

She reluctantly backed out of the room, pulling the door shut behind her.

< = = = = = >

Donna went downstairs and looked around. She was trying not to think about the combination of the Green Arrow’s outfit and an injured Oliver Queen in Felicity’s bed. Felicity had finally admitted to her last year that she helped the vigilante on occasion. Surely Oliver was messed up in that, though. Granted, he looked like he was pretty fit, but why would the mayor of Star City moonlight as a hero. Donna just shook her head. She really didn’t want to think about it too much.

Instead, she looked around the loft and decided to do a little cleaning. She started over in the sitting area. She folded the blanket and laid it across the back of the couch, straightening the pillows as she went. The toys were as scattered as she thought, so she simply gathered those and piled them together on the coffee table.

She took a quick peek at the drawings. They were pretty good for a kid’s work, she thought. So obviously not a real young boy. The pictures were mostly of superheroes. There was a green figure she supposed was the Green Arrow. There was a blonde woman in black. Another man in all black. And a red one running with yellow lines coming off the back of the figure. It took a minute, but then she remember there was a superhero in Central City called the Flash. The art supplies were carefully piled next to the toys.

She moved over to the kitchen area. A glance in the refrigerator showed far more food than was normal for Felicity’s kitchen. Donna wondered if there was a kid living there; that seemed to be the only explanation. Sure Felicity would have told her if she and Oliver were living together again.

She pulled the toast from the fridge and put a couple of slices into the toaster. Once she had pulled the lever, she put the bread back and then moved to the table. She picked up all the dishes left behind from whoever had breakfast and carried them to the sink. Once stacked, she wet the dish cloth hanging from the cabinet knob and went back to clean the table. She finished by cleaning up a couple of small messes on the island.

The toast was done by then, so she buttered it and placed it on a clean plate. She grabbed the orange juice from the fridge and poured a tall glass. She then carried both over to the seat at the end of the table closest to the open area.

After setting the food down, Donna had pulled her suitcase off to the side of the door and out of the way. It occurred to her that there might not be any place for her to stay that night. She hadn’t wanted to impose, but it had been a long time since she had seen Felicity.

She had been downstairs about twenty minutes when Oliver slowly lowered himself down into a chair at the table. The two pieces of toast had cooled some waiting for him, but he didn’t seem to mind. He took the time to eat one of the slices and drink about half the juice before he sat back against the chair. Donna slipped into one of the other chairs and waited for him.

While she waited, she studied him again. He looked more haggard than she had seen him before. Despite the long time it took him to descend the stairs, he was just wearing a t-shirt and a pair of sweats. The way he held himself indicated that he was definitely favoring his left side and the heavy bandages wrapped around his torso were clearly visible under the tight shirt. His every move was slow, as if everything hurt.

Her patience gave out pretty quickly; she could tell he was trying to figure out where to start, but wasn’t having much luck. She could take care of that.

“Does me finding you in Felicity’s bed mean that you’re back together?”

Oliver laughed again, the motion not quite as painful looking as it had been upstairs. “We’re working on it, yes. I suppose you could say we’re dating again, though we haven’t made a big deal of it. I’m probably going to say something to the press soon.”

“Wait a minute. Didn’t I see something in the news about you being seen around town with another woman recently?”

“That’s one of the reasons we’re going to make an announcement. I’m going to stop the more baseless speculation about my life before it can really gain too much traction. I’ll get around to explaining that article in a bit.”

“Okay. So why do you look like you got violently mugged last night?”

Oliver paused at that, again obviously considering his next words.

“How much did Felicity tell you about her association with the Green Arrow?”

Donna definitely didn’t expect that question. Despite the pile of clothing in the bedroom upstairs. She had been stunned when Felicity had dropped that particular fact on her a year ago. Donna had been angry about it, too, although she couldn’t remember if she was more angry that Felicity was putting herself in danger or that she had failed to mention it to her mother before then. Coupled with the fact that Noah had shown up and injected himself back into their lives, however temporarily, Donna had distanced herself a little from Felicity. Quentin had made that easier, at least for a while. She and Felicity had gotten past it, but Donna hadn’t visited Star City in a long while, deciding that talking regularly on the phone was enough.

In answer to Oliver, she blew out a long breath first. “She told me that she worked with him. I assumed that meant that she did computer-type stuff for him. I always meant to ask you if you were okay with that, but it didn’t seem to matter much once you two had broken up.”

Oliver nodded.

“When she started, it was just the computer stuff. I needed help doing searches and having communication in the field. It eventually became so much more.”

Donna nodded. Then what Oliver had just said really sunk in. “What do you mean, when she started you needed help? Oliver are you the Green Arrow?”

Donna watched Oliver’s face as he obviously thought through what he was going to say. He finally settled on something and his face relaxed.

“Yes, I am the Green Arrow. That’s how I met Felicity. I needed her help with a damaged laptop and I just kept going back for more. She was always able to do what I need her to do.”

“Soooo. This.” She waved her hand up and down toward his torso. “This is because you’re the Green Arrow?”

Oliver offered a wry smile. “Yeah. Guy got in a lucky shot last night. Kevlar only stops so much. I’ll be sore for a couple of weeks, but I’ll be okay. Aside from my ribs, I took a shot to the head last night and was a little out of it. That’s why they brought me back here. Felicity refused to let me sleep in the bunker without somebody watching me.”

Donna stood up and walked to the windows. She looked out at the Star City skyline for a minute or two to give herself time to think. Finally, she whirled back around. She knew her anxiety was clearly visible, but Oliver dragging her daughter into this life was not comforting in the least. The opposite, actually. She really didn’t knew where to start, so she asked the first thing that came to mind.

“What’s the bunker? And who is included in ‘they’?”

“The bunker is our base. Felicity has most of her communications equipment and computers there. ‘They’ are the other people who work with me. You know John Diggle, but we’ve added a number of other people over the last year. I have lots of help.”

Donna carefully considered Oliver’s declaration. On one hand, a lot of things made more sense. Felicity’s long association with Oliver. Some of the screwy things that Felicity had commented on doing. How she knew Quentin Lance. But now Donna realized that there were bigger gaps in what she knew about her daughter than ever before.

She wasn’t surprised that Felicity had gotten involved. Felicity’s hacktivism while at MIT, which Donna knew only scraps about, signaled that her daughter had quite the adventurous spirit. And a desire to help people. Obviously what Oliver was doing helped people. What didn’t make sense was the fact that Oliver could be killed at any time. Donna did know how much Cooper’s suicide had affected Felicity, yet here she was, back in a realationship with a man that she could lose at anytime. Oliver was obviously a much better man than Cooper Seldon had ever been, but he was obviously a bigger risk taker.

“How does she do it? Live with the fact that you could be killed when you’re out there? Why does she do it?” Donna’s voice had risen as she’d asked that last question.

She suddenly saw a correlation between Oliver and Felicity’s life and her own marriage to Noah. She had forced Noah to leave, but not because he was a criminal. Well, it was partially because he was a criminal and she didn’t want that influence around her daughter. But it was also because Donna knew that eventually he was going to be taken away from them. Either he was going to fall prey to someone he had cheated or betrayed or he would get arrested. It didn’t matter what was going to happen, they were going to lose him eventually. Donna had decided that it would be better to make that happen on her schedule and get it over with. It had been rougher than she thought, particularly on Felicity, but Donna reasoned that she was protecting her daughter from even greater heartbreak. Of course, she had doubted the wisdom of her actions ever day since then.

Oliver pulled her back to the present. “I don’t know why she does it. I’m glad she does. Felicity is the strongest person I know. And her presence in my life has consistently made me better the entire time I’ve known her.”

Oliver bowed his head for a minute. When he raised it, Donna could see that his eyes had grown watery.

“For a long time, I denied how I felt about her. For a long time, I told myself that I wasn’t good enough for her. There are times that I still think that. But your daughter has always called me out when I was being stupid. I’ve had to accept that she is right most of the time.”

Donna looked at Oliver critically. She had seen the depth of his affection for Felicity the first time they had visited her. They had been traveling for a while and Oliver convinced Felicity they should stop in and see her. He had been incredibly attentive. Donna had been amazed; she had known that Felicity loved Oliver the first time she had seen them together. But once they were together, Oliver’s focus never left Felicity. Donna had never seen that before, and she had seen a lot of couples over the years.

“Oliver, why would you think you weren’t good enough for my daughter. Because of your youth? You sowed your wild oats. A little more publicly than most, but still. I know that Felicity is pretty non-judgmental, so I can’t imagine that she cares, given the man you are now.”

Oliver shook his head.

“The five years that I was away? I’ve always told the press that I was shipwrecked for those five years. The truth is much worse. When I reached the island, there was a covert operation going on. I got caught up in that. I take it you saw some of my scars?”

Donna nodded. She knew that Oliver had suffered.

“During the first year alone, I was tortured and shot. The next four years never got any better. I have been an assassin, a soldier and a member of the Russian mob. I wouldn’t have chosen any of it, but I did what I had to do to survive. When the Gambit sunk, my father lived long enough to tell me that I needed to come back to Star City and correct his mistakes. I didn’t know what he meant, but that was part of what kept me going. But the man who came back …” Oliver choked on his words.

“The man who came back – I was a bad man, Donna. A killer. Not much better than a machine pretending to be the old Ollie. At first, I could only see my mission. It was Diggle and then Felicity who gave me back my humanity. She has always seen something in me worth saving. I don’t know why, but I am eternally grateful to have her in my life.”

Donna stared at him. She had no idea that Oliver had suffered that much. But now that she did, she knew exactly why Felicity loved him. And now that she really understood that, there were other questions that came to mind.

“Why did the two of you break up? I’ve never understood that.”

Up until now, Oliver had maintained eye contact with her, but now he shifted, looking past her out the window, as if the explanation he sought was out among the rooftops. He finally looked back at her.

“I betrayed her trust. I kept something from her that I shouldn’t have. I didn’t want to, but I was given an ultimatum and I chose wrong. That’s the simplest explanation anyway.”

Donna squinted her eyes at him, suddenly calculating the condition of the loft this morning.

“Does this have something to do with the guests that are apparently living with Felicity?”

“Yes, but not completely. I was going to screw up eventually. I wasn’t ready for everything that a serious relationship involved. My parents weren’t good examples – hell, they both had secrets about secrets – so I didn’t have any idea of how a relationship was supposed to work. My poor choices managed to play into all of the fears that Felicity had about relationships. Neither of us were ready.”

“And now?” Donna asked.

“Now, we’re going into it with our eyes open. I’m sure we’ll both still make mistakes, but we also know how much better we are together. The last year has been … educational for both of us.”

“So who are Felicity’s guests?”

Oliver smiled. “I have a ten-year-old son. I didn’t know about him until about a year and a half ago. His mother had been bribed to tell me she had miscarried. I stumbled on them in Central City and figured it out. Events earlier this year forced them to move back to Star City, so he and his mother are staying here until they get their own place in town.”

Donna raised an eyebrow at that. “Your ex-girlfriend and son are staying here with Felicity?” She had unintentionally raised her voice as she asked the question.

“Yes, but …”

“Oh, I was never his girlfriend.”

Donna turned and saw a dark-haired woman and a boy walking over to the table.

“Oliver! Mom said you’d be here when we got back.”

The boy’s excitement was obvious and he darted the rest of the way to the table. He quickly threw his hands around Oliver and Oliver raised his arms to hug the boy. The boy wrapped his arms tightly around Oliver’s chest, causing him to wince and grunt.

The boy quickly released and pulled back. “Are you okay?”

Oliver nodded his head, taking quick breaths. “Yeah, you just surprised me.” He waved his hand up and down over his injured side. “I got hurt a little last night and you’re pretty strong, Will. You squeezed a little too tight.”

“I’m sorry, Oliver. Really, sorry.”

Oliver reached out and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Hey, it’s okay, buddy. Really. You didn’t know. I’ll be fine.”

Oliver looked up at the woman behind the boy to gauge her reaction. She just shook her head, a small amused smile on her face.

“You scared us last night. I think you should be more careful.”

Oliver laughed and Donna noticed that he was wincing less every time he did.

“I’ll try to start chasing a more polite group of criminals. Some of these guys have no manners.”

The woman snorted at that.

“Donna Smoak, this is Samantha Clayton and our son, William. Samantha, Will, this is Felicity’s mom, Donna. Felicity apparently forgot to tell us that Donna was coming for a visit in all the excitement yesterday.

The women exchanged greetings and then Donna looked at William. “Well, aren’t you a handsome young man. I’ll bet your mother is very proud of you.”

William nodded a little shyly. “I try.”

Samantha ruffled his hair. “You always make me proud, Will. Always.”

The boy grinned at that.

“So where is Felicity?” Oliver asked the younger woman.

“All she said was that she was following up a lead with Quentin. She thought she would be back fairly early. Like about now.”

As if on cue, the door to the loft opened again. The click-click-click of Felicity’s heels announced her entrance. A gruff voice behind her asked, “Do you think he’s up yet? He might actually like what we have to tell …”

Donna had looked up, along with the others around the table to look at the new arrivals. Felicity had walked several steps into the loft before looking up to see the small group. She looked as if she had started to say something, but the mix of people caused her to pull up short. Donna smiled at the sight of her daughter being too surprised to talk.

Donna’s focus was quickly pulled to the man standing behind her daughter. She hadn’t seen him in over a year. She had missed Quentin, but back then he was drowning in his sorrow and she couldn’t help him and she couldn’t stand to watch him drink himself to death. When he had left Vegas, he had been perpetually haggard and gaunt. The man standing on the other side of the room, however, was the man she had fallen in love with. He looked healthy. His voice had that rough timber to it and his eyes were sharp. She could tell he had gotten himself together again.

The silence was finally broken by Felicity as she said, “Mom.” The one word was drawn out and was almost a question.

Donna held up her phone. “I know you got my text this time. I made sure to press send.”

Donna watched as Felicity realized that, yes, today was when Donna was coming in, and that she had completely forgotten about it.

“Yes you did, and I am so sorry, Mom. The Mayor’s office asked me to help out with a problem and, since Oliver hurt himself, Quentin and I were down at City Hall.”

Oliver laughed and Donna smiled.

“Oliver has been explaining the ‘problem’ to me, Felicity.” She made air quotes to highlight the word problem.

“I figured it was time to clear the air. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t know, Felicity.”

Donna walked over to her daughter. She hugged her. “I’m going to have a lot of questions later, hon, but for now, it’s good to see you.”

She could feel Felicity relax before pulling back.

“I’m glad you’re here, too, Mom.”

Chapter Text

“Miss Queen? You have a visitor.”

Susan Williams watched as Thea Queen looked up from the papers she was reading. The mayor’s Chief of Staff initially looked to the secretary standing in the doorway, but then her gaze moved past the younger woman and settled on her. If Susan had a weaker constitution, she would have left right then. Thea’s glare was not to be outdone by anyone.

“Who is it, Marilyn?” Thea’s voice dripped with acid.

Marilyn pretended not to notice the tension in her boss’s voice. “It’s Ms. Williams from Channel 52. She’d like to speak with you about her credentials.”

There was a long moment while the younger Queen considered the request, her focused stare never wavering. Susan suspected that Thea was searching for a way to turn down the meeting, but eventually the younger woman nodded her head.

She looked back to Marilyn, “I’ll meet with her. Please remind me about the committee meeting if we go too long.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The secretary moved out of the way to allow Susan to enter Thea’s office and then pulled the door shut.

“Are you serious?” Thea hissed before Susan even had a chance to lower herself into a chair opposite the desk.

“This is my career, Thea. I’m a political reporter. And in Star City, politics is the mayor’s office.”

“Then why is it the only thing I don’t remember you reporting on last year was Star City politics. Was my brother just too distracting?” Thea, as usual, minced no words.

Susan was honestly embarrassed about how last year had gone and it showed on her face. She hoped Thea recognized the honesty.

“You’re right. I did get distracted last year. Your brother was … overwhelming. I got lost in who he was and his past and lost sight of what was important. I won’t make that mistake again.”

“Oh, I can guarantee that!” Thea said vehemently.

“Look, Thea. I have two requests, but I know that I won’t get them unless you are willing to give me a chance.”

“What do you want?” Thea snapped.

“The first is simple. I would like you to reissue my City Hall press credentials. Channel 52 and my producer decided I had been away long enough and that I should get another chance. I’m asking you for the same consideration.”

Thea harrumphed instead of saying anything.

“I made mistakes last year, Thea. I crossed some lines in pursuing a story. And you made it clear that I couldn’t get away with that. I can promise you I will not make those mistakes again.”

“Why should I believe you, Ms. Williams? I told you never to play me after that first time, and yet you continued to gather enough information to destroy my brother. Information that, ultimately, had no bearing on the job he’s trying to do.”

“Yes, and ultimately you made it clear that I wasn’t going to get away with that. I’m lucky I have any career left, I imagine.”

“What are talking about?” Thea asked, but Susan noticed that the innocent tone in her voice didn’t match the smirk on her face.

“I think you know what I’m talking about. But in case you don’t, I almost lost my job because someone made it look like I had been plagiarizing stories. The evidence was revealed to have been falsified, but my bosses still don’t fully trust me. I’m on a much shorter leash than most reporters. My producer wants to know everything I’m working on. I suspect that it will take me years to full reestablish my reputation.”

“And you think I’m responsible?”

Susan realized that there was nothing to be gained by pursuing her claim. It would only end badly. For her.

“Let’s just say that given our earlier disagreements, you came to mind first. It really doesn’t matter now, though. I just want to get back to reporting on what I know and understand.”

Thea narrowed her eyes for a minute, before she sat back and relaxed.

“All right. I’ll restore your credentials. And while I understand that you won’t always be in favor of the Mayor’s actions or platform, I do expect that your reporting will be done fairly and objectively. Now, what’s your second request?”

“I would like to interview Oliver after his press conference tomorrow.”

Susan figured that the look of astonishment on Thea Queen’s face may have been worth the trip to City Hall, no matter the answer.

“You’re kidding, right?” Thea finally said.

“Completely serious. Look, the way I see it, if I get the interview, it is a chance for me to prove that I’m serious about this assignment and that I want to cover City Hall the right way. We both win. If I screw it up, somehow, then you can revoke my credentials and you’ll never have to deal with me again.”

“You really want this bad, don’t you?”

Susan clinched her jaw for just a second at the unspoken implications in Thea’s question.

“This is the job I have always wanted, regardless of who’s in office.”

Susan watched as Thea Queen considered her second request. The younger woman had developed even more of a backbone of steel over the summer. Susan had heard tales of Thea and Oliver’s mom. Moira Queen’s reputation for getting what she wanted was legendary in Star City, and Susan wondered if her daughter was becoming the equal of her mother.

Finally, Thea stood up. Looking at her desk for a moment, she reached over and locked her computer screen. Then she scooped the papers she had been reading back into a neat pile, put them in a folder and laid them on the cadenza behind her desk.
“You will stay in that seat. You won’t touch anything or move until I return. The door to my office will be open and Marilyn will be watching you the entire time. Do you understand?”

Susan nodded her head. “Of course. Nothing to worry about here.” She held up her hands as if they could prove her innocence.

“Yea, right,” Thea muttered as she walked around her desk and to the door.

She exited the office and Susan could hear her giving instructions to the girl outside.

Susan sat there waiting. Without Thea in the room, she could relax just a bit. She didn’t realize how worked up she was until the other woman left the room. She had felt excited when her producer had given her the go ahead to talk to Thea Queen, but the build up to walking into City Hall this morning had left her a frazzled ball of nerves just waiting to spring apart. That could have been ugly. Now that she had done all she could do to get her career back on track, she felt some relief.

Of course, as she sat waiting her mind went back to last year. She had thought she would be able to manage her relationship with the mayor. She had gone into the assignment thinking that Oliver Queen had something to hide and that she was going to expose that. She was going to show the world that Oliver Queen was a fraud, a fallen rich boy who was still playing at things he had no business playing at.

Then she met Oliver. He was everything she thought, but he was so much more. That was especially true when she realized that he was the Green Arrow. She had already fallen for the broken man who just kept on going when others would have quit, would have buckled under the strain of everything. Knowing that he was trying to make the city better through methods that people didn’t know about and wouldn’t understand? That was a lot more than she expected.

There had been a connection she didn’t anticipate between Oliver and herself. That first night he showed her a vulnerable side was eye-opening. Most politicians wouldn’t have done that. Most men wouldn’t have done that. But Oliver did. And she could see the same kind of loneliness that she felt because she had always put her career first.

Everything changed when Chase decided to kidnap her. He decided that she had been pulled far enough into Oliver’s inner circle that she could be used as leverage. Once she had been rescued, Oliver decided that they couldn’t continue together. She hadn’t been happy about that, but she had the feeling that she wasn’t the first woman who had been pushed away because of the life he lived. Still, she had hoped that he had felt the connection, too. She still didn’t know whether he had or not.

All of a sudden, interviewing Oliver Queen as her first step back into reporting didn’t seem like such a good idea. It had taken her six months to get back to this point. Six months of therapy and doing stupid human interest stories so she could keep a job that had cost her in ways she didn’t think were possible. And now she wanted to go back and interview the man who was the source of all that struggle and heartache.

“I have no idea why, but Ollie says he’ll do it.”

“What?” Susan asked, completely lost about what Thea was telling her.

Susan looked up to find Thea staring at her like she had lost her mind.

“Ollie will grant you an interview tomorrow. After his press conference. You will have half an hour. You will need to wait until most of the press corps has left and then you can proceed up to the offices up here.”

Thea’s voice grew harder.

“I’m going to make something clear, Ms. Williams.”

Susan decided that she really hated the way Thea Queen said her name.

“The press conference tomorrow will be factual. Bare bones factual. Ollie won’t be answering many questions about his announcement. He probably won’t be willing to say much more one-on-one. You’ll understand why after the press conference tomorrow. I would expect to get a lot of no comments tomorrow during your interview.”

“That’s understandable, I guess. I can live with that. And thank you for your time and consideration, Thea. I appreciate it.”

Thea gave her one more of those penetrating, I-can-see-the-blackness-of-your-soul looks that the woman seemingly perfected.

“For the record, I told Ollie not to talk with you. Just like last year, he didn’t listen to me, although I understand why this time around. You get one shot at this, and then one, and so on. I hope you understand that I will not be duped again, Susan.”

Perfectly. I’ll let you get back to it.”

And with that, Susan stood and walked out of the office. She had been prepared to fight a lot harder for renewed access to the Mayor’s office, so she appreciated the relative ease of today’s visit. In the back of her mind, though, she knew that this was only the first step in regaining her standing in Star City. She suspected that the journey was going to be a long one.

< = = = = = >

When Susan entered the press room of City Hall late the next morning there was a buzz of excitement. It had been a while, but given the stress caused by Adrian Chase’s reign of terror last year, Susan thought that the mood of the room was the most positive that she could remember.

The room was only half full, so she was able to slip into a row near the front without too much effort. There were a few people who noticed her, but nobody spoke to her. She had anticipated that reaction and had decided that she wouldn’t force the issue. She knew that political reporters were a competitive bunch, and there were very few with whom she had what she would call a friendly relationship.

Shortly after she had sat down, a couple of reporters she didn’t recognize slipped into the row behind her. One of them turned to the other and asked about the point of the press conference. His voice was deep and gruff, she noticed.

“So have you heard what today’s conference is about?”

The other man’s voice was higher, and raspy. “Naw, it was the typical blah blah blah. Just said that the Mayor was going to address some recent speculation about personal matters.”

The deeper voice grunted. “That’s Queen for you, thinking that everybody’s interested in his personal life.”

A third voice joined them, female this time. “Well, what do you expect? Everything he did growing up made the news. I think he does a pretty good job trying to keep his private life private.”

There was a deep-voiced grunt.

The second man agreed. “Yeah, but the tabloids still report on everything he does. I’m guessing he’s going to explain the woman he was with at the zoo last week.”

Deep voice scoffed at that. “Ya know what? I could care less, as long as he’s making this city safer to live in, I say let ‘im date whoever he wants.”

“Try and tell that idiot Varonis that. He’s the one that always trying to expose Queen doing something scandalous.”

“I don’t understand why he still has a job,” the woman reporter threw in. “Is he even allowed to attend these press conferences?”

The second man laughed. It was an annoyingly high-pitched braying sound, Susan noted.

“Are you kidding, I don’t know the last time The Reporter! actually had someone allowed in City Hall. It was well before Queen. Besides, I think Queen still has a restraining order against Varonis. You’d think he’d learn his lesson about messing with the Queens.”

There was a pause in the conversation before the deeper voice man said, “Well, I’ll be damned. Varonis is here. He’s standing against the back wall right next to Queen’s personal bodyguard.”

Susan involuntarily turned to look at the same time the reporters sitting behind her did. Sure enough, Frank Varonis stood against the back wall next to a tall, imposing man. She vaguely remembered meeting John Diggle the previous year and being surprised at just how quietly intimidating he was. The sight of Varonis standing next to him was comical. The reporter stood fully a foot shorter than the bodyguard. Today, Varonis was wearing a worn pair of jeans topped by a wrinkled shirt and equally wrinkled sport coat of a sickly pale green. His hair was too long and looked as if he had just rolled out of bed. To complete the look, his beat up wire-rimmed glasses sat cockeyed on his nose, causing him to squint unnaturally in his left eye.

Susan had an unfortunate flashback to the one time she had meet Varonis face to face. He tried to make a pass at her, but it was half-assed and she had just ignored him. He had quickly disappeared.

Her reflections were cut short as the Deputy Mayor, Quentin Lance, approached the podium.

A hush fell over the room. Susan glanced around the room quickly and found that it was almost full. She wasn’t surprised. Even without a crisis, Oliver Queen was news. She looked back to the podium as Lance started to speak, his gruff voice quieting the remaining murmurs.

“Thank you all for coming this morning. In a minute, Mayor Queen will be reading a short statement, then will be answering a few questions. The Q and A will be brief due to other matters on the Mayor’s schedule. As usual, a printed copy of the Mayor’s remarks will be available as you leave the room. Now, it is my honor to present the Mayor of Star City, Oliver Queen.”

Quentin Lance stepped back to his normal position behind and right of Oliver, Susan noticed. Oliver strode to the podium, Thea Queen following right behind him. She took up a position similar to Lance’s on his left.

She certainly wasn’t surprised that Oliver looked as handsome as ever. He was wearing a dark gray tailored suit with a white shirt and red power tie. She noticed that as he raised his arms to place them on the podium, he winced slightly and he seemed to be holding himself stiffer than normal. It was easy to guess why if you knew about his after hours hobby.

“Thank you everyone for being here this morning. I promise you my statement will be brief. I want to clear up some facts that an erroneous news report put forth this past week. I had honestly hoped that my private life was no longer newsworthy, but apparently I was mistaken. So, I find that I need to address those rumors and set the record straight.

“The report in question speculated on romantic aspects of my personal life. While at one point in my life I would have been amused by any coverage of my comings and goings, that is no longer the case.” Oliver paused as a ripple of amusement ran through the room. “I am also sure that some will immediately assume my desire for privacy is driven by a need to hide scandalous activities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, my request for privacy is an acknowledgement that while I have grown up in the public eye, most people I associate with have not. I see no reason not to expect that my private life remain private, unless it intersects with my job as mayor.

“So having set that expectation, the rest of the information I have for you this morning will be the full extent of what will be made available about my current personal and private relationships. I hope that you will honor my wishes, and more importantly, the wishes of my friends and family for privacy going forward. I will take further violations of my privacy, or that of others, very seriously.”

Susan was both impressed and amused by Oliver’s opening comments. Even in the time she had been away from reporting on City Hall, there had been a change in his approach to this aspect of the job. He was more focused on how he managed the job and his life. He was also less tentative in his declarations.

“Now, the speculation offered by Mr. Frank Varonis of the Star City Reporter! last Thursday was almost completely baseless and wrong. I am not dating the woman mentioned in the article. She is, in fact, an acquaintance from my college days and nothing more. I can reveal, however, that Ms. Felicity Smoak and I are again dating. As most of you are aware, Ms. Smoak and I were romantically involved a year and a half ago and were, for a short time, engaged to be married. For numerous reasons, we decided to end that engagement. We have remained friends and have recently decided to resume our relationship. We are not currently engaged; instead we are focused on rebuilding our relationship so that we can avoid the mistakes we made previously.”

Susan knew that Oliver paused on purpose. He was letting this news settle in. Personally, she wasn’t sure she was surprised or not, but she had to admit that she felt a bit of sadness at the news. She shoved that reaction down, however, because she wasn’t here to think about what might have been. She didn’t like the fact that she was even thinking about her relationship with Oliver again.

“I am making this announcement because both Ms. Smoak and I are public figures. We will continue to be seen in each other’s company, and we have no interest in hiding the fact that we are dating again. However, as I suggested earlier, neither one of us feel there is any need to elaborate on our relationship beyond this, so while I am sure that some of you have questions, as far as I am concerned, any further details of our relationship are not a matter for public consumption.

Susan noticed the low murmuring of disapproval rumbling through the crowd at Oliver’s pronouncement. Most reporters don’t like being preemptively being told what they could and couldn’t be able to report on, but Oliver had clearly drawn a line in the sand. Susan understood Oliver’s position, but that didn’t mean that she wouldn’t be searching for more information in just a few minutes. Although now that she knew what the announcement was about, she realized the interview wouldn’t have the same vibe that she had anticipated.

“There was one small part of Mr. Varonis’s article that was truthful. I believe he mentions that the boy who accompanied me and my friend at the zoo called her ‘Mom,’ and addressed me by first name. The boy’s name is William and she is his mother. He also happens to be my son.”

Susan sat up at that, just like every other reporter gathered in the room. There was no murmur, though.

“William’s mother and I spent the briefest of time together the spring before I got on the Queen’s Gambit with my father. I was unaware of William’s existence until two years ago. Furthermore, William has known that I am his father for just a few weeks. As with my relationship with Ms. Smoak, my relationship with my son will remain a private matter. The information I have given you is all you need to know about my son. He has spent his entire life without the intense media scrutiny that I had growing up. He will continue to do so from this point forward. I respectfully ask that you do not violate his right to privacy, nor that of his mother.”

There was another pause in Oliver’s remarks, and Susan suspected that he was pretty much done. She was already running through possible questions for her interview. Since Thea had granted her request for an interview following the press conference, Susan had prepared a number of questions regarding Oliver’s current projects, not knowing what exactly he would be addressing today. She realized that he was effectively shutting off most of the obvious follow up questions regarding his revelations, but there was always the chance she could squeeze a few extra details from him. She hoped.

“That concludes my prepared statement. As Mr. Lance indicated, I have just a few minutes to answer questions before I need to prepare for my next meeting,” Oliver finished, leaving the floor open.

The gruff-voiced man behind Susan leaped to his feet. She could feel the breeze as he vigorously waved his hand. He was one of two or three that had stood, but apparently he was the most obvious. Or the most obnoxious. Susan wasn’t sure. Oliver pointed to him, acknowledging him by name and indicating that he could ask his question.

“What’s the name of the kid’s mom? I don’t think you mentioned it.”

Oliver took a small breath, then smiled. It was his public smile; Susan noted that it was closer to a grimace this morning. “You’re right, Mr. Hagen, I didn’t mention it. She has asked that she not be identified and I intend to honor that. Again, I can’t stress the importance I am placing on her right to privacy. Anyone who feels that they can violate that privacy will not like the consequences. Next question.

A voice several rows back piggybacked onto Hagen’s question. “Does this mean your son’s last name isn’t Queen? Are you going to tell us his last name?”

Oliver laughed, although it still lacked any touch of amusement. “Yes and no. The boy is a minor and there is absolutely no reason for you to know any more about him than what I’ve already said.”

There was a quiet, “This is crap,” from several rows behind Susan, but it was said so quietly that only those nearby had probably heard it.

The woman behind Susan stood up next and Oliver recognized her. Susan noticed that his eyes had landed on her for just a second, but he kept his reaction neutral and then moved back to the other reporter.

“Ms. Carlisle, you have a question?”

“Thank you, yes I do. How long have you and Ms. Smoak been dating again?”

Susan watched as Oliver’s eyes darted to his right. She followed the general direction and noticed two blonde women sitting in the far seats on the front row. It took her a minute to recognize the one on the outside as Felicity Smoak. So she was here! Susan had been wondering about her absence earlier, but hadn’t noticed her slip into the room at any point.

“I can’t really give you a timeframe. As I mentioned earlier, Felicity and I have maintained our friendship even though we ended our engagement. We have mutual friends and so frequently saw each other. Time tends to dull the bad things, and once we finally talked through the parts of our relationship that had caused problems, doing things as friends became dating again. It’s been a long time in the making, I guess.”

“So are you going to pop the question again?” This came unsolicited from a loud masculine voice in the back of the room.

Oliver laughed again, this time it was more natural. “I’ll let you in on a secret. The first time around, I had the ring for months before I got around to proposing. I’m not sure why it took so long exactly, but I will say that our relationship was foreign ground for me. There was no question that I was in love with Ms. Smoak then, and my feelings for her have never changed.”

Without warning, that sick feeling that Susan had had a few minutes ago was back, unbidden.

“What has changed is our understanding that good relationships take work. The first time around all we saw was the easy stuff. When we got blindsided by the tougher aspects of our relationship, we didn’t know how to cope or adjust. That’s what we are working on now. Understanding each other enough to know how to get through the tough stuff together. I can definitely see proposing again. When we are both ready.”

A short woman on the front row stood up. Oliver automatically acknowledged her, “Mary.”

Susan remembered Mary. She was a reporter with Star City’s biggest newspaper and for some reason, she had always had a good working relationship with Oliver. Susan had never understood why, but had to acknowledge that the woman had a way of getting Oliver to answer tough questions when no one else could.

“I know that this may be something you won’t want to answer, but what caused the break up the first time around?”

Oliver again glanced to his right. It was almost imperceptible, and Susan guessed that most the room didn’t even catch it.

“The exact reasons are unimportant. I will take most of the blame. I sure that will not surprise any of you.” Oliver again paused while the room showed their amusement. “I made a really poor decision that Ms. Smoak interpreted differently than I … anticipated. I’m sure that she would now say that both of us contributed to our break up. I know that she has apologized for the way she handled both my actions and the way in which we broke up. Once we got around to discussing what had happened between us, we both discovered that we didn’t understand each other as well as we thought we did.”

As he finished speaking, Thea stepped up to his side and whispered in his ear. He turned back to the microphone.

“My Chief of Staff has just informed me that I need to wrap this up. Again, I want to thank you all for coming. I also hope that you all will respect my request regarding privacy in these matters. Have a good afternoon.”

With that, Oliver stepped back from the podium and followed his sister out of the room. Quentin Lance once again stepped up and opened the floor for any further questions, but Susan tuned him out. She looked down at the notebook in her hand. The notebook was empty, but the only revelation that Oliver had made that wouldn’t be on the official transcript was one that would only matter to her.

She considered skipping the interview, but she had fought hard to convince Thea Queen to give her the opportunity. She wasn’t going to waste that. And regardless of her personal relationship with Oliver Queen, she was going to continue to cover City Hall. Because that was her job and, to a certain extent, her life.

She shook her head to clear it and looked up. The room had cleared pretty quickly. Obviously no one had any questions they thought Lance could or would answer. Susan looked to her left and noticed that Felicity Smoak and the other woman were just now standing up. They were holding a quiet conversation and were largely isolated from the rest of the room. They proceeded to exit through the same door that Oliver had gone through just minutes before.

In contrast, Susan exited through the door at the back of the room. She made her way up to the mayor’s office and let the secretary know that she was there. After checking the schedule, Marilyn asked her to sit for just a minute while she checked with the Mayor. Susan took a seat and steeled herself for the coming conversation.

< = = = = = >

The time waiting wasn’t easy. Susan replayed the press conference over and over in her head, and Oliver’s statement about loving Felicity Smoak even when they were broken up was the central theme. Susan suddenly understood Oliver’s reluctance to advance their relationship and she wondered if Felicity had had a part in his decision to end things when he did. Susan felt like she waited for Oliver to be available for hours.

Ten minutes after Susan had entered the outer office, Marilyn stood up from her desk.

“Ms. Williams, the Mayor will see you now.”

Susan stood up, smoothing her skirt as she did so, before she picked up her purse and her notebook.

Marilyn waited for her at the door to the office and pushed it open. Susan walked through to find Oliver sitting at his desk. Thea Queen stood to his right, explaining something quietly. When she was fully in the room, Thea looked up, her expression neutral. Finally she offered a tight lipped smile to Susan before turning back to her brother.

“You have about thirty minutes before you need to leave. Do you want me to remind you?”

Oliver gifted his sister with a small genuine smile. “No, I’m good. I’ll remember.”

Thea walked to the main entrance to the office. As she passed Susan, she offered a quiet “Ms. Williams,” that was scary for the lack of emotion in her voice. Then she was gone.

When Susan looked back, Oliver was standing. He had already removed his jacket, so he stood there in a white, long-sleeved button-up and the red tie. She noticed that the tie hadn’t been loosened, even though she seemed to remember that he often loosened his tie as soon as could.

“Let’s sit over here,” Oliver directed. He walked over to the same spot where she had gotten her first off the record interview with him. This time, instead of inviting her to sit on the couch, he gestured to one of the two chairs to the far side of the couch. Susan thought that was an interesting distinction, but went with his direction, quickly moving to the chair and sitting down. Oliver followed, sitting on the couch. She noticed that he took a place almost in the middle, rather than on an end.

“It’s good to see you again. Thea tells me that you were very passionate when requesting the reinstatement of your credentials.”

Susan smiled at that. “I suppose I was. It was time to really get back to what I love, Mr. Mayor. And that’s reporting on politics. Your sister was, quite frankly, more generous than I expected.”

“There’s a reason she’s Chief of Staff. I find that I am much better off when I trust her completely. She also tougher than I am. We make a pretty good team because we balance each other.”

“Yes, well, I suppose I’ve learned my lesson about underestimating her. And, I’ll have to say that she was right to call me on my actions last year. I was not very professional in many ways in my coverage of your office.” She wasn’t sure why she had admitted that, but it was out before she could stop herself.

“I probably wasn’t either,” Oliver said in response.

Before Susan could comment further, the door to the side of the office opened and Felicity Smoak slipped in. Susan turned back to Oliver.

“I hope you don’t mind, but when Thea asked me if I had a problem with you interviewing me, I realized that you were going to have questions about the two of us …” Oliver waved in between himself and Felicity. “and I thought this would be easier for me to provide you with the right answers.”

Susan looked between the two of them, her sense of disquiet much stronger than it had been when she first walked in.

“Hi, Susan. It’s nice to see you again,” Felicity Smoak said, cutting the tension a little. Susan noticed that her voice was friendly, if perhaps a little guarded.

“Nice to see you as well, Felicity. How have you been?”

Felicity smiled at her. “It’s been an interesting spring and summer. But things are good now.”

Felicity sat down behind Oliver, and Susan couldn’t help but notice how close they were, physically. Oliver had pushed back, so that he was resting against the back of the couch, but angled towards her. Felicity was perched a little closer to the edge, her left leg up against Oliver’s hip and leg. Susan also noticed that she almost unconsciously wrapped her arm around Oliver’s. In any other situation, Susan would have thought that it was a sign of possessiveness, but this was too natural for that. Instead, she realized it was comfort.

Oliver had visibly relaxed as Felicity had entered the room, and that had been the moment he made himself comfortable where he was sitting. Susan remembered how awkward the other woman had been when they had met the previous December. But now, she could tell that Oliver provided an anchor for her, too. Susan couldn’t believe how they clearly calmed one another.

Oliver broke through her musings. “So, you have some questions for me, I suppose?”

“Yes, but I’m not sure where to begin.”

She glanced down at the empty page of her notebook, wishing she had given herself even a hint of some of the questions she had thought of earlier. When she looked up at the two of them calmly waiting on her first question, she ended up blurting out the last thing she expected to say.

“So was any of it real. Between us, I mean. Or was I just a placeholder?”

She noticed that Felicity’s grip on his arm tightened and she linked her hands together around his bicep. On the other hand, Oliver seemed unfazed by her question.

“This will have to be off the record, you understand,” Oliver said firmly.

Susan nodded.

“For a long time, I wasn’t sure that Felicity would give me another chance. Or that we would be able to resolve our differences. When I finally allowed our relationship to become physical, it was because I thought that she and I were never going to get back together. Some of my uncertainty also had to do with Adrian Chase playing mind games.

“My interactions with you were authentic. You were not a placeholder. At the same time, I should never have allowed our relationship to progress the way it did. I should have kept our relationship professional. That was not fair to you.”

“So did you and Felicity get back together during the week you were missing?”

Felicity snorted at that.

“No. Chase held me captive for a week, torturing me and trying to convince me that I was a killer. He almost succeeded. It wasn’t until after Chase abducted all of us that she and I decided that we owed ourselves another chance.”

Susan just nodded. What could she say to that, really? She could tell he was being honest and while it still hurt to know that they had never really had any chance, Oliver had never intended to mislead her, even though she felt that was what had happened.

Susan decided that she needed to get something out of this interview or her report tonight was going to be pointless.

“So why didn’t you know about your son until recently?”

Oliver thoughtfully considered that one. “I’m not going to go into details, but let’s say that I wasn’t ready to be a father yet. William’s mother and I didn’t really know each other, and she didn’t want to put up with all the crap that being involved with me entailed. There were other people with the opinion that me having a son at that point in my life was a bad idea, and they convinced William’s mother to not tell me about him.”

“Other people?”

“Yes. I would rather not say who and it doesn’t matter at this point.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“I have to be. I would have loved to have been involved in his life before now, but that’s not possible to fix. I’m trying to do my best for him now. That’s really all I can do.”

“Okay, I guess I understand that.” She looked at Felicity. “You’re okay with this situation?”

Felicity shrugged. “I was fully aware of Oliver’s history long before we got together. I wasn’t surprised to find that he had a son, no. And William’s a great kid. I love him already. His mom and I have gotten to know one another, so that helps as well. Besides, he’s like a young Oliver in some ways and it’s wonderful to see and experience that.”

“And for clarification again, William’s last name is not Queen?”

“No. He has his mother’s last name.”

“I’m not trying to be deceptive or underhanded, but what have you done about custody arrangements?”

Oliver looked at her, obviously trying to decide if he should answer the question. Finally, he said, “That’s a good and a fair question. There is no public custody arrangement. We specifically didn’t want a public record. William’s mother and I get along well enough that we have instead relied on private arrangements to protect ourselves. I know some very creative and clever lawyers.”

“You’re not worried about your son and his mother just disappearing again someday?”

“No, I’m not.”

Oliver considered her again and Susan decided she didn’t appreciate the stare Oliver Queen used when he was trying to assessment your veracity.

“Off the record, Susan. I sent them away once, because I was worried about their safety. And that’s exactly for the reason you think. Adrian Chase found them and kidnapped them last spring. I have purposely kept that from the media because of their privacy.” Susan noted the you-can’t-use-this look he bestowed on her.

“Now that William knows that I’m his father, I really can’t do that to him again.”

“So he’s been used against you before?”

“Yes.”

“I promise I won’t use this, but why didn’t he know you were his father when you first found out about him.”

“His mother didn’t want him pulled into my orbit. I was running for mayor and while I never had a problem with the fact I had a son, she didn’t want that for him. It was easier not to tell him who I was at that point.”

“So you were willing to sacrifice your relationship with your son, just to keep him out of the spotlight?”

“Absolutely. Susan, I have always been willing to sacrifice everything for those I love.”

Susan paused, events from the past year clicking into place.

“So part of breaking up with me was for my protection?”

Oliver bowed his head.

Felicity answered for him. “Yes. Oliver and I danced around each other for at least a couple of years. I was told at one point and I quote ‘I just think it's better to not be with someone I could really care about.’”

Susan looked back to Oliver. “You said that to her?” she asked, a little incredulously.

“It wasn’t my finest moment,” Oliver replied, though with a small smile.

Felicity continued. “Susan, I’m fairly confident your relationship with Oliver didn’t end the way you wanted, but if he was willing to end it because it meant he thought you would be safer, then I can guarantee that what he felt for you was real. Sacrificing himself is Oliver’s way of telling you that you’re important to him.”

Susan looked between the two of them, again amazed at how in synch the two of them seemed to be. She decided that she probably needed to wrap this up. For her own comfort, if nothing else.

“Okay. I think I’ve got enough for now. Thank you, Oliver. I wasn’t sure that you would agree to talk to me, but I promise that I’ll play fair this time around.”

With that, she stood and let herself out.

Chapter Text

“Just one more time, Dad! Come on! You know you want to!”

Roger Beckworth was sure he didn’t want to get back on the roller coaster, but the look of excitement on his ten-year-old son’s face pretty much guaranteed he was going to anyway.

He just nodded his head and said, “Okay, one more time. And then I think we should get some lunch.”

“Okay. Can I have a hot dog?”

Roger laughed. Charlie would eat hot dogs every meal if he could. Roger knew that it wasn’t particularly good for him, but it wasn’t worth arguing about today. Today was their last big fun day of the summer and Charlie had wanted to visit Kings Paradise amusement park.

The two made their way down the exit ramp of the ride and headed back toward the entrance. Roger took in the amusement park while they walked. Kings Paradise was still a fun park, but it showed its age here and there. Roger could remember coming down here as a kid himself. At the time, it seemed magical. Everything seemed fresh and new and wonderful.

Like most boys, he had been a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so an amusement park full of roller coasters was just what the doctor ordered. Back then, it seemed like the park added a new coaster every other year or so and that was enough to keep you coming back. Even after he graduated, there were several years where he and Skip and Norm and Jim would make the one-hundred-twenty-mile trek from Starling City to the park. Those days were spent riding the coasters from the time they got in the park until at least mid-afternoon, sometimes later. They’d grab a quick bite to eat, slow down long enough to check out the high school and college girls making the rounds in the park and then hit a couple more rides before piling back in the car for the long drive home.

So he really couldn’t begrudge Charlie a day at the park at least once every summer. Today, after the first ride, Lorie had taken Mary and Peg and declared that the girls were going to do more than stand in line for hours. He had laughed, but Charlie hadn’t even realized his mom and sisters were gone until they had been in line for their first ride on The Chase for twenty minutes. This was the first year that Charlie was totally focused on the roller coasters, though Roger suspected that was as much due to the newness of The Chase as anything else.

“Oooooh, the line looks shorter! Come on, dad.”

Roger looked up to see his son dart into the metal-railed queue for The Chase. He walked into the maze himself, not wanting to lose track of his son.

As he walked along the metal-barred walkway, Roger looked around, taking in the differences between the coaster now and how he remembered it as a child. When he was younger, the coaster had been called The Bullet. It was kind of unique when it was first built. It was a classic-style wooden roller coaster, but consisted of two tracks enabling riders to choose between two racing roller coasters. The Bullet wasn’t the first of its kind, but it was an early example of a racing coaster and was built and debuted at a time when roller coasters weren’t very popular. Roger knew that this ride was sometimes credited as launching a second golden age of roller coasters in America.

The Bullet had been shut down a couple of years ago; it had stopped drawing the crowds it once had and there was even some noise about Kings Paradise tearing it down and building something else in its place. But somebody had taken notice of the rise of vigilantes – superheroes, some were calling them – and decided that the ride could be rebranded. Lo and behold, this spring The Chase had been born.

Gone was the red, white and blue of The Bullet. Instead, the entire coaster had been repainted red and yellow, green and black. One of the two tracks now hosted The Flash, brightly colored red with yellow accents. The other car and track were darker, forest green and black accents, and named the Green Arrow.

Despite feeling like a part of his childhood had been ripped out and thrown away, Roger had to admit that the fresh coat of paint and accompanying details had done a world of good for the looks of the ol’ girl. Roger had found that the ride was just as exciting as it had always been, and he had been amused to think that something as simple as a coat of paint could re-energize the old ride. Of course, after the second time riding the coaster, Roger questioned the appeal of too many repeat trips on the coaster, his son’s exuberance and his own teenage inclinations notwithstanding.

He had been half paying attention to Charlie’s accelerated walk through the queue and slowed as he caught up to his boy. He looked around and sure enough found that they probably had fifteen minutes less to wait in line than they had on their previous trip. Still he figured they were going to be in line for twenty minutes, maybe a little longer.

Charlie was alternately bouncing on the balls of his feet and acting as if he was a gymnast on the parallel bars. Roger noticed that the boy in front of him was similarly energetic. When he looked up to the man who was obviously accompanying the boy, there was a spark of recognition, but he couldn’t quite place the man. Until the boy spoke.

“This is so cool, Oliver. Did you know this was here? Did you get asked about this?”

At that, the man looked down at the boy. “Careful, Will,” he cautioned, but there was no heat in the man’s voice.

“Riiiiiight. Oh, right! Still, did you know about this?”

Oliver shook his head. “No, I didn’t know about it until we got here and looked at the map. It was called The Bullet the last time I was here.” He paused. “Wait, did you know about it?”

The boy grinned. “Felicity may have said something about it when we were looking at the park map.”

The man also grinned and shook his head, this time more in amused resignation. “Of course, she did.”

“By the way, Oliver, just how many superheroes do you know?” the boy asked.

“Geez, Will.”

Roger noticed that the familiar looking man was still laughing, but he had stiffened just a little at the question. It was then that he realized where he knew the man. He was Oliver Queen and not only was he the current mayor of Star City, but he had also been Roger’s boss several years ago when the company Roger worked for was still called Queen Consolidated.

That train of thought was cut short as his own son asked excitedly, “Your dad knows superheroes?”

“Charlie!”

“It’s okay,” Oliver Queen said.

Roger looked up at him.

“Will, here, has been bugging me about this all day. Basically every time we’ve gotten on the ride.”

Roger laughed at that.

The boys, meanwhile, had introduced themselves. Will was finishing by telling Charlie, “This is my dad, Oliver. He’s the mayor of Star City and he’s met a few superheroes. I’ve been trying to get him to tell me about them.”

“Wow,” Charlie exclaimed, his eyes big. “So you know the Green Arrow?”

Roger saw that Oliver glanced at Will, as he answered.

“I’ve met him a couple of times. He’s rescued me a couple of times.” There was a pause, and Roger could swear that Oliver was thinking about whether he should say something more. “He’s a good guy. He’s helped Star City several times because he’s trying to do the right thing.”

“How about the Flash?” the mayor’s son asked.

“Yes, I’ve met the Flash once, too. He’s a really good guy.”

That seemed to be enough to please the boys for a second as they started talking about the Green Arrow and the Flash.

Roger looked back over at Oliver. He held out his hand.

“It’s good to see you again, Mr. Queen. Well, I guess that should be Mr. Mayor,” Roger started.

Oliver shook his hand, then waved off the formal name. “It’s Oliver. Just Oliver. Mr. Queen still makes me think of my father. Do I know you? You look familiar.”

“Probably not. I work at Palmer Tech and have worked at the company since before you father died. He was a good man, by the way. I’m Roger …”

“Beckworth,” Oliver finished. “I thought I should know you. You worked down in procurement, if I’m not mistaken. You were the supervisor?” Oliver finished.

“That’s right. Pretty impressive, actually. I hate to say this, but most people wouldn’t think you knew anybody working at the company.”

Oliver nodded, a small smile on his face. “It’s no secret that I was not a good CEO. I had the best of intentions, but …”

“Mr. Queen … Oliver. The way I remember it, you got thrown into the deep end when you had to take over the company. There were a lot of people rooting for you. And everybody knew that Isabel Rochev was bad news. I’ve always assumed that she tricked you into resigning.”

Oliver chuckled, although Roger noticed there wasn’t much humor in it. “Yeah. It was supposed to be a temporary reassignment of control until I could straighten out some personal issues. I didn’t read all the paperwork like I should have.” He shrugged.

Well, I have to say, I think you’ve done a good job as mayor. The city seems to have kind of settled and is moving forward again,” Roger said.

The line shifted and they moved several feet forward all at once instead of the usual crawl.

When they stopped, Roger looked between the boy and Queen. It dawned on him, just last week Oliver had announced that he had a son. The news media had been fairly quiet about the boy, instead focusing on his relationship with Felicity Smoak.

“I take it this is your son?”

Oliver smiled proudly. “Yes, this is William. We wanted to do one big trip before he had to start school. His summer’s been kind of hectic, and we thought this would be a good way to relax for a day.

Roger nodded in acknowledgement. “That what Lorie and I thought, as well. This is my son, Charlie. My wife took my two daughters to do more girly things than just ride roller coasters.”

“Yeah, stuff like shopping,” Charlie interjected. “Yuck.”

Roger laughed, Charlie’s disdain for his older sisters activities always amusing him.

Charlie turned back to William. “So where are you going to school this year?”

“Starling Prep,” William answered. The name still seemed a little unfamiliar to the boy, Roger thought.

“Cool. That’s where I go, too. What grade are you going to be in?”

“Fifth.”

“Alright. We could end up in the same class. You want to be in Mrs. Samuels’ class. Mrs. Yamamoto is really mean.”

“Charlie! I don’t want to hear that kind of comment about any of your teachers.”

“But she is, Dad. Johnny had detention half the year because she was always getting on him.”

“Really?”

Charlie vigorously nodded his head.

“Wait a minute …” Oliver broke in. “Mrs. Yamamoto. Mrs. Nancy Yamamoto? Kind of short. Real high voice?”

“That’s her,” Charlie said.

Oliver looked at Roger. “I hate to tell you this, but she was … is kind of mean.”

Roger wasn’t sure what to think about that, but he found the sheepish expression on Oliver’s face pretty funny. Out of the corner of his eye, he could tell that both boys were just waiting for Oliver to say more.

“I didn’t have her for class. I think she was teaching seventh grade at the time. But my best friend, Tommy, did. She and Tommy were like oil and water. Tommy got detention a lot, too. As a matter of fact, I think she made me go to detention a couple of times just because Tommy and I were always together.”

Roger could tell that Oliver was playing up the story, but it did sound pretty funny. The boys were eating it up.

Roger noticed that Will suddenly looked nervous. “Uh, Oliver, do you think that maybe we can make sure that I don’t get Mrs. Yamamoto. She’ll pick on me just because I’m your son.”

Oliver crouched down to look at his son. “No, she won’t Will. First of all, I don’t think you’re much like I was when I was in school. I know you’re a better student than I was, and I knew that as long as I followed the rules, I wouldn’t get in trouble. The problem was that Tommy and I didn’t always follow the rules.”

Roger couldn’t help himself; he snorted trying to contain his laughter.

Oliver looked up at him, but he was clearly amused himself. Roger figured that somewhere along the line, Oliver Queen had come to accept the guy he’d been back then, even as he matured into a much better man.

“I’m sorry, Oliver.”

Oliver straightened back up, tousling his son’s hair as he went.

“No, that’s okay, Roger. Trust me, Tommy and I deserved a lot more than we got. The real problem was that our dads would always bail us out. Tommy’s dad would get all mad and ground Tommy, but he was never around to make it stick. My Dad would lecture me – or Mom would – but they were never very strict. I think Dad let things slide because he was pretty ornery when he was young.”

Roger found himself nodding. The stories about Robert Queen were rampant within the company, but Roger had never placed too much stock in them. And he certainly wasn’t going to tell Oliver about that, although the chances were good the younger man knew about them already.

“I’ll say it again. Your dad was a good man, Oliver. I worked a little with him here and there before he … was gone. I thought that he was a good businessman. He had to make some tough choices for the company. I can’t say that I always agreed with them, but I understood where he was coming from on almost all of them.”

“Thanks, Roger. I appreciate that and Dad would have appreciated that. Honestly, somewhere towards the end of high school, I stopped paying attention to the business. That was a mistake, but when I got old enough to understand what Dad’s job really was, how tough it was, that was when I stopped wanting it for myself. Running that company really took its toll on Dad.”

Oliver’s voice had grown a little wistful.

Roger decided that he needed to share something with Oliver. He had never shared it before, not even with Lorie – not all of it, anyway. But, he realized that Oliver needed to know about his dad’s toughest decision.

“I was on the team that worked on closing the foundry, Oliver. That was perhaps the darkest period in the company’s history. Darkest I’ve seen, any ways, and I lived through the past four or five years.”

Oliver screwed up his face at that. Roger patted his shoulder, but continued.

“Your dad didn’t want to close the plant, but the company was struggling a little. We were shifting to be more technological and a metal foundry and manufacturing in general didn’t make sense going forward. Things weren’t awful, mind you, but the foundry was going to start costing the company money sooner than later.

“The real problem was the board of directors. There was a new guy on the board. Richard Dennis. He kept pushing your father to close the foundry. He got several other board members to start pushing for closing it as well. When the transition team looked at the numbers, we could have just as easily phased the foundry operations out slowly, transferred people to other divisions, reduced our costs without just cutting everything off and everyone would have been a lot happier.

“But Richard Dennis wanted that factory closed. And I think your Dad got pressured to the point he just gave in. It was the wrong decision, and it wasn’t the one he wanted to make. The transition team had one very tense meeting about two weeks before he made the final decision; we couldn’t come to a consensus because the numbers were too close. Most of us didn’t want to close that plant, but we just couldn’t justify the phase out plan enough to go that way.”

They were both silent for a couple of minutes. Roger noticed that both boys were quiet as well.

“That was one of the few times I felt that your dad had been really forced to do the wrong thing, Oliver. He didn’t have to bow to the demands of the board, but things were shaky enough that he decided to do so. He really took a hit for that decision, too. But if you ask me, the blame should really fall on Richard Dennis.”

Oliver just nodded. “Can’t say that I’m a big fan of Mr. Dennis, myself.”

Roger just nodded his own agreement. In that instant, he realized that Dennis had probably been behind Felicity Smoak’s dismissal as well, despite her very positive impact on the company.

The four of them reached the front of the line at that point.

“Hey, Dad? Can Will and I sit together for this one?”

Roger looked and Oliver saw that the other man was clearly okay with that. So the boys lined up for the front seats in a car together, while Oliver and Roger lined up behind them.

Just before their car pulled into the loading area, Oliver turned to Roger. “Thanks for telling me that about Dad, Roger. I’ve learned things about my father this past year that I didn’t need or want to know. I always knew that he wasn’t a saint, anyway. Neither of my parents were, but I have a lot of good memories of them and it’s tough when those keep getting pushed aside by the bad revelations. It’s nice to hear that not everyone considered them the villains.”

“They were human, Oliver. Just like you and me.”

Chapter Text

“Aunt Raisa? There’s a gentleman asking to see you. He and his companion have just been sitting and talking for hours, but he just now asked if you were here.”

Raisa looked up at Pyotr. The boy had a sour look on his face and Raisa figured he was unhappy that there were still customers in the dining room. He tended to get a little grumpy when people didn’t leave on his schedule.

“Do they look like they’ve had a nice evening? Have they complained about anything?”

Pyotr looked surprise. “Yes, I suppose so. And no, there have been no complaints?” He confirmed the last as a question, obviously not understanding what she was getting at.

“Then you should just accept that we have done our job, even if they’ve stayed longer than you liked. Did he say who he was?”

“No. I did hear the lady call him Oliver a couple of times.”

Raisa’s smile widened considerably as she stood up from the desk. “Oh, you silly boy. Come on and I’ll introduce you to my son.”

The confused look on his face confirmed that he didn’t know what she was talking about, but she was too excited to care.

When she entered the dining room, sure enough there sat Oliver Queen at one of the tables facing the bay. Across from him sat a very pretty blonde. Raisa had only met her two or three times, but she immediately recognized Felicity Smoak. The young woman was every bit as beautiful as Raisa remembered.

Felicity and Oliver were dressed up a little more than the restaurant’s regular clientele, but Raisa wasn’t surprised. Oliver wouldn’t have been Moira Queen’s son if he didn’t know how to dress for every occasion. Thea, of course, was better at it, but Raisa remembered when Oliver first started paying attention to his appearance. The boy took so much time getting ready that Raisa would have sworn he was worse than a girl. When he realized that he didn’t need to work that hard to get girls was both a relief and a sad comment on Oliver’s maturity at the time, she thought. Fortunately, he outgrew all of that in time. Raisa shook her head to clear the odd memory of Oliver and started towards his table.

She was about halfway to the table when he turned to look at her. He smiled at her and stood up.

“Mr. Oliver, it is so good to see you. It has been a long time,” she said as he embraced her in a big hug.

He chuckled, but looked slightly embarrassed.. “I know. Life has been a little hectic. I’m sorry it has been so long since I’ve been by.”

Raisa took a step back, still holding him by the arms. He was dressed in a tan suit this evening with a white shirt and a blue tie that brought out the color in his eyes. She thought he looked fit and his face was much more relaxed than what she saw on the television.

“You look good. Life is treating you better?” she asked. She hoped he picked up on the unspoken question.

Oliver nodded. “Things are much better, thank you.”

She turned to Pyotr. Her nephew looked at her quizzically.

“Pyotr, this is Oliver Queen. Before I started the restaurant, I worked for Mr. Queen’s family. Mr. Oliver, this is my nephew, Pyotr. He helps run the restaurant.”

Oliver held out his hand to the younger man. When he spoke to the young man, it was in Russian. “I remember hearing stories about you when you were little. Your aunt was always very proud of you. I’m glad to see you here helping her.”

Raisa felt her nephew relax just a bit. His Russian was tinged with more warmth than before. “Thank you. So you’ve known my aunt for a long time?”

“Your aunt raised me. Probably more than my mother did.” Raisa noticed that he glanced over at Felicity for a second, a smirk on his face. “She is my favorite person in the world.”

Raisa responded in English. “Oh, Mr. Oliver, now you hush. Miss Felicity is well aware that I am the second favorite. You be nice!”

Oliver laughed at that and Raisa was very pleased to know that the fun loving boy she had raised wasn’t completely gone.

Raisa turned to Pyotr. “Bring us a new bottle of wine, please. The premium red would be good, I think.” She then gestured to Oliver. “Sit. Sit. I want to know what’s going on.”

Oliver held the chair for her as she sat, gently pushing her up to the table once she was seated.

Raisa reached over and patted Felicity hand. “It is so good to see you, my dear. It has been such a long time. Mr. Oliver should be ashamed at how he has stayed away. Moreso, for not bringing you around.”

Raisa loved the twinkle in Felicity’s eyes. The younger woman obviously loved Oliver as much as she did, and probably loved teasing him as much as well.”

“Well, he tends to get a little wrapped up in things, sometimes. But you are right. We should have stopped by sooner than this.”

Pyotr chose that moment to bring back the new bottle of wine, along with three new glasses. He cleared the glasses that Oliver and Felicity had been drinking from, along with the nearly empty bottle of wine already on the table.

“Thank you, my boy.” Raisa took a quick look around the rest of the dining room. All the tables but the one where they were sitting had been cleared and prepped for the next day. “Pyotr, please give us some privacy. I’ll make sure this table is taken care of before I leave.”

Her nephew raised an eyebrow at her, but nodded his agreement before heading back to the kitchen.

Once he was through the door, Raisa’s mood shifted. She was always glad to see Oliver, but it had been far too long since she had been able to make sure that he was really okay. All three were silent as Oliver poured the glasses of wine. He gave the two women each a glass before sitting back with his own, an expectant look on his face.

When Oliver had returned from the island, there had been a shift in their relationship. Oh, she still felt her motherly affection and love for him, but she knew immediately that Oliver had changed. His suddenly fluency in Russian aside, she had tuned in much quicker to the darkness that seemed to permeate him than his own mother had. But then Raisa knew that she had always been more of a mother to Oliver than Moira Queen had ever been.

It wasn’t that Moira, or Robert for that matter, didn’t love their son. They did. But they had never understood him. They had never keyed into the fact that the highly structured and public lives they lived didn’t appeal to him. Raisa had known from a very early age that Oliver was never going to embrace being the head of the family business, was never going to want to be seen as a leader in Starling City’s social elite. The more his parents pushed him in that direction and later, the more Laurel Lance pushed him to settle down and be that type of person, the more Oliver almost involuntarily had pushed back. Raisa hated watching his spirit be crushed under the unfair expectations of people who should have known better.

So it was with great pride that Raisa sat and contemplated the man sitting next to her. He wasn’t in charge of the family company anymore, but he had taken on an even greater responsibility by becoming mayor of Star City. And while he certainly didn’t seek out publicity and the type of social prominence his parents had, he was comfortable in the position that being mayor had placed him. Furthermore, he had chosen a woman who was equally comfortable with her prominence in society, yet didn’t need it and had certainly never sought it out.

“I’m very proud of you, you know. You have become exactly the type of man I knew you could be.”

Oliver had looked up as she spoke and returned the eye contact. “Thank you,” he finally replied. “That means more than you’ll ever know.”

Raisa nodded, but pushed on. There were things that she wanted to know. It had been far too long since Oliver had brought her up to speed on his life, and she had decided that now he was here, it was time for that to change.

“The thing with Adrian Chase? All of that is done.”

Oliver expression turned surprised. So did Felicity’s, even though Raisa could only see her from the corner of her eye.

When Oliver didn’t say anything for a moment, Raisa decided to help him along. “Mr. Oliver, I have known since you first came home. It may have taken your mother a while to figure it out, but I knew what you were doing almost immediately. I may not have approved of all of your methods, but I understood your purpose. And obviously, your secret is safe with me.”

“I … I don’t know what to say.”

Raisa smiled. “Is the matter with Chase done?”

“Yes. He wanted to hurt me so badly that he was willing to sacrifice himself. It almost worked, but in the end, it failed. I was not the person he thought I was, after all.”

“Good. I thought your public explanation was appropriate, but I needed to know that you were truly safe.” She turned to Felicity. “And you, too, my dear.”

Felicity just offered a nod of assurance.

“I take it he had your boy as well?”

“Yes, and his mother,” Oliver said, his voice harder.

“But William is okay?”

Felicity answered this time. “William is managing as well as can be expected. It helps that his mother survived and that his father was there to save him. It’s good that he’s here in Star City. He has lots of support.”

Raisa nodded. “Good. Good. I look forward to meeting him.”

It was Oliver’s turn to smile. “Oh, you do, do you?”

Raisa laughed. “Please. Did you think I wouldn’t know immediately why you are here? You have a young son. And while I do not doubt your ability and that of Miss Felicity to raise your son right, let alone his mother’s contribution, it is fairly obvious that you would like me to be involved.”

Raisa couldn’t remember the last time she had heard Oliver laugh so genuinely.

When he finally regained some control, he indicated his agreement. “Of course, you would know what I wanted. Felicity and I have come to ask you to work for us. I know the restaurant is important, and I never want to take you away from this. But I would love for you to help us.”

Raisa laughed again. “The restaurant has always been a side project. Pyotr and his sister are running it far more than they realize already. They can handle the day-to-day if need be. I have always hoped to return to being in your life.”

Oliver just shook his head. She had always been able to surprise him, to keep him on his toes. That apparently still held true.

“So. Tell me, what are your plans going forward?”

“Felicity and I have started looking for a house together. We’d like to get married before we move in together. We’re not going to tell the press until after we’re married; we may hold off on an announcement for as long as we can, actually.

“Since William and Samantha moved out of the loft and into their own house, I don’t get to see him quite as often, but he still spends two or three afternoons a week with me. He also stays at the loft every other weekend or so; that gives Felicity and I a chance to spend a couple of days together with him.”

Raisa just nodded her head, not surprised that Oliver had a plan in place.

“I take it you’re still living in your basement hideaway?”

Oliver again looked surprised, but Raisa was pleased when Felicity laughed.

“Oh, she may know you better than I do, Oliver.” Felicity turned to Raisa. “I have tried to get him to stay somewhere a little more … human-like, but you know how stubborn he can be. It took days for us to convince him that he at least needed to list Thea’s address as his as well back when he first became mayor.”

Raisa smiled at Felicity’s description of Oliver’s living arrangement. “Mr. Oliver was always a little stubborn about the things that mattered to him, no matter how silly they seemed to others.”

“Hey!” There was no heat to his protest, though. He just shook his head at the two women, smiling all the while.

“How is Miss Clayton, Mr. Oliver. She seemed to be a strong woman the one time I met her.”

Oliver looked confused for a minute. “You’ve met Samantha?”

Raisa realized that Oliver still didn’t know the full story of his mother’s interference. She reflected that she had been the bearer of bad news from and about his parents far too often in his life. Her life, for that matter. And it looks as if she wasn’t quite done.

“Back then, your mother called Miss Clayton to the house to talk to her. She had decided that you weren’t ready to be a father yet. So she handled it with her usual style. The girl was taken completely unaware. Your mother never threatened her, but she made it clear that it was better that you did not know about your son.”

Raisa had been watching Oliver’s face and could tell as the blood drained from it. Felicity reached over to lay her hand on his. Raisa knew that Felicity was probably the source of much of Oliver’s emotional strength.

I’m sorry, Mr. Oliver. I hated the way your mother handled things. How she thought protecting you meant that you never faced adversity. How she thought that you somehow shouldn’t have to face your mistakes.

“Your mother loved you, but I’m not sure she realized that being a parent meant that tough love was called for at times. Instead of being your parent, she treated you more and more like one of her projects.

Much to Raisa amazement, Oliver relaxed again, his face regaining its color.

“You’re right. My mother’s protection never really helped me. But I’m past that. And with William, at least, I’ve been given a second chance. And I will not make the same mistakes that my parents made.”

“Good. I am very glad to hear that, Mr. Oliver.”

“To answer your question, Samantha is good. She has done an amazing job raising William and she is willing to let me back into his life. When I told her that I hoped to hire you to help out, she thought that was a good idea. Now I understand why.”

Raisa waved off Oliver’s compliment. “Please. You make it sound like I have magical powers, Mr. Oliver. I just strive to do the right thing. Just as I tried to get you to do the right thing when I could.”

Oliver nodded. “I know. I was listening, too. But…” Oliver shrugged, obviously not knowing how to explain many of his choices.

She reached over and patted the hand that still lay on the table. A comfortable silence again fell on the three, as they sat sipping at the wine.

“We’re going to have to get some of this for home, Oliver,” Felicity finally said.

“That will be easy to arrange, Miss Felicity. Now tell me, how are things with you? Are you going to get the company back?”

Raisa relished the surprised look on Felicity’s face, but kept her own expression neutral.

Finally Felicity nodded. “It’s beginning to look that way. Once I started talking to the board members who supported me, it seems they’d rather have me back in charge at Palmer Tech. Apparently Mr. Dennis isn’t as well-liked as he thinks.”

“Trust me, my dear, there are many stockholders who aren’t happy with his handling of matters over the last couple of years. Many of us are starting to be more vocal about it, too.”

Felicity’s eyes grew wide at that.

It was Oliver who explained. “Raisa owns a large amount of stock in the company. She has for as long as I can remember. It’s only slightly less than what Thea and I both still have. We’ve all just kept quiet where our feelings about the direction of the company were concerned. Of course, when Ray bought his stake, it wasn’t really a big deal; he was good for the company. So were you. Right now, not so much.”

Raisa looked at her watch, surprised by the lateness of the hour.

“So, you will both come around far more often. And once you have moved into your house, we will make arrangements, yes?”

Oliver smiled at her. “So you will come help us? Are you willing to move in, even? There will always be a place in my home for you, you know.”

“Yes and yes. And yes, I know there will be, Mr. Oliver. I love you for that. As long as you are not living in some secret basement.”

Chapter Text

“So this is where you went to school, Oliver?”

“Yes, it is. What do you think?”

“It’s okay. The building looks kinda old, though. You went to school a long time ago, right?

Cynthia Bettencourt almost laughed aloud at that. She was sitting at her desk in the principal’s office at Starling Preparatory Academy. Her door was open because her secretary Betty had taken the afternoon off and knew Cindy had at least one appointment. Obviously, she thought, the appointment had arrived.

As she stood from her desk, the conversation continued.

“How old do you think I am, Will?” There was amusement in the man’s voice laced with uncertainty.

“I dunno. I just figured you were kinda old because you’re the mayor. You have to be old to have a job like that, right?”

“Not really. Do you think your mom is old?”

“Uh. I guess not. Why?”

“I’m only a year older than your mom. I’m not that old.”

Cindy came out of her office to find Mayor Oliver Queen standing at the secretary’s desk with a young boy standing next to him. The Mayor had obviously come directly from work; he was still wearing a suit, although the dark red tie was loose. The boy was wearing a pair of jeans and a red t-shirt with a Flash emblem on it. The Mayor was more handsome than he appeared on television, but she could see that he was more tired-looking in person. The boy was a combination of his parents: hair the color of Oliver’s and the same nose, but the eyes and mouth not so much. The most striking similarity was the haunted look in the boy’s eyes; the same one she could see in Oliver Queen’s.

Samantha, William’s mother had hinted that the boy had been through some tough times earlier in the year, but didn’t explain. Cindy now realized that the tough times went further than William. Samantha Clayton had interviewed well and even if she hadn’t needed a teacher with her skills, Cindy would have hired her and found her a place at Starling Prep. But underlying the confidence in her skills and her obvious love of teaching, Cindy had noticed a nervousness in Samantha that worried her just a little.

But, Cindy reflected, there would be time to sort that out later. Right now, she had a tour to give to the Mayor’s son.

“Mr. Mayor. It is nice to see you again.”

Oliver Queen smiled the boyish smile she remembered from having him in class freshman year.

“It’s just Oliver, Mrs. Bettencourt. I’m not in the office right now.”

She looked at him for a minute. She could see the boy still, but even without knowing some of the things he had been through, it was obvious that Oliver was a far different man than she remembered or expected.

She smiled at him as she said “Alright, Oliver. It’s still nice to see you. And this is William, I’m guessing.” She turned to the boy who stood next to his father quietly.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She was surprised when the boy tentatively held out his hand, but she took it and shook it. He had a good grip for a ten-year-old and she surmised that Oliver had perhaps been teaching him a little of social interaction.

“Samantha should be here shortly. She was picking up Felicity and got caught in some traffic.”

Cindy waved her hand to indicate that the time wasn’t crucial. “I’m just working on some paperwork, so there nothing pressing this afternoon.”

She turned back to Oliver’s son. “So how are you adjusting to Star City, William? Your mother said that you’d moved around a bit over the last couple of years.”

She noticed that William talked quietly, but his voice still had strength to it. “It’s okay. Oliver and Mom have showed me around quite a bit. I liked the bay. Oliver said that the city is really trying to make it nice again. There’s some fun things to do down there.”

Cindy was about to reply when two women rushed through the door. Samantha Clayton was in the lead with a well-dressed blonde woman right behind her.

“I’m sorry we’re late, Mrs. Bettencourt. Traffic was …”

“It’s okay, Samantha,” Cindy said, again waving off the perceived inconvenience. “Oliver and William were filling me in on their summer. I’ve got plenty of time for our tour of the school.”

“Before we get started,” Oliver interjected, “I’d like to introduce Felicity Smoak.”

Felicity grinned, having caught her breath after the dash into the school.

“Felicity, this is Cynthia Bettencourt. She is the principal here at Starling Prep. She was also my freshman history teacher.”

Felicity stepped forward and offered her hand. “It’s nice to meet you. Oliver mentioned that he had you in class, but he never says much about his high school years.”

Cindy picked up on the undercurrent of teasing in Felicity Smoak’s voice and she was intrigued. She knew that Oliver had just announced that he and Felicity had resumed their relationship and she was curious exactly what kind of woman it took to pin Oliver Queen down. That was probably a mystery for another day as well and she decided to start the tour.

She primarily addressed William and explained that she wanted to take them down to his classroom and then she would show him around the school so he had a good idea of where things were.

As they started walking, she gave him some background on the school. “Starling Preparatory Academy was founded about eighty years ago. So it is a pretty old school.” She looked at him directly. “It’s a lot older than your father.”

William smiled and laughed a little at that.

“What do you like to be called, William?” Cindy asked, not sure that his mother had said during the previous conversation.

“I’d like to be called Will.”

“Okay, then that’s what I’ll call you. Now back to the school. I think you might find this interesting. Your great-great-grandfather Oliver Dearden was one of the people who originally help establish the school. He was an important industrialist in Starling at the time. He and some others wanted to have a good school for their kids, so he donated the land that the school sits on.”

Will looked up at her at little confused. “I don’t know who he is.”

Cindy realized a second too late that William might not know much about his father’s family. “He would have been your Grandmother Queen’s grandfather,” she offered as further explanation.

Cindy could have sworn she heard a dismissive sound from behind her – perhaps Samantha – but she couldn’t be sure.

“I’ll explain the family to you, buddy. It’s a little complicated.”

William looked back at his father and said, “Okay.”

Cindy went on to explain some other things about the school’s history. Little things that she knew ten-year-olds found interesting. By the time, she finished explaining how the school’s mascot became the Orca, they had reached Will’s classroom.

They went through the open door, Cindy with Will close on her heels. There was a woman a few years older than Cindy sitting at the desk. She was reading the list of students assigned to her classroom that year, but she looked up as the group entered the classroom.

“Will, this is Mrs. Samuels. She will be your teacher this year.”

She noticed that Will stepped forward on his own and offered his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Samuels.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Will.”

Cindy then introduced the teacher to rest of the group. “This is Will’s mother, Samantha Clayton. She’ll be joining the faculty to teach upper level high school English.”

“Harmony’s classes? That’ll be good, I think.” Cindy just nodded her agreement.

“This is Will’s father. I think you remember him. And this is his fiancée, Felicity Smoak.”

Cindy heard more than saw Felicity start to say something, but Oliver cut her off. “It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. Samuels. It seems like it’s been ages.”

“It does, doesn’t it? It’s good to see you, Oliver. Congratulations, by the way. It seems like you’ve really settled into office pretty well.”

“Thank you. I’m just trying to do the best I can.”

“Good, that’s the way it should be.”

The discussion turned back to Will for a few minutes. Samantha and Will both filled in Carol Samuels on Will’s previous experiences. Cindy was pleasantly surprised to find that Will was a fairly serious student and had good grades from his previous schools. She divided her attention between the discussion and trying to decide if she needed to talk to Oliver Queen separately. She finally decided that there were a couple of things she needed to confirm with him and they would be better done without his fiancée, son and son’s mother listening in.

When Carol’s questions slowed down, Cindy asked the other teacher, “Would you mind giving Will and his mother a tour of the school, Carol? I’d like to speak with Oliver about a couple of things.”

The other woman nodded. She turned to Samantha and Will. “Let me show the rest of this wing, and then we’ll go find the cafeteria and the gym.”

Felicity rubbed her hand along Oliver’s arm. “I’m going to tag along. I wanted to see where young Oliver spent his formative years,” she said with a smirk.

“Okay,” Oliver replied softly.

Cindy started walking back to the office and Oliver quickly fell in step.

“You look well, Oliver. But you look tired, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“I’m okay. The job is challenging at times. Okay, most of the time. Add to that the fact that I’m trying to get to know my son and figure out how to be a father – a good father – and yeah, I’m tired a lot. If you want to know the truth, I don’t often get a good night’s sleep no matter what. A carryover of my island experience.” She felt more than saw the shrug with which he finished his explanation.

“Well, I’ve been impressed with the job you’ve been doing, Oliver. It is obvious how much you care about the city and the people. I think most people see that and appreciate it.”

“I hope so. I don’t care if they think it’s my doing or not, but I do want people to feel safe. I want them to want to live here. There’s been so much bad the last few years that people need to see something positive.”

“They do, Oliver. Trust me, they do.”

They had reached the main office again and Cindy led Oliver back to her office, offering him one of the chairs in front of her desk.

“First of all, I thought I’d let you know that I am going to hire Samantha. She had great qualifications and will be a good replacement for Harmony Clement. There weren’t that many applicants and none of them were even close. I have not confirmed this with Samantha yet, so you probably shouldn’t say anything, but she will be working here.”

“Thank you. I didn’t want to interfere, but I wanted to make sure she got an appropriate position for her skills. I knew this would be the best option.”

“I would have hired her even without you calling me, Oliver. So don’t worry about that.”

I also had a phone call from Cal Schiraldi. He said that you’d like to help with providing security at the school.”

“Yes, but I don’t particularly want to burden William with a bodyguard. I know your security is already pretty good. What I would like to suggest is that I fund an additional security resource officer for the school. He will be subject to your direction, but his priority will be William’s safety, if it comes to that.”

“So you’re going to pay for the additional security, but allow me to use the person as I see fit? Well, mostly anyway.”

“Yes.”

She paused for a long moment. The arrangement was unique, but not unexpected. “I can live with that. That brings up a question, though. You announced that you had a son, right? Will’s identity is known”

Oliver nodded, but then explained. “I announced that I had a son and that his name was William. No last name. I’ve asked the press to not cover him, but you and I both know that will only go so far. It’s inevitable that his picture will get out there, if it hasn’t already.”

“Do you think that Will’s not-well-known identity is going to be a problem or a help.

“I’m hoping it helps. He and I have talked some about how much he should say about who he is. Neither one of us wants to hide our relationship, but the less people know about him the better. He’s a smart boy, so I don’t think he’ll be blabbing who he is to just anybody. I don’t have a problem with any of the teachers knowing who he is. Unless you think they’ll hold his parentage against him.”

There was a bit of a smile on Oliver’s face, but it was tinged with some regret.

“None of my teachers will hold Will’s father’s identity against him. I can assure you that. The fact that Samantha will be teaching here and that you’re the mayor will also make a difference. I think you know this, but anybody teaching here is bound by a code of ethics. Holding a child responsible for the sins of a parent is definitely against the code.

“If it makes you feel any better, I did purposely slot William in Carol’s class, though. Roger Beckworth called me a couple of days ago and asked if his son and Will could both be in that class. Well, he actually asked that they not be put in Nancy Yamamoto’s class.”

Oliver smiled when Cindy laughed and winked conspiratorially.

“Yeah, we ran into Roger and Charlie last week. Charlie definitely did not want Mrs. Yamamoto for class.”

Cindy waved that off. “Nancy’s gotten better. Although I couldn’t have guaranteed anything if it was Tommy Merlyn’s kid.”

Cindy watched as Oliver visibly stiffened for a moment. It took several seconds before she realized that Tommy had been one of the victims of the so-called Undertaking several years back. She should have remembered that.

“I’m sorry, Oliver. That was very insensitive of me. I just forgot for a moment.”

Oliver looked at her, most of his poise recovered. She could see some tension remaining in the lines of his face, though.

“It’s okay. I tend to forget about it every now and then. That makes it just that much harder when I’m reminded of it.” Oliver looked over her shoulder and out the window. His voice was much softer when he continued, “Tommy didn’t deserve to die like that. Especially considering it was his father who did it.”

“I know, Oliver. And I’m sorry for your loss.”

There was another long silence. Cindy was waiting for something more from Oliver, but he had nothing more to say.

“Any way, I can assure you that William will be allowed to develop his own reputation here at the school. He will be his own person, not just a shadow of his father. No matter who knows he belongs to you.”

“Thank you.”

“Speaking of being insensitive, I’m sorry if I touched on something I shouldn’t have when I mentioned your family. Samantha kind of winced when I brought up your mother.”

“Yeah, my mother is definitely a sore spot with Sam.” There was a long enough pause that the educator again thought Oliver was done, but he finally added, “My mother bribed Samantha to tell me she had lost the baby and move away from Starling. It’s a good thing I didn’t find out until after she was gone. I may not have forgiven her for that.”

Cindy felt like she knew Oliver just about as well as any of her former students. He had never been an outstanding student, but he was far smarter than his reputation pegged him as being. He had been young enough that she had gotten to see an Oliver that wasn’t completely jaded yet. He had enjoyed her class and while she knew immediately that history was never going to be his favorite subject, fifteen-year-old Oliver had applied himself fairly well through most of the year. He and Tommy had gotten in some trouble toward the end of the spring semester and Moira Queen and Malcolm Merlyn had made sure their boys didn’t get in trouble. The experience had started a shift in Oliver and it had been difficult to get him to finish the year with even the average interest he’d shown up until then. It had been and still was the most striking example of influence trumping everything else that she had ever seen.

“Oliver. Your mother was probably the most … complex person I have ever known. I don’t even know how to explain her beyond that.”

“It sounds like there’s a story there. I’m guessing that I probably won’t want to know the details, though.”

Cindy shook her head. “My Moira Queen story isn’t too bad. Do you remember the Civil War project you were supposed to do? It would have been the last six weeks of the spring semester.”

Oliver’s brow wrinkled in concentration for a moment, but then his eyes went wide.

“Tommy and I were supposed to present a report over some battle. I’m sorry, I don’t remember which one. Tommy turned our presentation into some stunt, if I remember correctly. Made a lot of noise and an even bigger mess in the courtyard. This won’t mean much now, but I tried to talk him out of it, but he was determined to pull off the biggest stunt ever.”

Cindy actually chuckled, her own memories of the stunt coming back to her. “At least one of the cherry trees did not survive the explosion,” she said.

Oliver winced.

“I remember being terrified. I had been in trouble before, but this seemed big. Really big. I was sure that I was going to get suspended or expelled or something horrible. Tommy was even nervous, and he never got nervous about that stuff.”

“No, he was usually immune to the threat of consequences of his actions. I could never figure out why.”

“He’d learned to deal with the craziness that was widowed Malcolm Merlyn. He figured if he could live with that, nothing else could be all that bad,” Oliver commented ruefully.

“Anyway, he and I were sitting in the office, me shaking and him playing with a yo-yo, of all things, and in walks Malcolm and my Mom. She glared at me. Malcolm looked like he was going to kill Tommy. They marched into Mr. Delacorte’s office and shut the door. Fifteen minutes later they walked out. Mom kind of just motioned so that Tommy and I would follow and we left the building. The ride home was completely silent and Mom never said another word to me about it. Dad lectured me that night, but it wasn’t nearly as scary as I was expecting. We came back to school the next day and never heard another word about it.”

Cindy looked at Oliver. She could tell that he was truly bothered by the strange turn of events, but obviously didn’t know what had happened back then.

“Ron was a bit of a chicken. I’m not sure who he was more scared of, your Mom or Merlyn, but he was truly scared of both of them. Malcolm had already gotten Tommy out of major trouble a couple of times, but I’m sure both of them at once would have just terrified him. Malcolm paid to replace the trees and a few improvements. Your Mom made generous contributions to several educational programs – she was always better about those things than Malcolm was – and the deal was that neither of you would suffer the consequences. Your Mom later asked me to give the both of you an A for creativity, but I talked her into accepting that a B was the best I could do. I don’t think she liked it, but I pointed out that neither of you had hardly followed the assignment at all.”

Oliver gaped at her for a second, before he asked, “You actually bargained successfully with Moira Queen?”

Cindy laughed as the man’s assessment of the situation. “That may be putting it a little strongly, but I refused to allow her carte blanche. I think she may have respected that to some extent. Still, Ron had set a precedent, at least where the two of you were concerned. I struggled to get much out of either of you the rest of that year. And it was impossible to discipline either one of you from that point on. Everybody understood that.”

Oliver just shook his head. “Yeah, I’m sure you did. The two of them made it clear to Tommy and I that we wouldn’t have to pay the consequences of our actions. We were already entitled enough to think that we didn’t have to work very hard to get anything we wanted.”

Oliver had stood by now and was pacing back and forth in the modest office.

“Oliver, sit down.” He looked at her for a second before he complied. “Yes, it is unfortunate that your parents taught you the exact opposite of what they should have, but it happens. You weren’t the first and you won’t be the last. You have still turned out to be an admirable man and Tommy, as I understood it, died saving Laurel Lance from the earthquake. Neither of you turned out to be nearly as bad as you could have.”

“There are days I still wonder about that, you know.”

“Well, stop. And for what it’s worth, I am confident that William won’t turn out to have anywhere near the experience you had.”

Oliver offered a small smile at that thought, although it was tinged with regret. “No, he won’t. Neither Samantha or I have anywhere near the same approach as my parents.”

Further discussion was cut off by the appearance of William and Carol Samuels in the doorway.

“How was the tour?” Cindy asked the young man.

“It was good!” William responded, more enthusiastic than he had been earlier. “Hey, Oliver, Mrs. Samuels said that you played basketball and baseball when you were in school. Were you any good?”

All four women chuckled.

Oliver smiled at his son. “I was an okay basketball player, but I was pretty good at baseball.”

“Cool. We need to play catch some time. I want to play baseball next year.”

Oliver stood up and moved next to him. “Yeah, we should definitely do that.”

He turned back to Cindy. “Thank you again, Mrs. Bettencourt. I’ll get the information to you as I promised.”

“It’s fine, Oliver. I’m not worried about that. William, it was nice meeting you. Samantha, I should have a final decision in the next day or so, but I don’t think there will be any problems.”

The group said their goodbyes and Oliver, William, Samantha and Felicity left the office. Cindy watched the four go. Oliver Queen, despite all of the baggage that his parents had piled on him over the years, had turned out to be a good man. He was still burdened by his past, but it was obvious that he was working to move past that. And, she reflected, the fact that he had turned out to be the man that he was now was a confirmation that sometimes people in her job did manage to get through to their students, despite all signs to the contrary.

Chapter Text

“So how short are we?”

Claire Thornton asked breathlessly of the couple sitting at the table just inside the Dean Martin Ballroom at the Sands Expo Convention Center. The dash in from parking lot had winded her a little more than expected. Then again, she normally didn’t do more than an elegant walk in her four-inch heels.

She watched as Alison Jordan and Cameron Bagley looked up at her, both smothering amusement at her harried question and appearance. If it was any other time, Claire would have been upset at the pair, but even she knew that she had been asking them the same question multiple times a day, every day for the last two weeks. Their patience with her was admirable, especially since their relationship was not such that demanded the loyalty they had nevertheless exhibited.

The amusement that had flickered on Cameron’s face finally burst into a full-fledged grin.

“Relax, boss. The Vegas gods have decided to smile on you.”

“The Vegas gods? What are you talking about, Cameron?”

Cameron’s grin grew even wider. Even in the bright lighting of the ballroom, his teeth shone against the ruddy tone of his skin.

“We’ve had a last minute attendee pony up the rest of the amount needed to pay for the event. Matter of fact, she took care of the entire facilities rental, so we’re covered for everything else. Alison and I had enough left over to go out and get those door prize items that we couldn’t get donated and we still have a positive balance.”

Claire looked to Alison for confirmation, and the other woman just nodded her head in agreement, her own grin now emerging.

“Who?”

Alison frowned at that, but only for a second. A smile returned quickly. “The donor asked that she remain anonymous.”

Okay, that was kind of surprising, Claire thought. She glanced around the ballroom, confirming that she, Alison and Cameron were joined only by the dozen or so volunteers. They were scattered around the large room finishing various decorations. There was no one currently within hearing distance of the three of them.

Claire tilted her head to the side to show Alison that she didn’t find that acceptable. “Alison, this is my party. I expect to know everything.”

Cameron chuckled as Alison said, “I figured you’d say that. Do you remember Felicity Smoak?”

The name was not immediately familiar to Claire, unfortunately. And surprising. She had gone through both the Class of 2007’s senior yearbook and a list of names supplied by the school as they started to plan the reunion. She involuntarily shook her head.

Cameron supplied the answer, “I didn’t either, at first, but then I realized why. Felicity didn’t actually graduate with us; she was part of the class our freshman year, but she took enough classes and tested out of enough others that she actually graduated two years ahead of us.”

“What? Then why is she considered part of our class?”

“That what I asked Principal Morton, and she said that it may have just been an oversight. Felicity should have been moved to the Class of 2005, but never was. At this point, Morton didn’t see any need to correct it, though. We went ahead and invited Felicity. She did go to school with us for ten years.”

“Wait a minute. Was she short, kind of mousy with long brown hair? Always knew all the answers?

“Yes, that’s her,” Alison confirmed.

Claire frowned at that. “I take it she still lives in Vegas?”

Alison glanced down at the papers she had in front of her. She shuffled a couple of sheets, then said, “Nope. It says here that she lives in Star City now. Oh, even better yet, it says that her plus one is Oliver Queen.”

Claire snorted at that. “There must be more than one Oliver Queen then. I’ve met Oliver Queen and I cannot picture him and the Felicity Smoak I remember together in any way.”

Cameron shrugged. “Felicity was nice. I knew her a little. Had a couple of classes with her my freshman year and maybe one sophomore year. She was smart. I remember that.”

“I’m sure I didn’t cut her any slack. She would have been the perfect target back then.”

Neither Cameron or Alison responded to that. They had been on the receiving end of Claire’s attitude once or twice back in high school.

Claire didn’t regret much about her high school years. She had been popular, a good student and well liked by most of the faculty and students. But, as someone had recently pointed out to her, she did have a bit of a ‘mean girls’ air about her. The person who had pointed this out to her then added that “if she was in charge of the reunion, there was no way in hell he’d be attending.” That had stung, but the fact that she had been pretty dismissive of the guy back in high school made her realize that he wasn’t wrong to feel the way he did.

“Ooohh. Which of your perfect targets are we remembering?” Tori DiMucci asked.

Claire turned to look at her best friend as the other woman stepped close and slid her hand through Claire’s arm. Claire’s ex-husband, Cliff Richardson, joined the group as well, standing just on the other side of Tori.

Before Claire could say anything, Cameron chipped in with the name, “Felicity Smoak.”

“Who?” Tori asked, obviously even more clueless as to who the person was than Claire had been.

“The smart one,” Cliff said with a hint of suggestiveness. “Didn’t she graduate like two years ahead of us?”

“Yeah, she did,” Cameron confirmed. “And then she went off to MIT and blew people away with her genius there, too.”

“I’ll bet she did. How she end up on our class list?”

“Morton said that the school never reassigned her class designation. Probably a good thing at this point. She donated the entire ballroom rental. We’re in the black!” Alison finished with a little cheer, hands raised in the air.

“So college paid off, I take it?” Cliff said with a smirk and a look at Claire.

She glared back at him. She may get along with her ex-husband for the most part, but he seemed to take a great deal of delight in yanking her chain whenever the opportunity presented itself. Like now.

“Well, It’s either that or Oliver Queen is her sugar daddy. He’s coming as her plus one,” Alison offered, her amusement at Claire’s obvious discomfort also plainly evident.

“Wait a minute. Oliver Queen is her plus one? Former head of Queen Consolidation. Current Mayor of Star City, Oliver Queen. One of People Magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive, Oliver Queen?” Tori said all of that in a single breath and with far too much enthusiasm for Claire’s liking.

“I highly doubt that Mayor Oliver Queen will be attending our reunion. There has to be other Oliver Queens out there. This Felicity Smoak, if she’s anything like she was in high school, would not be with the Oliver Queen. I refuse to even consider that.”

“Do you even remember her from high school, hon?”

Claire hated it when Cliff still called her that. They were divorced, damnit!

“No, Cliff, I don’t really remember her. At least not much. But, I don’t have to. I remember enough to know what she was like then and people don’t change. That’s why I just can’t see a mouse like Felicity with Oliver Queen. The Oliver Queen.”

She glared at Cliff to emphasize her point. He glared right back at her. She could sense that the other three weren’t really sure what to do, given the sudden tension.

Cliff decided to give her out. “Okay, you are probably right. I’m not going to agree with you and I kind of hope you’re wrong.” He held up his index finger to stall any rebuttal. “Not because I want you to be wrong, but because I hope people do change. Get better. Or, as I suspect in Felicity’s case, grow into the incredible person she probably always was but that nobody bothered to see in high school.”

Claire hated that Cliff was always better at understanding people. Even though understanding people made up a good part of her job and she felt that she did it well, Cliff had always been better at it. She knew he also tended to be willing to give people the benefit of doubt whenever possible. Damn the man!

“Well, as much as I would love to continue watching a return to form between you two, Claire, you and I still need to go talk to the caterers and make sure that everything is being handled right. The fact that we can now readily pay for everything we wanted…” She looked at Cameron for confirmation and got a nod. “…means that we can twist his arms at little more to get him to cooperate.”

“Yes. You’re right.” She looked back at Alison and Cameron. “Do you two need anything? Are we ready to receive people when they start coming in?”

Cameron again nodded. “Yeah, we’re all good. Alison and I even did a run through yesterday. It will be great.”

Claire looked over to Cliff, who was in charge of the decorations. He just nodded.

“Okay, then. Come on Tori, let’s go whip the caterer into shape.”

< = = = = = >

The caterer had been far more problematic than Claire would have liked. He had basically wanted to scrimp on everything and basic reason had been unable to convince the man to do what the contract specified. So Tori had finally made some vague threats about involving her Italian uncles. The caterer found her suggestions really uncomfortable and with a grunt, he agreed to all of the original terms of the contract and then some.

That ordeal had taken almost an hour longer than she had planned on. When Claire returned to the ballroom, having gone home quickly and changed into her dress for the evening, it was to find that things were already getting underway. They were expecting almost 500 people based on reservations, but given the sometimes strange habits of their class, Claire actually anticipated that there would be a fair number of classmates who would show up without a reservation. A quick glance at the ballroom made her think that there were already 100 people there and the reunion didn’t officially start for another fifteen minutes. The agenda was purposely open and dinner wouldn’t be served for another hour, so the larger than anticipated early arrivals was both gratifying and a little intimidating.

Claire moved over to the registration table where Alison and Cameron still manned their stations. If it weren’t for the fact that they had both changed clothes, she would have wondered if they had moved at all. She reminded herself to make sure she not only thanked them both, but got something as a token of her appreciation. They had been both been class officers their senior year, but were not her friends back then. Recalling her earlier internal admission of her high school ways, she was pretty sure that their devotion to making sure the reunion went off smoothly had absolutely nothing to do with her.

“Hey, boss. You look very nice!” Cameron said with a smile.

“Thank you,” she said. “This is quite a crowd already. Is everything going alright?”

Alison nodded, before she said, “Yeah. Everything’s great. We’ve already got 112 people here. Cliff got the caterer to open the hors d’oeuvres table a little early. Surprisingly enough, he agreed.” Alison raised a knowing eyebrow at this.

She looked like she was going to say something else, but another two couples walked up to the registration table at that moment and Alison and Cameron both greeted the new arrivals and went about getting them signed in. Claire stepped back and surveyed the room with a bit more detail. She felt more than saw Tori come up behind her and take a spot just to her left.

“Pretty impressive, Cee. We did good.”

“Yeah. I’m a little worried about the food, though. Do you think the caterer will really be able to handle this?”

Tori just laughed. “Don’t get mad, but I had Tony come by and give him a little encouragement.”

Claire turned to look at her best friend.

“Yeah, I know. It was cheap. But Tony likes doing that stuff. Mr. Calloway won’t ever know he’s been conned. He’ll get paid better than he should be, we’ll get a great party and Tony gets to have a little fun. Win. Win. Win.”

Claire shook her head. When she turned back to the room, she spotted one of their fellow cheerleaders. She linked her arm in Tori’s.

“There’s Mel. Let’s go say hi.”

< = = = = = >

Forty-five minutes later, Claire circled back around to the table. It took her five minutes to get there from where she had left Tori still talking to Candance Morton. Their former principal was actually pretty interesting (who knew?) and Tori was still asking about the educator’s own kids when Claire decided she needed to check on the number of attendees. The table was again temporarily quiet when she got there.

She slipped a hand onto both Alison and Cameron’s shoulders before asking, “You guys okay?”

“We’re great,” Cameron confirmed. “This has been a lot of fun. Seen a lot of people that I haven’t seen since school. Met a few that I didn’t even realize were classmates.”

Claire looked down to see that there were a couple of mostly empty plates and was about to ask if they had liked the hors d’oeuvres when a decidedly feminine voice at the door pulled her attention to the entrance. She stood up fully to better hear the couple standing there. They weren’t particularly loud, and there was a general buzz of background noise from all the people in the ballroom.

“Oliver, I told you that we were going to be late. I hate being late to a party. You know this.” The speaker was an attractive petite blonde wearing an designer red dress that fell just above her knees. The dress was sleeveless, randomly asymmetrical and fit the woman like it had been designed just for her. She was accompanied by an extremely handsome man. He had a good seven or eight inches on her and wore a tailored dark suit. His jaw was covered with several days’ worth of scruff, but his most striking feature was his piercing cornflower blue eyes currently focused on his companion.

In answer to her complaint, the man standing just behind her just chuckled for a second before his face settled into a soft smile, adoration for his companion completely obvious.

Claire watch as his hand skimmed her back from the hollow just above her hips to her neck.

“Hold on a second. The hook’s not fastened.”

“Oliver,” she said with a bit of exasperation.

She turned to look at him and her hands immediately went to adjust the tie hanging around his neck. She straightened it, pulled it just a pinch tighter, then smoothed the tie down the front of his shirt. Claire noticed that it wasn’t a completely innocent gesture. Whether or not the woman was in any way annoyed at the man, her hands caressed his chest the whole length of the tie, lingering at his waist before they pulled back.

He leaned in to her, their height difference obvious as he bent his neck to lower his lips to hers. The kiss was innocent and brief, but Claire could see the promise of so much more in both of them just from their body language. It was astonishingly intimate.

When the woman pulled back, she gave a little laugh. “Keep in mind, Mayor Handsome, that your appeal to the paparazzi is not limited to Star City.”

He frowned momentarily at the nickname, but relaxed quickly. “At this point in my life, there’s literally no chance that anything will top my pre-island antics. But you aren’t wrong, unfortunately, about the fact that cameras seem to find me.”

“That’s why you have me, right?”

“No. That barely makes the list and you know it. Now why don’t we check in or whatever and see if there are any hors d’oeuvres left.”

“You’re still hungry?” That prompted a big grin from the man who Claire was frantically trying to identify. “I swear, I’m never going to stop saying stuff like that, am I?”

“I certainly hope not.”

The couple finally stopped flirting with one another and turned to the registration table. Claire tried to look away to avoid being caught staring, but realized that most other people in the immediate vicinity had been watching the exchange with equally captive focus.

“Hi, I’m Felicity Smoak and this is Oliver Queen.”

Claire was stunned. She immediately realized why she had recognized the man, despite not connecting his face with the first name and mayor reference. She quickly determined that his photographs did not do him justice. He had a presence in real life that couldn’t completely be captured on film.

Equally surprising was the woman. Claire would have never been able to identify her as the mousy little overachiever she barely remembered from high school. Claire had even taken the extra couple of minutes to look up Felicity Smoak in her sophomore yearbook when she had gone home to change. She couldn’t for the life of her understand how that unassuming girl had turned into the woman standing before her.

“Hi, Felicity. It’s really good to see you again.” Cameron said, obviously more familiar with Felicity than he had let on earlier.

“Cameron Bagley. You look like life is treating you well. It’s nice to see you, too. And Alison, how are you?”

“I’m good. I’m glad you could make it, Felicity. We were a little surprised to see your name on the list, but Cam and I thought it would be great if you could make it.” Alison waved her hand at Felicity. “Life is also treating you pretty well, it seems. You look fabulous.”

Claire could see the hint of a blush rising on the blonde’s cheeks.

“I’ve been chasing this one to galas and fancy parties too long. But thanks.” Felicity had absently waved her hand at the man standing behind her.

Alison handed the two of them name labels as Cameron stood up. “It’s also an honor to meet you, Mr. Mayor. It’s impressive what you’ve been able to accomplish during your time in office. I’m a big fan.”

Oliver looked surprised at the praise. “Thank you. Cameron, is it? I’m just trying to make sure that Star City is someplace people can call home with pride. We had our difficulties, but I’m really pleased with the progress we’ve made. I don’t think I can take credit for much of that. I’ve just been able to find really good people to help make the city better.”

“Oliver’s a little too modest. Trust me, a lot of the good in Star City is definitely due to him.”

Claire had been silently watching the conversation, not sure whether she had anything to contribute. Which was a decidedly strange feeling. She definitely noticed when Felicity’s gaze fell on her, though. That made her feel even more uncomfortable.

“Claire, right? Claire Thornton? Did I see that you were responsible for putting together the reunion?” Felicity glanced around the room. “Everything looks fabulous. Thank you for inviting me. I don’t get much opportunity to come home and Oliver told me that this would be a good opportunity to take a little break from the usual chaos that is our lives.”

“I’m glad you could make it, Felicity. And I suppose I owe you a huge thanks for …”

Felicity waved her index finger in a definite ‘don’t complete that thought’ gesture.

“There’s no need to say anything. It was an easy thing to do and I wanted to do it.”

Claire stared at the other woman in amazement for a minute. “Well, thank you all the same. Please enjoy the evening.”

After Alison gave them a quick breakdown of the room’s layout, the couple wandered off, quickly falling back into conversation with each other. Claire watched them go, still stunned at the transformation of Felicity Smoak.

Cameron’s voice broke into her musing. “By the way, I got curious after we were talking this afternoon. Felicity has had an interesting career over the last few years. She was the Vice President in charge of Technology at Palmer Technologies and after Ray Palmer was killed in an explosion, she took over the company. She got ousted by the Board of Directors a year or two ago, but there is an ongoing debate about whether or not she should be reinstated. Apparently, the company did really well while she was running it.”

Claire just nodded in response.

“She and Oliver Queen were also engaged for a short while, but broke it off during his initial campaign for mayor. He lost the election, but the woman who won ended up being involved in some bad stuff and was killed. Oliver was asked to step into the mayor’s position as a result. Seems being Star City Mayor comes with an astonishingly high possibility of being killed. He’s a brave man.

Claire didn’t say anything, but realized why she and Cameron weren’t friends in high school.

< = = = = >

Claire spent the next hour watching Felicity and Oliver. She had expected that Felicity would be awkward and that not many people would take to her, but she was wrong. At first, it was Felicity and Oliver together that people gravitated towards. It seemed that there were always five to ten people surrounding them, asking questions, congratulating them and listening to them talk about their lives. Claire had lurked a couple of times on the outskirts of the conversations and was surprised by how comfortable Felicity seemed in the spotlight. She did the bulk of the talking, although she shared things about herself, Oliver, and the two of them together. Claire now knew that they had been engaged, had broken it off and then gotten back together this summer, but was surprised that they talked about it as much as they did. Still when someone had been bold enough to ask what had happened, the blonde had skillfully skirted answering the question with any meaningful details, instead bringing the conversation back to their current relationship and endeavors. Tori had made fun of her when she caught her standing in the background listening, but Claire noticed that Tori had been with her the second and the third times she had listened in.

By the time they found themselves on the periphery of a crowd the third time, it was just Felicity that people were talking with. Claire would have called the group surrounding her ‘the geeks’ back in high school. And it wouldn’t have been a compliment. However, Claire knew that most of the individuals standing around Felicity Smoak now had reached various levels of success in the tech field themselves, Cameron included. But Felicity was again proving to be engaging; she was holding a glass of wine in one hand and gesturing wildly with the other while explaining some technical project she had been involved in at Queen Consolidated years earlier. Neither Claire nor Tori understood anything Felicity was talking about.

She scanned the room and found that about thirty foot away, Oliver Queen was holding court of his own. When they moved closer, they found that the man in question was answering various questions from the crowd. Many of them focused on the difficulties that Star City had undergone in the last few years. Claire found the conversation more interesting than that surrounding Felicity, but not by much. Politics fell only slightly higher than Technology on her scale of interests.

That was until Mike Pettigrew asked about the vigilantes that were operating in Star City. Claire noticed that Oliver Queen became much more serious at that. Mike, in particular, was curious about whether Oliver as Mayor felt the city should tolerate the vigilantes or make arresting them a priority.

After a minute or two contemplating the question, Oliver finally gave a very mayoral response, Claire felt.

“Obviously, that’s not an easy question to answer. There are a lot of people who blame the vigilantes – and the Green Arrow in particular –for many of the city’s woes. I don’t see it that way, but I understand where those people are coming from. I’ve seen firsthand the good the vigilantes do. I was saved by the Hood just after I came home to Starling, I mean Star, City. He was pretty brutal, but the Arrow and the Green Arrow have taken different approaches. The Arrow has saved Felicity’s life at least a couple of times, so I find it hard to believe that they’re not worth having. I think a lot of our citizens feel the same way.”

A redhead woman to Claire’s left picked up on a minor aspect of Oliver’s answer. “So what was it like being shipwrecked for five years.”

Oliver huffed a laugh at that. “When I first came back home, my sister asked me that question. At the time, I was still kind of stuck on the island in my head, so the only answer I gave her was that it was ‘Cold.’ It was, too.” Claire noticed that he had relaxed and played the question up for his audience.

“To tell you the truth, I still don’t talk about those years too much. It certainly wasn’t like anything you’ve ever seen on TV or in a movie. The only thing you think about is your survival. You have to adapt to that being your focus pretty quickly. Otherwise, you won’t live for very long. I don’t recommend the experience to anyone.”

Claire and Tori were approached by another couple at that moment and moved far enough away to hold their own conversation.

Twenty minutes later, after grabbing a glass of wine for herself, Claire found herself standing next to her ex-husband. They were silent for a couple of minutes, each sipping at their drink. Despite the fact that she had decided to pursue the divorce, she still felt closer to Cliff than she did to anyone else in her life, including Tori. She hated the fact that the man frustrated her as much as he did. Even the few men she had dated the last couple of years didn’t quite measure up. Even when they were more successful or better looking.

“You look incredible tonight. I didn’t get a chance to say anything earlier.”

And then there was that. Cliff always made sure to compliment her, even when she wasn’t sure she deserved it. The increasing twinges of insecurity at various aspects of her life she felt were certainly different than high school, she realized. Back then, she had been invincible.

“You doing okay with the whole reality of Felicity Smoak and Oliver Queen?”

She turned to glare at him, but he continued to look out into the room.

“I’m not trying to be mean here, Claire. I know you. I know that you have certain perceptions of how the world is and how it is supposed to be. Those perceptions do not include someone like Felicity Smoak living her life like the Ugly Duckling. I told you this afternoon, I didn’t want you to be wrong just to see you be wrong. I still care about you, Claire, and I know that this type of stuff upsets your world, and I don’t like to see that.”

Cliff’s words deflated the bubble of anger that had started to grow in Claire. In the end, she ended up answering Cliff honestly.

“Yes, I was surprised to find that they were exactly as everybody thought they’d be and who they thought they’d be. No, I don’t like being wrong. I haven’t really talked to either of them, but they seem like really nice people. That’s not what I imagined either.”

“So what are you going to do about it?”

“Whatta you mean? There’s nothing to do about it.”

Cliff looked at her for a second. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Oh, there’s Stan. I’m going to go say hi. I’ll catch you later?”

“Yeah. See you later.”

Claire followed her husband for a second as he walked off, then scanned the room back in the other direction. As she did, she noticed that Oliver Queen was walking over to the bar by himself. She took a minute to take him in. She had met him once before, ten years ago. He and his best friend had been in Vegas for a weekend of partying and she and Tori and a couple of other friends had managed to slip into the hotel where Queen and Merlyn were. He had been attractive back then; even though he had this terrible haircut, there was this animal magnetism about him even as a young man. Twenty-two-year-old Oliver Queen was all charm and attitude and he was impossible to resist, if she remembered correctly. At the time, she counted that as the closest thing to a celebrity encounter she’d ever had. Even now, after five years of doing design work for some notable people who made Vegas their home, she still considered those fifteen minutes with Oliver Queen a highlight of her life.

Oliver ordered a whiskey neat and now stepped away from the bar and in her general direction. He obviously was trying to stay inconspicuous, but Claire felt compelled to go over and talk to him.

“I hope I’m not bothering you.”

Oliver turned his head to her and, wow, his eyes were intense. She felt like they were boring right through her.

“Claire, right? No, you are not bothering me. I just needed to take a step back for a minute.”

Claire watched as he turned back to the room, scanning it. She noticed that once he found Felicity, he stopped and just gazed at her for a minute. Claire could swear that he was making sure that she was okay, though why she had that impression she couldn’t say.

“It’s a nice party. People have been really friendly. I’ve enjoyed the conversations. And the dinner was very good. My compliments to the caterer.”

Claire laughed. “The man’s an ass. But he does good food. So I guess it’s been worth it.”

Oliver chuckled with her.

“We’ve met once before, you know. It was a long time ago, though.”

Oliver looked at her. “When?”

“A little over ten years ago. A few friends and I had just graduated and managed to get into a hotel where you and Tommy Merlyn were throwing a party. It was a good party.”

“That was Tommy’s thing. He loved to throw parties. If we were here, that probably meant that his dad was gone and he had free reign. He liked to branch out from time to time. You and your friends were just out of high school and you managed to get in?”

Claire couldn’t help but boast a little. “We had really good fake IDs. Tori jokes about it mostly, but she’s got a cousin with some mob connections and he got us basically the real thing but with adjusted ages. We used them for a couple of years, to be honest. And all four of us could look much older than we were.”

“Okay,” Oliver said with some amusement in his voice.

“We fooled Tommy’s security without any problem. We didn’t fool either you or Tommy, though.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Angie and Camille and I met the two of you and we talked for like fifteen minutes. I was trying really hard to get your attention, and I thought I was succeeding. We were just talking about Vegas and places to see and things to do. And for a couple of minutes, I really thought you were going to suggest that we hook up later. I don’t know if I said something that gave it away or whether you just figured it out, but you finally said something about you were probably a little too old for me or something. You said that I was really pretty and complimented the other girls and then you and Tommy excused yourselves, saying you needed to mingle with the other guests.”

Oliver quirked an eyebrow. “I didn’t say or do anything inappropriate? I wasn’t a jerk? Could you tell how much I had had to drink?”

Claire smiled at Oliver, amused by his concern over events ten years in the past. “You were actually quite the gentleman, I thought. I was disappointed that nothing happened, but I was eighteen. All us girls had a good time that night.”

“Good. My past is not always that pleasant. I’m sorry that I don’t remember you. I can’t really remember that particular weekend. Tommy and I did stuff like that too often. And I drank way too much.”

Claire looked at Oliver closely. He really was kind of incredible, she thought.

“Are you and Felicity close? I heard her say earlier that you were engaged once, but broke it off.”

Oliver tensed just slightly at that.

“I am working very hard to get our relationship back on track. My past came back to haunt me a couple of years ago, and I wasn’t smart enough to handle it the right way where Felicity was concerned. We’re finally moving past that, though.”

“Oh, that’s good, I guess. I just …” Claire knew what she wanted to say, knew what she wanted to offer, but she now realized that Oliver probably wasn’t going to be as receptive as she’d hoped.

Oliver shifted his stance a little. Half his attention was still out on the ballroom floor. Still watching Felicity, she noticed.

“Claire, I can kind of guess what you were hoping for. What you wanted to ask or say just now, but weren’t quite sure how to phrase it. I’m not that guy anymore. I haven’t been for quite some time.”

There was a pause as Oliver’s attention was drawn completely to where Felicity Smoak stood. Claire followed his gaze and saw Felicity energetically explaining something. She was now talking to Principal Morton, Cameron and a couple of classmates who had formed their own tech company a couple of years ago right here in Vegas. When she looked back to Oliver’s face, she saw the most unadulterated adoration and love she had ever seen on any man’s face focused on Felicity Smoak.

“Felicity mentioned that you were a bit of a … a mean girl in high school. No offense, intended. The head cheerleader and the most popular girl in school. You got to call the shots. In that respect, I imagine we were similar. In my case, I didn’t really want or need to call the shots; my money – my family’s money – meant that I didn’t answer to anyone. To be honest, if it weren’t for Tommy Merlyn, I probably wouldn’t have had any friends at all. I couldn’t tell the difference between people who wanted to know me and those who wanted something from me. I would have been too blind to realize what I was missing. But aside from that, I think we had similar high school experiences.”

Claire was interested to know where Oliver was going with this. He didn’t sound as if he was in the habit of offering advice much.

“I don’t know you. I don’t know the kind of person you are now. And I don’t know how much those days influence who you are now. Again, I don’t want to pretend I understand your life. But I want to make a point about my life.

“I was a complete idiot in high school. I managed to get into four really good universities, basically because my father was willing to make impressive donations. I either dropped out or, in one case was asked, to leave all four of those schools. The common thread is that I was selfish. I was so focused on what I wanted or what I didn’t want to do that I couldn’t see the string of disasters I left in my wake. People especially paid the price. Even my family, who I loved dearly, paid for my mistakes.”

“But you’ve changed? I guess that’s kind of obvious, given your success as mayor. What changed you?”

“Two things. The first was getting stranded on an island for five years. I saw my father die. I had to survive for five years to fulfill a promise I made to him. I told Felicity one time that those were five years where nothing good happened. That’s still true. But I learned a lot about what was important and what isn’t.”

Claire stared at Oliver. She never would have guessed that she would be getting life lessons from Oliver Queen at her ten-year reunion. That would have never even made the list of possibilities. Nevertheless, here she was.

“What was the second thing?”

“Felicity Smoak.”

“Oh.” Claire couldn’t have seen that coming either.

“Felicity Smoak is the single most positive person I have ever met. If I hadn’t met her, I probably would have died during my first year back in Starling City. Even if she and I weren’t together, just her friendship has made me a better person and a better man.”

Claire was pretty sure that her mouth was hanging open a little. Was Oliver telling this story just to make her re-evaluate a classmate?

“I’m not telling you this because I think you need to see Felicity different or anything else so simple. What I’m trying to point out is that when you think you’ve got control of everything in your life, you’re just fooling yourself. If I may be so bold, I think that’s where you still are.”

Oliver shuffled next to her, obviously nervous at having spoken such blunt assessment of her life. She noticed that he was rubbing his thumb against the fingers of his right hand as well.

“When I came back, I was pretty much just unfocused rage. I had this vague notion of who my father wanted me to be, but I didn’t understand any of it. I certainly didn’t understand that he wanted me to be a better person than he was. That lack of understanding would have gotten me killed eventually.”

“How is that even possible? You’re telling me that you do understand now? You understand who should be? You understand what he wanted?” Claire asked.

“Yes. Mostly. I am very much a work in progress, don’t get me wrong. That’s partially why Felicity and I were apart for a year and a half. Every day, I make a little progress. And it works both ways. I think I help Felicity as well. Her life hasn’t always been easy, but I help put her problems and struggles in perspective just like she helps me.”

“Wait a minute. Did Cliff put you up to this?”

Oliver chuckled. “No. He and I did talk a little bit. He told me about his struggles with getting divorced. But he didn’t ask me to say anything and I hadn’t planned on saying anything.”

Claire was sure he was telling the truth, but it still seemed a little too convenient.

“Quite frankly, I would be the first to tell you that someone else cannot fix your problems. Felicity helps me understand the things I struggle with better than I would on my own. She serves as my sounding board, and comfort when things are bad, and even my conscience when I’m being really stupid. Unless I wanted to change, though, she could stick with me through all kinds of stuff and I wouldn’t necessarily be a better person. I wouldn’t necessarily be happy. The burden of change is on me.”

“You think I need to change? That my life is lacking?”

“No. What I do know is that often when someone seeks out comfort in temporary flings, that’s a sign they’re looking for something in the wrong place. You have to decide whether that’s where you are or whether that’s just what you want.”

Well, that was a lot more serious than what Claire anticipated for the evening. Oliver fell silent again, apparently having imparted all the wisdom he had, and Claire could think of nothing further to say.

Two minutes later, Claire’s focus was pulled back to the room in front of her as Felicity Smoak walked up to the pair of them.

“What did you do, Oliver? This may be the first time I’ve ever seen you standing next to a beautiful woman and she looks that unhappy.” Felicity’s serious tone was countered by the smile on her face.

“Felicity.” His voice was soft, and there was a hint of caution mixed with amusement in it.

“Claire, are you alright?” the shorter woman asked, suddenly concerned.

“What? Oh, yes. Yes, I’m fine. Oliver and I were just talking and he gave me some things to think about. I was a little surprised, that’s all.”

Claire could feel Felicity looking back and forth between the two of them, but she had the sudden urge to find Cliff. Suddenly she spotted him talking with Tori and Cameron back near the front door. She started to take a step towards them, but stopped.

“Thank you. I don’t know if you’re right, but I’m glad you shared. You’ve given me something to really think about,” she said to Oliver.

Claire then turned to Felicity. “I’m sure I owe you an apology for my actions in high school. Even before talking to Oliver, this evening has gotten me to thinking about those days. I’m glad that you’ve had the success you’ve had and you are obviously a lucky woman to have found Oliver, although not for any of the reasons most people probably think. I’m also really glad both of you came this evening. Please enjoy the rest of the evening. Now, I’m going to excuse myself and go check on things.”

Oliver and Felicity thanked her once more before she turned away from them.

Claire’s journey across the ballroom was fast. A couple of people thanked her for the evening and she tried to acknowledge them without slowing. When she got close to the registration table, both her ex-husband and her best friend looked up at her. Cliff first noticed that she was a little off-kilter. He stepped forward and gently grabbed her by the arms.

“You okay, hun?” he asked, concern evident.

She nodded her head. “Yes. Just had a very unexpected conversation with Oliver Queen, though.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. And I think maybe it’s time you and I sat down and talked.”