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Felicity Smoak sighs as she waits for the coffee pot to fill with glorious, delicious nectar of the gods, her previous caffeine high already starting to wane and the fatigue setting in. Despite that, she still has a ton of work to do—those diagnostic reports aren't going to file themselves, after all—and she knows this is going to be an all-nighter of a job. It just serves to remind her what happens when none of your colleagues—or your boss, for that matter—is worth the paper their paychecks are printed on.

Despite the inter-office politics, Felicity finds that she likes her job at Queen Consolidated. The IT department has only the best technology and equipment, and the work is challenging enough to really test her abilities. But, like all good careers, there are some downfalls to the position. For now, she considers that to be the paperwork and the long hours. After all, a programmer's job is never done, and Felicity has never liked leaving loose ends. She checks her watch and her worst fears are confirmed: it's half-past eleven, and she's not making as much progress as she'd like. She sighs again as she realizes it will probably be another two-hours-of-sleep night. They might as well plug her up to a coffee IV by the time this week is over.

She fills up her favorite mug to the rim with coffee, the one that shows her problematic addiction to television shows. It's red, but the text on it is blue and reads, "Drink at once if convenient. If inconvenient, drink anyway. (Could be dangerous.)" It's the mug she always has to explain, but it's still her favorite. She starts to leave, but then realizes no one else is in the building. In a rare act of defiance, she grabs the coffee pot and takes it with her back to her office. She doesn't have time to go back to the kitchen for coffee every time her cup runs empty.

It's a decent walk from the kitchen to the Satan Pit (as she lovingly calls the IT department), and she's more grateful than ever that she decided to wear sensible shoes to work today. The panda flats aren't just cute—they're comfortable. She has to hold back a high-pitched, dignity-shredding scream as she turns the corner to her cubicle and sees someone that most certainly doesn't work at QC sitting at her station, using her computer. At least, she's pretty sure he doesn't work there, but it's impossible to tell with that emerald green hood hanging over his head, masking his features. The first thing she thinks is that he wears the tight green leather surprisingly well, but then she shakes her head as she realizes that the Starling City Vigilante is sitting at her computer. It is the closest station to the now-open window, but still, what are the odds?

Finally, she finds her voice—at about the same time that her anger overrides her common sense. "Hey," she snaps, a little too loud, and his head turns toward her, "did you ever stop to think that maybe that computer belongs to someone—and that it isn't just there for your own personal use? Seriously, if you're going to hijack a computer, at least have the common sense to go to the CEO's office, where you'll have more access. And, by the way, I happened to be working on something before I left—and you better not have closed out of my programs. And—fair warning, mister—if you've messed with the height adjustments on my chair, I swear I won't be held responsible for my actions."

He vacates the chair immediately in alarm, pulling his bow in one swift, fluid motion to aim it. Felicity ignores it, setting the coffee pot and mug down on her desk. "You're really going to shoot me?" she asks after turning toward him. "Seriously? I'm not armed and, well, even if I was, I wouldn't be a match for you." She motions to his very clearly defined muscles and over six feet in height, and then to her own sixty-five inches. "But, hey, if you're going to kill me, do it now, before I have to watch you destroy my computer systems."

He releases the bow instantly. "You're not on the list," he says flatly, in a synthetically deep, robotic tone. He's clearly using a voice modulator, which shows a little more competence with technology than Felicity has dared hope for. Best case scenario: her computers might actually be intact after an encounter with him, which is definitely a plus.

She waves him away from her computers as she tries to assess the state of her computers, still flustered by the encounter. "What list?" she asks, crossing her arms. "Like, for Christmas? I'm Jewish, so I never really got the whole Santa Claus thing. I mean, I get the Santa Claus thing, but I never really thought there was any balance to the whole situation. If Santa brings present to the good boys and girls, what happens to the bad ones? Is that who you are—like, some sort of anti-Claus who doles out punishments to the bad kids?" It takes her a minute to realize what she said, and then she groans. "Okay, I'm going to stop talking now."

It might be her imagination, but she thinks she might see the corners of his mouth tilt upward. "What's your name?" he asks, his tone indecipherable behind that voice modulator. Combined with the masked facial features underneath the hood, he really makes himself out to be quite an enigma. She doesn't like being unable to read people—especially not people with murderous intent.

She frowns, looking toward her desk to avoid the question. She doesn't really want to tell a murderer her name, but she also doesn't want to find herself impaled on an arrow in the next few minutes. She lets out a cry of horror as her eyes land on a battered laptop plugged into her computer, and she can feel her blood boil.

Without any thought toward self-preservation, she walks up to him and pokes him in the shoulder. "I know you didn't plug an unidentified laptop into one of my computers and potentially risk infecting my babies with horrible, crippling viruses." She realizes how foolish she's being and steps away from him, practically running back to her desk. She's relieved when she finds that the seat adjustments have not been moved, and she examines the computer for a moment, with its massive bullet holes and damage that can't be undone. "What did you do, use it for target practice?"

"There was an altercation," is the only response the Vigilante offers, studying her carefully, as if he's afraid she's suddenly going to take the laptop and run.

She sets it down on the desk, flipping the laptop over and studying the different compartments. She doesn't know what compels her to be so charitable to a man who runs around shooting arrows into targets and sitting in other people's computer chairs, but she finally says, "I'll have to take a better look at this hard drive, but I should be able to tell you exactly what's on it. The compartment seems to be bullet-free, but the other bullets could have jarred it. Computer parts are sensitive, you know, so if anything is loose in there, it could mean the whole thing is shot."

She focuses on tearing the hard drive disk out of the laptop with her trusty screwdriver, so she can't see his face as he asks, "What?"

She turns to glance at him for a minute, rolling her eyes. "Oh, come on. You wouldn't be in the IT department if you didn't need some sort of information off of this hard drive. Tell me what you're looking for, and I'll retrieve it for you before you blow up the entire network with your incompetency—which I would have to replace, by the way. So, really, I'm doing myself a favor." She waves a hand toward another wheeled chair on the other side of the area. "Have a seat. This could take a while."

He does as she asks, watching her work with the careful observance of one who has depended on his eyes for his survival. He's at least a little less intimidating when he's sitting in a chair at her station, and she's thankful for the distraction of the computer. After a very long moment of silence, he decides to randomly ask her, "Do you think you have enough coffee?"

Her cup is almost empty by this point, so she makes a point by filling it before answering, "Probably not. I'm running on two hours of sleep, and coffee is solely responsible for my waking state right now." She tilts her head to the side. "Do you really want to talk about coffee right now?" She doesn't wait for the answer before completely removing the hard drive.

"No, not really," he admits. She waits for him to clarify, but he doesn't. Instead, he offers a change in topic: "Are you going to tell me your name?"

She rolls her eyes. "Well, now that I know you're not going to kill me, I'm Felicity Smoak, IT nerd extraordinaire, at your service." She pauses in speech, her brain too focused on plugging the new slave drive into her computer. "Since we're doing introductions, do you have a name or a... handle, or something? I know you have a real name, too, obviously, but I know better than to ask you for it."

He seems to think about that for a moment. "Arrow," he says finally as she starts a virus scan on the disk. "That's what the papers have been calling me recently."

Felicity groans at him. "Really? That's the best you can come up with? Well, that's really original and meaningful." She rolls her eyes at his sudden turn of lameness. "I bet you're the kind of guy who calls his dog Woof."

He makes a sound akin to a snort, and Felicity thinks it might actually be some semblance of a laugh. Before she can ask, the laptop's data appears in a window on her own computer, and she sorts through it. "So, do you want to tell me what you're looking for, specifically? There's over five hundred gigs of data here, and chances are whatever you're trying to stop will have already happened by the time we sort through all of it."

The Arrow stays silent for a minute, but finally says, "This laptop was retrieved from Floyd Lawton, an assassin known to Interpol as Deadshot. He's after a target here in Starling City, and I want to know when and where."

"Well, that's really helpful," she mutters sarcastically as she sifts through the most recent file data. She absently clicks the JPEG file, thinking it might give her a target. Instead, it seems to be building blueprints. She studies them before giving him what little she can. "It looks like blueprints for the Exchange Building, where the Unidac Industries auction is set to take place. Mr. Steele is actually going to be bidding on it, too—that's why I know anything at all about this."

"Can you tell who offered Lawton the contract?" he asks now, rising from his seat to lean over her shoulder.

Felicity sighs, trying to sift through bank account information on the drive. She finally finds a very recent payment into a bank account in the Caymans, and she clicks the information button. "Looks like Mr. Lawton just received a very..." She trails off as she sees the sum. "Oh, holy cheese fries, that is a lot of zeroes." The Vigilante shifts next to her and she finally remembers the point of the conversation. "Well, the point is, the money was transferred from a Starling City Bank account registered to the Halstead Corporation. And what's more impressive is that there's still money in the account after that." A few illegal hacks later, she's able to tell him, "The transfer of funds was authorized by their CEO, Warren Patel. Looks like that's the man you need to see about a dog."

She jumps about a foot in the air when the Arrow's hand falls on her shoulder. "Thank you, Felicity," he says with something that sounds very much like sincerity. "But I need to ask you another favor."

She crosses her arms before swiveling in her chair to look at him. "Just for the record? I am not jumping out of windows or crippling security systems for you. The hacks were clean, and I don't mind doing that to help catch a creepy assassin wanted by Interpol, but I'm not going to jail for you." She looks him over again. "No matter what you look like in green leather—or how well the mysterious persona and bad-boy vibe work for you." Once her mind catches up to her words, she silently prays for the floor to give way and the building to swallow her up.

She swears there's a laugh in his voice as he replies, "Good to know, but that wasn't what I was going to ask." He motions to the computer. "Could you possibly put that computer back together and give it to Detective Lance at SCPD? I'm going to need help on this one."

She raises an eyebrow at him. "Detective Lance?" she questions. "The one whose face is splattered all over the news because he's—oh, that's right—charged with arresting you?" Her voice is two octaves too high by the end, and she wonders why she cares what happens to the green-hooded psychopath.

"He's the only one who would believe me," comes the reply. "He knows that I'm trying to defend this city, too. Will you do it?"

Felicity swallows. "I guess, but I'm not going down as an accessory to whatever it is you're doing. I'm just going to say I found it on my desk after I went to make a pot of coffee." She pokes a finger into his chest again, but he really doesn't seem to mind her use of gestures for emphasis. "And you better back me up, if it comes to that."

"If it comes to that," he assures her, "I'll personally bail you out myself." Even though she doesn't want to believe him, he seems sincere. Briefly, she wonders how she gets herself into situations like these.

Before she can ask anything else, he's through the window, leaving a very bewildered Felicity Smoak to stare after him.

 


 

Quentin Lance is in the parking lot, just about to leave the job for what's left of the night, when he hears a very hesitant, "Detective Lance?"

Lance turns on his heel immediately, but he doesn't expect to see a blonde girl younger than either of his daughters carrying a very large tote over one arm. She looks kind of like one of those kids he arrested at the nerd convention thing last year for defacing some superhero movie poster—but nicer, of course. The plastic, square-framed glasses make her look intelligent, and she's dressed professionally, as though she's spent the day at an office. Except for the shoes, that is, which have pandas on them and are dressed up with sequins and bright colors, and, frankly, are just really weird.

He knows as soon as he replies, "Yeah?" that it's going to be a very interesting conversation.

She steps forward a little more before finally saying, "Detective Lance, I'm Felicity Smoak." She does a little awkward wave. "You probably don't know me or anything—because I'm an upstanding citizen, I assure you."

He decides to cut the rambling short because he's sleep-deprived and not in the mood to have a conversation with a girl who's so high-energy. "What can I do for you, Miss Smoak?" he tries this time, hoping pointed questions will get her out of his hair sooner.

Her smile is full of irritation aimed at herself. "I'm sorry to bother you, but..." She shakes her head before trying again, not satisfied with that start to the conversation. "Well, you see, I work at Queen Consolidated. I was there late tonight trying to file some paperwork, and, well, I found this"—she pulls out a very battered laptop from her bag—"lying on my desk. It was plugged up to one of the computers at my station, like someone was trying to figure out what was on the hard drive."

He takes it from her, and he realizes those pockmarks on its surface are bullet holes. "Do you know who left this?" he demands quickly.

She shakes her head, and he feels a little sorry for her; she seems completely frazzled by the turn of events. From a firsthand assessment, he figures she's never held a gun in her life and would be terrified if she saw a firefight. "I didn't until I notified security about the breach," she assures him, sounding more professional than he expects. He's pretty impressed that she can manage to keep her head on through this. "I have the video for you"—she pulls out a DVD—"but I thought you might like the still for when you catch him."

Dread immediately seizes him, but all is confirmed when she hands him the picture of the Vigilante at what must be her desk at QC. "I don't know what's on this laptop," she tells him, "but I think it might help you find him."

Lance takes all three items from her, eyeing the girl a little closer. She seems scared, and that's to be expected, but she also seems resolute, as if she truly wants to do this. "Thank you, Miss Smoak," he says before shaking her hand. "I can't tell you how invaluable this information is."

She offers him a small smile and a half-wave before saying, "Just doing all I can to help, Detective." With that, she walks away, leaving him to stare after her. The girl is a little blonde mystery, but he does appreciate that she's trying to help the police. Many have started to see the Vigilante as some sort of hero, so the subtle reminder that some citizens haven't lost their minds gives him a good feeling. But, despite that, there is something about the girl that bothers him. She's too calm, too put together for the type of scare she had tonight. Either she likes to keep her emotions in check or she's hiding something.

But, either way, Detective Lance intends to find out more about this Felicity Smoak.

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Chapter Text

Felicity sighs as she takes her strained, watering eyes away from the monitor. The day's work has been more intense than usual—installing new security features and protocols—and the added stress from dealing with Detective Lance has only increased the tension in the air. Ever since she dropped off that information to him—thank God she was able to clone that security footage—he's been particularly dogged about studying her. She's been down to the police station twice, and he's been in her office every day this week. She thinks she might crack under a little more pressure, but she doesn't know what else to do. In her paranoia, she hasn't been sleeping well, and her diet is now entirely coffee. That migraine has to do with more than just fatigue, she thinks, since she's been mainlining caffeine like it's going out of style.

She closes her eyes for a moment to relieve some of the strain, lying her head down on her desk for a moment and thinking of nothing. That's the plan, anyway, but her mind betrays her by replaying parts of that encounter with the Vigilante. The better part of her mind—the sane part—insists that he's a psychotic killer, but that part of her brain that still loves Disney movies and believes narwhals are magical is certain he's trying to help the people of the city because the cops can't play dirty enough to win. She's not that naïve, but she still hopes the latter voice in her mind is right; she'd like to have a hero to believe in. She prefers knights in shining armor as her heroic icons, but she could work with a vigilante in green leather.

Her mini-break is interrupted by three short raps on the frame of her open door that cause her skull to throb with her headache. Before she can tell whoever-it-is that their polite entrance has angered the minotaur in her brain that likes to ram against her skull with full force, he asks, "Felicity Smoak?"

The voice is male and unfamiliar, which is the reason she dares raise her head and open one eye. What she sees causes her to open the other eye and gape at him. He's handsome, with dusty blonde hair and stubble around his jaw—and, Good God, eyes that startlingly blue should be against the laws of nature. It's a face she knows well, one she's grown up seeing on television sets and tabloid covers for as long as she remembers.

For a very rare moment in her life, she finds herself stunned speechless in the presence of none other than Oliver Queen.

She's still unable to form a coherent thought, staring at him with wide eyes. She must have fallen asleep and be dreaming now because there's no way Oliver Queen would be standing in her office. She blinks twice, but he's still there when her eyes open. She can't believe her eyes, so she goes with the inevitable second option: this job has literally driven her insane, and she's hallucinating.

Oliver, for his part, takes things rather well, just smiling a pitying smile at her as if he's used to people gawking at him like idiots. "I'm Oliver Queen," he states, sounding for all the world like the smug bastard she's always thought he would be in person.

She flushes in embarrassment, frustrated that she's made a fool of herself in less than a minute into the conversation. "I'm aware of that," she snaps before realizing she's speaking to the future CEO of the company she works for. Nicer, she asks, "What can I do for you, Mr. Queen?"

He winces at something she says before he smiles that charming, playboy grin that has lured in many a girl. "Mr. Queen was my father," he replies, his tone cheerful enough despite the forlorn look in his eyes. "I'm not anybody's boss. You can call me Oliver."

They're silent for a moment, and Felicity realizes that he's not going to continue until she rephrases the question. "Fine, then," she replies, hoping she sounds professional enough. "What can I do for you ...Oliver?" His name sounds foreign on her tongue, like it's something she's forbidden to say. It doesn't feel right to be so casual in such a strictly-business arrangement.

He flashes another one of those smiles, but this time Felicity can see that it doesn't quite reach his eyes. Vaguely, she wonders how he really feels under that fake exterior. "I'm in the market for a computer," he says with a lilt to his voice. "I had one before..." He doesn't finish the thought, face falling. But then the smile is plastered back as he continues, "Well, it's old now, and I'm looking to replace it. Walter told me that he got his last computer from you—something about customizing it for best performance?" He looks utterly confused for a moment, squinting and tilting his head to the side. Some might consider it adorable, but not Felicity. (Well, not that adorable, anyway.)

Felicity nods. "I've built a few custom computers over the years," she replies, not wanting to commit herself to anything. "But for most users, a store-bought computer works just fine. Any reason why you need something special?"

He gives her a self-deprecating smile that he doesn't quite mean, shrugging. "Because I'm rich and I'm bored?" he offers jokingly. When he sees that she is less than amused, he tries again. "I'm a little... concerned about security features. I'd like to have something that can't be traced or hacked."

She can feel her eyebrows raise in surprise. "You want a ghost," she says flatly, unable to believe what she's heard. Untraceable computers aren't really necessary for day-to-day computer usage, which makes her wonder what Oliver is doing in his spare time.

"If that means it's unidentifiable, then yes," he replies with that ridiculously charming smile, as though he can charm her into agreeing to do something so certifiably insane. He may have a nice smile, but once she sets her mind to something, it takes a lot more than his insincere charm to throw her off the scent.

It takes her a very long moment to decide, but then she realizes that, if she declines, she'll lose any chance at solving the mystery that calls himself Oliver Queen. He's a puzzle, with that fake charm smile and the need for an untraceable computer, and Felicity has never backed away from one yet. This one appears as though it might take all of her skill, and she hasn't had a challenge like that for years. And, besides, she tells herself, she's always wanted to make an unhackable computer, but has never built one for anyone who had the money to buy all the things she'd need. Oliver is the heir to a billionaire's fortune, so he can give her that opportunity.

Felicity takes a deep breath as she prepares to say the most insane things of her life. "Yes, I did customize a computer for Mr. Steele two years ago," she replies to his question finally, trying desperately to avoid talking about the minefield that is Oliver's five year break from reality. "I don't do it very often, but it's simple enough. I've never done an untraceable computer before, but I think I can with the right equipment."

His eyebrows raise in bewilderment. "You'll do it," he says, and it's not a question because he fully understands her words. She understands why he's skeptical; he's asked her to perform as Sisyphean task, and all she does is say she needs a good challenge.

Ignoring the not-really-a-question, she says, "You pay for the parts I need and I'll build it for you—to whatever specifications you want. Is that acceptable with you?"

Oliver smiles as though he's just won the lottery—well, not the lottery, she decides, but maybe a room full of puppies. "That will be great, Felicity." She's not sure she likes the sudden familiarity between them, but she's not quite sure she dislikes it, either. She knows she's playing with fire by doing anything for Oliver Queen, but she can't really stop herself from wanting to help him. The man lived in his own personal Hell for five years; building him an untraceable computer because he's (rightly) paranoid is the least she can do.

She picks up her pen, tapping it against the corner of her mouth. "What kind of computer are you looking for?"

His head tilts to the side while he looks at her as if no one ever asks Oliver Queen what kind of computer he'd like. "I don't think I understand," he replies smoothly, with all the finesse of a crooked politician. Well, if he ever needs a career...

Felicity shakes her head to clear it before rolling her eyes. "Well, most people like to customize a computer based on their needs and price range. Since I know price doesn't necessarily apply to you, do you have any specific needs you want me to tailor your computer to—other than the encryption part, of course? How about this—how much hard drive space will you need?"

He actually seems to think about her question this time, giving it serious thought before answering, "I know I need it to be fast, but honestly computers aren't really my thing." And here she thought she was supposed to be the dumb blonde. He's clearly playing a role he seems to think he fits, but Felicity can tell by that calculating set to his eyes that he's not as stupid as he'd like her to believe. "What's the going rate for hard drives—isn't it something like two hundred and fifty gigabytes?"

Definitely not as foolish as he acts, then. "Maybe five years ago," Felicity scoffs, but then she realizes what she just said. She wants to apologize, but she thinks it will probably go better for both of them if they just pretend she didn't just mention the island. "Now, it's more like a seven-fifty gig to a terabyte of storage space." She quirks her head to the side. "A little excessive if you ask me. I have a lot of data storage, and five hundred gigs are more than enough for me."

His mouth draws into a thin line as he thinks, before finally asking, "What would you suggest?"

It takes Felicity a moment to answer because she's so unprepared for Oliver Queen to ask her lowly IT nerd opinion. "If it were me," she replies slowly, carefully, "I'd go with a smaller hard drive and put a quad-core processor in it. Usually you only need something that impressive with a vast, abysmal cavern of a hard drive—like your terabyte ones—but if you put a powerhouse like that in with a small hard drive? It would outrun the Flash."

Oliver tilts his head to the side as he asks, "The Flash?" It's clear that the phrase has absolutely no meaning to him, a hollow set of words waiting to be filled with information.

Felicity can feel her face turn crimson, cursing her own stupidity for uttering the phrase. "It's a comic book," she answers after a very long moment, huffing at her own dorky references. When he still looks bewildered, she finally says, "I'm a nerd in all possible uses of the word."

He points to her coffee mug—the one that sat on her desk while the Vigilante was sitting in the very seat Oliver now occupies. "Is that how you explain this?" he asks with a half-smile that might actually be genuine, pointing toward the coffee mug she hasn't moved since the Vigilante ordeal.

She actually flushes at that, though she has no idea why it's so embarrassing. "Yeah, something like that," she answers noncommittally, not wanting to rehash the same conversation she's had with all of her coworkers. Absently, she thinks they really seem to have an issue with British programming; she still isn't sure about that show with the bug name that everyone seems to go on about. And she certainly doesn't get why anyone would watch a show with a female Watson.

The two of them discuss his different options for computers for a while, until they finally settle on all the parts. It's going to run him a ridiculous twenty-five hundred dollars, but he doesn't seem to mind the price. That laptop's going to be her envy, so she makes sure to type up all the designs and information, just in case she ever wants to make one for herself.

She finally passes him the sheet of paper she typed up when Walter came to her about the first and only other computer she's ever designed. It's just a release that allows her to build the machine, and that promises him to pay for all the parts they've picked out. "Just sign here," she says as she offers her pen in his direction and lays the release form down in front of him.

He hesitates a moment before taking the pen, brushing his hand against hers slightly in the process. He grips it in a completely awkward fashion, as if he's not sure what to do with it, and she realizes he's probably holding a pen in his hand for the first time in five years. She feels a little sorry for him, so she turns back to her computer and works on the diagnostic report she had been typing up before he came in. Finally, he clears his throat and says, "That should be it."

Felicity turns back around with a smile she hopes isn't pitying or sympathetic. "Thank you," she says absently as she pulls away the paper and runs it through her scanner. She's found that it's a lot easier to keep up with paperwork when it's not actually paper.

When he doesn't respond, she looks at him, only to see him staring behind her at the office door. She wheels around immediately to see none other than Detective Lance staring between her and Oliver. His expression is clear anger when aimed at Oliver, but it looks more like disapproval when he turns toward her. But Felicity will not be made to feel guilty for what is a business transaction.

Squaring her shoulders, she looses what she hopes is a pleasant smile in Lance's direction. "Oh, hello again, Detective," she says as politely as she can. "What can I do for you today?" She knows she shouldn't be irritated by his presence—he's just a cop trying to do his job, after all—but he's been here every day since she turned in the laptop, and he should know by now that she's not going to give him anything more.

"Queen," he acknowledges gruffly. He gives Felicity a sardonic smile before continuing, "I just stopped by to see if you've thought of anything new about my current case." He seems a little hesitant to discuss it in front of Oliver.

Tough, she decides as she answers, "No, nothing more than what I told you the last time, Detective. He didn't approach me. Just left the computer on my desk. When I saw the bullet holes, I brought it directly to you." After all, he came into her office to hound her, and he should be prepared for the consequences of his actions.

Oliver seems a little alarmed by the entire situation, so he asks, "Bullet holes? Did something happen here?" There's clear concern in his voice as he asks, "Felicity, are you all right?"

Before Lance can cut her off, she answers, "The Vigilante left me a present on my desk the other night—a laptop ridden with bullet holes." She chances a pointed look at the detective before saying, "He was gone before I got there, but I caught his picture on the security video, and I turned everything into Detective Lance here."

Oliver sends Lance a sardonic smile that says there isn't much love lost in that relationship. "Sounds to me like you have everything you need, then, Detective," he says cheerfully, but there's a hint of something to it that might be a little threatening, as if Lance should kindly leave before things get worse.

Lance seems to take the hint, but he doesn't want to give Oliver the satisfaction. He smiles with no warmth whatsoever before saying, "Well, when you get your detective's badge, you can tell me how things sound." He turns on his heel before turning back, pointing at Oliver. "Be careful, Miss Smoak," he says, sounding genuinely concerned. "Queen uses people—don't let him use you, too." With those parting words, he walks out of the office. Of course, he's not able to see the way Oliver's face falls at the reminder.

Before Felicity can say anything to repair the damage, Oliver rises from his chair. "He's right," he says finally, then offers her a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. "I do use people. But I'm trying to be better."

And, with those words, Felicity finds herself alone in her office, praying to the gods of sadistic humor to stop messing around with her life.

 


 

It's just after darkness really falls that Quentin Lance makes it to his car, about to leave for the night. It's been a very long day, and the Vigilante case has yet to turn up any more new leads.   The Smoak girl isn't breaking the way he'd suspect—she was so shady that night, and he was certain she was hiding something. It's the same story every time, and he's starting to wonder if his cop intuition is failing him. At least they were able to get that information off the hard drive—but he has no idea why the Vigilante would want to know about the Exchange Building.

He reaches his car, and is suddenly slammed against it; a man uses one hand holding him against the car and the other to twist Lance's right arm behind him painfully. Before he can mutter every threat and expletive he knows, a synthesized robotic voice says, "Good evening, Detective." Without seeing him, Lance knows it's the Vigilante who has decided to plague him tonight.

"You son of a—" he starts to snarl, but he's cut off by the city's most notorious killer.

"You can insult me later," comes the sarcastic reply. "But, for now, we have business to discuss."

"If you think that I'm going to do business with you—" Lance starts, but he breaks off into a yell as his arm is wrenched up even more painfully.

"You have the information you need," the Vigilante says in that discordant, unnatural voice, "to stop Floyd Lawton. He's the sniper that shot at me on the rooftops. He's killed two men so far, and he's working for Warren Patel to thin the competition for Unidac Industries." A staticky sigh echoes through the voice modifier. "The building is surrounded well for sniper perches, and I can't save this city alone. Detective, I'm asking for your help."

"It's my job to defend this city," Lance spits back hatefully. "Of course I'll keep them safe. But if I see you, information or not, don't think I won't arrest you."

"Fair enough," is the Vigilante's reply. He lets off some of the pressure, as if he's going to leave, but, just as Lance starts to relax, he's pinned to the car again. "And Detective?" he adds quickly. "Let me make one thing very clear: Felicity Smoak isn't implicit in my crimes." Lance's blood freezes as he realizes that the other man knows the girl's name; there's no telling what the Vigilante will do, and Smoak is his daughter's age, for Christ's sake. "I used her to deliver a message to you—nothing more." A cold chill enters his voice as he says his next words: "And if you keep pursuing her, there will be consequences." He releases Lance, and an arrow lands home next to Lance's hand, puncturing the car and punctuating the threat.

When the detective looks, though, the Vigilante is nowhere to be found.

Chapter Text

Felicity huffs as she turns her frustration on both the uncooperative motherboard and the blonde girl on screen who has yet to realize that the angel statues are after her. (She reminds herself to stop watching this episode, since it always makes her mad.) She wants to scream, but she knows that's just foolish. The next time she sees Oliver Queen, she's going to strangle him, because his computer is just as frustrating as he is. She frowns down at the computer, then realizes she has her hand on one of the components. Thank God it's not live yet, or she'd be getting a nice static charge through her hair right about now. She shifts her hand away to find the part she needs, then starts tinkering with it.

She jumps about a foot in the air, stifling a scream, when she hears her dog barking in her bedroom, at just about the same time as the angel almost attacks a guy on her television set. She reminds herself never to watch the episode at night, but then her dog barks again. Saphira is generally very quiet, so if she's barking, it means that there's an intruder—or something very out of place. She shoves the half-assembled computer onto her coffee table, pauses the show, and picks up the baseball bat she keeps for such an occasion from beside her TV.

She carefully walks into her bedroom, and she does let out a half-muted scream this time as she sees the figure in the window adjoining to the fire escape, but she drops the bat immediately. Saphira, fierce as her namesake, angles herself between Felicity and the intruder, barking in a manner that is pretty intimidating. Her tail is curled over her back tightly, and her mouth is pulled taut as she exposes her teeth to the intruder. Saphira isn't playing around this time, and he's very right to be crouched in the small space, away from the dog.

Felicity puts a hand on the shiba inu's back, and tries to grab her by the collar. Saphira instead forces herself between Felicity and the intruder, and Felicity sighs for not the first time at the dog's tenacious nature. Sure, that's why she wanted her, but the dog can be more stubborn than Felicity herself on occasion, and it's just demeaning to lose an argument to a dog.

"Very protective," the Vigilante observes, his voice modulated by a synthesizer once again. He seems to be more focused on the twenty-pound dog than on Felicity at this point—and for good reason. Saphira is a sweet dog when she wants to be, but she's also fiercely loyal to Felicity. Not to mention, she has the power and stamina of a dog twice her size, so he's right to be wary of her.

"Saphira, that's enough," she commands sharply, and the dog whines, sitting between them still. She looks at the Vigilante. "She's supposed to be protective—that's why I bought her. I've already had one break-in, and I'd like to deter any future thieves. She may be small, but she's pretty scary when she wants to be."

He tilts his head to the side. "You shouldn't be in an apartment so close to the Glades," he says, tone equal parts concern and chiding. "That last break-in should have been a warning to move." His expression is unreadable, but Felicity is tired of overprotective guys hanging over her life. First Oliver Queen, now a psychopathic vigilante. Vaguely, she wonders what she did to invoke such wrath from the higher powers that be.

She crosses her arms defensively, not sure she likes this level of demanding protectiveness he's giving her. "That's rich," she snaps, "a Vigilante giving me life advice. I like my apartment, and I'm not going to let some doped-up teenagers scare me away. Now, why are you here?" Then she realizes she has a more important question: "How do you even know where I live?"

Of course he ignores her question, just as she expects him to. "I need your help," he says simply, but offers no other explanation or apology for scaring the crap out of her. With the dog calmed, he steps into the room slowly. Saphira growls, but she allows him entry anyway.

The idea of him in her bedroom is starting to give her the creeps, so she motions toward the doorway. "Come into the living room, and we'll talk," she says finally, knowing that she'll probably never understand this guy.

He follows her into the room, head swiveling around as he takes it all in, but he uses an extra amount of time to study the TV, paused on a scene of angel statues around a blue phone box. Felicity suddenly burns with embarrassment at being caught watching such a nerdy show, but the Vigilante mercifully doesn't ask. Felicity takes her seat on the sofa again, the dismantled laptop reminding her of what she should be doing—instead of allowing a hooded vigilante to wander around her home at will. He reaches to run a hand over it, but she slaps his hand away before he can mess up two hours of work. "Don't touch that," she snaps. "It's a project for a client and has nothing to do with you." She sighs before putting a hand to her forehead, willing her headache to stop. "Could you sit down or something? You're making me nervous."

He obliges instantly, sitting down at the opposite end of the sofa. The room is lit only by a lamp focused on the laptop for Oliver Queen, but he leans forward anyway to let the hood shade his face as much as possible. She likes his jawline, she decides, then shakes her head to clear it. Those thoughts will not do.

Before she can speak, Saphira jumps up on the cushion between them, her head tilted toward the Vigilante. He takes the defiance pretty well for a known killer, absently reaching out with an open hand toward her. "I'm looking into the Peter Declan case," he says finally as Saphira sniffs his gloved fingers warily.

"Peter Declan?" Felicity repeats. She knows the name well; she's heard it on all the news stations. The man was sentenced for killing his wife, and he's going to be executed in two days' time. "I would have thought that case was closed by now."

Carefully, he reaches out to pet the dog between them, and Saphira allows the interaction as his fingers rub along her black and white coat, with just that kiss of red separating the two shades. "Declan's wife was going to blow the whistle on Jason Brodeur," he answers. "Jason Brodeur is on the list, and I want to know if he had a man's wife killed."

Felicity huffs, seeing that even her dog has turned traitor against her, cozying up to the man in green leather now. "I can't help you with that," she informs him. "You need a lawyer. This one sounds like it has Laurel Lance written all over it." When he doesn't immediately respond, she continues, "You know, Laurel Lance? She's a hotshot lawyer that takes cases like this—you know, defends those who can't afford high-priced attorneys. She dated Oliver Queen before the whole 'castaway' thing. Bad taste in men aside, she seems like a really awesome lawyer. She seems like the type that would do anything to save the life of an innocent man."

He doesn't answer any of that, but instead says, "Before I can take it to any attorney"—the words roll out of his mouth like he's thinking about enlisting Laurel's help—"I need to know if there were any other leads the police might have had." His hand is absently running over the twenty-pound shiba now situated in his lap, and Saphira is eating up the attention. It's surprising how quickly he earned her trust, but, then again, she's always been told that dogs always fall in line for stronger personalities. She has no doubt the Vigilante is a strong personality

"Oh," Felicity says quietly, not sure what to say next. But then the realization hits her like a battering ram and she gasps, "Oh! You want me to break into the SCPD server? Because, you know, I almost got arrested after your last interference in my life, and I can't go to jail. I'm not mean enough to last a day in there, and—"

The Arrow cuts her short. "Detective Lance will not bother you any longer," he assures her with an air of finality in his tone. A shiver of dread worms its way down her spine.

Felicity gasps. "Please don't tell me you killed him," she begs. "I mean, he was annoying, but it was only because he's a good cop trying to find someone he believes to be a bad guy. He doesn't deserve to die—"

He cuts her off again. "No," he says sharply. "I didn't kill him." Felicity releases a breath she didn't know she was holding. "I simply warned him that there would be consequences if he pursued you again."

An errant thought makes its way out of her mouth: "How did you even know he was going after me?" She's starting to feel a little creeped out by how much he seems to know about her life, and she vaguely wonders if she has a stalker now. She did that once, and she's not interested in another.

He doesn't answer her, and she thinks that if he dodges bullets with the same grace he dodges questions, it's little wonder why no one has killed him. "Will you help me? A man's life is on the line, Felicity." He isn't really begging, but Felicity has a feeling that this is perhaps as close as he'll ever get to pleading with her.

She sighs in defeat as she lifts her laptop from beside Oliver's mostly-dismantled one next to it. Her fingers fly over the keyboard for a moment, but she's finally able to tell him, "Wow, they had blood, fingerprints, motive—pretty much everything they needed to convict him. Slam dunk for the District Attorney's office." She scans the file for a moment before adding, "The statement from Declan says that his wife went to blow the whistle on something to her supervisor, but he says it didn't happen." She moves off to another file to answer the question she already knows to anticipate. "It looks like the supervisor's name is... Matt Isthook."

"Can you print that information for me?" he asks now, again offering no further explanation. He seems to be good at doing that, and it doesn't irritate her as much now as it did the first time.

This time, though, he doesn't have to because Felicity already understands. "You're going to take this to Laurel," she states, fully aware it's going to be his action. She doesn't wait for his confirmation before pressing the print button. She frowns as she realizes she'll have to buy a new printer now; anyone can trace a print-off to a printer nowadays. "You owe me a printer," she mutters, softly enough she thinks he won't hear it.

He steps over to her printer and waits for it to discharge all the information. "I'll see that you get a new one," he promises with the same authority that he used when he told her that Lance wouldn't bother her anymore. She stares at the back of him a little too long, ogling his... better features. Her face heats when he catches her, and she turns away instantly.

When she turns back to him, she sees that he's already starting to turn toward her bedroom to leave. "Wait," she calls, and he turns to her immediately. "I'm glad to help you and all—don't get me wrong—but I want you to promise me you won't use my information to kill anyone. Helping you protect this city is one thing, but being an accomplice to murder is another thing entirely." She crosses her arms for emphasis.

He doesn't have to answer—and she doesn't really expect him to—but he takes several steps toward her, close enough for her to see the black mask across his eyes, before he says, "I promise." There's a sincerity to his tone that she doesn't dare doubt, and she doesn't think she wants to do so.

Before she can acknowledge his statement, he's out of the apartment, leaving her to ponder her thoughts.

 


 

Laurel Lance turns the key to her apartment, frowning when she realizes how dark it is in the room. She knows she's paid her bill, so she doesn't quite expect it. She takes a few more steps into the room, that sixth sense of danger creeping up her spine. She pulls the gun she has in the drawer of her cabinet in the doorway, which she keeps for just such emergencies.

Her previous surprise is nothing compared to how she feels when she sees the hooded figure standing in front of the window in the space she uses as an office. She knows the stories, both what she's heard on the news and what she's heard from her dad. She doesn't hesitate a second as she raises the gun. The man is a killer, and while she doesn't know what he wants with her, she's also not the kind of girl who takes chances. Well, at least not since she dated Oliver Queen.

If he's daunted by the gun between them, he doesn't show it. "Hello, Laurel," he says quietly, as though they're old buddies and he's just stopping by to chat. The tone is distorted by some sort of electronic device, and computers have never really been her thing.

She shakes the gun between them for emphasis. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't shoot you," she demands, taking better aim. The last thing she wants is for this creep to get the jump on her, and she's not going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

He holds up the bow between them in a nonthreatening way, his other hand far away from the quiver strapped to his back. "I'm not going to hurt you," he says, his voice soft and low, so surprisingly gentle for a man known in his own city as a killer. Before she can retort that she knows that because she's the one with a gun, he continues, "I could use your help."

He steps toward her, and she doesn't hesitate to fire, but the only thing leaving the gun is the soft click click click of an empty chamber. She's confused for a moment because she knows she leaves the gun loaded, but then he holds up a clip of bullets. She wonders how he knew where she kept the gun, but then she figures even a criminal can get lucky every now and again. "If you're going to shoot me," he says, "you might need these. I'll give them back to you once we're done. I promise."

She means to tell him that she doesn't believe him, but it comes out as, "What do you want?" Her voice is tired, strained with the irritation she's gained since playing games with this cretin.

She thinks she can see a hint of a satisfactory smile trace those lips. "What do you know about the Peter Declan case?" he counters fluidly. She doesn't like the way he answers her question with his own, but she's trying to mask the frustration brewing behind her expression. The last thing she needs is to fly at him in a rage and get herself killed—and she's sure he's just as good in a fistfight as he is with arrows.

She thinks a moment before saying, "Declan is set to be executed in twenty-four hours. The man killed his wife." She has no sympathy for criminals, and she wants to tell the Vigilante that, but she's too afraid to say anything against him now that she's defenseless.

"Peter Declan is innocent," he proclaims. "The real mastermind behind this crime is Jason Brodeur. Declan's wife was going to blow the whistle on something within Brodeur's chemical company, and he had her silenced." He throws something that looks like a case file across her desk, along with what looks like a signed confession. "Matt Isthook, her direct supervisor, admits that in his letter. This should be all you need to send Peter Declan home to his daughter."

Laurel examines the files for a moment before she focuses on him again to ask, "Why me?" When he doesn't immediately answer, she tries again. "There has to be a thousand lawyers in this town. What made you choose me out of all of them?"

His answer is slow and hesitant. "Because you come highly recommended," he answers finally. "And I know that you're the kind of person who would stop at nothing to save the life of an innocent man."

It scares her how well he already knows her, how his words strike home. She wonders vaguely if she's ever met him before when he's not all hooded up and murderous, but then she realizes that she wouldn't meet anyone so obviously deranged on the street. She then ponders who referred him to her, and then thinks she should probably stop allowing her clients to loan out her name and card like that.

She sighs after a long moment, knowing she's going to play into his hand, something that she doesn't like at all. "Fine," she snaps, trying to sound disgruntled to work up the feeling. "I'll see what I can do for Declan, but I'm not going to promise anything." She thinks for a moment before asking, "How do I contact you?"

He offers her a black smartphone, which he also slides onto the desk, along with the clip of bullets. "Call me when you have information for me," he says quickly, and then he's through the window again and gone before she can take any more shots at him, leaving Laurel to ponder her thoughts in the dark. And then the light comes on.

So she does what she does best: sits at her desk and analyzes the information she was given. She decides she'll pour over the books for a few hours, and then she promises she'll do her best to save Peter Declan. After all, someone out there is counting on her to do her best job—someone who knew enough to send the Vigilante to her over this.

Whoever it is, she doesn't quite know, but she won't fail them.

Chapter Text

Felicity Smoak has never felt so out-of-place in her life as when she drives up to the Queen mansion in her Mini Cooper with Oliver's newly assembled computer.  She feels like she's at homecoming all over again, but this time she's sitting in the middle of the popular crowd with her nose in a book.  She shouldn't be here, but of course Oliver wanted the damn laptop delivered to him.  She doesn't want to go in there, but she doesn't really have a choice.

She squares her shoulders as she walks up to the door and dares ring the doorbell.  She's only mildly surprised when a maid opens the door.  "May I help you?" she asks in a light accent that takes Felicity a moment to identify.  Russian, probably, but it could just as easily be Ukrainian or another Slavic language.

"Yeah, hi," she answers awkwardly, but she's just glad her voice isn't shaking—or worse, she could have her voice crack like a boy going through puberty.  "My name is Felicity Smoak.  I'm not sure if—"

The woman nods, smiles.  "Please, Miss Smoak," she says, opening the door wide and waving her in.  "Mister Oliver is expecting you.  He should be down soon."  Felicity balks at the use of "Mister Oliver," but she follows the nice, motherly woman into the foyer.

She can barely hold back a gasp of surprise as she walks into the impressive entrance, examining the high arch of the ceiling, the wooden staircase, and the ornate decor.  The maid leads her into the foyer, with expensive-looking furniture and a very nice plasma TV on the wall.  She's even more intimidated by the mansion now than before; she should seriously not be here.  After all, Felicity's idea of fancy is a dinner at Olive Garden, and she's pretty sure that's a Rembrandt—the real thing, not a print—on the wall.

"Mister Oliver will be with you shortly," she offers kindly, and she beams when Felicity thanks her.  She's clearly not used to kind, fair treatment from the Starling City elite, and Felicity can't help but feel a little sorry for her.  Felicity may not have the world's best job, but at least she's treated like an actual human being every day.

The maid disappears, and Felicity sits in silence for a very long moment, letting her thoughts run wild as she looks around the room.  She actually dares to sit on the expensive sofa, and she finds it's rather comfortable for high-priced furniture (not that she has much experience with that).  Even the coffee table looks expensive, and she finds a very nice collection of Shakespeare's plays sitting on the table as part of the decor.  It looks old, and she wonders if it's worth anything.  But, knowing the Queen mansion, it probably is.  After all, she reminds herself, these are the kind of people who blow their noses on hundred-dollar bills.

She almost misses it when the girl walks in, her chocolate-colored hair wavy and long.  She's young and beautiful, and bored in the same sense that Felicity has always imagined the idle rich.  She knows on sight the girl is Thea Queen, but the camera doesn't do the girl justice.  But, then again, maybe it does; she's pretty wasted in most of those paparazzi shots that splatter across the local tabloids.

The girl narrows her eyes at Felicity, and she feels a tendril of dread work its way down her spine.  The stories say that Thea has a temper, and that it does not bode well to be on her bad side.  Felicity swallows, and the girl says to her, "Let me guess—you're here to see my brother."  It's a statement, not a question, and the disdain in her voice is as clear as day—as well as the implication she's making.

All Felicity knows is that she wants to set her straight, but that somehow leaves her mouth in a rush of, "Oliver and I have never had sex."   She turns crimson when she realizes what she says, and she puts a hand to her forehead and moans, "You know, I should just have my mouth sewed shut—it would save me a lot of trouble."

She's not sure what she expects as a response, but Thea falls onto the opposite sofa, laughing.  Felicity envies the way she still manages to be graceful with the action, even as she wipes tears from her eyes.  After she finally sobers, she says with a lilt to her voice, "You're not like the others, are you?"  Before Felicity can respond, Thea shakes her head.  "I'm sorry—I'm being rude."

She's saved from answering by a lilting British accent as Walter Steele comes into the room.  "Allow me to make introductions," he offers politely.  "Miss Smoak, this is my stepdaughter, Thea Queen.  Thea, this is Felicity Smoak.  She's a computer technician in our IT department at Queen Consolidated."  Turning back to Felicity he asks, "I trust Oliver came to you about a custom computer system?"

Felicity nods.  "Yes, Mr. Steele—thank you for the recommendation, by the way.  That's actually why I'm here—I finished it, and he asked me to deliver it to him."  She pats the briefcase next to her.  "I just need to make sure it meets expectations."

Walter nods, doing one of those little half-smiles.  "I trust that it will," he says with sincerity, before clasping his hands together.  "I'm afraid I'm needed at the office, but I'll see you both later."  He kisses Thea on the cheek before continuing, "Always a pleasure, Miss Smoak."

"Nice to see you again, too, Mr. Steele," she responds cordially.  He leaves quickly, and Felicity finds herself alone in the room with Thea again.

This time, Thea appraises her for a moment before saying, "I'm sorry.  I acted like a bitch, and you're just trying to do something nice for my brother."  She sighs.  "It's just that most women that spend time with my brother are out for themselves, so I tend to jump to conclusions."  Quietly, she adds, "He's been through a lot."

Felicity thinks about that for a moment, murmuring her forgiveness.  Oliver has been through a lot, and that's putting it mildly; God only knows what he faced on that island for the past five years.  She remembers again how difficult it was for him to even sign his name, and she thinks that his re-integration into society is going to be horribly difficult.  No wonder he has been away from the paparazzi and the public eye.  On top of that, she realizes that the Oliver Queen she met was not the same one who made tabloid covers; he was nice to her, and looked incredibly apologetic for the thing with Sara Lance.  Maybe it's going to be even harder for him to integrate back into his family—because the Oliver Queen who left on that boat is clearly not the same one in her office a few weeks ago.

Before any further conversation can develop, Oliver walks in, his eyes narrowing when he sees Thea sitting across from Felicity.  "Hey, Thea?" he asks, and she tilts her ead toward him.  "I think Mom was looking for you.  Why don't you see what she wants?"

Thea's eyes narrow at the obvious dismissal, but she rises from the seat.  "Nice to meet you, Felicity," she says before heading out of the room.

Silence stretches out between her and Oliver, and she feels the need to fill it.  "Mr. Queen," she starts, but then she remembers he doesn't like being called that.  She winces before continuing, "Sorry.  Oliver, I have your laptop ready to go.  I think it meets all of your specifications, but I'd like you to make sure."

He nods briefly.  "Since some of the requirements are a little... sensitive, let's go up to my room."  He suggests it as though he's asking her into the dining room for lunch—casual, impersonal, and completely devoid of any emotion.

She hesitates.  "Are you sure that's okay?  Because, I mean, I don't want to give the wrong impression to everyone and—"

He cuts her off, smiling slightly.  "Felicity," he says in a tone that says so much in one single word.  Stepping closer, he continues, "It's better not to do this in the open."

She realizes the logic of his statement and relents, sighing.  "Fine," she says tiredly.  She curses herself for being such a sucker for a pretty face; he's nothing but exhausting, and she doesn't know how anyone tolerates him on a daily basis, much less lives with him.

He leads her up the elaborate staircase and down a series of winding halls she will never be able to find her way out of.  "Are you sure this doesn't eventually lead to the city of Omashu?" she blurts, and then realizes Oliver probably won't have a clue what she's talking about.

He continues walking, but he turns to look at her for a moment.  She's not disappointed when he frowns, eyes narrowed in confusion as he asks, "Leads to where?"

Felicity groans.  "Never mind," she assures him quickly, coloring at her own stupidity.

He stops this time.  "I'd like to know," he says quietly, trying to smile even though it doesn't reach his eyes.  "No one makes references to television or movies around me anymore."  He doesn't add anything else, but he doesn't have to:  it's clear his family doesn't want to upset him about the missing five years of his life.

Always a sucker for a sad face, Felicity answers, sighing, "It's from a TV show called Avatar," she answers finally.  He starts walking again as she adds, "And it has nothing to do with the James Cameron movie with blue people that is also amazing.  But M. Night Shyamalan did make a movie out of it."  She clears her head by shaking it.  "Anyway, there's an episode in season two—called "The Cave of Two Lovers"—where they're trying to get into a city called Omashu, and the main characters go through a series of tunnels that keep changing.  Like a living maze, which is what your house is starting to remind me of."  She stops babbling as they get to the door, and she can see just a hint of a smile on his face.

He opens the door and ushers her in, and as she takes in the opulence of the room, she mutters, "I keep thinking I'll see a miniature giraffe around here."  It earns her a questioning glance from Oliver, but she ignores it as she takes in the room and he shuts the door.  It's such an impersonal space; it wouldn't surprise her if he didn't spend much time here.  "Where should I set up?" she asks casually, trying to pretend she's in just another office and not Oliver Queen's bedroom.

Oliver waves a hand toward a nice mahogany desk that definitely didn't come from an Ikea.  "Over here will be fine," he says, before attempting to clear a '90s model monitor off the top.

Felicity stops him.  "No," she says a little loud, startling him, and she winces.  She tries again, "No, that's all right—I can disassemble that old system."  She's about to say more but she stops, biting her lip.

Oliver offers her a tentative smile as he coaxes her.  "And?"

"And," Felicity continues as prompted, "if you don't have use for the old computer and monitor, I can maybe re-purpose them for parts."  With a self-conscious hand gesture, she finally adds, "I have a few side projects going."

"Go ahead and take them, then," he assures her.  "I'll just throw them out, anyway."  As she attempts to shut down the still-running computer, he changes the subject.   "That reminds me—we still haven't discussed your fee."

She's confused for a moment, but then she realizes that the Queen family is used to flashing money to get things done.  "I'll have everything up as soon as I can," she assures him.  "The old one might be a little stubborn to move out of here, but setting up the laptop shouldn't take too long."

To her surprise, he shakes his head.  "No, how much money do I owe you for your labor?"

She shakes her head.  "Nothing," is her response.  "You paid for the parts, and an IT nerd playing with computer parts is a happy IT nerd.  No charge necessary."  Since the computer is shut down, she unplugs the CPU and the monitor from the wall socket before crawling under the desk to untangle wires and devices.

She's surprised when she sees Oliver sink to his knees on the other side of the desk.  "How can I help?" he asks, and Felicity has to admit that the sight of Oliver on the floor in a pair of jeans that cost more than she makes in a month, frowning adorably at the clutter of wires, is a sight to behold.

She directs him to the monitor hookups, and they work their way through the wiring together.  Felicity neatly gathers the cables, the tower, and the monitors in the corner of the room for now.  "Thanks for that," she says, but he doesn't respond because he's interrupted by the knock on the door.

"Come in," he says instead, as Felicity sits the laptop on the desk.  For her benefit, he adds, "That would be Mr. Diggle, my bodyguard."  It seems a little insane; the world Felicity has stepped into is clearly not the one she's used to.  Here, there are maids and bodyguards and chauffeurs—and apparently stretch limos and lowly IT girls who are forced to do favors for no pay.

The man that walks in sports a shaved head and a nice suit, standing like a soldier.  He's built like one, too, because his arms look like they belong to the Hulk, not an average guy who offers her a very nice smile.  "Mr. Queen," he says, with no preamble, speaking softly for such a big man, "the police are downstairs, and they want to talk to you."  Meaningfully, he adds, "Detective Lance is with them."

Felicity stops Oliver from speaking.  "Oh, well," she says awkwardly, "that sounds like my cue to leave.  If it's okay, Oliver, I'll pick up that computer later."  She shudders.  "I do not want to get involved with Bad-Cop-Worse-Cop down there ever again."  She pats his shoulder, but winces when he tenses at the contact.  "Good luck, Oliver."

He leads the three of them out of the room and down the stairs to the entrance hall, to where they see Detective Lance standing, handcuffs already out.  Whatever is going on now, Felicity knows it can't be good, and it's only going to have one conclusion.  She just feels sorry for Oliver, because, whatever is happening, she has a feeling he didn't exactly ask for the entire situation.

Oliver seems to have come to the same conclusion.  Lowly, he says to her, "Felicity, I need you to do me a favor, please."  He pauses before explaining said favor, looking at her as if he expects her to say no.

If he does, he's certainly disappointed.  "All you have to do is name it," Felicity promises him, and she wonders how she can possibly identify any at all with him after meeting him twice.

"I need you to hire an attorney for me."  At the unspoken question in her eyes, he answers, "I know my mother won't listen to me, and I know you will."  Before she can question anything, he takes his copy of the computer specifications out of his shirt pocket.  "I need a pen," he tells her.  When she scrounges one out of her pockets, he hands her a pen and says, "Can you write for me?"  Before she can answer, he dictates, "'I, Oliver Queen, hereby authorize Felicity Smoak to obtain an attorney on my behalf.'"  She thinks he knows a little much about legal jargon for a former playboy billionaire, but of course that comment doesn't escape the confines of her mind.

She wonders where the sudden burst of trust comes from, but she doesn't ask, only doing as he says because there probably isn't time for questions.  After she finishes, she offers him the pen and paper, and he signs slowly before handing it back to her.  "I want you to get Laurel for me," he says lowly before walking toward Lance.  Before she can ask, he's already talking to Lance.  "Detective, you wanted to see me?"

Without preamble, he responds, "Oliver Queen, you're under arrest for suspicion of obstruction of justice, breaking and entering, illegal entry, aggravated assault, assault on a police officer..."  Felicity gasps at the ridiculous charges; she knows they're accusing him of being the Vigilante without really saying it.  She's met the Vigilante, and he is most certainly not anything like Oliver Queen.  The detective cuffs him, and as Oliver faces Felicity's direction, it's clear he sees the concern across her features.  All he does is offer her a small wink, as if to say,  This will all blow over soon.  "...Attempted murder," Lance continues as he turns Oliver around, and then he growls in his face, "and murder."  A dark smile lights the cop's face as they lead him out of the house.

Vaguely, Felicity takes notice of the family panicking in the background.  Moira is grasping Walter's arm as though her life depends on it, Thea is crying, and the tall man who just stood on the other side of Oliver—Mr. Diggle, she remembers—is watching her intently.

She turns to him instantly.  "I have no idea what to do," she says finally to him.

He offers a slight, sympathetic smile.  "Try to ride out the storm," he says simply.  "And find that lawyer he wanted."

 


 

If Felicity thought she was out of place at the Queen mansion, it's nothing compared to how she feels at the City Necessary Resource Initiative building.  CNRI itself isn't all that impressive, but the lawyers parading around are dressed pretty nice for such modest salaries.  Her panda flats certainly do not allow her to blend in here, and her wardrobe is a little too bright and quirky for these people.  Her mission, she decides, is to get in and out as quick as she can.

She finds the woman she's looking for, so she asks, "Laurel Lance?"  The woman whirls, taking in Felicity's appearance with a look of mild curiosity.  "Do you have a moment?"

Laurel offers her a polished smile that Felicity thinks she must have practiced in a mirror for ages—but then she decides she's being a little catty.  She doesn't even know Laurel.  "Sure," the lawyer responds sweetly.  "What can I do for you?"

Felicity shakes her head.  "Not for me," she corrects, then frowns.  "I'm not sure if you've heard yet—about the thing with Oliver Queen?"

Laurel blanches, and the smile drops from her face.  "No," she says in a flat tone, "I haven't."

Because it's clear she's not going to play along, Felicity sighs tiredly.  "They've arrested him because the cops think he's the Vigilante."  Laurel takes in a breath in surprise as Felicity pulls out the signed piece of paper.  "This gives me authorization to hire you as his criminal attorney on his behalf."  She hesitates before saying, "He wanted you—and he was very clear about that."

Laurel takes the piece of paper, examines it, then narrows her eyes at Felicity.  "And who are you?" she asks, and Felicity can hear the real question she wants answered:  Who are you to Oliver Queen?

Felicity wants to answer her honestly, but she's not exactly sure what "honest" is in this situation.  Finally, she says, "I'm Felicity Smoak.  I did some computer work for Oliver.  We're friends—sort of."  She tells herself that's the truth, because they must be friends if he considers her trustworthy enough to do this for him.

"Ollie," she says, emphasizing the nickname as she crosses her arms, "doesn't have female friends."

Felicity bites back a retort—something along the lines of, Well, there's a first time for everything, or the meaner option of, Maybe that's because I don't throw myself at him like a female cat in heat.  Instead, she goes with the diplomatic approach, shrugging slightly as she responds, "Like I said, it's hard to explain.  I did some computer stuff, he laughed at my stupidity—that's basically it."  For not the first time, she understands why all of her friends in college were male—it's less complicated that way.  At least boys aren't so catty.

"Fine," she says after a long moment, snapping the word.  "I'd never miss an opportunity to help Ollie."  With that, she turns on her heel and leaves, making Felicity's only option to do the same.

Chapter Text

Felicity sits on her couch next to her dog with a Frankenstein computer that she's trying to rebuild, this time watching the detective duo trying to outsmart their rival. She agrees with the rival's assessment that how every fairytale needs a good villain, but then she thinks about the situation in Starling City with the Vigilante. Is he the hero or the criminal? It's a question she's been asking herself for a very long time, and one she can never seem to answer. It bothers her, though, because she believes puzzles are meant to be solved, and the Vigilante is definitely an unsolvable case at this point. She doesn't have enough information yet.

Still, it's a case she can't quite shake completely. She finds herself identifying more and more with the mysterious hooded crusader, and she tells herself he's not exactly the good guy in this scenario. Still, she sees that he's taking down a lot of really horrible human beings, and that comforts her. However, she thinks he could serve a greater good by taking on some of the lesser scum on the street—instead of just the big fish swimming around. But despite the fact that Starling's crime rates are down for the first time in years, she still reminds herself that he kills people. Bad people, sure, but people nonetheless, and she should remember that.

As if summoned by her thoughts, she hears the latch on the fire escape attempt to pull open, but it's stopped by the inside-only lock she's placed on it since her last visit by the Vigilante. She pauses the show and heaves a breath, suddenly feeling very put-upon. She's not sure she can handle a double life as a Vigilante's IT specialist, even to solve the puzzle that is the Vigilante. But he's a curiosity in her life, and Felicity doesn't like unsolved cases. With another sigh, she pulls herself off the couch and steps into her bedroom.

Her posture changes instantly when she sees the green hood masking his facial features, but Saphira charges into the room barking loudly. She restrains the dog and hushes her, seeing what the dog also notices, but she opens the door anyway, brandishing the baseball bat. "I want to know what you're doing here and why you're wearing that," she demands with authority she doesn't feel. Her voice doesn't quaver, though, so that is something.

"What are you talking about?" he asks, but, even synthesized, the timbre of his voice is off, and it serves to confirm what she already believed to be true. He steps into the room, but she holds the baseball bat as if her life depends on it. She thinks for a moment how long it would take her to go for her phone in the meantime.

She rolls her eyes, putting one hand on her hip. "I may be blonde," she informs him, "but I'm not that blonde. I'm talking about the fact that you aren't the Vigilante," she says flatly, "but I think you already knew that. You gave it a good go—and you could probably fool anyone else, but not me. You're taller than he is, a little more muscular, and Saphira is going nuts when she made friends with the Vigilante last time. Should I call the cops now because you're a psycho copycat, or are you here on his behalf?"

A distorted chuckle answers, but Felicity doesn't understand what's so funny. "He said you'd know the difference," the not-Vigilante responds, seemingly amused. "He also told me that, when you did, to tell you he hasn't forgotten about that printer he owes you for the last time."

The tension leaves her body instantly, and the baseball bat falls against the wall. She decides to trust him, if only because of the statement that could only have come from the Vigilante himself. "Come in here, and we'll talk about it," she says, giving herself an odd sense of déjà vu. It was only a few weeks ago that he—the true Vigilante, she supposes—was standing in her bedroom and walking into her living area. They have to stop meeting like this.

He follows her into the living area, but he doesn't observe his surroundings the way his predecessor did, instead only focusing on her. "Tell me why you're here," she demands, still suspicious as she eyes him warily. He might have enough trust to parade around in another guy's green hood, but that doesn't mean she trusts him enough to be in her apartment. She thinks it's probably crazy that she's more comfortable with the Vigilante, but she knows that he, at least, isn't going to hurt her; he's had several opportunities, but each time she walks away unscathed. This guy, on the other hand, is a wild card.

"We seem to have a problem," he says carefully, before holding out a small, black electronic device. "I'm supposed to use these bugs tonight, but they're not working. Our friend said that you might be able to fix these?" It's a question, and she feels insulted by it. Of course she's able to fix whatever problems they're having—she does this for a living. She wants to remind him of how awesome she is, but she doesn't think this is the time, despite how true her words would be.

She means to reach for the bugs, but she can't bring herself to do it. The not-Vigilante seems to understand, and carefully places them on the coffee table. When he steps back, she surges forward and grabs them, looking them over methodically. When she completes her assessment, she scoffs, "What did you do—get these from VH1?" She holds them up. "Because these are best of the eighties, my friend." She sighs at the lack of respect technology seems to get when the Vigilante is involved. "You know, the least you could do is pop for decent bugging equipment."

The not-Vigilante ignores her griping and asks the right question: "Can you provide us with some better equipment?" He says it quickly, as if it's imperative that he gets them this moment. Either that, or he wants to shut her up and be gone quickly, which Felicity figures to be a distinct possibility.

Felicity frowns. "I'm sure I could," she says finally, "but I don't really have the equipment here. I also don't carry bugging devices with me wherever I go. This might sound crazy to you, but, in case you haven't heard, illegal eavesdropping is illegal." She crosses her arms for emphasis. Even as she tells him that it's illegal, the logical part of her brain is already constructing blueprints for the Vigilante team to use on their nightly excursions. Then she wonders when she became such a criminal mastermind, and the moral part of her brain chides her for it.

He takes her outburst in stride. "Is there any way you could build anything better tonight? I have to have these planted by midnight." As soon as he says it, she glances up at the clock. Eight-thirty. That means she has about two hours to get everything together—an impossible task for most. But Felicity is not most.

Instead of telling him he's out of luck, she instead examines the bug again before saying, "I think I can make these work for tonight with what I have here at the house, but next time? Tell our friend that he needs to give me a little advance warning. I can make these from scratch, but I have to have the equipment at QC to do it."

Without waiting for an answer, Felicity starts in on the conversion, swapping wires around here and there. The final product is just as bulky as the original, but she's proud of the end result. She admires the refined battery and the circuit rewired for optimal performance, but she figures it's the best she can do with the original product. After all, she concludes finally, she's an IT specialist, not a miracle worker.

The not-Vigilante seems just as satisfied as she does. He doesn't praise her, only offering, "He said you were good." The tone in his voice is different—something between amusement, surprise, and awe.

An odd burst of pride flows through Felicity, though she's not sure she should be proud of her wiretap-fixing skills. She replies instantly, "He said I was good? That's just insulting—I'm better than that." She makes sure to smile so she doesn't come off as bragging; it was just a joke, and her confidence in her skill set is something that most people don't quite understand. Felicity reaches out to hand her creations to him, but then changes her mind. "Do I want to know what you plan to use these babies for?"

She doesn't expect an answer, but she gets one anyway. "We're trying to stop some gunrunners," is the swift reply, and she marvels at the efficiency of the statement. Just enough information to keep her curiosity satisfied, but not enough to get her into trouble if they're caught. That sort of efficiency makes her think he might be military or ex-military, but she keeps the observation to herself. She's not sure what they'd do if they thought she knew anything about them. She quickly promises herself that she won't look into it, but she knows that it's just a lie.

Felicity nods. "Glad to see he's going after someone besides rich billionaires. There's a lot of crime on Starling's streets, and he could definitely make a difference there." She crosses her arms. "So, which one of you is the Vigilante? Or is it a position you share?"

Another chuckle answers her, and she thinks he's probably not so intimidating as the first Vigilante. "He's the Vigilante," is his answer. "I'm just filling in for the night."

She scoffs at the phrasing of his answer. "You're filling in? What, like a relief vigilante? How do you phrase that on your résumé?" It comes off a little sarcastic, but she's genuinely curious.

The fake Vigilante doesn't answer this time, instead holds his hand out for the electronic devices she's repaired for the crime-fighting duo. Felicity silently drops them into his gloved hand, uncertain of what else she can say. She wants to tell him—to tell them both—to be careful, but she's sure that will come of as condescending. So she just crosses her arms as she watches him study her.

Finally, when she can't take the attention any longer, she walks toward her bedroom, saying over her shoulder, "I'll let you out." She doesn't hear him follow, but when she turns, he's on her heels.

He motions to the lock on her door. "He told me to remind you about that," he says quietly, an odd appraising tone entering his voice. "I'm glad I can tell him some good news."

Felicity rolls her eyes. "Well, I may not be a super-skilled vigilante by night," she snaps, not liking this protectiveness from both of them, "but I can take care of myself, you know."

The man under the hood chuckles once more. "I'm sure you can," he replies, humoring her nicely, but Felicity thinks this might be worse than the overprotectiveness she's seen in the past. "Goodnight, Felicity."

Before she can respond to him, he's gone, leaving her to wonder why she decided to help the Vigilante in the first place.

 


 

When John Diggle walks into the Queen mansion, he's yet again reminded by the surreal nature that is now firmly entrenched in his life. He makes his way up the stairs and through the hallways to Oliver Queen's room, he knocks three times on the door, rolling his eyes. Oliver has made it clear he expects knocking to be a part of their arrangement; Diggle doesn't quite understand why—they're in this... whatever-the-hell-it-is together.

While he waits to be allowed entry, he thinks back on his encounter with Felicity Smoak, the girl who has apparently become their resident IT expert. He wasn't quite expecting the fire in her eyes—or the genuine smile on Oliver's face when he told Diggle about the printer and that she'd know the difference. For not the first time since he started bodyguarding Queen, he feels like he doesn't quite have the full picture.

"Come in," Oliver responds finally, and Diggle lets himself into the impersonal room that Oliver has yet to customize to the person he is, shutting the door behind him. But then Diggle thinks that this room does reflect Oliver—it's clearly just a space to him, with no personality whatsoever. His real life exists in the basement of the old Queen factory, not here.

Oliver looks up from his computer—a very nice one, which Diggle knows is also courtesy of Felicity Smoak. "How did it go?" Oliver asks flatly, watching Diggle again with those critical eyes.

Diggle crosses his arms as he looks at Oliver. "She fixed the busted lock over the fire escape. And she knew it wasn't you, just like you said, but she was willing to help me anyway, albeit a little reluctantly."

Oliver's eyes narrow immediately, his shoulders tensing as if for a fight, and Diggle marvels at how the mere mention IT girl can provoke emotion out of the stoic, reformed playboy. "What do you mean, 'reluctantly'?" he demands, his tone turning dark. There's an odd ferocity and protectiveness in his voice, one befitting a jealous lover. Under normal circumstances, Diggle might decide to reiterate this fact aloud, but Oliver isn't teasing now, and Diggle is all too aware which one of them would win in a fight—and he's certain Oliver would gladly come to blows over Felicity Smoak

Diggle holds up his hands in a calming gesture. "Nothing happened," he assures the younger man. "She didn't trust me because she knew I wasn't you—even after I mentioned the printer. That was the only reason she agreed to help me." He raises an eyebrow, daring Oliver to interrupt him again, but the younger man remains quiet. "She wasn't able to build a new bug, but she did repair the ones we had. She told me to tell you that you need to give her better notice next time, and she can hook you up with some better technology." He chuckles at the memory. "She says our stuff was best of the eighties."

Oliver actually smiles at that, so Diggle thinks it's time to ask the question he's been wanting to know the answer to since Oliver first mentioned Felicity. "Oliver, what exactly is this girl to you?"

The smile falls immediately, and Oliver's eyes narrow again. "That's not your concern," he says flatly. A long moment of silent, testosterone-fueled glowering continues between them for a long moment, but when Oliver sees that Diggle isn't going to give up that easily, he finally adds with a sigh, "She's just a resourceful computer technician I stumbled onto one night as the Vigilante. She offered to help me, and I accepted."

With one eyebrow lifted in skepticism, Diggle dares ask, "And she doesn't know who you are?"

Oliver gives him that smile that says, I'm humoring you this time, but don't expect it to happen again. "She doesn't know the Arrow's identity," he phrases carefully. "She's met the Arrow and Oliver Queen separately, but she has nothing to connect the two."

Diggle frowns. "You know how weird it is that you refer to yourself in the third person, right?"

Oliver tries to hide a smile while pretending to ignore Diggle. After a moment, he says, "It's better for her not to know."

"It's better for her not to get involved," Diggle corrects. "She's a civilian with no training whatsoever. Her looking cute in a skirt isn't exactly the kind of skill we're looking for here." He admits he might be exaggerating slightly, since she's so handy with the electronic equipment, but the hyperbole serves to make his point quite nicely.

Oliver's tone turns dangerously protective and threating as he says, "We can protect her. That's why I can't tell her my name, Digg. If anyone thinks she knows who the Vigilante is, they would use her for leverage." He doesn't talk about how they would hurt her for information; Digg has seen enough of that to know what happens to captured prisoners.

Still, he acts as the voice of reason. "What about Detective Lance—the one who arrested you for being the Vigilante?"

Oliver fixes piercing eyes on Diggle, his expression unreadable as always. "I told him as the Arrow she wasn't involved. For now, Lance is perfectly happy to have me prosecuted for murder and to leave Felicity alone." He draws himself up taller in his seat, and Diggle can already sense the subject change that's coming. "Which is why I need you to follow those wiretaps. In a few days, I'm having a party here at the house. I need you to intercept an arms deal as the Arrow." He tilts his head to the side before asking, "You think you're up to it?"

Diggle knows Oliver is trying to light a fire under his pride, so he simply ignores that part of the conversation and focuses on the more important part. "You set this up," he accuses angrily, the feeling of being played leaving a bad taste in his mouth. "You wanted to get caught, so that I could step in and pretend to be you while you're under house arrest." He takes a moment to examine the brilliant plan, and he has to admit, "You got caught so that the legal system itself could provide you with an iron-clad alibi. No one will protest that."

A smirk graces Oliver's face as he admits, "Exactly. Lance only wanted Felicity as means to a greater goal—me. And now she's off the hook because I've been arrested. But if I convince Lance he's barking up the wrong tree about this, it might be enough for him to doubt his judgment about Felicity." He sighs. "If not, we'll have to find a way to cover for her."

Then he says the words that prove he's no longer the selfish billionaire they expect him to be: "She's our responsibility now, Diggle, and we have to keep her safe."

Chapter Text

Felicity has to take a breath to steel herself as she walks into the Queen mansion, even for the second time, and she still thinks she's not good enough for this place. There's more money on the walls than she'll ever see in her life, and it's terrifying to be as klutzy as she is knowing there's a Ming Dynasty vase on display behind her. She waits in the entry hall because she isn't really sure where to go; the walk back to Oliver's room was a labyrinth, and there's no way she's going to attempt that journey on her own.

It doesn't help that there's such a crowd in the lobby, what with the party going on and all. But still, this is when Oliver told her to come pick up his old computer for parts, and she needed to get away from work before she went insane anyway. She'd be grateful for the interruption otherwise, but she never feels in place at the Queen mansion.

A familiar face from the tabloids comes up to her, dripping swagger, charm, and the promise of mischief. With his dark hair and eyes, Tommy Merlyn is even more attractive than the media makes him out to be, and she can understand now why there are so many rumors about his womanizing; there is just something innate about him that draws in the opposite sex—something that can't be explained by good looks or old money.

"You look a little lost," he says, but not in a way that indicates she doesn't need to be here. "Can I get you something to drink?"

Felicity shakes her head. "No, thank you, Mr. Merlyn," she offers, trying to be as professional as possible, since the last thing she wants is Tommy Merlyn flirting with her. "I was to pick up some old computer parts from Ol—Mr. Queen." She catches the slip that will give her away as being on more casual ground with Oliver. She realizes that she hasn't introduced herself. "I'm Felicity Smoak." By way of explanation for her presence, she says, "I'm in the IT Department at Queen Consolidated."

Tommy smiles knowingly—the little flirt—at her slip-up, catching it despite her best efforts. "Figures," he says with a laugh. "He always did know how to pick them." He appraises her in a way that makes her entire face burn. "They're always beautiful, but brainy, too? That's new." When she doesn't rise to the bait, he offers finally, "He's upstairs in his room, I think—had something to talk about with Laurel, his lawyer." She sees the shadow that crosses his face with that statement, and she wonders quietly if Tommy has some serious unrequited feelings for Laurel. At her blank look, he chuckles and asks, "Need a tour guide?" He offers his arm in a way she hopes is teasing.

She sighs before admitting defeat. "I think so," she admits sadly. "I've been through the upper floor once already, but something tells me it's going to take more than one attempt."

Tommy laughs at her voiced thoughts as he heads up the stairs, Felicity at his side. "I think so," he agrees. "This house was built over a few generations as land was purchased and graded, so it's a little winding in places. I think maze is the nice way of putting it."

"I'm still expecting to find angel statues and an Aplan temple up above us," she agrees, but then turns crimson as she realizes what she's said—and to Tommy Merlyn, of all people. If she ever had "cool" status, it would have been revoked for this moment alone.

He shoots her a puzzling glance, slowing in walking pace. "What?" he asks after a long moment, smiling a little as he takes in her reaction.

Felicity hides her now-red face with her hands for a moment before trying to salvage it. "You know, a maze of the dead?" she tries nonchalantly. "Three levels of statuary and maze-like passageways. It's—" She cuts herself off. "And I'm trying to pretend I'm not a nerd, but I'm only making it worse."

Tommy chuckles. "Do you do this all the time?" he asks. "And does anyone ever understand?"

Felicity sighs. "Yes and yes, unfortunately," she responds, waving her hands around a little. "It's how I communicate—I don't understand why. And my fellow IT gremlins in the Satan Pit—that's what I call the IT department—always know what I'm talking about." She huffs. "It's not as much fun with you... normal people, though. Oliver has a perfectly reasonable excuse, but there's no plausible reason why you wouldn't have caught that."

He stops short at something she says, and she actually has to turn back to look at him. Tommy's eyes are wide, the playful smile falling off his face. "You actually make pop culture references around Oliver?" he asks, as though it's supposed to be surprising.

"All the time," she assures him, not understanding the point. "He told me he doesn't mind, even if he doesn't know what I'm talking about." Then she remembers what he said to her the last time they met. "I know you've known Oliver all of your life and everything, but can I offer a little advice?" Tommy nods mutely, smiling a little, and she takes that as permission to say, "I think he probably misses the normalcy that is pop culture references. He doesn't really seem all that shy about hinting at the island—just so long as you don't ask him about it."

Tommy surges forward again, smiling that playful smile she's come to expect. "Thanks for the advice," he answers, and Felicity thinks she might have just made a friend—albeit reluctantly—in Tommy Merlyn.

His phone rings abruptly, effectively ending the conversation. He looks down at the screen for a moment before frowning and saying, "Sorry, Smoaky," he says with a wink as Felicity wonders when she earned the nickname, "but I've got to take this." He points to a room two doors down on the left. "Oliver should be in there, but, if I were you, I'd knock first. He's a little touchy about that these days." Before she can respond, he's halfway down the hall, speaking in hushed tones to his caller.

Felicity walks up to the door, but she can hear soft conversation beyond, so she instead waits for them to finish. She studies a Degàs on the wall for a long moment, taking in its beautiful hues. She's always loved art, but she never thought she'd see an original master on the wall anywhere but a museum.

Without warning, the door to Oliver's room flies open, and Laurel walks out in a hurry with a dazed, fearful look on her face. She doesn't even acknowledge Felicity in her flight, walking down the halls in a huff. Behind her, Oliver calls out in a broken voice that hurts Felicity's heart, "Laurel, you don't have to go!" Even that doesn't stop Laurel, though; she just keeps moving.

Felicity stands in the hallway for an awkward moment, not knowing if she should approach Oliver yet or not. Clearly something has transpired here between the two of them, and she's not sure if she should intrude. But then she decides that it would be more suspicious to be discovered in the hallway, so she musters up her courage and knocks on the door frame.

Oliver smiles slightly when he sees her, but his eyes still make him look like someone shot his dog. "Hey, Felicity," he says quietly, casually. "Thanks for showing up. I would have brought those computers to you, but I happen to be under house arrest right now." He rolls his eyes in typical playboy fashion—but at least this time it's not an act. "Thank you for hiring Laurel for me—I think I'm going to need her, since they've accused me of being the Vigilante."

Felicity scoffs before rolling her own eyes. "No problem," she assures him. "I just hope they clear up this misunderstanding before somebody catches Detective Lance with egg on his face. If it makes you feel any better, I know they have the wrong guy." It's not an understatement; Felicity has encountered the Vigilante on multiple occasions now, and Oliver Queen is the last person in the world who could be the man under the green hood.

Oliver smiles, but it's forced again. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. Laurel said almost the same thing, so I think we can win the case—even if it does go to court."

The whipped-puppy look on Oliver's face at the mention of Laurel hurts Felicity's heart. She means to say something inspiring, something kind and wise that might ease his pain. Instead, though, she somehow ends up blurting, "I can always come back, if you need me to... for whatever reason."

Oliver's eyes narrow before understanding flickers across his face. He sighs sadly as he falls onto his cushy little sofa as though all the energy has suddenly been drained from him. "How much did you hear?" he asks after a long moment.

Felicity sighs before doing that awkward laugh she can't quite help. "Enough to know you probably don't want to see me standing here right now," she admits slowly.

She's just about to turn on her heel to leave when he says, seeming at a loss for words, "No, please." A sigh, then finally, "I'd like you to stay. Could you shut the door, please?"

Felicity hesitates, but she doesn't say no and she does as he asks. She honestly has no idea what to say; refusing Oliver when he's had enough disappointment is too much for her, and she doesn't want to seem insensitive by carting computers around while he's in a talkative mood. He seems to understand her hesitance, and he motions to the cushion next to him. She obliges him by sitting down.

It's a long time before they exchange words, but Oliver is the first to start the conversation. His words are slow, hesitant, as he offers, "I had this fantasy in my head, of how life would be after I finally got back." He interrupts himself with a breathy laugh that has no humor to it at all. "I thought it would be easy to come back because I dreamed about it all the time. I had it in my head that I would come back, be part of this happy family, and..." he hesitates before finally confessing, "patch things up with Laurel."

Felicity still doesn't think he's ready for her to speak, so she lets him continue. "Sometimes that was all I thought about on the island—all that kept me going—was knowing that I had to set things right with Laurel. I know she hates me—and I don't blame her—but I feel like I have to find some way to earn her forgiveness."

This time, when he pauses, he looks at Felicity expectantly, anticipating an answer. She points to herself as she asks, "You want my opinion on this? Are you sure? Because you might not like what I have to say." She considers it fair to warn him before tearing him apart. Oliver's eyebrows knit together, as if he's bracing himself for the onslaught, before he nods once in affirmation.

Felicity draws a long breath. "I think you're right," she starts slowly, gaining speed as she goes, "I think those thoughts on the island were a fantasy. Of course your family isn't happy right now. You're mourning the loss of your father, all the while trying to adjust to life at home again—with a new stepfather. Your family is trying to adjust to the miracle of having a loved one returned to them long after they thought you were dead. It's going to be like starting all over again. As for Laurel, though..." She takes a deep breath as Oliver looks at her expectantly again. "Laurel's angry because two people she loved betrayed her. Sara was a grown woman and she chose to step on that boat, Oliver—so don't let her convince you that you're responsible for her death. Laurel, though, deserves the right to be pissed because you cheated on her, but that's it. Of course, nothing's that simple. You survived, Sara died, and now it's easier to blame you."

Felicity breaks into the part of her speech that she believes to be the most important part of the conversation. "But you can't fix any of that. In my opinion—which is awesome, by the way..." She has to stop because the wide smile on Oliver's face is so blinding that it causes her to lose all coherent thought. A moment later, she continues, "In my obviously-not-humble opinion, what you have to do now is figure out why you're so intent upon fixing things with Laurel. If it's because you love her and she's that elusive 'one' everybody talks about, then you should do whatever it takes to make things up with her. Because it's the worst thing in the world to live your life and realize that the person by your side isn't the one you want to see next to you. If not, though, you should say your peace, tell her what a mistake you made. And, well, if she doesn't forgive you, you have to find a way to deal with that. And if she's toxic—either because you love her or because you've used her as your coping mechanism for the past five years—you need to run as fast as you can in the opposite direction."

Oliver smiles after a very long moment. "When did I get such a wise friend?" he muses aloud, and even though Felicity knows it's flattery, she can't stop the warm feeling from spreading.

She covers it with a scoff. "Please," she remarks dryly, "Tommy is not a wise friend. He's more interested in chasing skirts than giving good, solid life advice."

Oliver's eyes flicker with recognition and something else Felicity can't place—something primal and decidedly male. "You met Tommy?" he asks in a dangerously low tone.

She opens her mouth to answer, but she's interrupted by a knock at the door. "Mr. Queen?" a light, male voice asks from the other side. "Are you entertaining up here? Can I bring you anything to drink?"

Oliver winces before rising from his seat in a single fluid moment. "Hold that thought," he says playfully to Felicity, before going to the door. Before he even opens it, he starts in, "Thank you, but I'm—" He opens the door then, but stops talking. Felicity can barely see the gun before Oliver somehow manages to fling it out of the other man's hand. The fall to the ground then, and she can't quite see everything from where she's now standing in front of the couch.

She vaguely thinks she should call a cop, but before she can turn the thought into action, the intruder manages to grab the gun again, and a shot goes off that just barely misses her head. Felicity reacts by ducking, and she actually gets to see Oliver fight. If her life weren't in danger, she'd be impressed; the other guy is skilled, sure, but Oliver might be better. Oliver does some sort of ninja-like pressure point thing, and the guy drops the gun. Oliver slides it across the hardwood floor, where it lands at Felicity's feet.

Thinking fast, she slides the gun under the couch, where the intruder can't see it, and then grabs her cell phone to call the cops. After she manages to get the phone in hand, she hears a strangled cry, and she sees that the guy has Oliver in some sort of hold, and that he's losing. Felicity sees the old computer parts sitting in front of Oliver's desk, about five feet to her left, so she grabs the keyboard—which, she vaguely notes, has the wrong connector anyway—and throws it in the general direction of the bad guy's head. Somehow, it strikes home, and he groans and rolls to his right as keys fly everywhere.

He rolls toward the couch, to where the gun is, so of course he sees it. Felicity looks over to see Oliver gasping for breath, blinking profusely as he comes out of the near blackout—so of course he's no help to her as the killer advances toward her. She thinks he's probably going after her out of spite now; after all, no one wants to report to their boss that they were hit in the head with a keyboard by some random blonde girl.

She throws the mouse at him then, and he groans as it hits him in the eye. She turns back to the stack of computer parts and realizes she's out of things to throw; the old monitor probably weights a solid thirty pounds and the tower more. Instead, she dances around the couch, about to give into that primal flight instinct, when she sees Oliver still lying there. She figures she wouldn't be able to drag him; Oliver is about twice her size, and she's not that strong. She isn't going to leave him, she decides firmly.

Her moment of indecision costs her, though, as the now angry man snatches her up by her ponytail, holding his gun at her temple, point-blank. "You, I'll kill for free," he snarls in a raspy voice that indicates a love of cigarettes stemming from youth.

When the shot rings out, it's foreshadowed by a slamming sound, and it's not from the direction Felicity expects. The pressure on her ponytail eases, and something wet splatters across one side of her face. It's only when she sees the red on her glasses that she understands what it is, and she doesn't dare look behind her. Instead, she focuses her attention on the door, and she doesn't think she's ever been so glad to see Detective Lance in her life.

"You okay, kid?" he asks her, his breathing accelerated from adrenaline.

Felicity is breathless because of the cold suddenly rushing through her, but manages to nod. Then Oliver's hand is on her shoulder, and he's offering her a smile, even as the bruises are starting to appear around his throat. "I think we should sit down," he offers carefully, quietly, and then he leads her toward his bed, of all places, but away from the desk, couch, and events that just transpired.

Felicity is too numb to really understand what is happening, but Oliver disappears for a moment, but then he returns with a white cloth, sitting down beside her. He turns to the detective. "Is it okay if I...?" he makes a general gesture that Lance seems to understand because he nods.

Carefully, as though she's made of glass or paper or something much more delicate, Oliver reaches for her chin, turning her head away from him so that he can wipe the blood from her face. He doesn't talk to her, doesn't ask any questions, but just gives her time to gather her thoughts as he rubs all the spatter away. She wonders at first why he's so kind and calm, but then it dawns on her through the fog that he's probably seen things like this before on the island—if not worse.

When he stops, she says, "Thank you," in a very thick voice. She convinces herself she is not going to cry or break down, but her voice does tremble as it comes out. "Why am I cold?" she wonders, but then realizes the words actually left her mouth.

Oliver offers her a tentative half-smile, one corner of his mouth starting to reach up. "You're in shock," he explains in that same tone. "It's perfectly normal." He offers her a different cloth than the one he just used, as if the sight of blood again will cause her to go to pieces. "Do you want to wipe off your glasses?"

She snatches it out of his hand. "While I appreciate your concern," she snaps at him, a little embarrassed that she's the only one in the room who isn't calm, "I'm not going to fall apart." She rubs her glasses a little too hard.

Her vision is a little blurry, but she thinks she can see Oliver hold up his hands in a gesture of defeat. "I didn't think you were," is his only response, but his tone makes her think that he might be smirking.

When she puts her glasses back on, she can see Detective Lance leaning against the wall, watching the two of them interact. Felicity flushes a little as she realizes how misleading the moment might have been. Lance just crosses his arms and asks the million dollar question of the night: "Anyone want to tell me what the hell just happened?"

 


 

Quentin Lance takes a long moment to study Queen and the Smoak girl as they both sit on a sofa in the Queens' den. Felicity looks a little tired, and she sits on the opposite end of the sofa from Queen, which is probably the farthest place in the room from him. Mrs. Queen and Mr. Steele stand off to one side, observing the events, and the Queen girl sits between them, holding her brother's hand—more for her benefit than his, if you ask Lance.

He thinks it's interesting how Queen and Felicity are so far apart now, when just a few minutes ago, Queen practically had her in his lap as he cleaned some of the spatter off of her face. Her clothes still bear a spot or two of red—as does her hair—but she actually seems okay now. Lance didn't really get the chance to watch them together the last time, and he thinks that, for two people who didn't know each other a few weeks ago, they seemed awfully cozy. He also can't say he didn't get a vindictive kick out of watching her snap at him for being delicate—a word Lance wouldn't ever have associated with Oliver Queen before today.

"Thank you, Detective," the Queen kid says in a tone that actually sounds sincere for a change. Lance doesn't miss the way his eyes flicker over to Felicity for the briefest of moments. "How did you know we were in trouble?"

Lance snorts at the strange twist events have taken. "I didn't," he replies quickly. "They lost the signal for your tracker." He points down at the kid's ankle device, the plastic box battered from the fight. "I thought you were trying to make a run for it. Mind filling me in?"

"I really don't know what happened," Queen admits slowly. "I opened the door, and some guy with a gun tries to shoot me. I guess I knocked the gun out of his hand, and he attacked me. We fought, and then he was able to strangle me." He squints, assessing Felicity as if to confirm it. "I'm a little blurry after that," he says, more to Felicity than to Lance.

She takes up the conversation with no hesitation whatsoever, as though she's just expected to speak now. "Well, I scurried back out of the way and was going to call the cops, but then I saw... him trying to choke Oliver, and—" She stops, turning crimson, before continuing awkwardly, "Well, there was an old computer sitting on the floor—which I was supposed to get tonight, by the way—and I picked up the keyboard and threw it at him." By the end, her voice takes on a high pitch, and her eyes widen as if she can't believe her own actions.

Lance is surprised to hear Queen chuckle. "Of course you did," he says sarcastically, voice coated with amusement, "because anyone else would have tried to run."

She huffs, crossing her arms angrily. "Last time I save your life, buster," she snaps at him, and Queen just continues to look at her with that half-smile on his face. She turns back to Lance before continuing, "Anyway, keys flew everywhere—it was a huge mess." She turns back to Oliver. "Sorry about that, by the way." Before he can respond, she's back to her story, but the alternating is starting to give Lance a headache. "I think it ticked him off, so he decided to forget Oliver and come after me." It's the first time Lance notices that she addresses the heir to a billion-dollar corporation by his first name. "I threw the mouse at him next, and I think he'd have a really nice black eye right about now—you know, if he wasn't dead." She says it so casually, as though ten minutes ago she wasn't going through shock. "I was about to run for it, but then I saw that Oliver was alive, and I just couldn't—" Her voice breaks on the last word, and she stops talking instantly. Instead of continuing, she just says, "You know the rest, I guess."

Lance does know the rest, but what he doesn't know is what's happening between Queen and this pretty, innocent girl in front of him. Queen leans around his sister, smiling at the girl. "Hey, Felicity?" he calls, getting her attention immediately. "Thank you."

She just nods before standing up far too quickly, stumbling a little. Queen is on his feet instantly. "You okay?" is his question this time, to which she nods shortly, eyes narrowing.

Before they can start another round of bickering, Lance clears his throat. "Ankle, Queen," he demands abruptly, and Queen obliges. Lance unlocks the ankle monitor efficiently, and, by way of explanation, offers, "The Vigilante was spotted stopping a weapons deal across town twenty minutes ago." He watches all of them as he delivers the news; he finds Queen to be pretty unsurprised by the whole ordeal—which agrees with him being innocent—but he doesn't miss the flicker of comprehension in Felicity's eyes. His intuition sparks; she's in on whatever is happening in this city, and he needs to find out what. But carefully—the Vigilante did threaten her life, after all. Though it pains him to say it, Lance does finish with, "You're free to go."

He murmurs thanks and Felicity offers her congratulations. Oliver turns to her immediately, ignoring his family. "I'll take you home," he offers quietly. She starts to argue, but he cuts her off with, "I need to do this." She stops arguing instantly, just nodding once. Oliver ushers her out into the hallway, and it's the last thing Lance sees of them for the night. It does get him thinking, though. Maybe he was wrong about Oliver Queen after all.

But then he shakes his head, and thinks he might be going soft in his old age. The man's a killer, and Lance will see him behind bars.

Chapter Text

Felicity nearly jumps out of her skin when she hears her window open behind her at work. It's a quiet night, and she doesn't expect any visitors, especially on her floor, since most of the business leaders don't want to get caught dead in the nerdy IT department. It takes her a long moment to return her breathing to normal, and it's only then that she turns around, only to find herself staring at the Vigilante's chest. She tilts her head up higher to focus on his face, but she can't even make out his eyecolor between the shading from the mask and his hood.

"You know," she starts, her voice a little high from the surprise, "I'm starting to think that you're trying to scare the crap out of me." She tries to sound collected and calm, but she knows her voice is too fluttery to pull that off properly.

Some sort of breathy sound goes through the voice synthesizer before he responds, "If I meant to frighten you, I would have you hanging by your ankles down at the docks until you told me what I wanted to know." The sinister statement sends a chill down her spine, but then she notices that one corner of his mouth is upturned. Was that a joke? Since when did the terror of Starling City make jokes? Something tells her this relationship has made a turn for the insane, and all Felicity wants for a moment is to get off this roller coaster ride now.

Still, she responds in kind, her voice not as high this time as she teases, "What, did your mother never tell you how to say 'please'?" She thinks it's a little silly, but this is the most normal conversation she's had with anyone in months—and she's discussing this with the Vigilante, of all people. Her life has suddenly hit a new low, she can't help but think.

The Vigilante, for his part, seems amused by her statement, but then the partial smile falls from his face as he grows serious again. "No," he says finally, slowly, "I don't think she ever did." It surprises Felicity for a moment that he's so willing to share details about himself, but then she thinks that it might be a tender subject. She knows her own mother is a sensitive spot, so she doesn't press any further.

Instead, she dares ask, "What have you brought me tonight, Mr. Arrow? A shot-up laptop? A police server hack? Or do you just want me to make bugs again?" She waves to the chair near her desk. "Sit down—you make me nervous when you stand over me impressively like that."

He does as she asks, but it makes him no less intimidating, with his arms crossed over his chest and the impressive glare he wears. As he goes through the motions, his muscles ripple; Felicity is reminded once again how tightly that green leather clings. He wears it better than his counterpart she met the last time, she thinks. Not-Vigilante was pretty impressive, sure, but the Vigilante's strength is more understated. Felicity shakes her head a couple times to clear it so she can stop ogling a man who kills people. Still, Felicity reminds herself that it's okay to look, just so long as she returns to reality afterward.

His glare is quickly replaced by an almost smile, though, when he responds, "I thought I'd change things up this time. I'm looking for someone who might be part of the Royal Flush Gang."

"Royal Flush Gang?" she repeats, that paranoid tone creeping into her voice. It was just a few days ago that she was telling Oliver that the Vigilante should go after criminals like them. Her thoughts spill out as something akin to, "Do I need to check my clothes for bugs?" When he tilts his head and doesn't answer, she continues, "I was just discussing with a friend how you could do so much more good in this city if you'd stop going after billionaires exclusively and start trying to stop the real criminals running around."

He's quiet for a long moment, but when he responds, it's vague. "I don't like the idea of criminals hurting innocent bystanders in my city," he says finally, his tone a little possessive.

"Your city?" Felicity repeats. "Last time I checked, this city is pretty much owned by the Queens and the Merlyns. Which means you probably don't own more than a green hood, a bow, and some really pointy arrows." He lets out a breath, either in irritation or amusement, as she turns her back to him, flexing her fingers over her keyboard. "Now, who am I looking for?"

"His name is Derek Reston," the Vigilante responds quickly. "He's a Starling City resident. I tried doing some research myself, but I haven't found anything."

Felicity nods, agreeing with the sad truth of it all. "Google can only do so much, my friend." She hits a few keys to do her own research and frowns at her results. "Unfortunately, your buddy Derek doesn't leave a long Internet trail behind him. No social media accounts—not even a MySpace that has pictures of you with that one horrible haircut you had for two weeks in 2003." Softer, she mutters, "I still haven't lived that down." She pulls up a different screen and starts typing code into it.

"What are you doing?" the Vigilante asks her, leaning closer so that he can see her computer screen. She can feel his breath on her neck as he watches her, and her fingers fumble over the keys for a moment. She tries to tell herself she's afraid, but she's not afraid of him anymore. What she really feels is comfortable with his close presence, as though he's some sort of guardian angel instead of the vigilante that most of Starling City has learned to fear.

"Exploratory server surgery," she mutters distractedly, staring at her screen. She's barely paying attention to him now; she's been known to become so interested in her work that she forgets the world around her. Of course, she can't exactly forget the Vigilante, but he's no longer her priority. All that matters is the string of code she's typing.

"What?" he asks, demanding clarification. Felicity can't see his face, but she can guess his expression: brow furrowed, mouth slanted downward, head tilted ever so slightly to the side. Then it scares her that she knows the Vigilante so well.

"Exploratory server surgery," she repeats, slower this time. When he still doesn't respond, she continues, "You know—bridging the digital gap between employee and visitor? Performing unscheduled file maintenance of non-client systems? Warming my hands on the inside of a firewall?" When he still doesn't respond, she huffs in irritation. "Hacking, braniac. That's what I'm doing."

She frowns as she looks at the screen for Starling City Bank that appears on her screen. "Let's see... Derek Reston hasn't touched his bank account in close to four years." She tilts her head to the side. "Makes sense, I guess, since the Royal Flush Gang started up about four years ago." A few more keystrokes, and another screen shows itself. "Last employment history was about seven years ago at... oh." She stops as she reads the words.

"Where?" the Arrow demands quickly, his voice just behind her right ear. It sends a shiver down her spine, but she keeps her mind on business. She's already let her thoughts run wild once; doing it again is inviting unnecessary risks.

"He used to work at Queen Manufacturing. Apparently, when the company was sold, all the employees got nothing—Robert Queen was able to get better lawyers and get out of all the union contracts. All the employees were fired on the spot with no pension, no severance—the heartless bastard even weaseled out of paying insurance benefits." She sighs. "I'm suddenly thrilled to realize that Oliver Queen is nothing like his father. I can't see him doing this to fifteen hundred loyal employees."

"You shouldn't idolize a person you don't even know," the Vigilante responds darkly.

Felicity turns around in her chair, surprised for a moment to find his strong jawline only inches from her face. It takes her far too long to pull herself out of the haze and remember what she was talking about. She jabs a finger into his chest. "Listen, buster," she snaps, feeling that angry fire starting to build within her, "Oliver Queen is my friend. Do you understand that? He's off-limits. You don't say bad things—incorrect bad things, by the way—and you certainly don't go after him. As of this moment, the Queen family is officially off-limits, okay? That family has been through Hell and back and they don't need you to run around in your tight leather pants and put arrows in them. You got that?"

He nods once, but both corners of his mouth turn up. "Are you complaining about my pants?" he asks, sounding almost incredulous.

"God no," Felicity replies instantly, but then her face heats as she realizes her tone implies she likes them far too much (which, she has to admit, she does). She stares at him awkwardly for a moment before turning back to her computer and focusing on business. "The last credit card statements from Reston showed that he liked to frequent a bar just down from the old Queen factory. Old habits die hard—maybe he still hangs out there"—she chuckles awkwardly—"you know, when he's not robbing banks."

As she turns back to him to see his expression, he says, "Felicity, you're amazing."

She huffs. "It's true, but amazing doesn't pay my bills. Say thank you with gifts." Her snarky response is meant to be a joke, and she's pleased to see it makes the corners of his mouth turn upward a little. Then she remembers that this is the Vigilante, and she should only be pleased to see him leave. "Thank you," she says, serious this time.

"No, thank you," he replies slowly. He hesitates for a moment before placing a hand on her shoulder, hesitating so that she's aware of what he's going to do. She surprises herself because she doesn't even flinch this time. "You're risking a lot by helping me—don't think that I don't recognize that." His tone is both sincere and appreciative under that modulator, and Felicity thinks she's seeing a whole new side of this man who has started to frequent her life.

"Good luck out there," she says finally, as he rises from his seat. "You know where to find me if you need anything." She hesitates before turning in her chair and picking up a sticky note from her desk. She writes her cell phone number on it before turning around, holding it between her finger. Before she can back down, she stands up and sticks it to his leather jacket, the fluorescent pink contrasting ridiculously with the dark green of his jacket. "And do me a favor and call me if you're about to get yourself killed and a little technical assistance could be enough to save your life."

He pulls the sticky note from his jacket with a half-smile on his face, before unzipping his jacket and sticking it to the inside on the left. "Thank you," he says slowly, "but I don't have a phone. Something tells me I can't get a contract with any of the carriers."

Felicity snorts, rolls her eyes. "Please," she drawls. "Burner phones, my friend. No contracts, no names, no identification—especially if purchased with cash in a store that doesn't have security cameras. Find yourself one, and then you'll be able to contact whomever you like." She holds up her smartphone before winking. "Don't worry, though—I'm encrypted." At the confused set of his mouth, she adds, "Oh, like you want Uncle Sam watching your every move. I think you're being a bit judgmental."

He chuckles softly before turning back to the window. He stops for a moment, turning back to her. "Goodnight, Felicity." Without waiting for her to respond, he fires an arrow to a building across the street and rappels down it like he's Spider-Man or something.

"Well, that was slick," she mutters to herself before gathering her things. She said she'd work later than eight, but who could work after an encounter like that?

 


 

Oliver can't believe he's returning to the same building twice in less than twenty-four hours, but visiting Queen Consolidated today is a must. At least, he thinks, he's using the front door this time. He's starting to forget what the normal entry procedure in a building is supposed to be. His first instinct is to go to the IT Department, as he's been wont to do over the last few weeks, but today's visit isn't about seeing Felicity—it's about seeing Walter.

As he disembarks the elevator on the top floor of the Queen Consolidated building, he thinks of how much he absolutely hates being here. It just isn't the same place without his father, and he dislikes being the center of everyone's attention, now that he's been away from the press, the prying eyes, and the glamor for five years.

Walter's secretary tries to stop Oliver as he charges into the room, but Oliver won't hear of her objections and goes to see his stepfather immediately. "Oliver," the Englishman says, nonplussed as ever, "it's always nice to see you here—where you belong." Oliver's family has been pushing him to become a part of Queen Consolidated since the day he arrived in Starling City again, but the last thing he wants is to be burdened by the weight of another responsibility. Tracking down the names on his father's list is enough pressure for Oliver—especially since Felicity unknowingly convinced him to apprehend Starling's criminals, too. "I take it this isn't a social visit."

"No," Oliver agrees. "It isn't." He hesitates, trying to find a way to ask for his favor without ruining her reputation. "I think you remembered that I hired Felicity Smoak to build my computer for me."

Walter chuckles at the name, showing that she clearly leaves the same impression on everyone. "Yes," Walter agrees, "she's quite a clever girl—a valuable asset to us here." He pauses, clearly thinking of a delicate way to phrase things. "We recruited her out of college three years ago—and we're quite lucky, it appears. I believe she turned down several offers with large software conglomerates to work with us."

It shouldn't surprise Oliver, but it does. "Really?" he asks, wondering why confusion coats his tone. He should know by now that she's ridiculous, though it seems to be one of her better qualities.

Walter nods solemnly. "I haven't heard the story directly from her, mind you, but I do believe there were some offers from American Micro Devices, Intel, IBM, and Apple. She actually wrote most of the code for the version of Linux we use here at the office." He nods, smiling slightly. "Though I'm sure this news hardly surprises you."

"Not at all," Oliver agrees. He makes a face. "The thing is, I'm really pleased with my computer, but she has refused to let me pay her for it. I'd like to show my appreciation, though." He frowns, mostly for show. "I was thinking—it's about time for the annual bonuses, right?" At Walter's nod of affirmation, Oliver continues, "I thought that maybe I could match her company bonus—anonymously, of course. I think she'd be more likely to take it if she thought she earned it for her work at Queen Consolidated."

Walter gives him that appraising for not the first time. "You'd make a shrewd businessman, Oliver," he says finally, with a slight smile. "I would be pleased to help you with that. If you would leave a check with my secretary, I could help you with that." He looks up a few records on his computer before saying, "It appears that Miss Smoak stands to receive a five-thousand dollar bonus this year."

It takes Oliver a ridiculous amount of time to write out the check—it's apparently a skill his hands have forgotten in the past five years—but he matches the five thousand dollars without a second thought. She's worth it, he decides, and money is the only way he can think of to express his gratitude. He doesn't know her well enough to purchase a gift, and he doesn't really think she'd appreciate the grand display of a bouquet of flowers.

"You know," Walter starts casually, instantly making Oliver's hackles raise, "I think it's quite time you took your place as head of this company. I know you could run it far better than I in the long-term. I could stay on to help you through the first trying months—"

"Thank you," Oliver interrupts, "but I think you're doing a wonderful job, Walter." Irritated by the battery he's received for the past few weeks, he continues, "And I think everyone has forgotten that I spent the last five years on a deserted island, not earning my MBA."

Walter nods to concede his point. "As you like," he says finally. "I would certainly never want you to think you're not welcome in your own company."

"And I appreciate that, Walter," Oliver concedes, deciding against his better judgment that he might like the man, "but I don't think I'm CEO material. This was my father's corporation"—the words are painful as he forces them out in past tense—"and I think he understood that I never wanted any part of it."

"And I think that Robert would be proud of you for choosing your own path," Walter responds carefully, as if he's afraid of upsetting Oliver. It doesn't, though—Oliver is certain that his father would be proud of his plan to save Starling City.

"Thank you," is his response, though, and he nods before leaving. He agrees completely; Robert wanted nothing more than to write his wrongs, and Oliver is doing that for him. But Oliver is choosing his own path in how to implement his plan—and choosing whom he wishes to share it with. Diggle was an obvious choice—Oliver knew from the beginning that he would ask Diggle to aid him in his goal—but Felicity was an unexpected turn for the best.

Felicity. The name reminds him that he still hasn't made things completely right with her, even after the bonus.

After all, he still owes her a printer.

Chapter Text

Felicity is glad to be home, with the only thing separating her from comfort and bliss being a locked door to which she has the key. It was a bad day because she actually had to dress up for her employee review with her boss, and she's not equipped to run around in heels all day doing office work, especially in her favorite pink, gray, and black dress—which she's come to realize is a little too short and hugs far too nicely for office work. And of course she ran out of her apartment late, so her hair is pulled back in a simple ponytail instead of being styled properly. Her day has been spent crawling around in office spaces, so she can no longer feel her feet—which is good because, before they went numb, they felt like someone was jabbing needles into them.

Just as she's about to turn the key on her door and sink into a blissful marathon of ice cream and sci-fi gloriousness, a voice calls from behind her, "Felicity!" She's so tired that she doesn't even recognize the voice, just turns on her aching heels toward whomever it is. She wishes for a moment she was a violent person so she can slap him for interrupting her plans for a fun night in.

Her eyes light up in surprise as she sees the man who dares stand in front of her and interrupt her planning of an interesting evening. "Oliver," she says, breathless in her surprise. He's gorgeous as always, but this time in jeans and a long-sleeved pullover and not a suit. Then she feels a paranoid feeling creep up on her. "What are you doing here?"

He offers her a rueful almost-smile. "I wanted to see you about some technical things," he explains, holding up the laptop she built for him under one arm. "I tried to catch you at the office, but they told me you'd already left for the night. I hope you didn't mind me stopping by—the desk clerk said it was okay for me to come up." His eyes wander over her figure in a way that doesn't offend her—it doesn't imply that he sees her as a conquest, but rather expresses interest in the difference in her attire. "You look nice," he offers hesitantly, as if he isn't certain how she'll take the compliment.

"Thanks," she answers, flushing at the unexpected attention. "And that's perfectly fine," she assures him tiredly, now that she sees her paranoia is completely unfounded. She winces. "I hope you don't mind, but I'm probably not going to be a great hostess tonight—bad day at the office." She turns her key and motions him in after the door swings open. "Come on in, take off your skin, rattle around in your bones," she offers, surprising herself by using the old saying from the latter part of her childhood.

He chuckles as he walks into the main area, kitchen on one side, living area on the other, both just beyond the short hallway that connects to the entrance. She stops in the hall, and Oliver stops just ahead of her, watching her step out of her shoes and throw her bag onto the small table with her keys. Her coat somehow makes it onto the rack, and then she's moving again.

"Sorry," she offers. "High heels and IT work aren't exactly friends." She motions to the couch. "Have a seat." She glances around the room for a moment because something about it feels different, and then she sees it. The sleek black printer definitely isn't hers, since her old one is now in a dumpster somewhere. "Oh!" she says in surprise, rushing over to it. She smiles when she sees the dark green bow—a decidedly store-bought one that you get for a dollar at the nearest supermarket—sitting on it. The Vigilante apparently has a sense of humor. There's no card or anything, but she knows the message he's trying to send: I don't break my promises. Thank you. Forgetting her visitor, she hugs it, squealing just a little—it's far nicer than the one she had before, and it's definitely a top-of-the-line piece of equipment. She hopes he didn't pay too much for it. Then she hopes he didn't steal it.

A light, breathy sound that could pass for laughter comes from the sofa. "Who's that from?" Oliver asks, his mouth turning down into a slight frown.

"Just a friend," Felicity replies, already feeling her cheeks heat in response. She chastises herself for being such a nerd. "He broke my printer a few weeks ago—the klutz knocked it off the stand—so he promised to buy me a new one." She feels guilty about lying to Oliver, but then she realizes that it's not really a lie—she did work out some aggression by smashing that printer to pieces before putting it in her trash. It was kind of fun, if she thought about it. She shrugs self-consciously, trying to find a way to change the subject. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"I'm fine, thank you," he replies from the couch, and it takes everything Felicity has not to agree with him. Instead, she goes and pours herself a glass of water, sipping on it as she returns to the living area. She sits it on the coffee table, only to find Oliver sitting in the exact same place the Vigilante had, only weeks prior. It strikes her as an odd contrast for a moment, but then she shakes her head.

"Do you mind if I let Saphira out? She's my dog, and she's been cooped up in the second bedroom all day." Something flickers across his expression, and she rushes on, "It's okay if dogs bother you. She can wait." But she probably can't—she can hear Saphira scratching at the door now that she knows Felicity is home.

"It's not a problem," he assures her with a lift of his mouth. "I'm intruding in your home, after all." It surprises her how gracious he is, then she goes down another hallway to the guest (or Saphira's) bedroom before he changes his mind.

Saphira stops to greet her before she rushes into the living area, with Felicity following close behind. The shiba practically jumps into Oliver's lap, wagging her tail like they're old friends. Oliver, mercifully, takes it all in stride, just stroking the dog in his lap gently. Then, tail still in motion, Saphira lets out an ear-piercing scream.

Oliver jumps at the same time as Felicity, and he immediately moves his hands away, looking at her in confusion. "I'm sorry, I don't know—"

Felicity cuts him off, shaking her head, equally bewildered. "It's okay—just a shiba scream. They tend to do it when they're upset, or, like now, when she's thrilled to see someone. She usually does that after I've spent some time with... family." She doesn't know how to explain it properly, so she just settles with the easy explanation; it's not exactly right, but it will work. "I don't know why she screamed at you, though. It's not like you've met before."

Oliver seems less concerned as he focuses his attention back on Saphira. "Maybe my laptop still smells like you," he offers, not looking at her now.

"Maybe," Felicity agrees, deciding to let the conversation slide as she plops down on the other side of him, picking up Saphira from his lap and placing her on the cushion on her right. "So, what's wrong with your computer?"

Oliver shrugs slightly. "I'm not sure," he admits. "I can't connect to the wi-fi at the house." He looks a little sheepish. "I didn't want to bother you because I don't understand computers, so I asked Thea." The name immediately brings to mind memories of Felicity's only encounter with the heiress, and she automatically smiles. "She couldn't fix it, either, so I guess I did have to bother you after all."

Felicity waves him off, taking the computer from the coffee table where he sat it. It starts up in seconds, and she turns it to Oliver once she sees the password entry screen. "I need your password, please," she offers, immediately turning her head the other direction.

He sounds amused when he responds, "Why? You built it—you could probably hack it, too." It's a funny tone in his voice; it sounds breathy like his almost-laugh, and Felicity finally understands the phrase "a smile in your voice."

"I probably could," she admits after a long moment, "but I like to use that as a last resort. Hacking is almost worse than home invasion. Hackers don't just walk away with your possessions—it's almost like they take or destroy your thoughts and ideas. That's the worst kind of theft." She thinks about the hacking she does for the Vigilante, and then she reminds herself that's different—she's not doing it because she can, but to help stop crime. She likes to think of it as picking up where the law leaves off; the cops can't or won't help, so somebody has to stop the criminals who keep their toes on the line separating legal and illegal.

"I've never thought about it that way before," Oliver admits, and then she can feel the laptop shift slightly. "It's all yours."

Felicity turns it back to him. "No it isn't," she says flatly. "Being able to connect to wi-fi is a crucial skill in this world, Oliver. I have wi-fi service here. Try to log into my network." She groans at her own statement, earning a questioning glance from Oliver. "And that just sounded like the world's cheesiest nerd pick-up line, but you know what I meant."

It's the first time she's actually seen a genuine smile on his face, as he chuckles under his breath. It's ridiculously unfair that he turns such a weapon on Felicity—like she could resist that level of God-given charm. "I did know what you meant," he agrees, bypassing her comment altogether. It's probably for the best, though.

Because he has one of those filters on the screen, she slides closer until she's able to see. Only then does she realize she's about two inches from being on his lap, and she's hanging over his left shoulder, her arm atop it. "Sorry," she says, about to completely back off because she's way too close.

He immediately stops what he's doing to put a hand on the arm over his shoulder. "No, it's fine," he assures her, but then continues plugging along with the wi-fi connection.

Felicity guides him though the process gently, correcting him softly when he does something wrong. With Oliver at the helm and Felicity's password, he finally manages to make a successful Internet connection. When he does, she immediately moves from hanging over his shoulder, not wanting to make him uncomfortable, since he obviously doesn't like people touching him.

"Not bad for a beginner," she says in conclusion, smiling to show she's teasing. Oliver seems pretty pleased with himself, too, so she's glad she didn't turn him away. She knows he probably hasn't had enough to be happy about since he's been back.

He takes the compliment with surprising modesty. "Well, I learned from the best." He shifts, pulling an envelope from his pocket and handing it to her. At Felicity's questioning glance, he answers, "When I said I was going to see you, Walter asked if I could deliver this. It's Queen Consolidated business, I think."

She plucks the envelope from his hand, surprised to find a letter inside. Her first thought is that she's being fired, but then she thinks Walter would probably call her into the office to fire her—not send Oliver in her stead and ruin a budding friendship in the process. Her eyes widen as she reads it, and then she finally dares look at the attachment—a check in her name for ten thousand dollars. "Holy cheese," she mutters under her breath. "QC definitely knows how to do bonuses."

"Can I ask what it is?" Oliver questions with a partially concealed smile that makes her think he had something to do with this. Her eyes narrow in response.

"I just received my company bonus for the year," she replies, "for ten thousand dollars, which might now make me paid about what I'm worth." She points a finger at him with an accusatory glance. "You didn't have anything to do with this, did you? Because, while I do need the money, I'd like to think I earned my performance bonus based on, well, performance." She frowns. "And also because I don't want to feel like I owe you something."

"You earned every penny," he assures her. "All I did is deliver the envelope. But I would gladly pay you for building my laptop—and your help tonight—if you'd let me."

Felicity rolls her eyes. "Friends don't take money from friends," she informs him. "Employees perform services, friends do favors for one another." She taps his shoulder with the envelope when he frowns slightly. "But thanks for bringing this—and for offering. But I don't want your money."

He seems to think about that for a moment before saying reluctantly, "Well, I think I've interrupted your personal time enough for one night. Goodnight, Felicity." He starts to rise from his seat.

"Wait," she demands, putting her hand on his shoulder to stop him, then pulling away instantly as she thinks of how much he hates contact. "I haven't known you very long, but I do recognize when you're hesitating. Why did you really come here?"

Oliver's mouth lifts a little, even though he sighs heavily. "The other night," he starts slowly, "you gave me some helpful advice." He hesitates, but Felicity already knows what he's going to say.

"And you would like to use me as your sounding board again," she finishes for him, to which he nods. She folds her legs under her better as she says, "I believe I told you to let me know when you need to talk to someone."

The reminder seems to bolster his confidence. "Since I've returned home, my mother and Walter—mostly my mother—have been trying to convince me to take over as CEO of Queen Consolidated." He pauses, waiting for her to respond.

She thinks about the first time they met for a moment and remembers that he told her he wasn't anyone's boss—and how his tone implied that he liked it that way. "And you don't want to say yes, but you don't want to disappoint your mother, either," she finishes for him. She understands completely—her childhood was filled with disapproving looks from her mother and other motherly figures.

His eyebrows rise, and Felicity thinks his surprise is insulting. "Exactly," he agrees. "I'm not interested in becoming my father. He knew I didn't want to join the company, and I'm tired of everyone pretending that I spent the last five years of my life finishing an MBA at an ivy league college instead of trying to survive a cold, unforgiving island." It's the first time he's ever described the island, and Felicity thinks he might be getting comfortable with her.

"It seems to me that everyone always has a plan for your life," she starts slowly, "but how about a better question. What would you like to do with your life, Oliver?"

He hesitates. "I'd like to start a nightclub," he continues finally. "My dad's factory in the Glades is just rotting down, and it would be an excellent place for a business. And I don't know much—certainly not how to run an international corporation—but I do know what makes a good place to party."

Felicity doesn't laugh, but she does smile. "Well, if you're planning on calling it 'Queen,'" she quips, "you might not like the clientèle you get. But you could have Freddie Mercury posters on the wall." After he lets out a breathy sound that resembles a laugh, she continues, more seriously, "I think that if you want to start a club, you should do it. You don't have to be either of your parents to be successful—and, in my case, thank God for that." She doesn't let her thoughts wander too long before continuing, "Have you tried to tell them that?"

"I have," he responds. "But they won't listen."

Felicity shrugs. "Well, then, maybe you need to find another way to get through to them. Stop telling them you're not interested, and start showing them instead. It may take a while, but eventually they'll get the message."

The response must spark something in Oliver because inspiration flashes in his eyes. "Thank you, Felicity." Then, softly and hesitant, "And I know you're not asking any questions about the island. I appreciate that."

The sincerity in his tone and the intense gazed fixed upon her makes her blush. "I don't want to pry into something that is so obviously none of my business," she explains. "I'm sure that whatever happened was traumatic and horrible, and if you don't want to talk about it, neither do I." She hesitates. "But, on the other hand, if you ever want to talk to someone about it, I promise to just listen."

He doesn't respond this time, but just nods. "I'll leave you to your evening then, Felicity." He rises from his seat, and Felicity follows him as he moves toward the door. He turns before he leaves, offering her a charming smile. "Goodnight." He's gone before Felicity can respond, and she's still reeling by his presence.

And, for the second time that night, she can't help but think that smile will be the death of her.

 


 

When the first person she sees is Laurel Lance, Felicity feels the need to turn on the spot and walk away. Despite how she feels, she keeps walking because this isn't about Felicity or Laurel—this is about Oliver and being there for him. She takes a deep breath and charges forward into the crowd gathered at the site of the new Robert Queen Memorial Applied Sciences building.

She wonders where Oliver is—he asked her to be here, yet he's nowhere in sight. Apparently he doesn't sleep, because the text woke her up at three in the morning (she always forgets to turn her phone on silent). All the message said was that he wanted her to be at the dedication of the building. She informed him that employees didn't get a day off for the occasion, and his response had simply been, I'll take care of that, and she found an invitation to the ceremony on her desk the next morning—along with a letter signed by Walter Steele approving her absence from work. Her boss had been a little baffled by the quick turnaround and short notice, but he didn't dare question his employer.

Because she's focused on avoiding Laurel, she accidentally bumps into someone, and she loses her balance. He catches her easily, and she finds herself looking at none other than Tommy Merlyn. "Hey, Smoaky," he greets as he releases her. "I'm no stranger to girls falling over me, but you're the first one to do it literally."

Nerves already frazzled, she frowns. "Dream on, Merlyn. You are so not my type," is her response, and she instantly thinks it comes off too harsh. She's about to apologize when he actually laughs, and she frowns in confusion.

"Now I see why Ollie likes you so much," is his not-so-helpful explanation. Before she can ask what he means by that, Tommy adds, "After that party went downhill a few weeks ago, I asked him if you needed a ride home after all the chaos, and I thought he was going to strangle me." Almost thoughtfully, he adds, "And, Ollie's never done that over a girl before."

Felicity turns crimson, but covers it with irritation. "You guys do realize that most women don't find overprotectiveness attractive, right?" She huffs. "Frankly, it's just demeaning."

He chuckles about the time that Laurel comes up to them. He puts his arm around the lawyer instantly, smiling. "Hey, Laurel, this is a friend of Ollie's—her name is Felicity Smoak." Felicity is surprised he even remembers her first name—he hasn't called her anything but "Smoaky" since they met. "Smoaky, this lovely lady is Laurel Lance, Starling's best lawyer and an old friend."

Felicity does an awkward wave before saying, "We've met, actually." She doesn't expound and Laurel doesn't talk—though she does manage to keep a poker face.

Sensing the tension, Tommy asks, "So, not to be rude, but what are you doing here, anyway?" The question is clearly aimed at Felicity.

She shrugs. "I have absolutely no clue," she replies honestly. "Oliver asked me to be here, so I came." She rolls her eyes. "He didn't say why, though—cryptic as ever." She looks around at the gathering of people. "And of course he's not here."

"I think he's going to be announced as taking over Walter's position as CEO," Laurel chimes in for the first time. "He told me about it the last time I talked to him."

Felicity doesn't say anything because she doesn't want to be rude—or worse, start a catfight—and mercifully Walter starts his announcement. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," he begins as members of the press start snapping photographs. "Thank you for coming today. We're here to announce that construction on the new Robert Queen Memorial Applied Sciences building is complete." There's a smattering of applause before he continues, "Our first order of business is to start research on—"

"We all know that's not why we're really here," a voice calls from the back, and Felicity freezes as she recognizes it, long before the collective gasp of the crowd and the shutters on cameras start clicking. She wonders what the hell he's thinking—and what stunt he's going to pull—because she knows exactly what he's planning in theory.

Everyone turns at once to stare at Oliver, who casually picks a flute of champagne from a waitress' tray and taking a sip before putting it back. Then he walks casually through the crowd, weaving his way slowly. He walks right by Felicity, and she doesn't expect him to register her presence, but he does. His arm brushes hers intentionally, and he offers her a wink before walking forward. A sense of dread washes over her; after all, the last time he winked at her he was wrongfully arrested for being the Vigilante.

When he finally reaches the podium, he argues with Walter for a moment before speaking into the microphone. "Hello everyone," he says cheerfully, but Felicity wonders if anyone else notices the tense set of his shoulders or the fact that his smile doesn't quite reach his eyes. "I'm not sure if you know me, but my name is Oliver Queen." He sounds every bit like the man they all expect him to be—that pompous, arrogant ass Felicity was expecting that first day. Though she doesn't like the way he's portraying himself, she does understand why he has to put on the reckless-heir-to-a-fortune mask. "The reason Mr. Steele called you all here was so he could announce that he and my mother want me to take my father's place as CEO of Queen Consolidated." As soon as he finishes, more shutters start clicking away, and he has to hold up his hands for silence before the applause dies down.

"It's a nice position," he continues casually, "and I think it's a position meant for responsible leadership and dedicated, driven men and women." He chuckles, but it's completely fake. "And if you know me, you know that's not really my forte." He turns back toward his mother and Walter. "So, Mom, thanks for the offer—but no thanks. My father was an excellent executive, but I'm not my father—no matter how much I wish I was more like him." A pain-stricken look flickers across his face before he delivers his final statement: "Quit asking me to be—because I'll never measure up." With that, he ignores the flashes of cameras as he walks off the stage and disappears into the crowd with the practice of someone familiar with ducking the paparazzi. All is silent for a long moment.

Felicity is the one to start the slow clap.

Chapter Text

Felicity sits by her window, finally starting to get antsy after waiting for several hours.  It's the first time she's actually waited for the Vigilante to show up by her open window, but it's also the first time she called him.  He let her know how to contact him a few days ago, returning her sticky note with his own number written across it.  She immediately plugged the number in her phone, though she never thought she'd use it.

Then all hell broke loose earlier in the day.  Felicity saw the news on the Internet—apparently someone attempted to kill Moira Queen.  After dialing Oliver to make sure his mother was all right, she returned to the SCPD database to check some information.  She gathered all she could, then called the Vigilante.  She expected him to turn her down—especially when she mentioned Oliver and made the stipulation that no one was to be killed—but, surprisingly, he agreed.

She continues to keep exhaustion from overtaking her; there have been several days of long work hours, and the sleep-deprivation is starting to catch up with her.  She doesn't have any more coffee in her apartment, and staying awake is proving impossible.  After a few more moments, she ends up losing the fight.

When she awakens, it's to a gentle, leather-clad glove on her shoulder, shaking her gently.  "Felicity," he says sharply, in that synthesized voice.  She opens her eyes to find him closer than she expects—too close.  She can see the mask over his eyes and the dark irises underneath, the color still hidden by the dark room.  Startled, she immediately scrambles backward, tripping over a lamp.

She waits as both her and the inanimate object fall to the ground, but it doesn't come.  The Vigilante darts out at alarming speed, catching the lamp with one hand before steadying her with a hand on her elbow.  The leather glove feels cold but soft against the skin of her arm, and his grip is both firm and oddly gentle, as though he's concerned about hurting her.  He sits the lamp firmly on the ground again, helps her into a solid standing position, both hands on her elbows.

"Are you all right?" he asks carefully as he releases her.  His eyes are piercing—and oddly familiar.  She can't understand why, but then she shakes her head and remembers adrenalin is coursing through her veins and she's sleep-deprived.  Maybe she needs to calm down.

"Yeah," she assures him, rubbing her forehead with her palm, willing her heartbeat to slow down.  "It's just usually that I wake up to a cup of coffee and a mouthful of Saphira's fur, not a Vigilante."  She shakes her head.  "Sorry."

"I didn't mean to startle you," he responds, and she thinks it's as close to an apology as she's going to get.  Speaking of Saphira makes her curious, and she sees the dog sitting at the Arrow's heels, nose in the air and tail wagging furiously.  She paws at him once, screaming to get his attention.  Surprisingly, he doesn't balk at the shrill sound; instead, he reaches down and pets her on the head, then reaches into his pocket and palms her some sort of treat.

Felicity shakes her head, but it makes her a little dizzy, so she stops immediately.  "Okay," she says, holding her hands out in an I'm-done gesture, "the Vigilante is feeding my dog treats and stopping me from falling on my ass.  Clearly I've stepped into some weird, parallel universe, and hopefully when I wake up it will be back to normal again."  She frowns as the feeling gnaws at her.  "Should I check the sky for a fleet of zeppelins, or do I just need to wait for the army of Cybermen to show up at my door?"

"What?" he asks her, tilting his head to the side as his mouth turns into a confused frown.  He looks adorable like that, she can't help but think, but then she remembers he's the Vigilante, and she should in no situation find him adorable.  She doesn't see him as a killer, sure, but that doesn't change the fact that he's dangerous and that people around him tend to turn up dead.

She shakes her head.  "Never mind," she assures him.  "The bottom line of that is I'm a nerd who likes to make references to fifty-year-old British television shows and that this doesn't seem like real life anymore.  It doesn't matter."  Then she remembers why she called him to her apartment in the first place.  "Come with me—I have something to show you."

She charges into her living area, and both the Vigilante and Saphira follow her.  He sits down on his end of the couch, and somehow ends up with the twenty-pound shiba inu on his lap.  Felicity picks up the laptop with her carefully organized information, and the Vigilante shifts Saphira on the other side of him, taking up one couch cushion and part of another.  Felicity flops next to him as she opens the laptop, opening to the picture she found of the assassin flying down the road—headed East, as Oliver had said—running a red light at a ludicrously high speed.  She practically sits the laptop on his lap, her leg brushing his as she points to the blurred photograph.  "This is what I have on our shooter," she informs him.  "It's a pretty rough photograph, but I was able to edit it so that we could get a better picture of who it was."

"Who is he?" the Arrow asks, and his confidence in her is overwhelming for a moment.  He doesn't know her all that well, yet his faith in her is so solidified—and it shouldn't be.  She doesn't trust him, and he should most certainly not trust her.

"He is a she," she corrects as she shows the modified image, and that leather jacket clings to every curve.  "I traced her back to a warehouse on Eighth, where an ATM camera found her"—she points to the next photograph, one of a woman with black hair—"exiting the same building a few hours later."  She pulls up the result from the facial recognition program she borrowed from Homeland Security.  "This is Helena Bertinelli—heir to the Bertinelli crime family.  The guy Moira Queen was meeting with worked for the Bertinellis wanted to talk about building contracts for the new Applied Sciences Division of QC."  She chuckles humorlessly, but then it turns into a jaw-splitting yawn.  "There have been several other reports," she continues drowsily, "all of them affecting the Bertinellis in some way.  I don't think Moira was the target.  I think Helena is trying to sabotage her father's business."

Another yawn courses through her, and sleep starts to coat her eyes.  She leans back against the couch, and the Vigilante says in his deep voice, "It must have taken a lot of work to come to that conclusion," he says slowly, his tone different, even under the synthesizer.  "Oliver Queen is lucky to have you in his life."

She blinks twice at the compliment, turning her head toward him, though she still lay against the sofa.  He's turned away from her, facing forward, and all she can see his the firm line of his mouth and the sharp contour of his jaw.  "I know you don't like him," she says suddenly, and he turns toward her with that tilt to his head again.  "I can tell by the way you talk about him.  You say I don't know Oliver, and you probably think I'm just another stupid girl under his spell, but you're wrong."  She takes a deep breath, and it feels like it takes a Herculean effort to lift her head.  "I think he's troubled, confused, and no longer the man everyone thinks he's supposed to be.  Everyone he knows either wants him to be the person he was before—or they want him to tell them about his five years in his own personal Hell."  She shakes her head.  "But no one stops to think about what he's going through.  He's not perfect—and I don't expect him to be." She sighs.  "But he needs someone to listen, and I think I might have volunteered for the job."

She expects disapproval to answer the statement, but instead he says to her, as if weighing every word, "He doesn't deserve you."  Felicity waits for more, but he doesn't continue, but he does turn his head up, and she's able to see those indecipherable eyes again.

"Neither do you," she says flatly, causing him to frown.  But of course he doesn't let her finish before coming to the wrong conclusion.  She continues anyway, with a hesitant nudge to his shoulder, "But somehow you both got me anyway."  The corners of his mouth turn up then, and she's about to goad him again when another yawn tears through her.  "Sorry, I'm apparently too tired to tell you about my wonderful qualities."

"And we were just beginning to talk about your modesty," is the Arrow's sarcastic reply, but Felicity's cell phone starts ringing with the quirky, synthesized theme to her favorite TV show—and she reminds herself that she really needs to change it.  But, still, she knows who's calling.

"I probably need to get that," she informs him, and he waves a hand casually as if to say, By all means.  She picks up the phone and answers it, all the while focusing her eyes on the Arrow.  "You do realize I've been working twelve-hour days—and that I've been taking my work home with me after that, right?" is her greeting.

"Oh, I'm doing great, thanks for asking," comes the chipper-yet-sarcastic reply.  "It's nice to hear your voice, too, Sherly."  He's the only person in the world who calls her that; it comes from long hours spent in front of the television watching mystery shows.  She would almost always figure out the culprit, so he started calling her "Sherlock," and it just stuck over the years.  "So are you going to ask why I'm calling or not?"

She sighs.  "On a scale of one to ten, how important is this, Watson?" she asks, using his nickname, since he was always the Watson to her Sherlock.  She'd solve the TV mystery, and then spend the remainder of the show explaining it to him.  "And don't exaggerate—we both know you can be a drama queen."

He huffs.  "First of all, that's just rude—and I know you'll apologize later for hurting my feelings.  Second of all, it's about a four and it can wait.  But only because I love you so much."

"Love you, too, you jerk," is her reply, and the Arrow shoots her a curious glance but, mercifully, doesn't say anything.  "I'll call you first thing in the morning—well, after I get my coffee—and we'll talk about it."

"I'm playing second fiddle to coffee now?  I see how it is," he teases, feigning hurt.  She's known him long enough that she can hear the teasing tone underneath and she's grateful for the normalcy, even as the Vigilante sits on her couch.  "Talk to you in the morning, then, Sherly."

"Goodnight," she responds, before terminating the call.  The Arrow stares at her oddly for a moment before she finally feels self-conscious to ask, "What?  Did you really think my social life consists of meeting you to stop bad guys at dark-thirty and Doctor Who marathons?"  She holds up a hand, shaking her head.  "Never mind.  I don't want to know the answer to that."

"Thank you for the information," is his reply as he sidesteps her rant altogether.  "I'll let you know when I've found something."  He rises from the couch in a single, lithe movement.  Another yawn is her response, and he frowns before saying, "I can lock up as I leave.  You look like you need some rest."

The Arrow's surprisingly nice offer reminds her of the printer, and how he must have come and gone earlier despite her locks and security measures.  "Oh, before I forget," she starts, "I saw my printer the other night.  I meant to say thank you, but I haven't talked to you in a while."  She usually hugs people for presents to show her appreciation, but somehow, hugging the Vigilante doesn't seem like the wisest decision.  She hesitates before extending her hand for him to shake.  "So, thank you."

He's uncertain about the arrangement, too, and he falters before shaking her hand firmly.  The leather glove feels odd in her hand, but it's not as awkward an arrangement as Felicity was prepared for.  "Anything for you," he promises, and it scares her how serious it is.  "I'll show myself out."

She accepts, but she tells herself it's only because she's so exhausted.  "Sure," she says finally, "but only because I'm so tired."  She sighs as she collapses onto her bed.  "And make sure you lock my window.  I don't want anyone creeping in except for you."

He smiles slightly before putting a hand on her shoulder in a gesture of trust.  "Goodnight, Felicity."

"Goodnight and happy hunting," she replies.  She hears a chuckle and then he's gone.  She's not far behind him, but her travel is into sleep rather than the night.

 


 

Oliver awakens, and it takes him a long moment to remember where he is and how he got there.  He recognizes the warehouse as Helena's—the very one she stores her weaponry in—and the black mass of hair on the pillow next to him as Helena's, too.

He can't believe things escalated so fast; a few hours ago, he was intent on throwing her to the cops.  (Truth be told, he'd much rather have put arrows in her, but Felicity had convinced him otherwise.)  And then he had ended up on a dinner date with her, and things had taken a turn for the unusual.  Frank Bertinelli had insisted Oliver and Helena discuss business over dinner, and they had traveled to a nice Italian restaurant under the Bertinellis' control.  They had disliked each other at first, but then Helena finally started speaking to him openly.

"No one deserves what you've been through," she said to him abruptly, playing with the cross around her neck—an ironic touch, Oliver had originally thought.  "It was your crucible."  She holds up the necklace.  "This was given to me by my fiancé."  Her mouth became a hard line.  "He died.  Michael was my crucible."  She seems contemplative now, really focusing on what she's saying.  "It changes you, living through something like that.  Everyone expects you to be the person you were before, but you've already forgotten who that is.  You don't just become someone else—you become something else."

For once, Oliver felt like someone truly understood his plight.  His mother and sister aren't ready to hear the truth, so he can't tell them.  Diggle could handle the truth, but he and Oliver just simply don't connect on that level.  Felicity, the closest to understanding, sympathizes, but Oliver knows she'll never quite understand what he's been through.  Helena, though—Helena is forged of the same battles he's fought, and she knows how he feels because she's lived it.  And suddenly, the stranger he sat down to dinner with is now a friend, a comrade in the same plight.

Like all good things, however, it ends.  The dinner ends violently, and they both find themselves at Nick Salvati's mercy.  As enforcer for the Bertinelli crime family, he's the one who ends up doing their dirty work.  Salvati, however, is the one to reveal that Helena tried to gather evidence against her father—not Michael, who was killed for it—and accuses Oliver of being the one she's selling information to.

Before anything could happen, though, Oliver was able to break out of his zip-tie-handcuffs and stop them.  Helena's skill was with a gun, so she wasn't of much use until she squirmed out of her own handcuffs and Oliver threw her a gun.  His intention was to incapacitate, but it seemed that Helena had a new plan.  Once the firefight was over, he heard her fire into a half-conscious Nick Salvati.  "No one can know my secret," she said to Oliver as explanation then, her expression merciless.

It was then that he understood.  It was then that he recognized that Helena Bertinelli is just as damaged and lost as Oliver was when he first returned from the island.  They had both survived their respective trials, only for it to warp and twist them into angry, cold people.  But, while he had Felicity to suggest a different way, Helena had no one.  It was in that moment that he decided he would be her light in the darkness, the person that guided her to become not a merciless killer, but to seek her revenge in a much different way.

He has to admit that there is no attraction other than companionship with Helena.  He doesn't love her—nor does he think that will ever happen—but he can help her.  He can guide her, train her—and the two of them would be perfectly unstoppable.  As a bonus, there's that familiar air of companionship between them, that shared experience of losing everything you've ever known and being forced to start all over again.  The understand each other on a deeper level—one where chemistry doesn't quite matter.

As if sensing the direction his thoughts are heading, she stirs in her sleep, turning over abruptly and facing him.  She frowns slightly, but it's in confusion.  "I was sure you'd be gone by now," she remarks dryly, lazily, her tone far too casual for the scenario.  But the Oliver Queen that survived solely on one-night stands died five years ago on an island in the North China Sea.

He sidesteps her almost-question.  "I was thinking we could stop your father together—without allowing innocent people to get hurt."

Her frown isn't in confusion this time.  "That's not how I do business," she says sharply.  "My father took everything from me, Oliver, and I want him to pay for that."

"And he will," Oliver assures her gently, "but innocent people shouldn't have to pay for that, too."  He hesitates.  "I used to think that killing was the only way, too, but someone showed me the light.  Maybe I can do the same for you."

It's clear she doesn't like the idea, but she responds finally, "Fine, we'll try it your way.  For now."  The hesitation there is clear, but it dissipates completely when she asks, "So is this a relationship or not?  I'm perfectly fine with casual sex—I just need to know what to expect."

"This is a relationship," Oliver assures her, surprised when he doesn't sound terrified.  "I didn't end up here because it was convenient, Helena."  Sensing her doubt, he continues, "I promise never to hurt you."

"I'm going to hold you to that," is her reply, and then she presses her lips to his.  Of course the kiss develops into something more—something similar to the night before.

Chapter Text

Felicity makes her way over to the refreshment table without too much fuss or idle conversation—both of which are very good things. She can't remember why she agreed to accompany him to this benefit, but then she remembers it's because he asked and she can't deny him anything. She doesn't have any money to spare to give to the City Necessary Resource Initiative, though she does agree it is a good cause. Her presence here is absolutely meaningless.

She does admit that being here has its perks; the idle rich do know their wines. She was surprised to see several nice bottles of reds sitting at the bar, and, when she takes a sip, she's surprised to find it's a very nice vintage of Rothschild. She's not exactly a wine connoisseur, but she does know a nice red when she's drinking it, and she's definitely drinking it. Now she just stands in front of the hors d'oeuvres and watches the crowd mingle.

Felicity is perfectly content to be standing there, viewing the crowd from a distance. She's never really been an extrovert; she's always been best when observing the crowd, not standing in it. Sometimes she's called shy, but she doesn't think that's quite right. She definitely has a voice—especially when it wants to run away with her—but she just doesn't want to be the center of attention. Her date tonight, on the other hand, has that lovely Type-A personality she's heard about all her life, and he's perfectly content to be mingling with the crowd and rubbing elbows with the billionaires and other important people.

She's so engrossed in her thoughts that she nearly jumps out of her skin when a familiar voice says from beside her, "Hey, baby, what's your sign?" She rolls her eyes casually; of course he'd pick now to show up.

She doesn't even look at him before saying, "No trespassing—private property." She finally looks over at Tommy Merlyn, smiling slightly, suddenly glad for the distraction from her depressing life. "You know, I'd think that a billionaire could afford to buy better lines." She nudges his shoulder slightly. "You're losing your touch, Merlyn."

"Nah," he says, returning the shoulder nudge, "I just wanted to see how you'd respond." He winks. "And, if you're curious, that was about what I expected. Actually, I'm pretty thrilled that you didn't pour your drink on me."

Felicity rolls her eyes. "That would be a waste of a beautiful wine," she says honestly, and he chuckles. "But that's good to know. Because—no offense, Merlyn, but I'm not interested. Ever." She crosses her arms for good measure, but her intended stern glance falls a little short with the smile on her face.

"You know, Smoaky, if we weren't such good friends, that might actually hurt my feelings. That's the second time you've turned me down in as many conversations," he replies cheerfully. He looks around. "So, where's Ollie? Besides perpetually late as always, I mean."

Felicity offers him a confused frown. It's a weird question, but, then again, this is Tommy she's talking to. "How should I know?"

It's his turn to look confused. "Didn't you two—?" He trails off, making a motion between the two of them. When she still doesn't respond, he continues, "I thought he invited you." He says it so honestly that she knows he isn't messing with her; he genuinely thinks that someone like Oliver Queen would invite her to be his date for the night.

"No," she replies slowly. "Why would Oliver invite me, of all people?" She motions to herself and the blue cocktail dress that is surprisingly out-of-place among the sea of black dresses and ties. "I mean, have you met me, Merlyn? I'm not the kind of girl you invite to shindigs like these. I have a horrible open-mouth-insert-foot syndrome, and I have this crippling, debilitating disease where I make references to nerdy television." She shakes her head. "I am not the perfect débutante that the billionaire takes to the charity ball—unless I'm the charity case."

Tommy shakes his head. "Well, for the record, you look nice," he says offhandedly, and Felicity flushes with the unexpected praise. If he notices, he ignores it. "And, more importantly, you're the only one here who isn't a boring carbon-copy of everyone else, and your date is an idiot to leave you over here by yourself." He frowns in another direction, and Felicity is surprised to see Laurel speaking very intimately with a guy who looks absolutely like a rich, pompous ass. "He's Carter Bowen—guy Ollie and I went to high school with. He's apparently a famous doctor now." He leans closer to Felicity, but she doesn't mind it because they're suddenly comrades in arms—or comrades in being wallflowers, at least. "You know what he's saying to her?" Tommy asks bitterly, and there's clearly some resentment there. "'Did you know that, as a doctor, I can diagnose myself as a giant tool?'"

Felicity actually laughs at that, nearly spitting out fine red wine at the unexpected comment, and she's suddenly excited by a happy childhood memory. "Oh, Barry and I used to play this game all the time as kids!" She's practically jumping up and down by this point. "I'll do one. And Laurel is saying to him, 'Really? You don't say. I'm not a doctor, but even I could make that diagnosis.'"

Tommy actually laughs at that—really laughs, like Felicity's never heard him before. "You're not half bad, Smoaky," he replies, as though it surprises him. "And thank you for trying to heal my wounded ego, but if she wants to run off to that tool, well, let her." He shrugs, but Felicity sees through the nonchalance. "It's not like I have any hold over her, anyway."

Felicity scoffs. "Oh, please. It's obvious you two have something going on. You should go for it." She can't stop the smile across her face—never thought she'd be giving Tommy Merlyn dating advice. It's funny to see a known playboy so insecure about a woman.

Tommy looks at her as though he's trying to discern her expression—to see if she's lying or not. "You think?" he asks uncertainly. "Because she's kind of my best friend's ex, you know." He hesitates. "Ollie did say it was cool, though."

Felicity waves her hand in triumph. "Well, there you go. Free reign to have a relationship with your best friend's ex, then." She hesitates. "Helpful hint? A relationship with Laurel might go better if you stop thinking about her as your best friend's ex."

"Geez, Sherly," a voice says from behind her. "We've been here for, what, five minutes? And you're already giving out relationship advice." He offers her a new glass of wine, looking for all the world like he belongs there. His dark hair doesn't look any different than it does on a normal day, slightly spiked, and his green eyes are shining brightly with excitement. How an extrovert like Barry Allen ended up in a laboratory, Felicity will never know. "That seems a little early, even for you." He turns to Tommy. "And, I'd like to mention that you should probably take her advice—though her own experience is limited to a stalker lacrosse player in college."

Felicity doesn't hesitate to slap his shoulder. "Don't go around telling people stuff like that!" she says, her voice a little loud. Quieter, she says, "Merlyn, this is the jerk I've put up with since childhood, Barry Allen. He's also some sort of biochemist—don't ask him questions or he might start more scientific babble." She allows herself a smile to show Barry that she's teasing. "Barry, this is Tommy Merlyn. I'm sure you can fill in the rest for yourself, since we've grown up reading about the Merlyns in the paper."

Tommy blinks twice. "Oh, you must be the Dr. Allen from STAR Labs." He extends his hand. "Nice to meet you—thanks for showing up to help CNRI."

"My pleasure," he says, shaking hands with Tommy, and Felicity thinks her life has become a weird, alternate universe where she attends parties and is on a first-name basis with billionaires. Something on her face must indicate her feelings because Barry says to her, "So, are you looking for the zeppelins or the TARDIS?"

She waves a hand. "It's fine, Barry, really," she assures him. "I'm just waiting for the Cybermen to charge in and take over. After all, that happened at a nice party like this, too. All we need are some earbuds, and we could recreate the scene."

"Oh, God," Tommy says, smiling despite the horror in his voice, "you both talk like that." He looks at Felicity. "You know, I didn't really believe you when you said that people actually understood you. Now I feel like there's a secret language that I should get in on."

"Whoa, back up," Barry says to her now. "You've met Tommy before, and you didn't tell me? We talk on the phone, like, twice a week, and you didn't mention this?" He actually sounds a little hurt, and Felicity winces.

She chuckles awkwardly at the tension. "It's kind of a new thing. And I'm having a difficult time believing it myself, my dear Watson." She doesn't know how to explain Tommy or Oliver to Barry because it's such a bizarre little story. And he'd probably be furious if he ever learned she was helping the Vigilante—he's probably a bigger fangirl than she is, and he'd want to meet the guy.

Tommy chuckles at their interactions. "Oh, Ollie is going to be pissed when he sees this," he comments. "Do me a favor and tell me before he walks up to you two—I'm still not sure if I want to be here for that."

Felicity frowns; Tommy seems more insistent that Oliver has some sort of feelings for her every time they meet. It's getting a little annoying, and, frankly, she's not sure she wants anything to do with the love life of Oliver Queen. Barry gives her the look that says, You better tell me about this later, and she suddenly hates Tommy Merlyn for ruining her life. "And now we can return to the scenario where a guy has no hold over a girl," Felicity says flatly. "For your information, we are not like that."

"You and who aren't like what, Felicity?" a voice says darkly from behind her, and she cringes immediately. Barry looks a little stunned by the man she already knows is behind her, and Tommy doesn't hesitate to mouth, Told you he'd be pissed. She turns to face Oliver after plastering a smile on her face, but it falters when she sees the woman standing next to her.

She's tall and beautiful, her black hair flowing nicely. Her cocktail dress is exactly the right shade of black to blend in with the event, and she looks gorgeously in place with the scenario. But the problem is that Felicity knows that face, she knows that girl, and she most certainly should not be standing in front of Felicity. Because Felicity is very certain that she tasked the Vigilante with putting Helena Bertinelli in jail. And he just wouldn't fail her like that.

Would he?

She puts her doubts aside, and plasters the smile back on her face. "Barry and I," she responds, her voice a little too loud and shrill, and Tommy has to hide his laugh in a lame cough. "Tommy was about to make some sort of inappropriate comment about me and Barry." She turns to Tommy. "And, frankly, that's just weird. Barry and I grew up together. I pulled cactus needles out of his face when he was ten, for God's sake. He's practically my brother." That actually earns her a smile from both billionaires, but she's more interested in Oliver's. It's ridiculously hard to make that man smile.

Barry coughs. "And that just might be the weirdest introduction ever, Sherly. There's that smooth talker we've all come to know." He looks a little embarrassed, his face flushed pink. Felicity winces and mouths a, Sorry, at him, and he shrugs, though his face is still pink. "And, just to ease my wounded pride," he continues, "Ricky Pearce threw a desk cactus at me because I wouldn't do his homework. It's not like I was a goof and tripped face-first into one."

Felicity scoffs. "Everyone here knows I suffer from a word vomit disorder, Watson," she replies with a withering glance. She turns to Helena. "Except for you, I guess. I'm sorry—I'd tell you I'm not normally this much of a spaz, but I'd be lying." She holds out her hand, not wanting to. She doesn't want Helena to know her name, but acting weird will just make things more difficult for her. "Felicity Smoak."

She shakes her hand, and it seems just as slimy to Felicity as she expects. "Helena Bertinelli," she says in a smooth, dark voice, her expression sour. "Nice to meet you." She offers a smile, but it almost looks ironic on her face. Helena turns to Oliver. "I don't think I've been properly introduced to the rest of your friends."

Oliver nods, smiles a little. "Sorry, Helena." He motions to each one of them in turn. "Felicity you've already met. That's Tommy, my best friend, and..." He falters as he turns to Barry. "I don't think we've met before." Felicity doesn't think she imagines the way his voice darkens, the way his eyebrows knit together tightly. The last time she saw him do that, she had mentioned Tommy.

Barry holds his hand out, oblivious to the tension in Oliver's shoulders. "Barry Allen," he introduces himself. "I'm an old friend of Felicity's. Nice to meet you, Mr. Queen."

Before the measuring contest can get way out of hand, Tommy swoops in to save the day. "So, Smoaky," he says with that signature tilt of his head, and Oliver's eyes swivel immediately to him, "that's two times I've heard Barry call you 'Sherly.' I demand to know about all embarrassing nicknames so that I can torment you with them later."

Felicity laughs. "Please, it's not embarrassing," she explains. "Childish, maybe, but not the most horrible nickname ever—like 'Smoaky,' for instance." Tommy shoots her a withering look, but the smile lets her know he doesn't mean it. "It's from when we were kids. We grew up reading and watching mysteries together. Sherlock Holmes was my favorite, and I usually figured out the mystery and explained it to him. 'Sherly' is short for 'Sherlock.' And I call him 'Watson.'" She chuckles, thinking about all the times she used that cheesy pun of, "Elementary, my dear Watson." "I'm the one who likes mysteries, and he's the doctor." She puts her elbow in his side. "I think it fits nicely."

Barry laughs, which is the only thing he has that's socially awkward. His laugh is not charming—it's more like the sound of a donkey braying. "Well," he hesitates, "more like the brains and the lagging sidekick, I think, but I'm surprisingly okay with that. And besides, in the futuristic version, I get to be the cyborg. Which makes me infinitely cooler than you."

Felicity snorts, goading him. "Please," she drawls. "You wouldn't be cooler than me if you had ten ice cubes in your pockets." She forgets the audience, and is surprised to hear Tommy laugh again. But she certainly is not surprised to see Helena's eyes narrowed into slits.

"I think a drink would be nice," Helena says to Oliver in that sultry, smooth voice, encouraging him away from the conversation.

He takes the hint. "We need to work the room anyway." He offers a smile that is absolutely fake. "Nice seeing you again, Felicity," he offers before leaving, ignoring Barry's presence.

When she turns to talk to Tommy again, she sees him pining in the direction of Laurel and Carter Bowen, who are now dancing together. "Oh, for God's sake!" she snaps at him, and he jolts. "If you want to do something, go cut in." He gives her a disbelieving look, to which she replies, "Just as long as you don't punch Massive Tool in the face and retain that billionaire charm, girls love it when guys cut in. Go for it and stop pining—you're dampening my whole mood over here."

To her surprise, Tommy leans in and kisses her cheek, causing her to go crimson. "You are a goddess," he says, too serious for his personality, "and I'm not worthy of you." Less seriously he adds a wink and says, "See you in my dreams, Smoaky."

"You don't even deserve me then, Merlyn," she teases back, and then he's off to find Laurel again. Before Barry can start with questions, she holds up a hand. "I'll tell you the story later, but I actually need to make a run to the bathroom." She doesn't give him time to respond before she's making her way to the ladies' room.

She's surprised to find the place empty, but it's all the better for her. Picking up her cell phone, she dials the number she's only called once prior. He's obviously a smart man because he knows to ignore her, and it goes to voicemail (way too fast, so she knows he pressed the "Ignore" button). When she hears the tone, she says into it heatedly, "Hey, asshole. Guess who I just saw dancing with Oliver! Hint: she should probably be in jail right now, if you'd done your job! Call be back when you get this—believe me, you don't want to let me stew."

 


 

Helena watches Oliver wince for the second time in two minutes as he looks at his phone, and she wonders what he's doing. He made her a promise, and he betrayed her—just the same way her father did. Just the same way Nick did. Just the same way all men do. But then she reminds herself that it's her own fault—she's the one who trusted him, and she knew better. It would have been one thing if things had been awkward with Laurel, his ex, but that went perfectly fine. This, however, is just pushing the line.

He finally looks at her, and she can see the light dawn in his eyes as he realizes something is horribly wrong. "Hey," he says gently, his voice soft in a way that just makes her anger worse. "What's wrong?"

"I never should have trusted you," she hisses at him. They're in a corner of the room where she's sure that they won't make a scene. Because it wouldn't do for things to go public for them. They're not together, and they never will be.

"I'm sorry—" he starts, but she doesn't let him get that far.

"So am I," she snaps. "I never should have listed to you." Her teeth are clenched now, and she knows it's a good thing she's unarmed or he'd have a crossbow arrow piercing his hear right now—it would be too nice for the one he just shot through her. At least she wouldn't let him suffer; she may be a killer, but even she isn't that cruel.

He manages something remotely coherent, his eyebrows knitted together in confusion. She doesn't let him speak—this is her turn to talk, and he's not stopping her from saying what she means. "You know what I've been through," she says to him, fighting back the urge to yell. "You told me you would never hurt me."

Oliver bursts out with, "I don't even know what I did wrong!" It's as much of a yell as it can be while whispering, and Helena is surprised to find he genuinely has no idea what he did wrong. Of how he hurt her. And that just infuriates her more.

"So, making me meet the love of your life is—what, exactly, Oliver?" she demands.

He sighs. "Look, Helena," he says, calmer this time. "I didn't know things would get so awkward with Laurel—"

She rolls her eyes. Is he trying to act stupid? "You know damn well I'm not talking about Laurel," comes out of her mouth, and she's surprised by the bitter anger there. She hasn't felt this vindictive toward anyone since Michael died. "I'm talking about Felicity—the cute blonde that stole your attention? Does she ring a bell?" She sees it then—the jealousy, the protectiveness, the entire this-conversation-is-off-limits look he gets to his face whenever someone dares to talk about her.

His eyebrows knit together in confusion again. "I'm not in love with Felicity," he says slowly, and Helena can tell he genuinely believes it. But she knows better because now she's seen them together. She knows better than to continue an argument that will go nowhere, so she turns to walk out.

"Hey," he tries again, with a hand on her shoulder.

She recoils immediately. "Don't touch me," she snaps. "I am done talking—now I'm going to take action." She can hear him calling for her behind her as she walks out, but she ignores him because today she's walking out of Oliver Queen's life forever.

But if there's one thing she knows about herself, it's that she's cruel and vindictive—and Oliver will pay for what he did to her.

Chapter Text

Felicity bolts awake at the sound of Saphira barking in her ear.  She's nearly trampled as the dog walks over her and jumps down from the bed to get to the window, tail wagging as she paws at it.  She wines pitifully as she scratches at the window, working herself up into a frenzy. While Felicity's glasses are off, she can make out the silhouette of that figure even when it's blurry.  Now completely awake due in part to the adrenalin rush, she rolls over to get her glasses from the bedside table, and the first thing that comes into focus are the glowing numbers of her digital clock, unhelpfully informing her that it's 3:17AM.

Sighing, she pulls herself up into a sitting position, she pulls herself up from the bed, going to open the window, thinking that tonight was probably a bad night to wear her Star Wars pajamas. (Her pants are covered with cartoon Darth Vader faces, while her shirt shows Han with a guitar and reads "Guitar Solo" below the picture.)  "I know you don't," she says tiredly, drawing the last word into a half-stifled yawn, "but most people have a day job.  A little consideration goes a long way, you know."

"I wouldn't have interrupted your sleep if it wasn't important," is his synthesized reply, and she knows that's as close to an apology as she's going to get.  Saphira interrupts by standing on her back legs and putting her front paws on his leg, and Felicity is amused to see Starling City's feared Vigilante palm her a treat before patting her head.

She yawns again, and then grabs her robe.  "Fine," she says finally, "I'll go start the coffee pot.  I'm going to need caffeine if you expect me to work my usual magic—which, I might add, takes a full eight hours of sleep per night to maintain."

He follows her back into her living area, and she winces as she realizes her papers and documents from the Tempest investigation are sprawled all over her coffee table.  Of course the Arrow, curious thing that he is, immediately goes up to them, reaching for one.  She slaps his hand away.  "Hey, that's QC business.  As in, not yours.  Unless you're Walter Steele, then of course you're welcome to poke around."  He opens his mouth, but she cuts him off.  "And no questions.  It's top-secret stuff, and even I don't know all the details."  She frowns, knowing that her high-powered laptop is full of Tempest business, and she grabs her tablet instead.  "You're coming with me to the kitchen—I don't trust you alone in here with my research."

She's surprised when he complies with her, only asking, "What makes you think I don't have a day job?"  He sits at the bar as though he belongs there, elbows resting on the bar casually.  Saphira lies at his feet, and Felicity isn't sure whether to laugh or cry at how bizarre her life is.  She would have laughed if anyone told her she'd one day think that the Arrow looks awfully domestic, but, somehow, he does look as though he belongs right at the bar in her kitchen.

As she adjusts her coffee pot, Felicity replies to his question, "Because you're running-slash-rappelling-slash-sneaking around Starling City at three-seventeen in the morning."  She rolls her eyes.  "Nobody can go infinitely without sleep, and you've been active this entire week.  So, you probably sleep during the day and play superhero by night.  Kind of like a vampire."  She winces at the horrible analogy.  "Well, you know what I mean."

"I don't have fangs," he assures her, and Felicity can't help but laugh because, dear God, the Arrow is starting to make jokes now.  Instead of continuing, he pulls a black arrow that looks nothing like the green ones from the police reports.  "There's a new archer in town, and he's killing people that have already paid Starling City for their crimes.  This is one of his arrows.  If you can get me the purchase records, I can find him."  The end of his sentence turns ominous, and Felicity thinks it isn't going to end happily.

She frowns.  "While I appreciate the confidence boost," she starts, "there's no guarantee that he buys these arrows.  I mean, you clearly don't buy yours."  She bites her lip as she realizes her mouth has run away with her again.

His head snaps up, and his mouth is turned down into a frown.  "How do you know that?" he demands, and suddenly the Vigilante doesn't seem so friendly.  Finally Felicity understands again why he's the terror of Starling; his voice sounds like the wrath of the gods when he wants it to.

She swallows hard, but then decides he's overreacting, so she draws herself up to full height and crosses her arms.  "I'm not an idiot," she declares.  "I trust you, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to do my research.  I know you want to keep your identity a secret from me—that's fine, by the way—but you can't expect me not to try and connect the dots.  Mysteries are meant to be solved, and you're a mystery.  I've read all the police reports.  I've seen all the arrows they've collected, and I know they don't have serial numbers.  They don't have producer information in the shaft.  So you make them."

"What else do you know?" he asks, and this time he's less confrontational about it.

"I know that you have to be an exceptional archer to fire the way you do," she replies, deciding to share her thoughts with him.  "I know that you also have to fight well in close combat, because Oliver Queen's statement said that you killed all three of those men without firing an arrow.  I know that the last man ran, and that you'd have to be fast to catch him.  I know your friend—the Not-Vigilante, or whatever you choose to call him—has a military background."  She shifts her weight onto one hip.  "And I know that your training isn't military—it's something more."  The corner of his mouth purses in, and she knows she's right about all of it.

"You should stop looking into me," he warns her firmly.  "If my enemies ever learned you knew anything about me, they would use you to get to me."  There's a long, pregnant pause before he finally adds, "I promised to protect the citizens of this city—especially the ones I endanger by allowing them to help me."

She rolls her eyes, frowning.  "Why, that is incredibly sweet and overprotective of you," she replies, her words dripping with sarcasm.  "Look, if you don't want to tell me, you don't have to.  Whatever.  But don't try to make it look like you're trying to protect me when you just don't want me to know."

After a long moment, he finally says, "My... associate thinks it would be better if I didn't involve you any more than I have to."

Felicity waves her hands at him.  "And here we have the honest answer!" she comments, now exasperated.  "That's all you had to say:  the Not-Vigilante doesn't like me.  I'm not offended.  Honestly, I'm not sure I liked him either, but I'm trying to hold out on judgment."

"It's not that," comes the reply, and Felicity looks at him with a silent question across her face.  He looks down at Saphira before finishing the thought.  "He doesn't like that I'm putting you in danger."

She rolls her eyes as the coffee pot finishes.  "It is too early in the morning—or late at night, take your pick—to have this conversation."  She pulls down her second-favorite coffee mug, the one with a robot that looks distinctly like a salt shaker.  It declares in bold letters, "CAFFEINATE!" and she fills it to the brim with black coffee.

The Arrow opens his mouth to speak, but she silences him with her index finger before taking a long, healthy pull of the most ingenious liquid ever discovered by man.  "Now," she says after she finishes, turning on her computer screen, "let me see if I can work my magic."  She tilts her head to the side.  "Would you prefer Grammaryë, or should I go get my wand?"  She winces as she realizes what she asked.  "Never mind.  Nerd humor."

She takes the arrow from the counter top, and he frowns.  "Be careful," he warns, and she rolls her eyes.  Sure, she may not be a ninja like him, but even she can handle an arrow without poking her eyes out.  She examines it carefully, but then she sees what she's looking for.

She squints at the shaft.  "The composite looks like it's patented.  I think I can look this up without breaking the law for once," she comments, but she's already plugging numbers into the US patent records.  Examining her results, she continues, "It looks like it's registered to a company Sagittarius."  She smirks at the joke.

"Or 'the archer,' in Latin," the Vigilante responds, surprising her.

She nods in agreement.  "It is, but it looks like it's owned by a corporation in a corporation in a corporation.  It will take me forever to untangle this mess."  She frowns as she digs deeper.  "And it looks like distribution is managed by a subsidiary called Artemis Distribution Services."  She chuckles at the joke, but the Vigilante seems stumped by this one.  "You know, the goddess in Greek mythology, Artemis?"  She waves a hand in the air.  "She was an archer—goddess of the hunt.  Someone has a sense of humor—and a lot of money."  She pulls up the sales records and is able to tell him, "It looks like the largest orders are sent to this address..."  She trails off, looking for a stack of sticky notes, but they're nowhere to be found, and she holds up an index finger.  "Hold that thought."

Without waiting for a response, she charges into her living room and upends papers and files until she sees a random stack.  As fate would have it, they're lime green, and she rushes back into the kitchen with them, writing down the address.  "Don't get excited about the color," she mutters to him as she writes.  "It's a happy accident—I buy the multicolor packs.  But at least you'll match."  When she finishes, she circles the counter and sticks it to his chest again.  "Go get the evil archer," she demands.

The corners of his mouth twitch upward.  "Thank you, Felicity," he says, as always, again tucking the sticky note inside his jacket.  This time, though, it's followed by the shoulder touch from the last visit—from that intense moment where he said he trusts her.

"Yeah, yeah," she mutters before stifling a yawn.  "My caffeine high is wearing off, so is there anything else you need before you go back to putting arrows in bad guys?  I have to be up in..."—she glances at the nearest clock, and her voice drops in disdain—"two hours."

"That's all I needed," he assures her.  "I'll lock up."  Slowly, so that she knows what he's doing, he puts a hand between her shoulder blades and guides her back toward her bedroom.  About halfway through the living room, he turns off the synthesizer to whistle shrilly at Saphira.  The dog immediately jumps up to scurry after them, and Felicity can hear the synthesizer click back on as he guides both of them back to the bedroom.

The Arrow stands near the window as she stumbles into her bed, haphazardly tossing her glasses onto the side table.  A few seconds later, she's safely tucked back in place, and the Arrow calls from the other side of the room, "Goodnight, Felicity."

"'Night," she mutters back quietly, but a soft chuckle makes her think he heard.

She doesn't even hear the latch click back into place before she's asleep again.

 


 

Felicity makes sure her favorite coffee mug is filled before she starts the latest project for the department.  She's supposed to be working on top-secret things for Walter again, which apparently comes with a new, quieter office, but the IT department is hopeless without her.  Three days of her doing nothing, and the department is backlogged with chaos again.  She launches into the newest string of code in need of her services, only to be interrupted by a knock at her door.

At first she thinks it's her boss, whom she's about to tell to put his fried circuitboards in some very not-nice places, but then he speaks.  "Hey," he drawls casually, "is this seat taken?"  She looks up to find none other than Tommy Merlyn sprawled across the doorway, leaning against one edge of the doorway with his shoulder against the outside, one hand splayed across to the other side.  Once he sees he has her attention he points with one hand toward the chair for guests sitting behind her, a cheesy grin on his face.

Felicity rolls her eyes, turning back to her computer screen as she replies, "No, and if you sit down, this one will be free, too."  He laughs and she sighs.  "While I usually love your amusing antics, I'm really busy today.  If you're just here to chitchat, kindly get the hell out of my office."

She expects him to leave, but he instead shifts his weight and holds up a fast food sack with a Big Belly Burger logo on it.  "Now is that any way to treat your savior?" he teases, moving to sit down in the empty chair, dropping the paper bag on her desk as he goes.  She swivels in her chair with his movements, a question in her eyes.  "Ollie told me you'd been working overtime this week.  Then he grumbled something about talking to Walter hiring qualified IT personnel for the IT department."  He waves a hand dismissively.  "Anyway, we were running around when he texted you about stopping by during your lunch hour.  Went absolutely nuts when he got your reply, and we went for food."  He points upward.  "I think he's talking to Walter now, actually."

Felicity rolls her eyes.  "That was completely unnecessary," she says, though she's already peeling the paper off of the burger.  She blames the food; it smells amazing, and Big Belly Burger has always been her favorite fast food joint.  "I would have been fine without lunch—it's not the first time, you know."

Tommy holds up a hand to silence her protest.  "First of all," he starts, "I'd recommend against telling Ollie that."  He hesitates now, and Felicity is instantly on edge; anything that causes Tommy Merlyn to hesitate can't be good.  "And it was necessary—I thought you'd be grateful."  He puts emphasis on the words as he repeats, "Very grateful."  The tone lets her know he's teasing, but she's still a little dubious of his intent.

Before he speaks again, Felicity nudges his thigh hard with the toe of her shoe.  "Well," she replies casually, "for future reference, I don't prostitute myself out for anything less than a five-star meal—and I mean three courses, red wine, and a string quartet playing in the background."  It's a joke, even though she manages to pull the line off as though she's discussing the weather, and she's proud to say she pulls it off without blushing.

Tommy stares at her a moment, mouth moving without sound, before he continues, "Good to know.  But, while I do have a proposition for you, it's not that kind of proposition."  He hesitates again, looking out the window.  "I don't know if you know this, but the Queens used to have a Christmas party every year.  It was sort of a Starling City tradition."

Felicity snorts.  "Of course I know about the Queen Christmas Gala," she replies dryly, crossing her legs and using Tommy's thigh as a footrest.  He doesn't seem to mind.  "Every ten-year-old girl on the planet dreams of being invited to the Queens' for Christmas."  She frowns before editing herself.  "Well, almost every girl.  Mostly I just wanted a pet dragon, but I'm getting off-topic.  What about the party?"

Tommy smiles, looking at her again.  "I'm starting to think that off-topic goes along with your conversations, Smoaky," he teases.  "The point is, Ollie wants to do another party this year—apparently he's really missed family Christmases."  He frowns as he thinks about the island, and Felicity can't blame him; she finds herself thinking about Oliver and that island a lot these days.  "Anyway, he's decided to reboot the old tradition of Queen Family Christmas.  And, well, I've found myself in need of a date.  I thought you might want to, um, go together?"  Felicity's eyes widen in surprise, so he barrels on, "I mean as friends.  Just friends.  No strings, no expectations.  No awkward conversations.  And apparently I'm trying to make up for that lack now."

She hesitates, biting at her lip.  "Two things, Tommy," is her reply.  "First, most guys don't invite the Jewish girl to a Christmas party."  She frowns.  "Secondly, there's Laurel.  She already doesn't like me."  She rushes to add, "And that's fine—she doesn't have to like me.  But you like her, and I don't want to get in the middle of whatever's going on between you two."

Tommy chuckles.  "Well, you're already invited—I saw your name on the initial guest list last week."  With emphasis she doesn't understand, he adds, "It was the first one, actually."  He sighs.  "And, well, I think Laurel's coming around.  Do you remember that party last week?"

"When she was dancing with Doctor Massive-Tool?" she replies, not missing a beat.

Tommy actually laughs at that.  "Yeah.  I did as you said," he admits.  "I went over to them and said, 'Hello, Carter.  May I cut in?'  And then we danced."  He grins a cheesy grin.  "Laurel liked that—she said it was romantic, or some other girly crap that I don't quite understand.  Anyway, point is she liked it."  He pauses, looking up at Felicity from under his eyelashes.  "She really liked it," he emphasizes when she doesn't respond.  "She really, really liked it."

"Yeah, I got it," Felicity snaps, waving her hands as her face turns a little red.  "You went back to her place and you did the diddly-doo.  I don't need the details of your sex life, okay, Merlyn?"

He shakes his head, laughing.  "Anyway, the next morning, she got ready for work, and she said again how much she liked that I cut in—'like a gentleman,' she said."  He chuckles.  "So I confessed that it was your idea.  I think Laurel's felt a little insecure about serious relationships ever since things went south with Ollie."  Tommy swallows.  "And, well, I've never known a girl I've called a 'friend' without having sex with her, so I guess she thought that you and I were—"  He hesitates, and she thinks it's amusing that he's the one floundering around the idea of a relationship now.  "Well, you know.  But I think she figures that if you're pushing Laurel and I together, you're not trying to tear us apart."  He shrugs.  "I guess—like I've ever understood women."

"One more smart ass comment about women," Felicity threatens teasingly, "and I'm kicking you in the face."  She makes a small gesture with her foot to emphasize the point.

Tommy holds his hands up in mock surrender.  "Anyway, things have been weird between her and Ollie since the trial.  She received an invitation to the party, but she thinks it's probably because of Mrs. Q, not because Ollie actually wanted her there.   So she came up with an excuse why she can't go, and, well,"—he smiles mockingly—"the press would be disappointed if Tommy Merlyn didn't show up with a beautiful woman on his arm.  Laurel actually suggested I ask you, and I think it's a good idea.  It's next week—plenty of time to get a dress."  And, as though he thinks she'll be opposed, he adds, "And you're going to be invited anyway—so you won't even have to be someone's plus one, or mark a plus one.  Ollie wants you there, and I don't think he's going to take no for an answer."

"What the hell," she responds finally.  "I'm invited to a Queen Christmas Gala—I might as well be there on the arm of a playboy billionaire.  If only Judy Sanchez could see me now—she used to think I would grow up to be that crazy cat lady who lives alone."  She frowns.  "What time do you want to pick me up?"

"Anytime, anywhere," he jokes, but sobers quickly.  "It starts at eight on the twenty-fourth, so I figure seven?  The traffic is always a nightmare on those days."

"Sounds good," she agrees easily, then holds out her hand.  "I demand your phone, please."  When he gives her a questioning look, she replies, "You're finally getting your wish, Merlyn—I'm giving you my number."  While he chuckles, she programs her number in his phone, and also looks up his digits to put in hers.  She's about to let the conversation go, but then she remembers something, frowning.  "What kind of dress do I need?"

"Preferably one that shows as much skin as possible," Tommy replies, deadpan, without missing a beat.  Felicity nudges his leg, and he responds seriously this time, "I don't know—the long kind?  I'm not Calvin Klein—I don't know ladies' fashion.  But usually every girl wears a floor-length dress—with a full skirt, I think.  You know, the kind of dress that makes you think long, white gloves need to go with it.  But no long, white gloves.  That's not really something you see."  He looks at her shoes.  "Neither are pandas on flat shoes—don't wear those, or I'll spend the night pretending I don't know you."

Felicity groans in frustration, rolling her eyes, ignoring the dig at her shoes.  "This is like discussing computer engineering with a penguin," she grumbles, which earns her an indignant, "Hey!" from Tommy.  "Oliver has a sister—I'll ask him when he comes by to drag you out of my office."

"I'm here to drag him away so you can finish your work," the man in question replies from her doorway, and Felicity spins awkwardly to face him.  "What did you want to ask me?" he continues, and Felicity can see the smile on his face is tight and certainly not genuine, judging by the way it doesn't reach his eyes.  She doesn't understand why he's so upset, but she thinks he's being a little ridiculous.  He leans against her doorway similar to the way Tommy did earlier, but something about his hands in the pockets of his jeans and one leg crossed over the other takes her breath away for a moment.

"Oh, just proper attire for the Christmas party... thing," she replies belatedly, throwing her hands about haphazardly.  When his eyebrows raise, Felicity continues, looking between the two men, "Merlyn told me I was invited?"

Oliver turns a glare on his best friend.  "And Tommy should have also told you that I wanted to deliver the invitation in person. I didn't want you to hear about it secondhand."  His eyes narrow as he pulls himself away from the door frame, crossing his arms over his chest.  "Didn't you need to go check on your car?" he adds, in an obvious dismissal.

Tommy raises his hands in defeat, rising from his chair.  "This is what I have to put up with," he complains to Felicity.  "The man has no humor in his soul.  Well, he does, but when anyone mentions you, my friend is suddenly replaced with an angry bear that wants to maul people."  In a move that makes her blush to her toes, he swoops in and kisses her on the cheek, then takes the time to give her a wink.  Oliver's fist clenches and the smile falls off his face, but Tommy doesn't seem to notice; he just waves haphazardly over his shoulder.  "See ya later, Smoaky," he calls as he leaves, and there's still too much tension in the room even after he's cleared it.

Oliver doesn't miss a beat; he holds out the invitation to her.  "I wanted to deliver this in person," he admits, and she can't help but think of how hard it must be for him to host a Christmas party without his father there.  She takes it, and there's a long pause before he adds, "I'd like you to come."

Without hesitation, she opens the envelope methodically, making Oliver smile as she tries to open it as efficiently as possible without ripping the envelope.  "That better not be judgment I'm feeling," she mutters as she opens it, reading the standard invitation text.  Thankfully, someone—probably Thea—has thought of everything, because there's a notecard on attire for the evening.  She takes out the RSVP card and fills it out, marking the guest status she's always thought of as the "forever alone" box with pride, knowing she has a date anyway.  She tosses it back to Oliver, and he catches it gracefully.  "Just so you don't have to spend the two days it takes to mail this worrying about it," she quips, and he gives her a withering look, even though a smile sits underneath.  "And thank you, by the way, for the food."  He seems surprised when she mentions it, and she rolls her eyes.  "Helpful hint?  Don't ever tell your darkest secrets to Merlyn—that man sings like a caged canary."

He just offers an enigmatic smile in return.  "I tell my secrets to someone much more deserving of my trust," is his cryptic remark, and he leaves before she can ask.

Chapter Text

Felicity tries desperately to contain the rush of excitement she gets from riding in a limo with Tommy Merlyn on the way to the Queen Christmas Gala.  It's an experience that most don't have, so of course she's excited.  As, apparently, is Tommy; the first word out of his mouth when she opened her door was a surprised, "Wow."  Then he made a big show of looking around her and into the apartment.  "Sorry there, Bombshell Barbie, I'm looking for a friend of mine—she goes by the name of Smoaky?"  She supposes that means she cleans up well, but doesn't really see what the fuss is about.

She couldn't bear to give up the vibrant fuchsia lipstick she usually wears, her one semblance of normalcy in her current attire.  Her hair is down, pinned over one shoulder, and she actually has her contacts in for a change.  Large, sparkling earrings with stones matching her dress hang delicately, surrounded by diamonds.  Her dress isn't much; it's just a number she picked up for eighty bucks at the nearest thrift store because she fell in love with it.  As instructed in the notecard, she picked a full-length dress with a somewhat full skirt (there are a few layers to it, anyway).  It's strapless with a sweetheart neckline, the material gathered in folds through the bodice and left simple and plain through the skirt.  The only real embellishments on it are the corseted back and the rhinestone star-burst folding across her left side.  It did take help from her only female friend to get the back laced up, but she thinks it was well worth it.  And she's still trying to convince herself that the color is completely coincidental.

After all, emerald green is a festive, Christmas-y color.  And it has nothing to do with the Vigilante at all.

The limousine pulls up in front of the Queen mansion, and Tommy scurries to exit so that he can help her out of the vehicle, and for a moment Felicity feels like a fairytale princess.  The press is already swarming, of course, and Felicity feels kind of like a movie star the way they start snapping photographs (though she knows it's because of Tommy and not her).  He guides her into the house without the normal remarks he usually makes about his date, and their invitations are checked at the entrance hall.

Felicity is stunned into momentary silence as she realizes the woman standing in the hall welcoming guests is none other than Moira Queen.  She looks almost regal in the champagne gown she wears; it's both elegant and understated in an old money sort of way.  Of course, the half-million dollar string of diamonds around her neck doesn't hurt the look, either.  She greets the couple ahead of Tommy and Felicity with practiced aplomb and charm.

She turns the pair then, and she stops to hug Tommy in an overly dramatic way.  "I'm glad you could make it, Tommy," she says, her voice rich but soft, and her tone is most definitely sincere.  She pulls away, but her hands still remain on his arms.  "I know my children will be glad to see you, too."  She looks to Felicity, appraising her carefully.  "And you should introduce me to your date."

Tommy winces, frowning.  "She's not my date," he corrects immediately, which Felicity thinks is surprisingly brave.  "She's a friend.  Mrs. Q, this is Felicity Smoak.  She's a friend of mine—and Ollie's.  Smoaky, this is Moira Queen—Ollie's mom.  And mine, too, kind of—she practically raised me."

"Nice to meet you," Felicity offers nicely, not sure whether to shake hands or wave or whatever rich people do.

To her surprise, Moira responds, "It's nice to finally meet you, Felicity—I've heard a lot about you."  She turns scarlet as Tommy shoots her an I-told-you-so look. "All good things, I promise," she adds when she sees the look on Felicity's face.  "My children are quite fond of you, it seems."

Finding her normal in the conversation, Felicity replies, "Well, I guess I should think about a career as a con woman, then.  I'm usually just the odd girl that gets funny looks because of outdated pop culture references."

Both Moira and Tommy laugh, though Felicity didn't really mean it to be funny.  "It was nice meeting you, Felicity," she starts, "but I should probably continue greeting my guests.  I hope you both have a wonderful time.  And Merry Christmas."

They both murmur their best wishes back, and they actually manage to step into the party.  The Queen mansion is a vision of the perfect holiday home, with live garland draped down the staircase and around the lit fireplace.  A Christmas tree sits in every room, and Felicity feels like she's stepped into a winter wonderland.  "Whoa," she breathes to Tommy.  "The Queens sure know how to throw a Christmas party, don't they?"

Tommy chuckles and moves to respond at the same time that another voice calls, "Tommy!"  They both turn toward the direction of the voice, and Felicity is pleasantly surprised to find Thea in a stunning red dress, making her way toward them.  She hugs him, and Felicity thinks Thea might have a bit of a crush on Tommy Merlyn—why, she'll never know.  "I knew you'd make it."  Her expression sours as she looks at Felicity, and she realizes the younger girl genuinely doesn't recognize her.  "Who's the flavor of the week?" she asks snidely, and Felicity is again reminded that Thea Queen is not someone she wants as her enemy.

"You know, Thea," Felicity responds instantly, "I'm getting really tired of you mistaking my intentions.  First Oliver, then Merlyn here.  It's going to give me a complex."

The change in Thea's facial expression is comical; she switches between surprise, indignation, realization, before finally settling shortly on embarrassment.  But Felicity is the one who is surprised when Thea hugs her, much the same way she had Tommy.  Felicity's arms finally wrap around the girl, after the initial shock wears off.  "Oh, Felicity, I'm so sorry!" Pulling back, she continues dryly, "You dress up nice—start poking fun at Kimberly's dress with a glass of red in your hand, and no one will know you weren't born with blue blood in your veins."  She notices Felicity's attire for the first time.  "And nice dress—where did you get it?  Doesn't look like anything I've seen off of the new fall lines."

Felicity snorts.  "I would almost bet that it didn't make a fashion line anywhere."  When Thea frowns, Felicity whispers, "There's a thrift store on Twenty-Fourth that has some really good things."

Thea looks her up and down, blinking and seemingly appalled that it's from a thrift store.  "No kidding," she says finally, appraising the dress again.  "You'll have to take me there sometime."  She frowns between Felicity and Tommy.  "Wait, what are you two doing, coming together?  You're dating?"  Leaning in, she asks Felicity, "Does Ollie know about this?  Because you know he's going to be pissed, right?"

Felicity turns pink, and she's starting to lose count of how many times someone in the Queen family has made her blush in the past few weeks.  "No, no, no.  No," is her immediate response.  "Merlyn's all wound up in Gorgeous Laurel."  Thea frowns at the reminder, and Felicity's certain that there's something there.  "We're just friends.  And he's saving me from being that awkward wallflower in the back."  She shudders.  "Or worse—following that one person I know around all night like a lost dog in need of a friend."

Thea waves at someone in the background before turning back to Felicity with a smile that sets her nerves on edge.  She starts sauntering off, adding as she turns sideways in a suggestive voice, "Well, I don't think Ollie would mind."  Before Felicity can do anything other than flush more deeply, she's gone, and Felicity is starting to think that abrupt exits after provocative statements are encoded on the Queen family's genes.

As though he's ignored the entire conversation, Tommy only picks two glasses of red wine off of a waiter's serving tray with ease.  He hands one to her, then sips from his own before he asks casually, "So, do you dance?"

Felicity has to look over at him to make sure he's not joking.  "Not very well," she admits finally.  "The last time I danced was at my uncle's wedding when I was eight.  It was the eight-year-old version of ballroom dancing—I put my feet on my uncle's shoes, and he moved us around."

Tommy frowns.  "And what about prom?" he asks, incredulous.  "Any dances in high school?  College?  My fraternity had a formal night."

Felicity rolls her eyes.  "Of course you were a frat boy," she drawls, and he seems not to understand her lack of surprise.  "Anyone with boobs can get a frat boy to do anything.  Sort of like the drunk-college-kid version of an Achilles heel."  Hesitant now, she adds, "And I didn't do prom.  Nobody ever asked me in freshman or sophomore year.  Barry and I could have gone together junior year, but we decided formal wear was overrated."  She doesn't add that neither of them could muster up the money that year, since their jobs didn't pay well and they had just blown their savings on technology.  She laughs with nostalgia.  "Barry had me convinced senior year that we needed to go to prom—and we were going to.  I had a dress, he rented a tux—the whole works.  And we went out to eat, and, well, we chickened out.  Ended up sneaking a bottle of cheap wine from the house and drinking on the Merlyn Memorial Bridge."  She stops as she realizes that Rebecca Merlyn was probably Tommy's mother, but rushes past to cover it.  "In all that formal wear, too."

Tommy chuckles.  "I never pegged you for a rebel in high school," he comments, laughing.  "We'll have to make up for all that lost dance time tonight—and you won't get by with standing on my toes, especially in those heels."

She frowns.  "Yeah, that's something I don't recommend," she replies easily.  "I'm a klutz.  I don't dance because it's not a good idea to give me an opportunity to trip, fall, and step on people's toes."  Rolling her eyes, she adds, "Literally, on that last one."

Tommy rolls his eyes before dragging her off to the dance floor as though it's the simplest thing in the world.  She's stiff at first because she's terrified of stepping on his toes, but, after a few confident steps, she find herself enjoying the experience.  Tommy is particularly careful to keep things proper between them, his hand sitting high on her waist and plenty of space between them.  It's a nicety that she doesn't expect, but she does appreciate it.  She appreciates it so much, in fact, that they end up dancing five songs together, and Felicity is surprised at how long it lasts with complete silence.

"Not so bad, is it?" he remarks with a wink, as if reading her thoughts, and Felicity rolls her eyes.

"Well, I'm not wishing I'm on the planet of the Ood," she allows, then groans.  "I need Jake to mute me the same way he did Penelope's mom."  She makes a face.  "And I'm doing it again."

Tommy laughs.  "Are you ever going to explain those, or are Ollie and I supposed to just draw our own conclusions?" he asks, and suddenly he's brave enough to twirl her across the dance floor.

"Smooth moves, Merlyn," she comments dryly.  "And, in answer to your question, you're supposed to figure it out yourself.  The first one is from a fifty-year old British sci-fi show that's still on air.  You should know that one."  She frowns.  "The other, however, is a reference to a somewhat-unknown movie called Penelope.  Which everyone should know, but no one does.  It's an awesome movie."  She teases him by adding, "One you should watch with Laurel—girls love those ooey-gooey fairytale romances."

Tommy opens his mouth to say something, but he's interrupted when a voice asks from behind Felicity, "May I cut in?"  She jumps about a foot in the air at Oliver's voice, and Tommy turns them slightly so that Felicity can see Thea is with him.  With a plotting look on her face.  And instantly, the blond knows that whatever is happening, it's all entirely Thea Queen's fault.  The saying, "With friends like that, who needs enemies?" comes to mind as she takes in the mischievous smile on the brunette's face.  Clearing his throat hesitantly, Oliver continues, "Thea has wanted to dance with you all night, Tommy,"—he smiles casually—"and I'm tired of hearing her whine."  It only earns him a slap from his sister.

Tommy hesitates, probably because he knows that, of the people in this room, Felicity's network is limited only to the three people standing around her.  As if sensing his friend's hesitation, he says easily, "I was just thinking about leaving the party for a while.  Would you like to join me?"  Without waiting for a response, he offers her his arm, and she doesn't hesitate to take it.  She's surprised when her fingers meet muscle—Oliver must be more muscular than his attire lets on.

"That sounds nice," she agrees, and she sees Thea's triumphant smile before they start to leave.  Felicity rolls her eyes, already knowing that Thea Queen is a force to be reckoned with.

 


 

"I'm surprised—I haven't seen you on the dance floor all night," Felicity comments to Oliver as they make their way up the stairs.  He tries not to focus too much on the sensation of her hand on his bicep, but not for the usual reasons.  Typically, he doesn't like it when people touch him, but he doesn't seem to mind when Felicity is involved.  He tries not to think about why, exactly, that is; he's certain that line of thinking would only end badly.

"I have a confession to make," he responds casually.  He almost fakes a smile but then realizes he doesn't have to—Felicity doesn't seem to mind that he's not always the Oliver Queen the rest of the world has come to expect.  "I tell everyone I don't remember how to dance."  At her curious glance, he adds, "I don't like the attention."  Felicity chuckles, and the genuine smile on her face makes him think again how beautiful she looks, and somehow the thought slips out.  "You look beautiful tonight," he starts, then quickly tacks on a, "by the way."

He isn't surprised to see her blush, especially after the last time she paid him a compliment.  "Thank you," she responds a little shyly.  "It's been a nice party—Tommy said this was your idea?"

Oliver can't help the frown that plays across his face when she mentions Tommy.  He may be Oliver's best friend, but Tommy Merlyn has always been trouble—and always will be.  Something doesn't sit right with Oliver when she dares mention him, and he knows he doesn't want to address it just quite yet.  He tells himself he's just protective because of the impossible situation he's put her in with the Vigilante.  "It was," he affirms slowly.  Musing, he adds, "I wanted to do something traditional for Christmas—I didn't exactly get a chance to celebrate over the past five years."  Frowning now, he adds, "That's why Thea made that scene earlier.  She's worried because I haven't talked to her about... about what happened."  Even now, he can't really bring himself to think about it.  "She knows I don't want to talk to her—or Mom—about what happened, so she thinks I need a nudge in your direction."

Felicity smiles knowingly.  "She's just trying to help her brother," she explains gently.  "I think Thea means well, but I don't think she understands that those experiences aren't exactly something you want to talk about to just anyone."  She bites her lip, hesitating before throwing out, "But, if you ever do need someone to talk to, I don't mind listening.  I'm a pretty good listener.  Most of the time.  When I'm not babbling."  She frowns self-deprecatingly.  "Like I am now."

Oliver can't contain an amused chuckle.  She never ceases to surprise him; the way she's always there for him—either as technical support for the Vigilante or as a friend to Oliver Queen—is a rare quality in his world.  "Thank you," he replies sincerely, knowing that she's the first one he'll try to talk to when the time comes.  "I'll keep that in mind."

She looks around, clearly realizing for the first time that they've long since moved into another wing of the house.  "This is new," she comments with just a touch of hesitation.

At the same time, they reach their destination, and he responds by simply opening the door.   She gasps in surprise, and he explains, "When I was at your apartment a few weeks ago, I noticed you had several bookcases full of classics.  We have some first editions and things here, and I thought you might appreciate them more than Thea and I do."

She immediately goes for the shelves with glass doors covering them—to the signed books and first editions in the library.  She crouches down, running her fingers along the glass.  Finally, it stops, and Oliver joins her to find her staring at a signed, first edition copy of Tarzan of the Apes.  "That's an odd choice," he comments as he crouches down next to her to read the title.  "Are you a fan?"

She turns her head, seemingly surprised to see him in such close proximity, but there's something about her that always makes him forget the boundaries he's set.  "Of course I'm a fan," she replies, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world.  "Everyone loves Edgar Rice Burroughs.  And Tarzan is a pretty incredible book—it's about a man who lives his life in the wild, and now the everyday reality that people in his time face is now the novelty.  He's taken away from everything he ever knew, and he has to learn to survive in a completely foreign environment."  In a barely audible whisper, she adds, "It's something I can relate to."

It's almost eerie how well she manages to sum him up without even talking about him.  And he knows all too well why she relates to the struggle of the book—after all, he's the one who has upended her world all too well over the last few months.  But he can better understand the point she's making now, and he wishes he had actually read it.  Without hesitation, he opens the case and hands it to her.  "You should take it," he insists.  "No one here has ever really appreciated it."

Felicity takes a few steps back.  "Are you kidding?  That book has to be an early edition—it's probably worth thousands of dollars.  And I don't think your family would like you giving gifts like this to random people."

He wants nothing more than to tell her that it's nothing compared to what she's given him over the past few months, but there's no way of saying that without mentioning his Vigilante work.  This time, he folds her hands around the book and insists, "Merry Christmas."  He remembers how she mentioned she was Jewish the first time he met her—as the Arrow—but he thinks it would be too suspicious to know the truth without her telling Oliver Queen.  Still, the lie burns his throat, even as he forces a smile over it.

"I'm Jewish," she blurts, then bites her lip.  "It's probably not the best time to mention that," she adds after a long pause.

Oliver stifles a chuckle.  "Well, then, Happy Hanukkah," he replies easily.  When she still seems worried, he adds, "Felicity, that book has been untouched for as long as I've been alive.  My parents didn't buy it—they inherited it.  And no one in the Queen family will ever really appreciate it.  Books are meant to be read and cherished.  I know you'll do both."

"Thank you," she says finally.  She opens her mouth to say more, but then her eyes focus on something over Oliver's shoulder.

He turns to find Digg standing there in the doorway, his face as expressionless as always.  Oliver bites down a flash of irritation as he asks, "Something wrong, Mr. Diggle?"

He raises an eyebrow, but only replies, "Your contractor is on the phone, Mr. Queen—he says it's urgent."

Oliver knows that expression, that careful wording.  New events are in need of the Arrow.  He turns back to Felicity, grimacing more for his sake than hers.  "I'm sorry," he says, "but I have to take this."  He hesitates before reaching out to touch her upper arm.  "Goodnight, Felicity."

"Goodnight," she calls softly behind him as he turns away and exits the room, Diggle beside him.

"This better be important," Oliver growls at the older man, trying to curb his irritation.  It isn't Diggle's fault that villains suddenly decided to interrupt Oliver's schedule.

"Wouldn't interrupt your date otherwise," Diggle responds, a well-hidden almost smile on his face.  Serious again, he replies, "I think you're going to want to see this, Oliver.  It's not good."

Chapter Text

Felicity sighs as she sinks down into her couch sideways, flexing her sore feet as they fall across the cushions.  The party was nice—and she appreciated Oliver's invitation—but now she remembers why she doesn't wear those shoes anymore.  Saphira happily lies down on top of Felicity's feet as they both settle in for a restful remainder of the night.  Sure it's technically morning—after midnight, so it's officially Christmas—but Felicity has always been somewhat of a night owl.

Felicity picks up her new (well, new-to-her) copy of Tarzan of the Apes, settling in for a long night of reading.  The present came as a surprise, but Oliver was so insistent about giving her a gift that she couldn't refuse.  She starts to change her mind, however, when she opens the cover and finds it signed by Edgar Rice Burroughs himself.  That suspicion is further confirmed when she realizes that there's only one copyright date of 1914, making it a first edition.  She decides she's going to give it back to him—after she's done reading, of course.

Out of the corner of her eye, she can still see the green dress pooled on the floor of her bedroom, and she decides she'll pick it up later.  For now, she's just enjoying the quiet comfort of her Doctor Who pajamas.  The pajamas are navy with blue police call box TARDISes all over them, and her shirt is black with three salt-shaker-like Dalek robots on it.  The one in the middle has on a beige tweed coat, a red bowtie, and a red fez; the other two feature a long, multicolor striped scarf and paper 3D glasses, respectively.  Over the top of the trio, the word "IMPERSONATE!" is written in large, bold letters.

She's about halfway through the book when her cell phone rings, and she jolts as the Batman theme song starts playing.  She knows that ringtone, and she always answers it with a certain amount of trepidation.  Sure enough, the caller ID reads "Arrow" in big, bold letters.  She answers it by saying, "It's not like to you to call to say 'Merry Christmas'—"  She cuts off, completely changing her train of thought.  "If you celebrate Christmas, that is.  It seems to be the general assumption, but as a practicing Jew, I find it makes conversation awkward sometimes.  Especially when—"

"Felicity," he snaps, his voice barely above a whisper.  That's the one thing Felicity likes about him, she thinks—he never raises his voice to her.  Sure, they've had some heated confrontations in the past, but she's the one who does all the yelling.  Still, she notices that there's something not right about his voice, even under the synthesizer.  "I need your help," he declares flatly, which fills her with dread.  He's never begged before, and that scares her.

Still, she covers it with a dry, "Who or what do you want looked up, tracked down, or hacked?"  She expects a chuckle on the other end of the line, but it doesn't come, and she realizes the situation must be grave.  "Oh God, what kind of a mess have you gotten yourself into this time?"

"I'm outside the warehouse on the news," he replies weakly, and she thinks he's probably injured.  Immediately, she rises from the chair and scurries into the room, where she grabs the first pair of jeans she sees.  Saphira follows behind, barking until Felicity shushes her.  "The Dark Archer took hostages so that I would show up.  We fought."  He pauses, and she knows it's because he doesn't want to say he was defeated.  "You're the closest person to my location that I can count on."  He gives her the address for efficiency's sake.  "How fast can you be here?"

She trades out her pajama pants for the jeans, holding her cell phone between her cheek and her shoulder.  "I think I can make it in a five-minute drive," she says, not really paying attention to her words.  "I'm getting dressed now, so I'll be leaving just as soon as I slip on some shoes and a bra."  Her mind catches up to her mouth, and she groans.  "Which you didn't need to know.  Just ignore me, please."

He does so with practiced ease.  "On the west side of the building, there's a dumpster.  I'll be there."  He hesitates.  "The building is crawling with police.  Be careful."

"Okay, I'm headed out now," she replies, grabbing her keys from the table beside her door as she slips her feet into her panda flats.  She nudges Saphira back into the apartment as she tries to exit, too.  "You're the lucky one this time, sweetie," she mutters to the dog as she shuts and locks the door.

"What?" the Arrow asks, and Felicity realizes he's still on the line.

She cringes.  "No, not you!" she answers quickly.  "I was talking to Saphira—that's the name of my dog-slash-pet dragon.  Why do I even bother speaking?  Anyway, I'll see you in about five minutes."  Without waiting for a response, she terminates the call, already bounding down the stairs.

It takes her only a few steps to get to her car once she makes it down to the parking garage.  The key practically flies into the ignition, and Felicity peels out of the parking lot as quick as she can.  Each second feels like an eternity as she makes her journey through the side streets and back ways to find the Arrow.  Adrenalin courses through her veins, and it feels like she's been driving for hours when she shows up.  Felicity is sure to park a block or two down the street; the Arrow wasn't kidding when he said the police are swarming.  The entire building is cordoned off with crime scene tape, and she realizes she's about to break into a crime scene for the Arrow—the same man she used to think was a menace to society.  Oh, how the times have changed.

She braces herself, slipping under the crime scene tape carefully and scurrying toward the lone dumpster behind the building.  She's surprised to see absolutely nothing there, and she spends far too much time looking around.  She's about to call, when, abruptly, she's pushed sideways onto the ground.  She expects to fall hard on her shoulder, but a arm wraps around her waist stops her fall.  She can feel him pressed against her back, and she reacts instantly when his gloved hand falls over her mouth.  Without thinking, she aims a kick at what she hopes is his shin.  A groan sounds in response, and she hears a small, electronic sound before, "Felicity, it's me."

Before she can make the connection, he removes his hand from her mouth.  The other around her waist moves to her elbow, and he pulls her up as he crouches in front of her, balancing his weight on the balls of his feet.  "Are you all right?" he asks quietly, his hand falling on her shoulder again.

She pushes a strand of hair behind one ear before slapping his hand away.  "You scared the hell out of me!" she proclaims.  "Next time you're on your own, buddy, if that's how you treat your rescuers."

"You surprised me," he says simply, just before wincing as he pulls his hand away.

She notices the black shaft in his shoulder, and she reaches toward it.  "Is that an arrow?" she whispers, already knowing the answer.  She carefully feels around the wound, leaning closer as she does so, and she can see the tip of the arrow sticking through the other side.  She gags as she realizes that thing passed all the way through his shoulder.  "Oh God, that has to hurt."

"I've had worse," he tries to assure her, though she doesn't find it very comforting.  "Can you help me up?"

Felicity stands, then tries to pull him into a standing position, but, Good Lord, is the man heavy.   Somehow they manage to stand, his leg turning at an awkward angle.  Without a word, she slings his good arm over her shoulder and starts half-supporting, half-dragging him out of the crime scene area.  She vaguely realizes she forgot her coat at home as a biting wind cuts across the skin left exposed by her short-sleeved shirt.

She must shiver because the Arrow asks her, "Where's your coat?"  She's not sure she likes the disapproval in his voice—it's not like she answers to him, or that her health should be any of his concern.

"Left it," she replies shortly as she supports part of his weight.  She's just really too small to be of any assistance, but she's trying since she knows he really didn't have a choice.  "I didn't think to grab it."

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees a small, weary smile play across his lips.  "Under different circumstances, I'd offer you mine."  The thought is laughable; as if he'd risk revealing his identity for some sort of misguided attempt at chivalry.  But, then again, Felicity thinks she might not want to know who he is.  She sees him as some sort of hero—the façade would most definitely crack if she saw the person he was beneath the hood and the mask.  People are flawed, and she'd probably be disappointed if she knew.

They reach the car then, and she unlocks before opening the passenger side.  But then she realizes the problem of the arrow stuck in his shoulder.  "Um, no offense," she starts slowly, "but I don't exactly own this car.  Something makes me think that holes caused by arrows aren't covered in my lease."

In response, he only unzips his tight-fitting jacket, exposing a dark shirt of some kind underneath.  He reaches toward the small of his back and pulls out a very illegal switchblade knife, flicking it open.  "Cut the point off," he instructs, showing a surprising level of trust by handing her the knife, handle extended.  "Don't pull the shaft out, unless you think your lease has a clause for bloodstains."

She gives him an odd look before turning him slightly.  "You have a weird sense of humor, you know that?  I've heard about morticians' humor, but no one ever warned me about vigilante humor."  He chuckles, giving her the opening to slice off the point of the arrow with the knife.  He tenses slightly as the shaft pulls with the action.  "I'm sorry it ruined your jacket," she continues as she turns him back and examines the fletching sticking out in the front, shoving his head away when he tries to see what she's doing.  "I hope you have the number of a good tailor—and I don't mean in the same way you had Adam Hunt's number."  Another chuckle, and she cuts the other end.  He groans this time when it takes him by surprise.  "Sorry," she adds quietly, pushing the button on the knife handle and swinging it back into a safe position before handing it to him.

He opens his mouth to ask, but she deftly avoids the question by saying, "Get in the car before someone sees you standing here."  She's amazed to see him comply, and he manages to pull himself across the backseat, making sure to stretch out his injured leg and keep his shoulder away from the seat.

Once she climbs into the passenger seat, he carefully places something on the seat, and she recognizes it as the simple black, long-sleeved shirt that he had on underneath his jacket.  "Fever's starting to set in," he says by way of explanation, and in her rearview mirror she sees that his jacket is already back in place.  But as he zips it up, head down to help mask his features under the hood, she can see the hint of a tattoo in black ink—she's able to make out some sort of star motif in the darkness, just below where the arrow pierced.  "You might as well put it on."  She realizes that she's shaking, and she knows his concerned frown won't leave until she does as he asks.  She pulls it over her head, and it easily dwarfs her; she has to push the sleeves up.  She expects the thin material to be of little use, but it's some sort of thermal—probably expensive—and she feels a little warmer even before she turns the ignition.

"Thank you," she murmurs.  "You know, if you weren't the terror of Starling City, I'd call that sweet.  As it is, I'll call it surprisingly thoughtful."

"Does every IT girl learn how to work an illegal knife, or is that a specialty?" he asks as she turns the key and fastens her seatbelt, sounding pretty normal despite the pain he must be feeling.

"We all have skills," she replies casually, leaning over to her glove compartment and digging through its contents.  "You can do ninja-like stealth things and shoot arrows with accuracy.  I can tear down your life half-asleep and without getting out of bed."  She finds what she's looking for in the glove box as she pulls up to a red light.  "And—fun fact—I also attended a public school through junior high.  You learn a lot about weapons by being an eighth grader in the Glades, my friend."

She throws back the bottle she found, and he catches it with ease, unsurprisingly.  He stares at it a moment before asking, "What's this?"

She rolls her eyes.  "It's a bottle of ibuprofen," she informs him.  "I know you're in pain—it's all I've got, though.  And, as an added bonus, they don't mess with your head like some of the other options."  She hears the top of the bottle pop off and a few pills rattle out, letting her know he's choosing to take some.

After a very long moment, he passes her a phone—his phone.  "I don't think I'm going to be conscious much longer.  Could you call my associate and arrange a place to meet?"  It's a question, but she knows she can't exactly refuse this far into the adventure.

Without answering, she pulls the car over and scrolls through his contacts.  Without a name for his associate, she thinks it will be hard, but she finds he has a total of four names in his contact list:  "Associate," "Detective," "Investigator," and "Technical Assistance."  She actually smiles when she sees her number listed under the last one, surprised by how sentimental he is to use her exact words.  Don't hesitate to call when a little technical assistance could save your life.  Filing the information away for later, she calls the "Associate."

He picks up on the first ring.  "How did things go?" is his question, his voice guarded but not masked like on the Vigilante's phone.  It sounds familiar, but she's not interested in who he is right now.  She has a severely injured vigilante in her backseat, after all—and she somehow thinks the cops won't understand that she's just trying to do her civic duty.

Remembering the built-in synthesizer, she runs through some settings and turns it off for the time being.  "Um, probably not as good as planned," she replies.  "Before you hang up, let me explain.  My name is Felicity.  I'm not sure if you know who I am—"

"Of course I know who you are, Miss Smoak," he responds immediately, his voice surprisingly calm.  Then Felicity realizes he's trying to keep her calm in case she's freaking out.  "What's happened?"

"I don't know," she admits, rushing through her explanation.  "Our boy just called me out of nowhere.  He has an arrow through his shoulder and a bunged-up knee, but other than that, I don't know.  He's not bleeding, though—well, at least that I can tell."  She takes a deep breath before slowing down.  "He told me to call you.  I can drop him off, if you tell me where."

"Where are you?" is the immediate response.

"I'm on Twenty-Second," she answers.  "I can probably get him up to my apartment if you want to meet there—I'm only a few blocks away."  There are no renters in the apartments neighboring hers, so she knows it will be quiet—if she can drag his ass up the stairs.  "Or, if you can think of a better place, I'm open to suggestions."

"Two blocks deeper into the Glades from your apartment building," he says immediately, confirming her suspicions that he's the Not-Vigilante.  "The old steel factory is abandoned.  There's a truck route behind it, and the gate is broken.  Follow it through and you'll reach an old semi docking point.  I'll meet you there."  Without waiting for her response, he terminates the call, and she pulls back on the road after slipping the phone absently into one of her jeans pockets.

The drive is somewhat quiet and lonely, and she questions her own sanity about halfway through.  She doesn't know who the guy she spoke to is, and it's a very isolated place to be if things go wrong.  Still, she has the Arrow with her and, injured or no, she'd rather have him with her than to be alone.  Wrestling with her own thoughts, she follows the narrow path back.  Once she sees the semi docks, she flashes her lights twice before turning them off.

She jostles the Arrow's good knee to get him awake, and he leans forward immediately before groaning.  "We're here, hotshot," she says quietly, eyes still focused ahead.  She sees a figure in a black sweatshirt, hood hanging over his head, approaching, and she panics.  "Please tell me that's your friend," she says with a quaver in her voice.

"That's him," he agrees, moving to open the car door.  Felicity quickly follows suit and moves to help him out of the car.  He stumbles a bit as he exits—and, in turn, she stumbles, too—but they somehow manage to stay upright.  "You okay?" he asks softly once they're moving toward the Arrow's associate again.  Then, reaching his injured arm across him with a wince, he pulls the collar of the long-sleeved shirt up from where it slipped down her shoulder.  "You look warmer."

"I'm fine," she assures him.  "I can handle a little cold weather.  And you shouldn't be concerned about anyone who doesn't have an arrow in their shoulder."

His friend reaches them then, and the Arrow manages to stand up on his own for a moment.  "You didn't sign up for this," he says flatly.  "Thank you for tonight."  She waves him off, looking away, but he takes her chin in his fingers and tilts her head toward him again.  "I mean it," he says carefully.  His eyes are too intense for a moment, and she wonders what he's thinking.

The moment becomes thick with tension she doesn't want to analyze, so she pulls his phone out of her pocket and holds it up between them.  "Here's your phone," she says abruptly, holding it up between them.  "I don't want to accidentally steal it."  The sleeve of the shirt reminds her.  "And, oh yeah, you need your shirt back."

He releases her to take his phone back, and the tension doesn't retract because he puts his hand over hers to take it.  "Keep the shirt," he insists when he pulls his hand back.  He hesitates before adding, "It looks better on you, anyway."  The tone to his voice takes her breath away, and she can feel her cheeks heat.  The unexpected compliment allows unbidden thoughts to spring to her head.  She's always thought of him as some sort of mysterious hero.  Male, certainly, but never as a man—especially one who would find her attractive or pay compliments to that effect.  They just stand there a moment in silence, until their associate clears his throat to remind them that they have places to be.  "Goodnight, Felicity," he adds, with a touch to her shoulder.

"'Night," she mutters absently, surprised at how dazed she sounds.  He must notice it, too, because he chuckles.  She flushes again and turns back to her car to leave.

As she does, she hears the Not-Vigilante say to the Arrow, "You tell her you're injured and bleeding behind a building, and she comes running without any hesitation.  I might have underestimated that girl."

She tries to contain the flash of pride as the Arrow replies, "I told you—she's fearless."

 


 

Felicity more stumbles than walks through the executive floor of Queen Consolidated.  After last night's events, she couldn't exactly sleep, so she did some more digging into the mysterious Tempest, LLC for Walter.  With an extra dose of caffeine, she managed to give him something to go off of.

His executive assistant is already gone for the night, so she charges into Walter's office like she owns it.  Since the Arrow mistakenly called her "fearless" last night, she feels like she needs to earn it.  "Mr. Steele," she says firmly, "when you have a moment, I have something for you."

He looks up immediately, looking up at her from over his reading glasses.  "Have a seat, Miss Smoak," he responds immediately.  "If you'll allow me to clear some of these papers, I'll be with you immediately."  He shuffles some papers and files around before clasping his hands on the desk in front of him.  "Now, what has your investigation returned?"

She makes an unsatisfied sound in her throat.  "Not as much as I'd like," she admits.  "For an LLC, they're pretty a low-key operation.  They have to have someone wiping their trail—someone good."  While Walter frowns, she smiles cockily.  "But not someone as good as me."  She pulls a document out of her file folder.  "Tempest owns quite a number of other LLCs in and around Starling.  Most of them are shell corporations buried in shell corporations—buried in shell corporations."  She frowns.  "Actually, I probably wouldn't have found their pattern, except I was working on the other end for a friend."

Walter's eyebrows rise in surprise, and Felicity continues, "Anyway, after I worked through a long line of shell corporations, it turns out that Tempest owns a company called Artemis and one called Sagittarius.  They manufacture and distribute the arrows that the Dark Archer uses in his killing spree.  Whoever owns it, he or she is seriously bad news—and incredibly rich—to pull this off."

One of Walter's eyebrows lifts at her declaration.  "The police have contacted your assistance on this case?" he asks casually, and she knows he's testing her.

At first, Felicity isn't sure what to say; she hasn't told anyone about her work with the Arrow—not even Barry, whom she tells everything.  But, with Walter treading into similar circles with his research, she thinks he's earned the right to know some of the details.  "Not exactly," she admits, biting her lip.  "Let's just say I've been doing some IT work for another party interested in the Dark Archer's movements."  She hesitates before adding, "One who isn't exactly tied to the police."

She can tell the exact moment that Walter understands; though he's incredibly stoic, he looks at her with raised eyebrows and accidentally drops the pen in his hand.  There's a long moment of silence before he finally breaks it.  "That's a very brave thing to admit," he says finally, appraising her with new knowledge in his eyes.

She shrugs it off casually.  "It might be something you need to know," she replies, "if you continue tracking this corporation."  Another thought flickers, and she pulls out the last paper from her file folder and hands it to him.  "I did manage to find this image buried deep in their trail."  It's some sort of abstract star design; lines intersect at all angles to form an eight-pointed star of some sort, with darker lines running through behind the image.  "I wondered if you might recognize it?"

Walter blinks before opening his desk drawer, pulling out a small, brown journal with no markings on it whatsoever.  He opens the inside cover to show the same watermark on the flyleaf.  "Where did you find this?" is her question this time.

She knows she's not going to like the answer by the way he hesitates.  "I accidentally knocked over a photograph of Moira's," he responds, surprising her.  "It was an old portrait of her, Thea, Robert, and Oliver.  The frame broke, and the book simply fell out.  I meant to return it to my wife, but perhaps you could examine it for me?"  He flips through a few pages, showing her they all look blank.  "The book appears to be empty, but I doubt anyone would go to so much trouble to hide an empty book."  He holds it out to her.  "Perhaps you could see what you discover, Miss Smoak?  If, of course, you wouldn't mind."  He hesitates before adding, "I know this could complicate your friendship with Oliver."

She takes it from his hand without any hesitation.  "I don't like mysteries, remember?  They're meant to be solved," she says flatly.  "I plan to see this through, Mr. Steele—no matter what."

He clasps his hands.  "Well, then, thank you, Miss Smoak, and good luck—I believe you're going to need it."

Chapter Text

Felicity sighs as she examines the book she received from Walter once again, frowning.  She's performed every analysis she can think of, all to no avail. Whatever the book's secrets, it's clear that they're going to remain secret for the time being.  She doesn't like to feel like she's been bested by a book, but the inanimate object seems to be winning the fight.  Frustrated, she flips through her instant streaming catalog for a movie that will make her feel better.  Her cursor lands on The Princess Bride, and she figures it's fate.  A few clicks later, it's loading, and she returns the book to its hidey-hole (that loose floor panel under her bed is finally good for something).  Now the challenge is to find something to eat, and a raid of her fridge shows few viable options.

Her doorbell chooses that moment to ring, and she frowns.  Felicity pushes the sleeves up on her shirt (well, not hers—it's the ridiculously warm one the Arrow told her to keep) and grabs the remote, pausing the now-loaded movie before it can play too long.  Then, she starts toward her door, stopping halfway as she realizes she's going to look utterly ridiculous in her oversized shirt and colorful pajama pants.  But then she continues on, deciding, well, screw it; they're the one who chose to interrupt her at home on a Saturday night.  And if it's her downstairs neighbor—the suspicious one that sometimes peeks into her bedroom from the fire escape—she's going to tell him about this thing called the Internet to help with his voyeuristic fantasies.  And if she finally ends up losing her cool, well, she doubts even Detective Lance would arrest her for that one.

A look through the peephole causes her eyes to widen, and she unlocks three deadbolts before opening the door.  "Oliver!" she says in surprise, her voice a little higher than she'd like.  "Thank God you're okay!"  Without thinking, she hugs him, and then she freezes as her actions catch up to her brain.  To her surprise, he doesn't tense up, but instead places a hand between her shoulder blades in some semblance of an awkward hug.

Trying to recover from her awkwardness, she asks, "What are you doing here?"  She realizes the way she sounds, and recovers by adding, "I mean, I'm glad to see you and all, but I thought you were supposed to be in the hospital.  Thea told me that motorcycle accident was pretty horrible."  She opens the door wide.  "Sorry I'm such a spaz—come in.  Please."

The call from Thea had come on the Twenty-Seventh—apparently she'd had trouble getting Oliver's cell phone away from him to get Felicity's phone number.  He had been in the hospital since early Christmas morning, and Felicity couldn't help but feel sorry for him.  She had asked Thea if she should visit him in the hospital, and her answer had been an adamant, "No!  He'd be pissed if he knew I even called you—he didn't want you to worry."

Oliver's eyes narrow in anger—thankfully at Thea and not Felicity—as he walks into the room.  "I told her not to call you," he says, affirming what Thea had said.   "It wasn't a big deal, and I knew you'd be concerned."  He hesitates.  "I didn't want to drop by unannounced, but my well-meaning family has been smothering since the accident.  I was hoping you'd let me hide out here."  He holds up a bag from Big Belly Burger.  "Can I bribe you with food?"

She wonders for a moment if he's just blessed with good timing.  "The food fairies work in mysterious ways," she replies with a sagely nod.  At Oliver's puzzled—but amused—expression, she explains, "I was just trying to find something to eat in my fridge that didn't have fuzzy green stuff growing on it.  I wasn't succeeding."  He chuckles, and she motions toward the couch.  "Have a seat.  I can't promise you an exciting evening, but you're welcome to stay."

"Thank you," he replies earnestly.  "It's nice to escape from reality for a while."  At the sound of his voice, Saphira charges into the room, but seems torn between greeting Oliver and trying to devour the fast food.  When Felicity swats her away and carries the food into the kitchen, Saphira jumps onto Oliver's lap.  "Hey, girl," he greets her in a soft tone, probably hoping Felicity won't notice the interaction between the two.

She pretends not to see, turning toward the kitchen and getting what she and Barry refer to as the "fine china"—paper plates and red plastic cups.  "What do you want to drink?" she calls to her guest, and she can't help but think about the casual domesticity of the evening.  "I have water, soda,"—she starts rummaging through her refrigerator—"orange juice, and"—she checks the date on the last option, but curls her nose—"curdled milk."  She concludes in a less-than-cheerful tone, frowning at the offending bottle of milk.

It earns her a chuckle for her efforts.  "While the last one sounds tempting," he replies in a tone that almost sounds like he's teasing her, "I think I'll go with water."

She does what little preparation is necessary before taking their food and drinks to the coffee table.  Oliver seems to take in her appearance for the first time as she walks back toward the couch, something making him smile.  Then Felicity looks down, realizing what she's wearing.  Her pajama pants are the powder blue ones, covered with cartoon-style sapphire police boxes.  Two figures peek out from either side of each TARDIS, one with black hair, a black coat, and a navy scarf; the other with light hair and a plaid shirt.  Underneath every graphic, the words, "The sociopaths have the phone box," are written.

Of course, it could be her shirt, too—it drapes down almost to her knees, and the sleeves are far too long.  She's also hidden the holes where the arrow pierced with other fabrics.  The patch on the back has red, firebreathing dragons on it, and the one on the front has a silhouette of a girl stepping out of a TARDIS box, golden light pouring from it.  The words, "I create myself," are written in a sci-fi-esque font underneath.

As soon as Felicity places the food on the coffee table, Saphira tries to steal a bite.  Felicity stops her by snapping, "Hey!"  Saphira's tail tucks between her legs as she looks at her owner.  Felicity points to the bed in one corner of the room.  "Saphira, go lay down.  Now."

Oliver seems impressed as Saphira follows the instruction to the letter.  "Interesting name," he comments after a long moment.  "It sounds fierce—like her."

Felicity colors a little as she prepares to tell the story.  "When I was little," she starts slowly, "I wanted a pet dragon."  He chuckles as she continues, "It broke my heart when I found out they weren't real.  But when I got my first dog"—she motions over her shoulder to Saphira—"I decided I would name her after a dragon.  There was a book series about dragon riders, and Eragon's dragon was named Saphira.  I liked it, and it definitely fits—she's smart, stubborn, and pretty tough when she wants to be."  Wanting to stop his piercing gaze for a moment, she glances at the television.  "I was about to start The Princess Bride, but you could probably talk me out of it."

She's surprised by how puzzled he looks when she mentions the title.  "It's fine with me," he replies easily.  "I've never seen it before."

She clicks the button.  "Then you cannot talk me out of it," she changes her mind.  "Everyone should watch this movie at least once.  It's a classic—well, it's from 1987, but still a classic."

He seems to think about that.  "What is about?" he asks finally, seeming a little hesitant.  She doesn't blame him; the title is a bit misleading, in her opinion.

With a smile, though, she replies, "It's about a lot of things—fencing, fighting.  Torture, revenge.  Giants, monsters.  Chases, escapes.  True love, miracles.  Hopefully it doesn't sound too boring—try to stay awake."

It's the last thing said before the movie really begins, and she stays quiet, allowing him to really appreciate it. After the food is finished, Felicity allows Saphira back to the main area, and she drapes across the cushion between Oliver and Felicity.  At one point, suddenly exhausted from all of the work on the book, Felicity re-situates Saphira and drapes her legs across the second cushion.  The rest of the movie-viewing experience continues well, with her laughing and Oliver chuckling from time to time.  But, finally, it ends.

Felicity clicks off the credits with her streaming remote, and Oliver brushes off his jeans and rises.  "I think I've bothered you long enough," he says with a partial smile, "and I wouldn't want to outstay my welcome."

Felicity waves a hand.  "You didn't bother me," she assures him.  "I would have done the same thing either way.  Well, the same thing, minus food."  She tilts her head to the side.  "So, really, you did me a favor."  With a smile, she adds, "I'm not sorry I made you endure the cinematic genius of William Goldman."

"Neither am I," he replies, surprising her.  "It was nice—we don't have that many movie nights at my house."  He offers a rare smile.  "Parties, yes, but not movies."

She follows him to her door as she continues the conversation.  "Well, that's a shame—you can't host a Queen Gala in your pajamas."  She motions to her own attire.  "And obviously movie night does not have those restrictions."

He chuckles before placing his hand at her elbow.  The touch is weighted as though it means something more than just a touch, but she isn't able to understand the intensity in Oliver's eyes.  "Thank you, Felicity," he says quietly, though he might as well have yelled it for all the meaning there.

She shrugs it off, biting her lip as she looks away—because, for the sake of her sanity, she has to look away.  "Anytime," she replies, surprising herself when she means it.  "If ever you need a place to hide out again, this is it."

"I may take you up on that," he replies finally, with that almost-smile on his features.  "Goodnight."

She unlocks the deadbolts a little slowly, almost sad to see him leave.  As, apparently is Saphira; during the conversation, she has moved into the short hallway there, wagging her tail while sitting at Oliver's feet.  She lets loose a small whine when the last deadbolt clicks open, and Felicity can't help but agree with her.  She doesn't really have that much company in her little apartment, but when people leave, it always has a tendency to feel a little empty for a while.

She's surprised, though, when she opens her door to find Detective Lance standing there, arm raised as if to knock.  And then she can't help the way her mouth falls when she sees it's him.  Then she reminds herself she wanted company.

That old saying comes back to her, and she realizes that she really should be careful what she wishes for.

 


 

Detective Quentin Lance looks between the two in the doorway, a little surprised.  Of course he had expected the Smoak girl—she's the one he came to see, after all—but the Queen kid is an unexpected surprise.  The same way walking out to your car to find it totaled is an unexpected surprise.

They make for an odd pair standing in her doorway; he's clearly leaving, but why he was there in the first place, Lance doesn't want to know.  Still, he thinks it's odd to see a grown woman in an oversized shirt—he'd say it belonged to a man, except it's decorated with brightly-colored patches—and colorful pajama pants that he'd expect to be in a second-grader's closet, not hers.

He tries to keep casual, despite his feelings.  According to his superiors, after that last fiasco, the Queen kid is currently untouchable.  His boss says it's a miracle the Queens didn't sue and take the department for every dime, but Lance kind of saw that coming—after all, when a guilty man walks away from a murder charge, he doesn't complain about the time lost in jail.

And Queen is guilty—of that much, Lance is certain.  He may not run around at night in a green hood, but that doesn't mean he isn't everything Lance said he was.

"Evening, Miss Smoak," he says cordially before adding a growling, "Queen."  Turning his attention back to the girl, he continues, "Sorry to bother you, but we're re-interviewing witnesses from the Vigilante cases."  He shrugs, completely unapologetic—after all, his bosses are starting to cut into his personal time, too.  "Can I ask you a few more questions about that break-in at Queen Consolidated?"

"Sure," she replies easily, just as cooperative as Lance thought she'd be.  She waves a hand, but she isn't smiling like she was a moment ago, indicating that she's probably less than pleased with his sudden appearance.  But, hey, it isn't like he wants to be here, either—if he had it his way, all crime would happen between the hours of nine and five and be solved in ten minutes.  But that's just not the way it works, which means it's in his job description to annoy little blonde girls younger than his daughter.  "Come on in, Detective."

He steps into the apartment, watching the two with renewed interest.  Queen clearly isn't thrilled by the detective's presence; he can hear the younger man whisper to the Smoak girl, "Do you want me to stay?"  But Lance isn't exactly sure if the question has anything to do with his presence or not.

Surprisingly, the Smoak girl rolls her eyes, smiling as if he's being ridiculous.  "Go home to your family," she responds with a shooing gesture.  "It's been a good... oh,"—she glances around, her eyes landing on a nearby clock—"two hours since they've tried smothering you with attention.  Thea's probably lost without a brother to harass.  I'm glad to see you're okay."

"Thanks," he replies, before eyeing Lance, his eyes just a flicker of movement before refocusing on the girl.  "Goodnight," he says finally, and then the blonde is locking the three deadbolts on the door behind him.  While she does so, Lance takes a moment to admire her dog.  He doesn't pet it, however, because the mutt decides to start growling at him.  If they wanted him to feel utterly unwelcome, well, mission accomplished.

Felicity walks into the main area and practically collapses onto her sofa, waving for the detective to do the same.  The moment he sits down, the mutt sits between them and starts growling.  Ignoring her demon dog, the girl asks tiredly, "So what is this about, Detective?"

He waves a hand dismissively.  "Just a few routine questions."  He hesitates, thinking about all the things he's learned about Felicity Meghan Smoak.  "But, before I begin, well, I've actually done my homework this time."  At the tilt of her head, he explains, "I see a lot of kids who grow up in situations like yours in my line of work, but not many who end up with a Master's in Computer Engineering.  Or who turn down offers from Microsoft so they can work at Queen Consolidated."

"Starling City is home," she replies flatly, with a small smile on her face.  Lance knows from his research that it's not where her life started out, but apparently it's the place she's come to call home.  And he understands—he doesn't think that he could leave Starling if he wanted to.

Clearing his throat, he says, "I wanted to ask you some questions about some of the other cases involving the Hood."  She perks up at this, head tilting to the side and eyes narrowing in either confusion or suspicion.  "It seems our Vigilante is pretty high-tech, and, well, our guys are a little baffled."  He sighs, mostly for effect.  "The Hood sent me a phone just before Christmas so he could talk."  Her head lifts up in surprise, and Lance realizes she's not as informed as he thought.  "Our tech guys are baffled—they say the tech inside is military-grade, and they can't trace it."  He motions to the girl sitting across from him.  "But I thought that maybe a tech genius like you could give it a try sometime."  He waves his hand casually.  "But that can be on your schedule—stop by the precinct, and we'll talk."  He frowns.  "But the point is, I don't think the Hood is working alone."

She has a better poker face than he expects; she doesn't even flinch at the hidden accusation.  She's either been expecting his Columbo-esque interrogation technique, or she really is innocent—which he doesn't exactly believe.  It's funny to him that the Hood suddenly knows how to baffle the precinct's best computer guys, especially when he wasn't using much more than trick arrows before.  Yes, he thinks that the Hood has help, and, well, Lance doesn't believe it's coincidence that his tech savvy started after Felicity Smoak found a shot-up laptop lying on her desk.

"That's an interesting idea," she remarks thoughtfully.  "I don't think anyone's ever thought of that."  She ponders it a moment further, and Lance can practically see the wheels in her head turning.  But she surprises him when she says, "That could explain any discrepancies in different statements and facts.  But it would also complicate your investigation—it opens up an entirely new line of suspects.  And this one would be harder to think about—you're basing your suspicion on a training and skill, not a physical description.  At least you know the Vigilante is male, is a certain height, has a certain skill.  But not your accomplice."

Her ability to explore all sides of the issue makes things more complicated for Lance; he thought that, if she was helping the Vigilante, she'd try to convince him that he worked alone.  Maybe she's not as guilty as he suspected; that would make two so far—her and Queen—he's been wrong about on this Vigilante thing.  With a resigned sigh, he rises from the sofa.  "Thank you for your assistance, Miss Smoak.  I'm sorry to bother you this late."

He turns to leave, but thinks better of it.  "You mind if I ask you something?"  When she waves a hand in a by-all-means gesture, he continues, "What is it that you women see in that Queen kid?  I've watched my daughters pine over him for years, and he killed one and damn near killed the other when he broke her heart."  He crosses his arms, starting to get irritated, even though he told himself he wouldn't.  "And now I see my daughter upset because he hasn't talked to her in two months."  Felicity's eyes go wide in surprise, and then a flicker of recognition shoots through her expression.  She knows something about that, and, honestly, Lance just isn't surprised anymore.  "You're a smart girl, Miss Smoak.  You know exactly what Oliver Queen has done in the past, but yet I see you falling into the same trap my daughters did."

She hesitates for a moment, really thinking on his question—and he appreciates that.  She doesn't blow him off as an old man with a grudge against the boy who pitted his daughters against one another, but really seems to be thinking of how to answer him.  "I can't speak for your daughters," Felicity says slowly, gaining momentum as she goes, "because I didn't know Oliver then.  I've only known the man he's been since his return, and he just seems to me like he's seeing the world with new eyes."  She hesitates for a moment.  "I don't think the Oliver you remember is the one that returned from that island.

"And, for the record, we're friends."  She waves her hands awkwardly.  "Oliver and I, I mean.  We're just friends—nothing else.  So I don't know what Laurel saw in the old Oliver."  She hesitates, biting her lip.  "And, maybe, Laurel should realize she has Tommy Merlyn wrapped around her finger.  He's a good guy, once you get past the playboy persona.  If I'm being honest, he's probably a better choice than Oliver.  Oliver has baggage—Tommy Merlyn does not."

Lance responds with a non-committal grunt, not liking the way his question was turned on him.  He doesn't like the Merlyn kid any more than the Queen kid, and he'd rather see his daughter settle down with a safer bet.  Still, it makes Lance feel a little better knowing that she's not just another girl making the same mistakes that Laurel and Sara have.

He decides to take his leave then, thinking about Felicity's answer to his other question.  That response didn't go as expected either, but it does nothing to ease his conscience.  He knows that security footage isn't quite right—the techs have told him that on multiple occasions.  Not only would it take a very fine technical mind to do that, it doesn't even begin to answer why those tapes were cloned.  He'd bet it had something to do with one Felicity Smoak, but, of course, gut feeling isn't evidence.  But he has to give her credit—if she's a liar, she's pretty convincing.  He's still not sure if she's covering for the Hood or not.  And, if it is her helping the Hood, that presents the problem of how to stop her.  He's certain that there will be no way for him to outmaneuver her.

Sure, he's no slouch, but he knows that Felicity Smoak is a whole hell of a lot smarter than him.

Chapter Text

Felicity decides, for not the first time, that she's an idiot.  She should not be here—she doesn't fit in, she doesn't want to be here, and she's about a million dollars short of being able to hang with this crowd.  Seriously, if she sees one more vintage Chanel in the room, she's going to scream.  But then she reminds herself that Oliver specifically asked her to be here, and she thinks it's more because he wants to show her that he's finally realizing his goals and following her advice.  It's a nice gesture, but that still doesn't mean that it's her scene.

Don't get her wrong, Verdant is pretty spectacular—not that she expected anything else.  She doesn't know a lot about what's considered cool in the club scene, but Oliver's opted for an industrial theme, with steel support beams and columns.  It's low-lit interior mostly relies on the moon for what little light is available; a few metalwork designs are suspended from the ceiling, wired with lightbulbs, but there aren't enough to really light the place up.  It's truly a nice place, and she reminds herself to congratulate him when she sees him.

But the fundraiser for the Starling City Fire Department has brought in a crowd of the rich and fabulous—mainly because it's Oliver and Tommy hosting, and everyone wants a look at Verdant—and Felicity has already made her two-hundred-dollar deposit.  The guy taking checks looked a little unimpressed by the amount, probably because it was the smallest he'd seen all night.  In response, Felicity had said, "Hey, I'm a working stiff with a Masters degree to pay for.  I have to eat at some point this week."  The guy had seemed a little awkward after that, and Felicity didn't feel sorry for him.  That's what happens when you make assumptions.

She honestly couldn't spare so much, but it's for a pretty good cause.  She's developed the habit of watching the news to keep up with the Arrow's whereabouts, so she's heard about the two firemen's deaths in the past week.  Because she's curious and good at getting herself into trouble, she digs into the SCPD server and finds the coroner's report for one Danny de la Vega.  After some further investigation into the arson report, lo and behold, he apparently was burned at a hotter temperature than the fire actually reached.  Coincidence, she thinks not.

Through a break in the crowd, she's actually able to see Oliver talking to another guest.  She doesn't exactly want to charge across the room to say hello—and risk being drawn into conversation with some random rich billionaire with a god complex—so she instead stands by the refreshment table and enjoys the nice red sitting there.  She watches him for a while, and is surprised to find his eyes finally land on her.  She offers a little wave, which he returns.  She's so lost in her people (well, Oliver) watching that she nearly jumps out of her skin when a very familiar voice says, "I told Tommy you wouldn't bail out on Ollie.  Remind me to rub it in his face later."

Felicity turns to find herself tackled, or possibly hugged, by Thea Queen.  "Good to see you, too, Thea," she replies, chuckling.  Then she remembers the last time they talked.  "How mad was Oliver when he realized you told me about the accident?" Felicity asks as Thea releases her.

Thea waves a hand easily, still smiling, indicating it can't be that bad.  "He attempted to grumble something at me," she replies easily, "but it was really half-hearted."  She winks.  "I think it was more for the sake of saying he did yell at me than actually doing it."  Leaning in, she adds, "That's the best mood he's been in since he came home."  Her voice turns suggestive as she continues, "And I know he spent the night at your place."

Felicity turns crimson at the accusation, and she waves her hands violently.  "What? No!" she replies quickly.  "He didn't spend the night.  He brought me food and stayed long enough to tolerate me watching The Princess Bride.  And then he left.  I haven't seen or talked to him since."  Somehow her voice turns almost disappointed at the end, and she wonders when it decided to do that on its own.

Felicity isn't the only one who sounds disappointed.  "Oh," is Thea's eloquent response, a frown forming over her features.  "He's been really busy with the club," she offers kindly.  It's sweet but unnecessary; Felicity knows that Oliver has other things in his life beside her, and she respects that.

Before the conversation can continue, a voice from behind Felicity says, "Hey, Smoaky, we went on a couple of dates—you could at least say hello."

Turning around with a wry smile on her face, she replies, "One date, Merlyn—I don't make the same mistake twice."  She finds herself actually grateful for Tommy Merlyn's warm presence, already starting to smile as he laughs at her response.  "This place looks amazing, by the way," she continues.  "You two did an amazing job with it."

Tommy shrugs off the praise easily.  "Well, it was mostly Ollie," he allows, "but I did some yelling to get contractors to work from time to time."  Frowning, he adds, "Laurel's friend Johanna buried her brother this week, and I thought a fundraiser would help them out.  Her parents are retired now, and she's not exactly pulling down six figures with a job at the CNRI.  I'm not sure if Danny had anything saved."

"Well, I did contribute," Felicity says, "but it wasn't as much as I'd like."  She hesitates before adding, "Barry isn't my brother by blood, but he's the closest thing to family I have.  I'd be devastated if anything happened to him.  Johanna has my sympathy."

Before the conversation can progress further, the drop of a glass and an audible gasp from one of the women in the crowd.  Felicity understands instantly what has caused it—a man in a firefighter's uniform with a lighter.  Before Felicity can react, the entire club bursts in to flame, and the wet spots along the wall tell her he's somehow doused the place with gasoline or some such.

Everything happens at once.  People scream, yell, run, and head for the exits.  It's complete and total chaos, and Felicity knows that it's only going to get worse.  Tommy and Thea are pretty much frozen in place, so Felicity gives them both a push toward the red "EXIT" lamp over the nearest door.  "Come on, we have to go!" she yells over the clamor.

Tommy doesn't budge.  "Laurel," he says simply.  "She and Oliver were talking to the fire chief.  I won't leave without her."  It's clear that he means it, and Felicity isn't exactly in the mood for heroics.

"Look, Merlyn," she says flatly, "I'm glad that you love her and all, but now isn't the time to start playing superhero."  She catches sight of something moving around in the corner of her eye, and she points to it, already knowing that green hood anywhere.  "Leave that to him—he's a professional."  When it's clear Tommy doesn't care who is running around saving lives, she huffs, leaning closer as she starts to play dirty.  "Look, if you want to risk your life, that's your business—I'll go with you.  But do you want something to happen to Thea?"  Tommy's expression changes as he looks back at the girl.  "Let me go after Laurel—you watch out for Thea."

Reluctantly, he does as she suggests, turning toward the nearest exit, and she turns the other way, thankful she wore her panda flats for this instead of heels.  She rushes toward the center of the building, careful to avoid the flames.  Ahead of her, she sees the Arrow pushing people toward the exits and ushering them out.  One of them, she can tell, is Laurel, so she figures that Oliver is ahead of her.  Felicity breathes a deep sigh of relief before heading for the exit herself.

Before she can take two, steps, though, one of those pretty light fixtures drops down beside her, one of the extensions without a lightbulb scraping down her bare arm.  It hurts, and the gash covers her arm vertically from shoulder to elbow.  She frowns when she sees it's already oozing blood.  Remembering that she needs to leave—preferably now—she heads again toward the exit.

One of those steel beams she thought added character drops down in front of her, catching on fire almost immediately.  Frowning, she turns to go the other way—back toward Tommy and Thea's exit—but the fire has already spread through her last pathway.  She manages to make her way over to one of the walls, but she doesn't know how safe that is because it's made of glass.  Soon, the fire spreads, and she realizes her only way out is through the glass paneling behind her.  And, as her rotten luck would have it, it's apparently plexiglas.

She's not stupid and she knows exactly what will happen next.  She frowns, wishing her death would have been a little less tragic-damsel-in-an-action-movie and more, well, not painful.  She doesn't dare turn to see the flames approaching, only staring off into the background of Starling City.  She closes her eyes for a long moment, still not wanting to give up hope in the middle of what she knows is perfect this-will-not-end-well material.

A tap on the glass causes her to muffle a scream, and she breathes a sigh of relief as she sees the Arrow on the other side.  She sees his mouth move more than she hears him, but she can tell he's saying, "Get away from the window and duck."

She backs as far away as she can without becoming barbeque, squatting on the floor and covering her head.  Something explodes glass all over the place, and then she sees the remnants of the wall and the nice-sized hole now serving as her escape.  Her ears start to ring a little from the close proximity to the device.  Without waiting for her to move, the Arrow lifts her to her feet by the elbow that's not bleeding all over the place, then grabs her about the waist—firmly but not painfully—and half-drags her out until the shock kicks out, when she keeps stride with him.  They pass a lick of flame at just the right angle, and it lights up their immediate surroundings, and she can see the exact color of the Arrow's eyes for the first time.

Blue.  They're as blue as the sky on a sunny, cloudless day, and she thinks for a moment she's seen him before—but without the mask.

Blaming her delusions on the near-death experience and the explosions that saved her life, she shakes her head, but finds that's not a good idea—the motion makes her vision swim, and suddenly that wine she drank doesn't sit as well.  She groans at the sensation, and the Arrow, against Felicity's protests, picks her up and carries her through the opening caused by the explosion.

He carries her as if she weighs little more than a rag doll, setting her down as soon as they're clear of the building, with eyes hidden by the dark and a worried frown, he asks her, "Are you all right?"  Before she can answer, he touches her arm where it's bleeding.  He studies it, gentler than she'd ever expect, and frowns.

Belatedly, she answers, "I'm fine, I think.  Just a scratch.  And my ears are ringing a little.  How did you do that—"  She breaks off into explosion sound effects.

He chuckles as he pulls out that butterfly knife without a word, unzipping his jacket and cutting a strip of cloth away from the shirt underneath.  Doing so exposes a couple of nasty scars and part of a tattoo in Chinese that she knows better than to ask about.  As he zips his jacket back up, he replies tersely, "Explosive arrow."  He takes her arm again, wrapping the cloth around it tightly in a makeshift bandage.  "That should help the bleeding," he comments.

"Thank you," she says, a little breathlessly.  As she speaks, he reaches out a tentative hand, brushing some of the loose strands from her ponytail from her face.  A few glass shards fall away, and she realizes he's trying to clear the glass and debris from her hair.  It reminds her of the way Oliver wiped the blood from her face after that incident at the Queen mansion, and she thinks both he and the Arrow are more gentle than anyone suspects.  Trying to seem calmer than she is, she adds, "I mean, not just for tearing your shirt to make a bandage.  I mean, I'm sorry you had to ruin your shirt, and I'm grateful but—"

"Felicity," he says gently, pulling her out of the babble.  Somewhere behind them, sirens sound, but the Arrow doesn't seem unduly concerned by it.

She shakes her head, and it still doesn't agree with her.  She wobbles in place, and the Arrow steadies her by her elbow.  "Anyway," she says, fighting the wave of nausea that follows, "thank you for the rescue."

His expression changes as he tilts her chin up, studying her expression.  "What were you still doing in there?" he asks, an edge to his voice.  Instead of responding, she means to turn her head away, but the gentle touch on her chin tightens, refusing to let her escape.  When she doesn't answer quick enough, he almost growls, "Felicity."

She bites her lip before finally saying, "I needed to make sure that Oliver and Laurel were safe."  A confused frown covers his expression, and she explains, "Merlyn said they were together, and I wasn't going to leave them in there while the place burned."  She knows better than to mention it was to appease Tommy and to get him out of there safely because she knows how that will end.  After all, she doesn't want to be the reason why the Merlyns get a visit from the Arrow.

There's a long pause as he studies her before he releases her and finally says, slowly as if weighing his words, "Better them than you."  After another intense moment where something other than words is exchanged, he chuckles, the sound ominous in the synthesizer.  "I can't decide if you're reckless or fearless."

She laughs, feeling giddy all of the sudden.  Then the realization catches up to her.  "I just ran into a burning building after my friends.  Dear God, what was I thinking?"  She shakes her head.  "If it's a question of brave or foolish, I'd go with foolish."

"I think brave," he corrects softly, and it's so sincere that Felicity has a hard time believing he's humoring her.  With more weight, he says louder, "I always think brave."

"Funny," is her reply, her expression pointed, "me, too."  It's her turn to hesitate before finally saying, "Actually, I always think hero."

They fall into a moment of loaded looks and quiet understanding of one another.  Neither one of them can really agree with the other—Felicity is not brave, and she knows the Arrow doesn't see himself as heroic—but it gives them both something to achieve.  It would be nice, Felicity thinks, to be the person he sees her as.  All the while, she knows similar thoughts are running through his mind, too.

The sirens are closer now, but that doesn't seem to bother him, as it's deafening but he still pays no mind to the police presence.  Finally, he says what's on his mind:  "You should be more careful."  He has to yell over the sirens, but that doesn't stop him from standing there.  The moment is a little weighted by the things they're not brave enough to put into words, but he lightens it with a partial smile and, "Good IT help is hard to find."

Before she can respond, the Arrow looks to the alleyway around them, and Felicity follows his gaze to the figure of their favorite cop.  "Give Detective Lance my regards," he says to her softly.

She snorts.  "Is that a nice way of instructing me to give the one-finger salute for you, or do you actually mean 'regards'?" she asks with a wry smile.

She earns a chuckle for her trouble.  "Either would be appropriate," he says with an almost smile.  He places a hand on her shoulder, watching Lance closely now, and Felicity is starting to get nervous; she's able to make out the barrel of a drawn gun.  "I'll check on you tonight," he adds quickly, causing her attention to snap back to him.

Before she can protest, Lance is identifying his status as a cop, and, with what she thinks is a wink, he draws his bow and fires an arrow in seconds flat.  She crouches down immediately, the action partly reactionary and partly dramatic for Lance.  It must have some sort of rappelling action, because it pulls him up on top of the building next door, and the Arrow disappears into the night.

Felicity tries to look like she's in shock for Detective Lance's benefit, but she thinks that buzz of adrenalin in her veins and the flush of color to her skin have nothing to do with fear.

 


 

Detective Lance arrives to the scene more quickly than some of the other officers, due to other circumstances.  He doesn't expect to find the Queen kid's club torched, the flames already sky-high.  It gives him a little glee to think that Queen will be upset about the building's turnout, but he soon finds he has bigger problems.

An eyewitness tells him the Hood is running around, and, well, Lance can't exactly pass up an opportunity like that.  He knows about the back alley behind the former factory-slash-almost club, and he thinks it would be the best escape route.  So, naturally, he isn't surprised to see the terror of Starling City standing there.

He is surprised to find him standing next to Felicity Smoak.

Sure, he isn't surprised to confirm they're working together, but he always thought it would be carried out in secret—with emails, burner phones, and no direct contact.  But, judging by how close the two of them are standing, this isn't their first face-to-face meeting.  In fact, if it had been any other two people in the world, he'd say they looked moony-eyed over one another.  Kind of like that look Laurel gets over that Merlyn kid every now and again, much to Lance's chagrin.

Unexpectedly, the Arrow's head swivels in Lance's direction, which leads to a general identification and some gun swinging.  Seconds later, the Hood puts a hand on Felicity's shoulder, says something, and then swings off into the night, like some freaky mix between Tarzan and Robin Hood.  Generally he'd be more upset about losing the Hood, but Felicity isn't exactly going anywhere.

He's not surprised that she doesn't try to run, just simply walks up to Lance.  As she does so, he notices a black strip of cloth—with a wet spot—covering her upper right arm, and he kicks immediately out of interrogation mode and into protect-and-serve mode.  "You hurt, kid?" he asks her.

She shakes her head, looking more than a little frazzled, and Lance thinks he might have read that situation wrong.  With a motion to her arm, she says, "One of those spiky light fixtures caught on my arm.  I fought bravely, but, sadly, I'm no match for gravity."  Her voice almost sounds normal, but she seems a little... off somehow.

He puts his hand between her shoulder blades, leading her out of the alleyway.  "I have some questions," he says, "but we can get you all fixed up first."

The walk is short, and, while the EMTs are examining her, he pulls a random one aside and says, "Hey, I want that strip of cloth for evidence."  He doesn't explain to the tech why, and he doesn't seem to care, but Lance has a few ideas.  After all, it didn't come from her outfit, and it was at the wrong angle for her to have tied it.  If he had to guess, he'd say it was the Hood's, and, well, everything he gathers earns Lance one step toward Starling City's "savior."

When they're done sewing up the eight-inch-long gash in her arm and she's gathered safely under a shock blanket with a bottle of water, Lance says to her, "I have a few questions for you."

She puts a hand to her forehead, looking a little weary.  "I figured you would," she says, sounding very much like the adrenalin buzz has worn off.  She looks at him then.  "What would you like to know about first, the fire or the Vigilante?  Because I don't know what happened with the fire.  Everything was calm, and then whoosh.  Flame."

Her all-business tone causes his eyebrows to rise, but he asks anyway.  "Actually, I'd like to know about Walter Steele first."

It's a curveball, and it actually gets a rise out of her for a change.  It's only then that Lance realizes she's been playing him like a violin during their previous interactions; he's always figured that she's in check of her emotions, but it seems that the opposite is true.  "Mr. Steele?" she asks slowly, her eyebrows knitting together.  "What happened to him?"  The cold dread in her voice and the phrasing of her question lets Lance know immediately that he was right to ask her; she doesn't ask if something happened, but assumed that something horrible occurred.

Lance is starting to realize that anyone who has ever buried a proverbial body in Starling City seems to confide in the blonde, innocent-looking IT girl.

"He's missing," Lance answers her, earning a gasp, "and presumed kidnapped.  We're trying to figure out if he had any enemies."  His eyebrows knit together.  "Was he working on anything that would be related to this?"

Lance only sees the quick flash of hesitation because he's actually looking for it this time.  Finally, she answers quietly, "A few weeks ago, he asked me to do some research for him."  She looks up at him through her eyelashes, biting her lip before continuing, "He was looking into a warehouse in the Glades, but didn't give me any details."  There's a quaver in her voice as she adds, so softly Lance almost doesn't hear her, "He said he thought his head of security was killed because Mr. Steele asked him to investigate."  She takes a few deep breaths before finally saying, "I couldn't find any more about it than he did, so I turned in my results, and he never talked to me about it again."

Lance raises an eyebrow.  "Did he tell you why he was looking into this warehouse?"

Felicity shakes her head, though her eyes tell a different story this time.  "He didn't say a word," she lies pretty convincingly, but it's just not good enough.  He knows she's not going to answer anymore; in his experience, once a suspect starts lying about something, they don't stop.

Accepting his fate, he changes tacks.  "What about the Hood?"

This time, her facial expression changes, and it seems more honest this time.  It's not the best sign in the world, since she lies like a Persian rug in the Queen mansion, but he'll take what he can get.  "I managed to get myself trapped in the building," she says instantly.  "The Vigilante did some sort of exploding arrow trick and blew the glass there.  He saw my injured arm and bandaged it."  She frowns.  "He knew my name—which is weird because I've never met him before."  Lance isn't buying the bullshit she's selling, but he doesn't say anything.  A blind man could have seen those two had history, with one glance into that alley tonight.  "He asked me if I was all right, I told him yes, and then"—she chuckles, setting Lance's nerves on edge—"he said to give you his regards."

"What the hell does that even mean?" flies out of his mouth before he has a moment to think about it.  Normally he would be upset about speaking before thinking, but, well, he's talking to Felicity Smoak.  Based on limited experience, he can already tell that, if putting one's foot in their mouth was an Olympic sport, she'd have the gold medal.

She shrugs.  "Don't know," she says finally.  "He said, 'Give Detective Lance my regards.'  No explanation."  She hesitates before adding softly, "Maybe he sees you two as allies in the fight against crime?"

That's enough to stir up all of Lance's pent-up frustration.  Pointing a finger at her, he growls, "Thinking like that is exactly what gets pretty little things like you in trouble."  He runs a hand over his face, thinking about Laurel—about the cell phone she left lying on his desk by accident, the one with the Hood's phone number programmed into it.  He still doesn't know what he's going to do about it.  "Miss Smoak," he continues finally, "that man—whoever the hell he is—has a habit of involving hard-working civilians in his work, and they all pay for it eventually.  My daughter is of the same mind right now because she won't listen to reason, and, God help me, I'm not going to watch anyone else make the same mistakes."

Felicity raises her hands in defeat.  "Whoa," she says, drawing out the word, "that was not what I meant.  I was trying to see things from his perspective—that doesn't mean that I agree with his methods."  It sounds suspiciously like the truth, and so Lance listens to her intently.  "He's committed crime to fight crime.  That's not the way it works in an ideal world."  Lance may not be as smart as her, but even he catches the qualifier at the end.  "The bad guys commit crime, and the police stop them using less severe methods."  She hesitates.  "At the risk of being yelled at again, I understand what he's trying to do—I even respect it on some levels.  But violence will always only beget more violence.  The only way to stop it is to break the cycle, Detective."  She looks at him with a loaded glance that he doesn't try to interpret.  "But, sometimes, when the law can't keep up with the criminals, someone has to step in and make the crime levels more manageable.  And that's what Starling's Vigilante is doing.

"Black and white, Detective," she continues.  "The cops are good, the criminals are bad.  But the Vigilante is in an entirely different place.  He's does illegal things and gets positive results.  Not exactly good, but not all bad, either.  He's the gray line that separates the two of you, and you could use that to your advantage—if you'd let the Vigilante's presence work for you."  Lance honestly doesn't know what to say to that, so instead of answering, he turns on his heel and makes his way back to his squad car.  He tells himself he isn't running away, but he knows better.  Felicity Smoak made perfect sense, loath as he is to admit it.

But what scares the hell out of him is that he's starting to agree with her.

Chapter Text

Felicity sighs as she watches Detective Lance walk away angrily, that headache starting to flare up again.  She was stupid to try and convince him about the Arrow's noble intentions, but it's difficult for her to listen to him say horrible things about the only person in the city that seems to be doing any good.  It will only increase Lance's suspicion—and, by association, cause the Arrow more trouble—but there are just some things that are impossible to let go.  For her, that's one of them.

A paramedic says to her, interrupting her thoughts, "It could be likely you have a concussion.  You probably need to be in observation for the next twenty-four hours, just in case."  He eyes her warily.  "Do you have someone to stay with you tonight?"

Felicity waves a hand.  "I can call someone, she says easily, and that seems to satisfy the jerk, who has apparently pegged her in that "forever alone" box that she hates so much.  Seriously, her appearance may scream "nerd," but that doesn't mean they all have to assume that it also means "nerd with no life."  She has friends, thank you.

(Well, three of them, anyway.)

She calls the one she goes to for the hard stuff, seeing as how she owes him a few confessions anyway.  Not surprisingly, he picks up on the first ring, chipper as always.  "Hey, Sherly," Barry says on the other end of the connection.  "How are things?  I haven't heard from you in a couple of days."  There's some sort of background noise—like a subway station—and then it clears.  "Believe it or not, I was actually about to call you—I'm gonna be in Starling for a few days.  Can I crash at your place?"

"Of course," Felicity replies, relieved it's going to go according to plan.  "That's actually why I was calling.  I—um, well, did you hear about that fire in Starling's newest nightclub?"

"Well, yeah," Barry replies instantly.  "Are you kidding?  It's been on the news since the explosion.  It was at Verdant, that new club opened by—"  He stops, his voice changing abruptly into something much more grave.  "Oh, God, you were there, weren't you?"

Felicity tries to chuckle at the near-death experience, but the tone is off, and she's certain it's obvious that she's faking it.  "Um, yeah," she replies, surprisingly chipper.  Before he can worry, she rushes to add, "I'm fine, though—just a few cuts from broken glass and a gash down my arm from a light fixture.  But the paramedics are concerned about a concussion, and they don't want me to stay home alone."

"I'll come pick you up," he says immediately.  "Try not to get into any trouble while you're waiting."  She means to protest, but the rude jerk hangs up on her before she can.  She swears, sometimes she doesn't know why she loves him.  But then she thinks about the day they met, and she remembers quickly.

But as much as she appreciates Barry, she realizes he's a complication.  The Arrow has already said he's going to visit her, and she thinks that could turn awkward fast.  She's determined to help keep his secret, and Barry is an exposure they both don't want.  And, besides, he's the biggest Arrow fanboy in the known universe—and possibly some unknown ones—so Felicity might be just a little embarrassed by the thought of Barry and the Arrow in the same room.  Barry is a natural fit as a scientist with his natural inquisitiveness and burning curiosity, but, somehow, she thinks the Arrow won't appreciate that quality as much as the scientific community does.

Interrupting her thoughts, a voice breaks through the clamor of the witnesses and EMTs around her.  "Felicity!" he yells, and she knows it's Oliver before she even looks in his direction.  Concern falls across his features as he sees her bandaged arm, and he frowns as he sits on the bumper, putting his hand on her elbow as she turns to face him.  "Are you all right?"

She looks him over to see if he's been injured, but she can't see anything except for a few scratches on his face, ones that resemble the ones she has from the glass breakage.  She would be more concerned if he didn't seem so calm and cool, with the tie on his shirt loosened and a few buttons undone at his collar.  His suit coat is draped over his arm, and the sleeves on his white dress shirt are rolled up above his elbows.

"Yeah," she assures him with a tired smile.  "And you?"  She means to say more, but the cold air cuts through the area like a knife, and, between her sleeveless pink dress and her jacket that's probably ashes in the wreckage, she shivers.  Of course Oliver notices, and suddenly the gray suit coat is draped over her shoulders.  It's a little warmer, so she gathers it around her better.  "Thank you," she mutters, realizing what a scene the two of them must make.  But she's really just too tired to care what anyone thinks about them together.

"No problem.  And it was nothing I couldn't handle," he assures her with a lopsided smile that makes her breath hitch for a moment.  Oliver's smiles are so rare and unexpected that sometimes she can't help but get lost in them.  She shakes her head to clear it, but groans when her vision keeps swimming after she stops.  A wave of nausea runs through her, and she bites down on her lip to keep from covering Oliver's shoes in that nice red wine from earlier.  Concern covers his smile instantly, and he places an arm on her shoulder to steady her.

In a moment of complete fatigue and reckless abandon, she sighs before leaning over, her head falling on Oliver's shoulder.  He seems a little surprised at first, but then his arm reaches around behind her, his hand falling on her forearm gently, even though the bandaged one is against his side.  With a final mental, What the hell, she kicks off her flats and folds her legs under her, causing her to lean into Oliver more.  They sit there together like that for a long, quiet moment, but then she breaks the silence by saying, "Sorry, my head decided to spin without my permission.  Apparently I'm at a risk for a concussion."  She chuckles softly.  "I guess the Vigilante was a nice guy for getting me out of there, but the exploding-arrow-trick kind of messed up my head."  She rubs her ears again, but then is reminded that the ringing is from the explosion.  She bites her lip.  "Sorry, I know you don't like to talk about him."

"I'm slowly changing my mind," he says quietly.  There's a long moment of hesitation before he says slowly, "He can't be that bad if he was smart enough to save you."  The admission causes Felicity's eyes to flick upward of their own accord, but she finds his expression guarded and unreadable.  She finds him so self-conscious that she doesn't even try to ask him about that, but he changes the subject before she can speak, anyway.  "Thea wasn't injured," he says casually, "and I think you had something to do with that.  Thank you."

She's about to roll her eyes, but then she remembers that head movements don't exactly agree with her right now, and she doesn't want to risk it.  "I didn't do anything special," she says dryly.  "I just pushed her and Merlyn through a door.  But I'm glad to hear she's in better shape than the two of us."  She laughs.  "We're a fine pair—like Clark Kent and Diana Prince after a particularly horrible night."  When his eyebrows knit together in confusion, she sighs, frustrated.  "Seriously, you need to pick up a comic book every now and again.  Do Superman and Wonder Woman ring any bells?  I'm talking about their alter-egos.  Not that I'm exactly Wonder Woman material, but, well, you get the point."

"I'm not exactly Superman, either," he replies easily, "so I think that metaphor was flawed from the start."  It strikes her for a moment that he's actually teasing her again, and she can't stop the goofy smile from spreading across her face.

"Well, Mr. Ivy-League-Dropout," she retorts, "it would technically be a simile.  But you're right, it wasn't exactly one of my finer moments.  But, hey, cut a girl some slack—my ears are ringing so bad that feel like I need to yell over a sound that isn't there."  She feels more than hears him chuckle in response, and her eyes fall shut for a long moment, trying to fight off the headache that's threatening to attack.  Finally she says quietly, "Detective Lance told me about Mr. Steele.  That's gotta be hard on your family."

Oliver sighs as though the weight of the world has settled on his shoulders.  "He and Thea are close," he says finally, "but I don't think she's had time to process what the cops have told us."  He hesitates before adding, "I don't really even know Walter."  He lets out a humorless chuckle.  "You'd think with five years on an island would give me time to think about the possibility of my mother remarrying, but it was an unexpected surprise to find that my father's right-hand man shares a bed with my mother."

By the tone in his voice, Felicity can tell that the subject is a little sensitive, so she changes topics.  She laughs before saying, "You know, I was going to tell you tonight that the club looked amazing, but, well, now's a bad time, isn't it?"

He chuckles again, but this time the sound is pleasant.  "It was under construction before," he replies easily, seeming surprisingly upbeat for someone who just lost a nice investment.  "Now it's just more under construction."  There's a pause before he says, "And I'm glad you liked the setup.  There never would have been a Verdant if you hadn't convinced me to do something I want to do.  So, thank you."

She shrugs as much as she can under the circumstances.  "That's what I'm supposed to do," she replies dryly.  "Friends, remember?  Friends encourage each other, and, apparently, freeze to death so that the other can stay warm," she adds as a particularly violent burst of cold air runs across them.

Oliver chuckles quietly.  "I'm not cold," he assures her quietly, in a tone she can't quite interpret.  Whatever it is, it's combined with a nervous rubbing motion at the top of his knee, and, for the first time, Felicity understands why he always wears long-sleeved shirts.  Scars litter his arm, some looking older than their counterparts, others thicker and angrier than others.

Unable to stop herself, she reaches out a hand, running a line over one of them.  He freezes immediately, and she pulls her hand back in embarrassment, her face already starting to color.  "Sorry," she says quietly.  "I just didn't realize—" she starts, but then stops abruptly as she realizes there's really no good way to end that sentence.

The chuckle that leaves Oliver this time is devoid of humor.  "That I'm damaged?" he answers bitterly, his tone biting and dark.  But, despite the way she flinches, Felicity thinks she might just be getting her first real look at Oliver Queen.  "That I'm even more screwed up now than I was before?"  She's stunned into silence for a long moment, and he finally adds, "I can take just about anything, but if you're going to pity me, I'm going to leave."

Finally mustering up some words, she finishes that sentence because it can't be any worse than where his mind is right now.  "How much you've endured," she says quietly, and his eyes flick down to her.  She pulls away, sitting up so she can look at him—really look at him.  "I just didn't realize how much you've endured," she repeats slowly, careful not to let anything close to pity show in her expression.  She thinks he's about to bolt at any second, and she needs him to understand what she meant.  "You always plaster on smiles and expressions like they're some sort of body armor.  Sometimes you make it easy for me to forget that you've been through Hell and back."  She bites her lip before adding, "And of course you're damaged."  He flinches, already expecting the worst before he hears what she has to say.  "We're all damaged, and we're all screwed up, Oliver.  That makes you human."  She hesitates.  "And, for the record, we all have scars.  It's just that some of us wear them on the inside."

He doesn't say anything right away, just pulls her back against his side into the same position, and she knows she's forgiven.  There's a long moment before he sighs, and then finally starts in a whisper, "On the island, I... I had to make some difficult choices—some decisions I'm not proud of."  He releases his breath, then opens his mouth like he's going to say more, but then abruptly closes it.

She puts her hand over his, sitting atop his knee, and she's careful this time not to linger on the scars that he seems so sensitive about.  "A lot has happened tonight," she says sternly, forcefully.  "Everybody here nearly died less than an hour ago.  I think that's enough trauma for one night."  She lances her fingers through his.  "When you're ready to talk about the island, I'm ready to listen.  But not tonight—neither of us can handle it.  So we'll schedule it for another time—when I haven't nearly been blown up and your club hasn't been burned to ash."  She squeezes his hand, searching for a response.  "Okay?" she asks, and he nods once, the motion short and precise, silently telling her he's not capable of words right now.  She finds that fair, though because she seems to have run out, too.

There's a long moment before he finally speaks again, saying, "Will you be all right tonight?"  He must feel the awkwardness set in after that statement, so he continues.  "If you'd like some company, I could stay on your couch."  His voice and expression are neutral, and she's genuinely surprised to find that it's an open gesture.  He doesn't expect her to say yes, he's not trying to convince her—he's just genuinely concerned.

She bites her lip before saying quietly, "Barry's in town for a few days with business stuff, so he's actually crashing for a few days."  She rushes on to add, "But I appreciate the offer—it was really nice of you to ask."  She doesn't add that, under different circumstances, she just might have taken him up on it.

 

 


 

Oliver isn't surprised when Felicity finally nods off on his shoulder, and he's more than a little relieved to have his thoughts to himself for a moment.  She's unfortunately been through a lot tonight, and he's glad to see her resting.  He's also grateful that she turned his offer down; he was an idiot to ask, since he plans on checking on her as the Arrow, but the thought of leaving her alone in that apartment just doesn't seem right.  Barry is a complication, but one he can maneuver around easily, he thinks.

But Felicity is never what he expects.  When she reached out and touched one of the scars on his arm, he thought that it was that night with Laurel happening all over again.  He saw the pity in her eyes, and he doesn't want anyone's sympathy for the scars.  Because, despite what he faced on that island, he has never worked so hard in his life as he did in those five years.  It was pure Hell, sure, but he earned those scars, and he doesn't want anyone's sympathy for being able to survive.  But Felicity didn't downplay his ability to survive, she didn't tear up; she just accepted that fact without judgment.  And when he told her he was damaged, she didn't try to convince him otherwise.  We're all damaged, she had said, including herself in the plural.  And, well, that means something to him because Felicity is the highest-functioning person he's ever met in his life.

And when he tried to talk to her about the island, she stopped him.  Not because she didn't want to listen, but because she knew he wasn't ready to tell her yet.  It was meant to be his apology for the way he spoke to her, but she didn't need it.  She understood what he meant, even without him saying the words.  It's a surprisingly nice feeling, much like the feel of her head against his shoulder.

He nearly lost her tonight.  The thought has crossed his mind at random intervals since he pulled her out through that busted window.  Somehow the thought is unbearable, though, a few months ago, he didn't even know her name.  He then decides that's probably why he can't imagine being without her; she's still a riddle, a mystery to him, and he's curious to see what other secrets she's hiding behind that fuchsia-painted smile and two-toned glasses.

Because Felicity Smoak, in his experience, is a naturally guarded, secretive person, and he accepts that she's always going to be a mystery to him.  But that isn't going to stop him from trying to solve her.

The clearing of a throat snaps him out of his thoughts.  At first he thinks it's a paramedic who wants his ambulance back, but then he sees Thea smiling mischievously and it immediately causes him to prepare for the worst.  "Oh, I never expected to see you like this, Ollie."

He knows that tone, he knows that look, but Oliver doesn't understand a word of what she's saying.  "I don't understand," he says flatly, though he's set on edge because her entire demeanor promises nothing good.

But, mercifully, Thea's entire expression changes at those words.  "You really don't," she asks slowly, "do you?"  She studies him for a moment, frowning as she leans against the ambulance next to him, on the side opposite Felicity.  "God, Ollie, you're hopeless sometimes," she adds finally, with a roll of her eyes.

Before she can respond, Oliver sees movement out of the corner of his eye, and he sees the kid from before—Barry, he remembers the name vaguely—talking to one of the detectives, who points to the ambulance.  Thea looks between Oliver and the direction of his gaze, frowning in confusion at the sudden change in demeanor of her brother.  Oliver knows he's being petty and stupid, but something about Barry Allen sets his nerves on edge.  He takes a deep breath, though, for Felicity, knowing she wouldn't appreciate it if he wasn't civil.  The last time the two met, she had given him a disapproving look, and he doesn't exactly like that look.

So he takes a deep breath as Barry walks up with a goofy grin on his face.  He opens his mouth to speak, but then thinks twice about it when he sees Felicity asleep on Oliver's shoulder.  His eyes widen in surprise before he says, "Wow she must be more tired than I thought.  Sherly doesn't fall asleep without a locked door between her and the world."  It's interesting information, and now Oliver understands why she fought to stay awake so hard that night with the Arrow.  Barry turns his attention to Oliver.  "How are you tonight, Mr. Queen?"

Even though Felicity is still asleep, Oliver feels like he owes her a night of civility toward this kid she seems so fond of.  He forces a smile before saying, "As well as I can be under the circumstances.  And Mr. Queen was my father, Barry.  Oliver will work fine."  He motions toward Thea.  "This is my sister, Thea—I don't think you two have met."

Thea's eyes narrow immediately, and Oliver knows that look, too.  It's different from the last one, but it does nothing for his nerves.  It's like watching a timer on a bomb, Oliver thinks.  "You can call me Miss Queen," she says hotly, prickling.  Oliver shoots her a glance, but she ignores it.  Barry lets out an awkward chuckle in response, and Oliver can't blame him—Thea can be terrifying in the right situations.

"Let me wake her up," Oliver says finally, already knowing Felicity would tear them all apart if Oliver tried to carry her to Barry's car.  He shakes her shoulder gently.  "Hey," he says gently, but, instead of waking, she nestles deeper into his shoulder.  He tries to ignore the feeling that runs through him—whatever it is—and says instead this time, "Felicity."  Something in his voice must sound familiar because she actually wakes up this time, eyes blinking wildly as she tries to pull her mind out of the fog.  Her eyes finally focus on Oliver, and there's a question in her expression.  "You fell asleep," he says gently, by way of explanation, and he can see realization dawn in her eyes as she remembers all that happened.  "Barry is here to take you home."

For some reason unknown to him, she turns scarlet before sitting upright so fast she wobbles.  He steadies her with a hand on her elbow, and she stretches her feet back down into her shoes, and, for the first time, Oliver notices there are pandas on them.  He has to fight back a smile—every time he answers a question about her, another pops up in its place.  Still, he knows it's not the time to ask, so he rises from the bumper of the ambulance and offers her a hand up, which she takes with a smile. Felicity apparently only does half-asleep conversation with the Arrow.

She takes off his jacket as she rises, handing it back to him.  "Thank you," she says, her voice still coated in sleep.  "I mean, not just for the coat.  For the company, for letting me fall asleep on your shoulder like a five-year-old..."  She shakes her head, forgetting that ringing in her ears, and Oliver steadies her when she wobbles.  "For everything.  I appreciate it."

He nods once, letting her know it was no problem whatsoever.  "Get some rest," he says finally, after a long moment of just looking at her.  "You've earned it after all of this.  Goodnight."

"Goodnight," she murmurs back, and Oliver is forced to watch her walk away.  He doesn't like it, but he'll be seeing her soon enough.  After all, the Arrow did promise her tonight, so he'll see her again.

Thea rolls her eyes and scoffs before walking away, too.  "God," she groans under her breath, "watching you two makes me wonder how we're a species."

Chapter Text

Felicity is yet again examining the book when she gets the call. Again, she's bested by Walter's book and its cryptic secrets, but she's determined now, more than ever, to break the code. This was the last thing Walter entrusted to her—possibly the last thing he'll ever entrust to her—and she is not going to fail. Because she can hack an NSA satellite, for God's sake, so she knows she can hack a book. However, the book has better ideas, and she wonders for a moment if it has some sort of computer brain that can learn her style of hacking. Then she tells herself she's being ridiculously paranoid, but it's after two in the morning so her brain probably isn't functioning right anyway.

The Batman ringtone interrupts her thoughts, and she immediately reaches over to her burner phone, which always stays on her. "Do you have any idea what time it is?" she answers, frowning but mostly just trying to be difficult. "I mean, you can't just call me at two a.m. and expect that I'll answer on the first ring."

"But you did," he points out—rather haughtily, she might add. Her two a.m. logic is flawless for someone who's been up since six, and, well, she'd actually like to sleep at some point in the night. If he's calling, then it's going to be horribly out of the question for her. His projects always take far too long to work on, and, even with copious amounts of coffee, she probably can't pull thirty-six hours without sleep.

"You know," she replies in a tired, defeated tone, "I don't poke holes in your two a.m. logic. I'd appreciate it if you extended the same courtesy." He chuckles before she continues, "And I have to work tomorrow, but I haven't slept since last night. So, please, God, tell me that whatever you have can be solved in thirty minutes." There's a long pause on the line, and she waits in anticipation for him to say, Gee, that's okay, Felicity; go back to bed. Even though she knows he probably doesn't say things like "gee," but a girl can dream.

"It can wait," he says finally, and she thinks it's surprisingly considerate. He could just as easily have said something like, This is important and I need you now, but he's actually thinking about what's best for her. It's a nice feeling that helps solidify the fact that they're really not colleagues or partners-in-justice any longer; they're almost like friends. Which is weird and probably more two a.m. logic, but Felicity thinks that this is progressing like a friendship.

Well, except for that thing after he saved her from the fire, and again when he came to check on her. That turned weird too quickly, and she's glad they're pretending that entire scene didn't happen. The tension was thick enough to cut with a knife, and she has a feeling that he doesn't like her snooping. Well, if he wanted someone who didn't care who he was, well, he should have hired a robot and not an IT girl who grew up on Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Phryne Fisher, and Adela Bradley. Felicity likes puzzles, and her brain turns mysteries into puzzles that need to be solved. Which is why she can't let the damn book go.

She shakes her head, knowing that he wouldn't ask unless it was important. "I probably wouldn't sleep, anyway," she admits finally. "I have a mystery in my lap, and I need it solved. So you'd be doing me a favor by distracting me. Please tell me it's something really interesting—my mind has a tendency to wander."

"I've noticed," he says flatly, and by the time she realizes what he's said, he's already speaking again. It's true, but that's no reason to be a rude asshole about it. "And it's an encrypted drive from Blackhawk Protection Squad. We—" There's a sigh, then he changes his wording. "I think the group at Blackhawk be responsible for the armored truck robberies in the city recently."

She frowns. "You, not you and Not-Vigilante?" she asks, but then a wry smile crosses her face. "I sense trouble in paradise—are you two having a lovers' quarrel?" When there's dead silence on the other end of the line for a long moment, she finally says, "Okay, tough crowd. I get it—sore subject." She sighs. "We'll need my computers at QC for this—I'm not properly equipped here to decrypt a drive like that here. And I'll need a few hours." She sighs as she looks at the clock. "Good news is, it looks like I won't be late to work." She frowns. "Which is good, because my car's in the shop and I won't have to ride the perpetually-late, smelly-feet bus to work." She raises an eyebrow. "I'm guessing that transportation is included with this mystery-solving experience?" She isn't sure if the man owns a vehicle, but she's not going to walk to QC from here. It's not really a good part of town to walk through at any time, much less two a.m. But she has it on good authority that it's a fantastic time to go buy drugs.

"It can be," he agrees easily, showing how much of a hurry he's in. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

She stops him by saying, "Give me thirty minutes before you leave. I'm probably going to just clock in after this, I'll need a little time to actually look like an IT employee. Can you do that?"

"It won't be a problem," he assures her. Almost as an afterthought, he adds, "Don't wear anything with a skirt. And make sure your shoes don't fall off easily." Before she can ask, he's ended the call, leaving her to gape into the phone.

She asks Saphira, "What the hell did that mean?" And—no surprise—Saphira doesn't answer. "Oh, good God, I'm having a serious conversation with my dog," she mutters, rising from the couch and heading into her bedroom. She continues, mostly to keep herself awake, "I'd go home to where things make sense, but I'm already home, and things still aren't making sense. Sokka's wisdom has failed me."

It doesn't take her long to get dressed, and she decides that her black dress pants will work nicely, as well as her panda flats. Besides, they make her smile, and if anything can get her through the day, it would be those shoes. Getting dressed takes less time than she anticipated, because she was still clothed from work the previous day, so she sits down on the sofa, her mind wandering a little.

It's odd that the Arrow and the Not-Vigilante had so serious an argument—those two have been working together in high-stress situations for at least two months. And if that isn't enough to tear apart their partnership, then it must be something a little bigger. So she figures that it must have something to do with Blackhawk Protection Squad. Bored and desperate to stay awake, she pulls out her laptop and does a little research. Seems it's owned by an ex-military guy—no surprises there—and it hires a private security detail. Bored, she hacks into their mainframe (amateurs—that encryption went out years ago), and digs through their employee files. Some things on there are far too encrypted for her to access, but the employee files are not. She wonders if the Arrow planted a new employee; after all, she remembers the police report saying he was in guard uniform during that Iron Heights thing, so maybe it's a thing. The new employee files aren't hard to find, so she clicks through them. And then promptly drops her mobile mouse when she sees one she recognizes.

John Diggle—Oliver's bodyguard.

Then it all clicks. The voice over the phone, the ex-military stance, the general demeanor. He's working with the Arrow in his spare time, just like she is. She looks up a quick military record, not surprised to find he served under the same guy who now runs Blackhawk—a guy who apparently saved Mr. Diggle's life at some point in his career. Well, that would be a good reason for dissent—the man who saved his life might be guilty of armed robbery. That's a pretty good reason for the tension between them, and Felicity thinks it has to be rough on the Arrow to go after this guy, all the while knowing that it will probably upset his colleague.

Her phone picks up the Batman ringtone again, and she nearly knocks her laptop out of her lap. Thank God, though, that he called instead of came to see her. It wouldn't be good if he saw how far she's come on the hunt for the Arrow. Not at all. "Where are you?" she asks after she answers, and she doesn't mean to come off so breathy.

"Waiting in your parking space in the garage," he answers, then ends the call. She's getting sick of him doing that; after all, it's not exactly difficult to say "goodbye." He does it most nights after she's helped him, so it's not like it's a horribly big deal. She huffs before locking Saphira in the spare bedroom—who protests this loudly by screaming—and she climbs down the stairs to her parking space.

It's honestly one of the weirdest, most beautiful scenes she's ever had the pleasure to see. He's casually leaning against the back wall of the garage, his arms crossed over his chest, and one foot crossed over the other with only the toe of his boot touching the ground. His head is down, but she knows he's too alert not to be paying attention. And he's standing in front of a very nicely made, sleek, black motorcycle.

She turns on her heel immediately, walking the other direction. She doesn't know where she's going, but she knows what she's not doing—which is getting on the damn bike. "Oh, no," she says flatly. "Oh hell no. This girl does not ride on motorcycles. I crack encryptions and do IT work, not ride a motorcycle. Bring it by tomorrow night, and I'll help you then. Okay, see you later."

She thinks she's in the clear when he grabs her wrist, spinning her to face him. There's something about him that just squashes every thought in her head for a moment—long enough for him to put his hands on her shoulders and say, "Felicity, I need you." From anyone else, it would be just a casual statement, but, well, they don't really do casual statements. He's too close, and he's way too intense. All the breath rushes out of her in one big sigh, and she thinks her face might actually be on fire this time. When she honestly can't respond to what he's saying, he chuckles. "I didn't know you were afraid of motorcycles."

She rises to the bait this time, indignant. "Yeah, well, a motorcycle is just a nice, efficient way to get yourself killed. And I have to have a weakness. It could be worse—it could be a rock that actually doesn't exist. Or yellow light. Imagine that—someone walks around in a canary yellow shirt, and suddenly you're powerless. Lamest idea ever. And don't even get me started on—"

"Felicity," he says, jolting her out of her torrent of thoughts. He hesitates before finally asking, "Do you trust me?"

The answer is obvious and doesn't even take any thought. "Of course," she says instantly, and even she doesn't expect the slight hurt in her voice. As if he has to ask that now—they've already proven this time and time again. They've had this conversation: she trusts him, he trusts her, and it's going to eventually lead to their collective downfall. But for the moment, it's what makes theirs a strong partnership.

He leaves her to pick up a motorcycle helmet, which he passes to her. "Then trust me to keep us alive," he says simply, the helmet hanging between them in a silent offer.

She swipes it out of his hand angrily, knowing when she's been beaten. Unexpectedly, an arrogant smile flashes across his face, so wide that it exposes his teeth, and that just pisses her off. "Yeah, you won this one," she says flatly, waving her hands as she slips the helmet over her head. "But you don't have to be such a smug bastard about it. I've won a lot of arguments with you, and I'm never so cocky about it."

She doesn't hear him move closer, and she jumps when she feels his hands fall over hers, helping her with the helmet. It's a little bulky, but she finds herself very glad that at least her head will be protected through this endeavor. He helps her onto the motorcycle—which is good because she nearly falls on her well-protected head—and then climbs on in front of her. "Hold on to me tight," he says then, starting the bike at the same time.

Somehow, her mind decides it's a good time to betray her, and she hears herself say, "I always imagined you saying that under different circumstances." He half-turns back toward her to give her a look to end all looks, and she's glad he can't see how red her face is. "Why does my mouth do this to me? You know what I meant."

"I have no idea what you meant," he says flatly, and, with that corner of his mouth turned up, she thinks he might be toying with her. It takes him a moment before he adds, "But I'd like to find out." It's almost flirty, which is weird because he's, well, the Starling City Vigilante. Abruptly, he takes her hands and pulls them around his waist. A little squeak of surprise leaves her at the quick motion, but she is appreciative of the opportunity to tell just how fit the man is. And she can attest that he is very much in good shape.

She yelps when he takes off into the garage, going way too fast for her liking. She does as he asks and tightens her grip around him, her eyes closed because she does not want to see how this ends. She surprised at one point that his still is managing to breathe; she holds him so tight that her fingers are starting to hurt. He twists and turns through the streets, weaving in and out of traffic with ease. At one point, she opens her eyes, and he takes a turn way too sharp. And, judging by the grin on his face, he's doing it on purpose. She wraps one arm under his, weaving it up to grasp the top of his shoulder so that she can slap his other shoulder with her free hand. "Not funny," she yells at him over the sound of traffic.

When they arrive at Queen Consolidated, she takes the opportunity to slap him again, but she thinks the effect might be minimized because she takes so long to let go of him. She more falls than slides off the motorcycle, and she stumbles a bit, her head in a fog from the driving and the lack of sleep. The Arrow puts a hand on her shoulder before saying, "Are you okay?"

She nods. "Yeah, I think so," she answers, wondering why her eyes won't really focused. She hates being in a daze. "I don't think you should take me for a ride anymore," she blurts, then realizes how that sounds to the casual listener. Her face turns crimson, and she gets another one of those looks that say a lot of things at once. "You knew what I meant," she says tiredly, for the second time that night. "When I get tired, my thoughts get garbled."

"I'll meet you upstairs," is all he says this time, but she thinks she can see a smile on his face.

Once she reaches her office, she sits down at her computer, not surprised to see him already sitting there. It's a lot easier, she thinks, when you don't have to climb stairs or use the elevator. The drive is sitting on her desk already, so she plugs it into her computer and sees what happens. The whole thing is surrounded in layers of encryption, so she sets up an algorithm to decrypt the thing with a few keystrokes. It will take a while—longer than she could on her own—but her eyes are starting to get fuzzy.

She gets up from her desk and starts to leave, when he asks, "Where are you going?"

She waves a hand. "That will be done in a few hours—I'm using computers to decrypt computers. There's a really nice sofa in the lounge. I'm taking a nap so I can survive tomorrow." She frowns. "Well, today, I guess. I'm not sure if it's early or late anymore." She waves a hand and shakes her head to clear it. "Anyhow, you can come with me or stay here, but don't wander. I'll have to clean up the security footage, so it would be easier if you didn't snoop."

Immediately, he's on his feet, and they both walk down the hallway to the lounge area. She admires the couch a little too long, and the Arrow sits down on one end of it. She sits next to him, trying to sleep sitting up, but it really doesn't work for her. Without a word, she slides her head onto his shoulder, and she's rather surprised when his arm folds around her. She can't get comfortable there—her legs won't fold up on the sofa right—but he notices and gently eases her head down into his lap. She tenses, but, quietly, he says, "Get some rest—you've earned it." She's too tired to tell him he's right and that she does deserve an actual night of sleep, but she settles herself, and her eyelids fall of their own accord.

"Wake me before sunrise," she says to him somewhat sleepily, as she positions herself just right on his thigh, her legs stretching across the length of the sofa and her feet hanging off a little. Her shoes drop against the floor, and she reminds herself to go pick them up later. "It should be done by then, but, if not, I can text you the information once it finishes." She hesitates before saying, "If you want to call me, you can go—I'll be fine here."

Her eyes are closed, so she can't see his face, but his voice takes on an odd quality as he replies, "I'll stay." Another tone, this one gentle and calm, enters his voice as he says, "Goodnight, Felicity."

"Goodnight," she murmurs back, and then she's out.

 


 

Oliver stares at the sleeping girl in his lap, wondering how she's ended up sleeping on him twice in as many visits. Of course, she doesn't know that, but he does admire the level of trust she has for him—for both of his identities. He thought earlier when she admitted that she dislikes motorcycles that he wouldn't be able to convince her. But then he had asked if she trusted him, and she almost sounded as though he'd insulted her. Four words, though, and he'd had her on that motorcycle, terrified or not: "Do you trust me?" He hadn't realized until then how resolute her faith is in him. Part of him marvels at the idea of having someone believe in him, but the other part of him is terrified.

But now he's noticing the attraction. She seems inexplicably drawn to the hooded vigilante, to the Arrow, and he can't exactly understand why. He thought that, previously, she'd been flirting with him, but tonight confirmed it. On purpose, he'd teased her over her minor slip-up about holding onto him tight, and he knew from her reaction that she has some sort of delusional crush on the Arrow. But, then again, she seems to be more coy around Oliver, tries to be more mysterious. And Oliver knows from experience that women don't try to be mysterious around a man unless they're trying to convince them to unravel the mystery.

And he saw her after that fiasco at the club—she feels drawn to him because she sees herself as damaged. He doesn't know exactly why she feels that way because she's, without question, one of the strongest people he's ever met. And for once, strength doesn't translate to physical prowess. She's strong because she tries to survive in his world—of vigilantes, of being targeted by both sides, of clandestine affairs—and she does so without becoming dark or jaded. If there's anything he's learned over the past few months, it's that Felicity Smoak is a fighter.

Most have guns or fists, but she fights with knowledge and sheer determination.

He looks out the window, and the first touches of sunlight spread across the city. He sighs, hating to wake her, but knows it's necessary. "Felicity," he says gently, shaking her shoulder.

She bolts upright, looking a little disoriented. One side of her ponytail is horribly frizzy from lying against his leg for the past three hours. She stands upright immediately. "Right, encryption," she says, starting to storm off back to her station, leaving Oliver to follow behind. On the way, she catches sight of her appearance in the mirrored surface of the refrigerator, and she groans. "I should not have taken that nap—I look like Frankenstein's bride. She sighs as she pulls her ponytail loose, and her hair falls to her shoulder blades.

She starts to pull her hair back up, but Oliver puts a hand on her shoulder, stopping her mid-motion. For some reason, he feels the need to stop her, but, well, he knows better to get into squabbles like this. "Leave it," he says. It comes out as a demand, but he means it as a suggestion. She gives him that look—the you'd-better-explain-now-please look, the one accompanied by a raised eyebrow and a hand on her hip—so he adds with less confidence, "It looks fine long. Leave it be."

She rolls her eyes, but rolls the elastic up onto her wrist instead of pulling her hair back in it. She straightens her clothes a little, then turns crimson as she looks down at her bare feet. "Shoes," she says by way of explanation, her voice still seeming like she's half-asleep.

Oliver stops her, easing her down on a chair next to a cafeteria table. "I'll get them," he tells her. "Just try to wake up a little—you look like you're on autopilot."

She rubs at her face a little and yawns softly, propping her elbow on the table and resting her head on her hand. He shakes his head in amusement before going to retrieve her shoes. She's so determined that, sometimes, she fails to notice the obvious. He admires the work ethic and the loyalty to the cause, but they have a moment before everything must be finished.

He drops her shoes in front of her, and she slides her feet into them, seeming more awake this time. "Okay," she says, standing. "Quit wasting time—we have things to do." He has to stifle an actual laugh at that, before he follows her back to her cubicle.

He sits behind her as she checks the data and the decryption, staying quiet so she can concentrate. After a long moment, she pulls up another screen and starts typing into it, then runs an emerald green fingernail across the screen as she analyzes the data.

He wonders if it's coincidence or if she even knows she's doing it. First the green dress at the Christmas party, and now the nail polish. It's almost as if she's trying to mark herself as his, trying subtly to let everyone know that she works for the Arrow, and that to offend her is to bring down his wrath. But then he thinks he's being ridiculous, and she's probably not putting that much thought into it. Either way, part of him wants her to stop, as seeing that color on her brings out the most possessive side of him.

The decidedly male part of him.

Finally, she says, "You were right—these confirm that members of Blackhawk are pulling off armored car heists. They've got a list here of all the hits so far and their locations." Her face turns grave. "The next one's scheduled in about twenty minutes, on the other side of town. You probably need to go if you're going to make it." She frowns. "What should I do with this?" She closes her programs, then pulls the drive out of place, holding it out to him.

"I'll call Lance as soon as this is over," he decides, taking the drive from her. "There isn't enough time for the police to get there. Someone needs to stop it, and it will have to be me." He moves to leave, but her hand falls on his bicep and he knows this conversation isn't over.

It's a weird sight, her green nail polish against the leather of his suit, matching almost perfectly. "Just be careful, okay?" she says, frowning in concern. "Those guys have military weapons. Not that I don't think you can take them, but you use arrows. Don't be an idiot."

He tilts her chin upward, wanting nothing more than to cup her cheek, but that gesture didn't lead to good places the last time. Spending time with Felicity is doing something to him he doesn't quite understand, but he's not ready to analyze that yet. "I'll come back in one piece," he assures her. It doesn't seem to convince her, so he pries her hand off of his bicep before staring at her nails. "You wear green well," he says, both teasing her and referring to that stunning green dress she decided to torment him with at the Christmas party. Part of him wants to kiss her hand just to see how she reacts, but then he decides he's teased her enough for one night.

She flushes, as expected, and with one, "Goodnight, Felicity," he's swinging out her window to his motorcycle.

Chapter Text

Felicity flies through the halls of the hospital, just below a run to avoid unnecessary attention.  It's the first time Oliver has ever called her and sounded distraught, so she knows that, despite his insistence that he's okay, he's probably freaking out a little.  And no one should have to freak out alone.  Sure, his mother will be there, too, but Oliver will feel the need to be strong for her.  He's been in her life for so little time, but yet Felicity knows him so well already.

She knows she has the right hallway because he's standing outside the room, leaning against the wall.  He drags a hand over his face and sighs deeply, staring at the ceiling.  He may be stoic, but Felicity knows this is his version of hysterics.  He hears her heels click against the desolate hallway, and he looks up.  "Felicity?" he asked, and she's almost insulted by how surprised he seems.  Did he seriously think she'd let him sit here and worry alone?

She hugs him without any preamble whatsoever, and she can feel, more than hear, his deep sigh.  It sounds almost as if she's removed the weight of the world from his shoulders.  The hug lingers a little, but she pulls back and asks, "How is Thea?"

He shakes his head, frowning a little as he releases her.  "Fine, considering," he says quietly.  "There are some bruises and cuts, and her elbow dislocated when she hit the tree.  The doctors think she had it tight against the steering wheel, and the impact forced it back."  He frowns more deeply.  "And it doesn't help things that she's not speaking to our mother.  She basically kicked her out of the hospital room."  He shakes his head.  "It's just the typical Queen family drama.  I liked it better when I was the reckless one."

She reaches over and squeezes his hand before releasing it.  "Hey, she's okay," she reminds him gently.  "Yeah, it could have been worse, but it wasn't.  She'll be discharged in a few hours, and it'll all be fine."

He doesn't say anything, just lets a touch linger at her elbow for a moment.  There's a very long moment where the two stare at each other. She isn't used to sharing pointed looks like that, so she just stands there until Oliver finally says, "I think she'll probably want to see you."

Felicity nods, and he holds the door open for her as she walks in.  "Hey, Felicity," Thea says, sounding a little groggy.  She's sitting upright on one end of the hospital bed, still wearing the dress that Felicity presumes is from her birthday party, and one arm is in a black sling.  "Guess I really know how to party, huh?"  She points to Felicity's hair, still hanging at her shoulders from where the Arrow convinced her to wear it long.  "You should wear your hair down more often."

Felicity chuckles, trying to ignore the heat on her face at the thought of the Arrow.  "So I've been told.  And nice try—your brother already told me you wrecked your car."  She's gentle around the probably very sore arm, but she hugs her.  "It sucks that your car was totaled, but I'm glad it wasn't you."

Thea shrugs.  "It doesn't hurt too bad now that I have all of those pills in me," she says easily, acting very un-Thea-like, and Felicity notices for the first time that her pupils are the size of saucers.  No wonder she's acting weird; the girl is high as a kite on something, but Felicity doesn't want to know the details.  She knows enough about drugs as her time as an observer in high school and college to learn that much.

Felicity turns on her heel instantly, facing Oliver.  "Can I talk to you for a second?" she asks him.  She knows what's going to happen next; an education from life in the Glades has taught her that much.  She's watched it happen to too many people in her lifetime, and now she thinks it's time to warn Oliver.

He gives her a confused look, his eyebrows falling over his eyes to give him a squinty-eyed appearance.  "Sure," he says finally, with an ease that's probably fake.  Felicity knows her own expression isn't so collected, so he probably recognizes the panic.

He pulls the curtain around Thea's bed, which causes her to complain, but she doesn't do anything about it.  Oliver takes Felicity by the elbow and pulls her into the far corner of the room, and he pulls her in close.  For a moment, Felicity thinks she's so insane she's hallucinating his eyes falling to her lips, but then she blinks and it's over.  "You look panicked," he says quietly, his eyes boring into hers with intensity.  His hand hasn't yet left her elbow, and the combination makes her feel like she's about to melt.  "Felicity, what's wrong?"

"Um," she starts eloquently, but then she quietly continues, "I don't know how to say this to you, but Thea is baked."  Oliver stares at her a moment, that same look of confusion falling over his features.  "She's high, Oliver.  As a kite on a nice, breezy day."

"What?" he finally says, frowning.  Felicity frowns because he is most certainly not going to like the worse news, when it comes to that point.  It's hard enough for her to tell him his baby sister is in a drug-induced stupor, but the worst is yet to come.

"You notice how she's not really upset about wrecking her car?" Felicity points out.  "The foggy look, the glazed eyes, the pupils big enough to set teacups on?  That's a high if ever I've seen one."  He gives her an odd look.  "That I've seen," she emphasizes.  "I've never actually been high."  She pauses, tapping an index finger against her chin.  "Well, there was that one time in college where I accidentally grabbed a pot brownie.  Which would have been fun, but, as it turns out, I'm allergic to nuts.  And that was not a fun trip to the hospital, let me tell you.  I mean—"

"Felicity," he says, his voice taking on five different meanings at once.  The way he does that reminds her of the Vigilante, and, really, she needs to stop comparing the two.  But she does see a hint of a smile on his face, so she's glad her incessant rambling makes someone smile.

"Right," she says, shaking her head to clear it.  "The point is, I've seen enough illegal fun to know it when I see it."  He opens his mouth to speak, but she holds her hand up.  "And that's the bad news.  It gets worse."

He frowns, and she does not like to see him frown like that.  Oliver has had enough heartbreak in his life that Felicity doesn't want to be the one to cause him more, but she thinks it would be better if he wasn't blindsided first.  "How much worse?" he dares ask, the brave soul.

Felicity bites her lip, looking away.  Okay, she's a weenie and she can't do this because the look on his face is going to be heartbreaking.  She's not going to do it.  A hand cups her chin, and he tilts her head back so that she's looking at him again.  His eyes are intense, and she's pretty sure he's found some way to hypnotize her without the pocket watch all the stage magicians use.  "Felicity," he says again, this time his voice soft and low but still portraying that same sense of urgency as before.  She even hears the word he can't say at the end:  Please.  She frowns because he doesn't play fair.

It all flies out of her at lightning speed.  "Any time there's an accident like this and someone comes in with injuries, they run a panel on the driver's blood," she says quietly.  He freezes, and Felicity knows he already understands what she's going to say next.  "They'll run blood alcohol levels too, but, chances are, she'll pop positive on whatever she's taken.  And then the hospital will be obligated to call the cops, and they'll take her away."  She glances at her watch.  "And, because it's after eleven on a Friday night, Oliver, there's nothing anyone can do about it until Monday.  She's going to spend the weekend in jail—no question."  She watches him run a hand over his face, that same expression of anguish there.  "I'm sorry," she whispers quietly, biting her lip.

He puts his hand on her elbow again, that same gesture that means so little and so much at the same time.  "It's not your fault," he says quietly.  She expects him to throw something soon because there's no way that level of calm can't be forced.  But, surprisingly, he says, "Could you break it to Thea?  She'll think it's a lecture if it comes from me."

She nods once.  "Hey," she says gently, taking a long moment so that his eyes meet hers, "it's going to be all right.  I know you don't think so, but this will work out."  She puts her hand on his shoulder, and his eyes flick to it before meeting hers again.  "You two are tough—you'll get through this."

Their moment is interrupted when Thea calls from the end of her bed, "I think I'm ready to go when the two of you are finished making out over there."  Felicity practically throws herself away from Oliver, cheeks burning, and Oliver frowns, aiming it toward the sister who can't see him because of the curtain.  Moment broken, Felicity thinks it's a good time to break the news to Thea.

She sits down at the end of Thea's hospital bed, next to the girl in question.  "Hey," Felicity says softly, "I want to talk to you about something."  Thea is immediately on guard, but Felicity continues, "Tell me what made you decide to get high tonight."  Thea opens her mouth, probably to lie about it, but Felicity holds her hand up.  "Don't tell me you're not—because I know you're high right now.  But you're not going to get a lecture from me.  I'm your friend, not your mother."

"It was my birthday party, and a friend gave me some of this new stuff," Thea admits finally.  "She called it Vertigo.  I wasn't gonna use it—I don't like to try new stuff until I hear more about it—but then..."  She trails off, turning to look at Oliver.  "But then I saw Mom with him"—she spits the word with a particular amount of vehemence—"and I just needed to forget.  So I took my car and drove, and I finished off that packet of Vertigo."  She waves her hands.  "And then this happened."

Oliver turns, running a hand over his face again, so Felicity says, "Oliver, maybe this conversation would be easier on everyone if you waited outside."  He turns, his expression almost hurt, and she rushes to say, "Look, this is going to be hard enough, and you've already heard the important parts.  Catch your breath and let me handle this before you give yourself a heart attack."  She crosses her arms.  "And I can't worry about both Queen siblings at once, and I think Thea needs my concern more right now.  I need you to—just this once—take a leap of faith and trust me.  Do you think you can do that?"

It's only after that last sentence that she can see the acceptance in the slump of his shoulders and the set of his jaw.  "Of course," he says finally, and she feels like this is the same conversation she had with the Arrow not so long ago, just reversed.  He walks over to Thea and hugs her tightly before kissing her forehead.  "Love you, Speedy," he says quietly, and Thea returns the murmur of affection.

Without another word, he leaves, and Felicity turns to Thea.  "Thea, I get you're under some stress and have some family issues," Felicity says finally.  "Believe me, no one understands that more than me.  But losing yourself in a drug—or a bottle—isn't the best way to do it.  Because the next morning, you just feel shitty and all your problems are still there."

"You don't understand," Thea says flatly, and it stings a little.

"I understand a lot," Felicity says quietly, not backing down.  This is too important to her—to Oliver—and she's not going to screw this up.  "I understand what it's like to have a parent taken away from you.  I understand what it's like to see things you don't want to, what it's like to be under stress."  She laughs a little bitterly, and Thea decides to pay more attention at the sound.  Felicity sighs.  "I watched my mother lose herself in a bottle—or in any drug she could get her hands on.  And when that didn't work, I watched her go down to the casinos and gamble her life away.  And I know what that does to a person—and the people who love them."  She puts her hand on Thea's.  "You're right, I probably don't understand your situation well enough, but I don't want to see that happen to you.  And the people who care about you don't want to watch that either."

"I'm sorry," Thea says suddenly, and hugs Felicity.  She returns the hug, sighing because the hardest part is yet to come.

"Look," Felicity says, pulling away, "what's done is done, and I get that.  But I think you're going to learn that your actions have consequences."

Thea's eyes narrow in confusion.  "Not if you're a Queen," she replies, and Felicity realizes that's not arrogance.  She's not trying to be arrogant or self-important; she genuinely believes that, because her last name is Queen, she's above every law and rule ever written.

"That goes for everyone," Felicity says flatly, "not just the people who aren't Queens."  God knows she's learned that the hard way—maybe it's not a good idea for her to give Thea this speech when she hasn't learned the lesson herself yet.  After all, Felicity is the one breaking the law constantly to help the Arrow, and maybe she's realizing that she's not exactly the best role model.  But, then again, she's doing the right thing, and she understands that being right isn't necessarily the same as being legal.  Maybe she's on that higher plane of reasoning.  "But I think you're going to learn about that tonight, Thea."  She sighs as she prepares to deliver the bad news.  "In a crash like this, Thea, the hospital will test for drugs and alcohol, and they'll have to report that result to the police."  She waves a hand.  "Long story short, you're probably going to jail for the weekend, since the courts don't open back up until Monday."

Before it can even sink in, Oliver opens the door.  "Detective Lance is outside," he says quietly.  He looks absolutely torn between rushing Thea out of here and whatever option in his mind doesn't lead to him in a jail cell right next to Thea's.

Felicity rises and puts her hands on Thea's shoulders.  "Look, it's not gonna be pleasant, but they won't move you until you've had a hearing.  So you'll be in lockup in the SCPD building.  It's not going to be the best thing that ever happened to you, but it's better than Iron Heights."  She hugs her, and Thea wraps her arms around Felicity for the second time that night.

"Is it wrong that I'm scared?" Thea asks, a little nervously.

Felicity takes her arm, leading her out into the hall.  "I think it would be wrong if you weren't," she admits.  After all, Felicity's not exactly excited about the idea that she'll probably end up in a cell by the time all of this is over.  But unlike Thea, she knew there would be consequences, and she accepts them gratefully.

When the enter the hallway, Detective Lance doesn't even seem surprised to see her there.  "Miss Smoak," he says in greeting.  "Why is it that every time anything happens in this damn town, you're there?"  The question earns her an odd look from Thea, but Oliver actually offers the beginnings of a smile before sobering.  Lance takes Thea's arm, slapping cuffs on her hands.  "Thea Queen, you're under arrest for driving under the influence and possession of a illegal substance."  He then proceeds to read off her Miranda rights before starting to haul her off.

"Detective, wait!" she calls, and he turns with a look that must be his equivalent of Are you freaking kidding me? before pursing his lips.  Felicity shrugs out of her coat before running up to them.  She throws it over Thea's cuffed hands so that she doesn't have to walk out in complete and total shame.  Lance opens his mouth to say something, but Felicity holds up a hand.  "She's scared out of her wits, Detective, and the media will probably swarm like vultures on roadkill.  I'll remove this coat right now if you'll give me one good reason why she should have to walk out of here in handcuffs for all the world to see."

He doesn't like it, but maybe he has a soft spot for Felicity that she doesn't know about.  "You can pick your coat up on Monday if you need it," he says flatly before he starts hauling Thea out again.

"Thank you, Detective!" Felicity calls behind him, and he completely ignores her, as expected.  She turns back to Oliver, who looks like he could fall apart at any moment.  She weaves her fingers through his.  "She's going to be okay, Oliver," Felicity says quietly.  "I promise."

He offers her a perfectly fake smile, which makes her frown in return.  "You're right," he says easily.  "Thank you for letting her use your coat."

She waves him off.  "Come on.  I'll drive you home."

 


 

Detective Lance isn't surprised that she's sitting in the lobby when he gets to work that morning, but he's not exactly thrilled to see her, all the same.  He's seen enough of Felicity Smoak for a long while—or at least until he gets his thoughts together about the Hood.  He's still not sure if she's a genuinely good kid or a damned nuisance.  Right now, he's leaning toward the latter.

"Good morning, Detective," she says cheerily, and he frowns.  Of course she has to be a morning person on top of all of the other things.  That she's that damn chipper at night is one thing, but it's another matter entirely at eight a.m.  "I was wondering if I could talk to you?"  She must notice his hesitation because she adds, "Don't worry—it won't take long.  They told me I could come in a little late if I worked late, but I still have to be in by nine.  And I work late anyway, so I didn't see the big deal."

While her commentary on her job is fascinating, he brings himself to change the subject as he holds the door to the precinct open.  "Come on," he says tiredly.  "I have exactly five minutes for you."  Actually, he knows he's going to regret this in approximately thirty seconds.  The girl has a way of convincing him her philosophy is correct in the moral sense—but, well, she's not always legally correct.  God knows her work with the Hood is enough to prove that.

She smiles as she follows him to his desk.  "Actually, the main reason I'm here is just to pick up my coat," she informs him.  "Those are hard to get in in purple—I had to fight through a crowd on Black Friday for that.  You wouldn't believe how tough those blue-haired old ladies are when there's a sale."  He doesn't exactly know what to say to that, but she saves him from having to answer.  "And I have another thing that you might care a little more about."

He hands her the coat, draped over the chair in his office because he knew she'd be in after it at some point today.  "Thank you," she says, putting it on before sitting down at her desk as though she's supposed there.  He slides into his own chair, steepling his fingers as he prepares for whatever babble is to come.  She winces, and he knows he's not going to like whatever comes next.  "I may have talked to the prosecutor on Thea's case."

"You talked to Iris West?" he says flatly, maybe a little incredulously.  He'd love to be a fly on the wall for that—Ms. West is known to be particularly hard-assed as a prosecutor, and she doesn't really like it when people interfere with her business.  "How did that go?"

He nearly spits coffee when she says, "Pretty well, actually."  She waves a hand nonchalantly, as though he shouldn't be surprised.  "Iris is a friend of a friend—she's in love with my former foster brother, Barry, and he's in love with her."  He frowns, now learning why most of her juvenile records were so hard to find, though it doesn't explain why the other half is sealed.  She rolls her eyes.  "But of course they're both completely oblivious.  The whole world can see it, but they're still in the dark, you know?"  He snorts because he remembers when she was in the alley with the Hood, and maybe romantic obliviousness is going around.  "Anyway, I explained Thea's situation, and she says she could probably convince the judge to go light on sentencing if she had the arresting officer on her side."  She folds her hands in her lap, looking up at him under her eyelashes.  "That would be you, in case you were wondering."

"I wasn't aware," he deadpans, but it doesn't force the smile off her face.  Frowning, he continues, "Look, I'm perfectly willing to let her go to jail, Miss Smoak.  She's broken the law, and if she wasn't a Queen, we wouldn't even be having this conversation right now."

"But that's where you're wrong, Detective," she corrects.  "This has nothing to do about the Queen family or their power and influence.  This is about a scared little girl in lockup who made a mistake."  With all the finesse of a lawyer, she continues, "As a minor, I might add.  I'm not asking to have Thea's parents pay a fine as a slap on the wrist."  She pulls a file folder from her bag, and he can see a laptop sticking out of it.  "This is a plea bargain deal for community service.  Three thousand hours of it, so she'll have plenty to do instead of drugs and crashing cars."  She smiles, and he does not like the predatory look of that smile.  "I talked to Merlyn,"—Lance frowns in confusion as she mentions her friend by surname—"and he talked to Laurel.  She's agreed to take Thea in at CNRI for her service deal.  And you know she won't take it easy on Thea just because she's Thea Queen."  She lays the file on his desk when he won't take it from her.  "And I'm perfectly willing to start work on that encrypted phone tomorrow if I can get your signature."

Lance blinks twice.  "Miss Smoak, you should be careful," he says flatly.  "I could hold you on blackmail charges right now."  He growls it, hoping to intimidate her and finally gain control of this train wreck.

She doesn't even seem daunted by the warning.  "Legally speaking," she says carefully, "blackmail is defined as an attempt to exact money or anything of value from a person by threats or intimidation."  She smiles.  "I know I haven't threatened you—and surely you don't find me intimidating."

Not that he'll admit it to her, but he finds her intimidating as hell.  Physically, she may not be a threat, but what she lacks in brawn she makes up for tenfold in brains.  And, in his tired, overworked, Monday stupor he's forgotten the first rule of dealing with Felicity Smoak:  never engage in a battle of wits unless you think you're certain your equipment is better.  And he is certain that she's prepared for this all weekend, and she blindsided him with it.  It wasn't a fair fight to begin with, and he knows he should just admit defeat.

He sighs.  "Give me time to look over it," he says finally.  "I'll have it for you by lunch—one way or another."  He looks at her intently.  "Just answer one question for me.  Did Oliver Queen put you up to this?"

He's not surprised when she shakes her head.  "He doesn't have a clue," she says simply.  "This isn't about Oliver.  This is about Thea.  I'm not going to sit her and sing praises of Oliver Queen because they would mostly be lies and you wouldn't want to hear them anyway.  The point is that Thea is still a child, Detective."  She bites her lip, and he thinks what follows will be the only part of her speech that isn't prepared.  "It's my way of repaying a debt to society.  If someone had decided I was a lost cause, I'd probably be situated in a cell right next to hers."  Before he can even ask the sealed file in her record was from a juvenile charge, she adds quietly, "I was one of Mrs. Nagorski's."

He understands immediately.  He dealt with Enid Nagorski for the first half of his career, and he knows the name well.  And now he knows that Felicity Smoak realizes that, considering whatever her circumstances were, she was one of the lucky ones.

It's only that sentence that makes him put his signature on those papers.  "God help me," he says slowly, quietly, "but you've made a believer out of me, Miss Smoak."  He doubts if she completely understands all of the meanings in that sentence because he doesn't even understand.  She's convinced him of so much in the past few weeks.  "You missed your calling," he informs her.  "You should have been a lawyer."

She smiles as she stuffs the now signed documents into her bag.  "The world has enough lawyers, Detective," she replies easily.  "And besides, the world needs more female computer geeks.  We're a minority, you know."  He rises as she does, and he certainly doesn't expect her to hug him.  In fact, he's pretty sure he'd be less surprised if she'd slapped him.  "Thank you so much—I can't tell you how much good you're doing."  And with that, she walks out of his area and out of the of the homicide division.

Lance shakes his head.  Felicity Smoak is the damnedest thing he's ever seen—one minute she's blackmailing him, and the next she's hugging him.  But he has to admit, there's something about the little blonde that makes him smile.

Chapter Text

Felicity jumps when she hears the fateful knock at her window, the one that signifies the Arrow has arrived.  She frowns, hauling herself out of bed and toward her window.  The time is later than usual—three a.m. is early in her world, not late.  And the Arrow doesn't usually risk visiting her so close to sunrise.  Still, she somehow manages not to fall on her face while navigating a still-very-asleep Saphira, and she flicks her bedroom light on out of habit, forgetting for a moment that the Arrow doesn't seem to like light.  She figures it out about halfway to the window, but then she decides she'll go back for it later.  With a couple careful twists of the lock, the window is open, and the Arrow is stumbling in.

She knows immediately that something is very, very wrong with him the moment she opens her window.  He basically drags himself in, and he falls into a crouch as soon as he enters, stopping himself from falling on his face with a hand.  She should probably ask, but she's not sure what kind of shape he's in, so the last thing she wants to do is pressure him further.  Instead, she crouches down, throws one of his arms over her shoulder, and hauls him up into a standing position.

And she's even more certain this time that something is horribly wrong with him because he's leaning more weight on her than the time he was injured in the fight with the Dark Archer.  She watches him walk as she leads him over to her bed, and she doesn't notice a limp.  The problem seems to be that he's unsteady on his own feet, as though the ground is rolling under him.

Even though the room is bathed in the main light that she rarely uses, Felicity hasn't dared to try and look under his hood in the lighter-than-usual conditions.  She decided several weeks ago that, if the Arrow wants her to know who he is, he'll have to tell her.  She may to snoop around clues in her free time, but she knows that's never going to solve the mystery for her, so she'll wait until he's ready to give her the opportunity.

He more falls than sits on the bed, and he immediately says, very quietly, "Turn off the light."  His voice is off—almost weak—as he makes the demand.  Even the synthesizer can't hide that, and she wonders how injured or exhausted he'd have to be to show that weakness to her.

The motion of the bed wakes Saphira.  While her tail starts wagging as she crawls up to the Arrow, she isn't her usual self.  Subdued, she lays her head in his lap and whines loudly.  With what looks like a concerted effort, he raises his hand and lets it fall across the shiba's withers, which quiets her somewhat.  "Saphira, leave him alone," Felicity calls, knowing that something is terribly wrong, but the dog just looks at her, not moving.  Felicity rolls her eyes; clearly she's going to lose yet another argument to her dog.

She turns off the main light, allowing the lamp in the corner to be their sole light in the darkness.  "What's wrong?" she asks, not sure what to do.  Then she sees the moisture dripping from his face, and decides to change tacks.  "Hold that thought," she says before running to the bathroom, grabbing a hand towel before coming back.  Hesitantly, she cups his chin, frowning as she realizes how warm he is.  "God, you're hot," she comments as she starts wiping away some of the perspiration, then she can feel her face heat in embarrassment as she realizes what she said.  "I didn't mean it like that.  As in, you have a fever, not like, you're attractive—though a girl can dream.  I mean, it may not be me dreaming, but I don't know because I've never seen your face.  I just meant that I'm probably not the only girl in this city who dreams about you crawling into their window, all gorgeous and muscular, and waking them up in the middle of the night to—"  She groans, and she thinks her face might actually be on fire now, as that sentence wasn't exactly going to end with, "to ask them for help with technical problems."  She really needs to find a way to stop making innuendos every time she speaks.  "Of all the times to let me ramble on," she mutters, "that should have been the one to use my name as a signal to shut up."

She drops the hand towel, also releasing his head, noticing how piercing those eyes are again.  Even dull and tired, his eyes are always sharp, and they make her feel like he can see something she can't. There aren't a lot of eyes like that—not that she spends a lot of time staring into people's eyes—but his seem awfully familiar.  He seems awfully familiar.  Maybe she's getting used to him, starting to see the Arrow as something other than the masked hero in the night.

Her long-winded rambling earns her a breathy, tired chuckle for her efforts.  Quietly, with a strained smile on his face, he asks her, "Waking them up in the middle of the night to do what?"  Her own face betrays her as she goes crimson, and she curses his ability to read her like a book.  But that is one conversation she's not going to revisit. Ever.

She takes a deep breath, trying to gain control of the train wreck that has become this conversation.  "Anyway, my point was that you have a fever.  Are you sick?  Because if you are, the Vertigo thing can totally wait.  I don't mind.  Really.  I have Thea all squared away, and those drug dealers will still be around when you—"

"Felicity," he says softly, and this time she's grateful that he's decided to stop her babbling before she can say something else embarrassing.  "I had a chat with the man who produces Vertigo," he informs her, voice strained.  "He left me a parting gift."  He holds out a half-full syringe of what Felicity can only assume to be Vertigo, and it's one hell of a syringe—the last marker is the 20cc line.

"Please don't tell me," she says slowly, "that he injected you with the other half of that syringe."  The look on his face says it all.  "God, you've only had one dose."  She examines the syringe again before she corrects herself.  "Well, maybe more than that.  The point is, you already have withdrawal symptoms after one experience."  She doesn't know a lot about drugs, but she does know that it's a little early for things like that.

"I think he meant for me to overdose," he says simply.  It bothers her how easily he delivers the logic; it's cold, emotionless and analytical, as though the fact the guy wanted him dead is a daily occurrence.  But then she realizes it probably is—he is the Arrow, after all.  "Can you..."  He has to stop for a moment, wincing before he tries again.  "Can you have this analyzed for me?  It could help me find where he's working out of."

She bites her lip, thinking she might be a little out of her league on this one.  Illegal hacking?  She's your girl.  Encryption breaking?  No one can do it faster.  But chemical analysis is not on her résumé, thank you.  It scares her that he seems to understand, turning toward her with a mild frown on his face.  "You can't help me with this one, can you?"  It's supposed to be a question, but he says it like it's a statement of fact.  And she doesn't like it because she can always help him.  She hasn't let him down yet, and, damn it, this isn't going to be the first time.

She frowns, not wanting to say no, but not able to say yes, either.  She taps a finger against her chin thoughtfully, trying to figure out—  And she's an idiot because chemical analysis has Barry written all over it.  She rises from the bed, using his thigh as leverage to push herself up, clearly not thinking.  She doesn't apologize this time, even though she colors, because her foot-in-mouth disease seems to be particularly bad tonight.  She picks up the phone she doesn't use to contact the Arrow, then goes back to him.  But, before she does, she picks up Saphira, who starts screaming in protests as she tries to go back to the vigilante she apparently loves.  Felicity sits her down on the other side of her bedroom door, shutting it behind her.  Not surprisingly, the little, noisy dog starts screaming immediately, and Felicity winces when she hears claws against the door.

"Look, it won't work out, Saphira," she says, mostly for her own amusement.  "He's a vigilante.  You're a dog.  And I just can't stand by and watch you get hurt again."  The Arrow seems to find that particularly amusing, but she doesn't dwell on it, dropping down next to him and starting to unlock her phone.  "I never thought I'd have to compete with my dog for your attention."

"You always have my full attention," he replies quietly, his voice filled with so many things that Felicity doesn't want to understand.  He releases a long sigh before asking her the million-dollar question.  "Who are you calling?"

"Barry Allen," she answers.  "He was my foster brother."  She doesn't think she can speak further about that—the wounds are too raw, and that sealed file isn't just in the police department.  It's in her head, too, and she does not invite the past back into her life after so long away from it.  "But he's also a scientific genius with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry."

"You two aren't related?" he asks carefully, and she thinks there's some confusion in his voice.  Which is weird, because she's maybe mentioned Barry to the Arrow once in passing, and it's such a minor detail that she expected him to forget.

"Not genetically," she admits as she presses the call button, "but I always say we're blood kin.  After all, the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb."  She rolls her eyes.  "Everyone always says that 'blood is thicker than water,' to demonstrate the importance of family, but it's just the shortened version saying that best friends have bonds stronger even than the familial ones."  She chuckles.  "I always thought that Barry was God's way of apologizing for my family."

"That's a pretty strong compliment for starting off a conversation," Barry's voice says from her phone, and she jumps, having forgotten that she was calling him.  "But flattery will get you nowhere," he continues casually.  "There's another old saying for you."  A pause before he finally asks, "Do I even want to know who you're talking to at  three a.m.?"

"Let's say that, hypothetically," she starts, her eyes on the Arrow, and Barry groans because he hates hypothetical situations, "I was sitting on my bed, discussing a case with the Arrow.  How pissed would you be?"  The corner of the vigilante's mouth curls up into a smile as Felicity throws him a conspiratorial wink.  Maybe she should have done this sooner; it's kind of fun to have help tormenting Barry.

She changes her mind about that, though, when he replies suggestively, "Is that what the kids call it these days—'discussing a case'?"  She chokes a little, her face flushing as he continues, "Because, while I'm glad for you, there are some things I don't need to know about.  Just make sure you pass on a message:  I may not be able to compete with him physically, but if he hurts you, I do have regular access to chloroform and some of the strongest, undiluted acids in the world."

"Good to know chivalry isn't dead, Watson," she replies after a long moment, her face still crimson, "but I actually meant working on a case.  And I'm not any help on this one.  But I do have something for you to analyze in your mass spec or infrared spectroscopy machine.  Or whatever the hell it is.  I don't do organic chemistry, and I'm embarrassed to call you my friend because you like it."

He sounds way too excited about the whole thing when he says, "Anything to help the Arrow."  He quickly adds, "And you, too, Sherly.  But this is a big deal—I'm actually going to help the Arrow."  By the end, he's reaching epic fangirl proportions, and Felicity rolls her eyes.

"You get used to it," she admits with a shrug.  "Can you pick it up tomorrow—or, well, later today, I guess?  I can take it to you in Central City, I guess, but your hours are more flexible than mine."

Barry replies that he'd be perfectly willing to pick it up, but Felicity's mind focuses more on the gloved hand that falls on her knee to catch her attention.  It works like a charm for him if that's his goal; she can't exactly focus on anything else at the moment.  "Ask him how long it will take," he says quietly, and she can't even really respond until his hand leaves.  And then all she's capable of a small nod.

From the phone, Barry asks, "Wait, who was that speaking?  Was that him?  I thought you were kidding about him being there.  Felicity," he says firmly, tone abruptly changing, "it's three a.m., you live in the Glades, for God's sake, and you don't have any neighbors.  I mean, I think he's awesome, but not when he's at your house at three a.m.  That's kind of inviting danger, don't you think?"

She rolls her eyes.  "Barry, if I thought I was in any danger, do you think I would even be working with him?"  She looks at the Arrow as she says, strongly believing every word, "Everything they say in the news may be true, Barry, but at the end of the day, he's still a hero.  I trust him, and that should be enough for you."  Not waiting for him to answer, she terminates the call.  To the Arrow, she says, holding up the syringe, "I'll give this to Barry later today.  He should have something for you then."

With another hand to her knee, he says quietly, "Thank you, Felicity.  Goodnight."  With that, he turns to leave, but she manages to catch his arm.  He turns on the spot, fixing her with a loaded look and his head tilted to the side.  He almost looks like his old self, but the slight uncertainty when he walks changes her mind about that.

"Absolutely not," she says flatly, and his expression turns to something that looks suspiciously like surprise.  He starts to say her name, but she holds a hand up.  "No, don't cut me off.  You can barely walk—I'm not letting you leave here."  Biting her lip, she adds, "I'm not going to spend the rest of this night worrying about you making it back to wherever you're headed."  She crosses her arms.  "It's almost two hours until sunrise.  Take the couch or the bed in the guest room and get some sleep.  I'll set my alarm early, and I'll wake you."

"Felicity," he tries again, but this time it's a growl of irritation and not a soft reminder that she was supposed to be talking about something else.  She supposes he means it to be intimidating, but she'd bet money that her seventeen-pound dog could take him down right now.  Well, if Saphira didn't love him so much, but that isn't the point.  He's weak, he was nearly killed with the drug that put Thea in jail, and she's not going to risk losing another person she cares about.  The Arrow is too important to her for that.  It may be an odd friendship, but it's still a friendship.  It's a difficult one, since she doesn't know his name or face—and because he doesn't know anything about her other than her name and face—but she has to admit there's a... spark of something between them.  Mutual understanding, she thinks, but that's not quite right, either.

Whatever it is, it's complicated.  But it's theirs.

She senses his defeat a moment before he does, taking a deep breath and sighing in a Felicity-Smoak-you-are-impossible way.  "Fine," he says finally, flinging open her bedroom door and stomping toward the couch.  He sits one end—the same one as always, the one farthest from the television set in the corner, giving her a I-hope-you're-happy-now look before crossing his arms and sitting there.  She shuts her door, determined to spend the next two hours asleep, too.

And, when her alarm goes off at five a.m. and she finds him there asleep, she allows herself a small smile of victory.

 


 

"It's a good deal," Laurel tries, jumping over the typical family drama.  "Three thousand hours community service is a lot, but it's better than going to jail.  And you'll work at CNRI, meaning I can drive you back home in the evenings, since your license is suspended for the time being."  She frowns.  "And I know Iris West, the prosecutor on this case.  She's good, Thea, and I have no doubt she's trying to take it easy on you."  She shakes her head.  "I don't know why, though—she's known to be pretty tough.  She doesn't usually offer plea deals."  Laurel turns those questioning eyes on Oliver, as if to ask, Did you sleep with her, too?

Feeling the need to explain, Oliver clears his throat before saying, "Miss West is the friend of a friend."  When he sees that still isn't flying, he turns to Thea.  "Look, Thea," he says flatly, "Felicity called in a lot of favors for this.  It's a good deal, and if you don't take it, I'm going to leave you to her mercy."  He lets an ominous tone enter his voice at the end, implying that Felicity isn't as benevolent about this as they'd expect.  After all, Felicity has yelled at the Arrow—not Oliver Queen—and he has to stay in character.

Laurel's head turns toward him, and he earns no sympathy from Thea's narrowed eyes, either.  "Tommy told me you were the one with this idea," she says gently, that passive-aggressive tone n her voice again.  It's one Oliver knows well; it's the tone she used to say, "Really, nothing's wrong," every time he forgot a dating anniversary.

"Tommy lied," Oliver says flatly.  "Felicity asked him to lie for her because she doesn't want credit for this stroke of genius."  He holds his hands out.  "But we all know I'm not smart enough to come up with this.”

Thea hands him the black folder that was previously lying on the coffee table, and Oliver is surprised to find it has Thea's signature on it now.  "Here," she says flatly.  "I'll do it for your girlfriend."  Laurel's eyebrows rise into her hairline, but before Oliver can correct Thea, she continues, "After all, she's the only one who ever tells me when I screw up, and she went to the trouble to inform me of my mistakes.  Count me in."

"Felicity is a friend," Oliver says flatly, wishing for the umpteenth time that Thea would stop trying to push the issue.  He isn't interested in a relationship that serious with anyone; his head isn't always the best place to be, and he's doesn't think he can handle life as the Arrow and a steady relationship with someone he'll have to spend the rest of his life—however long or short that may be—lying to.  Because he's dragged Felicity and Diggle into this, and he's not upending anyone else's life.

He doesn't understand why, but the statement sets Thea off.  She opens her mouth to start in, but he's saved by Diggle.  "Sir," he says, and only Oliver can hear the irony in that one word, "your technical advisor for the club is calling."  His tone is flat and completely devoid of emotion, but Oliver can tell by his word choice who the older man is talking about.

Because Oliver has only one technical advisor, and she's supposed to be giving him results on the sample of Vertigo he gave her.

He offers a fake smile before saying to the two women, "I'm sorry, but I have to take this."  He follows Diggle into the foyer, where he's handed the Arrow phone.  "Hello, Felicity," he says, breathing a sigh of relief.  It seems that Felicity has become only one of two people he can talk to without it being exhausting.

"Hey," she says, sounding a little distracted.  Then he hears her muffled voice say to someone else, "For the love of God, Barry, you cannot have the phone.  The last thing I need is you asking the man for his autograph.  I have to work with him after this—without apologizing for your behavior."  She turns her attention back to the phone.  "Sorry about that—Barry's fangirling like a twelve-year-old over Twilight."  In the background, Oliver has to suppress a chuckle as he hears Barry's indignant cry.

Oliver makes a mental note to look up both Twilight and "fangirl" after this conversation is over, but he decides it would be out of character for him to ask.  "Anyway, after a long-winded speech in the language of organic chemistry that means nothing to either you or I, Barry found out that the water used in the..."—she stops for a long moment, meaning that she probably didn't tell Barry what it was—"sample comes from an old, ruined area of the Glades.  It's mostly residential, so your best bet for your guy is an old, abandoned mental facility—insert pun here—on Seventy-Seventh and Arbor.  That's where you'll find your guy."

"Thank you, Felicity," he says, surprising both himself and Diggle with the sincerity in his tone.  He wants to say so much more—"thank you for saving my sister," "thank you for being my friend," "thank you for calling me a hero when I'm nowhere near one"—but his vague statement will have to do for now.

He can practically hear her go red over the phone, and he's seen that blush enough times that he knows exactly where it will be:  the expanse of skin under her eyes, and across the bridge of her nose.  "Well," she scrambles to say, talking too fast, "it wasn't just me.  Barry found the composition and other biochemistry crap—I just matched it to a map.  So you should really be thanking him."

The mere idea of that puts a sour taste in Oliver's mouth.  He may realize that the two are just friends, but that doesn't mean that he has to like the kid.  "Barry isn't the one I asked for help," he reminds her firmly.  And Barry Allen certainly isn't the one Oliver expects to keep his secrets.  "And he's not the person I trust.  Thank you, Felicity," he repeats, and this time is ton is insistent.

Oliver narrows his eyes as Digg shakes his head with a small smile, but his attention is directed elsewhere when Felicity replies quietly, "Well, you're welcome.  If there's anything else you need, don't hesitate."

"You'll be the first call I make," he assures her before hanging up, allowing Oliver to focus on Diggle's poorly contained smile.  "Something funny, Digg?" he asks.

His only response is an enigmatic, knowing smile.  "Nothing," he replies easily.  "Just thinking about how lucky we are to have Felicity."  Something tells Oliver that's not the whole story, but he doesn't have time to stop and think about it.  After all, he has to prepare.

The Count's farewell party is tonight, and, well, Oliver needs time to get the details just right.

Chapter Text

Felicity frowns as she waits at Big Belly Burger for him, shaking her knee and drumming a rhythm with her fingers against the table top. She hasn't been this nervous since her freshman year of high school when Damon Wallace, the star lacrosse player of the college team, asked her out. And with how that turned out—a very nasty restraining order—how can she be blamed for being nervous?

Of course, that was a lifetime ago, and she doesn't think Oliver Queen is the kind to stalk her obsessively. She's always a little wary of the Arrow, though, and she has a feeling that's going to be an interesting conversation. But it's also a conversation that causes her stomach to turn, so she ignores it for now, willing herself to focus on the present. Honestly, she shouldn't be so nervous about it.

She looks out the window, thinking of ways to get out of this mess. She could fake an illness, say something came up at work—even that Barry needed her in Central City for a while. But, well, she's always been a horrible liar, and each lie would end much the same way: with Oliver asking her what was so important that she called him up at three a.m. And something tells her that he won't buy, "I had a nightmare and needed to talk to someone," as an excuse.  Especially since she's led him on this impossible wild goose chase.

The moment of truth passes, though, as she meets eyes with Oliver through the window. She waves cheerily before realizing she looks like a total dork, but it brings a dazzlingly brilliant smile to Oliver's face before he waves back. Part of her fills with dread as she realizes how this conversation is going to go, but part of her is glad because now there's no escape from it, and at least she won't have to second guess herself about her decision.

Then her eyes meet Mr. Diggle's, always at Oliver's side, and she shares a glance with him. The two have only met a handful of times, but it changes things now that she knows he's working with the Arrow. Before, he was simply a stoic figure by her friend's side who rarely spoke, but now he's more than that. He's a colleague, a co-worker, a member of whatever cause it is that they're working toward. And she would like him to know that, but there's never a time or place.

Oliver slides into the booth across from her, and something is exchanged in glances between the two men. Then Mr. Diggle breaks into an all-knowing, enigmatic smile to end all enigmatic smiles before shaking his head and taking a seat at the other end of the small diner, at the bar. Oliver flashes her a smile that has probably made at least one girl faint before saying simply, "Hi."

Felicity means to attempt something somewhat smooth, but of course that never works out for her. "I'm sorry," she blurts, clasping her hands and rubbing one thumb with the other on top of the table. "I didn't want to talk about this at work or home, and I'm too nervous to go to your house. Because that place intimidates me on a normal day, and with this level of the jitters, I just can't handle—"

His hand falls over hers, and she doesn't expect it to be so calloused and rough. She doesn't know how she didn't notice that before, and it makes her wonder before deciding it's absolutely none of her business. And then she realizes the more important thing—he reached out to comfort her. Usually it's the other way around, and she likes the idea that she can count on him, too. Because with one glance through her eyelashes at his face, and she knows that's exactly what his expression is trying to communicate with her. "Felicity," he says gently, and how can he possibly say so much with one word? People have been saying her name all her life, but no one says it the way he does.

She takes a deep breath, and something about the soft smile on his face encourages her to keep going with this. Why did she have to be the honest friend who never lets him down? It's suddenly more responsibility than she can bear. "I have something to show you," she admits finally in a whisper. She watches as his eyebrows knit together in confusion before deciding it's best if she pulls out the book.

She hesitates to pull her hands from under his, but she eventually slides them loose. Surprisingly, he doesn't withdraw his own, but allows the other to join it, his hands clasped expectantly as his arms stretch across the length of the table. She reaches into her bag to pull out the little book, and she wonders how one, seemingly innocent, leather-bound journal could cause so much conflict in her life. She holds it out to him without a word, waiting to gauge his reaction to it.

With trepidation, he takes it, but it's almost as if he already knows what he'll find when he pulls it from her fingertips, drawing his arms back toward himself. She stares at her emerald green nails and wondered when that became her go-to color, but she likes showing her loyalty lies. It's her own inside joke, one that sometimes gives her strength to do what she thinks she can't. Just like now.

He examines it slowly, his shoulders tensing as he sees the names that have taken her so long to ferret out of the secretive little book. She still feels a little triumph as she sees them, thinking of how she conquered whoever-it-is with a hairdryer. But it fades when Oliver frowns, and he studies the names with confusion. Finally, he looks at her again, quirking an eyebrow as he asks, "Felicity, where did you get this?" His voice is measured and calm, but the firm set of his jaw betrays something that looks almost like anger. And she doesn't know what she's done to make him so upset—she hasn't even given him the bad news yet.

She mirrors his confusion because his question certainly isn't the one she'd ask. Her first question would have been something along the lines of, "What is this?" and the only reason she can think of for him not to ask is because he already knows.

So she doesn't answer, instead returning his question with her own. "You know what this is?" she asks, leaning over the table and resting her elbows on it.

There's a quirk, a small second of hesitation before he says, "No." It's enough to make her question if he's lying to her, and she doesn't like this feeling. A few months ago, she never questioned anyone in her life because she trusted them all. But the deeper she gets into business with the Arrow, the more she's learned that the only certainty is not knowing who to trust. "What is it?" he asks this time, but it's clear his heart isn't in the question. Actually, it seems to be more of a test for her than a desire to seek information.

"I don't know," she admits with a shrug, and he relaxes ever so slightly. "God knows I've tried enough things that I probably should know, but I don't." It's frustrating not to have all the answers; she's been deciphering this damn book for Walter for at least a month, and still there are more things left to be asked. "What I do know," she says finally, slowly, "is that twenty of the names in that book received visits from the Arrow, Oliver." His head snaps up from the book—a very intense reaction—and he questions her further with his eyes. "I think he might be using a book like this to mark his targets," she whispers as he places it on the table.

He doesn't say anything for an impossibly long moment before finally asking again, "Where did you get this, Felicity?" This time the edge is gone, and it's simply a question without a biased need for information.

She has to put her hands under the table so he doesn't see them shaking. The last thing she wants is for Oliver to get involved with this, and she's recognizing the faint odor of bad idea material around this entire idea. She should have just gone with her first instinct and moved on to her backup plan. But she thought he deserved to know. Clearly, though, he already did, and now it's just creating more questions that she can't answer. "From—" she starts, but then she knows she can't look at him for this one. "From Walter." She swallows, and God, this is her worst idea ever.

She's surprised when a very rough hand tilts her chin upward, and she finds a very open, dark-eyed Oliver staring at her with an expression she can't quite decipher. It reminds her of all those nights working with the Arrow, the way he won't let her avoid his eyes just because she's about to say something difficult. "And where did he get it?" Oliver asks evenly, and it's as though he knows that she hasn't told him the full story yet.

She tries to look away, but he still has her chin in his hand, and he refuses to let her go. She closes her eyes before she whispers, "From your mother." She just can't watch the expressions that play across his face, the inevitable look of betrayal that he'll finally decide upon. Theirs is a complicated web of lies and secrets, even though she can say there's very few people she trusts more than Oliver. But she's starting to think she's just destined to lie to everyone for the rest of her life. And never has she felt more alone in the world—even after all the moments of being a pariah in her life.

He recoils as soon as it sets in, and he looks almost as though she's slapped him. And it destroys her. The last thing she wants to do is cause Oliver pain, but she has to let some of these secrets and lies go before they destroy her, too. "I'm sorry," she blurts, and she feels her words rushing together and hears her voice rise about two octaves like it does when she's about to cry. But she will not cry, damn it. "I don't know anything about why she had it, but that's what Walter told me. If he knew anything else, he didn't tell me about it." She takes a deep breath, trying not to focus on the expression on Oliver's face. "But Walter warned me to be careful about this because he sent his head of security to investigate."

Oliver's eyebrows pull together and he frowns. "Didn't Walter's head of security die in a car accident?" he asks slowly, and she realizes he's coming to the same conclusions that Walter did.

"Yeah," is all Felicity can manage, but then her voice wavers as she realizes how much trouble she's really put herself in. She is an absolute idiot for letting this happen—she should have turned Walter down the very first time they met. Her voice barely audible, she adds, "Walter didn't think it was an accident, and now..." She doesn't finish the thought because she doesn't have to.

Oliver's eyes go wide while hers land on the book. That damn book has caused too much damage already, and this was a mistake. She should have followed her first instinct and asked someone who is more equipped to help her with something like this. Without a shred of hesitation, she grabs it, putting it back in her bag. "I showed you," she starts slowly, "because I figured it out and I can't hide these secrets anymore, Oliver. And because you're my friend. I care about you, and I can't hide this from you. But I know you'll start digging if you have this book in your hands. So I'm taking it back." She hesitates, her voice soft and slow. "I know someone," she admits, "who can help with this." She rises from her seat before leaving. It may anger him, he might never forgive him for this, but it's a small price to pay for saving his life.

"Felicity," he growls this time, and she feels like she knows that tone. It evokes some sort of memory in her, but she can't understand why. He rises with her, his hand reaching for her elbow. She turns back to him, and she gets lost in his eyes for a moment. He studies her carefully before motioning back to their table. "Please." He doesn't say anything else, just stands there and stares her down. And she's a sucker, so of course she slides right back into place. She lets out a frustrated groan before putting her head down in her hands. She regrets telling him, but if she didn't, she knows she'd regret that, too.

His hands cover hers, and he gently pries them from her forehead. She can't do much more than stare at him as he takes both of her hands, and he offers her a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes, and she's never felt more affection for him than in this moment. Because, this time, when he's smiling, it's not because he thinks he has to put on a face for the rest of the world, but because he's trying to comfort her. "Thank you," he says quietly, and she knows any anger he has isn't aimed at her. He doesn't say anything else, but he doesn't really have to. They both understand that he appreciates her telling him, that he knows just how damn difficult it was for her to do so, that he appreciates her trying to save him from his own curiosity.

He doesn't leave her an opportunity to respond before squeezing her hands, releasing them, and rising from the booth. He doesn't wait for Mr. Diggle, doesn't look back. But he does take a brief second to drop a hand on her shoulder. Felicity takes a moment to herself before rising, and her bag dumps half its contents when she drops it, mostly because of frayed nerves. She gathers up most of her things, and she turns to find the brown book that's caused so much trouble held out to her. She rises as she takes it, and she finds John Diggle smiling at her. "You dropped this," he offers quietly, and Felicity knows he must understand what it is—could have ran out with it and given it to Oliver—but he instead gives it back to her.

"I see why he chose you," she blurts, then colors as she realizes what she's said. She shakes her head. "Never mind," she immediately corrects. She takes the book from his hand. "Thank you, Mr. Diggle." She hurries to stuff the book down in her bag, then turns to scurry out of this building before she screws one more thing up. After all, she thinks twice is enough for one day.

He stops her with one look, and she swears the man must have the secrets of the universe hidden away in that brain. Because that's the way he looks at everyone—like he understands them in a single instant. "Why who chose me?" he asks, but they both know he really doesn't have to ask.

"Our friend," she clarifies, then realizes that's just not good enough. "Our friend who's into archery." He doesn't seem to be surprised that she's figured it out because he only smiles.

"I can see why he chose you, too," is all he says, again with that knowing expression, and Felicity isn't smart enough to figure that one out. Finally, with a "Have a good day, Miss Smoak," he follows Oliver out the door.

 


 

John Diggle has seen his share of frightening things, but he thinks that Oliver in one of his self-loathing moods is one of the scariest things he's ever seen. Oliver doesn't yell, he doesn't take his anger out on anyone other than himself. And, all the while, he appears and acts perfectly calm, except for the tension in his jaw. And, in Diggle's experience, it's the people who can stay perfectly calm are the ones who are the most terrifying, the ones capable of the worst crimes.

They enter their base of operations, and he's almost surprised when Oliver walks past the table that houses his computer and flips it. It's almost like he doesn't focus on it; one hand darts out, catches the table by the edge, and tilts the top backward. There's a satisfying crash as everything litters to the floor, and it's only then that Oliver takes a deep breath, facing away from his partner for a long moment. Diggle winces as he notices the corner of Oliver's laptop lying amid the rubble, knowing that it's probably damaged beyond repair.

When he turns back, the expression on his face is murderous, and Digg knows it's aimed at nobody but Oliver himself. "You were right," he says finally, his voice low enough to almost reach his deep Arrow tones. "I shouldn't have involved Felicity in this." He runs a hand over his face. "She's going to get herself killed if she keeps digging into things she should leave alone."

"You really think that she wouldn't have eventually contacted you with the book anyway?" Diggle responds, hoping that Oliver will understand the question. "This isn't on you, man. Walter gave her the book, not you. And she tore into it because that's what she does." He wonders for a moment when he became Felicity's advocate. At first, he thought she was just another pretty face Oliver planned to use, but now he knows better. He knows Oliver better, and he's beginning to understand this mysterious Felicity Smoak.

Before Oliver can respond, Diggle, knowing it's best to get it out of the way, continues, "And that's not the worst of it." He crosses his arms as Oliver throws him that questioning glance. "She knows I work for the Arrow. I don't know how she figured it out, but she told me as much today."

Oliver turns away, again running that hand over his face. He doesn't say anything for a very long moment, but Diggle knows what thoughts are flying around in his head. He's blaming himself for involving her, berating himself for allowing himself to get too close, throwing a barrage of words around because he's a human being who couldn't resist the draw of companionship.

Oliver may not see it yet, but Diggle does. He sees it every time Oliver pulls that hood over his head, speaks to his family, draws that bow back. There's something different about Oliver now that Felicity Smoak is in his life. By simply agreeing to help him with a laptop all those months ago, she rocked the man's entire world. When he started this crusade, Diggle thought that Oliver Queen was a walking time bomb, just a few casualties away from falling into a homicidal spiral. But he likes this version of Oliver he sees now. More importantly, Diggle thinks Oliver likes himself better now that Felicity Smoak has firmly cemented her presence in his life.

Diggle can't help the small smile that graces his face, despite the grave nature of things today. He can't help but wonder when Oliver will finally realize the depth of his feelings for her. Because if there's one thing Diggle knows, it's that women like Felicity Smoak don't come around all that often, and, even when they do, they don't wait around forever.

Oliver's Arrow phone rings, and he doesn't even look at the caller ID before demanding, "What?" into the speaker. Diggle thinks the possibility of Felicity in danger has rattled the billionaire more that he's probably admitting to himself. Because Diggle knows, just as Oliver does, that if she has a copy of the list and a connection to Walter, it's simply a matter of when she finds herself into more than she can handle.

Oliver is silent for a very long moment, but Diggle can already tell by the lack of tension in his features that it's Felicity. "I didn't mean to yell," he says quietly, then turns to Digg. The vigilante throws Diggle a questioning expression, but it only makes the older man chuckle. He never thought he'd describe Oliver Queen as "gentle," but there doesn't seem to be a better word when he's with Felicity.

Another long pause before, "I'll be there." It isn't a simple statement. It's a promise, a vow that doesn't end after whatever favor she's called in this time. It's a commitment with no expiration date.

Unsurprisingly, the moment Oliver terminates the call, he grabs the suit. Diggle shakes his head again before saying, "Tell Felicity I said hello."

Oliver studies him for a moment. "I didn't say it was Felicity," he says slowly, his eyebrows narrowed together in confusion. And Diggle finds it incredibly amusing that the only person who doesn't see it is Felicity.

Diggle only shakes his head. "You didn't have to, man."

Chapter Text

Felicity thinks she might be about to wear a hole in her floor. Today has done nothing for her nerves; first that encounter with Oliver, and now this mess. She finally let the cat out of the bag and told Diggle that she knew he was the Not-Vigilante, and she's not looking forward to meeting the Arrow. Because Felicity knows that loyalty like that is nearly impossible, and Mr. Diggle is not a man to keep secrets from the people who depend upon him.

She turns from a line in her path to run into the Arrow, and he steadies her by the shoulders. She lets out a muffled shriek of surprise. "Are you all right?" he asks quietly, before brushing a loose strand of hair from her face. His eyes are intense, as always, and she really needs to look away because of the way they taunt her.

"I could ask you the same question," she retorts when she's finally able to look at him again. "The last time we met, you had an almost-lethal dose of Vertigo in your system. You could barely walk a straight line." She bites her lip before she adds hesitantly, "And then you left without waking me. I wasn't sure if you were all right." Something about the admission makes her feel like she's admitting something much more personal, so she quickly turns her head away.

His hand lands on her shoulder, causing her to focus attention on him again. "I didn't want to wake you," he admits, and even under the synthesizer, his voice is drastically different. Some new emotion has entered his tone, and Felicity decides it's not one important enough to decipher. "I cause you too many sleepless nights as it is." She has to look away at that one because, with that tone, it's far too much for her to handle. She isn't surprised when he tilts her chin back toward him. "And you could have called me, Felicity." It isn't an accusation or a judgment, but an invitation. She understands the words he can't seem to say: You can call me at any time for any reason because I'll always answer. And, truth be told, she's very glad he didn't say it. Some things are given new life when spoken aloud, and she's not sure she's ready to acknowledge this particular train of thought.

"I didn't want to come off as some nagging, overly-concerned mother hen," she decides to confess, and she thinks it's odd that her voice is an octave higher than normal. "It's not like you answer to me—I'm not important enough for that." He frowns and opens his mouth to argue, but she stops him with a finger over his mouth. "And, for the record," she continues, "I like spending my nights with you." It's only after the corner of his mouth twitches that she realizes how it sounds, and she groans. "Ugh, do not answer that last part."

His hand splays across her cheek, barely cupping it. Indecision plays across his features before he finally admits, "You're important to me." Each word is weighted with something more, and, whatever it is, it takes Felicity's breath away for a moment. Then the corner of his mouth lifts, and he adds, "And I like spending my nights with you, too." She bites her lip again, and he coaxes it out from between her teeth with his thumb immediately. "I don't want you to hesitate to call me, Felicity. For any reason." Again, his eyes are far too intense, and this time she can't even turn her head to escape from those piercing, dark eyes.

They stand like that for a long time, and Felicity forgets the world for a moment. Somehow they're able to lock and communicate like this, and she feels that old, familiar draw toward him—that lure that's been there since they first met. Before, she was hesitant because he was the Arrow and the terror of Starling City, but now she knows better. He's a good, decent man when he's under that hood, and she freely admits that she was wrong. But since she decided that, the draw and sensation is getting harder to ignore, harder to think of reasons why she should ignore it and break the silence.

This time, when he tilts her head up, it's with a single finger, this time giving her the opportunity to break loose. Even as he touches her, her nerves flutter because she knows this is different—and she knows why, and can hardly believe it herself. The distance between them can be measured in centimeters, and she thinks they need to stop talking like this before something dangerous happens. The Arrow must have come to the same conclusion, but, since he seems to invite danger with open arms, he probably thinks it's worth the risk. "Do you understand?" he murmurs slowly, and she's pretty sure she can feel his breath on her face.

Somehow, she manages a very breathy, "Yes." But she isn't sure how much she's saying yes to, and a sudden burst of inhibition slams on the brakes with force. There are too many questions she can't answer, and the last thing she wants is to complicate things further with the Arrow. Things are progressing too far, too fast, and the nagging spiteful part of her brain reminds her that she doesn't even know who he is. But the other part thinks it doesn't matter.

"Did your associate tell you?" she blurts too loudly in the quiet space, making them both jump apart. He frowns deeper than she's ever seen him, and she can't help but agree with that expression. She's both relieved and disappointed by the way the moment passes, putting a hand to her forehead. "Because I told him, and I figured he'd tell you, and you'd come here tonight in your..." She hesitates for a moment, making awkward hand motions that make her blush when she realizes that she's actually doing that. "...Your vengeful, Arrow-y, you-have-failed-this-city glory."

"You surprised me the last time," he admits with a smile turning his mouth up, and Felicity thinks it might almost be an apology. "I've had time to think about this." He hesitates before saying, "I never wanted you so deeply involved in this, Felicity, but now I think I should have started this a different way." So quietly she can barely hear him, he adds, "I never wanted you to know about my... connections."

"Well, since we're going with the confession theme tonight," she replies with an airy laugh that's an octave too high, "I think it's about time that I admit I don't regret a moment of this." His eyes snap to her, and she bites her lip as she's dragged into those dark eyes again. "No matter what happens, I'm glad I agreed to help you. I feel like I'm making a difference now, instead of a bored IT girl with no hope of being promoted in an all-boys club. I thought I was insane for doing this, but now I can't imagine a life where I don't help the Arrow save this city."

Something passes between them, and Felicity could probably name it, but chooses not to. Suddenly he's too close, she does not think he should keep staring at her mouth like that. She turns immediately on her heel, facing the other way. They've already had one close call tonight, and she doesn't think she can resist another occurrence of almost. The next time he looks at her like that, holds her chin like that, asks her if she understands, she knows she's not going to be able to turn away.

Again, her brain decides to blurt something to ease the tension. "I need a favor," she admits, swallowing hard. She picks up her copy of the book and holds it out for him to examine. "I know this is a copy of the same book you use to fight crime. I received this one from Walter Steele after he found it." She pulls it back before he can wrap his gloved fingers around it. "I want you to help me find him." He tilts his head in confusion, and she adds, "He was nice to me, and I want to help."

He nods. "It's a small favor," he replies, "compared to all the ones you've done for me." She thinks he might be getting too amicable. "Diggle told me about the book," the Arrow says then, unzipping his jacket and rummaging through a pocket or two. He's a black shirt, this time with a V-neck. "I thought you might like to compare." He pulls out a similar book, this one battered and beaten, and offers it to her.

She examines them closely, and the same hand has penned both sets of names. His is missing a few pages, but it's definitely the same book. "What did you do, use it for target practice?" she asks dryly, smiling. "You're short a few names, and I'm pretty sure this is water damage."

He bypasses her question altogether when he responds, "I received this book from a man whom I thought compiled the list." She notes the use of the word "whom," an odd formality that is often forgotten in today's English; it points to something in his upbringing, but she's not qutie sure what. And clearly he trusts her just fine, but there are some secrets he's simply not ready to let go of. Felicity understands, though, because she's still holding onto some of her own. "But when I fought the Dark Archer, he said that he was the one who wrote these books." He holds his hand out, and she returns his copy. "I need to know where you got your copy, Felicity." It's clear that it's a demand, but his voice is still soft and careful.

"It's been around the world," she admits, "but it originally came from Moira Queen." She bites her lip. "I know I said the Queen family is off-limits, but maybe it's time to rethink that." She hesitates before saying carefully, "The last thing I want to do is pry into the Queens' personal lives—because God knows they've been through enough. But maybe you could get Mr. Diggle to look into this? Because Walter has been kidnapped, and now she's starting to look kind of fishy. I think it's time we bring her into this."

He nods once, but doesn't say anything. She doesn't like him quiet like this; there's nothing amicable about this silence. "I can't bare you being mad at me, too," she blurts, and he turns to look at her. "Things have already been rocky with Oliver since I told him about the book—I don't want this to screw us up now." She puts a hand to her forehead. "I should have burned the damn thing when I had the chance," she mutters.

"I'm glad you didn't," he replies quietly. They're almost normal distance between each other again, instead of seeming to maintain careful distance around one another. "This reminds me why I can trust you, Felicity. I depend on your honesty." It's accompanied by another shoulder touch, this time more tense in light of earlier events.

After all, she's pretty sure he was going to kiss her, which is proof her ego is in serious need of deflating.

Another nervous silence passes between them, and Felicity finally says what's on her mind. "I wanted you to hear it from me," she starts, watching him tense as he prepares for the worst, "but I'm going down tomorrow to try to break the encryption on Lance's phone. The one you gave him." He doesn't say anything, so she feels free to babble in the empty space. "I'm obviously not going to rat anything out, but it's a stipulation that came with Thea Queen's papers. I had to agree to help before he would sign. I didn't want to put you in an awkward position or anything, but I didn't exactly have a choice." She groans. "That has to be the biggest clichéd line ever. I might as well have said, 'It all happened so fast,' or something else cheesy like that. But then again, I think I do cheesy pretty well. I mean—"

"Felicity," he says gently, and she's almost relieved that he decides to get her out of her babbling misery. He puts his hand on her shoulder again. "I understand. And I trust you to keep my secrets." Something about the line reminds her of what Oliver said before: I tell my secrets to someone much more deserving of my trust. It's silly, but part of her keeps wanting to compare them because they've equally impacted her life in the past few months, in very different ways. "And Thea Queen is lucky to have you to look out for her." With a smile, he adds, "Goodnight, Felicity." And with that, she's left watching him leave yet again.

It just serves to remind her why she can't let herself get any closer—he always leaves.

 


 

Detective Quentin Lance has prepared for a lot of things this morning, but the last thing he expected was to see Felicity Smoak sitting at his desk, purple peacoat draped over the back of one of the guest chairs. He recognizes that coat and that ponytail anywhere, so he immediately turns in his tracks to refill his coffee cup and pick up another for her. He's fairly certain that he doesn't yet have enough caffeine in his system to carry on a conversation with her.

When he decides he can't stall any longer, he walks back to his desk. "Good morning, Detective," she greets him cheerily, and he thinks he might hate how much of a morning person she is. "I hope you didn't mind me sitting here—Detective Hilton told me it was okay. Didn't want you to think I was taking liberties or anything."

"It's fine," he assures her, before she can really get started rambling. Because he wasn't prepared for her particular brand of sunshine, he's a little hesitant to let her keep babbling. That level of happy should be reserved for musicals and Disney movies. Life in Starling City is neither. "What can I do for you today, Miss Smoak?"

She waves a hand, that fuchsia mouth turned up into a smile. "It's more what I can do for you, Detective," she corrects. "I told you I'd be pleased to help you with that encrypted phone, and I'm fully prepared to do so today." She waves a hand. "I can't usually get vacation time so quickly, but my boss pulled a few strings when I said I was helping the boys in blue." Lance interprets this to mean that Queen pulled a few strings because she asked him to. Lance isn't a fool, and it's his experience that a girl that pretty knows how to use it to her advantage. And Queen, well, he's always been a sucker for a short skirt and a pretty smile—both of which seem to sum up Felicity Smoak nicely, judging by the dress she's wearing today.

He frowns because he'd hoped for advanced warning, but he motions her to follow him with a hand after picking up the Hood file and the phone from his desk. "This way," he almost growls. "I'll lead you down to IT." He frowns because it's empty today, as the regular tech has the day off, too. Which means Lance will be stuck with her while she stares at computer screens for hours on end. He might actually do a cartwheel in a fit of joy.

He leads her into the almost-closet that serves as their IT department, and she groans as she looks at their computer systems. "No offense, Detective," she starts, and he knows the following is going to be highly offensive, "but your technology is a few years behind." She holds up a cord between two fingers, frowning at it. "And I don't think I've seen any of these since I was in high school." She lets it drop, flashing emerald-painted fingernails, and Lance wonders if she's taunting him by reminding him of her connection with the Hood that he can't prove. "This hurts me in my soul."

"It's what we've got, Miss Smoak," he states flatly, opening the evidence seal on the encrypted phone that the Hood sent him and tossing it on the table. "And, for today, it's what you'll have to use, because this phone isn't leaving this room." He drops into a chair at the desk next to the one he's alloted for her. "And neither am I, apparently."

The next few hours are filled with wonderful silence, and Lance studies the information for what must be the hundredth time since the case landed on his desk. Everything always manages to lead back to Oliver Queen, one way or another. Queen was the first one to report the Hood. One of his cases revolved around Unidac Industries, and Queen was the one who picked up the duffle with the hood itself. Then the Hood conveniently appears across town while Queen is on house arrest, but no one recorded him using the bow that night. Felicity Smoak—a friend of Queen's—is working with the Hood, something Lance knows but can't prove. John Diggle—Queen's bodyguard and driver—was at Blackhawk the night the Hood struck, and then the Hood turned around and killed the man who held Diggle hostage.

Only an idiot would think that Queen had nothing to do with this. Lance wasn't thinking things through when he accused the billionaire of murder because Oliver Queen isn't the kind to get his hands dirty. No doubt he's hiring this guy to hunt down the city's elite—maybe to weed out the competition for his family's enterprises—and he's subtle enough to get around it. Lance screwed up his first shot, and so now Oliver Queen is completely off-limits, as per instructions from his superiors. Now, Lance will have to find a way to prove he's guilty to his fellow officers before the man goes up against a jury of his peers.

"Detective," Felicity calls clearly, and he almost jumps because he's forgotten she's there, "I think I have something for you." She's squinting at the screen, as if trying to make sense of what she's seeing. On the workspace of the desk, the phone lays in a disassembled heap, contents littered around as though in some sort of order despite the chaos of it all.

"It better not be that you're missing a screw now," he grumbles under his breath before examining the screen. It's some sort of blueprint for a design he's never seen before, and the website seems to be the US Patent Office. "What the hell is this?" he asks her, not making sense of the design.

She holds up a square component that looks almost identical to the one on the screen. "It's this piece right here," she answers. "It's a specialized microchip. It does a lot of important things to keep this smartphone running." She turns to him, crossing her arms. "What version of this conversation do you want to have? I can do technical or simple."

Lance knows a lot about a lot of things, but computers are not his forte. But he's smart enough to know that about himself, and he's not embarrassed by it. "Talk to me like I'm a third-grader, please," is his dry response.

She smiles wryly. "Short version it is," she answers tactfully. "This is the source of all your problems because it's responsible for the encryption on this line." She frowns. "I couldn't do anything with it, so I pulled the phone apart so that I could see what hardware was installed in this. It's a custom phone—meaning that this isn't usually in your typical smartphone. I'm not familiar with it, but there's a patent number on it, so I looked it up." She points to the screen. "I think you're going to be getting a call soon, asking how you got this patent number." Lance balks because that's never a good start to any information. "This is high-grade, just-a-few-steps-below-classified technology. It says clearly on the website that it's not used in tech to be purchased by the public." She looks at him, waiting for him to respond.

"So," he starts slowly, "you're telling me that the Hood somehow has gotten his hands on military tech? How would he manage that?"

Her frown deepens. "This chip is manufactured by Unidac Industries," she says slowly. "Apparently, the reason why it was such a hot grab at the end of last year was because they have some military and defense contracts with their technology. I don't know if you're aware, but Unidac was acquired by Queen Consolidated during the auction." Lance frowns, because it's yet another connection to Oliver Queen, and he has to remind himself that Queen is off-limits. Felicity turns toward him. "I don't know if you're aware of this, but there was a shipment of chips stolen in transit." Lance shoots her a suspicious look, and she colors a little. "The only reason I know about it is because it's in your police database—which I have access to from here. They were never recovered—which is no surprise because they're untraceable with today's technology—and the thieves were never caught." She sighs. "I think we're at a dead end, Detective."

Lance frowns. He knows what has to be done with it, but he doesn't want Felicity Smoak—possible accomplice to the Arrow—to be the one in charge of bugging it. He'll use one of the other techs to do that. "So it appears," he says slowly. He holds out his hand for her to shake. "Thank you for your help, though, Miss Smoak. Every little bit helps."

She shakes hands with him, smiling. "Anytime, Detective," she says easily, and he frowns because he knows it's utter crap. "I'm sorry I couldn't do more to help you catch this guy." She actually sounds genuine this time, and he thinks she's given him quite a lot for someone who's supposed to be helping the Hood. After all, his own techs couldn't pull this information up, and he thinks that maybe, Felicity Smoak isn't just going through the motions. It makes him waver for a moment, but he remembers seeing her with the Arrow that night outside the burning club, and it bolsters his resolve. No, Felicity Smoak is involved, and, if Lance can't catch Queen, he will get the girl—even if only to get Queen to confess, and Lance has no doubt it would be the turning point for him.

He asks her to put the phone back together before pondering possibilities of this new information. His techs have already said that they could still bug it, but he didn't want to go that route on the phone. After all, he knows the dangers of playing with someone else's technology, and, if it does lead him to the Hood, Lance also knows that the criminal isn't afraid to kill if he thinks it necessary. There are so many different things that could potentially be harmful, and Lance knows how each of them could go wrong. But there's nothing else he can think of to catch this son of a bitch. So he's going to go down and have the phone bugged tonight before returning it to its rightful owner.

He'll just ask Laurel not to contact the Hood again, and pray she heeds his advice.

Chapter Text

Felicity frowns when her doorbell rings, sighing.  She's just made her way into the apartment for the night, and all she wants to do is enjoy a night in.  Frustrated, she opens the door to her spare bedroom to let Saphira out, and the little dog immediately bypasses her for the front door.  Rolling her eyes, Felicity follows, now knowing who her visitor is.

She opens the door, not at all surprised to see Oliver standing there.  She is, however, surprised to see the laptop under his arm.  She presumes it's the one she put together for him, but it's hard to tell; the casing is scratched and beaten, with several nice-sized dents and a casing that won't meet together the way it's supposed to.

She winces as she waves him in.  "Sorry to bother you at home," he says before she can speak, "but I have some emergency computer problems."  She's careful to look at his body language, to see if he's still upset from their last conversation, but he seems to be smiling.  He reaches down to pet Saphira with his free hand, as if the behavior is as easy as breathing.

"Do you want to tell me what happened to my baby?" she asks, and he frowns as he passes her the laptop, and it makes her want to cry.  She did not slave for that long on his laptop so that he could destroy it.  But then she thinks that maybe material possessions don't mean as much to Oliver as they mean to most people; after all, when you have the world at the tips of your fingers, you're not as worried about the state of your possessions.

He looks repentant about it, which is why she forgives him.  "I accidentally knocked over the table it was on," is his reply.  She plops down on her sofa, taking up two of the three couch cushions, and he sits at her feet.  "It won't turn on now, and I wondered if you could fix it up for me again?  If you could get it running temporarily, I could bring it back for the cosmetic repairs later."

She frowns at it.  "I'm an IT nerd, not a miracle worker, Oliver," she warns him, "but I can give it a shot."  She's not comfortable with the state of the machine, but she might be able to do something with it if fortune is with her.  But the odds aren't good, and it would be better if she had some food in her.  "But it will cost you this time because you destroyed a beautiful piece of technological genius."

He doesn't even flinch, only flashing that ridiculously charming smile in her direction.  "Name your price," he says easily.  He seems completely unperturbed by the idea of paying for it, and she wonders how many times someone has bargained with him like this.  Either way, he seems very willing to meet any demands.

"Dinner," she says flatly, and his eyes widen in surprise at about the same time that she realizes how that could be construed.  But, a part of her notes, it doesn't seem to cross him as an unpleasant surprise; she'd always expected him to be disgusted by the whole idea.  She flushes before waving her arms frantically as she explains, "No!  Not like that.  I don't mean like a date or anything—I'm not deluded enough to think that you'd want to go on a date with me."  The look on his face does make her wonder, though.  "I just meant that I'm hungry, and—surprise, surprise—I have no food in this place again.  And I can't exactly afford to pay for any parts you might need, so you're on your own for those, too."  She crosses her arms.  "Do you think you can live with that?"

"Sounds like a plan to me," Oliver says easily, and Felicity can't believe how quickly he replies. Clearly the man has a lot to learn about bargaining. He rises from the couch as he asks, "Are there any special requests?"

She frowns, thinking about it, trying to decide. Finally, she decides she's horribly curious to find out what he'll come up with on his own. With a mischievous smile, she replies, "Surprise me." He seems a little hesitant about that, so she adds, "Nothing with olives, anchovies, or mushrooms, or anything hotter than jalapeños—and it has to be kosher." She holds up her index finger. "And, if nothing else, no nuts of any kind. Not unless you want this night to end with an epi pen and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Because if your mouth is ever on mine, I want to be conscious for it."  Oliver smiles so wide he flashes teeth, and she tries to ignore the fact she's turning crimson.  He opens his mouth to respond, but she cuts him off. "No, don't even attempt to answer that.  Just leave before I embarrass myself again, please."  He turns to leave, and she calls behind him, "And bring back tasty excellence!"  It earns her a chuckle, so she's immediately glad she does it.

The apartment feels a little quieter without him in it, but she tries to focus on the laptop sitting in her lap.  In need of a larger workspace, she carries to the bar at her kitchen, taking her computer tool kit with her before situating herself on a stool.  She tries to start it up, and she winces as soon as she realizes the hard drive has been damaged in the fall. She manages to pull it out of the rubble, and, knowing she probably can't salvage it, she grabs another one to replace it from her parts box. Interestingly enough, it's the same storage capacity, so she doesn't think he'll notice the difference. She promptly deposits the other one in the trash before rummaging through the file cabinets in her bedroom for the recovery discs she was smart enough to burn for his machine and save, in the event he needed them.

When he finally returns, he finds her waiting for his computer to restore to the default. "Hey," she says, not bothering to turn; she can tell by Saphira's reaction who it is. "I think I'll get you up and running temporarily." This time, she does turn because the scent starting to waft her way is heavenly. "  But you owe me another hard drive—yours was trashed."

He sets a plastic bag and two takeout boxes on the bar careful to keep them away from the computer, and Felicity thinks for the first time that their evenings like this—this one, and the one with a movie and fast food—are surprisingly relaxing and domestic. It's ridiculous, though; they shouldn't be acting like this after only a few months of friendship. In fact, if anyone had told her she'd one day feel comfortable with Oliver Queen, she would have laughed. But now, it's just another natural thing in her life.

She can't read the print in permanent marker on the styrofoam box before he opens it, but she sees what looks like an Italian pasta that has been fixed by a master chef. "Holy cheese fries, Oliver," she blurts. Then she goes onto say, "I hope you didn't pay a small fortune for this meal—that looks pretty five-star-ish."

He chuckles. "Tommy and I have been interviewing chefs for the club," he explains. "He's doing some of the preliminary interviews tonight, so I dropped by to pick up a sample." He offers her another tentative smile. "So if it's terrible, it's really Tommy's fault."

She laughs at that. "Well, Merlyn seems like a good enough person to blame," she agrees easily, before looking back at the computer screen. "Awesome," she mutters sarcastically. She explains louder, "I think this is going to take a while—system restores are the worst." She waves a hand. "Give me a set of code to write any day—it's better than this." She rises from the barstool to get a set of plastic utensils for both of them, and she holds out a fork to Oliver. "I'm breaking out the good silverware for this—I hope you're not intimidated."

He chuckles. "I'm not sure what to do with a setting this impressive," he teases hesitantly, as if he's forgotten how to do it, "but I think I can manage somehow."  Felicity can feel her eyebrows rise and her mouth gape a moment at the rare instance of genuine happiness and normalcy from Oliver, and her mouth finally settles into a smile as the surprise wears off.

She tries to bite down on the smile because he seems a little tentative.  She walks around to the other side of the bar again, sitting down a few inches from the computer, and taking the to-go plate and throwing her fork into it with vigor.  She expects Oliver to do the same—perhaps with a little less enthusiasm—but he simply watches her.  Felicity tries to ignore the self-conscious feeling crawling up her spine, but she can’t control the groan that leaves her when she manages to take a bite of the pasta.  To her surprise, it tastes even better than it smells—and she didn't think that was possible.

His eyes widen as he tries to hold back a smile, and Felicity bites her lip as she feels the heat of a blush cover her face.  “I no longer care how much you paid for this,” she proclaims.  “It’s amazing.  Seriously, all pasta hopes that it grows up to be this.”  She motions with her fork on the last word, pointing toward the meal.  “You know what?  Scratch that.  This is practically food porn—I’m not sure that this can even be eaten in public.”  This time he can’t hide his smile, and she thinks she can feel a flush on the back of her neck now.  “My point is, if you two don’t hire this guy for your club, you’re both insane.”

“Good to know,” he says with a soft smile, but it’s become one of her favorites over the past few months, mainly because it’s such a rare sight.  Finally, he takes a bite, and he makes a short noise of contentment before adding, “You’re right—this is good.  I think we might have the winner right here.”  He frowns.  “Though Italian isn’t exactly the kind of food you’d expect at a bar.”

She has to give him that one.  “True,” she admits, “but this just isn’t the type of opportunity you’d pass up.”  She’s a little embarrassed about how fast she’s going through the plate—a significant portion is gone now—but it’s just too damn good to let it go to waste.

She knows to expect it this time because of the slightest hesitation before he teases, “Well, it certainly was worth watching you enjoy it.”  Felicity blushes, but she thinks it’s worth the embarrassment; Oliver’s smile is a little smug, like he’s proud of himself for actually making a joke, and she thinks she likes that smile—maybe even a little too much.

It’s then that she notices the way he stirs his food on the plate when he’s talking, and it takes her a minute to realize what he’s doing.  Between the occasional bite, he’s trying to make it look like he’s eating more than he is.  She points to it with her fork.  “You know, if you’re not a fan of Italian, I think I have a little Chinese takeout in the fridge,” she informs him.  He looks from the plate to her, the smile falling from his face.  “But the point is that you don’t have to pretend to enjoy it.”

He hesitates, and she immediately wishes she hadn’t brought it up; he has that same forlorn, guarded look that he always gets when the island is involved.  “I don’t eat much anymore,” he replies after a very long moment.  The silence is weighted, and she understands what he doesn’t say—that his body is accustomed to very little food after five years trying to survive.

She thinks it’s best to let the moment of awkwardness pass by skipping over it.  “So we’ll save it for leftovers,” she tries, keeping her tone neutral.  It seems to pull him away from the island, as he smiles, but he tilts his head to the side and squints his eyes.  At the confused expression, Felicity continues, “You know, leftovers?”  Her response doesn’t change his expression, and she shakes her head.  “I forget I’m talking to a billionaire sometimes.  When we lowly peasants have food isn’t eaten during a meal, we store it in these magical, plastic containers and put the food in our refrigerators.  Then, when we’re ready for food again—and too lazy to cook—we move the magical, plastic containers to a microwave and warm it up again.”

He seems bemused by her speech as he pushes his plate away.  “Well, we billionaires are more wasteful, apparently,” he replies, that teasing tone back in his voice again.  “Maybe you could save this, then—I’m finished.”

She knows she shouldn’t push this, so she doesn’t.  “Sure,” she says easily.  “I’m not going to turn down a free meal.”  It earns her a chuckle, but she’s distracted by the flash she sees out of the corner of her eye.  She wipes her hands before looking at the computer screen, pleased to find that the recovery is complete.  “You’re starting all over again,” she says, motioning to the laptop, “but at least you’re working.  And you have the chance to do things differently now.”

She means for the last line to be a joke, but he doesn’t seem to take it that way; he studies her with intense eyes for a very, very long moment.  “That’s exactly what I’d hoped for,” he responds finally, slowly, and Felicity doesn’t think he’s talking about the laptop anymore.  His hand touches hers as he picks up the laptop.  “Goodnight, Felicity,” he says gently before turning for the door.

“Goodnight, Oliver,” she responds quietly.  Softer, she adds, “And good luck.”  She doesn’t think he hears her before the door closes, but it doesn’t matter.  It isn’t about what they say to one another that makes their friendship, after all.

With them, it’s about something more—something that words can’t define.

 


 

The last thing Quentin Lance is in the mood for is a visit to see Felicity Smoak, but he knows he needs to see her.  He tries to stay objective, but that just isn’t working for him on this case.  This time it’s personal from the beginning, and he can’t afford to let her run around haphazardly with the Hood any longer.  Not when things like this happen.

He knocks on her door at three a.m., but he decides that if he’s not afforded any sleep, she shouldn’t be, either.  He instantly hears her mutt hopping around barking, but not much else.  Then he hears something crash and a muffled curse, and he wonders what in the world she’s gotten herself into now.

He hears the first lock slide free, then the second, then finally the third before she opens the door.  It’s clear he pulled her out of a night of sleep (and he hates that—really) because her hair is loose and sticking up at odd angles.  Her glasses are a little askew, her eyes wide.  “What happened, Detective?” she asks in a rush.  “Who’s hurt?  Is it Barry?  Because I told him he should be more careful with that melting point device.  I mean, I can only repair the short in it so many times, and it’s getting worse.”

“Everyone’s fine, Miss Smoak,” he assures her.  “I needed to talk to you about some events tonight.  May I come in?”

She opens the door wide, looking a little shell-shocked as she wipes at the corner of her eye with a blue fingernail.  “Sure, come on in, Detective,” she answers numbly.  As he walks past her, he notices her taste in pajamas again, this time a little ironically.  It’s a matching set, but the shirt has a cat with a balaclava on, holding up two shurikens.  The print surrounding it reads, “Lazy Days, Ninja Nights.”  Sure, it might not be completely accurate, but he already knows she’s spending her nights helping the Hood.

She follows him into the room, collapsing on the couch.  In the hallway, he notices that a lamp has been knocked over, and he can only guess that it caused the crashing sound from earlier.  “I’m hoping there’s a very valid reason why you came to see me at this hour.”

“Several,” he replies flatly, not liking her tone.  He doesn’t want to talk to her either, but this is important—much bigger than any cat-and-mouse game they’ve been playing so far.  “I ran into our favorite criminal tonight, Miss Smoak.”  She perks up at that, her head rising and her expression suddenly much more alert and the fog clearing from her eyes.  “I know you’re working with him.”  She opens her mouth to protest, but he holds up a hand.  “I’ve heard you lie to me enough in the past few weeks.  I’m not asking you to incriminate yourself.  But the Hood held my daughter hostage tonight to escape, and I want to know why he would try to hurt her.  They’ve been working together, for God’s sake.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” she responds immediately, and Lance thinks that she might be telling the truth, judging by the way her eyes widen.  “Is Laurel okay?”  When he nods tersely, her expression changes, and Lance can see the cogs working below the surface.  “In a hypothetical situation,” she continues slowly, her words implying she’s anything but, “I’d say that a criminal with his own honor system—like, say, the Arrow—wouldn’t hurt anyone who didn’t try him first.”  Lance snorts in disbelief, but she doesn’t stop for a second.  “And, personally, I’d think it was more a way to stop the cops from arresting him.”

She nods a few times, as if she likes this theory.  “Think about it.  No matter what, if a person takes a hostage, you don’t shoot, right?”  She shakes her head.  “Of course not.  Because you could endanger an innocent civilian.  So taking Laurel with the threat of attempting to hurt her stops him from going to jail.”  She crosses her arms.  “The Arrow doesn’t hurt his friends, Detective,” she says defiantly, and he doesn’t think that it’s so hypothetical this time.  “Laurel might be shaken—and I understand that—but she was never in any danger.”

“He doesn’t hurt his friends, but he uses them,” he says flatly, not impressed by her statement. “Maybe that should serve as a warning to you.”  She doesn’t immediately say anything, so he turns to leave before she asks him to get the hell out.  He knows it’s coming, so he decides to preemptively retreat.

“You may not want to hear this, Detective,” she says slowly, quietly, from behind him, “but anyone who decides to help the Arrow?  They don’t just sign on for his help.”  He turns, only to find her staring off into the distance, not looking at him.  “They sign on to help the city.  They know it’s not legally right”—again she words it carefully, qualifies it—”but they do it anyway.”  She bites her lip before adding, “And I think Laurel probably knew that.”

It does nothing but confirm his worst fears—that his daughter is firmly entrenched with this criminal—so he chooses to ignore it, leaving.  He doesn’t stop until he reaches his car outside, not bothering to say goodnight.  Only then does he look up to the apartment complex across the street, unsurprised to see her talking on her cell phone.  There’s only one person she could be calling at this hour, and Lance knows who it is.

Triumphant, he makes a call to headquarters.  “This is Detective Lance,” he says to the random guy who answers.  “I need a wiretap on all numbers belonging to Felicity Smoak.”  He knows she’s smarter than that, but he has to give it a try.

Chapter Text

Felicity wakes to a hand shaking her shoulder, and it pulls her out of her dreams too quickly. She flails, startled as her bleary eyes try to focus, and a hand grabs her wrist. She's surprised to find she's holding her alarm clock, ready to hit her intruder with it. "It's just me, Felicity," he says gently through the synthesizer, letting a glove fall on her face. At the same time, her eyes focus on the blurry outline of the Arrow, and she takes a few deep, calming breaths as she sets her alarm clock back on the table. He's crouched in front of her bed, his opposite hand still on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry that I tried to hit you with my alarm clock," she blurts, then winces. "You startled me." She sits upright then, reaching across him for her glasses case, then slides them on her face as Saphira makes her way toward him. Felicity is surprised to find that he doesn't pass her a treat this time.

"I didn't mean to scare you," he says in some semblance of apology, still crouching in front of her. She pats the bed, and he joins her. Felicity gets a kick out of watching Saphira paw at his back for his attention as he turns away from her, but she tries to contain her sleep-deprived giggles. "But, if you say yes, we need to move as fast as possible."

If she says yes? With maybe a little more hostility than necessary, she replies, "Well, I've never turned you down before." Then she bites her lip, thinking that she might have overreacted. Generally, there's a reason when he says things like that, and she shouldn't doubt him now. "Sorry—I'm moody when I first wake up."

He sidesteps her apology as he uses his thumb to guide her lip out from between her teeth. "No, you've always helped me," he agrees quietly, "but this time is different." He looks away for a moment before saying, "This time, it's a personal favor." She can't help to sit a little straighter at that; Arrow business is generally impersonal, so, if he's asking, it's probably going to be interesting. "And I want you to say no if it makes you uncomfortable."

She doesn't say anything, and he finally continues, "Laurel Lance has been helping me investigate some of my targets recently. She brought Cyrus Vanch to my attention a few nights ago—he murdered his lawyer and he's not going to stop killing." He sighs. "During the... incident a few nights ago"—she knows the one he means; it was the one where the police used Laurel as bait to catch him—"she was handing me information. Vanch has a cop on his payroll, and he passed the information that we were working together on to Vanch. They've taken her hostage, and Detective Lance and I are going to be working together since he can't trust anyone in the department."

He frowns. "Vanch is in his lawyer's house, and the wiring is controlled by computer circuitry." He hesitates. "If you agreed"—she appreciates the way he emphasizes that she has a choice—"to help me, lighting control would assure I had the advantage against Vanch's guards." He frowns. "You'd be out in the field, but I can position you in a location out of harm's way."

She doesn't even flinch. "You've done plenty of favors for me over the past few months. It would be the least I could do." She turns away as his eyes take on that dark, intense look again, even though she sees his mouth start to turn up at the corners in a rare smile.

His fingers use her chin to turn her head back to his direction, and he says quietly, "Felicity, you don't owe me anything." He says it so confidently, so assuredly, that she thinks he might actually believe it. But how can he, when he's given her so much that she'll never repay? For once in her life, she feels like she belongs to something, and that she feels like it's an important cause is all the better. He must see the doubt in her eyes because he rephrases it and she understands this time when he says, "I don't want you to do this because you feel like you owe me something. You'll be in the field tonight, and I can't promise your safety." His hand falls one of hers, the one that rests on her leg. "But I won't put you in danger—and I'll do my best to keep you safe." When he says it, she knows it's a promise he intends to keep.

But even before he finishes speaking, she already knows what she's going to say: "Of course." Even taking the Arrow out of the equation—something that is now nearly impossible in her life—she’s not going to let anyone die because she won’t flip a few switches on her computer. Especially not Laurel Lance, who is important to Oliver and Tommy’s entire world.

The Arrow immediately rises from his place by her side. "I'm parked behind your car," he states calmly. "Meet me downstairs." And then he's headed back to her window, as if that's all he needs to say. Felicity is amused by how quickly he switches between talkative and time for action; one minute, he's teasing her, and the next he's all business.

"Hey, wait," she calls, and he turns immediately. "What do I need to wear?" she blurts, and then she's glad it's dark in the room so he can't watch her go crimson. "Well, that came out wrong. I didn't mean to sound like I'm about to go on a first date or anything. But I've never exactly gone on a rescue mission, and I'm not exactly sure what attire is considered appropriate." She motions to her pajamas, decorated with smiley faces with moustaches. "But I'm pretty sure this isn't it."

He chuckles, shaking his head at her rant. "Dark clothing," he replies with a faint hint of an indulgent smile, "and shoes you can run in. Make sure to grab a laptop to take with you—you'll need it."

She nods. "Meet you downstairs in five," she assures him, watching him disappear out the window before ransacking her closet for the proper attire. She manages to pull on a very warm, long-sleeved shirt made like the one he gave her, but this one fits her much better. She couples it with a long-forgotten pair of black jeans, and she pulls her hair back into a ponytail as she slips her feet into a pair of black boots.

It takes her all of five seconds to pack up her most reliable laptop in its bag, and she practically jogs down the stairs after locking Saphira in the spare bedroom. As promised, the Arrow is waiting for her, leaning against the sleek motorcycle parked behind her car. She swallows hard as she realizes she has to ride on that… deathtrap again, but this is bigger than her fear.

And she knows he’ll make sure nothing happens to her—either on his motorcycle or in the field.

She shivers in the night air; it’s colder than she expects, colder than it’s been in weeks. The Arrow notices immediately (of course he does), and he picks up a cloth draped over his motorcycle. When he holds it out, she finally realizes that it’s an average zip-up hoodie in black. “Your hair will stand out,” he explains, “and I knew you wouldn’t bring a hat.”

“Thanks,” she mutters as she drops her bag to the concrete of the parking garage so she can pull it on. To her surprise, it’s just a size bigger than what she usually wears, allowing the hood to fully cover her hair and face. He must have bought it specifically for her for tonight, and she thinks it’s a surprisingly generous offer. “Good fit,” she adds after she zips it up over her shirt, and she can’t keep the questioning expression from her face as she slides her messenger bag across her body to hold it in place for the ride to come.

He doesn’t look at her, but instead focuses on throwing a leg over the motorcycle while replying, “I knew you’d say yes, even if I hoped you wouldn’t.” The sentence causes her to smile at him, and he finally looks at her as he offers her his helmet again. “But I wanted to give you the chance to say no.”

“You know me too well,” she counters with a smile before pulling the helmet over her head. This time she knows what she’s doing, so it’s only seconds before she’s sliding onto the motorcycle behind him.

“I could say the same to you,” he answers after a long moment. He stumbles over the word “same,” and Felicity doesn’t think it’s coincidence that she takes the same moment to wrap her arms around his ribcage in preparation for the ride. He revs the bike once before commenting on it: “I think you’re a little eager to hold on tight.”

Before she can answer, he tears off into the night. The ride is longer this time, and the first one is nothing compared to this one in speed. The sense of urgency is present, and she presses herself against his back to help protect her from the biting chill in the air. She closes her eyes this time, not wanting to see how many near-death experiences result from his driving. All she knows is that it’s accompanied by honking horns for a very long time.

Finally he slows, and she opens her eyes to see a section of the forest in front of her. He’s still driving, but slower now as he creeps up on the target. When he stops, she can only just see the house between the trees, and she thinks it might actually be a good place to be during the firefight sure to follow.

He watches as she sits on the ground next to the motorcycle, pulling out the laptop and starting in. With a few keystrokes and a good signal, she’s able to connect to the mansion’s computerized system. She tests it with a power surge, and she watches in triumph as the outside lights flicker in the distance. Felicity looks up at the Arrow as she says, “I think we’re set.”

He pulls an object out of his pocket before crouching in front of her, and she watches those dark eyes bore into hers. He reaches out to her, gently fixing the comm from his pocket over her ear. “This will keep us in direct contact,” he says quietly. “You shouldn't get into trouble out here, but if you do, keys are in the ignition. Your handle is Oracle.”

She swallows, and she looks down at her shaking fingers. His hand falls on hers, causing her to look up at him. “I can take you home,” he says gently, reminding her that this is always her choice, and that she can still say no. There’s no judgment in his expression, no disappointment. He knows he’s testing her comfort zone, and he respects that this isn’t her life.

“No, I’m with you,” she insists, and her voice only shakes a little. Nothing has prepared her for this, and she knows the only way to find her balance in this mission is to jump right in. But that doesn't mean she isn't scared.

"You always are," he answers with a smile, and there's something buried in her tone that makes Felicity's mouth turn up in an involuntary smile, in spite of the circumstances. He takes a moment to cup her jaw in a gesture of gratitude, and then he's gone, disappearing into the forest.

All is eerily quiet as she waits for her next cue. It feels like every nerve ending is on fire, and she doesn’t think she’s been this tense in her entire life. She jumps when he calls, “Oracle, cut the exterior lights.” His voice is different somehow—darker even under that synthesizer—and she realizes his mind is in a different place now. He’s of the mindset of a soldier, and she finally understands why the citizens of Starling City check their closets every night for the Arrow.

She sighs before she makes the right keystrokes, taking a few calming breaths. If she keeps up this level of intensity, she’s going to give herself a heart attack. And she’ll be of no use to the Arrow then.

Darkness falls in the courtyard, and then she hears nothing again for a very long time. Finally, she’s able to hear him take a long, steady breath, and she hears him exhale underneath the thwip of a bowstring being released. It’s a new experience for her, hearing it; she’s never been on the scene for his missions before, and it provides her with an insight no one else has ever had.

Gunfire erupts, but, through the chaos, she’s able to hear his breaths and the steady release of the bowstring. He’s oddly calm amongst the chaos, and she realizes after a few shots that he’s timing his releases with his exhales.

“I’m in the house now,” he says quietly to her after a long round of fighting. His voice is barely above a whisper, but, with the silence in the forest, it’s as if he’s yelling in her ear. “Lights off.in the southern half of the house.”

She complies, though she asks, “Are you sure you don’t need some light on the subject?” She bites her lip afterward, not knowing if she should be speaking or not. He didn’t give her any direction on that, and she doesn’t want to distract him.

“Negative,” he answers quickly, and he doesn't seem irritated by her interruption. “It’s easier for me to blend in the darkness.” He releases another set of arrows, and she hears his sigh through the speaker.

“That sounds like something is wrong,” she comments, and she knows she’s right when he doesn’t answer. “Something’s wrong, isn’t it?” she asks when he doesn’t answer.

“I’m out of arrows,” he whispers to her. Moving right along, as if he hasn’t just said that he’s defenseless, he says, “I’ve searched the bottom floor, and I know where they are. Keep the lights on in the northern part of the house. Be prepared for my signal to cut the light.”

She types the code into her screen, waiting to press the button that will shut everything down. “So, for the sake of clarification, we’re not freaking out about the fact that your bow is useless right now?” she asks, trying to play it off as casual. She doesn’t think she succeeds, judging by the sigh she receives in response.

So low she barely hears him, he answers, “I don’t need the bow, Felicity.” There’s something different about his voice, and the dark quality to it sends a chill down her spine, even though she pretends it’s the night air.

He takes a deep breath, and then she hears a new voice say, “Lose the bow, Merida.” She groans—this guy should seriously not know Disney movies. She bites her tongue to prevent herself from saying it’s a ridiculous comparison because he’s not Scottish. “You made a mistake by coming here alone,” the guy says, and Felicity can only assume it’s Vanch.

You made a mistake,” the Arrow counters, “if you think I came alone.” There’s silence for a long moment before he adds, “And my friends are more reliable than yours.” Felicity can’t suppress a smile and a swell of pride at that comment because she knows he’s talking about her.

She hears a few long breaths before the Arrow barks, “Oracle, now.” She hits the one button left to shut down the lights. All that follows is a cacophony of sound; she can’t distinguish one voice from another in the chaos. There’s yelling, gunfire, grunting, and they all blend together.

“What’s going on?” she asks into the comm, and her voice is about two octaves too high.

She hears a new noise of something twirling through the air, and then the Arrow says, “I’m the vigilante. You’re the cop.” Softer, he says into the comm, “Everything’s fine, Oracle. Mission complete.”

“Get out of here before I change my mind and turn you in,” she hears the unmistakable voice of Detective Lance say in the background. “And thank your girlfriend for me." It makes Felicity blush, and she's grateful the Arrow isn't with her to see.

"You don't give her enough credit, Detective," the Arrow answers after a long moment. "She's too smart to get involved any further with me." Felicity holds her breath, knowing him well enough to read between the lines. Detective Lance may not hear what he's not saying, but Felicity does, loud and clear.

And, for the first time, she realizes what a fool she was for turning him down all those weeks ago.

Her thoughts reel out of control as she packs up her laptop, as she gathers her things and puts them back into her messenger bag. She hears a rustle in the trees, and she freezes, waiting to hear back from the Arrow.

He seemingly appears out of the trees, walks out of the still forest behind him. He immediately walks up to her, placing his hand on her face. "Are you all right?" he asks quietly, his eyes roaming over her, as if to make sure she's still safe and uninjured. It's all she can do to manage a nod; the intensity is just too strong for her to speak. His hand falls on her shoulder, and he breathes a sigh of relief. "Good. Let's get you home."

Nothing more is said until they climb up on the motorcycle, and she seizes the opportunity. With his back to her, she doesn't have to worry about another too intense moment between them. It gives her a shield from the power of what she's about to say. "Oh, and one other thing?" she asks quietly as she pulls the helmet over her head again, her voice high and fluttery in preparation for what comes next. He makes a noise of acknowledgment, seeming to understand that this is Felicity's turn to speak. It takes her a few deep breaths to work up the courage, and she wraps her arms around him again, murmuring the words against his back. Her face flushes in anticipation of her words. Finally, she musters up the courage to say, "Maybe I'm not as smart as you think."

He doesn't say anything, but, when he turns toward her, she sees a glorious smile on his face.

 


 

After he drops Felicity home, Oliver goes directly to the precinct, waiting for an opportunity to speak to Laurel. He doesn’t think he should go to her home—too many memories in such a small place—but he thinks it’s time he stops running from her. Now, though, he finally has the courage to move forward, to firmly settle Laurel into her place in his past.

He has to admit, it tears at him. Part of him isn’t willing to let go, to allow Laurel to fade into the past. But he knows it’s only familiarity that draws him to her, and the Oliver that Laurel was in love with is long gone. He understands that now, and he doesn’t even feel that pang of sadness when he sees her with Tommy anymore. The message is finally clear to him: she’s moved on.

And, surprisingly, he has, too.

It’s difficult for him to admit, even to himself, that Felicity is starting to hover in a place that is much more than friendship. He can’t really deny it anymore, though, since he tried to kiss her. It was a foolish, impulsive move, and he was almost grateful when she stopped him. With that moment in mind, he had told Detective Lance that she was too smart to fall for him, and he had believed it. But then she’d changed the game after saying those words to him tonight: Maybe I’m not as smart as you think. That phrase has dual meanings, Oliver thinks; not only is she telling him that she’s willing to give him another opportunity, but that he’s not the only one who felt foolish after the almost-kiss.

He’s pulled out of his thoughts as Laurel strides out of the precinct, and he slides out of his hiding place to face her. Her eyes widen and she takes a step back, surprised by his sudden appearance. He forgets sometimes that not everyone is familiar with his ability to appear out of thin air; Felicity doesn’t even seem to notice anymore, except for when he wakes her out of a sound sleep. “Good evening, Laurel,” he says, making sure to switch on the synthesizer first. “Are you all right?”

She frowns at that, and it bothers him a little to watch her wipe at the lines of mascara under her eyes. Clearly that’s from earlier, when she was at Vanch’s mercy. But then Oliver reminds himself that’s why he wanted to rescue her in the first place. She takes a long, deep breath before saying in a breathy voice, “What would you think if I said I didn’t know?”

“That you were being honest,” he replies immediately, and they’re the most honest words he’s said to her in over five years. He’s lied to her, manipulated her, cheated on her, and now that they’re finished, he’s finally learning how to be honest with her.

“Thank you,” she says finally, her voice more solid this time. “You risked a lot by coming to save me.” She hesitates before adding, “As did your girlfriend.” He tilts his head to the side. “I heard my father mention it,” she explains simply. He knows that look, and he knows she’s fishing for information.

He doesn’t bite because he knows that fisherman’s bait when he sees it. “I have enough friends to call in favors when I need them,” he replies evenly. “But I think you’ve exhausted yours.” He holds out his hand. “I want the phone back, Laurel.” Her eyes widen in surprise. “Now that someone knows that we work together, it makes you a target. I can’t put you in danger.”

She frowns, but she throws the phone into his hand, her lips pursed in anger. Maybe her fear of him is still strong enough to manipulate her into doing as he asks. “I’m a big girl,” she still argues. “This doesn’t change anything. I knew the risks.”

“I did, too,” he counters, “but I’m no longer willing to take them with you.” He can’t deny the truth in it; once upon a time, it might have been because he was in love with her. But now, it’s because he knows he couldn’t face Tommy if anything happened to Laurel and it was his fault.

He’s so preoccupied with Laurel that he doesn’t hear the footsteps before he sees the flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. He knows the man has probably seen him, but hopefully he can get out quick enough that it doesn’t end in a confrontation—for Oliver, anyway. “Goodbye, Laurel,” he says, and it’s final.

Because all is as it should be—Oliver is walking out of Laurel’s life as Tommy is walking in.

Chapter Text

Felicity sighs as she looks at her computer screen yet again, but this time she puts her head in her hands.  She hates being on the tech support logs, even though she thinks it's fair that they take turns; all she does all day is type report after report into the log.  Someone's computer screws up, so she posts it to the log for a tech to repair.  Then, she has to file the tickets the techs fill out when the job is complete, and everyone must think it's a crime to fill out the whole damn thing.

She lets out a growl of frustration as she looks at the next ticket in line, frowning because half of the thing is missing.  Tired of the bureaucracy of working in a large office, she denies the ticket and writes a somewhat nasty note to the person, saying that she can't fill out a repair ticket without even knowing what the fix was.  She looks down at her clock forlornly—it's six o'clock and she still has several hundred requests and tickets to process.  So much for getting home at a reasonable hour.  She'd like a normal night every now and again—one that doesn't involve logging five hours overtime or running around the city at three a.m. with the Arrow.

A chuckle comes from her doorway, and she looks up, startled to learn that anyone else is on the floor.  She's even more surprised to find none other than Oliver Queen leaning against her door frame, a very busted laptop in hand.

"Shit," she offers in greeting, "I completely forgot about fixing your laptop tonight."  She had called him a few days ago to let him know that the new casing was in, and she had told him to drop by her apartment at five-thirty.  Between the normal grind and the sleep deprivation from too many encounters with the Arrow starting to wear on her, she had forgotten.  "How mad are you?"

"I'm not mad," he assures her with a convincing smile, sitting down in the chair inside her station.  "When you weren't there, I knew you'd probably forgotten."  There's something loaded about his smile now, as if he's making his own private joke as he continues, "Though you don't seem like the type to forget an appointment."  He sets a styrofoam box on her desk, and she immediately places the smell—and it's divine.  "And, if I remember correctly, we made a deal that I was to provide dinner."  He offers her a rare, wide smile. "And we hired that chef, so if you find yourself craving Italian, you could always stop by Verdant when it opens."

"Oliver Queen, you know me too well," she answers as she removes her plastic fork from its wrapper.  She finds it a little odd that she's said those words to two different people in the past week, both of whom she didn't know a few months ago.

He offers her a small smile, this one maybe more genuine than the last.  "I could say the same to you," he says quietly, and she stops halfway through opening her box, remembering the Arrow saying exactly the same words.  She shakes her head.  No, that's ridiculous, and she should know better; Oliver doesn't have the sort of training that the Arrow does.  She heard him storm a house full of mercenaries last week with a bow, and there are a select few people she thinks could be that talented.  Oliver isn't one of them.

She resumes with opening the box, and she plunges her fork into the waiting pasta with enthusiasm.  This time she knows to stifle the groan that threatens to escape her, and she says, "You know, it's better now than it was the last time.  This should be illegal, it's so good."  She frowns.  "But then I wouldn't get to eat it."  He snickers at that, and she manages to glance at a clock and see what time it is.  "Oh, damn, you were supposed to pick up Thea at six, weren't you?"  That's why they'd originally agreed on five-thirty; he was supposed to drop off the laptop and then pick up Thea and come back for it.  Since she's without a license, Oliver somehow was roped into being her chauffeur, and Felicity thinks Thea might not be the most patient person in the world.

He waves a hand, though he seems surprised she remembered.  "Tommy said he would take care of it," he answers.  "I think he was tired of yelling at contractors all day, anyway."

She breathes a sigh of relief.  "Well, I'm sorry I blew it, Oliver."  She motions to her computer screen.  "I blame report tickets."

He waves a hand, biting back a laugh.  "You're doing a favor for me, Felicity," he answers.  "I'm glad you have time to help at all.  You seem busy."  He reaches out hesitantly, his expression turning serious, to touch a shadow under her eye that she didn't take time to cover this morning.  "And tired."  He tilts his head to the side.  "Maybe you should take some vacation time."

She scoffs, leaning back.  "And leave this office for a few days?"  She crosses her arms.  "I don't think so, mister.  By the time I came back, it would be up in flames without me."  And she doesn't exactly know where she'd go on vacation; it's never very fun alone, and she has to be on-call for the Arrow.  "Besides, if I left the city for a week, I think it would crumble without me here."  She manages to say it jokingly, but she doesn't think it's exactly a lie.

"It probably would," Oliver agrees, and she's surprised to find it a sincere statement.  "But that doesn't mean you don't deserve some time off every now and again."  With a knowing smile, he adds, "I'm sure your boss would understand.  If not, I think I know someone who could convince him."

She points a finger at him.  "Don't you dare," she threatens.  "I know you already convinced my boss to give me time off during that press conference, and you are not allowed to do it again."  He chuckles, and something in his expression tells her that he's going to ignore her and do what he wants anyway.  "You, Oliver Queen, are absolutely impossible."

He seems to take it as a compliment, smiling and allowing a breathy almost-laugh.  "I'm not the one who thinks the city will crumble without them," he counters almost playfully, and she's glad to see this side of him.

She crosses her arms, not backing down from their silly argument.  "Clearly spoken by someone with no responsibility whatsoever," she replies after swallowing another bite of pasta.  "I can't help it if it's true.  Do you realize what kind of city Starling would be without me?"

"Cold, desolate, and unforgiving," he replies immediately, and his tone is far different this time.  Felicity has to look away because some things just shouldn't be said with that intensity, with that level of honesty.  She plunges her fork into another bite of pasta, focusing far more than necessary on it.

He clears his throat, and the moment passes.  "Maybe," he starts hesitantly, "while you're eating, I can help remove the casing?"  He motions to the laptop.  "I might as well make myself useful."

She thinks about it for a moment, then decides that, if he wants to help, who is she to say no?  She pulls open one of her desk drawers, throwing him a Philips screwdriver.  "Knock yourself out," she replies, then adds, "but not really."  It earns her another soft laugh as he picks up the screwdriver carefully, turning over the computer to remove the screws.

She watches him carefully since she figures he's never done this before, and she winces when she watches him hold the screwdriver like a toddler holding a crayon; he wraps his entire hand around it, leaving the base uncovered.  He turns when she groans, and she answers with, "No, Oliver.  No.  You're holding it wrong."  She slips it out of his hand, and she presses the end of the handle into his palm, curling his fingers around it.  "Like this.  It's easier to twist in your hand—saves time."  He doesn't immediately say anything, and she looks up to see him staring at their hands, hers still firmly gripped over his.

She pulls back immediately, and she can feel the heat on her face that betrays her embarrassment.  "Sorry,” she says, turning back to her pasta, taking one last bite before pulling the new casing out from under her desk and opening the packaging.

He finishes with the screwdriver and lays it on the table on the other side of him, so Felicity reaches across his workspace to pick it up before using it to twist the screws out.  She manages two before he says, “I think I’m finished with this.”

She inspects his work before murmuring her agreement.  “Looks good,” she approves quietly.  “Not bad for an amateur.”

He chuckles, and she finishes removing the components carefully before starting to combine them into the new casing.  She holds out a wire from the new monitor, since she’s not about to tackle the mess of switching out the screen.  “Hold this,” she commands, holding out a cable.

She’s surprised to find him leaning over her shoulder, their arms touching as he reaches for the cable.  “I don’t remember you being this bossy,” he says with a smile in his voice, and Felicity tries not to blush as she feels his breath against the shell of her ear.

She nudges his shoulder with her own.  “Maybe not,” she agrees in a teasing tone, feeling the corners of her mouth pull up, “but you like it when I get all assertive.”  She notices that the tone in her voice is almost flirty, but then she thinks that’s ridiculous because she doesn’t flirt with Oliver Queen.  “Admit it.”  She doesn’t look at him, already feeling her face heat at her foolishness.  Something about him brings out the more relaxed side of herself that she only seems to use around Barry (minus the flirting, of course) and the Arrow (perhaps with some flirting involved).  He doesn’t say anything for a very long moment, so long that she stumbles over her words, taking backwater.  “Sorry, I don’t know what that was.  You know about my problem where I just spew inappropriate words and babble on incessantly until someone stops me.  You must think I’m—”

“Felicity,” he says gently, and then he tilts her head in his direction.  She’s not surprised to see him smiling; her antics always seem to brighten his mood.  “I think you’re remarkable.”  He lets out a breathy almost-laugh, and Felicity can’t remember the last time she saw him smile like that.  “Babbling and all.”  He releases her then, and she tries to remember how to breathe.

“Well,” she manages finally, “thank you for remarking on it.”  Something passes between them then, and Oliver gently reaches out to cup her face.  His expression changes slowly, turning steadily more serious.  She thinks he might actually be about to kiss her, and she wonders when things went so terribly wrong that she has two very different men that seem to be interested in her.

Before she can panic and turn him down, too, she can hear the click click click of high heels on the polished floor, and feminine laughter echoing down the hall.  Oliver pulls away immediately, running a hand over his face.  She knows that tell, and she knows what it means—that he thinks he’s messed up.

The footsteps continue to grow louder, and Felicity knows there’s a clock ticking on this before it gets awkward, and it’s her job to make things awkward.  “But, you know,” she continues, “people usually say thank you with gifts.  Like more pasta.”  One corner of his mouth tilts up as she reaches across the desk to take another bite.  She swallows before continuing, “I highly recommend more pasta.  I would seriously consider hacking the NSA database for another plate of this.”

His eyes widen in surprise and something resembling awe.  “You can do that?” he asks quietly.

She immediately retracts her statement.  “Well,” she admits, “probably.  Not that I’ve ever tried—I don’t just break into secure government databases for the fun of it.”  It’s true, she thinks as she crosses her arms; after all, the last time she did that was for the Arrow, and it was to find out more about a criminal.  “My point is, you could make me rethink my morals for another plate of this ambrosia.”

Oliver shakes his head, laughing quietly to himself as the footsteps finally close in.  She’s surprised to see Thea strutting into Felicity’s office, Tommy in tow behind her.  “So this is how you two spend your Thursday nights?” Thea asks in greeting before turning to her brother.  “Because, I gotta say, Ollie, this isn’t exactly your scene—not enough blaring pop music and severely lacking in alcohol.”

“Hey, be nice to him,” Tommy counters.  “He’s spent the last five years on an island with nothing.  He deserves a little club music and tequila after that.”  Felicity thinks it’s an odd statement because she’s never heard Oliver say anything about drinking; she’s always assumed he doesn’t touch alcohol because he simply can’t handle it anymore.

Oliver ignores his sister, looking over her head at Tommy instead.  “I told you to take her home,” he reminds Tommy with an irritated frown, and Felicity nudges his shoulder in warning.  He shouldn’t be so rude to Tommy, especially since they know this has Thea written all over it.  She brings new meaning to the word meddlesome.

“Relax, Ollie,” Thea replies on Tommy’s behalf.  “I talked him into it.  I needed to take the opportunity to say thank you to our best friend.”  Felicity might be a little taken aback by the comment; she doubted she was anyone that important to the likes of Thea Queen.  Thea turns to Felicity now.  “Thank you for getting that plea deal for me.  My community service job at CNRI kind of sucks,” she adds with a shrug, “but it’s better than jail.”

Oliver frowns, but Felicity knows it’s all she’s going to get.  She fights back a smile because the Queen siblings are so different and so alike at the same time; neither one can really admit the depth of their feelings, so they opt for blasé instead.  “It was my pleasure, Thea,” she answers honestly, then decides to respond in kind, as sincerity is clearly not a Queen family trait.  “Besides, you wouldn’t be able to wear your Louboutins, and no one looks good in that shade of orange.”

They all laugh at that, then Oliver rises from his seat, placing a hand on her shoulder.  “Felicity has work to do,” he says insistently, “and I’m sure she’d like to go home at a decent hour tonight.”  He takes Thea by the arm, turning her in the opposite direction.  “Maybe we should do the same.”  He turns to Tommy.  “Give us a moment.”

Tommy ushers Thea out despite protests and Oliver turns back to Felicity, his hand going to her shoulder again.  “You don’t have to finish this tonight,” he states quietly, and then his hand goes to one of those circles under her eyes again.  “I’m in no hurry for my laptop, and I’d much rather see you rested, anyway.”

“I make no promises,” she answers slowly, “but maybe I’ll try to relax.”  He frowns, but then realizes that’s the only answer she’s going to offer him.  After all, she needs to finish up those reports, and they’re not going to file themselves.

“Goodnight, Felicity,” he says finally, and then he’s gone, leaving her to finish up her work.

 


 

Oliver frowns as he realizes what he’s about to do next.  There's a certain amount of trepidation required because this isn't just another criminal, another rich person who thinks they're above the law.  He never thought that he'd be doing this when he started this crusade, but there's just too much evidence that he can no longer ignore.

But, still, this is his mother.

He knows she's working late on the merger with Unidac Industries, and he knows she's now alone in her office.  He made sure before he started this because extra people scurrying around makes for extra witnesses.  He pulls the cable on the grappling arrow taut to test its strength—a luxury he isn't always afforded—but he knows he's just stalling.

Still, he looks down in the parking complex, and maybe it comforts him more than it should that a little, red Mini Cooper is still parked in the lot behind the garage—the one reserved for IT staff.  At least, if he needs a speedy exit, he thinks, she decided to ignore his advice and stay late.  But he's not going to bother Felicity unless he has to; it's clear that the long hours at work and the late nights with the Arrow are starting to wear on her.

He takes a deep breath before gripping the cable with both hands, and then he starts into a dead run before he can change his mind.  When his foot catches the end of the roof, he jumps and depends on the rope to pull him back toward the building.  It works perfectly, and he prepares for the worst part:  crashing through the window.

He's able to plant his feet against it, which makes for less impact.  Glass flies everywhere, and when he lands in the office, his legs collapse under him as the pain sets in, even through the adrenalin rush.  He rises slowly as his mother, always the practical one, goes immediately for the phone.

He doesn't like his options, but if she calls security, the game is over.  Even kneeling and half-dazed from the fall, he's able to shoot the phone off her desk with a well-placed arrow.  He's able to rise to a standing position as he nocks another arrow and draws, and he utters the line he knows she'll expect:  "Moira Queen, you have failed this city."  The synthesizer only acts to make it sound more menacing, and a bolt of disbelief shoots through him.  He can't believe he's doing this.

She puts her hands in the air, looking just as scared and traumatized as he expects, but now the dread and guilt have been replaced with the cold, emotionally devoid quality of simply doing business.  "Please," she begs, and her voice sounds as if she's nearly in tears.  "Please don't hurt me.  You can take anything you want."  She grabs at a photograph on her desk, flashing a picture of their family, though it is about ten years old.  "I have a son who needs me and a daughter who isn't grown yet.  I'm all they have.  Please don't take me from them."

The icy façade breaks instantly.  Oliver has faced down a lot of bad people in these few past months, but none of them have begged for the sake of their family.  He's tried to make this impersonal, but it isn't.  That's his mother, and this was personal from the beginning.  "I'm not going to hurt you," he says finally, "provided you answer my questions."

He expects instant compliance, but some part of him has forgotten that his mother isn't always as demure as he expects.  Instead of replying, she reaches behind her, and before he can wonder what she's doing, he simultaneously feels pain coursing through his left shoulder and an unmistakable gunshot.

He ducks immediately, and he takes a brief moment to check the wound.  Blood isn't pouring from it, as he expects, but squirting, blood shooting from it in time with his elevated heart rate.  Dread claws at him because this isn't any other bullet wound—this is arterial blood, and the clock is already ticking.  Then he realizes that she wasn't aiming to incapacitate; she was aiming to kill.  In its own way, that's an answer to his question—if she has secrets that would cause her to kill to keep them quiet, then she's probably as deep into this mess as he'd feared.

He hears her call security, and he knows this mission is a failure.  He has a nicked artery and security is on their way up.  He probably needs to clean up the blood, but he'd rather pass out in a place of his choosing.  There's only one way out now, and, as he watches her lean around the desk to see if he's still alive, he rolls out the broken window.

He draws a grappling arrow in free fall, firing it and catching the cable with his left arm.  Pain courses through his shoulder, causing him to groan, but he fights against it as he slides down the cable to the ground.  The roll doesn't make things feel any better, but he manages to scramble to his feet, even though he's starting to get the light-headed feeling from too much blood loss.  He presses a hand to the wound to stem the flow of blood, but it isn't working too well, as it pulsates through his fingers.  Adrenalin isn't on his side this time; the elevated heart rate is just cutting his time in half.

The car he's looking for is still there, and, on another day, he'd feel guilty about breaking into her car, but they're going to be looking for him soon.  It takes him all of five seconds to pick the lock, and he lays across the seat as best he can, with his head elevated and his knees in the air so that his feet can touch the seating.

He reaches into his pocket to pull out his cell phone, but the screen is splintered, probably grazed by the bullet in his chest.  Apparently, he’s just going to have to wait for Felicity to return to her car.  Time isn’t exactly his friend right now, so he hopes he has long enough.  But that’s not the part the part that gives him pause—it’s Felicity herself.  She’s not used to this kind of experience, and he had hoped to keep the violent part of his work away from her.

But the worst part of it all is that he was supposed to give her the night off.

Chapter Text

Felicity sighs as she unlocks her car remotely, ready for pajamas and a long night of mindless television. She has Oliver's laptop under her arm, and it's something she can work on if she feels like it, though she probably won't. With the tech support logs tonight, the last thing she wants to do is more computer work. In fact, if she never sees a computer again, she thinks it might be too soon.

She slides into the driver's seat easily, starting the car before she even thinks to shut the door. She's so focused on checking her gauges that she doesn't think to check her rearview mirror, and she lets out a scream as she sees movement out of the corner of her eye. It's muted, however, by the hand that clamps over her mouth. She immediately reaches for his hand, trying to move it so that she can bite it and run, but an unnaturally deep voice says, "I'm not going to hurt you, Felicity. It's just me." He releases his hold on her, and she tries to stop her hands from shaking.

She answers with a curse so violent that it makes her blush, covering her mouth as it slips out. It surprises her, though, when he chuckles about it. "What the hell is wrong with you? I don't care if you want to show up at my house like a stalker or at my office, but you just don't hide out in the backseat of a girl's car. That's just a whole new level of creepy that even I can't handle."

"I wouldn't have," he answers quickly, and Felicity realizes for the first time that there's something very wrong with his voice, "but it was urgent." Now she's able to hear his breathing in the quiet, and it's ragged and uneven, as though something is horribly wrong.

She turns in her seat to face him, and her eyes immediately land on the dark shirt that he's holding to his chest. It only takes her a second to notice the red spray underneath it, and ice cold dread claws its way down her spine. "Oh God, you've been shot," she says immediately. She tries to fight that pure feeling of terror, since it's more important to stay objective.

She means to ask him what he needs next, but he cuts her off with a dry, sarcastic, "Thanks for pointing that out. I hadn't noticed."

Her eyes narrow immediately. "Look, I'm going to give you that one because you're injured, but there's no reason for you to get sassy, mister." It earns her another soft laugh, which she figures is a good sign. She turns around, pulling her seatbelt across her shoulder. "So do me a favor and tell me where to go before I tell you where to go."

She feels a little silly for chastising him when he's injured, but he seems to appreciate the sense of humor. "Twenty-Second," he says immediately. "Remember the place you took me at Christmas?" She remembers it clearly; something about highly stressful situations seem to make her memory work overtime. He groans as she pulls out of the parking space. "There's an entrance in the lot behind it—it looks like a piece of corrugated tin lying there. Pull it up, punch in the code two five, four two. Got it?"

"Yeah," she says, and she's very glad her voice isn't shaking. Suddenly the stress feels real as she pulls into the street, and she tries to avoid the traffic lights as she weaves in and out of lanes.

He groans again, and this time it's because he's pulled the cloth away. Felicity pays enough attention via the rearview mirror to see that the wound is spurting blood, not a steady flow like when she gets paper cuts. Her medical skills may be lacking, but even she knows that probably isn't good. "So, um," she tries to ask casually, but her voice is too high, "just exactly how bad is this?"

"It's not good," he answers quickly, and it does nothing for her nerves. "Moira Queen shot me." Felicity goes blank for a moment because there's no way those words can be right. She's met Moira Queen before, and the lady wouldn't harm a fly if you asked her to. "It nicked an artery, and I'm probably going to be unconscious soon." She can hear that for herself in the slur of his voice, as if he's barely holding on.

"But..." She can't even bring herself to ask it; the thought is too horrible. She forces it out, convincing herself it will hurt less if she does it quickly, like removing an adhesive bandage. "But you'll wake up again, right?"

She's surprised he's even able to hear her because she says it so softly, but he answers hesitantly, "I don't know." Part of her wishes he had lied to her, but part of her appreciates the honesty.

"Well, you'd better," she says flatly, letting the anger and frustration take over, if only to keep her from hysterics. "Because if you don't, I'm going to be royally pissed." He laughs like she's joking, but clearly he doesn't know her as well as she believed—because she's not teasing.

The rest of the ride is made in silence, and she sees him in her rearview mirror, his head tilted away as he lays limp against the seat. It causes Felicity a brief moment of panic as she realizes it might be too late by the time she reaches the location. Then she shakes her head because that kind of thinking isn't going to help her now. She has to think positive—to think that there's hope—or she knows it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

She pulls into the empty lot, surprised to realize it's behind Verdant. She thinks that might be awfully risky, to have a base behind an occupied building that functions primarily at night, but he didn't ask her when he decided to set up camp. Her headlights land on the piece of rusted tin lying there, and she stops the car, parking without cutting the engine before she runs over to it. Sure enough, she pulls it up to reveal a keypad of some kind. "Two five, four two," she says quietly as she punches in each number, and the light on it goes green and the hydraulic hatch releases to expose a series of stairs.

She tries to move him, she does, but he's way too heavy for her to carry him while unconscious, and she knows she'd probably dislocate his shoulder if she tried to drag him. That's the last thing he needs, with everything else going on.

Knowing she probably shouldn't charge in, she hesitantly unzips his jacket, trying to find his phone. She feels a little bad about digging through his stuff, but she figures he'll forgive her for it under the circumstances. She finds it and pulls it out, smiling when she finds two of her sticky notes stuck to it. She didn't expect him to be so sentimental.

She tucks the notes back in his pocket, then turns the phone over to find the screen shattered.  Frowning and trying not to panic, she turns it over, trying to find a way to crack the case.  With another thought, she checks his pockets again, this time going for his pants pockets to find the knife she used to cut that arrow out of his shoulder ages ago.  It's an awkward angle and motion, and she's glad he's not awake to see her face heat and make some comment about the fact.  All it takes is quick flick of the release lever on the switchblade, and then she's able to wedge the blade out of the back of the phone.  She pulls out the SIM card, grateful that her registered phone is the same model--even if hers is a little lacking on security protocols compared to his.

She frowns when she finds the PIN lock on it, but then enters the same numbers he gave her for the locked panel--two, five, four, two.  She doesn't expect it to work, but it does, and she does a small fist pump before she opens the phone's contact list.  She scrolls straight down to  "Associate," just like the last time.  She hears the moment it picks up, and she says into the phone before Diggle can say anything, "Mr. Diggle, this is Felicity. We're outside the underground entrance." She notices the twinge of hysteria to her voice, but she doesn't have time for hysterics. "He's unconscious, and I can't move him by myself. He was shot, and—" She chokes over the word as it finally sets in, then, quieter, adds, "And it's not good."

"I'm on my way out," is his only response, and the line goes dead. She notices how dark it is in the lot, and so she cuts the headlights and the ignition before anyone can notice.

She almost misses Diggle, but a flash of movement lets her know he's there. "Hey," she says quietly after she gets out of the car, opening the passenger door so that he can see the Arrow slumped across it. "Can you lift him, or will you need help?"

Diggle frowns. "We'll need to keep him in a horizontal position," he answers, showing some semblance of a medical background, "so I'll need your help." He looks from the Arrow to her. "I'll take the brunt of the weight if you'll lift his legs."

They somehow manage to slide him out of the car, and Felicity manages to carry the Arrow's legs under the knees. Diggle had the forethought to place a gurney at the bottom of the staircase, so they slide him onto that and roll him into their base of operations.

Felicity doesn't know what she expects, but this isn't it. She supposes she imagined it as a slipshod operation with little to impress, but she was wrong. A display of arrows sits off to one side, a nice glass-and-steel desk made to store a laptop that isn't there. Diggle slides the gurney into place behind the computer desk before pulling out a toolbox with a defibrillator on top, and Felicity realizes they've prepared for this possibility.

The Arrow's head slumps to the side, away from her, and she can see only the outline of his jaw under that hood, dark brown stubble covering it. His hood has fallen back enough that she can see part of his mask, and she pulls it back to cover his face.

It earns her an odd look from Diggle. "You know," he starts slowly, "you've saved his life. I don't think he'd be upset if you knew his actual name."

Felicity shakes her head adamantly. "No," she says flatly, her eyes on the Arrow instead of Diggle. "If I'm going to learn who he is when he's not under that hood, it's going to be because he tells me." She bites her lip. "I've stopped digging into his past, Diggle, because it doesn't matter to me anymore. If he wants me to know, he'll tell me. It's up to him now."

She turns her attention away from the Arrow, choosing to look at Diggle for direction. He apparently respects her wishes because he asks, "Do you know anything about medicine?" Felicity shakes her head, her eyes wide as she realizes they don't know how to save him. But Diggle sighs and allays her fears a little with, "I have some basic training from the Army, but that's it."

He frowns as he unzips the green jacket, and Felicity gags, praying she doesn't lose what's left of her lunch all over her shoes. Diggle tries his best to be comforting, but it's not his strong suit. "He's survived worse," he assures her, but she doesn't feel so confident about it.

"Press here," is his next command after he places his an impressively thick piece of gauze over the wound. She does as he asks immediately, watching the blood soak through the gauze, and she has to swallow the rising bile in her throat. To say the situation isn't good is an understatement, but she isn't sure what else to do.

Diggle frees her from her task, and, probably noticing how green she is, asks her to watch the heart monitor he's connected to the Arrow. The numbers aren't giving her much hope. Part of her wants to cry, scream, or rage about the situation, but she knows it simply isn't the time. Later, she thinks. She'll do one of those—perhaps all of them—after this nightmare is over and the Arrow feels well enough to haunt her window again.

Abruptly, a long, shrill sound comes from the heart monitor, and she jumps when a clear, typed zero sits where the pulse rate is, blood pressure dropping drastically. She turns to Diggle immediately, who is already removing the defibrillator paddles from the cart. "Do you know how to use those?" Felicity blurts, and his expression makes it obvious for her.

"We're about to find out," he says, and then the charge sounds. He presses the paddles against the Arrow's chest, and they both expect to see some sort of violent reaction to the charge, but nothing comes. Diggle drops a paddle to put a hand to his forehead, but Felicity senses victory.

"I heard the charge go through," she mutters to herself, finding it easier to work when she's talking to herself. Examining the front of the machine, she adds, "Now I need a screwdriver." Diggle hands her one, and she pries the front of the machine open and makes a few adjustments to the wires, muttering to herself about the circuitry all the while. "Okay," she calls clearly to Diggle, "try it again."

He does, and this time the charge clears, and Felicity doesn't know who jumps worse at the action—her or the Arrow. It doesn't work, but the second charge manages to do the trick, and her and Diggle both breathe a collective sigh of relief. This was too close, and she realizes that, somewhere along the line, an errant tear has made its way out. She wipes at it before Diggle notices, though it's probably evident in the lines in her mascara. Hopefully he'll attribute it to perspiration or the way she's been wiping at her eyes all night.

He looks up at her with what she thinks might be new respect. "What the hell did you do?" he asks, looking at her as though she just rewrote part of the universe or something equally as impossible.

She smiles a little, even under the grim circumstances, and offers him a small shrug. "I built my first computer from scratch when I was seven," she replies, her voice a little too high and frantic with nerves. "Her name is Essie, and she still works." She flushes as Diggle raises an eyebrow. "I may have strayed from the point, which is that wires are wires. I've built a lot of computers since then, and they all have the same wiring as this thing." She motions to the defibrillator, afraid to touch it in case it falls apart.

Diggle studies her a long moment, with those dark eyes making her feel like maybe he's reading her every movement. Suddenly she wonders how the Arrow works with him—the man is a stifling presence for someone so quiet. "When he first said you were working with him," he says slowly, "I thought it was an unnecessary risk of your life." He frowns as he looks at the other man on the table. "He's good at that—has a knack for getting people hurt because he's too reckless and desperate to leave them well enough alone."

He crosses his arms, leaning back against the computer desk. "But now I understand why he depends on you." He motions to the table, where the Arrow lay. "I mean, look at you—you've never done field medicine before in your life, but you're perfectly willing to get your hands dirty if that means you can save him."

Felicity looks down at her hands, and the blood coating her fingers makes her think that maybe that statement wasn't so metaphorical. She bites her lip before starting the story. "The night I met him, I could have turned him in, you know," she starts quietly, and Diggle's head snaps up, eyes boring into hers. "But I didn't—something I didn't understand at the time. But now I do."

She hesitates, and Diggle offers her the desk chair. She walks over to it and sits down gratefully, kicking off her panda flats in the floor. "I've been around a lot of different people—some good, some bad, but most somewhere in between. I've learned how to read them, how to come to snap judgments that are usually right."

Her eyes land on the Arrow, and she says more to him than Diggle, "And I was wrong. I came to the wrong conclusion, but, for some reason, I allowed him the benefit of the doubt. I decided to take a leap of faith for no reason whatsoever." She bites her lip, staring down at her hands. "I'm glad I did. Because I understand what he's trying to do in this city, even if I didn't agree with the way he was doing it—even if I still don't like the killing and the violence."

She looks up at Diggle again. "Bad things with good results. If there's some sort of cosmic balance sheet, I'd like to imagine that we're helping to sway it toward good. If not, well, I guess the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." She chuckles despite the situation and her words. "But I guess it doesn't matter now—I can't imagine my life any other way."

Diggle watches her with that stoic expression, revealing nothing of his thoughts. "I can't speak for you, Felicity, but he's been a better person since he's known you." He hesitates before saying finally, "I came to the wrong conclusion at first, too, but, like you, I chose to join him anyway. He's fighting a war against the criminals in this town, and he's never truly fought a war before. He doesn't understand how it eats away at you—how that struggle was already starting to chip away at him when we met."

He puts his hand on her shoulder in a comforting gesture. "It wasn't me who changed that—it was you, Felicity. He's gone from killer to almost heroic because he listens to you when he won't listen to anyone else." He hesitates one last time before turning to look at his friend and partner on the table. "And, no matter what happens here tonight—or on any other night—I think you deserve to know that." He snorts. "Not that he'd probably want you to know it, but you should nonetheless."

She snorts, too, rolling her eyes. "I'm just an IT girl," she answers. "It's not me who's important to this city—it's him. He's the hero, and maybe he asks me for help from time to time, but all of the good in this city recently is because of him, not me."

"For the sake of argument," he answers, studying her again, "let's say you're right. Let's say he's the one doing the good in this city—that you and I have nothing to do with his crimefighting." He's adamant now about this, and Felicity thinks she might be about to lose an argument. "Even if that's true, do you know what the Arrow was before he came to you with that busted laptop? He wasn't a hero—he was a killer. He took lives before asking questions, and there was nothing separating him from the criminals he went after. But it's only since you've been helping him that he's become something resembling heroic." He chuckles. "Don't sell yourself short, Felicity—I think you've taken a killer and turned him into a hero."

Part of her is almost glad to hear the heart monitor go off again, the machine screaming at them to take action. It pulls her from her chair, bare feet plodding along the cold floor. Diggle immediately goes for the paddles, but Felicity thinks she sees their problem. "Wait!" she calls as she looks at the lead at the lower, right side of his abdomen.

She fiddles with it, slides the wire back into place, her fingers lingering over the Chinese column of characters tattooed into his skin. Her eyes, however, focus on the angry scars across his chest, abdomen, and shoulders—basically anywhere skin is exposed—and she wonders the same thing she always does: How could any human being do this to another?

In the meantime, the beeping has stopped, and Diggle looks at her, expectant of an explanation. She shrugs, pointing to the lousy state of the heart monitor. "One of the leads came loose."

It earns a rare groan of frustration from him, a single moment where she sees how he's truly feeling: terrified for his friend and frustrated with his lack of control over the situation. "I swear, I'd rather see him jumping off rooftops and taking ridiculous risks than this!" he exclaims, causing Felicity to jump a little.

She snorts. "Are you kidding me? I was there when he raided Vanch's house, and I was terrified out my wits." She frowns. "Give me that over this any day."

 


 

Oliver awakens in a fog, stirring slightly. He tries to focus through it, tries to determine where he is and what's happened. The first thing he remembers is Felicity's car, and he realizes it's also the last thing he remembers. He'd been shot, and he'd waited for her in her car because of what happened.

Suddenly, he breaks through the fog, aware of many things. A sharp pain, agonizing even under the haze afforded to him by the morphine, shoots through his shoulder, and he guesses that it's from the bullet wound from earlier. Truthfully, he's surprised he lived. But it's the other shoulder that he doesn't understand; something sits on top of it, almost pinning it to the table.

Slowly, Oliver opens his eyes, and he can make out the blurred outline of the desk and his practice equipment before it shifts into focus. The patch over his wound, he notices, has been bled through, its white surface already red. It's definitely going to be slow to heal.

Diggle slides into his view, and Oliver realizes his vision is still partially obstructed by his mask and hood. He'd figured that they'd remove it, and he was almost hoping the secret was out; now he thinks it would be more of a relief to be able to tell her the truth. But he doesn't to tell her himself, if only because he knows she'll be hurt by the deception.

"Welcome back to the land of the living," Diggle says with a small smile, the one that lets him know it was another close one. He presses the button on Oliver's voice synthesizer to turn it on. "Just in case you want to talk." Oliver opens his mouth, but Diggle cuts him off. "Before you ask, Felicity doesn't know—didn't want me to tell her." His hand falls on Oliver's arm. "I'm going out to her car to get your bow and quiver. Rest here a minute and I'll help you sit up when I get back." And then he's gone, disappearing out the second entrance Oliver told Felicity to use.

He tries to do that, but then he remembers the not-uncomfortable weight on his other shoulder, and, curious, he twists his head around to the other side to see what has him pinned. A smile plays at his lips as soon as he sees the familiar blonde hair sprawled across his arm. Her head rests firmly on his shoulder, arms thrown as if she'd been sitting with him and simply fell asleep. Her glasses lay beside her, the elastic from her hair in between their earpieces. Oliver thinks she looks peaceful, even if the circles under her eyes look darker than before.

Trying not to wake her, he uses his opposite arm without thinking, and then has to choke back a groan when the pain shoots through him again. This time he makes slow, easy movements, and he finds the pain tolerable. Gently, he cups his hand under her head, slowly laying her on the table and pleased he hasn't disturbed her much-needed sleep. He's been disturbing it far too much lately, and he can tell the trauma of being so much to him—as both Oliver and the Arrow—is taking its toll on her. He knows that, but still he can't let her go; he needs her far too much—more than he wants to admit.

Taking a deep breath, he slides up on his elbows, trying to sit up. He puts weight on his arm, and this time he can't stop the groan that leaves him. He thinks he might have opened up the stitches on top of that, judging by the way it feels like something has ripped.

Felicity sits up instantly, her eyes wide and unfocused. She grabs her glasses and slides them onto her face, blinking twice as her eyes try to focus. She frowns at Oliver, and he does not like that look when it's aimed at him. "Seriously?" she asks him, her tone frustrated.

She sighs deeply before pulling his left arm over his shoulder and her arm behind his back, helping him into a sitting position. "Couldn't you—I don't know—wait for me before trying to do this? You probably ripped out your stitches—it took forever to close that damn thing." She narrows her eyes, and he feels a little guilty for upsetting her. "If you wanted to sit up, you should have let me help you."

"I didn't want to wake you," he murmurs as she helps him turn to let his feet swing from the gurney. She rolls her eyes in response, but the small smile she tries to hide lets him know she isn't angry.

Felicity takes a moment to pull his hood further over his head, but then she pushes the left side of the open jacket aside, fingers deftly moving over the wound to inspect it. It's only then that he notices her fingers are already red, covered in dried blood. His blood.

She helped patch him up.

It's a startling, sobering thought. He only meant for her to take him to Diggle; Oliver didn't realize that, by enlisting her help, he'd be asking her to do something so very out of her comfort zone. He doubts she had any experience with wounds so serious. Part of him feels guilty, not because he thinks she was terrified (he knows better), but because he feels like he's corrupted her somehow, forced her into some bleak, gritty part of his world.

She peels away the gauze with nimble fingers, more delicate than either he or Diggle would ever be. He barely feels it when Felicity touches at the stitches with a fingernail, poking and prodding at them, her expression grim all the while, as if she's expecting the worst. "I think they might have torn a little," she says finally, "but they're still in." She frowns at him. "Take it easy on the heroics for a while, okay?"

He can't fight the smile on his face; only Felicity would call their work "heroic." Oliver knows he's nothing near hero material, but maybe he likes the thought that she sees him as one a little too much. He lets her seal the bandage back around the wound, again so careful and meticulous. She reaches for something else, but he doesn't let her, instead taking her hands in his own.

He studies them a moment, ignoring the way her eyes widen in surprise when he snatches those long fingers out of the air. He studies them for perhaps the first time, the way her turquoise fingernail polish is chipped, worn away at the ends as though she's been nervously chewing on them. Dried blood covers the pads of her fingers, the tips, sinks into her cuticles.

Finally, he looks up at her, not surprised to find her blushing again. "Thank you, Felicity," he says quietly, and he hopes she understands that he's not just thanking her for the rescue or for saving his life.

If anything, it makes her blush darken, and, when he releases her hands, she uses them to zip his jacket back up, breaking eye contact. "You're welcome," she answers quietly. Finally, she looks up. "I'm just glad—" She breaks off, taking a moment to look away before looking back at him. "I'm just glad you're all right."

He chuckles. "I guess I survived again," Oliver agrees easily. He's had too many near-death experiences, so the rush that accompanies survival doesn't seem to affect him near as much anymore. "Cool."

He expects Felicity to smile, maybe even to laugh, but he does not expect her expression to turn dark as a thundercloud. "'Cool'?" she repeats, her voice an octave higher. He was right; that's definitely anger. "There was nothing cool about tonight." Her voice turns scathing, a new tone entering it as she continues. "Unless you count the part where you were shot by Moira Queen—I guess that could have been cool. Or the part where you passed out in the backseat of my car. Possibly even when Diggle tied off an artery several inches from your heart to keep you from bleeding out." She pokes him in the chest, always mindful to avoid said injury.

"No, it was when your heart rate dropped and we had to use the damn defibrillator on you." She pokes him again with her index finger. "You don't get to be cavalier about this." She points to herself now. "Three times tonight I thought you weren't going to make it—three times! Your heart stopped, and both of us thought you were dead." She chokes on the word as if it's simply too painful to say, and he notices the dark spot under her eye smear. She turns away before wiping at it, flustered. "Forgive me if I'm not laughing," she says after a long moment, anger abated.

He scrambles to his feet, even though it sends another burst of agony through her shoulder as he pushes off with his hands. Oliver swallows, feeling more like a monster than he ever has before. He didn't expect that her emotions for him ran so deep, that she'd cry over the hooded vigilante that makes so much trouble for her. After all, when he'd—foolishly—tried to kiss her, she'd turned him down. And when she'd made that comment calling herself a fool, he'd thought that maybe she liked the allure of flirting with him.

But to think that she would mourn even the idea of losing him is a ridiculous, dangerous thought that fills him with something that feels almost like hope.

He places his hand on her shoulder, turns her to face him. She won't look at him, so he turns her head up. His gloved hand curves up to her cheek, and he gently brushes his thumb under her eye. She closes her eyes, and he's surprised when the dark circles under her eyes smear. Though she may need all the rest he's been robbing her of, Oliver also thinks that might be eyeliner or mascara with multiple tracks through it. There are so many things he wants to say, but only two words come out: "I'm sorry."

Her eyes fly open immediately, and he supposes she recognizes that he's needed to say it so many times before. It feels like weakness most of the time, admitting he's wrong, but not now.

She sighs deeply, then wraps her arms around his waist, always careful to avoid touching the wound. He hesitates for a moment, not wanting to screw this up, but then finally wraps his arms around her, his chin resting on her head. "Don't ever do that to me again," she demands with a soft voice muffled by his jacket.

"I'll do my best," he answers, giving her the only promise he can. She seems in no hurry to leave the embrace, and, truth be told, neither is Oliver.

There's just something comforting about it for him, even if he knows Felicity is the one who needs comforting instead.

Chapter Text

Still in her pajamas at noon, Felicity feels very decadent, considering it's a Friday. Because she thought it was the best option, she called in sick at work, then nestled herself back in bed for a few more hours' sleep. Refusing to sleep any later than noon and waste her rare day off, she decides to get up and finish Oliver's laptop, the one still sitting in pieces on her desk.

Barry is already up and dressed by this point, and she takes a few hesitant steps forward when she sees him in the kitchen. That's never a good idea; Barry's cooking is typically only edible when he's using the microwave. "Why are you destroying my poor kitchen?" she asks, her voice raspy with too many hours of sleep. "I'm pretty sure your cooking counts as cruel and unusual punishment."

He offers her a withering glance, but there's a smile hiding somewhere underneath. "I'm not cooking," he answers, moving away from the stove to show a bag from one of her favorite breakfast restaurants. "I can't ever get enough of this place, and I wanted to eat here just once before I head back to Central City." He frowns. "I'd like to point out that it's your fault I'm here, and that you owe me ten dollars for breakfast."

She rolls her eyes, smiling. "You know I'm good for it," is her response before pulling her food out of it, going back to the couch to start back on Oliver's poor, mistreated laptop. She's surprised when he doesn't follow, instead swiping the bag from the counter after putting his coat back on. "You're not staying?" she asks, surprised.

"No, sorry," is his answer. "They need me back at STAR Labs as soon as possible, so I basically switched my hours today." He frowns. "I guess I'm on graveyard, since I'll get off at two a.m."

She knows how much he hates the late-night shifts, so she frowns. "Sorry, Watson," she says quietly. "I'm sorry I didn't get to you sooner."

He shrugs, smiling. "Not your fault, Sherly," he answers with that huge, cheesy grin she's come to expect over all the years. "After all, you were doing noble deeds—saving a life and making moony-eyes over Starling's resident vigilante." She sticks her tongue out at him, and he chuckles. "Talk to you, soon, Sherly—I want to make sure you're not getting yourself into any trouble."

"I promise to keep you apprised of what your hero is doing," she answers dryly. "And I promise I won't take any insane risks. After that last time, I'm not going into the field again anytime soon."

His eyes narrow at her, and she cringes. "You were in the field?" he asks. "Are you crazy? You could have gotten killed out there!" He crosses his arms, and she knows it's serious now; that's serious face, and Felicity has never won an argument with him when he's wearing that expression. "I demand details."

Never before has she been so grateful to hear the knock at the door, and she looks at it in relief. Barry sighs. "Saved by the doorbell," he mutters as he moves to answer it for her, then turns. "We’ll finish this conversation later, though.”

She nods at the same time that Saphira starts charging from the spare bedroom to the door, tail wagging as she barks loudly. Barry looks between Felicity and the little shiba, frowning. "It's Oliver," Felicity explains, not looking up. "Saphira loves him for some reason. The Arrow feeds her treats to win her affection, but Oliver just shows up and she's excited." She shrugs at Barry's wide-eyed expression, and then he finally shakes his head, probably not even sure where to begin asking questions.

"Does your life ever seem surreal to you?" he asks finally, heading to the door, and she can't help but chuckle. All the time is the answer she wants to give, but, before she can respond, she hears him say, "Hey, Oliver. Come on in—Felicity's in the den with computer-y things."

"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" he asks, and she can hear the hesitance in his tone. "Because I can come back," he offers, but Felicity knows his heart isn't in it.

"Nope," Barry answers cheerfully, "unless you count the traditional foster-sibling-style bickering, but you probably wanted to avoid that, anyway." He does that awkward laugh that makes Felicity wince. "And I was just leaving, so you're not even interrupting that." Louder, he calls to Felicity, "Try not to get into any trouble, Sherly."

"I make no promises, Watson," she calls back, and then she hears the sound of the door shutting and she finishes with a screw on her computer, standing up as Oliver enters quietly. "I heard about your mom," she says quietly, and he runs a hand over his face—that special tell he has for freaking out.

Without a thought, she stands up to hug him, arms wrapping around his neck awkwardly, her elbow bumping against his shoulder. He tenses, and she frowns because she thought they were making progress on this; maybe he's worried about the almost-kiss incident, but that feels like lifetimes ago for her. Still, his arms wrap around her after a long moment, and he does that long, drawn-out sigh, so similar from the night Thea was in the hospital after her accident.

She releases him and takes her seat at the end of the couch, and he surprises her by sitting next to her. "That's why I'm here," he says finally. "I've been with Mom at the hospital this morning." When her eyes widen in concern, he adds, "She's fine—just a few scratches that needed stitches from all the glass breakage. She won't say it, but she's terrified—worried he'll come after her again." He frowns deeply, running another hand over his face. "I know my mother isn't exactly innocent, but I'm not sure that means she deserved to be threatened at arrow point."

Felicity can't stop the nagging feeling in the back of her mind. Of the many things she expected when she started working with the Arrow, the guilt is the least of them. But the remorse claws at her, and she's never been good with guilt. She bites her lip, not wanting to add to his stress, but, at the same time, needing to make the confession. "After I showed you the book," she says slowly, quietly, "I showed it to the Arrow." His eyes snap to hers, his brow furrowing. "He saved me from that fire at Verdant," she continues, choosing her words carefully, "and I felt like I owed him one. So I decided to reach out about the book—to see if I could find more answers." She looks at Oliver, taking a moment to bite her lip to keep from begging his forgiveness. "I had to tell him how I found it, but I swear to you, Oliver, I wouldn't have given it to him if I'd known how this was going to end." She looks away. "I'm so sorry, Oliver."

She expects him to leave then—maybe even yell a little. But what happens is almost worse in some ways, his hand catching the side of her face, tilting it back toward him. "Hey," he says gently, "this is not your fault." His other hand reaches out for one of hers, squeezing it, and she realizes he's not just humoring her—he actually means every word of it. "You were trying to help, and you trusted the wrong person. This is on the Vigilante, not you, Felicity." He hesitates before saying, "But I think that you should leave him alone." He words it carefully, somehow knowing that the wrong word could lead to an argument. "He's wanted by the police and a whole host of bad people. Someone's going to capture the Vigilante eventually, and I don't want him to drag you down with him."

She bites her lip, shaking her head. "He's not always like that," she disagrees in a quiet but firm voice. "But I'll be more careful in the future."

He lets the conversation go because he probably knows it's the best offer he's going to get. He offers her a hesitant smile before changing the subject. "So," he says slowly, "you took a day off, and Starling City is still standing." He offers a hesitant smile, but it grows when she chuckles.

She points at him with the screwdriver in her hand. "Well, the day's not out yet," she quips, earning a chuckle from him. "And, if it does become an oversized parking lot because of robot wars or other disastrous events, it's on you for convincing me, Mr. Queen." She doesn't usually tease him so much—it's too much like flirting—and she hopes he can take it.

"Well, Miss Smoak," he answers, taking the bait with surprising ease, "if a robot war breaks out today, I promise to take full credit for it." He motions to her attire, his eyes lingering a little too long on the Arrow’s shirt from last night, even though she had the good sense to put a white camisole on underneath it. Then she flushes as she realizes which pants she has on—covered in fluffy cartoon alpacas in white, black, and brown. "And I'll pay for the destruction of any llama-related sleepwear."

She shoots him a withering look, biting back a smile. "First of all," she starts, trying to maintain some façade of seriousness, "these lovely cartoon animals are alpacas, not llamas, though it's an easy mistake to make. Alpacas are woolly. And they orgle—don’t ask." He chuckles, and she bites back a smile, trying to pretend to be serious. "Secondly, your mockery of robot attack is duly noted—but we'll see who's laughing when giant robots use this city as their wrestling arena." She crosses her arms. "Finally, you may find yourself in financial ruin if a robot war breaks out, so don't make any promises you can't keep."

"Thank you," he says abruptly, for no reason whatsoever. She arches an eyebrow in confusion, but he doesn’t clarify. It takes her a moment, but she understands that it’s meant to thank her for pulling his mind away from this business with his mother and the Arrow—for making him laugh, in spite of the situation.

She starts to answer, but then decides that their communication has never been about words, and it shouldn’t be now. Instead, she reaches out to him, turning his hand over and lacing her fingers through his. He stares down at their hands on his thigh, offering her a rare smile. He squeezes her hand once before pulling it away, reaching out to cup her face. “I’m glad you’ve been able to rest today,” he says quietly. “You’ve been running on fumes for weeks.” He motions to his laptop, laid out in front of her. “You can work on that next week, if you want—I’m in no hurry.”

She arches an eyebrow. “So I’ve been told,” she answers. “But I’ve slept all day—doing this makes me feel productive.” She studies it for a moment. “Besides, this isn’t work to me—this is fun.” She bites her lip as his eyes tighten in amusement. “Yeah, I’m a nerd—thanks for not rubbing my nose in it.”

He opens his mouth to speak, but his phone demands his attention instead. He checks it, frowning as he reads a text on it. “I have to go,” he says finally. “They’re releasing my mother, and I think I should be there, since Thea had to work.”

She waves a hand. “You don’t have to explain that to me, Oliver,” she answers. “Your mom has been through a lot in the last twenty-four hours—I think you should be there.” She taps the casing on his laptop. “I should have this finished in a few hours—provided that my three favorite starship captains don’t start calling my name.” His expression is a question, and she answers it. “Solo, Picard, and Harkness.” She shakes her head at his blank look. “I find it incredibly sad that you don’t know any of those. We’ll have to complete your sci-fi education.”

He chuckles, putting his hand on her shoulder once before moving toward the door. “Well, I hope to see you again soon, Felicity,” he offers with a smile, leaving her to stare after him.

Because, really, there’s no way he meant it the way he said it.

 


 

Lance's eyes narrow in confusion as he sees the little Mini Cooper parked over in one corner in front of the house, and he frowns at it. He doesn't think the Queens own anything like that, and he doesn't want any distractions when taking Moira Queen’s statement. But then he sees a familiar blonde ponytail and it all suddenly becomes painstakingly clear.

Felicity pulls out a silver, flat surface—a laptop of some sort, Lance supposes—and slips it under her arm, locking her car behind her. She pulls up short when she sees him, brows furrowing in confusion before she finally breaks into a wide smile that makes him nervous. "Hello, Detective," she says easily as she meets him at the door, knocking on it quietly.

"Miss Smoak," he answers, not exactly prepared for her cheery disposition today. Every time they meet, it seems like they match wits, and, well, Lance is tired of coming up short. Sometimes he thinks she might be the mastermind behind the Hood, and that, maybe, the guy parading around in green tights with a bow is just a dumb brute. But, he dismisses that on the grounds that Felicity Smoak would never team up with a dumb brute. "I'm surprised to see you here and not with your boyfriend," he adds, remembering last night's incidents, the ones that dragged him here anyway. "I thought you'd be taking care of him—the spray we found at Queen Consolidated was arterial."

She offers him a secretive smile, though he finds it interesting that her cheeks heat a little at the mention of a boyfriend. "I think he'll live to put arrows in more bad guys," she answers flippantly, even though the smile is gone from her eyes. "And we're not a thing." She does an awkward hand motion with her free hand, flashing emerald green fingernails that Lance knows better than to call a coincidence. "I mean, we aren't together or anything."

She uses the knocker this time on the door, then resting her hand on the back of her neck and then smoothing down her black skirt that's maybe a little too short. Then she balls her hand into a fist and runs it down her skirt again, before switching the laptop to the opposite arm. She notices his observations and explains them with, "This place always makes me nervous—like I should present my pedigree at the gate before daring to drive onto this property."

He frowns, surprised. He hasn't known Felicity to get nervous since he's known her—even when he's glaring her down and asking questions about her affiliations. And they both know she's not a shrinking violet if she's working for the Hood. "I thought you'd be used to it by now," he responds.

She shakes her head. "I've only been here twice. And the last time I was here, you shot an assassin who was about to kill me," she answers, surprisingly emotionless for the statement she just made. But, then again, she works with the Hood, and she's probably seen her share of carnage—especially if she was present for Laurel's rescue like he suspects. "I know it's silly, but I'm not exactly in a hurry to go back."

The door opens then, and the maid beams as soon as she sees Felicity. Lance can't help but wonder if she knows what kind of effect she has on people. "Welcome, Miss Smoak," she says in a Russian accent. "Mister Oliver is expecting you." She turns to Lance, and he simply flashes his badge to earn his own entry.

"Thanks," the blonde answers as she follows the maid in, stopping abruptly. "I'm sorry, I never caught your name the last time."

The maid stops, too, surprised but polite as always. "My name is Raisa, Miss Smoak," she answers in that thick Russian accent, watching her for a moment."

Felicity makes a noise in the back of her throat. "Well, Raisa, you don't have to call me 'Miss Smoak.' It makes me want to look and see if my mother is here." She makes a face. "And, trust me, if you knew my mother, you'd be just as terrified as I am by that thought. So, please, call me Felicity."

Raisa offers a tentative smile. "Of course, Miss Felicity," she answers. "Mister Oliver asked me to make sure you were comfortable in foyer."

Felicity makes a face, and Lance knows exactly why: she isn't happy with the title attached to it, but seems to know that's all she's going to get. She and Lance both continue following the little woman. "I don't know why Oliver is expecting me, though," she continues, as thought it was her intended conversation all along. "I told him I wasn't sure if I'd finish this today. I'm easily distracted by my television, especially when I have a day off. I guess that's why I don't get many days off."

Raisa seems taken with her babbling, nodding along with a smile. "Mister Oliver and Mrs. Queen will be down soon," she states, and Felicity sits on the couch with the computer across her lap, back straight.

"Thank you, Raisa," she calls behind her, then looks to Detective Lance. "So, you're here to talk to Mrs. Queen about the thing at QC last night?" she asks, eyes narrowing in confusion. "I thought you would have already done that." He bristles immediately—because he has enough people telling him how to do his job—but she holds her hands out. "I didn't mean it like that—I just thought there was something about the first twenty-four hours being crucial to an investigation." She frowns, shaking her head. "Clearly my small talk skills are in need of some serious work."

He turns away so she doesn't see the corner of his mouth turn up—he doesn't need the girl to think he's gone soft or anything. "The Queens are a special case," he answers dryly, repeating the same thing his bosses have been telling him.

She puts her elbow on the laptop, her jaw landing on her hand. "So, basically, your bosses know where their political bread is buttered," she translates, and Lance can't hide the smile this time. "But, still," she continues casually, "arterial spray means you have blood evidence, right?"

The Queen kid walks into the room then, tilting his head as he thinks about what they've just said. "Detective, you're here to talk to my mother?" he asks politely enough, but something about the kid's demeanor just always seems to scream smart ass. "If you have blood evidence, that means you can find him, doesn't it?"

Suddenly Lance feels a little more sour than usual, the words he says leaving a bad taste in his mouth: "There was a screw-up at the lab. Some kid entered the wrong numbers on an evidence disposal form, and it was destroyed first thing this morning—before we realized what had happened."

"That's a shame," Felicity says quickly—maybe a little too quickly. Then he realizes she's a computer genius who clearly needs a rush of excitement every now and again if she's messing around with the Hood. And he can't stop himself from wondering how easy it would be for her to hack a police server and create a little chaos in their system.

Queen makes a noise of agreement, then turns to Felicity as though Lance doesn't exist. He flashes her a smile. "I see you didn't get distracted by your three favorite captains," he greets her, raising an eyebrow.

She grimaces. "Well, I'm not going to lie," she responds, standing. "I did get distracted by my favorite computer nerd, but I promised myself that I couldn't watch the next episode until I finished fixing up your laptop. And Oliver, I really need to see how Chuck and Sarah's date goes." She offers it to him. "And so I finished it."

Lance is surprised to hear Queen chuckle; the kid hasn't been too cheery since returning from that hellhole he spent not near enough time in, if you ask the detective. "I'm glad to know you did this out of the kindness of your heart," he quips as he takes the computer from her, and she blushes.

Her hands start flying as she speaks. "Well, I didn't mean it like that," she answers quickly, eyes widening. "I did want to fix your laptop—I just needed a little incentive to get me going. If I didn't want to do it, you know I would have told you that. But I'm glad to help you with all of your computer-related needs." She bites her lip. "And I'm babbling. Again." She pokes him in the shoulder. "You should make me stop."

"I like listening to your babbles," he answers after a long moment, and Lance thinks the kid might actually mean it for a change. Felicity has apparently come to the same conclusion, as Lance thinks the last thing he saw that red came equipped with sirens, flashing lights, and a high-pressure hose.

Before she can respond, a new voice says, "Hey, Ollie, have you seen—" Thea cuts off immediately as she sees the pair of them, then rolls her eyes when she sees Lance. Little does she know the feeling is mutual. Then she motions between them. "Never mind—you're with Felicity. I could come galloping through the house on a unicorn, and you wouldn't notice."

Lance can't help but agree with the youngest Queen's assessment, though it goes against everything he believes in. Felicity murmurs a quick goodbye, but Oliver catches her by the arm. "Felicity?" he asks quietly. "Thank you." He comes off as sincere—perhaps too much so—and Lance didn't know the kid had it in him.

"I'll see you later," she calls again, before offering a wave to Thea. "Nice seeing you, Thea—sorry I have to go." With a nod, she adds a pleasant, "Detective Lance."

With a certain amount of necessary seriousness, Lance responds, "You take care of yourself, Miss Smoak. There seem to be monsters out in this city now—especially at night." He adds the last phrase for good measure, knowing she'll pick up the cryptic undertone of the conversation.

"I'll be sure to check my closet twice, then," she answers with a partial smile, and, if she was anyone else, he'd be certain that it was a smart ass comment. As it is, they both know that their conversations about the Hood are made in subtle code, and it's her way of reminding him that she's careful. He just hopes she's careful enough.

After all, that display of puppy love with Queen doesn't exactly inspire confidence in her judgment.

Chapter Text

Felicity huffs as she loads the two desktop computers into the back of her car, trying to stop smiling. She seriously shouldn’t be this excited about going down into a stuffy basement again, but it’s not about that. It’s about being a part of something, being officially considered part of the team. And, as someone who has rarely belonged to something in her life, she’s thrilled to watch the sky grow ever darker as the city settles into the night.

Because the night means the Arrow.

She can’t help but wonder when things changed—when the work she performs for the Arrow became her reality and identity, and when her job at Queen Consolidated became so dry and monotonous. She used to love it, but now there’s no challenge or thrill to it like there was before. But, then again, maybe it’s an unfair comparison to make—she’s not exactly asked to break into SCPD servers and help save vigilantes’ lives at QC. Maybe it’s for the best that she’s a mild-mannered IT girl by day.

True to his word, the Arrow left her alone yesterday, and she spent the day taking care of Oliver's laptop troubles. She used the morning to catch up on her shows and make sure that the computers for the lair were working properly. Then she and Barry met for their traditional Saturday lunch, even though there wasn't much to discuss since they had seen each other the day before. That was when the Arrow had called, asking her if she could come into the lair tonight, and she'd jumped at the opportunity to do so.

The sound of tires on concrete makes her look up, and the presence of a black, paneled van immediately makes her suspicious—there aren’t a lot of those around her apartment complex, and she can just see masked men jumping out of it to kidnap someone. Then she shakes her head, clearing away the errant thought. She really didn’t need to watch all those action movies with Barry; they do horrible things for her imagination.

It pulls up to block off her car, and she’s surprised to see a familiar face behind the wheel. Diggle waves at her from the driver’s seat, and she returns it as the passenger door slides open, and the Arrow hops out.

“You know this looks like an abduction scene straight out of an action movie, right?” she asks him, crossing her arms. “Should I try to scream, or should I just run impressively in high heels?” She frowns, looking at her shoes. “Technically, I’m in flats, but that’s the standard thing—the women always have to do everything in four-inch heels in an action movie.”

He chuckles before answering, “You have a police tail on your car. Digg noticed it when you were leaving the Queen mansion.” She can feel her eyes go wide, and his hand falls on her shoulder. “We can minimize the risk using the van and the bike, but it means we need to be careful until this blows over.” The corner of his mouth turns up. “And you agreed to help us, so it’s not kidnapping.” Then he adds hesitantly, “Unless you’ve changed your mind.” She can’t help but be a little insulted by the question in his tone.

Felicity rolls her eyes because it’s the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard—as if she’d bail now, when she’s finally part of the action. She responds by shoving one of the computer towers against his chest, his arms going up to catch it immediately. “I’m not backing out,” she assures him. “I’ve been with you for months now, and I’m not walking away when I get my first chance at being part of Team Arrow.” His eyes narrow, and she challenges it with a smile. “And, besides, you need me.”

He doesn’t say anything for a long moment—almost too long. She’s about to drive into a babble about how she meant the collective “you” of him and Diggle, but he finally says, so quietly she almost misses it, “I can’t deny that.” He immediately turns to place the computer in the van, and, by the time he turns back, it’s as though he never said it.

“Well,” she adds with a huff, finally managing words, “I need you, too.” That makes him smile, and she can’t handle the intensity of that expression, so she babbles on, “I mean, when do I get the opportunity to make specialized computers for this line of work? I’m going to have to put together some servers so that I can… borrow some government software, but I can do that later—when we need them.”

He loads the second tower into the van as she speaks, then both monitors. “Tell me what you need, and I’ll get it for you,” is his answer, and she nods as she gathers the box of keyboards, mice, and cables, carrying it into the van as she enters with them. She stumbles on the step up, and he steadies her with a hand at her waist. It’s her intention to go back and close the hatch on her car, but the Arrow gets it instead. So, she slides herself onto the bench against one side wall, waiting to go.

He shuts the door before sitting down beside her, and the ride passes in relative silence, except for some mild conversation between her and Diggle. The Arrow is quiet, stoic as always. It’s the first time she really studies him because it’s the first time she has the opportunity. He sits with his elbows resting on his thighs, head down, though Felicity is pretty sure he’s not asleep. He could be a statue for all she knows, as quiet and unmoving as he is, and she thinks that’s an asset in his line of work.

Suddenly two eyes veiled by a dark mask meet hers, and she blinks twice in surprise. She turns her head away immediately, flushing as she’s caught staring, and fingers in cold leather gloves turn her attention reluctantly back toward him. He opens his mouth to say something, but it’s interrupted by the sudden surge of inertia when Diggle hits the brakes hard.

Because the seating runs in a line from front to back, she’s thrown sideways, into the Arrow. Her vision tilts, and then she feels something cold under the arm she’s ended up laying on. A hand splays across her stomach, and another lands on her arm. In the background, she can hear a monstrous crash, and she prays that they haven’t hit anyone.

“Sorry—idiot pulled out in front of me,” Diggle says, and it’s only then that Felicity realizes what happened. She’s somehow sideways across the Arrow’s lap, and his arms wrapped around her in an attempt to keep her from sliding across the van.

She sits up, blushing furiously, and he touches her shoulder after releasing her. “Are you all right?” he asks quietly. She means to answer, but something catches the corner of her eye, and she stands up as she realizes what the crashing sound was.

“My computers probably didn’t fare so well,” she grumbles, getting up and moving toward them. “I swear, if they’re hurt, we’re going after that guy.” Before she can continue that line of complaint, a bump in the road jars her, and two hands catch her just above the hips and pull her to him.

She can feel every inch of her body heat in embarrassment when she realizes she’s in his lap perpendicularly, with one of his hands at her knee and the other on her arm. He doesn’t seem to suffer the same problem, though, as he responds quietly in her ear, “I think that would be an abuse of power.” Even though he has the synthesizer, she can hear the humor in his tone. “And your computers can wait until we’ve stopped—they’re not worth you getting hurt.”

She pulls away to try and stand, but he pulls her to him again, this time her back pushing against his chest. His arms encircle her waist, and she cuts her eyes to the driver’s seat to make sure that Diggle isn’t watching this show. She’s red enough as it is, without the added embarrassment of an audience. Fortunately, he's focused only on the road in front of him. “I’m not above holding you here until the van stops,” he threatens lowly, and Felicity thinks she probably shouldn’t like the idea as much as she does.

She turns to him. “Who’s abusing power now?” she retorts. His eyebrow raises in a challenge of, Try me, but she knows he isn’t joking. "Fine," she huffs after a long moment, and he lets her go, sliding her next to him. Her leg brushing against the cool leather of his pants, and she attempts to put some distance between them. He smiles, probably seeing himself as victorious, so she pokes him in the arm. "But only because I'd probably break something if I tried to move through this traffic. You haven't won anything yet."

The van pulls to a halt, and they all pitch in to start moving computers around, the Arrow and Diggle taking the stairs multiple times to help bring things in. Instead of doing grunt work, Felicity is the one crawling around under desks to connect wires and cables into the units, trying to minimize the cord clutter.

She huffs when she thinks everything is situated, and an emerald-clad hand appears in her line of vision. She takes it with a smile, and he helps her to her feet with a sturdy grip on her opposite elbow. She dusts off her jeans as she rises, thinking how nice it is to be in casual clothes for a change.

It surprises her yet again how comfortable she is with Starling City's Vigilante, the one that everyone equates with darkness and violence. Even though she's seen those sides of him, she doesn't feel that fear that others seem to regard him with. He might be a criminal in the eyes of the law, but one that preys on other criminals—which is why she's never understood why even honest citizens seem to fear him. She hears her co-workers talk about him in hushed tones at work, as if calling his name evokes his wrath or some such nonsense. He only hunts those who prey on others.

Like Moira Queen.

The thought is errant and silly, but it throws on the brakes for her, and she walks away from the Arrow before he can see that hesitance on her face. It's a different, sobering thought. Felicity is certain the woman isn't an angel by any means, but she's still not sure she deserved to have an arrow pointed at her. Because it had gnawed at her after talking to Oliver yesterday, she had checked the police database this morning and read Mrs. Queen's statement. It very nearly undid Felicity, reading the words the transcript and hearing them in her voice. She'd apparently pleaded for her family, begged the Arrow not to take her from her children. Though Felicity knows that Thea and Oliver are grown now, she thinks they're both still dealing with the fallout of losing their father, and Felicity believes that they shouldn't have to deal with the fear of losing their mother, too.

It rolls around in her head as she sets up the computer system, watching as the Arrow talks to Diggle in low tones. Then they're squaring off on the mats, and she gets to see Starling City's Vigilante in action for the first time in her life as she waits for the setup files to complete.

Diggle has at least fifty pounds and a few inches on the Arrow, a military background, and experience in combat. But, despite the extra bulk, he still manages to be fast, taking swings with the metal poles that are lightning fast and creative, striking out while still managing to keep distance between the two of them. He's not just a trained fighter who uses his muscle to win; he's smart, and he uses that to his advantage in a fight.

He's no match for the Arrow.

The emerald archer isn't so refined, but it's because he fights to win. He matches Diggle's attacks for a while, but then he sees an opportunity and seizes it, lashing out quickly and efficiently before pulling back, only actively striking when he sees the opportunity. He's not just quick and smart about his attacks—he's unforgiving. Felicity knows the Arrow is holding back, but she can still hear the bar whistle through the air before it strikes home.

Between blows, she can hear the low murmur of conversation, and she wonders what they're talking about. A few subtle glances in her direction from Diggle makes her think she might be the topic, and she's a little curious to hear what the man would say about her. There's no way she can hear them over that distance, but he's clearly the one doing all the talking. He says something once more, and she sees the set of the Arrow's mouth turn down before he lands another blow that isn't as gentle as the last, smacking his arm with it—hard, judging by the sound.

Her computer dings to indicate that her file transfer is complete, and she smiles before calling, "We're up and running, boys." Diggle mutters something else to the Arrow, and he lands one last blow before walking toward her, leaving his sparring partner to pick himself up off the ground. She frowns at him when he stands beside her. “That wasn’t very nice. You may want to save that energy for the next target.”

“We have one for tonight,” he answers, ignoring her comment, “but the next one is your choice.” It’s a surprising offer that makes her look up at him. “And this is me saving energy.” He moves past her to pick up his bow and strap the quiver across his back. “His name is Ken Williams.” She immediately starts typing the name into her computer, pulling up records on him. “He ran a pyramid scheme, and people lost their homes—had their lives ruined.” He glances at her over his shoulder. “Have a new name for me when I get back. It doesn’t need to be from the list.”

She ignores him this time because of the page she pulls up for Ken Williams’ online dating profile. There are plenty of words to choose from, but the ones that catch her attention are 10-year-old son and widowed father. She knows he’s probably already up the stairs, but she pulls up the code window anyway, typing into it as fast as she can.

Fortunately, it’s only afterward that she hears the numbers click on the keypad, and he enters them again when the light doesn’t turn. She’s about to call out to him, but he’s faster. “Felicity!” he barks, and she jumps because that is not the tone she’s used to him using with her. It’s a dark voice that he probably plans to use later tonight on Ken Williams.

She holds up her hands. “Before you ask, I did override your locks, but just a little and it’s temporary,” she assures him, her voice an octave higher than normal. “I just pulled up some information on Williams I think you should look at.” He moves back toward her, and suddenly she wishes he’s an entire room away, his expression dark. “He has a ten-year-old son, and I will not be an accessory to taking a father away from a little boy who has already lost his mother.”

The anger drains out of him immediately, his mouth turning down in confusion. “I don’t kill unless it’s the only option,” he says quietly, and she looks away because she already knew that. It was foolish to have doubts, but Moira Queen has been eating away at her mind recently—so has Oliver’s pain and her own guilt. “You know that.”

A hand tilts her head back toward him, and she’s surprised when he angles her head downward, instead of up. He’s crouched in front of her on the balls of his feet, his expression open as he looks up at her. “Felicity, what’s changed?” She bites her lip, shaking her head. He sighs, running a hand over his face. “If you want to go,” he says quietly, so low she can barely hear him, “I’ll take you home. You can walk away whenever you want.”

She shakes her head, eyes widening as she realizes this is the Arrow pleading with her, begging her to stay—even as he says he’ll let her go. She knows he’s a man of his word, but that’s not what she wants. “I’m not walking away from this—we both know that.” He simply continues staring at her, waiting to hear what’s been bothering her. So she finally admits, “It was the thing with Moira Queen.” He tenses, but she continues because she needs to now. “Two days ago, she thought she was going to die—Oliver and Thea thought she was going to die. They were terrified they were going to lose her just like they lost their father.” She bites her lip. “I don’t want that little boy to think his world is being ripped from him.”

His hand falls on hers, both draped over her thigh. “Felicity,” he says gently, “I promise you that he’ll return the money in time to tuck his son into bed—without knowing that his father ever met me.”

She shakes her head, frowning, because of course he would uphold that promise. “I’m sorry,” she answers, feeling foolish for doubting him. “I knew better, but—”

He squeezes her hand to cut her off. “You have a lot on your mind,” he answers gracefully, “and this isn’t always easy to deal with. But if you ever need to talk to someone about it, you can talk to me.” She nods once, and he rises to full height, putting his hand on her shoulder once before moving it to remove the computer override. His voice turns dark as he says, “But don’t ever override my locks again.”

“Or you’ll do what?” she hears herself ask, surprised by the challenge in her tone. And it terrifies her because maybe she’s flirting a little, and she doesn’t think taunting him is the best idea.

In a quick instant, he catches her chin in his hand, leaning in so close that she’s sure he’s going to kiss her. Felicity’s breath hitches as her eyes go wide, and his dark eyes study her face for a long moment. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” he murmurs back with a smile.

Then he’s gone, heading up the stairs with his bow.

 


 

It’s only a little after five when Felicity hears the timid knock at her door, and she frowns.  Thankfully, she's home in time to meet whoever it is; she's been working fewer hours because of Arrow business, but he said he was waiting until next Friday’s gala to try to take the Dodger again, after Sunday’s failed mission. She frowns because she’s apparently going to need a dress for that now that Oliver has asked her; her closet isn’t equipped for charity auctions.

Then she realizes Saphira isn't jumping around, so it's not Oliver, and she's not expecting Barry anytime soon. Curious, she goes to her door, using the peephole to see who her visitor is. She opens the door immediately, though.

"Hey, Thea," she greets, surprise coloring her tone. She ushers her in, locking all five locks behind her. "Not that I'm not glad to see you, but what are you doing here? I thought you weren't going anywhere without Oliver as your chauffeur these days."

She shrugs. "It's not that far to walk from CNRI," she answers, which makes Felicity frown because it's not a good neighborhood for walking two blocks—especially as it's starting to get dark. "I told Ollie one of my friends from school was picking me up," she admits. "Can you back me up? Because I really needed to talk to you—I found your address in the QC employee address book on Mom's desk."

Felicity frowns at the thought of having to deceive Oliver (again), but she nods. "I'm driving you back, though," she answers. "You can say your friend cancelled and so you came to me for a ride home."

Thea hugs her abruptly around the waist, and Felicity's arms go around her after a moment. "Thank you so much, Felicity," she answers, then pulls away to sit on the sofa. Saphira sniffs her warily, and Thea ignores the little dog. "I didn't tell anyone about it, but Laurel and I were at lunch today, and some asshat in a red hoodie decided to steal my purse." Felicity's eyes go wide as Thea pulls something out of her pocket. "Laurel helped me file a police report and everything, but we all know they won't catch the guy." She frowns. "And that was a vintage Chanel, Felicity. I don't care if he stole my money or not—I just want the purse back." She holds up the item in her hand, holding it out to the blonde. "He snagged his wallet chain on the fence he hopped, and I was hoping that you could do some of your computer voodoo magic and find the stores that sell these."

Felicity studies it before pulling over the sleek black laptop she usually uses for Arrow business. "I can't promise anything," she says after a long moment, "but I can look." She bites her lip before adding, "Just as long as you tell everyone that you did the legwork to find it—some of this is, um, legally ambiguous." She tilts a hand. "We're kind of in a legal gray area."

Thea's eyes go round as saucers before she flashes that mischievous smile Felicity has learned to fear. "You have a little rebel in your soul," she says slowly, her voice high with excitement and surprise. "Felicity Smoak, I didn't know you had it in you." Felicity types in an algorithm in her code window, ignoring Thea until she shyly asks, "Is that why Lancelot gave you a hard time Friday?"

Felicity looks at her for a moment before turning back to her computer. "Lancelot?" she asks, and Thea shrugs. "I don't know what you're talking about," she mutters, but she thinks it's a little obvious it's a line. "I don't have a criminal record, Thea—juvenile or otherwise."

"Neither did Adam Hunt," she counters, crossing her arms. "But the police found the evidence of criminal activity in his accounts after the psycho archer—well, the more psycho archer—killed him." She reaches over and pokes Felicity's knee. "Criminal records only mean they're dumb enough to get caught. And Lance hassled you, with that whole 'Starling's streets fill with monsters at night' thing. Kind of reminds me the way he talks to Ollie—like he's a criminal, but Lance can't pin anything on him." Her eyes narrow suddenly. "Wait, how did you learn to do 'legally ambiguous' computer voodoo? More importantly, why did you learn how to do this?"

Felicity bites her lip. "Let's just say that Barry's C in high school trigonometry was undeserved, so someone generously righted that injustice in the system." She pulls up the results, and there are too many to go through. "Okay, for the ones that have computerized systems, I have a list of clients who purchased wallets with an eight-ball on the chain." She frowns. "It won't work if it was a gift, purchased in a non-computerized store, or paid for with cash, but it's something to narrow things down." She looks up over her screen at Thea. "What did your guy look like?"

"About my age," she answers slowly, really thinking about it. "White, dark hair, high cheekbones—kind of Abercrombie-looking." She pauses, only to hold up a hand as a new thought strikes her. "And wearing a red hoodie."

Felicity narrows the search parameters, then looks at the driver's license photos posted—the ones she can get to, anyway. Some haven't been scanned in yet, but she doubts the guy had a new wallet. Only one of them matches Thea's description, and Felicity turns the computer around so she can see it. "Oh, that's him," she agrees.

"You got lucky," Felicity says. "He bought the wallet and a pack of cigarettes, so they had to card him." She smiles. "Roy Harper," she reads, frowning. The name sounds familiar, but she can't quite place it. So she pulls up a search box. "His dad was caught for petty theft a few times—I think I remember this one. Because, yeah," she continues as she reads the article, "his son was in foster care for a while because both of his parents went to jail." She pulls up the other records now, and sure enough, Enid Nagorski is listed on the files. "Small world after all," she mutters, and, if Thea hears her, she doesn’t comment.

She prints the page, handing it to Thea. "You talked to one of the clerks on the phone—you don't remember their name, but they gave you this." She points a finger. "That’s your story. Are we clear?”

Thea nods, smiling. “Roxie was supposed to pick me up after work today, but she texted me and said she had to drive her dad back to his doctor’s appointment for his ACL tear.” She points a finger right back at Felicity, mocking her in a friendly way. “That’s your story. Are we clear?”

Felicity smiles before gathering her keys. “Don’t worry, Thea,” she answers. “I can keep a secret.”

Chapter Text

Felicity very nearly jumps a foot in the air when the knock sounds at her door, somehow managing to avoid burning herself with her curling iron in the process. Even though she knows to expect Oliver, she didn’t think he’d be this early. A quick glance from the bathroom to her clock in the bedroom informs her that he’s right on time, and she wonders vaguely where the past two hours have gone.

Saphira leaves her feet, with her nose in the air, barking and wagging her tail. It’s all Felicity needs to know it’s Oliver at her door. “It’s open!” she calls from the bathroom, leaning out so that her voice will carry better. “I’m just trying to finish up, so I’ll be out in a minute. Feel free to have a seat.”

“You know,” he answers, presumably from the couch, “it’s not exactly a good idea to keep your door unlocked in this neighborhood. It doesn’t exactly seem safe.” Quieter, she hears him speaking to Saphira, and Felicity can picture the little dog happily curled in his lap, getting fur all over his suit.

“I knew you were coming, and I didn’t want you to wait for me,” she answers. “Knowing my bad timing, I’d probably be only half-dressed or something.” Then she flushes as she realizes the implications of that. “And we’re five seconds in, and my mouth is already starting.” She finishes the last curl, checks her makeup again, then moves to the full-length mirror in her room.

She’s not sure that gold is an appropriate color for a cocktail dress—especially with the sequins—but that’s what she gets by asking Thea for help. Felicity had nothing suitable in her closet, so she had called Thea for an emergency shopping trip. Somehow they’d ended up agreeing on the sleeveless number she’s wearing now, a tiny slit up one side. She decides to take a risk and wear her hair in long curls, but keeps them out of her face with gold clips studded with emeralds that she couldn’t resist. And it’s definitely time for contacts—especially since she’s kind of working for the Arrow tonight, too.

Sighing, she grabs her bag, knowing she can’t stall much longer. Part of her wants to check the tracker she doesn’t even have yet, just to see if the Dodger has stolen the item. But that's ridiculous because the event hasn’t started yet, and she’s far too nervous to be doing this. Still, Felicity reminds herself that this is exactly what she signed on for, and she should take a deep breath and handle it.

She expects Oliver to be on the couch, waiting as impatiently as all men do, but instead she finds him browsing through the bookshelves across the living room of her apartment, studying the spines carefully. For someone who said that the Queen family didn’t appreciate books, he seems to, judging by the way he runs his fingers across the spine of one book in particular. Her eyes widen in surprise at first, but then she smiles. “The Odyssey is one of my favorites,” she says quietly from behind him. “But then I’ve always been partial to the classics.”

He hesitates for a long moment before saying without looking at her, “It was one of the few things I actually read in college—when I wasn’t busy being kicked out of them.” Another moment of hesitation crosses his features. “It’s about a man trying to make his way back home—something I can relate to. ‘Of all creatures that breathe and move upon the earth, nothing is bred that is weaker than man.’” Finally he adds what’s on his mind: “That line saved two of us on that island one day.”

He gauges her expression carefully, as if curious to see what she’ll say next. They both know he’s not ready to expand upon that statement, since he was obviously alone when they found him. “That’s a good line,” she says finally, nodding slightly, “but my favorite has always been: ‘Even his griefs are a joy long after to one that remembers all that he wrought and endured.’”

He turns back to her immediately, understanding the message she’s sending, but his expression changes as he looks at her for the first time that night. He blinks several times, and then his eyes fall over her, drinking in her appearance. He doesn’t say anything for a long moment. “Are you ready, then?” he asks, carefully avoiding any praise for some reason she doesn’t understand. But, then again, she doesn’t need it; his expression is enough to tell her he’s very pleased with what he’s seeing.

She wraps one hand around the chain strap of the small purse on her shoulder, trying to brace herself. “Yeah,” she says, a little breathlessly. “But, small warning? I think my foot-in-mouth disease is already acting up tonight, so I apologize preemptively if I embarrass you in front of someone important.”

He offers her a hesitant smile, and she realizes he’s a little nervous, too. “The most important person in that room is going to be on my arm,” he answers, and her face bursts into flame immediately.

Still, she tries to play it carefully, turning it into something more lighthearted. She lifts an eyebrow at him, letting one corner of her mouth turn up. “Did you just drop a line on me?” she asks, a little incredulously. Because, really, she’s going to be looking for portals into alternate worlds if Oliver Queen is trying to flirt with her.

He matches her tone and attitude instantly, only with a better smile. “I think that depends on if it worked,” he replies easily, and yes, he’s definitely flirting with her. She thinks about pinching herself, but, if it’s a dream, she decides she doesn’t want to wake up from it. His eyes turn intense—the kind of intense that makes her think of the Arrow. “And it’s not a line when it’s true,” he corrects.

“Well, it was smooth, I’ll give you that,” she answers with part of a smile, “but it didn’t work.” She ushers him out of the apartment. “So, really, you succeeded in being cheesy instead of flirty.” He raises an eyebrow at her, and she ignores it to lock the door, only to find him waiting with that expression after she finishes. “But it’s okay,” she adds finally, “because you’re handsome and you’ve been on an island for five years.”

He gives her a withering look that they both know he doesn’t mean, and then he offers her his arm. She takes it without a moment’s hesitation, and they walk together without a word. One of the beautiful things about their friendship, she thinks, is that they can make the walk down several flights of stairs in silence and it’s not awkward—it’s pensive and reflective, full of things neither one knows how to say to the other.

She’s not surprised to find Diggle leaning casually against the towncar when they exit the building, and he opens the door for them immediately. “Miss Smoak,” he offers with a smile, and she and Oliver slide into the car.

“Mr. Diggle,” she replies right back with a smile, and, as she takes his hand to slide into the car, he slips her what she’s sure is an earpiece, judging by the size and shape. Yet another reason wearing her hair down was a good idea—she can properly mask the earpiece.

“I’ll set the bug in place,” he murmurs to her lowly, and she nods discreetly before making a motion like she’s touching her ear, instead inserting the earpiece.

“Holy cheese fries,” she says when she enters, looking around the spacious interior. For what is essentially the backseat of a car, there are a lot of amenities, not limited to the bar over to one side. “I’m pretty sure that I could live in the back of one of these things.”

His only response is a low, breathy almost-laugh. There’s a long silence that stretches on between them, and she wonders for a moment what he’s thinking about. There are a lot of thoughts slipping around her own mind; she wonders about what he’s told her of the island, what happened to his friend (though she probably already knows the answer), how insane she is for building some sort of relationship between them that isn’t quite platonic. His share of baggage is almost too much, and she’s not sure he’ll ever be able to talk about the island to anyone.

She also knows it’s going to destroy him eventually, if he doesn’t.

Oliver’s hand on hers makes her snap out of her thoughts, and she’s surprised to find that the twenty-minute ride has somehow already passed. “We’re here,” he informs her quietly, but there’s something not quite right about his smile.

She’s not sure she should ask, but she does anyway, as he takes her hand and assists her up from the car. “What’s on your mind?” she asks carefully. “You look like there’s a lot going on upstairs.”

His smile falters ever so slightly, and she thinks that, under different circumstances, she wouldn’t have noticed its change. She slips her arm in his, and she rather likes the idea of being on his arm; there’s just something incredibly safe about it. “At the risk of sounding cheesy,” he answers with a partial smile, “I’m glad you’re with me.”

She rolls her eyes as they enter the auction scene together, and suddenly the spacious room feels smaller than the elevator she hates to ride every day at work. She does not fit in here, and she knows she never will. And it only makes it worse that she’s also partially spending the night looking for a jewel thief that likes to blow people’s heads off.

It must show on her face, somewhere under the calm façade she’s trying to cultivate, because Oliver asks her carefully, “Are you okay?” He shoots her a concerned glance before adding, “You’re quiet, and you’re never quiet.”

She huffs loudly, slapping his arm. "I'm just, well, out of my element," she admits. "I really don't do the parties and things like this. I'm that girl whose friends convinced her to go to the party, so she brought a book and decided to read in the corner while everyone else gets wasted." She frowns. “I look like I’m trying to blend in, and I’m not succeeding.”

“I think you look beautiful,” he answers, his eyes a little too serious for such a casual statement. He hesitates. “And thank you for coming with me, even though this isn’t your scene.” He reaches across to pat the hand in the crook of his arm.

She waves her other hand casually, smiling. “That’s fine,” she assures him casually. “I had to make sure you didn’t die of boredom while you were here.” He smiles. “And what kind of friend would I be if I let you walk in on your own?” She shakes her head. “Well, silly question—we both know you could have found another date.”

“Maybe,” he agrees, and they both know he’s being modest, “but I asked you for a reason. And—” He stops abruptly, turning them the opposite direction so quick it makes Felicity’s head spin a little.

“Whoa, where’s the fire?” she asks, staring at him. She looks back over her shoulder, frowning when she recognizes the woman leading the police squad as Detective Hall. “Is that the new detective working with Lance now? I think I heard she’s on the Dodger case—the jewel thief that likes to blow people’s heads off?”

Oliver winces. “Yes, it is,” he admits after a long moment. “McKenna is… an old friend of mine.” Felicity can’t help the frown that graces her face, and he presses on, “She used to party with Tommy and I before.” He hesitates, and Felicity thinks it has nothing to do with McKenna this time. “We decided to catch up over dinner last night, and she asked me about the island.” She takes a deep breath for him, knowing how much that probably hurt. His expression completely shuts down and he says, “Let’s just say I’d rather take my chances with a deadly jewel thief.”

She doesn’t think he’s ready to talk about the island—especially not here—so she tries for something more casual and meaningless. “Well, you say that now,” she tries, “but we’ll see how you feel when the Dodger absconds with your family jewels.” He stops, pulling away to raise his eyebrows at her, and his smile is pure mischief. “Damn it, that’s not what I meant, and you know it. I’m not making references to—” She stops because self-preservation kicks in—and there’s really no good way that sentence. Still, it makes him smile, so it must be worth something to babble like an idiot. “That came out really wrong, and I don’t think there’s any way I can fix it. Let’s just pretend I didn’t say that, okay?”

Felicity has never been so relieved to feel her phone buzz in her life. She knows that only means she's going to trade an awkward experience for an experience with a criminal, but suddenly it looks good to her. "It looks like they're starting to filter into the auction room," he says, watching the doorways. She can tell Oliver is on edge at the idea of walking into that crowded room, but he's trying to hide it.

"Yeah," she answers, then points to herself. "I'm just gonna go use the restroom," she somehow manages to lie with far too much ease. "I'll meet you in there in a few minutes?"

He nods, and she makes her way across to the display cases, simultaneously pulling out her phone to check the tracker. "Digg, the Dodger has taken the bait," she mutters into her comm, and she notices the Dodger is still at the display case. From a distance, she watches as the man pockets the piece Oliver donated, and it makes her mad a second time.

"It's just me and you, Felicity," Diggle answers. "The Arrow is here, but his synthesizer interferes with the comm system. Be careful, and, if anything goes wrong, let me know."

She ignores him this time, pulling up to the Dodger. "Hey," she snaps at him, "the Queen family donated those. If you want them, you have to bid."

The man only smiles at her, and it's not charming. In fact, it makes a chill run down her spine because he's kind of intimidating. "And are you going to stop me, love?" he answers in an English accent, a chuckle in his voice. Before she sees him go for it, he pulls some sort of cane. She expects him to knock her out with it, but he simply touches it to her neck.

The last thing she remembers is a jolt before everything goes black.

 


 

Oliver frowns because Felicity should have been back by now, but his concern is mostly because he knows she went for the jewels instead of the restroom. Part of him wants to call Digg, but he doesn't want to hinder the mission by distracting Diggle.

Sighing, he casually looks around his seat on the back row, wondering how long he'll have to be trapped in this auditorium with all these people. It's not something he's used to, and the idea of sitting this close to anyone immediately makes him tense.

So tense that he almost doesn't notice the woman sliding in next to him, and he fights back a grimace as McKenna Hall sits in the seat he reserved for Felicity. Now he hopes she doesn't come back until McKenna vacates it; otherwise, things will be more awkward between the pair. “I’m surprised to find you here tonight,” she starts casually, but there’s ice under it, and they both know it’s from his outburst the previous night.

Part of him hates the idea of speaking to her after last night’s disaster, but at least it will keep his mind off of Felicity. Chatting up McKenna on the premise of old time’s sake had been a way for him to slip the bug in, and it would have been suspicious if he’d cancelled. Still, it was one of the worst dates of his life—and that’s saying something. “I had to put in an appearance for the Queen family,” he answers. “We donated a piece, so we were obligated, even though I probably won’t buy anything.” He motions to her. “I heard you were on this… Dodger case. I guess that means you’re working.” He throws her an insincere smile, acting like the old Oliver. “Don’t you ever get a night off?”

“I had the night off last night,” she answers. “Which we both know because I decided to treat you like a suspect instead of a person.” She grimaces. “I was out of line, asking you about... that.” He takes it for the apology it’s meant to be, watching the way she hesitates to avoid the word island. “But you seem to rebound as quickly as always—I saw the girl on your arm tonight.”

He immediately speaks up for Felicity’s sake, not so worried about his own reputation. “Felicity is a friend,” he repeats for what feels like the millionth time. This time, though, it feels like a lie; they’re not exactly acting like friends anymore, not with the kiss she landed on his cheek—or the way he’s been trying to kiss her for weeks. “I invited her to join me earlier in the week.”

Her expression changes instantly, eyebrows knitting together in an expression that Oliver know to be trouble on both cops and women—meaning it sends some dread rushing through him. “Felicity?” she repeats. “Felicity Smoak?”

Oliver is surprised she knows the name; Felicity isn’t exactly popular in the club scene, and she’s never mentioned meeting the detective in person. “Yeah,” Oliver answers with a slight smile. “She helped me out with a computer problem a few months ago at QC, and we’ve been friends since.” It’s the truth, even if he’s left out the part about showing up on her fire escape as the Arrow and wanting to kiss her senseless.

McKenna’s expression goes dark. “Look,” she says slowly, “I don’t want to come off as jealous, but Lance has been my partner since we went after the Count.” She hesitates. “It’s an ongoing investigation, so I can’t say everything I want to. But the point is that Lance and I both think Felicity Smoak isn’t quite as innocent as she looks on paper.” She puts her hand on his shoulder, and he can’t stop himself from tensing. “Just be careful, okay?”

He’s saved from having to answer when his cell phone starts ringing, and he’s relieved when he sees it’s Diggle, probably calling to say everything has gone as planned. “Sorry,” he says quickly, sliding out of his seat and past her, “it’s one of my vendors for the club.”

When he’s sure he’s out of earshot, he asks, “Everything successful?”

Diggle doesn’t answer immediately, which gives Oliver pause—and sends another cold hand of dread clawing down his back. “The tracker is still active, but he’s gone,” Diggle answers, and he doesn’t sound like that’s all. When the silence stretches on, he continues, “He overpowered Felicity before I could get there.” A sigh crackles across the line as Oliver’s dread forms into something more like panic. “You’re gonna want to suit up for this.”

“I’m on my way,” is his response before slipping out the door. The first sense of panic fades away as rationality kicks in—if she were hurt, Diggle would have said so—but then something deeper and darker works its way to the surface, something he’s not used to feeling. He hasn’t truly been angry in a long time, but the Dodger might just have done enough to incite some of that pent-up wrath.

And, if Felicity is hurt, Oliver is very certain that someone is going to die on the end of an arrow tonight.

Chapter Text

It takes Felicity a long moment to come to, and the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes is the outline of a green hood. It takes a long moment before she realizes she's lying on some floor in an empty room, and she wonders how she made it here. Then she finds that her memory is somewhat blank for the past few hours.

The blurry outlines clear slowly until she’s finally looking at the Arrow, and he’s looking at her with concern that makes her wary instantly. She stares at him in confusion until she finally remembers what happens, and it comes back to her in bursts. Oliver in a black tie. The Odyssey. The auction. The horrible “family jewels” crack. The signal going live. Diggle talking in her ear.

The Dodger.

Dear God, she met the Dodger and lived to tell about it. But she knows the Dodger—she studied him maybe even too well—and she knows how he thinks. A criminal as cunning and ruthless as the Dodger wouldn’t let her go without a price for his mercy. Her hand flies to her neck as soon as she remembers his MO, and, sure enough, she encounters a hard, metal collar around her neck. Her first instinct is to pull it away because logic isn’t high up on her list of reactions after finding she’s just a button-push away from losing her head—literally.

A leather-clad hand pulls hers away from the collar gently, and she realizes that the Arrow and Diggle are standing around her when she could blow at any moment. She sits up, scrambling backward across the floor. “No, stay back,” she snaps immediately, her voice high and a little panicked, even to her. "If this thing blows—"

Because he’s the Arrow and it’s his wont, he ignores her, catching her wrist before she can pull back any further. “Felicity,” he says gently, cutting her off. With one word, she snaps back to her senses. Panic won’t do her any good here; calm, rational thought is going to be what keeps her alive. His hand reaches out and slides along her jaw, the concern clear in her eyes. “That's not going to happen. You’re going to be all right.” It sounds like he’s trying to convince himself, crouching there in front of her with very dark eyes. “It’s a circuit, and no one knows circuits like you. I’ll be your eyes—talk me through it.”

She nods but doesn’t trust herself to move, and suddenly strong arms hoist her up as if she weighs nothing. He gently places her on the table in the middle of the room, her legs dangling off the edge. A few steps place him between her knees, and she can feel the hem of the leather jacket at his waist brush against her legs. She’s fairly certain that, under different circumstances, she would be crimson, but all the blood seems to have drained from her face.

He doesn’t seem to notice, pulling a knife with an emerald handle from his pocket and flicking it open in one smooth motion. Vaguely she remembers it as the switchblade she used to cut an arrow out of his shoulder and pop the SIM card out of his phone, but she’s more concerned with how he’s going to use it tonight. “There’s a compartment,” he explains through the synthesizer, as though reading her mind, and his gloved hand slides between the collar and her neck as he wedges the knife into the device. A small pop lets her know he’s pulled it loose, and he frowns as he explains the circuit to her.

She frowns, too, when he finishes answering her questions. “There’s no way to break the circuit without blowing all of us apart,” she answers, sounding surprisingly calm for someone flirting with death at the moment. “The only way to release it is to use the switch—the one the Dodger has.”

He slides the knife back into the pocket of those leather pants before taking her elbow. “Then we’ll release it,” he assures her, and his voice is eerily calm—the kind of calm Felicity has always associated with resolute serial killers. And, for the very first time, she's afraid of what he’ll do. “Digg,” he calls as he hands Felicity the coat she checked earlier, “the police are already here—get their attention and let them know an item has been stolen.” He guides Felicity forward, to the door. “I’m going after this bastard, and you’re coming with me.”

“You’re putting yourself at risk—he could hit that button at any—” she starts to protest, but when he rounds on her, she suddenly loses her voice. For the first time, she’s realizing that maybe the Arrow is someone to fear—and certainly that he has one hell of a temper.

His hand touches her face with the same gentleness as before, and suddenly the fire drains out of him. “I’m not leaving you,” he insists in a dark tone, which works for her because she doesn’t particularly want to wait and see if she lives or dies, anyway. “And I’m not letting him get away, either.”

Before she has time to answer, he’s guiding her back through the deserted halls of the auction house, toward the back door. She pulls the coat on as they walk, trying to keep up with his pace as she does so. When he opens the door, she’s both relieved and petrified to see the damned motorcycle leaning against the back wall. “I’m not getting on that thing in this skirt,” she insists, “so don’t even ask.”

"Felicity," he says again, but this time it's a growl of frustration. His tone is dark, and the addition of the synthesizer doesn't make it any better. With a long sigh, he moves from the bike to walk up to her. "I am not above putting you on this bike in front of me," he states lowly, in that dark tone, and something tells her he isn't joking. He crosses his arms in challenge, and she sighs because, really, she has already lost—at least this way she can maintain some dignity.

He seems to take her frown and lack of response as agreement, and he opens the storage compartment for her to put her bag in. She takes her phone out first, going to the locator app to watch the Dodger's progress through the city. Then he climbs on the bike and she follows, frowning as her skirt rides up. She pulls at it and it helps, but it's definitely a lost cause. Sighing, she wraps one arm around his waist, gripping her phone tight as he takes off.

The ride is wild, even compared to some of her previous experiences, and she has to stop watching the GPS locator and use the other arm to grip through some frankly ridiculous turns that she's pretty sure he should not be taking at those speeds. Either way, it seems to work for him because they finally manage to catch up to the jewel thief when he goes into a parking garage to try and avoid the Arrow.

But it doesn't work out too well for him, since they cut him off, and Felicity takes a deep breath when the bike pulls to a halt, almost glad to be hidden from the Dodger behind the vigilante. "Don't do anything stupid," the Dodger calls as he moves to stand in front of the car, holding up a device—probably the switch they're looking for. "I had the foresight to wire up a particularly inquisitive blonde—I assume she’s one of yours." He shrugs as though it doesn't mean a damn thing to him. "Either way, she has enough C4 in her collar to level that auction building." He holds up the switch. "Let me go now, and I'll release her."

The Arrow says nothing, simply slides off the bike before helping Felicity do the same. She watches as the Dodger's eyes go wide, and it's only then that the Arrow smiles. It's honestly a little terrifying, Felicity thinks, since he's most likely planning how to torture the man in front of them.

"I doubt you'd blow the collar," he answers in that unnatural pitch, "when it would affect you, too." He pulls his bow then, drawing an arrow lightning fast and sending it into the Dodger's arm. The thief screams as it pins him to the car, and Felicity winces at the way it hits. "Your median nerve has been severed—you couldn't press that button if you wanted to now." Still, before the Dodger can do anything besides think about the pain, the vigilante pulls the remote device out of his hand, and presses a button.

Felicity breathes for what feels like the first time since she woke up, her hand flying to her now free throat. "Oh, thank God," she mutters.

At the same time, the Arrow reaches her, cupping her jaw carefully before pulling away the collar. "Are you all right?" he asks her, and she nods slowly. He turns partially back toward the Dodger, his eyes narrowing. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't send an arrow through his heart." His voice is dark and ominous, assuring her that he's intent on carrying out the threat.

But, at the same time, he also seems to be asking her to talk him out of it, and Felicity is more than willing to comply. She can't think on her feet so well due to the excitement, but she does manage to say, "Because I don't want you to?" It's a question, but then she steels herself, adding more confidence to her tone. "I don't want you to kill anyone. Not for me."

He frowns at her, as though part of him wants to argue, but then he sighs and runs a hand over his face before turning back to the Dodger. The Arrow crosses the distance between them quickly, pulling the other man up by his shirt collar. Judging by the way the jewel thief screams, it’s probably pulling his arm at an odd angle. “The only reason I’m going to let you live tonight,” the Arrow starts in a tone so dark it makes Felicity shiver, “is because I want you to serve as a warning. When the inmates at Iron Heights ask you what happens when you cross the Arrow, I want you to tell them your name. I want you to tell them how you have an arm you’ll never be able to use again because you decided to use my associates to get to me.” He releases the Dodger. “And then I want you to tell them that next time, I won’t be so nice.” He ends the sentence with a swift punch to the Dodger’s face, knocking the man out.

When he turns back to Felicity, he unzips his jacket far enough to pull out the phone she gave him, and then he finds a contact before dialing. It takes her a moment to realize what he’s doing, but then his, “Good evening, Detective,” clarifies things for her. He’s calling Lance to clean up the mess. “The Dodger is waiting for you in a parking garage on the corner of Seventy-Eighth and Oak.”

As he’s speaking, he walks up to Felicity, and she wraps her arms around his waist, still trying to process the fact that she nearly died tonight. Somehow, the fact is a little easier to bear when she’s so close to him. His free arm immediately wraps around her, hugging her to him. Something new enters his tone as he responds to Lance with, “The Dodger is my problem when he decides to target my people.” There’s a shorter pause this time. “It’s a mistake he’ll live to regret.” Another pause. “She’s fine.” His arm pulls her in tighter as he adds, “I take care of my own, Detective.” He hangs up without waiting for a response, pulling away from her to say, “Diggle will vouch for you leaving the auction early.” He motions to the bike. “I’m taking you home.”

She doesn’t even fight him on it—after all, it’s the best offer she’s had all day.

 


 

Felicity's hand is shaking so bad she can hardly fish out her keys from the clutch, and she thinks again about how much she hates going into shock. She's shivering, even under her peacoat, and she knows it's nothing to do with the cold. Frowning, she tries to slip the key into the door, but her hands are shaking so violently that it drops to the ground.

Sighing, she's about to pick it up when an emerald-gloved hand shoots out in front of her, and she jumps back before she realizes that the Arrow opened her door from the other side. He rises, pulling her hand up and sliding her keys into her upturned hand. "Are you all right?" he asks, and she nods before looking over her shoulder to make sure that no one sees him.

She motions him back inside, sliding the door shut as quickly as possible. He lets her lock her door herself, seeming to understand that she needs to do this. The reality of nearly being blown to pieces has kicked in on the ride home, and she realizes just how close she was.

When she turns, the Arrow is frowning at her. "I should have put an arrow in him," he states lowly, with that same icy calm from before. "I don't want you to be afraid." He looks away, as though he's failed her somehow.

She tugs at his arm, sliding her fingers through his. "I'm glad you didn't," she answers truthfully. "Because, if you had, you would have been just like him."

He doesn't look at her as he responds, "I already am." Her eyebrows furrow as she realizes what he's saying. "But I'm worse. Felicity, I've done things just as horrible as the people I target." It sounds like a confession of sorts, but she's confused as to which part of it is supposed to surprise her.

Feeling brave and like he needs a little comfort, she reaches out, sliding her hand under the hood to touch his cheek, letting her hand fall over the rough stubble at his jaw. He looks at her with an expression she can't quite comprehend, and she stumbles over her words before saying, "I don't know what Hell you faced in the Bratva"—he flinches—"or any other part of your life, but I don’t care. You’re not that person anymore. I may not know a lot about you, but I do know two things: you're the most heroic person I've ever met, and..." She bites her lip, trying to figure out how to word it, but then decides it's accurate the way it is. "And I believe in you."

His expression is stoic, but his eyes answer for him, turning dark with an intensity that's new even to her. His hand slides up to meet the one of hers on his jaw, and he slides his fingers between hers before pulling them to intertwine at their sides. Carefully, he reaches his other hand toward her face, sliding his crooked index finger under her chin. She thinks it's ridiculous that he's giving her the opportunity to pull away, even though they both know she won't.

Slowly, he leans in toward her until he's only inches from her. His eyes flick up to hers, and whatever he sees there must encourage him because her eyes fall shut at the same moment his mouth falls on hers.

She's had a lot of time to anticipate the kiss over the past few weeks, and she’s always imagined that a kiss between them would be rough and demanding. Instead, he's gentle and careful, moving his mouth across hers slowly to gauge her reaction. She follows quickly, her free hand reaching up to curl under his shoulder. The eager response builds his confidence, and his hand slides to her jaw as he grows more insistent. Even then, the kiss is slow and methodical—too much so for her liking. She ups the ante a little, reaching her hand under the hood to fall across the back of his neck so that she can press his mouth further into hers.

He takes the hint, his hand pulling out of hers so that he can cup her face with both hands. The next thing she feels as his mouth presses harder against hers is her back against the door, and then her brain just shuts down as emotions and sensations take over. She has no idea how long they stand like that, but, when they break apart, she’s fairly certain she’ll never be able to catch her breath.

He’s breathing hard, too, and his hand falls over the side of her head, one finger touching a clip in her hair as he notices the green rhinestones on it. “You used these on purpose,” he accuses, his voice a little ragged and breathless. Part of her is confused by the banal conversation, but the other half is relieved he didn’t try to broach a more difficult conversation.

“Wearing green makes me feel brave,” she admits. The way his eyes bore into her now make her want to ask what’s next for them, but she doesn’t feel quite that brave. “I need to go get undressed,” she blurts, and his eyes widen—but darken at the same time, a voice in the back of her mind can’t help but notice. She waves her hands. “God, no! Not what I meant at all! I meant I’d like to get out of this dress.” That doesn’t help, so she adds in a rush, “And into some pajamas or something! That wasn’t—Wow, this is bad, and I don’t know how to fix it, but that actually wasn’t a come on. Even if—”

He presses his lips to hers again, but this time it’s a short, chaste kiss. “Felicity,” he says with a soft laugh in his voice, even under the synthesizer, “I understand.” The corner of his mouth turns up ever so slightly as he adds, "Even if I could stare at you in that dress all night." He steps away from her, albeit a little reluctantly, and moves to sit on the couch, studying the computer parts haphazardly thrown around her coffee table. “I’ll wait here.”

She tries to stay as casual as possible until her door is shut, and then she flops onto her bed in a heap for a moment. This, she decides, has to be her worst idea ever, but she can’t bring herself to care.

After a long moment, she throws on a pair of random pajama pants, only realizing afterward that they’re the ridiculous ones with mustachioed moose with monocles that have “moose stache” printed under every picture. She sighs as she pulls on the matching tank top, but then decides it’s too cold for a tank. She picks up the first shirt she finds, unsurprised to find that it’s the v-neck that gave her so much trouble the last time she wore it.

She walks out of her bedroom a little hesitantly, unsure of what to say. His eyes tilt upward, staring at her with the same, familiar intensity. "I'm glad you kept that shirt," he says slowly. "You wear it well." His eyes drop ever so slightly, focusing on the sky blue tank underneath. "But not as well as the first night."

She turns crimson on the spot, but she thinks that maybe she'll have to become accustomed to his praise, since he seems so fond of complimenting her. Nothing is said for a long moment, and it leads to the same general awkwardness when she blurts, “So how is this…” She trails off as she motions between them. “...Going to work?” She bites her lip. "I mean, I want this to be something, and, well, I don't want to be one more woman in the line that the Arrow visits at night." She waves a hand, flushing. "I don't think you're like that, but I mean I just—"

"Felicity," he says, firmly this time. There's the faintest hint of a smile playing at his mouth, and she finds she'd very much like to see how it feels under her own. "You're the only woman I'm interested in." He says it with so much sincerity, even if they're the most ridiculous words she's ever heard. No doubt he could have his pick of any woman in this city, and yet he chooses her. "And this will work however you want it to." He hesitates. “I can’t be everything you deserve.” He looks almost forlorn by the admission, and she wonders where the hell he’s gotten that idea. Felicity sits down next to him, her leg brushing his, and she takes his hand between both of hers, causing him to look up at her.

The Arrow studies her intently as she informs him, “I already told you—you don't deserve me, but you have me anyway.” He allows himself a quiet laugh. "But it doesn't matter because you're everything I want." She bites her lip before adding, “And, frankly, a much better kisser than I had hoped for.” That admission brings a smile to his face, and she feels a little like she’s accomplished something. She turns away, again biting on her lip.

She’s not surprised when he tilts her head back toward him, or when he slides her lip out from between her teeth with his thumb. “And?” he prompts gently.

“And,” she answers, “I know it’s a ridiculous request, but I think I’d feel better if you stayed here tonight.” She bites her lip again, only to have him coax it out seconds later with his thumb. “I know it’s silly since I’ll never see the Dodger again, but I always feel safer when you’re around. I know you probably have something more important to do.”

“Nothing is more important than keeping you safe,” he answers instantly, and she takes that as agreement. Before he can change his mind, she takes a throw pillow from the other end of the couch and tosses it onto his lap, laying her head on it. She feels the low vibration of laughter in his chest as she pulls the blanket off the back of the couch, covering herself in it.

His arm drapes just above the curve of her hip when she situates herself across the sofa, his hand splaying gently over her stomach, and she tries to remember the last time she felt so content. (She draws a blank.) “Goodnight, Felicity,” he says quietly, just like every night he visits, but this time it’s accompanied by his lips at her temple.

“Goodnight,” she mutters back as she tries to fight sleep, but she knows it’s a lost cause. Too much has happened tonight, and her body demands nothing less that a full night’s sleep as payment for the emotional turmoil she put herself through tonight. She’s not the only one, though.

The Arrow is already asleep by the time her eyes drift shut.

Chapter Text

Felicity wakes up twice the next morning. The first time, she awakens to a rocking motion and she’s fuzzy until she realizes that she’s being carried. Under different circumstances, she’d be terrified, but she knows her hand is wrapped around the strap of a quiver and that she’s curled against soft, green leather. Cold bites at her exposed skin in the sudden temperature drop, and she instantly pulls herself further against him. It causes a low rumble in his chest, and she feels more than hears his soft chuckle.

The Arrow shifts her ever so slightly in his arms, and then she feels her cheek press against the cool fabric of her pillow. She struggles to open her eyes, but they seem almost glued together. “Wait,” she says finally, her voice coated in sleep, the words sluggish.

“It’s almost morning,” he answers quietly, so she doesn’t have to speak. “I’m sorry—I have to go.” His hand falls on her hair, brushing it away from her face, and then slides down to run a line across her jaw. Finally, it falls upon her upper arm, and then his lips press against her cheek.

He turns to leave, but she takes his arm, opening her eyes wide enough to make sure his mouth lands on hers. It’s a brief kiss, and he chuckles against her lips before pulling away. “I understand,” she answers finally.

“I’ll see you tonight,” is the last thing she hears before her eyes fall shut again.

The next time she awakens, it’s to Saphira pawing and whining at her. She frowns because she doesn't remember letting her out of the guest room, but Felicity figures the Arrow was kind enough to do so. Still foggy, she opens her eyes slowly, faintly registering the sound of someone knocking at her door. Her vision is unfocused and hazy because she didn't take out her contacts, and she groans as Saphira starts barking again, this time charging toward the door.

"Just a minute!" Felicity calls in a voice coated with sleep, and then she takes a moment to take out her contacts and trade them for her glasses before scrambling out of bed.

She practically runs to the door, checking the peephole even though she knows that it's Oliver, based solely on Saphira's reaction. Sure enough, it is, and Felicity grabs Saphira's collar before reaching up to unlock the door. When she swings it open, she's surprised to see Thea with him. "Hey," she says cheerfully. "Saphira is particularly excited this morning, so I'll let you two sit down before I unleash the beast." She picks up the dog, who screams loudly in protest, trying to struggle out of Felicity's grasp. But Felicity's an expert with the squirmy dog now, and she knows how to handle her.

"Does she come with ear plugs?" Thea asks with a frown. "Oh, better question—is she supposed to make that sound?"

"She's a shiba," Felicity answers, yelling slightly over the noise. "They make high-pitched screams when they're excited or unhappy." She shrugs. "Right now, she's upset because she wants Oliver." He sits down on what has become his end of the sofa, and Felicity drops the loud little monster on his lap. "Here, have a dog."

Both Thea and Felicity watch with amusement as Saphira paws at him, begging him to pet her, tail wagging all the while. It takes her a moment, but she finally curls in his lap. Thea is the first to speak, shaking her head. "Ollie has always had a way with the ladies," she jokes, "especially the bitches." He throws her a withering look, but she just smiles at him.

"Speedy," he says, and Felicity can only assume that's a nickname he has for her, "I'm not above making you walk back home." It's an empty threat and they all know it, but she sticks her tongue out at him. He looks around before looking back at her. "Did you bring the food?"

Thea frowns. "I thought you had it," she says, crossing her arms in a way that clearly states, And I'm not going back for it, either.

Oliver looks to Felicity before gently sliding Saphira off his lap and standing up, and the dog whines in protest. "Digg told me you left early because you weren't feeling well," he explains, "so I thought that I'd bring you breakfast." Silently, she praises John Diggle because he’s amazing enough to spoon She opens her mouth to apologize for leaving, but he places his hand over hers. "And before you try, there's nothing to apologize for." He winks at her to show her he isn't mad, then turns toward the door. "I'll go grab the bag my sister forgot to carry in, and then I'll be back."

As soon as the door clicks in place behind him, Thea turns in her seat toward Felicity. She expects a grilling about last night details, but instead she gets Thea stating in hushed tones, "Okay, so we don't have a lot of time, but I need your help with the asshat in the red hoodie again." She huffs. "I tried to get Lance to arrest him, but then he started talking about how his dad is dead and his mom is addicted to Vertigo and how he can't get a job with his criminal record." She frowns. "And, well, I've always been a sucker for a sad story and a vintage Chanel purse."

She waves a hand, shaking her head. "So, I dropped all charges because I felt sorry for him. I went down to the Glades and tried to get my purse back during lunch last week, but he slammed the door in my face." She huffs, crossing her arms. "Do you think you can help me get it back?" she asks, hope in her voice.

Felicity frowns because she really doesn't want to be involved further in this, but then she thinks she might actually be able to get Roy Harper's attention. They're from similar worlds, and she's not going to be intimidated by a door slammed in her face. "Okay," she says finally. Thea beams, but Felicity holds up her hand. "Here's the story. You and I are going to go on a shopping trip to that thrift store I told you about during Christmas, and then we're grabbing dinner." She bites her lip. "I think I can solve your problem, but we'll see how it goes."

Thea beams, but Felicity holds up her index finger. "But I need three promises from you in return. One, you are never to tell your brother about this. Two, stay out of the Glades." She crosses her arms. "You're too brave for your own good by doing that—especially without a car. I grew up in the Glades, and I'm scared of parts of it. Three..." Felicity sighs, trying to think of a delicate way to phrase whatever she plans to say next. "Don't fall for every sob story a guy like Roy Harper tells the police. Sometimes a sob story can be the difference between jail and community service, and someone with a record like his will know that."

Thea nods twice before hugging her, and Felicity bets that this girl will be the death of her—even with strong prospects like the Arrow, the criminals they go after, and Oliver in her life. Thea is all heart, so much more reactionary than Oliver. And Felicity is pretty sure that reactionary nature is going to drag them both into trouble. "I promise," Thea answers. "Felicity, thank you so much."

Felicity waves a hand. "Don't mention it. And I mean that."

Thea chuckles as if the blonde just made a joke, as if she wasn't serious. "So," she starts, drawing out the word with a mischievous smile on her face, "what's with you bailing out on Ollie?" Her smile sets Felicity's nerves on edge. "And what were you two doing?" Her smile indicates something way off track, and it's such an indecent smile that Felicity turns crimson.

"I went with him to that charity auction yesterday," she answers, waving her hand. Part of her thinks it's unreal that the events were just yesterday; it feels like ages ago, with all that happened with the Arrow and the Dodger after she left Oliver. “I think I ate something out-of-date by mistake, and so I ended up leaving early, and Mr. Diggle drove me home.” She hears the door shut quietly behind Oliver, so she adds to him, “Which I feel horrible about. I should have called you, but…” She trails off, unsure of how to continue. Because, really, she thinks that but I was held hostage at bomb collar by a jewel thief sounds a little ridiculous, even if it is true.

Oliver doesn’t give her time to finish the thought. "Felicity, there's nothing to apologize for," he assures her. "You were sick and so you asked to go home." He sits the paper bag in her lap, and she's surprised to find it's the bistro up the street that she and Barry love so much. It surprises her because she's never mentioned it and she's only had it once in recent times: when Barry stayed the night with her after the Arrow's mishap. Clearly she's sold Oliver short because she doesn't expect him to be so observant. Amazingly enough, he even has her order right from the last time. Which is impressive because even Barry forgets half the time.

She knows he'll wave off her thanks, so she decides to go with a less serious approach. "You have a free computer repair as per our agreement," she says with a partial smile, and he chuckles in response. "And my appreciation—because my cupboards are so bare that three starving children sent me apology letters. The food fairies have not been kind to me."

He chuckles before motioning for Thea to rise to her feet. "We'll leave you to eat in peace."

Thea doesn't move, looking at Felicity with questioning eyes, and the blonde takes the hint. "Actually," she replies slowly, “I think Thea has just talked me into a shopping trip today, so I guess she's staying."

Oliver's reaction isn't what she expects: his head tilts to the side ever so slightly, and he blinks twice before breaking into a hesitant smile. "Are you sure about this?" he asks, and Felicity thinks she might have messed up because his expression questions her sanity.

Thea waves a hand, rolling her eyes. "Of course I'm sure, Ollie," she answers instantly. "I haven't had the chance to really get to know her. You stole Felicity away early, and it's time you learned to share." She rolls her eyes again. "I promise to bring her back to you in one piece."

"Good to know," Oliver answers, "but I was actually asking Felicity because I know how long your shopping trips last." He turns toward her again, waiting expectantly for an answer.

"I think I'll live," Felicity answers dryly. "That's the good thing about being the one with the car—I'll drop her off after I get enough." She follows it up with a wink and a smile in Thea's direction, and the younger Queen throws a conspiratorial smile right back. "Hey, Thea, why don't you search through my closet to see what you can come up with—I don't feel like picking out an outfit this morning." The suggestion is met with a squeal, and then Thea is dashing off to her closet without a beat.

"You don't have to do this," Oliver says quietly as she walks him toward the door. "But I think she needs some time with someone. She's either in school or doing her community service work, and..." He hesitates. "She and our mother don't have enough time together now that Mom is CEO." He stops at the door, putting a hand on her arm. "But if you don't feel like doing this, it doesn't have to be today."

Felicity offers him a smile. "Oliver, it's fine. I think I feel better, and my closet is due for an overhaul anyway." It doesn't seem to convince him, so she meets his eyes and pulls the hand from her arm, weaving her fingers through his. She squeezes them before letting go. "And, besides, my list of friends is limited to you, Barry, and Tommy. While I think you're all wonderful, that also means that my girl time is severely limited. So Thea and I both need this. I'll take care of her—I promise."

It doesn't wipe the frown from his face, but he does look as though he feels a little better about the arrangement. "It's not Thea I'm concerned about," he replies after a long moment, his eyes with the same breathtaking intensity that she can't seem to avoid with him. She really can't handle anything of this magnitude today, so she looks away almost immediately.

It's a mistake. Something about lacking eye contact seems to make Oliver brave, and the next thing she feels is soft lips and rough stubble across her cheek. She looks at him immediately with wide eyes, and he avoids hers as he says, "Just be careful, Felicity," before slipping out the door.

She locks it behind her, one hand falling across her cheek as she does so. Well, this is unexpected, she can't help but think. She tries to gather her thoughts before returning to Thea, but she can't quite block it out. The last time he kissed her, she thought it was only to make her feel less uncomfortable about her gaffe. Now she's realizing that maybe he has feelings for her. And maybe she has feelings for him, too. But then there's the Arrow, who she might actually have something with. Finally she settles on one thought, and it pretty much sums up her entire life.

She is so screwed.

 


 

"You remember the rules, right?" Felicity asks Thea, turning toward her in the small space of the Mini Cooper. Suddenly she's nervous, and this has nothing to do with the sort of deception involved with Oliver or the Arrow. She's not sure where this will head, but she knows it's going to end in confrontation with both Roy Harper and a past she's been trying to forget.

Thea rolls her eyes, crossing her arms. "I'm supposed to lock the doors as soon as you get out," she answers in a monotone and a surprising amount of attitude. "And I'm not supposed to unlock the car for anyone but you." Another eye roll. "Felicity, I'm not so incompetent that I can't work a freaking car lock. I've got this." She makes a shooing motion. "Go. And don't come back unless you have a vintage Chanel purse in your hands."

Felicity pulls herself out of the car, smoothing down her skirt and pulling her purple peacoat tighter around herself to break the chill in the night air. She walks up to the door with her stomach churning, but she knocks on it anyway.

The door opens, and she finally sees that face that Thea has been talking about for the better part of a week. Now that she's looking at Roy Harper, she realizes that she was a fool for not recognizing him from the DMV photo. He hasn't changed a bit.

He takes one glance down her figure and attire before stating in a dry tone, "I'm not interested in any bibles, but thanks for the sales call." He moves to shut the door on her, but she wedges her foot into the door.

"First of all," she states flatly, "that's a little presumptuous. Just because I'm wearing a skirt doesn't mean that I'm here to sell you something. Second of all, I'm Jewish." She shakes her head. "But, most importantly, I'm here because you stole a purse from a friend of mine and she wants it back."

He rolls his eyes immediately, taking in her attire again. "What, so she sent Law School Barbie to slap me with some charges?" he tries again, and really, Felicity is getting sick of the attitude.

She scoffs. "'Law School Barbie'?" she repeats. "Please. If I was a lawyer, I'd be more Elle Woods—but maybe with a side of Caroline Julian." She crosses her arms. "And I'm not a lawyer—I'm a friend of Thea's." He looks at her as if to say, What, and you expect me to believe this crap? "And the Queen family, really. I'm Felicity."

He sighs, looking down at her with his head held high. "So she doesn't get her purse back—and then she sends one of her rich friends who aren't stoned to get it back?" He crosses his arms.

"You don't know a thing about me, Roy Harper," Felicity says flatly. "Just because I have nice things now doesn't mean I always have. And, unlike you, I actually work so I can afford them."

He doesn't back down, nor does she expect him to. "Well, maybe I could—if I could get a job." His eyes narrow as he focuses on her. "They tend to frown upon hiring guys with robbery records."

She doesn't even hesitate. "Well, if it would keep you from stealing purses from teenage girls, then I know I guy who is opening a club." She knows what it's like to be from nothing, to see someone try to give a handout, and so she adds, "I could get you an interview, but after that you'd be on your own."

He frowns. "You mean a job working for Oliver Queen," he surmises, seeming completely underwhelmed by the idea.

"No, my other billionaire, club-owning friend," she retorts sarcastically, and it actually brings a smile to the kid's face—even though he tries to hide it. She allows the corners of her mouth to turn up. "No, seriously, it's not Oliver. You wouldn't be high enough on the food chain to work for him. You'd be working for his general manager, Tommy Merlyn."

He doesn't seem convinced, so she pulls one of her cards out of her pocket. "Give it some thought," she says as she holds out the card. He reaches to grab it, but she pulls it back. "Provided, of course, you can right one tiny injustice in the system."

He frowns but relents. "Come on," he says finally, motioning her in. "I'll go grab it." She follows him into the little shack and she frowns because it reminds her so much of— No, she will not think about that—never again. From another room, he calls, "You do know your friend is a spoiled trust fund brat, right? Gets a Maserati for her birthday, totals it, and pretends that it's expected she's back in a car—even if it is a lousy Mini."

Felicity crosses her arms. "Spoiled? Yes. Trust fund girl? Yes. But not a brat—she's confused and a little misguided. A lot like someone whose living room I happen to be standing in right now. "And that 'lousy Mini' is mine, by the way—she's limited to walking for a while because of that mishap. You also forgot that she's dealing with a dead father, a missing stepfather, a distraught mother, and a very damaged older brother who has been dead for five years." She locks eyes with him as he ducks back into the living room. "And you might be the most judgmental person I've ever met in my life."

He hands her the purse back. "Well, then, I'm glad to hold that distinction," he quips, and she hands him the card. "Just because I take this doesn't mean I'm taking the job. I'm a car thief—I don't think they're going to turn me loose with a Rolls Royce." He pauses. "It's all there, by the way, except for the cigarettes. I'm keeping those—that's a filthy habit."

"If you hadn't, I would have," she answers. Against her better judgment, Felicity empathizes a little with the kid, so she blurts suddenly, "I'm a hacker in another life." His eyebrows shoot up, and she continues, "In another life where I'm past the statute of limitations, of course. But now I work in IT. Not to go all Yoda on you, but your gifts can be used for good or evil—what you do with them is up to you."

He scoffs. "Well," he says finally, "one thing's for certain: you showed a lot of sack for coming down here in the middle of the night."

She rolls her eyes. "Are you kidding me?" she answers. "I live five streets over." His eyes go wide, and she reminds him, "You don't know anything about me, Roy." She bites her lip. "Well, maybe you do—I was one of Mrs. Nagorski's, too."

He studies her for a moment. "You were the girl with the thick glasses and frizzy brown hair who always had her nose buried in a book," he realizes, and Felicity nods once before swallowing. "How did you get from that to this?"

"I decided that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in what I grew up in," she answers quietly. "And it's a realization I'd recommend to you." She hesitates. "If you ever need a place to crash, call. After all, as Mrs. Nagorski used to say, we take care of our own." He doesn't answer and she doesn't expect him to, so she turns on her heel to leave.

"Thanks," he says after she manages a few steps. She turns back, nods, and then she's made it back to the car, handing Thea the purse as her mind runs elsewhere.

"Oh my God, thank you!" Thea says to her. "I knew you could talk some sense into him because you managed Ollie and there's no way he could be worse than Ollie." She eyes Felicity for a moment. "So, what did you have to say to get him to agree?"

A lot of things she didn't want to. All she offers is an enigmatic smile and with a wink she answers one word: "Please."

Chapter Text

Felicity finds herself praying for some sort of criminal enterprise to attack, if only to relieve her from the party and its boredom. Barry was cruel enough to write her in as his plus-one to the humanitarian dinner thing—for the third year in a row—and so she's stuck trying to pretend to enjoy conversation between pretentious billionaires. Barry works the room with poise and charm (except when he laughs—dear God, they really need to work on that), but Felicity is content to wrap her arm through his and try not to drink the champagne so quickly that she gets drunk. Then again, maybe that would be an improvement in her life.

Then she remembers that the last time she was drunk, when she and Barry ended up dancing on the Merlyn Bridge and a really sloppy, awkward make-out session that ended in her stopping to heave her guts out over the side of the railing. Then they made the transition to singing Madonna songs together, which was interesting because Barry didn't know half the words, and he can't sing on key to save his life. It was so awkward the day after that they both made the mutual decision never get drunk—or to speak of the Incident—again. But still, something tells her that her very awesome rendition of "Like a Virgin" would be lost on this crowd. And "Vogue" isn't any fun unless you have the synthetic beats in the background while you do the photo-frame hand thing.

Sighing, she catches Tommy’s eye across the way. He waves and she returns it, and he winks at her with that same expression from earlier, the one he wore when he told her, “You know Ollie is going to be pissed when he learns you were here in that dress on another guy’s arm, right?” She’s not worried as much about Oliver as the Arrow; it was a last-minute thing (Barry was supposed to ask Iris, but he chickened out), and she didn't have a chance to tell him.

Still, Tommy’s right about the dress—it wasn’t a bad find on such short notice. It’s black lace over a flesh tone color, with gold, sequined paisley following the flow of her curves on the left. The halter style of the top opens up into an open back, with two straps making an inverted V, starting at the halter and ending at opposite sides of the open space. More gold paisley print stretches across the back, this time on the right. With her hair piled on her head and a soft lipstick, she actually looks like she fits in with the one-percenters running around.

As if to answer her prayers, her cell phone starts ringing, and she pulls away from Barry and the droll conversation with a soft, “Excuse me,” to answer it. She fishes it out of her black purse with some effort, trying to find which one is ringing. Because she changed both of her phones vibrate before she entered the Humanitarian Awards Banquet, she’s surprised to find that it’s her Arrow phone going off, and that’s all she needs to know who’s calling. “What’s going on?” she asks immediately. “I thought you weren’t doing anything tonight so I’m not home—I don’t have good computer access right now. So unless you need something Googled on my data plan, well, I’m a computer tech, not a miracle worker.”

“I need you on the fifth floor now,” he answers shortly, then thinks to add a, “please.” It makes a chill go down her spine that he knows where she is, but she figures he probably has a GPS tracker in her phone or something. And then she realizes that it makes sense he has a handle on his people at all times—especially after the Dodger thing. “I found the hitman’s target, but I might be too late. I need your help—bring your date.” The last word is said with bite, and she’s surprised because he almost sounds jealous or something. Then the long pause afterward cements it for her.

She waves Barry over, and he walks toward her immediately. “And you’re being a jealous idiot,” she surmises. “I can’t do this with you right now. Give me five minutes to round up Barry—who is like my brother, I might add—and then I’m headed your way.” She hangs up just as Barry meets her, only saying to him quietly, “The Arrow is upstairs, and I think he needs us.” Then it strikes her that the Arrow could be hurt, too, and she nearly calls him back, then decides that he wouldn’t let her worry if he was.

Barry waves a hand. “Lead the way,” he assures her. “I’d never say no to helping him.” He looks at her for a moment as they board the closest elevator. “Is this how it feels all the time for you? Because I’m kind of excited about this.”

She rolls her eyes at his childish behavior, frustrated with two of the men in her life at once. It’s really going to make for quite an experience once they meet this next time. “Yeah, usually there’s more excitement, but he’s being difficult tonight.” She crosses her arms over her chest, unsure of how to tell Barry about the thing with the Arrow. She’s having a difficult time believing it herself, so she has no idea how to break the news to Barry.

The elevator doors open, and she sees the green hooded figure leaning over one side of a man’s body, probably applying pressure. On the other side is Tommy, and then she realizes that the man is Malcolm Merlyn. “Holy fishsticks,” she hears Barry mutter somewhere in the background, and she thinks the sentiment is accurate.

“Go find a first aid kit,” she answers distractedly over her shoulder. “Try the janitor’s closet.” She has no idea what he does then because she’s too busy focusing on the scene unfolded before her. A few quick steps pull her over to the two Merlyn men and the Arrow, and she drops to the floor next to him, falling on her knees. “How can I help?” she asks him quietly, forgetting the early argument as she focuses on the gaping hole in Malcolm Merlyn’s side. Somewhere in the background, she can see Tommy’s mouth working with no sound, but she ignores it.

He moves one hand from the wound to pull hers on top of it. “Apply pressure here,” he answers in that deep, unnatural pitch. “Can you do that?” He studies her for a moment, as if he’s expecting her to say no. And she also notes that his eyes are skimming over her a little too much to be innocent.

“If I couldn’t, I don’t think you’d be sitting here right now. I did this for you not too long ago, remember?” she retorts as she takes over the duty. Her eyes fall over him, too, but for different reasons. “You’re not injured, are you?” The question is answered when she sees a small wound in his arm, and she frowns as she realizes that’s yet another bullet she and Diggle will have to pull out of their favorite emerald archer.

He notices her attentions as he places his fingers to Merlyn’s neck to feel for a pulse, and he answers quietly, “I’ll live.” There’s a moment’s hesitation before he adds with a tentative smile, "And I don't remember—I was unconscious at the time."

She's not so amused, raising an eyebrow in challenge. "Cheeky," she comments. "In fact, it's very cheeky for someone who's currently in the doghouse, mister." He winces, and she has to bite back a smile because of how genuinely concerned he is about her anger. Most of it has already abated, but it's not good to let him know that just yet.

"You work for the Vigilante?" Tommy asks, watching her with wide eyes. Then he shakes his head before continuing with a sharp, bitter voice, "Of course you are—we all know you'd never resist—"

"She doesn't know," the Arrow cuts him off sharply. His eyes tilt upward ever so slightly, in a warning of, And you don't get to tell her, either. She's almost certain that he'd put an arrow in Tommy if he tried to finish that sentence.

Felicity's eyes narrow. "You tell him," she motions in Tommy's general direction before going back to applying pressure, "after five seconds, but I've been with you for months and you don't tell me." She turns toward him. "I'm starting to get a complex here."

He ignores her, focusing on Tommy. "With," he adds finally, and both Tommy and Felicity turn to look at the emerald archer. He quickly clarifies, "Felicity works with me, not for me. We're partners—she's not my employee."

Both of them look at him, but Felicity is the first to speak. "That was almost sweet," she remarks, nudging her shoulder into his. "I think you just worked your way out of the doghouse with that."

“I’m sorry,” he says abruptly, the words low and hesitant as if he's unsure about saying them. She looks at him immediately, only to find him staring at something interesting about his bow.

“Are you apologizing to me or to your bow?” she asks with a raised eyebrow, and he looks at her for a moment, frowning as though she’s the one making this more difficult. But he hit below the belt by dragging Barry into it, and so maybe she’s seeking a little retribution from him.

He looks completely uncomfortable, but, to his credit, he does answer lowly, “I didn’t snap at my bow.” She lets him stew for a moment before breaking into a smile, and he responds in kind. "You usually tell me about events like this." He leans in closer to her before adding quietly, "And I don't like to share." The intensity of his eyes makes a warm blush fall across her cheeks.

“Apology accepted,” she replies, looking away before she decides this is something that needs addressing. "I would have told you, if Barry had given me any notice whatsoever about this. But he was supposed to ask Iris—his crush—to go with him, but he chickened out, so I'm the only other girl he's comfortable asking." She chuckles. "Don't worry, I'm his second choice."

So quietly she almost misses it, he answers, "You should never be anyone's second choice." His tone nearly makes her want to grab him and kiss him, regardless of their audience. But then she remembers she's supposed to be applying pressure to a bullet wound and that it probably wouldn't be appreciated if she did. It's a frustrating feeling, like having an itch in that particular spot on her back that she can't reach.

She's almost glad to see Barry when he turns the corner with a huge red box, grateful for the distraction. “Nice job finding the first aid kit, Barry.” She turns back to the Arrow. “What do you need?”

“A biochemist,” he answers quickly before turning to Barry. “The bullet was laced with curare. Can you...?" He trails off, clearly unsure of what he needs Barry to do, and Felicity knows the feeling.

The scientist frowns, and Felicity can see the cogs working in his brain. "Most poisons affect a specific set of integral proteins in the cell membrane," he mutters quickly, thinking aloud now. "So there are a few noncompetitive inhibitors I could use to slow the process." He starts digging through the first aid kit, frowning, and Felicity knows that means things look bleak right now. "Caffeine!" he yells suddenly. "Does anyone have any caffeine tablets?"

Felicity digs through her purse to find the bottle, and then she tosses it to Barry. It earns her a you-better-explain-this-now look from the Arrow, and she shrugs. "I thought it would help with long hours at work and..." She waves her hand around before finally miming an arrow being shot from a bow—as best as she can with one hand. "Not work," she finishes lamely, but it does earn her a synthesized chuckle for her efforts. She frowns. "Wait, Deadshot used curare-laced bullets." The Arrow seems surprised she knows that, so Felicity carefully explains, "I watched the news after I pulled the information from that shot-up laptop you brought me. They said you put an arrow through his eye."

"Apparently he's not dead," he answers, and then he looks to Malcolm Merlyn with a frown. "He's lost a lot of blood." He pulls the first aid kit closer with one hand to go through the contents. After a few seconds, he pulls out tubing and what looks like two very specialized needles. "Are you the same blood type as your father?"

Tommy nods twice. "Yeah," he answers. "We're both A-positive."

"Good," is the Arrow's reply, "because you're about to give him a blood transfusion." He says it as though there will be no argument whatsoever, but Tommy seems to have other ideas on the subject.

"How do I know this isn't going to kill both of us?" he asks, meeting the Arrow's eyes without a shred of fear. "I don't trust you." His tone is cold and dark when he says it, and something in the Arrow's expression makes Felicity realizes that the statement hits home for him.

Which kind of makes Felicity want to slap Tommy for being a jerk.

Instead, she asks, "Do you trust me?" Both men turn to her immediately, and she even sees Barry's head perk up from what he's doing. "I've been working with this man"—she puts her hand on the Arrow's shoulder in a show of solidarity—"for a long time. I've known him longer than I've known you." She makes sure to meet Tommy's eyes before finishing, "I trust the Arrow with my life. I've done exactly that before, and I can tell you that there's no one better to depend on. So the question is, Tommy: can you trust my judgment? Can you take a leap of faith, just this once?"

He sighs because he's already decided, but Felicity knows what he's going to say. He holds out his arm. "Go ahead, do it," he says finally, not looking too thrilled about the idea.

That's all the permission they need, so the Arrow pulls two of the rubber strips out, and Felicity watches as he ties one around Merlyn's arm, then Tommy's. The needles go in next, and she watches as blood starts to flow through the tube. It's calm and quiet for a moment, but then she hears footsteps thundering across marble floors, and she knows it's probably police.

"You need to go," she says quietly to the Arrow. He's preoccupied by something, so she nudges him to get his attention before repeating, "The police are moving in—you need to go before they catch you. I'll take care of things here—make sure the proper words are said."

He sighs before rising to his feet and picking up his bow, knowing she's right but clearly unsatisfied with leaving things here. "Barry, hold this," she mutters, letting him hold the cloth over the wound. He takes it from her, and she's about to try and rise to her feet when a gloved hand drops in front of her face.

She takes it, and he walks her over toward the broken window, where he presumably came in. She also notes that he doesn't let go of her hand for the entire walk, something that their audience is probably noticing. "Will you be all right here?" he asks her quietly, and she nods.

"Better than you'll be," she answers dryly, and the corners of his mouth turn up. "I'm starting to get used to that smile." She carefully reaches up and brushes her thumb across the corner of his mouth. "You never used to smile—I feel like at least I've given you that."

He opens his mouth to answer, but then his eyes flick to something in the distance. His thumb brushes the curve at the top of her ear as he cradles her head in his hand. She realizes he's found the new bar running through her industrial piercing—made to look like it has the fletching and point of an arrow at either end. "That's new," he comments quietly, his tone asking for explanation where his words do not.

She thinks of what he said to her earlier about being Barry's plus-one, so she answers, "It should remind you that you'll never have to share. Not where it matters, at least."

His eyes darken, and she knows that expression well. While she'd normally welcome it, instead she decides it's time to abort the mission. "I'll see you later tonight?" she asks, and she's amused at herself that it comes out in a question—they both know he'll be there.

She rises on her toes to press her lips against his briefly, but the Arrow has other ideas about the way their kiss should go. He wraps a hand around her waist quicker than she can pull away, leaning down so that she doesn't have to stand on her toes. Common sense flies out the window the moment he pulls her bottom lip into his mouth, and suddenly there's nothing quick or chaste about it. In fact, she's about to cup his jaw with her hand when she realizes she should not be doing this here. That thought causes her eyes to fly open, and she slowly pulls away, reluctant to let him go.

"I'd be more apt to share," he says finally, "if you didn't insist on wearing dresses like this one." Her face heats more than before, and she looks away. He takes advantage of the situation, though, pressing his lips against her bare shoulder, the stubble at his jaw scraping across it in a not-altogether-unpleasant way.

In fact, it’s all she can do to stop herself from kissing him again.

He seems to read her expression well, too; all he offers her is a wink before firing some sort of arrow connected to a wire and swinging out of the building. She turns back to the group immediately, and her face heats further as she finds both Tommy and Barry staring at her with wide eyes.

Barry is the first to recover. "So, when I asked you, 'What's new in your life?' last week, this wasn't the first thing to cross your mind?" His eyes narrow. "You held this back for conversation about the new mass spectrometers they brought in for Applied Sciences?" He shakes his head. "Sherly, we're going to have a strong talk when we get out of here."

She only raises an eyebrow at him. "What was I supposed to say?" she retorts. "'I went on a kind-of-a-date with Oliver, confronted the Dodger, managed to get a deadlock collar around my neck, watched the Arrow go all grr on the Dodger before saving my life, and somehow ended up making out with him against my front door'?" Two sets of eyebrows shoot up, and she thinks Barry might be about faint, judging by the way all color has left his face. "Somehow I felt like that couldn't be accurately expressed over the phone."

Finally, he just shakes his head. "Do you ever miss having a normal life, Felicity?" he finally asks, and the use of her name lets her know it's serious this time.

She smiles. "Normal is overrated, Barry."

 


 

Quentin Lance runs a hand over his face as he takes in the scene in front of him, frowning at the God-awful nightmare it's become. He'd actually been looking forward to a break, even if it was only sitting at home watching the game with a microwave dinner. This was supposed to have been an easy shift, working the Humanitarian Awards Banquet, but now his "easy night" is quickly turning into a double-shift.

Then he realizes it seems about par for the course.

The scene is nasty, with both glass and blood everywhere, even though Malcolm Merlyn has already been transported from the scene by paramedics. There's going to be hell to pay by the time all this is over, Lance knows; if it's not the younger Merlyn demanding the case be closed, it will be Laurel. Thankfully she's downstairs, having missed the rest of the night's events by picking an excellent time to duck into the bathrooms.

This will be the interesting part, Lance decides, as he watches Merlyn the junior speaking in the corner to a blonde woman in hushed tones. Her back is to him, so he can't see her face, but most of her back is exposed by the cut of the dress. Off to the side, a kid who looks about twelve stands, adding his own two-cents every now and again. Judging by the dress and the fact that they're with Merlyn, he assumes they're all witnesses, and he walks toward them.

The twelve-year-old makes a motion over the blonde's shoulder, and she turns on the spot to look behind her. Her face is oddly familiar, but he can't place her. It all clicks into place, however, when she says to him with a sly smile, "Good evening, Detective." Felicity Smoak. Of course. Something happened in this damn city, so it only makes sense she'd be here in the middle of it.

He has to admit, the girl cleans up nice; she seems at ease and casual in the formal setting, so confident in her own skin. For not the first time, Lance thinks it’s interesting how well she’s able to fit into any situation. She looks as though she belongs in a daring, backless dress at an awards banquet just as much as she belongs in the IT Department at Queen Consolidated or in the computer closet at the SCPD. And, judging by the last time he saw her, she also is rather comfortable on the back of the Hood’s bike.

He thinks that might be how she keeps ditching her police tail from time to time: she’s not using her car at night. He’s not sure how she knows about the surveillance, but she definitely does since she’s trying to avoid it.

"Miss Smoak," he says dryly with a nod of his head. Then he turns and acknowledges the other man with a curt nod. "Merlyn," he almost spits. Finally he rounds on the third man, but speaks to Felicity. "Do his parents know he's here?"

She actually laughs at that, a soft tone that seems to agree with her. Even she's not usually this giddy. "This is Dr. Barry Allen," she answers with a smile, this one less calculating and like she's about to outmaneuver her favorite detective to manipulate. He recognizes the name instantly because it’s been the only name on her phone records for weeks, and she’s called him a few times regarding what is most definitely Hood business. "He's one of the past award winners, and he's my brother." She shrugs a shoulder in a self-conscious motion, and Lance understands they're probably foster siblings. "Well, sort of," confirms it for him. "I'm his plus-one for the night. Something we can help you with?"

He waves over two officers on the scene before answering, "I just need to take your statements, and then you three can leave." He relays instructions for the officers to interview the two men and then adds, "If you'll come with me, Miss Smoak."

He leads her over to another side of the room. "Want to tell me the real story about what happened here?" he says dryly. No doubt she's already coached the other two about their statements, so he's far better off trying to get the information straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. Even if the damn horse is liable to bite his fingers off if he provokes it—or send an arrow-wielding vigilante after him.

"The Arrow was already here when I arrived," she answers, and he notices for the first time that she's using a different nickname for him than everyone else. The SCPD usually calls him "the Hood" and the papers call him "the Vigilante," except for that one a few months back at the very beginning. "The Arrow" didn't quite catch on, so they stopped using it. He wonders vaguely if it's the Hood's preference as far as naming goes.

"And how did you end up here?" Lance asks her, trying to put at least some of this puzzle together. He's not sure the Hood would call her over something related to emergency medicine; after all, Felicity Smoak is a computer technician, not a battlefield nurse.

"I took the elevator," she answers with a partial smile, and Lance decides he does not get paid well enough to put up with this girl, so he lets it go. "I probably should have called the police, but the Arrow seemed to have the situation under control. He knew the bullet was laced with curare poison, and thank God Barry was with us." At Lance's unspoken question, she clarifies, "He's a biochemist, and he does a lot of work with neurotoxins over at STAR Labs—poisons like curare." She shrugs. "Anyway, he was able to slow down the absorption—some of the paramedics said it saved Mr. Merlyn's life."

“The Arrow managed to set it up so that Tommy gave Mr. Merlyn a blood transfusion,” she continues. “I mostly just held pressure on the wound to keep it from bleeding out.” For the first time, Lance notices the blood over her hands, and he’s surprised how casual she is about the entire ordeal. He changes his mind; maybe Felicity was the Hood’s first call when it came to emergency medicine.

“Anything else worth sharing?” he asks her when it’s clear she isn’t going to say anything more. He needs to have the information for his report, and he knows she’s going to give the most accurate witness statement of anyone here.

“He was shot in the arm—the Arrow, I mean.” She watches the detective for a moment before looking to the other two witnesses, and it makes Lance’s eyes even with the silver bar at her ear shaped like an arrow. Of course. She might as well be holding a neon sign that says, “I work for the Vigilante,” in bold letters. She may advertise and flaunt it, but she’s still careful; the few times she’s called anyone has been the Allen kid, and she’s subtle enough with her inquiries. By using the word “hypothetically,” she’s basically confessing to nothing more than an active imagination—even if Lance and, well, anyone with a pulse, can tell otherwise. “Maybe there would be hospital records or something,” she adds helpfully as she turns back to him, though they both know it’s anything but.

Lance frowns. “We both know he’s not going to go to a hospital with this,” he answers dryly. The last time he was injured, they found arterial spray, and even then there was nothing in the hospital reports. A fleshwound is even less likely. He hesitates before saying, “If you remember anything else, give me a call.” And then he sighs. “And be careful, Miss Smoak—something tells me you’re playing with fire.” Part of him actually wants to tell her about the wiretaps, even though he knows he can’t. Still, she’s not the first girl to get caught up in the glamor of helping the Starling City Vigilante, and he doubts she’ll be the last.

She only smiles before remarking, “Fire is only dangerous if you’re not careful, Detective.”

Chapter Text

Felicity doesn't feel like she should be at the hospital this time, since she barely knows Malcolm Merlyn, but Oliver's fingers lacing through hers make her feel a little better about the intrusion. He seemed adamant that she come with him, and she realizes that maybe the assassination attempt shook him a little. After all, it could have been Tommy instead.

Hell, it could have even been Oliver himself. Or his mother.

Before they step into the room, she puts her other hand on his shoulder, stopping him from entering. A flash of irritation runs across his features, but it takes more than a frustrated, scared Oliver Queen to make her back down. After all, she confronted a deadly jewel thief last week—this is nothing. "Hey," she says gently, "it's okay. Malcolm is all right. Tommy is all right. Laurel is all right." She lets her hand drop on his shoulder. "You don't have to be worried now."

There's a heavy moment of hesitation before Oliver finally tells her what is running through his mind: "Tommy and I... we had an argument before this happened. I'm not sure he'll want to see me after that."

It's an easy fear to dissipate for her; all it takes is a few words. "You and Tommy have been friends for a very long time, Oliver," she assures him. "No matter what, I think he'd be more upset if you didn't come here tonight." She smiles in reassurance. "And you two have far too much history to let one little argument end your friendship." She doesn't dare ask about the topic because there are only a few things they could argue about, and Felicity can piece together the rest for herself. She's pretty sure she already has.

There was a time when she didn't know Oliver Queen well enough to make guesses like that, but no longer.

He doesn't look convinced by her speech, but he does look a little less concerned. "You're right," he agrees, albeit a little reluctantly. He takes a deep breath before pushing open the door to Mr. Merlyn's private room, plastering a decidedly fake smile on his face. Felicity has to plaster on her own to prevent herself from calling him out on it. "I'm glad you're all right, Mr. Merlyn," Oliver offers. He still has hold of Felicity's hand, but she tries desperately not to read too much into that. After all, he probably needs the moral support right now.

Tommy and Laurel stand off to one side, and she tries to ignore the fact that Laurel's eyes keep darting to Felicity and Oliver's intertwined hands with her eyebrows narrowed. Tommy's expression is more curious, and it's focused solely on Felicity. Nervous, she pulls at the hem of her dress, and, when she looks down, she realizes that Mr. Merlyn's blood is still on one of her knees. She fastens one of the buttons on her black peacoat, letting it drape over the stain.

"Well, thank you for coming down," Mr. Merlyn replies, "but I'm perfectly fine." He chuckles, and something about him screams slimy to Felicity. "Well, fine aside from the bullet wound, of course, but it could have been much worse if Dr. Allen and the Vigilante didn't show up." He squints at Felicity, studying her for a moment, probably taking in the way her hair is starting to fall out of its clip and the lipstick that was worn off by a particularly eager kiss with a vigilante. "You were there with Dr. Allen tonight," he says suddenly. "Thank you."

She waves a hand, dismissing the thought. "I didn't really do anything," she insists. "I just applied pressure when the Arrow started bossing everyone around." She notices Laurel's eyes narrow slightly at the use of the Arrow, and Felicity realizes that she's slipped; no one else seems to call him that. She rushes on to add, "Barry did all the hard work."

Felicity releases Oliver's hand to walk over to Tommy, putting her hand on his shoulder. "How are you holding up?" she asks, and she's not just asking about the way his father nearly died tonight. After all, she's almost certain he knows the Arrow's name, and there's definitely no love lost there.

His smile is fake, and his eyes aren't as light and playful as they usually are. "Fine," he assures her. "Just a lot to process, Smoaky." The nickname assures her that his issues aren't with her, and she takes a deep breath. Tommy has somehow come an important part of her life—just as important as Oliver, in his own way—and she doesn't want to lose him.

She turns to Laurel with a smile. "So, Gorgeous Laurel,"—she uses the "gorgeous" right from Tommy's own dialogue, and he actually blushes a little when Laurel looks at him—"can I have permission to hug?" She motions between herself and Tommy, just to clarify.

Laurel looks at her as though she should be part of some lab experiment—or perhaps as though she already is—before she breaks into a soft smile, waving a hand in a by-all-means gesture. Felicity wraps her arms around Tommy's neck. His arms go around her. "I'm sorry about everything tonight," she says to him. "I can't even imagine."

He grins at her as she pulls away. "Thanks for being an awesome friend, Smoaky." His eyes dart over her shoulder to Oliver, and his grin turns mischievous before dropping a kiss on her cheek. Felicity, predictably, goes crimson, and Tommy winks at her. "I don't know where I'd be without your excellent advice."

"Cold, alone, pining Gorgeous Laurel, and having indiscriminate, meaningless sex with random women," she deadpans, which earns her a laugh from Tommy and Laurel. She turns back to Oliver, and she notes yet again that one of his fists are clenched and his jaw is taut over her and Tommy. She sends an accusatory glance back to Merlyn (because they both know he did it on purpose), whose only response is to wink at her.

"Speaking of advice," Tommy says slowly, placing his hand on her back and ushering toward the door, "I actually need some right now. Can I talk to you outside for a second?" He looks at Oliver with part of a smile. "I promise I'll give her back to you when I'm done." Felicity goes crimson again, and Tommy shuts the door behind him.

Quietly, he says to her, "Felicity, you know I care about you, right?" He's serious for once in his life, and she can't trust herself to speak. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I don't want to go pick out curtains or anything, but I care about you in the platonic sense. Thea cares about you. Barry obviously cares about you." His eyes go serious before he continues, "And if Ollie isn't madly in love with you, I'm Britney Spears." Felicity snorts and opens her mouth, but Tommy cuts her off before she can speak. "And I know every single one of us would be devastated if you ended up in a hospital bed, a jail cell, or..." He trails off, swallowing. "Or worse."

He holds up his hands. "God knows I shouldn't tell anyone how to live their life, but I don't think it's a good idea to start a relationship with a wanted criminal—especially when you don't know his name." He probably sees the defiance in her eyes (because she's not trying to hide it), and he sighs. "All I ask is that you promise me that you'll be careful. Don't take any unnecessary risks, don't run around and try to play hero. Just be Felicity Smoak, and do whatever the hell you do for the Arrow, okay?"

"I don't do anything too dangerous," she assures him, "and I promise that my job is being stuck down in the lair looking at a computer screen." She doesn't mention the Dodger thing because she doesn't think now is the time. "I'm careful, Tommy."

He nods once and opens his mouth to say something, but Oliver steps out of the room and into the hall, and he gives Felicity a pointed glance. She takes the hint—he wants to talk to Tommy alone for a moment—and so she pats his shoulder before walking further down the hall. She catches the words, "Listen, Tommy, I..." before she's out of range of the conversation. Whatever they say takes quite a while, with a lot of nodding on both parts. Finally, she sees Tommy grin, and she knows they're good.

Oliver walks back to her with a smile on his face, and it puts one on her own. "I take it you two made up?" she asks, and she takes his wide smile for confirmation. "I told you that it would be fine."

"You did," he agrees as his fingers find hers again, "and you were right." He squeezes her hand, gratitude written all over his features. "Thank you."

She shrugs. "What are friends for?" she replies wryly. It doesn't have the intended effect; his smile falters ever so slightly before it's replaced with the fake smile, and he drops her hand like she's burned him. Suddenly her hand feels cold, so she reaches over and takes his this time, and the corners of his mouth turn upward in a genuine fashion again. Something flickers through his eyes, and he lifts their hands to press his lips against the back of hers. It's that action that makes her pull away and pat his shoulder because that is not something friends do.

It shouldn't matter, but it does.

She decides that she's going back home to dig through a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream and process tonight's turn of events, possibly by watching something she considers comforting. Her Disney collection beckons.

And, besides, Barry won't object to Tangled.

 


 

Tommy and Oliver have always been close; it's a fact as certain to Tommy as the sun shining—or as the clients leaving Verdant just a mixed drink away from alcohol poisoning. The Queens and the Merlyns have practically ruled Starling City side by side for generations, and so Tommy thinks it was almost predestined that he and Ollie would end up as friends.

But no one told him they'd grow up as brothers.

That's what they've become over the years. Biologically speaking, the two aren't related, but there's a certain amount of camaraderie that comes from burying a parent together. Tommy practically grew up in the Queen household—especially after his dad left when his mom died—and a few days ago, he would have said that he knew everything there was to know about Oliver Queen.

But then he'd pulled back that hood a few hours ago, and Tommy realized that he hasn't known Ollie for five years.

It's a special kind of betrayal, one that ripped him apart, made him doubt everything he'd ever believed about his friend. Now the puzzle of Ollie is clear, so many things that weren't before—the running around at night, the way he ditched his bodyguard, the dark void that entered his eyes when he'd told Tommy that, if he hurt Laurel, he would snap his neck. Hell, even the "false" accusations that Ollie was the Hood seem to have a more ominous way about them: the police had no proof, and Oliver could have literally gotten away with murder.

So, when Ollie exits the hospital room and Felicity walks away to give them privacy, Tommy looks at his friends with new eyes. Really, he blames himself as much as he blames Ollie; Tommy should never have believed that the man who came back from a deserted island was the same man he used to party with five years prior. It's just as naïve as Oliver thinking that Tommy wouldn't eventually realize the truth.

Oliver hesitates, sighing deeply before starting, "Look, Tommy, I..." He hesitates again, and even through his anger, it hurts him to watch his friend in so much pain. "I know you probably hate me—and you probably should—but just give me a chance to explain." The words don't come for a long time, and, when they do, they're low and full of grief. "When... When the boat went down, only three of us survived, Tommy." He looks up at his friend from under his eyelashes, and Tommy has no idea what Oliver sees because he also has no idea what he's thinking. "My father, the captain, and I made it onto the life raft. But... there wasn't enough food for the three of us, and there was no land in sight."

He won't look at Tommy now, and he can feel his stomach drop because whatever is coming won't be good. "So Dad, he... he told me that he didn't help build Starling City, and that he and the names in the journal were draining it, destroying it—flourishing on the hard work of others that they stepped on to get where they are. Then he asked me to right his wrongs, to fix his mistakes." Only then does he look at Tommy. "Then he pulled a gun, put a bullet in the ship's captain, and then he put the gun to his own head." He runs a hand over his face. "He sacrificed himself, Tommy, so that I would live. The least I can do is take down the men poisoning this city—fulfill his dying wish."

Tommy can only think of one thing to say: "Jesus, Oliver."

It doesn't deter Ollie in the slightest. "That's why I didn't tell you—because I couldn't. It's too dangerous, and I've tried to keep every one of you out of it." He sighs. "But I can't do this alone, so I had to let people in. Diggle"—Tommy's eyebrows go up at the mention of Oliver's bodyguard—"was an obvious choice because of his military background, so I recruited him to help." He stops short, choosing his words carefully before saying, "And Felicity"—he chuckles in spite of the situation—"Felicity recruited me." He shakes his head, suddenly smiling. "I was trying to get the information off of Deadshot's laptop a few months ago at QC, and she was working late. She yelled at me for using her computer without her permission, and then she pulled information off the hard drive for me."

Tommy can't help but chuckle, too. "That sounds like Felicity," he agrees, but then his smile fades. "You do realize you're putting her in danger, don't you? And then you're... with her as the Arrow, while lying to her as yourself?" He hesitates, but he doesn't know any other way to say it. "If you let her figure this out herself, she's going to walk out of your life and never look back. She's going to think you played her, even though we both know that it's the opposite of the truth."

"You think I don't know that?" Oliver retorts, his tone dark, biting, and—a new one on Tommy—bitter. Five years of emotion show through, and for once, Ollie looks... damaged. "Do you think I don't think about that—all of that—every day of my life?" He runs a hand over his face again. "Last week she confronted the Dodger and ended up with a bomb collar around her neck, Tommy." He looks more tortured than Tommy has ever seen him. "She's headstrong and fearless—and I think that scares me more than any goddamn criminal on those streets." He chuckles bitterly. "They're her best qualities, but they're also the ones that make it even harder for me to sleep at night."

He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and then that calm façade Tommy has come to know in the past few months covers his face again. This time, though, it isn't a mask; he's genuinely at peace with what he's about to say. "And I know how upset she's going to be about the deception. I let the lies go on too long, and now I'm more afraid of losing her than lying to her every day. When she finds out the truth, it's going to destroy both of us." He looks far too calm when he continues, "I've known from the first moment I met her that she was eventually going to walk away, and whatever we have won't change that—not after all the lies I've put her through. I don't like it"—he chuckles bitterly again—"and it will probably be the final nail in my coffin, but I've made peace with it."

Tommy can't stop the laugh that escapes him, and there's no humor in the sound. "Never thought I'd see the day when you'd fall this hard for a girl," he says with a smile. "What happened to that guy who used to invite three girls at a time back to his private booth at the club?"

Oliver chuckles, too. "He was shipwrecked on an island whose name translates into 'Purgatory' and had to grow up." He claps Tommy on the shoulder. "More importantly, I could say the same to you." He hesitates. "You and Laurel, you two have something that she and I never had. We were never right for each other. And I'm glad that she's happy with you." He smiles. "And, most importantly, I'm glad my best friend has someone in his life who loves him just as much as he loves her."

Tommy's eyes widen because he can't believe the level of maturity coming from his friend's mouth. Oliver is right; he has definitely grown up on that island—or perhaps someone else has convinced him to grow up. "She's been good for you, Ollie," he says finally. "No matter what happens, I think that's probably the one thing that's true."

His face falls a little. "I'm not sure it will last when she leaves," he admits.

Tommy offers him a grin. "Well, you'll always have me to whip you back into shape, Ollie," he answers, earning himself a look that is afraid to hope. Tommy scoffs at his friend. "What, you think I'm gonna let you do this on your own? No matter what, I'm always going to be there to give you moral support." He chuckles. "Or immoral support, as the case may be."

Oliver actually grins, and it reminds Tommy of the old Ollie for just a minute. Then he decides that the old Ollie is still there, only just more mature and a whole hell of a lot more traumatized. "Thank you, Tommy."

Tommy shrugs. "It's what we do, Ollie—we look out for each other. Because God knows no one else will."

Chapter Text

Frowning at her cell phone as she tries the number again, Felicity slides the key into her door absently and lets herself in, dragging her suitcase with her. The three days in Central City have been good for her, allowing her to unwind and help Barry forget his grief in his darkest hour. In Central City, there are no vigilantes, no computers demanding attention, no unhinged women who may or may not use Felicity in their plot for revenge. But now the vacation is over, and it’s time for reality to set in.

Which would be aided if the Arrow would answer his cell phone.

They’ve talked at least once a day—sometimes more than once—since he’s been gone, and she knows he’s having trouble tracking down Helena. She’s been leaving a very small digital footprint, and, with Felicity six hundred miles away and without her prized computers, it’s been like fighting a minotaur with one hand tied behind her back.

Still, more troubling is the fact that the Arrow isn’t answering his phone. Since transitioning to her burner phone, he’s answered in the first three rings. It’s gone to voicemail twice already tonight, and, as it plays the generic message once again, she can’t help but wonder if something horrible happened while her train was in that tunnel and she couldn’t get cell reception. Part of her wants to try the other number she has for him, but she thinks that would be an awkward conversation she’s not yet prepared to have.

She stops to lock her door before trying again, opting for safety first. She drops her purse on the table and drops her suitcase next to it, focusing only on her cell phone’s contacts list. She struggles for a moment as she thinks about pulling up the GPS tracker, but then decides that it’s not time to panic yet. Just as she’s about to call Diggle for her own peace of mind, the Arrow’s number shows up on her screen and she breathes a sigh of relief.

“Oh, thank God,” she sighs when she answers. “I was starting to get panicked—it’s not like you to ignore your cell phone.” She runs a hand over the top of her head. “Are you hurt? Is everything all right? How have things—?”

“Felicity,” he cuts her off gently, reminding her that he actually has to have time to answer those questions. “We’re fine—we haven’t engaged.” A rush of static that’s probably a sigh comes through the speakers. “She’s keeping a low profile, only showing up when she knows we can’t touch her without revealing ourselves.” He hesitates before saying, “She’s been sneaking around your apartment”—a shiver that has nothing to do with the cold works its way down Felicity’s spine—”but we can’t keep watch on her with your police tail sitting outside. They would have noticed if we had the van parked outside for three days while they knew you were gone. Lock yourself in your apartment,” he demands now, and she knows that’s something akin to panic in his voice, “and wait for me to come get you.”

“I told you—” she starts to remind him, to tell him that she doesn’t need all of this protection, though she knows his heart is in the right place. They’ve had this conversation before—multiple times—and every time he ignores her and insists this is the right choice. Part of her wonders if she’s missing something, if he knows something about Helena Bertinelli that she doesn’t.

“I told you,” he insists firmly, “that I would do whatever it takes to keep you safe.” There's a chuckle before he continues, “Even if it meant camping out on your fire escape for three weeks.” She has to bite back a sound of surprise as she realizes he’s quoted her word for word, from a conversation they had months ago. At first she's surprised, but then she decides that he might have a better eye for detail than she'd previously thought. "I'm bringing you here, and you're staying until Helena is no longer an issue."

She frowns, trying to find anything to convince him otherwise. "What about Saphira?" she asks finally. "I mean, she's boarding right now, but I'm supposed to pick her up tomorrow. She can't stay there indefinitely." A note of sadness enters her tone as she continues, "I don't want her to think I've abandoned her." With a heaving sigh, she rolls her suitcase into her room, preparing to stock it with clean clothes, just in case. As an afterthought, she throws her purse over her arm again; she's learned from the last break-in not to keep anything so important near the door.

Before the Arrow can propose a plan of action, a violent banging comes from the door, and she jumps. It's clearly not a knock, but instead some attempt to knock it down or break through the locks. Felicity freezes in some semblance of panic, but the Arrow's voice draws her back to her senses. "What was that noise?" he demands, and something is... wrong in his tone of voice, something that sends tendrils of dread down into her stomach. It sounds almost like panic, but the Arrow doesn't panic.

"I don't know," she whispers in a strangled voice, waiting in her bedroom. She immediately takes her second cell phone and her wallet from the purse still on her arm, shoving them into the pockets of her purple peacoat. She's not going to be weighed down by a bag if she has to run.

"I'm on my way right now," the Arrow assures her in a voice that's meant to be calm, but she can hear the edge underneath. She knows what that means: he's just as terrified as she is right now. "Don't hang up, but call the police. They have eyes on your apartment, so their response time will be better than mine. Lance is on duty tonight—he'll keep you safe until I get there."

Felicity can't help but think they might be jumping the gun a little, and so she hesitates ever so slightly. "I think we're being a little hasty," she starts, and she has to stop herself from saying his name. Now isn't exactly the time to let him know.

"Felicity, please," he answers quietly, and she no longer has the ability to deny him anything. It would be one thing if she was the only one scared, but that he's scared, too, makes her realize that he knows this isn't good.

The noise comes again, and Felicity grabs the Bluetooth receiver he gave her from the table, twisting it over her ear and connecting it to her phone. "Okay, you can still hear me, right?" she asks, and she receives a murmur of confirmation in response. She pulls out the phone registered to her name, dialing the number she entered for Detective Lance ages ago, at the Arrow's behest.

Lance picks up distractedly after four rings and she can hear her voice starting to quaver as she says quietly, "Detective, it's Felicity Smoak. There's someone trying to break into my apartment." As she says the words, the attempt becomes successful, and all it takes is the crossbow before Felicity is convinced. She slides out of the window, onto the fire escape. "Correction: they did break into my apartment," she continues. "I'm on the fire escape and I'm heading into the garage."

"I'm right outside," Lance assures her, his voice suddenly turning harder than it usually is. "Get out now, and wait for someone"—the way he says it is loaded, and she realizes he's referring to the Arrow—"who can protect you."

She does as he says, praying that her feet will carry her fast enough. "I'm pulling into the parking garage right now," the Arrow's synthesized voice says in her ear. "I'm going to pull behind your car, so meet me there."

He's already there on his bike by the time she makes it, and he releases a breath as he extends her the motorcycle helmet. She buckles it in record time, and her arms barely wrap around him when he surges forward, out of the garage. She breathes a sigh of relief as she leans against him, wrapping her arms tightly around his middle, mostly for her own comfort. She knows better now, knows that his driving, while unorthodox, is effective.

She takes a moment to dial Lance's number again, and she hears it through the Bluetooth headset. "Lance," he answers gruffly, sounding more alert—and more frustrated—than before.

"Detective," she says, her voice still a little high from the excitement, though she feels like she can relax a little now. "Did you catch her? The woman who broke into my apartment?"

"She was already gone when we got here," he answers, and she can see him frowning at the scene. "It doesn't look like anything has been tampered with, but I'll let you see if anything is missing in the morning." He sighs in a way that says I am not paid enough to deal with this, and she can't help but agree in her own circumstances. "Speaking of which, we're gonna need a statement from you in the morning. Tonight, the most important part is that you're safe."

"I'm going to be staying with a friend," she answers, leaving a subtle hint for the detective. "I'll be fine for the night."

"I'm sure you will," he answers dryly, and she can't help the smile that turns the corners of her mouth up. "He seems to have a thing for saving people—hero complex or something like that."

"He does have a hero complex," she agrees, "but I'm not exactly in a position to complain right now." She tightens her arm around him further. "Not that I'd want to, anyway. It's one of my favorite qualities." The Arrow pats her knee in gratitude of his defense, and she has a feeling that would have earned her a kiss under different circumstances.

She ends the call to Lance just as they arrive at Verdant, wobbling as she slides off the motorcycle. A gloved hand at her elbow steadies her even though she doesn't need it, and then his hands are on her, one brushing the errant strands of her ponytail out of her face and the other cupping her jaw. "Are you all right?" he asks her gently, and she nods.

"No worse for the wear," she assures him with a smile she doesn't exactly feel. Judging by the way his frown follows, she thinks he might know that.

He releases a breath like the weight of the world has been lifted from his shoulders. "If I'm not allowed to scare you," he murmurs, reminding her of the night where Moira Queen nearly killed him, "then you shouldn't be allowed to scare me."

"I'm trying not to," she answers dryly. "I didn't want to flee through the fire escape any more than you wanted me to." She pokes his shoulder as he enters the code to the lair's entrance. "Fire escapes are your thing, not mine."

He allows himself a slight chuckle before retorting dryly, "Then you should leave it to an expert."

 


 

Oliver watches Felicity as she walks into the room, her arms wrapping around her middle. He knows that she's afraid, that she's in shock, that she doesn't quite know how to handle what has happened. Maybe he should tell her all of it—that Helena already knows how important she is to him, which is why she would go after Felicity first.

Still, despite that, she manages to pull herself together, to take a deep breath and start moving toward a goal. Oliver has never noticed that the two of them have that in common: they’re both able to push their feelings aside to do what is necessary. It’s something he’s never given much thought to, but now that it’s right in front of him, he recognizes it. Of course, she handles herself with a style and poise that Oliver has never had, but it’s still something familiar.

Her footsteps take her over to the duffle bag stored under the shelving in the corner, the one containing the spare change of clothes she brought in with her not long after starting with them. She rummages through it for a moment, frowning when she apparently doesn’t find what she needs. A huff escapes her as she rises to her feet, turning to him while biting her lip. “Is it okay if I borrow another set of clothes from you? Apparently I didn’t think I’d need pajamas.” She sighs. “Which, frankly, is ridiculous because I’ve spent more time here than I have at home for the past few weeks. I should have thought…” She trails off with sharp, wild hand motions. “And I’m babbling. Again. Stop me, please, I beg of you.”

“I like listening to you,” he answers with a smile, but as her brows knit together he realizes that he’s said that to her before. He can’t seem to stop the slips that he knows she’s starting to notice; they come at the most inopportune moments, almost as though her verbal slips are contagious. Pressing forward, he continues, "And feel free to use whatever you want.” For once, the truth is what comes out: “I have nothing to hide from you anymore.” It also helps to remind her that, whenever she’s ready for the truth, she can remove the mask at any time. It’s the most he can give her; he won’t lie to her anymore, but he also won’t reveal himself when it will be the thing that tears her away from him.

She mutters something under her breath, and his eyes pick out the words wish and same. Even though he understands the phrase, it confuses him; Felicity isn’t the kind to keep secrets, especially not from him. She’s the definition of transparent—or so he thought—and it makes him more than a little nervous. She brought his mother’s book to him as soon as she figured it out, so any secrets she’s hiding can’t be good.

He walks over to her, and he can’t stop himself from cupping her jaw, tilting her head up to look at him. He studies her expression for a long moment, and he notices she’s biting her lip, that her eyes won’t meet his. Part of him wonders if he’s already lost her, but then he knows it doesn’t make sense; even with the threat of Helena, Felicity wouldn’t be in the lair unless she wanted to be.

“I’m going to go get changed,” she starts abruptly, color heating her cheeks when she realizes she’s spoken a little loudly. She takes his hand and squeezes it before walking away, so he knows she isn’t mad, but something is definitely very wrong—the kind of wrong that makes his stomach drop. Still, he doesn’t call her on it; Felicity is entitled to have her secrets, even if he wishes she didn’t. Most of him is hoping that she’ll tell him when she’s ready.

She slips through the door, and he takes a moment to note that she doesn’t lock it, a surprising display of trust that he appreciates. Trying not to dwell on it or the direction of his thoughts, he unclips the strap on the quiver before laying it across his station used for making arrowheads, peels the wristband full of darts away. He can't bring himself to pull the switchblade out of his pocket, though; the idea of being unarmed, even while alone, makes him feel vulnerable.

Oliver wanders back to the training area to clean up some of the mess he left behind in his rush to get to her, and his thoughts seem to wander back to Felicity changing in the downstairs bathroom. That she's changing into a set of his clothes makes it even more difficult to concentrate, and he vaguely wonders if she'll grab another v-neck shirt. He rather liked the sight of her in the last one.

She walks out after a few minutes, his shirt knotted about her waist, padding along in her sock feet, shoes in hand. She drops them by her duffle bag before walking back to him, smiling. It's not the smartest move on her part; when she stands that close to him, he can tell her eyes are red-rimmed as though she's been crying.

Oliver doesn't say anything because they don't really need words, only gathers her up in his arms. Felicity takes a deep yet strangled breath, clinging to him the same way she did after things escalated with the Dodger. He presses a kiss to her hair and she takes another deep breath, as if trying to move forward and regroup from the temporary break in composure.

"She's not going to touch you," he assures her, and he thinks he might be making the promise to himself more than her. "I promised you I'd keep you safe, Felicity." She pulls away, nodding and wiping at her eyes, her face coloring as though she's embarrassed by it. Because of that, he knows better than to draw attention to it and upset her further.

"I know," she answers with resolve and faith he doesn't deserve after tonight's chaos, but he admires it anyway. She seems to be able to keep her faith even when things go wrong, and he wishes he wasn't so jaded by the world that he could be that way, too. Then she lets out a bitter laugh, and he realizes that maybe she's a little jaded, though she somehow seems to keep a better lid on it than him. "Part of me wishes she had just dragged me out of there screaming so that at least I wouldn't have to spend the next few weeks looking twice over my shoulder, wondering what she's going to do next."

"And that's the last thing I want," he answers, perhaps more sharply than he should. "I know how Helena thinks. She's ruthless and cold, Felicity, and she won't hesitate to kill anyone who stands in her way. Without thinking about the casualties, about the body count she leaves behind." He hesitates. "A friend told me that a person can only change once. My change turned me into this"—good or bad, he'll let her decide—"but, when her fiancé was killed, it turned her into something dark and twisted."

"And yours turned you into a hero," she answers without missing a beat. It's a title he doesn't deserve, but one he's trying to live up to. She bites her lip for a moment, and part of him wants to bite it for her. "It's not about the change—it's about how we handle them. The world broke Helena, but you're not like her." They're the words he probably needs to hear most right now, and, for the life of him, Oliver can't figure out how she knows to use them. "The world tried to break you, but you're a survivor." She takes his hand. "It's going to take something bigger than circumstance to turn you into that."

Oliver doesn't quite know how to tell her that the one thing keeping him grounded is a blonde IT specialist he didn't even know eight months ago.

He tries to convey it when he kisses her, and that same thrill of amazement runs through him as the very first time. Oliver has no idea when he'll finally remember that she's not going to push him away, but he hopes it never happens. It's a thrill like no other to realize she's kissing him when she should be running, that she's trusting him so completely when he's done nothing to deserve it.

She pulls away after a moment—always too soon—and she blurts a little loudly, "We should go to bed." His eyebrows go up of their own accord, and she makes a short strangled sound before continuing, "God, no—no. I didn't mean... I meant that you should get some sleep and I should get some sleep. Separately." She does a half-hearted shrug. "Well, not separately since there's only one bed, but the literal 'let's go to bed,' not the one used as a euphemism for sex." It's a word he wishes she hadn't thrown out; his fantasies are under tenuous control as it is, without the thought of her talking about going to bed together. She bites her lip. "And I shouldn't have said that because now you have a weird look on your face, and I probably freaked you out. Sorry. I have no idea why I do this—it's just that the words—"

"Felicity," he says sharply, with a smile. There's something absolutely wonderful and charming about the way she lets her words flow without thinking, something completely transparent and open that has been missing from his life for so long. He nudges her toward the corner before saying with a smile, "Get in bed."

She only gapes at him for a long moment, her face flushing as he imagines her thoughts take a less-than-pure turn. In a surprising turn of events, she's speechless and she apparently decides that answering that statement would only lead to more innuendos—accidental or otherwise, as the case may be.

He's tentative to slide into place beside her now that he can; he's been wanting to be by her side for ages, and now that he's given the opportunity, he hesitates. At the last minute, he decides to lay atop the blanket. He knows he won't sleep—he hasn't since Helena's reappearance in Starling City—and what little rest he's received in the last three days has been in stolen moments, awakened by memories of the island and almost prophetic glimpses into what could happen to the people he cares about.

He expects her to understand his hesitance and display her own, but she doesn't. As soon as he's next to her, she rolls over, pulling herself over to him and wrapping her arm around his waist. Almost without thinking, he pulls her into him, feeling her breath hot against his shoulder. Unable to resist, he kisses her hair. He's quiet for a long moment, so long that her breathing goes deep as though she's sleeping. "Goodnight, Felicity," he murmurs to her.

She sighs once before answering, "Goodnight, Oliver." Then her eyes go wide, and he thinks he’s probably mirroring her expression. She knows. The first thought is relief for not having to tell the lie, but the second quickly sobers him.

She’s gone.

Chapter Text

Felicity is almost asleep when she hears him murmur goodnight, and then the words are out of her mouth without thinking: "Goodnight, Oliver." She doesn't even realize she's said them, but then he tenses, holding his breath.

She pulls back immediately, cursing her particularly wild, uncontrollable mouth for this one. She always said it would get her into trouble, and this just proves it. "I'm sorry," she says immediately, "I should have—" She bites her lip, unsure of what she should have done. "I wanted to wait until you were ready to know, I swear." She sits up, and he follows as she crosses her legs beneath her, prepared to explain her deception. "I should have told you when I figured it out, but I thought you didn't want me to know, and—"

“Felicity,” he cuts her off gently, though she notes that he isn’t smiling. He seems to war with an idea, with his next words before they finally come out as, “How long have you known?”

She bites her lip for a long moment. “It’s kind of a long story,” she warns him, but he waves a hand to assure her he’s ready to hear. “I had my first questions about you being the Arrow,” she starts quietly, “during the thing at Verdant, when the club caught fire. You walked by one of the flames, and I saw what color your eyes were, and the thought occurred to me.” She shakes her head, chuckling a little. “But then I thought that was ridiculous, because I equated you—Oliver-you—with being someone who sat on an island for five years, roasting lizards to eat and drinking from coconuts.” She looks at him carefully to make sure she hasn’t offended him, only to find that he’s trying to fight a smile, meaning she’s in good territory.

She takes a deep breath. “So I pushed the thought away. Then I found that Diggle was your associate, and I thought it was interesting that both of us knew Oliver-you and ended up working for the Arrow.” She waves a hand. “But Diggle is ex-military and you've turned me into a hacker along the way, so I didn’t think much about it. I thought you were collecting allies based on skill, and, well, the Queen family employs over a hundred thousand people in this city in some way or another, so I pushed it aside.

“And then Arrow-you did so many things that reminded me of Oliver-you, but I just couldn’t reconcile the fact that Oliver-you could fight, could use a bow.” She waves a hand, motioning to the way he’s dressed now. “Oliver-you doesn’t seem as… heroic as this side of you.” She chuckles, rubbing at the back of her head. “But I guess you meant it that way so that you wouldn’t be suspected.”

She points a finger at him. “But then things happened with Tommy’s dad, and I knew something was different when you gave him your name right away.” She shook her head. “You didn’t do that with me, and I’d bet you didn’t do that with Diggle, either. So I just figured you had to know him.”

She bites her lip again. “And then he made that comment about not trusting you,” she says finally. “I saw your face fall, and I knew it hurt you. So Tommy had to mean something to you—to be someone close to you—because his dig was enough to hurt you." She shrugs. “At that point, it was obvious. Tommy has one close friend, and I couldn’t deny it any longer. And it explains all the things I didn’t understand before, like the way Saphira reacted to you. And the whole thing between you and Helena. And so many other things.”

He’s so quiet for a moment that she decides he isn’t going to speak. She reaches a hand out slowly, her fingers touching the fabric of the hood for the very first time. “Is it okay if I…?” she asks hesitantly, and he nods in response, his mouth set into a grim line. For a moment, Felicity wonders why he seems so glum, but then she knows he’ll reveal his secrets when he’s ready.

He always has before.

Her hands pull back the hood slowly, and he doesn’t move, letting her lower it. The mask comes off next, and she finds her hands shaking. Sure, she knew it was Oliver when she started this endeavor, but knowing something and seeing something, she decides, are two very different things.

He won’t look at her, though, even as he turns off the voice modulator. Finally he says in a very low voice, “But I don’t understand.” He sounds confused, his brow furrowing as though she’s the biggest contradiction he’s ever met. “You’re still here.”

It's her turn to be confused, watching him with narrowed eyebrows before asking, "Where else would I be?"

"I thought you would be angry," he tries again, studying her expression as if he's waiting for the dam to break and all the emotion to come out at once. It would be comical under different circumstances, Felicity thinks; the big, bad Arrow is afraid that a little blonde IT girl will yell at him.

"Oh, I was furious," she answers instantly, nodding her head. He flinches, clearly expecting more. "That's why I didn't talk to you on the car ride to the hospital—I was thinking of ways to yell at you." She waves a hand. "I wasn't mad at you for protecting your identity—I understand that—but I..." She hesitates before selecting her next words. "I thought you were leading me on—that I was just another girl in Oliver Queen's revolving door of women." He opens his mouth to speak, but she holds up an index finger with her most intimidating don't-you-dare-talk face, and his mouth closes immediately. "But then I thought about it before confronting you, and I realized that if that was the case, you wouldn't have kissed me as the Arrow—you would have made that move as yourself." A nervous laugh escapes her. "And then, after the anger faded—that was probably the mint chocolate chip ice cream I was stress-eating when you were there that night—and I realized it made things easier for me." She bites her lip, and he urges her on with his eyes. "It was going to be difficult to explain that I had feelings for both of you."

He just marvels at her for a long moment before pulling off his gloves, then reaches out to touch her face with one of the most glorious smiles Felicity has ever seen on his face. "The worst part of deceiving you," Oliver says quietly, rubbing his thumb across her cheekbone, "is that I can't ever touch you the way I want." It takes her a minute, but she realizes that this is the first time he's ever touched her face without gloves, and a warm, callused thumb runs across her cheekbone. "I thought you would run," he admits finally. "That you would hate me for lying to you and I would lose you."

"Hey," she answers sharply, tilting his face so that he's looking at her. "That is never going to happen." She shakes her head. "You're not going to lose me."

Just like that, he kisses her again, this one new and familiar all at once. She knows the way his mouth feels against hers, but the desperation from before is gone, as though he's finally accepting that there is nothing he could do to scare her off, to make her run from him. He's gentle this time, and there's no heat to the feeling, just the bliss of having each other.

When they break apart, he unzips the jacket to expose a black t-shirt much like the one she stole from his storage cabinet only moments ago. When Felicity nestles back under the blankets, Oliver slides under them, pulling her in tight as he did only moments ago. But now there's no tension, no looming sense of guilt caused by the secrets they were both keeping.

Felicity doesn't think she's ever felt so safe before; Oliver's arm drapes over her waist, and hers falls over his. Her nose presses into the fabric of his shirt, and she can feel his chin above her head.

"I know I'm being overprotective," he says to her in a low, quiet voice, "but I'm only trying to keep you safe." It sounds almost apologetic, and Felicity understands: he doesn't mean to seem demanding, but, at the same time, her safety is important to him.

She frowns, pursing her lips slightly. "I know you are," she assures him, "but I don't understand why she would choose to come after me." Oliver tenses ever so slightly, and she knows for certain now that there is something he isn't telling her. She chuckles slightly. "I mean, I'm just some random blonde she met at a party once." She remembers the term Diggle muttered under his breath earlier. "I guess Digg was right—she is your 'psycho ex-girlfriend.'"

"That was the night that Helena ended things with me," he answers slowly, and her eyes go wide. They had seemed very much together in that point in time; she always assumed that Oliver had been the one to end things. "She told me she felt betrayed because I was interested in someone other than her." He allows himself a soft sound of amusement, one so low that Felicity feels it in his chest rather than hears it, and then he pulls back ever so slightly so that he can look at her. "Even then," he offers slowly in a quiet tone, "she knew I was in love with you. She knew before I did."

It's funny, Felicity marvels for a small moment, how one simple, four-letter word can turn her world upside-down. Her breath hitches as the L-word leaves his lips, though there's really no reason for it; she's known about his feelings for a very long time—both as the Arrow and as Oliver Queen. But, like with the difference between knowing the Arrow's identity and seeing Oliver under the hood, knowing and confirming it are two very different things.

It takes her a moment to regain the ability to speak, and she watches Oliver's carefully guarded expression, unsure of how she'll respond to his confession of sorts. "Well," she offers a little flippantly, "it took me longer to realize I was in love with you, but, in my defense, I did think you were two different people." She taps her chin absently. "This is going to make for an interesting, 'How did you meet?' story one day."

This time his chuckle is warm, louder, and he pulls her hand away from her chin to weave his fingers through hers. He places a soft kiss to her jaw before pulling her back against him, and she nestles back in his arms.

Finally, he says to her once again, "I don't deserve you." It's the first time she's ever heard it without the synthesizer, and so it's the first time that she's ever heard the genuine remorse in his voice. It's as if he wishes he was worth her, but thinks he's a lost cause, as if he shouldn't be worthy of anyone's love or consideration.

It kind of breaks her heart.

"There is nothing in this world you could have done," she states flatly, and she feels him flinch as some of those things probably run through his mind, "that could possibly make you deserve misery." She tightens the arm wrapped around his middle. "You deserve happiness—we both do." She's almost glad he can't see her face when she adds, "And being with you—helping you and loving you—makes me happy. So don't treat this relationship like I have one foot out the door. I'm not going anywhere."

"Neither am I," he answers her with certainty, and she smiles against him. They're a team—as well as partners, friends, and lovers—and they've always managed to figure everything out together. She doubts that Helena will be the exception that will break them, and suddenly having the huntress on her trail doesn't scare Felicity so much.

After all, she's not facing this alone.

 


 

John Diggle considers himself to have pretty good instincts; after all, he survived Afghanistan and a career in military, and his instincts have kept him alive thus far in Oliver's crusade. He's learned to trust those instincts because of it, so when they tell him that something very nasty is about to hit the proverbial fan, he knows that dread is probably deserved.

Since Oliver has spent most of the day and the afternoon preparing the club for opening, Diggle is the one to drive Felicity back to the lair, against her loud protests. Despite understanding the situation that Oliver’s psycho ex-girlfriend has created for them, she’s voiced several times that she doesn’t like the heavy level of protection that Oliver has demanded. But Diggle knows what Helena is capable of, so he goes along with the plan despite his understanding of Felicity’s disdain.

When they enter the lair, he finally says to her, as carefully as possible, “He cares about you.” Truthfully, he thinks Oliver was half in love with the girl by the time Digg even joined their crusade, but that’s a story to tell when the two have actually realized they’re in this for the long haul. It's probably a lame defense of Oliver's character, though it's the only one Diggle can offer. He's heard the phrase "crazy for her" before, but Oliver takes it to an entirely new level; he's known for drastic measures and overreaction when Felicity is added to the mix. Admittedly, Felicity isn't much better; one moment she's saving his life, and the next, she's yelling at him.

They're crazy for each other.

"I know that," she assures Diggle quickly, "but this is a new level of Oliver's extreme, insane overreaction." A smile quirks her lips up slightly. "I mean, this ranks right up there with the I-can't-tell-you-my-identity-because-you'll-run thing. I may start a list of Oliver overreactions." She thinks about it for a moment. "The alliteration alone gives it a nice ring."

"Well, in his defense," Diggle starts and Felicity raises an eyebrow that makes him revise the rest of his statement with a chuckle. "You know how much I hate to defend him because the boy's an idiot sometimes, but..." With a smile, he starts again. "In his defense, I thought you'd run, too." He studies her for a moment. "I'm kind of glad you didn't—it's hard enough to deal with his brooding ass as it is."

Surprisingly, Felicity seems to be taking the revelation rather well, even joking about it. Oliver had been training on the salmon ladder when Diggle had walked in early that morning to get his employer and friend, so he had naturally assumed that Felicity had walked out because of the lie. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised to find her sleeping on the cot in the corner—well, pretending to sleep; her eyes were focused on Oliver and his exercise with rapt attention. She'd looked almost disappointed when he dropped and pulled on his shirt, starting to discuss the club opening with Diggle.

Felicity actually chuckles at that last statement, knowing that it's said with equal parts affection and exasperation—a mix of emotion familiar to anyone who deals with Oliver, apparently. "I like his brooding ass," she asserts, then goes crimson before Diggle can even lift an eyebrow in question. "I mean the collective—the same way you used it. Not his actual ass in the appreciative sense. Even though I do like his ass, brooding or not." She closes her eyes, tilting her head ever so slightly. "And you did not need to know that."

"I didn't," Diggle agrees stoically, nodding.

"Speaking of," she tries this time, seeming to have collected herself from the ramble, "where is our fearless leader?" Diggle likes the level of sarcasm in her voice; they seem to band together against their "fearless leader," despite the fact that she's dating him. Somehow, it has yet to be awkward in their base of operations because of Oliver and Felicity's relationship—they seem to accept their roles and fall into step as they did before.

"Upstairs at the club opening," he answers. "He said you were welcome to join him, but I figured it wasn't your scene." He shrugs. "You don't seem like the clubbing type."

"No kidding," she mutters as she slides into her chair at the computer desk. "I'd prefer to be handed to the psycho ex-girlfriend, I think," she answers dryly, and Diggle can't help but chuckle. Even though there's nothing about Helena that merits joking, he understands it's the only way she can keep from panicking about the situation. It's not so scary if she can make a flippant joke about it, and so he lets her.

"Clearly said by someone who's never met her," Diggle answers in a similar tone. "She may look like the T-Mobile girl, but with the personality of her mob boss father—and crazy as hell."

"And here I thought you didn't care for me," a sickly sweet female voice says from behind them, and Diggle doesn't hesitate to pull the gun from his holster, sliding over toward Felicity. He turns to face her, frowning when he sees Oliver and Tommy behind her. She's apparently been extended an invitation, much to Diggle's chagrin.

"Still don't," Diggle answers quickly, which causes her to smile at him. It's more like a predatory smirk, as though she's a cat who has cornered a mouse. He really doesn't like that look.

Before anything else can be said, Felicity brushes past the same psychopath that has been stalking her this week to go to Tommy. For the first time, Diggle realizes that the Merlyn heir is clutching his wrist. "What happened to you? That doesn't look good," she says to him, frowning.

"She happened to me," Tommy spits with a glare at Helena, and Diggle knows the feeling well. Oliver's eyes narrow at the words—or Felicity's attention to his best friend; Diggle never quite knows for sure—but an impassive expression remains on his face. Clearly he isn't thrilled about this latest development, either, but Helena was always an expert at finding Oliver's weak points.

"It's a severe sprain," Oliver says finally. "There may be some torn tendons and ligaments, but nothing is broken. I checked." Felicity nods once, touches his arm as though to say, It's not your fault, and then turns her attention back to their friend.

"Come on, let's get that patched up," Felicity says to Tommy gently, guiding him toward the medical cabinets. "I think we have some splints around here somewhere. I'll brace it for you."

"You know how to do that?" Diggle hears Tommy ask, and he turns his focus to Oliver and his psycho ex-girlfriend with a frown. She's found some way to leverage Oliver, no doubt, but that doesn't mean that Diggle is going to let him walk into some sort of trap alone.

As if to answer Diggle's silent question, Oliver states calmly, "We're going to help Helena break her father out of Witness Protection." His expression is a warning to Diggle not to argue, and he abides it just this once, as there are more important things to discuss right now.

"They have two vans," Helena offers, "both traveling to two different locations. This will be our only opportunity to grab him—after this, he disappears into WitSec forever." She crosses her arms firmly. "And that isn't an option."

"Well, at least that means I won't be hacking into the US Marshall Service servers," Felicity mutters absently. "By the time this is all over, I'd like to say that I've left one government database still intact." She isn't even looking at them, eyes focused solely on Tommy's sprained wrist. Because of that, she misses Helena's piercing, hawk-like focus on her, as though she's filing away that information for later. Diggle, however, does not.

Diggle isn't the only one who notices Helena's new focus. "Felicity," Oliver starts, perhaps a little to sharply, judging by the way Felicity's head snaps up. "Maybe you should take the rest of the night off." It's a demand and a question all at once, a loaded look in his expression that Diggle recognizes almost as quickly as Felicity. She frowns at him and looks as though she's about to argue, but Oliver places his hand on her shoulder gently. "Please," Diggle watches him say to her, his voice so low he can't hear it, and a firm nod is the only response Felicity gives before getting up, though her expression tells both men that Oliver will most certainly hear about this later.

Oliver presses a set of keys into her hand, and Diggle realizes that the man is giving his very upset girlfriend the keys to his Maserati, in an impressive display of either bravery or stupidity. Felicity comes to the same conclusion with wide eyes, and Oliver shakes his head ever so slightly. From the angle, Helena probably hasn't seen the exchange, so Oliver probably wants to keep it that way.

They wait until she shuts the door—perhaps a little loudly—to continue the conversation, and Helena casually says, "Well, now I see why you're so interested—she has a skill set you can use." She crosses her arms, her mouth turning down into a sour expression. "And that's what you do—you use women. I wonder how long it will be until your pretty little hacker comes to the same conclusion." She tilts her head to the side thoughtfully. "If she's been with you all these months, probably not long now."

Oliver grabs the green suit from the table and his bow from its stand. "Let's get your father," is all he says, "and then you can get out of my city." He turns to her then. "And if I ever see you lurking in Starling's streets after this, I will put an arrow in you."

Diggle thinks he might be serious this time.

Chapter Text

Pacing is not a good way to spend her time, Felicity decides, but it's the only one she can seem to manage. She has too much pent-up nervous energy for anything else, and, if it was still daylight, she might consider going for a run just to work it off—even take Saphira along. But it's pitch black outside, and she'd probably just run herself ragged to pace when she returned anyway. This energy has nothing to do with a desire to be active, she knows; it has to do with Oliver—with the fact that Oliver and Helena are out committing federal crimes.

And Felicity has absolutely no freaking clue how it's going because he kicked her out.

She understands it was for her own good, to minimize her role as a target, but everyone in that room knew that if Helena wanted to use her as leverage, she would have. Instead, Felicity gathered from Tommy that Helena had chosen to target Oliver's best friend, a far less elusive target. Apparently it hadn't taken much convincing on Oliver's part—understandably, Felicity knows—but it does make her wonder how much faster he would have caved if Helena had her instead of Tommy.

Pushing the thought out of her mind, she pulls out her cell phone, thinking about calling him. She sighs because she knows she won't; she doesn't want to distract him from whatever the hell mission Helena has him on. Still, knowing nothing about the situation only puts her nerves on high alert and she frowns as she tries to figure out what to do next. There are no good options, and she doesn’t think pacing the floor is still a valid option at this point.

She turns on her heel to walk back toward her bedroom, and she lets out a shrill yelp when she bumps into something hard. A steadying, gloved hand on her upper arm lets her know immediately who it is. “I really wish you’d at least try to make a little noise,” Felicity says to him, a frustrated edge in her tone. When she looks up, he’s already pulled the hood back, his mask hanging around his neck.

“I’m sorry,” he says flatly, then tacks on, “about earlier.” He sighs deeply, running a hand over his face. “Bringing attention to your skills only made you a bigger target to Helena, and I wanted you away from her.”

She takes his hand, not quite ready to forgive him, but understanding nonetheless. “I understand,” she states firmly. “But that doesn’t matter right now.” She pulls him over toward the couch, and she sits down next to him, leg brushing hers. Saphira, who has been asleep on her bed in the corner, wakes with a jolt and jumps up on the sofa, lying down across both of them. “What happened tonight?”

He frowns, and another hand over his face tells her that the story won’t end well. “I need your help,” he admits finally. “Helena was compromised—both vans were empty and it was a trap set for her.” He shakes his head. “By the time I got there, she was already in handcuffs. The police have her now. I don’t want to break her out, but if I don’t—”

Felicity already knows the end of this story. “She’ll give you up so that you’ll both go down together,” she finishes, and he nods once. She’s had a lot of time to think about the possibility of things like this while pacing the house, so she already knows what she’s going to say: “What do you need me to do?” He seems surprised by her reaction, and she rolls her eyes. “Please, Oliver. I’d feel safer with her in jail, it’s true, but never at the expense of you going down with her.” She crosses her arms before stating, “Tell me what you need me to do.”

Oliver smiles as he takes a deep breath, acting as though the weight of the world has lifted from his shoulders. Part of her is insulted that he feels he needs to ask, but she thinks that he might be used to trading favors for favors; it’s probably a foreign concept to him that she’ll help him and expect nothing in return. “The SCPD is probably taking her in for questioning right now. I have a plan to extract her, but I’ll need you to scrub any video surveillance.”

She frowns, wishing he could give her tasks that are less impossible than the ones he does. “I can’t do that remotely,” she answers. “The SCPD’s surveillance systems are offline to prevent people like me from doing things like this. But I can hack them on-site without any problems—I saw the setup a few months ago when Lance had me check out that phone you sent him. It shouldn’t be that hard.” Without waiting for a response, she slides Saphira onto his lap and rises to her feet.

He apparently isn’t far behind, following her into her bedroom with Saphira on his heels, and only his voice gives away his position as she doesn’t turn around. “What are you doing?” he asks her, his voice turning up into a higher pitch at the end.

She ignores him, reaching into her closet for the zipup hoodie Oliver gave her during the Laurel thing, then a thermal shirt and a pair of dark jeans to replace her skirt. “I’m going with you,” she says finally, crossing her arms in a defiant gesture, daring him to argue. “You need someone to scrub the feeds, and I can do it from the security room.” He opens his mouth to protest, but she cuts him off. “I’ll stay in there, lock the door, and wait for you to come get me.”

Even with the calm rationale behind her statement, his answer is still exactly what she feared. “No,” he states flatly, sharply, but then he sighs and revisits his argument. “Felicity, what happens if I don’t come back to get you?” She blinks twice at the question, trying hard to figure out in what possible scenarios he wouldn’t come back for her. She draws a blank. “I’m going to be breaking into a police station to help a criminal escape police custody. It’s after hours, but there will still be plenty of police officers around. What happens to you if I get caught? If Helena turns on me and leaves me to the police?” He runs that hand over his face again. “At least the last time, you were next to the bike, had a way out. That’s not an option in this plan.” She starts to argue, and he cups her jaw. “I promised to keep you safe. This is the opposite of that.”

He pulls away as though he’s won the argument, and she decides to let him know just how wrong he is to assume that. “Well, I’ve spent the last few months keeping you safe,” she answers, her voice rising without her permission. His eyes widen, but he lets her continue. “I am not letting you get arrested when I can help you out. You helped me, you’ve kept me safe, and you’ve taken risks in the process.” She grips his forearms. “Now it’s my turn.” She can tell he’s still not going to listen to her, so she tries another tactic. “Look, you’re out there in the field every night, leaving me to worry about if you’ll come back or not.” His mouth opens, but she puts her fingers over his mouth. “And while you being the Arrow is one of the many things I love about you, I am not going to sit idly by while you break into a police station and wonder if you’re going to get out.” She hesitates before standing on her toes to kiss his jaw. “We’re in this together, Oliver.”

He heaves a long-suffering sigh, shaking his head ever so slightly, but he finally goes to the window and pulls the curtain closed for her. “It’s cold tonight,” he says finally, though he looks as if it pains him to do so. “Dress warm.”

He moves at the same time she does; he makes to exit the room as she starts pulling the jeans on under her skirt since time is of the essence. He immediately turns his back to her, and she continues changing into the new set of clothes, shaking her head at his behavior. They both know she isn’t going to let him see anything she doesn’t want him to see, but he still reacts the same way. “You didn’t have to turn,” she finally says after she’s changed jeans, as she unbuttons her blouse to reveal the white tank underneath. “If I was uncomfortable, I would have kicked you out and shut the door. Or carried everything into the bathroom.”

“I wanted to give you some privacy,” he says slowly, and his voice is… strained, as though she’s testing his resolve, even if by accident. It makes Felicity wonder if he really wasn’t joking about those fantasies, and then the bizarre nature of the thought strikes her; men like Oliver Queen do not fantasize about women like Felicity Smoak. For a moment, she’s almost glad he is so quick to give her privacy, as she’s fairly certain her blush spreads down her neck and across her chest.

Felicity pulls on the long-sleeved shirt before saying, “You can turn around now.” When he does, she’s pulling up the zipper on the hoodie he bought her, and she holds up a finger before remembering to trade her glasses for contacts. The last thing she wants is to have to stop halfway through this mess to grab her glasses. Her hair is still up in a ponytail, and she figures it will do fine for this. Absently, she mutters, “Someone really should write a dress code for this.”

Oliver chuckles, but then his expression goes serious again. “Felicity?” he asks hesitantly, and she looks up at him with wide eyes. “Thank you.” Before she can respond, he presses his mouth against hers, then pulls the mask and hood into place before darting out the window.

She follows by locking her door and taking the stairs like a normal person, hoping one day Oliver can actually enter her apartment through the actual door instead of the fire escape. He’s in the garage waiting for her, and she slides on the helmet before climbing on behind him. The drive doesn’t take more than a few minutes, and Oliver parks them a block or so away.

Felicity attempts to start toward the building, but Oliver catches her wrist, turning her back toward him. “This is different from the last time,” he states, an edge in his voice, “because you’re going in with me.” He takes a deep breath. “I want you to stay behind me. Do exactly what I tell you to do, even if you don’t agree with it. And when I put you in the surveillance room, I want you to stay there until I come back for you. Do you understand?”

She nods her head twice, and then he pulls something over her head. It’s bulky and heavy, and it takes her a moment to realize it’s a gas mask. “Oliver,” she starts, a high edge to her voice, “what—?”

“I’m not going to hurt anyone,” he answers, “but the police won’t hesitate to put a bullet in me. “I’m going to release a sedative gas before I go in, so that no one gets hurt.” He pulls the hood of her jacket up over her head. “Remember, stay behind me.”

She follows him into the building, staying behind him as he asked. The first police officer doesn’t even notice his presence before Oliver drops him, charging across the room and locking him into some sort of chokehold until he collapses to the ground in a heap. The second doesn’t find a much better fate; he falls after a sturdy punch that makes Felicity flinch—both at the blood and at the sound it makes. The third officer actually manages to draw his gun, but Oliver wrestles it out of his hand before knocking him over the head with it. Both the officer and his gun hit the floor at about the same time.

It’s the first time Felicity has ever seen him fight—really fight, as in not sparring against Diggle, but instead actually taking down criminals. She decides Oliver must have been holding back when she watched him spar with Diggle, judging by the way he's moving and striking. He's faster this time, more efficient. Felicity has often seen fighting compared to a dance in books and movies, but there's nothing graceful or lyrical about this; it's violent, brutal, and cleanly efficient in the way he incapacitates foes.

It's one of the most fascinating things she's ever seen.

She loses track of the action after a few moments, but when he finishes, several police officers—eight, by her count, though it sounded like more—are on the ground, all very much unconscious. She's too busy glancing around to notice how Oliver sets off the gas canisters, but he guides her through the thick fog of chemicals into a room at the far end of the hall.

The first thing she notices is a set of outdated computers, but it doesn’t take her long to dig through the surveillance footage and scrub what little evidence there is thus far. "Okay, we’re good,” she tells him, turning to find him positioning an unused table in front of the door. “What are you doing?”

He doesn’t answer the question directly, as is his wont. “Slide this under the lock once I leave. Don’t move it unless I tell you.” His voice sounds ominous under the synthesizer now. A week ago, she wouldn’t have noticed, but now she does because she knows the voice underneath. Still, it’s not particularly scary—just dark and angry, and she believes Oliver is probably both right now. He offers her the Bluetooth headset she remembers leaving on her coffee table, but then changes his mind and slides it over the top of her ear. “Stay in touch—let me know if you need anything.”

He slides out of the doorway, then, and she pushes the table in front of it, if only to humor him. The door has a lock on it that she makes sure is locked before pulling up the cameras, looking for Helena. She finds her quickly. “It looks like she’s in Interview One,” Felicity says to him. “I’m trying to figure out how to pull up audio, but she’s in with Detective Lance and Detective Hall.” She bites her lip as she presses a button, and then she can hear Lance’s gravelly voice in the background.

“I’m on it,” Oliver offers tersely, and she thinks it’s interesting how quickly he can slide in and out of Arrow-mode and normal-Oliver-mode.

With nothing else to listen to, the audio of the interview room takes up the space. “...murder your old man,” Lance is saying in a very growly voice. “You want to tell us why?”

“Not particularly,” is Helena’s answer, looking and sounding incredibly bored, despite the way her hands are cuffed to the metal bar on the table. Felicity can't understand how she manages to stay so blasé, but then she figures Helena Bertinelli was probably born without a heart. Or, at least, lost hers somewhere along the way. She's a reminder to Felicity of what Oliver could have become, if he wasn't so very different than the Huntress.

"You should reconsider," Detective Hall answers. "We have you, but the Vigilante managed to escape before our guys could move on him." She leans over the table, still standing for whatever reason—maybe it makes her feel taller. Then Felicity realizes she's being catty and frowns. "You know who he is—who he really is."

Felicity's stomach drops, and she knows Oliver better get there soon before Helena throws him to the wolves—or police officers, as the case may be. Instead of singing like a canary, she instead responds, "I think all of us know who he is." It's a powerful, enigmatic statement that rings with the truth, but neither officer notices what a hint she's giving them.

Then again, the mind sees what it chooses to see; Felicity is just as guilty of that as anyone.

Lance tries the approach this time, and Felicity is rather surprised to see him playing the good cop to Hall's bad cop; she'd always figured Lance for the bad cop. "Look, Ms. Bertinelli," he starts slowly, "you're going to jail." He holds up his hands in a what-can-you-do gesture. "We can't change that. But that doesn't mean there aren't variations of good and bad in there. We can make things better. Or"—suddenly his voice is different, dark and more threatening—"they could be worse." He pushes a pen and paper toward her. "You tell me his name, and we will do everything we can to make things better."

Felicity holds her breath, waiting for the moment to happen—for Helena to open her mouth, for her to pick up the pen, for Oliver to burst through the doors. Unfortunately, Helena is faster than Oliver, sulking back in her seat as casually as possible with her hands thrown in front of her on the bar. "Oliver Queen," she says casually, as though she's simply discussing the weather. Then her eyes narrow as she leans forward, continuing into, "He's an old friend of yours, right?" Felicity lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding as the tension on the screen transforms into a different kind. "I believe you two went out to dinner a few weeks ago," she mentions casually, and Felicity frowns before she remembers the bug she made for McKenna's phone. She's not exactly a betting woman, but she'd bet that had something to do with it. "Did he mention that we used to be lovers?"

"Wow, nice," Felicity mutters to herself. "McKenna should thank you for being the bigger person and not throwing that up in her face." She shakes her head. "With all the subtlety and finesse of a battering ram, too."

A snort in her headset reminds her that other things are happening elsewhere in the building. "Accurate description," Oliver offers through the synthesizer, between grunts of exertion, as though he's fighting someone.

On the security camera footage, McKenna responds frostily, "We want to know about the Hood, not Oliver Queen." Maybe Felicity judged the detective a little harshly; she seems quick to rise to the defense of her friend, and Felicity has always been a sucker for blind loyalty.

Helena doesn't even miss a beat, her dismissal of the detective's words so masterful it almost qualifies as art. "I'll let you in on a little secret," she continues in a conspiratorial voice. "It's not going to work out between you two." She smiles, but it's probably similar to the way the evil queen used to smile at Snow White: all poison and malice, coated with a thick layer of false honey and innocence. "You see, Oliver has a special talent—he uses people. Especially women." She shrugs. "I'm not too proud to admit he used me." She motions to Lance. "He used the detective here's daughter." She throws him another of those smiles. "Excuse me, I meant daughters." She turns back to McKenna. "And he seems to particularly enjoy using Felicity Smoak.” She muses that for a moment as Felicity rolls her eyes. “I guess he has his favorites, even if we don’t mean anything to him. I would get out of it before you get yourself hurt.”

She’s made a mistake by setting off Lance, and he slaps the table angrily, rising to his feet. Felicity jumps at the sudden movement, but Helena doesn’t even flinch. “Last chance,” he growls this time, and it’s a warning. “I want his name.”

Helena’s response is laced with an enigmatic smile. “The Arrow.”

Felicity doesn’t have time to dwell on that before Oliver asks her, “Felicity, can you cut the power to the interrogation room?”

“I’m insulted you feel the need to ask,” she replies quickly, earning a chuckle for her trouble, causing her to smile in victory. “They have a generator, though, so I’ll have to cut it, too. And when I do, I’m fairly certain there’s a loud, obnoxious alarm waiting to go off. You won’t have much time.”

“I don’t need much time,” he assures her, his voice taking on a softer sound as he tries to reassure any doubts she has. And she does have doubts, but she’s trying to hide them for his sake. “Cut them… now.

She types the command in the prompt screen, and then she waits as her bird’s-eye view goes dark.

 


 

Quentin Lance is approximately five seconds away from slapping the sardonic smile from Helena Bertinelli’s face—if his new partner, Detective Hall, doesn’t beat him to it—when the building suddenly goes dark. Thirty years’ experience as a police officer tells him it isn’t coincidence, especially when the back-up generator fails to kick like it should.

Sensing the worst, Lance turns to Hall, barking out orders. “There’s something wrong here—go check with security. I’ll stay with the prisoner.” The sound of someone hitting the ground causes Lance to reassess his former priority, and he manages to exit the room before Hall does. She’s on his tail, but they both realize the horrible mistake they’ve made when they see the thick cloud of smoke rolling in. One breath causes his vision to blur, and he immediately throws a sleeve over his mouth, noticing that his partner does the same while still moving toward security.

He’s about to follow her when a thought strikes him: the lights are still on outside the room. That means that someone deliberately shut off power to the interview room, and there are only a handful of ways that can be done. The one that strikes him first is the simplest, the one that best fits the situation.

Their electrical system is computer-controlled, and the Arrow has access to the best IT girl Lance knows.

He changes paths immediately, turning on his heel and moving in the opposite direction, hoping to at least stop one of them. While he’s starting to go soft around Felicity Smoak, those two have kicked in the doors of his house this time—the police aren’t going to let that go without a fight, and they’ve succeeded in angering Lance himself. As he continues, the haze of knock-out gas in the room starts to overpower him, and he knows it’s futile to go after them, even now. But it’s worth the impossibly slim odds to give it a shot, so he does anyway.

It pays off, because, sure as the world, the Vigilante turns the corner toward Lance, his gloved hand around a smaller one. The girl is the right height and build for Felicity, but her features are masked by the cloud of gas, the black hood pulled over her head, and the gas mask. But, judging by the way the hooded psychopath is watching his surroundings and the hold he has on her hand, Lance would bet every last dime of his pension that it was her.

Usually, Lance sees Felicity’s antics with equal parts parental disdain and amusement. After all, she’s helping a vigilante with multiple homicides under his belt, yet still manages to communicate in creative statements and wild hand gestures, as though the Hood’s presence in her life hasn’t tarnished her personality in any way. But this time is different for Lance. This time they’ve gone too far, kicking in the front door of the station and breaking out a prisoner ten times worse than the Hood himself.

This time he’s angry about it.

He doesn’t hesitate to draw his gun, though he’d very much like not to. But he can’t let anyone escape now, not if he can avoid it. “Freeze,” he commands sharply, and the two stop mid-step. The Arrow doesn’t hesitate to slide in front of the girl, careful to protect her from any threat presented. “You’re under arrest.”

“Detective, that’s not going to happen,” the Vigilante answers in that modulated voice that sound robotic and soulless, as though he’s not truly human. Even Lance understands why this guy makes the big shots in Starling City wet their pants; there’s something about him that makes everyone forget he’s just a person wearing a mask, not a faceless urban legend of the night. “No one is injured, and you’ll be unconscious before you can stop us.” There’s no threat or arrogance in the tone; he’s just stating fact now.

Lance hates to admit the green-hooded psychopath is right, but, damn it, he’s right. Already he can feel himself swaying on his feet, trying desperately to stay upright. He knows it’s a losing battle, but stopping the Vigilante is his number-one priority. “Drop the bow,” he tries again anyway, not one to give up. He’s practically at point-blank range with the gun, and, if he wanted to, he could see if he could finish what Moira Queen started.

The Arrow seems to know what he’s thinking, tilting his head to the side in thought for a long moment. Then he looks back at the girl, and his expression is dark when he turns back to Lance. “If you don’t lower that gun soon,” he warns in a low tone, “I’m going to take it from you.” There’s no threat or malice; again he’s only stating fact, with the glance backward making Lance think that his first priority is getting the girl out safely.

Lance isn’t quite sure what he’s going to do, but he never gets the chance. The fog finally permeates his brain and his legs buckle underneath him. He’s barely conscious enough to feel something—someone—catch the gun, and he hears the lock on the safety click back into place before it slides back into his holster.

He manages to keep his eyes open long enough to watch the two slip out of the building, the Arrow’s hand at the small of her back.

Chapter Text

It's after six when Felicity glances back at the second computer at her workstation, frowning when she sees the result on the screen. She set it to notify her when it turned up anything, but apparently the computer decided that another plan of action was in order. Sighing, she still looks at the screen, just to make sure. Call it female intuition, but she didn't exactly believe that Helena would take defeat so easily, to just give up on her mission of revenge so quickly.

With that in mind, she still looks at the alert, her frown deepening when she looks at the text: a robbery at a sporting goods store, where they were relieved of one crossbow and enough bolts to supply a small war. Apparently Helena decided not to take Oliver's suggestion to get out of town, and she simply chose to take matters into her own hands after unsatisfactory results with Oliver. Under normal circumstances, Felicity would understand—she and Oliver have had their fair share of arguments because they're both ridiculously stubborn—but the idea of having a woman with a crossbow and a penchant for dropping bodies running around makes a small shiver run up her spine.

Especially when said woman has already tried to take a crack at Felicity once.

She decides that, even though Oliver is going to be overbearing and overprotective, that he probably needs to know that things with Helena aren't over yet. She pulls out her cell phone, still careful to use her burner to discuss Arrow business, and she dials one of only two numbers. With a number of tasks at the office still to complete, she connects it to her Bluetooth headset so she can have her hands free to move computers around.

"Hey, Felicity," he answers on the second ring, and she can hear noise in the background—noise that sounds suspiciously like Tommy, though she can't make out his words. Vaguely, she can make out a muffled, "Go flirt with your own girlfriend." It's silly the way her heart skips a beat at the last word; there's no doubt they're in a committed relationship, but it still surprises her sometimes that she's dating Oliver Queen. "Sorry about that," he says clearly now. "Do you want me to bring food down from the club for you?" Clearly he thinks she’s calling ahead because she’s about to leave work, and she glances wistfully at the clock before the stack of broken computers makes her frown.

"I'm not leaving QC yet," she answers, frowning. "I still have a few things to do before I call it a night here, but I was multitasking and picked up a police report that you should probably know about." She sighs. "Apparently, there was a break-in at a sporting goods store. Everything was intact, except they were robbed of one top-of-the-line, high-powered crossbow." She shrugs, even though he can't see her. "Could be some crazy coincidence, but I don't think so."

"Helena is still in town," he says in a tone that's several shades darker than his last. It's not anger, but something else that will always surprise her: worry. Even with few words, Felicity understands the emotion in his voice, in the words he doesn't say. They speak so much louder than the few he uses.

She decides to lighten the mood, just to make things a little easier for him. "Well, I was going to say 'psycho ex-girlfriend' since Digg isn't here to say it for me, but I think we've come to the same conclusion." It works; she earns one of those breathy almost-chuckles. "Either way, I think you should be careful. She's probably going after her dad, but I don't want you to catch a crossbow bolt because we assumed something we shouldn't have."

"I'll be careful," he assures her in a sincere voice. "I'm more concerned about you—she's already gone after you once this week." His tone turns dark again as he adds, "And that's one time too many for me." He sighs. "I probably can't convince you to come back to the lair tonight, can I?"

"That was one time only," she answers, confirming his suspicions. "I have Saphira at home, and I don't want her poking around your arrows. Or biting anyone's ankle off, though Tommy could probably use a good ankle-biting every now and again." It's worth another chuckle, and she's glad to relieve some of the pressure he fights every day—God knows he already has enough. Trying for a compromise, she offers instead, "You could stay the night with me, though."

There's a long pause across the line, and Felicity realizes what she said with a groan. "I hate my brain sometimes," she complains. "That wasn't a euphemism or a come on or anything. I meant that, if you were worried about my safety, you could stand guard or whatever it is you do all night. I'm not trying to seduce you."

"Maybe you should be," he answers almost immediately. His voice is darker in a different way this time, throaty and quiet with intent. Even though it’s on the phone and she can’t see his eyes darken with intensity, his tone alone is enough to make her face heat furiously.

For once, she doesn’t know what to say, so she turns away from her computer and toward the front of her office absently. In doing so, she catches a glimpse of something in the reflection off of the glass and she freezes immediately.

Because that is very much a crossbow.

She fights the initial reaction to freeze like a deer in the headlights and instead turns around, back toward the computer. “Oliver,” she whispers, “she’s here.” Then she takes a deep breath and says louder, for Helena’s benefit. “As I said before, you’re shameless.” Somehow her voice comes out pretty casual, even though she can feel her heart racing. “I’ll meet you at the club after I finish everything here.”

“I’ll be right there,” he assures her. “Don’t hang up.” There’s noise in the background—movement of some sort, and she can hear Tommy say something, too indistinct for her to catch. “I have to go,” Oliver answers in a hard tone that makes her stomach drop. It isn’t angry or concerned; it’s dark with intent, and, for once, Felicity is concerned for Helena’s well-being.

“See you then,” she answers, then presses a hand to the headset as though hanging up. She turns back to her work as casually as possible, trying to forget the impossible situation and focus on her work long enough to make Helena think that they were finished.

It works, and, despite the fact that she's waiting for Helena, she jumps when a voice behind her says, "Hello again, Felicity. We didn't get a chance to talk last night." Felicity swivels with a good sense of foreboding, and sure enough, Helena is dressed in that purple trench coat, her crossbow aimed expertly. Felicity swallows; this was more upsetting than she'd expected, even with the advanced warning. Helena clicks her tongue when she sees the headset on Felicity's ear, using the bow to motion toward it. "I think we need a little privacy for girl talk, don't you? Lose the headset."

Felicity does as she says, stating clearly, "If you're trying to get to Oliver, you're after the wrong girl. We're friends—if even that. Taking me as leverage is pointless." She says it all with a straight face, trying desperately to make herself believe the lie so that Helena can't see the truth instead.

To her surprise, Helena laughs. "Aren't you presumptuous," she answers thoughtfully. "I told you: I wanted to talk." She casually drapes herself in one of the chairs across from Felicity's desk, propping her feet up on the desk and keeping her crossbow trained on the blonde all the while. "I was going to warn you the other night about Oliver using people, but you obviously seem to know that." She studies Felicity for a long moment. "I thought you'd be different for him, but last night proves otherwise." She chuckles. "I thought he cared about you, but if he did, he wouldn't pull you into this without being armed or trained."

Felicity frowns as a realization comes to her. "You came to my house two nights ago," she starts slowly, "with a crossbow to talk?" Surely Helena doesn't think she'll buy any lie as cheaply-made as that one; it's ridiculous.

Helena shrugs. "I didn't know your level of training then," she answers casually. "That was when I realized you weren't a threat at all, but Tommy made for an easier target at the club opening. I don't mind improvising." She smiles, and it sends a chill down Felicity's spine. "And then I learned you're good with computers—a trait that became useful when they moved my father to the FBI safe house last night. I want that information, Felicity."

"If you're going to kill me, just do it," Felicity answers flatly. "I'm not going to be an accessory to patricide." She crosses her arms in defiance, though she knows it's probably going to spell out her own death. But she wouldn't serve as Oliver's accessory to murder, so she's certainly not going to be Helena's, either.

To her surprise, Helena laughs, though there's no humor in the sound. "Now why would I possibly kill you?" she answers, seeming genuinely opposed to the idea. "I'm not a blind killer." She amends her previous statement with the slight lift of a shoulder. "Well, not anymore. Oliver did what he does to all of us—he repurposed me. He took a computer technician and turned you into a hacker, but he taught me not to kill when I could apply leverage." Her hawk-like gaze pierces Felicity, the false smile and honeyed words falling away and exposing a dark bite in her tone. "If I kill you, I just have to start looking for another computer genius who can hack the FBI—not an easy feat, or so I'm told."

She stares at the bolt loaded in her crossbow for a long moment. "But see, I work smarter now. I did my research today, and I found that you were in the system." She shifts in her seat a little. "After my mother died, my father was accused of one of his many crimes, and they put me in foster care until he was released, and the foster home I went to was a loving family." Something in her expression turns sad, then dark as night. "That was where I met Michael, my fiancé. So, when I saw you were in the system, I realized that, you can still have family without being related." Felicity's spine goes to ice as Helena offers her next words: "And that was when I found Dr. Bartholomew Allen—known as 'Barry' to his friends."

She waves her free hand flippantly. "Now, I don't know you very well, Felicity, but I think you're loyal to your friends—and to your family. But what I do know is that. And that Barry is a good man—if the charities and awards are anything to go on.  So, I ask you to make a trade tonight: Barry's life for my father's." Felicity's stomach drops further as she understands the implications, the trade that Helena is offering. Helena waves her hand again. "Someone is going to die tonight, and there's absolutely nothing you can do to prevent that. But now it's in your hands." She leans forward ever so slightly, some sort of dark hunger in her eyes, as though she enjoys this twisted game of cat and mouse. "So, tell me, Felicity: am I making a trip to an FBI safe house, or am I going to Central City?"

It's not even a choice, but it's one Felicity makes without hesitation. She'd commit any atrocity in the world to keep Barry save—readily and cheerfully, even. Barry was her first and only friend in the time when she needed friends most, standing with her through thick and thin. She was a horrible child after everything went sideways with her mother, a horrible teenager—a horrible friend. Yet Barry stuck with her through her mother's trial, through her rebellious phase in high school, and through that... mishap in college. Everyone else ran from her cynicism and prickly demeanor, but Barry never gave up on her. Oliver may be the love she'll never get over, and Cooper may have been her first love, but it was Barry who opened her heart.

It was Barry who taught her that love wasn't always toxic.

She doesn't even take time to think about it, only turns to her computer. "I hacked the FBI ages ago, so it shouldn't take me too long," she answers finally, not looking at Helena. She doesn't want to see that victorious, Cheshire Cat-like grin fall over her features in victory. Felicity hasn't lost anything yet, as far as she's concerned. Helena might have won this battle, but Felicity has learned that sometimes you have to sacrifice a battle or two in order to win the war.

Sacrifice a pawn to take the queen. Really, Helena should never have tried to match wits with a former chess club president.

It takes her all of twelve minutes to give her the information, and she spends six of that wrestling with the idea of giving Oliver’s psycho ex a false address. Eventually, she decides against it, too afraid that Helena will immediately go to Barry when the address doesn’t pan out. She’s not foolish enough to take that risk with her best friend’s life, and she has faith that Oliver can still stop Helena. Finally, she prints out a piece of paper. “Here,” she says as flatly as possible, trying not to display her disgust or challenge the woman for fear it will set her off. “It’s what you wanted. Now go put bolts in daddy, if it makes you feel better.” She doesn’t mean for the words to slip out of her mouth, but they come all the same.

Helena smiles at that, an odd response to the level of defiance. She tucks the piece of paper into her jacket. “You know,” she answers finally, “I was just going to let you go and call Oliver after this, but I absolutely hate rudeness. It’s all about a lack of respect between people—and, despite what you may think, I respect you, Felicity.” She stares at Felicity thoughtfully for a moment. “I think there should be a consequence for disrespect, don’t you?”

Before Felicity can decide if she needs to answer or not, Helena motions with the bow while pulling out something that looks like zip cuffs. Felicity wants nothing more than to fight back in whatever way possible, but the gleaming tip of the crossbow bolt reminds her that any resistance is probably futile. “Put your hands behind you,” Helena commands sharply, and Felicity does as she asks, feeling the zip cuffs pull tight against her wrists. Helena swivels the chair and zips a set around Felicity’s ankles next. The blonde’s eyes fall closed as she waits for the indication of the crossbow firing, but it never comes.

Instead, her world tilts sideways and her shoulder connects with the ground with a violent crash. Tears prick at her eyes as pain shoots through her shoulder and elbow, and she knows there’s going to be a bruise where the arm of the desk chair catches just above her hip. She bites her lip to keep a scream from echoing, though she tastes blood from it. “Thank you for your assistance, Felicity,” Helena says then, and Felicity opens her eyes to find the Huntress already leaving.

Felicity’s first reaction is to sound out all the expletives she’s ever heard—and possibly some she invents on the spot—because the throbbing in her shoulder is still there, and her eyes water without permission. She makes the effort to sit up, but it only results in banging her shoulder against the floor, and she can feel the tears spill over. Frustrated and hurting, she just lies there for a long moment with closed eyes, hoping the pain will stop.

“Felicity?” a tense, worried voice calls from what sounds like the door to her office, and her eyes snap open as a shaky breath leaves her.

“Down here, Oliver,” she answers quietly, suddenly feeling embarrassed by her predicament. She’s not a damsel in distress, and she doesn’t need anyone to save her, even if Oliver is her first choice.

He’s by her side in an instant, pulling her into a sitting position by her uninjured arm, and she makes a dedicated effort not to look at him. She watches out of the corner of her eye as he pulls the green-handled switchblade out of his pocket and slashes the bindings with relative ease. He grabs her chin, tilting her head toward him gently and cupping her face when she turns to him. His thumb brushes just under her eyelid, and she watches his eyes harden after he realizes why her mascara is smeared. Instead of jumping to action, he asks her quietly, “Are you all right?”

She swallows once, nods. “I’m fine,” she assures him, but they both know it’s a lie. He frowns but cuts the tie around her ankles before scooping her up and sitting her on the desk. He only raises an eyebrow at her statement and she amends it: “Something happened to my shoulder when she—” His eyes go dangerously dark with fury, and she rephrases it, “When I fell. There’s an ache above my hip, and something happened to my elbow.”

He pushes the cap sleeve of her shirt carefully before prodding at the joint as carefully as possible. He then does the same to her elbow before assuring her, “Nothing is broken or dislocated, but it’s probably jammed.” Before she can answer, he pulls up her shirt to check on her hip, and her voice breaks off in a strangled breath before she can even say anything.

After all, she’s had some fantasies that start very similar to this scenario.

“You’re already starting to bruise,” he informs her, “but I don’t think anything is broken. Security called the cops when they found footage of the break-in, so let them know if anything changes.” He starts to say something else, but then his eyes flick down to where his hand still lingers above her hip and his voice leaves him as he comes to the same realization as Felicity. His pupils dilate (something that sends a prickle of decidedly-not-fear down her back), but he pulls her shirt back down, his eyes fixed steadily on hers.

He tilts her head up as if he’s going to kiss her, but then he turns her lip out, his expression hardening as he spots blood. “I bit it when I fell,” she answers the unspoken question, and it doesn’t seem to make him relax any.

In an abrupt movement, he tenses for a beat, suddenly pulling Felicity to her feet and angling her behind him. Oliver takes the knife from his pocket, aiming it as a gun pokes around the corner. They both break as they recognize friend, Oliver and Diggle both breathing heavily from the adrenalin rush.

“Felicity, you okay?” he asks, and she nods as Oliver pulls her into his side. He turns to Oliver. “I got your message—what happened?”

“Helena happened,” is Oliver’s flat answer, and he places a kiss to Felicity’s temple before pulling away. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he answers before she can even ask the question, stopping to offer a long look at Diggle. The military man nods in response, not even holstering his pistol. “Wait for the police—they’ll want a statement.”

“Oliver,” Felicity calls after him, “what are you going to do?” For her, the situation is more terrifying than the Dodger; this time, she’s not going to be there to prevent him from stopping Helena. Permanently. She’s never seen him like this before, equal parts anger and cold control. It’s the latter that scares her, that reminds her he’s killed before and he can do it again at any time.

His voice is cold this time when he answers vaguely, “This ends tonight, Felicity.”

 


 

Quentin Lance takes a long breath as he charges into the eighteenth floor of the Queen Consolidated building, frustrated by his required presence. The night shift is wearing on him, he decides, now that he’s on the Arrow case—Vigilante case, he reminds himself; only the Arrow’s friends call him such. The lack of light in his life seems to be draining him mentally, physically, and emotionally. Things with Laurel have been strained at best, due to the whole Sara-is-alive fiasco (he still isn’t sure how that one will play out), and now he’s trudging around Huntress while Detective Hall runs off after the Arrow—Vigilante.

Honestly, that girl is the only thing keeping him sane.

McKenna Hall brings what Hilton has called a “youthful exuberance” to the task force assigned to the Vigilante. Lance sees it more as the charm of a woman who knows she’s charming mixed with the determination of a bloodhound with a scent, but he supposes Hilton’s description works, too. Either way, the girl is the light in the darkness.

He turns the corner into the doorway marked “IT Department,” that sinking feeling in his gut hitting him yet again. The IT Department in particular rings a bell, but, for the life of him, he can’t place it. But then he sees that same, damned blonde ponytail, and he knows.

Felicity Smoak.

It’s only then that he realizes she’s a little disheveled; her hair is falling out of its ponytail and there are two nice, impressive bruises forming on her shoulder and her elbow. Then he notices the tissue she keeps dabbing at her lip—red with blood—and he figures she and Helena Bertinelli got into it. And, he has to admit, if that’s true, he’s kind of surprised she isn’t dead.

Still, it surprises him to see cool-as-a-cucumber Felicity sitting in one of the guest chairs in front of her desk, gnawing on a fingernail in either concern or PTSD. A hand falls on the back of her chair, and Lance vaguely recognizes the man as Queen’s bodyguard. He seems to know Felicity well, hovering behind her with careful eyes that rake over the scene with a level of observance that borders on eerie.

Weird, all-knowing bodyguard in the background notwithstanding, it looks like a typical scene of a break-in or unwanted visitor: chair overturned on the floor, disheveled victim, and CSUs taking photographs and other... CSU things. Forensics isn't exactly his specialty so he sticks to what he knows. That's witness statements, interviews, and interpretation of forensic fact.

Lance's first order of business, he decides, is the disheveled blonde. "Miss Smoak," he offers in greeting before sitting down in the chair next to hers. He wants to start off with business, but fatherly concern gets the better of him. After all, Felicity is close in age to Sara, and part of him can't always reconcile the two into different spaces. "Are you okay?"

She offers him a rather shaky smile. "I'm fine, Detective," she assures him, though her words are a little hollow and her eyes a little distant and unfocused. He notes that the black lines painted around her eyes are smudged, and he thinks she might have been crying. Suddenly he wants to find the son of a bitch that did this, and the surge of emotion surprises him.

He's sure she's a criminal, for Pete's sake.

"They're just a few bruises," she continues in assurance, rather casual for whatever has just happened. "But you're probably more concerned about what happened." She takes a shaky breath before rushing into, "It was Helena Bertinelli who did this."

Lance blinks twice, knowing for certain that it's not the whole story. "You want to tell me why she'd go after you? Do you even know each other?"

Felicity smiles for some reason unknown to him, then shakes her head. "We met once a few months ago, but I'm hardly an acquaintance." She hesitates, giving Diggle a pointed glance, and the man walks away to the entrance without a word. Her voice drops as she continues, "The Arrow, however, is another matter."

Lance frowns at the reminder of the incident last night. "I'm aware of that," he answers dryly. "I didn't think he'd help her out if she was just his roommate's cousin twice-removed." Then he adds, "And I don't think that, hypothetically"—he can't believe that he's playing this game by her rules—"he would endanger his favorite computer genius unless there was a good reason."

Felicity bites back a smile, probably for the sake of continuing the conversation. "Helena might have realized that I'm capable with computers," she admits. Her smile drops immediately. "She threatened my family—threatened Barry—if I didn't give her Frank Bertinelli's location."

Lance's eyebrows knit together, his mouth turning into a frown. "Why would you have that information?"

"I didn't," she admits slowly, "but she knew I could hack it for her." At his raised eyebrow, she continues, "I write code, Detective—it's what I'm good at. Technically, hacking is code, too." Absently, she muses on the thought. "Coding is like the Force—it can be used for great good or great evil." He blinks twice, and she blushes. "The point is that I broke into a federal database tonight under duress—she held a crossbow on me the entire time and threatened my brother. I didn't feel like there was another way out."

She looks away now. "And then she tied me up and tilted my chair over. And she left me there for someone to find—or not. I was supposed to meet Oliver at the club to set up the wireless router, so he sent Mr. Diggle to come get me when I didn't show up. He found me here."

He’s about to attempt to pry more out of him—because he's certain it isn't the full story—when Oliver Queen walks into the room. Lance notices the way Felicity's eyes narrow, almost imperceptibly, in a gesture of confusion, and he doesn't miss the way the billionaire's head slides ever so slightly to the side before he breaks into a concerned smile. "Are you okay?" he asks her quietly, his hand falling on her forearm.

She nods once. "Just some sort of crazy woman broke in here," she answers with a false smile. Queen's eyes flick to the bruise on her arm, and she crosses her arm over it self-consciously. "It's just a bruise—I fell out of my chair. It's fine."

The exchange causes Lance to balk a little; he had still stuck to the idea that Oliver Queen was the Vigilante, for lack of better suspects and his relation to the crime. But if the scene between them is an act, they're both very good actors—or she doesn't know. He doesn't understand the silent exchange between them, but he doubts that even Diggle knows what happened there.

"I'm trying to conduct a witness interview here, Mr. Queen," Lance states dryly, gritting his teeth through the idea of having to be respectful to the man responsible for his daughter's death. He may be "reformed," or whatever the hell Felicity told him before, but he isn't buying it. "Do you mind?"

Queen’s eyes narrow and he opens his mouth to say something, but Felicity puts a hand on his shoulder, and his eyes flick to her. Lance is a little impressed by their silent communication; it’s uncanny how they can have an entire conversation with eyebrow raises, frowns, and touches. Queen frowns in response, but he sighs. “Let me know when you’re finished here, and I’ll drive you home,” he offers in a defeated tone before walking out of the room.

Lance can feel his eyebrows go up at the display and the blonde flushes slightly at the expression. He hasn’t known Oliver Queen to be particularly devoted, and he decides that maybe, despite her criminal activity, Felicity Smoak has been good for the kid. Even if he doesn’t deserve it. Finally, he clears his throat and asks quietly, “And your friend in green? He know what happened here tonight?”

“He wasn’t thrilled,” she answers after a long pause, her tone enough of an answer for both of them. No doubt that they’re going to get a report of the Vigilante active tonight—and probably the Huntress, too.

He sighs deeply, then waves a hand at her. “You’re free to go, Miss Smoak. If you remember anything that might help…” He’s only reciting the words at this point; they both know she’s not going to offer anything else. “Give me a call.”

She gives him one of those enigmatic smiles. “Always, Detective.”

He watches her walk out of the office, over to Queen. She says something to him as she takes his hand, walking with him toward the elevator bank. His expression is grim as he speaks to her, and her face falls slowly before they’re out of the detective’s line of vision. Then he frowns at the scene of the crime.

He hopes Detective Hall has turned up more than him.

Chapter Text

After a long moment of studying her, Detective Lance says to Felicity, "You're free to go, Miss Smoak." He waves a hand tiredly as he says it, as though he's the one who just faced a psychopathic killer. "If you remember anything that might help, give me a call."

She sighs deeply, mind still reeling from her encounter with Helena Bertinelli. She has to admit, she feels a little better now that Oliver is within sight and apparently not suffering any injuries too severe for him to show up. No matter what happened out there, at least he's back. And it only increases her relief that Detective Lance is here, instead of facing down a psychotic Helena Bertinelli.

Felicity offers him a smile in return that she doesn't feel before replying, "Always, Detective."

It causes him to give her a humorless, silent chuckle in return, but she doesn't stay to analyze it. She walks out of the room, directly for Oliver. His indecipherable expression before had been... troubling, to say the least, and she needs to know what happened. Her bet is that Helena is dead, but she hopes not. The Oliver she first met—the one who was used to fighting for survival and killing at any cost—was tormented by the deaths he caused, and she doesn't want that for him again. Felicity has no doubt that this time, Helena's death would weigh more heavily on his conscience, and he's already endured so much.

She takes his hand the moment she walks up to him, watching Oliver's expression carefully. He doesn't seem to be tormented, but she can see his calm outward appearance for the façade that it is. "What happened tonight?" she asks before he can find a way to change the subject. "Are you okay?"

His expression immediately turns grave, and it makes a tendril of dread slide down her spine. "Helena got away," he answers, running a hand over his face. "I couldn't—" He stops himself from finishing that thought, but Felicity understands; he can't send her to jail without fear of having his own identity compromised, and he can't kill her, either. He sighs. "But she shot McKenna. She's alive, but her detective days are over—at least for a while."

He pulls her toward the elevator bay as she responds, "It's not your fault, Oliver. You know that, right?" She doesn't even know McKenna Hall, but Felicity does sympathize with the circumstance. Mostly, though, she's hurting for everyone else involved—for Oliver, whose friend is injured, and for Lance, who has lost a partner. He doesn't answer for a very long moment as they board the elevator, and she continues, "You did everything you could do to stop her."

She hesitates for a moment before deciding that something else needs to be said. "That's one of the things I learned from you two when I joined this crusade, Oliver: you can't always win." She thinks about that first night in the lair, about how he nearly died when they lost that time. Then all the times before come rushing back to her in vivid detail—the dose of Vertigo that the Count intended to be lethal, how he lost to the Dark Archer and she had to half-carry him into her car. "But we're playing with higher stakes. When we lose, we lose big." She sighs deeply, suddenly wondering if this is how Atlas felt, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. "It doesn't make things any easier, but it's true."

Diggle clears his throat, and the look he gives Felicity before speaking lets her know he's going to reinforce her points. "Maybe you should go see McKenna," he suggests. "I don't think she blames you, and maybe that will help ease your conscience, too." He claps Oliver on the shoulder. "But Felicity is right, Oliver. People in McKenna's line of work get injured on the job—and if it wasn't Helena tonight, it could have been a drug dealer tomorrow. And it could have been worse." He makes sure Oliver is looking at him before adding, "And if you weren't out there doing what you do, it would be."

Oliver nods once, and, sensing that he needs a change in subject, Felicity tries for a lighter note. "You can decide what to do later," she assures him, "but for now, everyone needs a break. Let's go get something to eat—all of us." She looks at Diggle, wanting to include him, too. They haven't had many opportunities to talk since Oliver was nearly dying on a table in front of them, and she'd like to remedy that. It almost seems surreal, the thought of her and her boys actually sitting down to eat at a restaurant, instead of in bites between programming computers and beating each other senseless with sticks. "We never get to meet up unless there's a crisis in the city, so let's take a rare opportunity to get away from the gloom and doom."

Diggle offers her a smirk before crossing his arms and answering dryly, "And be the third wheel?" The smile on his face lets them both know he's teasing. "You two haven't had a chance to see each other all day—no way am I going to get in the middle of that. But I will take a raincheck, and we'll stop fighting crime long enough to have a meal as friends."

"I'll hold you to it," Felicity answers after a long moment, before turning back to Oliver. "I guess it's just you and me, then." She bites her lip, thinking about their earlier conversation, how he was going to stay the night at her place. "And that... other offer still stands."

With a surprisingly wide smile, he replies easily, "Are you asking me on a date?"

It takes her a moment to respond, but she's pleased to find Oliver teasing her for a change, since it seems to be a rare occurrence now. Back when Oliver was still hiding behind the mask as the Arrow, it was more common, but she thinks he's still unsure how she'll respond now that she knows the truth. Maybe he felt more… uninhibited when he thought she had no expectations of him.

"No," she replies after a long pause. "But if that works for you, go with it." She's surprised by how flirty the moment is; by the time she finishes, Felicity is leaning toward him, so close that she has to crane her neck upward to look at him.

Naturally, his response is to kiss her. She expects it to be short and chaste, but Oliver has other ideas about it. And Felicity decides that she'll let Oliver win this round—after all, she really can’t think of a reason to argue with him when he’s kissing her like that.

“And that’s exactly what I was talking about,” Diggle says from his side of the elevator, and Felicity breaks away instantly, face flushing. “I’m glad you’re happy together, but sometimes I think you two need a bucket of ice water.” The elevator chimes, and Oliver pulls away from Felicity—albeit reluctantly, her ego notes—before the doors open and the act goes into place again. “I’ll see you both tomorrow.”

Oliver and Felicity both murmur their goodbyes before she turns for her car. A hand on her shoulder stops her immediately. “Where are you going?” he asks her, seeming genuinely curious about the idea. “We can pick up your car after dinner.” She thinks it’s amusing how quickly he’s trying to move things along—as though he’s afraid she’ll change her mind. As though there’s a possibility of that happening.

Felicity means to answer, but she’s interrupted by the buzzing of Oliver’s phone. He winces in apology before pulling it out of the inside pocket of his coat, and she watches him frown when he recognizes the caller. He clearly presses the “Ignore” button because he doesn’t answer it, only slipping it back into his pocket before looking at her expectantly again. Now that she thinks about it, she watched him do the same thing twice already tonight—someone must really want to talk to him.

Under different circumstances, she’d say something to make him laugh, but he’s so serious that the smile falls from her face. “My car is in the employee lot,” she answers, pointing over her shoulder to it. “The last time I left it here, though—it was an accident—someone stole it. I’ll meet you at my apartment before we go because I clearly need to change.” She motions to her hair, falling out of its ponytail, and the now impressive bruises on her shoulder and elbow that are exposed. “I’d like to look a little less… damsel-in-distress.”

“You look brave,” he corrects her quietly, a peculiar expression on his face. Felicity honestly doesn’t know what to say to that; Oliver has achieved a miracle and rendered her speechless with that statement.

She’s saved from having to answer when her cell phone starts ringing, and she jumps slightly at the heavy guitar of the ringtone. As she fishes it out of her bag, the singer asked where his self-control went, and Felicity questions her own for deciding to use that ringtone. She can feel his eyes on her, and her face flushes without seeing the raised eyebrow she knows is there, the question that he probably will want to ask later.

Without looking at the screen, she answers; after all, varied ringtones give her the luxury of knowing who her caller is. Sighing, she huffs, “Don’t you have a nightclub to run? I’ve already been harassed enough for one night.”

“Oh, no, Smoaky, you don’t get to blame me for this,” Tommy responds over the blaring sound of techno music. “I didn’t want to call you, but Oliver isn’t answering his phone.” He sighs. “One minute he was talking to you on the phone, and the next he’s leaving with a look on his face that screams, ‘I’m about to go break someone’s face.’” She laughs lightly as he continues. “I just wanted to make sure that both of you were okay.”

“We’re okay, Merlyn,” she assures him, then looks up at Oliver. “Helena stopped by to say hello. I have a few bruises, but nothing like your wrist.” She can practically hear him worrying through the phone. “I’m fine, Tommy. We took care of it.” She smiles at Oliver. “As for Oliver, he’s standing right here, and he’s okay, too.” He frowns at that, as if he didn’t want to talk to Tommy, but she isn’t done yet. “I’m about to drive home, so you should call Oliver—I think he needs to talk about what happened tonight. He won’t say it, but it bothered him, and his best friend needs to talk some sense into him.”

Oliver chuckles slightly, though it’s clear he isn’t pleased about her meddling. “Well, if you can’t beat it into his skull, I don’t know what good I’m going to be,” Tommy replies. “But I’ll give it a shot.” He changes the subject, though she knows he’ll do as she asks. “By the way, that kid you told me about? Roy? He’s been doing a great job—best valet we have on staff. Thanks for letting me know about him.” He hesitates. “You know he has a record, right? He’s stolen a few cars, apparently—he told me about it on the first day. Then he told me he grew up in that, but decided he wanted something more.”

She bites her lip for a moment because she remembers those words, and she’s glad to make a breakthrough. “Oh, his record is more varied than that,” Felicity replies, and Oliver’s eyebrows knit together. “I believe the full list is robbery, breaking and entering, a few petty thefts, and then the stolen car.” Oliver studies her for a long moment, but just like he isn’t ready to talk about the island, she isn’t ready to discuss her past—either the part involving Roy or anything else about it. “But he’s a good kid, Tommy. He didn’t get off to the best start, but I think that, with a shove in the right direction, he could be capable of great things.”

“Well, the only thing I’m concerned about is that Thea seems to be spending a lot of time around him,” he answers. “She asked about him when he missed his first day, and then he came back sounding very contrite. They’re something to one another—and Oliver isn’t going to like that.”

“Trust me when I say you don’t even know the half of it,” she answers dryly, thinking about the stolen purse and the fact that she kept her involvement in that matter from Oliver at Thea’s request. Felicity realizes she mistook Oliver’s frown for irritation instead of impatience when he makes a motion with his hand, asking her quietly to hand over the phone. “Um, Oliver wants to talk to you,” she says slowly, handing him the phone.

He takes it from her with a smile, placing his hand on her shoulder. “Hey, Tommy,” he says lightly, and Felicity knows that he’s leading up to something. “Can Felicity call you back later? It’s after eleven now and we’re still at Queen Consolidated. We both need something to eat, and then Felicity will be up at six again to be at work tomorrow.” She likes that he doesn’t ask her not to go in or try to fight her on it—he knows her too well for that. Felicity hasn’t taken a sick day in all her years working for QC, and she’s not about to start now because of Helena Bertinelli. There’s a short pause, and then he replies, “We’ll talk to you tomorrow, Tommy. Bye.” Then he smiles at her and hands the phone back to her.

She studies Oliver and his satisfied smirk for a long moment before the words come rushing out without permission: “I do realize I’m talking to the guy who runs around at night in tight-fitting green leather and puts arrows into evildoers, but you do know that was a new level of over-the-top, right? Even for you.” The barely contained smile makes its way onto her face, and she knows it negates her message.

He lifts one shoulder in a flippant shrug, replying with that smirk, “You don’t seem to mind.”

 


 

McKenna Hall sighs as she changes the channel on her hospital TV, frowning at the screen. The hardest part of this injury, she thinks, is that she has to remain bedridden for a few more days before she can even be transported to Coast City. Despite the fact she’ll never be able to be a police officer again, that’s the thing that is most difficult to come to terms with right now: the boredom.

After a long few hours of meditation, she decides that she has no one to blame but herself for her predicament. She should have waited for backup as advised, she should have let the two vigilantes battle it out and then arrested the victor—she should have done a lot of things. But now it’s over and she has to live with her mistakes—and the consequences of them, like the fact that it will be nothing short of a miracle if she ever even walks again.

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s late and it always puts her on edge, or maybe it’s because she has the instincts of a cop, but something puts her on high alert. It’s not even a motion or a sound, but a ghost of a feeling that tells her something has very much changed in the span on a second. Her hand immediately goes to her hip, only to remember that her gun isn’t there. McKenna tries to stand instead, to call a nurse—if even to make up a lie later to ease her own nerves—but her injured leg protests the action by collapsing under her. Upper body strength and the rails of the hospital bed are all that prevent her from falling, and she somehow manages to hoist herself up on the bed.

She wants to call out—like she would to a suspect if she was armed with a gun—but then she thinks of the cocktail of drugs in her system that could be causing her to act paranoid or see things that aren’t there. The last thing she wants to do is scream at thin air and cause an uproar, but it's feeling more and more like the right option.

Something shifts in her line of vision, and she realizes that the shadow by her window isn’t a shadow at all. He’s able to use the shadows as camouflage somehow, able to use them to move almost invisibly in the darkness. When he steps forward, it’s almost out of thin air, and it doesn’t take McKenna long to realize who it is; the bow in his hand is a dead giveaway.

His presence reminds her of the night’s previous events. She had stumbled upon the scene behind the house to find the Vigilante and the Huntress fighting one another—an outcome she hadn’t expected. Apparently they had a difference of opinion, but they had turned against each other, making it easier for her to sneak up undetected.

She had called out to them in traditional police standard, and Bertinelli had willingly surrendered. However, the Vigilante was another story; instead of giving up, he simply kept is nocked bow aimed at Bertinelli, ignoring the police officer behind him. This only ends one way, Detective, he had said to her, his voice resolute under the synthesizer.

Even though she’s young, McKenna likes to think she’s a good detective because she understands people well—reads them quickly and easily. The Vigilante’s stance had been sure, and she had no doubt he was perfectly prepared to kill the Huntress. In her limited experience, she’d fortunately never had the pleasure of talking someone down from a ledge, but that’s exactly what she had attempted that night.

With you killing her? McKenna had answered. Look, I may not see it and the police department may disagree with it, but the people of this city have started to look up to you. They don’t see you as a murderer anymore, but a savior. A protector. They look to you because you’ve protected them more than even the police can. If you kill her, how does that make you any better than her? How does that make you a person this city can admire?

It had resulted in a long moment between them, one filled with still silence. Finally, after what had felt like lifetimes, the Vigilante had lowered his bow to the ground in surrender, but Bertinelli had seized that opportunity to pick up her crossbow.

McKenna wrestles with the idea of the call button—if he wanted to hurt her, he would have done so already—but he doesn’t give her the opportunity to press it. He holds his bow out in front of him, turning it horizontally in his hand. “I’m not here to hurt you, Detective,” he states quietly, confirming her suspicions.

She crosses her arms, trying not to let her relief show on her face. “Then what do you want?” she demands of him. “I could be arrested just for talking to you. And I’ve already lost my career today and possibly the ability to walk a few hours ago—I think that’s enough for one day.”

He hesitates before answering her question, as though the answer more complicated than the question appears. “If you hadn’t stopped me,” he answers slowly, “I would have killed her.” McKenna can’t tell if it’s the synthesizer that causes it, but, either way, the eerie calm in his voice sends a shiver down his spine. It takes her a moment, but she realizes this isn’t a man on a killing spree—this is someone who has become a murderer for the sake of survival. Kill or be killed.

It makes her wonder what Hell he saw before making his mark on Starling City.

From the time McKenna had started working with him, Quentin had been very vocal about the fact that the violence and unmistakable focus had made the Vigilante a danger to the city. His killing spree had only intensified their fears; bodies dropping meant that innocents were more likely to get caught in the crossfire. But his casual statement brings up concerns she’d never thought of before: he’s killed before, and there’s nothing to stop him from starting again.

“You’ve stopped killing,” she answers. “I thought there might have been a reason for that.” She decides she doesn’t want to give him the wrong impression about it. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re still a murderer and should still be arrested, but at least you don’t have a body count piling up behind you now.”

“There is a reason,” he assures her immediately. There’s a long moment of hesitation, and he shifts his weight before continuing, “I don’t want to be the monster I used to be.” The word monster brings new meaning; clearly McKenna isn’t the only one who loses sleep over the men he’s killed—the ones she and Quentin couldn’t save. “A friend taught me I didn’t have to be a killer to save this city. She taught me I could find redemption.” The feminine pronoun is something McKenna tucks away for later, and she’ll decide then if she wants to pass that on to Quentin. “I can’t change the person I was, but I can try to be someone else. Thank you for reminding me of that.” He chuckles humorlessly. “And I repaid you for it with this.”

McKenna studies him for a long moment, surprised to find such a tortured soul under the hood. She expected to find a ruthless killer with a cruel streak, one with confidence and arrogance and his own personal Messiah Complex. This isn’t a self-righteous man, but a conflicted one. “As much as I’d like to blame you for what happened tonight,” she answers, “Helena Bertinelli was the one with the crossbow. You were the one who applied pressure to the wound until backup arrived.” She pulls herself up more on the bed before crossing her arms again. “I saved you, and you saved me. As far as I’m concerned, we’re even.” The message there is clear in her tone: she’s not going to do him any favors because he saved her life. It’s over, as though tonight never happened.

She watches the tension drain out of his stance, in the way his shoulder slump ever so slightly. Only then does she understand that she’s absolved him of his guilt over what happened, and that it’s important enough to impact him so drastically. He must sense the finality in her tone, the reluctant understanding now formed between them over a common enemy, because he very nearly vanishes into thin air by sinking back into the shadows.

“Goodbye, McKenna,” he says from everywhere and nowhere at once, and she knows by his tone that it’s final. He’s never going to seek her out again, never going to darken her door or infringe upon her life again. They’ve made their peace, come to an understanding about their respective roles in society.

“Goodbye,” she echoes, and the responding silence lets her know the Arrow has walked out of her life for good.

Chapter Text

Felicity takes a moment to wonder when things became so easy in the lair, when the tension left for her. Even though Oliver is out in the field risking his neck yet again, she feels comfortable and more at peace than she has in years. Somehow the lair has turned from some cold, ominous basement into a second home for her. In fact, if she’s being honest, she spends more time here than at home.

The sound of a the heavy door slamming behind her makes her jump and swivel her chair, sighing loudly in equal parts relief and annoyance when she finds Tommy standing there. “Never thought I’d see the day where I wanted someone to have Oliver’s stealth skills,” she remarks dryly to him, “but it has arrived. What is it with you two and this thing you have for scaring me?” Then she tilts her head to the side because in her time, Tommy has only been down in the lair twice. “And, don’t take this the wrong way, but what are you doing here?”

“Is there a right way to take that?” Tommy remarks dryly, but Felicity watches as he grabs an old shop chair—the kind with the fold-out ladder underneath that’s probably a remnant from the factory—and pulls it up next to her. Then he sighs deeply, leaning over to prop his elbows on an empty section of Felicity’s desk. “And honestly? I haven’t really been sure if I wanted to come down here, Smoaky.” He frowns now with some expression that looks odd on his face, one that Felicity doesn’t recognize. “Oliver is my best friend and I know he’s doing this for a reason, but…” He falters, and Felicity is finally able to put a name to that expression: doubt. “But it’s hard to forget all the things they keep saying about the Hood—just reprogram myself after all of this.”

“The Arrow,” Felicity corrects automatically, and Tommy looks at her as though it’s a trivial correction. She just answers the expression with one of her own. “The Hood doesn’t exist, Tommy—at least, not anymore.” She hesitates. “Oliver was the Hood when I met him—or maybe I didn’t get to see that side of him at all. But the point is that he hasn’t been that person for a very long time now. He isn’t what they think.”

Tommy doesn’t quite look convinced, so she presses on. “I know it’s easy go get wrapped up in the mistakes, but we’re actually doing some good in this city.” She motions to the security cameras on her monitor. “Right now, do you know who Oliver is on his way to stop? John Nickel. One of his buildings burned down last night and killed people because the wiring wasn’t up to code. He’s using cheap materials to save money, and seven people have frozen to death in more buildings just this year.” She shrugs. “But the slums are in the Glades, and the cops can’t keep up with the crime rate as it is, without adding more investigations to the mix. So this is who Oliver is trying to stop.” She studies him a moment. “Sometimes the methods were wrong, but at least we’re doing something to stop the bleeding. That’s more than can be said for anyone else in this city.”

Tommy leans over to look at something on her computer screen, still somewhat reserved about the situation, but he clears his throat and waves a hand over the monitors. “So, what is it that you do on this team?” he asks slowly. “You… stare at a computer screen and patch me up when Oliver’s psycho ex tries to break my wrist?”

Felicity allows herself a small smile, even though she’s trying to watch the screens for Oliver. “I’m technical support,” she replies finally, though it does quite seem to be enough. “I keep an eye on the traffic cameras, build bugs, cyber-stalk bad guys, and hack into secure law enforcement databases. That kind of thing.” She shrugs, then waves a hand. “And then I occasionally do some field work, like helping Oliver with the on-site computers at the SCPD, doing field triage on your dad, and tracking jewel thieves.” Unconsciously, her hand goes to her throat during that last one, and she ignores the impulse to make a face.

Tommy’s eyes widen for a moment before his expression goes carefully blank. “Ollie lets you do field work?” he asks slowly, his tone reproachful as if Oliver is going to get an earful about this little fact when he returns.

Felicity snorts. “He doesn’t let me do anything,” she answers flatly. “He doesn’t like it, but he knows when he isn’t going to win.” She crosses her arms, swiveling to look at the man beside her. “There’s one thing you probably don’t understand about this team, Tommy, and it’s that none of us are blind to what we’re walking into. Oliver has told Diggle and I that we can walk away whenever we want—that we can choose how many risks we want to take. I don’t speak for Digg, but it’s my life I’m putting on the line, which means it’s ultimately my choice. I choose to help pick up the slack when I’m needed in the field. And I will always choose to save Oliver’s ass, despite what he wishes I’d do.”

Tommy is silent for a long moment, clearly thinking about that statement. Neither try to speak again before Felicity hears Oliver’s comm turn on, so she sends it through the speaker instead of the headset. “Felicity,” he states through the synthesizer, his voice grave in a way that makes her stomach drop, “we have problem.”

“Is that Oliver?” Tommy asks, to which she nods before miming to him to keep his mouth shut.

Turning to her computer, she looks at the screens for any signs of trouble as Oliver continues, “Nickels is gone.”

She squints at her screens, trying to make sense of the information and the seemingly quiet street outside the building that’s currently on her screen. “What do you mean, gone? Like lying-dead-on-the-floor gone, or gotta-party-be-back-in-the-morning gone, or skipped-town-to-avoid-the-IRS gone?”

“He’s gone,” Oliver reiterates, and at times like this, his succinct speech makes her want to throw something at him. “Judging by the blood on the floor, I think he was taken forcibly. Digg’s headed back to you now, and I’m five minutes behind him. I need a location when I get back—we need to find him.”

“I’m on it,” she answers before shutting off the comm link, turning back to her computers and pulling up the security feed for the day and going over it carefully. “Now, if I were someone who kidnapped corrupt millionaires in my spare time,” she mutters to herself, “what would I look like?”

“Wait,” Tommy says from beside her, his eyebrows furrowing together. “So, Oliver was just about to go put arrows in this guy—in non-lethal places—and now you’re trying to save him? How does that make any sense?”

Felicity shrugs. “It’s true, Oliver is the king of grr-stop-being-bad-or-I’ll-arrow-you”—she claws the air with one hand for emphasis—”but if someone is out there taking down the same bad guys, that’s something we need to contain, too. We could certainly use the help if this guy is game, but if he’s a killer, he’s given the rest of the guys in the Book a little longer to tremble in fear.”

Tommy chuckles at that, but he still seems a little hesitant. Still, he's quiet until Diggle arrives, looking at Felicity expectantly, as though she should already have something. Before he can even ask, she complains, "You two are impossible to impress, you know that?" With an exasperated tone she doesn't feel and a partial smile, she adds, "No matter what I do, it's never good enough for you."

Diggle offers her a small smile. "Well, you're down here with us most nights, so we expect you to be amazing just for putting up with us. Felicity, you do enough impossible things for Oliver and I that we don't even recognize it anymore—consider it a compliment."

She shakes her head in response, smiling a little wider because she knows he means it. "I'm doing the best I can here, Digg—complimenting me like that won't make me work any faster," she replies jokingly, earning herself a quiet laugh from the man.

"Well, for what it's worth," Tommy adds, "Ollie was hopeless with computers—before spending five years away from civilization. For all he knows about them, he probably thinks you're waving a magic wand and casting spells to get this information, Smoaky." He offers her a lopsided grin, the one that usually precedes flirting. "I may not think you're a wizard, but it sounds to me like you're a pretty big part of this team."

With a roll of her eyes, Felicity remarks dryly, "Don't throw that flirty smile at me, Merlyn—flattery will get you nowhere. And you better watch yourself—I'm in a happy, committed relationship."

A hand falls on her shoulder, careful yet firm at the same time, and she knows it isn't Digg or Tommy. "That's good to know," Oliver says from just above her ear, and then he leans in further to kiss her cheek as though he's been doing it for years.

That's yet another thing that's surprised Felicity about this relationship: the ease of it all. Whatever she had with Oliver before—flirting with that line between friends and something more—had been a challenge, complex and frustrating at times. Now, though they still argue at times, what they have is like breathing air—natural and just as important to their lives.

More importantly, Felicity thinks that both of them understand that their pasts don't impact their relationship in any way. Even after that run-in with Roy and Thea when Felicity's years in foster care were brought to light, Oliver hasn't asked about it. Felicity thinks it's because he simply doesn't care—maybe he understands how his past, horrible as it may have been, shaped him and thinks hers did the same. She honestly feels the same way about the island; if he wants to tell her, she'll listen, but it doesn't matter because they're both here now, together.

"What do you have on Nickels?" Oliver asks, interrupting her reverie. Instead of sounding demanding, however, his voice is soft, casually asking the question.

"Not a miracle worker, Oliver," she reminds him gently, her lips turning up at the corners. "I'm scanning security footage now, and I work better if you're not hovering around me." She waves a hand dismissively. "So go attack a training dummy, make arrows, or beat Digg with the sticks again—I'll let you know when I have something."

He chuckles and turns to leave, but she catches the hem of his jacket, pulling him back with a smile. He seems surprised by the action, probably because she usually doesn't do things like this. "Just don't hang from the ceiling like Spider-Man again—I too was worried you would fall and break something to work." Her hand moves to his upper arm, silently asking him to lean forward, and he obliges. "And don't go for the salmon ladder either. I can't work while you're doing that, either, but for very different reasons."

Oliver leans in further until she can feel his breath fanning her face, the corners of his mouth ticking upward. "I'll have to remember that," he murmurs quietly, his eyes darkening in the way that always makes her breath catch. She expects him to do something dramatic—the last time he did that, she ended up making out with him against a door—but instead he presses a chaste kiss to her mouth before pulling back.

Again, she wants to throw something at him, but it's a different kind of frustration this time.

It takes her a long, dazed moment to get her bearings back, but she sobers quickly when she hears Oliver say, "Digg, get your gear together—we're going to mark at least one name off the List tonight."

She rises from her seat at that, and whatever expression is on her face makes Tommy say to Oliver, "It was nice knowing you, buddy."

Felicity ignores him in favor of talking to Oliver. "So you're just going to charge after another guy on the List?" she demands, and Oliver flashes her a frustrated frown before turning away. Trying to escape her, Felicity notes; after all, if he walks away, he doesn't have to argue with her.

It doesn't work, though, because she follows him; he should know by now that she isn’t so easily dissuaded. "Look, I get you have the Arrow-blinders on, but don't you think it would be better to do this one at a time? It won't take me that long to find Nickels, and you're going to wear yourself out at this rate. You've been pushing hard this week, Oliver—take a break while I'm trying to find this guy." She turns back to Diggle. "You haven't had anything to eat yet tonight, have you?"

Diggle—God bless him—picks right up on the direction she's heading. "No, I haven't," he answers, "and I think we could all use something." Then he looks at Oliver, studying him for a moment. "Come on, man, let's run over to Big Belly Burger—give Felicity some space to work without all of us hovering over her shoulder."

Oliver sighs, probably because he knows exactly what they're doing and can't find a good reason to argue. "I'll call you when if I find something before you get back," Felicity offers, so he doesn't have to voice his agreement. Louder, she adds, "And take Tommy with you—I need a break from this sea of testosterone." She waves a hand. "If you don't do something about it soon, I may have to start bringing plants down here, Oliver."

This time when he smiles, he shakes his head at her ever so slightly. "I know it's serious if you're threatening me with potted plants," he answers dryly, and then he sobers suddenly. "Thank you."

She can feel her eyebrows furrow together, her mouth turning down in a confused frown. "For what?" He answers by placing a hand on her shoulder, and she knows the words he can't bring himself to say.

For saving me from myself.

 


 

Tommy watches the three walk into Verdant via the front entrance, charging through the mass of bodies at nearly two a.m. Oliver is clearly leading the pack, Felicity speaking to him with wild, frantic hand motions, stopping only to wave at the Glades kid—Roy—who has graduated to waiting tables. Surprisingly, the kid waves back, seeming not to notice that Oliver is with her.

The way they’re moving and talking makes him think they have more issues than the ones they discovered last night while at Big Belly Burger. They were supposed to go home because they were out of options, but something has changed and Tommy is willing to be it’s the Savior. Curious, he follows them, Oliver turning back in the middle of his statement to look at his friend while always moving forward.

The conversation at Big Belly Burger had been easy and flowing like it had in the old days, where the island didn’t create an undertone in every conversation. Tommy and Diggle had even prodded at Ollie a little, and he took it in stride with an easy smile. For the first time since he discovered Oliver’s other identity, Tommy felt like he was actually seeing Oliver, instead of some façade concocted to prevent anyone from learning the Arrow’s name.

But, as always, the moment had passed, and suddenly some whackjob started streaming video of John Nickel, on some righteous journey to save the Glades. Before Oliver could even get back to the basement, Nickels was dead, the recording device was knocked off its stand just before the sound of what Tommy would guess to be two gunshots and a threat of another victim. Despite her attempts to track him, Felicity had said that they would have to wait for the next broadcast.

Now he guesses that they have another one to work with.

They all settle into the lair at their various positions: Oliver grabbing his bow and suit, Diggle sliding a headset over his ear, and Felicity already typing at her computers. Tommy takes the seat he left next to the desk, asking the blonde, “What’s happening?”

She holds out a headset that looks similar to hers and Diggle’s. “Put that in, but don’t say anything,” she answers. When he takes it, she goes back to typing. “The guy took an assistant district attorney—Gavin Carnahan. We finally have a name for the Savior—Joseph Falk—but the guy’s a ghost. This is the only way we’ll catch him.”

Oliver charges out of the bathroom in full Arrow gear, hood pulled up and mask over his eyes. This is the first time Tommy has seen him like that since his father nearly died, and for the first time he sees the Arrow in a similar light as Felicity. It’s different, he decides, knowing that your friend is the one under the hood. “Do you have the trace?” he asks tersely, clearly in full let’s-put-arrows-in-rich-guys mode.

“Running it now,” Felicity answers. “I should have a location to you by the time you get to that damn motorcycle.” The way she says it makes her mouth turn upward, and judging by the matching smile on Oliver’s face, Tommy assumes it’s some sort of private joke between them.

Oliver sobers quickly, though, switching immediately into that growly mood that Tommy experienced for the first time last night. “Can’t you use that air magnet thing?” Oliver asks, the synthesizer already switched on and sounding ominous. “You said that it could trace—”

As expected, Felicity cuts him off with a sharp, “Oliver!” He turns to study her with a frown, and she pulls her hands away from the keyboard to cross her arms. “I love you, but don’t tell me how to my job. You go use your fighter mojo on Falk, and I’ll use my computer mojo on his network.” Then, without another word or any irritation on her features, she turns back to her computer and starts typing into it.

It’s the first time Tommy has seen them argue, but now he understands how Felicity wins against one of the most stubborn men he’s even had the pleasure to know. It’s no secret that, even before the island, when Oliver made up his mind no one could change it. But Felicity’s gentle start with a touch of steel seems to be exactly how to get through to him. Either that, or she’s learned that a well-timed “I love you” can move even the unshakable Oliver Queen.

A few seconds later, just as Oliver is attempting to leave, she calls out, “I have his signal! There’s a firewall so I can’t stop it, but he’s working off an IP address at 23rd and Mira.”

The basement is eerily quiet when Oliver leaves, and now Tommy understands that maybe what Felicity goes through every night is more difficult than what Oliver faces. She can’t see what he’s doing, can’t hear if he won’t answer. So she sits and worries and somehow manages to be good-natured about it—with the exception of being told what to do, apparently.

The only scene they have access to is watching the feed that the Savior provides, and Tommy knows as the DA stumbles and stutters over his words that he’s not going to see daylight ever again. The Savior is angry over the death of his wife, and really, Tommy thinks there isn’t a possible good argument to convince someone why a person they loved is dead and their killers still roam free. God knows if anything ever happened to Laurel, he wouldn’t even bother with a farce like this—not when they all know how it’s going to end, provided that Oliver doesn’t stop him.

“How’s Carnahan?” Oliver interrupts, but Felicity is still typing—probably trying to find a way to stop the broadcast.

“Not making a very persuasive argument, Ollie,” Tommy answers, even though they told him to stay quiet. The least he can do is give status updates so that the others won’t have to ignore their jobs. “I think he’s winding it up—you need to hurry.”

Finally, after a long pause, Oliver’s voice breaks through the silence again, demanding and dark. “He’s not here, Felicity! I’ve tried every floor and every office—no sign of him.” In a quieter tone, he asks her, “Are you sure this is the right place?” It’s not a question of the result or her ability, but a plea to double-check the facts.

She’s already typing again by the time he finishes, immediately responding. “Yeah, I’m sure I—” She stops as the map pans to something else, eyes going wide as she mutters, “Oh, shit.” Louder, she continues talking to Oliver. “I don’t know how he did it—it’s not possible—but… he moved! Just north of you—at Ocean and Grand.”

“On my way,” comes the terse reply, and now Felicity sits doing nothing, staring at the scene unfolding on the second monitor.

“Gavin Carnahan,” the masked voice says, this one sounding much more ominous than Oliver’s. Tommy feels his stomach drop because he knows what’s coming next, and it isn’t going to be good. “I find you guilty of crimes against the Glades, and I sentence you to death.”

Oliver’s voice cuts into the drama, and it does nothing for Tommy’s nerves. “I’m at Ocean and Grand, Felicity,” he calls out to her. “There’s nothing here—it’s just a vacant lot. Give me a new location.”

Gunshots fire on the other screen, and Tommy doesn’t know who jumps worse—him or Felicity. Her mouth hangs open, trying to speak though no sound is coming out. Tommy pulls the headset off his ear, then hesitantly reaches out to touch her shoulder. “Felicity,” he tries gently.

The word spurs her into action, and she immediately yanks the headset from her ear, standing up in a stiff moment before charging out via the bar exit. Tommy isn’t sure what to do, but he knows that he won’t be able to say anything that can make this better for her. Instead, he turns to Diggle, a man who knows her better than Tommy. Granted he isn’t Oliver, but Tommy doesn’t think she needs to be alone to wallow in this until Oliver gets back. “Go after her,” he says quietly to Diggle. “I’ll…” He swallows. “I’ll tell Ollie what happened.”

He turns back to the desk, the sound of retreating footsteps telling him that Diggle is doing as he asked. When he slips the headset over his ear, it’s to Oliver’s synthesized voice yelling, “I need the right address, Felicity—now!”

Tommy takes a deep breath before answering, “Ollie, it’s over. Carnahan is dead. I think you need to get back.”

Chapter Text

Felicity has never thought much about sounds. They’re simply background and interaction with the world, something that she’s come to expect in her life that can mean a myriad of different things. They’re loud and startling sometimes, quiet and gentle during others, but never too much to think about for too long.

She’s heard the phrase about having “a sound go through you,” of course, but she’s never experienced it until the poor-sound-quality gunshot rings out through the speakers on her computer, drowning out Oliver and all the other sounds playing around her. She might as well have been shot herself for the effect it has on her; everything goes cold and eerily silent for a moment as she realizes the man on screen—the man she was supposed to be saving—was alive a moment ago, but now dead. For a moment, all she can do is stare, the word “no” resounding loudly in her head as she hopes that in a moment she’ll wake up and this can all be a nightmare.

But then Tommy says her name—quietly, carefully, but at the same time a call to action—and she realizes that this isn’t a dream or hallucination. Suddenly the air seems to be sucked out of the room, an eerie quiet falling over them. She can’t stay any longer, can’t deal with this. Almost as though someone set her switch to autopilot, she pulls the headset from her ear, stands almost robotically and manages to put one foot in front of the other. For some reason, she goes for the club exit instead of the one that leads outside, and the thumping bass makes her realize it almost immediately.

She frowns, deciding that maybe she should retreat into Oliver’s office in the club and call Barry. She needs to talk to someone about this… thing that happened tonight, before she breaks down. But then she realizes that both her cell phone and the keys to Oliver’s office are in the lair, and she didn’t have the foresight to grab either one.

Instead of retreating back downstairs—she can’t go back there, not yet—she decides to go for the upper level for the first time. The noise makes it hard for her to think, and she wants to be suitably numb for a while, in a place where Tommy or Digg or whomever won’t think to look for her. She’ll collapse when she gets home, in the privacy of her own shower or bedroom, but for right now, she needs to keep it together. The blaring music makes thought almost impossible—makes her head throb in a way she doesn’t mind—and she decides to take a seat at one of the back tables on the second floor, hidden in the shadows where the laser lights don’t quite reach.

She slides onto the stool, just sitting there for a long moment with the bass so loud it makes her throb. Sighing, Felicity pulls the elastic out of her hair to help soothe her pounding head, sets her glasses on the table in front of her so she can rub at her tired eyes. She thinks of nothing but the music resonating in her head, soothing in an odd way that borders on meditative. After a long moment, she decides she could get used to doing this after really bad nights.

Felicity jumps when a voice calls over the synthesized beat, “Hey, what can I get you?” Startled, she looks up, and Roy’s eyes widen in recognition a moment after her surprise wears off. She doesn’t know what she expects, but it’s certainly not for him to slide onto the stool across from hers, just sitting and studying her for a moment. “You okay, Blondie?” he asks carefully, regarding her as though she’s a ticking bomb that might start crying at any moment, God forbid. “Because I’m going to be honest with you—you don’t look okay.”

“Bad night,” she answers, telling him as much of the truth as she can manage. She doesn’t want to lie to Roy—they’re so similar in upbringing, and he might be the closest thing she has to Barry right now. But still, he can’t know all of the truth. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

He turns himself to the side slightly, as though he’s about to leave. “Do you want me to leave?” he asks slowly. It’s a genuine offer; if she wants him to go, he’ll leave, probably because he understands that sometimes people need to be alone. Maybe he’s even come to want to be alone over the years, and Felicity can’t fault him for that. His interactions with people probably have been more negative than positive—God knows hers have, too.

“No,” she says finally, releasing a breath as she does so. “I just don’t want to talk about tonight—I want to talk about something else.” She pulls the hair elastic over her wrist and puts her glasses back on with a smile that feels as phony as it probably looks. “How are things with you and Thea?”

He sighs, frowning as though he doesn’t want to talk about that either. “She doesn’t seem to understand what it’s like for us, Felicity,” is his answer. “Thea doesn’t understand having a job and still not being able to pay debts. Or the fact that the Glades scar you—that they turn all of us into criminals at one point or another.” He looks up at her carefully. “Unless you have the will to get out. If I had, I wouldn’t have these debts or this… lack of future ahead of me.” He sounds bleak, as though something is draining the fight out of him.

Felicity hesitates, then decides that the discussion of his criminal record isn’t good and needs her interference. “Roy,” she starts slowly, gaining speed as she goes, “I’m not going to ask you because I don’t want you to lie to me, but whatever is going on with you, promise me you won’t do anything stupid.” She pauses. “Or at least that you’ll be careful.”

He meets her eyes for the first time through the entire conversation. “I promise,” he answers, and she doesn’t know which one he’s referring to. But, then again, she probably doesn’t want to know. His brow furrows. “You sure you’re okay, Felicity?” he asks after a long moment.

Felicity slides off her stool, deciding that maybe she can face reality again now. Taking a deep breath, she pats his upper arm. “I don’t know,” she answers, “but I’m better than I was. You should get back to work—I don’t want you getting yelled at because you’re sitting here talking to me.”

Roy studies her for a moment. “I won’t get yelled at if I bring back a nice tip,” he answers with a straight face, and then they both break into smiles together.

She rolls her eyes. “Don’t push your luck,” she calls over her shoulder as she leaves, waving a hand. With a deep breath, Felicity makes it down the first set of stairs, then charges into the corridor of offices off to the side. While talking to Roy may have been a reprieve, it hits her again like a ton of bricks in the corridor.

She watched a man die today.

She has to steady herself when she missteps, and suddenly it all comes rushing back with full clarity—and perhaps more than before. Watching him die hadn’t been the most horrible part of today, though that was certainly awful enough. No, it was the fact that it was her fault. She was supposed to give Oliver the coordinates, and they were supposed to save him. She screwed up, and now a man is dead. When she makes a mistake at work, a program crashes. But here… someone died because of her failure.

It’s a thought so sobering that it gives her the strength to move forward. She can’t stay here and wallow tonight—she needs to go home before she loses control of her emotions. She charges back into the lair, grateful that everyone seems to have left. With some awareness and life back in her, she dons her coat, grabs her purse, and pulls out her keys. This time Felicity goes for the rear exit, taking deep breaths and trying desperately to keep from even thinking for fear her mind will go back to what happened.

She's five steps from freedom when she knocks into Oliver.

He steadies her carefully, and despite how neutral her expression stays, he immediately frowns when he sees her. One of the many things she's always liked about Oliver is the way he doesn't ask questions he already knows the answer to, which is why he doesn't ask her if she's okay or what is wrong. Instead, he studies her a moment, then pulls her into him.

After a long moment, she finally pulls away with, "It's almost four a.m., Oliver—I need to get a shower and try to get back to this to figure out how he keeps evading me." Even to her own ears, her voice is flat and dull on its surface, with a little warble underneath that she can't seem to hide.

She tries to push past him, but he catches her arm, turning her back toward him. "You don't have to do this alone," he states quietly, his tone gentle. Then it changes when he's sure he has her attention. "I know this… shook you, Felicity. That's not a weakness—you don't have to hide it from me." He hesitates, and he looks away this time, his voice quiet as he makes his confession: "I… I don't know how to be there for you, but… I want to be."

Suddenly staying strong seems like foolishness; she's spent a lifetime trying to hold it together—survived that way, even—but now things are different. Felicity wants to be Oliver's support for when things start to overwhelm him, but she never expected that he'd want to share the load equally. She probably should have expected it, but she’s spent the better part of her life learning to depend on herself and no one else. But Oliver isn’t just anyone—he’s someone who wants to be there during the bad days, even if he isn’t in the best shape to comfort her himself. He wants to at least try.

That's all it takes to break through the armor.

Even before she realizes the transition in her emotions, he cups her cheek, wiping away an errant tear with his thumb. Oliver pulls her in until his forehead touches hers, and with all the confidence and surety in the world states, "This wasn't your fault, Felicity." She's been trying to assure herself of that all night, but somehow when it comes out of his mouth, she finds herself starting to believe it.

"I've never seen anyone die before," she finally whispers, trying to push the image away. But she knows that no matter what, she won't forget Gavin Carnahan's death. She might even have nightmares about it. For a moment, she wonders how Oliver deals with it every day—how he manages get past the darkness and sadness, because he's suffered far more of this than her one little experience.

He hesitates for a long moment, clearly trying to think of what to say or do to give her any comfort. Finally he settles on, "Someone once told me that this is the thing with what we do—sometimes we lose. But we play with higher stakes, so when we lose, we lose big." Vaguely, she recognizes the words as her own, and it turns the corners of her mouth up ever so slightly. "It doesn't make the bad days any better, but sometimes it's all we have."

She hugs him, burying her face in his shoulder so deeply that all she can register for a moment is the smell of leather. His arms wrap around her instinctively, pulling her into him until she doesn't feel like they're separate people anymore. "I don't know how I ever thought I could deal with this alone," she admits, her voice muffled by the fabric. "It's so frustrating, thinking you can't talk to anyone about your day."

"If you ever need to tell someone about your day," he answers immediately, "you can always tell me. And I'll always listen." He pulls away from her to cup her face in his hands. "You don't have to do this alone anymore. You have me." Without waiting for her to answer, he pulls the keys from her hand, intertwining the fingers of the opposite hand with hers. “Give me a minute to change and I’ll take you home—you can get that shower and some sleep. Then we can come back here.”

Felicity stares at him a moment, thinking she must look defeated if he isn’t going to try to argue with her. He seems to read her mind, replying to her expression, “When you take a hit, it’s hard to walk away. I wouldn’t ask you to.” He offers her a soft smile. “But you should get some rest.”

“I will,” she answers, and he’s leading her back toward her chair on his way to the downstairs bathroom. “But you have to promise to get some sleep, too, Oliver—I can tell when you haven’t slept in a while.” She hesitates a moment before calling, “Oliver?”

Something in her tone makes him turn, looking at her expectantly as he waits for whatever comes next. “Can we take the bike?” Felicity asks slowly, half confused with herself for even asking. But she wants to get lost in the lights of the city and the feel of the wind whipping at her for just a moment.

His smile is so genuinely happy that it makes her smile in spite of everything. “Of course.”

 


 

Felicity stares at her computer screen as hope flickers out in yet another idea to track the Savior. She sighs at the screen, frustrated that today has yielded as few results as yesterday, then decides to brave her way through the audio footage again, her fingers clicking on the keyboard to the time of Diggle's strikes against the training dummy, practicing the pattern Oliver suggested.

When she and Oliver entered the lair at two in the afternoon, she had expected her resting state to help her mind focus on the task at hand. However, five hours later have proved otherwise, with no luck to show for it. Every idea she's had has led to a dead end, and she can practically hear the clock ticking in her head, counting down until the Savior takes his next victim. It's the last thing she wants, but, then again, it can't be helped—a dead end is a dead end.

She has some trepidation about the audio footage, since she doubts she'll respond to it better the second time, but Felicity knows it's unavoidable. Thinking better of playing the scene through her computer's speakers, she plugs in a pair of headphones on the table, hoping to push out the lair's background noise in the process of determining the Savior's. She purposely sets the audio software so that voice is filtered, hopefully so she doesn't have to hear Gavin Carnahan beg for his life again. It seems to work, and she focuses on the ambient background noise that plays louder than the speech now. It takes her a moment, but then she hears it: the distinct clack clack clack in a rhythmic pattern, every two seconds or so.

She's focusing so hard that she nearly jumps out of her chair when someone touches her arm.

Felicity turns in the direction as she yanks out a headphone, simultaneously pressing the pause button on her keyboard. "When I told you to stop scaring me, Merlyn," she snaps with maybe a little too much force, "I didn't mean it as a suggestion. I’ve already reached my quota this week.”

He chuckles before sitting down in the chair he brought over yesterday, the one still at the edge of her desk. “Hey,” Tommy starts gently, “are you okay after yesterday? Don’t take this the wrong way, but you looked like hell.”

“Is there a right way to take that?” she answers, mocking his question from yesterday, which brings a smile to both of their faces. “Yesterday was tough, but today is a new day. And today, we’re going to catch this guy when I figure out just how he evaded me.” Her elbow touches the desk her head resting on her hand. “While I’m always glad to talk to you, I’m kind of busy trying to catch a serial killer with a messiah complex. Is there another reason you came down here? Or did you just come to make sure I’m not freaking out?” She bites her lip. “Because I’m not freaking out. Well, more than I should be, I mean.”

Tommy actually laughs at that, as though she’s trying to be funny when she isn’t. “Actually, that was just a side-effect of being down here,” he admits. “I kind of need you to figure out why my security cameras in the club decided to crap out all at once.”

She crosses her arms, fully intending to give him grief before she does exactly what he’s asked. “So you want to pull me away from trying to track down a serial killer because your cameras are malfunctioning?” Felicity asks slowly, raising an eyebrow in question.

To her surprise, he chuckles awkwardly at the accusation, suddenly looking like Billy Sanders when he tried to ask twelve-year-old Felicity to the sixth-grade dance. “I, well…” he starts, then finally admits it. “Yeah, I was, but it can wait until you finish saving lives.”

Finally, she can’t hold a straight face anymore, doubling over in stitches of laughter as Tommy realizes he’s been had. “You know what, Smoaky?” he calls to her with a smile, his tone serious even though they both know he isn’t. “You just completely ruined our friendship with your guilt magic.” He waits until she sobers to continue. “Give me about a twenty minute head start—Laurel is upstairs and she doesn’t know about your tendency to spend your nights down here.” His head tilts to the side. “By the way, where is Oliver?”

Felicity turns back to her task of trying to make sense of the audio file, putting one headphone back in her ear before pointing upward to answer Tommy’s question, already focused back on her screen. She’s about to insert the other headphone when she hears Tommy exclaim, “Ollie, what the hell? You have a basement full of workout equipment, and you’re hanging from the ceiling like Spider-Man?” She only shakes her head and puts the other headphone in place, turning back to her work.

She has no idea how long it’s been when someone taps her on the shoulder, and she turns around to face Diggle, removing her headphones again in the process. “Wanna tell me what has you making that face?” he asks her with a slight smile, offering help when he knows she needs it.

Pulling the headphones out of the input jack, she presses play on the isolated track again. “It’s almost rhythmic,” she comments after a moment. “Almost like a car driving over seams in the concrete, but it’s too big to be a car. Or a bus. Or a semi. I’m running out of vehicle sizes, Digg.”

He chuckles at her statement before closing his eyes, listening to the sound a little more closely. “I know this,” he says suddenly. “I’ve heard this before, but I can’t think where.” Frowning, his brow furrows together as he leans over the desk. “Could you show me the locations we have for Falk’s signal again?” She pulls up the map, and he runs a finger along the line that’s formed. “Locksley and Adams—along with Wells Street, down by CNRI.” He pulls back, looking at her now. “Felicity, those are old subway stops. Starling used to have a subway—my dad used to take us down to the Rockets game that way.”

Before he finishes, she’s already bringing up the old maps for the subway, overlaying it on top of the map of streets running through the Glades. “Twenty-Third and Mira,” she mutters mostly to herself, running a finger over the spot, “and here’s Ocean and Grand. He was a computer technician for the transportation department, so he knew about the old subway stops.”

Diggle puts a hand on her shoulder. “You gave Oliver the right locations, Felicity,” he says quietly, the weight in his voice reminding her that this wasn’t her fault. “He was just underground.” He leans back. “But it’s been twenty minutes, so I thought you might want to go fix Tommy’s problem. Oliver already went up to make an appearance.”

Felicity stands immediately, grabbing her coat and purse for effect and waving over her shoulder while calling, “John Diggle, you’re a lifesaver!” It earns her a chuckle as she makes her way up the stairs.

For not the first time, she’s grateful for the side entrance that leads in through the office section the same way the lair exit does. Because of it, no one thinks twice when she walks in through the offices instead of the main entrance—something that makes it easier for Team Arrow to move around the club without causing any suspicion.

When she walks into the open space, she immediately searches for the three she already knows to be there. She focuses on Oliver first, as always, mildly concerned when she finds him in front of the laptop at the far end of the bar. Tommy and Laurel seem to be doing something inventory-related between bouts of flirting, Laurel with a clipboard and pen in hand. Somewhere in the background, she can hear the local news on the flatscreen TV, her focus is instead on fixing Tommy’s problem so she can tell Oliver about the information on Falk.

Dropping her purse and coat on the bar, she walks over to Oliver, but calls to Tommy, “Seriously, Merlyn, you turned Oliver loose with the computer I set up for your security cameras?” Oliver rolls his eyes with a long-suffering sigh and a smile, prepared for the barrage about to come. “This is why you’re having trouble—he has more computer problems than I do. Which is saying something because I work in IT and rarely handle anything but computer problems.”

“Is that your preliminary diagnosis?” he answers with a grin as he and Laurel both walk toward her. “Ollie screwed it all up? Because, you know, I’m no expert, but that doesn’t sound like a very scientific explanation.”

Felicity pulls Oliver’s hands off the keyboard, waving her hands in a dismissive gesture that he takes surprisingly well. “I was just examining this month’s figures to see how we were doing,” he answers with a glance that trails downward in a way that suggests that financial figures aren’t the only ones he’s looking at. “Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t spend my days sabotaging computers.”

“No one said you did it intentionally,” Laurel answers dryly. Then to Felicity, she adds in a teasing tone, “I bet you wish you’d never met Tommy—it seems like he’s always asking for free computer repairs. And I know the last thing I want to do when I get home from work is to look at a case file—I bet you feel the same way about computers.”

“For the record,” Tommy steps in before Felicity can answer, “I offered to pay her, and I thought she was going to throw something at me for suggesting it.” Then he turns the tables in a way that only a best friend can manage. “And I didn’t notice Ollie pulling out his wallet, either.”

“That’s because I expect other things from Oliver,” Felicity answers, and then her face burns when she notices Oliver’s eyes darken at the accidental innuendo. “Food, I mean,” she blurts. “Not anything else. We made use of the barter system—computer repairs in exchange for a meal.”

Tommy smiles knowingly, in a way that makes her expect