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And Then a Butterfly Flapped Its Wings

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And Then a Butterfly Flapped Its Wings

Prologue

Tommy Merlyn was a lot of things, but he wasn't an idiot... no matter what other people thought.

The problem was that he was never considered on his own merit. Instead, he was always measured against everyone else in his life and, ultimately, found lacking. He didn't have a head for business like his father; he didn't have a head of hair like Oliver's. He wasn't a do-gooder like Laurel or her father; he, unlike Thea, had lost all his innocence too many years back to even pretend like he might find it again; and he wasn't poised and self-possessed like Moira. Oh, he had his skills, but they either weren't valued, or, worse, they weren't even noticed.

For one, he could mix a mean martini, and, no, that wasn't because he had spent the last few months of his life managing a club. It also had nothing to do with the fact that he had spent a good portion of his youth living inside of one liquor bottle after another. And, besides, Tommy wasn't a gin or vodka kind of guy; he preferred scotch... just like his dad. He just couldn't hold his scotch as well as Malcolm Merlyn. Rather, Tommy could mix martinis and any other drink imagined or otherwise, because he was good at following directions, at reading recipes. In fact, he could cook – and well, too. But most people didn't stick around long enough in his life for him to feel comfortable sharing that part of himself with them, and, for those who did, they didn't want to see him as anything more than a pale imitation of everyone else.

Tommy was also adept at puzzles. Be they word or made up of images, he just had a knack for seeing what wasn't there and fitting those missing pieces in. But besides making him an excellent contestant for Wheel of Fortune or preparing him for his golden years in the nursing home, puzzle solving was not a brag-able... or bankable... skill. Neither was gin-rummy, darts, or knowing what size of shoe a woman wore just by looking at her feet. So, Tommy kept these talents, just like his interest and ability in cooking, to himself.

Finally, Tommy Merlyn was extremely observant. Perhaps the foot thing could be lumped in with this aspect of his personality, but he liked to think of them as separate. Maybe he even had a foot fetish. However, whether his knowledge of shoe sizes was connected or not, that did not detract from the fact that he watched people – that he studied them, learned them, understood them. This is how he knew that there was more than just years of friendship and co-chairing charity boards between his father and Moira; how he knew that, despite dating him, Laurel was still in love with his once/still/former best friend; and how he knew that Oliver was not in love with Laurel... no matter what he might think.

The only problem with his little parlor trick – the stellar observation technique, not the darts – was that, oftentimes, he learned things about people that he really didn't want to know and that, sometimes, he learned things about people that they didn't even know about themselves. But Oliver's lack of self-awareness was a much bigger problem – not only because it was preventing Laurel from moving on but also because it was something Tommy couldn't control.

Ever since they were children, there were two things that Tommy could depend upon: one, as previously mentioned, was never measuring up to anyone – especially Oliver, and, two, was his ability to manage Oliver. While he was often the one egging Oliver on, he was also the only person who could reel him back in when necessary. In this way, he was a steadying presence in Oliver's life. Before the island and everything that came with it, he was Oliver Queen's better behaved – not good but better – best friend. During the five years Oliver was gone, he was Moira, and Thea, and Laurel's reminder of Ollie. He knew of and told all the best Oliver stories, and, while he wasn't the real thing, he often made a pretty good, close enough, as good as they could get facsimile. While he had missed his friend, with him gone, Tommy had shone better and brighter in the eyes of those people Oliver had left behind. But then Oliver returned.

Tommy had been thrilled when he learned that his pseudo-brother was alive and kicking after all. Sure, five years had passed, but nothing could change them. They were Ollie and Tommy; Tommy and Ollie. His best friend would return, and they'd go back to how things were before their world got spun on its ear. Oliver would drink too much, sleep around too much, fuck up too much, and he'd be right there to both make it better and to look like the better man in comparison. Only, it was Oliver who was better. After five years of
being dead, Oliver came back stronger. Better looking. More sensitive. More interested in being a functioning member of society... or so he had everyone fooled. More dedicated to his family and friends. And in comparison – just like always – Tommy had looked like second best all over again.

Even this, he could have handled. He would have adapted. Plus, after a while, that back from a deserted island shine would have worn off his once-upon-a-time best friend. He would have found a way to take care of Oliver and, in turn, take care of everyone they both loved; he would have become his unflappable sidekick once again... only, that role was now more literal than Tommy could ever have imagined, and he certainly wasn't the friend filling it. No, instead, that was Oliver's trusty ex-special forces driver/bodyguard, and, while Laurel might be a damsel, and while she oftentimes found herself in distress, she wasn't Oliver's lady fair anymore either. No, that role now belonged to one Felicity Smoak.

Oh, Oliver had been careful. He had tried to have his cake and eat it, too, and he had almost succeeded in doing so. Tommy pushed Laurel away before she could run away, and Oliver had his little blonde piece on the side. Sure, he knew that Oliver wasn't sleeping with Felicity. Rather, she was the secret brains (and beauty) behind his brawn. Tommy wasn't sure for how long Oliver had been sneaking the woman into Verdant every night, but he had no doubt that Felicity was the only woman in Oliver's life that he had shared all of his vigilante-self with. In fact, their connection would still have been on the down-low if it wasn't for Oliver's behavior that day at Tommy's office. Something had just seemed... off about his former best friend, and, while Tommy wasn't Felicity Smoak, he could tickle QWERTY. His father was also paranoid (after what happened to his mother, of course), so he had cameras inside of Merlyn Global that even his security guards didn't know about. Additionally, Tommy knew how to place a phone call. So, after a little digging and even more authorizing of others to do some digging, he had learned of one very fetching IT girl's presence in Oliver's life... and of the trojan she had placed in his father's system.

His dad was dealing with the trojan; Tommy was dealing with the techie.

Or, well, at least he was dealing with how the techie influenced his life.

Felicity had no idea, and Oliver himself was clueless – no great shocker there, but Tommy saw. Observant, remember? He saw the way his former best friend looked at the computer nerd. He saw the trust, and friendship, and attraction, and need. He saw the connection. He saw the faith and faithfulness that Oliver had no idea how to handle, let alone recognize, the faith and faithfulness that Oliver had never directed towards anyone else in his life. Not even Laurel. He saw the love. And, what Oliver didn't know, Tommy was going to use to his advantage. Maybe Laurel still thought that she was in love with Oliver, but she didn't even know him. All Tommy had to do was put a blonde, Felicity sized bug in Laurel's ear, and she wouldn't rest until she uncovered the truth, and, once she did, everything would right itself once again. Oliver would be the cad, and Tommy would be the better man by comparison. For the first time since his once best friend washed back up in Starling City, Tommy's life would be recognizable again.

Tommy was just about to cross the street in order to finish his trip to Laurel's apartment building when he looked up and saw his control slip even further away.

 

 

You?”

Tommy Merlyn was the last person Felicity expected to find when she opened her door. It was late for guests, but that wasn't the reason for her surprise. After all, neither she nor Tommy ran in circles known for their prompt bedtimes. But friend or foe, acquaintance or stranger – those labels would have made more sense. A friend stopped by for obvious reasons – a foe, too. An acquaintance had a reason to darken her doorstep, and a stranger could have been excused as random. But Tommy? Tommy didn't fit into any of those categories. If Felicity had an address book, and if she divided it by those categories (obviously, skipping the strangers), Tommy would hover somewhere in a limbo all his own.

She knew of him because he was a Merlyn; she knew him because of her connection to Oliver, and she could only assume that the very same connection was what made her a blip on Tommy's radar... only, Tommy was denying Oliver's place in his life, so why would he care about Oliver's place in hers? Why would he come to see her? Perhaps she should have been more concerned about
how Tommy knew where to come in order to see her, but Felicity was a realist. While she took as many precautions as she could to keep her personal life private, Tommy Merlyn had more than enough resources at his disposal to track down a lowly IT girl... even one who helped The Hood.

“Miss Smoak,” he greeted her. He was leaning against her doorjamb as though every bone in his body had turned to jello and his muscles had liquified. It was a lazy pose which belied the obvious tension rolling off of him in smothering waves. His empty grin did nothing to help the contradiction. “Felicity. Can I call you Felicity?” Before she could answer – a decided
no, Tommy was already talking once again. “Oliver's Joy.”

She sighed, already exasperated with and tired of the conversation. While she had no qualms about losing sleep and falling behind on... well, her life... because of her duties as Oliver's
Marshall Flinkman, those duties did not extend to babysitting a petulant and moody Tommy Merlyn. “What do you want, Mr. Merlyn?”

“I want a lot of things – and, please, Mr. Merlyn is my father, but I've long since accepted the fact that the things I want, Oliver gets.”

“Well, he's not here, so...”

“Oh, I know exactly where our boy wonder is,
Oliver's-Delight. The question is: do you?”

“Look, it's late, and I...”

“It's not that late,” Tommy interrupted her.

“... and I'm not in the mood to play your games. So, if you would just...”

“Oliver's fucking my girlfriend. Well, actually,” Tommy amended, faking a casual glance down to his watch before looking back up only to glare at her. Felicity inhaled sharply. “By now, he's probably either moved on to round two, or he left. Ollie's not known for his cuddling skills. Laurel told me.”

That stung. Not the lack of cuddling, because, actually, Felicity found that interesting, and, if she wasn't getting such weird vibes from Tommy in that moment, she probably would have analyzed why Oliver refused to cuddle with the woman he was supposedly in love with, the woman he had survived hell on earth for, but it hurt that Oliver was with Laurel. That he had slept with her. Because they were in the middle of a fight for not only their own lives but the survival of their entire city. Because Laurel had already managed to come between Oliver and Digg once, and Felicity feared what would happen if she came between them a second time. Because Laurel obviously wasn't ready to be starting anything with Oliver if Tommy's presence on Felicity's doorstep was any indication, so her friend was going to get hurt before everything was said and done. Because she didn't want Oliver to be with anyone but her.

That last reason was both unwanted and unwelcome – a messy complication
no one needed, so Felicity pushed it away. And then she got angry, and, when Felicity got angry, she tended to hit below the belt. “Actually, I thought I heard that you broke up with her, so, yeah, open season. All's fair in love and lust.”

She expected Tommy to get mad as well, but he just quipped, “don't forget guilt and obsession as well.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, Laurel
thinks that she's in love with Oliver, but she's really just in love with this imaginary version of him that she made up in her head years ago and with the idea of being that pretend Ollie's Mrs. Queen. As for Oliver... Well, my former best friend really doesn't know what being in love means. Sure, he feels guilty towards Laurel because of Sara, and because of all the other women he cheated on her with, and because of, you know, dying on her, and because he's keeping his nefarious, nighttime shenanigans from her. And we can't forget the fact that Oliver is obsessed with his own guilt, but he's not in love with her, Oliver's-Bliss, and I think we both know why.” He paused dramatically, but she didn't cooperate by hazarding a guess. Not that she had any clue as to what Tommy was driving at. “Because he's in love with you.”

“And you're obviously drunk,” Felicity responded immediately. Really, there was just no other explanation for
anything that had happened since the moment she heard the knock on her door.

“Actually, I'm stone-cold sober, but, if that's your way of inviting me in a for a little night-cap...” Tommy's sentence fell off as he pushed himself upwards and forwards, making as though he was going to come into her apartment.

Felicity reacted instinctively, slamming the door shut only to have it catch on a shoe – a very male shoe, a shoe she did not want to come any closer. As she struggled to force him to leave – pushing as hard as she could against the painted wood beneath her hands, she said, “you need to go.”

“Hmm...,” Tommy pretended to think, absently tapping an index finger against his chin. Smirking at her, he countered, “but, no,
Oliver's-Contentment. I think I'll stay.” And then he pushed back, forcing his way into her apartment and making her stumble backwards, tripping over her own feet and the quick reversal of her momentum against the door. When she heard her lock click into place, the fear she had been struggling to ignore tumbled heavily into place alongside her heart. Quickly, she scrambled as far away from him as she could, only stopping when her back met a wall, and, even then, Felicity tried to make herself smaller, tried to melt her body into the buttercup yellow she had spent weeks debating over when she had first moved into her apartment; Tommy just took a seat upon her couch – perfectly at ease, perfectly ignorant of her alarm.

He crossed one leg over the other's knee, lifting his hips momentarily in order to sink further into her sofa's cushions. “I must say,
Oliver's-Merriment, that I'm a bit taken aback by your lack of reaction towards my news. I thought, if anyone was going to be as hurt and angry as I am, it'd be you, Oliver's-Exhilaration.

When he had asked her if he could call her Felicity, the idea had been distasteful, but now she just wished he would use her name – anything to show that Tommy was still capable of seeing her as an individual, separate from Oliver. The more he kept referring to her as belonging to Oliver, the more she realized that, in Tommy's eyes, she was no longer a person; she was a thing, a toy – something to be taken off the shelf, played with, used, and then tucked neatly back away, already forgotten. She also knew that there would be no reasoning with such a mindset. So, as she continued to talk with Tommy, Felicity sought to get help, to get away. Both her cell phone and keys, however, were on the opposite side of her living room, casually tossed onto her desk.

Inching around the perimeter of the space, keeping her back plastered to the walls, Felicity said, “I don't... I don't know what you mean.” If she wouldn't have known without a shadow of a doubt that she had said the words, Felicity wouldn't have recognized her own voice. It was so... meek and hesitant.

“What,” Tommy asked rhetorically. “You're just friends?” His tone mocked her. “Friends who spend their nights together. Friends who know each other's deepest and darkest secrets. Friends who break the law
and break into billion dollar companies together.” He snorted derisively. “Yeah, try selling that to someone who didn't spend the entire afternoon looking at security footage of the two of you.”

She was almost there – mere feet away from the promise of hope and help – and so focused on just getting away that, instead of saying anything, Felicity only hummed a non-committal response. Fingers outstretched, lengthened and spread wide, she felt her touch just barely graze against the metal of her keys before a hand that was decided not hers swooped them up. She watched in mute horror as Tommy shoved both her keys and her cell into the pockets of his slacks, any last traces of put upon good will disappearing.

“That wasn't very smart.”

Not thinking about where she was going, just that she needed to move, Felicity backpedaled away from him, but he stalked after her. It wasn't until she was cornered – Tommy's body blocking her path to her door, only leaving her with the option of going deeper into her apartment and further away from escape – that Felicity realized her mistake. In her desperation, she found herself asking, shrieking, “get away; stay away! I don't want you to come any closer to me.”

But he didn't listen, and she kept yelling, her eyes ping-ponging back and forth as she searched for something, anything to make him stay away. “You need to leave; I want you to leave.” She lunged, reaching for the biggest, thickest, heaviest coding book she could she find and coming up swinging, the arch of the text colliding solidly with the side of Tommy's face. And then Felicity didn't think, she didn't stop to see if her actions were enough to make him backdown. She just ran.

Bare feet slipping on her clean, smooth wood floors, she sprinted towards her hallway. If she could just reach her bedroom, maybe she'd have enough time to barricade the door. Even if she only bought herself a few minutes, her tablet was in her bedroom. She'd be able to email Digg. She could throw her window open wide and scream until somebody heard and called for help. It wasn't much, but those small hopes were the only lines of defense Felicity had left, so she clung to them. Arms outstretched towards her bedroom door, she was just a few steps away when she was snapped backwards, a fist clenched agonizingly in her hair pulling her away. Tears sprang to her eyes. Before she could even adjust to the sudden shift in her momentum, Felicity was being flung forward, the side of her head first connecting with the wall before the rest of her body followed.

“You stupid bitch,” Tommy roared.

But she was already screaming over top of him. “No, no, no! Don't do this! You can't do this!”

He shook her, roared at her to, “shut up; shut up!,” over and over again. Both of his hands falling to her shoulders, biting into her shoulders, Felicity lost count of how many times she was slammed into the wall. Somehow, though, she found the strength... or, at that point, maybe it was just instinct... to fight back. She twisted, and thrashed, and wrenched her body in any and every direction, trying to break free. She flailed her arms, but they found no purchase – Tommy's grip too tight, and her legs were useless, for they were barely managing to hold her up. It wasn't until she threw her head back and made connection with his chin that she was finally able to break away, stumbling towards her bedroom door once more before she even fully grasped the fact that she was free. She made it one step, then two, and even a third before a vice-like hold latched onto her right arm, the force of the grip sending shooting dangers and then numbness rushing down all the way to her fingers. Using her own impetus against her, Tommy spun her around and back into the wall, her breath knocked out of her in one terrifying collision. She started to panic.

It was a struggle just to breathe. Chest tight, Felicity gulped for air, but no matter what she did – between her ever more desperate cries for mercy and the abuse her body had already sustained, she couldn't get enough oxygen. Dizziness set in. And then he smacked her, backhanded her.

Her head ricocheted, her temple landing, cracking against the edge of the molding around her bedroom doorway. She whimpered. A thin trickle of blood slithered down the side of her face. He was yelling still, ranting, but Felicity couldn't place his words. She just stood there, exhausted and too afraid to move as Tommy started shaking her once more. It wasn't until one of his hands dropped to grab the waistband of her sleep shorts that she reacted again.

Felicity had long since stopped being aware of how she was still fighting back; she just was. Her fingers fell to push his away, and, when that didn't work, she scratched and clawed. “No, Tommy, no!” She was crying out, but he didn't seem to hear her. Hysterically, she wracked her mind for something she could say, something she could do to get through to him. “If you do this... If you do this, there's no coming back, Tommy. It'll always be there between you. Every time he sees you, he'll see... this. He'll never be able to forgive you, Tommy. If you do this, Oliver will hate you.”

He went deadly still, his hands falling away from her. For a moment, Felicity believe that maybe, just maybe, she had found the one thing that could make Tommy stop. But then he smirked, and bile rose in her throat to choke her. “No, he'll hate himself.”

She didn't think; she just reacted. Lifting a knee and thrusting it up as hard as she could into Tommy's midsection, at the same time, she used both hands to push him away and, once more, was running from him. This time, she made it into her room. Eyes darting in distress, she searched for a weapon; she looked for something she could use to defend herself. But it was too late. In her fear, her bedroom was foreign to her. Nothing looked familiar. And then Tommy was back – tackling her, landing on top of, pushing her forwards and down. As she fell, she collided with her dresser – her chest hitting the furniture's lip, while her fingers scrambled for purchase. All she managed to do was drag down some jewelry and bottles of perfume with them.

She landed on her side momentarily before Tommy's weight pushed her down onto her back. They struggled. For reasons she did not understand, he ripped her glasses from her face, tossing them aside. Then, as he groped and tugged at her shorts once again, she twisted her body in an effort to break free, to deter his seeking, destroying hands. At first, she used her own hands in an attempt to push him away. She scratched, and pulled, and pinched, and pushed to little effect. “You can't do this! Don't do this! I can't... why are you doing this to me?” He just seemed to paw at her even harsher the more she fought him... not that Felicity was going to stop trying to reason with him, stop trying to get away. When her fingers accidentally found a broken shard of glass, she felt a flicker of hope.

Felicity would never be sure what gave her away. Perhaps she tensed in anticipation, or maybe she simply sobbed in momentary relief, but no sooner had her digits of her left hand wrapped themselves around the shard of glass but Tommy was surging against her – his knees holding down her legs while his hands encircled her wrists, leaving instant bruises, and tugging her arms over her head at an awkward, excruciating angle. Repeatedly, he slammed her hands down, her knuckles being torn open on the broken debris from her dresser, until she was forced to drop the only weapon she had managed to find. With no other options remaining, she did the only thing she could still think of: she rammed her head out and up, bashing it into his.

The pain was intense and immediate, but Tommy faltered long enough that Felicity was able to scramble away, crawling on her hands and knees. She wasn't sure what to do next or where to go. She just... tried. And she roared, “no, no; you can't do this; you can't do this,” in a broken, endless lope. She was within an arms length of her bed when his full weight came crashing down on top of her once more. She instantly collapsed, crying out in agony.

Everything hurt. There was no temporary reprieve. As soon as Felicity could take a hampered, hindered breath, Tommy was ripping at her clothes once more, and she was straining to stop him. It wasn't until her fists, flailing blindly backwards, made contact with his sides that he spoke again. “That's it. If you want it rough....”

The threat was left hanging. “No, no, I don't want... this. I want you to stop. I want you to leave me alone, to leave. Tommy, no! Don't! Don't do this! No!” As one of his hands held her face down against the floor, she heard the other pull something from her nightstand beside them. From the sounds of the breaking bulb, it was her lamp. A grunt later, her head was released, only for her arms to be dragged forward – out and above her head, Tommy making quick work of lashing her wrists to the metal of her bed frame.

“Didn't know I was a boyscout, did you? Well, not for long. I joined, because I thought it would make my mom proud, but Ollie thought it was lame, and he made fun of my uniform, so I quit... but not before I learned how to tie one hell of a knot.”

His mother. She latched onto the thought. So, as one of Tommy's hands went back to holding her face down while the other ripped, and snatched, and removed her shorts, she pleaded, “your mother, Tommy, she wouldn't want you to do this – not to me, not to yourself. A mother... any mother... would be devastated if her son....” She choked on the words; she choked on her inability to take in just one deep breath; she choked on what now felt like the inevitable. “And Laurel. You love Laurel. You're here, and you're hurt, and you're angry because of Laurel, but, Tommy, she'll never look at you the same way again, not if you...”

“And how will she ever find out,” he interrupted her. “You and me? This is going to be our little secret. Because you can't tell Oliver. He'll blame himself, and he'll never be able to look at you the same way again, and he'll come after me, and he'll kill me, and you don't want my blood on your hands or his. And, if you can't tell your precious Oliver, then you sure as hell can't tell the cops. No one will ever know.”

She heard him release the closure on his pants, his descending zipper a machine gun's tattoo throughout her room. And, if she had screamed before, then she shrieked now, bellowed now, wailed now – her voice feral. She bucked as hard as she could, but his left hand still held her face down, and his knees moved to push her legs open wide and, once more, hold her thighs down. But it wasn't until she felt the fabric of her underwear being ripped away that Felicity resorted to begging. “Oh god, no. Please, Tommy. Please, Tommy. Please, Tommy. Don't do this; don't do this; don't do this; don't do this; don't do this.” Then a fist came down to crush against the small of her back, the knuckles stabbing into her vertebrae, and he was inside of her.

After all the pain, after all the fear, it was over quickly. She bit through her lip after yelling herself hoarse. The blood ran down her chin. Despite the fact that the light was still on overhead, Tommy didn't notice. He didn't see. Because he couldn't. She had long since failed to register with him – her face, her voice. While he was attacking her, while he was talking to her, before he had even arrived on her doorstep, Felicity had become nothing more to him than a tool, a pawn, a weapon. He had stripped her of her identity.

The night and everything else around her disappeared and became just sounds. A zipper being quickly raised. A pocketknife being opened. A cord being severed. Footsteps crunching over broken glass. Keys and a cell phone landing on a wooden surface. Distantly, Felicity noticed that the palms of her hands were cut from where she had curled them into the frame of her bed... the same bed that she had managed to move several inches away from the wall as she, tied up and pinned down, still had continued to fight. Detached, she felt the cuts and scrapes, the bruises.

An indifferent, dismissive boot turned her over. “Here,” Tommy said, bending down to put her scratched and bent glasses back upon her face. “You can have these back now. We couldn't have you wearing them before, though, because Tommy Merlyn doesn't fuck nerds.”

“No,” Felicity met his hard gaze unflinchingly – her belittled and used body bare from the waist down. “You just rape them.”

And then he... he just left.

Felicity struggled to her feet, her legs nearly giving out on her several times before she eventually managed to stand. She was weak and practically too weary to support her own weight. But then she was screaming her rage, and her horror, and her disgust, and she lashed out. She destroyed. What wasn't already broken soon was. Because her fury was safe.

Eventually, in sheer exhaustion, she collapsed, her body finding a wall and sliding down it until she was sitting on the floor. Still, though, Felicity refused to cry. Her tears of apprehension and discomfort from before had long since been consumed by the madness. And she knew, if she gave into her aching need to sob, she might not ever stop again.

 

 

He was too late.

But it wasn't Laurel who Oliver found dying at CNRI; it was Tommy. He was buried beneath rubble, weak and giving up. Maybe it was because he always saw his friend as invincible, or perhaps it was because Tommy's own father was behind The Undertaking, but Tommy's was the one death Oliver had never feared. And now it was happening.

Tommy was oddly silent as Oliver worked to free him. While he talked, his friend just... watched him – as if disbelieving that Oliver was really there, that he was helping him, that he would help him. So much was broken between them, but Oliver never thought Tommy would ever look at him in that way. It made him work and fight that much harder. And one of them had to, because it was obvious that Tommy had given up, that he had accepted his fate. It was only when Oliver removed the last block of concrete and he saw the rebar piercing his friend's torso that he, too, knew Tommy's death was imminent. Not that he said that, though.

He was in the middle of offering up some empty reassurances when Tommy's words stopped him cold. It wasn't what he said but how he said it – like it was the words bubbling up inside of him that were killing him and not the fact that a building had collapsed on top of him. Despite the flames licking around them, Oliver shivered.

“Tell her.”

“Laurel,” Oliver questioned. But confirmation was unnecessary. There was no other woman in Tommy's life more important than Laurel, no one else he would be thinking about while he was dying.

“No,” his best friend choked out. Oliver wasn't sure if it was blood, pain, or smoke choking him. Perhaps a little of all three. “Felicity.”

A gasp in his ear, and his shiver became a chill. It started with his face and then descended through the rest of his body. He suddenly felt so cold that it burned.

As Tommy struggled to talk, as Tommy struggled to breathe, to live, flashes of Felicity from that past day bombarded him. She had been quieter than normal, quieter than he'd ever seen her. She'd also seemed smaller, softer, like a shadow.

“Tell her...”

Those flashes became images, became memories.

Felicity walking into the foundry wearing leggings and the largest, thickest sweater Oliver had ever seen. 'What,' she defended, refusing to meet his gaze. 'This basement's draftier than an abandoned, haunted house.'

The excuse was believable enough. After all, Felicity was a girl. Girls tended to get cold easier than guys. It was a fact that he had taken advantage of many times before the island.

Felicity shying away from Dig when he stepped up behind her, peering over her shoulder. 'More cowbell! One for both of you.'

He had dismissed her jumpiness as exhaustion and worry. After all, they were all suffering under a similar weight.

Felicity shrugging, a decided lack of a blush accompanying the gesture that was meant to be self-deprecating when asked about her obvious stiffness, the bruises on her face, her lack of glasses. Her words, which should have been humorous, rang just as hollow. 'I fought the rug, and the rug won.'

She was clumsy. Or maybe Oliver had believed her, because, in that moment, he had to. Because it was easier. If he had questioned the validity of her excuses, then there was a risk he'd learn something he really didn't want to know, something that he couldn't handle – not when the rest of the world was falling down around him, not when he needed to know that just one thing, just one person he cared about, was going to be alright.

“... I'm sorry.”

But, just like that, Oliver knew.

Roaring in pain, and anger, and distress, and so much goddamn guilt it was Oliver who was now choking, he wrapped his hands around the rusty with blood, rusty with age rebar and pulled it from Tommy's abdomen. It wasn't until he had plunged the bar back into Tommy, this time piercing his heart, that Oliver realized he was crying.

His world hadn't just fallen apart that night; it had been shattered.

Broken, he stood and walked away. The only sound Oliver heard was the destruction around him. His comms were silent.

Chapter Text

Chapter One

She almost left.

She wanted to leave.

She just... couldn't get his voice out of her head. His apology meant nothing. It was too little, too late, and it was only said because he knew he was going to die, and he was seeking... what? Redemption? Grace? A balm to his conscience? Felicity didn't know, and she didn't care. If he had been truly sorry, he wouldn't have... in the first place. All Tommy's so-called apology did was bleed into her memories of the night before, his 'I'm sorry' becoming an accompanying tattoo to the abuse his body had wrought upon hers.

And then there was Oliver... Now, he knew. Now, he'd blame himself – and, not just for what happened to her, but also for the consequences of Tommy's actions. For killing him. Because she had no doubt of the actions which had been the companion to the sounds she had heard over the comms. And it wouldn't matter, in the future, that both she and Oliver would know that Tommy would have died that night no matter what Oliver did; all he would remember was why a lifetime of friendship ended in yet even more blood upon his hands, that deadly cocktail of guilt and the feeling of not having done enough slowly poisoning him.

That's why she stayed.

It had nothing to do with the fact that, if she left, Felicity really didn't know where she would go. Even with the destruction of the basement surrounding her, the foundry still felt safer than anywhere else. It was where she still felt like she had a purpose, where she still knew who she was, the one place where she still felt like she had some... control.

She laughed bitterly, the sound ugly and harsh even to her own ears. To cling to a place that could give her the one thing that had caused... everything that had happened was oddly fitting, in a way. It was almost like coming full circle, and Felicity felt a tiny fissure of satisfaction, too, because, while Tommy's actions had stripped her of so much, he hadn't been able to take the only thing he had really sought.

It was an empty satisfaction, however, because she had no doubt that it would prove fleeting. As soon as Oliver returned to the foundry, her control would slip and crumble. She was only managing to hold onto herself, because she wanted to protect him. To keep him safe. To shelter him from the doubt, rage, and self-blame that were his ever-present shadows. But now he knew, and that darkness that followed him was about to consume him. Because of her, because of what had been done to her, because of what she had allowed to happen.

Logically, Felicity knew that no one else was to blame for Tommy's actions but Tommy, but, in the back of her mind, there still lingered a whisper of culpability. If she had fought harder, if she wouldn't have let him into her apartment in the first place.... That was her shame taunting her, though, the burden of failed responsibility she wore like a mantle around her bruised neck. It would fade, much like those very same bruises, but Oliver's contrition wouldn't... at least, not without her help.

Felicity knew that, if the roles were reversed and it was Oliver who was beaten, and bloodied, and broken mentally and emotionally, the only thing that would sooth her fears would be to take care of him, to be there to help him shoulder those burdens. Plus, she knew that, until he saw her for himself again, he'd believe the worst. He'd live in that dark and damaged place inside of his soul, and it would quickly cripple him. So, while her mind thought needing Oliver was selfish, her heart – and she could no longer deny, at least to herself, that Oliver Queen was firmly planted deep inside of her heart – knew it would be more selfish to refuse him the chance to take care of her, to help shoulder her burdens... just like she would want and need to do for him.

She feared, however, what Oliver's reaction to the truth would be after he initially held her, helped her. Because he'd blame himself, he'd try to push her away... just as Tommy had taunted her into remaining silent, and that was something Felicity wasn't sure she'd be able to recover from. It would reinforce all her self-doubts, those seeds of fear about being abandoned having been planted long before and, now, allowed to flourish under the storm Tommy's actions had brought to her confidence. And, if Oliver pushed her away, she'd lose... everything she had left, because, not only would she lose him, but she'd lose the safety that came from purpose, the pieces of her identity that she liked the most, and the control those two things afforded her.

It was a war that waged itself inside of Felicity – a battle between self-preservation and saving Oliver, at least temporarily, from himself. But, even if she ran away and tried to delay the inevitable, she wouldn't just have everything that mattered taken from her; she'd be giving it up. And she couldn't do that – not to herself and certainly not to Oliver. So, even though it would kill her to see his pain, to feel him push her away, to watch him walk away, she stayed, because, somewhere between 'Felicity Smoak? Hi, I'm Oliver Queen.' and that very moment, taking care of herself meant taking care of Oliver, protecting herself meant protecting Oliver, and loving herself meant...

“Felicity.”

He didn't startle her. Despite the fact that she had been so lost in her thoughts that she never heard the door open, or his steps upon the stairs, or his progression across the room to come to a stop just a hairsbreadth in front of her, Felicity didn't jump or withdraw. Instead, she slowly lifted her face to look at him, to allow him to look at her. What she saw brought tears to her eyes, yet she still wouldn't cry.

Without a word, he reached for her. Despite the utter darkness, Oliver knew exactly where to reach for her. She had often wondered if, besides his wickedly awesome ninja skills, he also had preternaturally heightened vision... or maybe he just had the power to always see her.

Felicity's hands had been clenched into fists, her always manicured nails embedded deeply within the flesh of her palms until he touched her. Just a simple brushing of the pads of his fingers against the back of her hands made her release her grip in invitation, one he accepted. It wasn't until he was holding her hands within his own, his thumbs brushing rhythmically against the criss-crossing of cuts upon her knuckles that he spoke.

“When?”

She knew what he was asking, why he was asking... or, at least, she thought she did. He wanted to know where he had been instead of being with her. Though her answer would hurt him, a lie would hurt worse. “Last night.”

While you were with Laurel.

She didn't blame him, but he would blame himself.

A visible shudder went through him, but Oliver surprised her by not pulling away, by, if anything, holding onto her tighter. He closed his eyes but not before his heartache and despair washed over her favorite shade of blue. “And you didn't go alone, right? Please, tell me that you weren't alone.”

This time, there was a disconnect between them. Felicity didn't know what those words were that he left unspoken. “Go where?”

His gaze flashed back open, locking with hers. The intensity behind it rocked her back, the only thing keeping her steady, his touch. “To the police, to the hospital, to report him, to get help.”

“I... I didn't go,” she stammered under the stupor of her confusion. For the first time since she had looked up to find him before her, her hysteria started to bubble up into her voice. “Oliver, I couldn't.”

He didn't ask her why not; she didn't offer to explain.

“Felicity, you have to.” When she went to argue, when she went to protest, he said, “Felicity, he could have... no, he did hurt you. There could be... You could be....” Oliver half choked, half sobbed. “Please, you need to go to the hospital.”

The fact that he was asking and not ordering told Felicity just how desperate Oliver was, how close he was to the edge. “Just the hospital?”

“For now.”

“And I don't have to tell them anything?”

“Felicity, that's up to you,” he promised her. “You just... your health. You need to be safe.”

And she needed to keep him safe, so, if he needed her to go to the hospital, then she would. For him, for herself, for them.

While she silently thought through his request, Oliver seemed to interpret her quiet as hesitance. And maybe it was – a little bit, but it was more than that, too. “I'll go with you, if you... want.”

That – Oliver offering to go with her to the hospital – snapped Felicity's attention back to the earnest, troubled, beautiful face above her. She bit her tender bottom lip, recognized the compulsion to shelter staring back at her, and nodded her assent. “Okay.”

Oliver only released her to change. Five minutes later, as they left the basement together, one of his hands found hers once again, and he never let go.

 

 

It was impossible to hide from the truth of Felicity's injuries under the harsh florescent glare of the hospital's lights. The basement was gloomy and shadowed, easy to hide in, but the hospital brought everything into glaring focus. As he had waited beside Felicity, he had noticed the web of shallow cuts blanketing her hands – delicate hands, soft hands, hands that were always supposed to remain clean and untarnished. He had seen the bruises on her face where her makeup couldn't quite cover their blaring truths. He had realized that her lips weren't painted a new shade of lipstick; Felicity had bit through them. They were stained with her blood and with her pain.

And that was just what he could see on the little bit of skin that wasn't covered up. Imagining what her clothes hid made Oliver feel nauseous.

When they had arrived at the hospital, they had been greeted with pandemonium and mass chaos. In his determination to take care of Felicity, Oliver had somehow managed to forget everything else. He forgot Malcolm, his mother, and what their plan had cost the city of Starling; he forgot the lives that had been lost and those that still might be hanging in the balance; he forgot everyone and everything but the woman who never forgot to think about him. Even now, he was sitting in the waiting room rather than at Felicity's bedside, because, despite her own obvious and deserved need for comfort, she'd rather spare him than herself.

He had balked at the idea of being separated from her. Soon after they had arrived at the hospital, Felicity had been transferred from the emergency room to the Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences floor. Oliver wasn't sure if the move was to better treat Felicity or to protect her, because, as soon as the other patients in the emergency room realized she was there with him, the animosity had become nearly suffocating. For Oliver, it had been a reminder of yet another one of his failures; for Felicity, it had been the fire necessary to forge the steel of her back. In a blink of the eye, gone was the timid, shattered woman he had just been standing before and, in her place, was a champion, his champion.

It humbled Oliver to see that, despite the role he had played in her trauma, she still believed in him.

Because he had no doubt that it was his fault that she had been hurt – the barely concealed accusations in the judgmental gazes of the hospital staff served as confirmation of his own guilt. It was Tommy's hands which had rained the assault upon Felicity's body, but it was Oliver's actions which brought Tommy into her life, to her door. It was his actions which drove Tommy to hurt her.

When Oliver returned from the island, he had believed himself changed, but he was sitting in the hospital while Felicity underwent a PERK exam because, yet again, he had run away. While he didn't know what he felt for Laurel now, he did know what, prior to Tommy's confession, she had represented: the past. Being with Laurel was like being given a second chance to be the Oliver he was before the weight of his father's sins were placed upon his shoulders; before the truth about who he was had been revealed to him; before his mother lied, and lied, and lied and Tommy turned away from him. In his fear of failing the city he had sworn to protect – after all, he had fought Malcolm twice and had lost both times – and his hope that maybe he'd actually win and then his promise to his dad would be fulfilled, he had selfishly latched onto the one person who represented the innocence which had been stolen away from him.

Now, though, Oliver wasn't sure he even wanted that innocence back – not when the ramifications of it could hurt others just as much as or perhaps even more than the darkness that consumed him. His darkness had brought Felicity into his life, but it was his need to feel clean again which had bloodied her.

 

Sighing raggedly, Oliver lifted his hands to scrub wearily over his face. He was... exhausted yet, at the same time, oddly wired, too. Or perhaps that was the adrenaline still clinging to his body. The fight was over. Malcolm had been defeated. Tommy had been defeated. Now, it was time to heal – the city. Felicity. Oliver didn't, even for a second, believe that he deserved the same luxury. Instead, it was his job to rebuild Starling and to give Felicity the opportunity to rebuild herself. He just wasn't sure if that would be easier for her to do with him by her side or as far away from her as he could push himself.

“Mr. Queen?”

At the sound of the timid voice beside him, Oliver scrambled to his feet. “Yes?”

“You can come with me now,” the nurse told him, already walking away and assuming he would follow.

He did.

The trip to Felicity's hospital room didn't take long. It was the middle of the night, and the floor was quiet. While new life had not stopped in the wake of so many losses that evening, the sense of normalcy which shrouded the maternity ward made it perhaps the only peaceful place remaining in Starling. Oliver felt like his presence there, though, was an intrusion and an insult. That weighed upon him. Despite how desperate he was to set his eyes upon Felicity once again, to reassure himself that she was still there with him, his feet felt like lead, his steps the drumbeat of an execution. With hands shoved deeply into the pockets of his jeans and his eyes constantly assessing for lurking danger, he stepped through the door the nurse held open for him.

And then he saw her.

Felicity had always been delicate, slight, and soft in his eyes, though she had quickly proven that her gentleness masked an inner strength and conviction greater than any he'd ever encountered before. But seeing her in that hospital bed, dwarfed by the baggy and drab – when had Felicity ever been anything less than colorful, that should have been his first clue that something was wrong – clothes she was once more wearing and the burden she carried, she had never looked smaller – so fragile and young. He crossed the room in just a few determined strides, his hands immediately finding and tangling with hers. The sigh of solace that slipped past her lips soothed him. After everything that had happened to her, Oliver knew that he didn't deserve her comfort, yet he found himself wondering, just like taking care of her made him feel better, if she found a kind of peace in reassuring him. If nothing else, he was grateful that his touch was the one, the only one, she didn't shy away from. While even the doctors and nurses made her uneasy, Felicity made it clear that she wanted him near.

“Miss Smoak has given me permission to speak plainly in front of you, Mr. Queen.”

He nodded to show that the the doctor should continue.

“While more than 24 hours have passed since Miss Smoak was attacked, and while she has showered, and changed her clothes, and gone to the bathroom, we were still able to gather some evidence. We catalogued the injuries sustained, took samples, and are in the process of turning the rape kit over to the police.”

All of this he had expected. Apparently, however, by the suddenly rigid set of her shoulders and the way she desperately gripped his hands, Felicity had not. “What? No. You can't.”

Oliver would have had to be blind to miss the way the doctor's gaze cut to and then lingered on him. While the woman never lost sight of her professionalism, she also made it clear that she suspected Felicity of protecting him. And perhaps Felicity was... but not for the reasons the doctor believed. “It's the law, Miss Smoak.” When Felicity went to protest further, the doctor added, “while you have the right to not report the crime or press charges, while I can't and neither can the cops compel you to give us a detailed account of what happened, and while you can further impede the investigation by withholding evidence, you have been raped, and there will be an investigation.”

Felicity's gaze was wide with panic, focused entirely upon him. She whimpered. While he would do whatever she wanted, he was frankly confused as to why she was so against the idea of turning Tommy in... whether he was already dead or not. Felicity deserved justice... in whatever shape or form she could get it. Not that there was anything that could make what Tommy did to her alright, but surely there was something that could make it even just a little bit better.

When it became obvious that Felicity wasn't going to say anything else to the doctor, the woman turned to him once more. “Miss Smoak has suffered no permanent, physical damage, though she will be sore for a few weeks. I've written her a prescription for a mild pain medication. One of the nurses is having it filled now. As for everything else...” – the emotional and mental damage Tommy's actions had inflicted upon Felicity – “I would recommend counseling. We have several excellent staff members here that I could recommend, and there are support groups, too. The bottom line is that Miss Smoak needs to talk to someone. If she won't talk to me, and if she won't talk to the police, then perhaps she will talk to a therapist.”

He let go of one of Felicity's hands to reach for the cards and pamphlets the doctor was holding out to him. “I'll...”

“No!”

Only to have his hand pulled away and back into Felicity's grasp.

He turned a questioning gaze upon her. “Felicity?”

She leaned towards him, into him, until her forehead rested against his. When she spoke, her voice was so soft that he had to strain to hear her. “I'll talk to you, I'll talk to Digg,” she promised, she pleaded. “I know it's... selfish of me to ask that of you, but I... I can't talk to a stranger. I can't.”

He watched her closely, looking to find and then understand the words she wouldn't say. It was a strange reversal of roles, because usually he was the taciturn one, and it was her penetrating, knowing eyes which stripped him of all his walls and left him bare and open before her. At first, Oliver could see nothing but her anxiety... which, given the situation, made sense. Of course, she'd be afraid. Of course, she'd be haunted by what had been done to her and scared to talk about it. To give it shape with words. But then he delved deeper into the tears and turbulence barely restrained in Felicity's haunted eyes, and he realized two things: one, that she hadn't allowed herself to cry yet and, two, that she didn't go to the hospital on her own, that she hadn't called the cops, and that she was refusing help from anyone besides he or Diggle because she was trying to protect his secret.

“Felicity,” he breathed out, humbled by and frustrated with her loyalty. “That doesn't matter now, not in the face of...”

“Its matters to me,” she vehemently protested, cutting him off. Lowering her voice once more so that only he could hear, she reiterated, “it matters to me.”

And the only thing that mattered to him was doing what was best... even if he might not agree with it... for Felicity. “Okay,” he promised her. She collapsed against him in relief.

Turning back towards the doctor whose gaze was slightly less accusing, Oliver asked, “you mentioned that a nurse was filling a prescription, so I assume Felicity is free to go; you're not admitting her?”

“I'm not admitting her,” the doctor confirmed. “But her physical activity should be restricted, and Miss Smoak should refrain from sexual intercourse until she has had some more time to heal. I would recommend that she follow up with her regular gynecologist within the next week or two.”

Oliver glared at the woman for the obviousness of what she had said; Felicity simply dismissed her by standing up, burrowing into his side, and murmuring, “Oliver will take care of me.”

Her faith in him was unjustified, especially in light of the fact that he had already failed her, but nonetheless a welcome reprieve. Once more, he took one of her hands in his, swallowed down the blame that was threatening to overwhelm and suffocate him, and led her out into the night.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

They went back to the foundry.

It was pushing dawn, and they were both exhausted, but there seemed to be an unspoken understanding between them that neither wanted to be separated yet. Felicity was thankful for this small favor. She neither had to ask Oliver to stay with her, nor confess that she absolutely refused to go back to her apartment. When everything else seemed to be destroyed around them, at least she could still depend upon their bond. For now.

She shook that thought away – physically, forcefully as they made their way into the basement. Although Oliver had installed a generator when constructing his little hideaway beneath the club, he didn't try to access it, let alone start it. So, between the coal mine blackness they were walking into by memory alone and their mutual weariness, their steps were unhurried, tentative – even Oliver's. It wasn't until they reached the bottom of the metal stairs that he let go of her hand. She felt naked and exposed without his touch to ground her.

As Oliver moved off further into the inky darkness, Felicity stood at a loss. It was far easier to get back into the Glades than it had been to leave earlier, but, then again, that shouldn't have been too surprising. After all, hell always beckoned but rarely said goodbye. Now that she was at the foundry, however, Felicity didn't know what to do or where to go. She knew that she wanted to be there, because it represented everything in her life that remained untouched by Tommy.

While he had hated Oliver for the changes being The Hood had helped to bring about, Tommy didn't rape her because she was good with a computer or because, in her spare time, she helped his vigilante of an ex-best friend. It was everything else outside of Verdant's basement that had been tarnished: her home and Queen Consolidated, her favorite restaurants and the little boutiques she frequented. Because Tommy Merlyn had only existed in that outside world; despite his bitterness... or maybe his bitterness was a consequence, he had never factored into what she, Oliver, and Digg did together. So, they were safe. The foundry was safe. But it had also been rocked by The Undertaking, by the changes The Undertaking and wrought in them, and she didn't know how to react to and adapt to those changes... or even, it seemed, how to move.

For several minutes, she just... remained there, a statue where Oliver had left her. Eventually, she heard his steps coming towards her once more, and, with them, he brought a source of light. Somewhere in the shelves of supplies she had never paid much attention to because, if it didn't require power and couldn't be used to hack, then she had no interest in it, Oliver had managed to find a battery powered lantern.

It was strange, watching him move carefully, sluggishly through the destruction that was now the basement as he made his way towards her – not because she wasn't used to watching Oliver but because the weak light made him seem vulnerable. In that moment, he wasn't The Hood or even Oliver Queen; he was just a man who was as confused, and angry, and hurt as she was. And, if it were even more possible, this realization made him just that much more beautiful to Felicity. It wasn't until he came to a stop directly in front of her – close enough to touch yet they both refrained – that she returned to her previous observation.

Oliver was hurt.

Oliver was hurt. And in pain. And it wasn't just emotional or mental like her own injuries... at least those of which she could focus on; he was physically suffering, and it had taken her hours to notice. She had been so wrapped up in her own problems that she had ignored all the signs: the stiff way he held himself, the unusual paleness of his skin, the fact that he was favoring his left side. Felicity wanted to rant and rave, she wanted to cry that she had been too selfish to see what was right in front of her. She was the one person who was always supposed to see the truth when it came to Oliver, but, in her desperation to have him near, her awareness of the man who had been taking such care of her had been pushed far, far away. Giving into the self-indulgence of her scattered emotions wouldn't help Oliver, though.

“What happened?”

As she waited for him to answer, Felicity painstakingly ran her eyes over the man before her. He was dressed casually – a simple pair of jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt, clothes that anyone would wear on a chilly spring night but ones that, on Oliver, felt like a deliberate attempt to keep her from seeing where he was injured. That skin still exposed – his face, his neck, his hands told her nothing.

When he remained silent, she lifted her gaze to meet his again, finding genuine confusion. He had no idea what she was asking him. The thought should have been reassuring, because, with any other person, it would mean that the pain wasn't that intense, that the injury wasn't that serious, but Oliver Queen was the master at ignoring and even forgetting his own discomfort, his own mortality. “You're hurt,” Felicity clarified.

She expected him to pull away, to deny it, to brush her off; in the same breath, she didn't know what to expect, so when he said, “I don't want to scare you,” she was caught off guard.

“It's that... it's that bad,” Felicity choked out. She felt her eyes widen in sympathetic fright and as a way of stymieing her tears.

“No,” Oliver was quick to assure her. Then his face screwed up with honest contemplation, and he added, “well, maybe. I don't know. I really can't... feel it.”

“Because it's numb?”

“Because everything else hurts too much.”

Her lashes fluttered shut, and Felicity inhaled sharply. She knew exactly what he meant by everything else. With eyes still closed, she promised, “you won't scare me, Oliver; you couldn't.”

“I'd, uh... I'd have to take my shirt off... to show you.”

With new knowledge of where to look for his injury, she gaze snapped open. But, before she could run her seeking orbs across his chest and down his abdomen, Felicity noticed the discomfort seizing Oliver's face. He was blushing. Of all the ways she had wanted to make Oliver Queen blush, of all the times she had imagined doing just that, never had Felicity believed it'd be because Oliver feared seeing his torso naked would make her uncomfortable. Would scare her. But, then again, Felicity had never thought she'd be raped either.

Instead of reiterating her previous pledge, Felicity offered, “I'll go get the first aid kit, while you... get undressed.”

Wordlessly, she took the lantern from him and laboriously made her way towards the small bathroom. She would have left the light with Oliver and just used her cell phone, but Starling City's cell towers were down just like The Glades had fallen that night. With no reception, her battery had long since been drained, her cell phone dead and lost somewhere along the rubble of the basement. At any other point in Felicity's life, being without her phone would have made her panic, but, now...? Now, the further separation from the rest of the world, from the world outside of the foundry and the family she had made there, was a relief.

By the time she made it back to Oliver, Felicity found that, not only had he taken off his shirt, but he had also removed the blood soaked gauze which had been discreetly hidden beneath the fabric, leaving his wound raw and bare. It was enraged and enflamed, and she nearly stumbled when she saw it. Mere inches above his heart, it made Felicity nauseous to think of how close she had come that night to losing him. For good.

The lantern fell from her right hand, falling loudly upon the concrete floor, leaving them in shadow. Of its own volition, that same hand lifted to settle delicately against Oliver's chest – her palm against his steadily beating heart, her fingers cradling his wound. “I'm so sorry.” Her voice was strangled in anguish.

“I... did what I had to do. If I hadn't... well, Malcolm would have killed me. Instead, I killed him.”

Three sentences; a lifetime of burden.

The wound had been self-inflicted. In an effort to stop the Dark Archer, Malcolm, and The Undertaking, Oliver had not only risked his own life but had nearly taken it.

“That's not why I'm sorry. I mean,” Felicity corrected herself. “I'm always sorry when you're hurt, especially because you never seem to think that your own pain matters.” Swallowing past the lump in her throat, she continued, “but I was apologizing because... because I didn't notice. You were hurt, and you needed my help, and I was just... too wrapped up in my own issues to notice, too selfish...”

“Hey,” Oliver interrupted her. With furrowed brow, he said, “that's the second time tonight that you've referred to yourself as selfish, Felicity.”

“Well, if the panda flats fit...”

“Don't.” The simple yet heartfelt directive made any argument Felicity was going to offer die upon her bruised and battered lips. “You, Felicity Smoak, are the least selfish person I know.”

Through the dried, caked blood and that which still trickled out of the wound, she gently brushed her fingers against his tender flesh, needing the feel of his warm skin beneath her hand as reassurance. His words made her throat feel thick with unreleased emotion. After several quiet moment, Felicity said, “I really need to take care of you now, okay?”

Oliver just bent down, lifted up the lantern, and placed it on the stairs beside them – a silent vow of permission for her to tend to his wound.

Felicity worked quickly and efficiently. She cleaned off the blood, cleaned out the wound, and then applied clean bandages. He flinched slightly from the stinging burn of the peroxide but never complained. The wound would need to be stitched together but later – later when they had better light and a more sterile environment. Discreetly looking up, Felicity found Oliver clenching his jaw, his gaze trained unblinkingly upon the top of her head. When she was finished, she lingered, smoothing down the gauze and tape repeatedly as if, in doing so, she could convince Oliver to further delay the inevitable.

But then he spoke. With a resigned, tired sigh, Oliver stated, “I should take you home. It's... well, it's early actually, and...”

“I'm not staying there.”

Her interjection brought his gaze intently back to hers. “What? Why...?” Shifting his questioning quickly, Oliver instead asked, “where are you staying then, Felicity?”

“At a hotel.”

Before he could protest, before he could offer her the use of the mansion, or say that he would stay with her, or even just to demand that she let him pay for her room, a third voice joined them. “A hotel. I can't believe I didn't think of that.” Felicity had no idea what Digg meant by his self-chastising comment, but, before she could ask, he told her, “don't forget the exit wound. I imagine it's even worse. Always is.”

Felicity did nothing more than spare Diggle a glance before slipping around to stand behind Oliver. Her friend certainly looked worse for the wear – sore but still standing and proud of the fact. A wave of shame crashed over Felicity. For hours, she had been worried about herself, and then Oliver, but never once had she questioned how Digg was, how he had fared in their fight against Malcolm. While he always seemed like the invincible big brother, Felicity knew her inattention was at least due in part to the distraction of the fallout from Tommy's actions against her.

“Thea's fine. She's with Roy. But there's no way the two of you can go back to the mansion – not with the press camped out there and practically every person in this city gunning for your backs. I was thinking she could stay with Roy, and you could hunker down here or even stay at my place for a few days, but a hotel is a much better idea,” John stated unequivocally. “I can keep you both in the same place, we'll have more control over security, and we can use your money to buy us some anonymity – use fake names and move around every few days to keep the hounds at bay. At least until the media frenzy over The Undertaking and your mother's role in it dies down... or until some other billionaire tries to level the city, shy of skipping town, a hotel is our safest bet.”

“Felicity will be staying with us,” Oliver added to the plan.

She could feel Digg's searching, probing gaze on her as she continued to studiously ignore him and work on Oliver's exit wound. “I think that's a good idea,” Diggle agreed. “I'll book you a suite.”

Felicity never said a word.

 

 

Roughly, Oliver scrubbed his hands over his face.

He sighed.

He allowed his eyes to fall shut but then immediately opened them. There was too much too do, too much to plan, too much he couldn't see, taunting him from his own mind's eye.

Had he ever really known Tommy Merlyn?

If someone would have asked him that question 48 hours earlier, the answer would have unequivocally been yes. Absolutely, 100% yes. But now...?

Now, Oliver wandered if he had just seen what he had wanted to see during all those years he and Tommy were friends. Or maybe he had just ignored those things that didn't jive with the man he had built his best friend up into.

Before the island, Oliver had shied away from heavy emotions. Hell, who was he kidding? He didn't just shy away from them; he ran, screaming and hiding in the opposite direction, whenever anything ever got too real. That's why he asked Sara to go with him on the Queen's Gambit, why the idea of moving in with Laurel had propelled him to cheat on her – not just with the random girls he usually chose for such destructive affairs but with her own sister. Commitment required emotional honesty, and, even as ignorant as he had been all those yeas before, Oliver had been aware of the fact that truth did not play a role in any aspect of his life. Well, besides his relationship with his little sister....

Even with Tommy, they kept things simple... and debauched. It was much easier to get drunk together than it was to have a real conversation. Challenging each other to see who could sleep with more women in a single week was better for avoidance of anything too personal than actually confronting Tommy's pain over losing his mother and his lack of a relationship with his father, than for Oliver to see just how broken his own parents' marriage was. So, he gladly bought the fake smiles and forced air of lightness Tommy exuded, glossing over the flashes of jealousy, bitterness, and hurt his friend hadn't always been able to hide. And he had never questioned why Tommy was always the one to take charge of planning the latest party, the latest prank, the latest conquest, because it was easier for Oliver to just sit back and enjoy the spoils of his friend's efforts.

Then, after he returned from his five hellish years on the island, he had been so focused on getting back those people he had left behind that he never even thought that maybe, just as with him, those years had changed those he loved, too. Laurel was supposed to be in love with him – always in love with him, Thea was supposed to worship him, and Tommy was supposed to always be there for a laugh and a lark but never anything deeper. While he was a completely different person, he had depended upon those closest to him to see him as he once was, so he never allowed himself to see them as anything different. So, with Tommy, it wasn't his lack of interest which prompted him to ignore the signs of his former friend spiraling out of control but an inability – an outright refusal – to acknowledge those signs.

And, for that, Felicity paid the price.

Oliver knew Felicity well enough to know that she wouldn't hold him responsible, that she didn't hold him responsible. Her ability to feel comforted by and safe in his presence spoke volumes. He also knew that, logically, no one could be blamed for Tommy's actions but Tommy, but logic wasn't the easiest thing to access when he had to watch someone close to him suffering. Felicity put on a brave face, and, frankly, he was astonished by just how together she was managing to hold herself, but that couldn't make up for the fact that she downright refused to go back to her own home, that she was constantly surveying her surroundings when she wasn't with him in the safety of Verdant's basement, that she moved haltingly, disjointedly – like a fawn taking its first steps, afraid that she could stumble and shatter at any moment.

Perhaps what bothered him the most, ate at him the most, was the fact that she had been hurt, but it wasn't because he was The Hood; it was because he was Oliver Queen.

When Oliver had brought Felicity into his world as the vigilante, he had promised both himself and John that he'd be able to keep her safe, that they would be able to keep her safe. And they had. From bomb collars, to angry mobsters, to a city that literally crumbled around her ears, there had been tense situations, but he had always managed to get her out and away relatively unscathed. But as his friend – as Oliver Queen's friend...? The first person who truly realized the important place she held in his life used that connection against her in the most despicable, cruel way.

If he honestly believed that pushing her away at that point would keep her safe, Oliver would do just that. But he didn't. Maybe he couldn't actually have a healthy, functioning relationship, but that didn't negate the fact that Oliver understood women. He understood Felicity. And pushing her away now would only confirm the worst doubts and opinions Felicity believed about herself. Plus, there was a part of Oliver that just... couldn't let her go. He needed to be the one who took care of her, who helped her heal. It was the only way that he'd be able to, not forget, but forgive what had been done to her. To forgive himself.

A knock at the door had him sitting up straight, coming to attention. While Felicity was off in one of the suite's bedrooms (hopefully asleep after they had gone to pick up her things from and then check out of her hotel room), Digg had agreed to get Thea and bring her back, no doubt kicking and screaming, with him to where they were now staying. Sending the man who his sister believed to be no more than his driver would certainly arouse Thea's seemingly always suspicious nature, but the media wasn't looking for John Diggle; they were looking for him, for the next in line to the tarnished Queen throne, so Diggle would be able to slip into the manor much easier than Oliver himself would be able to. Plus, Felicity did not need to be alone. Oliver didn't want her to be alone. And John didn't know what had happened to her.

With one last, tired sigh, Oliver stood from the couch and crossed the room. He was already talking as he twisted the handle, opening the door. “The first thing we're going to have to do is get more keys... You're not Digg.”

“Oh, you mean Mr. Diggle. Your driver. The man whose name this hotel suite has been rented under? Fraternizing with the help now, Queen?”

He was too exhausted and too on edge to play their little game. Usually, they'd banter back and forth, Oliver's shots much softer than the man's standing across from him. But that's because Quentin Lance had a reason to be hard on Oliver. Two, in fact. But it annoyed Oliver that the cop had managed to track him down so quickly, that, in light of everything that had happened to the Glades, he was pursuing his vendetta rather than working to help the people he had, as a police officer, sworn to serve and protect. So, instead of an easy smile, instead of a flippant remark, and instead of inviting Lance in like he hadn't a care in the world, Oliver used his body to block the other man from stepping foot into the room.

“You need to leave. I have nothing to say about my mother's...”

“I'm not here about your serial killer of a mom, kid; I'm here about Miss Smoak.”

“Felicity,” Oliver questioned ineptly, caught off guard. He immediately schooled his features to once more resemble the belligerent playboy Lance expected, that he was trying to project. It was too late, though, because Lance recognized his mistake. Both of them – the emotion and the familiarity.

“How such a sweet kid ended up in your hotel suite... or, excuse me, your driver's hotel suite, I'll never know. But, then again, I'll never understand how you managed to fool not one but both of my very smart daughters.”

Stonily, Oliver replied, “Felicity's not here.”

“Well, we both know it wasn't because you're a good liar,” Lance quipped. “Look, I know she's here.”

Oliver crossed his arms over his chest. “Yes, well, I think it's also been established that your instincts, especially concerning me, aren't always accurate, Detective.”

“She's not at her apartment.”

“Did you go inside?”

“No,” Lance denied. Before he could say more, though, Oliver was already talking.

“Well, then, maybe she just didn't want to talk to you. I could sympathize.”

“Is that why you took her to the hospital last night – because you were sympathetic?” Oliver didn't respond. “That information wasn't in the official report, but I had more than one hospital employee pull me aside when I went to pick up the evidence this morning to tell me that you barely left Miss Smoak's side. I went to her apartment on the off chance that she'd be there, but I knew she wouldn't be. I tried the mansion, but your sister said that she hadn't seen you in days – an interesting little nugget but not helpful in tracking down the victim I was looking for. As I was...”

“Felicity is not just some... not a victim,” Oliver interrupted.

But Lance just ignored him. “ ... making my way back into the city your family helped level a portion of last night, I remembered that you're very rarely seen without a shadow – a special forces trained shadow named John Diggle. So, I swung by his place, but it was empty, too. Your club... not that you could call it that anymore... yielded the same results. After a few calls and a few more searches, Mr. Diggle's credit card showed activity here. Now, I asked myself, why would a mere driver have need for a suite in one of Starling City's fancier hotels, especially when he had a perfectly good home to return to? It isn't a mansion, of course, but it also isn't swarming in reporters and a mecca for an angry mob, so I'd say it's better than your own options right about now... which led me to realize that Mr. Diggle wasn't renting this suite for himself; he was renting it for you. And your sister. And Miss Smoak.”

“Like I said,” Oliver emphasized through gritted teeth. “Felicity is not here.”

Before he could push the door closed, though, another door opened behind him. His eyes fell temporarily shut in disappointment. “Oliver, I... oh.”

Lifting his gaze, he unflinchingly met the smirk of the man across from him. “You were saying, Queen?”

But then they both turned to face Felicity.

Lance swore under his breath, and Oliver was across the room and by her side before he could even register what the detective had said. Her hair was wet, her face scrubbed clean of the makeup she had been wearing to hide her bruises, and she looked... more than fragile; she looked splintered – bruised, swollen, and pale. Even fully dressed – pajama pants and a long sleeved shirt underneath a big, fluffy hotel robe with socks and slippers upon her feet, she looked tiny and cold, and there were way too many injuries – tiny and dauntingly not small both – for Oliver to see. He found his gaze zeroing in on her wrists, the sleeves of her shirt and robe not as long as the sweater she had been wearing and unable to hide the ring of black and blue blemishes and abrasions.

He knew those kinds of marks....

His eyes flashed up to meet hers, and Felicity sucked in a biting breath, her hands automatically reaching to pull her sleeves into the palms of her hands. But it was too late. It was only Lance's voice which prevented Oliver from saying something, from going somewhere he wasn't sure either of them were ready to go.

“Oh man, so it's true then.”

He whirled around to face the other man, a glare already hardening his features. “Felicity doesn't lie and especially not about something like... this.”

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean, I just....” Lance exhaled heavily. “I guess a part of me was hoping so much that it wasn't true that a lie would have preferable to... well, to the truth.”

He could understand that; hell, wasn't that partly why they were all standing there in the first place?

“You should just... go, Detective Lance.” Felicity's voice was rough from emotion, from disuse; from too much use. “I... I have nothing to say to you.”

“Yeah, well, I think that report I just read said it all.” When she flinched as if physically hit with his sarcastic words, Lance leveled his tone. “For now, I just need a name, so I can go... or stay... and arrest the bastard that did this to you.”

Felicity was across the room and defending him before Oliver could even grasp the fact that his ex-girlfriend's father had just accused him of rape.

“Don't,” Felicity bit out, that one, clipped word battering throughout the room and pushing down the rising bitterness and bile in Oliver's throat.

Lance lowered his voice. It became soft and soothing... or what Oliver guessed was supposed to be soft and soothing but, to his ears, it just sounded patronizing. “I won't let him hurt you again, Miss Smoak.”

“Sometimes I feel like he's the only one who hasn't hurt me,” she confessed, and her words further cemented Oliver's decision to not push her away.

“Look,” Lance started, laying out his case like he was presenting it to the DA and asking for an arrest warrant. “I already know that he hasn't been home in days, that he took you to the hospital, and that more than one staff member there found your interactions to be... intense. Dependent. His, territorial.”

“Since when is it a crime for a friend to care for and take care of a friend?”

“Since when is Oliver Queen friends with the likes of you,” Lance shot back.

It was in that moment that Oliver realized the disservice he had been showing to Felicity. While he knew that she didn't doubt his friendship, everyone else would and, apparently, did. In an effort to give her plausible deniability and to protect his secret, he had left her and their relationship open to just such of an attack that Lance was using against her. But his regret was tempered by the way that Felicity's chin – her bruised and battered chin – notched up in defiance.

“Since when do you think you know either of us well enough to question who we're friends with? And, to answer your question, Oliver and I have been friends practically since he came back to town.”

“Oh, so then he knows about your little partnership with The Hood? Or... maybe that's why this happened. He was jealous of your other friend, and things got a little... heated.”

It was demeaning, and it was rude, and Oliver knew that Quentin Lance was a better cop, a better man, than he was showing Felicity in that moment, and he hated that it was Lance's own animosity towards him that was making an already painful situation just that much more agonizing for Felicity. She wasn't backing down, though. She wasn't even shying away, and Oliver wondered if it was easier for Felicity to confront the truth of what happened with Tommy by channeling her no-doubt turbulent emotions into anger directed towards the detective she was going toe-to-toe with. If nothing else, he recognized the ribbon of strength and fire currently lifting her posture and driving her forward. It was the same determination she had shown the night before while they were battling Malcolm Merlyn, and he wouldn't take that battle away from her, no matter how much he wanted to fight for her.

“He does.” When Lance raised a doubtful, mocking brow, Felicity continued, “he knows. He doesn't like it, because The Hood once went after him and he thinks he's too dangerous for me to help, but he knows, and he respects me enough to allow me to make my own decisions.”

“Was he respecting you when he did... this,” Lance waved a hand up and down Felicity's obviously abused body.

With hands fisted at her side and through gritted teeth, she said, “for the last time, Detective, Oliver didn't hurt me.”

“Well, excuse me for doubting your judgement right now, Miss Smoak, but you and I both know that your taste in men is a little questionable – first a vigilante and now some billionaire brat of a playboy who goes through women like...”

“My judgement,” she scoffed, and Oliver could tell by the sound of her voice that Felicity was well past the point of maintaining a handle on her emotions. She was entirely raw and open in that moment. “At least I never raised a daughter who fell in love with and dated a rapist.”

The words didn't necessarily clear him, because he, too, at one point, had dated Laurel, but the implications of Felicity's accusation were clear for everyone to see – including Lance.

“Oh my god,” the cop blanched, taking several unsteady steps back until he was leaning against the door he had entered mere minutes before.

Oliver switched his gaze to Felicity and noticed that the fight, just as quickly as it had entered her, had drained away. She was weaving on her feet, so he went to stand next to her. He didn't touch her, but he was a silent pillar of strength beside her. Or maybe she was the strong one, and he moved so that he could be closer to her unwavering loyalty and faith.

In an otherwise quiet room, Lance tentatively concluded, “Tommy Merlyn raped you.”

Felicity looked away, bit her bottom lip and winced at the contact, but never denied the truth.

“Even if I said I believed you – and I'm not sure that I do,” Lance challenged. Oliver's eyes zeroed in on the detective. He immediately knew what the cop was up to. While his words said one thing, his body language said another. Quentin believed Felicity, but he was baiting her for more information. “ … there's no proof, and the circumstantial evidence just keeps piling up there against your playboy BFF. You showered, you didn't turn your clothes in for examination and testing, you wouldn't talk to your doctor, and I know better than to think that you're going to actually tell me what happened.”

There were shades of blame peppering Lance's words, and the only reason Oliver allowed them was because he knew the other man didn't mean them. Man and cop aside, he was a good enough dad to never accuse any other father's daughter of being responsible for her own rape, for being the reason her rapist wasn't brought to justice. But he needed more than a name to work with, and maybe Felicity needed to admit more than just a name in order to start dealing with what had happened to her.

“It... my apartment,” she haltingly said. At first, the memories her words conjured choked her, but then there were so many words that, if she didn't expel them, the words themselves would have suffocated her. “It was there... he, just showed up, and I tried to get him to leave. I tried to not let him in, and then I tried to get away, and then I tried to just... stop him. But I couldn't, and he was there. In my home. And he hurt me. He hurt me more than I thought anybody ever could. And he's still there. I couldn't... stay. I had to leave. I had to get away from him. All I could feel was the metal of my bed's rails where he had tied me up, cutting into my palms as I tried to break free. I tried so hard. And all I could taste was blood. All I could smell was blood. All I could hear were my own screams... and then the silence after my voice became too hoarse to scream any more. And all I could see was... darkness, my face held down against the wood floor.” She gave a little shake of her head to dispel whatever horrors were replaying through her mind. Lance gagged against her words; Oliver... couldn't breathe, couldn't move, couldn't react, because, if he did.... “So, I changed, and I showered, and I packed a bag, and I haven't been back since, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to go....”

Lance mercifully interrupted her. “You're saying everything's still there – your clothes, the....” His glance slid to her wrists.

“The lamp cord,” Felicity supplied.

Fuck.

He clenched his eyes shut, he ground his jaw until the point of pain, he dug his short-cropped nails into the flesh of his palms until beads of blood formed – anything to keep the darkness from taking over. Because he couldn't sink into the oblivion of his fury that beckoned. Rage would only scare Felicity further. She needed him there beside her, not lost to the misery her words stirred. The worst part was that Oliver knew what she was confessing was only the simplest of recollections, a ghost of the demons she struggled with, but it was already enough to bring him to his knees.

Thankfully, Quentin didn't ask for more details. “Nothing's been disturbed?”

“I, uh, broke some more things... afterwards, but no.”

At that, Oliver's eyes ricocheted towards the woman standing next to him. When she should have cried, when she should have asked for help, Felicity had, instead, sought further destruction and buried... everything. She raged, and then she ran. And they were far more alike than he had ever realized. The moment of clarity temporarily distracted Oliver, and he found himself wondering what had happened in Felicity's life to have shaped such a reaction. He was suddenly, painfully aware of the fact that, despite how close they were – how much time they spent together, how much they meant to one another, and how well they knew each other, he knew nothing of her past, of her family. Oh, there had been background checks – run by both of them, he had no doubt, but Oliver wasn't talking about facts; he was talking about feelings and the events that and people in Felicity's life who had caused them to be felt.

The clicking of a door opening brought Oliver back to the moment at hand. Lance was preparing to leave but was paused hesitantly... almost like he didn't know what to do next... in the doorway. “I'm, uh, sorry, so sorry – that this happened to you, Miss Smoak, for the things I said... about the both of you.”

Oliver nodded his acceptance of the apology; Felicity remained stoic and unmoved.

“By the way, you didn't mention this to your friend, did you – The Hood?”

“No, why?”

Lance took in her answer and then shrugged. “Merlyn was found dead last night – pierced through the heart.”

“Malcolm – The Dark Archer's – dead, I know,” Felicity confirmed.

“Not Malcolm,” the detective refuted. And that's exactly what he was in that moment: a detective. “His body was never recovered. I was talking about Tommy Merlyn. We found him at CNRI, a puncture would to the abdomen and a rebar through the chest.”

“Wasn't that building heavily damaged by the quake,” Oliver spoke up for the first time since he had defended Felicity's honor.

“It was,” Lance confirmed. “But rebars don't jump from body part to body part.”

“And neither do gun shots, yet the government still says that Lee Harvey Oswald
killed Kennedy,” Felicity argued. “Looks like you just got your very own rubber-bullet case, Detective.”

“Right,” was all Lance said. And then he was gone.

For several minutes, neither he nor Felicity moved or said a word. Frankly, Oliver didn't know what to say or what to do; he didn't know what he wanted to say or what he wanted to do; he didn't know what Felicity needed him to say or what she needed him to do. As for Felicity.... Well, he had a feeling she was just trying to wrap her mind around everything that had been revealed... and hadn't... during Quentin Lance's visit. Finally, he watched as she physically just pushed everything away, her body shuddering in the effort to do so.

“I was... I came out here, because I can't sleep. But I need to. I'm... I'm so tired, Oliver.”

“I'm tired, too,” he admitted.

She wanted him to stay with her, to lay down beside her, and he wanted that, too, because it was the only way he'd be able to believe she was safe. That he was keeping her safe. But Oliver also knew that she'd never ask, and he'd never actually offer... at least, not in that way.

“Come on,” he nodded over his shoulder back towards the room she had claimed as her own. “Thea will be here soon, and she'll take the other room, and, while I love my sister, I'm not sharing a room with her.”

“And you're too big for the couch... or, I mean the couch is too small for you,” Felicity offered, helping him spin the excuse they both needed.

The suite contained California king sized beds, Oliver noticed as he slipped into the bedroom behind Felicity, silently closing the door behind them. Without prompting – as if just by knowing he was there with her, she was ready to go to sleep, Felicity snuggled into the far side of the bed, burrowing down beneath the covers. After a moment of indecision, he slipped in beside her, simply staying in his clothes. Digg was picking up a few things for him from the house, but he didn't want to wait, and there was no way he'd strip down to just his underwear – or less – like he usually slept. It only took minutes for his eyes to droop shut. The last thing Oliver saw was Felicity's arm reaching across the wide, empty expanse of the bed for him... and his hand curling around hers.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

Tommy Merlyn had been buried that morning.

Oliver didn't know how he felt about that fact as he stood before the man's unmarked grave.

Facts helped him focus, though.

Fact number one: the service had been rushed and private. No notice of Tommy's death had run in the papers. As far as the rest of Starling City was concerned, he was just another anonymous death caused by the town's two most powerful and wealthy families: Oliver's own family and Tommy's. From what he had gathered from the awkward phone conversation he had been surprised by that morning from Lance, Laurel had pushed for Tommy to be buried as soon as possible, not wanting the vultures to circle and ruin the ceremony that was supposed to honor Tommy's short life.

Fact number two: Tommy's funeral had taken place less than three days after his death.

Fact number three: the only reason that Oliver was standing before the mound of dirt that now housed his best friend was the remarkable woman standing beside him.

Without looking in Felicity's direction, Oliver squeezed her hand that was held in his own. Since the moment he fell asleep with their fingers twined together, Oliver had rarely been without Felicity's touch and vice versa. They... grounded each other. Centered each other. Were each other's calm in the middle of a storm.

And a storm it most certainly was.

Thea was furious with him. She didn't understand... anything about him. Or so she said. She wanted to know how he could just disappear after their mother's press conference, how he could not once try to check in with her to make sure that she was alright, how he could send his driver to pick her up when he seemingly couldn't be bothered. She was pissed about having to leave the only home she had ever known, and she was angry that he seemed to know more about their mother's actions than she did. Most of all, she was hurt by the fact that he had refused to attend Tommy's private funeral with her. She had wanted his support, and she had wanted to support him in what she assumed was his time of mourning. Because that's what people did when they lost someone they loved, Thea had told him; they mourn.

While he felt many things, standing there before Tommy Merlyn's final resting place, one of them was not sadness or loss. He was angry – blinding, stumbling, dig up his body and drive a rebar through his heart once again angry. Oliver couldn't get Felicity's words from the morning before out of his mind, he couldn't stop seeing the proof of where Tommy had bound her wrists to her bed as he raped her. And he wasn't just mad at Tommy; it felt like he was mad at the world.

He was mad at his mother for her role in The Undertaking. He was mad at Malcolm Merlyn for his inability to grieve the loss of his wife without turning into a murdering sociopath. He was mad at his father for ever telling him about the Queen family wrongs that needed to be righted. He was mad at Thea for not sharing the burden with him, he was mad at Laurel for missing a man who didn't deserve the sweat off the laborers' backs who had dug his grave, he was mad at Lance because surely he should have seen what Tommy was capable of before he hurt Felicity and done something to stop him, and, more than anyone else, Oliver was mad at himself because Tommy's actions had blindsided him, had ruined a lifetime of friendship and tarnished so many happy memories.

He was also bitter and scared, because now what? Despite everything they had done, everything he, Felicity, and Diggle had sacrificed, The Undertaking had still happened. Sure, they had stopped half the Glades from being leveled, but the other half was dust beneath a man-made, a Queen-made machine. Starling City didn't need a vigilante now; it needed charity, and goodwill, and hope, and Oliver was the last person who could give anybody, let alone thousands of people, those things. But who was he without The Hood? What purpose did he have in life if he wasn't using his bow and arrow to hunt down the bad guy, the oppressor? And, perhaps most importantly, what would happen to his relationships with Felicity and Digg if they weren't a team any longer, if he lost his partners because their crusade had been blown to smithereens?

A puzzled sigh at his side drew Oliver away from his haunted thoughts. “Well, this isn't at all what I expected. It's rather anticlimactic, isn't it?”

He had never thought of it that way before, but Felicity did have a point. “Funerals always are.”

“Not that we actually went to his funeral, because that would have been... awkward, but there's dirt – a lot of dirt, and we're in a graveyard, and there's a dead body buried right in front of us. If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, then that's really one very confused man.”

Her statement was so incongruous with their present setting and situation that Oliver couldn't help the bark of laughter that left his mouth. “Felicity, what are you talking about?”

“I really have no idea, but the quiet is kind of creeping me out. So... yeah.” He was still chuckling when it was her turn to squeeze his hand as she asked, “what did you think coming here would feel like?”

He paused to consider, because he wanted to make sure that his answer made sense... to the both of them. After he had hung up from his call with Lance that morning, Felicity had sensed that something was wrong. While she didn't press him to talk to her, Oliver found himself confiding in her anyway. He told her that Tommy was being buried that morning; that Laurel had made all the preparations with her father's help; that Lance wasn't sure whether or not Oliver would want to be there, but he did think that Oliver deserved the chance to make that decision for himself. Plus, Laurel had asked Lance to call some people for her, and he hadn't been able to tell his daughter what Tommy had done in some of the last hours of his life. And Oliver had told Felicity that, while he wouldn't go to the funeral, he needed to see Tommy's grave. She had nodded her head once and gone to take a shower. A half an hour later, Felicity had emerged plainly and blandly dressed – all muted, dark colors and rounded lines – yet obviously ready to leave the suite for the first time since they had walked through the hotel room's doors the morning before.

“I thought... it'd feel like closure – that it would, once and for all, convince me that Tommy really is dead and that he can't...”

“ … hurt me anymore,” Felicity finished for him. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw her tilt her head in contemplation. “I honestly thought I'd want to spit on his grave when you weren't looking.”

Once more, Oliver found himself amused by the woman standing beside him. “Why only when I wasn't looking?”

“Well, spitting isn't very ladylike, Oliver.”

Only Felicity Smoak....

Pivoting ninety degrees, Oliver turned to face her. “So, if you don't feel like launching a loogie...”

“Ew, gross, Oliver,” she interrupted him, wrinkling up her nose. It was the closest thing to lightness that he had seen from her since... before. Perhaps it was odd that it was happening in front of her rapist's gravesite, but the mound of dirt before them didn't feel like it held any power over them; it was just... dirt. And around them? The grass was green, birds were singing, the sun was shining, and it was a beautiful, late spring day.

“Hey, it was your plan, not mine.”

“It wasn't a plan; it was... just a thought.”

She blushed. He smiled. And then hell came raining down upon them in the form of one livid Laurel Lance.

“What the hell do you think you're doing here?!”

The ugly words had Oliver reacting instinctively. While he kept his body in front of Felicity's, he turned his head to face the danger from behind him. His head was no sooner turned, though, when it was careening back again, the smack of Laurel's hand against his skin reverberating through the air. “Goddamn you, Ollie. How could you bring
her here?”

“Laurel?”

“You're supposed to be his best friend, and, after you can't even bother to show up for his funeral –
his funeral, Ollie, you bring the woman accusing him of rape to his grave? What's wrong with you?” Every word was louder, more on edge, shriller than the last. “No, don't answer that. Because I already know. You walk around this town, pretending to be so much better than the Oliver who cheated on me with my own sister, whose fear of commitment cost my sister her life, but you're just as selfish as you always were. And to think that I... that I chose you over Tommy? It makes me sick.” The sobs wracking her petite body nearly shook it with grief. Or perhaps it was denial. Either way, Oliver just stood there as Laurel fell apart... and as she tore him apart along with her. “You make me sick.”

“I understand that you're hurting right now, and that's to be expected, but Oliver doesn't deserve this.” Felicity's soft as steel conviction surrounded him, drew his attention away from Laurel long enough for the other woman to launch herself in Felicity's direction.

“Don't speak to me,” Laurel shrieked. Oliver was just able to get his hands on her shoulders to hold her away. “Don't look at me; don't look at him!” His ex-girlfriend wasn't talking about Oliver; she was talking about Tommy... or, more accurately, Tommy's grave. As she wrenched herself out of Oliver's grasp, she ranted, “do you even know why Tommy's dead? Because he saved me. He
saved me even though I broke his heart. I took everything he felt for me and tossed it aside for... what? A one night stand with a guy who never treated me even half as good as Tommy did despite the fact that we dated off and on for years? Tommy knew this. He knew this, and he still saved me, and here you are, mocking his sacrifice and my loss by coming to his grave after you accused him of....” Laurel tossed up her hands in a display of outright refusal. “No, I won't even say it. I won't dignify your lies and insult Tommy further by even repeating the disgusting things you're saying about him.”

“Laurel, I know you don't want to accept...”

“And you,” she whirled back to face him, a grimace making a gross mockery of her lovely face. “You do not want to finish that sentence, Ollie. While I'm not surprised your pathetic, needy dork of a hanger-on over there would make up such a sick story to get closer to you...”

Felicity's gasp had Laurel once more glaring at the woman beside him. “Oh, that's right. See, I remember you. The clothes are different, and you're not wearing the glasses...”

“I can't,” Felicity interrupted, her voice calm, and detached, and dead. He shuddered at the emptiness he heard. It was such a contrast to Laurel's emotional meltdown, and any progress Oliver had been thinking he and Felicity had made just minutes before was forgotten. “They were broken. In the struggle. I have to wear my contacts until I can get new glasses.”

“Would you just listen to yourself? Are you even capable of
not lying? Tommy Merlyn was a good man. He was...”

“... a broken, and bitter, and little man who had no self-confidence and who had no purpose, no drive, no ambition – a little man who lived a little life, and, when he didn't even have that anymore, he found someone who was smaller and physically weaker than he was, and he tried to take their self-confidence, and purpose, and drive, and ambition, and life from them. But I'm not broken, despite Tommy giving it the ol' college try. Tommy Merlyn was a rapist, but I'm not a victim.”

“Like I was saying,” Laurel didn't even seemed fazed by Felicity's very powerful and very accurate assessment. “While I'm not surprised that someone like you would try something so desperate to get Ollie's attention, I can't believe you,” and her disgust and attention switched back to shine on him, “would go along with it. But then I saw the two of you standing there together, and I realized two things. First,” she nearly fired her words at him – nine millimeter caliber missiles to bounce off the heart that had, sometime since he made the mistake of sleeping with her, become bulletproof against her empty attack. “You two deserve each other. And, secondly, this is all about money.”

That was the
last thing he had expected Laurel to accuse them of. Together, he and Felicity exclaimed, “what?”

“After what your mother did, Queen Consolidated will be lucky if it survives, and it's no fun being Oliver Queen, playboy billionaire, if the zeros aren't there to back up that identity. The only company that's going to be more vulnerable than your family's will be Merlyn Global, so you and the girl so desperate for your attention that she'd agree to disrespect her own gender in order to cozy up to you concocted this sick plan to take over what should have been Tommy's legacy. Accuse a dead man of rape, and he can't go to jail, but there's always civil court, right?”

Sparing a glance at Felicity, Oliver found her agape, utterly taken aback by Laurel's twisted assertions. He, however, had plenty to say. “Laurel, I'm not a good man. I've hurt you time and time again. I've done horrible things to you. To your whole family. But the fact that you think I would lie about something like this...? Well, it just proves to me that maybe we never really knew each other. But that doesn't even matter. What does matter is that you... just stop. I won't tell you how to feel, but I am telling you to stay away from Felicity. She's done nothing wrong here. Tommy did rape her. We're not trying to steal his father's company. And I think it'd be best if you and I had nothing to do with each other moving forward.”

She stared at him mutely, mutinously, and he just reached for Felicity's hand, once again lacing their fingers together. As he led her away from Laurel and out of the graveyard to where he had parked a nondescript rental car, he softly stated, “despite everything, I am sorry for your loss. Goodbye, Laurel.”

It wasn't the closure he had been expecting, but it was certainly an ending.

 

 

'I'll be fine.'

'I need this.'

'A little bit of normalcy for a few hours would be nice.'

'A distraction would be good right about now.'

'Please, Oliver.'

He had insisted it was too soon – for her, for him, for them. But Felicity, before or after Tommy Merlyn's introduction into her life, had always been tenacious. And she also knew Oliver Queen. She knew what to say and how to say it in order to get him to act in a certain way, and, while she should have felt bad for using his emotions to manipulate him, she wasn't the only one in their relationship who sometimes resorted to such drastic measures. Plus, after their confrontation with Laurel, she had been desperate.

While the excuses she had given Oliver sounded well and good, they were just that: excuses – because she didn't even know what normal was now, and because nothing could distract her from what her life had recently become, but the truth hit a little too close to home for the both of them to be used in order to convince Oliver that they should stop by the office for a few hours before returning to the hotel suite.

The real reason Felicity had insisted upon going into QC was because she had allowed Laurel's words to get to her. Oh, she knew the other woman's accusations were baseless, but that didn't prevent the sting of her angry diatribe from hitting its mark. Laurel's opinion of Felicity and her perspectives into Felicity's relationship with Oliver confirmed every single one of Felicity's deepest and darkest doubts about herself. She knew that she couldn't push Oliver away – not now, perhaps not ever, but she was also aware of the fact that her feelings for him grew with every tender moment shared between them, every time he allowed himself to take care of her, and every time he welcomed her taking care of him. Running to QC, running to her computers and everything they once represented to her, had been a way for Felicity to remind herself that, eventually, life would have to return to how it once was.

She'd go back to work permanently. She'd be forced to go back to her own apartment. She would have to find a way to sleep alone in her bed once more and wake up without someone there beside her, holding her hand. Without Oliver. And, when she did return to everything that had once been familiar but that now seemed totally alien, she'd be forced to do so without anyone knowing why such a sacrifice cost her so much. They'd see the bruises and think that they were just from the earthquake. They'd see her fear and trepidation and assume that, unlike them, she wasn't strong enough to put a man-made natural disaster behind her. While she didn't want them to know the truth either, being labeled a coward – even if it was just behind her back – would hurt. It was just one more reason why she wasn't sure if she could return to how her life was before ... or if she even wanted to.

So, she had forced her own hand. Using Oliver's guilt and need to take care of her against him, she had wielded those powers of persuasion into convincing him to take her into QC. They had parted in the parking garage, Felicity going to the IT Department, and Oliver heading somewhere else while he, no doubt, killed time while waiting for her to be ready to leave again. She hadn't been surprised by his insistence that he stay, too – using the excuse that it'd be good for company moral. The offices were practically empty, though – everyone still recuperating after the destruction of The Glades and hiding away in uncertainty as they waited to see if Queen Consolidated would even still be left standing once the dust settled. Instead, she had been comforted in knowing, even if she couldn't see him (and, really, if she wanted to see him, it would only take a few quick keystrokes to pull up just the right security camera), he was near. Six months ago – heck, six days ago, his overprotectiveness and her dependency would have irked Felicity; now, she just accepted it.

In fact, she was grateful for it, because, while she had eagerly counted down the time until it would be reasonable to leave, her thoughts had served to take her mind off... well, everything else – off the fact that her office chair no longer was comfortable, that her office itself seemed too bright and jarring, that she was now annoyed by the constant hum of the servers. Whereas they had once been a white noise she craved, now she just wanted the quiet, the stillness that only seemed to be hers when she was with Oliver. It helped her forget that, while her work at QC now held no interest for her, her fingers were practically itching to start a search on one of the criminals from Oliver's notebook, that she really wanted to hack a bank account, a federal agency – something, anything.

Two hours after arriving and having accomplished nothing productive, Felicity felt like she was about to crawl out of her own skin, and she couldn't take it any longer. She practically sighed in relief as she sent a text to Oliver, telling him that she was ready to go, and, when he was suddenly standing in front of her seconds later, she actually smiled. It was nice to know that she wasn't the only one feeling out of sorts. Side by side, they walked towards the elevator, Oliver's steps automatically shrinking to match her own.

“Are you hungry?”

She wasn't. “I could eat.” But she knew that he would want her to be, and she knew that he would only allow himself to be hungry if someone else was, too.

“We sort of skipped lunch, and I know dinner's not for a few more hours, but I thought we could just... order up some room service, and...”

They boarded the elevator, Oliver reaching across the small, enclosed space and across her to request the parking garage level. “... maybe just relax this evening – watch some TV, a movie perhaps,” she finished for him.

Oliver sighed in relief. “Yeah.” He paused, met her gaze, and then tilted his head in thought. “I just... Everything else...” – Queen Consolidated, the Foundry, the club, his mother, what Laurel had said – “... it can wait for another day.”

The soft peal of the elevator's bell made Felicity tear her eyes away from Oliver's as she watched the lift's doors open but not before she offered him a small smile of acceptance, of concurrence and an equally slight nod.

And then all hell broke loose for the second time that day.

The first thing she noticed was that she couldn't see. It took Felicity several seconds to realize that it wasn't that she had suddenly gone blind; there were just too many flashbulbs going off around her for her eyes to adjust. And then she felt Oliver's hand surround hers as he insistently tugged her off the elevator, pulling her behind him. Despite not knowing what was happening, she went willingly, trustingly. Shifting so that she was practically pressed against his back, Felicity tried to melt into Oliver's suit jacket, her hand that wasn't being held by Oliver's twisted tightly in the luxurious fabric. Despite how overwhelmed she felt, how panicked, and despite the fact that Oliver was trying his best to shield her and get her away from the bedlam as quickly as possible, the words, the taunts, the questions, the assumptions, the accusations, the ugliness eventually slipped past her confusion.

“Is it true?”

“When did it allegedly happen?”

“Whose idea was it?”

“If what you are claiming is the truth, Miss Smoak, why didn't you go to the authorities immediately following the incident?”

“Did he drug you?”

“Was he drunk?”

“Was it roofies again this time, or maybe it was something different?”

“How did you and Mr. Queen meet?”

“Was it Mr. Queen who introduced you to Tommy Merlyn?”

“Are you and Mr. Queen dating, or is this just a business relationship?”

“Do you really think that a court will give you a company the size of Merlyn Global just because you cry rape?”

“Is it true you're pregnant with Tommy Merlyn's baby?”

“The report is that the attack occurred at Verdant. Is this accurate, Miss Smoak?”

“Word is that you and Mr. Queen are currently living together?”

“Do you even know who the father is, Miss Smoak?”

“Why are you refusing to talk to the police – what, haven't you figured out all the details of your story yet?”

“Did Tommy Merlyn really rape you, or are you just the little girl who cried...?”

A car door slammed, and Felicity realized that Oliver had simply elected to shove her across the center console of the rental car before climbing behind the wheel. Moments later, they were backing up out of his parking space, tires squealing. Whether the reporters and photographers moved out of the way willingly or were moved by the car, she didn't know; she didn't care. Her breathing was erratic – fast and choppy one second, shallow and sporadic the next, her entire body trembling. She watched her fingers as they seemed to blur together from the quivering... or perhaps that was because of the tears which had gathered in her eyes, tears Felicity refused to let fall.

But then Oliver was there, taking one of her hands in his and squeezing. She lifted her gaze from their contrasting yet complimentary flesh and found his other hand clenching the steering wheel. His fingers spasmed against the supple leather, a single word escaping through a grimace. She could hear the tightness of his jaw, his teeth and joints grinding together. “ Laurel .”

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

We need to talk.”

Oliver looked up from the table where he was working. Before Thea had entered the main room of the suite, the only noise filling the large space had been his shuffling of papers... of which there were many. Papers about how The Undertaking and his mother's involvement had rocked Queen Consolidated, rendering the once solid and seemingly impenetrable company into takeover fodder in a mere few days. Papers about the club, and what it would cost to rebuild it, and papers that told him nothing about whether or not he even wanted to need a cover for his nighttime activities. Papers about his mother's legal case, papers about Felicity, papers about what the town now thought about his family. Some papers were articles from all the local newspapers and online blogs, some were notes Digg gathered for him during the day when inactivity drove him to seek out something to keep his mind and hands busy, some were from his lawyers.

If Oliver was honest with himself, he didn't want to deal with any of them. Rather, he'd prefer to be anywhere else, doing anything else – on the island again, out riding his bike, watching movies with Felicity. She was asleep, though. Since the earthquake, since he had found out about... Tommy, she tended to sleep a lot. Oliver hoped it was good for her, that it helped... even if only in a small way. And, in the meantime – while she slept, he did things he didn't particularly want to do but knew needed to be done anyway. Besides, even if he wanted to run away and escape, he couldn't leave. He didn't want to leave – not her, not his sister, not again.

“And don't think this is me forgiving you for being such a jerk recently – for forcing me out of our home, for sending your driver to do your dirty work for you and then not even having the decency to tell me why, for not going to Tommy's funeral.”

When Thea paused to take a breath – her angry diatribe leaving her emotions bare for him to see: eyes flashing, shoulders stiff and distant, Oliver found himself trying to explain but, as always, unable to tell her everything. “I... I went to his grave. Afterwards.”

“And how exactly did you going to the cemetery by yourself help me say goodbye to someone who was like a second brother to me, Ollie?”

His next words were out before he could think them through. “I wasn't alone.”

Thea gasped – like he had physically hurt her, nodded. “I see.”

“Speedy...”

“No,” she interrupted, shaking her head and backing up, moving several steps away from him.

Oliver accepted her censure, her warning, her command. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he looked anywhere but towards his baby sister. “What is it that you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Who is she?”

“What?” He was genuinely confused.

“Because I know it's not Laurel.” Oliver went to ask for more clarification, but Thea plowed right over him. “For a while there, I thought maybe you two were going to get back together. Or maybe you did. I don't know. But then Tommy died, and you became even more distant than before... and that's saying something. And, okay, so you weren't there for me, but you weren't there for Laurel either, and, when I said something to her about it, she got angry – not because you weren't there but because I thought you should have been.”

“It's... complicated.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” Thea snorted derisively. “Because I've seen the news, and I know that you're not alone in your room. So, who is she?”

Before he could respond, before he could even think of how to respond, he heard a soft, hesitant voice say, “she's me,” from behind him.

Oliver turned around slowly. His carefully separated worlds were colliding. It should have been terrifying, but all he felt was relief. He was stretched so thin – they all were, and, while he wasn't ready for Thea to know everything about him... and he probably never would be, he did want her to know Felicity. She should know Felicity. And he wanted Felicity to know his sister. So much had been taken from them – their wounds so different yet the same: innocence shattered, their sense of security destroyed, the beauty he oftentimes believed if only they could still see tarnished. Sometimes, he wondered if he was just being selfish by keeping them from knowing each other, afraid that, by sharing them, he'd lose them in a way.

Shaking his thoughts away, Oliver's gaze moved from Felicity – strong, stubborn, survivor Felicity standing there patient and proud as she waited for his sister's response, her bruises not hidden away yet not highlighted either in her simple jeans and t-shirt – to Thea. Oliver wasn't sure if he'd ever seen his sister so... still before. She just watched Felicity. Her observation wasn't searching, or suspicious, or intimidating, or even questioning. Instead, Thea was simply seeing Felicity, seeing all the things that Oliver saw and, he had no doubt, seeing things he wasn't capable of. Yet.

“Oh god, it's true.” Oliver felt his eyes fall shut at the gutted sound of his sister's voice. Despite the fact that her realization had obviously nearly destroyed her, she pressed forward, a spark of strength not even Thea realized she possessed allowing her to remain standing, helping her to hold her tears at bay. “Tommy... he hurt you. He raped you. And I loved him.”

It was Thea's last words that had Oliver looking up and moving forward, but, before he could reach his sister, Felicity was already there. Felicity said nothing. She didn't absolve Thea's guilt – as unjustified as it might have been. She didn't reassure her, she didn't tell her that everything was going to be alright, and she didn't apologize. Instead, she simply, tentatively hugged Thea. It was an awkward gesture but sincere nevertheless. When they pulled away from each other, Oliver hung in the background, content to remain on the fringes. If they needed him, he was there, but he had a feeling they wouldn't.

Thea was the first to speak again. Narrowing her gaze and tilting her head to the side, she stated, “I know you. I don't know how I know you, but I do.”

“We've met before,” Felicity confirmed. “It was really brief, and totally awkward, but, after Walter was found, I...”

“'This is Felicity. She's my friend,'” his sister recalled. The fact that she remembered exactly what he had said told Oliver that the seemingly insignificant moment had made an impression upon Thea. He should have known that it would. His sister was too damn perceptive for his own good. When Thea snorted, his suspicions were confirmed. “My brother has never been friends with a girl before.”

Felicity took a step back, avoided Thea's piercing gaze. “Yeah, well... there's a first time, first person, for everything. Someone was bound to pop that... oh my god.”

Thea giggled. Oliver relaxed. He never thought he'd appreciate hearing Felicity accidentally say inappropriately sexual things about him to his little sister, but it reassured him that, eventually, she'd be his Felicity once again. Felicity blushed scarlet, and he actually smiled. That was good to see, too. She'd probably threaten to hack something and get her revenge cyberly if she knew her embarrassment amused him, encouraged him, but that would just be comfort as well. Oh, he knew that they still had a long road before them – after all, he was pretty sure that Felicity hadn't even allowed herself to cry yet, but at least he was starting to see the road again.

“I'm sorry,” Felicity's apology brought Oliver back to the moment. “I seriously should come with a warning label: 'If engaged in conversation, may show signs of in foot-in-mouth syndrome... and, when I say may, I mean will. Ask your brother. I have absolutely no brain-to-mouth filter.”

“Well, considering how little my brother actually says, I'm sure it's a good balance for the two of you.”

“As his friend, of course.”

Thea grinned. “Uh huh.”

“So, yeah, anyway....” Felicity hitched her thumb over her shoulder. “I just wanted to tell you that I was her. Or that she was me.” She quirked her brows – first the left, then the right, and then the left again – as she debated over what she had said, apparently electing to just go with it, because, when she spoke again, Felicity moved on. “And now I'm just going to leave you and Oliver alone again. Carry on. Pretend I didn't just interrupt a totally personal and private conversation. Oh, and that I'm not able to hear through the door. Maybe I'll even go sit in the bathroom. Just knock... or yell... when you're done, and I'll know that it's safe to...”

“You know,” Thea finally interjected, putting Felicity out of her babbling misery. “You're like sneaky pretty.”

Felicity tilted her head to the side... much like she had the day they first met when he fed her one of his worst cover stories... and, considering how bad he was at lying to her, that was saying something. “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”

Thea ignored the question. “I guess that's why I didn't recognize you from the pictures the newspapers have been printing. Usually, I just watch the news, but then I can't pick and choose what stories I listen to, and I really don't want to hear again how I'm the spawn of Satan. And then I can't very well just go online, because someone who shall remain nameless... but let's just say that the playground can be a very confusing place for him... had his driver fairly kidnap me, so I wasn't even able to grab my tablet before being taken bodily from the only home I've ever known. Anyway,” she paused, smiled. “It's the black and white. You just... you need to be in color to be given total justice.. And I guess I didn't connect your name in the articles to the hospital, because, well... why would I?”

Felicity looked at him, confused. “Right...?” Apparently, she could dish out the rambling, but she couldn't take it in return.

He was about to cross the room and save her from his sister – because, really, one should only be exposed to Thea Queen in small increments as one was first getting to know her, but then his sister held up a hand, waving dismissively over her shoulder without even glancing in his direction. “You can leave now, Ollie. Go do... something. Somewhere else.”

“But...?”

“Felicity and I are going to have some girl time together – braid our hair, trade embarrassing stories about you, maybe order some room service off the dessert menu.”

“Thea, it's ten o'clock in the morning.”

“Which means that it's the perfect time for some triple fudge chocolate cake with buttercream frosting and a hazelnut ganache.”

He met Felicity's gaze, and she nodded, eyes and mouth soft with understanding and permission. So, he did what his sister told him to do. He grabbed his keys and his wallet off the console table by the door, and he headed out. He needed to go see his mother, and he'd stop by the house to pick up some of Thea's things. Maybe it'd soften her up a little bit towards him or, at least, bribe her into sharing Felicity's time and attention with him.

The last thing he heard as he left the suite was his sister saying to Felicity, “and I can't wait to get my hands on all that hair of yours.”

Shutting the door softly behind him, Oliver smirked. Felicity had no idea what she had just gotten herself into by agreeing to spend her day with Thea. But it would be good for the two of them; it'd be good for all of them.

 

 

Oliver never expected feelings to be uncomplicated. They weren't before the island, and they definitely would never be again after the island, but, if he had one relationship that he thought could be simple and straightforward, it was with his mother. Or... it should have been with his mother.

Forget the fact that he was keeping a large part of himself a secret from her. Yes, that was a not so slight complexity, but she was his mother. She was supposed to love him no matter what – lies, and vendettas, and secret identities be damned. And perhaps she would. But what if his feelings for her weren't as uncomplicated as a son's love for his mother should be; what if he couldn't look past her own... complexities?

As Oliver waited for the guards – prison guards – to bring his mother into the visiting room, he tried to pinpoint just what he was feeling, just what he expected from their upcoming meeting. He thought about everything they had shared and not shared with each other over the years. He thought about five years of missing her, of wanting to see her again, of being a better son for her – a son she could be proud of. But, most of all, he thought about Felicity.

So far, there were more than 400 people dead and several hundred more missing from the Glades because of his mother's actions, but all he could think about was one still very much alive yet traumatized woman – about screaming red lines upon delicate wrists that never should have been bound; about a lip still too tender to be nervously mauled in what should have been an adorable habit; about nails once always painted in bright, vibrant hues but now dull, and brittle, and plain clutched tightly against his.

Realistically, Oliver knew that The Undertaking had nothing to do with Tommy raping Felicity, yet emotionally...? There were those tricky, pesky feelings again. Emotionally, he was struggling with that separation. He learned about Felicity's attack on the same night that his mother's actions ripped his city, his home, apart. He heard Tommy's confession on the same night that his mother's own confession saved thousands of lives she otherwise would have been a party to murdering. Logically, the two events weren't actually connected, but logic had been thrown out the window a long time ago. And love? Love was never logical.

“Oliver,” his mother breathed out in relief, in gratitude. She moved to instinctively open her arms to embrace him, but the cuffs around her wrists prevented such movement. He reacted automatically as well, rising from his seat and bending forward slightly at the waist to dance a dutiful kiss upon her cheek. He noticed that she smelled differently – still clean, still soft, but different; she didn't smell like his mother anymore. Rather, she smelled like a stranger. “I can't tell you how wonderful it is to see you, though I wish that Thea... well, anyway. We have much to discuss, and I'm sure your sister has her reasons for not coming to visit.”

Thea did, and Oliver understood those reasons. He even sympathized with them. But there was a part of him which held out hope that his mother was still somewhere inside the woman sitting across from him. That part was the five years on the island that he was holding onto. His mother was so wrapped up in how he had been able to survive that to just... give up on her would have been like giving up on what he was still fighting for.

“ … though I must say that I had hoped to have seen you before now. However, I understand you've been... distracted.”

Returning to the present, to what his mother was saying, Oliver blinked. He opened his mouth to speak, but then no sound escaped. He knew exactly what his mother was not so subtly hinting at, and, frankly, due to his own mixed up feelings, he knew the last thing they should discuss was Felicity. So, after a brief yet awkward pause of silence, he changed the subject. “I spoke with the family attorneys this morning, and they think that you should consider hiring a defense lawyer that specializes in... cases such as yours. They've compiled a list.” Reaching beside him, Oliver picked up the folder he had brought with him to the prison, sliding it across the table so his mother could take it. However, she was now chained to the table and incapable of opening the folder on her own. Somehow, he had missed that. So, he did it for her and then sat back once more, needing to keep his physical distance.

His mother didn't even glance down. “This can wait.”

“But the sooner...”

She cut him off. “Oliver.”

He regarded her face – a face he knew so well, yet... didn't. Brows raised, lips pursed, Moira Queen looked indignant. He'd be lying if he said it was a foreign expression, that he hadn't seen that particular blend of anger and frustration flashed in his direction many times over the years – both before and after the island. Of all the ways that he had anticipated his mother looking at him from the wrong side of a prison table, however, indignant wasn't one of them. She showed absolutely no remorse, and, instead, acted like he was the one who had something to apologize for.

“Just what do you think you're doing exactly?”

Any ounce of sympathy or affection he had been feeling fled in the face of her ambiguous accusation. Sitting up straight, posture rigid, Oliver observed his mother closely, gaze narrowed. “Excuse me?”

“With everything facing this family, facing Queen Consolidated, you... tie yourself to this girl, to this... lying opportunist?”

“Mom,” he stated calmly, bit out calmly. Hands clenched into fists to the point of pain, to the point of his nails drawing blood from his palms, Oliver did everything within his power to retain control of his temper.

“No, you listen to me, Oliver Queen. I am your mother, and I know what's best for you.”

Eyes flashing, body vibrating, he met his mother's gaze unflinchingly. “So, was it for me that you helped Malcolm Merlyn kill hundreds of people?”

Moira sighed wearily. “We've talked about this. I've explained. I did everything I could to prevent the loss of life, and thousands more would be dead right now if I hadn't. But we're not talking about me right now, Oliver; we're talking about you. I can't believe you would... Tommy is your best friend, and this...”

“Her name is Felicity,” he interrupted.

“Oh, trust me, I remember her name,” his mother said sarcastically. While Oliver could detect notes of deeper meaning in her words, he couldn't focus on that.

“Yes, Tommy was my best friend, but he's dead now, and, even if he wasn't... Felicity is my friend. She has been there for me so much – perhaps more than anyone else – since I've... been back, and I...”

“So, you'll just swallow any line she'll feed you. Oh, I get it,” his mother scoffed dismissively. “She'll flash those big, blue eyes at you, and she'll make you feel so important – like you're the only man who can keep her safe. And you need that, don't you, Oliver? You need to feel needed. But Felicity Smoak is not sweet; she's not innocent.” He had no idea how to respond to his mother's remarks. Hell, Oliver wasn't even sure if he wanted to. He was so close to just standing up and walking away, but then she started speaking again. “Didn't you ever question why Walter and I got divorced?”

“I think your role in his kidnapping might have played a part,” Oliver snapped.

His mother sighed contritely. “It did, and I will always regret that, but the other reason – the thing we couldn't get past – was... Well, you see...” As his mother looked away, Oliver just knew what was coming next. Whereas a week prior he wouldn't have been able to see the act she was putting on, he could now, and he flinched even before the words left her mouth. “Walter had an affair.” Her voice lowered, became affected, and offended, and so many other disgusting things, because they were all fake. “With Miss Smoak.” He went to protest, he went to call her the liar that she was, but then she was talking again, and Oliver felt like the ground was suddenly tilting beneath him. “And now she's... crying rape and dragging your best friend – a good man's – name through the mud, and she has you so wrapped around her little finger that you can't see the truth, and she's going to do the same thing to you, Oliver, if you don't extricate yourself from this... web she's spun around you. She'll hurt you, and she'll bleed you dry, and, when everything is said and done, you'll have nothing and no one left, because she'll make sure of it... just like she... Oh, sweetheart,” Moira cooed, reaching for his hand, but he pushed away from her; he pushed away from the table and stood up. “I'm so sorry.”

“Do you really think I'm this... stupid, that I would just swallow all your lies – again – and... what? Push Felicity out of my life because you – a mass murderer – told me to?” Before she could respond, he rushed to do so for her. “But why wouldn't I, right? I mean, I've listened to your lies for months. And it worked before – blaming your actions on your husband's infidelity and making me feel sorry for you, so why wouldn't it work again? But you made one miscalculation, mother. You lied about Felicity this time, and she's the only woman in my life who has never lied to me.”

Whereas just moments before his mother had appeared timid and hurt, there was steel lacing her words now. “That doesn't negate the fact that she will destroy you, that this little plan of yours to get control of Merlyn Global via a civil suit is going to backfire in your faces.”

“Did it ever occur to you that Felicity is telling the truth, that Tommy really did rape her?”

“Really, Oliver, that's immaterial at this point. What concerns me is your reaction to her accusation.”

“We didn't do this,” he exploded, throwing his hands out in exasperation. When the guard stepped forward to intercede, Oliver took a deep breath, reigning in his temper. Still, he remained standing. “We didn't go to the police. We're not going after Merlyn Global. This is... this is all Laurel. She found out, and she didn't react well, and now the press have a hold of her story, and Felicity is just... This is the last thing she needed.” Shaking away thoughts of Felicity's pain and grief, he refocused upon his mother. “And this – you – are the last thing I need right now.”

He took a step back – several steps back, and then scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling so unbelievably exhausted, and defeated, and irate, yet he couldn't very well unleash his fury in the middle of a maximum security prison – not as Oliver Queen, not when visiting his mother, and certainly not in broad daylight. “Look over that folder. Pick a lawyer. I'll send one of the family's attorneys out to see you later in the week, and they'll get the ball rolling on your defense.”

“And you,” his mother wanted to know.

“I'm... trying to figure something out for Queen Consolidated. Somebody has to clean up your mess, because there are too many people depending upon our family, and we've already taken too many jobs away from too many people... not to mention lives, but that's a whole different matter and something I can't make up for. I'm hoping Walter will help me, but, then again, you burned that bridge, too, so we'll have to see. I'm going to take care of Thea, and I'm going to help Felicity, and, as for you...? Well, I'll pay for your defense. But that's it. I won't be coming back here again. I... can't, not after what you've done, what you just said. I don't trust you, and I don't... like you. I don't know you.”

“Oliver, I'm your mother!”

His back was already turned towards her, but he could hear the first genuine strains of emotion flutter through Moira's words. Her voice broke as she leveled her too little, too late plea. His steps only faltered for a second, his eyes fluttering shut in temporary regret. Oh, he knew this pain of his mother's betrayal and the loss of what was perhaps his last shred of innocence would probably always be with him – that he would feel it keenly later and again and again in the years to come, but, in that moment, he chose to focus on something else, on anything else, on his rage. It was comforting in its familiarity. So, standing up straight and rolling back his shoulders, Oliver walked away from the woman who had raised him, never once looking back as she continued to call his name.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

Sometimes it felt like he spent more time in the SCPD precinct now voluntarily than he had before while under arrest... and that was saying something.

“Can't say I haven't been expecting to see your ugly mug darken my desk, but, to tell you the truth, I thought this visit would have come sooner.”

Lance didn't even give him a chance to speak first. “We need to talk.”

Quentin stood. “Yeah, well, I don't think this is a conversation either of us want the rest of the department to hear, so let's go outside.”

Oliver turned on his heel and walked away. Lance followed until they got to the hallway, and then the older man's voice captured his attention once more. “Unless you want to give the vultures more fodder, I suggest we take this to the roof.”

And then it was Lance leading him, and Oliver couldn't help but notice the irony of the situation. After so many other meetings between the two of them on so many other rooftops... only Lance had been unaware that it was Oliver lurking beneath the Hood, this time it was the cop who was suggesting the private meeting place. If Quentin only knew... but, then, if he knew, Oliver wouldn't be going outside; he'd be getting locked up for good.

They were climbing stairs when Lance tossed more of his patented, pointed remarks over one of his shoulders back towards Oliver. “So, I heard about your visit earlier to see Mommy Dearest... only, I guess Mama Queen prefers earthquake machines to metal hangers.”

“Your point?”

“The guards were lenient about your little outburst today because your mother isn't their favorite inmate right now, but lose your temper again and there will be consequences – like your visitation rights will be terminated.”

“Yeah, really don't think that's going to be a problem, Detective.” He aimed for dismissive, but it came across as bitter.

Mercifully... for both of their sakes, because neither he nor Quentin wanted a heart to heart with the other, Lance ignored the slip. “Actually, it's Officer again. I got demoted.”

“Then why are you...?”

“Here and not on the streets,” Lance interrupted, finishing the question for him. “Why am I investigating your friend's case and not writing parking tickets?” He answered his own inquiry. “You can thank your mother for that. You see, initially I was suspended, but that didn't last twelve hours before your mother decided to level a good portion of the city, and then it was all hands on deck... even those hands stripped of their badges. And I'm doing a detective's work on an officer's salary, because somebody has to. Thousands of people are homeless, and jobless, and pissed off, so, surprise-surprise, crime in Starling City is more rampant than it's ever been.”

Lance pushed open an emergency fire door, and they moved out into the afternoon sun. “But that's not what you came to talk to me about.”

“You told Laurel.”

“Uh, no I didn't,” Quentin argued. “Unlike someone on this roof – and I'm not pointing fingers here, I actually have some principles. And my daughter has never needed me to sniff out a case.”

And, just like that, Oliver's anger was forced to recede. Oh, it was still there, simmering under the surface, but Lance wasn't its rightful target, and taking his irritation out on the cop would only make the situation worse for everyone. Plus, there was a piece he was missing – several, perhaps, and Lance was as good of a source as anyone else. “Then how did she...?”

Once more, Lance cut him off. “Boy, you and my daughter really have drawn battle lines, haven't you? I've been waiting for this moment in your relationship for years – thought it'd be a happy day, you know. But you're still here, and she's still miserable, and life still sucks. So, there you have it.”

To ground himself, Oliver momentarily looked skyward before allowing his eyes to fall shut and for a heavy breath to escape his clenched jaw. “How did Laurel find out?”

“Seems as though my daughter already has herself a new job... in the DA's office.”

“And this... ridiculous idea that Felicity is lying in an effort to go after Merlyn Global?”

With a weary sigh, all of Quentin's bravado disappeared. “Laurel's pretty pissed off right now. She's pissed at your family for obvious reasons, she's pissed at Tommy for saving her life and then dying, she's pissed at the Hood because she blames him for not getting Tommy out of that building, she's pissed at me for... well, for more reasons than I have the energy to fight against right now. Let's just say that she's pissed at the world. Plus, she's grieving. Plus, she's lugging around a whole mountain of guilt – about what I don't think I want to know. Plus, she's liquored up.”

“What?”

“Oh yeah,” Lance nodded. And, for the first time, Oliver noticed just how exhausted the older man looked. His eyes were bloodshot and had bags underneath them, his skin pale and sallow. The clothes he wore looked to be more stale than the sludge disguised as coffee that the department provided. “She's been as drunk as a skunk practically since your mother along with Malcolm Merlyn made The Glades go boom.”

“But, when she confronted Felicity and I at Tommy's grave, it was around lunch time.”

“It's called day drinking, Queen. I'd think you'd be familiar with it.”

He gritted his teeth and rolled his eyes. “It's no excuse.”

“You're right,” Lance surprised him by agreeing with him. “It's not.”

“And what she's doing to Felicity isn't helping anybody, least of all Laurel.”

“You're not telling me anything I don't already know.”

Nodding before turning to stalk away, Oliver paced for several minutes. Quentin was quiet, allowing him the chance to organize his thoughts. “She went to the press, too, didn't she?” He already knew the answer to his question, but he still sought confirmation anyway.

“There's been no leak from the department, and, given the angle they're coming after you and Miss Smoak, I think my daughter as the anonymous source would be a safe bet.”

He wanted to hit something, his rage resurfaced. “This is the last thing Felicity needs right now.”

“It's certainly not helping your cause with the public either,” Lance pointed out none too gently.

Oliver waved him off. “If you think I care...”

“How'd the two of you meet, anyway?” Caught off guard by Quentin's question, Oliver paused in mid-step and turned, once more, to face the cop. “You and Miss Smoak,” Lance prompted. “She's not your usual partner in crime.”

If the other man only knew how true his own words were.... “Felicity's very good at her job, and you know us Queens. We only use and want the best.” Oliver went for flippant, but Lance didn't buy it.

“Uh huh.” The disdainful mumbling was accompanied by an equally scornful expression.

For some reason, Oliver found himself offering more of an explanation. “When I got back, I needed some help with some tech issues. Walter recommended Felicity.”

“Those are some computer skills if you went from asking for her help to living with her.”

“We're not... She's... I mean, it's...” And then he just dropped all pretenses. “Look, Felicity – she's... real. She's smart, and she's funny, and she was the only person – the only person – who didn't expect something from me, who didn't approach me with all these preconceptions of who I was supposed to be. With her, I didn't have to live down to the hype, or try to make up for what I'd done wrong in the past, or even live up to expectations that she really didn't think I could meet. I was just me, and that was enough for her. Do you have any idea how good that felt? How addictive that was; is?”

By the time Oliver fell silent once again, he wasn't the only one shocked by everything that he had revealed. But Lance hid his surprise well, staring at him like he didn't even recognize Oliver. And maybe he didn't. Maybe that was as close as Quentin could come to admitting that the man who had come back from the island was different than the boy who went there and, on the way, killed his daughter. And maybe that moment that passed between them did more to reassure Oliver that, though he still had a long way to go, he was at least on the right track.

Finally, Lance spoke. “That sure is one hell of an island you were stranded on.”

The remark didn't make him feel uncomfortable, because it wasn't leading. Lance wasn't looking for more information; he wasn't seeking Oliver's deepest, darkest secrets or asking him to share the story of the five years he had lost. Instead, he was just making an observation like only Quentin Lance could.

Shaking off his thoughts and clearing his throat, Lance offered, “I'll keep you posted on Miss Smoak's case, let you know when she can return to her apartment. But it'll take a little while. There was... a lot for CSU to go over, to gather, and I swear the lab's always backed up. Even if we put a rush on the tests...”

“I understand.” And he did. “Plus, I don't think Felicity's in any hurry to go back.”

“Can't say I blame her.”

With that, Oliver tipped his head in recognition and then turned to leave. It wasn't until his hand was gripping the door's handle that Lance spoke up again. “I think you'll know how much it pains me to admit this, but you've been... good with her. With Miss Smoak.” Just as quickly as the softness had appeared in Lance's voice, it was replaced with ridicule. “Don't screw it up.”

Unfortunately, that was going to be easier said than done.

Opening the door, Oliver left the roof, not stopping until he was outside, in his car, and on the road again. He had one more stop to make before going back to the hotel, before going back to his sister and Felicity.

 

 

Her skin felt like it was stretched too tight.

All Felicity wanted to do was break away from, break out of it, but she couldn't. She was trapped.

There were moments when she felt like herself, but they were few and far between. They were with Oliver. But she couldn't expect him to always be there. In fact, there was a part of Felicity that was waiting for him to leave – to either push her away or run away himself. So, she tried not to crowd him; she tried not to cling too closely.

That's why she had agreed to spend her morning with Thea. While Oliver had gone to see his mother, she and his little sister spent their time doing those things typical of girl-bonding sessions... or so Felicity assumed. Maybe she was soft and feminine now, but Felicity had never been one for sleepovers and hair braiding, for gossip sessions and friendship bracelets. She liked her computers, and she liked her books, and she liked her television shows and movies. She'd rather spend twenty minutes shopping online than wasting an entire day traipsing through the store.

So, she had allowed Thea – bright and shining Thea – to guide their time together, a willing if not quite enthusiastic participant. But eventually the younger woman's sheer force of personality just became too much. Though sweet, Thea was also sarcastic, and funny, and brash. She was smart, too, and she quickly saw through Felicity's too rigid smile and her forced patience. The Felicity she was before the rape would have reveled in spending time with the youngest Queen; the Felicity she was now just felt overshadowed and intimidated by her.

Despite her sympathy and despite her warmth – both things that Thea had in abundance, there was also grief and doubt swirling beneath the teen's kindness – grief over not only the loss of someone she loved but also of her sureness that Tommy was someone that she wanted to and should love. As for her doubt, it didn't spring from the same place as Laurel's, and it wasn't even as though Thea questioned the validity of Felicity's claims. Instead, she just... didn't understand. She couldn't reconcile the man she knew with the monster he had become during the last hours of his life, and she didn't know of the true depth of Felicity's relationship with Oliver, so she couldn't grasp just how the three of them had come to find themselves sharing a hotel suite together.

Eventually, it just became too much – pretending not to see those things that Thea was trying oh so very hard yet failing miserably at hiding from her. She had felt suffocated. And then morning had stretched into afternoon, and Oliver remained gone, not calling or texting to say when he'd be back or what he was doing. It wasn't like she expected him to report in with her or ask for her permission to go somewhere or to have some time to himself, but Felicity found the separation to be too much, too soon. Consequently, despite her best intentions, she found her gaze straying towards the door and seeking out clocks, her attention diverted.

When Digg had knocked on the suite's door, Felicity had flown from her seat, eager for any distraction yet hoping that it was Oliver. He had a key, but so did Digg. They both tended to knock just so that she wouldn't become startled – something that happened far too much and far too easily. But her body had yet to catch up with her mind when it came to her friend. It was used to being excited to see him, relaxed in his presence, but, as soon as Diggle stepped through the door, Felicity felt the tension, the confusion, the insecurity that she was never supposed to feel with John.

He was an unknown, though. She didn't know how to react around him, because she hadn't talked to him; she wasn't sure if he knew about what had happened to her... or if he just suspected because of the articles. It wasn't that she was intentionally trying to keep the rape a secret from Digg, but she also wasn't sure if she could talk about it with her friend. With Oliver... well, he had just found out. She had never intended for him to know, but then he did, and she took comfort in the fact that he was aware yet she hadn't been burdened with telling him. Plus, Felicity felt that, if anyone could understand the devastation of Tommy's actions upon her, it was Oliver. Their experiences were different but their results so very similar. While Digg had been to war, while he had seen and done things no person should ever have to see or do, while he had been changed by those events, to Felicity, he still felt... whole – like, no matter what, he had always managed to hold onto who he was.

In contrast, there were moments when Felicity didn't even recognize herself.

But thankfully, John only came to tell them that they were moving hotels – that the press were starting to catch wind of their location, that it was time to move, and that they needed to pack. Felicity had been way too grateful for the task. Not only did it allow her to slip away from Thea, but it gave her something to focus on – something physical, and productive, and necessary. While she had absolutely no interest in her job at QC, she was also bored and tired of feeling useless. Packing wasn't much, but it was better than doing nothing, and the rote activity provided a blessed distraction from thinking – always thinking, too much thinking. So, Felicity packed her things, and she packed Oliver's, too, surprising herself with how non-reactive she was towards doing something so... intimate for the man she knew would only ever be her friend.

The move to the different hotel had gone seamless. It helped that it was just Felicity and Thea, that Digg had forgone using one of the Queen's many cars or even Felicity's or his own and was, instead, relying upon rentals. They checked in under another guard's name, they unpacked, and then everything was exactly the way it was an hour before – different rooms, different furniture, but the same choking loneliness and monotony. And still no word from Oliver.

Felicity had done her best to ignore the way her body itched to flee – to run, and seek, and hide. She locked herself in the bedroom she had instinctively unpacked both her and Oliver's things in, and she paced. She chewed her short and unpainted nails, and she tried to shrink in upon herself. She stared out the windows, and then she hid away from the rest of the world by closing the drapes. She showered; she changed; she took out, and she refolded, and then she put their things away all over again. But, eventually, she hit a wall, and then she snapped. She grabbed her keys and silently walked, head and eyes cast down, towards the door, letting herself out without making a sound, without telling anyone. She made it to the elevator before she was stopped.

“Felicity?”

“I have to get out of here,” she panted in response to Diggle's unvoiced question, in response to the censure she could feel coming off of him in waves. “I need....” She needed Oliver, but she couldn't – wouldn't – tell their friend that. Her need made her angry, and she grasped onto that ire with both hands, clutching it tightly. Fury was familiar. It was comforting. It was... all consuming, blocking out every other emotion she wasn't ready or willing to confront. “I want to go to the foundry. Please.” He didn't say anything, didn't move. “Please, John.”

“Alright, you can go.” She should have been perturbed that he was granting her permission, because she hadn't asked for his consent – just that he not fight her, but Felicity... didn't care. She was leaving. “But I'm driving you, and, if Oliver's not there, then I'm staying with you. Just let me tell Thea's guard....”

He stepped away, and she finally exhaled, wrapping her arms around her torso and bending over slightly in relief. When she had realized that she wanted to go to the lair, it wasn't because she thought Oliver might be there; she just knew that, if she couldn't be with him, if she couldn't be herself, she wanted to be the one place that would remind her of who they both had been before everything... fell apart.

Less than a minute later, they were on their way. From the elevator, to the parking garage, even during their ride into The Glades, Diggle never talked. Whether he was at a loss for what to say or sensed that she craved the silence – his silence, Felicity was just grateful for the reprieve. Once they arrived at the abandoned and demolished club, he just unlocked the doors, remaining in the car as she made her away across the parking lot and through the side entrance.

Oliver's bike was there which meant so, too, was its rider.

Even after she was inside, Felicity could feel Digg's watchful, concerned gaze singeing her back. She allowed it to fuel her ire. Because she wanted to confide in her friend, but she didn't want for there to be anything to tell him. Because she didn't want her pain and torture to be so obvious that everyone pitied her even if they didn't know why. Because, yes, she had been hurt, but she wasn't broken, and she wasn't going to fall apart if she wasn't held together with worry and compassion. Because John didn't ask, and she didn't want him to.

Somewhere, in the back of Felicity's mind, she realized that the basement was well lit – whether the power was back on or the lights were running off a generator, she didn't know. Nor, did she care. Because she wasn't alone, and Oliver was there, and she could breathe again.

Felicity was only halfway down the stairs when she saw him – sweaty and shirtless, totally oblivious to her presence, blind and battered, bleeding, lost in his rage.

She gasped.

He spun around quickly, his hands, which had just been destroying, falling limply to his sides. “Felicity...? Chest heaving, eyes apologizing, Oliver sighed. “I'm... I'm sorry.”

And then she laughed. Walking down the stairs – one hand on the rail, the other compacted into a fist, Felicity never blinked. Or looked down. Or shied away from his gaze. “For what?”

“For scaring you.”

“You,” she promised him. “This,” she glanced around the rubble and wreckage at their feet – wreckage he was contributing to in his wrath. “Your anger,” she finished, coming to stand directly before him. “It doesn't scare me.”

Oliver's brow creased, the storm of resentment turning his blue eyes silver before melting into the brooding slate she knew so well. “Why not?”

“Because that's all I think I am now.”

With that, she turned away from him – she turned around, and she turned her back, and she found the first thing still untouched by either the earthquake or the man haunted by it, and she lashed out. With a seething scream, she pushed, and she threw, and she slammed, and she destroyed. And, all the while, Oliver just let her be.

It wasn't until she went to overturn the medical gurney that Felicity froze. With eyes wide with tears she could no longer hold back, her shrieks turned to sobs, and her hands fell softly upon the metal where Oliver had nearly bled out months before. But then that very same heart was embracing her; was wrapping around her; was holding her up, and together, and aloft.

And Felicity finally cried.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

Digg was waiting for them when they got back to the hotel.

Massive arms crossed over his chest, his friend and, to the rest of the world, bodyguard was smirking, but there was no amusement or even warmth in the expression... at least, not for him. When Diggle's gaze slid momentarily towards Felicity, he softened somewhat but always remained stoic. And he didn't look at her for long – almost like he couldn't allow himself to go there. To think about that. To face what had been done to her.

Oliver couldn't blame him.

Yet, he really didn't want to hear whatever it was the other man had to say that evening. And he had no doubt that John was gearing up to tell him something – some truth that Oliver felt like he couldn't face yet, but Digg wouldn't care, and he'd force him to face it. Knowing Diggle, he wouldn't even really have to say all that much to get his point across either. Digg had this way where he could just look at you, raise an eyebrow, and get you to do all the talking yourself. When it worked in Oliver's favor, it was tremendously convenient; when it didn't...? Well, it pissed him off.

“You know, I must say I'm liking this hotel thing. Only one entrance and exit makes it a hell of a lot harder for you to give me the slip when I want to talk to you.”

Deciding that not engaging was his best chance of getting out of whatever conversation Digg had planned for them, Oliver locked down his gaze, lowered his head, and focused on the door in front of him. If he held onto Felicity, who was cocooned against his side and wrapped under his left arm, just that might tighter, too, Oliver felt like no one could blame him for such a reaction. “Not tonight, Digg.”

“Oh, yes, tonight. If you think I'm going to let this...”

Oliver didn't need to look at his friend to know that he, too, was shocked when it was Felicity who spoke up against and interrupted him. “John, he said no. Not tonight. You can talk to him tomorrow.”

The ex-soldier softened his tone. “Felicity, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be...” Diggle's words died away, and, still avoiding looking at him, Oliver heard him exhale harshly. “Look, it won't take long, and it's important.”

“Yeah, well, not as important as getting him stitched back up,” Felicity countered.

“What?”

“He popped a few stitches... earlier.”

“And just what exactly were the two of you doing that resulted in the stitches I put in getting ripped?”

For the answer to that question, Oliver finally glanced up. What he found was an irritated Felicity, who looked both exasperated and uncomfortable, and a regretful John. Apparently, even Digg had the capability of speaking without thought.

“We were... reorganizing,” Felicity finally responded, her proud chin coming up defensively. The sight, knowing just how angry and sad she was underneath her sudden bravado, was perhaps the most heartbreaking thing Oliver had ever seen.

“Well, then, you're probably exhausted,” Diggle replied smoothly, easily falling back into his unflappable temper once again. “Why don't you go inside, and Oliver and I will follow shortly. While we talk, I'll stitch him back up.”

“I can do it.”

“Really, Felicity, I got this.”

“I said I'd do it, Digg,” she exploded. Suddenly agitated, Felicity pulled away from Oliver, making him realize that, just as much as he had been supporting her, she had been supporting him, too, because he stumbled slightly, righting himself by moving to lean up against the wall. “I'm not helpless, you know. I can do things. I can do a lot of things. I'm not...”

“I know, Felicity; we know,” Digg said calmly, soothingly, but somehow he didn't come across as patronizing. “And I didn't mean anything by it except that I know you're not a big fan of needles.”

Silently, Oliver watched as Felicity rolled her shoulders back, meeting Diggle's concerned gaze without flinching, without blinking. “Suddenly needles? Yeah... not that scary anymore.”

He wasn't sure what had just passed between them – a challenge, an acceptance, a confession, an avoidance, but, whatever it was, John nodded his assent, and Felicity slipped through the door. As she left Oliver there to deal with Diggle on his own, the man himself said, “find a suture kit, fill a sink with hot water, and get some wash cloths. By the time you're ready for him, Oliver and I will be finished talking.” The door clicking shut behind her was the sound of Felicity's acquiescence reverberating through the otherwise empty and silent hallway.

And then it was just the two of them.

Normally, at night, especially when all three of them – Thea, Felicity, and himself – were there, Digg would have two guards posted at the door and one at the elevator, not trusting the other personnel with their safety nearly as much as he trusted himself. And Oliver had no doubt that the three men who were working the night shift that evening were around somewhere – perhaps doing perimeter sweeps outside or reviewing protocols with the hotel's security, but they'd stay gone until Digg either didn't check in or told them to return to their stations, Oliver's friend having arranged for the privacy on purpose... much to his chagrin.

“Man, I really hope you know what you're doing?”

That was not what Oliver was anticipating. He thought Diggle would have something to say about his visit with his mother or perhaps his trip to the precinct that day, because he also had no doubt that his friend was perfectly aware of everything that went on in his life. John had more connections, more sources, more instinct than anyone Oliver had ever known before. Because the words caught him off guard, Oliver found himself looking up, brow furrowed in confusion. “What?”

“You heard me. I don't know what's going on between you and that broken girl who just walked through the door, but...”

“Felicity's not broken.” The words left his mouth through a clenched jaw, a grimace.

“Really, because, from where I'm standing...”

“From where you're standing,” Oliver interrupted his friend for a second time, ire piqued. “You had a front row seat to the tongue lashing Felicity just gave you. How you could ever think she's broken...”

“Like I was saying,” that time it was Digg who interjected. “All that bravado just a moment ago was to hide a whole hell of a lot of pain.”

“Of course she's in pain,” he snapped. “But pain doesn't equal being broken.”

“Yeah, well, forgive me if I don't take your word for it, Oliver.”

In response, he exhaled harshly, reaching up to rub his hands wearily over his face. “Look, it's been a long day... What do you want, Diggle?”

“I want to know that you're capable of handling this. That you know what you're doing. I want to know that, someday, Felicity is going to get through this and put it behind her. I want to know how the hell I'm supposed to be okay with Merlyn already being dead, because now I can't kill him myself. And I want to know – tomorrow morning, next week, a month from now – that you're not going to take off, that you're not going to run away because you can't handle everything that's happening.”

“Maybe I should,” Oliver whispered. Sighing, he closed his eyes and leaned against the wall, allowing his head to fall backwards and dully slam into the drywall several times.

“Oliver, man, you can't.”

“Why not, Diggle?” And then he was surging forward, all traces of exhaustion and discomfort disappearing in light of finally getting his feelings off his chest. “She'd be better off without me, don't you see that? They both would be,” he waved towards the door behind which both his sister and Felicity were ensconced away, safe. “This, what happened to her, it's my fault. I did this – my selfishness; my inability to think just five minutes ahead; my... obsession with going back, with thinking that everything could be the way it once was if I could convince everyone in my life that I'm still that same guy; my utter blindness to just how much things have really changed since...

“Just stop it, Oliver,” Diggle cut him off. “You can't do this; you can't do this to her.”

“What?”

“I know it's second nature for you to blame yourself for everything. I also know that, even if I tell you it's not your fault, you won't listen. Hell, Felicity's the only person who can decided who's to blame for what happened to her and who isn't, but I don't even think you'd listen to her right now. But this guilt you have? It's the last thing Felicity needs.” At his narrowed gaze, John further explained. “No matter what you think about yourself, you can't take Tommy's culpability away from Felicity. She blames him for what happened, not you, and she needs to blame him. He deserves it, and she deserves to have a target for all her hate, and pain, and grief, and anger. Because she's feeling all those things and more, Oliver, and, if you let your guilt consume you, then you will end up running, and that'll just add to her hurt.”

“Don't you mean she'd hurt less?”

“That's not up to you to decide either, man. And, if you were going to run, then you should have done it days ago. As soon as you found out, you should have skipped town then, because, if you go now – after being there for Felicity, after supporting her, and helping her, and taking care of her, then you'll just confirm every ugly thing she thinks about herself. Plus, were you watching and talking to the same girl I was five minutes ago, because that girl? That girl is holding on by threads, and those threads are your friendship, your cause, and her need to, in turn, take care of you.”

He wanted to ask what friendship, because a friend would have been there to make sure that Felicity was never hurt the way Tommy had hurt her; and he wanted to ask what cause, because he had failed Felicity, the city, and his father; and Oliver had no idea what he was supposed to do now, how he was supposed to keep fighting. But he didn't say any of this, because he recognized the truth behind Diggle's words. He also realized that his self-doubts were just that: his own burdens to bear. His friend had enough of his own worries; he didn't need to shoulder Oliver's as well. Plus, by questioning out loud those things that were grounding Felicity as she struggled to make sense of her life once again, Oliver felt like he'd be diminishing them – belittling what was important to her, and he couldn't bring himself to do that.

Finally breaking the silence that had sprung up between them after Digg finished saying his peace, Oliver cleared his throat. “I, uh, better...,” nodding his over his shoulder, motioning towards the door.

“Just be careful, man.”

Solemnly, he promised, “I will. I won't hurt her, Digg.”

“Never intentionally, Oliver, I know that,” his friend reassured him. “But I'm not just talking about Felicity right now; I'm talking about the both of you.”

As Oliver slipped inside the hotel room, he thought about two things: one, he had been right to try and avoid his friend, for Diggle had, as always, mentioned truths he wasn't ready to hear; and, two, he hadn't considered that, when the dust from The Undertaking and Tommy's actions settled, his own reactions might end up hurting him just as much as they did the people he cared about. Silently, he moved his way through the suite, turning off lights as he went. By the time Oliver came to the bathroom where Felicity was waiting for him, a dull ache had settled over his chest... and not because of the wound that had come open once more. No, that tightness was acknowledgement of Digg's words.

But then Felicity turned to him, hands already reaching to tend to him, and he smiled. There was no joy in the moment, but it wasn't an empty gesture either. That, in and of itself, though, was a hollow victory.

For now, he'd take it.

And then Felicity touched him – her fingers soft, and gentle, and clean, and Oliver pushed everything else aside. Lowering himself onto the closed toilet, he sat. He closed his eyes. And he relaxed.

 

 

It was quiet.

It was quiet. Felicity had long since finished re-suturing and re-bandaging his wound. He was sitting on the toilet seat, head bowed, and she was kneeling before him in between his spread legs. Her fingers were rhythmically caressing the edges of gauze taped to his chest; his rested casually on top of his knees. The lights were dimmed, and their hotel suite was too many floors above and too well sound proofed against ambient noise for the traffic below to dent the silence.

It should have been awkward. But it wasn't.

Their relationship – perhaps his only one like that – was built on words... and the words left unsaid yet still expressed. It had been like that from the very beginning. Oftentimes, Felicity was responsible for most of those words, but existing together in the stillness was not something they were used to. Even when they were working together in the foundry, each focused on their own tasks, there was background noise to buffer them, to buoy them. But not that night, not in that moment.

Really, when he thought about it, Oliver realized that, since the night of The Undertaking, silence had become their predominant form of communication. Yet, despite this, there was usually something or someone else to distract them from the quiet – his worry, her preoccupation; Thea, Digg, Tommy's ghost. But those things were blissfully, inexplicably absent as they remained sitting there, neither willing to shatter the moment by admitting it was long past when they should have gone to bed or by voicing all those words that had once come so easily to them.

And words there were aplenty.

There were all the questions Oliver wanted to ask, questions with answers he really wasn't sure he could handle but questions that were choking him nonetheless. And then there was Felicity – Felicity who, if she didn't break down and talk to someone soon, would surely explode from the tension and stress of keeping everything so bottled up. Because that simply wasn't in her nature. Still, it seemed more likely that he would be the one to first breach the impasse they seemed to find themselves at, and Oliver wasn't sure what to make of their role reversal.

“I'm going into work tomorrow.” Felicity's unexpected statement brought his head up with a jarring snap, the words practically echoing throughout the otherwise static bathroom. He found her studiously avoiding his gaze, her eyes locked upon her hands which were still weaving a spell of comfort over the skin above his heart. Allowing his own gaze to rest upon the very same spot, Oliver was jolted by the sharp contrast between his hardened body – scarred, tanned, and inked – and her delicate digits, her complexion as soft and creamy as pearls, the hue laced with the blue undertones of her veins. Even against his bandage, she seemed subtle and diaphanous. It wasn't until she spoke again, though, that he realized she was whispering, the mellow quality of her tone belying the strength Oliver knew she possessed. “I need to go to work tomorrow.”

In response, he said the very first thing he thought of. “Why?”

 

Felicity sighed. One nail began to peel back a corner of the tape keeping his gauze in place before the pad of that very same finger smoothed it back out. “Hiding...” And he winced, because Oliver really didn't see Felicity staying out of the spotlight as hiding, but, if she did, he knew that perhaps he had been too protective of her. But he couldn't help it, and he certainly wouldn't apologize for it. “ … especially after what happened at the cemetery... and then in the parking garage at QC... Well, I guess, for a while, I needed the hiding, too, but... I'm tired of feeling useless, Oliver; I need to be productive again. You... you're doing so much right now – trying to take care of me, of your sister, of your mother.”

Even though she wasn't looking at him, Oliver felt his eyes flicker away from Felicity when she mentioned his mom. He had yet to tell her about their confrontation earlier that day (had it really just been hours prior that he had been to Iron Heights?); he had no idea how to tell her about what his mother had intimated about her.

“ … and I'm used to taking care of others, of helping others.” Helping you. “I know I'm not ready for that yet, but I at least need to feel like I'm taking care of myself, and the first step in taking care of me is going back to work.”

“Are you going back to your apartment?”

“No!” Felicity rushed to reassure him. Herself. Them. And, if Oliver was caught off guard by the blazing streak of panic that swept across that one word, he didn't show it. Instead, he focused upon the relief that washed through him upon her denial.

“Good.” Since she was now, finally, looking at him, Oliver forced a smile and a note of levity into his words. “Because you can't leave me on my own with Thea.”

Felicity rolled her eyes. “Like we both don't know that Roy's in that room with her as we speak.”

She wasn't telling him anything he wasn't already aware of, but Oliver bristled nonetheless. His big-brother surliness was pushed aside quickly, though, when he considered his sister's guest from a different angle. “That... his being here doesn't bother you, does it?” She shook her head no, giving him a slight yet still genuine smile, and Oliver released the breath he didn't even realize he was holding. Changing the subject back to their original topic, he posed, “so, work, huh? Let me guess: you miss your babies.”

Felicity's head titled the side, and it was so reminiscent of his very first memory of her that Oliver felt the knot in his chest loosen just a little bit. “You know, I've come to realize that I'm a bad mother.” He laughed, and she protested. “No, really! I haven't thought about my QC children at all – haven't missed them, haven't worried about them, but I can't stop thinking about my poor foundry dandelions.”

“Dandelions?”

“You know,” she urged him on. “Mama had a baby, and it's head popped off. Or, in this case, it's head got fried, smashed, and then crushed.” She continued on before he could laugh, before he could tease her, before he could even really recognize that, for just a moment, she was Felicity again. “I've long since noticed that I play favorites with my kids which is bad enough, but favoritism has now morphed into outright disinterest and abandonment. You should probably turn me into computer services.”

Reading between the babbled lines, he asked, “so, what – is this you going into the office out of obligation, because, if so, Felicity, don't. A lot of people aren't back to work yet, and they weren't...” Swallowing thickly, he changed tracks. “Hell, my name's on the building, and I haven't given the place a second thought.”

“You went into the office with me yesterday.”

“Yeah, about that...”

“You totally stalked the IT department the whole time, didn't you?” He met her nonplussed accusation with an unrepentant shrug. “Oliver.”

“Felicity.”

“Well, you won't have to do that tomorrow, because you don't have to go with me.” When he went to protest, she kept talking. “And I know that someone has to go with me because of the reporters, but just talk with Digg and see who of the guards he recommends. I know that he needs to stay with Thea here at command central, and, really, Digg doesn't need to babysit me anymore than you do.”

“It's not babysitting, and I know that I don't have to go with you, but maybe I need to.” Her screwed up face – creased brow and puckered lips – told him she didn't understand. Oliver sighed. “The company is... Well, to say that it's a mess is putting it lightly.”

“Being associated with mass murder tends to do that to a business.”

Her words weren't funny, but the flippancy in which they were uttered – like fortune 500 companies were often associated with leveling an entire portion of a city – made a corner of Oliver's mouth quirk upwards. “While my mother and I didn't discuss QC that much... at least not in the way that you would expect...” He could see the curiosity in her gaze. “ … she did help me realize that, whether I want to or not, I need to... do something. I might not have even a single idea about where to start, but I'm going to have to figure it out. And fast.”

“And you will,” she reassured him, surprising Oliver when he suddenly felt one of her smaller, impossibly gentle hands wrap around and then squeeze one of his. “Might I suggest calling Walter. I think he'd be willing to help you.”

Oliver stood, pulling Felicity up with him. As they turned together to walk out of the en-suite and into the bedroom they were sharing, he said, “I was thinking the same thing.”

“So, see,” she encouraged him. “You're already on the right track then, because, if we're sharing ideas, then your mind must be great, too, because we both know – my mind? The greatest.”

The teasing, and the intellectual arrogance, and the small grins, and the companionship felt so good, felt so normal that, for just a moment, Oliver was able to... forget. But then he felt Felicity's hand searching for his once more after they climbed into bed, and, just as much as she needed to feel grounded by his touch, he needed to know, as he fell asleep, that she was there and safe beside him, too. Her touch, though, reminded him of what they would be doing the next day, what she would be doing the next day. If it were up to him, Felicity would never be hurt again. That meant no intrusive paparazzi and no judgmental co-workers, that he'd be able to keep her locked and hidden away from the rest of the world – a princess in the tower. But perhaps his need to protect her was more for him and less for Felicity, because, if she felt the need to work and be productive, then hiding could actually be preventing her from moving on and healing the way she needed to.

While Oliver was willing to accept that he had to let Felicity slowly return to her life as it was before... or as much as it could, that didn't mean that he couldn't be there for her while she did so. And that was why he was going to QC the next day. He wasn't lying to her when he said that he needed to take a role in the company, but Queen Consolidated's bottom line was the last thing Oliver had been concerned about until Felicity mentioned that she was going back to work. Then, it became a convenient excuse.

Sighing, Oliver forced himself to relax. Beside him, Felicity moved slightly closer. He didn't know if she sought his warm or if, maybe, she wanted to share with him a little of hers, if she wanted to reassure him. Whatever the reason, it was enough. He closed his eyes and, moments later, fell asleep.

 

 

Her new office wasn't perfect, but it was quiet. And it was private. And it smelled really good, too. Granted, it had been commandeered rather than awarded, but Queen Consolidated had bigger concerns than one lowly IT girl wandering outside of the nerd corral. Besides, she kind of had an 'in' with one of the owners (working secretly with – living secretly with – sleeping secretly, plantonically with did count as an 'in,' right?), so Felicity assumed she was good to...

A brisk knock had her nearly dropping her tablet and falling off her chair. It was too bad she wasn't more adventurous when it came to food... and, you know, a cannibal, because she was pretty sure she could chew on her own heart if she was of the mind to. Startled, her pulse was pounding, her breathing erratic, and her skin suddenly clammy. It was for these reasons that, when she finally spoke, her voice came out deeper and raspier than normal (and not because she was trying to disguise who she was). “It's occupied!”

She heard a sigh of exasperation, of relief – a very familiar sigh. Then, there was a twisting of the doorknob, but Felicity had long since made sure no one would be able to just walk into her new office. It didn't lock from the inside, but she was a creative girl. “Come on, Felicity. Let me in.”

Hesitantly, she stood, making sure she was careful where and how she moved. One of the drawbacks to her new office was its size. It was less than... roomy. Removing the barricade, she quickly opened the door, peering through a crack to first make sure it was Oliver (it was), and then to make sure that no one else was looking. Satisfied that they were alone, Felicity slipped a hand out, grabbed hold of Oliver's arm, and then pulled him in after her. By the time the door was closed once more and re-barricaded, she was second-guessing her decision to invite him in. To... procure her new office in the first place. To return to QC. (Well, perhaps she had been second-guessing that last one since about 9:04 that morning.)

She avoided Oliver's piercing, intrusive, knowing gaze and fidgeted – pulling down on her already long sleeves despite knowing that between the makeup covering her wrists and the dim interior of her new office, her bruises couldn't be seen; trying to bite her still tender lip only to wince away from the habit; and shuffling her feet because, frankly, that's as far as she could move away from Oliver's looming, suddenly overpowering presence. She had always found his size to be comforting in the past. Now, it was just intimidating... not that she'd ever tell him that, because he'd think that he made her nervous because he was a man, because of what Tommy had done to her, and not simply because he was one of the only people who could see beneath the mask she wore. “Is it lunchtime already?”

“No,” he answered succinctly. In response, she scuffed the toes of her flats upon the floor. “It's two hours passed lunch time. I missed when we were supposed to meet for lunch, because, apparently nobody who works for me – and they all were quick to remind me that I'm their boss now that everything has gone to shit – is capable of just saying that we need a miracle if we're going to keep the company from either going under or being raided. And, when I finally got the chance to come looking for you – worried because, if there's one person who would call me on being late, it's you, and I didn't even get a text message from you when 12:30 came and went, you weren't in your office.”

“I, uh, needed a more peaceful place to work,” Felicity offered as explanation, still refusing to meet Oliver's gaze. Even if she would have, though, her office didn't come equipped with a light fixture, so she probably wouldn't have been able to see anything anyway.

“Felicity, this is a supply closet.”

It was. And, normally, their current situation would have been hilarious... and embarrassing – the two of them meeting clandestinely in a four by four space used to hold cleaning supplies, and, in the past, when Felicity had imagined being in such a situation with Oliver, it was much more... amorous. Now, she just wanted everything and everyone to disappear. Most of all, though, she wanted to disappear.

His tone softened. “What happened?”

“Nothing.”

“ … and don't say nothing,” Oliver spoke over top of her denial. When she remained silent, she felt his own hand reach out to encompass one of hers, his fingers weaving between and around her digits as he gave the appendages a gentle squeeze. “Hey...”

She sniffled, looking up and then out of the corner of her eyes in an effort to stem her tears. “It was just... harder than I thought it would be.”

“Coming back to work?”

“No. Yes. I don't know.” Heaving a frustrated sigh, Felicity dropped Oliver's hand and then circled around him. Collapsing onto her chair... Oh, who was she kidding? It was a giant box of paper towels, and it was murder on her back after fifteen minutes. Oliver took a seat beside her – he just... sat right down on the floor, thousand dollar suit and all. And then he waited patiently, silently, supportively for her to talk. When she did, she found her gaze glued to her fingers as they painfully twisted around each other, the discomfort grounding and keeping her focused.

“Everything's just... more. Closer. Louder. And it feels like I'm under a microscope – not just from the photographers, and the media, and the journalist camped out in the parking garage and down on the sidewalk but my co-workers as well. If they're not giving me these fake, sympathetic looks, then I'm constantly looking over my shoulder, because I can just feel them watching me – waiting for me to do or say something that will confirm all these things – some true, some so far from the truth that calling them lies doesn't even seem to cover it – that they're thinking about me. And then I find myself thinking that maybe they're sources, maybe they're the ones talking to the press, and I get angry – so angry that I just want to... cry, because I can't very well go around hitting people.”

“Why,” Oliver spoke for the first time in several minutes, interrupting her monologue. “I do.”

She chuckled. “Yeah, well, you have a million-watt smile and a billion-dollar bank account. You can get away with acting like a three year old throwing a temper tantrum. I can't.”

Oliver shrugged. “Actually, according to what I was told today ad nauseam, if I don't come up with something – and fast – to make our sales projections and, consequently, our stock price sky rocket, then those billions of dollars you refer to will be worth less than the paper they're printed on.”

“So, you won't have the bank account; you'll still have the body, and, frankly, that's what I like better about you anyway.”

This time, she was the one who earned a slight grin, and it felt good to be able to give that to Oliver – that, even with the world coming down around them, she could still make him smile. The moment disappeared all too quickly, though, when her tablet pinged, an alert sounding.

“Ah, but, without my bank account, you wouldn't have a job... or all of your high-priced, state-of-the-art toys. What are you working on anyway,” Oliver asked. And, before she could stop him, he reached onto the shelf and picked up her tablet, his expression darkening immediately. “Felicity...”

She rushed to explain. “Obviously, I won't actually be counting today as a work day. I'll use some vacation time. Or sick leave. Or something.”

“That's not....” He was distressed, and wound up, and she had done nothing to diffuse the situation. “Why are you looking at this crap?” With that, he tossed her tablet aside. She didn't even wince when it landed less than gently back upon the shelf.

“How can I not,” Felicity countered. “I just... the things they're saying about me, Oliver. Most of it is ridiculous – lies, feeding off that first story that we're working together to take over Merlyn Global. But some of it...? Some of it is true. Some of it is about my life, my past, my.... They know things about me that are supposed to be private and personal, and it's like a train wreck. I don't want to see it, but I can't look away. And I also can't hack them quick enough to get ahead. Just when I take down one story, five more pop up.”

Taking a deep breath, she pushed on. “And I thought I could ignore it. I tried, Oliver; I really tried. But I couldn't. I was sitting there in my office... my real office, and I was trying to do... something, some legitimate work assignment, but I could hear all these... noises. People chatting, though I couldn't make out what they were saying. People laughing, though I didn't know what was so funny. Footsteps. Creaks. The traffic outside. And it was like they were talking about me, laughing about me, stalking me, watching me. The last thing I cared about was whether Janice from Human Resources figured out her password or if Kyle from Accounts Payable was backing up his work or not. All I could think about was... that,” and she finished her rant with a vague gesture towards the offending devise still beeping to alert her to even more insulting articles.

But then a startling thought had her gasping. “Oh my god, Oliver. How did you find me? Did someone tell you where I was? Does someone... and now everyone... know that I spent the majority of my day hiding out in the same room where the janitors keep the toilet paper?”

“Relax,” he told her, reaching out a calming hand and laying it upon her knee. A week ago, she would have burned underneath his touch – her pulse jumping, her skin flaming, but, now, Felicity just saw the fact that, instead of Oliver touching her bare skin thanks to her preferred work skirts, she was wearing pants – black, boring, safe pants. It made her feel like a coward, like the coward she was. “When I couldn't find you, I did ask around, but no one knew where you were. So, I sent security on a bogus errand and highjacked their system for a few minutes. If someone had come after you, then I needed to be able to act without suspicion from the guards who would have insisted upon calling the cops.”

“Why would someone come after me?” Working through her own question, Felicity continued, “I mean, Malcolm's gone, and no one knows about us... I mean, not that there's an us... but that we work together on you know what stuff. Sure, Laurel hates me, but I don't really see her as a kidnap and ransom kind of girl.”

Oliver frowned, but he didn't say anything. For a moment, Felicity considered pursuing his evasion and why he had been so worried, but then she really looked at him, and she noticed that he wasn't really staring at her; he was staring at her chin, and her jaw, and her neck, and her chest – places where, when the makeup faded, the trauma her body had sustained was still just as glaringly telling as it had been the night he had taken her to the hospital. Swallowing thickly, Felicity laid a hand over top of his one that was still clutching her knee. It didn't matter what faceless enemy Oliver had imagined, because they were all just a stand-in for the one neither of them had ever seen coming, the one that he couldn't save her from. Now, every threat was Tommy, and every second of every day Oliver was trying to retroactively prevent her from being hurt in the worst way a woman could possibly be hurt. He didn't just see his ex-girlfriend and the media coming after her; he saw ghosts, too... just like Felicity did.


Squeezing his hand, she confessed, “I can't work here anymore, Oliver.”

By the way his head snapped upwards and his eyes widened, she could tell that she had surprised him. “What?”

“I... just... can't. I'm going to quit.”

“But you love your job.”

“I did,” she admitted, smiling wistfully. “But now it's... just a job. Actually, no. If it was just a job, I could come in, do my work, and then go home at night like every other person in the world. But it's also a reminder, and I feel trapped here.”

“That might be because we're sitting in a supply closet.” When she didn't laugh or relent, Oliver asked, “what are you going to do then – look for a different job?”

“I guess,” Felicity shrugged in uncertainty. “I mean, I'll need one. I have bills to pay, and, no,” she warned him, cutting him off before he could even offer, “you're not giving me money. I'm no one's kept... anything, not that there's any keeping going on between us, and I take care of myself. Besides,” Felicity tried to infuse a little levity into the conversation, tried to take the heat of the moment off of her and put it back on Oliver. “Give it a few more months, and you might need me to help you pay your bills.”

“It's not a good job market right now,” he pointed out. “And, if you quit but want to come back in six months or a year, I can't guarantee you that QC will be able to rehire you – let alone that you'll be able to get your old job back. They're already talking about a hiring freeze, perhaps restructuring.”

“I know.”

“Felicity, no other job, no other company, is going to be any less... suffocating than this one right now. Unless you plan on moving...”

“No,” she interrupted, quick to reassure him. “I'm not leaving Starling City, Oliver.” I'm not leaving you; I can't leave you. “It's my home.”

“Okay. Good.”

“And I know you're right... about going to work somewhere else. It's too bad I can't illegally obtain information for a living, because, while I didn't miss the IT department, I do miss the basement at Verdant; I miss what we do there. At least, though, if I quit working here, it might alleviate some of the gossip about what happened, about... my rape.”

Oliver was silent for several moments. Then, when he spoke, even without any lights, Felicity could see the purpose behind his words. She could see his excitement. “What if you didn't quit and I just reassigned you?”

“Oliver, this girl might walk like a blonde, and talk like a blonde, but she is nobody's secretary.”

He chuckled. “No, you miss Verdant... well, its basement. And I own Verdant. Just like I own Queen Consolidated. So, if I were to reassign you to oversee the repairs to my nightclub and anything else that may or may not be located in the old foundry, then you could keep your job without having to come into the office everyday. Then, when Verdant is up and running again, we can re-evaluate and hopefully get you back into the IT department where you belong.”

She stared at him for a beat. And then another. Mouth agape. “You do realize that the extent of my club knowledge is having the words to 'The Hippy Hippy Shake' memorized, right?”

Oliver regarded her in bafflement but didn't ask. “Felicity, you won't be managing a club; you'll be overseeing construction... which means engineering. And physics. And math.”

“Oh.” Starting to feel his excitement, she admitted, “that's right in my wheelhouse.” Before he could say anymore, she inquired, “does this mean that we're back in the vigilante business? I mean, I know you're still hurt, and our little hidey-hole is more hole than hidey at this point, but you haven't said anything about The Hood or the list since....” Her words trailed off, the night in question not requiring anything to be said.

“I don't know,” Oliver admitted honestly. “I'm not sure how I feel about... that... right now.” Before she could offer her own opinion, he held up a hand, asking for her patience. “No matter what, though, I do know that it needs rebuilt – all of it. The way it is right now is a liability.”

“And we just finished talking about how you might be sporting Hoover Flags before the leaves change, so just how exactly are you paying for this?”

“Verdant's insured.”

“And what's below Verdant?”

Oliver stood up, holding a hand out to help Felicity stand as well. “When your Hoover flags are made of Italian silk, you can usually figure something out.” Facing each other, he asked, “does this mean you'll accept the promotion?”

“Oh, so now I'm getting promoted, too? I can't wait to see what the media makes of that.”

“Felicity.”

“Fine. Yes. I accept.”

“Good.” She went to move back towards her desk chair when Oliver cleared his throat. “What are you doing?”

She glanced up at him. “Oh, well, it's not time to leave yet, so I thought I'd just...”

“Felicity, we're leaving. Now.”

If it wasn't exactly what she wanted to hear, she would have taken offense at his demanding tone. “Right.”

Grabbing her tablet and her bag, she followed Oliver out of the supply closet, down the hall, and onto the elevator. It wasn't until the doors opened into the parking garage and the white light of the multitude of flashbulbs blinded her that she realized Oliver was still holding her hand.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

They were painting each other's nails.

Oliver had gone out for thirty minutes – tops – only to return and find Thea's room completely transformed/destroyed into a salon. He could see those foam toe divider thingys, cotton balls, Q-tips, and enough bottles of polish to rival a cosmetics counter. There was even a foot massaging soaking tub, too, and Oliver had no doubt that everything was brand new. Given their current lockdown status, that meant that his sister had sent a guard to buy out.... Well, he didn't really know where an heiress bought her beauty supplies (or any girl for that matter). What he did know was that he sincerely hoped Thea hadn't sent Digg on that 'mission,' because he'd never hear the end of it.

Oliver also had no doubt that he'd end up footing the bill for his sister's little shopping spree. It wasn't that Thea was irresponsible or that she was selfish and out of tune with the rest of the world; she just didn't understand the concept of money, of what was normal when it came to spending, of restraint. In fact, Oliver still struggled with those same principles himself. While he could blame their parents – and, sure, Robert and Moira Queen certainly played a role in their children's attitudes towards money, it was just their lifestyle, the way they were raised, what one expected from the idle rich. Plus, his sister always became even more extravagant when she was trying to do something nice for someone else.

Despite the odds against her (again, the way they were raised and who raised them), Thea had a bigger heart than even she knew how to handle. This resulted in overcompensating. Now that she had taken Felicity under her wing so to speak and had allowed the older woman into her heart, there was nothing that Thea wouldn't do for her new friend. And, apparently, that now meant playing 'beauty shop.'

And, yes, he knew what that was. After all, he did have a baby sister.

Silently placing their dinner down on the dining table, Oliver remained off to the side as he observed two of the most important people in the world to him interact. They had come into his life in completely different fashions – one bonded to him through blood, the other by choice... though sometimes, when it came to Felicity Smoak, Oliver felt like there really hadn't been a choice when it came to caring about her; it was just natural – and meant such different things to him, but there was one constant when it came to his feelings for both Thea and Felicity: he would do everything and anything in his power to keep them safe... even if that meant leaving them.

For now, though, he stayed. Despite all the turmoil swirling around them (not to mention all the unanswered questions), in that moment – in that latest hotel suite – the world didn't seem as insufferable; it didn't seem as big or scary. Everything else... narrowed and became out of focus as Oliver simply watched his sister and his friend interact. He knew that neither of them would be pleased with his lurking (Thea) or with his stalkerish tendencies (Felicity), and they would both object to his spying on them, but there was absolutely nothing that could have made Oliver interrupt them in that moment... just as there wasn't anything that could have made him leave either. As much as he was realizing they needed each other, he needed them – for himself and for each other.

It had been several minutes since he had arrived back to their suite, and, during that time, neither woman had said a word. Felicity appeared entirely focused upon her work – painting his sister's toenails, while Thea was reclined back – arms braced behind her, head tilted to the side in contemplation, in silent study. Oliver recognized that expression upon his sibling's face, for he, too, had often looked upon Felicity Smoak in that very same way.

“You're really brave, you know that, right?”

Thea's innocent, sweet, and unbelievably simple yet insightful words made Felicity stop what she was doing and look up; they made Oliver tense as he waited on pins and needles for his friend's reaction. If only Thea knew just how brave Felicity was... but, then again, Oliver certainly did not want his baby sister learning about his other identity... or Felicity's other role in his life.

Felicity's mouth pursed, her brow furrowed – both in thought. Finally, she responded, nail polish brush still held aloft and poised above his sister's feet. “I won't tell you that you're wrong, because I hate when people argue with me or dismiss something I feel or believe in.” Well, he certainly knew who she was talking about there. “But I can't agree with you either.” That made Oliver frown, because, if nothing else, Felicity Smoak had always been supremely confident. If what Tommy had done and, furthermore, Oliver's presence in her life had robbed Felicity of that self-possession...? Well, then that would just be one more wrong he had leveled against her.

“Why not?” Oh, his sister – always so blunt and to the point. Maybe Oliver didn't say it enough, but he loved her – so much.

“Well, for a lot of reasons,” Felicity responded, ducking her head as she returned to her work.

“Caring is sharing, Smoak, so spill.” A small grin tugged at the corners of Oliver's mouth.

After painting just a single nail, Felicity looked back up at his sibling. “Alright, fine. Here's a reason for you: because I'm hiding out here instead of facing my life. Today, I quit my job. Well, sort of. And because I'm seriously contemplating shutting down every single gossip blog and newspaper site within a two hundred mile radius of Starling City.”

Thea's mouth dropped open in shock, in admiration. “You can seriously do that? Where have you been all my life?”

Felicity shrugged. “Here and there – behind a computer screen, MIT, in a sand box. I spent an inordinate amount of time in the sand box as a child. I think it was all the castle-building. I had a thing for fairytales and princesses. And moats. God, I adore... I mean, adored... moats.”

His sister shrugged. “Who doesn't?” Girls were really weird. “But back to you denying that you're totally Merida... which, by the way, we should definitely dye your hair red.”

“Nope. No can do. This girl will go all Marge Simpson before she goes ginger.”

“If you... who has, like, a legit reason to be scared of her shadow... think you're a wimp for staying in a hotel suite, what does that make me? What does that make Oliver?”

“Practical,” Felicity responded resolutely. “My shadow can't hurt me, but those pitchfork wielding villagers can and will hurt you and your brother if they get a chance to.”

All traces of humor removed – at least temporarily, Thea confessed, “sometimes I think shadow wounds are the most painful of all.”

For once, Felicity didn't argue with her.

“As for your job,” his sister pressed on. “Yeah... I don't know anything about that, but you're still working, right? You're going to be overseeing the rebuilding of Verdant, which, in my opinion, is way cooler and more fun than removing viruses from the computers of creepy old men who like to watch kiddie porn at work.”

“Sometimes, it's not kiddie porn. There's this one guy who has this fascination with geriatric porn. And then there's this woman who watches bestiality videos.”

“Oh my god. I seriously need names. This could make all those insufferable QC parties sooo much more entertaining.”

And Oliver had thought introducing his sister to Felicity had been a good idea?

Felicity laughed, and the peels of her amusement immediately drew his attention back to the two women and erased any qualms about their, no doubt, terrifying partnership. Just like that afternoon in the supply closet, it was such a welcome sound. “Just because I rescue people who display, at least cyberly, a decided lack of principles, does not mean that I share their unscrupulous nature.”

“Says the hacker to the girl who's currently working off community service hours for a DWV – driving while vertigoed. Speaking of which... with CNRI a pile of rubble and Laurel going off the deep end, I wonder what's going to happen with my forced child labor?”

“You're only still a child when it's convenient for you. Remember, eighteen – legally an adult, legally allowed to vote, join the military, drink nearly everywhere but the Hypocritical States of America.”

Thea glowered. “Yeah, you should tell my brother that.”

“Or maybe you should... in a way that proves to him that you're not just mouthing off but, instead, that you are a mature and rational adult.”

Sometimes Felicity was such a... mother. It amazed Oliver because he knew nothing of her family, so he assumed she either didn't have one or wasn't close with them, but then where did her maternal instincts come from? He was pretty sure she didn't have any pets either, simply because her schedule, their schedule, did not afford her the luxury of being at home enough to properly care for a dog or a cat. And it wasn't like she brought an animal to the foundry with her. But she was always trying to take care of him, to guide him – making sure that he ate, that he slept, that he actually took notice of and treated his wounds. At least, he could be reassured that Felicity's nurturing extended beyond him, because the idea of Felicity looking upon him like a child...? Well, that bothered Oliver on levels he, frankly, couldn't even contemplate.

For both of their sakes.

“God, mother hen much?”

And, also, apparently, he had the mindset of an eighteen year old girl. It wasn't the first time someone had accused Oliver of that, but it was the first time he had turned the accusation onto himself.

Felicity ignored his sister, standing up and fidgeting with the supplies littered around the expansive bedroom. She acted like she was trying to straighten up, but, in her distraction, she basically just shuffled things back and forth. Plus, Thea's room was kind of a disaster zone. Oliver – and it was evident that Felicity felt the same way – wasn't sure how to even make a dent in the clutter. “Anyway, speaking of your brother.... He should back soon with dinner, so....” Felicity then glanced over to where Oliver assumed there was a clock but he couldn't quite see for himself. “Actually, he probably should have been back....”

“Can I...,” his baby sister started only to stop, roll her eyes, and then correct herself. “May I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Felicity answered easily, still focused on the manicure and pedicure supplies surrounding her.

“Why didn't you tell anyone?” Felicity's head snapped up to look in the younger woman's direction, eyes wide with apprehension. Oliver could see her muscles immediately tighten as her flight instincts kicked in. “I mean, I know you've talked to my brother now... at least some, and I know that you've gone to the hospital, and that they reported it to the police, and that Detective Lance has been assigned the case. I've seen you with Ollie, and I've read everything else in the papers. But Tommy... raped you before my mom and her latest megalomaniac on the side literally rocked this city, and I know my brother. If he had been aware of what Tommy did to you before all of that happened, well... let's just say we would have met sooner. And, if you had told the cops, then they would have arrested Tommy before he died.”

“Oh, Thea... I'm sorry,” Felicity choked out, her hand reaching in comfort towards his sister while, at the same time, she stumbled back several steps.

“That's not... what? Why?”

“Because, maybe if I had said something, then your friend would still be alive.”

Thea groaned in frustration, running a hand through her hair. “That's not what... I didn't mean it that way, Felicity. I promise. I don't blame you for Tommy's death.” Still in the shadows of the main room, Oliver sighed in relief. It wasn't the same thing as his sister knowing of his own role in Tommy's death, but it still felt like absolution. “In fact, I have no idea how I even feel about Tommy at this point. Did I ever even know him? Could he have hurt me that way, too? Was there anybody else that he... attacked who just never came forward? Yet, I still have all these... amazing memories of him, too. It's, like, impossible to reconcile these two very different men in my mind.”

“And that's why I shouldn't talk to you about this,” Felicity started to say only for Thea to cut her off.

“No. No, that's exactly why you should talk to me. I like that you don't try to wrap me in bubble wrap and set me aside; I like that you see me as a woman, and a person, and an equal. My whole life, I've either been ignored or protected. But this,” Thea motioned between the two of them. “This is real. This is life. It might hurt sometimes, but this is good for me. If I'm ever going to grow up and not make the same mistakes as my parents, then I'm going to have to learn how to handle tough situations. Emotional situations. Impossible situations.”

Softly, Felicity admitted, “it is nice to be able to talk to someone about this who...”

“Doesn't have a penis,” Thea offered helpfully. Cheekily.

And Felicity snickered. “Don't get me wrong, your brother has been... amazing. I don't know what I would have done without... what I'd do without him.”

“You know, Ollie would say that, six years ago, he wouldn't have been able to help you like he is now, but don't let him fool you. Even with more hair, fewer muscles and scars, and less baggage, he was still a pretty great guy. He just hadn't figured that out yet for himself. I mean, he's still working on it, but I think he's getting there.”

“I do, too,” Felicity agreed with a small smile – a secret smile that his sister didn't, wouldn't, and couldn't understand. But Oliver did. “But that's the other reason why it's nice to talk to you about... this. I just... I never wanted Oliver to find out. There are still things that I never want him to find out.”

“But you still need to talk about them,” Thea surmised, encouraged. “Does this have something to do with what I originally asked you – why you didn't tell anyone right away?”

Felicity snorted. “I actually have yet to tell anyone myself.”

“Then how...?”

Felicity shrugged. “Secrets have a way of coming out.”

Oliver watched as his sister rolled her eyes. “You're talking to a Queen here. Don't I know it.”

“The police found out because the hospital reported it, and the press told the rest of the world, because someone from the DA's office leaked the information.” Like so many other times since that night, since Oliver had sought out Felicity, since he had first met a girl with big eyes and even bigger ambitions, the name Laurel hung heavily in the air, unspoken. “As for your brother, I didn't tell him, but he still found out. He... someone else told him.”

“Tommy,” his sister just seemed to know. Felicity neither confirmed nor denied the younger woman's realization, but she did look off to the side, and that was all the acknowledgement Thea needed to continue. “Is that why you didn't come forward, why you didn't report the rape – because of Ollie's friendship with Tommy, because you knew what that knowledge would do to him?”

“Yes and no.” Nervously, Felicity reached to habitually push her glasses up her nose, but she was still relying on just her contacts, had yet to go and replace her glasses. Oliver had a feeling there was more to her reluctance to do so than mere hassle of going to the optometrist. When she didn't encounter her ubiquitous frames, her hand fell to her side, spasmed once, and then clenched into a fist. “I knew it would hurt him... and so many others, but, to be completely honest, I wasn't really thinking about anybody's feelings that night but my own.”

“Which is totally understandable,” his younger sibling comforted.

Felicity didn't respond right away, however. Rather, she looked pensively at Thea before finally asking, “you know how earlier you were talking about everyone in your life protecting you? You were talking about your brother, right?”

Unsure of where her new friend was going but still willing to take the journey with her, Thea simply answered, “yes.”

“Well, I've noticed that about him, too – that he's super protective.”

“Like ridiculously so, especially since he got back from Fu Manchu.”

“Lian Yu,” Felicity automatically corrected.

“Yeah... like I said.”

“Anyway, I haven't known Oliver long, but I think that I know him well, and, after Tommy threatened me into staying quiet because he said we both knew how Oliver would react – that he would kill his own best friend and then be haunted by that guilt....” In the background, Oliver closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest, a breath catching in his throat. He had done exactly what Felicity had feared. Although he didn't regret his actions, and even though he knew that Tommy would have died anyway, he and Felicity were going to have to talk about that night and what she had overheard from CNRI... which also meant that he'd probably be forced to reveal what he had overheard that evening between his friend and his sister. They were also going to have to re-examine what they did together – their work at night with Digg, because, if the fear of Oliver killing kept Felicity from talking to someone about being raped, then he couldn't be a killer anymore. That was... if they returned to their work, to that job.

“So, I couldn't tell Oliver, and I couldn't tell the police, because that probably would have been even worse – for him to find out from someone else, from a stranger and not from me. It was... the hardest thing I ever did – staying quiet; covering up those cuts, and bruises, and wounds; and trying to act like nothing was wrong, or out of the ordinary, or different when everything had changed. But I did it, because it was easier to lose that part of myself than it was to even think about losing your brother from my life.”

Thea finally stood, and, though she moved timidly towards Felicity, she also did so with purpose. As she came to stand in front of the older woman, Oliver watched as his sister wrapped her hands around Felicity's, pulling them up between them and squeezing comfortingly, reassuringly. “Like I said: brave.” This time, Felicity didn't argue, though a lone tear did escape. She let it roll down her face until it dripped off her chin. “And also,” Thea added, smiling so widely and so... full of mischief that Oliver was immediately on guard and moving towards them. “We're eventually going to talk about you and my brother – how that happened, when, and what exactly has happened. So far.”

When his baby sister wiggled her eyebrows in such a suggestive way, Oliver acted. “Speedy!” Thea's face and attention whipped towards his direction. Her eyes narrowed. “Why don't you make like your nickname, go eat, and give Felicity and I a moment, would you?”

Although she did as he asked, she also leveled a pointed glare in his direction. Apparently, they had unfinished business as well... which did not surprise him at all. Once she was gone, he took her place, standing before Felicity and reaching for his friend's hands. Oliver smiled. “Sorry I was gone so long. I hope Thea didn't traumatize you too much.”

“No,” Felicity reassured him, grinning slightly in return and in accompaniment to her words. “It was nice. She's nice. I like spending time with her.”

He leaned in closer, feigning to whisper conspiratorially. “Don't tell her that, because you'll never get rid of her.”

“I can hear you, Ollie,” Thea yelled from the next room.

Only letting go of one of Felicity's hands, he towed them both out to join his sister, Oliver's smile remaining in place the entire time, because, not only had Felicity painted his sister's nails, but someone had painted Felicity's, too. Maybe she wasn't sporting sunshine yellow, or a healthy green, or even an optimistic shade of pink. They were blue – a navy so dark it was the color of midnight. But it was color.

To Oliver, it felt like he had just gotten a piece of his friend, his Felicity, back.

 

 

Felicity screamed.

Jackknifing up in bed, Oliver was immediately aware – aware of his surroundings, of the woman beside him, of the fact that, despite her bloodcurdling scream, there was no danger present. It was the middle of the night, they were alone, and the threat was only in Felicity's mind.

He was also haunted enough by his own share of nightmares to know that sometimes the monsters that lurked in the subconscious were the scariest of all.

But then Felicity cried out for him – “Oliver!”, and all other thoughts besides reaching for her, touching her, waking her, holding her, reassuring her disappeared.

Without second-guessing himself, Oliver slid over to the center of the bed, wrapping his arms around the trembling and crying woman beside him and lifting her so that she was reclined against him – her back to his chest, her much shorter legs resting on top of his own. And, as he whispered softly to her – calming words, soothing words, he rocked her gently back and forth in his arms, occasionally lifting a hand to smooth back her wild and sweat-dampened hair. She was tucked delicately underneath his chin.

“You're okay, Felicity. I'm here. You're safe. I won't let anything happen to you. Not again. But you need to open your eyes; I need you to wake up. You're having a nightmare – that's all. You're okay.”

Only it wasn't just a nightmare; it was a recollection... which meant, at some point while his best friend had raped her, Felicity had called out for Oliver to help her, to save her, and he failed to. And she wasn't okay – she wasn't anywhere near to being okay, but Oliver had to believe (for both of their sakes) that someday, somehow she would be again. As for whether or not she was safe, especially with him...?

“Ollie?”

Quickly, his eyes cut from the slowly wakening woman in his arms over towards the doorway where his sister was timidly standing. Thea's hair was disheveled and her eyes puffy from interrupted sleep, her pajamas twisted and skewed in her haste to check on her new friend. He hadn't seen her look so innocent and young since before the island. “It's alright, Speedy. Go back to bed.”

“But Felicity...?”

“I've got her.” He finally felt Felicity go limp in his arms, her head falling to the side as she buried her face in his shoulder and wept silently. That's how he knew she was finally awake. “I won't... I'm not going anywhere.”

Thea offered him a compassionate smile full of trust. “I know you'll take care of her, Ollie.” She went to leave but then stopped, turning back to look over her shoulder. “And she knows that, too.” Then, she was gone, and he and Felicity were alone once again.

He allowed Felicity to just cry for several minutes – still holding her, still rocking her in his arms. Her own hands were wrapped around his forearms which held her against him, her fingers gripping desperately as though he were her tether to the night, as though she was afraid he would leave her if she let go. At the same time, he wanted to, thought that he should, but somehow also knew that his leaving was the very last thing either of them needed. Finally, when he heard her sobs turn to whimpers and only the occasional sniffle, he spoke up, keeping his voice soft and encouraging. “Do you... I once told you that, if you needed someone to tell about your day, that you could tell me. Well, the same thing applies to your nights as well, Felicity. And your nightmares.”

If at all possible, she seemed to burrow even closer. “I know.”

For several minutes, they were both silent, and then he prompted her. “Were you... it was about that night, right? The night that Tommy...?”

“No.” Her single word of negation caught up off guard, caught him by surprise. Before Oliver could really contemplate what that meant – especially in light of the fact that, while dreaming, she had screamed his name, Felicity was talking once more. “I... it wasn't just one night, one nightmare. It was like... everything that's happened was the same. But different. Mixed up. Combined and rearranged.” She gasped and then confessed, “I saw you die.”

As if sensing that, now, she needed to see him alive, Oliver moved them. First, he picked Felicity up and laid her down beside him. Just as he rolled over onto his side to face her, she did the same. Oliver wasn't sure who reached for the other's hand first, but then their fingers were twisted and tangled together, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

“You were at CNRI... or, at least, what my mind conjured up to be CNRI, because, before it was destroyed, I had never been there. Basically, I just saw a lot of rubble. And flames.” He lifted the hand that wasn't holding hers and curled a loose lock of hair back behind her ears, his fingers lingering for just a moment against her damp from tears cheek. He distantly noticed just how soft her skin was. Maybe his touch was meant to encourage her to continue in her recollection of her nightmare; perhaps it was to reassure himself that she was actually there in front of him. Oliver wasn't sure.

“Anyway...” And Felicity took a deep breath as if she would need to brace herself before diving into the deep end of her own psyche. “Tommy was talking. He was dying and telling you about... what he did to me. Just like that night. But I didn't hear you scream. Instead, I saw you gasp in pain, and the blood that had stained your leathers because of your wound from fighting Merlyn started to spread. It... it blossomed over your heart like ink diffusing in water, like it was Tommy's confession that physically broke your heart. But then I looked away from you – just for a second, and I saw myself... only, I held a black arrow in my right hand. Just like the Dark Archer's.”

It didn't take a psychologist to decipher what was eating away at her: guilt. After all, it was something that Oliver could commiserate with, though he hated that Felicity now knew that kind of regret and pain. Her guilt was also completely unjustified. “Well, we both know that you think archery looks utterly ridiculous, so I wouldn't read anything into it.”

“Oliver,” she tried to protest, but he immediately cut her off.

“No, it was just a dream, Felicity. I'm not trying to minimize your terror, because, if anyone can understand the power of dreams, it's me. But you could never hurt me... or anyone else for that matter.”

“That's not true,” she argued. “That night... I tried to hurt Tommy.”

“That was self-defense, and that's totally different.”

“And if anybody ever tried to hurt me that way again – the way he did – or went after someone I loved....”

She never looked away from him as she allowed her confession to trail off. Oliver swallowed roughly, tightly, in response, for he knew exactly what she was telling him: if anyone ever tried to hurt him, she'd kill to protect him, to keep him safe. Involuntarily, he shuttered his gaze, leaning forward so that he could rest his forehead against her own. “I... know; I know.” He felt the same way.

“That scares me, though – that I feel this way.”

“It scares me, too,” he shared. Because it did. “The thought of you being put in a position where you would have to make such a choice, let alone actually act upon it.... Felicity, you have to know that I never wanted that for you.”

With his eyes still closed, Oliver felt the fingers of her free hand light upon his cheek, his stumbled jaw. They ghosted once, twice upon his lips before her touch disappeared from his face altogether. “I do. But, at the same time, I wouldn't change anything.”

His gaze snapped open, locking with hers once more. “What?”

“None of it,” Felicity reiterated. “Knowing you. Working with you. Becoming your friend. The Undertaking. My rape. I hate what happened to this city, what happened to me, but I wouldn't change it, because... it could have been worse, and I could never regret having you in my life, no matter what the consequences.”

She took his breath away; her faith in him made it so that he could breathe again.

“But that doesn't mean that I'm just going to ignorantly stick my head in the sand and hope that nothing bad ever happens again. I need you to do something for me, Oliver.”

“Anything,” he promised. And he meant it.

“I want you to train me.”

Her request caught him so far off guard, Oliver nearly swallowed his own tongue. “What?”

“I know Digg and I have been working on some self-defense lessons when we have time to, but, Oliver, we never have time to. There's always some new threat, some new danger, some new evil crime lord that needs arrowed. And that's okay, because someone has to do it, and we make a pretty good team – the three of us. But, from now on, I'm... we're going to make time. And I'm not just talking about self-defense lessons either. I want to learn everything – offensive maneuvers and tactics, weapons. You name it, you use it, I want to be able to name it and use it as well.”

Oliver blinked, thinking that maybe he was hallucinating. After all, it wouldn't be the first time. But, when he opened his eyes, Felicity was still staring at him so earnestly, so beseechingly, that he knew she was completely serious. “Are you sure?”

“I've never been sure about anything else in my life.”

“Alright then,” Oliver agreed, pulling Felicity in towards him, wrapping his arms around her, and resting his chin on the crown of her head. When they had gone from merely holding hands in their sleep to needing to hold each other, he had no idea. But she didn't push him away. In fact, she simply pulled him closer and sighed in relief, in contentment. “I'll talk to Digg in the morning.”

“No,” she exclaimed, attempting to put distance between them, but he wouldn't let her. “I just.... For now, would you... would you train me?” Before he could answer, she rushed onward. “I'm sorry, I know that you have more than enough on your plate right now, I shouldn't be asking this of you, and I don't want to be a bother, but I just... I...”

“Felicity.” All he had to say was her name, and she immediately relaxed. “You could never be a bother, and you have just as much on your plate as I have on mine.” She made a mew of disagreement but didn't say anything else. “Besides, I think I'd like that – training you. For once, I can be the know-it-all.”

“Hey!”

Felicity lightly socked a fist against his shoulder before curling back into him once more. As the late hour and their mutual emotional and physical exhaustion caught with them, they both fell silent once more. Just before sleep could claim him, Oliver dripped his head down to whisper in her ear, “goodnight, Felicity.” She was already asleep, mumbling something unintelligible in response, and he felt her long, blonde hair tickle his nose. Oliver took a deep breath and fell asleep to the scent of... comfort and peace.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

“Rough night.”

It wasn't a question. It wasn't even a statement, really. It just... was – which was so very Diggle that it brought a wistful tilt to Oliver's mouth. He had just stepped outside of the suite for a minute. Everyone else was still asleep inside, but he had felt surrounded anyway. Needing a moment to himself to catch his breath, to get his mind wrapped around and in control of his heart once again, his intention had been just to stand in the hallway. He didn't want to go far just in case Felicity woke up or Thea became scared again, and he knew that the guards would ignore him. They might work for him, and they were all certainly nice enough guys with opinions and lives of their own, but they were still strangers to Oliver. They'd leave him alone, and he craved that emotional isolation.

Only... he didn't. As soon as Diggle spoke, his familiar voice a welcome relief – the burdens already lifting off of Oliver's weary shoulders to be equally shared by his trusted friend, Oliver realized that what he had really been seeking was a confidant. While he had no doubt that both his sister and Felicity would welcome his confessions and listen attentively to anything he had to say, he just couldn't be the one to lay more trouble at either of their feet. Maybe that was selfish of him – after all, he needed to be that person there for them, and, if he wasn't, being denied such a role would have broken him like nothing else could, but Oliver was quickly realizing that sometimes a little selfishness was necessary. It was human.

Dragging rough hands across his exhausted face, Oliver sighed and then collapsed backwards to lean heavily against the wall. “What are you doing here so early?”

Diggle stood across from him – feet braced apart, arms held rigidly in front of him for his hands to meet and clasp centrally. “After several texts and then a call from two very on-edge guards last night, I decided that I needed to be here, not at home sleeping. So, I made and then drank a pot of coffee, drove in, and then sent the nightshift guys home.” Face still impassive, voice leaking not even a smidgen of emotion, Diggle posed his own question. “What was it – a nightmare?”

“Yeah.” His shoulders rose and then fell on that one word. “But not about what you think... at least, not directly.” Digg remained silent, simply waiting patiently for Oliver to continue. And he did, but his next confession cost him, his voice cracking with feeling – with remorse, and agony, and sorrow. “She called for me – said my name, screamed it.”

“Oh, man,” John sympathized, looking away as tears filled his gaze. “If she wasn't dreaming directly about the rape, though...?”

“In her dream, she watches me die the night of The Undertaking.” Switching gears, he confessed, “when I found out... that night, I didn't think; I just reacted. And she was there – on the comms, listening the entire time. So, she knew. She knows. And, now, she's dreaming about being there, only, afterwards, when she looks down at her own hands, she's holding Malcom's – The Dark Archer's – black arrow, and it has blood on it. My blood. That's when she screams, but it's too late, because I bleed out in front of her.”

For several seconds, John nods in understanding, in contemplation, as he reviews the nightmare's description in his mind, matching it against his own ideas and making sense of it. “That sounds like guilt, man. But Felicity has absolutely nothing to feel guilty about.” When Oliver doesn't respond, his friend pushes. “Is there something else I don't know about? And what were you talking about with the comms still being on?”

Oliver ignored the questions, asking one of his own. “What if she called out for me... that night? What if Tommy was hurting her, and she was scared, and she screamed my name – hoping that I'd somehow hear her, sense her, save her? She's always seen me as more than just a vigilante; she thought I could be a hero, that I was a hero, but I couldn't even keep her safe.”

“Now, your guilt I'm more familiar with.” Finally breaking his guard stance, Diggle relaxed momentarily before rolling back his shoulders and walking across the hallway to come and stand beside Oliver. “You want to fill me in on what I'm missing here, because I know there's more to this story. We already covered your guilt... or, at least, I thought we had gotten it under control the last time we had one of these little chats, but maybe I was wrong.” Adding a little levity to his tone, John teased, “it wouldn't be the first time I was wrong about you.”

Oliver pushed off from against the wall and started to pace. He kept his movements contained, though – tight and restrained to just five steps in each direction. If he went any further away, he'd have to raise his voice, and he'd rather cut out his own tongue before allowing anyone but his friend to hear what he was about to say. “Do you know why Felicity didn't go to the police; why she didn't tell you or me about what happened to her?” He didn't wait for Digg to hazard a guess. “She didn't say anything, because she knew – she wasn't just afraid; she knew – that, once I found out, I'd kill him – that I'd kill Tommy, my best friend, and she didn't want me haunted by my ownguilt, my own grief.”

“I'd like to say that this all surprises me, but it doesn't. That's Felicity – unselfish to a fault, especially when it comes to you.”

“Well, she shouldn't be. I don't deserve it.”

“And, once again,” Diggle admonished him. “That's not up for you to decide. She's allowed to feel, and think, and treat you anyway she wants to.”

Oliver laughed humorlessly. “But I lived down to her worst expectations, Digg!”

The other man tensed, was immediately on alert. “Just what exactly are you saying, Oliver?”

“That I killed Tommy,” he exploded – voice still low in volume but high in intensity. “At first, I thought he was trying to say something about Laurel.” Snorting bitterly, derisively, he said, “always Laurel. I never once imagined that Tommy would have been talking about Felicity.”

“Of course you didn't, man. They didn't even know each other.” He could tell that the words were meant to exonerate, but they did nothing to alleviate Oliver's self-condemnation. “You're a lot of things, but you're not psychic.”

“Once I figured it out, though – not only that he was talking about Felicity, but....” His hands clenched into fists at his sides, his posture bowed as he watched his feet frantically move. No matter how fast, how hard he paced, however, Oliver couldn't run away from the memories, from the realizations crowding in around him. So, he finally stopped. Turning to face his friend, he whispered, “when he said her name, I saw it all: the baggy clothes, the timidness, the poorly concealed bruises, and I hated him. I instantly hated him. I wanted to reach inside of his body and physically remove his voice box so that he could never say her name again. He didn't deserve to.”

“No,” Diggle choked in agreement. “He didn't.”

Oliver drilled his eyes into the other, older, wiser man's. “But he was already dying – bleeding out, a rebar through the gut, so I didn't have time to... really make him pay. But I did have time to steal his last breaths from him, to make sure that he died knowing that I didn't forgive him, that Felicity would never forgive him. So, I grabbed that rebar, pulled it out, and drove it back in again. Through his heart.”

Looking away, it was Digg who broke their eye contact. His shoulders slumped. “And Felicity heard all of this... over the comms.”

He wasn't asking, but Oliver confirmed it anyway. “Yes.”

“Hence, her guilt. Hence, her nightmare. Hence, why you're once again beating yourself up over things you couldn't control.”

“Diggle, what are you talking about,” Oliver challenged him, anger and disbelief flashing through his veins and making his body seize in stubborn rigidity. “I knew exactly what I was doing. I made the conscious decision to do the one thing Felicity feared I'd do the most. Tommy went to her that night because of me. He hurt her because of me and my actions. And, now, even his death – something she has nothing to feel guilty about – is haunting her because of me.”

“You're an idiot.”

Although those three words had not come from John, Oliver saw a similar sentiment flash across his friend's face before he spun around to confront the person intruding into their conversation.

“Look,” Roy started, prefaced. “I was only eavesdropping, because I was waiting for my chance to sneak out.”

“It's only sneaking, kid, if no one knows you're doing it,” Digg ribbed, though there wasn't any actual humor coloring his tone. “Maybe we haven't caught you leaving in the morning – yet, but we know you've been staying with Thea every night, and we know that you've been spending your days elsewhere. So, yeah, not as stealth as you thought you were.”

The younger man ignored the taunting, however, and focused his attention upon Oliver. “I know that I'm the last person you want to talk to about this.”

“You've got that right.”

“But I'm not asking you to say anything,” Roy ignored him. “Just listen.” Shoving his hands into the pockets of his omnipresent red hoodie, Thea's boyfriend said, “you blaming yourself for what happened to your friend, to Felicity, is like me holding your sister responsible for your mom's actions. Your mom said that she did what she did because of you and Thea, and the two of you were the only reason why she came forward when she did, so, yeah, you influenced her, but you never asked or told her to level the Glades; to work with that psychopath, Merlyn; you would have stopped her completely if you could have. Just like you would have with your friend and her rapist... if you could have. And that's what matters to her. Trust me.”

“Are you finished,” Oliver demanded. Distantly, he noticed that he rubbing his thumb against the pad of his middle finger on his right hand... as though he were holding an arrow and rolling it between his digits. He was itching to pummel the kid across from him – for dating Thea; for eavesdropping; for thinking that he could have even the slightest idea what Felicity was going through, what she was feeling, what he was feeling; for being right. Because Oliver knew that Roy was – right, that is. But, if he let go of his own guilt, who then could he focus all of his anger, and frustration, and pain on then?

“Actually, no, I'm not,” Roy continued. However, he switched his attention to Diggle, and Oliver was grateful. “Your men suck. There were paps outside last night when I snuck... got here. Switch hotels and hire better guards already.”

For several minutes, he and Digg just stood there together, watching as Roy sauntered over to the elevator, pressed the down button, and then waited for the lift. It wasn't until the doors closed, obliterating Thea's boyfriend from their sight, that either of them spoke. It was John who broke the silence. “I like him.”

“You would,” Oliver snorted, rolling his eyes. Of course his friend would appreciate someone else reading him the riot act.

“You know, he could become a problem, though,” Diggle warned. “He's obsessed with you – with The Hood, and he wants to help.”

“He also has a giant chip on his shoulder and anger issues.”

“Sound familiar,” his friend remarked sarcastically, pointedly. Oliver ignored him. “What I'm saying is that it might be better to get in front of him than allow him to sneak up on us.”

“I thought you just said that it wasn't sneaking if the other party is aware of what Roy's doing?”

Changing tactics, Digg said, “you know, he used to work at the club... before, well, it was destroyed. He's going to need a new job.”

“Actually, Felicity's agreed to oversee Verdant's reconstruction,” Oliver told him, hoping to distract him.

It didn't work. “Roy's a little rough around the edges, but I'm thinking with some guidance and training that he might be a good fit for security... especially since I'm guessing, with Felicity's new job, I'm about to be reassigned.”

“I'm not following,” Oliver stated. And he wasn't.

“You're not going to let her go into the Glades and work in your partially collapsed club on her own, and you're not going to assign to her a random guard who isn't even competent enough to prevent some punk kid from giving him the slip, let alone the media, which means that you're going to ask me to watch over Felicity... and, for a while, I think that's also going to mean Thea as well, so your flank is going to be left open for attack.”

Now, he knew what his friend was driving at. “No.”

“I think Roy would make for an excellent new black driver for you.” Oliver folded his arms across his chest in denial, though he did listen. “He's stubborn enough. He doesn't like you, but he would do everything in his power to make sure that nothing happened to you because of your sister. As for you giving him the slip, he might just be more slippery than you are.”

“That's not slippery, Digg; that's the criminal in him shining through.” John just raised a sardonic eyebrow, calling him out. “Besides, after you found out about... me, you were only my driver as a cover. We're not... I don't know what's going to happen with that, but I do know that I can't handle it right now, so you don't need your cover any longer... meaning, I no longer need a driver. Just, please, take care of Felicity and my sister for me. I'll be fine on my own.”

“I highly doubt that,” Diggle objected dryly. “And that still doesn't take care of Roy, but I'll drop it. For now.”

“Thank you.”

From beside them, they could hear movement coming from behind the suite's closed doors. “Do you need to get back in there,” Digg asked, nodding towards the hotel room.

“Yeah, I do, but, first, there's something else I need to ask you.”

“Name it.” His friend paused momentarily, rethinking his words. “Except coffee. I draw the line at running your errands. Going out and getting things for your sister is bad enough as it is.”

Oliver chuckled like he was expected to, like John had intended for him to, before sobering again. “Felicity wants to be trained – seriously trained.”

“I think that's good.”

“By me. And only me.”

Digg didn't even blink. Oliver wasn't sure if sharing Felicity's training preferences would hurt the other man – either insult or discourage him, but his friend showed no signs of anything besides support. “I think that'll be good for the both of you.”

That caught him off guard. “What? How?”

As Diggle walked back across the hallway to once more take his stance as their guard, he said, “because it'll help you both learn to trust yourselves again. You trust each other, but... Yeah. This should help.”

With his hand on the doorknob, Oliver watched John for several moments, but the other man remained impassive, not giving anything else he was thinking or feeling away. Finally, Oliver just nodded his head in acceptance, turned around, and went back inside of the suite. As he closed the door behind him, he took a deep breath. There was still that telltale tightening inside of his chest, but the pressure had lessened some. Enough. For now.

 

 

Research: it was a balm to her soul. Sure, she wasn't looking into a shady crook for Oliver or hacking some slick criminal's bank records. It was just Felicity, and her computer (a brand new, shiny laptop), and it was wonderful – very much appreciated and peaceful.

Digg was with her. They were at the club... or what was left of the club, holed up in one of the booths that had survived the man-made earthquake. He wasn't Oliver, but he was a good second choice... not that she would ever tell him that. She wouldn't want to hurt his feelings by playing favorites, but, during the last few days, she and Oliver had come to a new understanding of each other, a deeper level of their friendship. Felicity knew this was because she was actually talking to him, depending upon him, whereas, besides the one night when Diggle had driven her to the club, she had been avoiding her other friend. That was because she still didn't know how to talk to him, but, thankfully, John was allowing her to dictate their day. Since Felicity didn't want to talk, they didn't talk; they just worked – she on her laptop, Digg making calls.

Between Diggle's task of arranging for contractors and architects to come out to The Glades and give them an estimate (a feat only accomplished by flashing around the Queen name) and Felicity diving head first into the deep end that was Starling City building codes, they were extremely busy, and that suited her perfectly. The club was quiet, too – not silent, because that would have been creepy, but quiet, only the sounds of the outside world, her fingers upon the keyboard, and Diggle's occasional phone pleasantries coloring the air. Thankfully, the generator was working, and Verdant was well-illuminated. While Felicity would have been perfectly comfortable in the dark if in the basement with Oliver, the club itself (and without Oliver) were a whole different matter.

“You know, if you keep frowning like that you're going to get prematurely old. With wrinkles.” She didn't look up from the screen, just grinned wistfully at her friend's teasing remarks. “Now, there's the Felicity Smoak we all know and love.”

“What, sardonic and cynical?”

Apparently, their no-talking truce was over. “Not exactly. But I'll take a half-hearted smile over the alternative any day of the week.”

“Well, I guess there just hasn't been much to smile about recently.”

“That's never stopped you before,” John pointed out, his own lips quirking up in recollection, in encouragement.

Finally accepting that she wasn't going to be able to dodge him any longer, Felicity gingerly shut her laptop. Folding her hands over the top of it, she looked at the man across from her. She was the picture of patience, though, inside, she felt anything but. Rather, Felicity felt trapped and on edge. For the first time since Oliver had mentioned Diggle accompanying her that day to Verdant, she felt a twinge of resentment. While she understood that Oliver had things to do and couldn't babysit her 24-7 but that he wanted to know that she was safe and protected without him (which was why she hadn't argued with his suggestion of Digg's company), Felicity hated feeling like a child, like she was incapable of taking care of and watching out for herself. However, if nothing else, with his actions, Tommy had proven to her that a few self-defense lessons did not make her a capable and independent woman.

“You're doing it again,” he pointed out to her.

“What?”

“Frowning.”

Plastering the fakest of fake smiles on her face, Felicity teased, “better?”

“No.” Sitting back against the leather of the banquette, Diggle crossed his arms over his chest and narrowed his gaze at her. “Instead of pretending something's not bothering you, why don't you just tell me what's wrong.”

She gave him an automatic, knee-jerk response. “Nothing's wrong.”

“Bullshit.”

Caught off guard by his bluntness, she asked, “excuse me? Where do you get off...?”

But, before she could protest too adamantly for being called out, Digg was once more on the attack. “You've been tip-toeing around and avoiding me ever since you were raped, Felicity, and I want to know why.”

So much for their nice, peaceful day of work and denial. Still, she persisted. “I don't know what you're talking about.”

“Bullshit.”

“Would you stop saying that,” she snapped.

“Only when you stop feeding me cliches and pretty pieces of fiction.”

“Fine,” Felicity snapped. She could feel the heat of her emotions coloring her face. Her palms were sweaty, her throat suddenly dry. “Do you want to know what I was thinking?”

“Yeah, I want to know what you were thinking.”

“I was thinking about how, even though I hate that everyone – you, Oliver, even Thea – believe me incapable of being by myself, what's worse is knowing that you're right.”

She watched as the confusion and then the concern washed over his usually so stoic features. “Felicity, it's not that we think you incapable; it's that we don't want you to be alone, that you shouldn't have to be alone... not right now, not after what happened.”

“Because I'm weak.”

“I never said that,” he protested profusely, shaking his head to corroborate the words. “And I know that Oliver and Thea never said that either.”

“None of you said it, but I know you're thinking it,” she exploded, scrambling against the booth to get to her feet and backpedal several paces away from him. Running agitated hands through her already messy hair, Felicity pressed, “I think it.”

“Oh, sweetheart,” Digg's voice rang with sorrow, with sympathy, but all she could hear was pity. “You're not weak.” Standing as well but keeping his distance, he said, “I look at you, and I see a courageous, brave woman. I see the strongest person I know.”

“Please don't.”

“Please don't want,” he pushed her. “Please don't tell you the truth?”

“Please don't lie to me in an attempt to make me feel better about myself.”

“I've never lied to you, Felicity Smoak, and I'm not going to start now. That's not my style, and you know that. In return, all I ask is for you to kindly not dismiss my opinions, to not deny me the right to feel the way that I feel. You and Oliver,” he started, offering up an exasperated eye roll. “The two of you are so much alike that it's frightening sometimes. He does this same thing, only lately it's been him trying to push his own feelings onto you.”

“How can you... how can you stand there and look at me, knowing what you know happened to me, and still say that I'm brave and strong?”

“Because of this,” Diggle told her, and he moved so fast that he had her sleeves pushed up past her elbows before she could even realize that he was touching her. As he continued to explain, he gently held her wrists. “Let's put aside everything you have done to help the people of this city for the past six months, Felicity, and let's focus on the reason why you think you're weak and the very same reason why I think you're fearless.” Her eyes followed his gaze, his touch, until she, too, was looking at her bruised, and cut, and still very sore wrists and forearms. “Do you know what these are,” John asked her, using his fingers to point out various marks upon her tender flesh. “These are defensive wounds.”

Biting the inside of her bottom lip – it was the only place Felicity could grip with her teeth without causing pain or reopening a partially healed scab, she looked up into the face of her trusted friend, she saw the sincerity bleeding through his earnest gaze, and she felt tears sting her own eyes. “Defensive wounds only happen when someone puts up a fight, and, judging by the sheer amount of wounds on your arms, Felicity, I know that you put up one hell hell of a fight. But I didn't need to see any defensive wounds to know that, because I know you. I know how obstinate, and proud, and gutsy, and how damn capable you are.

“But I also understand that, right now, your faith in yourself has been rattled, and that's to be expected. That's okay. But, in those moments of self-doubt, I want you to do two things for me. First, I want you to look at these marks – these bruises and cuts that are beautiful because they're the visual proof that you fought back, that you are nobody's victim, Felicity Smoak – and I want you to feel proud, because not everyone in this world is as brave as you are. And, secondly, I want you to remember that we admire you, that your friends admire you – Thea and Oliver; I admire you. Can you do these things for me?”

Sniffing, she nodded her head. “Yeah,” she told him, finally offering him her first genuine smile of their day. “I can do that, John Diggle.”

“And here I thought you had the hots for my brother, but, if you two need a private minute... or twenty, I can always come back.”

Felicity watched as Digg took several steps away from her, looked up, and winked at Thea. “She does,” he told her, making Felicity gasp in surprised betrayal. “And we definitely don't.” Thea giggled, skipping across the dusty floor like it wasn't a disaster and a further catastrophe waiting to happen, a bag swinging rhythmically back and forth in her left hand. “What's in the bag,” Digg questioned.

“Lunch. And there's enough for three, but it comes with a price?”

“And that would be,” John bantered back and forth with Oliver's younger sister.

“You making yourself scarce so that Felicity and I can have a little girl time.”

“You don't have to ask me twice,” Diggle agreed, meeting Thea back at the booth so they could divvy up the food.

He was already striding off, sandwich unwrapped and halfway to his mouth before Felicity found her voice. “Don't I get a say in this?”

“Aw, it's cute that you think I'm capable of taking no for an answer, really,” Thea returned, smirking. Gesturing theatrically towards the side of the banquette she wasn't sitting on, she waited for Felicity to join her. She did, although she was suddenly very nervous to be alone with the heiress. While they had talked about Oliver before, it was never about Oliver and Felicity... at least, not like that. But it was obvious, looking at Thea with her sly grin and twinkling eyes, that her newfound friend was up to something no good. It was equal parts frightening and a relief – frightening because Felicity did not want to talk about her futile feelings for Oliver and a relief because it was so very normal.

She hadn't experienced normal in what felt like a long, long time.

However, that didn't mean that Felicity was ready to just take the bull by the horns. She wanted to wave a pretty cape around first, dang it. “So, how'd you get here anyway? I thought you were spending the day with Roy?”

“I hitchhiked.”

“Thea!”

“Kidding,” the younger woman grinned, rolling her eyes and shaking her head in a silly manner towards Felicity's naivete. “I took a cab.”

“Thea.”

“Geesh. You're no fun. Roy dropped me off.”

“And the food?”

“Stolen.”

Felicity swore, every time she said the other woman's name, her voice sounded more and more like Oliver's. “Thea.”

“Well, Roy once had a case of the sticky fingers, but he's all better now. I think. Anyway,” she waved off any questions Felicity might have wanted to ask about that little reveal... not that she wasn't already aware of Roy's extra-curricular activities due to her association with both Thea's brother and The Hood. “We made them. They're sandwiches. How hard can it be?”

“Thea.”

The heiress snickered. “They're from a deli down the street from Roy's place. We eat there, like, all the time. I'm pretty sure my tips alone have paid for the old man's new hearing aides.”

“And, finally, what happened with the plans to hang out with Roy all day?”

Smiling angelically, Thea fluttered her lashes. “I missed you, Licy.”

“Thea.”

Chuckling, the other woman pondered, “are you protesting the excuse...”

“ … the blatant lie.”

“ … or the nickname, because I like it. I think it fits you.”

“Yeah, it fits me so well that, if you ever call me that again, I'll shave your eyebrows off while you're sleeping.”

“Point taken.”

“And the real reason why I'm being tortured this afternoon...?”

“It's how we Queens show just how much we care.” Felicity didn't even have to say the other woman's name before she was talking again, finally providing her real reason for dropping by. “Roy needed to go put some job applications in, and we didn't really think my presence would inspire confidence. Plus, I really did want to see you.” Thea paused long enough to take a large bite from her sandwich. Chewing and talking at the same time, she said, “not only did I want to see what your vision for the club is, but I've been thinking about your sandbox confession. A lot.”

She decided to tackle the lesser of two evils first. “My vision?”

“Yeah,” Thea enthused. “The place was fine before. I was proud of my brother for what he accomplished in opening it, but, this time around, I'm so glad that the décor is going to have a woman's touch.”

“I'm really more concerned about the building's structural integrity and doing whatever we can to make sure that it can withstand...”

“I'm thinking you really play up the club's name – make it all lush and alive,” Thea interrupted. And Felicity just let her take over. “The energy will be amazing. And it's pointless to serve food. Maybe a dessert bar where girls – because only girls order dessert – can get drinks inspired by their favorite sweets, but there's no reason to have a chef, and a menu, and to take up valuable dance space with tables ostensibly for people to eat on but that, again, sit empty, because no one goes to a club to eat.”

As Oliver's little sister talked, Felicity realized that the younger Queen not only had an interest in helping with the club but that she also seemed to have a genuine plan for it. There was also probably a little desperation – for a distraction, for a purpose, to feel useful – peppering her enthusiasm, but that was to be expected given what Thea had recently been through. And Felicity did enjoy her company... well, as long as she wasn't giving her the third degree about Oliver. She would have to remember to talk to him about his sister helping her with rebuilding Verdant.

“ … and that brings me back to my second point: your fascination with the sandbox.” Not amused, Felicity angled her head to the side, narrowing her gaze. Thea was undaunted. “Your castle fetish.”

“Fetish, really?”

She was paid absolutely no heed. “You know, if you were to marry my brother...” Felicity choked. Literally, she couldn't breathe, and she even lifted her arms in the air as she tried to regain control. “ … then you'd be a Queen. Queens trump princesses. And we could totally install a moat around the house, too, if you wanted.”

Felicity decided that outright disregard was the way to approach her new friend's comments. “I should, uh, I should really get back to work,” she said after regaining her composure. Her heart rate was still elevated, though certainly not from the lack of oxygen she had just experienced.

“That's fine. I'll help. And we'll keep talking. Because we're women. And we multitask. Roar.”

Over her shoulder, Felicity helplessly looked for Digg, but he was nowhere in sight, and he wasn't about to rescue her anytime soon. Reluctantly, she turned back to her interrogator, gingerly opening her laptop and attempting to hide behind its screen.

“Sooo,” Thea baited her. “About that moat, what do you think?”

Felicity thought she was in trouble.

 

 

He was in trouble.

There was a reason why Oliver had actively avoided training Felicity up until that point, why he had insisted Digg do so instead. And it was more than just the fact that he sometimes had trouble knowing his own and other people's limits. Training was physical, and physicality inspired intimacy. Oliver wasn't sure if he could handle being, acting, so familiar around Felicity.

He wasn't blind, and she did absolutely nothing to disguise her own attraction towards him. Maybe Felicity wasn't your typical beauty, but she was beautiful nonetheless. Thea had actually been pretty accurate when she accused the other woman of being sneaky pretty, because that's exactly what Felicity's looks did to a person: they took you by surprise. Because she was so smart, because she didn't use her attractiveness as a weapon or as a means of getting what she wanted, and because she was so many other things besides just a pretty face, one could, at first, overlook just how beautiful she was. But then she'd become excited, and her big, bright blue eyes would light up with wonder and joy. Or she would smile. Or she would yell at him, the color in her cheeks matching the hue of her heated temper. Or she would touch him, and her skin was just so damn soft. At first, when he had met her, Oliver had gone to Felicity as a means to an end, but that wasn't entirely why he had kept going back to her, and it certainly wasn't why he had shared his secret with her.

Even after allowing her to know who he was and working with her, though, he kept his distance. Although Diggle had noticed that Oliver was attracted to Felicity, he was pretty sure that she was completely oblivious to the fact that he was drawn to her. And why shouldn't she be? He had gone from McKenna to Laurel during the span of their friendship, and Felicity thought too much of him to know that he was with another woman but still believe that he could want her physically. Plus, he had purposely tried to keep the truth from her. It only would have complicated their relationship, and he didn't want to want her; he didn't deserve to. And now? Now, the last thing Felicity deserved was to go to him in trust, expecting his help in learning how to defend herself, only to be confronted by an awkward situation brought on by the intimacy of training. He would never want to make her uncomfortable around him, to hurt her, or to insult her, and he would do just that if....

“Oliver, is everything alright? I feel as though you haven't heard a word I've said.”

Physically shaking away his thoughts, Oliver refocused upon the man sitting across from him. “I'm sorry, Walter.” They had met under the guise of having lunch together, but neither of them had felt much like eating, and it was too early to drink... even if they were so inclined. “I asked for this meeting, I need your help, but you're right; I wasn't paying attention.”

“Yes, you did look like you were somewhere else entirely... or perhaps I should say that you were with someone else.”

He offered the older man an empty yet still charming smile. “Am I that obvious?”

“Actually, no, but I think I'm more sensitive towards your distraction, because I share it. I just... didn't know how to broach the topic.” Leaning in closer, Walter asked, “how is Miss Smoak? I've been extremely worried about her since I read about... her trauma in the papers.”

“Sometimes I think she's handling everything better than I am.”

“You care about her a great deal.”

It wasn't a question, but Oliver found himself answering anyway. “I do.”

“Miss Smoak is an impressive young woman and I would imagine an excellent friend.” Before Oliver could say more or even agree, Walter continued. “And she's very lucky to have you as a friend as well.”

“I'd like to think so, but.... Well, if you've seen the papers, then I'm sure you've also seen what they're saying about her. About her and I.”

“Lies – all lies.” Not only did the older man's words disregard the press' accusations, but he waved them off with his hand in a very dismissive gesture.

“Yes, but they never would have printed the lies in the first place – let alone thought of them – if she wasn't a part of my life.”

“She also wouldn't have had someone there to stand beside her when those accusations were made either,” Walter pointed out kindly. “Not only have I read the reports, Oliver, but I've seen the pictures, too. Because of you, Felicity has not been alone through any of this. That means a lot to her, I would imagine – far more than her privacy being violated.” Although he wanted to disagree, he remained silent. “Besides, this will all blow over soon. To be quite blunt, this town has bigger concerns than Felicity Smoak.”

“Of course. They have my mother.”

“Yes, well....” Walter chuckled. “I was going to say that there is the rebuilding of the city to focus on – including Queen Consolidated, but you're right. When your mother's trial starts, it will be sheer pandemonium... if it isn't already. I stopped by the house a few days ago, but no one was there... well, besides a venue of vultures ringing the property. I hope you and Thea have been alright. If you'd like, you're both more than welcome to come stay with me. I've purchased a penthouse in the city. It's very secure, private.”

“Thank you, but, for now, we're staying in a hotel, moving around quite a lot. While I appreciate your offer, I wouldn't want to bring the press down on you, too. Besides,” Oliver added, scratching above his left eyebrow as he avoided Walter's very insightful gaze. “Felicity's staying with us as well, so....”

“Of course,” the older man quickly agreed. And then the subject was dropped, changed – something he was grateful for. “However, now that we've cycled back to the topic of business, I assume that's why you asked to meet? You want to discuss Queen Consolidated?”

“I wanted to ask you to come back to the company as CEO.”

“While I'm extremely flattered, Oliver, I'm afraid I can't do that.”

“Can't or won't,” he pressed.

“Both,” Walter answered. “I can't, because I just accepted a position at Starling National Bank, and I won't, because that chapter of my life is closed. However, I'd be willing to help the new CEO in anyway that I can – as the former CEO or as the current CFO of Starling City's largest financial institution.”

Chuckling, he asked, “you wouldn't be able to recommend a good man for the job, would you?”

“I'm looking at him.”

Taken aback, Oliver blinked several times. And then he laughed. “You're not serious? Please, tell me you're joking. Because I know nothing about running a company, let alone one as large and as vulnerable as QC. And I asked for you to recommend a good man. I am certainly not a good man.”

“Towards the things that really matter in this life, you have always had a very poor opinion of yourself, Oliver, and I regret that, as your friend and, briefly, as your stepfather, I didn't do more to help you see otherwise. They say that a man is known by the company he keeps. I look at you, and I see your sister; Miss Smoak; your driver, your friend, Mr. Diggle. These are good people, Oliver. They're your people. And they're why I know that you are the man Queen Consolidated needs at its helm. You might not have an MBA from Wharton, but you are smart. You might not have years of experience, but you're insightful and tenacious. What's more, you have heart, and, right now, Queen Consolidated doesn't need a tycoon of industry; it needs a leader. It needs someone who can inspire trust, and faith, and hope. I see you taking care of your family, of your friends, and I know that you can do the same thing with your family's company.”

Everything Walter had said meant more to Oliver than he could ever express, but he also wasn't entirely sold. “So, what you're saying is that QC needs a figure head – a pretty face with a killer smile?”

Chuckling good-naturedly, Walter stood up, buttoning his suit jacket in the process. “And that sense of humor won't hurt either.” Holding out a hand for Oliver to shake, he said, “and, for the record, let me be the first to congratulate you. You're going to be an excellent CEO, Oliver.”

Standing and taking the older man's hand, he said, “I haven't agreed to anything yet.”

“You will.” Walter's eyes were flickering with encouragement. “And, when you do, I would be honored to introduce you to the board, to the press, and to the world.”

“I think I'd like that.”

Walter nodded once in recognition, in acceptance, and then he left.

Oliver followed soon afterwards.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

Oliver was acting... off.

Then again, Felicity was actually looking forward to getting sweaty with him.

She shook her head, making sure not to dislodge the double French braids she was working on.

Getting physical, she mentally corrected.

Pausing, tilting her head to the side, and meeting her own not amused reflection, Felicity tried one last time to not make her first training session with Oliver sound like a bad come on.

She was looking forward to exercising, while wearing clothes, with Oliver.

Satisfied, she gave her mirrored twin a decisive, single nod and returned to her hairy task at hand.

Usually, anything that would even risk perspiration was on Felicity's 'do not attempt' list. Logically, her mind understood all the health advantages working out provided, but that didn't mean she stopped at yellow lights either. Yellow meant speed up (and brake preservation), and exercising usually meant dancing in her chair while typing. Felicity was uncoordinated, she wasn't one of those women who could be one breath shy of dying and still somehow manage to not look like a member of the fruit family, and sometimes sweating even made her itch. It was unpleasant, and it was boring, so she just didn't do it.

But, for the first time in her life, Felicity Smoak was not only not dreading exercising, but she had been anticipating her first training session since the moment Oliver had promised to work with her the night before. That anticipation had even helped her make it through an entire day of being outside the protective, private walls of their hotel room. Sure, Verdant wasn't exactly the town square during daylight hours (even before The Undertaking), but she had interacted with the outside world, she had talked to Digg about... what had happened for the first time, and she had endured hours of Thea 'Tevye' Queen.

It was progress.

But she still felt powerless, she still felt useless, and Felicity still felt trapped. Her hope was that training would help her with all of those things. Plus, reading up on building codes and discussing colors palettes with Oliver's sister didn't quite stack up to working a full-time IT position at Queen Consolidated and then moonlighting as a vigilante's technologically inclined sidekick, and the inactivity of her, albeit chosen, new routine wasn't exactly aiding the situation. In fact, it was more like contributing to it. But training would be a break in that staid routine. More importantly, it would be Felicity fighting back... or at least starting to learn how to fight back. She was still herself. With time had come some perspective, and she knew that Tommy hadn't taken that away from her. But, in order to heal, Felicity felt like she needed to change. She wasn't doing so because of Tommy, however; she was doing it for herself.

For her future.

Braids finished, clothes changed, Felicity looked at herself one last time in the mirror. And then she smiled. Exiting the bathroom, she moved into the main area of the basement. Still cluttered with debris, the place was a mess, but the generator produced electricity, which provided plenty of light, made it seem like less of a disaster than it had been the previous times she had been there after the earthquake. While the mats were covered in dust, and while Oliver's weapons cache was strewn all about the room, it wasn't like her newfound determination to defend and even attack was suddenly going to make her break into some intense training montage, cue the music. Plus, she was still recuperating from the trauma of Tommy's attack, so her body was sore and stiff. So, for now (for a while), a small, make-shift, debris free space would suffice.

“I swear, if you call me 'girlie' even once, Frankie, it'll be your legs getting cut off, and I'll be holding the saw.”

While Oliver had been making the noise one would expect from moving around and inspecting a basement full of sharp, clangy things, all sounds ceased with her words. Though she couldn't see him, Felicity smirked, because she could just imagine the puzzled expression on his clueless face. For a guy that had been so good at doing nothing that he got himself kicked out of four colleges, Oliver was hopeless when it came to pop culture references even when they derived from his pre-island days. That didn't mean, however, that Felicity still didn't enjoy befuddling him with her excellent knowledge of movies, television, books, and, in general, trivia.

Oh, who was she kidding? She just had excellent knowledge. Of everything.

“So, what's it going to be? Boxing lessons? A introduction to sword play? Oh! I'd love to be able to karate chop...”

“Felicity.”

She jumped at the sound of her name being voiced from the shadows, her right hand automatically lifting to clench around her stuttering and then galloping heart. From the way that Oliver said her name – soft, and slow, and like he was trying to lead her into noticing him rather than just making her, she knew that he wasn't trying to startle her, but she had been distracted – lost in her own thoughts and comfortable in the safety the Foundry's basement provided. She also knew that, whether unintentional or not, Oliver would beat himself up over frightening her... even if just a little bit, but she couldn't help her reaction. Her scare-o-meter had always been sensitive, but it was even more so now.

“Sorry,” he apologized as she turned to face him.

Felicity tried to offer Oliver a smile in return, but, as soon as her gaze fixed upon him, she realized her mistake. His eyes weren't anywhere near her face in order to see the consolatory grin, because he was unblinkingly focused upon her body – upon her shorts and tank top clad body, upon her body that was still black and blue, still green and purple, still cut and swollen from Tommy's attack. From Tommy raping her.

“Oh god,” she moaned, blanching and immediately trying to make herself as small as possible. Felicity rolled her shoulders inwards, she hunched over, she folded her arms across her chest. “I'm sorry. I... I didn't think. I mean, you already know... what happened, so I just... figured you'd be prepared. Or wouldn't care. Of course you'd care,” she rushed to correct herself. Because she was looking at her own feet, Felicity couldn't see if Oliver had started to protest, but she didn't want him to doubt her faith in him or his ability to be a good friend. “I just mean that the bruises wouldn't bother you... now. I'll change,” she offered, slowly backing away. But then Felicity recalled that she had nothing to change into... unless she was going to wear her regular clothes to train in. “Actually, you know what? This was a stupid idea. I never should have asked you to train me. I'm not cut out to be a girl who can defend herself, let alone a fighter, so I'll just stock up on mace and pepper spray. Maybe buy a taser. And we'll just forget...”

“Hey, hey,” Oliver gently interrupted her. When his hands wrapped around her wrists, pulling her arms down so that he could wrap his fingers around her own and hold their clasped digits between them, she would have jumped if it had been anyone but Oliver with her in the room. “We're not just going to forget about me training you, because it's not just a good idea; it's a great idea. And you, Felicity Smoak, can do anything you set your mind to, I have no doubt about that.”

Biting the inside of her bottom lip (because it was her only option if she didn't want to cause herself pain or reopen a partially healed over scab), Felicity slowly lifted her tear filled gaze to lock with Oliver's. Once she was looking at him, he continued, “I just... I guess I didn't expect...” Blowing out a hard breath, he regrouped, licked his lips, swallowed roughly. “I know what happened to you, and I know that you were hurt, but to see the extent of your injuries – not just your wrists, and your neck, and your face but almost everything – for the first time, it caught me off guard.”

She could understand that. “It happens to me, too. Sometimes, after a good night when I don't dream, I wake up in the morning and go into the bathroom to take a shower. I take off my clothes still half asleep and not thinking about... everything. But then I'll catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and it'll all just come crashing back down on top of me.”

“Can you tell me what happened?” When Felicity flinched, Oliver instantly started talking once again. “Not about what he... what Tommy did to you,” he clarified. “But can you tell me what you did, how you tried to fight back? I think it'll help me figure out where we need to start with your training.”

“Yeah,” she nodded, taking a quick yet deep breath. “I think I can do that.” However, she needed distance in order to do so. Shaking her hands which were still encased in Oliver's, Felicity silently requested that he let go of her, which he did. Before beginning to talk, she paced several steps away from him and started wringing her fingers together. “At first, I just tried to get away. I tried to escape, or find a way to get help. I tried to talk him... down, I guess. Or at least break through... this fog he seemed to be inside of. Obviously,” she noted wryly, darkly, “it didn't work.”

“There's nothing wrong with that, Felicity – with running away. That was smart.”

Despite not looking at him, she could hear the sincerity in Oliver's expression bleeding through his words. Turning to face him, she challenged, “you never run, though.”

“Because my fights aren't usually unfair.” His volume dropped, and Oliver confessed, “and I have run before, Felicity; I ran from The Dark Archer – physically, after he beat me; mentally, because I was afraid he would beat me again; and, emotionally, when I thought I had the chance to finally beat him.”

“That was the night you went to Laurel,” she surmised. The night Felicity was raped. “I don't blame you for that, Oliver.”

But that didn't mean that he didn't still blame himself. The fact that he looked away from her, his jaw tightening, told Felicity as much. When Oliver spoke again, he moved the subject back to her. “What else did you do to fight back?”

Frustrated with Oliver's guilt, with his insistence upon talking about the rape, and with her own inability to not open up to him – yes, she had Thea now, and Felicity had even managed to talk a little to Digg that afternoon, but Oliver was her safe place, Felicity lifted her hands to run her fingers through her hair... only to encounter her braids; she dropped them to her face in an attempt to fiddle with her glasses, but she was still only wearing contacts. The weights she and Oliver carried were vastly different, but, because of his past, it felt like he was the only person who could understand what she was going through – how one experience, one trauma, could forever change a person but how you yearn to go back, how you're constantly looking at the past and what you could have done differently, how you try so hard to keep those changes to yourself so that the rest of the world doesn't notice that you're not you anymore.

With nothing else to distract her, Felicity finally settled on nibbling her thumb nail, the flaking polish a familiar tether to hold onto. The worst thing about Oliver pushing her to confide in him, however, was the fact that, despite knowing it would only add to his unreasonable and unwarranted guilt, she couldn't help herself. He was the person she really needed to talk to; he was the person she wanted to shelter the most. Need trumped desire. Hazarding a glance in his direction from underneath her lashes, she found him patiently waiting for her response, his stance surprisingly restrained and relaxed. It was seeing him so at ease – their roles completely reversed – that made Felicity wonder if that's how Oliver felt about her presence in his life: while he never wanted his actions as the vigilante to put her in danger, cause her pain, or bring her any harm, he needed her – as his IT girl, as his partner, as his conscience.

It was this thought that finally made her open up once again. “I mainly just... reacted. He was so much bigger and stronger.... I was faster, but... my apartment's small. I could only run so far. And then, when I couldn't run anymore, he was there. It felt like he was everywhere. And I was so tired, and everything hurt. I was screaming, and out of breath, and... scrambling. Whatever I could reach, whatever part of me he wasn't holding down, I'd try to hit him with, or push him off, or... cut him. I tried to cut him. There was glass – so much glass.” Noticing that her breathing was elevated, Felicity took a moment to close her eyes, to regain control over her body, and to calm down. Once she felt like she could go on without the memories drowning her and taking her under, she looked Oliver directly in the eye. “I knew, though. Almost from the beginning, I knew. I didn't stop struggling, stop fighting, but I knew what was going to happen; I knew that I couldn't beat him, and, since I couldn't get away....”

“Endurance,” Oliver stated. He was the first to break their stare, glancing away from her as he walked towards the stairs. “We'll work on your endurance first. Before we really begin to train, you'll need to be in better shape.”

She followed after him, not liking the sounds of his idea. “And this will entail what exactly, because it doesn't sound like fun. Or oriental. Aren't all good fighting techniques oriental in origin?”

“We're going to run. A lot.”

“Like on a treadmill,” Felicity questioned. Even she could hear the disbelief, the disappointment, the distaste in her voice. “So, we're going back to the hotel?”

“No,” Oliver corrected her, jogging up the stairs and not looking back over his shoulder... like he just expected her to follow him. Which she did, but that was beside the point. Pouting, Felicity listened with skepticism as he elaborated. “We're going to run the streets, the alleys around Verdant.”

“Oliver, it's like a war zone out there... not that I've ever been to a war zone, but I have a thing for emotionally devastating movies, and what's more devastating than war?”

“That's exactly the point. Not only will we be working on your stamina, but we'll also be improving your reflexes. When you're running away from someone, it's not on a perfectly clear and clean belt.”

“It should be,” she grumbled beneath her breath. Louder so that Oliver could hear her, Felicity complained, “if I fall, and get stabbed by something rusty, and have to go to the hospital to get a tetanus shot, you're going to... Well, I don't know what exactly will happen to you, but it won't be pleasant.”

Oliver opened the door and then turned around so that he was walking backwards, facing her. “So, then, don't fall.” With a laugh, he turned back around and took off, already at a steady clip despite the fact that they were still inside.

“Don't fall, he says,” Felicity mocked, taking off after him. “I don't fall, and I'm just a ninja, cat-like, unicorn riding hero, he says. It's easy to run up the sides of buildings, he says.”

“That's called parkouring, Felicity. And I think we'll save that for your second session.”

Despite all of her complaining, Felicity lifted her face towards the evening sky, took a deep breath, and smiled.

 

 

Oliver sighed, turned the page with his free hand, and then used it to rub his tired eyes. He yawned. He was tired, and all but one lamp for him to read by had been extinguished, yet he refused to close his eyes. He couldn't. Before he could go to sleep, he needed to know that she was safe.

The book helped. It was Felicity's. While he had used her new laptop earlier that evening to start researching his own family's company, Felicity had read. They both had appreciated the quiet company – silent in their own pursuits yet still present with each other, too. And the simplicity of their behavior was startlingly welcome. Ever since he had returned from the island, his life had been full throttle ahead. Whether in an effort to convince everyone that he was who he always had been or in an effort to convince himself that he wasn't, it suddenly felt like he hadn't sat down and taken a moment to himself in almost a year's time. While Oliver had never been an avid reader, he was seeing the appeal.

Out of the corner of his eye, he had watched Felicity fall deeper and deeper into the world of her novel until she finally succumbed to her body's exhaustion. After their training session – a long run followed by stretching, they had returned to the hotel to shower, eat dinner, and relax. Despite being sore from the exertion and the strain it put on her already tender muscles, Felicity had settled down with a book while he worked. After she fell asleep, though, Oliver had found himself curious about what had managed to consume her so thoroughly, what had managed to tame his whirlwind of a friend. So, after he slipped the book out of her hands, marking Felicity's page, he started reading it for himself. Now, a few hours later, he was further along than Felicity (which he'd have to hide from her, because she would just take that as a challenge) and still awake.

The sound of the suite's door being hesitantly opened made Oliver slip a finger between the pages of where he was at, marking his spot until he could locate a second bookmark. Eyes focused out into the relatively dark room, he watched as his sister slipped inside, her shoes dangling from the index and middle fingers of her left hand. It was obvious that Thea had no idea that he was sitting there – waiting for her, watching her. “It's a little late, don't you think, Speedy?”

She jumped, the heels fell from her fingers, and Thea clutched at her chest – all classic signs that he had startled her. Oliver took a smidgeon of pleasure from the knowledge. After all, Thea was only eighteen, but she still should have been respectful enough to let someone know she was going to be out so late, especially given their present living situation and the cause behind its necessity. “Jesus, Ollie. Don't do that.” She closed the door behind her, only noticing a slumbering Felicity after it loudly clicked shut. “And what's it to you?”

He met her question with another of his own. “Where's Roy?”

“In his bed... right where I left him.”

Now, it was his turn to glower. “Thea...”

“Relax. That was a joke. Kind of.” Oliver remained still, expecting an actual answer. “He wanted to get an early start tomorrow morning, putting in job applications, so he decided to stay at his place.”

“While I might not like it, the deal was that only if you were with Roy could you forgo a guard. Thea, it's too dangerous for you to be walking around the city – let alone in The Glades – on your own.”

“It's not like I hitchhiked back here,” she dismissed his concerns, collapsing into a chair across from him. “I took a cab. I survived.”

“This time.”

With forced civility, Thea said, “let's talk about something else... like maybe how you're not my parent, so you don't have to wait up for me... or make mom sleep on the couch next to you so that she'll have a stiff neck tomorrow.”

Closing his eyes in exasperation, Oliver lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Just say what it is you want to say, Thea. It's late. I want to go to bed.”

“Nobody's stopping you, although maybe they should.”

“What?”

More serious than he suddenly liked, his little sister asked him, “do you know what you're doing, Ollie – I mean, really know, because you can't screw this up.”

“Know what? Screw what up?” Shrugging his shoulders, he told her, “you have to give me a little more to work with here.”

“Her,” Thea pointedly responded, looking towards Felicity. Oliver found his gaze following. “You two are close – really close, and I'm not just talking about the fact that you're currently sharing a bed. I'm not a child. I realize that two adults can plantonically share a bed together, especially when they've been traumatized and just need a little comfort to make it through the night. But this thing between the two of you,” she told him, gesturing back and forth between them, “it's serious. Big. Two weeks ago, I'm fleetingly meeting her for the first – and what I thought would be the last – time in Walter's hospital room, and now she's redoing your club, you're asking her for advice on what you should do with Queen Consolidated, and you're sitting here at night like some old married couple instead of being out on the town... peeing on things.”

“That happened once,” Oliver said exasperatedly. “Let it go. And Felicity and I are friends. Just because I didn't introduce her to you until recently doesn't mean that we haven't known each other for a while now.”

“You're missing my point.”

“Do you even have one,” he challenged, laughing slightly. There was a decided lack of humor, however, in the gesture.

Instead of answering right away, Thea offered him another example. “You're reading her book, Ollie. She's asleep – curled up beside you on the couch, her feet tucked into your legs, and you're reading her book. And I know it's her book, because you don't read... especially not something called The Lives of Tao – whatever that is. The fact that she apparently reads enough to pack books while running away when she only has a few outfits with her – ones that she has to keep having sent out to be washed...? Well, frankly, I find that slightly disturbing... and I'm not just talking about the clothes part. What's even more so is that you don't see it.”

He shook his head, fed up with his sister's ambiguous warnings. “You mentioned Felicity fixing up the club. Let's talk about that.”

“Let's not.”

He ignored her. “She told me that you showed an interest in it, an eye. If you'd like, I could look into arranging an internship for you through QC, but you'll work with Felicity at Verdant... at least until it's up and running and/or you leave for school.”

“Oh, Ollie – poor, delusional, naïve Ollie. I'm not going to school. I'm done with school. And, if you think you can distract me with a little flattery...”

“What do you mean you're not going to college?” Forget distracting her. Oliver was now quite distracted himself. “Of course you're going to college.”

“Why, so I can drop out four times like you?”

“Thea, I think we can both agree that I'm not the best role model here.”

“Well, Dad's dead, and Mom's in prison, so it looks like you're the only option I have left. But don't worry,” she mockingly reassured him. “I don't plan on making your same mistakes... hence, why I'm not even going to attempt the college scene.”

“Then what are you planning on doing with your future?”

“Oh, I don't know,” his baby sister stood, rolling her eyes and tossing her hands out impatiently. “Gee, don't I have a not so little thing called a trust fund? I thought I'd live off that until, say, my late twenties, and then I'll open up a vanity business and pretend to be busy so that I, too, can avoid all family commitments.” She moved to walk away, but then she paused, looking back over her shoulder. “And what I was trying to tell you earlier was to be careful with Felicity. I know the last thing you want to do is hurt her, but you're both vulnerable right now – hurting, and lonely, and lost. If you're just friends? That's great. If you're more than friends? That's great, too. But, whatever you are, don't get your feelings confused, because Felicity doesn't deserve that, and I don't think either of you could handle it either.”

“Thea, wait,” he called after her retreating figure. She paused but didn't glance in his direction. He wanted to argue with her assumptions about his relationship with Felicity; he wanted to defend himself; he wanted to order her to go to college, to make more of herself than he did; and he wanted to give her a curfew and demand that she stop dating Roy. But he didn't do or say any of that. Instead, he simply asked, “in the future, when you're going to be home this late, would you just... let me know somehow? I know I can't make you take a guard with you, but I need to know that you're safe.”

“That's just it, though, Ollie. This isn't home. I don't want to be here... or any of the other hotel suites you're going to move us to in the future. I want my own room, my own bed. I want my entire wardrobe in my walk-in-closet. I want Raisa. I know it'll never be the same – not after what Mom did, but I want to live in the place where I was raised. I want to go home.”

She didn't wait for his response, and Oliver didn't have one to give to her, because, while Thea missed the mansion, while she wanted to go home, Oliver realized that he did not.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

There was something bothering Felicity – something more, something different than just the rape. While it might be connected – Oliver didn't know yet, because she was still organizing her thoughts, it wasn't something she was actively trying to keep from him. She wasn't avoiding him, or masking her expressions, or constantly trying to make it appear as though she were too busy for anything besides the task at hand... which was a good thing, considering the woman sitting across from him was just staring purposefully – brow wrinkled with concentration, consternation – at her half eaten bowl of what now had to be soggy cereal. With anyone else, it would have surprised Oliver that, given an obscene amount of fancy breakfast options, she chose cold cereal day after day, morning after morning, but not with Felicity. With Felicity, it just amused him, because it was one more thing that made her stand out, one more thing that made her Felicity.

The same could be said for the quiet moments that they shared. For someone who talked so very much, it was often the spaces in between when she was silent that carried the most weight. Now, looking back to that fateful – in so many ways – day following her rape, Oliver chastised himself for not noticing the signs of just how very upset she was. But, then again, he had been more than slightly distracted, too lost in his own mind to recognize Felicity's agitation. It wasn't an excuse. He was her friend, so he was supposed to pick up on those important shifts in her mood and personality. But it was an explanation and, in retrospect, a learning experience... one that he planned to put to use that very morning.

As soon as Oliver had noticed Felicity's preoccupation, he had vowed to not leave for QC until they had talked. Granted, it wouldn't set the best example or precedence to his tenure as CEO if he were late on his first day – before he had even convinced the board to appoint him CEO, but the people who mattered to him came first – Thea, Felicity, Diggle came first. That was something else Tommy's actions, his mother's duplicity, and Malcolm Merlyn's reign of terror had taught him.

At the same time, however, he didn't want to rush her; he didn't want to pressure her. So, he let her stew. He showered; he got dressed. They ordered breakfast; they sat down to eat together. Besides basic pleasantries – good morning, thanks, would you please pass the Arts and Leisure section, she said very little. She met his probing, inquisitive gaze even less. Yet, at the same time, when Oliver wasn't looking at her, he could feel Felicity's eyes on him, returning his studying in equal or perhaps even deeper measure. All of this combined told him that there was something on her mind; something that she wanted to discuss with him, about him, about them; that whatever it was that was weighing upon her was important enough that Felicity didn't want to simply rush into the topic. Rather, she wanted to carefully organize her thoughts, present her argument in a logical and cohesive fashion.

He was reassured that she wasn't, yet again, planning on keeping something so important from him, yet, at the same time, intimidated by her seriousness, especially when he wasn't fully recovered from his confrontation with his sister the night before. Thea was still in her room – awake, for he could hear her moving around, but actively avoiding him... something he was grateful for. She had thrown so much at him – warning him off of Felicity, informing him that she wasn't going to college, demanding that she be allowed to return home, and he didn't know how to react to any of it. Now, with Felicity obviously bothered by something, the last thing he needed was the two of them ganging up on him. One battle of wills with one of the stubborn women in his life was unfortunate, two separate battles nearly insurmountable, but two combined battles? Well, Oliver knew there was no way he'd stand even a chance of winning against those odds.

“I'm going back to my apartment.”

Looking up from his own breakfast – eggs, bacon, and toast – which he was rhythmically pushing around and around his plate, Oliver met Felicity's determined expression with his own dumbfounded one. Of all the things he had been expecting her to confront him with... Well, quite frankly, he had believed her distraction to be Hood related, that she was organizing her argument as to why he needed to don his suit and pick up his bow once again. After all, of all the things that filled Felicity's life to the brim, he knew that she felt the most passionately about protecting Starling City, about their secret mission. And it was their mission now, not just his. At some point after bringing her into the fold, what they did together became less about righting his father's wrongs and more about just doing what was right. The dynamic had still been evolving when everything had fallen apart, but Oliver had no doubt that, if they returned, it would eventually become Felicity's voice which drove them, not his own, not Digg's, not even his father's.

Felicity must have taken his confusion as concession, because he watched as she put her spoon down, picked up the napkin which had been resting in her lap and twisted it between her fingers. Studiously avoiding looking anywhere near him, she said, “oh, well, good. I'm glad that you're not going to fight me on this. I really thought you'd go all growly and cold, demanding that I...”

“I don't understand.”

Caught off guard by his interruption, Felicity asked, “what?”

“Where is this coming from?”

“Well, I just... I think...”

But he wasn't done voicing his objections yet. “I thought that you couldn't go back there, that this is what you wanted. This was your idea, Felicity – staying in a hotel.” She opened her mouth to protest, but Oliver just kept on talking. “And you were right. This is working out, this is for the best, this is what we all need right now.”

“Is it,” she snapped. Meeting his eyes for the first time that morning, she accused, “is it what Thea needs?”

A lump of ice, foreboding in its chill, settled low in his stomach. “Felicity...?”

“No!” And, to emphasize her argument, she stood up, tossing her napkin onto the small table. Pacing away from her seat, from him, she spoke quickly – as if trying to push out the words before she lost her nerve. “You're right, okay? This was my idea, I hate the thought of having to go back there, but it's my home. Or, at least, it was. I quit my job. I'm not helping you anymore. Sometimes, it feels like I quit myself.”

He knew that Thea was in the other room and no doubt eavesdropping, but, in that moment, Oliver was desperate enough not to care. “If this is about the list... if you need to go back to doing what we do...”

“I'm not trying to force you into doing anything you're not ready for, anything that you don't want to do.” Her tone was so beseeching, so sincere that he knew that she was telling him the truth... not that he ever believed that Felicity would try to manipulate him in that way. “I couldn't... not after what....” Swallowing roughly, she promised, “if and when we ever return, that's entirely up to you, Oliver. I'll do my part; I'll get everything ready for you, but that decision is ultimately yours.”

If it would make her back down and forget this foolishness of returning to her apartment, he'd agree to be the vigilante again that very night. But it wouldn't. There was something else, something he had a feeling wouldn't be as easy to fix, driving her decree. “If it's not about the list...?” By now, he, too, was standing, though Oliver was leaning against the table, his chair pressed up against the back of his legs – the furniture helping to ground him. “Then... why?”

Her arms went in the air in exasperation, her voice elevated to the point where she was yelling. “Because I ran away!”

That lump of ice turned into a concrete block which made his stomach drop down to his toes. There was no denying it now; Felicity had overheard his conversation with Thea the night before. Now, the question just remained... how much of it had she been awake for? First, though, he needed to argue and make her see that she was wrong, that his sister was wrong. Oliver hadn't argued with Thea the night before, because Thea's point had been about Oliver's feelings for Felicity, not about Felicity herself, and arguing with her would have just solidified Thea's not so inaccurate accusations. However, looking back now, Oliver realized that, in not defending Felicity the previous evening, he had a steeper hill to climb now that morning.

“No,” he stated emphatically, definitively. “You did not.”

“Oliver, I let him drive me out of my home. I packed a bag, and I crawled away with my tail between my legs, and I've been hiding – running – from what happened to me ever since.”

Coming out from behind the table, he slowly approached her. Keeping his steps small and slow and his voice low, Oliver said, “do you want to know what running away really looks like? It looks like a guy – no, a boy – who dropped out of his fourth school and climbed on a boat with his rich, enabling daddy and his girlfriend's sister, because he couldn't face the idea of actually doing something with his life, because the very thought of moving in with said girlfriend made him so desperate to push her away that he decided to sleep with her sister.” He was standing directly in front of her now – close enough to touch but not. “Running away would have been disappearing and going back to Lian Yu after what happened in The Glades, after finding out about Tommy....” For two people who had fought so hard all morning to not look at each other, they couldn't now look away – hell, even blink – if they tried. “I wanted to, you know.”

“I know.”

Narrowing his gaze slightly, Oliver questioned, “you did?”

Felicity shrugged, offering him the tiniest of crooked smiles. “I know you.”

“So, then you must know that I don't think that you ran away. Felicity, what you did was... survive. You did what you had to do. End of discussion. And now,” he told her as candidly as he could, pride leaking into his voice, “you're not hiding; you're fighting. You're taking your life back. It might be different than it was before, but it's still yours. You're still you.”

Sniffling, she blinked away tears. “Since when did you get so good at the pep talks?”

Grinning, he winked at her. “I had a good teacher.”

Although she laughed, Felicity was still struggling with her sadness. “I'm glad that you see me that way – as someone strong, as someone who's a fighter, but not everyone does, Oliver.”

And, now, he knew that he couldn't keep his knowledge of her overhearing his conversation with his sister a secret any longer. “What Thea said last night... She didn't mean it like that. Like this.”

Felicity caught him by surprise when she admitted, “I know.”

“Then...?”

“But that doesn't mean that there aren't other people out there who do.”

“If they don't know you better than that, Felicity, then their opinion doesn't matter.”

As she moved away from him, she finally broke their gaze as well. Going so that she was standing in front of a large picture window, Felicity looked out and down upon the city, while keeping her back towards him. In a voice so faint he had to strain to hear her, she confessed, “but what if I do; what if I think that about myself?”

He took several steps towards her but drew up short of coming to stand next to her. Shoving his hands into his pockets, Oliver fought the urge to reach out and touch her shoulder, to turn her around, to bring her into his arms and against him... and he only managed to do so because he wasn't sure who such an action would have been meant to comfort: Felicity or himself. “Then the last thing you need right now is go back there, to be alone. You need to be with people who care about you.”

“You mean people who want to take care of me.”

“There's nothing wrong with that, Felicity.”

Briefly glancing over her shoulder, she lifted a brow in confrontation. “Says the man who would have bled out rather than ask for help.”

She was talking about the night he had learned about her rape, the night of The Undertaking, the night he had driven an arrow through his own chest in order to kill The Dark Archer.

No matter what, it always seemed to go back to that night.

“Felicity, it wasn't that I didn't want to ask for help; I just... forgot.”

“Because you were too focused on taking care of me.” The words were whispered, pained, remorseful. They told him that he wasn't getting through to her, that, no matter what he said, the headstrong, willful, too smart for her own good, beautiful woman before him was not going to back down. There would be no changing her mind.

“Fine,” he relented. It was rationally what she wanted, but, still, he watched as Felicity's shoulders became just that much more taut and rigid, because, emotionally, his allowance was not what she needed. “But there's no rush.”

“Oliver, I think this has all gone on long enough.”

“I don't,” he argued. “The security risks still remain. As much as I hate to admit it, the press is not letting up.”

In a small voice, she offered, “maybe that's because we're practically living together. Nothing we're doing right now contradicts what they believe. But, if I return to my own apartment...”

“It won't be that simple,” Oliver interjected. While he wished it would be, especially for Felicity's sake, he was too familiar with the media to ever imagine the two of them returning to separate living quarters convincing them that the story Laurel had fed them was false. Instead, it would just look like a ploy to convince them of such... which would just make everything worse.

He was about to explain just that to Felicity when she sighed, agreeing with him. “I know.”

“Besides,” he had one argument left. “What would Thea and I do for entertainment without you around?” Oliver went for lighthearted, but it just came across as empty desperation.

“Oh, I don't know... maybe, actually, talk to each other for once.”

Frustrated, Oliver grumbled, “Thea already talks way too much.” After all, Felicity's entire argument and insistence upon leaving was all because of Thea talking.

Shaking her head in amusement, Felicity finally turned around. “Oliver, I'm not saying that I'm going back home today and that you'll never see me again. I work for you, remember, and we're friends, and there's my training, too. And I'm not even sure if I want to live in my apartment anymore, but I do need to go back there, and I need to start figuring all of this stuff out.”

“Okay,” he relented.

“Really?”

“I don't like it,” he told her.

“No,” Felicity feigned shock, gasping playfully. Her theatrics made him smirk. “I couldn't have guessed.”

“But I won't fight you.”

“Good.” Becoming more somber, Felicity added, “and thank you, Oliver.”

He wanted to tell her not to thank him yet, because his surrender was only a temporary one. He still fully planned on re-evaluating the situation and later approaching her with a different – better – argument. But he decided against giving her warning of his intentions, figuring he would need all the help he could get to win the war of wills they were engaged in. Instead, he asked, “so, what's the first step?”

“The first step is to contact Detective Lance and see when I can get back into my place. The crime scene techs have to be finished collecting their evidence and samples, and I know that it takes a while to get the results back, but surely I can return now.”

“Do you want me to...?”

“No,” she turned down his unfinished offer to contact Lance for her. “But I was wondering...?”

She was fidgeting once again – twisting her fingers together, but Oliver was done fighting against his instincts to touch her, to comfort them both. Reaching out, he enveloped her hands within his own, squeezing them firmly yet gently at the same time. “Anything, Felicity.”

“I know you're about to be super busy – what, with QC, your mom's upcoming trial, and all, but I was wondering – and, please, do not feel pressured to say yes just because you think you have to; I can always ask Digg, or maybe even Thea.... But, anyway, when I do go back, if it's not too much of an imposition, or if it wouldn't make you too uncomfortable, or if it wouldn't bother you to see what's left after... what happened, then would you not mind, maybe, going with me? I wouldn't ask if...”

“Of course.”

 

 

“You know, this is going to be fine. It's totally going to be fine. It's going to be great.”

From slightly behind and beside her, she heard Oliver dubiously respond, “it is?” Despite the fact that she wasn't looking at him, Felicity could practically hear one of his eyebrows raise in doubt.

“It is.” While Felicity wasn't sure who she was trying to convince – herself, Oliver, or her nosy neighbors eavesdropping from the stairwell below, she ran with her false conviction. “I've had some time away to regroup, to refocus. I've slowly started talking about... what happened. And there's our training.”

“Felicity, we've gone on a few runs. I don't think that qualifies you for cage fighting yet.”

 

“Don't bring around a cloud to rain on my parade, Queen.”

Oliver snorted. “If you think I'm going to know that reference... and I have no doubt it's a reference, you're not only lying to me; you're now lying to yourself.”

Well, he was just a ray of manly, muscular sunshine. Yet, it was par for the course for how Oliver had been acting all week. While it made no sense to Felicity – after all, one would think that her playboy friend would be sick of his timid, mousy, hermit of a roommate cramping his style, ever since she had mentioned moving back to her apartment, Oliver had been distracted and moody. Sure, they had gotten closer since Tommy and everything that happened because of the Merlyns, but she was causing tension between Oliver and his sister and monopolizing all his time, not to mention keeping him from his home. The media was still hounding them, but the real threat against the Queens – the wrath of the citizens of Starling City – had cooled in their efforts to start rebuilding their lives. Oliver and Thea could move back to the manor at any time. So, it made no sense for her decision to be the root of his frustration. Something else must have been bothering him. For that reason, Felicity elected not to focus on his snippy comment and, instead, simply pretended to laugh it off.

“It's Funny Girl, Funny Boy.”

They stopped in front of her door as Felicity dug through her large tote for the keys to her apartment. As she rooted through the mess of personal items, IT paraphernalia, Verdant paperwork, and even a stray tennis ball belonging to Oliver's vigilante persona, she glanced sideways out of the corner of her eye to observe the man standing beside her. Oliver was scowling, hands shoved deeply into the pockets of his trousers – his tie and suit jacket long ago shed and left behind in the car, the first few buttons of his white dress shirt undone. Still not looking at her... or at the lock she was fitting her keys into – his gaze solidly zeroed in on his feet scuffing along the hardwood floor, Oliver muttered, “let's just get this over with.”

And she obliged him – shoving her door open while, once more, talking quickly to mask her own unease and uncertainty. “Anyway, like I was saying, this – moving back to my apartment, it's going to be great. While I'm in the remodeling groove thanks to Verdant, I figured I'll just carry that over to my place as well. Change the wall colors. Buy some new rugs. Change out my accent pillows, throw blankets. Add some new artwork. A new look for a new me, right? And I'm thinking I want it to be a very cool, crisp look – ice blues, grays, whites, maybe some turquoise and yellow for pops of color.”

As she talked, she made her way through the apartment. Her bag was tossed haphazardly on a side table, her eyes avoiding any of the places in her main living space that she knew could potentially trigger a reaction – her desk, her books, the door she had just walked through. From behind her, Felicity could hear Oliver dutifully following, and she vaguely gestured around the room as she mentioned the changes she didn't necessarily want to make but just thought they might help – help keep her busy, help distract her, help her to forget. Surprisingly, she found very little disturbed by the police and their crime techs. There were a few things moved, and she noticed some spots where fingerprints had been dusted for, but, relatively speaking, the SCPD had been very respectful and non-intrusive. She was grateful and would appropriately extend her gratitude towards Detective Lance... eventually. For now, Felicity was still avoiding him like the plague.

Unlike what she had told Oliver, when she had called the precinct to check on the status of her apartment, she had purposefully avoided talking to the man assigned to her case and, instead, spoke with the department secretary. Not only was Felicity uncomfortable with Lance because of how their interview had gone, but she also did not want her hostility towards his daughter to leak into their interaction. If – not when, because she simply couldn't face the idea of their little team not reassembling – Oliver returned to his father's list, they would need to work with Lance, and she didn't want her own trauma bleeding into and affecting any more of her life than it already had. Plus, she had a feeling that, just like Oliver (and John, too, once he learned of her plan to return home), Lance would have fought her on going back to her apartment.

She didn't need any more resistance than she was already receiving.

At least, Thea hadn't said anything... although, when Felicity thought about Oliver's baby sister, she realized that the other woman had been avoiding her since the night Thea and Oliver had engaged in their little confrontation. Obviously, Felicity mused as she studiously ignored her surroundings while she made her way down her hallway and towards her bedroom, Oliver still a step behind her, the brother and sister pair had shared words following Felicity's admission of having overheard them talking about her, and Thea now felt the need to keep her distance. It was further proof of the rift between the Queen siblings and confirmation that Felicity's resolve to remove herself from their daily lives was the right decision.

“I think I'll just grab a few things tonight while we're here, and then tomorrow I'll make some calls and find a company who specializes in crime scene clean-up.” Felicity was talking over her shoulder to Oliver as they stepped into her bedroom. “Normally, I'm not this...”

Out of the corner of her of her eye, she spotted her bed – the bed she had been tied to; the blood from her hands squeezing and pulling against the metal rails, dried and caked onto the frame, drops solidified on her hardwood floors; the pulverized glasses broken and bloodstained from her own hands. And Felicity threw up.

Immediately contracting in pain, she gagged against the memories – little moments she had pushed aside and tried to ignore, moments that she had been fairly successful in forgetting when the visual stimuli weren't staring back at her in cold, harsh, and unforgiving reminders. Her body unable to support its own weight, Felicity fell forward, landing jarringly upon her knees. She felt Oliver's arms instantly reach for her, but she just took him down with her, the two of them landing as one with his hold tight against her midsection. He was the only reason she didn't collapse entirely. With Oliver wrapped around her – his front plastered to her back, Felicity choked on the bile scalding her throat, she choked on her own tears, and she choked on the realization that everything wasn't going to be fine.

Slowly, as Oliver's presence continued to ground her once more to the present, pulling her out of the recent past, Felicity became aware of the words he was quietly yet desperately chanting. “ … don't do this; please don't do this.”

Sniffling, she asked, “don't do what?”

“Don't think that you have to prove something to me, or John, or Thea, or even yourself. What you went through... what you're going through, it's supposed to change you, Felicity. It's not fair. Nobody should have that power over you, and I hate what Tommy did to do, how what he did to you is still affecting you. But it's okay that it is. And it's okay if it takes you some time to work your way through all those changes; it's okay if you're never that same girl again. She was my friend, and I liked her, but this version before me today? You? She's pretty remarkable, too.”

Gently disentangling herself from his embrace, Felicity shifted around so that they were facing each other. She was distantly aware that she had just been sick, that, when she had fallen, her knees had landed in the mess, and that the bitter, sour aftertaste was still burning the inside of her mouth and spoiling her breath. But Oliver didn't seem to notice, and that gave Felicity the strength to push aside the uncomfortable self-awareness such a situation would usually cause her.

“Oliver, what exactly are you saying?”

“I'm saying....” His words trailed off as he dropped his gaze towards her hands and then laced their fingers together. Once more lifting his eyes to meet her own, he finished, “I'm saying... move in with me.”

Her mouth dropped open; her eyes blinked rapidly. “What?”

And Oliver chuckled. “I've been thinking about this all week?”

“The idea of living with me put you in that great of a mood? Oh, this is a swell idea.”

He just shook his head, smiling softly. “No, the idea of you moving back here on your own and not being able to come up with a convincing argument as to why you shouldn't made me mad as hell.”

“Look, Oliver,” she started, touched by his concern but not able to allow him to sacrifice himself or his own happiness for her any longer. “I really appreciate everything you've done for me. You've been there for me like no one ever has before in my entire life. You've become my best friend. And maybe I can't move back to my apartment, but I also can't let you keep taking care of me. It'll have to be somewhere else, but I still need to learn to stand on my own two feet again.”

“Felicity, it has nothing to do with me wanting to take care of you.” As she tipped her head to the side and eyed him suspiciously – very much mirroring her looks of challenge from their very first meeting, he smirked. “Okay, so it's not entirely about me wanting to take care of you. Mostly, it's selfish.”

“I highly doubt that.”

“No, I just... I don't want to go back to the mansion.”

“You don't? But Thea...?”

“Thea does want to go back, yes,” Oliver confirmed, nodding along with his words. “And, normally, I would do anything for my sister, but not this. I just... that place isn't home for me anymore. It hasn't been for a while now, and I... I don't want it to be. It's my mother, and it's my father, and it's everything my relationship with the two of them was and wasn't, and that's... not someplace I want to call home; that's not a place I can relax in, be myself.”

“So, you get an apartment, too. Or a penthouse. Or a loft. Or... I don't know. Whatever it is rich people are buying these days,” Felicity suggested. “We can search together. You can look for access points and security... things, and I can look for good lighting, wainscoting, and crown molding. But that doesn't mean that you have to live with me, Oliver.”

“But I want to.”

With all the rapid shifts, and twists, and turns their evening was taking, Felicity was starting to feel dizzy. But it was a good dizzy – unbelievable and disconcerting, astonishing and overwhelming, but still good. And it was all leaving her a little stunned and dazed as well. “You do?”

“I do.” Oliver's words were so innocent... yet so meaningful that Felicity couldn't help but blush. Looking away from him, she delicately sunk her teeth into her healing bottom lip – unable not to fall back upon her tried and true nervous gesture.

The idea of living with Oliver permanently – of being his friend, and his roommate, and his partner in criminally fighting crime – was more than just appealing. It wasn't until she found a bleeding and leather clad Oliver in the backseat of her car that Felicity realized just how lonely and boring her life was. And since then he had also given her John, and a purpose, and now maybe even Thea, too. To have constant companionship from the one person she always wanted to be close to, to be around – not to mention the safety and security his presence provided her with and the family their little team had slowly but surely become for her, it would be amazing. But Felicity also needed to make sure that such an arrangement would really be best for Oliver as well.

“But why?”

The fact that Oliver didn't answer right away, that he took his time to organize his thoughts, told Felicity that what he was about to tell her would be extremely sincere and important to the future of their friendship. “For five years, I was alone. You've seen the scars, so you know that I wasn't physically alone. But... in the ways that it really matters? For most of that time, I had no one. At first, when I got back, that's how I thought I wanted it to be, how I thought it needed to be. But I was wrong. My plan was to keep my loved ones separate, and safe, and at a distance. But then John joined me, and then you happened, and I've slowly realized that I can't go back to that; I can't go back to being alone. And, while I don't want to live in my parents' house any longer, I don't want to have no one to go home to at night either.

“For the past few weeks, we've been living together – because of Tommy, because of the press, because of my mother's actions. And, while all of those things were horrible, I'd like to think that something good can come out of them. This – you, me, and Thea, too, of course – she's not going to like it, but I have to think an apartment, or a penthouse, or a loft, or whatever it is rich people are buying these days is better than a hotel suite – moving in together, that can be a good thing. It will be a good thing. You just have to say yes. Please.”

She eyed him closely, narrowly, pointedly. “I pay my own, equal way.”

“We'll negotiate.”

“Oliver...”

He interrupted her with a genuine smile and a pleased laugh. “Felicity.”

“I'm serious.”

“Oh, I know you are,” he reassured her, still grinning. “The head tilt, furrowed brow, and use of the loud voice to say my name told me as much.”

He stood then, pulling her carefully up with him and then out of her bedroom. Her former bedroom. “I should really clean up and change...”

Her half hearted protest was ignored. “You're not going back in there, Felicity.”

She should have argued with his authoritarian tone – Felicity just knew that it would quickly become his CEO voice, but she didn't, because the last thing she wanted to do, mess or no mess, was step back into that room. Instead, she just made faces at Oliver's back the entire way down the hall, through the living room, and out the door. It wasn't until they reached the car and he was holding the door open for her that Oliver turned and said, “someday, Felicity, your face is going to freeze like that, and then I'll get the last laugh.”

With a chuckle, he shut the door before she could reply.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

It was the next night. He and Digg were working on cleaning up the Foundry's basement, while Felicity was, no doubt, planning on spending an obscene amount of his money on new, state-of-the-art computer equipment. While they hadn't yet discussed what they would be doing with the list moving forward, the evidence of what they used to do, which was now destroyed, still needed removed, and Oliver wouldn't deny Felicity the joy she was currently experiencing as she geeked out over gigabytes, RAM, and processor speeds... even if everything was purchased in vain. They were going to need to have that conversation – and soon – about The Hood. But not yet.

“So, let me get this straight,” Diggle asked as he stood up straight, twisted his back, and momentarily stretched. Resting his eyes first on Oliver and then on Felicity who was peering over the crown of her laptop, he said, “you two, Thea, and an exorbitant amount of computer equipment are going to move in together?” Snorting, John teased, “it's going to be three idiots and Felicity's babies.”

Oliver rolled his eyes; Felicity offered a dry, non-amused, “ha.”

Digg responded with a full-on belly laugh.

As they all three returned to their tasks at hand, the other man questioned, “but no, seriously. Just how exactly is this going to work?”

“What do you mean,” Felicity queried.

“I mean... have either of you ever lived with anyone before?” Before Oliver could respond, Diggle added, “besides your respective families.”

Oliver immediately closed his mouth, stifling his response.

“I had roommates in college,” Felicity supplied. Then, she added, “it was awful. They were awful. Between not picking up after themselves, to having sex when I was in the room, to country music. Seriously, what self-respecting college student listens to honkey-tonk?” To emphasize her point, she shuddered. “Like I said, awful.”

Taunting her, John answered back, “you do realize that you're moving in with two people who have been waited on hand and foot their whole lives?”

When Felicity looked suddenly unsure of their decision, Oliver found himself defending their idea. “Digg, we're not that bad. And, besides, if there's some reason why we can't pull our share of the work, I'll just hire someone.”

“Of whose bill I will be paying half of,” Felicity added. And that comment was directed entirely towards Oliver, not their devil's advocate of a friend.

Much like their earlier foray into discussing the finances of their upcoming living situation, Oliver said, “negotiable.”

“Oh, good,” Diggle mocked. “I see the two of you have settled the issue of bills already, too.”

“It's rather a moot point until there are bills, isn't it,” Oliver volleyed back.

Digg snorted. “Yeah. Keep telling yourselves that.”

“Look, if Felicity and I bickering over who pays what is our biggest sticking point in this whole arrangement, then I think we're going to be just fine.”

Oliver was surprised when the other man agreed with him. “You're right. Because you already have much bigger issues to figure out.”

“Such as,” Felicity prompted.

“Such as all those problems you mentioned with your college roommates,” Diggle supplied, “not to mention the little things like Oliver leaving the toilet seat up or you and Thea hogging all the hot water.”

“Those are very sexist concerns you're voicing, John Diggle,” she challenged him.

“But valid nonetheless.”

“Not if we all have separate showers, and I'm pretty sure I – we – can afford a place that has enough hot water for three people to shower at the same time.”

“But not together,” Felicity added. “I mean, obviously, because Oliver and Thea are related. And I'm me, and he's Oliver, and Thea, while a beautiful woman... er, girl... um, young adult?, is not my type, because, you know, boobs... and other things Oliver does not want me to talk about. And, besides, you already know this, and I'm just going to stop talking in...” She sighed, and Oliver could see Felicity mentally counting down in her mind. “Now.”

“Ah, Felicity, in your infinite wisdom....”

“Yeah, I don't think anybody's ever accused me of that before,” she quipped, still blushing a pretty pink that, in the past, would have matched her lipstick. In that moment, Oliver realized just how much he missed her formerly bright lips... just like he missed her colorful fingernails. Now, she only wore chapstick.

“ … you bring us back to another concern: sex.”

Her embarrassment turned scarlet, and Oliver turned to glare at their friend. “Digg,” he warned.

“No, I'm sorry, Oliver, but it's a valid concern. You're all three consenting adults.” At Oliver's glare, he offered the condition, “... even if you don't want to think about your baby sister in that way. It's bound to come up, and, if you don't discuss it now and lay some ground rules, it'll get awkward.”

“He's right,” Felicity surprised the both of them by speaking up. “Not that you have anything to worry about from me,” she addressed Oliver. “Besides the obvious... reason, I've always been... conservative, I guess you could say, in regards to my sex life. Unless I'm in a relationship, my motto has always been 'no sex, no sex for Ben Rama now,' and I think we all know how likely it'll be that I'll find myself dating anyone... or ready to date anyone... anytime soon. You, however,” Felicity compared them, “are a horse of a different color entirely. You like sex. Not that I don't,” she rushed to add, frowning slightly before shaking her head and continuing down her damning path. “But you really like sex. With a lot of partners. Not at once! Or... maybe you do? I don't know. Anyway,” Felicity breathed in and then exhaled deeply. “My point is that... I don't think I'll be okay with that – seeing you with... other women. In our home. And, oh my god, I'm making this sound like I'm a jealous....”

“Felicity,” he interrupted her, taking several steps in her direction, though Oliver didn't even come close to actually approaching her. By the way her shoulders were curled forward and her arms were folded over her chest, he could see how uncomfortable she was. He wanted to turn around and glare at Digg, yell at him to see what his insistent objections had caused, but Oliver knew that the other man was just operating from a place of concern, and, while he never wanted Felicity to feel uneasy around either of them, it was suddenly quite clear that this discussion was extremely necessary if living together was going to work.

And he was determined that it would work.

It didn't help matters that Felicity's objections roused those lingering thoughts of attraction and want towards his partner and friend that he had been trying – rather unsuccessful – to bury. While Oliver knew that he would only continue to notice just how beautiful Felicity was, how at peace being around her made him feel, how much he smiled and laughed when she was around once they moved in together, that was something he was willing to live and deal with if it meant she'd be safe, and he wouldn't be alone. In the back of his mind, he also knew that not being alone was something she desperately wanted as well. He just didn't know why, and she wasn't ready to tell him yet.

That was something else he was determined about – learning more about Felicity Smoak.

But it, too, was something for another night – this time, when she was ready, not him.

“I wouldn't want that either,” he finally settled on saying. “You, bringing guys back to the place we shared.” Oliver ignored Diggle's pointed cough from behind him and continued explaining. “I know living with Thea will mean that Roy will be around, too. As much as I hate the idea of my little sister... dating, I can admit that he seems to make her happy.”

“That sounded painful,” John mumbled under his breath.

“But, aside from the two of them, I want our home to be a safe place – a place where we can relax, where we can be ourselves, and we don't have to hide or pretend. If there are women, when there is boyfriend again someday, we can just... go to their places.” Needing to add levity back to the situation, he quipped, “and I don't listen to country music, so I think we're good.”

“You don't listen to any kind of music,” Digg teased. Felicity tittered in amused agreement, and the playful remark seemed to be both their friend's admission that he would stop fighting them on their decision and the impetus they all needed to return to their respective tasks.

A few minutes later, Digg was voicing another consideration. “So, I guess this means I should start looking into your best options, security-wise?”

“Yes,” Oliver agreed. “I want the best of everything, the top of the line.”

“I had no doubt,” the ex-special forces soldier remarked.

“I'm talking 24-hour building security, plus places that are agreeable to tenants having their own private security. A private elevator directly to our place would be ideal. And we're going to need bullet-proof windows...”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Felicity interrupted, staring at him like he was crazy. “We hunt mobsters... or, at least, we used to; we aren't mobsters. I swear, if you start talking like you have cotton in your mouth, and rubbing your chin, and making people offers they can't refuse....”

It was Diggle who stopped her rant. “Felicity, Oliver's not being unreasonable to want these things, especially given that he's taking over the reins of QC just as soon as the board approves the change.”

“I know,” she agreed. She sighed. “But I don't want the place to feel like a super-swanky prison. I want it to be warm, and welcoming, and comfortable. I want it to feel like a home.”

“What we're talking about now – marrying your two very different ideas of what this apartment should be – is way out of my skill set.”

“Oh,” Felicity exclaimed, obviously latching onto an idea. “We need Thea.” Turning towards Oliver, she said, “I told you that she's good at this sort of thing.” Maybe, if she enjoyed the task enough, they could revisit the idea of Thea going to college. “Plus, it's going to be her home, too.”

“Well, would you look at you two. You're just going to be one, big happy family.”

“Which, don't forget, Digg; you're a vital part of,” Felicity returned, grinning broadly.

As they all, once more, returned to their work, Oliver found himself chuckling at John's mumbled, good-natured complaints. And that's before he saw Felicity fist pump. After that, he couldn't have wiped the smile from his face if he tried. And he didn't.

 

 

While Felicity understood Thea's unease around her, she didn't like it. In the short time that she had known the younger woman, she felt like they had formed a bond. They weren't friends – yet, but there had definitely been the potential there for friendship. Though Oliver's role in both of their lives played a large part of their immediate connection, he wasn't the only thing they had in common, and Felicity knew it was important for both of them that they had things in life outside of Oliver, separate from Oliver. Besides, it had been nice to have another woman to talk to. She appreciated her boys, but there were just some things Oliver didn't understand and that Digg wasn't interested in.

Like boys.

And clothes.

And boys.

Granted, Felicity was well aware of the fact that the only guy she had been intrigued by recently was Thea's brother (and, unfortunately, Thea had picked up on that fact quickly), but there would eventually be other guys, and, when that day came – when her body and her heart caught up with her mind and realized that Oliver was never going to see her in that same way, then it would be nice to have someone to confide in. Because she wasn't telling her former crush (Oliver) about her new one (insert future guy's name here), and she had a feeling John, though he would listen and even try to give her advice, would frankly be uncomfortable talking about Felicity's love/sex life with her.

Now, all of this planning for someday girl-talk was theoretical, of course, because Felicity was in no way ready to put herself out there and start dating again. In fact, she was still purposefully keeping herself sheltered from strangers, preferring the company of the few people in her life that she felt safe around. Eventually, she'd have to break out of her shell again, but she was finally accepting the fact that nothing would be instantaneous. No matter how much she wanted to just be good ol' Felicity Smoak again, it was going to take time. And Oliver was right... as much as it pained her to admit that. She'd never be the same Felicity again. What she had gone through had changed her. Not for the better, not for the worse – she had just been changed. Who that new version of herself was, Felicity was still figuring out. And that was okay, too.

She had a plan, of course. Moving in with Oliver and Thea was a large part of that, because it would involve apartment hunting, and shopping, and familiarizing herself with a whole new part of the city. There'd be restaurants to try and new boutiques to shop in. Once she re-solidified her fledging connection with Thea, there were movies to go see, and there would be society events – art gallery shows, dinners, and fundraisers – to attend. Though it irked Felicity somewhat to realize that all her intentions to begin socializing again revolved around one Queen heir or the other, she was learning to accept the fact that it was alright to need help, to rely on other people, to not want to be alone.

It was such a departure from how she was raised, from what her life was like before she met Oliver and John and joined their crusade.

“Felicity. Earth to Felicity.” As Thea's words tried to capture her attention, the younger woman also waved a hand in front of Felicity's face. Once she was sufficiently pulled from her thoughts and focused once more upon the woman sitting beside her in the back of the nondescript rental car Digg was driving them in, Thea said, “now that you got me here with promises of getting my hands on your entire wardrobe, just what exactly are you going to do with me.”

Diggle met her eye through the rearview mirror and smirked. Unlike her own provocative rambles, Thea Queen knew exactly what she was saying and what she was teasingly implying.

Turning to face the other woman while, at the same time, opening her car door, she answered, “let's just go inside, and then I'll explain everything.”

So, they did just that. As the three of them traipsed into Felicity's soon-to-be former apartment building, they moved in silence, thus allowing Felicity to, once more, return to her private thoughts. Although Oliver had wanted to share the news of the three of them moving in together with his sister, Felicity has asked him to allow her the honors. She thought it might be just what she and Thea needed to break the ice that had formed between them. Not only would it be solving Thea's complaint about hotel-living, but it would also allow Felicity to bring up the conversation she had eavesdropped on and all of the other tension between the siblings... tension that revolved around her. After all, the last thing she ever wanted to do was drive a wedge between Oliver and Thea. They were all the family the other had left... well, besides their jail-bird of a mother. More than that, there had been a time when they were extremely close. Perhaps some of the distance between them was due to issues that did not revolve around her, but Felicity was adamant that she wouldn't add to the detachment.

Felicity was still lost in her own mind when she realized that, without conscious decision, she had unlocked her front door and stepped inside of her apartment – Thea immediately behind her, Diggle following them both. Unlike her trip a few days prior with Oliver, however, she didn't avoid those sights that she knew would inspire recollections of the night Tommy had raped her; she took the entire space in with one sweeping glance and instantly knew that, in doing so – in coming back herself, in inviting Thea along, in not realizing just how seeing the evidence of what her former friend had done to Felicity would affect the younger woman – she had made a mistake.

“I'm sorry,” she quickly apologized, backing up and attempting to close the door behind her, only Thea was standing right there, confused and unmovable. “We shouldn't have come here. I shouldn't have brought you here. I was just....” She sniffled and wiped away several tears which had managed to drop down upon her cheeks. “ … finally excited about something, and I wanted to share that excitement with you. And I wanted to get started. I wanted it to seem like I was really doing something to make the changes my new self needs. But this... this was wrong, and this was cruel, and this was....”

Thea slipped around her, coming to stand so that she could face Felicity. The younger woman placed her hands on Felicity's shoulders, holding her still and, at the same time, offering her comfort. “First of all, slow your roll, because I have no idea what you're talking about.”

“You shouldn't have to see this, Thea.”

“Remember what we talked about before – about how I don't need protected? Well, that applies to you, too, not just my brother.” When Felicity went to object, Thea kept talking. “Look, nothing that I'm about to see here can be anything worse than what I've already imagined. Or googled. Or seen on Law & Order: SVU. Do you have any ideas how often they run marathons of that show?”

“But that's television; this is....”

“Tommy. And you. And, like I said, I'm not walking into this with my eyes shut, Felicity. Ever since I saw you that morning and realized that the stories in the papers were true, I've thought about what he did to you. I've heard you wake up at night, screaming. I've heard your tears.”

Still protesting, she argued, “none of that makes me asking you to come here this evening right.”

Thea shrugged. Surprising Felicity, she admitted, “maybe not, but I'm glad you did. Things have been... awkward between us recently, because I know that you know that I know you overheard my conversation last week with Ollie, and I didn't know how to... get passed that with you. But then you asked me to come here with you today, to help you, and I realized that, despite what I said, despite how it sounded... even if that's not how I meant it, despite what I did mean that you still want to be my friend. That you still are my friend. So, let me be your friend, Felicity.” The younger woman let go of her shoulders. “Let me do this for you, and trust in me enough to know that, when I say that I can handle this, that I really can.”

“Alright.”

Thea grinned. “Alright? Really?” Felicity nodded in silent agreement, returning the smile. “Well, good. Because I don't think Mr. Diggle can handle another freak out. You should have seen his face when you started to cry.”

Without thought, Felicity reached back and wrapped her arms around John, giving him a tight squeeze. It was only after she initiated the contact that she realized how significant the instinctual hug actually was. It didn't hurt matters either that, over her head, she saw Digg and Thea share a very meaningful glance and only afterwards did Digg return her friendly gesture. Maybe he didn't hold her as close as he would have before the rape, but he also didn't shy away from her either. It was almost like he was afraid that, if he held her too closely, she'd run away. And his fears were valid... if not bothersome. Felicity didn't want him to be afraid to be himself around her, but she understood why he was.

It was just one more thing Tommy had taken away from her, one more thing that would never be the same but that hopefully – with time, patience, and change – could someday be even better.

Finally pulling away, Felicity admitted, “yeah, John doesn't like to see me – or any woman, for that matter – in tears. It goes against his Sir Diggle complex.”

“Ah,” Thea nodded sagely, mischievously. “It goes against his Chauffeur in Shining Automobile code, huh?” Felicity giggled, and John rolled his eyes, walking away from them. “I can dig it,” Thea yelled after his retreating form which headed towards Felicity's kitchen which opened onto the living room. Turning back to Felicity, the younger woman queried, “sooo... secondly, what's this about you being excited about something? Spread the wealth, sister, because this girl needs some vicarious excitement in her life. What, between my dead dad, murderous mom, unemployed and moody boyfriend, and crotchety big brother....”

“Thea, don't say the word crotchety in relation to your brother. That's just... wrong.” The heiress simply snickered. “And it's not just vicarious excitement for you either. My good news is your good news.”

“Yet, I'm still clueless as to what we're....”

“We're getting an apartment together. Or a penthouse. Or... yeah. Something. We're going to live together.”

“You and me,” Thea questioned, her brow screwed up in confusion.

“And Oliver.”

“Yeah... I don't understand.”

“Thea, you were right. You shouldn't be expected to live in a hotel for the foreseeable future, and I need to start putting my life back together. While I don't want to move back here, I do want someplace to call home, and, since Oliver isn't too keen on the idea of living at the mansion, he suggested we all get a place together.”

“Like you're my new mom, and he's my dad, and we're all one, big happy family?” There was a snort of 'I told you so' from the kitchen which both women ignored. “Yeah. That's not happening.”

“But I thought...?”

“While I appreciate what you and Oliver are trying to do, while I understand and even support your reasoning to find a new place, and while I can even see my brother's point of view concerning where we grew up – I mean, a lot of really shitty shit went down inside of those stone walls, when I said that I wanted to go home, I didn't mean that I wanted to move into yet another place that was unfamiliar; I meant that I wanted to go home.”

Crestfallen and feeling like she had somehow presented the idea in the wrong way, that she had failed to sell Thea on the idea of living with her and Oliver in the city, Felicity breathed out, “oh.”

“Besides,” Thea added, obviously on a roll. “There's no way in hell I want to get in the middle of you and my brother playing house together.”

Another snort from the kitchen and another rapid conversation switch (seriously, it was usually Felicity who changed topics and left everyone else behind; she didn't like this role reversal), and she was left scrambling to catch up and deny. “It's not like....”

“Look, Felicity,” Thea interjected, cutting her off. “Let's be real with each other for a moment, okay.” It wasn't a request; it was a demand. “While I know that you're only just weeks removed from the very worst thing a woman can ever experience, and while I know that you're scared and nowhere near ready for a relationship – let alone one with my brother, you like him. You like-like him. I know it, you know it, and Mr. Diggle knows it.”

“I do,” came John's frustratingly confident voice from the kitchen.

“And Ollie likes-likes you, too.”

“Thea, please....”

“Please, what, tell you again,” the other woman interrupted, not backing down. “Because I can do that. I can do that as many times as you need me to until you finally believe me. Because my brother does have feelings for you... whether you believe me or not. Hell,” Thea tossed up her arms, “whether he believes me or not.”

Throughout all of their conversation, Felicity couldn't believe that they had been standing in front of her still open door. Yet, Thea's words, Thea's proximity, Thea's conviction and significant gaze wouldn't allow Felicity to move, let alone close the door. “And, while all this liking-liking might not make things awkward and tension-filled right off the bat, eventually, the UST between the two of you would just become constricting, and suffocating, and creepy.”

“UST,” John questioned, his voice somewhat muffled like he was physically blocking it.

“Unresolved sexual tension,” Thea supplied.

Felicity, on the other hand, snapped. “Digg, if you want to participate in this 'let's make Felicity embarrassed, and nervous, and self-conscious around Oliver' conversation, then at least have the decency to stop pretending that you're not eavesdropping.”

“I don't know what you're talking about. I'm just looking for a snack. I'm feeling rather peckish.”

“I haven't been here in weeks. All my food is either spoiled, freezer burnt, or stale,” she yelled just as John rejoined them, a pint of ice cream and a spoon in hand.

“Whoa,” Thea remarked, shocked. “What was that?”

“That,” Diggle answered, “was Felicity Smoak's load voice. It's scary.”

“Frightening.” After a beat, Thea added, “does it work on my brother?”

“Like a charm.”

“Stop,” Felicity demanded. Finally shutting – slamming – the door behind her, she pointed a finger in Thea's direction. “You,” she ordered, “you go pack my stuff. And you,” she turned towards Digg, reaching for and taking away her ice cream. “Give me that.”

As Thea laughingly skipped out of the room, Felicity tossed a glare in her remaining friend's guileless direction. She had only just started to tuck her way into the mint-chip magnificence that was in her hands when she heard a squeal – and it wasn't one of excitement – from her former bedroom. Digg was already heading towards Thea, hand reaching for his sidepiece, as Felicity yelled in inquiry (not annoyance), “what?”

Before Diggle could even reach the hallway, Thea Queen was standing in the threshold of the room – hands on hips, eyes blazing, figurative steam coming out of her ears. If that wasn't enough to make her look like an enraged pixie, the fact that the younger woman stomped her left foot and immediately begin to pout did. “You own nothing but knee-length pencil skirts and pastel, Oxford shirts, kitten heels and flats with animal faces on them. This was supposed to be fun; this was supposed to be like getting to play in Cher's closet – I'd be the computer; you'd be Cher.”

“I'm... sorry?”

“We're going shopping.”

“Thea, there's no need. Don't get me wrong. I love pretty dresses and fancy shoes as much as the next blue eyed blonde, but those kind of clothes just aren't practical for a girl who works in IT, not to mention unfeasible on my salary.” When the heiress went to protest, Felicity suggested, “if you really want to help me shop, help me find a place for Oliver and I to live.”

After several beats of glowering, Thea relented, “alright, fine.”

“Thank you.”

“But I'm still not moving in with you guys.”

She nodded in concession, sighing. “And I'll tell your brother.”

Thea turned around and flounced back down the hallway towards Felicity's former bedroom, Digg calling after her, “there is this one gold dress you should make sure you pack. Oliver really... admires it.”

The two of them continued to banter back and forth at her expense for the rest of the time that they were there. By the time they left, both Diggle and Thea were weighed down with every single suitcase, bag, and tote she owned – Thea insisting on packing every stitch of clothing and every single accessory, and Felicity had finished her ice cream. Just like upon their arrival, she led their motley caravan back down to the car, refusing to lift a single finger to help her traitorous friends – new and old. Oh, how she couldn't wait to get her basement babies back up and running again, because she had a little well-deserved revenge to enact.

She and Oliver really needed to talk.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

For the first time since she was raped, Felicity was in public and alone.

Well... as alone as one could be with Digg sitting in the car outside, waiting for her.

She had played it off as making a concession – in compromising, but, really, Felicity wanted Diggle there with her as much as Oliver and Digg did. It was like she was learning to walk again... not that she remembered that particular milestone in her life. She was a genius, but her memory wasn't that good. The fear, and the baby steps forward, and the inevitable wobbles that led to falling down and then picking herself back up again were perhaps metaphorical, but she had no doubt that the emotions they inspired – the joy of victory and the sorrow and frustration of failure – were the same.

Oddly enough, it made Felicity yearn for a parent's love. That wasn't something she was used to feeling, to wanting, so it caught her off guard. She just.... It would have been nice to talk to someone who actually did recall what she was like as a baby, exploring the world for the first time and coming to an understanding of herself and her surroundings, because Felicity didn't know anything about herself as a child. She didn't know how old she was when she learned to walk, what her first word was, or when she lost her first tooth. She didn't know how old she was when she became potty trained or what her favorite baby food was. Had she been a peaches girl, or did she prefer bananas? Most children grew up with stories of their upbringing, many even had heartwarming baby books filled with nostalgia, trivia, and facts all about the important milestones in every child's life. But Felicity Smoak didn't have any of that.

And that was okay. Usually, she didn't even think about what was missing from her life. Felicity had long since made peace with those things that made her family different from those she saw on TV or read about in books. For that matter, recently, she had started to make her own family... as untraditional as it might be. And it felt good, felt empowering. It made her realize that just because she didn't have those stories or a baby book that didn't mean that she wasn't capable or worthy of that kind of selfless love. In fact, that was something that Tommy hadn't just been unable to take from her; his actions against her and the consequences of those actions had only solidified Felicity's faith in her friendships.

She was glad that Tommy was dead, and she wished with every single fiber of her being that he had not raped her, but that still didn't stop Felicity from also wishing for just one moment of confrontation with her rapist where she could look him in the eye and show him just how strong she really was, how strong she was becoming, how strong her connections were with the people closest to her.

The man sliding into the open and waiting seat across from her pulled Felicity from her thoughts. “Sorry, I'm late.”

“You're not,” she refuted casually, waving off the apology. But her hand froze in mid-air, her head tilted to the side in blatant shock, and her mouth gaped open as she stared. “What are you wearing?”

“What,” Detective Lance gruffly defended, shifting self-consciously in his chair. “You said come casually. I came casually.”

“I meant... leave the police cruiser and sidearm at home.” Leaning forward and lowering her voice as though what she was about to ask was a sensitive question, Felicity queried, “you... golf?”

Lance snorted. “I took a driver to a perp's kneecap during a raid once. He was getting away, and it was the closest thing on hand. That was fun. But, yeah, otherwise no. Golf's for the idyl rich... like your boss. Or should I say new boss? Word on the street is that Oliver's going to be announced as the next successor to the throne today.”

She decided to not touch the Oliver topic. While the two men had managed to bury the hatchet without driving it into each other's backs, they weren't friends and never would be. Besides, she still couldn't get over the cop's appearance. “So, then, why are you dressed like that?”

“Miss Smoak, I work, and I sleep. That's it. My life is my job; my job is my life, so, when you said casual.... Well, let's just say that I didn't think you'd want me showing up in my underwear. If I'm not in uniform, then that's what I have on. I don't do hobbies. I don't relax. Years ago, I used to box, but, again, underwear... or pretty god damn close to it. And, even if you were okay with me showing up in my tighty-whities, I'd frankly be as uncomfortable as hell.” Folding his hands together and placing them on top of the table, Lance finished, “so, I went out and I bought what I see all the yuppies wearing when we arrest them for their white-collar crimes. It's uncomfortable, oddly binding, and I'm pretty sure I left a tag on in a very unfortunate place.”

And, just like that, Felicity relaxed and felt comfortable around the older, paternal man. Reaching across the table, she squeezed one of his balled up hands, smiling softly. Letting go of him, she found the food and drink she had ordered before he got there, pushing it in his direction. “So, I got you a black coffee. On every cop show I've ever seen... and I've watched a lot of cop shows. Well, actually, I've just watched a lot of TV in general. I'm an open-minded, genre non-discriminatory viewer if I do say so myself. Anyway, cops always drink black coffee. Always. But so, too, do a lot of the criminals they arrest... well, the male ones, and now I just sound sexist. Or I guess it's the writers who are sexist... or at least they're profiling their characters that way, because I'm not the one who made all those to sugar and cream or not to sugar and cream decisions. Huh. You know, I've never really thought about this before, but it's very....”

“Black's good,” Quentin interrupted her. Now, it was his turn to stare at her.

“Oh. Alright. Excellent. That's good.”

“It is,” he agreed, smirking slightly.

“I also ordered you a turkey croissant sandwich. I figured you'd probably prefer the steak and cheese, but, in all my research....”

“Television again?”

“Of course,” Felicity answered with a dismissive, playful flick of her wrist. “Law enforcement officers are known for their poor eating habits, and I refuse to be a contributor to your high blood pressure and cholesterol.”

“Then you should probably rethink your nighttime hobbies, Miss Smoak.”

“But I already have all the clothes.”

He just looked at her, unimpressed and with a pointed eyebrow raised. She grinned in return. “There's fruit salad as well, and I tossed in an oatmeal cookie, too. With raisins. You seemed like an oatmeal cookie kind of guy.”

Already reaching for his wallet, Lance asked, “how much do I owe you?”

She waved him off. “It's on me.”

“Miss Smoak, I can't really accept...”

“Look, you're off the clock, right, and I'm on my lunch break. Well, sort of. Oliver really doesn't keep track of my hours. But that's beside the point. My point is that you're not here as a cop, and I'm not here as a victim or a case; we're just... two friends, and I wanted to buy my friend lunch.”

“So, we're not going to talk about how you want to proceed with...?”

“Oh, no, we're totally going to talk about that,” Felicity interjected, shrugging her shoulders. “I want this settled, because it's the only way I can start to really move forward, put this all behind me.”

“And let's say that I accept this food... which I haven't agreed to yet, where's your meal?”

She laughed. “If I eat here, Thea will throw a fit. Well, actually, she probably won't believe me, and then I'll be forced to eat twice. While I love food as much as the next girl, Thea Queen likes to overcompensate and show she cares by feeding people. A lot.”

Rolling his eyes, Quentin caved, reaching for his sandwich. As he was chewing his first bite, he asked, “what's with you and the Queen brats? You're like their newest, most favorite toy or something.”

For a brief moment, Felicity was taken back to the night Tommy attacked her – how he had thought of her in much the same way: as an object, as a possession, as a toy, and, though she knew that Lance was only teasing and that he didn't mean anything by it, she still winced in recollection, in hurt.

And, of course, the cop noticed. “Oh, kid, I'm sorry. That was... the wrong thing to say, and I'll ease up on the Queens. I promise. Thea's not so bad, and Oliver...? Well, even I can see that he's changed. I still don't like him, but he's been good to you... as much as that pains me to admit.”

“He really has,” Felicity agreed, sniffling and fighting away her tears. While she wasn't afraid of her tears now, she also didn't want to break down in the middle of a cafe. “I honestly don't know what I would have done these past few weeks without him.”

“That's why I'm kind of surprised that you're here right now – with me – and not with him at the press conference.”

“We thought it better that... I wasn't. Between the crowds and the press, I just... I'm not ready for that.”

“There's nothing wrong with that, sweetheart. From where I'm sitting,” Lance nodded in her direction, offering her a grin. “You're doing just fine.”

“It's a... it's a work in progress,” she admitted.

“Well, you look lighter. Happier. More relaxed.”

She shrugged – neither agreeing nor disagreeing with his observations. “I'm finally making decisions about my life again, making changes.”

“I've heard you've taken over your boss' nightclub with the funny name. What is it again? Verdant. You have a thing for green, don't you, Miss Smoak?”

She offered him a coy expression, again not really responding to his queries or comments. “I've also decided to move. Oliver and I are getting a place together.”

Now, it was the cop's turn to flinch, but he seemed to brush off the knee-jerk reaction with a simple shake of his head. If Felicity wouldn't have been paying such close attention, she would have missed the small tick. She let it go, however – her instincts telling her that, not only was the twitch of a personal and private nature, but that she really didn't want to know. After a beat of awkwardness, he finally asked, “so, then, what about Miss Queen?”

“Miss Queen will be returning to her castle,” Felicity answered cheekily, earning herself a chuckle from the seasoned older man.

Croissant finished, Quentin pushed away its wrapper and started in on his fruit salad. “Well, let's see... I'm pretty sure I put spoiled milk on my cereal last week. Ate it anyway. And my brakes are going on my car. Again.” Making a wry face, he continued, “so, now that we're all caught up, do you want to tell me why we're really here? Or... let me guess: you're not pressing charges.”

“He's dead, Detective Lance. I can't press charges against him.”

“No, you're right, you can't, but I have ways to make those vultures and, in turn, the world know that you're telling the truth. I've seen some of those headlines being written about you, Miss Smoak. They're not... very nice. You deserve some kind of vindication... even if I can't lock the animal up who did this to you.”


While she knew that it wasn't Detective Lance's fault, Felicity couldn't help but lash out. “Well, your daughter doesn't see it that way.”

“My daughter also currently thinks that wine is an okay substitute for fruit juice in the morning and is holding off scurvy with vodka soaked olives. She's not exactly the best judge of character at the moment.”

“And this is all happening – the rumors, the headlines, the press tailing me – because of her.”

“I'm aware of that, and I'm sorry. So very sorry. That's why I wish you'd let me do what I can from my end. I know we can't file criminal charges against him, but my daughter is right in that you still have the option of taking this to civil court. That Merlyn fortune is just sitting there, waiting for someone to snatch it up and finally do something good with it. You, Miss Smoak, could be that person.”

“It wouldn't matter how many people I helped with Tommy Merlyn's inheritance, with Malcolm Merlyn's blood money, I'd still be the girl who cried wolf and then took over Merlyn Global.” Sighing, she admitted, “while there's a part of me that craves for somebody, for everyone, to see and recognize Tommy for the man he was, for what he did to me, there's another part – a bigger part – that just... wants to move on. If I took this to civil court, the trial could drag on for years. Even if I would win, if it took that long, Tommy would win, too, because he'd be holding my life hostage. Everything about my existence would revolve around the fact that he raped me, and that's exactly what I'm trying to prevent from happening.”

“And, hey, if nothing else,” he finished for her, biting into his cookie and ignoring when the crumbs temporarily stuck to his unshaved face before falling to the table. “It's not like you don't have a CEO with money to burn and goodwill to engender to set up a charity to help victims of sexual assault and rape for you and a vigilante to beat the crap out of would-be rapists for you, too.”

Felicity offered him a sideways grin. “There is that.”

“I still want to help, though; I still want to do something. Because Laurels' my daughter, and because... you're my friend, I feel like I should. Like I need to.”

She could understand that, because she felt the same way. Not about Laurel, of course. Frankly, she couldn't stand the other woman – not after what she did to her, not after how she treated Oliver. But about needing to do something, about needing to feel useful. So, with that in mind, Felicity took a bracing breath and then nodded. “Alright. But no press conference.”

“Agreed. How about a press release – something that confirms that you were raped, that Tommy Merlyn was your rapist, and that the SCPD collected enough evidence to press charges – and win the case – if only Mr. Merlyn were still alive to bring those charges against. Now, it'll be a little while before this can be done, because we're still waiting on all the results to come back from the lab. Sometimes, it can take almost up to a year, but I'll put a rush on things. Light some fires. Call in some favors.”

She contemplated his offer. “I think... I think I'd like for you to work with QC on this.”

Lance frowned. “You mean Oliver.”

“I mean Oliver,” she confirmed.

When he spoke again, she detected a very strong note of whining to his voice. It made her laugh. “Why? And here we were, having such a great lunch. I thought you said we were friends? Friends don't inflict the Queens on each other.”

“Because Laurel's accusations have hurt Oliver and Queen Consolidated, too. Because, if there's going to be a press release, then I want there to be just one, and I want it to include everything... which means Oliver, QC, and their nest of lawyers, promising that neither I nor the Queen family have any interest in Merlyn Global or a civil suit.”

“A nest of lawyers... like snakes. Clever. I should protest on behalf of my daughter,” Lance said as the two of them stood up and made their way towards the exit, Quentin tossing his trash on the way. “But she's not exactly doing anything to fight off that image.”

“Speaking of which... and you don't have to answer this if you feel uncomfortable doing so, but how exactly is it that Laurel still has a job with the DA's office after the stunt she pulled with the media in regards to my case?”

“Well, no one has officially named her as their source yet,” he responded, holding the door open for her. As they came out to stand on the sidewalk, out of the corner of her eye, Felicity noticed John get out of the car to wait for her. “Plus, the way I figure it, she either has something on somebody, or there's somebody pretty high up on the food chain over there who is up to no-good themselves and they need her for whatever it is they have planned.”

“I'm sorry, but I just can't feel bad for her.”

“No one's expecting you to, kid.” Quentin shoved his hands into his plaid shorts' pockets, looking supremely awkward and ill at ease. “That's just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.”

“Speaking of which,” Felicity teased, indicating his shirtfront and grinning.

“Haha, really funny,” the cop complained as he turned and walked away. Over his shoulder, he said, “I'll start the ball rolling on my end; you get your boy on board from yours.”

And then, with a wave, he was gone, though Felicity did notice him discretely wipe off his polo shirt before disappearing around the corner.

Turning towards her friend, she caught Digg looking on in amusement, arms folded leisurely across his chest, body leaning against the car. “There's one more stop I want to make.”

First, she had been to the doctor's for a follow-up that morning, then there had been her meeting with Lance in a public setting, and, now, Felicity suddenly realized what her next step should be. She knew it was cryptic, but John wouldn't mind, especially not once he saw where they were going.

Onto impromptu step three....

 

 

It was late.

Pulling his already loosened tie out from underneath his collar and from around his neck, Oliver went to simply drop it on the floor. He'd pick it up, and he'd put it away the next morning when he had to wake early and start again like he hadn't just spent his entire day at Queen Consolidated. But then he paused. Six years ago, he wouldn't have thought twice about allowing his clothes to fall to the floor, untended. Raisa or another member of the household staff would take care of it for him. They'd pick up his clothes, wash them, and then put them away. But the Oliver he was now was meticulous, and paranoid, and he held far too many secrets to leave himself so vulnerable and exposed. Allowing someone to take care of you was intimate, and he trusted so very few.

Compromising with himself, Oliver threw the tie onto one of those chairs in a hotel bedroom which really served no other purpose but to hold things. He toed off his pinching dress shoes, wincing at the thought of putting them... or any other pair... back on in just a few hours. He had always worn suits, and dress shoes came with the part, but why now, when they were a requirement and not just a choice, did they bother him so much? A symptom of the larger problem, perhaps?

Pushing away his thoughts, Oliver refocused on getting undressed. The last thing he needed that night was personal introspection. He just... wanted to relax. To get out of his clothes, and into something more comfortable, and then crawl into bed beside Felicity, and....

Startled by his realization, his plan, Oliver froze. Shirt untucked, cufflinks undone, buttons released, he just stood there, partially undressed and completely taken aback. “And you were doing so well, too. Typically, at this point, one would shrug off their shirt and start unfastening their pants.”

His head pinged in her direction, snapping to attention. “So, you're helping me undress now?” The words left his mouth before Oliver even considered them.

He would have winced if Felicity wouldn't have mumbled under her breath, “might as well... seeing as how I've mentally been doing it for months now.” Clearing her throat and speaking louder – probably thinking that she had managed to keep her first comment to herself, she added, “Oliver, I took off your clothes the very first night we met... well, met as Oliver Queen, Starling City's Vigilante and Felicity Smoak, Stand-in Ambulance Driver. I might as well undress Oliver Queen, CEO as well. I mean, yeah....” And she blushed, looking away from him. “I don't really think I can make that sound any less compromising.”

“I thought you were sleeping.”

Even from his distance away from her, Oliver saw Felicity's brows rise dramatically, her eyes roll. “Obviously,” she scoffed.

He took a step towards her. Stopped. Tilting his head to the side, while an equally crooked smirk lifted the corners of his mouth, he asked, “were you just going to watch me and not say anything?”

Her pretty flush deepened, burned. Sputtering, Felicity excused, “I was reading. I was totally reading, Oliver. See.” And she held up a book – a new one, he noticed. It was all various shades of deep blue. There was a lighthouse. The Light Between Oceans. And then he saw that the book of hers that he had started more than a week before was sitting on his nightstand.

Using her own word against her, he softly smiled. “Obviously.” And then, before she could sputter and make the moment even more awkward... or take it away, he turned and headed into the adjoining bathroom, only partially closing the door behind him, snatching a pair of sweats and a t-shirt on his way. He wasn't gone thirty seconds before Felicity was talking once more... albeit with a subject change.

“Did you eat? Because it's late, and I know how you tend to get distracted, and the hotel kitchen's closed, but you're Oliver Queen. I'm sure we could get them to bring you up something... even if it's cold. And I know you'll probably just say that it doesn't matter, or you're not hungry, but it does matter, and, even if you're not hungry, you need to eat. You need to keep up your strength. Not that you're not already strong. Of course you're strong. But I... I mean, we... don't want you to lose any of that hard-earned muscle mass, mister. So, sandwich? Ice cream? Wine?”

He snorted a laugh. “Wine?”

“It was the first thing I thought of. And... grapes. Grape are good for you.”

“Not for building muscle mass.”

“Well, it's all just in how you look at it,” Felicity replied back quickly. She always had an answer for everything, that one. “You could get stupid drunk and then start doing acrobatic stunts all around the hotel suite.”

Putting toothpaste on his toothbrush, Oliver parroted her words back to her as a question. “Acrobatic stunts?”

“Yeah, you know... you could swing from chandeliers, leap from one piece of fancy-pants furniture to the next without touching the floor, perform one fingered wall push-ups. Shirtless. Because that's how you roll... without clothes on.”

Through a mouth full of toothpaste foam, Oliver complained, “you make me sound like Tarzan.”

It was faint, but he could still hear, “well, if the loincloth fits....”

Spitting, he resumed brushing but not before saying. “I ate.”

“Oh. Well, that's good.”

As Oliver finished up in the bathroom – putting his toothbrush away, rinsing with mouth wash, gathering up his clothes and tossing them into the bag they used for sending their laundry out, a silence stretched between them. He wasn't sure if Felicity was regrouping, thinking about those one finger wall push-ups, or simply waiting until they could once more talk face-to-face. He supposed it was probably a combination of all three. But the quiet also allowed him to do the same... well, two out of the three.

He had always been aware of the fact that she found him attractive. Oliver would have needed to be a whole lot less self-aware than he was to miss those signals. And, as he had been reminded of so often as of late, she was a beautiful woman as well. And they were friends. But there was a shift occurring in their relationship. He didn't know exactly what was happening, but he knew that it was important. From that moment he saw her in that gold dress... or, more accurately, that gold dress and bomb necklace, Oliver had promised himself that, no matter what, he'd never cross that line with Felicity. She was innocence, and she was light, and he was everything broken and unsafe in the world. It was one thing to work with her. He struggled enough with keeping her alive. But to kiss her, to sleep with her, to love her? Those were things that risked far more than death... for the both of them.

Yet, here they were....

Stepping outside of the bathroom, Oliver reached behind him to turn off the light. Felicity was studiously reading... or, at least, pretending to – her knees bent and her book resting against her thighs; her shoulders rolled forward and her head angled downwards; sitting up against, this time, the padded headboard of the bed they were sharing – had been sharing now for nearly a month. Different hotel suites; same intimacy.

He could still see the faint blemishes of her almost entirely healed bruises – lining her delicate neck, standing out against her chest and collarbones, ringing her arms. But Felicity was finally comfortable in allowing him to see the physical reminders of her emotional wounds. When they were alone together – only when they were alone together and safely locked away from the rest of the world, she'd abandon her dull colors, and uncharacteristic pants, and long sleeves. It was almost summer, and, at least at night, Felicity was starting to utilizing her wardrobe that Thea had packed up for her. She now slept in cotton shorts and bright tank tops, long sleep shirts that were a ridiculous combination of guileless and alluring, and nightgowns.

Since when was he attracted to women who slept in nightgowns?

But he was.

And the fact that Oliver was now in a position to see what Felicity Smoak slept in every night – and why – was a daily reminder that maybe, just maybe, he wasn't her biggest risk.

But her nails were still dark, and that ultimate pain, that ultimate hurt, that ultimate risk had only happened to her once he became a part of her life.

Sitting down on top of the blankets, Oliver reclined back on his side of the bed, lifting his arms to fold and brace his hands beneath his head. Felicity was still sitting up beside him, though she had discarded her book. With a yawn, he returned them to their earlier conversation – wanting to talk to her a little more and needing to curtail his own thoughts. “After the press conference....”

“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry,” Felicity interrupted him, the words practically exploding out of her mouth. Beseechingly, she turned to face him. “But I didn't watch.” She was wincing... as if waiting for the backlash from her statement to impact her.

He chuckled. “Felicity, that's okay. I didn't expect you to, and, besides, you practically wrote...”

“No,” she cut him off once again, her tone going from apologetic to irritated and reprimanding in seconds. “Don't do that.” At his furrowed brow, she explained, “don't dismiss yourself or diminish what you're doing. That speech was your speech. Your thoughts. Your ideas. I just... typed it up for you. Helped you organize it. Accessed thesaurus.com a time or two on your behalf. And don't immediately let me off the hook for being a bad friend.”

“You could never be a bad friend.”

“Ha! You didn't know me in elementary school. I'd play poker at recess inside the tunnels. We'd bet with our lunch food. Those kids and their fancy Lunchables and homemade cookies never saw me coming.”

“So, you were smarter than they were,” he excused her actions, shrugging his shoulders and enjoying his first glimpse into childhood Felicity.

“Oliver, I could count cards by the time I was five. That's how I learned basic arithmetic.”

When he started to laugh, she only frowned, which, much to Felicity's chagrin, only made him laugh more. After a good minute of mirth, he relented and swallowed down his amusement. “So, then, bad friend...”

“You don't have to agree with me,” she pouted.

“ … what were you doing instead of watching the press conference?”

“I was... running an errand.”

“Yeah, Digg said you were being pretty mysterious today.”

Felicity looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Do you call John and check up on me?”

“No, I'm pretty sure he calls to check up on me. Or he's bored,” he postulated quizzically.

“Which is exactly why you should reassign him back to your detail, especially now that you're CEO of Queen Consolidated, and just... assign some other guard to me.”

Oliver sighed tiredly, pushing himself up so that he was leaning against the headboard as well and pinching the bridge of his nose. “We've already been over this, Felicity. I'm not discussing it again.”

“Fine.” At his disbelieving scoff, she added, “and I'm not conceding on the matter, just... offering you a momentary truce, because there's something else we need to talk about – something that we've put off for far too long already.”

He knew exactly what she was referring to. If it hadn't been weighing so heavily upon his own mind, then the the surge of electric strength that seemed to pulse through Felicity's form as she straightened and turned towards him would have clued him in. She was only that passionate amount one thing. But he wasn't ready yet. Even if he could only push aside the inevitable for a few more minutes, he'd take any reprieve he could get.

“Sorry that I missed training tonight.”

“What?” His change in topic managed to catch her momentarily off-guard. “Oh.” Felicity waved off his apology. “That's okay, and I understand. You'll be pleased to know, though, that I still went running without you. Digg went with me. We didn't run in The Glades, though. He didn't think you'd like that – me there... without you. So, we went out to the 'burbs and found an empty high school track.” Becoming extremely grave, she emphasized, “hurdles, Oliver. He made me jump hurdles. If I can't walk tomorrow, I told him he's carrying me around all day on a litter. Like Cleopatra.”

“If that happens, make sure you stop by QC so I can see it. I'll need a good laugh.” When Felicity remained silent – not bantering back with him, Oliver regarded her closely and found her frowning. “Hey, what's wrong?”

“I just... when I became all encouraging and excited for you about taking over Queen Consolidated, I guess I never really thought about how much time you'd have to put into it. You're going to be there like... every day. And tonight isn't going to be the anomaly; the anomaly will be the early night you actually get to come home. Not home home, obviously... as in you, me, and a puppy makes three. Just... not at QC home.

“Trust me, I know.” Scrubbing his hands over his face, Oliver confessed, “today was... exhausting, and I didn't even do much besides smile and recite comments that were practically scripted for me by the PR department. After the press conference, I sat down with one carefully, hand selected reporter for a more intimate Q&A with QC's new CEO. Seven times. And then the board wanted a play-by-play report of how the interviews went when they should have just done them themselves. That led into a working dinner... which then led into a brainstorming session, and the only reason we stopped for the night was because someone fell asleep. Literally. His elbow slipped off the table which made him choke on a snore.”

Felicity giggled. “That had to, at least, be amusing.”

Oliver frowned. “I was actually jealous.” When her giggles turned into full-blown belly chuckles... at his expense, but that only seemed to make their sound that much sweeter, he grinned. “So, please. Tell me about your day instead. Distract me. How'd things go with Lance?”

“Good,” she answered, nodding her head in accordance with her answer. “Really good. In fact, I think you'll be hearing from him soon.”

“About what?”

“He wants to build ships together – great big ships.”

“Huh?”

Exasperated, she asked, “how are you at reading and watching movies at the same time, because, at this point, we should probably start doubling up on your pop culture training.”

Oliver ignored her half-teasing, half-serious inquiry. “And this top secret errand?”

“You'll find out about it soon,” she answered primly, folding her hands together in her crossed-legged lap and smiling softly. “Probably in about seven to ten business days, give or take a few depending upon how snail-y the snail mail is.”

“And people say I'm the enigmatic one.”

Wrinkled brow and all, she posed, “people? What people?”

“Thea.”

“Speaking of your sister,” Felicity segued. “She told me this evening that she has some solid leads on the apartment search. She wants us to block off some time together to go and look at them. Maybe next weekend?” He nodded his concession, knowing that he should write it down or program it into his phone but also knowing that Felicity was a better reminder than any note or calendar alert. “Also, I think you should tell her.”

“About what?” Oh, he knew exactly what she was referring to. In response, he received the patented Felicity Smoak 'if you think I'm going to believe that story, that lie, that excuse, that denial, you're even dumber than you look' head tilt. While he was no more immune to it as he had been the very first time she had pulled such a move on him, the subject was far too sensitive for Oliver to laugh or even smile this time. “Absolutely not. And, besides, there's nothing to say.”

“Yeah, about that...”

“Felicity.”

“Okay, look, I'm sorry. Alright? I've tried to be patient. I really have. And, for me, I think I've done a pretty good job of not bringing up the vigilante in the room, but I can't not ask any longer, Oliver. Are you done? Are you hanging up the hood? For good? Am I redesigning and upgrading the basement for absolutely no reason, because, while its fun to spend your money on tech and all, I can just as easily overcompensate on a ridiculous home office for you as I can a super-secret ninja lair?”

And the inevitable had arrived. “I don't... I don't know. Everything I've done, it's been to right my father's wrongs. To make up for all the horrible things he did in the name of our family. But maybe I can do that from QC now – clean up the city by bringing back the jobs and providing people with better means to help themselves. Because the list...”

“Screw the list, Oliver,” she interrupted him. Chancing a glance up at the woman beside him, he saw her looking more determined, more stubborn, and more vehement than perhaps ever before. “Towards the end... right before...” She changed tactics. “We'd basically gone off book already.”

“That's not the point.”

She surprised him by agreeing, “no, you're right; it isn't. The point is that, a month ago, we were doing good things. Helpful things. Selfless things. And, while you're once more trying to help but in a different way, I'm not. I can't... not without The Hood. And Digg? He can look after Carly, and be a good uncle to AJ, but how is he supposed to help as just your driver or my bodyguard? And, Oliver, we need to help; I need to help.”

She paused momentarily to gather her thoughts, to mentally prepare her arguments. “Even Lance questioned if I should file a civil suit against Merlyn Global. He's all about the law, and justice, and he believes that, in doing the right thing, he can save the world, but he was willing to entertain the idea of me fighting this battle in the courts, because think about what I could do if I won – how many charities I could start and support, how many shelters I could build, how many rape survivors I could positively impact. But I can't; I can't go to trial – dig up everything I'm trying to work my way through six months, a year, two years down the line, allowing a jury, and this city, and the world to know exactly what Tommy Merlyn did to me. And it's not about shame either. It's about pride, because my rape is no one's business but my own. Laurel already took that from me once. I won't allow a trial to do it a second time.

“But I can't sit back and just... do nothing either, Oliver.” Licking her lips, she continued, “do you know how many women are raped a day? A week? A year? Across the world? Just here, in Starling? In the United States, a woman is raped every two minutes.” Nearly choking on her own words, she repeated, “two minutes, Oliver.” Swallowing thickly, she pressed, “we're not even halfway through the year yet, and, already, there have been more than 500 reported rapes in Starling City. Those are just the ones reported. Who knows how many other have gone unnoticed. Ignored. Denied. After all, I wasn't going to say anything about mine.”

When he flinched, she surprised him by reaching out and taking hold of one of his hands between both of hers. Squeezing gently, Felicity said, “Oliver, I'm not telling you this to make you feel guilty. I understand why you're hesitant to put your hood on again and go back out there. But, at the same time, this is practically all I can think about – this need I have to do something. To help. And maybe I can't fight crime on my own, and perhaps it's selfish of me to even ask you to consider doing something you're unsure of, but I just can't stop seeing their faces, yet they're all mine. They're always mine. And I can't help but feel guilty – not that I did something wrong or that Tommy raping me was my fault. I know that it wasn't. But I'm one of the lucky ones, Oliver, because I have you, and I have Digg, and I have Thea, and I even have Detective Lance. But so many other women...? They don't have anyone.

“But they could have you. And they could have Digg. And they could have Detective Lance. And me. And, if you tell her and you allow her to help – and she wants to, Oliver. So much. Maybe she doesn't know what exactly it is she'd be doing, but Thea wants to make a difference; she wants to make amends for your family, too. And Roy. He's already doing what he can. But it's not enough. And it could be more if we all just... worked together. So, screw the list. Screw your mother, and screw your father, and screw every single thing they've ever done to hurt the people of this city. And just... be a hero, not a cause. And help me... all of us... be heroes, too.”

She took a deep breath and then expelled it loudly, deflating before his very eyes. Re-situating herself so that she was laying down in bed – only, this time, on her side and facing him, hands tucked beneath her chin, Felicity spoke through a yawn. “So, that's it. That's my big, scary, call-to-arms... er, arrows... speech.” She gulped, frowned, tensed. “Are you mad?”

Oliver blinked – rapidly. “No, I'm not mad.” And then he, too, scooted down and laid flat on his back, folding his own hands across his abdomen. “I'm... that's a lot to think about, Felicity.”

Her eyes fluttered shut – as though his reassurance that he wasn't mad and that he was at least considering her words were enough to make her relax into sleep. “That's all I ask.” After a beat, she added, “oh, and for separate bathrooms. I really... need that... too.”

Chuckling, he sat up, reached across her already slumbering form, and turned off her bedside lamp. “Goodnight, Felicity.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

“What is it with you and this weird Asian food fetish?”

“Oliver, if you think this is a fetish, I'm afraid you won't live up to your reputation. I mean, don't. I totally meant don't. Ack!” And then Felicity studiously turned away from him, pretending to look at anything and everything hanging on the walls as they waited for their Vietnamese takeout order to be finished.

“No, really.” He was enjoying her embarrassment, he always liked when they could share a light-hearted conversation... especially now, and he was bored. Even as a child, Oliver was never the most patient of children. Now, though? He downright hated waiting. So, he refused to let the topic drop. “You've insisted upon one kind of Asian food or another this entire week so far.”

“That's because it's delicious,” she answered, though she spoke without looking at him. “You can never have too much Asian food.”

Oliver scoffed. “Felicity, I spent five years on an island in the North China Sea. I think....”

“I think,” she cut him off, whipping her head around, a single brow raised in challenge. “That you have absolutely no room to grouse about three days – three days, Oliver – of Asian food. After all, I highly doubt there was a PF Chang's that delivered to this island of yours. Unless there's something that you're not telling me... say, oh, everything.”

Transferring the bag of wine he was carrying to the crook of his elbow, Oliver shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. Although they were again using the Queen family's fleet of vehicles, Felicity's old apartment was in a residential neighborhood not often frequented by the one percent, meaning they were pretty much guaranteed an evening without the paparazzi. With the taste of freedom in the warm, summer air, they had elected to walk that night. Offering Felicity one of his trademark grins, Oliver suggested, “sushi sounds great for tomorrow night.”

Felicity just moaned low in her throat. “We're going to need more wine.”

“What?” He genuinely chuckled, amused by her antics. “Why?”

“Oliver, I have a lot of books.”

“Really? I hadn't noticed,” he remarked dryly.

Amused, Oliver watched her stomp her foot. “That's not what I meant.”

“But now you're going to tell me exactly what you meant, right?”

“Well, how else would you ever understand anything,” Felicity volleyed back.

She was distracted, and would have been off to the races on yet another tangent – this time, his lack of comprehension skills – if Oliver wouldn't have steered her back to the topic. “The wine?”

“Yes,” Felicity shook her head, blinked. “The wine. The more wine that we're buying. We need to go back to the wine store.”

Teasing her, he asked, “are you sure you just don't want to be carded again, while I'm not asked for identification?”

She giggled. “That was fun. But no. Like I said, I have a lot of books.”

“Speaking of which, that actually surprises me.” Now, it was his turn to carry them away from their original discussion, but it was for a good cause. He had been wondering about Felicity's book collection for weeks.

“Seriously, Oliver? You've met me, right? You can't be surprised that I like to read.”

“Not that you like to read,” he defended his astonishment. “Just that you like to read print books.” At the sight of her scrunched up face, he explained, “I just would have predicted you to be an eBook reader. After all, I know how much you love your tablets. I've bought you enough of them.”

“A girl never has too many tablets, Oliver.”

“I thought that was shoes.”

“Or shoes,” she agreed. “But no. No eBooks for me. I like the genuine article. The real McCoy. It's like the one and only instance in my life where I don't prefer a machine.”

His mind immediately went elsewhere, nearly causing him to choke on his own tongue. “The only?”

But Felicity's didn't follow him there. “It's the smell. Nothing smells better than a brand new book. In fact, it should be bottled. You should bottle it.” Her eyes grew wide with excitement. “Oh! It can be your first new project as CEO of Queen Consolidated.”

“You want me to go into the cosmetics business?”

“Well, if the face makeup fits,” she remarked sarcastically. Playfully. “And... I can't believe I didn't think of this before, but I could design fingernail polish colors, though Thea will have to name them. She's cheekier than I am. Or maybe even Diggle. He's like... sly cheeky. And that smug grin of his, too? Ugh! We really need to talk about putting him in his place. I'm thinking... mortifying pictures of him to all the other security guys. But, then again, that might not be devious enough. Because he's bad enough on his own, but now that he and Thea are a team and ganging up on me about us moving in together....”

She finally paused to take a breath, so Oliver took the opportunity to ask, “what do you mean...,” only to be cut off by another voice, a third voice, a very unwelcome, female voice.

“You're moving in together?” And then the irritated, devastated, incredulous voice bit out acerbically, “of course you are. I should have known.”

He turned around slowly, a horrible sense of deja vu settling into his bones. Suddenly, Oliver was just... so weary, and the last thing he wanted was another ugly confrontation with Laurel. Not only were they in public, but he and Felicity were having a good night. A free night. A carefree night. “Laurel, this isn't the time or the place to....”

“To do what,” she interrupted him, going from pissed off to near tears in a matter of seconds. “For you to hurt me? Again?”

“Look, Laurel, this has nothing to do with you.”

She scoffed, sniffled. “It never does!”

Oliver spread his hands out in front of him in defeat. “I have no idea what you want me to say, what you want from....”

“I want you to, just once in your life, think about someone else,” she yelled. And they were starting to draw a crowd. A scene always captured onlookers' attention, but, when one of those people causing the scene was Oliver Queen... and the woman whose name had been smeared in the media for nearly two months was standing beside him, things could get out of hand quickly. “I want you to just... stop this. Stop disrespecting Tommy's memory, stop....”

From beside him, Felicity's rational voice quietly spoke. “Laurel, you need to calm....”

“No,” Laurel snapped, glaring at Felicity. “You just... don't even speak to me.” Directing her teary gaze at Oliver once more, she said, “does nobody care about Tommy anymore? Do you? Because I do, but it feels like everybody else has forgotten him. You're walking around – laughing, joking, moving in with the woman who falsely accused him of raping her.”

“I'm not lying, Laurel. I wouldn't lie about something like that. But you don't know me. And you have no reason to believe me. But you know your father. You love your father. And he does... believe in me, that is. Because evidence doesn't lie. Just ask him. Not all of the results are in yet, but....”

Laurel laughed dubiously. “Don't even get me started on the police.” Sneering, she went on, “they're more worried about pinning lies on a good man than getting out there and catching the one responsible for his death.”

Oliver stepped forward, holding a reassuring hand out towards his ex-girlfriend. He was starting to get worried – not only about the scene, and Laurel's drinking, but, now, also about her state of mind. “Malcolm's dead. He died the same night that Tommy did. You know this.”

“I'm not talking about Malcolm,” she snapped, voice rising even higher. “I'm talking about The Hood. The Vigilante. Tommy's dead because of both archers – not just one, yet he's still out – a free man, walking around, breathing, living, while Tommy's not. It's not fair.”

Without blinking, without looking away in guilt, or shame, or even anger that Tommy's death was so easy, without flinching, Oliver simply agreed with her. “No, it's not.” Because it wasn't. Tommy shouldn't have died, because he should have had to face what he did; Felicity should have had the chance to see him punished for his actions; Laurel should have been forced to see and accept Tommy for who he really was; he, and Diggle, and everybody else who cared about Felicity should have had the chance to defend her. Oliver driving the rebar through his chest was little more than a mercy killing. There was no satisfaction in that. No justice.

“So, then, why are you doing this? Why are you helping her? How can you... be with her?” Laurel's eyes darted down towards their hands. Though they weren't touching, they might as well have been, because it was obvious Laurel was seeing another image, another moment forever captured by film as she stared at them. “I saw the pictures. At first, I though maybe you were just doing this because of Queen Consolidated, because of Thea, and your mom, and for your dad. To save the company.” She paused, laughed humorlessly. “But, congratulations, you're really convincing. We dated for years, and I don't think the press ever got a picture of his holding hands.”

“How is that... you make absolutely no sense whatsoever,” Felicity whispered in exasperated awe. “You'd rather Oliver pretend to the world that his best friend was a rapist to secure a business deal instead of, heaven forbid, simply being a good friend to a rape victim? Of all things, that has the power to turn you into Terry Ann Wolfmeyer?”

Laurel rolled her eyes. “You have no idea what you're talking about.”

“Excuse me?”

“What, you think Oliver's your friend? You think that somehow you're different, that you're special?” With every word she said, Laurel advanced in Felicity's direction. While Oliver tried to stand between them, Felicity rounded him, the two women eventually coming to stand toe-to-toe. “That he won't hurt you? That this time he won't run? Well, I have news for you, sweetheart. The very idea of moving in with me made Oliver sail halfway around the world... with my sister. He killed my sister, because he was too much of a coward to tell me that he didn't want to live together. And he'll do the same to you. Oh, he might say all the right things now, but, in a week from now, a month, the day you're supposed to sign those final papers, he'll lie to your face, break your heart, and screw someone else because, that way, you'll break up with him, and he'll get the easy out. Like always.”

“You hate me; you anonymously feed the press bogus, conspiracy theories about me and leak the news about my rape. Yet... you warn me to stay away from Oliver? For my own good. You rail at Oliver for cheating on you; you slept with him hours after the man whose name you have turned into your battle cry broke up with you, hours before he died.” Felicity shrugged. “I get it, you know. You're hurt, and you're sad, and you feel guilty, and you're mourning, but pull your head out of the spiked punch bowl, Laurel. Stop sipping the hypocritical juice already. You can't have it both ways, and you can't keep throwing Oliver's past mistakes in his face.”

“You know nothing about Oliver's past – our past, because you weren't around back then.”

“And thank goodness for small favors, because I wouldn't have had the patience for that.” When Laurel went to protest, Felicity rushed to say, “look, I know. Six years ago? Oliver was a horrible boyfriend to you. He lied, and he cheated, and he ran. But he's made up for those mistakes. Tenfold. Yet, you still want to brand him for his crimes against you. Only... someone's already beaten you to the punch, Laurel. Oliver's been shot. He's been stabbed. He's been burned. He's been tortured. And you know all of this, because you've seen him naked. He wears the scars of his sins day in and day out. They cover his body. So, where does that leave you? What, do you want to sear an A into one side of his face and an M into the other? When will he have suffered enough for you to leave him alone? I'm not telling you to forgive him; I'm just....”

“Good,” Laurel seethed, breathing heavily. “Because I'll never forgive him. He doesn't deserve a day of peace, because at least he lived. I can't say the same for my sister.”

“I really think,” Oliver tried to intervene. But he didn't get very far.

“Oh, that's it,” Felicity exploded, and Oliver watched as she seemingly transformed before him. Gone was the placating woman who was simply trying to escape the situation with her dignity intact, and, in her place, was the hellion who had challenged him, stood up to him, changed him. “You want to talk about Sara, Laurel? Yeah. Let's talk about your sister? Was Oliver a tool for cheating on you with your own sister? Absolutely. But he was just your boyfriend. There's no real commitment there... other than by choice, no real bond. At least, nothing like the bond that's supposed to exist between siblings. Yet, for some reason, at the first sign of any interest from Oliver, Sara threw you – her own sister – overboard, no pun intended, for some cheap sex. I didn't know your sister, and I'm not trying to speak ill of the dead, but, obviously, there was something else broken there besides Oliver's monogamy gene. And don't even try to tell me that Oliver was that irresistible, because I've seen the photos; I've seen the hair, and I certainly could have said no.

“So, yeah. Blame him all you want for being a crap boyfriend. He deserves it... although I must say that it takes two to make a relationship suck, and Oliver's not subtle... or very good at lying. If he was that uncomfortable with the idea of moving in with you, I'm pretty sure he let you know. Maybe not with words. The words aren't his forte; they're mine. But he has tells. That poker face? So not Vegas-worthy.” She finally paused to take a breath, but then her face brightened with another idea, and her finger shot up to emphasize her point. “Oh. Oh! And, while we're on the subject, you were the dumbass who kept taking his cheating behind back over, and over, and over again. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me forty-seven times? Yeah... you don't get to talk again. Anymore. Ever.”

He watched in complete dumbfounded awe as Felicity seemed to ponder her words, going back over them in her mind. Behind her new glasses – they were green, and they were also the secret errand she had run after her lunch with Lance, he saw her eyes flickering hectically until they stilled. And she smiled, nodding decisively once. Then, spinning on the heels of her flip-flops, Felicity walked away, heading towards the register to pick up their food.

Suddenly, in a room full of curious people, he was alone with Laurel. Before Tommy raped Felicity and all the subsequent events that followed, Oliver never would have, could have, believed that his relationship with Laurel could deteriorate so much; could become so ugly, and twisted, and unfixable; that he'd ever feel this uncomfortable around the woman whose face had helped him survive five years of purgatory. As she continued to stand there – finally silenced once and for all by Felicity's justified diatribe and staring into space, Oliver found himself saying, “you know, I never wanted... any of this to happen. And I am sorry. But I think it's best if we no longer are a part of each others' lives. If I see you, I won't approach. I won't say hello. I'll walk away. And you need to do the same, Laurel, because Felicity's right. You need to let go of the past. I can't change it, and it's drowning you.”

That – regret and guilt – were two things that Oliver could identify with. Hell, for nearly a year they had been the driving force behind his every action, his every decision. But the more he watched Felicity heal from her rape, and every time he saw her defend him, he realized, piece by piece, that, while he wasn't the hero she saw him as, he wasn't a monster either. He was just... human. “I've... forgiven myself,” he confessed, the words and the sentiment behind them surprising no one more than Oliver himself. Because they weren't just lip service for Laurel; they were the truth. “And I hope someday you'll be able to forgive yourself, too. Maybe you should... maybe you should start with a meeting – an AA meeting.”

In parting, he offered her a sad smile before turning away and striding towards a paying Felicity. From behind him, he heard Laurel shout, “I'm not a drunk, Ollie.”

Spinning to face her, he observed her for several tense moments. She was florid from drink, her hands were shaking, and she was thin. Too thin. Sickly thin. Like she wasn't eating and was drinking her stomach full every night. “I guess you're not ready yet.” From beside him, Oliver felt Felicity silently, supportively approach. She didn't touch him, but he felt her strength wrapping around him anyway – a shield against Laurel's hate, and accusations, and the pain they caused him. “Goodbye, Laurel.”

As it often seemed to be now, it was Olive who initiated contact with Felicity, taking her head as they quietly walked out of the restaurant together.

 

 

Their dinner was gone, the first bottle of wine sat discarded on top of what would soon be Felicity's former kitchen peninsula and bar, and he was already half way through packing up her many, many books, but, yet, Oliver was pretty sure that his friend – his loquacious, bubbly, and warm friend – had muttered less than ten words since they had left the Vietnamese restaurant. While he had gotten used to Felicity needing quiet moments, over the past several weeks, he had caught so many glances of her smile, of color saturating her world, their world, again, that it had been easy to think that maybe they had made some progress, that a corner had been turned. And Oliver wouldn't go so far as to say that one confrontation with Laurel was enough to erase all their healing, but, in that living room – surrounded by stacks of books, empty boxes, packed boxes, and memories only Felicity could recall but that he had trouble not imagining, it certainly felt like Laurel had been a setback.

It was one more reason why Oliver felt resentment towards the lawyer.

But at least he had his answer about why Felicity needed more wine. He had been watching her all evening – ever since they left the restaurant, and he had quickly noticed once they set to work on packing that her eyes tracked his every movement, especially when he lifted or carried anything heavy... only her gaze most definitely wasn't watching his face, looking for strain or discomfort. No, Felicity stared at his arms. And then she usually gulped a hearty portion of her wine as a chaser. It was like the salmon ladder but better, and it was gratifying and endearing, but it still didn't make up for Laurel's actions.

“I'm sorry about Laurel... about what she said, how she once again denied the truth about your rape, your feelings.”

“Don't apologize for her,” Felicity surprised him by saying. It wasn't so much that she refused to accept his regrets on Laurel's behalf; it was the tone of her voice. It was the lack of bitterness and pain lacing her words. “You know, I think she actually does believe me – that she knows that Tommy raped me, but she's holding onto her denial as tightly as she can, because, once she admits the truth to herself, everything else either becomes meaningless – what she thought they shared together – or becomes that much more unbearable – her guilt, her regret, the choices she's made.”

“You're a very forgiving person, Felicity Smoak.”

She was sitting across from him, carefully labeling the box of books he had just packed. Legs crossed in front of her, her feet bare, her face fresh and free of any makeup, Felicity looked both younger and even more innocent than he knew her to be and wise beyond her years. He also noticed that, while her nails weren't bright and cheerful – yet, they weren't as dark either. She had on a simple pair of old, worn jeans and a plain, white t-shirt, and she was beautiful. When she finished writing the title of the book she was currently labeling – someone needed to know where every single book was at all times... just in case she needed one before they were all unpacked, she looked up at him and smiled. “And you actually managed to say that without making it sound like a bad thing, so kudos to both of us.”

He grinned, appreciating the return of the lightness between them and trying to stretch it out for as long as possible. “Apparently, you're rubbing off on me.”

“Yeah... not going there,” she remarked primly, making his grin turn into a chuckle. “But, in all seriousness... and this doesn't mean that you can take back the compliment, but it has nothing to do with forgiveness. I've just found that, in trying to come to terms with my own feelings, I've become more aware of others'.” She shrugged then, lifting her brows and rolling her eyes, too. “Plus, in a way, what she said tonight was a good thing.”

“Okay, I think you've had too much of this,” Oliver teased, reaching across the space between them and purloining her glass of wine. This time, it was Felicity's turn to laugh, and he relished in knowing he had the power to give her that – to make her smile even in the midst of such a heavy conversation.

“Don't get me wrong, Laurel's a mean drunk.” He briefly closed his eyes and shook his head in amusement. Felicity was certainly one of a kind. “And it really just... burns my biscuits that she thinks it's alright to blame you for all of her problems.”

“Well, me and The Vigilante. Don't forget that she hates him, too.”

Oliver received a pert, droll scowl for his efforts. “Yes, because that makes it better. Did the Queen of talking about himself in the third person finally confuse all his different hats... or should I say hoods?”

“I wouldn't worry about it,” he tried to reassure her.

“Oliver, are you forgetting that this is the same woman who has made my life a living hell for the past two months? Maybe the media has backed off some in regards to the rape because they finally did their research and realized that, despite the police investigation, charges cannot be filed against a dead guy, but ever since those pictures of the two of us... holding hands... were published, the reporters and photographers have become practically rabid. The Damaged Dork and the Charming CEO pairing up as corporate raiders... and perhaps even more? Not that I think that of course,” she rushed on to say, blushing. “I mean, the idea of you and me,” Felicity motioned back and forth between them with her hand that wasn't holding the Sharpie. “It's preposterous.” He didn't respond... which meant that, although he didn't disagree with her, he didn't agree either. “But the press doesn't know that, and, if Laurel would ever find out that you're... you, we'd be doomed. As it stands now, it's bad enough that she and her vendetta work in the DA's office. Now that you've agreed to pick up your bow once again....”

And he had. After their late night talk a couple of weeks before – after Felicity's impassioned speech, he realized that, like almost always, she knew what he needed... even before he did. While he had no interest in his former mission, he also couldn't turn a blind eye to all the ugliness around them. It had nothing to do with righting wrongs and everything to do with just doing the right thing. The city needed help, and he had the means to offer Starling just that. And, through his actions, he also had the ability to give others the chance to do some good as well. Maybe he wasn't ready to bring Thea and Roy in on his secret, but he was ready to patrol the street, hoping that his presence and his training could make them just that much safer. Every life saved, every spark of innocence protected, every woman not raped would make the sacrifice worth it.

Blinking out of his silent ruminations, Oliver refocused on the woman across from him, noticing that she had been studying him the entire time. It was a strange thing to notice, because it felt so familiar. Quietly watching from afar was his MO, not Felicity's. She just barreled into a situation and demanded knowledge. She had it, and she expected everyone else to have it, too. But this... more patient, more subtle side of her personality was just one of the new – not better, not worse; just new – things about her since the rape, one of the changes, and he was still getting used to them. “I guess we'll have to... keep an eye on the District Attorney's office, not just the SCPD – make sure the situation doesn't get out of hand.”

She nodded once in agreement, in concession. “I can do that.” He had no doubt. “But this is what I meant when I said having the wrath of Laurel rain down upon us was actually a good thing. It made us aware of a new threat, and I don't know about you, but I'd take one petty, repetitive woman's rant over getting caught with our pants down – literally speaking, of course; you always keep your pants on, and I typically wear skirts. Or dresses. Except lately... with everything that's happened, I've been more of a pants kind of girl myself, but they definitely stay on my body as well, and....” Felicity blinked rapidly several times, opening her jaw wide as though to crack it into submission. “Just where exactly was I going with...?”

Oliver took pity on her. “You'd rather take Laurel's anger than be caught unaware when she came after us.”

“Yes,” Felicity said emphatically, rocking forward and jabbing her marker at him in emphasis. “Exactly! Because one awkward scene at a Vietnamese restaurant is so much better than repetitive strip searches.”

He nearly choked on her words. “Strip searches?”

“In prison,” she explicated further, eyes wide with seriousness and fear. “I know Orange is the New Black. I've read the book; I've seen the show.”

“When,” he asked, genuinely curious. “Felicity, you just told me a couple of weeks ago about this show – how you couldn't wait for it premiere. Now, you tell me that you've already seen it?” Deciding to tease her, he further question, “is this what you do all day; is this what I pay you to do – watch television with Digg and my sister, a bowl of popcorn in your lap and a box of Milk Duds off to the side?”

“It's Sweet Tarts, actually,” she corrected him smugly. Of course it'd be Sweet Tarts. “Milk Duds get stuck in your teeth.” She shuddered playfully and then threw a great, big smirk in his direction. “And, for your information, no. You actually pay me to spend your money. I spend my day searching for and purchasing the things that Thea wants for the club, restocking the basement to Digg's specifications, and trying to find a quiet space to work where I won't have to hear your sister screeching at the construction workers because, if they don't meet her deadline, there's going to be a line of dead bodies. You know, come to think of it, I'm pretty sure the wrong Queen went into the scaring people straight business, because Thea is much more intimidating than you are.”

“Gee, thanks.” Felicity flashed him a beatific smile. “But whatever happened to you making me watch it with you, because – and I quote you here – somebody needs to show you what real torture – living with a hundred women – is actually like?”

She shrugged unapologetically. “Oliver, this is what happens when you don't keep me busy and entertained at night.” As the words replayed themselves in her mind, Felicity groaned – shoulders slumping so that her hands fell to loudly smack against the floor, her chin crashing downwards to land against her chest. Still not looking at him, she asked, “can I have my wine back, please? Maybe if I drink enough, I'll forget what I just said, and you'll take pity on me and my wicked hangover tomorrow and not remind me about this latest outbreak of foot-in-mouth disease.”

Although he slid the glass towards her, Oliver taunted, “I can't make any promises.”

Grumbling around the goblet as she drank greedily, Felicity muttered, “mean,” into her wine. She finished the glass – there had only been a swallow left – before replenishing it and topping off his own. They were well on their way to polishing off their second bottle, but they still had plenty of packing to do, so there was time to burn off the buzz.

As he watched her actions out of the corner of his eye, Oliver returned to her alphabetical by author, then alphabetical by title (unless the novels were a part of a series and then they were shelved chronologically) bookshelves. Apparently, Felicity was just as particular about her books as she was her computers, and he couldn't wait to get his hands on them once they were unpacked. Oh, he wouldn't be overt about it. He planned to just switch a few titles around at a time, making it less than obvious and waiting to see how long it would take for Felicity to notice... and then how long it would take her to realize that the mistakes weren't just that but were actually purposefully arranged to annoy her. It'd be like messing with Thea's closet... only better, because Felicity in a temper was entertaining, whereas his sister pissed off was just downright scary.

Maybe Felicity had a point about Thea's ability to intimidate?

“There's actually something else that Laurel made me realize tonight.”

By the earnest and solemn note to Felicity's voice, he knew that their moment of levity had passed again. Setting the box aside that he had just been filling, Oliver turned around to face her once more, mimicking her stance by folding his legs beneath him. “Okay?”

Felicity exhaled harshly, as if bracing herself. “As you know, the media has begun to look into me. To look into my past.”

“And I'm sorry about that. It's not fair. You didn't do anything to deserve this invasion of your privacy.”

“Oliver, it's not your fault.” When he went to protest, she held up a preventive, pleading hand. He relented. “It's not my fault either. At this point, it just... is. I hate it, but I've also accepted that there's nothing I can do to stop it... except maybe ignore them, and, eventually, they'll get bored and go away. Plus,” she added, glancing around as she started to fidget – first by picking at that not so dark, not so depressed nail polish and then by aggravating the distressed knees of her jeans. “I've done a pretty good job over the years of burying my past... figuratively and literally. I've wiped just about everything there was about me off the internet other than those things – my driving record, my grades, my Pinterest board – that I either don't mind if people see or that would be too suspicious to erase, and I don't really think about my past that much. My childhood. And I certainly don't talk about it.”

When she paused to take a breath, he murmured, “I've noticed.” His softly spoken words seemed to remind Felicity that he was even there in the room with her, and she looked up sharply, meeting his gaze. Oliver offered her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “It's okay. If anyone can understand your need for privacy, it's me. But I also meant what I said all those months ago, too. You can talk to me – about anything.”

“I know that,” she reassured him. And, just like that, the fidgeting stopped, and she returned his smile with a small grin of her own. “Maybe I didn't then, but I do now, and that's part of the reason why I'm bringing this up.”

“And the other part?”

She bit her bottom lip, nibbling at the right corner momentarily before answering, “if you're going to find out, I'd rather it be from me and not the press.”

“I... thank you.”

“Don't thank me yet. You don't know what it is I'm about to tell you.”

He laughed humorlessly. “Okay, now you're starting to scare me.”

“It's nothing that bad,” Felicity tried to put his mind as ease. It didn't work, and, apparently, she could tell, because she chuckled and pressed, “no, seriously, it's not. I promise. I wasn't beaten, or raised by wolves, or experimented on or anything. I just... didn't have a very happy childhood. And it was lonely.”

“That's hard for me to imagine,” he confessed, tilting his head to the side in observation of her. “With the way you are now.... You just... you make people want to be around you, Felicity.”

“Well, evidently, that wasn't always the case, because my dad left my mom and I when I was young. I don't really remember much about him, and my mom never talked about him after he left us.”

“And your mom,” he prompted her.

“My relationship with my mother is... complicated.” Oliver had to restrain himself from snorting in agreement. He could certainly commiserate with that sentiment. “As you've probably picked up on, I'm an only child, and I'm pretty sure that I wasn't planned. Or even wanted. While my mom has never come right out and said as much, let's just say that she's less than subtle, and it only got worse after my dad left.”

Taking a bracing drink of her wine, Felicity composed herself for a moment before setting her glass back down and refocusing upon him. “Through observation and experiencing the opposite, I've learned that a good parent needs to be selfless. They need to have the ability to put their children's needs ahead of their own, and my mother struggled with that. In her own way, I do think that she loves me, but it's hard for her – taking care of someone else when she can barely take care of herself. It didn't help that money was always tight. Vegas is an expensive city to live in.”

He couldn't help it. He laughed. “The card counting makes sense now.”

“So, too, I'm guessing do the flamboyant colors.”

“No,” Oliver offered, the corners of his mouth tilting upwards in recollection, in fondness. “Those have always made sense.”

Felicity's gaze narrowed as she tried to sort through his comment, but, after several seconds, she just shook off her contemplation, returning to the conversation at hand. “Things between my mom and I got better once I left for college. The distance helped. Plus, she regained her independence. We'll never be close, but I've gotten to the point where I'm alright with that fact. It still hurts, and there are scars there – deep scars – that will probably never go away. I have these abandonment issues.... Even the thought of losing someone important to me again...? Well, let's just say I can have the tendency to get clingy, so if I ever start to get too needy, or dependent, or....”

“Felicity,” he interjected gently. Once she swallowed her next words and was listening to him, Oliver continued, “I'm not going anywhere, so you can hold onto me as tightly as you want to. As you need to.”

“Are you sure,” she asked him. Before he could answer, she rushed to add, “because I know that you're all big, and buff, and strong, and you have more than enough muscles to supply an entire runway full of emaciated male models with a little tone to go on top of their bones, but these arms?” And she flexed – adorably so – and made what Oliver guessed was supposed to be a scary, menacing face. “They're stronger than they look. 'I work out. Boy, look at this body. Boy, look at this body. Boy, look at this body.' I train with a ninja.”

Laconically, Oliver responded, “I think I can handle it.” Then, to make her laugh, he picked up a light weight, paperback book and tossed it in her direction, making sure that his aim was purposefully off. “Now, get back to work. Slacker.”

“I can't believe you just did that!” He tossed her a smug grin. “You could have spilled the wine!” After a beat, Felicity added, “and, if you ever toss any of my books ever again, I'll... I'll... I'll dye your hood pink!”

And he wouldn't put it past her either. “Don't touch the gear, Smoak.”

“Well, then, don't toss my books around like a queen again, Queen.”

He shook his head in feigned impatience. But it was really amusement. And then, without another word, he returned to his packing, Felicity falling back as seamlessly into her task as well. As he worked, Oliver quietly contemplated everything he had learned about his friend that evening. While Tommy's actions had proven to him that there were worse threats in the world to Felicity's safety than Oliver's presence in her life, he was starting to realize that there were bigger threatss to her heart as well. Maybe she'd be hurt with him, but nothing would be able to hurt her more than her father leaving. In fact, the worst things that had ever happened to Felicity Smoak had happened to her when he wasn't around.

Was it possible that he actually made her life a little better, that, by caring for her – by allowing himself to care for her... perhaps even as more than just a friend – he wouldn't ruin her?

It was certainly something Oliver was going to have to think about more; it was the only thing he was going to be able to think about.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

Felicity was entirely engrossed in her... research – not, wow, this is interesting or even entertaining, but, oh my god, this is bad, epically bad – when Oliver came charging into the basement – so much so, in fact, that she was oblivious to him. But that didn't last for long. By the time his stomping started in her direction, she was already standing, running around her desk to stand between him and her equipment. “Whoa, stop right there. These machines are exquisite, and brand new, and beautiful, and you're like a bull in a computer shop.”

Off in the background, Diggle snorted. “I think you meant bull in a
china shop, Felicity.”

“Who cares about dishes, Digg?”

Even as she addressed her friend's teasing, however, Felicity never looked away from the man standing – okay, it was more like pawing the floor – across from her. Oliver's color was piqued, his nostrils were flaring, and she was going to have to start looking into some fish oil capsules for him if he was going to insist upon stretching the skin of his hands so tautly when in a tizzy. Because there was no doubt about it. Something had Oliver worked up... and not in the good way. Not that she'd ever actually seen him riled up in a good way. Other than in her dreams. Which didn't count. Because those were imaginary. And not accurate. But then again, come to think of it, in those imaginary dreams, he looked pretty much like how he looked in that moment. Only more naked. Like totally naked. And oh my god, apparently, her libido was back.

“Seriously, Oliver, if I had on a red cape right now, I'd take it off and wave it in front of your face to distract you. But who wears capes besides really stuffy, old, pretentious women? So, it would have to be a shirt. My shirt. Which wouldn't be a good idea... because of the children.” She lowered her voice in emphasis and then glanced back at her computers over her shoulders. Realizing what she had just said, though, Felicity groaned. “Not that you'd do anything inappropriate with a shirtless me. If I were shirtless. Which I'm not. And certainly not with my equipment. I mean, in front of my equipment. You just... tend to get sweaty when shirtless, and things tend to get broken, and that's exactly what me waving my shirt around would be intended to prevent.” She wasn't even going to try to talk her way out of or around bringing up Oliver's sweatiness when naked. Half naked. So, Felicity just groaned. And then she turned around on the heels of her flats and walked back around to sit down at her desk.

“For a second there, I thought your arrival was going to be enough to finally get our girl out from behind her computers for the first time today,” John remarked, coming over to stand with them. Well, stand with Oliver. Felicity was sitting. (Hiding.) His hands were casually shoved into the front pockets of his dress pants. While she appreciated the change in topic, Digg couldn't have wondered over... oh, say two minutes earlier? And what was with throwing her... dedication and methodical nature under the team bus?

Yeah. Dedicated and methodical (and not obsessed) worked.

“Oh.”

And Felicity watched, surprised, as Oliver's face seemed to brighten. It was a rare sight these days, because so much of his time was spent at Queen Consolidated, and Oliver wasn't exactly finding his CEO groove. Not that he was awful or anything... or so she was reading via the trade journals. (They were safe, because they rarely delved into Oliver's personal life... which meant her personal life, too.) Oliver wouldn't say the same thing about his first two months at the head of his family's company, however, but he also never gave himself credit for anything. (She should totally teach him how to fist pump.) The lack of groove finding was more along the lines of the fact that he still hated the corporate world, and he probably always would. So, yeah, when Oliver smiled... or, at least, wasn't frowning, or glaring, or brooding, she appreciated it.

However, while she was appreciating, he was making his way around her work station, coming to stand beside her. “Does that mean that there's something going on that needs our attention?”

“No!” And because there wasn't a way for her to clear all three screens at once, Felicity awkwardly stood up and around, angling her body to block Oliver's view. “It's nothing. Nothing for you to be concerned about.” That was a lie, but she had no idea how Oliver would handle what she had been looking into. He had talked the talk, but would he walk the walk? “And Digg's exaggerating.” As she continued to try and persuade Oliver into not being interested in her research, Felicity fumbled with keys behind her, trying to erase the evidence of her snooping. “I haven't been behind my computers
all day.” Then she rethought her statement. “Well, I have, but not in the way he meant it. I haven't been doing... you stuff all day. Or, you know, I have, but not you... you stuff; just you stuff. Work stuff. Club stuff. Let's just say that Thea likes to spread the Oliver Queen credit card love around... if you know what I'm saying. That girl couldn't use just one vendor if it meant saving me from carpal tunnel.”

“Really, because it didn't look like you were shopping all day,” John the Traitor stated. Not asked.

She knew that she was protesting too hard, but she had no idea if her backwards, blind typing had yielded any positive results. For all Felicity knew, she had only managed to magnify that which she was trying to hide. So, stubbornly, she tilted her chin upward. “Unlike those of a certainly unnamed sex... because I'm not judgy, I'm actually capable of multitasking.”

Diggle just raised an amused, pointed brow. “So, you were able to hack Laurel Lance's computer while, at the same time, buying swizzle sticks, huh? Impressive.”

What
the hell was Digg up to?

“I'm just trying for full-disclosure,” he answered. So, yeah. Apparently, that question didn't stay private inside of her head. Whoops. Collapsing onto her chair, because why the hell not? – the 'be a better door than a window' gig was up anyway, Felicity huffed in self-exasperation. And frustration. Although she refused to look at Digg as he talked, there was no way she was looking in Oliver's direction either. So, she crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the ceiling. It was safe... at least until Oliver decided to dangle from it later... which, at this point, seemed inevitable.
Laurel had been mentioned. “If we learned anything from... earlier in the year... it's that secrets never end well – others' or our own. And I think we all know that you suddenly haven't become fascinated by the law, Felicity, so, if you're spending your days looking through Laurel Lance's computer, you must have a pretty damn good reason – one that I deserve and Oliver needs to know about.”

Before she could answer, she heard Oliver doing so for her. Typically, that would just chap her... lips, but before Felicity could even muster up a good perturbed frown, she was caught off guard by Oliver's words. “Laurel hates me – both... me's.”

“Yeah, finally realizing how creepy that is, aren't you, now that you don't have a handy nickname for your nighttime personality, huh,” John quipped.

She ignored the teasing... even if their friend did have a point. Well, two actually. Oliver talking about himself as different entities was weird, and calling him The Hood no longer fit. Oh, he still wore the disguising headpiece, but The Hood name belonged to the Vigilante, and Oliver was no longer seeking vengeance; instead, they now sought justice... which totally sounded pretentious but was, nevertheless, true. Swiveling around in her chair to look up at the man in question, she tentatively asked, “you're not mad?”

“Felicity, we already discussed this....”

“Yeah, but admitting that Laurel was a bitter drunk with a grudge against you the size of her own ego... and I might have embellished that slightly... is a lot different than being supportive of me hacking my way into her work computer.”

“Let's save supportive until after I know how you did it,” Oliver suggested, “and that you're not going to get caught.”

She glared at him, because... seriously? Didn't he know her better by now? Caught? By Laurel Lance... who couldn't even catch an STD if she tried. (And she had dated pre-island Oliver.) Scoffing, she explained, “I sent her a plant.” She watched as John and Oliver exchanged blank glances. Taking pity on them, Felicity expanded upon her report, “flowers would just die, and she'd throw them away. But a plant... one from her dad to congratulate her on her new job and to bring the outdoors inside for her, because he knew that would be the only way she'd see any green for the next six months or so? Yeah, Daddy's Girl Laurel wouldn't pitch that out after two weeks. And I ordered a cactus, too, so she'd have to dose it with booze to kill it, and I think we all know Laurel's not sharing these days. Before it was delivered, I made like the good little department secretary that I was pretending to be and personally stopped at the florist to inspect the cactus on
Detective Lance's behalf, planted the bug, and the rest is in my browser history.”

It was silent for several seconds. Finally, Digg told her, “you scare me,” before turning to Oliver and saying, “thank god she's on our side, because if she ever went bad, we'd be doomed.”

John Diggle had
no idea. If he thought she had forgotten any of his antics with Thea over the past few months....

“Did you find anything?”

Shaking off her musing towards what she had planned for revenge against Digg and his traitor ways, Felicity addressed Oliver's question. “As far as I can tell, she has every single document the police and DA's office have ever produced on you – I mean, The Hood – scanned and uploaded onto her computer. And she's done searches on me as well, but, thankfully, Detective Lance never filed a report when he pulled me in for questioning. She also has a lot of paperwork about your mom's case, but that's it. It doesn't look like she's really working on anything besides... well, you. It's almost like she's doing what I do for you – finding everything she can about a target, so she can draw up a plan to catch them. But an ADA wouldn't do that... right?”

“Oh, you'd be surprised how easily those lines between the law and the police get blurred,” Digg responded, rubbing his chin in thought. “Especially when someone might have been purposefully brought into the DA's office because of her past dealings with a certain most wanted criminal.”

“You think Laurel was hired expressly to apprehend the Vigilante,” Oliver concluded.

“Makes sense,” John nodded.

“I'll start looking into her co-workers, her bosses. See what I can find,” Felicity offered.

“Are you going to send them flowers, too,” Diggle teased.

She offered him her non-amused face. He sobered quickly. “Do you really want to know what I have planned, John?”

“Yeah... probably not.”

“Good. Because we still don't know what caused Oliver to come in here like it was Pamplona, and he was horny.” She felt her eyes grow extremely round and wide. “As in... having horns, not....”

Oliver, apparently, took pity on her, because he interrupted her... and with an actual explanation to boot. “I was informed today that a company named Stellmoor International is trying to take over QC. Because of everything that has happened with my mother, our stock prices have fallen, investors have fled, and, apparently, we're ripe for a hostile raid. Oh, and get this: I'm too cash poor to buy back the shares of my own company, so, unless we think of something – and fast, I've done all of this – becoming CEO – for nothing.”

“That sucks, man,” Digg sympathized, while Oliver just lifted his eyebrows in quiet agreement and snorted in sarcastic disbelief, walking off.

Felicity, on the other hand, stood up abruptly, following after him. “He's right, this does suck, but we'll figure something out. We always do.” Felicity was already starting to mentally go through their rolodex list of family, friends, and associates. Okay, so it was mental, and the contacts were all Oliver's, but still. There had to be somebody out there who could help, who had enough money sitting around.... “Walter!”

Oliver spun around to face her. “What about him?”

“Talk to Walter,” Felicity suggested, shrugging her shoulders as though the answer should be obvious. “Either he'll invest himself, or he'll invest his bank's money, or he'll loan it to you, or he'll know of some fat cat with more money than brains – sorry, but you know it's kind of what you need at this point,” she sympathized with his wince. “And he'll talk said Garfield into parting with his hardly hard-earned Benjamin's. Just trust me,” she reiterated, continuing to walk towards him. “Talk to Walter.”

He observed her shrewdly. “I will. Thank you.”

“Eh, what are 'Credit Card Swipers, Check Writers, Sister Wranglers' for but to solve multibillion dollar business woes in their spare time? Now,” Felicity segued, clapping her hands in excitement. While she had been dreading Oliver finding out about her little side project, she was buzzed to show him what had been delivered that day. They were already practicing t'ai chi several times a week on top of their running, and, much to Felicity's surprise, she found that she enjoyed training with Oliver, so she was ready to add another layer. To try something else, something new. “Let's train. That'll help you relax.”

From behind her, she heard Diggle snort. Whether it was in disagreement or derision, Felicity didn't know, but it did make her decide to launch her first attack that evening against the former special forces soldier.

Heading over to where they now stored the weapons in the newly remodeled and tricked out basement, Felicity talked while she removed the boxes she had stored away inside one of the cabinets. “So, I know this isn't something you usually do, but it's supposed to be very cerebral, and I thought it'd be something we could try together. Plus, let's face it, I'm going to have to start at the beginning when it comes to weapons, and what's more early man than pointy sticks?”

Finding a box cutter, she started to reveal her big, surprise purchase. “Oh, and I also did some research, and it turns out that this was Malcolm Merlyn's training style of choice, and, while he might have been an uber-villain, the megalomaniac had skills – mad, bad skills.” With a smile, Felicity presented all the top of the line fencing equipment a hero could ask for.

Oliver didn't react, and Felicity immediately started to wilt. Shoulders falling, that smile dropping into a frown, she queried, “too soon?” Before Oliver could answer, she pressed, “it's just... Merlyn was just so awesomely bad, you know, and I thought why not use the man's techniques against him? Well, not against him, because, obviously, he's dead, and I don't think a
foil, sabre or épée is going to do a lick of good against a ghost. Although, that would be kind of ironic if you think about it – the Dark Archer as nothing more than dark matter... not that I believe in ghosts, or that people who do actually think that ghosts are made from dark matter. It was just a funny little way to....”

“I have a better idea,” Digg interrupted, tossing a set of keys in Felicity's direction. They hit her in the chest and then fell to the concrete floor. She glowered down at them and then up at their origin. “Judging by that stellar attempt to play catch, I'm thinking we might want to hold off on any weapons training yet. You need to work on your hand-eye coordination, Smoak.”

“My hand-eye coordination is fine, Diggle,” she shot back, hands moving contrarily to her hips. “Maybe I just wasn't ready for pointy things to be
thrown at my face.”

“That toss was hardly anywhere near your face.”

“The keys were still pointy,” she snapped back, finally reaching down and picking them up. Observing them, she remarked, “these are to a Porsche.”

“I know.”

“You don't own a Porsche.”

“Been checking my DMV records again” John questioned playfully. If only he knew she had been checking far more than his DMV records.... “They're Oliver's.”

Her brow furrowed in confusion. “You usually drive the Bentley? That's what you picked me up in this morning?”

Rather than explain why he had the keys to a different car, Digg asked, “how are you at driving a standard?”

Felicity shrugged. “Don't know. Never had one. But I'm like the queen at handling a joy stick. How different can they be?” When John snickered, she exclaimed, “video games, Digg! And you should be ashamed of yourself. Your ex-wife would be.”

He started to laugh... only to sober so quickly that all the color – caused by amusement at her expense – left his cheeks. “What did you just say?”

“She said your ex-wife would be,” Oliver answered for Felicity, snatching the keys from her aloft grasp. “You were married before, Diggle?” He asked it so casually... like it wasn't one of those secrets John had been lecturing them about earlier that evening. In response, their friend just sputtered. “Right. We'll talk more later then.” Before she could object, Oliver turned to her. “He's right, though. We'll save the fencing for another night, but don't worry; it was a good idea. This is just something a little more practical.”

“This?”

Oliver grinned so widely that his not often seen dimples emerged. “Defensive driving.”

She gaped at him. Stammered. “Defensive driving? With a Porsche? With a $90,000 car, Oliver? Are you drunk?”

“Nope. But I might need to be before the evening's out. Diggle's certainly going to be after that ex-wife bomb you just dropped on us. Now,” Oliver said, ushering her protesting feet towards the stairs. “Let's go.”

She fought against him long enough to distract him and then, when he was more focused on getting her to move than paying attention to the keys, she snatched them back and ran. It was his car, his money, so, if Oliver wanted to entrust them into her hands – hands that had never once operated a manual transmission, then so be it. This...
this was the type of training she was talking about.

“Wait,” he followed after her, jogged after her, called out after her. “You're excited about this?”

“Oliver, I drive a Mini-Cooper. You do realize that, despite their name, they're not known for their gas mileage, right?”

“So, then why do you...?

She was standing at the top of the stairs, Oliver a riser below her. “For their maneuverability.” At his perplexed look, she expanded with a smirk, “I have a thing for Mark Wahlberg.” His befuddlement turned into a scowl. “
The Italian Job?!”

Apparently, that was the one movie Oliver Queen had actually seen, because, as he brushed by her, he yelled down, “Digg, don't drink all the scotch.”

“I make no promises,” came the other man's dull response, floating up the stairs.

With keys jingling and Felicity laughing, she and Oliver made their way outside.

 

 

Even shopping was different now.

Aside from the fact that she had a full-time shadow in Digg, his presence with her at the mall hadn't been the main contrast... probably because, halfway into her first store, he offered some hastily made excuse about perimeter checks and hightailed it out of the boutique. She hadn't minded. While she appreciated his presence by her side when they were at the club – even with Thea handling most of the interaction with the construction workers, they were still strange men, and the basement didn't muffle all of the sounds of their work, they both knew that his time as her guard instead of Oliver's driver was coming to a close.

Felicity felt more confident in her own ability to be safe. She wasn't a ninja... by any means, but she also wasn't hopeless in defending herself either. More importantly, she was much more aware of her surroundings now than she had been in the past... which had been Oliver's intention when they started training together. While she wouldn't call it paranoid, she was on guard. In the back of Felicity's mind, she knew that most women didn't enter a room and immediately catalog all exits, potential risks, and points of defense, and, while she didn't like what had brought her to that point in her life, she didn't regret the awareness either. Maybe most women should pay attention to those things; perhaps it was wrong that she felt she had to. Wherever the happy medium resided, she wasn't sure anymore. What Felicity did know, however, was what made her feel comfortable, and, really, wasn't that all that mattered?

Store after store, she had wandered that day, seeing stranger after stranger, and, though she took note of them – assessed whether or not they presented an obvious threat, Felicity hadn't felt threatened. Or in danger. Or at risk. There were moments when her paranoia kicked in, when she was pretty sure the other shoppers recognized her from the papers, and the gossip blogs, and the news and were judging her, weighing her worth. It rankled, but it didn't intimidate. Instead of tucking her chin into her neck and fleeing, Felicity had relied on her stubborn streak – her chin notching upwards in pride as she kept shopping. Eventually, she started to ignore the staring, and, after that, she slowly stopped caring.

Let them look. She didn't do anything wrong, she owed them no explanations, and she had just as much right to buy a new dress and go to Verdant's grand re-opening party as anyone else in Starling City.

But those things – the restless bodyguard, the hyper-vigilance, the unwanted attention – weren't the reasons behind why shopping was now practically an alien activity for Felicity.

She had never been a shopper. She liked clothes, and she liked wearing new, pretty things, but shopping required money, and, for many years of her life, money was something she didn't have much of. Growing up, her mother had struggled to pay the bills. Forget weekly excursions to the mall with friends and an allowance to spend freely. While Felicity had always been clean and properly dressed, her clothes had often been hand-me-downs from her mother's co-workers or purchased second-hand. Even after graduating from college and going to work at Queen Consolidated, Felicity had held tight to those frugal ways. Perhaps she no longer relied on the kindness of near strangers to stock her closet, but she didn't like to spend recklessly either. Just because she earned a comfortable salary did not mean that she still didn't live on a budget.

But years of scrimping, and saving, and shopping with a practical eye had trained Felicity to be a sales expert. Plus, even though she sometimes struggled with the concept of parting with her hard-earned money rather than hoarding it away for a rainy day, she did occasionally like to splurge and treat herself as well. After all, she had sacrificed a lot to get to where she was in life, and she deserved pretty things that made her feel beautiful.

And that was precisely the crux of her shopping difficulties.

As Felicity had wandered from store to store, she had found herself trying to find a dress with the perfect blend of unblendable qualities. It had been so long since she had cause to dress up, to feel special, so she had wanted a dress that would make her feel feminine, and gorgeous, and confident. Yet, she wasn't just a silly girl anymore. She was also a strong, confident woman, and she wanted her clothes to present that image as well. But she wasn't walking into a board room or even a society event; she was attending a party at a nightclub. If ever there was an occasion to let her hair down a little, Verdant's re-opening was it. But not too down, because she was that girl: rape victim, harlot, whore... depending upon which paper a person subscribed to, which story they believed.

It was hard enough to shop for a dress that met her own self-image now; it was impossible to try and mold herself in the eyes of an entire city.

But then she had seen it.

It was more than she wanted to spend, but, on the mannequin, it was too lovely to ignore. Wearing it, however...? Wearing it, she felt... free, and alive, and remarkable.

It was bright, and fun, and flirty. It was classy and elegant yet sexy at the same time. And it seemed like forever since Felicity felt sexy. Since she had wanted to feel sexy. But... she did now. Nothing overt, of course. That had never been her style, and it never would be – rape or no rape. But there was just something about the night air kissing your bare shoulders, about a loose curl brushing against the exposed skin of your neck, of your back, that made Felicity stand just that much taller, that much more poised and polished. And heels? After months of flats, and flip-flops, and tennis shoes, she found that she missed strappy sandals. There was just something about how a woman's body moved in a pair of heels....

“Hey?”

Felicity smiled softly as she came back to her surroundings, as she came back to the man standing across from her. Holding her. Verdant was all dim lighting and dark corners, the music softer than she recalled from the previous year. It fit, though, with Thea's more sultry theme. Despite the club being filled to capacity, it was almost intimate. Definitely a more mature and controlled sense of debauchery and excess. She was just one of hundreds on the dance floor, yet Felicity felt like she and Oliver were in their own little private oasis. Given what the past year of her life had been like, it was amazing.

Thea was amazing.

“Where are you right now,” Oliver asked her, genuinely curious. He had come straight from the office, but, before he had ever stepped foot inside of Verdant, his tie had been stripped, his suit jacket shed, and both the top three buttons of his dress shirt and his cuffs had been unfastened – his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, exposing his forearms, as well. It was how he looked almost every night when he first came down into the basement, but there'd be no leather and hood that evening. They were taking a night off.

Felicity tilted her head up and met his questioning gaze. She could see the concern there. It was carefully concealed behind humor and fondness – both authentic but nevertheless not exclusive. “I was thinking about your sister, actually.”

She would have laughed at the look of annoyance that flashed across his features if it didn't confuse her so much or wasn't masked as quickly as it was. Why Oliver would react that way to Thea...? Sure, he was still struggling with the idea of completely allowing her into his world, but he had made peace with his sister foregoing college, and their relationship had stabilized once again after Thea went back to the mansion, and Oliver and Felicity moved into their apartment. It seemed as though the Queen siblings simply had personalities too big, too bold, too bullheaded to cohabitate any longer... which was a good thing. Thea seemed to be thriving with the independence, with the trust that Oliver was showing her to know and take care of herself, and Oliver seemed more at peace now that he wasn't living a lie in his own home.

“She's done an amazing job with this place.”

Despite the fact that they had both been there for hours, Oliver glanced around, an almost wistful grin lifting the left corner of his mouth. “Certainly better than I ever did.”

“Hey, none of that,” Felicity reprimanded him. For a man that could be so supremely presumptuous and self-important, Oliver really had no confidence when it came to the important aspects of life – the things that really mattered. She intended to change that. “When you were running the club, you were a little... preoccupied. I have no doubt that, if you had been able to give it your sole focus, it would have been just as successful as Thea's version will no doubt be.”

He refocused his attention upon her, and, if she wasn't mistaken, pulled her slightly closer as well. It felt... right. Although they were technically dancing, it was more like swaying – Oliver's hands wrapped, respectfully so, around her waist, while Felicity had her arms draped across his shoulders and tangled around his neck. They had started off in a more formal hold, but that had just felt awkward and stiff. Despite the familiarity of their stance, it didn't feel forced, or unnatural, or even awkward. Somewhere along the line, Oliver had gotten used to touching her, and she had gotten used to doing the same. It made Felicity pause – partly because she didn't like not knowing the moment on which she could look back and remember their relationship making such a drastic change and partly because she wasn't sure what that intimacy meant.

But maybe there hadn't been a moment. Perhaps it had just been a gradual, inevitable shift. And maybe she didn't need to know what the closeness meant. Perhaps she was just to enjoy it – no questions, no doubts, no denials.

“You did it again.”

Felicity heard amusement in Oliver's voice. “Sorry,” she apologized.

“Did I... is this alright? You don't feel uncomfortable, do you?”

Although she already knew the answer to his question, she didn't answer immediately, because she wanted Oliver to recognize the sincerity behind her words. “No. In fact, it's the complete opposite. I actually feel really comfortable... here. Now.” Despite the bravado behind her statements, Felicity couldn't help but look down slightly when she admitted her next truth. “And it's not just because you're here with me either.” Glancing back up at Oliver – who looked more content than she had seen him look in several months... since long before even The Glades fell, since before he found out about her rape, she knew her glasses had fallen down her nose some, but Felicity didn't want to break the moment to push them back up. “People still look sometimes, but they don't seem to care as much. Or,” and she chuckled softly, shrugging her shoulders, “maybe it's that I don't care as much. I don't know. What I do know, however, is that I'm in a room full of strangers, and I don't feel on display, or exposed, or vulnerable. I feel... safe. Grinning impishly, she admitted, “I think it's the dress.”

“It's a great dress,” Oliver agreed. He didn't blink. He didn't look down at said dress. “And you look stunning tonight.”

“You just like my green nails.”

“I do – not because they're green but because they're bright, and colorful, and you.”

He said so little, and he revealed even less, but sometimes there were moments that they shared – moments so ripe with meaning – that they stripped her raw... in a good way. Felicity felt tears come to her eyes. “Oliver?”

They kept moving, but he removed one arm from around her back, lifting it to take one of her hands in his own. His thumb – his calloused, rough, yet infinitely tender thumb – brushed against her painted nails. “I didn't like seeing them plain. Bare. Even once you started painting them again, you always used dark and dull colors. I quickly realized that your nails are your way of telling the world how you feel. Maybe it's not even a conscious thing on your part, but I knew, when I saw bright colors again, that you'd be happy once more.” He finally glanced away from her hand, met her watery eyes with his own glittering blues. “And they're bright tonight.”

Felicity had never noticed before just how much attention Oliver paid her. Sniffling slightly, she slipped her hand from his grasp, wanting to right her glasses before she confirmed his observations and voiced her contentment... only Oliver swept her hand away.

“Here, let me,” he said, and she held her breath as she waited to see what he would do, what he would say next.

It took her so long to even want to wear glasses again. Before her rape, Felicity had never realized how integral to her personality the accessories were. Yes, she had contacts as well, and she'd wear them occasionally, but Felicity's glasses had been a badge of honor, a calling card, her euphemistic hero's mask... or hood – not because she could hide behind them but because they helped to give her the aplomb and the moxie to think she could be a hero's sidekick. His partner. But then one selfish, cruel moment by a broken, bitter, empty man had nearly destroyed all of that.

She knew that Oliver didn't see her the way Tommy did – like someone less, something less, but, at the same time, his world wasn't one of braces, awkwardness, and glasses. So, when he didn't remove them, when he pushed them up her nose for her, when he smiled and said, “I'm glad that you wore these tonight,” that last shred of insecurity disappeared.

She returned his grin – her own happier and even more luminous, her body relaxed entirely, and Felicity embraced the moment. “Because they're green,” she teased him.

“Maybe a little,” Oliver admitted. At her raised brow, he amended, “okay, maybe a lot.” And the chuckle he emitted told her that his forthrightness surprised even him. “But, more importantly... and just like with your nails, because they're you.”

And then he pulled her closer – so close, in fact, that Felicity could feel his heart beating against her chest. She melted against him. As he wrapped both of his arms around her once more, Oliver first whispered the pads of his right fingers against her skin – from the back of her exposed neck, down her bare back, and then over the soft chiffon of her dress where he then wrapped himself around her waist. It was exactly what Felicity needed to realize the truth – to stop denying what Thea, and Digg, and her own heart had been telling her to recognize, to want for months.

Oliver was attracted to her.

He had feeling for her.

When he looked at her, he didn't see the woman his former best friend had raped.

He saw Felicity.

And he wanted her.

What's more, the ghost of his touch against her flesh made Felicity realize something else: she was ready to move past everything that had happened.

With him.

Because of him; because of them.

For him and for herself.

Only with him.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

The elevator doors closed, and Felicity... smiled.

She had been nervous that morning when she had finally decided that she couldn't avoid the inevitable any longer; she had to go into QC. At least, it wasn't so much fear that was keeping her from what was technically her place of employment. Well, not completely. She still had a healthy dose of jitters when it came to re-inserting herself into society, but Digg was once more guarding/driving Oliver, Felicity had her own car back, and, with Moira Queen's impending trial, the press wasn't paying as close of attention to her. Oh, they were still there – lurking... which was almost worse, but Felicity had gotten to the point where she could ignore them. Oliver knew the truth about her family, and she was putting the rape in her past. It'd always be there, but it had long since stopped having power over her. The media no longer scared or intimidated her either.

It was empowering.

That feelings helped make running errands and walking through crowds easier; it helped ease Felicity's paranoia that every glance was judgmental and appraising. So, going through company security a few minutes prior hadn't been the sleep-depriving proposition it would have been a few months before. In fact, Felicity had found the old routine – place her belongings on the conveyer belt to be scanned, walk through the metal detectors, swipe her badge while sharing a few words with the guard on duty – comforting. It didn't remind her of or make her think about her rape. Instead, it just made her feel like she was a part of something bigger, and that was nice.

The guard had been sweet, too – not in that pandering sort of way that Felicity anticipated because of her known connection to Queen Consolidated's CEO, but because the middle aged man remembered her from before, because he was kind person, because she never complained about the process or became short with him when there was a mild complication. He had offered her a crooked, proud grin as he told her about his first grandchild being born – even showing her a picture, and he had told her to have a lovely day. Even when he told her she could just go on ahead and use the executive elevator instead of the main one (she was, apparently, on the list), there had been no criticism behind the offer – just a sweet man trying to be helpful.

Felicity had declined – not because she felt strange being given special clearance due to her relationship with Oliver but because she had wanted to continue testing her reaction to everyday, normal, run-of-the-mill work situations. She wanted to see what it was like to ride the main elevator when it was full of her co-workers and when she was alone inside of it with a stranger. Maybe such tests were inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but she wasn't looking to reclaim every single aspect of her life in a single day; Felicity just wanted to see if she could return to work.

Because she needed to.

That was actually why she was at QC that morning. The club was finished – reopened, in fact, and she had absolutely no interest in running Verdant. What resided below the old foundry had been completed weeks before, and even her little research side projects for Oliver and Walter were finished. Nothing remained but to share her findings with her friends, and, after that, Felicity's excuses for staying away from Queen Consolidated were null and void. While she knew that Oliver would gladly continue to come up with things to keep her busy, if Felicity was being completely honest with herself, she was bored. Maybe she didn't want to return to the IT Department, and perhaps she had taken an extra day or two to wade through her thoughts, wishes, and what was best for Oliver and QC, but she had a plan now. It wasn't perfect. In fact, it had one glaring flaw, but she firmly believed it was their best option.

The soft peel of a bell sounded as the elevator came to a smooth stop, the doors opening to release the last of her fellow passengers and to allow entrance to one new one. Because the woman studiously paid Felicity no mind, she was free to study her without censure or awkwardness. Without even glancing at the number display, Felicity knew that they were on the 23rd – the accounting – floor, for she had long since gotten used to the speed of QC's lift, to its rhythms. She had locations of all the various departments memorized, and her body instinctively knew how long it took to travel between floors. She doubted, however, that the stranger standing to the front and left of her could say the same.

The woman was new. Not only did Felicity not recognize her, but she also still had that air of not belonging – of not quite having been accepted and not having given her acceptance. That also might have had a little something to do with her very aloof and reserved attitude. Her facial features, though elegant and beautiful, were arranged in a cold, impersonal grimace, and her posture screamed that she was intentionally unapproachable. The woman was dressed impeccably, showing obvious signs of taste, wealth, and success, but those were not accolades that she was looking to share.

There would be no after-hours drinks at the swanky bar down the street from QC headquarters with that particular woman, no five minute power gossip sessions standing in front of the coffee pot in the break room. She was cold, and rude, and everything that Felicity hated about a successful woman. While it might still have been a man's world, that didn't mean that women had to sacrifice their femininity and warmth in order to succeed. In fact, in doing so, women like the one standing before her simply perpetuated the stereotypes, the divide, and the imbalance of power. The elevator's bell signaled another stop, and Felicity watched as the stranger marched off the lift onto the 34th floor – just one level beneath the top, beneath the CEO, beneath Oliver, and smirked.

So, that was Isabel Rochev.

With only one final floor to travel, before she could fully sort through her reaction to the woman trying to raid and take over QC – the very reason why Felicity was there that morning, she found herself being warmly greeted by Diggle and ushered into the office of a surprised but welcoming Oliver. She took a seat across from him, while he rounded his desk to lean against the edge, John shutting the glass door before taking the seat next to her own. In fact, the entire office space was glass. While Felicity had been on the 35th floor before, she was now looking at it through different eyes. Casually lowering her tote to the ground beside her, she took in how open the space was, how upfront and honest. She felt comfortable there.

Tucking her legs underneath her and to the side, Felicity got comfortable, smoothing her hands down to her knees and then clasping them together around the topmost joint – her bracelets tinkling softly as they collided and moved together. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as Oliver's gaze dropped to her hands, a quick, soft grin tugging the corners of his mouth upwards as he caught sight of her plum polish.

It was Digg who introduced conversation into their pleasant silence. “Since we know this isn't a social call....” At her raised brow, he answered her unvoiced question. “No donuts.” And Felicity rolled her eyes, offering him an indulgent, fond smile. “What brings you by: business or business?”

“Both,” was Felicity's succinct response.

John sighed. “Why does it seem like everything else connects back to this company?”

“It might have something to do with my parents' less than honorable business practices,” Oliver offered helpfully, and she was pleased to note that, despite his sarcasm, there was a decided lack of self-condemnation to his tone.

“This time it's your father,” Felicity filled in just one of the pieces.

“Oh good,” Diggle feigned excitement. “They're taking turns.”

She snorted in slight amusement; Oliver rolled his eyes. “At least as far as I can tell, your mother wasn't involved in this... well, besides from a personal angle, which is good given that her trial starts in less than two months. In fact, even if the press does uncover this, it should only help her – make her seem more sympathetic.”

“I think you better start at the beginning, Felicity,” John instructed.

She nodded her agreement and then waited as Oliver went back to sit in his desk chair once more. “As you both know, I wasn't coming up with anything with my research into Stellmoor. Other than your typical, slightly shady but not quite illegal business deals and their mild interest in QC first as a business rival and then potentially as an acquisition, I couldn't find anything to fight against them with, anything to explain why they suddenly came after Queen Consolidated so strongly. And then Isabel Rochev arrived.”

Clear loathing flashed across Oliver's features. His jaw tightened, his hands clenched into fists on top of his desk. Despite her best intentions, Felicity felt a flutter of relief upon seeing his reaction. While Isabel Rochev wasn't her particular cup of tea, she did check off several of Oliver's boxes. She was beautiful, she was smart, she was brunette. After having just finally admitted to herself that Oliver was attracted to her, Felicity didn't want to think about him wanting another woman. She was okay with nothing ever happening between them. Well, maybe not okay with but, at least, resigned to the idea. But that didn't mean she was ready to see him with someone else either, especially not someone like Isabel Rochev. Plus, after she was finished telling him everything she had learned about his new business partner, Felicity had a feeling that the last thing Oliver would need would be a pull towards the other woman.

“At first, I couldn't find anything incriminating about her either,” she continued her story, gaze moving back and forth occasionally between Oliver and Diggle as she watched for their reactions. “In fact, she was a little too clean... like scrubbed clean – all personal anecdotes and family connections destroyed or hidden, and, if anyone can spot a purposefully white-washed background, it'd be me.” While she noticed John's curious frown, Felicity didn't stop to explain her admission. Oliver already knew what she was referring to, and bringing up her own past would just bog them down when they already had enough on deal with on their plate.

“So, I got frustrated. And then I got bored, because, when I can't find the results I want or think should be there, I can lose interest. Fast. Needing a distraction, I pulled up QC's company website, and started going through all the different department pages – looking for job openings, something that would spark my interest or at least not make me want to jam pencils up my nose and pretend I was a walrus.”

Diggle chuckled. “I think, generally, it's through your eyes, not up your nose.”

“Why would I want to do that? I have enough problems with my vision as it is, and, besides, that would hurt. A lot. So, no fun to be had there, Digg.”

“Felicity, if you're worried about work...,” Oliver started, but she cut him off.

“Don't worry. I'll get to that. I have an idea, and it's connected, but let's just get through with Isabel Rochev first.” Considering her words, Felicity pouted. “I meant through with discussing her. I'm afraid she's not going to be that easy to take down. Unfortunately.”

“Have you ever even met this woman,” John wanted to know. “I've never seen you so quick to hate somebody.”

“We've... exchanged appraising glances,” she answered. “But that's not why I dislike her. I'm getting to that.”

“Very slowly,” Oliver remarked dryly with a pointedly raised brow.

Felicity threw him her most unamused glance. “Anyway, at this point, I'm essentially just clicking links to click links – I like the sound the mouse makes, and that's when I saw it. Or, more accurately, saw her. Isabel.”

“On the Queen Consolidated website,” Oliver queried. It was a cross between confusion and bewilderment. “She's been here less than a week.”

“I know. And I barely recognized her in the picture, too. It looked nothing like her passport photo.” Adding weight to her voice, Felicity emphasized, “she was smiling.”

“Still not a crime,” Diggle reminded her. “Still not something illegal. Still not a reason for you to dislike her. In fact, you like smiling,” he teased her.

“I know. It's my favorite.”

“Felicity...,” Oliver beseeched, warned, complained.

Deciding to put them both out of their misery, she revealed, “the picture was from more than seven years ago. Isabel was an intern here at Queen Consolidated.” Focusing all of her attention upon Oliver, she added as gently as she could, “she worked closely, um... intimately, with your father.”

“She had an affair with him.”

It wasn't a question, but she treated it as such. “She did. It took me a while to put everything together. They were very discreet. But there's a paper trail if someone wants to find it, if they're good enough to find it, and I am. I started going back through old records, your father's old files, his trips and his expenses – both business and personal. They were together for a while. From everything I could tell, she loved him, and he was even planning on leaving your mother for her.”

“So, what happened,” Oliver wanted to know. “Why didn't he?”

Felicity shrugged. “I don't know. Unless we can get Isabel mad enough to tell us... which I highly doubt given the trouble she's gone to in order to hide her past and the fact that a block of concrete shows more emotion than she does, or your mom knows about the affair and would be willing to talk to you about it, we might never know.” And that latter option seemed unlikely as well, because, as Felicity sat there, she realized Oliver had not been back to visit his mother in prison since his initial visit. There had just been so much else going on that his lack of a relationship with his mom had gone unnoticed. Though it made her curious, it wasn't the issue at hand, and she had a feeling it wasn't something Oliver would want to discuss either at work or in front of Diggle. “But why it ended – other than to provide you with answers you might need – really doesn't matter. The point is that this – Stellmoor coming after QC – isn't business; it's personal.”

“And you know what they say, Oliver,” Digg added. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

“There's something else,” Felicity quietly pointed out.

“Of course there is,” Oliver complained underneath his breath. “Just please don't tell me that she and my father... had a child together.”

“No,” she was quick to reassure him – her ballet shoes landing soundlessly on the floor as she leaned forward in emphasis to her words. Scooting to the edge of her chair, Felicity reiterated, “there's no child, Oliver. I would have found that. I promise.”

“So, then, what else did you find,” John asked.

“When I realized there was a connection between your father,” she nodded in Oliver's direction, “and Isabel, her name – Rochev – suddenly rang a bell for me.” Taking a deep, bracing breath, she then exhaled before rushing to say, “she's on the list.”

Oliver's elbows landed solidly upon his glass desk, his face dropping into his hands as he wearily rubbed his suddenly exhausted looking features. “I don't... I don't know what to do with all of this. I don't know how to....”

“But I do.” When he looked up to inquisitively meet her gaze, Felicity stated, “I have a plan.”

“You always do,” Diggle said, rocking his head from side to side as though impressed. “That's why you're the scary one.”

She ignored him. “You need a spy – someone who already has connections here in the building, who knows everybody and everything about this place, who the employees would be comfortable confiding in. Gossiping with. Someone who can access sensitive material without it getting traced back to you.”

“Sounds like you already have someone in mind for the job,” Digg prompted.

“I do. Me.”

“Are you sure about this,” Oliver wanted to do.

“I am.”

“But I thought that you didn't want to go back to the IT Department?”

“And I won't be,” she disclosed. “I don't need to be in the IT Department in order to gain access to Isabel's files. Besides, the IT Department is really isolated. I need a position that will allow me to interact with more people and provide me with higher clearance.”

His brow furrowed in thought, in puzzlement. “What exactly do you have in mind, Felicity?”

“I want you to hire me as your...” And she grimaced, the forthcoming words tasting bitter and rancid against her tongue. “ … Executive Assistant.”

It was John who responded first. After several still moments of thought, he praised, “that's genius, actually. Not only will it provide you with everything that you already stated, but it'll make Ms. Rochev underestimate you, while, at the same time, giving you in an in with all the other assistants whom she disregards but who see and know the most about her and what she's up to.”

“Yeah, we'll be able to bond over our long-suffering torture at the hands of unreasonable, entitled, self-important bosses.”

“Hey!” Oliver's objection was entirely too half-hearted to be considered born from genuine insult, and Felicity smirked. “You do realize what you're suggesting here, right?”

“Yeah,” she admitted, sighing. “Longer hours, tedious tasks in between my recon and research, and an insult to my shiny MIT degree. However,” she added, tossing Oliver a cheeky smile. “I also fully expect a raise, too. And there will be rules – lots and lots of rules.”

He narrowed his crisp gaze as he briefly leaned forward, appraising her, before standing up. “I have no doubt.” Holding out his hand for her to shake, he warned, “once I have you... as my assistant, you know that I'm never going to want to let you go, right?”

Even as she took his outstretched hand and shook it – sealing the deal, Felicity's eyes widened in shock. She heard Diggle choke back some combination between a cough and a chuckle beside her. “Let's just take this one corporate raid at a time.”

Oliver grinned widely. “Deal.”

 

 

“Apparently, outing Diggle as being divorced did not teach him anything. He is a perverse man, making me wear a bathing suit in October.”

Oliver looked and then stood up from where he had been sitting, waiting for Felicity to join him, contemplating her complaint against their friend. While it was true that Felicity was mildly hurt from a mission, refusing to forego training for even a single night, and that doing so, as per Digg's suggestion, while in a pool would be less invasive against her injuries, they both knew there was more to the ex-soldier's suggestion than mere concern for Felicity's well-being. However, Oliver knew the idea was not born from a desire for payback but, instead, was a message. To him. Not that he was about to admit any of that to Felicity....

“What's with the getup? Is that what took you so long?”

If Felicity was wearing a bathing suit, he sure as hell couldn't see it. Rather, she was dressed in a long, fluffy robe and some ridiculous boot-slipper... things that hit her legs at mid-shin.

“It's not exactly bikini season, Oliver, so I wasn't exactly bikini ready... if you catch my drift.”


His eyes might have betrayed him by dipping from her make-up free face to her robe covered chest. “You're wearing a bikini?”

“Yes, because that would be conducive to tai chi in a pool.” To emphasize her point, Felicity rolled her eyes.

“So, you're not wearing a...?”

She interrupted him. “I'm in a one-piece. Lucky for Digg, I happen to be someone who subscribes to the more is better motto when it comes to bathing suits, but that doesn't negate my earlier point that, in order to embark upon this little training experiment, I needed to do more than stretching to get ready.”

His gaze did not fall even lower. “Right.”

“Guys seriously have no idea how lucky they are.”

“So...,” Oliver cleared his throat while moving to the edge of the pool. He slipped off his sandals. “You ready? I thought we'd start with just a few laps to warm up, and then we'd move into our taolu.” After stripping his t-shirt over his head and tossing it aside, he looked over to find Felicity biting her bottom lip, staring at the pool, and still completely covered from head to toe. “Unless you don't want to...?”

“No,” she prevented him from finishing the out he was giving her. Giving them. “I do. Or, well, I don't, but I'd rather die from hypothermia than tell Digg I chickened out.”

He chuckled at her melodramatic statement. “Felicity, you're not going to die from hypothermia.”

“Oliver,” she returned his name back to him pointedly, pursing her lips and tilting her head in that practiced manner she had. “It's October – at night – in Northern California. It might not be raining – yet, but it's cloudy, and foggy, and I can feel the moisture in the air. And we're on a freaking rooftop deck. I'm a giant goosebump underneath this robe. Everything I was doing for the last thirty minutes has already been made null and void. Hypothermia is definitely in the game.”

Despite her words, however, Felicity started to kick off her slippers. Each foot took her several tries – the toes of one foot being used to push against the heel of the other in an effort to remove them without bending or sitting down, causing her to stumble more than once. Then she removed her robe and immediately proceeded to shiver, the response to the chill in the air rippling through her entire body. Against his better judgement, Oliver grinned – partly in amusement and partly at Felicity's choice in swimwear. She was indeed wearing a one piece – and a very conservative one at that. It was almost retro in styling, and, yes, he knew what retro was. Thea was, after all, his sister. It was also bright, and colorful, yet classy, and Oliver found himself appreciating the fact that, unlike all the other women he had ever known... or seen in a bathing suit, for that matter, Felicity didn't need strings, and skin, and obscene cutouts to look sexy. She was such a refreshing presence in his life.

“Hairy monkey balls!”

“What?” He genuinely chuckled, Felicity's words dragging him out of his private reflection.

“Why don't you look like Hefty Smurf yet? It's absolutely freezing out here.”

He ignored the reference and, instead, teased, “you know, you're allowed to swear. It's just the two of us right now, and I won't tell anyone.”

“Anyone can swear,” Felicity answered back. She moved closer to the pool, dipping a single foot into the water just a few inches before pulling it back out and shuddering. As she did so, he moved up to stand behind her. “I choose to be more creative with my expletives.”

“You know, they say that the best way to adjust to the temperature of the water is to just... immerse yourself.” As the words left his mouth, his hands left his sides to land on top of her shoulder blades. It only took one solid push to send Felicity into the water, her arms windmilling helplessly as she tried in vain to fight going into the pool. The added movement only made her splash just that much bigger, her entire body going under for a few seconds before she rose enough for her face to break the surface. Her eyes weren't even open yet before she was yelling at him.

“Oliver!”

“You know, I think you're right,” his proclamation silenced her quickly. Felicity could never turn down those words. “I think I do like the things that you scream better.”

She started sputtering as her face turned red, and then she glared at him before diving back down underneath the water and taking off on her first lap. Still smirking, Oliver dove into the pool himself, immediately joining her in their warmup. They swam leisurely, neither rushing and both switching off into different strokes whenever the mood struck them, and, like much they did, they stopped swimming about fifteen minutes later, their minds in sync without words being necessary.
They were holding onto the edge of the wall – head and arms out of the water as they continued to tread in the deep end – when Oliver asked her, “how do your knee and shoulder feel?”

“Loose,” Felicity answered, smiling softly. “I'll put Nair in your shampoo bottle if you tell him this, but Digg was right. The water helps... even if there are icicles forming in my hair as we speak.”

“Good,” was all he said before pushing off the wall and swimming one last length of the pool so as to stand in the shallow end.

By the time Felicity joined him, they both seamlessly transitioned into their forms, their bodies moving in practiced and memorized tandem. Despite having confidence in Felicity's ability, he watched her. Really, she had taken well to training – not that it had surprised Oliver or even John, but Felicity had astonished herself. A self-proclaimed klutz, she was far more agile and quick on her feet than she gave herself credit for. Sometimes Oliver thought it was less about Felicity being a klutz and more about pre-occupation. Her brain was just constantly busy – tackling complex code and solving riddles and problems when it should have been focused on where she was walking. Her cerebral nature, however, was what made her so good at many of the things they were teaching her.

She could pick a lock faster than he could. Once she mastered shifting, Felicity was an excellent defensive driver, because she could think several moves ahead and work out multiple contingency plans at once. While she still didn't like handling firearms, she could take them apart and put them back together so quickly that it even put Digg to shame. And her idea of fencing had been a good one. They had only been practicing it once or twice a week for a couple of months but already he could see improvements in other aspects of their work from all three of them, and Felicity led the charge. It came as no shock to Oliver or Diggle, but she was a natural at the strategizing required for fencing. Oddly enough, it was still running through the city streets and alleys which presented her with the most challenge, the activity simply too boring – her description – to keep her mind engaged. Unless he would talk to her the entire time they were out running (and that did absolutely nothing in practicing surreptitious movement), Felicity would zone out and inevitably run into or trip over something. He actually found it quite endearing... when not troubling.

But practicing tai chi with her was Oliver's favorite means of training. It was just so peaceful, and they were so connected while going through their forms. It was a nice departure from the volume – both the sound and amount – of the otherwise frenetic pace of their lives. And he could tell that Felicity appreciated it as well. Their taolu was engaging enough to keep her mind occupied but relaxing at the same time. Soon, they would add some yin tuishou to their tai chi training, but he had a feeling they'd both insist upon always warming up with their forms first.

Because of their height difference, while much of Oliver's torso was out of the water, Felicity's was almost entirely submerged, causing her to make small waves and ripples every time she moved her arms. He watched as the water churned around them, felt it lap against his abdomen – the ebb and flow lulling him even deeper into tranquility and calm. And then he heard a small ping.

“Oh,” Felicity voiced from beside him, her attention immediately shifting from their movements to the deck chair where her robe was draped, to where from which the sound had originated. He silently watched as she climbed out of the pool and hurried towards what he assumed was the alert that had just sounded on her tablet, dismay washing over her features when she realized she had forgot to bring a towel with her. While Oliver still remained in the pool, he smirked when she picked up his t-shirt and used it to dry her hands, eventually shrugging and slipping the garment on over her suit. Almost instantly, patches of water spread across the fabric, molding the otherwise baggy top against her body. It wasn't until he noticed her squinting at the device's screen that he joined her on the deck, shaking off as much water as he could. Her glasses had been left behind in their apartment, and, apparently, she elected to go without her contacts, too.

Wordlessly, he slipped the tablet from her hands and scrolled through the information which had been flagged by one of her numerous programs and brought to her attention. “Laurel was pulled over for suspicion of a DUI.” Briefly looking up from the screen, he noticed that Felicity's lips were purple and that her teeth were chattering. He didn't know what all Felicity had access to, but, evidently, she was inside of the SCPD's system and could manipulate it to alert her to specific information, people, and situations. “It looks like the officer called Lance, though, when he realized who she was.”

“So, she's not going to get charged,” she questioned through trembling lips.

Deciding they were done – that, even though he didn't feel the cold, Felicity had no business being in a pool at night in the middle of October, Oliver carefully set her tablet aside before picking up her robe and wrapping it around her shoulders. Felicity gratefully slipped her arms inside of the warming confines as he tied the sash. “It doesn't look like it.” He picked her tablet back up and her slippers as well, but, as he turned to lead them back inside, Oliver found Felicity avoiding his gaze and biting her lip. “What?”

“I don't want to let her get away with this. I can't.”

“You want to expose her,” he realized. She wanted her revenge. He couldn't fault her for that. In fact, Oliver almost found it reassuring, because he knowingly always placed Felicity on a pedestal, but she wasn't perfect, and maybe they were more alike than he could admit out loud. “If you do this, you'll get Lance in trouble, too. Despite how much it pains me to admit this, we need him.”

“But you won't stop me?” He could hear the incredulity in her voice, and it stung... even if he understood why. It would take Felicity a long time to trust that he was done putting Laurel before their team, before her.

“I think... it'd be for the best,” he answered. And it was the truth. “She needs help. Lance covering this up and making it disappear isn't doing anyone any good. Maybe this will make her realize that she needs to go to rehab, or maybe she'll be forced to if this goes to trial or when the DA's office finds out. Either way,” Oliver shrugged, finally getting Felicity to go inside by taking her hand in one of his own and tugging her after him. He had her tablet tucked under his arm and her slippers in the other hand, and they stopped briefly for him to slip on his Adidas flip-flops. “Ignoring the problem won't work. Plus, this is your op, so your call.”

“And Lance will be alright,” he could hear Felicity working through her thoughts out loud. “He might get reprimanded, and this could mean some egg on the SCPD's face, but he won't lose his job, right?”

“He helped me – The Hood – and was only suspended for less than twelve hours. I think he'll be fine.”

“Good.” Neither of them said anything else until they reached the door. “And, hey, Oliver?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks,” Felicity smiled up at him

With a soft grin of his own in return, he followed her inside.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

“Please rise...”

That's as far as the bailiff went into his extremely well practiced speech before Felicity was already zoning out. After all, she had heard the spiel many times already that day – to open the case and after every single recess... of which there had also been many. Thankfully. Because emotions were running high, and, apparently, you couldn't take food or drink into a courtroom.

What was up with that?

Weapons? Yeah... that made sense. Phones, videocameras? Of course those would be banned, too, but food? What? Was she going to start a riot by tossing a few grapes? Did they think she was going to sneak a shiv into the courthouse by hiding it inside of her pita bread? A trial was a long and tedious process, and food and drink were a great distraction. Plus, what if she was hypoglycemic. Someone should certainly tell all diabetics to never associate with or become criminals, because forget prison; they wouldn't even survive court.

Felicity took her seat and internalized her sigh. Maybe it should have been obvious – the 'no snacking during cross examination' rule. When she really thought about it (and what else was she supposed to do while a woman she knew to be without a doubt guilty tried to proclaim her innocence?), she'd never once watched a single courthouse scene – and Felicity knew her way around a crime drama – that contained cookies and milk. But, while preparing for Moira's trial that morning, she hadn't been thinking about the shenanigans of Harvey and Mike; she had been pondering those of Oliver and Thea and thinking how best to help them through the day that would most likely send their mother to prison for the rest of her life... if not the lethal injection chair.

So, Felicity had filled her largest purse – a brown leather messenger bag – with snacks, foregoing the electronics it was used to carrying. (She knew those would be confiscated, and no one put her tech in a corner. Or a plastic bin.) It was a small gesture, but she had been feeling helpless, and, when Felicity felt helpless, she had the tendency to overcompensate. Plus, she was someone who needed to feel useful. Sure, she was attending the trial with her... with Oliver and Thea, and she would be there, by their sides, to support them no matter what the verdict, but that was easier said than done, because she wasn't quite sure if the siblings knew which outcome they were hoping for... or if their opinions even landed them on the same side of the aisle.

Ever since that day in Oliver's office when she finally realized just how mum he had been about his mom, Felicity had been paying closer attention. And it wasn't that Oliver was purposefully keeping his worries about his mother's trial from her in a misplaced attempt to shield or protect her; he just... wasn't worried. It was like he didn't even think about his mother at all... which, with almost anyone else, wouldn't have been shocking, because Oliver was talented at compartmentalizing and shutting down emotionally if nothing else, but this wasn't just anyone else; it was his mother – his mother whom he had fought tooth and nail to protect and deny all guilt for so long. In fact, if it wasn't for Thea, she wasn't even sure if Oliver would have attended Moira's trial that day.

Speaking of Thea, she certainly did not share her brother's apathy. With Roy's help, she had been able to process her anger towards her mother and come out on the other side of it stronger and more compassionate. She had forgiven her mother and was now her strongest supporter – a complete 180 from her 'let the bitch fry' stance immediately following Moira's reveal and then subsequent arrest. While Roy wasn't there that day with them – an understandable allergy to all things law related, he made Felicity question her abilities as a friend, because, no matter what she had done, Oliver had refused to talk to her about what had gone down and then fallen apart between him and his mother.

… which told her one thing: she was at the center of the problem.

Felicity's desire to see mother and son reunited had nothing to do with actually reuniting Oliver and Moira Queen; rather, she was just concerned about what the estrangement would do to Oliver in the long run, and she hated being the reason why he lost one of the few people in his life that he actually loved and who loved him. His mother might not know all of him, but she'd always loved him, and that – mass murderer or not – counted for something. Moira Queen scared Felicity. She was a smart, ruthless woman who showed no qualms of conscience when it came to hurting others to get what she wanted, but she also believed that the thing Moira wanted the most in the world was to protect her family, her children, and herself. It was that last part, however, that presented the sticking point.

Felicity shifted almost imperceptively, looking down at the toes of her knee-high leather boots. She wanted to fidget. She was nervous, she was anxious, and she was torn – unsure of how to feel or what to want in regards to the verdict, but her hands were otherwise occupied. Sitting between Thea and Oliver – Thea having sensed her brother's unwillingness to support their mother and having elected not to sit beside him, they each held one of her hands – Thea's warm, and clammy, and shaking in equal parts fear and hope and Oliver's cool with confidence yet rigid with vulnerability and novelty. For weeks, she had been unable to sleep without his hand in hers, but this was something else entirely. And they both knew it.

As they waited for the verdict to be read, Felicity found herself caught in the middle of an emotional tug-of-war. She knew what it was like to be lonely, to be abandoned, to lose a parent, and, under normal circumstances, she'd never wish that on anybody... and especially not her friend. Thea had already been through too much, but there was a part of Felicity that wondered if Moira Queen's presence in her daughter's life was more of a poison than a present. Even if found not guilty... which seemed an absolute impossibility, there would be a stigma which would follow her for the rest of her life, and Thea didn't need that kind of contamination, that kind of added pressure. Neither did Oliver. Plus, he was already struggling with the weight of his guilt – those burdens placed upon his shoulders by his father's actions, his friend's transgressions, and his mother's manipulations. If she were to be set free, Felicity didn't know how he'd handle that added onus; if she were sentenced to death, she didn't know how he'd handle losing yet someone else.

And then there were her own feelings to consider on the matter, too. Moira's actions hadn't just affected her children or the city of Starling; they had hurt Felicity as well. She had put her life on the line to help thousands because Moira Queen was too scared, too selfish, too... something... to stop Malcolm Merlyn, to say no to him. She had sat in a dark basement while the building above her started to crumble on top of her head, to cave in around her, and claimed that she was alright, because her life wasn't as important as those she, Oliver, Diggle, and Detective Lance were trying to save. Those moments of flickering lights and an uncertain future were not something Felicity could forgive or forget, nor could she ignore the 503 lives lost. So, she struggled with how to balance all of her feelings. Turning to look up at the man standing beside her to the right, Felicity found herself marveling at his strength. If she was so torn about Moira's trial, she couldn't imagine what Oliver was going through, especially in light of the rift evident between him and his mother.

Knowing that she herself was somehow wrapped up inside of the family's fracture, Felicity could only assume that it had something to do with her rape. The timing – the news of Tommy's actions... or at least Laurel's skewed views of them – had just broken the last and only time Oliver had gone to see his mother in prison, and there were very few things that could push Oliver to the point of abandoning someone he loved. There had never been a doubt of forgiveness after Moira shot him. He had looked past her role in Walter's kidnapping, and, while hurt, and disgusted, and dismayed by her actions in regards to The Undertaking, had been willing to help her through the repercussions of her actions. But then he, and the world, and no doubt Moira Queen had learned of Felicity's rape, and, suddenly, Oliver wanted absolutely nothing to do with his own mother, and Felicity had seen too much, been through too much to ever believe in coincidences again.

“ … and the jury finds the defendant, Moira Dearden Queen, not guilty.”

To her left, Thea sagged and gasped in relief, her hand tightening on Felicity's almost to the point of pain, but she couldn't tear her gaze away from Oliver. He just stood there. As pandemonium surged around them – the prosecution tossing out empty objections, the press trying to shove and shout their way into an exclusive, the few families of the victims who attended the trial crying out in shocked disappointment and outrage, and the defense congratulating itself, Oliver remained completely still – his hand still in hers, his eyes unblinking, his jaw locked. He stared straight ahead, refusing to see anything, because Felicity knew, maybe that way, nobody would be able to see him.

“She's... she's Houdini,” she whispered to herself, shaking her head in a vain attempt to clear away the confoundment.

Oliver's stillness evaporated, however, when someone – a reporter, a bailiff, another audience member accidentally or on purpose (she'd never know) brushed against her back, making Felicity startle. Just like that, Oliver's face hardened into yet another mask, and he was ushering her and his sister out some side door, down empty corridors, and out the back of the courthouse. They broke through the last barrier that separated them from the solace that was the night, and as soon as the cool, November air touched her lungs, Felicity choked on her relief. It was just... too much.

There were 503 people dead, and Oliver had nearly been destroyed, and yet Moira wasn't going to jail? Malcolm was dead, but Moira's acquittal meant that no one was going to have to face the consequences of The Undertaking? She had nearly died – broken, alone, and afraid, because her life and peace of mind wasn't as important as the safety of an entire city, yet Moira Queen was going home that night? It was wrong, and Thea was so impossibly relieved, and Oliver was in too much shock to feel his anger yet, and Felicity just wanted something to go right, for something good to happen, for once to get what she wanted... even if she didn't know what that was until the moment it was taken away from her.

“Ollie, wait,” Thea called out from behind Felicity, and she turned to look over her shoulder where she was poised at the door of the car Oliver was holding open for her. “We need to wait for mom.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Oliver balk at the idea – his eyes widening slightly as it became apparent that the thought of riding home with his mother never occurred to him until his sister mentioned it. Suggested it. Expected it. Before he could respond, though, Moira Queen was already there, sweeping down the stairs like the royalty her surname proclaimed her to be.

“It's alright, Thea,” Moira assured her daughter, opening her arms when the younger woman fairly launched herself into her mother's embrace. Although she returned the hug, Moira's eyes never once strayed from Felicity. “I'm sure everyone's tired. It's been a long day. And it doesn't make sense for us to all ride together when we're headed in opposite directions.”

“But you're coming home,” Thea protested, pulling away far enough to look up into her mother's face. “We should celebrate.”

“There will be time enough for that later,” Moira told her. “Besides, this way, you and I can spend some quiet time alone together, and I can see your brother tomorrow at the office.”

For the first time since they had headed back into the courtroom to hear the verdict, Oliver spoke. “What?”

His mother smiled sweetly, tightly, vacantly. “I want to thank you for stepping up and running Queen Consolidated while I was... incapacitated. Your father would be proud of you, Oliver. But I'm free now, so I'll be in the office tomorrow to start the process of transitioning back into being CEO.”

“I'm not resigning, and the board – Walter – will never back you. Not again, not after what you did.”

All Moira said in response to her son's words was a quiet, “hmm.”

Felicity watched as Oliver left her side and walked around the back of the car, coming to a stop beside their driver for the day, Digg having stayed as their eyes and ears at the office. “Another car has been called for, sir,” the chauffeur stated – arms folded directly in front of him, gaze all seeing yet empty of acknowledgment of what he was witnessing.

“Good.” Oliver held out his hand, and the driver – all of them also trained as guards – reacted without further prompting, dropping the keys into his boss' grip. “Stay with my sister until it arrives, and then take the rest of the night off. It's been a long day.” A terse nod was the only sign of acceptance the stoic man gave to Oliver before he moved away to stand by his charge, and Oliver slipped into the car behind the wheel.

Felicity closed the rear passenger door before tentatively moving forward to open the front one. Before she could even pull on the handle, however, Moira stepped up next to her, leaning down slightly. Her face was impassive – perhaps, from a distance, it could even be considered kind, but her eyes were cold, and her voice even chillier. From off to the side, Thea watched in confusion, her gaze flickering back and forth from where she could see the shadows of her brother through the tinted windshield, to the guard beside her, and then back to her mother and friend.

“You've done this,” Moira whispered, her words, and breath, and the threat lurking beneath her seemingly pleasant facade tickling Felicity's neck and causing goosebumps to break out on her arms underneath her leather motorcycle jacket and on the bare skin of her legs where her boots failed to meet the hem of her dress. “You've taken my son away from me, but this isn't over; we are not finished yet.”

And then, with a smile, Moira pulled away, and Felicity scrambled to open her door and slip inside of the already warming car as quickly as she could – Oliver pulling away before she could even reach for her seatbelt.

 

 

An hour later, Felicity was alone in the apartment she shared with Oliver when the doorbell rang. She assumed it was Digg – checking in, reporting in, coming over to make sure that they were alright, but she wanted it to be Oliver... even if that wouldn't make any sense. He lived there. He had a key. He could pick locks. There was no reason why he would ever buzz to be let in.

Crossing the living room where she had been pacing – waiting for Oliver to return from his errand (he said he was going out to pick up some wine; she feared the wine was just an excuse to get away), Felicity's bare feet fairly slipped across the hardwood floors. While she had shed her shoes and coat, she was still wearing her dress from the trial – the apartment warm enough that her exposed arms and legs were comfortable.

Well, at least they were until she opened the door and saw who was standing there: Moira Queen – poised and confident in all of her intimidating glory. Felicity didn't know what lies or excuses she had offered Thea in order to avoid going home with her daughter. “Miss Smoak,” Moira greeted cooly. Nodding towards the inside of the apartment, she asked, “may I come in?”

Felicity said the first thing that came to mind, the first thing she thought of that could deter Moira from wanting to enter. “Oliver's not here.”

The older woman tsked as she walked by and around Felicity, stripping off a pair of long gloves as she went. “Well, I see that he just couldn't get away from you fast enough. I'm not surprised.”

Still holding the door wide open... as if foregoing privacy could actually restrain Moira, could help keep Felicity safe from whatever agenda had brought Oliver's mother to their doorstep, she watched – fingers tensed and locked around the metal barrier, back and shoulders ramrod straight – as Moira dismissively glanced about the space. “So, this is what my son left his family home....” Her gaze returned to Felicity. “ … left his family for – mismatched furniture, homemade artwork, and you.” Slapping her leather driving gloves against the palm of her left hand, Moira proclaimed, “I wouldn't get too used to playing house with my son, Miss Smoak. It won't last.”

Finding her voice, she tried to explain, “it's not... it's not like that. Oliver and I...”

“ … are nothing,” Moira interrupted her, her voice cutting and snide. “You are nothing.”

Tilting her chin up, Felicity fought back. “I'm his friend.”

“And I'm his mother,” Moira snapped, green eyes flashing flames. “You think you've won, don't you? You think that I'm powerless, and that I'm going to let you continue sinking your claws into him?”

“This isn't a game.”

“But you're wrong,” Moira declared, ignoring Felicity as the volume of her voice continued to rise, overpowering every other sound. “I'm not as powerless as you may think.”

Letting go of the door, she stepped forward to confront the older woman. “You mean Tempest?” Surprise flickered briefly through Moira's gaze before it was shuttered away again. “Yeah. I know about that. In fact, I'm the one who told Walter about it.”

“Hmm... yes,” Moira responded, smirking. “Walter was always fond of you, and I knew that he gave you little projects to work on. You were like his little puppy – eager to please and easily dismissed with a little pat on the top of the head. My son will realize that's all your worth as well soon enough.”

“You really think he's an idiot, don't you – that he can't think for himself? You underestimate him.”

“No, you underestimate me,” Oliver's mother retaliated. As she stalked towards Felicity, she put her gloves back on. “I still have contacts, Miss Smoak – powerful friends who hate you for their own reasons and whom my son can't protect you from. If I were you, I'd keep that smart little tongue of yours in line, or you might just find yourself without it.” Ever so gently – her actions belying her words, Moira lifted a hand to brush her leather encased fingers against Felicity's jawline. “Do we understand each other?”

“You need to leave.”

Felicity jumped at the sudden intrusion of a third voice, and Moira blanched, quickly stepping away from her. “Oliver, dear. I didn't see you there. Well, don't lurk out in the hallway. Come inside and show me your new place. I decided that I simply couldn't wait to see where you lived, so I sent Thea home to prepare for ours girls night in together and took a cab here from the courthouse. Miss Smoak and I were just... getting to know each other a little better before you arrived.”

“Yeah. I heard everything,” Oliver revealed – jaw ticking. Moira flinched. Felicity's eyes were drawn down to his hands after he carefully placed a bottle of wine on the floor beside his feet. She then watched him clench his fists together to the point of pain. “Apparently, I didn't make myself clear at the prison, but you and I,” Oliver gestured between himself and his mother. “We're finished. Don't come back here again, and stay away from Felicity.”

“And your sister?”

“Thea's an adult. She can decide for herself just how much of a relationship she wants with you, and I'll explain to her that, after what happened to The Glades and after you lied to me and tried to blame your divorce on Walter having an affair with Felicity because you didn't want me being friends with or helping someone who was raped by your former lover's son, I decided to cut all ties with you.” Upon finally learning what had caused the rift between mother and son, Felicity gasped, eyes widening at the revelation and in disgust. “She and Felicity are friends, too, you know, so I think she'll understand.”

For several moments, Moira simply stared at Oliver before she left, marching past him without uttering another word. In the silence, Felicity lost herself to her thoughts. Nothing made sense – Moira's acquittal, her partnership with Malcolm Merlyn in the first place, her threats and promises of powerful friends who hated Felicity and could stand up against The Arrow. Because, while the other woman hadn't stated explicitly that she knew of her son's secret identity, she had made herself clear nonetheless. And wrapped up tightly in the secrets Moira was still keeping and the lies she was still telling was Thea – innocent, impressionable, oblivious Thea.

It was the sound of the door quietly shutting that banished Felicity's thoughts. She had plenty of time to think on them later. For now, she needed to make sure that Oliver was alright. “You okay,” she asked him softly when he came to stand in front of her.

Only... Oliver didn't answer her. Instead, she found a tender grin lifting the corners of his mouth and an affectionate warmth making his eyes glitter under the dim lighting. His hands lifted to cup her face, his thumbs smoothing delicately over the apples of her cheeks as he simply watched her. They stood like that – seconds, minutes, hours going by; she wasn't sure. She didn't care. And then, finally, the moment became even more surreal when Oliver bent down and oh-so-faintly brushed his lips against her own. It wasn't so much a kiss as a caress, but then she sighed in contentment, grazing her nose against his, and Oliver started to move his mouth more firmly over her own. He kept the embrace chaste – just whispered touches really – first against her top lip and then her bottom, but, still, he left her breathless and tingling.

Pulling away, Oliver licked his lips, and then his grin turned into a full fledged smile. Felicity shivered. With one last brush of his thumb against her left cheek, he dropped his hands and stepped away. “I'm going to make us some dinner.”

She was... thrown.

 

 

Felicity had given up on sleep hours before. In all honesty, she wasn't even sure if she had ever tried to go to bed. Sure, she had changed her clothes, and brushed her teeth, and turned off the lights after turning down the covers, but, even as she tossed and turned, she continued to flip through the evidence in her mind, throwing out half-baked hypotheses and conclusions as quickly as she could work through them in her mind. Eventually, Felicity had simply given up the ruse of attempting to sleep and legitimately set to work.

Her half-unpacked bedroom now looked like a CIA war room.

Sitting crossed-legged on her bed, she faced the brick wall, eyes darting from one sticky note to another. Before her was a physical representation of the tangled web that Moira Queen had spun over the years – lies and manipulations on top of lies and manipulations. But Felicity knew that she was missing something – something big, something life-changing, something that would make everything else make sense. So, she decided to go back to the beginning.

Everything with Moira had started with Tempest. Before Walter had tasked her to look into his ex-wife, Moira Queen had simply been yet another intimidating businesswoman. Queen Consolidated wasn't shy of them. While Felicity tended to avoid women like Moira Queen, she understood them. In fact, there was something almost admirable about their single-minded confidence... only Felicity used hers to solve network problems and not for world domination. But she had recognized the older woman's drive, her ambition, her intelligence, and Felicity had used that commonality to beat Moira at her own game... or so she had assumed then.

Only now...? Now, Felicity had a feeling that Moira had been a step ahead of all of them the entire time – that the things Felicity had found were those secrets Moira was willing to part with in order to protect the most damning secret of all. And now, if she wanted to figure out what Oliver's mother was up to, if she wanted to protect herself and those she cared about, if she wanted to finally solve the puzzle that was Moira Queen, then Felicity needed to know the older woman better than she even knew herself.

So, lights blazing from above and her mess of files, papers, string, and markers trapping her from below, Felicity's fingers flew over the keys of her laptop, her eyes rarely blinking as she retraced her own steps, as she found one dead-end after another, as she focused on her work and not on the kiss she had shared with Oliver earlier that evening. The embrace was never far from her mind, though – yet another driving force behind her seemingly impossible task. Just when she would feel her energy lagging or her courage flickering, she would feel the embers of heat Oliver's touch had incited flare low in her belly, and her lips would tingle – like static electricity on a stormy night.

He hadn't touched her since he walked away to make dinner. They had shared a pleasant meal together, both heading off to their separate rooms after a chaste yet warm goodnight hug, and Felicity hadn't seen or heard from Oliver since. She was sure that he was sound asleep... or, at least, she hoped he was. If Oliver still had nightmares, then she was none the wiser – his room down the hall silent night after night. The amazing thing was that, despite their kiss flabbergasting her, it made sense. Felicity wasn't questioning why it happened, or if it would happen again, or even what Oliver was thinking and feeling; instead, for the first time in six long months, she knew exactly who she was and what she wanted, and no one was going to get in her way, especially not Moira Queen.

With a click, Felicity opened up a wire transfer. Surprise (no surprise), Moira had transferred a large sum of money to a Doctor Gill. Blackmail and bribery were two of Moira's closest advisors, but Felicity recognized the name. Gill. So, she started shuffling through all her papers, pushing files aside in her scramble to locate the document she sought. And then she had it: Thea's birth certificate, and the name of the delivering doctor was staring back at her, matching that on the wire transfer. Blinking once to clear her vision, Felicity looked up, and her gaze immediately landed on a single notecard that simply held three words: body not found.

“Oh my god.”

The piece of paper fluttered loose from her trembling grasp, and then Felicity ran.

Not pausing to consider the ramifications of her actions, not second-guessing what she was about to do or what she had just concluded, she flew from her room and down the hall towards Oliver's – her sock-clad feet slipping on the bare hardwood floors. In her distraction, she pushed his door open loudly, already talking. “Oliver, you need to wake up; I need to talk to you. It's important. It's about Thea. And your mother. And Malcolm Merlyn. And... you're not asleep.”

If Felicity's room was only half-unpacked and decorated, Oliver's was a barren wasteland. There was a mattress on the floor, a small nightstand with a lamp, and nothing else. His windows were uncovered, his space void of any personal touches. As Felicity sat down on the edge of his bed, she noticed the mellow illumination coming from the light beside them, Oliver's gaze soft with sleep and affection. Yet, it was obvious that he, too, had been awake all night. He was on his side, one arm curled around his pillow and tucked under his head. The simple, white down duvet was at his waist, his bare arms and chest exposed. The room wasn't cold, but Felicity shivered anyway.

She watched as he lifted his index finger, using it to trace the skin of her shoulder where her sweater hung loose and her tank top underneath was left uncovered. “Couldn't sleep.” He never once met her gaze, his eyes, instead, focused on her neck and throat, his touch moving to follow his visual caress. “I have a lot on my mind.”

Well, at least she wasn't the only one.... Only, Felicity had a feeling that, while she had been entirely focused on his mother, Oliver had been thinking about her. A wave of heat chased her chill of arousal away, making Felicity blush. She could feel the warmth as it spread through her body. The pads of her fingers pulsed with the beat of her heart. But she couldn't allow Oliver to distract her. Inhaling a bracing breath, she told him, “Oliver, I'm sorry, but I think that Malcolm Merlyn...”

“ … is alive,” he finished for her. Surprised her. She was so taken aback by his shared conclusion that Felicity didn't realize he was slowly moving the two of them until she was laying beside him – Oliver scooting back so that he was closer to the middle of the bed and Felicity facing him on her left. He pulled the duvet up and over her legs and then wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her closer.

“There's more,” she whispered.

Oliver's forehead came to rest against her own. “I know. And we can talk about that later. We need to. But for now...?” His nose nudged hers.

Felicity licked her lips. She could feel her chest expanding just a little bit further with every breath she took. “Now?”

Oliver groaned. “Felicity, you're in my bed.”

“Oh.” Her eyes went wide in recognition, in awareness, in anticipation. Then, they fluttered shut. Against Oliver's mouth, because, suddenly, he was right there, she sighed, “oh.”

That time, when he kissed her, she was caught.

 

Chapter Text

Epilogue

They were in the basement under Verdant. Even with the remodeling and all of the soundproofing Felicity had installed, she could still sometimes feel the bass from the music upstairs. It seemed to travel through the ceiling, the walls, settling in the floor where it pulsed up through the concrete and into her legs. It was a metronome that she inevitably seemed to set the rhythm of her heartbeat to. It grounded her, steadied her even on the most tense and nerve-wracking nights.

But that wasn't how Felicity would describe her current evening. Despite all the recent changes to her life, she felt at ease. Peaceful. While she fooled around on her computers – half-heartedly researching more out of habit than need, John methodically cleaned his weapons cache. It was what the former military man did when he wanted to relax. Felicity would never feel that comfortable with a gun in her hand, but she could understand how the rote activity, especially for someone who equated a 9MM with safety and security, could be reassuring.

And then there was Oliver.... When they had first arrived, he had attempted to make arrows, but the grinder had been silent for more than an hour, and Oliver was just sitting before his equipment – back slightly bowed and muscles loose, his gaze locked into the shadows as he silently worked his way through some challenge or, more likely, his feelings regarding his mother. Felicity wasn't surprised by his distraction. In fact, she had been expecting it. And it didn't bother her that Oliver had retreated into his own mind as he processed everything she had discovered the night before, because she knew that he would eventually talk to her.

Everybody dealt with stress in different ways; everybody shared and confided at different stages of the acceptance process. Oliver was somebody who had to work through his problems on his own first... or, at least, attempt to before he could share them with someone else. Six months ago, his reticence would have irked her, made her curious, caused her to press him for the information. But now? Now, she was a different person. She, too, was more hesitant to confide, to share all, and she liked to weigh her own thoughts first before seeking counsel from others. Plus, she and Oliver were different people together now as well, and that changed everything.

As Felicity allowed her gaze to leave Oliver, she refocused upon Digg, taking in his projected disinterest. If ever there was a poster boy for not forcing an issue and allowing others to come to you, it was John Diggle. Even with her own newfound sense of patience, it sometimes amazed Felicity just how unflappable and composed her friend was. That's how he had approached her rape and the aftermath that followed, and that's how he had always handled Oliver and his... whims. And, now, faced with the both of them acting taciturn and unforthcoming, he simply went about his task like silence always reigned over the foundry, like it was common for her and Oliver to be so still and unproductive.

Imperturbable Digg, he made her smile.

She decided to take pity on him, though. “Uh...,” Felicity started, but then she had to pause and clear her throat. John looked up from his station, but Oliver remained distant and lost to his own thoughts. She proceeded anyway. “There's something I... we have to tell you. A lot of somethings, actually.”

Blandly, Diggle responded, “I gathered as much.” Stoically, he put the glock he had been working on down and folded his arms across his chest.

“Last night, after the trial,” she started, deciding that, in order to make the reveals she was about to share easier to swallow, she'd slowly and painstakingly lay them out, detail by detail. “Oliver's mother stopped by the apartment. To see me.”

instead of Digg responding, though, it was Oliver who spoke up. “We're together now.” He looked up, too, catching John's eye.

So much for leading a Diggle to water....

“Yeah. I know that, Oliver,” the other man chuckled. “You two have been living together now for a while.”

“No, you don't get it,” Oliver insisted. “We're together. As in we're dating.”

She couldn't bite her tongue. While they hadn't discussed how or even when they were going to reveal their newfound relationship to Digg, Felicity had at least assumed that telling their friend about Thea, Moira, and Malcolm Merlyn would take precedence over not needing that one month free trial offer to the latest matchmaking website she had received. “Actually, there haven't been any dates yet. We've slept together. But no dates.”

“Felicity,” Oliver sighed. She grinned cheekily as he pinched the bridge of his nose. While he could feign all the frustration and annoyance that he wanted to, the fact that he dipped his face down while doing so told her that he was actually trying to hide his own smile.

“What,” she defended. “Full disclosure, right? And, besides, he asked.”

“Actually, no, I didn't,” Diggle contradicted. “And I never will, but I'm sure we'll be able to arrange for the two of you to crash some party or gala this week.”

“Oh! Espionage and some vigilante justice? Best first date plans ever,” Felicity enthused.

To that, John outright chuckled. “Alright, now that your relationship statuses have been duly updated, would either of you care to tell me what really is going on?” He raised his brows, looked pointedly at her. “You mentioned something about Oliver's mother?”

And then it just came pouring out. Felicity ignored her own plans to gently spring the big, harsh truths on Digg and, instead, followed Oliver's example. After all, his reveal went well enough. “Malcolm Merlyn is Thea's biological and very much still alive father.”

Diggle blinked, Felicity cringed, and Oliver sighed, standing up to come and sit on the edge of her desk. He made her fidget with pleasure when he instinctively reached out and wrapped one of his hands around her own. And then Felicity laid everything out on the table. She told John about digging further into Tempest and finding the wire transfer; about Moira's threats; about how she knew Oliver's mother had to be working with someone obscenely wealthy, powerful, influential, and dangerous in order to get away with murder... 503 times. She also re-presented all the unbelievable lengths Moira had been willing to go to in order to help Malcolm, questioning why was that. Plus, as they all were more than aware of, The Dark Archer's body had never been found after The Undertaking.

“I put all the pieces together last night, but I didn't find the proof that Malcolm was alive until this morning at work. Because I knew that Malcolm and Moira had been working together for years, it stood to reason that he would use similar accounting practices as she did in order to fund his nefarious deeds. So, I allowed myself into Merlyn Global's financial records and started doing some recon, looking for an account that resembled Tempest. I found several. Connecting the numbered dots created the picture of a man who set himself up a brand new, cushy life. There's an impressive list of high-end properties strewn around the world, cars, a private jet. I even found transactions for training supplies and arrows. Oh, and the kicker: a college fund.”

“Malcolm wants Thea,” Digg concluded, his voice sympathetic. “So, what's our first step?”

This, Felicity and Oliver hadn't discussed yet. While she had plans to raid and drain all of Merlyn's accounts, they had purposefully waited to formulate their moves until they were together as a team and everyone was up to speed. Plus, this wasn't just some nameless victim they were trying to help or a new, faceless enemy they were attempting to bring down; this was Thea, and this was Malcolm Merlyn – the father of Oliver's childhood best friend, the man who had raised her rapist.

With a resigned exhale, Oliver answered, “I tell Thea the truth. All of it.” He met her shocked gaze before he continued. “Felicity suggested I do so months ago, but I couldn't. Now, though...? I have to. Malcolm's coming after her, and there's no way I can explain why and my knowledge of it without revealing everything.”

“Plus, man, she deserves to know the truth, too,” Diggle pointed out. “I know you're probably afraid of what this will do to her. Thea's finally in a good place, and I know she's struggled to reach it, but you have to trust her – trust that she's strong enough to handle it.”

“She was great with me,” Felicity offered as reassurance. “I'm not sure I could have gotten through my rape without her. She's a tough cookie, Oliver – non-fat, gluten free, and organic but tough.”

“I know,” he agreed. “There's also the fact that I can't give Merlyn that kind of power over her. If he were to tell her my secret, that kind of betrayal is something that could push Thea away for good. I'd rather she be safe and hate me than in danger and still in the dark.”

They were all quiet for several minutes as they contemplated what was ahead of them... imminently so, because Thea would need to be told the truth as soon as possible. The longer they waited, the more chances Malcolm had of springing not only her true paternity on an unsuspecting Thea but of also poisoning her against her friends and family. It wasn't going to be easy, though. Or pretty. But it was necessary.

It was Diggle snickering that broke the stillness. “You do realize what this means, right?” When no one responded, he supplied, “Roy's going to find out, too.” Oliver groaned. “You know, he's still unemployed. My offer to step down stands. I think Roy would make for an excellent black driver.”

“Ooh!” Felicity perked up, eyes going wide with excitement. “Yeah. Do that, Oliver. Hire Roy. If he's your driver, then he'll have to wear something besides a red hoodie. I bet Roy would look good in a suit.”

“Hey, whose side are you on,” Oliver protested, standing up and shooting away from her. Felicity chuckled.

John stood as well, advancing towards Oliver where he clapped him once on the shoulder. “You're sleeping with her now, man, so you might as well face it: she's never going to agree with you again.”

Digg's laughter floated through the basement as he walked away. Soon, the sound of Oliver training joined in, and Felicity swiveled back to her computers, eagerly returning to her research and monitoring of Starling City's criminal element. Despite the battle they were facing, a wave of contentment flooded through her veins. And she smiled.

Life was good.