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Rake the Ashes

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After shoveling in a bite of his moo goo gai pan, Quentin Lance spreads his case files over the table in the back, sinking further into the booth. Every time he enters the Jade Dragon, he‘s reminded how rare it is. Good restaurants are few and far between in the Glades, but here, the food is always great and it’s always quiet. They know his order by heart, they‘re open twenty-four hours a day, and they don’t mind if he spends all night staring at gruesome case files. It‘s a shame it’s a front for the Triad; that might be the only thing that may force it to close. Not that Organized Crime has had any luck with that: they’ve tried more than once.

Until they succeed, the Jade Dragon has the best dumplings in the city.

Other than a few dubious exchanges of packages and money made in Chinese and a few customers, the Jade Dragon is just as peaceful as usual. After shoving a forkful of food into his mouth, Lance spreads out the case file again, covering the table with forensics reports, crime scene photos, and witness interviews. There’s more than a few food stains and coffee mug rings on it, remnants from past meals he’s spent pouring over the file.

Tonight, he pulls it open and flips open a notebook. With all the chaos this week, he hasn’t been able to record his impressions of his encounter with Deathstroke and the Arrow when they dropped a known criminal the police station two nights ago. With top brass’ decision to bring in a profiler on the case, he needs to have his thoughts together. And the fact that the last video evidence of Deathstroke was mysteriously erased, Lance has a sneaking suspicion that low-tech is the way to go.

Though his hand is cramping after two minutes and his handwriting is barely legible, he scrawls down the events of the encounter to the best of his memory, along with his observations. Deathstroke was a tiny thing by all standards—five-seven if Lance was being generous, weighing a buck twenty if he was exaggerating a little. His sense of humor was his most defining trait: dark and morbid, with a pleasant personality that brought his sanity into question. He was far too casual with the Arrow, and there was no mistaking that he was flirting with the emerald archer.

There was the Arrow himself, too: tall and towering over his partner with a glare that could cut through rock. Always stoic and serious in their last encounters, the Arrow had shown signs of his true personality with Deathstroke there, his voice lighter. He even broke into a smile a couple of times, teasing Deathstroke and indulging his banter.

Dropping the pen and flexing his throbbing hand, Lance reaches some clarity. Either Deathstroke and the Arrow are friends, or maybe they’re partners in more than just murder and vigilantism.

As much as the idea makes sense, Lance shakes his head at himself. It would be easier to believe they were partners if they had started around the same time. Deathstroke has been active for the last three years, whereas the Arrow has just shown up in the last six months. The Arrow can’t be Deathstroke’s protégé. Their fighting styles couldn’t be more different from what Lance remembers of the video evidence of them: the Arrow is efficient and controlled, but Deathstroke is a bloody whirlwind of chaos and dismemberment. Deathstroke is a lone wolf, but suddenly he’s allied himself with the man in the hood.

Not always allied. Lance frowns down at his notes. The two of them have their own, individual goals: the Arrow likes targeting the corrupt, while Deathstroke prefers to slay cartel members. Just when Lance thinks they‘re done working together, arrows are found in mob enforcers, or a corrupt businessman’s bodyguards are found in pieces.

It was just last week that Deathstroke was stringing drug dealers up by their ankles at the docks, leaving their decapitated bodies on display for the SCPD to clean up. Drug dealers are criminals that neither of them seem concerned about, but suddenly, every other crime scene is a dead drug dealer hanging from a crane.

Street crime is more the Arrow‘s forte; Deathstroke only deviates from organized crime to go after assassins and the occasional rapist. This was the Arrow’s kind of mission, but the emerald archer was nowhere in sight. Deathstroke could be escalating or decided to indulge his creative side, but Lance doesn’t think so.

It leaves him with an important question: Where was the Arrow?

A wild tangent goes through Lance‘s head, the encounter from two nights ago still replaying in his thoughts. He chuckles to himself, shaking his head at the sheer ludicrousness of it. It might be a demented idea, but he can’t dismiss it yet. There’s too much evidence and logic to it.

Deathstroke made it clear two nights ago that his reason for doing this was Thea Queen. The rest of the story was likely bullshit, but that part was the truth. If Deathstroke did this for her, why would he give a damn about a spoiled, rich teenager?

He wouldn‘t. Deathstroke’s cases are impersonal.

Beneath the cheerful, homicidal exterior, Deathstroke has to be the most calculated criminal Lance has ever encountered. Everything the man does is intentional. He doesn‘t get sloppy, doesn’t make mistakes. He covers every inch of skin on his body so they can‘t learn anything about him. Blood evidence simply doesn’t exist. He avoids weapons that have to be registered, like guns. He’s methodical, playing a game of chess with the police.

The same can’t be said for the Arrow.

Though he tries to hide it behind a collected exterior, the Arrow runs hot. Lance saw that two nights ago. He‘s emotional, loyal, and protective of the people he cares about. Both times Lance baited him, the Arrow rushed to Deathstroke’s defense as though prepared to charge into battle. He’s been known to deviate wildly from his standard target type, for reasons other than Deathstroke.

With that in mind, Lance remembers that the Arrow has already saved one Queen: when the Queen kid and his sidekick were kidnapped, they were saved by the man in the green hood. Despite hunting other one-percenters in the city, the Arrow has never made a move on the Queens—or the Merlyns, who are also filthy rich and entitled. They represent the wealth in the city, the kind of target that should be Public Enemy Number One to the Arrow. Yet he concerns himself with drug dealers and Thea Queen’s upcoming trial.

The Arrow may not be as controlled as Deathstroke, but the man is far from unpredictable. He does everything for a reason. If Lance is right and the Arrow did have a reason, only one theory makes any logical sense.

No one would believe it. Hell, it’s Lance’s theory and he‘s having a hard time buying it. On the surface, it’s impossible, but there are too many small coincidences to ignore it.

The Arrow emerged right after Queen came back from that island, just to show up and save Oliver from kidnappers. Merlyn said he didn‘t see the guy. With just Queen’s word, that means he could have dispatched those men while Merlyn was unconscious. Maybe Merlyn was covering for his friend. Either way, Queen’s explanation is flimsy at best.

When Lance was called in after Deathstroke and the Arrow took down that sniper, he saw how Queen acted. Everyone else was shaken and panicking, but Queen was oddly calm as he tried to soothe his sister and tie off her wound. Lance remembers the kid‘s eyes flicking up to the rooftops, trying to find the trajectory of the bullet. That isn’t civilian behavior; that’s the action of someone who has seen enough violence to feel comfortable in it.

They have no clue what happened to the kid on that island. It was five years, and he‘d bet that, judging by the wounds barely concealed by Queen’s collar and long sleeves, the kid wasn’t alone for five years. He had to survive somehow, had to get food for himself. Maybe he ran into someone who wanted to save him. Maybe they taught him how to hunt.

Maybe they showed him how to use a bow.

Though Lance would love for Queen to be the Arrow, he can‘t present a theory like this. Without any evidence, he’d just sound like a cop with a vendetta, using his badge to get revenge on the man responsible for his daughter‘s death. If he could find a suggestion for Deathstroke’s identity, he could start gathering evidence and information, maybe even establish the link between them. That would give him all the resources he’d need to take the bastards down.

The fact that Oliver Queen might be under the mask just makes it that much sweeter.

Everything Lance has seen of Deathstroke and the Arrow‘s interactions tell him that the two are close in a way that transcends a mutually beneficial partnership. Lance and his partner Hilton have had a mutually beneficial partnership for the last decade, but they don’t get along half as well as the two vigilantes. People who know each other like that—who trust each other like that—would know each other‘s names. They’d be in contact with one another. Hell, they might even be friends.

Working with that idea, Deathstroke would have to be someone in Queen’s inner circle. Someone he sees regularly. A secret identity like that could put him in jail for the rest of his life, and Deathstroke is already looking at the needle. In the event of a betrayal, a secret like that could damn them.

Because he knows Queen‘s associates, Lance knows they haven’t changed much since five years ago. The only new face is Queen‘s bodyguard, who could easily make three of Deathstroke. Quentin can’t remember any man who would match Deathstroke’s description.

The bells on the door jingle, making him jump. He glances upward to see who it is, only to find himself lock in on the newest customer. She’s a familiar face, a regular patron whose presence always draws his attention.

She’s around the same age that Sara would be. The first time he saw her here, he was trying to sober up before his next shift, and when she walked in with that long blonde hair around her shoulders, he thought she was Sara for a moment. That had been right after Dinah had her declared dead and walked out three years ago, back when he still thought she’d come back home like nothing had ever happened.

But the moment she turned, he realized it wasn’t the case, not with those dark-framed glasses and that too-bright lipstick. Ever since, some paternal instinct keeps him watching out for her. Most of the time she walks to the Jade Dragon, alone at night in the Glades. If she was his daughter, he’d warn her about safety, but no harm ever seems to befall her. At least this time it’s earlier; the sun is just beginning to set.

Most of the time she’s in a t-shirt and jeans when she comes in, but tonight she’s in a pair of black spandex pants, a pair of tennis shoes, and a black tank top. It has a picture of a cartoon ice cream cone lifting weights, the words around it reading, I do it for the ice cream. A duffle bag is thrown over her shoulder and her usual glasses are missing.

As she walks into the restaurant, her phone goes off. Her ringtone is a song, something about feeling pressure and being better off without someone. Making a face, she fishes it out of her bag, only to push a button to silence it. She shakes her head, rolling her eyes as she adjusts her bag over her shoulder.

Running a hand through sweat-slicked hair, she perches on a bar stool and waits for a server. Though her arms are bare, she doesn’t seem cold in this weather. A collection of scars litter her arms, and he can’t decipher the image of a black tattoo across her shoulder blades. He can’t help but think it’s a little late in the evening to be doing yoga, but then he notices her too-red knuckles as she drums her fingers across the bar. She’s been throwing punches tonight—and Lance is willing to bet it’s been at a person instead of a punching bag.

With her penchant for walking everywhere and her lack of jacket in the cold, Lance racks his brain for a gym nearby. The only one that comes to mind is a seedy, crumbling building one block south, run by another has-been boxer. Interesting place for a pretty blonde to take self-defense classes.

As if sensing his gaze, she turns to glance at him. When their eyes lock, Lance is overwhelmed with a strong sense of déjà vu. He knows that look, those piercing eyes, from somewhere else that he can’t place. It lasts a minute before she reaches into her bag for a zipup hoodie, shrugging it on as her eyes flick around the room like some of his ex-military colleagues.

Well, that would explain the scars.

They both jump when the swinging door creaks on the server’s way out. The blonde recovers quickly, smiling as she starts up a conversation with her in what sounds like fluent Chinese. She’s almost finished when her phone starts blaring a ringtone that sounds more like the upbeat pop songs Laurel uses. Hers sounds happy enough, too, until Lance catches up with the lyrics: the singer asking why they should bother getting close to someone since they’re only going to get hurt.

She excuses herself from the server with a brief statement in Chinese, already smiling as she picks up the phone. “You’re done early,” she declares with no greeting. “Is your mom’s private party thing over already?”

There’s a short pause before she replies, “That’s a shame. I was looking forward to seeing you in a tux again.” The grin turns into a smirk. “That’s just the kind of thing I need to brighten my day a little.” She sighs dramatically. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

When she speaks again, it’s with a roll of her eyes. “Well, you could drive down to the gym,” she responds, “but I won‘t be there. I’m at the Jade Dragon, which is a block over.” There’s a pause before she explains while shaking her head, “I walked here. You know my car only works when it wants to. Roy has it back in the shop again.”

Her lips press together at his next words, and she draws her eyes upward in a dramatic eye roll. “The Glades isn‘t as scary as you’d think,” she says in a soothing tone, as if trying to placate him. Lance doesn‘t necessarily agree with that statement. “I can walk a block by myself, even here.” Lance nods once to himself; at least the person she’s talking to is giving her an earful about the dangers of this part of the city. Well, any part of the city, if he’s being honest.

The blonde huffs at concern, even as Lance thinks it’s probably valid. “I’m not arguing with you—you’re too stubborn to realize when you’ve lost. Do you want me to order something for you?” Mischief twists her lips into a smirk. “Or did you fill up on hors d’oeuvres at your fancy little party?”

Whatever the man on the other end says causes her eyebrows to knit togeether. “That‘s an interesting thing for you to know, Oliver.” Lance flinches at the mention of the name. What are the odds that a blonde girl his daughter’s age is tangled up with some guy named Oliver? An affluent Oliver, if the mention of the formal event is anthing to go by.

“Yes, of course I know this place is a front for the Triad,” she continues, causing Lance to blink twice. “Half of Organized Crime is on the take—they pretend to try and bust this place every few years to keep up appearances.” Lance sits a little straighter; if there are corrupt officers in the city, that‘s a problem he can do something about. Maybe he’ll have to start an investigation of his own.

“I bet they do it for free dumplings,” she muses. “I know I would. This is one of the best places in the city. Do you want anything or not?” She nods before turning, rattling off the rest of the order to the waitress in Chinese. “Text me when you get here and I‘ll meet you outside.” Her eyes flick to Lance. “I’ll see you in ten.”

After hanging up, she slides into the booth in front of Lance, her back to him. She retrieves a sleek laptop from her duffle, unlocking it with a few quick taps on the keyboard. What she’s able to do with it reminds him a lot of what Kelton in Computer Forensics does: white text scrawls across a black screen, a series of gobbledygook appearing that both her and the computer understand.

With a sigh, Lance focuses again on the descriptions, hoping to find something that pins Deathstroke or the Arrow to his theory. The Arrow is described as caucasian and male, with a short, dark beard. While it fits Oliver Queen, it also describes half the men in the city. Deathstroke is even less definitive—witness reports say he covers every inch of skin, and no one has ever been close enough to determine even his eye color. Not and lived to tell the tale, anyway. Their descriptions aren’t going to be giving away any secrets tonight.

Shaking his head, Quentin turns back to his previous notes. Frowning, he reads them again. Queen‘s associates haven’t changed over the past five years, new faces don’t match Deathstroke, nor does any man—

He stops short as he stares at it. Nor does any man match Deathstroke. There‘s a possibility he’s thought about from time to time that everyone seems to dismiss, but always manages to come back to him. This time, he doesn’t dismiss it.

Deathstroke could be a woman.

It would explain a lot about the evidence they‘ve found. Deathstroke’s bootprints are of a men‘s size seven—small, though not impossibly so—but that would be a women’s nine. That‘s more in the realm of possibility. In height and build, Deathstroke would be a small man, but an average woman. It would explain the Arrow’s chivalrous gesture as they entered the abandoned factory on camera.

The whole thing even gives credence to his theory about Queen. Oliver Queen has always been drawn by the allure of an intelligent woman. He was captivated by Laurel’s brilliance and focus, to the point of self-destruction at times. Quentin remembers telling her that she would only be disappointed, that Queen was only interested in the danger and mystery of a driven woman.

A female Deathstroke would be everything he couldn’t resist.

The more Lance thinks about it, the more right it feels. Deathstroke has delighted in baffling the police at every turn. Blood evidence is accidentally ordered to be destroyed. Video footage conveniently goes missing. Deathstroke dares to taunt them, showing up behind police headquarters and dropping off a criminal with a bow stuck to his head.

Behind the chaos, there‘s a calculating criminal mind that, under different circumstances, Lance might actually respect. She’d know the old misogynists on the force would never consider a woman. She’d also delight in watching them chase a red herring, just for the entertainment of watching them scurry.

With new focus, Lance sorts through the reports on Deathstroke and her vicims. They‘re as he expects: an obscene number of victims, all dead by sword slashes. Maybe she thinks she’s some sort of samurai, or the swords could carry special meaning.

In the early days, before the case belonged to Lance, they sent the case off to an expert in blade forensics. The specialist confirmed that Deathstroke‘s swords aren’t just cheap, run-of-the-mill blades. They‘re a rare set of high-quality steel. The first detectives hadn’t discovered any noteworthy sales in the last ten years, and all of the sword sharpeners in town know to call the police if anything questionable comes in. They haven‘t had a call to date, which makes Lance assume Deathstroke takes care of his own swords. Maybe he thinks he’s some sort of samurai.

Lance scans the paperwork on sword sales attached to the file, looking for any name that might stand out. Pulling off the cap off a highlighter with his teeth, he marks all the female names in yellow. None of them stand out, but it might be time for another look at Queen’s known associates.

Before he can dwell any more on that thought, the bell on the door jingles again. By the time Lance lifts his head up, the blonde is already focused on the sound. While she waves at the new customer, his mouth falls open, unable to believe his own eyes. Speak of the devil.

Oliver Queen offers a smile to the blonde. While the ones he throws around like his trust fund seem insincere these days, this one is warm, reminiscent of the carefree boy he was five years ago. He doesn’t look like he’s just been to a formal event, already in jeans, a plaid shirt, and a tan leather jacket.

Though he opens his mouth to speak, the blonde cuts him off, shoving her laptop into her bag again. “I told you there was no need for you to come in,” she insists, rising to her feet. Nudging his shoulder, she adds, “I promise I would have been safe for another two minutes.”

The smile falls off Queen‘s face, his expression turning stony in an instant. “You took a dangerous chance, Felicity,” he warns her in a low voice. Felicity. Lance thinks the name suits her: bright and happy like she is. “I know you can take care of yourself,” Queen allows, “but this was a risk you didn’t have to take. You could have waited for me.”

“The Jade Dragon called to me,” is her reply, “and I was helpless to resist.” She waves her hand around. “Also, you do realize that you are talking to me about taking risks, right?” Lance bites back a grin; it‘s always nice to see someone who doesn’t mind calling Queen‘s bullshit. If he doesn’t end up destroying her life, maybe she’ll be good for him.

Reaching over to pat his hand, Felicity assures Queen in a softer tone, “I appreciate your concern, but you don‘t have to fret about me, Oliver. I’m meaner than I look.” Judging by the redness on her knuckles, Lance is inclined to agree with that.

When Queen opens his mouth to speak, she steamrolls over the top of him to ask, “Do you want to take the food back to your place or mine?” There‘s a brief pause between them, which ends with Felicity’s hands waving away the statement. “Why does everything out of my mouth have to sound like an innuendo?” she groans. “For the record, I am not asking you to have sex with me.”

He grins as he replies in an even tone, “I think we’ve already established that, Felicity.”

“Well, just to re-clarify because I accidentally hit on you. Again.” Her head tilts to the side. “Not that there are times I intentionally hit on you.” She shakes her head. “I need a speed bump between my brain and my mouth.” Queen grins at her like she’s the most adorable thing in the world. Lance frowns; he knows where that look leads. “What I meant to ask,” she says more firmly, “is if you had anything to do at Verdant.”

Queen frowns, running a hand through his hair. “I should probably go over last month‘s figures to see how we’re doing,” he replies, his tone reluctant. He studies the table for a moment before glancing up at Felicity. “Do you happen to know a math genius who could help me?” He laughs at himself. “I made a D in tenth-grade algebra.”

Felicity dismisses that with a scoff. “If you had cared about school, you would have been good at it,” she assures him. “You‘re smarter than you’re willing to admit—smarter than most people are willing to give you credit for.” She doesn‘t seem to be humoring him, and Lance files that away for later. “I suppose I might be able to clear my schedule, if you’d like some help.”

Before either of them can say more, the waitress comes out of the back with their food order. She smiles at Felicity, calling out to her in Chinese. Before Felicity can gather her things and slide out of the booth, Queen is already on his feet. He crosses to the cash register at the bar, speaking quietly to the waitress as he pulls out his wallet. He speaks to her so quietly that it takes Lance several seconds to realize he’s speaking Chinese, too—just as well as either of the two women.

Lance‘s eyes narrow. He knows the kid can’t speak any foreign languages—Queen sat across from Laurel at their kitchen table five years ago and said as much. Since Lance doubts he had access to Rosetta Stone in the five years he was away, that means he had to encounter someone who spoke Chinese on that island.

They might have even known how to use a bow.

Felicity huffs as she throws her bag over her shoulder. “As much as I appreciate all the chivalry,” she starts in a tone that indicates otherwise, “you don‘t have to pay for food every time, Oliver. I may not have the Queen family trust fund, but I’m not so poor I can’t afford takeout.” She waves a hand between them. “We could at least go dutch or take turns paying.”

“I want to do this,” Oliver insists. Felicity only crosses her arms, and the two lock eyes for a long, silent moment. Finally, he releases a weary sigh, shaking his head. “Fine. Consider this payment for giving up your evening to help me.”

She snorts. “A rose by any other name is still bullshit, Oliver,” she retorts with a shake of her head and a roll of her eyes. “You can say it‘s repayment for me helping you, but really it’s just an excuse. This way, you can regularly buy food in a way that gives me no grounds to argue with you.” Felicity smirks. “You underestimate my ability to argue.”

With a small, sincere smile, Oliver walks back to her. “Felicity,” he says softly, wrapping her name in a caress this time. To Lance, it almost sounds like a prayer. “I have more money than I’ll ever be able to spend,” he admits to her. “I might as well spend it on someone I care about.”

For a moment, all she does is gape at him, eyes wide. Lance refrains from rolling his eyes; she doesn‘t seem to realize that the kid is half in love with her already. As a dusting of pink crosses her cheekbones, she turns away, focusing on her bag. “Oliver Queen,” she declares without looking at him, “you are the most ridiculous, impossible person I have ever met.” She throws the bag over her shoulder but it knocks into Lance’s table, sending some of his papers flying across the floor.

She whirls immediately. “I’m so sorry!” she calls to Lance, dropping her bag on the floor as she scrambles for her papers. Rolling her eyes at herself, she declares, “I can be such a klutz sometimes.”

Lance doesn‘t buy that she’s clumsy, but he does believe she was distracted by other things. Like Queen‘s gentle-yet-intense advances. Leaning over to pick up loose papers, he assures her easily, “It’s okay, kiddo. It wasn’t that well-organized in the first place.”

As they finish gathering the papers, she rises to her feet, placing the pages on his table again. She barely makes a swift glance at them before a frown crosses her features. “This looks like my desk when I was working on the thesis for my Master‘s,” she declares, which swiftly changes into a shudder. It brings a grin to Lance’s face. “Those weren’t good days.” Felicity makes a disjointed, awkward hand gesture. “Sorry again for knocking over your papers. Have a good evening.”

Gathering her bag, she starts to walk away, but stops short as she realizes Queen doesn‘t move. He’s rooted to the spot, looking at Lance as if unsure whether he should speak or not. Just when Quentin hopes the kid has enough sense to walk away, Queen greets in a stiff tone, “Detective Lance.”

The detective shakes his head, though mostly at himself; up unto this point, he’d actually given the kid a pass. Maybe even warmed up to him a little. Then this little shit has the nerve to speak to him, after destroying his entire family. “Are you here for the dumplings, Queen?” Lance lashes out, baiting him. “Or do you just want to see how the other half lives?”

Though he expects him to react, the opposition doesn’t come from Queen. In an instant, the small blonde is between two of them, crossing her arms as her eyes narrow. That same glare she focused on Queen a minute ago is now on Lance. “Is that official police business, Detective?” she counters, voice low and dangerous.

Something about the way she presents herself is familiar. Lance has never seen her like this before, but her stance strikes a chord at the back of his mind. Felicity stands as though she‘s ready to start a fight, a dark, familiar glint in her eyes. She might look like a pissed-off kitten, but something about the thundercloud in her expression is a little too dark, a little too much of a warning. This isn’t a woman ready to take on the world—she’s ready to take on the world and win.

All for someone as worthless as Oliver Queen.

As Lance sputters through a few syllables in his surprise, it‘s none other than Queen who saves him. He places a hand on her shoulder and says only one word: “Felicity.” Before he said it as a prayer, but this time his tone is hard and sharp. This is a warning. Lance just isn’t sure if it’s for her sake or his own.

Raring for a fight, Felicity is all too eager to turn that same expression on Queen with equal intensity. Lance would have flinched, but Queen doesn’t back down. The two of them exchange a silent conversation with their eyes, a battle of wills that neither of them wants to lose.

Eventually, Queen decides on a more direct approach: he places a hand at the small of her back, urging her forward. “We’re leaving anyway,” he finally says to her. When she stops to argue, he throws her another look and his hand circles her arm. “Now,” he insists, eyes flicking to Lance.

Something about the kid‘s expression suggests it isn’t her safety he‘s worried about this time. For a moment, Lance can’t help but wonder. This woman is a new factor in Queen‘s life. It’s obvious they care for one another, but there‘s something else there. There’s a trust there, built on something he can’t begin to understand. Felicity is willing to start a fight to protect him, and Queen is ready to protect her from herself.

As they walk out the door, Lance wonders if he hasn’t just survived a second encounter with Deathstroke.

 


 

Oliver doesn‘t take his eyes off Felicity until she has her seat belt on, unsure if she won’t go back in after Detective Lance. Even as she folds her hands on her lap, she glares into the restaurant. “That was reckless,” Oliver tells her flatly as he starts the car. If he hadn‘t stopped her, she would probably still be bashing Lance’s head against the table.

Felicity turns to him with wide, innocent eyes, bottom lip turned out in a pout. “Me?” she asks. Oliver has too look away before he does something they both regret, but it brings a smile to his lips anyway. Right now, it’s easy to forget he watched her decapitate a man with a single flick of her sword a few days ago.

He doesn‘t bother to answer the question, only throwing her a look. She rolls her eyes while making a face. He grins; that’s the Felicity he‘s more familiar with. “Oh come on, Oliver,” she groans. “I couldn’t just stand there and talk to you like that.”

“I deserved it and more,” he points out.

“I don‘t care,” Felicity states flatly. “Since when has the world ever been about what we deserve?” She waves a hand. “I didn’t deserve to be held a prisoner for seven months. The people who held me hostage deserved prison and so much more.” She shrugs. “I deserve to die for all the lives I‘ve taken.” Her tone is just as calm as if she was discussing the weather. “But I’m still here. I‘m going to keep killing the bastards who cross me. And I don’t intend to spend one minute worrying about what I deserve.

“But none of that matters,” she insists. “This wasn’t about you or even Lance—this was about me.” Her expression hardens into something Oliver only associates with Deathstroke. “And I will not be the kind of person who stands idle when someone insults the people I care about.” She smirks as she allows, “Or even you.”

A surprised laugh escapes him. All the words he wants to say don’t seem to be enough, so he settles on a sincere, “Thank you.”

She cups his face, her thumb brushing across his cheekbone. Oliver‘s eyes flutter closed for a brief moment, before he smiles down at her. Since the island, he feels lost most of the time, but there’s something in her touch that makes him feel like he’s home.

With the sweetest smile he‘s ever seen, Felicity declares, “I’d go to war to save you, Oliver Queen.” Nothing in her expression makes him doubt that; that smile was made for battle. There’s an intensity in her eyes that laces a promise through her words.

The too-serious display of emotion sends her scurrying soon enough, as it always does. Funny how she‘d go into a fight armed only with swords, but simple, declarative sentences send her running. “It’s a weird feeling and I don’t like it,” Felicity allows as her hand slips away from his face, “but I have this moral obligation to save your ass whenever it needs saving.”

“I think I‘m perfectly capable of saving myself,” Oliver can’t help but point out.

She nods. “Of course you are,” she agrees without hesitation, “but it isn‘t going to stop me from trying to protect you. That’s what friends do for one another, Oliver.” Her head tilts to the side as he pulls out of their parking space and into the street. “Or, at least, I assume that‘s what they do. I haven’t really had friends before.”

Gentler this time, Oliver tries again, “I appreciate that, but Lance was taunting us. Reacting to him like that will just make him suspicious of you.” He glances over at her. “Lance doesn’t do anything without a reason.”

No one does anything without a reason,” Felicity counters, her tone dry. “It‘s all about what the reason is.” She nudges her bag with her shoe. “Lance’s reason is that he‘s had to live through the death of someone he’s cared about. The person he blames for that is walking around, happy and untouched. It makes him angry, and because he has no control over that anger, he lashes out. It has to be your fault, Oliver, because otherwise it’s his, and that makes things worse.”

When Oliver turns to her for a brief moment, she shrugs. “Look, I‘m not the guy’s number one fan,” she admits, “but I can‘t say I don’t identify with him. Be thankful he‘s the kind to snarl at you.” Felicity points to herself before starting to take off her jacket. “If* I *hated you that much, I’d smile to your face while I imagined putting a sword through your back.”

A thought that Oliver had eariler comes back to him suddenly: “Speaking of doing everything for a reason… you aren’t clumsy.”

“No, I‘m not,” Felicity agrees with a smirk. She reaches down for the bag between her knees, pulling out a pair of jeans. “If I was clumsy, I’d be dead by now.” She turns a dark smile on Oliver when he glances over at her again. “In my defense, you did want to know where Lance was on our case, and they took everything offline so I couldn‘t hack it anymore.” She points an index finger at him. “Lance may be a pain in the ass, but I have to give him credit: he’s pretty smart.”

“But you‘re smarter,” Oliver can’t help but point out. She lifts a shoulder in answer as he shakes his head. While turning their case into a paper file would be a roadblock to him, Felicity just finds a creative way to work around it. The thought puts another in his head: “Did you even know he’d be in the Jade Dragon?”

Before she can answer, her phone rings with a tone he‘s never heard before. It astounds him that she has a ringtone for all the people in her life—and he’s always been curious about his own—but this one isn‘t the familiar sound of Roy’s. Instead, it’s about feeling pressure and being better off without someone. Felicity jabs a button to end the call. “No means no,” she declares to her phone.

Turning back to Oliver as though nothing happened, she replies, “Lance is a regular at the Jade Dragon.” She reaches into her bag for a t-shirt, and Oliver averts his eyes as she pulls off her tank top. “He goes there whenever he has a difficult case—I think he likes the quiet.” At his silence, she explains, After he took the Deathstroke case three years ago, I started studying him the same way he did me.“ As she shoves her tank top into her bag, she waves her free hand, wearing a dark t-shirt instead. ”Know thy enemy, Oliver."

They lapse into silence for a moment before Felicity states in a thoughtful tone, “I think they‘re going to bring in a profiler.” As he stops at a red light, Oliver turns to her, and she meets his eyes. “Lance was writing notes on his encounter with us a few nights ago, but they weren’t like his usual case notes. Those are always objective, but these were subjective—thoughts and feelings and opinions.” She frowns. “Lance and Hilton are fact guys, so if he’s changing his method, that means someone else. This someone else has to be focused on the subjective. Hence, profiler.”

Oliver frowns. As usual, Felicity is ten steps ahead; meanwhile, he’s still trying to figure out why a profiler would be useful. “Is that something we need to worry about?” he asks, brow furrowing.

Felicity snorts. “I tend not to worry about anything that isn‘t trying to kill me.” They share a grin before she pats his arm. “You should try that—people who worry less tend to live longer.” Her head tilts to the side. “Of course, we’d probably live longer if we didn‘t take on armed criminals with antiquated weapons every night, but where’s the fun in that?” They both chuckle as he takes a right turn.

His hand drops to the shift knob, and Felicity‘s falls on top of it. For reasons Oliver hasn’t worked up the courage to ask about, she‘s been more tactile with him. It started that night she met him at the hospital after his sister wrecked her car. Ever since, Felicity can barely talk to him without her hand in his. As much as he wants to ask, he can’t.

If he makes her self-conscious about it, she might stop.

He turns his hand up to twist his fingers through hers. Felicity complies without a second thought. “I‘m not concerned yet, Oliver,” she answers more directly. “This just signals a change in our relationship with the police. It might mean new suspects and new rules.” The corner of her mouth lifts. “We both know they’re not going to catch up to us. We‘re too careful to leave any real evidence, and they don’t have any solid suspects.”

“Lance isn‘t stupid,” Oliver points out. “Eventually he’s going to realize that the Arrow showed up about the same time I came back to Starling City.” He glances over at her. “He‘s going to come after me hard if he thinks there’s even a chance I could be the Arrow.” He squeezes her hand. “That could lead him to you if he pushes hard enough.” With a sinking feeling in his gut, he offers, “If you wanted to create some distance between us, I would understand.”

“Absolutely not,” Felicity hisses, tightening her grip on his hand. “It‘ll look suspicious if we suddenly stop communicating with one another—like we have something to hide.” She slips her hand from his before resting it on his shoulder. “If that time comes, we’ll outsmart him.” She winks. “With my brain and your ability plan like a chess grandmaster, they don’t stand a chance.”

“Thank you,” he answers, turning into Verdant‘s parking lot. She only looks at him with her head tilted to the side. The reply to her silent inquiry doesn’t come; there isn‘t a way to shape his feelings into words—not without scaring her away. Despite everything, she isn’t going to abandon him when he needs her. They‘re in this together. Even if she won’t always work with him, Felicity has his back when it counts.

Finally he settles on an explanation of, “For being my friend.”

Rolling her eyes as he pulls into the parking space next to Tommy‘s convertible, Felicity replies, “I don’t exactly have a surplus of friends myself, Oliver, and you‘re the best one I have.” She cups the back of his head, her hand trailing down his neck before settling on his shoulder. He shifts the car into park as she promises, “When you need me to save your ass, I’ll be there.”

A smile pulls at the corners of Oliver‘s mouth. It will never cease to amaze him how Felicity can barely manage to call them friends, but she’s willing to align herself with him through any future battles. It says more than words ever could. Unsure of a way to express that, he pulls her hand from his shoulder and places his lips to it.

She squeezes his hand once before pulling away, turning so that she faces the open door. Oliver exits the car and grabs the bag of food, circling to the passenger side to wait for her. By the time he reaches her, Felicity has slid her spandex leggings, adjusting her shirt. It has a picture of a man in furs holding a sword, the emblem of a crow behind him. The words underneath makes Oliver smile: I am a sword in the darkness.

Felicity has always managed just the right amount of subtlety.

After she throws her bag over her shoulder, they start toward the building, so close that her hand brushes against his. Oliver catches it and threads his fingers through hers, squeezing her hand once. They share a smile before she pulls her hand from his under the pretense of adjusting the strap on her bag. It’s a poor attempt to hide a discomfort that the blush on her cheeks clearly tells.

Oliver fights the urge to groan; he knew better than that. She‘ll gladly hold his hand all night, but she has to be the one to initiate contact. If his touch lingers too long, if he studies her for a moment longer than necessary, she runs. The last time, it was a week before she’d offer him a casual touch again.

Abruptly, she asks him, “What are your overhead costs for the club?”

Blinking several times, Oliver tries his best to make sense of her words, but he can‘t think of any response that wouldn’t automatically tell her he was bluffing. “I have no idea,” he admits finally.

There’s no judgment when she nods once to herself. “How much are you making in admission and wine sales?” she asks this time. When he makes a face, she waves a hand. “Give me a rough estimate.”

“Tommy takes care of that,” Oliver answers automatically.

Felicity makes a sound of frustration in her throat. “How much do you pay your employees?” she tries this time.

When he turns to meet her eyes, her expression dims when she realizes what the answer will be. It suddenly occurs to him how pitiful he is as a business owner, using the club as little more than a cover for his nightly activities. Offering her a sheepish smile, he asks, “I‘m failing this, aren’t I?”

“Yes, but you‘re cute and you’re new to the whole business thing, so it‘s okay,” Felicity assures him. “The great thing about business math is that it’s all usually straightforward—no letters and mostly just addition and subtraction.” She winks. “I promise to involve as little algebra as possible.”

Groaning as he holds the door open for her, Oliver can‘t help but whine a little. “This is going to feel like high school all over again, isn’t it?”

“Of course not,” she assures him as she enters Verdant ahead of him. She smirks over her shoulder at him. “I expect you to pay attention, and no amount of money is going to make me give you an A.” After letting him catch up to her, Felicity slips her arm through his. Maybe he didn‘t scare her away after all. “We’ll have you crunching numbers in no time.”

“I think you underestimate how poorly I understand math,” is all Oliver says.

Felicity counters with a quirked eyebrow, “I think you underestimate how well I teach math.”

Knowing a challenge when he hears it, he turns away, toward the familiar figure at the bar. “I thought you said you were going to that gala with your dad tonight?” Oliver calls to his best friend in greeting. “You should be leaving.”

Dropping her bag on the floor, Felicity slides onto a barstool. Oliver places the sack of takeout on the bar, moving to stand between her and the nearest stool. She reaches over for one of the takeout boxes, placing her hand on his side to steady herself.

With a smile, he slaps her hand away from the bag, which makes her stick her tongue out at him. “Patience is a virtue,” Oliver teases.

“So are kindness and humility,” Felicity retorts with a grin. “Two more qualities that are rarely associated with me.” The smile disappears as she adds seriously, “And there is no patience when it comes to food.” She holds her palm out. “If you don’t hand over my boxes, I might be forced to take extreme measures.” They lock eyes in a challenge. After a moment, Oliver offers Felicity a tentative smile, but she remains expressionless.

That’s really all the incentive he needs to start pulling takeout boxes from the bag.

A chuckle from the bar pulls Oliver‘s attention away. “I’d feed the woman,” Tommy suggests with a grin. “You might have the weapons and the kung fu moves, Ollie, but…” He glances over at Felicity. “I always get this feeling that Smoak has a freezer in her basement filled with bodies of people who have pissed her off.” He turns to her. “Does that offend you?”

“A little,” Felicity admits, opening one of the boxes. She frowns, pushing it back toward Oliver before reaching for the next. “Bodies in a basement freezer? Really?” After examining the contents of the takeout box, she slides it toward herself. “There‘s this thing called evidence, Merlyn. I’d bury them where they wouldn’t be found.” She tilts her head to the side. “Or use a furnace.”

Tommy chuckles nervously. “The part that scares me, Smoak, is that I can‘t tell if you’re joking.”

She turns to him with a dark grin, but it quickly fades as she glances away from her food for the first time. Felicity offers a whistle as she takes in Tommy‘s appearance, dressed in a fitted tuxedo with a black bowtie. “Looking good, Merlyn,” she says with a grin, motioning to his attire. “You clean up nice.” Tommy’s ears turn the slightest hint of pink at the unexpected compliment.

Turning to Oliver, Felicity adds, “And I thought I wouldn‘t get to see a billionaire in a tux tonight.” She throws a hand around with an unimpressed shrug. “I mean, it’s only Merlyn, but…” She winks at Oliver. “Any tuxedoed billionaire port in a storm.” A heartbeat later, she winces. “Sorry for the boat reference.”

Her observations of Tommy leaves a strange taste in Oliver‘s mouth. It’s followed by an unpleasant feeling in his gut—one that he‘s never felt before and hopes never to feel again. He doesn’t examine it too closely, afraid that it might reveal more than he wants to admit to even himself at this point. Though his fist clenches by his side, Oliver manages to keep his expression neutral.

Fortunately, Tommy speaks so Oliver doesn‘t have to. “Careful, Smoak,” he jokingly warns with that wide grin. “I’m a kept man these days.”

Felicity rolls her eyes as she reaches in the bag for a plastic fork. “It‘s called window shopping, Merlyn,” she replies in a dry tone. “Just because it looks good on display doesn’t mean I want to take it home with me.” A devilish grin comes to her face. “Every time I see you, I hear my mother‘s voice saying, ’Don‘t touch that, Felicity. You don’t know where it‘s been.’”

Tommy cries out in protest before motioning to her and Oliver. “Yet you hang around with this guy,” he points out. “As best friend and wingman, I assure you he‘s worse than I ever was.” Oliver can’t help but nod his agreement; Tommy at least focused on one woman at a time. Oliver never had that kind of discretion—not that he’s proud of that fact now.

“Maybe,” Felicity agrees, turning to Oliver with the smile she seems to reserve only for him, “but he‘s nice to look at and I like the way his mind works.” She lfits a shoulder in a haphazard shrug. “I don’t know why, but you’ve grown on me.” Wiggling her fingers, she clarifies, “Like a fungus.”

He laughs, which makes her hand move to his face. His eyes fall closed of their own accord as he savors her touch. Maybe one day he‘ll figure out how the same hands that wield swords with an iron grip can be so gentle against his skin. In a tone he can’t decipher, she muses quietly, “Maybe it’s because of that smile.”

“More window shopping, Smoak?” Tommy teases.

“Oh, no,” Felicity replies, sounding affronted. “I have every intention of taking this one home.” Her words make Oliver’s eyes fly open in surprise, and she quickly adds as color floods her face, “To watch movies and eat ice cream with.” She pulls her hand from his face, waving it wildly. “Not in the way people usually mean it when they take someone home.” She groans. “Why do I always end up propositioning you?”

“Sounds like a Freudian slip to me,” Tommy goads them with a wink. Both Oliver and Felicity turns to stare at him at once, and he shrugs self-consciously. “What? I made a B in psychology.” He turns to Felicity. “I have hidden depths you have yet to explore, Smoak.”

“I’ll set aside thirty minutes for that expedition,” she deadpans.

Before they can quibble any further, Oliver‘s phone starts ringing—except his phone stays on vibrate. He reaches into his left pocket, pulling out a phone he hasn’t used in months. His brows knit together. “That has to be Lance,” he says to his friends. There‘s no point in checking the display; only two people have the number, and Felicity is sitting right beside him. “He’s calling for the Arrow.”

The smile slips off Tommy’s face, but Felicity only leans in as Oliver answers, “Good evening, Detective.”

There’s a long pause, so long that he thinks his voice-altering software has failed. Finally the answer comes in the form of, “I need your help.” The voice is all wrong, soft and feminine and uncomfortably familiar to his ears. “I know my father—”

Oliver doesn‘t let her finish. “Your father and I have an agreement, but that doesn’t extend to you,” he retorts as bluntly as possible, eyes darting to Tommy. “I don‘t know you, Miss Lance. Have a nice night.” He presses the button to terminate the call, even as she’s protesting from the other end.

Placing the phone on the bar in front of him, Oliver swallows hard as he turns to his best friend. “We have about thirty seconds before she calls back,” he declares ina rush. If there‘s one thing he can depend upon, it’s Laurel‘s tenaciousness. “Laurel says she needs the Arrow’s help, Tommy.” He levels a look. “Do you want me to take the case or not?”

“I…” The word falls out of Tommy‘s mouth, but no more follow. After a few seconds of fumbling for the next words, he squares his shoulders. “If you’re asking me if I want Laurel involved with the Arrow,” Tommy starts slowly, “the answer is no. Absolutely not.” He runs a hand through his hair. “But Laurel doesn‘t trust vigilantes. If she’s calling, it‘s because she thinks there’s no one else she can go to.”

The phone starts ringing again and all three of them glance down to see Laurel’s number on the screen. Tommy sighs, shaking his head. After a moment, he finally admits, “I think I have to ask you to do this for me, Ollie.”

Nodding once, Oliver answers the call. This time, he places it on speaker; he promised himself he wouldn’t keep secrets from Tommy now that he knows the truth. “You have two minutes to explain to me why I should be talking to you right now, Miss Lance,” he greets without preamble.

“Surely you can’t expect me to—” she starts to protest.

“One minute, fifty-five seconds,” Oliver insists.

There‘s only a heartbeat of a pause before she takes in a breath. “I’m representing a client who is suing Martin Somers for the wrongful death of her father,” she explains in a clipped tone, her words choppy and terse. “The district attorney wouldn‘t take the case to court, so we’re trying it as a civil suit.” There’s a short pause. “Do you know who Somers is?”

“Martin Somers owns a shipping business out of the port,” Oliver replies evenly. Of course she‘s after him; he’s trouble and Laurel never could resist a challenge. “That’s his front. He smuggles cargo in and out of the country for various sources.”

Placing a hand on his shoulder, Felicity adds with a grimace, “His most recent venture has been smuggling drugs and weapons into the country for the Chinese Triad.” She reaches across Oliver to press the mute button. “I‘ve had my eye on him for months.” A flicker of darkness flashes through her eyes, one he isn’t used to seeing without the black-and-gold mask across her face. “I want this bastard, Oliver.”

Confusion flickers across Tommy’s face, but Felicity unmutes the phone before he can ask. “Victor Nocenti was going to turn him in for it,” Laurel is saying, “but Somers got to him first. His daughter Emily came to me for help. When she came home today, her apartment was ransacked. There was a knife in the wall with Chinese writing on it.”

Felicity‘s fist clenches, but Oliver places his hand over the top of hers. She thaws immediately, palm flattening against the table. “They’re trying to keep her quiet,” Laurel continues, “and I don‘t think they’re going to stop with a threat.”

“Where is Miss Nocenti right now?” Oliver asks.

“With me,” Laurel replies, predictably. If there‘s danger to be found, of course she’s in the middle of it. “She‘s staying at my apartment tonight. Normally I’d ask for police protection, but Somers has people in the DA‘s office and Customs. It only makes sense he’d pay off the police, too.” Silence lapses over the line before she admits in a small voice, “You’re the only one I can trust to help us.”

Pausing just long enough to make it seem like reluctance, Oliver slowly answers, “Text me your address. I‘ll be there as soon as I can. Until then, turn the lights off in your apartment and stay away from the windows. Glancing to Felicity, he adds,”Deathstroke will know who the Triad uses for this kind of work.“ Felicity glances down to her shoes before looking away in a subtle nod. ”If he’s free, he might be able to track them down before they make a move."

“I don‘t want that maniac involved in this,” Laurel protests. “I’ve seen what he does to people. If I wanted him, I would have found a way to reach him. I called you.”

Oliver is already shaking his head before she finishes. “You did call me, Miss Lance,” he agrees, “which means we do this my way. I can’t help you if I have one hand tied behind my back. If you want my assistance, this is my offer. If not, good luck with your case.”

There’s a rush of static over the line, and the sigh tells Oliver her answer before she can. “Fine,” Laurel agrees in a tired voice, “but you keep that… thing away from us. My client is already terrified enough without introducing her to a sociopath with swords.”

“We’ll be in touch, Miss Lance,” Oliver replies before hanging up."

Sighing, Felicity frowns down at her takeout box. “So much for dinner,” she declares, staring at her takeout longingly. Reaching into the bag, she pulls an egg roll from a different box. “At least I can have an egg roll before we go save the world again.”

Tommy rounds the counter as Felicity gathers up the food. “I need to get to Laurel’s—” he starts.

“No, you don‘t,” Felicity reminds him. “Secret identity, remember? If she hasn’t told you what‘s happening, how are you going to explain why you cancelled on a big, fancy event with your dad?” He stops in his tracks, and Felicity pats his shoulder. “I know you want to help your girlfriend, but we’re on this Tommy.” She winks. “Between my brains and Oliver‘s brawn, she’s going to be fine. I promise.”

“She’s right,” Oliver starts, shoving his hands into his pockets."

With a blissful sigh, Felicity comments, “Music to my ears.”

Somehow Oliver manages to bite back a smile; she isn‘t even in her gear yet, and already she’s riding the high of their next mission. It looks good on her. “The best thing you can do for Laurel right now is let us handle this,” Oliver continues, as if she hadn‘t spoken. “Go to the awards banquet with your father. I promise she’ll be safe when you two finish.”

“I owe you one, Ollie,” Tommy promises.

Oliver shakes his head. “Friends don’t keep score.”

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

Oliver sighs as he paces in front of the sliding glass doors, waiting for some sign of movement. Even with Diggle down below, he can’t stand still. The enemy is out there and they will come, but he doesn’t know from where or when. This is the kind of calm that makes his hair stand on end: the anticipation of the next threat. Even the sound of Felicity’s phone going off over the comm made him jump the last two times, before she finally put it on silent.

The last time he faced down this kind of quiet, it wasn’t really quiet at all. When Oliver was waiting for the Royal Flush Gang to strike, he had someone to keep his mind off the impending fight. With that thought in mind, he whispers into the comm, “Felicity?”

It takes her a moment to reply, but he can hear the familiar slam of a metal door in the foundry. “Yes, Oliver?” she asks with an easy familiarity. “Sorry for using your name,” she adds after a beat. “It’s just that Deathstroke is out now, so I figured it would be okay if we just used our identities. It’s kind of weird to use your codename when I’m just Felicity.”

“It’s fine,” Oliver assures her.

“Are you okay?” she continues. “Is John okay? John, you’re okay, aren’t you?”

“Everything is fine, Felicity,” Diggle assures her, faint traces of amusement leaking into his voice. Though he keeps his emotions close to the vest, Oliver knows Digg and Felicity have bonded some since she removed that bomb collar around his neck. It’s part of the reason she doesn’t want to tell him she’s Deathstroke: it would destroy their ability to work together.

“Oh,” she replies, voice breathy. “I mean, good. But usually you boys only call me when you need help. What do you need, Oliver?”

“I’m hypervigilant right now,” he admits to her in a small voice. “Could you just… talk to me?” It comes out vulnerable and quiet, but at least Felicity won’t take that as weakness. “Please.”

“Of course,” she replies without missing a beat. “Let’s see…” There’s a short pause, but when she speaks again, her voice is clearer, as if she’s taken off her mask. “My mom has been calling for the last three days—persistently, I might add.” She blows out a breath. “I want to know what she wants but at the same time…” Words fail her for a moment. “Well, there’s a reason she and I don’t talk anymore.”

Instead of waiting for him to speak, Felicity rushes on with the conversation. It’s part of the reason why he asked her to fill the silence in the first place: she understands what he needs without asking. He’s never met anyone that could do that before.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she assures him. She attempts a poor imitation of his voice. “’Felicity, why don’t you just talk to her?’ Well, Oliver, I’m so glad you asked.” He releases a chuckle, the tension loosening in his shoulders. “With my mother, it isn’t that simple. When we talk, we always end up arguing. There’s always something.” She sighs. “Usually it’s my job. If it isn’t my job, it’s my tattoos. If—”

“You have tattoos?” Digg asks.

“Two,” Felicity replies quickly, before continuing. “If it isn’t my tattoos, it’s how I should try to cover my scars. If it isn’t that, it’s when I’m going to find someone to make me happy.” Her voice turns high-pitched and fluttery as she mocks her mother. “Because, ’Honey, you were so happy before! Maybe you should just talk to your ex. He was a nice man and he still loves you. Maybe you two can try again.”

When she sighs this time, her tone deflates. “She’s still waiting for the old me to come back. I don’t have the heart to tell her that Felicity Kuttler died in a shipping container in Osaka, Japan. All that’s left is…” Her voice turns small and vulnerable in a way that she rarely lets anyone hear. “Felicity Smoak.”

“I happen to like her,” Oliver cuts in. “Very much.” Maybe even more than he should.

It does the trick; her voice is brighter as she responds, “That’s sweet, but you didn’t know me before Japan. If you did, you’d understand why she’s waiting. I’m just not… me. Parts of me broke in those seven months that can never be repaired.” Oliver nods. He knows the feeling well. “I’m missing too many pieces to put myself back together the same way I was before. You know what that feels like—everyone expecting you to be someone you aren’t anymore.”

“And even if you could be,” Oliver finishes for her, “you’re not sure you want to be anymore.”

“Exactly,” Felicity agrees. “Felicity Kuttler was happier, but she was afraid. All the time. She was afraid of committing to her boyfriend, afraid of being arrested for her… less-than-legal activities. She was weak and naïve and weighed down with expectations she never wanted.” Her tone firm, she admits, “And I’m glad I’m not her anymore.”

There’s a long pause before Digg finally interjects, “You know you’re starting to refer to yourself in the third person like Oliver, right?”

Oliver smiles as Felicity chuckles, glad that Diggle could interject some levity into the conversation. Their conversations have a tendency to overwhelm the both of them. When he goes to a dark place, Felicity can usually lighten him with some humor. Oliver isn’t quite in a place where he can do that for her.

“Actually,” Felicity disagrees, “I think he started doing it because of me.” Her voice is gentle as she explains, “You don’t understand, John, and I hope you never do. The only way to understand is to go through a crucible like this. Something that unexpected and brutal splits you into two different people: before and after. The person I was before is so different from who I am now that it only seems fair to consider them two separate people.”

She clears her throat. “I mean, look at Oliver, for example.” He winces; he’s hardly a good example of anything. “He might be all green and heroic now, but five years ago, he was racking up misdemeanors and peeing on cops.”

“Wait,” Diggle cuts in. “You peed on a cop?”

Turning his attention to his shoes, Oliver starts pacing again. That wasn’t one of his finer moments.

Felicity comes to his defense, just like she always does. “Yes, but that’s not the man he is now,” she insists. “In his case, it was definitely a change for the better. Oliver is one of the finest people I’ve ever met.” The praise startles him into a smile; Felicity doesn’t supply compliments very readily.

“Mine wasn’t,” she continues, her voice smaller this time. “I had black hair and an obsession with dark makeup. Made some questionable fashion choices. I was my dad’s lapdog at Kord Industries, content with an obscene salary and a fiancé I never wanted to marry.”

Oliver stops mid-step at her words, nearly falling over. Before he can ask, she continues as though it’s old news. “I have more freedom to be myself now, but I didn’t really understand how trapped I was until then.” Her voice twists into something bitter, a side of her he’s never experienced before. “When you’ve spent all your life in a gilded cage, you don’t think of it as a cage. It’s just a home. Despite everything, I was happy then.”

The moment she stops talking, Oliver asks, “You were engaged?”

She snorts. “Of all the things I just said, that’s your takeaway?” she asks. Her tone turns sarcastic. “Yes, Oliver, despite common belief, I do have a love life. It’s a little barren right now, but my life hasn’t always been computers and takeout.”

Before he can assure her he didn’t mean anything by it, she continues, “Yes, I was engaged. It was complicated and messy and I don’t like to talk about it. This was just another thing in my life that Japan destroyed—but I’m grateful for this one. We didn’t work after everything that happened, and he wouldn’t understand what I do now.”

She sighs. “But it… didn’t end well. My mother took his side, and I had to change my phone number because he kept calling.” There’s a sound of something slamming against the table in the background—probably Felicity’s phone. “My only regret right now is that I gave my mom the new number.”

Oliver’s lips press together. As he paces, he watches Laurel enter the room, leaning against the counter on the other side of the kitchen. Though he knows what Felicity’s answer will be, he can’t help offering, “If you have a name and an address for me, I would be glad to teach him what the word ’no’ means.”

“Oliver Queen, you are not using my ex-fiancé for target practice,” she declares, voice dipping into tones he’s only ever equated with Deathstroke. “It wasn’t the creepy, no-means-no kind of persistence. He thought everything was normal after Japan.”

Scoffing, she clarifies, “Obviously it wasn’t and he was an idiot for thinking it would be. His limited powers of observation aside, he thought everything was perfectly okay. Suddenly I shove the ring into his hands, tell him that I can’t do this anymore, and walk out. He was just looking for answers that I couldn’t give him.”

Glancing to Laurel, Oliver nods once. “You can’t explain this to someone you’ve cared about,” he finishes for her. “You can’t make them understand that the person you were died, and all that’s left is a stranger wearing a familiar face.” He swallows hard. “To conquer those demons, you had to become worse than them.”

“‘He who fights with monsters might take care, lest he thereby become a monster,’” Felicity quotes. Oliver instantly recognizes it as the inscription on her right-hand blade. “We become our experiences. Sometimes that isn’t a good thing.”

For some reason he doesn’t understand, Diggle chuckles. “When I met you two, I couldn’t understand how you could be friends,” he notes aloud. “I think I’m starting to understand.”

Crossing his arms, Oliver only says, “We’re both trapped in the same struggle.” He would give everything he had to save Felicity from hers.

With a smile in her voice, she replies, “There are worse people to be stuck with.”

Before he can do anything more than smile, Laurel asks in a quiet, hesitant voice, “Who are you talking to?” She waves a hand before crossing them again. “I know I should be hiding, but I couldn’t wait any longer.” Same, predictable Laurel. “I thought I might be able to talk to you.”

“Tell her you’re talking to the voices in your head,” Felicity suggests. Diggle breathes a quiet laugh. “Too many questions about you might reveal your identity.”

Oliver ignores them. “I’m speaking to my team.”

Felicity scoffs as he smiles, already prepared for the argument that will follow. “I am not your team, Oliver,” she retorts hotly. “We’ve discussed this a thousand times. I freelance with you when I choose, but I am not part of your damn team.”

“You have a team?” Laurel asks, oblivious to the tongue-lashing he’s receiving on the other end of the comm.

Biting back a smile, he replies, “Apparently not. One of the people I work with just informed me they only freelance on my missions.”

He’s willing to concede this argument to Felicity; whether she wants to admit it or not, they’ve become partners in this. Ever since they took on the Royal Flush Gang together, they’ve been working more missions together than separate. She can call them whatever she likes, but they’re still partners in all but name.

Swallowing hard, Laurel says, “If you don’t mind me asking… how do you find people to help you?”

“Ad in the paper,” Felicity suggests this time.

Fighting the amusement, Oliver places his hand to his ear. “I don’t believe Miss Lance asked you,” he says to her. To Laurel, he explains, “My freelance ally is being difficult.”

“You love it,” Felicity accuses.

Unable to deny her claim, he ignores her instead, turning his attention back to Laurel. “There’s more than one way to find an ally,” he answers. “Sometimes I stumble across someone who accepts what I’m doing and wants to help.”

She makes a face at that answer. “Everything I’ve ever been taught says that what you’re doing is wrong,” Laurel admits slowly. “My father has a favorite saying: ‘You don’t have to go outside the law to find justice.’”

“That’s because Lance is a stick in the mud,” Felicity mutters to herself.

Oliver shakes his head with a smile. “If the world was fair, he would be right,” he agrees slowly. Laurel’s brow furrows. “But the world isn’t fair, Miss Lance. Men like Martin Somers own this city and prevent justice from being done.” He crosses his arms. “When that happens, sometimes the law isn’t enough.”

Felicity makes another comment in his ear, and this time he repeats it for Laurel: “The world doesn’t always need heroes. Sometimes what it needs is another monster.”

After studying him for a long moment, Laurel admits, “You don’t look like a monster.”

“What does a monster look like?” he replies. The question leaves her silent. “You don’t know me, Miss Lance.” Memories flash through his head, pieces of events he’s lived through in the past five years—things he’ll have to learn to live with. “You have no idea the things I’ve done.” He meets her eyes. “I’d do each and every one of them again to save the people of this city.”

She shivers under her gaze, and even though it hurts him, Oliver finds a grim satisfaction in it. She should be afraid. She should fear him and stay away from him. His line of work only attracts trouble, and from now on, he’s only going to allow people in his life who can handle it.

“Speaking of saving people,” Felicity says abruptly, “I have six possible hostiles on the traffic cams.” He stands alert immediately. “One of them has stunning white hair, if that helps.” Her voice lightens as she muses, “I wonder who does her color. Maybe you should ask—I need to dye mine.”

All of the nervous energy that has been bouncing inside Oliver seems to take form. “Go back to your bedroom and lock the door,” he barks to Laurel. “If anyone tires to break in, shoot them. Though her eyes widen, she follows his instructions, pulling the gun out of her hoodie and unlatching the safety.”Spartan, I need you to make your way to the front door. We’ll be able to surround them."

“Roger that,” he replies.

“It is ‘roger,’” Felicity mutters to herself.

It seems like hours before he hears the first movements on the stairs. The floorboards creak, and the light under the door flickers in places. Oliver nocks his bow and draws it, standing just behind the entrance to Laurel’s kitchen. If they have guns, at least he has cover.

In this line of work, having the element of surprise is a rare gift. Most of the time, he’s hunting criminals on their territory, giving them the home court advantage. Tonight, the advantage is his: he knows Laurel’s apartment better than anyone suspects. He knows where she keeps her second handgun and where her supply of cooking knives is.

Most importantly, the Triad doesn’t know to expect resistance.

“They’re almost inside, Spartan,” Oliver breathes in a whisper as the lock twists, clicking. “Are you in position?”

Before Digg can answer, the sliding glass window explodes. Oliver eases around the corner, just in time to watch three Triad enforcers enter. At the same time, a woman with white hair leads two thugs of her own. She’d normally be his first target, but she’s the one with information that could bring down Somers and have critical information on the Triad operation in Starling City.

Felicity might appreciate that, especially after all she’s been through tonight for him.

Instead of taking the shot at her, he whirls, sending it through one of the men climbing through the glass window. The shot strikes home before the other men can even draw their weapons. The two men next to him start screaming in Mandarin about the attack.

Using the mass confusion as an opportunity, Oliver takes a shot at the white-haired woman. It catches in her arm, causing her to swear before snapping the fletching off against the wall. “The archer is here,” she declares in Mandarin as she slides the arrow out of her arm. “Find him and kill him.”

She reaches for a knife at her waist, closing in toward Laurel’s hiding place. The second arrow goes in her calf. Turning, she throws a knife in a fluid motion. It scrapes the edge of his hood as it narrowly misses his throat. He retaliates with an arrow that she dodges easily.

“You are becoming more trouble than you’re worth,” she notes in Mandarin.

Oliver’s reply is in the same language: “As are you.”

Lunging at him with another knife, Oliver just barely manages to dodge. It slices through his jacket, somehow missing the skin. Another man joins the fray, catching Oliver in the jaw. He stumbles backward as a gunshot rings out.

At first he thinks it’s Digg, but the door slams open a moment later. He takes on another Triad thug, who kicks the gun from his hand. They fall to the floor, exchanging blows.

Though Oliver wants to help him, he has trouble enough of his own, blocking blows from the Triad enforcer and trying not to catch a knife from the woman. Using his bow to deflect her knife strikes and striking out with kicks at the other man, Oliver backs toward the block on Laurel’s counter, taking a sturdy boning knife from it.

He elects to go for the enforcer first; the woman is an expert with knives, and he isn’t as comfortable with a close-range knife fight. He catches the man in the chest with it. Before he can recover, Oliver uses it to slit the enforcer’s throat. He falls to the ground with a gurgling sound.

The woman uses his moment of distraction to her advantage, lashing out with her knife again. It’s too close to dodge, and pain explodes through his abdomen as she catches him with it.

Despite the pain, it gives Oliver an opportunity. He kicks her away, throwing the knife with his left hand. The action should leave him free to use the bow, but she kicks it from his hand, sending him backward. The blade still lands home in her side, but he can see two knives in her hands as she rises to her feet.

As she closes in on him, he reaches under the sink for the gun stored behind the cleaning solutions. Before the woman knows to expect it, Oliver has the safety off the Glock, firing three shots. Two just barely clip her, but the third lands home in her chest.

It’s enough to stop her this time. She collapses to the floor, breathing in harsh gasps that tell him he’s clipped a lung. He glances at her for a moment before deciding he’ll deal with her later.

Trading the gun for his bow, Oliver nocks an arrow, turning down the hall in the direction Digg must have gone. He takes a moment to study the scene; three hostiles down, with Diggle facing a fourth. That leaves him two short.

Oliver doesn’t like those numbers.

Stopping only to pick up Digg’s discarded gun, he stores it in the pocket of his jacket. He takes slow steps in the path of destroyed furniture, carefully taking aim. The sound of a struggle reaches his ears, and he closes in on the sound.

When he reaches the noise, it’s in the bathroom. Diggle smashes the enforcer’s face against the sink, making him collapse on the floor. With the exception of a busted lip, John looks unharmed but pissed. Oliver silently passes the gun to him, earning a nod in return.

Another gunshot rings out, and both men turn at the direction of the sound: bedroom. Oliver breaks into a run, a cold dread in the pit of his stomach. He isn’t sure Laurel could take a fatal shot—something that won’t be an asset for her tonight.

When he arrives at the door, it’s already been kicked in. There’s a body on the floor already, unmoving. There’s a gun next to the doorway, and the last enforcer is over Laurel with his hands around her throat. Oliver looses an arrow at him, catching him in the throat. He falls off Laurel with a sickly sound, and she scrambles away, now covered in blood.

After glancing over to Laurel to ensure she’s okay, he stands over the man. The enforcer attempts to beg, but the wound to his throat makes deciphering his words impossible. Despite that, Oliver knows what he wants: another arrow, to end his suffering.

Crouching over him on the balls of his heels, Oliver leans over the man. He grabs at Oliver’s arm, but he brushes him off. Instead of giving him mercy, the archer simply watches the fight drain out of the Triad enforcer. Eventually his breaths turn pained and agonal. They stop shortly after that, and he feels no remorse about letting him suffer.

Mercy is reserved for people who don’t come after his friends.

A beat later, a voice says in his ear, “Oliver?” Felicity’s voice is calm enough, but he knows her well enough to catch that edge of panic concealed underneath it. “I heard gunshots on your end.” There’s a sound of something crashing in the background, followed by swords being sheathed. “I need a sit rep.”

“I’m fine,” he assures her in a gentle voice. He examines the wound in his side. “Nothing a few stitches can’t fix.” There’s a muffled clatter that he recognizes too well: the sound of her swords on the gurney. Oliver can’t stop the smile that comes to his lips. “Were you about to come rescue me?”

“Of course,” she replies, as though it’s a perfectly sensible conclusion. He shakes his head; they both know she has a set of broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, and a gunshot wound. Yet she’s willing to come in, swords swinging, to save him. “I’ve already told you: I’d go to war to save you. That was a promise.” Her tone turns hard. “I always keep my promises, Oliver.”

Before he can say anything more, she asks, “John, are you okay?”

“I have a busted lip and a few bruises, but I’ll live,” he assures her. “How are the ladies?”

Oliver turns to where Laurel sits against the wall. Her hands shake, and he approaches her slowly, sinking down into a crouch. “How badly are you injured?” he asks her in a gentle tone.

“I-I don’t think so,” she replies after a moment. “I just…” Her hand goes to her throat. “He was trying to strangle me.” She looks at him. “He would have killed me.”

Talking about that now may do more harm than good. Instead, Oliver asks her, “Do you have any trouble swallowing?” She swallows before shaking her head. “Good. I think you’re going to be okay,” he assures her quietly. “You need to call the police.”

She nods once as he rises to his feet. After knocking on the closet door three times, he calls, “Miss Nocenti, it’s clear.”

Opening the door slowly, she asks, “Is everyone okay?”

Glancing around the room, Oliver admits, “The Triad lost a few members tonight, but Miss Lance and my associate are relatively unharmed.” He glances back at Laurel. “It might be best if you contacted Detective Lance, instead of the police line. He’s one of the few we can trust.”

Into his comm, he adds, “Spartan, I tried to leave the female hostile alive. If she still is, take her with you. She’ll have information about Triad operations, and Deathstroke might find that useful.”

“Too late,” Diggle replies. “She just bolted out the window.”

“I can’t find her on the traffic cams,” Felicity adds. “She must have gone down an alley.” In Russian, she continues to him, “And that’s nice of you, but I don’t really do torture. I stab and I threaten and I kill. She wouldn’t have been useful to me, anyway.” In English, she continues, “I can’t do anything else tonight, Oliver. Come home and I’ll patch you up.”

The fact that she called his base home is not lost on Oliver. “Spartan, I’ll meet you at the base,” he decides. He hesitates, needing Felicity but unsure what to call her in front of the two women. “Overwatch, have you heard anything about… our friend?”

It’s silent for a long moment. “Do you mean me?” Felicity finally asks. “Because… Overwatch? Seriously? This is why I pick the codenames on this team.”

“Says the woman who named me ‘Spartan,’” Diggle cuts in.

“John, whose side are you on?” she retorts. With a sigh, she turns her focus on Oliver. “If you’re talking about Tommy, he texted while you were getting your ass handed to you by a white-haired ninja.” He snorts at that description. “They’re at Starling General. I’ll meet you there.” To Oliver, she adds in Russian, “I’ll have to change out of my gear. It’s going to take me a while with my injuries.”

“I’ll go with you,” Diggle offers. “It would probably look suspicious if you showed up without your bodyguard.” Felicity laughs, still finding amusement in the fact that Oliver has a protection detail. “Or maybe ’driver’ is more appropriate.” His voice carries some humor, too. “I’ll meet you at the car, man.”

Oliver nods to himself once. His next words stick in his throat, but he finally manages to force them out: “And Overwatch? Thank you. We make a good team.”

With a tone that almost certainly accompanies an eye roll, she answers, “I’m not your team, Oliver.”

“No, you’re my partner,” he disagrees. She stays suspiciously silent.

He turns toward the two women again. Laurel has her cell phone out, dialing her father. “You should tell them I broke in and dispatched them while you hid,” he suggests. “That will keep you from being implicated.”

Emily swallows hard before meeting Oliver’s eyes for the first time. “I’m grateful for what you did for us tonight,” she starts slowly. “It hardly seems like enough, but thank you.”

Rising to her feet, Laurel says, “You told me tonight that sometimes we need monsters.” She crosses her arms. “I still don’t know if I would call you one, but if you are, you’re exactly the kind of monster this city needs.” She extends a hand. “Thank you.”

Wary, Oliver slowly slips his gloved hand into Laurel’s, shaking it once. “Stay safe, Miss Lance, Miss Nocenti,” is his reply, turning for the broken window in the living room.

With a leap and a grappling arrow, he swings off her balcony and into the night.

 


 

Wincing against the pain, Felicity decides she hates her ribs. Generally she likes being able to feel them, but tonight it just sucks. They ache with every breath, sending pain spiking down her side. Some asshole didn’t hold the elevator for her, so two flights of stairs later, she’s lost the ability to take deep breath. At least she’s on the right floor now, looking for a private waiting room in the wing appropriately named for the Merlyns.

Sometimes it still surprises her just how filthy rich her friends are.

Resisting the urge to wince against her wounds, she walks to the door, unsurprised to find John standing outside the doorway. “Good evening, John,” she calls, motioning to the door. “Have you heard how Mr. Merlyn is doing?”

“They think he’s gonna pull through,” John replies, though his eyes narrow as he looks at her. Frowning, he stares at her in a way that makes her uncomfortable. “You have a massive bruise on your jaw,” he says flatly. “What the hell happened?”

Felicity presses her fingers to the edge of her jaw, surprised when it hurts. It takes her a minute to remember the sniper punching her there with all the night’s events. Shit. She should have looked in a mirror before leaving the foundry.

With a surprise that isn’t quite feigned, she touches it again, wincing. “Wow, I must have hit my head against the desk harder than I thought.” Waving a hand, she explains, “I dropped my pen under the desk and smacked into it.”

She places her hand on the door to make a quick exit, but John just calls, “Felicity.”

When she glances over at him, she already feels the guilt of lying to him. John is a good friend who doesn’t deserve this deception. At the same time, she can’t bring herself to tell him that she’s the vigilante he hates so much. She may not know him well, but she knows that moral, honest men like John Diggle are exceedingly rare.

“Are you sure?” he asks her carefully, quietly. “Because that looks like a bruise from an uppercut.” Sometimes his observation skills are more of a curse than a blessing. His eyebrows knit together. “If someone hit you,” he concludes slowly, “you can tell me about it, Felicity. I promise I won’t do anything rash.” He glances toward the door. “Which is more than I can say for our boy in there.”

John isn’t going to let this go. Knowing that, Felicity racks her brain for a way to sell this. One comes to her, and she makes her false confession with a sigh. “I take self-defense classes.” His eyes go wide, but he says nothing. “I was working with my sparring partner before Oliver called me in.” The beauty of it is that it isn’t really a lie. “He caught me off-guard and landed a good punch.” She pats his arm. “Don’t worry about me, John. I’ve seen enough of violent men to stay away from them.”

That is the real lie. She can’t stay away from violent men, but now she’s the one haunting their nightmares. At least there’s a truth in there somewhere: Felicity is done being the victim in yet another senseless act. This time, she’s the predator.

“Just making sure,” John replies in an even tone. He offers her a smile. “We take care of our own on this team.”

Considering she disarmed a bomb around his neck and she’s always saving Oliver’s ass, Felicity is inclined to agree. “Thank you, John,” she tells him honestly, “but you don’t need to worry about me. I’m stronger than I look.”

He snorts. “You’re stronger than Oliver and I put together,” he states with sincerity. “Doesn’t mean you don’t need help sometimes. If you need me, I’m here.”

She pats his shoulder. “Thank you, John.”

With that, she ducks into the waiting room. It’s small and smells like cleaning products, but it holds a few of her favorite people on the planet. Oliver paces in the back, while Tommy sits in one of the vinyl chairs, knee bouncing. Laurel’s hand is Tommy’s as she sits in the chair beside him. Despite the bruises starting to form around her throat, she’s still poised and graceful under pressure.

They all turn to Felicity as the door closes behind her. She barely has time to blink before Oliver is in front of her, frowning at the bruise on the left side of her jaw. His touch is a strange combination of gentle and rough, feather-light touches made with callused fingers.

There’s something off about him. Maybe it’s the harsh, fluorescent lighting, but he looks pale. His eyelids droop with fatigue and his movements are a little too slow. Felicity feels her stomach drop; something is wrong with him.

His expression slowly morphs into something she only ever sees under a green mask. She told him earlier tonight she’d go to war for him, and now he looks ready to start a crusade for her. “Are you all right?” he asks. Judging by the way his eyes flick to the side she’s favoring, Oliver isn’t talking about the bruise on her face.

She hesitates over the story, but she’s already committed and she might as well see it through. “Remember how I told you my sparring partner caught me in the face tonight?” She makes a fist, touching it to the left side of her jaw. “He must have hit me harder than we thought. At least his self-defense classes are realistic.”

Lips pressing together in a thin line, Oliver finally suggests, “You should probably put some ice on that when you get home.” She understands what he’s trying not to say right now because she’s holding the slough of words back, too. If they were in the foundry, she’d already be putting stitches in his wounds—probably while he was insisting she needed lidocaine in her ribs.

Unable to resist, she reaches up to smooth the furrow in his brow. “I’m sore but doing fine,” she reassures him in a whisper. “How are you holding up? Where are you hurt?”

Instead of answering, Oliver shifts his jacket slightly to reveal a too-large red stain on the side of his gray sweater. Felicity frowns; it’s one of her favorite shirts on him. Before she can do more than take in a breath, he whispers quietly, “It isn’t as bad as it looks.”

As he adjusts his jacket back in place, his eyes flick down her figure. No doubt he’s looking for her bullet wound, but she had the sense to slap a thick piece of gauze over it. Even if there’s any leakage, her black t-shirt will hide the evidence. Maybe she should give him lessons about hiding wounds.

He frowns as he meets her eyes, searching her expression. Felicity wonders if the same fatigue in her that she sees in him. With those too-serious eyes and the tone that makes her stomach flip, he finally adds, “I’m more concerned about you.”

Felicity isn’t one to back away from a little danger. She’s faced down Triad assassins, hitmen with sniper rifles, police officers of all shapes and sizes—and that was just tonight. Oliver’s tone and closeness should just present a challenge, but instead it sends her brushing past him in a tactical retreat.

Give her a pissed-off sniper any day. Felicity wouldn’t even flinch. But a suddenly emoting, gently intense Oliver with eyes only for her? That will send her running in the opposite direction with one simple, declarative sentence.

Instead, she turns her focus to Tommy. “Hey, Merlyn,” she greets with a cheer neither of them feels. “How’s your dad?”

He’s on his feet in an instant, stretching. “Still a son of a bitch,” Tommy says flatly, “but they tell me he’s going to live. Thanks for coming.” He takes a step toward her with a hand outstretched, but takes it back as his sense of self-preservation comes back to him.

Felicity holds her hands out awkwardly, making the move he didn’t. It’s better for her to initiate it, anyway—generally when people put their hands on her, they end up with a sword in the throat. “Is this the part where we hug it out?” she asks him in a flippant tone. “I’m not really the huggy type, but it sounds like you’ve been through a lot tonight.”

His arms are around her in an instant, and she forces herself to relax into the hug, patting his back several times. He leans over her shoulder to whisper to her, “I know you were helping Ollie and Deathstroke behind the scenes. Thank you for everything, Smoak.”

When he pulls away, Felicity only winks at him. This must be why Oliver likes playing the hero: doing the right thing leaves a fuzzy feeling in her chest. It could become addictive if she let it. The smile slips off her face as she realizes she can’t. Her job is hunting monsters. Playing the hero is Oliver’s shtick, not hers.

But maybe, every once in a while, she could help him out with it.

She turns her attention back to Laurel, who is watching with a critical eye. Felicity opens her mouth to speak, but Tommy takes up the introduction before she can. “This is Smoak, from Monday nights at the club,” he introduces. “You two kind of met briefly.”

Extending her hand, Felicity declares, “Nice to see you again, Laurel.” She shakes it with a polished smile. “I wish it was with less…” Felicity makes a motion to her own throat. “Ow.

“Tommy wasn’t the only one with an exciting night,” she explains. “The Triad came after me because of a client I’m representing.” She motions to the bruises on her neck. “One of them tried to strangle me. I was lucky the Arrow showed up to help.”

Felicity cuts her eyes over at Oliver. His expression is neutral, but she knows he’s kicking himself over Laurel’s injury. She’ll have to remind him later that Laurel is alive because of him. A few bruises don’t negate what he did.

Nudging Tommy, Felicity teases, “Well, I have to say, I’m a little disappointed, Merlyn.” She motions to Laurel. “No halo, no glowing aura, no choir of angels in the background when I talk to her.” With a grin, she explains to Laurel, “Your boyfriend has made me believe you’ve deigned fit to grace us mere mortals with your presence.”

Tommy’s face flushes pink as Laurel laughs. “I try to keep that a secret,” she teases back, glancing at her boyfriend with an adoring smile. “Should have known he can’t keep his mouth shut.”

Staring at his shoes, Tommy insists, “I do not talk about Laurel like that.”

It’s Oliver who snorts, sitting down on the vinyl couch across from Tommy and Laurel. “Yes, you do,” he insists without missing a beat. “’Hey, Ollie,’” he mocks, “’did you see Laurel on national TV last night? She has a big case she’s working on.’”

Laurel cracks a smile, even though her eyes are glaring daggers at Oliver. Felicity supposes they still aren’t on speaking terms.

Dropping onto the opposite arm of Oliver’s sofa, Felicity attempts to break the ice with, “’Hey, Smoak, did you see my girlfriend’s press statement on TV last night?’” Her impression of Tommy is horrible, but somehow it makes it so much better. “‘She just won a major settlement for her client.’”

Breaking into a beautiful smile, Oliver continues, “That’s because Laurel is the best lawyer that ever lived.”

Laughing, Felicity flops over the side of the couch. She lands on her back, legs kicked over the end of the short sofa. Oliver inches over just enough for Felicity to rest her head on his thigh, resting his arm over the back of the couch. “But how did she manage to study law and cure cancer?” she asks, grinning up at her partner in crime.

“I don’t know,” Oliver replies with false awe.

“Okay, you two assholes,” Tommy snaps, his face flushing crimson. Laurel stares at him with an affectionate smile, though, so Felicity considers it a win. Pointing a finger at Oliver, Merlyn continues in a stern tone, “If you don’t stop this, Ollie, I’m gonna kick your ass.” His grin lessens the severity of his voice.

Raising her hand, Felicity declares, “Ooh, I’m putting my money on Oliver!” The two of them share a loaded grin before she points at Laurel. “Laurel, do you want in on this? Five bucks says Oliver wins in the first two minutes, against the spread.”

As his hand drops on her arm, Oliver comments with a smile, “You’re starting to sound like a gambler, Felicity.”

She arches an eyebrow at him. “How do you think I paid for MIT?” she counters. “My scholarship was only for tuition, so I worked for a bookie and made odds during my freshman year.” When his eyebrows shoot up, she shrugs. “Hey, I was fifteen—who else was gonna hire me?”

“Well, aren’t you an enigma wrapped in a little blonde riddle,” Tommy declares. His expression changes as he points at her. “But I expect better from you, Smoak. You’d pick Ollie over me in a fight?” Felicity just stares pointedly at him, and he sighs. “What happened to the code, traitor?” He motions between them. “You know, bros before…” He trails off, turning to Laurel. “…intelligent, strong women? Sisters before misters? Do you remember any of that?”

“Do you remember that Oliver and I aren’t a thing?” Felicity counters. “Because of that, I am equally able to pick you or him without violating the code.” She waves a hand. “If it was about who could chug a beer in five seconds, you’d always be my pick. But in a fight…” She reaches up to squeeze Oliver’s bicep in a shameless excuse to cop a feel. Oliver doesn’t seem to mind. “Have you seen these muscles, Merlyn? I’m gonna have to go with Oliver.”

Laurel motions between Felicity and Oliver, brows knitting together. “Oh, you two aren’t…?” She trails off, unsure how to phrase it. She has the decency to look uncomfortable as she continues, “I just assumed you two were together because…”

When Laurel motions between them, Felicity understands: she and Oliver don’t really have any boundaries. Hell, she has to admit to herself that they look more like the couple in the room than Tommy and Laurel. Felicity just supposes that’s the kind of thing that happens after sharing a bed for a few months—especially when Oliver has a tendency to cuddle.

“This is a result of falling asleep on a couch together too many times during movie marathons,” Felicity explains with a shrug. She grins up at Oliver. “Sorry, but I don’t screw guys with trust funds.”

Oliver meets her challenge with a smile. “I don’t date blondes.”

Laughing, Felicity replies, “I’m actually a brunette. I dye it.” His eyebrows knit together as he brushes a lock of hair out of her face, and he stops to examine it more closely. She winks. “You’ll have to find another excuse.”

“I don’t date Mensa members,” he replies, all too eager to play along.

Her smile twists into a smirk. “Scared of an intelligent woman, Queen?”

“Terrified,” he corrects, leaning over her. “Especially of you.”

“Good,” Felicity says, rising up on her elbow to pat his cheek. His arm drops over her shoulder. “You should be. If I wanted to, I would absolutely devour you.” She waves a hand in the air. “As it turns out, I’m a nice person.”

The two of them lock eyes, and it’s only then that Felicity realizes how close they are. She can feel the tickle of his breath against her skin. It’s a brief second later when she can see the same realization dawn on Oliver. He leans down ever so slightly.

Before she can panic, their moment is interrupted when the door opens. Oliver turns to it first, expression souring instantly. Felicity turns toward it to follow his gaze, and the smile slips off her face. Both of them are a little too bloody and bruised to have a conversation with Detective Lance at the moment.

Sitting up, Felicity slides her back against Oliver’s side to cover the bloody wound in his side. His arm falls over her side, reaching to squeeze her hand as he tucks her injured side against him. It’s a quiet promise: You have my back, but I have yours, too.

Lance barely spares the two of them a glance before turning to his daughter. “You okay, kiddo?” he asks her, wincing when he sees the bruising around her neck. “The officers on scene told me about what happened.” His head tilts to the side. “The Triad showed up?”

She nods once, her hand going to her throat. “I think Martin Somers has ties to the Triad,” she explains carefully. Lance blanches. “They came after Emily first. I barely moved her into my place before they came for the two of us.” Looking away, she twists a lock of her hair. “The Arrow broke in while we were trying to hide.” She touches her neck again. “I shot one of them in self-defense. Another tried to strangle me. He would have succeeded if the Arrow hadn’t killed him.”

Lance studies his daughter with the too-observant eyes that Felicity can’t help but admire in him. If she’s going to have a police officer on her case, it might as well be a smart one; that gives her a better challenge. “If I go through your cell phone records,” he asks slowly, “am I gonna find a call to the number in the programmed cell phone he sent me?”

A deep sigh leaves her. “Dad—”

He runs a hand over his face, looking more haggard than before. “Jesus Laurel!” he declares, shaking his head. “Do you not remember me saying that guy is dangerous? There are five bodies in your apartment right now.” Felicity bites back a scoff; she dropped two tonight, and she wasn’t even trying. Five is a slow night for either of them. “You could have been one of them.”

“I couldn’t trust anyone else,” Laurel retorts, crossing her arms as she straightens in her chair. Though she doesn’t know Laurel that well, Felicity knows that look: it’s the one her targets give her when they decide to put up a fight. “The police department is compromised—you know Somers has bought off part of the force. The Triad owns half of Organized Crime. I needed someone who couldn’t be bought.”

“He’s a killer, Laurel,” Lance insists. Tommy rankles next to her, but fortunately, he doesn’t notice.

“Maybe he is,” Laurel allows, “but he’s the reason I’m alive tonight.” She shakes her head. “You can say what you want about his methods, but I can’t argue with his results.” A flicker of intuition crosses her face. “He’s not the kind of man you think he is.”

“He’s a psychopath,” Lance insists. Felicity bites down on her tongue in order to stop herself from speaking. Setting the record straight would only incriminate her, and she’s spent three years trying not to do that. “He’s a killer running around this city with a hero complex and a bow.”

She shakes her head. “That’s where you’re wrong,” Laurel disagrees. “He called himself a monster for what he did.” Her lips press together as she shakes her head. “I don’t think so, but I do understand what he meant. We don’t always need heroes, Dad. Sometimes we need people who will cross the lines.”

He makes a face in response, giving her a look Felicity thought he only reserved for criminals. “If anyone discovers that you called the Arrow,” Lance growls, “I won’t be able to save you, Laurel.” He pinches the bridge of his nose. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“The way I see it,” Merlyn offers slowly, “the only people in this room that know are in this room.” He waves a hand. “And the Arrow, but it’s not like he’s gonna tell the police.” He motions to himself, Lance, and Laurel. “We’re obviously not gonna say anything.”

Laurel and her father turn their attention immediately to the two on the sofa. Though she supposes it’s mostly aimed at Oliver, Felicity is first to speak. “Your life, your choice, Laurel,” she replies with a wave of her hand. “You did what you had to do to protect yourself.” God knows Felicity can’t fault anyone for that. “I can respect that decision.” She cuts her eyes at Oliver. “Can’t you?”

“Absolutely,” he replies without missing a beat. Felicity nods once, satisfied.

After giving the two of them a look that she can’t decipher, Lance turns his attention back to Merlyn with a slight grimace. “One of my officers took your statement at the scene,” he starts, pulling a notepad out of his pocket, “but she told me you saw Deathstroke in the flesh?” He drops into a seat next to Tommy. “Can you give me a description?”

“Absolutely,” Merlyn offers with enthusiasm. Felicity just hopes he isn’t too enthusiastic. “He was about five-seven, five-eight.” He motions with his hands. “A little guy. Thin as a rail.” A strange look crosses his features. “I was so startled I said that to him. He told me good things come in small packages.”

Oliver throws Felicity a questioning glance that still manages to be amused. She just shrugs.

Lance stops writing in his notepad to look at Merlyn. “You spoke to him?” he asks, eyes widening. “People don’t usually get to see Deathstroke and tell about it. You’re saying he knew he left a witness?”

Bobbing his head, Tommy swallows. “Yeah, no way could we have missed each other,” he admits. “The crazy son of a bitch fell out of the air, barely caught the balcony railing, and pulled himself over. I heard the noise and thought it might have been someone else who got shot.” Tommy makes a face. “He was in really bad shape. His arm was at a funny angle, and he used the railing to wrench it back in place.”

Even Lance winces at that. “Sounds like he put a dislocated shoulder back in place.” He shakes his head. “He’s a tough bastard; I’ll give him that.” Felicity bites down on a smile. “What else happened?”

“He, uh, he set up a blood transfusion between my dad and I,” Merlyn answers, amazement coloring his tone. “I didn’t want to do it, but he told me if I wanted to keep my dad alive, I’d listen. I thought it might be some sort of trick to kill us, but…” He swallows hard. “He said if he wanted us dead, he’d just kill us.

“When he finished,” Tommy continues, “Deathstroke told me not to mention what he did for Dad.” He snorts. “He insisted that it might damage his reputation if anyone knew he was playing hero. Said that was the Arrow’s thing.”

Lance nods to himself. “That’s about right for Deathstroke. He always sounds like he’s a few tacos short of a fiesta platter.” Oliver barely covers a laugh with a cough. It’s only because of his injuries that Felicity doesn’t slam her elbow into his side. “Did you see or hear anything else that might help?” Lance presses, leaning forward. “Anything at all?”

Shaking his head, Tommy insists, “Nothing much. He was covered from head to toe in black, even the areas where the mask was open for his eyes. He was wearing some sort of black paint around them.” He crosses his arms. “The guy could be in this room right now and I’d never know it.” Felicity turns to exchange a look with Oliver.

She straightens immediately as Lance turns his attention to her and Oliver again. “Twice in a few hours, Queen,” he notes with a snarl. A sarcastic, bitter grin crosses his features. “Must be my lucky day.”

Oliver’s smile drips with insincerity as he replies, “Imagine how thrilled* I *am, Detective.”

All good humor, however false, falls off Lance’s face. Still, Felicity pats Oliver’s leg in support. If she was the kind to keep score, Oliver would definitely be holding his own.

“Where were you tonight, Queen?” Lance demands without warning.

Felicity hears the question out of her mouth before she makes the decision to say it: “Are you seriously suggesting Oliver had something to do with this?”

The detective throws her a look, as if assessing her for the first time. Felicity doesn’t like it. “I’m asking a simple question,” Lance replies simply, calmly, “that does not involve you.” He flashes her a smirk. “And this time, it is official police business.”

Oliver’s hand tightens on top of hers, as if to restrain her. There’s no point in it. The exchange should make Felicity mad, but instead she finds herself smirking at his reply, which makes Oliver pull her tighter into his side. He doesn’t need to worry; she’s not about to do anything rash. Lance is becoming a worthy adversary.

“You were present for part of tonight,” Oliver reminds him without missing a beat. “I picked up Felicity at the Jade Dragon. We waited for our food. Then we went back to Verdant to work on last month’s figures. We passed Tommy on his way out to the awards banquet.” Tommy nods his assurance of that. “Felicity and I proceeded to look over numbers Tommy called me about Mr. Merlyn’s condition.”

Turning his attention back to Felicity, Lance finally says, “You’re his alibi, then?”

“That sounds serious for a simple question,” she counters, crossing her arms. Oliver adjusts his hold on her in a warning. Lance reveals nothing, only waiting for her answer. “Yes, I’ve been with Oliver all night.”

She smiles. “If you’d like to check for yourself, the takeout boxes are still scattered across his desk.” She made sure to do that before she left—it’s the lack of attention to little details that always get people into trouble. “I ate most of mine, but Oliver’s food is practically untouched. He doesn’t eat much these days.” It’s true, and it covers the fact that he wasn’t there to eat it.

“And your name is?” Lance asks.

“Felicity Smoak.” He scribbles it down, which sends a prickly feeling down her spine. She’s spent three years keeping her name away from authorities. Now she isn’t sure if it’s terrifying or exciting.

This time when Lance looks at her, he studies her. His eyes narrow. “I have a few questions to ask you in private,” he suggests, motioning to the door. His eyes flick to Oliver. “Can we step outside?”

No way in hell is Felicity going to allow herself to be cornered by Lance. “You can ask me anything you want right here,” she assures him. “I’ll end up talking to Oliver about it at some point. This just saves us some trouble.”

Though he frowns, Lance asks, “How did you get that bruise on your face, Miss Smoak?” he asks her in a quiet tone. He levels a glare at Oliver, and it’s then that she understands: Lance was trying to protect her. He may have the wrong idea, but she can’t fault him for that. It still makes her want to yell at him, though.

“I take self-defense classes at Wildcat Gym, on Eighth,” Felicity replies, trying to keep her tone even. “My instructor gets a little enthusiastic sometimes. He apologized profusely and asked me if I needed medical attention.” She offers him a smile. “I live in the Glades and my car doesn’t always work. I wanted to make sure I could defend myself if anything happened.”

Lance’s attention goes to her knuckles. Felicity follows his gaze, surprised to find that her hands are starting to bruise. “It looks like you’re well on your way,” he notes in a strange tone. “How long have you been taking classes there?”

The smile falls off her face as she thinks about the first time she stumbled into the gym. It hasn’t been a happy few years, but things were far worse then. “Close to three years,” she admits finally.

He nods once. “I made sure Laurel took self-defense classes when she was younger,” he tells her. “You can’t be too safe in Starling City. I had both my girls certify on the gun range, too.” His head tilts to the side. “You ever been instructed how to use a weapon?”

Suddenly it feels like less of a conversation and more of a casual interrogation. Felicity knows he doesn’t have any evidence or leads, but she can’t help but wonder just how good Lance is.

Shaking her head, Felicity replies, “I don’t like guns and I don’t want them in my home.” She presses her lips together, doing her best to look like she’s holding back emotion. “My father died from a gunshot wound. Every time I see a gun, I think about it. I’ve never been able to touch one.” Not without thinking about him bleeding out in her arms, anyway.

“What about a hunting knife?” he asks this time. “That’s a solid self-defense weapon.

“I barely even cook, Detective,” Felicity replies with a laugh. “I don’t know what to do with the knives in my kitchen, much less a hunting knife.” Balisongs and throwing knives, however, she’s quite comfortable with.

Shrugging, Lance plays it off casually, but Felicity doesn’t buy it for an instant. He’s a sneaky son of a bitch, but not sneaky enough. “Can’t be too careful,” he replies. “After all, there’s a sword-wielding maniac loose on the streets.”

“From everything I’ve read in the papers,” Felicity replies, “I’d be dead if Deathstroke decided to come after me. No amount of self-defense training would help that.” She makes an act of shuddering. “I hope you catch him soon, Detective Lance. I know we’d all sleep easier at night without that monster on the streets.”

Before he can do more than study her expression, a doctor comes in the door. “Mr. Merlyn, your father is awake,” he says. “If you’ll follow me, we can discuss his condition together.”

Rising to his feet, Lance puts his notebook away. “Thank you for answering questions,” he says to everyone. He turns toward Tommy. “Merlyn, if you remember anything, give me a call or stop by the station.” With that, he rises to his feet and walks out.

Tommy turns to Oliver as he and Laurel stand up. “You’re welcome to come,” he offers. “You, too, Smoak.”

“That sounds like a family thing, Merlyn,” Felicity disagrees, standing. She stretches, which turns into a wince as her side explodes in pain. “I think I’m going to get a hot shower and some sleep.” She pats his shoulder. “I’m glad your dad is doing better. See you Monday night.” To Laurel, she offers a wave. “Nice to see you again, Laurel.”

“I should probably take my leave, too,” Oliver says. “I left a mess of financial statements on my desk. I probably need to get those sorted out before tomorrow night.”

“What you need to do is get some sleep,” Felicity corrects. “I know you haven’t slept in three days.”You can crash on my couch tonight.“ He lifts an eyebrow because he’s never spent a night on her couch in his life, but that isn’t something they really talk about. ”We’ll swing by Verdant and finish up those financial statements first." She holds out her hand in an offer.

Oliver doesn’t hesitate to take it as he rises to his feet. He offers her a smile and touches her shoulder before turning to Tommy. “I hope your dad is doing well. If you need anything, let me know.” The two men hug, and Felicity smiles. She’s never had many friends, but those two, absurd boys are bright spots in her life.

“Wise choice, man,” Tommy agrees, nodding to Felicity. “God only knows what would happen if you didn’t listen to Smoak.” He grins. “I bet she’d empty your bank accounts.”

“Of course not!” Felicity replies, affronted. “I only do that to people I don’t like, Merlyn.” She waves a hand with a smirk. “I’d just replace your audio files with the sound of porcupine farts.”

It does the trick: Oliver laughs. “That is…” He shakes his head, turning to her with that beautiful grin. “…incredibly petty of you, Miss Smoak,” he finally decides.

She grins up at him, poking a finger in his chest as she declares, “You wouldn’t have me any other way, Mr. Queen.”

His smile softens, turning into something small and gentle. It’s a smile Felicity likes to think he reserves only for her. “No, I wouldn’t,” he agrees.

That familiar panic works its way up her spine again. Damn it, he needs to stop looking at her like that; it causes her brain to short-circuit. “Stop buttering me up, Queen,” she replies in a dry tone. “You still have to finish those financial statements. You can’t sweet-talk your way out of it.”

As they pass Tommy, he claps Oliver’s shoulder. “Take care of yourself, buddy.” He points to Felicity. “And because I know he won’t… Smoak, make sure you kick his ass until he does.”

“With pleasure,” she replies with a grin and a salute.

They all depart the waiting room with goodbyes and laughs, lighter than when they entered. As Oliver and Felicity turn toward the elevators, John falls into step with them. Though Oliver turns to her with a start of a question, it’s another voice that calls, “Felicity?”

She turns at the sound, brow furrowing when she sees Laurel. The lawyer takes a few steps forward, running the fingers on her right hand across her thumb. “Could I… Could I talk to you for a moment?” She glances at Digg over Felicity’s shoulder, but eventually her gaze settles on Oliver. “Alone, please? It will only take a second.”

“Sure,” Felicity answers immediately. She turns back to John and Oliver. “Can you two give us a couple of minutes?”

“We’ll wait for you by the elevators,” John offers, turning in that direction.

Oliver places a hand on Felicity’s shoulder, squeezing once before turning away. He hesitates, turning back to Laurel. “I’m glad you’re all right after what happened,” he tells her. “Have a good evening.”

As the two men walk away, Laurel shakes her head with a bitter smile. “That man,” is all she says.

Biting down on the inside of her cheek, Felicity somehow prevents herself from saying that man saved Laurel’s life tonight. Taking a deep breath, she reminds herself that Laurel doesn’t know any of that. She doesn’t know about the island, or the kind of man Oliver became because of those struggles. To Laurel, he’s just the asshole who cheated on her with her sister.

If he had done that to Felicity, she absolutely would have gone after him with her swords.

“I know he was a colossal dick to your family,” she replies, jerking a thumb over her shoulder. Laurel blinks twice at the statement before opening her mouth to speak. Felicity holds her hands up. “I’m not here to be Oliver’s advocate—you don’t have to like him. I know Tommy has told you he’s changed, but that doesn’t matter. What he did isn’t the kind of thing you forgive overnight.”

Motioning between them, Felicity continues, “Between us? Being angry and bitter about it doesn’t hurt Oliver—it hurts you. Take it from someone who knows.” Sure, she might carry her anger and thirst for revenge like lead weights on her shoulders, but that doesn’t mean she wants to see Laurel spiral down the same path. Being the personification of vengeance is a lonely road Felicity wouldn’t wish on anyone. “You deserve better than to let one dumbass man’s decisions define you.”

Nothing comes out of Laurel’s mouth for a long time. Felicity waves a hand before assuring her, “You don’t have to say or do anything right now—just think about it.” She crosses her arms. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

Laurel blinks several times, shaking her head. “Oh… yes.” She bites on her lip for a second. “I was wondering if you had a card or a number for the gym where you take self-defense classes.” Felicity makes a face, and Laurel rushes to add, “Tonight was… terrifying. If the Arrow hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have…” She doesn’t finish the sentence.

Fortunately, she doesn’t have to. Felicity had to go through a similar realization herself: there isn’t always going to be a hero present to save the day. “You don’t have to explain, Laurel,” Felicity assures her. “A woman shouldn’t have to depend on a man for her safety.” She winks. “Even if that man is the Arrow and saving people is in his job description.” The two of them share a smile. “I don’t have the number in my phone, but I know I have a business card on my fridge. If you want to trade phone numbers, I can text you a picture when I get home.”

“That sounds great,” Laurel agrees, pulling out her phone. They exchange cell phones, typing their numbers into each other’s contact lists. “I know Tommy is your friend, but…” She trails off as she takes her phone back. “Could you keep this between us and not tell him? I think I need to ease him into this.”

“I know how to keep a secret,” Felicity promises with a smile. “My lips are sealed.”

With a wave, she turns away from Laurel, walking back to Oliver and Digg. “What was that about?” John asks.

“Women’s business,” Felicity replies with a wink and a smile. John just shakes his head, returning her grin.

To Oliver’s credit, he doesn’t press her as the elevator doors open, waiting quietly as the crowd filters out. He waves for her and John to enter first, and Digg presses the B1 button on the panel before moving to stand in the corner. Oliver slides in next to Felicity as the door starts to close, offering her a soft smile. His arm drapes across the rail behind her, the sleeve of his jacket brushing against her back.

The problem is that Oliver is too close, but at the same time, too far away. He’s always hovering close to her, but after what they’ve been through, it’s hard to let him stay that far away. Ever since she hid in that office tonight, bleeding and exhausted and sure she was going to die, there’s something she’s wanted to do. Right now, she can’t resist.

Careful to avoid his bleeding wound, Felicity wraps her arms around Oliver’s middle, resting her head against his chest. He first tenses in surprise, but slowly two strong arms wrap around her. He sighs as he rests his chin on top of her head.

Felicity closes her eyes, surprised at how right being in Oliver’s hug feels. It isn’t something they’ve done very often, but usually his touch is more careful and reserved. Maybe they should do this more often; Oliver’s hugs are the stuff of legend.

“So, how was your night?” she asks, the words muffled against his shirt.

She can hear the rumble of his laugh in his chest before the sound escapes his lips. “Better now,” is his soft reply. That’s a statement Felicity can’t argue with, but she can’t bring herself to admit it aloud. She may have accepted the way Oliver makes her vulnerable, but she doesn’t have to like it—and she certainly doesn’t have to admit it to him.

Reluctantly, she pulls away, but she doesn’t go too far. She leans against the rail as Oliver’s arm falls on top of it again. A second later, she can feel his palm resting just below her shoulder blades. Felicity throws him a smile, and he returns it. Everything they need to say to one another passes in one glance: It was a tough night, but we made it out alive. Together.

“You look tired, Felicity,” John observes. She turns her head to look at him, thinking about the wreck she must present. She knows she’s pale from the blood loss, and the exhaustion that’s starting to set it probably comes with dark circles around her eyes. Tired is the nicest way he could have said it.

“I don’t sleep well,” Felicity admits to him, stifling a yawn. “Haven’t since Japan.” What she wouldn’t give for a sleep medication.

Unfortunately, she’d have to see a psychiatrist for the good drugs, and that isn’t going to happen. Her mother disillusioned her to the medical community three years ago when she tried to have Felicity committed. Of course, if she told the truth to a psychiatrist, they would most certainly lock her up.

Felicity has been locked in a box before. She isn’t going to let it happen again.

When the doors of the elevator open, the three of them step out and into the empty parking garage. They stop as Oliver turns to Digg. “You’ve done enough for me tonight,” he insists. “You should go home. Felicity and I can take care of the rest.”

“Are you sure?” John replies. He glances at Felicity, who stifles another yawn. Oliver doesn’t seem much better, his eyes drooping.

Felicity throws him a smile. “I might be tired, but I still won’t be able to sleep,” she assures him. “Let the two insomniacs finish up, John.” She motions to Oliver. “He can ride back to Verdant with me, and I can stitch him up. The rest can wait for another day.”

After a moment, John nods once with a knowing look that Felicity doesn’t like. Judging by the lack of smile on his face, he doesn’t lie it, either. “Have a good evening,” is all he finally says.

When he’s out of earshot, Oliver immediately asks Felicity, “How are you feeling?”

“Like I need a hot shower and a glass of wine,” is her immediate reply. She waves a hand. “I guess I could skip the glass of wine, but I can’t compromise on the hot shower.” She motions to her jaw before rolling her shoulder. “I probably need some ice for my jaw and my shoulder.”

All he says is, “Let’s go home, then.”

Chapter Text

Still sitting on the metal gurney, Oliver twists to examine his wound. He winces at the movement of sore muscles, but, thanks to a healthy dose of lidocaine, it no longer feels like his side is on fire.

Poking and prodding at the gash, he admires Felicity’s handiwork with medical instruments. When she started, it was a jagged, five-inch gash, but with a pair of scissors and needle drivers, she managed to turn it into a straight line of evenly spaced stitches. There’s no question it’s going to scar, but not as severely as the wound just two inches below it. Fyers’ goon didn’t care about stitching him up after torture.

The fight was easy enough, but the moments after it always tend to be worse. When he’s full of adrenaline, wounds don’t hurt as badly. Hyperextended joints don’t ache, and muscles aren’t sore. It’s only after the fight is over that the pain starts to set in and he can determine the extent of his wounds.

Tonight, it was just the knife wound and a few sore muscles, but it will be enough to ensure that the criminals of Starling City will be free of him for a day or two. He can only imagine how Felicity feels right now; she fared far worse than him tonight.

It’s no wonder she opted for a hot shower before he stitched her wounds.

Sighing, he slides off the gurney, mouth turning down in a frown at the thought of her injuries. Before getting in the shower, she pulled a large gauze pad from her side, saturated with blood. At least she had the foresight to hide her wound, unlike him, but he doesn’t like that level of blood loss.

Checking the clock on the computer, he decides that if she isn’t out in the next few minutes, he’s going to check on her. With that kind of bleeding, she’s at a higher risk for passing out. He reaches for his gray hoodie on the desk chair, sliding into it. As he pulls up the zipper, the sound of the shower suddenly stops, allowing him to release a breath in relief.

He turns to the mini-fridge on the far side of the room to remove ice packs for her. As he does, the bathroom door clicks open, and he can hear her bare feet padding across the floor. “Thanks for letting me use your shower,” she calls to him. There’s a grunt, and he glances over to see her feet—toenails decorated with pink polka dots—hanging off the edge of the gurney. “And your lidocaine. I have to admit, my side feels much better, now that I can’t actually feel it.”

Chuckling, Oliver turns toward her, picking any necessary supplies as he walks back to her. She looks better since the shower, skin somewhat flushed and eyes brighter. Using a towel, she dries her wet hair, now hanging straight down her back.

It’s only when she offers him a slight smile that he realizes she removed the remnants of her makeup. Combined with the bare feet and his black t-shirt she wears over a pair of pink sweatpants from her bag, it all feels incredibly domestic. It strikes him that they’ve become comfortable with one another.

Oliver likes that idea a little more than he should.

As he places the surgical tools on the table, Felicity drops the towel next to her. He expects her to lift her shirt up so he can see her injuries, but instead she starts pulling it over her head. Oliver freezes when he sees the first flashes of her red bra, and it takes him a long moment to look away.

“Felicity,” he calls, voice coming out two octaves higher than normal, “what are you doing?”

“Making it easier for you to patch my wounds,” she replies in a dry tone. A bright, happy laugh leaves her as she takes in his expression. “Don’t look so scared, Oliver—I promise I’m not trying to make a move on you.” When he tentatively turns toward her again, she throws him a wink. “The way I feel now, I wouldn’t even be able to enjoy it.”

Trying his best to ignore that comment, Oliver only drapes an ice pack over the swollen shoulder that she must have dislocated earlier. She places her hand on top of his, squeezing it once as she smiles up at him. There’s something dangerous about that look, especially combined with her state of undress.

For the sake of his sanity, Oliver has to turn his attention to her wound. The shot is at an odd angle, as if they struggled for the gun and it discharged. There’s a hole just to the side of her ribcage. In the middle of the mass of bruising across her right side, there’s a slight bulge where the bullet must be. He winces at the sight.

“Remember when we thought we were going to have a quiet night?” Oliver asks her with a partial smile.

Her head tilts to the side as he grabs a new scalpel and blade. “I thought there was going to be a lecture attached to this,” she starts carefully, motioning to the bullet he’s trying to remove. She moves her arm out of his way so that he can work on it. The corner of her mouth lifts up. “Don’t disappoint me now, Queen. I was expecting the rest of that speech.”

Shaking his head, Oliver replies, “I worry about you when you tell me you’re going to jump off a building without any explanation. You terrified me.” She looks away, but he turns her gaze back to him. “I’m sorry I yelled at you, though.”

He releases her before she can panic, turning back to her wound. “When I talked to you about unnecessary risks, I meant jumping off buildings and going into situations blind.” He pulls the bullet out of her side with a pair of forceps before turning to meet her eyes.

“These wounds are a result of your work as Deathstroke.” The first time he had to stitch her up replays in his head. “I knew when I met you that this is what you do. I’m sorry if you thought I was going to lecture you because of who you are. That isn’t what I intended to do.” Offering her a small smile, he concludes, “Your life, your choice, Felicity.”

“Apology accepted,” Felicity assures him. She cups his face with one hand, leaning forward to kiss his forehead. Oliver closes his eyes, appreciating the way her touch lingers. As she pulls away, she states in a quiet tone, “I’m sorry I scared you, Oliver.” He only brushes a strand of wet hair from her face in reply, before turning to her wounds again. So softly he almost doesn’t catch it, she adds, “Thank you for caring.”

He doesn’t reply, and the two of them lapse into a long silence as he works on her wound. After getting the first set of stitches in, he can bear it no longer. “I know it must have been hard when things didn’t work out with your ex-fiancé,” Oliver tells her quietly. “I’m sorry he couldn’t be the person you needed.”

She tenses under his touch. Oliver winces, knowing he’s crossed a line. Sometimes it’s all too easy to forget she has secrets; to him, he’s one of the most open, honest people he’s ever met.

For a brief second, he hesitates. “I know I messed things up with Laurel long before I started this life,” he confesses to her slowly, “but she wouldn’t understand this life, either.” His lips press together. “Suddenly the person you imagined spending your life with doesn’t fit into your world.” His mind drifts back to seeing Laurel tonight, and how clear it was that they were wrong for one another. “Then you’re not even sure you liked them to begin with.”

Just when he thinks she isn’t going to answer, Felicity turns to him and replies, “I am.” There’s so much force in her tone that Oliver looks up from her wounds in surprise. “I’m positive I didn’t like him.” She scoffs. “My ex could barely keep up with Felicity Kuttler. A dark grin forms on her face.  “He wouldn’t have been able to handle me if I came with instructions."

“Don’t hold that against him,” Oliver teases. “I’m not sure anyone can.”

“I know,” she jokes in reply. “That’s why I’m still single.”

Oliver can’t help but shake his head. “A smart man wouldn’t try to handle you,” he replies. “He would try to keep up with you.” They both share a smile at that. “If your ex had any sense at all, he would have at least tried.”

For a long moment, the only sound is her fingers drumming out a rhythm on the tabletop. “I’m not trying to be cryptic about him,” she assures Oliver suddenly. “I promise to tell you all about all of it sometime—the engagement, the ex, the post-Japan drama. But not tonight. I… can’t.” She examines her fingers on the gurney. “I know you didn’t like the person you were before the island, but I was comfortable in who I was before Japan. I’m not ready to rake over the ashes of my previous life just yet.”

Maybe he’s looking at the situation wrong, but Oliver can’t help but agree with her assessment of his experiences. The island stripped away all he wasn’t. While some of the most horrible memories of his life are there, sometimes the island wasn’t always bad. There were days he didn’t feel lost any longer. There were days he felt like he found himself.

His eyes flick to the symbol of the Fenghuang Cartel on her abdomen. A phoenix. It feels more right than ever. Felicity’s life came down in flames around her, but those ashes aren’t for sifting through. They’re something to rise from, only to be better and stronger on the other side.

She isn’t ready to hear that—not yet. Instead of trying to convince her of it, Oliver only promises, “When you are, I’m here.”

“You always are,” Felicity answers with a smile.

They lapse into silence after that—the pleasant kind of quiet that doesn’t require either of them to make small talk. Oliver lets himself concentrate on putting in stitches; they aren’t as even as hers, but they’ll work.

Even if he was a skilled surgeon, there would be nothing he could do to keep the wound from scarring. Oliver has several circular scars of his own to attest to that. When he glances up, he sees a similar one in her shoulder, as well as one in her ribcage, just above the hole he’s patching.

He hesitates, deciding if he wants to make conversation about it, or if he has pried enough for one night. Before he can, they both jump at the sound of her phone. The strange ringtone from before plays, and she sighs. She stares at her phone on the computer desk, but makes no move to pick it up, opting to let it play out. Ignoring it, he puts the final stitches in her side.

“Can you tape—?” she starts to ask, the words dying in her throat as she watches Oliver reach for the tape and an ice pack.

He smiles at her before peeling off a piece of thick tape. As she reaches for the ice pack next to her, he presses on her side, feeling for broken ribs. The first two are obvious, but he can feel the indications of another one under the incision he just made. “Feels like you broke three of them,” he says, pulling away so she can put the cold pack in place.

As he tapes it to her side, she retorts in a dry tone, “No, it feels like I’ve been hit by a truck.”

Felicity opens her mouth to say more, but it’s cut short by her phone. She groans, rolling her eyes before glaring at her phone. “Do you want me to press ‘Ignore’ on that?” Oliver offers.

After he finishes taping the ice pack in place on her side, Felicity slides off the gurney with a long sigh. She pulls the ice pack off her shoulder and drops it on the gurney, mumbling something under her breath in Japanese. “No,” Felicity replies tiredly, grabbing her t-shirt and pulling it on. “I just need to get this over with. She won’t stop calling until I do.”

Walking toward her phone, she tells him, “You underestimate my mother. If I don’t answer, she’ll keep calling through the night. When she gets tired of that, she might show up on my doorstep. Which will lead to a new set of questions when I’m not there.” She picks up the phone, turning back toward Oliver. “She’s the most stubborn woman on the planet.”

“So that’s where you get it from,” Oliver teases.

Felicity is already pressing the button on her phone by the time he finishes taunting her. That doesn’t stop her from flipping him off as she answers in a fake, cheery tone, “Hi, Mom. What’s going on?” Oliver bites back a chuckle before turning toward the gurney to clean up their medical supplies.

As she listens to her mother, Felicity starts pacing, walking a path up and down the basement. “Everything is fine,” she insists, her tone as exhausted as she looks. “A friend of mine nearly lost their dad. I’ve been in the hospital all night.” A long sigh leaves her. “Before that, I was at work. I know you don’t want to acknowledge it, but I actually have a job.”

The pause is shorter this time before Felicity snaps, “It’s been a very long night, Mom. I’m tired, I’m cranky, and I’m not in the mood to get into yet another argument about Driscoll’s. I’m working there, and eventually you will have to accept that.” She pushes her glasses on top of her head to run a hand down her face. “Now, is something wrong? Are you okay?”

It’s a long moment before she speaks again. “I’m glad you’re doing well,” Felicity growls, her tone unable to express that sentiment. “Can your question wait until tomorrow? I’m with a friend, and I don’t think he wants to listen to us squabble.” She winks at Oliver. “He has enough family drama of his own.”

As he laughs, she turns to face him, taking a deep breath through her nose, as if trying to calm herself. The darkening expression on her face is something he never sees unless she’s in Deathstroke gear. “He’s just a friend, Mom,” she insists. “Like I said, a friend of ours had a family emergency tonight. We’ve both been to see them.” She looks over at him. “Oliver doesn’t live in Starling City, so I’m offering my couch.” A clever lie, since he technically lives outside the city limits. “Don’t make this weird.”

She rolls her eyes as she notices Oliver’s attention, making a face as she points to her phone with her free hand. “I refuse to answer that question for so many reasons,” Felicity declares, her face flushing. “I’ll call you tomorrow, and we’ll talk, okay? Bye.”

As soon as she hangs up, Felicity deflects any questions by motioning to the back. “When did you get an actual bed in here?” she asks. Over her shoulder, she glances at the full mattress in the far corner. “The last time I was in here, we had to sleep on the mats because you just had the cot.”

“My mother decided it was time for one of the guest rooms to be updated,” Oliver replies, lifting a shoulder. “She thought it was too small, but it was almost new. When she said she was going to throw it away, I offered to take it. I’m hoping she stops asking about how I spend my nights.”

After blinking several times, Felicity finally asks, “How do I always manage to forget how stupidly rich your family is?” Shaking her head, Felicity turns and walks away from him. “If you have an actual bed here, I’m not going to make you drive me home tonight. Do you care if I take up one side?” The question is rhetorical; they share a bed far too often for him to have issues now.

She turns with a smirk. “I’ll even let you take the side by the wall,” she generously allows. “I know how much you love your easily defensible positions.”

He’s nodding before she finishes, unzipping his hoodie and draping it over the desk chair again. When he reaches for the pair of sweatpants folded on the desk, it falls to the floor. “Be careful,” he warns her. “There’s a Walther under the pillow on my side.”

After taking a moment to grab the sweatpants, he walks toward the back corner, kicking off his boots as he goes. By the time he reaches her, Felicity already has the gun in hand. She inspects it thoroughly, sliding the magazine out of place and checking the chamber before pointing it at the wall. A surprised smile touches Oliver’s face; he didn’t know she could use a gun, but he puts nothing past Felicity anymore.

“Good choice,” she notes aloud, turning the gun away before sliding the magazine back into place. “If someone breaks in here, the extra firepower could be useful.”

Oliver offers her a half-smile. “And it’s more convenient to store under a pillow than a bow,” he points out, unzipping his green leather pants.

Felicity turns her back immediately, focusing her attention on slipping the gun under the pillow where she found it. Her eyes flick over to Oliver for a brief moment before she shakes her head. As she stands with her back to him, she crosses her arms, fidgeting in place.

“I still prefer to keep a hunting knife in my nightstand,” she declares, trying to maintain their conversation. Her voice is an octave higher and she shifts her weight, so her success is limited. “It may not be as effective, but no one would ask too many questions if I used it to dispatch an intruder. As a bonus, I don’t have to register it anywhere.”

“Neither do I,” Oliver replies with a grin. “As far as I know, the basement is flooded. Someone broke in here and used it as a base.”

She glances over her shoulder at him before turning away again. “I don’t have the luxury of an unregistered weapon. My base is my home.” She shrugs. “Besides, if I can’t take down an untrained thief with a hunting knife, I deserve to die.”

As soon as he finishes changing into the sweatpants, Oliver reaches to touch her shoulder. Felicity turns with wide eyes and a crimson flush across her cheekbones. It spreads across her chest, too, from what he can see below her collarbone. “Don’t look so scared, Felicity,” he teases, using her words from earlier. “I promise I’m not trying to make a move on you.”

“Good,” she replies, her tone nonplussed even if her expression isn’t. “You would have been upset when I shut you down.”

Though he smiles in reply, it’s strained. The thought of her saying no deflates him in a way it shouldn’t, which makes the reminder all the more important. His relationship with Felicity can’t ever be anything more than what it is.

Before he can linger on that, she continues, “I mean, I have two sets of stitches in my side and three broken ribs. I’m not going to get laid for the next month and a half.” She makes a face. “Not that I have much of a love life, anyway.” Winking, she throws him a salacious grin. “But start this conversation again in six weeks.”

He gapes at her, unable to string together a coherent sentence. Felicity breaks into a fit of giggles, holding her injured side. “That was a joke, Oliver,” she insists, wiping her eyes. “I’m not making a pass at you. You started this, so I had to finish it.”

Oliver is so strained for words that he blurts the first thing that comes to mind: “Technically, I think you started it on the gurney.”

She crosses her arms in a challenge, meeting his eyes as she takes two steps closer to him. “You should know that I play to win, Mr. Queen.”

Unable to back down, Oliver retorts, “You should know that I don’t like to lose, Miss Smoak.”

Shrugging, she counters, “I don’t like Windows operating systems, but I still have to be familiar with them. You should get used to failure if you’re going to compete with me.” He opens his mouth to speak, but her fingers fall across his lips. “Now shut up and get in bed.”

His jaw audibly snaps shut at her words, unable to comment on the innuendo there. Judging by the way her eyes darken, he isn’t the only one that hears it.

Though Oliver has never been fond of the tactical retreat, he makes this one without hesitation.

Taking the position by the wall, he crawls into the bed. When Felicity joins him, he isn’t surprised that she prefers to keep her back to him. For all her talk about tactical awareness, she exhibits the same quirks he does.

When she deposits her glasses on the bedside table, one hand snakes a butterfly knife under her pillow. Of course she has a knife on her. Oliver learned long ago that she’s always armed in some way, always with a blade.

“Where were you keeping that?” he teases as she settles in, sliding closer until her back is against him. When she stills, he throws his arm across her waist, pulling her further into him while being careful to avoid her ribs.

If it’s even possible, she burrows in closer. “Nowhere you’d be familiar with,” she replies playfully. Felicity scoffs. “Oliver, women have evolved the ability to keep items on their person without pockets—mostly thanks to the fashion industry. I took a page out of my mother’s book: I stuffed it in my bra.”

The blatant lie catches him off guard. “You did not,” he declares.

“Of course I didn’t,” Felicity agrees. Something in her tone makes him tense; she sounds like the cat who ate the canary, which never bodes well for him. “But now I know you were looking.”

Suddenly Oliver’s face feels too hot, so uncomfortable that he feels the need to shift his position. Felicity laughs at that. “I wasn’t trying to embarrass you,” she assures him. “You had permission to look. I was just curious.” She pulls his arm tighter over her, so that she’s nestled deeper into him. Oliver is all too willing to comply. “When you aren’t wearing a shirt, I’m definitely paying attention.”

Because he doesn’t answer loaded statements, Oliver just brushes the strands of hair away from her shoulders, pulling the collar of the oversized shirt away so he can place his lips to the very top of her shoulder blade. Felicity releases a long sigh. “Goodnight, Felicity,” he murmurs against her skin.

Yawning, Felicity replies, “Goodnight, Oliver.” It’s followed by a few words in slurred Japanese.

“What?”

Her flush is unmistakable, even in the low light. She takes his hand from her waist, bringing it to her lips so she can press a kiss to his palm. “Goodnight, Oliver,” she repeats, this time more firmly.

It’s the last thing he hears before his eyes drift closed.

 


 

As he types the passcode into the keypad, John Diggle turns back to frown at the Mercedes in the parking lot. Oliver should have gone home last night, but, on a whim, John stopped by Verdant on his way to Queen manor for work. Normally it wouldn’t concern him, but Oliver’s injuries last night were severe and he isn’t picking up his phone.

The light on the keypad turns green, the door buzzing before falling open. John passes through it, descending the stairs. He half expects Oliver to be sitting at one of the desks, making arrows. Even before six a.m., the boy is likely to be awake; Digg isn’t sure he’s ever seen the kid sleep.

The sight that greets Diggle makes him take his gun from his shoulder holster. The area set up under the flood lights is deserted for once, though it’s in a rare state of disarray. Medical supplies from last night are spilled across the gurney. Instead of being pushed up to the desk, the task chair at the computer is in the middle of the space. Oliver’s gray hoodie and a shirt that looks like the one Felicity was wearing last night are on the floor.

On high alert now, Diggle follows the trail of Oliver’s boots toward the back corner of the foundry. He squints in the low light as his eyes adjust, barely able to discern the outline of a bed he didn’t know was there, sitting behind a makeshift nightstand.

When his eyes finally adjust, Diggle holsters his gun with a sigh and a shake of his head. Oliver is draped across the bed, blankets falling just above his waist and his feet sticking out past the end of the wool blanket. He’s lying on his stomach, his bare back and all of its scars on prominent display. John nods once to himself; it’s about time Oliver had a decent night’s sleep.

Diggle is about to turn to leave when he notices a third foot draped over the edge of the bed, delicate with painted toenails. It’s only after he squints that he notices the woman. Oliver has her pulled so tightly against him that she’s barely even visible. Long hair fans across the pillow, but her face is buried so deeply in it that John can’t identify her.

Making a face, he shakes his head. He never thought he would have to give Oliver a lecture about discretion, but it appears the day has arrived. If he wants to have romantic liaisons, that’s his business, but bringing his lovers to the foundry makes it that much harder to keep his secret. Oliver isn’t even subtle: his green pants and an ice pack are on the floor in front of the bed.

Pulling out his phone, John stops to dial Felicity’s number. If he’s going to have a discussion with Oliver, it will help to have her on his side. While Oliver rarely listens to anyone, she might get it through his thick skull.

About to turn away, John stops as a soft light catches the corner of his eye. On the nightstand, a phone buzzes in drunken circles. He can’t see the print on the screen, but he doesn’t need to: it illuminates the blonde hair across the pillows and a familiar pair of plastic-framed glasses on the table.

Of course.

After terminating the call, John pockets his phone. With the shake of his head, he runs a hand over his face, waiting for the headache to set in. At this point, he almost wishes she was just a nameless woman, the next in Oliver’s line of conquests.

The two of them don’t see it, but John does: whatever Oliver and Felicity have works only because they aren’t sleeping together. While Oliver brings some adventure and challenge to her mundane life, Felicity is a grounding force that keeps Oliver in line. When he’s angry or about to make a reckless mistake, she can talk him down from the edge. Even with her influence, he’s a loose cannon, but Felicity has the uncanny ability to direct the charge.

And when this goes south, that leaves Diggle with a volatile Oliver Queen who throws himself into his work.

It will go south. Of that, Digg is certain. While things may be fine right now, eventually Felicity will realize that she’s sleeping with Oliver Queen. Oliver is wild and unpredictable, with a penchant for making bad decisions. It’s only a matter of time before he makes one impetuous decision too many, and Felicity will—understandably—reach her breaking point. While he hides it well, Oliver is fragile and half in love with her already.

When she finally comes to her senses, it will destroy him.

Of course, there’s always the off chance that Oliver will end up breaking Felicity’s heart. The girl has been through hell and back, survived horrors that no one should have to endure, and Oliver could be the final thing to break her, with one rash mistake too many. If that happens, John will probably have to hurt him.

Taking a deep breath, he has to remind himself that they’re adults and allowed to make their own decisions. Even if those decisions are fueled by lust, loneliness, and a complete lack of judgment.

He turns with a huff to exit the foundry, knowing it’s probably better if he isn’t a witness to this morning-after scene. On his way forward, he trips over one of Oliver’s boots in the darkness, stumbling several steps with a crash.

The reaction is immediate. By the time he’s turned around to see if they’re still asleep, two sets of wide eyes are upon him. Oliver’s are wild as he aims the gun on John, but Felicity’s are cold and hard as she holds what looks like a balisong knife. How the hell she knows how to use a balisong is a mystery for another day.

Felicity lets out a groan as she flips the butterfly knife closed. Placing her hand on top of Oliver’s, she lowers his gun to the floor. “Good morning, John,” she declares sarcastically, fumbling for her glasses. When she finds them, she slides them onto her nose. “You scared the hell out of me.”

“Tried to call Oliver this morning and he wasn’t answering,” John explains shortly. The man in question slides the gun under his pillow, rolling over on his back with a groan. “I thought he might have had some complications from his injuries, so I stopped by here on my way to work.” John frowns. “I didn’t mean to interrupt… whatever the hell this is.”

Yawning, Felicity stretches, nearly hitting Oliver in the face with her outstretched arm. Digg smiles as the kid narrowly avoids it, moving at the same time she does. “Oliver was too tired to drive me home, so we crashed here.” She winces as she sits up, hand falling over her side. “I thought we could share the bed like two adults.” She turns back to him with a grin. “It turns out he has no concept of personal space.

Oliver only lifts an eyebrow. “I didn’t hear you complaining last night.”

“I’m not complaining,” she assures him. “This place is cold at night, and you’re warm.” She turns back to Diggle. “Don’t worry, John. If I’m ever desperate enough to have foundry sex with Oliver”—the man in question cries in protest, but she ignores him—“I’ll put a sock on the door.”

Digg nods once, satisfied with that answer. It would be best if the two of them didn’t blur the lines at all, but if they had to, this is the best-case scenario.

Felicity throws back the blanket with a wince. The shirt she’s wearing looks like one of Oliver’s, paired with pink sweatpants. When she moves, so does Oliver, circling around each other the way they always do.

It’s something Digg noticed the very first time he saw them interact. When one of them moves, so does the other. If Felicity shifts to one side, Oliver falls into place on the opposite. When he’s exhausted, like last night, she’s there with a touch or a hug. Every time he sees them, it’s more noticeable than the last, like they’re engaged in some sort of intricate dance.

John isn’t sure if he wants to see how it plays out yet.

Turning back to Oliver, Felicity places a hand on his knee, just before pressing her lips to his jaw. His eyes fall closed, and John decides it’s worse than he thought. He was certain Oliver was half in love with Felicity already, but it might be more than half.

“Thanks for sharing your bed,” she tells Oliver in a soft tone. He just smiles. Diggle refrains from rolling his eyes; the boy is wrapped around Felicity’s fingers, and neither of them know it.

She points toward the opposite side of the foundry. “Do you care if I steal your bathroom so I can get ready?” She checks her phone. “It’s six—I need to get dressed for work soon.” She grins. “Give me a head start?”

“As always,” Oliver replies with a blinding smile.

Rising from the bed slowly, Felicity stops off to pick up her bag. When she grabs it from in front of the computer desk, she walks back to pat Digg on the shoulder with a smile that he returns. With that, she walks off to the bathroom.

Oliver’s smile disappears when she does.

With one hand on the stitches in his side, Oliver rises from the bed. As he studies them, John has to admit they look pretty good. Felicity must have some experience stitching up wounds. He’d bet it has something to do with the teenager living at her house.

Walking back under the flood lights, Oliver goes to grab his gray hoodie from the floor. Digg follows, preparing for a conversation neither of them are going to enjoy. Quietly, John says, “Oliver, I hope you know what you’re doing. Felicity has been through a lot. She’s fragile.”

Snorting, Oliver turns back to Digg as he zips up his hoodie. “‘Fragile’ is not a word I’d use to describe Felicity Smoak.”

Of course he isn’t going to make this any easier. The least he could do is listen to John’s concerns and nod in the appropriate places, but Oliver never complies without a fight.

“She puts on a brave face,” Diggle continues, “but she’s not unbreakable, Oliver.” Oliver turns to face him, crossing his arms as his jaw sets. That’s the look he gets before putting on the hood, the one he uses for people crossing into dangerous territory.

“And neither are you,” John continues, ignoring it. Sometimes he has to say what’s best for Oliver, even if that means the kid doesn’t like to hear it. “You’re both trying to figure out a pattern with the Arrow business. She won’t even help you full-time. Blurring the lines now might make things difficult between the two of you.”

“We’re not blurring lines, Digg,” Oliver insists. Apparently his head is still stuck in the sand. Good to see some things never change.

“Then ask her out,” John counters. Oliver’s eyebrows shoot up as he blinks several times. “Or don’t. But don’t let this linger like a relationship when it isn’t.” Digg motions to his friend. “Eventually you’re going to reach a point where you can’t be alone any longer.”

It’s obvious by the way he clings to Felicity. The life Oliver has chosen is lonely, and he isn’t a man made for solitude. It gives him too much time to spend in his own head, which Digg guesses isn’t a good thing after all Oliver has endured.

“What’s going to happen when you start seeing someone?” John asks rhetorically. “It’s going to confuse Felicity because of where you two are. She only has one foot in this life already. That could be enough to make her leave.”

“I know what I’m doing,” is what Oliver replies.

Digg snorts. “Nothing in your track record with women makes me believe that, man.”

Sighing, Oliver shakes his head. “I know you’re worried about Felicity, and I appreciate that, John.” He turns away, taking a few steps as he considers his next words. “But I’m not going to be in a relationship any time soon.” He glances over to the green jacket on the gurney. “I can’t be with someone and keep this part of my life from them.”

“What about Felicity?” John counters. “Does she feel the same way about relationships?”

Oliver doesn’t bite. “That’s a question for Felicity,” he insists in a hard tone.

“What’s a question for Felicity?” the woman herself asks, coming out of the bathroom. As she walks up to them, she drops the black duffle bag at her feet. The bruise that he noticed on her jaw last night is gone, likely hidden with several layers of cosmetics. She’s dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt with a sci-fi spaceship on it. The words on it read, I don’t want a relationship, I want a starship.

Posture relaxing slightly at the sight of her, Oliver shoves his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. Before John can say anything, Oliver answers in a casual tone, “Digg thinks I’m leading you on.”

“That’s not what I said,” John protests.

When Oliver glances back to Digg, there’s no mercy in his expression. “Maybe not, but that’s what you were implying,” he insists in an even tone. Lurking underneath is a layer of insult and resentment. Maybe John hit a nerve.

Felicity’s expression darkens immediately. She crosses her arms, eyebrows knitting together as the smile slips off her face. “If this is about us sharing a bed, John, that isn’t anything to worry about.” She motions to Oliver. “Even if he was the kind to pressure me into things I didn’t want to do, I make my own choices.”

She glances over to Oliver. “I’m not saying my choices are always sound,” Felicity allows, “but I’m allowed to make them all the same.” She points to Diggle. “And I really don’t appreciate you ambushing Oliver about this when I’m equally involved.”

Digg is starting to understand the feeling; maybe Oliver used Felicity’s temper to set up an ambush of his own. “I planned to talk to you about it privately, like I was attempting to do with Oliver,” John says, with a pointed look at the other man. Oliver doesn’t even have the decency to look contrite. “What I said to Oliver wasn’t about leading you on. It was because you two are starting to blur some lines, and this could affect your relationships later on.”

Her expression lightens somewhat—but not enough to make Digg comfortable. “I appreciate your concern for us, John,” she replies gently, “but that’s nothing to worry about.” She motions to Oliver. “Oliver doesn’t want to bring anyone else into this life, and I…”

Pointing to herself now, Felicity trails off. There’s so much vulnerability in her expression that even Oliver tenses. “I have some… issues since Japan. I don’t like it when people touch me.” Digg somehow refrains from pointing out that she has no problem with it when Oliver is involved. “It makes my skin crawl. So I’m not in a place in my life where relationships are really possible for me.”

Shifting in place, she waves that away with one hand. “More importantly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our relationship. I’m lonely. Oliver is lonely, even if he tries to hide it. We don’t really relate to the world anymore, but we relate to each other. So it works.” She turns to Oliver. “Do you see anything wrong with our friendship?”

“No,” is Oliver’s immediate reply. Not that Digg expected any other answer.

Felicity waves her hands in a there you go gesture. “Oliver is okay with this. I’m okay with this.” She walks over to Oliver, placing a hand on his shoulder. “This friendship might be weird and complicated and confusing sometimes, but it’s who we are.”

Oliver looks at her with a furrow in his brow. “How is this confusing and complicated?” he asks. John notes he says nothing about the weird part.

“Because sometimes, I don’t know whether to hug you or shove you off a bridge,” Felicity states flatly.

“Do I get a choice in this?” Oliver asks with a partial smile.

“Sometimes,” Felicity continues as if he hadn’t spoken, “it’s both at the same time. Like right now, for instance.” There’s a grin on her face that wasn’t there before.

With the amusement still lingering on her face, she points toward the door, picking up the pair of jeans draped over his arrow-making table. Offering them to Oliver, she says, “Go get dressed—I need you to take me home.”

Anything you want," he promises. Digg barely refrains from groaning. God, the boy is already too far gone to save.

Once the door is firmly shut behind Oliver, John turns to Felicity. “You know this is a bad idea, right?” he asks her.

“Of course,” she answers, still staring after Oliver. “I feel like I’m taking my life in my own hands every time I get in a car with him. Horrible driver. But my car is still at home, so I need someone to take me back.”

She lifts a shoulder. “I’d walk, but Oliver would probably have kittens, and I very narrowly avoided a speech about risk-taking just last night.” Felicity holds up her hands. “I know: pot and kettle. I just don’t want to push my luck. I always feel horrible for yelling at him, even when he deserves it.”

Resisting the urge to groan, Digg decides that they’re both clueless. They’re pining after one another, and neither of them know it. If they want to do this, fine. As Felicity said, they’re both adults, but the consequences may be worse than they intend.

“I meant you and Oliver,” Digg tries anyway.

Turning back to him, she agrees, “Oh, that’s a horrible idea. Oliver and I have very little in common besides this.” She motions vaguely around the foundry. “It’s made for a good friendship, sure, but it would be a disaster to build a relationship on the vigilante business alone.” Felicity offers him a smile. “You don’t have to worry about that, John. I won’t be falling for Oliver any time soon.”

John just shakes his head. She already has.

While Felicity is subtle with her emotions and difficult to read at times, it’s clear enough. She doesn’t let people in easily, yet she confesses so much to Oliver. Not only does she allow him to initiate touches, she showers him with small signs of affection she doesn’t use with anyone else.

That’s to mention nothing of Oliver himself. The Oliver that John met was hard and cold. He was mission-oriented to the point of being blinded by it. Then in walks Felicity Smoak, and Oliver suddenly discovers emotions. Though he might still be just as ruthless on his missions, he’s willing to see reason when Felicity introduces him to it.

He originally thought they were starting to have feelings for one another, but it appears that ship has already sailed.

“Just be careful,” is all he finally says. He can read the writing on the wall. Even if they can’t admit it to each other yet, he knows they’ll try to start a relationship at some point. It’s only a matter of time. “I don’t want to see either of you getting hurt.”

Felicity crosses her arms. “The vigilante business is the one good thing I have going for me right now,” she says bluntly. “Working with Oliver has been an amazing experience, and, as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve gotten fond of working with him.” With a wave of her hand, Felicity dismisses that. “That’s too important to risk for romance. Even if I manage to catch my first case of feelings since 2009, I stopped following my heart years ago.” Her grin doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “It gives terrible directions.”

They lapse into silence after that. Felicity starts tidying up the medical supplies, and John goes to help her. The two of them work in silence, focusing on cleaning and putting away the medical equipment.

When Oliver steps out of the bathroom, he’s fully dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt. His hair sticks up in all directions, probably from where he towel-dried it.

When Felicity turns to him, she immediately laughs. “You look like you have a porcupine on your head,” she tells him, before motioning to the desk chair. “Let me fix it.”

Oliver does as she asks, and John shakes his head at the way the two of them interact. They don’t say a word to one another, but there’s no mistaking where their attention lies. Oliver watches Felicity like a man who discovered the concept of beauty for the very first time. Felicity’s attention may be on his hair, tongue out in concentration, but her left hand cups his face while her right lingers a little too long.

If there’s one thing John is certain of, it’s that Felicity is always the one to pull away and establish the boundaries again. This time is no exception; she steps away from Oliver as she finishes, bending over to adjust her bag.

With a frown forming on his face, Oliver finally says, “This isn’t on your way out to the house.” Digg studies him, trying to make sense of it, and Felicity glances back and forth between the two. “Or from your sister-in-law’s house.” When Diggle looks at him with a silent question, Oliver explains, “I looked into you before I revealed my identity to you. I like to be thorough.”

“Apparently not thorough enough,” Felicity replies before Diggle can, rising to her feet. “Verdant is right on his way from Lyla’s place.” Both men turn to her, Oliver in confusion and John in surprise. “Lyla Michaels? She and John got married while they were still overseas. Made it together for a year in combat, but divorced after two months stateside.”

“How the hell did you know about that?” John asks. Lyla is ARGUS—her real name isn’t public knowledge. Even their marriage and divorce records were sealed after she joined ARGUS.

“Remember how you were tailing Oliver a few months ago?” Felicity asks. You were parked in front of Jenny’s house, and a woman got out of your car.” She shifts her weight, looking away. “After we discovered it was you, I… may have found her on a traffic cam and ran facial recognition."

Though he can’t fault either of them for checking out all aspects of his life, it doesn’t solve the mystery. “She shouldn’t have been a match on any facial recognition software. Lyla works for ARGUS.”

Felicity scoffs. “Where do you think I get facial recognition software in the first place?” Both men just stare at her. “When I need to run facial recognition, I use ARGUS’ servers.”

“You hacked ARGUS?” Oliver asks. Though he sounds impressed, there’s something darker in his voice. “Felicity, if they catch you, they won’t just put you in jail.” A distant memory crosses his face—nothing good, judging by his expression. “You’re too useful for prison.”

She dismisses his concerns with the wave of a hand. “I don’t get caught,” she assures him. “I hacked the Pentagon, remember?” John stares wide-eyed at her. “That’s how I found out about Hong Kong.” The words must mean something to Oliver, but to Diggle, the location means nothing. “Their security is tighter than any ARGUS servers. Besides, I destroy my hard drives after I do something that risky.”

All Diggle can do for a long moment is stare at her. Felicity Smoak is a whole hell of a lot better with a computer than he gave her credit for. He already knew she was good, but something like that borders on genius levels.

“I mean, it’s still ARGUS,” she continues casually. “Their firewalls are pretty impressive, but I’ve been weaving in and out of security grids since I was ten.” She waves a hand to dismiss that. “And they don’t really guard their facial recognition software. If someone hacks ARGUS, they usually want redacted files, so that makes their software an easy target.”

Ever since Digg met her, Felicity has never seemed like a hardened criminal. She might be helping Oliver by hacking, but John can understand the moral obligation there: she believes in his vision and knows it plays a part. It’s far more difficult to picture a teenage Felicity hacking the Pentagon just to prove she could.

His next thoughts leave his mouth: “Funny. You don’t look like a criminal mastermind.”

“That’s what makes me so good at it,” she counters, crossing her arms. “I’m the last person anyone would ever expect. So when the police hunt the mastermind, I never make their suspect list.” She grins, but it isn’t a particularly nice grin. “There’s power in being underestimated, John.”

Shaking his head, Diggle turns to the more important matter. “I understand you had to look into me,” he starts slowly, “but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to pry into Lyla’s life anymore. Her boss is ruthless. I’m not sure what Amanda Waller would do if she found out—”

“She works for Amanda Waller?” Oliver growls out, cutting him off. His expression darkens immediately, jaw clenching as his posture goes rigid.

“How the hell do you know that name?” Digg counters.

“Wait,” Felicity calls, holding her hands out between the two of them. Her attention turns to Oliver. “Lyla works for your Waller?” He only looks at her. It must be answer enough because Felicity looks over at Diggle. “That is not a nice lady, John. I’ve never met her, and I kind of want to kill her. You should tell Lyla to be careful.”

“I wasn’t always on the island,” Oliver explains to John shortly, staring at the ground as his hand clenches on the arm of his chair. “I used to work for Waller. Not by choice.” His expression says what he doesn’t: dark deeds performed under a constant threat.

When he meets John’s eyes, a rare emotion flickers across his face: fear. “The worst things I’ve ever had to do, I did for Amanda Waller,” he admits. “She made me think I had no other choice.”

He rises from his seat, walking up to Diggle. “I need you to keep what we do here away from your ex-wife,” Oliver explains. “She won’t go after me now. I’m too public a figure to be of any use to her.” He motions toward the third member of their team. “But Felicity has skills that Waller could exploit.” He draws a hand over his face. “You can’t even begin to fathom what she would do to get her hands on someone like Deathstroke.”

For a moment, all Digg can do is stare at him, but Felicity cuts in between the two men. Poking Oliver in the chest, she declares, “You, sir, need to calm the hell down.” Her hands go to her hips. “You’re at a fifteen, and I need you at, like, a three.”

When she places her hands on either side of Oliver’s face, he melts under her touch, the panic draining out of his expression. “If Waller wants to come after me, so be it. I’m not half a world away from the people I care about, and I can wage a war from any computer terminal she turns me loose at.” Her thumb rubs a circle against his cheekbone. “And Deathstroke can handle himself.”

Her hands leave his face, but one goes to his arm. “Don’t forget that you have me now,” she reminds him gently. Her tone hardens before she continues, “And if that bitch ever comes after you again, I will destroy her.” There’s something in her voice that sends a shiver up John’s spine. “I will take everything she holds dear, and I won’t stop until she regrets ever hurting you.”

Oliver releases a breath, and all of the tension in his body seems to go with it. It’s the first breath of a prisoner set free. Digg refrains from shaking his head; yet another example of Felicity talking him down from the edge.

Smiling down at her, Oliver leans closer to Felicity. Digg can hear the way her breath catches, the subtle stiffness in her limbs that’s both anticipation and fear. Just when John is sure Oliver is going to kiss her, he leans his forehead against hers instead. Everything in Felicity relaxes at once.

For an explanation, he offers two words: “Thank you.”

“Anytime,” she replies quietly. It sounds like a promise.

After another thirty seconds of their pining, John clears his throat. The two of them break apart immediately, turning to look at him. “I’ll finish cleaning this place up while you drop her off,” Diggle offers. “It might look better if we arrive at your place together.” He snorts. “If only for the sake of my job.”

“I’ll see you in a few minutes,” Oliver offers in reply.

Felicity throws her bag over her shoulder. “John, it’s always a pleasure,” she tells him with a smile. “I’ll see you again the next time we have a mission.” She winks. “Or any time you want to meet me for lunch again.”

The two of them walk toward the staircase after that. Oliver allows her to take the stairs first, placing a hand on the small of her back in the motion. As they continue, Felicity speaks in words John can’t hear from this distance, using her hands to tell the story. A smile crosses Oliver’s face, small and gentle.

John can’t help but smile himself. He might just be wrong about them. Maybe the two of them wouldn’t end in tragedy. Maybe Oliver would try to be better. Maybe Felicity would be forgiving. Maybe they’d get that elusive happy ending.

For now, at least they’re good for each other.

 


 

When Oliver shifts the car into park, Felicity stares at her house with a frown. She never notices how short the drive is when he’s going to stay the night, but now that both of them have to leave, it seems like it took the blink of an eye.

Unfastening her seat belt, she sighs. “Guess this is my stop,” she notes. When she glances over at him, he doesn’t look happy about it, either. “Thanks for driving out of your way to drop me off.”

Oliver’s head tilts to the side. “I would never make you walk,” is his answer. He offers her half a smile. “I might make you run, though. You need more cardio in your exercise.”

She rolls her eyes. “My cardio plan is running from the cops,” she tells him shortly. “Besides, I don’t like running. It’s a mindless task that leaves my brain free to run wild.” She taps her head. “It’s dangerous in there.”

“Beautiful, too,” Oliver replies, reaching over brush a strand of hair from her face. Before she has time to panic, his touch is gone, and his attention is focused on the window. He turns back to her a moment later. “Would it be okay if I came over tonight?”

“Oliver, you have a key,” Felicity reminds him in a dry tone, a smile forming on her lips. “That’s an open invitation to come over whenever you want.” She motions to her broken ribs. “It’s not like I’m going to be decapitating gun runners.” She groans. “I already miss it.”

“Take all the time you need,” Oliver replies. “They’ll be there when you recover.” A smile forms on his face. “I have a recurve bow waiting when you feel like learning archery.”

“It may be a few weeks before I get to it, but that’s going to happen,” she assures him. “If we’re going to be in the field together any at all, it’s a good idea to be proficient with each other’s weapons.” She pulls the door release handle. “Speaking of, I should probably get mine out of the back.”

When she exits the car, Oliver does as well. He opens the trunk for her so she can remove her bag. Once it’s over her shoulder, she reaches out to place a hand on his arm. “I’ll see you tonight,” she tells him.

He nods once. “I’ll bring dim sum and ice cream,” Oliver promises, a slow smile forming on his face.

“You know the way to my heart, Queen,” Felicity replies with a grin of her own. “Let’s make it dinner and a movie, then.” She adjusts her bag over her shoulder. “I need to put a new edge on my swords. If you have any arrows, I could help you sharpen those, too.”

A soft, dimpled smile comes to his face, and Felicity has to glances away from it. Sometimes Oliver is too adorable for his own good. “It seems you know the way to my heart, too,” he teases.

“That’s because yours is too big for your own good,” she answers, shaking her head. She doesn’t know how he does it; he cares about everything. Felicity ran out of damns to give years ago. “It isn’t hard to find the way to your heart. It’s kind of like Rome: all roads lead there eventually.”

Though he smiles, Oliver looks away, closing the trunk and studying his shoes. “I’m a better fighter when I have something to lose,” he replies slowly. “I take fewer risks and use more strategy in a fight.”

When his eyes meet hers, his mouth presses into a thin line. Combined with his words about her recklessness last night, his expression says what he won’t: he sees her detachment from the world as a weakness. After her discoveries last night, Felicity is almost inclined to agree. Even with that in mind, she doesn’t know how he’s able to do it.

How exhausting it must be to love a world that didn’t hesitate to devour him.

It’s at times like this when it hits her how much she doesn’t deserve Oliver Queen. He might try to hide it under that spoiled persona, but he’s one of the most compassionate, generous people she’s ever met. The world has thrown so much at him, but he keeps trying anyway.

Offering him a lopsided smile, Felicity allows, “Maybe so, but you still have to care first.” She crosses her arms over her chest, staring at her reflection in the side of the black Mercedes. “I’m not very good at that.”

A long silence lapses between them before Oliver finally replies, “It might take you longer to open up, but that doesn’t mean you care less.” When Felicity turns back to him, his expression is thoughtful. “You’re more passionate than I am.” That might be admiration in his tone.

Lifting her shoulder, Felicity explains, “I lived a bland life before Japan. Every day was the same, every choice was safe.” She laughs, but there’s no humor in it. “I thought I was going to die without knowing what it was like to live on the edge.”

Shaking her head, she adjusts the strap on her bag. “When I had a second chance, I promised myself I’d do things differently. No more safe choices just because they’re safe. I get to live the way I want to, not the way anyone else says.”

Her head tilts to the side. “If those choices kill me in the end, so be it. I almost died in a cage. At least this time I’d get to die free.”

Oliver smiles. “That’s the passion I’m talking about.” He glances at the house before turning back to her, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll see you this evening, Felicity.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” she replies.

With that, she walks toward the porch. Just before she puts her key in the door, Felicity stops, turning back toward the car. Unable to resist, she waves at him before turning back to her door.

As she steps into the house, Felicity drops her bag by the door, pulling her phone out of her pocket. She goes immediately for the fridge, to where an old, worn card with the Wildcat Gym number is held in place with a pink magnet. After snapping a picture of it, she texts it to Laurel, along with the words, If Ted gives you any trouble, tell him I sent you. And be careful - he doesn’t fight fair.

Slipping her phone into her back pocket, Felicity opens the fridge for something to eat. Bare feet pad across the floor behind her. She didn’t expect Roy to be moving around yet. “You’re up early,” she greets him.

“I wanted to do something crazy and get to school on time today,” a sarcastic drawl remarks from behind her, too feminine to be Roy. Thea’s presence is hardly a surprise, though; she’s been a constant presence ever since she met Roy.

“I hope it was okay that I stayed over. Roy was nice enough to pick me up after school,” she continues casually. “Mom couldn’t make it, and she refuses to buy me a car after I wrecked the one she bought me for my eighteenth birthday.”

As Felicity discovers some leftovers from the last time Oliver cooked, Thea asks, “Is Ollie with you?”

When Felicity turns with her breakfast, her eyes widen. Thea is in a black t-shirt too large to be her own, hanging down just long enough to cover everything. Her dark hair is a wild tangle, standing up at odd angles. Her smile is a little too bright, especially for the darkness under her eyes.

“No,” Felicity answers finally. “Which is probably a good thing.”

As she crosses to the microwave, Thea slides onto a bar stool with a wince. “He has no right to say anything,” Thea says. “It’s not like he’s a saint.” She snorts as Felicity starts the microwave. “Besides, Mom texted me last night looking for him—I know he didn’t come home.” Her tone drips with curiosity. “Neither did you.”

Rolling her eyes, Felicity turns to face her. “Oliver and I don’t have sex,” she replies, leaning on the bar across from Thea. “I helped him run through some financial statements at Verdant, and then we crashed on the bed he has in the basement.” She makes a face, in an attempt to dissuade Thea from pursuing that point. “I don’t recommend it. Lots of spiders down there.”

“That’s a shame,” Thea replies, drumming her fingers on the countertop. “About you and Ollie, I mean.” She smiles. “He’s been more like the old Ollie since he met you.”

Waving a hand, she clarifies, “Not the one who used to party all the time. I mean the caring big brother I had when he was still in high school.” She laughs. “Back then, his idea of having fun was taking me to the park so I could play on the swings.”

The smile drops just as quickly as it began. “Then everyone started pushing him.” Her head tilts to the side. “He’s really smart, you know. Used to make good grades. Then he had trouble with math, and Dad started talking about how Ollie couldn’t run the company with a D in algebra. He stopped trying after that.

“Mom and Dad paid to get him into an Ivy League college,” she continues. “They said he needed to take his future seriously. The more they lectured, the more he screwed up.” She snorts. “Even Laurel treated him that way. She started talking about how they were serious and needed to move in together, and then he’s on the boat with Sara.”

She glances down to the table, studying her own fingers. “And the first thing Mom talked about when he got back is how he should take a high position in the company.” She shakes her head. “So when they announce the applied sciences center named after Dad, he shows up drunk.” Felicity vaguely remembers that on TV; she’d bet it was an elaborate act. “Mom chewed his ass over it the next day, but it didn’t change anything.”

Her lips press together before she looks up at Felicity. “Ollie has never been able to stand up for himself with words, but he doesn’t let people tell him what to do, either.” Thea’s head tilts to the side. “You’re probably the first person he’s met who doesn’t try to change him. That’s good for him.” She smiles. “You’re good for him.”

“Oliver is healing on his own,” Felicity insists. “That has nothing to do with me. It’s just a slow process.” She waves a hand. “He just likes to talk to me about it because I’ve been through similar shit.”

When Thea only looks at her, Felicity explains, “I went to Japan on a business trip a few years ago.” She waves a hand. “It’s a long story and I won’t bore you with the details, but it ended with a criminal gang killing my father and locking me in a box for seven months.”

“That’s heavy,” Thea says after a moment.

“Yeah.”

As Felicity turns to grab a couple of drinks out of the fridge, Thea calls, “For what it’s worth, you’re handling it well. What you and Ollie have been through is horrible. I’m not sure I could have handled that and come back to…” When Felicity turns to her, Thea is gesturing vaguely with one hand. “All of this. Normal life.”

Felicity pushes the soda in front of Thea. “It’s not easy,” she agrees, “but you learn to adapt.” In her case, adapting means hunting criminals with swords every night. While not exactly healthy, it does give her life some much needed clarity. “Sometimes that means taking time to reconcile who you are now with who you were before.” She offers Thea a smile. “You shouldn’t worry about Oliver. He’s doing great—better than I did.”

After nodding several times, Thea asks, “What’s something that the people in your life did to help?”

A smile forms on Felicity’s lips of its own accord. “They gave me unconditional love, support, and acceptance,” she answers. “From what Oliver says, you already do those things.” Before Thea can say anything, Felicity suggests, “If you get ready in the next thirty minutes, I can take you to school.”

Thea’s eyes narrow. “Roy said your car wasn’t running,” she replies slowly.

With a smirk, Felicity explains, “My neighbor is rarely ever home because they send him on business trips overseas.” She shrugs. “Sometimes when he’s gone, I… borrow his Acura.”

“You mean ‘steal,’” Thea accuses.

After she takes a drink from her bottle of water, Felicity winks as she answers, “I would never admit to that.”

It takes Thea two seconds to rise to her feet, already scurrying toward the back part of the house. “I’m gonna kill Oliver for keeping you all to himself!” she yells. “I’ll be ready in ten!”

The microwave beeps, and Felicity turns to grab it. She can’t remember what dish Oliver said it was, but as she takes her first bite, she decides she doesn’t care. It’s damn good.

She’s almost halfway finished when Roy walks in, his eyes bleary as he scratches his head. He’s more subtle than Thea, wearing a pair of sweatpants but missing a shirt that she’s probably wearing. His hair sticks up in all directions, but that’s nothing new.

As he sits down at the bar, he asks her, “How pissed are you about…” He motions between himself and the direction Thea went. “…This?” he finishes finally.

“You’re both adults having consensual sex,” she says. “As long as you’re being responsible and you’re both happy, I’m okay with this.” She shoves the plastic container of food toward him, along with her fork, and he takes a bite. “What are you two calling this?”

“I don’t know,” Roy says around a mouthful of food. After swallowing, he glances in the direction Thea disappeared. “We want this to be serious, but she’s afraid her mom will think I’m more interested in her trust fund.” He frowns. “I don’t care about that. I’m more worried about what Oliver will think. He seemed pretty cool about the idea of the two of us last week, but that was just in theory.”

Pointing with his fork, Roy throws Felicity a look. “If you tell Oliver this, I’ll deny it, but he’s a decent guy and I’d like to stay on his good side.” He stabs another bite of food. “Not just because of the Arrow thing, either.”

Felicity scoffs before taking another fork out of the drawer, reaching for another bite from the container. “If he has any sense, he’s prepared for it,” she replies. “I told Oliver you’d be knocking boots within three months.” Roy chokes on a bite of his food, and she shrugs. “Thea likes bad boys—and she’s a sarcastic mess in cute shoes. You’re practically each other’s kryptonite.”

He snorts. “Maybe,” he allows. Glancing toward the hallway again, he adds in a quiet voice, “I haven’t dated a girl since freshman year of high school, and I don’t want to mess this up. Any advice?”

She only looks at him before laughing humorlessly. “Are you seriously asking me?” Felicity motions to herself. “The last relationship I had was three years ago, and I broke up with him after our first meeting with the wedding planner. I’m not exactly the poster child for good relationships.”

This time, she waves a hand at Roy. “You have more recent experience than I do—and more positive. You were with Eric from the mechanic shop for almost a year.” She frowns. “I can’t believe he didn’t want to at least try a long-distance relationship after he took that job in Coast City. I guess he didn’t deserve you.”

“What are we talking about?” Thea asks, adjusting her backpack over her shoulder.

“Bad decisions,” Felicity replies dryly.

Roy throws her a look before turning back to Thea. “My ex-boyfriend,” he clarifies for her. “He broke up with me because he moved to Coast City.”

“Well, his loss is my gain,” Thea replies, leaning over to kiss him. At first Felicity smiles at the two of them, but she rolls her eyes as it goes on a little too long.

“You two can tear each other’s clothes off later,” Felicity interrupts, causing Roy to break away and flush. Thea is completely unapologetic.

Motioning between the two of them, Felicity adds, “We need some ground rules. No sex in public areas of the house. If you two ever need privacy, send me a text. Oliver will let me crash at Verdant, and I’d rather not walk in on anything that will scar me for life.”

Making a face, Roy counters, “What the hell am I supposed to say? ‘Thea and I are having sex tonight—don’t come home’?”

Rolling her eyes, Felicity answers, “I would appreciate it if you were more subtle, but that works.” She drops her plastic fork in the trash can before exiting the kitchen. “Maybe try something like ‘I need some privacy tonight. Thea and I have plans.’” She stops suddenly. “Which reminds me that I made plans with Oliver tonight. If I need to move them to Verdant, let me know.”

“Of course,” is all Roy says.

“Move them to Verdant,” Thea suggests.

Felicity salutes them. “Duly noted.” She motions to Roy. “I’m taking Thea to school this morning, but I’ll be back to finish getting ready for work.”

“I’ll probably go back to bed,” Roy answers. “Have a good day at work.” He offers Thea a smirk. “Try to keep out of trouble, princess.”

“I make no promises,” she replies, blowing him a kiss. “See you tonight.”

As Thea follows Felicity out of the house, she remarks, “You know, I’ve always wanted to learn how to hotwire a car.” She grins. “I won’t tell Ollie if you won’t.”

“No way am I teaching you how to hotwire a car,” Felicity protests immediately, causing Thea’s face to fall. “That’s an impractical skill for you to learn. How about I teach you to pick locks instead? That way, you can spy on Tommy and your brother.” She points a finger at Thea. “But you can’t use it anywhere you could be arrested. Use your powers for good.”

Thea stops abruptly, staring at Felicity for a long moment, mouth open. “Smoak, I think I love you,” she teases with a blinding grin.

Felicity winks. “Get in line.”

Chapter Text

After she steps into the gym, Laurel decides she didn’t expect Wildcat Gym at all. From the moment she parked outside, she thought it would be full of fraying punching bags on rusted hinges, but the equipment looks to be in good condition, despite the crumbling building around it. Wildcat Gym only buys the essentials, it seems.

The place is deserted, but Laurel expected nothing less. It’s after eight on a Wednesday, and few people are brave enough to show up in this part of the Glades at night. It just happens to be the only time she has, between working overtime on her cases and trying to juggle her conflicting schedule with her boyfriend’s.

“If you’re here to serve me with a lawsuit, you should know I don’t have anything worth taking,” a voice calls from the edge of the ring.

Laurel turns to follow his voice, unsurprised by the man in front of her. Ted Grant is everything she expects from a fighter: lean but muscular and moving like he’s in a fight. He walks with the kind of arrogance she’d expect from a man with eight middleweight boxing championships under his belt.

“No, I just got off work,” Laurel assures him, adjusting the strap of her purse over her shoulder. “I wanted to brush up on my self-defense training. A friend of mine suggested this place.” Her head tilts to the side. “She says you’re the man to see.”

Crossing his arms, he replies, “I don’t teach self-defense to women,” he replies bluntly. Laurel is about to give him a crash course on the legal ramifications of sexist discrimination, but he continues, “My fighting style is all about force.” He motions to her. “Smaller women have to use leverage against their opponents.”

He points to a table in the middle of the room. “We have an instructor come in. Her classes start in three weeks. It’s a group class. You can sign up there.” He turns, walking away as he calls over his shoulder, “Have your friend work with you in the meantime—it will give you an advantage.”

With no ideas left, Laurel calls, “My friend is Felicity Smoak.”

Grant stops immediately, shaking his head as he turns back to her with an ironic laugh. “Of course she is,” he replies, walking back to her with new appraisal. “Confident woman who wants to learn to defend herself”—he motions to the bruising on her throat before motioning to his own—“and has evidence of physical trauma.”

Chuckling, he continues, “I bet she fell all over herself trying to help you. Smoak is walking embodiment of ‘No woman should have to depend on a man to protect her.’”

Laurel’s eyes widen before narrowing, thinking of how close the words are to the ones Felicity said several night ago after agreeing to give Laurel the information. “How well do you know Felicity?” she asks.

With a cryptic smile, Grant retorts, “How well do you know her?”

Suddenly it feels like she barely knows this woman, one who spends every Monday night with Tommy. Grant has provided her with a glimpse into Felicity’s life, one that isn’t just computers and friendly teasing and flirting with Oliver. Ted Grant is a fighting machine, and that might be subtle admiration of Felicity’s skill.

Skirting the last questions, Laurel bluffs, “Well, you can’t blame her for trying to help me.” She adjusts the strap of her purse over her shoulder again. “I mean, after all she’s been through.”

Maybe her idea is wrong, but Laurel doesn’t think so. Grant’s cryptic statements mix with her impression of Felicity from a few days ago. The bruise on her jaw was prominent, but when she turned her head, there was a scar on her neck. Another poked out from the edge of her jacket when she pointed at Tommy. Whatever Felicity Smoak has been through, it isn’t insignificant, and Laurel might be able to get Grant to open up.

Grant studies her for a long moment before crossing his arms. “Like what?” When Laurel’s mouth opens with no words, he flashes her a grin. “You don’t know because she hasn’t told you.” He releases a breathy laugh. “Nice try, though.” He glances to the wall behind her for a long moment. “Can you come in on Monday nights at eight?”

“What?” is all Laurel can say.

Grinning, he answers, “You think on your feet in a conversation. I want to see if you can do it in the ring.” He motions to the wall behind her. “If Monday doesn’t work, you can pick any free time up there you want.”

When Laurel turns, she finds a schedule on a whiteboard, lined out with day and time. He writes most of them with a first initial and last name, but she notices there’s a poorly-erased Smoak still visible, late on a Friday night.

The longer she thinks about the offer, the better it is. She won’t miss any time with Tommy because he’s already obligated with Felicity. This gives her time to ease Tommy into the concept of taking self-defense classes, so he won’t worry about it.

“Monday at eight is perfect,” Laurel assures Ted. Her head tilts to the side. “Felicity warned me that you don’t fight fair.”

He snorts. “That’s a little rich, coming from Dirty Harriet,” Ted replies with a grin. “You don’t have to worry about Smoak, though. She gives as good as she gets.” He motions to the door behind her. “Come on. I’ll walk you out to your car. This place can get a little rough at night.”

“Thank you for agreeing to train me,” Laurel says as he follows her out.

“Wait until Monday,” Ted retorts. “We’ll see if you thank me then.”

 


 

Oliver lies against the cool mat, trying to catch his breath as the stars fade from his vision. After a month away from fighting her, he’s forgotten just how fierce Felicity is. She might be small, but sparring with her feels like battling a titan. Even with the wooden swords, he’s going to be covered in bruises for the next several days.

Despite the ass-kicking she’s been handing him all night, it’s nice to be in the ring with her again. Not only does it mean she feels better, but it also means things are back to normal. The two of them are in the foundry, sparring in friendly competition while taunting each other and laughing.

A hand with purple fingernails is thrust in front of his face in an offer, and he looks up to find Felicity standing over him with a small smile on her face. Because it’s a practice day, she didn’t wear makeup and has opted for her contacts instead of glasses. Her hair is up in a messy bun, strands of it falling out and sticking to the back of her neck.

Perspiration gives a glow to her exposed skin—and there’s a lot of it today, as she’s opted to wear a black sports bra and a pair of spandex leggings that end just below her knees. Her tattoos are on display and her feet are bare, purple toenails sinking into the mat.

Somehow, she’s more beautiful than he’s ever seen her.

when she’s on the mats or in front of a computer, Felicity is simply in her element, easy confidence rolling off her in waves. It gives her a new kind of life, putting a sparkle in her eyes and a wider smile on her face. As she stands before him today, she has the special glow that he’s only ever seen on the mats. Seeing her this happy is rare, so getting his ass kicked is a small price to pay for that smile.

Taking the offered hand, he uses her help to pull himself upright again. She wipes at her hairline with her forearm, dropping the other practice sword in her hand as she releases him.

“Better,” she tells him as she steps off the mats to grab her bottled water. “You still aren’t using your left as efficiently as you could, though.” She takes the lid off her water, gesturing with it. “You’re right-handed, so that’s to be expected. You’re still really stiff, though.”

When he smirks, she bites down on her lip. “I mean rigid, not any other kind of stiff,” she clarifies. After several long gulps of water, she finally asks, “How are you feeling? I think a couple of my blows landed harder than I intended.”

The aching in his muscles agrees with that. Felicity is merciless with a set of blades, even if they’re just practice swords. He’s going to be miserable tomorrow, but he usually takes Mondays off for time with his family, anyway.

“I could go another round,” Oliver replies with a partial smile as he walks over to the desk for his own water. His tone might be a little flirty, but they tend to be a little more comfortable with each other on the mats. Usually they just ignore that.

Flashing him a smirk, Felicity places the bottle on the desk. She reaches out to run a hand down his left forearm before she pats his chest. “As much as I appreciate a man with stamina,” she says with a smirk, “I’m still recovering from a set of broken ribs. I think I’m done for the night.” She pulls herself onto the gurney, taking the towel draped across it to wipe her face. “You wore me out, Oliver.”

For the life of him, he has no idea how she means it. He used to think all of her innuendos were accidental, but they’ve become more bold and brazen. It all started the night she mentioned her thoughts involving handcuffs and her sex life a month ago—something he’s tried and failed to forget. It’s almost as if she’s doing it to see if she can catch him off-guard and provoke his reaction.

“I guess you’re still recovering,” Oliver replies, trying to ignore her prodding.

His eyes flick down to her last set of injuries. The bullet wound and the incision he made to remove it are only faint, ruddy patches on her skin. Unable to resist, he reaches out to touch her wounds. “These look better than the last time I saw them.”

“I had a good surgeon,” Felicity replies with a grin, dabbing at her chest and abdomen with the towel. Oliver’s eyes can’t help but follow the motion.

When his eyes meet hers again, she fixes him with a knowing smile that makes his face grow hot. “See something you like, Queen?” she asks in a dangerous tone.

Oliver hesitates before deciding, “There isn’t a good answer to that question, Felicity.” If he says yes, it could make things awkward between them—and that’s if she forgives him for his unwanted ogling. If he says no, it’s both a lie and an insult.

Laughing, she assures him, “It wasn’t a trick question. More like idle curiosity.” Her smile fades. “It’s hard to tell if you’re staring at the scars or the tattoo or… something else.” She waves a hand. “And it’s not like you haven’t seen it all before.”

That he has. Felicity isn’t shy about removing her shirt or pants in front of him. It used to be something he appreciated, until it started showing up in his dreams. Ever since his imagination got involved, it’s been more torment than pleasure.

Before he can talk himself out of it, Oliver finally answers her original question: “Yes.” Her eyes widen in surprise. “The answer is yes.” It’s always yes.

She stares at him for a long moment. “If you weren’t such a terrible liar, I’d assume you were lying to spare my feelings,” she says in a teasing tone. Her eyes are too serious for it to be a joke. “I’m a little damaged.” She laughs. “And I’m not talking about the inside this time.”

Shaking his head, Oliver moves to join her on the gurney. They sit so close their legs brush against one another, and there’s a strange comfort in having her so close. “I know how you feel,” he admits slowly, motioning to his own torso. “I feel like my scars tell the world how broken I am.”

His hand wraps around her arm, thumb tracing a slender scar that runs horizontally across her skin. He’s never noticed that one before. “But when I see yours, I see the marks of a survivor.” His eyes flick across her skin, this time seeing the roadmap of the things she’s endured. “No matter what weapons they used, you endured them.”

Tentatively, he traces the scar across the top of her shoulder, a thick line that runs back to front. “They came at you with swords,” he notes aloud.

Nodding once, she replies, “That one was me, actually. I did that to myself right after they killed Slade.” When Oliver studies her in surprise, she waves a hand. “I was just starting out. One of them held a gun to my head, and I panicked.” She grins. “I took his hand off with that swing, though.”

He touches the circular scar in her shoulder, just below the first one he ever patched for her. “Plenty of them tried to use guns to stop you.”

“That’s from Japan, too,” she offers. “After I killed a couple of the men, one tried kill me with a high-caliber bullet.” Her smirk turns dark. “Didn’t take.”

Motioning to the arm opposite him, he points out, “It looks like they tried a grenade, too.”

Turning, she flashes him the peppering of scars with deep incisions with superficial, directional slashes leading to them. “Oh, yeah, that’s from last year,” she agrees. “Bratva members get really paranoid when you go after them for too long. They tried to blow me up. I hid, but I took a part of the wooden frame in my arm. They were the splinters from hell.” She motions to her calf, where a similar scar is visible. “Caught it in the leg, too.”

She laughs suddenly. “I had to have Roy help me take them out,” Felicity continues. “The wood was rotting and it took me an hour to get back home, so it was pretty bad. He kept stopping to throw up because of the smell.”

“But you survived them,” Oliver points out. “No matter what they did, you just kept fighting.” He smiles at her. “Your scars show your strength.”

Placing her hand on his shoulder, Felicity leans over to kiss his cheek. Oliver can’t help but smile. “Thank you for always seeing the best in me,” she says in a quiet voice.

“Everyone else sees you wrong,” Oliver replies in a low voice.

Knocking her shoulder against him, Felicity smiles before sliding off the table, reaching for the red tank top she threw over his arrow crafting station earlier. It advertises her as part of the Red Shirt Running Team, but the words underneath say, I’m probably not gonna make it.

Reaching over, she checks the time on her phone before walking back to Oliver. As she leans against the gurney next to him, she asks, “I still have a few hours to kill before cocktails with Tommy. Any suggestions for what we could do?”

Oliver’s mouth goes dry at the innuendo, but she seems oblivious to it. On these rare days that she’s like this, there’s a special kind of charisma about her that he can’t resist. There’s no question that she’s deadly, but there’s a special beauty in that, only found when they’re sparring on the mats.

It isn’t the only thing he’s found sparring on the mats. Sometimes when he pins her to the ground, both panting, a moment passes. It isn’t easy to define and she might not even be aware of it, but it makes something crackle between them. Suddenly Oliver’s focus isn’t on the idea of a fight, but other, more creative uses of the mats.

Right now, he feels it again. When an innuendo spills from that mouth or a touch feels too intimate, he can no longer deny he’s attracted to her. Most of the time it’s subtle. Right now, there’s little more than his control stopping him from kissing her in a way that’s just as beautiful and violent as she is.

When Oliver moves off the gurney in a tactical retreat, he can’t even look at her. Making the wrong move could destroy their friendship—something too precious to risk on a single moment of self-gratification.

Moving to the storage area on the other side of the foundry, Oliver shakes his head to clear it. Instead, he reaches for one of the weapons on the wall, smiling as he does.

When he returns to Felicity, she’s pulling on her black zipup hoodie over her shirt. He holds up the recurve bow, and her eyes light up as she takes it from him. “I promised to teach you how to shoot,” he reminds her.

She studies it for a long moment before pulling back on the draw, testing it. “I started you with a thirty-pound draw,” Oliver explains to her, trying to gauge her reaction. He offers her a partial smile. “After swinging a sword all day, I thought you’d have the strength for it.”

After pulling back on it, Felicity looks at him. “Doesn’t feel too bad.” She reaches out for an arrow on the desk before using it to motion to the target on the back wall. “Is it okay if I use your target?”

“I set that up for you,” he replies. “Take your stance.” Felicity positions herself, and, unlike during his first try, she has a solid stance. “Good. Nock.” As she slides the arrow into place, he mimes drawing a bow next to her. “Draw until you touch your cheek and keep your arm straight. Breathe, aim, fire.”

Expression turning stony, Felicity draws the bow. Already he can see some problems in her form: her elbow is bent and she partially releases. The arrow falls short before it hits the wall. She makes a face.

“Well, that sucked,” she says with a laugh.

“I don’t expect you to be good the first time,” he replies, smiling. Miming the bow again, he pretends to draw. “This is where you need to be.” He moves his right arm slightly forward, releasing tension on the string. “You released slightly, so you didn’t get the momentum you needed to fire.”

Oliver hands her the next arrow. “Draw again,” he suggests. When she does, he walks behind her, straightening her arm. “Keep your elbow up and pull back a little further.” He pulls her arm back a fraction of an inch before removing his hands on her. “Now—”

The arrow sinks into the wall when she releases, just outside the target altogether. It isn’t a beautiful shot, but archery, like swordplay, takes time and experience. “Not bad for your first shot,” Oliver says. A smirk appears on Felicity’s face as she lowers the bow, turning back to him.

When she turns, they both stop short. Only now does Oliver realize just how close the two of them are. Felicity’s eyes widen as she looks at him, smile slowly slipping off her face. His breath comes in shallow puffs as they study one another. Without warning, Felicity’s eyes flick to his lips. Oliver can’t help but wonder: if he did make a move, would she let him?

Right now, the answer feels like yes.

The door flies open, causing the two of them to jump apart. Oliver immediately looks to Felicity, to see if he’s made her uncomfortable. She won’t look at him, instead reaching for another arrow, nocking it before aiming for the target again.

Though he expects Diggle to be the one joining them, Oliver’s eyebrows knit together at the person descending the stairs. Tommy has an uncharacteristic frown on his face, which only sours as he sees Felicity with the bow.

Her shot sinks into the blue, outer ring of the target before she turns to him. Before she can greet him, he groans. “Not you, too,” he says, pinching the bridge of his nose. Turning to Oliver saying, “Are you seriously gonna te—?”

He breaks off abruptly as he turns his attention to Oliver for the first time. Tommy’s eyes fall over Oliver’s torso, his mouth falling open. “Ollie, what the hell happened to you on that island?” he asks suddenly.

Felicity lowers the bow. “That’s not the kind of question you ask people after a traumatic experience,” she points out gently. Tommy turns to her, and she subtly adjusts one side of her shirt to cover the bullet wound scar in her shoulder.

Tommy places a hand to his forehead as Oliver moves to grab his shirt off the desk, pulling it on. “You’re right.” When Oliver turns back to him, Tommy sighs. “I’m sorry, Ollie. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just…” He shakes his head. “I’m sorry someone hurt you like that.”

“It’s a part of what I do,” Oliver points out, since Tommy is already forgiven. “People try to kill me every night. Some of them just get closer than others.”

Tommy sighs. “I shouldn’t have said that,” he replies. “It’s just…” Another sigh before he motions to Felicity. “Remember last week when cocktail night was cut short? You had to take Roy to work?” Felicity nods once. “I went by Laurel’s and she wasn’t home. When I asked her about it, she said she’s taking self-defense classes. At night. In the Glades.”

As she crosses her arms, a dangerous look appears on Felicity’s face—one that Oliver would not want to be on the receiving end of. “A woman should never have to be afraid of a man,” she insists in a dark tone. “If self-defense classes make her feel safe, she should do it.”

Holding his hands up, Tommy assures her, “I don’t have any issues with her taking classes. What concerns me is that she felt the need to lie about it.” He crosses his arms, leaning against the gurney. “It may not have been an outright lie, but it was still a lie of omission. And then she’s in the Glades at night, by herself.”

“Maybe you should try explaining that to her,” Felicity suggests.

Oliver frowns; the Glades don’t have many businesses, much less gyms that offer self-defense classes. “Which gym is she going to?” he asks.

Pressing his lips together, Tommy thinks on that for a moment. “I think it’s run by some washed-up boxer.” His head tilts to the side. “Wildcat, maybe? It’s over on Eighth—which is not a good area of town.”

Turning to Felicity, Oliver throws her a look. “That’s your gym.”

She doesn’t back down from the accusation. “It is,” she agrees, putting down the bow and moving to sit on the gurney, on the other side of Tommy. “Right after everything that happened with the Triad, she was looking for some advanced lessons on self-defense.” She shrugs. “I sent her to Ted.”

Tommy turns to her. “Smoak, that was a month ago!” he points out. “You didn’t tell me about that?”

If Tommy expects an apology, he’s sorely disappointed. “I keep a lot of secrets, Merlyn,” she answers in a gentle tone, “not just yours.” She motions across to Oliver, offering him a loaded smile. “I keep Oliver’s, too.” She waves a hand. “Roy’s and Thea’s, too. And now Laurel’s. I even have a few of my own.” Her hand falls on his shoulder. “Some things aren’t mine to tell you. This was one of those.”

“That’s the hard part of keeping a secret,” Oliver agrees. “There are some things you can’t talk about, even when it hurts to keep it in.”

His mind immediately goes to Sara’s time on the island. If I don’t make it, she had told him, promise me you’ll tell them I died on the boat. It’s better that way. Even though it kills him that her family will never know what she did, that secret is his to keep. That never makes living with secrets easy, though.

Maybe that’s why he’s given so many of his own away to Felicity: it lightens the burden.

The silence in the room is broken with a sigh. “I guess that’s true,” he admits slowly. “I appreciate your loyalty, Smoak, but…” He makes a face. “It’s just that all my relationships before have hit lies and secrets right before the very end. I don’t want this to end.”

Felicity rolls her eyes. “That’s bullshit,” she says flatly. “Healthy relationships end because of poor communication between people. Talk to her, Merlyn. Explain why you’re upset.”

She leans back on her palms. “Trust me on this one,” she insists at his skeptical look. “I screwed up my last relationship because I shut down.” She leans forward to wave a hand. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it’s over. If I had wanted to salvage it, though, it would have meant talking about my feelings.”

Oliver offers her a tentative smile. “Which you aren’t fond of,” he points out.

She throws him a grin. “You have to have feelings to talk about them, Oliver,” Felicity replies with an eye roll. Despite the smirk on her face, it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.

“That’s called ‘denial,’ Felicity,” he retorts with a grin.

Laughing, she replies, “You’re the one with all the feelings. I’m the cold-blooded asshole.”

Tommy snorts. “Please, Smoak. You don’t have an asshole bone in your body,” he assures her. “You might be scary as hell, but you care.” He grins. “If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be giving me relationship advice.”

“I give you advice because you’d be heartbroken and alone without me,” she retorts. Crossing her arms, she states, “And this seems like a good conversation for alcohol. Are you ready for cocktails?”

He grins. “Whenever you are, Smoak,” is his reply.

Felicity jabs a thumb over her shoulder, toward her bag. “Give me a few minutes to clean up my mess?” she asks.

“I’ll be upstairs when you’re ready,” Tommy replies before turning toward the stairs. “Take your time.”

As soon as he disappears up the stairs, Felicity asks, “Is it okay if I stay here tonight?” She crosses her arms over her chest, not quite meeting his eyes. “Merlyn and I have a tendency to go overboard on cocktail night. Can’t drive but don’t want to leave my car here. That sort of thing.”

Oliver frowns. It’s been almost a month since he’s had an invitation to spend the night at her place. These days, she spends more nights in the foundry than he does. Because of their schedules, however, he hasn’t been able to share the bed with her. He’s starting to think she’s planned it that way.

Moving to sit on the gurney next to her, Oliver hesitates for a brief moment. His arms fold over his chest. “Felicity…” She turns to him expectantly, even as his lips press together. “Have I… Have I done something to make you uncomfortable?”

When her eyebrows shoot up, he holds up his hands. “The last time we shared the bed down here, I… may have gotten a little too comfortable in my sleep.” Though it had been wonderful to wake up in the middle of the night with her to be tucked safely next to him, it wasn’t worth this lingering awkwardness between them. “I’m sorry if I—”

Her fingers fall over his lips to silence him. “Oliver,” she says gently, with a smile. Her hand moves to the side of his face. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” Her thumb traces a pattern on his cheekbone as she thinks about her next words. “I… like how familiar we are with each other.” Her face turns the slightest shade of pink. “You holding me tight… It’s nice.”

He waits for her to say more, but it doesn’t come. “Is there something wrong at home?” Oliver tries again, pressing harder this time. “Is everything okay with you? What about your mother?”

She makes a face. “Mom is just… Mom,” Felicity explains vaguely. “She was calling last month because she met this new guy. Wanted to make sure I would be okay with her dating again after Dad dying.” Closing her eyes, she blows out a long breath. “Which I am. All Dad ever did was make her miserable, and she deserves to be happy.”

Shaking her head, Felicity continues, “And things are great with Roy. Always great.” That soft smile that only seems to be reserved for her almost-brother slides across her face. “He’s easy to live with and he doesn’t care if I come home with blood-covered swords. What more can you ask for in a roommate?”

They study each other for a long moment, both knowing she has omitted part of the truth somewhere. Sighing, Felicity places a hand to his face again. Oliver leans into the touch. “I don’t just keep your secrets, Oliver,” she reminds him in a quiet tone. “I’d tell you if I could, if only so you didn’t beat yourself up about this, but—”

Placing his hand on top of hers, he says quietly, “Hey.” Her rush of words stops immediately. “I know that.” They’re quiet for a long time before he adds, “Thank you for keeping my secrets. I can’t think of anyone else I’d trust with them more than you.”

“You keep my secrets, too,” Felicity points out with a slight laugh. Her fingers brush across the hollow under his eye, and his eyelids fall closed. “I’ve never met anyone more loyal.”

Soft skin and gentle pressure brushes across the corner of his mouth. Though it’s been a long time since he’s felt her lips against his, Oliver has experienced far too many of her kisses not to know what it is.

It’s over too soon and too fast, and when her touch vanishes, he releases a sigh. Oliver isn’t sure if it’s longing or comfort that makes him do it. She makes the same sound he did, which nearly makes him kiss her again. Only this time, it wouldn’t be gentle or chaste.

As his eyes open, Felicity continues, “Just… don’t doubt yourself, okay?” Her hands fall away from his face, ending up in her lap. “If you and I ever have a problem, I will discuss it with you in detail.”

Though she hops off the gurney, she turns back to Oliver, placing her hand on his knee. “I’m gonna go have a drink or three with Tommy now,” she tells him. Felicity bites her lip before asking, “Will you be here when I get back?” Her attention focuses on the floor. “The nights have been a little… lonely without you.”

He tilts her head up to look at him again before promising, “I’m not going anywhere, Felicity.” A fragile smile appears on her lips. “You made me a promise before. This is mine to you.”

The moment her attention turns back to her shoes, Oliver kisses her forehead. It strengthens the smile on her face and the flush on her cheeks. Both of them are worth seeing."

“I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” Felicity finally says.

Oliver decides to give her one more promise: “I’ll be here when you get back.”

 


 

Oliver sighs as he glances at his watch again. Four hours since Felicity left to go upstairs. Her cocktail night with Tommy doesn’t usually take this long, and he has enough arrows now to hold out through a siege. He’s researched his next two targets, and even called to talk to his mother. There’s nothing else menial to do, and his muscles ache from his sparring session with Felicity. There will be no training in his future tonight.

He frowns, debating the merits of sweeping the foundry again. He seems to have missed a spot. Maybe he could wipe off the computer screen and untangle the cords under the desk, but Felicity would probably yell at him if he unplugged anything or screwed up her state-of-the-art computer system.

It’s strange how lonely he is without her. He’s tired and aimless, her absence just making those feelings so much worse. Though Oliver could easily go to bed, that means he might miss the chance to feel her in his arms. That is simply unacceptable. Oliver doesn’t want to miss any time with her.

Maybe he just misses her.

It’s a ridiculous thought; she’s just upstairs, spending time with one of her other friends. Oliver knows she deserves this time with Tommy, but at the same time, they’ve been fairly distant for the last month. It doesn’t help matters that she promised to stay with him tonight, and the idea of feeling her in his arms again is too good to ignore.

When he met Felicity that very first night, Oliver never imagined she would become this important to him. Now, he can’t imagine his life without her. Without meaning to, they’ve become part of each other’s daily lives. He might not always get to see her every day, but they’re always calling or texting one another.

Stifling a yawn, he glances over at the clock. Twelve-thirty. She should be done soon; there’s only so much drinking she does in public, and surely she’s reached her limit by now. He frowns before deciding that if he hasn’t heard from her by one, he’ll go up to check on them. Maybe he could invent an excuse, so he wouldn’t upset either of the two. Maybe he needs a cup of coffee.

As he contemplates his plan of action, the buzzer sounds on the door to the foundry. He frowns as he looks up from the workstation where he’s in the middle of making new arrows, sliding over to the computer to check the camera feeds Felicity installed months ago.

Before he can open the program, this time the door lock beeps, the door opening. Oliver reaches for the knife on the desk, but lowers it as soon as he hears her voice.

“Sorry, I screwed up the combination the first time,” Felicity says from the top of the stairs, shuffling in with a slight stumble to her walk. “Tommy was trying out some new drink ideas for the club, and we may have gone a little overboard.”

Pulling off her jacket, she continues, “And I’m starting to get hot. It’s too warm for me.” She pulls off her jacket before throwing it over the railing. “Bye bye, jacket.”

She leans over the railing to watch it flutter to the ground, and nearly topples with it. Oliver runs over to her just before she pulls herself back. “Why is everything swimming?” she asks him. “I don’t usually get swimmy when I’m drunk.”

Frowning now, Oliver stays with her, just in case there’s another mishap. “Do you need help getting down here?” he asks as she tries to move to the next step, nearly pitching forward. She may not be slurring her words, but he remembers from past experience—vaguely—that she doesn’t slur her words when drunk. He does remember her stumbling a few times, though.

She rolls her eyes, which nearly causes her to fall over. “Just because the stairs are swimming doesn’t mean I can’t walk on them,” Felicity declares, attempting to take the next step down. “I am perfectly capable of—”

Her words break off into a cry of surprise as she misses the step, stumbling forward. She catches herself before stumbling into the bannister, landing on the wide platform between where the staircase changes direction.

Taking the bottom steps two at a time, Oliver is next to her within a few heartbeats. “Are you all right?” he asks her. “Are you hurt?” Up close, her eyes are a little unfocused.

“Ow,” is all she says, holding up her arm. There’s a scrape from the metal grating of the steps on the outside of her forearm, just below her elbow. It’s already bleeding.

“I’m more worried about your head,” Oliver tells her. Carefully, he untwists the elastic holding her hair in a ponytail. When it falls free, he carefully pushes against her head in places, feeling for bumps or sore spots. “Does anything hurt?”

“A little,” she replies, “but I didn’t hit it on the way down. I just have a headache from all the alcohol.” She makes a face. “I didn’t hydrate properly.”

She looks down, placing a hand to a scrape on her knee. It didn’t break the skin, but Oliver is willing to bet it will be swollen and bruised by the morning. Leaning in, Felicity whispers, “Maybe I shouldn’t take the stairs after all.”

Grinning at her, Oliver asks, “Does that mean I was right?”

“I would never admit that,” she replies, poking him in the nose.

Holding back a chuckle, he grins at her. The last time she was drunk, he didn’t get to experience it properly because he was inebriated, too. There’s something oddly playful about her now, with fewer inhibitions.

“Come on, let’s look at that scrape,” he suggests to her. When he wraps his arm around her, she leans into his chest, closing her eyes with a smile. “This time, I’ll navigate the stairs.”

As he places his other arm under her knees, she teases, “Is that sound judgment I’m hearing from you, Queen?”

One of us has to be the rational one,” Oliver points out as he gathers her into his arms. She lets out a squeak before wrapping her arms around his neck. “And that clearly isn’t going to be you tonight.”

“Fair point,” is what he thinks she says next, but it’s hard for Oliver to concentrate with her nuzzling into his shoulder. It nearly makes him miss the next step. “You smell nice,” she declares suddenly. “And I don’t just mean your stupid shampoo stuff that smells like Generic Man Scent. You smell like…” She breathes in through her nose. “I don’t know. Pine? Outdoors, maybe?”

“I went for a run this morning,” he explains to her absently. Maybe if he can talk to her about safe topics, it will distract him from her breath against his chest. “We have a flower garden out back, but most of the land the house sits on is undeveloped. A run through the woods feels familiar.”

Her hand drops to his heart. “I wish I could take away all the bad things that ever happened to you,” Felicity declares suddenly, as Oliver steps off the last stair.

Against his better judgment, he leans down to kiss her forehead. A hum of contentment leaves her. “I wish I could do the same thing for you,” he assures her.

“I don’t,” Felicity immediately replies. “If Japan had never happened, we never would have met.” She pats his chest several times. “I can’t be sorry about that.”

If there was any doubt about her sobriety—or lack of it—it’s gone now. No way would she have said such a thing to him sober; they both know she doesn’t like to talk about her feelings.

“You’re drunk, and you’re going to regret saying that later,” he replies, carefully placing her on the gurney.

He means to pull away for antiseptic and a bandage, but she catches the sleeve of his shirt. Oliver turns to face her. “I may be drunk, but I’m not going to regret that,” Felicity replies. “I don’t…” She releases him, making several motions with her hands. “I don’t know how to say things, Oliver, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t important to me. You are.”

Oliver smiles, placing a hand to her cheek. She leans into it, closing her eyes with a smile. An uncomfortably warm feeling spreads through him. God, he wants to kiss her. “I know, Felicity,” he assures her. “You don’t have to say it aloud. I hear it in other things you say.”

She pulls her hand from his face to kiss his palm “You always do,” she says.

As he goes to their toolbox full of medical supplies, Felicity asks, “Is it hot in here to you?” While her cheeks might be flushed, Oliver figures that’s just the alcohol talking. “It’s toasty.”

“You always think it’s too cold down here,” Oliver replies as he gathers antiseptic, gauze, and bandaging material. “I think it’s just the alcohol this time.”

When he joins her again, she pokes him in the chest with her index finger. “You are probably right,” she agrees, holding her arm up for him to examine. When he pours peroxide on it, she slaps his shoulder in protest, crying, “Ow!”

Oliver can’t help the bright laugh that leaves him. “Felicity, you’ve had so much worse,” he tells her, grinning as he shakes his head. He saw her with broken ribs just last month, and she never breathed a word about them. It seems strange that a minor scrape could make her so vocal about pain.

In response, she simply raises her other hand to flip him off, eyes crossing as she does so. Oliver bites back on another laugh as he holds gauze over her wound and starts taping it.

It’s hard to balance all the sides of Felicity. One moment, she’s decapitating her enemies with a sword, but the next, they’re watching movies together sprawled across her couch. The Felicity who shares his bed at night is quiet and reserved, but then there’s this playful side that seems to come out when alcohol is involved.

There’s no way that so many personalities should be able to exist in one person. No one bothered to tell Felicity that, and she continues to be a contradiction buried in layers of sorrow, vengeance, and light.

He knows he should be frustrated by her unpredictability. Ever since the island, he’s learned to stay away from things he can’t control or anticipate. Those are the few things in the world that are truly dangerous, more than any sword or bow or gun. That’s especially true of Felicity, a lethal mind and an unmerciful blade trapped inside one of the most beautiful women he’s ever met.

She’s fire and kindness, vengeance, and light. A beautiful contradiction—wild, unpredictable, and free. She’s all the things he should fear, but Oliver only finds himself content in her presence. Everyone who’s afraid of her doesn’t get to see these many sides of her to understand.

The same hands that swing blades with fury can also hold his with a gentle touch.

“Hey,” Felicity breathes out in the quiet, her eyes startlingly sober. Where they were unfocused before, they’re focused entirely on him now. “You turned quiet on me.” She taps his forehead with a finger. “Where did you go in there?”

“Just thinking,” Oliver assures her with a smile as he tears the bandaging material from the rest of the roll. He sticks the end against the rest of the bandage. “I’m glad we’re friends, Felicity.”

“Really?” she asks. The uncertainty in her voice is deafening, making him ache for her. Somehow, everyone in her life has managed to make her feel like a failure for surviving. That feels inherently wrong somehow. “I’m glad we’re friends, too, Oliver. I’ve never met anyone who understood before.” She reaches for his hand, kissing it again. “Thank you for giving a damn.” She scoffs. “Then again, that’s kind of what you do. You always give damn. You always care.” She tilts her head to the side, and Oliver has to keep her from falling over. “Isn’t that exhausting?”

“Yes,” he admits to her slowly. With a sigh, he sits next to her on the gurney, and she immediately leans her head against his shoulder. “But I’m afraid of who I would be if I didn’t care.” Flashes of all the monstrous things he did during his five years away play through his head. “I don’t want to be that person, Felicity.”

Releasing a shaky sigh, Felicity replies, “I don’t want to be this person, Oliver.” He pulls her into him in reply, wishing it was enough to protect her from all the things that hurt her. “I don’t want to be angry anymore. I don’t want to be a stranger to the people I care about.”

“Neither do I,” Oliver admits, “but I don’t know how to change that.” He sighs. “We are our experiences, Felicity. Whether we like it or not, what we went through changed us.” He glances down at her, making sure he has her attention. “Our choices were to adapt or die. Maybe it’s someone else’s turn to adapt to the changes in us.

“We did just fine adapting to each other,” Felicity decides after a long moment. “And we both have enough reasons why we shouldn’t be able to. It shouldn’t be hard for anyone else to understand how we’ve changed.”

“This is a conversation for a time when you’re sober,” Oliver suggests gently, unwinding his arm from around her. He can’t resist placing a kiss to the top of her head. “Come on—we should go to bed.”

As he slides off the gurney, Felicity accuses, “You just want to snuggle with me again.”

Oliver turns to help her with the jump down. She makes it herself, but she wobbles at the end. He catches her in his arms, and her breath catches as she stares up at him. “That,” he declares in a low voice, “is exactly why I want you in my bed.”

Her eyes widen at her words, but her voice is dark as she states, “I am way too drunk for so dangerous an innuendo, Mr. Queen.”

“And I’m way to sober, Miss Smoak,” Oliver teases. “But it needed to be said.” He brushes an errant strand of hair out of her face with a smile. She returns it slowly. “You make the nights easier, Felicity.”

“Don’t do this to me,” she replies. “I’m already having a hard time concentrating when your face looks like that, but it’s worse when you use that tone.” She huffs. “It is unfair how pretty you are.”

Laughing at her wording, Oliver just says, “You are very drunk right now, Felicity.” He can’t bring himself to say that the pretty one here is definitely her—although pretty is an insult to the kind of beauty she radiates.

She shakes her head. “It’s ridiculous how you don’t realize how pretty you are,” she mutters to herself. Oliver refrains from saying the same to her. “Yes, I am absolutely wasted, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong about this.”

Poking him in the chest, Felicity declares with more conviction this time, “Oliver Queen, you are one of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever met.” Her hand trails across his face. “And not just on the outside, either.” Her hand leaves his cheek to settle on his sternum, right over where his heart lies. “I mean on the inside, too.”

A strange sensation of warmth blossoms in his chest. He’s done so many horrible things that should never be forgiven, but Felicity Smoak forgives him over and over again. She sees past the atrocities he’s committed, and she cares about him anyway—cares enough to see the person he’s trying so desperately to become. It’s almost too much to ask for.

Her face falls before she looks away. “And that is precisely why I don’t deserve you.”

“A wise friend of mine once told me that the world isn’t about what we deserve,” Oliver points out in a gentle tone. “Neither of us deserved what we had to go through, Felicity, but we endured it anything.” He offers her a slow smile. “I say we stop worrying about what we deserve, and we concern ourselves with being happy.”

The words have barely escaped him before her lips are on his. It’s so sudden that he freezes, but it’s gone a second later. The kiss isn’t dissimilar from the one she gave him the night they met: not one built from lust but of overwhelming emotion.

Barely a second later, she pulls away. “Thank you,” she tells him, her voice watery.

Even in this state, the display is too much for her. Felicity’s face flushes crimson, and Oliver can feel his own cheeks heat. He wishes she would kiss him again; this time, he would know exactly what to do.

Oliver can only look away, pulling off his black t-shirt as they prepare for bed. He’s about to place it on the desk when Felicity slips it out of his hands, taking stumbling steps toward her duffle bag on the floor.

She throws the bag onto the computer desk, along with his shirt. The next thing he knows, she’s sliding off her workout pants, falling in a heap into the desk chair. It rolls a few feet from the weight of her flop into it, but she rolls it back in front of the desk while passing the pants over her feet.

All Oliver can do is stare as she pulls her tank top over her head next. For the sake of his sanity, he hopes she’ll stop there, but she does the same thing with her sports bra. For a brief moment, he’s staring at her bare back, the flow of her skin uninterrupted from shoulder to hip. Her wing tattoos make her look like an avenging angel straight from the battlefield.

After staring in awe for a moment, Oliver comes to his senses, turning away from her. “Felicity,” he calls, her name coming out of his mouth in a squeak, “what are you doing?”

She sighs at him, as though he’s the one being obtuse in this situation. “I told you,” she replies, as if this is compltely logical. “It’s too hot in here. I think I’m wearing too many clothes. I need to fix this situation.”

“I think you were wearing the correct amount of clothing,” Oliver assures her, his voice an octave higher than normal. “Maybe you should put them back on.”

There’s a snort before she replies dryly, “I’m not going to crawl into bed with you naked. I might be drunk, but I’m not that drunk.” Felicity laughs suddenly. “You can turn back around—I promise everything is covered.”

When he turns, Oliver is certain his brain shuts down for a moment, unable to process what he’s seeing. Felicity is wearing his shirt but nothing else that he can see. It drapes down just past her hips, and a pink shirt peeks out from under the black v-neck. It isn’t revealing by any means, but it’s enough to make his mouth go dry.

He always had his suspicions, but now Oliver knows it’s true: being attracted to Felicity is going to kill him eventually.

There are worse ways to go.

Shaking his head, he turns his attention toward the bed, crawling in under the blankets. Before he can get situated, Felicity flops onto the bed next to him.

As Oliver turns onto his side, she turns to face him, burying her nose into his shoulder as she wraps her arm over him. Oliver pulls her in tighter by throwing his arm on top of her, his hand falling at the middle of her back. She sighs happily as she slides one of her legs between his, one that he now knows is bare and exposed. Oliver has to bite back a groan at the thought.

Trying to think of anything to take his mind off of it, he says to her suddenly, “I have two new targets to take down. Would you help me with surveillance and planning tomorrow night?”

“Of course,” she replies in a drowsy voice. Her hand falls over his mouth. “But sleep now. Arrow people later.” She tilts her head up to kiss the underside of his jaw. “I have a massive hangover to prepare for in the morning, but we can do movies and mission planning tomorrow night.”

Oliver smiles to himself, deciding that everything is back to the way it should be. Felicity is in his arms. His life isn’t perfect, but he’s happy with it. He has friends who know his secrets and don’t run away, and a partner who would go into battle with him.

“Thank you for being you,” he says to her suddenly, overwhelmed with gratitude.

“You’re welcome,” she mutters into his chest. “Now shut up and go to sleep.”