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Our Love is a Symphony

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Our Love is a Symphony (I'll Play All My Life)


 

Felicity's version of Für Elise


 

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.

Then, “Ollie?”

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.

“Hmm?”

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.

“Felicity, right?”

“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?”

“You’ll see.”

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.

 

Chapter Text

Moonlight Sonata, 3rd Movement


 

The Starling City Orchestra performs two more concerts of that particular symphony, and Oliver doesn’t make it to either of them. He has every intention of catching the last one and he makes it as far as getting dressed in his room when the press gets a hold of the story of Moira and Malcolm’s one-time affair. The paparazzi are whipped into a frenzy. They paint Moira in a harsh light, reducing her to the two-timing socialite wife with biting headlines in the magazines, and then they try to connect Oliver’s pre-island behavior to hers. Of course, Oliver Queen was a whoring playboy, look at the example his mother set for him, strangers say. The whore part is implied, but Oliver knows what they mean.

There’s a virtual ocean between Oliver and his mother, but the media’s abuse of her enrages him. His instinct to protect kicks into overdrive and though he’s careful to keep his cool around the press, his answers any time they catch him are scathing and derisive.

The night of the last symphony, a paparazzo stalks Thea outside her night club and follows her to her car. He scares the shit out of her and she calls Oliver in tears.

Moira posts his two hundred-thousand-dollar bail, and Oliver’s mugshot runs in the magazines right next to the “reported stories” of Moira Queen’s sordid affair. They hire a bodyguard for Thea; Jean Lohring, the family attorney, gets the assault charges against Oliver dropped in exchange for a paltry twenty-thousand-dollar lump sum.

Tommy Merlyn calls, because no matter what twisted sort of web connects them now he’s always loved Thea like a sister (even before anyone knew that she actually was). Thea agrees to talk to him, but their conversation is short and stilted. Oliver fills the family theater in the mansion with bean bags, pillows, and blankets, and they make blanket forts like they’re kids again and eat pizza and ice cream until two in the morning. There’s several beers involved as well, and Oliver spends the next day alternately teasing and treating his hung-over sister.

Life is decidedly less eventful for Felicity. The orchestra has several months of downtime before their next concert, and though she practices for several hours every day there’s a leisure to it that will fade as the next performance gets closer. Until then, though, Felicity spends a lot of time at the old music hall that is the Starling City Orchestra’s practice hall.

It’s Iris, her roommate and best friend, that alerts her to the media buzz surrounding the Queen family.

“Didn’t Curtis say you guys met them?” Iris asks one night.

Iris is watching TMZ and Felicity is in the kitchen making a Monte Cristo that’s probably going to clog her arteries. She has zero idea who or what Iris is talking about.

“Met who?” she calls back.

“The Queen siblings,” Iris answers.

Caitlin, Felicity’s other roommate and best friend, sweeps into the kitchen and peers at the perfected Monte Cristo that Felicity has just slapped onto a plate.

“She’s watching TMZ,” Caitlin explains.

Iris is a reporter at the Starling Times that Felicity had met some years ago by chance; Caitlin had played the cello in the orchestra with Felicity until last year, when she’d exchanged her instrument for a full-time job doing what she loved: working in a lab. Sometimes, Caitlin will pull out her cello and the two of them play impromptu concerts in their apartment for Iris (or, more often, just for the hell of it).

Felicity and Caitlin join Iris on the couch. It’s a decent sized piece of furniture, but the three of them cram themselves into the exact middle of the couch and then arrange limbs (and a plate, in Felicity’s case) and pillows until they are a comfortable but ridiculous looking dog pile.

“We did meet them,” Felicity affirms. Iris turns up the volume and the three women sit quietly and listen to the media coverage of the Queen family for some minutes.

Iris scoffs when they start talking about Oliver’s “assault” of the reporter. “Of course, he decked him, the guy was being a total creep and stalking his sister.”

“Why is the focus on Oliver when it should be on the reporter?” Caitlin agrees. “Why is it more acceptable to terrify young women than to protect them?”

Felicity doesn’t say anything. She’s too busy studying the pictures that the media is artlessly sharing of the incident: it’s dark so she can’t see much except Thea’s outline, hunched in on herself near a parked car, and what must be Oliver. He has the reporter by the lapels – or maybe the throat, she can’t tell – and has him pressed against the wall of the nearest building. The reporter’s feet are well off the ground.

Felicity’s heart goes out to Thea. The young woman she’d met that night at the concert had been enthusiastic and warm, and it saddens Felicity to think about how frightened she must have been in those pictures.

Felicity is something of a prodigy in the musical world. To that end, she’s done a few interviews here and there, and been the subject of maybe two or three run-ins with the paparazzi, but she’s still a relative nobody. There aren’t a lot of groupies or media outlets hounding the world of classical music. She has no idea what it must be like for Oliver and Thea, who have been chased by the press probably all of their lives. Even before the whole tragedy that had claimed business mogul Robert Queen and his playboy son the media had been obsessed with the Queen family.

“I hope she’s okay,” Felicity says finally. “Thea was really sweet when I met her.”

“That’s still crazy, by the way,” Iris says as Felicity digs into her late-night snack.

“What?” the blonde asks around a mouthful.

Caitlin laughs at her. “Gross.”

“You know I’ve had a crush on Oliver Queen for years,” Iris reminds them, but Felicity chooses that moment to stick her tongue out at Caitlin – complete with half-chewed food – and Caitlin squeals and tries to wiggle away from her, and the Queens are forgotten.

A handful of months pass as usual. Felicity’s days are full of piano practice and her job in the IT department of Palmer Tech. The summer has given way to fall and the weather has cooled off considerably; more importantly, the orchestra is gearing up for the gauntlet of holiday performances that they’ve booked. This time of year is always busy for them: the Starling City Orchestra is a hot commodity for year-end galas and fundraisers for some of the city’s most prominent. The mayor books them every year for a public performance the week before Christmas, and they always put on a Thanksgiving benefit concert where all proceeds are donated to the local children’s hospitals. Felicity likes that concert the best, because the orchestra performs in the hospitals for the children and the musicians all wear big red noses and whatever other Christmas decorations they choose. Felicity goes all out for that one.

Their first concert is just before Halloween. Curtis encourages them to wear colors appropriate for the holiday, and Felicity – who is a big fan of bright colors – buys a floor length orange gown that leaves one of her shoulders bare, sweeps her hair up into a sophisticated chignon, and wears a pair of black spider earrings.

Iris does a community highlight piece on Curtis, one time Olympic decathlete and brilliant young conductor, so Felicity gets payback by suggesting that he do a meet and greet before the concert.

“Now,” she says gleefully as she positions him, “just stand there and smile and shake hands with your adoring fans.”

“Felicity,” he starts.

“Oh, no,” Felicity cuts him off. “You made me do this at the end of the night, Curtis. At least I’m being nice and making you do it before.”

Felicity has made him stand in front of the section of wall that separates the doors that open to the two center aisles of the auditorium. He’s noticeable, but he’s not in danger of being overrun.

“Perfect,” Felicity crows with a clap of her hands. “I’ll go make sure everyone is warming up.”

Curtis’s face does something strange, and then someone speaks behind her.

“Hello again.”

Felicity spins, and yeah, maybe her mouth falls open a little because Oliver freaking Queen is standing there in a three-piece suit looking for all the world like he’s just stepped off the cover of a magazine. The first and only time she’s met him before this she remembers thinking he was attractive, but maybe she’d been too rushed to notice that “attractive” is a paltry word for what he is – Apollo turned flesh, maybe, or a romance novel hero stepped off the page, or …

“Hi,” Felicity says dumbly. “You look good. I mean, it’s good to see you again! You do look good, of course, I’m sure you always look good – I wasn’t trying to hit on you or anything. Not that I wouldn’t! Wait … what I mean is …”

Felicity is devolving into a babbling mess again. She presses her lips together until they feel bloodless and closes her eyes to count. When she reaches three she opens her eyes again. Oliver is smiling at her.

“Hi,” Felicity starts again with an answering smile. “It’s good to see you again, Oliver.” She holds out a hand for him to shake.

Oliver takes her hand – and her breath when he turns it over and raises it to press a kiss against the back. “Pleasure’s mine.”

Felicity thinks she’s blushing. Oliver holds her gaze for a long second and then releases her hand, and it’s like some kind of signal because Thea appears at his elbow at the same instant. A woman that Felicity vaguely recognizes as Moira Queen and a giant of a man that Felicity has never seen join them.

“Felicity!” Thea greets. “I can’t believe we found you again!”

Then, to Felicity’s surprise, the other woman steps forward and hugs her. Felicity hugs her back and then beams at her when she lets go.

“I’m glad you did!”

“You look great,” Thea tells her. “Nice touch with the earrings. I’d like you to meet my mom. Mom, this is Felicity Smoak, the pianist I was telling you about. Felicity, this is my mom, Moira.”

Felicity shakes the hand the Queen matriarch offers. She’s not severe looking, but there’s a hard aloofness about her that makes Felicity slightly uncomfortable. This is a woman accustomed to power and prestige.

“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Queen.”

“You as well, Ms. Smoak. My daughter tells me to expect great things of your performance tonight.”

“Oh,” Felicity stumbles, a panicky thing starting to beat in her breast. “That’s very kind, but -.”

“Hello,” Curtis says as he steps forward to save her. “Curtis Holt, conductor of the Starling City Orchestra.”

Felicity shoots him a grateful look as he engages Moira Queen. She’s surprised to find Oliver studying her when she looks up.

He leans toward her, not quite crowding but definitely crossing into her personal space. “Nervous?” he inquires quietly.

Felicity blows out a breath. “It’s ridiculous, right?” she whispers. “I’ve done this dozens of times, what’s there to be nervous about?”

Oliver cants his head to the side. “It’s not ridiculous. Being in the spotlight is nerve wracking.”

“Oliver,” Moira calls. “We should really be seating ourselves. I’m sure there are others who would like a moment with Ms. Smoak.”

Felicity blushes, but Oliver just assures his mother that he’s coming and tucks his hands in his pockets. “You’ll be great.” Then, looking at Curtis, “Nice to see you again, Curtis. Good luck.”

“Hope to see you again after!” Thea says.

The Queen family moves away with the big man that no one introduced. Thea walks between her mother and brother and takes up the arm of each; Felicity wonders if she’s imagining the coolness between mother and son.

“Someone has a fan,” Curtis sing-songs behind her.

Felicity doesn’t get to ask him what or who he means, because another group of people steps up to introduce themselves.

Curtis and Felicity greet people for another twenty minutes before excusing themselves to disappear backstage. Iris and Caitlin are waiting for her at the base of the stage stairs. They both hug her warmly.

“You’re gonna do awesome,” Caitlin tells her. “You’re always awesome.”

“You look beautiful,” Iris adds. She grins widely. “Slay, Smoak.”

Felicity laughs and hugs them again. Iris and Caitlin have blanket passes for backstage access at every concert that Felicity plays, and even ones she doesn’t. They are well known to the other members of the orchestra – Caitlin has played with nearly all of them in the last few years – and they’re just as close to Curtis as Felicity. Well, maybe not quite.

“Thanks, guys.”

“Oh! I brought you something,” Iris says suddenly. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a long velvet box. She holds it out and opens it to reveal a string of black pearls. “They were my mom’s. I want you to wear them, for luck.”

“Iris.” Felicity is too flabbergasted to say much more.

Iris takes the strand of pearls in hand and tucks the box back into her purse. She motions for Felicity to turn around, which she does, and then lays them against her throat and clasps them.

“Also, they’re perfect for your dress,” Iris points out.

Felicity touches the pearls carefully and turns back to face her friend. “Are you sure?”

Iris grins. “Of course, I’m sure. They always bring me luck, and I know how nervous you get out there, so I thought they might help.”

“Thank you.”

In the auditorium, a sudden hush falls and the stage lights get brighter. Felicity knows that means the other lights have been dimmed, and that introductions are about to start.

“That’s your cue,” Caitlin says as Curtis starts talking into the microphone. “Better get up there.”

Felicity squeezes both of their hands, thankful for the support, and then ascends the steps to wait nervously in the wings. She hates the introductions. Curtis introduces the lead of the woodwind section, the lead of the string section, the harp player, and then Felicity knows that it’s her turn.

“And last but certainly not least,” Curtis announces, “our very talented pianist, Felicity Smoak!”

The lights are blinding as she emerges from stage left and her heart is thunderous in her ears, but she can just hear the drum of applause. She focuses on Curtis and keeping her breathing study. Her thoughts are a mantra of don’t trip.

She slides her hand into Curtis’s waiting one, smiles widely at the audience – or in their general direction, anyway, since the stage lights are so bright that she can’t actually see anything – and bows.

When she’s crossed to the piano and settled on the bench, Felicity takes a deep breath. Her fingers drift up to press the borrowed pearls lightly against her skin in fortification. She checks her sheet music, which she has memorized, and focuses on Curtis.

Her friend and maestro looks to the lead of each section and waits for their nod. Felicity smiles when he looks her way.

“Let’s make some music, people.” It’s his customary line.

Then, Curtis raises both hands, pauses, and then launches them into song. The piano doesn’t come in until the third measure. Felicity closes her eyes and waits.

The keys are cool and smooth beneath her fingers when she starts to play. Her mind empties of everything but the next note, the next stroke, and a calmness settles over her as her hands fly across the keys. Music makes sense to her the way computers makes sense to her: she can look at the notes and know exactly what they are and where they go, just like she can with lines of code.

Only once or twice does she need to open her eyes to check the sheet music in front of her. Crescendo, decrescendo, allegro; her mind whispers the words, and her hands comply. For forty-five minutes Felicity forgets about everything except the music. Her anxiety is lulled to sleep, stage fright hidden beneath the joy she feels at being able to create something so beautiful.

She only opens her eyes when the echo of the last chord fades. A heartbeat later the roar of applause catches her by surprise – she doesn’t think she’ll ever get used to it – and the lights come on as Curtis announces intermission.

Caitlin is the only one waiting for Felicity off stage. “Iris had to go,” she explains. “Barry called. She said to tell you that you’re blowing them away as usual, and that she’ll see us at home.”

Caitlin hands her a bottle of water and Felicity downs half of it. “C’mon,” she says and leads Caitlin to the door that exits into the hallway. “I have to use the bathroom and it’s like, ten miles away.”

There’s a line for the women’s bathroom, but when they realize that Felicity is behind them the line of women parts and several wave her through.

“Go ahead,” a beautiful woman with chestnut curls offers. “Concert can’t go on without you.”

Felicity thanks them all profusely. She’s in and out quickly, adept at navigating long dresses in the bathroom thanks to her years of experience. She washes her hands, double checks her makeup and general appearance in the mirror, and then rejoins Caitlin where she waits in the hall.

Felicity would be lying to herself if she didn’t admit that she’s keeping an eye out for Oliver and Thea on her trek back to the stage. They’re nowhere to be seen, however, and she refocuses on the concert.

Once they’re backstage again Felicity finishes her bottle of water and tosses it in the nearest trash. “Almost done.”

“We still on for dinner after? Curtis wants to try some new Thai restaurant.”

“Thai? In this dress? I’ll ruin it.”

Caitlin laughs. “I brought you a change of clothes.”

“Ugh, you’re a lifesaver. Thai food it is.”

She returns to the stage with enough time to detour past Curtis. “Dinner is a go,” she tells him.

“In that dress?” Curtis retorts, and it makes Felicity laugh. She pats his arm reassuringly.

“Caitlin brought different clothes. Iris went somewhere with Barry, but I’m sure Caitlin will text her. Is Paul coming?”

“He has to work late.”

Felicity nods in acknowledgement and then returns to her piano. She exchanges her sheet music and spreads it out. A shadow falls over her and she glances up to see Keldon Haines, a double bass player that she’s spoken to on occasion, standing at the edge of the piano.

“Hey,” she says, confused.

“Hey,” Keldon replies. “I know it’s a weird time to ask, but I was wondering if you’d like to go on a date with me.”

Felicity can’t help the frown that emerges. She’s said hardly anything to Keldon that isn’t a pleasantry or directly related to music, and she’s never had the impression that he was interested in her. His invitation is completely unexpected. And, she discovers after brief moments of introspection, unwanted.

“I’m flattered, but no thank you.”

Keldon’s face falls. “Oh. Okay, yeah. Sorry to disturb you.”

He disappears. Flummoxed, Felicity catches Curtis’s eye. He’s clearly dying to know what just happened, but the lights are dimming once again and intermission is clearly over. Later, Felicity mouths, and Curtis nods.

Later, she tells herself again, because her mind wants to get stuck on trying to figure out when Keldon might have let on that he was interested. Music now, everything else later. Unthinkingly she glances out over the crowd and realizes anew how big the auditorium is, and how many people are out there watching her. Well, maybe not just her, but she’s part of the orchestra that they paid money to see and just like that her stage fright is back.

Felicity immediately turns back to her piano and closes her eyes. She counts to five and opens them again, finding Curtis immediately.

The moment the music starts up again, Felicity closes her eyes and concentrates. The piano keys are reassuring beneath her fingers. She knows this; she can do this.

That attitude carries her almost all the way to the end. She’s relaxed until the last few notes of In the Hall of the Mountain King fade away and then remembers quite suddenly that their finale for the evening is her. Their last piece for tonight is a piano solo: Felicity is playing the third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and she’s forgotten that she will be the center of attention for nearly eight minutes until that moment.

Curtis congratulates the orchestra on a job well done and then turns to face Felicity. He winks at her in silent support; Felicity blows out a panicked breath and busies herself by gathering up her sheet music and putting it away. She doesn’t replace it, because she doesn’t need it.

“You can do this,” she whispers. She reaches up to press Iris’s pearls against her skin again.

The auditorium is silent as Felicity places her hands on the keys, and then the music in her head pours out of her fingers and over the piano keys. She keeps her eyes closed as her heart swells to keep time with her fingers. A curled strand of hair slips loose from her chignon and comes to rest against her cheek; she feels it there and ignores it.

Felicity has practiced this exact movement for hours – for years. She has played it until her hands cramped so painfully that Caitlin had to massage them back to looseness for her; she has played it through tears of frustration and exultation, all to prepare for a moment like this.

She plays it with every ounce of passion she has, until her hands ache and the last key is struck.

Felicity opens her eyes, and nothing happens. Everything is quiet and still around her. She turns her head to look out over the audience, wondering suddenly if something has happened – or maybe she’s dreaming? – and then visibly startles when more than four hundred people jump to their feet with raucous applause.

Felicity stands and bows automatically, stunned. She is stunned at their approval, yes, but she is mostly stunned with herself. She’s just played a very difficult, very well-loved piece of music composed by freaking Beethoven, and she did it without a single mistake.

A wildly triumphant grin splits her face. Then Curtis is there and sweeping her into a hug.

“Oh my god, Felicity,” he says in her ear, “that was the best piece of music you’ve ever played!”

Curtis lets her go and she bows once, then again with her fellow musicians, and exits the stage on cloud nine. Caitlin is waiting for her, of course, and she beams at Felicity and then flings her arms around her as soon as she can reach.

“That was incredible!”

“Oh my god,” Felicity breathes. “It was incredible! I don’t know what happened, Cait, I just closed my eyes and went for it. I wasn’t even thinking about all the places I usually trip up. I don’t think I was thinking at all!”

“So, you finally listened to me,” Caitlin teased. “It’s not enough to just play it …”

“You have to feel it,” Felicity choruses with her, grinning.

“This definitely calls for a celebration dinner!”

Before they can go anywhere though a stage hand approaches. “Ms. Smoak?”

“Yes?”

“There’s someone asking for you at the front of the stage. Would you like me to send them away?”

Felicity’s heart leaps in her chest. She can only think of two people that might want to talk to her, and her stomach gives an awkward flop in anticipation.

“No, I’d like to talk to them.”

“Please follow me.”

“You can come too,” Felicity says as she grabs Caitlin’s hand and drags her along.

Sure enough, Oliver and Thea are waiting in the empty area in front of the stage. Thea is the first to see her and practically squeals as she rushes over to give Felicity a hug. Apparently, they’re hugging friends now, and Felicity finds she doesn’t mind that.

“You’re a rock star!” Thea praises. “Or whatever the equivalent is for a piano player.”

Felicity laughs. “I’ll go with rock star.”

When Thea releases her Felicity looks immediately to Oliver. He smiles at her, and her heart swoops in answer. He is an unfairly attractive man with a startlingly direct gaze.

“Felicity, you’re remarkable.”

She tries not to blush. “Thank you for remarking on it.” She remembers Caitlin then, ashamed to have forgotten her, and turns to pull her forward. “Oliver, Thea, this is my best friend Caitlin. Caitlin, meet Oliver and Thea Queen.”

Everyone shakes hands. This should be strange, Felicity thinks, because she’s not exactly friends with Oliver or Thea. She’s technically only met them once before this, and they know almost nothing about each other. Still, she’d been delighted to see them again earlier, and she’s delighted to introduce them to Caitlin. She wishes Iris were here so she could introduce her as well.

“I’m glad we caught you,” Oliver says when the introductions are done. “I -.”

“We,” Thea corrects.

“We,” Oliver continues, “wanted to congratulate you. I’m sorry if we pulled you away from anything, we just didn’t want to miss you.”

“We were just backstage doing a victory dance,” Caitlin teases.

“I’d do one too if I could play like that,” Thea says.

“I’ve been trying to master that particular piece of music for years,” Felicity admits.

“And you certainly did tonight.” Caitlin smiles proudly at her and reaches over to squeeze her arm. “I’m so proud of you, Felicity.”

“Thank you.” She blushes under the praise, but yeah, she’s pretty proud of herself as well.

“I recorded it,” Thea announces.

“The concert?” Felicity asks in disbelief.

“The piano solo,” Oliver clarifies. “She had her phone out and ready as soon as she read you were gonna play a solo on the program.”

Felicity makes a face. “I am so glad I didn’t know that ahead of time.”

“What are you guys doing after this?” Thea asks. “Maybe we could hang out?”

Felicity hadn’t expected the offer, but she’s ridiculously glad to hear it – and sorry that she has to decline. Oliver must anticipate her response and attribute it to the wrong thing, because he cuts in before Felicity can say anything.

“I’m sure Felicity wants to go home and relax, Thea.”

“Oh, no!” Felicity exclaims. “I mean yes, of course, because I always want to go home and relax. I meant to say that I would love to hang out with you – both of you – but Caitlin and I are going to a celebration dinner with some friends. Unless you guys want to come with us? No one would mind.” She looks to Caitlin to back her up.

“We’d love for you guys to come,” Caitlin agrees. “The more the merrier.”

“Thank you for the invitation,” Oliver answers. “Maybe next time.”

“Hey,” Thea says brightly. “Why don’t you guys come to Verdant Friday night? I’ll reserve you a table, you can bring whoever you want. There’ll be free drinks.”

“Verdant?” Caitlin repeats.

“My nightclub. Well, technically it’s Ollie’s nightclub, but I manage it.”

“You’re a half owner,” Oliver reminds her.

Felicity wants badly to ask Oliver if he’ll be there, but that seems too forward and she doesn’t know how to get the words out. Plus, he’s like the hottest bachelor in Starling City – what interest would he have in a nerdy pianist? She’s practically the adult version of a band geek.

“Deal,” Felicity says before she can follow that train of thought any further.

“Awesome! Do you have your phone on you?”

Felicity looks to Caitlin, who digs the thing out of her purse and hands it to Felicity. She’s sure Caitlin has stashed her purse somewhere backstage with the backpack that hides her change of clothes. Felicity unlocks the phone and hands it to Thea, who punches in her name and number.

“Text me and we’ll work it out. Just tell me who you plan to bring and I’ll put your names on the list.”

Thea’s phone starts to ring. “That’s mom, probably calling to ask us where the hell we disappeared to.”

Everyone takes that as their cue to say their farewells. When it’s Felicity’s turn to say goodbye to Oliver he repeats his move from earlier and kisses the back of her hand.

“Enjoy your celebration, Felicity. You’ve earned it.”

She has no idea why – she’s just met Oliver and he can have no real understanding of what kind of time and effort went into her performance tonight, or what it means to her – but the way he looks at her makes her feel like maybe he appreciates her effort all the same.

“Will you be there?” Felicity blurts, suddenly unwilling to say goodbye without knowing if she’ll see him again. “On Friday,” she clarifies.

Oliver looks uncomfortable and she thinks she’s just made some kind of blunder, but then he answers, “I tend to stay away from the club scene these days.”

“Right,” she says quickly. She knew that. Oliver Queen: playboy is not who came back from the dead. “Forget I asked. Have a good night, Oliver.”

She returns to Caitlin, says another goodbye to Thea, and makes a hasty exit. She’s embarrassed that she asked, and irritated with herself for bringing up a subject that makes him uncomfortable, if his reaction was anything to go by.

“Way to go, Smoak,” she chides herself. “Real smooth.”

“What?” Caitlin asks.

“Nothing, just talking to myself. Where’d you hide that change of clothes? I can’t wait to change, and I’m starving.”

She does her best not to think of Oliver Queen for the rest of the evening, but only succeeds in pushing him out of her mind when they get to the restaurant and find Curtis, Barry, Iris, and their other friend Cisco waiting for them.

Little does she know that halfway across the city, Oliver is watching the video Thea made of Felicity’s performance and posted on Instagram and thinking that maybe he’ll be at Verdant after all.

Chapter Text

Oliver knows that he’s intelligent, despite his spotty record with the public education system. He is good at many things. He lacks the business acumen that his father possessed, however, and that his mother still possesses. His mother is technically still CEO of Queen Consolidated, but he’s being prepped to take over. The board of trustees has lost faith in Moira since it came to light that she made some … questionable business decisions in the wake of the loss of half of her family.

She’s still a shrewd business woman, and that tragedy still invokes sympathy in the hearts of most, so they won’t ask her outright to step down. Moira knows that it’s time to step down, though, and Oliver knows that she hates it, and all of it just adds another layer of complexity to their relationship.

Oliver had learned some nasty truths about his parents before watching his father shoot himself. Coming to terms with what he knows about his father – his repeated infidelities and willing association with corrupt, terrible men to say the least – had been easier than it’s proving to be with his mother. Part of that is likely due to the fact that Robert Queen is dead, and it’s much more challenging to reconcile the mother he’s known his whole life with the one that has been revealed while she’s still alive.

It’s easier to be mad at someone when they’re still around.

Moira knows only bits of pieces of what Oliver went through. Oliver knows that she’s beyond glad to have him back, and he knows that sometimes she can’t mask the sorrow in her eyes when she looks at him and realizes anew that the son who returned is, in many ways, not the son who left.

There’s also a part of him that can’t forgive his mother for Thea’s drug problem. They’ve fixed that now, but it had been a painful shock to come home and see what the loss of him and his father had done to his sister – and his mother. The gap between the two of them had been so wide that Oliver had initially feared there was no way to close it.

Thea and Moira’s relationship is on the mend, though. They make progress every day. It’s only Oliver who can’t seem to bridge the gap to his mother. He won’t admit it to anyone else, but it hurts him to be so distrustful of her. He wants to go back to the days of believing in her goodness.

Sometimes, he wants to go back to the days before he set sail on the Queen’s Gambit, when the world was brighter and made sense.

“Hello, mother,” Oliver greets.

It’s six a.m. Friday morning and his mother is reading an actual newspaper at the table over a cup of coffee.

“Morning, dear.”

“I didn’t know those still existed.”

“What?”

“Newspapers.” He offers her a small smile.

Moira smiles in response. It’s the first moment of levity they’ve shared in Oliver can’t remember how long. It feels odd to be joking with her, but he hasn’t seen her smile in so long that whatever awkwardness he feels is ignored.

“What time is the board meeting?” Moira asks as Oliver prepares himself a cup of coffee and some toast.

“Nine a.m. We’re going over the quarterly finance reports and meeting with some product developers.”

“Don’t let Ryland get off track, you know how he likes to talk. You’ll be there all day.”

“I know,” Oliver says kindly. He knows that it’s hard for his mother to be sidelined for this, and that she has decades of knowledge to share.

“Of course, you do.” Moira smiles proudly at him.

Oliver is nervous about the board meeting, but his mother doesn’t need to know that. His doubts about his ability to run the family company don’t need to be shared. If his mother knew she’d be driven to try to help him, and Oliver can’t explain why but he knows this is something he has to learn to do on his own.

Oliver finishes his toast and tops off his coffee. He can’t afford to be late today, so he makes the trek back to his room to get ready.

He always dresses smartly – a remnant of his privileged upbringing – but today he takes extra care. He’ll be the youngest person of considerable power in that room. Everyone will be ready to underestimate him, predisposed to compare him to both of his parents (and probably everybody else), and the first line of defense he has against their judgement is his appearance.

Never mind that Oliver honestly doesn’t care about his appearance. He’s aware that he’s good looking, and he’s used that to his advantage more than once, but it’s not a point of pride. His body is a tool, a weapon, and it’s marked and scarred accordingly.

Digg is waiting for him in the foyer when Oliver goes downstairs again. “Ready when you are.”

“Car’s running out front,” Digg answers.

Oliver claps the other man on the shoulder in appreciation. John Diggle is a good man, and Oliver isn’t big on needing others but he’s willing to admit that he’d be lost without Digg.

Moira and Thea are nowhere to be seen, so Oliver leaves without saying goodbye. He steps to the car with Digg and beats Digg to the door – they don’t stand on ceremony when the press isn’t around – and slides into the back of the limo. Digg has left a manila folder on the seat for him. Oliver opens it to find a cheat sheet for the meeting: the name of each person that will be there, what they do, and a few helpful pieces of information. Oliver huffs out an approximation of a chuckle when he sees the name Daniel Ryland with a note “talker; keep him focused”.

“Kerri thought you might find that useful,” Digg explains from the front seat.

“Remind me to thank her.”

Kerri Klaus has been his mother’s secretary for as long as Oliver can remember, and he supposes that means she’s his secretary now. He doesn’t mind: Kerri is a trusted and useful resource he can lean on, as she’s just proven by proxy.

The meeting itself is frustrating. Oliver hates business politics and all of the constant posturing, but he can’t let on that he does. He’s frustrated ten minutes in because six out of the seven people in the room want to test him. They’re trying to gauge how much he knows about the business, and whether or not he’s a fool that’ll be easily manipulated. Dealing with their machinations is exhausting.

After the meeting – which runs over by half an hour because Oliver is so busy trying to field concerns that he forgets to keep Ryland in check – the remainder of the morning is spent on teleconferences and signing the frightening mountain of paperwork that Kerri drops onto his desk.

“Lunch,” Oliver tells Digg tersely around one.

“Anywhere in particular?” Digg asks.

“Somewhere far from the business district.”

Oliver can’t stand the thought of running into someone from QC who might want to talk to him about business.

Digg obliges and takes him to the last place anyone would think to look for Oliver Queen: Big Belly Burger, thirteen miles from the Queen Consolidated skyscraper. This is one of the original restaurants, so there’s no drive through. Even better, as far as Oliver is concerned. Digg parks in the back and they gravitate to a booth in the back corner. Oliver sits with his back to the wall so that he can see the whole restaurant. It’s not packed but there are several people scattered around the tables; no one pays them any mind.

The waitress is reciting the daily specials when Oliver realizes that it’s Friday. His thoughts immediately jump to Felicity Smoak, and the last time he’d spoken with her. The idea of going to a club makes him uneasy, but he wants to see her again. Which is a huge indication that he shouldn’t go, because in his experience his interest only causes others pain. He’s a hard man to love – or even like, really – and he’d be doing her a favor by staying away. The last thing that poor woman needs is to get tangled up with him in any way.

"Oliver?" Digg says.

At the same time, the waitress says, “Sir?”

He orders something off the top of his head. The waitress disappears, but Digg is studying him intently from across the table.

“How’s Lyla?” Oliver doesn’t want him to ask what he was thinking about.

“She’s good.”

“Still choosing to put up with you?”

Digg grins. “She’s always been good for a challenge. What about you, man?”

Oliver furrows his brow. “What about me?”

Digg folds his hands together on the table top. “You can’t be alone forever, Oliver.”

He sighs. Did Digg somehow pick up on the train of Oliver’s thoughts, or is it just an uncanny coincidence that he’s bringing this up now? “I had no idea my love life was of interest to you, John.”

“How can it be, when it’s non-existent?”

And okay, that one was pretty good. Oliver chuckles. “I don’t have time for a relationship.”

The arrival of their waitress with their drinks forestalls whatever reply Digg might have made. Oliver doesn’t want to think about a relationship right now; he doesn’t want to think about the beautiful pianist that has unwittingly caught his attention. His life is a complicated mess.

Even if his life wasn’t a mess, he wouldn’t be in a relationship. Being with someone would require a level of openness that Oliver doesn’t know that he’ll ever be able to achieve again. There is so much darkness in him now. He can’t knowingly subject someone else to the that; he’s too guarded now, too accustomed to isolation.

He can’t be trusted with someone else’s heart, or they with what’s left of his, so relationships have been delegated to the no-fly zone.

Which is why he won’t be going to Verdant tonight.

Digg doesn’t resume their conversation, much to Oliver’s relief. The waitress drops off their food and they eat in companionable silence. This is one of the things he enjoys the most about John Diggle: the man is comfortable with silence. Even when they’d been inseparable Tommy had had a hard time just being. Then again, the Oliver of that time hadn’t concerned himself overmuch with silence.

Sometimes he feels like pre-island Oliver is a half-remembered dream. That person is so unlike the man he is now.

Digg drives him back to the office and the rest of Oliver’s day is spent on mind numbing tasks. There’s a lot of paperwork to be done, and emails to be answered, and he wonders if this is a lot of what Kerri does. How does she keep track of it all? Oliver always has the nagging sensation that he’s forgetting something.

Thea is waiting for him when he gets home. “Hey!”

“Hey, Speedy. How was your day?”

“Not as boring as yours, I’m sure. I don’t envy you sitting through all of those board meetings. How’d that go, anyway?”

“Irritatingly.”

“I bet. You know what you need?”

“Thea …” Oliver starts warningly.

“A night out,” she says like she hasn’t heard him. “Come to the club.”

Oliver narrows his eyes at his sister and steps past her to start up the stairs. He wants to get out of this suit and into something casual. He could use a good workout. He didn’t get one in this morning like he usually does, and he has a lot of excess energy that he needs to expend.

“C’mon, Ollie,” Thea whines. “It’s just one night. A few hours. It’ll be good, you’ll see.”

“Not happening, Speedy.”

“Felicity will be there!”

Oliver glares at his sister over his shoulder, but doesn’t stop climbing the stairs. Clearly his sister still knows him well enough to know when someone has caught his eye, and clearly, she isn’t above trying to set him up.

“You can’t do this, Ollie.” Her tone isn’t light and joking anymore, and that as much as her words stops him in his tracks. He turns, and she continues. “There’s a whole world out there, and a life of more than just the company and this mansion.”

Oliver sighs. “I know that, Thea.”

“So? Don’t you want more than this? Don’t you want everything you almost missed out on? You’re living, Ollie, but I don’t think you’re alive. It scares me.”

With the hand that Thea can’t see Oliver subconsciously starts to rub his thumb over the side of his pointer finger. Her words have cut him to the quick, and he can’t think of anything to say. He wants to reassure his sister but the fear that there might be more truth to her words than he wants to admit stays his tongue. Thea knows little about his life in the five years that he was declared dead, and he’s not willing to enlighten her. That also means he can’t explain himself or his choices to her. He can’t reassure her without giving something of himself away.

“I’m okay, Thea.”

“Maybe. But you have to let me in, Ollie – you have to let someone in.”

Oliver doesn't know how to respond. Thea’s passionate plea has caught him off guard with its fervor and understanding. His sister is more astute than he’s given her credit for, and that knowledge shames him just a bit. He hadn’t thought she’d notice his self-imposed isolation.

“Promise me you’ll think about it.”

“Thea …”

“Promise me.”

“Okay. I promise.”

Thea studies him from where she still stands in the foyer. Her expression is far from happy, but whatever she sees in his face drives her to nod once to herself and then disappear down the hall without another word.

Oliver resumes the trek to his room. He tells himself that Thea doesn’t understand why he’s better off alone, or what it would take for him to trust someone enough – to trust himself enough to be in a relationship.

He doesn’t stop telling himself that until he’s standing in front of the full-length mirror in his room and pulling on a nice button up. Even then he tries to fool himself: he’s just dressing nicely in case … well, in case something, and a blue checkered button up and a nice pair of jeans isn’t dressing up anyway.

Oliver is throwing a leg over his motorcycle when he gives up the game. He’s not comfortable in clubs, but thoughts of Felicity have been an undercurrent in his subconscious all day, and he can’t forget what Thea said. Besides, it's not like he's going to fall into bed with this Felicity Smoak. He'll go out for a few hours to appease his sister and her concern. He'll put on a mask – as he always does when he's in public – and be social for a while, and then he'll leave. No harm, no foul.

Verdant is already packed. It's ten on a Friday evening, which is early for the club scene, and there's already a line formed at the front door. Oliver drives the motorcycle to the back and parks. He slips his helmet off and tucks it under his arm as he ducks in one of the delivery entrances. It's probably too much to hope that the press doesn't learn of his presence in the building, but he'll do his best to delay that discovery. The last thing he wants is to wake up tomorrow to headlines about Oliver Queen returning to his partying ways. Especially in light of what his family has recently suffered at the hands of the media.

Not for the first time, Oliver thinks that coming was a bad idea.

He's already here, though. He stashes his helmet in Thea's office and shucks out of his leather jacket to hang it over the chair at the desk. With a heavy sigh, Oliver leaves the relative peace of the office to join the club goers.

Thea is easy to find. Oliver is good at picking her out of a crowd. He chalks that up to his long years of practice at looking after her. She's behind the bar, so he weaves his way over.

"You came!" She practically screams over the music.

Oliver smiles and drops a kiss into her hair. "I did." He glances down the bar and sees that there's only one other bartender besides Thea. "It's not just you two back here, is it?"

"It's not supposed to be, but Miles called out sick and the new guy doesn't start until Wednesday."

Oliver makes a face that Thea doesn't see and rolls up his sleeves. "You just wanted free labor," he teases, and then gets to work.

The bar is slammed, of course. The music is just south of deafening and Oliver has to lean over the counter to hear the drink orders that patrons holler at him. Mixing drinks isn't his occupation of choice, but the repetitiveness of it is soothing. He doesn't have time to get stuck in his head (and the music is too loud for him to hear his own thoughts, anyway).

Oliver pointedly ignores the surprise he sees on many faces when they get to the bar and realize who's asking them for their drink orders.

He's just finished washing a small army's worth of glasses and is still drying one with the towel in his hands when he turns back to the bar to resume taking orders. He steps up to the counter; the group of guys in front of him moves away with their drinks and, just like that, he's staring at a familiar face.

"Oliver."

It's too loud to hear her, but he watches his name form on her bright lips. Her head tips to the side in … confusion? Disbelief? He's not sure.

"Hi," he says, and there's no reason to but he smiles at her. He puts the clean glass down and tosses the towel onto his shoulder.

Felicity steps up to the bar. Her hair has been left down and curled and her glasses are absent; her dress looks gold in the dim light of the club. She's a bombshell, no doubt about it, and then she purses her lips and her brows furrow and Oliver realizes that she's also adorable.

"I didn't expect to see you," she explains.

"I didn't expect to be here," he admits. "Thea can be very persuasive. What can I get you?"

Felicity's face does something unexpected at his insinuation that he's here for Thea. Oliver can't name it because it disappears quickly. Disappointment, he wonders. Displeasure? The openness that had been in her expression moments before has vanished, and the change is striking. There's no interest in her eyes now – just polite detachment.

Another woman pops into the space next to Felicity and grabs her arm excitedly. She turns to the bar, does a double take when she sees Oliver, and then smiles brightly.

"You're …"

"Waiting for our drink order," Felicity interrupts.

"Oh, we'll have three Cosmopolitans, please."

Another person steps into the space at Felicity's other side, and Oliver recognizes Caitlin. He nods to her and she smiles, but quickly turns to Felicity. He can't hear their conversation over the music, but Felicity smiles as the other two speak and seems to join in when expected. It doesn't escape Oliver's notice that she doesn't look at him once. 

That shouldn't bother him, and he shouldn't feel like he's messed up, but it does and he does.

Oliver sets three Cosmopolitan's on the counter just as Thea breezes over to the three women. She grins at Felicity and then hugs her. Oliver wishes he knew what they're saying. Felicity finally looks over and realizes their drinks are ready. She pulls her wallet out of her purse and Thea makes the universal hand motion for "put that away, you don't need it". They bicker about that – Oliver knows from the way Felicity and Thea are looking at each other – and then Felicity puts her wallet away.

Felicity, Caitlin, and their other friend all turn to the counter to retrieve their drinks.

"Thank you," Felicity yells over the music.

He opens his mouth to reply, but they disappear into the crowd like smoke. Thea steps around the corner and raises an eyebrow at him. She props a hip against the counter and crosses her arms.

"Did you even say anything to her?"

"Not really," he admits

Thea shakes her head. "Fine," and she throws up her hands, "your loss."

Thea's walking back to the other end of the bar and Oliver's still trying to figure just what the hell he did wrong.

Caitlin comes back to the bar some fifteen minutes later for another round of drinks. She smiles sweetly at him, and Oliver gets the impression that Felicity and her friends are all around just a kind, sweet group of people. It's almost hard to believe how sincere they all are.

"Can I get another round of Cosmos?" Caitlin yells as she puts three empty cocktail glasses on the counter.

Oliver pulls out three clean glasses and gets to work. "I haven't met your friend."

Caitlin is confused for a moment. "Oh, Iris? I'm sure she'll be around soon to introduce herself."

"How do you guys know each other?"

"We're roommates." The rest of what Caitlin is going to say gets interrupted when a bear of a man pushes his way to the bar and nearly knocks her off her feet.

Oliver motions for Caitlin to step around the bar and into the empty area near the opening to the back of the bar. Oliver signals to the bouncer standing in front of the emergency exit door next to the bar and indicates that he should pay a visit to the drunk man. Then, he hands a finished drink to Caitlin and continues working on the other two.

"You okay?"

"Fine," Caitlin says. "He just stepped on my toes. Anyway, we've all been friends for years. Felicity and I used to be in the orchestra together."

"Used to?"

"I gave it up to be a scientist."

Oliver passes another finished Cosmo down the bar. A shout that he barely hears over the music has him raising his head, and then Iris is standing next to Caitlin with a huge grin on her face. Caitlin hands her one of the Cosmos.

"Where's Felicity?"

"Fighting off admirers with a stick!" Iris hollers back. Caitlin's concern is written clearly on her face, so Iris gives in. "Relax, she's," Felicity appears then, "right here."

Oliver knows who the last Cosmo is for, so he turns and offers it to her. She looks at him briefly and smiles, and then turns back to her friends. Oliver actually grins at that. He's being dismissed! He's not sure why, but he hasn't been so blatantly disregarded in he can't remember how long. Every time they've spoken before this Felicity has been engaging and attentive, and now she wants nothing to do with him!

It's … refreshing, and even a little charming.

Verdant doesn't have a lot of tables, and their booths go quickly. Felicity and her friends don't have anywhere to sit or set their drinks or their stuff. All three women have purses slung over their shoulders. Oliver steps out from behind the bar and puts a polite hand on Felicity's shoulder. She genuinely seems surprised to look up and realize he's there.

Oliver leans into her personal space. "Why don't you put your purses behind the bar?"

Felicity is unsure. "There's nowhere to hide them."

Oliver shucks his head in a wordless gesture for her to follow him. He crosses the few short steps to the bar and then motions her behind the counter with him. There's a row of mini-fridges under the counter, and nearly a foot of space between their tops and the bottom of the counter. Oliver doesn't call attention to it by pointing, but he tips his head in the general direction. When he sees Felicity's attention follow the movement he explains.

"You can stash it with Thea's. No one's allowed behind the bar, so it'll be safe." Felicity looks unconvinced, so he holds up a hand. "Scouts honor."

She glares at him. "Were you even a boy scout?"

Oliver shrugs. "No."

For the first time since she's arrived, Felicity smiles at him. Really smiles, that luminescent expression that makes him want to smile, too.

"Okay," Felicity says. She hands him her purse and he stashes it in the empty space and pushes it as far back as it can safely go. Felicity goes back to her friends, retrieves their purses, and brings them back to where Oliver is still standing.

"I need to grab my wallet," she yells over the music.

Oliver shakes his head. "On the house."

Felicity has a look on her face like she's going to argue, but Iris pops her head over her shoulder and wiggles her empty glass.

"Finish it!" She tells Felicity with a motion at the cocktail she’s just been given.

So, Oliver makes them another round and then the girls disappear into the club again. Oliver goes back to the counter to help Thea, but he keeps an eye focused on the crowd. Felicity and her friends are not his responsibility, yet …

They come back in turns. Sometimes it's just one of them – Caitlin and Iris mostly – and sometimes it's all three of them. There's no real rhyme behind which one of them comes for the next round. At least, Oliver doesn't think there is until some hours later.

Verdant is closing its doors for the night, and Oliver has just ushered the last patrons out of the bar (with the help of the bouncer in one case). He turns to find Felicity, Caitlin, and Iris sharing a bench in one of the corners. Caitlin is passed out with her head on Iris's shoulder, and Iris is texting furiously. Oliver is about to question where Felicity is when he spots her by the bar. She's talking to Thea and they're both smiling. The sight makes Oliver happy. Thea doesn't have a lot of female friends, and it's only as he watches her with Felicity that he realizes what a deficit that must create in her life.

"Hey," Oliver greets as he approaches. After the last several hours of raucous music his voice sounds quiet and scratchy in his ears.

"Hey. I called us a cab, so I came to get our purses."

Oliver heads back behind the bar without checking to see if she's following. He retrieves all three purses from their hiding spot and hands them to their designated guardian. Surprisingly, Felicity is tipsy but not out-and-out drunk. He doesn't comment on it.

Felicity studies him for a second. Then, "She's single, just FYI."

Oliver blinks. "What?"

"Caitlin. From what I could tell you two hit it off tonight. So, just in case you were wondering, she's single."

Oliver is flabbergasted. Caitlin is beautiful, yes, and they had shared easy conversation throughout the evening, but hitting it off?

"Thanks for … well, everything. We had a lot of fun tonight."

"Felicity, the cab is here," Iris calls out.

Felicity reaches out on impulse and squeezes Oliver’s forearm. She smiles at him and slings all three purses over her shoulder. "Think about what I said. Caitlin's great."

She goes back to give Thea a parting hug and then returns to her friends. Iris has woken Caitlin and the three of them stumble somewhat drunkenly out the front door. All the while, Oliver is standing behind the bar with the disconcerting notion that he has somehow given Felicity – and possibly Caitlin and Iris as well – the wrong impression.

Chapter Text

Felicity hates practicing the night after drinking. Granted, she’d stopped drinking last night before she’d really tied one on, but she hadn’t stopped soon enough to be at peak performance today.

Which is more than Caitlin can say. The poor girl had stumbled out of her room this morning and flopped onto the couch, where Felicity was coding a new program, and sworn off alcohol for the rest of her life. Felicity had just smiled and offered to make her coffee. She knows a lie when she hears one.

She knows that she’s delaying the inevitable. She needs to get dressed and head down to the practice hall. They have a slew of performances coming up, and she can’t afford to miss a single day of rehearsal. It’s just that the normal din of the practice hall will not be enjoyable today. Felicity has just enough of a headache to remind her that she had more Cosmos than water last night.

“Did you get his number?” Iris plods down the hall from her room. She’s still in pajamas and her hair is piled into a bun, so clearly none of them are in a rush to get moving for the day.

Caitlin’s brow furrows. She looks from Iris to Felicity in confusion. “Are you … who are you talking to?”

“You, obviously.” Iris lifts Caitlin’s legs to tuck herself into the arm of the couch and then puts Caitlin’s legs over her lap.

“Get whose number?”

“Oliver Queen’s,” Felicity explains.

Caitlin’s face does something hilarious. Felicity starts to laugh and then stops when it makes her head pound.

“I feel like I missed something.”

“You mean you don’t remember talking to one of the hottest men I’ve ever seen for most of the night?” Iris teases.

“I remember talking to him,” Caitlin agrees, “when I went to get drinks. But that wasn’t … he was nice, but that’s all.”

Iris is dubious. Felicity is only half-listening at this point, because she’s determined to finish this last bit of coding before she goes to practice.

“Besides,” Caitlin starts, and Felicity can feel her attention on her so she angles her head toward the other woman, “I thought you were interested in him?”

Felicity’s mouth falls open. “What? Why?”

Caitlin glares at her. “Oh, please. Oliver and his sister personally came to find you after the concert so they could say hello. And I saw the way you two looked at each other. You should have seen them, Iris. Totally smitten.”

“I am not smitten.”

“He is,” Caitlin responds.

Felicity just shakes her head in the negative. He’d gracefully abused her of any notion that he’d be at the club on Friday, and then when she’d made mention of her surprise to see him there he’d been quick to tell her that he was only there for Thea.

“With you, maybe,” Felicity teases. Her code will run on its own now, and Curtis is going to give her a hard time for being late. She unfolds herself from the couch. “I’ve gotta get to practice. If you feel up to it later, text me and we’ll get food.”

Caitlin makes a growl of acknowledgment. Iris has tipped her head back onto the couch cushions, and Felicity knows from experience that they’ll pass out that way for another two hours or so. She’s supremely jealous. A nap sounds much better than hours of piano practice.

Felicity doesn’t rush through her shower, but she doesn’t languish either. She dries her hair and leaves it straight, but slips a hair tie onto her wrist. She’ll get frustrated with it during practice and pull it out of her face. Down is good for now, though.

Felicity throws on a nice sweater and dark jeans, puts on some mascara and a fuchsia lipstick, and her glasses. Good enough for a hungover Saturday, she tells herself.

Felicity retrieves her tablet from her room and puts on boots. Her purse is with Iris and Caitlin’s in the front hall, so she does a last check for anything she’s forgetting in her room and then heads out.

Iris and Caitlin are indeed passed out again on the couch. Felicity smiles fondly at them. She grabs two blankets off the stack of throw blankets they have and tucks one around each of them. Iris stirs enough to slide herself between Caitlin’s side and the back of the couch, and then she’s out again.

A bottle of water in hand, a light jacket, and her purse over her shoulder, Felicity reluctantly joins the rest of the world.

She doesn’t live far from the practice hall, so she decides to leave her car and walk. The air is crisp, but not unpleasantly so, and Felicity enjoys the stroll. She’s so busy all the time that she often forgets to go out and be part of the world outside the orchestra.

There are other people out and about for a Saturday stroll, or on their way to do whatever they need. Felicity wonders about their lives as she goes: is that harried middle-aged man rushing to get home because he’s late for lunch? Are that woman and child across the street going to visit family for the day? What sort of lives do these people lead, she wonders. What life would she lead, without the orchestra? Practicing the piano all day on a Saturday would probably sound crazy to these strangers that pass her on the street, yet Felicity can’t imagine what her Saturday would look like otherwise.

Felicity is technically late by the time she arrives at the practice hall. Her only saving grace is that she isn’t the last one to arrive. Curtis chastises her, but she’d warned him that she was going out with Caitlin and Iris last night so he isn’t surprised.

“May as well go over your parts on your own,” he tells her, “while we wait for Keldon, Ameerah, and Lishanda to get here.”

Felicity waves at people as she heads for her piano. It’s not technically hers, of course, but you spend so long with an instrument and you’re bound to start thinking of it as yours. She stashes her jacket and purse in the bench compartment and then sits down to work.

And work, she does. Felicity plays two warm-up songs, easy tunes that get the blood flowing to her fingers and encourages the muscles and tendons to relax and stretch. She’s stiff at first, and her headache isn’t gone so her temples pulse with each stroke of the keys, but she works through it.

When the other three people arrive it’s game on. Curtis puts them through the program for their next concert – the Thanksgiving slash Christmas benefit concert they’re set to play the day after Thanksgiving. The concert is one of their more fun ones and geared for a younger audience, since they’ll be playing in a children’s hospital. There’s some of the classical composers, but they’re mixed in contemporary composers for the kids. Felicity’s favorite is the Harry Potter theme, which she had suggested they make part of the program partly because she knew the kids would love it, and partly because she wanted to play it. Curtis had loved the idea.

It takes them hours to get through the program start to finish. By the time Curtis is calling it a day Felicity’s hands feel crampy and she’s starving. She says a quick goodbye to everyone and promises Curtis that she’ll text him later, and then she’s leaving.

Dusk has fallen outside. It’s colder than it was earlier, so she zips up her jacket and walks faster to generate more body heat. She’s a few blocks from her apartment when she passes a quiet little bistro and coffee shop that’s still open. The lights are warm against the falling darkness and there’s quiet jazz filtering out into the street. On a whim, Felicity decides to go in and sit down for a light dinner.

She texts Caitlin and Iris, but neither of them answer. They’re probably asleep again. Felicity fishes her tablet out of her purse and the bright red keyboard that she snaps into place. She’s one of three patrons in the place, so the waiter takes her order not long after.

Alone and free to think without the distraction of piano or coding, Felicity’s thoughts inevitably go right where she doesn’t want them to: Oliver Queen. Caitlin hadn’t been completely wrong about the way Felicity looks at him. She’s not smitten, but she is … intrigued. Running into him had been strange enough, but for him and Thea to return – to seek her out and purposely continue their acquaintance – well, that’s just confusing. Why her? Thea makes some kind of sense, at least. She’s a sweet young woman, not much younger than Felicity, and maybe even looking to be friends.

Oliver is the unknown entity. For a moment, one foolish flight of fancy had her believing that she’d caught his attention. He’d looked at her so intensely, as though she were the most interesting thing he’d seen in ages. And the other night at the concert, when he’d kissed her hand so charmingly and tried to soothe her nervousness … her imagination had run away with her.

Then he’d been there at Verdant, and her heart had literally skipped a beat. He’d been quick to assure that he was only there for Thea, though, and then he’d spent the night talking to Caitlin. Which is great, really, because Felicity isn’t someone to let potential lovers get in the way of her relationship with her friends. She’d been dismayed – and a little sheepish – to realize that she’d misunderstood things so easily.

And maybe a little embarrassed, because talk about unthinkable. Her and Oliver Queen, together? No way.

Felicity surfs the internet on her tablet and waits for her food. She forcefully pushes away thoughts of Oliver and busies herself by planning what to wear for her next concert. This one isn’t as formal as the others, so she doesn’t need a fancy gown. She has a nice red one in her closet with a keyhole at the neck that will look nice. Some black heels and a thick black ribbon to tie around her waist will be perfect. Or, maybe, she should wear an ugly holiday dress and tie some garland around her waist, and hang an ornament on her blue and white Santa hat.

Felicity is still considering her options when the waiter brings her the panini she ordered and refills her water glass. She slides her tablet away from her and pulls the food closer to make quick work of it.

It’s dark when Felicity leaves the bistro. The street lights create golden pools of light on the sidewalk, and her boots call out a steady staccato against the concrete. It’s definitely cold now. She wishes for a heavier coat and quickens her pace.

Felicity can almost see her apartment building when a motorcycle rolls by. The vehicle downshifts and then stops, and Felicity’s heart rate quickens. She’s so focused on the now stationary motorcycle that she doesn’t see the man crossing the street and heading straight for her.

The hand that grabs her purse and snaps it away from her body makes Felicity scream. She struggles even as she turns to face her attacker, and the motion twists the purse strap around her bicep as her assailant pulls on it harder.

“Let go!” Felicity screams. She has pepper spray and a Taser in her purse, but she can’t get to either of them. She’s vaguely aware of whoever was on the motorcycle running full speed at them.

The thief tugs on the purse in panic and Felicity pitches forward. Something hard connects with her face, and then her arm is free and she falls backward onto the pavement. The breath is knocked out of her, and she sees stars.

Two sets of footsteps race off into the night. Felicity rolls her head to the side, disoriented and desperately trying to get her breath back.

More footsteps and then a shadow falls over her.

“Felicity?”

Shocked, she rolls her head to the other side and squints. Where are her glasses?

“Oliver?” she wheezes in disbelief.

Her glasses are set carefully on her face. Sure enough, Oliver is gazing down at her. He puts his palm against her cheek and angles her head tentatively toward the light. His expression is all soft concern and quietly simmering anger, and instead of being frightening her it grounds her.

Felicity moans. “Did I … seriously … just get mugged?” Her breath is starting to come back finally, but it still feels like she’s just run the race of a lifetime. “What are you doing here?”

“I was driving by and thought I recognized you. Can you sit up?”

Felicity winces as she tenses her muscles and tries to sit up. The hand that Oliver still has resting on her cheek slides down and back, until he’s cupping the back of her neck and supporting the weight of her head. He doesn’t pull, but helps her as she struggles to raise herself to a seated position. The world spins a bit so she tucks her chin down and closes her eyes. Oliver is crouched just in front of and to the side of her. Felicity only realizes how close he is moments later when a slight pressure against the top of her head registers.

She’s leaning her head against Oliver’s chest – or the leather jacket that covers his chest, but whatever – and he has a hand on the back of her neck, and what the hell even is her life. Just an hour ago she was sitting alone in a restaurant and doing her best not to think of the man now in front of her.

“That asshole took my purse.”

“I have your purse,” Oliver replies.

Felicity scowls and then inhales sharply when the movement causes pain. “I don’t know what happened. I think he hit me. The strap was caught on my arm, and then the next thing I knew I was falling.”

“Let me see.”

Felicity raises her head. Oliver moves the hair away from her face and studies her in the lamplight. His eyes are impossibly blue this close.

“You have a black eye.”

“That’s a first,” she grumbles.

“You’ll probably have some bruises on your arms, too, and some from the fall. Let’s get you up.”

Felicity does better at getting to her feet than she did sitting up. She can breathe normally again and the world isn’t spinning anymore, though it’s still shakier than usual. She’s never been mugged before.

“You should report this,” Oliver says.

“I would, but I have nothing to report. I have no idea what that guy looked like, and you said you have my purse … wait, how do you have my purse?”

“I run fast.”

The answer is so sardonic and downplayed that it makes her smile. “Thank you.”

“No thanks necessary. Let’s get you home. How far is your place?”

“Just up the block. I …”

Somehow, Oliver knows what she’s going to say. He gives her a very pointed look that’s not quite a glare and bends over to pick up the motorcycle helmet she hasn’t noticed until now.

“You really wanna walk home alone in the dark after you were just mugged?”

Felicity swallows. “No.”

He gives her a tight, lopsided grin. It occurs to Felicity to wonder what happened to her attacker. Not because Oliver looks at all threatening, or because she’s afraid of him, but because the thief is nowhere to be seen and Oliver had managed to get her purse back.

“Did you … what happened to the guy that mugged me?”

“Unconscious in an alley. He’ll have a hell of a headache when he wakes up, and a split lip, but that’s all.” The tense way he says it makes Felicity think that he would have happily pummeled the crap out of the guy. “I also called in an anonymous tip to the police hotline.”

Felicity decides right then that Oliver is a good man.

Oliver and Felicity cross the street to retrieve his motorcycle. She looks at it dubiously, but he doesn’t get on. Instead he raises the kick stand and looks to her.

“Which way?”

So, Felicity starts down the sidewalk and Oliver pushes his bike up onto the sidewalk to walk next to her. They’d make a strange sight if anyone saw them.

“Where were you headed?” Oliver asks as they travel.

“Home, actually. I was rehearsing all day and I stopped to eat on my way home. I’d just left the restaurant. You?”

“Nowhere in particular.”

Felicity makes a face and then huffs when it pulls at the injured skin around her eye. “Having a black eye is seriously cramping my style.”

Oliver raises an eyebrow at her, but there’s a smile trying to make its way to the surface. Then, “I like to go for a drive sometimes, when I can’t get out of my head. It’s soothing.”

They turn the corner and the store fronts give way to a row of brick townhouses, and, beyond that, an apartment complex. Felicity leads them down the street and into the apartment complex. She lives near the front and she’s grateful for that today. Her arm has started to ache and the pain from her black eye radiates all the way through her head.

The thought of climbing the stairs to her second-floor apartment is overwhelming. Felicity is tired from hours of piano practice, and still a little hung over probably, and now she’s downright exhausted. She hurts, and she really wants to lay down and pass out. She doesn’t want to climb those stairs.

“Felicity?”

She realizes she’s stopped walking as she turns her head to look at Oliver. The concern is plain on his face.

“I’m sorry, Oliver, you’ve been so great and I really appreciate you walking me home, but … do you think you could help me up the stairs? I …” she sighs heavily, because she doesn’t have the energy to explain.

Wordlessly, Oliver picks the nearest open parking spot and puts the kickstand down. He offers her his arm, and Felicity loops her arm around his and latches her hand onto his bicep. They’ve made it up two steps when she leans more of her weight on him and fights off a wave of dizziness.

“Might have a concussion,” she mumbles.

When they get to the top Felicity reaches for her purse to retrieve her keys, but Oliver still has it. He pulls it out of its hiding place in his jacket and hands it to her. She fishes them out and unlocks the door without error, so that’s reassuring. At least she knows her hand-eye coordination isn’t totally shot.

Felicity thinks nothing of letting Oliver into her apartment. She calls out for Iris and Caitlin but gets no reply.

“That’s weird.” She’s on edge after the evening she’s had so she grabs her phone to send her friends a text. They’ve beat her to it, however, and Iris texted her fifteen minutes ago to say that her and Caitlin are going out for food and to text if she wants anything.

“You should sit down,” Oliver says as he leads her over to the couch. Once she’s seated and kicking off her shoes he asks, “Do you have ibuprofen somewhere?”

“Kitchen, little cupboard next to the microwave.”

Felicity arranges the couch pillows and pulls a throw blanket over. She then proceeds to lay down slowly. Oliver can be heard moving around her kitchen, and that’s something she’ll mull over – and probably freak out about – later. Well, that and the fact that she let an almost unknown man into her apartment while she was injured and alone.

“Hey.”

Felicity opens her eyes without being aware of having closed them. Oliver is sitting on her coffee table and bracing his elbows on his knees. He has a glass of water in one hand and some ibuprofen in the other. A bag of frozen vegetables and a hand towel are next to him.

Felicity pushes herself up with one arm. She takes the pills and the water, then hands them back to a waiting Oliver when she’s done.

“Do you feel nauseous?”

Felicity thinks about that. “No.”

“Are the lights bothering you?”

“No.”

Oliver leans forward and stares pointedly into her eyes. Felicity fights the urge to squirm, because this is probably related to his line of questioning, but he’s making her stomach do somersaults.

“Your pupils are a little dilated, but I don’t think there’s anything to be worried about. I don’t think you have a concussion, but if you start to feel nauseous or your balance gets worse have someone take you to the doctor. For now, put this on your eye. It’ll help.”

Oliver is retrieving the bag of veggies and wrapping it in the clean hand towel as Felicity watches. “How do you know? That I don’t have a concussion, I mean.”

“Experience.”

He hands her the improvised ice pack. Felicity presses it carefully to her eye and grimaces at the coldness. She scoots down into the couch cushions and leans her head back.

“You must have played sports as a kid.”

Oliver chuckles. He hasn’t moved from the coffee table, and he leans forward onto his forearms again and clasps his hands. Felicity tips slowly to the side, so that she’s laying down again and can look Oliver in the face.

“Most of my concussions were my own fault because my best friend and I thought we were invincible. Thea had a concussion when she was twelve; fell off her horse. When I was gone …”

His voice trails off and he looks down at his hands. Felicity doesn’t move – she hardly breathes. “After the Gambit went down, I washed up on an island. Not a lot of hospitals there, so I had to be my own doctor.”

Felicity has no idea what to say. Oliver looks surprised, as if he hadn’t meant to tell her any of that, and she has the distinct impression that he doesn’t talk about his time away much.

“Well, this time you got to play doctor with me.” Felicity groans when her faux pas registers, and she rolls her eyes at herself. “My brain thinks of the worst way to say things.”

But Oliver is smiling again and that haunted look has disappeared, so maybe it’s not so bad.

Just then the front door opens and the animated conversation between Caitlin and Iris dies as their eyes come to rest on Oliver, who is still sitting on their coffee table.

“Oliver,” Iris says.

Felicity sits up quickly, bag of veggies still pressed to her eye, and teeters a bit as her equilibrium tries to catch up.

“Whoa.” Oliver puts a steadying hand on her shoulder.

“Guys,” Felicity starts.

“What happened?” Iris demands. “Is something wrong with your eye?”

Felicity holds the bag of veggies away from her face and Iris and Caitlin make outraged noises as they crowd into the living room. They’re both trying to ask her questions and they’re both upset, and the sudden noise is a lot to handle.

Oliver is the one to explain. He draws Iris and Caitlin into the kitchen where their conversation will be quieter. Felicity is learning that he’s a considerate person like that. She lays back down and trusts that he’ll take care of their questions.

When he’s answered every question Iris and Caitlin can think to ask he tells them what to watch out for – vomiting, worsening dizzy spells, and forgetfulness – and advises them to take Felicity to the hospital if any of those things happen. He also reassures them that she’ll probably be better in the morning.

He figures it’s time to leave and returns to the living room to discover that Felicity has fallen asleep with the frozen veggies on her eye. He asks Iris for a pen and paper, scribbles a note to leave on the table, and then wishes Caitlin and Iris a goodnight. Caitlin follows him out to thank him profusely for taking care of Felicity.

Felicity wakes up to a note with Oliver’s phone number and a request to text him and let him know if she’s feeling any better. When she falls asleep the second time she does so with a smile.

Chapter Text

Felicity feels awful when she wakes the next morning. Her arm aches and her black eye is swollen and tender. To top it off, the headache sets in within the first ten minutes of being awake, so her day isn’t off to a great start.

Iris or Caitlin had covered her with a blanket last night and their couch is suitably comfortable, so those are good things. The bag of vegetables is discarded on the coffee table and no longer frozen. Felicity sighs and rises slowly. Her equilibrium has recovered for the most part, or at least it seems to have so far.

Felicity needs to go check herself over in the mirror and assess the damage, and she needs to shower – or take a hot bath to relax her abused muscles – but before any of that, she needs coffee.

“What a freaking day,” she mutters to herself. She’s not sure if she means yesterday or today, and she’s not sure it matters.

When her coffee is brewed, poured, and prepared, Felicity takes a seat at their small kitchen table and savors the first sip. She’s going to need some Ibuprofen for this headache, but that can wait. For now, she’s content to just sit in the early-ish morning light and contemplate the events of the night before.

Her arm hurts but her hands are fine, which is good. She flexes them experimentally. Her lift wrist is sore from the impact – she thinks she remembers trying to catch herself on her hands, but it’s all a bit of a blur. Either way, it might give her a bit of trouble in practice but be fine again by their next performance. Her arm is in the same boat: sore but should be fine. Felicity pulls up the sleeve of her t-shirt to study said appendage. There are several bruises on her bicep, but if they aren’t gone by her next performance she’ll probably be able to do a good job of disguising them with makeup.

Her eye, on the other hand, will be harder to hide.

Felicity is halfway through her first cup of coffee when footsteps alert her that someone else is awake. Moments later, Iris steps into the kitchen with tousled hair and a hand over her mouth as she yawns.

“How you feeling?” Iris asks.

Felicity makes a face and shrugs. “Could be better, or a lot worse. Monster headache though.”

Iris detours in her trip to the Keurig and swipes the Ibuprofen bottle out of the little medicine cabinet. Then she grabs her favorite coffee mug – it’s a bold red and proclaims in big letters “Not all heroes wear capes” – fills it, and brings it and the pill bottle with her to the table.

“Thanks,” Felicity says. She unscrews the cap and checks the dosage, then downs three of the little white pills.

“I can’t believe you got mugged,” Iris says after a minute.

Felicity scoffs. “You’re telling me. How bad is my eye?”

Iris assesses her carefully. “Pretty bad. The swelling could be worse and should be gone in a day or two, probably, but the discoloration is gonna suck.”

“Makeup?”

“Makeup will help, but it’ll still be noticeable for a while. What’d he get you with?”

“No idea. I think I might have hit his elbow.”

Iris sighs. She sounds frustrated. “You reported this right?”

Felicity hesitates before answering. “Well, if the SCPD did their jobs, the jerk that did this should already be in custody.”

“How do you know?”

Felicity had been pretty exhausted last night, but she’d assumed that Oliver had already told them all of this. Now, she wonders if he left some parts out of the retelling, and if she’s supposed to do the same. Though she can’t think of a reason why – it’s not like Oliver did anything wrong.

“Oliver chased the guy down.”

“He mentioned something like that,” Iris says.

“From what he told me he also left the guy unconscious in an alley and called the police. Anonymously, of course.”

“Which is great, Felicity, but you still have to call in and report the crime. If you don’t ID him and press charges they’ll just let him go and then he’ll be out there walking the streets again, and the next person he attacks might not be so lucky.” Iris is passionate about justice and the legal system, which Felicity sometimes forgets.

“I will,” Felicity promises. “I would have done it last night, but I wasn’t feeling so hot. I’ll do it now, as a matter of fact.”

“Good,” Iris replies with a nod. “I’ll get your phone.”

She leaves the room before Felicity can protest and then returns with Felicity’s cell phone. The battery is at one hundred percent, so someone must have remembered to charge it for her.

Her friends are freaking awesome.

Felicity is on hold for ten minutes before she gets to the right department. She explains what happens and then bites back a sigh when the officer on the other end of the phone tells her that she’ll need to come into the precinct so they can photograph her injuries for evidence She’ll also be asked to pick the guy out of a line up, which sounds both time consuming and like something out of all those crime shows Iris likes to watch.

Felicity assures the officer that she’ll be in as soon as she’s showered and hangs up. At some point during her conversation Caitlin had wandered in and ghosted a light squeeze to one of Felicity’s shoulders on her way to the coffee pot.

“I can drive you,” Caitlin offers.

“We’ll go together,” Iris adds. “Maybe you can request to work with my dad.”

Felicity nods. She likes Joe West: he’s a good cop, and a great dad, so she thinks working with him would be easier than working with someone she doesn’t know.

Her coffee cup now empty, Felicity rises stiffly and does a few small windmills with her sore arm before offering her friends a rueful smile.

“Gonna shower and get ready,” she tells them. “The faster we get this part over with the better.”

Felicity heads for the bathroom. She flicks on the light and makes sure her towel is hanging on the rack, then closes the door. She steadies herself for the reflection she knows is waiting for her and then steps in front of the mirror.

The good news is that having a black eye isn’t quite like she’d expected. In her head, Felicity had been imagining them the way she’d seen them in cartoons, or in really bad B-rated movies. There’s no giant purple knot over her eye, and it’s not swollen shut (which she obviously knew, okay, since she was able to open both eyes this morning).

The bad news is that her glasses must have still been on her face when she was struck. The details are blurry and hard to recall, but the dark ring of bruising under her eye extends to the inner curve of her nose and the outer corner of her eye in an almost perfect stamp of her glasses frame. What swelling there is should go down in a few days, as Iris had said, but the bruises will take longer to disappear.

On another good note, though, Felicity is lucky that her glasses didn’t break. The optometrist had talked her in to buying bendable frames, and man, she’s gonna have to go back and thank him for that.

With a sigh, Felicity turns on the shower and lets it warm up as she undresses. All in all, her first experience with being mugged could have gone a lot worse.

“Let’s not do this again soon,” Felicity tells the universe.

The words unintentionally bring Oliver to her mind. Of all the people that could have been passing by at that time and come to her aid, Oliver Queen is probably the last one she’d expect. The waterfall of events that had to occur to bring him to that exact place at that exact time, and her as well … Felicity just doesn’t have the brain power to consider all of that at the moment.

Once she’s in the shower, it doesn’t take Felicity long to realize that sticking her face under the spray of water is not a good idea. She practically yelps and jumps back when the water comes into contact with her eye. It feels a little like being punched all over again.

“Way to go, Smoak,” she says.

Still, the hot water feels good. Felicity turns the handle to adjust it to a hotter setting and then turns to the side, so the water is concentrated on her sore arm. The pressure hurts for the first few breaths and then the sensation evens out to a dull sort of percussion massage that ultimately feels good.

Iris and Caitlin still need to shower, probably, so Felicity makes herself wash her hair and get clean before she uses all the hot water. The bathroom is hazy, and the mirror completely fogged over when she steps out. She flips on the vent fan and knows that Caitlin will get on her about forgetting to turn it on at the start of the shower. She’s religious about using the vent fan, and it drives her nuts that Felicity can’t really be bothered to remember to use it.

Felicity wraps her hair in a towel and then does the same to herself. She doesn’t bother wiping away the steam on the mirror, because the fan thing annoys Caitlin but streaks on the mirror will make Iris apoplectic.

Felicity leaves the bathroom in a cloud of steam. She can hear someone still moving around in the kitchen as she crosses the hall to her room and shuts the door. She feels a little worn still and briefly considers sitting down on her bed for a minute. That will probably end in her passing out, still wrapped in her towel, and she’s expected down at the police station, so she sighs and doesn’t let herself sit. Maybe she’ll take a nap when they get home though. She’ll have to call Curtis and tell him what happened and let him know that she won’t be in to practice today.

Felicity retrieves underwear and a bra and slips into them. She lets her hair down and hangs the two wet towels over the back of her chair, then moves to her closet. Any outfit that requires heels is out of the question today. She wants something comfortable and easy to move in, so she retrieves a pair of dark jeans and a nice sweater. Nothing too heavy, but it’ll keep her warm without a jacket. Her bruised arm hurts when she lifts it, but she deals with the pain.

Her hair is another matter, though. She brushes it out and stares at herself in the mirror as she tries to decide what to do about it. Felicity doesn’t have the energy or drive to curl it, so she pulls it up into an easy ponytail. Her arm doesn’t like that either.

By the time she emerges from her room, Felicity is seriously considering laying down on the couch again and taking a nap. The police station can wait, she thinks. Her head has started to hurt and pound. Oliver had said he didn’t think she had a concussion, but she should probably go to the hospital and get checked out today anyway.

Either she’s taken longer than she thought, or Caitlin and Iris are quick. They’re both waiting for her in the living room, refreshed and ready to go. Felicity feels run down compared to how put together they both look, but she doesn’t mind. After the events of the night before she figures how she looks is the last thing she needs to worry about.

“No,” Iris says suddenly.

Felicity looks at her. “No, what?”

“You can’t take a nap. We need to go to the station.”

Felicity’s lips turn down. “How did you …?”

“You had that look you get when you’re about to suggest a nap,” Iris explains.

Caitlin moves to put a hand on Felicity’s shoulder. “I’m sure you’re tired, and we understand, but Iris is right, Felicity. You need to give the police your statement and then you need to go to the hospital and get checked out.”

Felicity sighs. She knows they’re right, but man … she could really use a nap. She blows out a breath.

“Come on then.”

They grab their purses and light jackets. Felicity can’t help but think of Oliver as she slings her purse strap over her good shoulder (which is odd, because it’s not the shoulder she usually carries it on and she feels out of balance). The only reason she still has her purse is because he’d chanced upon her at the right moment and chosen to chase down the would-be thief. Who does that? The story is like something out of … well, a book. Only truly good, decent people would do such a thing.

Thinking about Oliver puts her in mind of the note he left, and his thoughtful request for her to text him. She’s put it off until now, because … she’s not sure she has a good reason. Mostly because she’s been trying to talk herself out of it by telling herself that he doesn’t really want her to text him, he was just being a nice person. And that he’s probably forgotten all about the note, and she doesn’t want to make things awkward or anything.

Then again, he had asked. He’d helped her last night, and it’d be rude to ignore his request after all he’s done for her. Just a simple text and then she can forget about it.

Felicity is standing by the front door waiting for Iris and Caitlin to make sure they have everything. She whips out her phone and the note Oliver left – which she only put in her purse as an afterthought, damn it – and opens a new text message and types in the number.

Hey, she types out, got your note. I’m feeling better today for the most part. Thank you for your help last night.

Felicity locks the screen on her phone as Caitlin and Iris join her at the door. “Ready?”

“Need anything before we go?” Iris asks. “Ibuprofen or anything?”

“No,” Felicity says.

“I have some in my purse if you change your mind,” Caitlin informs her.

Caitlin opens the door. All three women visibly start in surprise as a crowd of strangers greets them with sudden motion and unintelligible shouts. There are people everywhere: crammed together on the stairs and fanning out at the bottom. Cameras start flashing immediately, and Felicity belatedly registers that they must be reporters.

“What the hell,” Iris mutters.

“Ms. Snow!” A middle-aged woman is near the top of the stairs and she takes a step forward to push a microphone at Caitlin, who is too stunned to do more than blink at her. “What can you tell us about your relationship with Oliver Queen? How long have you been secretly dating?”

“Uh,” Caitlin answers eloquently.

Felicity’s head really aches now, and she’s pissed. Why are all of these people just hanging out and waiting to ambush them? How long have they been here?

“What are you talking about?” Felicity snaps.

“This,” the woman says as she shoves a newspaper at Felicity.

Felicity’s mouth falls open in a silent “oh”. The picture on the front page is in black and white, but it’s clearly Oliver standing outside their apartment with Caitlin. They’re not standing unreasonably close considering how small their little landing is outside the front door, but it might look like it otherwise. Caitlin has her hand on Oliver’s forearm. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but it’s definitely late – Felicity knows because this must have been taken last night, after Oliver helped her home.

It’s not crazy to think that this might be construed as a secret meeting (or hookup) with a secret girlfriend, if that’s what someone wants to see. And the media always wants a story, Felicity knows, so this is basically handing them an already lit fuse.

“Not good,” Iris says from behind her.

Felicity’s phone vibrates in her hand. She ignores it for now, because they’re in quite the situation. She needs to leave, but she doesn’t want to subject Caitlin or Iris to this – and she doesn’t know how to get the press to leave.

“Get off our porch,” Felicity commands. She steps in front of a still startled Caitlin and advances on the media woman.

“Who are you?” The woman asks. “What’s your part in this story? Is that a black eye? What happened to you? Are you a …”

“I’m irritated,” Felicity interrupts her, “and in no mood for this. Get off our porch.”

“I’m calling my dad,” Iris calls over the din of reporters still shouting questions.

Caitlin comes back to herself. “I’m not dating anyone.” She says it loudly enough that it should carry to the first few reporters, at least. “This is a mistake.”

“So, Oliver Queen wasn’t here last night, talking to you?”

Felicity remembers the story of Thea Queen being harassed by a paparazzo, and the way the media had villainized Oliver for stepping in when his sister felt threatened. She doesn’t particularly care for the press, but it serves as another motivator to get these vultures away from all of them. Telling them anything about what happened last night, and Oliver’s part in it, won’t help the situation or any of them.

“Get. Off. Our. Porch.” Felicity grinds the words out through clenched teeth. The tension in her jaw only increases the pressure in her head, and her rising blood pressure makes the bruises on her face ache. She’ll deal with that later.

“The police are on their way,” Iris shouts. “Anyone still here when they arrive will be taken in, and you best believe we’ll be pressing harassment charges. You’re on private property.”

“No, we’re not,” someone behind the media woman retorts.

“Really?” Iris challenges. “Prove it.”

Felicity knows that it’s a weak threat. They probably couldn’t prove anything because nothing in an apartment is truly private property, but the paparazzi apparently aren’t in the mood to try their luck. They start to move toward the bottom of the stairs and away as one large mass, and Felicity finds herself comparing them to ants. Fire ants, the kind nobody likes.

“Get back inside,” Felicity tells her friends.

In the distance, police sirens can be heard; her phone vibrates again.

Caitlin, Iris, and Felicity retreat into the safety of their little apartment. Felicity still has the newspaper in her hand, and for a minute the three of them just stare silently at one another.

“This is nuts,” Iris offers.

“More like a nightmare,” Caitlin counters. She motions for Felicity to hand her the newspaper. “How did this happen?”

Felicity finally unlocks her screen as Caitlin studies the paper. She has two unread text messages and they’re both from Oliver.

I’m glad to hear it, the first one says. There’s a two-minute gap before the next message: I think we might have a problem.

Felicity snorts and types back, you win the award for understatement of the year. We just opened the door to find about a hundred press vultures waiting on our porch.

The response is immediate. Is everyone okay?

Caitlin’s stunned. Not every day you find out you’ve apparently been secretly dating Oliver Queen. Other than that, we’re fine.

I’m sorry, Felicity. I’ll take care of this.

It’s not your fault, Oliver.

The conversation stops there because Joe West walks through the front door with a mighty scowl. There’s a uniformed officer standing on the porch behind him, but Felicity only catches a glance of him before Joe shuts the door and immediately goes to give Iris a hug.

“Everyone okay?” Joe asks.

“We’re fine, dad. Surprised, but that’s all.”

Then, Joe turns and does a double take when he sees Felicity. His angry papa bear face transforms into a worried papa bear face.

“Felicity, what happened? This wasn’t a paparazzo, was it?”

“No. I was mugged last night. That’s actually sort of how this whole mess got started.”

Joe sighs. “Come on, let’s sit down and then you can explain everything.”

The burden of explaining falls on Felicity, since it’s technically a story about what happened to her last night. When she gets to the part about Oliver helping her home and Iris and Caitlin arriving her friends pepper her story with their own parts. Caitlin assures them – needlessly – that she only walked Oliver out because it’s the polite thing to do, and that nothing happened.

“I don’t even remember touching him,” she tells them. “But I’m sure I was just thanking him for stopping to help Felicity and bringing her home.

“We believe you, Cait,” Felicity reassures her.

“Like you could hide a boyfriend from us,” Iris teases fondly.

Felicity finishes her story by explaining her call to the police department and how they’d been on their way there to give her report when they were ambushed.

Joe looks resigned. “You know I’m going to have to go talk to Mr. Queen,” he says gently. “I’ll need his side of the story for the mugging if he was there. This way you won’t have to go down to the station. You should still go to the hospital, though. I can give you an escort if you’d prefer.”

“Thanks, Joe, but I’ll be fine.” Felicity glances at Caitlin. “I’m not the one they’re interested in, anyway.”

“This is ridiculous,” Caitlin says in exasperation.

“It is,” Joe agrees. “The good news is that it should die down soon. I’m sure Mr. Queen’s lawyers or PR guys or whatever will issue a statement on the misunderstanding. It’ll probably stir things up more at first, but the paparazzi will get tired of following you around soon enough.”

“Maybe you should have an escort for a few days,” Iris suggests to Caitlin. “At least when you go to work and stuff.”

“Won’t that just draw their attention more?”

“Maybe,” Joe answers. “It’s up to you. I have an officer posted outside for the rest of the day, and I might have a plainclothes on stakeout tonight just to be sure, but I won’t assign anyone beyond that unless you tell me otherwise.”

Caitlin nods in agreement. Then she glances at Felicity, and Felicity automatically takes her friend’s hand in support. Caitlin is right, and this situation is both nuts and ridiculous, and Felicity kind of can’t believe that it’s happening. Her life has been mostly quiet until now. Sure, she’s somewhat well-known in the symphony/orchestra/pianist ring, but outside of that she’s always been anonymous. It’s unnerving to suddenly find herself in the spotlight, and technically she’s not even in it. There aren’t any rumors flying around about her supposed relationship with Starling City’s most notorious bachelor.

Which only adds to the craziness of it all, since – technically speaking – Felicity is the one who has the closest thing to any kind of relationship with Oliver. They’re … somewhat friends? Acquaintances that might be friends?

Her head hurts too much to think about this now.

“I’m sorry, Cait,” Felicity says.

Caitlin furrows her brows and then squeezes Felicity’s hand. “Don’t be silly, this isn’t your fault. There’s nothing to apologize for.”

Objectively, Felicity knows that. She just wishes there was something she could do, and that she could get them out of this situation sooner rather than later.

Joe stands. He lays his hand on his daughter’s shoulder and squeezes; Iris smiles up at him.

“Thanks, dad.”

“Anytime, kiddo. Felicity, how about I give you a ride to the hospital?”

“That’s okay, Joe.”

“We’ll take her,” Caitlin offers immediately.

“No,” Felicity says quickly.

“You should probably stay here,” Iris agrees.

“I’m going,” Caitlin states. “I’m not just going to hide out here because those vultures might be watching me. I said I’d go with you and I will. Besides, the sooner they see that Oliver and I really don’t have anything to do with each other the sooner they’ll leave me alone.”

Everyone wants to argue, but Caitlin’s expression clearly conveys that she’s ready to fight about this. Felicity’s head is still pounding, and she wants a nap even more now than she did an hour ago, so it’s not worth fighting over.

“Fine.” Iris has come to the same conclusion, apparently. “But I’m driving.”

“I’m sending an officer with you,” Joe says. “I’ll have him follow at a discreet distance, so he doesn’t draw attention, but this is non-negotiable.”

Felicity’s friends are as stubborn as they are awesome.

Joe walks them to Iris’s car. He makes Iris promise to text him and let him know they’re all right at least a few times and reminds them that they’ll have help not far if they need it.

Felicity lets Caitlin have the front seat and climbs into the back. She buckles her seatbelt and lays her head back against the headrest, then closes her eyes. She doesn’t sleep, but she doesn’t open them again until they’re at the hospital.

The wait in the waiting room is frustrating. Felicity doesn’t have a lot of experience with hospitals – she’s never broken a bone and rarely gets sick with anything worse than the flu (which she chooses to wait and/or sweat out) – but they make her restless. After the first twenty minutes of waiting she throws in some headphones and listens to the set list for her next concert. It’s a playlist Felicity had made weeks ago with all of the songs performed by other orchestras. The idea is that she can listen to how they perform the music and identify any mistakes they made, or stylistic differences. There are more of the latter than the former. Felicity mentally catalogs all of the places that she would like to improve on – that allegro isn’t crisp enough; this pianissimo isn’t soft enough – and even starts taking notes on her phone for later reference.

Forty-five minutes after their arrival, Felicity is finally taken back to an exam room. She takes Caitlin and Iris with her, so they can fill in the doctor on anything that Felicity doesn’t remember or anything that happened after she fell asleep.

The doctor determines that Felicity doesn’t have any broken bones. The muscles in her right arm are strained and inflamed; her wrist isn’t sprained from trying to catch herself in her fall, thankfully, but it’ll probably be sore for another day or two; she has a mild concussion.

“Your equilibrium is mostly recovered, and no nausea or vomiting is a good sign, but you mentioned feeling more fatigued than usual and a persistent headache since you woke up,” the doctor explains when Felicity expresses surprise at the concussion diagnosis. “Always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to head injuries.”

The doctor prescribes Felicity eight hundred milligram Ibuprofen for the headaches and bruising. It’ll help with the stiffness and inflamed muscles, too, which Felicity is grateful for. She has a concert in two weeks and it’ll be a rough night if she’s not feeling better by then. It’ll be rough anyway, actually, because she still has like a dozen rehearsals between now and then.

“You’ll want to hold off on any piano playing for the next few days,” the doctor advises when Felicity brings it up. “Rest is the best thing for a head injury and banging away on a piano for hours at a time is not what I’d consider rest.”

Thankfully, Caitlin sees the way Felicity bristles at the indication that she would ever “bang away on a piano” and distracts her before she can tell the doctor exactly that.

By the time Felicity and her friends leave it’s mid-afternoon and they’ve been stuck in that hospital for two hours. Felicity has her new bottle of Super-profen in her purse, and Iris has already made her take one.

“We need to eat,” Caitlin declares. “That much Ibuprofen shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach.”

Iris drives them to a small Thai bistro a few blocks over. Felicity orders chicken Pad Thai and only makes it through about a quarter of the plate when she realizes that Caitlin has stopped eating to stare at the television in the corner.

There’s no sound, but when Felicity looks she sees the picture of Caitlin and Oliver from the newspaper. The headline at the bottom of the screen reads “Queen’s secret lover: real deal or fortune hunter?”

Felicity thinks about hurling her plate at the screen.

Thankfully, no one else in the restaurant is paying attention. There aren’t many patrons besides them, anyway.

Iris has noticed as well, and she and Felicity share a look. Maybe they should have expected this, but it’s not like either one of them have a lot of experience with being a target for the press. Or the other half of a relationship with a famous billionaire. They’re rather ill-prepared for this, really.

Just then, Felicity’s phone rings. Her heart practically seizes up in her chest when she sees Oliver’s name on the screen.

“Hello?”

“Felicity. You okay?”

It’s unfair and infuriating the way her insides react when he says her name. Seriously. “Eh, not bad, considering. Doctor said I didn’t break anything, but she thinks I have a mild concussion.”

“I’m glad it’s not worse.” There’s a pause in which Felicity has no idea what to say, and then Oliver continues. “Detective West and his partner just paid me a visit.”

Felicity’s heart drops. “I’m sorry,” she says immediately, “I should have warned you that they were coming. Joe is Iris’s dad, and …”

“Felicity. It’s fine, no warning needed. I figured they’d show up sooner or later. That’s not why I called.”

“Why did you call?”

Felicity spares about ten seconds of thought to consider literally kicking herself under the table. She hadn’t meant to sound so … challenging? Disbelieving? Whatever, she’d only meant to express surprise because she truly hasn’t expected to hear from him. Not because he’s not thoughtful, but because it’s been a long twenty-four hours and she’s a bit out of it.

Oliver doesn’t answer the question. “Please tell Caitlin …”

“Oh, hold on,” Felicity interrupts him.

She foists her phone off on Caitlin, who is genuinely confused one minute and then practically glares at her the next.

“Who is that?” Iris half-whispers across the table.

Felicity doesn’t want to announce it in case anyone is listening, so she mouths Oliver’s name. Iris’s eyes go wide.

“I swear, I had no idea this would happen,” Caitlin says.

Felicity tries not to listen further. She looks up unthinkingly at the television in an attempt to distract herself, and remembers too late why she’d looked away. The reporter is still covering what must amount to the latest Queen family scandal, and Felicity’s thoughts can’t help but circle back to their current situation.

Is it really so far-fetched that the media would immediately jump to the conclusion that Caitlin and Oliver are dating? Felicity herself has done something similar, and Iris as well. After that night at Verdant both of them had read the situation as Caitlin and Oliver being interested in each other. Granted, they’ve had little interaction since then to cement the idea, but still. After only one interaction Felicity has assumed there’s some kind of attraction there, so why is she surprised that the media has done the same thing? Caitlin has sworn that the picture in the paper is an innocent moment taken out of context, and Felicity believes her because she knows her – because they’re friends, and she knows Caitlin is truthful.

What would she believe if Caitlin were simply a stranger with her photo in the paper?

Felicity has no idea what to say when Caitlin hands her cell phone back to her. Her friends have been asking after her all day, and she’s made sure Caitlin is hanging in there, and it’s not her place but Felicity wonders if anyone has stopped to think of Oliver in all of this.

“Are you okay?” she blurts as soon as the phone is pressed to her ear.

There’s a few seconds of silence before Oliver answers. “I’m fine, Felicity.”

“Right. I mean, I’m sure you are. I just … Thea had that run in with the press a few weeks ago, and I know they’re assholes about your mom, and I have no idea what it’s like to deal with that all time but … I hope you’re okay, but it’s okay if you’re not. That’s all.”

Felicity immediately clamps her mouth shut. Oliver is probably on the other end of the phone wondering why the hell he called her in the first place, and trying to think of polite ways to get her off the phone because what the hell just happened? She wishes she hadn’t said anything.

Oliver’s next words aren’t at all what Felicity expects them to be. “When’s your next concert?”

“Uh … two weeks. The day after Thanksgiving.”

“Will you be okay to play by then?”

“The doctor said I should be good to go in a few days. Besides, Curtis would probably have a heart attack if I wasn’t.”

There’s a voice in the background on Oliver’s end. Felicity doesn’t recognize it, but it sounds a bit feminine and she thinks it might be Moira Queen. Then, “Listen to the doctor, okay? Rest. I’ll talk to you later.”

Felicity barely has time to say goodbye before the line goes dead. She stares at her phone for a minute in disbelief. Did Oliver Queen really just call her and talk to her like … like they were sort of friends? Did he really call to check on her?

What the hell is her life, anyway?

Caitlin doesn’t say anything about the conversation with Oliver until Iris asks about it. The three of them are in Iris’s car again and headed home, so there’s no prying ears to worry about.

“Well?” Iris asks. “What did Oliver have to say?’

Felicity doesn’t realize at the time that this question could have applied to either her or Caitlin.

Caitlin is the one to answer. “Nothing, really. He apologized for the misunderstanding and said he hoped it wouldn’t throw too much of a wrench into my life, and that he’d take care of it.”

“That was sweet of him,” Iris replies.

“It was.”

In the backseat, Felicity closes her eyes again. She needs to call Curtis and explain what’s happened and give him the heads up that she might miss the next few practices; she is going to take a nap, damn it, as soon as they get home; her thoughts keep going back to the whole situation with Caitlin and Oliver and the press, and Oliver in general, as Felicity tries to determine what happens next.

By the time they get home Felicity thinks they’re all ready for a nap. Caitlin tends to overthink things even more than Felicity does, and the look on her face tells Felicity that she’s probably spent the afternoon doing exactly that. Iris is handling this situation the best, Felicity thinks, and she’s once again grateful for Iris’s calm and capable presence. That woman is unflappable.

“Go put on comfy clothes,” Iris tells them both when they’re in the apartment. “We’ll have a movie day. Any requests?”

“Something easy,” Caitlin says. “Nothing sad. No romance.”

“Something animated,” Felicity adds.

So, the three of them change into leggings and soft shirts and reconvene on the couch. Iris has already selected a movie and has set out cups of water for them all on the coffee table. She waits for Caitlin and Felicity to sit down – they don’t pile together this time since Felicity is bruised – and then pulls a blanket down over all of them when she sits.

Felicity barely makes it beyond the first twenty minutes of Moana before she falls asleep.