The idea that they would take shifts watching over Oliver lasted about half a week.
Which was to say, they tried. They all loved Oliver Queen and the six hours he’d been under the knife, they’d all paced the same path across the linoleum so much that Sara wondered why there wasn’t a worn trail in the tiles, marking their worry and pain. The news that he would be fine, that “two inches to the left and we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” had been met with five identical sighs of relief. So when Oliver needed rest and recuperation from the blade through his abdomen, the only question had been where they would go, not who would go with him.
In the end, Sara gave up one of her houses. As much as she balked at giving up some measure of privacy, she knew the sea air would do Oliver good and it was remote enough that they could have their privacy. She didn’t tell them how she’d come by it (though she figured Felicity suspected, and she appreciated the nerd that much more when Felicity never said a thing). It was an open, airy cottage up the coast from Naples, picturesque, pretty, and containing absolutely nothing of the man that had owned it before. They put Oliver in the master bedroom—he wouldn’t do much walking for a little while, and it had a view—and the rest of them gravitated toward whatever rooms suited them best. Theoretically, Felicity was supposed to share with Thea. In reality, they moved a cot into Oliver’s room after the fourth night of waking to find Felicity asleep by his bed, tablet still in her slack hands.
Stranding six very active people in a house in southern Italy with very little to do, even if one was recuperating from a sword through the abdomen, was bound to lead to trouble, however. Sara was amazed that it took a full week for Laurel to break and realize that maybe they didn’t need five people watching Oliver. Her sister sat next to her on the back patio with a sigh. “What are we doing here?”
“I’m told people sometimes do this thing called R&R.”
“Such a smartass.” Laurel looked out at the vineyards, all grown over with weeds. She twirled a bottle of water over and over again in agitation.
Sara bumped her shoulder against Laurel’s. “If you’re so bored, why don’t we go to Naples tomorrow? We’ll get a scooter and ogle hot Italian men.”
Laurel went quiet for a moment. “Do you remember how we talked about going to Rome together after we graduated? We were going to do the Roman Holiday tour.” She stopped turning the water bottle over. “Now I imagine you think it’s too much of a tourist thing. Too gimmicky.”
Sara hesitated. When Laurel’s eyes narrowed, she grabbed the bottle and took a long swig, smiling when her sister protested. “It’s still gelato on the Spanish steps. Who cares if that’s too touristy?” she asked, quickly. Her heart had leapt at the thought of getting away from her own house, a place she’d always viewed as a safe haven from the world, and she didn’t like the feeling.
“You haven’t gotten to be a tourist in a long time, have you?” Laurel asked, surprising her. She’d been expecting a comment about her eagerness to escape.
“Not really. But it’s okay. I’ve made my peace with it.”
Laurel sighed in a you’re being difficult way, but she did it with a smile. “You know what? Let’s take a week and let’s do Rome. Just like we used to talk about.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“You’re not the only one that wants to get out of here. There are like six of us here and Felicity regularly complains about the wi-fi. And Rome is right there. We don’t have an excuse not to, is basically what I’m saying.”
“She really does complain about the wi-fi a lot.”
“Voices carry, you technologically backward heathens,” Felicity called from the kitchen. “And just so you know, I fixed the wi-fi.”
“You still complained a lot,” Sara called back.
Because Felicity, Diggle, and Thea assured the sisters they would call if Oliver took a turn for the worse, Laurel and Sara left for Rome, where they stayed in a hostel near the train station and pretended to be backpackers from Central City. Sara had been through the Eternal City several times, following a half-step behind Nyssa as they ran through catacombs and back alleys alike. Seeing it as a sunburned tourist with her sister, while Laurel insisted on purchasing the audio tours of all of the places they visited—the Forum, the Colosseum, even Villa D’Este—made Rome an entirely different world.
Instead of a quiet assassination, there was art to admire. Instead of cold precision, there was teasing. Their schedules weren’t mandated by a target, so they could do whatever they pleased. Laurel bought guide books and tried to speak Italian with waiters, Sara spent half the time elbowing her sister with a grin every time they spotted a unicorn in a painting or fresco (“Sara, my unicorn phase was like two decades ago, you have to let that go.” “Never, Laur. Never.”). True to their promise, they rented a scooter and had gelato so many times that Laurel muttered something about putting in a treadmill at Sara’s villa.
They bought little knickknacks for the quartet at the house. Sara slipped a little unicorn figurine into her purchases when Laurel wasn’t looking. For a full hour in a café, she forgot all about the League of Assassins and helped her sister flirt with either Giorgio or Hans (neither could remember his name later on, though they had fun arguing about it).
By the time they returned to the house, she was so tired of keeping a smile on her face that she could feel her skin actually vibrating. She wanted nothing more than to escape. It didn’t have to be far, but she needed to get away.
It would have to wait, though, for they entered the kitchen and found Oliver sitting at the table with a deck of cards. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?” Sara asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Thea and Felicity have decided I can walk short distances. I can do more, but it’s easier not to have them gang up on me.” Oliver’s grimace, however, said otherwise. “Did you get me anything in Rome?”
“We got you a T-shirt,” Laurel said as Thea and Felicity came in from a walk, and any chance at all for a quiet reunion vanished in the excited chatter as tales were told and gifts were dispensed.
When she felt she could reasonably slip away, Sara went for a long run across the property and through the neighbor’s vineyards. She pushed herself harder and harder until she stood, dripping sweat, atop a hill a few miles from her place. She imagined an artist would have found something deep and inspiring in the bucolic farmlands sweeping below her, but her time on the island, in the League, on the Amazo had made the pursuit of appreciating a beautiful aesthetic seem frivolous. So she focused on regaining her breath and centering herself, keeping the dark thoughts at bay the way Laurel had begged her to on the night Starling City had almost fallen to Slade Wilson.
She took the long way home. By the time she made it back, the feeling of being an impostor in her own skin had been shoved back into the shadows once more.
After the sisters’ trip to Rome, Oliver’s improvement came slowly but steadily. Sara imagined he didn’t have a choice, not with Thea and Felicity hovering around, doing everything they could to prevent any chance of infection. Diggle passed the time by installing a security system on the property, and Sara gave him a hand when she wasn’t training. Ostensibly the house was hers, but Felicity had already fixed up the wi-fi, Laurel and Thea had aired out all of the linens and had managed to find paint to fix up the rooms. Oliver couldn’t do much, but slowly, surely, the people he’d gathered around him were leaving their mark all over everything, and Sara couldn’t help but see it as a giant metaphor for the irrepressible beacon of fucking hope in spite of everything that had become Oliver Queen.
They even had dinner together every night like an absurd little family unit. Oliver still ate broth and Jell-O instead of the pasta and clam sauce Thea had made for the rest of them, but he only complained a little. Laurel and Felicity drove the conversation. Sara was content to sit back and watch and observe, though she noticed Felicity always made it a point to include everybody. “So,” Thea said after Diggle filled all of them in on the progress with the security system. “Any plans for tomorrow?”
“Sara should get to work on training us,” Laurel said.
Sara raised an eyebrow. “Training you?”
“We’re going stir-crazy, so we need to do something. I thought about it in Rome, and—well, Thea, Felicity, and I have all been taken hostage a lot. We should see if we can counteract that and aren’t you supposed to be one of the greatest fighters in the world, Sara? It’d be, like, Canary School.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Oliver said. When all four of the women looked at him, he shrugged—and winced, evidently remembering his wound. “Just saying, if you three learn more about fighting, you’ll actively seek out fights. Felicity especially.”
“He’s got a point,” Sara said, though she wanted to grin.
Laurel shrugged. “Isn’t the first rule of prison that on the first day you take out the biggest bitch in the yard?”
“Prison? Felt more like high school,” Felicity said.
“Want me to beat up some old bullies, Felicity?” Diggle asked.
“Start with Lisa Hopkins. She used to steal my pudding cup. I’m told she’s since changed her ways, but somebody must pay for all of that butterscotch gone to waste.” Felicity wrinkled her nose. “What does Canary School entail? I don’t want to wear a corset. I don’t think I have the bust for it.”
Sara startled herself by laughing so hard she spilled her wine. “There’s more to fighting than wearing a corset.”
“Well, I’d hope so, otherwise I really wonder what actually happens at Ren Faires.”
Thea gave her brother a sly look. “No comments about Felicity in a corset from you, Ollie?”
He bared his teeth at her. “I take it back. Canary School sounds great. Sara can teach you so many lessons on the mat.”
Even as Thea opened her mouth, her phone rang. Sara happened to be facing Laurel because she was reaching for another roll, so she saw the flicker across her sister’s face when Thea let out a happy sigh. “It’s Roy. I cooked, somebody else does the dishes.” And Thea scampered off.
“I’ll get the dishes,” Felicity said.
Laurel pushed away from the table. “I’m need some air,” she said.
Since Felicity waved off help, Sara assisted Oliver back to his room, sniping back and forth at him while she pretended not to notice that he gritted his teeth the entire walk back.
“We’re getting old,” he told her.
“We’re not even thirty. Well, you’re closer than I am, you geezer.”
“I’m going to pay you back for that when I don’t have a gaping hole in my middle.”
Sara snorted. “You could be completely healed up right now and I still wouldn’t break a sweat.”
“Jerk,” Oliver said, grinning, which was how Sara knew the drugs were starting to kick in. She took up Felicity’s regular chair by the bedside, fiddling with the tablet (nobody really feared the ex IT girl’s wrath, apparently) and filling him in on things she and Laurel had seen in Rome.
“I should take Felicity there. She’d like Rome. Or she’d hate it.” Oliver’s forehead wrinkled. “All those old buildings, no technology.”
Sara politely covered her guffaw with a cough. “I’m fairly certain Felicity would love Rome, Oliver.”
He brightened up. “You think?”
“I’ll do that, then.”
“Heal up a little first.”
“’Kay.” Oliver’s eyes drifted closed and just like that, he was out. Sara stuck around, playing Angry Birds until Diggle poked his head in.
“Just a head’s up: Laurel’s still outside somewhere.”
“Oh. That’s good to know. Sorry to surround you with ladyfolk and all of their problems.”
“None of you are Helena Bertinelli, so that’s a step up,” Diggle said, grinning.
Oliver made a noise. “Heard that,” he said.
Since Diggle seemed okay with taking a shift watching Oliver, Sara detoured through the kitchen to grab a drink and picked her way through the fields outside until she went outside, picking through the fields until she found Laurel’s preferred thinking spot. “Sorry,” she said when Laurel jumped. “Walking quietly’s an occupational hazard. I’ve got to remember to stop doing that. Want some company? I brought some of that Coke that uses real sugar and will rot our insides.”
“It sucks having a sister who sees everything,” Laurel said.
Sara climbed up onto the stone wall and sat next to her. “Tell me about it.”
“You’re gonna nag, aren’t you?”
“Excuse you, nagging is your thing. I inquire politely.”
“Yeah, right.” Laurel took the bottle from her and swigged some back, grimacing at the taste.
“Like when I ask if you hate Roy Harper or something else is going on? That’s polite. See?”
“Roy’s okay. I mean, sometimes I have to remind myself that he’s not just the asshole kid that stole Thea’s purse that one time. I’ve got nothing against him. I’m glad Thea has somebody, and Digg has somebody. You have somebody and Oliver and Felicity have each other and…”
“Ah,” Sara said, and she braced herself. She’d known since they’d found Felicity curled up on the floor by Oliver’s sickbed that first night that they would need to have a long discussion. She’d been selfishly hoping that they could ignore it altogether and just move on. She loved Oliver, Laurel loved him, Oliver loved them both, and she didn’t want to talk about it. “Laurel, about that…”
“I miss Tommy,” Laurel said, and Sara’s mouth snapped shut. “It’s so stupid.”
“Hold up. Why is that stupid?”
Laurel’s head dropped forward. “Remember the couple at the Colosseum? The ones that held hands the whole time even when some kid ran into them?”
They’d been kind of rude, in Sara’s opinion, but Laurel had made one of those “Aww” noises. “Yeah, I remember them.”
“I see those things and I want him back. I want him here.”
“Still not seeing the stupid.”
“What’s stupid is he would hate it and he’d be deliberately driving me nuts by now and if he were here, I’d want him to go away.”
Sara put her arm around her shoulders, resting her ear on the top of Laurel’s head. They’d grown up with a fair amount of rough-housing, hugs, arms slung around each other’s shoulders in old photographs, but Laurel was always the one to initiate contact. She was the big sister. She offered comfort, she didn’t seek it. “I don’t think that’s stupid,” Sara said. “I was worried you were out here moping about Oliver and Felicity.”
“No, that actually would be stupid. They’re too cute to mope about.”
Silence fell for a minute while they sat and listened to the crickets chirp around them. “You should tell me about Tommy,” Sara said.
“Tommy. I didn’t know him well.” There had been outings when she’d tagged along with Laurel and her friends, but she’d never held an actual conversation with Tommy Merlyn. Well, not sober, at least. She had some hazy memories of going with him to a gas station, high as a kite, in search of Surge—“Why do they not make that anymore? Do they hate our childhoods? And where are the Dunkaroos?”—but other than that, he’d been just another relic of the time of her sister’s life she knew nothing about.
“What’s talking about him going to do?” Laurel asked. “He’s still dead.”
“Dunno. I was just curious.”
“He had a really irrational hatred of the Blue Man Group.” Thea’s voice came out of the darkness. She had a bottle of wine clutched in one fist when she stepped into view. “Like, super irrational. He hated them so much.”
Laurel wiped at her face as Sara extended a hand down to help the younger Queen onto the wall. “I caught him listening to them once,” Laurel said.
“Oh, he had all of their albums on his phone.” Thea settled in on Laurel’s other side and took a long drink. “How many times did he do the rant about why are they blue, is it paint or latex or whatever? Why is that their thing? Who decided that look? Did they just love the Smurfs that much?”
“So many times,” Laurel said. “I’ve never seen a man have so many feelings about blue people.”
“So many angry feelings, anyway.” Thea blew out a long breath. “Why are we talking about Tommy?”
“Laurel was telling me he’d hate it here.”
Thea laughed. “At Casa Canarino? We’d all want to duct tape his mouth shut by now.”
“At what?” Laurel asked.
Thea held out the wine bottle to Sara, who took it and knocked some back. It seemed like the thing to do. “Casa Canarino,” Thea said. “It’s Italian for Canary House, or it is according to Google Translate. Felicity looked it up while you were gone. That’s what we’ve been calling it.”
“I like it,” Sara said. She passed the wine bottle back and pondered. Casa Canarino. Yet another mark Oliver’s people had made on the house, but in her name.
“Can we talk about Tommy some more? Ollie never wants to talk about him, but I miss him.”
Laurel put her arm around Thea’s shoulders. “We can always,” she said, raising her bottle, “talk about Tommy.”
“Okay, because I feel like we really need to bring up the year he wore nothing but polo shirts with two collars.”
“Oh, god, don’t remind me.” Laurel’s laugh sounded so young and innocent, and it hit Sara right in the stomach, how precious it was to sit in a dark field in Italy with these two, as though they didn’t have a care in the world. “Canary School rule: no popped collars.”
“Agreed,” Sara and Thea said.
Sara and Thea slowly worked their way through the bottle of wine while Laurel and Thea traded stories. Halfway through Thea’s recounting of how Tommy had nearly punched out her freshman year homecoming date, they heard Felicity crashing through the vineyards with her own bottle of wine, so Sara left the other two to rescue her friend, who told her that if they were going to establish a hang-out outside of the house, maybe some running lights and a path would be a nice addition for those that might be a little myopic, thanks ever so.
“Or you could not wander around outside while drunk,” Sara said, laughing as she grabbed Felicity’s wrist to pull her back to the wall.
“I’m not drunk, you’re just tilting. Guys! I brought wine!”
“Price of admission is one story about Tommy,” Thea said as Sara helped Felicity up onto the wall, no easy feat.
“Oh, um. He thought my name was Felicia for like two months,” Felicity said. “I hacked his phone and fixed my contact info because I may be a nerd, but I’m not a redhead. Does that count?”
“Good enough,” Laurel said.
“What are we doing?”
“We’re talking about Tommy and drinking.”
“I can do the latter.” Felicity raised her drink. “To not being called Felicia.”
“To Tommy,” Laurel said, holding up the Coke.
Thea raised the second wine bottle. “To drinking!”
Since Sara didn’t actually have a drink, she bumped her fist against the gathered bottles. “To Casa Canarino.”
Sara’s head rang like a steel bell.
If Felicity had been in her head, she would have wondered if steel bells were known to be more piercing than iron bells or brass bells or aluminum bells. But as Sara was alone in her thoughts, she could think about one thing: drinking was bad. Drinking was so very, very bad. Almost as bad as the headache that spread from her left temple and throbbed its way across her skull and down to the tip of her right shoulder. What the hell was wrong with her? Why had she done this to herself yet again? Where was her time machine or whatever so she could go back into the past and force a few glasses of water down her own throat?
She groaned under her breath and slowly, begrudgingly forced one eye open. John Diggle stood over her bed, an amused look on his face. He had his arms crossed over his chest.
Sara swallowed until her throat was no longer dryer than the Sahara. “Huh?” she asked, and it occurred to her that she couldn’t move. Her right arm was pinned down—held by something, she realized—her feet were trapped, and everything smelled like Laurel’s brand of conditioner.
“Have a good night?” Diggle asked.
Behind her, Sara felt something move. “Digg?” Felicity’s voice was rusty with sleep and disuse. “What are you doing in my—wait this isn’t…ow. My head hurts. My everything hurts. Why?”
Thea, sacked out across the foot of the bed (and Sara’s feet), moaned without opening her eyes or looking up.
“Just out of curiosity, just how much did everybody in this bed have to drink last night?”
“Oceans,” Felicity said. She was, Sara came to understand, the reason Sara couldn’t move her arm. Felicity Smoak was a cuddler. Which explained how all three of them could fit into Sara’s bed with Thea across their feet. “’Cept Laurel, who doesn’t drink. I really respect that right now, ’cos my head is killing me.”
“Me, too,” Thea said, though it came out as more of a moan.
“Ngh,” Sara said. “Hungover.”
“We all are. Except Laurel. Is Laurel dead?”
“No.” Sara used her free arm to brush some of Laurel’s hair out of her face. Laurel, who clutched the edge of the mattress, didn’t even move. “Just sleeps like the dead. Ugh. Digg, how much can we bribe you for Tylenol?”
“You mean this Tylenol?” Diggle held up a little red and white bottle. “Kind of figured you would need it. You should see the kitchen.”
“What the hell did we do to the kitchen?” Thea asked.
“What didn’t you do to the kitchen is a better question. I think you were trying to make bread.”
“Why would we do a thing like that?”
“Probably Laurel’s idea,” Sara said, reaching up with her free hand. “The Tylenol, Digg? How much do you want for it and bear in mind I have killed people for less than whatever price you’re thinking.”
“Free of charge. You just have to come and get it.” He tossed it from hand to hand and Sara swore than the click of the little pills against the plastic was louder than that time Nyssa had talked her into running from the frickin’ bulls. “C’mon, ladies, didn’t you say you were going to start training today? Up and at ’em.”
“Okay,” Sara said, trying to steal most of her pillow back from Felicity. “Whoever kills John Diggle and gets us the Tylenol passes Canary School. Everybody else gets an F. Go.”
She was met with snores from Thea, a sleepy mutter from Laurel, and a mumbled “rather die instead” from Felicity.
“This is already going so well,” Diggle said with a gigantic grin.
Since Laurel hadn’t partaken of any alcohol, Sara wasn’t surprised to find her in the little training room. Clutching a cup of coffee like the lifeline that was going to save her from a full day of head pain, she stood back and watched as Laurel varied speeds, testing the move slowly and quickly, developing the muscle memory. She worked away at one of the dummies, striking over and over, half of the time with her eyes closed and the other half watching her hands hit the dummy in the same spot over and over again.
Laurel had always been that way. Quick, incisive, precise. Sara had always liked the sparring more in their junior Tae Kwon Do classes. She’d liked it when things had gotten a little too messy, when the plan was out of the window and it was just you, your opponent, and your instincts.
That really explained all of the difference between the two of them, Sara thought.
“You realize the bad guy’s gonna actually move, right?” she asked on a yawn.
“No, gee, here I thought we were always going to fight an army of wooden people.” Laurel pushed her hair out of her face and bounced back on her toes, out of breath. “About time you dragged your sorry ass out of bed.”
“Take pity on me, Felicity’s a pillow-hog.”
Laurel crossed to the weaponry wall and pulled off a pair of bo staffs, clacking them together. “That’s pathetic,” she said when Sara whimpered and clutched her coffee cup harder. “You realize the bad guys actually don’t care if you’re hungover, right?”
“Why are you so mean to me?” Sara finished the coffee in one hot gulp and caught the staff Laurel tossed her way. “Why?”
“You beheaded Princess Tiffany Sparkles.”
“I was six.”
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
“Something’s cold all right. Besides.” Sara tested staff, tossing it, twirling it once, and snapping it against her palm like an old friend. “There should be a statute of limitation on revenge for the destruction of toys.”
“There’s no statute of limitations on murder, you dork.”
Sara stretched out her left shoulder and raised her bo staff into the ready position, expecting Laurel to make the first strike. She wasn’t disappointed; Laurel danced forward with exactly the move Sara anticipated. She let Laurel get a couple of strikes close enough to seem important—and abruptly she swept her sister’s feet out from under her.
Laurel hit the mat with an explosion of breath and lay there, gasping. Sara slapped the mat with the tip of her staff and knelt next to her sister. “First real lesson of Canary School,” she said. “Hungover or not, I can still take you, got it?”
“Ugh,” Laurel said.
“In fact, you should just assume that all the time. Your opponent will always be better than you.”
“Then how do you beat them?”
“By never letting them understand you.”
“What the hell does that even mean?”
“It means you can play up the bravado all you like,” Diggle said from the doorway. He wore sweatpants and a faded Army T-shirt and looked ready for a few rounds himself. “But you can’t believe you actually know everything.”
“The bigger they are, the harder they fall?” Laurel asked.
Sara looked over at Diggle and grinned despite her aching head. “Literally, sometimes.”
“You got me once,” Diggle said. “Felicity’s changing Oliver’s bandages, so I thought I’d help out at ‘Canary School.’”
“I’d join you in mocking the name,” Laurel said, “but my sister just knocked me on my ass. I think I’ll stay down here.”
Sara grabbed Laurel’s wrist and hauled her to her feet. “Not an option. But let’s put off the sparring. I’ll teach you a kata.”
“My pride thanks you.”
Thea bounced into the room, looking remarkably spritely for somebody who had been hungover an hour before. She’d apparently stolen one of Laurel’s work-out tops (Laurel being the only one that had packed properly for Italy), and she had her phone up in front of her. “Everybody say hi to Roy and Sin!”
“Isn’t it like two a.m. in Starling City?” Laurel asked under her breath as all three in the room waved at the phone.
Sin’s face, squished next to Roy’s on the screen, lit up at seeing Sara. But before they could say anything, Thea said, “Gotta go, bye!” She blew a kiss at the phone and hung up. “So. What’d I miss?”
Sara tossed her a bo staff. “We’ll start with a kata. And I swear, the first one of you to say ‘Tweet tweet’ at me or make a bird joke gets to run laps from now until forever.”
“Ooh, now we’re scared,” Thea said.
Four hours later, Sara waited on the stone wall, sweat cooling as she waited for the others. Laurel made it first. Felicity, red-faced, stumbling, and swearing, practically collapsed in a boneless pile on the grass next to Sara, ignoring Laurel when she nudged her to get up and cool down. Thea wasn’t far behind, though she looked a great deal less miserable than Felicity.
“Bird school selfie,” she said, dropping in between Sara and Laurel and holding up her phone. Sara hauled Felicity upright and they grinned or grimaced at the camera, squished together. “Everybody say ‘chirp!’”
“Thea!” Felicity and Laurel said on the same breath.
“Guess we’re doing another lap. Everybody move it. If you can beat me on this lap, you get out of running laps tomorrow,” Sara said, and took off running. Thea wasn’t far behind, which was probably a good thing, if the looks on Laurel and Felicity’s faces were anything to go by. Sure enough, they caught up to her, tackling her to the ground in a pile of dust and laughter, and Sara slowed to a stop, watching her friends with a grin as Laurel gave Thea a noogie.
It would take Sara several hours to realize that she hadn’t felt like an impostor even once that day.