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Rake the Ashes

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As his feet land on Laurel‘s balcony, a strange sensation washes over Oliver. Dialing her number, he notices that the apartment hasn’t changed much in five years. Instead, it‘s Oliver who has changed: it no longer looks like home to him. The person he was five years ago would have sold his soul for one more moment in this place, but the man he is today looks at it with bittersweet nostalgia and the analytical gaze of someone who has fought in close quarters before. This isn’t the home he longs for anymore.

Somehow, it ended up on Ocean Avenue.

Laurel answers the call on the third ring with a breathy, “Hello?”

“I’m on your balcony,” Oliver replies, hanging up a second later.

The words cause a flurry of movement. Blinds rattle as she pushes them aside to unlock the door. Oliver resists rolling his eyes; if an intruder wanted to come in through the balcony, they could just smash through the glass door and start shooting. Taking a deep breath, he reminds himself that Laurel is a civilian who doesn‘t have the kind of tactical awareness that he’s used to. Yet another way Felicity has spoiled him.

The door slides open, and Oliver slips past her as quickly as possible, hoping Laurel won‘t make the connection. The room is dark, and when she meets his eyes, he doesn’t find any recognition there. To her, he‘s just a stranger. It’s just as well; she wouldn‘t recognize the person he’s been forced to become.

“Thank you for coming,” she says. Her hands go to the pockets of her zipup hoodie, and he can make out the tell-tale bulge of a handgun there. Instead of heels and suits, she’s in jeans and sneakers, prepared for a quick exit.

It‘s the first time he’s seen her in five years, and Oliver is surprised to find he hardly recognizes her, too. Even in the chaos, there‘s something lighter about her. There’s a brightness in her eyes that wasn’t there before, and the weariness that she always seemed to carry five years ago is gone.

Loving Tommy agrees with her.

Oliver expects that to hurt, to feel some sort of jealousy as he discovers his best friend and ex-girlfriend are happy together. Maybe there should even be a lingering resentment because they‘ve found something together he can never have now. He prepared himself to face that on his way to her apartment. Instead, all he feels is the sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing this is right. This is good for Tommy, but it’s also good for Laurel. A suspicion Oliver had tried to escape five years ago comes back, but this time, it doesn’t scare him.

He and Laurel weren’t right for each other.

When he doesn‘t speak, she swallows hard, eyes flicking to the corner of the room. In the darkness, he can barely discern a wide-eyed blonde in her early twenties standing in the middle of the space, staring at him warily. “Miss Nocenti?” he asks. She nods once, slowly. “I’m here to keep you safe.”

“Thank you for coming,” she says to him. “The police weren‘t interested in helping.” Making a face, Emily adds, “They said it was a home invasion and that I didn’t need protection.”

“Somers has people in the police department and the DA‘s office,” Oliver replies. “They were probably tasked with making sure that you didn’t have any protection.” He turns to Laurel. “I‘m surprised you didn’t ask Detective Lance for help.”

Laurel rolls her eyes. “My dad is convinced that I can only protect myself if I drop the case.” She crosses her arms. “No way in hell is that going to happen. If the DA had done his job, I wouldn‘t have had to take it in the first place.” With a glance at Emily, she adds, “He wouldn’t send any officers because he isn‘t sure who to trust. Apparently half of Organized Crime is paid off by the Triad, and he isn’t sure how much influence Somers has.”

Nodding once, Oliver remembers Felicity saying much the same thing earlier tonight. She probably knows who they are—or could find out easily enough. “If you had their names,” he asks Laurel slowly, “could you do something about them?”

She frowns, shaking her head. “Maybe if I was the DA, but I‘m just a small-time lawyer,” Laurel replies. “Dad would be able to do something, though. He doesn’t like corrupt cops.” She offers a hint of a smile. “And you probably know he doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers.”

“It seems to be a family trait,” Oliver replies. Typical Dinah Laurel Lance: always ready to take on the world. Detective Lance may be more jaded and surly, but he has a tendency to take on battles he knows he can’t win, too.

Laurel‘s head tilts to the side as she appraises him now, eyebrows knitting together in a way that spells nothing but trouble. “Have we met before?” she asks suddenly. “You seem… familiar.” She waits expectantly, as if she thinks he’s going to break down and tell her his identity.

“It‘s probably my likeness in the paper,” he replies carefully. God knows she’s seen him in the paper; the press runs stories on Oliver Queen every other day—alternating between his return and the events of the Arrow. “If we‘d met before, I would remember you,” he offers, a lie that isn’t really a lie.

The answer seems to satisfy her. She opens her mouth to speak again, but at the same time, a modulated voice calls in his comm, “Arrow, are you there?”

Oliver holds an index finger up for Laurel before pressing it to his ear. “I’m here,” he assures his partner. “What did you find, Deathstroke?”

Emily flinches at the codename, and even Laurel draws in a breath. After muting his comm, Oliver insists, “Deathstroke is working for me tonight.” Neither of them seem convinced, but he reminds himself that they only know Deathstroke from what the papers have told them. They don‘t know the loyal friend and the city’s protector—only the killer and the monster.

“I thought we could find out together,” Felicity replies in his ear, her tone cheerful even under the modulator—too cheerful for what she plans to do.

This is the part of Felicity that worries Oliver sometimes, this well-hidden sadistic streak that she only allows to come out under the mask. He knows that if she lets it continue, it will eventually destroy her, just as certainly as any stray bullet. As always, he forces back his reservations. Maybe he would be a little sadistic, too, if he hunted the same kind of criminals who locked him in a box for months and forced him through all sorts of physical and psychological abuse.

This is Felicity’s way of taking back control.

A muffled, shrill scream slices through the silence of the line, followed by metal against the sheath as she draws her sword. “Hello,” Felicity greets her latest victim in a friendly tone. “I don‘t have a lot of time, so I’ll get straight to the point. Martin Somers has made a mess of his port, and the Triad hired a killer to clean it up.

“They intend to go after someone important to a friend of mine,” she continues casually. “A big, green, arrow-y friend of mine.” There‘s a slight pause. “I know what you’re thinking—it‘s weird I have friends. It’s kind of a new thing.” Oliver can’t help the smile that comes to his lips. “And my big, green, arrow-y friend let me handle this because knows how much I like slicing mafiosos from scalp to groin.” A whimper comes through the line. “I need the name of the assassin or sniper or general thug you sent to do housekeeping.”

Sounds of a scuffle follow, along with Felicity swearing in at least three languages. The first tendril of dread worms its way into the pit of Oliver’s stomach. “Deathstroke?” he calls. “Do you read?” His eyes flick over to the two women. Laurel is studying him with a grim expression, but Emily stares, eyes wide.

“Roger that,” comes between grunts, followed by another scream in the background. Oliver releases a breath he didn‘t know he was holding “Or is it ’copy‘?” she continues thoughtfully. “I’ve always used ‘roger,’ but it occurs to me I‘m not really sure.” He bites down on the smile that threatens to form. “The point is that I’m fine, Arrow. The gentleman just tried to attack me. Clearly he doesn’t watch the news to see what happens when people cross me.”

“Don‘t worry, Arrow,” she continues casually. “I know how much you hate it when I start slicing people up, so I just maimed him a little this time.” To the man, she adds, “I just cut your Achilles tendon—you won’t be running again any time soon.”

“Please don’t kill me,” the Triad enforcer pleads in Mandarin.

Felicity assures him in the same language, “I have no intention of killing you. What I need is in that pretty little head of yours.” A whimper follows. Switching back to English, she continues, “I need you to tell me who you sent out to clean up Somers‘ mess, please. Preferably before you make me angry and I’m forced to switch to Plan B.” Oliver can almost see the grin she‘s wearing under that mask. I’m not nearly as nice then."

“You can torture me all you want,” he declares in English. “I’m not telling you a damn thing. Go to hell.”

“Oh, I fully intend to,” Felicity assures him, her tone so sweet it makes Oliver‘s skin crawl. “But don’t worry your pretty head about torture. I‘m not very good at it. Call me soft if you like, but there’s something about prolonged agony that makes me a little squeamish. I’ve never had the stomach for it. I just usually kill people.” Her victim whimpers.

She isn‘t done yet. “It’s always been strange to me how people can be afraid of death,” she muses, too cheerful. “When you‘re dead… well, you’re dead. One moment, you’re eye to eye with the Vengeance of Starling, and the next—” She snaps her fingers. “Nothing. The eternal sleep. Easy.

“You shouldn‘t be afraid of death,” Felicity assures him. “Death is just a destination.” There’s another whimper, closer this time. Oliver can only assume she‘s sliding her blade against the man’s neck. He‘s seen her do it a few times, and it usually pays off; Felicity can be terrifying when she wants to be. “If you’re going to be afraid, be afraid of the journey—be afraid of dying. You can die quick and painless, or I can draw it out for what feels like eternity.”

Oliver winces as another high-pitched scream comes across his comm link. “Since you aren’t being very nice tonight,” she continues, “I see no reason why I should be nice. Now, this is Plan B.”

There‘s a strange sound in the background, mixed with a groan. “With all the adrenaline in your system right now, you probably don’t know what’s happening. To clarify, I just stabbed you in the stomach.”

Oliver makes a face; he‘s seen enough to know what happens next. “It probably feels like hell already, but soon enough, stomach acid is going to start seeping out of that gaping hole I left in you. Do you know what stomach acid is composed of? Hydrochloric acid. That’s one of the strongest acids known to man.” He groans in reply. “You’ll die in the next fifteen minutes or so, but not before you get to experience the agony of being digested by hydrochloric acid.”

In a quiet threat, as if whispering it in his ear, Felicity concludes, “If you don‘t tell me what I want to know, I’ll let you live.”

There’s a shaky whimper of a breath that turns into a half-strangled sob. After a long moment, he finally replies in a defeated tone, “Which one do you want to know about? The girl, the lawyer bitch, or the one suing for loss of cargo?” Oliver rankles at the description of Laurel but forces himself to stay silent.

“I‘m an overachiever,” Felicity replies in easy conversation. “Maybe you should tell me what’s going to happen to all of them. It‘s been a while since I’ve been heroic. It might be time to meet my quota for the year.”

“We‘re cleaning up Somers’ court cases so he can break clean,” the Triad enforcer says, his voice breaking in places from the pain. “Chien Na Wei went to handle the Nocenti girl and the lawyer herself.” Oliver frowns; the name isn‘t familiar, but he doubts she’s going to come alone after they failed the last attempt. He’ll need backup. “They sent a sniper to take care of Merlyn at the awards banquet.”

Oliver feels like he’s been punched in the gut. “Deathstroke, repeat.”

“Merlyn?” she repeats to her victim.

The Triad man groans. “Malcolm Merlyn,” he clarifies, and Oliver releases a breath. Not Tommy. “They‘re suing Somers for breach of contract. Merlyn Global cargo was lost, and Somers doesn’t have the money to pay them off—not with the legal fees from the other lawsuits.”

“Do you have what you need, Arrow?” Felicity asks. At his affirmative, she turns her attention back to her victim. “That wasn‘t so hard, was it?” she chides the Triad enforcer. “Thank you for your information. You’ve been very helpful tonight.” Several breaths later, the sound of a sword being sheathed comes back to him. “We have a problem, Arrow. A big one.”

“I know,” Oliver replies with a sigh. Laurel‘s head tilts to the side, studying him expectantly. “They won’t come here alone after the failed attempt to silence Miss Nocenti.” Emily blanches. “I‘ll need…” He isn’t sure how to refer to Diggle in front of them, but finally settles for, “…my associate for backup here tonight.” He frowns. “I won’t be able to get to the awards banquet in time to save Mr. Merlyn.”

Laurel‘s protests start immediately. “Tommy? They’re going after my boyfriend?” The sheer panic in her voice makes Oliver wince. “Send your associate here,” she immediately suggests. “I have a gun and I’ve been in self-defense classes since I was ten. We can hold off anyone while you go save him. Between the two of us—”

When he places a hand on her shoulder to quiet her, Laurel flinches under his touch. Oliver withdraws his hand. “They‘re going after Malcolm Merlyn,” he clarifies. “He has a lawsuit against Somers. His organization is cleaning up loose ends.” He waits until she meets his eyes to add, “Despite any training you have, Miss Lance, you’ll need my associate and me if you want to stop a set of Triad assassins.” Sighing, he admits over his comm, “Deathstroke, I need a favor.”

He can practically hear her rolling her eyes. “And in other news, the sky is blue,” she quips without missing a beat. “What was it you told Tommy earlier tonight? Friends don‘t keep score.” A smile comes to Oliver’s face without permission; she‘s always been adamant about counting the number of favors he’s racked up. “You want me to go play hero and save Tommy‘s dad, don’t you?”

“Please,” is Oliver’s reply.

“You didn‘t even have to ask.” The response startles Oliver, his mouth opening without a sound. “It’s Tommy,” is her reply. “I’m not going to say no.” A sigh crackles across the link. “But you do remember what what happened the last time I scratched the heroic itch, right? The cops rolled in, a not-so-bad guy died, I got shot, and then we drank until we both passed out on the mats.” He scoffs a quiet laugh at the memory. “I also did the salmon ladder drunk. Do you really want a repeat performance of that?”

Biting back a laugh, he replies, “I’m willing to risk it if you are.”

Felicity sighs. “Fine. I‘ll let you know when I finish saving the day.” He can hear her hesitate over the words before she finally adds, “Make sure you keep yourself in one piece. I won’t be there to save your ass tonight.” He starts to protest, but she doesn‘t give him the chance. “I’m off comms until I reach my target. I’ll contact you when I need you.” With that, the line goes dead.

Frowning, Oliver reaches for his cell phone, pressing the 3 button for speed dial. As his phone rings, he turns to Laurel and Emily. “Go to a dark room with no windows and lock the door,” he suggests. Don‘t come out until I tell you it’s over." They both nod before moving out of the room.

A beat later, Diggle answers, “Hello?”

Switching off his modulator, Oliver replies in a low voice, “Digg, I need your help.” He glances toward the balcony before slipping into the kitchen, away from the windows. “How soon can you get to the nine thousand block of Church Street?”

“Ten minutes,” Diggle replies slowly. “Isn‘t that where Laurel lives?” Oliver’s silence must be answer enough because Digg continues, “Whatever you‘re doing there with her, man, I don’t want to know about it. I’m not going to help you win your ex back.”

“I‘m here as the Arrow,” Oliver clarifies. “Laurel and her client are into something dangerous. The triad is about to send in an assassination squad. I could use your help to protect them. Deathstroke is across town trying to stop a sniper from shooting Tommy’s dad.”

There‘s a brief moment of hesitation. “I’ll be there in ten,” Digg finally answers. “But, Oliver? You called in Deathstroke for this before me? We both know this isn’t his thing.”

Sighing, Oliver answers, “That‘s what he just finished telling me.” Taking a few steps forward, he crosses the kitchen. Though he tells himself he’s mapping the dimensions of the room, he‘s really just pacing. It won’t be long until Diggle gets enough of being Oliver’s second choice.

“Deathstroke was already meeting me for a sparring session when I got the call,” Oliver tries to explain. “We thought it was a matter of stopping the assassin before they reached their target. That happens to be his specialty.”

When the answer is silence, Oliver runs a hand down his face before offering, “I‘m sorry I didn’t call you first, John. We’ve been working long hours over the last two weeks—I thought you could use a break.”

“Apology accepted,” Diggle replies, gracious as always. “I signed up for this, Oliver. Don‘t hesitate to call me next time.” There’s a sigh. “I’ll be there in ten minutes—less if you can get Felicity to hack the traffic light system for me.”

“Felicity is with Deathstroke on this one,” Oliver replies, launching into the most efficient answer he can manage without lying. “He‘s on his own, and he’ll need her eyes and ears. Ten minutes will just have to be fast enough for now.” With a grim sense of anticipation, he adds, “I can hold them off until you get here.”

“Good luck, Oliver,” is all John says in reply. “You might need it this time.”



Of course Oliver had to rope her in on a mob hit tonight. Felicity frowns under her face mask, drawing a sword as she takes quiet steps through the abandoned building. Surely he‘s heard her complain about mob hits to know how much she hates them. They usually end with her taking a bullet. On the bright side, when the mob wants someone dead, there’s nothing that makes them scramble faster than stopping it. While the mob is running around like turkeys in an open field, she’s free to pick them off slowly in the days to come.

The problem she’s always faced with a mob hit, however, is that it forces her to stop someone who is already holding a loaded weapon. Usually she can get the drop on her targets, but surprising a sniper involves them turning a loaded gun on her. In most cases, that means she gets shot. Despite what anyone thinks, a gunshot wound felt just as bad last week as it did the very first time in Japan. Her idea of a good time typically involves fewer ballistics.

The likelihood of taking a bullet causes her to use extra caution tonight, sticking to the shadows and moving in on her target carefully. It doesn‘t help things that she’s on a solo mission, with Oliver standing guard over Laurel and her client. Things tend to go better when she has an emerald archer with a bow aiming over her shoulder like a guardian angel.

With a flare of irritation, Felicity reminds herself that he‘s the reason he’s in this tonight. The thing she admires most about Oliver is the same thing she dislikes about him: he‘s too sympathetic for his own good. He’s a sap. An adorable sap, yes, but one prone to getting her into trouble. Saving Laurel tonight shows his biggest weakness once again: after he establishes a connection, Oliver finds it impossible to let go of anyone. Felicity knows that better than anyone.

It’s sweet and annoying at the same time.

The snap of a sniper rifle being assembled draws her attention, and Felicity squints to make out the sniper‘s silhouette in the dark. He slips a few rounds into the chamber as she inches closer to him. When she’s jsut a few steps away from slicing distance, the shot echoes through the building. She jumps, gritting her teeth as her ears start ringing. Glass shatters in the distance, but it just makes the ringing worse.

Ignoring it, Felicity grabs the sniper by the throat, reminding herself that she can‘t slit it for him tonight. Instead, she tries to use the element of surprise to knock him to the ground. He stumbles, but he’s more of a fighter than she expects. When she locks her arms around his throat, he clocks her in the jaw, hard enough that she sees stars. She returns the favor by knocking his head against one of the pillars. In the scuffle, he knocks the sword from her hand.

After shoving him against the pillar a second time, he stumbles, allowing her to reach into her pocket to start her recorder. She locks him in a chokehold before demanding as politely as possible, “I need you to state who you’re working for and what you just did, please.” He coughs a few times as he attempts to speak, and she loosens her hold just enough for him to breathe.

Instead of answering, he throws an elbow into her ribs. Felicity groans as something cracks, but her grip stays firm despite the pain. “I appreciate your situation, but I‘m already in a bad mood,” she continues, crawling onto his back to get a better hold. He slams her into the pillar in reply. Rude. “Heroics aren’t really my style. They make me a little irritable.” This time he tries to break her hold. It doesn‘t work either. “You really don’t want to screw with me tonight.”

The sniper doesn‘t answer, but it’s another heartbeat before Felicity understands why. She barely feels the muzzle of the gun against her side before the shot rings out. Pain explodes in her ribcage, causing her to lose her grip on him. She manages to stay upright, squaring her shoulders as he tries to focus his eyes. Nothing like a little brain trauma to give her the upper hand.

“Okay, you son of a bitch,” she snarls at the sniper. She charges him, gripping his head between her hands and slamming it into the pillar two more times. “You want me angry?” She punches him in the nose, and blood spurts from it. “Congratulations.” The next punch lands in his jaw. “You just pissed me off.” As he slumps to the floor with a groan, she pulls the pistol out of his hand.

Between heavy, painful breaths, she presses the gun to his temple. The weight of the nine millimeter is strange in her hands; it‘s been a very long time since she’s held a gun. All of her lessons with Slade come back to her quickly. Maybe it’s like riding a bicycle.

With her grappling partner subdued, Felicity places her other hand to the hole in her side. It might hurt like hell, but she‘s taken worse and it won’t be fatal. The broken ribs underneath add a painful complication. At least they aren’t stuck in her lung this time.

“I‘m getting really sick of people being mean to me when I try to be nice,” Felicity tells the man at her feet. His only reply is to groan incoherently. “You’re the second one tonight, you know. To give you fair warning, I sliced his stomach open to get what I wanted.” His head slumps, and she places the end of the gun under it to tilt his eyes back to hers. “I would absolutely do the same to you.”

Shifting her weight so that she‘s crouching on her toes to lean over him, Felicity has to suck in a steadying breath. Somehow it makes it hurt worse. “Fair warning, my new sniper friend: that’s a nasty way to die. Slow and painful. You don‘t want that.” She pulls her phone out of her pocket, holding it in front of his face. “Let’s try this again, shall we? I’d like you to state what you did and for whom you did it.”

“My name is Brian T—” he starts.

Felicity drops the phone next to him to slap his cheek twice. He flinches both times. “Oh, no one cares about that,” she assures him in her most saccharine voice. It sounds creepy under her modulator, even to her. “I know you‘re trying to earn brownie points with the new director, but there’s no point.” She pushes the gun a little harder against his jaw. “I‘m going to kill you tonight. The question is how much you want it to hurt.” He whimpers. “Let’s stick to the script: What did you do and who paid you to do it?”

“I shot Malcolm Merlyn in the chest,” he says in a dazed voice, his eyes crossing. Maybe she hit him a little hard that last time. At least he won‘t have to worry about brain damage—things like that won’t matter when he’s dead. “I was hired by Martin Somers. The Triad paid my fee.”

“Thank you for your honesty,” she tells him sincerely. “I always appreciate it when people take the easy route.” She moves the gun back to his temple. “And now, I’m afraid this is where we part ways.” She pulls the trigger.

Suddenly Felicity is reminded why she hates guns so much. The body slumps, but a spray of red mist leaves his head, showering her with it. Damn it. She‘ll have to add a lot of bleach to her laundry this time, which could damage the leather. Maybe she’ll try wiping it off first.

This is why I prefer swords,” Felicity explains to the corpse. “There’s usually less… brain matter everywhere.” She picks a piece of bone fragment off her jacket, fighting the urge to gag when a clump of soft tissue comes with it. “I have a strong constitution, but this turns my stomach.”

Picking up the phone, she adds into the receiver, “I‘m not a lawyer, but I believe deathbed confession is considered irrefutable evidence.” Her head tilts to the side. “I mean, technically he didn’t have a terminal condition or die in a bed, but he knew he was going to die.” She shakes her head; that isn‘t important right now. “Since I know you’re a Negative Nellie by nature, Detective, you can confirm everything by finding the body in the abandoned building south of the awards banquet. Forty-first floor.” She looks around. “I‘d give you an address, but I’m bad with directions and I disabled the GPS on my phone. I can’t give you an unfair advantage, Detective—you understand.”

She glances over at the rickety elevator. “Just as fair warning, the elevator is a bitch. I’d take my chances with the stairs.” She ends the recording there, emailing it to Detective Lance anonymously.

Pulling herself upright takes more effort than she expects, and Felicity blows out a breath when she realizes she has to pick up her sword that fell several feet away. Bending over makes her groan, feeling like someone is sawing into her side with a plastic knife. As she picks up the blade and sheaths it, she calls to the corpse, “If you weren‘t already dead, I’d kill you again for this.”

Closing her eyes, Felicity takes a deep breath, ignoring the way it jars her lungs. She‘s going to need the air if she’s going to get to Merlyn in time. Turning on her comm, she rushes for the stairs. “Deathstroke to Arrow,” she calls to him. “Do you read, or are you fighting the Triad?” No answer.

After she sucks in a breath, she tries again. “Arrow, it‘s Deathstroke. Come in.” Growling under her breath, Felicity tries one last time: “Arrow, it’s Deathstroke. I‘m bleeding and pissed. If you don’t come in, it better be because you’re unconscious.”

Again he doesn‘t answer, and Felicity throws her fist into a concrete pillar at the top of the staircase. Just three more flights to go. “Typical man,” she grumbles to herself. “When you don’t want them, they won’t go away, and when you actually need them, they ignore you. I thought you were more highly evolved than this, Oliver.”

“I never ignore you, Deathstroke,” he replies in a clipped tone, somehow managing to sound amused even under the modulator. “I was making sure Laurel is situated.” Felicity is about to tell him it‘s the wrong timing to rekindle an old romance, but he immediately follows with, “I’m by myself now. You said you were injured. How badly?”

Always good to know he cares. “Nothing I can‘t handle,” Felicity assures him with a good humor she doesn’t feel. “A set of broken ribs, but then the asshole shot me in them. I was just trying to get your attention.” She stops to catch her breath, leaning against the wall. “The staircase is kicking my ass right now—give me a second.”

“I told you to do more cardio,” the smug bastard reminds her.

She ignores him, mostly because her lungs are burning. When it no longer feels like someone set her on fire, she only asks, “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

“Now isn’t the time, Deathstroke,” is his reply.

The quip is out of her mouth before she can stop it: “I‘ve never had a man tell me that before.” An answer doesn’t come, and Felicity grins as she imagines the faint blush that spreads across his cheeks when he gets flustered by her innuendos. “Good news is that your shooter is no longer a threat. I sent his confession to Lance. That should give the police enough evidence to stop Somers.”

Moving again, she continues, “But the bad news is that he took a shot at Tommy‘s dad, and I think it hit. I’m on my way there now.” She mutters a curse under her breath; she‘s going to make it, but it’s going to suck.

“I need you to call Tommy. I‘m not ready to give away my identity, so I’ll need you to introduce us.” Her reasons are selfish. The idea of Monday nights without Tommy seem bleak, and she‘s impossibly fond of the fun-loving diva of a billionaire. The minute he knew who she was, she’d lose him. Oliver nearly lost him, and those two have a lifetime of friendship between them.

“Think you can handle that, arrow boy?” she taunts.

“Anything for you, sword girl,” he replies without hesitation. There’s something about his tone Felicity refuses to read into, even if it makes her a little whirly on the inside. “Diggle is just a few minutes out—there was a traffic jam. I have eyes on both entry points right now. No sign of hostiles.”

He hesitates over his next words as Felicity reaches the top of the building. When she pushes through the door that reads Roof Access, the cold night air cuts through her. Finally.

In a quiet voice, Oliver adds, “Thank you for doing this for me, Felicity.”

Rolling her eyes, Felicity steps over to the edge of the building. The balcony she needs is far enough below that staring down at it makes her head spin. Her arch nemesis, acrophobia, has decided to make a comeback. Excellent.

“Tommy is my friend, too,” Felicity reminds Oliver with a half-smile. “It‘s a little narcissistic to assume I’m doing this for you.” He laughs, which makes her feel like she’s floating on air. If she dies in the next five minutes, it will make a good last memory.

Turning toward the opposite side of the building, Felicity takes slow, deliberate steps. With a heavy sigh and a stomach full of dread, she braces herself. “It‘s always a pleasure, Oliver,” she says with a cheer she doesn’t feel, “but if you don’t mind, I need to jump off a building now. Wish me luck.” She mutes him in the middle of his protests.

“Well, Smoak,” she says to herself, “this is the craziest thing you‘ve ever done—and that includes your last two ex-boyfriends.” Her hands shake, but she clenches them. To hell with it. Tommy needs her, and she isn’t about to let his dad die when she’s this close. “At least gravity caught me before the cops did.” She groans. “And I need to quit talking to myself.”

Before she can back down, Felicity breaks into a dead run, moving as fast as she can toward the opposite side of the building. The moment her feet touch the ledge, she jumps. She squeezes her eyes shut to keep from seeing the ground that far beneath her, praying that she jumped far enough to clear the gap.

Just when she thinks she‘s going to be a nice splat on the concrete below, the fingers of her right hand catch on the railing. Somehow she manages to hold on, even though the impact wrenches her arm out of its socket. Her broken ribs slam against the railing a moment later, nearly making her drop. A scream of agony leaves her, followed by harsh curses in multiple languages. At first, she just wants the pain to subside, but she decides the pain is good. Pain means she’s alive.

Either that, or she’s in Hell and eternal torture has already begun.

Pain continues to course through her as she swings her left arm up to catch the railing, crying out as she lifts herself over the top in the pull-up from hell. Felicity collapses over the top of it, falling to the floor of the balcony in a heap as she tries to breathe through the pain. Her eyes fall closed as she mutters to herself, “I guess I didn’t die again. Cool.”

Her words are followed by a click above her, and Felicity‘s eyes fly open immediately. The image above her doesn’t make sense: Tommy Merlyn, of all people, is pointing a gun at her with shaking hands. Somehow she resists rolling her eyes; when she sees him again as Felicity, she’ll have to remind him how stupid that is. When people point swords at her, she usually just puts a sword through them.

“Have you ever been told not to kick a dog when it’s down?” she asks, causing him to jump at her modulated voice. “I have a bullet in my side, cracked ribs, and a dislocated shoulder. Not to mention I just jumped off a fifty-story building to have you point a gun at me.”

Felicity sighs, rolling onto her back. “If you want to kill me, fine. Just do it and put me out of my misery.” He hesitates, nearly lowering the gun. “If you don’t intend to kill me, drop the damn gun before I take it and use it to beat the hell out of you.”

The gun shakes in his hand before he lowers it. There‘s an all-too-familiar click before he confesses, “I have the safety on. That’s the best I can do.” No disgust runs over his face, just fear. Felicity thinks that might actually be worse.

Sighing, she rises to her knees, slipping her dislocated arm through the bars. “This is gonna suck,” she declares. Tommy starts asking frantic questions, but she ignores him. Instead, Felicity closes her eyes, gritting her teeth to brace herself. In one violent motion, she wrenches her arm at an awkward angle, biting back a scream as her shoulder pops back into place with a sickening sound.

“Oh, God,” Tommy says above her. “That… that was…” He makes a gagging sound as she rolls her shoulder. It pops several times, but otherwise good as new. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”

“It sounded worse than it was,” she lies.

When she turns to face him, he points the gun in her face, backing away like a cornered animal. Rolling her eyes, she lunges, pinching the pressure point on his gun hand and pulling the pistol from it. While he‘s busy saying ow repeatedly, she tells him, “Never point a gun at someone if you aren’t willing to use it.” She quickly removes the magazine and ejects the bullet from the chamber. “It takes four seconds for a grown man to cross twenty feet. It took you six to put the safety on.” For clarification, she adds, “That means you’d be dead if I wanted to kill you.”

Backing away from him, she drops the gun and the magazine on the balcony. “But I‘m not here to kill you, Tommy,” she promises him. “Oliver sent me to help you.” His mouth opens and closes for a moment without a sound. Making him speechless seems to be Felicity’s superpower. “Yes, I know his name, too.”

When words leave his mouth, they come out as: “You’re shorter than I expected.”

“Good things come in small packages,” she replies with a shrug.

They stand like that for a few heartbeats, until Tommy‘s phone starts buzzing in his pocket. “You should get that,” Felicity suggests. “It’s probably Oliver.” She leans against the railing as he stares at her. “Don‘t worry, I’ll wait.”

Tommy glances to the phone once again before putting it up to his ear with a shaking hand. Felicity has decided: she’s going to hug him when this night is over. He deserves it. “Ollie?” he asks in an almost-whisper. “How is Laurel?”

She can‘t hear Oliver’s response, but Tommy nods several times to himself. “Deathstroke is standing in front of me,” he continues in a low voice. “He‘s not trying to kill me and he says he’s here to help. What’s going on?”

After Oliver gives a lengthy response, Tommy slowly nods once again, swallowing. That‘s all the incentive Felicity needs. She brushes past him on her way into the conference room. There’s a body on the floor—presumably, Merlyn Senior. She brushes her fingers against his throat long enough to feel a pulse before turning to her friend. “Do you know where a first aid kit is?” she asks him.

“I saw one under the far table,” Tommy answers. “I’ll get it for you.” He holds out the phone. “Ollie wants to talk to you.”

Before she can answer, sirens sound in the distance. Felicity turns to see flashes of blue and red through the window. She stops to check her watch. Not a bad response time. Funny how the cops appear twenty minutes faster in Starling Heights than in the Glades.

“Put him on speaker,” she suggests to Tommy. “We‘re about to have company, and I’m not exactly popular with this crowd.” He does as she asks, placing the phone on the desk in front of her as she slides behind it for the computer.

She starts typing as Tommy runs off for the first aid kit. “I‘m sorry, Oliver, but I’m a little busy right now,” is her greeting. “Can I call you back later? You know, when I’m not trying to slow the police and save lives?”

“What the hell were you thinking?” he growls immediately, his voice still covered by the modulator. “You could have died, Deathstroke!”

As he returns with a massive red bag, Tommy flinches. Felicity just shrugs. “It was a risk I was willing to take,” she assures him. “You say that like everyone in this city would miss me.”

“Maybe not everyone,” Oliver counters, “but I would.” Her fingers stutter across the keyboard. Tommy stares down at the phone with wide eyes.

“Well, you don‘t have to worry,” Felicity finally sputters. “I lived to tell about it. I’m relatively unharmed, my shoulder is back in place, and—”

When did you dislocate your shoulder?” he asks, tone full of exasperation.

Felicity ignores him; Oliver is best ignored when he gets irrational like this. “—and,” she continues, with more force this time, “you can help me patch everything up when we finish this.” He stays silent—probably fuming, if she knows Oliver. “Satisfied?”

“That was reckless,” he insists. Apparently not satisfied. “Nothing is worth—”

“Yeah, yeah. I take too many risks and you worry about me because you think I‘m self-destructing,” Felicity interjects. She rolls her eyes once before crossing them. It makes Tommy let out a startled giggle. “It’s a good speech. I have it memorized. I promise to play it back in my head later.”

“Deathstroke,” Oliver growls, as though she’s the bane of his existence.

“Don‘t say my codename like that,” she chides as she bypasses the security login page. If they wanted to give her a challenge, they probably should have updated their systems this century. “You knew what I was the moment we started working together. I take calculated risks, Oliver. It’s who I am.” She presses the buttons to open a command window, typing a string of code into it. “It turns out that I’m very good at math.”

A stony silence passes between them. “Fine,” Felicity finally agrees with a sigh. “I‘m sorry that I worried you, but I don’t regret it. I accept no responsibility and I would absolutely do it again.” When Elevators Locked appears on the screen, Felicity grins. “That’s the best I can give you.”

She takes the first aid kit from a bewildered Tommy, who rushes to grab the phone from the table as she passes. After a long moment of silence, Oliver finally sighs. “We‘ll talk about this later,” he growls. “I’ll see you back at base.”

Unzipping the red bag, Felicity replies, “Tell Mr. Diggle I said hi. And make sure to kill a few Triad assassins for me, okay?” The line goes dead as she rummages through the first aid kit. Fortunately, it’s well-stocked, and she pulls a roll of tubing from it.

“What the hell did you just do on that computer?” Tommy asks her.

“Bought us some time,” she replies, digging out a pair of hemostats, a few needles, and a roll of gauze. He only stares at her, and she shrugs self-consciously. “I made the elevators think there‘s a fire. The police will have to take the stairs instead.” As she unwinds the tubing, she muses, “I hope they skip cardio day at the gym as often as I do. Maybe I’ll have a chance.”

He falls silent briefly before asking, “And what are you doing now?”

“Fortunately for you, Mr. Merlyn,” Felicity answers, “I happen to have performed a few field transfusions.” She turns to him. “I’m hoping you and your father have compatible blood types.” When he nods once, she releases a breath. “Good.”

She reaches for Tommy‘s sleeve without thinking, and he flinches away from her touch. “Take it easy,” she chides, making a motion for him to slide it up. “I promise that if I wanted to kill you, I wouldn’t lure you in under the pretense of saving your father.” She taps her chest once before attaching a needle to the end of the line. “Contrary to popular opinion, there is a heart in here. I might be cold, but I’m not a monster.”

As she pulls out a pair of hemostats, Tommy’s eyes stay zeroed in on her chest. “Hey, my eyes are up here,” she teases.

“You’re a woman,” Tommy realizes aloud, his eyes going wide as he meets hers again. He shakes his head a moment later, rolling up his sleeve. “Biologically, at least,” he qualifies after a pause.

“It also happens to be my gender identity,” she agrees as she grabs his wrist. Tommy gapes at her, which turns into a startled cry as she ties a tourniquet around his arm. “Don‘t look so surprised. This is the twenty-first century. Women run the world. We’re allowed to slice people up with samurai swords, too.”

He winces as she jabs the needle into his arm. When she releases the tourniquet, blood flows into the tubing. Good; that’s what she likes to see.

“I know that,” Tommy assures her quickly, watching as she rolls up Merlyn Senior‘s sleeve next. “It’s just…” A forced laugh escapes him. “Everyone assumes you’re a guy. Even Ollie refers to you like—” He stops abruptly. Felicity looks up from her work to see the realization across his face. “He misleads people on purpose to protect you.”

She works a second needle into Merlyn Senior‘s arm, tensing at Tommy’s accusation. “I didn‘t ask him to do that,” she assures him sharply. “I don’t need Oliver Queen to save me. The first thing I did when I started this was make sure I could protect my identity.”

“I didn‘t mean to offend you,” Tommy says quietly as she releases the pair of hemostats from the tube. Blood begins to flow from the tube, and she waits for it to start dripping on the floor before attaching the tubing to the needle in Merlyn Senior’s arm.

Tommy follows her gaze, swallowing hard. “Do you think he’s going to be okay?”

Felicity stares down at the blood pooling on the floor from the gunshot wound, her lips pressing together in a firm line. Turning to Tommy, she only asks, “Do you want the truth, or do you want me to bullshit you?”

After squaring his shoulders, he replies, “The truth.”

It‘s one of the things she’s liked about him since the beginning. He doesn‘t shy away from things because they’re hard or difficult. Still, Felicity sighs. “I don’t know,” she admits, “but he has a better chance with your blood in his veins.” She wraps his hand around the tubing to hold it before reaching for the roll of gauze.

Tommy‘s laugh startles her. “He’s a son of a bitch, you know.” Felicity meets his eyes, and he explains, “I know he‘s getting a humanitarian award tonight, but he wants to sell my mom’s free clinic in the Glades. He cut me off because he thinks I‘m not serious enough.” His expression turns bitter, an odd look for him. “He hates Laurel—my girlfriend and Ollie’s ex. He says it‘s time I stopped living in Ollie’s shadow.” He shakes his head. “But I’m still here, trying to save him.”

Felicity reaches for his arm, pleased when he doesn‘t flinch this time. That’s progress. “That‘s because your father’s behavior doesn’t have to define who you are, Tommy,” she insists quietly. She focuses her attention on wrapping the needle in place, even as she feels his eyes on her.

Slowly she rises to her feet, even as her body protests the action. She grits her teeth against the pain. “I‘ll restore power to the elevators before I leave, so that they can get him out,” she informs Tommy. Felicity waves a hand. “And if you could do me a favor, don’t mention this whole… heroic thing to anyone.” She points to herself. “I mean, I‘m Deathstroke. Vengeance of Starling, slinger of swords, slayer of men. My body count is nearing a world record. I’m supposed to be terrifying and mysterious. Playing the hero could damage my reputation.” She shrugs. “Besides, it‘s more Oliver’s thing, and I don’t want to step on any toes.

“Just tell Detective Lance that I ran through here on my way out, okay?” she asks of Tommy. She starts at a sprint toward the computer but pauses halfway there. “Oh, and if anyone… constabulary asks you about my description, don’t lie. Lance has seen me at a distance before—he knows the Arrow is at least twice my size.” She hesitates. “You might, um, keep the whole woman thing under your hat, though. It keeps me off the suspect list.”

“Whatever I can do to help you,” Tommy replies. “Thank you for all you’ve done.”

A strange sensation burns through Felicity‘s chest. The last time she played the hero, it ended badly, but tonight it feels kind of… nice. Maybe that’s why Oliver gets off on saving the day so much. She can understand why; this feeling could easily become addictive.

Despite that feeling, she squirms in her skin. Helping people might feel good, but people thanking her is an entirely different matter. “Don‘t thank me,” she corrects. “Thank Oliver. He’s the one who sent me over here—against my protests, I might add.” That might not be accurate, but it’s best to let Tommy think that for now.

Moving back to the computers, she continues, “And you don‘t owe me. You would owe Oliver, but I suspect he’ll let that slide. And Oliver owes me, but we’re kind of favor friends these days.” Felicity types in another string of code. “So I guess nothing is owed to anyone.”

As she presses the Enter key, a message helpfully informs her that the elevators are unlocked. Next she types in a code to cut the lights and any electronic locks. Tommy cries out when it goes dark, but Felicity explains, “Sorry, but I need to give myself some cover. They’ll still find you. Good luck with your dad!” A final thought occurs to her. “Oh, and Felicity says to text her with hospital details—she and Oliver want to be there.” With that, she sprints out of the conference room and toward the service elevators in the back of the building.

The plan is immediately botched when six boys in blue appear on the stairs, blocking her exit. Detective Hilton is out front, along with Tommy’s ex-flame-now-detective. Hall, Oliver had called her. Felicity shakes her head; instead of worrying about her name, she should probably worry about being arrested. Or shot. Mostly, Felicity just gets shot.

She expects Hall or Hilton to be the one with the fastest reaction, but a brunette beat cop draws her gun and starts yelling, “SCPD! You’re under arrest!”

Felicity does a three hundred sixty-degree turn, pushing herself as hard as she can to run in the opposite direction. After a few heartbeats, the pain in her side starts to dull. Ah, adrenaline, her old friend. Nothing dulls the pain of a few broken bones better.

The problem is that, even though her broken ribs just feel like an annoying stitch in her side, they‘re still broken. The wound in her side still has a slug in it. The damage is still there, even if it doesn’t feel like it is. She’s still losing blood and has still put her body through hell tonight. No amount of adrenaline is going to fix that.

Maybe she should have had Tommy hook her up with a transfusion, too.

The next corner she sees, Felicity slips around it, far enough ahead that the cops will lose sight of her briefly. The staircase is an enticing option for a moment, but she knows that she can‘t keep pushing herself like this and expect to get out alive. Instead, she ducks into a glass office with a wooden door. When it closes, she leans on it, sliding down its length until she’s sitting with her knees to her chest.

Leaning her head against her knees, Felicity takes the moment to catch her breath. Though she could never admit it to her face, she misses Oliver. If he was here, she‘d just have to say she needed an extraction, and he’d be there. With his mission halfway across the city, she can’t depend on him for help tonight.

Even knowing that, the option of calling Oliver is enticing. Mission or not, distance or not, she has the feeling that he‘d come if she asked. It’s eventually the repercussions that keep her from pressing the button on her comm; with the police everywhere, asking him to call could put him in danger. That isn‘t something she’s willing to risk.

Finally she understands the importance of working with a partner that he‘s always harping about. For years she’s been doing this alone, but now she doesn‘t know how she ever made it. This is why she didn’t want a partner for all those years. Partners make people weak, and it‘s stupid, beautiful Oliver’s fault that she forgot that in the first place.

She should have walked away when she still had the power.

Snorting, Felicity admits she‘s lying to herself. She lost the power to walk away from him the night he chose to save her, instead of just leaving her on the street to die. It had been a long time since she had felt anything but a vast, numb emptiness. Now here she is, with friends she’d risk her life for and that pesky feeling of caring.

It makes her vulnerable. She knows that. The best way to keep everyone save would be to cut them out of her life. Three years ago, she managed to do just that—with the exception of Roy, who needed her in his life just as much as she needed him in hers. He was never a distraction because she could keep him entirely separate from the Deathstroke part of her world.

But then Oliver Queen walks into her life. He shows up like the idealist, sentimental bastard he is, with a default setting of giving a damn about everyone and everything. He made her want to give a damn, too, and that made him dangerous. She would have done much better to remove him from her life, like a surgeon exising a malignant tumor. It‘s too late now—the feeling has spread. Now she cares, too, and she can’t turn it off anymore.

Felicity snorts. All it took was a billionaire with a bow to upend her entire world.

Oliver Queen has been the downfall of many women. Felicity just didn‘t think he’d be hers.

“You were screwed from the start,” she whispers to herself. It‘s strange how regret doesn’t enter her tone.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” another voice says. Felicity startles at the sound, whipping her head around to find the overly-tenacious beat cop from earlier. She’s entered through another door to the office, pointing a gun at Felicity. Her voice is gravel and sandpaper, with that rough edge that only comes from growing up in the Glades. “Toss your swords, Deathstroke.”

Closing her eyes, Felicity sighs. She scoffs, not about to give the rookie officer any satisfaction. If Overly Ambitious Beat Cop was going to kill her, she would have done it by now. Playing along just gives her time to come up with a plan to get out of this, preferably without killing a police officer who doesn‘t know when to quit. “We both know your orders are to shoot me,” Felicity replies. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to die with my swords on.”

“I‘m not going to kill you unless you do something stupid,” Overly Ambitious Beat Cop assures her. “I’m going to bring you in. I‘m a cop, not an executioner.” The first thrill of fear runs up Felicity’s spine; this is the beginning of her worst nightmare. After what happened in Osaka, she swore she’d never let anyone lock her in a cage again.

If she can‘t get the hell out of here, Felicity will either become a cop killer or a corpse. No matter which way it goes, at least she’ll be free.

“You said you were screwed from the start,” the police officer continues, instead of producing handcuffs. Time is good—time helps Felicity think of a way out that doesn‘t involve death or a policewoman’s murder. “This building is a maze. It’s practically impossible to get out of. Overly Ambitious Beat Cop shakes her head.”Security video had you in the building across the street. You could have walked away without coming here. This was a suicide mission—you would have known that. Why do it?"

Felicity laughs, gathering her knees closer to her chest. It makes her look smaller and less threatening, while allowing her to leverage her weight later. There‘s an oak desk not twenty feet in front of her. If she’s fast enough, she can get behind it before the officer can even get a shot off. Or maybe she’d just get shot in the leg. Again.

“You wouldn‘t believe me if I told you,” Felicity answers honestly. That’s her own fault, isn‘t it? Deathstroke is a heartless monster who prowls the street, looking for victims. No one would buy her rigging a field transfusion to save a man’s life, not when all she ever does is rain down death and destruction.

“I lived in the Glades when Wildcat was the only vigilante on the streets,” the officer replies. “He did some real good in this city before he betrayed his own partner—and everything he ever stood for.” Overly Ambitious Beat Cop lowers her gun. Felicity grins under the mask; just another case of someone underestimating her. “Sometimes the good guys surprise me. Sometimes the bad guys do, too. Try me.”

What the hell. Felicity has nothing to lose, and a fairly solid exit strategy if things go sideways. The desk makes nice cover, and she can throw a knife if it comes to that. So far she’s avoided killing cops—it just makes them swarm like angry bees—but shooting a nosy officer beats rotting in a cage any day.

“Malcolm Merlyn was going to die,” Felicity answers slowly. “I set up a field transfusion with his son. It might buy him a few hours.” She lifts a shoulder with a nonchalance she doesn’t feel. “It might not. But it gives him a chance for the paramedics to save him.”

Overly Ambitious Beat Cop doesn’t reply. After a long moment, a voice crackles on her radio: “Drake, we lost visual on you. Did you get him?”

As Felicity reaches for the knife on her belt, the officer reaches for her radio. “Negative, Hall,” she replies, though all of her attention is focused on the Vengeance of Starling. “I thought I saw movement in one of the offices, but it’s clear.” She looks away before adding, “There was movement on the staircase in the northeast corridor—it looked like he was going up.”

Felicity‘s mouth opens several times, but no sound comes out. She nearly pinches her own thigh to make sure this isn’t a dream, but if it is, she can definitely feel pain. Though she means to thank the rogue officer—Drake, they called her—it somehow comes out as, “If they find out what you just did, you will be the one going to jail.”

Drake shrugs, somehow managing to look blasé even though they know this could be the end of her career. “Some of those other officers might just be following orders,” she replies, “but I know that sometimes orders are wrong. I‘ve seen good men do horrible things for a cause. And I’ve seen some pretty horrible human beings do amazing things.” She holsters her gun. “I‘m not about to condemn you for the only good deed you’ve ever done.” The words sting because she isn’t wrong.

Turning her back to Felicity, Drake moves toward the opposite door. Her arm stays limp by her side, ready for her pistol but not making any move toward it. “Fair warning?” she calls. “The next time I see you, I’m taking you in. This free pass ends the moment I walk out of here.”

Rising to her feet with a wince, Felicity replies, “Fair enough.” Two seconds with this woman told her that sentiment is worthless, so she doesn‘t thank her. “I owe you for this, Officer Drake.” The woman flinches at the mention of her name. Maybe she isn’t as fearless as Felicity originally thought, but the false bravado only endears her to the officer. “I always pay my debts. When you need help, I’ll come.”

“I don’t want a favor from you,” Drake spits.

“I didn‘t want your help,” Felicity counters, “but I’m stuck with it, too.” She tilts her head to the side. “Consider it the price of doing business with me. I don‘t like to be in someone’s debt. I’m prideful that way.”

The cop actually smiles, shaking her head. “I’ll see you around, Deathstroke,” Drake replies, opening the door. “The next time we meet will be in a jail cell.”

Felicity turns to meet the officer‘s eyes. If only Drake could see the warning etched on her face. Maybe she’ll opt for a mask like Oliver‘s next time. “The next time we meet, Officer Drake,” she corrects, “you’ll have to put a bullet in me to stop me.” She holds up the knife in her hand. “I always have a contingency plan. I don‘t back down and I don’t stop fighting. If you stand between me and my freedom again, I’ll use this knife to find out if you really do bleed blue.” She slips out the door without waiting for a reply.

With the cops headed up the stairs because of Drake‘s information, Felicity turns down a deserted stairwell and goes down. Instead of just descending the stairs, she grins to herself before jumping on a rail and sliding down it. It doesn’t require much energy or jar her side, so it’s far easier than walking.

She’s on the ground floor and halfway to the exit when a comm clicks on. “Deathstroke, sit rep,” Oliver barks. As a warning, he adds, “My associate has arrived and is on comms.”

Switching off her voice modulator, Felicity declares, “You need a codename.” They need to bring Felicity Smoak into this conversation, just to keep Digg from figuring everything out. “Let‘s call you…” So many good names come to mind, but few that won’t upset him. Finally, one rolls off her tongue: “Spartan.”

“Spartan,” Digg repeats. “Really?”

Defensively, she replies, “It’s the best I could come up with on short notice.”

Oliver‘s voice rolls across both of theirs, effectively ending the side conversation. “Deathstroke, I need your status,” he growls. He isn’t as nice this time, but there‘s a hint of dry humor to his tone that wasn’t there before.

After switching the modulator back on, Felicity replies, “Don‘t use the you-have-failed-this-city voice on me. We’ve already established that it doesn‘t work.” She glances down to the hole in her side. “I’m in one piece, Arrow. I have a set of cracked ribs and a bullet wound, but I’ll live.”

“And here I thought you weren’t human,” Digg replies.

The comment stings worse than the gunshot wound in her side. “I‘m not a vampire,” she retorts. Before he can get another shot in, she adds, “Arrow, I won’t be able to join you as backup tonight—I‘m a liability in the field right now.” Her tone turns dark at the edges. “You better take good care of him, Spartan. He has no value to me if he’s dead.”

Chuckling, Oliver replies dryly, “It’s nice to know you care.”

“Don‘t get mushy on me,” she replies with a grin. “I’m just here for the carnage.” After a beat, she confesses, “And maybe for the view. You wear green leather extremely well.” An odd noise comes through the line, and Felicity suppresses a giggle. She’d bet that was the sound of Oliver choking on his own tongue.

She makes a noise under her breath as she realizes, “I didn‘t even get to enjoy that tonight. Here you are, dressed up in green leather and parkouring across the city, and I’m stuck on the other end of town. Why do your missions always suck?”

“Thank you,” is all he says. Those two words manage to put a fuzzy feeling in her chest. Or maybe that‘s the blood loss. Either way, no one knows how to say thank you quite like Oliver Queen. He isn’t just placating her or saying what he thinks he should. He‘s able to force every ounce of sincerity into those two, simple words. It’s one of his superpowers.

“I already told you that you have nothing to thank me for,” Felicity reminds him. This one was for her friend. One day, that sentence might not feel weird. “You don’t have to thank me.” She smiles. “But anytime you need me, Arrow, feel free to call. Your crappy missions are a good substitute for the cardio I never do at the gym.”

When he doesn‘t speak, she continues, “I won’t be of any more value tonight, boys, so I‘m heading home.” When she speaks again, it’s in Mandarin. “I‘ll be available for technical support on base. I’m going to need your help to patch me up again.”

“Anything you want,” Oliver promises in English.

Pushing through the last set of doors, Felicity stops in front of them to breathe in the cool night air. This is what it felt like the night she walked out of that storage facility in Osaka: no regret or sorrow, only the freedom of being alive and breathing clean air. It’s a high of its own making, something that she never appreciated until she had been deprived of it. Now she takes the time to savor it when she can.

Felicity replies honestly, “I want you to stay alive.”

Something about the sensation of new freedom reminds her of the ties that tether her—the ones she chooses to tether her here. Roy. Tommy. Oliver. Her concern for them might make her vulnerable, but maybe that isn‘t always a bad thing. There’s a strange sort of power in allowing herself to have weaknesses for people she cares about. Maybe there’s a strength in it, too.

Though she reminded Oliver tonight how reckless she can be, she isn‘t ready to face this particular kind of danger. In Japan, she lost it all. Everything she could ever lose was taken from her, which kept her from forming attachments again for so long. Her life was empty and lonely, but now it’s starting to look brighter again.

A bleak life had its advantages, though. She only lived in the night, never worried about if she made it to the next morning or not. Now she does, and the ache in her side concerns her more than ever. She might not have gotten that last chance to see the people she cares about.

How dangerous it is to finally have something worth losing.

In a quiet confession, Felicity admits to Oliver, “If you tell anyone this, I‘ll put a sword through you, but I’m glad we met, Arrow.” It isn‘t all she wants to say to him, but it’s the best she can do for now. Maybe one day she‘ll be able to tell him just how important he is to her, but that’s going to require more change. Maybe even for both of them.

His reply comes without hesitation: “Saving you was the best decision I ever made.”