April 30, 2005
Felicity supposed it was a little unorthodox -- doing her calculus homework in a casino. And, sure, she couldn’t claim that she was just searching for a practical application of her problem sets the way she did when she’d been learning probability, but she still preferred to study at the bar near the baccarat tables in Safari Casino.
The piped-in pop music and the carefully tuned chimes and bells and alerts coming from the rows and rows of slot machines -- she didn’t even really hear that anymore. The flashing lights, the dull rumble of the gamblers, even the ever-present acrid haze of second-hand smoke -- it all provided a blurry background that helped her to focus way more than any silent library ever had.
She figured that was probably due to her mom bringing her to work most days as she grew up, because day care wasn’t really a thing you could afford if you worked as a cocktail waitress at a tacky, second-rate, safari-themed casino on the edges of old Vegas.
When Felicity was a shy but happy little girl, the other waitresses would crowd around Felicity and her mom, cooing at her and offering to show her makeup tricks and letting her touch their shiny, thematic cocktail waitress outfits. The shimmery uniforms always looked amazing, but the magic leached away the first time she’d touched the coarse, unyielding fabric. Up close, even eight-year-old Felicity noticed all the rest of it -- the too-heavy makeup, the thick, unsexy “nude” tights, and the cheap, high-heeled shoes the women were supposed to wear.
Like everything else about Vegas, the cocktail waitresses glittered only if you stood far enough away. Or if you drank enough.
But Vegas was home -- the Safari was home, in all its rundown, animal-park-themed glory. She’d grown up measuring her height against the long legs of the giraffe statue near the entryway. And the bar in the back the closest thing she had to a kitchen table, since the tiny one-bedroom apartment she and her mother shared only had a breakfast nook.
“I told you we should’ve gone to Macau,” declared a long-suffering voice from the vicinity of Felicity’s right shoulder. She glanced up quickly, taking in a dark head of hair and a t-shirt about eighteen inches away. The guy was half-turned away, blocking whoever he was speaking to from Felicity’s view. She glanced around since she’d kind of lost track of her surroundings as usual, but her preferred bar was mostly empty. Considering the vast, open expanses of fake-wood bartop, she wasn’t sure why these two guys had chosen to stand way closer than necessary to her homework. She shifted in her chair, pulling the textbook half-under her notebook.
“Snob,” a second voice answered, low and amused.
Felicity kept some small percent of her attention on the two men, just in case. Because even the shy little brunette doing homework at the bar had occasional run-ins with drunken assholes. Though these guys weren’t slurring or anything, and they didn’t sound like assholes, necessarily. Maybe... entitled jerks? Like, Macau? Really?
“I’m not a snob,” argued the first guy -- the dark-haired guy standing, like, really too close for Felicity’s comfort at this point. Even if they weren’t drunk or planning to hit on her, she’d had more drinks than she could count spilled on her while she was just trying to study. “I’m a realist,” he continued, his tone a strange mixture of judgment and amused sarcasm. “And let me be real with you: Las Vegas? Sucks.”
Felicity grinned down at her problem set, because -- she certainly agreed with that assessment. Vegas was all heat and sunburned vacationing flesh and very drunk people doing very stupid things. And golf courses. Which -- maybe golf courses didn’t suck, but Felicity wasn’t exactly a golfer, so it’s not like she would know. Golf courses were just… another thing that Vegas had too much of.
“Oh, come on, Tommy, it’s not the end of the world.”
Felicity couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled out of her, because -- yeah. Exactly. So much for all that end of days nonsense. Still giggling a little to herself, she leaned a little closer to her homework, erased her “82X” and rewrote it more clearly. Ms. Anderson could be a real bitch about penmanship. A little belatedly, she realized the two men had stopped talking, and she stilled, all of her spidey senses tingling. Crap, she was pretty sure they’d noticed she was eavesdropping.
That or they thought she was an insane person who cackled at her calculus.
Which -- half decent band name, maybe? Cackling Calculus? Or maybe too tongue-twist-y?
Not that she was in a band or had any need for a band name, or played an instrument, even, other than that plastic recorder she got when she was little, and only because it came with--
She glanced over at them without really thinking about it, and -- yup, they were both staring at her with quizzical grins in place, the guy she hadn’t been able to see before leaning one elbow on the bar to look at her.
“Uh,” she said, pencil clenched tight in her hand as she tried to figure out how to get out of this gracefully. Not that she ever did anything gracefully. “Hi.” Felicity could feel the flush on her cheeks and just barely resisted the urge to smack her forehead with the heel of her hand.
Both of the guys staring back at her were good-looking. Like, stupid handsome. The dark-haired man at her elbow looked familiar, but Felicity figured it was just that tall, dark, and handsome thing he had going on. She was a fan of that kind of thing, generally speaking. His friend was really not her type, if she were to be honest -- she’d never really gone for the Ken doll look. Though, yes, the blue eyes and the dimples and a truly ridiculous jawline that looked Photoshopped even here in full-dimensional reality? Was, okay, really working for him. Even with his terrible haircut. Still -- even though she preferred soulful brown eyes and less unearned arrogance, there was something about him that was compelling.
Felicity frowned. He looked familiar, too, and she tapped the pencil eraser against her lip until -- Oliver Queen. Like, the Oliver Queen. With the money and the total lack of self control and the arrests for public drunkenness. Oh. And Tommy was Tommy Merlyn. Of course.
Oliver and Tommy -- the male counterparts to Paris and Nicole, only without the mildly amusing reality show.
Well, Felicity thought, the arrogance and the snobbery about Vegas suddenly made a whole lot of sense.
“Is something funny?” Oliver Queen asked her, still smiling. It didn’t reach his eyes, though, and she wondered if she was supposed to be charmed by it.
“Probably not,” she answered honestly. Because she’d learned young her humor rarely translated.
He tilted his head, just a tiny bit, one eyebrow quirking. “Oh?”
“No, it’s just -- it’s not the end of the world,” she explained, nodding as if they had any idea what she was on about.
The dark-haired guy -- well, Tommy, Felicity corrected herself, now that she’d identified them -- Tommy said, “Our impromptu trip being here instead of Macau isn’t the end of the world?”
“That, too,” she agreed. “But that wasn’t what I was laughing at. Not that I was laughing at you. Or eavesdropping. Or-- I mean, I’m just here doing my calculus and sometimes it’s... funny...” she petered out, unable to come up with anything at all convincing. And they were still both watching her, looking amused -- which, sure, was better than angry or, like, lecherous, but still.
“Calculus,” Tommy echoed, eyebrows lifting. “Is funny.”
Felicity sighed and turned to face them head on. “Yeah, okay, I’m not a great liar, and I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but you’re both kind of loud talkers, and I mean, I’ve been sitting here for two hours, and you wandered over to converse, like, two feet away from me, so it wasn’t some nefarious plan or anything, I just overheard and, you know, it’s April 30, so it was funny. Ironic funny.” She nodded, satisfied with her defense and her explanation.
Only now both of them were staring at her, and for whatever reason the word that kept running through her mind was “flabbergasted.”
Tommy shook his head and glanced over at Oliver. “I have no idea what she’s talking about.”
But Oliver kept right on looking at her. “Me, neither. What’s ironic funny?”
“Pat Robertson,” Felicity answered, then waved a hand in the air. “Well, no, not him exactly. Just -- his book. He said yesterday was the end of the world. Only it wasn’t, obviously, so, you know -- yay!” She fist pumped, then flushed and brought her hand back down.
“Pat Robertson,” Oliver repeated slowly, eyes narrowing as he considered. “Isn’t he in Congress?”
“God, no,” Felicity corrected. “No, no, no. He’s a preacher. Born again, end of days -- all of that.”
“Ah,” Tommy said. “Got it.”
Felicity tilted her head, fixing them both with a skeptical look. “Do you?” Because she really didn’t think billionaire playboys spent a lot of time listening to NPR. Or reading books.
“No,” Oliver answered with a careless shrug and a grin that seemed genuine this time. And that was actually kind of charming. “Hi, I’m Oliver Queen.”
“Right,” she nodded.
“Tommy Merlyn,” Tommy added.
“Yup,” she agreed.
They looked at her, and Oliver huffed a laugh.
“Oh.” Felicity paused for a moment. "Courtney," she said. “That’s me.”
She’d learned years ago that fake names were necessary if she was going to spend hours and hours in a casino. But they were hard to pick -- there was a certain strain of drunk asshole that got offended by obviously fake names. Like, violently offended. So believability was important.
Felicity preferred to use something close to her name so she’d actually remember to respond to it, but Felicia sounded like a soap opera character, so -- no. And synonyms were out, because no one named their kid Happiness (she hoped), and Joy was just... too Christmas-y. Nirvana was ridiculous, though she'd still told a guy it was her name once, because he was that gross and she cared that little whether the obvious name fakery would offend him. (It didn't. He still tried to grab her ass, even when she told him she was 16.) She’d always wished one of the guys in Nirvana was a girl, so she could use that name, but they weren't, because -- of course. So anyway, she'd been using Courtney as her fake name for a while, because in her head it linked back to her actual name. However tenuously.
“Nice to meet you, Courtney,” Oliver said. “So, we actually came over here for a drink.” He watched her expectantly, eyebrows raised a bit.
“Sure,” Felicity said, realizing they were waiting for her to butt back out of their conversation. “No problem.” She turned back to her homework, blinking once to clear her mind before diving back into a particularly challenging multivariable problem. An ant on a merry-go-round is rotating clockwise at w radians per second. From the ant’s perspective, it walks toward the center of the merry-go-round with speed v. Find the parameterization of the path taken by the ant relative to the ground--
Felicity jumped, turning wide eyes to Tommy, who was smirking at her. “Hi,” she said, dumbly, still thinking about ants and merry-go-rounds.
His smirk deepened, which shouldn’t have even been possible. “I feel like we’ve been through this once already.”
“What Tommy means,” Oliver interjected, “is: Would you like a drink?”
“Oh.” Felicity drew it out, scrambling for an answer. They couldn’t possibly think she was legal -- she looked young for her age, and she wasn’t even voting-legal, never mind drinking-legal. “Um. I’m not thirsty?” Yeah, she was really a great liar.
And now Oliver was the one smirking at her. “Are you asking me or telling me?”
“It doesn’t have to be an alcoholic drink,” Tommy pointed out. “I’ll buy you a Shirley Temple if you’d like.”
Felicity grinned. “How about a Coke?” Probably she didn’t need to add caffeine to her evening, but she did have another twenty problem sets to solve, so she could justify it. It’s not like her mouth didn’t get away from her when she wasn’t overcaffeinated.
Oliver ordered four shots of Cazadores and a Coke, then tossed a fifty dollar bill on the bar. Felicity’s eyebrows rose -- normally she nursed a water and then left five bucks. Jake, who was kind of grumpy, but tolerated her as long as the bar wasn’t busy (it was never busy, because this was a partially hidden bar at the back of a rundown casino nowhere near the Strip), poured the Coke and pointedly slid it over in front of her. He knew her mom and her age, and occasionally acted as a kind of reluctant older brother if anyone got a little too close to her.
“Thanks, Jake,” Felicity said, suppressing a grin as he poured Oliver and Tommy’s shots and pushed them over in front of Oliver and out of her reach.
“You okay?” Jake asked, arms crossed over his casino-mandated fake safari cargo vest.
She nodded emphatically. “All good.”
He didn’t look convinced, raising one eloquent eyebrow at Oliver and Tommy, who each slammed one shot and then put the empty glasses upside down on the bar.
Felicity watched them a bit warily. Seemed like they would be drunk pretty soon, and she really did have to finish her problem sets.
But -- damn her curiosity -- she couldn’t understand why they were here. “Why are you here?”
Felicity sighed as they both turned their attention back to her. Because of course she couldn’t keep one single thought inside her head.
Oliver was grinning at her again, and she really didn’t understand why she felt all warm and fuzzy when he did that. “Excuse me?” he asked.
“At the Safari, I mean. Old Vegas,” Felicity clarified. Sort of. She blew out a frustrated breath. “I just -- isn’t the Strip more your speed?” And the strippers, she thought, but -- amazingly -- managed to not say out loud.
Tommy smirked and leaned in closer, “Are you asking what two not-so-nice boys like us are doing in a place like this?”
“We heard the odds were better,” he explained, adding a little wink, and she could smell the tequila on his breath.
Felicity wrinkled her nose. “Does that really work on girls?”
Oliver laughed outright. “Apparently not.”
“Are you really trying to win money?” Felicity asked, trying not to sound judgy. She was pretty sure she failed. “I mean, it seems like you both have plenty of money in the first place?”
Tommy lifted his palms. “I just lost $300 attempting to play poker.”
Felicity snorted. “Why don’t you just toss it all on red 17?” Both guys looked at her somewhat blankly, and she pressed her palm to her chest. “Please tell me you don’t play roulette. All chance, no strategy? Might as well buy a lottery ticket. Well, I mean, obviously your chances at any spin of roulette are way better than winning the lottery, but, again, it’s not like either of you need an extra $200 million.” She stopped, snapping her jaw shut. Maybe she should try not to insult them. “You should try craps.”
Oliver blinked, glancing at Tommy then back to her. “I don’t understand craps,” he admitted.
Of course he didn’t. Oliver and Tommy appeared to fall right into the Vegas gaming commission’s sweet spot for visitors -- lots of money, not much in the way of gambling knowledge. Felicity nodded once, deciding her problem sets could wait, like, 20 more minutes. Not that a 20 minute lecture from her on probabilities would really make much of a dent in their easygoing carelessness, but she would feel better knowing she’d tried. “Craps is your best bet, odds-wise. If you’re playing on the level, I mean.” As soon as she said it, she knew she’d made a big mistake.
Tommy and Oliver exchanged looks. “On the level,” Oliver repeated, sounding intrigued. “As opposed to...?”
Felicity flushed and cut an anxious glance toward Jake, but he was leaning against the bar twenty feet away, waiting impatiently for two giggling girls to decide what to order. She glanced up to locate the dark bubbles on the ceiling that hid the surveillance cameras, and turned slightly toward Oliver and Tommy. “Counting cards,” she whispered.
Tommy grimaced, and spoke way too loudly considering the subject matter when he asked, “You have to be good at math for that, Right? Ask my remedial algebra professor about that.”
But Oliver stepped right around his friend and suddenly he was standing -- wow, hi -- really close to Felicity. Startled, Felicity leaned back -- a little too far, actually, and nearly toppled off the stool before Oliver’s large hand caught her elbow.
“Math,” he said.
She blinked. Because what? His eyes were really blue up close, and kind of intense? And his jaw -- God, she’d kill for that kind of bone structure--
“You’re good at math, right, Courtney?” he asked.
Felicity opened her mouth, but nothing tumbled out. Huh. That was new. She nodded instead.
“So can you--?”
“Ssshhh,” she hissed, grabbing his arm. “Eyes in the sky.”
Tommy turned, craning his neck as he studied the ceiling, and Felicity would’ve smacked her forehead with her palm if she could tear her gaze from Oliver. Really she wasn’t into guys like him -- all American apple pie and firm grips and--
And when he leaned close like that she could smell his aftershave. Also tequila. He stopped, his mouth inches from her ear. “Can you count cards?”
Felicity swallowed, her mouth so dry and cottony that all the words she was trying to say smooshed into a pathetic little, “Um.”
“You can, can’t you?” He sounded positively delighted by this discovery, and Felicity knew she’d made a strategic blunder.
“Kind of?” she managed. “I mean, I understand the theory and the math, but it’s not like I’ve ever tried to--” She made herself stop talking, cutting a quick, panicked glance in Jake’s direction to make sure he wasn’t hearing any of this.
Oliver straightened up and Felicity let her breath out. He was grinning down at her, mischief clear on his face. Which was equal parts endearing and kind of terrifying, considering the kinds of scrapes he and Tommy tended to get into. “Wanna help us make some cash?”
She glanced over at Tommy, who was lounging against the bar, smirking. He raised his eyebrows at her encouragingly.
“You’re really smart,” Oliver said. “I can tell.”
“How?” Because she’d been so flustered the last couple minutes that the last thing she sounded like was a smart girl.
He laughed. “You’re studying weird math at a bar in a casino. In Vegas.”
She nodded, because -- he wasn’t wrong, exactly. “Well, but the last thing -- I mean, I live here, so if I was going to be studying at a bar in a casino, that casino would totally be in Vegas. Also, I mean, gambling is only legal in small portions of other states. Or, technically, on tribal reservations, not--”
Felicity shifted mental gears. “We could get arrested,” she whispered. Neither of them looked particularly troubled by the thought.
“Really?” Oliver drawled.
“We’ve been arrested before,” Tommy pointed out. And how could a smirk possibly be that charming?
Felicity tilted her head and gave him a withering look. “We could get kicked out and banned.”
Tommy smirked. “Been banned before, too. Do you not get Access Hollywood in Vegas?”
Crossing her arms, Felicity glared back at him. “I live here.”
“In the casino?”
“I study in the casino,” she said, because she wasn’t going to try to explain that this tacky casino with its badly painted lion and giraffe and elephant statues was as much her home as the crummy apartment she lived in. “I can’t get banned,” she added.
Oliver’s expression lightened and he all but bounced on his toes in excitement. “Let’s go next door.”
“Perfect!” Tommy agreed, sliding Oliver’s second shot over to him and throwing his back.
Felicity held up one finger. “I have concerns,” she said.
END PART ONE
Felicity stood uncertainly behind Oliver, who was seated on a raised barstool at the blackjack table, and pondered her life choices.
She was seventeen, nerdy, and unpopular in real life, yet here she was, embarking into a life of crime with a smug young billionaire. While pretending to be his girlfriend, despite her jeans from Target and her maroon top from she’s-had-it-so-long-she-has-no-idea-what-non-fancy-store-she-bought-it-from.
Pretending to be his girlfriend was a terrible idea.
It was Tommy’s idea, of course.
They won’t check your ID if you’re with us, he’d said. Just pretend to be my girlfriend, he’d said. They’ll let you stay at the table if you’re with me, he’d said.
Just press on my chest when I should hit it, he’d said.
“When you should hit,” she’d corrected, but Tommy had simply smirked that strangely attractive smirk back at her until Oliver had swooped in insisting she pretend to be his girlfriend instead. The semi-good-natured argument that followed had left Felicity feeling kind of... well, panicky seemed a little strong, but also not totally inaccurate? She still felt a little lightheaded, her breathing fast and shallow.
Because it was absurd. Particularly the part where she -- Felicity Smoak, random nerdy high schooler from Vegas -- was supposed to pose as Oliver Queen’s girlfriend. Oliver Queen.
Not that she’d been able to voice that objection; she’d more... gaped at the two of them, unable to find words to express what a terrible plan that was. No wonder their hijinks always ended up in the tabloids -- they were awful strategic thinkers.
But before she’d been able to present what she was sure would have been an articulate, well-supported case for doing literally anything else -- including just calling it a night and going home -- Oliver had hauled her into his side. She’d yelped, which he’d blithely ignored as he draped an arm possessively over her shoulders, and before she’d been able to compose herself enough to object, they were in the Doo-Wop Casino headed straight for the blackjack tables.
Oliver settled at a table not far from a mint green replica 1950s Cadillac -- the trashier the casino, the more committed they were to their themes -- and pulled Felicity behind him. She stood stiffly, anxious and probably not at all selling this stupid, unbelievable cover story. Tommy was parked at the bar behind them, holding her messenger bag with her schoolbooks and waiting for Oliver to take Felicity’s card-counting skills out for a spin.
This was crazy. The Doo-Wop was even more unsavory than the Safari, and Felicity was pretty sure she’d heard her mother mention mob ties. Which -- Great idea, she thought sarcastically, definitely we should try to knock over a mob casino.
Not that they were robbing the casino, exactly. Just... cheating it a little. And considering the long odds that gamblers faced -- obviously the house always won, or people wouldn’t open casinos in the first place -- they weren’t even doing anything that terrible. It was more leveling the playing field. Which appealed to her innate sense of justice and fairness, actually, even though Felicity had seen enough movies to know how strongly casino owners tended to disagree with her take on it. Or, really, the whole justice and fairness thing.
She scanned her surroundings, her breathing a little too fast for the pretend-girlfriend situation. The Doo-Wop had several grumpy-looking pit bosses circling the blackjack tables like sharks in suits. Felicity wrinkled her nose -- sharks in strange, pastel bowties. Why did they choose pastel, Felicity wondered. Because just sticking a baby-blue bow tie on someone didn’t really sell 1950s doo-wop... -ness, any more so than the ridiculously short skirts on the cocktail waitresses. And while she was judging the Doo-Wop, adding a tiny dog applique couldn’t turn a miniskirt into a poodle skirt, and their attempt at high-heeled saddle shoes was just… laughably bad.
Felicity shook herself out of her strange, fashion-related spiral. Because perhaps more importantly considering her current situation, why were there so many pit bosses on duty?
Her stomach flipped -- they were going to get caught. And then she would be arrested. And kicked out of school, and then she’d have to get her G.E.D., and neither CalTech nor M.I.T. would ever accept her with a G.E.D. -- not with her rap sheet, and then she would--
“Babe,” Oliver said, his hands landing over hers where they were clenched into fists against his chest. “Relax. I’ll still take you out later, I just wanna play a few hands first.”
Well, okay, sure, he was definitely selling careless douchebag thing. Felicity honestly wasn’t sure how much of that was acting and how much of it was the carelessness of his lifestyle shining through. He and Tommy weren’t what she would have expected. Not that she would ever have expected this insanity, but the glimpses she’d caught of them on Access Hollywood had made them seem like callous jerks. Here, in real life, they seemed more... aimless. Bored, maybe. And not selfish so much as weirdly unaware that they lived their lives in a ridiculous, gilded bubble.
And they seemed maybe just a little lonely.
Which was really not her business, or her problem to fix. She frowned at the back of Oliver’s head, wishing she’d just stayed quiet and finished her calculus. But then he tugged her closer until her chest was flush against his back, and her eyes widened in surprise and something... maybe in the neighborhood of appreciation. Sure, this was all an act, but he was an attractive guy and she did get to kind of... hang all over him. Which didn’t suck.
She wasn’t totally inexperienced or anything, but she certainly didn’t have guys falling all over her, either. So maybe it was okay to pretend with him a little bit, since they were, you know, supposed to be pretending anyway.
Oliver wrapped her left arm more tightly around him, pressing her hand against his -- wow, crazy firm -- abdomen, before he lifted her right arm and pressed a soft kiss to the inside of her wrist.
Felicity made a strange strangled noise, and felt his warm breath on the sensitive skin of her wrist as he chuckled.
“Sir?” the dealer prompted.
Oliver released her hands to ante up and accept cards. Felicity drew in a breath, still feeling out of sorts. Because her boobs were pressed all up into his shoulderblades. What was she doing? Pretending was a terrible idea. And why was she breathing all funny?
It was panic. Must be the anxiety over their stupid, stupid plan. Not the admittedly hot guy in her arms. Pretending to be in her arms. Well, he was actually there, but it was totally under false pretenses. Which didn’t do anything to calm her heartbeat, but whatever.
She was far too flustered by the situation to be of any use the first round. When Oliver shot her an exasperated look, she flattened her palms against his -- yeah, hello -- impressive chest and murmured, “Sorry.”
When the second hand was dealt, Felicity locked in, scanning the table from under her leashes, leaning just a little more into Oliver’s body. She circled her hands slowly on his chest, despite the blush she could feel, because she needed the movement to disguise her signaling . When it was his turn to hit or stand, she pressed her fingertips hard against him as she moved her hands.
“Hit me,” Oliver said immediately. He gave a little fist pump when he got to 19 and told the dealer he’d stand with no prompting from Felicity. She kept her hands on his chest, moving carefully, and she was pretty sure she was imagining Oliver leaning back into her the slightest bit while the other players at the table took their turns.
When the dealer pushed the pile of chips over to Oliver, he actually whooped. Felicity laughed in delight and gave him an awkward little hug.
Turned out, she was still excellent at probability, which made her a pretty kickass card counter. So good that she had to purposefully let him lose a couple hands when she noticed one of the pastel-bow-tied pit bosses paying their table a little too much attention. But Oliver -- no-strategy, king-of-bad-ideas Oliver -- grumbled every time he lost and kept turning to frown at her.
He was a terrible actor.
Panicking a little at the increasing probability that they’d be caught, Felicity shifted closer, turning her face into his neck. “You can’t win every hand,” she breathed against his ear, feeling a weird wave of triumph when he shivered. Then, because she needed to keep up the cover story -- but probably mostly because he was hot and she was only human -- she took his earlobe between her teeth and tugged gently.
Oliver stiffened in her arms and Felicity froze, certain she’d taken a flying leap way past the line of whatever it was they were doing. Certain he was about to push her away.
Instead, his hands came up to cover hers again, and he turned so his cheek brushed up against hers. “Just keeping up the ruse?” he murmured, sounding smug.
Felicity shivered. She had no idea what to say, but was saved by the dealer beginning the next hand. Her stomach did some crazy swooping thing while Oliver turned his attention back to the cards. His left hand stayed on hers until the absolute last moment.
For the next few hands, Felicity was flying high. She was having fun, doing something daring -- probably something really stupid, sure, but it was definitely daring. Calculating the odds to game the system, kinda-groping a hot guy -- these weren’t things that Felicity Smoak did. It felt... weirdly exhilarating.
Oliver, for his part, kept grinning up at her between hands, those impossibly blue eyes sparkling with mischief.
She felt good. She felt brave. She felt bulletproof.
Which was of course when she noticed an intense conversation between two pit bosses -- one guy in a pink bow tie and a new arrival in a yellow bow tie. They weren’t stealing glances at Oliver or in any other way betraying the subject of their discussion, but Felicity knew.
Because she understood probability, and even with the occasional busts, Oliver was winning too much -- winning too many hands.
She felt sick and shaky and full of panic, and she stood there, frozen, while the dealer dealt, her hands still against Oliver’s chest. She told herself to stop staring at yellow bow tie pit boss with what was sure to be a hugely guilty look on her face. Her fingers clutched Oliver’s shirt as she leaned in and whispered, “We need to go.”
“No, babe,” Oliver protested immediately, half-turning in his seat to give her a pout that really shouldn’t be attractive on a 20-year-old party boy. What was the deal with his face? “This is fun,” Oliver added.
Felicity glanced back at Tommy. He was leaning his elbows on the bar behind him, one ankle crossed over the other, the very picture of suave carelessness as he watched them with a strangely serious expression. She lifted her eyebrows and jerked her head a little, hoping he’d understand her wordless plea for help.
Because there were players on either side of Oliver, now, sitting too close for her to risk explaining her concerns. And she certainly didn’t know him well enough to know how to get him to follow her lead without question. But Tommy just gave her a lopsided grin and took a large swig of his drink.
“Courtney, baby,” Oliver said, and it took Felicity a moment to remember he was talking to her, “just a few more hands, I promise.”
Felicity cast another desperate glance at Yellow Bow Tie, then back at Tommy. She was definitely starting to panic, and if her partners-in-crime for the evening were bad strategic thinkers, well, maybe Felicity herself was -- as it turns out -- really bad under pressure. Because they were about to get busted, and she had no idea what to do. It was like seeing a car careening toward her in slow motion and just stopping to watch the pretty headlights dance instead of doing something, anything--
“I’m in love with Tommy,” she blurted, removing her hands from Oliver and stepping back. Which -- what? She stood, unmoving, and tried to make sense of what she’d just said. Because what was her brain doing? Grimacing, she brought a hand to her mouth and nibbled a little on her thumbnail before she remembered she wasn’t supposed to be acting like an awkward teenager and dropped her hand back to her side.
Eyes wide, Oliver slowly turned his stool away from the green-felted table. “Excuse me?” He looked honestly shocked and -- Felicity was obviously wrong about this, but he looked maybe a little hurt?
She took another step back, willing Oliver to get up and follow her. “I’m in love with Tommy?” she repeated, only it came out more like a question this time. Because Oliver and Tommy had made some really dumb suggestions in the couple hours since they’d met, but she was pretty sure her inexplicable decision to interject, like, soap opera bullshit into this farce would take the cake.
Or get them arrested.
Because they were definitely drawing more attention now, though she guessed it was good that the attention was for melodrama and not counting cards?
“Courtney?” Oliver asked, brow furrowed in confusion, which shouldn’t be cute. At all. Because Felicity Smoak was smart and she liked smart guys. But God help her, Oliver Queen watching her in befuddlement was actually kind of adorable.
Or would be in almost any other situation.
Felicity retreated another step, jerking to a halt when hands landed on her biceps. Oh, God, she was going to get arrested. The pit bosses must have called in security, and they were going to haul her off to the clink. They would handcuff her and drag her to the pokey. Though -- the hands stayed still on her upper arms, which was a little strange. Because whoever grabbed her wasn’t trying to bring her hands behind her back. In fact, the fingers around her biceps squeezed gently, which she thought was a little bit on the comforting side, and not at all what she expected from angry mob guys who--
“Everything okay?” Tommy asked from just behind her, and she practically wilted in his grasp. Thank God, maybe he would come up with a new, slightly less stupid idea.
She let her eyes close briefly and tried to calm her breathing. They needed to leave immediately, or the next guy that grabbed her would be the police. Or worse, casino security hell-bent on investigating whether they were cheating.
“Courtney?” It was Tommy saying her fake name this time.
Felicity jerked around to face him since Oliver was still just watching her with confusion on his face instead of picking up his chips to go. “I told him,” she said to Tommy, then threw her arms around his ribcage. Geez, was there some sort of muscle building additive in the Starling City water? Tommy wasn’t as broad as Oliver, but he sure felt as firm. Err, muscle-wise. Chest-wise.
Tommy didn’t return her embrace, but she pressed closer and leaned up to whisper, “We’re about to get busted. Help me.”
Tommy reacted quickly, wrapping an arm really -- yikes, hello -- really low on her back. Like, sort of inappropriately ass-adjacent? Only maybe it made sense in the context of her stupid, stupid plan. “Sorry, man,” he said to Oliver, sounding... gleeful? Felicity pinched his back and Tommy yelped, but when he continued, it was in a much less boastful tone. “It just kind of happened. Should we, uh...” Tommy shrugged, “go somewhere to talk about this.”
Felicity dropped her forehead into his shoulder. They were so bad at this. Because one guy stealing the other guy’s girlfriend wouldn’t plausibly lead to a calm invitation to conversational problem-solving.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Oliver growled, and damn if he didn’t sound actually kind of angry. Felicity let go of Tommy and turned, unable to stifle the yelp when his hand landed low on her belly as a result. She pressed her hand into his, inching it up to less dangerous territory. Oliver was glaring at them, eyes narrowed, and maybe he wasn’t such a terrible actor? Because she certainly believed he was pissed off.
Then Tommy was moving, urging her to the side and stepping half in front of her. “This is just like that time in Amsterdam, man. You remember? Payback is a bitch.”
Oliver stilled, his suspicious gaze shifting between Tommy and Felicity for a moment until his face cleared. “Amsterdam,” he repeated, nodding slowly. And then he started to smirk, and Felicity tried really, really hard not to roll her eyes. Obviously Amsterdam was a reference to some other time they’d had to fake a fight to get out of a different kind of trouble, and Oliver was practically preening with pride for having cracked Tommy’s super-elaborate code.
And smirking. Oliver was smugly smirking instead of pretending to be mad. Terrible actor. “Oh, I remember.” He jerked to his feet, leaving his chips on the table and ignoring the dealer’s attempts to catch his attention. Oliver gave Felicity a heated look, one that she really didn’t understand but that she felt all the way to her toes, and told her, “You might want to stand back, baby.”
Tommy pressed her messenger bag into her nerveless hands and took a step towards Oliver. She watched, eyes wide and unblinking and disbelieving as they moved toward each other, looking for all the world like they were about to brawl. Over her.
Well, over Courtney, anyway, the pretend kind-of girlfriend.
Felicity clutched her bag to her chest and said, “Stop! Oliver, Tommy, don’t!”
But casino security swooped in mere seconds after Tommy and Oliver crashed together, and before Felicity knew what was happening, six security guards were frog-marching them right past the brightly lit soda fountain-themed bar and toward the front doors of the casino. She looped her bag over her head and ran to catch up, still half-convinced they’d be taken into the back for questioning.
The guards shoved Tommy and Oliver out of the casino, and they stumbled a little until Oliver caught Tommy and kept him from going ass over teakettle into the street. Felicity pushed through the curious crowd just behind them, taking big relieved breaths and sparing more than one glance over her shoulder. Just in case. Oliver reached for her hand and tugged her along the sidewalk away from the Doo-Wop. Oliver’s other arm was slung across Tommy’s shoulders and they were--
They were laughing?
“Really?” Felicity yelled, stopping short and glaring at them.
The two boys -- because they were acting like immature morons -- turned matching smug, self-satisfied smirks her way. “What’s wrong?” Tommy asked.
Felicity gaped at them for a long moment, then nearly decapitated a passer-by when she swept an arm back toward the Doo-Wop. “Sorry, sorry!” she apologized, then turned back to her partners-in-not-quite-crime with a glare. “We were nearly arrested and you find that funny?”
Oliver advanced on her, his hands landing on her hips as he was, yeah, really invading her personal space. He leaned dangerously close to her, one eyebrow quirked in amusement. “It’s the adrenaline,” he muttered. Her breath caught as he got even closer, and then his nose skimmed across her cheekbone and she shivered. “Feels fucking fantastic, doesn’t it?”
Before she could even attempt to formulate a response to that, she felt his teeth gently tugging on her earlobe, and the hint of his tongue sliding along her skin. She shuddered, her hands gripping the strap of her messenger bag deathly tight so she wouldn’t reach for him.
Oliver pulled back and smirked down at her. “You did good in there,” he told her.
She blinked twice, waiting for her brain to come back online. But she had no idea what he was talking about and she couldn’t look away and he was clearly going to stand there and, like, smolder at her until she answered, so she nodded dumbly. “Thanks,” she added, and her voice sounded crazy.
“Oliver,” Tommy called, and when Felicity tore her gaze from Oliver, she realized Tommy was only a couple feet away, watching them with a slightly... disapproving expression? Felicity frowned, puzzled at Tommy’s strange reaction. “Leave the poor girl alone.”
Oliver stepped back, but he dragged his fingers along her hip as he let her go. “Sorry,” he murmured, still looking entirely too pleased with himself for Felicity’s liking. And entirely not sorry. “So what’s next?” he asked, looking back and forth between Tommy and Felicity. “Another casino?”
“Another--?” Felicity echoed, stunned and blinking owlishly at him. Because-- “We nearly got caught!”
Oliver shrugged, unperturbed. “You got us out of it. You’re really smart.”
She shook her head reflexively, because -- yeah, okay, but-- “That’s not the point!”
Tommy stepped closer, a hand on each of their shoulders. “Ollie, go get us some drinks,” he suggested, tilting his head towards a dingy but open little bar tucked beside the Safari. “Tequila for me, please.”
Felicity just shook her head, “I’m okay.”
“You’re a lot more than okay,” Oliver said. Did he-- was he flirting with her? Before she had time to process, Oliver narrowed his eyes at Tommy and nodded once. “Tequila,” he repeated seriously. He glanced at Felicity with a crooked grin. “Be back in a minute,” he said, holding up one finger in illustration. Or maybe a command to wait for him.
Either way, he was just too much. She didn’t answer, simply shaking her head with exasperation. “Tommy,” she said, turning back to him with determination. “I don’t think trying that again is such a good idea.”
Tommy nodded slowly, watching her with a strange kind of focus. “I think you’re right, Felicity.”
It took her a moment, and then she nearly choked. “Oh,” she said. And then she remembered the bag in her hands, the bag full of textbooks marked “DESERT PINES HIGH SCHOOL” and the spiral notebooks that she’d carefully labeled “PROPERTY OF FELICITY SMOAK.” The bag he’d been holding for her while she was playacting with Oliver. Whatever confidence she’d had left from their little caper drained out of her, and she felt incredibly exposed, her gaze dropping to the glossy flyers full of half-naked girls strewn along the sidewalk.
“Yeah,” Tommy answered. He didn’t seem angry. Just curious, and a lot more sober than he’d been earlier. “Any particular reason for the fake name?”
Felicity lifted her chin, refusing to feel bad about the things she needed to do to make her life work. Her non-privileged life here in Vegas, where she was stuck until she left for college and he was partying. How could she expect him to understand anything about her life? “Guys can be real assholes,” she answered. Which was true, generally. “Las Vegas isn’t the safest city,” she added, hoping he’d understand what she wouldn’t let herself explain.
Tommy glanced around, and she wondered if he was seeing Vegas the way she saw it, at least a little. She wondered if he could see the desperation and the rusted underbelly, or the wretched poverty masked by ostentatious wealth. When he met her gaze again, his expression conflicted, she thought maybe he’d realized it a little. “That makes sense,” he answered slowly.
And suddenly she felt like herself again. Just Felicity Smoak, a shy high school senior trying desperately not to become a Vegas lifer. A girl who knew the bus routes between Old Vegas and her shitty apartment complex by heart, because her mom couldn’t always afford to keep a car on the road. A girl who knew the safer ways to walk from home to the high school -- routes that would let her avoid the house she’d heard was a meth lab, and miss the guy who was always, always up for offering her a lewd comment from his doorway (she was pretty sure he was a pimp).
None of that would matter once she made it out of here, but she couldn’t afford to be distracted by charming, hard-drinking young billionaires. She felt that familiar jangle of anxiety along her nerves and she started to move. She had to finish her homework, because she had to ace the multivariable quiz and maintain her valedictorian-worthy perfect GPA.
“I need to go,” she decided, leaning up to press a quick kiss to Tommy’s cheek. “This was...” she tilted her head, thinking back on the last couple hours of uncharacteristic chaos, “really fun when it wasn’t kind of terrifying? But--”
“Got more calculus to finish,” she said, patting her bag with her palm. She was surprised to feel a little wistful at the thought of leaving them. Particularly at the thought of slipping away before Oliver came back. But for some reason, she didn’t want to see the look on his face when he realized she’d lied to him, no matter how unimportant and well-intentioned her lie was. She peered into the sketchy little bar he’d disappeared into, but couldn’t see him in the crowd inside. “Can you tell Oliver I said bye?” she asked, taking a small step toward the Safari.
“Come on, Felicity,” Tommy said, one hand stretched toward her as she started to back away. “Stay another minute and tell him yourself.”
She gave him a smile, jerking her thumb at the over-sized clock on the outside of the Safari. “The elephant’s almost pointing to the ten, which means it’s later than I thought, so I really need to go.” She needed to check in with her mom and then catch the 10:10 bus. She reached for the door handle and pulled it open, pausing to give him a small, genuine smile. “Bye, Tommy.”
He looked torn, like he wanted to come after her, but after a moment, he lifted a hand to wave and gave her a broad smile. “I’m glad I met you, Felicity.”
Felicity felt the unexpected sting of tears as she retreated into her tacky home away from home. The familiar zings and whirs of the machines washed over her, calming her the way they always did, and she felt more grounded already. Quickly, Felicity located her mom working the quarter slots section and checked in before heading for the bus stop out back.
Arms crossed protectively, Felicity made her way toward the side entrance, the events of the night playing on a strange little loop in her brain. She envied Tommy and Oliver. Not their wealth -- though obviously it wouldn’t suck to be a billionaire; she’d be able to buy herself an actual town and leave Vegas no problem. No, what she really envied was their ability to be present and just... take things as they come. Which, sure, was certainly related to growing up with unthinkable piles of money. But maybe it wouldn’t kill her to be a little less... rigid sometimes. A little more open to things outside of her comfort zone.
She glanced at her bar, intending to wave goodnight to Jake, but her breath caught when she saw Oliver and Tommy standing just where she’d met them. She jerked to a stop, barely noticing the frustrated grumble from an older man who brushed past her, rapping her foot with his cane. Because, for whatever reason, Oliver and Tommy were back in the Safari, and Oliver was craning his neck, searching the casino for -- was he looking for her?
Stunned, Felicity ducked behind a Dukes of Hazzard-themed slot machine and peered around the edge, trying to figure out what was happening. She had to be wrong. It was crazy to think Oliver Queen had just so much fun pretending to be her boyfriend so he could amass a couple hundred dollars -- which was, what, like a rounding error on his trust fund dividends, probably? -- that he’d dragged Tommy back here to look for her?
That was absurd. It was completely implausible.
But somehow, Felicity couldn’t shake the idea that it was true.
And if things were different -- if she didn’t have to buckle down and put her nose to the grindstone and all of those other stupid cliches for working really fucking hard for what you want -- well, maybe she wouldn’t be hiding behind a slot machine. Maybe she wouldn’t have snuck away while he was off buying liquor.
But she wasn’t the girl Oliver was looking for -- not really. So she stayed put and watched him, her fingers curled tight against the jangling slot machine she was using for cover. Tommy was leaning against the bar, an amused look on his face as Oliver kept searching for her. Finally, he deflated a little, seemingly giving up. Tommy offered his friend a hearty clap on the back, and gestured to the bar.
When they flagged Jake down for drinks, Felicity gave them both one long, last look, letting herself regret cutting their evening short for just one more moment. And then she straightened her spine and swept out the door, heart still banging in her chest.
& & &
By the time she got home and finished her calculus and stopped obsessing over Tommy Merlyn and Oliver Queen, Felicity was up way too late. Then she nearly slept through her alarm in the morning, which threw her off all day. A certain pair of billionaires crept into her thoughts more than once during school, and she was pretty sure she was blushing at strange intervals.
Thankfully no one mentioned it.
When she got to the Safari after dinner, she caught her mother’s eye and gave her a wave before retreating to the back bar.She approached a little slowly, looking around just to make sure Oliver and Tommy weren’t hovering nearby. She refused to be disappointed that they weren’t.
Jake was there, of course, in that fake-cargo vest that he hated, serving three very drunken girls, who were snickering their way through ordering sex-themed cocktails -- and then giggling at the word cocktail. Felicity settled into her familiar spot, feeling a little more centered as she took out her copy of Wuthering Heights. She basically hated Catherine and Healthcliff, and couldn’t figure out why her teacher was making them slog through such a depressing story.
She was grimacing her way through the stupid moors when an envelope appeared on the bar in front of her.
Felicity blinked and looked up to find Jake watching her with his typical disgruntled expressions. “Hi,” she said.
“Your new friend left this for you, Courtney,” he said, then turned and headed to the other end of the bar.
Her fingers were shaking a little as she picked up the envelope, noting her fake name written on the outside in a semi-legible scrawl. So Tommy hadn’t told Oliver anything other than that she’d left. She wondered about that for a minute -- what reason had Tommy possibly given Oliver if not that she had to go finish her homework because she was 17 and in high school? -- but she was far too curious about what could possibly be in the envelope to spend anymore brain power on that.
She tore it open to find -- “Money?” She frowned, thumbing through the bills. “One-hundred and seventy dollars?” she whispered, glancing reflexively around. Not that it would be at all strange for someone to have an envelope full of cash in a shitty casino, but something about it felt illicit. These had to be their ill-gotten gains.
Except that security had hustled them out of the Doo-Wop before Oliver could collect his winnings, so...? Felicity stared down at the wad of cash, really confused. Then she saw a note and pulled it out, unfolding it. She forgot to breathe while she read Oliver’s crooked writing.
You split without your cut of the earnings. You were awesome. If you ever want to play more games, give me a call.
Felicity felt a stupidly wide smile on her face, but she didn’t seem to have any control over it. He’d written his phone number and then his name with an oversized “O” at the beginning, and she started to laugh.
Was it possible that Oliver Queen had a little crush on Courtney, Felicity’s sort-of-alter-ego? She smoothed the paper, tracing his name with her finger for a moment.
Then she fished her wallet out of her bag and carefully tucked Oliver’s note away.
She wouldn’t call him -- she still wasn’t that girl and she doubted she ever would be. But when she got home that night, she tucked the note in her small keepsake box alongside a ticket stub from the first Harry Potter movie, a weathered program from the Las Vegas Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake, her M.I.T. acceptance letter, and a slightly crinkled picture of her mother, her father, and her three-year-old self posing at the Grand Canyon.
From time to time when she needed reassurance, she would take that box out and go through it. Sometimes it was the postcards that her mother sent her while she was at M.I.T. that comforted her. Sometimes she dug out her very first perfect report cards to remind herself that she could do this, that she was too smart to be intimidated. And sometimes, when she needed to remember to be a little more open to possibilities, she would take out Oliver’s note and reread it, tracing his name with fondness.
When she got home one night 2012, after pulling information from a bullet-riddled laptop, she walked straight to her bedroom closet for the box. She pulled out the note of the man she’d met years ago and again today, and she started to laugh.