“Laurie, I had such a great time tonight. I’m sure you did, too.”
Laurel resists the urge to stomp on her date’s foot as they leave the restaurant. To her great displeasure, he has been regaling her with stories of how he’s working on his eighth book while simultaneously inventing a new cancer treatment. She has gotten in two sentences all night, and one of them was, “Can we get some more breadsticks,please?”
“I’ll send a car to pick you up before the book signing on Thursday. I’ll have Sheila send over a dress and some sunglasses; the flashbulbs truly can be blinding at times,” he chuckles, slinging an arm around her shoulders. Her car is twenty feet away and she’s already itching to climb inside and see if her stereo will blast any and all residue of this horrible evening off of her skin.
An excited-looking blond is leaning against a lamppost at the edge of the parking lot. She’s pretending to text, but her fingers don’t even touch the screen. The he-man fondling Laurel’s shoulder blade doesn’t seem to notice until they are in earshot of the girl, whose false tan looks waxy and yellow beneath the incandescent bulb. “Carter Bowen!”
“That’s me,” he says with a smile, pulling a sharpie out of his suit pocket. “What do you want me to sign?”
Laurel takes this as her cue to make her great escape. He takes his arm off of her shoulder and she starts backing away. On any other night, she’d just tell him he’s an asshole, but she doesn’t want to have to deal with that from him tonight. She has a feeling that there are many, many layers to his ego, and that shattering the outer veneer would only result in him sending her flowers at work or something obnoxious like that. Her car is unlocked, her hand on the handle before he notices that she’s left.He jogs over to the car, and Laurel catches sight of the blond pulling her dress back up. Well, that answers the question of what he signed, she thinks to herself with an eye roll.
“Laurie, are you trying to play coy? I’m not letting you leave without a goodnight kiss.”
Laurel lets out a deep sigh. So much for a quiet getaway. “Laurel, Carter. My name is Laurel. And you don’t ‘let’ me do anything. I choose who I give kisses to, and I choose what I wear to hypothetical book signings which I will not be attending. Have Sheila send the car for somebody else. I’m sure that Groupie Skank Barbie over there will be more than happy to attend with you. Goodnight. Don’t call, don’t text, don’t make an effort to contact me again unless you come up with a way to learn how to treat women like human beings.” Laurel opens the door, not caring that it slams against his leg, and slides into the driver’s seat. The doors are locked and the car is on before Carter can figure out what to say.
He settles on yelling “This is Armani!” while brushing imaginary dirt off of his pants leg.
It is at that moment that Laurel curses Moira Queen, her boss and the orchestrator of this blind date, with everything in her.
“Cocksucker,” Laurel mutters under her breath, turning on her satellite radio to a seventies and eighties pop/rock station as she speeds out of the parking lot. Her mother has always said that it is impossible to be mad when listening to the Village People, and Laurel has always found it to ring true. She’s almost home when she passes Carson’s Alley, a hot-spot for an underground gladiator-style fight club that they’ve never been able to break up due to lack of evidence. Everyone in the area knows what happens there, but nobody’s willing to testify because they’re terrified of the consequences. A car is blocking the entrance of the alley, a sure sign that they’re meeting tonight.
Laurel catches sight of the black duffel in her backseat and makes a snap decision. She parks on the street, turns off her car, and quickly becomes the Black Canary. Her staff is at home, but her police baton rests in the bottom of the duffel bag along with a couple of her favorite pistols—a Ruger 380 and a Walther 9mm. She slips the extra magazines into her belt, straps the guns to her thigh holsters, and carries the baton. She’s only planning surveillance, but she’s learned the hard way that you can never be too careful. The building to the right is an apartment building, and Laurel thanks her lucky stars that one of her old clients lives here. She knows enough about him that she’s sure she can con him into opening the door.
“Hello?” “Hi, Mr. . . Logan. Sorry to bother you—I’m just pushing buttons because I really need inside. I want to surprise my boyfriend in 3B with my new outfit. Can you buzz me up?”
“Sure thing, sugar.”
“Thanks so much! Jimmy’s gonna love it,” she chirps, trying to channel the attitude of the perky blond in the parking lot. She climbs the stairs to the second floor, finding a fire escape at the end of the hallway on the side of the building facing the alley. She unlocks the window and slips through quickly, crouching in the shadows as she takes in the action below. Usually, there are two people in the center of a ring of loudly-cheering gang members. Instead, she’s surprised to see fourteen men all converging on one figure in the center.
He’s wearing a kickass super suit, and she immediately knows who he is. His yellow shades and black vest give him away. She always keeps an ear to the city’s vigilante undercurrent, and this guy is quickly becoming famous for being really easy to work with and also ballsy as hell. She can see that the second part is true from the way he’s sending out shockwaves left and right, filling the air with so many popping sounds that it’s like the 4th of July. Still, he’s dodging bullets and fists fairly well, but she knows it’s only a matter of time before someone gets him.
She sees a guy—probably the ringleader from his swagger-filled posture—approach him from just under the fire escape, his gun drawn. It’s obvious that Vibe doesn’t see him coming. For the second time that night, Laurel makes a split-second decision. She jumps off of the fire escape, flipping in mid-air, and lands on her feet just in front of the criminal. She mentally thanks Felicity for her shock-absorbing boots before she straightens up and whacks his wrist with her baton, sending the gun flying out of his hand. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you that it’s not good sportsmanship to shoot someone in the back?”
“Shit!” The thug clutches his wrist. It takes him a second before he looks up at her, and his expression changes when he sees her. He winks at her before he grins. “Hey, baby. It’s nice to see a girl who likes it rough.”
She smiles sweetly at him. “Very rough.” She stalks towards him, putting a little extra swing in her hips. She rakes her left hand down his chest before she swings the baton hard at his temple with her right.
He drops like a sack of potatoes, and she crouches to pick up his gun when a foot to her side sends her sprawling. She recovers fairly quickly only to look down the barrel of another crook’s gun. Her hand goes down to her thigh to draw her own gun, but the guy drops his gun before she can complete the move. She looks down to see that his feet are shaking uncontrollably, and she lets out a little laugh as Vibe knocks him over completely with a shockwave. He reaches out to pull her up, and she notices the corded muscle of his forearms.
“Quaking in his boots, huh?”
The remaining members of the ring are starting to converge on them, and she draws her Ruger as she catches sight of a big guy behind Vibe.
“Finally! My jokes are wasted on these idiots.”
“Don’t move,” she and Vibe say in unison. She squeezes off a round over his left shoulder while he sends a shockwave over her right shoulder that ruffles her hair and sends a shiver through her body. As one, they whirl around to stand back-to-back, and Laurel sees a guy on the ground with a knife in his hand. He was about to stab her, and she realizes that Vibe just saved her life before she sees another one of the guys drawing his gun and pointing it at her face. She shoots him in the kneecap before he can get his shot off, and delivers another round to his shoulder for good measure. He probably won’t die—someone’s already called the cops, she’s sure, after all of these shots.
Laurel sees blue lights flickering off of the walls near the entrance to the alley. The remaining gladiators scatter. “That’s our cue,” she says to Vibe, running towards the fire escape and yanking the ladder down. They scramble up the ladder and through the window, slamming it shut behind them. Nobody’s in the hallway at this hour, and they exchange breathless grins before they start towards the stairwell.
“After you,” he says, opening the door.
“Polite,” she remarks. “Interesting quality in a vigilante.”
“We can’t all be dicks,” he returns with a grin. His white smile against golden brown skin thrills Laurel a hundred times more than any part of her date that night, and she finds herself mirroring his grin. They’ve paused on the landing between the first and second floors, and they freeze when the second-floor door opens.
Laurel glances up and sees old Mr. Logan toddling into the stairwell and she knows instantly how to get them out of this. She covers Vibe’s mouth with her own, pinning him up against the wall hungrily. “Jimmy,” she says the name breathily, just loud enough for Mr. Logan to hear.
“Honeybun,” he replies, and she resists the urge to release a snort of laughter.
“I don’t mean to interrupt, but I’d have to say that if this is any indication, he likes your outfit just fine.”
She feigns shock and embarrassment, pulling back but gripping Vibe’s hand to sell it. “Oh my God! You must be Mr. Logan. Like, thanks so much. You totally helped me surprise him! You’re the bomb.”
Mr. Logan pushes up his wire-framed glasses and gives her a wink. “Anytime, sugar. You look familiar.”
“You’ve probably seen her in your dreams, old man,” Vibe drawls in, and Laurel gives him a cutting look.
“It’s alright. If I had a girl like you, I wouldn’t let creepy old men like me look at her, either. You two kids have fun.”
“We will,” Laurel replies. “Come on, Muffin.” She leads Vibe down the stairs at a run, and they exit through the door that leads to the opposite alley. They stop in the shadows, backs pressed against the wall, and he turns to look at her. She looks down at their hands, which are still joined. Neither of them make an effort to drop the other’s hand, and his is pleasantly warm and fits in hers well.
Laurel laughs, throwing her head back against the wall and wincing as the laughter makes her side hurt. “Fair, I guess. I kind of sprung this whole teamwork thing on you.”
He shrugs. “I’m glad you did. I might be dead if it weren’t for you.” He lets out a chuckle. “The Flash is never going to believe that I was lucky enough to have the Black Canary save my ass tonight.”
“You know the Flash too?”
“It’s a small world,” he remarks.
“Tell him I say hello,” she says, remembering the awkwardness of the last time she saw the Flash. He’d saved her from an explosion, but at the cost of her previous costume due to the deadly combination of extreme friction and lycra. He’d seen her nearly naked, but at least her mask had remained intact.
“I will. Thanks for saving him from scraping me off the pavement,”
“No problem, Vibe,” she tells him.
“Maybe I’ll get the chance to pay back the favor,” he replies.
His voice is low and husky, and Laurel is reminded of just how long it’s been. On impulse, she pulls him closer and plants a kiss on his cheek. “Count on it, Muffin.” She walks out of the alley, slides into her car, takes off her mask, and laughs for a good thirty seconds when “You Shook Me All Night Long” starts up on the radio
The next morning, Laurel shows up at work after popping some anti-inflammatories for the gigantic bruise covering her side. Luckily, she didn’t get any marks that her business suit can’t cover.
“Laurel, I’d been hoping to see you this morning. Did you handle the paperwork for the Bivolo case?”
“Of course, Moira,” she says sweetly, imagining all the ways she could shut this woman up. She has not forgiven her for the previous evening’s activities.
“Wasn’t your evening with Carter wonderful? He’s such an accomplished young man.”
Laurel clears her throat. “It was a nice gesture, but I—well, I just don’t deserve him.”
“I understand, dear. Carter is just so wonderful that he can make you feel inadequate, especially at your age.”
Laurel is still trying to figure out what the hell that means long after Moira has clicked her way down the hallway.
She just sighs and makes her way into her office, scowling at the door opposite hers. Laurel is admittedly not a woman of few enemies, but Francisco Ramon just may be the worst. She’d rather take on Harley Quinn than deal with him. That was saying a lot, as Harley Quinn was everything that Laurel hated about female stereotypes: dependent, clingy, and crazy as hell. Ramon was worse. Not only had there been the horrible evening she’d taken to calling The Incident, but there was his stupid smile, his stupid obsession with candy that resulted in a ton of sticky fingerprints on business reports, and the fact that he managed to get along with everyone else in the office except her. There is no commiseration via communal bitching, because how could anyone possibly hate Cisco Ramon? It is enough to make her coffee taste sour.
Sighing, she sits down at her desk and resigns herself to doing paperwork until her first client comes in at noon. Laurel loves working for Tempest, which is the official title of Moira Queen’s pet pro-bono project. Moira funds the whole project herself, which would be cause to like the woman if she weren’t so manipulative and horrid. Still, Laurel looks at each paycheck as a blessing because she knows that the money comes from Moira, not the people whom Laurel defends at no cost to them. Every two weeks, Laurel gets a slip of paper that says she is chipping away at the Queen family coffers, and that gives her a small measure of happiness. By the time she dies, she hopes to earn enough money to knock a zero off of Oliver Queen’s trust fund. It is never going to happen, but there is nothing wrong with dreaming. Sara calls her vindictive and ridiculous; Laurel calls it justice.
Laurel gets through two case files before she starts thinking about Vibe. His dimples and the warm, corded muscles of his forearms are certainly memorable, but the kiss is what she keeps replaying. The way that his body felt pressed against her and the hesitant, agonizingly pleasurable way he gently nipped her bottom lip make her feel warm just thinking about them. She needs a boyfriend, a cold shower, or a night all to herself.
A knock at her door startles Laurel, and she sits up straight and crosses her ankles like a lady in case it’s Moira. “Yes?”
The face on the other side of the door is the last one she wants to see. Ramon is wearing a green t-shirt with a cartoon-style picture of the Norse god Loki holding a bowl of cereal. The caption says “Mischievously Delicious,” and he has paired a white sport jacket and dress slacks with it as if that makes it okay for him to come to work dressed like 9-year-old. To top it all off, he’s wearing hipster glasses. “Lance, your sister’s here for lunch.”
“Ramon, I didn’t know the office had a new secretary. It suits you,” she says with a look that clearly says the opposite.
He pulls his glasses down his nose. “I didn’t know you had a thing for the naughty librarian look.”
Laurel makes a gagging sound. “It’s a chair day, then?” He nods, and she sighs as she puts her jacket on. “Thank you.” She will be polite, even if the words feel prickly in her mouth.
Ramon gives her one last look before he retreats into his own office, and there’s something about the way his eyes wash over her that sets Laurel on edge. She makes her way down the narrow hallway of Tempest to the lobby, where she finds Sara waiting. Laurel thinks it’s a travesty that a nonprofit legal defense office isn’t handicap accessible, but then again, Moira Queen isn’t exactly the most considerate of people. “Hey,” Laurel says, catching Sara in a quick hug. “Where’s Nyssa?”
“I see how it is. You only want me for my wife.”
Laurel shrugs. “You picked a good one."
"To answer your question, Ted’s out sick so she’s covering for me at the gym.”
Sara owns an unconventional gym. There’s a space for crazy cross-fitters, a swimming pool, several machines designed specifically to help those with disabilities exercise, and even a room of elliptical and treadmills for those weird people who actually enjoy cardio. Laurel usually sticks to the weight room.
“She dropped me off before she headed in to work. Come on. We’re going to be late, and you know how much that irritates Felicity, not that she’d ever say anything.”
Sara is right, and Laurel leads the way out of the law office. At least there’s a ramp, so Sara wheels herself out to the car with practiced ease. Laurel notices Sara’s high-heeled boots. “Wearing the fancy ones today?”
Sara has three sets of prosthetic legs courtesy of the generous settlement. She has a pair with blades on the bottom for running, a pair that she puts her usual tennis shoes or flats on, and her high heeled “sex legs” as she calls them. “I figure if I can’t bear weight on them today, I might as well just use them as fashion accessories.”
Laurel rolls her eyes but helps Sara into the passenger seat before folding her chair and sticking it in the trunk. They crank the radio, and Laurel can’t help but smile when Sara starts singing harmonies to “I Want You Back.”
They meet Felicity at a café and decide to eat outside. It’s a beautiful day, and they drink iced coffee and eat soup and sandwiches under the cover of an umbrella. It’s going to turn cold soon, and this is one of the last days in the period where it is neither summer nor autumn.
“So, how did your date go last night?” Felicity wiggles her eyebrows as she takes a sip of her caramel frappe.
“Horrible. Awful. Absolutely hideous.”
Laurel gives them a dark look. “You know of Carter Bowen?”
“Of course. He’s releasing a new book on Thursday.”
Laurel rolls her eyes. “Well, he’s the most pretentious asshole I’ve ever had the displeasure to meet.”
Laurel delights them with the tale of misfortune that was her evening.
“He actually signed her tits? That’s hilarious!”
“Not funny, Sara. Not funny at all. He signed her tits. In front of me. I was halfway to the car, but it was still horrible.”
“Oliver told me that guy’s a douche,” Felicity comments, wincing even as the words come out of her mouth.
“Hey,” Sara says, reaching across the table to hold Felicity’s hand. “You can talk about Oliver. If he makes you happy, then I’m happy. Granted, his track record with Lance sisters isn’t the best, but your last name is hyphenated; there’s hope.”
Felicity laughs a little, but still looks horribly guilty.
“Look, Ollie and I were over a long time ago. Same for Sara. It’s not a huge deal. I still don’t trust him, and if you guys get married, your mother-in-law is going to be a real doozy.”
“Did you just use the term ‘doozy’?”
“Leave me alone. I had a rough night, and that wasn’t all of it.”
“But wait,” Sara mocks in a voice eerily reminiscent of the late Billy Mays, “there’s more.”
“Let’s just say that I put on my boots and met someone.” They all exchange a look and check the area for listeners. They are the only ones sitting outside.
“You could have just said that you Canary-fied yourself last night,” Felicity remarks. “You need a better code that ‘putting on your boots.’”
“Yeah, I’ll get right on that. Anyway, I met Vibe.”
“Is that the one with the Fabio costume?”
“What are you talking about? No. It’s the one with the snappy comebacks and the great hair. Red, grey, black and yellow costume. Nice arms.”
“Ooh. Yeah, I know who you’re talking about,” Sara replies. “So. . . how did that go?”
“I found him in Carson’s Alley surrounded by fourteen fight club members. It was hectic.”
“…and I saved him from getting shot, he saved me from getting stabbed, we made out in a stairwell to escape with our identities intact.”
Felicity, a spoonful of soup halfway to her mouth, drops the spoon back into her bread bowl. “So you had two dates last night.”
“It wasn’t a date,” Laurel admits. She smiles a little when she thinks about Vibe’s infectious grin.
“But you wouldn’t mind if it was,” Sara finishes with a little smile. “Right?”
“Maybe. But who knows? I mean, what are the chances that I’m ever going to see him again? This isn’t a small city, and our patrol schedules might not even match up.”
“You should have gotten his number,” Felicity muses.
“Says the one who used to hang out on her fire escape in the hopes that the Arrow would swing by and ravish her.”
“It worked, didn’t it?” Both Laurel and Sara make faces.
Laurel finishes the last bite of her sandwich. “Ew. Just ew. I have to get back to work. Do you want me to drop you off at the gym, Sara?”
“You go ahead. I’ll drop Sara by the gym. My gym clothes are in my backseat, anyway, and I could do with some treadmill time.”
“I’ll leave you guys to that. I’ll text you later.”
It has been over two weeks since she last saw Vibe, and Laurel is convinced that she will never see him again. She’s been patrolling as normal, refusing to widen her area or increase her patrols because she might just happen to run into him. The days of chasing boys were over the day she graduated high school, and Laurel will be damned if she’s ever going back to them. Instead, she decides to handle her frustration in healthier ways, such as kicking the crap out of the copier when it keeps crying for more toner after she’s already put the extra cartridge in. “You have got to be kidding me,” she grouses as she thumps a gentle kick to the side of the beast.
“Whoa, crazy. Slow down. I’ve heard of tough love, but you’re not getting anywhere with that approach.” Ramon walks into the copier room with grape lollipop in his hand and a quizzical expression.
“I don’t need this today, Ramon.”
“I don’t think that the copier needs this, either,” he mumbles, but approaches the copier and looks at the screen. He slides the lollipop into his mouth and pulls his hair back into a low ponytail with a hair-tie from his wrist. He presses a few buttons, frowns, and walks over to the power strip to unplug the thing completely. He opens the behemoth of a copier to look intently at its innards.
He’s so close to Laurel that she can feel his body heat as she stares over his shoulder. For a moment, she is reminded of the moments leading up to The Incident, but refuses to go down that road. Instead, she stares at his hands so she’ll be able to tell Moira exactly how Ramon broke the copier.
“There’s no hiding from me,” he says triumphantly as he runs his fingers over a tiny yellow wire.
Laurel is slightly impressed that he can speak so clearly around the candy in his mouth. “What is it?”
“The insulation is worn down right here on the edge. I think I have some electrical tape out in my car, but I really don’t want to have to find this wire again.” With his free hand, he fishes in his pocket until he pulls out a keyring with about eighteen keys and a Lego man attached to it. “Would you mind running out to my car to grab my toolbox? It should be on the right side of the trunk."
“Do I look like the fetching type?”
His mouth presses into a thin line, and he looks up at the ceiling as if he is saying a prayer before taking a deep breath. “Do you want to print your copies or not?”
“Fine,” she says, snatching the keys from his palm and ignoring the fact that she still feels a tiny spark.
Ramon’s car is what one would colloquially refer to as a “hot mess.” There are sodas in every cup-holder, and CDs cover the entire floor of the passenger seat. Laurel shudders, glad that she doesn’t have to open the cab. Instead, she pops the trunk, grateful that the key fob has a trunk button. She’d hate to have to find the actual key in the mess that is his keyring. His trunk is full, but surprisingly organized. He has reusable grocery bags, a duffle bag, a first aid kit, and a black toolbox. Laurel groans in surprise as she lifts it; it’s not that big—how did he fit that many heavy tools inside? She slams his trunk and stalks back into the building, finding him standing there in the same position. It’s almost like watching a medical drama, the way that his finger presses against the wire as if it’s a leaking artery. She sets his keys down next to the toolbox.
“Awesome. Could you open it and take the top layer out? There should be electrical tape in the bottom.”
Laurel lets out an audible sigh, but does as he asks. The toolbox itself is full of all of the usual suspects—hammer, wrenches, nails, pliers—but there are also tools in here Laurel has never seen in her life. She almost asks him about them, but she remembers The Incident and shuts her mouth. She stands up, close again so she can see what he’s doing. Her chin is almost on his shoulder. “How big of a piece do you need?”
“About three centimeters,” he says, and she peels off a little over an inch.
The tape is tough, and she automatically brings it to her mouth to rip the piece off. She holds the piece of tape on the end of her index finger, and he reaches up to take it. Laurel doesn’t know if she’s imagining it or not, but she could swear that his finger brushes hers for longer than is strictly necessary. “Yeah, that’s great,” he says, reaching in with both hands and delicately wrapping the tape around the place where the wire’s insulation is fraying. He smooths it one last time before he draws his hand back carefully and closes the copier.
Laurel walks over to plug the copier in again, and Ramon is waiting by the power button. He turns it on, and there is no annoying beeping noise. Laurel approaches the screen to see it displaying normal settings, and she lets out a sigh of relief.
“How many do you need?”
“Six,” she replies. “But I can do that.”
“Suit yourself.” He turns around, gathers his toolbox and keys, and starts walking through the doorway.
“Cisco?” He turns around quickly, and Laurel knows he’s surprised at her use of his first name. That hasn’t happened since before The Incident.
“Thank you. You aren’t completely useless.” The words burn, but Laurel Lance gives credit when credit is due.
He smiles at her, and it’s the one that she hates, with the dimples and the perfectly white teeth and the slight squinting of his eyes. “No problem, Lance. Just doing my civic duty.”
As he walks out of the room, Laurel has to keep a lid on her emotions. What the hell is this man doing to her?