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Tactical Support

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As Oliver reaches the van, he bends over to catch his breath, the bow still in his hands.  Running six blocks in itself isn’t difficult, but doing it after chasing a drug dealer through half the Glades made it a little more challenging—especially when the police chasing him have access to helicopters and spotlights and police cars.

When he can breathe again, Oliver opens the doors to find Digg staring back at him, but it’s otherwise empty.  Of course—that would have been too easy, on a night where they needed easy.  Pressing his hand to his ear, he asks, “Deathstroke, what’s your status?”

“Pissed off,” Felicity replies between pants, and he releases a sigh of relief.  An angry Felicity is trouble in its own way, but at least she’s still on the streets and not in police custody.  “If I knew this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have woken up at four to do my cardio workout.”  Oliver can’t help the laugh that escapes him.  “This whole mission has been nothing but grief and misery and I’d like to thank you so much for making me join you.”

Laughing as a slice of orange mask comes into view, growing larger by the second.  Oliver smiles; when they first started, she couldn’t run this hard or this long.  “The cardio has been working,” he replies.  “You look good out there.”  He pauses as her words catch up to him.  “And since when could I make you do anything?”

“You do stupid things on your own and then I feel morally obligated to save your pathetic ass,” she grumbles back.  Behind her are two sets of flashing lights, and he can hear the helicopter’s blades growing louder, as well as a few officers trying to chase her on foot.  Loud enough that he can hear her without the comms, Felicity yells, “I am beating the hell out of you when I get there, hood boy.”

“Let’s see you do it, sword girl,” he challenges in a playful tone.

It does the trick:  she picks up her pace.  Oliver turns back, barking, “Digg, go now!”  After a few seconds of hesitation, he does as asked.  Felicity catches up to them seconds later, and he motions for her to jump.

In an old move they’ve done dozens of times, she leaps and Oliver catches her.  Between the motion of the van and her sudden weight, it topples the two of them, and Felicity sprawls across him.  Swallowing as he stares down at her, he tries to push all the times he’s dreamed about this—and how it led to Felicity removing her mask and kissing him until he couldn’t see straight.  Mostly he fails.

Instead of crawling off him, Felicity zips down the front of her jacket.  Oliver’s eyes track the motion as his mouth goes dry.  When she reaches to pull off the mask, his breath catches.  In the dark, a mischievous smirk plays on her lips, taunting him.  With the adrenaline still running through her veins, her eyes are bright and pupils dilated, and it’s here she’s at her most beautiful.  Oliver can hardly breathe.

She shoves his shoulder once before rising to her feet.  “Remind me why I do shit like this for you again,” Felicity says, pulling at the band holding her hair in a French braid as she reaches for the doors, pulling them closed.  Oliver sits up as she goes for the garment bag hanging from one of the van’s hooks.  “First I chase a drug dealer all through Starling City, and now I have to get ready because you roped me into being your plus one at some charity event.”  She turns back to throw him a look.  “The real charity event is me agreeing to help you.  Though I have no idea why.”

Diggle laughs from the front seat, and Oliver throws him a glare he doesn’t see.  Rising to his feet, he sighs before unzipping his jacket.  “It’s because you love me,” he teases, throwing his jacket on the floor as he reaches for his own garment bag.  Maybe it’s wishful thinking.

Felicity scoffs.  “That’s definitely not it,” she assures him.  “You might be my best friend, Oliver, but I’m not going to be picking out curtains with you anytime soon.”  Her jacket falls to the floor, and he can’t help but stare at her figure.  The leather pants cling to her legs like second skin.  They cling to other aspects of her body, too.  “Maybe it’s because I know you’re hopeless without me.”

“Whatever it is, thank you,” Oliver replies.

She rolls her eyes before peeling off her tank top.  “Don’t thank me,” Felicity insists.  She turns to wink at him—a dangerous combination, considering she’s just in her bra and her pants are unbuttoned.  “I only agreed because you’re cute and look nice in a suit.”

There’s a shadow on her cheek that wasn’t there before, and before she can turn away, Oliver reaches for her arm.  Her eyebrows lift in question, but he runs a hand along the spot.  He frowns when she winces.  “He hit you harder than I thought,” he notes in a dark tone.

Felicity shrugs.  “Occupational hazard,” she replies.  With a cryptic smile, she adds, “I think he’ll hurt more than I will in the morning, though.  I don’t play very nice.”  She motions to the spot.  “If you’re worried about the party, I’ll be able to cover it with makeup.”

“I’m worried about you,” Oliver corrects.

She cups his cheek.  “That’s sweet, but I’ll be fine,” she assures him.  “Just a little facial bruising—not a big deal.  The most annoying part will be trying to hide it with makeup for the next week.”  Her hand goes to his arm, a smile on her face.  “If you’re going to worry about me, do it over rational things, Oliver.  Like my cooking.”  With that, she turns away, reaching for the clasp on her bra.  Oliver turns away.

By the time his shirt is tucked into his trousers and he’s pulling the suspenders over his shoulders, Felicity is in a pink, knee-length dress with bell sleeves.  Diggle pulls to a halt, sending them both flying.  Oliver reaches for her before she can fall on top of her sword bag.

“Good call, saving the swords,” she says to him.  “Digg, what the hell was that?”

He’s already pulling open the back doors when he answers, “Change of vehicles.”  He adjusts his suit coat slightly.  “I go from being a babysitter to the driver.  I don’t know which I like best,” he deadpans.  A moment later, he offers Felicity a hand.  “Can I help you out?”

Turning in place, Felicity picks up her combat boots, slipping her feet into them.  With her back to him, Oliver realizes the zipper in the back of the dress open and her tattooed wings are on display, but she doesn’t seem to care.  “Thanks, but no thanks, John,” she replies, grabbing her bag and hopping down.  “I have it covered.”  She winks.  “You can help Oliver out, if you want.”

“That’s cute, Felicity,” he calls after shoving his feet into his own shoes, making the step down with his own bag.

She turns to him with a shrug and a smile, holding her hands up.  She paints a strange picture:  her hair in tight waves that frizz at the ends, black grease paint still around her eyes, pink dress barely on, and standing in her combat boots.  Somehow it seems more like the Felicity he knows than when she’s in her Deathstroke gear.  Maybe that’s because both sides of her are on display—the lethal vigilante and the vibrant programmer.

“I made you laugh,” she replies with a too confident grin, unrepentant.  “It was worth it.  Besides, it’s not like you’re gonna say anything—you need me tonight since you waited until the last minute to find a date.”

Diggle’s eyebrows shoot up at the same time Oliver finds something interesting about his shoes.  Of course Felicity notices.  “Okay, what am I missing?” she demands.  He winces, knowing that if she asks him, he can’t lie to her, but she calls on Diggle first.  “John, what isn’t he telling me?  Digg starts to answer, but she doesn’t let him.  “And bear in mind that I made sure Oliver didn’t go off the deep end while investigating your friend.”  She puts a hand on her hip.  “When you were still angry with me and you hurt my feelings, I might add.  It isn’t easy for me to be nice to people who hurt me, John.”

“You don’t play fair, do you, Felicity?”  is all he asks, frowning, and Oliver knows his friend is going to crack under the pressure.  In the span of a few weeks, Felicity has gone from a source of irritation to a friend again.   Oliver runs a hand over his face; this isn’t going to end well.

“I’ve never gotten anywhere by playing nice, John,” is her only answer.

Before this can escalate and Diggle can find himself in a more awkward situation, Oliver sighs.  “I’ve known about tonight’s gala for a month,” he finally admits.  Felicity’s eyes narrow.  “I didn’t try to ask anyone else because I wanted you with me tonight.”  Shoving his hands into his pockets, he stares down at his shoes.  “Tonight is the first public event since I came home.  I… I needed someone familiar by my side.”

There’s a long-suffering sigh and then a thud as her bag hits the ground, but then delicate, callused fingers with pink nails are on his face.  Felicity cradles his head in her hands, and somehow it feels more like home than the manor ever has.  She tilts his head up to meet her eyes, soft and gentle.  “That’s all you had to say,” she replies in a low tone.  Her soft smile makes him offer one in response.  “I’m always here for tactical support when you need me.”

“Thank you,” Oliver answers.

In response, Felicity leans up on her toes to press her lips to his cheek.  As she pulls away, it’s Digg who suggests, “We should probably head out.  You two are going to be late already.  And being fashionably late is frowned upon at events like these.”  He pops open the trunk.  “After I drop you two off at the house, I’m going to take your bags back to the base.”

Shrugging as she puts her duffle in the trunk, Felicity replies, “It’s not our fault a drug dealer with shoddy product decided to take a nice jog all over the Glades.”  She takes her heels from the bag, dropping them on the ground unceremoniously.

As she attempts to slide into them, Oliver drops his bag in the back.  Unable to resist, he reaches for her shoulder, sliding the zipper up to finish her dress.  She mutters quick thanks as she tries to balance in one heel, tongue sticking out in concentration.  He smiles at her antics even as he reaches for his tie and suit coat.  He drapes the former around his neck, sliding his arms into the latter.

Felicity fishes a pink pouch out of her duffle before slamming the trunk closed, and Oliver opens the passenger door for her.  It earns him a smile as she passes, sliding to the far side of the car so he can join her.  After they’re all in, Diggle starts the car and pulls out of the empty garage.

A moment later, Felicity scrambles toward Oliver.  Before he can ask what she’s doing, she’s in his lap, legs sprawled over his in a way that makes her skirt ride up a little—or maybe a little too much.  Her hands go to his collar, smoothing it down before tucking the tie behind it.  Tongue poking out in concentration, she winds it into a knot, carefully sliding it up to his throat.

“There,” she declares, smoothing the fabric over his chest.  “Now you’re ready.”  She crawls off Oliver’s lap to turn on the overhead light and frowns.  “Okay, maybe you’re not.”  Before he can ask, Felicity digs through the pink bag and removes a square packet, ripping it open with her teeth.  “You still have a ton of green paint around your eyes.”

In her attempt to remove it, she ends up draped across one side of him.  Unable to stop himself, he glances down to the dangerous amount of leg her action has exposed, flashing him an ever-increasing amount of her thigh.

Felicity is almost finished when she finally asks, “So are you staring down my dress or at my legs?”  As Digg groans from the front seat, Oliver nearly chokes on his own tongue.  Before he can find any words to reply, she explains, “I’m cleaning up your eye paint, Oliver.  I can see your eye lines are down and your pupils are dilated.  I drew a conclusion based on evidence.  It’s called inductive reasoning.”

“I’m not in the habit of leering at women, Felicity,” he finally huffs.

“So legs, then,” she decides, wiping the last of the grease paint away.  As she slides onto the seat next to him, Felicity adds, “That’s good.  I would have hated to punch you in the stomach, but staring down my dress would have been creepy.”  She drops the pink bag in his lap.  “Now that you’re finished and look like a proper billionaire, you can help me.”  Holding up a compact mirror, she says, “Hold this.”  Her attention turns to the front of the car as he takes it.  “Digg, I’m about to start my makeup.  If you swerve, I have three knives on me right now and I will not hesitate to put one in your neck.”  The smile on her face softens her words, and he laughs.

As Oliver holds the little mirror, he watches Felicity go through the routine of applying her makeup.  The bruise on her face slowly disappears under layers of concealer as though she’s done it before.  After a moment, he realizes she probably has.  In ten minutes, she has it applied, down to the lipstick that matches her dress.

“Thanks for that,” she says, taking the mirror from him and shoving it back into her bag.  Before he can assure her that it was no problem, Felicity has her hair up and into a bun-like updo at the nape of her neck, spraying it with enough hair spray to make Oliver cough.

She finishes at the same time Digg stops at the gate, waving at the current gate guard.  Felicity frowns as soon as she looks out the window.  Wide, panicked eyes land on Oliver.  “You didn’t tell me this was at your house,” she hisses.

“I told you my mother organized the whole thing,” he answers, brows knitting together.

“That does not mean this is at your house!” Felicity replies, voice rising two octaves.  Oliver’s eyes widen as she turns away.  Even though she doesn’t want him to, he knows that look:  it’s the same one that crosses her face any time he mentions heights.

Tentative, he reaches a hand out to cover hers.  She meets his eyes a second later, reading the silent question in his expression.  Her eyes flick to the back of Digg’s head.  Sighing, Felicity confesses in a whisper of Mandarin, “I might have an irrational fear of buildings with maze-like passageways.  More specifically, I’m afraid I’ll get lost or trapped in one.”  Looking away, she admits in English, “It’s a Japan thing.”

In the months he’s known Felicity, Oliver has learned what he can and can’t question.  This isn’t something she wants to discuss in more detail.  “You don’t have to go in there,” he assures her in a low voice.  “I can have Digg drive you home.”  He lifts a shoulder.  “I can say you were sick or had to work late.”  In Mandarin, he adds, “If you decide to go in, I’ll stay with you all night.”  He laces his fingers through hers.  “It’s hard to get lost when you aren’t alone.”

After a long moment, she finally replies, “Fine.  But if anyone tries to drag me to a private art collection, I’m sticking a knife in them.”

By the time the two of them slip into the party, it’s in full swing.  Everyone looks to be on the beginning of their second drink, and they come in unnoticed.  Before they step into the foyer, Oliver offers Felicity his arm.  Somehow everything feels a little more manageable with her small hand resting in the crook of his elbow.

Maybe it’s because he knows she could just as easily wrap her hand around a sword.

As far as parties go, it isn’t anything new.  A few people stop him and chitchat about things he has no interest in, and he offers a few banal responses to prying questions about the island.  For the most part, Felicity says very little, but she does exactly what he hoped:  her presence calms him, makes it easier to bear.

When he sees a head of full, brown hair bobbing through the crowd, Oliver spins Felicity in the opposite direction, determined to put distance between them.  Only one man in that crowd walks like he owns the place and has a vested interest in making Oliver squirm.  While he might be able to handle most things today, that is not one of them.

It isn’t until they’ve crossed the room that Felicity leans in to ask in a whisper, “Who are you trying to avoid?”  He snatches a glass of champagne off the nearest waiter’s tray.  Before he can attempt to swallow a few gulps, she takes it from him.  “And don’t try to blow me off by pretending to drink champagne.  You hate champagne.”  She sips from the glass before inspecting it.  “Which, frankly, I don’t understand because that is an excellent bottle.”

“Dark hair, your eight o’clock,” he replies, and Felicity casually glances over her shoulder to look.  “His name is Carter Bowen.”

He doesn’t expect Felicity’s eyes to light up immediately.  “The Carter Bowen?” she asks.  Oliver winces, expecting her to know him from the massive book deal, but instead she adds, “The Carter Bowen that should have been a proctologist so he could diagnose himself as a giant asshole?”  A snicker leaves Oliver’s mouth.  “The so-called perfect Carter Bowen that your mother likes to rub in your face?”

Eyebrows knitting together, he asks, “How did you know about that?”  Felicity only rolls her eyes and throws him a look that makes him feel like his IQ is two hundred points below hers.  A beat later, he realizes it probably is.  “Tommy,” he growls.

Felicity nods.  “When your mom invited the Bowens to Sunday brunch”—she waves a hand—“or whatever rich people do, Tommy told me about the whole thing.”  She pokes his shoulder.  “I meant it about being your tactical support.  If you’d asked me, I would have come.”

“I know that,” he assures her with a smile.  Felicity returns it.  “Remember what you said when I offered to go with you to that family dinner?”  Her expression sours.  “Brunch with the Bowens was a lot like that for me.”  He sighs.  “There are some things we have to do alone, Felicity.”

“That was a matter of self-preservation,” she disagrees with a shake of her head.  “You have no idea what my mother is like, and you’re the only friend I have.”  Her head tilts to the side.  “Except Roy, but he’s been saddled with me since childhood.  He no longer has a choice.  I just didn’t want her to scare you away.”  She frowns.  “And who says we have to do things alone?”  Her eyes light up in a way that immediately sends a shiver down Oliver’s spine.  “I think I can solve your Carter Bowen problem.”

“Felicity, no,” he answers, throwing her the best glare he can muster.  It’s sent some of the most hardened criminals running, but she doesn’t even flinch.  “I appreciate you wanting to help, but I don’t need you to fight my battles.”

“Maybe not,” she agrees, after taking a long, healthy sip of the champagne, “but I can be a weapon in your arsenal.”

After sliding her empty glass onto another tray, Felicity unwinds her arm from his and takes a few steps forward.  With no choice left, Oliver chases after her as she charges toward Carter Bowen’s horrible haircut.  He should have known better than to bring her into this; he’s heard Felicity defend his honor on more than one occasion, and he doesn’t expect her to back down now.  She’s told Tommy off on at least twice, and Oliver doesn’t want to find out what she’d say—or do—to someone she doesn’t like.

Just when he’s about to catch up to her, another hand grabs his arm.  Oliver just barely bites down on the instinct to break it when he realizes it’s a very harried-looking Tommy.  “Ollie,” his childhood friend whispers, “you gotta get out of here.  Carter Bowen is—”

“I know, Tommy,” Oliver replies, trying not to growl at his best friend.  “I really appreciate you telling Felicity that story.”  He motions to the blonde head of hair striding across the floor.  “She’s going to…”  He has no idea—and that’s part of what scares him.  “I don’t know what she’s going to do.”

Tommy blanches before leaning in to whisper, “You don’t think she’d kill him in a room full of witnesses, do you?”  Oliver tries his best to keep his expression neutral.  “Oh, shit.”

Without answering, Oliver breaks away from his friend’s grip.  This time he catches Felicity—about twelve seconds before she can start a conversation with Carter Bowen.  That’s twelve seconds too close for his liking; she could have thrown a knife from this distance and killed him.  With that thought in mind, he threads her arm through his again.

“You don’t have to protect me, Felicity,” he whispers to her in Japanese.  His pronunciation may not be perfect, but Felicity is a good teacher and she knows his flaws with the language.

“I don’t have to do anything,” she replies in kind, that familiar fire playing in her eyes.  Her Japanese is far more lyrical than his, words flying just slow enough for him to catch.  “I want to.  You should never have to compare yourself to anyone.  And if you do, you should never feel inferior.”  She pokes his shoulder.  “None of them hold a candle to you, Oliver Queen.  You are one of the bravest, smartest, kindest people I know.”

“I could say the same thing about you,” he replies.  “Though I’d add ‘loyal to a fault’ to that list.”

Felicity dismisses him with a wave of her hand.  “Mostly I just kill people.”  They both grin.  “You stand for something, Oliver.  Don’t let anyone take that away from you, okay?”  When he hesitates, she assures him in English, “Don’t worry.  When someone tries, I’ll let them know it was a mistake.”

“Ah, Oliver, there you are,” a voice says from behind him, and he immediately tenses.  Felicity picks up on it instantly, rubbing circles into his arm with her thumb.  When he turns, it’s with a polished smile for his mother.  It falters when he finds both Tommy and Carter standing next to her.  “I bumped into Tommy—and then your old friend, Carter.”  Somehow he manages not to roll his eyes.  Moira turns to Felicity with an assessing gaze, her expression souring slightly in anticipation.  Not that he expected anything less; she’s instantly displeased with anyone who isn’t Laurel.  “Who is your… friend?”  The suggestion in that word isn’t lost on him.

Though the smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes, it never quite slips off Felicity’s face.  Maybe she’s too familiar with keeping a mask in place.  “I’m Felicity Smoak,” she offers with a wave.  “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Queen.  I’ve heard a lot about you.”

When it’s clear his mother isn’t going to introduce them, Oliver adds with a nod toward the man in question, “Felicity, this is Dr. Carter Bowen.  He’s an old friend of the family.”  Fortunately, she refrains from stabbing him.  “And you already know Tommy.”  With a wry smile, he adds, “Better than I’d like sometimes.”

Tommy throws her a devilish grin.  “You look good, Smoak,” he declares, taking her hand and kissing it.  “That dress is stunning on you.”

Felicity rolls her eyes as she smooths down the skirt of her dress.  “Thanks, Merlyn,” she replies.  “It’s been in my closet for three years after a wild impulse buy.”  Waving a hand, she adds, “I was saving it for a date, but since I’m practically married to my work, being Oliver’s plus-one is the closest I’m going to get.”

Unable to resist smiling down at her, Oliver refrains from thanking her.  No doubt that the first thing his mother thought was that Felicity is another disposable woman on his arm, and he needed that dismissal tonight.

Before he can stop this from becoming a train wreck, Oliver hears Felicity say, “Dr. Bowen?  Like the inventor?”  She gasps in a way that’s positively false.  “I’ve read your book.”

“Please, call me Carter,” he insists with a smile that oozes charm and little else.  “And are you familiar with my processor design?”  He steps forward.  “What are your thoughts, Miss Smoak?”

“Well, Carter,” she starts without missing a beat, that plastic smile still in place, “I thought your writing came off as arrogant and entirely sesquipedalian.”  Tommy chokes on his sip of champagne, while Moira turns on Oliver with narrowed eyes.  “Not to mention that, if I may say so, your processor design is entirely flawed.”

The smile falls right off Carter’s face as he makes a face like a fish.  “Well, perhaps on the surface, it did look a bit inefficient—” he starts.

“Processor?  Like a computer?” Tommy interjects, with a not-so-subtle wink at Felicity.  Oliver’s glare might even rival Moira’s at this point.  “I thought you were a neurosurgeon.”

“It was just a hobby that paid off,” Carter replies, managing both dismissive and pompous in the same breath.  “As I was saying, it probably looks inefficient to the untrained eye, Miss Smoak—”

“And to mine,” Felicity adds, running over him like a steamroller.  And here Oliver thought he was the only one she did that to.  “I’m a computer engineer, and I’ve used your processors before.  They have a tendency to cause the system to overheat because of a major design flaw.  If you had routed the system just a little differently, you could have had the best design on the market.”  She flashes him a smile that could freeze Hell.  “Actually, I did a little tweaking, and now we have very few issues.  Of course, I’d still opt for another model for the next purchase, but I’ve been building computers from spare parts since I was five.”  She lifts a shoulder with that brilliant smile.  “It was just a hobby that paid off.”

“My mentor on the project was Jack Marshall,” he protests.  “He worked with Kord himself.”

Rolling her eyes, Felicity replies, “No, he worked for Ted Kord.  Ted was only ever lukewarm about him, but kept Marshall on board because his head of software R and D insisted that he had potential.”  Judging by the expression on Carter’s face, Oliver isn’t the only one who noticed how she called one of the biggest computer programmers in history by his first name.  “That man was Noah Kuttler.”  Her hand on Oliver’s arm tightens.  “And Noah Kuttler was my father.”

Carter’s eyes go wide as he sputters.  Felicity doesn’t miss a beat.  “It was so nice meeting you, Carter,” she adds with that polished smile.  “I always enjoy an opportunity to talk tech.  But, if you’ll excuse me, Oliver promised to show me the art collection here.”  He bites down on a scoff, thinking about what she said earlier.  “Nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Queen.”  She points at Tommy with a wink.  “I’ll see you Monday, Merlyn.  Don’t be late.”

Taking long strides, Oliver puts as much distance between her and the rest of the guests as possible.  “I…” he starts, trying to find words.  None come.  “You…  Just… thank you, Felicity.  But you didn’t have to do that for me.”

“I wanted to,” she replies, removing her hand from his arm to lace her fingers through is.  “Tactical support, Oliver.  I promised.  And I didn’t just mean out in the field.”  With a wink, she adds, “You can repay me in computer parts and mint chip ice cream.  Oh, and there’s this butterfly knife I saw online that I really liked.”

 “Or I could show you the private art collection,” Oliver replies with a playful smile.

Her eyes narrow.  “You’re cute, Oliver, but you’re not that cute.  Don’t push your luck.”