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Still Waters and Quiet Men; A Starling Mystery

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Still Waters and Quiet Men

A Starling Mystery

By JA Ingram

Cover art by Eilowyn :

 

 

Cover art by Federica :

 

 

“Beware of still waters and quiet men for both contain dangerous depths." --Russian Proverb

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

“Oracle to Batman.”

“What is it?”

“Are you still patrolling near the docks?”

“Affirmative,” he said as he scanned the area from his vantage site high above the warehouses and landing docks that littered the East End of Gotham. It was a high crime area, popular with dealers and smugglers, but had been relatively quiet as of late since word had spread amongst the underworld that the Batman had laid claim to this particular part of the city.

“I’m picking up something…unusual near that area. Can you change your heading to East 44th Street and Lamb in the Tenderloin?”

“Are you picking up police chatter or an alarm?” He asked already on the move, his body flying through the air as he leapt from rooftop to rooftop.

“Um, no. Not exactly, no.”

Batman frowned, “Explain.”

“It’s the Watchtower program, um, something is…pinging the system.”

“I’m going to need something more specific,” he growled in irritation, his pace increasing as he neared the location.

“I wish I had something more specific to tell you,” Barbara muttered. “From what I can tell someone has activated a doctored version of the Protocol and is attempting to locate an FBI safe house location. There appears to be a Trojan in their version of the program that is pinging Watchtower their location and destination.”

“Why would they want us to know where they were heading and who are ‘they’ exactly?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that they were doing it on purpose; Trojan remember? As far as I can tell they have no idea that the program is telling on them much less leading them on a wild goose chase.”

Wild goose chase? “So they aren’t headed to an FBI safe house?”

“That’s the thing; it is a safe house but it’s unoccupied at the moment. However the program is telling them that a midlevel Mafia informant from the Bertinelli Crime Family is holed up there. As for whom it is, the system is tracking her on its own and sending me everything from traffic cam footage to private security feeds.”

“Her?” He scowled and mentally ran through his Rogue’s gallery for likely suspects but came up blank. Selina had left Gotham years ago and from what anyone could tell she was now living under an assumed identity somewhere in Europe and none of the other women he knew who frequented the shadows of Gotham would be remotely interested in the Mob much less one that was a leftover from a West Coast defunct crime family. That meant that there was someone new in his city and he didn’t like that idea one bit. “Description and location?”

“Tall, dark hair, black leather, carrying what looks like…a crossbow. That’s different. Great, why do they always have to come here? It’s like all the lunatics in leather got a damn package deal or something. She’s traveling on your 6 about half a klick away. She should be within sighting range right about…now.” He could hear Barbara mutter something unintelligible under her breath then a surprised squeak.

“What is it?” He growled softly as he sank into the shadows. A mere second later he watched as the masked woman ran along a rooftop across from the darkened safe house.

“A dossier on our girl just opened up. Damned if I know where it came from but I have my suspicions—“

As Barbara spoke the lights came on in the safe house. “Are you sure the safe house is unoccupied? I have lights.”

“Yeah. Oooh, aren’t you just a clever thing? I am going to have to call your mommy and get her to send me some of those new apps she’s apparently been working on.”

“Oracle, stay on point!” Batman bit out as he watched his adversary crouch down and begin her surveillance.

She cleared her throat and mumbled a quick apology. “The lights are attached to the security system. The doctored Watchtower program hacked it as soon as she came within a certain distance to the target location to mislead her into thinking she was on the right path. My guess is the programmer designed it to cast a wide net so it would slow her down long enough to buy some time. It’s tapping into the power grid and sending out all kinds of goodies too. I imagine there are some really pissed off prime time TV viewers in that apartment complex because she’s got signals scrambling all over. And you better hurry because it appears to be on a timer. If whoever she had intended to play catch up doesn’t apprehend the target and turn off the signal within a set amount of time after she’s engaged, every single police scanner and phone system within twelve blocks is going to get a message to scramble on that location, guns hot.”

“Who is the programmer that has us and her running in circles and what does the dossier have on our crossbow enthusiast?” He demanded icily. He disliked being manipulated as much as he disliked outsiders coming into his territory.

“Helena Bertinelli, code name Huntress. She’s a former Mafia Princess who appears to have a well-deserved beef against the crime syndicate, particularly anyone who is associated with her late father, Frank Bertinelli. She got busted a couple of years ago but broke out and has been waging a one woman war against the mob ever since. She calls herself a vigilante now but she’s not afraid to get her hands bloody. She’s managed to rack up quite a few kills, all made guys or their associates, but if anyone gets in her way she doesn’t differentiate between cops and killers. She nearly took out an entire FBI taskforce to get to one of her targets so I suggest you take her down fast and hard.”

“Not a problem; and the programmer that has managed to hack our system and gift us with this lovely little surprise?” He growled in low tones.

“Um. A friend?”

“Oracle,” he growled warningly.

“Um, well, here’s a hint: Helena Bertinelli’s body count started in Starling City.”

Batman’s mouth tightened as he thought of a name he hadn’t uttered out loud in over four years while in cape and cowl and only rarely outside of them. “Has she contacted you directly yet? Patch her through coms,” he ordered.

“That’s the thing, this Trojan is set to trigger automatically and ping the closest Watchtower location. She isn’t necessarily in the system right now. Huntress activated the program when she tried to use whatever program she’s got loaded on her hardware. She must have designed it so that when Huntress used it she could track her movements from a Watchtower console…just maybe not ours.”

The leather of his gauntlet squealed in protest as his hand tightened into a fist. “You think that she set up a Watchtower for the ‘Hood’ vigilante in Starling City?”

“It’s Arrow now; changed his name last year along with his MO shortly after the Glades terrorist attack to reduce his body count. As for you-know-who,” There was a sarcastic bite in how she said it making it an obvious dig aimed toward him, “that would be my theory anyway. I don’t know anyone else who could get through our firewalls. After all, she helped design them, remember?”

He chose to ignore her sarcasm. There was a time and a place and he wasn’t getting into this old chestnut with her while engaged in the pursuit of a proven killer. “Find out her location and call Alfred. Have him pack me an overnight bag and bring in Red Robin then get the jet ready to leave as soon as I finish dealing with our tourist friend from Starling City.”

“Um, Batman, you do know that they have email and even phones in that part of the world? Hopping a jet seems a bit--”

“She’s on the move. Engaging.”

Huntress had readied her crossbow to send a grappling line to the building across from them. Just as her line pulled taunt, Batman sent one of his razor sharp batarangs out to cut the line, causing her to falter for just a second before turning on him in a defensive posture. It was all the hesitation he needed however. Before she had time to react he kicked her weapon out of her hand and over the side of the building while catching her jaw in a powerful backhanded punch that sent her sprawling. The fact that she was a woman didn’t rate much with him considering the amount of corpses she had already left in her wake.

He leapt on to her, gripping her by the front of her leather jacket with one hand as he deflected the foot that was aimed at his crotch with the other. He twisted her around and slammed her into a large brick smokestack and pulled her arm behind her in a painful move to ensure she could get no leverage. “Try it and you’ll lose an arm.” He said quietly.

“I thought the Batman didn’t kill,” she gasped with a chuckle despite the fact that her nose was bleeding profusely.

“You can live without an arm,” he growled. “So ‘Huntress’, what brings you to my city?”

“Revenge, justice, same thing you do only I have a specific variety of scum in my sights. You can keep all the masked freaks and lunatics, I just want what I came for and I’ll be on my way.” She answered. “In fact, you should be thanking me not slamming me against walls and being all ungentlemanly.”

“I’m no gentleman.”

“I could tell, most gentlemen don’t hit ladies.”

“Most ladies don’t commit murder.”

“The term ‘murder’ only applies if you’re taking the lives of innocents. The men I hunt deserve what they get,” she bit out.

He thrust her away, allowing her a little space but making it clear with his body language and alert gaze that he could take her down again with less than a thought. “Maybe, maybe not, but you leave devastation in your wake; collateral damage. That might fly in Starling City with your friend the Arrow but Gotham is mine and you aren’t welcome here.”

“He’s no friend of mine,” she spat out as she rubbed the circulation back into her arm. “As far as I’m concerned, he and that little gang of his are just as guilty as the men I hunt. If he wants to protect them from me then he can meet their same fate along with anyone who stands with him.”

“This is my city,” Batman growled, “I say who lives and who dies here so I suggest you go back to Starling City and take your issues up with him and his so-called ‘gang’. Gotham is off limits.”

She looked him up and down contemptuously, “What is it with you self-proclaimed vigilantes and the ‘this is my city’ spiel? It isn’t ‘your’ city any more than Starling belongs to the Arrow.” She advanced on him slowly, “You want your city to yourself, fine! Keep it! Like I said, all I want is my prey and you can keep the rest. As soon as my bolts find their mark I’m out of here.”

Batman glowered at her for a moment. “I tried to give you an out but I can see you’re not interested in taking it. Whether your tactics are justified or not, you’re wanted for murder, and if you try to take your hunt to my streets then I will take you down hard.” He took a step forward, his impressive height looming above her as he fixed her with a spine-chilling glare. “Get out while you still can, I won’t be merciful a second time.”

Despite her bravado he could see her throat work as the fear he so often struck in his adversaries crept over her. “What about Marconi? He’s who I was hunting; I tracked him to this location.”

“Marconi isn’t here and hasn’t been for a while. Your information is wrong.” He stated in a tone that would brook no further argument.

She looked him in the eye, gauging his sincerity, before taking the small handheld device from her belt and shattering it on the ground. “That little bitch! I did him a favor when I turned down that contract on his geek girl; next time I won’t be so nice!” She laughed humorlessly to herself, “Even with a crossbow to her throat she managed to screw me over. What is it with the Arrow and his women?”

Batman’s hand shot out and he gripped her by the throat, squeezing in slow increments as her feet dangled helplessly above the ground. “Who?” He growled, “I want a name!”

“W-What?” She choked.

“The name of the people contracting the hit!” He growled.

“D-don’t know! C-came through an a-anonymous broker!” He squeezed and tears slipped from the corners of her eyes as real fear changed her expression from defiant into a mask of pain. “I-I don’t do contracts! I turned it down!”

He bared his teeth and picked her up one-handed; bringing her so close to his face he could feel her stuttering, gasping breath against his cheek. There was still a chance he could be wrong. “The target?”

“S-she’s just some IT girl,” she gasped as she gripped his wrist in an effort to save herself. “She works for him sometimes.”

“The name!”

“F-Felicity Smoak!”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Batman drove into the cave, already barking orders to Alfred through the coms as he was screeching to a halt. “When is the jet going to be ready?”

“I decided it would be best not to call them, sir.”

He slammed the door of the tumbler and strode towards Alfred who was standing near the console, his expression livid, “And why the hell not? I need to get out there ASAP!”

“Oracle tracked down the broker believed to have contacted Huntress, sir. For the moment the contract has been placed on hold. Apparently whoever the client was, they rescinded the original offer.”

“I still need to get to her!”

“I agree, sir, which is why you’re heading to Starling City on Friday,” the butler said calmly as he removed the Bluetooth headset from his ear and turned toward his charge. “You had a meeting scheduled there already so I thought it might give us a bit more time to prepare a dossier.”

He stopped short. “I am? Since when?”

“Technically sir, Mr. Fox has plans to be in Starling City to meet with Queen Consolidated’s Board of Directors on Friday but, as you are the head of the company, I thought that it would be best to add your name to the itinerary as to avoid any questions should someone ask why you were there.” He handed Bruce who was already stripping off his cowl, cape, and gauntlets a tablet. “Here is the proposal you will be hearing as sent by Mr. Fox along with background information on the key players at the company, an Isabel Rochev and Oliver Queen.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of Queen,” Bruce said absently as he skimmed the information. “Dime a dozen trust fund brat who came home and found religion by taking up his old man’s mantle. Heard he’s doing pretty well given all that’s been going down over there. The Rochev woman is the one I’m not familiar with but from what I heard she’s a bit shady; connections to less than savory overseas interests.”

“Indeed sir,” Alfred agreed. “However, Mr. Fox and Walter Steele were quite close, from what I understand, and although Mr. Steele is no longer the CEO he does have a vested interest in the company as his bank financed Mr. Queen’s bid to retain control. He requested Mr. Fox hear the proposal as a personal favor to him.”

Bruce set the tablet aside carelessly as he plopped down in the chair in front of the console. “While I’m sure this is all very important, I don’t have time to sit in some meeting that is probably going to go nowhere. I need to find Felicity and put a stop to this before she gets herself in trouble and I’d like not to have to involve Lucius if I can. He’s been a good friend to our mission over the years but when it comes to her--”

Alfred picked up the tablet and held it out to him, “I think, sir, you should peruse Mr. Queen’s file a bit more carefully before you make a decision.”

“Why?” Bruce frowned as he accepted the tablet again and began to read through the file.

“Many reasons, sir, not least of which is that the ‘Arrow’, as the vigilante is apt to refer to himself, only appeared after Mr. Queen returned from the island of Lian Yu, a suspected training ground for The League of Assassins.” Bruce looked up sharply but didn’t interrupt. As Alfred had suspected, anything connected to Ra’s al Ghul would instantly capture his young Master’s attention. “In fact, the first appearance of this ‘Arrow’ fellow, then known as ‘The Hood’, was when he supposedly rescued Mr. Queen from an attempted kidnapping. Furthermore, Miss Barbara was able to research this vigilante and uncovered eye witness accounts and some rather poor quality surveillance tapes which prove that this man has had advanced training similar to the type you received under the League’s tutelage.”

“So is Queen the Arrow or is he funding him?”

“I do not know, sir,” Alfred said formally although with an intrigued twinkle in his eye. “After all, five years is a long time and it is not unheard of for a, as you called it, ‘trust fund brat’, to turn himself into a costumed vigilante. Also, Mr. Queen was arrested on suspicion of being the vigilante but all charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.”

Bruce’s eyebrow rose ever so slightly as he scrolled through Queen’s background check. “Interesting. Any connection to Felicity Smoak?”

“You could say that, sir,” Alfred said, his severe countenance shifting into a slight but triumphant grin.

Chapter Text

 


Chapter Two

Felicity sat at her desk as she did her best to ignore the fact that Oliver was in a meeting with that woman in his office right behind her. She was not going to look, nosirree. Isabel Rochev didn’t need any more ammunition against her and catching her peeking in on them would just give her one more excuse to insinuate that not only was she Oliver’s whore but she was also jealous and with good reason. One of these days, she vowed, pow! Right in the credit rating.

That woman was dirty as hell and she knew it. She didn’t like her, she certainly didn’t trust her, but Oliver needed her and that was the only reason she hadn’t pulled the trigger on her yet.

Not a literal ‘trigger’, but a virtual one, she clarified internally.

She snorted. One day she was going to say that out loud in the Lair just to see the look on everybody’s face. Then again, it might start a discussion about ‘The Thing’. This whole week had been one big exercise in suckitude and the last thing she needed was to put up with Oliver, Dig, and Roy attempting to be supportive while they sat around and clumsily talked about their feelings.

She heard Isabel’s fake throaty laugh and gritted her teeth in annoyance. She snuck a glare towards Isabel, pretending to be busy with QC business while updating the LAIR system remotely from her desk.

Part of her really wanted to march in there and tell Oliver exactly what she’d been up to for the last several days but she couldn’t. For once he was actually proud of the job he was doing as CEO and, even though they had lost a valuable contract (thanks to Isabel, she added snarkily), he had been putting in the hours to try to offset the loss. She wasn’t going to take that newfound feeling of accomplishment away from him even if it meant biting her tongue about Isabel and her little scheme with LexCorp.

Through the reflection on her monitor she shot daggers at the woman. Swear to God, how she could sit there and pretend everything was perfectly fine was beyond her. One would think she’d be sweating bullets the second the scandal hit the news but no, there she was in Oliver’s office playing innocent even as several key players in LexCorp’s Weapon’s Division were set to testify before a Senate Committee on bribery charges and conspiracy; crimes she was fully cognizant and culpable for. If she only knew how close she had come to getting a subpoena herself she certainly wouldn’t be sitting in the next room with that cool little smile on her face.

She’d always kept a close eye on Isabel but she was rewarded for her paranoia and vigilance when she managed to run across evidence that Isabel had conspired with an up and coming executive in LexCorp named Sebastien Mallory to bribe a member of the Senate Arms Committee into helping them get the bid on a weapons project. After they got Senate approval, QC was outsourced to develop the communications software. The problem was that Mallory screwed up and didn’t cover his tracks very well which led to an investigative journalist by the name of Lois Lane to uncover the scandal and plaster it all over the front page of the Daily Planet.

Why were guys named ‘Sebastian’ always douchebags? She wondered silently. Plus he spelled his name with an ‘e’ instead of an ‘a’. That was his parent’s stupidity, not his, but people with purposefully misspelled names bugged the shit out of her.

Lane had been working on exposing Senator Miller for a while. She suspected him of everything from perjury to using campaign funds to hire hookers but, when she got evidence that he was taking bribes, she nailed him to the wall taking down Mallory and LexCorp’s Weapon’s Division execs with him. Ms. Lane would have taken down Queen Consolidated as well if it hadn’t been for her.

Luckily for Isabel, Felicity had LAIR monitoring the security for all of QC’s servers, not just her own private system. When she was alerted that someone was hacking QC she back-traced the hack to the Daily Planet and was able to act on it immediately. Apparently Lois Lane or one of her techies had just enough skills to hack into their servers but not enough to get past her firewalls. Without alerting the hacker to what she was doing, she managed to block Lois’s inquiries while finding the information she was looking for.

To be fair, Isabel, unlike Mallory, did know how to cover her tracks, just not well enough. She found some deleted emails and some off-shore accounts Isabel had been using as her slush fund and, after a little digging, connected them to Mallory. It would have taken Ms. Lane much longer to connect the dots but knowing the reporter’s reputation it would have just been a matter of time before she got there. Working quickly, Felicity managed to manipulate the information to make it look like normal correspondence between two business associates, erased any and all incriminating files, then led Lois straight to the then sanitized versions of what she had been looking for, exonerating QC from any wrong doing while hanging Mallory out to dry. Even if he tried to cut a deal and named Isabel as a co-conspirator, there was zero proof of it all thanks to her.

Not that she was proud of that, Felicity thought ruefully as she tapped on her keyboard.

Although it killed her to do it she covered that woman’s ass because she knew Oliver would be implicated by association. Like Lucius used to say, as CEO the buck stopped with him. After all they’d been through the last few years; the last thing he needed was to go through yet another scandal. She thought about fixing things on Mallory’s end as well since she knew they’d wind up losing the contract if LexCorp did, but she decided to let the chips fall where they may and keep Oliver out of the loop at the same time. Besides, alerting him to Isabel’s bullcrap wouldn’t accomplish anything. Technically Stellmoor still owned half of the company so he couldn’t exactly fire her; all it would do is further erode their business partnership.

Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

As for the scandal, the article had broken a week ago and it was still all over the news. The buzz was that Lois Lane was probably going to walk away with her second Pulitzer, Senator Francis Miller stepped down citing ‘health reasons’ and LexCorp had no choice but to give up the contract while they fought the charges leaving QC and the software they had developed out in the cold. Ironically enough, as far as Felicity could tell, Lex Luthor himself was absolutely innocent in any wrongdoing this time. Although he had a reputation for ruthlessness and playing fast and loose with the rules, it was Mallory who came up with this brainfart of an idea all on his own. Technically Mallory still had his job until he was either cleared or convicted but she doubted he’d remain employed with LexCorp long enough to collect on his pension and he’d be blackballed from working in the tech industry ever again. From what she’d heard about the man, Lex Luthor wasn’t exactly a forgive and forget kind of guy. Mallory’s Harvard educated ass would be flipping burgers by the end of the year.

If only she could see to it that Isabel was stuck manning the deep fat fryer right next to him. Poor Oliver, she thought. He’d been so proud of winning that contract. Now everything was…

“Felicity,” Oliver said from behind her causing her to jump guiltily, “call Gerald at the Marchioness and let him know to ready the corporate apartments for Friday and alert the board that the meeting has been postponed while we get ready for the meeting with the people from Wayne Enterprises.”

“Wayne?” Felicity asked in surprise as she rose from her chair just as Oliver and Isabel emerged from his office. “Why?”

Oliver flashed a triumphant grin. “We just got the word a little while ago that because LexCorp’s bid was rescinded, they awarded it to WayneTech instead.”

“But--,” Felicity bit her bottom lip in consternation. Fuck, she was wrong; this was what it felt like to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. “Um, can’t they contest that? LexCorp, I mean?”

His grin widened, “Luthor and his cronies are going to be more concerned with minimizing their exposure in the press then fighting the loss of the contracts. Wayne had the next closest bid so we’re dealing with them now.”

“But Wayne Enterprises can handle their own software needs,” Felicity said, her voiced tinged with something akin to panic. “Why would they come to us?”

“Well, it’s a longshot but we’re hoping that Wayne, in the interest of appearing fair, will agree to honor the original agreement Isabel had worked out with Luthor. After all, we were completely innocent of any kind of wrongdoing and our proposal already passed the committee with a clean bill. In fact, if they don’t agree to use our software, they’d have to start from scratch and any new proposals from them would have to go back through committee causing further delays, eating into their profit margin. All said, looking at the time crunch alone, we’re still the best possible option for them. Besides,” he beamed, this time it was genuine pride that shown through and not the smarmy fake one he reserved for others, “you know better than anyone that even if WayneTech is the top tech manufacturer in the world, we have the better reputation when it comes to cutting edge communications and software.”

“That’s great,” Felicity said, smiling despite her inner turmoil. It was rare that Oliver ever got this enthusiastic about being CEO of his family’s company and she didn’t want to discourage him. “Congratulations Oliver, you deserve it.”

“Well,” he turned to Isabel, his fake smile once again in place, “it was mostly all due to Isabel. She got the ball rolling, not to mention the fact that we got Walter to call Fox and put in a good word for us.”

“Oh,” Felicity said, a bit more subdued this time. She forced a pleasant expression on her face, “In that case, I guess I should have said ‘Congratulations Isabel’ instead.” No good deed goes unpunished, she thought miserably.

Isabel arched a superior eyebrow in her direction and offered her a cold little smile, “Thank you.”

“Speaking of which Felicity, since you headed the team that originally developed the software before you left IT; I’ll need to coordinate with you later so you can catch me up on some of the software jargon. In fact, I thought you could join Sanjeev during the Q&A so you should probably coordinate with him as well,” Oliver suggested. “After all, we might be the mouthpieces here but you and your team did the initial heavy lifting and I’d like to see you get credit for that.”

Isabel snorted, “Oh Oliver, stop fawning over the girl! She did what she was paid to do and the only thanks she’s owed is her salary. If you want to ‘show your appreciation’ fine, but not in front of the Wayne people. Besides, I’ll need your assistant well rested for the meeting.” She looked Felicity up and down contemptuously. “Since she’s so dedicated to you and this company and obviously has an affinity for working her way up the ladder, she could prove an invaluable asset.”

The sneer in the other woman’s voice sent her teeth on edge. “Meaning what exactly?”

Isabel glanced at her nails before addressing her in an off-handed manner, “Meaning Lucius Fox has a thing for much younger women. He left his first wife for some bleach blonde cocktail waitress so he also apparently likes his women a bit on the trashy side,” she said nastily. “Having you in the room might give us a bit of an edge, so to speak.”

Oliver’s face darkened dangerously, “Isabel, I told you before that I wouldn’t tolerate--!”

“Oliver,” Felicity interrupted in a coldly detached tone that was so alien from her usual voice that both Isabel and Oliver gave pause, “Would you mind leaving us alone for a second?”

He looked at her in surprise, “Felicity, I can handle—“

“Now Oliver,” Felicity said in a near growl. “Please.”

“Yes, Oliver,” Isabel said playfully as she squared off against Felicity. “I think its past time the two of us had a minute alone to discuss a few…issues.”

“That’s not happening,” he told them both. “Isabel, I--!”

“Oliver,” Felicity cut him off and gave him a significant look. “Let me handle this.”

“You heard her,” Isabel said with a smirk. “Now run along while the two of us have a nice little chat,” she added with a great deal of sarcasm.

“Goddammit,” Oliver ran his hand through his hair and looked at Felicity as if to communicate he had her back if she wanted him to step in. Felicity shook her head almost imperceptivity and flicked her eyes back to his office. “Fine. I’ll be right here should either of you need anything.”

He stomped back into his office and sat behind his desk. Felicity waited for him to click on the speaker before reaching over to her own desk and disconnecting the line. His head shot up and he scowled at her before she again shook him off. This was her fight.

Isabel, who had been watching their byplay with undisguised amusement, spoke up. “Oh, how very dramatic! Should I call security? I just had my nails done and I’d rather not get into a cat fight today if I can help it.”

“Oh Isabel, when I’m done with you the last thing you’ll be worried about is your manicure.”

“Meaning what exactly?” Isabel asked with narrowed eyes.

Felicity prided herself on be a reasonable and logical person. Of course, the last few years had changed her somewhat, the last six months especially. A person couldn’t live through what she had lived through without it affecting their aspect and outlook but, still, she usually thought of herself as a very temperate person. Unless, of course, you pushed the wrong buttons and unfortunately for the Cold War Cunt she just hit the bull’s-eye.

She could take having to eat her pride and pretend not to have covered that woman’s ass, she could choke down her loathing of the bitch when she made her little insults, but with that little aside, she just went one damn step too far.

Despite the other woman being several inches taller than her, Felicity stepped forward in one smooth movement and got into her personal space causing Isabel to instinctively back up and feel the full force of the blonde’s surprisingly devastating glare. “Meaning I’m done playing with you Isabel. Before I just found you tedious and a bit annoying but now you’ve got my full attention and, believe me, that’s something you might want to start taking very seriously.”

“Are you threatening me?” Isabel asked in an incredulous tone, “Because I’ll have you fired and thrown into the street before you can—“

“I’m not threatening you,” Felicity said quietly as she took another step forward, “I’m making you a promise that you can take to the bank.”

“I beg your pardon?” She sputtered with cold humor in defiance of Felicity’s deadly calm.

Felicity stopped, tilted her head, and clucked her tongue in a condescending manner. “Oh honey, for such a supposedly astute businesswoman you really need to learn to do your research or, at least, take in an HR seminar.” Her eyes were hard as steel and the tone in her voice could cut glass. “I started in the IT department. I know how to dig and how to document. I could leave here right now and own you by dinner time in sexual harassment and hostile workplace grievances alone. I can unmake your entire universe with a keystroke, crush your reputation in less time than it would take you to open your email, and I can lay the groundwork to make it look like you were the mastermind behind every white collar Ponzi scheme and Fannie-Mae type Wall Street debacle to hit the fan. I can drop a dime to Anonymous and you won’t even be able to go to the ladies room without seeing a Guy Fawkes mask staring back at you. Your reputation will be kaput in the business world, no tech company will touch you, your own board of directors will forcibly retire you, and, after I do my thing, that Golden Parachute you’re banking on will turn into a noose around your swan-like neck.” She paused to take a breath, “But if I take you out that way I risk smearing Oliver with the same stink and I like him and his family so, instead,” she stepped forward again, eliminating all pretense of personal space for the other woman, “I’m just going to Kick. Your. Ass.”

Isabel stumbled back a bit, suddenly taken off guard by the tiny blonde who had gone from adorably awkward to dark avenger in a matter of seconds. “I think not! This has been somewhat amusing but, I warn you, you will keep your hands off me or I’ll have you fired and then prosecuted,” Isabel voice warbled as her cool facade began to crumble. “I don’t give a damn if you’re Oliver’s bit on the side or not!”

“Oh, you won’t do a goddamn thing to me, princess. Know why?” She asked, her voice dripping with venom. “Because, despite the calculating and in control act you have down pat with Oliver, I know for a fact that you’ve been playing close to the edge for a while.” She eyed her contemptuously. “I might not like being Oliver’s EA but it turns out that I’m pretty damn good at it. Nothing happens at QC or on our servers,” she emphasized, “without me knowing about it. See, I did my research; I know every shell corp, every dead end off shore account, and every hinky little back room deal you’ve got going on right now and that’s just the stuff I found by barely skimming the surface. LexCorp weren’t the only ones playing fast and loose with the rules, they were just a bit more arrogant about it. You’re just lucky that I was able to cover your tracks, Isabel.” The other woman’s eyes widened slightly and, despite herself, Felicity couldn’t help twisting the knife a little, “Oh yeah, I know for a fact that you were hip deep in the kimchee with Mallory and the whole Senator Miller thing. It wasn’t pure dumb luck or the computer fairy that saved your ass; it was me. I could have buried you at any time but protecting this company for Oliver was more important to me than seeing how you look in an orange jumpsuit.” She let that sink in for a minute, “Still, the right file in the right inbox and you and your buddies at Stellmoor are facing so many Senate hearings in the near future that I suggest you start looking at real estate in the DC area because you’re going to be there awhile.” Her tone took on an icy registry, “As for this new deal you have cooking, now that LexCorp is facing sanctions, that little weasel Mallory is going to start naming names at any minute and you know it. You’re banking on the iron-clad reputations of Lucius Fox and Wayne Enterprises to pull your bony ass out of the fire only you screwed up; want to know how?”

Despite herself, or maybe because of the almost hypnotic ramble of rage being thrown at her from Felicity, Isabel asked, “How?”

Felicity’s eyes, usually an almost transcendentally bright cornflower blue, grew flinty and dark as her voice fell to almost a whisper, “Because the trashy blonde cocktail waitress Lucius Fox was married to?” She angled her head forward until she was whispering directly into Isabel’s ear. “She was my mother.”

“What?” Isabel turned, in the words of Percy Sledge, a somewhat whiter shade of pale.

“Oh yes,” Felicity said as she leaned back on her heels, hatred dripping from every drawn out syllable. “Now, you’re lucky I’m just going with the theory that you honestly didn’t know Lucius was my dad, I mean, after all, not much of a family resemblance since he adopted me after he married my mom,” she shrugged and added, almost as an afterthought, “Also he’s black and I’m,” she waved a hand to indicate her blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin, “not. If I had to guess, you had your boy toy personal assistant with the hair and abs do the research on him and while he may be talented in other areas,” she swept Isabel with a scathing look of contempt similar to the one the other woman had given her earlier, “I doubt his office skills are what got him the job. And, point of order,” she said as an aside, “unlike yourself, I actually do know how to keep my panties on in the office so the next time you want to label me the office slut you might want to keep your boy-candy at home.” She watched as Isabel’s creamy complexion flushed a ruddy shade of what was known as ‘color me humiliated’ red.

She soldiered on, “Had you actually bothered to look into it yourself it wouldn’t have been all that hard to connect the dots. It isn’t exactly a well-kept secret.” She stepped forward and laid a gentle hand on Isabel’s shoulder causing the other woman to flinch, “In other words, you were just being your usual delightful self but, if I thought for even one second that the little aside you made for Oliver’s benefit held even the slightest note that you, with malicious knowledge and forethought, both maligned my dead mother while suggesting I pimp myself out to the only father I have ever known I would gladly, and with great abandonment and joyful exuberance, tear your goddamn throat out with my teeth.”

The other woman licked her lips, looking decidedly less arrogant than she had just moments ago. “What are you planning on doing with that information?” Isabel asked her quietly.

“I don’t know; I could out you to Oliver, the board of directors, my dad and Stellmoor then send you to the Federal Pen, but what’s the fun in that?” Again, she leaned back and grinned giving the other woman a glimpse of said pearly whites before doing a half turn and sending a little wave to Oliver who was studying them intently through the glass walls separating their offices. “Smile and wave, Isabel, unless you want to have to explain this to Oliver.” She said through clenched teeth. The other woman smiled faintly and waved distractedly to him as he arose from his chair and began to straighten his jacket. “Oops, looks like he’s on the move so I’m afraid we’ll have to cut this short.” She paused then turned toward Oliver who had his hand on the door of his office and held up a single finger indicating they need a bit more time. His expression darkened and he let go of the pull but continued to stare at them with a deepening scowl.

“What do you want?” Isabel asked her, her eyes flicking towards Oliver.

“What do I want?” She sighed then turned back to her adversary. “Isabel, you are a woman who doesn’t get subtle so here’s what’s going to happen; I’m going to smack you a good one and you’re going to take it. Then you are going to walk out of this office like nothing ever happened and, starting tomorrow, after you’ve applied copious amounts of concealer, you will adopt a warm and pleasant demeanor in my presence. You will also watch your step from here on out because I’m going to be on top of you like white on rice, got that?” She turned a hard eye on her, “We will never speak of this again and Oliver need never know about any of this; not LexCorp, not my relationship to Lucius Fox, and not why you’re about to be laid out on the floor thirty seconds from now. Am I clear?”

“Crystal,” Isabel agreed, jaw locked and shoulder’s braced as she prepared for what she probably assumed would be an unpleasant but not too painful smack by a tiny little blonde thing.

Yeah, too bad for her Felicity trained with two bruisers twice her weight with a foot or more of height advantage who didn’t believe in coddling.

“Excellent,” Felicity smiled, and with a one-two punch worthy of the teachings of John Diggle, Sara Lance, and Oliver Queen, she laid her out cold.

“What the fuck?!” Oliver shouted as he erupted from his office and looked at Isabel sprawled out on the floor, her skirt and slip bunched up at her waist, panties flashing, as she lay sprawled across the carpeting. “Felicity, what the hell did you do?”

Felicity rubbed her knuckles and looked down at her hand with a frown. “Ow.”

As Isabel began to stir he leaned over her and helped her into a sitting position, “Isabel, are you okay? Look, we can work something out. Felicity didn’t mean--!”

“Shut up, Oliver,” Isabel garbled as she rubbed her hand along her jaw line and struggled to get to her feet. She wobbled for a moment before addressing Felicity directly. “I take it…that our business here is concluded then?”

Felicity nodded and said in a professional and pleasant tone, “I’ll call to make the reservations and have the necessary research emailed to your assistant by noon tomorrow.”

“Email it to me directly; I may be looking for a new assistant soon.” She wobbled to the door, “I’ll see you tomorrow then. Goodnight Oliver, Ms. Smoak.”

“Ms. Rochev,” Felicity nodded.

Isabel turned to look at her, makeup smeared, her jaw already swelling as the bruise began to bloom on her cheek, and smiled just slightly as she continued to rub her face. “I appreciate the initiative you’ve shown me, Ms. Smoak. Maybe when this meeting is done you and I could do lunch?”

“Only if you’re buying,” Felicity said mirroring Isabel’s own pleasant and measured tone.

“Heh, done. Goodnight.” She waved then shut the door behind her as she went.

Oliver stood in the center of the room, mouth agape. He stared at the closed door, then to Felicity, and then back to the spot on the floor where an insentient Isabel lay just moments before. Finally, just as Felicity had begun to gather her purse and jacket, he spoke, “Felicity, what the fuck was that? What were you thinking? You punched Isabel! TWICE!”

“Yeah,” she breathed, “and it felt fucking fantastic. Goodnight Oliver.”

“Goddammit Felicity!” He erupted, “Where the hell do you think you’re going? We have to talk about what happened!”

“Tomorrow, tonight I’m going home to watch TV while I ice down my knuckles so I can type up that research in the morning.”

“Goddamn it! If Isabel goes to the board or, God forbid, decides to press charges--!”

“Like I said: Goodnight Oliver!” Felicity called out just before she left, closing the door on a red-faced and utterly confused Oliver Queen.

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

“She did what?!” Diggle exclaimed in a combination of disbelief and utter delight.

“You heard me: two hits, uppercut and a jab right to the face.”

“God damn,” Diggle breathed as he leaned back in Felicity’s chair at her workstation in the Lair. “Tell me you got that shit on tape, a security camera, something?”

“I don’t know, I’ll have to ask Felicity,” Oliver ran his hands through his hair in a gesture of frustration. “Fuck, if Isabel presses charges or goes to the board with allegations that she was attacked by my assistant I don’t think there’s any way I can protect her job. This is a fucking nightmare! Why now? What the hell set her off? I mean, yeah, Isabel was way the fuck out of line but I was handling it!”

Diggle continued to grin as he imagined the scene playing out. “Eh, it’ll blow over, don’t worry about it.”

Oliver looked at him utterly speechless for a moment. “Don’t worry about it?! She punched Isabel in the face!”

“So you lie. Tell the cops nothing happened, have Felicity do her voodoo with the tapes, and I’ll back you up and say I was there and nothing happened,” Diggle shrugged then added, “but have her save a copy because I have got to see the playback at least once before she gets rid of it.”

“It’s not funny, Dig!” Oliver scowled. “If I have to fire Felicity because Isabel forces my hand not only will that further erode my standing with the Board but it will severely restrict how much contact I can have with her. I mean, how will I explain to people that my former assistant who I had to fire because she committed criminal assault on a major shareholder is still coming into the club night after night? It was hard enough before, but now?” He rubbed his hand over his mouth then scratched at the stubble on his throat in a gesture of agitation, “Maybe…maybe it’s all finally catching up to her.”

“What?” Dig asked with a confused frown until Oliver shot him a withering glare, “Oh, that.”

“Yeah, that,” Oliver said with a humorless bark of laughter.

“I thought Felicity had taken to calling it ‘The Thing’,” Dig said.

“Not funny,” Oliver told him.

The other man sighed, “Look, it’s been almost six months. If she was going to have a breakdown it would have already happened by now,” he said reasonably.

“Maybe,” Oliver said gruffly. “The thing is, while the rest of us were recuperating she never stopped moving, she never even took a weekend to, I don’t know, decompress. She just kept going; working on rebuilding the Lair, covering for me and practically running QC singlehandedly, visiting all of us in the hospital. Hell, she even watered Lance’s fucking plants because he told her Laurel had a black thumb and killed them the last time he was laid up. Maybe…maybe I pushed her too hard. I don’t know; maybe all of this is my fault for not making her take some time to herself.”

“It’s not a nervous breakdown, Oliver,” Dig said with a note of exasperation. “Besides, if you made her take a vacation she’d just use it to stay here in the Lair updating the systems or installing equipment. If she was having trouble coping with what went down she’d tell us.”

“Would she?” Oliver asked with a frown.

“Yeah, of course,” Dig said, although there was a hint of doubt in his tone.

“Has she...talked to you about anything?” He didn’t have to specify what it was he was referring to.

Dig shook his head, his features going still for a moment. “No, but she would have. She talks to me more than anybody else on the team. There is no doubt in my mind that if this was related to that she’d have told me by now,” his voice gained in assurance as though he had succeeded in convincing himself as well as Oliver of the truth behind his words. He smiled again, the mood suddenly lifting, “You ask me this was just one of those ‘camel’s back meets straw’ moments she’s always threatening us with.”

“Felicity and that poor camel’s back, huh?” Oliver asked wryly.

“That’s what I’m thinking and, face it; this has been a long time coming. Hell, if I was Felicity I would have knocked her on her ass years ago. Worst case scenario you hire Felicity to be your head of HR or assistant manager at Verdant, something to justify her presence and a paycheck, and you just weather through. Hell, if I were you I’d just say screw it and marry the woman!” Diggle chuckled. “Damn, laid her out, huh? That must have been a thing of beauty, wished I could have seen it.”

Despite himself Oliver felt the corners of his lips twitch upward. “I was too busy trying to keep my eyes from bugging out of head to notice at the time, but yeah. The weirdest part was that when Isabel got up she pretended like nothing had happened. She even gave her a compliment and invited her to lunch.”

“And they spent how many minutes just talking before that?”

“A good five minutes, maybe less.”

Diggle grunted, deep in thought, “And they just talked? No yelling or hair pulling or anything?”

“Felicity pulled the cord to the intercom but, as far as I could see, no.”

“Huh?” Diggle shrugged, “I guess the Heartbreak Kid was right; bitches be crazy.”

“Yeah, I don’t think you’ll want to say that in front of Felicity any time soon,” Oliver said as he rubbed the stubble of his beard with a chuckle, his earlier anxiety over Felicity’s actions all but forgotten due to the other man’s assurances.

“Yeah, she’d probably lay me out too!” He guffawed. “C’mon, let’s hit the sticks today.”

Oliver got up from where he had been leaning against the workstation and followed him into the training area. “You know, still; despite how Isabel seemed to handle it, I just can’t shake the feeling that something bad is hanging over the horizon and Felicity is going to wind up caught right in the middle of it.”

Chapter Text

 


  oopsbarb

Chapter Three

After a quick stop to the pharmacy for some ice packs and elastic bandages (it’s amazing how fast she went through those things these days. She even got a membership to one of those buy in bulk price clubs so she could stock up on OTC pain relievers and first aid supplies) and a trip to her favorite food allergy aware Chinese take-away, she headed home, shucked off her corporate uniform, and snuggled down into her finest fuzzy PJs and pan fried noodles. She reached over to the blinking light on her landline and slapped it to play her messages while she decided what to watch on her DVR.

//FIRST MESSAGE// the slightly feminine automated voice of her answering machine called out. “Hello. This is an automated message reminding you FELICITY SMOAK to vote on Tuesday for—“

“Delete,” she muttered. Yeah, civic duty or not, she lost her taste for politics after the whole Blood Army thing a couple of years ago. She filled out an absentee ballot for Walter a few weeks ago but there was no way in hell she was going to the polls.

“Hey Baby, its Daddy. I’m stuck in a dinner meeting that’s running late so I missed your message. I tried calling you but, well. Anyway, yes I am planning on coming down on Friday and I know you don’t want to make a big deal about the whole, ‘My dad is the ‘Businessman’s Businessman’ thing,” she snorted even though it was kind of true. Lucius Fox had an almost legendary reputation in the tech community both as an innovator and as a financial wizard. He hated it when she went back to using the last name ‘Smoak’ but understood why. Felicity had learned a long time ago that people who were desperate to get the attention of Lucius Fox would try to use her connection to him for their own gain and she wanted to succeed on her own. He didn’t like it, or the hours she worked, not to mention the infrequent visits home, but he understood and respected her for it, “but I thought you could meet me at the hotel for brunch on Saturday before I left back out.” He sighed, “You know, I’m so proud of you Baby, but I hate that we never get to see each other these days. I know that Queen boy has a mess on his hands but I miss my little girl. Oh, and your brother said to send him another care package, only next time, and I quote, ‘send more junk food and less healthy crap’ because they apparently don’t have enough of that sort of thing in the Congo. Don’t worry about him though. According to Tam he sent the same message to her so she sent him bulk packages of wheat germ and something called ‘Frookies’. I asked her what the devil a ‘Frookie’ was and she said it’s some kind of fruit juice sweetened tofu cookie.” She could practically hear him shudder at the thought. “I told her when I get ready for the nursing home that you’re in charge of menu planning. Oops, they’re waving me back in. Love you, Baby. See you Friday.”

“Love you too, Daddy,” she said as she deleted his message. She really had to speak to Oliver soon about cashing in a few vacation days. Between QC and Team Arrow the only down time she ever seemed to get is the occasional sleep-in after a concussion.

Not that she would or could ever explain that to her dad.

“Hello Former Brentwood Prep Graduate! This is Barbara Gordon, Prom Queen and Editor of the Gotham Watchtower calling to remind you of our Class Reunion on--.”

“Whoa!” Felicity hit delete, shut off the TV, and grabbed her tablet and headset before patching a secure call into Watchtower. As soon as it connected she looked into the eyes of Barbara Gordon and practically shouted, “What the hell, Barbara?!”

“Oh, so you got my message?” The redhead smirked at her through the monitor.

“What’s going on?” Felicity asked, perturbed. Not that she didn’t love hearing from Barbara but hearing her use their emergency code through her answering machine had put her into a bit of a tailspin. “Is it bad? What’s happening?”

“It’s bad, but not Joker-bad so relax.” Barbara paused, “Well, on second thought, it might be worse than that actually. Although Joker is dead so…ooh, Zombie Joker? Yeah, that would be a whole other level of suck…”

“Is everyone okay?” She said ‘everyone’ even though Barbara gave her that look that said she knew exactly who Felicity was referring to. She flushed and tried to deflect even though she knew it was futile. Barbara knew her too well. “How’s Dick?”

“Being, well, a ‘dick’,” Barbara sighed.

Felicity winced, “Yeah, I heard he left Bludhaven to Tim and went off on his own a while back but Tim said he’d come back a few times since then. I wasn’t sure you two had officially broken up.”

“Oh, we didn’t,” Barbara said with a tight smile. “No, he was very clear on the fact that he was ‘breaking up’ with Bruce but that he still loved me before pointing out that I was ‘vital to the mission’ so he couldn’t ask me to go with him. He told me we just needed a ‘little break’ until he got his bearings.”

“And did he?”

“Oh yeah,” she said, “And—surprise!—the super-Chickie handling his ‘bearings’ is another redhead. Her name’s ‘Kori’ but her codename is ‘Starfire’, cute huh? Bitch sounds like a fucking character out of ‘My Pretty Pony’. Oh, and get this, she’s an alien princess with golden skin who’s like a foot taller than he is and her hair is literally made of fire.”

“Huh,” Felicity pursed her lips, “doesn’t that make, well, stuff difficult? Like showering and other…stuff?”

“Nope! From what I can tell he’s stuffing her just fine!” She snarked, “Besides, her hair only does that when she’s flying. Did I mention that yet? She can fly too. She’s just so flippin’ nifty that way, apparently.” She snorted, before her voice grew contemplative, “I wonder if all of her hair does that or just the bit on her head? Eh, what do I care if he gets his weenie roasted? I’m done.”

“Ouch,” she said with a sympathetic wince. She loved Dick but… “Yeah, he’s…yeah, ‘dick’ pretty much covers it.” Felicity agreed as she tried to get a mental picture only to fail miserably. “I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch the last several months. It’s just been…it’s been crazy.”

“It’s alright, Chickie,” she told her. “Tim told me you guys hardly even have time to talk these days because your schedule is all over the map so I get it. Still miss you though.”

“I miss you, too,” she said softly. “Believe me, there’ve been days when I would have loved to have a friendly bitch and wine cooler session via Skype but life has been…” she sighed. “Anyway, what is it with Dick and tall redheads anyway?”

“Fuck if I know,” Barbara said, obviously perturbed. “I spent years with that little weasel pairing evening gowns with flats just so he wouldn’t get a complex and he leaves me for an alien amazon in stilettos just when I happen to drop three feet of height.”

“You don’t really think he left you because of the wheelchair, do you?” Felicity asked tentatively. She’d known Barbara and Dick both before and after the accident that left her in a wheelchair paralyzed from the waist down and, from what she could see, he seemed to be just as affectionate and loving as ever. Of course, in the world that they occupied, relationships could change quickly. She knew that better than most.

“No,” she sighed, “I know he left because of Bruce. I mean, everyone eventually leaves because of Bruce,” Felicity flinched at that, “but it still irks me. I mean, she’s like, seven feet tall! Seriously! It must be what a Chihuahua looks like when he’s trying to mount a Great Dane!”

Unable to stop herself Felicity began to laugh so hard fat tears began to roll down her cheeks. Soon both women were laughing so hard that Felicity had to grab some napkins off the coffee table and blow her nose before she humiliated herself by blowing a snot bubble. “Oh my God! Oh that hurts! Ow!” She clutched her stomach and Barbara caught a glimpse of her bandage.

“Girl, what happened to your hand?”

“This?” She asked, holding it up to the tablet. “Punched my, well, technically I guess she’s my boss, in the face.”

“Oh,” Barbara’s eyebrows shot up to her hairline. “Fuck me. You looking for another job, yet?”

“Nope, blackmailed her. She even asked me to lunch afterwards.”

“Okay, you now have my unending respect,” she chuckled. “Felicity Smoak, Bad-ass.”

“Well, you’re still pretty bad-ass too if you ask me.”

“Damn straight!” Barbara agreed, “I might not be ten feet tall and fly but I can still rock a Ms. Clairol Dark Auburn dye job like nobody else and I got mad hacker skills! By the way, still loving the hair, Baby-Girl. Did you go darker with the lowlights since I saw you last or is that my monitor acting up?”

“What, this? Yeah, how’s it look?” Felicity mugged for the camera. “Only my hairdresser knows for sure!”

“I like it! The contrast really makes your eyes pop,” Barbara told her. “I mean, I always dug your original color, but I can understand why you got tired of people making comments. Still, aren’t you living in the Land of all that is Blonde and Fake anyway? You’d think that if you could get away with it anywhere it’d be on the West Coast.”

“Surprisingly enough, no,” she told her. “Every time I tried to tell someone it wasn’t fake they’d shoot me a look and offer me friendly little tidbits about how ‘less is more’. I swear to God, if I got that, ‘don’t try to sell it so hard, darling’ speech from one more suicide blonde whose roots were showing…” she said rolling her eyes. “So, yeah, platinum blonde doesn’t fly well in Corporate America so I dirtied it up a little and then I dirtied it a little more.”

“Hey, do you think I could pull off blonde?” She asked with an amused smirk. “Maybe we should switch looks since you’re punching bitches out and feeling your inner redhead and I know I could definitely use more fun.”

“That’s a thought,” Felicity told her. “Eh, who knows? Maybe I will. Seriously though, if you’re thinking about trading in Rita Hayworth for Marilyn Monroe, he did it with this avocado oil based dye in shades of ‘Honeyed Happiness’ and ‘Golden Glory’ then put me on this shampoo called Bumble and Bumble to tame the frizzies and maintain the color. You should check it out.”

“Looks nice!” Her eyes glinted merrily as she stuck a naughty tongue between her teeth. “So what else have you been ‘dirtying up’ since joining the ranks of the Corporate Clones? That Ollie Queen is H-A-W-T!”

“And moving on!” She flushed, refusing to answer her. “You know, Barbara, not that I don’t love hearing from you, but why the coded message on my landline? You could have just called me on my cell if you wanted to talk.”

“Yeah, about that…” She cleared her throat and bit her bottom lip nervously, “It’s about Watchtower.”

“Is there a glitch in the system?” Felicity frowned.

“Noooo,” she said, drawing it out. “Everything’s working just fine on our end.”

Felicity breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh good!”

“A little too well in fact.”

“Pardon?”

“While Bruce was out on patrol the other night a friend of yours pinged our system.”

“What?” Felicity asked, her heart suddenly skipping a beat.

“Calls herself The Huntress. And, as if it needs to be said, Bruce was not amused.”

“Is he ever?” Felicity tried to joke but it came out as a trembling stutter instead. This was bad—the so very not good kind of bad.

“Compared to his usual grim and stoic demeanor, he was especially unamused…particularly when your name came up.”

She shut her eyes and hung her head in defeat. “Fuck.” It figures that Helena would be either stupid or crazy enough to not only wander into the Bat’s territory but throw her name into the mix as well. She just hoped Oliver hadn’t been exposed. Next time Helena came for a visit she swore she’d arrow that crazy bitch personally. “Fuckity-fuck-fuckadoodledoo.”

“And that’s not even the best part: Guess who’s coming to town to pay you a little visit?”

Felicity swallowed, “Oh no.”

“Oh yes,” Barbara confirmed. “Just before he let Psycho-Bitch go she let him in on the fact that you’re working for another vigilante in Starling City and he got all Cave-Man about it. You know how he hates to share.”

“Wait? He let her go?!” Felicity nearly shouted, outraged, choosing to put aside Bruce’s travel plans for the moment. “She insane! And a murderer! She’s practically the Joker with tits and a girl-on for mobsters! He should have taken her down or shipped to Arkham or something!”

“Well, Bruce isn’t exactly a fan of the Mob and since she knew who you were he let her go with a beat down, a separated shoulder, and a severe warning to leave his city and keep away from you or she’d have more than just some Robin Hood wannabe chasing after her. He even did the whole grumpy Bat-face growly thing. Afterwards he ordered Alfred to load up the jet so he could come give you a talking to but the good Mr. Pennyworth managed to talk him down.”

Felicity hung her head and shut her eyes as a bit of panic began to set in. “He’s coming down here with Dad on Friday, isn’t he?”

“Yup. And I have orders not to say anything to you so this is me not saying anything.”

“Great. If he’s coming here then who is watching Gotham?”

“He tapped Red Robin to step up for the time being.”

“Tim?” She said, thinking of her sister’s more on than off boyfriend. “I thought he and Bruce were currently on the outs.”

“Yeah, so that alone should tell you how pissed he is. In fact, the only good news is that he hasn’t said anything to your dad.”

She snorted, “Obviously! Dad might pretend not to suspect Bruce of being the Bat but he definitely wouldn’t be as happy to pretend not to notice anything if he thought I was ever a part of his whole crusade.”

“Technically your dad was the one to introduce the two of you and suggest Bruce use you as a consultant when we were developing Watchtower. I mean, he had to know that was Bat related.”

“I think Dad expected me to actually ‘consult’, not spend my days in the Batcave installing hardware and upgrading the systems while he was at the office.”

“Well, at the time the Batcave wasn’t exactly handicap accessible so I couldn’t do it, Dick can barely microwave popcorn, Tim’s almost as good as we are but he’d probably turn Watchtower into a video game arcade if I let him anywhere near it—seriously, can you imagine Bruce sitting down at his workstation and having Angry Birds or Star Wars; Revenge of the Sith pop up? I think we’ve had enough funerals in the Bat Family, thank you very much. Jason and Stephanie were already long gone—not that they would have been of any help anyway, so was Cassie but even if she weren’t she could barely speak, Damian was a worthless little psychopathic shit—not to speak ill of the dead--and Alfred is handy with research and sutures but he’s no Felicity Smoak-Fox when it comes to computers. Bruce could have done it but between the boardroom and the Bat when would he have the time?”

“I don’t think my Dad likes to think about the logistics of Bruce being the Batman too much. Remember he’s going for that whole ‘plausible deniability’ thing. He’s never even spoken about it to me except to say that if I ever need help with any ‘special projects’ business to let him know.”

“Yeah well, that’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: The reason he’s coming down is that the Huntress dropped in his lap the fact that someone put out feelers on you a while back and they were looking for an out of town contractor to get it done.”

Felicity stopped short and licked her lips. Her mind quickly scanned through any possible names who might want her dead and, to her surprise; there were a lot of them. “Who’s the client?”

“Don’t know; kind of a moot point though since the contract was rescinded around eighteen months ago. Since you’re still alive I’m guessing whoever had the wild hair up their ass got over it. Bruce, however, doesn’t see the silver lining in that and when he gets there he’s not just planning on spanking your cute little tushie—although I suspect you both might get a kick out of that—“

“Not funny.”

“It’s a little funny,” Barbara disagreed, “Point is, he’s also gunning for your boss.”

“Oliver or the Arrow?”

“I’m sorry, is there a difference?”

“Shit.” Felicity cursed under her breath. She briefly considered trying to convince Barbara that Oliver wasn’t the Arrow but the tone of the other woman’s voice and the look on her face told her she wouldn’t buy it. “How?”

“Lots of stuff, the clues are there when you know what to look for not to mention the fact that you appear to have a type: Billionaire Playboy by day, Masked Vigilante by night. You have heard of eHarmony, right? Match.com? They even have internet dating for farmers these days if you want to go all Green Acres.” Barbara said with a wry tone. “C’mon, Baby, do I have to give you the speech about not falling into destructive relationship patterns by channeling Dr. Phil or are you going to move to Metropolis next and try on something a little less brooding and a little more into primary colors?” Barbara paused, “You know, that guy flies. I wonder if anything of his catches on fire? Mmm, I’d risk some rug burns for that.”

She chose to ignore the other woman’s sarcasm and go for optimism instead. “But he just suspects, right? He doesn’t have anything concrete.”

“Yeah, that’s the spirit! Keep the faith, sunshine. Good things happen all the time like kittens popping out of rainbows being farted out of a unicorn’s butt because everyone knows that the Batman is a calm and reasonable kind of guy.” Felicity groaned and cupped her head in her hands but Barbara continued. “The fact that your Hottie in Green is connected to Ra’s al Ghul doesn’t help much either.”

“Wait, what?!” Felicity’s head shot up in alarm. “Oliver has nothing to do with Ra’s al Ghul!” Not quite a lie. Ra’s name had come up as they had begun to investigate the League of Assassins, plus there had been that uneasy alliance with Nyssa during the Army of Blood thing almost a year and a half ago, but Felicity wasn’t planning on mentioning that unless she was cornered. As for her own team, she had heard of Ra’s long before meeting Oliver but had held off sharing what she knew with them simply because she didn’t know enough to add anything of value. Bruce had been very secretive about his past association with the leader of the League of Assassins and had no idea she even knew as much as she did. Besides, all it would have led to is more questions, questions Felicity couldn’t answer.

Once again she wondered if keeping her past affiliation with Batman a secret had been a mistake on her part but she quickly dismissed the thought. It was too late now and the last thing she needed to do was tell Barbara that there was, in fact, some connection between the Arrow’s mission and Ra’s al Ghul when Oliver himself was still working all that out. Barbara wouldn’t dare withhold that kind of information from Bruce and few things got under the man’s skin worse than that particular name.

As if reading her thoughts Barbara said, “Maybe, maybe not, but that island he was on was a training ground for the League of Assassins and you know how he gets with anything Ra’s related. If he was a little ticked when he found out about the Arrow recruiting you, then you should have seen him when he asked me to look into this Lian Yu place: Not. Happy.”

“Yeah, I can imagine,” Felicity muttered. “When did all this happen?” She asked wearily. “What’s my timeline?”

“The Huntress was last night and the Lian Yu thing was early this morning. I waited until Bruce went down for his BatNap just in case he decided to be really paranoid and monitor even the secure channels. I’m giving you as much time as I can, Baby.” Barbara sighed and sat back from the monitor. “Look, how well do you know this Oliver guy?”

“He doesn’t know Ra’s, Barb. I’d know it if he was League and I would have called you guys first thing if he was. I’m not saying there isn’t a Ra’s connection here in Starling, we’ve been tracking it ourselves, but Oliver isn’t it. Before he met me this was a two man operation in an abandoned warehouse and they were getting by with a desktop his bodyguard picked up for him at Walmart. Barb, swear to God, they were still using McAfee because they thought it meant they were ‘secure’,” she said quietly but with confidence. Something occurred to her, “Did the client put feelers out to the League about me? Is that what has Bruce in a tizzy?”

“Baby-Girl, if the League had been given the contract you would already be dead by now and if the client pulled it before it was done, they’d be dead. The League has a strict ‘no take-sies, back-sies’ rule about that kind of thing,” Barbara said bluntly. “Whoever put out the hit contacted a high-end broker, the kind of guy who doesn’t advertise so you have to be in the know just to find him, and one who is strictly into hiring non-League assassins so either that was happy coincidence or they’re trying to sneak in under the League’s radar. That’s one of many things bothering Bruce about this. If Queen was League and they wanted to cripple his operation by getting to you, then they’d have a reason to look for an independent operator. It could be a coincidence but you know how Bruce feels about those. He thinks Queen recruited you for a reason, babe. Bruce still files you under ‘Family’ so it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility.”

“First off, he didn’t recruit me; not really. He got lucky, that’s all. He was so hopelessly out of his league with this thing he was going to his own company’s IT department with bullet ridden laptops looking for help. The fact that I happened to be the one he spoke to is a goddamn miracle, anyone else would have dropped a dime. I still haven’t completely figured that one out yet. All I know is that he asked Walter Steele who he could trust in IT and he sent him to me. He doesn’t even know that Lucius is my dad much less my connection to Gotham City and the Bat and I’d like to keep it that way.”

“Wait, you’ve been with this guy for all this time and he still doesn’t know anything about you?” Barbara huffed, “And I thought I had a shitty love life.”

“It’s not like that,” Felicity denied.

“You’re blushing.”

“So? I blush at a drop of the hat. I blush when Pepe LePew tries to seduce the pussycat on Cartoon Network!” She said going from light pink to blood red.

“Okay, you might not be playing ‘Hide the Arrow’ with your honey in green but you like him,” Barbara teased knowingly. “Just be careful with Bruce, girl. He’s always been unpredictable when it comes to you. Remember, I was there when you went from ‘Baby’, the tow-headed little tyke who stopped by the manor every once in a while with her daddy, to ‘Felicity’, the stacked 18 year old blonde bombshell with the doctorate and the tits that defied gravity.”

“Says the woman with the ‘D’ cups,” she said ruefully then looked down at her much more modest chest. “My alphabet ends two whole letters before yours.”

“Don’t sell your bee stings short,” she told her. “They fit your frame better than mine do and you have no idea how hard it is finding a decent bra some days. Believe me, underwire is both a blessing and a curse and sports bras can only do so much. Dick liked them, naturally, but you try running around in a mask with knockers that big. One night my elastic gave up the ghost while I was swinging from rooftop to rooftop and I nearly gave myself two black eyes. Besides, those puppies were good enough to have the Grim Guy in the Cowl take a second look so enjoy them; he certainly did.”

“Hilarious,” she said flatly.

“It’s the truth,” she shrugged. “I may not know what went down between you two right before you took off to Starling City but I had to live with the aftermath. Those first six months you were gone there was practically zero crime in Gotham. He was so bad even Alfred was about to strangle him.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad,” Felicity said, suddenly unwilling to look directly into the camera. “Bruce doesn’t—didn’t—have those kinds of feelings for me.”

“You’ve been gone, what? A little over four years?”

“Yeah, so?”

Barbara sighed and leaned toward the monitor. “There are only two names that no one is allowed to utter in his presence because if anyone mentions either of them he goes dark for days: Selina Kyle and Felicity Smoak.”

“She’s still missing?” Felicity asked quietly. “I thought he would have found her by now.”

“He stopped looking a while back,” she said sadly. “I think that when you left he realized that…well…” She shook her head. “When Selina left he convinced himself that something had to have happened to her. He couldn’t accept that she had just had enough of his obsession with the mission. He kept trying to change her, tame her down, but he wouldn’t change for her in return. You know how it is with him; he has to control everything and everyone in his little universe and you just can’t domesticate a woman like Selena. Then you came along and threw him for a loop and he didn’t know which way was up anymore. He was so damn confused by you it would have been hilarious if the man wasn’t such a goddamn misery to be around. Then, one day, everything just changed. You left and he went to a darker place then any of us had ever seen up to that point. I offered to talk to you for him after a particularly bad night and he almost took my head off, said to never mention you again in the Cave or anywhere else for that matter.” She shot her a sad look, “I think you made him finally realize just how destructive this thing he carries inside of him is to the rest of us. We had hoped he’d have some kind of epiphany and wake up but he went the opposite direction. After Damian died it got even worse. He even tried pushing me, Dick, and Tim out for a while. I think that’s part of what drove Dick to another team after Bruce got back from his mental health moment; that and the fact that Bruce took back the cowl. He kind of got used to being the Bat and going back to Nightwing felt like getting sent back down to the Minors for him.”

“I don’t know why Dick always had such a complex about that stuff,” Felicity said sympathetically. “I know you and he have some recent rough history but he’s a good man and he’s brilliant. I just wish he would get over it.”

“Baby, you are preaching to the choir!” Barbara sighed, “You can’t even blame it all on Bruce either. It’s that whole Bat Curse thing they all have. Dick’s own worst enemy is Dick, but enough on that. I could spend all day on that man. Tim’s the only one who ever escaped the Bat-Angst but only by the skin of his teeth. He was always Bruce’s special kid, you know; the first one who wasn’t a complete wreck before he got to him, the only one who still has an intact heart. Damian was hard for Tim to deal with from the minute he showed up on Bruce’s doorstep. And that’s really saying something; you know Tim, he loves everybody.”

“Yeah,” Felicity said with a half-smile, “He’s a sweetie! I just hope he and my sister figure it out once and for all before it’s too late.”

“Are they back on or off?” Barbara asked.

“I can’t keep up,” Felicity snorted. “They never really ‘break-up’ per se, they just kind of wander away from each other then hook back up several months later. The word ‘commitment’ gives them both the heebie-jeebies.”

“That’s a total Bat thing, trust me. Every damn one of them would rather walk naked in a room full of barbed wire than actually commit,” Barbara snorted then grumbled, “I miss having Tim around the Cave. He was my special little buddy but he had no choice really but to take off. Like I was saying about the Anti-Christ and Timmy, that little psycho-creep had him so damned frosty from trying to kill him every five seconds he had to leave. Hell, Alfred nearly joined him! When Alfred can’t stand someone you know it’s bad. I thought for sure he was just going to lose it one day and pour rat poison on top of the little shit’s Froot Loops. Bruce was no help at all. He was practically catatonic from the shock of just having to deal with him and Tim couldn’t even sleep in the same house as the little fucker. After Bruce made him promise to stop trying to kill Tim, Damian broke into his room when he was sleeping and put a knife on the pillow next to his head because, and I quote, he was ‘trying to make a funny’. He could have taken him down but it was Bruce’s kid and he didn’t want to cause him any more pain than he had to. Instead he wound up spending more nights on my couch than I can count.”

She shook her head again, her countenance grim, “I could have kicked Bruce’s ass for that and Dick wasn’t much better. They were both so concerned with reining in Damian that Tim got completely left out in the cold. He seemed to handle it but I could tell he was upset. One night on the couch became two and before I knew it I had a roommate. I didn’t mind though. I mean, it’s Tim; talk about someone who’s easy to have around. It became pretty obvious he wasn’t going anywhere so I broke down and decided to build a second bedroom in the clock tower; Lord knows I have the room for it. Hell, other than my bedroom and the bathroom I don’t have any walls in this place, it’s all wide open. I was going to ask Timmy to throw up some dry wall and go to the furniture store with me so I could reclaim my couch but before I could break out the hammer and nails all the stress and lack of sleep finally got to him and he beat the shit out of the little fucker one day right out of the blue. I mean, the kid had it coming and I said as much to Bruce but for Tim it was the final straw. I know for a fact that’s what made Tim finally say enough is enough. Then when Damian died, and Bruce just lost his nut, Tim was just so angry and torn up about the whole thing. On one hand it was Bruce’s biological son but the kid was a monster, literally a monster. Bruce losing it over the kid that tried to kill him and nearly got him killed more times than he could count just felt like the worst kind of betrayal. Add to that Bruce’s whole habit of isolating himself when he’s in wounded animal mode…” She sighed, “Dick and Tim just couldn’t keep doing the push me, pull me dance with Bruce. Tim always felt like Bruce didn’t trust or love him enough and Dick always felt like he was coming up short.”

“Ironic then that he keeps going for tall redheads,” Felicity joked weakly and got an amused snort for her efforts. Oh man, she missed Barbara. Unlike most people Barbara Gordon truly admired her foot-in-mouth disease.

She smiled at her through the screen of her tablet, “I’m not trying to bring down the mood but it’s been lonely on this end for a while now, Baby. Especially for Bruce. He’s pushed everyone out but me and Alfred. He’s been getting better but a part of him has been dead inside for a while now. It’s like Bruce has been in a fog and then--Look, all I know is that the second he heard your name…Felicity, I can’t describe it. He’s an intense guy, he gets focused and everything falls to the wayside, but when he heard that Huntress chick say she held a crossbow to your throat…”

“Crap on a cracker,” Felicity said with a wince. “She had to go and mention that, huh?”

“Yeah, I don’t think you’re on her Christmas card list anymore. He didn’t react well to that information--at all.”

“It’s not like we were ever Facebook friends,” Felicity shrugged. “Gotta say, I really don’t feel all that bad about him kicking her leather clad ass either.”

“Point is it woke him up and not in a good way. He’s not too happy with the Arrow for even putting you in her orbit. Dick and I were a hell of a lot younger and dumber than you when we joined up and he had us literally juggling knives within a week, but he always acted like you were made out of spun glass. He’d bark orders and curse at us until he was blue in the face and then you’d walk in and he’d go from Bat to Bashful so fast it gave the rest of us whiplash. Even his voice changed around you.”

“I remember,” Felicity said quietly. Her dad had always called her ‘Baby’, never ‘Felicity’, and most close friends and family had gotten into the habit as well. With her dad and her siblings from his first marriage it was never, ‘Look what Felicity did’ it was ‘Look what Baby did’. Even Dick and Barbara (and to a lesser extent her sister’s occasional boyfriend Tim Drake-Wayne) would teasingly call her ‘Baby’ in an annoying way, but not Bruce. When Bruce said ‘Baby’, it didn’t sound like an affectionate nickname, it sounded…she shivered and hoped Barbara didn’t notice.

“You exposed a side to Bruce none of us even knew existed so when the Huntress practically threatened to go back and finish the job she’d started by holding a crossbow to your throat, he totally lost it. I wasn’t kidding about the shoulder. He nearly wrenched it from the socket and that was before he ever heard your name. After that he really got mad.”

“That bad, huh? Yeah, she was probably pissed because I slipped her some dummy hardware. It was the second time she’d done the crossbow thing and I wasn’t in the mood to be generous,” Felicity said, trying not to read too much into what Barbara was saying about Bruce’s feelings towards her. After all, as much as she cared for the older woman, not even she had been told everything that had happened between them. Her sister had been the only one who knew the details of their one brief failed liaison. Bruce was just being territorial as far as she was concerned, that’s all.

“Eh, fuck her if she can’t take a joke,” she said dismissively. “But back to Bruce; I mentioned the jet thing, right?” Barbara reminded her with a wry grin. “Look Baby, he’s gunning for the Arrow and he might be telling himself that it’s about the Huntress, or Ra’s, or the fact that your guy gets a bit lethal with his arrows from time to time, but it’s ultimately about you. Just you. My advice, since you two aren’t ‘involved’, is to take a mini-break and let the masks sort it out among themselves without you in the picture to confuse matters. Don’t get in the middle of it. You can come down here and stay with me and maybe visit with your dad when he gets back. Maybe if Bruce sees you’ve left Starling City, it’ll calm him down and he’ll forget about him. In fact, he’ll probably just turn around and try to convince you to stay here permanently instead.” Barbara grinned, “The Batcave is due for some upgrades and I’m sure Alfred would love to see you…not to mention that we could all reap the benefits from you and Bruce finally doing something to resolve that sexual tension that was always sparking between you. I mean, if there’s anyone besides me that really needs to get laid…”

“Trust me, everything between Bruce and myself was resolved more than four years ago,” Felicity snorted.

Barbara’s jaw dropped and Felicity realized just what a tremendous faux pas she just made. “Holy shit! You two really did sleep together? And you didn’t tell me? You bitch!”

“No, no, no, no!” Felicity stammered. “I mean, yes—no—um—no comment!”

“Oh my GOD! You did!” She howled. “You little minx! I want details! Lots of details!”

“I’m not having this conversation!” Felicity shouted. “I’m logging off now!”

“No, no, no, no, no! I’ll stop, I promise!” Barbara said waving frantically at the monitor.

“You swear?” Felicity asked, face burning hot with embarrassment.

“I swear!” Barbara said as she crossed her heart with her fingers.

“Fine,” Felicity said cautiously. “Look, I need to know if you have my back here. I know your first duty is to Bruce, and I would never ask you to compromise that, but things aren’t…we’re doing good work here, Barb. It might not look that way from Gotham, and we might not be as sophisticated an operation as you guys, but we’re in the middle of some pretty intense stuff and having the Batman tear through town could tilt the delicate balance we have going. I promise you, we’re not just playing Robin Hood for kicks. There are real lives on the line here and Starling City is just as important to us as Gotham is to all of you.” She put all the sincerity she could muster in her next words, “If it comes down to it, if Bruce forces me to have to make a choice between staying here and compromising my team or leaving and never looking back, I’ll leave. I will cut ties and take off to Europe or go be with Luke in Africa and try to contribute down there, but I won’t just let Bruce Wayne or Batman think he can snap his fingers and summon me back to Gotham. I also won’t just roll over or abandon my team without trying to mitigate the possible exposure of their identities as much as possible. I can’t reveal the Arrow to Bruce any more than I could unmask Batman to my team. Bruce suspecting that Oliver Queen is the Arrow and him knowing are still two very different things. If I have to use a bit of obfuscation to protect them, all I ask is that you pick up what I’m putting down and try not to unravel anything too quickly for Bruce. Buy me a little time, that’s all I’m asking.”

Barbara took a minute to consider her words, “I won’t lie to Bruce but, if you should happen to lay a few traps, I’ll do my best to fall into them, okay?”

“Thank you,” she said, exhaling a shaky breath.

“You and Bruce, always with your protocols and mazes within mazes—you already had a contingency plan for this set up, didn’t you?” Her green eyes sparkled merrily, the mood suddenly picking back up.

“Well…” Felicity muttered, her lips ticking upward. “I had a few protocols in place in case we were exposed. I thought it was going to be a cop turning us in but it works for Bruce just as well.”

“Just you protect yourself, too, understood? Just because the hit got cancelled doesn’t mean the danger has passed. ”

Danger was something she was all too familiar with these days. “If someone wanted me dead, I’d be dead, but…I’ll do my best.”

“Great, now that that’s all settled, I just have one question.”

“Shoot.”

“It’s about the tumbler, you know, the Batmobile!”

“The tumbler?” She asked in confusion, “What about it?”

“Well, I was just wondering,” Barbara’s lips curled upwards in a saucy grin, “in regards to what you know about Bruce and the Batmobile’s specs, is it true what they say about men using their cars to compensate for the size of their—?”

“Goodbye Barbara!” Felicity said just as she ended the transmission. She sat back into the couch cushions with an “Oof!” and eyed the now cold containers of Chinese takeout with a grimace.

“Damn, I think I just lost my appetite.”

Chapter Text

 


 brucefirstkissgone   

Chapter Four

Bruce leaned back in his seat aboard his private jet and glanced through the details of the Queen Consolidated proposal with a disinterested eye. Even though he had turned over the majority of the day-to-day operations to Lucius Fox he still kept abreast of everything that went on at Wayne Enterprises. He was a self-admitted control freak and that need for that level of control extended not only to his job as Batman. Still, the only thing he had on his mind was Oliver Queen and his mission and just how involved Felicity was in it.

And was she just involved in his mission or was it something else? Something more?

He looked at the picture of Oliver Queen on the tablet before him: tall, dark blond hair, rakish good looks, well-bred, well spoken, a ladies man (pre-island at least). Older than Felicity but still younger than he was by several years, he could see how she might find him attractive. She wouldn’t have touched the Oliver Queen before he was lost at sea with a ten foot pole, but the Arrow…

Felicity was good at fixing broken things and, in Bruce’s experience, it took a broken man to do what he and this Arrow did every night while guarding their individual city’s streets.

He wasn’t a pretty boy either. Used to be, not anymore. The island had aged him, scarred him, took away some of the fat he had developed as a privileged member of the 1%. Those muscles weren’t from half-assing it in some trendy gym, no. Bruce could recognize the shape and stance of a fellow warrior from a mile away. No matter how many alibis this Queen came up with there was no doubt in his mind that Oliver Queen was the Arrow.

Alfred had, as always, been meticulous in building his dossier on Queen, especially in regards to his personal life. He was both a partier and a player before the island and it appeared that he wasn’t overly careful with his women back then either. According what Barbara managed to uncover by hacking into his medical records and his attorney’s computer, he had apparently fathered a child when he was eighteen. His name wasn’t on the birth certificate but there was a confidentiality agreement on file along with other legal documentation signed by the boy’s mother where she absolved Queen of any and all financial responsibility for the child in exchange for a lump sum child support payment of two million dollars. Last year he amended the agreement and set up a trust as well as made provisions in his will including a life insurance policy, but he’d made no effort to get visitation rights or to officially establish paternity through a DNA test. In fact, he’d signed his parental rights away right before making those same provisions and shortly afterwards Sandra Hawke and her son completely dropped off the map.

Barbara searched but, near as she could figure, they’d been taken into Federal Witness Protection following the boy’s abduction by Malcolm Merlyn and subsequent rescue. WITSEC wasn’t handling it though; it had all the earmarks of an ARGUS operation. The records weren’t just wiped; it was like they had never existed to begin with. ARGUS being involved at all with it was a big red flag as far as he was concerned.

Another thing that bothered him about that whole situation was that after Merlyn was taken out, Queen allowed them to remain in hiding. While he never thought of himself as a particularly good father, Bruce did believe in taking his responsibilities seriously. While Queen appeared to be taking financial responsibility the fact that he would sign away his parental rights and cut off all contact to his own child so completely bothered him. Plus, he knew Felicity well enough to know that she would never be with a man who could abandon his child; the fact that she knew this about Queen and still stayed was disturbing on many levels.

It appeared that, while the younger version of Queen was reckless, the newer version was much more cautious. He’d settled down considerably since taking the on the mantle of CEO and when it came to relationships, Queen had a type: tall, beautiful, ambitious, articulate, a bit cool, a bit damaged, and intelligent. From what Bruce could tell, he wanted to find a woman who could play a brunette version of Moira Queen; in other words, someone who was the complete opposite of Felicity. Oh, she was beautiful and intelligent, but with her hair the color of winter sunshine, warm nature, and sweet stumbling speech, she was definitely not his type either before or after the island. She didn’t fit his pattern and, despite being the adopted daughter of Lucius Fox, she had not been raised in the spotlight of high society. Lucius was an intensely private man, a thing Bruce very much respected about his friend, and had kept her as sheltered and safe as he could. Felicity was many things but she was not the type of woman who would easily tolerate the life and constraints of a society matriarch.

Bruce had met Moira Queen once. She was warm and welcoming in as much as a woman born into the world of the extremely wealthy could ever be. Oh, she loved her children, worked tirelessly for charities, and was an excellent hostess, but her eyes always seemed to lack that spark of human kindness, her laugh just a little too measured and cool, and never a hair out of place. She was the type of mother who enjoyed spending time with her children after the nannies had cleaned them up and who had no idea what their favorite foods were or who their friends were because she had a staff to deal with that sort of thing. She spoiled her children, yes; but she did not raise them. Moira Queen was the epitome of the cultured elite, or had been before her death two years previously.

She and her daughter had been targeted by a mercenary named Slade Wilson who was hired by the man running against her for mayor. After allegedly murdering Moira Queen and his supposed employer, Sebastian Blood, he completely disappeared.

As intriguing as the circumstances surrounding her death were, it was also irrelevant to the matter at hand. Moira was dead and either Slade or the Arrow killed Sebastian Blood, aka Brother Blood, and defeated his supposed ‘Blood Army’ shortly afterwards. This Slade Wilson was presumed dead or on the run after the Arrow and his team consisting of known members of the League of Assassins and Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad dropped a city block on top of their heads then trapped the rest in a tunnel and shot them full of tranquilizers before hauling them off to ARGUS’s own Super Max.

Bruce looked at the date in the file. He, Tim, and Dick had been dealing with the aftermath of Damian’s death around that time and none of them found out about the attack on Starling until it was over. It wasn’t until they were heading home on the jet from confronting Ra’s and Talia that Tim got the messages sent to him by a frantic Tam. The grid was down; landlines, cellular networks, even the internet was blacked out. No one could get any word on what was happening in Starling City. Initial reports said it was another massive earthquake but, unlike the one that was caused by the Markov device, this one was affecting the city as a whole and not just the Glades. He’d been a wreck but the minute he heard Tim’s frantic call to Tam and Dick instructing the flight attendant to have the pilot head straight for Starling he’d snapped out of it. They were halfway there when Tam was able to confirm that Felicity was safely out of the city and at a tech conference in Las Vegas the entire week.

Now…he sighed, now he didn’t know what to think. He’d been so ragged after that…

He’d had a bit of a breakdown for a while and took off for several months to get his head together. Knowing what he now knew, he was fairly certain she’d been lying about being at a tech conference. Now he wonders if, not only did he fail Felicity by not continuing on to Starling that day, but if she hated him so much that she was willing to die rather than reach out for his help.

He pushed that out of his mind and concentrated on the dossier in front of him. While the Detective in him found the circumstances of Moira Queen’s murder interesting, what he was now concerned with was her son. Specifically the choices he made when it came to the women in his life: Laurel Lance, Helena Bertinelli, and, if rumors were true, Isabel Rochev.

Laurel Lance was a former girlfriend with whom he still maintained a somewhat amicable relationship. As a former-ADA with a father on the force, Quentin Lance, it made sense that he’d keep it friendly; that was a nice contact to have in your back pocket if you spent part of your life as a murdering vigilante. She left the Starling City DA’s office a few months ago to enter a treatment facility for bipolar depression and substance abuse and was now in Central City living with her mother and doing volunteer work with Legal Aid.

Helena Bertinelli was the daughter of a crime boss and just as flexible a sense of morality. She currently billed herself as a vigilante but Bruce knew what she was the moment he set eyes on her; a killer. She had been swallowed by the dark and, sooner or later, she would have to be dealt with. If she hadn’t dropped Felicity’s name on the roof he would have tossed her in Arkham until she forgot what the sun even looked like. Felicity was his priority at the moment but, as soon as he had her back home where she belonged, taking down the Huntress was on the top of his to-do list.

As for Isabel Rochev—well; she was a piece of work. Even Alfred couldn’t find much but what he did find was more than enough to earn her a spot on the Batman’s watch list.

Just as he was fairly certain that a man like Queen had no real emotional attachment to Felicity he knew she probably had plenty of feelings for him. It was in her nature to care about someone so obviously wounded. Either way he saw his proximity to her as a disaster in the making. Any way you cut it, this man was going to get her hurt. At worst he was a bored rich boy with mental issues and a history of poor judgment, at best he was a well-intentioned amateur that was destined to either get caught or killed and he was going to take everyone in his orbit down with him. No, Queen was not going to be using Felicity any more, not if he had anything to say about it.

Alfred had also included a file on her showing that in the four years since she’d left Gotham, she went from her position as a senior IT manager at QC to Oliver Queen’s EA overnight and when she wasn’t at his corporate headquarters she was at some nightclub he owned in the slums called Verdant where she was on the books as his IT Consultant.

Bruce snorted to himself. “Subtle.”

Hell, maybe he’d open his own club in the East End called, ‘The Dark Night’.

He closed the file and settled back into the plush leather cushions of his seat. ‘Why in the hell would she get caught up in something like this?’ He thought to himself. ‘Why would she deliberately align herself with some killer posing as a hero?’

He thought back to what Barbara had told him, how she had warned him that his presence in this matter would not be appreciated. She was right, he knew that. Felicity would not be welcoming him with open arms, and he didn’t blame her. Not after what had happened between them. Still, she was his responsibility whether she acknowledged it or not. He’s the one who drew her into this world, who exposed her to the mission. She should have never been touched by the darkness that consumed him. It was his fault she was in danger, his fault that she was now at risk, and even if this was a life she had chosen for herself, if he hadn’t hurt her the way he had, she never would have fled to Starling City to begin with.

He allowed his mind to go back four years previously when everything had changed for them.

Alfred was in England visiting his sister who was having surgery and Dick had already been spending more and more time in Bludhaven, slowly cutting his ties with the team. Tim had taken his spot as Red Robin but Damian coming into the picture had strained their relationship. He had taken an away assignment to get some space and Bruce had let him go. The arrival of a biological child he’d never known about was bad enough but the fact that his son was basically a child version of the Joker had left him feeling hollow inside. His entire team was in chaos and rather than deal with it, it was just easier to let them go their own way.

Damian and Felicity had only met one time and what had happened afterwards had chilled him to the bone. It was the only time he’d ever truly lost his temper with the boy.

Felicity had come over to work on the Watchtower system and was under the console chattering merrily away when he walked in. He watched from the shadows as she and Damian interacted. The boy was perched birdlike on the desk, his eyes following her every move as she talked to him about what she was doing, programming and AI theory; about everything and anything under the sun. From a distance it was a pleasant little scene but something about the way he was watching her chilled him. He listened as Damian, in an almost sweet voice, asked Felicity if she would like some cocoa. Damian never did anything that he considered ‘servant’s work’ so it instantly put him on alert. Just as Felicity was about to reach for the cup, he stepped out of the shadows and called her over.

He led her away and asked a few pointless questions about how the systems were coming along, he couldn’t even remember half the conversation now. When he was done he told her to go home and watched as she headed up to the manor before turning to the boy.

The boy was almost pouting; a look of dissatisfaction had pulled his lips down in a frown. Bruce picked up the cup he had offered Felicity and sniffed it then handed it to his son.

“Drink,” he told him.

“It’s cold now,” Damian said flatly.

“Drink,” Bruce commanded.

“I don’t want it,” he told him.

“What did you put in the cup, Damian?”

Damian looked at the cup then back up to Bruce, “Nothing.”

Bruce gripped the cup in his fist and flung it at the wall. The child said nothing, just continued to stare at him with those dark cruel eyes so like his mother’s.

“Stay away from Felicity,” he told him in a growl. “You will not hurt her, do you understand?”

“Why does she matter?” Damian said dismissively then sneered. “Really Father, I was trying to do you a favor. You indulge these cattle you surround yourself with too much. She’s only a servant and she prattles too much. There she was, kneeling at my feet, thinking she could teach me—me! Frankly, she was acting far too above her station. Death by poison was really too good for--!”

Bruce gripped the front of his son’s shirt and snatched him up from his perch until he was looking him dead in the eye. “If anything happens to any of my people, if I find out you’ve tried to hurt anyone else on this team including Felicity and Alfred, there will be consequences.”

“You won’t kill me,” Damian said with a smirk despite the look of rage on his father’s face. “I’m your son.”

“Maybe not,” Bruce conceded, “but when I’m done you’ll wish I had.”

“Meaning?” He asked off-handedly but something in his eyes told Bruce that Damian was beginning to wonder if he hadn’t gone just a little too far this time.

He tightened his grip on his collar and shook him slightly, watching in grim satisfaction as the boy’s eyes grew wide and clenched his teeth together as he spoke in an almost feral snarl, “Meaning that if I feel you are completely beyond redemption I will see to it you spend the rest of your life heavily medicated and in a straightjacket, do I make myself clear?”

The smile was instantly wiped off his face and Damian responded sullenly, “Yes, Father.”

The next day Damian disappeared. He hadn’t even looked for him figuring he’d eventually turn up again but secretly praying he wouldn’t. When Damian returned after Felicity left…Bruce closed his eyes and tried to suppress the painful memories of his son again.

Meanwhile, Dick’s pulling away from the team had also affected his relationship with Barbara so they had gone out of town on a romantic getaway to try to figure things out. After much cajoling, Barbara had convinced him that Felicity could be trusted to run Watchtower from the cave alone. He hadn’t liked it, not one bit, especially not knowing when or if Damian would return, but his team had insisted.

The chaos that had entered his sanctuary had put him into overdrive and he’d been hitting the streets hard. They knew he’d go out alone if no one was there to monitor coms and, without someone monitoring the chatter, he’d be out there blind without any sort of back up. So, even though he vehemently expressed his discomfort at the plan, he went along with it.

Already an emotional basket case, living in such close proximity to Felicity had been a living hell for him. The littlest thing she did would send his thoughts in a tailspin. He tried hiding his reactions through gruff monosyllable speech and grim silence, but she had seen right through it. She spent the entire week living in the manor with him, cooking simple meals in the kitchen for them both, and running his coms by night. As the days and nights drew on he became more and more distracted by her: Felicity curled up in his study while he worked, not saying a word, just reading a book and bundled up in a fluffy afghan. Felicity laughing at him as he tried to figure out how to cook one of the meals Alfred had prepared and frozen for them before he’d left. Felicity’s sweet, soft chatter as she spoke to him through his ear piece as he leapt from one rooftop to another…

He closed his eyes for a moment as he allowed the pain to wash through him. He lost so much the day she left, the day he pushed her out of his life. Her name literally meant ‘joy’ and, for just a brief moment of time, that emotion had begun to creep into his cold, cold heart and it was all her doing.

For years he’d just thought of her as ‘Baby’, the little girl who would color him pictures and who Lucius would brag about in board meetings whenever someone asked how she was doing in school, and then one day that started to change. She grew up when he wasn’t expecting it. It threw him off, made him uncomfortable, so much so he’d almost managed to convince himself that the oddly protective and territorial feelings he’s started to develop towards her didn’t arise from a physical attraction but because of his friendship with Lucius.

He’d stepped in to help before, after all, although never with the other man’s knowledge. Lucius had told him of the incident that led to Luke nearly tearing the arm off a frat boy who had been practically stalking Felicity her freshman year at MIT. The boy, Sebastian Hady III (grandson of Sebastian Hady, one of the most corrupt mayors in Gotham history who had been on his list for a while) had been arrested for harassment and stalking, somehow managed to have the charges dropped due to his family’s shady connections and decided to get payback by suing them for damages he’d suffered due to his injuries. After hearing what this young man had intended to do to Felicity, the Bat paid the rich young punk a visit to convince him that it would be in his best interest to drop the matter and to stay off his radar from then on. Despite the intimidating appearance of Gotham’s vigilante in his path, money and a lifetime of privilege had convinced the little bastard that he was invincible and he arrogantly remarked that he was just trying to do the ‘little slut’ a favor so he cured him of his misconceptions by breaking his other arm in two places. At the time he’d told himself he was just looking out for the daughter of one of the few men he trusted but, deep inside, he knew that wasn’t it. Not really. If that had that been the case he wouldn’t have brought her in to begin with…not that he’d meant to.

Barbara had been struggling for a way to improve the Watchtower Protocol for a while when Felicity published her article in Scientific American which was based on her doctoral thesis. The minute she read it she called him, sent him a copy, and asked him to look it over. Felicity, who had worked in the MIT Computer Science and AI Lab had come up with a theoretical AI program based on mobile applications and decryption technology she called LAIR, which would later be the basis of the new Watchtower program she and Barbara would go on to develop. It was, quite frankly, an evolutionary leap in the field of computer programming. Reading it convinced him to approach Fox on seeing if his daughter might be available to consult on some theoretical research he was working on as a, quote, ‘special project’; a code phrase they had developed by unspoken agreement for anything related to the Batman’s mission. None of them realized just how perceptive young Felicity Fox would prove to be until she fixed him with a steely eye and asked him outright that if she were to agree to build his supercomputer could she get a ride in the Batman’s tumbler?

He should have walked away from her then but she’d had that spark, that fire in her eyes that he’d seen in all of his young charges when he first encountered them. It wasn’t the same burning rage that drove him, or the overwhelming urge to prove themselves that Dick and Tim had. It wasn’t even the sense of justice that fueled Barbara to first take up the mantle of Batgirl only to lose the use of her legs and continue the fight as Oracle from behind a computer screen. No, with Felicity Smoak it was much simpler. For her it was simply a matter of right and wrong; if someone was hurting, you fixed it. If it’s the city that’s suffering, then you do what you can to bring justice to the streets and make it right again.

Felicity’s character was shaped by a painful childhood. Lucius Fox was a brilliant engineer and successful businessman and her mother, Evie, had been a beautiful and talented artist and they had a happy, if brief, marriage until she died of leukemia just shy of Felicity's fourth birthday. As open-minded and liberal as the Gotham elite pretended to be, Lucius Fox was still a black man in a white man’s world and he was married to a platinum blonde bohemian artist with an illegitimate child who had ‘stolen’ a married man from his family.

Evie, and by extension Felicity, was most definitely given the cold shoulder at every opportunity. The same people who smiled in Lucius’s face and prided themselves on having the courage and liberal sensibilities it took to invite a black man to their dinner table saw Evelyn Fox as a conniving whore who attached herself to a married man just because he had money. It didn’t matter that she was a celebrated artist by then, all they saw was the Vegas cocktail waitress she’d been before her art career took off and that she wasn’t one of them. Felicity, even as a young child, had to endure the not so subtle whispers about Evie Smoak long after her death. She heard the words ‘bastard’ and ‘daughter of the whore’ from adults and her classmates and had taken it upon herself to shield her father from that pain. She isolated herself because of it, retreating into a quiet, almost non-existent presence within Gotham society but she never let him see how much she truly resented the mother she could barely remember and who he would love with an enduring passion for the rest of his life. She was his champion, even as a child, and she endured it unflinchingly.

The other things that shaped and defined her were her kindness, empathy, and willingness to forgive. If you asked Lucius where those qualities came from he’d say it was Evie’s final gift that taught both of them that lesson. Tanya, his first wife, had begged him to slow down, to spend time with her and their children. She’d even left him just to wake him up and get his attention and then he met another woman and completely changed. For years, he’d neglected his family but he was willing to shower a woman half his age and a child that wasn’t even his with all of the love and consideration he’d failed to show her. Understandably Tanya had been devastated and there had been a backlash against what Gotham society viewed as a rich man’s trophy marriage. After Evie passed and he’d finally understood what Tanya had gone through, their relationship greatly improved. Tanya, much to her credit, accepted his apology and never appeared to hold any hard feelings against the child of the woman her husband had fallen in love with. They became the best of friends and co-parents, even reconciling to a certain extent but never remarrying, and raised all of the children as full siblings. Felicity spent just as much time in his ex-wife’s care as his children did in his own. Tanya and Lucius were often praised by their contemporaries as having one of the most amicable relationships between exes they’d ever been witness to. Lucius often said it was the only good thing to come from his wife’s death.

Felicity may not have been his biological daughter but she had inherited that aura of integrity Lucius had around him. Bruce had felt it at that moment and he knew that she, just like her father, could be trusted with his secret. He and Lucius had never openly discussed his mission or Felicity’s involvement and he had never pressed the issue but he suspected that the older man knew she was doing a bit more than simply consulting. He’d hinted, only once. He’d said to him one day when they were alone in his office, apropos to nothing, “She’s all I have left of Evie, Bruce. Keep her safe.” And he did, he’d tried.

Unlike his other adopted ‘children’, Bruce had not tried to put her out in the streets. Even when she asked he refused to train her or to allow Dick to encourage her tentative inquiries into how he and Barbara had joined him in his mission. Felicity was only to be on the Watchtower Project, nothing more. She had access to the Batcave, knew all of their secrets and then some, but she was never to be in the line of fire. He’d even tried to see her as one of his charges, if not as a daughter then as a niece, but…

Bruce sighed as the memories he’d try to suppress came to the forefront. It shouldn’t have happened. It was a mistake, one he still regretted. He was almost twice her age, already in his mid-thirties, a grown man with a lifetime of experiences she couldn’t possibly understand. It didn’t matter that she’d graduated college and successfully defended her thesis in one of the most prestigious doctorate programs in the country; to him she should have been a child. He’d known her since she was practically a baby and his experiences had hardened him, aged him beyond his years, and she was 19 years old and sheltered to the point that she had never even been kissed.

Felicity had always gotten under his skin and brought out his most protective instincts. She was always with Lucius, always playing in his office, so he’d seen her grow up. Add to that the fact that she had been painfully shy as a child and awkward as a teenager, she slipped under his radar until it was too late. Somehow he’d missed the fact that she was just as haunting a beauty as her mother ever was until one day he looked at her and was struck dumb by it. That’s when he stopped thinking of her as Lucius’s daughter and as a woman. Between that, her intelligence, and her fresh-faced innocence, she would prove to be his utter undoing.

It wasn’t just him though; over the year or so that she spent working by their sides in between her graduate studies and other obligations, his entire family fell under her spell. Barbara had taken her in under her wing as they bonded over developing the communication and decryption software that helped run Watchtower. Dick, who’d always carried within himself a bit of an inferiority complex, found her to be a kindred soul. Here was someone even more socially awkward than himself, who felt just as displaced as he did growing up as a child of humble roots adopted into vast wealth, and who looked up to him with a bit of hero worship. Tim got along with everyone and their closeness in age combined with his infatuation with her sister made him even more welcoming toward her. Alfred was simply delighted to have one charge under his wing that could be spared the scars of Batman’s mantle while still helping to shoulder their burden. He saw her as a source of light chasing away the shadows that haunted the rest of them. He’d even tried to play matchmaker a few times, dropping hints about Bruce’s own parent’s May/December romance when he’d caught his gaze lingering a few times.

Damian had been the only exception. He, unlike the rest of them, had been completely immune to her gentle charisma. In fact, he had a murderous umbrage toward her that Bruce had yet to understand. It took him days to decide to eliminate Tim as a rival but he tried to kill Felicity within the first hour or so of their meeting. How he saw her as the greater threat when Bruce hadn’t even been in the room until the very end he still didn’t know. Perhaps it really was just that Felicity had tried to be kind to the boy. For whatever reason, it was visceral; an almost instinctual hatred toward her. Even after she left it had been there. He never mentioned her name or her absence until the day he taunted Tim about taking his place as the new Robin. In addition to making disparaging remarks about the other young man’s skills and sexuality, he brought up Felicity’s name in a less than flattering context. Tim, in response, had given him the beat down the boy so richly deserved.

He had frozen up and let it happen because there was nothing else he could do. The truth was, as the filth about Felicity poured from his mouth, he’d been so tempted to do what Tim had done he’d been horrified. He’d had to leave the room; he just couldn’t deal with it. The boy was a sociopath and a killer, but he was still a child and Bruce’s first instinct had been to...

He sighed, Tim left after that and he couldn’t blame him. He let him go thinking he’d be better off. Hell, in the end he wound up fobbing Damian off on Dick because he was the only one who had the patience to deal with him. Had he continued to try to take over Damian’s training he was afraid that eventually he would lose control like Tim had and the consequences of that just wasn’t something he was prepared to deal with.

After that there had been an accident in which he had lost several months’ time with absolutely no memory of what had transpired. He had been hunting a man named Roman Sionis, aka The Black Mask, when he encountered a strange machine in the madman’s ‘collection’ known as ‘The Omega Device’. They were struggling when he fell against the device, damaging it, and then simply disappeared. Everyone presumed he’d been killed, vaporized; everyone except Tim, that is. As much as he had disappointed the boy, Tim was always his most devoted child, the only one he actually ever considered to be his son. It was Tim’s insistence that he was still alive that convinced Dick and Alfred to hide his ‘demise’ from the general public. Instead he was reportedly ‘traveling’ and concentrating on his Foundation work for a while. Not even Lucius was told the truth. Tim took the reins at Wayne Enterprises with Dick stepping into the office when necessary. He found him months later with no recollection of what had happened to him other than a few confusing and disjointed memories and hallucinations that he had never been able to make sense of. He remembered being part of a primitive tribe, of going back to meet his ancestors, even of aliens and alien landscapes where he encountered people who were parallel versions of their true selves.

Tim wound up tracking him down after he’d been discovered unconscious and lying in a pile of garbage near Arkham with drugs in his system and no clue how he got there or who had been holding him. Whatever had happened, he appeared none the worse for wear after the drugs left his system other than a bit of dehydration, some cuts, a few new and unexplained scars, and some minor burns. He’d probably never know what had happened even though he’d tried to find out. He hadn’t been held for ransom and no one had any clue as to why anyone would take him then just release him again. Sionis himself could offer no clues as he’d been killed by another member of the Bat’s Rogue’s Gallery before Bruce had been recovered. The device itself had also disappeared. According to his sources, it and all the other items in Sionis’s possession had been confiscated by ARGUS and destroyed. When he returned he tried to reconnect with Damian and, for a short time he thought he might have actually succeeded, but then he died.

All that time lost. Damian had been dead for almost two years and he still felt like a failure. He even failed Tim in the end. After all the hard work he’d done getting him back, after all the loyalty he’d shown, when Bruce shut down after Damian’s death he had taken it to heart and left. The loss of Tim’s respect had hit him almost as hard as Damian’s death had. Going after Felicity after all that would have been unfair to her. He’d thought about it, God knows it had crossed his mind several times over the last four years, but she couldn’t have fixed him. He’d driven everyone but Barbara away in his grief and had he done that to Felicity it would have been the final blow to his already fragile psyche.

His mind flew back to how he’d catch himself looking at her, watching her as she worked and of the feelings of guilt and disgust with his own lechery that would overwhelm him. He was technically old enough to be her father, for God’s sake! To combat his attraction to her he redoubled his efforts to find Selina, convincing himself that it was just loneliness on his part. He began to use his failed relationship with the former Catwoman as a shield, putting her forward whenever she seemed to get too close. He tried to warn her off with gruff speech and a sour disposition but she always seemed to see right through it. He’d finally settled on a strategy of just ignoring her but having her in the cave manning Watchtower made that impossible.

He’d gone out on patrol that night just to get away from her and purposefully stuck to the least active sections of the city to minimize his chances of having to interact with her when he ran into trouble. One of his targets had hired some kind of meta-human swordsman to take him out. The battle had been brief and he’d managed to survive the assault with just a deep cut to the arm (despite being protected by state of the art Kevlar armor) by forcing the other man off the rooftop where he dropped nearly 20 stories only to disappear by the time he’d gotten to when he thought the body had landed.

When he got to the Cave, Felicity was there. Normally Alfred handled his injuries or he’d suture them himself, but the cut was deep and at an awkward angle on his bicep so he’d agreed to let Felicity treat it for him.

He could never decide whether it was him coming off of the adrenaline rush or the loss of blood that caused his resistance to waver that night. The only thing he knew for sure was that it had been his fault, a fact that would haunt him for years. She’d been innocent in that as well.

Felicity, despite being at an age where most girls had some awareness of their sexuality, wouldn’t have even known how to seduce him. Even if she had, it wouldn’t have been over blood and bandages while dressed in a ratty sweater, t-shirt, and blue jeans, her fresh faced beauty unenhanced by cosmetics. He’d known she had a crush on him for some time; it had been fairly obvious. Whenever she’d talk to him she’d just shine, her smile taking on a brilliance that was nearly blinding in its intensity. So much so, that it even caused his dark heart to lighten when she would enter the room and, if he were honest, it scared the shit out of him.

“Oh crap! Your arm!” She cried out as she jumped up from the console to rush over to him with a towel in her hand. She slapped it over his wound and winced as he gave a low grunt of pain. “Sorry—sorry! Ow, that looks nasty. I’ll go get the first aid kit.”

“I can handle it,” Bruce growled at her as he whipped the cowl off of his face and made his way towards the medbay they had set up near the training area.

“Are you sure?” She asked uncertainly, “’Cause it’s kind of deep and you’d have to be pretty bendy to reach it. Not that you aren’t bendy,” she said quickly. “I mean, I’ve watched you work out and do all those flips and stuff. You’re bendy, just not as bendy as Dick. Not that Dick is better than you even though he’s younger.” She winced, still trailing behind him. “Crap, no. You’re not old! I didn’t mean to imply that you were old because you’re not old, just less bendy. I like how old you are. You aren’t old as much as you are well seasoned, like a really great kind of seasoned. Like a really well seasoned man-steak. Mouthwatering really…” She trailed off and bit her lip as he shot her a dark look. “I’ll just stand here quietly while you do that thing you do…all bendy and stuff.”

Bruce stripped off boots and socks followed by his armor until his torso and legs were bare before sitting on the cot in the medbay and began to clean the wound. What he really needed was a shower but the cut took priority over his desire to remove the sweat and dried blood from his flesh. Unashamed, he sat in nothing but his boxer briefs so he could assess all the damage he had taken on in the fight. He glanced up at Felicity who was now beet red with embarrassment at being so close to him in such an unclothed state and promptly dismissed her reaction. In fact, it was probably a good thing he’d made her uncomfortable, maybe now she’d leave him to his ministrations in peace. He looked at the bruises on his shins, thighs, and ran a hand over the sore spot on his jaw. The armor had done its job there at least. Some arnica and high doses of vitamin E would help with that but his torso and upper arm were a different matter entirely.

He grunted again in discomfort as he attempted to treat the laceration with his good arm. His side was a mass of bruises from the blows the swordsman had managed to land after he’d been disarmed. He’d been a strong son of a bitch and even though his armor had protected his ribs from being broken they were still badly bruised. They’d have to be wrapped before he could attempt to give himself stitches.

As if reading his mind, Felicity took off her sweater and rolled up the sleeves of her long sleeved tee, grabbing the elastic bandages from Alfred’s kit. “I could help wrap your ribs if you want? And I think Alfred has some of that glue he uses to hold together lacerations. Really, I think it needs proper stitches because the glue can leave a nasty scar but you’ve already got plenty of those so it’s not like it’ll make a difference, right? Not that you don’t look good.” She added quickly. Her eyes wandered over his bare chest and he watched as her eyes darkened slightly. “Really, really good.” She closed her eyes as soon as she realized what she had said and bit her bottom lip. “Oh man, that sounded creepy, didn’t it? Sorry. Just, I mean, you’re not horribly disfigured or anything! Scars can be attractive, lots of people like scars! In fact, there are indigenous tribes throughout Africa who use scarification rituals as a way to enhance--”

Despite himself, Bruce was a little impressed by the fact that she hadn’t backed down after her initial embarrassment followed by rambling babble. He felt the corners of his lips twitch upwards in amusement. She really was adorable. “It’s fine, really. Go ahead and start wrapping my ribs and then you can help dress the wound on my arm.”

Her face lit up and she clutched the roll of bandages to her chest like he’d just handed her a prize. “Really?”

“Just do it,” he sighed, his lips twitching upwards despite himself, and held out his arms so she could start binding his ribcage.

She focused on her task, her tongue trapped between her teeth as she reached her arms around him. Her loose white-blonde curls brushed against his face as she carefully administered to him and his nostrils filled with the heady scent of her shampoo and the light floral fragrance she wore. After she had secured the bandages with a clip, she reached for the disinfectant to treat his arm. Her hands were gentle as they handled him, an apology for the sting on her lips before she’d even applied it to his flesh. When she finally touched him again with those delicate hands, he stiffened. She bit her lip, worrying the plump flesh, and he felt his ardor rise as cornflower blue eyes, unfettered by glasses, flooded with sympathy for his discomfort. He missed her glasses; it had been easier to pretend not to see the looks she saved only for him when she wore the thick dark frames. Without them, her sweet expressions were excruciating.

He was used to pain, the small sting of the alcohol and betadine a mere nuisance for him. No, the real torture was her: her smell, her touch. She didn’t seem to see the man others feared, only a man worthy of her kindness and attention. Bruce had been without such unconditional love for so long he’d almost forgotten what it felt like. If he’d had any faith at all in what he considered the pseudo-science of psychiatry he was sure there would be some sort of nonsense about his mother that would come into play. Probably something along the lines of a craving for maternal affection transforming itself into sexual desire, but that wasn’t it. There was no Oedipal Complex at play here, it was just her.

He closed his eyes and willed her to get on with it, trying desperately not to alert her to what he was feeling as she applied the suture gel onto the wound and carefully held the torn skin together until the glue had set. When it was done and she had checked for seepage she whispered, “I know that hurt but at least it was better than me trying to sew you up, right? I can’t even sew on a button much less fix an arm.” She smiled at him then, her lips soft as the love poured from her eyes and into his own.

Where did eyes that color even come from? He thought. He cleared his throat, dismissing the randomness of the observation from his mind. “Gauze.”

“What?” She asked in confusion as she concentrated on cleaning all the blood up from around the wound she had just repaired.

“For the cut; gauze—to cover the wound,”

“Oh! Yeah, right.” She blushed. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Bruce said quietly, averting his gaze to the banks of monitors on the far side of the cave.

She gathered her supplies then plopped down beside him on the cot and wrapped the wound quickly before taping it off. “There! How’s that look?”

He turned his head and examined the bandage thoroughly. “Looks good.” He looked up, realizing just how close they had gotten.

She smiled back gratefully, completely oblivious to his licentious thoughts, proud to have earned the praise of a broken man who was far too old for her, and far to hardened to be anywhere near something as pure as herself.

There was no conscious thought, no internal debate, no hesitant look followed by her silent approval. He wasn’t some fresh-faced boy who dithered over what he could and couldn’t have at that moment. No, she was the innocent, not him. He was battle-hardened, scarred, and too far gone at that point. All thoughts of common decency, of the disproportionate age gap, of the fact that this was the youngest child of one of the few men whose trust he actually valued, disappeared and he acted.

He reached for her, pulling her body flush with his own as he claimed her mouth. It was hard and almost punishing, not the kind of kiss one uses when seducing a virgin. He met her confused resistance and he plowed through. He ran his tongue over her closed lips and when she gasped he opened her up and devoured her. He cupped her head in one hand, his fingers sinking deep into her light blonde hair, tugging and allowing the silken strands to wrap around his calloused fingers.

He laid her backwards gently as he covered her tiny frame with his own, his mouth never releasing possession. The hand at her waist moved upwards to cup her breast through her thin shirt. She whimpered and the sound ripped through him causing him to lose what little sense of restraint he still had.

He pulled away from the kiss to pull the shirt up over her head then unfastened the hooks of her bra and discarded it. He kissed the pale mounds of flesh each in turn, teasing her nipples with his tongue and teeth as his fingers found the fastening of her jeans. He pulled them down without ceremony along with the plain white panties she wore, breaking away just long enough to snatch the penny-loafers from her feet so he could let the last of her clothing drop to the floor. Bruce held back for just a moment to look at her, his angel, her hair a mussed halo of light around her head, and her body flushed with newly awakened desire. He slanted his lips over hers again, pulling his underwear down just enough to free his erection then hitching her thighs up around him so he could grind his hips into her center.

She gasped, both hands pushing at his chest as she felt the sting of him against her. Bruce could feel her heart pounding against his chest in pain and fear. He pulled away from her slightly, jaw clenching as he forced himself to remain still against her even though the only thing he could think about was sinking into her over and over again until he drove out all of his demons. In all his years, among the dozens of women who’d shared his bed, he’d never taken a virgin. He’d avoided it. Virgins were complicated. Virgins made love; they didn’t just screw and leave. Again he felt the flutter of apprehension in the pit of his stomach. This is wrong, stop while you can, the voice in the back of his mind ordered but he didn’t want to stop. He was too far gone, too close. Even though he knew this would not end well, he wanted this, wanted her. He’d already had a taste of her and he would have rather faced an army with his bare hands than stop at that moment.

“If you don’t want this you need to tell me and I’ll stop,” he told her, his body vibrating in protest as the words left his mouth.

He watched as fear and uncertainty battled with newly awakened desire in her reflective depths and, had he been a better man, he would have done the right thing and sent her away so she could save her innocence for someone more deserving. He should have told her to wait for someone who would speak words that no longer held meaning for him, who would place a ring on her finger, fill her with his children, and live an uncomplicated life far away from the ugliness that surrounded his own. Her first time shouldn’t be on a gurney with a bloody and bruised man, stinking of sweat, his soul as scarred as his body, too filled with lust to see to it she was properly prepared before he first pressed his way inside. He should have told her to gather her clothes and never look back. “Tell me,” he commanded his eyes dark and almost hypnotic as he willed her to answer in the way he knew would bring them both to completion, “Yes or no?”

“Yes,” she said softly and he nearly growled in triumph as he claimed her mouth once again.

His rough fingers reached down through the thin curling strands of nearly translucent silk that did nothing to hide her from his gaze as his mouth claimed her tight pink nipple again. She panted roughly as he licked and sucked at her breast, his teeth scraping until she was half undone by the near painful sensations being awoken within her. He slid his fingers up and down, barely skimming the cluster of nerves that would ensure her readiness for him as he sucked hard at first her right nipple then the left. Her movements beneath him became more frantic. He took her mouth, whispering against her open lips, “That’s right, Baby. Come undone for me. Show me.” He gathered moisture from her center and found her clit.

She bucked underneath him crying out, her eyes opening wide as she opened herself up to the sensation of being made love to. He looked up into the stark wonder of her face and something dark began to curl in his belly. “Have you ever touched yourself, Baby? Here?” His finger swept over the sensitive bundle of nerves and he chuckled as her eyes slammed shut and she moaned wantonly under his touch. “What do you think about when you touch yourself? Tell me?”

“You,” she breathed and he felt his cock jump at the admission.

He took her mouth in an almost brutal kiss as his fingers increased the friction on her clit. He swallowed her cries as she orgasmed, a flood of moisture making his fingers slick. She shuddered and writhed in release beneath him. Releasing her mouth, he pressed their foreheads together as they both gasped for air. “Jesus,” he panted, “you are so beautiful. You have no idea do you; no idea just how goddamn beautiful you are?”

She tilted her mouth upward, her lips meeting his in a soft kiss. He moved his lips to coast along her jawline before making his way across her chest and down her waist. He eased off the cot and stripped off his underwear then took a moment to gaze at her most intimate and exposed self. His eyes caught hers and the dark desire he saw there was nearly his undoing. He bent at the waist, pulling her thighs apart, and swept his tongue over her folds, wet and glistening under the florescent lights from her orgasm. His senses filled with the taste of warm musk as she cried out, whimpered, and panted through the sweet torture he was now administering.

He brought a finger into her opening and carefully probed her as he licked and sucked at the sensitive bundle of fibers above. God, she was tight. He continued to explore her as he came up with a game plan. He wasn’t the kind of man who felt the need to compare the size of his dick with other men in order to prove himself but he knew he was fairly large and that this wouldn’t be easy for her. He’d have to take this slowly. He added a second finger and she hissed, stiffening not in pleasure but in discomfort. He eased back up the cot, his fingers still buried within her, and he kissed her softly in apology. “I know, Baby. I know it hurts but we’re going to take this slow, okay? Tell me when.”

Slowly her muscles began to loosen and he began to gently probe her once more. She winced slightly but he continued to sooth her with soft kisses and gentle words until she was again moving her hips to the rhythm he set for her, brushing her clit with his thumb to bring her added pleasure. After a while he added a third finger and repeated the process, careful not to tear or bruise her, until his hand was again slick with her juices. When he felt she was ready, he removed his hand from between her thighs and settled himself until he was in contact with the now vacant space. He rubbed himself up and down, gathering her moisture for lubrication before easing forward.

Her fingers gripped his shoulders painfully and he winced as she put pressure too close to the wound on his arm. “It’s okay; I won’t go further until you’re ready. We have all the time in the world.” He reached up, easing her hands downward until they grabbed his hips and kissed her once more. He waited until the pressure of her grip loosened and again pressed forward, repeating the process inch by inch until the final barrier was passed and he was finally seated fully within her.

For a moment, they just breathed. He stopped, allowing his heartbeat to calm. He closed his eyes, resting his forehead against her shoulder as he calmed the beast within him that wanted to simply take that which he now knew belonged to him and him alone. He could hear the low hum of the computers, the fluttering of wings in the shadows of the cave, the uneven tempo of her breathing. Slowly he began rocking his hips, in and out, his thrusts gradually deepening until she was gasping more from pleasure than pain. His jaw clenched as he felt himself being squeezed within her walls, the sensation almost overwhelming. He tried to keep himself centered, tried to hold off the rush of his own release, but it quickly became apparent that he would not last long enough to give her the full measure of her first experience he had desired to. That would have to come later.

He increased his strokes, pushing deeper and deeper, his mouth open in a silent cry as the blood rushed to his head and he unleashed within her. She cried out as well, in pleasure and feminine triumph if not orgasm, and he shuddered until he was fully spent.

He eased onto his good shoulder, pulling out of her as he drew her into his embrace. He felt her sob against him, overwhelmed by everything they had done and felt together.

“Are you okay?” He asked softly, kissing the top of her head, the guilt and self-recriminations already coming to bear. What had he done? Christ, what the hell had he been thinking? He was way too old for this shit and she was far too young for him. He looked down at her tears and swallowed, the first flares of panic erupting in his chest. Shit, what if he’d hurt her more than he realized? “Baby? Answer me; are you okay?”

She nodded against his chest, her breath hitching as she spoke in a small voice, “I’m good, you?”

His head tilted back and hit the padding of the gurney as he snorted in relief. He lifted his head smiled down at her, a rare and beauteous thing. “Oh, I think I’ll live.” He took a deep shuddering breath and pulled her tighter against him. “You are going to be the death of me, you know that? You snuck in under my radar and now what the hell am I supposed to do?”

She smiled, a small sad little smile, and in a voice that was hardly more than a whisper she told him, “I love you.”

There was something in her smile; something in the way she said those words that nearly broke him. He could see it; the knowledge that this was probably a one off that would never be repeated again, the recognition of the fact that he could never be hers but knowing that this was the last chance she probably had to tell him that she was his. More than anything he wanted to take that sad realization from her eyes and spend the rest of his life making sure she never had to feel that way ever again; so much so that he was tempted to say the words back to her even though they had long lost any meaning to him. He wanted that, but he knew it could never happen. He was no longer capable of that kind of life with anyone. He wouldn’t compound his sins by lying to her. If he still had a heart that could break, then that was the moment it would have chosen to shatter into a million pieces. He would not be able to fix this and they both knew it.

His heart clenched and he dropped a kiss against her forehead before getting off the table to walk over to the sink. He wet a towel and washed off his genitals before wringing out a wash cloth and taking it over to her. He patted her thighs to indicate that she should spread her legs. She blushed, but obeyed, and he carefully cleaned her wiping the blood and semen from her center before tossing it into a nearby hamper and offering her his hand. “Come on, get up.”

“Where are we going?” She asked.

“Upstairs,” he told her with an upturn of his lips. He might not be able to give her forever but he’d give her what he could for the brief time they had left. “We need to take a shower and, call me old fashioned, but there are some things that I would prefer to do in the comfort of my own bed.”

“I don’t mind,” Felicity said shyly as she reached down for her shirt to hold it against her naked breasts.

He chuckled and smoothed his hands over her goose-pimpled flesh. He leaned down to whisper in her ear, “Oh, but Baby, think of how much fun it will be without a cold draft and warm sheets?”

They made love all weekend; glorious, passionate love that made him feel young again or, at the very least, his true age and not the unfathomable decades the responsibilities placed upon him had added to the thirty-six years he’d already spent upon this planet. He allowed himself to let go of the tight control he normally maintained in every aspect of his life so that he could experience everything through her eyes. He let go of his pain, his regret, and his anger for her. It wasn’t those three words, but it was still just as meaningful in its own way.

They spent days in his bed leaving only to scavenge for food or to use the bathroom. He taught her all the ways he knew how to make love; in his bed, on the floor, in the shower. The one thing he denied her was, in fact, those three words; the very words she so wholeheartedly gave him. Every time she’d whisper them to him when his eyes were closed or when she thought his attention was elsewhere his heart would clench and he became even more determined to leave her with the best memory he could of their time together.

Thinking back on it now, he wondered if he’d done that for himself as well. He’d loved women, many women; some with a passion that bordered on true love, but she was different. Felicity was pure light, the only light he had ever felt in his entire existence it seemed. It was as though she shone from the inside and everything became clearer in her presence; emotions, thoughts… He became a better man, a better version of himself around her, and he was loathe to let that go. There were days to come where the only thing that kept him going was the memory of those words and the taste of her lips on his.

On the last night of their stolen weekend together, everything changed. He opened a drawer and seen the box of unopened condoms there and realized that he hadn’t even thought to protect her. How that had happened he had no idea. It was as though all good sense had abandoned him and he was faced with the possibility that he might have forced her into an impossible situation because of his thoughtlessness. He went to her to discuss the situation and she assured him that she had been on the pill since she was fifteen in order to regulate her cycle and that they had nothing to worry about. To his surprise he’d almost been disappointed by that revelation. That had shocked him but he chalked it up to low blood sugar or some primitive instinct that had merely crept up from his subconscious and was just as quickly dismissed. Later as he held her close, sleep pulling at him and causing his mind to wander to places it had no business going, he thought about days yet to come, of the possibilities and outcomes that he knew lay within her own innocent dreams. He dreamt of giving her the life he could never have, the family he had never wanted, and when he woke up he knew that their brief respite had come to a close.

On Monday morning he explained to her in a detached voice that he couldn’t give her the kind of relationship she deserved. He told her that whatever the weekend had meant to her, for him it was just sex and she had just been a warm body to lose himself in for a while. He couldn’t do commitment and marriage because it wasn’t possible. Not for him. He told her he did not love her but that he had enjoyed their moment. He assured her she would be welcome to remain on the team, but they could not remain lovers.

Part of him thought she’d plead with him, beg him to reconsider. He expected tears, but was surprised and then somewhat relieved when she calmly nodded in acceptance. She thanked him for his honesty, assured him that she could make her own way home, and he left her to use his shower and get dressed but not before making sure she had adequate cab fare home. He didn’t try to kiss her goodbye. At the time he’d wanted to do the honorable thing, make a clean break and not play with her emotions by sending mixed signals, but later he’d come to regret that decision. He should have kissed her just one more time. When she didn’t come back to the cave…

He should have kissed her.

The first few days after she left he was able to completely expunge her from his thoughts or at least pretend to. They had both entered into the situation with eyes wide open, the itch had been scratched, and now it was over he kept reminding himself whenever his thoughts would wander in her direction. The fact that she had been a virgin or that she thought she was in love with him was irrelevant. He had his mission and the mission was where his focus had to remain. She would only have been a distraction. To remind himself of that, when his team returned he worked them hard, determined to make up for the days he’d lost as he held her in his arms.

By Wednesday night, while staring over his city, he realized that he shouldn’t have been so harsh with her. After all, she seemed to handle their encounter rather maturely. And besides, this was Felicity and not some innocent little run of the mill teenager. She was brilliant and, although she was young, she was more poised than women twice her age would have been under the circumstances. Perhaps, just perhaps, there could develop something between them. Yes, there was a not so insignificant age gap but he was incredibly fit due to his nightly activities and still a relatively young man. They wouldn’t look ridiculous together and if anyone could handle the rigors of his double life it was her. Perhaps he had acted too hastily.

By Thursday he had left her several messages that had gone unanswered. He began to worry then. His mind began to tumble between guilt and jealousy. Perhaps she had already moved on. At her age the idea of sex without commitment or emotional fallout had become the new normal. He thought of the look in her eyes that first time, her acceptance of what was happening between them, and wondered if another man had already caught her attention. He quickly discarded the notion but the thought still lingered. Someday, sooner rather than later, there would be another man, a man who would say the words he couldn’t. Felicity was a beautiful woman, she wouldn’t be alone long. He became short tempered and snappish with his team and even more distracted.

Finally, on Friday afternoon, he bit the bullet and went to see Lucius to do the right thing and state his intentions before pursuing anything further. If Barbara knew what he was about to do she would have slapped him upside the head and called him all kinds of stupid, and she was right; he was an idiot, but that didn’t make him wrong. He’d decided sometime during the day as he bounced between feeling completely lost and distracted, to falling into a temper rarely seen outside of cape and cowl, that he would just cut through all the nonsense and marry her.

As completely insane as it was to think about it now, at the time it had sounded reasonable. He was at the right age for marriage. Forty was creeping up on him and he was getting too old to pull off the playboy routine without seeming pathetic. There would be no more rumors to deal with, no more having to explain his quick exits to whatever woman was hanging off his arm. Felicity was smart; she could help him both in the boardroom as well as on his mission. She was, after all, the daughter of Lucius Fox and although she had always seemed uninterested in the business side of the technology field he was sure she’d step up to the plate and learn what she needed to. As Mrs. Wayne she could represent him at all the inconveniently scheduled meetings he now had to miss when mission business came up, attend the endless scores of society parties on his arm and then stay and offer a distraction as he slipped off into the shadows. Also she was young enough that they could wait a few years to start a family. Although fatherhood was not something he had necessarily ever wanted, she deserved to have children and he’d make adjustments for it if he absolutely had to. After all, it was the least he could do.

Already his body was showing the strain of his nightly activities and, in a few years, he’d have to turn the mission over to Dick or Tim or some other younger man and then he could devote himself to raising a family upstairs while he trained a new generation of guardians below. He might even expand his mission globally. He’d been thinking on that for a while and Felicity could use her technical skills to help make that happen. This wouldn’t be a marriage based on hormones or the ridiculous concept of romantic love; no, they were better than that. She was an intelligent woman and once he laid it all out before her she’d see that. Besides, he did care about her deeply and they were sexually compatible; their union would be a happy one, he’d see to that. Now all he had to do was actually get her to talk to him. He walked into Lucius’s office with that singular plan in mind and determination in his step.

A little past midnight on Saturday, one week after he’d made love for the first time to the woman he’d decided to make his wife, he was sitting on a rooftop overlooking the city, cape and cowl in place once again. Felicity had accepted a job offer in Starling City that she had been considering for some time and had left earlier in the week to scout for apartments. Lucius had been proud of her, proud that she wanted to do it on her own and without his interference. The only person at the company aware of the connection was his friend, Walter Steele, who assured him he would merely look out for her as one concerned parent to another and he would allow her to succeed or fail without his intervention. There was nothing hidden or guarded in the other man’s speech so Bruce had accepted his story that this was not a sudden move for her and that it was a decision she had made long before he took her into his bed.

He should have kissed her, was the one thought that kept chasing him that night. He thought he behaved the way he had for her sake but that wasn’t true. He had been so worried about hurting her feelings, of making her feel as though he’d taken something from her under false pretenses, that he’d never stopped to think that perhaps he’d be the one in pain when all was said and done. The truth was that if he had kissed her, if he had shown the slightest bit of tenderness toward her that morning, he wouldn’t have been able to let her go.

The hardest part was when he realized that while he had wasted a week wrestling with all that in his head, she had already moved on.

For the next six months after she left town, his family had to deal with a Batman in the foulest mood they had ever seen him in since Selina had left almost two years previously.

Bruce rarely drank. He hated the loss of control that came with overindulgence, but as he sipped the glass of twelve year old Purcell’s Single Barrel Straight Bourbon held within his hand he appreciated the warm burn of it as it slid down his throat. It was the only liquor he ever drank and then only rarely. The American whiskey wasn’t as trendy or refined as the more popular single malt imported scotches but it he had been his father’s drink of choice. In the last several years he’d only tasted it four times, this being the fifth; once for Jason, once for Stephanie, once for Damian, and now twice for Felicity. That hurting her equaled the pain he’d felt at the loss of one of his ‘children’ was something he chose not to examine too closely.

He let the notes of hickory, caramelized sugar, and fruity bites of cinnamon and cherries roll over his tongue as he thought of how he’d treated her and of the fact that he had no right to interfere in her life. He left her alone for a reason but this was different. This wasn’t him going to rekindle a love affair; this was her life at stake. He’d changed and so had she. She was no longer the 19 year old girl whose innocence he had taken so long ago. She was an adult with her own life and a successful career. For all he knew she and Queen could be sharing a bed together, her memories of him merely a novelty to be trotted out occasionally. Perhaps it was Felicity who sought the Arrow out instead? Perhaps she had traded one broken vigilante in for a newer model? Maybe Queen was his replacement: A younger, faster, newer city guardian who, if caught in the same position, wouldn’t be afraid to look like a walking talking midlife crisis with a sweet faced blonde on his arm. Perhaps he had already given her those words he couldn’t and had actually meant them.

He emptied his glass and sat it down on the tray table, waving off the attendant as she offered him another. One was his limit.

He needed to keep a clear head because, even if all that was true and more, Felicity was in danger; whatever the case, whether this life was something she had chosen for herself or not, the Arrow had put her in the line of fire and that was unacceptable. Not only that but he allowed his trash to muck around in his city and that would not, could not stand.

Chapter Text

 

 

Chapter Five

Felicity had spent most of Thursday trying to figure out how she could head Bruce off at the pass. She wasn’t worried about the hit; she didn’t even see it as something to alert the team to. She’d dismissed it as a non-issue after only a few minutes of internal debate and realized that if she told Oliver or Diggle about it then it would take them too off-mission. It couldn’t have been Blood or Slade; if they wanted her dead they could have killed her several dozen times over by now and they wouldn’t have hired anyone to do it, that wasn’t their style. No. she knew exactly who had ordered it, the timing was too coincidental for it to be anyone else, and she was dead.

Moira.

Even from the grave that woman had a way of messing with her entire week.

She sighed, staring at her monitor but not seeing a damn thing. If it was Moira then telling Oliver would just add more pain to what he already had to endure. Merlyn, his son, now this? No, she couldn’t put him through that again, and if she was wrong then she’d been a sitting duck for a year and a half and she was still there. Between that, the fact that the hit had been canceled, and Moira Queen’s tombstone, she figured there was at least a 98% chance she was in the clear and she was willing to take those odds.

With that out of the way the only thing she had left to worry about was Bruce.

It was so weird, she thought. She’d left Gotham more than four years ago and Bruce hadn’t so much as bothered to call her but now, at least according to Barb, he was rushing down here to protect her from some perceived threat. A bullshit threat at that. Perhaps some women in her position would feel flattered by the thought of the dark brooding hero rushing to the side of the woman he had long ago left behind but she was just really, really ticked off.

So what if she’d had a crush on him for most of her life? So what if he was the first man, the only man, she’d shared her bed with so far? Yeah, it was good and all but he hurt her in the cruelest way possible in the end. She didn’t expect him to fall on his knees and declare his undying love but he could have treated her with the same courtesy he would show to the guy delivering their pizza! She hadn’t known what to expect but it hadn’t been him standing over her fully dressed, his expression hard and closed off, as he woke her up to tell her that this weekend had been a mistake and he couldn’t afford to have her distract him from the mission. He then politely and coolly asked her to get dressed and told her that if she didn’t feel up to letting him take her home that he had left cab fare on the nightstand.

Cab fare. On the nightstand. Plus enough for a tip—for her or the cabbie, he didn’t say, but that’s sure as hell how it felt at the time. God, she’d felt so dirty. Afterwards she’d muttered a few words, too numb to come up with anything witty or spontaneous, gathered her things, and cried in the shower until long after his car had pulled out of the drive.

After she got up and threw on her clothes all she wanted to do was be as far away from Bruce as possible but she couldn’t do that in Gotham; not when half the buildings had his name on them including the one she lived in. Lucius had been encouraging her for months to accept the job at Queen Consolidated his friend, Walter Steele, had offered her. She had been adamant that she didn’t want to work at Wayne Enterprises like everyone else in their family did but then Bruce started noticing her and she kept putting off the decision. Starling City was almost three thousand miles away from Gotham, three thousand miles from her family, her friends, and him. By the time the cab pulled up she had already phoned the QC Head of Resources and let her know she could start immediately; Bruce’s cab fare still sitting where he’d left it as she walked out of the manor for the last time. During the long cab ride back into the city she called her dad and told him, made travel arrangements, set up an appointment to have a real estate agent meet her at her hotel, and then started packing the minute she got home.

The next day she was looking at her new house which was small by wealthy Starling City standards but huge in comparison to anything she could ever afford in Gotham if she chose to live on her salary alone. It was a two bedroom bungalow with an open floor plan but still true to the 1940’s architecture. It was perfect; twenty minutes from QC with a small postage stamp yard in a lovely but slightly rundown neighborhood at the edge of the Glades called Adam Heights in the historical district near Orchid Bay.

Lucius had offered to buy her a condo in the safest part of town closer to Lamb Valley or allow her to take the money from her trust to get whatever she needed but she’d refused. She had sold several programs to WayneTech which had earned her a tidy sum she kept untouched in a savings account. As much as she was loathe to taint her fresh start with money from Bruce, she’d also earned that money fair and square. It was hers, not his, and so she bit the bullet and withdrew enough to pay up her lease for the first year but she also made sure to replace it as soon as she was able to. She made a point of not touching that money again and living off her own paychecks after that. It was important to her that she showed everyone, even the people she loved, that she could stand on her own two feet. The experience of her failed liaison had seriously messed with her self-esteem and she needed to reestablish her own sense of empowerment.

In fact, it had affected her so much that she only started thinking about dating again (or for the first time rather) a couple of years ago and look how that turned out. Not only did he basically break up with her after a day and get hit by lightning, but he started dating another girl while he was still in a fricking coma.

Barry, she sighed. She really liked him. He felt comfortable, safe. He might not have made her heart pound like a certain set of vigilantes did but, before the accident, he certainly wouldn’t have spent the night only to pretend nothing happened the next day. She never would have thought then that he’d turn out to be the type of guy to don a mask and go racing off into the night in a blur leaving her behind in his dust, but her curse had extended there as well. Now he was a super-speedy hero named ‘the Flash’ with a coma girlfriend and she was still alone.

And then there was Daniel.

Nice handsome rich guy who seems to really be into her and, surprise! Turns out he’s another freaking mask, she thought miserably. Yeah, if she was a superstitious person she’d think she was cursed.

Of course, Daniel never really ‘date’ dated her. They went out but he wasn’t actually dating her as much as he was trying to get closer to Oliver so technically Daniel and Oliver were the ones dating and she was just their intermediary.

Which was not only weird and confusing, but a huge blow to what little bit of ego she had left. It was all very disappointing because, despite using her to further his own mission, Dan Garret had been a really great guy when all was said and done; handsome, smart, deep, funny…even though he was a complete and utter putz for using her and preying on her emotions.

She scowled, that he had the balls to ask her to leave Oliver’s mission and be his tech instead after all was said and done, then follow that up by tossing in an offer to date her ‘for real’ just to sweeten the deal… She shook her head ruefully, like quitting the Arrow so she could be his really personal assistant in the office, the mission, and the bedroom was something she’d ever go for in a million years. Still, she kept their parting classy even though she was really, really tempted to let him have it; especially after he suggested her reasons for turning him down had more to do with the fact that she was hung up on Oliver, and not because he had targeted her by assuming she was so desperate for attention that she could easily be manipulated into spilling all of the Arrow’s secrets.

Yes, Virginia, all masks are ego-centric pricks who have their heads up their own asses.

She ran her hand over her scalp and tightened her ponytail. At least Barry seemed to like her for who she was and not because she was a potential asset to his mission…until, of course, he got hit by lightning, became a superhero, and gained a coma-girlfriend who was not only freaking gorgeous, but funny, sweet, and smart.

Yep, she was cursed.

Damn it, she thought as she rubbed her temples and stared at the sandwich on her desk. This whole thing was giving her a migraine. Her temples were throbbing and her neck was in knots. “Crap,” she sighed as she rolled her neck and heard it snap, crackle, and pop like a bowl of puffed rice.

She yawned. They were really going to have to recruit a chiropractor to Team Arrow soon. Man, what she wouldn’t give for a massage; that or a good night’s sleep. Barbara’s phone call hadn’t exactly made for sweet dreams the night before.

Her ‘relationship’ with Barry had ended before it had even begun because he told her he thought she was in love with Oliver, something she had vehemently denied at the time. Okay, so maybe Barry had a point. Maybe she was in too deep with Oliver and maybe she did have feelings where he was concerned but nothing—nothing—was going to ever happen between them. Oliver had made that very clear…in a sort of vague, muddled way…

“Because of the life I lead…I think it’s better that I not be with someone I could really care about.”

But what did that mean exactly? Did it mean that he had feelings for her? Was it in reference to the fact that he was keeping his distance from Laurel? Although he’d gone back to Laurel twice since then, both times ending in disaster.

Why he kept going back was a mystery to her; you’d think he’d have figured out by now that they were toxic together. It was bad enough before she knew his secret but after…?

Ugh.

Her mind flashed back to the first time the willowy brunette showed up to the Lair and stated her intentions to fill in as Sara’s replacement by becoming the Canary. Yeah, like that was ever going to work, she thought. The second they heard the words come out of Laurel’s mouth, she turned to Dig and whispered the words ‘I give it six months—or maybe three’.

Totally nailed it.

The only relationships Oliver was less successful with than his love affairs with the Lance sisters, were his relationships with female masks; combine the two and it’s bound to end in fireworks and tears.

Then again, Oliver’s whole intimacy dodge could just be him trying to do damage control and let her down easy because he saw how upset she was that he had slept with the Soviet Slut. It’s not like Oliver was ever the kind of guy who dealt with stuff; he was more of an ‘I have a feeling? Let me react to this by fucking up my life so completely that it destroys everything around me,’ kind of guy. His girlfriend presses him for a commitment, and he reacts by sleeping with her sister, impregnating yet another random girl at a party, and getting stranded on a desert island for five years. His dad sacrifices himself so that Oliver can live, and he reacts to his trauma by putting on green leather and shooting criminals with arrows…then goes back to sleeping with all of the same women who got him to that point in the first place, allowing the woman he has the most guilt over to don a costume and endanger herself on a nightly basis compounding his already soul crushing levels of guilt, only to repeat the whole ‘push me/pull me’ thing leading to her having a total nervous breakdown.

Can we say ‘Vicious Cycle’, kids?

Yeah, Oliver was so screwed up emotionally that not even Doctor Phil had a shot in hell of fixing him when he was on a roll. Not that Bruce was much better. I mean, really, she pondered, when it came down to it, they were basically the same man.

An inability to deal with their feelings in a nonviolent, constructive way?

Check.

A fondness for leaping from rooftop to rooftop as people are shooting them and accept that as normal?

Check.

Intimacy issues?

Oh hell to the yes.

Fathering a kid you didn’t know about who turns up one day out of the blue?

Holy fuck, we’re on a roll.

Destructive arch-nemesis that wreak havoc with their emotions and make them go stupid just by hearing their name?

Uh, Joker, Slade, Merlyn, Ra’s al Ghul (that’s a two-fer)…yeah, that list could go on for a while.

Mommy and Daddy issues?

A big check for both of them on that one. Bruce saw his parents murdered before his eyes and it set him on his path and Oliver’s dad blew his brains out in front of him after telling him to make up for his sins and his mother, who was a piece of work in and of herself, gets shish-kebabed in a reenactment of the worst moment of his life right in front of him by his arch enemy who used to be his friend. Talk about a psychiatrist’s field day.

The really sad thing was that she really couldn’t honestly say which one was worse off. They were both fairly fucked in the head at this point.

By rights it should be Bruce since he’s older and his issues were probably more wide spread and destructive. In the family category, Oliver had enabling parents who fixed everything by handing their kids a credit card and the keys to the liquor cabinet but, other than that, he enjoyed a relatively pleasant childhood. His issues started after he hit the age of consent. Bruce had an enabling guardian in Alfred, but his version of enabling involved helping him to become a masked vigilante by teaching him spy craft and arranging for him to be trained by some of the greatest martial arts masters in the world then helping him take revenge on the criminals of Gotham by becoming Batman.

Yeah, that…that wasn’t healthy but, if you had to compare them in terms of which one was slightly not as ‘not healthy’, eh…

Okay, as insane as it sounded, in her humble opinion spy craft and bat ears beat alcohol and unlimited credit limits in terms of parenting. If nothing else, at least it gave him structure.

Felicity furrowed her brow and muttered under her breath, “Okay, yeah, that says something about how low my standards have fallen, doesn’t it?”

If their family lives were fraught with angst and tragedy, their romantic lives were, sad to say, an even bigger disaster.

Not including her own experience with him, each and every relationship Bruce had ever been in ended badly. Either he left them; they left him, prison, nuthouse, or death. Not a pretty picture. Women who were bad for him he loved, women who were good for him were rejected, and women who were criminally insane? Well, see prison, nuthouse, or death.

But even with all that shiny shiny happiness going in the Bruce column, Oliver was almost worse. Bruce, one could argue, came by his intimacy issues naturally. He was just a kid when he saw his parents die and had no real concept of a healthy relationship except the one he’d seen through the eyes of an eight year old and that had not ended on a high point. To him, love equated death. Oliver didn’t have that excuse; he was FUBARed even before the island. Bruce’s life was screwed up by his dedication to the mission but Oliver’s issues...yeesh.

Oliver wasn’t so much a playboy as he was a boy who got played. As always it started with mommy: Moira Queen. Felicity didn’t trust Moira when she was alive and, although it was supposedly wrong to speak ill of the dead, she still didn’t like her very much. The woman had threatened her and she would not forget the looks she had shot her way when she called her bluff and told Oliver about Thea’s connection to Malcolm Merlyn. When she’d heard about the hit being placed on her Moira’s name was the first one that had popped into her mind. The only reason she hadn’t investigated the broker Barbara mentioned yet was because she was afraid Oliver would find out.

Already she had risked her relationship with Oliver by telling him about his mother two years ago in connection to Merlyn and then again a few months later when she’d uncovered the fact that he had a son by a girl he knocked up living in Central City. It turned out that Moira had paid her off while he was a freshman in college to say she had a miscarriage so he’d be let off the hook. Any fond remembrances he’d had of his mother were destroyed after that and she was responsible. If she discovered his mother arranged to have her killed then she shuddered to think of what the emotional consequences would be for him. The fact that the contract was rescinded around the same time she took a chance and told Oliver the truth was telling as well. Before Oliver knew the truth, killing her would have made perfect sense from a strategic point of view. After he found out however…

Moira wasn’t stupid. Oliver would have connected the dots instantly and, although Moira may or may not have known what her son was truly capable of, she’d have to be blind not to see that he’d inherited some of her darkness. He said that she claimed to have known his true identity for well over a year before the night she’d died, but Felicity had her doubts. If she did know that was worse because she shot him and didn’t say boo afterwards. Even if she hadn’t known then he was the Arrow, one would think she would have found time to send a fruit basket when she did find out, right? Holy fuck, the woman used to send engraved thank you cards to the guy who did her Botox injections, you’d think she could scrape up enough humanity to send a cookie bouquet to her own kid for putting a bullet in his chest! No one in the Lair ever seemed to notice that part except her. Still, if it gave him comfort, so be it. Lying about that was the least of her sins.

Even in her more tender and loving moments with her family there was something about the woman had set her teeth on edge. No one could argue that she didn’t love her family, because she did. She loved her children dearly but there was always a brittle aura to the woman, something that stiffened your spine and made you take a step back from her. When most people described her they used words like ‘dauntless’, ‘formidable’, or ‘iron-willed’ but those words, though true, didn’t quite fit with the Moira she knew that most people never got to see if they were lucky. This was a woman who paid off Sandra Hawke to fake a miscarriage and hide the fact that Oliver had a son, was a part of a vast criminal conspiracy, was complicit in the kidnapping of her own husband and the attempted kidnapping of her son, she shot him shortly afterwards (see cookie bouquet), was at least partially responsible for the deaths of hundreds (although not convicted), and never even bothered telling anyone that the guy she was supposedly so scared of that she let him plant a Markov device under the Glades was freaking alive! She had many words she could’ve used to describe Moira Queen (‘ruthless’ being a prime example, ‘cold-blooded ice bitch’ was another) before she died at the hands of Slade Wilson two years previously, but none of it came close to anything that would inspire the warm and fuzzies. It was as though she had this aura of frost around her that chilled you to the very bone if you got too close.

She remembered all too well the emotional fallout from that woman’s death as Oliver and Thea struggled with her passing. As difficult as it was for Thea, in many ways it had been ten times worse for Oliver because he blamed himself for everything that had happened. Again, Felicity had been forced to remain silent; all she could do is offer comfort and sympathy. She was, after all, for better or worse his mom.

Moira loved her children but something told her that setting boundaries and enforcing rules hadn’t been a priority in the Queen household. Moira was the kind of woman who thought that loving her children meant giving them free reign to the point that they never had to even think about the consequences of their actions. There were times when she, Tam, and Luke would have loved to grow up like that but, after getting to know Oliver and seeing the problems he and Thea had, she was grateful that they didn’t.

If Moira had been a strange mix of maternal ferocity and ice cold calculation, Robert had been her opposite. Oliver took a lot of his strength from Moira but most of his weaknesses came from Robert. Like Oliver, Robert had a wandering eye and was a bit of a partier. His affairs were numerous and not well hidden and Moira, despite being a strong and formidable woman, remained within the marriage without complaint. In her way, she loved him but their marriage became less about love and more about business towards the end. As a result, Oliver grew up with a warped idea of what marriage and commitment meant. Robert was also a man who, although strong in purpose and a good businessman, let women lead him around by his nose (as well as a few other choice body parts). He was probably even more permissive with his children than Moira was at times and he had a habit of running away from his problems and keeping secrets. Despite all that, Oliver loved his father very much. It was hard for him to resolve the memories he had of a fun loving, outdoorsy, brash man like Robert Queen with a man who could be part of a conspiracy to destroy the lives of hundreds of people.

Just like his father, Oliver seemed continually trapped between all the women in his life and there had been a lot of them; each and every one of them somehow related to his own parent’s relationship in some way. Laurel, so cool and controlling yet enabling and steadfast through all of Oliver’s infidelities was Moira, but Sara, passionate, reckless, and rebellious, was Robert. Helena was part of the guilt and anger he felt towards his father. Sandra…

She took a breath; Sandra Hawke was in a category all her own. In a lot of ways, Sandra was her. She so easily could have been that girl. Hell, she was that girl for Bruce; the only difference was that she didn’t have a child as a result of her one moment of weakness.

Her breath slowed as she turned that over in her mind; would Bruce have paid her two million dollars to take her child and go? No. No, Bruce would have probably done ‘the right thing’ and married her or, at least, offered to but he would have grown to resent her and their child. Of course, she also wouldn’t have taken the money had he offered but there was a big difference between her at age eighteen and Sandra. At eighteen she already had a doctorate and had completed her education, Sandra was still in school and paying for her education through grants and scholarships. She also had money and resources that Sandra didn’t. She could have raised her and Bruce’s child alone and never had to worry about juggling her education, motherhood, or money. Had she been a young, unmarried college student from a humble background and pregnant, she probably would have done the same thing. Actually, had she been Sandra Hawke she probably wouldn’t have had the fortitude to take that challenge on in the first place; she probably would have given serious thought to terminating the pregnancy and moved on with her life without ever looking back.

A pang hit her heart then as the thought passed through her mind. She might have had a termination, but who knows? While she was completely 100% pro-choice, she also knew that it was a decision no woman ever made lightly. For better or worse, she slept with Bruce because she was in love with him and her child, however unexpected, would have been the result of that love even if it wasn’t reciprocated. Connor, on the other hand, was born from what was essentially a one night stand and Oliver was young, completely irresponsible, and both his family and hers were less than supportive of the pregnancy. The fact that she chose to have him anyway showed just how strong Sandra was. She might not have been under similar circumstances.

Her situation might not have been the same as Sandra’s, but it would have held its own challenges. Bruce was so entangled with her family that she couldn’t have prevented him from knowing about his child and he would have made it an issue whether he wanted to be a parent or not. Keeping the child would have meant having Bruce in her life forever. She couldn’t have escaped Bruce’s notice simply by moving away; he’d find her wherever she went. So, really, she couldn’t judge Sandra for taking her child and the check; she couldn’t even resent her for not telling Oliver the truth. Moira however…

If Moira hadn’t already been dead she would have killed her for that. Instead of blaming his mother, Oliver had blamed himself as usual. He had been young and stupid, Sandra had been equally young and naïve; what had been a one night, one-time thing for Oliver was a first time with far reaching consequences for Sandra and her son, Connor. Oliver found out he was a father only after they had been threatened and his status as the Arrow nearly cost them their lives. Seeing no other option, Oliver had turned his back and made the conscious decision not to try to parent Connor, allowing him and his mother to go into hiding instead. Even so, it still felt like he was running from his problems again as was his pattern, only this one involved a child and that had been one thing that Felicity couldn’t easily forgive.

That…that had been hard on her to watch him do that. As someone whose own bio-dad took a runner she’d had a hard time being sympathetic even though she knew why he felt it was for the best.

Sandra had moved on, there was a man in Connor’s life already who wanted to be his father, and he couldn’t risk his son’s life or rekindle something with Sandra when he knew they would always be in danger if he was in the picture. As Oliver drowned his sorrows in half the bar’s inventory, Felicity found herself again hating Moira to the point that she wanted to confront her gravestone about it, but what would be the point? On one hand she understood the woman was trying to protect her son’s future, but she knew firsthand how Connor would one day feel when he learned that his father had deliberately chosen not to be part of his life.

To this day, Felicity couldn’t understand how a woman who supposedly loved her children so much could do that to her own grandson. It made her think about the man who contributed his sperm to her mother’s womb. The impression she’d gotten from Peggy Ann had been that he was wealthy Euro-trash but that had been her own interpretation. Maybe that emotional distance came from being accustomed to such vast wealth their entire lives? Perhaps when you lived in a world where everyone always wanted something from you, one had to learn to keep some kind of distance to guard against the backlash.

Besides Laurel, Sara, and Sandra there had been others, of course: Shado, the woman who trained Oliver on how to use the bow and whom both he and Sara had serious lingering issues over, Helena, who Oliver tried playing Captain Arrow Saves-a-Ho-Sack-Of-Crazy for not once, not twice, but three times and, surprise, was that ever a perfect example of the term ‘epic fail’ or what? And, oh yeah, Isabel: a woman whose best quality is that she can take a punch aka the Bolshoi Bitch.

If Bruce was a bad relationship risk, then Oliver was even worse. Still, it was tempting because they were both Sex on a Stick with a couple of slices of Beefcake for dessert. The most intimate contact she’d ever had with Oliver involved him either swinging her across empty space while flying through a couple of plate glass windows or leaping over a detonated landmine but (when she wasn’t thinking about dying) it sure was fun. That and the whole watching him work out while he’s shirtless thing, that’s a perk they don’t think to put in the Employee Handbook. She may never have actually licked those abs but, in her mind, there’s a whole ten course feast going on and he’s definitely soup to nuts (because some nuts are just worth the epi-pen). Then there had been the thing right before they took down Slade the first time.

She blanched. Yeah, she didn’t like thinking about that these days. For a while though, Oliver telling her he loved her had put her on cloud nine even though she knew it had been just a ruse to save Laurel and get the ‘cure’ into Slade. For a day or two afterwards she even let herself think dangerous thoughts around the words ‘maybe’ and ‘what if’ only to have them completely dashed when Laurel started becoming a regular in the Lair. And, as per usual whenever Oliver became fixated on a woman, once he and Laurel restarted their romance she was once again left out in the cold.

Yup, her love life sucked, she thought miserably. She had a crush on a guy who seemed to look right through her, her last romance was with a guy who cheated on her while he was in a fricking coma, and as for Bruce; she would never go there again even if the man knew his way around her fun places. Still, even more than four years later, the memories of their one weekend together lingered. Too bad they were attached to a complete horse’s ass.

Felicity pushed her keyboard back; laid her head on her folded arms, and groaned. What the hell was she going to do about him? Here she was thinking naked relationship thoughts about one of the few people even more screwed up than Oliver Queen and he completely dumped her ass four years ago. Worse than dumped; he erased her from his world, so why was he coming back?

She knew the answer to that; masked vigilantes who feel entitled to refer to entire cities as ‘theirs’ don’t like sharing anything.

I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, Felicity thought over and over again like a mantra. Really, when it boiled down to it, it was because she made the mistake of giving Oliver access to a system based off of the original Watchtower decryption and AI program she had developed with Barbara. This was Bruce just being territorial and, man, talk about destroying a girl’s self-esteem all over again: You tell a guy you’ve loved him your whole life, give him your virginity, spend two days and three nights making love using every move in the Kama Sutra and a few you just invent on the spot, and he dumps you and never looks back until four years later when you give his computer program to another man and he finds out about a teeny little death threat THEN he gets jealous. It’s almost enough to make a girl want to chuck her tablet and go back to analog.

No, Felicity thought as she straightened up in her chair and pushed her glasses up off her nose, I’m not doing this to myself. It had taken her four years of hard work, emotional growth, and more pints of Ben and Jerry’s than it should have to get to a point in her life where Bruce, the Bat, and Gotham were a closed chapter of her life. He will not do this to me! She vowed, I will not be one of those women who falls apart over a man! He might be Batman, but she’s seen under the suit and, physical perfection, legendary temper, and bone melting kisses aside, he’s not all that intimidating! I’m too smart for this, she thought as she took a deep breath. No Bruce and definitely no more naughty thoughts about Oliver either. No matter how naked he gets in her presence…or how sweaty…or…

So, okay, maybe she did let herself get a little fuzzy around the edges where Oliver was concerned but has she ever taken a bite out of that hunky-hunkishness of his? No. No, she has not. But she could have. She’d caught him looking a couple of times as well. She may dress for success in the office, but when she had to get suited up for formal functions she could wear the crap out of an evening gown. She might have trust issues when it came to relationships but her self-esteem, as far as her looks and brains went, was still rock solid. That said, should he ever cast his net into blonder, smarter, and more computer savvy waters (meaning her) and seek to reel her in, would she take the bait? No, he could just keep his worm in his pants where it belonged because she learned that lesson the hard way.

The very, very hard way.

Hard. Like six-pack abs kind of hard. Like the marble in Bruce’s shower when he—

Felicity frowned and opened her desk drawer and started to search through it when Oliver walked in the door. “Hey, what are you looking for?”

“Chocolate,” she muttered without looking up. “I could have sworn I had a Dove bar in here the other day.”

“Chocolate?” Oliver asked as he watched her dig around in the drawer with amusement.

“”Yeah, I suddenly got a craving like you wouldn’t believe,” she sighed, giving up and looking at him morosely. “How was lunch with Isabel?”

“About as pleasant as a root canal,” he said in a wry tone. “If you want to head down to the employee lounge and see what’s in the vending machine you can, then come back and we’ll go over the game plan for tomorrow.”

“About that,” Felicity said, clearing her throat as she rose from her desk to follow him into his office and shutting the door behind her.

“Yeah?” He acknowledged without looking at her as he plopped some files on his blotter before moving over to the ‘coffee pot’ (he bought some Rube Goldberg looking brass coffee and espresso machine for his office after she refused to make him any) and poured himself a cup. “Want one?”

“No, thanks. Um…Oliver?”

“Hmm?” He garbled as he pressed the cup to his lips and moved back to stand near his desk as he sorted through the files.

“I was wondering, just how important is it that I be in tomorrow’s meeting?”

Oliver cleared his throat and set down his cup carefully, “Pardon?”

“I was wondering if it would be alright if I just skipped it and maybe took a few personal days instead.”

“What?” Oliver said flatly, his tone and posture going from Ollie to Arrow in 0.2 seconds.

“Well, I was thinking,” Felicity tried not to fidget as Oliver fixed her with a hard eye. “A few, um, personal issues have come up and I think that…well, I thought that since this is basically you and Isabel’s show, more Isabel really, that maybe—“

“If this is about yesterday,” his voice hardened and he looked at her pointedly, “which you and I have yet to discuss—don’t think I’ve forgotten about it—Isabel didn’t even mention it during lunch. I don’t know what you two talked about but she’s apparently over it, at least for the moment, and she’s too invested in this proposal right now to tank it just to score points so I think we’re safe for now.”

“Well, that’s good!” She said brightly, “Great even, but that’s not why I need the time off. And, by the way, love that tie today. Is it new?”

Oliver glanced down at the green and gold tie he was wearing and frowned at her, “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing’s wrong with me, why would anything be wrong with me?”

“Because all of the sudden you’re acting weird and you want to take time off so if it’s not about Isabel then what is it?”

“It’s personal,” Felicity said growing frustrated, “as in ‘personal days’.”

“No.” Oliver said simply before sitting down in his chair.

“No?” Felicity repeated.

“No,” Oliver replied easily, “as in N-O, no.”

“You’re telling me no?” She said flabbergasted. “Really?”

“Really,” he told her as he leaned back in his chair and placed his hands behind his head in a stretch. “You need to get past what happened between you and Isabel and cowboy up. Get right back on the horse, as it were.”

Did he just tell me to ‘cowboy up’? Felicity’s jaw dropped open and she gaped at him for a split second before her temper flared and she began to do a slow burn. “First off, I already told you that this has nothing to do with Isabel—“

“I don’t believe you.”

“You don’t believe me?” She sputtered.

“No.”

“No?”

“Are you going to spend the rest of the afternoon repeating everything I say or what?” Oliver asked, his blue eyes glinting with amusement at her discomfiture.

“Secondly,” she said, clenching her jaw and pointedly ignoring him, “I can take a personal day if I want to, I’m only asking you as a courtesy. In fact, I have a ton of personal days, holidays, and vacation days I could take because, guess what, I work for you practically 24/7 and I’ve earned it!”

“Actually, you work for Queen Consolidated between 40 to 60 hours a week and the rest of the time you work for the Arrow which, technically, isn’t part of QC and therefore doesn’t actually come with a benefits package.”

Felicity put her hands on her hips and gave him her dirtiest look. “Do you honestly think you’re being amusing right now?”

He fixed her with a hard eye, all signs of amusement fading from his expression. “No, what I think is that I’ve had to listen to you complain about the fact that I took you out of IT and brought you in to be my EA for three years now and the first time we actually have a chance to launch a presentation for innovative software that you, yourself, had a hand in developing, you want to skip out on it; why is that? And don’t say ‘it’s personal’ and expect me not to ask questions.”

“Fine! I just…I…I have to…” she licked her lips and sighed, shifting her weight from one foot to another as she felt his heavy gaze upon her, “It’s…it’s hard to explain. I can’t talk about it.”

“Why not?” He asked with a scowl.

“I just can’t,” she bit out, flushing hotly. “Trust me when I say that it’s for a very good reason, okay?”

Oliver searched her face for a moment before his eyes widened and his expression cleared, “Oh! I see. Is it…um, you know, a—“ his eyes skittered away from her for a moment, “um, private kind of thing?”

“What?” She asked in confusion.

“You know,” he glanced down at the leather blotter on his desk. “An, um…well, like a private kind of medical appointment?”

“A what?” Felicity gaped at him, now feeling completely thrown for a loop.

“You know,” Oliver’s eyes met hers and she swore his cheeks flushed for a moment, “chocolate?”

“Oh, right! The gynecologist! Yeah!” Felicity nodded, finally catching on. “Uh-huh, that’s it exactly! I just didn’t want to tell you because, you know, female down there stuff is kind of—“

Oliver waved her off as he avoided eye contact again and looked decidedly uncomfortable, “Yeah, I--I have a sister, so, yeah. No need to go into details, I understand.”

“Oh good,” Felicity breathed a sigh of relief. “So that means I can have the personal time then?”

Oliver squirmed in his seat a little, “Look, I know how important this sort of stuff is and if it’s really something that needs to be taken care of right now then, sure. I mean, I get that we’ve been working nonstop for a while now and some things, y’know…” He cleared his throat, “Anyway, I get it, but if you could try to reschedule I could really use your help tomorrow.”

“Oliver, I—“ She began.

Oliver stopped her by getting up from behind his desk and clasping her hand in his own then looking deep into her eyes. “Listen, the truth is that it’s taken a while and I’m finally beginning to feel like I have a handle on running this place, but I still need you. I’m hoping that if the Wayne deal goes through we might actually stabilize the company enough that we can make Stellmoor an offer and get rid of Isabel once and for all. I know you want that too, right?”

“Yeah, of course,” Felicity answered as she avoided his gaze suddenly feeling a bit guilty.

He placed his fingers under her chin to lift her eyes up to his and smiled. It was that soft gentle smile he seemed to reserve only for her that always made her knees go just a bit wobbly and she felt her resolve begin to crumble. “Look, I’m sorry for pushing you earlier. Of course you can go to your appointment, don’t worry about it. I mean, you and I are a team and I’ll always want you beside me, especially on days like tomorrow, but the world won’t end because you took some time for yourself. This software is something you helped develop, it has your name on it, and I just wanted to be able to point to you and tell everyone how valuable you are, not just to QC, but to me personally. I couldn’t have done any of this without you, you know that, but your health comes first so if you need personal time then take as much as you want. I’ve got this, I promise.”

Well, crap, Felicity thought as her heart dropped to her stomach. I am so screwed. “I’ll, um, call my doctor and see if he can reschedule.”

“You don’t have to,” Oliver began to argue.

“No, no!” She waved him off. “It was just some blood work and an exam, routine stuff. I’ll just see if they can fit me in another day.”

“I’ll do you one better,” Oliver said as he moved around his desk to pick up the phone. “I’ll just call Thea and ask her to see if her doctor can fit you in this evening after work.”

“You don’t have to do that. Really, it’s not necessary,” Felicity blushed as she tried to talk him out of it. “Besides these kinds of appointments have to be made days, even weeks in advance. Her doctor will never be able to fit me in on such short notice.”

Oliver raised an arrogant brow in her direction as he dialed, “Billionaire, remember? Trust me, they’ll fit you in.”

“Fine,” Felicity said morosely. Great, on top of everything else, I just tricked myself into having to get a pap smear.

“Hey Thea,” he said as his sister picked up. “Yeah, listen, can you call your OB/GYN and see if they can fit Felicity in for an appointment this afternoon.” There was a sudden cacophony of noise on the other end of the line and Felicity had a sudden urge to beat her head against the wall. “No! Don’t be ridiculous! She’s just my friend, we’re not like that! Thea, you know Felicity and I—UST? What the hell is UST and what do you mean it’s all over the Lair? Damn it, Speedy—look, Felicity had an appointment tomorrow for her own doctor but we’ve got a conflict with work and I just didn’t want her to have to cancel and wait for another opening to pop up.” He paused as he listened to her, “I don’t know, whatever women usually need, I guess.” He placed his hand over the receiver, “It’s just a normal checkup, right?” She nodded painfully and he returned to his conversation. “She said it’s for the usual stuff, just a checkup. A what? Yeah, I guess so, whatever that is. Well, how the hell am I supposed to know—I’m a guy! Men don’t do all that stuff. Just tell them to do everything they usually do and bill me for it. Of course I am! She wouldn’t have to go there if I hadn’t asked her to cancel the appointment she had already set up, that’s why! Yes, I’m sure we’re just friends. Thea, just make the damn call! Okay, okay. Call me back when you find out. No, that’s okay, you can call me and I’ll just tell her. It’s not weird. No, it’s not. Why is it weird? We’re friends. Yes, friends talk about stuff like that! Don’t you talk to--So what if she’s a woman and I’m a man? What’s that got to do with anything? So? So what? It’s a doctor’s appointment, what difference does it make what kind of doctor it’s for? She makes appointments for me all the time! Yeah, I know she’s my EA but—Damn it! Fine, I’ll ask her!” He sighed and put his hand over the receiver again, “Is it weird that I’m asking my sister to make a doctor’s appointment for you?”

“Yes,” Felicity answered without hesitation. “In fact I’m pretty sure a goose just walked over Gloria in HR’s grave because of this conversation.”

He rolled his eyes and spoke to Thea again, “She said it’s weird. Yeah, well, whatever, just make the appointment and call me back. Fine! Call her back then, I don’t care; just make the damn phone call! Fine, fine, I’m sorry! Thea, I said I was sorry. I am not in a mood; you’re just aggravating the crap out of me right now! Sexually what? I am not sexually frustrated! It’s a doctor’s appoint--! Damn it Thea, I am not getting into this with you! Believe it or not we actually do have work to do. Yeah, okay. Thanks Speedy, bye.” He looked over to Felicity who was holding her face in her hands and mumbling unintelligently under her breath. “What?”

She scrubbed her hands over her cheeks in an effort to relieve the sting of mortification which covered them and said, “You know, I think we may be getting just a little too comfortable around each other.”

“You think so?” he asks, offering her one of his rare but brilliant smiles.

“I really, really do.”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

And thus I find myself on an examination table with my legs spread wide and staring at the ceiling. Why is it I always seem to find myself in this position whenever Bruce is coming? Felicity thought as she tried to get comfortable--which is never easy when you’re dressed in a paper gown with a stranger looking at your hoo-hah.

“Alright Miss Smoak, when was your last period?” The pretty Asian doctor asked as she tapped on her tablet.

“Um…” Felicity frowned as she searched her memory. “Huh. I can’t remember, maybe two months ago? I’ve always been irregular.”

“Are you sexually active?”

“No,” Felicity sighed. “Definitely not active at all.”

“No?” The doctor asked in a tone which implied that the answer Felicity gave didn’t seem all that credible.

“No,” she emphasized. “In fact you might want to check for cobwebs while you’re down there.”

“When exactly was the last time you had intercourse, Miss Smoak?”

“Trust me, I’m not pregnant.”

“Miss Smoak,” the doctor said in a low tone as she leaned in towards her. “I know that someone else arranged this visit, in fact they were very insistent that you were seen today after the clinic had closed, but you are my patient and this is a safe place.”

Oh God, please just kill me now. “I’m sure I am but, whatever you’re thinking, you’re wrong. Really, really wrong. 31 flavors of wrong,” she stated emphatically. ”No one is doing anything nefarious, I just haven’t been able to see a doctor in a while because of scheduling conflicts and my friends were trying to help. As for the pregnancy thing, I know I’m not pregnant because babies take nine months and the last time I had sex was more than four years ago.”

The doctor nodded, accepting her answer, and made a note of it on her tablet. “Okay. Are you on birth control?”

“I was but my prescription ran out and I never had time to go back to the doctor to have it renewed.”

“Yes, you mentioned that a few times,” The doctor frowned. “And when was your last appointment if I may ask?”

“Um, four years ago.” The doctor fixed her with a slightly disapproving look. “I was busy? Listen, I know it’s bad. I had just moved here all the way from Gotham and things kind of got crazy with work so I just never got around to it.” She turned slightly toward the nurse who had been patiently standing in the corner silently. “I gave your nurse the name of my doctor back home so they should have faxed over my records by now.”

The nurse nodded and indicated something on the tablet which the doctor quickly perused before speaking. “What kind of cancer did your mother have?”

“Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia; specifically she died from a secondary infection caused by a weakened immune system. It was fast; she died when I was four.”

“ALL can be.” She frowned, “Your mother was only twenty-three when she died?” She waited for Felicity’s nod. “That’s unusual. Did she have any sort of chromosomal disorder to put her at risk? Exposure to radiation perhaps?”

Felicity shook her head. “She had mild to moderate achromatosis due to Oculocutaneous albinism type IB but the doctors assured us that it probably had no bearing on the progression of the disease. My dad asked on my behalf because of my coloring to see if I had inherited an even milder form that accounted for my astigmatism but they said the likelihood of her passing that on were incredibly low. Her cancer was just luck of the draw.”

“I’ll note that on your chart. You indicated that there is no history of reproductive cancers that you know of on your mother’s side, what about your father’s?”

“Um,” She always hated answering this part, “I don’t know who my biological father is. As far as I know he was just a donor and my mother never discussed his medical history with my adopted dad. I doubt she even knew it to tell you the truth.”

It was always easier to say it was a donor rather than telling people that, when faced with a diagnosis of an acute form of leukemia at the age of 19 and told she would likely be left sterile from the treatments, Evie Smoak had seduced a man she’d met at a gallery showing with the sole intention of getting pregnant and never looked back. At least, that’s what she had told Lucius. Her father had emphasized the fact that, in Evie’s mind, it had been an act of love on her part, not selfishness, and Felicity had learned to pretend to accept it as such.

When Felicity turned eighteen, Lucius suggested they hire someone to track her biological father down. After she declined and he urged her to rethink her decision if only to get a complete medical history, Peggy Ann, the woman who had raised her mother and then helped raise her, took her aside and told her the truth: Evie had lied to Lucius when she told him that she never saw the man who had fathered her daughter again after their one night. The truth was that her biological father had known of her existence, had even sought them out once after her birth, but had not stayed.

He met with Evie in private as Peggy Ann watched from a discreet distance, not revealing herself to either of them. He stayed just long enough to have a brief conversation and to hold her once, and then turned his back on them completely. Not even Lucius knew about that meeting or that her biological father was aware she existed. Peggy Ann had kept that secret for years knowing how much Lucius still loved her mother and recognized that if she revealed Evie’s deceptions, however well-intentioned they may have been, it would do nothing but cause unnecessary pain. Once Felicity knew the whole truth she didn’t have the heart to tell him either. Other than that one glimpse Peggy Ann had of the man, all she could overhear of their conversation was her mother calling him Henri, that he appeared to be much older than Evie, and that he was vaguely European; possibly French or Irish, something lilting, but that she had been too far away to accurately place his accent. She also found one of his business cards later. He’d left it for Evie in case she ever needed financial assistance. Her mother had apparently thrown it away but Peggy retrieved it from the trash and kept it just in case.

All it said was ‘Henri Ducard’ and it had a number with a foreign exchange. She still had the card. She kept it in her wallet for a long time, trying to decide whether or not to track him down but, in the end, she decided against it. He was the one mystery she had never been tempted to solve. He knew where she was for the first several months of her life and he never came for her and frankly, she didn’t need anyone who didn’t need her. Lucius Fox was the only father she needed. Still, it had affected her. Lucius had always been mildly worried he’d wind up losing her despite the adoption and, even though he’d tried to hide that from her, she was left with some lingering issues. The idea of losing someone she cared about deeply bothered her. It caused her to cling to those close to her and isolate herself from the rest of the world.

Then, six months ago…

“I’ll go ahead and give you a breast exam, a pap smear, then draw some blood. We’ll also screen for STDs just in case.” She looked down at her tablet again. “Would you be interested in having me prescribe you some birth control today?”

She snapped out of her disturbing reverie, “I guess so.”

“Do you know what you want? I’m see you were on the pill but there are several types to choose from that also have low dose hormones that could help regulate your period or, if you like, can shorten the duration or amount of cycles you have. Although, as with any form of birth control, it’s important to always use a condom with any new or nonexclusive partners and to continue to use condoms with any current partners that have been screened for STDs for at least two weeks after beginning your prescription.”

“Trust me, that’s not happening any time soon. People keep telling me I have a type so I’m planning on avoiding Metropolis just in case they’re right.”

“Pardon?”

“Nothing, the pill is fine, whichever you think is best. Not having to deal with a period would be a bonus though.”

“Okay,” The doctor said brightly as she slipped on a pair of gloves. “Here we go!”

“Fun times,” Felicity muttered.

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Felicity’s alarm went off and she slapped it into silence as she lay in her bed contemplating the watermark on the ceiling she’d been staring at for the past seven hours. This was happening, whether she liked it or not, and she couldn’t avoid it or hide herself away. The only thing she had going for her now was the fact that he didn’t know she knew he was coming.

Felicity’s mind began to churn as she quickly put together her battle plan. Today she was going to war with Bruce Wayne.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 


   

Chapter Six

“Felicity do you have the…” Oliver’s voice trailed off as he stepped into the office and looked at his assistant.

“Do I look okay?” She asked, glancing down at her outfit. “It’s not too much is it?” She frowned. “I just wanted to make sure I looked my best today. United front, you know?”

“Ah, no—I mean yes!” Oliver said as he cleared his throat and regained his composure. “I mean, it’s good. You look…nice.”

I better, she thought, this outfit costs more than my rent. “Thanks. Everything’s on your desk,” she said as she sat back down.

After she had left the gynecologist’s office (which had been located in the most exclusive part of the city because rich people have hoo-hahs too) she decided to do some shopping. After working with two masked vigilantes, (nine if she counted Diggle, Sara, Roy, Barry, Barbara, Tim, and Dick. Ten if she counted Daniel but he was a sore subject with her so she was happy leaving it at nine) Felicity had learned that half the battle was choosing the right armor. She slipped into Neiman’s and bought a Herve Leger long sleeved bandage dress in lipstick red which she paired with a black jacket and a pair of simply styled but still very sleek black Christian Louboutins. The Manolo Blahnik’s she tried on were a lot more comfortable but she was going for red-soled stiletto devastation, not panda flats on a Wednesday.

The dress was just above the knee but still an acceptable length for the office and had a boatneck collar with a modest décolletage. The contemporary styled tailored jacket gave it just that little touch of professionalism that made everything work. The devastation factor didn’t come into play until you took the jacket off. The dress may have been designed to cover everything up but because it clung to every single curve it wasn’t hiding a damn thing. Thank God for John Diggle and his daily training sessions after Sara left because it was so tight you could almost see the dip of her belly button. You definitely had to have some ab training to pull it off.

She had eschewed her glasses for contacts, kept her hair down and over her shoulders, and her makeup simple. She traded in her normal bright lipstick for something shiny and sheer with a hint of red that didn’t compete with the color of her dress. She stopped and had her nails done in a simple and deceptively bare looking American manicure and the only jewelry she wore was the thin gold and diamond bangle bracelet Lucius had given her when she graduated from MIT, and the Boucheron gold and diamond Pivoine earrings that had belonged to her mother because she knew her dad would recognize them. Hopefully they would remind her to keep her head on straight.

The last thing left in her armory was her perfume; L’Air Du Temps. It was a sweet old fashioned floral perfume that was timeless and one that she had always loved but, more importantly, it would throw Bruce completely off his game. Alfred had once told her that it was the only scent Bruce’s mother ever wore and she was hoping he’d recognize it. The total effect she was going for was something she had decided to call ‘Sexy Demure’. She surreptitiously snuck a glance through the glass panel that separated her and Oliver’s desks and hid a grin as she saw him quickly look back down at the file he was reading.

Yeah, she thought to herself, nailed it.

An hour later she and Oliver had joined Isabel in the lobby along with Paolo, Isabel’s new EA. The other woman, who was dressed in head to toe Zac Posen, had taken one look at her, arched her eyebrow knowingly, but kept her remarks to herself. Just as well, Felicity thought, there is no way I’m fighting anyone in these shoes. They pinched her toes but her ass was poppin’ so it was worth it.

Lucius and the rest of his entourage came through the doors precisely at 10 am on the dot. The minute her dad saw her, his face lit up and he grinned from ear to ear. She smiled back but shook her head slightly and he gave her a little pout and a wink to let her know he understood then approached Oliver and Isabel with a handshake.

“Mr. Queen, Ms. Rochev, it’s very nice to meet you both. I’ve been very much looking forward to finally meeting you.” He said to them both in a tone that was both warm and professional.

“Thank you, sir. And please, call me Oliver.” Oliver grasped his hand firmly and returned his greeting with what Felicity secretly referred to as Smile #3: Professional yet casual with just a hint of teeth.

She could write a whole book on Oliver’s smiles alone and not in some Lisa Frank tweenager way. Oliver was always so weird when he put on his ‘normal’ face that she really couldn’t believe no one else ever seemed to notice. She always had to curb the urge to either smack him in the back of the head and tell him to knock it off or laugh hysterically whenever he flashed one of those.

“I’m sure you’ve been looking forward to this visit for many reasons, sir,” Isabel said playfully before darting her eyes toward Felicity with a smug little grin.

Subtle, Felicity thought as she watched her dad’s eyes twinkle a bit at the opening she had just given him. That’s right Isabel; honor the letter of the law if not the spirit.

“Now, now, Ms. Rochev, we mustn’t tell secrets out of class,” her dad said in a conspiratorial tone but slid his eyes over toward Felicity anyway.

“I’m sorry,” Oliver said in confusion as he picked up on the subtle byplay going on. “Do you know Ms. Smoak?”

“I should say he does!” Came the booming drawl from the doorway that Felicity instantly recognized as Bruce’s fake billionaire persona voice. It was even more annoying than Oliver’s fake billionaire playboy smiles #1 through #8. “She’s his daughter after all. Queen, Ms. Rochev,” he nodded toward them with barely a glance, his entire focus on Felicity. He approached her, his deep blue eyes glinting dangerously despite the wide grin on his face. Taking her hand he bent at the waist slightly and kissed her knuckles softly in a way that probably would have made any other girl swoon but just made Felicity want to give him a smack. She resisted snatching her hand back and giving him the satisfaction of thinking he’d rattled her. “Hello Felicity, nice dress.” He said with an appreciative sweep of his eyes.

“Bruce,” Felicity said in a cool tone. Anger was helping her manage her rambles, a fact for which she was extremely grateful even though the urge to try out some of the moves Diggle had taught her on Bruce’s face was almost overwhelming.

“Did he just say you were Mr. Fox’s daughter?” Oliver turned to her wearing a tense Smile #8 (tight wide lips, lots of gritted teeth that shouts ‘Lucy, joo got some s’plainin’ to do) Yeah, she’d once told Oliver her dad had abandoned her but what she failed to mention was that she meant her biological father. Her need to prove herself on her own merits had prevented her from mentioning who her adopted father was. Although she never thought Oliver would take advantage of her relationship with Lucius Fox, she also knew he might feel strange about it if he knew. She hadn’t wanted him to assume he’d gotten this meeting through their connection. Oliver was good at guilting himself into a corner that way.

“Oh well, cat’s out of the bag!” Her dad said triumphantly as he reached out to hug her and placed a kiss on her cheek. “Hello Baby, are they treating you well at QC or do I need to have a quick word with your boss over there?”

“Hi Daddy,” Felicity said returning his hug and smiling despite the fact that she knew Bruce had won this round and that Oliver would be using his own Loud Voice later. “I’m good.”

Lucius turned and fixed Oliver with a hard look. “You know Mr. Queen; my daughter hasn’t been home in almost three and a half years because she says she’s always working.”

“It’s Oliver, sir, and although I am sorry about that, I assure you Felicity is a valuable member of our team and a real asset to the company as a whole.” Oliver assured him (Smile #2, the sincere ‘I promise to respect you in the morning’ one) “In fact, some of the software we’re planning to show you in the presentation today was actually developed by the team led by Felicity when she worked for us in IT before we moved her up to the executive floor. I’m sure you know better than anyone just how brilliant she is.” He glanced at her briefly and despite the hint of irritation she could see in his expression his eyes were warm and sincere. “I don’t consider her my EA as much as I do an equal member of our team and,” he turned to Isabel to enjoin her into the conversation with more than a hint of mischief creeping in, “I’m sure Ms. Rochev would agree with me wholeheartedly on that.”

The smile Isabel used was neither warm nor sincere but, then again, Felicity thought, even on a good day you could freeze ice on the woman’s ass. She was continually surprised Oliver’s dick didn’t fall off from frostbite the one time he managed to get into her panties. “Absolutely. I’d have to say that I, personally, have gotten so much from knowing your daughter, sir. In fact, just the other day Felicity and I had a good long chat about how much she was looking forward to your visit. Of course, she made me promise not to reveal her little secret to Oliver.” She batted her eyelashes her way, the sarcasm subtle but palatable to those in the know. “Your daughter is a stickler for maintaining a certain level of professionalism at all times.”

And score one for the Blyadischa. (because what’s the use of going all the way to Russia to rescue one of your best friend’s exes from a gulag if you don’t at least leave with a few new curse words under your belt?)

“Why thank you Ms. Rochev, I’d like to think my daughter got those particular skills from me.”

And an inadvertent burn for Dad! Felicity thought as she struggled to maintain her mask of cool professionalism as she tallied up her mental scoreboard.

“Shall we?” Lucius asked.

“Absolutely, right this way to the conference room,” Oliver indicated with a wave.

“Can I escort you, Mr. Wayne?” Isabel asked in a more than a little bit of a flirtatious manner.

Bruce, who had never taken his eyes off Felicity, finally turned to smile at the other woman. “You know what, Ms. Rochev—or can I just call you Isabel?”

“Of course, Bruce,” she practically purred at him.

“The thing is, Isabel, that Lucius is really the one who understands this sort of thing better than I do and it’s just been so long,” his eyes swept over Felicity’s figure once again in a knowing manner, “since I’ve spent time with Felicity that I was wondering if you’d mind if she showed me around a bit before we caught up with the rest of the group?”

Again Isabel’s eyebrows twitched upwards as she looked at her and, this time; there was a look of grudging admiration along with some other inscrutable flash of something inside her cold dark eyes. “Not a problem, Bruce. I’m sure Felicity would be happy to show you around.”

Great, she thought, then borrowing a page from The Oliver Queen Pretends to be a Normal Human Being playbook she turned to him with her best approximation of Smile #1: Bored at a Charity Function but Still Making a Grudging Effort at Pretending to Give a Shit. “Really though, it’s just an office building same as any other, Bruce. I’m sure if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all and your time and mine would probably be best spent in the conference room.”

The dangerous flash in his eyes along with the tightening of his jaw as he attempted to maintain his loosie goosie playboy grin told her he was beginning to lose patience with the lack of effect his presence seemed to be having on her. “Oh, but Felicity you and I have so much to talk about and I think I’d rather hear about this communications program from the woman who led the team rather than have a bunch of salesman pitch it to me via PowerPoint. Besides, we have four years of catching up to do.”

“You know, you do make a valid point, Bruce. You should get your information directly from the source, as it were,” Felicity reached out and grabbed Isabel’s elbow, sidling up next to her and patting her arm as though they were the best of friends. Isabel stiffened slightly but, to her credit, her expression never wavered. “You know, I was just one member of the team that wrote the actual program but Isabel was its driving force.” She cocked her head to the side and flashed Isabel her most brilliant teeth grinding grin before looking back at Bruce. “I have to say that none of us here at QC could do what we do without the leadership skills of this woman. She makes us strive for innovation and excellence. If there’s anyone you should talk to about QC besides Oliver himself, it’s her.” She turned to Isabel again, “You know, you should introduce him to Marvelle down in IT first, Isabel. After all he’s been helping run the entire department for over a year now.”

A look that bordered on genuine gratitude made its way to Isabel’s face as she held her arm out to Bruce, “What an excellent idea! If you’ll please follow me, Bruce, I’ll be happy to show you around.”

Irritation flashed across Bruce’s expression for just the briefest of moments before he took her arm, “Well, who am I to argue with two of the loveliest ladies in all of Starling City?”

Isabel giggled coquettishly and batted her eyelashes in what had become (in Felicity’s mind) her go to move, then flicked her long hair back and did a half turn worthy of the catwalk, “Do let Oliver know we’ll be with them shortly and don’t forget to pencil me in your calendar for lunch on Monday.” She wagged a playful finger in her direction, “It’s my treat.”

“I’m looking forward to it. Have fun you two!” Felicity returned in the same sickeningly sweet voice. Oh well, pissing Bruce off was almost worth the indigestion she’d suffer at having to eat a meal with that woman on the off chance she was serious. Note to self: Stop by the pharmacy and pick up a big bottle of those chewy antacids, the fruit flavored ones.

She turned on her heel and made sure to put a little extra pop in her bootie the $600 Christian Louboutins were providing because, if she knew Bruce, he was still keeping an eye on her as she made her way to the conference room. Yeah, enjoy the trailers you flying rodent costume-wearing butthead, because there is no way you’re ever seeing this Feature Presentation ever again.

The PowerPoint was well under way and the lights were dimmed when Felicity quietly made her way into the conference room and sat next to Oliver. He frowned and leaned in, “Where are Wayne and Isabel?”

“Isabel is taking him down to IT.”

“Why?”

“Well,” she whispered with a mischievous half-grin, “Bruce wanted a quick tour of the building and Isabel wanted to take him to all the frequently visited tourist traps she showed you in Russia.”

Oliver’s lips twitched upward of their own volition as he pretended to pay attention to the presentation they had both already seen seven hundred times. “I thought we were sticking to ‘What happens in Russia stays in Russia?’”

“Don’t look at me, it’s your ex playing Russian Embassy with the client, not me.”

Oliver rubbed his hand over his mouth and cleared his throat softly to cover up his chuckle at that. “Ms. Smoak, you are being a very naughty girl today.”

“So spank me after the meeting,” she quipped softly then froze as her brain caught up with what had just popped out of her mouth.

Before she could utter a swift and rambling apology though, Oliver murmured back in a husky voice, “Keep dressing like that around the office and I just might.”

Hello. Her mouth fell open and her cheeks flushed as she looked at him. His lips twitched upwards in triumph and he said, “By the way, that’s a lovely perfume you’re wearing. Suits you.”

“Thanks,” she returned a bit breathlessly.

“Reminds me of whenever Raisa would give me a hug in the kitchen after a tough day when I was a kid,” his eyes slid towards her and his voice slipped into that dusky timbre once more. “You smell like my best memories of home.”

Felicity didn’t say a word after that because she didn’t trust herself to speak. Instead all she could think was, ‘Goodbye Perry Ellis 360, L’Air Du Temps has just become my signature fragrance. ‘

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Near the end of the PowerPoint presentation Bruce and Isabel entered the room. From the corner of her eye Felicity watched as Bruce tried to make his way over to the empty seat next to her but Isabel headed him off and pulled him to her side instead. Apparently she wasn’t the only one to notice his intense scrutiny because she sensed, rather than saw, Oliver stiffen beside her. Knowing his territorial tendencies, she could just imagine what his face looked like right about now. What was it with masked avenger types and their absurd habit of showing their teeth whenever it looked like someone else was thinking of peeing on their tree? It was like they were all, ‘No, no! I can’t possibly love you or date you, but if anyone else looks at you or feels any kind of attraction for you, well, you’re mine…until, of course, they go away and then I’m planning on dropping you like a hot potato.’

Felicity nearly rolled her eyes at the both of them but then she paused as a thought popped into her head. The room was practically engulfed in darkness but she knew something about both these men that neither one of them knew about the other (although Bruce suspected). Both men did their best work under the cover of night and both had honed their senses to near-metahuman levels, night vision and hearing in particular. It was risky because Bruce was already ticked off at the Arrow but, hell, in for a penny in for a pound, right? Besides, if they wanted to get all caveman on her then she was going to get some of her own back for a change.

When Felicity had done her shopping at Neiman’s she had also stopped in for a looky-loo at La Perla. Under normal circumstances, Felicity was a cotton undies and 18 hour kind of girl who bought her pantyhose at Target the way the rest of the world did. That said, when she decided to go to war using the Barbara Gordon Method she didn’t skimp on the foundation, no sir. She sure as hell wasn’t planning on letting anyone get inside her cookie jar but just knowing she was packing some real heat was a necessary ego boost. She had left the pantyhose from the plastic egg in her top drawer and sprung for the real deal instead. That meant La Perla Black Label all the way: Balconette bra, thong, and garter belt in sheer nude and real silk stockings. Felicity was loaded for bear!

She reached under the table and laid a soft touch on Oliver’s thigh while simultaneously crossing her legs at the knee and allowing the silk stockings to slowly rub together on the way up making a barely audible but unmistakable sound. Casting her peripheral vision left and right she saw both men swallow and felt the muscles of Oliver’s thigh tense. Just as quickly as she touched his leg she removed her hand so that it seemed almost like an accident and made sure to keep her expression steady and composed. She then sighed and arched her back a bit as if getting a bit uncomfortable by being seated in the same position for so long. She slowly reached up with her hand and pulled her hair back on the side visible to Bruce and tucked it behind her ear, exposing the line of her neck to his penetrating gaze. Her girls stood high and up front due to the miracle known as underwire and she shifted again as she fanned herself slightly. “Are you hot?” She asked Oliver quietly with a bit of a frowny pout.

“Hmm?” Oliver hummed as he eyes twitched upwards from where they were staring.

“I think someone turned up the heat.”

“It is…kind of warm, yeah.”

Felicity sighed in feigned aggravation and began to shrug off the fitted jacket she was wearing. “Remind me to check the thermostat when the lights come back up.” Her body twisted first one way then the other so she could toss the jacket over the arms of the empty seat beside her giving Bruce a clear shot of exactly what it had been hiding. Through her eyelashes she watched as something dark and dangerous glinted in his eyes and it was all she could do not to flash a triumphant grin. And the IT Girl Wednesday scores again!

The presentation ended and the lights slowly came back up. Felicity pushed back her chair and walked towards the door behind where Bruce was sitting. She made sure not to look at him directly as she focused her gaze on the thermostat but she felt his stare right down to her bones. She made sure to walk at an unhurried pace, making her hair bounce and glow under the florescent lights as the scent of her perfume made its way to him. She heard his sharp inhale of breath as she lowered the room temperature to 68 degrees then quickly turned to make her way back to the front of the room giving Bruce a wide berth. Even in a room full of people she wouldn’t put it past him to try to latch onto her wrist to get under her skin and she wasn’t there to play his game, he was going to play hers.

Roger Pearson, the Head of Marketing, was wrapping up the initial presentation so Felicity made her way up to the podium to stand behind him and off to the side with her shoulders back and hands folded demurely in front of her so her arms were accidentally-on-purpose framing her breasts to their full advantage. Both Bruce and Oliver now stared at her with almost the exact same intensity carved into their expressions. She, on the other hand, was giving Roger her best Dallas Cowgirl Cheerleader smile as she clapped politely with the other attendees. Roger who was in his late fifties, bald, and had the beginnings of an impressive pot belly, looked at her like he was a puppy and she had just given him the best belly rub ever. Damn, she thought as he winked playfully at her, apparently this dress is a hit all over. When he stepped aside she moved to the podium and swept the entire room a sunny smile. “Ladies and gentlemen, I think now would be an excellent time to take a brief break. There are light snacks and refreshments in the next room. Let’s take 20 minutes to stretch our legs and mingle before we come back in for questions.”

Both Bruce and Oliver quickly stood and took a step in her direction but she faked them both out by turning toward her dad and sweeping his arm in her own instead. “Mind if I escort you, Daddy?”

“Not at all, in fact I insist on it,” he said laying his hand over hers as they made their way into the next room where an impressive spread of appetizers were laid out. “Have I told you, Baby, just how pretty you look today? That was your mother’s favorite color; she always did love seeing you in red.”

“I remember, Daddy,” Felicity said squeezing his hand affectionately.

“Are those her earrings?”

She nodded. “I wore them for luck because, well, this is the first time you’ve ever seen me doing my job and I really want you to be proud of me whatever else happens.” It wasn’t a complete lie; she really did feel that way. Besides, it was worth the glowing smile he gave her in return.

“I’m always proud of you, Baby, you know that,” Lucius said quietly but emphatically. “Come on, let’s save the business talk for the conference room. I want to introduce you to some folks on my team you haven’t met yet. After all, half the reason I came down here was to show off my little girl.”

Her dad kept a hand on her back or her arm the entire time as other members of Wayne Enterprises crowded around them leaving Oliver and Bruce no real openings to get to her. The few times that Bruce nearly managed it, Isabel made sure to cut him off at the pass with a predatory gleam in her eye and a lustful expression you could probably catch a glimpse of from the International Space Station. Oliver was the final winner though when, slick as you please, he managed to slide next to her opposite to where her father was standing and laid a gentle hand on her elbow.

“Mr. Fox, I believe we’re about ready to return to the conference room where Felicity and Sanjeev Preema, our Head of Applied Sciences, will probably be the ones answering most of your team’s questions,” he said smoothly.

“Well then, after you, Mr. Queen,” Lucius said with a regal nod. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Oliver escorted her all the way to the front of the room releasing her as the room filled back up then approached the podium to introduce Sanjeev and herself. Bruce was now looking at Oliver with murder in his eye and she briefly wondered if maybe this had been a bad idea. Yes, Oliver also needed to be taken down a peg or two because of the way he let his women complicate her life (not to mention the way he often irked her by being a total jackass), but she knew first hand that Bruce could get downright brutal when he put on that cowl and he was already itching for a fight. Honestly, if she had to choose which one of them would win in a no holds barred fight, as disloyal to Oliver as it may be, Bruce was the older and more experienced fighter. Of course, this was Oliver’s home turf so that might even the playing field.

Oliver was much more familiar with this city than Bruce was, he was younger, and (even though Oliver was heavily scared from previous injuries) he was more agile and lithe. He had an impressive musculature but where the Bat relied on power punches and kicks along the lines of Muay Thai, Judo and Kung Fu (among others too numerous to list), the fighting style the Arrow had developed was more along the lines of Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, and Kyudu. This made him more agile, less bulky, and better able to change his form to suit the fight at hand.

Felicity smoothed her hands over her stomach and centered herself. No sense borrowing trouble. Just because she was having a little fun with both of them didn’t mean they would get into an all-out battle over her. The very idea it could even get to that point was ridiculous. Bruce had her lock, stock, and barrel four years ago and he never even sent her a postcard and she’d been glued to Oliver’s side for the last three and a half years and he’d never so much as made a single gesture toward her in any way (the occasional look notwithstanding). The most Oliver had ever done is drop the occasional double entendre and that was just because he got a kick out of hearing her sputter and babble over it.

On second thought, she thought, I hope they do kick each other’s asses. Maybe she and Diggle would get to watch from the sidelines. Note to self: Along with antacids, pick up whoppers and microwave popcorn.

After all the questions were asked and answered and the Wayne Enterprise guests filed out to return to their hotel, Felicity’s luck finally ran out. On one side of her was Oliver, on the other was her dad, and in front of them stood a very perturbed looking Bruce with Isabel’s claws dug firmly in the arm of his navy Armani suit.

“I insist that Oliver and I be allowed to take you both out to dinner tonight,” she cooed at him then turned to the elder black man. “Felicity will come as well and you can do some catching up.”

“That would be lovely but I’m afraid I’ve already made other plans tonight,” Lucius said as he turned to Felicity apologetically. “I don’t get to this end of the country very often and we have a few more stops we have to make before we leave tomorrow. We’re still on for brunch though, right Baby?”

“Of course, Daddy,” Felicity nodded with a soft smile.

He kissed her on the cheek and gave her hand another pat before turning and heading out. “Are you coming with me in the limo, Bruce?”

“No, I’ll just take a cab,” he said to the older man. “I wanted to catch up with Baby for a few minutes before I head out.”

Lucius waved without turning back and Oliver just shot him a perturbed look, “Baby?”

“Felicity’s nickname,” Bruce said smoothly as he focused all of his attention on Felicity again. “No one ever called her by her given name back in Gotham, isn’t that right, Baby?” He gave her that soft smoldering grin that used to turn her insides to jelly and said, “She was all big blue eyes and white-gold hair with just the sweetest smile you ever saw. All you had to do was take one look at her and you’d want nothing more than to put your arms around her and carry her away somewhere safe.”

Felicity didn’t even bat an eye. She was expecting this. “Actually Bruce, only the older generation ever really called me ‘Baby’. You know, like you and Dad.” She smiled sweetly and batted her eyelashes just a little.

“Yes, but when I called you ‘Baby’, you never called me ‘Daddy’ in return.” He paused with a wicked twinkle in his eye, “Well, except for that one time.”

She could feel the looks being sent her way and she ignored them. “Speaking of dads, Dick called me the other day and said he was getting serious about that girl he’s been seeing. Who knows? Pretty soon you might be a grandfather.” Bruce flinched. It was barely noticeable but it was enough that she could count it as payback for the ‘daddy’ remark.

“You have a son?” Isabel asked, feigning interest.

“Oh yes,” Felicity answered for him. “Bruce is quite the family man. He’s taken in several foster children over the years. He might not look like it but he’s actually quite paternal,” she smiled sweetly as the vein in his temple began to throb. “You could even say that Bruce is a kind of honorary uncle. His son Tim and I went to prep together and we spent hours just hanging out with his other son Dick and his girlfriend Barbara in the basement when we were kids. I’ve known the Wayne family since I was in diapers. Why, Bruce and his butler, Alfred, practically helped raise me. They even kept my coloring on their refrigerator, right Bruce?” She could almost hear the enamel of Bruce’s teeth crumbling as he gritted his teeth.

Oliver didn’t know what was going on but he could obviously feel the charge between them building in the air because he placed his hand on Felicity’s back and moved closer to her. It wasn’t intended to be an outward sign of possession, he was instead subtly signaling to her to curb her foot-in-mouth (even though Felicity was perfectly in control for once), but Bruce’s eyes darkened and tensed and the essence of the Bat came forth. “Since you and Mr. Fox have plans, I guess Felicity and I will have to say our goodbyes here then. She and I should be getting back to work.”

“No rush, Queen. However, if you have to get back to work, that’s fine. I hope you won’t mind doing me a solid and sparing Felicity for an hour or so, though.” Bruce smiled at her predatorily. “Every time I’ve tried getting some time in to speak to her it’s like someone’s been throwing up roadblocks.”

“Nonsense Oliver, work can wait. Lunch sounds like a splendid idea!” Isabel said as she held on to Bruce even tighter. Honestly, Felicity thought, it was like watching someone try to boat a marlin. “We should all go; you, me, Oliver, and Felicity! I know just the place. It’s one of the most exclusive restaurants in Starling City and I always keep a standing reservation,” Again with the eyelashes. “The oysters are sublime. I don’t suppose you get the quality of seafood we have here living in Gotham.”

Oysters. Subtle. Next she’ll be recommending the local rhino horn and Spanish fly.

Before Oliver could agree or disagree, Felicity took a side step closer causing his hand to slide across her waist until it was on her hip and she looped her arm around his in a more than casually friendly hug. “We would but this one,” she bumped her hip against his causing Oliver’s eyes to practically bug out, “has been promising me some time alone all week and I finally got him to agree to have lunch with his sister. You know,” she said conspiratorially to Isabel like they were besties and she hadn’t rung the bitch’s bell just two days previously, “you and Bruce should definitely go though! Trust me, the two of you have a lot in common. I’m sure you’ll find tons of interesting things to talk about.” She said smiling at Bruce.

“Perhaps dinner then?” Bruce said with an edge to his tone.

“Again, sorry, right Oliver?” She said turning to the now visibly angered Oliver. Oh, was she going to pay for this one later. Oh boy, oh boy.

“Right,” Oliver said tightly. “Felicity and I are having dinner with…friends, and then we’re planning on going to my club afterwards.”

“Tell you what,” Felicity said turning on her sunshine and rainbows persona to full effect, “you and Isabel should make a whole night of it since you seem to find yourself at such loose ends. If you like Isabel, I can let your assistant know and he can clear your calendar for the rest of the day,”

“That would be wonderful, thank you Felicity,” Isabel said, that same strange spark of energy lighting up her eyes again. “Why if you keep being this sweet to me I might just have to start calling you Baby myself.” She turned to Bruce who was none too happy at this unexpected winning volley. “Come along, Bruce. We’ll take my car and afterwards I’ll be happy to take you to your hotel.”

Yeah, Felicity thought, maybe she’ll even offer you turn down service.

Chapter Text

 


   

Chapter Seven

As soon as Bruce and Isabel left the lobby Felicity disengaged from Oliver and headed to the conference room to gather her notes and her jacket. Oliver stormed in after her and locked the door behind him. “Okay, what the hell was all that?” He demanded.

She gave him a censuring look as she shrugged on her jacket. “People are going to hear you, can’t this wait until we’re upstairs?” What she didn’t add was, ‘so I can have time to gather my thoughts and make up something that sounds somewhat reasonable.’

“No,” he said as he walked to the door that connected to the reception area and locked it as well. “I want an explanation and I want it right now.”

Felicity propped one hip against the deep walnut conference table and hugged her waist with both arms, her long legs crossed at the ankles as she looked at him. It was the same stance she often took both at the office and in the Lair but, unbeknownst to her, in that dress with her hair flowing over her shoulders like molten sunshine and her big blue eyes free from the heavy frames she usually wore, she looked like the beginning of every fantasy he’d ever had. “What exactly do you want me to explain?”

“Oh, I have a whole list in mind,” Oliver said in a growl normally reserved for green leather as he advanced on her, stopping only when he was just a few inches away. “One: Why didn’t you tell me Lucius Fox was your father? Two: What the hell is with you and Bruce Wayne? Three: What have you got cooked up with Isabel? Four—“

“Wait,” she said holding up her hand in a ‘stop’ gesture, “there is nothing getting ‘cooked up’ between me and that woman--!”

“Four,” he growled, inching forward until she could feel his breath on her face, “Why are you so desperate to avoid Wayne that you felt the need to confirm every nasty insinuation Isabel has ever made about us by practically groping me out there, and why the hell did you wear that dress if you didn’t want him to notice you? And five: What the hell else about yourself haven’t you told me?”

Felicity’s cheeks turned as red as her dress, “Are you done?”

“Not even close!” He bit out, “But you can start by answering those questions first.”

Felicity jammed her finger into his rock hard chest as hard as she could. It probably hurt her finger more than it hurt him but it made her feel better damn it! “Well, in that case, I can answer all of your questions right now: I never told you because it’s none of your goddamned business!”

“Not my business?” He asked, taken aback. “This,” he tapped his finger against the table, “this is my business! And as long as you are involved in the parts of my life that you are involved in when we aren’t here, everything about you is my business!”

“Since when?” She demanded, the rising volume of her voice matching his own.

“Since day one! Since the first day I let you in!”

“You let me in?” She snorted. “I saved your life, you didn’t let me in!”

“Bullshit!” He shot back. “We’re a team, Felicity—a team! In order to trust you I have to know who you are! You know everything about my life, Diggle’s life! Why don’t we know anything about yours? After all, this isn’t the first time we’ve had to deal with sudden revelations when it comes to you, is it?”

Her face froze, “I told you six months ago that I didn’t know anything about that.”

“And at the time I believed you; now, I’m not so sure,” he said with a cruel edge.

Felicity flinched as she moved away from him, her face suffused with a mixture of anger, humiliation, and pain, “I didn’t and you know that! Believe it or not, I don’t care; my life is none of your goddamn business either way! It’s not like you haven’t sprung a few surprises on us over the years; Sara, Helena, your mother and her whole closet full of skeletons! I didn’t know because I never wanted to! It didn’t matter to me, okay? It’s not like you’re the poster child for resolving personal issues, is it? The only reason we know as much about you as we do is because it’s your mission to begin with and, whenever anything comes up related to the island, we have to practically drag it out of you or wait until it blows up in our faces. You know about Diggle’s life because you asked him. Not once—not once—have you ever expressed any interest in me as a person. You’ve never asked me any personal questions or even had a conversation with me that wasn’t related to the job at hand. I’m just a tool to you so don’t you dare stand there and act as though I’ve somehow betrayed you when you’ve screwed me over too many times to count and yet I’m still here fighting your goddamn battles!”

“When have I ever screwed you over?” He raged, “And don’t you dare throw the executive assistant thing back in my face! I’m sick and tired of hearing it! If working upstairs beside me is such a fucking chore then just quit, damn it!”

“Fine! I quit!” Felicity spat out, her eyes filling with hot tears as she stomped toward the locked door. “Keep your job, keep your mission, as far as I’m concerned you can just shove it all up your--!”

In less than two strides he was gripping her arm, spinning her around and before she even had time to speak he was kissing her. His arms wrapped around her as he pushed her into the wall so hard the breath was forced from her lungs.

One hand slid from her back up into her hair where he pulled her neck back so he could better control the angle while the other slid downward until he was squeezing her behind through the tighter than tight dress.

And then Felicity was kissing him back, her hands wrapped around his shoulders even as the tears continued to course down her cheeks. He could taste them on his lips and his kisses grew softer though no less probing or intense. He pulled her higher onto his chest, lifting her feet off the ground, and walked her to the table where he sat her on the edge while moving between her thighs. As her legs fell open the hem began to ride up and he helped it along by rubbing his hands along her stocking covered thighs until her sheer nude panties and garter belt were visible.

He glanced down and his breath began to stutter. She knew there were reasons that they shouldn’t be doing this but fuck if she could think of any at the moment.

He pushed her jacket from her shoulders until it fell off her arms and onto the tabletop. There was a long zip at the back of the dress so he eased it down…down… down… pulling her long sleeves down her arms until her dress was bunched around her waist like a belt then released her mouth so that he could look at her unclothed state. Her pale pink nipples were clearly visible through the sheer fabric of lingerie that looked less like a bra and more like the beginnings of one finished off by something that was created either by God or the Devil. The look on his face told her that whoever it was who invented this brilliant piece of erotic architecture, someday she was going to shake their hand and say thank you.

“God, you are so…” he breathed before capturing her lips again and quickly removing his jacket as he toed off his shoes.

He had undone his belt, tie, and most of his shirt before Felicity’s brain began to come back online. At first it was just a buzzing in her head and then she began to hear the words her mind had been trying to tell her: You have been in almost this exact same position before and it did not end well, remember? “Wait, wait, wait!” She said as she used the last bit of her willpower to push him away from her and jump down off the desk, luckily without twisting her ankle in the very high heels that she had decided would probably spend the rest of their lives in the back of her closet about ten minutes after she had put them on.

Figures he’d leave the shoes, she thought fuzzily as she hauled up her top then pulled down her hemline. What is it with men and shoes?

“What’s wrong?” He asked dumbly as he stood watching her, his chest heaving as he fought to catch his breath.

Felicity pushed her hair out of her eyes and turned to look at him…which was a mistake. Woof, she thought as her eyes inadvertently traced the line of him through his mostly undone trousers. Apparently a fondness for leaping from rooftops and hunting down evildoers wasn’t the only thing he and Bruce had in common. “Uh…oh wow, you are really, really…wow.”

He stepped forward and cupped her cheek in his hand then pulled her in for another deep kiss. He ran his hand down her bare back and eased her closer until she could feel him hard against her stomach. Her brain went fuzzy again. She was just doing something, what was it again? Something about…? Oh fuck, that feels nice. He cupped her breast in his palm through her dress as the other slipped inside the still unzipped back to caress her bare skin. He began kissing a line down her neck as his thumb stroked the hard peak. When he got to the junction between her neck and shoulder he licked her and she made a noise that was something between a moan and a chirp. She would have been embarrassed but then he chuckled and started to nip and suck his way back up until he was sucking and nibbling on her earlobe, his teeth clicking against her earring, and she was just gone.

“Oh God,” She clutched him to her and pulled his mouth from her body and back to her lips. Her hand slipped inside of his open shirt and her fingers began to touch the angles and planes of him. His lips left hers after a deep, probing kiss to caress her throat.

“That feels…oh, that feels really good. That’s…that’s nice. Oh please do that…uh huh. You’re very good at this. Excellent. Gold stars all around,” she began to mumble as his mouth found her earlobe again and he chuckled low and sexy between nibbles and sucks. “Yeah, yeah. Oooh yeah. This is okay, this is good. We can keep doing this. It’s fine.”

He picked her up and placed her back on the table. He kissed her, gently working down the front of her dress so he could expose her bra then paid homage to the hardened peaks of her breasts through the sheer material. As his teeth nipped at her, she gasped, her fingers sinking into his hair as she clutched at him. One of her bra straps fell off her shoulder and he helped it on its way, exposing one of her breasts fully to his gaze before cupping it in his hand then kissing her again, his tongue exploring her mouth as his thumb teased her until her head began to swim. His other hand left her bottom to slide up her silk covered thighs, nimbly unsnapping her garters. His hand left her breast to join its mate, sliding over her thighs and tugging her toward him.

“I want you,” he whispered against her ear as one hand slipped between their bodies to find the junction of her thighs. His fingers rubbed at her through the thin lace and she gasped. “You want me too,” he said. “You’re wet for me, I can feel you,” he breathed against her lips as he began to tug them down.

“Oooh…wait. Wait…okay. Okay.” She pulled away, a bit more reluctantly this time, leaving her hands on Oliver’s chest to help them maintain distance. “This—this—this,” she stuttered and took a deep breath. “This is a bad idea. We can’t do this, not here.” She got up off the table, a bit more carefully this time, her hands attempting to keep him at a safe distance.

She managed that for about two whole steps until he pushed her hands away and moved in until he was kissing her again. “Like I said, I want you,” he told her, his eyes dark with lust. “I don’t care where we do this as long as I get to be inside of you as soon as possible.” Her breath caught in her lungs as he pressed her close so she could feel just how serious he was. He licked her lips before going in for another teasing kiss. “My place is too far away, your place maybe? Or I can call ahead and get us a room somewhere close? We can be in a bed in less than five minutes if we leave now.” He whispered against her ear before tugging her earlobe in his mouth and making her knees wobble causing her to have to grip his arm or risk falling over. “Or we can just stay right where we are and satisfy a fantasy of mine where I’ve got you bent over the desk and calling out my name.”

She squeaked and shuddered as his tongue made a rasping sound against her ear, his warm breath tickling her, and suddenly a bed sounded like a really, really good idea. Then again, so did the desk thing. Basically it all sounded good right about then.

“I want to watch you fall apart underneath me,” he whispered in her ear. “I want to know how you taste.”

A really, really--- “Bad,” Felicity said letting go and taking a few steps back this time as a precaution. “You said this was a bad idea, that we could never do this.”

“When did I say that?” Oliver asked with a frown as he took a step towards her. “I never said that. We’ve never discussed anything about something happening between us, but maybe we should have because you are just so...” He looked up and down like he was a starving man and she was a ten-course feast sent from the gods. “Remarkable doesn’t even begin to cover it,” He added with a sexy smile as he reached for her again.

“No,” she frowned, avoiding his hands as he tried to pull her to him again. “You told me---ooh wait.” Realization dawned and it hit her in the face like a brick wall. “You weren’t talking about me, were you?” She laughed mirthlessly, a hitch in her voice as the tears began to flow once more. “I see.”

“Felicity?” He frowned as he took another step towards her, “What---?”

She pointed at him, her whole body trembling with emotion as she tried to control her breathing. “You said you couldn’t ever be with someone you cared about or ever could care about but that doesn’t apply to me, does it? I thought you were trying to tell me that you could see something happening between us and you were trying to—to--”

“Shit,” Oliver breathed as he ran his hand over his face. “Listen, that’s not what I meant--!”

“Wasn’t it?” Felicity sniffed as she tugged on her jacket.

He followed her around the room as she began to collect her things. “Look, when we were in Russia and I told you that I wasn’t thinking of this—I mean, I wasn’t thinking of you; not directly--crap!” He scrubbed his hands through his hair, “I meant that I wasn’t talking about us, I was talking about how it is with Laurel and me! You just misunderstood. I mean, I knew you had a crush on me but I didn’t think it would ever get to this point because I always thought of you as just a…um, well, a friend before and thinking of you in a sexual way was just wrong on so many levels and I…” he froze and a strange part of her brain watched in amusement as dawning horror spread over his features. She now knew what it looked like for everyone else when, no matter what she did, the wrong things just kept pouring out of her mouth. It was like he was possessed or something. “I swear to God that was not what I had intended to say.”

She turned abruptly on her heel and began moving towards the door.

“No—no—no—Felicity, don’t, just give me a second, okay? Felicity, just let me get my thoughts together and we’ll—I’ll—wait!”

Ignoring him, she walked across the reception area where the caterers were cleaning up the remains of the spread from the meeting. The women stopped and stared at her in low whispers as she made her way to the ladies room and closed the door.

Oliver followed her, in long strides across the floor, his clothing still partially undone and disheveled. The whispers among the catering staff turned to giggles as they huddled together and watched him as he walked right into the ladies room and locked the door behind him.

As soon as he turned the deadbolt and stepped into the room he ran headlong into an older Mexican woman in a QC maintenance uniform who was wagging her finger at him and speaking in rapid fire Spanish.

“No puede estar en aquí!” She told him angrily. “Usted es un hombre malo! Voy a llamar a la seguridad en usted si usted no deja! Este es el baño de las mujeres! Pervert!”

“I’m sorry! ¡Lo siento! Yo sé que no debería estar aquí, sólo necesito hablar con mi amigo por un momento, por favor!” She let fly with even more rapid fire curses at him for violating the sanctity of the ladies so he carefully eased her cart toward the door and ducked his head to avoid her hands which were flapping a little too close for comfort. “Yo no soy un pervertido, señora, lo prometo! Sé que este es el baño de las mujeres, pero sólo voy a ser un momento. Lo siento mucho, señora! Un minuto! Yo sólo necesito uno minuto! ¡Gracias!” He said unlocking the door again and practically shoving the woman and her cleaning cart outside, before turning the lock again. He stepped into the room carefully and called out to Felicity. “Can we just talk, please? Before the cleaning lady calls security and I have to explain to the press why I was caught skulking around in a woman’s bathroom?”

“Go away!” She said from one of the stalls.

He approached, hearing her muffled sobs. “Open the door, Felicity. Please?”

He heard her blow her nose then the flushing of the toilet. The door opened and she shoved past him straight to the sinks without looking at him. As she turned on the faucets to wash her hands he stood behind her and tried to place his hands on her shoulders but she shrugged him off. “Felicity please, give me a chance to explain.”

Felicity got a paper towel and ran it under the water so she could wipe off the mascara that had ran and smeared on her cheeks. “There’s nothing to explain Oliver; I’m done. Now go away.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said stubbornly. ”You and I are going to fix this.”

She glanced at him as she finger combed her hair into some semblance of order. “Why, Oliver? Why do we need to fix anything?”

“Because before all this happened we were friends,” he said quietly. “I’ve lost too many friends to lose another now, especially just because of some stupid misunderstanding that happened because I put my foot in my mouth.”

She straightened her dress until she looked put together enough to risk going back to the office for her purse and briefcase then turned to him, suddenly feeling much calmer. “You know something I’ve learned after being a nervous babbler all my life? Sometimes when someone sticks their foot in their mouth it isn’t because they accidently told a lie, it’s because they accidently told the truth. Goodbye Oliver.” She tried to push past him but he put his hands on her arms to hold her firmly in place.

He sighed and looked down at her, his eyes awash in misery. “Where are you going?”

“Upstairs, so I can get my things and type up a resignation letter.”

“Fine,” he said as he released her. “You want to go upstairs then we’ll go upstairs.”

She walked past him and he took a second to shove his tie in his pocket, refasten his trousers, and button his shirt before following her across the main lobby to the elevators. He took his time because he knew she wasn’t going anywhere without him. The elevator to the executive floor required a keycard to access it and Felicity had left her purse and ID card upstairs.

They rode up to the top floor in silence, maintaining their distance, until entering his office. Immediately she sat down to her computer and began typing while he leaned heavily against the door and watched. She hit the print button and began gathering her things, shoving her personal tablet and other items into her briefcase and taking her purse from the bottom drawer. She then snatched the page she had printed from the printer, got up from her desk, and handed it to him as she shrugged the strap to her case higher onto her shoulder.

He kept his arms crossed over his chest, not making a move to take it from her. “You don’t have to do this.”

“Just take the letter, Oliver,” she told him.

“No.”

“Fine.” She sat it on her desk and made a move to the door. “I already emailed a copy to HR anyway.” He didn’t move, his large frame blocking the exit. “Get out of the way.”

“No.”

She closed her eyes in frustration, “I’m not doing this with you so just let me go.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” he said as he straightened and took a step towards her. “Not until we talk about this.”

“It won’t change what happened.” She said firmly. “I’m done and I want to leave.”

“I didn’t mean what I said,” he told her with a pained expression. “I know you didn’t know about him and about what happened on the island—”

She opened her mouth to speak and a pained sob escaped from between her lips instead.

He took a step forward to reach for her but she flinched back and his hands hung in the air as he shook his head, his mouth tightening into a pained grimace, “God, Felicity; I swear I didn’t mean it. I know you didn’t know and I’ve never held that against you, I promise. I don’t even know why I said it. I--”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said quickly, refusing to look him in the eye. “I just want to go home.”

“I can take you home,” he told her.

“No.”

“If you’re worried that I’ll try something, I won’t. I’ll just take you straight home, I won’t even touch you.” He dropped his gaze and shifted his feet, “Look, what happened downstairs…if I took advantage of the situation, I’m sorry.” He licked his lips and lifted his eyes which were flooded with pain. “I’m so sorry, Felicity. I don’t know what came over me. My only excuse is that—no, there is no excuse, but I can promise you it will never happen again. None of it; it’s done and we never even have to talk about it ever again.”

Hot tears began to sting her eyes and before she could help it they were streaming down her cheeks. “Goddamn it!” Felicity said in frustration as she wiped the moisture off her cheeks with her hand angrily.

“I’m sorry,” Oliver said as he took another step towards her, his hand outstretched as though to pull her closer to him but she backed away. “Felicity, I didn’t mean to upset you—“

“I’m not upset, you jackass! I’m pissed off!” She growled at him. “You get pissed off and you punch things, I get pissed off and I cry which really sucks because more than anything else right now I really, really just want to beat the crap out of something!”

Oliver backed up a step and put his hands to his sides and away from his body in a gesture of supplication. “You have every right to be angry and I get that, but you have to give me a chance to make this right. We’ve been friends for too long to—“

“But we’re not friends,” she broke in. “You said so yourself: You know nothing about me. Friends trust each other and you don’t trust me, Oliver. And frankly…” she looked at him, her face a mask of disappointment. “I don’t think I can trust you, not anymore, because while you, and the mission, and Diggle are all important to me…I just…I don’t think I was ever that important, not to you. Not as a friend. Not as anything.”

“Now that is just not true and you know it!”

“Really?” She asked with a watery smile. “Then answer me this: If I hadn’t stopped you and we…if we…finished--what would have happened after? What would we have been to each other tomorrow when it was out of your system and we were staring at each other over room service? What then? Would it have been a one-time thing? Over and done in a weekend and business as usual on Monday? Would you have waited a couple of days to send me some flowers and a balloon that said ‘Let’s Just Be Pals’ for me to stick on my desk? What?”

“I don’t know!” He broke out. “How the hell am I supposed to answer that? I didn’t plan it, I didn’t expect this! How am I supposed to know what would have happened next when, frankly, I don’t even know what’s happening right now?! Goddamn it!” He growled deep in his throat, his eyes reminding her of a cornered animal as he ran two hands through his hair then scrubbed at his ever present stubble roughly. He pointed an accusing finger at her, “You—you confuse the shit out of me, you know that? You’ve got me so turned around in my head that I—“ His mouth clamped shut and he just stood there as he struggled to come up with the right words. “No one knows me, Felicity. No one knows me. You’re supposed to be one of the few people that do but right now—“ his voice dropped to a near whisper, “I never thought of you that way, not because you aren’t…” he sighed. “This is what I meant in Russia. I may not have been thinking of you, but this is what I meant. I can’t have you working here and in the Foundry and have this kind of relationship with you as well. I can’t. I’m sorry.”

Felicity nodded, her face clearing as she straightened her spine and took a deep breath. “That’s fine, and you’re right: Neither of us saw this coming and I can accept what you’re saying but…what happened, happened and--I’ve already done this, Oliver.” Her voice was husky from the yelling and the crying, but also strong and determined. “My reaction to it isn’t about you as much as it’s about me. I will never again be the girl who waits for someone else to decide whether or not she is worthy of their time or attention ever again. You wanted to know who I really am and this is me telling you now: I am not that girl, Oliver.” She said emphatically. “I would rather spend the rest of my life alone then give anyone the opportunity to make me that girl ever again.”

“When did I---? What are you talking about?” He asked, obviously confused.

She gave him a pitying look even as she realized that her words weren’t as much for his benefit as they were for her own. “I’m saying I’m someone who needs to learn to stop living her life around someone else’s schedule. I need to stop falling for the hero when the hero never falls for me and I won’t be a piece of office furniture that gets moved into the bedroom when you’re between women.”

“What women?” He asked in anger and exasperation.

“Sara for one,” she told him. “She’s my friend, Oliver! You put me in a really shitty position, do you realize that? Now I either have to lie to her and pretend nothing happened or I have to confess to someone I care about that I—“ She felt herself choke up and he started toward her again but she held out her hand accusingly. “Do you even realize how sick and dirty I feel right now? I told you once that I didn’t have many friends, Oliver! You guys are it: You, Dig, Roy, and Sara—that’s it for me! That’s all I have! And now I might lose one of my friends, I hurt my friend, because you decided this was okay!”

“No one is getting hurt by what happened!” Oliver said stubbornly. “Sara and I aren’t together—“

She shook her head, not even wanting to hear it, “You two have something, I know you do. Don’t you think she might be hurt if she knew what just happened between us?”

“Sara…” His mouth tightened into a grim line and his voice dropped a few octaves, “Sara and I aren’t like that. Not anymore.”

“Bullshit!” Felicity snorted. “You and I both know that you had sex with her fairly recently and I’m not some cheap lay you can release your tensions on until your girlfriend blows back into town. Not that kind of girl, sorry. I don’t play musical beds, Oliver.”

“I never said you were and I would never try to make you into that!”

“I can’t do this—“ she began.

“Felicity,” he came closer to her and glanced down at her hands but didn’t try to take them in his own. “My relationship with Sara is complicated and whatever we have is less about commitment and monogamy and more about stress relief. Sara has her partners and she doesn’t care what I do or who I do it with and vice versa. We tried to make it into more but there was just too much bad road between us. That said my relationship with her has nothing to do with what happened. I won’t lie and tell you that I don’t find you attractive or that what I felt downstairs wasn’t real, but it was a mistake; one that won’t ever be repeated, I swear. I know what kind of girl you are but I also know what kind of guy I am.”

“I think…I think it’s time for me to leave.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Felicity knew they were the truest words she had probably ever spoken.

“Fine, yeah,” Oliver heaved a sigh, stepping back. “Take the whole weekend, Diggle and I can handle it on our own.”

“No, not just the weekend.” Her eyes met his and she swallowed, a hollow feeling opened up inside her and the world seemed to swim in front of her. “I quit.”

“What?” Oliver stared at her in shock. “Wha-why? I thought—I apologized! Felicity, you can’t—“

“I quit,” she repeated firmly, closing her eyes as she heard her own voice saying the words she never thought she’d ever hear herself say. “Both jobs.”

He stared at her for a long moment before his expression grew dark. “Fine.” He moved away from the door, his tone cold and seemingly indifferent as though all emotion had left him. “There’s the door. Have a nice life.”

At that moment, as if on cue, the door swung open and Diggle stepped through. Oblivious to what was happening he grinned as soon as his eyes lit on Felicity. “Damn girl, you look good! I like that dress.” He clapped and rubbed his hands together, then looked from one to the other, “So what’s the plan for tonight? Are you going to meet with the Wayne people later or are we going straight to the club?” He paused when no one answered, taking in the tense scene before him. “Okay, what did I miss?”

“Nothing,” Felicity said bleakly as she stepped around them and walked through the door. “Bye John, I’ll see you later.”

His worried eyes followed her progress to the elevators before he turned to Oliver. “What’s wrong with her? What happened?”

“She quit,” Oliver said tersely as he headed into his office to grab his briefcase.

“What do you mean ‘she quit’?” He asked following him, his tone darkening with anger. “You’re not just going to let her leave like that, are you?”

“Yep, just like that,” Oliver said as he switched off his monitor and swiftly walked past Diggle to the door.

“Oliver, you need to go after her! We need her!”

“Just drop it, Dig.”

“You and I both know that ain’t happening!”

“Dig!” Oliver growled in the voice he reserved when he was in the hood.

“Fine,” Diggle bit out, shooting him a dirty look as he joined him in the elevator and slapped his hand on the button to take them to the parking level. “But we will be talking about this later. In detail.”

Oliver didn’t say anything. He just looked straight ahead, his mind in turmoil and jaw clenched. He needed to forget it and move on. He’d managed before she came into his life and he’d manage now that she was gone.

“We need her, Oliver!”

They’d be just fine.

Chapter Text

 

 


 fel 

Chapter Eight

The first thing Felicity did when she got home was strip off that damn dress and the shoes and toss them as far back in her closet as she could. It had been a stupid idea to buy it in the first place. What had she been thinking? What was the point of it all. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! She shed the several hundred dollars’ worth of undergarments across her bedroom floor as she headed into the shower and scrubbed her skin until the hot water ran out then punished herself by remaining under the cold spray until it had soaked into her bones.

She toweled herself off then brushed her teeth until the taste of Oliver was replaced by toothpaste, dressed in her most comfortable pair of fuzzy fleece pajama pants and a cotton camisole top, then made her way to the kitchen. She opened her refrigerator and looked inside to find two kinds of mustard, an old chunk of moldy cheese that she promptly tossed in the garbage disposal, a jar of Claussen mini-pickles, and Diet Coke. She sighed and grabbed the stack of menus off the counter and glanced at the clock.

Holy crap, she thought. She hadn’t been home this early in…”Huh,” she said out loud. “Well, don’t have to worry about that anymore now that I don’t have a job to go to.” As soon as the words left her mouth she felt the hot tears sting her eyes. “No, not doing this again,” Felicity muttered as she pushed off from the counter and began to punch in the number to Mr. Chow’s. “I wonder if I promise to give the delivery guy a big tip he could score me a couple of pints of Ben and Jerry’s?”

Before the phone could pick up on the other end there was a knock at the door. She placed the phone back on the hook with a sigh, walked across her living room, and stared at the closed door with trepidation. What if it was Oliver? The knock sounded again and she looked at the doorknob for a second before peering through the peephole. “Fuck,” she said under her breath. Today was not her day. With a deep sigh of defeat she unlocked the door and let it swing open without even bothering to speak to the person on the other side.

“Surprised to see you home at—“ Bruce glanced at the clock on her wall as he stepped inside. “Three o’clock in the afternoon.”

“If it’s such a surprise then why were you knocking at my door in the first place?” She walked back over to her phone, picking up the menu she had set down, before watching him as he took stock of her tiny house. “Is Isabel in the car?”

“I left her back at the restaurant, told her I had a meeting to get to.”

“Good, because I’m not buying extra take-out for that woman.” She placed her order, ignoring him as best she could even though his presence seemed to fill the entire room.

Bruce listened in as she placed the very large order and cocked an eyebrow at her. “I assume this means you’re inviting me to stay because you ordered enough to feed us and about six other people.”

“I’m stress eating and I have no food in the fridge,” she said with a sigh as she reached for a bottle of red she had hidden away in the cabinet near the glasses.

“Stress eating, huh?” Bruce said, rocking back on his heels in a way that would have really irritated her had she not felt so emotionally numb. “What’s got you so stressed that you had to order half the menu?”

“Quit my job today. It was your fault—well, mostly your fault, so no, you’re not invited. No egg rolls for you. They’re all mine.” She held up the bottle of wine in her hand with the label facing outwards. “’96 Chteau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac.”

“Nice vintage,” he said as he sat down in one of the barstools and peered at her over the counter.

“Hmm,” she agreed. “Expensive, too. It’s no ’97 Romane Conti, but it’s good stuff. It was a gift from Oliver.” She popped the cork and poured a bit into a glass, frowned, then poured some more before taking a sip. “Mmm, good. This is mine, too. The whole thing.”

“That’s a little selfish, isn’t it?” He asked in an amused tone, his lips tilting up slightly at the corners.

“That’s me,” she sighed softly as she looked into the dark red wine in her glass. “Selfish, and stupid, and always getting in over my head. Running away.” She took another deep swallow of the wine and let it wash over her taste buds, giving herself a moment to enjoy the notes of currant and other bold flavors on her tongue. “Quitting.”

“Doesn’t sound like you,” Bruce said quietly.

“That’s because you don’t know me,” Felicity returned. She glanced up at him, “Don’t suppose you brought any ice cream with you?”

Bruce patted the pockets of his jacket and shrugged apologetically. “Sorry, must have left it in my other suit.”

“Don’t you know you’re never supposed to come empty handed to someone’s house for dinner?” She asked as she reached for the bottle again after she drained the glass.

“You told me I wasn’t invited,” he reminded her as his eyes flicked first to the glass she was holding and then to her face.

“You’re not, so why are you here?” She leaned against the door of her refrigerator. The cool of the stainless steel against her nearly bare back caused her arms to break out in goosebumps but her eyes never left his as she waited for him to answer. “And how did you know I was home? Are you staking out my place now, Bruce?”

“We got news that someone put a contract out on you,” Bruce said, his voice changing from casual to Bat at breakneck speed.

“So what?” She asked, taking another sip.

His eyebrows drew together and he gave her a look of utter outrage, “So what? Did you acquire a death wish in recent years?”

“Contract got canceled,” she said, purposefully avoiding his facetious aside knowing that it would open a whole can of worms she wasn’t eager to take on at that moment.

“Barbara told you.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yeah, some people like to use this thing called ‘technology’ to relay news that isn’t necessarily urgent enough to require hopping a jet,” she told him. “The contract got canceled; I’m alive, moving on. Why are you here anyway?”

“Why wouldn’t I be here?” He asked her. “I find out one of my people is in danger I want to know what’s going on.”

“I’m not one of your ‘people’, Bruce,” she snorted.

He ignored her, nodding at the wine glass again. “Red wine, Chinese food, and ice cream? Doesn’t exactly go together, does it?”

“Are you kidding? That’s what my people call a Jewish sundae, where have you been?”

“This happen a lot?” He asked, indicating the bottle. “Red wine alone in the middle of the afternoon?”

“Not usually but I might decide to start making a habit of it, who knows? I have to find something to fill my days now that I don’t have a job to go to.” Concern tinged with some other emotion flitted across his face and she quirked an eyebrow at him. “Two glasses and I’m an alcoholic already? Really?”

“Just asking,” he said, his gaze never wavering. “You’re the one determined pick up bad habits and not share.”

“Do you want a glass, Bruce?” She asked him as he moved to behind the counter to join her.

“Just a taste,” he said quietly. “I don’t need a glass of my own.”

“Do you want my glass?” She asked as she reached for it but before she could his arms surrounded her and his lips were on hers.

She relaxed into the moment, the wine having warmed her blood and loosened her senses. His kiss was soft, and familiar, and like the wine that he could probably taste on her tongue it was bold and deep and everything she remembered and more.

Before she could gather her wits to push him away he was already pulling back. He looked down at her, his expression revealing nothing, and he said, “Good wine.”

“Probably tasted better in the glass,” she retorted, reaching for it and taking another sip, partly to steady her nerves and partly to wash the taste of him away.

“I don’t know about that,” Bruce said quietly, his eyes alight with some tender emotion. He stepped back to give her some space, keeping his hands to himself. “Why’d you quit your job?”

Felicity put the glass down, suddenly no longer interested in finishing it. She stepped back a few feet, feeling the need to move, and said as she stared at her bare feet, “Told you why.”

“You did,” he agreed, leaning on the counter as she had done earlier as he loosened his tie, opening the first couple of buttons at his throat. It was a nice tie, nice suit. Blue, she thought muzzily. “I’m just still not clear on how it’s my fault. Did you and your boyfriend have a fight or something?”

“I love how you do that,” she said as she looked at him, her head tilted slightly to one side. “You can ask one deceptively simple question and get so much information in return."

“So far I’m not getting any information,” he pointed out.

“Oliver’s not my boyfriend,” she said firmly. “Not my lover, not my boss,” she sighed, “not even my friend.”

He looked at her with those midnight blue eyes which could either burn your soul or melt your heart depending on the emotions behind them. “You still haven’t told me how it’s my fault.”

“You hurt me,” Felicity said simply.

Bruce winced and put his hands in his pockets as he dropped his gaze. “I’m sorry.”

Felicity sensed the power shift continued on. “You should have told me that four years ago.”

“I tried,” he said quietly.

“You should have tried harder,” she said firmly.

“I tried, you left.”

“Four years, same address.”

“I texted, left a few messages.”

“You mean the two texts you sent almost a week after we had sex? ‘Meeting BC 1 hour’? Yeah, saw those; I wasn’t sure if you were calling a team meeting or looking for another excuse to leave money on the nightstand. ”

He shifted uncomfortably, his eyes skittering away from hers for a moment, “That’s a cheap shot.”

“Cheap shot from a cheap date; saved you almost fifty bucks by paying for my own ride.”

“You dyed your hair,” he observed, seeming to change the subject and yet, at the same time, not.

“Added low lights so I wouldn’t stand out so much,” Felicity fingered the half-dried mess that hung down her back and shoulders in waves.

“I liked the way you looked,” he said, his eyes caressing her features tenderly. “You shouldn’t have to hide yourself from anyone.”

Felicity chuckled hollowly and rubbed her hand over her eyes. They hurt, it felt like they were swollen and on fire from all the crying. “That’s all I’ve ever done so why stop now?”

“Why did you quit, Felicity?”

She almost asked ‘Which time,’ but she didn’t. “I just felt it was time to move on.”

“Why?” He asked in that hypnotic tone of his.

She took a steadying breath and met his gaze with one of her own, “Why are you here, Bruce?”

Silence.

She eyed him irritably. “I’m not playing any guessing games with you and you aren’t getting in my panties tonight so cut the crap and just tell me: why are you here?”

“I’m here for you,” he said, taking a step closer to her.

She snorted rudely and began to laugh. He watched her, his eyes growing darker. “Right. Okay. Thanks for that.” There was a knock at the door and she made her way toward it without bothering to speak to him or give him a second glance.

He followed her to the door. “I’ll pay for the food.”

She chuckled darkly, “Four years of waiting for closure and you want to make up for it by picking up the check for my take-out? That’s almost as classy as how you handled it last time. Thanks, but I got it—on both counts.” She grabbed her purse and opened the door for him. “You can go now,” she told him before turning to the man standing outside with her boxes of food.

He slipped out quietly, ignoring the look of apprehension on the face of the small statured Asian teenager as she paid him, and didn’t speak again until the boy hurried past. When she moved to close the door he held it open with his hand. She looked up at him and waited.

After a moment he said simply, “I’ll be back later. There are things we need to talk about.”

She didn’t acknowledge his statement; she just shut the door and locked it behind him.

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

She ate a few bites then shoved the rest in her nearly empty fridge. Chinese always tasted better the next day anyway, she told herself. Maybe now that I’m going to have all this free time on my hands I’ll start buying groceries again.

She walked across the room and sat down on her couch, tugging one of the big colorful throw pillows into her lap. Bruce wasn’t going away until he got what he came for, whatever that was. Part of her hoped that when she told him she quit QC he’d drop it but something told her he was going to confront Oliver next and he wasn’t going to be doing it as Bruce.

She buried her head in the pillow to muffle the sound as she screamed in frustration. Part of her just wanted to let the two of them deal with it while she threw her self-respect out the window and went to the bodega down the street to buy ice cream in her pajamas but that wasn’t going to happen.

The ‘let them duke it out amongst themselves’ thing, she clarified to her own brain. She was so very capable of leaving her house in her slippers and fuzzy lounge pants. In fact, when all this was said and done, she vowed to spend at least a month in nothing but pajamas as she caught up on almost three and a half years of sleep debt.

If Bruce confronted the Arrow as the Bat then there would be bloodshed—probably on both sides. Plus she would also be putting Diggle’s safety on the line. The Batman would attack first and deal with the consequences later and Oliver was fully prepared to kill if the situation called for it. Between the two of them---it did not bode well.

He would do it tonight, she reasoned. He came here as a precursor to his confrontation with the Arrow and then he’d come back here, probably in full armor, to let her know she’d been made redundant in that job as well. It was a very Bruce thing to do.

She looked at her TV that had actually gathered quite a bit of dust since she’d last turned it on and wondered what kinds of options she’d have in regards to daytime programing over the next month or so. Maybe she’d even take a quick nap on the couch or something? It had been awhile since she’d slept on her own couch and not the one in the Lair. She turned it on and tried to ignore the alarm bells in her head, tried not to acknowledge the fact that she was looking at the clock every five minutes, or that she kept tapping the arm of the couch nervously as she waited for it to get dark enough for the masks to take to the streets.

Not that she was going, she thought. They could handle it, right?

Finally, around seven, she walked to her bedroom to put on some clothes. She didn’t care if Mr. Ahuhmibe saw her in her warm and fuzzies but there was no way she was standing between two armed to the teeth and pissed off vigilantes in her PJs because, while she appreciated the whimsical nature of her fluffy Monty Python Killer Bunny Slippers and pink and purple Dead Parrot pajamas, she didn’t feel like having to explain the joke while ducking arrows and batarangs.

Chapter Text

 

 


 oliverfelbruce 

Chapter Nine

Felicity dressed quickly in her most ragged and frayed jeans, a thin t-shirt she had bought at some vintage hippie shop with a silk screening of Lord Ganesha sitting on a lotus (she liked elephants and he looked kind of pretty with his big eyes and all the flowers on his crown), and a really lovely camel colored Donna Karan wrap around cashmere cardigan that reached her knees. She’d had it forever (and it looked it with some ratty bits of pilling here and there and the occasional pull in the weave) but it felt like a big soft hug and she was going for comfort, not style. Fuck style, she thought. I’m unemployed! I can be comfortable, damn it. Besides, she wasn’t going to risk getting blood on her good clothes just in case she miscalculated and had to help suture wounds and wrap bandages.

Tugging on a pair of pink Keds that she had splattered paint on the last time she redecorated her kitchen, she grabbed her bag and headed for the club.

Things were pretty hopping that night and the lines were fairly long already. She drove her mini around the back to the employee parking lot then opened the outer door that led down to the basement. It was quieter here; the noise of the club reduced to a throbbing boom as they’d built the Lair as far away from the action as they could. She tapped the entry code into the keypad and headed down the stairs to her computers and immediately began a surreptitious scan of all the security cameras and scanning equipment she had set up on the roof of the club and on the surrounding buildings and covered it up by running a few other programs in the foreground.

Over the last several months, every chance she got, she would set up the tiny wireless cameras and listening equipment all around them, getting as many angles as possible. Even Diggle had told her after one such foray into the surrounding abandoned warehouses that it was probably overkill but she believed in being prepared. If there’s one thing she’d learned from her time with Bruce (besides taking a minute to always stop and think before letting someone get their hands on the cookie jar, wink-wink, nudge-nudge), it was that you could never be too prepared or too paranoid. Hopefully, tonight, her paranoia would pay off.

In the background she could hear the steady metallic clack of the cold steel forged eskrima sticks and the occasional grunt of pain as Diggle and Oliver went at it. They were both so focused on their training that they hadn’t noticed her yet but she didn’t think that would last—

The room suddenly grew very quiet.

---long. “Damn, I’m good,” she muttered under her breath as she typed.

She felt his presence (a very tense and perturbed presence) behind her but didn’t look up until he spoke. “Felicity.”

“Oliver,” she said back, mocking his terse tone.

“What are you doing here?”

“Running some final checks on the system and making sure all the patches are in before I leave you guys to take care of yourselves,” she said casually.

“Diggle can do that,” he bit out as he moved to stand in her line of sight.

“Oh no, Diggle can’t do that,” the other man huffed as he put the sticks back in the weapons case. “Hey girl, nice to see you back.”

“Not back,” she called out, “just finishing up a few loose ends is all. Nice to see you too though.”

Oliver stared down at her unflinchingly and she pretended to ignore him as she expanded the reach of her scans and put on her headphones to listen for chatter off Bruce’s Oracle coms. They played this game for nearly ten minutes before Oliver grew impatient and snatched the headphones off her ears.

“We need to talk.”

“What about?” She asked as she slipped the headphones around her neck but close enough to her ears that she could still pick up faint chatter when and if he showed.

If looks could kill her dad would be brushing up on the Kaddish right about then.

“Now,” he bit out.

She turned off the monitor but kept her wireless headphones on as she followed him to a quiet corner of the room near the stairs to lean against the back of the couch. Diggle stayed on the other end of the training area, giving them distance, but she could see him watching them from the corner of his eye. “Ayl mo-lay ra-chamim—“ she recited under her breath.

“What was that,” Oliver asked sharply, pinning her with his penetrating stare.

“Nothing—Kaddish. It’s a Jewish—never mind,” she took a deep breath, exhaled to center herself, and faced him. “So, is this your way of escorting me to the door so you can kick me out of the club house? Because, just so you know, I was planning on leaving as soon as my scans and updates were done anyway.”

“I’m not kicking you out,” he said quietly so Diggle couldn’t hear him but his jaw was still clenched and there was a vein throbbing in his temple. “You’re the one who quit, remember? I didn’t kick you out of anything.”

“I remember,” she agreed.

“So why are you here?” He asked as he folded his arms over his bare chest.

It was still a nice chest, Felicity thought to herself as she tried to come up with a strategy. “I told you: running scans and—“

“Patches,” he finished for her and briefly glanced down at the floor before meeting her gaze again. “And like I said, one of us could have figured that out. So, I repeat, why are you here?”

“To kiss and make up so I can complete my life’s dream of having your baby and becoming the happiest girl in the world,” Felicity said in a deadpan. “Why else would I be dressed so drop-dead sexy in a basement at this time of night?”

His eyes ran over her figure before meeting her gaze again. “Nice sweater and…elephant man.”

“Style and comfort,” she agreed.

“I liked the other outfit better,” he said, the anger in his eyes making way to some other dark emotion.

“I kind of got that impression,” Felicity joked feebly as she shifted her weight a bit.

“So,” Oliver said, his lips twitching upwards a bit.

“So,” she echoed.

“You want to get busy with making that baby now or should we start with the kissing and making up? I’m good with either/or so, if you’re game, I can ask Diggle to step outside for a few minutes to give us some privacy.” He said cocking his head toward Diggle.

“Only a few minutes?” She said in mock sympathy. “Oh wow, that explains so much about your love life.”

“Maybe I just haven’t met the right girl yet.” He said as he took a half step forward.

“Still haven’t,” she said quietly, the humor dropping from her tone.

“Fair enough,” he said, his eyes dropping to the floor once again. He took a second before looking back up at her, his face open and vulnerable. “How about the making up part without the kissing and babies then?”

“I’m not mad at you, Oliver.”

“I’m not mad at you either,” he told her. “I was. I was pretty pissed off in fact--until about five minutes ago but I think that’s because you weren’t pulling too many punches earlier and …” he paused and swallowed, “And maybe you said some things I’ve needed to hear for a while now.”

“Just because it was the truth that doesn’t mean I had a right to hurt you like that,” she said, a lump forming in her throat. “I’m so sorry I hurt you, Oliver.”

“Come here,” he said gathering her into his chest and holding her close. She sniffled a little, breathing in the clean scent of his cologne mixed with his sweat and prayed she wasn’t dripping snot on his shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m sorry I hurt you, too,” He said, kissing her hair as she hugged him back. “Does this mean you’re coming back to work on Monday?”

She took a calming breath and stepped back. “No. I’m sorry but I think it’s for the best if I left QC.”

“Why?” He asked in confusion, the frown returning to his face as he stepped back and dropped his hands to her shoulders. “Is it…is it because I brought up…?”

“No,” she said quickly, her cheeks flushing in remembrance. “I’ve had months to get past that and, like you told me in the hospital, it doesn’t matter who he was; I’m still me. He doesn’t get to have that power over me.”

“I meant it,” he told her sincerely. “You are Felicity Smoak, my friend, someone I care deeply for and who I…” He stopped and averted his eyes for a moment. “You aren’t him and you’re not responsible for anything he did. Believe me, if anyone is familiar with what you’ve been going through, it’s me.”

“I know,” she said softly. “I, um, I think it would still be best if I left. I think my continued presence at QC will cause more problems, more distractions, and I think it’s for the best that, for now at least, I take a step back,” she told him.

“I told you, we’re good,” he said squeezing her shoulders a bit in emphasis. “I need you with me, Felicity. On my side.”

“I’m on your side, Oliver,” she told him. “Always was, always will be—just not in the office. Someone’s going to talk, Isabel or someone else, about the conference room—“ She snorted abruptly and shook her head, ”What am I saying? They’ve been talking and it’s affecting your credibility with the board and everyone else who wants to use your Dad’s death, and Walter’s leaving, not to mention your Mom’s…well, you know. It would serve a lot of people’s interests to create a power vacuum and it’s more than just Isabel looking for that kind of opportunity. She just happens to be the most overt of them. Plus…” she paused for a moment before soldiering on, “I think it’s time. There are things I need to figure out and being here…it’s not your fault, but I think that there are things I need to work through on my own.”

“You do realize that you just gave me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ brush off?” Oliver said in disbelief then rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Wow, not used to being on this end of that conversation. Now I kind of understand where all those slaps came from.”

“Sucks, huh?” Felicity said with a watery smile.

“It really does,” he frowned in bewilderment. “I don’t like it.”

“I know.”

“No, I really don’t like it,” He said emphatically. ”I don’t want to let you go. Felicity, I—“

“Don’t,” she told him as she put her palm on his chest and held him slightly away from her. “Even if you think it’s what I want to hear; don’t say it.”

“Why not?” Oliver asked in a voice that made her want to shiver and go back to the whole plan he’d had about Diggle leaving the room.

“Because I’m not good for the team, Oliver,” she told him firmly.

“That’s not true at all.” He just placed his hand over hers and stroked it softly with his fingers, “You’re the one who made this a team. Before, me and Dig, we were barely functioning without you. You’re the one who pulled it together. You brought on the tech, came up with most of our procedures—you are the heart and soul of what we do.” He swallowed, his expression both pained and sincere. “I might have had the mission and the Arrow, Dig had his military background and Deadshot, but you gave us order and focus. You kept us in line and kicked our asses, called us on our shit, and showed us what we were capable of. You made it about more than just my mission, you made it our mission.”

She didn’t know whether to be flattered or vomit from the strain of having to hold back the truth from him. “I just can’t anymore. I’m sorry. Not—not now, anyway.”

Reluctantly, he pulled back and nodded. “Okay. I get it. After Tommy I had to take some time to get my head right, to confront some old demons, so I understand if you need to take a few months, but I won’t accept your resignation.” When she started to protest he held up his hand to stop her. “I’ll talk to HR and have you placed on personal leave for 60 days and, if you need more time, we’ll figure it out then.”

She wanted to protest, tell him there would be no looking back, but she’d hurt him enough for one day. Another lesson learned from Bruce: sometimes a kindly told lie was better than brutal honesty. “Thanks Oliver,” Felicity smiled, pushing down the pain. “I really appreciate it.”

Oliver, stepping back, added in a casual and offhand manner, “As for the team, take all the time you need but we both know you’ll be back.”

“Oh really, you think so?” Despite her inner turmoil, she found herself grinning at his display of arrogance. “And what makes you so sure about that?”

Oliver glanced down at his watch, “You quit, what, less than 4 hours ago and…” He grinned. “Come on, Dig! Let’s finish our workout before we go on patrol!” He called out turning on his heel as he jogged over to the workout mats, his step a bit lighter than it had been when she had first arrived.

“Coming!” Dig called after him as he put down the weights he was working with and waited until Oliver was setting up in the training area to wander over to her. “I don’t know what happened this afternoon but I’m glad you and Oliver worked it out.” He told her quietly, a soft smile on his lips.

For such a big tough guy, John Diggle could be a real sweetheart. “Me too.”

“So, are you really quitting?”

She dropped her eyes, unable to look at him, “It’s complicated, Dig.”

“Always is,” he agreed, his expression telling her more than any words ever could that he understood even if he didn’t know the reason why. “I better get over there so I can hand him his ass whipping, but we’ll talk later, okay?”

She nodded and turned back to her monitors, “Have fun. Knock him on his butt a couple of times for me.”

“Will do,” he said giving her shoulder a pat before heading over to Oliver to begin their daily ritual of beating the crap out of one another.

For the next three hours she listened to them as they went through their training, keeping them in her periphery as she completed her own secret mission under the radar. Bruce and Barbara had always been meticulous about the encryption on their coms but Felicity helped design Watchtower and they still used her base software. She could get into their systems, of that she had no doubt, so why hadn’t she picked up any chatter yet? It just didn’t sit right with her. Bruce should have made his move by now and she didn’t trust his silence one bit.

A thought occurred to her that there may be a reason for that. Earlier he had known she was home even though….oh you son of a—

She palmed some equipment and shoved it in her cardigan pocket and called out to the guys then picked up her tablet. “Hey guys! I need to go out to my car for a second. I’ll be right back.”

“Do you need me to walk you out?” Dig asked, chest heaving as he took a second’s respite from the workout Oliver was giving him as they sparred.

“Naw, I’m parked right out back and I have my panic gear and tracker on me, see?” She held up her smart phone. “I’ll be okay.”

“Hurry back,” Oliver told her. “We’re going on patrol in 30 and, since you’re still here, I figured you might want to man coms before you leave us all by ourselves to molest the workstation in your absence.”

“Funny, like the threat of you messing with my computers—“she stopped and scowled, “You try it and I’ll let Diggle shoot you with your own arrows, Queen!”

They just laughed at her and went back to their sparring as she headed up the stairs and outside. She quickly crossed over to where she was parked and began her scan. Bruce was fond of planting bugs and tracking devices but he never used the run of the mill stuff. No, Mr. Pointy Ears and Paranoia always used shielded tech that most normal sweeps would—

BEEP

“Jackpot,” Felicity said out loud as she popped her trunk. She used the flash on her phone to locate the small tracker that had been inserted into the thick felt lining and piggybacked onto the signal. With a few keystrokes on her tablet she had the tracker thinking she was on her way home then she pocketed the tech, jumped in her car, and parked it under a metal awning near the old docking ramp so the little red mini wouldn’t be readily visible to someone traveling above street level, then headed back inside.

She was a little mad at herself for not figuring it out earlier. Of course he put a tracker on her car, duh! Talk about a total face/palm moment. Bruce used trackers and bugs like Oliver used arrows.

She sat back down at her monitors and watched for movement on her security cameras. Less than ten minutes later a shadow in the shape of a cowl and cape flashed by. Okay, you smug pain in the rear…”Hey guys!” She called out as they were toweling off and gathering their equipment to go on patrol. “I’m such an idiot! I left my phone in my car and these patches are being a pain. Can you guys give me a few more minutes before you head out? Go, I don’t know,” she made a vague gesture with her hands, “hit each other with sticks for a few more minutes or something?”

“How much longer?” Oliver frowned, getting all growly. He always tensed up right before donning the hood and he hated anything that delayed his nightly prowl so she didn’t bother taking offence at his tone.

“Fifteen? Twenty tops,” she promised. A thunderous look passed over Oliver’s features so she cut him off before he could launch into a temper tantrum. He could run a multi-billion dollar corporation by day, hunt down baddies by night, but the man could still give a three year old a run for his money when it came to throwing a hissy fit. “Please? I just want to make sure you guys are safe and sound until I get back, okay?”

His face softened and she felt a little guilty for playing on his emotions like that but it had to be done. Oliver gave a long suffering sigh and scrubbed his hands through his hair. “Okay, but hurry up. Dig, want to take a few minutes to recheck the gear?”

Felicity turned off the monitors and headed for the doors. She took a few seconds to reprogram the keypad so they’d be trapped inside until she got back. It wouldn’t slow them down too much, a few minutes maybe, but she hoped their first instinct would be to wait for her return before they tried to override the system on their own. Neither of them was fond of doing that sort of thing and she couldn’t risk them running into Batman unawares. Hopefully she’d make it back before they tried but, just in case, she’d tell them she had intended to give them the new codes before they left out tonight and just got caught up in looking for her phone.

She quickly made it up the stairs and onto the roof where he was just standing there, cape whipping around him and his face obscured by shadows, as though he were waiting for her.

“You found my tracker,” he said in the Bat’s low rumble.

“You showed up at my place earlier, remember? Wasn’t hard to figure out,” she lied. Sort of lied. It really wasn’t that hard, at least, once it occurred to her but he didn’t need to know that.

“Why are you here, Felicity?” He growled.

“It’s a club,” she said lightly, “and I’m just in a clubbing kind of mood. You?”

She felt rather than saw his eyes rake over her form. “You’re not exactly dressed for the club scene.”

“Neither are you,” she pointed out. “And yet here you are.”

“You and Queen kiss and make up then?” His tone was cold.

“No,” she said, pretending confusion. “Why would you think that?”

“Because you’re standing on the roof of his club in the middle of the night,” he stated in a voice that was designed to turn her knees to jelly and not in a good way. “Where is he?”

“Not here,” she lied. “Since he took over Queen Consolidated he doesn’t come to the club that much. His sister runs it now.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Why’re you?” She shot back.

“I don’t have time to play games, Felicity,” he bit out. “I’m here for the Arrow.”

“What arrow?” she asked, feigning ignorance. “Why would Oliver have an arrow and what would you want with it?”

“Don’t play dumb, it doesn’t suit you,” he growled. “I know Oliver Queen is the Arrow.”

She looked at him and burst into laughter, grabbing her sides, “Oh my God! Are you serious? Oliver?” She snickered and wiped the imaginary tears from her eyes. “You think Oliver Queen is the Arrow?”

He was on her in less time than it took her to blink, his eyes cold and his mouth set in a grim line. “Stop playing games, Felicity, your life is at stake!” he growled. “Queen, where is he?”

“Probably at some party trying to talk a brunette out of her cocktail dress,” she shot back, not the least bit intimidated. After all, once you’ve seen a guy with his pants down around his knees it was hard to take the growly ‘I’m Batman’ thing seriously. “And, FYI, he’s not the Arrow. I can see why you’d think so but, truth is, despite the way he looks Oliver suffered some pretty extensive injuries on the island. More than 20% of his body is covered in scars and that doesn’t include all the bones he broke that never healed properly. He also has some disc issues in his thoracic spine—nonsurgical, but still. He works out but there is no way his body could handle the stress of leaping from roof top to roof top night after night. The man spends more time with his chiropractor than he does the board. ” She gave him a wry half-grin, “Of course, if you’d ever seen his chiropractor you’d know why. The woman looks like Xena and wears an excessive amount of leather for someone whose job it is to provide medical treatment. He always comes back to the office sore but strangely happy. I’ve learned not to question it,” She added, just for the hell of it.

But Bruce wasn’t buying it. “Is he in the club now?”

“Pay the cover charge and find out for yourself.”

Bruce’s face got close to hers, his expression a mask of barely controlled anger, as he bit out, “What kind of supposed hero sends his girlfriend to engage the enemy while he hides like a coward? Is that the kind of man you have warming your bed now?”

“Okay, listen up, because I’m only saying this one more time and then I’m getting off this cold ass roof because this outfit was made for comfort, not for confronting pissed off anti-heroes in the middle of a cold snap!” She growled back, showing him she could do pissed off too. “Oliver Queen is not my boyfriend, lover, or even my boss anymore. He has never been my lover, boyfriend, convenient lay, or sex buddy in any way, shape, or form, and he is not now, nor has he ever, warmed anything in my house much less my bed and, before you ask, I haven’t warmed anything of his either. He made me his EA because Walter Steele suggested it to him. We were friends, just friends, at least I thought we were until he got a little too handsy in the conference room after everyone left,” she paused for effect, her voice gaining a touch of vulnerability, before putting the fire back in her tone. “I guess he took that little show I put on for you earlier seriously. I wasn’t thinking and I should have. The whole point of his family wanting me there was so I could keep him in line. Oliver has always had a hard time separating business from pleasure and they knew I wouldn’t fall for his crap.” She eyed him in the way she would a particularly annoying cockroach. “So, now you know why I quit and why I said it was your fault, happy now? Ready to flap your wings and head back to the cave?”

He ignored the last bit but she could see his jaw tighten anyway. “If that’s true then why didn’t you just say that earlier?” He asked, waiting to see where she’d go with it.

“Why? So you could go all Bat because some asshole tried to reenact an episode of MadMen by chasing his assistant around a desk? I handled it fine by myself. Besides, my life is none of your business anymore.” Her phone buzzed a text in her pocket and she turned away from him as she glanced down at it. It was Diggle texting her.

//You okay?//

She typed back knowing Bruce was undoubtedly reading over her shoulder. //Yeah, be there soon.// She glanced back over her shoulder at Bruce and waved her phone at him, “Look, it’s late and I’m cold. Plus, we’re obviously done here. I’ll call you if any contract killers show up to my door and ask me if I want to come out and play. Enjoy your flight back to Gotham.” She tucked the phone in her pocket and headed towards the doors leading to the stairs.

“You’re not going anywhere!” He ordered, cutting her off and stepping further into her personal space.

“You don’t own me!” She raged back. “I don’t take orders from you! This is not your city and I am not your tech anymore!” She felt her phone vibrate and she took it back out of her pocket only to have Bruce snatch it from her fingers and shut it off before tossing it away. “Son of a—” She looked over to where he had tossed it near the fire escape and turned a baleful eye on him. “I swear to God, if you broke my phone--!”

“Where is the Arrow?” He said in a dangerous undertone.

“Go home!” She yelled at him, her cheeks flushed both from her anger and the cold. “I don’t need you here! Just leave me the hell alone!”

“Yes, you do,” he said through gritted teeth. “You’re in over your head! You’re going to get yourself killed!”

“So what?” She asked him, her tone a biting mix of anger and sarcasm. “It’s my choice; mine! Not yours. Whether I choose to work for another mission, or decide to risk my life, or jump off of this building, it’s my business; not yours. You’ve done your bit, thanks for the info, and now if you don’t mind kindly fuck off.”

His eyes narrowed in anger and he pushed even further into her personal space. “Whether you like it or not you are still my responsibility,” he growled. “You wouldn’t be in this situation if not for me so that means I have to fix whatever mess you’ve gotten yourself into!”

“In case you’ve forgotten, I stopped working for you a long time ago!” She took a calming breath and gave him one last ‘go to hell’ look; “I’m done,” she said flatly. “Our business, whatever we shared, it was done a long time ago—four years ago—and this is my life now. You aren’t a part of it anymore.” She tightened her lips in anger, nostrils flaring as she stood up to him toe to toe. “Let me spell it out for you, Batman: Consider yourself off the hook. You’re forgiven for all trespasses and I hereby relieve you of any and all responsibility you may feel towards me, even if that means I wind up getting sent home in a box! I neither want nor do I need your protection or your interference. You have no right to come barging back into my life like this. Go home and don’t ever come back again!” She spat out then turned to march away.

He placed one gauntleted hand on her shoulder and spun her around, his face in hers as he gritted out, “Enough! You do not get to throw your life away, do you understand me? Now where is the Arrow?”

“Screw you!” She spat out as she tried to break his grip on her arm but he squeezed until she winced, gasping slightly, his expression as hard and unrelenting as the hold he had on her. “Fine! Do you really want to know who the Arrow is?”

“I know who he is, I just need you to tell me where he is!”

“You’re wrong!” She thundered back, eyes tearing up from the pressure of his grip. “And if you want to know where the Arrow is so damn badly then I’ll tell you!”

“Tell me then!” He roared.

“Well, I can tell you one thing: He’s not downstairs, you arrogant son of a bitch, because SHE’S being forced to deal with you as she freezes her ass off on this damn roof! Happy now?!”

The silence between them was almost palatable before he bit out, “The Arrow is a man. I’ve seen the surveillance tapes. There are witness statements—“

“Of a man in a hood,” she finished for him. “But which man? How many men? Have Oracle run through the tapes again then ask yourself how the Arrow can go from 6’1” to 6’3” back down to 6’1’, lose and gain as much as 20 lbs from one day to the next, and change the way he instinctively handles his weapon from Kyudo to Gun Fu. Then watch him fight and you’ll see that the Arrow’s fighting style and stance seems to shift along with his height and center of gravity. After you’ve done that then you can tell me it’s always the same man under the hood and his name is Oliver Queen. ” She gritted her teeth, “Now get your fucking hands off of me!”

His hand left her shoulder abruptly and he stepped back, “I still don’t believe you.”

She rubbed her shoulder, the ache of the blood rushing back into the area almost more painful than the grip itself was. “Why? Because I’m a woman?” She asked him sarcastically. “How very caveman of you.”

“Because the Felicity I knew wasn’t capable of murder!”

She winced and suddenly the memories she’d tried to bury for the last six months came to the forefront. She took a moment to center herself before answering him. “It’s…complicated. Any deaths that occurred were in self-defense.” That was true at least. Anything else was none of his business.

“Well, while you’re trying to uncomplicate it, mind telling me why you’re on Oliver Queen’s roof if he isn’t the Arrow?”

“I said he wasn’t the Arrow, I never said he wasn’t involved,” Felicity said coolly.

“So he knows about it?”

“No, he just funds it,” she said, drawing her words out and challenging him with a dirty look. “After the Glades fell, Verdant was damaged and Oliver dumped the details of the rebuilding into my lap because that’s what Executive Assistants are for; to assist the executive. I needed a new base of operations and, after the contractor I hired told me there was an unused basement that hadn’t been too badly compromised, I got an idea. Oliver never even bothered to look at any of the plans---hell, he didn’t even step foot on the property for six months after the attack—so I did some shuffling around and had the architect design a safe room/private gym space under the club. I told him that Oliver needed a secure area where he could hide out in case of another attack but, being a spoiled rich guy, he didn’t want to be bored if he had to be down there a while. He built it and I paid him extra to keep it off the filed plans because, hey, what’s the use of a safe room if people know where you keep it?”

His stance never wavered. “You expect me to just believe that?”

“Have Oracle track him down and he’ll confirm it. He’ll also tell you that I was in charge of the renovations. Then have her track Oliver’s travel history and you’ll see that he spent five months out of the country while the club was undergoing the overhaul and never came back at any point during that time period. Furthermore he had no cell service or computer access the entire time he was gone. Oh, and while she’s at it, have her look into Oliver’s personal accounts.” She flashed him a triumphant grin, “You’ll see that he transferred two million dollars into an off shore account used to buy weapons and gym equipment that were delivered to this address and installed in a, quote, ‘private gym space’ in the name of Joy Burns aka Felicity Smoak.”

“Assuming all of that checks out,” he rumbled under his cowl, “who’s the guy under the hood then, because it sure as hell isn’t a 5’5” blonde who weighs all of 110 pounds soaking wet?”

“Different men, all recruited by me to help protect the Glades,” she answered smoothly, not missing a beat.

“Murderers, you mean,” he said accusingly.

“Not murderers,” she shot back. “Men who are trained to return lethal attacks with equally lethal force. If we were murdering people left and right it would be one thing but we were defending this city. Any deaths were unfortunate but necessary. My men are mostly ex-military, cops, and former gang members who all have a vested interest in keeping this city safe but who don’t trust the system to make it happen and they aren’t used to pulling their punches. Whether it’s the military, the police academy, or the street the first thing you learn is that if a man fires his weapon at you, you empty your clip on him. There’s a reason the paper targets on the firing range have bull’s-eyes in the head and chest and not in the shoulder.”

He eyed her skeptically. “I see,” he said, his arms crossed over his impressively broad chest, “because recruiting mercs and gang members to play vigilante war games is something someone with your background does every day.”

“I worked for you, remember? Whether you wanted me to or not, I paid attention.” She lifted a superior eyebrow at him. “Right about now I suspect Oracle is whispering in your ear that every single thing I’ve told you checks out. She’s also probably figured out that the other money I diverted into the off shore account went to a man named John Diggle.” She had already planned this part out although she had hoped to avoid dragging Dig into it with her. Hopefully the other man would forgive her but she knew he’d rather she risk exposing him than Oliver. “Friend of a friend of mine, ex-Army Ranger Special Forces. All of this started when he asked me to look into a contract killer by the name of Floyd Lawton, codename Deadshot.”

His gaze sharpened and he seemed to zero in on her words, “I’m familiar with his work. What did this man Diggle want with him?”

“His brother was in private security and got shot on the job. Deadshot was at the other end of the bullet.”

“Deadshot doesn’t miss,” Batman growled.

“No, he does not,” Felicity confirmed. “His brother was the target although we haven’t worked it all out yet. All we could find was a dead end leading to a group calling themselves H.I.V.E. Dig was getting nowhere through official channels so I did him a solid and started looking. We still haven’t figured out Andrew Diggle’s connection but I followed the trail Deadshot left behind to some pretty powerful names. After investigating every lead we uncovered, among other things, a plot to destroy the Glades. You might have heard about it on the news a while back.”

“So this ‘Diggle’ is the Arrow and he just happens to be Queen’s bodyman?”

She knew then that Barbara was definitely on coms but was still giving her wiggle room with her story. “No coincidence to it. We needed him positioned where he could do the most good and that happened to be next to Oliver Queen. He’s my inside man, but no, still not the Arrow. Not exclusively,” she had to give him something and she had a hunch he’d go easier on a former military hero seeking vengeance for his family than a man he assumed was playing vigilante between Victoria’s Secret models. “Diggle is my second in command; I recruit and he trains our team, but ultimately he and every one of the men we use answer to me.”

“You expect me to believe that?” He challenged.

“You don’t have to take my word for it; have Oracle run it through Watchtower and then she’ll tell you whether I’m lying or not,” she reminded him.

A shadow of uncertainty crept into Bruce’s eyes, “Then who are the other ‘Arrow’s’ in that so-called team of yours?”

She snorted, crossing her arms over her chest, “No, there is no way I’m giving you any of their names. My men protect this city and I protect their anonymity. The Arrow operates like a deep cover terrorist cell; a few of the men work in teams but no one knows who’s who except me and only a few key players know who I am. Diggle is the face of our team so the men know him but they only know me by my codename. I do everything via computer and phone, all untraceable. The men even train in masks so not even Dig knows their names or faces. Diggle did three tours in Afghanistan specializing in hunting down and infiltrating terrorist cells so that was a deliberate choice on our part. If he’s captured, interrogated, or tortured he can’t reveal anything because he doesn’t know anything. You could stake Starling City out for months and, if you’re lucky, you might find one, maybe two names, but you’ll never find them all.” She took a breath, “However, in the spirit of friendship and to get you the hell out of my city sooner rather than later, I will give you the name of one of my contacts. He’s not the Arrow either but it should convince you, once and for all, that I’m telling the truth.”

“What’s the name?” Bruce growled.

“Detective Quentin Lance, SCPD” she told him calmly. “He’s my in with the police. Have a conversation with him about ‘our mutual friend’; that’s my codename. If he resists, which he will, drop my name. He’ll tell you that when the police have a problem they aren’t prepared to deal with he finds me and me alone.”

She could see his expression change as Barbara talked in his ear. She could practically hear her as she communicated the information she was recovering in real time: How Lance had investigated Oliver as the Arrow and came up empty only to turn his attention to Felicity, how he had put her name in the Arrow’s file as a person of interest after clearing Queen then deleted it along with any and all other records mentioning her name. Barbara would be able to do the back trace easily enough however since she made sure to replace it herself days ago knowing she’d need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for her to follow. Next she’d read to Bruce from Lance’s IA file and relay to him how he’d been demoted then jailed on the suspicion that the Arrow had recruited him before getting his shield back in the wake of the Blood Army incident two years ago and that he had placed several calls from his personal phone to a cell she could trace to one of Felicity’s aliases, Joy Burns. She’d uncover CCTV footage of her and Lance speaking to one another in various locations as well. Felicity had even added in some video footage with clear audio showing Lance talking to her about the Arrow and setting up meets and drops for ‘our mutual friend’.

If it went far enough that he actually got in touch with Lance then hopefully he’d stick with the plan. Lance knew of her contingencies. He didn’t like them, but six months ago they came to an understanding and she knew he’d follow through. He owed her and he paid his debts, even if it meant throwing her under the bus at her request.

Suddenly Bruce’s face darkened and Felicity realized belatedly that Barbara might have been a bit too thorough with her search and uncovered the fact that Lance had recruited her to assist in an unsanctioned op to capture a serial killer and that it had nearly cost Felicity her life, because, in a flash, Batman went from ice cold furor to burning rage. He reached out and grabbed her shoulders, shaking her roughly, “Are you insane? Do you realize that you’re already in way over your head? That you’re going to get yourself killed?!” He roared in her face.

There was a noise, a rush of wind and the twang of a taut bow string snapping into place, and then an arrow lodged in the smoke stack behind them, the fletching still vibrating between them.

“Get away from her!” An unnaturally deep voice roared and they both separated as a figure in a green hood stood near the roof access, his bow cocked and pointed toward the man in the cowl and cape.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 


oliver   

Chapter Ten

“What’s taking her so long?” Diggle muttered to himself, “How many places can her phone be? That damn car of hers is so small it could be mistaken for a wind-up toy.”

Oliver glanced over to him, his eyes reflecting his growing concern. “Call or text her, maybe the ringer will help her locate her phone.”

Diggle nodded, tapping a quick message then heaved a small sigh of relief. “She found it. Says she’s on her way back but that she needs another minute. Probably needs to make a pit stop.”

“The ‘tiny bladder’ thing?” Oliver chuckled, reciting the frequently used excuse.

“Yeah, like it isn’t because of the 19 cups of coffee that she drinks a day, right?” Diggle joined in. “Well, if she’s on her way I say we head out and let her catch up on coms.”

“Sounds good,” Oliver agreed, already heading to the stairs. “Call and let her know.”

Diggle was already dialing but then stopped and frowned at the phone in consternation. “It’s going to voicemail.”

“What?” Oliver said, immediately going on alert as he turned to his partner.

“Oliver…” Diggle’s expression froze. Felicity was nothing if not jeopardy friendly.

Oliver acted; he bounded up the stairs to the keypad. “Try to get her on surveillance!” He barked, “I’m going out to her car--!” He punched in the code but an error message popped up. “What?” He said out loud as he punched the code in a second time only to get the same result.

“Oliver.” Diggle’s voice held a note of shock and his sudden pallor was enough to send Oliver’s heart in his throat.

Not bothering to take the stairs one at a time, he swung himself over the metal guardrail and bounded over to the other man who was staring at the monitors in disbelief.

“Is that---?” Diggle breathed, slapping on Felicity’s headphones so he could hear the audio.

“Can’t be, why would he come here?” Oliver said in confusion. “And why would Felicity be meeting him alone on the roof without telling us?”

Diggle spun in his chair and locked eyes with the other man. “Oliver, she knows him.”

“Put it through the speakers,” he ordered.

The two men watched as the imposing figure of the Batman reached out and grabbed her roughly, getting in her face.

“Enough games, Felicity! Where is the Arrow?”

“Son of a bitch!” Oliver growled, pulling open the small tool chest Felicity kept near her workstation. “We need to get that door open, now!”

“Screw you!” Both men tensed as she let out a small gasp of pain, “Fine! Do you really want to know who the Arrow is?”

“I know who he is, I just need you to tell me where he is!”

“You’re wrong! And if you want to know where the Arrow is so damn badly then I’ll tell you!”

“Why is she taunting this guy?” Diggle bit out in a mixture of concern, anger, and disbelief. “She’s going to get herself killed!”

“Tell me then!”

“Well, I can tell you one thing: He’s not downstairs, you arrogant son of a bitch, because SHE’S being forced to deal with you as she freezes her ass off on this damn roof! Happy now?!”

Both men froze, not even breathing. Oliver’s face paled as he realized just what Felicity had said.

Suddenly, Dig’s mind flashed back six months previously to a scene which still lived vividly in his nightmares.

It was raining that night; just pouring down hard and yet still hot and muggy. Hot rain, he remembered thinking. Hot rain that felt like blood pouring down his back; like God himself had been cut by those damn swords that were inches from her throat. It was late July and his clothes were sticking to his back from sweat, rain, and blood; so unlike the cold winter weather outside, but still somehow the same. All of them were down for the count; Roy was a bloody heap that barely even looked human anymore, Sara wasn’t moving, he was barely hanging on with two in the chest and one in the leg, and Oliver was screaming her name over and over again as she confronted the man they’d come to associate with Death Incarnate, alone.

“It’s my birthday,” she told him and his heart had stopped beating for a moment.

He remembered the slick metallic sound as his sword left the sheath, “I know.”

“Oh shit,” Diggle breathed.

Oliver snatched the tool kit off the table and ran to the keypad, practically tearing the cover off in his haste.

“Be careful!” Diggle called after him, eyes fixed on the scene playing out on the monitors. “Don’t pull out any--!”

“I know!” Oliver snapped back. “Felicity has gone over this with me a hundred times! Let me know what’s happening while I override the controls!”

Diggle watched as the scene played out before him, turning up the volume so Oliver was kept in the loop as he desperately attempted to override the door lock. He watched as she stood up to a man who even the most hardened criminals feared without so much as a stutter in her voice. He glanced over at Oliver, at the stiffening of his spine as she rattled off one perfectly constructed lie after another, and he knew that the other man was thinking the same thing he was: Not only did Felicity know the Batman, but she had known this confrontation was coming for a while, long enough to plan her strategy so that the truths and lies meshed perfectly. Another thing both men realized was this:

Felicity Smoak, a woman both men valued for her intelligence as well as her integrity and courage, was a very, very good liar.

Diggle’s attention flew back to the monitors as he heard his name. He listened as she diverted the Bat’s attention from Oliver by using him as a shield and instantly forgave her for it. Her strategy, while incredibly dangerous, was smart. He listened as she named him as her co-conspirator yet still managed to protect and shield him by downplaying his involvement with the Arrow as much as possible. When she made it clear that the ultimate responsibility was hers alone and began to rattle off hard evidence Oliver began cursing loudly.

“Motherfucker!” He roared, slamming his fist into the door.

Dig rubbed his hand over his mouth and his heart felt like it skipped a beat, “Shit. You know what this means, right?”

“She set herself up to take the fall for all of it!” He snapped.

He didn’t say it but he could hear it plain as day in his body language, in the anguish reflected in his expression.

She was going to sacrifice herself for them.

Again.

He hit the door again, the steel bending from the force of his punch, “Why can’t I get this goddamn door open?!”

“Let me try again from this end! Do you think this is why she really quit?” Dig asked as he began to search through her files to force the door to reset on his end. “That she’d been planning for this the whole time? This stuff must have taken her months! And Lance? Did he know about this? He told us he scrubbed the files but she seemed pretty sure he’d back all of that up.”

“I don’t know! I don’t know what to think anymore but as soon as I get this fucking door open I’m getting some answers!”

“But--!”

“Just open the fucking door, Dig! Now!” He shouted.

If he hadn’t known the truth, even he would have been convinced that she was the mastermind behind a network of Arrows with Oliver Queen being no more than an unsuspecting skirt-chasing dupe. He’d always known she was a smart but, after listening to her play the Batman, he realized she was so far beyond anything he could have imagined. “Got it!” He shouted in triumph as the code reset.

Oliver was out the door the second it sprang open. “I’m going to the roof!”

“Oliver, wait!” Diggle tried to call out but the man was already rushing to the roof. He cocked his gun and chased after him, his senses vibrating with dread. He’d wanted to stop him, convince him to go in more stealthily, but it probably wouldn’t have done any good even if the other man had listened. Batman had laid hands on her and the Arrow was out for blood.

He got to the roof mere seconds after Oliver, just in time to watch as the Batman lunged toward Felicity and shook her shoulders roughly as he raged at her, “Are you insane?! Do you realize that you’re already in way over your head--that you’re going to get yourself killed?!”

In less time than it took to blink an eye, Oliver had notched his bow and let fly. The Batman released her, jumping back into a fighting stance as the arrow vibrated between them, and roared with a fury that Diggle had never seen from him before, “Get away from her!”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

The Batman rounded on the Arrow and Felicity saw as his stance shifted, saw him palm a razor sharp throwing star to counter the arrow that Oliver had aimed at his lower face; the only exposed target under the cowl. Moving quickly before either man could shed blood, she stepped between them. “Stand down!” She commanded in a voice that would do a drill sergeant proud.

Oliver growled through the voice modulator, “Get out of the way! Now!”

“I told you to stand down!” Felicity snapped. Her eyes met Diggle’s, “Sergeant Diggle, control your man!”

He went with his gut. As soon as Felicity gave the order he flipped his Glock in his hand and came down on the back of Oliver’s head with the grip. Oliver crumpled to the ground before he could even register what had happened. He adjusted his grip on the gun, leaving it at his side as he stood at attention, his eyes never leaving the Batman as he addressed Felicity. “Do you require assistance, ma’am?”

“No,” Felicity said, her voice harsh as she struggled to keep her face free of any expression of concern for the crumpled figure in green leather. “Leave us and have someone see to your man’s injuries.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Diggle said, pulling Oliver up in a fireman’s carry, making sure to keep his face shielded from view.

“And Diggle?”

“Ma’am?” He turned to her, his demeanor calm and cool despite the fact that he knew there would be holy hell to pay later after Oliver came to.

“The Batman and I are not to be disturbed again no matter what,” Felicity said in a hard tone.

Images of watching her go into battle alone on another occasion came to mind and he remembered the sound Oliver made as she faced certain death in his place.

The words whispered in his mind again, words that still haunted him.

***

“It’s my birthday.”

“I know.”

***

“Are you certain, ma’am?” Diggle’s eyes met hers, the unspoken plea hanging in the air between them. She nodded her head slightly and, although it took everything he had, he nodded in response and walked away without sparing her so much as a second glance.

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

After the two men left, Felicity walked over to pick up her phone that was still amazingly intact if not scraped and scratched. She slipped it into her pocket them reached for Oliver’s bow that had fallen to the ground after Diggle knocked him out. He’d never forgive her for this, she thought absently. She tested the weight of it in her hand, taking a moment to admire the weapon and realizing she would probably never see it again after that night. She sighed and looked up at the Bat who stood as silent as a statue, watching her. “You win,” Felicity told him, gripping the bow with one hand. “Whatever you want. Do you want me to quit? Done. You want me to--”

“You’re coming home with me,” he told her in a voice that would brook no arguments.

“No.”

“Yes,” he said, his eyes flashing with fire.

“I have conditions.” She watched as he said nothing, his cowl obscuring his face in shadow. “You will not compromise Diggle’s cover, this is not optional. It’s mutually guaranteed destruction. I hold your secrets, you hold his, understood?”

“Go on,” he growled.

“You will leave Starling City as soon as possible and you will not interfere further with the Arrow’s mission. Again, not up for debate. This is not your city.”

“And if my business should happen to intersect with that of the Arrow?” He bit out, taking a step toward her, his displeasure evident.

“You go through me and me alone,” she told him in a way that would brook no arguments. “Diggle will take over and I will forgo any future role in the team, but I will make myself available as an intermediary between both your team and his should the need arise.” She spoke clearly and with purpose, her shoulders back and her features devoid of any sign of deception. She no longer had to lie, it was the truth. She knew Bruce well enough to know that if he decided to put Oliver on his list of enemies that he would hunt him down to the ends of the Earth. Bruce might not necessarily win, but his pursuit would take them away from the mission. “Again, this is not your city. The Bat stays in Gotham and the Arrow will remain in Starling.”

He took another step forward, looming over her as his teeth gnashed together. Whether it was because she’d told him he was not welcome in Starling City or that she implied that the Arrow might decide turnabout was fair play, she didn’t know. If she had to guess she’d say it was both.

“You’re leaving Starling City.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Not until I settle my affairs here first,” she told him as she leaned the bow against the access door.

“You’re coming back to Gotham with me. Tomorrow.”

She shook her head, “Not going to happen.”

He grabbed her arm, hauling her closer to him and tilted her head upwards with his other gauntlet encased hand so she was looking him in the eye. It was a gesture meant to establish power, not enflame passion. “This is not up for debate. You’re coming back with me to Gotham, end of story.”

“As what?” She snorted despite the fact that her arm was beginning to ache under his iron grip. “Your prisoner? Are you going to keep me in chains inside the Batcave?”

“If need be.”

She rolled her eyes at him, “Forget it, I’m not going anywhere with you.”

He tugged her closer, his fingers digging into her arm even further and causing her to clench her jaw as pain radiated throughout her entire arm up to her shoulder. It was all she could do not to cry out and fall to her knees. Bruce could bench press 1000 lbs; she’d seen him do it. She’d never believe in a million years he’d ever hurt her physically on purpose but he was emotional and out of control, two things that didn’t even belong in the same universe as the Bat. Right now she had to admit there was a distinct possibility she’d be arriving to Gotham with a cast on her arm if he squeezed any harder. There would be bruises tomorrow. “Not. Up. For. Debate.”

“And what gives you the right to decide that, hmm?” She asked him, her eyes flashing with contempt despite the pain. “I don’t belong to you!”

“Yes, you do!” He thundered back.

“Screw you!” She lifted her free hand to slap him and he caught it in his own, squeezing it with a punishing grip as well and causing her knees to wobble slightly. Every fiber of her being told her to back down and beg for him to let go but pure stubbornness overrode self-preservation. She bit down and redirected the pain into anger.

His head dipped toward her until their noses were nearly touching. “You accepted responsibility for the actions committed by the Arrow; that means that every murder he committed is on your head!” He said harshly.

“Then turn me in, goddamn you!” Felicity shot back, wrenching her wrist from his grip despite the pain it caused. She felt the skin of her arm catch and slice on the metal of his gauntlet as the material ripped. Her eyes watered and tears began to roll down her cheeks but she didn’t back away. “I would rather serve a murder sentence in Starling City for the rest of my life than live in Gotham under your thumb!”

Their harsh breath mingled in puffs of white fog as the temperature outside continued to drop. Her body was shaking from the cold and adrenaline but she meant every word. If she had to throw herself on her own sword and spend the rest of her life in prison, she’d do it. It wasn’t something she wanted or looked forward to but she had come to terms with the possibility of prison a long time ago. It was the reason--one reason--she had drawn a firm line with the Arrow in those early days. The last thing she wanted to do was get involved with another handsome man on a mission.

Danger, adrenaline, close quarters, shared secrets; they pushed boundaries, made people act on emotion instead of logic. Felicity had learned a long time ago that men shaped by fire and purpose had no room in their lives for personal relationships. They were built for pain and sacrifice; it was all they knew, all they were. If you made the mistake of staying too long, getting too close, the fire that drove them would consume you body and soul as well.

From the moment she suspected Oliver was the Arrow to the second he confirmed it; she swore she would stay on the edges of the mission then get out with her heart and life intact. The problem was that the line she’d drawn kept moving further and further away until she finally reached the point of no return. Once that happened, and she committed herself to staying after they found Walter, she started planning her own set of contingency protocols. At least a third of them led to her eventual arrest and possible conviction for aiding and abetting the vigilante, but all of them were designed to protect the rest of her team. Oliver and Diggle’s mission was the list and Starling City, hers was keeping them free long enough to complete it even if the cost was her life or her freedom.

But not her heart or her self-respect; no one would ever have that piece of her again.

Not Oliver and not Bruce. They could take everything else, but not that.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Batman released the grip on her other arm and turned away, moving silently to the edge of the roof. He pulled a grappling gun from his belt and launched it toward the warehouse next door. “You have a week and then I’m coming to get you. And you will be returning to Gotham.” He looked at her, his expression as hard as stone. “I’ll be keeping a close eye on you, understood?” Before she could answer he was already racing across the nearby rooftops and into the shadows.

She closed her eyes, her heart thumping painfully inside her chest. The cold air burned in her lungs and she was so tired, so fucking tired. Every muscle in her body ached as though she’d run for miles from holding herself ramrod straight. She could feel something cold on her arm and was fairly certain the cuts and scrapes left by his gauntlet were probably pretty nasty but not deep. The damn thing was made of Kevlar and specialized armor to maximize his grip while he was hanging from buildings and steel cabling so skin didn’t stand a chance but the textured surface on the grip wasn’t deep or sharp. She’d be in a world of hurt once the adrenaline wore off but she wouldn’t need stitches.

The fingers on her right hand were numb and practically useless from lack of blood circulation but she managed to dig out some tissues from the pocket of her cardigan and stuff them into her sleeve to prevent the blood from seeping through. She could still move her fingers even if she could barely feel them so she didn’t think it was broken. She’d have to assess it herself later. She couldn’t show Dig or Oliver she was hurt or they’d go after Bruce and she would have gone through all of it for nothing. She also couldn’t go to the emergency room so OTC pain meds, elastic bandages, and frozen peas would have to do.

Didn’t much matter though. At this point she could care less if her whole fucking arm fell off. In one day, one single day, she’d managed to destroy her entire life and in less than half an hour she managed to destroy the trust of the only men she’d ever cared about.

Chapter Text

 

 

bruce bat bruce

Chapter Eleven

She walked down the stairs slowly, sore from the rough handling she’d endured and feeling as though she was marching towards her own execution. The door to the Lair was open. Felicity glanced at the mangled security panel and sighed but left it. She made her way down the stairs, Oliver’s eyes following her silently.

He sat in her computer chair, an ice pack pressed to the back of his head as he rested his elbows on his knees. The security footage from the roof was looped on playback and both men stared at her; one in shock, the other in anger.

“Leave us alone, Dig,” Oliver ordered him in a harsh tone.

“Oliver, just let Felicity—“ he began.

“Now, Dig!” Oliver growled.

The other man didn’t move. He turned to Felicity offering his silent support and she smiled in return, “It’s okay, you can go. We’ll be fine.”

“You shouldn’t do this with her now,” Diggle turned back to Oliver. “She’s been through a lot tonight.”

Oliver didn’t look at him or acknowledge his words in any way. Instead he continued to fix Felicity with an unblinking stare of raw fury.

“Go,” Felicity told the other man quietly.

Diggle seemed to struggle with some internal debate for a moment before snatching up his jacket and muttering a curse. As he passed Felicity, he paused to place a hand on her shoulder, “Hey, call me if you need me.” She nodded then he turned to Oliver, a chill in his voice when he addressed him, “Don’t hurt her.”

Oliver’s eyes flicked towards him at that. “I would never put my hands on Felicity and you know that.”

“There’s more than one way to hurt someone, Oliver,” Diggle sighed wearily, making his way to the door and giving Felicity one last quick look of support before he left.

Oliver sat back in the chair, the ice pack dropping to his feet. He flicked his head toward the monitors where the playback was paused. “Explain.”

She didn’t answer him, she just stood there and waited.

Oliver erupted from the chair and it flew backwards on its casters, bouncing hard against the desk causing Felicity to flinch. He pointed to the monitors, “Explain!”

“Explain what?” She asked quietly.

“Explain that!” Oliver thundered, his finger pointing at the security feed accusingly.

She didn’t react to his anger, she was too emotionally spent. “Let’s just skip to the end, okay? I can’t---I just can’t do anymore tonight. Just ask me what you want to know and get it over with.”

“You know him?” He spat out.

“Obviously.” She said wryly.

“You knew him before you even came to Starling City, before you met me or Diggle?”

“Yes.”

“You worked for him.”

It wasn’t phrased as a question but she nodded anyway.

“Were you working with him after you joined us?”

She snorted rudely, “No, of course not! What? You think I’m a plant or some kind of vigilante double agent or something?”

“Are you?” He was obviously not receptive to sarcasm at that moment.

She goggled at him in disbelief for a moment before answering sarcastically, “Yes, Oliver; I moved 3000 miles away from my home, waited a few months in the QC IT department for you to get rescued from the island, twiddled my thumbs until you brought a bullet ridden laptop into my office, waited several more weeks for Walter to get kidnapped, and then to complete my Machiavellian plan to infiltrate your ranks I had your mother shoot you, tricked you into hiding in my car, then proceeded to save your life!” She took a deep centering breath. “What can I say? I’m an evil fucking mastermind.”

“Don’t—“ Oliver leveled an accusing finger at her. “Don’t you dare make this about me! You lied to me! You’ve been lying to me from day one!”

“When?” She said, thoroughly exasperated. “Tell me, when did I lie to you?”

“It was a lie of omission and you know it!” He snapped. “You should have told me from the beginning that you worked for Batman!”

“First off,” she said, doing a slow burn, “I was never an official member of Batman’s team, I was a consultant. I only helped him in the periphery, never in the field, and in a limited capacity—not that it’s any of your damn business—and, how exactly was I supposed to tell you any of that? And when should I have told you, hmm? How was that conversation supposed to go? ‘Oh hi, Mr. Queen. Hey, yeah, bullet ridden laptop? No problem, I used to do this kind of thing for Batman all the time,’” she snorted. “Right.”

“What about when Walter was kidnapped? Or when we were tracking Deadshot? He said he knew him; you don’t think that you should have said something then? That having that knowledge could have helped us?” Oliver said, a vein in his temple throbbing madly.

“What are you saying? That had you known that I had Batman’s personal cell number you would have asked me to give him a ring and borrow a cup of vigilante justice?” She asked scathingly, “You and I both know that if I revealed that I had a history with him you would have frozen me out just to spite yourself and, not only would both of those devices have gone up in the Glades, but you’d be dead or in prison by now.”

“I had a right to know,” he bit out. “I had a right to know who it was that I was trusting with my life.”

“And now that you know, what’s changed? Hmm? Answer me that? Nothing,” She asked rhetorically. “I didn’t tell you about Batman the same way I refused to tell him about you.”

“Then why is he here?” He growled.

“Helena!” She answered sharply. She watched as his eyes flickered slightly in confusion before answering. “She decided to take her hunt to Gotham and they crossed paths. She decided to drop my name in the middle of their confrontation and it set him off. Unfortunately for her, he didn’t react well to hearing her threaten to put a crossbow bolt through my neck.”

“Did he—is she dead?”

Her face felt as though she had been slapped. Her eyes burned, her cheeks felt raw, and a wrenching pain in her gut nearly made her gag. She took a shaky breath and willed herself to speak, “Yeah, she’s alive.” She grabbed her bag and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” He demanded.

“Home,” she answered tonelessly as she climbed the stairs.

He stood at the bottom of the stairs and glared after her, his face dark with anger. “When you come back here tomorrow you, me, and Diggle will be sitting down to discuss everything—and I mean everything, understood?”

She stopped and turned to face him, her face pale and her shoulders slumped. “I’m not coming back tomorrow, Oliver. Or the next day, or the day after that. I’m done; I’m going home to Gotham.”

“The hell you are!” He burst out.

She nodded, more to herself than to him. “Yes, I am.”

“You’re not going with him,” Oliver growled, one hand on the railing as though he were prepared to physically stop her if necessary.

“No, I’m not, but I am going home,” she said, her eyes red rimmed and reflecting both exhaustion and defeat. “And not because of him, or because of what he said, or because we got a little carried away on the conference table.” He flinched at that but she continued on. “I’m going home because I just can’t do this to myself anymore.” She tilted her head at him and, as she took a step toward him, he instinctively backed one step away, something in her tone and expression forcing him into retreat. She chuckled mirthlessly. “You don’t see it, do you? It just—it flew right over your head and you never even thought about it, did you?”

“What are you talking about?” He asked warily.

“I just told you that Batman, someone I haven’t so much as spoken to in four years, heard Helena Bertinelli threaten to kill me and, in response, traveled 3000 miles to find me. He may be a complete and utter bastard but he still cared enough to drop everything just to keep me safe whether I wanted him to or not. You heard the same thing and your first instinct was to ask if she was okay---if the woman who once held a weapon to my throat and who told Batman that she wanted to see me dead, was okay.” She shook her head and turned to ascend the stairs again. When she got to the door, she paused to give him one last glance, “For a man so preoccupied with the concepts of loyalty, trust, and friendship, you have a lot to learn.”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Felicity forced her eyes open as her alarm went off and looked at the clock, her eyes swollen and full of grit. The last thing she felt like doing was getting up to eat brunch all the way across town (even if it was with her dad), but she also knew there was no way around it. Feeling as though she had been run over by a very enthusiastically driven steamroller, she fumbled for the Aleve on her nightstand, popped three, and then headed for the tub.

The tub had been what sold the house for her. It was cast iron, scratched up and ancient, but it was huge. It was also cold as Isabel Rochev’s ass in the wintertime before it warmed up, but once the hot water started flowing it was like sinking into heaven. She was going to miss her tub, she thought, ducking under the water and holding her breath until her lungs protested before reaching for the soap and a wash cloth.

She bathed quickly but thoroughly, leaving long before her fingers and toes pruned (even though she really, really wanted to just soak for a few hours) then began to get dressed. She looked through her closet (which occupied an entire room next to hers) and decided on a lady-like Oscar de la Renta silk sundress she had bought at a high-end second hand shop in Coast City a few years back. It was a bit cold outside, although warmer than it had been lately, and the dress was sleeveless so she paired it with a matching white cashmere and silk cropped cardigan that would keep her warm while it hid the bandages on her arm and wrist.

She loved the A-Line silk chiffon dress with its modest sweetheart neckline and skirt that flared to just below her knees, but rarely got to wear it. It had probably been originally purchased by some bridesmaid for a summer wedding but their ‘never the bride’ angst was her gain and the pretty pink flowers and green ivy embroidery made her happy. She needed happy today. How she was going to tell her dad that somehow, between yesterday afternoon and brunch today, she’d decided to chuck it all and move back home she hadn’t a clue. She grabbed some underwear and stockings from her drawer and sighed; God, she felt like such a failure.

She finished dressing quickly, keeping her makeup light and her hair loose, then slipped on her glasses and a pair of rose colored Charlotte Olympia slipper flats designed with a smiling kitty face on the toe. Yes, she was dressed like a five year old going to her first princess party but she really needed to be daddy’s little girl today so Gloria Steinem could just shove it up her ass. Today she needed to hear how pretty she looked followed by a whole mess of ‘poor baby’s’. She’d be a strong and confident feminist who could stand on her own two feet tomorrow.

When she got to the restaurant at the Marchioness and saw her dad’s smile light up as he caught sight of her it was all she could do not to burst into tears and run into his arms. Taking a deep breath she fixed a smile to her face and hugged him tight, taking a few extra seconds to lean into his embrace and breathe in his scent: peppermint, cherry pipe tobacco, and Bay Rum aftershave.

“What’s wrong?” Her dad asked, pulling away so he could look at her carefully.

“Nothing’s wrong, Daddy. I’m fine,” she said easily.

“The only time you ever say ‘I’m fine’ is if you aren’t fine.” Her face crumpled a little and he sat her down, patting her hand gently and handing her a handkerchief. “It’s okay Baby, just take a breath and tell me what’s wrong.”

She wiped her eyes and nose (as if crying in public wasn’t humiliating enough, she had to add ‘snot machine’ into the mix) and forced a little laugh, “Daddy, stop being so nice to me. I really, really don’t deserve it, not today.”

“Tell me what happened,” he said gently, tipping her head up so he could look into her eyes.

It was all she could do not to start blubbering and wailing when he did that. “I quit my job,” she said with a hitch in her voice. “I’m sorry.”

Her dad’s lips twitched upwards and he rubbed her back soothingly. “Is that all that’s got you upset? You quit your job?”

“You’re not mad or disappointed in me?” She asked tremulously.

“Why would I be mad? Baby, do you know how many jobs I’ve left in my lifetime?” He asked her with a chuckle. “A lot more than just one, I’ll tell you that.”

“But—“ she started, preparing to launch into a litany of self-recriminations using words like ‘failure’ and ‘disloyalty’ but he stopped her.

“You could never disappoint me, Baby,” he told her with the same gentle smile he’d used when wiping her tears as a child. “You are strong, smart, kind, and beautiful just like your mother was. I will always be proud of you, no matter what you do.”

“Can I come home?” She asked in a small voice, hating herself for the way she sounded but needing to hear the answer nonetheless.

“Of course you can,” her dad told her, looking slightly affronted. “You can always come home and you know that.”

“I want to come home,” she said in a steadier voice, the tightness in her chest loosening a bit.

“Baby, what happened?” He asked her, gesturing for the waiter that they needed to take another moment or two.

“Nothing,” she said quickly. “I mean, work was fine and all, I just---“ she swallowed and struggled to find the correct balance between the truth and the lies she knew she would have to tell him. “I realized after the meeting that this just isn’t what I want to do anymore.”

He didn’t say anything at first; he just looked at her with his wise and clever dark eyes sweeping over her face. It was as though he could see through her, see every secret she had squirrelled away inside of her heart, and she felt her skin flush with embarrassment. He took a deep breath, folded his arms on the table, and frowned. “You know, when I heard you had taken that job upstairs with Oliver Queen I admit it threw me a bit,” he said slowly. “You’ve never been interested in that side of things and I worried that the best part of you, the creative part you got from your mother, would be crushed under all the corporate back-biting and politics. When I saw you looking so sharp and in control yesterday I almost didn’t recognize you. It actually made me a little sad.”

“Why?” She asked, taking off her glasses to put them aside as they began to fog up, wiping her nose again with the handkerchief.

“Because that woman didn’t look like my Felicity. She looked like a predator, someone out for blood, a dime a dozen corporate barracuda; that kind of thing might suit a woman like Isabel Rochev and her ilk but that’s not who you are. It worried me a lot. I was afraid that Starling City had changed you and I was losing my little girl.”

“You could never lose me, Daddy,” Felicity said, scooting over so she could lay her head against his shoulder.

He took her hand in his and rubbed her fingers which had gone cold from the emotional upheaval, “Do you remember why your mother named you ‘Felicity’?”

“She said it was because I was her happiness,” she said without having to think about it. Her dad loved telling her that whenever she got upset.

“You have to do what makes you happy, Baby, not what makes everyone else happy. You’ve always tried to make other people happy, fix everyone and everything, but that’s not how life works. You can’t take that much responsibility onto yourself; not even the strongest of men could handle that much weight on their shoulders. The only way to change the world is to change you, fix you, and then everyone else can see that and follow suit.”

“I love you,” she said, pulling away and looking at her dad.

“I love you too, Happy,” he smiled and she grinned back at him, the tears finally clearing up once and for all.

“Thank you, Daddy,” she said smiling. The man was simply made out of magic. In two seconds flat he managed to turn 24 hours’ worth of shit into pure sunshine.

“Now,” he said, bussing her forehead with a tender kiss then scooting his chair back into place, “let’s have some breakfast.” He picked up the menu and motioned the waiter over. “My cholesterol came back last week and the doc said that horrible muck Peggy Ann calls oatmeal has been doing its job so today I’m going to splurge a little, what do you say?”

They ordered a huge spread (Felicity, in addition to being a stress eater, was also a brunch enthusiast) of whole wheat pancakes, fresh fruit salad, spinach and leek frittata, smoked turkey sausages, and tea. She always drank tea with her dad who claimed that coffee always smelled better than it tasted.

They had just tucked in and she was feeling better and more relaxed than she had in ages when the other shoe dropped.

“Mind if I join you two?”

“Bruce!” Lucius said as he rose up from his seat to offer the other man a hearty handshake. “Of course--sit, sit! We haven’t even started yet.”

“Good morning,” Bruce turned a sharp toothed smile in her direction, his eyes glittering dangerously as he took the chair that was open beside her. “You look very pretty today, Baby. I think I like that dress even more than the one you had on yesterday. It suits you,” he said, running his eyes over the sheer white chiffon and silk that seemed to make her already pale complexion appear even more translucent.

“Thank you,” Felicity responded in a manner that was less than enthusiastic. In fact it was probably downright morose but he was pissing on her parade just when she was starting to feel better. Asshole, she pouted internally as she poked her eggs with her fork, her appetite gone.

The waiter eased over and Bruce turned to him, “I’ll have the same thing my friends are having and coffee, please. Black.”

“I don’t see how you and Felicity drink that stuff,” Lucius said good naturedly as he dug into his frittata. “This is delicious,” he said enthusiastically. “Peggy Ann hasn’t let me have an egg in months!”

“It certainly looks good.” He turned to Felicity, “Something wrong with your frittata, Baby? You’re not eating.” Bruce asked her with a knowing undertone as he watched her shift her food around her plate.

“It’s fine, I’ve just lost my appetite all of the sudden,” Felicity said, not giving him the satisfaction of looking at him.

Her dad frowned at her and reached out to pat her shoulder briefly, “It’s going to be alright, Baby.”

“I’m sorry, is something wrong?” He asked innocently.

Her father gave her another supportive look before answering, “Felicity has decided to leave Queen Consolidated and come back home for a while.”

“Did something happen?” He asked in mock concern.

The flying-rat bastard, Felicity snarked internally.

Her father answered for her. “No, no—she just didn’t like the path her career there was taking and decided to take a break for a while until she figures out where she wants to go next.”

“Well, I think that’s a splendid idea!” Bruce said with a note of triumph. “After all, Felicity started college before most kids her age were even thinking about high school then came graduate school, then QC’s Tech Division, then straight up to the executive level—if you ask me it’s about time she took a break.”

“He’s got a point, Baby. Bruce, you went to--where was it; Nepal after Yale?” Lucius asked and Bruce nodded. “Maybe you could travel for a while like Tam and Luke did? Go see Europe—maybe see if Tam wants to go with you. I’m sure we could arrange for her to make it a working vacation, catch up on some of our European operations for a few months in between all the sightseeing.”

Before Felicity could answer, Bruce broke in. “I don’t think she’ll want to do that, Lucius. There’s been a lot of foreign unrest lately, plus the stress of all that travel; I think she’ll probably want to stay in Gotham—for a while at least.” His eyes met hers and she could see the shadow of the Bat creeping into them.

Lucius chuckled, “Listen to you, Bruce. You’re more protective of my daughter than I am!”

“I’ll think about it,” Felicity said, “the traveling. For now though, Bruce is right, I’d like to stay home for a while first.” Her napkin fell from her lap and she slowly bent in her chair to pick it up, her muscles still sore despite the OTC pain reliever she had taken that morning.

“Besides,” Bruce said confidently, “Noah Cedars is retiring from WayneTech in a couple of years. If Felicity wants to go back to that then I can give him a call when she’s ready and she can try working with him for a while. If it works out then—“ He stopped abruptly, his eyes locking on her shoulder as she reached under the table.

Felicity frowned then flicked her eyes toward what had his attention. The collar of her cardigan had slipped out of place exposing part of her shoulder and collarbone where dark finger-shaped bruises stood out against her pale flesh. She had barely given them a second thought that morning before she left. It wasn’t all that unusual seeing bruises on her skin given her training in the Foundry and the level of danger they faced on a regular basis.

She sat up, straightening her sweater as she settled back into her chair.

Lucius chuckled, apparently not noticing Bruce’s sudden discomfiture. “She just quit one executive assistant position and you’re already—“ His phone buzzed on the table in front of him. “It’s the QC Marketing people. I’m just going to step away and get this if that’s alright.”

Felicity squirmed and fidgeted by pushing up the sleeves of her sweater nervously under Bruce’s gaze as he answered for them both, “No, go ahead. I’m sure Felicity and I will be—“ He flinched, “fine.”

She looked down and noticed the bandage she’d wrapped around her arm and the bruises and contusions on her other wrist were visible. She licked her lips nervously and smoothed down the sleeves of her cardigan so her father wouldn’t see.

“I’ll be right back,” he told them before picking up and wandering away to the lounge to finish the call.

As soon as he was out of earshot Bruce asked her in a low voice, “Are you alright?”

She took a sip from her now cold tea before answering, “It’s just a few bruises. I’ve had worse. Try crash landing through two plate glass windows forty stories above the ground sometime.” He flinched again. “Yeah, well, look who I’m talking to, right?” She muttered as she reached for the teapot.

“How bad?”

“What?” She asked mid-pour.

“The bruising; how bad is it?”

She shrugged, “I don’t know, didn’t really bother looking this morning. Pretty decent; you had a good grip on me plus the shaking. I know it hurt like hell last night, I hardly slept a wink even with the heating pad.” She snorted, “Not that I have any room to complain. I mean, I guess I’m lucky when you think about it.” She mused on that for a minute as she sipped her tea, some of her frustration slipping through in her tone. “I should probably thank you for not hurting me worse seeing how you feel about people like me. You know, murderers and such.”

“Don’t,” Bruce said, rubbing his hand over his eyes, his jaw clenched. “Just don’t.”

“But that’s what I am now, right Bruce?” Felicity said coolly, the fire in her belly returning. She knew she was being cruel but, damn it, she was tired of him invading her life. “I imagine Helena got a lot worse. Of course, her body count is a lot higher, so…”

“Stop it,” Bruce said tightly, his eyes burning into hers.

She took a deep breath and picked at her fruit salad. “Fine, I’ll stop.” She looked over to him and saw as his eyes traveled from her collarbone to her arm and back up again as though he could see her injuries through her clothes. “I’m okay, really. Just relax Bruce, you’re not the first person to slap me around or leave a few bruises since I’ve come to Starling City. It’s not a big deal.”

Bruce stood up abruptly, throwing down his napkin, and stalked out of the dining room without saying another word. Felicity kept her eyes firmly fixed on her plate, refusing to feel guilty about what she’d done to him. Yes, it was horribly bitchy, cruel, and passive aggressive but he was the one who stormed into her life, not the other way around. If he was going to ruin her life and leave a few bruises in his wake then he should expect payback.

She pushed her plate back and cradled her head in her hands. This was so fucking unfair! I should not be feeling guilty right now, she told herself. I should be happy I got to twist the knife a little, so why do I feel like complete shit? She just was not built for revenge at all. Felicity Smoak; doormat, punching bag, and wuss at your service.

Chapter Text

 

 


  

Chapter Twelve

When her dad got back to the table and asked where Bruce had gone she told him that he’d gotten a phone call and had to leave unexpectedly. Lucius was used to Bruce’s sudden comings and goings so the vagaries didn’t even faze him. They finished their brunch and she rode with him in the limo to the airport. She hugged him goodbye and promised to call him later in the week after she’d taken care of packing up her house, talking to her landlord, and returning her car to the leasing company. Bruce hadn’t been there but she didn’t expect him to be either. She knew full well that, despite the few well-placed blows she’d landed at brunch, he wouldn’t leave town until she did.

The hotel limo drove her back to her car and she finally got around to buying those groceries she’d been promising herself. Ironic that I get around to filling my fridge as I’m about to move, she thought looking into the canvas tote ruefully.

Still it would be nice to not have to leave the house for a while. She could now gorge on ice cream as she packed up the broken remnants of her shattered life and career without having to wear her pajamas in public anymore.

She opened her door, tossing her purse into the chair by the small console table, only to freeze in her tracks. Her breath caught in her throat and she nearly dropped her groceries before she realized that the large figure staring out of her living room window was Bruce. She heaved a sigh of relief and irritation as she plopped the bag on her kitchen counter and rounded on him. “Damn it, Bruce! You can’t just break and enter any time you feel like it! And, by the way,” she said to his turned back, “if you had scared me into dropping the eggs, then you were getting on your knees and cleaning them up. Frankly, at this point, I could give a rat’s ass about your dry cleaning bill.”

She hauled out her Ben and Jerry’s (Cherry Garcia, Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz, Late Night Snack, Phish Food, Mint Chocolate Cookie, and Karamel Sutra; a week was a long time and she did have a lot of packing to do) and stuck them in her fridge along with her other perishables before turning her attention back to her uninvited visitor. He hadn’t moved from where he had been standing, never acknowledged her or spoke, and it was really beginning to creep her out. Starling City was once home to serial killer who turned women into plastic dolls (she should know; she was almost made a permanent guest at his teddy bear tea party) and Bruce was looking a little too statue-like for her comfort.

She walked over to where he was standing and touched his shoulder warily, “Bruce?”

He turned to her, the deep grooves that framed his mouth standing out. Slowly, carefully, he reached out to her. His fingers lifted her sweater off her shoulders and it slid down her arms and onto the floor. She should have objected, backed away quickly, or at least protested the treatment of her very white, very expensive sweater being tossed on floors that hadn’t been swept or vacuumed for longer than she cared to admit, but she was frozen to the spot.

His eyes were haunted and waves of pain flowed from them. He focused on the black and blue marks covering her shoulder then the other injuries marring the fragile skin of her wrist. It looked much worse than it was. Her pale complexion and sensitive skin made the bruises stand out even in the low light. He then unwrapped the bandage on her right forearm, his jaw clenching as the dark mottled skin and broken capillaries came into view. Slowly and with infinite tenderness, his hand, the same one that had gripped her shoulder the night before, traced each of the impressions that he had left behind finally stilling over the worst one on her collar bone that was tinged red on the very edges, probing the bone carefully.

He took a shuddering breath and his eyes moved to her now exposed forearm. He lifted her arm and stoked along the dark and angry imprint his lack of control had caused before testing her elbow and wrist gently then probing both her radius and ulna as he watched her face for any sign of pain. She flinched when he squeezed the edge of the bruise and he froze. Bruce’s eyes left her face and focused back on her arm. He swallowed and licked his lips as he assessed the damage, seeing that it was bruised but not broken. His hand left her elbow and stroked down her other arm, careful not to brush against the scabbed and rough scrape from his gauntlet that ran almost to her wrist, as he took both her hands in his and squeezed lightly.

Her breath caught in her throat as she watched his face crumple and he tugged her close, burying his nose in her hair. “I’m sorry, Baby. I’m so, so sorry.”

She had a million reasons, good reasons, to push him away and rail at him for everything he had put her through but, instead, she put her arms around his shoulders and ran her fingers soothingly through his black hair as she laid her head on his chest. “It’s okay, we’re okay. I’m fine.”

They stood there for a long time in the dimming light of late afternoon. He began to sway them back and forth slightly as though they were dancing to some silent melody playing in his mind. Finally, reluctantly, he pulled away just enough so that he could meet her eyes. “I swear to you, on everything I am, I will never touch you like that ever again. Never again.” There was so much raw emotion in his face, a face that was usually so closed off and stoic, her eyes began to fill at the sight. His hand cupped her cheek as his thumb wiped away the gathering tears. “I’m so sorry; I swear to God I never meant to hurt you. I can’t…” His face paled and he hung his head in shame as he shook his head. “Please. I wouldn’t blame you if you hated me but, please…”

It was stupid, she was stupid. Later on she would call herself every kind of idiot for doing it but she couldn’t help it. Seeing the agony written on his expression and feeling the need to make it right again she lifted herself on her toes and kissed him softly.

He tightened his arms around her and kissed her back.

From there, well, everything was a bit of a blur. Looking back later Felicity honestly couldn’t even remember how they’d gotten to her bedroom. It was kind of like when you’re driving to work and one minute you’re in your driveway and the next thing you know you’re sitting at your desk. She didn’t know which one of them in the metaphor was the car and which one was the desk but it was definitely gearing up to be a ride to remember.

One minute she was fully clothed in front of her couch and the next thing she knew her glasses had disappeared and Bruce was kissing and sucking her neck as they were laying on her bed with her bra clutched in his fist. It wasn’t even a nice bra; it was an old t-shirt bra with some little strings of elastic threads hanging off it and a couple of bent clasps in the back. It didn’t even match her panties, the full brief kind that came up to her belly button. The part of her brain still somewhat aware of that sort of thing told her not to worry about it because those had mysteriously vanished as well along with the clothes he had been wearing because...

She gasped as he bit down on her nipple, her hands clutching at his bare shoulders. She could feel his hard shaft pressing against her as he continued to explore her with his mouth and fingers.

And then there were her pantyhose, she thought through her passion-filled fog. Not the sexy thigh high kind with the fancy lace garter belt; the ones from the plastic egg (the kind that you had to do the chicken dance just to haul up all the way). She was pretty sure that getting those off of her required the application of some kind of alien technology or Bat Disintegration Ray but her eyes had been closed so she couldn’t really say.

Must be something they learn in the Billionaire Playboy’s Club or in Vigilante Prep School, she thought muzzily as his fingers ran along her inner thigh until he was stroking her and ---oh, that’s nice. She cried out again and began to arch and squirm against him as he hummed against her throat in smug amusement.

His mouth trailed down to her breast once more where he alternated between licking, sucking, and lightly teasing her nipple with his teeth. She ran her fingers through his inky black hair, the clean scent of his spicy cologne making her head swim as his fingers and mouth made her pulse with want.

“Bruce,” she moaned, “Oh God, I’ve missed this,” she said then almost managed to fluster herself out of a good time when she realized she’d said it out loud. She sucked in a breath to launch into a ramble but then he lifted his head, pinning her with his hot gaze.

His lips captured hers in something that was less like a kiss and more like a brand of ownership. His mouth then left hers to find her earlobe and captured it between his teeth, sucking gently. His tongue began to stroke the sensitive flesh and she whimpered and squirmed against his fingers.

“Oh Baby,” he whispered against her ear, “You and I both have a lot of time to make up for.” He chuckled causing her to shiver with need.

Her fingers scraped his scalp as his mouth traveled down her throat again and then further on until he found her breast. He sucked one of her hard nipples into his mouth and captured it between his teeth as his tongue flicked back and forth causing a new flood of moisture between her thighs. “God, you are so wet,” he said in a near growl. When two of his fingers entered her she sucked in a slightly pained breath and he stilled. “How long, Baby?”

“It’s been a while,” she said, her flesh flushing in something other than passion.

“How long is a while?” He asked, watching her carefully.

She knew what he was asking. She bit her lip, suddenly embarrassed. “A little over four years.”

She saw as the realization of what she was telling him registered. “Oh Baby,” he breathed; his voice heavily laden with lust and amusement, “only you would give someone your virginity twice.”

She frowned, “I don’t really think it counts the second time,” she said right before he slid up her body and captured her mouth in a deep kiss.

He sucked and nibbled her lips and she gasped against his mouth as his fingers made clever swirling motions that she swore meant he had to have three hands down there. She felt the pleasure in her build and build as his tongue curled around her earlobe just as his fingers curled inside of her and…She…Was…Gone.

She screamed so loud the neighbors probably called the cops. Then, even before the echoes had faded away, he was pressing inside with a moan that sounded almost inhuman. She gasped at the initial burn but then he began to stroke inside of her, filling what had been empty for far too long. She looked at his face, at the exquisite look of pleasure and passion in his expression, and closed her eyes as he captured her lips again, his hips surging forward just as his tongue tangled with her own.

He was pushing, pushing, pushing; his fingers dug into her hips lifting her into the thrusts of his body. Deep, hard, long, and then he hit rock bottom and lightning struck her spine.

She nearly screamed again. Her toes curled and she couldn’t breathe and, fuck, it felt like pain and pleasure at the same time and she never wanted it to end. “Please, oh God! Don’t stop! Never stop! Please!” She sobbed in a ramble out loud and in her head. He growled and suddenly she knew it was her favorite sound in the whole world.

His thrusts began to jerk against her roughly, his rhythm becoming more and more irregular. It felt as though he was getting bigger somehow and then she made a sound that she didn’t even know a human being could make as her body shuddered and she fell over the edge. He thrust so hard inside her she slid up the bed a few inches and then he roared.

She shut her eyes tight as everything became about the moment. For one brief moment she was all sensation. Tremors ran down her body as she buried her face into his neck. He collapsed against her, breathing raggedly.

He rolled off her onto his back, his chest glistening and his dark hair damp with sweat. She curled up beside him and laid her head against his chest as he wrapped his arm around her back and traced lazy circles against her skin.

“Are you okay,” he asked a little breathlessly.

“I don’t know,” she panted, pressing her hand against her breastbone. “I think I might be having a heart attack.”

Bruce chuckled again and pulled her up his side so he could capture her mouth in a brief kiss. “Not bad for an old man then?” He asked her, his eyes sparkling with laughter. “After all, according to you I could be someone’s grandfather.”

“I think if you were any younger I’d be dead right now,” Felicity said honestly.

He kissed her temple then rolled onto his side so he could trace soft kisses over her cheek and across her throat. He nuzzled her ear and seemed to breathe her in. Her fingers moved upwards to card through his dark hair as he lifted his head to look her in the eyes, “I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know,” she said quietly. “I told you, it’s just a bruise, it looks worse than it is. I’m fine.”

His finger stroked the tender skin of her shoulder, “Not just this; all of it.” He looked up at her again, his eyes heavy with emotion, “I’m sorry.”

Felicity closed her eyes, unable to speak as she felt the weight of his words. “Thank you,” she said at last. Despite herself she heard her voice break as tears pricked her eyes.

“No,” he said quietly, brushing them from her cheeks. “No crying.” He made a soothing noise.

“No, it’s--” she hiccupped and looked at him with a wobbly smile, “They’re happy tears, Bruce. I’ve waited…a long time to hear you say that and now…”

“I’m sorry,” he breathed against her forehead as he laid a tender kiss there. “I’m so, so sorry, Baby. I never wanted to hurt you. Never you.”

“Don’t be sorry, Bruce,” she told him quietly as she stroked her fingers down his neck and across his cheeks. “Just don’t do it again, okay?”

“Okay.” He pulled away and smiled down at her, a soft smile that made her heart squeeze in her chest. Words she had no business speaking out loud nearly bubbled forth before he kissed her again, soft and sweet. “Close your eyes, Baby,” he told her as he pulled her to him a little closer, stroking her hair tenderly. He rolled onto his back, his arm wrapped around her as his fingers stroked down her side to rest on her bare hip. For a moment, for just the briefest of seconds, it almost felt like love.

She laid her head on his chest, took a deep breath, and faded away.

 

A few hours must have passed because the world outside her bedroom window was dark and still. There was a soreness and an unfamiliar stickiness between her thighs and she could smell his cologne on her sheets. She moved her fingers across the bed, blindly searching for Bruce only to find empty space. A noise from across the room made her sit up, sheets clutched to her naked breasts, her hair a riotous mass of curls.

Bruce was standing at the end of her footboard pulling the deep charcoal V-neck sweater he’d been wearing over his head. She looked at him blearily and tried to push the rat’s nest of blonde hair out of her face. She puffed a breath at the bits trying to worm their way up her nose then smiled softly, “Where are you going?”

He froze. For a second it tickled her that she had actually managed to get the drop on Batman in the dark but then something clicked and her brain came back online. “You’re leaving?” She asked in confusion, “You’re leaving and you weren’t even going to wake me up first? Why?”

His features shifted and settled into that grim countenance that rarely boded well for anyone.

She knew that look.

She’d seen that look on his face before and under very similar circumstances.

“You’re leaving?” She asked incredulously.

Very similar circumstances.

“Felicity…” He began.

“Again?!” She yelled, her temper flaring to volcanic levels. “You have got to be kidding me! You said--!”

“Felicity, it’s just not---!”

She grabbed the first thing she could find which was, unfortunately, her cell, and threw it at his head as hard as she could. His reflexes, being what they were, allowed him to deflect it handily.

That was unfortunate as well because braining him with something hurled at great velocity would have felt pretty great. For her anyway. Suddenly she had a new goal in life: Bruce meet projectile. Projectile meet BatBrain.

“You bastard!” She growled, tumbling out of bed. Her feet tangled in the sheets and she took a nasty fall onto the floor. He bent as though to help her up but she began hitting at him with the fist that wasn’t clutching the bedding concealing her nakedness.

“Stop it! You’re going to hurt yourself!” He backed out and she struggled to her feet to chase him into the kitchen. “Felicity, stop!” He ordered as he batted away the various objects she was grabbing at random and hurling in his direction.

“Four years!” She yelled, ignoring him. “I haven’t been able to even think of allowing another man to touch me for four years because of you! It took me two years to get to the point where I could even consider going out on a date with someone after what you did to me, and that was a total disaster because you left me an emotional basket case! You come here, you apologize, you promise you won’t hurt me again and then you do this? Seriously?!” She snatched her favorite cereal bowl from the dish rack and threw it at him. “What was the point of all this? What did I ever do to you?” She reached over and snatched a vase off the table and lobbed it in his direction. “First you take my self-esteem!” Coffee decanter. “Then you take my job!” Mug that says ‘Tech Girls Do It Beta’. “Then you threaten me and force me from my home and my friends!” Mexican hand-painted platter. “You stalk me when I’m trying to have brunch with my father!” Toaster. “And then—AND THEN—“ Blender. “You have sex with me!” Ceramic TARDIS cookie jar. “Again!” Aloe Vera plant in a terra cotta pot. “After four years!” Bread box. “After promising not to hurt me ever again!” Ceramic frog soap dish. “Only to turn around!” Calphalon butcher block cutting board. “Just so you can sneak out on me!” Handfuls of fridge magnets because, by then, her counters were pretty much clear. “Like a fucking coward!”

“Felicity,” he said slowly, his hands stretched outward in a defensive posture just in case she started digging under the kitchen sink next, “my world is too dangerous—“

“Fuck you and your world you Bat-Eared Bastard!” She screamed so loud that her own ears began to ring. “Get out of my house and don’t you dare show your face around here ever again!”

“Felicity—“ She reached behind her to the small wine cabinet and just grabbed and threw whatever was there. The bottle of expensive wine exploded near his head, splashes of the deep crimson liquid splattering and staining his clothes.

“OUT!” She screamed and, taking one last look at her he slipped silently out the door.

After he left she collapsed on the floor in a heap of bedding. She sobbed, great, messy, soul churning sobs that made her lungs ache and her throat hurt. By the time dawn began to peek over the horizon she was in misery. Her ankle was sore and swollen from where she had fallen, her face was hot and blotchy from crying, her nose felt like someone had chewed it up and spit it back on her face, her lungs hurt, her throat hurt, her eyes felt like they were sunburned, and her last bottle of wine was now just a stain on the carpet. And then it got worse.

Apparently her volley of the toaster went wide and knocked her purse on the floor because her new birth control was lying beside it.

She’d bought them on Thursday but in all the excitement she’d forgotten to actually start them.

They hadn’t used a condom.

“Fuck.”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

“What’s the matter, honey? Flu’s pretty bad this year, you need some cold medicine? Aisle 2,” an older woman wearing a white lab coat with the name ‘ROZ’ embroidered on the pocket told her.

“No,” Felicity said hoarsely then cleared her throat as she limped up to the counter. She knew she looked like hell but this just confirmed it. She sniffled, wiping her nose with a tissue that should have been tossed two blows ago. “Do you sell Plan B?”

“Sure thing, my darling,” the woman reached behind her and placed the pastel box on the counter between them, “$49.99 plus tax.”

“For one pill?” Felicity asked incredulously.

“Like I tell my girls, honey; buy the condoms first and you’ll come out cheaper.”

Felicity blew out a breath and reached for her wallet, “Yeah well, don’t have to worry about that. I’m probably never having sex ever again.”

“That’s what they all say, bubeleh.” She eyed her reproachfully as she ran her card and put the emergency contraception in a white paper sack. “Take my advice and buy the condoms. Trust me, there’s worse things than catching babies.”

“Thanks but I can guarantee I won’t need them.”

“Uh huh, whatever you say, honey. You just take care of yourself and I hope you get to feeling better soon.”

“Thanks,” she said morosely. “But I doubt that’ll be happening either.”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

She woke up Monday morning to the sound of her new phone ringing. It was yet another reminder of what had happened.

That and the fact that smartphones made expensive projectile weapons.

“Hello,” she croaked.

“Hello Ms. Smoak.”

Felicity buried her face under her pillow, phone and all. “Isabel? Why are you calling me at—“ she glanced at her phone—“8am?”

“Because it’s Monday morning and I’m at work,” she said wryly.

“Yeah, well, good for you,” Felicity mumbled, “You must not have heard but I quit last week.”

“I did hear which is why I called you on your cellphone and not at your desk.”

“Okay,” Felicity whimpered as she pulled her head out from under the pillow and flopped over onto her back.

“I’m calling to make sure you haven’t forgotten that we were meeting for lunch later.”

She rubbed her forehead and squinted at her ceiling in confusion. “Um, can you repeat that because it’s really early for me and I haven’t had any coffee in two days because my pot is…broken.”

“Lunch. One o’clock at Leviathan; do you know how to get there or should I send a car?”

“Wait, you were serious about that?”

“Of course I was,” she said in a slightly bemused tone. “You are coming, aren’t you?”

“You want to have lunch with me?” Felicity asked, her mind still not grasping what was happening. “Just me or with other people and I happen to be in the room?”

“Just us.”

“Uh…”Felicity pinched the bridge of her nose as shook her head, willing herself to focus. “You know what? I don’t think I can make it. Kind of busy today; packing…cleaning out my refrigerator.” Especially the freezer, she was down to one spoonful of Cherry Garcia and a pint of Karamel Sutra. It had been medicinal she told herself; she used the one packet of healing herbs she had gotten from Oliver and mixed them together. At least, that’s what she told herself in order to justify the first three pints she’d devoured; the last few were purely recreational. She would have eaten the last pint she had left but the name just struck her as being a little too ironic at the time.

“Felicity, I know there have been moments between us where I was less than kind—“ Felicity couldn’t help her snort but Isabel ignored it and moved on, “but I assure you that I will be respectful and polite and that I truly would like to start over with you.”

She took a deep breath, “I appreciate that, I do, and if this is about Wayne Enterprises or my dad I promise I would never do anything to hurt—“

“This isn’t about that, Felicity. Really. It’s about making amends. Please.”

Mistake. Mistake. Mistake. Mistake. “Yeah…oh-okay, sure. Sounds like,” she swallowed, “fun.”

“Excellent! I have a meeting right now but I’ll see you at 1:00, ciao!”

She stared at her phone in disbelief.

“Someday I have really got to start listening to that voice in my head.”

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

  starlingqcisabelgotham 

Chapter Thirteen

Felicity approached the restaurant warily wondering for the umpteenth time what the hell she had been thinking. She smoothed her hands over her fitted black and white polka dot dress, straightened her smart looking tweed First Lady jacket, and went inside.

She decided when she left for their meeting that she was going to go for broke. She was gone, outta there, and Isabel would not get the last word in the bitch war. Bruce’s bullshit had primed her for a scrap and she didn’t believe for a second this was a ‘friendly’ lunch. Whatever it was though it had her curious so she said ‘What the hell?’ and decided, if nothing else, she’d enjoy a meal at a 5 star restaurant on Isabel’s dime.

Fire meet frying pan, she thought as she followed the waiter to a private dining room where Isabel was waiting for her.

“I like your dress,” she said, skimming over her figure appreciatively. “Escada?”

“Alice+Olivia, actually,” she said, giving the waiter a smile as he poured her a water.

“Very cute but then you always did have such a lovely sense of style,” she said with a smile and, for a second, Felicity wondered if Isabel paying her a compliment was one of the signs of the Apocalypse.

They ate lunch quietly, spoke in a civilized manner, and Isabel acted as a perfectly composed if cool hostess. Just as their wineglasses had been filled for the last time and their meals all but eaten, Isabel made her move.

“Why did you quit?”

She’d been waiting for that ball to drop ever since she sat down. “I just decided I wanted to go home,” Felicity said off-handedly.

“But you were so loyal to Oliver—loyal to the point that the two of you were practically joined at the hip—so what changed?” Isabel asked, her cool dark eyes steady and slightly calculating.

Felicity put down her glass and smoothed her palms over her lap. “Isabel, I never slept with Oliver. Really. We never had that type of relationship, so—“

“I’m not accusing you of anything, I’m merely asking.”

“It was just time,” Felicity said, easily falling into the lie she had already worked out. “I was unhappy upstairs and, like you said, it wasn’t really what I went to MIT for. I have a doctorate in computer engineering and I was recruited by some of the top tech companies before joining QC. I enjoyed working with Oliver, we’re friends, but it felt like my real talents were being wasted and it was time to get back to what I loved. I knew that I could have gone back down to IT there but I thought that given my history with the company my needs would be better served elsewhere—no offense,” She added as an aside.

“No, I totally agree,” Isabel nodded. “Again I apologize for my unprofessional behavior toward you, but from the moment we met I could tell you weren’t comfortable in the position. There’s no excuse for what I said but when Oliver told me that he asked you to take it and you gave up your career path to follow him, well,” she twisted her lips in a disapproving moue, “I’ve seen a lot of otherwise smart women do foolish things just to follow a man and, I admit, I showed you a great deal of disrespect because I allowed my prejudice about that to inform my behavior.”

“You know,“ Felicity leaned forward and folded her hands on the table top, “since we’re being entirely honest and getting everything cleared up between us, why were you so, what’s the word?” She took a minute to ponder it, “Nope, no other way to say it: why were you such a bitch towards me when you slept with Oliver in Russia?”

Instead of appearing offended, Isabel seemed almost happy that she’d asked the question. “Several reasons actually, but none of them involved social climbing or selling my body so a man could take care of me. There’s a difference between a woman who sleeps with a man because she has no other means of acquiring what she wants and a woman to whom sex is but one of many tools in her arsenal.” She smiled, “I have no respect for women who don’t understand the difference.”

“So, again, why did you sleep with Oliver?” Felicity repeated.

“Why do you think I did?” She asked, a small spark of curiosity lighting her features.

“Well, he’s obviously attractive but I don’t think this was entirely about scratching an itch for you,” she theorized. “You’re not that kind of woman. For all your faults you seem genuinely invested in making QC a success. If I were to guess, I’d say it was some sort of scouting mission on your part; a kind of peek behind his…curtain.”

Her eyes brightened at that. “And what do you think I discovered?”

“I couldn’t say,” Felicity shrugged, sipping her wine. “I’ve never slept with Oliver.”

“Still?” She encouraged.

She debated answering her for a second but then decided to go all in, “Well, knowing what I do know about him, and other men like him,” Bruce, her brain supplied, “I’d say that you found out he isn’t as clueless as he sometimes appears. In fact I’d say you discovered he’s a bit of a control freak and far more intelligent than he portrays himself to be. He doesn’t mind giving others the illusion of his attention and is very in control and methodical but he never truly emotionally connects with the person he’s with. That said, he does have a bad habit of playing a little too close to the edge sometimes and never takes in to consideration how that may affect others around him.”

“And what kind of lover do you suppose he is?” Isabel asked, quirking an eyebrow upward.

“That’s a bit inappropriate,” Felicity demurred.

“We’re two women discussing the politics of sex, I’d say that it’s not only appropriate, but on topic. So, what kind of lover do you think he is?”

“He’s not,” Felicity answered simply.

Isabel seemed almost animated for once. “How so?”

“He’s not anyone’s ‘lover’, he doesn’t allow emotions to play into it. For men like Oliver sex is a means to an end and, if we’re being honest here, I’d say he was scouting you just as hard as you were scouting him. No pun intended,” she added.

“Brava,” Isabel said clapping her hands a few times. “I knew I saw something in you the other day and this,” she indicated the discourse between them, “just proved it. You were spot on, but I would have expected no less from you. I want you to know that I took your words to heart and did my own research on you.” Dark amusement glittered in the other woman’s eyes and Felicity sudden felt very uneasy. “I was impressed and I don’t impress easily.”

“Um, thank you,” Felicity tugged at her earring a bit nervously. “Isabel, while I appreciate the,” she waved her hand over the table, “all this, I get the feeling I’m here for something other than a friendly handshake.”

“You are,” Isabel said, wiping her mouth daintily.

There was a pregnant pause, “And?”

“I want to recruit you.”

Felicity’s mouth fell open, “You’re offering me a job?”

“I am,” Isabel said evenly.

“But I just quit QC last week, why would I go back?”

“Not for Queen Consolidated, for Stellmoor International.”

She leaned back in her chair and pondered that for a moment. “I don’t get it.”

“What don’t you get?” Isabel said easily. “You have all the qualities we look for: you’re intelligent, observant, you’re tech savvy, independent, loyal, trustworthy, discreet, and you don’t run from a challenge.”

“Thanks, but I don’t know about the last bit,” she said as picked at her Red Snapper with Citrus and Fennel salad. It might as well have been cardboard given the mood she was in. “I think there’s a few people who would tell you that I’ve made running away a habit lately.”

“They’d be wrong,” Isabel said confidently. “There’s a difference between making a strategic retreat and being a coward or a quitter. A simpering little doormat would have let Bruce Wayne back them into a corner at that meeting but you handled him perfectly. Every time he tried to make a power play you countered with one of your own. And, despite our less than, shall we say, ‘cordial relationship’, you instinctively sought out my assistance sensing that not only would I be receptive but that I would use it to our mutual benefit.”

“I don’t know if I was being quite that calculating—“

“Then you’d be selling yourself short,” Isabel broke in. “You planned every nuance of your interaction with Wayne. Don’t deny it; false modesty is for people who are too cowardly or too stupid to embrace their own power.” Isabel smiled again, it was that dead-eyed predator smile that always gave her the willies. “You came to that meeting prepared to do all-out battle. You had a strategy that worked perfectly. Every movement, every inflection, all of it was designed to be a crippling psychological attack against your opponent’s self-confidence. From the color and style of your dress to the perfume you wore, you had Bruce and Oliver thoroughly enthralled.”

“How did you know about the perfume?” Felicity asked in surprise.

Isabel’s smile grew wider, her eyes twinkling like a cat's when it notices the canary cage door has been left wide open. “Please. There are only two fragrances that make every grown man over the age of thirty miss his mommy: L’Air du Temps and Chanel No. 5. You nailed it with Bruce but you had a 50/50 shot with Oliver and you lucked out. Had he been my target I would have gone with Chanel. Good thing the nanny had taste.” Felicity’s eyes widened slightly and Isabel twinkled again. “You and I both know that women like Moira Queen don’t wipe grubby faces or deal with runny noses, ergo it was the nanny’s favorite perfume.”

“Housekeeper,” Felicity said faintly, suddenly looking at Isabel with new eyes.

Isabel made a dismissive gesture. “Same difference; nanny, housekeeper, sweet maiden aunt, dearly departed granny who used to bake them cookies and sang to them at bedtime; all men, no matter how strong or powerful, miss the feeling of being that little boy in mommy’s arms. You waged psychological warfare against two of the most powerful men in the world and you won. You knew that if you gave Bruce the satisfaction of so much as a glance in his direction the game was lost so you kept his attention by subtly taunting Oliver. You played into his ego and his attraction to you. You made him play your game; ask the questions all men ask when they find a woman desirable: Is she mommy? Is she the sweet little virgin next door? Is she sex and dark desire? Or, is she a challenge? You hit all of those creating a situation where they were so confused and preoccupied with you that we were able to close the deal without either of them having the presence of mind to muck it up. You kept Oliver on point and Bruce on edge and, when he attempted to outmaneuver you, you feinted by drawing me in knowing that I would instinctively engage him. You, Felicity Smoak, are exactly what Stellmoor is looking for.”

Felicity chuckled a little. “I’m sorry, are you looking for a tech or for Mata Hari? Because it sounds like you’re recruiting me to be some kind of femme fatale who can work PowerPoint.”

“Who’s to say that one has to be mutually exclusive from the other?” Isabel countered. “What do you know about Stellmoor International?”

Felicity’s brow furrowed in thought, “Not much. It’s a Vulture Capitalist investment firm—again, no offense—“

Isabel waved her off, “A bit pejorative but somewhat accurate; continue.”

“It’s based out of Seattle but it has strong ties to Europe, Russia, Asia, and the Netherlands. There’s not a lot out there about it, not even that I could find. All I know is that your North American interests are all pretty straight forward; you buy up and dismantle failing companies and sell them for scrap. It’s when you get to your overseas holdings that things get a bit murky. There still seems to be a focus on corporate conquer and castrate but you also have a great many holdings in mining, manufacturing, and medical research.” She paused, “There’s something I need to ask you real quick.”

“Ask.”

“You don’t like me and, frankly, I’m not a big fan of yours either, so why do this? Why offer me a job?” Felicity asked.

“I don’t dislike you, Felicity.” The timbre of Isabel’s voice changed, lowered, and the look in her eyes changed from cool calculation to something considerably warmer. “In fact I’m beginning to enjoy your company immensely. I could easily see us becoming quite friendly with one another in the near future if you were open to it.”

“Huh,” Felicity did a mental double take. “Um…if I’m out of line here then I apologize but, I have to ask; are you…um, are you…?”

Isabel’s lips tipped upward in a sensual smirk, “Am I expressing interest in exploring a less professional and more personal relationship with you? One that I suspect would prove mutually satisfying to us both?”

Felicity’s jaw dropped, “So…wow. Okay, didn’t see that one coming. So that means that you…you want us to…?”

Isabel ran a crimson tipped fingernail over her lips before tapping her chin as though contemplating the question, “Perhaps, but that has nothing to do with my motivations for offering you the job nor is it a requirement. I’m merely making you aware of the possibilities.”

Holy crap, Xenia Onatopp just made a pass at me. “Huh. I have no idea what to say right now,” Her mind went completely blank for a minute before her brain cells clicked back on. “You—I—um, you should know that I like men. Not that there’s anything wrong with not. I mean, not liking men, that is. But I do. Like men. Not that I’m promiscuous or anything, it’s just my preference. Lesbians are great though; go lesbians!” She said weakly as the word vomit hangover began to cause her head to throb with humiliation.

“I like men,” Isabel said off-handedly. “I enjoy them immensely, in fact. I believe you referred to it earlier as ‘scratching an itch’. Men fulfill that requirement nicely but women…” Again she gave that low and slow smile that Felicity suddenly realized was probably Oliver’s undoing in Russia. “Women are more complex, more sensual.” Again she gave Felicity a once over, “Women speak to me in ways that are more intellectually and emotionally fulfilling. Men scratch the occasional itch but women…Women provide everything else a man can’t.”

“I can’t tell if I’m having a really bad week or a really good week anymore,” Felicity muttered to herself.

“From my perspective it’s getting better all the time,” the other woman said flirtatiously.

Oh boy. “Isabel, while I am incredibly flattered and truly appreciate the ego boost, you have no idea how much I really needed that actually, I’m afraid that we’re just not compatible in that way. Although, were I so inclined, I want you to know I would find you very attractive.”

“Well said,” Isabel said, seemingly not the least bit insulted or disappointed, “but should you ever change your mind…”

“If the bi-curious stage I skipped in college ever rears its head, I’ll be sure to give you a call.”

“And the job offer?”

She thought about it. “I’ll admit I’m curious. I have a lot of questions though. Also, you should know, I’m already committed to returning to Gotham and I don’t know if the offer would extend to the East Coast.”

“Perhaps I can help you with that,” Isabel smirked, some of the cat-ate-the-canary returning to her eyes. “Stellmoor has offices all over the world including Gotham. As for your questions; ask anything you like.”

“What would I be doing there? You started talking about that bit before we, um, got off topic,” Felicity couldn’t help but blush a little at that.

“Same thing you’re doing now only in a much larger capacity and in a way that better plays to your strengths. Stellmoor is run mostly by women, smart women, women who understand how to get what they want and how to be successful doing it. Most major corporations within the tech and weapons development world are run almost exclusively by men. A woman has to work twice as hard and be twice as successful to even be seen as half as worthy as a man within this elite little realm and, as much as one would like to believe that isn’t true, we both know it is. Most politicians and military higher-ups would prefer buying their tanks and tech from men while getting their coffee topped off by a woman. Case in point; Oliver claimed you were his friend, acknowledged your skills, and then proceeded to derail your career so you could be a well-paid secretary.”

She held up her hand to head off Felicity’s protests. “While I have no doubt his feelings toward you are of genuine friendship, I must ask; while you were supporting him in his career how was he supporting yours? Did he move you upstairs to head up the Applied Sciences division even though you are more than qualified? Did he move you into a position where you could eventually take over as his vice-chairman at the board if he was so worried about stacking the deck with ‘trusted friends’? Did he even value your friendship enough to take into consideration how the move from heading an IT team to executive assistant would affect your resume and how future employers might read into that? No.”

Felicity flushed, feeling frustrated because, really, Isabel wasn’t totally wrong. At least, not from an outsider’s point of view. She tried making the same arguments to Oliver herself but he wouldn’t listen to anything she had to say outside of the mission (and the mission was 24/6 with the rest reserved for QC and keeping his head above water). Oliver was always in the present, always on mission, survival taking up all his critical thinking and decision making, so long term planning fell entirely on her. If she were honest, the way Isabel described things was exactly how it would look to any future employers: Felicity the doormat gave up her career to follow her crush to the top only to be dumped in the high-end secretarial pool. What’s worse, she couldn’t defend against that without giving up the real truth. “It’s not that simple, he needed the support of people he trusted while he settled into his position as CEO—“

“And lucky him, he found it. But that’s over now; he settled in and you’re moving on. Now it’s time to figure out what you want and need. You have developed skill sets that would be wasted in most companies outside of Stellmoor, skill sets that you’d be hard-pressed to ever be able to exercise in the same way again.”

“Like what? The ability to schedule meetings and fix my own computer at the same time?” Felicity couldn’t help but quip before taking another swallow from her wine glass.

“I was thinking more along the lines of the type of tech support you give Oliver when he’s out on the streets being the Arrow.” Isabel said easily.

Felicity’s lungs filled with liquid as she choked on her wine. Coughing into her napkin she felt her eyes tear up as she desperately tried to find oxygen. Finally, after successfully gulping in some air, she was able to respond, “I’m sorry? I thought you just said--?”

“That Oliver is the Arrow?” Isabel nodded as though it were common knowledge. “I’ve known about that forever, before I even arrived in Starling City in fact.” She glanced at her through a fall of dark lashes, “No need to deny it, although I already know you’ll try; Stellmoor specifically chose to partner with Queen Consolidated for that very reason.”

“Okay,” Felicity said, wiping her eyes and then her nose with her napkin even though it wasn’t exactly proper etiquette. Inhaling wine, even a nice Riesling, hurt like a bitch and she had snot and tears dripping everywhere, “Okay, let’s pretend you’re right, which you aren’t, but if Oliver was playing Robin Hood after dark and if I were stupid enough to help him, how would Stellmoor even know about it and why would they care? And what kind of job at Stellmoor would require the skills someone providing tech support for a masked vigilante—which, again, is ridiculous because I am not doing that at all and neither is Oliver.”

“Stellmoor isn’t just corporate takeovers and tech, we provide financial and technical support to women who have the ability to change and defend the world around us. Women whose goals match our own, who seek to eliminate all that is evil and corrupt, and who have it within themselves to fight the problems that affect all of us but in the right way. The world needs more than just some masked men beating down thieves, mobsters, and murderers with their fists and arrows. The male vigilantes like the Arrow, Batman, or the new ones with the meta-abilities like the Flash and Superman, may be occupying the headlines now but there are female heroes as well. And just like in the business world, these women aren’t given the support or recognition they should. We hope to change that.”

“You make it sound like Stellmoor is run by a group of Corporate Raiding Amazons,” she snorted.

“The Themyscirians are a client in fact,” she answered taking her comment seriously.

“Themyscira? As in the mythological Greek city of the Amazons? You’re serious?”

“Very,” Isabel confirmed. “And not just them. I believe you know Sara Lance, otherwise known as the Black Canary. Who do you think provided her with her tech after she left her former employers? Her training? Back up? Who do you think provides her with funds to do what she does now that she’s no longer associated with a certain group that shall not be named? Has she ever told you?”

It was a loaded question: Answer it and she’d be admitting that not only was she aware that Sara Lance was alive before her miraculous ‘home coming’ two years ago and that she was the Canary, it would mean that she was confirming Oliver’s identity as the Arrow. Don’t answer it and it does the same.

“I never met Sara Lance before the boating accident and all I know about her life before then is what I read in the paper. I admit that I do know her, that she and I struck up a friendship of sorts after she began working at Oliver’s club as a bartender on the swing shift, but we’re casual acquaintances at best. Our relationship consists of two mutual friends and her ability to make a mean Margarita. I don’t know where she is or what she’s doing but, I assure you, as far as I know she isn’t currently swinging across rooftops in Starling City.”

Isabel’s smile took on a shark quality again and she hummed in approval. “Stellmoor came to QC so that the Arrow would be free to do what needs to be done but we needed to provide a presence for our agents as well. The Canary considers this her home and, eventually, we hope to help her take on the role of this city’s protector. That said there are other cities that need our particular services as well, Gotham being one of them.” She sighed and folded her hands under her chin. “I’m not saying the Batman and Arrow aren’t doing a good job under the circumstances but, being men, they are limited. Both have repeatedly driven potential allies out of their cities due to some primitive sense of territorialism and it has cost lives and wasted resources. Our goal is to organize and provide support, not just to deliver rough justice in the form of mindless physical violence.” She leaned toward her. “You don’t have to answer this, because I already know you won’t, but how many times have you tried to stop the Arrow from going into a situation half-cocked by injecting some well thought out advise only to be shut out because it’s ‘his’ mission and not yours? Ten times? Twenty? How much easier would it have been to stop the Glades disaster had you had feet on the ground and a team that listened to you as you provided the support necessary to disarm both devices?”

Unable to stop herself, Felicity asked pale-faced, “How do you know there were two earthquake devices? The official reports say there was only one.”

“We have eyes everywhere, access to police and military records, spy satellites, a support network larger than you could ever imagine. We work, covertly of course, with various black ops and scientific research groups.” She looked at her steadily, “The world is even bigger than you ever thought it was Felicity Smoak; don’t let a misplaced sense of loyalty stop you from committing to an even greater mission.” Isabel arose from her chair indicating their meeting was over. Felicity joined suit, albeit on much shakier legs. “Think about my offer and get back to me. There is no deadline on this offer, it’s completely open-ended, so feel free to take all the time you need.”

She reached out for Felicity’s hand and she took it automatically, “I hope to hear from you soon so that we may embark on a new and hopefully successful chapter of our relationship.”

“Yeah,” Felicity responded, her mind blown and more than a little overwhelmed by all the twists and turns their ‘friendly little lunch’ had taken. “Hope you don’t mind me saying this but you’re even scarier than I thought you were and that’s really saying something.”

Isabelle gave her another enigmatic sphinxlike grin and said, “Don’t worry, I don’t bite. At least, not at lunch; dinner, however, is entirely another matter. Give me a call sometime and we can make arrangements for that as well.”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Two hours later Felicity was still in a fog as she indulged in some retail therapy. She was so far gone into shock and emotional upheaval from the past few days that things like budgets, savings accounts, and price tags didn’t even faze her. Every time she tried to wrap her brain around what was happening or figure out her next move she’d catch a glimpse of a Chado Ralph Rucci or Ellie Saab creation on the rack and head for the dressing room. Finally, after a painful moment at the checkout and with a stack of garment bags in her hand she knew what she had to do.

She dialed Oliver.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 felicityolicityoliver

Chapter Fourteen

Not calling Oliver wasn’t an option but calling him wasn’t going to be pleasant. Their last meeting was fairly heated—hell, she practically ordered Diggle to pistol whip him! The man was unlikely to be in a receptive mood.

The phone picked up on the second ring. She held her breath.

“This is Oliver.”

“Hi,” she said. It was the first thing that came to mind.

“Can you hold for a moment?” His tone was cool and detached, almost robotic. She listened as he excused himself. After a moment he came back on, “Yes?”

“We need to talk,” she said.

“I’m a bit busy at the moment but I might be able to pencil you in later.”

“Oliver, it’s important. Very important. We need to talk as soon as possible and I can’t do it at the office.” She allowed a hint of irritability to enter her voice because she really didn’t want to deal with his hurt pride or his bullshit. “Is Isabel there because, whatever you do you can’t let her know I’m on the other end of this call. Say ‘I’ll try to get those documents to you later today’ if she’s there.”

He took a moment before answering, this time speaking in a clear and professional tone, “I’m so sorry about that, I’ll try to get you those documents later today. Perhaps we can schedule a lunch to go over them sometime? Is tomorrow good for you, say around noon?”

“No, has to be tonight.” She tried to think fast, “Can you get out early and meet me in,” she glanced at her phone, “twenty minutes at the Foundry?”

“Can you make it forty-five?”

“Fine, meet you there.” She hung up without any of the usual niceties and headed for the club.

Verdant was closed on Mondays so the place was practically deserted. Still, she parked around the back and under the metal awning just in case Bruce decided to be a butthead again. She doubted he’d show after what happened two days previously but you could never tell with him. One thing she did know was that if he showed up today she was borrowing one of Oliver’s bows so he could try dodging arrows instead of toasters and cell phones.

She was still pissed about that. Her house was completely wrecked. She wasn’t up to cleaning it yesterday and today she’d been more concerned about getting ready to meet with Isabel so she’d either been avoiding the post-shag debris or just stepping over it. She was seriously considering sending him a bill because it was his fault she flipped her shit and destroyed all that crap while trying to brain him. The worst part was that her coffee mug had left a crack in the drywall. There was no way she was getting her security deposit back. “Ought to charge him for that too.”

She unlocked the doors and approached the keypad. She checked her text messages to see if Oliver had sent the new codes but nothing was there. She considered asking him but decided to flex her brain instead and try out the upgrades she had made to her new phone. Placing it near the pad with the key card device attached she activated the decryption app and waited for the click. “Too easy,” she said, shaking her head as the light turned green and the door unlocked after only a few seconds. She glanced at her phone and grimaced. She was early but not enough to ensure she had time to rework the system. She’d have to talk Diggle through it later.

She looked around the quiet space for a long moment before sitting down to her work station. For all she knew this was the last time she’d ever see this place again but she wasn’t going to dwell on it. She’d cried over too many pints of ice cream this week and it was only Monday. If she kept it up she’d not only be miserable but forced to buy a new wardrobe in less than a month and for her that really meant something. Her bungalow had two fairly good sized bedrooms; one she slept in and one that now served as her closet. She used her actual closet space for shoes and even that was a large walk-in. Between all the take-out, gourmet ice cream, and retail therapy she had been indulging in she was not looking forward to getting her credit card statement at the end of the month.

“Too bad Ben and Jerry’s doesn’t have a line of fat-free sugar-free ice cream, even FroYo isn’t going to cut it for too long if this keeps up,” she muttered as she began her searches on Stellmoor International.

She’d researched Stellmoor before, of course. After they found Isabel’s name in the book she’d made it her personal mission but she never found much. She had a little more to go on now given Isabel’s revelations during lunch so she tried giving it a shot using some of the new information.

She lost time as she began to research everything from Stellmoor’s foreign assets to Black Canary and sightings of other female vigilantes. There weren’t many but there were more than there had been since last she checked. Most were normal humans, like Oliver, who merely wished to help their communities, but some were meta-human or alien.

Only in the last year or so had the general populace become aware of the existence of aliens or the mutated humans known as metas who, for no apparent reason, had taken an evolutionary leap causing them to exhibit abilities well above the norm. She knew about them because of her brief affiliation with Batman but she doubted Oliver or Diggle did before they started popping up in Starling just after Harrison Wells' particle accelerator  exploded during a freak storm.

Of course, there was a theory going around that it wasn’t the meltdown of Wells’ machine that caused the surge in metas, but alien manipulation. Granted, so far most scientists felt that the only people positing the alien theory were cranks and crackpots, but Felicity was one of the few people who knew for a fact that aliens existed. Bruce had run into a few here and there and she’d seen the files. Oliver knew about enhanced humans like those affected by the Mirakuru super-soldier serum but she doubted he’d be open to the idea of aliens. Diggle was a harder read. He was a skeptic in most things but he seemed to accept the idea of the super-soldier serum with little argument and he had more than a passing association with ARGUS. Then again, perhaps it was because he had seen the effects of the drug for himself and for him that still fell under science; fringe science, but science nonetheless.

Due to the surge in meta-human sightings, Bruce, not known as being the most tolerant person in the world, had taken a special interest in this phenomenon. He didn’t trust these super-powered beings and had started a database where he tracked each and every occurrence. It was not done out of blind prejudice but born from the fact that he had seen ‘normal’ humans commit such heinous crimes that the idea of an enhanced human capable of doing the same or worse filled him with dread. She tapped into the backdoor he didn’t know she’d left in the supercomputer she’d built for him and used his database as a jumping off point. Bruce wasn’t the only one studying these meta-humans and he had been tracking those for some time as well. Many scientific and government agencies had begun their own inquiries without the general public’s knowledge. Bruce would have been more than a little concerned if he heard what Isabel had told her during lunch. The idea of a private company building an army of modern Amazons would have sent him into a fit. To him the idea of power unchecked, whether it was held by man or government, was unacceptable even if the intentions were to protect the public good.

As she began to look into any groups who might be aligned with Stellmoor, many of her leads proved to be dead ends but some led to ARGUS, Diggle’s ex-wife’s employer. Supposedly they were some kind of scientific research think tank funded by the government but she knew they were more than that. ARGUS was a black hat government agency with strong connections to the military. They were so enigmatic in fact, that even though they had existed since the Revolutionary war under the banner Armed Revolutionaries Governing Under Secrecy then later during the Civil War as Anonymous Ranger Group of the United States, no one actually knew what their true charter was or how far their reach extended. Officially, the modern ARGUS stood for Advanced Research Group United Support, but it had other names including Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans, although that last bit wasn’t common knowledge.

It appeared that they had some crossover with Stellmoor though and that worried her. Was Lyla their leak? Doubtful, she nearly died protecting their mission and she risked her life to come after them when Waller sent in drones to take out Slade and the entire city. Even though she and Dig broke up after she lost the baby, she was still a trusted team friendly. Was Waller? Oliver had never gone into details but he once worked for Amanda Waller and she was aware of the fact he was the Arrow. Could it have been ARGUS who told Stellmoor about Oliver? It was possible but he’d been the Arrow for over a year before she and Diggle met back up. Isabel could have been lying about knowing Oliver’s secret for that long though and she was with them in Russia. Funnily enough, she’d never even blinked or asked why an injured woman was coming back with them on the QC jet. At the time they’d just been relieved to be going back home so she hadn’t even thought to question it. Isabel had kept her so busy with paperwork and after hearing her bitch at Oliver for most of the flight home the only thing she’d wanted to do was get the hell away from her. Now though it was really giving her something to think about.

What if she didn’t just happen to show up for that flight? What if Amanda Waller, the head of ARGUS, had tipped her off so she could assess Oliver up close and in the field? What if his bedroom skills weren’t the only thing that had caught her interest that weekend? That might have been when Stellmoor caught their coms and realized her place within the team. Being in Russia Felicity had to work with limited tech and do things on the fly. Her encryptions might not have been her rock solid/steel trap usual. That would have made her the weak link, not Lyla or ARGUS.

A shiver ran down Felicity’s spine as she thought about that. What if she’d given Stellmoor a backdoor into everything? Not just the LAIR system and their coms, but the call she’d made to Barbara. That would give them an in to Watchtower—no, she decided quickly. Barbara was almost as fanatical about security as she was, and Bruce, no computer slouch himself, made them look sloppy in comparison. Watchtower was probably safe but it didn’t mean LAIR was.

She glanced at her phone to see if she had time to run a diagnostic and was surprised that she’d been there for well over an hour and he still hadn’t showed up. Concerned, she texted him.

//Are you okay?//

//Coming, just held up. Be there soon//

She rolled her eyes and sighed. She never in a million years thought that she’d wind up becoming yet another woman in Oliver Queen’s life that he ran from.

She ran the diagnostic program in the background and began upgrading the entrance security. By the time she was done another hour and 45 minutes had passed and still no Oliver.

“Screw it,” she said and grabbed her jacket and bag. He could sit and twist; she wasn’t about to wait on him forever.

She left the Lair and was half in her car when he pulled up.

“You’re leaving?” He asked coolly as he stepped off his motorcycle.

“You kept me waiting almost three hours, Oliver. I told you it was important,” she pointed out with a scowl.

“Sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry at all. “I had a tough day at work. My EA quit on me without notice last week and I’ve had to play catch up all day using a temp.”

If it wasn’t for the fact that she now knew his identity was compromised and that a bigger conspiracy was looming over all of their heads she would have flipped him the bird and let him figure it out for himself. “Fine,” she said, slamming the door to her Mini and stalking to the keypad.

“We changed the codes,” Oliver said casually from behind her. “I’ll have to open—“

She keyed in the new code and didn’t even bother turning around to see his expression. “I wrote the security encryptions, remember. By the way, check your phone. I sent both you and Dig the new door codes. The Lair should actually be secure now.”

She could practically hear him grinding his teeth into dust as he followed her down the stairs to her workstation. She immediately clicked on her diagnostics to check that everything was still secure and finished the security sweep that would alert her to the possibility of any bugs or locational listening devices within range.

“You’re the one who wanted to meet so are you going to tell me what you have to tell me or what? I cancelled a dinner meeting for this,” he said in his ‘I’m pissed off so obey and fear me’ voice.

She rolled her eyes and waited another second for the sweep to show an all clear before she turned to face him. “Your identity has been compromised. Isabel knows you’re the Arrow.”

“And how do you know that?” Oliver asked skeptically.

“I had lunch with her today and she told me.”

“She had lunch with you after you punched her in the face last week and told you, point blank, that I was the Arrow?” He said with a raised eyebrow. “No reason, she just blurted it out over appetizers?”

“She offered me a job at Stellmoor based on the fact that I was your tech for Team Arrow. She actually said the words, ‘I know that Oliver is the Arrow’. So yeah, she just blurted it out. But not over appetizers, she saved it for the end of the meal.” She added.

“She offered you a job? Isabel?” Oliver laughed. “Right.” He sighed and sat on the edge of her workstation, “She was obviously lying.”

“No, she wasn’t,” she said slowly. “Oliver, you have to believe me—“

“You should know better than to believe anything she said to you, Felicity,” Oliver said in a condescending manner. “It’s obvious that she was just playing a game of cat and mouse with you as payback for the other day.” He straightened his back and focused on her more alertly, “You didn’t accidently confirm anything she said did you?”

Felicity took a moment to remove her jacket and toss her bag into the chair in front of her monitoring post angrily before speaking. She turned to him and pushed her glasses off the bridge of her nose with her middle finger. And yes, she thought at him, that was deliberate. “I know better than to just blurt out your secrets, Oliver! I‘m not an idiot.”

“I’m not saying you’re an idiot,” Oliver told her evenly. “However, you and I both know you have a tendency to babble a bit when you get nervous and Isabel tends to put you on edge.”

“I was not babbling and I was not on edge!” She said sharply before muttering to herself, “Until she hit on me and then I may have babbled a little bit.”

“She hit you?” Oliver asked, his face darkening slightly as he straightened his spine and seemed to zero on her face as though looking for injuries.

“No, she didn’t hit me,” she let out a noise of exasperation. “I said she hit on me; as in made a pass at me.”

Oliver’s face widened into a huge grin and he chuckled a bit as he relaxed. He ran his hand over his mouth and tilted his head toward the ceiling, scratching at his ever present stubble as he did so. “Diggle is going to be so disappointed that I gave him the night off when he hears about this.”

“This isn’t funny!” Felicity scowled at him, her temper quickly beginning to escalate.

He tilted his head and gave her another grin, “It’s a little funny.”

“Oliver, I’m serious,” she said insistently. “Isabel knows about you. She said that Stellmoor International is more than just some evil Vulture Capitalist Corporate Raider Conglomerate, it’s a worldwide organization that has a particular interest in people like you.” She frowned and shook her head, “She also said a few other things that struck me as odd—“

“Of course she said a few things that struck you as being odd, she was lying,” Oliver said wryly.

She threw her hands up in exasperation, waving them about in emphasis. “She wasn’t lying! She knew everything; she even knew about--”

He moved close to her, grabbed her hands, and held them still. “Felicity, she was lying,” he said calmly as he looked down at her. “She was just trying to play some kind of mind game, she’s good at that, but I know for a fact that she was lying to you.”

Felicity scowled, “How do you know?”

He released her hands and leaned against the desk again. “Well, for one thing, I definitely know she’s not a lesbian.”

“And why’s that? Because you slept with her once?” She asked, cocking a superior eyebrow in his direction.

He crossed his arms across his chest and continued to look smug. “As a matter of fact, yes; and, trust me, she’s definitely not gay.”

“Sara—“ she began.

“Sara had one serious girlfriend,” he broke in. “One. I’m not saying she never messed around with other women while we were together but, believe me, there’s a big difference between a woman who sometimes colors outside the lines but still genuinely enjoys sex with men and someone who’s putting on a show. Trust me, Isabel wasn’t faking it.”

Dumb ass! Felicity wanted to shout but instead she said, “First off, you might want to call Sara before you start spewing out numbers because, trust me, I’ve been there when she’s six shots into a bottle of the good stuff and it’s been waaay more than just the one. As for Isabel and the gaydar detector in your pants; haven’t you ever heard of the Kinsey scale or is your he-man ‘I’m a stud’ ego just that big?” She pulled a disgusted face. “News flash, Romeo: Human sexuality is a sliding scale. Women can identify as lesbian and still find men attractive. From what she told me, I’d say Isabel’s a four; bisexual but with a strong preference for women.” She shot him a filthy look, “Believe it or not, Oliver; my time is still valuable and I don’t have time to sit here and stroke your ego all night long. I’m telling you the truth, make of it what you will; I don’t care anymore.”

“Is that right?” Oliver said, seemingly unimpressed.

“That’s right,” she told him.

“Well, my time is pretty valuable, too. Sorry if I kept you waiting but I still have a job; two of them in fact,” he said with a confident grin. “Speaking of which, if you want to hear my theory as to why you’re really here, it’s not because you think Isabel’s a threat; it’s because you want to come back but you’re too embarrassed to admit it.”

“You’re full of crap!” She snapped at him.

“Am I?” He asked, arching an eyebrow in her direction. “You quit just the other day and yet this is the second time you’ve shown up at the Lair under some pretense or another. And, FYI, if you’re that interested in what is or isn’t in my pants I can promise you it wasn’t just my ego you were stroking while we were in the conference room.”

She flushed hotly at the reminder of what had happened between them and glared, “While I hate to interrupt this commentary on your sexual prowess, were you even listening when I told you that she knows you’re the Arrow? That she probably has had you followed for some time? That there may be some sort of way for her to intercept our transmissions? No. You just focused on making fun of me and ignoring everything else.” She snatched her jacket and purse off the chair, “Look, if you don’t want to take me seriously, then fine! I’ll handle it on my own.”

She headed for the stairs with him trailing after her.

“Felicity, you know you can’t actually empty her bank accounts, right?” He said in a slightly bored yet indulgent tone. “She was just trying to get your goat.”

She whirled on him, her finger poking him in the chest. “First off, I most certainly could go all kinds of cyber-vigilante on her if I chose, but I won’t. For once she’s not the one being an ass; you are. Keep that in mind as you continue to piss me off!” She snapped.

He sighed in exasperation, “Look, I realized Isabel might have scared you with her little prank but you need to take a breath and think it through: Isabel has been with the company for two years now; why would she wait that long to reveal something like that and to you of all people?” He took a step towards her, “Felicity, if you want to come back we can work this out but Isabel isn’t a threat, I promise you.”

“I’m telling you the truth!” She said angrily. “She wasn’t just playing a prank, she was dead serious, but since you refuse to see it then I have no choice but to either handle this myself or go to an outside source for help. You’re not the only one who could be affected by this kind of security breech!”

That got his attention, “What ‘outside source’?”

“You know what Oliver, just don’t worry about it,” she said with a sigh, the fight leaving her. “I’m done. Sorry I wasted your time.”

She turned to walk away but he grabbed her arm and pulled her back, speaking in a low growl, “You are not to go to Batman with this, do you hear me?”

She snatched her arm back and glared up at him, “Don’t grab at me and don’t tell me what I can or can’t do, I don’t work for you anymore. That said, I wasn’t planning on going directly to him but to one of his associates. Believe it or not I do have other means at my disposal other than you.”

“No, you’re not going to go to anyone about this, do you hear me?” He said, getting very close and looming over her intimidatingly. “Especially not to someone associated with Batman. You may not work for me anymore but this is my city and my business.”

She shook her head at him and her eyes reflected the disappointment she was feeling at that moment, “You know, I would have gone to the ends of the Earth for you not so long ago. I did things for you that I never imagined I was even capable of doing—I jumped out of a plane and landed in a minefield just to convince you to come home so you could be the Arrow!” She dropped her eyes to the floor, no longer able to even look at him. “I’ve done and I’ve done and I never asked you for anything, not once, and the one time I do, the one time I ask you to show some faith in me, just hear me out, you can’t even do that. You don’t believe me, fine. Like I said, I’m a big girl; I’ll figure it out.” She headed up the stairs. “Goodbye Oliver.”

“Can you blame me, Felicity?” Oliver said angrily from the bottom of the stairs. “Why should I have faith in anything you have to say when I found out a few days ago that you’ve been lying to me this whole time?”

She spared him one last glance, “Have a good life, Oliver Queen.” And left.

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

When Felicity got home the first thing she did after stepping over the remains of her toaster and the broken bottle of wine was head to her ‘closet’ and hang up her new outfits. She had to do a bit of shoving and rearranging to get them in there. For a split second she thought about heading out in the morning to the big hardware store downtown to pick up some more of the rolling garment racks that filled the entire room before she remembered she was supposed to be moving out that weekend.

She glanced around the space skeptically. There was no way she could do this by herself. Note to self, she thought, call around and see if any of the moving companies in the area offered packing services as well. It would cost more but it would be worth it.

She headed out of the ‘closet room’ and into her bedroom where she stripped down the bed to change her sheets that still smelled like Bruce and briefly considered tossing them in her fireplace. It was tempting but smashing a $40 bottle of wine and a coffee mug was one thing, setting her favorite 1500 tread-count Egyptian cotton sheets on fire was another. She shoved them down into the hamper, took off her dress and hung it to go with the rest of her dry cleaning in the morning, then headed for the tub.

She soaked until her fingers and toes got prune-y, refreshing the cooling water with hot as she went. Her little bungalow had its faults with the drafty walls and the huge windows that, while charming, let in all kinds of light at the butt crack of dawn (she had become a big fan of black-out curtains), but she’d miss this. Lucius lived in a penthouse at Wayne Towers and it was beautiful, modern, and comfortable, but it lacked the charm of her shabby-chic little house. There would be no pipes rattling in the middle of the night, no water spots on the ceiling marring the crown moldings and ornate plaster, no scarred claw-footed tubs. Not that she didn’t enjoy modern conveniences; she was a techie after all and loved her gadgets, but this had been her first place and she’d miss the freedom it provided.

She spent her tub time flitting between melancholy, regret, Isabel’s revelations, and the more practical concerns of moving before finally giving up and deciding it was time to get dressed in her warm and fuzzies and start putting her house to rights. She tugged on the thick chenille robe her dad had given her for her birthday and headed for her bedroom.

She loved the long fuzzy oversized robe that she could easily wrap around herself twice over with its embroidered polka-dot cats and steaming coffee mugs. She had a few of the whimsical plush robes. She’d been a big fan of The Nanny when she was younger, one of the few non-sci-fi shows she enjoyed, and she, Tam, and their dad would all sit in front of the television and laugh whenever it came on while Luke moaned and groaned even though he secretly enjoyed it as well. He made a point of getting her and her sister a new robe every year since they left home as a reminder of their nights spent watching movies or Nick at Nite, drinking hot cups of cocoa, and snacking from big bowls of popcorn on the coffee table. She stroked the soft material on her lapel with a little bit of melancholy and wondered briefly if she could catch an episode or two before bed.

She went straight to the old fashioned steam trunk style chest at the foot of her bed to pull out a fresh set of sheets then turned to her large ornate chest of drawers for some pajamas. As she turned she caught some movement from the corner of her eye and screamed, her heart thumping in her chest. As soon as she was able to focus she yelled, “Goddamn it, Oliver! What the hell?!”

“Sorry,” he said, although his relaxed pose in her bedroom doorway said different. “I wanted to talk to you some more and I knocked but you didn’t answer. I was just going to leave a note but then I saw the mess.” He frowned and hitched his thumb at the living room, “What happened out there? Did someone break in or something?”

“Sort of,” she scowled. “Speaking of breaking in, I have a security system on my door.”

“You’re not the only one who can hack a keypad,” he shot back a bit too smugly for her tastes. “I checked the other rooms just in case after I saw all the glass and broken stuff. By the way; your guestroom?” He moved into the room further, his hands in his trouser pockets as he arched an eyebrow at her. “Wow. And I thought Thea was a shop-a-holic.”

She gave him her best ‘go to hell’ look grabbing the pillows on her bed angrily as she shoved them into the fresh cases then tossed them on the overstuffed chaise lounge by the window. “Just say what you have to say and go, Oliver. It may seem pretty early to you but I’m tired and I still have a lot to do before I can go to bed tonight.”

She began to unfold the sheets and Oliver wandered over to the other side, his eyes downcast and looking a bit guilty. “Need help with that?”

“I didn’t think boys with trust funds the size of yours made beds,” Felicity said a bit facetiously.

He threw her an amused look, “So says the daughter of one of the greatest financial geniuses in the world? Are you telling me you don’t have a trust fund squirreled away somewhere--and before you answer that keep in mind I saw the guest bedroom.”

“Fine!” She pouted, tossing him the other corner of the sheets as they tucked them under the corners, working in tandem. “For the record though, I’ve never touched it—my trust. Everything I have I earned all on my own.”

“I didn’t realize QC paid that well,” Oliver snorted as he pulled the sheets tight before tucking the bottom corner.

She stopped and placed her hands on her hips. “For your information, I had a life before I came here. I sold some software I developed before I was hired on---it’s half of the reason I got the job to begin with.” She folded her arms over her chest with a frown, “Wait, have you ever even read my file?”

“Of course I did.” He paused, catching her expression of disbelief, “Well, no, I never actually got around to it.” Oliver said before grinning sheepishly at her disgruntled huff, “I already knew everything I needed to know about you, okay? I trusted you so I didn’t really care what some file said; I already knew all I needed to.”

She unfolded the top sheet and muttered, “Trust, right.”

He snagged the other corners of the sheet and pulled them over to his side. “Yeah, I actually came over tonight to apologize.” He tucked in the bottom of the sheets and looked up at her, his eyes filled with remorse. “I’m sorry for being an ass. I should have listened.”

She looked over at him, her anger deflating, and motioned toward the duvet. “Help me fluff the covers, okay?”

“Fluff?” He smiled, a genuine one and not one of the all too frequent practiced smiles he saved for the rest of the world. “That a technical term?”

“Just fluff,” she ordered. They snapped the duvet between them until it floated gracefully onto the sheets. It had always been her favorite part of making the bed, that magical little moment when the covers seemed to hang in the air like a parachute before covering the entire bed in a whisper soft puff of air. It was weird but it always made her smile. She looked over at Oliver and noticed he was staring at her, his eyes fixed on her chest. He quickly looked away and she blushed crimson when she realized why. Her robe had loosened and it was open almost to her navel.

She tightened it quickly as he cleared his throat. “So,” he said, “Um, software development, huh? I’m not exactly a fashion guy but even I could tell that you must have done pretty well for yourself.”

“It was just a few programs, nothing big,” she shrugged, willing her embarrassment away. “I mean, I was probably overpaid but Bruce has deep pockets, so—“

“Wait, Bruce?” He said cutting her off. “As in Bruce Wayne? You worked for WayneTech?”

“No, not exactly,” she said clearing her throat. “I just consulted for Bruce on a few private projects after MIT.”

“Is that all there was between you two?”

“What?” She looked up at him, her embarrassment giving way to anger once again.

His eyes were hooded and the lines around his mouth had deepened into the beginnings of a scowl. “Not that it’s any of my business or anything but I saw the way he acted toward you the other day, not to mention the way you kept trying to avoid him.” His eyes locked onto hers and something dark and deadly flitted across his eyes. “Wait, he didn’t do anything to you, did he? Harass you or hurt you?” He seemed to pause over the word ‘hurt’. “Is that why you moved here from Gotham?”

“No!” Felicity said quickly then paused, “Well, yes, but not in the way you’re implying.” She pushed her rapidly drying and slightly frizzy blonde hair from her eyes and sat on the bed heavily. “It’s a long story.”

“So tell it,” Oliver said in a far too casual to be believed tone.

“No, absolutely not,” Felicity said, playing with a loose thread on her robe.

“You’re the one who said I never ask you anything personal,” he pointed out.

“There’s personal and then there’s personal.”

Oliver moved closer to her to stand at the foot of the bed. He bumped her knees with his and offered a wry twitch of the corners of his mouth, hitching a thumb at his chest, “My longtime girlfriend asked me to move in and I responded by sleeping with her sister, and running away to China—or I intended to anyway; the whole five years spent on an island hell was kind of a karmic kick in the teeth, but still. The point is that you know all of my fucked up crap and I don’t know any of yours, so talk.”

“We really should be talking about Isabel,” she pointed out in an attempt to dodge the conversation.

“We will, but first I want to, I don’t know, establish a baseline or something.” He sighed, sitting down next to her. He reached for her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “I trust you, I do, but you’ve got to show me you can let go of some of your secrets first. Not all of them, but something easy. Too many people in my life have kept secrets and I need to, I don’t know; get back to normal with you before I can relax again.”

Oliver was not a words kind of guy so, when he admitted that, it pretty much blew every argument she had out of the water. She shut her eyes, her cheeks already stained red, and dove right in. “Okay. Well,” she began as she struggled to figure out the best way to tell him without giving away too many of the more important details, “It was nothing really. I was barely 19 and I’d never even been out on a date much less kissed a guy or anything—“

“Wait,” he said stopping her, “How is that possible? You were 19 and had never gone out with anybody? By the time I was nineteen…” He let his voice trail off with a naughty gleam in his eye. “Let’s just say I was a very busy guy.”

She raised her eyes to his ruefully, “Not all of us were as precocious as you. Besides, I started college when I was barely thirteen years old and my brother and I shared an apartment because my dad didn’t want me staying by myself at MIT; especially after some creepy Lacrosse player decided to get all stalker-y my freshman year. And Luke, well, he can be a bit overprotective.”

“Lacrosse player?” Oliver asked, a hint of the Arrow coming through. “Why would a grown man stalk a thirteen year old girl?”

“I was fourteen by then,” she shrugged. “It was during the summer session so I had just had my birthday. Not that it matters to the story, but I wanted to graduate early so I was packing in the hours and, apparently, it was slim pickings on campus during that time of year, I guess.”

“Slim pickings?” He said with a deepening scowl.

“Yeah, it was some stupid frat game,” she said dismissively, although at the time it had scared her. “I don’t think he actually knew I was only fourteen at the time. I mean, I looked young, that was obvious, but I think he figured that just meant I’d be a pushover and he was trying to score as many points as he could.”

The truth was that her mother’s reputation had apparently followed her. Sebastian ‘Trip’ Hady III (otherwise known by the pithy frat name Trip ‘Get Laid-y’ Hady), the boy in question, had family in Gotham and he figured the apple didn’t fall far from the tree but she wasn’t going to tell him that. Some things were still too private.

“Points?” Oliver bit out.

“Yeah,” she said closing her eyes at the memory, “the frat had this thing called a ‘cherry picking’—“

“I’m familiar with the term,” Oliver said grimly. “What happened to the lacrosse player?”

“Well, let’s just say that after Luke got finished with him he wasn’t playing lacrosse anymore,” she said ruefully. “Also the frat got shut down as a result of their ‘game’. It…didn’t exactly make me popular with the Greeks. Nobody ever messed with me again though.”

“I think I like your brother,” Oliver said at last. “Is he your only sibling?”

“No,” she gave him an incredulous look. “You didn’t even look into Lucius’s background before the meeting either?”

He shrugged, “Didn’t have time.”

“You spend hours preparing for a mission and you can’t take five minutes to skim some research at work?”

He looked at her askance, “I dropped out of four different colleges; this surprises you?”

Felicity took a deep breath and sighed, “You drive me insane, you know that? Okay, so I have a brother and a sister; technically they’re my stepsiblings since they’re from his first marriage but Lucius helped raise me since I was just a few months old and adopted me before I was two so we’ve never split hairs. Luke used to be with the Peace Corps but now he works for The Wayne International Charity Foundation in Africa; he runs a program in Tinasha, that’s in the Congo, educating kids.”

“From MIT to the Peace Corps to the Congo running a charity? That’s admirable but a bit of an odd career trajectory isn’t it?”

“Yeah, well, Dad wasn’t all that happy with the idea at first. He graduated a year early from MIT with a job offer from Wayne Enterprises working directly with Dad but he turned it down. Sitting behind a desk or spending time in a lab just wasn’t his thing. He’s always been very physical and active, always more of an engineer than a software geek like me. As kids we’d design stuff and he’d put it together. He joined the Peace Corps because the idea of helping people appealed to him as well as the labor intensive stuff like building bridges and schools, he liked the hands-on thing and he apparently loves teaching. It’s weird because he was never the most patient guy in the world but he’s happy and he sends me updates every once in a while along with requests for treats to give to his students.” She smiled, “Hey, wait,” she reached over to her nightstand and showed him a picture of her brother in a silver frame surrounded by a bunch of barefoot and slightly dusty and sweaty kids who had obviously been playing a rousing game of soccer if the ball in Luke’s hand was any indication.

“That’s your brother?” Oliver said in surprise as he examined the picture before handing it back to her, “Pretty buff guy for a school teacher.”

She smiled and put it back on her nightstand, “Yeah, well, like I said; he’s always been a physical kind of person. He did a lot of kickboxing and mixed martial arts in college. It helps because he really got involved in helping the child soldiers down there, providing education and protection. He doesn’t say it but I know things can get pretty dangerous in that part of the world. Along with the basics he teaches the kids martial arts and self-defense. He says it helps them focus, teaches them discipline, and directs their aggression into something constructive. When David Zavimbe, the former Director, resigned from the Foundation Bruce offered the job to Luke. He been down there for a few years now and I really don’t think he’ll ever leave; he loves it too much.”

Oliver smiled at her, his eyes lighter and softer than they’ve been in a long time, “He sounds like a really great guy.”

“He is,” she said with a bright smile. “You know, growing up we never fought. He and Tam used to go at it like cats and dogs but…I don’t know, they were always my whole world. I was always especially close to Luke. I mean, Tam and I are close, don’t get me wrong, but Luke was my hero growing up. He still kind of is,” she said, glancing at the photo again.

“I wish I had that sometimes,” Oliver said with a contemplative look. “I always wished I had an older brother, someone to look up to. It would have been nice to have someone there to turn to or just to call me on my shit when I messed up, you know? Not like my parents, not in a judgmental ‘you’re screwing up and embarrassing the family name’ kind of way; just someone who had already been there and who could help me to get through it when I needed someone to rely on.”

“You had Tommy,” she pointed out.

“Not really,” he said with a slightly sheepish grin, “Tommy and I were like brothers, yeah, but he wasn’t my hero; we were more like partners in crime.”

She laughed, “Yeah, that’s me and Tam. Every adventurous thing I ever did was because of her. I mean everything. She’s a total instigator. She took me to get my ears pierced when I was twelve and my dad about had a fit when I came home with five holes in each ear.”

“I’ll bet!” He grinned, “Is she the one responsible for the tattoo?”

She lifted her foot and looked down at the girlish cursive along her instep that said ‘Dream Big’, “Yep; she took me to the tattoo parlor just before she left for La Fémis after Sarah Lawrence. She even got me my first fake ID so we could get in because I was underage. The place was a total hellhole smack dab in the middle of the worst part of town, and I’m lucky I didn’t contract Hepatitis from the tattoo needle, but at the time the only thing I was upset about was the fact that they didn’t even bother checking it. I spent two whole days watching Fargo and memorizing my fake birthday because of that stupid ID.”

“Fargo?” He asked in confusion.

“The movie,” she clarified. “For some reason the guy who made the fake ID gave us Minnesota driver’s licenses and I wanted to have the accent right, just in case.”

He laughed; one of his rare laughs that brightened his whole expression and shaved years of pain from his face. “Your sister sounds like a trip.”

Felicity smiled, “Tam? Oh man, Tam is the best. She’s the oldest so she’s always been leader of the pack and the rest of us just fall in line. She’s fantastic: smart, wicked sense of humor, fearless really. She speaks five languages fluently, is incredibly sharp, and can kick some serious butt if you piss her off. She works at Wayne Enterprises in the Entertainment Division and really seems to enjoy it.”

“So everyone but you works for Wayne in your family?” He asked.

“Yep.”

“Why didn’t Wayne offer you a job there as well?” He asked, his tone casual but his eyes were sharp.

“He did, so did Dad. I just wanted to do something on my own,” she said, not looking at him directly. The truth was she couldn’t have survived working day after day in the same building as Bruce after what had happened but she didn’t want to say that. He broke her heart and even though the job at QC was entry level, she was more concerned with distance than prestige or money when she accepted it.

Oliver gave her a puzzled look, “Can I ask you something before you tell me your undoubtedly tragic and humiliating Bruce Wayne story?”

“I love the way you phrased that,” she muttered. “Go ahead.” She prepared herself for one of a thousand questions he could ask her like, ‘Why did you say your dad abandoned your family if you consider Lucius to be your dad?’ ‘Why didn’t you wait for a position in Applied Sciences instead of taking the first thing available in IT?’ or ‘Why not accept a job closer to home at AmerTech or LexCorp in Metropolis?’.

“If Lucius is your dad and he raised you then how are you Jewish?”

That was a bit out of left field, she thought. She looked at him askance, “You do know that black people can be Jewish, right? Black people, Asian people, Latin people, Indian people, anyone can be Jewish; the twelve tribes are nothing if not diverse.” He squinted at her slightly in the same way he did at the office when he was pretending to understand something that was completely foreign to him like computers or pop culture references. She narrowed her eyes and gave him her best, ‘you’re not fooling me’ look. “Judaism isn’t just an ethnicity; it’s a religion, a nationality, and a culture as well and converts have the same standing within the mainstream Jewish community as someone who is considered an ‘ethnic’ Jew.” At his blank look she sighed, “Lenny Kravitz is Jewish, Oliver.”

“Um, sure. Yeah, I knew that,” Oliver said unconvincingly.

The corners of her lips quirked upwards as she noticed the slight flush on the usually unflappable man’s cheeks and decided to let him off the hook for once, “Lucius’s first wife was of mixed heritage and Jewish so he converted for her and then he met my mom who was Jewish as well. That said we weren’t very observant, just the High Holidays, and we had a Menorah and a Hanukah bush that tended to stay up until Christmas so there might have been a little wiggle room here and there. The Hanukah bush/Jewish Christmas thing started when Tam made the argument that since at least part of our heritage was Christian, even if Lucius had converted years ago, we should do both. Mostly though it was just because she liked getting presents and Lucius just went with it that way Tam and Luke could do Hanukah with his first wife’s family and Jewish Christmas with us,” she added. “Trust me, none of us were complaining.”

“Got it,” he nodded. “Okay, now that I’ve managed to completely embarrass myself by exposing my lack of cultural knowledge, it’s your turn. I’m ready for you to tell me all about your totally humiliating sexual awakening.”

“Oh God…” Felicity’s eyes practically bugged out of her skull and her tongue seemed to swell like she’d just pigged out on one of those monster tubs of peanut butter she saw at the Price Club last time she went shopping for supplies.

“Hey, I just put my foot in my mouth and practically admitted that the only thing I know about Jewish people is that they’re good with numbers and that Jerry Seinfeld is funny as hell,” he said blithely. “It’s the least you can do.”

“Really? Jewish accountant jokes?” Felicity asked, her jaw practically hitting the floor.

“Are we going for honesty or political correctness because you get one or the other but not both,” he drawled.

She closed her eyes and prayed for lightening to strike her. “I can’t believe I’m telling you this,” she muttered before taking a calming breath. “There’s really not much to it: I was 19, I was working on a special project for him, it was late, one thing led to another, blah blah blah.” She shrugged and played with the ends of the tie holding her robe together nervously as she avoided his gaze. “It was one weekend and then on Monday he basically said, ‘thanks for the sex, hope you enjoyed it, and here’s some cab fare’ and then I moved to Starling City a week later.”

“Cab fare, huh?” he said with a ghost of a smile. “I bet he just pulled out his wallet and asked ‘how much’ after he was done.”

“Better than that; he left it on the night stand after he got dressed.”

“Nice,” Oliver snickered.

“Really,” she agreed her cheeks almost the same shade of dark pink as her robe. “He even threw in a tip for the driver.”

“Ouch,” he winced with a grin then looked up at the ceiling scratching the stubble on his neck in a familiar gesture. “I can’t say much; I’ve done that and worse and didn’t even say ‘thanks’ or offer cab fare when I was done.”

“Well, since you two are charter members of The Billionaire Playboy Club, I’m not surprised,” she said ruefully.

“Hey, at least he didn’t knock you up, ruin your life, then have his mother pay you off, right?” He said. The words were said jokingly but she could hear the edge of self-hatred in his voice.

“It’s not too late to have a relationship with Connor, Oliver,” she reminded him for the umpteenth time. “Merlyn is dead. You could call Waller, have her send them a message…”

He sighed, running his fingers through his hair. “I can’t, not now. Maybe later when he’s older but right now he deserves to have an uncomplicated life, you know? It’s bad enough that he and Sandy had to leave their entire lives behind them because of Merlyn, I just want him to have a chance to be a kid and not have to deal with any of this.” He smiled tightly, “Besides, this is about you and me, remember? Connor…he’s a discussion for another day.”

“Fair enough,” she said dropping it, then looked over at him. “Is it my turn to ask questions now?”

He looked at her cautiously, “What do you want to ask?”

“Nothing bad,” she assured him. “It’s just that you’re always doing this,” she mimed the scratching of his stubble gesture, “thing; have you ever considered just shaving?”

“What? And shave off my manly stubble?” He asked in mock horror before shrugging, “I don’t know, I guess it’s my way of holding onto that little bit of the old Ollie. I mean, I’m running my dad’s company and I have to hide what I do as the Arrow from everyone, keeping the scruffy beard is my little way of thumbing my nose at the whole three piece suits and boardroom thing. Besides, the ladies dig it,” he grinned. “Makes me look like a bad boy who just needs the right woman to help him change his wicked ways.”

She couldn’t help but roll her eyes at that. “You know, I could go on and on about the psychological theories behind why most politicians and businessmen believe a clean-shaven look makes them appear to be more open and trustworthy whereas a beard implies they have something to hide and then go on this whole tangent about what your uncommitted beard thing says about you, but I won’t. Instead I’ll just clue you in on the fact that, FYI, most women don’t like getting beard burn when they kiss a guy so you might want to rethink that.”

“I don’t know,” he said softly as he looked into her eyes, “I’ve never gotten any complaints.” She shifted nervously and he cleared his throat. “So.”

“So,” she repeated.

“Well, at least Wayne is in your past and you’ve moved on since then, right? That’s something.”

She swallowed and stared down at her bare feet. “Right, yeah, totally.”

He frowned a little, an inquisitive look lighting up his expression once more, “Well, I mean, you’ve dated plenty of guys since then, I’m sure.”

She gave a bark of laughter at that, “What guys? How many ‘guys’ have you seen me date since you’ve known me?”

“Well,” he seemed to think about it carefully, “there was Barry.”

She nodded sadly, “Yeah, Barry; Barry who I shared all of one dance with and an exciting night of saving you from stroking out in the Lair.” She shook her head ruefully, “Some love affair; we never even held hands much less kissed. On our ‘second date’, the one where he had to shoot you full of rat poison, he told me we could ‘be friends’ then went home where he was hit by lightning and spent months in a coma. Then, after weeks of me going to visit his bedside, he woke up as the Flash, had a new girlfriend he got together with while he was still in the coma, said ‘thanks for being there’, and left to do the whole superhero thing in Central City.”

“Oh,” Oliver said uncomfortably.

“Yeah, ‘oh’,” she snorted.

“Daniel?” He said, although not enthusiastically.

“You mean the other billionaire vigilante who was using me just to get close to you?” She said dubiously.

“Yeah well, I never really thought that guy was good enough for you anyway,” Oliver muttered then paused. “Wait, what do you mean the ‘other’ billionaire vigilante?”

She froze, “Um, just that you’re a billionaire vigilante and Daniel was a billionaire vigilante so that means you’re, um, the other billionaire vigilante…” She let her voice trail off weakly.

“Okay, I guess so,” he shrugged then scowled again, “I hated that guy. He was such a--”

“Asshole,” she supplied then thought better of it, “No, actually he was a nice guy, he just had his own mission and went about things the wrong way.”

He smirked, “No, you were right the first time; Garret was an asshole for using you like that and, for the record, I never trusted him. I kept trying to tell you something was off with him but you wouldn’t listen.”

“And your point is?”

He smirked, “That, for once, I was right and you were wrong.”

“Really?” She said looking at him askance, “You’re choosing now to rub my nose in that?”

“You never apologized for calling me a territorial asshat after I followed you guys to the restaurant.”

“That’s because you were being a territorial asshat,” she said dryly.

“No, I was trying to protect you because I could tell that something was off about that guy and it turned out I was right,” he said defensively.

“He was a mask, not a creepy supervillian with a mind control cocktail in his pocket,” she said with a snort.

“But he could have been,” Oliver said with a scowl. “The chemicals did come from his labs after all; you just don’t want to admit that I was right when I said he was hiding something.”

“Okay, you were right,” Felicity told him in exasperation. “Happy now?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Oliver said with a twinkle in his eyes.

She snorted, “God, you’ve been waiting a year just to hear me say that, haven’t you?”

“I have; yes,” he admitted. “I also never thought Barry was a right fit for you either. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice guy, but if he was really into you he wouldn’t have hooked up with Iris the first chance he got.”

“Yeah, well…” She said dourly.

He paused, “Plus, if you ask me, he’s also got a thing going on with that little lab assistant chick, what’s her name.”

“Caitlin?” She asked incredulously.

“Yeah; her,” he frowned. “Frankly something’s off with her, too. I can’t put my finger on it but—”

“First off, Caitlin isn’t a ‘lab assistant’, she’s a biochemist. Secondly, there’s nothing going on between her and Barry,” she told him flatly.

“Yes, there is,” he said confidently.

“How do you know?” She asked in exasperation.

“Oh, I know,” he said with a slight upturning of his lips. “And, trust me, when that whole thing blows up in his face you don’t want to be anywhere near it.”

“They just work together,” she snorted.

“Yeah, like I said; complete disaster just waiting to happen,” he smirked. “I almost feel sorry for the poor bastard. Love triangles always end in disaster, especially when all of the parties involved are also teammates.”

“Kind of like when Laurel decided to try out Sara’s wig and go leaping from rooftop to rooftop with you guys as the new Canary and then when Sara came back you hooked up with her again leading to a huge catfight all because you couldn’t keep your Arrow in your pants?” She shot back.

“Yeah, like that,” he said looking at her with a pained grimace. “Ouch; talk about a low blow, but yeah, like that,” he said with a wince. “The point is, neither of those guys were good enough for you. You told me once that I deserve better, well; so do you.”

“Maybe,” she said quietly.

“No maybe about it,” he said, laying his hand on hers and squeezing slightly before pulling away. “You’re remarkable, remember? You deserve someone just as remarkable as you are.”

“Remarkable, right,” she scoffed, “because a guy who can travel at superhuman speeds is too humdrum for someone as utterly extraordinary as me.”

“Exactly,” Oliver said with firm assurance.

She sighed, “Look, I know that Barry and I might not have worked out and it wasn’t meant to be but, thing is, I liked him. He was funny, and he was safe, and we spoke the same language. He might not have been all that handsome or exciting compared to…” she glanced up at him before clearing her throat, “some people before the whole ‘Flash’ thing, but I liked having someone interested in me for a change. Of course, once he meta’d out, all that changed. Before it just felt like I was being left behind in a cloud of dust; then Barry got zapped and, well…” She expelled a discontented breath, “I don’t know; I guess I’m just cursed. I should just give up; it’s not like anyone’s interested in me anyway, right? Unless, of course, you count random psychopaths or masked vigilantes with intimacy issues and then, boy howdy, is my dance card full.”

“Plenty of people find you interesting,” he defended, ignoring the directed ‘intimacy issues’ remark.

“Then why was he was the first guy--the only guy--to ask me out in four years? And notice, I’m not including Daniel because he was a hell of a lot more interested in you than he was in me. Don’t think I’m ever getting over that one either; at least when Barry asked me out, he was actually interested in me and not in the Arrow. Well, he was interested in the Arrow, but he was more interested in me.” She frowned, “No wait, he didn’t ask me out; you asked him out for me, remember?” She reminded him. “Crap. Technically speaking he was the only guy I ever really dated at all and he dumped me less than twenty-four hours into our relationship, plus he was basically a...oh God, it was some kind of weird pity date by proxy, wasn’t it? How did I not notice that before?”

“A what?” Oliver asked in confusion.

She ignored him, “I don’t know; maybe I should just go the bad 80’s movie route and build my own man-bot. Of course, he’d probably just dump me for the toaster oven,” she added under her breath.

“Felicity, you’re gorgeous, you know that right?” He asked with a puzzled frown as though her beauty were merely a fact.

“I’m somewhat attractive in the sense that I have symmetrical features and clean up nice,” she corrected him. “At best I’m pretty, as in, sweet old fashioned girl next door pretty.”

“Yes, you are,” he told her. “Very pretty.”

She smiled, “Thanks, but my kind of pretty isn’t exactly what most guys are looking for these days. I mean, we live in the plastic surgery capital of the world where everyone expects you to be this statuesque epitome of female beauty with big fake boobs and I’m too…well, not perfect; like the complete opposite of perfect. Totally imperfect.”

“That’s not true,” he told her. “When have you ever seen me with a plasticized human bouncy house?”

“You have a point,” she admitted ruefully, “but trust me when I say that you’re the exception to the rule. Besides, you have your own weird thing going on with tall, willowy brunettes.”

“I do not,” He objected.

“You so do,” she snorted.

“Sara was blonde,” he pointed out in self-defense.

“Sara was the exception to the rule as well,” she said dryly. “Besides, you and Sara have that whole superhero thing going on and I’m just…” She sighed then shrugged, “I don’t know; girls like me just don’t inspire passion. I’m too short, too nerdy, too ‘cute’, too,” she looked down at her modestly proportioned chest and raised her eyebrows slightly, “you know. The first thing most people tell me, if they notice me at all, is ‘You’re cute’, or ‘Aren’t you just adorable?’ Newsflash; adorable is worlds away from sexy. Don’t ask me why, but I give off this vibe that reminds them of their little sisters—I know this because I get told that constantly.” She said with a resigned grimace.

“I don’t think of you as my little sister,” Oliver said with a deepening frown.

She gave him a dubious look, “Yeah, well, maybe not since ‘the dress thing’,” she emphasized by curling her fingers into air quotes, “but you kind of did before that.” He started to protest and she cut him off, “It’s okay, Diggle does the same thing; most people do. For some reason men take one look at me and assume I’m some fragile little thing and having any kind of romantic interest in me makes them into some kind of pervert. I’m pretty much used to it and on the rare occasion someone does decide to pay me any sort of ‘attention’ all I have to do is open my big mouth and they’re out of there.”

“That’s not true,” he said firmly. “I’ve seen plenty of men give you a second look, Felicity. You just haven’t noticed.”

“It is true; believe me, I’ve seen the skid marks on the floor when they make their escape after I go into full ramble mode.” Felicity shrugged half-heartedly. “Look, this whole ‘cheer up Felicity’ thing you’re trying to do is nice but it really doesn’t bother me,” she said with a stiff smile. “I’ve known for a very long time now that I just wasn’t meant to have something like that with another person. I have my work, the mission, you guys…” She closed her eyes with a wince, her chin dropping to her chest, “Oh yeah, almost forgot. Guess I don’t have any of that anymore,” she muttered.

“Felicity…” his voice was pained but she refused to look up at him.

She forced a smile on her face, her eyes still cast downwards, “Seriously, you don’t have to build up my self-esteem or worry about it. I’ll be fine. I’ll just finish packing up my house and go home to Gotham; find a job, get a condo and a couple of cats. Maybe I’ll take up knitting or something. I always wanted to learn how to do that and now that I won’t be hacking into the FBI database all night long I might actually have time for hobbies again.”

She thought he’d laugh and drop it but instead he tilted her head up so she was looking into his eyes as he spoke, “Don’t do that.”

“The knitting or the cats?” She asked jokingly.

“Don’t put yourself down; don’t try to convince yourself that you deserve less, or that you aren’t worthy of having something because you are the best, brightest, bravest person I know,” he said seriously. “And, for the record, you still have me and I think you’re beautiful. Or couldn’t you tell how I felt about you from the other day?”

She gave a slightly nervous chuckle, pointedly trying to ignore the last thing he said, “That’s a lot of ‘B’s’.”

“And I meant every single one of them,” he told her, his eyes fixed on her and his tone serious.

She blushed and dropped her eyes, “Yeah, well, it’s nice of you to say so but that was just the dress; that wasn’t me.”

“No, it wasn’t,” he said quietly, his fingers still on her chin, his thumb tracing the dimple on her cheek.

“Trust me, it was,” she scoffed, trying to move away to defuse the intimacy of moment but he held her fast, his eyes searching hers, and the air grew thin between them.

“It wasn’t just the dress,” he said before leaning down and brushing his lips against hers.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 


 sexlove 

 

 kiss

 

 

 

  

Chapter Fifteen

She gasped as his tongue swept across her lips and suddenly she was once again drawn into the sensation of kissing Oliver Queen.

His hand cupped her cheek, his thumb caressing her jawline, as his other hand wrapped around her waist to pull her closer. Her hands splayed against his chest before slowly, tentatively, wrapping around his shoulders until they were melting into one another. He moved her back until she was lying on the soft cloud of the duvet, his hand moving to her throat to caress a line to the V of her robe. His fingers slipped beneath the warm chenille until he was cupping the soft underside of her breast.

She moaned, not sure of where this was going but pretty much beyond caring. His mouth left hers and kissed across her cheek until his teeth and tongue found her unadorned earlobe and she inhaled sharply, desire pooling in her belly.

It was the ears. They always got her with the ears.

His free hand tangled in the silky strands of her hair as the other tugged her robe apart before cupping her waist and pulling her further up the bed. He stopped as he looked at the still livid bruises on her shoulder and collar bone. She’d taken some of the ‘Hell Island Magic Herbs’ but they were still rather dark even though the swelling was rapidly going down. Gently, tenderly, he kissed her there then used his teeth against her throat. She began to whimper as he gently pinched and pulled her nipple then nipped and sucked at the area between her shoulder and neck. Unconsciously she began to rub her thighs together, the slow heat rising from the juncture between her legs to throughout her body.

He pulled away from her long enough to slip his sweater over his head and then he was kissing her again, this time harder, deeper. His fingers slid to the back of her head and he ran his hand from her breast to her thigh. He pulled her leg to him until she was so snug against his body that she could feel his erection push at her through his trousers. She gasped as her uterus seemed to contract in response. She was on fire and her thighs were becoming almost embarrassingly slick with want.

His mouth left her lips to latch onto her breast. He ran his tongue against the delicate pale pink skin before scraping it with his teeth causing her to cry out and buck into his hips. He ground himself against her as he began a gentle suction interspaced with more tiny nips and the flicker of his tongue. His hand moved from her hip to her inner thighs, through the copious moisture gathering there, pausing long enough to make a gruff noise of approval against her breast, until he found the underside of her clit. Applying firm, steady pressure, he began to rub tiny circles into the nerve cluster, occasionally dipping into her heat for more lubrication. Her eyes rolled back as her entire attention zeroed in on what was happening between her thighs. It felt good, so good, but she needed more.

As though he were reading her mind, his fingers found her center and pushed inside as his thumb continued its slow torture of her clit. She moaned; a low wanton sound that she hardly recognized. He lifted his mouth from her breast to gaze intently at her expression of open want.

His hands left her and she protested with a whimper. He made a soothing noise, toeing off his shoes and pulling down his trousers and underwear before climbing back on the bed with her. He kissed her again; a long, slow, sensuous kiss that seemed to last forever. He kissed her like they had all the time in the world, like this night, this moment would last for all eternity and he refused to be rushed in his lovemaking. He kissed her until her head swam and she began to tremble. Had she been standing her knees would have failed her until she was a drained and insensible mass of flesh at his feet. He was addictive, intoxicating, and just when she thought she couldn’t take anymore he ended the kiss and moved his lips downward. He licked and sucked his way down her throat, between her breasts, down her stomach, then pulled her thighs apart and kissed her center. She started and tried to sit up but he pushed her down with a gentle but firm hand pressed to her abdomen as his tongue flicked out to find the swollen evidence of her arousal nestled above her folds.

She gasped and clutched at the sheets as his tongue swept across her moist flesh, teasing her clit, before he suckled it gently. His hand left her stomach and he gripped her thighs, pulling them further apart as he took his time exploring her. It was erotic torture; this lazy sensual creature between her thighs seemed determined to drive her insane as he performed some arcane tantra of tongue, teeth, and lips. She couldn’t breathe, the oxygen left her lungs as he teased her with unhurried swipes of his tongue. His fingers moved up her inner thighs and he gently inserted them inside of her; first one, then two. She gasped at the slight but pleasurable sting of being stretched and he looked up, a wicked smile shining toward her in the form of full, glistening lips. “Ms. Smoak,” he said huskily, trying to get her attention.

“Wha--?” She said dumbly, the passion-fuelled fog rendering her brain useless.

“You’ve been lying to me.”

“What?” She said, suddenly snapping to attention.

He glanced down at the translucent curls at the apex of her thighs, “Natural blonde,” he enunciated carefully in a slow drawl, the syllables rolling off his talented tongue in an exaggerated feast of long vowels and sharp consonants.

“Oh, uh—OH!” She was rendered suddenly speechless as he dove between her thighs with renewed vigor, his lips, tongue, teeth, and fingers acting in concert to bring her to a babbling boneless mess within seconds.

She thrashed and shuddered, speaking in the unintelligible language of passion as he sucked and nibbled at her heated flesh until her muscles tightened and she began to tremble through her orgasm. He kissed her thighs, the scrape of his beard adding to her pleasure as his cheeks rubbed against the pale sensitive skin. He drew the moment out for as long as he could, the fingers of one hand soothing her goose pimpled flesh as the long, thick digits of the other danced and teased against her center. He watched her unravel with hooded eyes and no small measure of smug satisfaction then scooted up the bed to lie beside her. He kissed her again with slow assurance and she could taste herself on his lips and tongue, the combination of his languid seduction and her own pheromones pushing all remaining lucidity from her mind. His hands drew her toward him, pulling her against then over until she was straddling him. She pulled away from his lips and looked between them in mild confusion but he tugged her upward until she was above him, her breasts level with his mouth as he began to nip and suck at them once more. His hand reached down between them and he lined himself up to her entrance before gently easing her down.

Through the sharp pang of penetration and her own fogged senses she watched as his eyes shut, his features melting into an expression of ecstasy as velvet encased steel sheathed itself inside warm, wet heat. They both moaned as one as she slid down slowly until he was buried to the hilt. His hands slipped up her body, under her robe, and then over her shoulders so that the material slipped down her arms to pool around them. He gazed intently at her form, now completely unobscured by the thick robe, and ran both his hands over her outer thighs until he had a firm grip on her bottom. He lifted her slightly and encouraged her to move her hips so she was grinding against him in small circles, teaching her through his firm but gentle touch how to set the rhythm of their lovemaking.

Her head fell back as she gasped and moaned with every thrust of his hips, continuing to grind down. His back arched off the bed as he thrust inside her, his hardness hitting a spot deep within her that caused her belly to tighten and spots appear behind her eyelids. As his rhythm deepened she began to breathe and pant heavily. His fingers found her clit and began to rub against her as she continued to swivel her hips against him and she faltered at the sharp, intensely pleasurable sensation that shot through her body.

He made an animalistic growl and then, in a skillful maneuver, he flipped them until he was once again in the dominant position. He grasped her thighs, hitching them over his waist, and roughly began to pound inside of her, slow seduction giving way to raw passion, as they raced toward completion. Every thrust of his hips sent a sweet, almost painful spark of energy through her entire body and all she could think of was the pleasure and sensation of being stretched, filled, and utterly possessed. Oliver’s mouth found her earlobe; his tongue curled as his teeth bit down and she cried out in pleasure, frantically clinging to him and mildly aware that she was now babbling nonsense. Words of want, need, and lust spilled forth in an almost unintelligible gibberish.

“Please,” she moaned. “Please, oh God, Oliver, I want—I want…!”

He looked down at her, his gaze dark and penetrating and it was all she could do not to open her mouth and confess every thought, every fantasy, every secret she’d ever had. Before she could speak words she would surely regret after their bodies had cooled, he found her mouth again, his tongue dueling with hers as he thrust his hips harder, faster, until she couldn’t stand up against the intensity of the onslaught of sensations any longer. Felicity’s mouth left his as she cried out, her back arched off the bed tight as a bowstring. She began to shiver and pulse, a rush of moist heat surrounding him, and heard the sharp intake of breath as he came, his body also shuddering in its release.

He leaned heavily against her, his weight offset by propping his elbows on either side of her. He buried his head in her neck, his breath coming in uneven pants as her heart raced so fast it felt as though her entire chest was vibrating. Her legs eased down off his hips and she curled her hands gently against his back, feeling the slick sweat on his skin.

I just had sex with Oliver, she thought as their bodies began to cool.

Holy crap.

He rolled over onto his back pulling her along with him, his hands gently rubbing her arm that was splayed over his chest, her head pillowed in the hollow of his shoulder. She stared at the watermark on her ceiling, her nose catching a faint whiff of the acrid scents of semen, sweat, and musk.

I, Felicity Smoak, just had sex with Oliver Queen.

She glanced at him, his eyes closed as his breathing began to calm. She looked down his torso at the many scars and tattoos that had become familiar over the last few years then lower to his softening but still engorged sex as it lay wet and glistening against his thigh.

I just had sex with Oliver in my bedroom. In my bed.

She shut her eyes and took a breath.

She glanced over at him again.

Yep, still there.

She eased out of bed conscious of the wetness between her thighs as she made her escape when he spoke.

“Where are you going?” He asked sleepily.

“Bathroom,” she said quickly. He hummed in response and she hurried over to her en suite, grabbing a wash cloth from the antique cabinet where she kept her towels and started to fill the tub. She eased into the warm water, wincing at the sting against her sex as she applied soap to the cloth and began to gently wash away the evidence of their lovemaking.

‘Well what do you expect, Felicity? You’ve had sex twice in two days after a four year long dry spell,’ came the voice in her head.

Suddenly all the air left her lungs and it felt as though she had been slammed face first into a wall of fire.

She had sex…

…with Bruce…

…and Oliver.

Panic, anxiety, and mortification all fought for dominance within her brain as a voice sounded from the doorway.

“Hey,” Oliver said as he leaned against the doorjamb.

“Hi,” she said feebly from the tub, holding the wash cloth against her chest in surprise before realizing how ridiculous that was.

“Nice tub but I’m more of a shower guy,” he hitched his head toward her walk-in glass enclosed shower. “Do you mind?”

“No, no of course not,” she said in a rush and pointed feebly at the chifforobe she used to store her linens. “There are towels and washcloths in there along with extra, um, robes.” Her eyes locked on his naked figure, so unashamedly displayed before her as though being naked together in the same room was a common occurrence. “They’re pretty big, one size fits all, so…” Then she heard the words coming out of her mouth and shut her eyes as she wondered if he’d show mercy and just let her drown in the tub.

“Thanks,” he said with a sexy half grin as he walked over to the old fashioned and purposefully shabby looking cabinet to pull out a large fluffy towel and a washcloth, “but I don’t think pink kitties and polka dots are a good look for me.”

“You can stay naked if you want to then, I don’t mind,” Felicity blurted out and then immediately covered her face with her hands, her humiliation reaching epic proportions but he just chuckled in response as he hung the bath sheet on a hook then entered the shower.

As soon as he was safely walled up within her shower she scrambled out of the bath and headed for her dresser pulling out the first thing she came across; a sleeveless long chemise in soft white cotton jersey that floated just above her ankles. It was one of her ‘summer’ nightgowns because the old house tended to be drafty and, while long, it was of a very thin, light material. This time of year she stuck mostly to fuzzy fleece lounge pants and camisoles or tees but she had a need to be not naked ASAP until she got her head on straight.

She looked around her bedroom feeling a bit shell-shocked. On her floor were Oliver’s clothes and she stooped to pick them up so they wouldn’t wrinkle, pausing briefly at his underwear before snatching them up and tossing them on top of the oversized chest of drawers where she kept her casual wear and lingerie. She then looked over at the bed and at the now rumpled duvet on top.

That comforter has seen a whole lot of action this week, came the stray thought. Her mind swirled; I slept with Oliver and Bruce. I slept with two different men in a week. No, I slept with two different men two days apart. They had talk shows about this sort of thing--and not the Oprah kind, trash talk shows like Maury and Jerry Springer; the kind where people booed and threw chairs at each other.

Holy Sally Jesse Raphael, what the hell was I thinking?

Fuck, fuck, fuck, what the fuck do I do now? I should call Tam, she thought. Tam would know what to do. She glanced at her smartphone on her nightstand. Shit, Gotham is three hours ahead so it’s too late at night to call her. She glanced at it again. Or maybe not. She started to go for her cell then stopped herself; if she called her sister then Oliver might walk in and overhear.

She stared off into space, frozen in place. Oh God, he’ll want to talk. How do I talk to him? What do we say? What do I say? Oh God, oh God, oh God…

I have to get out of here. She glanced at the window. I could escape through the neighbor’s yard, maybe catch a cab; the nightgown might be a problem…

“Hey,” Oliver said coming toward her with a frown, one of her extra-long bath sheets wrapped low on his hips, “You okay?” He asked, placing a hand on the center of her back.

“Uhhh, yeah. Why?” She said, turning toward him with a doe in headlights look on her face.

He smiled and gathered her up in his arms. “Shh, it’s okay,” he said softly, as he rubbed her back gently and tucked her head under his chin. “It’s okay to be a little freaked out. I’m a little freaked out myself.”

“Yeah?” She asked as she melted into his skin, still moist and warm from the shower.

“Of course,” he rumbled quietly against her, placing a kiss against her hair. “We’ve been friends for a long time and I never wanted to mess that up with sex. Besides, this is the first time you’ve had sex in four years and I’m only the second guy you’ve ever been with. I don’t blame you for being a little nervous.” She stiffened in his arms, her eyes going wide as he looked down at her and chuckled, “It’s okay, I’ve got you, alright?”

“Okay,” she said faintly as he led her back to the bed and pulled back the covers. Oh God, oh God, oh God….

He walked to the other side and tugged off the towel, letting it fall to the floor as he eased between the sheets and pulled her into his arms. With gentle pressure he urged her to lay her head on his chest as he rubbed her back soothingly. “By the way, I meant to tell you, other than all the broken glass and smashed up toasters this is a really nice place.”

“Thanks,” she breathed out, her voice trembling slightly as she tried to figure out just what the rules were when it came to this sort of thing. How do you tell the guy you just slept with that he’s not the first one you got naked with this week? She glanced at her phone again. What was the etiquette for a thing like that? Her vision dimmed for a moment and she felt almost faint with terror. I wonder if this is something they would cover in Miss Manners? And if she didn’t tell him was that the same as lying? And if she did tell him would he hate her and think she was some kind of slut? Her brain paused; can you be a slut if you’ve only had sex twice in four years? Was it based on how many times you had sex altogether or how many people you did it with because she was only up to two people and—

She did the calculations in her head; Bruce was Batcave, shower, bed, shower, kitchen, bed, shower, wall, floor, shower back in Gotham then bed again the other night so that was 11 and Oliver in her bed made 12. Two people, twelve times, twice in four years, two days apart…

Fuck, this is too much math right now! It’s like some really twisted dirty dream where you’re naked and you forgot to study but with lots and lots of sex--I’ve got to call Tam.

“Laurel wanted to get a place in this part of the city. She liked the old houses and all the history in the area but I wanted something more modern then--” he sighed. “Well, the island happened and she wound up getting a place with Tommy closer to her job.” He looked down at her, his arm squeezing her in a half hug as he laid another kiss on her head. “I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t be talking about my ex right after—“

“No!” Felicity said quickly. “No, it’s fine. Really. I mean, you shared a lot of history together and it’s natural that there would still be feelings there. You know, like, guilt or other…feelings; even if you shouldn’t feel guilty because you have absolutely no reason to. Really. I mean, she was the first person you ever really loved so it’s natural you would think about her right now, at this moment,” she swallowed. “Trust me, I’m not going to judge you for that. At all.”

He laid another kiss on the top of her head and hummed contentedly, “I know you wouldn’t but I still shouldn’t be talking about her right now. I mean, our relationship over the last several years has been pretty back and forth but I think really am over her. Romantically, anyway. I have been for a while but I’ll never be able to completely let go of the guilt, you know?”

“Yeah,” Felicity breathed. “I can understand guilt perfectly.” Tam, Tam, Tam, Tam…

“I just wanted you to know that even though Laurel has a tendency to throw me off my game, and believe me I know it can get irritating; it’s not love, not anymore. I care about her but we’re just not right together and I think we both finally realize that,” he told her softly. “Whatever this is between us I want you to know that the only person in my arms right now is you.” He tilted her chin up and kissed her mouth gently, “Okay?”

“Okay, but even if you weren’t I’d be fine with it,” Felicity told him, her heart thudding against her ribcage as she tried to control her oncoming panic attack. “I mean, these things just…happen sometimes, right?” She looked up at him pleadingly, “Seriously, even if you told me you slept with her, say, two or three days ago, I’d be fine with it. I mean, we weren’t, um, you know, and, uh, well, it would be none of my business. In fact, don’t tell me. Seriously, because you shouldn’t kiss and tell, right? Telling isn’t cool. Telling is bad. I mean it would be between the two of you just like what happens between us is our business. No matter what,” she let out a slightly strangled sound as she fought to find the right words, “either of us may have done before tonight, our, um, thing is new and completely, um, new. The point is that the past is in the past,” she said with just a hint of panic. “Completely in the past. Totally. Totally in the past…” she let her voice trail off as she swallowed hard.

“Felicity?”

“Yeah?” She breathed, looking up at him and praying that she would just shut up already.

“Just because we weren’t expecting this it doesn’t mean I think you’re easy,” he said with a gentle smile. “I know you aren’t. I know you don’t sleep around and, even if you did, it wouldn’t matter to me. Stop worrying about it and just relax, okay? We’re good.”

“Are you sure?” She asked in a wobbly voice.

He chuckled and tilted her head up to give her a sweet and lingering kiss, “You really are adorable, you know that? And not in a little sister way because, trust me, I’m not feeling the least bit familial right now. ‘Adorable’ is definitely a sexy look on you,” His lips found hers as he eased her head down to the pillow and deepened the kiss, his hand trailing down her flat stomach as he reached for the hem of her gown. “Adorable, smart, beautiful, passionate,” he said huskily against her lips and eased her gown up to her thighs as he drew circles on the inside of her knee with his thumb. His mouth moved to her cheek, kissing her gently, before he drew back to look at her with a tender expression, “and the most extraordinary lover I’ve ever had.”

“Really?” She asked in a small voice as her brain began to melt again.

“Yes,” he said before claiming her mouth in a deep kiss and moving his hand upwards until he was again brushing against her center.

Her brain snapped back into gear and she caught his hand, pulling away from his kiss, “Uh, Oliver, I…um...” She flushed, “See, the truth is that I, uh—it’s not that—I mean, I didn’t—oh God, this is embarrassing,” she breathed out in a nervous rush. “Oliver, I have to tell you something and--“

He kissed her into silence. “Hush, it’s okay, I understand. You don’t have to be embarrassed,” he said softly, his smile tender and more than a little filled with male pride. His fingers brushed a stray curl from her forehead, gently tucking it behind her ear before frowning in concern, “It’s just some soreness, right? Things got a little vigorous and I might have been a bit too rough--”

“No,” she said quickly, “I’m okay; you were fine—I mean it was great; perfect! Wonderful, in fact. It’s just…it’s just…I—I, um…”

“You?” He prompted. “It’s okay, you can tell me anything; I promise. Just talk to me, sweetheart.”

Sweetheart.

That…was not something she expected to hear; not from Oliver. It was, well, not bad per se, just highly unexpected. Of course, nothing that had happened in the last several days could be classified as ‘normal’, but sweetheart?

‘Baby’ she could handle obviously, ‘darling’, ‘love’, and its variables of ‘lover’ and ‘my love’ always made her feel a little squidgy ever since the weirdness with Slade, but ‘sweetheart’?

And it wasn’t the slightly patronizing kind of ‘sweetheart’ Lance sometimes used; it was ‘sweet’ pause ‘heart’.

Sweet Heart.

As in; ‘I think you have a sweet (pause) heart,’ which was only a hop, skip, and a jump away from saying some other really deep shit that she just could not handle at that moment.

Damn; he skipped ahead three or four heartfelt endearments and broke out the big guns.

She took a centering breath, “It’s just been a lot for one week, you know?” She said in a slightly pitchy way.

He chuckled then gave her another tender kiss on the lips, “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.” He looked at her bruised shoulder that was already beginning to yellow on the edges thanks to the herbs and ran his hand over the healing blemish on her arm. “I...when he grabbed you, I--”

“It’s nothing,” she said quietly, closing her eyes at the memory.

“No, it’s not nothing,” he said firmly, his eyes darkening in response to his own recollections of that night. “When you told him that you were the Arrow, I thought he was going to kill you and there was nothing I could do to stop him because I was trapped in that damn basement and I couldn’t get to you fast enough.” He closed his eyes, his face going still. “I kept thinking of…I kept thinking about that night; about seeing you and Slade and not being able to stop it from happening again.”

“No, Oliver,” she told him quietly, stroking a gentle hand over his hair. “It wasn’t the same. Batman isn’t anything like Slade.”

His eyes opened and she could see the lingering embers of fear within them, “It felt the same; like you were going to die and I was helpless to do anything but watch.”

“I was safe, I promise,” she told him carefully. “He doesn’t do that, he doesn’t kill people, and he’d never deliberately hurt me. It was just an accident. I know it looked bad from where you and Dig were sitting but I was never in any real danger from him and I knew that.”

“Why did you do it?” He asked, searching her eyes with his. “If he wanted to find me so badly why didn’t you let him? And why set yourself up like that? I could have handled it and you wouldn’t have had to get hurt.”

“I couldn’t risk that,” she told him, her heart, though still confused, shown in her eyes for a moment. “I was safe, but you…I was trying to protect you.”

“That’s not your job, that’s my job,” he said in a soft yet firm tone. “I’m the Arrow, it’s my responsibility. You should have never put yourself in that position. If something had happened to you…” His hand cupped her cheek as his thumb brushed her lips. “I couldn’t take it, Felicity; I couldn’t survive it. I’ve lost--” he paused as he took a shaky breath, “I’ve lost too much, I can’t lose you, too.”

“I’m fine,” she told him again. “It just looks nasty. I’ve had worse bruises coming off a case or sparring with Sara.”

“Felicity,” he said warningly, his eyes hard as he looked down at her.

She grimaced, “Okay, maybe it’s a little worse, but I know him and it really wasn’t intentional.”

He rubbed his fingers over the bruises gently, the muscles in his jaw tensing as he stared down at them before returning his eyes to hers. “Even if Batman doesn’t kill on purpose, even if you thought you were safe, accidents happen and sometimes we don’t get to walk away with just a scrape and a few bruises. Don’t ever do that to me again, okay? And you’re getting rid of those false trails you laid out. You will not sacrifice yourself, Felicity; understand? Never again, do you hear me? Not for me and not for Diggle. Get rid of them; all of them.”

“I—“ she began.

“No,” he told her. “Diggle and I found the files. We know what you were planning; we saw all of the contingencies. If any of them lead to you being implicated in any of this I want them gone.”

“It was my choice,” Felicity said quietly. “When I decided to stay with you I knew what I was getting into, and if it comes down to a choice between my freedom and you and Dig continuing the mission, I--”

Oliver placed a finger against her lips then dipped his head and kissed the red and black bruise on her collarbone, “Never again, Felicity.” He lifted his head and looked her in the eye, “There is no choice to make; you will always come first. Before me, before Diggle, before the mission; before anyone you come first. Take them down and if he comes near you again you call me or Dig; preferably me, understood? You might have history with him but this is my city and I’m the one he needs to deal with, not you. He’s not allowed to so much as touch you ever again.”

“Okay,” she said quietly, entranced by the shifting colors in his eyes.

“Promise me,” he said softly, his fingers tracing the shape of her cheek bone as he held her spellbound.

“I promise,” She whispered and he kissed her lips lovingly, his tongue tasting her mouth before moving to her cheek then to her ear.

He brushed her earlobe with his nose before nipping it gently and chuckling as she gasped, her flesh breaking out in goosebumps. “So sensitive…” he rumbled, “I love the way you make love, Felicity Smoak.” He kissed her mouth gently once again then nuzzled her neck, “You have no idea what you do to me, do you? How many times I’ve wanted to just touch you and now it’s like I can’t stop. You’re….intoxicating,” he breathed against the shell of her ear causing her to shiver and whimper in pleasure. “I feel like I could make love to you forever and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of it. Just the way you respond to being touched…” He watched her skin flush and her lips part as he gently stroked the back of her neck with his fingertips. “God, you’re so beautiful when you do that. I can’t believe you ever thought you weren’t the kind of woman who inspired passion. Wayne is an idiot,” he whispered against her lips.

Her eyes closed, “I…Oliver, I…”

“Shh,” he told her. “We still have a lot to sort out, okay?” His lips brushed hers teasingly, less of a kiss and more of a caress of flesh against flesh that made her tingle from her head to her toes. He pulled away from her reluctantly, “We should talk but it’s late; do you want to just sleep for now and we’ll revisit this in the morning?”

Oh God, did he say morning? Felicity froze, her mind going from warm and fuzzy to ice cold panic instantly. He’s spending the night? Here? What if Bruce shows up because that could happen? Bruce could even show up tonight, he hadn’t left town otherwise Barbara would have told her. What if Bruce shows up as Batman and Oliver sees him? Shit! Shit, shit, shit; where the fuck is my phone? “Actually, I’m not very tired right now—I mean, I am, I’m exhausted really. You really, uh, tuckered me out but my mind is a little, um, full of, uh, stuff, but if you are you can—“ she started to get out of bed and grab her cellphone to call her sister or Barbara or anyone for that matter but he stopped her.

“Good, because I wanted to talk about what Isabel said to you again. If that’s okay?” He added.

“Oh. Yeah.” She eased back into his arms and nodded. “Sure, yeah.”

He met her eyes before kissing her forehead and lingering there for a moment, his large hands cradling her face, “Hey, no need to be scared. It’s still us, right?” She took a deep shuddering breath and nodded. He pulled back and brushed a wayward lock of hair behind her ear, “Good, and I want you to know that I’m ready to really listen to what you have to say this time, I promise. Now what exactly happened at this lunch you had with Isabel?”

Okay, she thought as she centered herself, this I can handle. She shut her eyes for a moment, willing all the stray emotions that were driving her into a frenzy back into their box, and focused. Three, two, one…

“This morning Isabel called me and asked me to meet her for lunch at Leviathan,” she started slowly. “I wasn’t going to go, the last thing I wanted to do was have lunch with that woman, but she was pretty insistent and it made me curious so I went.”

“It started out fairly normal. We both had the fish, she ordered some pretty decent wine, and we had polite chitchat. Finally she asked me why I quit,” his face darkened and his lips tightened a bit but she continued. “I told her that I was just ready to move on and that seeing my dad reminded me that being your EA wasn’t what I set out to do. She told me she had done her research, apologized again for being so insulting to me, and offered me a job at Stellmoor.”

“What about the other stuff, the things she said about me being the Arrow?”

“That came a little later,” she told him. “First she started selling me on the idea of joining Stellmoor. She said, um…”

He looked at her intently, “She said what?”

God, this part was embarrassing. “She said, um, that she knew I had dressed and acted the way I had at the meeting because of Bruce.” She felt herself blush from head to toe.

“I see,” he said, pulling back slightly.

“No, wait; not like that,” she said quickly, placing her hand on his arm. “She meant that she saw what I was trying to do. I knew Bruce might show up and I didn’t want him to think I was still intimidated by him or that I was still ‘Baby’, the 19 year old girl who let him get in her pants because she’d had a crush on him since she was four and he only slept with because he was bored.” She almost felt like crying right then. “I wasn’t trying to get back with him or anything, or be a tease. Not really. I mean, I…I just didn’t want him to walk in that room and see me, the glasses and pencil skirt wearing nerd. I wanted to be someone strong and sexy who didn’t need him to swoop in and rescue her. I didn’t mean to use you or to---“ She stopped, rolling away from him to wrap her arms around her knees and tucked her head down so he wouldn’t see the stinging tears of embarrassment and guilt. “I’m sorry. It was my fault. I’m so sorry. This, all of it, I did this…I--”

She felt his hand on her back and he leaned in and told her, “It’s okay, I understand. He hurt you so you wanted to show him that you didn’t need him. I get that. I’ve been there, remember?” He said quietly. “If you think that running away from being ‘Baby’ is tough, try having everyone you love tell you that they want ‘Ollie’ back even though ‘Ollie’ was the world’s biggest asshat.”

“Newsflash; sometimes you’ve still got your head up your ass,” Felicity said, her nose running like a faucet as slow, traitorous tears flowed over her cheeks. She buried her face further in her arms.

“Yeah, and I’m really sorry about that,” Oliver told her. “Treating you the way I did, that was something ‘Ollie’ would have done. I shouldn’t have blown you off like that.”

She sniffled, wishing she had a tissue and looked up. “It’s okay, I’ve been acting more like a ‘Baby’ than a ‘Felicity’ myself. Case in point,” she said with a weak laugh as she gestured to her wet cheeks and runny nose.

He gave her a funny smile and reached across her to her nightstand for the box of Kleenex before dabbing at her cheeks then handing it to her so she could wipe her nose. “I’ll admit it; I was…shit, I was jealous and when I saw Wayne looking at you like that, it sort of brought out the worst in me. I could tell that there was something between you and that you were angry at him for something. Plus the dress,” he grinned, “It really was a great dress. You looked good in it. Actually, you looked better out of it.” He winked at her and she felt herself smile back in return. “You know,” he said as he reached for her hand and rubbed her knuckles gently with his thumb, “I said this before but it bears repeating now: I’ve wanted you for a long time; the real Felicity, not the one in the skin tight red dress and the high heels. I wanted you in the weird looking animal shoes and the ratty sweater sitting in front of the computer with your glasses on.” He gave her a steady look as though willing her to believe him, “I didn’t act on that because of what you were wearing. I acted on that attraction because of the way I saw Bruce looking at you. I promised myself a long time ago that you and I would never happen because…” he closed his mouth and paused to gather his thoughts.

He took a deep breath, “I don’t do relationships. I’m not that guy but you are that girl, the kind of woman a guy like me learns to keep their distance from because you aren’t…” He brushed his fingers across her cheek and she watched the shift of emotions across his face, “You aren’t the kind of girl you play games with, Felicity; you’re a forever kind of girl, the kind a man takes very seriously and I’ve never been good at that so I held back. I kept my distance and did what I thought was the right thing. I’ll admit that I probably never would have acted on my attraction towards you but when Wayne showed up I knew he would. I could see it in his eyes. That day, at the conference, he had this look in his eyes and I just knew. He looked at you like you weren’t just that girl, you were his girl, but…all I could think about was the fact that you once told me that you were my girl; you’re mine. It might have been pure selfishness on my part but I knew that he wouldn’t hesitate, he wouldn’t run, and even if you’d be better off with him I just needed to…I needed to kiss you at least once because,” he glanced away from her for a second then met her eyes again, his expression one of raw emotion, “because I’ve wanted to kiss you since the day I met you and I had to know how you tasted before you walked out of that door forever.”

Her heart skipped a beat and she fell. Throwing all good sense out of the window she leaned toward him and placed her lips against his. He made a deep rumbling sound of satisfaction, and pulled her toward him until they were lying on their sides, one of his hands tangled in her hair, and the other cupping her butt and squeezing possessively. She whimpered and pushed her hips against him, her leg thrown over his as he pressed into the cradle of her thighs through the thin, soft cotton of her gown. He was naked under the sheets and she could feel his interest stir as her hands traveled down the hard muscles of his back. Then, after another few seconds of kissing her until her toes curled, his lips firmed upon retreat and he leaned back slightly, his eyes dark and wild. He took a steadying breath and reluctantly moved his hand from her behind to her waist. “We’re never going to get through this if you keep tempting me, woman,” he said in a low tone that made her insides melt.

He was right. They had to talk about this; they had to sort it all out. Just a few minutes ago she was in a panic about the fact that they had sex and…and…

Screw it.

“We can talk later,” she said, her lips trailing over his jaw line. Her mouth made it to his neck and she licked the corded muscles there, her teeth scraping against his flesh as she felt his hands tightening on her waist. He made an impatient noise and his mouth captured hers as he moved on top of her and grabbed her nightgown, pulling it up and off.

Her head fell back as he began to suck at her neck scraping the soft skin with his teeth before shrugging off the covers and sitting up on his knees. He pulled her legs over his hips rubbing his hard flesh up and down her center to gather the fluid needed for an easy penetration. Reaching between her legs he rubbed her clit as his erection teased her entrance.

“Don’t stop,” she whimpered, trying to pull him in.

“I’m not going to stop; I’m never going to stop,” he told her as he eased forward, his eyes filled with dark promise. Her head fell back as she arched off the bed to meet him. “Oh fuck, you feel so goddamn good,” he breathed as he watched their bodies join as one. “God, that’s beautiful.”

“Please,” Felicity begged as he moved inside of her with excruciating slowness.

“Tell me what you want,” he told her as his hips pulled back, his hands locked around her hips preventing her from moving as he continued his sensual torture. “Do you want me to touch you? Do you want my fingers back?”

“Oliver!” She begged, tightening her legs over his hips to try to force him inside of her.

“Say it; tell me.”

“Yes,” she said then cried out as his thumb found her clit.

“Now what do you want?” He asked her, thrusting slowly in and out. “Talk to me, sweetheart; what do you want, hmm?”

“You,” she moaned, reaching out to grab at his arms.

“And how do you want me?” He asked her. “Like this?” He thrust inside of her slowly. “Or like this?” He pulled her hard against him causing her to cry out sharply as he suddenly hit bottom.

He made love to her, his rhythm switching from slow and steady, to hard and deep. “Tell me what you want,” he whispered in her ear as he entered her over and over. “Tell me.”

“You! I just want you! Please!” She told him, her nails digging into his hips, the sweet friction of their bodies driving her past the point of control. He thrust inside of her harder and harder in an almost punishing rhythm. She heard the sounds of their bodies slapping together, the wet pull of flesh against flesh, and she began to whimper and tighten her body around him until she heard his breath catch. She pulled his neck down until his mouth was on hers causing him to sink even deeper. They both cried out in pleasure.

“How long?” He asked, his breath coming in pants. “Tell me how long; how long have you wanted this?”

“Always,” she gasped. “Always! Please!”

“I wish I had known that,” he said, jerking his hips into her roughly and causing her to cry out before changing his rhythm again into something slow and maddening. “I wish I had found you sooner, loved you sooner. You have no idea, do you?” He thrust inside her again and hissed in pleasure at her reaction, “Christ, you’re so…I’ve never had anyone respond to me like you do. I just want to lose myself in you and never stop,” he thrust inside her again and they both moaned and she began to whimper. “You’re so beautiful…the sounds you make.” He thrust again and then bent down to suck one of her nipples in his mouth and watched as she arched into him, chuckling darkly. “You have no idea how much I’ve been torturing myself.” He ground his hips into hers, filling her to her absolute limits and she shivered and clawed at him. “For days now I kept replaying what happened in my mind; the way you tasted, the way you looked and felt, how wet you were... I wanted you so much, wanted to feel you from the inside so badly it nearly drove me insane. Today, you were yelling at me and I just wanted to grab you and kiss you senseless, make love to you until we were both exhausted. I held back, I stopped myself from touching you but just barely. God, I wish I had just touched you. I wish we had done this years ago.” He thrust inside her in hard, rapid succession; one, two, three and she cried out again, her body stiffening, her toes curling, as her orgasm began to build.

“Tell me you belong with me, Felicity,” He whispered. “Tell me you’re mine. Tell me that this is what you want.”

“I-I-Oh God!” She gasped when he thrust harder, “Oliver, please!”

He made a low, dangerous sound deep in his throat and leveraged himself onto his knees, never stopping the slow grinding motion of his hips, until he was again looking between them. His thumb moved again to her center, giving her the friction she craved as he gave up on slow torture and pounded inside of her mercilessly. “Come for me,” he told her. “I want to see you come. I want to feel it.” His voice was deep, dark, and so reminiscent of the Arrow that she lost it.

“Oliver!” Her vision went dark and her body tightened as she clutched at him desperately. She screamed his name over and over again in a babbling tangent of need, want, and desire until all of it, every emotion, every fantasy, came down to just his name. He thrust deep inside her body and she felt her orgasm flood out of her. Their combined flesh grew slick and hot as a burst of moisture erupted from her center and surrounded him.

“God!” He shouted then gritted his teeth as though in pain. His eyes slammed shut and his arms pulled her tight against him as he unleashed himself inside of her. “Fuck!”

She sobbed in relief as they both shuddered into one another, her hands running over his hair comfortingly as his own paroxysms gradually calmed. He eased her legs down, their bodies still joined as he lay against her. She became aware of the wet trails of tears on her cheeks as she opened her heart to the moment even though she knew she was falling far too hard, far too fast.

He breathed harshly against her neck, his grip on her easing but not letting go. After a few seconds he raised his head and looked down at her, his thumb reaching up to wipe the tears from her cheeks.

“Hi,” he said breathlessly as he smiled down at her.

“Hi,” she smiled back wearily, her eyes feeling heavy with sated exhaustion.

“That was good,” he snorted into her neck.

“Very good,” Felicity agreed wearily, her fingers trailing over him soothingly.

“Amazing even,” he whispered against her temple. “You’re amazing.” He kissed her closed eyes softly; first one then the other before his lips rested once more against her temple, his body still cradled between her thighs as he softened inside of her but he made no move to extricate himself. “We have a problem though,” he whispered against her.

“Mmm?” She murmured, sleep beginning to pull at her.

“You’re too amazing. So amazing that now you’re stuck with me. I don’t think I can let you go; not now.” He took a deep shuddering breath, “I don’t want to let you go.”

She opened her eyes, her exhaustion suddenly forgotten. “Are you sure?” She asked, feeling her heart constrict in her chest and hating how vulnerable she sounded.

He swallowed, his eyes trailing over her face as he ran his finger over her cheek, “I don’t know what this is but I’m in. I’m not letting go. Never again.” He kissed her cheek and then her mouth and she could taste the salt of her tears on them, “You’re mine now, okay? You’re mine and we’re going to figure this out together.”

“You don’t owe me anything, Oliver,” she said against his mouth. “Please, just tell me now and I’ll be fine, I promise, just don’t—“

He captured her lips again and his tongue swept inside her mouth, overwhelming her until her mind completely shut down. He pulled away and nuzzled her cheek, his lips so close to her ear she could feel the moist warmth of his breath on her skin, “I want you and I can’t see that changing any time soon.” He pulled back until he could look at her again, “We’ve wasted enough time as it is. I’m not doing that anymore; not with you. You belong to me and I…I like the way this feels.” He stroked his hand over her cheek. “You make me feel…good,” he said quietly, “and I haven’t felt good in a very long time. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever felt this good or this right before; not with anyone and not ever.”

She looked at him, her eyes feeling hot and she suddenly felt like weeping from the relief she felt at his words but part of her still held back. That little niggling voice of doubt that came from experience pulled at her. “I don’t expect anything from you, Oliver,” she said quietly. “Don’t tell me something like that because you think it’s what I want to hear. I don’t expect a happily ever after from you and I don’t need pretty words or false hope. It’s—this--is enough for me. Just…just don’t say anything you don’t mean, okay? Don’t do this if you’re just going to turn around and say it was a mistake later.”

“I’m not letting go,” he said firmly and kissed her again then pulled back so he could stroke her hair, brushing it off her forehead as his fingers traced the line of her eyebrow down to her cheek. “There will be problems, yes. I can’t even begin to think of the logistics of all of this but I only know that…” He laid his forehead against hers and shut his eyes, “This isn’t just sex. Any more than that I can’t promise but we’ll take it one day at a time,” he told her.

She couldn’t just accept that yet, though. Not quite yet, “I hear what you’re saying but a lot of things can change between now and tomorrow, or next week…I have to go to Gotham and—“

“You’re not going anywhere,” he told her.

“But I—“

“You’re staying with me,” he told her, the ring of finality in his tone as he lifted his head and his eyes caught hers. “Here; in Starling where you belong.”

“But he---“

“That son of a bitch does not get to come into my city and push me around,” he said with a hint of the Arrow’s darkness shining in his deep blue eyes. “You’re mine and I intend to keep you.”

“I’m not a bone you can bury in the backyard, you know?” She said without any heat.

“Maybe, but it doesn’t change how I feel,” he told her unapologetically. “If that makes me a territorial SOB then so be it, but Batman isn’t taking you away from me; not without a fight.”

“But how can you be sure that this is what you want?” She asked. “Maybe this is just, I don’t know; temporary insanity on your part due to heightened emotions and a post-coital endorphin rush?”

“Is that what this is for you?” He eased away, rolling onto his side and pulling her with him so they were resting their heads against the same pillow, his eyes boring into hers as though seeking out a deeper truth. He smoothed his hand down her back before letting it rest at her waist. “Temporary insanity?”

She opened her mouth to speak the words she almost said during the heat of passion but managed to somehow curb the impulse, saying instead, “Have you ever heard of a psychological tactic during police interrogation called ‘eliciting the need to confess’? It’s that urge most people have to just blurt out the truth; I have that in spades,” she told him and he smiled at her, his eyes dancing with loving amusement. “Yeah, well, it’s not exactly a well-kept secret,” she grimaced. “The thing is the need to confess cuts both ways. Sometimes people will admit to things just because they give in to that urge even when it might not be the truth. Right now all I need from you is the truth and if the truth is that this needs to end tomorrow then that’s what I want to hear. Don’t…don’t confess to feeling something or wanting something that isn’t there just to please me because that’s the last thing I would ever want from you. If you really want me to stay then I will, I will stay with you, Oliver; but don’t ask me just because you want to protect me or to spite him and if I do stay I still won’t come back to QC. I can’t; that’s over.”

He cupped her cheek with his hand, “I don’t want you to stay so you can be my EA. I don’t want you to stay to spite him or because I feel some kind of obligation towards you. I just want you,” He smiled at her. “I. Want. You. Does that clear things up for you?”

Unable to speak, she merely nodded in silent affirmation.

“Good,” he whispered against her lips, kissing her again. “Now,” he said, taking a deep breath and pulling away so he could shift onto his back. He adjusted the pillow under his head and eased her down so her head was nestled in the hollow of his shoulder then ran his fingers up and down her spine. “So Isabel brought up the meeting…?” He prompted, his voice a bit more husky than it had been.

“Seriously?” She chuckled. “How can you even remember what we were talking about after that?”

“Are you implying that I might have screwed your brains out just now?” He asked her, a hint of mischief coloring his tone.

“I’m not implying it; I’m stating it outright,” she told him enjoying the rumbling sound of his laughter against her ear as she laid her head on his chest. “Okay,” She took a shuddering breath and willed her brain cells to click back on. “So Isabel brought up the meeting but not in a ‘you’re the office whore’ kind of way. She was…how do I put this?” Felicity squinted slightly as if the words were right in front of her face, “It was like she was admiring the way I handled myself in there. She kept using words like ‘psychological attack’ and ‘strategy’ and dissected every nuance of what was said or how both of you reacted. She made it seem like I was some kind of femme fatale from a Bond movie or something and told me that I was exactly the kind of woman Stellmoor was looking for.”

“Hmm,” if Oliver seemed unsettled by any of what she said it didn’t show. “When did she start talking about the Arrow?”

“Not too long after that but first she started talking about some other stuff that was just weird. She started talking about women, about how we’re superior to men, and then she, uh,” she looked up at him a little sheepishly.

“Made a pass?” He said with a wry grin.

“Yeah,” she confirmed. “And before you say that I might have misconstrued anything, I specifically asked her if she was hitting on me and she said she was. I told her I liked men and she said that she did as well but only occasionally for ‘scratching the itch’ but that women were what really floated her boat and hinted that if I were interested we could come to some sort of arrangement.”

He frowned and bent his arm behind his head as he held her against him. His fingers stroked up and down her skin as he seemed to consider his words before speaking again. “A lot of people saw us after the meeting; the catering and maintenance staff at least. It was pretty obvious you were upset with me and that something happened in that room,” he rubbed his hand down her arm again as if to take away the sting of the memory for them both. “If you were after me like she thought you were you wouldn’t have gotten angry or upset. A mercenary or fortune-hunter would have ridden someone like me all the way to the bank. It wouldn’t surprise me if that information filtered up to her. The fact that you quit with no notice right afterwards didn’t get past her either. Bruce was obviously interested in you as well but you shut him down every chance you got. I mean, not to brag, but besides the whole billionaire thing I’m a pretty good looking guy and Wayne may be an ass but he’s a walking GQ ad and built like a friggin’ linebacker. Women notice guys like that and you had both of us running in circles and yet you didn’t seem to care. I wonder if she assumed you were gay?” He looked at her, “Look at it from her perspective; you have to admit Barry and Daniel are the only guys you’ve dated lately and all you and Barry shared was one dance at a work function while you and Daniel really only went out a couple of times at most.” He narrowed his eyes in concentration, “If I’m recalling it correctly, around the time Garret was in the picture, Isabel was overseas dealing with Stellmoor and our European subsidiaries so he would barely have registered as a blip on her radar and Barry wouldn’t even rate that much. Plus, we’re unusually close, almost too close to simply be coworkers, and we were very clear with everyone that we’re just friends. Best friends, in fact.”

“I’m your best friend?” She asked, suddenly feeling very touched.

“Shh, I’m thinking out loud,” he kissed the tip of her nose and smiled, “but yes. Now where was I? If I was Isabel it would be pretty obvious to me that you’re an attractive woman and we have chemistry, because you are and we do, and yet, from her limited perspective you seemed to have a strong negative reaction towards me when I finally made sexual advances. Maybe she added two plus two and got five and just didn’t realize it. Maybe making overtures was her way of testing her theory? If you weren’t gay she probably knew you’d tell her but if you were, well, we both know she isn’t above using sex to get what she wants.”

“So, back in Russia you knew she wasn’t…that she didn’t, um…?” Felicity stammered hesitantly.

He smiled in mild amusement and stroked his finger down the side of her face, “Not every woman is like you. There are a lot of women who think of sex as a commodity in my world. I knew she was trying to figure me out and she was willing to use sex to do it. It would have raised too many alarms if I turned her down. The Oliver Queen she thought she was in business with would never turn down sex with a beautiful woman if she offered it.”

She looked at him in surprise, “Wait, so you didn’t really want her then either? But how were you able to, um…” she allowed her voice to trail off suggestively. He chuckled and she smacked him. “It’s not funny!”

“I’m a man,” Oliver said wryly. “Emotions really didn’t have anything to do with it. It was just sex.”

“I don’t get that,” she said in disgust.

“Of course you don’t,” he said, giving her another look that made her insides melt. “You don’t do anything unless your whole heart is in it. That’s what makes you so dangerous.” He nuzzled her ear softly and whispered, “Finish telling me the story.”

She looked down at the sunflowers adorning the soft jersey cotton of her duvet cover and bit her lip, “Okay, well, like I was saying; she offered and I turned her down but only after babbling like an idiot for a few minutes,” he chuckled again and she shot him a dirty look without any heat behind it. “And then she started getting to the good part. I asked her why they wanted me of all people and she said it was because of my history with you, meaning the Arrow. I told her I didn’t know anything about that and she shrugged it off and started getting pretty specific about a few things. She said Stellmoor targeted QC because of the Arrow and that they recruited vigilantes of their own, female vigilantes. She said that they were basically trying to create their own army and support network of modern Amazon warriors to protect the Earth. When I started to blow her off she mentioned Sara and how she was the Black Canary.”

Oliver’s face grew stony, his gaze sharp and penetrating. “Did she say ‘Black Canary’ or did she call Sara by name?”

“Both,” Felicity answered. “She said Sara Lance was the Black Canary, that Stellmoor was the one bank rolling her, and that they eventually wanted to move her to Starling permanently as their own vigilante presence here in the city.” Felicity thought about that for a moment, “There’s no way Sara was the one who exposed you, right? It makes no sense.”

He paused as if to consider it, his face looking much more troubled than it had a few moments ago. “It’s possible but not likely. We have a…past; beyond the obvious.” He looked down at her, more Arrow than Oliver. “Sara and I both had to do things on that island we weren’t proud of. I’m not saying she wouldn’t betray me, she’s done it before, but that was then and we’ve both changed. We’re long past having to act out of survival and if she really wanted to expose me all she’d have to do is drop a dime and I’d be in cuffs by now.” He looked at her grimly, “What else did she say?”

“She said that she knew I had been acting as the tech for Team Arrow. She brought up the bombing in the Glades and asked me that if I hadn’t--,” she licked her lips nervously but pushed on, “If I hadn’t had to rely on you, Dig, and Lance; if I’d had a team of my own out there who listened to me when I gave orders and a real support system behind me if I could have saved more lives.”

She couldn’t read his expression anymore. He’d gone from the man who’d just made love with her to the hard faced and emotionless warrior under the hood. Finally he spoke, “She’s not entirely wrong. If I had listened to you when you wanted to go out in the field you might have been able to recruit Lance and find the second device in time to disarm it.” He looked at her, “That said if I knew then what I know now, it still wouldn’t have changed my decision. Had you gone out after the second device there is a very good chance that all those people and Tommy still would have died only you would have been killed as well. I’ll never regret that decision even if it did cost lives.

“It’s in the past, Oliver. What’s done is done,” she said gently. He nodded brusquely and motioned for her to continue. “Anyway, she ended it by telling me there was no deadline to their offer and that as soon as I made a decision I should contact her.”

“Anything else?”

“Just that they’re everywhere. She said they have representatives in every major city and ties to the government and the military,” she looked to him again. “Oliver, I don’t think she was lying. I’ve only been investigating this a day and already I have enough to suspect that ARGUS is connected to them somehow.”

“ARGUS?” He repeated then nodded grimly. “Wish I could say I was surprised; anyone else?”

“She mentioned a group; The Themyscirians.”

He frowned, “The Themyscirians? Why does that sound familiar?”

“If you ever took Greek Mythology it would,” she said easily. “Themyscira is the ancient mythological lost city of the Amazons.”

“Huh,” he said tilting his head back, the shadow of the Arrow fading for a moment. “I must have caught the name off an old episode of Xena, Warrior Princess.”

“You watched Xena?” She snickered.

He gave her a curious look, “Is that supposed to be funny or something?”

“No, it’s just something I told someone once about your chiropractor.”

“My chiropractor?” He asked dubiously, “I don’t have a chiropractor.”

“It’s just—never mind,” she muttered, then smiled, “So, big fan of chicks in leather with sub-textually Sapphic friendships, huh?”

He gave her a slightly sheepish look, “Yeah, well, Tommy was convinced that Xena and Gabrielle were going to go all out naked love-fest at any minute and he used to make me watch it with him just in case.”

“So it was all Tommy’s fault, huh?” Felicity said as she reached out to rub his chest playfully.

“One hundred percent,” he said, settling her against him and tucking her head under his chin.

They lay there quietly for a long moment before she spoke, “What are we going to do?”

He placed a light kiss on her hair, “I don’t know. I have to think about it, but for now we’ll go clean up, slip back under the covers, and sleep, okay? Everything will still be waiting for us in the morning.”

They got out of bed reluctantly but this time they shared the shower, each one taking turns touching, kissing, and exploring the other without feeling the need for more. It was more about discovering the boundaries of new intimacy than the rush of sex. They toweled one another dry then slipped under the sheets, him pulling her into his arms for one last kiss before he shut his eyes.

She looked at his features in the soft glow of her bedside lamp, so much more relaxed than she had ever seen him despite all that was going on in their lives. For a moment, for just a split second as she looked at him, she let herself believe that everything might actually work out as long as they could maintain the trust they had built together.

But in order for that to happen she had to tell him about the other night. Even though he said that everything before this was in the past she needed to tell him for her own peace of mind.

She frowned and looked down at the duvet nervously “Oliver?”

“Hmm?” He mumbled.

“I have to tell you something and, I know you said it wouldn’t matter, but it does because I don’t want it to seem like I’m trying to hide anything.”

He inhaled sharply and opened one bleary eye, “What’s wrong, Baby?”

Felicity blinked, suddenly caught off guard, “You called me ‘Baby’.”

“Sure did,” Oliver smiled softly, closing his eyes again. “That’s your nickname, right?”

“Yeah,” she said feeling bashful suddenly. “I thought you decided to start calling me ‘sweetheart’ now?” She joked, biting her lip

“Who says I can’t call you both? I plan to go through lots and lots of endearments with you; honey, baby, sweetheart…I might even take ‘darling’ and ‘dear’ out for a spin, I haven’t decided yet. You might have to remind me to pick up a thesaurus so I don’t accidently miss any,” he told her with a sleepy half-grin then opened his eyes again. “Is that okay? I mean, is it okay if I call you ‘Baby’ when we’re alone or does it make you uncomfortable?”

“Yeah,” she said softly. “Yeah, it’s okay. I mean, as long as you know that I’m still the same person I’ve always been.”

“I’m not ever going to forget that,” he told her, a quiet intensity behind his words. “What about you? Do you want to start calling me ‘Ollie’ now?” He asked her. “One slightly embarrassing childhood name for another?”

“No, not really,” she told him after a moment’s consideration. “You’ve always just been Oliver to me. I’ve never met ‘Ollie’ and I happen to like the person you are now.”

He opened his eyes again and shifted slightly so he could look her directly in the eye. His hand stroked over the side of her face before cupping her cheek, “I like that I’m ‘Oliver’ for you, but I kind of wish ‘Ollie’ had met ‘Baby’ a long time ago.”

“Why?” She asked, nuzzling her cheek against his hand.

“I think it would have inspired me to become ‘Oliver’ a lot sooner than I did. If I had met you back then I think my whole life might have changed for the better,” he said, stroking her cheekbone with his thumb. “I would have buckled down, taken more responsibility, maybe even…” Regret suddenly flashed across his expression, “Maybe if I had met you sooner I would’ve been able to have a relationship with Connor or, better yet, never have been the kind of guy who would use a girl the way I used his mother to begin with.” He kissed her forehead softly, “You could have fixed me a long time ago and made me a better man.”

“You can’t know that for sure,” she said, blushing slightly at the compliment.

“I can and I do,” he said quietly.

“You have always been a good man, Oliver,” Felicity told him. “Everything you feel guilt for; Laurel, Sandra, Connor, Sara, your mom—none of that is your fault.”

“Yes, it is. I--”

“No,” she said firmly as she cupped his cheek and forced him to look her in the eye. “My dad told me something the other day. He told me that I wasn’t responsible for anyone’s happiness but my own. He said that, even though I may want to fix everyone I care about, that not even the strongest of men could handle that much weight on their shoulders.” She ran her fingers across his jawline, “Stop blaming yourself for the past and start seeing yourself as the man the rest of us love and care about because you are a good man, Oliver.” She smiled, “You’re probably one of the best men I have ever known.”

“And you have a sweet heart, Felicity Smoak,” he said, giving her a lingering kiss. He pulled away from her and blinked down at her sleepily, “Come on; let’s just sleep and we can talk more tomorrow, okay?”

“But…” Felicity stopped and licked her lips. “See, I just—“

“Tomorrow,” he told her firmly, kissing her again. “Sleep first, everything else can wait, okay?”

She exhaled the breath she had been holding and nodded. “Okay.”

“Turn the light off, Baby,” he told her, settling back down into the pillow.

She turned away from him long enough to switch off her bedside lamp then snuggled in beside him and slept.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

She awoke sometime later to see Olivier kneeling beside her fully dressed, “Hey.”

“Hey, what time is it?” She mumbled, reaching over to gaze blearily at her phone.

“Not quite 3:00 am,” he said quietly. “I didn’t want to leave without talking to you first.”

“Oh. Okay, yeah.” She blinked her eyes and winced as she turned on the lamp and the whole room became visible. She pulled the blankets towards her chest for warmth and ran hand over her rat’s nest of curls, “Are you heading out?”

“Yeah, in a bit,” he said, straightening up so he could sit on the edge of the bed as she scooted up to lean against the headboard to give him room. He reached out to tuck a curl behind her ear gently. He then placed her leg that was outside the tangle of covers on his lap and ran his palm over her calf before settling his hand on her knee and squeezing it in an intimate gesture.

She reached out, placing her hand over his with a contented, if bleary, smile, “Are you coming back later? You know, if you come back tonight you could, um, bring a change of clothes with you,” she said quietly. “Not that I’m pressuring you or anything. I mean, I know this is new and I don’t want to seem—“

“Felicity,” he said, running his thumb across the back of her hand. He looked at her, his expression grim, “I won’t be coming back.”

For a second Felicity knew she couldn’t have heard right. She even had to blink her eyes a couple of times just to make sure she wasn’t still asleep, but then she looked at his expression and knew that this was not going to be a good day after all. She removed her hand from his light grasp.

“You don’t just mean tonight, do you?” She asked with a sinking feeling in her chest.

“No,” he confirmed.

“You said you were in,” she said, not accusingly, but with quiet confusion. “I repeatedly asked you not to say that if you weren’t sure and you told me we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“I was in,” he told her, shutting his eyes as if it pained him to admit it. “I’m sorry but I’ve been through it in my head and the only solution I can come up with is—“

“You’re going to tell me that you can’t come back because we can’t be together, aren’t you?” Felicity tilted her head slightly to the side. She felt numb but not surprised. “That it’s too dangerous for me, right?”

He nodded and they sat in silence for an extended moment…although for completely different reasons.

While Oliver was affixing his best ‘let them down easy’ face all Felicity could think is ‘Why does this keep happening to me?’ As subtlety as she could she slid her hand over to her other arm and gave herself a pinch.

Nope, I’m definitely awake.

She swept her eyes across the room.

And no hidden cameras either.

“Felicity, I didn’t want this for us. If I could, I’d ask you to stay; I’d try, but…I’m sorry, I can’t do this. We can’t do this.”

Un-fucking-believable. “Do I have bad breath?”

His mouth snapped shut and he looked at her. “No, why--?”

“Body odor?”

“What?” he asked, suddenly looking less grim and more confused.

“It’s the sex isn’t it?” She muttered to herself. “I should have bought a book or something—well, I did buy a book; a couple of books, but I don’t think they were very well written or accurate because this keeps happening to me and I know it’s not my personality. I have a great personality.”

“It’s not the sex, or body odor, or you,” Oliver said. “It’s—“

She held her hand up, stopping him mid-sentence. “I know this part, ‘It’s not you, Felicity, it’s me. The mission is too important and I can’t risk your safety by being with you’, right?”

“Yes!” He scowled in frustration, “I’ve spent all night thinking about it and if Isabel knows about the Arrow then it’s just a matter of time before she outs me or threatens to in order to get controlling interest in QC. I can’t risk you being here when that happens.”

She counted to five in her head because, well, frankly she didn’t feel like losing another phone by hurling it at someone’s head again. “Just so I’m clear; the reason we can’t be together is because of Isabel and for no other reason.”

He didn’t answer her right away, he just averted his eyes. After a second or two he took a breath and laid his hand back on her exposed knee and rubbed it in what she supposed was meant to be a comforting gesture but really, given the circumstances, came off more like he was trying to cop one last feel. As if he was saying, “Hey, yeah, I’m totally dumping you but I’m doing it nicely so that I might still be able to get back up in that later,” and, even though she knew he was feeling genuinely contrite, she really, really just wanted him to stop touching her right now.

Vigilantes, she thought, no sense of self-preservation at all.

“If it was just that…look, it’s not just Isabel; if what she told you is true then—“

“Then we’re blown,” she finished for him. Now get your hand off my knee, you mother…

She didn’t finish that thought because, even though she hadn’t been particularly fond of Oliver’s mother, she still believed in being honest and she doubted the affection Moira Queen had for her son ever ran in that particular direction.

Son of a bitch though? That worked.

“Exactly,” he said grimly. “Sooner or later they’re coming after us and you need to be as far away from the Arrow as possible when and if that happens. If you stay and Isabel sees that we’re involved then that will just motivate her to act even sooner.”

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

Barely.

“Which is something you knew about before we had sex,” Felicity said simply.

“What?” Oliver looked at her, his eyes narrowing.

His hand left her knee.

Yeah, I thought that would score a hit, she thought. “I said, you knew Isabel was gunning for us before we had sex just like you knew I was already leaving for Gotham when you showed up at my house last night.”

“What are you trying to say?” He asked angrily.

“Just what I said,” Felicity told him in a calm and reasonable tone. “None of this is news to either of us and yet you broke into my house last night, walked into my bedroom, staged a very effective seduction and consequently initiated the ubiquitous adult activities, gave me this heartfelt speech about how all the stuff you’re saying now was not going to be said even though--”

“Whoa! I did not set out to seduce you just so I could get laid and sneak off afterwards!” He said angrily getting up off the bed and facing her. “If that’s all it was I wouldn’t have even bothered to try to have this conversation with you to begin with!”

“Oliver, I’m not trying to accuse you of anything; I’m merely telling it like it is,” Felicity said simply.

“But that’s not how it is!” He told her. “Look, if you want to yell and scream at me then you can, I don’t blame you; but it doesn’t change anything!”

“I’m not yelling; you are. Which, when you think about it, is pretty shitty of you to do right now because I’m the one who’s being dumped,” she told him.

“I’m not dumping you!” He said, getting to his feet and pacing angrily. “Goddamn it, I did not set out to hurt you; that’s not what I wanted to do and you know that! At least you should know that!”

“Okay, but, once again, just to be clear; you want me to leave and not come back and you don’t want us to be together in a romantic or sexual way ever again,” she said slowly. “How is that not the same thing as being dumped?”

“It just isn’t!” He scrubbed his hand through his hair, “Dumping someone implies that your feelings about that person have changed and that’s not what’s happening here; nothing that’s happening right now is something I wanted to happen! But…” he pause with a grimace, his hands balled up at his sides angrily.

“But?” She prompted.

He shook his head once then looked at her, his eyes filled with regret, “But, yes; I’m ending this—now before we get in too deep. I’m sorry.”

There were so many things she could have said at that moment but her bladder just wasn’t up to it. Felicity swung her legs out of the bed and put on her nightgown that had fallen to the floor then stood up.

“Where are you going?” He asked.

“To the bathroom.”

“Why?” He asked trailing after her with a scowl.

“The same reason everyone else goes to the bathroom when they first wake up: I have to pee,” she said, shutting the door in his face and locking it behind her.

The minute she shut the door he tried the knob.

Oliver was nothing if not predictable.

“Open the door, Felicity,” he said in an aggrieved tone.

“Kind of busy,” she called out.

She could hear him as he leaned heavily against the door, “Please, just…open the door. I’m not doing this to upset you; the last thing I wanted to do was cause you pain, but I don’t see any other choice. It’s best to end this now so that you can be safe. The last thing I had intended to do when I came over here last night was to make love to you but it happened and...” he sighed, “Just…just don’t cry, Felicity. This is hard enough for me as it is.” He paused, “Felicity?” He tried the door again. “Are you okay?”

She flushed and rolled her eyes as she got up from the pot to wash her hands, “I’m not crying or committing Jigai, I told you I had to pee!” She soaped up her hands quickly, rinsing and drying them before she opened the door to see him standing there. “See? No tears.”

“I—“ He opened his mouth to speak but she cut him off.

“Stop apologizing,” she said, holding up her hand to stem the flow of crap that, frankly, she just wasn’t up to hearing him repeat over and over this early in the morning. “We’re good; I told you last night that if you didn’t want to do this that we could just let it go without making it into a big thing.”

“That’s not—“ he started but she cut him off again.

“Stop!” She told him. “You’re off the hook! I’m not mad at you, I’m not upset; if anything I’m just irritated about the fact that I asked you repeatedly if this was a one night stand and you—“

“This was not a one night stand!” He growled.

Felicity looked at him askance, “I’m sorry, are you planning on making this a two-night stand, because I thought you were pretty clear just now on that particular point.”

“It’s not—“ he grimaced again and his nostrils flared, “Calling it a ‘one night stand’ cheapens what we shared and you know it. It was not a one night stand.”

Felicity paused to consider that, “No, no I’m pretty sure a one and done is technically a one night stand.” She shrugged, “But, whatever; I apologize if I made it sound cheap, okay? Technically this was my first real one night—uh, whatever this was, so forgive me if I’m not familiar the etiquette for these sorts of situations,” she said as she moved past him towards the bed.

“Look, I don’t blame you for being mad at me—“ He said, still trailing after her as she snatched her robe from the bed and slipped it over her shoulders. She shivered and he pulled her into his arms, “Felicity, don’t…it’s going to be okay.”

But she was only half-listening as she took in the chill of the room. “What?” She asked, narrowing her gaze at him. “I’m not scared, I’m cold.” She shivered again, “Oh God, are you freezing or is it just me?” She extricated herself from his embrace and wandered into the living room, stepping over the broken glass and pottery carefully as she was in her bare feet. “How good are you at making fires?” She asked, tossing a starter brick and a few seasoned logs she’d bought from the hardware store in the grate. She looked at the splintered remains of her wooden cutting board askance. “Do cutting boards burn or is there some reason I shouldn’t toss that sucker in here, too?” She turned back to him but he didn’t answer so she shrugged and tossed that in as well. “Oh well, better there than in the landfill.” She looked at all the glass and shattered plastic littering the floor. “Too bad I can’t do the same with that,” she muttered.

“You’re making a fire?” Oliver asked blankly as he walked over to her with a frown. “Right now in the middle of everything?”

“Yeah, it’s drafty in here,” she told him as she snatched the long fireplace lighter off the mantle and held it to the starter log. “You know, they show you the real wood burning fireplace and ohh and ahh over it but what they don’t tell you is that it gets really fricking cold at night here and these things are not only drafty as hell but barely put out any heat. I thought about talking to the landlord and getting a ventless gas unit installed, but—“

“Felicity,” he said reaching for her shoulders and pulling her up so she was looking him in the eye. “It’s okay to be upset with me but ignoring it isn’t going to change anything.”

“I know,” she said wryly as he narrowed his eyes at her in disbelief. “Really Oliver, I’m fine.” She patted his chest in a comforting gesture, “I told you; we’re cool. You can go now, really. It’s not like I haven’t been in this situation before.”

He took his hands from her shoulders and jammed one in his pocket as he ran the other through his hair. He muttered something unintelligible under his breath as he took a few steps away from her, then rounded back, his expression a mixture of agitation, wounded pride, and confusion, “No, damn it! You do not get to play it like this; not with me! I did not set out to hurt you! This isn’t me thanking you for sex and leaving cash on the nightstand! I’m trying to protect you; I’m not Bruce!”

She snorted and laughed before slapping her hand over her mouth. She tried to get it under control but then she caught the look on his face. Anger, frustration, and comical confusion warred with each other to the point that she could almost picture a cartoon dialog bubble appearing mid-air with the word ‘D’OH’ coming out of his mouth.

And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She lost it.

She started laughing so hard tears ran out of the corners of her eyes and she literally had to grab her stomach.

His face turned red and he crossed his arms over his chest defensively until she had better control over herself before saying, “Are you done?”

She gave another short bark of laughter before finally wiping her eyes with her hands and working out the last of her giggles while he worked on destroying thousands of dollars’ worth of dental work by grinding his teeth into oblivion. “I’m good,” she said at last, her mouth still twitching. “It’s just if you knew why I was laughing…” she snickered.

“Want to explain to me why you find the idea of Isabel knowing our secret so damned funny? Or do you think that I’m exaggerating the danger you’re in just to; what? Get in your pants? I’m trying to save your life, goddamn it!” Oliver practically growled. “This isn’t fun for me! I didn’t orchestrate all of this just so I could get laid! She could send us all to prison if she’s got enough evidence—all of us, including you!”

“Sorry—sorry; you’re right.” She sobered up and heaved a sigh as she waved him off, “But, for the record, I made my peace with the possibility that I could wind up in handcuffs years ago. Hell, prison was actually the least of my worries compared to what went down when we faced Slade so forgive me if jail time doesn’t hold the same weight it used to.”

“Well it should!” He said forcefully as he towered above her. “And I haven’t forgotten what happened with Slade. I thought—“ he stopped, a shadow passing over his expression. “I think about what could have happened to you almost every single day. I remember watching you face down Slade knowing he was going to kill you and then when he put his hands on you…” He closed his eyes and swallowed convulsively. He rubbed a hand over his mouth before looking at her again, “For the last six months I’ve gone to bed every night thinking about the look on your face, seeing you stare him down and not being able to do a damn thing about it.” He shook his head, “I still don’t know how you survived that; you shouldn’t have survived it, but we—you got lucky.” His expression changed into that of the Arrow and his voice deepened. “Just because you came out of that alive doesn’t make you invulnerable, Felicity. I can’t face that again. I can’t stand by and see you destroyed by something that is my fault and I can’t protect you if this goes public; in fact, the worst thing I could do is be anywhere near you if that happens. This is about me, just me, and I won’t risk your life or your freedom ever again even if that means sending you away and not seeing you anymore. If you go to Gotham then maybe, just maybe, Isabel will forget about you.”

“Out of sight, out of mind?” Felicity asked wryly. “That’s your plan?”

“So far,” he said in a voice that was neither the Arrow nor Oliver but a mixture of the two.

She arched an amused eyebrow at his angry posturing, “It’s called ‘extradition’, Oliver. One call to Gotham PD and I’m in handcuffs either way.”

“It’s better than your odds would be if you stay here. If you are out of the picture then maybe Isabel will no longer see you as a threat or, at the very least, it will give you some plausible deniability if we do get caught.” He moved a little closer, his voice softening as he stroked her cheek with his hand. “In Gotham you have resources at your disposal I just can’t offer you anymore. Here you’re Felicity Smoak, Executive Assistant to a CEO who likes to arrow criminals; there you’re Felicity Fox, daughter of one of the most trusted men in the country. Your dad’s reputation might protect you or, if not, the distance might buy you enough time that you can get out of the country for a while; something, anything, just as long as you’re not here.”

There were all sorts of things she could have said to him at that moment. She considered all of them before deciding on just one, “Okay.”

“Okay?” He repeated with a frown.

“Yeah, I get it. Thanks,” she told him with a casual shrug. She pulled out of his grasp and headed for the kitchen. As she stepped over the remains of her coffee pot, she turned to him. “Pot’s broken but I might have tea if you want some.”

He looked at her, his hands still suspended in midair as he tracked her progress. “Felicity,” he said warily, “Are you…are we okay?”

“Yeah, why wouldn’t we be?” She asked with a frown as she turned on the kettle.

The look of wary confusion changed to one of suspicion. “Are you sure because you’re not taking this the way I expected you to,” he said as he approached her counter.

She raised a sardonic eyebrow, “Is this your way of asking me if I’ve flipped my lid because I’m not crying and wailing or throwing dishes at your head?”

“Frankly yes,” he said, eying her askance.

She yawned, leaning against the far counter, “Eh, been there, done that and frankly I’m out of tears and small appliances so I figured I’d give calm acceptance a shot instead.”

Oliver just looked more confused than ever, “I’m still not following.”

She smiled at him and tilted her head to the side, “Oliver, I knew when and if we ever slept together that there was a better than even chance you’d give me the ‘it’s the mission and I want you safe’ speech. You’re not my first vigilante, remember?” She turned and grabbed a mug from the cabinet muttering under her breath, “Already heard that one twice.”

“What?” He said, catching some but not all of what she said.

“Never mind,” she said with a sigh. “The point is,” she said as she dropped a teabag in her mug, “you’re a hero and heroes only care about the mission. All any of you have room for is the mission and the rest of us are just bit players in it,” she said drolly. “Like I said; not my first rodeo. I’ve been on this ride before—a few times, in fact. I already know all the speeches and the arguments and I’m just not up to dealing with it again at three in the morning.”

“What do you mean you’ve done this before?” He asked suspiciously.

She ignored him, “All you need to know is this: I’m good. I’m a big girl, Oliver. Got my big girl panties on and everything.” She paused and looked down at herself, “Well, no, no I don’t, but who wears panties under pajamas anyway? The whole point of pajamas is to be comfortable and not constricted yet in all the romance novels women always seem to go to bed in sexy lace thongs and underwire. How is that comfortable? Seriously?” She shook her head, “Anyway, my point is this: Angst is for tweens and Twi-hards and I’m not looking to make you into my one true sparkly vampire. We had sex and it was fantastic,” she said sincerely. “Seriously, you should bottle that stuff, but I’m not going to fall apart so,” she waved vaguely in the direction of her front door, “we’re cool.”

“Damn it, Felicity,” he yelled, losing his temper, “I didn’t decide this just to make you upset or to stroke my own ego!”

“I know that,” she replied in a reasonable tone. “I know you genuinely care about me and that all of this is horribly upsetting, it’s just not unexpected. You’d know that too if you weren’t being such a, well,” she scrunched her face as she searched for the right wording, “pardon the pun, but ‘drama queen’.”

“A what?” He asked, more than a little outraged.

“It’s true,” she shrugged. The kettle whistled so she turned off the burner and poured hot water over the leaves. “All of you vigilante types are,” she said scrunching up her nose and putting the kettle back down before turning back to him. “I mean, you take something tragic and horrible then use it as an excuse to put on costumes and masks so you can jump from rooftop to rooftop with bows and arrows or throwing stars in the shape of bats and push everyone away because, well, it’s for their own good. Normal people can just say, ‘Hey, I don’t do commitment’ and leave it at that, but you guys always have to be so melodramatic about it.”

“‘Melodramatic’?” He repeated.

“Yes; melodramatic. In fact, some days it’s like living in a masked vigilante telenovela. All of it, soup to nuts, it’s just so over the top,” she confirmed. “I mean, I get that you’re doing good and that you’ve gone through stuff that would crush a lesser man; I’m not trying to lessen or diminish that at all, but still.” She paused, “All I’m trying to say is that I get it so you don’t have to pull out all the stops for me. I’d rather you just pull the Band-Aid off in one good rip than spend the entire morning drowning me in cruel kindnesses. I mean, no offence, but I have stuff to do and this,” she gestured between the two of them, “it’s kind of eating into my day. You can just tell me that, while you like me a lot, one good romp in the hay does not a forever make and trust me to handle that.”

“That’s not---!”

She held up one finger, cutting him off again, “I know, I understand: This is a serious situation and Isabel is evil and has it in for all of us. I got that, in fact I called that forever ago. You could have just listened to me in the first place and skipped all the drama but you didn’t. I asked you several times last night if this was how it was going to go specifically to avoid this whole scene but, no, it had to play out this way because that’s what you guys really get off on: the drama, the rush.” She took another sip before continuing, “Well, while I’m very grateful for the multiple orgasms, frankly I could have just as easily skipped it. I was already headed out of town before all of this.”

“So that’s it,” he said flatly, his expression livid. “You want to pretend like nothing I’ve said or done matters to you? You think I’m being a selfish prick because I’m trying to do the right thing by you even if it means hurting you in the short term? Sorry, but I’m not going to change my mind!”

“I’m not asking you to,” she told him.

“No, you’re just trying to manipulate me into doing it,” he said flatly.

“No, I’m not,” she said giving him a ‘go to hell’ look as she drank her tea.

“Yes, you are and I won’t allow it!”

She raised her lips from her mug, the burn of anger beginning to set in again. Allow; nothing burned her cookies worse than that particular word. She didn’t like it in a 404 screen and she certainly didn’t like it when it was applied to her personal decisions. “Listen, the only person in the room accusing anyone of anything right now is you. If you think my leaving is the best course of action then I’ll leave; I was already in the process of doing that and I can take care of myself. I’m not mad at you, I don’t blame you, and I don’t harbor any feelings of resentment towards you. That said, I won’t allow you to use me to fuel this angst ridden guilt-fest of yours because I own whatever happened here, just like I own everything that has happened since the minute you brought that laptop into my office. I’m not a victim. I’m not someone you’ve wronged. I’m not Laurel accusing you of whatever the hell she likes to accuse you of on any given day of the week, I’m not Sara, or Helena, or McKenna, or Sandra, or any of the other women you torture yourself over. You don’t get to add my name to that list because I’m the one who was in control of this the entire time, not you.”

“Meaning what?” Oliver bit out angrily.

“Meaning that, whether you like it or not, I’m not the helpless little blonde in the corner. I’m not crushed or devastated, and I’m not cringing and wailing over Isabel or whatever boogie monster is hiding under my bed because I’ve been doing this long enough to know better than to go off on a panic. I’ve been at this for almost five and a half years; while you were on Hell Island I was rocking coms with Batman, so excuse me if I come off as being flippant about the amount of danger I’m in since all this stuff has pretty much become routine for me.” She shook her head, “See? This is why I didn’t tell you about my past. Among other things, I didn’t want you to feel insecure.” she put down her mug and faced him.

“That’s a load of bullshit!” Oliver burst out, “No one said anything about you being a helpless little—“ He shook his head as words seemed to fail him and began to fidget and pace slightly, “Goddamn it! You—” he pointed his finger at her and growled, “And I’m not feeling insecure just because you were Batman’s weekend tech support! Where the hell are you even getting this shit?” He raged.

“Maybe I’m wrong then,” she shrugged.

“Yes, you are!” He told her hotly.

“The fact remains though that you aren’t sending Dig or Roy to Gotham and they’re just as much in the line of fire as I am, right?” She asked, “So…why am I the only one hearing this speech?”

“You know why!” He told her.

“Pretend I don’t,” she said easily. “Just give me a reason, any reason, since I’m wrong and our having sex last night obviously has nothing to do with why I’m hearing all of this right now.”

“You—I—stop doing that!” He growled.

“Doing what?” She asked innocently in a way that she knew would drive him out of his skull.

“You know what!” He snapped.

“I asked a simple question, that’s all.”

“No, you didn’t,” he shot back. “You want me to say that the reason I’m ending this and sending you away is because we slept together and now I’m running scared.”

“That’s a theory,” she admitted. “And you did happen to mention something along those lines last night as I recall.”

“Well if that’s the theory you’re operating under it’s the wrong one!”

“Okay then,” she said.

“Good!” He shot back. “And you know that this isn’t about me; this is about Isabel and the fact that she targeted you specifically; not Diggle and certainly not Roy!”

“So if Roy had been taken to lunch instead of me then he’d be going to Gotham instead?” She asked.

“No—I mean—Stop twisting everything because I’m not getting into this with you!” He said, his cheeks darkening with anger. “You’re going to Gotham and that’s it!

“Fine.”

“Fine!”

“I guess I’m going to Gotham, then,” she said easily.

“Yes, you are,” he told her. “Where you’ll be safe.”

“Huh, first time I’ve ever heard anyone refer to Gotham, crime capital of the world, as safe,” she said with a contemplative frown as his jaw clenched. “Oh well, I’m sure I’ll figure something out; maybe find a bodyguard or something.”

“Or something,” he repeated through gritted teeth.

“Maybe I’ll get my own Diggle,” she told him. “Or better yet, my own on-call vigilante to save me from the big bad since, you know, I’m incapable of taking care of myself without some costumed hero constantly coming to my rescue and telling me what’s best for me even if I don’t happen to agree.”

“Or maybe you’ll keep your head down and stay away from Isabel, Stellmoor, or anything related to Batman because, in this case, going to Gotham and keeping your head down is what’s best for you!” He said angrily.

“Hmm, maybe,” she shrugged watching his expression grow even more enraged. “Thanks for the lovely time and the chat but I’ve got a busy day ahead of me; you know, calling the movers, running errands, that sort of thing.” She moved around the counter and walked over to him, throwing her arms around his neck and placing a small kiss on his clenched jaw. “Good bye, Oliver, it was fun! See you around some time.” She spun around and waved at him over her shoulder as she headed for her room. “Do me a favor and lock up on your way out since you obviously know the door codes.”

She kept walking until she heard him stomp out of her house, slamming the door behind him. She stopped then, placing her hand on the wall, and slowly fell to her knees as the anger and bravado suddenly dissipated leaving only the pain behind.

She leaned against the wall in the hallway for a while but she didn’t cry. Well, maybe a few tears escaped, but it wasn’t the gut wrenching sobs from the other day that had nearly made her sick, just a few bitter tears borne from frustration and stress.

It was like the air had been sucked out of her lungs and her legs wouldn’t work. She was numb. This had happened to her twice; three times actually, but twice in a matter of days. She felt her chest constrict and she whimpered before forcing herself to breathe.

In and out, inhale exhale. She staggered to her feet and made it to her bed, collapsing on it and trying to ignore the lingering smell of Oliver’s cologne. She reached for her phone and dialed the familiar digits without having to think about it.

“Felicity? What the hell time is it?”

“Tam,” she managed with a sob.

“What’s wrong?” Tam’s voice went from sleepy to instantly alert. “What happened? Are you okay? Do you need me to come out there?”

“Is that Felicity?” She heard a familiar male voice ask sleepily.

“Shut up, I’m trying to hear—Felicity, what’s wrong?”

“Is that Tim?” Felicity sniffled, suddenly distracted.

“Yes, but—never mind that now; what’s going on?”

“I thought you two broke up?” She asked in confusion, her voice hitching with unshed tears. “You guys are back together?”

“No, we’re not together! Tim just stopped by to borrow a cup of sex, okay?”

“Yeah, I did.” She heard Tim say in a sleepy yet still mockingly self-satisfied way.

“Shut up, you jack ass! Something’s wrong with Felicity!”

“What?” She heard a scramble for the phone and then it was Tim’s voice on the line, “Felicity, what’s wrong? Did another one of those earthquake machines go off or something? Do you need me and Tam to come to Starling City to get you? I can call Alfred and have the jet ready in less than thirty minutes.”

“No! No, please, I just—I just need to talk to Tam!” She said, her voice far more high pitched and whiny than she wanted it to be but the thought of being rescued by yet another vigilante, even if it was Tim, was too much to handle at the moment.

“Give me the phone!” She heard Tam say along with the sound of covers shifting in the background.

“I’m putting it on speakerphone.” She heard a click and then both their voices became clear. “What’s going on?”

“Tim, let me talk to her!” She heard her snap. “Baby, what’s wrong?” She asked in a purposefully calm and measured tone.

“I fucked up,” Felicity said, feeling shell-shocked. “I really fucked up and I don’t know what to do.”

“First things first; are you hurt?” Tam asked.

“Well, I’m not bleeding or anything if that’s what you’re asking,” Felicity said as she grabbed the box of tissues and blew her nose loudly.

“What happened?”

“Bruce showed up—“

“Yeah, now everything is beginning to make sense!” Tim said with a bitter edge.

“Tim, leave your own issues with Bruce out of this, it’s Felicity’s turn.”

She hiccupped and started again, “Bruce found out that I’ve been working with the Arrow and—“

Their voices erupted out of the receiver.

“Wait, you’re working with the Arrow?”

“Since when?”

“For a while now,” she said, reaching for her water bottle and taking a sip so she could wash away the salty taste in her mouth. “He showed up and things got bad. He made threats and, um, things might have gotten out of hand between us.”

“What do you mean?” Tim asked dangerously.

“Not—not like that,” Felicity said quickly then backtracked. “Well, maybe a little but it was nothing. That’s not the point—“

“Felicity, did Bruce hit you?” Tamara asked aghast.

“No, he didn’t hit me! He just left a few bruises when he grabbed me! He was upset—“

“What do you mean he grabbed you?”

“I’ll kill him,” she heard Tim hiss and then there was the sound of bedsprings as he presumably got out of bed to get dressed. “Is he still in Starling City?”

“No, stop! Wait!” She took a deep breath, “Just let me talk, okay? This is hard enough as it is.”

She heard Tam murmur something to Tim before speaking again, “It’s okay Baby, we’re listening. What happened?”

“Bruce came to Starling because he thought I was in danger and suspected I was working with The Arrow. He was on a tear about the whole thing and he wanted me to give up his identity so he could find him. It was stupid, like him beating the Arrow to a pulp would keep me safe or something,” she rolled her eyes, her nose still running like a faucet. “He confronted me and I tried talking to him but he wouldn’t listen so I told him I was the Arrow just to shut him up.”

Silence fell on the other end of the line.

“Um, Felicity? I could be wrong but last I heard the Arrow was a dude,” Tim said slowly.

“Yeah, well, I sort of told him that I was the actual brains behind everything and that the Arrow was just one of several men I had recruited.”

“Is that true?” Tam asked, sounding somewhat impressed.

“No, but the point is it could be! Then Bruce went all Bat and grabbed me and started yelling. Some of my team came up to stop him and I managed to defuse the situation before things went south but before Bruce left he threatened me.”

“What did he say?” A dangerous edge had crept back into Tim’s voice.

“He—uh, he said that unless I left Starling City and basically placed myself under his supervision back in Gotham that he would turn me in to the authorities,” she told them quietly.

“Asshole,” Tam swore. “Is that all of it?”

“No,” she said, clearing her throat. “The next day he showed up at my place to apologize for grabbing me so roughly and one thing led to another…” She couldn’t finish the sentence.

“And then what happened?”

“Dumb ass!” She heard the sound of a smack as Tam hissed again at Tim, “They obviously had sex!”

“You and Bruce had sex?” She could practically hear Tim’s jaw hit the floor.

“It’s not like it’s the first time,” Tam huffed.

“You and Bruce had sex before?” Tim asked incredulously, his voice squeaking like a thirteen year old boy.

“What did he do to mess it up this time?” She asked ignoring her (sort of) boyfriend.

“Same thing he did last time,” Felicity said miserably.

“Son of a bitch,” Tam growled. “Well, if Tim doesn’t kill him, I will.”

“What happened? What did he do last time?”

“Tim!” She snapped on the other end of the phone. “Either shut up and listen or go put on the coffee!”

“I’m shutting up now! Go on, Felicity,” Tim said quickly.

“Anyway, some other stuff happened and I had to get back in touch with,” she paused, “um, the Arrow about it even though he was upset with me too—“

“What does Oliver have to be mad about?”

Felicity started in surprise, “How did you--?!”

“Please, like you’re the only person in this family who’s slept with a billionaire vigilante; once you go Bat you never go back. Besides, Oliver is the only guy you ever seemed to talk about besides Bruce.”

“Wait, billionaire vigilante? Oliver, as in Oliver Queen? Oliver Queen is the Arrow?” The pitch in Tim’s voice rose excitedly.

“Tim,” her sister said warningly.

“Tim, you can’t tell Bruce, understood?” Felicity said sharply.

“I wouldn’t tell Bruce to go jump in the lake if his ass was on fire,” Tim said wryly.

“Anyway,” she sighed, suddenly exhausted, “turns out that Isabel Rochev—wait, you remember me telling you about her?”

“Yeah, you called her the ‘Cyrillic Succubus’ and said she put the ‘Puta’ in ‘Putin’, although you were really mixing your metaphors there.”

“Yeah, well, she invited me to lunch and told me that Stellmoor International knew about me and that Oliver was the Arrow and that they wanted to recruit me to lead a team of female vigilantes they were putting together.”

“Whoa,” Tam breathed from her end. “That’s actually kind of cool.”

“That’s not the point! The point is that she knows about Oliver and the Arrow!”

“Yeah, yeah, I got all that but think about it?” Tam said excitedly, brushing away Felicity’s concerns like they were nothing. “You leading a team of kick-ass girl masks? I would so love to help you with that. Think you could get them to offer me a spot, too?”

“Tam!” She growled in irritation, “She could expose us—me and Oliver both!”

“Yeah, but if she wanted to expose you wouldn’t she have just done that by now? I mean, why even bother offering you a job if that was her end game?” Tam pointed out in a reasonable tone. “I know you don’t like her but do you think her job offer is legitimate? Do you trust her?”

Felicity gave a humorless bark of laughter, “I definitely do not trust that woman but, to be honest, I have no idea if her offer was real or not.” She took a moment. “I don’t know what to think anymore. I guess I never stopped to think about it like that.” She snorted, “I have to give her credit though; at least if I had taken her up on her offer of sex I doubt she would have turned around the next day and given me the ‘it’s for your own good’ dump speech.”

Tim made a strangled sound, “This woman tried to get you to have sex with her?”

“She didn’t try, she just offered,” Felicity said, shutting her eyes as she rubbed the bridge of her nose.

“What are you doing with my tablet?” She heard Tam ask.

“Nothing.” Tim said quickly, “Just, uh, looking up Isabel Rochev.”

“Why?”

“I’m just trying to get a visual, y’know, so I can picture everything more clearly.”

“Give me that!” She heard Tam snatch her tablet away from him. “That’s my sister, you perv!”

“Well, she’s not my sister,” she heard him mumble.

She could practically hear the sound of her sister glaring at him. “Finish the story, Felicity.”

Felicity took another centering breath, “Oliver was angry because I never told him that I’d worked with Batman and we’d had an argument so I wasn’t keen on talking to him again but I knew I couldn’t just blow this off. I called him and told him we had to meet and he made an ass out of himself. He kept me waiting for almost three hours and when I finally told him what she said he laughed at me; told me I was imagining things.”

“What a dick!” Tam spat out. “I hope you showed him just where he could stuff those arrows of his.”

“Not in so many words but I let him know he could go straight to hell for all I cared and left. He showed up at my place a couple of hours later to apologize and offered to hear me out and, well…oh God!” She moaned.

“You didn’t,” Tam said.

“Didn’t what?”

“Felicity, tell me you didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?” Tim asked again in confusion.

“You did, didn’t you?” Tam breathed.

“What did she do?”

“Oh my God, you are such a slut!” Tam practically crowed.

“Oh my God, I am!” Felicity wailed.

“What? What did I miss?”

“When?” Tam gushed.

Felicity flopped face first in her pillow and groaned before lifting her head to answer weakly, “Bruce was Saturday and Oliver…a few hours ago.”

“Oh. My. God!” Tam howled, “I can’t believe my baby sister went from losing her virginity in the Batcave to practically having a threesome with Batman and the Arrow!”

“Felicity had sex for the first time with Bruce in the Batcave?” Tim asked scandalized. “Please tell me it was on a day I wasn’t there. Wait,” he paused, “did you say ‘threesome’?”

“How was it?” Tam asked excitedly, “I mean, this is the only other guy you’ve ever been with besides Bruce; was it good or are you still hung up on tall, dark, and grim?”

“I don’t know,” Felicity whined, “It was good but I don’t know what I feel anymore! Besides, it doesn’t really matter.”

“No.” Tam breathed. “Oh no.”

“Yeah,” she whimpered.

“Tell me he didn’t.”

“He did,” she confirmed morosely.

“What? What am I missing now?” Tim asked, completely lost in their conversation.

“Just that Oliver is as big a shit as Bruce is apparently,” Felicity heard a smack on the other end of the phone.

“Ow!” Tim yelped, “What the hell?! What did you hit me for? What did I do?”

“Because you’re a man and belong to the Dumbasses in Masks Club, that’s why!”

“Damn it, that really hurt,” he whined.

“It’s not Tim’s fault, it’s mine. Oh God, what am I going to do?” She wailed.

“Well, did you at least yell at him?”

“No.”

“Throw something at his head?”

“Tried that with Bruce and now I don’t have anything to make coffee in.”

“Well what did you do when he gave you his stupid little ‘I run around in a costume and can’t date you even though we just had sex’ speech?”

“I-I—“ She stuttered, “I laughed at him!” Then she completely lost it and the waterworks started in earnest.

As she sobbed into her pillow she heard Tim in the background ask in a sotto voice, “She laughed at him? I don’t get it.”

“Tim, go make the damn coffee!” Tam ordered him and Felicity could hear Tim grumble as he made his way out of the room. “Tim’s gone—finally. Are you okay, Baby?”

“No,” Felicity said in a wobbly voice. “I don’t know why I did that. I mean, I get that he was just trying to keep me safe but he said almost the same thing Bruce did and then when I told him that, he said that he was nothing like Bruce and I lost it because—because they’re practically the exact same person,” she began crying again. “Oh God, what does that make me? I had sex with two men who are exactly the same and yet I’m crying my eyes out because both of them dumped me right after having sex! What was I thinking?”

“You weren’t thinking,” Tam told her. “You were going with your heart. Unfortunately for you, Bruce and Oliver were going with their penises instead.”

“That’s not fair,” Felicity sniffled as she reached blindly for another tissue. “I know they care about me, it’s just that the mission always comes first for them—“

“Honey, please. Trust me; that’s not the mission that’s coming, not unless ‘mission’ is Vigilante code for ‘dick’.”

“Maybe it’s just me?” Felicity moaned. “Maybe there’s just something about me that makes them think it’s okay to stomp my heart into a bloody pulp because, hey, I’m the one who keeps letting them in, right? No one forced me to drop my panties, I did that.” She sat up straight, “Oh God Tam, I am a slut, aren’t I? I’m a hero groupie; I’m just some easy lay for anyone in a mask.”

She heard Tim walk back into the room, “Brought the coffee, no need to thank me or anything.”

Tam ignored him, “You’re not a slut or a mask groupie. Two men in four years does not make you a slut. Trust me, I’ve slept with way more people than you have and I’m not a slut.”

“Wait, what?” She heard Tim say, “Who else have you slept with?”

“Seriously Tam, this is sick! It’s like the only people I seem to attract are people who think it’s okay to dress up in costumes and blow things up! Next thing you know I’ll be sleeping with Dick or, God forbid, Tim!”

“Hey! Since when is sleeping with me worse than sleeping with Bruce?” Tim asked in a mildly hurt tone.

“You’d never sleep with Dick because he has that weird fetish for tall redheads and, trust me; you do not want to sleep with Tim.”

“Why not?” Tim asked, obviously insulted.

“You talk too much and you’re selfish in bed.”

“I am not!” He said in an injured tone.

“The other day when we were in bed and you came first you said, ‘oops’, giggled like it was funny, then rolled over and started snoring.”

“I was tired and—and—and Felicity doesn’t need to hear about that stuff!” Tim blustered.

“Are you still coming home?” Tam asked, ignoring him.

“Yeah, don’t have much choice really,” Felicity said sadly.

“Some things are private, damn it,” Tim continued to mutter to himself. “And I made up for it last night, thank you very much! I’m like the king of foreplay now.”

“If you want to stay in Starling City then don’t let Bruce bully you into coming home.”

“That’s just it, I want to come home,” she said hollowly. “I’m just so sick and tired of all this crap. I need a break.”

“Then come home, screw the rest of them! You can stay with me until you get a place of your own. Or don’t, just stay here and Tim can sleep on the couch.”

“Hey!”

“Dad’s going to want me to stay with him for a while but thanks.” Felicity said, the tightness in her chest loosening a bit. “But hey, it’s okay, it’s not like my love life could possibly sink any further down the toilet, right?

“Sure it could.”

“Shut up, Tim. You’re not helping.”

“I’m just saying. I mean have you seen daytime TV lately? Now those people have problems.” He snickered, “Oh man, can you imagine what would happen if Felicity got pregnant and had to wait to see if the baby came out in a green hood or a pair of bat ears?”

“That’s not funny! Besides, Felicity would never be stupid enough to let something like that happen.” Tam told him, “I gave her the whole banana and condom demo when she was twelve.”

Felicity slapped her hand over her mouth and moaned.

“Crap.”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

The tinkling bell over the door to the pharmacy sounded and Felicity looked over to see the same older woman behind the counter that she had talked to the other day.

“Hi sweetie, you still feeling bad? Aisle 2.”

“No, um,” Felicity walked over to the counter, her cheeks flaming.

“Oh. Oh honey,” the older woman looked at her, shook her head, sighed then reached behind her for a familiar pastel box. Before she gave it to her though, she fixed her with a stern eye, “Okay my darling, not to make you feel bad or anything, but we’ve been down this road before. I think it’s time you and I got together and discussed a few other options, don’t you?”

“Yeah, okay, just—just give me a box of whatever,” Felicity said, resigning herself to fate.

“Good, I’m glad to hear it,” the woman said, smiling kindly. “And don’t you feel embarrassed about protecting yourself, not in this day and age. Now what kind do you want?”

“I don’t know,” Felicity said with a frown. “I’ve never actually bought any before.”

“Never?” The woman asked, her penciled-on eyebrows lifting in surprise.

“I’m not—I haven’t—” Felicity flushed crimson, “I’m not really used to this kind of thing. Believe it or not this has been a very unusual week for me...” She rolled her eyes, “Unusual; that’s putting it mildly,” she muttered. “I mean, I know how they work,” she said quickly. “It’s pretty obvious, right? Plus there was this whole demonstration my sister did with a banana…” She dropped her head into her hands, “Just shoot me and put me out of my misery already,” she groaned.

“Oh darling, don’t worry about it; I got a whole aisle full of baby formula and diapers that says you’re not the first good girl to ever get confused about how to disarm a schmeckle. The point is that you’re here now and we’re going to get you better prepared for the next time one of those little petselehs creep up on you, fishtais?” The woman nodded knowingly and stuck her head out so she could do a quick visual sweep of the store. “Okay bubeleh,” she said as she opened the little half door and stepped out onto the floor. “You follow me. There’s no other customers so you and I can have a nice little chat, okay? Just us girls.”

She led her down an aisle with a large locked hard plastic case. Inside was a huge selection of brightly colored packages, creams, liquids, and other items that were all dedicated to one thing.

“There’s so many,” Felicity gulped.

“You bet; biggest selection in town!” She said proudly. “Now, do you have any allergies?”

“Um, nuts?” Then stopped to slap her hand over her mouth when the old woman began to snicker. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Of course not, bubeleh, but I’m still using that one tomorrow night. Jokes about der baitsem always go over big with the boys on the Pride planning committee. Now,” she said getting down to business, “do you have any latex allergies?”

“No. Well, my skin kind of gets red and irritated when I use adhesive latex bandages but I think that’s mostly because I have really sensitive skin.”

“Hmm,” the woman, Roz she reminded herself, seemed to ponder that for a moment. “Well, just to be safe let’s look at the non-latex ones first. I, personally, prefer those anyway. They’re thinner and they transfer body heat better.” She tapped at the plexi-glass, “Now this brand is made from natural lambskin which I never, ever recommend to anyone because it’s not good at preventing STDs or pregnancy but I keep it around because some people still prefer them. Yeder mentsh hot zein aigeneh meshugass; eh, but what are you going to do? For you I recommend either polyurethane or polyisoprene. What size do you need?”

They come in sizes? Felicity goggled. “Um, I don’t know. I’m not…I don’t…” She reluctantly held her hands apart in a rough estimation, her cheeks flaming. “About this…” her voice trailed off as she saw the look on the other woman’s face. “That’s not what you meant, is it?”

“No, but it’s handy knowledge to have and mazel tov, by the way!”

“Oh God,” she said hiding her face in her hands again and letting out a sob of humiliation.

She patted Felicity’s hand soothingly, “Don’t worry, my darling; you can’t shock me. I may look like an old lady to a young girl like you but back in the 60’s and 70’s this whole neighborhood was like one big orgy. There was so much tits and ass flying around my apartment it’s amazing I ever got anything done.”

Felicity buried her face in her hands. Trust her to find the world’s most inappropriate pharmacist. “Okay,” she mumbled.

“Since you’ve got a big one on your hands we’ll go ahead and get these,” she flashed her the package as she unlocked the case. “They make it easier on the big fellas. And,” she said reaching for a bottle of viscous liquid, “you’ll need this.”

Felicity looked at the bottle of lube and swallowed. “Um, I don’t—I, um…”

“I know you probably don’t need it, darling, a nice healthy girl like you, but trust me when I say that some days it helps; especially when you’re taking down a Clydesdale. Besides,” she winked at her, “it’s my treat.”

“Thank you,” she said feebly as she followed the other woman back to the checkout.

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Felicity got back to her bungalow a little after 11 am, her little white pharmacy bag in hand. As she pulled up the first thing she noticed was all the boxes stacked up on her porch and the moving van outside. She slowly made her way to her door where several men were packing up her things.

“What?” She goggled and instantly began dialing Diggle as she rushed inside. “Who are you people? What are you doing in my house? Get out, all of you!”

Someone snatched her phone from her hand and she spun around to see Bruce standing in the archway leading to her kitchen. “I don’t think that will be necessary, do you?”

Chapter Text

 

 

oliver bruce  oliver bruce

Chapter Seventeen

She snatched her phone back and gave him the deadliest look in her arsenal. “What the hell are you doing in my house?! Get out!”

Bruce grimaced and turned to the six or so men who were standing in frozen shock as Felicity yelled at him. “Continue what you were doing,” he ordered.

“No, don’t!” Felicity said, turning to the workman who were now looking confused. “Out! All of you! Get out of my house right now!”

“Is there a problem here?” A rather nervous looking man with a clipboard came hurrying through the doorway toward them.

“You’re goddamn right there is!” Felicity turned to him, her blue eyes bright with anger. “This is my house and you people have no right to be here or to touch my things! Get out!”

“But—“ He turned to Bruce, “Mr. Wayne, what--?”

“Don’t talk to him!” Felicity snapped. “He doesn’t live here, I do! This is my house, my things, and if you and your men don’t put my stuff back in the next five minutes and leave I’m pressing charges!”

“But—but—“ the man stuttered, his eyes wide with fear and confusion.

She swung around to Bruce, “And that goes for you, too! You have no right to invade my life like this!”

Bruce looked at her steadily, seeming not the least bit perturbed by her outburst, “I think that I do have every right to be here or have you forgotten?”

She was beyond words at that point. Using everything John Diggle had ever taught her she hauled back and slapped him across the face as hard as she could.

Ow fuck, Felicity thought as pain radiated up her arm and her eyes began to water as she took in a shocked lungful of air. I think I broke something. Fuck fuck fuck oooow fuck!

Bruce didn’t move so much as an inch, his jaw as hard as granite. He turned calmly to the smaller man with the clipboard, “Leave us. Tell your men to take a break while I speak to Ms. Smoak in private.”

“Uh, yes sir,” he said quickly. “Everybody out! That’s lunch!”

Felicity turned on her heel; white pharmacy bag still clenched in her angry fist as she fled into her bedroom and slammed the door behind her, tossing the bag and her phone on the dresser. It was only then that she allowed the tears of pain to flood her eyes as she looked at the palm of her hand. “Ooooow,” she moaned. “Ow ow ow ow ow…” she headed for her bathroom and held her burning hand under the cold water as she tentatively began feeling for broken bones.

“How badly did you hurt it?” Bruce asked from the doorway, his eyes glued to her hand under the faucet. A part of Felicity’s brain not completely overwhelmed by the stinging pain of her palm noted with some satisfaction the bright red outline of her hand on Bruce’s cheek.

“Get out!” She snapped at him.

He ignored her and walked into the room, his hand taking hers as he examined her rapidly purpling flesh. “I doubt you broke anything although you definitely bruised it. How’s your wrist?”

She pulled her hand away and shoved at his shoulder with the other one as hard as she could, “Get out! What part of ‘get out’ don’t you understand?!” She cried.

“Stop it!” He said angrily, holding her by the shoulders firmly but not with the same bruising pressure he’d used only a few nights previously.

“No!” She said, pushing past him and into her bedroom. She pointed to the door, “This is my house and you’re trespassing so get the hell out!”

“I have absolutely no intention of leaving until the workmen out there finish packing up this entire house and then you’re coming with me to the airport,” Bruce growled low in his throat.

“I’m not going anywhere with you!”

“Oh yes you are,” Bruce said as he advanced on her, a dangerous glint in his eye.

She glared at him, unwilling to give an inch, “You gave me a week!”

“Things change,” he shot back. “I have to be back in Gotham for business and I’m not leaving Starling City without you.”

“So you think that makes it okay for you to just go back on your word and bring strangers into my home without asking?” She asked, her eyes flashing with hellfire.

“If I hadn’t hired the movers you never would have and you know it,” he threw back.

“For your information I was planning on doing that today!”

He arched a superior eyebrow at her protestations, “You’ve known you were leaving since Friday and you still haven’t even told the landlord you were breaking the lease or called to arrange for a moving company to pack up the house.”

“How do you know?” She asked, eyeing him suspiciously. “Oh my God, did you bug my phones on top of everything else?”

“No, I merely had Barbara monitor all incoming and outgoing transmissions and I spoke to your landlord this morning when I was arranging for the movers. I paid the penalty and gave him the next two months’ rent to cover your leasing agreement until he finds new tenants and arranged for him to forward your mail. I also spoke to the car dealership and arranged to have your car returned later today,” he said in a perfectly composed manner, as though he’d every right to do so. “I went ahead and paid any penalties you incurred there as well, no need to thank me.”

“Thank you? Seriously? You expect me to thank you?” She asked incredulously.

“Expect it? No, I wouldn’t go that far,” he said in an almost amused fashion although his eyes still glittered dangerously reminding her that this was still the Batman whether he was in cape and cowl or not.

“You know what, Bruce? You’re a real son of a bitch!” She snapped at him.

“I’ve been told that before,” Bruce rumbled low in his throat. “Doesn’t matter, you’re still coming with me.”

“The hell I am!” She shot back. “You have no say in my life—none! So you can take your caveman bullshit and go straight to hell.”

He took a step closer, his face a hard mask of anger. “This is not a negotiation, remember?”

“You’ve got that right,” Felicity huffed as she folded her arms across her chest, managing not to wince as she put pressure on her hand. “I’m not afraid of you Batman so if you want to take me down then do it, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you treating me like some kind of—of—thing that you can bully into doing whatever you want and occasionally screw!”

“I’m trying to save your life!” He said angrily, the cold in his eyes replaced now by fire.

“Like I haven’t heard that one today!” She shot back, “I’m so sick and fucking tired of hearing that speech that I’d rather have one of the Huntress’s bolts in my neck than have to go through it again! Who in the hell do you think you are that you have the right to barge into my life and take over everything? Just go!”

“That’s not going to happen!” Bruce’s voice rose to match hers. “You’re the one who decided to play vigilante games, remember? Well this is the cost!”

“Turn me in then!” She returned. “Call the cops, I’ll even confess! Maybe they’ll put me in the cage next to the Joker and he can teach me a few dead baby jokes while I tell him my hard won theories about the intimacy issues of masked vigilantes! We’ll swap toilet wine recipes and take couples shiv carving lessons together!”

“You and I both know that’s not an option,” Bruce said, crowding into her personal space. “You’re my responsibility and I won’t allow anything to happen to you whether you like it or not!”

“I’m an adult, Bruce! I’m not a child and you aren’t my father or my husband! And even if you were you still wouldn’t have the right because I don’t belong to you!” She raged.

“Yes, you do,” he said, lowering his head until they were nearly nose to nose, his jaw clenched and a vein throbbing in his temple. “Whether either of us like it or not, you’ve always belonged to me and I won’t stand by and let you get hurt or killed just because you’re too damned stubborn to see reason!”

“It’s none of your business what I do anymore, Bruce. Or have you forgotten what happened the other day?” Her voice was cold. “I’m not some 19 year old virgin who’s too naïve to know any better. You left! You tried to sneak off like a coward then kicked me out of your life and made it very clear that you don’t give a damn about me, that I’m just a warm body you like to play cat and mouse with! Well, listen up; I’m done playing! I’ve let you have your way for far too long but that’s over now. Get out of my house, get out of my life, and if you ever show your face around me again I will rain hell down on you! Barbara may be good but we both know that I’m better and those threats you keep hurling at me cut both ways.”

“That’s an empty threat and you know it,” Bruce said in a cold but confident tenor. “You might hate me now but you’d never risk endangering the others or the mission.”

“Try me,” she shot back, her eyes hard and angry. “I am so done with you after all of this that any feelings I might have had are long gone! You can’t keep pushing everyone away and expect them not to push back, Bruce! The way I see it, if you have gotten so out of control that you’re able to justify stalking and harassing me like this after telling me twice how little I mean to you, then you’re no better than any of the men you’ve taken down. Did you hear that, Bruce? You’re no better than any of those sadistic creeps out there that you’ve spent most of your life fighting against! That’s what you’ve become! Are you happy now? Are you proud of yourself? You’ve finally become the monster that you set out to be!”

He was livid: his controlled demeanor shattered and he grabbed her arm, hauling her up against him, “That’s not true and you know it!”

She winced and looked first at his hand then into his eyes, not having to say a word.

He released her suddenly, gazing down at her, his eyes swirling with conflicting emotions, “Felicity, I—You know I—”

“You son of a bitch!” Was all she heard and then Bruce was sailing through the air and bouncing off the far wall of her bedroom, the cracked drywall raining plaster onto the floor. He quickly got his feet under him and adopted a defensive stance as he faced his attacker.

Felicity turned to the enraged man in her bedroom in shock and surprise. His chest was heaving, his eyes blazing, and his lips were curled over his teeth in a snarl. “Oliver? What the hell are you doing here?”

“Bad back, huh?” Bruce said, flicking his eyes toward Felicity before addressing Oliver. “Arrow.”

“Batman,” Oliver countered. “You’re trespassing. Starling is my city, not yours.”

“This may be your city but Felicity is my responsibility,” he said as the Bat emerged, his voice lowering to a chilling registry.

“Not anymore, she’s not,” Oliver said with matching intensity.

“I am so not in the mood for this crap,” she snapped at both of them. “If you two want to have a pissing contest then take it outside! Better yet, take it across state lines because I’m sick of the both of you!”

Ignoring her, both men sized each other up, Bruce having a slight height and muscle advantage but with Oliver not far behind.

“Oh shit,” Diggle said from behind Felicity as he jogged up to the doorway as they watched the two men eye one another.

“Felicity, go with Diggle,” Oliver ordered.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Felicity said irritably. “Both of you need to leave my house—now!”

“She’s right,” Diggle addressed both men. “You both need to leave while Felicity and I sort out this mess. I was barely able to talk that moving guy out of calling the cops but if you keep this up someone is going to dial 911 and then what are you going to do?”

“I’m not going anywhere until Wayne and I have this out,” Oliver said, his eyes locked on the man in question.

“Agreed,” Bruce said low in his throat as the shadow of the Bat began to creep over his features.

“Well, I’m so glad the two of you can agree about something! Meanwhile how am I supposed to explain to the landlord how the holes got in the walls?” Felicity said to them as she pointed to the damaged drywall.

Bruce addressed Oliver, “Leave while you still can Queen and I won’t come after you.”

“You’d better bring it then because I will be coming after you,” Oliver shot back.

The two men came together in a clash of fists, each hit resounding loudly in the confined space. There was a blur of punches and both men hit the bed causing the foundation to crack and break as the heavy wooden legs bit deeply into the hardwood and scraped along the floor.

“My bed!” Felicity cried out in distress.

“Step back,” Diggle ordered as he took her by the elbow and placed himself between her and the ensuing melee.

Oliver grabbed the lamp off her nightstand and brought it down hard on Bruce’s upper back causing the other man to grunt in pain before punching him in the jaw and causing the younger man to be thrown into the chaise that collapsed under his weight.

“That’s—that’s—“ she turned to Dig, her fingers pointing helplessly at the damage being done to her home. “Those were antiques! I reupholstered that chair myself!”

Diggle winced as Bruce got in a solid shot and blood from Oliver’s nose sprayed over the duvet and pillows. “Ooh! Uh, maybe your renter’s insurance will—“ Oliver rolled off the bed and grabbed a heavy silver picture frame off the other side table and smashed it against the side of Bruce’s face, “—cover it?” He said with a sympathetic cringe.

Bruce let fly with a power punch to Oliver’s midsection sending him careening into the other nightstand closest to the window causing both to shatter in a splinters of wood and glass. Oliver jumped to his feet and flung himself into Bruce causing the other man to slam into the dresser and forcing Diggle to push Felicity out into the hallway. Getting to his feet he snatched up one of the ornate drawer fronts that had become separated from the dovetailing and slammed it into Oliver’s shoulders causing the other man to grunt in pain as it cracked in two. He followed that by picking up her large antique etched glass jewelry box and threw it at him. Oliver shielded himself with his forearm causing glass and jewelry to scatter along the floor only to then be trampled underfoot as the men grappled with one another.

“Okay, we’re going to the living room,” Diggle said, half pushing, half dragging Felicity into safety.

“But—but—“ Felicity stuttered helplessly as she allowed herself to be removed from the line of fire.

“Trust me, just let them work this out,” he said just before a snow globe came flying toward them to shatter on the wall over their heads. Diggle moved Felicity into the kitchen so they could watch from a safer distance.

Bruce flew backwards out of the bedroom, crashing through the door and creating more cracks in the drywall as he slammed hard against it. Oliver stumbled after him and Bruce managed to deliver a solid kick that sent him careening through the door to the guest room before following him in with blood in his eye.

“Not my clothes! Not my clothes!” Felicity chanted as Diggle had to forcibly hold her back from rushing after them. They could hear the sounds of metal against metal and the sound of material ripping and tearing. “Not my clothes!!!”

Oliver stumbled out of the room with a metal rod in one hand, his face bloody and his clothes ripped as he wiped the blood from his eyes with the very expensive Chado Ralph Rucci dress she’d purchased just the day before. Bruce came stumbling after, one of the rods from her garment racks held aloft like a club, as he swept the scraps of lace, silk, and cotton off from where they had become entangled around him.

There was a clang of metal against metal as the men brought the fight into her living room. Oliver was shoved over the back of the leather couch where he landed on her coffee table causing the wood and glass to splinter and shatter all around him. Bruce vaulted over the couch toward him and Oliver used the end of the bar like a lance, missing the other man and causing the pipe to rip through the leather of her sofa and lodge out the back. Before he could tear it free Bruce used his rod like a bat catching him in the middle and sending him flying into her entertainment center. Her TV crackled and sparked as Oliver jumped away from the damaged electronics and slid toward the fireplace like he was stealing third. He grabbed the seasoned logs that had been stacked neatly in the grate and began hurling them at the Dark Knight.

Diggle shielded Felicity with his own body as Bruce batted the logs aside sending them careening over their heads and into the cabinets above them. The glass and wood cabinet doors shattered and the shelves collapsed causing her plates and glassware to pour out onto the countertop, sink, and floor.

“I can’t—I can’t—“ Felicity stuttered wild eyed as she looked around her. She abruptly turned on her heel and headed toward her bedroom.

“Where are you--Felicity?” Dig winced as he kept one eye trained on the fight, trailing behind her.

When she got into the room she eyed the destruction all around her, a small sob escaping. Not one single stick of furniture had been spared. Not that she’d had a lot, but every piece had been bought and selected by her and most she’d refinished herself before the mission took over her life. Her mind wandered back to the weekends spent at estate sales and antique marts, seminars on faux painting, refinishing, and decoupage at the local hardware store, hours spent on YouTube videos learning how to upholster and walking through fabric shops looking for just the right material to cover the chaise, not to mention the time she’d spent sanding and repairing each and every piece and ordering replacement hardware from reproduction specialists; all gone.

She took a moment to brace herself then stepped over the broken drawers and shattered memories into her walk-in closet to grab her suitcases. “Here!” She said, tossing one large case then another toward Diggle before reaching for a few smaller ones and hauling them out. “Start packing. Anything you can grab just shove in there,” she told him as she began grabbing shoes and stuffing as many of them as she could in a duffle bag. “Oh, and don’t forget my guns! My Glock is still in my purse from the last time we went to the range but the lockboxes and my shotgun are under the bed.”

“Since when do you keep a shotgun under your bed?” Diggle asked, doing a double take but the second he sees her expression, he nods. “Yeah, okay. Got it,” he said walking over to the bed and hauling the three small cases out from under the sagging mattress. He opened them all up to check them before looking back under the bed. “I found your guns and extra ammo but where’s the shotgun?”

“Hidden in between the frame and the mattress in a little cubby—you know what; just skip it,” she said, waving him off. “They can just pack that with my stuff. I’ll just take the Glock and the P99 If you don’t mind, hold on to the .38 I keep in the Lair for me, okay? You can send it on with the rest of my things later.”

“No problem,” he said, tucking the box for her revolver back under the bed and handing her the Walther case and the empty one for her Glock along with several boxes of shells. “You know, they’re lucky one of them didn’t get shot in the ass when they busted your bed. If I had known this is where you were storing your side arms, either Lance or I would have taken you to the sporting goods store for a gun safe.”

“I meant to get one but then I figured if I needed my weapon in the middle of the night…”

“True,” he shrugged as she accepted the cases and stuck them both in the nearest large suitcase, making a note to remove the other gun from her purse before the TSA did. “Can you get what’s in the dresser next?”

“Sure,” Diggle reached for one of the drawers and jumped back as the drawer handle separated from it causing it to slide out and fall to the floor with a bang. “Um,” he said helpfully as he eyed the colorful array of panties and bras spilling over his feet.

“Just start shoving,” she told him again doing her best not to look as she went into her bathroom with a cosmetics case and continued to shout out orders from the other room. “Panties, bras, socks, pajamas,” She stuck her head out of the doorway and tossed him her bathrobe. “This, too. Oh, and plenty of jeans and tee-shirts! They’re in the two bottom drawers.” As she slipped back into the en suite she called out, “How did you guys get here so fast anyway?” She peeked back out with a frown, “I mean I called but Bruce snatched the phone out of my hand and hung it up.”

“Not quite,” Diggle said as he started shoving clothes into the bags quickly deciding that speed was more important than neatness. “The line was open so we heard everything. We were in the car headed over here anyway but when he heard you call Wayne ‘Batman’, well, let’s just say traffic laws were broken.”

“Wait, you were headed over here before I called?” Felicity asked as she emerged from the bathroom. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” he said with a snort. “Hell, I’ve given up on trying to figure out whatever this shit is that’s going on between you two. I mean—Hey!” He looked up from what he was doing when he saw her making her way to the door leading out into the hallway with several garment bags draped over one arm while she dragged the shoes and cosmetics cases behind her with the other. “Where are you going?”

“To see if I can salvage any of my other clothes,” she said over the cacophony of grunts, groans, slaps, and crashes that were still echoing within the small space.

“Wait!” He said, dumping an entire drawer into the last case and tossing it out of the way before quickly zipping it up and snatching up both bags to follow her.

Felicity stared at the chaos of her once orderly wardrobe room and it was all she could do not to burst into tears. Taking another deep breath she dropped the garment bags on the floor and waded in.

Diggle peeked inside and looked around, his eyes wide, “Whoa.”

“I’m not even going to bother wading through this stuff,” she said as she tossed him anything that was still hanging off the ground or at least still in its own garment bag. “Put as many sweaters and stuff as you can in the garment bags by your feet and the rest will just have to stay here.”

She gathered up as much as she could as Diggle quickly stuffed the sweaters and the odd dress inside the zippered bags then she began hauling her things out the door and into the hallway.

Another crash from the living room stopped Diggle in his tracks and he took Felicity by the arm, “Uh, why don’t we go back into the bedroom until the coast is clear.”

“Forget it,” Felicity said, steely determination written all over her face. “I’m done and I refuse to watch as they destroy everything I own.”

As she approached the living room she was forced to drop her bags and cover her eyes as one of her laptops bounced off the wall six inches from her face. She took a moment to center herself before picking up the bags and continuing on. “They just had to use my laptop,” she grumbled as she snatched her purse that was, incredibly enough, still on the console table which was, as of yet, intact. She had very little faith that it would remain so for long however as both men seemed determined to thoroughly demolish the entire neighborhood starting with her once cozy bungalow. She’d caught glimpses of the chaos despite herself and she was pretty sure the owner was going to sue her for damages.

She and Diggle made it as far as the front porch when the nervous man with the clipboard stepped out, his eyes huge as he heard the noises coming from inside.

“Um, is everything alright? Should I call the police now?” Just as he asked the small spindly legged console table and one of her barstools flew out of the doorway and smashed on the stone walkway. Although they were several feet away he held his clipboard in front of his face as a shield.

“No,” Felicity said in a resigned voice as she set down her bags. “They’ll work it out eventually.” She turned to him, “You might have to tell your men to wait another forty-five minutes or so and, if they still aren’t done by then, leave Mr. Wayne a text and he’ll have to reschedule.”

“Um, but I still have his card,” he said holding out a shiny black credit card with the bust of a Centurion stamped in silver across the front.

“I’ll take that,” Felicity said, snatching it from his fingers and dropping it in her purse. “Is there anything that I need to sign before I leave?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he handed her the clipboard and the pen. “I just need you to, uh, sign and verify the work order and delivery address.”

She looked at the paperwork with an arched eyebrow as both Diggle and the foreman swiveled their heads toward yet another loud crashing sound. “This isn’t right; my things should be going to the Wayne Towers penthouse suite on the Upper West Side not The Wayne Foundation Building on the East End.”

“Um, Mr. Wayne gave us that address.”

Felicity thought about it a moment before smiling ruefully, “Oh, I just bet he did.” She scribbled out the address on the paperwork and wrote in her father’s address instead. “Please see to it that it’s delivered to the correct address. Also, some of the furnishings and such may have been damaged.” At that moment a numbered print she had bought at a charity auction flew out of the door way to join the remains of the console table. “Please make a note of any and all damaged furnishings then have your men haul it off. Also try to,” she winced as a loud cracking sound and a flurry of curses reached them, “salvage as many of my clothes and things as you can. Anything torn beyond repair you can trash and anything that is dirty or just has minor tears pack them up and take them to Kurtzberg’s Dry Cleaners on the corner of Weisinger and Papp Street next to Goldstein’s Pharmacy. Tell them it’s a donation from Felicity Smoak. The couple there run a shelter and charity thrift shop in the Glades.”

“Um, are you—“ he winced as a loud grunt of pain echoed down toward them, “sure?”

She nodded, “Just…try to save what you can.” Another loud crash and a puff of dry wall dust blew out the door. “If there’s anything you can save. Thanks.” She picked up the bags again and paused, “Oh, when do you think they’ll arrive?”

“Mr. Wayne said to deliver your furnishings and things to the airport and Wayne Shipping would handle it from there. Depending on how long it takes us to get in there,” another crash and another pained look on his face, “A day? Maybe two?” He looked at her helplessly, “Listen, someone could really get hurt in there, we should really--!”

“It’s okay,” Dig said, cutting him off with a confident and laid back smile. “They’re old friends; you know how it is with guys. They’re just letting off some steam.”

“Letting off steam?” The guy said dubiously. They all stopped and looked as a kitchen knife flew out of the open door and lodged deeply into one of the posts on the porch.

Felicity sighed and opened her purse pulling out her wallet. “Great,” she said, looking at the forty bucks she had stashed in there. “Hang on for a second.” She put down the bags and headed back inside.

“Wait,” Dig said, catching her arm. “Don’t go in there.”

“I’ll be fine,” she said, taking a breath and stomping back into the once charming little house that was now a warzone.

She peered inside and winced. They had taken out the entire bar and one of her barstools was hanging from the ceiling fan and the other was lodged in a broken window. She looked toward the living room to see that Bruce had Oliver in a headlock then winced in sympathy as Oliver grabbed the other man’s nuts and twisted causing Bruce to cry out and send an elbow onto his back in response.

She grabbed Bruce’s coat off the shattered remains of the bar and dug into his pockets until she found his billfold. Opening it up she pulled out a large wad of bills and tossed the wallet on the floor before walking back out again. She didn’t bother counting; she just peeled off some of the bills and walked up to the man, shoving it at him. “Here.”

“Um,” the man looked at the hundred dollar bills dumbly.

“Take it,” she ordered. “That should buy them a couple of hours of playtime.”

“I don’t know…” he said slowly, looking at her in confusion.

She peeled off a few more bills and added it to the pile. “No cops,” she told him.

“Okay,” he said, taking the cash. “But what if—“

“If they get hurt then it’s on them,” she told him as she shoved the rest of the bills into her pocket. “Are we done here?” She asked. He nodded in response staring at the money in his hand. “Great, and thank you,” Felicity said, picking up her bags and walking down the steps with Diggle beside her. “And make sure to charge Mr. Wayne for any clean-up costs or overtime.” She said with a smile as she walked to her car, the moving supervisor still gaping at her in shock, several one hundred dollar bills clutched in his hand.

“Where’d you get the wad?” Diggle asked in amusement. “You must have handed that guy at least a thousand dollars.”

“Stole it from Bruce’s wallet,” she told him before putting down the bags so she could reach into her pocket and pulled out the rest of the cash. She peeled off roughly half of the remaining bills for herself and handed the rest to Dig, “Here.”

“What’s this for?” He asked, taking the cash.

“Just in case you have to bribe the guy again,” she told him. “The rest I’m keeping for cab fare and aggravation.”

“Speaking of mugging Bruce Wayne,” Diggle glanced at her, “Was that an AmEx Black card you put in your purse?”

“Yup,” Felicity said as she unlocked her trunk. “Although, technically, it’s called a Centurion Card.”

“I always thought those things were an urban myth,” he said rocking back on his heels.

“Nope,” She said taking a minute to lean her hip against the car.

“So…what are you planning on doing with Batman’s unlimited credit card?” He asked with a slight upward twitch of the corners of his mouth.

“It’s not Batman’s card,” she corrected him.

“Bruce Wayne’s card then, sorry.”

“Not his either,” Felicity said with a wicked gleam in her eye. “The way I see it possession is 9/10 of the law and, what do you know, it’s in my possession. Hey Dig, how about I buy you an island if you help me get my bags in the car.”

“Damn girl,” he chuckled as he lifted the largest of the suitcases and maneuvered it into her tiny trunk, “I always knew you were something special but you are stone-cold fearless.” When the trunk was full he opened her car door and wedged the rest of them into her backseat, “So…where to now?”

“First I need to talk to my landlord down the street and then I would really appreciate it if you could follow me as I drop off my car,” she asked. “I’m going to need a ride to the airport after that but I’ll understand if you can’t do it.”

Diggle looked torn for a minute, “I really should get back in there and see how Oliver is doing…”

She smiled weakly and shrugged, “That’s okay, I understand. I can call a cab from the dealership.”

He glanced once more towards the tiny bungalow where the moving supervisor was staring inside the doorway with a worried expression on his face and sighed. “Fuck it,” Diggle said gruffly. “Their dumb asses can figure it out on their own. Do you already have a ticket and everything?”

“No—“ she shut her eyes in frustration, “Goddamn it, my phone!”

“Don’t sweat it,” he said, reaching into his jacket. “Take mine and I’ll ship yours to you if it survives the vigilante tornado.”

“Thanks but that’s okay,” she said with a wicked gleam in her eye. “I’ll just let Bruce buy me another phone later but first he’s buying me a plane ticket and then a whole new wardrobe when I land in Gotham. Sure you don’t want to come with?” She asked, reaching into her purse and flashing the black coated titanium card. “First class all the way.”

“Tempting, but I get the feeling that pissing off a guy like Bruce Wayne would be a bad idea. I’m not quite as pretty as you are so I doubt he’d be in a forgiving mood if I started jet-setting on his dime.” He grinned and nodded toward her Cooper. “You take care of your business and I’ll meet you at the BMW dealership. It’s the one on Lemire, right?”

“Right, thanks,” she smiled at him before getting in to drive over to Mr. Kreisberg’s house which was just down the road near the gate. She quickly explained that Mr. Wayne was doing a bit of remodeling that may have gotten somewhat messy. She told him that she was late for her flight and gave him Bruce’s credit card information to pay for any and all damages. She then gave him the correct address (and not the address to his penthouse in the Wayne Foundation Building) so that he could forward her mail.

A little less than an hour later she had a non-stop First Class ticket in her hand, courtesy of Bruce, and was saying goodbye to Diggle. She hugged and kissed him, promised to call him when she could, then handed him a card. “Look, I know Oliver isn’t going to want to use any resources affiliated with um, you know who,” she said mindful of the fact they were standing in the middle of a crowded airport, “but if I’m not going to be there then you need someone helping you.”

“What’s this?” He asked looking at a long string of letters and numbers printed on the card.

“Oracle, she’s a friend of mine. She’s my counterpart, you could say; she does for him what I do for you guys.” Felicity explained in a low tone. “If you need eyes you enter this passkey into the file labeled ‘Watchtower’ on the LAIR workstation. It will connect you to her. I’ll give her the heads up so she’ll know to expect you.”

“I don’t know about this, Felicity,” Diggle said slowly. “Besides, she’s in Gotham, how can she possibly help us from 3000 miles away?”

Felicity took him by the arm and lead him to an area that offered a little more privacy. “I’m going to tell you a secret because, well, since the cat’s out of the bag it doesn’t matter anyway.” She took a deep breath, “The project I helped Bruce with, the one I consulted on—did Oliver tell you about it?”

“He mentioned something before everything hit the fan, yeah. He said something about how you developed some software for Wayne. I’m guessing it was for his other business though, right?” He looked at her curiously.

“I wrote an AI operating system known as ‘Watchtower’ for him. Because I developed both systems using the same base code, LAIR and Watchtower are compatible. With this key code,” she tapped the card Diggle was still holding in emphasis, “Oracle can tap into every system linked to LAIR which means she can hack every traffic cam, every police file, and every security and ATM cam that I was able to. It will be as though I’m sitting at my desk, same as always, chatting away in your ear only it will be Oracle instead.”

“Do you trust her?” Dig asked seriously.

She nodded, “With my life and you can as well, I promise.” She glanced up as the announcement for her flight echoed around them, “I’ll call you or you can call me when I get another phone. Don’t forget, Gotham is three hours ahead of us so just keep that in mind, okay? No disturbing my beauty sleep.”

“Got it, and here,” he said, handing her a small baggie of what looked like tea packets.

“They have tea in Gotham, but thanks,” Felicity said, taking the baggie from him with a frown.

“Not this brand,” he said. “Before we headed for your place I grabbed some of Oliver’s herbs from my emergency kit. He mentioned the bruises, so…”

“Thanks,” she said, touched. “They aren’t that bad but this will definitely help.” She looked at the tiny sachets one more time before slipping them into her purse. “It was pretty smart of you to disguise them as tea bags.”

“Well, it’s better than leaving them loose in a baggie then having to convince TSA that it isn’t dope and running the risk of a government issued enema.”

“True. Thanks John, I’ll call you soon. I promise.” They hugged and said their goodbyes then Felicity turned away from him and toward an uncertain future alone.

Chapter Text

 


  

Chapter Eighteen

Bruce sat back on his haunches prepared to spring back into action. His ribs were on fire, his balls ached, and he was actually getting tired; a testament to the skill of his opponent. From across the room he watched as Queen wiped some blood out of his eyes, his own breathing rapid and pained although he looked more than willing to get back into the scrap if Bruce made so much as a move. Despite himself he had to give the man his due. Queen was no amateur, he could really fight. He’d also had League training; that much was clear from the fact that he was still holding his own.

“Ra’s taught you well or was it one of his minions who trained you on the island?” He heard himself ask.

Oliver squinted through a haze of blood and the ringing in his ears from one punch too many, “Ra’s?”

“Ra’s al Ghul. Don’t bother pretending, Queen. I know you trained with the League. The only question is if it was the League of Assassins or the League of Shadows because I know Lian Yu was a training ground for the Assassins but you fight using Shadow techniques.”

“I was on Lian Yu and I’m familiar with the League of Assassins and Ra’s al Ghul but I wasn’t trained by them nor was I ever a member unless you call spending five years dodging those bastards and their bullets training! I’ve been investigating links he has to Starling but he’s no friend of mine.” Oliver eyed him warily, “What’s your connection to the League?”

“What’s yours?” He shot back. “If all you were doing was dodging bullets then why did Nyssa bring her entire honor guard down here to help you with the Blood Army a couple of years back?”

Oliver’s jaw clenched and his fists balled at his sides again, “Someone I know was formerly associated with the League and called them in; I had no hand in it but I wasn’t about to turn down their help even if it meant leaping from the frying pan into the fire later.” He shot him a narrow look, “Speaking of which, if you’re so invested in Felicity’s safety then where the hell were you two years ago?”

Bruce ignored his question. “And Felicity never spoke to you about Ra’s al Ghul even though she knew about your time on the island?”

Oliver snorted humorlessly, sitting back a bit and seeming to relax his guard even though Bruce knew better. “There’s a lot of things Felicity hasn’t told me but, to be fair, I don’t talk about the island much.” His eyes took on a haunted quality, “It’s not exactly something I like to revisit.” His eyes met Bruce’s, “Who’s Ra’s al Ghul to you?”

“If you’re telling the truth then it shouldn’t really matter to you, should it?” Bruce shot back.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Oliver said in the same tone, “but I’ve got a mission of my own here in Starling that’s still somehow connected to what went down on that island and, like I said, Ra’s is a part of that. His name first came up in connection to Merlyn and the Glades disaster and keeps coming up time and time again. The fact that you’re so interested in this guy tells me that I should be as well and it would be nice to have some real answers for once.”

At that moment the movers began to walk back in led by the foreman who was still clutching his clipboard as they goggled at the mess the two men had made.

“Holy…” the clipboard guy said as he slipped on some of the rubble and had to rebalance himself. “Uh, Mr. Wayne, do you require,” he flinched as the one remaining unbroken cup in the cabinet gave it up and committed suicide by sink, “assistance?”

“No, we’re good,” Bruce sighed, getting up from the floor and stretching his muscles. “Don’t worry about finishing today but I’ll still pay you for your time. Come back tomorrow with a bigger crew and pack up what you can,” he surveyed the wreckage around him dubiously, “if anything’s left, and make a note of what was damaged and send me a list. I’ll call down to Wayne Shipping and have them send in a maintenance crew to clean up the worst of it and start on repairs to the walls and floors.” He looked around again and muttered under his breath, “Although it might be easier just to buy the damn place.”

“Yes sir, um, Ms. Smoak already told us that’s what you’d want to do.”

Bruce nodded, “She was right, she usually is.” He looked up at him as he rubbed his hand across the back of his neck, “Just put it all on my card. You still have it, right?”

“Um, no sir,” the foreman swallowed nervously. “Ms. Smoak…took it.”

Oliver snickered then got up to cross the room and dig around inside the freezer. He pulled out a bag of frozen peas for himself and tossed Bruce some corn as he pressed the plastic bag to the back of his neck, “You’re screwed now, Wayne. I know for a fact that Felicity knows how to spend a couple of million bucks when she’s feeling motivated.”

“That’s fine,” Bruce said with a pained look as he pressed the bag of corn to the goose-egg coming up on his temple. “You can go now,” he dismissed them and they filed out. “I guess I should talk to the landlord; convince him to settle now before someone decides to sue.” He looked around with a squint as his eye was quickly beginning to swell, “This shit is easier when you’re suited up; no one ever asks how you intend to fix everything before you leave the scene.”

“True,” Oliver said as he pulled out his cell and began dialing.

“Calling Felicity?” Bruce asked wearily as he reached down to pick up his billfold. He opened it and frowned, “I had a little over three thousand dollars in there.” He made an annoyed sound, “She left the rest of my cards but she took all the cash. She’s definitely pissed.”

“Yep, and I’ve got a feeling she’s not going to be all that happy with me either. Luckily I left my wallet in my back pocket,” he grinned then stopped. He reached into the back of his trousers and nodded. “Good,” Oliver said in relief as he pressed the phone to his ear. Both men looked up as the ringtone Felicity used for Oliver’s phone (Holding Out For A Hero by Bonnie Tyler) sounded from the bedroom. “I thought Dig took her out of here.”

They both headed back to the bedroom, working their way through the mess as they went. Oliver caught a glimpse of Felicity’s guestroom and shook his head, “Great, there goes my credit rating,” he winced before walking through the shattered remains of her bedroom door to find the source of the ring tone.

Bruce looked in the room as he came up behind him and his jaw tightened. “Yeah, well, I don’t know what she’s planning on doing to you but I have a sinking feeling that she’s going to be testing to see if my AmEx Black really does have an unlimited credit limit.”

Oliver grabbed her phone from on top of the dresser and tossed it to him. “She left it. It’s not really like her but I can see how it would get lost in the confusion.”

“That, or she didn’t want us tracking her,” Bruce said with an aggrieved tone as he looked around the room.

Oliver nodded and started dialing again, “I’ll call Dig and make sure she’s okay. She’s probably with him at Big Belly Burger or Mr. Chow’s eating her way through half the menu.”

Bruce arched his eyebrow and nodded as he reached for the white sack that had been sitting next to the phone on the dresser. “She does like to eat when she’s stressed.”

“Or pissed off, whatever the case may be. Hey Dig? Everything okay?” Oliver asked as he moved off to talk.

Bruce opened the sack and looked inside with a frown then pulled out the objects inside curiously. First the box of large sized condoms, a small bottle of Astroglide, and—he paused.

“What’s that?” Oliver asked looking up curiously then swore under his breath, “Um Dig, I’ll call you back.” He walked over to Bruce and looked down at the colorful box of emergency contraception as he rubbed his hand over his mouth. “Shit.”

Bruce closed his eyes as he cursed his own irresponsible behavior before something occurred to him. “What’s it got to do with you?”

Oliver scratched his beard ruefully, “Damn it, I wasn’t thinking and I should have. She told me that the last guy she’d been with was—“ he glanced up at Bruce. “Well, anyway, I just assumed she was on the pill. I didn’t take into consideration that it’d been over four years for her.”

“When exactly did this happen?” Bruce asked in a dangerously low tone.

“Last night,” Oliver said, his own eyes narrowing. “Why, what’s it matter to you? She said you broke it off with her years ago.”

Bruce rubbed his hand across his forehead and moved to sit down on the corner of the mattress that was still being supported by the broken frame. He sat his elbows on his knees and hung his head, shaking it ruefully. “The first time, yeah.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Oliver asked, a bit of the Arrow creeping into his tone. “When was the second time?”

“Saturday,” he said without looking at him.

“Wait,” Oliver frowned as though doing the math in his head, “But that means…” He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, “Now a lot of what she was trying to tell me is suddenly starting to make sense.” He looked over at Bruce appraisingly, “What now?”

Bruce picked up a small piece of glass off the ruined duvet and tossed it aside ruefully, “I don’t know.” He looked up at him, “Are you and she…together?”

Oliver leaned against the dresser and crossed his arms over his chest. “No, and I doubt she’ll ever want me back after the way I left things with her, not to mention the whole ‘destroying everything she owns’ thing. You?”

“I don’t know but I’d venture a guess that since she threatened to rain hell down on my head if I ever so much as looked at her again I’d say probably not,” he sighed and gestured toward the other objects on the dresser. “Given her other purchases I’m thinking she intends to stay here with you no matter how I feel about it.”

“She’s not,” Oliver said quietly and at his curious look he gestured with his cell. “Dig just told me. He took her to turn in her car at the dealership and then dropped her off at the airport. She’s on her way to Gotham.”

“Why would she still be going to Gotham if the two of you…?” He mused curiously.

“That would be me again,” Oliver said reluctantly. “You might be a world class asshole but you were right about one thing; I can’t keep her safe. Not anymore.”

Bruce looked up, his gaze sharp as the Batman began to creep back into his posture, “What do you mean?”

Oliver looked around the ruined flat and got to his feet. “Tell you what, let’s get out of here and take this conversation to my place.”

“Your office?”

“Not quite.”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

“You call your HQ the Lair?”

“Felicity does,” Diggle told him. “She just started saying ‘the Lair’, as in, ‘I have to run it through the Lair workstation,’ and it just stuck.”

Oliver shook his head, “I know, sounds like a cheesy Bond villain hang-out. I kept telling her to stop but…”

“Lair or LAIR?” Bruce asked, looking at the servers and monitors at Felicity’s workstation.

“Is there a difference?” Diggle said in confusion.

“Possibly,” Bruce said noncommittally as he looked around the Arrow’s Lair in the Foundry carefully from his seat near the workstation. The design and layout felt…familiar. “Felicity designed this space along with your system, didn’t she?”

“Yeah,” Oliver said then smiled ruefully, “Let me guess; same as yours right?”

He shook his head, “Not quite. Mine’s bigger and has more bats and stalactites but the basic use of the space is similar only much more efficient. It’s very…” He tried to think of the right word but he could only come up with one, “Felicity.”

“Wait, did you say bats and stalactites; as in a Batcave?” Diggle grinned from his place at the arm of the large leather couch at Oliver who, in turn, shook his head as he made an aggravated sound deep in his throat.

“What?” Bruce asked, noticing their exchange.

“Just more Felicity-sized pieces falling into place,” Oliver said, running a hand through his short hair. “Felicity sometimes refers to the Lair as the ‘Arrow Cave’. We never got the joke until now.”

“I always assumed she meant it like ‘Man Cave’, but I guess not…” Diggle chuckled.

“So how did this happen?” Bruce asked, despite himself. “What Felicity said to me that night on the roof; she recruited you or vice versa?”

“Both,” Diggle answered before Oliver could.

“What does that mean?” He asked, steadily watching them for any sign of deception.

“You could say I sort-of recruited her,” Oliver said clearing his throat. “But after the Glades fell I gave up on the Arrow and she rebuilt the Lair then came after me.”

“You said you didn’t know of her connection to me and yet you recruited her for your mission?” Bruce asked, still not sure if he could fully trust the other man. “That’s a bit of a coincidence, don’t you think?”

“Again, the pieces are slowly falling into place the more we learn about our girl.” Bruce wasn’t sure he liked the idea of Queen referring to her as ‘their girl’ but allowed him to continue. “After I got back from the island and began my mission, Diggle and I needed help retrieving some information from a laptop that had been shot up. I went to Walter Steele to ask if he knew someone I could show my laptop to that was trustworthy and discreet so he sent me to Felicity.” Oliver leaned back into the cushions of the plush leather couch that was nearly identical to the one they’d destroyed in her house. “At the time I didn’t question it, Walter’s word was enough, but now that I understand a bit more of Felicity’s past and Walter’s connection to her family I know why he sent me to her.”

Bruce frowned, something still didn’t make sense. “So you took a bullet-ridden laptop to a perfect stranger and you never questioned the fact that she didn’t even blink?”

“Worse than that,” Diggle snorted. “When she asked what happened he told her he spilled a latte on it.”

“And when she pointed out the bullet holes I told her the coffee shop was in a bad part of town,” Oliver said as he scratched his beard, color rising on his cheeks. “I was going for funny and charming but I don’t think she bought it.”

“And then you, what, recruited her just like that?” He asked, still frowning.

Oliver shifted uncomfortably, “No, uh…there was some other stuff.”

“Sports drinks in syringes, security key fobs and scavenger hunts; he was weaving so much bullshit his eyes were turning brown!” Diggle was snickering beside him on the couch, his grin splitting his face in two. “Every time he’d spout that shit she’d give him a look and I’d be sweating balls and thinking this motherfucker is going to get me thrown in jail! Oh man, you have no idea how good it feels to be able to tell this stuff to someone besides Felicity. The things I’ve had to put up with…”

Oliver cleared his throat and shot the bodyguard a dirty look, “Well, as I was saying, a few other things happened and we’d go to Felicity for tech support. She never questioned it, so it became a kind of game between us. A few times she’d balk or have questions but then she’d drop it and we’d be good again. Then she came to me one day with a book she’d been given by Walter and asked me for help.” He paused, “Well, she asked me to ask the Arrow for help to be precise. He’d been kidnapped and she’d been working on a private research project for him, something Walter warned her could be dangerous. I knew she suspected I was the Arrow, probably since day one, but she was still pretending and I was willing to go with it in order for her to have some room for plausible deniability.”

He shifted a bit in his chair before continuing, “I recognized the book she gave me. My father had given me a copy of it before he—“ Oliver’s face darkened at the memory, “before he died. He’d told me that it was a book of sins he’d committed and asked me to right his wrongs. When I wondered how it made its way into Walter’s possession she told me that it was my mother’s. One night while I was investigating the book I confronted my mother in my Arrow gear and she shot me. It was my fault,” he said, looking up at Bruce. “Her husband had been kidnapped, her other husband murdered, and there had already been a kidnapping attempt against me. Also I had been making my way through the list and a few of my targets had lost their lives in the process and she didn’t know who I was under the hood. It was self-defense but I was still hurt pretty bad. I had no way of getting to Diggle or the Lair and I crawled into the back seat of Felicity’s car. She saved me by bringing me to the Lair and helping Diggle patch me up. Afterwards she agreed to help us until Walter was found but she wound up staying.”

Diggle, who had been nodding as he was talking, spoke up, “Back then we were so on mission, so focused, we never questioned it. She fit into the team so well I guess we didn’t want to. I should have caught on since I was Special Forces but she acted so much like a trained operator that it was like I was back in country and she was just another CIA handler or field support.”

“She has a tendency to get under your skin like that,” Oliver murmured under his breath and Bruce, despite himself, had to agree with the sentiment.

“So she wasn’t quite lying when she said she was at the center of your team,” Bruce said, as he thought back to their discussion on the roof. “I’m guessing you and Mr. Diggle both share the Arrow identity but are there others or was that an obfuscation on her part?”

“It’s just me and Diggle although we do have others on our team.” His eyes flickered towards Bruce. “Have you ever heard of a serum known as ‘Mirakuru’?”

“Can’t say I’m familiar.”

Oliver leaned back on the couch again, “On the island there was a stash of a super soldier serum known as ‘Mirakuru’. It’s Japanese meaning—“

“The Miracle,” Bruce supplied.

Oliver nodded, “My sister’s ex-boyfriend, Roy Harper, was exposed. He was a former street gang member the Arrow recruited as an informant. After things got dangerous I tried to wave him off because I didn’t want him in the line of fire but the kid is like a pit bull; once he latches on you can’t shake him off. After he was exposed he started exhibiting abilities like enhanced strength and rapid healing. We’ve been watching him since then, trying to decide if the Mirakuru only affected him physically or if there were other side effects.” He sighed and planted his elbows on his knees. “Other people who have used the Mirakuru have gone insane but, after some initial problems, he seems to be tolerating it well. Our only concern now is the fact that he’s still a stupid kid with a temper and the power to really hurt someone if he doesn’t watch it. We had a falling out a while back and he took off for almost a year to work through it on his own but it was more than he could handle by himself. About six months ago he came back so we could try training him again but...” Oliver’s face tightened and he grimaced, a dark look passing over his face.

“He, uh, got hurt pretty bad on a mission and he’s only just started training again,” Diggle finished grimly. “The kid’s strong but he’s a real pain in the ass who still thinks he knows something even though he’s still just a punk. He’s hardheaded, undisciplined, unfocused, lacks impulse control; Oliver and I have been trying to knock some sense into him but it’s kind of tough finding enough hours in the day.”

“We’re managing,” Oliver said, although the strain was still there in his voice. “This time he’s determined to stick it out so we can make sure he stays stable. If we can get him to control his anger and redirect it, then we can control the emotional instability caused by the Mirakuru.”

“Not a bad plan,” Bruce conceded. “And this Quentin Lance with the SCPD? He’s aware of your connection to the Arrow?”

“Yes,” Diggle said, eyeing Oliver. “For a while now.”

“How long is a while?”

Both men answered at the same time but gave two very different answers.

“Six months,” Oliver answered.

“At least a year; probably two,” Dig responded.

“Which is it; six months or two years?” Bruce asked as he watched both men’s expressions carefully.

“He knows now for sure but he’s not admitting to knowing it until we officially read him in six months ago so we’re not pushing it,” Oliver said leading Bruce to believe this was a matter frequently debated between the two. “Now he’s fully in the team although we still try to keep him in the periphery as much as we can since he’s already taken a few hits professionally because of his association with the Arrow. Still, he comes to the Foundry regularly and he knows all of us. Before six months ago he would just talk around the issue of who we were and keep it all indirect so that he wouldn’t have to commit perjury if worse came to worst, but he’s known about Felicity for years and he’s been sympathetic to our cause almost since the beginning although we had a bit of a rocky start. In the beginning, he and Felicity developed a kind of shorthand with each other where they’d refer to the Arrow as ‘our mutual friend’ just in case the line wasn’t secure.” He sighed, “He’s not a big fan of mine but he loves Felicity like she’s his own kid; they’ve developed a weird kind of bond over the last three years, in the last six months especially. He’d never do anything to jeopardize her. The man nearly lost his job and his freedom and still refused to give her up.”

Something about what he just said caught his attention, “What happened six months ago?” Queen’s expression froze and Bruce narrowed his gaze, “You said that their relationship has gotten closer especially in the last six months; why is that?”

“She saved his life,” the other man said shortly but refused to elaborate.

Diggle interceded before he could question him further, “Look, all you need to know is that if Lance thinks there’s even the possibility of Felicity getting arrested for this then he’d be taking her underground himself. We trust him and can guarantee you that she’s safe with him.”

“And yet you told me earlier that Felicity was no longer safe here; why?”

“We’ve been exposed,” Oliver told him, a hint of aggravation coloring his tone. “Isabel Rochev tried to recruit Felicity to join some kind of private vigilante army Stellmoor is putting together and she knew things about our mission she shouldn’t have including my role in it and that Felicity was our tech.”

“Who else knows about your identity other than the people you’ve already mentioned?”

“Too many,” Dig muttered.

“Not many,” Oliver said, his mouth tightening. “We have an association with another vigilante called ‘The Flash’ in Central City but we don’t cross paths often. Helena Bertinelli knows as does Black Canary but if Helena was going to expose me she would have done so before now.”

“What about this ‘Black Canary’?” Bruce asked. “She’s popped up on my radar but only on the periphery.”

“It’s possible that she’s the one who exposed us,” Oliver said in a low tone, his eyes hooded and dark. “However, that said, she’s still an asset until proven otherwise. She’s the one who mentioned the name ‘Ra’s al Ghul’ to me and she was not looking forward to running into him if he showed up. She was a member of the League but cut ties with them a while back and said there was reason to believe that Ra’s al Ghul would be interested in Merlyn and the Glades attempt. Felicity said Isabel talked about her specifically and said she was currently being bankrolled by Stellmoor but I can’t confirm or deny that.”

“Then there’s the ARGUS connection,” Diggle said slowly.

“ARGUS?” Bruce said sharply.

Diggle glanced at him, “You know them?”

“Amanda Waller and I are acquainted,” Bruce said grimly.

“Amanda does get around,” Oliver said dryly.

“I take it Waller and you have a personal history?” Bruce asked.

“We have history,” Oliver told him. “I wouldn’t go so far as to label it ‘personal’ but it’s close enough.”

“She’s a warm and sunny sweetheart, isn’t she?” Diggle said dryly.

“Felicity mentioned that there may be some crossover with ARGUS and Stellmoor. Waller first tried to recruit Diggle three years ago when his ex-wife who was one of their overt field agents got into some trouble during an assignment. She was tracking someone and got caught and thrown into a Russian gulag,” Oliver told him. “We managed to break her out with the help of some old friends.”

“Bratva friends?” Bruce asked casually.

“You’re aware of my connection to Bratva,” it wasn’t a question.

“I take a keen interest in organized crime and the Russian mob has been trying to make inroads into Gotham for a while now,” Bruce told them. “Believe me when I say that finding out you were a captain in good standing with the Bratva did not reassure me of Felicity’s safety.

“Yes, well, sometimes the job requires that we dance with the devil,” Oliver said unapologetically. “Keeping a good name with the right people has saved more lives than I can count.”

“I’ve been known to do a bit of dancing on occasion myself,” Bruce conceded. “Continue your story.”

Oliver’s jaw tightened slightly at the imperious way Bruce was directing the conversation, or rather interrogation, but still he pushed on. “It was supposed to be just Dig, Felicity, and me on the plane but Isabel showed up at the last second and forced her way on the flight.”

“She never said jack about Lyla being on the return trip either,” Diggle said as he turned to Oliver. “I always figured you smoothed that out with her.”

Oliver shook his head, “She was so focused on torturing Felicity she never looked twice at her.”

“She did what to Felicity?” Bruce asked sharply.

“Not literally,” Diggle snorted. “She’s a stone cold bitch and she likes to take it out on Felicity.” He suddenly smiled, “Until recently that is.”

“What changed?” Bruce asked, watching the byplay between the men. Oliver looked almost chagrinned and Diggle looked almost giddy with amusement.

“She and Felicity…” Oliver’s voice trailed off as he ran a hand over his mouth.

“She laid the bitch out cold, that’s what,” Diggle laughed.

“Felicity physically attacked her?” Bruce asked, his eyebrows shooting up in undisguised shock.

“Isabel is…” Oliver cleared his throat, “somewhat territorial and baiting Felicity was a form of entertainment for her. She made some remarks that went too far and Felicity punched her.”

“A one/two combo punch just like I taught her,” Diggle grinned. “I still want a copy of the footage.”

“It’s still not funny, Dig,” Oliver said wearily.

“No, it’s not, but it’s about damn time someone put an end to the crap that woman has been pulling with her. You should have nipped that in the bud first thing. No one should have to deal with the bullshit Isabel kept saying to her; had it been anyone except Felicity they would have buried you up to your neck with workplace grievances and lawsuits,” Dig shot back, then muttered, “Besides, if you had kept it in your pants with that shark maybe she wouldn’t have had to.”

“Enough Diggle,” Oliver warned him.

“You and the Rochev woman were involved?” Bruce asked. “Any chance that you might have been the leak? That she might have drugged you before your encounter?”

“It was one time and I left as soon as it was over. I never lost consciousness,” Oliver told him. He then turned his eyes toward his partner, “And the only reason I had sex with her in the first place was to distract her from the mission. My sleeping with the ‘shark’ bought us a few hours to get done what we needed to do.”

Bruce nodded, “I’ve…been there.” His lips tightened into a grimace before he continued. “Did she try to recruit Felicity before or after their altercation?”

“After,” Oliver answered. “Struck me as strange, too. That’s why I didn’t take it seriously at first. I thought Isabel was baiting her and Felicity was just overreacting.”

“Felicity may ramble when she’s nervous but she doesn’t overreact to anything when it comes to the mission. If she comes to you with intel you can take it to the bank,” Bruce told him sharply.

“There were extenuating circumstances,” Oliver flushed and gritted his teeth angrily. “And while I appreciate the insight, I think I know Felicity pretty well after more than three and a half years of working together, thank you.”

“Do you?” Bruce asked, raising a questioning eyebrow in his direction.

“Yes,” he snapped.

“Then tell me; what do you know about Felicity?” Bruce asked. “Because, according to you, she didn’t even tell you her last name until a few days ago.”

“Look—“ Oliver started to get up from his seat and Diggle put a calming hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, let’s just calm down,” he told both men sharply. “If you two mess up the Lair I’m not cleaning it up so let’s just chill out and get back to business.”

Both men eyed each other tensely before Bruce broke the standoff.

“You’re right; I…apologize,” Bruce said reluctantly. “It was a cheap shot.”

“Fine,” Oliver said, although his short tone implied it was anything but.

Diggle shifted on the couch, his hand still clasped to Oliver’s shoulder as if holding him down. “How did Felicity get involved in your mission?” Diggle asked him curiously as Oliver got his temper under control. “She was what? Eighteen, nineteen?”

Bruce flushed, “Nineteen. I recruited her when she was eighteen but she left when she was nineteen.”

“That’s kind of young, isn’t it? I know her dad’s the CEO of your company but, still, she was just a kid,” Diggle said with a frown.

“She wasn’t a kid,” Bruce said a little sharply then cleared his throat, averting his gaze to the floor. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap.” He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed, “Felicity started MIT when she was thirteen years old and had a doctorate under her belt by the time I recruited her. Her research into decryption protocols using AI theorem was and still is light years beyond anything anyone else is doing and I wanted her to rebuild Watchtower for me after I read an article she published based on her graduate thesis.”

“Felicity has a doctorate?” Diggle asked, looking mildly impressed. “She never told me she had a PhD.” He turned to Oliver with a slight upturn of his lips, “Damn, no wonder she was so pissed about being your secretary.”

“You didn’t know that?” Bruce frowned.

“I knew she went to MIT but she doesn’t talk about her past much,” Diggle told him. He looked at Oliver, “You knew though, right?”

He shot him a dirty look, refusing to answer the question. “So you just went up to a teenaged girl and asked her to be your tech?” Oliver drawled, obviously still a bit peeved.

“No,” Bruce said with a hint of irritation. “I asked her to consult on a project but I never intended to pull her in. I just explained what I needed using vague language and said it was a side project I was working on. I told her I wanted her to consult for WayneTech, I had no idea she’d be able to figure it out that quickly but she’s a genius and I shouldn’t have underestimated her. Thirty seconds into my spiel she just looked me straight in the eye, told me she knew I was Batman, and then offered to build the system for me.” He scowled, “I tried to dissuade her but she pretty much had me dead to rights so I just let her in.”

Diggle snorted and both men looked at him, “Oh come on, neither of you find it hilarious that you both approached her in nearly the same way and she was able to figure out what both of you were into in under a minute?” At the matching grimaces that appeared on both men’s faces he began to chuckle, “Damn, that girl; I swear if she wanted to she could be downright dangerous. Honest to God, there are days when I think it should be her under the hood!”

Ignoring the other man’s chuckles, Bruce eyed both men carefully for his next question. “Were you aware that someone was targeting Felicity? That she had a hit put out on her?”

Both men tensed, the moment of levity disappearing in a flash.

“When?” Oliver demanded, his expression livid.

“Do you know who ordered it?” Diggle asked, his jaw clenched and his eyes showing his concern as well as anger.

“Is that why you came here? To investigate a contract on Felicity?” Oliver growled.

“Huntress told me that someone offered her a contract on Felicity but that she turned it down. We don’t know who contracted the hit but we investigated and it appears that it was canceled shortly after inquiries were made.” He eyeballed both men.

“When was it taken out?” Oliver asked again harshly.

“Roughly eighteen months ago. Someone sent out feelers but then a few days later the contract was pulled. They were specifically looking for an out of town independent contractor through a very high end broker. It’s hard to find a middleman at that level with no ties to the League but the fact that they managed to and your team’s recent brushes with Ra’s and his affiliates leads me to believe they were trying to keep things under their radar,” Bruce told them then watched as Diggle and Oliver both glanced at one another in a silent exchange.

“When did Felicity find out about this?” Oliver asked his tone calmer although there was still an angry edge to it.

“After we did; my tech called her and told her about it just prior to my arrival.” Again the men exchanged glances.

“That would be around the same time as the election campaign,” Diggle said softly.

“Don’t,” Oliver told him, a muscle in his jaw working.

“The one where your mother ran against Sebastian Blood for mayor?” Bruce asked, his focus narrowing on Oliver.

“It’s handled,” Oliver said roughly, his voice hard as steel.

Bruce ignored him, “Is there something I need to know?”

“I said it’s handled,” Oliver said firmly.

“If it affects Felicity then I need to know,” Bruce said in a voice that had been known to make grown men lose bladder control.

“And I said it’s my city and if justice has to be meted out then it will be me who handles it.”

Bruce looked at him, the tense lines in his body, the corded muscles under his clothes ready to spring into action at any moment, and made the rare decision to back off. Whatever this was it was personal to Queen and he didn’t have time for a turf war. “Fine, but I’m keeping Felicity with me in Gotham while that happens and she doesn’t return until I know for sure she’s in the clear.”

“We can handle our own—” Dig began but Oliver cut him off.

“Agreed,” he said harshly. “Like I said, we can’t protect her anymore.”

“Oliver,” Diggle said with a growl as he turned on his partner.

Queen turned to his bodyman and another silent exchange took place until the other man finally jerked his head in a nod even though there was now an undeniable tension between them. Bruce took note of the fact that, though the former soldier didn’t like the idea of releasing Felicity into another person’s care, he wasn’t going to argue with Queen’s decision; not in front of an outsider. The fact that a decorated war hero with John Diggle’s reputation would follow the lead of a man Bruce had initially thought may have been just playing at vigilante brought his estimation of Queen up by several degrees.

Oliver looked over to Bruce, the mask of the Arrow creeping over his features as his jaw clenched. “We’ve been sharing a lot of information with you but so far we’ve gotten nothing back in return. Who is Ra’s al Ghul to you? What do you know that we don’t?”

“First you tell me who trained you,” Bruce told him. “That was League training; you don’t learn that just by dodging bullets.”

“You’re wrong,” Oliver told him, his jaw set. “The man who trained me was a prisoner on the island named Yao Fei. He and his daughter, Shado, were also on the run from the people who were trying to kill me.”

“General Yao Fei?” Bruce asked, considering that for a moment.

“You knew him?” Oliver asked in surprise.

“Only by reputation,” Bruce said quietly. “He was set up; he took the fall for the massacre of an entire village even though the evidence was thin at best and obviously trumped up, then disappeared before he was arrested for mass murder and treason. It was rumored that he was a member of the League of Shadows but that he had crossed Ra’s.” He nodded to himself, “Now things are starting to make a bit more sense. Given how you handled yourself when we went toe to toe and your connection to Lian Yu I’m fairly certain it’s the same man.”

“Your turn; who is Ra’s al Ghul to you and what is your connection to the League?” Oliver demanded.

Bruce studied both men carefully before deciding how to answer, “Ra’s al Ghul is the leader of The League of Shadows and The League of Assassins. In essence both Leagues are one and the same with the same goals and the same leadership. His name translates as ‘The Demon’s Head’ and he believes that the world is filled with corruption and that it must be cleansed of all evil. Some might classify him as an eco-terrorist but it goes much further than just some radical tree hugger looking to save the environment. He believes he can create a better world by targeting corruption like a cancer and destroying it, only he doesn’t just target individuals, he targets entire cities and governments. He believes that the evil of an individual is but a symptom of a greater wrong; evil to him is a cancer and to excise a cancer you have to cut away not just the diseased tissue but some of the healthy tissue as well. There are no innocents to him, no collateral damage; just the drive to cleanse the world and bring about his prophesy.”

“Prophesy?” Oliver asked with a scowl. “What is he; a militant fundamentalist?”

“Not quite,” Bruce said grimly. “He’s not affiliated with any specific religious doctrine. He’s no longer sane and he suffered hallucinations that he interpreted as visions that spoke of a new world free of the evil of men which has become the driving force behind everything he does. He was behind different plots to take out Gotham the same way Malcolm Merlyn tried to take down the Glades. If what your friend, the Black Canary, said is correct then that’s not a coincidence.” He paused, “You said you were given a book; may I see it?”

Oliver got up and reached beside Bruce into the bottom drawer of Felicity’s workstation and handed it to him. “That one belonged to my father but we know that both my mother and Malcolm had a copy as well.”

Bruce looked at the leather bound journal carefully starting with the symbol on the front. “This is the symbol of the League of Shadows, a group of powerful people recruited or somehow associated with Ra’s al Ghul to bring about his perfect world. The League of Assassins is the, for lack of a better word, servant of the League of Shadows and carry out their orders but both groups are equally deadly in their own way and every single member of the League is willing to kill or die for Ra’s cause.”

“How are you connected?” Oliver asked.

There was a split second of debate in Bruce’s mind about how far he should trust Queen before he spoke, “It’s no secret that my parents were murdered. From the time I was a boy I was determined to avenge their deaths by learning all the skills necessary to accomplish my goal of ending the corruption in Gotham. I trained as much as I could with some of the greatest martial arts masters in secret, and when I left college I traveled the world, seeking out anyone who could help me.”

“I traveled to Nepal where I heard rumors of a man named Ra’s al Ghul. He was an almost god-like figure, revered and feared for his all-consuming mission to stamp out evil. I traveled all over that part of the world, tracking him, following lead after lead until I wound up in a village located between Pakistan and Tibet called Nanda Parbat. Don’t bother looking it up on a map, you won’t find it,” Bruce told them. “Another name for it is Shangri-La and the village was nestled in a hidden valley between the Kunlun Mountains, the Himalayas, and the Tibetan Plateau. I found him and, after he decided I was worthy, I became his student.”

Both Oliver and Diggle tensed but it was Queen who spoke, “You’re a member of this League of Shadows?”

“No,” Batman said evenly, for even without cape and cowl, it was Batman who was speaking and not Bruce. “I trained with him, learned his secrets, but when the time came to be initiated into the League I didn’t go through with it. Ra’s revealed to me his ultimate plan was to level Gotham and any other city he determined was a source of the cancer that was evil. He and the rest of the League had set themselves up as judge, jury, and executioner, and he was determined to bring about his new world without any regard to innocent lives. As I said before, in his opinion anyone touched by evil, however innocent, is therefore tainted by it. I fought my way out of Nanda Parbat thinking Ra’s was dead only to find out he survived.”

He shifted in the chair. “Over the years we’ve had many run-ins. Despite the fact that Ra’s seeks to stamp out anything he considers ‘evil’ he’s not above using those who commit evil acts to further his goals. His League of Assassins don’t just target the corrupt, they’re elite contract killers as well and the money they collect goes to fund his mission. The League of Shadows is even more pervasive and dangerous in a way because they believe he’s a hero, a visionary, and he recruits the rich and powerful; men and women who have the ability to open doors and fund plots to overthrow whole cities and countries and all in the name of Ra’s.” He looked from one man to the other, “Every member of the League has made a blood oath to the organization. They serve him with an almost fanatical devotion. If Ra’s al Ghul decides to come to Starling personally it will make the Glades disaster look like a fender bender in comparison.”

“Great,” Diggle said in disgust. “The two of us against an entire army of fanatical assassins. Fun times.”

“Why didn’t Felicity tell me any of this?” Oliver asked in frustration. “I know she was trying to keep your identity a secret but she knew about the journal, about Ra’s al Ghul—why not give us some of the answers she already knew?”

“Felicity wouldn’t have known about this,” Bruce said as he flipped through the pages of the journal. “She’s heard of Ra’s al Ghul through her access to some of my files but I’ve kept most of what I know to myself. All she knows is that I consider him to be my enemy but she doesn’t know why. Not only that, but I always made sure Felicity’s role in my team was limited. I wanted to keep her safe. I never wanted her to share in this burden, become corrupted by it like others have been in the past.” He shut the journal in his fist, his jaw tight and a steady throb in his temple reminding him of the beating he’d taken earlier. “I thought that by pushing her away I was doing her a favor but now I see that was wrong. No matter what I did this was always going to follow her.”

“It’s my fault,” Oliver said quietly, a far off look in his eyes. “I put her out there, more than once. I’ve nearly gotten her killed on a few occasions. If I hadn’t…”

“You know what? You’re both acting like a couple of idiots!” Diggle burst out as he looked on them with disdain. Both men looked up in surprise. “Listen to you sad-sacks whine about that girl like she’s dead or like you forced her into something she didn’t choose for herself! Need I remind you that Felicity is a goddamn genius and she has more natural affinity for this stuff than anyone I’ve ever met, present company included. You two had to train for years to get to where you are and she just fell into it and can still run circles around any one of us!” He snorted, “You two might see those short skirts and glasses and think she’s some fragile little girlie-girl but I know better. I’ve seen what that girl can do both on the mat and behind a keyboard. I trained her; I’ve been training her on almost a daily basis for nearly two years now and she’s never backed down! She can fight and she’s a better shot than half the men I trained in the Army. Every time I’ve set a challenge in front of her she’s met it and then some! Hell, in a couple of years I’d be willing to bet she could give both of you a run for your money if she wanted to and I’d go to war with her in a goddamn heartbeat.” He looked from one man to the other. “If Felicity were here she’d slap both of you upside the head and tell you to get your heads out of your asses and get back in the game. We’ve got a problem so let’s concentrate on getting done what needs to be done and save the hearts and flowers bullshit for later.”

Bruce looked at the other man and gave him a respectful nod. “You’re right, Felicity is her own person and I think we’re both guilty of overlooking that.”

“True,” Oliver grudgingly agreed.

Diggle looked from one man to the other, “Now that you two have gotten your bitch and whine session out of the way, what are we going to do about all of this?”

Bruce sat back in the chair and rubbed his chin in quiet contemplation before speaking. “The way I see it our missions are not dissimilar. We both have common goals; a need to keep Felicity safe and to uncover whatever plans the League is making and why Ra’s al Ghul’s name keeps turning up here in Starling. I have a proposal I’d like to offer you both.”

“Go on,” Oliver said and Diggle nodded beside him.

“I’ve been able to develop a large network of operatives and trained associates. I’d like to send you some of my people to offer their assistance. I’ll have to coordinate with them first but with Felicity in Gotham you’re down a man and you’re stretched thin as it is. Also, and please don’t take offence at this, but you both could use some more feet on the ground as well as someone to take over the training of this new protégé of yours.” Bruce noted both men’s expressions of displeasure at that. “Not that I don’t feel you’re perfectly capable, but you need to concentrate on keeping eyes on the Rochev woman as well as protecting your city. The man I’m thinking of sending you, Tim, codename Red Robin, has experience dealing with the League and I trained him personally; he also happens to be my son. He can act as our official representative while he’s here. He’s in line to inherit Wayne Enterprises and is somewhat of a computer savant, although not quite as talented or experienced as Felicity. You shouldn’t have any problems explaining his presence to Isabel.” He took a breath as he considered his next move. It was risky because if Felicity didn’t agree to cooperate he’d be down, not one, but two valuable members of his team until this was done. “You made Felicity your EA; I’m assuming you did that because you weren’t sure if your offices had been infiltrated and you needed someone you trusted to be your gatekeeper?”

“Yeah, Felicity wasn’t happy about it but I couldn’t see any other way,” Oliver said ruefully.

Bruce nodded, “I would have done the same thing. Have you hired another assistant yet?”

“No, I’ve been making do with temps.”

“I have someone in mind. I’ll have to ask her first though,” Bruce said with a grimace. “Like Felicity, she’s not fond of me making decisions for her but she can be trusted and she has extensive administrative experience. In addition, she can act as your tech in your missions and has had hand to hand combat training so she can handle herself should the need arise.”

“Her handle wouldn’t be Oracle, would it?” Diggle asked curiously.

Bruce’s gaze fell on the other man searchingly, “Did Felicity tell you about her?”

“She just gave me a code key and told me to contact ‘Oracle’ in case we needed help. She said she was her counterpart in your organization.”

Bruce nodded. “That was smart of her but then Felicity always was thinking two steps ahead,” he admitted grudgingly. “Since Felicity will be with me in Gotham I can ask her to man Watchtower while Oracle takes her place here—that is if I can get both of them to agree to it. Before I ask though I should mention that Oracle is a paraplegic; she was injured by one of my enemies a few years back and is now in a wheelchair. Your Lair doesn’t appear to be wheelchair accessible.”

“A wheelchair?” Diggle asked dubiously. “Are you sure she’s capable of handling all of this? I mean, I know she’s good if you and Felicity both vouch for her but we’ve got to run on the assumption that we’ve been blown. If things go tits up and they storm the club or Oliver is attacked while she’s in his office it could get ugly.”

“Before Barbara--Barbara Gordon,” he clarified for them. “Before she was Oracle she was one of my protégés and fought under the codename ‘Batgirl’. She may not have the use of her legs but she was able to channel her skills into a type of sitting judo and she’s a master of eskrima with expertise in small firearms. Also, in addition to helping Felicity build the Watchtower system, she built and modified her own wheelchair and made it combat ready. Trust me when I say that no matter what happens she can handle herself.”

“Damn,” Diggle said, looking suitably impressed. “Even your IT girl is making me feel like an amateur. Talk about a blow to the ego.”

Oliver tapped his lips, his elbows still balanced on his knees, “We have a freight elevator she can use or I can help her set something up offsite.”

“I’ll speak to the owner of the house Felicity was living in and see if she can stay there after the repairs are complete. It’s one-story and already has a ramp on the side of the porch so it should do. According to the landlord several of the houses in the neighborhood have been on the market for well over a year. If I need to I’ll buy the damn thing.” Bruce said gruffly.

“I think that Bruce Wayne buying up quaint little bungalows in Starling may raise a few red flags,” Oliver said wryly. “Don’t worry about your associates, I’ll see to it they’re both kept comfortable while they’re here.”

“Thank you,” Bruce said.

“No thanks needed,” Oliver told him. “If that book is connected to the League and Ra’s al Ghul then that means Isabel may be an even bigger threat than we think. Her name is in that book and she knows too much about us which means others may as well. If they really are after Felicity and not just the Arrow then it will be up to you to keep her safe while we handle the rest of it from here.” His tone became grim, “If anything happens to us you can get her out of the country or help her go underground until things settle down. Isabel has always fixated on my friendship with Felicity but if I can give her reason to believe that’s over maybe she’ll move on.”

Bruce got up from his seat and offered Oliver then Diggle his handshake, “I promise you I won’t let anything happen to her.” He looked back to Oliver, “I’ll give you all the support I can. I’ll talk to Lucius and make sure your company gets the contract so that will be at least one less thing for you to worry about. I’ll also begin discreet inquiries into Rochev and Stellmoor and get back to you if I hear anything.” He frowned, “Have you thought about how taking down Rochev might affect QC?”

“This is more important,” Oliver said a bit gruffly. “If I lose the company, so be it.”

“Worse comes to worst, I’ll buy up her shares myself or give you whatever financial support I can so that you can do it,” Bruce told him.

“I…appreciate it,” he said with a nod. “I’ll walk you out,” Diggle moved off to give them some privacy as the two men ascended the staircase. As soon as they were past the door leading to the Lair Oliver turned to him, “Look, like I said, I appreciate you helping us but I should warn you that if I find out that you’ve hurt Felicity again I’m coming for you and it won’t be pretty.”

“Understood,” Bruce said in the low growl of the Bat. “And I hope you know that if she ever decides to return to Starling City I’ll expect the same from you.”

Oliver offered him his hand again and Bruce took it in a firm clasp. “Take care of her, Wayne.”

“I will and…thank you,” Bruce said quietly as he headed off toward his rental and back to Gotham.

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Oliver made his way back down to the Lair, his countenance grim and his gait heavy. Diggle looked up from where he was preparing for their training session and snorted, “Hey man, I know this situation sucks but she’ll be fine. She’s got Batman and a whole slew of his people protecting her. If you want to worry about somebody, worry about us. We’re the ones with bull’s-eyes on our backs.”

“I’m just—“ he stopped and scrubbed his hand through his hair, “Are we making a mistake trusting this guy? I mean, what do we really know about Batman anyway?”

Diggle sighed and leaned heavily against the weapons case, “Felicity worked for his organization before she came here and, even with the bad blood between them, I get the impression that the last thing he’d do is risk her safety. As long as our best interests and hers match up he’s not going to make a move against us. I think we can trust him.”

“Yeah,” Oliver said, his face still troubled as he grabbed the tape and began wrapping his knuckles.

Dig paused, his features stilling in quiet contemplation before he spoke, “Are we going to talk about the bomb Wayne dropped or what?”

“Which one?” Oliver said roughly.

“The hit,” Dig watched as Oliver tensed. “Oliver—“

“Don’t,” he told him.

“Do you think your mother put that contract on Felicity?” He asked, ignoring the set to the other man’s shoulders.

Oliver didn’t say anything but his movements became jerky and agitated.

“Timing makes sense,” Diggle said. “I doubt Blood would have ordered it and Slade was more into the direct approach. Of course, it also could have been Walter Steele; unlikely, but very possible.”

“I don’t know,” he said gruffly, “but I’m going to find out.”

“And worst case scenario?” Dig asked, watching his reaction carefully. “If you find out your mother ordered the hit, what then? Are we going to keep this from Thea or what?”

“I’ll take care of it,” he said, his face lost in shadows.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning I’ll take care of it,” Oliver bit out.

Diggle shifted uncomfortably, “You can’t keep this from your sister, Oliver. She’s part of the team now and it’s taken you guys a long time to get to a good place with everything your mother’s done to you both. I know it’s hard, but she needs to know.”

“Moira’s dead,” Oliver said flatly. “It doesn’t matter anymore. If we find out she ordered the hit then the danger is past and that’s one less thing to worry about. Everything else is irrelevant and Thea doesn’t need to know anything.”

“She won’t appreciate that logic is she finds out and you know that,” Dig pointed out gently.

“She still loves our mother, Dig,” he told him. “She should be able to have at least that.”

“She was your mother, too--”

“She gave birth to me,” Oliver clarified, “but that woman, the woman who conspired with Malcolm Merlyn, who hid my son from me, who could threaten to kill one of the only people I trust just because she dared to tell me the truth, the woman she became in the end; that was not my mother.”

“If it was her she canceled the hit,” he said quietly. “That means she changed her mind. She didn’t go through with it.”

Oliver turned to him slowly, his eyes more cold and hard than Diggle had ever seen them, “She threatened Felicity, used emotional blackmail to keep her quiet and arranged a hit to take care of loose ends. What she didn’t count on was Felicity’s loyalty to me. Once I knew what she had done I warned her that if she ever crossed me by going after Felicity I would send her straight to hell. I reconciled with her after that but part of me never forgave her, and she knew it.” He put on the sparring gloves and squeezed his hand into a fist causing the leather to whine in protest. “She didn’t cancel the contract in a fit on conscience; she canceled it because the damage was already done and she knew I would expose her if I thought for a second she had any hand in it. I’m not worried about my mother right now; she’d dead and buried. What I’m worried about now, besides Isabel and every other fucking thing we have to deal with, is who else knew about the hit and if she left any loose ends that might cause blowback onto Thea.”

“Do you think Mark Francis knew?” Dig asked curiously. “He was her campaign manager.”

Oliver shook his head, “Probably not,” he said. “Mark’s a political shark. Dirty politics is one thing, murder is another. If he found out Moira had skeletons in her closet he’d either spin it or dump her, he wouldn’t hire a hitman. If anyone knew anything, it’s Walter Steele.”

Dig stopped to consider that for a moment, “Do you think he would do something like that? He and Moira were divorced by then.”

“Doesn’t matter, he still loved her. Besides, if he did conspire with Moira or contract the hit himself, it wasn’t about Moira, it was business,” he said in a hard voice. “He had a lot riding on her winning that campaign and he was on the line for backing my bid to keep QC. A scandal wouldn’t have just ruined us but it would have ruined him as well.”

Dig seemed to contemplate that for a moment, “He did take over her campaign and the mayor’s office after Blood and his army tried to bring down the city and he’s been a friend to the Arrow. If you confront him there could be backlash.”

“The Arrow isn’t confronting him, I am,” he said firmly.

“Are you sure that’s wise?”

“No, but if Walter is a danger to my family and to Felicity then he needs to be dealt with,” Oliver said coldly.

Dig exhaled loudly in consternation, “Oliver, I agree something has to be done, but Thea loves him. He’s all she has left of your mother--”

“If he’s dirty then he’s going down,” Oliver told him in a voice that would brook no arguments.

“You shouldn’t be the one to do it.” Diggle said quietly, his face lost in the shadows. “It’s too much to ask of anyone, Oliver; even you. If anything permanent has to be done then I’ll take care of it.”

Oliver looked up at Diggle and snorted, “I won’t kill him, Diggle. It’s tempting but I wouldn’t give him the out.” He smiled coldly, “If he conspired with my mother to kill Felicity or if he planned it himself then he’s either going to jail or he’s leaving town permanently and he’ll give up all his interest in QC before he goes. I won’t have a ticking time bomb in our midst when we’ve already got enough on our plates with Isabel.”

“There will be fallout,” Dig warned. “Your sister, the company; everything you’ve worked for could come crashing down around you.”

“Like I told Wayne I’m beyond worrying about that now. Besides, my life is already a nuclear fucking winter, Dig,” He said, heading for the Muk Yan Jong training dummy and started punching out his frustrations, his fists flying between the wooden arms and slapping at the slats with lightning fast speed.

“Oliver, this thing you’re feeling; it isn’t just about your mom,” Diggle said with a superior air.

He looked up and clenched his jaw, “Just…drop it, Dig.” He engaged the hard teak dummy once again, his hands slapping it in a meditative rhythm.

“Why can’t you just admit you’re in love with that girl?” he said, ignoring him.

“Because that’s not what’s happening,” Oliver said stubbornly.

“Bullshit,” Dig snorted. “I don’t know what the hell has been going on over the last few days but this thing with you and Felicity has been brewing since day one. I thought for sure after Sara left that you’d see that and then six months ago…” he paused and shook his head. “I know…I know we touched on this a few days ago, but I still gotta ask; do you…do you still think about it?”

“Every fucking day,” he bit out roughly as he continued to slap at the wooden arms of the dummy.

“Yeah,” Dig said quietly, his face lost in shadow. “I keep thinking about how she marched right up to Slade and got between the two of you. I was too far away to see it clearly and I thought…” He clenched his jaw. “You screamed her name over and over and I thought that if that girl died that there was no way you’d ever come back from it, that none of us would ever get past it without her to keep us together. You were screaming and then the explosion,” his jaw clenched and he closed his eyes. “That’s the last thing I remember before I woke up in the air ambulance. I thought she was dead. I asked and when they said the only female survivor they found at the site was Sara, I just knew. A couple of days later, I woke up,” he gave a brief chuckle, “and she was putting a coffee mug full of flowers on my nightstand and…fuck,” he took a moment to center himself with a deep breath. “All I could do is smile and thank God that she lived and Slade was dead. I thought then that you’d get your head out of your ass and tell that girl how you felt but you hooked back up with Sara again and we all had to sit back and watch that train wreck play out. Thank God Sara at least had enough sense to end it quick this time but then you had to go after Laurel again and....”

He shook his head and made a sound of disgust, “I wanted to kick your ass when I watched you do that to Felicity; every goddamn time you’d get close to showing that girl how you felt you’d use Sara, Connor, Laurel, the mission, work, or some other excuse to make some distance between you and it wasn’t fair to anyone. And the way you let her speak to Felicity after all she’d been through,” his lips thinned as he pinned the man with an angry glare. “If I didn’t have a broken femur at the time, I swear to God I would have shoved my foot up your ass for that shit.”

Oliver met his glare with one of his own, “I’ve heard this before; from you, from Roy…”

“Well maybe you should hear it again since you didn’t seem to learn your lesson the last time!” Diggle snapped back.

“I did, and I made it right!” He said with a scowl. “I broke it off with Laurel and I apologized, remember?”

“To me and Roy, but did you apologize to Felicity?” He asked in a hard tone. Oliver dropped his eyes and didn’t answer. Dig just shook his head, “I didn’t think so. You know, even Sara could see you were in love with Felicity, Laurel could obviously see it; everyone saw it except the two of you. That girl loves you Oliver; she marched into the jaws of death for you more than once. She faced down Slade and then spit in his eye for you. He had his hands on her and she—”

“I was there! I saw it, I heard it; I was right fucking there!” Oliver said angrily, finally breaking in the light of the other man’s punishing words and rounding on him with a fierce expression on his face. “I know what she said! I know everything that could have happened! I watched as Slade…” He clenched his jaw, “I hear him talking to her like that in my nightmares every single time I close my eyes. I spent days after that thinking about what could have happened if she had been in the blast radius, or worse, if she had actually gone with him what he would have done to her. I see her press that button every single day only she’s the one in bloody fucking chunks at the end of it, not Slade, and I know she did all of it for me! That’s the point! I can’t do this; why can’t you see that? I can’t let her do that again—not for me, not again! I don’t…” He grimaced and gripped the arms of the training dummy tightly as he avoided the other man’s gaze, “This, whatever it is, it isn’t love. I’ve been in love before, Dig, a few times. Not lust, not some kind of teenage hormone-fueled crap, but real love. Whatever this is between me and Felicity it’s different than that.”

“Are you trying to tell me that all this is just you wanting to get into Felicity’s pants?” Dig asked angrily. “Because if you can tell me that and keep a straight face then I’ll put my fist down your goddamn throat myself!”

“No!” He said testily. “It’s not sex either! It’s…it’s---fuck! I don’t know what the hell it is!” He rubbed his hand over his mouth as though ill.

“So you say,” Diggle said sarcastically. “Me? I only know what I see, man, and that girl has you sprung.”

Oliver shook his head, refusing to hear it. “It can’t happen, not with her.” He began running through the empty hand techniques of Wing Chun, going through the alphabet of punches until his movements were a blur of motion, muscle memory, and meditation

“Why not?” Diggle asked genuinely perplexed by his partner’s stubbornness. “She knows your secret, she’s a part of your life both in the hood and out of it, she’s smart, beautiful—“

“That’s just it!” He growled grabbing the dummy, his meditation broken. “She’s everywhere—there’s no breathing room when she’s around, no escape! I can’t compartmentalize her like I can everything else. It’s just—“ He took a deep breath and set his jaw, “It’s too much with her, Dig. This thing between us is all encompassing and it makes my chest ache and all logic fly out of the window. She makes me lose focus and I can’t do that. If I lose sight of what we’re doing here then the results would be disastrous for all of us.” He looked off to the side, refusing to meet the other man’s eyes. “I can’t do what we do and be with her, Dig. I just can’t. And I can’t be with her knowing that eventually she’s going to jump in front of another bullet for me and I can’t stop her. There just isn’t enough of me left over for that.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means that I’m barely hanging on as it is,” Oliver said angrily. “I’m trying to balance being the Arrow with being a CEO when I barely have a clue what I’m doing, plus I have to be there for my sister because I find myself, yet again, having to deal with the fact that our mother was apparently a fucking sociopath! Literally thousands of people are depending on me! It’s all on me!” He said, jabbing a thumb at his chest. “I have so much on me right now I can barely breathe and Felicity…” he shook his head, “She makes me want to just chuck it all and run, just grab her and hide until it all just goes away. I’ve never…” He dropped his chin and shut his eyes, “I…She scares the shit out of me, Dig.” He looked up at him, finally meeting his eyes again. “Do you know why I let Isabel treat her like crap for as long as I did? Or why I let Laurel spout off like that?”

“I assumed you either didn’t see it or you were afraid of rousing their suspicions,” Diggle said in a low tone, his eyes narrowing.

“No, I saw everything and I could have put a stop to it at any point but I chose not to.”

“Why would you do that?” Diggle asked angrily. “Laurel, okay, she was way the fuck out of line but she’s Sara’s sister and Lance’s daughter so I get cutting her some slack, but Isabel; some of that crap Isabel was saying about her—“

“I did it to maintain some distance like you said!” Oliver shot back angrily. “I’m not blind, Dig! Felicity is the one person who has always been able to see right through me. I have no secrets from that girl, she just—she gets under my skin and lives there, you know? As long as Isabel kept her distracted, or Laurel kept her away from me, it made it easier for me to pretend that nothing was happening between us. I can’t do what I do and be with her, Dig. Whatever the hell this is that I’m feeling it just can’t happen, not now, maybe not ever.”

“You’re going to lose her, you know that, right?” Diggle asked him, his eyes hard. “Don’t make the same mistakes I did, man. I lost two women I loved because I ran. Don’t push her away because she might not come back.”

“Good,” he said resignedly. “Maybe she’ll be better off. At least he can keep her safe which is more than I can say. All I’ve done since I met her is put her in danger. No one’s luck lasts forever; how many more close calls do we have left before we reach one time too many? How many more times do I put her in the line of fire before I get her killed or crippled, Dig? Didn’t you hear what he said about that tech of his; Oracle? She’s in a wheelchair because of his mission, because one of his enemies put her there. Fuck!” He shoved the dummy in frustration, “I couldn’t even keep her safe from my own goddamn mother, how the hell am I supposed to keep her safe from everyone else?!”

Diggle clenched his jaw and glared at him, “That’s a load of crap! He can’t keep her any safer than we can and she doesn’t want that even if he could!” He pointed towards the door to the Lair, “And I’ll tell you something else, he’s full of shit too if he thinks that keeping her safe is what all this is about! He wants her, Oliver! He flew three thousand miles to get her back and you can’t be bothered to walk across the fucking room! You and I both know that the last thing you want is for her to wind up with Wayne and if you don’t stop all this self-recrimination and whiny bullshit he’s going to make his play and you’ll have fucked up your one shot at something real!”

“Enough! What’s done is done; it’s over so just drop it!” Oliver said angrily, cutting through the air with his hands as he grabbed his hood and bow. “I’m not up for sparring tonight. I’m heading out on patrol.”

Diggle watched as the other man got into his leathers, shaking his head silently in defeat as he headed over to man the coms.

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Bruce called Barbara from the jet to let her know that Felicity was headed back to Gotham on a commercial flight and told her to alert Alfred of her arrival time so she wouldn’t have to get a cab home. After all he’d put her through it was the least he could do.

Her phone sat in front of him along with the white pharmacy bag from her bedroom. The memories of the other night came to him then; the way she looked when he held her in his arms, the expression on her face when she woke up with her sweet lips still swollen from his kisses, the taste of her that lingered on his tongue—those images still haunted him. He’d rejected her for a second time out of fear, and not for her safety, but for his own. Barbara was right when she said he should have just called her or gotten in touch some other way. Hopping on the jet was a mistake as was every decision he’d made since. This whole sordid mess was entirely his fault. He should have left her alone and not interfered. He should have known better. He picked up the bag and considered it for a moment before shoving it into his briefcase. Out of sight was not out of mind, however.

Bruce was not a monk. Even as the Batman he enjoyed his fair share of women. To him it had always been a simple matter of release, a way to eliminate stress while satisfying a biological imperative, but no matter how caught up in the act he had become it was merely sex and he never lost control. The only biological child he’d ever fathered, Damian, was conceived against his will and his knowledge and he was never really a father to the boy. He’d tried to be, tried to curb the boy’s murderous rages, but Damian had been tainted by the darkness that drove him. As grieved as he was when the boy died he was almost grateful for it as well. He’d never willingly allowed himself to lose that control with any woman, never risked his seed taking root, except with Felicity.

He’d taken Felicity twice now without once considering her safety or his own; the first time was four years ago and the last was a few days ago. It wasn’t disease he was worried about, he was clean and he knew she was as well, but he could have easily left her pregnant with his child and that was unacceptable. Although a primitive part of himself could easily imagine holding a child that was part of both of them he also knew how unfair that would be to her. He wasn’t capable of being a husband or a father. He was too selfish, too obsessed with his mission, and he knew that his lack of loving care would have eventually destroyed her. As for a child…

Bruce had opened his home to many young men and women but he’d never been a father to any of them. He’d been a taskmaster, a teacher, but not a father. The best scenario to come out of giving Felicity his child through that one reckless act would be that he’d claim it and her only to watch it be turned into yet another warrior for the mission or a perversion of innocence and humanity like Damian. It would be inevitable and he could not stand the thought of hurting her like that.

Not that Felicity would have anything to do with him at this point anyway. He’d driven her into the arms of Queen and for all he knew that was where her heart now lay. After their fight, and subsequent talk, he now understood why she joined the Arrow’s mission. It wasn’t just that it was a worthy cause or that Oliver Queen was, like him, driven to seek justice for his city; it was that Queen needed her in a way Bruce never did.

She was central to their cause, an invaluable member of the Arrow’s team. Bruce had designed the Batman so that even he could be replaced. He could die and Batman would live on with Dick or Tim or even Luke behind the cape and cowl. Batman would be immortal but Oliver Queen was just one man whose only back up was his bodyguard and an IT specialist. He’d almost forgotten what it was like when it was just Alfred and himself in the Batcave. Of course she joined him, how could she not?

And now she’s slept with him, Bruce thought unhappily. He wasn’t jealous. No, that was a lie; he was jealous but he had no right to be. He’d taken everything she had to give and thrown it back in her face in the cruelest way possible--twice. Worse yet, he’d driven her into the arms of another man, one so much like himself that he even hurt her in the exact same way for the exact same reasons. She’d never forgive him for this last betrayal. It was done and she would never trust him with her heart again. Just the idea of living in a world without Felicity Smoak’s smile was nearly enough to send him to his knees.

Even as a child her smile could chase away the demons that haunted his nightmares. The first time they’d met she wasn’t even five years old and, even then, she had a hold on him he couldn’t explain. Lucius had invited him to his office before he left for his last year at Oxford to go over the terms of his allowance as provided by the trust left to him in his parent’s will. Evie had been dead less than six months and Lucius was only just beginning to return to the office full time. He’d been working from home for much of the previous year but Bruce remembered clearly walking into the office that had once belonged to his father to see this tiny little blonde haired creature sitting perched on Lucius’s lap coloring as he talked on the phone and waved him in to sit.

“Come in,” he mouthed before continuing his conversation with whoever was on the other end of the line.

Bruce sat in the large leather armchair across from his desk and waited for Lucius to complete his call. The little girl on Lucius’s lap looked up at him curiously, her big blue eyes peering at him over pink framed glasses that kept slipping down her pert nose. She kept brushing back her wild white blonde curls that had escaped from a messy ponytail and he noted that her fingertips were painted bright pink with tiny sparkling stickers on each of her neatly trimmed fingernails. She looked up at him as he examined her curiously, offered him a sweet smile, then began to color in earnest once more without saying anything.

“Sorry about that Bruce,” Lucius said as he placed the phone back on the receiver. He pulled out a file and placed it in front of him on the desk. “I just need you to sign—“

“Mr. Fox,” Lucius’s secretary peered into the room. “Sorry to disturb you sir, but the meeting is just about to break up and you told me to let you know.”

“Oh, right. Yes. Tell them I’ll be along in a minute, thank you,” he sighed and turned to Bruce again. “Again, I’m sorry about that. It’s been a crazy day today. Peggy Ann fell and broke a tooth so she had to go to the dentist for an emergency root canal, Tanya is out of town on Foundation business, and so I had to take Baby with me to the office at the last second. I just need to step out for a minute while you can read those over and then I’ll be right back so we can go over any questions you might have.”

“That’s fine, sir,” Bruce said with a nod.

Lucius looked down at the little girl who was still coloring in his lap, “Baby, why don’t you go out and sit with Miss Betty while I go to my meeting?”

“I can watch her if you like, sir,” Bruce said before he could reconsider. ‘Where did that even come from?’ He’d wondered at the time. He’d never had any experience babysitting before and the last thing he wanted to do was be stuck taking care of a whiny four year old all afternoon.

“Are you sure?” Lucius asked uncertainly and then he knew exactly why he’d offered. It was the look on the other man’s face that had prompted him. Despite the warm smile on his face, Lucius’s eyes were filled with such loss and sorrow it was nearly palatable. The only time it ever seemed to lift was when his eyes fell on the little girl who was still silent, still scribbling away, as if completely undisturbed by the idea of being left with a virtual stranger. Bruce recognized that pain. It was the same pain he’d felt every day since his parents had been murdered. Some part of him wanted to relieve some of that burden, if only for a minute or two, from the one man his father had called ‘friend’ besides Alfred Pennyworth.

“Yeah, it’s fine. No sense in making her get up and have to drag all her stuff into reception,” Bruce told him with a passable imitation of casual indifference.

“That sound good to you?” Lucius asked her softly. “I promise I’ll be right back and we can color some more, okay Baby?”

“Okay Daddy,” Felicity said kissing his cheek before allowing herself to be shifted from his lap then lowered back into the vacated chair.

After assuring Bruce he’d only be a minute Lucius hurried out of the room leaving Bruce alone with the little girl. He perused the papers quickly, initialing and signing where indicated while keeping one eye trained on Lucius’s step-daughter, unsure of what would happen if he let her out of his sight. ‘Did four year olds do things like stuff crayons in their mouths and choke to death?’ He’d wondered with some trepidation. Still, after a few minutes of silence broken only by the near hypnotic sound of the crayons scrubbing against the thick sketchpad, he nearly forgot she was even there and started reading through the papers more carefully.

“Daddy said you’re going to lawyer school,” she said without looking up from her drawing.

“Yeah, uh yes. I have one more year left at Oxford and then I’m going to Yale Law,” he said then cursed himself for being taken off guard by the little girl. “Why aren’t you in school?” ‘Did kids her age even go to school?’ He mused. He vaguely recalled going to school at that age but the memories of his life before his parent’s deaths were hazy at best in comparison to every other memory that followed.

“My Mama died,” Felicity said in a casual tone.

“What does that have to do with going to school?” Bruce frowned then realized how callous that must have come across. He was about to apologize when she spoke.

“It just does. I can’t go to school because Mama is dead,” she explained, her eyes bright and sharp as they looked him over.

“My parents died and I still had to go to school,” Bruce shot back before he could stop himself. His cheeks colored as soon as he realized he was actually arguing with a little kid.

“That was different; both your mama and daddy died at the same time,” she said as though the reasoning behind it was perfectly logical.

“So?” He challenged, his eyebrows knitting together in consternation. The kid looked cute but she was kind of a brat.

“So they had each other and my Daddy only has me. If I go to school he’ll be all by himself and he needs me.”

“Oh,” Bruce said, suddenly feeling quite guilty for his unkind thoughts.

“He gets scared sometimes,” she continued, oblivious to his embarrassment. “He thinks I’ll go away too so I decided to stay home until he feels better.”

“Aren’t you scared?” Bruce asked, finally giving up on trying to figure out why this girl was able to get under his skin so quickly.

Instead of answering, she asked, “Were you scared when your mama died?”

He felt the air leave his lungs and for the first time in a long time he found himself wanting to answer that question. “Yeah. Yeah, I was,” he said in a near whisper, unable to even look at her as he spoke. Shame colored his cheeks and more than anything he wanted to run, run far away from this tiny little tow-headed tot armed only with crayons and big blue eyes that seemed to reach into his soul.

“It’s okay to be scared,” Felicity said as she hopped down from the large chair, oblivious to his shame. She grabbed her picture off the desk. “Here,” she said as she handed it to him.

“Thank you,” he said as he looked down at the surprisingly neat and composed picture. He saw two stick people, one small yellow-haired figure holding the hand of a larger dark-haired one. “Is this you and Lucius?”

“No silly, it’s me and you,” she said pointing to them. “So when you go away you can look at it and you won’t have to be scared anymore because I’ll be there to keep you happy just like with Daddy.”

He looked at her dressed in her bright pink dress with a tulle skirt that poofed out around her like a ballerina’s tutu, her untied sneakers with glitter and stickers on the toes, and into the impossibly large clear blue eyes that were framed by glasses that kept sliding down her nose, and then, despite himself, he asked, “Do you ever get scared, Baby?”

“Of course not!” She said, tilting her head slightly and revealing a gap-toothed grin.

“Why not?” He asked, the corners of his lips tilting upwards despite himself.

“I never got to be scared anymore ’cause you got my picture now.”

“What do you mean?” He asked with a confused frown.

She pointed to it, her little finger nails with the Hello Kitty stickers glittering under the florescent lighting, “This picture means you can’t forget about me. Long as you got it you’ll remember me and always keep me safe because that’s what big boys like you are supposed to do, right?” She smiled brightly into his eyes again.

“Yeah,” he said, nodding his head as he looked down at the picture once again. “Thank you, Baby. For the picture.”

From that moment on, for reasons even he never understood, keeping Felicity Smoak-Fox safe became a priority. As long as she was safe nothing else mattered. The pain, the fear, the loneliness; it all melted away. She and that drawing became a symbol to him that made his journey into becoming Batman bearable. For years he kept the paper folded and safe in his wallet until one day it was gone but the memory was still there. For the first time in his life he’d met someone who saw his fear and didn’t judge him for it or try to talk him out of it; she just accepted it because she understood.

From the moment he’d seen that gap-toothed smile to the first time he’d tasted the lips of the woman she would eventually become, Felicity had been as much a part of the Batman’s armor as his cape and cowl, whether she realized it or not.

Now that it was gone part of him wondered if he’d ever feel safe again.

Chapter Text

 

 

 


 

Chapter Nineteen

Felicity got off the plane late in the afternoon expecting to pick up her bags and stop by the cab kiosk so she could get home to her dad’s place. Without her phone she hadn’t had a chance to call anyone to let them know she was down earlier than expected so she just assumed no one would be waiting for her.

Of course she was wrong.

“Miss Felicity!”

She looked up and smiled at the lined yet beatific face of Alfred Pennyworth, manservant and guardian to Bruce Wayne, aka the World’s Biggest Bat-hole. “Hi Alfred,” she said as she reached up to hug the much older man’s neck. “I suppose this means Bruce survived the war he started in my house?”

Alfred gave a disapproving cough although she doubted it was directed at her given his tone, “Yes, Master Bruce mentioned that there had been a spot of trouble as he was assisting you in your move back to Gotham.” Alfred offered her his arm and led her through the airport as he spoke. “He called to inform Miss Barbara and myself of your subsequent departure and she was able to trace his credit card and get your arrival information.”

“That reminds me…” Felicity said, digging through her bag with a frown.

“That’s quite alright, Miss,” Alfred said stopping her. “I already collected your bags and had them loaded into the car.”

“Thanks, but that wasn’t what I was looking for.” She fished out Bruce’s card and held it out to him. “I imagine he’ll probably be asking for that back.”

“Not at all, Miss,” Alfred said with just a hint of mischief in his wizened eye. “In fact, Master Bruce informed me of, ahem, the unfortunate circumstances that brought you home so early on a commercial flight,” the last part was said with a hint of disdain. To a great gentleman like Alfred Pennyworth the thought of Bruce allowing a respectable young lady under his care to mingle with the great unwashed in such a way was frightfully distasteful, “and encouraged me to let you know that you are welcome to use the card to replace anything that may have been lost or damaged.”

“Oh, he did, did he?” Felicity asked with a knowing nod.

“Oh yes, Miss,” Alfred said in a composed yet merry tone. “In fact, I took it upon myself to see that you were designated as an authorized user on the account in case you should run into any problems. I thought that perhaps you might like to stop off at one of the department stores near your father’s home before I drop you off. I also took the initiative and arranged for a car and driver to meet you in front of Wayne Towers promptly at nine to take you to Killinger’s Department Store where you will be greeted by a personal shopper that I have engaged for you on Master Bruce’s behalf.”

“Killinger’s, Alfred? Really?” She asked with an evil smirk. Killinger’s, the most exclusive department store in Gotham, it made Neiman Marcus look like Walmart, and if he had engaged a personal shopper then that meant she would be seated in one of the private viewing rooms to watch as models displayed the latest in haute couture. “I’m all for payback but, even for me, that’s pretty mean.”

“I seem to recall Master Bruce saying that he not only engaged in physical combat in your home and in your presence but that he somehow managed to destroy most of your furnishings and the bulk of your clothing.”

“You’re right, he deserves it,” Felicity chuckled and squeezed the older man’s arm affectionately as he led her to Bruce’s town car.

After a quick stop by Bergdorf’s (well, an hour, maybe two) with Alfred acting as her enabler, she managed to marathon shop her way through the women’s department. After spending more money than she earned in the last six months, she was headed up to her dad’s penthouse with no less than three security guards assisting her with her bags. She looked down at the garment bags labeled ‘Armani’ with a particularly fond eye. She’d probably never have a chance to wear them all but Alfred had been especially keen on the idea that she should stock her greatly diminished wardrobe with as many pieces from Bruce’s favorite designer as she possibly could. His exact words were, ‘May the punishment fit the crime.’ Personally she was more of an Oscar de la Renta girl but she was going to really enjoy all that lovely cashmere after what he’d put her through.

As soon as she got close to the door it swung open and her sister along with Peggy Ann rushed out to greet her with hugs and kisses.

“What took you so long?” The diminutive Asian woman demanded after squeezing her nearly in half. “Barbara called us hours ago and said you were on the way over!”

“You went to Bergdorf’s without me?” Tam said with a moue of disappointment. “Just for that I get to steal anything I that I help unpack!”

“Is dad home?” Felicity asked over the din as they walked into the penthouse.

“Baby!” He heard her dad call out from across the room as Peggy Ann directed the security guards to take her luggage into her old bedroom.

“Daddy!” Felicity said with a huge smile and practically flew into his arms.

“I missed you, Baby,” Lucius said as he enveloped her in a bear hug.

“Daddy, I saw you a few days ago!” She laughed even though she knew exactly what he meant. The minute she stepped into the place she grew up it felt as though she could finally breathe again.

“See? I always knew you were his favorite,” Tam said with a mock pout.

“Get over here!” Lucius ordered Tam as he held open his other arm and enveloped them both in a hug. “I can’t believe that both my girls are back home where they belong!”

“Where’s Mama T?” Felicity asked, looking around. “I figured you or Tam would have called her.”

“Mom’s in Amsterdam at the Hague for that women’s conference and then she has to go to Israel for the International Seminar on Human Trafficking at the MASHAV in Haifa,” Tam told her. “She should be back in time for the Children’s Charity Gala in a couple of weeks though.”

“Well, your mother might not be here but at least I still have my little girls; Peggy Ann!” He called out, releasing them from his embrace but still keeping his hands around them.

“What?” The older woman said walking back into the room, still keeping a sharp eye on the men as they exited the apartment.

“What?” Lucius snorted. “Woman, get over here and stop being so sour already!”

“I’m glad you’re back Baby because your father has been driving me insane!” Peggy stopped in front of them, hands on hips, and scowled. “What do you want now?”

“We’re going out to dinner tonight, all of us, you included!” Lucius shot back. “Get your coat and help pick out a restaurant.”

“No, no, no!” Peggy said, shaking her finger at him. “We’re eating right here! I have a roast chicken in the oven!”

“We can put it aside and have sandwiches later,” Lucius scoffed. “Baby’s home early and that calls for a celebration!”

“You can celebrate at home!” Peggy said sternly. “Baby doesn’t want to eat out, she wants a good home-cooked meal and you’re not supposed to be eating all that bad restaurant food anyway. The doctor said—“

“Doctors!” He snorted. “I’m healthy as a horse!”

“They make glue out of horses your age!” She shot back. “You went off to that awful city of Baby’s and ate nothing but junk while you were gone!”

“I did not,” Lucius said, taken aback. “Baby, tell her that—“

“Don’t you make Baby lie for you,” Peggy said sternly. “You’re eating my food and that’s the end of it!”

“Just who exactly is in charge here; you or me?” Lucius asked in mock-frustration.

“Peggy Ann’s in charge, Dad. Everyone knows that,” came a voice from the foyer.

“Luke?” Felicity turned in surprise to see her brother standing behind her, one arm in a sling and the other clutching a duffel bag.

“Luke!” Her dad said in surprise as they all rushed over to greet him.

“What happened to your arm?” Peggy Ann asked in dismay as he set his duffel on the floor to give her a one-armed hug.

“Oh, this?” Luke said dismissively. “Broke it, no big deal.”

“It looks like a little more than a simple break, son,” Lucius said worriedly as he took in the bandages and the pins sticking out of his wrist.

“Yeah, well, had to have a little surgery but I should be fine in a couple of more weeks,” Luke shrugged nonchalantly. “I figured since Baby was coming home that I might come and visit since I’m pretty much useless back in Tinasha until the pins come out.”

“And you didn’t call us and let us know you were hurt?” The small statured elderly woman asked in dismay before reaching up and smacking the much larger man on the back of the head hard enough that the sound echoed off the walls.

“OW!” Luke said, grabbing the back of his head. “Damn!”

“Next time you call home!” She told him sternly. “And I’m making you an appointment so you can have a real doctor look at that arm, you hear me?”

“They have real doctors in Africa,” Luke told her, backing up slightly and straightening his spine to his full 6’1” so that he was out of her reach.

“They got witchdoctors who do surgery out of mud huts!” She scoffed. “I watch that Discovery channel! You’re going to see Dr. Schwartz tomorrow.”

“Dr. Schwartz is a general practitioner,” Luke said with a snort. “We’d need to see an orthopedic surgeon if you’re that worried about my arm.”

“Of course he’s a general practitioner! He’s no stupid specialist who only knows how to do one thing; he knows everything about being a doctor! He’s the General of doctors; that’s the best kind of doctor!” Peggy told him in a tone that would brook no arguments about it.

Luke shared a long suffering look with his siblings but no one dared to say a word. They were pretty sure that Peggy Ann and her theories about medicine are what paid for Dr. Schwartz’s house.

“Wait, how did you know Baby was coming home?” Lucius asked in confusion. “We only found out a few hours ago.”

Luke turned to Tam who had affected a look of pure innocence. “What?” She asked meeting all their stares. “I didn’t call him.”

“Tim called me,” Luke said, grinning at his sister happy to redirect their focus on his older sibling. “He said that Tam told him that I should come home.”

“What?” Tam asked again then heaved a sigh of aggravation. “Tim just happened to be in the room when I was talking to Felicity on the phone and he heard me say how nice it would be if the whole family was together, that’s all. I didn’t tell him to do anything; Tim’s got a mind of his own.”

“Right,” Felicity said, eyeing her sister knowingly. “Like Tim does anything without you telling him first.”

“Wait,” Lucius said, turning first to the large grandfather clock on the wall then to Tam with a scowl. “The flight from the DRC to Gotham is fourteen hours long; what exactly was Bruce’s son doing in your condo at that hour?”

“Um,” Tam leaned back on her heels and offered him a toothy grin, “borrowing a cup of sugar?”

“Sugar, right,” Lucius said disapprovingly. “Just you make sure that boy keeps his fingers out of the sugar bowl while I’m around, understood?”

“Dad!” Tam blushed as both her siblings began snickering loudly.

“Don’t ‘Dad’ me, young lady,” Lucius told her. “Mr. Drake-Wayne and I will be having words! He wants to play house and shack up with my daughter in an apartment I paid for then he’d better man up and state his intentions, you’d best start believing that!”

“Dad, you do know I’m 26 years old and this is the 21st century, right?” Tam asked him dubiously. “I mean no one goes around ‘stating their intentions’ anymore.”

“They do if they want to shack up with one of my girls!” He told her with a thunderous expression.

“Your Daddy is right!” Peggy Ann said, smacking Tam on the back of the head causing her to cry out with a muted ‘Ow’. “He needs to show respect to you and to this house! Your father and I are too old to be raising babies!”

“Babies? Who said anything about babies?” Tam asked, rubbing the back of her head with a wince.

“I know where babies come from!” Peggy said sternly. “Don’t think I don’t!”

“I raised you and Baby to be respectable young ladies and I expect Bruce Wayne’s boy to know better,” Lucius said in solidarity with the elderly woman.

“Daddy,” Tam said with a whine, “I’m a grown up! Besides, I’ve never heard you tell Luke that he had to ‘state his intentions’ to any of the fathers of the hussies he used to hang out with.”

“Hey! Why drag me into this? I just got here,” Luke said defensively.

“Luke is a grown man and therefore some other father’s nightmare, you, however, are mine.” Lucius stated with a set to his jaw.

“Thanks Dad, I appreciate that,” Luke said wryly.

“Luke’s a grown up but I’m not? I’m older than he is!” Tam burst out.

As her sister and father continued to argue with the occasional bit of input by Peggy Ann, Felicity stepped back and slipped her arm around her brother and whispered, “It’s good to be home, huh?”

Luke wrapped his good arm around her and kissed the top of her head, “Sure is. I missed you, kiddo.”

“Me, too.”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

The next morning Felicity sat at the breakfast table as she waited for the driver to call up to the penthouse. At first she had balked at the idea of going on such an extravagant spending spree on Bruce’s dime but then she changed her mind. What the hell, she thought, after all she’d gone through that past week she’d earned it. Besides, looking was not the same thing as spending.

Since she was going to be looking at the latest in haute couture and high-end pret-a porter she decided to look the part by dressing in one of the new outfits Bruce had paid for. Although she had rarely worn Armani in the past (the designer’s color palate and severe tailoring didn’t usually appeal to her) the latest collection did have a few bright spots of color and some flirtier pieces that suited her. Today she was wearing a minty juniper colored crepe dress and matching long jacket that ended in a flirty ruffle just above her knees. With it she paired some suede low heeled pumps in nude by the same designer and a Balenciaga clutch she just couldn’t pass up despite the enormous price tag. She’s had about half a second’s worth of guilt about it before saying ‘fuck it’ and snatching that too. Weather in Gotham was much colder than Starling City so she picked up a few coats as well. She planned on pairing her outfit with a cute little cashmere Burberry trench in a shade of ivory that set the pale green of her dress off perfectly.

As she watched her brother murder a huge bowl of cereal, her dad came up behind her and kissed the top of her head. “Good morning Baby. You look awfully dressed up just to go with Peggy Ann to take your brother to the doctor.”

“You didn’t say anything about my outfit, Dad,” Luke garbled around a mouthful of cereal as he indicated the corduroy sports coat, striped navy hoodie, and tan khaki’s he had on.

“You look pretty too, son,” Lucius said as he sat down and opened his paper.

“I’m not going to the doctor, Daddy. Alfred arranged for me to sit in on a private showing at Killinger’s this morning. He said he’d send the car around nine.”

“Mr. Alfred is coming?” Peggy Ann asked, smoothing her hands down her ruffled pink flowered apron before patting her more salt than pepper bob nervously. “You didn’t tell me that he might be coming by this morning.”

Lucius and Luke shot each other grins as Felicity looked over at her foster-grandmother. “I don’t think he’s actually coming himself, he said he’d arrange for one of the staff drivers to take me.”

“Oh,” Peggy Ann said in a disappointed tone. “Oh well.”

“Peggy Ann, why don’t you just give it up and ask the man out on a date if you’re interested in him?” Luke asked with a grin.

“Because that’s not how it’s done,” she told him sternly as she swatted him with a napkin. “Here! Stop dribbling milk all over your shirt.”

Luke reached for the napkin and wiped his mouth with it. “I don’t see what the big deal is; girls ask me out all the time.”

“Mr. Alfred is a proper gentleman and proper gentlemen expect ladies to behave in a certain way, that’s why. Humph!” She huffed as she set the bowls of oatmeal from the sideboard in front of Lucius and Felicity. “And don’t compare me to those loose women you go around with. If Mr. Alfred is interested in me then he’ll ask me out in his own time.”

“Hey, I date respectable girls,” Luke objected. “Occasionally,” he added under his breath as he attacked his cereal once again.

“Bah, oatmeal,” Lucius muttered as he glared at the bowl over his paper. “I’m sick of oatmeal.”

“I like it,” Felicity shrugged as she dug into the warm bowl of homemade gooey brown sugar, raisins, dates, and cinnamon goodness.

“That’s because she at least gave you something to kill the taste,” her dad grumbled as he stared down into the plain bowl of oats. “It wouldn’t kill me to have some eggs and a couple of sausages or even just some sugar and a little pat of butter on this muck every once in a while, you know.”

“The doctor said—“ Peggy began.

“The doctor said, the doctor said—bah!” Lucius said dismissively.

“You’ve got to start watching your health,” Peggy fussed at him as she set the teapot down by his cup. “If I start feeding you eggs and sausages and you keel over dead from a heart attack then what will you say?”

“He won’t say anything; he’ll be dead,” Luke said baldly causing Felicity to snort with laughter beside him.

“You hush, you bad boy!” Peggy fussed at him. The doorbell sounded and Peggy brushed her hands down her apron. “Eat!” She ordered a grumbling Lucius as she went to answer the door.

“That’s my ride,” Felicity said as she took one last sip of her juice before getting up from the table and hurrying out of the kitchen.

“Luke,” her dad whispered causing the other man to look up. He pointed to Felicity’s abandoned bowl and held out his own in exchange. “Pass it over.”

“Uh uh,” Luke said getting up from the table to follow his sister. “You’re not getting me in trouble, no way.”

“Damn it,” Lucius grumbled as he shoveled a spoonful of the plain oats into his mouth. “Bah!” He said before getting back to his paper.

Felicity and Luke made it to the foyer just in time to see a flustered Peggy Ann open the door to invite Alfred inside.

“Oh, Mr. Alfred,” Peggy Ann said in a sweetly accented tone. “We weren’t expecting you. Forgive my appearance, I was just fixing the family breakfast.”

“Not at all, Mrs. Hu, you look very lovely today,” he said as he bent slightly at the waist and kissed the air above her hand gallantly.

“Oh my,” she blushed in a way that made her look twenty years younger. “And please Mr. Alfred, as I’ve told you before just call me Peggy Ann.”

Luke looked down at the floor and snorted as Felicity elbowed him warningly. “Alfred! I didn’t think you were coming.”

Alfred cleared his throat and straightened his posture. “Yes, I was planning on arranging for one of the drivers with the car service your father uses to escort you, but since Master Bruce is in meetings for the rest of the day I thought you wouldn’t mind if I saw to it personally.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” she objected. “I’m sure you have better things to do with your day. Besides, I could have just gotten a cab or something.”

“Nonsense,” Alfred said, waving her off. “I volunteered, and besides,” he looked at Peggy Ann with a twinkle in his eye, “it gave me an opportunity to check in with Mrs. Hu, forgive me, Ms. Peggy Ann.”

“Oh Mr. Alfred,” Peggy Ann giggled girlishly as Luke continued to snicker in the background.

Felicity just rolled her eyes and grabbed her jacket and bag. “I’m ready then, after you.”

“Madam,” Alfred said, tipping his hat to the other woman before offering Felicity his elbow as he escorted her to the elevator.

“When are you going to just ask her out already?” Felicity asked him as soon as the elevator doors closed.

“Pardon?” Alfred asked with feigned confusion.

“What is it with you hero types and your inability to make things easy on the women in your lives,” Felicity muttered.

“Master Bruce is the hero, not me. Besides, between caring for the Manor and assisting in Master Bruce’s extracurricular activities, I haven’t the time for anything else.”

“I’ve heard that before,” she snorted as the doors opened to the lobby and he led her out to the limousine that was parked just outside. He held the door for her and she stopped, catching his sleeve before stepping inside. “Seriously, why are you taking me today when you could have had one of the staff drivers take me shopping or I could have just caught a cab?”

Alfred stepped close and spoke into her ear quietly, “Master Bruce and your Mr. Queen are concerned that you may be in some danger so they requested you not be left alone until they can further assess the situation. Master Bruce asked that I handle your security this morning personally.”

“You do know that I’m a big girl and I can handle myself, right?” She asked him wryly. “Besides the threat was canceled ages ago and anything else that might be after me is 3000 miles away in Starling City.”

“Of course, Miss,” Alfred said cordially as he assisted her into the back of the car. “However if it keeps Master Bruce happy it is my pleasure to do so. Also it gives us the opportunity to enjoy this lovely day together, does it not?”

Felicity waited until Alfred slipped behind the wheel to speak. “I’ll say one thing for you, Mr. Pennyworth. You certainly do have style.”

“Indeed, Miss.”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Felicity was not a vain woman. She liked clothes, yes, but she wasn’t caught up in the whole fashionista heiress thing despite what Oliver had said when he saw her ‘closet’. She just liked quality and if she was going to spend money on clothes she liked knowing that she looked good in them.

And then she was introduced to the world of private showrooms and personal shoppers.

It was like fashion Disneyland.

They weren’t clothes, they were works of art. After a brief ‘interview’ where she was measured and asked to describe her personal style, Felicity was handed a glass filled with champagne and orange juice (the breakfast of champions) and seated in a comfy chair while women matching her general body type swept through the room wearing clothes that looked like they were made just for her. From artfully torn jeans to fabulous couture gowns, they swirled around her with big toothy smiles in a sea of color.

For the first half hour or so, Felicity’s inner cheapskate wanted to run as far and fast as she could to the nearest outlet store. Even though it was Bruce’s money paying for everything the mere fact that no one was mentioning how much anything actually cost was nerve wracking. She held out as long as she could but then the very nice lady who was helping her (and who worked on commission) would refill her glass and she’d see an elegantly draped bit of silk or a scrap of lace that was just too lovely to say no to and the word ‘yes’ would just appear out of midair. In fact, as the hours passed she forgot the word ‘no’ altogether.

Not that she was a pig about it, she told herself. As lovely as most of the couture gowns were she limited her purchases to only a chosen few. She knew she’d have a need for evening wear as long as she was in Gotham so she picked out some beautifully styled gowns that emphasized her figure while still appearing relatively conservative; her favorites being two gowns by Monique Lhuillier, a designer she dearly loved but rarely wore due to her strict budgeting.

Most of her purchases were selected from the ‘ready to wear’ designer collections. She managed to find quite a few pieces from several different designers (some she’d never worn before because she could never afford them on her budget) along with delicate looking lingerie and foundation garments, shoes, handbags, jewelry, and accessories.

Every time she said ‘yes’ to another bright and beautiful dress the woman directing the action made sure her Mimosa was topped off. By lunch time she wasn’t sure if she was tipsy on champagne or on a shop-a-holic high. She didn’t even want to know how much she spent by the end of the day, merely handing the personal shopper Bruce’s card and letting her take care of the details. The gowns and some of the jackets and things had to be altered due to her petite frame but the rest she scheduled to be delivered to her dad’s place.

As she left the private showroom a dark haired woman stopped her, “Excuse me, but aren’t you Felicity Smoak?”

“Yes, do I know you?” Felicity asked as she examined the woman’s face and tried to place her but couldn’t. If she had to choose two words to describe her, the first would be ‘exotic’ and the second would be ‘gorgeous’. With her inky black hair, dark heavily lashed eyes, delicate features, and bronzed complexion the woman in question was certainly unforgettable.

“No, but we do have some mutual acquaintances.” She handed her a card.

Felicity looked at the black card with the raised red lettering and the holographic ‘S’ curiously. She flipped it over, “Miranda Tate, CEO.” She looked up at her with a raised eyebrow. “You’re with Stellmoor International.”

“Yes, but I promise I’m not stalking you or anything,” Miranda laughed attractively. “Believe me, I’m just as surprised to see you as you probably are to see me. I’m just here for the new Dolce & Gabbana line. I saw it in Paris, of course, but what you see on the runway is never quite the same as what makes it to the stores.”

“No, of course,” Felicity said, suddenly feeling a bit exposed. She tried to hide her discomfort with a polite smile. “I bought a few pieces from their collection myself.”

“I saw that,” Miranda nodded. “The yellow A-line dress with the kimono and the beading?” Felicity nodded in mild surprise. “Yes, I thought it was adorable but, unfortunately, it’s just not my color,” she made a growly sound of disappointment and smiled so brightly that Felicity was temporary blinded it. “Yellow has a bad habit of making me look green around the gills. Oh well.”

“I can’t believe you’d ever look bad in anything, you’re freaking gorgeous,” Felicity said then cringed. “Sorry! One too many Mimosa’s. Just ignore me, please!”

Miranda laughed, a high and tinkling sound that suited her. “No, it’s fine. Thanks, actually. After all the drudgery of going from meeting to meeting while trying to shake off jet lag, I’m glad someone thinks I still clean up nice.” She tilted her head and smiled at her curiously, “You know, since we’re both here, would you like to get some coffee or something?”

“I would, but I’m with someone,” Felicity’s eyes scanned the crowd behind Miranda until she spotted Alfred who had been examining a selection of umbrellas. She waved and the older man nodded and started toward them. “Rain check?”

“Of course,” Miranda said easily, seemingly unperturbed by given the brush-off. “Call me sometime and we’ll do lunch.”

“Sure, thanks. Nice meeting you,” she said, putting the card in her purse before setting off toward Alfred.

“You, too,” she said before heading off towards the escalators.

As soon as she approached Alfred he took her by the elbow and frowned as he watched the other woman fade into the crowd. “Who was that woman who was talking to you?” He asked quietly.

“Business contact,” she answered him. “Just someone I met briefly back in Starling City. She happened to recognize me and asked me out for coffee but I told her I already had plans.”

Alfred nodded, seemingly satisfied, and they continued on their way. She felt a moment’s worth of guilt for lying to the older man but she knew if she told him that she was from Stellmoor and why they were trying to hire her he’d go to Bruce and then she’d be lucky to ever see the light of day again. Bruce would overreact and have her under lock and key so fast her head would spin. Besides, there was no way they could have known she’d be here, Felicity argued to herself silently. Even she didn’t know she’d be here yesterday. Maybe it was really just a coincidence after all. Gotham was a big city but Killinger’s catered to a very affluent clientele and it would be quite easy to imagine running into someone like Miranda Tate here. She decided to forget the whole thing and just enjoy the rest of her day instead.

Afterwards she and Alfred had a long and pleasant lunch at Jean Georges where he insisted they order the tasting menu (on Bruce of course). The elegant atmosphere, the delicious food, and the pleasant company went a long way towards making her feel a lot better than she had in a long time. By the time they were done they were both stuffed and Alfred had managed to charm the recipe for the Parmesan Risotto and Caramelized Beef Tenderloin from the chef, promising to recreate it for her the next time she stopped by the manor.

He offered to continue their day with more shopping or a visit to one of the local galleries but her feet were positively aching by then. Marathon shopping was always best done in sneakers, not heels. Promising to do this with him again someday soon (specifically the next time Bruce needed a kick in the ass), she had him drop her by Wayne Enterprises so that she could stop and see her sister to make plans for the evening. After assuring him she would get a ride home with Tam, Felicity headed upstairs to her office.

“Felicity!” Ellen, Tam’s PA greeted her with a wide smile as she got off the elevator. “I didn’t know you had gotten back. Are you here for just a visit or are you back permanently?”

“Haven’t decided yet,” she hedged. “Is Tam in?”

“She’s just in a meeting with the other department heads and then she’ll be right out. If you like you can wait out here for her.” Ellen said, indicating one of the plush leather couches in the reception area. “Do you want anything? I was just heading out to make a quick coffee run for Tam.”

“That would be great. Latte?” She asked.

“Sure thing,” Ellen grinned.

Felicity sat on the couch and picked up a magazine, thumbing through it half-heartedly. She looked around the elegant offices and felt a twinge of homesickness all of the sudden. If she were back in Starling she’d be busy at her desk or ordering a late lunch for her, Oliver, and Diggle to eat in his office as they strategized for that evening’s activities. Today was fun and all but this wasn’t the kind of life she’d ever envisioned for herself. She wanted more out of life than marathon shopping and hanging with the ladies (and British gentlemen) who lunch set. She really needed to get back to work and soon.

“Felicity.”

She looked up to see Bruce standing across from her. She put down her magazine and stood to greet him so that his height advantage wasn’t so overwhelming, “Bruce.” Her eyes skimmed his face taking note of the slight swelling and darkening along his jawline and the small cut above his eyebrow, the only outward signs of his and Oliver’s clash from the day before.

“How was your flight?” He asked quietly, his hands shoved awkwardly in his pockets.

“Fine,” she said. “How’s your face?”

He reached up and rubbed his jaw with a slight grimace. “Sore.”

“Can’t exactly say I’m sorry about that,” she returned coolly.

“Felicity, about what happened yesterday, I—“

“Hey girl!” Tam greeted as she walked up to them both. “Bruce,” she said in a far less friendly tone as she arched a perfectly groomed eyebrow in his direction.

“Tam,” Bruce greeted, clearing his throat slightly. “I’ll talk to you later,” he said nodding at Felicity before heading off to the elevators.

Tam watched as he made his escape, her full lips pursed in thought, “I know that he can be an ass but, damn.” She looked over at her sister with a saucy wink. “Baby, you have got to start giving me details because that man has my imagination racing with the way he wears those suits of his.”

“Yeah,” Felicity agreed with a sigh. “I wish I could tell you it was just good tailoring but the truth is that the man could be wearing nothing but a wet paper sack and he’d still look good.”

“Ooh, wet Bruce Wayne,” Tam seemed to ponder that for a moment. And then another moment.

“Tam?” Felicity said trying to get her attention as the seconds began to tick by.

“Hush, I’m still thinking.” She said, waving her off.

“You’re impossible,” Felicity snorted. “What about Tim?”

“What about him?” Tam asked, brushing a lock of her artfully styled and highlighted dark caramel colored hair behind her ear. “First of all thinking isn’t cheating and secondly, Tim and I are officially unofficial.”

“You’re practically living together,” she pointed out.

“He happens to sleep over every once in a while, that’s all,” Tam dodged.

“How often is ‘every once in a while’?”

“Oh shut up,” Tam said, sticking her tongue out. She then took Felicity by the arm and led her to her office. As soon as the door closed behind them she pounced, “Okay Baby, now spill.”

“What?” Felicity asked innocently.

“Oh no, you don’t get to play that game with me. When I came up you and Bruce were talking like something happened between the two of you yesterday and I want all the sexy details,” she demanded playfully.

“There are no sexy details,” she huffed as she flopped down on one of the chairs across from her sister’s glass and chrome desk. She looked out of the large bank of windows that had gorgeous views of the Gotham skyline. “Nice office.”

“You’ve seen it before so stop hedging and get to talking,” Tam demanded.

“First you get to tell me why you called Luke,” Felicity said fixing her sister with a stern look.

“I didn’t,” Tam said innocently.

“You told Tim to call and you know it, my question is why? And another thing, calling our brother because Bruce is picking on me? Seriously?” Felicity asked dryly. “This isn’t kindergarten and no one is after my lunch money, Tamara.”

“I just thought Luke could talk to him, that’s all,” Tam shrugged, avoiding her eyes.

“And what was he going to do if talking didn’t work? Beat Bruce up for breaking his little sister’s heart?” She asked sarcastically.

“You said he put his hands on you, okay? It pissed me off,” Tam said defiantly.

“He wasn’t trying to hurt me, Tam,” Felicity flushed. “It was…in the heat of the moment.”

“I don’t care! At the time I was angry and I hadn’t had my coffee yet so I acted, sue me. Besides, no man ever has the right to put his hands on you and you know it,” Tam shot back. “There is no excuse for it, period.”

“Look, Bruce is not on my list of favorite people right now and I know it sounds bad but he would never hurt me; not like that, and not on purpose. After it happened he apologized,” Felicity sighed. “He’s not a monster, he was just excited and he left a couple of bruises on my shoulder.”

“So said every victim of domestic abuse, ever,” Tam said with a scowl.

Felicity laughed, “Tam! I’m not a victim of ‘domestic abuse’, I swear!”

“Yeah, well, you might be right but he still needs his ass kicked,” Tam said stubbornly, crossing her arms over her chest. “I mean, who has sex with someone and then dumps them immediately afterwards twice? That was a shitty, shitty thing to do and he must be squished like a bug and taught the error of his ways. No one fucks with the Fox Sisters and gets away with it.”

“Okay, you’re being ridiculous and—seriously, Luke? Beat up Bruce?” She snorted.

“Why not? Luke can handle himself in a fight. He took all those martial arts classes and did that kickboxing stuff,” Tam said in a strangely furtive manner.

“What aren’t you telling me, Tam?” Felicity asked suspiciously.

Tam made a sound of dismay and clutched her chest protectively, “Moi? Hide something from my baby sister? Never!”

“You are so full of—“

“Hi, sorry to interrupt but I have your coffees,” Ellen said from the door as she carried in two large paper cups with the Wayne Enterprises logo on them.

“Thanks,” Tam said, taking the coffees from her assistant before practically shoving her out the door. “Now go away and hold all my calls!”

“B-but you have a meeting—“ Ellen stuttered and Felicity got up to follow her out, snatching her latte from Tam along the way.

“That’s okay,” Felicity said as she slipped outside. “Come over tonight and we’ll talk, okay?”

“But…aw,” Tam said before stomping her feet with a pout. “That’s not fair!”

“Tough,” she said, raising her latte and giving Ellen a grateful smile. She waved at her sister as she headed to the elevators. “Call me!”

“You don’t have your phone,” Tam protested from the door to her office.

“Oh yeah, right,” Felicity said with a tilt of her head before slipping into the elevator just before the doors closed.

Felicity chuckled as she sipped her coffee appreciatively on the way down to the lobby. From the corner of her eye she spotted a familiar face in a well-tailored suit talking to some of the uniformed security guards. “Hey Paul,” she said walking up to the security desk.

“Baby! I heard you were back,” the older man said with a wide grin. “Are you here for a visit or back to stay?”

“Haven’t quite decided yet,” she said, wondering how many more times she’d have to answer that particular question before the week was out.

“Wait a minute,” he said, holding her shoulder gently and waving over a few of the security personnel she didn’t recognize. As they neared he introduced her. “Boys, this is Miss Felicity Fox, Mr. Fox’s other daughter. Baby here used to come in with her daddy when she was just a tiny little bit of fluff and bring me cookies so I would take her into the security office. She used to love looking at all the computers and closed circuit surveillance equipment so much you’d have thought she was riding the elephants at the circus. You were always such a bright, inquisitive little thing,” he said, hugging her shoulder one-handed.

Oh, how little times have changed, Felicity thought to herself.

“Baby, this is David Fisk, Marvin Daily, and Jake Simmons. Fisk and Daily are with building security and Jake acts as your Dad’s daytime driver and private security when he’s in Gotham.” He waited until each man greeted her with a muted ‘Ma’am’ before continuing.

“Hi,” she said to all of them before turning to Paul. “What happened to Zeke and Mr. Monroe?”

“Old Zeke retired to Florida to be near his daughter about six months ago and Mr. Monroe had back surgery so he decided to take a leave of absence.” He turned to the younger man again. “Trust me, though; your Dad’s in good hands with Jake.”

“I’m sure he is,” Felicity said giving the man another smile before speaking again to Paul. “Paul, I lost my phone and Tam and Dad are in meetings. Would you mind calling me a cab?”

“No need for that, Jake can take you, right?” He asked, meeting the tall blond man’s deep brown eyes inquisitively.

“Certainly, ma’am,” Jake said with an easy grin. “Your dad won’t need me for at least another hour or so. Where did you need to go?”

“Just home, thanks,” she told him, returning his smile. “Are you sure I’m not taking you from something more important? I mean, a cab will do.”

“It’s fine, ma’am. Besides, I imagine that if you’re going to be staying here awhile Mr. DioGuardi will be assigning you your own security detail soon enough.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” she said quickly.

“No, Jake’s right, Baby,” Paul told her. “I’ll get with your dad today and talk over the logistics with him. Until then I’ll have Jake take you where you need to go and assign your dad another driver until we get you sorted.”

“Paul, no offense to Mr. Simmons, but I didn’t have a security detail before I left Gotham and I didn’t have one in Starling either. It’s really not necessary, I promise.”

“Times change, Baby,” Paul said, his features darkening slightly. “Gotham has gotten even more dangerous since you’ve been gone, if you can believe it. There have been a few threats against the company and your father personally.”

“Against Dad?” Felicity asked with a frown. “No one said anything to me about that.”

“He probably didn’t want to worry you but there has been an increase in crime and it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Paul said easily.

“Ask me it’s that Batman character’s fault,” the man Paul introduced as ‘David Fisk’ said harshly. “He’s the one who brought all those masked freaks into the city in the first place.”

Paul eyed the man sharply, “No one asked you, Fisk. Maybe you should get upstairs and go back over those reports again.”

“Yes, sir. Excuse me sir, ma’am,” Fisk said, all but snapping a salute as he and the other one, Daily, walked away.

“Damn Jarhead punks,” Paul muttered.

“Aren’t you a former Marine?” Felicity asked with a half-smile although Fisk’s comments did put her off somewhat. Even though she knew the Batman and his crew operated under the cover of night for a reason it still bothered her when people dismissed all the sacrifices they had made only to lump them together with the very criminals they stopped on a daily basis.

“There’s a difference between a hard charger like me and a couple of ‘Semper, I’ blue falcons like Fisk and Daily,” Paul huffed. “Those particular Jarheads are just a couple of hotheads if you ask me. Less than six-months out and it’s like they’re back on the block. I keep having to break it down Barney style for ‘em! First chance I get, those two are getting shipped off and out of my hair. Now Jake here,” he slapped the other man on the shoulder, “He’s what you call a good piece of gear. He knows how to think things through while those guys would just storm in and blow shi--er, stuff up.” He cleared his throat and gave her a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek. “It was nice seeing you, Baby. Jake will take you wherever you need to go and I’ll tell your dad, okay?”

“Paul, I’m really not interested in a security detail,” she told him one last time. “Tam doesn’t have one, does she?”

Paul look at her in consternation, “No, but not for lack of trying on my part.” He smiled slightly and winked at her, “Oh hell Baby, as far as me and your dad are concerned both you girls are too pretty to be set out on the streets of Gotham on your own.” He sighed, “You sure you want to turn it down?”

“I’m sure,” she said firmly. “I can take care of myself.”

“Baby, you’re making me old before my time,” Paul grumbled good naturedly. “Fine, I’ll let your dad know. Still, at least for today, take Jake with you, alright?”

“Thanks Paul,” Felicity said offering him a bright smile as Jake led her out.

“Come by sometime and see me,” he said as he waved goodbye. “Bring some of Peggy Ann’s cookies and I might even let you in the security office for old time’s sake.”

“I figured we could take the Mercedes instead of the limo,” Jake said as he opened the door for her and made sure she was safely seated inside before going around and slipping into the driver’s seat. “Your dad likes to use the limo so he can spread out his paperwork between meetings.”

“This is fine,” she said easily as she leaned back into the supple leather. “I’m not picky. Back in Starling City I usually just drove around in a Mini.”

“Cooper, huh?” Jake nodded while keeping his eyes on traffic. “Nice cars but a little cramped for me.”

“I’ve heard that before,” she chuckled. “I noticed you have an accent; where are you from?”

“Oh, so I take it I don’t sound like a Gotham City boy to you then?” He chuckled, allowing his drawl to deepen in response. “I’m originally from Mississippi, ma’am. I was in the Rangers until I completed my last tour and got a job with Wayne Security.”

“I had a friend who was with the Rangers back in Starling City; Sergeant Major John Diggle out of Afghanistan.”

“Airborne or Special Forces?” He asked.

“Special Forces, you?”

“Airborne, ma’am. 75th regiment. I served in Afghanistan myself. Do you know what company your friend was with? We might have crossed paths and not known it.”

“I’m not sure but he mentioned the Blackhawks.”

Jake’s eyes flicked upward to the rearview mirror in surprise. “Under Colonel Ted Gaynor, ma’am?”

“I think so, why?” Felicity asked curiously.

“Um, it’s just that the Blackhawks were legendary. How many tours did Sergeant Major Diggle serve for?”

“Three.”

Jake cleared his throat and shifted in his seat, “That’s, um, okay. Wow, your friend must be a pretty tough guy.”

“He doesn’t talk about it much, but yeah, he’s pretty tough,” she agreed. “If you were Airborne why are you driving my dad around Gotham and not flying a helicopter or something?”

“I manage to get up in a bird every once in a while,” Jake said easily. “When they hired me they wanted someone who could handle security in the air as well as on the ground. If your dad needs me to I can handle a stick on a bird or hop in the cockpit just as easily as I can thread a limo through midtown traffic during rush hour.”

“Wow, I feel honored having you around to act as my personal on-call hero then,” Felicity teased with a tongue touched smile.

The blond man grinned back at her sheepishly as a slight flush colored his cheeks. He cleared his throat as they pulled up to the front of Wayne Towers. “Here we are, Ma’am. Stay there and I’ll get your door for you.”

Jake walked around to her side and offered her his hand as he helped her out of the car. “Thank you,” she said as soon as she was on her feet. “And please, call me Felicity. I insist.”

“Felicity,” he repeated, his smile making his handsome features all the more attractive. “It suits you, but then again so does ‘Baby’.” He teased then apologized as he noticed her cheeks go bright pink. His deep chocolate eyes filled with regret, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you it’s just that me being a Southern boy I’m a bit used to young ladies being called by that particular nickname.”

“Yeah, my dad is from the South, as well.” Felicity said sheepishly. “It’s not entirely his fault though; my sister started calling me ‘Baby’ originally, he just made sure it stuck.”

“Pretty blue eyes like yours, I can see why,” he said teasingly in his honeyed whiskey drawl and grinned as she blushed again. “Here,” he said as he handed her a card. “I know what you told Mr. DioGuardi but, just in case you ever need an ‘on-call hero’ again,” she smiled and he winked at her, “you can just call me and I’ll come pick you up.”

“Thanks Jake,” she said, taking his card.

“And, um, if you find yourself needing company while you’re here visiting I don’t clean up half bad,” Jake said brushing his nails on the lapel of his jacket and blowing on them jokingly. “I reckon you know Gotham better than I do, being a native and all, but I might be able to reintroduce you to a few spots you might have forgotten.”

“Why Mr. Simmons, are you flirting with the boss’s daughter?” Felicity teased back.

“Could be,” he said with a shrug, then fixed her with a slightly more serious eye. “That is if you’re okay with it.”

“I’m okay with it,” Felicity said, feeling her Mimosa induced courage one more time before it completely left her bloodstream. “I’ll see you around Jake Simmons.”

“My pleasure, Miss Felicity. You have yourself a good night now,” he said with one last grin before slipping back behind the driver’s seat and heading off.

Felicity looked down at the card in her hand and smiled happily. Nothing like being flirted with by a good looking guy to give you a bit of an ego boost, she thought. She headed upstairs with a bit more of a spring to her step, her problems melting away. At least for the moment.

Chapter Text

 

 


 dumb

Chapter Twenty

After work Oliver immediately drove to Orchid Bay to confront Walter at his home in the Mayor’s Mansion. He understood Dig’s apprehension about him doing this. Walter was one of the last links his sister had to their mother, not to mention the fact that Walter was a friend of the Arrow and had saved their asses on more than one occasion either by bailing him out financially or by offering them political clout in order to keep the mission going. To be honest, he hoped Walter wasn’t part of this mess himself, but he had to know for sure. After that, he had no idea what he’d do.

It took him a long time to get over the deep feeling of betrayal he’d felt the first time he’d learned of his sister’s true parentage over two years ago. After months of giving his mother the cold shoulder, after almost hating her, they’d reconciled over her kidnapping and recovery. Then came that terrible night when Roy had a psychotic episode that had nearly killed all of them and his mother had been murdered by Slade. Their team, as well as his family, had taken several hits that day. Sara left him because she needed time to battle her demons in peace after trying to kill Roy, Roy was in a coma, Moira was dead, and Thea was a wreck. When Roy had finally stabilized it hadn’t gone well. Roy resented him, Thea was angry at both him and Roy and still grieving for their mother, and he was dealing with the fact that his mother’s lies ran deeper than any of them could have imagined when he found out that not only was Merlyn still alive and that she had known, but that she had paid the girl he had gotten pregnant when he was eighteen to go away and to lie about the miscarriage.

He sighed and raked his fingers through his dark blond hair. He lost her for a while after that. Not only couldn’t she forgive him for not taking out Slade the year before, she didn’t understand how he could walk away from his own child. That had been…hard. As much as he wanted to be a father to his son, he knew he would always be a target. He and Sandra agreed that it would be for the best if Oliver stayed away and that they go into Waller’s Witness Protection Program. He had a man in his life, one who wanted to adopt him, so Oliver signed away his parental rights with the understanding that if Connor needed him, or ever wanted to know him, he’d be available.

It wasn’t great, but it was the best he could do for him. In the end, it was Felicity who managed to get through to her. To this day he didn’t know what she did or said to bring her back, but it worked. He’d finished off two bottles of vodka and was working his way through a fifth of scotch when Felicity showed up with Thea close behind. They held him in their arms, and they cried it out together. Somehow, even after all they’d been through, she forgave him and they both forgave their mother with Felicity between them as the glue holding them together.

Making things right with Roy had taken even longer, the younger man only rejoining their team again after being on his own for almost a year. Again, that was Felicity. She’s the one who talked him into coming back, she got Sara and Roy together to talk it out, and she convinced him to give Thea the space she needed to mend her relationship with him even if it was a work in progress.

Felicity.

He tightened his hands on the steering wheel. It was all coming back together; just a few days ago everything was right in the world, his family was on solid ground, his business was succeeding and Felicity…

He could still taste her. He could still remember the noises she made when he held her, the look of wonder in her eyes when he brought her to orgasm. Sex was something he’d always enjoyed but never really wasted emotions on. It was an act, a fun act, but just a physical coupling of one body into another. At one point in his life fucking was as impersonal as a firm handshake. It hadn’t been like that with her and now she was gone because of Isabel and his mother—

His fists clenched again causing the leather on the steering wheel to squeal in protest as he gnashed his teeth together. She had never warmed up to Felicity even after they reconciled as mother and son. Felicity never said anything either before or after Moira’s death but he could always tell when she’d had contact with his mother from the expression on her face. Even two years later whenever Thea would mention their mother in front of her Felicity would shift uncomfortably and not say anything. He knew his mother was capable of a lot but if she had killed her…

He parked in front of the mansion and rested his head on the steering wheel as he shut his eyes. Felicity had been there from the very beginning, fixing all of them, making things better, saving them all, and how did he repay her? By sleeping with her then sending her away.

That had been a dick move on his part; it had been an Ollie move. She said she’d never met Ollie but she had that day. What’s worse is that he sent her away with him, that son of a bitch Wayne. He snorted. What right did he have to be jealous though? How could he possibly give her the life she deserved when he couldn’t even do that for Thea, or Connor, or anyone else for that matter? No, she was better off in Gotham even if it meant being with that bastard. It didn’t mean he had to like it, it just meant he had to endure it.

He might never be the man she thought he could be, he might never be able to be the man he wanted to be for her, but he could at least try to keep her safe even if that meant burying his mother and the last of her secrets once and for all.

He turned off the ignition and walked up to the mansion where he was greeted by a member of the house staff and immediately shown to Walter’s private study. The older man was on the phone and from the side of the conversation he could hear it he was probably talking to Mark Francis about the upcoming election against a corrupt financier by the name of John Deleon.

Deleon was crooked but he was also slick as goose shit, a true politician. Not surprising, he thought grimly. After all, what was politics but controlled manipulation and Deleon was a master at it. It was fairly obvious that he was dirty and had been accused of everything from laundering money for the mob to having connections to several drug kingpins but nothing ever stuck. Despite his less than stellar reputation, he was using every dirty trick he could to give Walter a hell even though the other man was still managing to pull ahead in the polls. If he had to take down Walter it would open up a whole other can of worms but it had to be done. If he was a part of this, he had to know.

He looked up in surprise as he glanced up from his call. “Mark, hold on a minute, will you? Oliver just walked in.” He placed his hand over the receiver and turned to him, “I’ll just be another minute and then we can talk.”

“No problem,” Oliver said with a hint of grim determination in his tone despite his casual cadence. “I just need to know if you hired a hitman to take out Felicity or if it was my mother who made the call instead.”

Shock flashed across the other man’s features and his grip loosened on the phone. He could hear Mark’s panicked voice demanding to know what the hell he was talking about. Walter quickly placed the phone up to his ear and adopted a smooth tone of feigned amusement, “He was just kidding, Mark; you know Oliver. Yes, I know. Mark, stop panicking; nothing is wrong. Yes, I’m sure. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to talk a little business with my step-son. Okay, I’ll call you tomorrow. Bye.” He put the phone back on its cradle and hurried to the office door to close it before giving Oliver a look of righteous indignation, “What on Earth were you thinking? You’re just lucky it was Mark on the other end of the phone and not a member of the press! If a member of the news corps ever got ahold of a sound byte like that it could ruin all of us!”

“Frankly Walter, I’m beyond giving a shit at this point,” he said tightly.

“Well, you should!” He told him forcefully. “Besides the company and your own future political career, you need to think of how a rumor like that would affect Thea! We’ve had to endure and survive a hell of a lot since your mother’s death, much of it her fault, but she would never try to kill anyone and the last thing we need is to have her name or ours further muddied in the press!”

“I don’t have a political career, Walter; not now and certainly not in the future.”

Walter’s features softened and he huffed out a breath even as Oliver looked on angrily, “Son, you’re not only a Queen but a Dearden and public service is part of your legacy.”

“Just because my grandfather was governor doesn’t mean that I’m ever going to run for office,” he said irritably.

“Not just your grandfather,” Walter pointed out. “Your great-grandfather was a senator, his brother was a congressman; the Dearden’s have been political royalty for generations and you’re just beginning to come into your own. By the time John Dearden was your age he was already campaigning to become lieutenant governor and within four years he was the governor of this state and maintained that office proudly until he ran for president. Had he not been killed in that plane crash during the campaign he would have won. And let’s not forget your mother—”

Oliver cut him off, “First off, I’ve heard this speech my entire life; there’s no need to rehash it now. Secondly, did you or my mother hire a contractor to take out Felicity after she told you both that Malcolm Merlyn was Thea’s biological father?”

Walter scowled at him, “You’re damn lucky I had this office swept for bugs this afternoon. We found three bugs in my office at City hall and several more at our campaign headquarters.”

“Your problem with Deleon and his dirty tricks will have to wait, Walter. Right now I need to know the truth,” he said firmly.

“Your mother was capable of a lot of things, Oliver, but murder wasn’t one of them,” he said firmly.

“Are you sure?” Oliver asked with a steady look. “She conspired with Merlyn, lied to us about Thea her entire life, hid my son from me, had you kidnapped—honestly I have to wonder if she didn’t have anything to do with the Queen’s Gambit going down in the first place much less that she put a hit on my assistant.”

“Your mother loved you,” Walter said steadily, his eyes beginning to burn with anger as well. “Yes, she made bad decisions and was way over her head because of it, but she would never hurt you deliberately. Every lie she ever told was to protect her family. She tried to hide the truth from Thea to protect you both, she lied to you about Connor to protect your future, she had me kidnapped to protect me from Merlyn--”

“At what point do we stop making excuses for everything she ever did to us?” Oliver burst out. “At what point do we stop trying to turn her into some goddamn plaster saint of charity and motherhood and call her out for what she was; a monster?”

Walter took two steps towards him, his fists clenched at his sides, and bit out, “Moira Queen was not a monster! She was your mother and she loved you! She was human, she made mistakes,” he ran a shaky hand over his bald pate and stalked towards the mini bar near the bookshelves and poured himself two generous fingers of scotch. He took a drink to steady himself before turning back to Oliver. He placed the rock glass down deliberately before speaking, “I left your mother because of her secrets, so I know better than anyone how you’re feeling right now. I wouldn’t reconcile with her when she asked because I couldn’t trust her anymore. Despite that, I know in my heart that your mother would never try to hurt you or me by going after Felicity like that.”

“And what about you, Walter?” Oliver asked coldly as he approached the man again. “Felicity said she went to you with that information before she went to my mother. You had a lot to lose if that information got out.”

“I would never--!” Walter’s mouth tightened into a grim line as he finally lost his temper. It took him several seconds to get his emotions under control before he could speak again, “Do you even know what Felicity means to me?”

“No, not really,” Oliver said, unimpressed by his outburst.

“I’ve known Felicity since she was a baby, Oliver,” he told him, his gaze clear and direct. “If Moira had tried to hurt that girl I would have turned her into the police myself. At the very least, I would have tried to stop her.”

He narrowed his eyes at the other man, “You’ve known Felicity that long?”

“Yes,” he bit out. “Lucius Fox was my friend, the best friend I ever had other than your father. He was my mentor, my teacher, and I respect him more than any other person on this Earth. When Felicity’s mother died, he practically kept that girl by his side 24/7. She went everywhere with him. He even kept her in his office while he was working. If she wasn’t at school, she was with Lucius and I watched that little girl grow up. I would never hurt Felicity, Oliver. Never!”

“So you knew all about Felicity’s past and you never told me?” Oliver asked, feeling a new kind of betrayal.

“Felicity didn’t want anyone to know about her association with the Fox name,” he said in a much calmer tone as he began to relax again. “She didn’t want to be shown any type of favoritism or have her presence within the company seen as a conflict of interest. Not that it would have been; Lucius kept her shares in Wayne Enterprises in a blind trust so she could work anywhere she wanted to without any sort of legal issues cropping up,” he added.

“So that’s why you hired her?” He asked, “Because of her father?”

“No, not at all,” he said quickly. “I hadn’t seen Felicity since she was ten years old and, other than the occasional business venture between QC and one of Wayne’s subsidiaries, I hadn’t kept in touch with Lucius either. When he called me four years ago and sent me her résumé I hired her, not because she was his daughter, but because she was brilliant,” he assured him. “Originally I had intended to put her in Applied Sciences where she could really shine, but she requested we place her into the first entry level position we had which was in IT even though she was grossly overqualified.”

“So you lied to me,” Oliver said slowly. “You knew who she was and you never told me.”

He sighed walked towards him, placing his hand on Oliver’s shoulder comfortingly, “I never lied, Oliver; I just kept her confidence and stayed out of it because that’s what she wanted. When I saw how close you two had gotten, I was truly overjoyed that she was helping you and that you were, in turn, helping her.” His lips tightened for a moment as he seemed to struggle with something, “Like I said, I watched her grow up but I never really had a large presence in her life. I can’t tell you much, it’s not my place, but one thing I can tell you is that she is truly Lucius Fox’s daughter. She has his integrity and sense of honor. I saw you get better and I had hoped your mother would see that as well, that she would recognize that Felicity had made an important impact upon your life. I thought about telling your mother who she was after their confrontation but I knew that if Felicity hadn’t yet shared that part of her life with you then it wasn’t my place.”

“Why didn’t she tell me?” Oliver said, his anger at his mother now turning into resentment toward Felicity and the pain of loss he now felt at her absence.

Walter dropped his hand from his shoulder and shook his head, “I can’t say.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

Walter’s lips thinned in contrition once again, “Things weren’t always easy for her, Oliver.” He walked away, turning his back on him as he rubbed the back of his neck in consternation. He glanced up at him, “Maybe you should be discussing this with her?”

“I can’t,” he bit out, averting his eyes. “Something…something happened and she left. She went back to Gotham and she’s not coming back.”

“This contract you were talking about?” Walter asked looking up sharply. “Is it related to…?” He let the question hang in the air between them.

“I don’t know,” Oliver said honestly. Walter rarely discussed his being the Arrow with him openly even though he was considered a team friendly. “All I know is that the Bat showed up and told us he had information that a contract had been placed on Felicity approximately eighteen months ago.”

“Batman was here?” Understanding lit up his eyes, “And thus you immediately thought of your mother and her campaign,” he nodded to himself. “Did you consider Slade or Blood?”

“If Slade or Blood wanted to kill Felicity, they would have done it themselves,” Oliver told him.

“What aren’t you telling me?” Walter asked, his eyes sharp.

Oliver debated revealing everything for a moment before deciding to go with his gut, “Isabel Rochev approached Felicity the other day and revealed that she knows who I am and the identities of some of our team members. Supposedly she tried to recruit her for some kind of private vigilante army being backed by Stellmoor.”

Again, Walter’s eyes opened wide in surprise, “Does she know about--?”

“No,” Oliver told him. “At least I don’t think so. The only other person on my team aware of the fact that you know my secret besides Diggle and myself, is Felicity, but you might want to be prepared just in case.”

He nodded solemnly, “So that’s why you sent Felicity away? To protect her?”

“Among other things,” he responded grimly.

“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “I know that must have been very hard for you.” He paused, “Any chance it was Isabel Rochev?”

“It’s possible, but again she’s had numerous opportunities to take her out and it just doesn’t make sense. Besides, if she had put a hit on Felicity, she would have followed through with the contract.” Walter nodded as he agreed with his logic. “What can you tell me about…about Felicity’s past?” He asked hesitantly. “I know you want to keep her confidence, and I appreciate that, but I need to know if this threat is on our end or if it started off in Gotham.”

Walter again seemed torn for a moment, “What did she tell you?”

“Not much,” Oliver admitted. “Just that she had a brother and a sister and that Lucius was her dad. She did mention that she was stalked by some frat kid in college when she was 14 but I doubt that has any bearing on anything other than the fact that the guy was a creep.”

“Sebastian Hady’s son,” Walter said grimly. “I remember that. The boy’s father is Gotham’s version of Deleon but you’re probably right about there being no connection. He died a few years ago in a drunken driving accident. Honestly, I can’t think of anyone who would target Felicity who isn’t connected with your extracurricular activities. She was…incredibly sheltered as a child. She literally spent every spare moment in Lucius’s office growing up. I doubt she even had any friends other than immediate family. I never saw her play with any children her own age other than Luke and Tam and, after reconnecting with her when she joined QC, I doubt much had changed for her since I left other than the fact that she spoke more. For a long time I knew that Tanya and Lucius were afraid she was autistic because she was so quiet.”

He couldn’t help but snort at that, “Felicity was quiet?”

Walter smiled and leaned against the corner of his desk, “Believe it or not, yes. She was so quiet that most of the time you’d forget she was even in the room. She’d just sit in the corner and read a book or draw while Lucius worked even as a toddler. Even before Evie died she practically lived in that little corner. Because she was so ill and her immune system was so badly compromised, Felicity had to be kept away from her so Lucius and his office became her whole world. I remember watching Lucius nearly break down once when she referred to it as ‘home’ because, for her, that’s what it had become. He wound up taking a partial leave of absence and started working primarily from their apartment shortly after that so they could all be together for the end. It was a bit sad really. After Evie died he came back to the office and brought her with him because she was all he had left and he was positively terrified of letting her out of his sight. Now I realize he probably wasn’t doing her any favors by keeping her from socializing with other children her own age. She became a very lonely child because of the fact that he wasn’t coping well with his loss, but I wasn’t a parent at the time, nor could I possibly understand what he was going through, so I didn’t want to interfere. Lucius was a good father and he was doing the best he could; she seemed happy so I kept my mouth shut.”

“Who’s Evie?” Oliver asked as he filed away all the other information he’d been given for later.

“Her mother.”

“I thought you said her mother’s name was Tanya?” He frowned.

“Tanya was Lucius’s first wife. She took an interest in Felicity after her mother died and helped out with her occasionally.”

“That’s …unusual,” Oliver said slowly.

“The Fox’s are an unusual family,” Walter said with a slight smile. “Lucius and Tanya have an unusually amicable relationship for a divorced couple. Their example is what made me want to maintain a friendship with your mother after our divorce.”

“How did she die?”

Walter looked at him sadly, “ALL; leukemia,” he clarified softly. “It was a highly aggressive form of the disease. As I understand it, it usually it has a very high success rate of cure in young children but, because she was older when she was diagnosed, the rate of survival dropped dramatically and the disease progressed rapidly. She was nineteen when she was diagnosed but went into remission and they thought it was gone but then she got sick again when Felicity was three. Even with the finest medical advances available she died within months of its return. Lucius was, as I said, devastated,” Walter said forlornly, his face hidden in shadow. “He honestly thought she’d pull through, even until the very end. I don’t think he’s ever stopped loving her either. She was only twenty-three and she and Lucius had been married less than three years. It was quite tragic, for a lot of reasons really.”

“What do you mean?” Oliver asked curiously.

“I probably should stop here,” Walter said with a certain amount of reluctance. “I’ve said far too much as it is.”

“Please,” he asked him. “I’d really like to know.”

Walter sighed and looked down at the carpet, not meeting his eyes. “Tanya and Lucius had been married for over twenty years before he left her for Evie. She was less than half his age, a bit of a bohemian, she had an illegitimate daughter, and the rumor was that she had no idea who the father was. It was all nonsense, of course,” he added quickly. “It was just easier for the public to believe that a rich older man sought out a beautiful twenty year old girl for a midlife fling and dumped his wife and two children in the process rather than see the truth of the situation.”

“Which was?” Oliver asked.

“That he and Tanya hadn’t been happy for a while. She had left him a few months previously but the fact that Lucius and Evie fell in love so quickly made people suspicious. They moved in together less than a week after they met and he filed for divorce less than a month after that. People liked to say that she had some sort of hold on him, that she seduced him from his family somehow. The fact that they made such a strikingly unusual couple didn’t help.”

“Because of their differences in ages?” Oliver said with a furrowed brow. “Rich men marry much younger women all the time.”

“Gotham is different than Starling City,” he told him ruefully. “In many ways it’s far more conservative, but that’s not what I meant. Evie was very…unusual. She was strikingly beautiful but she was also…” he hesitated.

“Also?” Oliver prompted.

He grimaced, “She was…um, damn.” He sighed, “She had a genetic condition that added a bit to her overall mysterious allure. Because of that she made some people rather uncomfortable and she often got stares even from people who didn’t know the story behind their union.”

“What kind of ‘genetic condition’?” Oliver asked with a frown.

Walter shook his head as though debating something internally. “She was…she suffered from albinism.”

“Seriously?” Oliver said, taken aback.

Walter shut his eyes in mortification, “I don’t really know the politically correct term for it but she suffered from a mild form of albinism that left her with very pale hair, light skin, and very bright blue eyes; she was quite strikingly beautiful, hauntingly beautiful in fact but, at first glance, those unused to such things could easily confuse her unusual looks with deliberate artifice on her part. Albinos, and again I use that term because I don’t know how else to refer to her condition, are apparently quite familiar with a certain amount of prejudice due to their appearance although that doesn’t excuse it, of course. It was even worse in Evie’s case because not only was she unique in her appearance and personality, but she in an interracial relationship with a very high profile man. Lucius being black and her being so pale and young, in addition to the fact that she worked as a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas before her art career took off, seemed to fit into every ugly stereotype about successful black men choosing to leave their families for younger white women. Your mother and I occasionally experienced some prejudice but never to the extent Evie and Lucius had to endure. Her albinism was mild enough that she appeared to be merely very fair-skinned as long as she used cosmetics but her hair color and the fact that she had to wear very dark large framed prescription sunglasses most of the time due to her extreme sensitivity to light made it easy for the press to paint her as the stereotypical bleach blonde temptress who had snagged a rich black man to pull her and her daughter out of the gutter. It didn’t matter that she was a very successful artist or that Tanya had filed for separation before they’d even met; that didn’t sell papers.” He flushed and looked down at the carpet again, “For a while, Lucius’s reputation took a beating for it and people could be very cruel to Felicity in particular even after her mother’s death.”

“Why? She was just a kid,” Oliver said perturbed at the thought of adults picking on a child who had just lost her mother over the perceived sins of her parents.

“Prejudice never makes sense, Oliver,” Walter said kindly. “As I said before, Starling is a very liberal place compared to Gotham. If Thomas and Martha Wayne were the Kennedy’s of Gotham, Lucius and Tanya Fox were the Obama’s. Any woman Lucius chose after Tanya would have been vilified, but that a powerful black man of such standing would choose a teenaged white girl with no higher education and no social standing over someone as intelligent and accomplished as his first wife was seen as a scandal of epic proportions. Felicity, following her mother’s death, was often used as a scapegoat by others for that and many other reasons. Now people view blended families much differently than they did then, but even I would get looks and questions when I’d take Thea to the mall and she was a teenager when Moira and I married. A black man carrying a little white girl around who referred to him as ‘daddy’ upset people on many levels. She was a white child, a baby, being raised by a single black man and it raised people’s hackles. It made them think monstrously inappropriate thoughts and had Lucius not been who he was, I don’t doubt he would have had a harder time gaining and retaining custody of her despite the adoption.”

“That’s just wrong,” Oliver muttered.

Walter smiled, “And the fact that you and the young people of your generation recognize that is what gives me hope. There will always be thoughtless people in this world, Oliver. Your son, Connor, is of mixed race but, hopefully, he’ll never be made to feel any different because he was lucky enough to be born in a time of change. Even so, evil will always exist as will stupidity; as parents, it’s our job to teach our children differently and hope they pass it along to the next generation.”

Walter referring to him as a parent made him feel as though a hole was opening in his chest. Clearing his throat, he pressed on, “It just…Felicity has always been such a bright and happy person,” he said shaking his head. “I almost feel like I failed her somehow. I mean, she’s one of the people I trust most in this world—hell, she is the one person I trust most in this world…” He swallowed and looked up at the older man, his face a mask of pain and self-doubt, “I know you said she wanted to keep her identity under wraps for professional reasons but…do you think she thought I would have--?”

“No, not at all,” Walter said quickly. “Felicity and her mother have very similar personalities. Evie was very present and in the moment, a true optimist and child of today. She never dwelled in the past or worried about the future which made her very unusual and, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air to those who got to know her. If Felicity didn’t tell you any of this it wasn’t out of shame or fear, it was because she was more concerned with the present and her friendship with you now than sharing details about her past, that’s all. Felicity may appear very conservative but she often shows flashes of her mother’s bohemian spirit. She is very much her mother’s daughter in that regard.” He paused for a moment, “You know, the thing that struck me the most when I first saw her when she came to QC was how much she had changed but how she still looked so much like Evie at the same time.”

“Felicity’s not an albino,” Oliver pointed out dumbly, his mind reeling from the information he’d been given.

“No, not entirely,” Walter chuckled. “I remember Lucius having her tested for it though due to her eye problems along with her fair coloring.” At Oliver’s inquisitive look he expounded, “She had extremely pale blonde hair; it was nearly white as a child. She colors it to make it darker so as not to stand out. Still, even with her darker hair and glasses she looks almost exactly like Evie.”

It’s weird the things one remembers…

 

***

“I thought it would be helpful to track ARGUS’s manhunt for Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot. So I decrypted their communication logs. Which means, I just hacked a federal agency. Kind of makes me a cyber-terrorist, which is bad because I really don't see myself fitting in well at Guantanamo Bay.”

“Don't worry, Felicity. They don't send blondes there,” He told her mockingly.

“I dye it actually…I keep your secret!”

 

***

 

So many secrets. So much time wasted. Oliver turned slightly as his heart clenched in his chest. More and more of what she’d told him over the years had begun to click into place. Her reluctance to discuss her family, her resentment of her mother, the little factoids she’d dropped about her being a cocktail waitress, her tolerance of the cruel remarks he’d seen her endure without complaint…

Thinking about her mother also brought another memory to the surface, one he didn’t care to think about but this might be the only chance he’d ever have to ask, “Did Felicity’s biological father ever come into the picture? Do you know anything about him or who he is?”

“Why?” Walter asked. “Do you think the threat against Felicity could be related to her biological father?”

“It’s very possible,” Oliver said vaguely. “She told us once that he abandoned their family when she was little and you said she looked strikingly similar to her mother. Someone might have recognized her and put the pieces together. During that period of time she was often seen in the press standing beside me. Someone who had a grudge against her father might have come after her to get to him.”

“It’s an interesting theory but I doubt she even knew his name and, from what little bit Lucius told me, I don’t believe her biological father even knew she existed,” Walter told him. “Lucius didn’t even know his name, I think. I remember him worrying about that after Evie died. He adopted Felicity when she was just over a year old but he was worried because he had no idea who her biological father was or if he’d ever come forth to try to establish paternity. That was a troubling loophole in the adoption because they’d never gotten him to sign a release of parental rights. Evie claimed not to know enough about him to even put his name on Felicity’s birth certificate so they couldn’t track him down. I didn’t have the whole story and I never pressed him for it but, according to Lucius, Evie met him shortly after she was initially diagnosed. She had a one night stand, understandable given the fact that she was nineteen and told she was terminally ill. She got pregnant and had the baby before going into a brief remission. The ALL returned about a year or so after she and Lucius were married and she died a little over a year after that. He hired private investigators, sought out her friends and business associates for information, he even went to Las Vegas and hired private investigators there as well, but none of them knew anything about the man. She’d always kept his identity secret from everyone.”

But she didn’t, Oliver thought. Somehow Felicity had heard his name and had said her mother had been the source of that information. Could she have told her as a child? Was it a real name or just something the dying woman had made up; a story of a handsome foreign prince, a fairy tale that Felicity’s young mind had confused with the truth perhaps? Mysteries leading to more mysteries and still no answers.

Fuck.

Oliver nodded, feeling more frustrated than ever, “Thank you. I appreciate you telling me.”

“I’m only sorry I couldn’t be more help,” he told him. “Oliver, if Felicity is in danger then I should call her father and let him know.”

“No need,” he told him. “Batman is on it plus Bruce Wayne is aware of the threat. He contacted him as soon as he found out and Wayne immediately hired movers and whisked her back to Gotham the same day.”

“That’s good,” Walter said, noticeably relieved. “The Wayne’s and the Fox’s are practically family. Lucius’s first wife was Bruce’s godmother and I believe that they were in Martha and Thomas’s wills as his secondary guardians next to Alfred Pennyworth.”

“I didn’t know that,” Oliver said grimly but Walter didn’t seem to notice the chill in his voice.

“That’s a weight off my mind, at least,” he said quietly. “I know that you’ll miss her terribly but at least you can rest easy knowing that Bruce is there to keep her safe; and your friend, Batman, of course.”

“Of course,” Oliver said with forced assurance. He approached Walter and held out his hand, “I’m sorry for coming at you like that but I had to know.”

He took his hand and shook it gratefully, “No need to apologize. I might have done the same were I you. Still,” he looked at him, his eyes pleading, “I want you to know that I don’t believe your mother did this, Oliver. I know she’s done a lot and her secrets have had far-reaching consequences in the past, but if Felicity was ever in danger, it wasn’t from Moira.” He paused for a moment as though pained, “The night she died we spoke on the phone. She mentioned Felicity specifically.”

“What?” Oliver looked up in surprise. “You never told me that.”

“I suppose I didn’t think it was important then, but now…” He shook his head. “Your mother told me that she had a lot of apologizing to do; to you, to Thea, and to Felicity.”

“Did she say what for?” He asked him.

“The way she’d treated her when she came to her about Thea,” he told him. “That was…that was my fault,” he said quietly. “The whole thing. Felicity came to me before she went to Moira. She asked me to speak to her, convince her to tell Thea the truth. I hesitated; I couldn’t think of a way to even begin to confront Moira about it and, I suppose, Felicity finally got tired of my procrastinating and took matters into her own hands.”

“Did my mother know Felicity was Lucius’s daughter?” He asked curiously.

“I doubt it,” he told him. “At least not before she confronted her that evening. I’m sure she had her investigated afterwards, but she never said anything to me about it.” He furrowed his brow, “Although, now that I think about it, it’s possible. Especially given what she said that night.”

“What did she say?”

“She said she should have known that given who Felicity was, she would show not only that much loyalty to you and your family, but that she would have both the intelligence and humility to save the company from Isabel without ever needing to take any credit. She went on to say that if it was the last thing she ever did, she’d find a way to make things right between all of you.”

Oliver frowned, “What does that mean; save our company from Isabel? When did Felicity do that?”

“Oliver,” Walter chuckled, “don’t you remember?” He let out a breath, “I suppose not; we were all a bit frayed around the edges. Do you remember the night Slade kidnapped your sister?”

“Vividly,” he said wryly.

“The board had appointed new officers but, because of the kidnapping, you had to put off the meeting,” Walter reminded him.

“And you came in as CEO pro tempore, what of it?” He asked.

He smirked, “Do you remember Isabel’s reaction to that?”

He shrugged, “Vaguely,” he said. “I kind of had my mind on other things.”

“Let me remind you then.”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Things were crazy, people were running around in a frenzy, Slade had just sent a video message of Thea tied to a chair looking terrified, and Isabel looked positively livid as she tore into a member of the political staff at Moira’s campaign headquarters.

“If I hear about one more invasive press inquiry being sent to Mr. Queen or to any member of the Queen family, I will hold you personally responsible,” she all but snarled at the poor man as he hurried away, her voice practically dripping with ice and venom.

“You're very scary,” Oliver said, his eyebrows shooting up in surprise. Isabel wasn’t usually this protective of anyone or anything except her own bottom line.

“Thank you,” she told him, her lips turning upwards in a cool but pleased smile. “My job is to take things off your plate, now more than ever.” She paused to offer him a pained grimace, “To that end, you remember how at today's meeting, the board nominated new officers? Voting has to take place within 24 hours. It cannot be suspended. It's an SEC thing.”

“I can't think about this right now,” Oliver told her in a mixture of frustration and exhaustion.

She offered him a surprisingly sympathetic look, her tone soft and almost pleasant, “I know, and I'm sorry, but you have to. You're the CEO and you have responsibilities--!”

He cut her off, “Which you handle for me all the time.”

She looked at him in exasperation, “A board vote is several orders of magnitude different from covering a missed meeting.” She grimaced at his dark look before suggesting reluctantly, “You could appoint someone CEO pro tempore…”

He scowled. “Fine,” he bit out as he ran his fingers through his hair. He reached for a pad and a pen. “You do it.”

“That's not a good idea,” she told him as she watched him begin to write.

“She’s right,” Felicity said rushing over and snatching the pen from his hand.

“Damn it, Felicity,” he growled at her, reaching to take the pen back but she stepped back just as Walter stepped forward.

“I already spoke to Walter and he said he could do it,” she told him quickly. “I have the paperwork here; I just have to print it out and have you guys sign.”

“Why would you…?” Oliver said taken aback, “How?”

“Oliver, I’m your EA,” she said rolling her eyes at him. “I’ve been reminding you about this meeting for weeks now and, since you’ve blown off every single meeting you’ve had for the last month, I figured it was better to be safe than sorry. Besides, it’s a pretty standard form letter. You just have to sign and initial.”

“Felicity just told me about the meeting tonight,” Walter told him, coming to stand beside her. “If you like, I would be happy to act as CEO pro tempore and take over as your stand-in until Thea is back home where she belongs.”

“Are you sure?” Oliver asked him with a confused frown. “What about Starling National?”

“I can take a temporary leave of absence until this is settled,” he told him. “I’ve already spoken to the president of the bank and he’s agreed to act as both CEO and CFO until this is done.” He looked over towards Moira who was on the verge of collapsing under the weight of her grief. “Oliver, your family needs you. Let me worry about Queen Consolidated while you take care of your family.”

“This isn’t a good idea at all,” Isabel sputtered, her tone verging on strident. “The board could see awarding your proxy to Mr. Steele as a conflict of interest.”

“I don’t see how,” Walter said coolly. “I was both CEO and CFO at Queen Consolidated for years and I still have a substantial financial stake in the company through the bank.”

“Exactly,” she turned to Oliver, purposefully cutting Walter out of the conversation. “Oliver, handing the reins of power over to Walter could seriously erode your standing with the board. He sold all his voting shares back to you, remember? They could see this as him either making a power play or think that he’s trying to destabilize QC enough that you’ll default on your loan so the bank can take controlling interest in the company away from you.”

“I would never do that!” Walter said taking umbrage, “Nor would anyone on the board ever accuse me of such. I appointed most of them personally, for God’s sake.”

“Walter—” Oliver began.

“I can do it,” Felicity spoke up.

“What?” Oliver said in surprise, turning to her.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Isabel said with a snort. “You’re just a secretary!”

“I’m a shareholder,” she returned. “SEC rules state that anyone can be named CEO pro tempore as long as they are both a shareholder and no conflict of interest exists. I can do it.”

Oliver took her by the elbow, speaking in low tones, “I need you with me, not at some meeting.”

“Oliver, if you don’t appoint someone right now, QC is facing major sanctions,” she told him. “Just pick; me or Walter, who’s it going to be?”

He looked between them, “I…”

“I’ll do it,” Isabel said firmly. “I’ve been handling most of the day to day operations anyway; you can appoint me CEO until you come back.”

“And how would that not be a conflict of interest, Ms. Rochev?” Walter asked her with a hard look. “You attempted a hostile takeover last year; if Oliver made you his proxy that would be like him signing over all of his stock leaving you with 100% of the voting rights.”

“You know what; I really don’t have time for this!” Oliver practically growled. He turned to Walter, “Are you sure you can handle it?”

“If someone questions my position, I’ll call Felicity and you can send her in instead,” Walter told him. He cut his eyes towards Isabel, “She was absolutely right in that as both a shareholder and your Executive Assistant she could easily handle this meeting in your place. It’s a bit unconventional but perfectly legal.”

Felicity already had her tablet out and walked over to one of the printers to collect several papers. “Here,” she said, handing them and his pen to him. “Sign and initial both copies and then pass them to Walter so he can sign as well.”

“Call me if you run into trouble,” Oliver told him shortly as he signed the first then the second set of papers.

“I will but, as I said, there shouldn’t be any problems,” he told him as he accepted the papers from Oliver and pulled a pen from the inner pocket of his jacket so he could sign as well.

“Fine!” Oliver said, handing the second copy over to Isabel. “Happy?” He asked her before turning to Walter, “Congratulations, you’re CEO again.”

“Hopefully not for long,” Walter told him.

“Don’t tempt me,” Oliver said grimly, grasping Felicity by the elbow again and hurrying out of the room.

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

“I don’t…” He grimaced, “I was so focused on Slade having Thea I suppose I never even thought about it.”

“When I told Moira that it was Felicity who stopped you from signing the company over to Isabel that day, she was so incredibly grateful to her.” Walter told him sincerely. “I assure you, your mother may have attempted to intimidate Felicity, but she’d never try to hurt her; not physically and she certainly wouldn’t try to have her killed.”

The blood in his veins ran cold as he thought about what could have happened if he had signed his proxy votes over to Isabel that day. In order to buy the remaining shares in QC he and his mother had to leverage everything; their homes, their other investment properties, even their trusts. He could have easily lost it all.

Even then Felicity was protecting him and he never even thought to thank her.

“Thanks,” he told the other man with quiet sincerity. “I mean it, Walter; thank you. For everything.”

“You’re welcome, son,” he said, clasping him warmly on the shoulder. “Just take care of yourself and keep Felicity safe.”

He nodded silently before making his way out.

As he made his way to his car, he let out a frustrated breath. He still wasn’t as sure as Walter that Moira was in the clear but it was looking less and less likely. He’d continue to investigate it, of course, but something told him it would be a dead end. A lot of what Walter had told him about Felicity’s past had resonated with him, and he now had a better picture of the woman he thought he knew inside and out over the last four years, but one thing in particular had snagged his attention:

“I doubt she even knew his name…”

But she did know his name; in fact she knew two of them.

And while he knew where one trail ended, his wasn’t the only name that had been spoken that night.

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Felicity sat on the couch in the living room bundled up in her pink kitty and coffee cup robe and warm and fuzzy jimjams as she sipped the god-awful herbal tea Diggle had given her and looked at the two cards on her lap. One was from Jake and the other from Miranda Tate, one of them filling her with dread but not the one that probably should.

What if Tam was right and the Stellmoor offer was legitimate? She toyed with the idea for a moment. As of right now she didn’t have a job and the idea of working at Wayne Enterprises was out of the question as was anything to do with LexCorp. She could go back to being a consultant but the work would be inconsistent and she still wouldn’t be doing what she really loved. She liked being a member of Team Arrow, she liked making a difference in people’s lives. You could teach, came a thought from the back of her head. It’s not exactly the same as taking down drug dealers and Triad gang members but you’d be making a difference. The only problem was that it sounded as bland as the oatmeal her dad had been complaining about that morning.

She was doomed to live a plain oatmeal kind of life, unless…

She tilted the card under the light and watched as the design in the holographic ‘S’ shifted and changed. She put it down and picked up Jake’s card instead. He was sweet, she thought. He’d probably be a great boyfriend, too. Solid, dependable, the kind of guy who treated a girl like she was made of glass but still let her be herself. He’d never roll out of bed and hand her the ‘My life is too dangerous’ speech. He had a dangerous job plus he was ex-Army so he could probably understand all she’d been through without judging her for it. Plus, as an added bonus, he could appreciate her ‘I jumped out of a plane and landed on a landmine’ story better than most people ever could. He definitely seemed pretty sane and normal compared to the other men in her life. She didn’t know him well but she’d be willing to bet that he wouldn’t wake up one morning and decide to go swinging from rooftop to rooftop fighting crime. Call it a hunch but she couldn’t see a guy with teddy bear brown eyes who blushed the way he did hurling bat shaped throwing stars and arrowing people in the chest because they failed the city.

She sighed. If she left that life behind then her future would be filled with men like Jake Simmons; nice, polite young gentlemen who would treat her the way her dad expected a ‘respectable young lady’ to be treated. That card represented a life without masks. It would be a fulfilling life, it would get the job done just like her dad’s daily bowl of oatmeal, but something about it just made her want to say ‘bah’ and hide behind her paper as she dreamed of hacking into Federal databases.

Two choices in front of her and only one of them was the right one. She could spend the rest of her life being driven from one place to another as ‘Baby’ or she could be the kick-ass handler of a group of all-female vigilantes. If that was all there was to it then ‘kick-ass’ beat ‘Baby’ every time but it wasn’t. Isabel and Stellmoor knew about the Arrow, knew about Oliver. She could be walking right into a trap.

“Gotham has gotten even more dangerous since you’ve been gone.”

According to Paul DioGuardi there had been threats against her dad, enough that both the company’s head of security and Alfred were reluctant to even let her get a cab by herself. Maybe it was just them being overprotective but there had been something in Paul’s eyes when he spoke. Isabel had told her that they wanted to start a team in Gotham. She’d be able to make a difference, protect her family, and yes, show Bruce once and for all that she could take care of herself. Even if she went back to Starling City the relationship she had with Oliver had changed forever. She doubted she’d ever be allowed back with the team again. What if she split the difference and didn’t choose either one but struck out on her own instead? The story she’d handed Bruce on that rooftop wasn’t so far from the truth; she could have easily been the head of a secret organization of Arrows. She could do it. She could recruit ex-military like Dig or Jake and have them train people as she handled the tech and gave the orders. It wasn’t all that different than what she’d been doing for the last several years when you really thought about it. So, which was it going to be; Stellmoor, go independent and start from scratch, or spend the rest of her life as ‘Baby’? Risk Stellmoor, risk it all, or play it safe.

“Hey,” her brother said as he vaulted over the couch and sat down heavily beside her as he reached for the remote. “What’re those?”

“Nothing,” Felicity said, pocketing the cards. She looked over at her brother who was flipping through the channels. “How did the doctor’s appointment go?”

“Waste of time,” he shrugged. “Made Peggy Ann feel better though so it was worth it.” He looked at her fuzzy Sock Monkey pajama bottoms and matching purple tank top under her robe with a raised eyebrow, “I see someone has a thrilling night ahead of them, huh? Hot date?”

“Only if you count my love affair with Entenmann's and Ben and Jerry’s a hot date,” she said wryly.

“Ooh, we have cake?” Luke looked up eagerly.

“There’s always cake, we just have to find dad’s stash,” Tam said as she strolled into the room with Tim trailing behind her.

“Hey bud,” Luke said reaching for Tim’s hand with the one not in a sling and offering him a fist bump.

“Dude, check out the war wound on you, huh?” Tim said as he plopped down on the couch beside him.

“Got it wrestling with a guy who was transformed into a giant lion centaur by a radioactive meteorite,” Luke said off-handedly as he showed off his temporary cast.

“Nice,” Tim said bobbing his chin in approval.

“You are so frickin’ weird,” Felicity snorted missing the amused look her two siblings and Tim shared when she wasn’t looking.

“Baby, why are you in your PJ’s? It’s not even seven o’clock!” Tam said with a frown. “That’s so sad.”

Felicity turned to her sister, “What’s so sad about getting into your warm and fuzzies so you can relax in front of the TV?”

“Are you kidding? Just the fact that you still refer to your pajamas as your ‘warm and fuzzies’ is tragic,” Tam said with a wince.

“Leave Baby alone,” her dad said as he wandered into the room straightening the tie to his tux as he dropped a kiss on the top of Tam’s head. “I think she looks cute in her little monkey pants.”

“Gee, thanks Dad,” Felicity muttered as Luke snorted beside her repeating the words ‘monkey pants’ until she poked him in the ribs with her elbow.

“Timothy,” Lucius said coolly as he suddenly stopped short and greeted Tim.

“Mr. Fox,” Tim said clearing his throat as he scrambled off the couch and held out his hand in greeting.

Lucius glared at Tim’s hand without shaking it. “I understand that you were in my daughter’s apartment the other day at a very early hour borrowing, what was it again, ‘sugar’?”

“Sugar?” Tim asked in confusion then turned to Tam for help. At his girlfriend’s frantic gesturing he cleared his throat again and straightened his posture. “Oh, yes sir, I, uh, like putting it on my…cereal. For breakfast.”

“And you thought that the best time to borrow said sugar was sometime before dawn?” Lucius asked him imperiously.

“I’m an early riser?” Tim said weakly.

“I’ll bet,” Luke mumbled and Felicity elbowed him again.

“And you had to go all the way to my daughter’s apartment to get it even though there are dozens of all night convenience stores open between here and Wayne Manor?”

Tim swallowed as he tried to come up with a logical answer, “Um, sir, the truth is that I spent the night in your daughter’s apartment.” At Tam’s wide-eyed look and Lucius’s clenched jaw he quickly added, “On the couch, sir! All night. Nothing happened. It was totally innocent!”

“On the couch, huh?” Lucius repeated dubiously.

“Yes sir, on the couch,” he confirmed wide-eyed and nodding like a bobble-head. “Your daughter and I went out for dinner and got into a discussion, the time got away from us, and she kindly invited me to use her couch. Just her couch and nothing else.”

“How old are you now, Tim?” Lucius asked him after a long pause.

“Um, old enough to know better, sir?” He answered meekly.

“Son, the way I see it you can either learn to cover your tracks better or you can bite the bullet and take your chances with telling the truth because you can’t lie for shit,” he told him bluntly.

“Yes sir,” Tim agreed, his cheeks aflame with humiliation.

Luke started snickering loudly until Lucius smacked him in the back of the head. “Ow! Dad! What did you hit me for? Tam’s the one being all scandalous, not me.”

“I seem to recall you being involved in a scandalous situation or two,” Lucius told him without any heat. “Or have you forgotten the incident with you and the Ambassador’s daughter in the pool?”

“Oh yeah,” Luke said as he rubbed the back of his head. “I wonder if she’s still in town?”

“Keep it out of the pool. We had to drain it the last time you went bouncing your naked butt in there,” he told him.

“Where are you going all dressed up, Daddy?” Felicity asked in an attempt to change the subject before one of her siblings chose to bring up any of her scandalous behavior as of late.

“Fundraiser for the library,” he said looking around the room. “I don’t suppose any of you kids want to go throw something on and join me?”

They all spoke up at the same time:

“Already in my warm and fuzzies.”

“Library fundraiser? Snooze! Not.”

“Lion ate my tux, Dad. Sorry.”

“I barely talked my way out of going to that thing when Barbara handed me my invitation personally.”

Lucius turned to the last speaker with a hard eye. “I wasn’t actually speaking to you Tim but it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one you’ve tried that bull-malarkey on lately.”

“Sorry again sir,” Tim said, quickly getting out of his way and sitting next to Luke. “I’ll just sit here…quietly.”

“Peggy Ann has the night off so you kids order something in. She told me that if she finds her kitchen in a mess that she’s taking it out of your hides,” he took a moment to eye Luke. “Understood?”

“Why do I always get the dirty looks around here?” Luke asked with a hurt expression.

“Probably because Felicity and I don’t cook and you’re the one responsible for the Great Smoothie Catastrophe or have you forgotten why you decided to leave the country in the first place?” Tam said with a smirk.

“I don’t think that’s why he left the country, per se,” Felicity said. “It was a contributing factor, don’t get me wrong, but I also think he was trying to get away from the six girls he was dating simultaneously because cotillion season was coming and he’d promised he’d escort every one of them to the exact same country club dance.”

“It wasn’t six girls,” he objected, “it was only three and I can’t help it if I have a hard time saying no to a pretty girl, especially when they beg.” He batted his eyelashes exaggeratedly, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”

“You’re so full of it,” Tam snorted.

“You know, I’ve missed having all you kids back home,” Lucius said with a grin then added wryly, “Even if you all do devolve into a bunch of teenagers the first chance you get.” He reached over and tugged on Felicity’s ponytail, bussing a kiss on her forehead as she tipped her head back to look up at him. “Seeing you in your warm and fuzzies reminds me of when you kids would build forts out of sheets and spend half the night eating junk food and watching movies in here.”

“Ooh, we should have Bed Day like we used to!” Felicity said enthusiastically turning to her siblings and Tim. “Tam, you can borrow some of my pajamas and we can rent some movies and do up popcorn!”

“Great dad, thanks for planting that seed in their heads,” Luke said with a groan.

“Shut up!” Tam swatted at him with a throw pillow as she plopped down on the arm of the couch. “You know you used to love Bed Day as much as we did.”

“Maybe,” he said with a quirk of his lips. “But I’ll tell you one thing, I am not sitting through another Nick at Nite Marathon or a Julia Roberts film festival. I’ll hop a plane back to Africa before I’m forced to sit through Dying Young one more time, I swear to God.”

“You’re just saying that because you always cry like a baby throughout that whole movie,” Tam snorted.

“Dude, you cried? Over Campbell Scott?” Tim asked with a sneer of disgust.

“If you think that’s bad you should see him during Steel Magnolias,” Felicity chuckled.

“But, huh, she, huh, was, huh, so, huh, YOUNG!!!” Tam fake wailed as she leaned over his shoulder.

“It’s a sad movie,” Luke said in a slightly hurt tone. “Real men can express their emotions too, you know.”

“I do not know you, man. Seriously,” Tim said, shaking his head.

“Tam; mani/pedis and we can MST3K bad horror flicks?” Felicity suggested with a twinkle in her eye.

“Oh yeah, and we can send out for pizza and make hot cocoa!” Tam said enthusiastically as she turned toward her and grasped her hands excitedly.

“Cool with me,” Luke shrugged. “I could go for pizza and I don’t really feel like going out tonight. Tim?”

“Sure,” he shrugged. “I don’t have plans. Hey,” he said with a lopsided grin, “maybe I should run home and grab some pajamas, too.”

“No.” Lucius leveled a finger in his direction causing the smile to drop from the younger man’s expression. “You keep your clothes on in this house, understood.”

“Yes sir,” Tim said with a nod.

“I’m off, don’t make a mess and have fun.” Lucius looked to his son. “Watch him,” he said pointing to Tim before he left.

“Okay Dad, you got it,” Luke said giving him the thumbs up.

As soon as he left Tim sunk down in the couch with a groan. “Your dad hates me.”

“He doesn’t hate you, my sweet widdle honey-bunny,” Tam said in a pouty baby-talk as she plopped down beside him and wrapped him up in a hug.

“Oh no, he hates you, dude. Totally. Like loathes you,” Luke said dryly. “He looks at you and sees the little bastard who has had copious sex with his daughter. Your only options now are to leave the country or marry my sister and even then you’re screwed.”

“Marriage?” Tim repeated in a panicked tone as he suddenly sat up straight.

“Oh, but don’t you want to make an honest woman out of me, lovah?” Tam asked in an exaggerated drawl and she draped herself over his lap in a mock swoon. “Why whatevah will happen to our baby if you leave me in my time of need? Oh, the scandal!”

“Don’t-don’t-don’t even joke about that,” Tim stuttered. “T-that is not funny.”

“Yeah, knock her up, that’ll really make our dad see the light,” Luke snorted.

“Did you know that the morning after pill is $49.99 plus tax?” Felicity asked with a frown before turning to the others. “For one pill; that’s high, isn’t it?” At their blank stares she shrugged, “What? I was trying to add to the conversation plus I drank a whole lot of champagne before lunch.”

“Yeah,” Tam said slowly. “Um, Baby, now that it’s just us do you want to go ahead and talk about what happened with you and Bruce?”

“Or we could just make popcorn and order take-out?” She suggested helpfully.

“Who’s to say we can’t do both?” Luke added.

“I can go run down to Red Box,” Tim offered. “There’s one on the corner and I can pick up some snacks and a case of beer.”

“I could go for a brew,” Luke said, perking up.

“Yuck,” Tam said as she scrunched up her nose. “No beer, it stinks up the whole house and the last thing you need is to make my dad think you were trying to get me liquored up in the TV room.”

“Soda?” Tim said with a gulp.

“Diet, and Felicity and I will order the food.” She grinned, “We can do ‘around the world’ just like when we were kids!”

“Around the world?” Tim asked her in a low murmur.

“Get your mind out of the gutter,” she snorted.

“’Around the world’ was when we would get a bunch of menus and order food from as many different take-out joints as we could,” Luke explained. “Chinese, pizza, burgers, Thai, sushi, barbecue, Indian food…”

“Evenings filled with world cuisine followed by epic heartburn,” Felicity said in a dreamy tone. “Oh how I have missed those glory days of old.”

“Man, you guys had a lot more fun growing up than I did,” Tim said with a hint of envy. “Bruce’s idea of family fun involved staking out the mob in the freezing rain on some random rooftop. Uh, by the way; spandex and Kevlar chafe when wet.”

“Tim,” Felicity hissed, shaking her head.

“What?” Tim asked with a frown.

She jerked her head toward Luke and shook her head.

“I don’t get it,” Tim said, looking from Tam to Luke. Meanwhile, Luke had his hand over his eyes and tilted his head back with a groan.

“Lucas Fox, I think you got some s’plainin’ to do,” Tam said in a sing-song.

“How did you manage to keep your cover as Red Robin secret for this long, dude? Seriously?” Luke asked shooting him a dirty look. “Dad was right, you do lie for shit.”

“Should I be offended by that?” He asked, turning to Tam.

“Okay, what’s going on?” Felicity asked looking between the three before settling her gaze on Luke. “You know about Tim and Bruce? What else do you know? What am I missing?”

“Okay,” Luke said clearing his throat as he turned to Felicity, taking her hand gently in his own. “First off, don’t panic.”

Felicity felt all the air leave her lungs. “Never, ever, ever begin a sentence with the words ‘don’t panic’ and expect a person not to panic. What is it? What don’t I know?”

Luke smiled calmly, “Do you remember when I joined the Peace Corps?”

“Yeah, dad hit the roof, why?”

“I didn’t actually join the Peace Corps,” Luke said in a measured tone.

“What do you mean?” Felicity said slowly.

“I didn’t join the Peace Corps, I went with Bruce and trained and then I went to Africa to become Batwing.”

“What?” Felicity said flatly.

“I’m Batwing,” Luke said with a confident smile.

“What the hell is a ‘Batwing’?” Felicity asked with a confused frown.

Tam clutched her stomach and began to laugh as Luke’s face fell, “Wait, you haven’t heard of ‘Batwing’?”

“No, what is it; some kind of experimental plane or something? Are you working for Wayne AeroTech now or is this one of Bruce’s ‘special projects’? I mean, that sounds cool; ‘Batwing’ sounds totally bad-ass in a geeky Star Wars kind of way, but if that’s all it is then I don’t see why you even bothered keeping it a secret.”

“Oh my God, this is so fucking hilarious!” Tam gasped, tears running down her face as she tried to catch her breath. Even Tim was turning purple as he tried to hold in his laughter.

“Dude,” Tim snickered, “maybe I should take lessons from you because you’re so good even your masked identity is a secret!”

“No, it’s not an experimental plane!” Luke said with a pitiful look. “I’m the Batman of Africa! There hasn’t been anything in the papers over here about it?”

“No,” Felicity said in consternation and looked over to the two other people in the room who had begun laughing even harder. “Wait, is this a joke? ‘Batwing; Batman of Africa’? Really? That doesn’t even make sense. How is that supposed to be funny?”

Tim and Tam began to howl with laughter as Luke sputtered, “B-but I’m Batwing! Batwing is a real thing,” Luke insisted. “Seriously! I fight bad guys and have my own weapons and everything.”

“You can’t be the African Batman!” Felicity said dizzily. “You once tried to blow up the kitchen with frozen fruit and yogurt!”

“I…can’t…breathe,” Tam said, falling onto her hands and knees as she shook with laughter.

“I broke my arm fighting an alien irradiated lion centaur!” Luke insisted.

“You were serious about that?” Felicity asked aghast.

“Oh shit!” Tim said falling off the couch as he began to laugh uproariously.

“Yes!” Luke burst out with a scowl. “I would have taken pictures but I was a little busy at the time!”

“So you’re Batwing?” She said slowly.

“Yes!” Luke said insistently.

“And you were never in the Peace Corps and you don’t really run a charity in Africa?”

“No,” Luke confirmed.

“I sent you care packages!” Felicity said angrily. “I baked cookies for your entire fake classroom full of African orphans!”

“And I really enjoyed them!” Luke told her.

Tim used the bottom of his tee-shirt to wipe his eyes, “Oh God, I so want to be a member of this family.” He turned to Tam, “It would be worth marrying you and putting up with your dad’s dirty looks for the rest of my life if this is how you guys spend a Wednesday night.”

“Watch it,” Tam said smacking him on the arm. “When I marry you it better be because I was too cheap to spend $49.99 plus tax and not because my brother is an idiot!”

Tim sobered up quickly, “Okay, again; not funny. No more Baby Daddy jokes, okay? Every time you say something like that I keep imagining your dad standing over me with a bloody ax.”

“So wait,” Felicity said with a scowl, “Tam and I are the only people in the room who have never put on a costume and rumbled with bad guys?”

“Well, technically…” Tam said with an amused look.

Felicity’s face fell. “You too?”

“Once,” Tam said holding up a single finger. “One time but I was fabulous at it.”

“She went by the name ‘Foxy Lady’,” Tim said with a snort. “The hair alone was worth it though.”

“So I’m the only one in this family who isn’t a masked hero?” Felicity asked, suddenly feeling weirdly left out.

“Well, I was only a mask for, like, a day and you got to do something cool, too.” Tam said helpfully. “You got to work with Batman and the Arrow, right? That’s something.”

“Wait, you worked with the Arrow in Starling City?” Luke asked with a scowl. “Since when?”

“Isn’t that why you’re here?” Felicity asked. “Tam said she called you because of Bruce threatening me with jail after he found out I was working with the Arrow.”

“Uh,no. Tim called me and all he said was that you and Bruce hooked up and he got rough with you,” Luke turned to Tam and Tim. “Care to fill in the blanks or are you two still ROFLing all over the TV room?”

“I got this,” Tim said volunteering. “Felicity apparently lost her virginity in the Batcave and Bruce dumped her and tried to pay her like she was a hooker and then she moved to Starling City where she met this Arrow dude and went all Oracle. Bruce found out and went Vesuvius and confronted her, things got rough when Felicity told him she was the real Arrow, then he stalked her over brunch and they had sex again and then he dumped her, again. Oliver Queen is the real Arrow and he found out she worked for Batman so he got all pissed off and then they had sex and then he dumped her, too.” Tim paused to catch his breath and frowned, “Also there might have been something about a threesome but Tam made me go make the coffee so I missed it.”

“Threesome?” Luke said in a near shout, his café au lait complexion darkening with outrage. “Bruce made you have a threesome with him and some other guy?!”

“There was no threesome! A threesome did not happen!” Tam insisted slapping Tim on the arm again as Felicity hid her face in her hands in abject humiliation.

“Oh God,” Felicity moaned.

“They’re right, you really do suck at keeping secrets,” Tam hissed at her boyfriend who shrugged sheepishly.

“He asked,” Tim said defensively.

“Okay, someone better start explaining to me what exactly is going on and don’t skimp on the details,” Luke demanded in a low familiar growl and Felicity could see the shadow of the Bat creep over his features the same way it did with Bruce when he was under the cape and cowl. He turned to her and she could see cold hard anger reflected in the tawny gold eyes that she loved so much and her heart stopped as it hit her; it wasn’t a joke. This was real. Luke was…he was…

She couldn’t help it, it was just too much. In an ideal world she would have sucked it up and breezily let fly with every detail; cool and confident like Luke, strong and fearless like her sister, offhandedly with a tinge of smartass like Tim, but she wasn’t them. She was Felicity, just Felicity, and she was so fucking tired of being herself in a world where masks had taken over every person she’d ever loved; masks that rejected her with their secrets and duty and missions and who always seemed to be leaving her behind.

Shame, anger, hurt, exhaustion; all the emotions she’d been feeling for the last several days slammed into her chest and she couldn’t breathe. There was no more oxygen left, it was all gone. Up was down and down was up and there was no control left. She had no control over anything. Who was she kidding? There were no choices to make, not for her. She was adrift and everyone around her seemed to bat her about like she was just an insignificant piece of flotsam carried away with the tide. For a second, for just a moment in time, she had felt safe in her father’s home. She had been sitting happily in her father’s house in sock monkey pajamas attempting to get a grip on her life, feeling hopeful after days of hopelessness, and then it all came crashing back down around her.

The people she thought she knew were strangers.

Felicity began to shake. She drew her knees to her chest, placed her hands over her head and curled into the couch cushions like a turtle retreating into its shell. She needed a time out, she needed to process this and it was too much to take.

Too much.

Luke was…gone. He was gone.

He was there, she could hear him as he called out to her in the distance but it wasn’t him. Her brother was happy and lazy and lovely in the best sense of the word. When she was little he was her world and now he was some stranger who had been infected by the darkness that now surrounded her. Luke was gone.

When she was very little she had a writing assignment that asked ‘If someone you loved was an animal what kind of animal would they be and why?’ She picked Luke but she got in trouble because instead of comparing him to a cat or a bird or a dog like the other kids did she compared him to an apple. The teacher said that she did it wrong but that’s what he was to her: Luke was an apple, a very special kind of apple. He didn’t live in a tree, or on a grocery shelf, or in a Farmer’s Market. Luke was an apple in an ice cold barrel at the carnival; the kind of apple they dipped in warm caramel and when you bit into him your senses exploded with the flavor of all that he was. On the outside his flesh was warm and golden and his eyes glittered like dark sugared candies but when you bit into him he was crisp and green and no matter how cold the world got he was a bite of springtime. Luke was fun and beautiful and a strange mixture of gooey decadence and wholesome purity that confused and delighted the senses. And he was gone. Luke was gone. The Bat had stolen him away from her.

Luke was gone and in his place was Batman Lite. Luke was Diet Batman. Batman Zero; all of the flavor and none of the calories.

She began to weep like her world was ending because it was. Her entire world had ended and she had no control over anything so she cried it all out even though she’d done little else but cry since the whole mess had begun to unfold. She was not this girl. She was not this cry-baby, weak-kneed, miserable sack of nothingness with no flavor or backbone but she could only take so much and she had reached her end.

Batwings and alien irradiated lion centaurs had stolen her caramel apple brother and her life was a fucking disaster.

From somewhere in the great distance she heard soothing words, felt tender hands reaching for her, the muttering of slightly panicked tones and self-recriminations, but this was her moment.

Her moment.

She heard her brother’s voice, felt soothing hands brush over her hair.

“It’s okay, Baby. Hush, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

She heard Tim.

“I’m sorry. Oh God, is she okay? I was just joking! Felicity, are you okay?”

She heard Tam.

“Oh crap! What do we do? Should I call someone? Dad? No, don’t call Dad. Shit, shit, shit! Baby, it’s okay.”

She began to emerge from her cocoon of pain as her body was lifted and shifted onto her brother’s lap as he gathered her close to his chest and began to mutter something to the other two people in the room as he removed her glasses carefully and handed them to someone.

“Here, take these. She’s having a panic attack, just give her a minute.”

Suddenly she felt so hot and her whole body was covered in sticky warm sweat. She had to get air. She began to struggle out of her robe and gasp, “Hot.” The air in her lungs was so hot and it felt like the heat was making it impossible to get enough oxygen.

“Tam, go get her some water or something,” Luke said.

“Okay,” Tam said quickly.

“No ice, not too cold,” Luke called after her.

“Hey Tim, help me untangle her.”

“Okay,” she felt as other hands gently tried to extricate her from the overly warm chenille of the robe. “It’s going to be okay, Felicity. Just breathe okay? Slow deep breaths. Tam,” Tim called out from beside her, “bring a paper bag! She’s hyperventilating!”

“Off!” She gasped as she pulled at the sleeves and heard a ripping noise.

“Crap,” she heard Tim say softly as her arms and shoulders freed themselves.

“I’ve got water and a paper bag,” Tam said in a rush as she jogged up to her side. “Oh. Oh no. Oh Baby, your shoulder…”

“It’s okay, it just looks bad because it’s healing. Give me the water,” Luke said, his voice deep and almost unrecognizable. “Drink Baby, little sips.” She began to drink greedily but he stopped her. “Slowly or you’ll make yourself sick.”

“Do you still need the bag?” Tam asked quietly.

“I think she’ll be okay. Keep taking little sips.”

Felicity took a shuddering breath as her lungs began to function again even though her heart still felt like it was trying to vibrate out of her ribcage. She leaned her face against her brother’s chest and took another deep sobbing breath before whispering, “I’m sorry.”

“What for? Why are you sorry?” Luke asked her quietly.

“For falling apart like this,” she managed through hiccups of breath. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he reassured her.

She stretched out her limbs and climbed up off his lap so she could stand on legs that felt like jelly. She stumbled a bit and Tim stepped forward to offer his support but she waved him off. She snatched a few tissues from the box on the end table and wiped her face and brow then pressed her hand to her chest as if to muffle her heartbeat. Felicity turned away from her companions and walked over to the bank of windows that over looked the city around them. She pressed her face to the cold glass and breathed it in, grateful for their silence as they watched her from the couch.

There were so many emotions under the surface of her skin (humiliation, confusion, guilt) but the worst of it was the overwhelming exhaustion. She just felt drained. She looked at the faces of her family and friend in the pale reflection of the glass and she knew that no matter how much she wanted to ignore it, she had to confront this now. She couldn’t run and hide, there were no more time outs left; she’d had her pity party and now she had no choice but to stiffen her spine and deal.

She cleared her throat and turned to them, an embarrassed little smile ghosting across her lips as she wiped her leaky nose. “Sorry about that,” she said in a hoarse voice. “Believe it or not I’m not this much of a basket case usually.” She tried to laugh and it came out as a strangled kind of hiccup instead. “Panic attack, that’s new. Let’s see, in the past three and a half years I’ve been held at knife point, gun point, arrow point, jumped out of a building and a plane, stepped on a landmine, I was interrogated by the police and threatened with prison, defused a few bombs including one that was wrapped around my neck, I was trapped in a collapsing building, kidnapped by a serial killer who tried to turn me into a plasticized corpse, shot in the shoulder by a mad computer genius with serious OCD, had some really fun times with mind control drugs, and had a contract taken out on my life but, believe it or not, this is my first panic attack.” She looked at the faces of the three people in front of her and watched the range of emotions flit across their faces as what she said filtered through; horror, disbelief, and burning rage. She turned to her brother, “Yeah, well, now you know how I felt when I heard ‘alien irradiated lion centaur’.”

“What the fuck Felicity?” Luke bit out after a stunned moment.

“This coming from Bat-Tarzan,” Felicity said as she shut her eyes for a moment. She licked her lips and centered herself. “Okay. I can handle this.” She took a deep breath and looked at all three of them in turn. “I know I went Little Orphan Angsty for a second but I’m good now so let’s just get this over with because I would like to get back to that good day I was having before that damn straw wandered onto my camel’s back and all hell broke loose. I figure the quickest and easiest way to accomplish that would be if you all just asked me your questions and I answer them one at a time so I can fill in any blank spots as they come up, okay? So…” she focused her attention on her brother first. “Okay, first question goes to Batman II; the Legend of Greystoke; ready, aim, fire away.”

Luke got up from the couch, his golden eyes tracing over her as his one good hand fisted at his side. He opened his mouth to speak a few times but nothing came out until finally he crossed the room in two long strides and pulled her into his chest with his one good arm, holding her to him firmly. She heard Tam make a choking noise and sob then softly perfumed arms reached for her and she was trapped between them.

“Shit,” Tim said as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he pushed back the fall of inky black hair off his forehead. “Aw hell,” he said then suddenly his arms were wrapping around them as well.

As the ridiculousness of the entire situation hit her from within the safe and warm sanctuary of the impromptu group hug, she began to laugh. Rich tinkling chimes of relief and release burst forth from her lips and hit the air cascading over all of them like soap bubbles until they were all laughing as one.

They stayed like that for several minutes until the laughter died down to giddy little hiccups of sound and their hold on one another released. Luke looked down at her and smiled, the shadows leaving his face, “Man, I could eat a freakin’ horse right now, couldn’t you?”

“Oh yeah,” She agreed and it was like a thousand pound weight was lifted from her shoulders.

“I could go for, like, twenty pounds of fried shrimp,” Tam said in a rush.

“I could eat a whole cow,” Tim agreed. “This emotional catharsis shit requires copious amounts of red meat, preferably on a bun with monster amounts of cheese and bacon.”

“Oh man, bacon. Yes to bacon,” Luke said, walking over to the couch and plopping down. He reached for her abandoned cup of tea, “So how do you want to play this? I say we each get a menu and start calling around until—“ He took a sip then spit it out in a gush of green-brown lukewarm sludge and gagged. “What the fuck is this shit?!”

“Yeah,” Felicity said with a wince, “it’s a special blend of rare herbs that speeds up the healing process.” She offered her brother a sympathetic look as he began wiping off his tongue with the bottom of his shirt. “You know, if you give it a chance it could help with your arm. I’ve seen that stuff heal a broken bone in a matter of days and a bullet wound in, like, less than a week or two.”

“Bullet wound?” Tam repeated, looking a bit green around the gills.

“I’d rather keep the cast,” Luke choked out as he reached for her water glass and swished it around his mouth before swallowing. “Guh!”

“Damn Felicity, when did you become such a bad-ass?” Tim asked, his bright blue eyes looking at her with open admiration.

“Why? Because I can drink manky tea that my big bad bat-brother can’t even sip without doing an Old Faithful impersonation?” She asked with a chuckle.

“No, I mean the rest of it. What you said before, you did all that?” He asked.

Luke and Tam both turned to them, their faces betraying their own horror-laced curiosity. “Yeah, but you guys do stuff like that and more every day,” she answered, her cheeks flushing with color.

“We’ve also had training,” Tim told her. “Several years’ worth. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid and Luke studied martial arts most of his life but you’ve only been gone four years. How--?” He stopped, at a loss for words.

She thought about it, “I don’t know, I just did it. I didn’t have much of a choice with a lot of it, I just had to do it,” she said as she looked up at him. “And I have had some training.”

“What kind of training?” Luke asked with a frown.

“Martial arts, stuff like that,” she shrugged.

“You?” Tam snorted.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Felicity asked in consternation.

“It’s just—“ Tam sighed apologetically and smiled, “C’mon Baby, for years our mom made Luke and me take self-defense classes. We were always involved in one sport or another but you were never interested in that stuff. Even when our mom offered to sign you up and take you with us you said no.”

“I guess I changed my mind,” Felicity told her.

Tam looked at her skeptically, “I once tried to get you a gym membership and you made me take it back and exchange it for a gift certificate to a day spa.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Felicity said in exasperation. “Look, after you’ve been kidnapped a few times you start realizing that maybe it’s time to start getting better prepared so I asked some of the guys on Team Arrow to teach me.”

“What did they teach you?” Tim asked curiously.

“Specifically?” She frowned, “Well, a mixture of stuff really but mostly Jeet Kun Do, Krav Maga, and Jujitsu because my friend Sara thought those would work better for me since I’m so small statured and when I do have to fight it’s usually close-quarters combat. I’m trying to get into Wing Chun, and Oliver has a thing about us all learning archery even though I kind of suck at it. Diggle thought that since I was familiar with yoga techniques I would do better with Indian style martial archery disciplines like Dhanurveda rather than Kyudo but it’s been slow going. I’m also fair to middling with eskrima sticks and the Bo Staff but, believe it or not, guns are my wheelhouse. Lance, Dig, and I go to the range every weekend; it’s become kind of a thing. The first time I got all my shots center mass, Lance bought me lunch and stuck the target on his fridge; it was hilarious,” she said with a grin. “Dig even got me my own Glock with the extra extended clips afterwards then Lance got me the P99 after they got into this big debate over which one was better.”

“You own guns?” Tam asked, her jaw nearly hitting the floor.

She nodded, “A few. Like I said, I have two nine millimeters; the Baby Glock and a Walther P99, a .38 police special, and a shotgun but I left that and the revolver back in Starling,” she frowned. “I really need to call Dig and make sure he’s still sending them.”

“A Baby Glock…?” Tam repeated, looking dumbstruck.

“Yep,” she nodded again. “Although technically it’s called a Glock 26. Dig got me the Gen 4 because it came with three clips instead of two and I usually try to keep both a nine shot and a fifteen shot backup clip in my purse. Besides,” she said, wrinkling her nose slightly, “sometimes your pinky can get caught in the regular nine shot clip so it helps to use the extended one.”

“You keep it in your purse?” Tam asked her, eyebrows shooting upwards towards her hairline.

“Yeah,” she reached for her handbag and pulled it out, sliding her thumb on the release and popping out the clip before clearing the chamber and handing it to her sister. “It’s remarkably light and it fits in an evening bag like a dream even with the extra clips. Plus it has the double spring so there’s very little recoil and you can field strip it superfast. There’s not much to it, really.” She looked at it with a slight shrug, “The Glock has a lot more accessories available than the P99, but I kind of like the Walther a little more just because, well, the whole Daniel Craig/James Bond thing, y’know? Although technically he carries a PPK…”

Tam looked at the gun in her hand blankly before Tim reached over and took it away from her with a scowl, “How did you even get this on the plane?”

“Checked it with my luggage,” she told him rolling her eyes as he handed it back to her. She stuck it back in her purse and look at Tim’s expression of disapproval. “What; you thought I kept it in my purse while I was on the plane? Yeah, no. You can check it in an approved carry case but the TSA frowns on you actually keeping it on your person even with a concealed weapons permit which, by the way, I have in case you were wondering.”

“All that? Guns, martial arts…” Luke said, his eyebrows nearly raised to his hairline in surprise. “How often were you training?”

“I don’t know,” she scrunched her forehead as she thought about it. “The guys train between six to ten hours a day but since I’m on tech I only do about half that so I’d say between three and a half to four and a half hours a night during the week then more on the weekends, five to seven days a week for almost two years.” She grinned, “Plus I went from a size six to a four so, yeah for sample sales!”

“I thought you said you were just a tech,” Tam asked faintly, her jaw slack with surprise.

“Yeah, I am,” Felicity said slowly, “but I occasionally have to go in the field, too. Besides, it’s something to do between hacking into Federal databases, y’know? It’s really no big deal.” Tim and Luke exchanged looks and Tam rubbed her hand over her forehead as though she were trying to rub her brain clean.

“Whoa,” Luke said under his breath.

“Baby is packing heat now,” Tim deadpanned. “Bruce is going to lose his shit when he finds out.”

“Am I the only one who feels like they just stepped through the looking glass?” Tam asked the other two stunned people in the room.

“You know, your family looks so nice and normal from the outside but you’re really not,” Tim mused aloud.

“I’m….I can’t process this on an empty stomach, so okay, food first and then interrogation,” Luke said at last.

“Agreed,” Tam said heaving a sigh as she went to retrieve the menus from the kitchen.

The four of them sat around the coffee table and began to order:

“Extra eggrolls! Oh, and those cream cheese crispy things, what are they called? Crab Rangoon!”

“Ooh, if you’re ordering sushi get a Candy Roll and extra Eel Sauce! And a Godzilla roll! Oh, and a Spicy Lover’s Roll! I love me some deep fried sushi; it’s like fancy fish sticks.”

“I don’t give a crap that it’s good for me, Tam; I’m not eating any more tofu!”

“Do they have any of those Blooming Onions?”

“Who orders Buffalo Wings and forgets to ask for Bleu cheese on the side?”

“Do they have any of those little wonton tacos? I love those things.”

“Don’t forget the slaw on the barbecue sandwiches!”

“Tell them no mayo on my burger! And no tomatoes; they’re all mushy and evil.”

“Pepperoni or veggie?”

“To cilantro or not to cilantro, that is the question.”

“Tiramisu or cheesecake? Screw it, we’ll just get both.”

“Oh my Alka-Seltzer, what have we done?” Felicity asked after they finished ordering from the last menu. “How are we going to eat all that food when it gets here?”

“I have no idea but I’m freaking starving,” Tim said, shaking his head. “Just ordering those burgers made my mouth water.”

“Would it be wrong to make a snack while we wait for the food?” Luke mused as he picked up the sushi menu again.

“I still think we should have ordered salads, too,” Tam said crinkling her nose. “Just for appearances sake; that way if anyone asks we can say we made the attempt to eat healthy.”

“There’s lettuce and tomatoes on the burgers, veggies on the pizza, and rice and seaweed with the sushi. There’s your salad right there,” Luke said wryly.

“I could go for some popcorn,” Tim offered.

“You know what I love?” Felicity said with a grin, “I love that I come from a family that eats their feelings. Go neurotic Jewish stereotypes!”

“Whoop! Whoop! Eating disorder meet high metabolism! Yeah!” Tam said giving her a high five.

“Okay, since I’m apparently banned from the kitchen you guys go get the popcorn while me and Tim wait for the food,” Luke said. “We playing for stakes or splitting the diff?”

“Okay, I’m lost,” Tim said with a confused look. “Explain please; what are we doing now?”

“Yeah, cheapskate over there came up with a spin on ‘Around The World’ a couple of years back,” Tam said, hitching a thumb at her brother.

“I’m not a cheapskate, merely a man who enjoys injecting a bit of Vegas into the evening’s festivities,” Luke said turning to Tim. “The game is this: First person to have their food delivered has to pay for everything, if two delivery guys show up at the same time then they split it, but if three or more show up then we call sudden death and whoever ordered the food that arrives last has to reimburse everyone plus tips.”

“And I somehow wind up paying every time,” Tam said sarcastically. “I wonder how that happens? Maybe because Luke always snatches up all the menus before anyone else can then picks the ones for the restaurants closest to our building first?”

“Hey, you’re the only one with a decent paying job,” Luke replied insouciantly. “Tim and I are superheroes and, while that is a freaking cool thing to put on a résumé, it doesn’t actually pay much and Felicity is unemployed due to her lousy taste in men.”

“I’m so glad you’re at the point that you can now joke about stuff like that,” Felicity said wryly as she got up from the couch. She went over to her purse and took out Bruce’s card and threw it on the coffee table. “Consider that me conceding defeat and put it on the card.”

“Whoa, is that--?” Tim picked it up and his eyebrows drew together in confusion. “Um, Felicity? How did you get Bruce’s credit card?”

“Same place I got the wad of hundreds just in case they don’t take plastic,” she said taking out a few hundred dollar bills and tossing them on the table as well. “Some helpful advice boys: If you should choose to screw with a girl’s emotions, make sure not to leave your wallet lying around where she can find it. I might work for the good guys but that doesn’t mean I’m not above a little fiscal payback,” she told them, the line falling easily from her lips as she breezed by them on the way to the kitchen with Tam chuckling beside her.

Chapter Text

 


Chapter Twenty-One

Tim and Luke looked at each other then back to the card.

“Damn,” Tim said with a slow chuckle. “Your sister is a total bad-ass.”

“Felicity didn’t steal his card,” Luke said confidently as he tossed it back down on the table.

“Dude, it’s got his name on it,” Tim pointed out.

“I don’t care,” Luke said. “Felicity gets paranoid if you eat a grape in the supermarket before paying for it.”

Tim gave him a skeptical look, “How did she get the card then?”

Luke shrugged nonchalantly, “I have no idea.”

“I repeat; your sister has turned into a total bad-ass.”

“Lifting Bruce’s card makes her a bad-ass?” Luke asked drolly.

“No, lifting Batman’s AmEx Black makes her a bad-ass. Even I wouldn’t do that and technically I’m family.”

“You’re a dumb ass,” Luke said without heat. The doorbell rang and he looked up, “Huh? That was fast.”

“I wonder why security didn’t call upstairs first?” Tim asked with a frown.

“I don’t know, man. Who cares, I’m hungry.” He snatched the card and the cash off the table, shoved them in his pocket, and headed for the door.

“You’re really using it?” Tim chuckled as he followed him to the door.

“Hell, yeah; motherfucker slept with my sister, least he can do is buy her dinner,” Luke shot back before answering the door then froze, every muscle in his body going tense.

“Luke,” Bruce said as the two men faced each other.

“Bruce,” Luke returned icily.

“Oh, I just knew tonight was going to be chock full o’ fun,” Tim breathed as he looked from one man to the other.

“I didn’t know you were back in town.”

“Now you do.”

“Maybe we should take this outside?” Tim said quietly, glancing back towards the kitchen.

“I’m not here to cause trouble, I just want to speak to Felicity,” Bruce said, his expression never wavering despite the implied threat before him.

“See, you say you’re not here to cause trouble but you talking to my sister?” Luke thinned his lips and tilted his head slightly to the side. “Yeah, that’s going to be a problem because, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the definition of trouble.”

Tim cleared his throat and turned to Bruce. “Okay, before this escalates I think maybe it would be best if you just left.”

“Or not,” Luke growled.

“I’m not after a fight,” Bruce returned with equal menace.

“Really? That why my little sister has bruises all over her?” Luke asked him. “Didn’t seem to have a problem using your hands on her, what makes me so special?”

Bruce’s eyes grew even colder and he tensed. “Do you really want to go there with one arm in a sling?”

“Oh, there’s plenty I can do with one hand tied behind my back,” Luke said, taking a half step forward.

The muscles in his jaw tensed but he didn’t yield. “I understand where you’re coming from Luke and, if I were you, I’d probably have the same reaction but—“

“But what, Bruce? Tell me, how should I be reacting right now?” Luke said, moving another step forward until he was in the hall. Tim followed him, closing the door behind him so that the girls couldn’t hear. “Explain to me how I should react to finding out that a guy I thought was my mentor and friend screwed my baby sister?”

“I didn’t screw Felicity,” Bruce bit out, getting in Luke’s face as his own temper began to come to a head. “The only reason I was even down there in the first place is because I was trying to keep her safe!”

“So I saw,” Luke said, his hand balling up into a fist at his side.

Bruce’s eyes flickered for a moment. “I didn’t mean to hurt her like that and I already apologized for it.”

“Before or after you fucked her?” Luke asked right before Bruce’s fist caught him in the jaw.

Luke rolled with the punch and went down to the floor, his legs kicking out in a sweep that sent Bruce down hard. Before the older man could regain his footing Luke was on top of him, his thick thighs straddling his chest and pinning his arms as he pounded into his face with his one good fist.

Bruce lifted his legs and wrapped his calves around Luke’s throat, jerking him backward until his arms were free then caught him in the solar plexus with a power punch that left him winded as he got back on his feet. “Don’t make me hurt you, Luke,” he gritted out as the other man sprang up into a battle stance, his bad arm held tight to his stomach.

“Bring it bitch,” Luke managed, holding his ground.

“I’m just here to talk,” Bruce repeated, keeping his distance but still obviously prepared to defend himself if need be.

“Where did you guys go? Is the food--?” Tam popped her head out of the door and gawked at the sight of her brother and Bruce in a standoff.

“Go back inside, Tam,” Tim said tersely as he practically pushed her backwards.

“What’s going on?” Felicity asked walking over and peering out the door. “What the hell?”

“Felicity—“ Bruce turned his head toward her and Luke acted, his fist cutting through in an upper cut before he spun his body into a roundhouse kick that sent the other man flying.

“Whoa!” Tam exclaimed, wide-eyed.

“Luke, stop!” Felicity rushed past Tim and stepped between Bruce and her brother.

“Go back inside, Felicity,” Luke said grimly as he stalked toward Bruce who was already getting back to his feet.

“No,” she said, her tone laced with steel as she planted her hands firmly on her brother’s chest. “I’ve already had one home destroyed in a bat-brawl this week, I’d rather not see this one trashed too!”

“I’m just here to talk to her,” Bruce said, stepping toward them warily.

“So talk!” He spat out.

“Alone,” said, the grim tone of the Bat coming to the foreground.

“Not gonna happen,” Luke told him.

“Luke, go back inside!” Felicity ordered him angrily.

“I’m not leaving you alone with him!” Luke shot back.

“I can handle this myself,” she told him. “You too, Tim.” She looked over at the other man. “Take Luke inside and I’ll be there in a minute.”

“You sure?” Tim asked, looking from Luke to Bruce and back to her.

“Positive,” she said, feeling the tension leave the muscles in her brother’s chest despite the anger in his expression.

“I’ll be inside if you need me,” he said to her even though his eyes never left the other man.

“I’ll be fine,” she assured him. She waited until Luke walked inside with Tam. Tim offered her one last reassuring nod before shutting the door to give them at least the semblance of privacy. She eyed Bruce up and down for a moment before speaking. “It wasn’t enough that you destroyed my entire house in a brawl back in Starling City you had to start one here too? Is this going to be a new thing for you?”

“Sorry,” Bruce said, the anger leaving his expression although the tension he felt was still apparent in the way he held himself.

“Why are you here?” She asked him.

“I thought we should talk.”

“About what?” Felicity asked. “The weather? Our shared hopes and dreams? Whether or not the Gotham Rogues make it to the Superbowl; what?”

“No, I--I talked to Queen after you left.” Bruce cleared his throat, running his hand over his slightly mussed hair.

“Oh?” She asked coolly. “You two have a bonding moment after trashing everything I own? Nice to know some good came out of that, I suppose.”

“He told me the truth about the Arrow and about what you were doing out there,” Bruce said, not rising to the bait.

“And?”

Bruce’s eyes met hers, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Felicity asked facetiously. “Ruining my life, destroying my home, or sleeping with me and then dumping me for a second time?”

“All three,” he said, sincerity coloring his tone despite the tension in his expression. “Look, Queen explained all of it and I just wanted to tell you that had I known what was really going on—“

She held up her hand to cut him off. “You show up after four years, take apart my entire life in a matter of days, threaten me repeatedly, and what happens? Oliver tells you the exact same thing I’ve been telling you for days and suddenly everything’s cool? Nice to hear and, by the way, fuck you very much.”

“You lied to me Felicity, how was I supposed to react?” Bruce said with a grimace.

“You weren’t supposed to react, Bruce. You were supposed to mind your own goddamn business 3000 miles away on the other side of the country where you belong!” Felicity said, anger suffusing her face with color. “My life is none of your business!”

“Your life is my business!” He told her angrily.

“Why?” She asked, throwing up her hands in exasperation. “Just tell me that; why? Why me? Because of my dad? Because I once worked for you? What makes me so special, answer me that!”

“You know why,” Bruce said tersely.

“I really don’t,” she said shaking her head. “It can’t be because of the sex because I know for a fact that you’ve fucked half the East Coast Social Registry, so why?”

“Don’t,” Bruce told her.

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t call what we—it’s not just sex, Felicity.” Bruce said with quiet intensity. “It’s never been just ‘sex’ between us.”

“That’s not what you told me.”

“And I’m telling you now that no matter what I said it was never just sex,” Bruce said stepping into her personal space.

“So what are you saying, Bruce?” She asked with a mirthless laugh. “That you didn’t just screw me because I was a conveniently located warm body? That you’re in love with me? That all this was your version of sending a girl flowers?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what I feel, all I know is that you’re the only person---“ He fixed his deep blue eyes to hers, his anger giving way to something else. “I don’t know what this is but it isn’t just sex for me.”

She closed her eyes, “I’m not inviting you in again, Bruce. Not again.”

“Please,” Bruce said quietly and she nearly broke but then she remembered what he had done to her and her resolve hardened.

“’Please’ only works once and it’s too late,” Felicity said shaking her head, refusing to let him see her pain again. “I’m done, Bruce. I can’t do this with you, whatever this is. I can’t keep playing this stupid game of yours.”

“I understand.” He turned his head away, his hands shoved deep in his pockets, “Queen mentioned…”

“What?” She asked flatly.

“Are you and he…together?” Bruce asked quietly.

A pained laugh burst out of her throat and Felicity looked heavenward as if asking for strength, “Oh, I get it; you and Oliver shared some locker room talk after your little rendition of Fight Club and because he told you I let him into my bed during a moment of weakness now you want me again? Yeah, well, don’t bother,” she said with an edge of bitterness. “Oliver gave me the exact same speech you did after rolling out of bed so you can just move on, safe in the knowledge that apparently no one else wants me either.”

Bruce blanched, “I never said I didn’t want you.”

“I don’t care,” she said turning her back to him. “Just go.”

Bruce didn’t move. He closed his eyes and waited a moment before speaking again, this time in a far more cool and detached tone, “Queen and his associate are down a man so I’m sending Barbara there to take your spot and I’m going to ask Tim to volunteer to go with her. I need someone to run Watchtower in the meantime.”

Felicity turned and looked at him like he was crazy. “Do you honestly expect me to join you in the Batcave after all that’s happened?”

“Not the Batcave, at least not the one at the Manor.” He said. “There’s a secondary Watchtower location under the Wayne Foundation Building. I rarely ever use it so it’s horribly out of date but you can upgrade the system in any way you see fit and stay in the penthouse for the duration.”

“You want to set me up in the place Page Six once referred to as ‘Bruce Wayne’s Pied a Terre of Passion’?” Felicity asked sarcastically. “And how do you suppose I explain that to my dad?”

“We’ll keep it professional,” Bruce said, his expression giving nothing away. “I’ll tell him you agreed to act as a paid consultant and that I offered you the penthouse because I never use it which, by the way, is the truth. Despite what the rags would like everyone to think, I rarely go there unless it’s an emergency. I’ll give you a generous salary and you can live there free of charge plus I’ll pay all of your expenses and supply you with any equipment you need. If we can’t get it or if you’d prefer to not go through me, you can keep the card and use that or I can have Alfred give you access to an off-shore account.”

“So let me get this straight: You want to pay me to live in your bachelor pad, take care of your ‘needs’, and you’ll give me shiny things and let me keep your credit card so I can stay occupied while you’re off doing other stuff.” She rolled her eyes, “Do you really think people won’t automatically leap to the conclusion that you’re my Sugar Daddy just because everything is, wink-wink nudge-nudge, strictly professional between us?” She asked in a voice heavily laden with sarcasm. “Why bother telling anyone I’m a ‘consultant’ when you can just say ‘hooker’ and get it over with?”

“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘mistress’; hookers get paid then leave, they don’t take up residence,” Bruce shot back dispassionately. “If you don’t want to man Watchtower, fine. I’ll just let your team know that they’re on their own.”

Guilt? He’s trying to guilt me into doing what he wants? The only reason the team is down a man in the first place is because-- Felicity gritted her teeth and counted to ten. Oh no, she thought. Now I’m pissed. Watch this, you emotional blackmailing Bat-bastard. “Fine, I’ll do it. But if I’m going to be living there then I want it understood right here and now that this is a professional relationship and that you will not enter my home uninvited, I don’t care if it’s an ‘emergency’ or not. Also, I will be paid generously, emphasis on generously. I’m talking the kind of numbers that hurt, not the little ones that just leave a tickle in the checkbook.”

“Anything else?” Bruce asked without blinking an eye.

“Yes,” Felicity said, thinking quickly. “My days are my own, sun up to sundown. I work when the Bat does and when Bruce Wayne trades in his Kevlar for a three piece suit our association ends. You have no right to ask me what I do with my time or with whom I choose to spend it.”

A vein in his forehead stood out as emotion in the form of extreme irritation returned to his expression, “Done.” It was close but not quite the reaction she was going for.

“Not yet,” Felicity said with a touch of triumph. “I saw the photo spread Gotham Living did on that little love nest of yours and there is no way in hell I’m living in some Art Deco meets black enamel and steel Modern nightmare. You’re paying to have the place redecorated, stem to stern, and if I decide to move I keep the furniture.”

“Why don’t I just sign over the deed to the building while I’m at it?” Bruce asked sarcastically.

Bingo. “No, but the deed to the penthouse will do.”

He smirked at that, “You’re not serious.”

“Yeah, I think I am,” she said with a nod. “The way I see it, you owe me for forcing me to leave my home and to top it off you destroyed most of my furniture and clothes.”

“Between yesterday and today you spent over $126,000 on clothes, shoes, and handbags,” he said wryly. “I think my debt has been paid in full.”

“$126,000?” Felicity repeated, pursing her lips. “Got more bang for my buck than I thought. I should go back and get the really expensive stuff next time.” She looked him in the eye, poker face in full effect. “I want a contract and a deed drawn up that says I retain full property rights to the penthouse for the sum total of $1 and that, should I ever decide to move, you get first rights to buy back the property for full market value plus 25%.”

“I’ll give you a lease,” Bruce returned.

“Think of this as less of a negotiation and more like a divorce,” Felicity told him with a malicious twinkle in her eye. “I get the house and full custody of Watchtower Jr.”

“I’m not doing it,” Bruce snorted derisively. “I’ve been more than generous in my offer; take it or leave it.”

“Leaving it.” Without even a second’s hesitation Felicity turned to head back inside the apartment.

“There’s no way you’d risk leaving your team back in Starling a man down and without a tech,” Bruce said in an almost bored tone.

“You’re right,” Felicity said in an exaggerated manner as though finally realizing something. She tapped her finger to her chin. “I wouldn’t, would I? This is why I’m heading back inside to get dressed, call for a cab to the airport, and then heading back there; tonight.”

“Queen sent you to Gotham for a reason,” Bruce growled. “You’re blown, remember? You go back there and your freedom is forfeit.”

“I remember,” she nodded as she turned dramatically on her heel and faced him again. “The thing is, now that I’ve had time to think things through I’m not so sure he was right. In fact, I think that Isabel isn’t nearly the threat he thinks she is.”

“And if you’re wrong?” He asked, his voice dropping into a registry more in keeping with the Bat.

“It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

Bruce narrowed his eyes at her, “Queen won’t let you. If you show up on his doorstep he’ll just shut you out.”

She frowned, “Eh, I don’t think so. You see Bruce, your first mistake in coming here--besides thinking I would ever just cave and be grateful for your presence in my life because I’m just some pathetic former lay of yours,” at her words he started forward before clenching his teeth in a grimace, “was that we were in some sort of negotiation. We’re not. A negotiation occurs when one party has something the other one wants and vice versa. I know that there is no way in hell you would ever risk sending both Barbara and Tim to Starling unless there was something down there that you wanted. Since we both know it’s not me, that means that you’re betting that Ra’s al Ghul is going to show up on Oliver’s doorstep sooner or later and you want your people in the best position possible when that happens. What that means is that you’re the one down a tech, not Oliver, so you’re the one who needs me, not the other way around.”

“You think you’re so clever right now, don’t you?” Bruce said with a tinge of amusement despite the firm line of his jaw.

She clucked her tongue at him, “Oh Bruce, I know I am and, despite what you may think, you’re not that hard of a read.” She let that sink in before continuing. “As I was saying, your second mistake was in assuming that Oliver ran his team in the same way you run your little dictatorship; he doesn’t.” She took a bold step forward, taking a play from the Bat’s How to Influence and Intimidate Handbook, her expression one of deadly intent. “I only work for Oliver when I’m at QC, the rest of the time I’m his partner. He might wear the suit and provide the bankroll but there are three deciding members of Team Arrow and Oliver only accounts for one vote. He doesn’t get to shut me out unless Diggle goes along with it and that won’t happen. The only thing Oliver can do is put down the suit, in which case Diggle and I are perfectly capable of running the show without him which is something we’ve done before and can do again.” At that Bruce’s expression shifted, his eyes focusing on her with laser-like intensity.

That’s right, Felicity silently told him. Five months. Barbara would have confirmed that Oliver Queen was gone for five months but the Arrow was still hanging around Starling City on and off the entire time. Do the math.

“I wasn’t lying on that rooftop, Bruce; not entirely anyway. If you want to get down to brass tacks, I’m the one who runs the show down there,” her blue eyes flashed cold as ice. “Oliver and Dig are vital to the mission but not irreplaceable and if something happens to either one of them we can put a guy in the suit but finding a replacement for me is a whole different matter and they both know it. Even if I have to go completely underground I can do it. I can fake documentation in my sleep and I can get access to unlimited sources of cash and information anytime I need to, so going back to Starling isn’t really as big a hurdle for me as you’d suppose. You, on the other hand,” she tilted her head in quiet contemplation.

“The way I see it, my closing ranks with Team Arrow puts you out of the loop on the whole Ra’s al Ghul/Starling City angle and the last thing you want to do is start a turf war with Oliver while you’re up here in Gotham. You need his cooperation and if I’m there he has no reason to make nice with you. That means that, not only do you need my help, but you need my physical presence here in Gotham for as long as it takes for that to happen.” Her lips twitched into a confident expression of superiority as she watched him seethe with anger and frustration at being caught out so easily, “Bad guys aren’t trains Bruce; they don’t run on schedules. Ra’s could show up at any minute or it could take years before he puts in an appearance. If you want me to agree to stick around for that long, you need to make it worth my while. Owning real estate sounds like putting down some pretty significant roots to me, don’t you think?” She smiled, really smiled. Not a tight angry smile, but a big fat sunny shit-eating grin that matched his deepening glower in intensity. She had him and he knew it.

“You didn’t even want to stay at the penthouse, remember?” Bruce said, unwilling to concede defeat just yet.

“That was when you owned it,” she said serenely. “Now that I own it the idea is beginning to grow on me. After all, what kind of girl wouldn’t be interested in her very own penthouse in the heart of Gotham City?”

“There is no way I’m giving you that property,” Bruce told her. “If you want to go back to your boyfriend so badly then fine, I can’t stop you.”

“Okay then,” Felicity said easily.

“I can make do without a tech, even one as talented as yourself,” he told her, his face darkening in anger.

“Didn’t say you couldn’t,” she said, turning to go back into her dad’s apartment. “Goodnight Bruce.”

He held his stubborn stance until she had her hand on the doorknob, “Wait.”

She turned to him slowly, “I’m sorry, I thought we were done here; was there something else you needed?”

His eyes were closed and she could see the frustration written all over his face. “Are you enjoying yourself?” Bruce bit out.

“A little bit,” she said with a smile. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the wall next to the door.

“What do you really want?” Bruce asked her.

“I just told you.”

“No,” he said, his eyes zeroing in on her expression. “You’re not getting the penthouse and you know it, so what do you really want?”

“I want to know just how much your mission really means to you,” she told him. “I want you to show me just how far you’re willing to go.”

He took a step forward, his muscles tight and his countenance grim, “As far as it takes.”

“Apparently not,” she told him with a raised eyebrow then watched in amusement as he ran an agitated hand through his hair and began to pace as he pinned her with another silent glare. “Oh dear, is having to concede a significant portion of the Bat’s territory a problem for you? Doesn’t it just ping your little control freak nerves to have someone get the upper hand for once?” She clucked her tongue and gave him a sad little pout. “Poor baby.”

“This is a joke to you?” He growled menacingly. “What is this really about? Payback? Some petty little bid for revenge?”

“No, this is me teaching you a very important lesson,” Felicity explained. “If you screw with someone then you’d better be prepared to get screwed back. Don’t worry Bruce, it only really hurts the first time.”

He rubbed his hand over his mouth and shifted his stance slightly, “Your father is CEO of Wayne Enterprises; what do you suppose he’ll say when he finds out that I ‘sold’ you the penthouse suite in the Wayne Foundation Building for those terms?”

“Nice try,” she said easily. “The Wayne Foundation is completely separate from your Wayne Enterprise holdings with you as sole shareholder, owner, and deed holder for that property. My father would never have any reason to see or have knowledge of our business transaction unless you showed it to him. Also, since the penthouse is considered separate from the Foundation and is your private residence there would be no need to disclose the sale in a public declaration of charitable holdings. If my dad asks I’ll just tell him I leased it or I used my own private investments to purchase the property rights. He has no reason not to believe me.” She smiled again and leaned forward, her voice dropping to a near whisper, “I might not have liked being an Executive Assistant but that doesn’t mean I didn’t pay attention during all those business meetings and negotiations.”

“Fine, you want to go, we’ll go,” Bruce bit out. “If I agree to this then it will be quid pro quo; I want a contract,” he demanded. “You agree to work for me for no less than five years and any escape clause goes one way; mine. If I need you to consult for any projects at Wayne Enterprises or WayneTech you will do so as a paid consultant under exclusive contract and any tech, weapons, or other intellectual properties developed while under contract are to be retained solely by me. At no time may you accept an offer of employment by any company in direct or indirect competition with Wayne Enterprises or its subsidiaries nor can you fraternize with any competitors on your off hours of which there will be none. You will be available on-call 24/7. If I choose to retain you at the end of the original contract then it will be at my discretion. If you choose not to sign a new contract then you will sign a non-compete clause which says that you cannot work for anyone else for an additional five year term. You will sign a confidentiality agreement in addition to an employment contract and if you fail to meet your end, any and all property rights will revert back to me.”

“Nope,” Felicity said, stifling a yawn. “No contract, no trotting me out with the other worker bees, and no way in hell do you ever get to even have the illusion of power over me. You only get me when the Bat does and even then you will keep your little bat-toes on your side of the fence. If I want to work for someone else, I will. If I want to invite Lex Luthor to my place for a quickie and sell him a big ass smart gun that fires bat bullets, you can’t say ‘boo’. This is a straight trade and any time I want to leave, I leave. If that leaves you in the lurch then tough shit; not my problem.”

“You expect me to agree to that?” Bruce asked flatly.

“I don’t care if you do or not,” she replied. “Like I said, you’re the only one with your hand out here, remember?”

He stuck his hands deep inside his pockets and threw her a look that would have caused any other person to flee in the opposite direction while babbling in fear. “Fine, it’s yours! Tomorrow afternoon, five o’clock, my office,” Bruce said through gritted teeth. “I’ll have the paperwork ready for you to sign and then I’ll take you over to the penthouse to show you the set up.”

She looked at him for a few seconds before letting out a sigh. “I don’t want your penthouse, Bruce,” Felicity told him.

“What?” He asked, his expression livid.

She shrugged, “I was just messing with you.”

“You were what?” He asked in disbelief.

“Think about it,” she said with mischievous twinkle in her eye. “Why on Earth would I want a $50 million dollar penthouse? The property taxes on something like that would cripple me financially in no time.” A look flashed across his eyes and Felicity knew she had him. “The maintenance fees on it alone would be somewhere around $14,000 dollars a month.”

“Then why go through all of that then?” He burst out.

“Because you were being a dick,” she told him. “Lesson number two: Don’t be a dick.”

“Fine,” Bruce snarled. “We’ll just sign a lease then.”

“Eh, not really interested in it anymore,” Felicity said off-handedly.

“What does that mean?” He asked, looming like an avenging angel on a mission.

“Just what I said,” Felicity said absentmindedly as she turned to go back inside.

He placed a hand on her shoulder and spun her around, pinning her to the wall, “How do you expect to run Watchtower then? Unless, of course, you plan on moving into the manor or Barbara’s apartment.”

“I’m not going to work for you Bruce,” she told him. “Not from the penthouse, or the manor, or Barbara’s apartment.”

“Yes, you are!” He said through gritted teeth, “Stop. Playing. Games. I’m not in the mood.”

“Are you sure?” Felicity said languidly not the least bit intimidated.

His nostrils flared and he seemed to struggle with himself for a moment before he grabbed the back of her hair and pushed her into the wall, his mouth claiming hers in a hard, unrelenting kiss.

Her hands splayed over his broad chest as she allowed herself this one last moment of insanity. His tongue invaded her mouth as his hands travelled downwards to her hips. He gripped her backside and pulled her into his embrace so she could clearly feel him hard and ready against her.

There was a bump and a rattle of the doorknob along with the sound of raised voices in the penthouse and they broke apart, both of them turning toward the noise.

“I guess we have some eavesdroppers,” Felicity said in a surprisingly level tone even though her brain was filled with a lust induced fog.

Bruce quickly stepped away from her, obviously struggling for control. “We can’t do this here,” he said with some inscrutable emotion in his eyes. “Go get dressed and I’ll wait for you out here until Luke calms down.”

“Why?” She asked calmly, pretending as though she wasn’t just as affected by the kiss as he was.

“Because obviously we need to talk and I’d like to say what needs to be said in private,” he told her.

“I think we’ve already said everything that needs to be said, Bruce,” she told him.

“Obviously not, because you kissed me back just now and that wasn’t one-sided, Felicity.” Bruce turned away from her, rubbing the back of his neck in consternation, “You drive me—what‘s wrong with you?” He rounded on her. “You agreed to run Watchtower if I conceded to your demands and I did; to all of them.” His lips tightened into a grimace, “I just don’t understand you. I know you want to do this with me, I know you want to be a part of the mission--!” his eyes narrowed on her and his focus shifted, “I told you that I wasn’t interested in a relationship so you’re trying to punish me, is that it? I never would have imagined you’d be so childish and desperate that you’d stoop so low as to pull a stunt like this.”

She arched an eyebrow at him, “Believe it or not Bruce, you’re not as great a catch as you seem to think you are. I was mad, yes, but not because of that. I was more upset by the tone than the content but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that I’ve done the vigilante thing for years now and I’m ready to move on with my life. I actually have a few job prospects lined up and I’d like to pursue them. It’s a bit hard to hold down a full time job when you’re up all night hacking, running code, and monitoring communications for a bunch of masks. You and Oliver might be able to live off of catnaps and coffee but I’d like to avoid premature aging and insanity due to prolonged sleep debt.”

“You expect me to believe any of that?” He said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I don’t care if you do or don’t, the fact is that I’m ready for a life away from all this.” She didn’t have to fake her sincerity on that one, it was true. “I already have a few prospects lined up, in fact.”

“With who? What companies?”

“Why would I tell you that?” She asked with a soft chuckle. “So you can sabotage any chance I might have? Not hardly.”

“I’ll double any salary they offer, I’ll even triple it if you like, but we both know that you’ll never settle for an ordinary life,” Bruce said confidently.

“It’s not about the money, Bruce,” Felicity said scrubbing her hands through her hair that had come loose from her messy ponytail and stretched. His eyes went straight to the neckline of her camisole and zoomed in on the fact that she didn’t bother with a bra. “It’s about quality of life.”

“’Quality of life’, huh?” Bruce repeated, his eyes following her as she moved to lean against the wall again and folded her hands over her chest to stave off the chill in the hallway. She watched as he observed the slight bounce of her unbound breasts under the thin material of her shirt. He cleared his throat and scowled, “Cut the crap, Felicity; just tell me what you want and let’s settle this.”

“Why do you need me to do it?” Felicity asked him with a curious tilt of her head. “Alfred can run Watchtower, can’t he?”

“No,” Bruce bit out losing his temper again, “but you already knew that plus you’re one of Watchtower’s programmers. You can keep up with the system, work code and hack as you go; at best Alfred can just monitor the coms but he can’t do what you and Barbara do. Look, what it comes down to is if you don’t agree to run Watchtower I can’t send Barbara to Starling, period. Ra’s and the League are coming for Queen and his crew and you need your people safe just as much as I need my people there. In the meantime though, I still need someone monitoring channels in Gotham.” His focus narrowed on her again, “Unless you really are still thinking about going back to Queen?”

She shook her head, “Like I said, I’m over the vigilante thing. I was over it before I even left Oliver which is one of the reasons I quit. All I want now is a career and a chance at a normal life.”

“A normal life?” He scoffed at the possibility of that being the truth again. “With marriage and babies and dinner by seven every night? I don’t think so.”

“Why not?” She challenged.

“Because it’s a load of bullshit and you know it!” He said with a short bark of laughter.

She frowned, “No, seriously, why can’t I meet someone and have all that? Not that I want that necessarily, nothing wrong with it either way, but why is that bullshit? Do you think I’m somehow defective or something?”

“You aren’t built for that life and even if you were you already know you won’t get it from me or anyone else you have your sights set on.” The timbre of his voice lowered to a darker and more seductive level and he stepped close enough to her that she could feel his body heat through her clothes. “And since Queen is out of the running we both know who that leaves, don’t we?”

Her lips quirked upwards, “I do but I have a feeling you don’t.”

“Meaning?” Bruce proffered.

She just smiled enigmatically knowing that it would bug the shit out of him later. “Fine, I will temporarily help you with Watchtower as long as Alfred agrees to start learning the system. You can teach him, I don’t expect to have that much time on my hands.”

“Alfred has his own duties to see to,” Bruce said shaking his head. “Other than the occasional shift he can’t man Watchtower every single night.”

“What a coincidence, neither can I,” Felicity said sarcastically.

“I don’t have all night, Felicity,” Bruce grimaced. “Out with it.”

“Fine Bruce, I’ll man Watchtower but there will be conditions.”

“Naturally,” he said sardonically, “What now? You want me to sign the manor over to you? Empty my bank accounts? I know,” he said, snapping his fingers, “you want me to give you your ‘normal life’ and get down on one knee after asking your father for your hand in marriage. We’ll have a spring wedding and make lots and lots of babies; twins, and we’ll give them cutsie little names like Chrysanthemum and Churchill.”

“That was a pretty detailed foray into the absurd, Bruce,” Felicity said with a superior lift of her brow. “Is there something you need to tell me?”

“Not hardly,” he threw back in an unamused tone.

“I won’t live under your roof, Bruce. This is a temporary arrangement so I’ll just commute for now.”

“I need you on-site,” he told her. “That means you stay at the manor, the penthouse, or Barbara’s place.”

She thought about it for a moment, “Fine, the penthouse, but you pay all my expenses plus everything else you offered,” she paused for drama. “No, I did not forget the offer you made to pay me a generous consultancy fee or the unlimited toy budget. I will, however, be accepting a job soon and I can’t be your 24/7 tech girl so there will be a schedule and you will adhere to it. Also, I need regular days off.”

“What for?” Bruce asked with a frown.

Felicity blinked at him, “Because I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life as a background character in Vigilante World, that’s why. I’d like to be able to let the person I’m seeing know that I can be available to go out on a date occasionally without running it past you first.”

“What person?” He snorted. “You’ve been back in town for all of two days.”

“Oh Bruce, you’d be surprised at what a girl can get up to in just a matter of days.”

That wiped the smug look off his face and his jaw clenched, “What kind of schedule?”

“I’ll give you prime hunting hours; 10 pm until 3 am Monday through Friday with weekends off.”

He shook his head, “Unacceptable; I work Gotham until close to dawn seven days a week. I need you on coms from at least 9 pm until 5 am, sometimes later.”

“Tell Alfred to work the swing shift then because I need at least five solid hours so I can function at a job and take care of sleep debt on the weekends.”

“Did Queen work those hours?” He demanded. “I doubt you complained about sleep debt with him.”

She fixed him with a hard eye, “I was his EA, I made his schedule for him. If I needed a nap then then I took it. Plus, you’re not him; any concessions I made in Oliver’s situation do not apply to you.”

“If you want a job I can get you a job; naps included,” he said, completely unmoved.

“Pass.” She said sweetly.

He tightened his mouth in frustration before answering, “Fine, I’ll try to accommodate you but, as someone once told me, bad guys don’t run on schedules. If I need you, you’re there, understood?”

“That’s reasonable,” Felicity said. “But if I think you don’t need me I’m logging off, understood? And when I tell you I’m down for the night or I need time you give it to me, no questions asked.”

“We’ll revisit it,” Bruce said stubbornly.

“Not negotiable.”

“Best I can do,” Bruce told her. “I’ll try but I can’t promise you something like that.” At her silence he sighed, “Ask me for something I can do and I’ll give you that but I can’t guarantee you a schedule.”

“Well,” she said, appearing to mull it over, “even though I’m really not excited about the idea of that penthouse of yours I suppose I could accept your offer of the decorator.”

“My offer?” He snorted. “Whatever, fine; I’ll even let you keep the furniture. I’d already planned on replacing your belongings and had your things delivered to the penthouse from your old place yesterday.”

“I told them to deliver them here,” Felicity said with a scowl.

“My company, my instructions,” he said unapologetically.

‘Whatever,” Felicity rolled her eyes, uninterested in fighting over it. “There’s one more thing.”

“Name it,” he told her.

“Access to my bed is not a part of the deal,” she said with a confident bearing. “If I take money from you it’s because you’re paying me to be your tech, not a call girl, understood?”

His expression slammed shut and he surged forward, his mouth drawn into a grim line, “I’ve never treated you like a call girl and you know it.”

“And I’m telling you that I won’t be manhandled and your money doesn’t buy you those kinds of services,” she told him succinctly. “Even if I really do decide to hook up with Sexy Lexie, my personal life is my own and you are not a part of it.”

“Sexy Lexie?” He asked, a spark of amusement in his expression battling with the tense line of his jaw.

“You know what they say about bald men,” Felicity drawled. “I might have to find out if it’s true for myself.”

“You have a type, Baby, and Lex doesn’t fit the bill,” Bruce said in a sexy undertone.

“I don’t know; older billionaire with a dark side?” She pointed out. “Sounds about right.”

“I’m not worried,” he told her, stepping a bit closer.

“Oh?” She asked coolly.

“I don’t need to force my way into your bed, Baby,” Bruce rumbled in a low tone. “Whether you admit it or not, you want me just as much as I want you but I’m willing to play it your way for now.” His voice took on a sensual timbre, “The next time I take you it will be at your invitation.”

“Consider yourself uninvited then,” she said laconically.

“Are you sure about that?” His voice took on a languorous quality as he moved closer, his eyes dipping to the thin material of her top and her unbound breasts, trailing up to her lips before ending their journey by catching her gaze with his own.

“Do you want to take me to bed, Bruce?” Felicity purred, a seductive smile on her lips.

“Always,” he said, his lips stopping just a hairsbreadth from hers, his arms leaning against the wall on either side of her.

“Good,” she breathed into his mouth. “You needed to learn how to deal with disappointment sometime.” She pushed him away with her fingertips and stepped out of the cage of his arms to touch the doorknob to the penthouse, “I’ll see you tomorrow at 9 am at the Wayne Foundation Building.”

“I have meetings scheduled in the morning,” he scowled, the Bat replacing the lover at breakneck speed.

“Cancel them,” she told him. “Consider it the first in a long line of concessions you’ll be making from here on out,” Felicity said imperiously.

“Fine, I’ll start making a few concessions if you will as well,” he told her.

“Like what?”

He looked down at her, his mouth drawn in a tight line, “Like the fact that I need to be able to trust you to act as a team out there. That means you have to get over your anger and stop treating me like the enemy.”

“If I act like I can’t trust you it’s because you haven’t given me a reason to,” she told him.

He nodded, “Okay, I’ll grant you that one. I guess a lot of this is my fault, most of it in fact.” He looked at her again, his eyes softer and more sincere than she had seen in a long time. “I’m sorry for what…for what’s happened between us.” He frowned and shifted his weight a little, “I’m not used to apologizing to anyone but I really am sorry. I never meant to hurt you and..” he took a breath, “I want this to work, Felicity. I want to work with you, share the mission. I don’t want to fight anymore.”

Felicity felt her anger melt a little and grumbled, “If you can make the effort then so can I, I suppose.” He grimaced and she sighed wearily, “Look, I’ll try, okay, but I need you to start listening to me. Really listen. I know that you’re used to being the boss but I’m used to being someone’s partner. My team trusts me and I trust them. If I tell you something then I need to know you won’t shut me out or make a power play to reassert your dominance or some other crap! I need to know that you can treat me like an equal. I don’t mind following your lead but if you want us to really work together you have to stop treating me like I can’t think for myself or that I’m incapable of taking care of myself.”

“That’s not easy for me,” Bruce said reluctantly.

“Learn,” she told him firmly. “Tomorrow I’ll do my best to make a fresh go of it but tonight I still need to process all of this. I’m still really, really pissed off about everything that’s happened. I still can’t believe that you and Luke—“ She stopped, took a moment to center herself, then exhaled. “Okay, I’m letting that go now. It’s done. If you can keep it in the past then I’ll try too, okay? Tomorrow though, today I get to be as pissy and vindictive as I want to be.”

“Pissy and vindictive, huh?” Bruce asked, quirking a smile. “If you were really pissy and vindictive you would have nailed me at least a couple of times with those toasters and potted plants.”

“Almost got you with the wine bottle,” she pointed out with a raised eyebrow. “Probably ruined that sweater of yours too. Pretty pissy and vindictive of me, I’d say.”

“Guess I won’t push my luck then.” Bruce smiled a little and nodded as he made a move toward the elevators. “I’ll see you tomorrow. By the way,” he said, pulling something from his jacket pocket and tossing it to her. “Your phone and something for your good buddy, Lex.”

She caught the weighted bag handily, refusing to react to his pointed sarcasm since she knew exactly what was in the bag. Instead she reached into the sack and pulled out the lube. She tossed it to him and he caught it midair without even thinking about it. “That’s for you. Lex and I won’t need it but now that I’ve seen your negotiation skills in action I figure you could use the relief.”

At that moment the bell to the private elevator dinged and four delivery people emerged with several boxes of food between them. Bruce glanced over at them as they began to approach.

“Pissy and vindictive,” he said dryly as he pocketed the lube and headed for the elevator, his eyes still locked on hers as the doors shut. As soon as the doors to the elevator closed, the door to her dad’s penthouse opened and the three stunned and somewhat impressed expressions of her companions were revealed. Tim and Luke quickly paid the deliverymen and Tam pulled Felicity into the foyer while the men handled the multiple boxes and bags of food.

“Holy shit!” Tam breathed; eyes bright and face alight in stunned amazement.

“So I take it you were all listening in on that?” Felicity asked dryly.

“Dude!” Tim marveled as he stepped in behind them with a large box of food balanced in one arm and several bags dangling from the other, “Your sister really is a total—“

“Bad-ass,” Luke finished for him as he shook his head. “Damn Felicity, all I was planning on doing was roughing him up a little; you practically ripped his balls off and shoved them down his throat.”

“And then made him say ‘thank you and may I please have some more’!” Tim crowed.

“That. Was. Amazing!” Tam squealed.

“I can’t believe you just totally screwed Bruce like that and then literally tossed him a bottle of lube,” Tim said in amazement. “It was like the culmination of every fantasy I have ever had!”

She shook her head at them, “Not that I don’t appreciate your concern, but did you really have to watch us from the peephole?”

“Yup, plus we kept the door cracked so we could hear better,” he said with a weird expression on his face as he poked her on the shoulder with his finger.

“Stop it!” Felicity said, batting his hand away. “What are you doing?”

“I’m just checking to see if you’re real and not some kind of amazing dream I never want to wake up from.”

Felicity sighed, “You do realize that this means that you have to go help my team in Starling now, right?”

Tim shrugged, “That’s cool, doesn’t matter to me. I was planning on heading back to Bludhaven tomorrow anyway. One city is just as good as another.”

“Are you going to be okay with Tim being 3000 miles away?” She asked Tam.

She chuckled, “Girl, I work for Wayne Entertainment; I’m on the West Coast every other week! We’ll probably see each other a hell of a lot more now that he’ll be there and not in Bludhaven, the scum-sucking capital of the world.”

“Hey, I might actually be able to get a tan,” Tim said cheerfully.

“Look, can we talk and eat at the same time?” Luke asked, jostling some of the food.

“Let’s eat!” Tim said as they all filed into the TV room. “You can fill me in on the details of your team over heartburn.”

*\?/*\?/*\?/*

Later that night when she laid in her bed she finally got around to worrying about the logistics of everything.

As much as she’d like to pretend that Bruce no longer affected her, he did. She’d felt that kiss in her bones and she knew that he knew it, too. It was just a matter of time before close quarters and unresolved sexual tension came to a head and then she’d be in the same situation all over again.

“I am not a doormat,” Felicity told herself out loud as she stared up at the ceiling. “I will not have sex with that man no matter what.” She sighed and rolled onto her side, “Oh who am I trying to kid?”

She was going to ride that man like a mechanical bull the first chance she got. Speaking of which…

Felicity reached into the white paper sack on her bedside table, popped the Plan B in her mouth before tossing the packaging in her wastepaper basket and took a sip of water from her water bottle. She then tossed the bag and its contents back on top of the nightstand. “One less thing to worry about at least.”

She slumped back into her pillows and glanced at her clock. It was still pretty early. Tam, Luke, and Tim were still up and watching TV in the lounge but she just hadn’t been in a company kind of mood.

“Hey,” Tam said, opening her bedroom door a crack.

“Hey,” she said back.

Tam walked over to her bedside and fished the pastel colored packaging out of the trash. “$49.99 plus tax?”

“Yup,” Felicity said morosely. “And worth every penny.”

Tam tossed it back in the wastebasket with a frown, “Why did they decorate the package in pastels if it’s supposed to prevent pregnancy? Isn’t that like the worst marketing idea ever? Damn thing looks like it should come with a free pair of baby booties.”

“I don’t know,” Felicity said dryly. “Maybe because they think people with uteruses can’t handle primary colors?”

Tam seemed to consider that for a moment, “That or they thought a picture of a baby bump with a line drawn through it might be too obvious?” She snorted, “Personally I’d buy it but, hey.” She lay down beside her in the bed forcing Felicity to scoot over to give her room. She settled into the pillow and rolled over so she was facing her, “I meant to ask, can I move in with you?”

“Sure, you’ve already stolen my pillow and my side of the bed, why not?” Felicity snorted.

“No, I meant into the penthouse,” she said.

“You already have the condo Dad bought you,” Felicity frowned

“So?” She asked, “That penthouse has like five or six bedrooms, what do you care? Plus my condo board doesn’t allow pets. If I move in we can get a tiny little doggie together! Maybe a Lhasa Apso, or a Yorkie, or one of those teeny tiny little poodles people stick in coffee mugs so they can post it on Facebook?” She made a little gesture with her hands, “We can dress it in cute little sweaters and do its hair and buy it tiny little accessories; a cute widdle puppy with a tiny widdle smooshy face. You know you’re dying for one, right?”

“Tiny what? And who’s going to housebreak it?” Felicity asked muzzily.

“Tim,” she said easily. “He’ll also walk it and do all the other gross poopie stuff we don’t want to do.”

“Tim’s not even housebroken! Besides, he’s going to be in Starling City, remember?”

“We’ll hire a maid and a dog walker, I’ll pay! Please! Pretty please! Please let me live in your penthouse!” Tam begged, her hands folded in supplication.

“Fine!” Felicity said wearily. “If you can figure out how I’m going to work with Bruce and not wind up in bed with him only to get my heart stomped for a third time then you can move in and get as many dogs as you like. Smoosh all the little widdle faces you want to all day long.”

“Can’t you just sleep with him and not get your heart broken?” Tam said easily.

“I doubt it,” Felicity said morosely.

Tam grabbed the paper sack off the vanity and peered inside before pulling out the XL labeled condoms and grinned at her, “Are you sure?” She teased, dangling the box between her fingers.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Felicity said, not even cracking a smile.

“Sure you can,” Tam told her. “It’s like riding a bike.” She winked, “A very well hung bike.”

She snorted, “Not that, I mean work with Bruce again and not get hurt.”

“God, you’re bringing me down,” Tam moaned dropping the condoms on the bed between them and burying her face in the pillow.

“I’m sorry if my life is making you upset,” Felicity said sarcastically.

“What’s the big deal?” She asked without looking up. “He wants you, you want him, I say hop on top and enjoy the moment.”

“I can’t, and I don’t think I can work with him without that happening again either,” Felicity said miserably.

“But you have to!” Tam said, lifting her head from the pillow.

Felicity sighed resignedly, “Because of the mission and the fact that it’s the right thing to do?”

“No, because I really want a dog.”

There was a knock at the bedroom door and Tim stuck his head inside with his eyes tightly shut, “Is everybody decent?”

“Unfortunately,” Tam said sulking.

“Damn,” Tim said in consternation as he opened the bedroom door the rest of the way.

“What are you doing in here anyway?” She asked, shaking her head at her boyfriend.

“Luke went to bed early and it felt weird being the only one in the TV lounge,” Tim told them. “Got room for another in there?”

Tim plopped down between them and Felicity huffed as she was forced to the outer edge of the bed. “You know, a few boundaries would be nice every once in a while,” she groused.

“What’s got you so crabby?” Tim asked. “You just handed Bruce his ass out there; you should be celebrating not holed up in here bringing down the mood.”

“Thank you!” Tam said, hugging him tightly and kissing his cheek. “I knew there was a reason I loved you; I told her almost the exact same thing just before you walked in here.”

“No you didn’t,” Felicity said with a frown. “You said I should sleep with Bruce and basically chuck my self-respect out the window.”

“What is--?” Tim squirmed on the bed and pulled the now crushed box of condoms out from behind him. “I really didn’t need to know this about Bruce,” he said reading the label.

“Felicity said she can’t be a kick-ass vigilante anymore and she wants to give Bruce back our penthouse,” Tam pouted, burying her head in his chest.

Tim wrapped his arm around her and turned to Felicity with a scowl. “No! No way! You can’t do that after you—” He paused, “Wait, did she say our penthouse?” He looked at Felicity hopefully.

“No.” Felicity told him.

“Damn,” he breathed, his brows drawing together in consternation.

“Tim,” Tam said in a whiny little girl voice. “Make her have sex with your dad again so I can live in his penthouse and get a little doggie!”

“I don’t even want to think about Bruce and---! Wait, we could get a dog, too?” Tim looked to her again.

“No!” She said, throwing her arms up in exasperation.

“Well, that sucks,” he said grumpily. “I always wanted a dog. All we had at the manor were stupid bats and you can’t pet those things without the risk of rabies.”

“Tim, the practical stuff, the logistics of me living there and working with Bruce just doesn’t add up!” She heaved an aggravated sigh. “Right about now Bruce is realizing he has me over the barrel and the minute I cave and give in to him he’s going to wind up stomping my heart all over again.”

“So don’t let him,” Tim said blithely. “Bruce bulldozes over everyone around him and we all cave because he’s so damn relentless it usually isn’t worth it, but you didn’t let him beat you out there. You won. You laid a smack-down on his ass and made him see what it’s like for the rest of us. You aren’t really going to give that up, are you? Because he wins whether you stay and cave or whether you run away and hide; either way, he knows he has that power over you.”

“So he wins no matter what I do? Is that what you’re saying? Great,” Felicity said sullenly.

Tam plopped down beside Tim, “Ugh! Your life sucks and you’re dragging me down with you!”

Tim shook his head at the two of them. “The problem with the two of you is that you aren’t thinking this through.”

“No duh, how do you think I got into this mess to begin with?” Felicity said, lying back until she and her sister were side by side with Tim between them, their matching expressions a fitting representation of doom and gloom.

“What does Bruce hate more than anything?” Tim asked them, arching one eyebrow haughtily.

“Commitment,” Felicity said.

“Casual Friday,” Tam said at the same time.

“Not being in control,” Tim corrected them. He turned on his side, punching the pillow so that he was comfortable before speaking again, his mouth relaxed in a gentle smile. “Bruce hates not having control. He cares about you, probably a lot more than he wants to and it scares the crap out of him. It makes him feel out of control so he pushes you away because suddenly he doesn’t hold the power position, you do. He’s playing push me/pull me because a part of him thinks that if he keeps you off-balance then that means he’s in control and he won’t stop until you stop him and the only way to do that is to break him of the habit and show that, no matter what crap he pulls, you aren’t falling for it.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?” Felicity asked.

“You just did; out there just a while ago,” Tim told her. “You took control and he let you. He fought it but once he realized that you weren’t going to let him roll all over you he relented. Once you recognize that, you also begin to realize that the only thing that bothers him worse than when people don’t do what he wants is when they ignore him altogether.”

“What do you mean?” Felicity asked and both she and Tam looked at him with interest. “I tried ignoring him and it didn’t do any good. He just showed up and--”

“Kissed you so hard it made the doorknob sweat,” Tam finished for her.

“First off, I did not need that imagery; secondly, I don’t mean ‘ignore’ as in ‘not pay him attention’, I mean total apathy.” He told them. “You got him good tonight and it’s bugging the shit out of him right now. He’s out there on some rooftop deciding on strategies and formulating protocols even as we speak and tomorrow morning, bright and early, he’ll call his secretary and cancel every meeting he has just so he can be at the door to his penthouse waiting to spring a trap on you and show you that, even if you think you got one over on him, he’s still the one in control.”

“And?” Tam prompted him, lifting her head from the pillow and rolling onto her side to face him.

“Think about it,” he told them. “Bruce has been stewing over this all night long, he’s got plans within plans, he’s figured out every angle, he’s determined to regain control over the situation; what is the one thing you can do that will completely throw him off his game?”

“Hand me the phone,” Felicity said as she finally got it.

“What are you going to do?” Tam asked as Tim handed her the cell.

“Hold on,” Felicity said as she looked for the name she’d added to her contact list just before she decided to go to bed. The phone began to ring and she waited.

“Hello?”

“Hi, it’s Felicity. I’m not calling too late, am I?”

“No,” Jake said. “I’m usually up pretty late actually. You don’t need an on-call hero already do you?” He teased.

“Not exactly,” she said, “I, um, I was just wondering if you were serious about doing something later?”

“Yeah, absolutely,” Jake said brightly. “When?”

“Anytime really,” she said.

“How about lunch tomorrow? Your dad has meetings all afternoon so he won’t need me until he’s ready to leave for the day barring any last minute change of plans.”

“Lunch tomorrow sounds great,” Felicity grinned. “That works out perfectly in fact. What time?”

“Any time after 11:30 works for me.”

“I have to be in the area in the morning so why don’t I just swing by Wayne Enterprises around that time and we can take it from there?”

“Sounds like a plan,” he told her in his warm honey and whiskey drawl. “See you then Miss Felicity Fox.”

“See you, Jake. Goodnight.” She hung up the phone and Tam squealed in delight from her side of the bed.

“Oh my God!” Tam laughed. “I can’t believe you just did that!”

“Wait, did you just play Bruce?” Tim said in shock.

“No, I didn’t ‘play’ Bruce, I just made a lunch date with someone.” She arched her eyebrow at him, “Besides, isn’t that what you just told me to do? Throw him off his game by showing him that he can’t manipulate my emotions whenever it’s convenient.”

“Uhh,” Tim hesitated with a frown. “I guess I did.”

“So who’s Jake?” Tam asked.

“Dad’s security officer.”

“Oh yeah, he’s yummy!” Tam goggled. “Ooh, that’s going to drive Bruce out of his skull.”

“Yeah, but that’s beside the point,” Felicity said dismissively. “I need to break the pattern and going to lunch with a nice, normal guy is a good place to start, right Tim?”

“Hmm?” Tim responded faintly, his expression troubled, “Oh, uh, yeah sure.”

“What’s wrong with you,” Tam asked him.

“Nothing,” Tim said quickly, “It’s just…”

“Just what?” Felicity asked.

“Well,” Tim cleared his throat nervously, “Aren’t you, like, using this Jake guy?”

“No,” Tam said, smacking him on the arm.

“Ow!” He said, rubbing his bicep, “I just meant that it seems like you might be giving this guy the wrong impression.”

“What do you mean, ‘wrong impression’?” Felicity frowned again. “He asked me to call him if I ever wanted to do something and I did; how is that giving him the wrong impression? I’m having lunch with him, not making a life-long commitment under false pretenses.”

“Yeah,” Tam said, giving him a dirty look of her own. “And besides, it’s not like she’s dating Bruce; he dumped her remember? Twice; and then he showed up again right afterwards expecting to get into her cookie jar like that was okay or something. If some guy tried that shit with me his balls would be aching. You, yourself, basically told Felicity to move on. You said to show Bruce total apathy by not letting him have his way so isn’t going to stress-free lunch with a nice normal guy a good start in the right direction?”

“I said all that?” Tim asked then cleared his throat, “Oh yeah, I did. Sure. That was a…good plan of mine,” He said faintly before picking up the box of condoms holding up them to her gaze, “Well, since you aren’t going to use them mind