So we made our own computer out of macaroni pieces
And it did our thinking while we lived our lives
It counted up our feelings and divided them up even
And it called that calculation perfect love
There was some study, in psychology or sociology or something like that, which said it took twenty-one days to form a new habit. If you wanted to start exercising or quit smoking, you had to work for three weeks to make it stick.
Felicity wondered how long it took to break a habit. Because it had been three weeks since she had returned from Lian Yu and four weeks since she was Oliver’s EA, and yet, here she was. Blinking as she looked around the lobby of Starling City’s main post office, in the middle of picking up the mail from Oliver’s post office box. Just like she had on every Monday and Thursday for the last ten months.
Why was she here? It wasn’t like Oliver didn’t have plenty of time now to pick up his own mail from the P.O. box he had for ultra-secretive reasons. Because he was jobless and broke--or as broke as a billionaire could be, apparently? She wasn’t entirely sure. Maybe it had something to do with not having many liquid assets and all his money being tied up in things like houses and horses and other things that started with an H?
Frowning, Felicity looked at the wall of tiny little doors, each with an even-tinier window that let you see if you had mail or not. It wasn’t that she minded helping Oliver by picking up his mail. And she certainly had the time, since she was also jobless. Yet . . . she wasn’t sure why it had taken her this long to realize how much her life had fallen into a pattern. A pattern that had been blown out of the water three weeks ago.
I love you.
With a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and turned her keychain around, finding the small key that fit into the lock on Oliver’s box. She was here, she might as well pick up the mail. And then, when she saw Oliver, she would give him back the key and let him know he could get his own mail from now on. It wasn’t that she was mad at him, or resented the task. It was just . . . she wasn’t his assistant any more.
Not that she knew what she was to Oliver.
There wasn’t much in the box: a few manila envelopes and one thick, cream-colored envelope, so covered in Cyrillic-lettered stamps that Felicity could barely read anything on it. Not that she could read Russian, which was what the return address looked to be written in.
Although with Google Translate, she could at least figure it out--
She took all the mail and shoved it into her bag, before closing the little door and locking it decisively. Mail was private and the property of the addressee. If Oliver was picking up her mail, he wouldn’t be thinking about who it was from and wondering what it meant.
Once upon a time, she had told Walter Steele that she hated mysteries. She might have been the only girl to not enjoy the Nancy Drew books, because she never had any desire to read about Nancy’s baby blue roadster (and just what was a roadster?) and ‘tomboyish’ George and ‘plump’ Bess. No, Felicity wanted to skip to the end and find out the solution to the mystery, but the solution never made sense without any of the details. So rather than drive herself mad by either subjecting herself to needless story or a mystery that still felt unsolved, Felicity skipped the yellow-spined books and checked out back issues of Wired from the local branch of the Las Vegas Public Library.
Nothing in the seventeen years since those days had changed Felicity’s mind. She still hated mysteries. But in the last two years, ever since she met Oliver, she had learned patience. Or forbearance. Whatever quality it was that made her bite her tongue when the questions crowded her mind so thickly that they almost poured out of her mouth.
Who taught Oliver to use a bow and arrow? What were those first days on the island like? Which of his many scars was the first? Why did the dragon tattoo on his back look so strangely unfinished? How had he learned how to fly a plane if he was on a deserted island? Or became a member of the Russian mob? Became the cold, brutal killer who covered it up by acting like the same old Ollie Queen?
Somehow, though, Felicity had managed to not ask. Because any time she tried . . . she didn’t like seeing how Oliver reacted. She hated it, in fact, because it made her heart feel torn in two.
These were five years! Five years . . . when nothing good happened.
Maybe she had just become a coward. Because not asking Oliver about those five unhappy years was one thing. Not asking him about his plan to take out Slade? That . . . that wasn’t the same thing.
And that wasn’t something she should be thinking about right now. Not when she was on the way to the Arrow cave.
Stopping at the post office had always been her last errand on Monday and Thursday mornings. Once she had gotten Oliver’s mail, she would hop in her car and drive the ten blocks to Queen Consolidated and get to work. When Oliver arrived, he would always have a cup of coffee for her, which he would exchange her for the mail.
It was a well-oiled system that had acquired a lot of dust in the past few weeks. Because Oliver wasn’t the CEO anymore and he didn’t need an executive assistant. And due to all the complicated legal wrangling that was going on over the company, it meant Felicity couldn’t even return to her old job in the IT department.
Pretty soon, she would have to get some kind of job, since her savings wouldn’t last forever, even with how she had banked so much cash thanks to the ridiculous salary she had made as Oliver’s EA. But until that day came, she spent her days in the Foundry, much quieter now that Verdant was shuttered. There had been plenty of work to do, repairing the damage caused by Slade’s attack. Especially to her babies. But the repairs were difficult with Oliver’s limited funds, so she had made a few compromises, chosen to not replace everything. And instead of asking Oliver for money she knew he would have trouble coming up with, she had used her own savings for the most essential pieces. So she was learning to make do with a different setup, until she could afford to get back to her optimum system.
At least crime was down in Starling right now--the bad guys seemed to have taken a break as they recovered from Slade, too. And the repairs to the Foundry were finally completed, which left her searching for things to do. She poked at her computers, making tiny little tweaks to improve performance--ones that invariably bugged her after a few days so she would undo them and try again. She cleaned all the server cabinets, removing every speck of dust and dirt that somehow crept their way into her babies. She wrote new programs to automate processes she normally did manually, cracked her way into a few databases, and generally just tried to fill her days as much as she could.
It was all about staying busy. Keeping her mind from thinking about that one dark night. That one bright day. But it wasn’t working. It had been three weeks and she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The typical morning rush hour in Starling City was not so typical today: cars moved sluggishly and Felicity inched her Mini along the highway that led from downtown towards the Glades. Normally, she managed to make the best of traffic, to catch up on podcasts or listen to music, but today . . . today, she didn’t want to be trapped in her car with her thoughts. Because no amount of head shakes or deep breaths were going to keep her off this topic today, it appeared.
So . . . so maybe she should think about. Maybe it was time to start asking herself what the hell had happened. Because she had no idea what to think about that night and day, and until she knew how she felt, how could she find the words to ask Oliver about it? Because yes, everything seemed normal. She would work on her computers and Oliver would train with Digg or sharpen arrowheads or teach Roy, if he wasn’t meeting with lawyers about Queen Consolidated.
But everything wasn’t normal.
Gripping the steering wheel, Felicity focused on the car ahead of her, syncing her responses to it. If it sped up, she pressed her foot on the gas. When its brake lights lit up, she hit her own brakes. It was just the kind of mindless rhythm that let her work out what she was going to do about Oliver.
Because it had been three weeks since they came back from Lian Yu, and they hadn’t talked at all. Oh, they had talked. About Queen Consolidated, about her computer repairs, about Thea’s text messages from all over Europe. But it was never anything personal. Never anything about . . . them. With crime quiet in the aftermath of Slade’s attack, they were left with nothing to talk about, except for the questions neither of them wanted to address.
Which wasn’t like her. At all. She had always been curious--where had that curiosity, that inquisitiveness, gone? Why had she let everything remain so unsettled between her and Oliver?
Felicity rolled her eyes at herself. Because it was easier to live in limbo than face the cold, hard truth. Her inner Cher Horowitz went “duh!” really, really emphatically.
But that was the reality of the situation. She had spent over a year fighting and warning and telling herself that no matter what daydreams she had about Oliver, they weren’t as important as what they were achieving in Starling City. A million women loved Oliver and wanted to sleep with him--but only she, Felicity Meghan Smoak, could keep him safe and be the voice in his ear. The person who helped him when everything looked dark.
That moment in the clock tower, when Oliver was completely crushed and defeated, when she told him that she believed in him: out of all the words she had ever said, she had never meant anything more than she had in that moment. And knowing that she was able to be there for him, in that moment--that made her more certain than ever of her place in his life. Because if she was just a girlfriend, he would have pushed her away long before that. He would say he needed to keep her safe, keep her protected. And if she hadn’t been there, who knew what might have happened?
So even with everything else she felt for Oliver, those impulses and desires she kept behind mile-high walls in her mind and her heart, she had felt content. Or at least willing to accept her unique place in Oliver’s life and on the team. She didn’t fool herself that she was irreplaceable, like John told her . . . but Felicity had enough self-worth to know she would leave a hole if she was gone, a hole that would be very, very difficult to fill.
And then Oliver had taken her to the Queen mansion and told her he loved her--told her that she was the woman he loved--and that just . . .
Nearly too late, she realized the car in front of her had stopped. Felicity pounded on her brake pedal and her car jerked to a stop. Taking a deep breath, she ran her hands over her steering wheel, giving herself a moment before she focused her attention back on the road.
Mental note: don’t try to answer potentially soul-crushing questions while driving.
When she arrived at the Foundry, her heart still beating a little fast from her near-accident, Felicity was determined to just get to work. The last place she wanted to be having any thoughts about Oliver’s professed-but-in-no-way-real feelings for her was in their quote-unquote workplace. If Digg was there, or, God help her, Oliver, it would be too likely that she would blurt something out and ruin everything.
But when she arrived, the lair was dark and silent, except for the soft light from the monitors and the gentle hum of her computers. And it made her relax a little, to be alone. She could use the peace and quiet to recover and get her mind back on track.
All she was able to do was turn on the lights and sit down in her chair before she heard the soft beeping, coming from the door at the top of the stairs. Her body felt even more tense than before, until light footsteps began pattering down the stairs and she knew it must be Roy. Digg’s tread would be heavier and Oliver wouldn’t make any noise at all.
“Hey, Blondie,” Roy said, his hands sunk into the pockets of his red hoodie.
She was so grateful for his presence that Felicity didn’t even raise her normal complaint about being called ‘Blondie’. “Hi, Roy,” she said, taking Oliver’s mail from her bag and leaving it on his workbench. “What are you doing here?”
He shrugged his narrow shoulders. “Thought I’d practice some more.”
“Okay. I don’t know where Oliver is . . .” she said, trying to sound breezy and normal. “But I don’t mind the company,” she continued quickly. “Have at it. Just don’t aim your arrows anywhere near my babies.”
“You get a little too close one time . . .” Roy muttered as he went to lift his bow from his case.
“Do you know what an arrow would do to one of my computers?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
Roy chose to stay silent, just giving her a look that was equal parts guilty puppy and defiant teenager.
“Oh, go shoot your arrows,” she said, waving her hand at him as she turned back to her computers.
With a small smirk of a grin, Roy hefted his quiver and walked towards the other end of the lair. Since her back was to him, it didn’t take long for Felicity to forget that he was even there. The only sounds were the twang of the bowstring, the thunk of the arrow hitting the target, and the occasional soft curse when Roy missed.
Felicity let herself get lost in her searches, her mind concentrating on coding and not stupid men. Well, Digg wasn’t stupid at all--he wasn’t here because he was going with Lyla to a prenatal check-up, according to the text message he had sent her this morning. And Roy was a kid. He was allowed to be stupid, he was still learning how to be an adult.
So really, it was just one man being stupid and bothering her.
What had Oliver been thinking? Telling her he loved her? Honestly, she still didn’t know how they got away with it. Because--because Slade knew Oliver. He had known Oliver longer than she did. He knew how much Oliver loved Laurel. Yet for some reason, Slade had believed Oliver’s confession. Believed it more than Felicity did herself. Because there was just no way that Oliver actually loved her.
It had been all part of the plan, she reminded herself. A brilliant plan, really, one that turned the tables and took a weakness--their inability to outthink Slade--and made it a strength. Because Oliver had done the last thing Slade had expected, the last thing he would have thought Oliver Queen would do: send an innocent, unprotected, weak woman to do the Arrow’s job.
I thought you had a thing for stronger women . . .
The taunt in Slade’s voice still haunted her nightmares. Because Laurel had struggled. She had wiggled and squirmed in the grip of the Mirakuru soldier, trying to get free, trying to make a difference. But Felicity had been frozen. Unable to move, unable to think of anything but the syringe in her pocket, the syringe that had to be administered to Slade, so he would be cured and Oliver could beat him.
She just . . . she didn’t know why he hadn’t told her first. There had been time. Not a lot, and it was pretty hard to talk on a motorcycle, yeah, but--but once they got to the mansion and before they went inside, Oliver could have said he had a plan and she should just go with whatever he said. Then she would have known. She would have known that whatever he said was part of the plan.
And that she shouldn’t believe anything he said. Shouldn’t lose hours of sleep wondering. Shouldn’t do something like think about those three little words.
Why hadn’t he told her? He had trusted her so much, by giving her that syringe, by sending her in against Slade. Did he think by not warning her, she wouldn’t freak out? Because she had to wait an entire hour in the mansion before Slade’s men captured her. That had been plenty of time for multiple freak-outs.
Perhaps he thought if she had been warned, she wouldn’t react in a way that would keep Slade from realizing what was going on. After all, she didn’t do much field work, she wasn’t good at lying and keeping her feelings inside--not in a situation like that. She wasn’t a soldier like Digg or a warrior like Sara or in training like Roy. She was just . . . Felicity. The woman who was good with computers.
The last woman on Earth who could capture Oliver Queen’s heart.
Maybe that was why he hadn’t told her. Maybe it was because, in Oliver’s mind, he knew there was no way she would think he meant it. Because they were unthinkable.
Really, it was just a matter of time before Oliver would start dating Laurel again. She was the woman he loved. The woman he wanted, the woman who would fit into all the parts of his life. Able to attend some rich person function together on Friday evening, and then give him the support he needed to go be the Arrow on Friday night. It was actually kind of surprising, now that Laurel knew Oliver’s secret, that they weren’t already together.
Felicity wondered what was holding Oliver back.
“Jeez, where’s Oliver?”
Roy’s voice cut into Felicity’s thoughts. She was somewhat proud of herself for not starling like an anxious squirrel. But she did blink at him. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve been here an hour, which means you’ve been here an hour at least, and he’s not here. And lately he’s kinda joined to you at the hip,” Roy said with a smirk.
She was an actual genius, but she had no idea what Roy was talking about. When she didn’t say anything, he lifted his eyebrows and shot her a look. “Really? He’s always around when you are. Like, all the time now.”
All she could do was stare at him, until Roy rolled his eyes and walked back towards the targets. She watched him shoot some arrows before she slowly spun her chair around to face her monitors, still trying to process what Roy had said.
What was Roy talking about? Oliver wasn’t always around . . .
The beeping of the access panel at the top of the stairs made her look up in time to see Oliver step through the door. Lately, even with all the uncertainty she was feeling, her heart always skipped a beat when she first saw Oliver. Now, with Roy’s words ringing in her ears, she felt like instead of skipping a beat, her heart started racing.
“Looking good, Roy,” Oliver said when he reached the bottom of the stairs. “Keep your free arm a little stiffer and it’ll improve your aim.”
The younger man nodded and kept practicing. Felicity absently noticed that he was hitting the center of the target more consistently. And she only noticed that because she was looking at Roy instead of looking at Oliver, even though she could feel the weight of his eyes on her.
“Good morning,” Oliver said, his voice a bit tentative.
Get it together, Smoak!
“Hi, Oliver,” she said, looking at him and giving him a quick smile. “What’s with the suit?” she asked, gesturing at the gray suit he was wearing . . . the suit that happened to be her favorite.
“Another meeting about QC,” he said, blowing out a breath. “I’m glad it’s over. I brought you coffee,” he said, walking over and carefully setting a paper cup down at the end of her desk, away from her computers. His eyes stayed fixed on her as he smiled a little. “Just like a normal Thursday.”
“Well, not so normal. Since we’re here, and I’m wearing yoga pants instead of a dress. Although you’re in a suit, just like before. Which is nice, although I suppose you’ll change, since thousand-dollar suits aren’t exactly conducive to vigilante-ing or training or whatever you’re here to do and . . . ”
Reaching out, Felicity snatched up her coffee and took a sip, halting her babble. Once she had swallowed, she took a breath. “Thank you.”
A small smile creased his face. “You’re welcome,” he said, his voice amused. “How was your evening?”
Her evening . . . ? The one that they had been together for most of it?
“Um, fine? I went home and watched some more of my Netflix queue. Finally started watching Fringe, which is great. Joshua Jackson, so dreamy. I’ve had a crush on him since I saw The Mighty Ducks. Have you ever seen that movie? It’s about hockey, you know. You like hockey, right?”
It had to be her imagination, how Oliver’s eyes narrowed when she talked about having a crush, right?
“I’m glad you had a good night,” he said, turning and walking over to his work bench.
Felicity watched him walk away, taking in how his shoulders seemed a bit tense. Instinctively, she wanted to go to him, ask him what was wrong, check that his night had been okay, too. Because in the last few months, that desire had been getting stronger, as more and more had been piled on Oliver’s shoulders.
But for the last three weeks, she had been going against her instincts. Because things were just so weird with her and Oliver, and she didn’t know how to fix them. Not without talking about what happened in the mansion, and she . . .
She was a coward. She was nowhere near brave enough to look Oliver in the eye and ask him if he really loved her or not. To demand that he give her an answer.
That was why Slade didn’t think she was strong. That was why everyone thought Laurel was Oliver’s perfect match. That was why Oliver had left her in limbo, when they were standing in the sunshine on Lian Yu, with his non-answer to her only attempt at asking him if he meant it.
Looking down at her keyboard, Felicity took a few breaths. Regardless of whatever was going on with her and Oliver, there was work to be done. She had a few searches she could set up, and then maybe she could just beg off for the rest of the day. Say that she had to go job-hunting. No, she couldn’t do that--because Oliver would get that sad lost puppy look on his face, because he would feel guilty that she wasn’t able to work at her old job in the IT department.
For a moment, she wished things weren’t so complicated. Wished that she could go back to the days when she worked in her little cubicle, before Oliver Queen had shown up with a smile and a shot-up laptop, back when she was just an IT girl who didn’t realize just how big and amazing the world could be. Who didn’t realize how addicting making a difference could be.
A soft huff made her turn her head slightly, and then she heard Oliver say, “I’ll be damned.”
Slowly spinning her chair around, she looked at Oliver. He had an envelope in his hand--it looked like it was the thick Russian one she had picked up earlier. “What is it?”
He walked towards her, holding out a creamy piece of cardstock printed with dark black ink. “Anatoly,” he said, letting her take the card from him. She tried to take it without touching him, but his fingers brushed oh-so-lightly against hers.
“The Bratva leader?” she asked in confusion, looking down at the card and then handing it back to Oliver, since it was in Russian.
Nodding, he looked down for a moment. “He’s getting married.”
“Oh,” Felicity said, her lips quirking into a small smile. She didn’t really know Anatoly Knyazev; their interactions in Russia had been limited. But she had liked him, even if he was a member of the Russian mob. “That’s nice for him.”
Oliver lifted his eyes from the invitation, looking at her with . . . something. She couldn’t figure out what emotion it was, glowing warm and steady in his eyes, but it made her stomach tighten.
“He’s invited me to the wedding. Me and his ‘two other favorite Americans’,” Oliver said, flipping over the card to show her a handwritten note on the back.
“Anatoly invited me, you and Digg to his wedding,” Oliver said, lifting his gaze back to hers.
Why did all the air seem to have suddenly gone out of the lair? She swallowed. “Oh.”
Felicity knew that Oliver had gone to the Bratva for help with Slade, but they hadn’t wanted to help. From what Digg had told her, Oliver had pretty decisively burned his bridges with the Bratva in Starling City. She wasn’t sure what it meant that Mr. Knyazev, who was so important in Russia, was inviting Oliver to his wedding. It probably was some show of support?
But why would Anatoly Knyazev invite her to his wedding?
Fiddling with her glasses a little, she looked at Oliver. “Are you going to go?”
“I should,” he said slowly, flipping the invitation around in his hands. His fingers were so clever, she thought idly. If she tried to do that spinny move, she would have dropped the card. Or sent it flying like a Frisbee. “Although I don’t really think I have a choice.”
She tilted her head to the side, ready to ask what he meant, when a soft smile flashed across his face, stopping her words. Because it had been a while since she had seen Oliver smile, and it was . . . nice. More than nice--it made her stomach swoop and made her stupid heart flutter.
“Russia in June is nice. Better than it is in November.”
“That . . . makes sense?” she said slowly, not really sure how to respond. Not sure why he seemed to be hanging on her words.
“And it would be nice to have someone there with me. A plus-one,” Oliver said, his hands still playing with the invitation. But now it was more like he was fidgeting, rather than showing off his manual dexterity.
Distantly, Felicity realized that Roy had stopped shooting targets. A glance over at him let her see Roy leaning against a column off to the side, watching with a smirk on his face. She swallowed, feeling a weird case of nerves. Which was ridiculous, because what Oliver was saying was just the truth. Weddings were no fun if you were there by yourself, even if you had other friends there, too. Because weddings were for couples to attend together.
Of course it would be nice for him to have a date. And Oliver Queen would have no trouble finding a date. Yeah, he might be broke for a billionaire, but he still had his face. And his body. And she really needed to shut down that line of thinking right now.
“I’m sure you’ll find someone--”
“Would you like to go with me?”
At Oliver’s interruption, Felicity felt her teeth click together as she stared at him. When he didn’t try and laugh it off or anything, just kept looking at her steadily with those eyes of his, she had to make sure she had heard him right. “What?”
“You’re invited, after all,” Oliver said, oh-so-slightly shifting on his feet. “If I’m going, John will probably come with me, so it would look strange if you didn’t come. It just makes sense if we all go. I wouldn't want you to be here by yourself.”
There was a soft huff from Roy, but for some reason, he didn’t come forward and join their conversation, all truculence and bravado. Instead, he left them alone.
Which meant Felicity had to get her head out of her daydreams. Because Oliver was right--she was invited. And while she didn’t know much about the Bratva, she got the sense that invitations were usually commands. If Oliver felt like he had to go, even with the apparently-high position he held, she definitely needed to go, too. And if both Oliver and Digg were going, they would both worry about her if she was here in Starling City. True, Slade’s Mirakuru warriors hadn’t inflicted the same level of damage as Malcolm Merlyn and his earthquake machine had, but the city was certainly recovering slowly.
It wasn’t a date. Oliver just wanted her to know that she needed to come, too--to let her know that she didn’t really have a choice, either. He probably thought asking her to come as his plus-one was better than telling her flat-out that it was too dangerous for her to stay here in Starling and too dangerous for her to miss this wedding.
Of course, one of the last places in the world she wanted to go was Russia. Not with the memories of her last trip to that country. Of seeing, with her own eyes, how Oliver was willing to settle for sex with a woman who was evil incarnate--Felicity had felt that way long before she had evidence that Isabel was, in fact, evil--than to have something real with someone.
Oliver was noble and selfless, like all heroes. She knew he felt like the people he didn’t deserve to get what he wanted, didn’t feel he could be selfish like that. So she got it. Why he had given her that stupid line about how it was better to not be with someone he really cared about.
But she didn’t agree with that. She thought he deserved better. Better than Isabel. Someone who saw the light inside him, who cared about him, who knew the real Oliver. A woman who loved every part of Oliver Queen.
Felicity wanted that woman to be her. And for a moment, standing in the Queen mansion, she thought it could be her.
It was clear, though, that nothing had changed. What happened in Russia stayed in Russia, and just because they were going back to Russia didn’t mean anything. Did she think that once he crossed the border into the country, he would act out of character and tell her that he had meant every word, that he did love her, that he wanted to try having a relationship with her?
That wouldn’t be happening. As long as she remembered that, things would be fine. She would be fine.
Pasting a smile on her face, she nodded. “It sounds like fun. Even for someone like me, since I’m Jewish and Russia wasn’t always a great place for Jews, but--but that was long ago, and I’m sure that won’t matter. It’s a wedding, after all--everyone’s happy at a wedding.”
Since she was looking right at him, since she didn’t really understand what was going on in his head and was looking for any indication of what he was thinking, she could see the reaction that her words prompted. His eyes went dark and flat, his lips parted slightly, and his shoulders tensed. And when he spoke, his voice was low and rough.
“Yes. Everyone’s happy at a wedding.”
End, Chapter 1