Our Love is a Symphony (I'll Play All My Life)
Oliver has a healthy appreciation for music. He also has eclectic taste, and he attributes that to his mother’s insistence on family outings to concert halls and operas. The Queen family had once been regulars in Starling City’s most prominent auditoriums. Oliver doesn’t remember when that changed.
Five years on an island and the constant struggle to live had nearly erased the awareness of music from his being. He doesn’t enjoy it the way he used to: he is too accustomed to silence now, too aware of sound to lose himself in music like he once did. Now, his ears strain to distinguish footsteps instead of chord changes. He is always on alert now, and music makes it too hard to focus.
Thea had begged him, though. His sister had seen a flyer for a symphony at the Starling Grand Concert Hall and turned those big doe eyes on him immediately. Please, she’d begged, and Oliver’s tongue had betrayed him with a yes when they’d both been expecting a no. She asks him for so little these days, and expects even less – he can’t bear to think that he’s always letting her down. Thea had believed him dead for five years, and he’d returned a stranger to his family. It’s been a year since his return and sometimes he still feels so separate from the people around him that he may as well be back on the island.
So, Thea had begged, and he’d said yes. Now they stand in the entrance to the Grand dressed to the nines and Thea is so excited that Oliver releases the tension that running the gauntlet of press outside had stirred up in him. His sister looks around the building as if seeing it for the first time and relearning a favorite sight simultaneously. She’s a woman now, but her face has lit up like it did when she was five and staring at a Christmas tree. For that reason alone, Oliver is glad they came.
He wants to cringe; he wants to take Thea inside and find their seats and stay far away from … everything. Instead, he keeps his face calmly neutral and turns with his sister to see Laurel and Tommy standing a few feet away. They each have an arm slung around the other’s waist, and Oliver is reminded once again that this is the new normal. They are all the same people, yet unfathomably different.
“Laurel,” Oliver greets with a small smile. “Tommy.”
His once best friend smiles uncertainly and dips his head in greeting. “Hey.”
“Laurel,” Thea greets brightly, and surges forward to hug the other woman. Then, with more hesitance, “Hey, Tommy.”
This hurts. Oliver reaches for his sister at the same time the five-minute warning is announced. Oliver has never been so grateful to be saved by the bell.
“Enjoy your evening,” he says to his friends-turned-acquaintances. “C’mon, Speedy.”
When Oliver and Thea were kids, the Queen family had a private balcony reserved for them year-round. Tonight, the Queen siblings will be enjoying the symphony from the fifth row. Oliver would have preferred the openness and privacy a balcony, maybe, but he had made sure to reserve the aisle seat for himself in compromise. He’s been home a year, but he knows that he’s not adjusted enough to be comfortable in the middle of a row full of people with no clear exit. He might never be adjusted enough for that.
He and Thea take their seats. His sister begins to peruse the program, and Oliver cases the interior of the hall to identify all possible exits.
Then the lights are dimming and the heavy velvet curtain is sliding away, and a hush falls over the crowd. Oliver had loved these expectant silences in his youth, but now he has to pointedly remind himself that this silence is not a precursor to some kind of danger.
Oliver casts his gaze over the musicians. Men and women of varying ages and dressed smartly in black and white sit or stand calmly and prepare their instruments. The stage is a blazing spot of sunlight in the now darkened hall, but none of the musicians are perturbed. They’re used to it, of course, but a part of Oliver – the part that had learned to move without a sound, and to use the shadows to his advantage – quails at the thought of being so on display.
The maestro has begun his introductions. Oliver has missed most of it, but he tunes in just in time to catch the end.
“… So, please join me in welcoming our wonderfully talented pianist, Felicity Smoak!”
Oliver is caught off guard by the sudden thunderous applause that sweeps through the hall. He is more surprised when a petite woman in a bright purple dress crosses the stage to take the maestro’s waiting hand. She’s young and sweet looking with her smooth blonde ponytail and brightly painted lips, and she bends slightly at the waist in a small bow and grins at the crowd.
Oliver blinks. “Isn’t she young to be a concert pianist?” he asks of no one in particular.
“She’s not much younger than you,” Thea answers.
Oliver directs a raised eyebrow at her. “How can you know that?”
Thea brandishes her program at him. “It says so in her bio.”
Thea grins at him as he takes the program and opens it to scan for the bio. There are a few of them on the inside of the back cover: one for the maestro and two others. Felicity’s is the last one. It’s a short paragraph that really only tells him the basics: Felicity Smoak, 26, resident of Starling City and the youngest pianist to ever grace the Starling Grand Concert Hall.
She’s also probably the brightest: the vibrant purple of her dress sets her apart from her fellow musicians (and probably half of the crowd). The bright stage light catches in her dress as she moves to the piano.
The maestro doesn’t hold a baton, but he raises his hands in preparation. As one, the body of musicians responds: there is a collective breath inhaled, the maestro drops his hands, and the string section fills the hall with perfect harmony.
Oliver doesn’t bother reading the program. He’s long past the point in his life where he could identify Mozart, or Haydn, or anyone else – and he doesn’t care. He’s here for Thea, and maybe to learn whether or not the part of him that enjoys music still exists.
His eyes snap to the woman on the bench at the first stroke of a piano key. Her hands are too small and Oliver is too far away to see them clearly, but he can sense the generally quick and sure passage of her hands over the keys. Oliver appreciates her focus: Felicity doesn’t take her attention from the piano once even to look at the maestro. Despite that, whether by some natural sense or unseen cue, she never falters.
When they reach the intermission, Oliver is surprised to discover that he has relaxed. He’s no longer sitting tense and upright in his seat, and that feels like some kind of victory.
Oliver stands and offers his hand to Thea to help her out of her seat.
“Bathroom break?” he asks with a smile.
Thea grins and loops her arm through his lazily. “Please. Thank you for this, Ollie.”
“Any time, Speedy,” and he means it.
“Ollie?” Thea queries as they make their way up the aisle.
Her voice is quiet when she responds. “I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t know Tommy and Laurel would be here,” she explains in light of his confusion. “Is it still hard to see them together?”
Oliver squeezes her hand. “Not in the way you think.”
He’d made his peace with Tommy and Laurel’s relationship months ago. The revelation had hit him hard at first – he had spent his time on the island determined to get back to his first love, after all – and then, sometime later, he’d realized that Tommy and Laurel made sense. They fit together easily, and better than he and Laurel ever had.
“What about you?” Oliver asks gently. “Have you talked to Tommy lately?”
Thea looks both sheepish and frustrated. “No. I don’t know what to say to him. ‘Hey, just found out my mom cheated with your dad. Ta-da! Guess we’re related’ just doesn’t flow well off the tongue.”
Oliver chuckles and squeezes her hand reassuringly. Yeah, that had been quite a bomb Moira dropped on them all. Oliver still struggles with that particular truth, so he understands if Thea hasn’t figured out how to handle it yet.
They part ways outside the bathrooms. Oliver is faster and finishes first, of course, so he stuffs his hands in his pockets and waits quietly in the hall. There are people milling about in the foyer. Clusters of them dot the room and he can hear the low mumble of their conversations, as well as the occasional burst of feminine laughter. He finds it strange to remember the times his family had been one of those clusters, Oliver and Thea impatient as their socialite parents mingled with Starling City’s fellow one percenters.
Nothing in his life these days is the way he’d imagined it would be all those years ago.
A door opens behind Oliver. He turns to greet his sister, hands still in his pockets, and is rewarded with the oomph of someone running smack into him.
Oliver’s hands fly out of his pockets and latch onto the arms of whoever is in front of him as that person – woman – teeters unsteadily backward.
“I am so sorry,” she says emphatically, and Oliver realizes he’s collided with the pianist. “I was in a rush – I mean, I still am in a rush to get back, because no way could they have put a woman’s bathroom any closer to the stage – and I was too busy looking at my phone to watch you. See you! I was too busy looking at my phone to watch where I was going, so I didn’t see you. I’m so sorry. Have I said that yet? Because I am.”
Oliver just stares at her. Belatedly he releases his hold on her arms, because she’s no longer in danger of toppling over. The movement also gives him time to process. Her ramble had been … surprising, and quick. And … kind of endearing.
“Uh, yeah.” She’s uncertain – shy?
“Hi. I’m Oliver Queen.” He offers her his hand.
She shakes his hand. “Of course you are.” Oliver arches an eyebrow and she leaps forward, “I mean, of course, I know who you are. Who doesn’t? You’re basically Starling City’s own knock off Lazarus. Not that I’m implying that you’re cheap, obviously, because look at you – No! That’s not … you know what, I’m done.”
Oliver laughs. He can’t help it: Felicity Smoak, petite purple piano player that she is (and Thea would be so proud of him for how ridiculous that sentence is) has just inadvertently called him something that sounds like a cheap prostitute. The whole thing is so ridiculous and Felicity looks so mortified that Oliver just laughs.
“I’m so sorry,” Felicity stage whispers, “again. I think I have some kind of verbal vomit disease.”
“Ollie?” Thea says from behind Felicity.
Oliver is still grinning when his sister steps around the other woman and comes to stand at her brother’s side. Thea’s face splits into a grin.
“Oh my god, you’re Felicity Smoak!”
“Hi,” Felicity answers. She sounds sheepish still, and Oliver just keeps grinning.
“I’m Thea, Ollie’s sister.”
Oliver can see the “I know” forming on her lips when she scrunches her nose up, catching herself, and says instead, “Nice to meet you, Thea.”
The announcement for patrons to please return to their seats comes over the loudspeakers. Felicity jerks, startled.
“Oh my god, I’m gonna be late!” She looks mortified. “I’m sorry to be abrupt, but I have to run.” Felicity glances up at Oliver. “I’m sorry for …,” and she waves a hand vaguely through the air, “everything. Pleasure to meet you both, please enjoy the music!”
Then she’s running – actually running in her tall stilettos and her hands full of her dress – down the plush, carpeted hall.
Oliver still has a lopsided grin on his face as he and Thea turn to head back to their seats. “That was the strangest introduction I think I’ve ever had. What happened, Ollie, how did you run into her?”
“She ran into me, actually.”
“Wait, as in ran into you? Literally?”
“Literally,” Oliver agrees.
He explains the story to Thea on the walk back to their seats. The lights dim as they drop into their chairs, and Oliver fixes his attention on the empty piano bench. Only there are two pianos now, and he’s certain there was only before. The second, new piano is set very close to the other one, and instead of being oriented the same way it mirrors the other one. The keys of each piano face the other, and the lone piano bench stretches out in the space between them.
Felicity appears and even from this distance Oliver thinks he can see a high color in her cheeks as she crosses the stage. Curiously, Felicity seats herself in the middle of the bench facing the crowd and then – of all things – kicks off her stilettos, arranges her dress carefully, and pulls her legs up onto the bench to cross in front of her. Oliver knows that he’s not the only one confused and watching with oddly bated breath. This is unusual.
Then Felicity puts her left hand on one piano, her right hand on the opposite piano, and glances at the maestro. He nods at her once. Oliver takes a breath; on stage, Felicity closes her eyes and begins to play the most beautiful variation of Für Elise that he’s ever heard.
The audience is captivated. For some three minutes, no one seems to breathe as they watch this brilliant young woman play one song on two different pianos with her eyes closed.
Oliver stares at Felicity. Her expression is serene, and she looks for all the world as though she’s playing by herself instead of in an opulent concert hall full of people.
When the last note fades away there is a heartbeat of suspended silence. Then, Felicity opens her eyes and smiles – a pleased but shy sort of smile – and the crowd erupts into applause. She’s clearly taken aback by the force of their approval because she just sits there staring until the maestro approaches and helps her to her feet. Felicity bows, grins, and then bows again at the maestro’s invitation.
When the applause has died down, Felicity slips her heels back on and then turns to face the original piano.
The orchestra performs beautifully. When the symphony ends nearly forty-five minutes later and the array of musicians stands to take a bow, the audience sweeps to their feet with applause. Oliver and Thea glance at each other as they clap. Thea’s smile is huge and delighted, and though Oliver’s is more subdued it’s just as genuine. The last two hours of his life have been full of beautiful music and ease. His almost pathological need to be on alert was quieted tonight, and he is glad to be reminded that some parts of who he was before the island have remained.
Leaving takes much longer than arriving had. The aisles are crammed with people trying to make their way to the exit, and they shuffle slowly forward. Oliver and Thea opt to remain in their seats until the traffic dies down.
Oliver checks his phone. His bodyguard and friend, John Diggle, has texted him to ask about bringing around the car. Oliver responds with a picture of the waiting people and a quick it’ll be a minute.
Fifteen minutes later, the hall and aisles have emptied of enough people that Oliver stands and motions for his sister to do the same.
“We should start doing this again. Do you think mom would come with us?”
Oliver swallows his initial reaction and response. His relationship with Moira is strained at best, but that is between them. Thea doesn’t need to be reminded of the fissures that divide their family.
“Won’t know until you ask,” he says instead.
Oliver shoots Digg a text to let him know that they should be outside in five minutes. He and Thea clear the main hall as their group of people spills into the foyer, but instead of dispersing the people in front of them compresses themselves into a single file line.
“What the hell?” Thea mutters in confusion.
Oliver steps aside enough to see clearly ahead of them and then steps back to Thea. He doesn’t realize that one corner of his mouth has pulled up into a smile until Thea calls him out.
“Are you smiling? What are you smiling about?”
Thea does a double take at the soft teasing. Her brother rarely teases her anymore: he’s too serious, too withdrawn and contemplative to tease her the way he used to before they lost him. That response, though … it warms and injures her in equal measure, because she misses Ollie. Thea yearns to see the parts of him that he claims to have lost, and sometimes finds in fleeting moments like this.
There’s chatter in front of them, and the line moves steadily, and Thea cranes her head but can’t see what’s happening. Oliver stops her when she tries to mimic his movements and step out of line.
“Just wait,” he tells her.
When the people in front of them finally move away, Thea and Oliver find themselves once again facing Felicity Smoak. Her face is flushed and she looks tired, but she smiles brightly when she realizes they’re in front of her.
“Hello again,” Felicity says warmly.
“Felicity!” Thea exclaims delightedly. “How long have you been standing there?”
The woman grimaces in a funny but heartfelt way and shifts her feet. “Long enough,” she says. “Curtis insisted that people appreciate a meet and greet, which seems ridiculous because we probably should have done that before the concert and I tried to tell him that it was late and people just wanted to go home, but he …” She trails off suddenly, aware that she’s rambling again. “And now you get to listen to me babble, which will end in three, two, one.”
Oliver smiles as Felicity presses her painted lips into a tight line. Her shoulders rise and fall with a deep breath as she resets herself.
“You play beautifully,” Thea says. She hasn’t stopped smiling since she realized Felicity was in front of them.
“Thank you,” Felicity says graciously. “I hope you enjoyed the concert.”
“We loved it,” Thea assures her. “Even Ollie, who I had to bribe to bring me.”
Felicity’s focus shifts to Oliver. Her eyes are a pretty blue behind her dark framed glasses, and she smiles disarmingly at him. Oliver realizes – again, because he’d noted it during their first introduction – that she’s beautiful.
“Not a fan of the symphony, Oliver?”
“Not a fan of crowds,” he corrects.
Unexpectedly, her expression softens. Oliver knows what pity looks like, but that particular sentiment never makes an appearance. Instead, she looks at him like she sees him, like his answer makes complete sense and she understands. Her face doesn’t fall the way Thea’s does when he says anything that might reference his time away. Oliver is used to the looks he gets from those who knew him before the island; Felicity’s is nothing like that.
She glances around them suspiciously and then leans closer and whispers loudly, “Curtis bribed me, too.”
“What?” Thea deadpans.
Felicity nods and grins sardonically. Then, her gaze locking with Oliver’s she says, “Can I trust you?”
Oliver’s brow creases in surprise. “You can trust me.” The reply falls from his lips without thought.
“And me,” Thea pipes up.
Felicity sighs. “I have stage fright.”
“Stage fright,” Thea repeats. “But … I never would have guessed, you looked so calm up there! And that whole dual piano thing was amazing!”
Oliver isn’t surprised. He thinks back to his observation that once she started playing she never looked to the maestro or took her attention off of what was directly in front of her. The one time she’d been facing the audience she’d closed her eyes.
“Thanks,” Felicity replies sincerely. “That was just something I started doing to practice and then Curtis said it’d be a great performance trick.”
“Who’s Curtis?” Thea asks.
“Oh, the maestro. He’s a good friend of mine.”
Oliver hasn’t said much, but he’s content with holding his tongue and watching his sister and Felicity interact. Thea is animated and happy, and that means the world to Oliver. Felicity is equally captivating, however, with her easy smiles and genuine warmth for two people she hardly knows.
Oliver’s phone starts to ring just as an unfamiliar man approaches behind Felicity. Oliver glances at the screen and sees Digg’s contact picture. He declines the call even though he knows that’ll drive Digg to come in looking for them and looks back to Felicity.
“Hey,” the stranger greets.
“Curtis, we were just talking about you! This is Thea Queen and her brother, Oliver.”
“Whoa,” Curtis breathes as he stares openly at Oliver. “You are …”
Felicity grabs Curtis’s arm somewhat forcefully, and it’s Thea who breaks out with a laugh. “He gets that a lot.”
Curtis visibly shakes himself, schools his face, and offers his hand. “Right. Sorry. Curtis Holt, conductor.”
Oliver shakes his hand and can’t suppress a little smile. He meets Felicity’s eye as Curtis shakes Thea’s hand and, on impulse, winks at the pianist. Felicity practically beams at him with shared humor.
From the doorway, John Diggle calls out, “Oliver?”
Felicity claps her hands together. “Well, it was great to meet you both when I’m not running into or away from you. Not that I was running away, before, since I was actually technically late, but-.”
“Felicity,” Oliver interrupts warmly. She snaps her mouth shut and stares up at him with bright eyes. “The pleasure was ours. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
He slings an arm around Thea’s shoulders, nods a farewell at Curtis, and then turns them toward Diggle. Oliver doesn’t turn around to steal a last glance until they’ve met Digg at the doorway; he lets go of Thea and ushers her through the doorway, and then angles his head over his shoulder.
Felicity has a steadying hand on Curtis’s arm as she slips off her remaining stiletto. She’s easily three inches shorter.
“These aren’t shoes, they’re torture devices,” he hears Curtis say as he retrieves the heels and hands them to his friend.
“Yeah, but they’re cute,” Felicity answers.
She glances up suddenly and their eyes meet across the foyer. Even without the stage lights she’s a vivid spot of color against the pale walls and elegant columns of the concert hall. Felicity blinks, as if surprised to find him looking at her; Oliver disappears out the door.
He listens quietly to Thea regale Digg with details from the concert and answers every time she says, “right, Ollie?” but his mind isn’t on the conversation. His thoughts are back at the concert hall.
“We should go again,” Thea says. “Only next time you’re coming too, Digg.”
“I don’t know,” Digg says noncommittally. “I’m not sure I like symphonies.”
Oliver surprises them all by saying, “You’ll like this one.”
Thea grins at him knowingly.