“You have extensive scar tissue, broken bones that never healed properly…”
“I’m aware of what I’ve been through for the last five years, doctor.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to put you on the spot. But… maybe there’s someone you can talk to. A grief counselor, maybe.”
“Is that necessary?”
“I highly recommend it, but it’s not mandatory.”
“Then I politely decline the offer. I’m fine, doctor, really. Just being home is already doing wonders for my mental health.”
Dr. Lamb looks hesitant, but he folds his hands behind his back and offers a brittle smile.
“Very well, Miss Smoak.”
Walter Steele did not become CEO of Queen Consolidated overnight. He rose through the ranks just like anybody else, utilizing his background in business and law in order to expedite his climb to the top. Over the years, he and Robert Queen, owner and CEO of the company, became best friends. They trusted each other, they were confidants, and they were always completely honest with each other.
Walter was content to run the day-to-day operations while Robert boozed and schmoozed his way across countless mergers and fundraisers. Together, they grew the company to fifteen times its original size, acquiring several smaller companies and expanding into several different industries. They were a dream team, a well-oiled business machine in a rapidly declining city.
The day the Queen’s Gambit capsized, Walter simultaneously lost his best friend and found himself in charge of the biggest company in the world. A lot has changed in the five years since, but Walter’s deep-seated guilt over the fate of a young lady hasn’t waned one bit.
He pauses outside her hospital room, assessing the young blonde woman who has her back to him as she looks out over the city. Dr. Lamb is beside him, running through a checklist of her injuries and scars in a hushed voice, but Walter barely hears him; he can only register the sound of his blood pumping in his ears, and the way his skin crawls with shame. When he can bear it no longer, he places his hand on the doorknob and pushes the door open.
His voice booms through the room, and for a moment, he regrets the volume. The young woman he remembers would’ve jumped, turned, and blushed before launching into a string of babbling about the lights of the city or the steady flow of traffic in the streets below, but she doesn’t jump. She only turns slowly on the spot, as if she’d been expecting him all along.
Her face looks much the same as he remembers, besides the usual lines that come with age. She also looks deeply tan, but that’s common for being stranded on an island for five years, isn’t it?
Dr. Lamb had mentioned the scarring on her back and torso, the jagged knife wound on her thigh, the crude tattoos that had been etched into her formerly fair skin. None of that is visible now, while she’s wearing jeans and long sleeves, her hair falling halfway down her back in blonde ringlets. She could be anybody right now, with her unmarked face and her normal clothes, but she’s not. She’s his responsibility. She’s his mission.
He meets her wary eyes, unsure of how to proceed, but then she breaks into a radiant smile as she says, “Walter.”
Walter feels as though a great burden has been lifted off of his shoulders. He lets out a breath and smiles back, tentatively stepping into the middle of the room.
“Miss Smoak, I know there’s nothing I can say to make up for what you’ve gone through. The Queen family has set up a sizable account for you, and you’ve been granted shares in Queen Consolidated --” he blurts rather inelegantly, but he stops as she holds up a hand.
“We don’t need to talk about money, Walter. And please, call me Felicity. I think we’ve earned that.”
She says it with a friendly smile, but her tone belies something more steely. Walter hesitates, narrowing his eyes at her. “Restitutions need to be made. You’ll be set up for life.”
“I appreciate that, but I don’t need it.” She says it simply, but it still feels vaguely threatening to Walter.
“Miss -- Felicity, please, let the Queen family do this for you. They feel -- I feel -- responsible for what has happened to you. It’s the least we can do.”
“We?” she repeats, cocking her head slightly. “Are you speaking as the CEO of Queen Consolidated?”
“No,” he says tersely. “I’m speaking as the husband of Moira Queen. It’s our family’s desire to make sure you want for nothing for the rest of your life. It’s not a bribe or hush money. It’s simply a gift.”
She stares at him with a shrewd expression, and more than ever, Walter feels as if he’s talking to a specter, an exaggerated version of the young upstart he remembers from her days running the IT department at Queen Consolidated. But almost as soon as that thought crosses his mind, the expression is gone, replaced with the first genuine smile he’s seen since walking into the room.
“You shouldn’t blame yourself, Walter,” she says gently, coming to stand in front of him. “Anyone else would’ve jumped at the opportunity to go on a scouting expedition with Robert Queen. But no one else would’ve been tough enough to survive what I’ve been through.”
Her words send a chill down Walter’s spine even as she beams at him with the old warmth he remembers. “That is fortunate for all of us,” he says uneasily.
“Relax,” she continues, patting him lightly on the arm. “I know you’re one of the good guys, Walter.”
When he leaves, Walter pauses by the elevator, taking a deep breath to settle his nerves. There was something distinctly unsettling about Felicity Smoak, something dangerous. It’s in her eyes; he can’t put his finger on it, but the coldness behind her eyes gave something away.
That’s when he makes his decision: He’ll never tell Felicity that his stepson, Oliver Queen, was supposed to be the one on the Queen’s Gambit that fateful day.
She remembers the sound of the gun, the way his hand fell away as his head tilted back. She’d stared in horror at the man who, only 24 hours earlier, had been her jovial and compassionate boss, a man she was only just beginning to understand.
She’d interned at Queen Consolidated for only two months before Walter Steele, the COO of the company, had offered her a full-time position in their IT department. “You have skills we can develop and put to good use, Miss Smoak,” he’d said with his usual British politeness mixed with affection. “We have a six-year plan for an Applied Sciences division, and you can be on the fast track to head that up if you play your cards right.”
For a woman who had only graduated from MIT three months prior, Felicity couldn’t believe her good luck. Well, she could. She really was that good at her job. But still, the perfect storm of ineptitude that existed at QC before she got there, plus Walter’s desire to bring the company up to the cutting edge of technology, felt like an extremely fortuitous set of circumstances for Felicity at the time.
Walter was true to his word and put her on the fast track. She attended every training seminar and technology conference they could fly her to, and she thrived under the pressure. She was good at her job. Technology was her bread and butter. And she was so busy that some nights, her dinner literally consisted of only bread and butter, so she felt pretty qualified to be making the comparison.
Then one day, Walter approached her at her desk with what he deemed a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to accompany Robert Queen on a scouting expedition to the North China sea aboard his yacht. Walter had spun a yarn about Robert’s technological challenges and how he’d need someone on hand to help him through the process, but when Felicity had cocked her head with a wry smile, Walter had relented. “He needs someone who will keep him in line. Someone who makes sure he doesn’t fall over the side of the boat after having too much to drink.”
“And I’m the best person for the job?” she’d asked skeptically.
“I wouldn’t offer it if I didn’t think you were fit,” Walter had said brusquely, clearly annoyed at being questioned. “Think of it as some valuable face time with the boss. This could go a long way to getting you moved up through the company.”
“Or it could make him hate me when I pour his rum over the side of the boat.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Walter had replied immediately. “He drinks scotch.”
Felicity had grudgingly accepted the job. As much as she didn’t want to be in close quarters with Robert Queen on his yacht -- and bear the brunt of the whispers that would inevitably follow -- she’d always loved the sea and couldn’t deny that the one-on-one time with Robert would be valuable. So she’d accepted the assignment and packed her bags, showing up at the docks just in time to see Robert kissing his wife goodbye as the captain readied the yacht.
She was there in time to see another blonde woman, about her age, sneaking onto the yacht as soon as his wife was gone.
Needless to say, Felicity didn’t have to worry about unwanted advances from her boss. Everything between them was strictly professional until they were the last two on that lifeboat.
“Tell my wife… my kids… Oliver and Thea… that I loved them…” Robert had mumbled as the gunshot that had killed the captain still rang in Felicity’s ears. “Tell them, Felicity.”
“Mr. Queen, I don’t --!”
“Promise me!” he yelled.
“I -- I promise!”
“You have to survive this, Felicity,” he said gravely, gripping her hand with his own. “Survive this for me. For the city. Right my wrongs. Protect my family. Survive.”
She cried as the shot rang out, choked back sobs as he slumped backwards, turned away as the lifeboat continued to rock along the current aimlessly. She was already slipping away from the promise. She couldn’t survive this, not with the dwindling rations and the unrelenting sun and the dead body.
She wakes up from the nightmare, unnerved by how fresh the memory feels even though it was only the beginning of her five years of torture. She’s laying prone on the floor of the hotel room, unaccustomed to the softness of the mattress, the plump pillows, or the comfort of a duvet. She’s covered in sweat and she’s shaking.
It’s storming outside, and the rain buffets the window angrily, like it knows why she’s here.
She jumps to her feet and pulls on workout clothes, intending to go to the gym. She casts a long look at the large green trunk in the corner of the room, wedged between the TV stand and the dresser. It's incongruous with the modern clean lines of the hotel furniture, just like Felicity sticks out anywhere she goes.
She hadn’t been a celebrity before she left, but coming back from the dead tends to make you famous.
The cabbie who had driven her to the hotel had tried to get the trunk out for her, but Felicity had stopped him. He was shocked when she lifted it effortlessly on her own, placing it onto a luggage cart before tipping him with a cheerful smile. She’d gotten used to people underestimating her on the island, but it didn’t make it any easier to accept in daily practice.
The trunk contains her only worldly possession: a simple recurve bow. She also has an assortment of arrows, arrowheads, and hooks, as well as some other choice weapons that she’d gathered over the years.
There is also a soft green hood, which is integral to her plans here.
She treats herself to the one luxury she’d dreamt of often on the island: a long bubble bath. She soaks away the soreness of her muscles, the weariness of her limbs, the exhaustion of her soul, but it does nothing to wash away the scars and bruises left from her old life. She sees them in the mirror, after the water’s turned cold and the bubbles are gone, and they stick out on her fair skin as painful reminders of her crucible.
She stares at her reflection humorlessly, seeing her own hollowness, the shell of her former self. Her hair is bleached from the island sun and salt water, long past her elbows and already curling as it dries. She is rougher now, with hardened edges made from scabs and scars, but polished clean by the harsh elements of the island. If she'd had anyone to come home to, they wouldn't recognize her.
She pulls on the plush white hotel robe and wraps it tight, feeling warm for the first time in ages.
But she feels lost in this room with central heating, with modern furnishing and carpet and a proper bed to sleep in. Fear grips her for a fleeting moment, clawing at her throat and threatening to overwhelm her, and she knows she needs to move, to plan, to work just to push it all away.
Felicity returns to her room and cuts open the packaging on the top-of-the-line laptop she’d bought on her way here from the hospital. She sets it up quickly -- old habits die hard -- and it only takes her twenty minutes to hack into the Queen Consolidated property holdings. In the five years she was away, the company had clearly failed to find a suitable replacement for her.
She grins when she sees the property in the Glades, an old and long-abandoned metal factory. She hacks into the city records to look at the floor plans and sees that it’s the perfect cover: it has a large basement that had been sealed off due to water damage six years ago.
One cab ride and a ten-block walk later, she stands in the middle of the foundry, pleased with herself.
That’s when the hard work begins.