Actions

Work Header

Hang My Head Break My Heart (Built From All I Have Torn Apart)

Chapter Text

If the streetlight hadn't caught the gold buckle, she would have missed it, Felicity mused, her fingers closing around the red leather purse through her threadbare gloves. It was well made and obviously expensive, something that was confirmed when she spotted the Yves St. Laurent label on it.

 

There was only one way a bag like this ended up in this part of town and that was if the person who'd stolen it had ditched it with plans of reclaiming it later. Glancing around to make sure she was still alone, Felicity opened the bag. She found keys, two lipsticks and a wallet. That was leather too but it was stamped Versace. Yanking off one glove and flexing her fingers, Felicity opened it. The driver's license inside read Thea Queen. The name sounded familiar, like she'd heard it before, but she couldn't place it. The face staring from the little plastic card didn't ring any bells either. Felicity opened the money fold and saw a thick wad of cash. Her eyes widened. Thea Queen was either ridiculously rich or plain stupid. Possibly both.

 

Further examination of the wallet's contents revealed another picture of Thea Queen, this time with a man who looked enough like her for Felicity to assume they were related; a cousin maybe or...a brother. Ignoring the tight feeling in her chest, she started to put the picture back but changed her mind. She slipped it into her pocket, put the wallet back into the purse and stuffed the purse into her worn burlap tote. The last thing she wanted was to draw attention to herself at this time of night.

 

Walking out of the alley, eyes darting in all directions to make sure there were no potential threats around, Felicity turned in the direction of the police station. It was late but Detective Lance was probably still on duty. He seemed to live in the police station when he wasn't out on the streets. Felicity liked him because he never talked down to her just because she was homeless.

 

Sure enough, when she stepped off the third floor elevator and rounded the corner, he was sat at his desk pouring over some papers.

 

"I found this," Felicity said, startling him.

 

"Smoaky, hey," he said, shuffling to his feet. "Whad'ya find?"

 

She pushed the purse toward him.

 

"Figure someone must have ditched it and planned to circle back," she said.

 

Lance opened the bag and then the wallet.

 

"Thea Queen," he murmured. "Some shits have all the luck."

 

Felicity didn't comment and Lance put the bag and wallet on his desk.

 

"I'll give her a call in the morning, let her know we found it," Lance told her.

 

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a $20 bill. Felicity accepted it only because she and Lance had a deal. If she found stolen property or passed on information about criminal activity around Starling, he'd give her some cash to help her get by. Mostly, Felicity liked the idea of doing something, even if it was something little, to help clean up the streets of Starling. After all, she had to live on them so really it was in her own self-interest.

 

"Wanna cup of coffee for the road?" Lance asked her. "Just made a fresh pot."

 

Felicity offered him a smile and nodded. Minutes later, she was walking back out on to the street, a Styrofoam cup of coffee clutched in her hand. She walked west. There was a building not too far away where she liked to sleep a few nights of the week. There was one spot on the far wall where the heat from the building came through well enough to keep her kind of toasty. It was one of her favorite spots to carve too because it was pretty out of the way and she could get lost in what she was doing without worrying that someone was going to try to slit her throat.

 

She'd found some great wood today when she raided the dumpster behind an antique furniture store uptown. It was a risky score but worth it. She’d managed to grab several pieces of basswood and pine from furniture that had been broken or was simply being discarded. She’d even found a small piece of butternut that she was going to save for something special.

 

The city was loud, even at night, and Felicity liked that. It made it easier to drown out the demons that haunted her. Scanning her surroundings one last time, she settled into her spot and wrapped her hands around the cup of coffee. It was still warm enough that it heated her insides as she sipped it. She took her time but eventually she drained the cup and set it aside.

 

She reached for her Swiss Army Knife, the one Diggle had given her when his arthritis had gotten too bad, and pulled one of the pieces of pine from her tote bag. She turned it over and over in her hands, feeling out all the imperfections before she decided.

 

Frog.

 

The familiar feel of the wood and the knife in her hands was soothing and Felicity worked for several hours, first on the frog, and then a butterfly, carved from a piece of the basswood. The sun had just started to peek overhead when she set her carving tools aside, put the finished pieces in a wooden chest she kept in her backpack and allowed herself to doze.

 

She’d found that staying up at night and catching a few hours of sleep in the early morning was a better routine for a woman on her own. Still, she was an extremely light sleeper so when she heard the tentative click clack of high heels coming in her direction, she was immediately alert.

 

“Hello?” came a light, feminine voice. “Is anyone out there?”

 

Felicity frowned.

 

Was this woman looking for trouble or what?

 

“Smoaky?” the woman persisted.

 

Felicity blinked.

 

Why was this woman looking for her?

 

Warily, Felicity shifted her head to get a better look around the corner. Slight as it was though, her movement caught the other woman’s attention and Felicity found herself the object of a blinding smile.

 

“You’re Smoaky, right?” she asked.

 

Thea Queen, Felicity realized, taking in the perfect clothes, the perfect make up, the wide blue eyes and short, brown, curls.

 

“How’d you find me?” Felicity asked gruffly.

 

“Detective Lance said you might be around here,” Thea explained. “He says you like to hang out here some nights.”

 

Felicity gave a non-comitial shrug.

 

“Why’d you come looking?” she asked.

 

“I’m Thea Queen. He said you were the one who found my purse,” Thea said, shifting from foot to foot as if she felt uncomfortable standing in her ridiculously high heels while Felicity sat cross-legged on the ground. “He said you turned it in.”

 

She reached into her back pocket and extracted an envelope.

 

“I wanted to say thank you,” Thea continued. “And give you this.”

 

“What is it?” Felicity asked suspiciously.

 

“It’s uh…just some extra cash,” Thea said awkwardly. “A token of appreciation, type of thing.”

 

“I don’t want your money,” Felicity said.

 

Thea blinked several times.

 

“I…I’m not trying to offend you or anything,” Thea said. “I just really appreciate what you did. The bag isn’t even mine, I borrowed it from my mother and I would have been so grounded so you know, you did me a favor and I just…want to do one back. It’s not a big deal.”

 

Felicity shook her head.

 

Only someone with money would hand it out to random strangers and say it wasn’t a big deal. She didn’t know how much money was in the envelope but she’d hazard a guess and say it was a fair chunk of change. Probably the kind of change Thea Queen had spent on those boots she was wearing.

 

“I appreciate the gesture,” Felicity said. “But I don’t want your money. You want to do me a favor, take that cash and drop it off at the church on East 7th. The roof is leaking again. They could probably use it to pay for repairs.”

 

Thea let the hand that had been holding the envelope in Felicity’s direction fall to her side.

 

“Okay, fine,” Thea said. “You don’t want money. There has to be something you’ll let me do for you to say thanks.”

 

Felicity gave Thea another once over. She heard sincerity in the young woman’s voice and in her experience that was a rare thing.

 

“You know, coming here with an envelope full of money was a pretty dumb thing to do,” Felicity said. “How’d you know I’m not some pyscho drug addict?”

 

“Detective Lance probably wouldn’t have told me where to find you if you were,” Thea pointed out.

 

Felicity acknowledged that with a tilt of her head to the side.

 

“Coffee,” she finally said.

 

“Coffee?” Thea repeated.

 

“I’ll take one cup of coffee and consider us even,” Felicity confirmed.

 

“I can totally do that,” Thea said. “Wait here?”

 

Felicity just gave her a look and Thea flushed a little bit but her smile got brighter if that was possible. She rushed down the street and was back several minutes later carrying a tall white cardboard cup, which she handed over.

 

Felicity eyed it warily and sniffed.

 

“It’s a venti vanilla latte,” Thea said helpfully.

 

“Fancy coffee,” Felicity said, slightly disdainfully.

 

Thea made a face.

 

“I kind of got carried away,” she admitted. “I took off without even asking you what kind of coffee you liked and the next thing I know I’m staring at the barista with the judgy eyes and thinking that well, vanilla’s kind of universal so there’s at least a fifty fifty chance that she’ll like it.”

 

“You talk a lot,” Felicity observed.

 

There was a time in her life when she talked a lot too but that had changed. A lot of things had changed.

 

“I get that a lot,” Thea said. “But I can fix this.”

 

She reached out to gently take the vanilla latte from Felicity’s grasp and she rushed back down the street, faster than anyone should be able to move in those sorts of shoes, Felicity thought. She came back not long after, with a white Styrofoam cup – bigger than the one from the police station – and a paper bag.

 

“Plain black coffee,” she announced brightly. “And I brought creamer and sugar separate in case you know…I didn’t want to be force feeding you calcium and glucose a second time if you’re not into that kind of thing.”

 

Felicity’s lips twitched and she found herself resisting the urge to laugh for the first time in what felt like years.

 

“Thanks,” Felicity said.

 

“Yeah, no problem,” Thea said.

 

She cocked her head to one side.

 

“So, would you hate me if I maybe stopped by and brought you coffee here tomorrow?” Thea asked carefully.

 

Felicity gave it considerable thought. There was a good chance that by this time tomorrow, Thea Queen would have forgotten all about her and moved on to the next exciting or new thing in her life. But even knowing that, Felicity decided to give her a chance. There was something about the light in Thea’s smile and her eyes that reminded Felicity that some people still found things to be happy about. She may not be one of them but it was nice to know they existed.

 

Kind of.

 

“Only if you bring the fancy vanilla stuff,” Felicity said.

 

Thea laughed.

 

“No vanilla,” she said. “I promise.”

 

Felicity gave a small nod and Thea smiled again. She seemed to do that a lot.

 

“Stay safe Smoaky,” Thea said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

And to Felicity’s surprise, she did. At almost the exact same time as the day before, she heard the click clack of heels and Thea rounded the corner, this time carrying two cups of coffee and a medium sized box.

 

“Morning,” Thea said. “Hold this.”

 

She handed over the box before Felicity could protest and proceeded to sit herself down on the dirty ground, apparently not caring about the potential damage to her designer wardrobe.

 

“I think you might be crazy,” Felicity said.

 

“You wouldn’t be the first person to say so,” Thea said. “Personally, I think its part of my charm.”

 

She handed Felicity her coffee and then opened the box to reveal an assortment of donuts.

 

Felicity narrowed her eyes.

 

“Not part of our deal,” she said.

 

“Yeah well, I have a ferocious sweet tooth,” Thea said. “And if you don’t stop me, I’m going to eat every single one of these and my thighs will never forgive me. So if nothing else, out of pity for every pair of skinny jeans I own, you should eat some.”

 

She clapped her hand over her mouth.

 

“I’m sorry, that was crass,” Thea said, wincing. “The part about the skinny jeans. I mean, god, people have way worse problems.”

 

“People,” Felicity agreed. “But not you.”

 

“I know you wouldn’t think so based on that,” Thea said, biting into a glazed donut. “But I do know I’m one of the lucky ones. And Raisa always says that we should never miss an opportunity to help others and not just because we can or it’s the right thing but because you enjoy life more when you help other people find joy in theirs.”

 

“Raisa?” Felicity asked.

 

“Technically she’s our housekeeper,” Thea said. “But in reality, she’s like a mother to me and my brother Ollie. She practically raised both of us while my parents were out doing to the society thing.”

 

“Ollie,” Felicity repeated, testing the name on her tongue and not liking the sound of it.

 

She recalled the image of the man in the picture she’d taken from Thea’s wallet. He didn’t look like an Ollie but maybe he wasn’t the brother in question.

 

“Is it short for something?” Felicity asked.

 

“Oliver,” Thea supplied.

 

Ah, Felicity thought, that was much better. The man in the picture looked like he could be an Oliver.

 

“Are you close?” Felicity asked.

 

She had no idea why she was engaging this…intruder in her world. She’d learned the hard way more than once that getting attached to people only led to heartache and hard times. It was why she never went into the same shelter more than twice a month and why, after Diggle, she’d kept to herself.

 

His death had devastated her even though he’d been sick for a while and he’d stubbornly refused to go to a hospital. Felicity had begged and pleaded with him but he’d told her that everyone’s time came around and he’d go when it was his.

 

They’d stayed in a shelter for his last few days because the cold outside too much for him to take. He’d passed in his sleep and Felicity had been inconsolable when she’d woken up and realized he was gone.

 

The day he died was the first and only time since she graduated from MIT that Felicity had gone anywhere near a computer. It had all come back easily, naturally, and it had taken her all of ten minutes to hack into the largest company in Starling and redirect a few thousand dollars to pay for a burial plot in one of Starling’s best-kept cemeteries and proper funeral services. She made sure his coffin was covered in the American flag to honor his years of service overseas and she’d arranged for fresh flowers to be laid on his grave every Sunday.

 

Thinking about John reminded Felicity of why the Queen name sounded familiar.

 

“Queen Consolidated…” Felicity said. “That your family?”

 

“My dad,” Thea confirmed. “Or technically my grandfather founded the company but my dad runs it now and Ollie will in a few years. Unless he grows a pair and let’s people know he’d rather stick pins in his eyes.”

 

She shook her head.

 

“And to answer your question from before,” Thea said. “Yeah, my brother and I are close. Which isn’t what you might expect given that he’s ten years older than me.”

 

She polished off her second donut and turned inquisitive eyes onto Felicity.

 

“Can I ask you a question?” she asked.

 

“That was a question,” Felicity pointed out.

 

Thea rolled her eyes.

 

“You know what I mean,” she said.

 

“I guess you can,” Felicity said, taking a sip of her coffee.

 

“Okay, and fair warning,” Thea said. “I am absolutely not trying to be rude or offensive.”

 

“Uh huh,” Felicity said.

 

“What do you do all day?” Thea asked.

 

Felicity made a sound that was part croak and part extremely rusty laugh. Of all the questions, that wasn’t one she’d been expecting.

 

“I stay up most of the night. It’s safer,” Felicity said. “So usually I catch a couple of hours sleep in the morning and after that it just depends. Sometimes I go to the park. I spend a lot of time looking for good carving wood.”

 

“You carve wood?” Thea asked. “Can I see something you carved?”

 

“You said one question,” Felicity pointed out. “That was three.”

 

Thea grinned.

 

“Answer them anyway?” she said.

 

“Maybe some other time,” Felicity said.

 

Thea sighed.

 

“I should probably get going anyway,” she said regretfully. “If I’m late to my internship I’ll never hear the end of it from either of my parents.”

 

She shook her head.

 

“Thea, you need to apply yourself,” she said, mimicking what Felicity assumed was her mother.

 

Then her voice changed, presumably in an imitation of her father.

 

“Thea, think of your future,” she mock growled.

 

Her words brought flashes of Felicity’s own past to the surface and Felicity found herself clenching her fists to fight them back.

 

“I swear,” Thea continued. “It’s like they want me and Ollie to be clones of them. Ollie is going along with it but damn it, I do not want to be my mother.”

 

“I don’t think anyone wants to turn into their mother,” Felicity said quietly.

 

Thea gave her a thoughtful look but she didn’t press and Felicity was grateful.

 

“Same place, same time, tomorrow, okay?” Thea said instead.

 

It wasn’t really a question so Felicity didn’t answer it but when Thea’s heels click clacked the next morning, Felicity was there, waiting.

 

 

 

“Smoaky, your face!” Thea exclaimed. “What happened? Are you okay? Did someone hit you?”

 

“It’s not a big deal,” Felicity mumbled, reaching for the coffee in the cup holder Thea was carrying.

 

After nearly two weeks of this routine, Felicity was comfortable simply taking the coffee she knew was meant for her rather than waiting for Thea to hand it over.

 

“Just some creep who thought he could take advantage,” Felicity said.

 

She grimaced.

 

“He thought wrong,” she said.

 

Diggle had taught her well and Felicity had sent her would be attacker scurrying away with a broken wrist. But not before he’d managed to backhand her across the face, hence the angry bruise and now, Thea’s horrified and worried expression.

 

“Partly my fault for staying here so much lately,” Felicity said, taking a sip of coffee. “Need to change it up more.”

 

Thea’s mouth opened but it took her a few moments to get any words out.

 

“Is it my fault?” she finally asked. “That you’ve been staying here more? Cause, I can totally meet you somewhere else. I didn’t even…”

 

“It’s one of my favorite spots,” Felicity interrupted. “That has nothing to do with you and the coffee crack.”

 

“Coffee crack?” Thea repeated, her face relaxing into its usual smiling expression. “Is that because of how much you like coffee or a reference to past experience with actual crack?”

 

“Maybe both,” Felicity said.

 

Thea pressed her lips together.

 

“I never quite know when to take you seriously,” Thea said.

 

Felicity simply shrugged.

 

“You should probably let a doctor take a look at that,” Thea observed after another look at Felicity’s cheek.

 

“It’s just a bruise,” Felicity said. “It’ll fade.”

 

To Felicity’s relief, Thea changed the subject. They’d established a balance of sorts over these 12 days. They shared coffee and sometimes donuts and Thea talked a lot and sometimes Felicity talked. Mostly in short, tense sentences but still, she shared a few things about herself. Never as much as Thea actually wanted to know but the younger woman was accepting of the boundaries that Felicity kept and she didn’t push.

 

“So, you said you needed to change it up more,” Thea said. “Is that like…some sort of street rule? Part of a secret code?”

 

Felicity tugged her tattered woolen hat down over her ears.

 

“If you consider practical ways to keep yourself alive, rules,” Felicity said. “Then yeah, I guess so.”

 

Thea bit her lip.

 

“I know that there’s like 99.9 percent chance you won’t accept,” she said. “But I still want to put it out there. If you ever want a roof over your head for the night or you know, nights, you could come and stay with me.”

 

Felicity snorted.

 

“Great idea,” she said. “Bring the homeless girl in off the street to the McMansion you live in. I’m sure your parents would be thrilled.”

 

Thea sighed.

 

“We all know that Raisa’s the boss of our house and she would be totally fine with it,” she said. “And if you want to be super fussy about it, it’s a McManor and not a McMansion.”

 

Felicity shook her head.

 

“You are so strange,” she said.

 

“Then I guess that makes you a weirdo,” Thea said. “For liking my strangeness.”

 

Felicity laughed softly earning her a blinding grin from Thea.

 

“You have a great laugh, Smoaky,” Thea said. “I wish I heard it more often.”

 

She used to laugh a lot, Felicity thought. Maybe this was why she hadn’t put an end to this…whatever this connection was she felt to Thea Queen. Maybe it was because in a lot of ways, Thea reminded her of who she had been when she was younger.

 

Excited and enthusiastic about life, the world at her fingertips, completely clueless about how tragedy could take over your life and drown you in darkness and before you even knew it was happening you were spiraling out of control, alienating the people who loved you and living in your car, determined to escape the crushing weight of expectations and grief.

 

“Is that a hickey?” Felicity asked, nodding to a gap in Thea’s scarf.

 

Thea blushed and adjusted the fabric.

 

“Maybe,” she allowed.

 

“Good for you,” Felicity said.

 

“Yeah, he is,” Thea agreed. “It’s unconventional what with him being the guy who stole my purse and all but every relationship has to start somewhere, right?”

 

Felicity choked on her coffee and stared at Thea.

 

“He’s not a bad guy and he challenges me,” Thea continued. “Which is new. I don’t get that a lot, you know?”

 

“Not really,” Felicity said honestly.

 

“The way I see it, what makes two people a good fit for each other isn’t necessarily what they have in common,” Thea said. “It’s how they help each other grow and experience life in a new way. Roy and I come from two completely different worlds but that’s what makes the time we spend together so much fun. I’m probably not making as much sense as I want to be but…”

 

“No, I get it,” Felicity said. “I’m just not sure it works out in most cases.”

 

“Maybe it doesn’t,” Thea agreed. “But it’s better than the alternative. Take my brother and his fiancée for example.”

 

Felicity’s eyebrows hiked upwards in surprise. This was the first time Thea had mentioned a fiancée in relation to her brother.

 

“Laurel is…nice,” Thea said. “She genuinely is. She’s perfectly put together all the time. She has a law degree from Stanford. She gave up her cushy corporate job to run an art gallery and nobody batted an eye because running an art gallery is a perfectly acceptable hobby for a woman whose main job six months from now will be being married to Oliver Queen.”

 

“You don’t approve,” Felicity said.

 

It wasn’t a question.

 

“I approve,” Thea disagreed. “Laurel is very approvable. But she doesn’t make Ollie happy, not really.”

 

“How do you know that for sure?” Felicity countered.

 

“There’s a lot of little things,” Thea said, waving her hand. “I think what gets me most is when he talks about her or when other people talk about her, his smile…it isn’t real. It’s his Oliver Queen smile.”

 

“Oliver Queen smile?” Felicity repeated, clearly not understanding.

 

“Hey, rich people have a code too,” Thea said lightly. “Cause you know, people are always watching us and judging us even they though they don’t know anything about who we are as people. And you learn to fake it, to be what people expect instead of who you are. Oliver Queen is an image and that image is a match made in heaven for Laurel. But Oliver? The man? Yeah, I’m convinced he wants something else entirely.”

 

“Are you sure you’re not projecting what you want onto him?” Felicity said.

 

Thea sighed.

 

“No,” she admitted. “I’m not sure. I just…I really love him, you know? I want the world for him.”

 

“Maybe he has the world he wants,” Felicity said. “Even if it’s not the one you want him to have.”

 

“I hope so,” Thea said.

 

She glanced at her watch.

 

“Duty calls,” she said. “Same time, new place, tomorrow?”

 

“Corner of 9th and Griffen,” Felicity supplied. “There’s a bench.”

 

“It’s a date,” Thea said. “Will you hate me if I bring you flowers?”

 

“Yes,” Felicity said promptly.

 

Thea’s giggles echoed well after she’d turned the corner and Felicity found herself shaking her head in amusement as she gathered her things.

 

It was time for her to hit the next shelter in her rotation and take a shower, wash her clothes and maybe grab a hot meal if she was hungry. She still had some of yesterday’s donuts tucked into a side pocket in her backpack so she could always snack later if that was more appealing.

 

As she walked through the city she was only marginally aware of the looks people shot her or even the ones who went out of their way to walk around her. Her first couple of weeks on the streets, she’d been excruciatingly aware of those looks, almost to the point of paranoia. With time, and Diggle’s comforting presence, she’d learned to tune them out so that now, they hardly registered.

 

It took her forty minutes to walk to the shelter on Peters but she wasn’t in any hurry. She’d just walked past the main offices when someone called out to her.

 

She turned to see the shelter coordinator, Barry, walking towards her, his long legs eating up the distance.

 

“Smoaky, hey,” he said. “I figured you were due to pop in any day now.”

 

He pulled up short when he spied the bruise on her face but years of working in this neighborhood and this shelter had taught him to be careful how he broached these things.

 

“You good?” he asked, nodding towards her cheek

 

Felicity nodded.

 

“Yeah, no harm, no foul,” she said.

 

“I’ll take your word for it,” Barry said. “Uh, here.”

 

He handed her a small bottle, which on closer inspection turned out to be lavender and lemongrass scented shampoo.

 

“Someone brought it in with a bunch of other things yesterday,” Barry explained. “I thought you might like it.”

 

Felicity blinked, surprised by the gesture. It was sweet.

 

“That’s really nice of you,” Felicity said. “Thanks.”

 

Barry beamed.

 

“You’re welcome,” he said. “By the way, we’re having a meeting tonight. You going to be able to make it?”

 

Felicity hesitated.

 

She hadn’t had the nightmares in a while although she had been thinking about Adam more than usual. She figured all the talk about Thea and her brother probably had something to do with that. Maybe going to meeting as a sort of pre-emptive strike wasn’t a bad idea.

 

“Yeah, I can come,” she told Barry. “What time?”

 

“Six,” Barry said.

 

Felicity nodded and then made her way to the locker rooms. She went through her usual routine of stowing her things, taking a shower, shampooing her hair and once she was dressed again in a clean, if ratty, pair of old jeans and an oversized sweater, she headed for the washing machines to put in the clothes she’d been wearing and a few other items. Living on the streets didn’t mean she abandoned all sense of personal hygiene or cleanliness.

 

Settling in to wait for the machine to complete its cycle, Felicity extracted her carving tools and the half finished ladybug she’d started the night before. She was almost done with it when she got the feeling that she was being watched. Since she sensed curiosity rather than danger she let it go and a few minutes later the “culprit” approached her. Felicity found herself staring at chubby cheeked toddler with black hair and caramel colored eyes; eyes that were intently fixed on the wooden animal in Felicity’s hand.

 

“It’s a lady bug,” Felicity said. “Do you like it?”

 

The little girl nodded and Felicity gave her a small smile. She made one more cut to the shell and then handed the carving to the little girl.

 

“Keep it,” she said.

 

The child’s face lit up in delight and she threw her tiny arms around Felicity’s legs before running back towards her mother to show off her new toy. The mother in question looked tired and worn but she shot Felicity a grateful smile.

 

It was a random moment in life filled with random moments but Felicity found herself struggling with it. Until she’d met John and he shared stories of his nephew A.J. with her, Felicity had never given much thought to having children but over the years, the thought had crossed her mind more than once. More than that, there was a part of her that actually ached for it. That wanted to see if she could do better or different than her own parents had, that wanted to reclaim some of that innocence she’d lost by replacing it with the innocence of her own baby.

 

But she couldn’t imagine allowing herself to get close to a man in the way that was required to produce children and it had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with trust. If she was honest, she wasn’t sure she trusted herself to even be a mother. The fear of loss was so much a part of her life now, she couldn’t imagine taking a risk like that.

 

By the time she’d finished her laundry, her mind was spinning and her attempts at taking a nap were completely unsuccessful. A little bit frustrated, she made her way over the library corner and settled in with a dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice. She was a third of the way through it when a glance at the clock on the wall showed that it was time for the meeting.

 

Pulling together all her stuff she made her way to the basement. There were already a few people in the room and not all of them were residents of the shelter or its environs. Felicity sat toward the back in a corner, away from most of the rest of the group.

 

The first man to speak talked about how his drinking had nearly cost him his wife and daughter and the long road he was still on to earn their forgiveness. The next speaker was a woman who had turned to drugs after her husband had died suddenly. She was fresh out of rehab and 93 days sober.

 

As Felicity listened to different people sharing the experiences that had led to the addictions, she wrestled with her own memories. Her brother, Adam, had been diagnosed with cancer when he was seventeen and Felicity was only eight. He’d fought it off a first time, going into remission at 19 but by 23 it was back and vicious. Aggressive chemo and experimental drug therapy had bought him a few years; time enough to see Felicity go off to MIT at 16 and enter her senior year twenty four months later.

 

To say that Felicity had taken his death hard was an understatement. The cancer had weakened Adam’s body but not his mind or his spirit. He’d been the first one to encourage Felicity as she fiddled with machines and computers, taking things apart and putting them back together.

 

He was the one she pitched her software concepts to and she was the one who made him laugh the most even thought it was sometimes physically painful to do so. He’d often said that Felicity was the glue; that without her light and laughter, their family wouldn’t have survived the ordeal of his diagnosis and subsequent treatments.

 

And maybe there was truth in that but the fact was that when Adam died, Felicity was overcome with bitterness. She was mad at the world, mad at the doctors who hadn’t been able to come up with a better treatment for him and even more so mad that for all the technology out there and available, there wasn’t a machine or program or a code that could keep Adam alive.

 

Felicity had finished her last year at MIT on the basis of her genius IQ and the two solid years of work she’d put in before tragedy stuck her family. She’d spent her last seven months in school skipping classes, never studying and more often than not drinking and partying in Boston.  Her campus friends had been traded for bar bunnies and bouncers and she’d done her first line of cocaine on what would have been Adam’s 26th birthday.

 

Her parents were still caught up in their own grief but they didn’t ignore Felicity’s downward spiral. If anything they reacted violently, terrified of losing another child. They’d driven her straight from her graduation ceremony to a rehab facility.

 

It was mostly the guilt they kept heaping on her about what Adam would have wanted for her that got her to go along with it. She knew they were right about that much. Adam wouldn’t have wanted a junkie or a drunk for a sister. So she stayed sober although the cravings for something mind altering didn’t entirely disappear.

 

The family moved from Central City to Starling because her parents wanted a fresh start and thought she should have one too. Felicity hadn’t been thrilled but she hadn’t protested either. It wasn’t until almost a year after Adam had passed, when her parents started dropping hints about her plans for the future that things really fell apart.

 

They started asking about job applications and leaving different company catalogues around the house. She had to start making decisions, they said, about what she was going to do with her life. Felicity had reacted like a wounded animal and the fights had been epic.

 

How her parents could expect her to move on when Adam was cold in the ground was beyond her. How they thought that she would ever want to be involved in developing technology to save other people when no one had saved her brother was equally incomprehensible.

 

You owe it to Adam, Felicity,” her mother had said tearfully. “He was your biggest fan. You know he would have wanted you to live up to your potential.”

 

“Adam is dead!” Felicity had screamed. “He died. Dead people don’t have opinions.”

 

That was the night Felicity realized she was as mad at Adam for dying as she was at the rest of the world for letting it happen. It was also the night she realized that sex was as good a mind-altering substance as any other and when a few weeks later, her mother walked in on her giving the neighbor’s son a blowjob, it was the final straw.

 

Her parents cut her off and threw her out and Felicity was actually relieved to be free of all the pressure. She lived in her car for a while, until she couldn’t afford gas or parking and it got towed with the majority of her stuff inside it. She didn’t have the money to reclaim it from the impound lot and that lead to her first night on the streets.

 

It was the night she met John Diggle and it was the first good thing that had happened in years. Felicity wouldn’t trade that - trade her relationship with him - for anything in the world. Not even more time with Adam. Some days she felt guilty about that but mostly she figured that he would understand that Diggle was just as much a brother to her as he had ever been.

 

The end of the meeting brought Felicity back to the present. She took her time gathering her things and then she made her way to where the coffee was. Barry sided up to her with a small smile.

 

“You know,” he said. “If you’re not comfortable talking in a group setting, we have other options.”

 

“Yeah,” Felicity said. “I know.”

 

“Okay, well, whenever you decide you’re ready,” Barry said. “We’re here.”

 

Felicity snapped the lid on her to go cup of coffee and with a nod in Barry’s direction, headed back out on to the street. She knew he was trying to be helpful, letting her know there was a place for her there, someplace she could belong if she wanted.

 

What he didn’t understand and what Felicity wasn’t about to explain was that she didn’t want to belong anywhere. If you didn’t have a place – a home – and you didn’t have a family, then no one could take it from you.

 

Not god.

 

Not fate.

 

No one.

Chapter Text

“Here,” Felicity said.

 

She held her palm open to reveal a small wooden dolphin.

 

Thea immediately set her coffee aside and picked up the tiny object in both hands.

 

“Smoaky, it’s beautiful!” Thea breathed. “And dolphins are my favorite animal.”

 

“I know,” Felicity said.

 

“How’d you know?” Thea asked.

 

“The earrings,” Felicity said. “You wear them all the time.”

 

She nodded towards Thea’s ears where even now the small dolphin shaped studs were present.

 

“Does that mean you made this for me?” Thea asked.

 

Felicity shrugged uncomfortably.

 

“I mean, if you want it,” she said.

 

“Of course I want it!” Thea said. “It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten.”

 

Felicity shot her a disbelieving look.

 

“No one’s ever made anything for me before,” Thea insisted. “Unless you count a crayon valentine I got from Joel Carter in the first grade.”

 

Felicity snorted at that.

 

“Seriously, Smoaky,” Thea said. “I love it. Thank you.”

 

“Your welcome,” Felicity said.

 

Thea hugged her and Felicity froze at the unexpected contact and then she jerked away abruptly.

 

“Sorry,” Thea said. “I didn’t mean to freak you out. It’s just…I’m kind of a hugger. It’s actually kind of a miracle that I haven’t tackle hugged you before. It’s been what, a month now?”

 

“About that,” Felicity agreed. “And if you tackle hugged me I’d probably break some of your bones.”

 

Thea arched an eyebrow.

 

“That didn’t really sound like you were kidding,” she said.

 

“I wasn’t,” Felicity said. “Sudden movements are…not a good idea around me that way.”

 

Thea processed that.

 

“So all your bad ass self defense moves,” she said. “Did you learn those on the street or in your life before?”

 

“What makes you think there was a life before?” Felicity countered.

 

Thea let out a tiny sigh.

 

“There’s a look you get sometimes,” she said seriously. “I see it most times when I talk about Ollie.”

 

A shadow passed over over Felicity’s face.

 

“See, that’s it right there,” Thea said. “It makes me wonder if…”

 

“Don’t,” Felicity said flatly.

 

Thea pressed her lips together.

 

“Okay,” she said after a while. “But so you know, if you ever want to really talk. I’ll be more than happy to listen.”

 

Felicity didn’t respond so Thea didn’t force it.

 

“I need to get to the office,” Thea said, plainly not pleased by the prospect. “If I don’t file those papers the world will come to a cataclysmic end.”

 

“You don’t want to be a lawyer,” Felicity said. “Why don’t you find an internship doing something else?”

 

“And give my parents another reason to question my life choices?” Thea said wryly. “It was bad enough when I introduced my mother to Roy. You’d have thought he’d just landed from Mars.”

 

“You make your mom sound like a bitch,” Felicity said.

 

Thea made a face.

 

“She’s not…or at least not all the time,” Thea said. “I think she’s just lived in that world too long; she cares more about what people will think than about how I feel. It’s frustrating. And I mean, where was all this micro parenting when I was a kid and actually wanted it? I can’t count the number of times my dad was too busy to read me a bedtime story or I couldn’t hug my mother because she was all dressed to go out.”

 

“The grass is always greener,” Felicity murmured.

 

“What do you mean?” Thea asked.

 

“You wanted more attention from your parents,” Felicity said. “There were times I wished I’d had less from mine.”

 

Thea stared at her and then her eyes narrowed a little.

 

“Don’t think I don’t see what you did there, Smoaky,” she said. “Waiting until you know I have to go to reveal important, personal, information.”

 

Felicity didn’t dispute it.

 

“Same time, same place tomorrow?” Thea asked.

 

“New place,” Felicity said mildly. “Corner of Jackson and Houston. Look for the streetlamp opposite the pet store.”

 

“See you tomorrow, Smoaky,” Thea said. “Stay safe, okay?”

 

Felicity nodded and Thea smiled and gave her a small wave as she crossed the street to hail a cab in the direction of her office.

 

It wasn’t the first time Thea’s last words to her before they parted ways for the day were to “stay safe”. Felicity wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about it. She knew it was Thea’s way of trying to be casual without being glib and she appreciated that. Felicity had learned that it was better to deal with cold, hard truths rather than trying to sugarcoat things. And the truth was that no matter how careful she was, the streets of Starling could be dangerous. Taking her safety for granted wasn’t something Felicity could afford and the fact that Thea recognized that earned her points in Felicity’s book.

 

Over the last several weeks, Felicity had come to realize that there was more to Thea than her last name and expensive wardrobe. She was intelligent and insightful and sincerely empathetic. It was that last part though, that also gave Felicity pause.

 

Thea telling her to stay safe implied that the younger girl cared, that she would be affected in some way if anything were to happen to Felicity. That wasn’t something Felicity was comfortable with. It wasn’t for her own sake because life had already taught her that you couldn’t count on anything. For all Felicity knew in a week or a few months or even tomorrow, Thea might just stop showing up.

 

And that was fine. Hell, she was half expecting it anyway. What bothered her was the reverse. She didn’t want to be the reason that Thea, or anyone else, experienced that god-awful gut wrenching sensation that came from losing something you cared about. It was precisely why, in addition to not letting herself get attached to anyone or anyplace, she’d actively avoided letting other people get attached to her.

 

“Penny for your thoughts there, Smoaky,” Detective Lance said.

 

Felicity looked up sharply and only relaxed once she realized who it was. It wasn’t like her to be snuck up on, proof that she’d been too lost in her thoughts for comfort.

 

Detective Lance held up the cup of coffee he was carrying and then nodded to the one Felicity had her hand wrapped around.

 

“Seems like someone beat me to it,” he said.

 

He sat down on the bench next to her.

 

“Caught a case last this week,” Lance told her. “Some guy hacking into bank vaults, wiping ‘em out. We figure he’s got to be using a pretty sophisticated set up. We’ve been searching recent tech purchases but no dice. Figure he probably gets his gear on the black.”

 

He turned to look at her.

 

“You hear anything about stolen electronics or anything movin’ around town?” he asked.

 

Felicity shook her head.

 

“I can put my ear to the ground though,” she said.

 

“Yeah, okay,” Lance agreed. “Whoever this is, they’re good.”

 

I’m better.

 

The thought popped into her mind and objectively, Felicity knew it was probably true.  The percentage of people in the world with her IQ and technical skills was small. By and large, they tended to work for government agencies or huge multinational conglomerates, selling their souls for the supposed sake of research.

 

“I’ll let you know if I find anything you can use,” Felicity said.

 

“’preciate that,” Lance said, getting his feet. “You take care now, Smoaky.”

 

He headed down the street where his cruiser was parked and Felicity pulled on her backpack before picking up the coffee she was still nursing. She decided to walk through the park on her way to the Glades. There was a sort of…colony there for lack of a better word where street rats sometimes gathered. Mostly it was a place to score drugs, liquor or sex; it all depended on what poison you were looking for. If there were any rumors floating around about massive quantities of stolen electronics that would be the place to find out about it.

 

As usual, she took her time walking. Living on the streets, Felicity had developed a whole new understanding of the futility of rushing anywhere for anyone or anything. When you thought about it, racing through life only meant that you were racing to your death. The way Felicity saw it that was nothing to be in a hurry about even if it wasn’t anything to run away from either.

 

Truth was, Felicity thought about death a lot. She wasn’t by any means suicidal but she spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not death was really just another form of release, the climax of a life whether it was well lived or not.

 

She wondered if it had been that for her brother. If by the time he’d taken his last breath, he’d actually been glad to just let go. She wondered if she would feel that same sense of relief when it was her time to die.

 

When she got to the pond where parents and nannies often brought small children to feed the ducks, Felicity settled down with her back braced against a tree trunk. Diggle had liked coming here and Felicity came here when she wanted to feel a little closer to him.

 

Not in the mood to carve, Felicity let her eyes slide halfway closed. She could still observe all the different people around her but she could let her mind rest too. It was nice and Felicity felt refreshed by the time she set out on the move again.

 

Refreshed but not relaxed. The deeper she went into the Glades, the more alert and on edge she was, her fingers wrapped securely around the knife in her pocket, ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

 

She made it to her destination without incident and she paused to scan the perimeter. It didn’t look any different than the last time she’d been there although it had been seven months at least.

 

“Smoaky?”

 

Felicity spun around to see who was calling her name and the tension eased a little when she recognized the spiky black hair and leather jacket.

 

“Sin,” she said.

 

“It’s been forever,” Sin said. “Where you been?”

 

“Here and there,” Felicity replied.

 

“I get that,” Sin said.

 

Felicity moved closer so she could speak quietly and limit the likelihood of being overheard by the wrong people.

 

“You hear anything about big time electronics hitting the streets down here?” Felicity asked her.

 

Sin shook her head no.

 

“Word around here is mostly about this new drug called Vertigo,” Sin said. “Main dealer’s some guy calls himself The Count.”

 

Sin made air quotation marks when she said the man’s name and she rolled her eyes.

 

“Criminals in these parts are starting to seriously lack for imagination,” Sin said.

 

“Seems like it,” Felicity agreed. “Thanks for the intel.”

 

She knew Sin had a pretty good grasp on what was happening in this part of Starling so the information was likely to be solid. She’d pass both tips onto Detective Lance the next time she saw him and let the SPCD do its thing. They’d either catch the bad guys or they wouldn’t but Felicity wasn’t going to take unnecessary risks to get more details.


There was a reason she rarely passed through this neighborhood.

 

“I guess that means you’re not sticking around,” Sin said knowingly.

 

“This isn’t my scene,” Felicity said.

 

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s scene,” Sin offered. “Just someplace you go when the alternatives suck worse.”

 

A glance at the sky told Felicity the sun was going to be setting soon and she wanted to be on the other side of the city when it did.

 

“See you when I see you,” she said to Sin, before taking a different route out of the Glades than she’d used to come in.

 

Based on where she’d told Thea to meet her the next morning, Felicity decided to spend the night near to the library downtown. There was an archway around the back entrance that gave good cover from the street. The nights she spent there, Felicity allowed herself to sleep a little longer and a little more deeply since the risk of exposure was reduced. The extra rest helped her to keep her functioning even if she only managed to snatch a few hours here and there the rest of the week.

 

Two hours after she’d left the Glades, Felicity was setting up for the night. She pulled off her boots and rubbed her feet a little, wincing at the soreness that never seemed to fully dissipate considering how much walking she did. Most of the time, she slept with her shoes on because she never knew when she might have to make an unexpected run for it but for once, she decided to risk it. She lined the boots up neatly behind her backpack and extracted an old army blanket from inside of it. Curling into the wall, she wrapped herself into the blanket and used her backpack as a pillow.

 

It didn’t take her long to fall asleep but almost as soon as she did, the nightmare began. She was caught in its grip for what felt like forever and when she bolted upright, gasping for breath, she knew it was would a good long while before she rested easy again.

 

 

 

“Isn’t it beautiful, Raisa?” Thea said, turning the carving this way and that.

 

“Very,” Raisa said with an indulgent smile.

 

“It’s got to be a good sign, right?” Thea said. “The fact that Smoaky made it just for me. At least I know she doesn’t hate having me around.”

 

“No one could hate having you around,” Oliver said, stepping into the kitchen and dropping a kiss on top of her head. “And who’s Smoaky?”

 

“Just a friend,” Thea said vaguely.

 

“Never heard you mention her before,” Oliver pointed out.

 

“A new friend,” Thea amended.

 

“What aren’t you telling me?” Oliver asked.

 

Thea sighed.

 

“It’s not big deal,” she said. “She’s just the person who turned my purse into the police.”

 

“I thought Detective Lance said some homeless woman brought it in off the street,” Oliver said as he rounded the counter and kissed Raisa’s cheek in greeting.

 

He pulled a beer from the fridge and turned to face his sister. Her slightly guilty expression said it all and her next words sealed it.

 

“Don’t tell Mom and Dad,” she pleaded.

 

“Relax, Speedy,” Oliver said. “You know your secrets are always safe with me.”

 

Thea beamed at him.

 

“Look what she made for me,” she said, holding the dolphin out for his inspection. “Isn’t it awesome?”

 

“Very cool,” Oliver agreed.

 

“You will stay for dinner?” Raisa asked him.

 

“I wish,” Oliver said. “Laurel and I are having dinner with her friend McKenna and McKenna’s husband. He owns a business QC might be interested in acquiring and Dad wants me to feel him out.”

 

“What an exciting life you lead, Oliver,” Thea said mockingly.

 

“Be nice to me,” Oliver instructed. “Or else I’m not giving you those Fashion Week passes you asked me to get for you.”

 

Thea made an exaggerated motion of zipping her lips just as their mother walked in.

 

“Thea, there you are,” Moira said. “I need you…”

 

She trailed off when she spotted Oliver.

 

“Don’t you have a business dinner?” she asked him. “Your father said it was important.”

 

“Just came home to spend a few minutes with my favorite girls,” Oliver said lightly. “Our reservation isn’t until 8:30 so I still have some time.”

 

Moira sniffed but then turned her attention to Thea.

 

“The Arts Society Mother Daughter breakfast is tomorrow,” Moira said. “Make sure you’re ready to go at 7:30.”

 

“What? No,” Thea said. “I can’t go to that. I have to…”

 

“I’ve already spoken with Daniel,” Moira interrupted. “I told him you wouldn’t be in until the afternoon and he understands. And please, dress conservatively.”

 

“Mom, you’re not listening to me,” Thea said. “ I have other plans, okay?”

 

Moira arched an eyebrow.

 

“Sneaking off to spend time with your boyfriend,” she said disdainfully, “is not an acceptable reason for missing such an important event on the calendar. You’re coming and that’s final.”

 

Moira turned around and was gone before Thea could get another word of protest in. She turned stricken eyes toward her brother.

 

“Ollie,” said plaintively. “You have to do something.”

 

“Honestly, Speedy,” Oliver said. “My advice is to just suck it up. I’m sure Roy will understand.”

 

“I don’t meet up with Roy in the mornings,” Thea said. “I meet up with Smoaky. And if I don’t turn up tomorrow she’s either going to think that something happened to me or that I just decided to abandon our friendship. I’m not even sure she considers it a friendship or cares that much about it but it’s important to me. I don’t want to lose it just because Mom has a bug up her ass.”

 

“Thea,” Raisa reprimanded.

 

“Okay, just calm down,” Oliver said. “What time do you usually meet up?”

 

“Quarter to eight,” Thea said. “I take her coffee, sometimes donuts, and we just kind of hang out until 8:30 when I have to head to the office. Sometimes, depending on where we meet up, I can hang a little longer.”

 

Oliver mentally reviewed his calendar for the next morning.

 

“What about if I go for you?” he said after a moment.

 

“You’d do that?” Thea asked hopefully.

 

“Yeah,” Oliver said with a small smile. “I think I can manage to carry a cup of coffee and deliver an explanation of your whereabouts.”

 

“Okay but it has to be plain black from Dunkin,” Thea said. “And take sugar and cream separate because she never seems to drink it the same way twice in a row.”

 

“Noted,” Oliver said.

 

“And don’t startle her,” Thea said. “No sudden movements because that kind of freaks her out and she has all kind of ninja defense moves.”

 

“She’s not violent, is she?” Oliver asked, suddenly questioning the wisdom of enabling his sister’s relationship with a homeless stranger.

 

“No,” Thea said. “She just knows how to protect herself which is important considering that she’s a woman alone living on the streets.”

 

“Fair point,” Oliver said. “Anything else I need to know?”

 

“I’ll text you the address where we’re supposed to meet in the morning,” Thea said. “And Ollie?”

 

“Yes, Speedy?” Oliver asked patiently.

 

“Be extra nice,” Thea said. “I don’t know her story yet, not really, but I know she’s had a really rough time and I don’t think it’s just because she’s homeless.”

 

Oliver smiled.

 

“Why are you smiling?” Thea asked.

 

“Because I’m proud of you,” Oliver said. “Of the kind of person you’re turning into.”

 

“Oh,” Thea said, smiling back. “Thanks, Ollie.”

 

“I am proud of both of you,” Raisa interjected. “And happy to see you both happy too, mmm?”

 

Oliver and Thea both smiled at her and then Thea switched her focus back to her brother.

 

“You are happy, right Ollie?” Thea asked.

 

“What kind of question is that?” Oliver asked.

 

“Just a question,” Thea said. “You look tired and stressed a lot lately.”

 

Oliver’s expression softened and he walked over to Thea and slung an arm around her neck, bringing her head against his shoulder.

 

“Things are hectic at work and with the wedding plans,” he admitted. “But don’t worry about me, Speedy. I have everything I need.”

 

“Promise?” Thea asked.

 

“Swear it,” Oliver said.

 

He glanced at his watch.

 

“I need to get going,” he said. “See you tomorrow sometime. Good luck with, Mom.”

 

Thea’s disgruntled expression kept Oliver smiling as he made his way upstairs to grab a quick shower and change suits. His driver, Jake, was waiting when he exited the front door and Oliver shot a regretful look in the direction of his Aston Martin Speedster. It felt like forever since he’d been able to drive himself anywhere, let alone drive just for the pleasure of it.

 

Forcing the thought aside, Oliver climbed into the town car and extracted his ipad. He took advantage of the drive to Table Salt to review the files his assistant had compiled on the company owned by McKenna’s husband, Roger Evans.

 

Apparently they’d just developed some technology that complemented one of the projects that Queen Consolidated’s Applied Sciences division was working on. Robert Queen was determined to acquire it. Simply buying the company was the easy way but he was fully prepared to execute a hostile takeover if necessary.

 

Oliver sincerely hoped it wasn’t going to come to that.

 

Jake pulled the car to a stop at the curb and the valet opened Oliver’s door for him. Oliver slipped him a $20 and made his way into the restaurant. He spotted Laurel immediately and made his way over to her.

 

“Hey,” he said, pressing a kiss to her temple.

 

“Hi,” she said smiling at him. “I’m glad you’re early.”

 

“Missed me?” Oliver teased.

 

“Well, yes,” Laurel said. “But also, I wanted to know what you think about having two rehearsal dinners. I think it would be nice to have one just for family.”

 

“I’ve told you a million times I think you should have whatever you want,” Oliver said. “What matters to me is marrying you and then just being married to you.”

 

Laurel gave him an exasperated look.

 

“You’re saying sweet things so that you can get out of deciding things,” she accused without heat.

 

“I absolutely am,” Oliver agreed, grinning at her. “And you’re going to let me get away with it.”

 

“Why on earth would I do that?” Laurel asked, eyes flashing in amusement.

 

“Do you want the romantic reason or the practical reason?” Oliver asked.

 

“You mean those are actually two separate options?” Laurel deadpanned.

 

“Smart ass,” Oliver said. “So practicalities first. Things are picking up at work; we have our Q3 board meeting at the beginning of next month. Until then, the amount of time I have free to deal with wedding stuff is going to be…minimal at best.”

 

“So the romantic reason is really your plan for making it up to me,” Laurel surmised.

 

“As soon as that board meeting is over we can spend the weekend in that cottage in Vermont that you love so much,” Oliver said. “I’ll even make sure the maple cookies are waiting. Sound good?”

 

Laurel smiled but Oliver could tell she was a little disappointed. They didn’t have time to discuss it further though because McKenna and Roger arrived and the rest of the evening passed with the usual business and society small talk.

 

Oliver knew he was particularly good at this part of his job. He was charming and he found it easy to engage people and draw them out. Sometimes, he even enjoyed it. Tonight wasn’t really one of those nights. It had been too long a day and he was beyond relieved when they said their goodnights and parted ways.

 

Jake drove them to Laurel’s apartment and after making arrangements for Jake to pick him up in the morning Oliver followed Laurel into the building. Technically, he still lived at Queen Manor. It was something he’d decided to do primarily because it allowed him to get some extra time in with Thea.

 

There was also the fact that renovations were ongoing to the penthouse that he and Laurel had chosen as their first residence once they were married. It made no sense for Oliver to move all his stuff into Laurel’s current apartment only to have to move again in less than six months.

 

“Have you heard from Tommy lately?” Laurel asked, stepping out of her heels.

 

“He sent me a text from Tahiti,” Oliver said. “It was a picture of him on a beach with three girls and a pitcher of something alcoholic.”

 

“Charming,” Laurel said dryly.

 

Oliver smiled and collapsed onto the couch. He didn’t bother to share rest of Tommy’s message, which had included a pointed reference to Oliver being an idiot for a) not ditching work to spend time with his best friend and b) committing the cardinal sin of monogamy.

 

“He’s having fun,” Oliver said.

 

“He’s avoiding responsibility,” Laurel countered, curling herself next to him. “But it’s part of his charm so we all just let him do it.”

 

“You sound like you want to stage an intervention,” Oliver observed, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.

 

“Not my place,” Laurel said. “And anyway, my job is to take care of you.”

 

She ran her fingers absently through his hair.

 

“You do it well,” Oliver murmured, already half asleep.

 

“Not on the couch, Ollie,” Laurel said, getting to her feet and tugging him up. “You’ll hurt your neck.”

 

Oliver let himself be led into the bedroom and he managed to kick off his shoes and yank off his tie before he stretched out onto the bed. He was about to close his eyes when his phone, which was still in his pants pocket, buzzed.

 

Fishing it out Oliver saw it was a text from Thea.

 

Corner of Jackson and Houston. Streetlamp opposite the pet store. 7:45. Don’t be late! And wear gray, it makes your eyes pop.

 

Oliver huffed out a laugh.

 

“Who’s texting you so late?” Laurel asked.

 

“I promised Thea I’d take care of something for her tomorrow morning,” Oliver answered. “She’s just reminding me.”

 

He set his alarm for 7:00 am and responded to Thea’s text, reassuring her that everything would be fine. Exiling the phone to the bedside table, he crossed his arms behind his head and closed his eyes. He was only peripherally aware of Laurel moving around the room, no doubt putting herself through her usual marathon skin routine and by the time she crawled into bed and curled into his side, Oliver was already fast asleep.

 

He slept well and dreamlessly, as was often the case, and by the time his alarm went off, he was already awake. Easing Laurel’s head from his shoulder onto his pillow, Oliver slid out of bed. He padded into the bathroom, took a shower and then peered at himself in the mirror. Deciding that he could get away with not shaving for another day, he got dressed, rolling his eyes at himself even as he gave into Thea’s request to wear gray.

 

Knotting his tie, Oliver made his way into the kitchen and put the coffee on. Laurel was many things but a morning person was not one of them. If she didn’t have coffee before even attempting to get out of bed, bad things would happen to whoever happened to cross her path.

 

Filling her stainless steel travel mug a few moments later, Oliver grabbed one of those caramel biscotti she was addicted to and carried both items into the bedroom. He placed them on the beside table closest to her and then leaned down to kiss her temple.

 

“I have to head out early,” he murmured. “I’ll call you later, okay? Coffee’s on the table.”

 

Laurel made an incoherent sound followed by a mumbled “love you” and Oliver smiled as he slipped out.

 

Jake was waiting for him downstairs, punctual as ever.

 

“Good morning, sir,” he said.

 

“Morning, Jake,” Oliver said easily.

 

He’d long since given up trying to get the other man to call him Oliver.

 

“Where to, sir?” Jake asked.

 

“To whatever Dunkin Donuts is closest to the corner of Jackson and Houston,” Oliver said.

 

If Jake was at all surprised, he didn’t let it show. He simply pulled the car into traffic and used the GPS system to determine exactly where they were going. 15 minutes later, he pulled to a stop and shot Oliver an expectant look in the rearview mirror.

 

“I’m going to meet a friend of Thea’s a few blocks from here,” Oliver said. “Circle around, see if you can find a parking space. I’ll give you a call when I’ve finished up.”

 

Jake nodded his understanding and Oliver climbed out of the car, unbuttoning his suit jacket as he did so. He stepped into Dunkin’s, aware almost immediately that people started to recognize him. He kept a pleasant smile on his face but one that didn’t invite anyone to engage him.

 

He ordered Smoaky’s coffee and then, since he wasn’t sure what kind of donuts she liked, ordered one of everything. On impulse, he ordered a second coffee for himself.

 

Dropping a $20 bill into the tip jar, Oliver winked at the young woman behind the counter and made his way onto the street.

 

It only took him a few minutes to get to the corner of Jackson and Houston and he spotted the pet store. Crossing the street, he walked toward the streetlamp most directly opposite. He looked around, realizing that for all her instructions, Thea had forgotten to give him an actual description of the woman. He thought about texting her but knew that would only provoke their mother’s ire and Thea’s relationship with their mother was tense enough at the moment.

 

He saw a young woman with a large backpack – the kind climbers use – walk up on the other side of the street lamp. She was wearing jeans that looked a bit too big for her, tucked into a pair of construction boots and a sweatshirt with ARMY printed across it.

 

Oliver dismissed her at first but after another ten minutes passed and no one else approached the rendezvous point, he started to wonder.

 

“Uh, excuse me?” Oliver said, calling out to make sure that if this was Smoaky, he didn’t startle her.

 

She looked over at him and Oliver saw a brief flash of recognition in her eyes.

 

“Are you Smoaky?” Oliver asked.

 

She narrowed her eyes.

 

“Where’s Thea?” she asked curtly.

 

“I guess that’s a yes then,” Oliver said, walking closer. “Thea got kidnapped by our mother this morning for a mother-daughter society event. I know she’d much rather be here but Mom didn’t really give her a choice.”

 

He paused.

 

“I’m Thea’s older brother, Oliver,” he offered. “I’m not sure if she’s mentioned me to you or…”

 

“A couple times,” Felicity replied.

 

“Okay,” Oliver said, cocking his head a little to the side and studying her.

 

He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting but Smoaky was not at all what he’d imagined. For one thing, she had an extremely striking face; bold slashing eyebrows, wide blue eyes that tilted up at the corners, elegant nose, and full lips. If he were being honest, he wouldn’t hesitate to describe her as beautiful despite the ill-fitting clothes and the particularly ugly hat on her head.

 

“You’re staring,” Felicity said. “It’s rude.”

 

Oliver blinked.

 

“You’re right. I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re just…not at all what I had imagined. You’re a lot younger which is actually why I didn’t approach you sooner. I figured there was no way…”

 

“Because in your experience only old people are homeless?” Felicity asked.

 

“Touché,” Oliver allowed.

 

He held out the box of donuts.

 

“As per Her Majesty Thea Queen’s instructions,” he said lightly. “Donuts and coffee.”

 

Felicity frowned at the box but accepted it. She also took the coffee that Oliver handed her.

 

“Thanks,” she said.

 

She started to walk away and Oliver found himself calling out to her.

 

“Wait, that’s it?” he asked.

 

She turned around to frown at him.

 

“Thea says you two spend at least a half an hour talking every morning,” Oliver said.

 

“Thea does most of the talking,” Felicity said with a small shrug.

 

“That’s generally the case,” Oliver smiled. “But I like to think I’m not an awful conversationalist either. I mean, unless there’s somewhere else you need to be.”

 

“Isn’t there somewhere else you need to be?” Felicity countered.

 

“Not for a while,” Oliver said.

 

He gestured to a bench that was a few feet away.

 

“We could sit,” he said.

 

He was convinced she was going to say no and he wasn’t sure why that disappointed him but she took him by surprise, giving a jerky nod of agreement instead.

 

Oliver grinned at her.

 

“So Thea mentioned you were the one who brought her purse to the police,” he said. “But she didn’t say how you two actually met.”

 

“She came looking for me,” Felicity said, sitting down after she’d put her coffee and the donuts on the bench and shrugged off her backpack. “Said she wanted to thank me.”

 

“That makes sense,” Oliver said. “Not everyone would have done what you did.”

 

She shot him an aggravated look.

 

“Not everyone who lives on the street is a criminal,” Felicity said. “There are plenty of decent people with shit luck in the world.”

 

“I’m sure that’s true,” Oliver said, not taking offense at her tone. “I just meant that not every one is that honest. And believe me, that part of a person’s character has nothing to do with having a permanent address. There are plenty of assholes in the world with way better luck than they deserve.”

 

This time the look he got from her was tinged with surprise but she didn’t make any further comment so Oliver changed the subject.

 

“Thea showed me the dolphin you made for her,” he said. “You’re very talented.”

 

“It’s not a big deal,” Felicity said, sipping her coffee. “Just something that passes the time.”

 

“Well, it meant a lot to Thea,” Oliver said. “She considers you a friend and if there’s one thing that can be said for Thea it’s that she’s extremely protective of and loyal to the people she cares about.”

 

“Not many people would encourage their little sister to make friends with someone like me,” Felicity observed.

 

“Someone like you?” Oliver repeated.

 

He tilted his head a little, his lips half curled in a bemused smile.

 

“I thought we’d established that you’re one of those ‘decent people with shit luck’,” he said.

 

“I said those people exist,” Felicity corrected. “I never said I was one of them.”

 

“If not one of them then what?” Oliver questioned.

 

Felicity shook her head and got to her feet.

 

She took two donuts from the box and wrapped them in a napkin before tucking them into the side pocket of her backpack and then she stood up to swing it onto her back.

 

“Thea usually eats most of those,” she said, nodding toward the remaining donuts.

 

“I’ll take them home for her,” Oliver said, deciding not to argue with her obvious intent to leave. “Should I tell her to meet you here tomorrow?”

 

“Yeah, okay,” Felicity said.

 

Oliver stood up with the box of donuts tucked under one arm.

 

“I’m glad I got a chance to meet you, Smoaky,” he said.

 

She acknowledged that with a small nod and then she walked away without a backward glance. Oliver waited until she’d disappeared entirely from view before calling Jake to come find him and then texting Thea.

 

Mission accomplished. She said for you to meet her here tomorrow.

 

He got half a dozen smiley faces in return along with a declaration that he was the best brother in the history of anything. Pleased that he’d been able to make Thea happy, Oliver was in a good mood when he got to work.

 

It didn’t last long. He’d barely booted up his computer before emails came flooding in and files piled up on his desk. Everything required immediate attention and he was drowning in reports, project plans and technical analyses within the hour.

 

By the time he left the office sixteen hours later, his meeting with Smoaky had all but faded entirely from his consciousness. It wasn’t until he got Thea’s panicked phone call the next morning that he thought about it again.

 

“Whoa, whoa, just slow down,” Oliver said into his cell phone.

 

He was in the hallway leading to QC’s main conference room where his Operations team was waiting to give him a project update on the roll out of their newest system. He’d taken Thea’s call because she so rarely called him when she knew he was at work.

 

“What’s going on?” he asked.

 

“Are you absolutely sure Smoaky said to meet her here?” Thea asked. “On Jackson and Houston?”

 

“Yeah,” Oliver said.

 

“She’s not here,” Thea said.

 

“Maybe she’s running late,” Oliver said.

 

“No,” Thea argued. “No matter where we meet, she always gets there before me. Ollie, what if something happened to her?”

 

“Don’t borrow trouble, Speedy,” Oliver said. “There are any number of possible explanations.”

 

“Like she’s hurt,” Thea said shakily. “Or worse than hurt.”

 

Sensing that his sister was on the verge of tears, Oliver ran a hand over his face.

 

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” Oliver said, making sure his voice was calm and steady. “You’re going to wait another fifteen minutes. If she still hasn’t shown up, you’re going to call me back. I’ll come get you and we’ll go talk to Detective Lance.”

 

“Okay,” Thea sniffed.

 

Oliver disconnected the call and stepped into his meeting. They’d just started to discuss the second phase of testing when his cell rang. Seeing Thea’s name on the screen, Oliver felt his stomach sink.

 

Holding up a hand to interrupt the executive who was speaking, Oliver answered.

 

“I’m here,” he said.

 

“There’s no sign of her, Ollie,” Thea said and this time, Oliver knew she was crying. “Can you come get me now?”

 

“I’m on my way,” Oliver said.

 

He hung up, pushed his chair back and got to his feet.

 

“I’m sorry but I need to leave,” he said.

 

“Mr. Queen,” an executive named Betsy protested. “We need approval on these projections before we can prepare the final board reports and your father wants to see them by close of business today…”

 

“This is an emergency,” Oliver said. “If my father has a problem with my priorities, he can let me know so himself.”

 

And there was no doubt in his mind, Oliver thought as he walked out of the room, that Robert Queen would do exactly that.

Chapter Text

She made the right call.

 

Stuffing her hands under her sweatshirt, Felicity leaned further into wall outside of Starling City’s train station.

 

It was on the opposite side of town to Jackson and Houston where she was supposed to have met Thea earlier this morning. The way Felicity figured things, Thea would be pissed or a little hurt but she would get over it and move on with her life in relatively short order.

 

And it wasn’t as if Felicity hadn’t already been thinking that the time for something like this was getting close. She’d been turning the signs of Thea’s attachment to her over in her brain for days, trying to decide what to do about it.

 

In sending Oliver to meet her yesterday, Thea had helped her come to the right conclusion, even if that hadn’t been her intention. Rolling her neck in both directions, Felicity thought back to her brief interaction with Thea’s brother.

 

He’d said that she wasn’t what he’d expected and truth be told, he wasn’t what she’d expected either. She’d recognized him from the picture obviously but he was much bigger than she’d anticipated; almost as tall as Diggle had been if not quite as broad.

 

But more than his physical attributes – and Felicity could admit that there were a great many of those – he’d surprised her with how at ease he seemed sitting and talking to her on a public bench. He’d been as comfortable there as she imagined he was in the luxury of his McManor. It struck her as odd because most people felt and acted awkward when dealing with those who were so plainly less fortunate than they were.

 

Felicity saw it all the time when people came to volunteer at the shelters for the first time. Most of them never quite knew what to say or where to look and they seemed to be in a constant state of nervousness. Even Thea had needed a couple of days to find her comfort zone but not Oliver. He hadn’t had a problem looking her in the eye. He hadn’t taken offense when she’d been terse with him and he seemed to genuinely mean it when he said that he was glad he’d gotten to meet her.

 

It was slightly jarring for her, on top of which, the obvious love and affection he had for Thea brought far too many memories of Adam crashing to the surface. None of those things though, was the reason she’d decided not to keep her coffee date with Thea this morning.

 

It was the part about Thea considering her a friend and being loyal and protective when it came to people she cared about, that had done it. Those words had been like a slap in the face, reminding Felicity that she didn’t want the weight or the responsibility that came along with letting someone care about her. The minute you accepted those things, it was a tacit admission that you cared back.

 

As much as she had come to like Thea and enjoy her non-stop chatter during their mornings together, Felicity wasn’t willing to go there. It was going to be much better like this, for her and for Thea.

 

Head resting against the wall, Felicity fought the urge to let her eyes drift closed. She hadn’t slept any more last night than she had the night before so she was tired. But the thought of leaving herself open to the nightmares was enough to keep her awake. In a few days, it would catch up to her and she’d give herself one night in a shelter to crash into a dreamless sleep.

 

It was unfortunately a familiar pattern. As many dreams as she’d had about Adam right after he died, they hadn’t started turning into nightmares until after things disintegrated with her parents and she was out on the street.

 

The first one had hit her within the first week. Diggle had had to shake her so hard her teeth rattled just to get her to wake up and Felicity had sobbed into his shoulder for hours, mumbling incoherently about her parents hating her for killing her brother.

 

Knowing that the best way to keep herself from falling asleep was to keep moving, Felicity stood up and pulled on her backpack. She briefly considered using some of the money she’d saved from her collaboration with Detective Lance to buy a one way ticket to somewhere else but decided instead, to get a cup of coffee from McDonalds.

 

She used their bathroom first and after washing her hands, she splashed some cold water on her face as well. Using a travel toothbrush and toothpaste from one of the toiletry kits they gave out at the shelters, she brushed her teeth. Going through those motions, helped her feel a little bit more alert and the coffee she picked up on her way out helped more.

 

She walked across town, careful to avoid any of the spots where she’d met up with Thea just in case, to a shelter she hadn’t been to in a while. Because of its proximity to the Glades, this particular shelter was often crowded. It was a little bit understaffed but all of the employees were pleasant and most of them had spent time on the streets themselves.

 

Staking out a corner, Felicity decided to carve for a few hours before she took her shower and did her laundry. She wasn’t exactly sure how much time had passed when she heard what sounded like Thea’s voice coming from somewhere in the middle of the room.

 

Inching closer, Felicity scanned the room and picked Thea out almost immediately.

 

“Calls herself Smoaky,” Thea was saying to one of the shelter supervisors. “God, I don’t even know if that’s her real name. She’s about 5’5. And she’s always wearing that stupid hat so I don’t even know what color her hair is.  For all I know she might not even have hair. She has blue eyes though. Not that that helps because hello, millions of people have blue eyes and…”

 

“Ma’am,” the supervisor said. “I’m going to need you to stay calm.”

 

Thea brushed impatiently at her eyes.

 

“I’m sorry,” she told the supervisor. “I’m just really worried and the police won’t let me file a missing persons report so my brother and I split up to look in all the different shelters because she wasn’t in any of the places I know of, where she likes to hang out and...”

 

She took a deep breath.

 

“I’m sorry,” she repeated. “The last couple shelters I stopped in, they had like a PA system to make announcements. Do you think you could that?”

 

Those last words spurred Felicity into action.  The last thing she needed was someone making announcements and by default putting it out there that she had any kind of connection to Thea Queen. That was the kind of thing that could have unpleasant consequences if word got out. As it was, she was going to have to strike all the shelters that Thea had apparently already visited from her rotation for a while.

 

Moving briskly, Felicity grabbed hold of Thea’s arm.

 

“Smoaky!” Thea cried, her whole body sagging in relief.

 

“Shhh!” Felicity said. “Keep your voice down. Come here.”

 

She pulled Thea in the direction of the corner where she’d left her backpack and scanned the room to see how much or how little attention was being paid to them.

 

Luckily for her, in this particular shelter, people had so many problems of their own that they tended not to mind each other’s business.

 

“What are you doing here?” Felicity asked.

 

“What am I…?” Thea repeated blinking in confusion. “I’m looking for you! I was terrified that something serious had happened to you, that you’d been injured or attacked again or hit by a car or…”

 

“I’m fine,” Felicity interrupted.

 

Thea narrowed her eyes a little.

 

“I see that,” she agreed. “Then how come you didn’t show this morning?”

 

Felicity fidgeted a little. This was exactly what she’d been trying to avoid; the explanations and the accountability. But if these were the answers that Thea needed to accept how things would be, then for once, Felicity would give them willingly.

 

“Because I think we should stop,” Felicity said. “With the coffee in the morning.”

 

“What?” Thea asked, obviously taken aback. “Why?”

 

“You’re too attached to me,” Felicity said bluntly. “The fact that you probably blew off your internship and tried to involve the police because I stood you up once is proof of that.”

 

Felicity tried to ignore the wounded expression on Thea’s face or the tightness in her chest because of it.

 

“I’m sorry my concern was so inconvenient,” Thea said, “and that my attempts to make sure you weren’t dead in a ditch somewhere don’t meet with your approval but where I come from it’s called being friends and having each other’s back.”

 

“That’s the whole point,” Felicity said. “You and I aren’t friends. I don’t have your back and I don’t need you to have mine. I can take care of myself.”

 

Thea bit her lip and Felicity could see the sheen of tears in her eyes. She hated this feeling, hated causing pain when she’d been on the receiving end of it. But precisely because she had been on the receiving end of it, she knew that this paled in comparison to what Thea would feel if they continued to get close, become friends even, and then some random act of violence or fate intervened to put an end to it.

 

She wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone.

 

“And even if none of that were true,” Felicity continued roughly. “Be realistic. You can’t bring me coffee every day for the rest of your life. This was going to come to an end sometime and it may as well be now.”

 

Thea shook her head.

 

“Don’t you ever get tired of shutting people out?’ she asked.

 

“You’re a good person,” Felicity said thickly. “And you were kind to me. I…”

 

“I’m not a child,” Thea bit out. “I don’t need you to placate me. There’s just one thing I want to know. Why’d you take the picture? The one of me and Ollie. It was the only thing missing from my wallet when I got it back. I noticed because it’s one of my favorite pictures of us; we took it after I passed my driving test.”

 

Felicity sucked in a harsh breath. The lack of sleep, the nightmares, the constant stream of thoughts about Adam, were all like battering rams that had weakened her defenses with their relentlessness. That question in this moment made her want to curl into a ball and cry, something she hadn’t let herself do in a very long time, not since Diggle had been alive to give her a safe shoulder to cry on.

 

“Come on Smoaky,” Thea said. “I think I deserve an honest answer to that at least.”

 

Felicity reached into her pocket and extracted the picture. She thrust it at Thea.

 

“I shouldn’t have taken it,” she said.

 

“But you did,” Thea said. “I don’t need it back. I have copies. I just want to know what made you take that instead of the credit cards or the cash or hell, even the lipstick. A picture is a personal thing. Generally, it has no value except to the people in it or people who care about them.”

 

Felicity’s fingers curled tightly around the photograph, wrinkling it.

 

“It reminded me…” she began.

 

She shook her head and tried again.

 

“It reminded me of my brother,” Felicity finally rasped. “Of…the last picture we took together before he died.”

 

She saw a flash of sympathy in Thea’s eyes before it was gone.

 

“Thank you for telling me that,” Thea said quietly.

 

She paused briefly.

 

“I guess I should go,” she said.

 

She let the words hang there, almost as if she was still hoping that Felicity would stop her. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, Felicity saw her stiffen her spine and pull herself together.

 

“Good luck, Smoaky,” Thea said. “I hope you don’t ever actually need it.”

 

 

 

“Unacceptable, Oliver,” Robert Queen barked.

 

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Oliver replied, leaning back in his chair. “Thea was worried about a friend and she had legitimate cause for concern. I wasn’t going to let her handle it alone. Besides which, I spoke to Betsy. We finalized the projections and the reports will be on your desk first thing in the morning.”

 

“Not good enough,” Robert insisted.

 

“It’s going to have to be,” Oliver said tightly. “Hong Kong and Sydney are both waiting to hear back from me so if we’re done here, I’d like to get back to work.”

 

Robert paused in his pacing and turned to face his son.

 

“You have all the right instincts for this business,” he said. “And I value, quite highly, the contributions that you’ve been making lately.”

 

“Good to know,” Oliver said.

 

“But,” Robert continued.

 

Oliver let out a dark laugh.

 

“Of course there’s a but,” he said.

 

“You haven’t found the right balance between your work and your personal life,” Robert said. “It’s important that you do that. I know today was about your sister but Oliver, you’re going to be married soon. You need to draw lines with Laurel the same way I did with your mother.”

 

“No offense, Dad,” Oliver said. “But I don’t want my marriage to Laurel to be anything like your marriage to Mom so forgive me if I’m in no rush to take your marital advice.”

 

Robert laughed, not the least bit offended.

 

“Don’t be a fool, son,” he said. “Men in our position marry for a lot of reasons and romantic love isn’t the most important one. I care for your mother a great deal but the reason we’re still married after all these years is because we’ve always shared the same ambitions and we each know what our role is in achieving them. We’re partners and we respect the hell out of each other. Those things last a lot longer than love. Believe me. ”

 

Oliver pinched the bridge of his nose. These conversations with his father always left him struggling to decide how much of his life was constructed on the basis of what he wanted and how much was constructed on the basis of what was expected of him.

 

His work definitely fell on the expectation side of the scale. He felt like he’d always known that Queen Consolidated would be his to run one day. The idea that he’d ever do anything else hadn’t even been entertained. He actually remembered the wife of one of his father’s friends telling him not to be silly when, at eight, he’d insisted that he was going to be a helicopter rescue pilot.

 

“You’re going to run the biggest company in Starling City,” she’d said. “Just like your daddy.”

 

Most of the time, he was fine with that. Sure, there were parts of the job that were tedious and that he didn’t enjoy but there were also parts that excited him, like the work their applied sciences division was doing. So while he did sometimes wish he had more time to indulge his other interests, he wasn’t unhappy with his professional life.

 

He wasn’t unhappy in his personal life either. He loved Laurel and she was a good fit for him, for his life. They’d been friends for years before they got involved romantically and Laurel had always supported him. She’d always been there to chase away his doubts and boost his confidence when he needed it. She believed in him and that wasn’t something Oliver got from a lot of people.

 

And his father wasn’t entirely wrong. The fact that he and Laurel respected each other and wanted the same things was the reason their relationship had lasted and why they were in a place where they felt comfortable taking it to the next level. It just wasn’t the only reason.

 

They balanced each other out; he knew when to push her to let her hair down and just enjoy a moment and she knew when to pull him back and get him to focus. They had their problems just like every couple but they always worked things out because they were committed to each other.

 

Oliver would be lying if he said didn’t occasionally question whether or not this was all there was to life - the high-powered job and the stable relationship to compliment it – but he knew that he wasn’t in a position to complain.

 

“Let’s just agree to disagree,” Oliver said to his father.

 

“I better have those reports at the ass crack of dawn,” Robert warned him, getting to his feet. “Good night, son.”

 

“Good night,” Oliver said.

 

He watched his father go and shook his head. Turning back to his computer, he fired off a few emails and was about to start reviewing the business case that Walter Steele had submitted for a new hire he wanted to make, when his phone rang.

 

“Hey you,” he said once he’d picked up.

 

“Late night?” Laurel asked.

 

“Yes,” Oliver said. “It will be.”

 

“I was going to order Thai,” she said. “Want me to save some for you?”

 

“I think I’m going to spend the night at the manor,” Oliver said. “Thea had a rough day today. I want to check on her.”

 

“You’ve been doing that a lot lately,” Laurel commented.

 

“Staying at the manor?” Oliver asked, confused.

 

“Checking on Thea,” Laurel said. “Or at least, spending extra time with her.”

 

“You’re saying this like it’s a bad thing,” Oliver said.

 

“Don’t be silly, Ollie,” Laurel said. “I love how close you and Thea are. I just think you’re avoiding the real issue.”

 

“Which would be what?” Oliver asked.

 

“In a little more than five months, we’ll be married and living in our new place and things are going to be different,” Laurel said. “It’s going to be an adjustment for you and for Thea and I think you should talk about it with her instead of trying to compensate. Don’t think I missed those Fashion Week passes on your desk the other day.”

 

“It’s possible that you have a point,” Oliver allowed. “It’s just…things are tense between her and Mom and I know that Raisa is going to be there to take care of her but she’s basically going to be living alone with our parents for the first time in a while and this isn’t like when I was in college. Thea’s older now, at a stage in her life where she’s starting to make her own choices and if recent events are anything to go by, she’s not exactly going to have our parents full support.”

 

“But she’ll always have yours,” Laurel said. “You just need to make sure she knows that’s not going to change just because you’re married or living across town. And you need to tell her instead of trying to reassure her with things.”

 

“You’ve made your case, counselor,” Oliver said.

 

“Good,” Laurel said. “I’m going to let you get back to work. Call me in the morning?”

 

“Of course,” Oliver said.

 

After they exchanged I love you’s, Oliver hung up and turned his attention to the things he needed to finish up. He stayed at the office for another two hours before letting Jake drive him home.

 

Leaving his briefcase in the front foyer, he made his way upstairs and directly to Thea’s room. He knocked and then stuck his head inside. Thea was curled up on her bed with her head in Roy’s lap and it was plain that she’d been crying. She bolted upright when she saw him and Roy looked a little terrified.

 

Oliver stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.

 

“I’m not even going to ask how you got in here,” he told Roy. “Just make sure you don’t get caught on your way back out.”

 

Roy nodded.

 

“Are you ready to tell me what happened this afternoon?” Oliver asked Thea.

 

She’d called him once she’d found Smoaky to tell him that he could go back to work. He’d been able to tell that she was upset but she refused to talk to him about it.

 

“Can you give me and Roy a minute?” Thea asked, wiping her eyes with the tissue clutched in her hand. “I’ll come find you in your room.”

 

“Okay,” Oliver said slowly.

 

He made his way into his suite of rooms and traded his suit for a pair of black sweat pants. He’d just pulled on a white cotton t-shirt when Thea slipped into the room.

 

“I was mad at you earlier,” Thea announced. “That’s how come I didn’t want to talk.”

 

Oliver gave her a startled look.

 

“Mad at me?” he asked. “For what?”

 

“Smoaky said she didn’t think we should keep meeting up and I thought you might have said something or done something yesterday that made her not want to see me anymore,” Thea admitted.

 

“I can’t imagine what,” Oliver said.

 

“You probably didn’t,” Thea said, climbing onto his bed and sitting cross-legged. “Or maybe she just took something you said and used it as an excuse. That what Roy thinks. He thinks she got scared.”

 

“Of what?” Oliver asked.

 

Thea shrugged.

 

“I don’t know,” she said.

 

She bit her lip.

 

“She had a brother who died,” Thea said. “That’s how come she took that picture of you and me that I always keep behind my driver’s license. Anyway, it made me think about how I’d feel if anything ever happened to you and…I think…”

 

She shook her head and tears slipped freely down her cheeks.

 

“I’d be wrecked,” she hiccupped. “I can’t even imagine how horrible and lonely and scared I’d be and…”

 

“Hey,” Oliver interrupted, sitting next to her and wrapping his arms around her shoulder. “You’re not going to lose me.”

 

“I know,” Thea sniffed. “I’m just saying that if she was as close to her brother as I am to you, I guess I can see why she has so many walls up. I don’t think you can ever get over something that hurts that much.”

 

Oliver brushed her tears away with his thumb.

 

“When you lose something or someone that’s important, it’s normal to mourn,” he told her. “But after that you have two choices. You can let it define everything about you and what comes next in your life or you can let it inspire you not to take anything for granted.”

 

He kissed her forehead.

 

“And for the record, if anything ever does happen to me,” Oliver said. “I’d want you to choose the second option.”

 

Thea leaned into him and Oliver tightened his arm around her.

 

“Also for the record,” Oliver said. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out with you and Smoaky. I know you were really starting to care about her.”

 

“I just wished I could have helped her,” Thea said.

 

“People have to want help,” Oliver pointed out.

 

“I know,” Thea said. “But you have to have a reason to want it and I think that’s the part that makes me really sad. She doesn’t have anything that makes her want to fight for herself so how can anybody else?”

 

She sighed and closed her eyes.

 

“I would’ve though,” she mumbled. “Cause I’m fierce like that.”

 

Oliver smiled.

 

“She would have been lucky to have you as a friend,” he said.

 

Her breathing evened out after a few minutes and Oliver figured all the emotions of the day were catching up with her. Gently, he put her to lie down properly and pulled the comforter half way over to cover her.

 

Crossing the room, he pulled a bottle of water from his mini fridge and thought about Thea’s last comment; about Smoaky not having a reason to fight for herself, to want help processing her grief, assuming that was the issue.

 

He thought, not for the first time, that she wasn’t much older than Thea. The fact that their situations weren’t reversed was an accident of birth and not much more. He put himself in her brother’s shoes and knew that if something happened to him and it was Thea in Smoaky’s situation, he’d want someone to reach out to her and he wouldn’t want them to give up.

 

He wasn’t going to expose Thea to more hurt by encouraging her to force the issue but he would take a stab at it himself, Oliver decided. He sent an email to his assistant Jenna so that she’d get it first thing and asked her to reschedule his morning since he’d be in late. At  8:00 am the next morning, instead of heading to QC headquarters, he had Jake drive him to the homeless shelter where Thea had said she found Smoaky.

 

Five minutes inside revealed that she hadn’t spent the night. The coordinator had been very sorry that they couldn’t be of more help and Oliver had immediately reassured her that the work they did was help enough. To underscore the point, he wrote the shelter a check for $5000 and made a mental note to arrange for similar donations to all the shelters in Starling City.

 

“To the office now, sir?” Jake questioned when Oliver got back into the car.

 

“No,” Oliver said. “Drop me off at the corner of 9th and Griffen.”

 

Jake did as instructed and whatever he thoughts he had about Oliver dismissing him and planning to hail a cab to the office once he found the person he was looking for, he kept them to himself.

 

There was no sign of Smoaky anywhere near 9th and Griffen so Oliver walked the distance to the building Thea had told him was where she and Smoaky had first met. It was near to Detective Lance’s precinct.

 

Success, Oliver thought, spotting the same backpack he’d seen her with before. He walked deeper into the little alley, frowning when he didn’t actually see Smoaky. It wasn’t until he turned around that he saw her crouched into a corner with a knife in her hand.

 

She relaxed when she recognized him.

 

“Why are you here?” she asked, straightening to her full height.

 

Still processing her defense tactics, Oliver didn’t answer.

 

“I heard footsteps,” Felicity explained tersely. “Heavy enough to be a man’s so better to be safe.”

 

The harsh reality of that statement brought Oliver back to his objective in seeking her out.

 

“I want to talk to you,” Oliver said.

 

“I don’t think there’s anything to say,” Felicity said.

 

Oliver looked her over.  She was paler than the last time he’d seen her, she seemed a little shaky on her feet and her eyes were bloodshot.

 

“Are you high?” he asked suspiciously.

 

“No,” Felicity snapped. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

 

“Are you sick?” Oliver asked.

 

“I haven’t slept in three days,” Felicity bit out. “If you came here to interrogate me, go away.”

 

“That’s not why I came,” Oliver said, his tone softening. “I came to ask you to hear me out. There are a few things I want to say to you and all I ask is that you listen. What you do after is entirely up to you.”

 

“Fine,” Felicity said and Oliver got the distinct impression that she agreed simply because she thought it would be the fastest way to get rid of him.

 

She leaned against the wall with her arms crossed over her chest and waited for him to say his piece.

 

“The whole time my mother was pregnant with Thea I tried to convince her that we didn’t need a baby in the family,” Oliver said. “That she could just send it back, same as how she sent back Christmas gifts she didn’t like. I even told her that she could probably trade it in for something really cool like a new video game console for me.”

 

Smoaky wasn’t looking at him but Oliver could tell that he had her attention.

 

“Thea was born a little premature,” Oliver said. “She was in the NICU for a while so I didn’t get to see her until they brought her home from the hospital. And then the last thing anyone expected, including me, happened. I fell completely in love with her. From the minute I saw her, I was just gone.”

 

He paused.

 

“I don’t know what, if anything, Thea told you about our parents,” Oliver said. “But they’re busy people, have been for as long as I can remember. They weren’t always around when, or in the ways, that Thea and I would have wanted.”

 

She glanced at him then, meeting his eyes briefly.

 

“She told me about Raisa,” Felicity said.

 

Oliver smiled.

 

“Yes, we had Raisa,” he agreed. “And we had each other but what Thea and I really learned is that a blood relationship isn’t the only thing that makes you family. Family is who you take care of and who you trust to take care of you and that’s a choice you can make.”

 

He took a step closer to her and ducked his head down so he could look into her eyes. Redness aside, he could see weariness and resignation there too. Giving into an impulse, Oliver took hold of her hand.

 

“Thea picked you,” Oliver said simply. “She wanted you to be a part of her life and I know my sister. She doesn’t invite people into her world on a whim even if it might seem like she does. She had a reason for opening that door to you. You might want to consider if that’s not reason enough for you to step inside.”

 

“It’s not about me,” Felicity said. “It’s about Thea.”

 

Oliver frowned and tilted his head in that way Felicity was coming to recognize even though she’d only met him twice.

 

“She was getting attached,” Felicity said.

 

She gestured around them.

 

“My life is precarious,” she said. “I could just as easily have been stabbed to death as sitting in that shelter yesterday and where would that leave her? Losing someone you said yourself she wanted to be part of her life. She’s better off like this.”

 

“That makes more sense,” Oliver said, more to himself than to her. “You think you’re protecting her.”

 

He still had her hand held in his and since she hadn’t made any move to pull away, Oliver gave it a squeeze.

 

“The loss you’re trying to spare her is what she’s feeling now,” Oliver said gently. “You’re not protecting her. You’re protecting yourself.”

 

He considered his next words carefully.

 

“Thea told me you lost a brother,” Oliver said. “I’m really sorry that happened.”

 

She tensed and tried to pull her hand away, to withdraw into herself, but Oliver refused to let go.

 

“If you spend the rest of your life afraid to get close to anyone,” Oliver continued. “You’re not just avoiding the bad times. You’re denying yourself the good ones, too. I didn’t know your brother but if he loved you as much as I love Thea, I can’t imagine that’s what he would want.”

 

He let go of her hand and stepped back.

 

“I’m not saying that being friends with Thea is the answer,” Oliver said. “I’m just saying that if you give her, or even me, a chance, we might be able to help you find whatever it is that can bring you a little happiness.”

 

Felicity pressed her lips together and she felt herself shaking a little, probably from a combination of tiredness and emotional overload.

 

““If you decide that's something you want to do, come to my office,” Oliver said. “Pretty easy to find since my name’s on the building.”

 

He gave her an encouraging smile.

 

"Just think about it," he said before walking away. "That's all I ask." 

 

Felicity didn't want to think about it. She wanted to ignore everything he'd just said to her and keep her life exactly the way it was. She didn't have anything left to lose and that simple fact was what had allowed her to make it on the streets by herself after Diggle had died.

 

For two years now, it had been just her; there was no one for her to worry about and no one to worry about her. She wouldn't have survived this long any other way and at this point, if she could go back in time and leave that red leather purse where she found it, Felicity was pretty certain that was exactly what she would do.

 

Because if she had she wouldn't be at the mercy of the thoughts and feelings that were tearing her apart right now. The walls she'd built weren't just designed to keep other people out. They were there to keep her grounded in reality, to make sure that she never reached past them to things or people that might tempt her to forget what she'd learned from Adam's death and the break from her parents. Oliver placed the emphasis on what she was denying herself and he obviously felt that those so called good times were worth the risk of anything bad happening.

 

In Felicity's experience though, it wasn't true. The hundreds if not thousands of happy memories she had of Adam didn't make his loss easier to bear. They made it harder. And if she listened to Oliver, if she stepped through the door that Thea had opened, she had no doubt that she'd be setting herself up for more pain somewhere down the line. No sane person would do that, not when they knew better.

 

But she was tempted. Felicity allowed the thought to register in her mind and she didn't try to convince herself that it wasn't real. It was as real as the shock of Oliver's hand, large and warm, when he'd wrapped it around hers. It was the first time in years that someone had touched her with the intent of providing comfort or reassurance. For a brief moment, Felicity had remembered what it felt like to feel safe. The fact that he'd held on tighter when she'd tried to pull away after he mentioned Adam had amplified that feeling but it also confounded her.

 

She didn't understand why Oliver Queen would go out of his way to try to connect with her anymore than she understood why Thea had decided, after that first day, to keep bringing her coffee. They didn't know anything about her and they had no reason to think that she worth the time and effort they were spending to...

 

Felicity huffed out a breath.

 

She wasn't even sure what they were trying to do. Maybe this was all a rich person's savior complex, Felicity thought. Maybe they wanted to fix her or save her so they could feel better about themselves. Even as the thought crossed her mind, Felicity knew it didn't fit. Nothing about either of them had struck her as disingenuous and she was, despite everything, still a good judge of character.

 

Besides which, Felicity didn't need saving. If she wanted to build a life for herself off the streets, she could do it, probably with minimal effort. She knew what her IT skills were worth and she knew that she could easily falsify a background to explain away the years she'd been out of sight. She'd probably have herself a good job and all the trappings inside of a month.

 

But Oliver had talked about finding a little bit of happiness and Felicity knew the corporate world, working with technology that she still resented in all its forms, wouldn't bring her that. 

 

So what else was there?

 

She closed her eyes and immediately Adam’s face floated behind her eyelids and she felt the tears spring to the surface. She’d been fighting them on and off since her admission to Thea about why she’d taken the picture from her wallet.

 

She still missed him and that was something she rarely allowed herself to feel. She spent a great deal of time trying to block out all of her thoughts and feelings about him because of how much they still hurt but she wasn’t always successful and now was one of those times.

 

She thought back to the day he had died. It was two days before she was supposed to go back to school and start her senior year. His organs had started failing and the doctors said there wasn’t anything else they could do. Start saying your goodbyes, was what they had said.

 

Felicity had refused. She’d refused to say good-bye as if he was just going on a trip and would be back in a few weeks or a month. She sat at his bedside but stayed stubborn and silent right up until he asked their parents to give them a moment alone.

 

He’d curled his fingers around her hand and he’d made the effort to smile even though she knew it cost him.

 

“Just do me one favor,” he’d wheezed. “Wear your name well, okay?”

 

He hadn’t needed to say more and Felicity had been sobbing too hard at that point to answer him.

 

He was gone three hours later and she hadn’t let anyone call her by her first name since.

 

Letting out a deep breath in an effort to ease the constriction in her throat, Felicity thought about what Adam had been asking of her. He’d never been the type of brother who tried to make decisions for her. It was one of the reasons that it had grated on her nerves so much when her parents played the “Adam would have wanted” card.

 

The truth was that what he would have wanted for her was whatever she wanted for herself.

 

And if she could just figure out what that was, Felicity realized, she’d know what to do next.

Chapter Text

Felicity eyed the Queen Consolidated building warily. Six days had passed since Thea’s brother had sought her out and Felicity had taken advantage of that time to actually get some sleep so that she could separate her physical exhaustion from its mental counterpart. With her body functioning at a more optimum level, it had been easier, if not actually less painful, for her to sort through her thoughts.

 

She’d also gone to a few more meetings. She’d listened to people talk about the losses that had led to their addictions but for the first time she’d truly paid attention to the stories about their recoveries; about the things and the people that drove their desire for rehabilitation and redemption. It seemed that even those who had suffered debilitating losses – one woman had spoken about the loss of her child in a car accident – were willing to put themselves out there again emotionally. They were willing to rely on friends and family. In fact, they seemed to be certain that recovery without those people wasn’t truly possible.

 

Felicity had been forced to consider that maybe one of the reasons Adam’s loss still felt so unmanageable, so crippling, was because she’d never truly talked about it and she’d never let anyone offer her any real comfort. It made her question whether or not things would have worked out differently with her parents if she hadn’t shut them out of her grief, choosing the oblivion of drugs, alcohol and sex instead.

 

She supposed it was possible although she doubted it. The grief and bitterness had been too raw and intense immediately after Adam’s death. Felicity felt certain that if she’d really opened the floodgates of her emotions then, she would never have recovered from it.

 

Everything was different now though and almost five years had gone by. If there was a time for her to do something – anything – to change, maybe even to heal, then this was it. She wasn’t planning anything radical; Oliver had talked about taking a tiny step and honestly, that was as much as Felicity felt she could manage.

 

Slowly, she made her way up the steps of the building and hesitated. She could already see the security guard narrowing his eyes at her from behind his desk and didn’t think that walking up to him and asking to see Oliver Queen was going to help matters.

 

“Plan B,” Felicity muttered under her breath. She walked around the block and spotted a back entrance. There was a UPS deliveryman headed through the door. Picking up her pace, Felicity managed to catch the door before it closed behind him. Glancing around to make sure no one was watching her and also making sure the deliveryman had time to disappear to wherever he was going, Felicity slipped inside.

 

She found herself in a stairwell. There was a door on her level and peering through the window, she realized it was the mailroom. There was a flight of stairs going up and another flight going down. Deciding that if his name was on the building, his office would probably be on the top floor, she took the stairs that went up; up for 36 floors to be precise.

 

There was another flight up but the sign next to it indicated it led to the roof. She reached for the handle of the door only to realize there wasn’t one. This floor, unlike the ones below it, was locked electronically.

 

Felicity bit back a curse as she stared at the keypad. It made sense that if this was where the executive offices were located there would be additional security but it was inconvenient and the way she saw it, she had two options. She could walk back down 36 flights of stairs and take her chances with the security guard or she could use her knife to disarm the system.

 

She had carefully avoided using her IT skills, relenting only the once after Diggle died. Her decision to take Oliver up on his offer was about taking a small step toward something unfamiliar. Faced with the choice she had to make now, Felicity understood that it was also about relaxing the restrictions she’d placed on herself.

 

Deciding that she needed to see it through, literally and metaphorically, Felicity pulled out her knife. It took her shockingly little time to deactivate the locking mechanism and push the door open. She looked right and left and found herself staring at two identical sets of glass doors. Shrugging, she walked through doors to her left. There was an older woman, with gray hair, sitting behind a desk. She looked up and did a double take when she saw Felicity.

 

“Can I help you?” she asked, her expression suggesting the exact opposite.

 

“I’m looking for Oliver,” Felicity said. “Queen.”

 

The woman’s eyes widened.

 

“I think there may have been some mistake,” the woman said. “Security didn’t call up to clear you so…”

 

“If you’re planning to push the panic button under your desk, I wouldn’t bother,” Felicity offered helpfully. “It’s wired to the same power source as the lock on the door to the stairwell, which is…not working.”

 

The woman gaped at her at the same time as a man emerged from the office behind her. He was tall, with salt and pepper hair and a stern expression.

 

“Who are you?’ he asked Felicity.

 

“She said she was here to see Oliver,” the older woman said. “I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding of some kind. I’m calling security right now, Mr. Queen.”

 

This was Oliver and Thea’s father, Felicity realized. She could see a passing resemblance to Oliver but none at all to Thea. Still, he looked every bit as imposing and stern as Thea had described. He was scrutinizing her and Felicity could feel the judgment and disdain like a physical thing in the air. If she were still susceptible to the opinions of other people, she might have wilted under the weight of it but she wasn’t and so she didn’t.

 

She stared back rather calmly.

 

“Smoaky?’ Oliver said as he walked out of the same office the older man had come from.

 

“You know this person?” Robert asked.

 

Oliver’s eyes flashed from Felicity to his father and back and he seemed to realize that he had about 10 seconds to come up with a plausible response. All things considered, Felicity thought he did well.

 

“She’s an artist,” Oliver said easily. “Laurel’s looking at adding new inventory to the gift shop at the gallery and I thought Smoaky’s work might be a good fit.”

 

Robert shot his son an annoyed look.

 

“Try to take on your charity cases on your time and not mine,” he snapped.

 

Oliver narrowed his eyes but he refrained from commenting. He gestured for Felicity to follow him.

 

“Why don’t we have this conversation in my office?” he suggested.

 

Felicity followed him silently and they crossed the foyer to the other set of doors.

 

“I’m sorry about him,” Oliver said, once they crossed the threshold. “My father’s kind of an asshole to most people.”

 

“I got that,” Felicity said.

 

Oliver’s lips twitched in a smile and he was clearly amused that she hadn’t even bothered to disagree with him.

 

“Have a seat,” Oliver said. “Can I get you some coffee? It’ll just take me a minute to call Thea.”

 

His words took Felicity’s attention from the surroundings she’d been studying – the sleek, minimalist décor and the vastness of the office itself – to the reason she was there in the first place.

 

“Don’t call Thea,” she said.

 

Oliver looked startled.

 

“Isn’t that why you’re here?” he asked.

 

“Just tell her that she can meet me,” Felicity began.

 

She shook her head. That wasn’t right. This wasn’t just about going back to how things had been. This was about making an effort to do things a little bit differently, to open her world even if it was only by a fraction.

 

“Tell her I’d like for her to meet me,” Felicity amended. “Same time, new place, tomorrow. At the church on East 7th.”

 

Oliver studied her for a moment.

 

“I’ll make sure she gets the message,” he said.

 

“Thank you,” Felicity said.

 

She let her eyes connect with his for a moment longer than was necessary to let him know she was thanking him for more than being the messenger.

 

He gave her a warm smile that made his eyes look especially bright.

 

“You’re welcome,” he said.

 

Felicity was almost out the door when he called out to her.

 

“Hey, Smoaky,” he said. “We must need a bigger sign.”

 

Felicity turned to face him but she didn’t respond, her frown letting him know she had no idea what he was talking about.

 

“On the building,” Oliver clarified. “Since it took you six days to find it.”

 

Felicity smothered a snort and shook her head.

 

“You’re not funny,” she informed him before walking out.

 

She could hear his laughter behind her and his voice as he spoke to his assistant.

 

“You think I’m funny, don’t you, Jenna?” he was saying. “I’m funny.”

 

Felicity stepped into the elevator so she didn’t hear whatever Jenna replied but she found herself smiling as she was whisked down. She had taken her one step today and provided that Thea showed up tomorrow, she would try to take another. She didn’t want to look any further ahead than that.

 

She decided to spend the rest of the afternoon scouring for wood and by the time she decided to settle for the night, she’d collected a handful of usable pieces. They weren’t necessarily much to look at but Felicity felt confident that she could transform them.

 

She liked carving because the idea of making something that didn’t have an ulterior motive for existing appealed to her. Whatever animal she etched out from the wood, would simply be. Eventually, it might bring someone else pleasure to look at. When her wooden chest got to be too full, she’d take a few pieces out and leave them in random places around the city; on a front stoop or a windowsill, the seat of a bike parked on the sidewalk.

 

It was the complete opposite of working with technology where everything was designed for a purpose or a function and when it had flaws, it would fail. It would be less valuable. The imperfections were what could make a carving beautiful and that was something Felicity had come to appreciate. The juxtaposition was one of the reasons she’d insisted that Diggle teach her.

 

Her first attempts had been fairly catastrophic, resulting not only in unidentifiable lumps of wood but a number of injuries as well. Diggle had suggested more than once that she look for a different hobby but Felicity had been stubborn. She’d persisted until she got the hang of it and then she’d persisted some more until she was good at it.

 

She still wasn’t as good as Diggle had been but that was okay with her. She finished a fox and a turtle before deciding to let herself doze for a few hours. Sunrise wasn’t that far off and it would take her at least thirty minutes to walk from where she was to the church where she’d asked for Thea to meet her.

 

Closing her eyes, Felicity let her mind drift and she wasn’t too surprised to find that it drifted to how she was going to handle things if Thea did turn up. She had questions and she was sure Thea would too. Felicity wasn’t sure how she would react to that primarily because she wasn’t sure how ready she was to reveal more of her past.

 

She didn’t feel mentally ready to dig into all those issues. It was one thing to recognize and accept that she hadn’t processed her grief or its consequences in the best way. It was another thing entirely to actively deal with what that meant.

But she knew she wouldn’t get away with being as tightlipped as she’d been before so it was about finding a balance that worked. It ended up being easier than she than she’d anticipated.

 

She was sitting on the steps of the church at 7:30, her backpack on the step below her. At almost exactly 7:45 she heard the familiar click clack of heels and she looked up. Thea stood in front of her, wrapped in bright red coat with two cups of coffee in her hand.

 

“You didn’t have to bring coffee,” Felicity offered by way of greeting.

 

“Of course I had to bring coffee,” Thea said. “It was that or crack. And since I look awful in orange and they don’t arrest you for intent to distribute coffee, I went with that.”

 

She handed Felicity her coffee and then sat down next to her on the steps.

 

“I wasn’t sure you’d come,” Felicity admitted.

 

“I was…surprised when Ollie said you came to see him,” Thea said. “I wasn’t expecting that after the way we left things.”

 

She paused.

 

“What made you change your mind?” she asked.

 

Felicity gave her a blank look until she realized that Oliver must not have said anything to Thea about seeking her out and stating his case. Figuring that he had his reasons for that, Felicity didn’t bring it up.

 

“I was thinking about my brother,” Felicity confessed quietly. “I have a lot of unresolvedness where he’s concerned.”

 

She took a bracing sip of the hot coffee and then turned to look at Thea.

 

“Can I ask you a question?” she asked.

 

“That was a question,” Thea said with a small smile. “But go ahead.”

 

“Why did you keep bringing me coffee?” Felicity asked. “After the first day, why?”

 

Thea blinked and Felicity could see her sorting through different answers before she finally settled on one.

 

“Something about you felt familiar,” Thea finally said. “Not like we’d met before or I knew anything about you. More like something just clicked.”

 

She ran a hand through her hair.

 

“I don’t have that many friends,” she said, the words falling past her lips, almost as if she hadn’t really meant to say them. “I have people that I hang out with or party with, girls that I talk about clothes and make up and boys with but not that many friends.”

 

She made a face.

 

“I mean, my brother is my best friend by far but he’s also my brother,” she said. “There’s his best friend, Tommy. But Tommy is, he’s like the fun older cousin who teaches you the best ways to get in trouble and is genetically incapable of being serious. And I guess Sara is my closest girl friend. She’s actually Laurel’s little sister and I think we’re friends mostly because we’ve known each other so long. We don’t actually have that much in common.”

 

She gave a wry smile.

 

“Not sure if any of this is answering your question…” she said.

 

“It is,” Felicity said.

 

She took a deep breath.

 

“You remind me a lot of who I used to be,” Felicity said.

 

“In your life before?” Thea questioned.

 

“Yes,” Felicity said. “I used to talk as much as you, maybe more.”

 

Thea’s eyes rounded.

 

“Is that even possible?” she asked. “That someone could talk more than me, I mean. Not that you could talk more than you do because well, anyone could talk more than you. Even the parrot that Ollie gave me for my eighth birthday.”

 

Felicity choked out a laugh and then she sobered.

 

“After Adam died, a lot of things spiraled out of control,” Felicity said. “The only way I could deal with it was to try and drown it out, keep it locked away and that meant keeping myself locked away from other people.”

 

“After you told me you lost your brother,” Thea said. “I thought about how I’d feel if I lost Ollie. Honestly, I can’t even wrap my head around it.”

 

“I hope you never have to,” Felicity said. “And that’s the reason, or part of it, that I said the things I said at the shelter. My track record dealing with loss is…not good. I also don’t want to be the reason that anyone else experiences those feelings.”

 

“You got scared,” Thea said.

 

“I’m still scared,” Felicity said. “And it’s been a very long time since I tried to be anybody’s friend. I might not be any good at it.”

 

She gave Thea a small smile.

 

“But if the offer is still open,” she said. “I’ll take it.”

 

"It's still open," Thea assured her.

 

"Okay," Felicity said. "Good."

 

"Cheers," Thea said, holding her coffee cup out.

 

Felicity clinked hers against it.

 

"So now that we're going to be friends," Thea said. "Is there any way I can talk you into taking off that hat?"

 

"What's the matter with my hat?" Felicity said.

 

"Nothing," Thea said. "I just want to see what's under it."

 

Felicity shook her head no and Thea sighed.

 

"It was worth a shot," she said. 

 

"I met your dad," Felicity offered as a new topic.

 

"I heard," Thea said. "I'm so sorry. My dad is...complicated. And a snob."

 

"I imagine most people in his position would be," Felicity said.

 

Thea shrugged.

 

"I've never really been able to reconcile it," she said. "When it's just us, as a family, he's not awful. I mean he wasn't the most attentive father and he mostly made up for it by buying me stuff but he wasn't never around either. He took me to my first ballet, taught me how to ride a bike. He taught Ollie and Tommy how to fly fish"

 

"Parents are just people," Felicity said. "No better or worse than anyone else."

 

"You said you wished yours had left you alone more," Thea ventured. "How come?"

 

"I have unresolvedness when it comes to them too," Felicity said. "And I was mostly thinking about the bad times when I said that."

 

"Which implies there were good times," Thea said.

 

"There were," Felicity agreed. 

 

Thea finished off her coffee.

 

"Tell me about them some time?" she asked.

 

"Yeah," Felicity said. "Some time."

 

Thea stood up.

 

"Off I go to the internship from hell," she said. "Same place same time tomorrow?"

 

"Same place, same time tomorrow," Felicity confirmed.

 

 

 

"Ugh," Thea proclaimed, throwing herself down next to Felicity. 

 

A week had passed since they officially decided to become friends and Thea insisted that friends didn't only hang out in the morning. She'd convinced Felicity to meet her in the park at lunchtime instead.

 

"What's that face for?" Felicity asked, taking in Thea's expression.

 

"Laurel came to dinner last night," Thea said. "And she asked me if I'd be one of her bridesmaids."

 

"You don't want to?" Felicity asked.

 

"Like I have a choice," Thea said. "I know she only asked because it's expected and I only agreed because it's expected but I'm just..."

 

She threw her hands up in the air.

 

"I'm so frustrated by the whole thing," Thea exclaimed. "It feels wrong and off and I'm just...I can't actually do anything about it except nod and smile like it's all fine but it isn't and argh."

 

"Are you bothered by the fact that your brother is getting married or by the fact that he's getting married to her?" Felicity wanted to know.

 

"I'm not bothered that he's getting married," Thea said. "I mean, I know technically it changes things; he won't be living at home anymore and eventually they'll have kids or whatever but I know my brother. He's not going to let life come between us. And it's kind of sweet how he's been going out of his way lately to do things for me. I mean he's going a little overboard spoiling me but at least I know its because he cares."

 

"So then it's Laurel," Felicity said.

 

Thea sighed.

 

"You know what the real problem is?" she said after a moment. "I'm sad. And I recognize that it's selfish of me but I always thought that I'd be really close to whoever Ollie married. I thought we'd be best friends and really excited to become sisters because..."

 

She blew out a breath.

 

"I wanted to love her as much as Ollie does," she said softly. "And I want to be as happy as he is but that's the thing. No matter what I do or what he says, I can't shake the feeling that he's not actually happy."

 

She reached for a bottle of ice tea from the paper bag she'd brought with her and handed it to Felicity before pulling out a second bottle for herself.

 

"I asked him a while ago if he was," Thea said. "He told me not to worry because he had everything he needed."

 

She gave Felicity a pointed look.

 

"Everything he needed," she repeated. "But not everything he wanted."

 

"Don't you think you're reading too much into it?" Felicity asked her. "No one is holding a gun to his head, right? If he's marrying her, it's because he wants to."

 

"Yes," Thea agreed. "But at the same time no. I mean obviously no one is forcing him into it but...it's like Ollie's got this whole life planned out based on what's acceptable and expected and now he's just going through the motions of it. He's doing well at work and he'll be married at 30 and I bet you my trust fund Laurel will be pregnant inside the first two years of their marriage. It's all so scripted."

 

"Predictability is comforting for some people," Felicity said.

 

Thea shrugged.

 

"Like I said," she said. "It just feels wrong to me."

 

"Maybe you should spend more time with Laurel," Felicity said.

 

"What good would that do?" Thea asked skeptically.

 

"Maybe if you make an effort to get closer to her, get to know her more, you'll understand what your brother sees in her," Felicity said. "It might make you feel better about things."

 

"I'll think about it," Thea said. "Let's talk about something else. Also, eat."

 

She handed Felicity a grilled cheese sandwich.

 

"I actually wanted to ask you for a favor," she said.

 

"Not the hat again," Felicity interjected.

 

Thea had been trying to talk her out of her hat on a daily basis.

 

"No," Thea said. "Although, you should just give in already because I will keep bugging you."

 

She took a bite of her own sandwich.

 

"Ollie's birthday is coming up," Thea said. "Predictably, he's impossible to shop for. And then I had the genius idea of asking you to carve him something."

 

Felicity blinked in surprise.

 

"You want to give him one of my carvings as a birthday present?" she asked.

 

"He'd love it," Thea said. "I know he would. And I'll know it's something no one else can get him. So will you?"

 

"I...sure," Felicity said, her mind's eye immediately conjuring up that piece of butternut wood she had yet carve. "How's he feel about bears?" 

 

"A bear would be perfect," Thea said. "Wait, I don't remember telling you about that."

 

"About what?" Felicity asked.

 

"Raisa's nickname for Ollie," Thea said. "It's Russian but basically translates to "little bear".

 

"You didn't," Felicity said. "It just seemed like a good fit is all."

 

"You're weirdly good at reading people, you know that?" Thea said. "You've met Ollie what, twice?"

 

"Yeah," Felicity said.

 

"What did you guys talk about that day, anyway?" Thea asked. "The day I got kidnapped for the sake of my mother's social life."

 

"You, mostly," Felicity said.

 

"Aww!" Thea said. "You bonded over how awesome I am? That's cute."

 

Felicity snorted. 

 

"I think that's overstating things," she said wryly.

 

"Is that your way of trying to keep my ego in check?" Thea teased.

 

"Would it work?" Felicity retorted.

 

"Yeah, probably not," Thea said. "Okay, now you have two choices."

 

She finished her sandwich.

 

"You can take off that hat already." Thea said. "Or you can agree to come out with me and Roy this weekend. We're going to Jeffers island."

 

She grinned.

 

"Warning you though," she said. "If you come with me and Roy there will be mandatory roller coaster riding, sugar overdosing and possibly a stuffed animal or a gold fish."

 

"I think I can handle that," Felicity said. 

 

Thea clapped her hands together gleefully.

 

"Okay, now about the hat," she said.

 

"Thea," Felicity warned.

 

"You don't have to take it off," Thea said. "Just tell me what the big deal is. I mean, not to be insensitive but it is like some kind of scar? Or is there a rat controlling you like in that Dreamworks movie?"

 

Felicity rolled her eyes; a gesture of exasperation that she hadn't indulged in in years.

 

"I have a lot of hair, okay?" she said. "The hat keeps it out of my way."

 

"That's it?" Thea asked.

 

"You were expecting something more dramatic?" Felicity asked.

 

"Of course I was!" Thea said. "The way you were..."

 

She narrowed her eyes.

 

"You were just messing with me," she accused. "Waiting to see how long I'd be able to stand the curiosity and what kind of crazy things I would imagine."

 

""The scar was a decent guess," Felicity said. "You lost me with the rat though."

 

"You never saw that movie? Ratatouille?" Thea asked. "I was completely obsessed with it. I tried to talk Raisa into letting me adopt a rat because of that movie."

 

"I've mentioned about you being crazy, right?" Felicity said.

 

Thea ignored her.

 

"One day, in the future, when I talk you into coming over to my house for a sleepover, we're totally watching it," Thea said.

 

"Those are some big plans you have there," Felicity commented.

 

Thea's expression turned serious.

 

"I'm not pushing," she said earnestly. ""If we get there we get there and if we don't we'll go somewhere else."

 

Thea's phone beeped and she grimaced.

 

"I have to get back," she said. "Coffee tomorrow?"

 

"Coffee's good," Felicity agreed. 

 

"Can I pick the place?" Thea asked.

 

"As long as they don't make the fancy vanilla stuff," Felicity said.

 

"You're never going to let me forget that, are you?" Thea asked.

 

"No," Felicity said.

 

"You know the entrance to the botanical garden on Pine?" Thea asked.

 

Felicity nodded.

 

"Let's meet there," Thea said. 

 

"Okay," Felicity said.

 

"Stay safe, Smoaky," Thea said with a small wave.

 

Tossing the remnants of their lunch into the trash, she headed for the sidewalk. She started to hail a cab but then decided to walk instead, It was a beautiful afternoon and she wasn't all that excited about going back to work so who cared if she was a little late?

 

Apparently her supervisor, Thea thought sourly, several hours later. The dragon lady who worked for her mother's friend Daniel, had piled about 100 files on Thea's desk as soon as she got back, asking her to read them all and highlight any mention of some man named Nick Salvati. 

 

Pushing the files away, Thea reached for her phone and called Roy. 

 

"Where are you?" she asked him. "Close by my office?"

 

"Not really," he said. "Need me to rescue you?"

 

"Yes," Thea said. "Or just give me something sharp and pointy. Then I can rescue myself."

 

Roy laughed softly and Thea felt something warm and calming settle over her. It was odd how much Roy seemed to steady her. Ostensibly, she was the one who should have been a good and stable influence on him, what with him being the one with the criminal record.

 

"I can meet you," Roy said. "I'll bring Skittles."

 

"A man after my own heart," Thea said. "In an hour?"

 

"I'll be there," Roy said.

 

Thea hung up feeling considerably more optimistic and less murderous and she returned Dragon Lady's glare with a bright smile when she made her way out of the building at exactly five o'clock.

 

Roy was waiting at the foot of the steps, wearing his red hoodie. He held his hand out as soon as he saw her and Thea slipped hers into it.

 

"Hi," she said.

 

He bent to kiss her.

 

"Hey," he said, dropping another kiss on her nose. "So how horrible was your day?"

 

Thea gave a dramatic sigh.

 

"I really hate this gig," she said.

 

"You could quit," Roy reminded her. "You should quit. Focus on what you actually love doing. I don't know anything about fancy clothes but your sketches are great."

 

"You have to say that," Thea said, leaning her head against his shoulder as they walked.

 

"I'm saying it because it’s true," Roy countered. "You don't even have to tell your family. Just send them out to a couple of...well to whoever stuff like that goes to."

 

"Designers," Thea supplied. "Maybe a few fashion editors. And yeah, I could but then it'll be a thing because of who I am."

 

"So do it anonymously," Roy said. "You can set up a PO box or something."

 

Thea bit her lip.

 

Her sketches, her secret dream of being a fashion designer, that was something she'd never shared with anyone until Roy.

 

"What's the worst that could happen?" Roy pointed out. "If they don't like your work they're idiots and if they do, you might find a door to doing something that actually excites you."

 

"Maybe," Thea said. "I'll think about it. Now where are my Skittles?"

 

Roy rolled his eyes.

 

"You're a sugar fiend," he said.

 

"Speaking of which," Thea said, ripping open the bag of candy. "Smoaky is going to come with us this weekend. I'm excited for you to meet her."

 

"All part of your master plan to lure her into your life?" Roy teased.

 

"I don't need to lure," Thea said loftily. "She took the first step this time, remember? Which means it's not just me anymore. We're both invested."

 

"I'm happy its working out," Roy said. 

 

"She told me I should spend time with Laurel," Thea said.

 

"You don't like Laurel," Roy said.

 

"I never said that," Thea protested.

 

"Doesn't mean that's not what you meant," Roy retorted.

 

Thea sighed.

 

"I want to like her," she said. "I guess I feel like I don't really know her that well."

 

"Then I guess you need to decide if that's something you want to change," Roy told her. 

 

"I don't think you brought enough candy for that," Thea said. 

 

"Come on," Roy said. "I'll buy you a slice and some orange soda."

 

Thea laughed.

 

"Gonna give me a quarter to play video games too?" she teased.

 

"Not making that mistake twice," Roy said.

 

"Sore loser," Thea said. "Besides, I kissed your wounded pride all better, didn't I?"

 

"On second thought," Roy said. "You can have two quarters."

 

 

Oliver walked into Laurel’s apartment and was greeted with the smell of something warm and homey floating from the kitchen. Dropping his briefcase on the floor, he shrugged out of his suit jacket and slung it over the back of the couch as he followed the sound of Laurel cooking.

 

“Hey,” he said, sliding an arm around her waist and kissing her cheek.

 

“Hey,” she said back.

 

“How was your day?” Oliver asked, leaning against the counter.

 

“Good,” Laurel said. “We started hanging the show today. Are you going to be able to make it to the opening this weekend?”

 

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Oliver said.

 

Laurel paused in her chopping of the vegetables in front of her.

 

“You look exhausted,” she observed.

 

“I am exhausted,” Oliver said. “Things are even busier than I thought they would be and it takes a toll. I’m constantly having to stand my ground with Robert and prove to everyone around me that I’m qualified for the job I’m doing and not just because my last name is Queen.”

 

He rubbed his hands over his face.

 

“Some days I really do think about what life would be like if I walked away from it,” he said.

 

“And what would it be like?” Laurel questioned.

 

“Less exhausting,” Oliver replied.

 

“You’d be bored,” Laurel predicted. “I know you get frustrated sometimes but its only because you’re being challenged and that’s what keeps you engaged, keeps you focused.”

 

“Maybe,” Oliver said, not really wanting to discuss it further. He’d had this conversation with Laurel before and it usually just led to an argument. The intensity of corporate life was something that Laurel had thrived on and Oliver knew that she missed it, even though it had been her choice to give it up.

 

She didn’t understand why he didn’t always feel the same way.

 

“I’m going to grab a shower,” Oliver said.

 

He took his time, standing under the hot spray for long minutes to ease some of the tension in his body. Once he’d changed into jeans and a V-neck shirt, he padded barefoot back towards the kitchen.

 

Laurel had a beer open on the counter, waiting for him.

 

“So Thea called me earlier,” she announced.

 

Oliver frowned.

 

“Everything okay?” he asked.

 

“She called to find out if I wanted to have lunch with her this week,” Laurel said.

 

“Oh,” Oliver said. “That was nice of her.”

 

“You sound surprised,” Laurel said.

 

“I am a little bit,” Oliver said.

 

“I thought you might have put her up to it,” Laurel admitted, tossing the salad and passing it to Oliver to put on the table.

 

Something in her voice caught Oliver’s attention and he studied her a few seconds before answering.

 

“Should I have?” he asked.

 

“No,” Laurel denied.

 

She opened the oven to pull out the roasted chicken.

 

“I know what I said the other day,” she said. “How us being married was going to be an adjustment for you and Thea but honestly, it’s going to be an adjustment for me too.”

 

She carried the chicken to the dining table and set it down before she turned to face him.

 

“Once we’re married we’re officially a team for better and for worse,” Laurel said, taking off the oven mitts and tossing them onto the counter. “It’s going to be ‘The Queens’ or ‘Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Queen’ or even just ‘Laurel and Oliver’.”

 

“Okay,” Oliver said slowly, not entirely sure where she was going with all this. “That is kind of the point of being married though, isn’t it?”

 

Laurel rolled her eyes.

 

“You and Thea are a team too, is all I’m trying to say,” she said. “One that I’m not part of and don’t know how to fit into. If I’m even supposed to fit into it.”

 

“You’re right,” Oliver said. “Thea and I rely on each other in a way that you and Sara don’t so I know that’s different for you. But you don’t need to fit into anything. You’re already there. You’re as big a part of my life as Thea is and that makes you a part of her life too.”

 

“I know it does in theory,” Laurel said.

 

“I think Thea had the right idea, inviting you to lunch,” Oliver said. “It’s a good idea for you two to have a relationship outside of me.”

 

“You think I’ll do better with your sister than I have with mine?” Laurel asked, stepping into his arms.

 

“Well my sister’s a lot more loveable,” Oliver teased, hugging her. “So yeah, probably.”

 

“Jerk,” Laurel said, elbowing him in the stomach. “Dinner’s ready.”

 

Conversation over dinner revolved around wedding details with Laurel bringing him up to speed on site visits and menu options and paper samples. By the time Oliver had finished with the dishes and dropped onto the couch, he felt the beginnings of a headache throbbing behind his eyes.

 

The fact that he had several reports to review before even contemplating sleep didn’t help. Glancing at his watch, he picked up his phone and texted Thea to thank her for reaching out to Laurel. Her response took him aback.

 

Thank Smoaky. It was her idea.

 

Oliver wasn’t sure what to make of that. Firstly, it implied Thea talking to Smoaky about Laurel. Which meant they probably also talked about him and his relationship with Laurel. He was oddly uncomfortable with the notion.

 

For some reason, he’d been so focused on getting Smoaky to open up to Thea that he hadn’t actually considered what it would mean once they were friends. Smoaky wasn’t like the girls that Thea hung out with from school; Oliver knew Thea would never confide anything serious about her family life to those girls. It was the nature of the social circle they moved in. Everything was casual and superficial and substance was an anomaly.

 

Smoaky was completely removed from all that and the weight of the issues that she herself carried meant that by default her relationship with Thea was based on their ability or willingness to talk about things that were messy and complicated but real.

 

And then there was the even more important detail. If Smoaky had suggested it, she’d obviously done so as a solution to a problem. The problem part of that equation was what worried him. Until now, Oliver hadn’t given any particular thought to the relationship between his fiancée and his sister. They’d all known each other so long he hadn’t thought there was a need to.

 

He knew they weren’t super close but he hadn’t realized that Laurel felt tangibly left out and he hadn’t realized Thea had issues with Laurel one way or the other. She’d never said anything that led him to believe that she didn’t like Laurel, or that she didn’t approve of the engagement. Now that he thought about it, that alone should have tipped him off. Thea always had an opinion or something to say.

 

Oliver closed his eyes, knowing he was going to have to talk to her about it but not looking forward to it. He got up off the couch and went to grab two painkillers from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. He downed them with water from the tap and braced his hands on the sink.

 

He felt like things were starting to pile up on him a little too much. It wasn’t the first time but he’d always been able to reel himself back in and get a grip on things.

 

He looked up at his reflection in the mirror and wondered how many more times he could teeter on the brink of this particular cliff before he fell off of it.

Chapter Text

She was having fun.

 

It felt strange because of how used she was to carrying the weight of her solitude, to being in her own head 95 percent of the time, but it also felt right. 

 

They'd arrived at Jeffers island several hours ago after meeting up at Roy's house. Thea had driven them in a gray SUV and both Roy and Felicity had ignored her attempt to pay for all of their tickets. Since Felicity didn't really spend the money that she earned as Detective Lance's CI, save on the occasional cup of coffee or basic necessities she had it to spare. She wasn't sure what Roy's excuse was although she suspected he protested mostly to get a rise out of Thea and kiss her when she pouted. 

 

It was easy to see why Thea had fallen for him despite the improbable start to their relationship, Felicity thought. He was attractive but more importantly, he was easy going and it was clear to see that he adored Thea unconditionally. He'd also gone out of his way to make Felicity feel comfortable and not at all like a third wheel. He teased her about her hat and had challenged her to a couple games, feigning total devastation when she beat him. 

 

"Smoaky, come on," Thea said, dragging her towards a photo booth. "We need to immortalize the moment."

 

Felicity didn't have time to protest before Thea pulled her into the booth.

 

"You have to make funny faces," Thea instructed her. "It's the principle of the thing."

 

Felicity frowned and Thea rolled her eyes.

 

"A frown is not a funny face," she said. "Now be serious."

 

"I thought you wanted me to be funny," Felicity countered.

 

"Just...cross your eyes or something," Thea said, exasperatedly.

 

In the end eyes were crossed, tongues were stuck out and there was a not so faux fight over possession of Felicity's hat. The machine spit out the pictures moments later and Thea tore the strip in half. 

 

"One for me and one for you," she said happily.

 

Felicity felt a small smile curve her lips as she glanced at the pictures before tucking them into her back pocket.

 

"Time for funnel cake," Thea announced.

 

They picked up one huge one to share and settled at a picnic table.

 

"If you think I'm sitting next to you on any roller coaster with the amount of food you've eaten," Roy warned Thea.

 

"Lightweight," Thea accused. "Ollie and I went to Six Flags once, stuffed ourselves to the gills and then got on the biggest, twistiest roller coaster they had."

 

"And you didn't throw up?" Felicity asked.

 

"Of course we did," Thea said. "But not until we were already half way home."

 

She smiled.

 

"That was a good day," she said.

 

"It was just the two of you?" Roy asked.

 

Thea shook her head.

 

"Raisa took us, with her sister and her nieces," she said. "It was actually hilarious because the youngest niece was four and she was completely in love with Ollie. Cried every time she was more than five feet away from him. He started calling her Speedy 2.0 cause he said that was exactly how I acted at that age."

 

She bit into another piece of funnel cake.

 

"Enough of my family, what about you two?" she asked. "Surely, you have one family memory you're willing to share with the class?"

 

She said it lightly but Felicity could still sense the apprehension.

 

"Honestly, my childhood pretty much sucked," Roy said. "But I remember playing some wicked pranks in school."

 

"Like?" Thea prodded.

 

"I snuck into the cafeteria and put a ton of fake spiders into the gravy once," Roy said. "It was pandemonium."

 

"Did you get caught?" Thea asked.

 

"No way," he said with a wink. "I was as slick then as I am now."

 

"Oh please," Thea said. "Your moves are not as smooth as you think."

 

"They worked on you, didn't they?" Roy said.

 

Thea threw a piece of funnel cake at him, which he caught with his mouth.

 

"Thanks, babe," he grinned. "Love you too."

 

Thea shook her head and then turned to look at Felicity with a mixture of hope and hesitation in her eyes.

 

Moments spent with Adam flashed through her mind but she didn't feel quite ready to revisit them. Seizing on Roy's school theme, she offered something else.

 

"I had a really obnoxious biology teacher in middle school," Felicity said. "He liked to put students on the spot and embarrass them so to get even I photo shopped a picture of him so it looked like he was dressed in drag and I emailed it anonymously to all the students, staff and parents."

 

Thea clapped a hand over her mouth and giggled.

 

"That's bad ass," Roy said, mirth dancing in his eyes. 

 

"Did you get caught?" Thea asked.

 

"No and I've never told a soul," Felicity said. "I felt a little bad. He quit a few weeks later. But then I found out that he met his wife at the next school he taught at so I guess I did him a favor."

 

"Maybe we should start calling you Cupid instead of Smoaky," Thea teased.

 

"No," Felicity said, shaking her head. "You shouldn't."

 

"I don't know," Roy said. "Get you an arrow and some fuzzy hearts to go on your hat..."

 

"Or straight up red leather," Thea said. "You'd look hot."

 

"I see now why you two make such a good couple," Felicity said. "You feed off each other's insanity."

 

Thea and Roy both laughed and after throwing away their trash, the three of them continued wandering through the amusement park. 

 

"I want a stuffed animal," Thea announced. 

 

She grinned at Roy.

 

"You going to win me one?" she asked.

 

"I could," Roy said. "But what are you going to win me?"

 

"I'll give you my heart for free," Thea said, batting her eyelashes at him. "Asking for more would just be selfish."

 

Roy guffawed but he stole a kiss before going off to try his luck with a hammer themed game. Thea linked her arm through Felicity's. 

 

"I'm glad you came today," Thea said.

 

"Me too," Felicity said.

 

"Yeah?" Thea asked.

 

"It's reminded me what the good times can feel like," Felicity said. 

 

"Mission accomplished then," Thea said.

 

Her eyes widened as she saw Roy approaching with a stuffed lion that was almost as big as he was.

 

"Oh my god," she said, laughing. "Is that thing even going to fit in the car with us?"

 

"You're the one who said you wanted it," Roy said.

 

 Thea reached out for the oversized toy.

 

“My hero,” she said.

 

“Me or the lion?” Roy asked.

 

“The lion, obviously,” Thea said.

 

She kissed Roy on the cheek.

 

“I guess you’re pretty okay, too,” she said.

 

“I feel underappreciated,” Roy complained.

 

“I’ll appreciate you later,” Thea promised.

 

Felicity merely shook her head at their antics and before she knew it the sky had started to darken and it was time to head back into Starling City.

 

“Where do you want me to drop you off?” Thea asked Felicity.

 

“The north side of the park is fine,” Felicity said.

 

“You’re welcome to crash at my place,” Roy offered. “I know it’s not much, but it’s a roof.”

 

“I appreciate the sentiment,” Felicity said.

 

“That’s Smoaky speak for thanks but no thanks,” Thea offered. “Don’t take it personally though. She refused to stay with me too and at least she didn’t laugh at you.”

 

“I didn’t laugh at you either,” Felicity said.

 

“No, you’re right,” Thea said. “You made that disbelieving snort sound as if it was the most ludicrous idea in the world.”

 

“Has anyone ever told you that you have a tendency to overdramatize?” Felicity said.

 

“Only on like, a daily basis,” Thea said.

 

She turned the corner and eased the car to a stop at the north entrance to Starling Park.

 

“Coffee tomorrow afternoon?” she asked.

 

“Sure,” Felicity said. “Time and place?”

 

“3-ish,” Thea said. “At the gardens again.”

 

Felicity nodded and pushed open the car door. Once she climbed out, she pulled her backpack from the backseat and hauled it over her shoulders.

 

“See you around, Smoaky,” Roy said.

 

“Yeah,” Felicity agreed.

 

“Be safe,” Thea added.

 

Felicity nodded and closed the car door.

 

“You okay?” Roy asked, placing his hand on Thea’s thigh as they watched Smoaky walk down the street.

 

“I know she can take care of herself,” Thea said. “She’s been doing it all this time before I even knew she existed. I just hate the part where she walks away or I do, and I can’t be sure, you know?”

 

She swallowed hard.

 

“Every time we meet up,” Thea said. “The first thing I feel when I see her is relief; relief that she made it through another day or another night, without anything bad happening. And actually, you know what I hate the most? The fact that I have, or well my family has, all this money and we have houses and property all over the freaking world and none of that makes any difference when it comes to Smoaky because she won’t let it or doesn’t want it to or…”

 

“Thea,” Roy said, turning her to face him and rubbing his thumb over her cheek.

 

“I feel helpless,” Thea admitted. “Have I mentioned that I hate it?”

 

“You’re not helpless,” Roy said. “You’re amazing. And you care more for someone that you’re still getting to know than some people care about their own flesh and blood.”

 

“I think that’s more of a reflection of how many awful people are out there,” Thea said.

 

Roy shook his head.

 

“I don’t know the whole story with Smoaky,” he said. “But I know that she pushed you away before and today, I saw her trying to let you in. That’s you having a positive impact on someone else’s life, Thea. There’s nothing helpless about it.”

 

Thea smiled at him.

 

“What did I used to do without you?” she asked him.

 

“I don’t like to think about it,” Roy said, before closing the distance between them to kiss her. Thea sighed into it for a moment before pulling away.

 

“We should drive,” she said. “Your place or mine?”

 

“Yours,” Roy said. “I don’t want you driving home alone from my neighborhood at night.”

 

“Right,” Thea said. “Because I’m so in love with the idea of you finding your own way back to that same neighborhood without any protection at all. And so help me if you say you can take care of yourself I’m going to hit you and it’s going to hurt.”

 

Roy held up his hands.

 

“I’m not saying a word,” he said.

 

“The least you could do is spend the night in the carriage house,” Thea told him.

 

“What the hell is a carriage house?” Roy asked.

 

“I’ll show you,” Thea said.

 

It took them about forty minutes to get to the Queen’s property but instead of turning toward the manor itself, Thea drove around on a separate path that circled to the backside of the estate. Five minutes later, she parked the car in front of a mid sized two-story building.

 

“Way back when they built houses for the horse drawn carriages,” Thea explained. “They’d keep the carriages and all the horse tack in here. The second story had living quarters for the staff that took care of the carriages and the horses.”

 

“You’re serious?” Roy said.

 

“Completely,” Thea said. “Now it’s basically a guest house. Although I’m pretty sure in his wilder days Ollie brought a ton of girls here.”

 

She bent down and pulled the spare key from under a flowerpot and opened the door. Roy followed her inside, watching as she flipped on a couple of lights and then made her way into a kitchen.

 

“Raisa usually keeps this placed stocked with the essentials,” Thea said. “But it’s been a while since we had anyone stay here so no guarantees.”

 

In the end, they found bottled water, an assortment of juices and soda, some microwave popcorn, pretzels and a box of truffles. Taking the entire haul into the study, they pulled out the sofa bed (well Roy pulled and Thea gave instructions) and sprawled across it with the TV on in the background.

 

The spent the next several hours curled up together, cuddling and kissing more than paying attention to the TV or snacking. It was half past midnight, when Thea groaned and sat up straight.

 

“I need to put in an appearance at the main house,” she said. “If I make enough noise to let them know I’m home, they won’t come looking for me first thing in the morning.”

 

She dropped a quick kiss on his mouth.

 

“I’ll sneak back out on foot though,” she said. “Gimme 30 minutes tops?”

 

Roy nodded and Thea hopped off the sofa bed. She drove back the way they’d come so she could take the main driveway up to the house and park in the garage that was just off of it. Walking through the front door, she closed it a little more loudly than necessary and started to head for the stairs.

 

She was surprised to hear Oliver call out to her.

 

“You’re home late,” he observed, stepping into the foyer from the living room.

 

“Waiting up for me, Ollie?” Thea teased him lightly.

 

“Actually yeah,” Oliver said. “Can we talk?”

 

“It’s late,” Thea pointed out.

 

“I know,” Oliver said. “But I’d rather just get it out of the way.”

 

Thea frowned.

 

“What’s the matter?” she asked,

 

Oliver nodded toward the living room and Thea followed him. He sat down on the Louis XVI and Thea dropped to the floor to sit cross-legged at his feet.

 

“So about Laurel,” Oliver began.

 

“Oh,” Thea said.

 

Oliver looked down at her.

 

“I didn’t realize this thing with the two of you was a thing until the other day,” he said. “And I’m kind of wondering why you never mentioned it.”

 

“There wasn’t anything to say,” Thea said. “There still isn’t. You love her, you’re marrying her and that’s a good thing if it’s what you want. My issues are my problem.”

 

“Humor me,” Oliver said. “What exactly are your issues? I thought you liked Laurel.”

 

“I think what I realized, the whole reason I invited her out yesterday, is that I don’t know her enough to like or not like her,” Thea said. “I know she’s been around for ages but we’ve never really spent any time together. Until yesterday, I didn’t know anything about her interests or opinions outside of her work and you.”

 

“And now that you do?” Oliver asked.

 

Thea shrugged.

 

“How honest do you want me to be right now?” she asked.

 

“Completely honest,” Oliver said. “You and I don’t lie to each other. Ever.”

 

“I think she might not be the most relaxed person in the world, she not might find it easy to relate to everyone but she’s a good person and she means well,” Thea said. “I think she loves you and is excited to marry you. I think if you marry her, you’ll have exactly the kind of life you say you want.”

 

She stood up and took a deep breath.

 

“I’m just not sure it will make you happy,” Thea said.

 

“Okay,” Oliver said slowly. “This isn’t the first time you’ve brought it up about me being happy or what’s going to make me happy. So I think the question is why are you so convinced that I’m unhappy?”

 

 “Maybe it’s because I’m young and my idea of what happiness means is a bit more idealistic than yours,” Thea allowed. “When I think of being happy, I think of feeling excited and optimistic and like the world is full of possibilities that I haven’t found yet. When I think of being happy with someone, I think of someone who surprises me and challenges me and helps me see the same things in a new way and lets me do all of that for them.”

 

She searched his face with her eyes.

 

“Does Laurel do any of that for you?” she asked.

 

Oliver sighed and patted the seat next to him. Thea sat down and pulled her legs underneath her.

 

“There’s no exact formula for being happy or for being in love,” he said. “You associate being happy with feeling free and adventurous because that’s who you are. You’re exuberant and curious and you devour life. It’s been that way since you were a kid.”

 

“But it’s different for you?” Thea questioned.

 

“It is different,” Oliver said. “For a lot of reasons. But what you need to understand is that there may be things I would change about my life if I could; things at work, the relationship I have with Dad. But what I have with Laurel is everything I want it to be. She’s someone I can rely on, someone I can lean on when I need to and Thea, you have no idea how important that is right now and how much more important it’s going to be when literally the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and their families will be affected by decisions that I make.”

 

“When you’re in charge of QC,” Thea said.

 

Oliver nodded.

 

“Laurel is good for me,” he said. “She’s good to me and I do love her. I’m marrying her because I want her with me for all the things that come next in my life.”

 

Thea absorbed that. She could hear the conviction in his words and knew that Oliver believed everything he was telling her. Maybe Smoaky was right and she’d been reading too much into things, projecting her own ideas of what a relationship should be onto a set of circumstances that were completely opposite to her own.

 

As close as she and Oliver were, their lives were very different. He was the son and heir and he’d been raised with a whole host of expectations and responsibilities that she’d never had to deal with. They didn’t see the world in the same way because in a lot of ways, their worlds weren’t the same.

 

“I love you,” Thea said. “If you have what you want then that’s all I want.”

 

Oliver gave her a small smile.

 

“Love you too, Speedy,” he said, holding his arms out.

 

Thea let herself be drawn into a hug and she rested her head briefly on Oliver’s shoulder.

 

“I’m always going to be here for you, you know that right?” Oliver asked. “Me getting married doesn’t change that. If you need me, just say the word.”

 

“I know,” Thea said, pulling away.

 

She gave him a small smile and a kiss on the cheek before getting to her feet.

 

“Speedy, there’s one other thing,” Oliver said. “About Smoaky.”

 

“What about her?” Thea asked curiously.

 

“You talk to her about me,” Oliver said.

 

Thea laughed.

 

“Worried I’m going to spill your deepest darkest secrets?” she asked.

 

Oliver shifted uncomfortably.

 

“It’s not that,” he said. “I just want you to be careful. At the end of the day, we’re still talking about someone that you know very little about.”

 

“You have to give trust to get trust,” Thea said. “I talk to Smoaky about a lot of things because how else I can I expect her to open up to me? If I won’t open up to her, you know?”

 

She placed a reassuring hand on her brother’s shoulder.

 

“Maybe you’re right and it is a risk,” Thea said. “But I’m going with my gut on this one.”

 

She grinned at him.

 

“If it makes you feel better, I promise not to tell her about that one time when you and Tommy rented out a stadium so you could get naked with some cheerleaders,” Thea said.

 

“You,” Oliver said. “Are not supposed to know anything about that.”

 

“Right,” Thea said, rolling her eyes. “Like that kind of thing stays secret. I’ve had teachers ask me about some the stunts that you and Tommy pulled.”

 

Oliver shook his head but there was a small smile playing on his lips.

 

“Where is Tommy anyway?” Thea asked. “When’s he coming back?”

 

“Not sure,” Oliver said. “Last I heard from him he was in Bali and getting ready to head to Prague.”

 

“Good life if you can get it,” Thea said.

 

Oliver’s expression sobered and he stood up.

 

“Don’t be fooled by everything you see,” he said. “Sometimes the people having the most fun are the ones hiding the most pain.”

 

He kissed her forehead.

 

“Good night, Speedy,” he said.

 

“Good night,” Thea said.

 

 

Felicity stared at the piece of butternut wood in her hands. She ran her thumb over it, back and forth in an idle pattern. She’d been holding onto this piece of wood for a while and it struck her as odd that it had immediately come to mind when Thea had asked her to carve something for Oliver.

 

Generally, she always decided what to carve based on the wood, what it inspired her to create. This was the first time that it had worked the other way around. As soon as Thea had made the request, Felicity had seen the finished carving in her mind’s eye; a bear made from the golden hued butternut wood, the lines of its body taut and its expression undecided, as if it was as likely to fall into the peace of a deep sleep as it was to lash out to protect itself.

 

It was, Felicity realized, a reflection of all that she’d determined about Oliver Queen through their three brief interactions. She supposed that hearing Thea talk about him so much had also informed her perception of him but this felt more visceral than that.

 

There was light in him. She’d seen that in his eyes when he smiled and heard it in his laughter. Despite what Thea thought about his being happy or not, Felicity got the feeling that he knew what it meant to enjoy life, to take full advantage of a moment. But she also sensed an underlying tension in him. It was buried deep but it was there. She didn’t know what caused it, didn’t suppose she’d ever know and so she hadn’t spent much time thinking about it.

 

In all honesty, she hadn’t spent much time thinking about him as anything other than Thea’s brother. And more often than not thoughts of Oliver and Thea’s relationship made her think of her relationship with Adam. She found herself asking questions that she’d never allowed herself to entertain before. What if Adam hadn’t died? What if he’d never gotten cancer? Would they have had normal, happy lives, oblivious to tragedy? Or would something else have happened? Something equally devastating that would have splintered her world and sent her down the same rabbit holes, just for a different reason?

 

Felicity sighed and took out her tools. She sharpened her knife and then started to carve. Wondering about those things was a luxury she couldn’t afford. It didn’t do anything to help her find peace in the present and it wouldn’t give her any answers about what direction to go into next.

 

One day, one step, at a time, Felicity reminded herself. Going to the amusement park with Roy and Thea today was a big deal. Enjoying herself, genuinely, for the first time in longer than she could remember, was a bigger deal. It was progress and she should be proud of herself for it.

 

There were still a lot of things that she wasn’t ready to say, to Thea or to anyone else, but little bit by little bit, it was getting easier and that was something of minor miracle. Losing Adam had destroyed her but losing Diggle was what had convinced her that there was no point in trying to salvage anything from the rubble; that any effort to find something else good in the world would simply lead to getting crushed all over again. For two years, she’d held tight to that, isolating herself in every way that she could think of. Then Thea had happened and Felicity found herself taking a risk that she’d never thought she would take again.

 

And it was different than it had been with Diggle. As close as she’d gotten to John, it had all started with the instinct to survive. He’d chosen to take her under his wing, to protect her and teach her and Felicity had let him because she was terrified of what might become of her otherwise.

 

She may have been relieved and defiant when her parents kicked her out but she’d been young too; barely 20 and with no sense until that moment of what it would feel like to be completely alone in the world.

 

Now the circumstances were turned around and having someone to care about and who cared about her was what felt unfamiliar. Felicity didn’t know if she’d be able to get used to it.

 

Closing her eyes, Felicity took a moment to clear her mind and focus solely on the wood and the knife. The constant spin of thoughts and emotions would still be there later. For now, she wanted the calm that came along with concentrating on her craft.

 

She worked more slowly than usual, taking extra time with the details and aware that the margin for error was minimal because of how little wood she had to work with. By the time the sun had risen, she was almost done so she let herself rest, deciding to put the finishing touches on it later.

 

She slept for a good few hours before she gathered her things and got on with her day. She made a pit stop in the nearest fast food joint before walking to the next shelter on her amended list (she’d taken all the shelters that Thea and Oliver had visited on their search for her out of play for a while) in order to shower, get something to eat, and deal with her laundry. By the time she finished, it was early afternoon.

 

She still had a few hours before she was meant to meet Thea but Felicity decided to head for the gardens anyway. She would finish the bear carving and maybe start working on something else.

 

She was settled in the same spot they’d met in the last time, working on an eagle when Thea arrived. She sank down gracefully next to Felicity and handed over one of the two coffees she was carrying.

 

“You look sleepy,” Felicity observed.

 

“Late night,” Thea said with a smile.

 

Felicity wrinkled her nose.

 

“Not sure I needed to know that,” she said.

 

Thea poked her.

 

“That is not what I meant,” she said.

 

Felicity looked skeptical.

 

“Well, it’s not all I meant,” Thea amended. “Oliver and I actually had a talk. About Laurel.”

 

“And?’ Felicity asked, continuing to shape the piece of wood in her hand.

 

Thea leaned back against the gate behind them and took a sip of her coffee.

 

“I think there was some truth to what you said,” Thea said. “About Ollie having the world he wants versus the world I want him to have. Truth is, I never really thought about how different it is for him, being the son and heir.”

 

She took another sip of coffee.

 

“I’m still not…I don’t totally buy everything he told me last night,” Thea said. “But I recognize that doing the right thing is important to him. He knows that at some point in the future, a lot of people are going to depend on him, be affected by choices he makes and he would be devastated if he ever felt like he failed any of them.”

 

“It’s not a bad thing to be responsible,” Felicity offered. “To be aware of the obligations that come along with your privilege.”

 

“I know,” Thea said. “Ollie’s a good man. I love that about him and what our conversation did make me realize is that he needs support; not just from Laurel but from me. And I’ve…I’ve been judging him a little. So I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m just…if this all goes the way he wants, then perfect. And if it doesn’t, I’ll be there to help him pick up the pieces because that’s what family does.”

 

“Good call,” Felicity said.

 

“I like to think so,” Thea said.

 

She peered at Felicity’s carving in progress.

 

“How do you make up your mind what to carve?” she asked. “And how come you only carve animals?”

 

“I let the wood decide,” Felicity answered. “And because I like animals.”

 

She set aside the eagle and her knife to reach into her backpack and extract the bear she’d finished.

 

“Here,” she said, handing it to Thea.

 

“Oh wow,” Thea said, studying it carefully. “Smoaky, this is amazing. You’re really gifted.”

 

Felicity shook her head.

 

“I didn’t come by this skill naturally,” she said. “I had to learn. And practice. I had to practice a lot.”

 

“Who taught you?” Thea asked.

 

“His name was John,” Felicity said.

 

“Was?” Thea asked.

 

Felicity gave a jerky nod and Thea’s expression softened.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said.

 

“So am I,” Felicity said.

 

She cleared her throat and nodded towards the bear.

 

“Will he like it?” she asked.

 

“Who, Ollie?” Thea asked with a wide smile. “He’s going to adore it. And it’s going to be way more awesome than anything he gets from anyone else.”

 

She tucked the carving gently into her purse.

 

“Thank you for doing it,” Thea added.

 

“You’re welcome,” Felicity said.

 

“Ollie said something else interesting last night,” Thea said, shifting the gears of the conversation. “We were talking about Tommy. I’ve told you about him, right?”

 

“Your brother’s best friend with the genetic incapacity for being serious,” Felicity said.

 

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Thea agreed. “He’s in Bali now and apparently headed for Prague. I think he was in Tahiti a while ago too.”

 

“Charmed life,” Felicity murmured, picking up her coffee.

 

“See, that’s kinda what I said,” Thea replied. “Ollie said I shouldn’t be fooled by everything I see. He said sometimes the people having the most fun are hiding the most pain.”

 

Felicity nearly choked on the sip of coffee that she’d just taken.

 

“Smoaky!” Thea exclaimed. “You okay?”

 

Felicity nodded, coughed a couple of times and cleared her throat. Oliver’s words, even recounted second hand, pierced right through her, like an arrow to the chest.

 

“That’s a perceptive observation on his part,” Felicity said.

 

Thea didn’t respond. She just gave Felicity a thoughtful look and waited.

 

“I told you things spiraled after Adam died,” Felicity finally said.

 

Thea nodded.

 

“I did all the self destructive things that are supposed to make you feel good,” Felicity admitted. “I partied a lot and hard. You could call it having fun but really…”

 

“You were grieving,” Thea supplied.

 

“Falling apart,” Felicity said.

 

“Your parents?” Thea asked.

 

“They tried,” Felicity said.

 

She knew it was true. Her parents had tried but not in the right ways at the right time. She’d resented it in the beginning and carried a lot of anger towards them. Some days she still did but mostly, she’d resigned herself to the fact that there wasn’t really anything else they could have done.

 

A comfortable silence settled between her and Thea then. They continued drinking their coffee, Felicity continued carving and Thea watched her intently.

 

“I think I’m going to quit my internship,” Thea said suddenly.

 

Felicity paused in her carving to look over.

 

“About time,” she said.

 

“I’m supposed to go back to SCU next fall anyway,” Thea said. “Start my junior year, declare my major.”

 

She bit her lip.

 

“I’m thinking about not doing that,” she said.

 

This time Felicity set the knife and the carving down all together and gave Thea her full attention.

 

“Sounds like some fairly radical changes,” she said.

 

“Extremely radical, actually,” Thea said. “But I think it’s the right thing. The right thing for me anyway, maybe not the right thing in general, you know? This internship and going to SCU in the first place, none of it is about what I actually want to do with my life. It’s more about the acceptable career paths for Thea Queen daughter of Robert and Moira. No one’s ever asked me what I want to do.”

 

“What do you want to do?” Felicity asked.

 

Thea took a deep breath.

 

“I want a career in fashion,” she said.

 

She blinked and Felicity got the feeling it was the first time Thea had allowed herself to put it out there in words.

 

“Ever since I was little, I’ve loved clothes,” Thea said. “Even though all those society events were one of the reasons my parents weren’t around when I wanted them to be, I still used to love seeing my mother all dressed up and I used to sneak into her closet every chance I got and just marvel at all the prettiness.”

 

Thea leaned forward and Felicity could see something akin to determination lighting the younger girl’s eyes.

 

“Raisa taught me to sew when I was 10,” Thea said. “That’s about the time I started getting more serious about my sketches, my designs. But I never told anyone, not even Ollie, until Roy found some of my sketches and asked me about them. He thinks I should go for it. What do you think, Smoaky?”

 

Felicity considered her response.

 

“I think you’re nervous about this because it matters to you and because you haven’t fought against your parents’ expectations the way you might have to for this,” Felicity said honestly. “But I also think if you’re not scared to date the man who stole your purse or become friends with a random stranger who lives on the street, then you shouldn’t be scared to go after your dreams either.”

 

Thea beamed.

 

“I think that’s the longest and best thing you’ve ever said to me,” she said.

 

Felicity laughed quietly but the sound was drowned by Thea’s cell phone ringing. She pulled it out of her pocket and made a face even as she answered it.

 

“What?” she asked her mother.

 

There was a moment of silence before Moira spoke.

 

“It’s almost five,” Moira said. “Have you forgotten that we’re having a family dinner in honor of your brother’s birthday?”

 

“Ollie’s birthday isn’t until Wednesday,” Thea said. “If you hadn’t decided to have party that’s more about you and Dad and QC than it is about Oliver, we could celebrate with him on his actual birthday.”

 

“Thea, what is going on with you?” Moira asked. “You’ve been so difficult lately.”

 

“I’m not being difficult,” Thea said. “I’m being honest. It’s different.”

 

Moira sighed.

 

“The Bowens are going to be joining us,” she said. “Can you at least make an attempt to be on time?”

 

“How is it a family dinner if we’re having company?” Thea asked.

 

Her mother didn’t respond so Thea simply hung up.

 

“Everything okay?” Felicity asked.

 

Thea shook her head.

 

“I don’t know what it is with me and my mother lately,” she said. “I think something’s going on with her and she’s taking it out on me, not in a bad way necessarily but more of a tightening of the reins type of thing and I am so not here for that.”

 

“Don’t think I can be much help,” Felicity said. “I’m not good with moms.”

 

“Does that mean you don’t want to come with?” Thea said lightly. “I’m sure you’d find Carter Bowen just fascinating.”

 

“Your sarcastic streak is showing,” Felicity said.

 

“I couldn’t resist,” Thea said,

 

She started pulling her stuff together but then she paused.

 

“I was thinking,” she began. “I know better than to think you’d let me give you a cell phone.”

 

“Why would you want to do that?” Felicity asked.

 

“In case of emergency,” Thea said simply.

 

“Thea,” Felicity said.

 

Thea held up her hands.

 

“I already said I knew you’d say no,” Thea said. “But I was wondering if you’d consider, maybe just telling me where you’re planning to spend the night, you know? So I could at least have some idea of where you’ll be or the last place you were if…”

 

She let the words trail off and Felicity could see the plea in her eyes. Here it was, Felicity thought, the weight and responsibility that she’d been so wary of before making the decision to try and build this relationship with Thea. She felt it settle over her but it wasn’t as heavy as she had expected. It didn’t rise up to choke her the way she thought it would.

 

“There’s a cul de sac on Simon street,” Felicity said. “Behind the office supply store. That’s where I’ll be tonight.”

 

“Thank you,” Thea said.

 

She reached into her purse for a piece of paper and a pen. Felicity watched Thea scribble for a few moments, and then hold out the piece of paper for her to take.

 

“My cell phone, Roy’s cell phone, Ollie’s cell phone and our house phone,” Thea said. “If you have to call the house, ask for Raisa.”

 

She smiled.

 

“I know you probably won’t ever use these but just in case, you know?” she said.

 

Felicity accepted the paper and slipped it into the side pocket of her backpack.

 

“Wish me luck with the family dinner,” Thea said getting to her feet.

 

“It won’t be that bad,” Felicity said.

 

“Easy for you to say,” Thea retorted. “Coffee in the morning?”

 

“Yeah,” Felicity said. “South Danvers and 12th.”

 

“Okay,” Thea said. “You be safe.”

 

“I’ll do my best,” Felicity said.

 

It was the first time she’d responded to Thea’s words with anything that could be construed as a promise and the extra bright smile that Thea gave her before walking away was proof that it didn’t go unnoticed.

 

“See you in the morning, Smoaky,” Thea said.

 

“See you in the morning,” Felicity agreed.

Chapter Text

“Isn’t that your brother?” Felicity questioned, looking over Thea’s shoulder.

 

They were having their coffee outside the entrance to Starling City Zoo. Felicity was planning to spend a couple of hours there once Thea left to soak up inspiration for her carvings.

 

Thea twisted around and nodded as she saw Oliver walking towards them.

 

“Yeah,” she agreed. “He said he had something he wanted to talk to you about. So I told him where we’d be.”

 

She turned back to Felicity.

 

“That’s okay, right?” she asked.

 

Felicity didn’t respond, her mind trying to work out what Oliver could possibly want to talk to her about. The only thing they had in common was Thea.

 

“Good morning ladies,” Oliver said, smiling. “Sorry to interrupt. I know your coffee time is sacred.”

 

“You promised treats,” Thea told him. “Otherwise I would have let you scour Starling for Smoaky on your own time.”

 

“So glad to hear that I’m only worth my sugar connections,” Oliver said, nevertheless handing Thea a box from an extremely exclusive bakery.

 

He turned to face Felicity.

 

“I wanted to thank you in person,” he said. “The bear carving is exquisite.”

 

“It was Thea’s idea,” Felicity shrugged.

 

“Be that as it may,” Oliver said. “I appreciate the work you did.”

 

Felicity nodded.

 

“And that brings me to the other reason I wanted to see you,” Oliver said. “You remember what I said to my dad the day you came to QC? About your work being a good fit for the gift shop in Laurel’s gallery?”

 

“Did he call you out on the lie?” Felicity asked, not sure why else he would bring it up.

 

“Turns out it’s not going to be a lie at all,” Oliver said. “I mean, if you’re open to that.”

 

Felicity frowned and Thea laughed.

 

“Smoaky’s not a fan of ambiguous statements,” she said. “You’re going to have to do better, big brother.”

 

Oliver shot his sister an exasperated look and then returned his attention to Felicity.

 

“Laurel was as impressed as everyone else with your talent,” Oliver said. “She’s willing to put a few of your carvings in the gift shop to see if they sell. She thinks they will. So if that’s something you’re interested in…”

 

“What does she know about me?” Felicity asked.

 

“Who? Laurel?” Oliver asked.

 

“Yeah,” Felicity said.

 

“I told her the artist was a friend of Thea’s,” Oliver said. “I don’t think I even gave her a name.”

 

He cocked his head to one side.

 

“Is that important to you?” he asked. “Staying anonymous?”

 

Felicity gave a jerky nod.

 

“Okay,” Oliver said. “We can do that. Does that mean you’re in?”

 

“It means I’ll think about it,” Felicity said.

 

“Fair enough,” Oliver said. “In the interest of full disclosure, the gallery will take 10 percent and the rest is yours. If you decide you want to do this, just send some of the pieces home with Thea.”

 

His cell phone beeped and he glanced at it briefly.

 

“It was good to see you, Smoaky,” Oliver said with a smile. “Take care of yourself.”

 

He turned to Thea.

 

“See you later, Speedy,” he said, reaching out to chuck her under the chin.

 

“Does that mean I’m invited to Tommy’s welcome home party?” Thea inquired.

 

“No,” Oliver smirked. “Definitely not.”

 

He winked at her and then headed down the street.

 

“I hate you!” Thea called out after him.

 

She turned to Felicity and the grin on her face reflected all the affection she had for her older brother. Felicity felt her heart clench briefly but Thea distracted her before she could get lost in her own thoughts.

 

“First of all, you have to try these,” Thea said, pushing the open bakery box under Felicity’s nose.

 

“What is it?” Felicity asked, staring at the pastry that didn’t look like anything she’d ever seen before.

 

“It’s a cronut,” Thea said. “Basically, it’s heaven in a pastry.”

 

Gingerly, Felicity picked one out of the box and took a bite.

 

“Amazing, right?” Thea said.

 

Felicity swallowed and nodded.

 

“Yeah, okay,” she said. “You win that one.”

 

Thea giggled.

 

“So,” she said. “Are you going to do it?”

 

Felicity lifted an inquisitive eyebrow.

 

“Sell your carvings in Laurel’s art gallery,” Thea pressed.

 

Felicity shrugged.

 

“I’m not sure I see the point,” she said.

 

“You’d be sharing your art,” Thea said.

 

“With people who collect art for its monetary value and the social status it affords,” Felicity pointed out. “No offense.”

 

Thea laughed.

 

“You’re right. There are a lot of those people in my world,” she said. “And they’re probably the people that buy at Laurel’s gallery. But it doesn’t mean some of them don’t appreciate art for its own sake.”

 

She wiped her fingers on a napkin.

 

“Besides, it’s a way to earn money on your own terms,” Thea said “Doing something you love.”

 

“What would I do with it?’ Felicity asked.

 

Thea blinked.

 

“The money?” she asked.

 

Felicity inclined her head yes.

 

“I don’t know,” Thea said. “Buy a new hat.”

 

“That’s what I mean,” Felicity said. “Having money is about buying things, about having things. And all of that stuff is supposed to make you feel safe. But stuff can be taken away. It can be lost and having money doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen.”

 

She pressed her lips together. She hadn’t really meant to say all of that and she could see Thea processing it all. She could see all the questions floating through her eyes but to Felicity’s great relief, Thea let it slide.

 

“So give it away,” Thea said. “The first day we met, when I tried to give you money, you said I should give it to the church with the leaky roof, which I did by the way. If you don’t want to spend the money on yourself, then use it to do stuff like that.”

 

Felicity pondered that and found that the idea held some appeal to her. It would be a way to give back to the shelters and organizations that had helped her make it through the last four years.

 

“That’s a good idea,” Felicity said.

 

“Most of my ideas are,” Thea said.

 

“I’m sure there’s evidence to the contrary out there somewhere,” Felicity said lightly.

 

“Nah,” Thea said. “I’m really good at covering my tracks. Tommy taught me.”

 

“I heard you say something about a welcome home party for him,” Felicity said. “I take it he’s back in town?”

 

“He came back for Ollie’s birthday last week,” Thea said. “Which is probably the reason Ollie’s been in such a great mood. Life’s just better with Tommy around.”

 

“Sounds like Oliver isn’t the only one who thinks so,” Felicity observed.

 

“Oh I had a crazy crush on Tommy when I was a kid,” Thea said, laughing. “But he and Ollie are like brothers and I grew out of it.”

 

She put her empty coffee cup down.

 

“Can I ask a question?” she asked.

 

“Yeah,” Felicity said.

 

“What you said before,” Thea began. “Is that the reason you keep living on the streets? I know that might be an odd question but I just get this feeling that if you wanted something different, you’d have found a way to make it happen so…”

 

“I should have figured you’d circle back,” Felicity said.

 

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” Thea said.

 

“It’s part of the reason,” Felicity said. “If you don’t have anything, you can’t lose anything. At first it was just a way to protect myself but there’s something kind of liberating about it too.”

 

“Do you think that will ever change?” Thea asked. “I mean could you imagine a life that was different than this? Would you want it if you could?”

 

“I don’t have the answers to any of those questions,” Felicity said. “Not yet.”

 

“That’s okay too,” Thea said. “How about we pick the carvings you’re going to sell?”

 

“We can do that,” Felicity agreed.

 

She eased her wooden chest from her back and Thea gasped.

 

“Smoaky, this is beautiful,” she said, running her fingers over the chest. “Did you carve this?”

 

Felicity shook her head.

 

“Diggle gave it to me,” she said.

 

Thea gave her a blank look.

 

“John,” Felicity clarified. “The man who taught me to carve.”

 

“Oh,” Thea said. “You guys were friends?”

 

“Family,” Felicity said. “He saved me. In more ways than one.”

 

“I’ll look forward to it,” Thea said.

 

“To what?” Felicity asked.

 

“The day you’re ready to tell me more about him,” Thea said gently.

 

Felicity gave her a tiny smile and eased the chest open. Thea marveled at all the different carvings and they spent the next several minutes picking out a dozen pieces for Thea to take and give to Laurel for the gallery.

 

“I should get going,” Thea said, after she’d placed all the carvings into her purse. “I’m quitting today.”

 

“Waiting till after the fact to tell your parents?” Felicity asked.

 

“Yep,” Thea said. “I figure it won’t be pretty but they’ll get over it, right? I mean it’s not like I’m one of those out of control celebutantes. I’m just…standing up for myself.”

 

“Celebutante?” Felicity repeated.

 

“You’re better off not knowing,” Thea said. “Debrief over coffee tomorrow?”

 

“9th and Griffen,” Felicity said. “It’s been a while.”

 

“Okay,” Thea agreed. “And tonight?”

 

“I’ll be behind the library,” Felicity said.

 

“Good,” Thea said. “Stay safe, Smoaky.”

 

Once Thea was gone, Felicity gathered up her own things and headed into the zoo. She liked to come here every now and again just to watch the different animals and study the way the moved and how they occupied their time.

 

She started with the felines; the lion and tigers and leopards before she moved onto dolphins and sea lions. And then somewhat to her surprise, she found herself lingering with the brown bears. More than that, she found that her mind was less focused on watching the animals than it was on the man that they reminded her of. 

 

Oliver Queen seemed intent on surprising her. Today was the second time he’d gone out of his way to seek her out and for the second time it appeared to be much more for her benefit than for his. It would be easy enough to chalk it up to her friendship with Thea. It was plain to see that Oliver would do anything to make Thea happy. Yet somehow Felicity didn’t think that was all there was to it.

 

In all of her interactions with Oliver what she took away the most was the simple feeling of acceptance. He didn’t question and he didn’t judge. It was a rare quality in anyone never mind someone with Oliver’s wealth and influence. What she couldn’t figure out was why it was focused on her.

 

Before she knew it, Felicity had spent the better part of two hours lost in her own thoughts and it was already the middle of the afternoon. Pulling her backpack on, she left the zoo and walked to a soup kitchen that was near by to get a late lunch.

 

She was just finishing up when she felt someone slide into the seat next to her. Glancing over, she recognized Sin.

 

“Been looking for you,” Sin said.

 

“Yeah?’ Felicity questioned.

 

“That detective you know,” Sin said.

 

“What about him?” Felicity asked.

 

“You tell him about Vertigo?” Sin questioned.

 

“Yeah,” Felicity said.

 

She’d seen Detective Lance during the time she’d been trying to decide whether or not to take Oliver’s advice about Thea. She’d told him that there was no news on the electronics he’d been looking for but that she had intel on a new drug that was making the rounds. He’d told her he’d look into it but Felicity hadn’t seen him since.

 

They weren’t really on a regular schedule. He looked for her if he had questions and she looked for him if she had answers.

 

“People have started dying,” Sin said. “It’s getting really bad.”

 

“Drugs usually are,” Felicity said.

 

“Something’s different with this stuff,” Sin said. “Anyway, I got a tip that this Count character might be hanging around that old Psych hospital on Gravier.”

 

“That place has been abandoned for ages,” Felicity pointed out.

 

“Exactly,” Sin said. “Think you could get your guy to check it out?”

 

“I’ll pass it on,” Felicity said.

 

Sin nodded.

 

“Sin?” Felicity asked. “It’s not…common knowledge is it?”

 

Sin gave her a knowing look.

 

“No,” she said. “To be honest, you’re kind of ghost so far as the street is concerned. Ever since Diggle.”

 

Felicity acknowledged that.

 

“Probably for the best,” she said.

 

“See you when I see you,” Sin said.

 

She slipped away and once she’d finished her food, Felicity did the same. She took the long way around to the police precinct and found Detective Lance at his desk in conversation with a tall, slender young woman with brown hair.

 

Hanging back, Felicity watched the detective give the young woman a pained look but nod his head. He got a quick hug in return and then the woman turned and walked away. Felicity approached shortly afterward.

 

“Daughters,” Lance said to her in lieu of greeting. “Enough to drive any man to drink.”

 

“Most things about life are enough to turn people to drink,” Felicity observed.

 

Lance huffed out a breath of agreement at that.

 

“Whatcha got for me, Smoaky?” he asked.

 

“The old mental hospital on Gravier,” Felicity said. “Seems there’s talk about the Count working out of there.”

 

Lance’s eyes sharpened and Felicity knew he was in full on cop mode.

 

“Any idea how many people he has working with him?” Lance asked.

 

Felicity shook her head no.

 

She hesitated.

 

“I trust the intel,” she began. “But sometimes people put stuff out there to see what will stick.”

 

“You’re saying it could be a trap,” Lance said.

 

“I’m saying I can’t guarantee anything so you should be careful,” Felicity said.

 

Lance smiled at her.

 

“Will do, Smoaky,” he said, handing her a $20. “Coffee’s fresh if you want it.”

 

“Thanks,” Felicity said.

 

She tucked the twenty into her pocket and started to head for the coffee pot.

 

“Detective?” she asked. “You ever find the guy hacking into those bank vaults?”

 

Lance grimaced.

 

“Case went cold,” he said. “The guy just stopped. Or he moved on to another city. Either way, our hands are tied for now.”

 

“Too bad,” Felicity said.

 

She poured herself a cup of coffee and then headed back out to the street. It was early evening now and she decided to detour to the furniture store uptown and see if she could salvage any wood for carving.

 

It ended up being slim pickings but she found one really beautiful piece of oak that made the trip worth it. Tucking it into her backpack, she began the trek to the library. She’d long since finished her coffee and as she walked, with her hands shoved into her jeans pockets, she found herself thinking about the questions that Thea had asked her.

 

She wasn’t sure what had tipped Thea off to the fact that living on the streets was, at this point, a conscious choice that she was making but whatever it was, Thea had managed to voice the questions that Felicity had occasionally asked herself before but never tried to truly answer until now.

 

She’d imagined a life off the street more than once but it had always been the obvious one; the one that involved falling back on her IT skills and re-creating a world similar to the one she’d grown up in. Her family hadn’t been wealthy the way the Queen’s were wealthy but they hadn’t been poor either.

 

Felicity had grown up with everything she needed and most of what she wanted as well, materially speaking. She’d had friends and hobbies and crushes on boys. Before he’d gotten sick, she’d spent a lot of time following Adam around, delighted when he took the time to play with her or read her stories or teach her things.

 

And that, Felicity thought, was the part she struggled to picture, the part that involved people and relationships. What would be the point of having a place to live and things to put it in it, if she was going to be as isolated as she was living on the street? Better to have the freedom that came with this life than to be trapped in an illusion.

 

But Thea had given her new things to think about and actually, so had Oliver. She’d never considered what it might be like to try and build a life based on something other than her IT skills. Maybe it was because despite everything there was still a part of her that gravitated towards the quick fix, the easy way. If all it took to change things was a couple of keystrokes, then she was in control.

 

If she went about things differently, it would be more work. She might have to reach out to people, be willing to rely on them. It would be slower going but maybe the end result would be more fulfilling.

 

The real question was did she want it?

 

There was a part of her that did. It was the same part that thought about having children, the same part that found the thought of being on the street until she was old or sick or killed extremely bleak. It was a part of herself that Felicity worked hard to suppress but it was there.

 

It wasn’t, Felicity thought, as she rounded the corner to the library’s back entrance, a decision she was ready to make. She was still struggling to come to terms with the emotional impact of her friendship with Thea. She already knew how much Thea cared about her and she could feel herself reciprocating that sentiment more and more every day. It made her want their friendship to work and to last, but she hadn’t even started to wrap her mind around all the implications of that.

 

Sighing, Felicity settled down in her nook and pulled a bottle of water from her backpack. She took a long sip, screwed the cap back on and put it back. Flexing her fingers, she pulled out her carving tools and a piece of aspen that she’d picked up in the park. She’d almost finished turning it into an otter, when she heard footsteps approaching.

 

She paused, her grip on the knife tightening as she listened. It was unusual for someone to wander this way off the street but it wasn’t impossible.

 

“Smoaky?”

 

Felicity shook her head, fairly certain it was Thea’s voice but wanting to be sure.

 

“Thea?” Felicity called out softly.

 

“Yeah,” Thea replied. “Where are you?”

 

Getting to her feet, Felicity walked out a few feet until Thea came into her line of vision.

 

“Over here,” Felicity said. “What are you doing here?”

 

Thea turned to face her and Felicity could see the signs of serious upset, even though the faint glow of the streetlight was all she had to go on. Thea’s eyes were red, there were mascara tracks on her cheeks and she was wearing a sweatshirt and lounge pants.

 

“Can I stay with you tonight?” Thea asked.

 

Felicity blinked at her several times, not sure how to respond or what questions to ask first.

 

“Does anyone know where you are?” she decided to ask.

 

“Roy’s dealing with his mom,” Thea said. “She’s a junkie so it’s tough on him. I don’t want to put anything else on his plate and Ollie’s out with Tommy.”

 

She ran a hand through her curls.

 

“I just needed to get out of the house,” Thea said. “The scene with my mother was awful. She said so many horrible things to me and I said horrible things back and I…”

 

She shook her head and Felicity saw more tears fall.

 

“How did you get here?” Felicity asked.

 

“I drove,” Thea said. “I parked on Ashton though and walked the rest of the way.”

 

“Not the safest thing to do,” Felicity said.

 

Thea held up a hand.

 

“I have pepper spray,” she said.

 

A fleeting smile curved Felicity’s lips before she turned serious.

 

“You can stay,” she said. “But you have to call your brother.”

 

“I’ll text,” Thea said.

 

“No,” Felicity said. “Anyone can steal a phone and text. He needs to hear your voice, know it’s you and know you’re fine.”

 

Thea sighed but she obediently pulled out her cell phone and dialed Oliver. He answered on the second ring and she could hear the sound of music throbbing behind him.

 

“Speedy?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine,” Thea said. “I just wanted you to know I’m not spending the night at home. I had a fight with Mom. So if she calls you looking for me, just tell her I’m with a friend.”

 

“Are you?” Oliver asked.

 

“Yes,” Thea said.

 

“What friend?” Oliver asked.

 

“Does it matter?” Thea said.

 

“It does now,” Oliver said.

 

“I’m with Roy,” Thea said.

 

“You’re lying,” Oliver said. “If you were with Roy you would have said so from the beginning. Speedy, what the hell is going on?”

 

“I’m with Smoaky,” Thea said. “I’ll go home in the morning.”

 

“Absolutely not,” Oliver said. “You can’t spend the night on the street, Thea.”

 

“So it’s okay for her but not for me?” Thea snapped at him. “Why? Because my last name is synonymous with gazillionaire?”

 

“You know that isn’t what I meant,” Oliver said. “But you’re my sister and I’m responsible for you in a way I’m not for her.”

 

“I’m an adult, Ollie,” Thea said. “I’m responsible for myself.”

 

She started to hang up but saw that Smoaky was gesturing to her to hand over the phone.

 

“Smoaky wants to talk to you,” Thea said. “God knows why.”

 

She held the phone out.

 

“He’s all yours,” she muttered.

 

“Oliver?” Felicity said.

 

“Look I don’t know what Thea is thinking,” Oliver began.

 

“I won’t let anything happen to her,” Felicity interrupted.

 

She said it quietly but with conviction and she heard Oliver sigh on the other end before he responded.

 

“It’s not personal to you,” Oliver began.

 

“I know,” Felicity interrupted again. “But for now this is what she needs.”

 

“Are you a woman of your word, Smoaky?” Oliver asked.

 

“Yes,” Felicity said. “Which is why I don’t give it lightly.”

 

“But I have it now,” Oliver said.

 

It wasn’t a question but Felicity answered it just the same.

 

“You have it now,” she confirmed.

 

“First thing in the morning,” Oliver said. “I’m coming to get her.”

 

“We’ll meet you on Jackson and Houston,” Felicity said. “Same place.”

 

“I suppose I should bring coffee,” Oliver said.

 

“With the night she’s having,” Felicity said. “You might want to score more of those cronut things.”

 

Oliver gave a low chuckle.

 

“I’m starting to get why she likes you so much,” Oliver said. “Take care of my sister, Smoaky. She means everything to me.”

 

“I will,” Felicity said.

 

She hung up and handed Thea the phone back.

 

“Pretty impressive,” Thea said. “Not many people know how to handle my brother like that.”

 

Felicity didn’t comment. Instead, she touched Thea’s arm and led the way back to her makeshift camp. The battery operated lantern she had set on low gave off enough light for her carve by.

 

“Want to tell me what happened with your mom?” Felicity asked, as they both sat down, their backs against the wall.

 

“Nope,” Thea said. “I want to forget all about it.”

 

“Fair enough,” Felicity said.

 

She picked up her knife and the carving she’d been working on and they sat in silence.  After a few minutes, Felicity felt Thea’s head drop to rest on her shoulder and she realized that Thea had fallen asleep.

 

Her heart squeezed in her chest but for the first time, Felicity embraced it and felt no pain.

 

 

 

“Ollie, dude,” Tommy said, approaching with two shots of tequila. “You can’t bail on me like that.”

 

Oliver held up his phone.

 

“Had to take a call,” he said.

 

Tommy rolled his eyes.

 

“You know, you normally don’t become dull and boring until after you get married,” he said.

 

“Cute,” Oliver said. “It was Speedy, not Laurel.”

 

“Is she okay?” Tommy asked, immediately serious.

 

“Yeah,” Oliver said slowly. “She’s fine for now.”

 

“Good,” Tommy said.

 

He handed over one of the shots.

 

“You have catching up to do,” he said. “And we need to start talking about your bachelor party.”

 

“We’ve already talked about it,” Oliver said.

 

“Yeah, I ignored that whole conversation,” Tommy told him. “You were possessed by some pod person, saying crazy things about how you wanted it to be tame and just a few friends.”

 

Tommy tossed back his own shot.

 

“So here’s what I’m really thinking,” Tommy said. “I’m thinking we take this baby global.”

 

Oliver laughed.

 

“Global?” he repeated.

 

“Yeah,” Tommy said. “This whole time I’ve been gone? Research. I’m thinking like ‘Oliver Queen’s Last Days As A Single Man: The World Tour’.”

 

He grinned.

 

“We can hit Bali, Bangkok, Ibiza, Monaco, Vegas,” Tommy said. “It’ll be epic.”

 

“There’s only one way you can get away with that,” Oliver said. “And that would be to literally kidnap me so that I can say I had nothing to do with it.”

 

“That can be arranged,” Tommy said. “I’ll even make sure the kidnapper is a sexy woman in leather.”

 

Oliver slung an arm around his friend’s neck.

 

“I missed you, buddy,” he said. “Try not to be gone so long next time.”

 

“I make no promises,” Tommy said. “If you’d seen some of the women I met, you’d be more shocked that I came back at all.”

 

“And the idea of finding just one doesn’t appeal to you in the least?” Oliver questioned.

 

“I’m not like you, Ollie,” Tommy said. “I don’t need a Queen to rule my empire with me. See what I did there…Queen.”

 

“That was sad,” Oliver teased.

 

“But the point is still valid,” Tommy said, signaling the bartender for more shots. “I like for things to always be different, for every day to hold something new and unpredictable.”

 

He gave Oliver a look that was oddly sober.

 

“That used to be you too, you know,” he said.

 

“You can’t chase thrills forever,” Oliver said.

 

“Maybe not,” Tommy said. “I’m just saying.”

 

“Don’t,” Oliver said. “I feel like I just had this conversation with Thea and I’m tired of having to defend myself to the people supposedly closest to me.”

 

Tommy held up his hands.

 

“If you feel defensive, it’s probably because something’s wrong,” he said. “But that’s the last you’re going to hear me say about it.”

 

Oliver didn’t answer. He merely accepted the second shot that slid his way and downed it.

 

Another few moments passed without either of them speaking before Tommy clapped his hands together.

 

“All right, Ollie,” he said. “It’s time to get my homecoming underway for real.”

 

He led the way deeper into the club, the whole of which had been rented out for the occasion, and Oliver followed him. The majority of the guest list were complete strangers but he did recognize some of his and Tommy friends from high school and college and it was good to catch up and cut loose a little bit.

 

Knowing that he could handle his liquor, Oliver didn’t think too much about work the next day. It was around 2:30 when he saw Tommy slipping away with two tall brunettes. Shaking his head but smiling, Oliver took that as his cue.

 

Under normal circumstances, Oliver might have driven himself but knowing that he was likely to drink well past the legal limit, he’d told Jake to be on standby. It was after 3:00 when Oliver walked through the front door so he was surprised to find his mother up and pacing.

 

“I thought you were Thea,” she said.

 

Oliver winced.

 

“I should have called,” he told his mother. “I spoke to Thea earlier. She’s fine. She’s staying with a friend.”

 

Moira stared at him and then seemed to wilt. Oliver reached out to steady her with a frown on his face.

 

“What happened?” Oliver asked. “Thea said you two had a fight.”

 

“She quit her internship and decided she doesn’t want to go back to SCU in the fall,” Moira said, sinking into the high backed chair in the alcove under the stairs.

 

“Did she say why?” Oliver asked.

 

“What does it matter why?” Moira asked. “She’s being irresponsible and short sighted.”

 

“I seriously hope you didn’t lead with that,” Oliver said. “Although you probably did which explains why she ran off.”

 

He pinched the bridge of his nose.

 

“Mom, you have to stop it,” he said.

 

“I beg your pardon?” Moira asked.

 

“The reason you and Thea aren’t getting along lately is because you’re trying to force to be someone that she isn’t,” Oliver said. “If she quit the internship and is thinking about not going back to school then she has a reason. You just didn’t care to listen to what it might be because you decided that it couldn’t be valid.”

 

“I’m looking out for her future,” Moira insisted.

 

“Yeah,” Oliver said. “The one you want her to have.”

 

He reached out to squeeze his mother’s shoulder.

 

“I love you, Mom, but I also know you,” Oliver said. “If you keep pushing, you’re doing to do damage to your relationship with Thea that you won’t be able to fix. I don’t think you want that.”

 

Moira sighed.

 

“Well what do you suggest?” she asked. “That we just let her run wild?”

 

“Thea isn’t wild,” Oliver said. “Occasionally impulsive and always outgoing but not wild. Not to mention, she’s a lot smarter than I think you give her credit for. All I’m saying is that you should hear her out before you judge.”

 

He glanced at his watch.

 

“I have exactly four hours before my first conference call,” he said. “I’ll see you later.”

 

He made his way upstairs and took a shower to wash the smell of the nightclub off of his skin before he climbed into bed. Three hours later, he was wide awake again and thinking about Thea.

 

He believed what he'd told his mother - that Thea wouldn't make those kinds of decisions without a reason - but what surprised him was that she hadn't mentioned it to him at all. Between this and how long she'd been mum on the Laurel subject, Oliver was starting to wonder if there was more distance between them than he realized. 

 

He also wondered if Smoaky had something to do with that. Not in a deliberate or mean spirited way, just in terms of giving Thea someone else that she felt comfortable confiding in. 

 

Oliver was aware that it should have worried him that his sister was getting so close to someone that they knew almost nothing about, someone who clearly had secrets. He knew there was no concrete proof that it wouldn't blow up in Thea's face, that Smoaky wouldn't betray her trust.

 

But on the other hand he couldn't blame Thea when his own instinct had been to trust her too. If he hadn’t felt confident that Thea was safe with her, he’d never have gone out of his way to try and bridge the gap between them. Nor would he have given in last night instead of bolting from Tommy’s party and forcing Thea home.

 

Even the effort he’d made on Smoaky’s behalf with Laurel and the gallery deal stemmed from the certainty that she was someone worth trying to help. Whoever she was, Smoaky didn't feel like a threat, just a mystery.

 

There was the way she spoke for one. She was obviously well educated which opened up all kinds of questions about where she had come from and what had happened to her.

 

Oliver's cell phone rang before he could give it any further thought and he realized it was the Managing Director of QC's London operations, undoubtedly calling to brief him before they went into the call with the team from the prime minister's office.

 

By the time Oliver had finished both calls it was already 7:30. Deciding that he'd come home before heading into the office, Oliver put on a pair of jeans and a green button down shirt. He shoved his feet into his favorite pair of worn sneakers and then headed downstairs. 

 

Jake was waiting but Oliver dismissed him, preferring to drive himself. He opted for the Audi convertible and was speeding into the city moments later. He saw Thea and Smoaky as soon as he turned onto Jackson and he eased the car alongside the curb in front of them.

 

“Get in,” Oliver said.

 

“Ollie,” Thea began warily.

 

“Both of you,” Oliver said, jerking his head toward the backseat. “Get in.”

 

Thea and Smoaky exchanged glances; Thea’s was pleading and Smoaky’s was wary. Nevertheless, they both approached the car and while Thea slid into the front seat, Smoaky stowed her backpack in the back and climbed in after it.

 

“Are you mad?” Thea asked, once he’d pulled into traffic.

 

Oliver glanced at her in surprise.

 

“Why would I be mad?” he asked.

 

“You have angry face,” Smoaky supplied from the backseat.

 

“You kinda do,” Thea agreed, chewing on her bottom lip.

 

Oliver sighed.

 

“I’m not mad,” he said. “I’m surprised and a little concerned.”

 

He glanced at Thea.

 

“Since when don’t you talk to me?” he asked.

 

“Mom told you,” Thea surmised.

 

“She was pacing the hallway at 3:00 am when I got home,” Oliver said. “She was worried about you.”

 

Thea blew out a disbelieving breath.

 

“So here’s what going to happen,” Oliver said. “We’re going to the Club. We’re going to order breakfast since I didn’t have time to grab coffee for the two of you and you’re going to tell me exactly what made you decide to do this.”

 

“So you can tell me how big of a mistake I’m making?” Thea said.

 

“So that I can figure out how to help you,” Oliver corrected.

 

Thea didn’t say anything but she offered him the beginnings of a smile, which Oliver took to mean they were on solid ground again.

 

Glancing in the rearview mirror, he locked eyes with Smoaky. There were shadows there but not the kind that came from lack of sleep. The kind that came from a life that was or had been less than ideal. Oddly, the look on her face reminded Oliver of one he occasionally saw on Tommy.

 

“Thank you for keeping your word,” Oliver said to her.

 

“No need for thanks,” Felicity said.

 

They arrived at the club ten minutes later and Oliver handed the keys over to the valet and ushered the girls inside and to the suite that Queen Consolidated kept on hand.

 

“Menu is on the table,” Oliver said. “You guys can order whatever you want.”

 

“The French toast here is crazy good,” Thea said, tugging Smoaky toward the table.

 

Oliver watched Smoaky move reluctantly through the room. It was clear that she wasn’t comfortable here but he didn’t get the impression it had anything to do with the opulence.

 

His cell phone rang and Oliver sighed. He plucked it out of his back pocket, expecting the call to be work related but surprised to see Laurel’s face flashing across the screen. It was still early for her to be awake.

 

“Hey,” Oliver said.

 

“Hi,” she said. “Do you have some time this morning? There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

 

“Today is tight,” Oliver said. “And I’m actually already running late. Is it important?”

 

“I---it can wait,” Laurel said.

 

“You sure?” Oliver asked.

 

Laurel sounded uncharacteristically hesitant.

 

“Positive,” she said. “How about dinner?”

 

“A late one,” Oliver said. “But sure. How about 9? I can make reservations.”

 

“Let’s stay in,” Laurel said.

 

“Okay,” Oliver agreed slowly. “You sure everything is alright? You sound nervous.”

 

A thought crossed Oliver’s mind and even though he knew these were not the best circumstances to ask the question, he knew he wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else if he didn’t.

 

“Are you pregnant?” he asked, lowering his voice and turning away from Thea and Smoaky.

 

“What? No,” Laurel denied. “God, no. Definitely not pregnant.”

 

“Oh,” Oliver said.

 

He felt relieved and slightly guilty for feeling so relieved. He wanted a family and he wanted to be a young father but this was not the right time for him and Laurel to have a child. There were still a lot of things they needed to settle into.

 

“It’s---work related,” Laurel finally said. “We’ll talk about it at dinner. I should probably get going.”

 

Shaking his head to clear it, Oliver agreed and hung up. He turned to find Thea smirking at him.

 

“So am I going to be an aunt?” she asked, unable to hide the edge of mocking glee in her voice.

 

“No,” Oliver said. “And if you don’t stop mocking me, it won’t be because Laurel isn’t pregnant. It’ll be because I strangled you.”

 

“You love me too much to strangle me,” Thea said confidently.

 

Oliver smiled mostly because he was glad to see some of her normal animation returning.

 

“While you were busy freaking out,” Thea said. “We ordered breakfast. I got you blueberry pancakes.”

 

“Good choice,” Oliver said.

 

He crossed the room to sit on a cream colored sofa.

 

“So lay it on me,” Oliver said.

 

“What?” Thea questioned.

 

“Your plan,” Oliver said. “I’m assuming you have one.”

 

Thea took a deep breath. She glanced over and Smoaky and Oliver didn’t miss the subtle nod of encouragement that Smoaky gave in return.

 

“You know that Raisa taught me to sew,” Thea began.

 

Oliver tilted his head to the side, obviously not seeing what that had to do with anything.

 

“And that made me realize that I love making clothes as much as I love designing them,” Thea said. “That’s what I want to pursue.”

 

Oliver blinked.

 

“Fashion design,” he said.

 

“Yeah,” Thea said.

 

“And what’s the first step to that?” Oliver asked. “Are you going to apply to design schools?”

 

“Eventually,” Thea said. “First I’m going to send some of my designs out, anonymously, to different designers and fashion editors. If I can, I want to spend the rest of this year working in the industry, getting a feel for it. And then next year, design school.”

 

“I’m guessing based on your anonymous comment that you don’t want to trade on the name,” Oliver said.

 

“Can you blame me?” Thea asked.

 

“No, I think it’s admirable,” Oliver said. “So, what can I do to help?”

 

“There is one thing,” Thea said.

 

“Name it,” Oliver said.

 

“Help me find a new place to live,” Thea said.

Chapter Text

“Do you really think moving out is the best idea?” Oliver asked.

 

“I think it’s the only way I can do this and salvage anything of my relationship with Mom and Dad,” Thea said. “I need my own space, Ollie.”

 

Felicity watched as Oliver processed Thea’s words. She could practically see the wheels spinning in his mind but his body language was relaxed. It was an odd juxtaposition and she wondered if it accounted for some of his success in business. She figured the ability to calculate while appearing to do the opposite might be handy in that world.

 

“Did you have something specific in mind?” Oliver asked.

 

Thea shrugged.

 

“Not really,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be big. I wasn’t kidding when I said need space just for me. This isn’t about having some place to sneak off to with Roy or even about having some place for Smoaky to come if she ever gets over the notion that I’m the world’s worst potential roommate.”

 

Felicity blinked and then rolled her eyes, earning a smile from Thea and a curious look from Oliver.

 

“The point is,” Thea said. “I want some place where I can focus on what I want to do without anyone around to judge me.”

 

“That’s fair,” Oliver said slowly. “How serious are you about doing this without, not just the name but everything that comes with it?”

 

Thea held his gaze.

 

“100 percent,” she said.

 

“Then here’s what we’re going to do,” Oliver said. “You’re going to bring me a budget that includes rent, groceries, phone bill, utilities, gas and insurance payments if you’re planning to keep your car, parking; basically everything you’re going to need to be responsible for living on your own.”

 

“And then?” Thea asked.

 

“Then I write you a check to cover two months expenses,” Oliver said. “You give me all your credit cards  - I’ll authorize you to use one of mine in case of emergency only – and then you find a job or jobs because when those eight weeks are up, you live on what you make until you’re back in school.”

 

Thea took a deep breath and glanced over at Smoaky.

 

“Don’t look at her,” Oliver said. “This isn’t about what she thinks you should do or even what I think. This is your life. If you want to jump, then jump. But do it because it’s what you want and you’re brave enough to go for it. Don’t look to other people to be brave for you.”

 

“Okay,” Thea said, nodding. “You’re right. I’m doing this for me. I’m jumping.”

 

Oliver gave her a small smile.

 

“In that case,” he said. “You have till the end of this week to get me that budget.”

 

A knock on the door signaled the arrival of breakfast and Thea, being closest, went to answer it.

 

“So what do you think of this place, Smoaky?” Oliver said.

 

Felicity looked over at him in surprise. He kept engaging her and she was no closer to understanding why than she had been the first time they’d met.

 

“It’s a little ostentatious,” Felicity said.

 

“You’re being diplomatic,” Oliver said. “The Club is extremely ostentatious. That’s its whole reason for being.”

 

“Then why come here?” Felicity found herself asking. Wealthy as he was, ostentatious was not a word she would have used to describe Oliver.

 

“Business meetings mostly,” Oliver said. “And for the breakfast food.”

 

“Because the other food is awful?” Felicity questioned.

 

“Because I’m a sucker for breakfast,” Oliver replied. “Chocolate chip pancakes are actually my go to midnight snack.”

 

“You confound me,” Felicity said and she wasn’t talking about his eating habits.

 

“Goes both ways,” Oliver said.

 

He tilted his head.

 

“I thought about running a background check on you or trying to,” he admitted. “Probably would have been a challenge considering I seriously doubt Smoaky is your actual name.”

 

“Thought about it?” Felicity asked tensely.

 

“Decided against it,” Oliver said.

 

“Why?” Felicity asked. “It would have been the sensible thing to do, right? To protect Thea, your family.”

 

“It’s the kind of thing my father would do,” Oliver said. “And I’m not him. Besides, I trust my gut instincts. You care about Thea. You won’t deliberately hurt her. You, Smoaky, are more mystery than threat. I happen to like mysteries.”

 

Felicity shot him a quelling look.

 

“I’m not a puzzle for you to solve or some broken thing that needs to be fixed,” she bit out.

 

“No, you’re not,” Oliver agreed. “You’re just someone trying to remember what it’s like when you can trust people.”

 

Felicity arched an eyebrow.

 

“Are you saying you want me to trust you?” she asked.

 

“Only if you think I’m worthy of it,” Oliver replied.

 

Felicity scanned his face, trying to make sense of him. He didn’t flinch away from her scrutiny. If anything, he seemed to be returning it and that sent a fresh wave of questions tumbling through Felicity’s mind.

 

Why Oliver Queen should find her remotely interesting was beyond her.

 

“Uh, I hate to interrupt this moment,” Thea said, eyeing the two of them curiously. “But breakfast is here.”

 

She gestured to the table when she’d set everything up.

 

Oliver glanced at his watch and muttered a curse.

 

“I am starving and late,” he said.

 

“Eat,” Thea advised. “You’ll still be late but you won’t be hungry.”

 

“It’s a bad sign when Thea logic makes sense,” Oliver teased, crossing the room and sitting down behind the plate of blueberry pancakes.

 

“If by bad sign you mean proof that all is right in the world,” Thea retorted.

 

She turned to Felicity.

 

“Come on, Smoaky,” she said as she moved to her own seat. “This French toast is almost as good as the cronuts.”

 

“Doubtful,” Felicity said, although she got to her feet and slowly made her way over to the table. She sat down and out of deeply ingrained habit, spread her napkin over her lap before picking up her knife and fork and making precise cuts to her French toast.

 

“You have better table manners than Ollie,” Thea said lightly. “My mother would be impressed.”

 

Felicity paused. It hadn’t occurred to her that her muscle memory might reveal more of her background than she intended. Her mother had been big on manners, intent on the formality of it. As a result, by the time Felicity was six, she was perfectly capable of setting a table for a six course meal all by herself. She’d even found a certain amusement in it.

 

“I’m not the one who had to take etiquette classes for two years,” Oliver said, dispelling the moment of awkwardness.

 

“Shut up,” Thea said. “You’re just mad you had to take ballroom dancing instead.”

 

“Something I recall you being grateful for at a certain sweet sixteen party,” Oliver said.

 

Thea smiled but there was a flash of sadness in her eyes.

 

“Another of Robert Queen’s father of the year moments,” she said sarcastically. “He bailed on my sweet sixteen birthday party for some business trip. Probably wasn’t even a business trip. I’m pretty sure he was sleeping with whichever secretary he had at the time. Melissa? Melanie, maybe?”

 

“Speedy,” Oliver said, reaching for her hand.

 

“It’s fine,” Thea said,

 

She flashed Felicity a smile.

 

“Ollie came to my rescue like he always does, and I actually had a really great time that night,” Thea said. “Tommy snuck me half a bottle of tequila and I made out with Brian Warren on the desk in Dad’s study.”

 

“I knew I should have punched that kid when I had the chance,” Oliver said .

 

Thea’s laugh at that was genuine and the three of them finished eating, with Oliver and Thea carrying the conversation but Felicity granting them a few of her authentic smiles along the way.

 

“I gotta get out of here,” Oliver said, pushing away from the table. “You two stay as long as you want.”

 

He dropped a kiss on top of Thea’s head.

 

“Are you going home tonight?’ he asked her.

 

“Must I?” Thea asked.

 

“I have to go back to the manor before I head to the office,” Oliver said. “I’ll talk to Mom. Dad’s not back until next week anyway.”

 

“That’s your way of saying that I should go home,” Thea said.

 

“At least consider it,” Oliver said. “If you really can’t stand the thought of it, then you can stay here for the night but you are going to have to face her sometime.”

 

“Sometime means later, right?” Thea said.

 

Oliver shook his head.

 

“Call me if you need anything,” he said.

 

He looked over at Felicity.

 

“See you later, Smoaky,” he said.

 

“Bye,” Felicity said.

 

A few moments later, they heard the sound of the door closing behind him and Felicity found herself the recipient of an odd look from Thea.

 

“Why are you making that face at me?” she asked.

 

“So you know I totally respect your boundaries,” Thea began.

 

“Why does it sound like there’s a “but” coming?” Felicity interjected.

 

“I’m not sure if the last 30 minutes counts as part of your past that’s kind of off limits but on the off chance that it doesn’t, can I just ask?” Thea said. “What was that with you and Ollie before?”

 

Felicity frowned.

 

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

 

“I went to answer the door,” Thea said. “And when I came back you were staring at each other, like you were having a moment or a battle of wills. I can’t decide which.”

 

“Maybe you can’t decide because it wasn’t either of those things,” Felicity said. “Small talk, nothing more.”

 

“Yeah, no,” Thea said. “You’re not the small talk type and neither is Ollie unless it’s for work.”

 

She held up her hands.

 

“But if you don’t want to tell me, it’s fine,” Thea said. “Not like I don’t have bigger fish to fry. What with, you know, agreeing to give up all my credit cards to say nothing of my trust fund.”

 

“Are you having a delayed reaction?” Felicity asked.

 

“Why?” Thea asked. “Does it sound like I’m freaking out?”

 

“Only a little,” Felicity said.

 

“I guess, this is a real thing now,” Thea said. “It went from being something I wanted to do to something there’s actually a concrete plan for.”

 

“And now that you’re committed, you’re wondering if you can pull it off?” Felicity surmised.

 

“Yeah,” Thea said.

 

“Plans don’t matter,” Felicity said. “Only actions.”

 

“We need to work on your pep talk skills,” Thea said, laughing. “But thanks anyway, I think.”

 

She drained her coffee.

 

“Want to come help me look for apartments?” Thea asked.

 

“I have a couple errands to take care of,” Felicity said. “Laundry, that kind of thing.”

 

“If you were feeling really adventurous,” Thea said. “You could do your laundry here. There’s a washer dryer in the next room and a truly amazing bathtub in the en suite.”

 

“You know better,” Felicity said mildly.

 

Thea gave her a small smile.

 

“You let me stay with you last night, in your world,” she said. “I was just offering to return the favor. Besides, in a few days this won’t be my world either so I figure we should all make the most of it.”

 

“You should go look for apartments alone,” Felicity said. “You’re looking for someplace that fits you. You don’t need anyone else’s opinion for that.”

 

“True,” Thea said.

 

“Being on your own is about making decisions and living with the consequences, whether they’re good or bad,” Felicity said.

 

“That makes sense,” Thea said. “But…”

 

“Why is there always a “but” with you?” Felicity asked, amusement tingeing her tone.

 

“It comes naturally,” Thea replied, grinning. “But back to my point, and it’s a good one.”

 

“Let’s hear it,” Felicity said.

 

“I think being on your own isn’t the same as being alone,” Thea said. “Or at least, it doesn’t have to be. I think it’s just about balance.”

 

“Maybe so,” Felicity said after a moment. “But life is messy and balance isn’t always easy to find.”

 

“But we try anyway, right?” Thea asked.

 

Felicity thought about it.

 

“Yeah,” she said. “I guess we should.”

 

 

 

“Can I  get you anything else before I head out, Oliver?” Jenna asked.

 

Oliver looked up and shot his assistant a smile. She was a tall woman in her late 40s and probably the truest ally he had inside the company. He didn’t think he’d have survived his first few months on the job if not for her.

 

He made a mental note to get her something appropriate to show his appreciation.

 

“No,” he said. “You’ve put in enough extra hours this week. Go home to your family and relax.”

 

She returned his smile and murmured good night before gathering her things and leaving. Oliver leaned back in his chair and glanced at the clock. It was almost eight and he’d promised Laurel he’d be at her place at 9.

 

He blew out a breath and focused on his computer screen and the spreadsheet taunting him from it. He was making notes on the pad in front of him when he heard footsteps.

 

Looking up he saw his mother in the doorway.

 

“There was a cocktail party at the Emporium,” Moira said by way of explanation. “I got your message and decided to see if you were still here.”

 

“Hi,” Oliver said.

 

He stood up and crossed the room to give her a kiss on the cheek.

 

“You said you want to talk about Thea?” Moira asked.

 

“Yeah, she and I had a long talk this morning,” Oliver said. “I want to fill you in on some of it.”

 

Moira sat down on the sofa and gave him an expectant look.

 

“I’m going to let her give you the details,” Oliver said. “But the main thing is, she knows what she wants to do, we worked out a way for her to have a realistic shot at it and the bottom line is that you’re just going to have to trust her. And me.”

 

Moira sighed.

 

“I’ve always appreciated how protective you are of Thea,” she said. “I’ll even admit that sometimes, I’ve felt guilty about that, about how much your father and I relied on you to be a constant for her when it should have been our responsibility.”

 

Oliver looked at her in surprise. She wasn’t wrong about what they’d done, he simply hadn’t been expecting her to admit it. He wondered if she’d take it further and address all the other ways they’d relied on him unfairly; things that had nothing to do with Thea and everything to do with their desperate need to build a dynasty and to hell with everyone else.

 

She didn’t.

 

“You shouldn’t feel the need to protect her from us,” Moira said. “Despite what Thea thinks, despite what you think, your father and I love both of you. We just want to see you succeed.”

 

“If you mean that,” Oliver said. “Then you’re going to give Thea the chance I didn’t have – to define what success means to her, on her own terms.”

 

“Oliver,” Moira began.

 

“Honestly, Mom, let’s not,” Oliver said.

 

He hadn’t meant to compare Thea’s situation with his, mainly because he’d let go of the resentment a long time ago. It wasn’t worth the energy it took to maintain. But having experienced it was probably one of the reasons he was determined not to let the same thing happen to Thea.

 

He glanced at his watch.

 

“I need to get over to Laurel’s,” he said. “I’ll walk out with you.”

 

He heard his mother sigh behind him but he ignored it. He shut down his computer, grabbed his briefcase and his slung his suit jacket over his shoulder. They parted ways on the sidewalk, Moira getting into her town car after asking him to remind Laurel that they needed to schedule a trip to Paris for several cake tastings.

 

Walking to the curb where Jake was waiting, Oliver dropped his briefcase and jacket into the trunk and then slid into the backseat. It took twice as long as it should have to get to Laurel’s because of traffic and Oliver walked into the apartment to find her pacing, a large glass of white wine cradled in her hand.

 

“Hi,” Oliver said.

 

“Ollie,” Laurel said.

 

She swallowed and took a big gulp of wine.

 

“What’s wrong?” Oliver asked. “You look like you’re going to a funeral.”

 

Laurel took a deep breath.

 

“You might want to sit for this,” she said. “It’s…this is going to change things, Ollie. I don’t want it to but it does.”

 

Oliver sat down.

 

“You said it was work related,” he said cautiously. “You work in an art gallery. I have to admit, I’m not sure what could possibly have…”

 

“It’s not the gallery,” Laurel interrupted.

 

She drained her wine glass and then sat next to him, her hands folded in her lap and her eyes wide in her face, full of apprehension.

 

“I got a job offer,” Laurel said. “I wasn’t sure how serious it was until yesterday.”

 

“Let me guess,” Oliver said. “Back to the law?”

 

Laurel nodded.

 

“Yeah,” she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity, a once in a life time thing, and I know what I said when I quit before but…”

 

“Hey,” Oliver said. “If practicing law again is what you want, I’m all for it. Were you really worried that I wouldn’t be?”

 

Laurel took another deep job.

 

“The offer isn’t to practice corporate law,” Laurel said. “And it isn’t in Starling City.”

 

Oliver blinked at her in surprise.

 

“I think this is the point where you go back to the beginning,” he said.

 

“I got a call from the ICC’s Liaison Office in New York,” Laurel said. “They’re putting together a special team of prosecutors for the war tribunals that are supposed to start next year.”

 

“And they want you,” Oliver said.

 

“They really do,” Laurel said. “It wouldn’t be forever, just for the next two years, maybe three if you account for appeals.”

 

“In New York?” Oliver asked.

 

“In The Hague,” Laurel said.

 

“I need a drink,” Oliver said.

 

He got to his feet and retrieved a beer and the open bottle of white wine. He refilled Laurel’s glass and took a long pull from his beer.

 

“You want to do this,” Oliver said and it wasn’t a question.

 

“It’s a chance to do something important,” Laurel said. “I mean, I have missed practicing but if this had been just another company looking for in house counsel, I wouldn’t have thought twice about saying no.”

 

Oliver nodded.

 

“When would they need you there?” he asked.

 

“Next month,” Laurel said.

 

Oliver huffed out a breath.

 

“That’s fast,” he said.

 

“I know,” she said. “I need to give them a definite answer this week.”

 

“How would it work?” Oliver asked. “Us, I mean.”

 

“We’d need to postpone the wedding,” Laurel said. “The way things have been at work with you, and how they’d be with me , I don’t think either of us would have our heads in the planning.”

 

She paused.

 

“We could just do it,” she said. “Hop on a plane to some place exotic and just get married.”

 

Oliver turned to look at her.

 

“That’s not you,” he said. “That’s not the wedding you want and even if it was, what would happen after? We get married and you move half way across the world for three years?”

 

He stood up and started pacing.

 

“I can’t move with you,” he said.

 

“QC has an office in Amsterdam doesn’t it?” Laurel questioned.

 

“We do but that isn’t the point,” Oliver said. “I’m not some random executive who can ask for a transfer. I’m being groomed to take over the company and you know what that means. We talked about it before you quit the first time. You’re the one who said the next few years would be too intense to manage if we were both working high pressure jobs. It would put too much of a strain on us, you said.”

 

“So what’s your alternative?” Laurel asked. “Because I’ve always supported you, Ollie and for once, I need you to support me. I need you to figure out a way to let me do this.”

 

Oliver ran his hands through his hair.

 

“Do you want to be in a long distance relationship?” he asked her. “And don’t just react. Think about it; think about how busy we’ll both be, think about not seeing each other for months at a time, snatching the occasional phone call at odd hours because of the time difference.”

 

“It’s not ideal,” Laurel said. “And I’m not saying it would be easy. But it would be temporary. It’s 36 months tops out of the rest of our lives. If we can’t do that, we need to think about whether we should be getting married at all.”

 

And there it was, Oliver realized.

 

A million thoughts sped through his mind but they all crystalized in the certainty that Laurel had – inadvertently perhaps – hit the nail on the head. She must have seen it on his face because she immediately protested.

 

“Ollie, I didn’t mean it like that,” she said. “I just meant…”

 

“You’re right though,” Oliver said.

 

He sat down next to her.

 

“You have a chance to do something that you’re passionate about,” he said. “And you should take it. I want you to take it. Because I think it’ll make you a lot happier than being married to me.”

 

“How can you say that?” Laurel demanded. “I love you.”

 

“I know you do but be honest,” Oliver said. “Do you really love your life with me, and what it would be like in two years or five or ten? Endless rounds of business dinners and cocktail parties and charity galas, me working long hours while you work the society circuit?”

 

He brushed a tear off her cheek.

 

“You’ve never looked as excited about any of that as you do about this job,” Oliver said. “And I don’t blame you for that. You’ve made sacrifices for me and I let you. I was selfish because you’re one of my best friends and I wanted to keep you close but it isn’t fair to you.”

 

“We’re breaking up right now, aren’t we?” Laurel asked.

 

“Yeah,” Oliver agreed. “We are.”

 

He wrapped his arms around her and let her cry herself out on his shoulder. Part of him was stunned at how this huge piece of his life had just unraveled in less than an hour and the other part was strangely calm, somehow convinced that this was the right thing not just for Laurel but for him too.

 

That, Oliver thought, was what struck him as being so odd. He’d never doubted that Laurel was good for him so the end of their relationship should have felt like he was losing something only it didn’t. It felt like a crack in the wall of expectations that surrounded him.

 

“What are you going to do?” Laurel sniffed, lifting her head from his shoulder to look at him.

 

“What do you mean?” Oliver asked her.

 

“I mean are you going to figure out what you’re passionate about and go do it?” Laurel asked.

 

Oliver stared at her. It was the opposite of everything she’d ever said to him on the subject so he was taken aback.

 

“Just now, when you talked about what my life would be like married to you,” Laurel said. “You weren’t really talking about me. You were talking about you. I know I’ve been dismissive in the past when you got frustrated or dissatisfied with work but I never understood until just now how much you actually dread your own future.”

 

She tried to muster a smile.

 

“I’m going to try not to take it personally considering I was supposed to be part of that future,” she said.

 

“The end of us as a couple doesn’t mean the end of us in each other’s lives,” Oliver pointed out.

 

“I know,” Laurel said. “But the point stands about your job and everything that goes with it. You either have to walk away from it or find more things about it to enjoy.”

 

“You’ve made your case counselor,” Oliver said.

 

Laurel blinked back more tears and took a swig of wine straight from the bottle.

 

“So how do we do the official part of this?” she asked.

 

“I’ll have the PR team make a statement,” Oliver said. “Explaining about the job, letting people know it was all amicable, we’re still friends, we wish each other the best.”

 

“The wedding planner can cancel everything,” Laurel said. “We’ll have to pay her a fortune but…”

 

“I’ll take care of it,” Oliver said. “That leaves the penthouse. You can have it if you want for when you get back to town. Your lease here is up.”

 

Laurel shook her head.

 

“It’s too nice of a place to leave empty for so long,” she said. “If you don’t want to move in, you should sell it. Let some other newlyweds start a life there.”

 

“I’ll talk to the realtor,” Oliver said.

 

Laurel let herself fall back on the couch.

 

“The fact that it’s taken us less than five minutes to sort out all the details is slightly depressing,” she said. “Break ups are supposed to be messy.”

 

“That was never us,” Oliver said. “We were never messy.”

 

“No, I guess not,” Laurel said.

 

“I should get going,” Oliver said.

 

He pressed a kiss to her forehead and stood up. He was almost out the door when she stopped him.

 

“Ollie?” she said. “Thank you.”

 

“What are you thanking me for?” Oliver asked.

 

“Being the one to say it,” Laurel said.

 

Oliver nodded and gave her a gentle smile before he walked out the door.

 

He found himself standing on the sidewalk with no where he needed to be and no way to get there.

 

So he did the obvious thing.

 

He called Tommy.

 

“So about that World Tour,”  Oliver said. “Change in plans.”

 

 

 

“So the man you’re probably glaring at right now is Jake,” Thea explained. “He’s a nice guy so you shouldn’t glare at him but besides that, he’s Ollie’s driver. He’s there to pick you up.”

 

“Why?” Felicity asked.

 

She’d been waiting for Thea at their one of their usual haunts when she’d seen a sleek black car pull up and a man in a black suit approach her. He’d identified himself as Jake and handed her a cell phone, explaining that Ms. Queen wanted to speak to her.

 

“Ollie and Laurel called off their engagement,” Thea said. “The news is about to hit the media which means odds are reporters and paps will be following all of us until it blows over. I didn’t want to chance being followed to meet you cause I kind of figured you’d object to a bunch of cameras being pushed into your face. But maybe I’m wrong and your secret dream is to be on reality TV.”

 

“Thea,” Felicity said with a slight edge.

 

“Okay, okay!” Thea exclaimed. “Jake, lovely soul, is going to drive you straight to a Queen Consolidated factory that was shut down a few months ago. They’re converting it into a lab but there’s a couple of offices that Ollie said we could use.”

 

“You have coffee?” Felicity asked.

 

“Obviously,” Thea said. “And treats.”

 

“Fine,” Felicity said.

 

She handed the phone back to Jake and even allowed him to open the back door of the car to her. Pushing her backpack in first, she crawled in after it. The plush leather seats gave far too much under her, making balance a precarious prospect. Felicity huffed out an impatient breath as she tried to get comfortable.

 

The evidence of the Queen’s wealth was in everything they owned, the quality of it all, and it made Felicity uneasy not because she was impressed but because she wasn’t. When you learned to live with the bare minimum, it made everything else seem superfluous. If it wasn’t essential to your survival – mental or physical – then you didn’t need it and having it just meant you were indulging yourself.

 

The drive to the factory took twenty five minutes and Thea was waiting when they arrived, her head poking out of a side door.

 

“Jake, you’re a gem!” Thea called out as Felicity climbed out of the car, grabbed her backpack and crossed the parking lot toward Thea.

 

Jake honked lightly in response as he drove away.

 

“Come on,” Thea said, holding the door open for Felicity. “We have so much to talk about.”

 

“You mean you have so much to talk about,” Felicity responded.

 

“I would talk less if you talked more,” Thea said.

 

“I doubt it,” Felicity said.

 

Thea laughed.

 

“Yeah, me too,” she agreed.

 

She linked her arm through Felicity’s and led the way down a long hallway to an office where she’d clearly been set up for a while. There was a table with coffee and a box of donuts on it also several folders, note pads, pens and a Mac Book Air.

 

“I’m giving Ollie my budget today,” Thea explained. “Seriously, I think I’ve done more research for this than I did my entire four years of high school.”

 

“Is that of reflection of how much this matters or how little you were interested in school?” Felicity asked.

 

“Probably both,” Thea said.

 

She gestured for Felicity to sit and help herself to coffee and donuts.

 

“Yesterday,” she said. “I made a list and actually went into a grocery store to price everything out. I’m just lucky it didn’t end up on TMZ or Just Jared. I have the worst luck with that kind of thing.”

 

She grinned.

 

“Not as bad as Ollie though,” she said. “Nothing will ever beat that video of him and Tommy dressed in drag and singing show tunes.”

 

Felicity snorted, almost choking on her coffee.

 

“That’s a…slightly disturbing mental image,” she said.

 

“One of Ollie’s one night stands leaked it,” Thea said. “She was mad that he didn’t call. I’m not supposed to know anything about it though.”

 

“Speaking of the women in your brother’s life though,” Felicity said, putting down her coffee cup. “You must be relieved…about Laurel.”

 

Thea shrugged.

 

“Not so much relieved as just right,” she said. “I mean, Ollie dated her for god knows how long, was ready to stand up in front of God and everyone and swear to spend his life with her. Then they call it off and he’s fine. Like, completely fine. Not so much as one sad, mopey eyed expression.”

 

“Maybe he’s internalizing,” Felicity said.

 

“Maybe he’s the one who feels relieved,” Thea countered.

 

Felicity let the subject drop, not sure why she’d raised it in the first place. Maybe she’d hoped to gain more insight into the way Oliver’s mind worked. She was still trying to figure him out. Unlike him, Felicity hated mysteries. They nagged at her until she solved them. It was one of the things that drew her to technology; the ability to take things apart and figure out what made them tick.

 

“Oh my god,” Thea exclaimed. “I can’t believe I almost forgot!”

 

She reached for her purse and pulled out an envelope. She held it in Felicity’s direction.

 

“Your first paycheck,” Thea said. “Well, it’s cash not a check but whatever. It’s the money from your carvings. Laurel had it couriered over.”

 

Felicity took the envelope and opened it.

 

“Thea,” she said. “There’s several hundred dollars in here.”

 

“Five hundred and forty to be exact,” Thea said.

 

“It was a dozen carvings,” Felicity said. “Small ones.”

 

“The envelope came with a note,” Thea said.

 

Felicity looked into the envelope again and found the folded piece of paper. In neat print was the invoice. 12 carvings sold at $50 each minus the 10 percent commission for the gallery.

 

“Ridiculous,” Felicity muttered.

 

“Buy a new hat,” Thea said. “You can even buy one of mine.”

 

Felicity arched an eyebrow.

 

“I’m selling last season’s wardrobe,” Thea said. “I know Ollie said he’d cover my expenses for two months but I figure additional savings won’t hurt. And it’s not like my new place is going to have the same amount of closet space.”

 

“Your parents aren’t kicking you out,” Felicity said. “It’s not as if you can’t ever go home.”

 

“I know,” Thea said. “But I want to prove to them that I can do it, you know? I want to prove it to myself too.”

 

“I get it,” Felicity said.

 

Thea spun the computer screen around.

 

“How does it look?” she asked.

 

Felicity scanned the spreadsheet and graphs that Thea had put together and nodded.

 

“Good,” she said.

 

Thea beamed.

 

“Okay, enough about me and my family,” she said decisively. “I know you don’t like to talk about you per se, but there has to be something random we can talk about. Like, what’s your favorite color?”

 

“I don’t have a favorite,” Felicity said.

 

“Everyone has a favorite,” Thea said.

 

Felicity shrugged.

 

“I like bright colors,” Felicity said. “Or I used to. Haven’t really given it much thought lately.”

 

“What do you think about?” Thea asked.

 

The question hung in the air for a moment and Felicity knew that Thea wasn’t trying to pry, just get her to open up a little.

 

“Lately,” Felicity began slowly. “I think a lot about the choices I made and how life might be different if my choices had been. I think about what life would be like if I made different choices now.”

 

“Have you come to any conclusions?” Thea asked.

 

“One,” Felicity admitted. “I need work on being more honest with myself. There are a lot of things I’ve avoided thinking or doing and I need to…stop.”

 

“Sounds like you’re trying to figure out who you are now,” Thea said. “After everything you’ve been through.”

 

Felicity blinked. She really hadn’t been looking at it like that. She’d been so focused on the more external elements; living on the streets versus not, having the bare necessities versus having more. She’d even been thinking about letting people into her life versus keeping them out but no where in that equation had she factored in taking a long, hard look at who she had become.

 

Her entire perception of herself was based on who she used to be and what things had been like before. All the experiences she’d had since then had changed her outlook on the world and how she chose to live but she’d never wondered if they had fundamentally changed her as well.

 

“I do need to figure that out,” Felicity agreed quietly.

 

“Are you a gambler?” Thea asked, totally changing the subject.

 

“Not really,” Felicity said. “Why?”

 

Thea pulled out a coin.

 

“If I win, you take off the hat,” she said impishly. “You can call it.”

 

“Seriously?” Felicity questioned.

 

“Seriously,” Thea said.

 

Felicity narrowed her eyes.

 

“Tails,” she said.

 

Thea flipped the coin, laughing gleefully when it came up heads.

 

She spun her finger around.

 

“Take it off!” she crowed.

 

Rolling her eyes, Felicity pulled her hat off and let the two thick braids she normally kept tucked underneath of it fall past her shoulders, the tips hanging just above her waist.

 

“You weren’t kidding about having a lot of hair,” Thea marveled, taking in the dark brown locks.

 

“Happy now?” Felicity asked.

 

Thea bit her lip and Felicity could see the glint in her eyes.

 

“Whatever you’re thinking,” Felicity began.

 

“I’m thinking I should be careful what I wish for,” Thea said. “I’m also thinking that if I tell you what I’m thinking you’ll run away screaming.

 

“I might run,” Felicity said. “I won’t scream.”

 

Thea laughed.

 

“If you saw me coming towards you with a pair of scissors,” she said. “You’d scream, trust me.”

 

“You think I should cut it?” Felicity asked.

 

“I think there’s probably a reason why you haven’t all this time,” Thea said. “If that reason still applies, then no. If it doesn’t, then I say go all out. Cut and color.”

 

“Color?” Felicity repeated.

 

“You’d make a hot blond,” Thea said.

 

“I’ll think about it,” Felicity said.

 

“Really?” Thea asked.

 

Felicity shrugged.

 

“New me, new look,” she said. “Isn’t that how it goes?”

 

“Something to think about anyway,” Thea answered.

 

She shot a look at the clock.

 

“I need to head over to QC for my meeting with Oliver,” Thea said.

 

“That’s very formal,” Felicity said.

 

“His way of making me feel like a grown up, I guess,” Thea said. “Do you want me to drop you anywhere?”

 

“I can walk,” Felicity said.

 

“You sure?” Thea asked.

 

Felicity nodded.

 

“Okay,” Thea said. “Where you going to be tonight?”

 

“South side of the train station,” Felicity said.  “I gather we meet here again tomorrow?”

 

“Probably for the best,” Thea said. “We can only hope the press gets over the end of this engagement as quickly as my brother did.”

 

After locking up the office, they walked back to the side door and parted ways at the gate. Thea drove slowly behind Felicity until she was back on a major avenue and then she waved before turning toward down town.

 

Oliver’ assistant Jenna greeted her with a warm smile when she got to the executive floor.

 

“Good to see you again, Thea,” Jenna said.

 

“You too,” Thea said. “How are your kids?”

 

“Driving me crazy,” Jenna laughed. “But that’s how I know they’re fine.”

 

She waved toward Oliver’s office.

 

“You can go on in,” she said. “He’s just finishing up a meeting with Walter Steele. Can I get you anything?”

 

Thea shook her head.

 

“No, thanks,” she said.

 

She slipped into Oliver’s office and flipped open her computer. She’d gone over what she wanted to say and how she wanted to explain her logic but she was uncharacteristically nervous. It wasn’t like she thought Oliver was trying to trip her up. If anything, he was probably trying to prepare her for the inevitable showdown with their parents.

 

It was just that she wanted him to think her capable. She wanted to be able to justify the faith he was putting in her.

 

“You look awfully deep in thought there, Speedy,” Oliver said striding in. “You and Smoaky solve all the world’s problems this morning?”

 

“Only half the world’s problems,” Thea said. “We’re slacking.”

 

Oliver grinned and Thea shook her head again, amazed at how good a mood he was in. She handed him a copy of the spreadsheet that she’d printed out earlier.

 

“I emailed you a final version,” Thea added. “The tweaks are minor but there.”

 

Oliver nodded and scanned the pages as he settled down next to her on the couch.

 

“What did you base your rent estimates on?” he asked.

 

“Compared listings on a couple different websites and also on the SCU housing board,” Thea said. “I actually visited three places that were on my short list. They’re all in that price range.”

 

She handed him another document.

 

“I’ve profiled all the places I’m interested in,” she said. “Rent, utilities, what’s included, what’s not.”

 

“Good,” Oliver said.

 

He turned his attention back to the spreadsheet and after studying for a few more minutes, he looked over at her and smiled.

 

“You did good, Speedy,” he said.

 

“Yeah?” Thea questioned.

 

“Yeah,” Oliver said. “Now you have more homework for next week. I want to know who you’ve approached with your designs, who you plan to approach, your strategy for following up and a short list of design schools that you’re interested in.”

 

“Relentless much?” Thea teased.

 

“Absolutely,” Oliver said with a grin. “But only because I love you.”

Chapter Text

“Oliver, your meeting with the audit committee starts in ten minutes,” Jenna said, sticking her head through the door of his office.

 

Oliver made a face but pushed himself off the couch and walked towards his desk.

 

“I guess that’s my cue,” Thea said wryly, getting up and beginning to collect her things.

 

“Same time next week,” Oliver told Thea. “Jenna, put it into my calendar, will you?”

 

“Of course,” Jenna said.

 

“By the way,” Oliver said, glancing over at his sister. “Any idea where I might find your friend Smoaky sometime after six tonight?”

 

Thea arched an eyebrow.

 

“Why?” she asked. “You planning to take her dinner?”

 

“I hadn’t planned to,” Oliver said. “I got a call from Nora Owen earlier. She owns the gallery where Laurel was working and wanted to see if they could get some more of the carvings. Apparently people are asking.”

 

“Interesting,” Thea said.

 

“Is it?” Oliver replied. “It seems logical to me. We can all agree she’s talented.”

 

“Oh I’m not taking about that,” Thea said, waving her hand. “I’m talking about the fact that your instinct is to find time to see Smoaky yourself rather than asking me to pass the message along for you when I see her.”

 

“If you’re making a point, I’m  missing it,” Oliver said.

 

“You like her,” Thea said plainly.

 

“I hardly know enough about her to have an opinion,” Oliver said. “But I don’t have a reason to dislike her so again, not sure what you’re getting at.”

 

“For someone so smart you can be so dense,” Thea complained. “What I’m saying is, you’re curious. You want to know more about her.”

 

She held up a finger when Oliver would have interrupted.

 

“I know exactly what you’re going to say next and I can tell you you’re wrong,” Thea said. “This isn’t about me or you being all over protective, wanting to make sure the people I spend time with are on the up and up.”

 

Oliver’s frown took a decidedly scowl like turn.

 

“For what it’s worth, I’m all for it,” Thea said. “I think you should reach out to her. The more people she starts to trust, the sooner she can realize that letting people in is actually worth it.”

 

“You’re reading far too much into a simple business proposal,” Oliver said.

 

“Somehow I doubt that,” Thea said. “In any event, to answer your original question, she’s spending the night on the south side of the train station.”

 

She slung her purse over her shoulder and grinned at him.

 

“You should take dinner,” Thea said. “She’ll probably yell at you for a bit but you’re tough. You can take it.”

 

“Good bye, Thea,” Oliver said pointedly.

 

“Love you too, Ollie,” Thea chirped, skipping out of the office.

 

Oliver shook his head, feeling equal parts exasperated and discomfited. As loath as he was to admit it, Thea wasn’t completely wrong. There was a degree of curiosity about where Smoaky had come from and what had happened to her that she ended up living on the streets alone, determined to keep the world at arm’s length. Was it just the loss of her brother or had there been other losses? Other tragedies?

 

He wanted answers to those questions but if you’d asked him why it mattered, Oliver wasn’t sure he’d be able to explain it.

 

“They’re waiting for you,” Jenna informed him.

 

Snapping his attention back to the present, Oliver gathered the relevant files from his desk and headed to the conference room. He’d be spending the rest of the day in there; first with the audit committee, then with legal team and lastly with the investment team.

 

“Jenna, do me a favor?” Oliver asked. “Have dinner to go delivered here for 6.”

 

“Sure,” Jenna said. “Where shall I order from?”

 

Oliver blinked. This was what he got for giving into impulse and listening to his sister. He had no idea what Smoaky liked to eat other than donuts and French toast.

 

“Ask Max to put together a little bit of everything,” Oliver said, referring to the chef at his favorite Italian restaurant.

 

“Consider it done,” Jenna said making a note.

 

Oliver smiled his thanks and walked into his meeting. Remarkably, that meeting and the other two that followed it actually ran to schedule. It was five minutes after six when he walked back into his own office.

 

Jenna was already gone but she’d left him a note saying that dinner was staying warm in the oven in the kitchenette down the hall that he and his father and their respective assistant’s shared.

 

He was just about to start shutting things down when his cell phone rang.

 

“Dad,” Oliver greeted.

 

“I’m being held up in London,” Robert informed him, getting straight to the point. “I’m supposed to be meeting with the city hall team in New York tomorrow. I need you to take the meeting.”

 

Oliver bit back a sigh.

 

“What time’s the meeting?” he asked.

 

“9 am eastern,” Robert said. “And Oliver, in person.”

 

“You want me to fly to New York tonight?” Oliver repeated.

 

“That is what I said,” Robert snapped. “It’s not as if you have a fiancée to answer to.”

 

Oliver’s jaw locked.

 

He’d left his father a voice mail before the press release went out, informing him of the end of his engagement but Robert hadn’t deigned to respond and this was the first time they were speaking since. It was no surprise that Robert wasn’t showing any concern for his son’s emotional well being but, focusing instead on how he could take advantage of the changing circumstances.

 

“I’m taking two weeks,” Oliver said. “No phone. No email.”

 

“Oliver, don’t be,” Robert began.

 

“It wasn’t a question,” Oliver interrupted. “I wasn’t asking for your permission. We’re well past that.”

 

“As father and son perhaps,” Robert agreed. “But the company isn’t yours yet and until it is, you work for me. I give the orders. Are we clear?”

 

Oliver’s response was to hang up and switch his phone off. He’d likely get an earful somewhere down the line but he didn’t care. Picking up his office line, he called the travel agent that took care of all his business trips and explained the need for a flight and hotel to New York City, later that night or first thing in the morning.

 

Shutting off his computer, he picked up his briefcase, collected Smoaky’s dinner from the oven and met Jake in the parking lot. After instructing him to head for the train station, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed Tommy.

 

The night he and Laurel had ended things, Tommy had plied him with vodka and poker at one of the most exclusive casinos in Starling. They’d gone in and out of back entrances, like ghosts.

 

Oliver was looking for that same kind of distraction on a larger scale.

 

“You have 24 hours to plan the next 14 days,” Oliver informed his friend. “Carte blanche.”

 

“Who pissed you off?” Tommy laughed.

 

“Do you even need to ask?” Oliver replied.

 

“Figures,” Tommy said. “In any event I’ve done more with less. Leave everything to me.”

 

“I have a meeting in New York tomorrow,” Oliver said. “I’ll meet you there.”

 

“New York’s a good place to start,” Tommy said. “I’ll let you know when I touch down. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I apparently have two weeks worth of debauchery to plan.”

 

“Discreet debauchery,” Oliver reminded him. “You know the press will be looking for blood now that Laurel and I are over.”

 

“What you should really be wondering,” Tommy told him. “Is about what – or who – you’re going to be looking for. Because I mean, I’d try to tell you exactly how long I think it’s been since you had sex with someone that wasn’t Laurel but I don’t think I can count that high.”

 

Oliver snorted.

 

“I’m not looking for a rebound,” he said.

 

“Rebound is such an ugly word,” Tommy said. “I prefer palate cleanser.”

 

“You would,” Oliver said.

 

He saw the train station come into view as Jake turned the corner.

 

“I have to go,” Oliver said. “I’ll see you tomorrow in the city.”

 

He hung up as Jake pulled up at the front entrance.

 

“Why don’t you park in the lot?” Oliver told him. “I’ll give you a call when I finish up.”

 

Jake simply nodded.

 

At this point, and after the favor Thea had cajoled out of him that morning, Oliver figured that Jake more or less knew the deal with Smoaky but as always, he kept his thoughts to himself.

 

Oliver appreciated that about him, not so much because he wouldn’t have welcomed Jake’s opinion but because he knew it was proof of the man’s discretion and loyalty. Having people around you that you could trust was a luxury; he had only to think of the woman he was in search of right now to know better than to take it for granted.

 

Smoaky was exactly where Thea had said she’d be and remembering the last time he’d gone looking for her like this, Oliver made an extra effort not to startle her. He was a good ten feet away when he called her name.

 

Her head turned sharply toward him and even though the light coming from the street lamp was dim and she had on that saggy hat, he could tell she was frowning at him.

 

“You,” she said.

 

“Me,” Oliver agreed. “Thea told me I could find you here.”

 

“Why?” Felicity asked.

 

“Why did she tell me?” Oliver asked.

 

“Why did you ask?” Felicity countered.

 

“I wanted to talk to you,” Oliver said. “Or actually, I wanted to make you a business proposition.”

 

“No,” Felicity said.

 

“You can’t say no,” Oliver said easily. “You haven’t heard it yet.”

 

“Oliver,” Felicity said.

 

Oliver grinned at her, pleased at how effortlessly his name rolled off her tongue. Jake had been with him for years and had yet to call him anything other than “sir” or “Mr. Queen.”

 

“Mind if I sit?” Oliver asked, not bothering to wait for an answer but instead lowering himself down on the ground next to her.

 

“We agreed that I’m not something for you to fix,” Felicity said. “Some challenge you feel driven to conquer for the hell of it.”

 

“I’m not trying to fix you,” Oliver said. “There are so many reasons why I’m not trying to fix you, not least of which is that only broken things need fixing and I think…”

 

He tilted his head slightly away from her and yellowish light from the street lamps cast his face into a sort of golden glow.

 

“I think you might be a bit dented, bent in some places,” he finished. “But not broken.”

 

Felicity shifted trying to subtly move away from him so that his broad shoulders and the rest of him really, wouldn’t be so close to her, so she wouldn’t be able to feel his body heat.

 

“Why are you here?” Felicity asked looking away from him and straight ahead.

 

She had no intention of responding to his previous comment. She wasn’t sure what she’d say if she even tried.

 

“I could give you literal reasons,” Oliver said. “Like dinner.”

 

He placed a brown bag with handles next to her.

 

“Or like the business proposal previously mentioned and unfairly rejected,” he continued. “But I don’t think that’s what you’re asking me.”

 

“It isn’t,” Felicity said.

 

“I could say it’s about Thea,” Oliver began.

 

“I wouldn’t believe you,” Felicity said.

 

“No?” Oliver asked. “Why not?”

 

Felicity shrugged.

 

“Because nothing is ever that simple,” she said. ‘And because I know how it feels when a brother is looking out for his little sister.”

 

“You’re right,” Oliver said. “It isn’t that simple and if I’m being completely honest, I’m not even sure I know why. As Thea so helpfully pointed out earlier, I could have asked her to let you know that the gallery is interested in more of your carvings, and that if you’re interested, I’d loan you the money to buy more wood and tools and let you work out of that QC factory. Again, only if you wanted to.”

 

He rubbed his hand over his jaw.

 

“But instead, not knowing if you even like Italian food, I had my friend Max, who happens to be a chef at an Italian restaurant, put together a little of everything on his menu,” Oliver said. “And here I am, once again Starling City’s most eligible bachelor, sitting on the street with a woman who probably wishes I was anywhere but here.”

 

“I like Italian food,” Felicity said after several moments of silence.

 

“Good,” Oliver said smiling. “Max is a great chef.”

 

“You didn’t answer the question,” Felicity pointed out.

 

“No,” Oliver agreed. “I guess I didn’t.”

 

He paused.

 

“I think…it’s about choices,” he finally said. “I meant every word about giving you the capital and the space to work in and it’s because I wanted to give you a choice; a chance to build something else for yourself if you want it.”

 

“What makes you think I don’t choose this?” Felicity said. “The way my life is now.”

 

“Maybe because I know what it feels like to take ownership of a choice that was made for you,” Oliver said. “And because, even though I was really young when it happened, I know what it’s like to lose a brother.”

 

Felicity looked at him sharply, scanning his face for sincerity.

 

“Thea never mentioned,” she began.

 

“It was before she was born, and my parents never talk about it,” Oliver said, letting his head fall back against the wall. “She knows about him but it’s not as real for her I guess, because she never knew him.”

 

“Why are you telling me this?” Felicity asked.

 

“It’s the answer to your question,” Oliver said. “Daniel was two years older than me. Before he died, even though I was only 4 at the time, my life was an open book; I could have grown up to do anything or everything I wanted. But afterward, I was the only son, the heir to the kingdom if you will, and I can’t remember the last time I had a choice to make with only myself to consider.”

 

He looked over at her and their eyes locked.

 

“You have freedom to make choices,” Oliver said. “It’s a shame not to use it.”

 

Felicity didn't respond right away and Oliver didn't rush her. If anything, he seemed to relax even more into the wall and Felicity got the feeling he was taking advantage of the moment to process whatever else was on his mind.

 

The silence should have been awkward. Everything about him sitting on the street with her should have been awkward and out of place and maybe it was. It just didn't feel like it was and that more than anything made Felicity wary.

 

She had a better understanding of what drove him after everything he'd said but it didn't reassure her the way she'd expected it to. Mainly because she had the feeling that as much as she'd learned from what he'd said, he'd learned more about her based on what she hadn't said. It left her feeling more exposed than she would have liked but not threatened either.

 

"I'll think about it," Felicity finally said.

 

He rolled his head toward her and gave her another one of those smiles she was beginning to realize came very easily to him. She wondered what that would be like; to find it so easy to let happiness or pleasure or amusement settle so easily on your face.

 

"I'm going out of town for a few weeks," he said. "We can talk when I get back."

 

Felicity nodded as Oliver got to his feet.

 

"Be careful out there, okay?" he said.

 

"Yeah," Felicity agreed.

 

He started to walk away and Felicity found herself calling out to him.

 

"Thanks for dinner," she said.

 

Oliver winked at her.

 

"Maybe next time you'll even let me eat with you," he teased.

 

"Doubtful," Felicity said.

 

Her lips curled upward a tiny bit.

 

"Your table manners are terrible," she said.

 

Oliver's laugh echoed around her and in her mind long after he'd disappeared.

 

 

 

"What's the matter?" Felicity asked, as Thea let her into the QC factory. "You look upset."

 

"I'm not upset," Thea denied. "Just frustrated."

 

"What happened?" Felicity asked, setting her back pack on the floor once they reached the office. She sat down at the table and reached for her coffee.

 

"My dad is home for one thing," Thea muttered.

 

"You got in a fight?" Felicity asked.

 

"Hardly," Thea said. "He'd have to give a damn to fight. I mean at least my mother has an opinion even if it's a negative one. All Dad said was that as long as I'm out there "being frivolous" then he was freezing access to my trust fund."

 

"Your father is an asshole," Felicity said.

 

"Yes," Thea said. "Yes, he is. But..."

 

"No buts," Felicity interrupted. "Don't let him get inside your head."

 

Thea sighed and reached for her own coffee.

 

"I got a couple responses from designers that I sent sketches to," she said. "Two of them are so generic, I have no idea if anyone even looked at the designs before responding and one that I got excited about because they wanted to meet."

 

"Why aren't you excited anymore?" Felicity asked.

 

"I supposed I could have tried to go incognito," Thea said. "But you know...short of having plastic surgery, at some point I have to just be me and well, as usual, things change when your last name is Queen. At least in this city."

 

“So they either wanted you for you for your name or didn’t want you for your name,” Felicity said.

 

“The former,” Thea said. “And you do realize that you just outlined a completely no win situation there right? I’m damned no matter what I do.”

 

Felicity considered her words carefully, trying to decide the best way to make her point.

 

“You have to keep caring about what you do,” she finally said. “But stop caring what other people think about what you do.”

 

“It sounds like there is a contradiction in there somewhere,” Thea said.

 

“I guess I’m just saying that the people who let your name get in the way aren’t the right people for you to be working with,” Felicity said. “And there are going to be a lot of them out there so you can’t let that discourage you.”

 

“Easier said than done,” Thea said.

 

“Most things are,” Felicity said.

 

“You must think I’m ridiculous,” Thea said. “Complaining about how hard life is because I can have whatever I want handed to me on a platter.”

 

“You want this,” Felicity pointed out. “And it’s not being handed to you.”

 

“You know what I mean,” Thea replied.

 

“People stare,” Felicity said.

 

Thea shot her a confused look.

 

“When you live on the street,” Felicity continued. “They stare. Never for long but always long enough for you to feel it. It drove me to the brink of hysteria the first few weeks. I felt like I was always being watched, judged or pitied.”

 

She took a sip of coffee to steady her nerves.

 

“Sometimes I felt embarrassed, other times ashamed,” she said. “More than anything I just wanted to disappear. Diggle was the one to get me past it.”

 

“How?” Thea asked quietly.

 

“He told me that every day I survived on the street was a victory and that I shouldn’t talk myself out of it by accepting the weight of other people’s perception, their judgment,” Felicity said.

 

She offered Thea a small smile.

 

“Every day you dedicate to this, to finding a way to do what you love, without the trust fund or your parents’ approval,” Felicity said. “That’s a victory. Don’t talk yourself out of it.”

 

“I’m going to hug you now,” Thea said, getting to her feet. “You have about ten seconds to make a run for it.”

 

“I’ve decided to give the not running thing a shot,” Felicity said as Thea’s arms wrapped around her shoulders.

 

“I’m glad,” Thea said.

 

She gave Felicity a tight squeeze before letting go and walking back to her chair.

 

“And in the meantime,” Thea said, pushing a box of donuts toward Felicity. “I need to find a night job and email Ollie so we can sort out the deposit on my new apartment. Well technically it’s a loft.”

 

“You made a decision then,” Felicity said.

 

Thea nodded.

 

“You’ll have to come check it out,” she said. “It’s on Crawford street just off the plaza.”

 

“Artsy neighborhood,” Felicity said.

 

“I’m an artsy girl,” Thea quipped. “Speaking of my brother though.”

 

“I didn’t realize we were,” Felicity said.

 

“He mentioned wanting to talk to you yesterday,” Thea said. “I told him where to find you.”

 

“That’s becoming a habit of yours,” Felicity said.

 

“If you had a cell phone I would have texted you a head’s up,” Thea said.

 

“Cute,” Felicity said.

 

“So?” Thea pressed. “He said something about a business proposal.”

 

“He offered me a loan,” Felicity said. ”To buy wood and tools for my carvings. Said I could work in here if I wanted to.”

 

“Did you say yes?” Thea asked.

 

“I told him I’d think about it,” Felicity said.

 

“And have you?” Thea pressed.

 

“What you’re really asking is if I’m going to say yes,” Felicity said. “I don’t know if I am.”

 

“Why wouldn’t you?” Thea asked. “I don’t mean it in a flippant way. I genuinely want to know.”

 

Felicity was silent for a few minutes. She tore her donut into several pieces but made no move to eat any of them.

 

“When you get used to fending for yourself, it becomes really hard to let people do things for you,” Felicity said. “It always feels…unnatural. On top of which, I’m not good at relying on people. Even before…”

 

She paused.

 

“I was the one people leaned on,” Felicity said quietly. “Not the one who did the leaning.”

 

Thea processed that.

 

“And the people you did rely on, your brother and Diggle,” she said. “They both died.”

 

“Right,” Felicity agreed.

 

“Know what I think?” Thea said.

 

“What?” Felicity asked.

 

‘I think you think too much,” Thea said. “You’re so used to maintaining those walls around yourself that you’re constantly weighing how everything you do is going to affect your defenses.”        

 

Felicity opened her mouth to respond but realized she was at a loss for words.

 

“I’m not saying you need to make a radical transformation on the spot,” Thea said. “But for this one thing,  you should go with your instinct. And if your instinct is to say no, it just means you’re not ready yet and that’s okay too.”

 

Felicity gave a small sigh.

 

“My instinct isn’t to say no,” she said. “But saying yes doesn’t come easily anymore. Like I said, it feels unnatural.”

 

“Carving didn’t come naturally to you either,” Thea pointed out. “But you worked at it and now you’re awesome. Having relationships with people isn’t much different. Except for the part that involves cutting with knives. Cause if you do that to people it’s…assault at best and murder at worst.”

 

“Only if you get all technical about it,” Felicity said.

 

Thea smiled.

 

“And so you know, Smoaky,” she said. “All the times I’ve ever told you that Ollie is a good man? I really did mean it and not just because he’s my brother. You can trust him. Or at least, you can trust him as much as you trust me, however much that is.”

 

“I trust you,” Felicity said slowly. “More than anyone in a long time.”

 

Thea beamed.

 

“It might sound strange,” she said. “But it’s kind of the same for me. I’ve never had a friend I could be this honest with.”

 

Felicity allowed herself to smile at that and found that it felt good. It was another small step, she decided and while she might not be 100 percent sure of where all these steps were going to take her, Thea was right. She had a tendency to overthink things because it was the only way she could make her mind accept her self imposed isolation.

 

Before Adam had died, she’d been a naturally sociable person, always willing to take the first step or put someone else at ease. She wasn’t that way now and didn’t think she’d ever fully be that way again but it didn’t mean those were the only two options.

 

And maybe that was the key, Felicity thought. Understanding that there could be more than two ways to look at a situation, understanding that, just as Oliver had said, she had choices and the freedom to make them.

 

“Okay, now I need help,” Thea said, pushing a newspaper across the table. “Looking for bars and restaurants that are hiring. You think you can safely wield a highlighter?”

 

“You might have to keep an eye on me,” Felicity said. “I might start trying to cut things with it.”

 

Thea rolled eyes but she was grinning. She turned back to her computer while Felicity pulled the newspaper towards her and opened it.

 

They worked in one of their comfortable silences until Thea’s phone rang.

 

“Hey, Ollie,” Thea said.

 

“Hey,” Oliver said. “Harrison just emailed me to say that there aren’t any issues with the lease so you can go ahead and sign it. I’ll have the deposit and first month’s rent wired to your landlord.”

 

“Thanks,” Thea said. “When are you coming home?”

 

“Miss me already?” Oliver asked.

 

“Nope,” Thea said. “Only want to know when I can expect my presents. Just because I’m forsaking my trust fund doesn’t mean I don’t expect my billionaire older brother to keep spoiling me. It’s the principle of the thing.”

 

Oliver laughed.

 

“Week after next,” he told her. “Try not to get in trouble while I’m gone.”

 

“I never try to get in trouble,” Thea said.

 

“Then try not to be trouble,” Oliver said. “And tell Smoaky I said hi when you see her.”

 

Thea looked over at the woman in question.

 

“Ollie says hi,” Thea informed her.

 

Felicity blinked as she looked over at Thea.

 

“Hi back?” she offered.

 

“Smoaky says hi back,” Thea told her brother.

 

“I didn’t realize she was with you,” Oliver said. “I must be interrupting coffee time.”

 

“We’re job hunting,” Thea said. “Or I am and Smoaky is helping.”

 

“I guess I should say good luck, then,” Oliver said.

 

“You’re the one traipsing the world with only Tommy for company,” Thea said. “If one us needs luck, it’s probably you.”

 

“That’s a good point, actually,” Oliver said.

 

“Have fun,” Thea told him. “You deserve it.”

 

“So I keep hearing,” Oliver said. “Talk to you soon, Speedy.”

 

“Bye,” Thea said.

 

She hung up and glanced thoughtfully at Smoaky. Something was up with her and Oliver. Thea was positive of that but she didn’t know what that “something” was. She didn’t think it was romantic; Oliver had only just broken up with Laurel and Thea didn’t think that Smoaky was ready for or interested in a romantic relationship. They weren’t friends either; they hadn’t spent enough time together for that. She supposed it could be the beginning of a friendship but for some reason that wasn’t what it felt like.

 

“So what else did you and Ollie talk about last night?” Thea asked.

 

She was blatantly fishing for information but she wasn’t sorry. She loved her brother and was growing to love Smoaky too. If something was going on there, whatever it was, she wanted to understand it and keep an eye on it. The last thing she wanted was for either of them to get hurt.

 

“Why would we have talked about anything else?” Felicity asked.

 

“New rule,” Thea said. “No more answering questions with ‘why’. If you insist on answering a question with a question, pick a different question.”

 

She arched an eyebrow.

 

“Well?” she asked.

 

Felicity shrugged.

 

She didn’t know where her reluctance to tell Thea about her conversations with Oliver was coming from but she couldn’t deny that it was there. Now that she thought about it, she hadn’t really shared much with Thea about any of her interactions with Oliver.

 

“We just talked a little bit,” Felicity said. “Not about anything in particular.”

 

“Uh huh,” Thea said. “So that you know, I absolutely do not believe you. But it’s fine if you don’t want to tell me. I actually think it’s a good that you and Oliver have your own thing, whatever it is.”

 

“You do?” Felicity asked.

 

“Sure,” Thea said easily. “After all, the only thing better than having one Queen in your life, is having two.”

 

It was meant to be a light hearted comment; Felicity was certain of that but hours later as she re-braided her freshly washed hair, she was still thinking about it, about what it meant to have people in your life and more specifically how Thea and Oliver Queen ended up being the two people she let into hers.

 

Be honest, Felicity reminded herself as she looked at herself in the mirror. She wasn’t turning Thea’s presence in her life or their friendship over and over in her mind. She might still be adjusting to it but at the very least she knew what it was.

 

The same couldn’t be said for the way she and Oliver seemed to be orbiting each other, for lack of a better term. Thea should have been the only thing they had in common, the only reason they ever crossed each other’s paths.

 

But in the handful of hours they’d spent together – not even alone for the most part – Felicity had discovered that she had more in common with Oliver than she’d had with anyone in a long time.

 

And he seemed to be able to read her so easily. Felicity had no idea what to make of that. Adam had been able to read her but she hadn’t actively been hiding anything back in those days. She’d been an open book full of laughter and irrepressible optimism.

 

That hadn’t been the case when she met Diggle and though she’d trusted him with her life immediately, it had a taken a little longer before she started to confide in him. There was no doubt that he knew her better than anyone had since Adam’s death but she didn’t think that knowing someone was the same as understanding them.

 

Oliver didn’t know her but he seemed to understand her and Felicity didn’t have the first clue how to feel about it. She wasn’t rejecting it. If she had been she would have made no bones about telling him to back off and leave her alone.

 

She just didn’t know if she was ready to fully embrace it either. Maybe that was why she hadn’t said anything to Thea. She wanted more time to make up her mind without anyone else’s opinion, however well intentioned, in the mix.

 

The one thing she knew for certain was that if she did take Oliver up on his offer of a loan, if she did let him become part of her life as something other than Thea’s brother, it was going to be unchartered territory and not just for her. She got the distinct impression that the underlying tension she’d sensed in him when they first met was rising to the surface.

 

There was a tangible air of dissatisfaction around him. Or at least there had been the last time she saw him. Maybe he was just having a moment that night but Felicity’s gut told her it went deeper than that. Of course, he had just ended his engagement and despite Thea’s conviction that he was completely fine, Felicity was sure it was the sort of thing that you didn’t walk away from unscathed.

 

Securing the end of her braid with an elastic band, Felicity studied her reflection. She couldn't deny that on a lot of levels, the urge to let go was getting harder to resist. Thea wasn't wrong that Felicity spent too much time weighing her decisions instead of simply making them and moving on.

 

It was an added layer of protection when she wanted distance from the world around her but now that she was trying to bridge that gap it was a bigger obstacle that she'd anticipated. Probably because despite telling herself that she only needed to take one small step after the other, there was still a part of her holding tight to that defense mechanism out of fear. If she let her guard down too fast too soon, she was afraid that life would start to spin out of her control again, not necessarily in a self destructive way but overwhelming never the less.

 

Still, it all came down to the fact that while she may not have admitted it to herself before now, all the choices she'd made and steps she'd taken - becoming friends with Thea, accepting the offer to sell her carvings in the gallery in the first place - were a reflection of her desire to change course. There was no point in trying to talk herself out of it now because she'd already come too far to turn back.

 

Biting her lip, she shored up her resolve and made two decisions.

 

She was going to accept Oliver's offer.

 

And it was time for a haircut.

 

 

 

"Ms. Queen, we weren't expecting you."

 

Thea smiled at the receptionist - Lola if memory served - and tried not to let her nerves show.

 

"Actually you are," Thea said. "T. Dearden. I have an appointment to see Shado."

 

Lola's eyes widened slightly as she glanced down at her iPad and then back at Thea.

 

"Of course," she said. "I'll let Shado know you're here."

 

Thea made sure her smile stayed fixed on her face. Despite Smoaky’s advice to spend less time worrying about what other people thought, Thea knew it was going to take time to break what was essentially the habit of a lifetime.

 

She’d had eyes on her from the day she was born; one of the first pictures ever taken of her was by the media when her parents were bringing her home from the hospital. Growing up with that level of scrutiny meant that Thea had learned early on how to protect her vulnerabilities. There was always a smile or a flirty look; anything to distract from the substance underneath the surface.

 

“You can go on in,” Lola said, gesturing to the door down the hall.

 

“Thanks,” Thea said brightly.

 

She tried to loosen her grip on the portfolio she was clutching like a lifeline but it wasn’t easy. She walked into the office and found Shado, not behind a desk but standing in front of an easel.

 

Originally from China, Shado had moved to Starling City with her father when she was a teenager. She’d taken the fashion world by storm only a few years later and was considered one of the best in the business. She was a little eccentric, some people said, but what designer wasn’t?

 

“You made a bold move,” Shado said by way of greeting, a small smile on her face. “I like that about you.”

 

“Thank you?” Thea offered, not sure what the appropriate response to a comment like that actually was.

 

“Have a seat,” Shado said, indicating two overstuffed chairs on either side of a coffee table.

 

Looking, Thea realized that the designs she’d submitted had been printed out and were scattered over the surface of the table. Swallowing a little nervously, she sat down.

 

“You’re talented, Thea,” Shado said. “It’s obvious that you understand a lot of the technical basics of design – balance, colors, the way you use lines. You have a solid foundation.”

 

Thea nodded.

 

“What am I missing?” she asked.

 

Shado gave her an approving grin.

 

“I see your skill in these designs,” Shado said waving at the papers between them. “But I don’t see you.”

 

Lola walked in just then with a pot of tea.

 

“Would you like some?” Shado offered.

 

“Yes, please,” Thea said.

 

Shado poured green tea into two tiny cups and handed one to Thea.

 

“To be successful in fashion requires you to have a fluid relationship with your own identity,” Shado said, sitting back in her chair. “You have to know who you are and be clear on it. But also need to push yourself, to discover new things about who you are and you have to be willing to reinterpret all of it on a constant basis.”

 

She took a sip of her tea.

 

“Look at the Lian Yu collection,” she told Thea. “I’m not a dark person. I’ve been lucky not to suffer too many tragedies in my life. But I created a scenario far removed from my own experience and put myself in the middle of it. That world between reality and fantasy is where inspiration lives. You need to find your own path to that world.”

 

“What happens when I do?” Thea asked.

 

“You come back to me with different designs,” Shado said. “And then we’ll see if you really have what it takes.”

 

“And then?” Thea asked.

 

Shado gave a small shake of her head.

 

“No promises,” she said. “If you step into this business for any reason other than the art, it’s going to chew you up and spit you out. Success should be a consequence, not the objective.”

 

“I understand,” Thea said slowly.

 

And really, what Shado was saying wasn’t that different than what Smoaky had said. As important as it was to her to prove to herself and to her parents that she could be successful, it was more important that she found a way to do what she loved and be happy.

 

“Your email said you were looking for a job,” Shado said, breaking into Thea’s thoughts.

 

“Yes,” Thea said. “I’m planning to go to design school next year but I thought a little “real world” industry experience would be useful.”

 

“One of my stylists, Nyssa, needs an assistant,” Shado said. “Ask Lola to give you an application on your way out. Again, no promises, but I think you could be a good fit.”

 

“Thank you for taking the time to speak to me,” Thea said. “For being so real about it.”

 

“My father was the best mentor I could have asked for,” Shado said. “I like to try and pass on what I learned from him when I can. Only to the right students, though.”

 

“I’ll do my best to be one of them,” Thea said with a smile.

 

Shado returned the smile and Thea was halfway out the door before she paused and looked back.

 

“Gray,” she said.

 

Shado quirked an eyebrow upward and Thea nodded to the design perched on the easel.

 

“The spirals on that pattern,” Thea said. “Definitely, gray.”

 

Shado’s smile stretched wider and Thea walked out feeling lighter and more confident than she had going in. She may not have walked out with a job in hand or a future in fashion guaranteed. But what she had found was someone who seemed to believe in her.

 

Not her family’s name or their fortune but in her. And the difference between this and her brother or Smoaky or Roy believing in her was that Shado had absolutely no reason to. Or at least not any reason other than her designs.

 

Plucking her phone out of her purse, Thea dialed Roy.

 

“Break out the orange soda, babe,” Thea informed him when he picked up. “Tonight, we celebrate!”

Chapter Text

Out of the corner of his eye, Oliver saw Tommy shaking his head. They were lounging poolside on the roof of an exclusive hotel in Cannes and while Oliver had no intention of swimming – had hated it since he was a kid – he didn’t mind hanging out, nursing a beer and watching the stream of people pass him by.

 

He had nowhere to be and no one to answer to and he was taking full advantage of the fact. Although perhaps, if Tommy’s expression was any indication, not as full advantage as he could be taking.

 

“You’re off your game,” Tommy said. “That girl? Totally flirting with you. A little effort on your part and the deal would have been sealed.”

 

Oliver shrugged.

 

“Not in the mood,” he said.

 

“What’s on your mind?” Tommy asked. “Don’t say it’s nothing because I know better. Something is up with you. Really up.”

 

Oliver let out a slow breath.

 

Tommy wasn’t wrong and contrary to what most people thought Oliver knew how keen of an observer his best friend actually was. He made a deliberate effort to live a careless lifestyle but he always knew when the people closest to him – which was basically Oliver and to a lesser extent Thea – needed more from him than a witty comeback or sin filled getaway.

 

“My job has basically taken over my life,” Oliver said. “And I don’t love my job enough for that to be okay. I want something else. I’m beginning to think I need something else.”

 

“Any thoughts on what something else might be?” Tommy asked.

 

“No clear ones,” Oliver said. “Hence the “something on my mind” situation.”

 

Tommy was silent for a moment.

 

“I’m going to ask you a question,” he finally said. “Indirectly related.”

 

“Shoot,” Oliver said.

 

“Did you get engaged to Laurel because you wanted to marry her or because you wanted to get married?” Tommy asked. “And if it was the latter, did you want to get married because you’re actually interested in that kind of commitment or because it seemed like the thing to do?”

 

“I proposed because it seemed like the thing to do and she seemed like the person to do it with,” Oliver said. “But it feels like a lot’s changed since then. As much fun as we had living it up as bachelors, I can’t see myself going back to that.”

 

“What do you see instead?” Tommy asked. “You want to find the perfect woman and settle down?”

 

Oliver’s lips quirked upwards and he found himself flashing back to his conversation with Thea the night they’d talked out her concerns about his relationship with Laurel. She’d talked about excitement and optimism and possibility. He’d denied wanting any of that because it didn’t fit with his life, with the future that was planned out. Only, that future was starting to unravel and there wasn’t any reason not to be honest.

 

He did want those things, craved them even.

 

“I want to discover the world again,” Oliver said. “With someone who makes me feel more than just content.”

 

Unbidden, an image of Smoaky popped into his mind and Oliver found that he wasn’t actually that surprised. Whenever he thought about the ridiculous blue of her eyes and the shadows and kindness and courage and doubts that lived there, he felt it pull at him in a way that he couldn’t explain except to say that it was impossible ignore.

 

“Who is she?” Tommy asked.

 

Oliver blinked.

 

“Huh?” he asked.

 

“Oliver, I’ve known you since before you were born,” Tommy said.

 

Their mothers had been pregnant together and Tommy was a few months older. He liked to joke that they’d been best friends before either of them had taken their first breaths.

 

“I know when there’s a woman on your mind,” Tommy said. “And considering I’ve never seen that particular expression on your face before, I’m going to go with it being someone I haven’t heard about yet.”

 

“You asked me who she is,” Oliver said after a moment. “Honest to god, I don’t have an answer to that question. Smoaky is…eighty percent mystery, ten percent fascinating and…”

 

“10 percent attraction?” Tommy supplied. “Also, what kind of name is Smoaky?”

 

“Only one she’s given me,” Oliver said. “And as for the attraction…”

 

Oliver thought about the word and everything it implied and realized that it was a more accurate description of his feelings than any he’d been able to come up with before. He was attracted to her. He just hadn’t let himself think about it in those terms.

 

There was the emotional attraction, which considering how little time they’d really spent together was far more intense than it had any right to be. She felt like a kindred spirit, like someone who might understand the things he’d always kept to himself, away from even Tommy or Thea.

 

“Well?” Tommy prompted impatiently. “I’m assuming she’s hot because you’ve always had good taste but I need details.”

 

The interruption brought Oliver back to the conversation but Tommy’s question sent him spinning right back into his own thoughts. This was the part he felt the most conflicted about. Smoaky was beautiful; he’d thought so the first time he saw her and more than once since then too.

 

And it was fine when it was just an objective observation but now they were talking about something else. They were talking about chemistry and wanting and lust and Oliver didn’t want to talk about those things because he knew that whatever he felt, Smoaky was in no position, mentally or emotionally to go down that road, with him or anyone else. Because of that, thinking of her in sexual terms made him feel awkward, like he was taking advantage.

 

“Details don’t matter,” Oliver said. “It isn’t like that and it’s not going to be.”

 

Tommy burst out laughing.

 

“She’s not into you,” he cackled. “This is priceless. Oliver Queen hung up on a girl who doesn’t want to know. Has that ever even happened before?”

 

“You’re oversimplifying a complicated situation,” Oliver said.

 

“Likely story,” Tommy said. “Do I get to meet ‘Smoaky’ when we get back to Starling City?”

 

“I’m not sure she’d got for that,” Oliver said. “She has a thing about trusting people.”

 

Tommy’s expression sobered.

 

“Be careful, Oliver,” he said. “You said it yourself about how she’s a mystery and now you’re saying she has trust issues. Sounds like the kind of girl that can break your heart.”

 

“No one’s heart is getting broken,” Oliver said. “Smoaky and I are just two people who talk some times. I don’t even think we’re friends.”

 

“Probably for the best,” Tommy said. “Last time you were friends with a woman, you tried to marry her and look how well that didn’t work.”

 

Oliver rolled his eyes.

 

“So where’d you meet this Smoaky person?” Tommy asked.

 

“She’s friends with Thea,” Oliver said.

 

“Last I checked Sara was the closest thing Thea had to a girl friend,” Tommy said. “And since when are you “people who talk” with her friends anyway?”

 

He fixed Oliver with a look.

 

“This would go so much easier if you just told me whatever it is you’re trying not to tell me,” Tommy said.

 

Oliver debated it for a few moments before deciding that if there was anyone he could trust with this, Tommy was it.

 

“You remember a while back Thea had her purse stolen?” Oliver asked.

 

“Sure,” Tommy said. “She got it back though, right? Someone turned it in to the police.”

 

“Smoaky did,” Oliver said. “She and Thea started having coffee together in the mornings. One morning Thea couldn’t make it and asked me to go instead.”

 

Tommy processed that.

 

“Wait,” he said. “Wasn’t the woman who turned Thea’s purse in homeless?”

 

“Yeah,” Oliver said.

 

Tommy stared at him and then muttered a curse.

 

“Christ, Ollie,” he said. “Do you ever do anything by half?”

 

“Okay that, coming from you, is the ultimate in irony,” Oliver said.

 

“Granted,” Tommy allowed. “But still. Have you thought about all the ways this could go wrong? For you, for Thea, not to mention how do you know she’s not a drug addict or a prostitute or…”

 

“Not every homeless person is some kind of criminal,” Oliver said. “There’s plenty of decent people out there with shit luck is all.”

 

Tommy sighed.

 

“You and your bleeding heart,” he said. “I’m going on record that this will probably blow up in your face at some point and if – when – that happens, I’ll have your back.”

 

“Condemnation and support all rolled into one,” Oliver teased. “Thanks.”

 

“I’m not condemning,” Tommy said. “We’ve all played outside our privileged sandbox a time or two. Okay, probably not this far outside of it. Point is though it’s always just fun, always temporary. Can you honestly tell me that your interest in this woman, whether it’s ‘like that’ or not, is casual?”

 

Oliver didn’t answer him but apparently silence was answer enough for Tommy.

 

“That’s what I figured,” Tommy said. “We don’t have enough alcohol to keep talking about this. Let’s go back to how you’re going to quit your job. Seems like a less explosive topic.”

 

Oliver laughed.

 

“You have met my father, right?” he said. ‘If I quit working at QC, an explosion is going to be the least of our worries.”

 

“So what?” Tommy asked. “Let him react however he wants. It’s not about him.”

 

“Everything is about him,” Oliver said wryly.

 

His cell phone rang on the table between them.

 

“Speak of the devil,” Oliver said, pressing the ignore button.

 

He closed his eyes briefly.

 

“You’re right,” he said.

 

“Obviously,” Tommy agreed.

 

“I’m going to write my letter of resignation,” Oliver said. “Recommend that Walter Steele be promoted and then we are getting extremely drunk.”

 

“I won’t even push you to score,” Tommy said. “Now that I know you’re saving yourself for Smoaky.”

 

“Fuck off,” Oliver said, throwing a cushion at Tommy’s head as he stood up. Tommy was still laughing when Oliver walked towards the elevator that would whisk him right down to the palatial suite of apartments that he and Tommy were sharing.

 

His cell phone rang again but this time Thea’s face flashed across the screen.

 

“Speedy?” he asked.

 

“You have any other sisters?” Thea retorted.

 

“I thought Dad might have taken your phone,” Oliver said.

 

“Yeah, if he’d tried that, he’d probably be in emergency surgery now,” Thea said. “Dad or no dad.”

 

Oliver laughed.

 

“You sound like you’re in a good mood,” he said.

 

“The best!” Thea said happily. “I got a job! Two jobs, actually.”

 

“Congratulations,” Oliver said warmly. “Tell me about it.”

 

“You’re not busy being devious with Tommy?” Thea asked.

 

“I’ve got time,” Oliver assured her.

 

“Job number one is the best one,” Thea said. “I’m going to work with Nyssa Al Ghul. She’s a stylist that works for Shado. I’m going to be her assistant.”

 

“That’s fantastic,” Oliver said.

 

“Shado gave me great advice about how I can improve my designs and then she told me to apply for the assistant job,” Thea explained. “I got the call from Nyssa two hours ago.”

 

“And the other job?” Oliver asked.

 

“Working nights at Dorado as a hostess,” Thea said. “Some guy I know made a deal with me that I needed to live off whatever I made until I was in school again.”

 

“Smart guy,” Oliver said. “The strategy seems to be working.”

 

“Yeah well, I think the Smoaky strategy is going to work too,” Thea said.

 

“Meaning?’ Oliver asked.

 

“I’ll let her tell you,” Thea said.

 

Oliver heard shuffling sounds and then Smoaky’s voice came on the line, the slightly raspy tone now familiar to him.

 

“Hello, Oliver,” he said.

 

“Hello yourself,” he replied. “How are you?”

 

“You always ask such loaded questions,” Felicity said.

 

“You always avoid answering them,” Oliver replied.

 

“If that proposal of yours is still on the table,” Felicity began.

 

“It is,” Oliver said.

 

“Then I accept,” Felicity said. “Thank you.”

 

“I’m glad you’re letting me do this for you,” Oliver said.

 

“Not for me,” Felicity corrected. “With me. I’m paying you back every penny.”

 

“If you insist,” Oliver said.

 

“I do insist,” Felicity said.

 

“It’s a deal then,” Oliver said.

 

“Guess so,” Felicity said.

 

“Go see my assistant Jenna,” Oliver said. “I’ll have her set you up with the cash and keys to the factory.”

 

He paused.

 

“I’ll make sure the security team is expecting you too,” Oliver said. “So that you don’t have to do whatever it is you did to get in last time.”

 

“I appreciate that,” Felicity said.

 

“What did you do to get in last time?” he asked. “Some thing to the lock on the stairwell door, right? Took the security company two days to fix it.”

 

“You need a new security company,” Felicity said.

 

“My father does,” Oliver said. “Next time I see him it’s going to be with a letter of resignation in my hand.”

 

Oliver chuckled.

 

“No one but Tommy knows that,” he said.

 

“Why tell me?” Felicity asked.

 

“Same reason I’ve told you any of the things I’ve told you,” Oliver said.

 

“This isn’t about choices,” Felicity said.

 

“Sure it is,” Oliver said. “It’s about my choice to trust you.”

 

“It’s a choice you keep making,” Felicity said.

 

“Remember that day at the Club,” Oliver said. “I told you to trust me only if you thought I was worthy of it.”

 

“I remember,” Felicity said.

 

“So then you know it’s simple,” Oliver said. “I choose to trust you because I think you’re worthy of it.”

 

 

 

“You hung up?” Thea questioned.

 

“Sorry,” Felicity said. “Did you want to talk to him again?”

 

“Nothing that won’t keep,” Thea said. “You okay?”

 

“Fine,” Felicity said.

 

“Cause you look a little shook up,” Thea said.

 

Felicity stifled a snort.

 

She was a little bit shaken. Oliver had this knack for getting under her skin, for saying things that were so simple but that carried so much weight and that she was never sure how to process.

 

“You ready?” Felicity asked, changing the subject.

 

They were in Thea’s new loft; Felicity had been talked into coming over in order to celebrate Thea’s jobs. Part of the celebration was letting Thea cut and color her hair.

 

“I’m ready if you are,” Thea agreed.

 

Felicity sat down and tugged her hat off. The two braids swooshed down her back.

 

“So much do you want to cut?” Thea asked.

 

“I was thinking up to here,” Felicity said, indicating a few inches below her shoulder.

 

“Sounds good to me,” Thea said. “Any thoughts about what you want to do with the hair we cut? There’s organizations and things that use it to make wigs for cancer patients.”

 

“You just happen to know that?” Felicity asked.

 

“I may have researched,” Thea said mildly, cutting her way through one braid and then the other.

 

She handed both ropes of hair to Felicity and then started unbraiding the rest and brushing it out.

 

“Donating it sounds good,” Felicity agreed, thinking about the other patients she’d seen in the oncology wards during the time that Adam was sick. It might be a small gesture on her part but it could make a difference for someone fighting against their illness.

 

“How do you feel?” Thea asked.

 

“Lighter,” Felicity said. “Literally. All that hair was heavier than I thought.”

 

Thea laughed.

 

“Regrets?” Thea asked.

 

“Not yet,” Felicity said. “But you haven’t got to the color part.”

 

“Oh ye of little faith,” Thea said.

 

“Hardly,” Felicity said. “I’m still letting you do it, aren’t I?”

 

“Touché,” Thea said.

 

She reached for the box of color she’d bought and set about mixing the dye.

 

“I dyed my hair blond once,” Thea said. “Not my best look but the horrified expression on my mother’s face was completely worth it.”

 

“How old were you?” Felicity asked.

 

“Ten,” Thea said.

 

“I’m scared to ask,” Felicity said.

 

Thea shrugged as she began applying the color to Felicity’s hair.

 

“Ollie was doing his semester abroad in London,” Thea explained. “I was having a rough time with it.”

 

“So you got in trouble hoping it would bring him back sooner?” Felicity asked.

 

“I think I was actually trying to punish him,” Thea said. “Not my finest moment. It’s weird but in some ways Ollie’s been more of a parent to me than our actual parents. I react way more emotionally to the stuff he does than to anything either of my parents has ever pulled.”

 

“It was the opposite for me,” Felicity said.

 

She felt Thea pause a few seconds before she continued working the color into Felicity’s hair.

 

“Especially the last couple of months with Adam,” Felicity said. “I felt like I was parenting my parents more than they were parenting me. Adam used to joke about it, say that I was the glue keeping the family together. It took me a long time to realize that it shouldn’t have been like that.”

 

“Was Adam sick?” Thea ventured quietly.

 

Felicity glanced over her shoulder.

 

“You never really said what happened,” Thea said.

 

Felicity turned away and blinked, not surprised that thinking about Adam and her last couple of months with him was making her emotional.

 

“He was sick,” she confirmed. “Cancer. We found out when I was eight. He beat it once but it came back and…”

 

Felicity shook her head and swallowed hard.

 

“We lost him a year before I…” she began.

 

“A year before what?” Thea asked.

 

Felicity shook her head again. She’d been about to say a year before she graduated but now wasn’t the time to mention MIT.

 

Thea took the hint.

 

“I’m sorry you went through that,” she said instead.

 

“It changed me,” Felicity said. “I never understood that until now. It’s like after Adam died, I separated from myself, like I was watching someone else live my life so I wouldn’t have to feel it.”

 

“Do you still feel that way?” Thea asked.

 

“Less,” Felicity said. “Like you said, I’m trying to figure out who I am now. Can’t do that unless I live now.”

 

“Well, whoever you are or decide to be,” Thea said. “I think you’re amazing.”

 

“Are you saying that so I’m not mad if I end up looking like a bald rat?” Felicity joked lightly.

 

“A little?” Thea laughed. “No. It’s the truth, Smoaky. I think you’re remarkable.”

 

“Thank you for remarking on it then,” Felicity said.

 

Thea set the now empty bowl of dye aside and swept Felicity’s hair up and under a shower cap.

 

“We need to let this sit for about a half hour,” she said, peeling off the gloves she’d worn to protect her hands from the chemicals. “Why don’t we start the movie?”

 

Felicity agreed and they settled into small sofa in the living room. Thea had brought a few key pieces of furniture from Queen mansion into the new loft since it had come unfurnished and she saw no point in spending money on new – even second hand – stuff, when she could use what she already owned.

 

“Ice tea or soda?” Thea asked, pointing to the drinks and snacks lined up on the coffee table.

 

“Tea,” Felicity said.

 

Pouring them both a glass, Thea started the movie and Felicity had to admit that Remy the rat was pretty cute for a rodent. She was so thoroughly engrossed in the story that the sound of the timer going off startled her.

 

“Time to rinse,” Thea said. “Do you want me to do it or do you want to just jump in the shower?”

 

“I can do it,” Felicity said.

 

“Cool,” Thea said. “The conditioner you need to use is already next to the sink and I’ll put a change of clothes for you on the bed. Towels are in the bathroom closet.”

 

“I have clothes,” Felicity said.

 

“Yes, going out into the world clothes,” Thea said. “We’re having a sleep over.”

 

“Oh, are we?” Felicity asked, arching her eyebrow.

 

Thea gave her an impish grin.

 

“You’re here,” she said. “And we’re watching movies, stuffing our faces and at some point we’ll crash from the sugar high and fall asleep so what would you call it?”

 

“And sleep overs have dress codes?” Felicity asked.

 

“I knew you’d catch on,” Thea said brightly, leading the way to the bedroom.

 

Felicity shook her head.

 

“Fine,” she agreed. “But don’t think this is going to become a habit.”

 

“I wouldn’t dare,” Thea said, feigning seriousness.

 

“You’re impossible,” Felicity said.

 

“You love that about me,” Thea chirped.

 

“Maybe I do,” Felicity agreed quietly.

 

She slipped into the bathroom and closed the door. Turning on the water, she stripped out of her clothes, read over the directions that had come with the hair coloring kit and then stepped under the spray.

 

After rinsing out the dye and conditioning her hair, she used the milk and honey shower gel perched on the shelf to wash the rest of her body. The water pressure was strong enough to beat out some of the soreness in her muscles so Felicity lingered a little bit longer than she would’ve otherwise.

 

Eventually, she turned the water off and stepped out of the shower. She wrapped one towel around herself and another around her hair. Peering out into the bedroom, she saw the door was mostly closed and as promised Thea had set out clothes for her to slip into; a pair of pink and gray sweat pants with a short sleeved pink top.

 

They didn’t look new, Felicity thought, picking them up but they didn’t look as if they’d been worn a whole lot either. And maybe, Felicity reminded herself, she needed to stop being so wary and guarded when it came to these kinds of gestures. She knew Thea didn’t pity her or think of her as some kind of charity case. They were friends and if they could share fears and dreams with each other than surely some clothes or even a roof over her head for the night, didn’t need to be that big a deal.

 

Changing into the outfit, which fit her a lot more closely than her usual baggy jeans and oversized sweaters, Felicity went back into the bathroom to rub the last of the excess moisture from her hair.

 

Combing her fingers through the damp strands, Felicity studied herself in the mirror. Her hair was still wet enough that she couldn’t fully judge the color but it hung straight just past her shoulders and was clearly lighter than it had been before.

 

It was an odd feeling, Felicity thought. She was looking at her reflection and she could see the teenager that she’d been but she could also see all the ways that girl had been impacted by life. She wasn’t a child anymore. Somewhere along the way she’d become a woman, shaped by loss and heartbreak but still standing.

 

John’s face flashed in her mind and for the first time she let herself accept the implication of those day-to-day victories he’d told her not to talk herself out of.

 

She was a survivor.

 

Oliver’s face replaced Dig’s and she could hear him telling her that she might be a bit dented, bent in some places, but not broken.

 

The fact that she was slowly pushing herself back up onto her feet, working out how to live a life that was driven by good things and good people; all of that meant that she wasn’t letting her past define her anymore.

 

A tear slipped down her cheek but Felicity didn’t feel fragile. She felt strong. Whatever came next, she knew that she was going to be okay.

 

A soft knock sounded.

 

“You okay in there?” Thea asked.

 

“Yeah,” Felicity said, wiping her face off with the towel. “You can come in.”

 

Thea poked her head through the door and their eyes met in the mirror.

 

“Hey,” she said. “How do you feel?”

 

“Better than I have in a long time,” Felicity said.

 

She turned to face Thea and after a brief hesitation, reached to pull her into a hug. If Thea was at all surprised that Felicity initiated the contact for once, she didn’t let it show. She returned the hug and grinned.

 

“Music to my ears,” she said. “Come on. Roy texted. He’s bringing pizza.”

 

“Another sleep over prerequisite?” Felicity asked, stepping back.

 

“Exactly,” Thea agreed.

 

They moved back into the living room and were just finishing with the movie when Roy arrived.

 

Felicity’s hair had dried by that point and the ends were curled just a little around her shoulders. Roy blinked when he spotted her.

 

“Wow,” he said.

 

“Right?” Thea exclaimed gleefully. “I told her she’d make a hot blond.”

 

Roy opened his mouth and then paused.

 

“I’m not going to get in trouble for agreeing, am I?” he asked.

 

“No,” Thea laughed, punching his arm and taking the large pizza from him. “No promises if I catch you staring though. To say nothing of what Smoaky would do. I’ve mentioned the bad ass ninja moves, haven’t I?”

 

“I only use those on assholes,” Felicity said. “Which Roy isn’t so he should be safe.”

 

“Kinds of amazed my dad escaped unscathed then,” Thea said.

 

“I don’t look good in orange either,” Felicity said.

 

Thea laughed again, set the pizza down on the coffee table and scooped up her phone. She handed it to Roy.

 

“Take a picture of us,” she instructed him.

 

She wrapped her arms around Felicity’s shoulders and their heads titled towards each other.

 

“Smile,” Roy said before taking the shot.

 

He glanced down at the screen.

 

“Pretty good if I do say so myself,” he grinned.


Thea plucked the device from his hand so she could see for herself.

 

“It’s perfect,” she said, turning the screen so Felicity could see. “I’ll print out a copy for you so you can keep with the ones from Jeffers Island and the one of me and Ollie.”

 

“You and your brother?” Roy asked. “Why does Smoaky…”

 

“Long story,” Thea interrupted. “And none of your business Mr. Nosy.”

 

I’m nosy?” Roy repeated. “Have you met yourself, Thea Queen? No pun intended or anything but you are the queen of gossip.”

 

“Hey, I can keep a secret,” Thea protested. “I just don’t know that many people whose secrets are worth keeping.”

 

“Technicality, am I right, Smoaky?” Roy replied.

 

“I’m staying out of this,” Felicity said.

 

“Smart,” Thea agreed. “You get to pick the next movie.”

 

Felicity studied the pile of DVDs next to the television and Thea started to put her phone away but on impulse, she texted the photo of her and Smoaky to Oliver. She wasn’t sure what made her do it. Maybe she wanted to test him, test his reaction. He didn’t make her wait long.

 

Smoaky?

 

Thea grinned and tapped out a reply.

 

Smoakin hot, isn’t she?

 

Her phone beeped again a few moments later.

 

Yes. She is the hottest homeless person I’ve ever seen. I completely understand and approve of Ollie’s inappropriate crush. You can tell her I said so.

 

Thea snorted but before she could respond to Tommy or even give more thought to the “crush” reference, another message came through, proving that Oliver had retaken control of his phone.

 

He’s drunk. Ignore him. Seriously.

 

Thea laughed out loud earning curious looks from Roy and Smoaky.

 

“Ollie and Tommy being ridiculous as usual,” Thea said. “What are we watching?”

 

“Skyfall,” Roy said.

 

“Ooh,” Thea said. “Good choice.”

 

She was about to turn her phone off when another text came through. This time Tommy had messaged her from his own phone.

 

Just because I’m drunk doesn’t mean I’m not right.

 

 

 

Felicity stood on the steps of Queen Consolidated’s headquarters and peered upward. The building looked exactly the same as the last time she had been here. There was just as much traffic in and out, making it easy for her to go unnoticed.

 

What had changed though, was her, a lot more than she would have imagined possible when she’d come here the first time. Hiking her backpack a little bit higher onto her shoulders, Felicity climbed the steps and walked through the front doors. She approached the security desk and the guard on duty gave her a warm smile.

 

Felicity had to stifle a snort. She wasn’t surprised that the change in her outward appearance impacted the way that random people treated her but that didn’t make it any less annoying. She’d let Thea talk her into keeping the pink and gray sleepover ensemble and even accepted the matching sneakers. But only because the soles on her boots were wearing thin again and she’d patched them up one too many time already. It would have been time for a new pair in a few weeks anyway.

 

The clothes, combined with her newly blond hair, currently tied back into ponytail and sans hat to cover it up, apparently made her look as if she had every right to be here.

 

“I’m here to see Jenna in Oliver Queen’s office,” Felicity said. “Name is Smoaky.”

 

The guard consulted his computer screen and his smile stretched wider.

 

“Go right on up Ms. Smoaky,” he said. “Ms. Carmichael is expecting you on 36. Last elevator to the left.”

 

Felicity shook her head but followed the directions. The last elevator on the left took her to the executive floor without any detours and when she got off, she didn’t make the mistake of going through the wrong set of glass doors.

 

As the security guard had said, Oliver’s assistant was waiting for her.

 

“It’s good to see you again,” Jenna said warmly. “We didn’t officially meet the last time you were here.”

 

She held her hand out so Felicity shook it.

 

“I’m Jenna Carmichael,” the older woman continued.

 

“Smoaky,” Felicity replied.

 

“I’ve got everything Oliver asked me to have ready for you right here,” Jenna said.

 

She plucked a manila envelope off of her desk and handed it to Felicity.

 

“There’s a set of keys to the factory under construction in there,” Jenna explained. “One for the front entrance, once for the side entrance and one for the loading dock in case you need to have anything delivered there.”

 

Felicity resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She hand carved wood. What Oliver thought she was going to need access to the loading dock for, she couldn’t even begin to imagine.

 

“There’s also an envelope in there with the cash amount that he requested,” Jenna said.

 

She paused.

 

“It’s a fairly significant amount so you might want to find a safer place for it than a manila envelope,” she said delicately.

 

“Noted,” Felicity replied.

 

She gave Jenna a considering look.

 

“Does he do this a lot?” she asked.

 

“Oliver?” Jenna asked. “Do what?”

 

“Go out of his way to help people he barely knows just because they seem down on their luck,” Felicity said.

 

Jenna smiled.

 

“Oliver cares about people,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s family or friends, or the intern on the second floor. If he has the means to help someone, then he’ll always try. It’s why so many people here respect and care about him and it’s why he inspires loyalty in the people who work for him.”

 

“Including you,” Felicity observed.

 

“Especially me,” Jenna said.

 

“Thanks for your help,” Felicity said, turning to go.

 

“Smoaky?” Jenna said.

 

Felicity turned around and she quirked her eyebrow upward in inquiry.

 

“It’s true what I said that Oliver will always help people if he can,” Jenna said. “But you asked if he was in the habit of going out of his way like this. The answer is no. For whatever reason, there’s something different about you, something he seems to think is special. I hope you prove him right.”

 

Felicity stared for a moment, trying to wrap her mind around why Oliver’s assistant, the guardian of his working life and all it’s secrets, and ostensibly some of his personal ones too, would reveal so much to her. What exactly did Jenna think was going on?

 

“I’ll try,” Felicity said.

 

Jenna gave her an approving nod and Felicity walked through the glass doors and to the elevators, still trying to process the new insight into Oliver. The connection she felt to him had been on the back of her mind for days now. The more she thought about it, the clearer it became that she couldn’t just ignore it.

 

And now Jenna was implying that there was something unusual about Oliver’s actions where she was concerned. It could mean anything, Felicity told herself. It could be circumstantial or it could be that Oliver felt that connection the same as she did but even if he did, what did that mean?

 

The same way that knowing someone didn’t mean you understood them, understanding them didn’t mean it mattered or that you cared, that it was anything other than keen observation and powers of perception.

 

Like Oliver kept saying, it was about choices. The connection only counted if they chose to explore it, to build on it and what, Felicity wondered, was that going to look like? It was difficult to picture them as friends, the way she and Thea were, for so many reasons.

 

Realizing that she was getting much too far ahead of herself, Felicity took a deep breath and forced herself to focus on the here and now. She was out on the street and she had too much cash with her to feel comfortable. Oliver had given her the money to buy wood and tools so she was going to head for the wood crafting shop across town that John had always liked to walk past but before stocking up on supplies and settling into the factory to work through the night, she was going to stop by the shelter on Peters.

 

She still had the money from the sale of her first set of carvings and she wanted to give it to Barry. She knew they were raising money to keep their counseling programs going and just because she’d never taken advantage of those services herself didn’t mean she didn’t think they were important.

 

Besides, the shelter was closer than the craft store so it made more sense to go there first. She paused long enough to secure the manila envelope deep inside her backpack before she struck out towards the shelter.

 

It took her just over twenty minutes to walk there and she found Barry in his office, overwhelming surrounded by paperwork. He looked up when she knocked but instead of the slightly goofy smile she normally got from him, his expression was neutral.

 

“Can I help you?” he asked.

 

Felicity’s lips twitched when she realized that he didn’t recognize her.

 

“It’s me,” Felicity informed him. “Smoaky?”

 

It was almost comical the way his eyes widened and he stood up so abruptly that he knocked a pile of papers over. They spilled over the desk and onto the floor and Felicity stepped further into the office to help him pick them up.

 

“Smoaky, hey,” Barry said. “I’m so sorry, I just wasn’t expecting you for a few more days at least and I definitely wasn’t expecting all of that…”

 

He looked her over again from top to bottom and shook his head.

 

“Last time I saw you there was a huge bruise on your face and now you look…”

 

He shook his head again and straightened.

 

“Sorry,” he repeated. “Let’s just start over. How’ve you been?”

 

“I’m going good, Barry,” Felicity said.

 

He smiled.

 

“You look like it,” he said. “I’m glad.”

 

Felicity dug into the side pocket of her backpack to extract the envelope that Thea had originally given to her and she held it out to him.

 

“I sold some carvings to a gallery,” Felicity explained. “I don’t really need the extra cash though and I wanted you guys to have it. Figure it might come in handy.”

 

Barry accepted the envelope and peered inside. His eyes widened again.

 

“Smoaky, this is really generous,” he said. “You sure you want to…”

 

“Yes,” Felicity said. “Positive.”

 

“Thank you,” Barry said sincerely. “We appreciate it.”

 

Felicity nodded.

 

“You sticking around this afternoon?” Barry asked.

 

“Got some things to take care of,” Felicity replied. “I’ll see you around though.”

 

“Yeah, okay,” Barry said.

 

He paused.

 

“Hey, maybe next time you’re around,” he said. “We can grab a cup of coffee or something? I mean, if you feel like it.”

 

Felicity tilted her head to one side, the tip of her ponytail falling over her should.

 

“Maybe,” she agreed with a small smile.

 

She made her way back outside and started walking west toward the wood crafting store. Barry’s invitation to have coffee wasn’t as unexpected as it could have been. He’d always been especially sweet to her and Felicity knew it was partly because he’d wanted to help her and partly because he was interested. Whether that interest was strictly platonic or not, Felicity wasn’t sure.

 

She was sure that a romantic relationship of any kind was not on the cards in her immediate future. She had a lot of small steps to take before something like that had even a snowball’s chance in hell of working.

 

Deciding that she’d already spent too much time with her thoughts for one day, Felicity focused on observing the things around her; buildings, plants, people, animals, the sounds and smells of the city.

 

The closer she got to the craft store, the lighter she felt. She was excited about this, she realized. As much as she loved scouring the city for bits and pieces of wood and would continue to do it for the unpredictability it afforded, there was something fun about being able to walk into a store and pick whatever struck her fancy.

 

Her fancy, it turned out, was struck by a set of high carbon steel carving tools, which included a skew, two bents, a chisel, a gouge and a parting tool. But more than the tools it was the variety of wood that brought a smile to Felicity’s face.

 

Running the back of her hand over a piece of cherry wood, Felicity accepted that this was an indulgence and she’d avoided those as much as possible over the last few years. But it was all about choices and balance and agreeing to accept Oliver’s offer had meant accepting that she wanted more in her life than just the things she needed to survive.

 

So here she was and she wasn’t going to deny herself. She bought the cherry wood, along with some basswood, some butternut, mahogany and a particularly dark piece of walnut. It was enough to see her through the next several weeks, if not months, depending on whether she decided to try her hand at some larger carvings. She had the space now to work in and it wasn’t lost on her that because she preferred to work at night and sleep in the morning, she now had a safer place to stay after dark.

 

She’d be able to leave her supplies there and not worry about everything she had being portable. It was, Felicity thought, the closest she’d come to staying still, to having a routine, to putting down roots since her parents had kicked her out.

 

She let the realization settle over her but she didn’t read into it. There was plenty of time for more self-analysis later. For now, she just wanted to get to work, to relish the feel of the wood under her fingers.

 

An hour later, she was settled into the QC factory in the office where she and Thea had been having coffee in the mornings. She decided to start with a piece of basswood; it’s texture comforting and familiar.

 

She turned it over and over in her hands and then smiled.

 

Dragon.
 

Chapter Text

So Tommy said a thing," Thea said, climbing back into bed and settling back into Roy's hold. "He thinks Ollie has a crush on Smoaky."

 

"You agree?" Roy asked.

 

Thea made a moue.

 

"I'm not sure," she said. "Maybe? I think there's something there. I'm not sure crush is the right word for it but I can't think of a better one."

 

"You probably shouldn't think about it at all," Roy told her.

 

Thea turned to look up at him.

 

"What's that mean?" she asked.

 

"Whatever is or isn't going on with your brother and Smoaky isn't your business," he said. "You should stay out of it."

 

"He's my brother and she's pretty much the best friend I've ever had," Thea said. "How can it not be my business?"

 

"Precisely because you care so much about both of them," Roy said. "You don't want to be stuck in the middle."

 

Thea sighed. She understood Roy's point and he wasn't wrong but she didn't think she could just let it go. Like he'd said, she cared too much about both of them. Her instincts told her that they could be good for each other. Admittedly, she'd mostly been thinking about Smoaky and how Oliver could be another person that helped her learn to trust again. Looking at it from the other side though, she realized that Smoaky could be just as good for Oliver.

 

"Go ahead," Roy said.

 

"What?" Thea questioned.

 

"I said you shouldn't think about it but that doesn't mean I don't know perfectly well that you will," he said. "So talk it out because I know you want to."

 

"And this is one of the many reasons I love you," Thea said, rolling over and propping her elbows on his chest.

 

She paused to consider her words.

 

"If you take away the circumstances right?" Thea began. "Ignore that he's a billionaire and she lives on the street, if you only think about who they are as people, they're kind of a perfect fit."

 

"Even ignoring the circumstances, which I'm all for otherwise you and I wouldn't be happening," Roy said. "How do you figure? You know I like Smoaky but she has more baggage than most."

 

"So does Ollie," Thea said. "He just hides it better and I think...I think Smoaky knows that about him. I think she can see it."

 

"So your brother has a crush and Smoaky has...?"

 

"I have no idea. She won't tell me what they've talked about the few times they've been alone together," Thea said. "But there's a lot Smoaky won't talk to me about so I'm not sure if that means anything. I can go off what I've seen when I've seen them together."

 

"Which is?" Roy asked.

 

"Whatever Ollie feels she either feels it too or at least recognizes it," Thea said. "I'm not saying any of this is even romantic. I just think they click in a way that neither of them has felt before.”

 

"Like you and me?" Roy teased.

 

"You and me is decidedly romantic," Thea pointed out. "But yeah, sort of."

 

"Speaking of us," Roy said.

 

"You've got to be the only man I know that willingly enters into relationship conversations," Thea said.

 

"Funny," Roy said. "But I saw those design school brochures you were looking at."

 

Thea's expression turned serious.

 

"You want to talk about this now?" she confirmed.

 

"I think we should," Roy said.

 

Thea nodded.

 

"I haven't made any decisions yet and I would never without talking to you," she said. "This is all very preliminary."

 

"Preliminary in New York and Paris and Milan," Roy said.

 

"Fashion capitals," Thea said with a tiny shrug. "It makes sense but it doesn't mean that it's the right fit for me. I just...I don't want to close any doors, you know?"

 

"You should close one," Roy said. "The one you think I'm going to walk out of because that's not happening. I'm going wherever you go. There's bars in Europe too."

 

"You'd do that?" Thea asked. "Just up and leave to follow me wherever?"

 

"Yeah, I would," Roy said.

 

"What about your mom?" Thea asked softly.

 

A shuttered expression fell over Roy’s face and his jaw hardened. Thea immediately lifted her fingertips to his cheek to get him to relax again.

 

“I’ve spent my entire life trying to save her,” Roy said. “To be reason enough for her to want to be saved.”

 

He shook his head.

 

“If it hasn’t worked yet it’s never going to,” he said. “And I won’t let her be the reason I lose you.”

 

“You are never going to lose me,” Thea said. “It doesn’t matter how far away I go, you’re not losing me.”

 

She followed the words with a kiss and then another and another and the next thing she knew day had turned into night and back into day again. She left Roy fast asleep and made her way to the QC factory, stopping to pick up coffee on the way.

 

Smoaky was already there when she arrived.

 

“Did you spend the night here?” Thea asked.

 

Felicity pointed to a row of four carvings perched on the table.

 

“I still like to work at night,” she said. 

 

Old habits and all that," Thea said.

 

"All that," Felicity agreed. "Ready for your first day at work?"

 

"Excited," Thea replied, taking a sip of coffee. "Not sure that's the same thing as being ready." 

 

"Close enough," Felicity said. 

 

"What about you?" Thea said.

 

"I'm not going to work," Felicity said.

 

Thea rolled her eyes.

 

"You know what I mean," she said. "This whole set up. It's kind of a big deal that you agreed to it. So how does it feel?"

 

"So long as no one blows it out of proportion," Felicity said with a pointed look. "It feels fine."

 

Thea grinned.

 

"Proportion will not be blown," she said. "Scout's honor."

 

Felicity blinked.

 

"You were a girl scout?" she asked.

 

"No," Thea said. "Always wanted to be though. I love cookies."

 

"A little more to it than that," Felicity said, lips twitching in amusement.

 

"First hand experience?" Thea asked. 

 

"Research for a school project in middle school," Felicity said.

 

"Interesting,” Thea said.

 

“Why is that interesting?” Felicity asked, reaching for her chisel and the piece of oak she was working on.

 

“Second time you’ve mentioned middle school,” Thea said. “And… I don’t know. I just get this vibe that you were the studious sort.”

 

“I wasn’t,” Felicity said.

 

“No?” Thea said.

 

She shrugged.

 

“Like I said, it was just a vibe,” she said.

 

Felicity turned the oak over in her palm and then looked over the table at Thea.

 

“I didn’t study that much,” she said. “Because I never needed to. School was easy.”

 

“Not everyone can say that,” Thea observed. “So…did you finish?”

 

“School?” Felicity questioned.

 

“Yeah,” Thea said.

 

“Depends on what you mean by finished,” Felicity pointed out.

 

“Did you finish middle school?” Thea asked.

 

“Yes,” Felicity said.

 

“What about high school?” Thea asked.

 

“That too,” Felicity said.

 

Thea bit her lip. It was obvious that Smoaky wasn’t comfortable with this particular line of questioning. It was in the way her body was tensing up, the extra force she was using on the carving she was working on and in the terse tone of her voice.

 

Thea decided to let it go for now. There was no rush and Smoaky would open up about this part of her past when she felt ready to.

 

“Some days I think the only reason I graduated high school is because they were desperate to be rid of me,” Thea said.

 

Felicity snorted.

 

“Troublemaker?” she questioned.

 

“Depends on your definition,” Thea said.

 

“Oh, I’m sure,” Felicity said.

 

“Roy found some brochures I was looking at,” Thea said abruptly. “Design schools in Europe.”

 

Felicity paused in her work to meet Thea’s eyes.

 

“You’re leaving?” she asked.

 

Thea let out a mental curse. This was probably not the best way to have introduced the subject considering Smoaky’s history. She’d been so focused on confiding in her friend about her relationship issues that she’d hadn’t given enough thought to how Smoaky herself would react to the thought of Thea leaving town.

 

“I’m not going anywhere any time soon,” Thea said firmly. “I might not leave at all. There are amazing schools in and around Starling. Parson’s has a campus just outside Central City.”

 

Felicity gave her a small smile.

 

“You don’t need to reassure me,” she said.

 

Thea bit her lip.

 

“I’d…I’d miss you,” Felicity continued. “But I’d be happy for you too. It’s good to be driven and have passion for what you do.”

 

“Yeah?” Thea asked.

 

“Yes,” Felicity said. “So what did Roy say?”

 

“That he’ll go wherever I go,” Thea said.

 

“See,” Felicity said. “Nothing for you to worry about. We’re all going to be fine.”

 

Thea smiled but didn’t say anything. She absently picked up the small koala Felicity had finished earlier.

 

“Hey,” she said suddenly. “Have you ever thought about making jewelry?”

 

Felicity blinked at her.

 

“No,” she said. “Should I have?”

 

“Not necessarily,” Thea said. “But it probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.”

 

She held up the koala.

 

“Could be the pendant on a necklace,” she said. “If you made two smaller ones, could be earrings.”

 

“You have fashion on the brain,” Felicity said.

 

“True,” Thea agreed. “Probably more so than usual because I’m trying to find more of me in my designs.”

 

“I’m not even sure I know what that means,” Felicity said.

 

Thea laughed.

 

“I’m not sure I do either,” she said. “But anyway, the point stands. It could be an awesome direction for you if you want to go there. Nothing says you have to though.”

 

“I don’t know the first thing about making jewelry,” Felicity said. “I’d have to research.”

 

“Or take a class,” Thea said.

 

“Classes have people,” Felicity said. “I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with…people.”

 

“Doesn’t have to be tomorrow, Smoaky,” Thea said lightly. “You’ve got as much time as you need.”

 

“I suppose,” Felicity agreed.

 

Thea glanced at her watch.

 

“I better get going,” she said. “You going to stay here?”

 

Felicity shook her head.

 

“I’m going to head out, get some sleep and take care of a few things,” she said.

 

“I don’t think anyone would care if you slept here for a bit,” Thea said.

 

Felicity shot her a look.

 

“Proportion, remember?” she said.

 

Thea held up her hands.

 

“I remember,” she said. “But you’ll be working here tonight?”

 

“Yeah,” Felicity said. “All things being equal.”

 

“Be safe out there,” Thea said. “And wish me luck.”

 

“Good luck,” Felicity said. “Even though I’m sure you won’t need it.”

 

“See you in the morning, Smoaky,” Thea said.

 

With a final grin tossed over her shoulder, she slipped out. Felicity shook her head and took her time putting her things away. She would leave the tools and the wood she’d bought here. They’d be safe and she wouldn’t have to worry about lugging them around with her. But the carvings themselves went into the chest and then into her backpack.

 

Satisfied that she wasn’t leaving the place a mess, Felicity hitched the backpack over her shoulders, turned off the lights and locked the office door behind her. Pocketing the key, she made her way towards the side exit that was her favorite way in and out of the factory. It was the most discreet, meaning she wasn’t likely to run into any of the construction workers.

 

Not that it would be a problem if she did. Oliver had made sure the foreman was aware of her presence and that it wouldn’t be an issue. Still, like she’d just told Thea, she wasn’t quite ready to deal with people.

 

She’d let her mind wander while she was working last night and she’d realized that the challenge she needed to deal with now was pacing herself. If she didn’t want things to spiral out of control the way they had after Adam’s death, she needed to give herself time to adjust to the changes she’d already made before she started making more.

 

Which was why she was going to keep to much of her old routine; sleeping a few hours in the morning, rotating through different shelters to shower and do laundry, spending time in familiar haunts and if she felt the need for it, taking in a meeting or two.

 

Despite the fact that it hadn’t been hard for her to stay clean after rehab, she was smart enough to know it didn’t mean the addict in her had been completely obliterated. It had merely found other outlets. The fact that she wasn’t actively being self-destructive anymore didn’t mean she wasn’t still capable of it.

 

The flip side of that was the knowledge that she had the strength and the will power to resist those patterns. It was the same strength and will power that would see her through to…well, to wherever this path she was on was going to lead her.

 

Stepping onto the sidewalk, Felicity headed east, away from the Glades. The sun was peeking out through the clouds and Felicity tilted her face towards it. She’d never been a particularly religious person and whatever faith she did have had taken a knockout blow when Adam died.

 

Still, in moments like this one, she liked to think that he and Dig were watching over her and smiling.

 

 

 

"Is this a joke?" Robert snapped.

 

"No," Oliver said simply. "I'll stay till the end of the month, help Walter get up to speed but..."

 

"If you think I'm giving your mother's lover a strong hold in my company, you've lost even more of your mind than I thought," Robert spat. 

 

Oliver shook her head. He wasn't surprised by his father's reaction or by the news that his mother and Walter had a relationship. If anything, it just strengthened his resolve to walk away from it all.

 

"Fine then," Oliver said. "It's your company and your problem. I'll have all my stuff gone by the end of the day."

 

"This isn't over, Oliver," Robert said.

 

"Yeah, dad," Oliver said. "It is."

 

He stood up and walked out and across the hall. Jenna was standing by her desk, a small smile on her face.

 

"We're going to miss you around here," Jenna said. "But I'm happy for you."

 

"Really?" Oliver questioned.

 

"Really," Jenna said. "I hope you find something that you can be all in with."

 

Oliver gave her a quick squeeze. 

 

"Me too," he told her.

 

"Why don't you head out?" Jenna said. "I can have all your things packed and sent to you."

 

"Let's put it in storage for a bit," Oliver said. "I need to find a new place to live. In time meantime, can you book me a suite at the Four Seasons?"

 

"Consider it done," Jenna said.

 

Oliver gave her another smile, grabbed his briefcase from the couch and made his way out of the building. With every step he took, he felt lighter. By the time he was sliding into the backseat of the town car, he was practically giddy. 

 

"Where to, sir?" Jake asked, glancing at him in the rear view mirror.

 

"Nowhere," Oliver grinned. "Everywhere."

 

Jake's expression remained impassive but Oliver caught a glint of amusement in his eyes.

 

"How about a drive up the coast?" Jake suggested.

 

"Sounds perfect," Oliver agreed, leaning back into the seat and closing his eyes. For as long as he could remember, people had been telling him that the world was his oyster and for the very first time, he actually felt like it was true.

 

He let his mind wander as they sped along the freeway and eventually onto less traveled country roads. There were decisions to be made, he knew that, but he wasn’t in a hurry. Right now, he just wanted to drown in the sensation of being free.

 

His cell phone rang and Oliver glanced down at it. Seeing his mother’s face flashing across the screen, he rejected the call. He was about to turn the device off altogether but decided to text Thea first and see what she was up to later.

 

Date night with Roy. Why, what’s up?

 

Deciding that he’d rather fill her in face to face, Oliver suggested taking her to lunch the next day instead. They sorted out the details and Oliver was just slipping his phone back into his pocket when he realized that they’d stopped driving.

 

“Where are we?” he asked Jake.

 

“It’s called Calimera,” Jake said. “The restaurant is part of the vineyard. The chef’s brother in law was a buddy of mine in Afghanistan.”

 

“Was?” Oliver asked.

 

“He got injured before the tour was up,” Jake explained. “They sent him home but…to be honest, none of us are quite sure what happened to him. He never settled into his old life and no one’s seen him for years.”

 

“So you come here often to check in?” Oliver asked.

 

“Occasionally,” Jake agreed. “But mostly I thought you might be hungry.”

 

Oliver laughed.

 

“Good call,” he said.

 

He started to open the door but paused.

 

“You going to join me?” he asked.

 

“I’ll come in to say hi to Carly,” Jake agreed. “Need to call home first though. My daughter has an ear infection.”

 

Oliver nodded and climbed out of the car, an odd feeling spreading through his chest as he crossed the parking lot. Jake mentioning his daughter had reminded Oliver that kids were definitely a part of the future he wanted and it felt like a more realistic prospect now that he didn’t have worry that his work would prevent him from being the kind of father he’d always wanted to be.

 

Of course, there was the matter of finding the right woman to have those children with, Oliver thought wryly. He stepped over the threshold and glanced around. It was small and quaint with stone walls and gleaming wood floors. It was also empty.

 

“Anyone here?” he called out.

 

Moments later, a door towards the back swung open and a tall, mocha skinned, woman in chef’s whites stepped forward. Her eyes widened briefly since she clearly recognized him.

 

“Mr. Queen,” she began.

 

“Please,” Oliver said. “Oliver is fine. You must be Carly.”

 

“Yes,” she said, offering him her hand “Carly Diggle. Jake told you about this place?”

 

“In a manner of speaking,” Oliver said. “We were driving around and he suggested this as good place to grab something to eat. He’s making a phone call outside but he’ll be in shortly.”

 

Carly nodded.

 

“The lunch rush isn’t for a while yet,” she said. “The morning tours of the vineyard haven’t wrapped up but please, have a seat. Can I get you a glass of wine?”

 

“Anything red,” Oliver agreed.

 

Carly smiled.

 

“I have a ten year old Cab Sav that’s coming into its own,” she said. “I think you’ll like it.”

 

Oliver took a seat at the bar while Carly disappeared down the hall. She was back moments later with a glass of red wine and a menu, both of which she handed to him.

 

“How long has this been here?” Oliver asked, gesturing to the restaurant.

 

“The vineyard is decades old but we’ve been here just over eight years,” Carly said.

 

“You and your husband?” Oliver inquired.

 

“Me and my son AJ,” Carly corrected. “My husband was killed when AJ was a year old.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Oliver said.

 

“Me too,” Carly said.

 

Just then Jake walked in and the atmosphere lifted again. Carly ushered them both into the kitchen and the conversation flowed easily while she cooked and eventually sat down to join them. By the time she was sending them on their way with enough left overs to feed a small army, Oliver was feeling like himself for the first time in years.

 

“Thanks for this, Jake,” Oliver said. “It was exactly what I needed today.”

 

“My pleasure, sir,” Jake responded.

 

Oliver laughed.

 

“Seriously?” he said. “You’re still not going to call me Oliver, even after this?”

 

Jake’s eyes met his in the rearview mirror and there was definite amusement in his eyes but his voice when he spoke was a solid and steady as it had ever been.

 

“No, sir,” he said.

 

Oliver shook his head, lips still curled into a smile.

 

“Where to next?” Jake asked.

 

As Oliver considered his options, he realized there was someone he wanted to see. The problem was he had no idea where to find her for several more hours at least. With that in mind, he had Jake drive to the manor.

 

He needed his own car and to grab some essentials. Luckily for him, because he'd planned on moving out of the manor anyway, the majority of his things were already packed. He just needed to confirm with the movers and either put it all into storage or into a new place.

 

Dismissing Jake to go home to his family, Oliver crossed the threshold and glanced around. There was no sign of his mother and Raisa was in Chicago visiting one of her nieces. He had just zipped up his travel case when his cell phone rang. He was about to regret having turned it back on during the drive when he saw that it was Tommy calling.

 

"So how are we celebrating?" Tommy demanded, before Oliver was able to utter so much as a syllable. 

 

"News travels fast," Oliver said. 

 

"Only to people in the know," Tommy replied. "So?"

 

"I have some things to take care of," Oliver said. "I'm all yours after 10."

 

"I thought the whole point of quitting was that you wouldn't have things to take care of," Tommy said. "Unless you're blowing me off for a booty call. Actually scratch that, if it was a booty call, you'd tell me. This is something else."

 

“Where do you want to meet?” Oliver asked pointedly changing the subject.

 

“At Jekyll’s,” Tommy said. “And Oliver?”

 

“What?” Oliver asked.

 

“Tell Smoaky I said hi,” Tommy cackled.

 

He hung up before Oliver could respond, not that he would have necessarily. Shaking his head, Oliver slipped the phone into his back pocket and headed back downstairs. He detoured to heat up the leftovers that Carly had sent back and transfer them to one of those temperature-controlled containers that Raisa kept around.

 

Less than an hour after getting to the manor, Oliver was on his way back out. He got himself settled in his suite at the Four Seasons, sent a few emails to close the loop on his life as a QC executive and then contacted his real estate agent to let her know he was on the market for a new place to live. By the time he'd wrapped all of that up, it was well after 6 and he figured if Smoaky wasn't already at the warehouse, she would be soon. 

 

Grabbing "dinner", he called ahead for his car to be brought around and five minutes later he was on the road. And nervous, he realized, although he wasn't sure why. Nothing had changed, except perhaps his own awareness of the pull he felt towards her. A pull he highly doubted was mutual but that wasn't enough to keep him away. 

 

He parked in front of the side entrance and used the keys he hadn't bothered to turn in to let himself inside. He was halfway up the hallway when he called out to her.

 

"Smoaky?" he said. "You here? It's Oliver."

 

There was silence at first but a few moments later a door opened and he saw her head stick out. There was no sign of the hat he’d always seen her wear so he could only assume that Thea had talked her into abandoning it for good.

 

Oliver found himself oddly disappointed. Not because he had love for the hat but because without it her beauty was that much more obvious to the casual observer. It felt as if someone had taken one of his secrets and splashed it on the front page.

 

Which was ridiculous because Smoaky was a person and not a secret. And either way, she didn’t belong to him so it was doubly moot.

 

"Hey," he said, bringing himself back to the moment.

 

"Hello," she replied, eyeing him warily. "Thea didn't say anything about you stopping by."

 

"I didn't mention it to her," Oliver answered, walking closer. "Am I interrupting?"

 

"Not...exactly," Felicity allowed. 

 

Oliver held up the bag he was carrying.

 

"I had lunch in wine country earlier," he said. "I thought I might be able to interest you in dinner and a conversation."

 

"Why?" Felicity asked.

 

"Why do you always ask why?" Oliver retorted. "Or am I not allowed to make a gesture in an effort to actually get to know you and heaven forbid, maybe even be friends?"

 

"You and me being friends makes even less sense than me and Thea being friends," Felicity pointed out.

 

"Maybe on paper," Oliver agreed. "But we don't live life on paper."

 

"Finally came to that conclusion did you?" Felicity said.

 

"Yeah," Oliver said. "Partly thanks to you. Another reason why I'm here."

 

Felicity bit back a sigh and gestured for Oliver to follow her inside the office where she was working.

 

"It's a bit of a mess," she warned him. "I've been prepping wood for the last few hours."

 

"I can handle a little clutter," Oliver assured her, stepping into the room.

 

Felicity watched as he picked his way towards the table that she'd pushed to the far side to give herself more room to work and tried to tamp down on the acute awareness that she felt. Something seemed to happen to the air whenever Oliver was around; it was more charged or there was simply less of it. Whatever it was, it was disconcerting and Felicity never felt entirely relaxed around him.

 

"Planning to stand over there the whole time?" Oliver teased lightly.

 

Shooting him a look, Felicity crossed the room and sat down in the chair opposite him.

 

"You seem different," she said.

 

"Different how?" Oliver questioned.

 

"Less...repressed," Felicity said.

 

Oliver laughed. 

 

"That's one way of looking at it," he agreed. "As of this morning, you are no longer looking at the next CEO of Queen Consolidated."

 

"Congratulations," Felicity said. "Unemployment suits you."

 

"That might be one of the nicest things anyone ever said to me," Oliver said. 

 

"I doubt that," Felicity said.

 

"You seem to doubt a lot of what I say," Oliver observed. "What's it going to take to change that?"

 

"An honest answer about why you'd want to," Felicity said without missing a beat.

 

"I thought we'd had that conversation already," Oliver said.

 

"Not really," Felicity countered.

 

Oliver paused to choose his words carefully.

 

"You're not like anyone else that I've ever met before," he finally said. "And you've managed to change Thea's life and mine in some fairly drastic ways in a very short amount of time."

 

"I think you're giving me too much credit," Felicity protested.

 

"My turn to say I doubt it," Oliver told her. "The point is, I still don't really know you and you don't really know me but I have this feeling that you see things people who've known me my whole life never even suspected and I want to understand why. I want to know what it is about you that makes it so hard for me to..."

 

"To what?" Felicity pressed.

 

Oliver shrugged.

 

"It all keeps coming back to you," he said. "I don't know why or what it means. I just know that it's there."

 

"Just because something exists doesn't mean it's good for you," Felicity pointed out. "That you should engage with it."

 

"Is that you're way of saying you feel it but want to ignore it?" Oliver asked.

 

"It was just an observation," Felicity replied. 

 

"I don't think so," Oliver said. "You wanted an honest answer from me. I think I deserve that much back."

 

"I'm used to being in control of how people see me," Felicity said, long moments later. "What they know about me. Even with Thea, it has taken time and I've only told her bits and pieces. You take that control away. It makes me...wary."

 

"Sounds to me like we're kind of in the same boat," Oliver noted.

 

"You have a solution?" Felicity questioned.

 

Oliver pointed to the containers on the table.

 

"Dinner," he said. 

 

"Dinner?" Felicity repeated. 

 

"Yeah," Oliver said. "One small step at a time. No pressure. No expectations."

 

"You think that's actually possible?" Felicity asked.

 

"I think it's worth a shot," Oliver said. 

 

Felicity pressed her lips together and studied him. He seemed earnest, sincere even, and knowing that the connection she'd sensed wasn't one sided both reassured and unnerved her in equal measure. But it was the startling realization that somewhere along the way, she'd chosen to trust him that tipped the scale. Whether it was the first time he'd sought her out to try and fix her relationship with Thea or the fact that he'd given her the space and resources to continue doing something she loved and to make something more of it than a hobby, Oliver had, through his actions, shown her that she didn't have anything to fear from him.

 

He might make her nervous but he wasn't going to hurt her if she let him become part of her life. Not on purpose at any rate.

 

"What's in there?" Felicity asked, nodding toward the containers.

 

Oliver grinned.

 

"A little of everything," he allowed. "Ravioli, steak, mashed potatoes, sautéed vegetables...Kahlua cheesecake. I also brought wine."

 

He pulled a few mini bottles from his pocket.

 

"Raided the mini fridge at the hotel," he explained.

 

"Hotel?" Felicity repeated.

 

"I figured a clean break was best," Oliver said. "Besides, I was about to move out anyway."

 

"The whole getting married thing," Felicity said.

 

"Yeah," Oliver said. "That whole thing."

 

"Thea thinks you're too okay with it," Felicity said. "That true?"

 

"I wasn't aware there was an appropriate level of okay to be or not be when your engagement ends," Oliver said. 

 

He unscrewed the cap on both mini bottles of wine and slid one over to her. 

 

"Laurel and I were always friends," Oliver said. "We tried a lot longer than we should've to be more than that."

 

"What happens now?" Felicity asked, taking a small sip of wine.

 

"How do you mean?" Oliver inquired.

 

"Everything you thought you knew about where you life was going changed," Felicity pointed out. "You don't feel the least bit uncertain?"

 

"I guess in my mind uncertainty implies a degree of fear," Oliver said. "I'm not scared. I'm excited."

 

"Because you can finally make choices with just yourself in mind," Felicity mused.

 

"Exactly," Oliver agreed. 

 

He started opening containers and nudging them in Felicity's direction.

 

"So enough about me," he said. "Tell me something about you."

 

"Like?" Felicity asked, taking possession of the ravioli and picking up a fork.

 

"You've mentioned your brother but never your parents," Oliver said. "Are they still alive?"

 

"So far as I know," Felicity said.

 

"So you're estranged or...?" Oliver prodded.

 

"You could say that," Felicity said. 

 

"I'm sensing you don't actually want to talk about this," Oliver said.

 

"Perceptive," Felicity praised.

 

"Does sarcasm come naturally or is it something you've developed over time?" Oliver asked.

 

"The latter, I think," Felicity said. "I had a...different disposition before."

 

“Thea brings it out in you, doesn’t she? How you used to be before,” Oliver said. “That’s why you decided to give her a chance.”

 

“What makes you think that?” Felicity asked.

 

“The truth?” Oliver responded.

 

Felicity gave him a look.

 

“You and Thea remind me a lot of me and Tommy,” Oliver admitted. “You remind me a lot of Tommy.”

 

“Your jet setting, billionaire BFF,” Felicity said. “Sure, I can see that we have so much in common.”

 

Oliver smiled but then his expression sobered.

 

“He lost his mother when he was seven,” Oliver said quietly. “She was murdered in the Glades.”

 

Felicity set down the container she’d been eating from.

 

“That’s awful,” she said.

 

“His dad, Malcolm, was so caught up in his own grief that he didn’t realize or care how much his son needed him,” Oliver continued. “Which is when Tommy and I went from best friends to basically brothers. He spent more time with us than he did at his own house.”

 

“There’s no good age to lose someone,” Felicity said. “But seven…you’re old enough to understand but not old enough to control anything.”

 

Oliver nodded.

 

“Most people see Tommy’s outlandish, funny side,” he said. “And that’s real. He loves life, enjoys it no holds barred.”

 

“But he still carries the weight of losing his mom,” Felicity finished.

 

“Both his parents, really,” Oliver agreed. “And yeah he does. Kind of like you still carrying the weight of your brother’s death.”

 

“Did they catch the killer?” Felicity asked, choosing to ignore the last part of what Oliver had said.

 

Oliver shook his head.

 

“It was a random mugging,” he said.

 

“I wondered sometimes if losing Adam would have been easier if it had been more sudden,” Felicity revealed. “If he’d been shot or in a car accident, something random and immediate and with someone obviously at fault.”

 

“Do you really believe it would have been?” Oliver asked.

 

“No, probably not,” Felicity said. “I just figure, being angry at one person would have been less draining than being mad at the world and everyone in it. And maybe if all that rage had been focused, I wouldn’t have gotten as lost as I did.”

 

“You’re finding your way now though,” Oliver said.

 

“Trying to,” Felicity agreed.

 

Oliver glanced around the room.

 

“How’s this working out for you?” he asked.

 

“Pretty good,” Felicity said. “For now.”

 

“I’m glad,” Oliver said.

 

“Jenna says that you like to help people,” Felicity said. “That you always do what you can.”

 

“And here I thought Jenna was the keeper of all my dirty secrets,” Oliver teased.

 

Felicity rolled her eyes.

 

“I’m sure you have plenty of dirty secrets that Jenna doesn’t know about,” she said. “But that wasn’t my point.”

 

“What was?” Oliver asked.

 

“There’s a lot of people who need help,” Felicity said. “And you being you, there’s a lot you can do about it.”

 

“It takes more than money to help people,” Oliver said.

 

‘”Yeah,” Felicity agreed. “It takes someone whose willing to take the time to figure out what matters to people. You did it for me so why not for a few million more?”

 

“I’d like to say that helping you was purely selfless on my part but I think we both know it wasn’t,” Oliver said. “I do take your point though. Maybe we can have dinner again some other night and brainstorm ideas.”

 

“Having dinner together implies you eating too,” Felicity pointed out. “So far, you’re not doing well with that.”

 

She gestured to the containers that he hadn’t touched.

 

“Maybe I’m still worried that my table manners aren’t up to snuff,” Oliver grinned.

 

“How handy are you with chopsticks?” Felicity asked.

 

“Pretty handy,” Oliver said. “Chinese next time?”

 

“Or Japanese,” Felicity said. “I’m partial to unagi. But my treat.”

 

Oliver shook his head in bemusement.

 

“Can you promise me something?” he asked.

 

“Depends,” Felicity said warily.

 

“That one day,” Oliver said. “And I don’t really care if it’s tomorrow or ten years from now but one day, you are going to tell me where you came from and what happened to you.”

 

Felicity bit back a sigh as their eyes locked.

 

“I don’t make promises lightly,” she said. “So no, I can’t promise you that. What I can tell you is that for the first time since Adam died, and because of you and Thea, I want to be able to talk about it, about all of it.”

 

“You’re just not ready yet,” Oliver said.

 

“I’m not,” Felicity said.

 

“That’s fair,” Oliver said. “And for the record? I’m partial to unagi, too.”

 

 

 

“I have bones to pick with you!” Thea exclaimed as she slipped into the seat opposite him. He’d arrived to La Folie, the restaurant they’d agreed to meet at, a few minutes ago.

 

“I missed you too,” Oliver teased.

 

Thea pouted.

 

“Don’t try to distract me,” she warned him.

 

Oliver held his hands up.

 

“By all means, pick away,” he said.

 

“First of all,” Thea began, holding up a finger. “How could you not tell me about quitting QC?”

 

Oliver frowned at her and then groaned.

 

“Smoaky,” he said.

 

“Don’t be mad at her,” Thea said. “She assumed, like any sensible person would have, that I’d be the first person you’d tell.”

 

“I wanted to tell you in person,” Oliver said. “Hence, lunch.”

 

“Uh huh,” Thea said. “And speaking of Smoaky, that’s the second bone I have to pick with you. What exactly are you doing, Ollie?”

 

“I don’t think I understand the question,” Oliver said.

 

“Don’t be dense,” Thea said. “The wine and the gourmet leftovers. And I swear, if you say it’s nothing, I might do something drastic with the array of forks at my disposal.”

 

She glanced pointedly at the four different forks included in the place setting.

 

“We wouldn’t want that,” Oliver said.

 

“This isn’t a joke, Oliver,” Thea said, her eyes full of concern. “I love you but you’re entirely capable of fending for yourself. Smoaky still isn’t.”

 

“Thea, I know that, okay?” Oliver said seriously. “And while I won’t say it’s nothing, I will say that you’re reading way too much into it. I like Smoaky, and I want to get to know her better. As friends.”

 

“Just friends?” Thea asked skeptically. “Because Tommy seems to think you have a crush.”

 

“Tommy talks too much,” Oliver retorted. ‘And yes, for the time being, just friends.”

 

“And when “the time being” is over?” Thea pressed.

 

“We cross that bridge when we’re there,” Oliver said. “When both of us are there. And if that never happens, so be it.”

 

Thea sighed.

 

“Don’t you dare hurt her, Oliver Jonas Queen,” she said firmly. “Because I’d have to kill you and you know perfectly well that…”

 

“Orange isn’t your color,” Oliver finished. “Consider me warned.”

 

Thea sniffed and then beamed.

 

“Tell me about the look on Dad’s face when you told him you were quitting,” she said. “God, I wish I’d been a fly on the wall for that.”

 

Oliver laughed.

 

“It was pretty priceless,” he acknowledged. “He probably won’t speak to me for the next three years at least but he’ll get over it eventually.”

 

“I’m proud of you,” Thea said. “I really think you needed to do this.”

 

“That seems to be the general consensus,” Oliver agreed.

 

“When does it all go public?” Thea asked.

 

Oliver shrugged.

 

“Knowing Dad, he’ll probably want to have my replacement in place before he announces anything,” he said. ‘That way it looks like he made the decision instead of having his hands forced.”

 

“Sounds like Dad,” Thea said. “Have you talked to Mom?”

 

“Been avoiding her,” Oliver said. “That’s bad right?”

 

“You’re the one who said I had to talk to her when I didn’t want to,” Thea reminded him. “Take your own advice.”

 

“Not on an empty stomach,” Oliver said. “Let’s order.”

 

He gestured to the waitress and once he and Thea had placed their orders, he pulled an envelope from his suit jacket pocket.

 

“In the spirit of the Queen siblings being free to figure out what they want to do with their lives,” Oliver said, handing her the envelope. “I got you some presents. They’re being delivered to your place later. I thought you might like to have a look.”

 

Thea pried the envelope open and extracted the contents. Her eyes lit up as she scanned images of all the design equipment; a new sewing machine, mannequins, fabrics and more.

 

“I figure drawing is only part of the job description,” Oliver said.

 

Thea grinned.

 

“You are the best brother ever, you know that?” she asked.

 

“It’s been said,” Oliver agreed, grinning back. “How are things at work?”

 

“Nyssa is amazing,” Thea said. “She’s so fierce. And her attention to detail is…”

 

Thea shook her head.

 

“I’m learning so much I’m not even sure my brain is big enough to hold it all,” she said.

 

“You sound like you’re having fun though,” Oliver said.

 

“I am,” Thea said. “But speaking of career paths, what are you going to do now?”

 

“I’m not really sure,” Oliver said. “But a couple of ideas are taking shape. I think I want to stay in business, just a different business.”

 

He took a sip of the whiskey he’d ordered while waiting for Thea.

 

“Our mutual friend Smoaky seems to think I should focus on helping the people of Starling,” he said.

 

“There are worse ideas,” Thea said.

 

“To be honest, the first thing that came to mind was running for public office,” Oliver admitted. “But I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. So in the meantime, and while I try to figure out the rest, I thought I might get more involved with the Foundation.”

 

“Mom will love that,” Thea said.

 

“Debatable,” Oliver said.

 

His cell phone rang.

 

“Speak of the devil,” he said wryly.

 

He slid his thumb across the screen to answer the call.

 

“Hi, Mom,” he said.

 

“Oliver, where are you?” Moira asked, her voice sounding so weak and shaky and that Oliver was immediately alert.

 

“I’m at lunch with Thea,” Oliver responded. “What’s the matter?”

 

“It’s…your father,” Moira hiccupped. “He was flying to Hong Kong. The plane left last night and Oliver…”

 

“Mother,” Oliver said sharply, his free hand curled into a fist. “What. Happened?”

 

“The plane crashed in the North China Sea,” Moira whispered. “Oliver, your father is dead.”

 

Chapter Text

Felicity glanced at the clock on the wall and frowned.

 

Thea was late.

 

It wasn't as if that had never happened before but it was unusual enough to spark Felicity's concern. She was all too aware that one instant was all it took for everything to go wrong and that taking things for granted was never a good idea. When another fifteen minutes passed with no sign of Thea, Felicity abandoned all pretense of carving and reached for the side pocket of her backpack. She extracted the carefully folded piece of paper with the phone numbers Thea had given her.

 

Approaching the phone that was sitting on the desk, Felicity hesitated a moment more before picking it up and dialing Thea's cell phone. It rang twice and then a man answered.

 

"Roy?" Felicity ventured.

 

"Who is this?" he asked suspiciously.

 

"It's Smoaky," Felicity replied.

 

"Smoaky," Roy breathed. "Christ. You haven't heard, have you?"

 

"Is Thea okay?" Felicity immediately demanded, her mind starting to spin with hundreds of different scenarios, each one more horrible than the last.

 

"Her dad was in a plane crash," Roy explained. "He died. They found out yesterday but I think it's being kept out of the media."

 

"Is she at your place?" Felicity asked.

 

"No, I'm at hers," Roy said.

 

"Oh," Felicity said. 

 

"You should come over," Roy said.

 

"Not sure that's the best idea," Felicity responded.

 

"She's going to want to see you when she wakes up," Roy said. "It was...a rough night but if she wakes up thinking that you're thinking she forgot about you then..."

 

"Emotional blackmail," Felicity said.

 

"If it works..." Roy said.

 

“How would I even get there?” Felicity said after a moment. “It’s not as if I can just walk up to the front door and ask to come in.”

 

“I can probably get a message to Jake,” Roy said. “Oliver’s driver.”

 

“I know him,” Felicity said.

 

“I’m sure he won’t mind picking you up,” Roy said.

 

“Doesn’t solve the whole front door bit,” Felicity observed.

 

“There’s a like a million back and side entrances,” Roy said. “We’ll figure it out.”

 

“Roy,” Felicity began, still not entirely comfortable with the proposed course of action and not only because of the logistics.

 

“Thea needs you,” Roy interrupted. “And you need her. You need to know that you can be this person.”

 

“What person is that?” Felicity asked, knowing that her tone had gone decidedly cool but not being able to help it.

 

Roy wasn’t the least bit phased.

 

“A friend,” Roy said simply. “One who doesn’t let their issues get in the way of being there when they’re needed.”

 

“You think I’m scared,” Felicity said flatly.

 

“I know you are,” Roy said. “Because I am too. But I’m here. You have to be here too. You have to try.”

 

There was a long moment of silence.

 

“Tell Jake I’ll meet him in the parking lot,” Felicity said and then hung up. The tension in her body had skyrocketed from the moment Roy indicated something was wrong and the rest of the conversation had done nothing to ease it.

 

He wasn’t wrong about her being scared. This was the moment she’d lived in trepidation of since Thea appeared with coffee and donuts for the first time, the day after they met. It was the moment where she had to actively choose to put someone else ahead of herself; ahead of her fears, her insecurities and her past.

 

She’d made the choice. She knew it was the only choice she could make. But in between making the decision and living it, there was a gulf she had no idea how to navigate. Sucking in a deep breath, she tried to stem the tide of panic she felt rising up to choke her. She blanked her mind and focused on putting her tools away and cleaning up the room a bit.

 

Putting her chest of carvings into her backpack, she zipped it up and slung it over her shoulders. Stepping into the hallway, she locked the door behind her and moved toward the side entrance. Cracking open the door, she settled into wait for Jake.

 

With nothing tangible to do to occupy her mind, her thoughts immediately spun to Thea and what she must be feeling and how different or not that would be to Felicity’s own experience losing Adam.

 

Grief wasn’t the same for everyone; Felicity had been to enough meetings to know that. There were similarities, sure, but it was all so personal, so relative. Thea’s relationship with her father was nothing like Felicity’s relationship with Adam, for all the obvious and not so obvious reasons.

 

Out of the blue, an image of her father formed in Felicity’s mind. For all she knew, he could be just as dead as Robert Queen. The thought didn’t really inspire any particular emotion in her, unless you counted a sort of numb emptiness as an emotion. The truth was even though her parents were the ones who had kicked her out she was the one who had made the choice to stay gone. It had never occurred to her mourn their loss in any sense. Instead, she’d simply adapted to life without them.

 

Even now, she didn’t feel any fundamental urge to know what had happened to them or how they were doing. They were like ghosts in her mind and she had no desire to re-visit them.

 

Knowing there was no chance that Thea could be that detached from the sudden death of her father made Felicity all the more nervous. Would she be able to relate? Could she give Thea the comfort that John had given her when she first started to truly process her grief for Adam?

 

Sighing, Felicity saw the Queen town car turn into the parking lot. Jake pulled up just in front of the side entrance and climbed out to open the door for her. Felicity had told him the last time that it wasn’t necessary but she got the sense that Jake was the type to stand on ceremony.

 

Nodding to him, she pushed her backpack in first and then got in. It took her just as long to settle in as it had the first time, the seat cushions too plush to be comfortable. They made the drive in silence and Felicity stared out the window the whole time.

 

She’d never been to this part of Starling before and it was every bit as superficially perfect as she would have imagined it to be had she ever taken the time to think about how the other half lived.

 

She hadn’t.

 

They turned onto an immaculately paved driveway and then off onto a gravel path. What seemed like an eternity later, Jake pulled the car to a gentle stop and nodded toward a wrought iron fence.

 

“If you go on through there, you’ll see a glass door to your right,” he explained. “Go through it and turn left. There’s an elevator there that will take you straight up to the hallway outside Ms. Queen’s room. It’s the second door on the right.”

 

Felicity repeated all that in her mind and then signaled Jake that she understood. She started to reach for her backpack.

 

“You can leave it here,” he said. “Might be easier to move around without it.”

 

Felicity bit her lip uncertainly.

 

“I’ll keep it safe and I won’t snoop,” he assured her.

 

Hesitating another moment, Felicity gave a jerky nod and got out of the car. She followed Jake’s instructions and a few minutes later, she’d made it to the door of Thea’s bedroom. Swallowing hard, she eased it open carefully and slipped inside.

 

Roy looked up sharply and then relaxed when he saw that it was her.

 

“T, Smoaky’s here,” he murmured quietly.

 

Felicity stood glued to the door as Thea rolled over and fixed red-rimmed eyes on her.

 

“You came,” Thea croaked hoarsely.

 

She patted the bed and Felicity slowly walked forward. In a different time and under different circumstances, she might have stopped to take stock of her surroundings; out of habit rather than curiosity.

 

But in the here and now, she was focused solely on Thea and on forcing herself to take the steps needed to close the distance between them. Her heart felt like it was trying to beat out of her chest the entire time but she made it. She sat slowly on the side of the bed and Thea immediately scooted closer and dropped her head into Felicity’s lap.

 

“I don’t know what I thought this would feel like,” Thea mumbled. “It was so tense with us and I was honestly starting to think I hated him but now…”

 

“It’ll take time to make sense of everything,” Felicity said.

 

If the words were stiff, Thea didn’t seem to notice.

 

“All I can think about is how much I adored him when I was little,” Thea said, shoulders shaking. “And how many milestones he’s going to miss. He won’t be there when I get married. He won’t know my kids if I ever have any…”

 

Carefully, Felicity placed her hand on Thea’s back; she didn’t pat or rub circles. It was just one solid sign that she was there and that she would stay. For several minutes, Thea’s hiccupping sobs were the only sound in the room.

 

Felicity looked over to Roy and he gave her a small, tired smile. A gesture of approval but also an indication of the effect that Thea’s distress was having on him. Eventually Thea’s sobs quieted and Felicity realized that she’d fallen asleep.

 

“It’s been like this since yesterday,” Roy said softly. ‘She just cries herself in and out of sleep and I think there’s as much guilt there as there is grief.”

 

Felicity nodded, not sure she trusted herself to speak. Despite her efforts to forcibly relax, she was extremely wound up and not at all confident that she’d be able to prevent herself from snapping. The more time went by, the more she felt as if the air was being sucked out of the room.

 

She took another deep breath to no effect. She wanted to bolt. She badly wanted to bolt and it frustrated her because for all the progress she’d made, the road ahead was still long. A lot longer than she’d wanted to admit until now.

 

Roy must have sensed her turmoil because he stood up and moved toward the side of the bed opposite her. Moments later he was scooping Thea out of Felicity’s lap and into his arms.

 

Thea barely stirred.

 

“Take a minute,” Roy said to Felicity. “It’s okay to need it.”

 

“Is it?” Felicity asked, fists clenching. “You’ve been here all night, I’m guessing.”

 

“Don’t do that,” Roy advised her. “This isn’t the same for me as it is for you and there’s a lot of reasons for that. What matters to Thea is that you came and she knows you well enough to understand what that means.”

 

Felicity blinked. She could feel tears stinging the back of her eyes and she wasn’t sure if they were for Thea, for herself, or because of the way Roy was trying to reassure her. Whatever was causing them, Felicity wanted to escape it.

 

She stood up without another word and stepped out into the hallway. Glancing around, she saw that it was empty and so she headed towards a room at the end of the hall. The door was open and there didn’t appear to be anyone inside.

 

She stuck her head in far enough to confirm that and then walked in and closed the door. Looking around, she determined this was an office or study of some sort. The décor was overwhelmingly masculine and just as overwhelmingly ostentatious.

 

Robert Queen’s study then, she surmised. She walked into a corner and pressed her back into the wall. She wasn’t sure how much time passed before she heard the door open. Her eyes flew up but it was too late for her to move or hide.

 

Her shoulders sagged briefly when she realized it was Oliver. She must have made some sort of sound because his eyes latched onto her like blue missiles.

 

“Smoaky,” he said. “I’m guessing Roy got you in here?”

 

“Yeah,” Felicity said scratchily.

 

“Thea?” Oliver asked.

 

“Sleeping,” Felicity responded.

 

Oliver nodded slowly and it registered in Felicity’s mind for the first time that he’d lost his father too. You wouldn’t know it to look at him though, she observed. His expression was as blank as she’d ever seen it.

 

“You’re not going to say you’re sorry or ask how I am?” Oliver inquired darkly.

 

“I didn’t like your father,” Felicity said with a shrug. “I’m more sorry about how his death is affecting you and Thea than I am about him being dead.”

 

Oliver smiled sardonically.

 

“Honesty, at last,” he said. “It’s been in short supply around here.”

 

“As for how you are,” Felicity began.

 

She studied him, suddenly remembering their last conversation. He’d been so excited about quitting Queen Consolidated and building an entirely different life for himself. His father’s death was no doubt tearing all those plans to pieces.

 

And he was furious, Felicity realized, seeing the spark of it in his eyes and then seeing the conflict that clouded over it.

 

For the first time in hours, Felicity relaxed. This was something she understood, had lived.

 

“You don’t have to feel guilty for being angry,” she said.

 

Oliver’s gaze sharpened.

 

“A man loses his father,” he said. “Most people assume he’s devastated, grieving, but not you. Why is that?”

 

“Maybe because I try to avoid ever assuming anything about anyone,” Felicity said. “Assumptions mean you can’t see what’s right in front of you.”

 

“So that’s all this is?” Oliver questioned, moving towards her. “Your ability to read me like an open book. We’re just going to chalk it up to your extraordinary open-mindedness?”

 

“We should,” Felicity said.

 

The alternative would be admitting that he could read her just as easily, whether he realized it or not, and that would open a door that she didn’t think either of them was in the frame of mind to walk through.

 

The problem was that she could sense the reckless edge in Oliver’s mood right now and it brought that same edge in her rushing to the surface. It felt familiar and at the same time not. This wasn’t the recklessness that had driven her to addiction. It was something simpler, the need for some form of release to evacuate the emotional pressure.

 

“We should,” Oliver repeated.

 

He was well inside her personal space now, considering that she hadn’t moved an inch from the wall she’d been leaning on when he came into the room. It had been a very long time since she’d been this close to a man with this level of electricity in the air.

 

“But are we going to?” Oliver asked.

 

Felicity mutely shook her head no and that seemed to be all the consent that Oliver needed. In the next breath his lips were crashing onto hers in a burst of fire and sensation that turned Felicity inside out and upside down. She found herself clutching at his shoulders even as he leaned into her, the hard frame of his body pinning her in place against the wall.

 

His tongue took control of her mouth and it wasn’t until that moment that Felicity understood how careful and cautious Oliver usually was with her. He wasn’t being careful now and instead of scaring her Felicity found that she was intoxicated by it.

 

His hand slipped under the worn sweater and t-shirt she was wearing to land on the bare skin of her stomach. Fresh sparks of heat radiated through her and whatever was left of her rationality simply stopped trying to assert itself. There was no logic that could overpower the intensity of the way Oliver was touching her and the way she began to touch him back.

 

It had been a while since she last got physical with a man and yet there was a distinct lack of awkwardness. She just let herself do what felt good. She started by curling her tongue around Oliver’s and sucking it into her mouth. He growled his approval against her lips and rocked his hips into the cradle of hers.

 

His fingers tangled in her hair, hers pushed at the jacket he was still wearing before fumbling with the buttons on the shirt underneath. Oliver’s fingers stilled hers and he took over the task so Felicity stepped back to pull her sweater off over her head. She’d just let it fall to the floor when their eyes locked and the world seemed to stop.

 

Slowly and deliberately they continued to divest themselves of their clothes but without ever breaking the eye contact. Minutes later, they were standing naked in front of each other and the moment stretched.

 

Stretched for too long, Felicity decided. If they took the time to think about what they were doing they might end up denying themselves something they both obviously needed. Determined not to see that happen, Felicity took a step towards Oliver.

 

He blinked slowly but caught her easily when she braced her hands on his bare shoulders and jumped to wrap her legs around his hips. Clutching a fistful of his hair in one hand, Felicity raked the nails of her other hand down his stubbled cheek and then proceeded to attack his mouth all over again.

 

It was raw and desperate but Oliver was right there with her and it reflected exactly where both their heads were at, even if it was for different reasons. Vaguely, Felicity was aware of Oliver moving and then setting her down on the solid surface of – she assumed – the desk she’d seen earlier; a replica of the Resolute that sat in the Oval Office, if she wasn’t mistaken.

 

Angling her hips upwards, Felicity lifted her legs a little higher around Oliver’s waist and moaned low in the back of her throat when she felt his erection brush against her folds. She registered the faint sound of foil being ripped but before her mind could latch onto it, Oliver was seated deeply inside her. The shock of it took all the breath from her body and she felt him hesitate, no doubt worried that he was hurting her.

 

She disabused him of that notion by digging her nails into his back and pushing against him. Oliver took the hint and the last of his restraint seemed to be tossed aside. He had a vice like grip on her upper thighs as he plunged into her again and again and Felicity arched into his every thrust. The pain-tinged pleasure every time he sank into her took her that place between oblivion and clarity and Felicity grabbed at it greedily.

 

At some point, he must have laid her flat on her back because she suddenly had the feeling of being surrounded by him, inside and out. His elbows were braced either side of her head as he rocked into her, his hard, muscled frame sliding against her softer one, over and over.

 

Sliding her eyes shut, Felicity let herself float on the bliss building inside her body. There was a pureness to the carnality of it all; simple, primal, honest.

 

That last thought threatened to take her away from the present and Felicity fought against it. She focused on the hard points of her nipples crushed against Oliver’s chest and the ragged grunts that escaped his throat each time he slid out of her and pushed home again.

 

She felt her climax approaching and though part of her wanted to reach for it, there was another part that wanted to stay lost in this plane of sensation. Release would be the end in more ways than one and she didn’t want to deal with it.

 

Oliver had other ideas. His thrusts got harder, went deeper, and then she felt his fingers pressing against her clit, rubbing the rough pad of his fingertips against the bundle of nerves.

 

She didn’t stand a chance and the orgasm that shattered her obliterated everything; doubts, fears, questions and even dreams.

 

Or at least, for a few seconds, while Oliver reached his own peak and shuddered on top of her, it did.

 

All too soon, Felicity felt reality intrude. Her chest heaved against Oliver’s as she struggled to catch her breath and his labored breath blew against the side of her neck where his face was hidden.

 

They might have been able to stay there, locked together in the haze of sated bodies and empty minds had Oliver not started pressing butterfly kisses to the side of her neck and stroking through the mussed strands of her hair.

 

This wasn’t about intimacy and she couldn’t let him think it was, not even for a moment.

 

“Get off,” she mumbled, pushing at his chest.

 

She felt his surprise in the way he stiffened momentarily but he pulled away from her and out of her and Felicity scrambled off the desk without giving him so much as a sideways glance.

 

She crossed the room to the scattered pile of clothes and started to get dressed. Oliver didn’t say anything but she could feel his eyes on her. Eventually, she heard the sound of his muffled footsteps coming towards her and she tensed.

 

She relaxed when she realized that he was getting dressed as well. Cursing her heart for the way it was still racing and the weakness in her limbs from being so thoroughly taken, she finally turned around to face him.

 

His eyes narrowed slightly and she could practically see the swirl of thoughts in the stormy blue depths.

 

“Are we,” he began.

 

“No,” Felicity interrupted. “It’s just a thing that happened. That’s it.”

 

Oliver rubbed his hand across his jaw.

 

“Wow,” he muttered. “Okay.”

 

He shook his head and then shoved his hands into his pockets.

 

“If that’s what you want,” he shrugged.

 

Felicity gave a jerky nod.

 

“I should go check on Thea,” she said.

 

Oliver’s lips twisted in that same sardonic smile he’d worn when he first walked into the room and Felicity found that she didn’t like it but she refused to analyze why.

 

“You do that,” Oliver agreed. “I’ve got things to take care of at Queen Consolidated. Probably won’t be back until morning.”

 

Felicity didn’t acknowledge his words but instead slipped back out into the hall. She moved quietly and swiftly to Thea’s bedroom door and cracked it open. Thea was sitting up in bed, her head resting on Roy’s shoulder.

 

She looked like a haunted doll, Felicity decided. Her skin was pale as porcelain, her eyes seemed twice their normal size in her face and they were redder than before. Despite all that, her expression seemed to brighten a little when she saw Felicity in the doorway.

 

“I thought maybe it was a dream,” she admitted, a little croakily. “You being here.”

 

“No dream,” Felicity said.

 

“Don’t stand there,” Thea said. “C’mere.”

 

Felicity did as she was bid and walked over to the bed. Thea reached for her and Felicity found herself sitting cross legged on the comforter with Thea’s arm tucked through hers. She was acutely aware of the lingering throb between her legs but she refused to reflect on its cause.

 

No good would come of dwelling on her encounter with Oliver, certainly not right now.

 

“Hey Smoaky?” Thea said.

 

“Yeah?” Felicity asked.

 

“I love you, you know that, right?” Thea asked, worrying her lower lip.

 

Felicity looked down, her eyes meeting Thea’s and she felt the shell of numbness she’d been reaching for, irrevocably crack.

 

“I love you too,” Felicity said.

 

 

 

“When I couldn’t find you at the manor, I figured you’d be here or on a plane bound for Siberia,” Tommy drawled from the doorway.

 

Oliver scoffed, not bothering to look at his friend and instead taking another long sip from the bottle of scotch that he’d been cradling.

 

“Drunk?” Tommy questioned, stepping further into the late Robert Queen’s corner office.

 

“Trying hard to be,” Oliver responded. “It’s not going well.”

 

“Going to share?” Tommy asked.

 

“No,” Oliver said.

 

“I figured that too,” Tommy said. “That’s why I brought extra.”

 

Oliver glanced over to see Tommy holding up two more bottles of scotch. He twisted one open and took a drink but it was several minutes before he spoke again. Oliver could feel the scrutiny, knew Tommy was trying to figure out where his head was at and what could be done to give him a respite.

 

But there was no respite; his lone attempt to find one, buried deep inside a woman he couldn’t begin to fathom had just made everything about his life more complicated. Not something he would have thought possible until she’d pushed him to get off of her as if she couldn’t stand the sight of him.

 

“What do you want to happen next?” Tommy finally asked.

 

Oliver blinked and focused his eyes on Tommy’s face.

 

“What I want stopped mattering the minute they pulled Robert Queen’s body from the wreckage,” he said darkly. “Honestly, if I didn’t know better, I’d think he died just to spite me.”

 

He spun the chair around to face the windows.

 

“My mother had to be sedated because there was no other way to stem her hysteria,” Oliver said. “Thea has been holed up in her room with Roy and I can’t even look at her because I know that no matter how complicated things were with her and Dad, she’s grieving for him and I can’t.”

 

He shook his head.

 

“I’m not sad that he’s gone,” Oliver said. “I don’t miss him. Right now, I am just royally pissed off that once again, he’s managed to prevent me taking control of my own life.”

 

“Royally pissed?” Tommy said. “Really?”

 

Oliver rolled his eyes but the beginnings of a smile quirked his lips as he spun to face Tommy again.

 

“I don’t want to clean up his mess,” he said, sobering. “But there isn’t anyone else.”

 

“So find someone,” Tommy said. “Didn’t you say something about recommending this Walter guy for a promotion before? Put him in charge and go do whatever the hell you want.”

 

“In six months, a year, maybe,” Oliver said. “If I do it now, it’s going to spook the stockholders, the employees. The company will lose value, investors might start backing out of projects…”

 

“The house of cards falls,” Tommy surmised.

 

“And that leaves my mother and Thea unprotected,” Oliver said. “Their lives have been rocked enough.”

 

“So you’re going to step up,” Tommy said.

 

“I’m going to step up,” Oliver agreed.

 

“Can I make a suggestion?” Tommy asked.

 

“Can I stop you?” Oliver queried, taking another drink.

 

“Find yourself an outlet,” Tommy said. “Something that lets you expel all the frustration and resentment because if you keep that shit locked up inside, it’s not going to end well.”

 

“Are you saying I need a hobby?” Oliver asked.

 

“That or a fuck buddy,” Tommy said.

 

Oliver pinched the bridge of his nose.

 

“Let’s not talk about sex,” he said.

 

Tommy paused, bottle of scotch halfway to his mouth and then he burst out laughing.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said holding up a hand. “But you have to admit that you finding a way to get laid today of all days is pretty priceless.”

 

“Who said anything about…” Oliver started.

 

“This is me remember?” Tommy said. “And for the record, good for you. A no strings attached affair is perfect for you right now.”

 

“It’s not an affair,” Oliver said tightly. “Just a thing that happened.”

 

“Fuck,” Tommy muttered, sitting up. “It was Smoaky wasn’t it?”

 

“Cut it out,” Oliver snapped. “I’ve got enough going on without you in my head to top it all off, okay? If we’re drinking, then let’s drink. Otherwise, get the fuck out.”

 

Tommy fell silent and then raised his bottle in mock salute. Oliver bit back a sigh, regretting the outburst but not enough to apologize for it. He settled deeper into the chair that he’d never wanted – CEO of Queen fucking Consolidated – and took another drink.

 

The bottle was more than half empty now but it had done nothing to dispel the conflicted feelings he had about the consequences of his father’s death and what he needed to do in the wake of it. It definitely wasn’t helping to distract him from thoughts of Smoaky.

 

Having sex with her had been a mistake. It didn’t matter that it had been consensual or that he suspected they’d both been using it as a way to escape their feelings. It didn’t matter that it had felt amazing – and god knows it had because she’d been so tight around him - or that the moment he came inside her, he’d realized that whatever this was that he felt for her, it ran deep.

 

He’d been trying to wrap his mind around that when she’d pushed him away, forcing him to recognize that while the desire had run both ways, the emotion the encounter had stirred in him definitely did not.

 

Probably never would, Oliver mused. Whatever trust they’d built or progress they’d made, had been torn apart by his lack of impulse control.

 

His phone rang but Oliver chose to ignore it. Moments later, Tommy’s phone rang.

 

“Laurel,” Tommy said.

 

Oliver sighed.

 

“I won’t answer if you don’t want me to,” Tommy said. “But you know Laurel.”

 

Yes, Oliver thought, he did. And if she didn’t get a hold of him, she was likely to get on the next plane to Starling, which was the last thing he needed.

 

He gestured for Tommy to hand over his phone.

 

“I’m fine,” he said without preamble once the call connected.

 

There was a moment of silence before she spoke.

 

“Like hell,” she finally said.

 

Oliver barked out a laugh.

 

“Such language, counselor,” he said.

 

“I called as soon as I heard,” Laurel said, choosing to ignore his reprimand. “Ollie, I’m so sorry. Do you want me to come home?”

 

“Don’t be sorry,” Oliver said. “And don’t come home. My father’s death has disrupted enough lives. No need to add yours to the list.”

 

“Are you sure?” Laurel pressed.

 

“Yes,” Oliver said. “It’s going to be hectic and there’s nothing you can do here.”

 

“I—okay,” Laurel agreed, obviously reluctant. “If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

 

She paused.

 

“Try to take care of yourself, Ollie,” she said.

 

“Yeah,” Oliver agreed before hanging up.

 

He gave the phone back to Tommy.

 

“She offer to come home?” Tommy asked.

 

“Yep,” Oliver said.

 

“Tell you to take care of yourself?” Tommy asked.

 

Oliver shot him a look.

 

“Is she that predictable or do you know her better than I thought you did?” Oliver asked.

 

“Both?” Tommy offered. “Irrelevant. You planning to take her advice and take care of yourself?”

 

“Isn’t that what you’re here for?” Oliver asked.

 

“I’m here to have your back,” Tommy said. “It’s not exactly the same thing.”

 

“It’s good enough for me,” Oliver said.

 

They sat quietly for several hours with Tommy handing over his half finished bottle of scotch when Oliver reached the bottom of his.

 

“I have an idea,” Tommy said.

 

Oliver looked over at him.

 

“Good things rarely come from those four words,” he said.

 

“I think you should redecorate,” Tommy said, gesturing to the office around them.

 

Oliver lifted an eyebrow.

 

“You think feng shui is the answer to my problems?” he asked. “Or is this you trying to hook me up with your architect girl?”

 

“No and no,” Tommy said. “Though the last idea has merit. I’m saying you should redecorate because you’d have to gut the place first, trash it even.”

 

Oliver looked around and then back at Tommy.

 

“Trash it,” he repeated.

 

“Think about it,” Tommy said. “This office, it represents everything your father built, everything you’ve wanted to get away from the last few months.”

 

“More like years,” Oliver muttered.

 

“So break it to pieces,” Tommy said. “And then build something else in its place. You’re a good guy, Oliver. The best I know. So I get it that you feel obligated to do the right thing, that you think you don’t have a choice in the matter but you do.”

 

“How do you figure?” Oliver asked.

 

“Because you might have to run QC,” Tommy said. “But there’s no reason that you need to run it the way he would have. You might not be able to decide whether or not you do the job but you can decide how you do it.”

 

Oliver thought about that and then slowly stood up. He turned to face the portrait of Robert Queen hanging behind the chair he’d been sitting in.

 

Carefully, he lifted it off the wall and then he hurled it across the room and watched it fall apart.

 

 

 

“I should find Ollie,” Thea said, pushing herself upright. “See how he is.”

 

“He’s not here,” Felicity said.

 

It was a reflection of how unsettled she still was that she spoke before thinking about all the implications of her words.

 

A frown knit Thea’s eyebrows.

 

“How do you know?” she asked.

 

“He caught me in the hall,” Felicity said. “Said he was going to take care of stuff at Queen Consolidated and wouldn’t be back until morning.”

 

Thea sighed.

 

“He’s avoiding me,” she said.

 

“Why would you think that?” Felicity asked.

 

“Maybe because I’ve barely seen him since he told me that Dad was dead?” Thea said.

 

“Your Mom was in pretty bad shape, T,” Roy pointed out softly. “Oliver is probably dealing with all the fallout on his own.”

 

Thea nodded.

 

“That’s why it’s so weird that I haven’t seen much of him,” she said. “Ollie and me, we’re like…ports in a storm, you know? I lean on him when I need to feel safe and he leans on me when he needs a break from the crazy. This seems pretty crazy to me.”

 

“He probably just doesn’t want to add to your grief,” Felicity ventured in an effort to put Thea’s mind at ease.

 

She suspected the younger Queen was right and her brother was avoiding her. He wouldn’t want to risk exposing his anger and frustration when Thea was still so grief stricken.

 

“That sounds like something he would do,” Thea agreed. “Idiot.”

 

She shook her head.

 

“Tommy’s probably with him,” she mused. “I’m trying to decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

 

“I thought Tommy was his best friend,” Felicity pointed out.

 

“They’re like brothers,” Thea nodded. “They love each other but it doesn’t mean they don’t do really stupid things some times and now is not a good time for stupid things.”

 

Felicity did her best to smother a wince. It was too late for Thea to be worried about Oliver doing something stupid because she was fairly certain that what the two of them had got up to on the desk earlier qualified.

 

And how.

 

She shifted restlessly, her body already on edge again despite the climax that had left her boneless mere hours ago. It was a reflection of the mental turmoil that had raged back to the fore, worse than before her attempts to escape it.

 

“Hey, Smoaky, maybe you could stop by QC on your way back to the warehouse,” Thea said. “I mean, I just assumed you were planning to go back. You can totally stay here tonight if you want.”

 

Felicity hesitated and while she sensed a tiny bit of hope on Thea’s part that she would stay, she also knew that her friend understood why she wouldn’t.

 

“I’ll probably head back in a little bit,” Felicity confirmed gently.

 

Thea nodded and gave her a small smile.

 

“So you’ll check on Ollie?” she asked.

 

Felicity blinked.

 

“I’m not sure that’s the best idea,” she said slowly. “I don’t really know your brother that well.”

 

Thea shrugged.

 

“Maybe not,” she said. “But he likes you and it sounded, I mean based on what he said, it sounded like you guys are working on being friends.”

 

Felicity was pretty sure that the one small step at a time, no pressure, no expectations, pact that she and Oliver had come to the other night had been obliterated in a tangle of naked limbs and powerful lust.

 

“Thea,” Felicity began.

 

“It would mean a lot to me,” Thea said. “And I wouldn’t ask…”

 

If it wasn’t important, Felicity finished in her mind, knowing that Thea was telling the truth. She knew what she was asking was a lot, especially for where Felicity was emotionally, but they were talking about Oliver, who’d been the most important person in Thea’s world for most of her life.

 

“I’ll go,” Felicity said.

 

“Thank you,” Thea said, squeezing Felicity’s hand.

 

“Yeah,” Felicity said quietly.

 

She was still second guessing herself when Jake dropped her off at the QC building, sending her straight up to the executive floors from the specially locked elevator in the garage.

 

She stepped out into the hallway and was greeted by the sounds of glass shattering. Frowning, she walked quickly towards the noise and then pulled up short. Oliver, shirt unbuttoned and hanging open stood in the middle of the room surrounded by…destruction.

 

Furniture had been upturned, paintings hurled across the room, bits and pieces, shards and fragments, all littered the floor. She watched as he picked up a porcelain figurine and slammed it to the ground.

 

Scanning the room, her eyes landed on another figure in the corner.

 

He spotted her before she had time to speak; she saw him pull away from the wall he’d been leaning on.

 

“Now this is interesting,” Tommy drawled. “Ollie, look who’s here.”

 

He gestured to where Felicity stood.

 

“And while I know that many, many, women would travel the world to track me down,” Tommy said. “I don’t think this one is here for me.”

 

Oliver turned around and Felicity felt a sharp chill when Oliver’s eyes landed on her.

 

“Thea’s worried about you,” Felicity said without preamble, forcing her voice to stay steady, ”Call her.”

 

She turned to leave but Oliver ate up the distance between them and grabbed her arm before she could take more than two steps.

 

“You don’t get to break into my office – for the second time that I know of by the way – and lecture me,” Oliver growled.

 

“Let go of my arm,” Felicity said flatly.

 

He was all over the place emotionally and probably spoiling for a fight. Felicity wasn’t planning to indulge him so she met his hostility with as much indifference as she could muster.

 

Oliver released his grip and took a step back.

 

“I thought I was starting to understand you,” he told her. “But clearly I was wrong about that.”

 

He barked out a bitter laugh.

 

“I’ve been wrong about a lot of things lately,” he said.

 

He stared at her and Felicity wanted to look away but couldn’t.

 

“You should go,” Oliver said. “And for the record, I’ve never needed anyone to tell me how to take care of my sister so next time you’re tempted to interfere, don’t.”

 

Felicity narrowed her eyes. She thought about responding but decided it wasn’t worth it. She walked out and was waiting for the elevator when she heard footsteps. They weren’t Oliver’s; she would have recognized them if they were.

 

She glanced sideways and saw Tommy studying her.

 

“We haven’t been formally introduced,” he said. “But I know who you are and I’m pretty sure you know who I am.”

 

“Your best friend is kind of a mess right now,” Felicity said. “Don’t you have more important things to do than make small talk with the homeless girl?”

 

“Well, when the hot and mysterious homeless girl is one of the reasons that said best friend is kind of a mess,” he shrugged. “A little recon seems fitting.”

 

“His father just died,” Felicity said. “I highly doubt I have anything to do with his state of mind.”

 

“I’ve known Oliver our entire lives,” Tommy said. “I think I have a bit more experience assessing his state of mind.”

 

“What do you want from me?” Felicity asked.

 

Tommy didn’t answer the question directly.

 

“You and Oliver,” he said. “There’s a million reasons at least why it’s a disaster waiting to happen. I mean can you imagine if the press ever got wind of it? Don’t fool yourself into thinking people love a Cinderella story. No, they’d make it as sordid a scandal as they could; the billionaire and the street rat.”

 

Felicity worked her jaw. There was nothing vicious in Tommy’s tone. It was all very matter of fact. That didn’t make it any less disturbing.

 

“But here’s the thing,” Tommy continued. “You have this pull on him and I need to know if it goes both ways.”

 

“If it doesn’t?” Felicity asked.

 

“Then I’ll make sure he gets over it,” Tommy said simply.

 

Felicity believed him.

 

“It would be easier,” she finally said. “If it didn’t.”

 

“But it does?” Tommy prodded.

 

“It doesn’t make any difference,” Felicity said as the elevator doors opened and she stepped inside. “It was over before it started.”

 

Tommy gave her a small smile,

 

“I guess we’ll have to see about that,” he said.